The Spell Factory: A Workflow for the Writer with a Limited Attention Span

The Spell Factory LogoYour creativity is like a work of art that has fallen from the heavens.  Unfortunately, the fall has shattered it into hundreds of pieces that went careening through every corner of your life.  The good news is that they are all there, waiting for you to find them and put them back together.  From here out, this blog will outline a means of doing this…a way to draw out the best that you have with in you. I call this approach the Spell Factory because in writing we are seeking to share an experience (the spell) but I require an organized way to do this (the factory).

I created the Spell Factory in order to compensate for my short attention span and bad habit of working on ten projects at once.  If the idea of structuring your approach to writing horrifies you, then you have my envy.  As always, my advice is that writing techniques are highly personal, and we should do whatever works best for us.

What follows are the four types of writing and 8 steps to editing that I have found useful.

2013-07-05 09.49.16 pmSpell factory Flow Chart

The Four Types of Writing

1. Plotting-

Plotting is about creating a skeleton of the story.   It’s best to not write this out in long-form prose but rather with some kind of short-hand such as story boarding, outlining, or writing a synopsis. This will serve as a scaffold for your work, and will also become a kind of to-do list.

2. Powering-

In Powering, or Power Writing, you just “go for it” and get as much down on paper as fast as you can, making as few revisions as possible. At his stage  you will be making many decisions about plot details, sequencing, and pacing. It’s best not to let small problems get you off track.   Do this by using the just-go-forward technique—never go back to change anything, instead leave bracketed notes for yourself. For example, “[Change April’s eyes to blue throughout]”.

When you confront a problem, note it and skip over it if you can, or brainstorm a solution right then and there.

If you are going to brainstorm here is what I recommend:  Ask yourself an open ended question and type it right into your draft (e.g., “[How does Mary find out that John is a zombie?]”)  Then make a numbered list of all the possible solutions. For example: “1. She notices a foul odor. 2. She reads his post on Facebook 3. He tries to eat her brains.” Once you run out of steam, pick the best two.  Then write the advantages and disadvantages of each.  With any luck the solution will have presented itself.

3. Redrafting-

Redrafting means going through the piece and filling in all the holes you left due to the speed you were going when you were power writing.  Here is where you fix it so that the wording works.  Also solve all the problems you encountered during the power write by searching for the [’s.  By the end of the redrafting, you should have a readable and complete first draft.  It is expected that the language may not still be stellar at this point.

4. Finalizing-

Finalizing means going through your first draft and looking for new problems with it. Start at the beginning and end at the end.  If you encounter a problem, work to solve it before moving on.  Look for parts of it that could be improved, or do not work as well as they could. Polish up all the prose.

5. Incubation-

Before you move on to edit the piece I recommend putting it aside for at least 2 days.  This doesn’t mean to stop writing.  It just means that you shift your focus to something else.  It may be easier to edit a piece when your mind is a little less familiar with it.

 The Nine Steps to Editing

1. First read-

In the first read attempt to experience the work as if you were a reader and were unfamiliar with it.  Read it as fast as you can, as if you were eager to see how it ends.  As you do this you will likely find that it is not possible.  Errors, discontinuities, and questions will leap out at you, tempting you to re-assume the role of the writer.  But do not give into this fully, rather, just leave a quick note for yourself.  Examples: ‘DB’ (do better), ‘WTF’ (writing thoroughly flawed),  or Redun (this is redundant). However, once you have gotten the gist of your concern down, let it go and push forward with the read.  Do not share this draft.

2. Close read-

Next you are going to read nice and slow, studying everything.  Answer all the questions you posed to yourself in the First read.  Add whatever material you find necessary.  Continue to revise your wording to make it shine.  During the Close Read focus primarily on continuity and dialogue.  For example if someone learns a name in chapter 2, they shouldn’t have used the name in chapter 1.

At the end of the close read you will have a complete, polished, and overlong work.  You might think of this as the “extended edition” like those bloated movies directors put out featuring “20 minutes of never-before-seen-footage.”

3. The Reaper Sweep-

Now it’s time to be merciless.  It is a cold fact of writing that every word is precious because attention and time are very limited.  You must protect your readers’ time.  They are giving it to you, but if you squander it they will not give you any more.  Just because you worked hard on a passage, or have a sentimental attachment to it doesn’t mean it needs to stay in the piece.  During the Reaper Sweep you are looking for the following:

A. Redundant or unimportant sections, including events that do not advance the plot.

B. Wordy sentences like this next one:  Look for sentences that appear to have more words in them than that which is required to in order to express your thoughts in a manner that is concise and to the point.

C. Statements that are unnecessary because you have already demonstrated their content through described action.

At the end of the Reaper Sweep you will have a shorter, neater, more concise work.   Do not share this work yet.

4. The Luddite-

Now that the work is in pretty good shape.  Print it out on actual paper.  Go to a different location from your usual writing spot.  That might be the kitchen table, a coffee shop, or a lawn chair.  Get out a red pen and have at it.  Hopefully the work will be in good enough shape that you will not need to do much to it.  But seeing the words on paper might evoke  a slightly different experience and provide a new insight.  During the Luddite read, focus on the flow.  How is the pacing?  How does it look on the page?  Are the paragraphs too long?  Are there any parts that make you very tired when you read them?

5. The Audio-

Many computers come equipped with Text-to-Speech conversion. Use this to listen to the work. As you do, read along and take note where your mind starts to drift as this might be a problem area.  If you don’t have access to this, just read it aloud slowly without any emotion. If your stuff works, it should sound good to you even as it is read by a tinny computer voice.  This step is important because it is hard to catch errors when the brain tends to see what it expects, rather than what is actually on the page.

6. Usage-

Read it again, this time focusing on punctuation, and usage.  This may be less interesting, but necessary.  Make sure your commas and semicolons are all in the right places.  Make sure you have all your commonly confused words right (its, it’s, their, there, they’re, thrown, throne, wretched, retched, etc.).  You might use one of the many available lists of commonly confused words as a checklist.  You can use find and replace to check every instance of the word and make sure there alright (um…I mean…they’re all right).

7. Beta it-

Ask people to read it.  If you are fortunate you will know a number of creative people who are eager to share their time.  If you don’t have someone who can do this for you then consider joining scribophile.com, which I have reviewed here.

8. Feedback-

Accept all feedback,even if it is rude, or poorly phrased. If it is not useful, consider asking additional questions. If a person does not provide constructive feedback, it’s best just to not use them for your beta drafts in the future, but still thank them for their time.

9. Full circle-

If you received some glowing reviews, then you are essentially done.  If not, then try to identify the problems with the text that are causing the negative feedback. Your reader may have told you the problem, or perhaps they just indicated that something didn’t work, and it’s up to you to piece together why.  This stage essentially takes you back to the Redrafting phase of writing.  If this seems a bit discouraging to you, try to imagine your work as a spiral.  As you get closer to the finish, the spiral gets tighter and tighter. One practical tip is to use the “highlighter” feature on your word processor to mark all the changes that occur in the draft and then as you go through the editing phases again, focus on the highlighted (newer) parts.

2013-07-05 09.52.10 pmUse the Spell Factory Progression sheet to track up to six projects. As you complete each phase check the column off.  This will serve as a visual indication of how much progress you have made.  Spell factory Progress

If you use this and find it helpful (or not helpful) let me know. Happy Writing!

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2 thoughts on “The Spell Factory: A Workflow for the Writer with a Limited Attention Span

  1. darsword says:

    Reblogged this on Darswords and commented:
    Love this! Very helpful!

  2. […] Seek and Destroy: Tools for avoiding usage errors […]

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