Tag Archives: corrections

Thinking to Keep Warm

It’s another bitterly cold day today. It’s almost cruel that this type of weather makes everything look so pretty, but has such a negative impact on people’s lives, isn’t it?

My parents had planned to come and visit today, but the weather might prevent them from travelling; this thought makes me very sad indeed. I’m hoping that the newly-risen sun will bring enough warmth with it to clear the roads of ice and make their journey possible. Of course, I know that this is a small problem. This sort of weather always makes me very sympathetic towards people who are homeless, or elderly, or living in sub-standard accommodation, or who can’t afford to heat their homes (increasingly a problem in Ireland.)

Is it me, or does this lady sort of look like HM The Queen? Weird.Image: guardian.co.uk

Is it me, or does this lady sort of look like HM The Queen? Weird.
Image: guardian.co.uk

I’m trying to keep my brain cells alive today by keeping them busy. I’d like to think the more they move around inside my skull, the warmer they’ll be. So far, it’s not meeting with a huge amount of success; I’ll persevere, though. In order to accomplish this goal, I’ve been stretching the grey matter in yet another direction – as well as working on my stories, I’ve also been helping someone with an editing project over the last few days. I can’t explain how much fun this has been. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than correcting errors, particularly when they’re other people’s.

(By the way, thanks to everyone who read my blog yesterday and who chose not to tell me I’d missed a word near the end. Perhaps nobody noticed except me – at least, I hope not! No point going to check it now, either – I’ve fixed it.)

Image: redpenofdoom.com

Image: redpenofdoom.com

Editing, as well as being really satisfying, is also beneficial to me as a writer. It’s gradually helping me to realise that when someone edits the guts out of a piece you’ve lovingly submitted to them, they don’t mean it to hurt your feelings. They really do mean to help you and make your work stronger. I feel I’ve been quite ruthless in my editing of the work that’s been submitted to me – pointing out places where the argument doesn’t make any sense or where the writing gets lost in a froth of style over substance, slashing through misspellings and instances of homophone confusion, clarifying commonly confused words (particularly ‘lose’ and ‘loose’, which is so widespread in Ireland that it should be our national slogan), and, most satisfyingly, putting in apostrophes where apostrophes should be, and ripping them out where they’ve been jammed in without just cause. I know, though, that none of this verbal carnage has been personal or designed to hurt delicate feelings. The person behind the words is immaterial when I’ve got my editing hat on; all I see are the words, and the errors, and the fact that fixing the errors makes the words better.

So, of course, I have to logically assume that when a person edits my work, they feel the same way. They see value in what I have to say, and they feel it’s worth reading through in enough detail to pick out the good bits among the piles of dross and to fix it up until it’s as pretty as it can be. This sounds a lot better than ‘the editor thought this piece was so woefully bad that not one word escaped without being doused in red ink.’ So, I’m choosing to go with the optimistic view.

I’m also planning to work on a story that I started yesterday. It was an experiment with form, and I’m not sure it’s quite worked; certainly, it didn’t have the emotional impact on paper that it had in my head. It can be difficult to write stories (particularly if they’re as short as flash fiction tends to be) which are interesting, unique and innovative. I’ve tried writing pieces composed entirely of dialogue, and a story based around images which are completely impossible. I’ve tried a piece written using nothing but contradictions, which was (as you can imagine) difficult. Yesterday’s effort was based around a funeral notice placed in a newspaper, which would have worked well if I’d managed to tweak it just a bit more. So, perfecting that story is today’s quest, as well as working through some other ideas bubbling in my mind.

Sometimes I worry whether I’m writing stories that are full of clichés and over-used ideas; considering that so many stories are never published in the traditional sense (i.e. in short story collections in books), but only appear on websites or online publications, some of which are entirely unknown to me, it can be hard to keep up with trends. But you can’t spend your whole life reading, either – you’d never get any writing done.

What can you do, though. You’ve just got to write what you’ve got to write. Right?

Anyway. It’s time to get stuck in. The words are waiting, so I’d better start getting them out before my brain ices over completely.

Have a happy Tuesday. Stay warm. Stay safe. Most importantly, stay happy.

 

A Rough Edit

I have finished my fifth (possibly sixth?) draft! Now, it’s time to collapse in a twitching heap.

This is kind of how I feel right now.

This is kind of how I feel right now.

It was a really hard edit, this time. This draft, I used purple ink to distinguish my corrections from the first hard-copy edit I made, in which I used red ink. When I tell you there’s at least three times as much purple ink as red on this paper beast, I’m not telling you a word of a lie. I’m actually a bit frightened by the fact that glaring omissions, errors, downright stupidities and unfulfilled storylines were overlooked by me first time round, and the red pen passed over them, unconcerned. It took the might of the purple pen to bring them to heel. Sort of ironic, when you consider the idea that ‘purple’ is usually a term you want to avoid when you’re writing – I guess, when you’re me, it can be a good thing.

It might interest some readers to know that my prologue (to which I was deeply, emotionally and powerfully attached) has been junked. Yes, junked. It had been reduced to a blur of scribbles and tiny, scribbled mutterings, until I finally decided last night that the reason I was so unhappy with it was because it was unnecessary, stupid and not working. I loved it, though – it was the first thing I wrote, the first gentle dip into this fictive world, and I clung to it like a limpet for all these months, despite the advice of my brother, my husband and my friend Claire. They all read it and said – look, this needs to go. I snarled like a wild animal protecting its young and told them all to sod off, that it was my book and the prologue was staying. So, to them, I wish to say ‘sorry for being such a silly auteur and thank you very much for your constructive, clever and correct criticism’. It just took me a few months to let it sink in.

I’ve read so many guidelines to writing, all of which say things like ‘if there’s something about your writing that you really love or feel unaccountably attached to, it’s a sign there’s something not right with it’, or ‘if there’s something that needs to be tweaked and tucked and adjusted and stretched and which, no matter what you do to it, just doesn’t fit, get rid of it’, but I never understood those tips until now. I really loved that prologue, written in the protagonist’s voice after the events of the book have taken place; battle-worn and life-weary, she introduces us to her world and lets us know that bad things have taken place, and will take place. She alerts us to the fact that her family are not what they seem. I thought it was important, and for a long time it seemed important. Perhaps it seemed important because the book wasn’t finished, and it was only when the story had played out that I could understand the reader doesn’t need all the suspense sucked out of the plot. I’m thinking, now, that it’s better to drop the reader into the heart of this family which seems loving, if a little dysfunctional; it’s better to let them work out for themselves that what the protagonist’s family does for a living isn’t quite wholesome, instead of having it told to them in the first page or two. I wasn’t able to make the protagonist’s retelling of the mythology of her world, which had been a big part of the prologue, sit properly – it just felt clumsy, and sticky, and it bothered me. Eventually, and finally, it dawned on me that the only way to fix it was to take it away. It’s explained throughout the plot anyway, so there’s no need to introduce it at the very beginning. It was a horrible, heartbreaking decision, but I know it’s the right one – even writing this post, explaining to you (and myself) why I took the decision to change it is making sense to me.

My only regret is that I didn’t have this epiphany before I entered my work into the competition, back in October; the prologue is the first bit that the judges will read, and if it puts them off reading the rest of it, I really will kick myself.

Gah. I coulda been a contender...

Gah. I coulda been a contender…

Anyway. Despite the fact that I feel like Clonycavan Man (that handsome gent in the image, above), I need to keep working. Making edits with a pen onto my print-out is, of course, only the first step in a long process. Now, I have to go back through my work and make all these edits and changes, hoping that they all work and that I don’t spot any more gaping plot anomalies. I can’t promise not to weep when I highlight my beloved prologue and hit ‘delete’ – please don’t hold it against me.

Right. Time to make some coffee and get cracking. Happy Tuesday!