ROLLING A ROCK INTO THE CLOUDS: Revising a Long Manuscript via Kindle & Desktop Computer

Relentless Need to Edit…

The proof and revision of a 85K word novel (as I’m doing now) means what? It means reading it over and over again and marking it up. A relentless approach seems to be best for me, but it is quite a bit of work. I can understand why some publishers don’t want to do it anymore. Sorry, someone must do it! I guess that means me.

I hope I don’t shock or upset you. I have found it easier to do this work without paper–without repeated printing out and fumbling through a stack of 300-400-500 pages. Forget the menace of too many trees! But don’t forget the part about grumbling to the store for more ink. Don’t forget the need to gently remove the helpful four-legged office assistant who is attacking the printer. The towering stack of pages… a breeze gathering…

Send to Kindle!

Here’s what I do. I take the latest copy and send it to my Kindle account. (More about Send to Kindle here.)

I wait a few minutes. This is a good time to pour another cup of coffee. Then, coffee cup in hand, stare out the window. There is usually a helpful squirrel available to keep me entertained. Suddenly, time’s up. Now view it on my Kindle, either the iPad software version, or my actual Kindle device.

These devices have survived Luddite rages intact and proved their worth. Have I proved my worth to them? I believe I have until my next OS update to do so.

Kindle Markup, Notes, & Robot Voice

On the iPad, I use Kindle’s good markup and highlight capabilities to make edit notes.

Sometimes I have the Kindle device’s robot narrator read along as I read and make notes.

The robotic voice is an old friend by now. He sounds like a robot version of a Ken Burns documentary narrator. There is a twang in his voice that tells me he has attended a robot game of night baseball in robot Kansas. Where are my real friends? Why don’t they volunteer to take on this job? No, Sisyphus rolls his rock alone.

That issue aside, the steady robot voice keeps me moving along, not too fast and not too slow. Hearing and seeing the words gives me two ways of noticing things I want to change.

“Need more adverbs and adjectives,” that’s usually what I think, adding several in a row. “Less words with common letters like that strumpet vowel ‘e’.”

Kindle highlighting ability allows 4 different colors and a note-taking in the form of an annotation attached to a little blue icon in the text.


“Needs more Adverbs”

You can use colors as “tags” for type of problem. Perhaps every reference to a geographic feature I wanted to confirm on a map I could tag yellow with a swipe of my thumb. I could tag repeated words in a paragraph blue, typos red, prose that needs revision orange. The colors are a quick and simple way to remind myself what I need to address when I come back to it. But typically it is enough to simply highlight the area for fixing.

A Question of Tools & Morality

This is easier and more convenient than leafing through a stack of loose papers printed in water-soluble ink, trying to decipher my cuneiform symbols.

The new tools help. Do I need to apologize to those who still prefer a quill pen, and grind their own ink in mortar and pestle? As they write their olde time long “s” with the antique calligraphy of an exuberant “F”, do they not realize the damage they do? Does not the “s” written as a wild “F” render the foundational Bill of Rights of the USA overly stimulating to schoolchildren and encourage their disobedience? I do not want that on my conscience.

Rolling up the Rock of Sisyphus

Moving on, we see that time has trundled forward, the sundial itself is exhausted, yet I am still editing… Yes, on and on the relentless and painful editing goes on and on…

Ugh! It is not the joyous life of a lawyer, running from lunch to courtroom in pleated suits and fancy briefcases with glamorous she-lawyers.

It is not the glamorous life of a scientific researcher, who at this moment is telling the NPR intern, “That didn’t work so let’s try this. I never said it would work the first time. In fact it proves me right.”

And yet! By jove! Somehow the lowly writer is making progress! I am adding a note and typing, “More like this.”

Rolling down the Rock of Sisyphus

If I had a particular idea to revise a sentence, I could use my thumb (and indeed would, regardless of the luddite controversy) to add it as a note. Perhaps my note is asking me to check to make sure the color of the character’s pants does not change between chapters. Usually I only need to type in a few key words (or less) I need to remember the idea.

“This is good stuff, man! Bret Easton Ellis would never think of this.”

Editing the Master Draft

Once I complete the Kindle editing of my manuscript, I heave myself up on hind legs. Then shuffle in my torn neolithic slippers back to the kitchen. I drink more coffee, staring out the window, measuring the progress of the arboreal rodent fellows.

Then I shuffle with bulging eyes to the chrome hyberbaric chamber where my writing desk lurks, blinking and humming in a wreath of steam. The four legged office assistances spring and leap into their dutiful positions! They lift their heads a little in greeting.

I prop my iPad beside my iMac and coordinate my views on the manuscript.

Location, Location, Location

This is not the type to think “Needs more adverbs, more gerunds.” Discipline! Find your notes. Coordinate your documents.

Here’s where a good “Find” feature helps in the software editor. The Kindle app does as well. In fact, when click the search icon, it will show you a separate list of all your notes and highlights.

Again, Rolling up the Rock of Sisyphus

Edits done, I do not relax. No, I must roll my rock up the hill again.

I drop the manuscript on the “Send to Kindle” icon, then climb uphill from my desk to my couch. Then I manfully lie on my couch and read. Hey, I’m working!

I read it again. Let’s hope the errors are fewer!  I try not to change the color of the character’ pants, but sometimes, the muse calls. The muse calls.

What is the next step? Alas, Sisyphus, you must repeat.

Dip Your Generous Eyes

This was my first use of the maturing Cloud technology as part of a unified writing effort over multiple devices. Sure, it was a consumer app triangulation in the cozy form of documents in my Kindle library. Yet the use of multiple devices this way lead me easily to see the stunning joy and glory of syncing work between them, using iCloud and Dropbox, and not admitting one more thing which is so shocking and disturbing that I dread to mention it…

But no, I shall mention it! Starting to let go of Microsoft Word as a primary tool! And moving to Plain Text with something called Markdown.

That is a vast topic which I will try to examine in a future posting.

A Mayakovsky poem asks heaven,

“Isn’t it tedious

To dip your generous eyes into clouds

Every day, every evening?”

Me, I don’t speak for heaven, but for earthly writing work the answer is: not at all.

Published in: on June 25, 2013 at 3:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gifts of a Four-Legged Office Assistant

My writing routine changed recently when my chief office assistant fell sick. Although screened for Feline Leukemia, it turned out Phineas had it from birth. As the vile retrovirus switched from latent from active, he weakened. It was only then we learned what was happening to him. For all the while, he was valiantly making his rounds, continuing his duties supporting me.

He had a few weeks to live. I happened to have flexible responsibilities just then, so I could stay by his side for his remaining weeks. Some of that time he chose to take his post on my writing desk, or in my home office window. He would lie heavily on his side, eyes open, watching birds.

Of course, this home hospice care was sad and difficult. Aside from some obligations, I did not care to do much writing. I did, however, think about it. When he chose to lie in a patch of sunlight on the floor, I would sit next to him with my iPad and read.

As I thought I was assisting him with my company, he was *still* assisting me.

You perhaps have heard the famous Montaigne quote? *”When I play with my cat who knows whether I do not make her more sport than she makes me?”*

It was difficult to read for pleasure, so I ended up reading about the Cloud and how I could integrate it more into my writing life. This was Phineas’ last gift to me as my writing assistant. Without his gentle disruption of my habits, who knows when or if I would have taken time from my usual concerns to explore these developments?

Although already a DropBox and GoogleDocs user, I hadn’t yet realized how Cloud infrastructure had integrated to give writers significantly new ways to work using Cloud, desktop computer and mobile device. These Cloud storage devices can provide more than just floating copies of files. I don’t know if this is internet 3.0, 4.0, or 5.0, but something has changed. There are new options, and good ones. I will write more about that later.

Phineas supported me to the last day, feverish and weak, but still trying to help me. After two days, medication failing, his temperature rose to 105.9F. He chose to spend his last hours on my writing desk. With loving mercy, we said good-bye. He was not quite six years-old.

Published in: on June 11, 2013 at 9:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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