You Finished Your Manuscript! Now What? – Part One

You did it! You stayed focused, sat down at your laptop or computer, and finished the manuscript of your novel.  This is an exhilarating moment. From Chapter One to The End, you have written a complete story that you’re proud of, and you know readers will love.  

I know from experience that once you get to the end of the manuscript, you can feel a sense of relief. You’re done. It’s over. Now you can go and binge-watch Pawn Stars.  But, this is not the end of your manuscript’s journey. Far from it.  So, let’s explore how best to proceed when getting ready for your manuscript’s adventure.

[Writer’s Note: When saving your manuscript files, always put the title and the revision date as the filename (Example: TheField_06102018). This will help when you start rewrites, and you can keep track of various drafts.]

1.         Take a Month Off!

Now, you can binge-watch those shows you’ve been putting off. You’ve earned it for all your hard work. But there’s a reason behind this month: to give you distance from your material. It’s hard to be objective right out of the gate when you’ve worked so hard and for so long on something as massive as a novel manuscript. During this time, don’t open the file, and don’t retrieve it from a drawer if you’ve printed it out. 

Leave. It. Alone.

This doesn’t mean you can’t THINK about the novel, and this is when your brain will start to work in mysterious ways. You’ll be on a walk, or watching TV, or reading, or in bed at 3AM, and all of a sudden, a new section of dialogue that links two sequences will pop into your head. A better sequencing of events, a better description of a character or location, even the idea that a chapter can be cut will all flow through your mind.

If you think of something during the time away, write it down. Have a legal pad, the notepad app on your phone, or a separate file on your computer available to write down any and all ideas, edits, additions, etc. that come to mind during this month away. You’re still creating, still working on the manuscript, but in a periphery way that allows you to think clearly about changes you might consider once you return to the manuscript.

Like it or not, that great draft you just wrote has a lot of problems, and your brain knows it and during this time will slowly begin to tell you what the issues are and ways to fix the problems. I know this from experience, and it’s 100% true that this phenomenon happens. “What if…” “Maybe I should…” “If I have them go right instead of left…” 

If you think of it, write it down. Even if you look back at it later and go, “That was a dumb idea!” at least you won’t be mad at yourself for not writing it down.

Now that it’s been about a month…

2.         Welcome Back! 

You have your new set of ideas and notes. You have written down notes on revised chapters, character moments, and description. Now is the time to start fleshing those out – again separately from the manuscript – indicating at the top of each new section where it goes in the story (Example: [Dialogue right before the campfire scene]).

Write it all out in any way you feel is best. Then, once you have all the new content written, rearrange the sections in the order they will be added to the manuscript.  Take a day or two away from these, see if anything else pops into your head (inevitably, it will), and then make any revisions you need to these new sections.

3.         Time to Return to Your Manuscript 

It’s been a while. You haven’t seen each other for a long time, but the feelings are still there. You’re a bit nervous – butterflies are fluttering in your stomach – as you begin to read the first chapter…and it’s not as good as you remember.  

Don’t panic.

The good news is that you A) recognize that there’s an issue, and B) you can resolve the problem at this early stage of the editing/rewriting.

As you read, if you find section you don’t like and want to rewrite them, highlight them in BOLD, and keep reading. That way, when you come back to start the rewrite process, you know what areas to focus on. If you are reading a printed version, use a highlighter to indicate where issues are. 

I recommend doing this initial read over a series of days. If your manuscript is 300 pages, read through 30 to 40 pages a day. This is your opportunity to dig deeper into your story and see opportunities to fix issues.  Read too much in one sitting, and you begin to gloss over things, and this exercise requires your full attention. 

While you’re reading, you can now drop the new material into the areas of the story where it belongs, or you can indicate with brackets, ALL CAPS, and in bold where these new sections will go: [ADD NEW CAR CHASE ENDING HERE].  Sometimes, when I’ve noticed a chapter hits a dead end, I’ve added [MORE HERE] to indicate there’s an issue.

Now, you’ve read the whole manuscript. Let it sit for a week, then come back to it again.

4.         Time for a Deep Dive

Only you know your story. What you want to say. How you want to tell the story. Who your characters are. It’s all in your head. And now is the time to really start focusing on these things and making sure the story you want to tell ends up on the page.

This can be a lengthy process but a rewarding one. As you begin the rewriting process, you are wearing two hats: WRITER and READER. Your story should be something you enjoy reading as much as you enjoyed writing it.

During this phase, take your time. Read each chapter closely. Does it convey information about the characters and story? Does the chapter move the story forward? At the end of the chapter, do I feel the need to keep reading?  These are good indicators that your story is working, and it’s essential to take the time to make sure that every piece of the puzzle fits how you want it to.

Make sure to add in the new stuff you wrote during your month off if you still like it. Some you may decide you don’t need, or what you wrote doesn’t work with the new direction you’re taking the chapter. That’s fine. Your goal here is to do what’s best for the story.

As you rewrite, you will feel compelled to rewrite entire sections, revise dialogue, and maybe even cut sections or chapters entirely. Maybe there’s a character who’s just there with no purpose. Time for them to go. 

These are all positive things for your story and your manuscript. You are taking steps to make your story better, have more clarity, and flow smoother.  All good things.

Again, take the time to work things through. This could take a month, three months, six months. Whatever is needed to get the story to be exactly how you want it to be.

If you finish and want to take another pass, take a week off and start again.

5.         Remember, Writing a Novel is a Marathon, Editing is an Exploratory Nature Hike 

Outlines. First Drafts. Second through Sixth Drafts. You’re confident that you’ve got a solid story. That’s great. Now, the real fun begins. 

Editing!

This is the technical part of the process. Yes, you would think that your writing software catches grammar and spelling mistakes 100% of the time, but it doesn’t. It also doesn’t catch when you’ve used the wrong word, put the wrong character name, or left a line in from one draft that now makes no sense in the context of the latest one.

I have two pieces of advice as you begin this process: Pace Yourself, and Avoid Skimming.

Pace Yourself

Take your time to explore and read each chapter thoroughly to catch as many errors as possible. Break the novel down into manageable chunks so you can go into each section with a clear head and focused mind. Find it and fix it. And, trust me, you’ll find stuff.

Avoid Skimming

An easy thing to do, especially if you know your story and novel, but skimming could mean a missed extra word, the wrong tense, incorrect word usage, or other issue goes unfixed. Read. Every. Word. 

During this process, if you do feel something is missing and should be added, do so. Since you are reading the story so closely now, you may find that there’s a story problem or a set-up missing a pay-off that you missed. Fix it now.

I have also started to use the program Grammarly to assist with editing my manuscripts and writing. It’s been a great resource and help, but even it has missed one or two things.  The trick is to implement as many tools as possible to weed out as many errors as possible.

Next week, we’ll delve into the world of Continuity.  See you then!

Staying Creative and Focused When Everything Seems Crazy

It’s been over eight months since the Coronavirus pandemic shut down businesses and schools, locked down communities, and created a culture of wearing masks, caused us to use hand sanitizer everywhere, and made us wary of being close to anyone we don’t know. Add to that protests for social change, a crazy political climate, and financial uncertainty for millions, and the very thought of sitting down to write and be creative can be off-putting to some.

While I understand that the world has its ebbs and flows of chaotic news and events, as writers, artists, musicians, and other creatives, we have an obligation to ourselves and our own mental health to continue to indulge in the creative process. Through our art, we can help ourselves and others make sense of the world, understand our emotions and feelings, and get our thoughts out in a tangible form. 

It can also allow you the opportunity to escape the negativity of the world for an hour or two, to embrace an activity that provides a sense of normalcy in a world that keeps throwing pessimism at you 24/7.  Like you, I get overwhelmed with the news, the images, the statistics, and the political noise, which is why I’m happy to share some of what I do to keep the world out and keep my sanity and creativity in play.

Unplug

This has become a ritual for me on Saturdays. I turn off my phone, put it out of view, and either read, write, or do something that doesn’t involve continually scrolling my newsfeed or social media. It seems like a crazy idea at first since we all seem to be glued to our devices, but it can be mentally refreshing to distance yourself from your phone and not have the constant beeps, buzzes, and chimes of alerts attacking your brain every few seconds.

Even if you can only sit down and write, read a book, or even binge-watch a couple of episodes of something uninterrupted for an hour (not the news) or two, you will find that a lot of the noise in your mind will dissipate. You quite possibly will feel a bit calmer thanks to your phone being off and away.

Remember, even if you turn off your phone for a few hours to write or do something else, it’s not like the chaos will go anywhere.

If you have a family and they all have phones, plan a few hours each weekend to do things without phones and other devices. Connecting with people and not screens is a challenge these days for sure, but it’s a welcome respite from the constant barrage of news, politics, and pandemics.

Create a Creative Space

Maybe you’re not ready to sit down and write or create at the moment. That’s fine. Unplugging can benefit you no matter what you do with the time away from your phone.  However, if you are looking for an escape to a creative place, I recommend creating a space for you to work and be creative in your home or apartment.

It doesn’t have to be big, just a place where you can go and sit with a laptop, a pad and paper – or, if you’re really old school, a typewriter – and write for an hour or two. This should be a space void of your phone, social media, and the internet (yes, you can turn it off on your laptop or desktop), especially the news. 

In this space, you are the boss. You make the rules. And you are there for one job: to create. 

So, I have a studio apartment, but I have a space where I keep my laptop and a VARIDESK to stand if I feel like it. I have a comfy chair, as well. I have a legal pad and pen to jot down questions to look up later online, and a bottle of water. That’s it. Everything in the space is geared toward writing and creating with as few distractions as possible.

Now, once you’ve created your space, choose a time that best suits your schedule. If you have young kids, this might be in the evening once they’ve gone to bed, but the key is to enter the creative space and make the time to create. I write best at night, so I usually work for a couple of hours in the evening as often as possible.

Use Music/White Noise to Stay Focused

I just started doing this this past year and have found that it really helps me stay focused when I’m reading or writing. There are many, many ambient noise choices available on YouTube, but devices like Alexa also provide a library of ambient noises as well (and yes, if you want to use the ambient noises found on YouTube, you can leave the Wi-Fi on on your computer, but do your best not to go down the dreaded YouTube rabbit hole and become distracted). 

Personally, I prefer listening to a thunderstorm or snowstorm, but there are hundreds of these ambient noise videos to choose from that you can have on in the background as you write. Most of these videos range from one hour in length to ten hours, and the ones I have used don’t have ads that blare to life in the middle of the video. I highly recommend headphones or earbuds to help immerse yourself and block out any external noises.

Here are two that I use most when writing and reading:

Music is also a great choice, but make sure what you choose isn’t distracting. It should be music that helps you focus on your creativity and not pull you out of it.  Music can also be a great way to set the tone or mood for what you will be writing. 

Consider Your Time Writing as an Escape for Your Own Mental Health

Being creative is not a selfish act. It is a way to refresh yourself and your mind. We use films, TV, and books to escape reality, so being creative should be seen as another form of healthy escapism. 

As a writer and artist, you form new worlds, new characters, new stories, and new relationships. You can’t control the world around you, but you can – even for an hour – be the creator of your own worlds and give the real world a timeout.

Stay Positive. Enjoy the Time Creating

Even though 2020 hasn’t been a great year for most of us, we have to remember to stay positive. It is the arts that have sustained societies for generations through song, dance, painting, sculpting, the written word, theater, film, and TV. Humans who love to create and have a passion for creating must take the time to create. 

You must give yourself permission to enjoy the time when you are writing and creating. It’s a welcome respite from the chaos that has enveloped us this year. You can’t let doom and gloom consume you. It’s no way to live, it’s not a healthy way to think, and it can be detrimental to the creative process. 

There’s an exercise I once read about for people who overthink when they are trying to sleep. They are to keep and pad and pen by their bed, then write down what is keeping them up, and that is supposed to help them sleep better, knowing they can now save that worry for the next day.  In the spirit of that exercise, if you feel the world creeping into your creative space, keep a pad and pen handy and jot that item down. Then if you want to think about it later, it’s written down for you to think about once you’re down writing or creating.

Finally, If You Still Have Anxiety or Anger About What’s Going on In the World…

Write about it.  Get your thoughts, your emotions, your solutions down on paper or on your computer screen. Venting about the world is okay. It’s a healthy way to process what you are feeling, and you should take the time (maybe the first ten minutes of your creative time, if needed) to get these thoughts out. 

You could also practice journaling as a way to express these thoughts and ideas. 

I’m human, just like you. I see things on the news or read about events in the U.S. or around that world that upset me, anger me, and sadden me. But as I said before, you can’t allow those negative emotions to consume you, especially if you need to write and create. If you can channel those feelings into what you’re writing, do it. Just don’t let the world creep in and prevent you from being creative. 

I hope you found these tips insightful and helpful. If you have other tips about how you have stayed positive and focused on creativity during 2020, please leave a comment.

Happy 30th Anniversary, Wings! A Celebration of a Classic TV Sitcom

wings

Have you ever almost been physically injured while watching a sitcom?  I have.  The year was 1998.  It was my first semester of college, and I was enjoying my new schedule.  A schedule that allowed me to go to the gym early in the day.  I was on the treadmill at Sun Oaks in Redding, California, and on one of the TVs in the room was a show I’d never seen before: Wings

It was on closed-captioning, so I could only read the dialogue, but remember the episode distinctly.  It was from season 8, episode 21: “Oedipus Wrecks.”  I was running on the treadmill, reading the closed-captioning, and laughing out loud.  I laughed so hard at one point that I nearly lost my footing and fell off the treadmill.

Luckily, that’s didn’t happen, but at the moment I knew that I had to find out more about this show.  At this point all I knew about it was that it was hilarious, it was on USAM (Primetime Comedy in the Morning), and that I was now a Wings fan after one episode.

And so began my journey and my mission: I had to record and watch this series.  At the time, VHS was the big thing, so I would set the timer and record Wings whenever it was on USA.  And every day I would watch.  And I loved every minute of it.  The comedy.  The characters.  The storylines.  One fateful day seeing an episode on at the gym made me a fan for life.

It’s hard to believe Wings turns 30 this year.  It made its debut on NBC on April 19, 1990 and ran for 8 hilarious seasons.  Created by the team that would create another of my favorite shows, Frasier, Wings is one of the quintessential sitcoms of the 90s.  While it’s often overlooked by many, the series has a comedy style and dramatic undertone that makes it one of the best series I have ever seen (and I’ve watched it many, many times). 

Existing in the same universe as Cheers and Frasier, Wings is the story of two estranged brothers who reunite and end up working together at an airport on the island of Nantucket.  It’s part workplace comedy, part family drama, and 100% funny.  Wings has one of the best ensemble casts I have ever seen.  The chemistry between the characters and the actors is electric and incredibly fun to watch.

One of the keys for an ensemble show to work (in my opinion) is when any pairing of two characters can result in comedy gold.  And Wings was able to do that a thousand times over.  Each actor brings their A-game to each scene, each moment, and each storyline, and the result is comedy gold over the course of eight seasons and 172 episodes.

With VCRs gone the way of the dinosaurs, I was extremely happy when Wings popped up on DVD (and equally happy not having to fast-forward through commercials!).  Wings is what I consider a Comfort Show.  It’s a show that’s fun, light, easy-going, and there are plenty of laughs to be had after a stressful day or week. 

So stay tuned for more posts about the show, including posts discussing my Top Ten Favorite Wings Episodes in celebration of its 30th anniversary, and even an interview with one of the show’s writers. 

Wings is a series that doesn’t get the recognition I feel it rightfully deserves in the annals of TV history, and this is my way of making sure the creators, writers, actors, directors, and crew are celebrated for their efforts.

So, if you’ve never seen the show, I highly recommend you check it out on Hulu or Amazon Prime.  And if you’ve seen the show, why not watch it again! 

Here’s to Wings!  A great series, a great cast, and a great comedy.

Please Vote for The Field by Ian Dawson on TaleFlick Discovery This Week!

TheField

Hello!

I’m excited to announce that TaleFlick Discovery has chosen The Field for this week’s contest that starts Wednesday 04/15/2020 at 10:00am Pacific. This is a monthly contest in which visitors to TaleFlick.com vote on the stories they would like to see adapted to film or TV, and I would love to have your vote!

Voting takes place for three days, starting this Wednesday, and ending Friday at 4pm PacificParticipation is 100% free.  

Click on the link below to the TaleFlick Discovery page and vote for The Field by Ian Dawson beginning Wednesday, April 15, 2020 starting at 10AM Pacific Time

I appreciate your support!

Vote here: https://taleflick.com/pages/discovery

As a Writer, Has This Ever Happened to You?

At work this evening, a coworker of mine asked me what I was doing this weekend.  I told them I was working on my second novel, to which they replied, “You’re still working on that?  What’s taking so long?”  I started to laugh, telling them that writing is a process that takes time.  As I was talking, a classic scene from Family Guy flashed into my mind, which I promptly found on YouTube and showed to them:

No matter where you are in the writing process, people often will be amazed that you’re still working on something.  But the important thing is that YOU ARE STILL WORKING ON IT.  In progress is better than no progress, and what matters most is that you know that work is being done and that you will finished with it when you know it’s ready.

So, that novel you’ve been working on?  Keep writing, and never stop creating!

Farewell to Chuck E. Cheese’s Animatronics: My 80s Flashback

d7ffe6e08a382e0c9cf02d6931d43cbb

Chuck E. Cheese’s as most of us knew it is no more.  Recent news articles have reported that the animatronics in most locations will be removed, a dance floor installed in the main room, and tokens will cease to exist.  And while it appears that costumed versions of the character will be around, the singing, blinking, and pivoting robotic characters that have always been a staple of Chuck E. Cheese’s will slowly fade into entertainment yesteryear. 

This news made me a bit nostalgic, and it prompted me to write about my favorite memories from Chuck E. Cheese’s/Showbiz Pizza as a kid.

My family and I were frequent guests of Chuck E. Cheese’s/Showbiz Pizza back in the 80s.  The car dealership that my dad worked for at the time would have Sunday night pizza parties there when sales when they met their sales goals for the month.  And most months were would end up spending Sunday evenings there.

I remember entering the building, the air thick with cigarette smoke – this was the 80s before smoking was banned in public buildings – and the smell of fresh pizza.  It was loud, chaotic, and frenzied, and I loved every minute of it.

One of the thrills as a kid was taking a couple bucks from my mom or dad and feeding them into the token machine.  One dollar produced five tokens.  It was like hitting the kid lottery, and I had come to play!

pizza_time_theatre

The arcade area floor was covered in dark green carpet with Chuck E. Cheese’s face plastered all over it.  My favorite video game was Tapper, a game where you’re a bartender that has to run back and forth to serve people drinks.  If you fail, you either spill the beer on the floor, or get run down the bar and out the door by an unruly patron.  I’m sure that game wouldn’t fly for kids today.  Here’s a gameplay clip:

But the thing I loved most were the animatronics that performed every fifteen to twenty minutes in the main dining area.  At the time I was going through a phase where I was obsessed with puppets, Muppets, and all things puppetry. 

And during these peak years as a lover of puppetry, I was fascinated and mesmerized by these animatronic figures that populated Chuck E. Cheese’s/Showbiz Pizza.  I was never afraid of them, they never freaked me out; I thought they were really cool.

Balcony

In the 80s, the characters were up in a wooden balcony.  From left to right were Mr. Munch, Jasper T. Jowls, Chuck E. Cheese, Helen Henny, and Pasqually.  This was the era with the Warblettes, and the flags around the perimeter of the main room that waved when the show got to its finale.

And, I cannot forget to mention The King, a giant lion who sang Elvis songs in the lounge area of the restaurant.  I remember sitting on these black metal stools that bobbed up and down as he performed. 

The clip below is from one of the summer shows of 1988.  I remember this as if it were yesterday!

I watched them in awe.  Loving the shows.  Wondering exactly how they moved and operated.  And one day, I finally found out.

It was a weekday afternoon during a summer in the late 80s, and I decided that I wanted to find out how the characters worked.  I think I remember asking my mom if I could ask someone to show me, and she said okay.  I found a woman – who was probably 18 at the time – and asked her. 

IMG_4449
8-year-old me, circa 1988

Next thing I knew, 8-year-old me was being taken to a door next to the stage.  Inside was a wall-size computer with a reel-to-reel set-up.  A folding metal chair was in front of the console.  The woman showed me how they loaded the shows and told me that the characters were operated by compressed air.  Just seeing this technology – even if it was 80s tech – I was even more excited to learn how these characters came to life.

And back then I also knew I was one of only a handful of kids who probably knew how it all worked!

As my love of puppets faded over time and our visits to Chuck E. Cheese’s became less frequent, I still remembered that day and those fun times we had there.  And while I know from YouTube videos and news articles that the place has evolved and changed both in its aesthetic and in how the characters are designed, I will never forget the smoky pizza place where I learned how the animatronic magic happens.

What are your childhood memories from Chuck E. Cheese’s/Showbiz Pizza?  Leave a comment and let me know!