Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why Writers Go Gray

Sharon Wildwind

I have a writing organization program that I love. It does everything except make tea. For all I know it can make tea if I find the right combination of keyboard shortcuts to push.

It does have one irritating feature. Let me say right off that I’m not blaming the programmers. My knowledge of what goes on inside my computer is so thin that it’s translucent, but it’s enough that I have a glimmer of why this particular thing happens, and I’m cool with it.

“Please keep in mind that if you reformat a template and then try to convert a document previously formatted with the the old template, you will lose all previous formatting. The document reverts to unformatted text.”

So says the program’s manual. The problem is that I read this paragraph after reformatting a template and importing into it a 45-page document.

What I am left with is one all-capital-letters paragraph a gazillion pages long. Okay, maybe not a gazillion but long enough that the draft of the first three chapters of my Work in Progress now resembles James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Yes, I worked on a copy, so I still have a file containing those useful things like lowercase letters, indents, and paragraph marks. The problem is that I spent a heck of a lot of time—about three days—getting the new template exactly the way that I wanted it and I really want to use it.

The program manual reassured me that I could still use the new template by reformatting the document one line at a time. I don’t know if that is good news or not, but I’ve spent four hours today doing just that.

It is mind-numbingly boring.
~Identify what looks like one sentence.
~Use a three-step keyboard shortcut process to convert the entire sentence to lowercase letters, and then reconvert the first letter in the sentence back into a capital letter.
~Scan the sentence for any other proper nouns that should be capitalized and manually convert them.

The one good thing is that because I have to pay attention to one line at a time, I’m doing a great edit. I just hadn’t planned on doing that this early in the manuscript.

Which got me thinking—I’ve had a lot of time to think this afternoon—about what are the most boring tasks writers confront. Strangely enough they all have to do with details. My list is

Recovering text. In other words, what I’ve been doing today.

Doing battle with a word processor’s grammar program. “Yes, stupid machine, that sentence does contain a verb.”

Proof-reading an Advanced Reading Copy. In addition to having read the thing so many times that I can’t see mistakes any more, Fear lurks behind my shoulder whispering in my ear that this is absolutely, positively my last chance to get it right.

Jamming square pegs in round holes. No matter how I twist it, turn it, or try to shave it down to size, I eventually have to admit to myself that this [character/scene/plot] isn’t going to work and it’s time to start over.

Isn’t it a good thing that the rest of writing is so much fun?

Quote for the week
Beware of the person who can't be bothered by details.
William Feather (1889 - 1981), American publisher and author


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Wow, Sharon you learn something every day. I had no idea my computer could change all caps into lower case. Or is that just for Mac users? Comparatively speaking, your tech savvy is a lot better than translucent!

Sandra Parshall said...

Writing a crime novel requires attention to so many little details (What time is it now? Did he have time to get from there to here? What color was this minor character's hair the first time he appeared?)that my mind is numb when I leave the work-in-progress for the day. It's amazing I can put together a dinner that isn't poisonous. And I hate proofing ARCs! I always see so many ways the book could be improved, but except for fixing typos, it's too late.

Anonymous said...

Liz, most computers have a way to create some combination of all uppercase, all lowercase, all small caps, first caps of individual words, capitalize first word in a sentence, and maybe a couple of more.

In Word the process is select text to be changed--Format--Change Case--select one of the five options given--OK

Sandra, for me the hardest thing is who knew what when? Did Jason know that Sylvia had been married previously? When did he learn it? How did he learn it? How did the person who told him know? etc. Makes my head spin.

Fran Stewart said...

I recently reformatted every single one of my books to conform to the e-book format required by Smashwords. Talk about mind-numbing. And then I had to do it again (in a somewhat modified form) to get them onto the Kindle site. But it's done. Now maybe I can start writing for real again.

Leslie Budewitz said...

In my house, we call that mental space Sandy described "writing world." Since we're both writers, we know it can be a challenge to come out of writing world and try not to jar each other too abruptly!

Anonymous said...

Fran, you have my sympathies. Congratulations on getting that done.

Leslie, I have a "writing hat." When it's on, I'm in writing land and my husband knows that if he interrupts me, he'd better have a fireman with a need to evacuate the building right behind him. :-)