Author Archives: Jeff Ambrose

Getting Ready To Start A New Novel

Seer and Madman 2So the editing of the second Tabard Cain novel, THE SEER AND THE MADMAN, is going well. I’m in the proofing stage, which means I’m having my MacBook read the book to me. This helps me catch tons of mistakes — such as when I type “choose” for “chose,” or “loose” for “lose.” Having the book read to me, even in a computer-voice, also helps me catch unwieldy sentences. I actually enjoy this process. Not only do I get to experience my book in a new way, I get a thrill with every mistake I fix. However, as fun as it is, I have no interest in spending my entire day editing.

So on Monday, I’m going to start the third Tabard Cain novel — THE CITY OF SPIDERS. And for this novel, I’ve decided to use a different app. I began writing in Microsoft Word, switched to Apple’s Pages when I bought my first MacBook, and then switched to Scrivener. I have a love/hate relationship with Scrivener. I love the binder system it uses, but hate almost everything else about it. There are too many bells and whistles. Too many things you can play with. Too many distractions.


So for this novel, I’ve decided to try out Ulysses III. It has everything I love about Scrivener — a “binder” system, a full-screen view, and the ability to tag your individual scenes and chapters — but without all the distractions that drive me nuts. To help me get used to the new software, I’ve bought David Hewson’s Writing a Novel with Ulysses IIII read Hewson’s book about Scrivener and learned a lot, and so far, I’m enjoying this new one, too. I’m pretty excited to start working with you Ulysses III, and I’m even more excited to start writing Tabard Cain III.

(Didn’t see the III connection until just now. That wasn’t planned.)

This Writing Week — 10/13/14

I like the idea of blogging on a regular basis … but somewhere between the thought, “I should blog more,” and the act of doing so, there’s a breakdown. So maybe I can ease into it by making myself blog every Monday and talk about the up-coming week.

In terms of life, this week has two out-of-the-ordinary events: a doctor’s appointment this morning, and getting the van’s oil changed on Wednesday. The doctor’s appointment is for a wellness program going on at my wife’s work. It means I need to lose about 20 pounds and cut a number of inches off my waist in order for us to save money on health insurance. I have a year to do this. And so, I get to meet with a doctor every three months to set goals short term goals. Some people would hate this program. I don’t. The program forced my wife to shed some weight and get in shape, and I’m sure it’ll do the same for me.

The oil change. What can one say about that? A necessary waste of money and time.

In terms of writing, this week is the read-through of THE SEER AND THE MADMAN. Last week, I spent all day Thursday and Friday going through the manuscript using Ken Rand’s The 10% Solution, spell-checking as I did this. This week, I’m sitting down with the book on my Kindle and will read it as a reader would, jotting down notes about problems I find — weird sentences or word choices, a lack of clarity, a lack of depth, inconsistency within the narrative. So, as I read my book, I’m going to do my best to read as a reader. This is one reason I’m reading on the Kindle and not on a printed out manuscript.

While I’m busy with that, I’ll also be taking notes for the next movement in the Tabard Cain Saga, which is called THE CITY OF SPIDERS. (In fact, I’m thinking about writing the next two movements in one sitting, but we’ll see about that.) It’s important for me to start preparing for the next book while reading this book so I can note promises I made to the reader and character details I need to remember.

Also, I’ve started writing a series of short, nonfiction books on Catholic theology (my background is in Catholic theology), which I’ll publish under a different name. I’ve already written about 3,000 words of the first book, and I hope to finish it by week’s end.

Tabard Cain #2 Is Finished!

Seer and Madman 2I’m happy to say I finished the second Tabard Cain novel, THE SEER AND THE MADMAN, today. I think it’s a fairly good movement within the greater story, if not for anything other than the fact that Tabard gets some friends to pal around with.

What’s next?

First, there are a couple of fixes I need to do either tonight or tomorrow. A new opening to Chapter 1, and a layering in of some material in a later chapter. But nothing too big or difficult.

Then, a break. I’m not the kind of writer who likes to leave my stories sitting around for several weeks. It makes me itchy knowing I have an unfinished project I need to get back to. So after I put in those changes tomorrow, I’ll take a few days off.

Finally, the edit. With the previous novel, THE KINGLESS WARRIOR, I decided to try a three-stage editing process. 1) A computer read-through during which I focus on the words. 2) A paper read-through in which I focus on content. 3) A final proofread.

That worked well enough. There were some kinks along the way, but that’s to be expected, since it was my first time editing a novel (or story) in such a manner. This time around, my goal is to be more efficient.

So, the first pass isn’t really about words. Rather it’s about fixing clunky sentences. For the most part, clunky sentences are the result of excessive words. So instead of reading the novel, this time I’m going to use Ken Rand’s 10% Solution to help me focus on those words that typically generate bad sentences. Words like was and of, and words ending with -ing and -ion. This doesn’t mean all those words are bad. But those words might indicate lazy writing. The goal isn’t to necessarily cut 10% of the draft, nor is it to fix sentences that work. Rather, the goal is to quickly identify those areas where improvement is needed. Gotta love the search/find feature!

For my second pass, I’m going to skip the paper read-through and instead just read it on the Kindle. The problem with a paper read-through is that I can spend a whole lot of time scribbling on the page, and then when I go back to put in those changes, I’m not really sure what my scribbles mean — or, worse still, I find those changes aren’t necessary. Remember, the goal of an edit is to fix the story, not change it for change sake. So this time, it’ll be me and my Kindle. I’ll highlight mistakes and make notes in a spiral notebook. I’m hoping this method keeps me from nitpicking, as well as force me to be a little more thoughtful with my notes.

For the proofread, my MacBook will read aloud the story to me. It worked great last time, and I’m confident it’ll work great this time. Yes, it’s tedious, and yes, and you can’t go on for long without taking a break. But you do catch tons of mistakes.

After that, it’ll be off to a reader to catch anything I missed.

Sometimes You Have To Start Over

Seer and Madman 2Last week, I took a day to reread my work in progress, THE SEER AND THE MADMAN, in order to find the story’s ending. I read, I jotted down notes, I forgot about it — and then one night later, as I was trying to fall asleep, the ending came to me. I jumped out of bed and scribbled down the basic idea.

On Monday morning, as I worked out the idea, I realized I had another problem. I had taken too many missteps in the book. The story was there, but the telling was jerky. As I scrolled through the novel, I began to see that there was no real way for me to smooth out the jerkiness without starting completely over. Layering in and taking out small things is easy. But when entire chunks of scenes need to be replaced with new material, I find it best to start the scene from word one.

In the case of THE SEER AND THE MADMAN, I thought it best if I start completely over. I felt the ending had far-reaching consequences, and that if I tried to layer in these changes, I would drive myself made. So using Scrivener’s split-screen ability, I put the old version on the left side of my screen and started writing the new version on the right side of the screen. Over the last five days, I’ve been able to write … or rewrite … or rekey — whatever you want to call it — about 30,000 words. Which is about half the novel. Some scenes needed no major changes, but I rekeyed them anyway in order to maintain a consistency of thought throughout the novel.

My hope is to have this sucker finished by next Friday, October 3 — but that might be pushing it. While I know the ending, it’s not written. So even if I finish the week after, I’ll be happy. My over-all goal is to have it out by the end of October, if not sooner.

Finding The Ending

I’ve often said — and I’ll probably say this many more times — that the hardest thing about writing is figuring out how you do it. The process other writers use to get from an idea to a finish novel can, at best, help you see possibilities of working, but no writer can take another writer’s process and simply use it.

For me, I’ve slowly come to see I’m very much a cycle writer. What this means, in general, is that I cycle through the story, adding and cutting and pushing the story forward with each pass. I’m not much of a “mini-cycler” the way, say, Dean Wesley Smith is. If you follow his on-going blog, you know that he continually makes small cycles, going back a couple hundred words, doing larger cycles rarely. I’m more of a “macro-cycler” the way, say, Harlan Coben is. About every 50 pages, maybe more, maybe less — it depends — I start at the beginning and read the story all the way through. Sometimes I do this because I really don’t know where I’m going, and other times I do this because I want to add and/or cut depending on the story is progressing. But mostly, I want to make sure there’s continuity.

Today, when I sat down to write, I realized I don’t have the faintest idea as to how to end this novel, THE SEER AND THE MADMAN. I’m right there on the cusp. Everything is lined up — except, I don’t know how it’s going to play out … and I don’t know even what direction to face. If I had one or the other, I think I could write. If I knew the ending, I would know how to get there. And if I knew which direction to face — even if I didn’t know the ending — I could at least put words on paper and see where it would lead. But I’m really lost at the moment.

Well, maybe not that lost.

One thing that often surprises me about writing — and perhaps it’s writing’s biggest joy — is when you surprise yourself. That is to say, when you don’t plan on something, but it’s there nevertheless. A “Muse Bomb,” as Holly Lisle would call it. When you find one and are able to use it, it’s a real thrill.

So while I don’t know how this sucker is going to end, I’m confident that my ending is already in the story — somewhere. A freshly printed manuscript sits next to me, to my left, and as soon as I get done here, I’m sitting down with it, a pencil, and a fresh cup of coffee, and I’m going to start reading.

All with a view to finding the story’s ending.