The life of a writer

They say that writing is a lonely business. Well, tonight I’m inviting you in to see what it’s like. I completed the final draft of “Graveyard Shift” tonight, a 20,000 word novella that I have been working on since January. During the evening, I took some pictures of how I work, finishing up a final draft and packaging up the manuscript (which is going off to THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION first thing in the morning).

The first step in the process is to take the marked up draft manuscript and make all of the corrections and changes in the final draft of the manuscript. I’m a little old-fashioned, I suppose, in that I do not make my correction directly in the electronic document first. Instead, I print out a complete draft (in this case, 106 manuscript pages) and make the corrections and changes in red ink on the manuscript. Then I set the corrected pages on my page holder and go through them one at a time, making corrections into the final draft version of the Word document. You can see me doing this below.

Part of the reason I do things this way is by habit. Part is because I enjoy playing with the printed pages. In fact, I have this habit. As I complete the corrections on each manuscript page, I take the page off the page holder and toss it onto the floor. With most of my stories, this leads to fairly small pile of 20-40 pages. In the case of “Graveyard Shift”, there were 106 manuscript pages, which lead to this:

“Graveyard Shift” is a complex story involving essentially 5 seperate story lines that all have to tie together neatly in the end. It gets to be hard to keep track of all of this. I have a pretty low-tech method for doing this. I use index cards. In this case, each section of the story had a card (there are 28 sections or “chapters”). With the index cards, I could take them out of order to see an entire character’s thread, which helped with some of the changes I had to make this evening. This is what my desk looks like when I’m working with all of those index cards:

When the final draft has been entered and all of the corrections have been made, I do one read through on-screen to see if I can find anything else I might have missed. I rarely catch everything even on the read-through. But I get close enough. The read-through of a 20,000 word novella is tough. It’s essentially 1/4 of a novel and I have to read the thing outloud, slowly, enunciating each word so that I can catch the errors (any other way and I miss them). At that point, I print out a final draft on good 24 lb. paper. I also generate a covering letter. The results for “Graveyard Shift” look like this:

Finally, I get the whole thing addressed and packaged up properly to take to the Post Office in the morning. I love holding the completed package in my hand because it’s like holding the “thing” that my sweat and labors produced. It’s always a proud and exciting moment for me. I’ve completed yet another story (and a good one, I think)! Here I am at 1 AM in mild celebration:

Incidentally, for those who have been following along, I cut the final draft by 4 pages or about 1,000 words. Now, at last, I can celebrate. But not for too long. I have another new story to begin tomorrow, and I’m even hoping to complete it this weekend.


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