State of the Writer, December 2013 edition

This was supposed to be a post at the end of November, but November kind of got away from me, in the sense that a book was due at the end of it and it was not finished yet.

But it is now December, and the book is finished, so I am allowed to post. Or sleep. Or both, although it’s harder to watch what I say when I’m sleeping. I am behind on email. I am behind on tumblr. I am behind on facebook. I will be behind on twitter as of tomorrow. I am about a week’s worth of words behind on Oracle.

But: I am finished Cast in Flame.

November was largely one small first world crisis after another (things like: washing machine dying), with writing wedged in between moments of “OMG can’t any of this wait until December???”. And bonus shrieking.

I was very happy when I had 80K words of Cast in Flame because I was certain the book would only be 120K words long (which is generally considered long in today’s market). I was wrong. Again. The ending got kind of complicated. It’s easy to think “and then (elided) will happen, and then it will be over!”. Generally it takes more words than that to actually write the (elided) section.

So the book I was certain would be finished by 30 November wasn’t finished by 30 November. Apparently, according to Amazon & B&N, the book’s On Sale date is the 29th of July, 2014. And no, there is no cover art. Or if there is, I haven’t seen it yet :).

I have also been–except for the last “OMG IT’S DECEMBER!!!” week, been working on Oracle. It’s not finished. I think it will be finished in three months–but I have no publication date for it, yet. Because it’s not done. I mentioned I’m a week behind in Oracle words. I have difficulty working on two projects simultaneously at the end of a novel. So the first writing thing I want to do is catch up on those words.

After which I will start Grave

I’ve also written a book review column for F&SF.

I haven’t done much of anything else. At all. And no, I have not even started Christmas shopping.

I feel as if I am always struggling to catch up. I often think if I were more focused or better at organization, I would never fall behind. Or if I had a more realistic idea of how long things would actually take. It’s not like I haven’t been doing this for two decades now. And, to be fair to myself, until Touch, I was in a good writing space. But Touch, being what we affectionately refer to as a book from hell in my writers’ circles (the unaffectionate references being NSFW), knocked everything off the table, and I have been trying to pick up all of the things that fell and return them to their proper places.

But: when I’m writing actual book words, when I’m writing and things I’ve been struggling to keep in the air finally fall into place, I love writing. And in spite of all the whining, that hasn’t changed.

I have a new web-site!

I have a new web-site (and a new blog, although I think I’ve imported almost everything from this one). The URL, which is imbedded above is:

I will be blogging there in future. Go and take a look :).

State of the Writer, April 2012

Writing was severely truncated for about ten days while I and a strep bug had a heated battle over who was in charge of my throat and ears. I won. I fell behind in, oh, everything, while I was sick.

I have an on-sale date for Cast in Peril, as the sell sheets arrived at the store while I was sick. The date is September 25, 2012. I’m waiting copy-edits and line-edits, but for the moment, the book is out of my hands.

Touch, the sequel to Silence, is possibly the most difficult book I’ve ever attempted to write, which, given Silence was one of the easiest, is responsible for the loss of great clods of hair. Sometimes books surprise me.

My new web-site is almost ready to launch. I’ll post here when it’s good to go.

And…the real reason I’m posting tonight: at 178k words, I have finally thrown in the towel: War is not going to be a single book. My long-suffering editor was, well, long-suffering. The book that is scheduled for January is therefore titled Battle, and it is not yet done. I almost did what I frequently do – write while the words pile up and hope and hope and hope that I will be finished it any word now. But I did that with City of Night and House Name, and had to split the book anyway, which meant there was a much longer gap between publication of City of Night than there had to be =/.

So this time, I tried to look at things realistically. I expect Battle to be at least as long as Skirmish.

I am going to try to get through the page proofs for the print-on-demand version of the Essalieyan short stories this weekend, because I have let that get completely away from me, and someone in email reminded me of it. I am also going to be working at the Bakka-Phoenix table at Ad Astra on Friday and Sunday this weekend (I’ll be in the store on the regular Saturday hours).

State of the Writer, February 2012 edition

First: Joey Shoji has mentioned here and elsewhere that there’s a cover for Silence posted elsewhere on-line, but only in thumb-nail. I will be doing a post – and uploading the cover image – later this week; possibly later today, depending on how the writing goes.

And now onto the report:

Cast in Peril is off to my editor at Luna; I finished and submitted it late last night.

Peril was difficult for me, in part because I realized at about 130k words that there was no way the events in the West March were going to be resolved in one book unless I threw away most of the 130k words I’d written by that point–because, well, there weren’t nearly enough words left. Unfortunately, most of those words are plot, and are required for the events in the West March. I phoned my editor, we talked, and after much discussion, she said “Yes, you can write two West March books, but only if there is a reasonable and satisfying arc that is self-contained in Peril.“ I returned to Peril. I revised Peril. I restructured Peril, and now, it is in the hands of my editor.

War is not yet done. I have 160k words, and it is not closing in on the end, but it is going well — for a variety of well that frequently involves hair-pulling.

Touch, the second book in The Queen of the Dead trilogy, is in progress. That’s the book I started over, when I realized that it had to be from an entirely different viewpoint, and it follows Silence.

And that is it for me. I will be continuing to work on War and Touch.

Meanwhile, the web-designer is now working on translating the mock-up of her design to an actual web-site, which will relaunch sometime in the near-future, which is exciting (at least for me!). I asked, a while ago, for opinions about web-sites, usability, and etc., and the end results should reflect some of that advice.
A little bit of a process coda (and the usual disclaimer, that no two writers have the same process and that I can speak emphatically only about my own):

If there was one thing I would teach myself, it would be the relation between story and length. Other writers, other professional writers, can and do come within natural striking distance of the word-length they’re given. Regularly. It sometimes makes me feel like I still haven’t found big-girl pants =/.

I always start out thinking “this will be short”. Sometimes it’s more of a prayer, but you get the general idea. I have good intentions. I tell myself this will be the book in which I come in at the right length.

Silence is, in fact, under 100k words. But it’s under 100k words in large part because it takes place in the here-and-now and the setting isn’t an issue in the same way it is for secondary worlds. The strangeness of Silence is entirely in the situation & the characters, at least until the second book. But this incredible success at finally writing something that is marketable length obviously went to my head.

So: a bit about story and Michelle.

I always think “this will be short” because the kernel of the story, in my mind’s eye, is easily grasped (usually because it’s the end). It’s easily written in a paragraph or less; it is entirely what it is and it feels contained.

Getting to that point, however– building the story that resonates with that kernel, is never completely predictable. Ever. Elements of story rearrange and reinvent themselves in my subconscious, introducing factors that add to, and strengthen, the whole – but all of these take actual words on the page. Sometimes it’s conversations. I have a very long conversation (between Jarven and Finch) in War; I think, at the moment, it is my favorite thing in the book. But if you asked me how long it would be before I started writing it, I would have said it would be half its current length–at a maximum.

Add to that the elements of the world that exist in the background that suddenly and inexplicably enter the foreground in ways that a) feel completely true and b) are not going to make your book any shorter or any less complicated (in Skirmish that would be almost everything that happens from chapter five on). The only thing I have found that works to kill this type of length is to immediately delete the written words and start again in a more orderly fashion. In the case of Skirmish, mentioned here because it is much on my mind, I couldn’t. I could not do it. Because sometimes the story as it unfolds on the page is the story. It wasn’t exactly what was planned, but it is viscerally, emotionally true.

So at some point, “this is going to be short” turns into “this might be long” and that turns into “OMG I AM DOOMED”. It’s like clockwork.

And if you remind me, after Peril is out in the wild and discussion will not be spoiling, I will tell you exactly where all the length was, and why it wasn’t immediately obvious to me that it would be long.


Wendy Good, in the comments to the previous post, asked: How many more Cast books are you currently contracted for with Luna? Will you seek contracts for further Cast books or is that too far reaching of a question? I dare to ask because I don’t want them to end. I know all good things must eventually, but would love some reassurance regarding the next few years, if at all possible. : )

The answer was: The one I’m working on now (which is Cast in Peril).

The answer is now: The one I’m working on now (which is, oddly enough, still Cast in Peril) and three more Cast novels, none of which have titles.

Some of the questions about various elements of possible future books – the Dragon Court – are affected by events in the almost available Cast in Ruin. Which is all I’ll say for the next few months, because anything else is so heavily into spoiler territory I will get hate mail at the very least.

I try very hard, with the Cast novels, to start with a very, very simple statement about the book before I begin writing. Cast in Silence was: Kaylin confronts and finally accepts her past. No, really. Cast in Chaos was: An influx of refugees causes panic and fear in Elantra. No, really. Cast in Fury was: In the aftermath of the panic caused by the tidal wave Kaylin must deal with an artiste — while Marcus Kassan is relieved of his duties on charges of murder.

Cast in Peril was a small paragraph. Some of which I can’t detail, because it follows from Ruin. Cast in Peril is not the book I planned. Which is to say, it is the book I planned, but in planning, I seem to have forgotten that plot takes words, and the more plot there is, the more words there are, and at some point, there are too many words, because clearly I thought I could fit everything into one room. An apt analogy would be furniture: the fridge is now sitting in the hall and the dining room table is the TV stand, and there’s no room for anything but the couch because you can’t get past the table, and for some reason I thought it would all fit in one room.

In this, I absolutely blame Teela; it is entirely her fault. Well, actually, that’s possibly not fair. It is also the fault of another character I can’t name yet.

What I really want to do is post Chapter One of Cast in Peril. And no, of course I won’t, because it will make no sense if you haven’t read Cast in Ruin.

ETA: I think Cast in Peril will make sense to a reader who hasn’t read the previous books, in as much as that’s possible, but readers who have will immediately say: who the heck is (character name redacted)?

State of the Writing, September 2011

I’ve been revising Silence, the first of the DAW Sagara trilogy now called The Queen of the Dead. It has now returned to my long-suffering editor at DAW.

While working on the revision, however, I have also been writing.

Cast in Peril is almost finished. Which is good, because it is due Soon. I have author copies of Cast in Ruin, and author copies of the mass market of Harvest Moon, which contains my 39,600k word novella, “Cast in Moonlight” (yes, it’s still a novella; it hasn’t broken the 40k word mark which would put it in short novel territory). These go along with the author copies of the mass market versions of Cast in Fury and Cast in Silence, but without toe stubbage.

My husband decided to build a steel shelf in the basement on which to put author’s copies of the various books. He managed to get everything on the shelf, and it all fit perfectly — until Cast in Ruin and Harvest Moon arrived. While he is always happy to see the finished books, because they are totally real, I think over time his enthusiasm for them has waned a bit…

War, the final volume of The House War, is not finished. It is not close to being finished. It is, I think, just under half done. But it does progress. I admit I am dying to know how people feel about Skirmish. Yes, I will post sample chapters, but I’m waiting until we’re closer to the publication date (which is January 2012). Also, waiting for the finished cover, so I can post that.

On my plate now:

1. Redesign the web-site a bit so that it looks more modern. When I say “redesign” what I really mean is find someone who does not have the graphic design acumen of a brick to hire to do it for me. But to do this, I will need to visit a photographer to get an author portrait. And before I do that, I might as well replace the glasses that are slightly broken, and have been for mumble mumble time.

This redesign is supposed to help people who have no idea who I am or what I write find information about both who I am and what I write in one easy page load. Since I demonstrably know who I am and what I write, it’s not always clear to me when things are hard to find, and since I’m the one arranging the links and pages at the moment, I also know where everything is. I have a blind spot. Or more than one.

But…I do frequent some author blogs, and I hate the flash screens that basically pop up a picture which says “click here to enter” or something similar. The things which make a blog useful for people who read and comment on it aren’t always useful for people who just want information – and vice versa. There are one or two which I really, really like, but one is very slow to load (which, being me, I really really dislike).

This will not happen overnight (I can’t even see the optometrist until the 13th), so if you have any comments, suggestions, or requests, I’d be happy to see them.

2. Proof, format, and put out the other fifty-two stories. This is also not going to happen overnight, sadly. It’s the first work-related activity which I set aside when I have writing related work arrive in my inbox. I try to always write new words on a daily basis, but to do things like copy-edits, page-proofs and revisions after that. If there are no copy-edits, page-proofs, or revisions, I use the “after” time to proofread and format. I will be doing that for the next week or so.

3. Continue to write Cast in Peril and War, of course, and this should probably have been number 1, but I take for granted that it’s the high priority of each day.

I seem to be asking a lot of questions lately

… And here’s another one. In multiple parts. But first, the background. I will try to keep it short. (Yes, and I originally thought the Sun Sword was going to be two books…)

A graphic designer I know is between clients, and she is doing covers for my short stories. If I haven’t mentioned this yet, I intend to bring them all out in ebooks as singles, with the first six being the West stories related to the West novels. (I also intend to bring out the six as a single, unified collection, in both a print-on-demand large format paperback and an ebook. If there is enough demand for it, I will also gather the stories and offer them in print-on-demand collections as well, wordcount permitting.)

I asked for simple, minimal covers that were similar in look so that people who saw them would realize they were short stories, not new novels. I’ll be interested to hear what people think of them when they finally see them.

She’s just finished the first six covers (whereas I, of course, have not finished the formatting of the first story, although I only have the Smashwords .doc to go).

For a variety of reasons, most of the stories were originally published under the West by-line.

My husband and my Australian alpha reader both feel — moderately strongly — that the stories should be numbered; my long-suffering husband also feels that, with the exception of the first six, they should be presented in order of publication. So far so good. (I objected to the numbering initially because it implies – to me – a series, and the stories, with the exception of the two Augustine Painter shorts, are not connected. But…they will, in fact, be numbered, because my objections were mild, and as so often happens in marriage, one compromises if one’s partner’s feelings are stronger.)

The graphic designer has finished covers for stories 1 through 6; she’s ready to keep working. I have to give her the stories, with a length (short or novella), title, and … author name.

I’m not sure what to do about the author name.

(a) I originally thought I would separate them by tone: the high fantasy (or original world fantasy, i.e. the fantasy that doesn’t take place in our world) as Michelle West, and the contemporary fantasy as Michelle Sagara. But I’m not sure what I would do with the SF stories (or the few alternate histories).

(b) And then I thought I would just bring them all out as Michelle Sagara stories. (c) But the first six are definitively Michelle West stories. So maybe I should do them all as Michelle West, since that’s how they’re starting, and since they’ll be numbered.

(d) After this thought, I thought why don’t we just bring them out under the name they were originally published under? Because I have already been threatened with bodily harm for not deciding on one name for the sake of bibliographers (it was an affectionate threat. Mostly).

And then I thought I would maybe go revise Skirmish instead of angsting. (I’m almost finished that revision; there was one tricky part and it was only recently that I figured out how to handle it in a way that didn’t give me ulcers, but I really like that part now. The problem with revision, for me, is that frustration breeds contempt, and if the frustration continues, I lose all confidence in any of the words and start rewriting them in a way that doesn’t actually make them better.)

But…the graphic designer can’t do any of the covers without that information, and if I continue to wibble indecisively, she won’t have time to do them later.

Yes, I am finally getting to the question.

Should I:

(a) attempt to group them using either West or Sagara, which is highly subjective

(b) keep them all under one name as Michelle Sagara

(c) keep them all under one name as Michelle West

(d) use the name under which they were originally published


(e) some other option which you will explain in the comments.

The one thing I don’t want to do is bring them all out as Michelle Sagara West.

Some facts about self-publishing in 2011

Elsewhere on this site, I’ve mentioned my intention to self-publish (re-publish?) the Essalieyan short stories that have appeared in various anthologies. When I said this, I knew very little about the entire process, but assumed that the text would be the most time-consuming part of it. As it turns out, this was not entirely accurate. Everything else is also time-consuming.

A reader of this blog offered to deal with one of the things I most dreaded: comparing text to the print book for differences, and catching those errors in the text he himself inputed, line by line. When the text comes back to me, I have two proof-readers (not including myself) who will then read it in printed form, to catch anything that he missed.

It’s impossible for one person to catch everything, no matter how careful or competent they are.

The incredibly impressive Courtney Milan has a post on her blog which describes the process of text handling from manuscript to finished product (in this case, ebook, but the steps are derived from the process of shepherding a book from author’s hands to printing press). She is not making this up, and her point – that no single person can catch all errors, is absolutely true in my opinion, and in my experience.

Sometimes readers will assume that because I have the electronic files of the manuscripts for any given work I’ve written on hand, the conversion into ebook should be simple and effortless. I believe there are some authors who do, in fact, do this.

But what can (and in my opinion is likely to) happen in that case is described here, at Dear Author, a romance review site run by a woman who is also, in my opinion, incredibly smart. The part that’s relevant (although the Harlequin news is relevant to me on a different front) is near the end of the column, in which Jane posts two paragraphs of text which contain four errors.

While the text I have on hand doesn’t have that many, it’s entirely possible that some other work of mine could. Most of my mistakes, on the other hand, are touch-typist mistakes; if I’m typing, I can just as easily type “talked” instead of “talking”, which by the way really really really irritates me, as a reader. It looks like a tense change — in the best case. These are the mistakes that a spell check won’t catch; a spell check also won’t catch the wrong name, missed words, or its vs. it’s.

If you do read the Milan blog, you’ll know that the substantive editorial work has already been done. The manuscripts I have have all gone through editorially requested revisions. But the manuscripts I have have gone through none of the other stages. In order to get them into shape, I have to consider the rest of the editing process. It’s difficult when dealing with short fiction, because Amanda Hocking aside, collections or short stories are not likely to sell in huge numbers. Paying for cover art work, paying for copy-editing, paying for formatting, and paying a proof-reader can quickly make short fiction a money losing proposition. Jim C. Hines, on his blog, has posted his numbers for the two books he’s released on his own (one is a mainstream novel, and one is a short story collection of stories associated with his Goblin Books.) Although his collection is shorter (mine is about 100k words – everyone act surprised), I’m realistically assuming similar numbers for what is a similarly themed work.

I can check the manuscript I have on hand against the printed book; I can change what needs to be changed to reflect it. A line-by-line comparison can be done, by me, at the cost of only my time. (At the moment, it is being done by a reader, at the cost of his time, my gratitude, and my attempt not to feel enormously guilty). It’s one way of dealing with copy-editing, because the text on the page has already been through a copy-edit. But the resulting text still has to be proofed, preferably by someone who is not me, because someone else will have natural sensitivities to errors that I don’t have. I print out the stories in a font and format that is very close to a printed book page, because changing the format changes the text and the way I read it.

Garfield Reeves-Stevens said to me, after my first book was published, that it’s inevitable: the book will arrive, you will open it with excitement and joy, and the first thing you will see will be the typo that everyone missed in every pass of the book. (He was right, and I am actually good at proofing the galleys of my own books; one of the several people who missed that mistake was me).

But the alternative – publish what I have – produces something that’s not as close to a book’s reading experience as I can possibly make it, and that gives me ulcers. I have some of the best readers in the world; they are certainly some of the most forgiving about my various delays. But I think they deserve the best effort I can make (which is often the cause of some of the delays). Forgiving me for making the book better* is not the same as forgiving me for being cavalier.

However… it’s not just the text. Once the text is as perfect as it can be made (and I’m absolutely certain something will escape uncorrected into the wild), there’s more.

What I have discovered so far:

1. Covers are necessary. Even for a short story. No one uploads a book without a cover, these days; at least one service will not offer the book for sale without one.

2. I have no visual acumen whatsoever. I spent twelve hours of time I could have spent in revisions (I wrote first, before I started) looking at stock images and at deviant art. What I discovered is that I know when I like a piece of art or a photograph – but that I have no ability to gauge whether or not an unadorned image will work as a cover. In the sink or swim world of the self-starter, I had an anvil tied to my ankles. So: covers clearly are never, ever to be done by me.

3. Formatting is not entirely trivial, and at the moment, for only ebooks, three different formats are required: an epub (which as far as I can tell is mostly html/css), a mobi file (for the Kindle), and an MS Word .doc file for Smashwords. The latter is the only way I can make the book available for the Nook. If I had a business address in the US, I could upload directly, and that would make this a lot less painful because I can upload an *epub* directly. At the moment, however, I get to play with MS Word style sheets in order to format the book.

4. A print book – even a print-on-demand book – requires an entirely different format, and print-ready typesetting, or as print-ready as someone who has no native DTP experience can make it. There is no automatic generation of, for instance, a table of contents, among other things.

5. The last round of proofing. Some of this can’t easily be done by me, some can. The last round involves downloading the finished books, or sections of them, to see what the formatting glitches are for each venue in which they are available. I assume, because I haven’t done this on anything but my own computer yet, that the glitches are format only, and not in the text.

Having said all this, I do intend to bring out the Essalieyan short stories. I intend, at the moment, to re-release all of my short fiction as individual short pieces over time. But because I’m still working out what has to be done, and because I’m in the process of doing it and the learning curve is highest, and because the bulk of the writing day has to be given over to writing (War and Cast in Peril), it’s not going to be as fast as I would have liked.

* better, of course, being a subjective term

Version control, sort of

Aaron asked, in the previous thread:

A bit off topic, but you don’t have a general “contact the author” web submission page and this may be better suited for your LJ:

Actually, before I get to the question, let me quickly say this: If you have a question that I think I can answer, you can leave it in a comment thread, or you can email me at Actually, even if I can’t answer it, you can do either, but it’s less productive.

I won’t answer questions about future developments unless the question is really, really general (e.g. Will there be more about dragons? (Yes)), because some readers are very spoiler-averse. I’m personally not one of them, but I try to respect that reading choice (and it drives my husband crazy when I flip to the end of a book I didn’t naturally arrive at by reading through all the intervening pages).

This is subject to the fact that I am terminally underorganized, and frequently behind (I’m actually almost caught up. My inbox is only at 348). There is a lovely, funny post at Hyperbole and a half, titled “this is why I’ll never be an adult which caused me to cringe in instant self-recognition.

Speaking of which: the page proofs for Cast in Ruin have gone back to Luna. There is now nothing else I have to do to make this a book, except wait. I am, on the other hand, doing final (editorial) revisions on Skirmish. Or will be, once I’ve finished this post.

And now: less PSA, and more answer. The actual question:

How do you feel about self-published authors or established publishers being able to retroactively copyedit e-books and release ‘new and improved’ versions of their texts? Do all future copyedits have to go through you (the author) for approval? Do you think that there is potential for abuse if people fundamentally change the structure? Would you go back and change minor details (e.g. eye color)?

I had to think about this one for a bit.

Henry James revised all of his novels at one point later in his career, and this was well before the time that such a production would have been effortless on his part, or the part of his publishers, who were still stuck with moving little slugs around in order to actually print.

Stephen King revised the The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger before he finished the series. He added 500 pages or thereabouts to The Stand. There are other authors who have gone back to do ‘authoritative’ editions of earlier works. The difference is, it’s not easy compared to revising and resubmitting an ebook.

Publishers have always had a method for tracking errors in printed books, if they’re aware of them; if a book goes back to press (i.e. they print more), they can fix typos while they’re at it, and this isn’t announced. On the other hand, I’m not sure how many publishers still do this. Publishing has become very lean, and I imagine production departments are pushed to exhaustion merely getting the new books to press.

A major print revision would, of course, require complete resetting of every page, and it’s therefore not done often; when it is, it’s for authors whose audience is naturally large enough to include readers who would want or insist on owning a book that is very similar to the one they already own by the same author.

So, it would depend. To a lesser extent, revisions to text were done before ebooks. Fixing formatting errors in ebooks, rife because of the lack of standardization in the process, seems like it would be a godsend, frankly.

A major revision done by a self-published author also doesn’t seem an abuse of privilege, to me, in the sense that s/he is altering his/her own work. I would love to change about four small things, myself, because, you know, making mistakes of that nature in my own books is really, really stressful, guilt-inducing and embarrassing. In public.

I would have serious, serious qualms about a publisher randomly revising my text – but I cannot honestly bring myself to worry about this on the print side of the equation at least; the publisher’s production departments are hugely overworked, and they’re unlikely to try their hand at secretive editing in the middle of their day. In the extremely unlikely event a publisher should somehow decide to hire a copy-editor for a manuscript that has already been printed and published, I doubt anyone would think to ask me first.

But I honestly cannot see this ever happening.

I do know that BenBella did work on the Sundered books after their first release, to clean up the text and the formatting. At the time, I had no e-reader, and I haven’t actually seen either the formatting/typo ridden versions or their improvements. I have no issues whatsoever with the clean-up; I think there might have been ulcers had I seen the first release.

However having said that, there were readers who were deeply upset at King’s revision of his own book. I understand why. As a reader, I form emotional attachments to the books I read and loved years ago. I will return to them. I love them now.

As a writer I understand the desire to change finished books, I really do. I feel that I’m a better writer than I was when I started out in 1991. (In 1986, to be fair, but the book wasn’t published until 1991). There are sentences, paragraphs and whole scenes that I would like to nuke down to zero and totally rewrite. There are plot threads I would like to flesh out, and plot threads I feel are enormously clunky. I’m allowed to feel that way. I am not the same person as I was in 1986. Or 1991. Or even 1996.

But what I feel about my own writing and what readers feel about it are not the same. I have whole days during the writing of any one of my novels in which I feel like an abject, talentless failure. I conversely have days where I desperately want to be able to immediately send all my readers the scene or scenes I’ve just finished because I feel so certain they will love them. Both extremes are part of the process of writing a novel–at least for me.

What I hope for, at the end of any novel, is that the finished book will speak to my readers; that it will move them, that it will mean something.

But some of the books I would rewrite, revise or alter have already done that. They’ve moved readers. It’s why I still have any of them (readers, I mean). And if I go back and change those early books wholesale, I’m destroying some part of the experience of those readers. I’m effectively saying they’re wrong to love the work, or that they had no taste because the books were so bad they need to be obliterated and totally redone.

I love early books by some authors with an abiding and unreasonable devotion–but I’m aware that their authors, decades later, do not feel any of that same love. At all. Ever. And if one of those authors were to take the books that spoke so strongly to me and demolish them in the service of improving the words, I would feel it to be a tragedy.

So. I do not feel that an author revising their own work is abuse, per se. It’s certainly not illegal. But I still feel that if you wrote the best book you could at the time, it’s better to find the best books you can write Right Now than it is to revisit and change the older works.

The only case in which I feel this would not be true is if you personally feel that you butchered the book because your publisher insisted that it had to be cut by 75k works. In that case, though, I think it would be better if you published a second edition – a clear, distinct “author’s preferred” edition.

I’m not sure if that answers the question, because I’m not entirely certain what you mean by abuse. If it doesn’t, and you elaborate, I’ll do likewise.

In the meantime, how does everyone else feel about the idea?

Tools of the Trade Part Two

I promise I will go back to more specific writing related posts (which are less frequent), after this post.

I used to keep all of my notes in Claire Fontaine notebooks — the ones with graph paper pages, instead of lined or blank ones. I fell out of this habit when I got my Newton MessagePad 2000 (later upgraded to 2100), because there is still no device that’s better for handwritten input. Except for the aforementioned notebooks, of course.

When I wrote, before I had luggable computers, I sat in front of an IBM selectric.

So I had notebooks and multiple different pens. I did love computers and word processors when they finally arrived in my life, though. I loved that I couldn’t run out of paper, that I didn’t need to change ribbons, that if I wanted to change a paragraph, I could change it without retyping everything. However…

There were things I did on a typewriter which translated perfectly to a computer. And there are things which I did in notebooks which didn’t make that transition as seamlessly. All this to say that there are things which I just don’t do on a computer. It’s not that I can’t, of course; programs exist for everything. It’s that I don’t. I was given an iPad as a gift. Like many people, I couldn’t really see what I would do with one; I have a laptop if I need portability, and I have an iPhone if I want to listen to music (or make phone calls, even). The iPad, from the outside, seemed like something I wouldn’t really have much use for.

As it turns out, I was wrong. Because the iPad isn’t a computer, to me; it’s a notebook, in the older sense of the word. I use it for all the things I don’t do on my computer. Not everything I do on the iPad is work-related, but I’ll list the applications I do find useful for writing-related tasks.


First, iA Writer. It’s in the mid-range of app prices at $4.99. (The biggest surprise for a former Newton user is the price of the apps. Given what many of them do, they are soooo cheap in comparison to their desk-top counterparts). It’s an application for writing. You can use one font. In fact, you can use one font and you can’t add any emphasis. The font is specific to the application; it’s a monospace font. It has the usual built-in on-screen keyboard, but adds a bar for punctuation that writers commonly use, and it synchs with dropbox.

I don’t do a lot of writing on the iPad, but I’ll write if I have a long wait at the doctor’s office, or similar places. I find it clean, simple, and easy. I thought, when I got the iPad, that I would have to spend money on a physical keyboard – but the onscreen keyboard is good enough for the amount of writing I do.


One of the things I have never done on a computer is a To-do list. One of the things I use daily on the iPad is — wait for it — a To-do list. Lists were one of the things I composed in my paper notebooks. The app I currently use is ToDo. It is also $4.99. I use it for writing; I have recurring daily tasks (book words), and when an idea for a blog-post strikes me, I’ll jot it down in the list. You can have multiple lists – for home tasks, for work tasks, for whatever-you-want tasks; you can tag every item and search for items by tags. You can make a ToDo item a project. For instance: The West short story collection. When you make a project, you can then add individual items – an item for edits on each story, an item for finding a cover designer, etc., etc. I track things like page proof due-dates as well.

(I use a different application for gift lists and home lists: Sorted. It’s much simpler, but I really like the way it looks. I make things like Christmas Lists or packing lists (for travel) using this. Which is not about work, but it’s a small digression. It’s 0.99.)


As more publishers transition their offices to an electronic work-flow, I’ve started to get contracts — in email. Usually as .pdfs. Some of those, I need to print and sign in ink, but some of them, I can just “sign” electronically and send back. I have resisted buying Adobe Acrobat just to alter a pdf to this extent. However…I can do this on the iPad for a cost of between 4.99 and 9.99. At the moment, I’m using PDF Expert. I have a saved signature, written in i-ink on the iPad. I can drop it into any part of the pdf, and when I email the pdf to myself, my signature is now there. So are any changes I make, any visible text I add, and any notes; all of my highlights and scribbles or strikeouts are also preserved in the pdf.

If I wanted to do exactly the same things on the Mac, I would need to pay a minimum of 139.99.


Before iPad, I’d often idly wondered how much time I spend on each book, on blogs, on short stories. myWorkTime, at 2.99, made the curiosity far less idle. I found set-up very intuitive and very simple. It works like this: you create clients (in my case, publishers for novels, editors for short stories, and myself for blog posts). After this is done, you set up projects for your clients: so if the client is DAW, I create projects for all the novels I have in progress. After the projects are done, I can create tasks for each one – as many, or as few, as I want. “Writing” is always one of them, and is the obvious one – but since I have to review copy-edits and page proofs, and I also have to revise, I’ve added those as well.

Each level — client, project or individual task, has hours associated with it. If I want to know how long it took to write the book, I can look it up; if I want to know all of the time that went into a book, I can look at that, too. I can set a dollar value per hour worked, although in my case it’s academic.


Those are the writing related applications I use most frequently, although I have dictionaries (ummm, a few) that I refer to if I’m not actually sitting in front of my computer.

On the macbook, I’m currently experimenting with Spell Catcher X and Marsedit (on which this was written).

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