Category Archives: Writing

Behind the Scenes

Apart from the thrill of working on something tremendously cool and with someone whose work I admire, I’m really appreciating being a part of the writing team on this video game project. Put that way, as my contract does, it makes me sound much more involved than I actually am, doesn’t it? (My contract also stipulates that I must be available for promotion, interviews, conferences, and anything else they deem necessary for marketing purposes… at which point I snickered a lot, because who is going to want the copy editor’s point of view around game launch time? “Tell us, how does the insertion of a comma here or the use of a proper em dash instead of a double hyphen subtly affect gameplay? How is that experience deepened and made more impactful for the player?”)

What I particularly appreciate about this, however, is reading the story.

I suck at video games. My brain doesn’t seem to work the way games expect a player’s brain to work, and it makes for a very frustrating experience. So all this time I’ve been perceiving video games as these horrendous blocks of weird puzzle-solving or monster-slaying, of fighting with the controller to try to get it to do with what I think it wants me to do, and ending up just walking away. I have several friends who are writers within the video game industry and who talk about the storylines and dialogue, and while I have known that logically, this is what makes a player care enough to move on to the next challenge and advance the story, I have not experienced it personally.

So working on this script, even peripherally, has given me a wonderful opportunity I otherwise wouldn’t have had. I’m following a story, an actual narrative, with none of the gameplay that makes me crash and burn. In fact, the gameplay is often noted by a single sentence between square brackets in the script. (That’s right; the thing that takes you three hours to play through can be a single sentence in the script, because it’s not handled by the scriptwriting team. Different people entirely take care of that.)

I get to read a story involving certain characters, protagonists and antagonists, and it amazes me that the scriptwriting team can demonstrate so much about individual characters within so many constraints. The story of this particular game has to unfold and advance, but on a more focused level, the story of these specific characters also develops and advances. And on a broader level, the story of the overall franchise has to further develop and advance, as well. It absolutely fascinates me that all this can be done through dialogue. And spare dialogue, at that; spare in the sense of being brief, not the sense of being extra. There’s nothing extra here: character-building moments have to do double duty, advancing the story or delivering key information to the player at the same time. It’s incredibly interesting to observe, especially if I have the chance to follow a scene or set of scenes that undergoes a major rewrite.

And in unrelated work news, I’ve been handling some other projects in my off hours. I just finished working on a STEM book, which needed heavy, heavy editing, and I kind of burnt myself out on it. My current project is a homeschooling book, which is a peach of a manuscript; it’s so very tidy and perfect, so perfect that my attention wanders away while I read it, because there are no errors to trip me up. I have to keep bringing myself back and refocusing!

Oh Look, It’s the End of February

And really, March 1 cannot come too soon.

I don’t have the energy for full paragraphs. Let’s do a point-form post.

My first two weeks on the video game project are done. So far I am enjoying it.

In my off time I handled my first project of the new year for the publisher. It was a Star Wars book. Yet again my geeky hoard of trivia proves useful! (Here’s a tip for you: The term ‘Jedi’ is a singular plural. One Jedi, two Jedi, many Jedi. Never Jedis. Never. LOOK, I CAN BE GEEKY ON MULTIPLE LEVELS HERE! AND PEOPLE PAY ME FOR IT!)

I started my free month-long trial of subscribing to Scribd for e-books and audiobooks. All things Agatha Christie have been converging in my life, and I decided to subscribe to an audiobook service so I could listen to her books while I spin or knit, but I find Audible very expensive for what it is. Scribd is $8.99 a month and offers unlimited access to a tonne of audiobooks, and e-books, too, so I went that route. (Bonus, I discovered: comics and graphic novels. Awesome.)

I am knitting a hat for a swap, and I am arguing with it. I have already ripped it back twice, and I suspect I will do it again. I just don’t know if I will try the pattern a third time, or give up on the decorative stitch part and simply knit it straight, then add a little something to it afterward. That kind of feels like cheating or giving up, but it may save my sanity. Ceri pointed out that the pattern isn’t hard but it’s tricky, which can be just as frustrating in a different way, and she has a point. Add that to the fact that I can’t knit anything more complicated than basic stockinette or garter in a room where there are other people, and there is a problem. It doesn’t help that the deadline for mailing is in one week. I could have been done by now if I hadn’t decided I really wanted to spin the yarn for this project. (But I did, and it’s terribly nice to knit with, I must say.)

I’ve started spinning more yarn for Mum’s beautiful silk/cashmere/Merino wrap. She’s getting close to the end of the stuff I made for her in 2013, and it’s not long enough, even taking into account the length blocking will add. I am so glad I took good notes about how I made the initial yarn.

One month till the chamber orchestra’s spring concert. That’s… soon. (Saturday 21 March, 7:30 PM at Valois United church. Mark your calendars. It’s a lovely programme.)

Yeah, Owlet’s post is late. That’s par for the course these days.

We had a lovely little Valentine’s Day tea party for our goddaughters, and it was so much fun. We finally got to use the half-size china teacups I bought Owlet for her first birthday for the kids. There were several courses of delicious tea-type foodstuffs, excellent company, and it was just a lovely day all around.

I got a new fountain pen; a Noodler’s Ahab in the colour Ahab’s Pearl. It’s a flex nib, and I’ve been really wanting to try a flex nib. It’s got a thick barrel, like my Waterman Kultur. I would have preferred a Konrad or a Nib Creaper, both of which are slimmer, but WonderPens.ca didn’t have them in stock at the time and I had really promised myself a new pen when the big cheque for the math book came in. I inked it with J Herbin’s Vert Empire, and I am smitten. I am also wholly smitten by the converter it came with, and the converters I ordered for my Waterman and Parker pens. I put some Diamine Damson in my extra-fine Sheaffer pen, and it writes so much more smoothly than it did when inked with the Noodler’s #41 Brown. I think the Diamines may be lubricated; I’m not entirely certain.

Okay, that’s enough. Back to work.

Back to Work

It’s been an awful week and a half here. Everyone except Sparky was very ill with the flu. Today is the first day everyone is where they’re supposed to be. We’re all tired and drained, most of us haven’t eaten properly all week, and I’m still mystified as to how Sparky managed to escape all of this. (HRH thinks it was sheer force of will, because we had a Lego party for five of his friends slated to happen here yesterday, and we warned him that if he got sick we’d have to reschedule it. He stayed well, and the party went off brilliantly. Six ten-year-olds, a tonne of Lego, pizza, and a movie; it was a good day.)

This is good, everyone being where they’re supposed to be, because I am starting a new project today, according to the contracts that were countersigned last week. I signed an NDA in early January, heard nothing for a while, and then was in negotiations with Paris office at the end of January. (Full confession: I enjoyed saying “I’m in negotiations with Paris” way too much.) This week is devoted to getting to know the project, the team, and talking about guidelines and standards. It’s an exciting project and one I’m very interested in working on. It’s an experiment of sorts for the employer who signed me, because they’ve never had a devoted copyeditor oversee all the written content for a project like this before. The team’s writers are said to be happy, too, because a pair of outside eyes is going to be going through it all for consistency and stylistic tweaks before release. It’s difficult to do that for your own writing, especially when there’s no clear stylesheet and several writers contributing. I like to think that if it goes well and there’s a measurable positive impact, then this may become a repeat gig. (And I’m not just saying that because I get to work with a very good friend. Observing inconsistencies or errors as a consumer drives me nuts; I like to think it’s good business sense to have a copyeditor manage the vast amount of text produced in a project like this.) It’s full time for a month and a half, then a possible week after that, followed by two (possibly three) more weeks at different times between April and June as various parts of the project come due.

On Friday I also accepted my first new project of the year from the publisher, which I can work on in evenings and on weekends if necessary. It’s short and a lot of the work I’d normally do is already done, as tends to be the case when I handle a manuscript for this particular editor. While the exciting new contract is theoretically full time for these six weeks, turning something down from the publisher felt like a dangerous move, especially if I’ll have to do it in a couple of weeks once I’m actually buried in actual deadline work for the new project. Every time a freelancer has to pass on an offered project, it’s a bit less likely that they’ll be assigned something the next time a manuscript comes up for editing. It’s good to stay on top of things and keep one’s availability fresh in the coordinator’s mind.

It’s been a quiet year work-wise so far. It’s nice to sit down and be able to work again. I certainly needed the break, and I am endlessly grateful that I didn’t have work that had to be done last week when I was out with the flu, or the week that Owlet’s daycare was closed in mid-January… but it’s good to get back to my desk. Just cleaning out the mess my work and personal e-mail inboxes had become over the last three weeks felt great today. Now… to work!

On Pens and Writing

It’s never been a secret that I am a stationery geek. I love pens and blank notebooks of all kinds.

Recently, my love of fountain pens has been rekindled. My four fountain pens have been in their glass cup on my desk for a few years, ever since I ran out of ink cartridges for them. I own a Sheaffer Javelin with a F nib (which is my favourite), a Parker Vector with a F nib, and a Waterman Kultur with a M nib, as well as a standard Sheaffer calligraphy pen that came with three italic nibs of different widths. I use the smallest italic nib for regular writing. Nothing high end, mostly student-level models that I like. (I mourn my lost Pelikan fountain pen, which had a perfect nib for my handwriting style; not too wet, not too scratchy. I also have a collection of dips pens that is stored in a writing box.) I do so much work on the computer that buying new cartridges seemed wasteful. Besides, the only cartridges I could find for them were filled with black or blue ink, neither of which are colours I enjoy working with very much. I love brown ink the best, and while I used to be able to buy brown cartridges at local office supply stores and even pharmacies, those days are gone.

But a couple of spinners I follow online mentioned they got orders from Goulet Pens, and one day I clicked through to the website and fell into a deep rabbit hole. There is a very healthy market for fountain pens of all price points, and better still, there are inks. Oh, the inks! All sorts of colours and effects! But they’re mostly sold in ink bottles, and my fountain pens take cartridges.

A bit of sleuthing turned up a couple of options. I could wash my empty cartridges and refill them with syringes (this is perfectly acceptable and operable, but apparently the cartridges can begin to leak over time), or I could buy converters for my pens. Converters are essentially refillable ink reservoirs.

And rather than dropping thirteen to thirty dollars on a bottle of ink, I could order 2-ml samples to experiment with and help pinpoint the right colours I wanted to invest in to use! An average pen cartridge takes 0.5 to 1.5 ml of ink at a time, so it’s a decent amount for a trial. Shipping from the US and our feeble Canadian dollar led me to find Wonder Pens in Toronto as a Canadian alternative to Goulet Pens, and I used the last of a prepaid Visa card to order some samples of brown ink and a couple of syringes. I’ll save up for converters. (Of course all my pens are from different companies, so I need different converters. Figures. I suspect I may not get a converter for my Waterman Kultur; I tend to prefer using finer nibs.)

Tied to this is my investigation of pencil grips. When I handwrite for a long period of time, my hand cramps up. I looked into this and discovered that there’s a whole subset of pediatric occupational therapy devoted to pencil grips, examining efficiency and physical issues arising from the odd grips children develop to offset various obstacles. I use what I have discovered is called a thumb (over) wrap grip, where the web space in my grip is closed and my thumb wraps over the pencil and my index finger. This leads me to use my whole hand as a writing unit, making larger movements from the wrist instead of just moving my fingers. In addition to this, I grip my pencils tightly, which leads to fatigue and stress in the hand and forearm. My handwriting is neat (although less so when I write quickly) but I have to rest my hand frequently.

With the desire to begin using fountain pens again, I’ve started thinking about how I hold them and how I can make handwriting a less tense experience. Since most of my work is done on the computer and I only take brief notes with pen and paper as I work, it isn’t generally an issue, but I’ve begun working on a new story and it wants to be handwritten, so I’m running into these issues again after a long time. It’s interesting to look at this from an adult perspective, as opposed to a child learning cursive. I’m aware of the smaller elements, requirements, and stresses in a very different way. Having new inks to play with will encourage me to practice a new adapted grip, too.

In Which She Creates Her First PowerPoint Project

(Or whatever the Google Drive equivalent is…)

Sparky’s class is doing a Careers module. As part of this research unit, parents go in and do a 30 min presentation on their jobs. I volunteered, and then wondered what on earth I’d do to make my job sound interesting. I mean, I love it, but I’m sure “looking at text for mistakes” sounds like a prison sentence for nine-year-olds. Especially when they’ve had a jeweller come in — “I wore a titanium ring!” — and a firefighter — “He showed us how he kicks in a door!” His best friend’s mom showed them how to make a website. I will be so boring to them. I will be all, “Words and sentences are cool! Be responsible for your writing!” Yawn.

So I suggested to Sparky that maybe I could do a PowerPoint presentation along with my talk, since he learned how to do them earlier this year, and he was very enthusiastic. I have never done a PowerPoint presentation before. It didn’t exist when I was in school. (Remember, dear readers, critical analyses of works that were the focus of my thesis were researched in actual printed books of Arts indices and physical copies of periodicals. The Internet was only a few tubes with a couple of cats in them at that time.) These grade 3 kids use a SMART board daily, though, so I need to be up to their speed.

So as of early this afternoon, I am ten slides into creating my first PowerPoint presentation ever. It’s entitled “What Does a Copyeditor Do?” and covers where the copyeditor fits into the publishing process, why copyediting is important, what tools I use, and that kind of thing. I am probably not allowed to say stuff like “My superpower is saving the world from plagiarism, typos, and incorrect facts.” I bet the phrase “Sometimes I edit using the Force” slips out during the presentation, though.

I’m hoping the coolness of meeting someone who is part of the process of making books carries a lot of it, honestly. And I’ll be emphasizing the importance of taking responsibility for your writing, why plagiarism is bad, and why your writing needs to be as polished as possible, so your information gets across clearly and concisely. Also because it is often the first thing associated with you that people encounter, so it’s an important part of how people form their first impressions of you and the information you’re presenting. It’s to your advantage to make it as error-free, clear, and accessible as possible.

I may not have titanium rings to show off or an impressive uniform complete with axe, but I’m hoping the Chicago Manual of Style and snapshots of a stylesheet and an edited paragraph, complete in all its Track Changes glory, will be at least somewhat interesting.

Reset

I need to get back into journaling regularly, but I don’t really remember how to do it.

You see, I had a weird incident last year that kind of broke me for a while. I’m a writer by nature and career, and writing things out is how I work through things. Not having this outlet has really undercut my ongoing healing process from living life in general, and you know what? Enough of that. Feeling like this outlet is blocked or broken hasn’t been conducive to being able to sit down and use journalling in all the ways I do – recording the good stuff, the family stuff, the confusing stuff, the ‘I feel really down and broken and I need to work through it’ stuff. I use this journal as a place to work things out when things are not going well; I need to work them out by writing, and I do that by writing in a place where people can sometimes give me feedback or support. It also keeps me honest: writing here means that there is an audience of some kind, and that’s important to me as a writer, because it gives me a sense of responsibility. I write differently for myself than for others. If it’s just for me, I’ll be lazy. If I know others will read it, I take more care in how I express myself, and it ends up being a lot clearer to me when revisiting it.

After that incident last fall, I stopped trusting myself, I stopped trusting my audience, and it really broke me in a specific way that a writer can be broken. As you’ve seen, pretty much the only thing I’ve kept to is Owlet’s monthly updates (and I even skipped one of those). Anything else has been very irregular. I need to ease back into doing this, and I think a way to do that is to come up with some sort of loose schedule. Maybe Tuesdays I can jot down a few words on the spinning, knitting, and dyeing stuff I’m doing. Maybe Thursdays I can talk about cello, what’s happening in orchestra and in lessons, and maybe I can broaden the subject to include mention of the type of music I’m listening to, and new discoveries. Maybe Fridays I can talk about what I’m reading, online and in book form. I stopped doing my end-of-month book roundup right around the time Owlet was born, and not knowing what I read when has been driving me up the wall. Sparky deserves his own posts periodically, too. I stopped doing his monthly posts when he turned five (and I’ll do the same for Owlet), but as a result I’m not noting down the stuff that he’s doing very often, and I feel like I’m missing pages in his scrapbook, so to speak.

Right now I am having an odd relationship with writing in general, and I think maybe my journalling issue is also symptomatic of that. I work very well while fixing other people’s writing — that’s what my career is right now, after all. I’m very happy with it, too; I’m good at what I do, and my clients seem to be absolutely thrilled with me and my work. I enjoy it, but I miss pure writing. I remember the feeling of writing; I remember working through an idea by putting words on paper to see where it went, and I miss that. In a recent editing lull, I went through some old novels that were in rough draft form or just missing the conclusion, and while I read and enjoyed them, I recognized that there were things that needed to be fixed. But I have this broken writing thing. I know that sometimes you just have to plunge into it, but that can be hazardous when one’s writing muscle has atrophied through lack of regular exercise, which is partly what journalling is.

That incident last fall really cut my feet out from underneath me, and I’ve had to think about my identity as a writer, as someone who communicates and works with words, as someone who interprets the world through words. I used to do that as my job, and I really need to find my feet doing it again, so baby steps; I’ll start with this schedule, and we’ll see where that goes, where it takes me. I’m sure it will help in several ways, and among the areas of my life in which I’ll see a benefit are my mental and emotional states (both of which took a big hit in the past while, which has contributed a hell of a lot to my struggle with depression).

I think one of the associated problems I’ve been having is that journalling seems so overwhelming now. I haven’t been writing things down for so long that when I do sit down to journal, I’m drowning in the amount of information I have to break down. There’s so much to say that I don’t know where to start, and I don’t know how to get it all down. And I’m constantly asking myself if it’s worth writing down, censoring the writing before it even happens. It’s frustrating, and it usually scares me so much that I don’t sit down to do it at all. As a writer, this paralysis has been devastating to me. I comment on life in my head throughout the day; I have a running narration going on, about what I’m doing, what I’m thinking, and so forth, and not being able to actually write that down somewhere in some sort of form has had a really negative impact on how I’ve been processing things, in dealing with information and events in my life. Not blogging probably doesn’t sound like much to some of you, but it is a fundamental shift in my outlook, in how I process and interpret the world and information around me, and there’s been a breakdown in my thought processing, in how I understand what or how I’m feeling. When that gets stoppered up, everything else starts getting slowed down, and there are traffic jams in how I emotionally assess things.

I think that if I just start writing things down again, little things here and there, it will help me back to a better place in my relationship with words. At this point, what I write isn’t as important as just making a date to put a few words down a few times each week. I’ll use the rough schedule as a trellis, so that my expression has somewhere to climb; the guideline will offer me something to cycle through, but I’m not going to beat myself up if I miss a day, and I’m certainly not going to let that structure stop me from doing something at any other time. I think that if I journal more regularly, I’ll feel less intimidated because there won’t be so much to choose from when I do sit down. It will be easier for me if I can keep it to short entries, and it’ll be easier for you as readers because you won’t have to wade through a novella every time I sit down.

Let’s see where this goes.

Stuff I Did In 2013

Wow. Busy year.

Knitted two and a half pairs of socks. No, actually, if we’re adding up individual socks I knit three full pairs, because I knit three for Sparky’s Gryffindor socks, two for my slipper socks, and one so far for my own pair of regular socks. Ha ha! Six socks! (Too bad that’s not how it actually works. Sigh.)

I knit a complete child’s pullover sweater. How crazy is that. It was also my first test knit for someone.

I knit one and a half cap-sleeve sweaters for myself. The half is because I had a half-done one languishing in my cupboard since something like 2006, I finished it, realized it wouldn’t fit, frogged it all, and reknit it. It’s technically finished, but I need to undo the bindoff and add an inch to the bottom. I should add that I made some original modifications to the neck and sleeves that actually worked. I think I’m getting this knitting thing.

I knit a lot of blanket squares for my friends in my online mums group. And then I seamed two of those blankets together and knit the borders on each from yarn spun especially for them.

I spun twelve ounces of yarn for a friend’s project. I spun a similarly crazy amount for my mother’s stunning cabled wrap, and then dyed it, too. And I wonder why I don’t have a lot to show for my spinning time this year. Most of it belongs to other people!

In other areas of my life, I switched the bread recipe I use, and I’m liking the more artisanal loaf we get from it. I also started making my own yogurt, which is a big thing because I loathe yogurt. HRH and Owlet adore it, though.

I stopped using commercial cleansers and moisturizers on my face, observing how much happier and healthier my hair and scalp were when I quit using sodium lauryl/laureth-laden shampoos and silicone-sibling conditioners, and thinking that my face would probably react in a similarly positive fashion. Turns out my face is much happier not being stripped of everything (good and bad) and then having stuff smoothed back on to rehydrate it. I’m using the oil-cleansing method, and my tricky-to-handle, acne-prone face has never been happier. So happy, in fact, that I only have to do it every two days. So yeah, colour me impressed. (Also appalled at the ruthlessly-strip-then-requires-deep-moisturizing-with-unhappy-stuff-that-needs-to-be-stripped cycle that our consumer society has tricked us into repeating endlessly.)

I cut my hair, a lot. I’m hacking off three-quarters of an inch every four to five weeks. It’s nuts. I thought a couple of times that I’d grow it longer again, but I look so tired when it’s shoulder length that snip, off it comes, and I look so much healthier and brighter with it at about chin length again.

I was pretty healthy overall, the trip to the dermatologist and his concern over one of my moles aside. (That’s being taken off and sent for analysis next June. It’s difficult to reconcile “concern” with an eight-month wait for removal and analysis, but whatever.) The other health scare that had me sent a specialist also ended up fine, so another deep sigh of relief and hurrah for that. (Also, I now have a gynaecologist who is awfully nice.) I went back on my fibro medication this summer, and after a two-month period where it felt like it wasn’t doing anything, things suddenly clicked into place and the pain is manageable and energy levels are more consistent. Sleep is less of an issue, although still a big sensitive spot for me.

I kept up with Downton Abbey and Sherlock, we discovered the My Little Pony reboot, and I dropped Game of Thrones because the level of depicted violence and sex turned me off. I know, I know; I’ve read all the books. But the way HBO is portraying it is different, and it’s not enjoyable to watch for me. And life is too short to make myself read crappy books or watch TV that I don’t enjoy. I’m getting very good at cutting stuff like that out of my life.

In fact, I’ve looked back over the past couple of years, and I’ve done a better job at releasing toxic friendships and limiting contact with people who stress me out. I have a limited amount of energy to keep myself going. I need to protect it. I’m doing a pretty good job at saying no and focusing on the most important things in my life.

I’ve done some editing work that I’m very proud of, both private and through the publisher I work with. I’ve had the privilege of reading some great stuff before its release and helping to make it even better. I love my work, even when it drives me to excessive chocolate consumption like the most recent ones did. (Oh dear gods. You will never know, because the resulting books have correct facts and dates and are stronger in general. That’s what I do, and I’m fine being anonymous.)

I didn’t have a lot of time for cello, but I seem to be doing okay in that area. Just getting out once a week and carrying through on the orchestral commitment was a priority. We played some great stuff in orchestra, and I’m proud of my Suzuki work, too.

I read much less than I usually do (hmm, I should start including the books I edit; those totally count, why do I not do that already?). Although “usually” has taken a hit these past threeish years, so maybe this new lower finished frequency is the new normal. Standouts for me were the second in Elizabeth Bear’s Steles of the Sky trilogy and Kerstin Gier’s entire Ruby Red trilogy. I finally got around to reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, which was lovely. And courtesy of Tamu, I got to attend Neil Gaiman’s only Montreal book signing/reading tour stop ever (it’s hard to believe, but his previous stops here have been con-related, and he retired from touring after The Ocean at the End of the Lane one ended).

Music-wise I discovered The Doubleclicks, who should adopt me, because wow, it’s like they know everything inside my head. Also, cello.