Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Staying Sane and Productive until the Sun Is over the Yardarm by James W. Ziskin

 Who, or what, is keeping you relatively sane these days? Are you able to stay motivated? How?

From Jim

I’ve managed to stay motivated and productive during the five months I’ve been in stir. I wrote a short story and a 115,000-word novel. Not bad. You can read about that in my recent posts. But how did I do it? Not sure. Maybe you can help me figure it out by studying my activities. I’ve listed them below in reverse order of frequency/quantity:

6. Walking. It’s been quite hot in the Boston area over the past few weeks. Nevertheless, I try to get out for a walk from time to time. There are some lakes and parks where we walk in the evening. 

5. Reading. I’ve been using the Read Aloud function in Word to listen to friends’ manuscripts while I’m cooking. Two birds...

4. Watching Shetland. After watching all the seasons, I think I can tell where the producers left the Ann Cleeves books behind and began writing new adventures for Jimmy, Tosh, and the gang. A very different feel to the stories. 

3. Cooking. Trying new things. Invariably I over- or under-salt what I’m making, but some things turn out okay. Highlights from last week’s menu included grilled cauliflower with cumin and turmeric, white bean and asparagus salad, and penne with beef ragù al forno. (Loosely translated, that’s ground beef and tomato sauce casserole.)

 Then there was garlic yogurt baked chicken, sautéed green beans with crispy chickpeas, rosemary pork chops, and sautéed cabbage with garlic and lemon.

2. Revising my work in progress. I’ve reached the fifth revision of A Monsoon Season (tentative title). I won’t show it to anyone until I’ve edited it at least five times. There’s so much that’s changed in the book, mostly error corrections and polishing, but fact-checking and character improvements, too. This past week, I’ve been doing lots of research on the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and Hindi film music of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. How’s that for an unlikely pairing? Most of the research is for me, so I can feel more comfortable with my characters and story. It won’t necessarily show up in the book, but I need to know it because I’m the “creator.” Fun fact: I say “Hindi film” music, because the term “Bollywood” wasn’t coined until the 1980s, and my book takes place in ’75. Catriona McPherson, if you’re reading this, #Google Ngram Viewer. 

Soon I’ll be sending A Monsoon Season to beta readers for their feedback. Then I’ll do four more revisions before I can even think of “abandoning” the book to my agent to shop around.

Here’s my ever-evolving list of revisions and the goals I’ve assigned to each. Of course I often stray from this plan, but it’s a helpful guide.

Jim’s Revision Schedule
  • Revision 1: General. Read through, fix grammar, missing words, plot changes, and holes.
  • Revision 2: Similar to Revision 1 with attention to plot holes, obvious errors, and trimming fat
  • Revision 3: Audio review (with Word’s Read Aloud function) to catch missing words, double words, echo words, typos, etc. This step is particularly effective for finding missing words. While our eyes might glide right over them without noticing, Word reads everything that’s there...and what is NOT there, too.
  • Revision 4: Audio review (in Word). Same as above, but still effective for finding plot holes and more missing/double words.
  • Revision 5: Fact check, anachronism check, cull adverbs, polish style, search for “appear,“ “look,“ “seem,“ “just,” and “*-ly.” Decide their fate. Do they stay or go?
  • Revision 6: Review editor/agent/beta reader feedback. Incorporate where necessary.
  • Revision 7: Historical details confirmation, polish, trim, flesh out missing details of character, family, etc.
  • Revision 8: Read through. Polish And trim where needed.
  • Revision 9: Audio review in Word. This step has replaced my old “robot read,” where I read every word, syllable by syllable, to find missing words. Word does it better.

1. Drinking. 

    A. Soda water. My favorite non-alcoholic drink.

    B. Wine (with meals). Mostly Chianti. 

    C. Dewar’s White Label, in case you ever get asked a trivia question about me. 

Signing off now. The sun is over the yardarm.


Keenan Powell said...

I love that Word text to voice function. Each pass with that eliminates another two passes for me. The lost words are my bane, not just failing to write them but I tend to drop articles when speaking my own made-up dialect. Can't wait to read your new book. If you need another beta, you know where to find me!

Coni Tracki said...

Very interesting to see the creative process and a tiny look into your brain. Love that you share it.

James L’Etoile said...

I’m going to have to try the Word text to voice feature. I’ve been on the fence, but you’ve convinced me, Jim. Very nice pandemic production level!

Susan C Shea said...

Practically a textbook on how to write a novel. I'm impressed but it makes me cringe at my own procrastination.

Rita said...

Personally, I think the cooking (eating part) and drinking (B & C) have been the best remedies. As others have mentioned, I had no idea Word has that feature-might have to try it with my high schoolers as they HATE to proofread their work (1. They are too lazy and 2. They are delusional and actually think their work is print ready).

What about Ellie???

Nancy Cole Silverman said...

I’m looking forward to reading your book. I find India fascinating and I know you’ll do a wonderful job with the story. Thanks for the tips on word audio. I haven’t tried it, but if you do, I’ll give it a try.

James W. Ziskin said...

Great minds think alike, Keenan... You’re on the beta list.


James W. Ziskin said...

Thanks, Coni!


James W. Ziskin said...

Give it a try, Jim. It’s a great editing tool that no one expected.


James W. Ziskin said...

Rita, encourage your students to use it. And I agree on B and C. And Ellie Stone will be back. Spoiler alert: She makes a cameo appearance in this book. Well, not a cameo, but she’s mentioned a few times.


James W. Ziskin said...

Thanks, Nancy. Let me know if you want to read it early...


Susan Courtright said...

Thanks, Jim. I always keep your lists in a folder since you are uber organized. Be safe.

Ann said...

Great writing plan, Jim. Even if I don't write, I like to know the process. I look forward to drowning myself in the the monsoon.

Ann x

Gay Degani said...

So glad I caught this on Facebook. I haven't written a second novel, but short stories and flash stories still need to go through an extensive review and especially in regard to duplicate and left-out words. Never thought about Word having an audible ability!!! As I get older, there are more gaps that slip through. This will help as well as your other suggestions. Thanks!

Vinnie Hansen said...

Enjoyed your post, Jim. It made me feel better about saving my WIP as The Gun, Copy 10.

Craig Faustus Buck said...

Wow. How long does it take Word top read a 115,000 word book?

James W. Ziskin said...

Craig, you can modify the adding speed. Probably ages seven hours.


James W. Ziskin said...

Way to go, Vinnie!

James W. Ziskin said...

Thanks, Susan ad Ann!