Revision: How A Book Gets Better

So, I’m pretty sure this is a good book that I’m writing.  I mean, I don’t know for sure that it’s publishable, especially in the current condition, but I know it’s at least almost there.

And it’s getting better.

I’m now in Chapter 3 of the revision pass.  Last night, I saw that I ended one scene with the character leaping onto a vehicle and heading off to pick someone up, and then in the next scene, I begin when he gets there.  In reading these scenes, I realized that there’s a problem, and it’s kind of a big one:  The character makes a life-changing decision in the space between scenes.

Well, that’s clearly not going to work.  So I started writing what Jim Butcher calls a “sequel,” that is, a quiet scene in which the character reacts emotionally to the previous scene, works through his possible options, and makes choices.  They also allow (and even encourage) the reader to connect emotionally to the character.

In the process, I added several hundred words.  And I’m not even finished, yet.

It’s this ability to easily insert the scene that is why I love Scrivener so much.  Sure, I could do the same thing in Word or some other word processing software, but the way that Scrivener makes it easy is really something, and it doesn’t require me to reformat anything, move any text, or anything other than insert the scene where I want it and write.

The most important thing about this, though, has nothing to do with the tool I’m using.  It’s that even recognizing the lack means that I’m getting better as a writer.

And that’s precious.  That’s what I got from Viable Paradise, and it’s why I’ll keep telling people to apply until the day VP stops happening (may that day never come!).

RIP, Leonard Nimoy

Farewell, Spock.  As the New York Times is reporting, he passed away this morning.

Nimoy, and more specifically his alter-ego in Star Trek, was important to me as a kid. I had a TON of anger issues, and the Vulcan was an inspiration on how to control myself.

See, in the lore of Star Trek, Vulcans don’t actually lack emotion–they are, in fact, deeply emotional, but in a profoundly dangerous way, quick to act on negative emotions. In their history, a man arose who espoused a way to control these negative emotions.

To a kid suffering from massive anger issues, this was a good thing. Spock’s fictional example of controlling his emotions even while maintaining and cultivating deep and meaningful friendships with his fellow crew helped me to find a way to suppress my negative impulses, while not going “full robot” and suppressing ALL emotion.

Beyond that, Nimoy was a kind soul, and a good man, and the world is poorer for his passing. I’m glad I met him.

Nimoy dealt with his share of angst regarding his most famous role. He famously published his autobiography in the 1970s, titled I Am Not Spock, in which he lamented the shadow cast on his work by the famous character. Later in life, he published a second version, this time titled I Am Spock, in which he described coming to terms with the fact that he would be forever known for Spock, and accepting that it brought as much joy as irritation into his life.

RIP, Leonard Nimoy. You were far more than Spock.

Revision Is a Beast With Too Many Teeth

So I began revising The Damn Book.

Damn this book.

I went into the revision process knowing I would have to jettison and rewrite one chapter that just didn’t work.  And I knew I wanted to insert a few “interludes” that would show what daily life in the Empire is like for humans.  What I didn’t expect was finding so many little details that just bother me, and need to be fixed.

I don’t know how other people do revision, but here’s my method:  I read through the story as if I was just reading for fun, find things I want to fix, and fixing them as I go.  It’s not the slowest thing in the world, but it isn’t the fastest, either.  I find myself constantly going back in the narrative, looking to make sure things are coherent, checking to make sure what I think is the standing reality of the story is actually making sense with what I did last week.

The one nagging problem I’ve got is that I’m wondering why I insisted on writing this in first person.  I think Book 2, should it come to be, will move beyond first person and start showing some of the other possible viewpoints.

The work proceeds, but it’s slow–less because of methodology and more because of life and work events that preclude writing time.  My wife is dealing with some debilitating pain from an unspecified cause, which means I’ve been handling more than my usual share of child-related responsibilities.

And of course there’s the day job.  I had been all caught up with grading, but I’ve gotten behind again, largely thanks to idiotic administrative decisions that have necessitated me doing the vast majority of scutwork I used to be able to delegate to student aides, leaving me less and less time for the rather intensive work of grading essays.

My goal at this point is to get this book finished before I leave for my Scotland trip, which gives me four months.  I should be able to do that, right?

The Real Cost of Teaching

These are all real kids I’ve taught.  They’re not the majority, of course.  The vast majority of students come, do OK in school, and graduate.  No, these are the ones who stick out in my memory.

James was a freshman who didn’t think there was any point to school.  He wouldn’t do his homework no matter how many times his teachers called home, gave him detention, or offered to help.  He wouldn’t do his classwork unless the teacher stood over him the entire time.  And sometimes, he liked to scream “Fuck you!” at the teacher so he could get sent out of class.  James’ parents did nothing to help him, and were barely ever home, often leaving on trips to Las Vegas or Reno, leaving him to himself.

Alyssa was a bright girl, and tried her best–but once she got home, she was expected to take care of three elementary-aged children while her mother went to work.  She hadn’t seen her father in fifteen years.  Her friends said that if she did too well in school, she was “acting White.” They mocked her constantly.  She tried anyway, determined to get out of poverty.  But her homework was less than stellar, because she was too tired when she finally got around to it at 10 or 11pm that she couldn’t do her best work.  Against all odds, she graduated high school. College, however, has eluded her.

Elliot was a bright kid who got As in every class. But he knew that the California State Tests cannot, by state law, affect his grades, so he didn’t even try to do his best work on the test.  He answered the obvious questions, and randomly bubbled in answers on any question he didn’t know the answer to before he looked at the choices.

Roman was from Ukraine.  He barely spoke English, and couldn’t read it well enough to do well in any class.

Rose was from Armenia. Not only was her English sub-standard, but she was borderline mentally handicapped, and she’d never been in school until she came to America at age 14. She simply couldn’t earn above a D in any class in high school,  but her parents didn’t want her in classes where she could have gotten extra help.   They’re afraid the stigma of special education would mean she couldn’t find a husband in their closed-off immigrant community.

Clint dealt drugs, from pot to meth.  He thought that was the way he was going to become rich, and he didn’t care that he was destroying lives, including his own.  He got kicked out of school at 14 because he was caught selling on school property.  His parents tried to fight the expulsion on the grounds that he was just “trying to support his family.”

Veronica’s first words to me, on the first day of school, were “Fuck you.”  She was in 6 fights in three months of high school, resulting in five 5-day suspensions and, at the last, expulsion.  The last one was so bad, three police units responded to the call, and the kid whose head she kicked repeatedly ended up in the hospital for more than a week with head trauma.  Her father watched the video of her kicking the kid in the head and tried to defend her on the grounds that a) the other kid deserved it, and b) we couldn’t really see his daughter’s face on the video, so how did we know it was really her?  Why did the fight start?  Because the other kid was wearing blue.

Brenda hadn’t seen her father since she was six years old, when her brother killed him in self defense right in front of her. She was a sweet young lady, but prone to anger and full of pain.  She did what she could, but her grades were always middle of the road.  When I last heard from her, she’d given up on college.

This is the real cost of teaching. We want to help them, but the reality is that there is only so much we can do, and for some, it simply isn’t enough.  No matter how we try, we cannot make up for all the crap they have to deal with.

So you do what you can.  You take what minor victories you can.  And you try not to let it destroy you.  Some days are awful.  Some are OK.  A very, very few are good.

But at the end of the day, I’m not sure I want to do this anymore.