Category Archives: the craft of writing

Fanmail FAQ: NaNoWriMo

Pat,

Do you know about National Novel Writing Month? I’ve tried it for three years now, though I’ve only ever managed to make 50,000 words one time back in 2009.

I was just wondering if you’d ever tried it. In some ways, it seems like it might be like your thing. But the more I thought about it, it seems like it might NOT be your thing. Your writing is really carefully put together, mythic and lyrical, so I could see how your style wouldn’t really lend itself to being able to write a whole 50,000 words in a single month.

So I guess I have two questions:

1. Have you ever done NaNoWriMo? (I’m guessing no, because I couldn’t find you on their website.)

2. Do you have any tips for keeping up this grueling writing pace? How do you stay motivated?

A fan,

Jake

For those of you who don’t know what Jake is talking about, National Novel Writing Month is when people who want to write get together in November and vow to get 50,000 words done on their novels in a single month.

I’ve actually known about it since the year 2000. I remember the date because one of my web-savvy friends caught wind of it. He knew I’d been working on a novel and thought I might be interested.

My immediate reaction was dismissive disdain.

You see, in November of 2000, I was in the midst of the most productive writing jag of my entire life. I’d been working on “The Book” off and on for over six years, and I was finally closing in on the end of huge arcing story that I’d started by writing, “My name is Kvothe” on a friend’s computer back in 1994.

At that time in my life, I’d been tracking my writing progress for a couple years. I was taking it seriously and held myself accountable for 1500 words or three hours of writing a day. Whichever came first.

I’d been keeping up that pace for the better part of a year. But as I closed in on the ending of my story, the writing got faster and faster. I could write for 10 or 12 hours at a stretch, day after day, and it came easy as breathing.

So when my friend brought NaNoWriMo to my attention, my thoughts were roughly along these lines:

“I laugh at your piddly 50,000 words! I am a golden god of writing! I’ve been doing this on my own for years! I don’t need some gimmicky bullshit for encouragement! I’m a *real* writer….”

Over the next couple weeks, I finished my draft and started revising. Several months later, I went to grad school. There, under the soul-crushing boot heel of academia, my vast torrent of creative output dwindled until it was a tiny trickle that resembled an an old man in Waiting for Godot trying to take a piss.

I spent the lion’s share of the next two years getting rejected by agents, revising The Book, then getting rejected by agents again. When someone pointed out NaNoWriMo a second time, I looked down my nose at it, thinking something along the lines of:

” Writing is something you do all the time, not just one month out of the year! Besides, it’s not the length of a book that matters. It’s how polished it is. I know that now because I’m a *real* writer.”

In 2005, a third friend mentioned NaNoWriMo to me. Again, I scoffed at it:

“I’ve been published in an anthology,” I thought to myself. “I have an agent. I’ve written a 500,000 word fantasy trilogy. I have nothing to prove. I write because I’m a writer, not because for one month out of the year it’s fashionable. I’m not doing this out of some desperate need for social approbation. I’m doing this because I’m a *real* writer.”

By 2008 The Name of the Wind had been on the shelves for a year, and I was woefully behind deadline for the second book. Some of my fans asked me if I was going to participate in NaNoWriMo. It came at a bad time, because I was feeling guilty for missing my deadline. So this time I didn’t merely scoff, I scorned:

“I’m a professional author now,” I thought. “I’ve sold a book. I’ve hit the New York Times bestseller list. I’m published in multiple countries. I don’t need to get into a circle and sing kumbaya. I don’t need to join a cult of newbies and wankers. I write because it’s my job. I’m a *real* writer.”

Now it’s 2011 and people are asking me about NaNoWriMo again. You’re not the only one, Jake.

I like to think I’m a little wiser than I was a few years ago. I’ve certainly learned a lot about writing. If nothing else, I’ve come to realize one single fact:

Anything that motivates you to write is a good thing.

For some people, having a writing group helps. Others take a class. Some people go out and get their MFA’s. Some people drink gin and smoke black tar heroin.

And for some people, NaNoWriMo provides a swift kick up the ass that helps them put pen to paper.

Everyone is different. Ultimately, what motivates a writer is a very personal thing. What works for me, Jake, might not work for you….

For example I’ve come to realize that I have a strong seam of contrarian in the bedrock of my personality. If someone says I can’t do something, a piece of my hind brain rears up and says, “the fuck I can’t!”

In the past this has led me into trouble. I’ve done all manner of stupid shit because someone’s dared presume I wouldn’t. Examples include making a naked snow angel, living for a week using nothing but my wits and three dollars, and eating an entire package of ranch seasoning. (Not ranch dressing, mind you. That would have been easy. I’m talking about the seasoning packet that you would use to make a pint of ranch dressing.)

I’ve mellowed somewhat in my old age, and these days the heavy-handed “I dare you…” taunts that used to set me off no longer have any power to sway me.

But your subtle implication that my writing style “wouldn’t really lend itself to being able to write a whole 50,000 words in a single month” made me raise my hackles a little bit.

“Who does this little punk think he is?” I found myself thinking. “Implying I can’t swing NaNoWriMo? You think I can’t be mythic and lyric AND write 50,000 words? The fuck I can’t!”

So. I’m going to participate this year. What’s more, I’m going to officially start now, on November 7th. That’s right, Jake, I’ve given you a week’s head start. You just try to stay ahead of me.

For more than a decade, I didn’t give NaNoWriMo a fair shot. More than that, I actively maligned it.

But never let it be said I can’t admit I’m wrong. I’m willing to eat my words. I’d make you eat your words too, Jake. But you know what? I’m going to eat them instead. I’m going to eat all the words I can get my hands on in this next month and turn them into mythic, lyric story that will break your heart.

And then I’m going to go update my wordcount on the profile I just created on the NaNoWriMo website.

Because I’m a real writer.

pat

Also posted in Fanmail Q + A, FAQ, My Iconoclastic Tendencies | By Pat91 Responses

Fanmail Q&A: Why does it take so long to translate the book?

Greatings Mr. Rothfuss,

My name is Daniella, and I´m a big fan of yours although i´ve only read The name of the wind wich brings me to my question, why does it takes so long that the wise man”s fear is published in spanish?

you see, I´m from México, and my english is not all that well, so, I can´t read it in english, besides, I think a book is more enjoyable in your own native language, anyway, all I want is to be able to read it I hope it comes out soon please Mr. Rothfuss do not forget your Spanish-speaking fans.

Daniella, I’m sorry to say that I don’t know when my book will be out in Mexico.

I know it sounds silly to say, but I don’t know the exact dates my books are published in a lot of countries. The Wise Man’s Fear is being translated into about 30 languages, and I don’t keep track of them all very closely. I only know it’s coming out in Spain on November 3rd because it says so at the end of the trailer I posted up last week.

But I’ll tell you what. I’ll look into it, and I’ll see if I can get an estimated time of publication for book two in all the different countries, then I’ll post it up here in the blog, link it in the FAQ, and update it whenever I get news from some of my publishers.

Sound fair?

In the meantime, Mondadori, my Spanish publisher, has set up a page for the book in… well… Spanish. It could be the information you’re looking for is over there.

As for your second question… well, you’re not the only one who is curious about that.

Pat,

I am one of your many fans in Spain and I am perishing out of waiting for your book. I love the first one! Can you please say when the second does come out in my country?

I would read your English copy but my English is not enough to read your book. Why must the translating be so long?

I know it is a big book. But it is months now. I know, it is not so long. But I am 17, and it seems a long time for me.

Would you please answer me back? Please?

Maria,

Maria and Daniella and dozens of others have e-mailed me, asking this question.

So here we go.

There are several reasons it’s taking a long time to The Wise Man’s Fear.

  • Translating things is really hard.

I’ve talked about this in a previous blog, but it really bears repeating.

So I repeat. Translating things is really hard.

  • The Wise Man’s Fear is very, very long.

Obscenely long. Almost 400,000 words long.

How long is 400,000 words?

Well, if you mashed together the first three Harry Potter books, then threw in The Hunger Games, too. It still would still be less than 400,000 words long.

Yeah. The Wise Man’s Fear is long. Really, really, long.

  • My books are a pain in the ass to translate.

Why? Well….

1. My names.

Names are important things. And real names, names that actually exist in the world, don’t make a lot of literal sense. This is because real names tend to accrete and evolve over time.

I work hard to create real-seeming names for things in my world. Names that give a strong impression without actually saying anything. Names like Mincet lane, and Cricklet, and Downings.

These real-seeming (but in reality made-up) names sound really good in English, but they’re a huge pain to translate.

2. I have an odd turn of phrase.

If you haven’t noticed, I tend to make a lot of anormal word usements.

Take, for example, the very first page of the book when I say, “It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.”

How do you translate that?

It’s the sort of thing that, if taken literally, makes absolutely no sense at all. Flowers, with rare exception, do not make sound. Sounds are not sentient, so they can’t be patient.

Stuff like this is a bitch to translate.

3. I rely heavily on implication in my writing.

Or, to put it another way, I try to imply more than I explain.

I do this intentionally, as I believe it makes for a more engaging reading experience. While he’s narrating, Kvothe rarely says something clear-cut and expository like, “Wilem obviously thought I was a fucking idiot.”

Instead, Kvothe describes what Wilem says and does. Maybe Wil makes a sarcastic comment. Maybe he looks disproving. Maybe he raises an eyebrow.

If I do my job right, it should be abundantly clear what Wil thinks of Kvothe. Best of all, it has more of an effect on the reader because you see it and know it for yourself, rather than having it poked down your throat by a narrator.

But it’s a delicate thing. And it’s hard to translate.

Because  I’m aware that my book is a pain in the ass. I try to make myself available to the translators. Since I have over thirty, I’ve set up a forum where they can all come, ask questions, and read the answers that I’ve posted up in the past.

Last night, for example, I answered about 20 new question on there. So far, there’s about 300 question-and-answer threads. The FAQ we’ve compiled is more than 60 pages long.

Here’s an example of the sort of thing that comes up fairly regularly in the forum:
[Fair warning: What follows involves a discussion of some minor events very early on in book two. There’s really nothing spoilerish in there. Nothing is given away. But still, if you haven’t read it yet, and you’re an absolute non-spoiler purist, I thought I’d warn you.]

*     *     *

Dear Pat:

In the middle of page 47, during the exchange between Kvothe and Kellin, it reads:

“Outside his field of vision, Denna rolled her eyes at me.”

Just a few lines below, you can find:

“You’re too kind,” I said, and gave her a much more earnest bow than the one I had given to Kellin. She rolled her eyes at me this time.”

That made me wonder if, in the first sentence, maybe it was meant to be “Denna rolled her eyes at him” instead.

Thanks,

Gab

_____________________

Gab,

Ah. This is just an issue of ambiguity in the language.

In the first line, the “at me” means that she rolled her eyes with the intention of Kvothe seeing her do it.

In the second line, “at me” means “because of me” AND that she had the intention of Kvothe seeing her do it.

I didn’t abbreviate the first use to “Outside his field of vision, Denna rolled her eyes.” Because the implication there is that Denna is just being bitchy at Kellin and Kvothe sees it accidentally. That implies that Denna really doesn’t like Kellin and she’s hiding it from Kellin.

But “Outside his field of vision, Denna rolled her eyes at me.” makes it clear that Denna is doing this for Kvothe’s benefit. The interaction is between Kvothe and Denna. She’s effectively engaging in clandestine communication with Kvothe, saying, in effect, “Yeah, he’s full of himself. But what are you going to do?”

Technically, she’s rolling her eyes *at* Kellin *to* Kvothe. But that reads so poorly that it almost doesn’t make any sense.

Does that help?

pat

_____________________

Yes, it does, thank you.

I’ll try to use two different prepositions or to reword one of the sentences a bit to reflect this.

Thanks,

Gab

*     *     *

Now on the surface, this might seem like a small thing. But it has fairly big implications.

It’s just a small piece of body language. And it can be clarified with a different preposition or two. Just a couple words.

(A couple words out of the 400,000 you need to translate the whole book, mind you.)

But if it’s done wrong, the whole scene takes on a different feel.

Written one way, Denna is sharing a private joke with Kvothe. It shows a connection between them.

What’s more, it shows that Denna knows the guy is a bit of an ass, but it’s not that big a deal. Since she’s making fun of it, it’s obviously nothing too serious. It shows that Denna has her eyes open, and, ultimately, that she’s in control of the situation.

Lastly, it shows her relationship with Kvothe is much more intimate than with this other guy. First, because she’s engaging in some clandestine communication with Kvothe. But more importantly, when Kvothe is a bit of an ass and she rolls her eyes at him, she lets Kvothe see it. That shows that she trusts Kvothe more than she trusts Kellin. She’s teasing him, and it shows that she considers Kvothe a friend.

(Did I mention the whole implication thing? That I kinda do a lot of it? Yeah.)

If the scene is written the other way: if Denna rolls her eyes at Kellin and Kvothe just happens to see it, that’s an entirely different type of interaction.

That implies that Denna really doesn’t like Kellin. It shows Denna being passive-aggressive and implies that she’s two-faced and spiteful.

Even worse, it could imply that Denna is afraid of Kellin. That, in turn, implies a whole lot. If Denna is on the arm of a rich man that she hates and fears, that paints a really horrible picture of her life.

Witness the double edged sword of implication. When it works, it’s great. But it can go dangerously astray at times.

And, of course, all of this is made ten times more important because this is Denna’s first scene in the book. The impression she makes on the reader now will carry forward through the whole book.

And you know what I just realized? Now that I think of it. All of the important things Denna communicates in that first scene are done non-verbally.

So what’s your point, Rothfuss?

I said it before, and I’ll say it again.

Translation is tricky.

pat

P.S. Signings in MI, this weekend. Just in case you hadn’t heard.

Also posted in naming, The difference between 'slim' and 'slender', the man behind the curtain, translation | By Pat85 Responses

Vision and Revision: Geek Redux.

So yesterday I read Just a Geek.

I found the book strangely moving, so when I finished writing it, I hopped online to write a review on Goodreads. When I enjoy a book, I like to spread the word about it.

I started to write the review, but it kept getting longer and longer. So I figured I should probably write it as a blog, instead.

So I wrote a blog, and it went terribly, terribly wrong. It was a complete trainwreck.

I considered not posting it. But when you spend two hours writing something at four in the morning, it’s hard to just erase it. So I shrugged and posted it up, figuring that while the blog itself was an embarrassing mess, the underlying theme was pretty clear: I liked the book.

But today I woke up and thought that I’d go onto Goodreads and actually write the review I meant to do last night. More to prove to myself that I could than for any other reason.

This time it came out fine. Easy as anything.

As a writer, this is extremely interesting to me. It’s important. If one day I try to write something and it sucks, then the next day I try to write and it works, something big is happening. There’s a secret here, something that’s close to the heart of my magic.

It took me a while to figure it out, but here’s what I think happened:

Generally speaking, I don’t worry too much about ripping off other authors’ styles when I write. It’s a common fear of newer writers, and I spent a couple years anxious about it, just like everyone else.

But eventually I got over that particular fear for the simple reason that I never found any real evidence that it was happening. At least no more than is strictly necessary and/or polite.

There was one exception to this. Back in 1997 I read every Sherlock Homes story Doyle ever wrote in about five days.

On the sixth day, I wrote a chapter in my book. And what do you know? Kvothe turned into Sherlock Holmes. He was deducing shit all over the place. Bast fell into an odd Watson role, too.

It took me years to get all the Holmes out of that chapter. Many revisions.

The point is, I’d soaked up so much Holmes in those five days, that I couldn’t properly assimilate it. So when I tried to write, it spilled into my book.

After a couple of days my brain managed to digest all the Holmes and get itself back into its baseline state. But I’d learned my limit. A thousand pages of compelling, distinctive prose in a week’s time is bound to influence my writing for a day or two.

(This is part of the reason I haven’t tackled Martin’s series yet.)

I suspect the same thing happened to me after reading about 150 pages of Wheaton’s strangely compelling anecdotal bloginess. I doubt very much it would have thrown a monkey wrench into my novel writing. But it sure as hell confused my blogging. What I wrote yesterday was probably some bastard hybridization of my style and his.

Why do I mention this? Partly because it’s interesting to me, and writing about things helps organize and clarify things in my own head. But I also mention it because I know a lot of you are writers, or are at least curious about the writing process.

Anyway, here’s the better write-up of Wheaton’s book.

*     *    *

I’ve always known Wil Wheaton as one of the greater internet Powers.

That’s how I think of people like Wheaton, Doctorow, Scalzi, and Jerry over at Penny Arcade. They are people who occupy the internet community on an almost deific level. They’re actively engaged in discussions about things like creative commons, and web freedom, and other bigthink information-age issues. When they speak on a subject, the air shakes, people tweet and link and perform other media-appropriate types of adulation.

These people are their own Metatrons. They’re like the totem spirits of the internet.

That said, I don’t tend to read their blogs with any sort of regularity. I poke around Jerry’s blog every week or so. I read Scalzi a couple times a month, or if someone sends me a link. Same with Gaiman. It’s odd. I find their blogs interesting and well-written, but I’m just not drawn to follow them in my regular compulsive way.

That means that when I picked up Wheaton’s book, I wasn’t wearing fan-colored glasses.

Don’t get me wrong, I know who he is. I liked Wheaton in Stand By Me and Next Generation. I loved to hate him in The Guild. I even wrote an epic poem about him, once upon a time. A poem I dream of reading in public one day, as he, Scalzi, and Felica Day perform an elaborate dumbshow, acting it out while dressed in period costume appropriate for a 9th century mead-hall.

During this reading, I would like to be wearing a fur cloak of some sort. And perhaps a crown. In this little mental fantasy, I look rather like a cross between Brian Blessed and an angry bear. I also imagine myself as being profoundly drunk on mead.

My point is, when I started reading Just a Geek, I didn’t know what to expect.

Quite to my amazement, I was sucked into the story. It’s autobiographical, and covers a time in Wheaton’s life when he was going through a bit of a rough patch, trying to come to grips with his life, his acting career, his fluctuating celebrity, and his feelings about Star Trek.

Simply said, I enjoyed this book to a startling degree.

It was funny, touching, snarky, and remarkably sweet. I didn’t start the book as a Wheaton fan, but now that I’ve finished it, it’s safe to say I’ve swung over to that side of the fence.

In my opinion, you really don’t need to be a fan of Star Trek to enjoy it. (Though it probably wouldn’t hurt.)

But this isn’t a book about a guy that used to be on Star Trek. It’s not a book about being a celebrity. Or being an actor.

Ultimately, it’s a book about a guy dealing with being human. That makes it interesting to everyone.

It’s worth your time. Check it out.

*     *     *

There. That’s a good write-up.That’s what I meant to do the first time around.

Goes to show that if you write something that’s a shitty mess, it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes all it takes to fix it is a night’s sleep and a willingness to get back on the horse that threw you the first time around.

Later space cowboys,

pat

Also posted in musings, recommendations, Revision, Wil Wheaton | By Pat68 Responses

A Chat with Brandon Sanderson (And… um… more)

For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, I had a fun little conversation with Brandon Sanderson a couple of weeks ago.

And when I say ‘little conversation’ of course I mean ‘absolutely huge conversation.’ What was supposed to be a small interview between the two of us ended up being more than 6500 words long.

But really, what do you expect when you get two epic fantasy writers together to talk about writing?

Here’s the link. Share and enjoy….

pat

*     *     *

Edit: Someone in the comments below pointed out to me that I already linked to that interview earlier this month.

At first I didn’t believe them. Then I clicked back on the blog a few times… and there it was.

Honestly, I don’t have any memory of writing that blog at all. After seven days on the road, I was pretty much an exhausted mess.

Still, as I meant to post up a new interview today. Let me offer you a few different links instead.

Here’s a shorter interview that I haven’t mentioned on the blog yet.

And, just because, here’s an article from the Philidelphia Inquirer. (Don’t miss the fact that there are two pages.)

There you go. New stuff. That’s what I meant to post.

Also posted in Interviews | By Pat67 Responses

Fanmail Q&A: Revision

Pat,

I know from your comments on facebook and your postings on the blog that you’re busy revising. What’s more, that you’ve been doing it for months. What I’m wondering is what, exactly, you do when you’re revising that it takes you so long to do it? Please don’t get me wrong. This isn’t another bitchy mewling e-mails from people complaining about waiting for WMF. I’m genuinely curious. You see, I’m not a writer or anything. The most I’ve ever written is papers for classes, and those I pretty much write, spellcheck, print, and then hand them in.

Consequently, this whole revision process is a big mystery to me. I know writers do it. And I know some writers (like you) seem to spend a lot more time on it than others. Back when I was a kid, I read about Piers Anthony’s revision process in his author’s notes. Where he would write the first draft of his books longhand, then revise them as he typed them into the computer. Then he was pretty much done. I know your books are much more complex than his, and a buttload longer. But still, I’m curious. Is there anything you can do to explain to us non-writers out here what exactly happens in the revision process? Can you show us how it’s done?

A big fan,

James

When you ask about *the* revision process, James, I get nervous. Every writer has their own way of doing things. I can only talk about *my* revision process, because that’s the only one I know.

Still, you aren’t the first person to ask about this. So I decided to take some notes on what exactly I did over the course of a night’s revision.

Here’s what I wrote down: (And don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers below. I don’t go in for that sort of thing:)

1. Changed a curse to be more culturally appropriate for the person using it.

2. Looked at all instances of the word “bustle” in the book to see if I’m overusing the word.

3. Considered modifying the POV in a particular scene. Decided against it.

4. Added paragraph about the Mews.

5. Changed the name of a mythic figure in the world to something that sounds better.

6. Spent some time figuring out the particular mechanisms of sygaldry to prevent consistency problems.

7. Reconsidered changing POV in same scene as before. Decided to just tweak it a little instead.

8. Trimmed two excess paragraphs.

9. Looked at my use of the word “vague” to see if I’ve been using it too much.

10. Removed about 20 instances of the word “vague” from the book.

11. Spoke with beta reader on the phone, getting their general impression of the book. Asked questions about several issues/concerns I have about the book. Took some notes.

12. Added two paragraphs to a chapter in order to adjust reader’s expectations for the following chapter.

13. Tightened dialogue in two key scenes, making them move a little more quickly.

14. Went through a manuscript copy of the book returned by one of my beta-readers. Fixed the typos they noticed, read their comments, and made a few minor adjustments to fix areas of the book where they were slightly confused.

15. Expanded scene to improve pacing and dramatic tension.

16. Considered moving a chapter to earlier in the book.

17. Moved chapter.

18. Read section of the book with new chapter order.

19. Moved chapter back to where it was before.

20. Re read several new-ish scenes to check their clarity and make sure they’re properly integrated into the book. Made small adjustments to smooth things out.

21. Invented several new religious terms.

22. Added paragraph to clarify character motivation.

23. Developed several new elements of the Commonwealth legal system.

24. Resisted the urge to add a 4000 word chapter so WMF would be longer than Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings.

25. Changed chapter ending to add slight foreshadowing.

26. Read the book for about two hours, making many small changes to tighten, clarify, and generally improve the language used.

That’s how I spent my Friday night, James. Altogether it took me about 11 hours. (10:30 PM to 9:30 AM the following morning.)

Some of these pieces of revision take more time than others. Something like #8 is relatively quick and easy once I’ve decided to do it. But something like 6  or 16-19 might take me an hour, and result in nothing at all in the book being different when I’m finished.

While most of these are in no particular order, the last one, # 26, is how I normally finish out my night, re-reading the book on the computer and tweaking the language it in a thousand small ways. When I do this, I also try to trim some of my excess wordage a bit. My first drafts are fairly verbose, and stories are better when the language is lean.

I know that sounds strange coming from someone whose novel is almost 400,000 words long, but brevity is something I really strive for. Everything in the book is there for a purpose. Every scene has to pay for itself. Every piece of description really needs to be worth reading.

During the two hours I tweaked the book, I trimmed out about 300 words, removing little bits of sentences and superfluous bits of description. I’d say over the last year, I’ve removed over 100,000 words from the book. Some of that was whole scenes and chapters, some of it just little bits and pieces.

I realize a lot of this is kinda vague. I apologize for that, but I don’t want to spoil any of book two by saying things like, “Added two sentences so it would be more of a surprise when Bast and Chronicler kiss.”

But since you asked me to “show you how it’s done,” I will. Since you admitted your letter that you only tend to write a first draft, I hope you won’t be offended if I revise your letter.

(Editor’s note: I felt weird doing this, so I e-mailed James to ask for permission. He said it was cool.)

Here’s how your letter looks after I gave it the same treatment that I give the book. I read through it twice, fiddled, tweaked, and tightened up the language.

Pat,

I know from facebook and your blog that you’re in the midst of revisions. I’m curious. What do you do when you revise, and why does it take so long?

Please don’t get me wrong. This isn’t another bitchy, mewling e-mail complaining about the wait for WMF. I’m genuinely curious. The only things I’ve ever written are papers for school. I just write, spellcheck, print, and hand them in.

Consequently, the revision process is a big mystery to me. Back when I was a kid, I read about Piers Anthony’s revision process in his author’s notes. He writes the first draft of his books longhand, then revises them while typing them into the computer.

I’m guessing your process is more involved than that. Your books are more complex than his, and a buttload longer. Is there anything you can do to explain the revision process to us non-writers? Can you show us how it’s done?

A big fan,

James

First off, James, I don’t mean to imply that your letter was in desperate need of revising. There’s a reason I answered yours and not someone else’s. Your e-mail was delightfully polite. It had punctuation and capital letters. It even looks like you spellchecked it. It was a lovely letter.

I just did this to show you what exactly I’m talking about when I say I tweak things around. I like shorter sentences and paragraphs because they’re bite-sized and easier for the reader to digest. Also, now each paragraph centers around a separate idea. That makes it easier for the reader to follow your points.

Also, my revised version is about 30% shorter. I clipped out a few phrases and some repetition. I removed prepositions when I could and combined some sentences. It says pretty much the same thing, but it’s about 160 words long instead of 225.

That’s what I’ve been doing all these months. Except instead of doing it once to a tiny letter, I’m doing it a billion times to a huge, bugfuckeringly complex metafictional narrative.

Hope this clears things up a bit,

pat

Also posted in BJ Hiorns Art, Fanmail Q + A, Revision | By Pat123 Responses

A Brief Musical Interlude

So earlier this week, I was hanging out at the local coffee shop, re-reading The Wise Man’s Fear for roughly the billionth time. Tightening and tweaking. Seeing what I can trim. Checking all the interconnecting plot threads like a spider with OCD going over its web.

I tend to hide in the back of the coffee shop when I’m doing this. A little bit of ambient noise is nice. It’s one of the main reasons I go to the coffee shop for this sort of work, actually.

You see, I have two problems when I’m revising. First, when I get into a book, I’m really into it. You can pretty much set me on fire and I wouldn’t notice.

Second, I’m working really hard to make this book really captivating.

Both these things work against me when I’m doing revisions. If I get pulled into the story, I enjoy myself, but don’t get any editing done. The sound of conversation and the occasional pretty girl walking by helps keep me from falling into my reading trance. Hence the coffee shop.

But too much bustle can be too much distracting. It’s a fine balance. On the days when I don’t need much distraction, or I’m just caffeineing up, I sit in the back room. They use it for shows some nights, but most days it’s just empty.

Okay. Enough background? I think so.

So I’m working on the book and some people come into the back room and start to set up their equipment. I look up and realize it’s almost 7:00. I’ve been editing for about 6 hours and lost track of time.

I get rid of my dishes and start to tidy up my table, thinking I’ll go somewhere else to edit. Maybe grab some dinner. But then the band does a little bit of a sound check…

At first I listen just to be polite. (I am from the midwest, after all.) But then I get pulled in. The singer has a voice like honey on warm bread. And the music is my favorite sort: Strong vocals, good lyrics. Some covers, but but a lot of the songs were original. Original and good.

They kept me there for the whole set despite the fact that I was hungry and I knew I should be editing. Still, I didn’t feel too bad. I do write about musicians, after all. I should probably occasionally watch people, y’know, make some music.

They had a pretty good patter too. They talked about music. About their lyrics. They told a few little stories, including how there was one song in particular they would start playing whenever they were out busking and saw a kid. Something about that particular tune always tended to draw the children over to them…

Afterwards I wandered up to the stage and reassured them with my standard line, “Hello, I’m not a hobo about to ask you for spare change. I’m actually a writer, would you mind if I asked you a few questions?”

They were delightfully tolerant of me, and answered a couple of questions. The drummer and guitarist both let me look at their hands to see what sort of callouses they had.

Then I asked my big question: “That song you played. The one you used to draw the kids over while you were busking…”

They said they knew what song I was talking about: “Strong Enough to Catch My Fall.”

“I don’t suppose you have a recording of that?” I said.

They didn’t.

I said I’d love to see the lyrics sometime, but I didn’t push the point. The reason is, when I heard the song. I thought, “This is Denna’s Song.”

But I couldn’t just *say* that. Walking up to a band and saying, “one of my characters would totally sing that song!” has to be about the geekiest things it’s possible for a writer to do. I can’t say why, but to me it feels as geeky as walking up to a stranger at a bar and telling them about the time your favorite D&D character killed this troll this one time…

So I tried to play it cool rather than risk being that overenthusiastic guy. But before I left, I asked them if they’d like copies of my book.  I’d listened to their show, they could read by book. Fair’s fair, after all…

A couple days later, they were nice enough to drop me an e-mail with the lyrics to the song. I read the lyrics, and thought, “Yeah. That pretty much hits the nail right on the head.”

When I e-mailed them back, I told them if they ever did record a version of the song, I’d love to put it up on my webpage.

The very next day, (today, in fact) they sent me this link.

I was surprised. I’d been thinking that to record a song you need a studio and one of those big boards with all sorts of knobs. And you need a guy wearing headphones to fiddle with those knobs while saying, “Let’s try those three measures again. But this time with more tremulentatso!”

Or something. I can’t remember any real music terms right now. It’s late.

The point is that I’m a little ashamed of myself. I immediately thought of recording music as this long, arcane, artificial process.

They thought: “He wants a recording? Find something that records and point it at us and we’ll make some music.”

And then they made some music. They didn’t piece together a song out of 20 different takes. There’s no pitch-tuner or mixboard here. You know why? Because these folks are real musicians. Making music is what they do.

So y’all should really go check it out. They recorded it specifically so I could share it with you, and it would be a shame if you didn’t take advantage of that.

Did I mention that it’s the Hillary Reynolds Band? It’s the Hillary Reynolds Band.

If you want to hear more of their stuff you can head over onto their myspace.

They’ve got a few shows listed there too. So some of you might be able to catch them live if you’re in the right part of the country.

That’s all for now, folks. Enjoy the music.

pat

Also posted in cool things, music | By Pat91 Responses

Beta Readers: Part II

First, a few excerpts from the many, many messages I’ve received recently.

  • “Do you need another Beta Reader? I’d be happy to help….”
  • “I read on one of your latest blogs something about beta readers. I had no clue there was such a thing, but now I know about it I want to be one.”
  • “I think beta-reading sounds like the best job in the world–next to testing the softness of puppy-tummy-fur with one’s face all day.”

People have given many credentials and uttered many a plaintive plea. There have even been blatant attempts at bribery. People have offered me cash, computers, and promises of their undying love. About the only thing people didn’t offer is livestock and sexually explicit pictures of themselves.

I should have seen it coming, but honestly, I didn’t.

I know a lot of people would love to help me out by giving a beta read…

Wait, that’s not entirely true, is it?

What I meant to say is that a lot of people would love to read an early copy of the book, and, largely by coincidence, help me out with a beta read.

But I just can’t feel good about it. ** [See edit below.]

  • “I’d like to volunteer.  I know there is probably some precautions you have to take to make sure it’s not leaked, but I’ll do whatever you need, sign a contract, send in a testicle, mail in a kid for collateral, whatever… seriously though I can keep my mouth shut.”

Ultimately, this strikes at the heart of the issue.

Back when I was working on The Name of the Wind, I would give a copy of the book to anyone who even hinted they wanted to read it.

Getting other people’s feedback on the book is a key element of my revision process. You see, I’ve read this book so many times in so many versions, that I need an external view of it. A triangulation point, if you will…

But these days, I can’t just hand it out all higgledy piggledy. Things are more complicated. These days I have to worry about people leaking early, crappy versions of the book onto the net months before the pub date.

I know, deep in my heart of hearts, that most people would never dream of doing such a thing. But all it takes is one jackass….

And yeah, I have a non-disclosure form. Everyone signs it before they get the book. Even Sarah signed it.

It’s a vicious fucking thing that goes something like this:

You, by signing below, agree that you’ll do everything in your power to protect this manuscript and keep its contents secret. If you fail in this, and are a big chatty Cathy about it, I, Patrick Rothfuss, will fuck you up.

I will do this on all possible levels: financially, socially, physically, and spiritually.

If you lend it to your girlfriend who leaves it on the bus and then some jackhole finds it and it ends up on the internet, I will de-corn your cob. Seriously. Your entire cob. Every single kernel of corn. I am not even fucking kidding….

It goes on like that for some time. It is so terrifying that one of my friends said he didn’t feel comfortable leaving the house with his copy of the book.

But really, the non-disclosure form isn’t going to help. If the book gets leaked, I’ll be pissed forever, and suing some daft bastard into the ground won’t fix that.

  • “Do i have to invade a small nation? Do I have to sing show tunes in Times Square? Or is it just one of those “inner sanctum of friends” kind of thing?”

Ultimately, yeah. At this point it is. I have to know you personally, so I can trust you. It’s also important for me to know you because that helps me put your comments in context.

The other problem is that for me to really get the most out of a beta reader, I like to be able to sit down with them over coffee and chat about the book. I like to be able to leaf through the manuscript, ask them questions about their comments, and pick their brains about certain key issues. And seeing how most of you don’t live here in Stevens Point, that’s kinda hard.

So this blog is to say thanks to everyone who offered to help. I’d love to be able to take you up on your offers, but I’m afraid I’ll have to pass.

More soon,

pat

** Edit – May 18th

When I looked at the comments today, I was surprised to see people offering hugs of consolation, and giving me support, and telling me not to let the messages get me down.

This was kind of a surprise to me, as the messages I got from people asking to be beta readers were, by and large, lovely, considerate, flattering things.

So I re-read the blog and found the problem. It’s the following line:

“But I just can’t feel good about it.”

What we have here is a classic case of unspecific pronoun. It seems like I’m saying that I can’t feel good about all the people asking to read book two. But that’s not the case. I’m cool with that. As I’ve said, it’s really rather flattering, and I wish I could take people up on their offers. Because, as I’ve said, I love feedback.

That sentence should read, “But I just can’t feel good about handing out copies of book two to strangers.”

This, my friends, is why I do a lot of revisions. One misused pronoun and the entire emphasis of a piece of writing gets fucked up.

Just wanted to clarify.

Love,

pat

Also posted in book two, the business of writing | By Pat116 Responses
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