Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Taking a week "off"

In honor of finishing my novel, I'm taking the week off from writing. So, in lieu of actually writing something, I'll leave you with a link to the hilarious "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks. Bottom line: don't use quotation marks to denote "emphasis."

Monday, March 22, 2010

My book is DONE!

I finished my novel on Sunday! Two years and 7,421 revisions later, I'm done with Double-blind. And I met my deadline of March 21st.

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about adding some scenes, and/or hiring another editor to review the manuscript. But I decided that the narrative flows well as is, and I have all the scenes I need. I don't want to add anything just for the sake of hitting a word quota.

And I'm not going to hire a copy editor -- unless I decide later to self-publish. Over the past week, my wife (thanks Amy) and I each read through the manscript again and found very few errors. I could keep tweaking it forever, of course, but I want to move on. If I am fortunate enough to secure an agent or publisher who wants me to revise further, no problem.

The world of Ethan Cole in Mexico City has been exciting, and I'll surely miss it. But I've overstayed my welcome. It's so refreshing to leave it behind. And I'm leaving it in a good place. After reading through the whole book again, you know what? I like it. It's a pretty darn good story -- for a first attempt, at least.

Now, I can't wait to work on something new. But before I do that, I have another major step. It's time to research potential agents and start querying to solicit interest in my novel. But that's for another day, another blog post. Just for a while, I want to enjoy that rarest of feelings for a writer -- a sense of completion.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Call me Ishmael: Best Beginnings

As I near the end, I can't stop thinking about the beginning. I'm very close to finishing my book, but I keep coming back to the first paragraph. Over the past two years, I've rewritten the first paragraph far more than anything else. And I'm still not happy with it. The book opening is just so critical -- especially for an unpublished author trying to get noticed. It might be the only thing an agent or publisher reads before deciding to reject the book.

So, what makes a great book opening? Like so many things in writing, it's hard to put your finger on. For me, the perfect first paragraph should tell me everything without me knowing it. Like the start of A River Runs Through It: "In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing..." Only later do you realize how right that first sentence was, and how much the author was telling you with so little.

LB readers, what are you some of your favorite book openings?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

100th Post!

That's right, this is my 100th blog post. That means some of you (thanks Mom and Dad) have endured 100 straight weeks of The Leaf Blower. In celebration of this milestone, I'd like to recap ten of my favorite posts, in no particular order:

Writer's Best Friend - Chester: I introduce a perennial Leaf Blower favorite, my black lab Chester.

Rejection, Konrath Style: Famous author JA Konrath writes a guest post about being rejected -- and my readership increases a hundred-fold for a day.

Writer's Best Friend, Part II - Hannah: The picture of Hannah on Chester's bed might be my favorite photo on planet earth.

The Feuilleton: I attempt to write a story using an entire month of MW's words-of-the-day. Fondly reminds me of the year when I had a lot more time on my hands.

Dog Days of Winter: I develop a case of doggy tourettes syndrome.

Always be closing: My first speed-dating experience at the San Francisco Writers Conference.

Hannah Moosh Babushka Houshmand Vanportfliet, 2000-2008: Eulogy for my writing partner. Can't really call this one a "favorite," but it's one of the most significant.

Don't Bring Me Down: Top ten worst classic rock songs to write to.

Back to the Sea: An exercise from my writing class. One of a few pieces of fiction on this blog.

How to Pitch a Book: My success at this year's San Francisco Writers Conference.

Chester, again: Sorry, had to include an eleventh one -- about Chester, of course. Here, he tries to steal a tennis ball off the bottom of an old man's walker.

Thanks for reading... looking forward to 100 more!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I am right to you from my speak fascination sofa wear.

I have a new tool in the war chest: speech recognition software. After years of hearing about it, I finally picked up Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which claims to turn your voice into text three times faster than you can type --with 99% accuracy.

I’ve been testing the program for about a week, and it takes some getting used to. At first, my writing came out like email spam from the deposed prince of Nigeria. But the program learns quickly. It adapts to your speaking style, your unique phrase usage— even your accent. It’s eerily good at it catching stream-of-conscious ramblings. It is awkward, however, when you’re writing something with a lot of punctuation, like dialogue. It just doesn't feel natural to say “open quote, that’s great, exclamation point, close quote, he said, period.”

I’ve read that some professional novelists use this program almost exclusively to write their drafts. One famous writer supposedly spends her entire day laying flat other back, talking into her headset. That's not for me. Not only would I fall asleep instantly, but I would miss what I see as a critical step in the creative process: there's something about the deliberate movement of my hand, the friction caused by that extra step, that forces me to think for just a second longer before putting something on paper, and helps me access a part of my brain that can be a little stubborn.

But the program is quite helpful for second drafts, or what I call draft 1.5. When I’m writing a brand new scene, I like to write freely in longhand -- just let it go and see what happens. Then I type it on my computer, repeating some sentences verbatim, reworking others, and skipping some completely. Speech recognition is great for this, because while it feels cumbersome to type something you’ve already written, it doesn’t feel that way to speak it. Besides, one of the best ways to edit is to read something aloud; it’s much easier to pick out the false notes when you have two senses working together instead of one. And once you learn some basic commands (undo, delete this, add that) you can do extensive editing without ever touching your keyboard.

Where I think this speech recognition thing could really take off is blogging, where perfection isn’t the goal so much as getting your voice and your content out there in real time. Blogs are by nature more conversational. It's about showing your authentic voice. And what could be more authentic than speaking directly to your audience? That said, I wrote this on my trusty keyboard. My wife rolls her eyes every time I speak robotically into my Dragon NaturallySpeaking headset. So I don’t think she’d be thrilled about me doing it at six in the morning.