Lewis and Susan Jenkins

Done But Not Done

Diary of a Robot is as good as Mr. Jenkins can make it. He got an early boost from Donald Hall's book Writing Well. (RIP, Mr. Hall.) Since then he has done the sorts of things everyone says an author must do including many edits. Then he did them again. And again, some.

I had a copyedit done by a good pro, and Mr. Jenkins made necessary changes. The writing and editing are done on this first book, so now it's my job, as his publisher, to plug the book and generate some interest. I should have started my publicity efforts much earlier. In fact, I did start earlier. But he kept making the book better, so I had no idea when he would be done. I am leaning toward public relations techniques rather than advertising. My stable of writer is small by definition, and I may even loose him if an agent gets interested and finds another publisher with more resources.

On the plus side, the sequel with the same characters (more or less) is all plotted and going well. I love the ending on that one, too. He says a first draft should be done in a month. I'll believe it when I see it.

Changes           (first posted 18.09.04)

I recently bought Pro Writing Aid (PWA). It's my kind of thing: software. I love it. And hate it.

My book Diary of a Robot gets better because of it. Chapter nine is the easiest example because it's only one page. I've put the changed version on my book's web pages, and I'll leave the old version underneath for comparison as long as this blurb is up.

PWA has many features. They quickly show me where to do what I already know how to do: cut unnecessary stuff and make what's left clearer, without losing the music or leaving necessary things out. You may ask why I wrote something verbose or unclear in the first place. Good question.

As of 5PM today (18.09.24), I've finished applying selected PWA functions with all 42 chapters of my novel. What a grind. I used Readability, Cliches, Diction,  Overused, Grammar, and Style. PWA has more features, but I don't know enough to use them, and my primary goal was to address the basics. I'm preparing my flames and raves only for the functions I used on the most recent edit. The other functions, I'll tackle later.

BTW, I ran the black text here through PWA. Readability is all green. Cliche detects one (time after time). Diction showed 25 vague or abstract words plus 8 diction issues. Overused shows none. Grammar shows six grammar problems and one spelling error (it wants me to capitalize 'google').  The Style function shows one possible emotion tell (I'm happy), and one passive verb (been tagged). The trick with this product is to look at everything it tells you, ignore most of it, but correctly distinguish what to ignore.

Programming in English          (first posted 18.08.29)

I used to be a programmer. (Actually, I recently got re-hired as a temporary at my previous job.) Writing in English has been a lot more frustrating than programming in Java or any of the dozen other languages I've used. There are a lot of similarities between programming and novel writing—but that's another post. Today, let's stick primarily with their differences.

The biggest difference—and maybe the only one—is feedback. As a programmer I get instant comment from three sources: the language editor,  the compiler, and the run-time unit. A computer program editor, such as with the Eclipse IDE, is like a pedant copy-editor hovering over me, instantly saying, "That's not how it goes. Here are your choices." The Integrated Development Environment's Java language compiler is like a style editor saying, "Oops. We don't allow that structure here; I refuse to publish that crap." The Java run-time unit executes properly compiled Java code, but always does exactly what that code tells it to do, whether that's what I wanted it to do or not. So, the run-time unit is like a reader who stops reading when the program—the novel—doesn't present whatever threads the reader will keep following. Consider an abandoned book as a program crash.

When I retired from programming, I called myself an author and thought I had changed jobs. My PWA experience tells me I'm still a programmer, but I'm doing it in English, not Java, or Forth, or assembler. As an author I love to blast out seat-of -the-pants text (call it "code") and outlines (call them "pseudo code"). I love to edit. What I hate is the going back over the story time after time to find even more things I missed last time. As a programmer, it would be the same as having an Eclipse editor that didn't show me all my fat-fingered punctuation errors. I wouldn't know anything was wrong until the compiler gave me a blizzard of error messages. Very frustrating, especially when the compiler is a literary agent who sees a punctuation error and dumps my work without giving any feedback.

The PWA tool has helped me in the same ways the computer language tools did. It gives me almost instant feedback. Granted, that the feedback is from a chattering extreme pedant who reports anything suspicious. So, I have to take each of its comments as a suggestion, not a requirement. That's a little tiring, but it's a good thing because it forces me to look carefully at the text—and its context—for the reasons why it should be one way or another.

I'm not a machine; I'm inexperienced at seeing things that are there to see in a long manuscript, and I often miss things because I burn out sometimes but keep editing anyway. It's difficult for someone close to the manuscript to spot all problems. My live-in copy editor is now the digital PWA. It is relentless and sees everything it's programmed for, even when it doesn't understand it at all. Software is not nearly as smart as the programmers.

The most important PWA feature for me is its implementation of the Flesch Readability Ease index (google it). It does not tell me what to write. It only tells me how easy my paragraphs are to read. I apply the Flesh Readability Ease tool to my chapters one section at a time because it's just easier that way. The software marks paragraphs as red, yellow, or green. Wikipedia gives the formula. It's based on sentence count, word count, and syllable count. Max ease is 121.22, but I don't want to be that easy. As long as it's green (plain English; easily understood by 13- to 15-year-old students), I'm happy.

If you are a writer who submits work to anyone else, I'll tell you that professional editors or their assistants will likely save time by running your work through some kind of Flesch (or Flesch-Kincaid) readability engine. Before you send anything of any size to them, pass it through such a piece of software yourself. It's the most efficient feedback you can get, and you'll control what grade level your editor sees.  That way, you won't submit MG pieces that should have been tagged as YA.

PWA has many other features. When I have something more to flame or rave about, I'll let you know.

Lewis Jenkins


Diary of a Robot

        Table of Chapters
Chapter 0. Problems
Chapter 1. Headaches
Chapter 2. Happy Holidays
Chapter 3. Mr. Nice Guy
Chapter 4. The Brainless One 
Chapter 5. A Little Crazy
Chapter 6. Grave Consequences
Chapter 7. Core Directives
Chapter 8. Expect Difficulties
Chapter 9. Caveats
Chapter 10. Mister Machine
Chapter 11. Good News, Bad News, El Cheapo
Chapter 12. New Memories
Chapter 13. Little Problems
Chapter 14. Lasers, Language, and Happiness
Chapter 15. Chatterbots
Chapter 16. Ready Or Not
Chapter 17. Not a Turing Test
Chapter 18. Reality Test
Chapter 19. Chess, Anyone?
Chapter 20. FOM
Chapter 21. Chairman of the Board
Chapter 22. The Usual Suspects
Chapter 23. M. God
Chapter 24. Walkabout
Chapter 25. Why
Chapter 26. First Blood
Chapter 27. More Machines?
Chapter 28. POV
Chapter 29. ROI
Chapter 30. Last Blood
Chapter 31. Don’t Want to Talk About It
Chapter 32. Round Table
Chapter 33. A Change of Mind
Chapter 34. Threes
Chapter 35. Knight Moves
Chapter 36. Little Combinations
Chapter 37. Can We Talk?
Chapter 38. Pas de Deux
Chapter 39. The Jig Is Up
Chapter 40. Good, Bad, Ugly                     Chapter 41. Function Goes On