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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

SPIE 2016 Manuscript Done

Posted by Tom Benedict on 30/05/2016

Last week didn’t turn out quite the way I’d intended. Right after writing my last post I got a call from my sister to tell me my father had to go to the emergency room. Neither of my siblings were in a position to fly in to help him, so I offered. I spent last week helping him get back on his feet, get to all the doctor’s appointments my sister set up for him, and figure out his next move. This meant I wasn’t spending that time making further edits on my SPIE paper or flying kites and cameras for World Wide KAP Week, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. WWKW rolls around once a year, and I knew I could submit the manuscript to SPIE remotely no matter where I was in the world. I needed to be at my father’s side, so that’s where I was.

Turns out I didn’t need to submit the manuscript remotely, though. I got back two nights ago, a couple of days before manuscripts were due. I gave the paper one last looking over just in case. Just… In… Case… Yeah.

Here are some lessons I learned from “just in case”:

  1. No matter how many times you check your spacing, there’s always a space somewhere you don’t want it. (Yes, I’m using this to justify how anal I am when editing.)
  2. When proofing a paper, also check captions and figure titles. I had one graph labeled “Diffuse Reflectance of Bulk Materiaw 1.5ls”. Um… What?! (Global search and replace can be a real bitch at times.)
  3. Be sure to catch all your little place-holders and fix them. One sentence included “…overall reflectivity between 6-?% across the full range…” In three rounds of editing by multiple people, no one caught that. Not even me.
  4. I always put in too many commas when writing a first draft.
  5. I always leave too many in during subsequent edits. There’s always one more comma to kill.
  6. Above all else, listen to the input from your co-authors. Right before flying out to be with my father I had a frenzied text conversation with one of the co-authors on the paper who insisted on a particular change in the paper. I disagreed, but I had to drop it when I got on the plane. When I got back I found I agreed with him. I made the change, and the paper was stronger for it.

That last one really applies to all forms of writing, not just technical and scientific papers. Listen to your editors. Listen to your co-authors. Listen to people who tell you something doesn’t make sense, doesn’t flow, or is just plain wrong. Even if it means a complete re-write it means you’re connecting with at least one more person when you finally publish.

I submitted the manuscript this morning. I’ll start designing the poster tomorrow.



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A Bounce And An Edit

Posted by Tom Benedict on 09/06/2011

My first short story was bounced back. Not rejected, mind you, but bounced. The publisher had to close their doors, so they sent all unread stories back to their authors. It makes me sad, because I really liked what I read in the issues they had published. I have another story in the works that would have been a perfect fit for them. So instead of having to find a new market for one story, I’m having to re-think the market for two.

I turned the first story around within a day, but I don’t think the new market is as good a fit as the first publisher was. Meanwhile I’ll keep looking.

I thought I had the second story in final form, so last night I gave it to my wife to read. I know I’m a relatively new writer, so I’m not in a position to dispense advice to other writers. But I think I can say this without concern that I’m leading others astray: A writer’s best friend is a reader.

When I write, she gives me space. No talking, no questions, no reminders that the trash needs taking out. When she reads, I give her the same space. So I did the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, scrubbed the stove, anything to stay out of her hair. Still, I stole glances at her from time to time. I was appalled to see how much she was writing in the margins and between the lines! When I handed it to her, I thought the story was done. After what felt like a lifetime of agony, she put it down and called me over.

She caught one grammatical error I was thankful for. One section was tagged as “Slow!” It was cut. At the end she had a list of plot questions I’d left hanging. We discussed it for about half an hour, but what it boiled down to was that I had missed the real meat of the story. I’d written for the wrong plot question.

Before anyone thinks that it’s the writer and not the reader who should call that shot, remember what stories are there for: they’re there to entertain a reader. This makes the reader the expert in the equation. If the writer can’t entertain the reader, they’ve failed.

It took a few hours to really figure out how I wanted to go about fixing the story, but once the plan clicked into place I knew it would be a better story than what I’d originally written. Out came an unfortunate amount of the humor I’d tried to put in, and the punchline at the end of the story had to be gutted entirely. Some of what I thought was back story went in at the front, and half of what was left was entirely re-written. It’s rough. You can’t make that much of a change to a story and have it be anything else. But one more editorial pass and it might actually stand on its own. By the time I went to bed I felt like I had been through the emotional wringer. That’s a good sign!

The funny thing is, before the edits I was having a hard time finding a good market for it. After? I’m pretty sure I already know where to send it when my wife declares it good.

– Tom

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And So We Begin

Posted by Tom Benedict on 01/06/2011

Nearly five years ago, I decided I wanted to learn to write fiction.  I love reading aloud.  I love what stories can do for the people who listen to me read.  I love reading stories to myself, and love what those stories can do for me.  What better way to express this than to try to write stories of my own?

Well… it was a good thought.  It still is, but it’s not that simple.  Writing fiction is hard work.  It’s some of the hardest I’ve undertaken.  During those five years I wrote, rewrote, tore up, wrote again, and continued this cycle without one story I wanted to put my name on and call my own.  During those same five years I undertook all sorts of engineering projects at work, learned to do kite aerial photography, re-learned how to do photography from the ground, and succeeded in most of these endeavors.  But not writing.  When I say writing is hard, I mean it.

But it’s also incredibly rewarding!  A while ago I figured out that I’m simply not tooled up, skill wise, to write a novel.  I don’t know if I ever will be.  And setting my sights on a project that large without having honed my skills on something a little more immediate probably didn’t do me any favors.  So I started writing short stories.  Wow!  What a difference!  I still think most of my writing is sheer drivel, but at least I don’t realize this fifty or a hundred pages in.  I can see it by page two.

About a week ago I had a conversation with my son that sparked an idea for a story.  As soon as he was in bed I wrote the first draft.  I was in the middle of another story, so I put it away and went back to my first project for the next few days.  Then I went back and revised it.  Then I handed it to two readers who gave me some fantastic feedback.  One more revision later both readers gave it the thumbs-up.  It was time.

My first story is out the door.  I should know some time in the next eight weeks or so whether they will publish it or not.  If not, I’ve got another publisher lined up.  Meanwhile it’s time to go back to that other story I was working on.

Life’s good.

– Tom

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Tangled Writing

Posted by Tom Benedict on 25/05/2011

Every night that’s not a school night, the whole family gets together and has dinner and a movie.  We almost never turn on the TV except for movie nights, and then only for movies.  Call us weird.  Whatever.  It’s fun.  These days Friday night is almost completely given over to Phineas and Ferb.  Not strictly a movie, but it’s a lot of fun.  The writers of Phineas and Ferb have way too much fun, and we have way too much fun watching them.

Last Saturday we watched Tangled.  I like that movie a lot.  It’s got great characters who go through some good development as the movie progresses.  It’s got a rolicking good plot line that drives the story forward.  It’s got melodrama that draws tears, and it’s got humor that makes me laugh.  As we watched I got this wrenching need to write.

I had been working on a novel on and off for years, but finally set it aside some time ago.  I don’t have enough of a handle on the craft to carry me through a novel.  At this point I don’t have the stamina, either, because I haven’t found a pace that works yet.  Some months back I forced myself to start reading short stories so I could learn to write them.

A short story is not a compressed novel.  It’s a completely different literary form.  I know that learning to write the one form doesn’t always translate into being able to write the other.  That’s fine.  Right now I’m not trying to learn a given form.  I’m trying to learn to build a character.  I’m trying to learn how to plot.  I’m trying not to bore my fellow creatures.  I’m convinced that these skills do carry over.  The execution is different for each form, but the ideas are the same.

The funny thing is I actually like short stories.  I know they don’t have the markets novels do, but they’re fun to read and they’re even more fun to write!  After watching Tangled and putting the kids to bed, I stayed up past midnight working on a short story I’ve been itching to write for some time.  It’s through its first draft and is ready for the first major revision: the pot is simmering.  Meanwhile I got two more stories on the stove and a third on the cutting board.  One of the two new ones is worth finishing.  I’ll have to see on the other two.  One more day should get it simmering as well.

I’m still trying to decide what to do with them.  It would be fun to post them here, but I really need something more out of them.  In looking at publishers, I realized what drew my interest wasn’t genre or acceptance rates.  It’s which ones write personal rejection letters as opposed to form letters.  That’s what I need more than an acceptance letter:  I need a rejection letter that will tell me what I did right and what I did wrong.

So that’s my new personal goal:  I will write short stories and finish them.  I will send them out for publication.  And I will collect every rejection letter I receive.  (I’ll collect acceptance letters, too, mind you… but that’s not part of the goal.)

Off to write!

– Tom

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