Tag Archives: editing

The Deathbed Chronicles

You know, in classic novels, when people are described as ‘invalids’ – lying about on couches looking sort of wasted and pale, possibly covered in blankets, snapping at the servants and insisting on keeping the curtains closed because they can’t even be dealing with the outside world – and how you always thought it sounded a bit, well, dramatic?

Yeah.

Photo Credit: tpholland via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: tpholland via Compfight cc

I did, too, until I developed the Ague That Will Not Go Away (No Matter How Hard I Beg Of It), and I realised how close this depiction is to reality. All I’m short of is the laudanum drops and the strategic application of leeches to my person. I had a break from feeling ill for a few days, which lured me into thinking I was back to optimum functioning again, but over the weekend it struck once more like a hammer-blow from the heavens. No exaggeration. So, yesterday I spent most of my time in a semi-conscious fog. barely able to summon the strength to get to the corner shop for essential provisions. Today, luckily, I’m a bit better – well enough to be upright and typing, at least – and we’ll see how the rest of the day goes.

It’s no huge surprise, then, that I don’t have much to report on the writing front. I did complete a draft last week (in a strictly technical sense, as it’s one I’ve been working on for a very long time), though I don’t feel it’s really up to much. I have a reasonable beginning to another draft floating around in the ether which I need to get back to. I’m about to start edits on The Eye of the North, which should be terrifying and exhilarating and may, quite possibly, push me right over the edge into full-blown loopiness. All in all, it’s the wrong time for me to be feeling less than functional. Whatever brain cells I can muster, I need ’em now. (If you have any lying about that you’re not using, by the way, feel free to package ’em up and send ’em my way. I’ll wash ’em and return ’em as soon as ever I can, Scout’s honour).

So, I don’t have any servants to snap at (nor, in fact, very many curtains to keep firmly closed; we’re a Venetian blind-sort of household around here), but I have the long-suffering look down pat. I am, however, blessed with the robust colouring of my peasant ancestors and so the ‘pale and wasted’ thing isn’t really working for me. I am continually a fresh and healthy shade of pink, no matter what my internal reality might be, so I give the impression of being as healthy as a horse, albeit one which looks rather put out at its lot in life. This was a problem when, as a kid, I was continually suspected of pretending to be sick so that I could bunk off school.

(Fools. They should have known I was a dyed-in-the-wool nerd who actually enjoyed school. Why would I want to bunk off? Anyway).

So. Let’s hope for a return to good health for one and all, a speedy turnaround on my edits, and fresh inspiration for my new writing projects. That’s not too much to ask, right?

Blocked at Every Turn

You know when you see a mouse in a maze, and it’s running up a passageway only to find it’s blocked off, and so then it changes direction and runs down another passageway only to find – horrors! – that it’s blocked off, too, and so on?

Yes. Well. I always had huge sympathy for mice in those sorts of situations. From now on, though, I will have even more, because, right now, that mouse is me, people.

Photo Credit: Rain Rabbit via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Rain Rabbit via Compfight cc

You see? I’m so stressed I’m using too many commas.

I’m about three-quarters of the way into my rewrite of Eldritch. My hero is in a bind. He’s trapped in the presence of a powerful, but unhinged, relative who has A Nefarious Plan. Of course, my hero has a secret weapon, but it’s not one he knows about yet – and even if he knew he had it, he wouldn’t know how to use it, anyway. So, as you can see, plenty of scope for dramatic tension.

You’d think.

The first version of this story had the hero trotting off, at this point, on a whole rambling sub-plot about magical creatures which (for reasons best known to the automaton who appears to run my brain) appeared in the story, just because. I got myself all tangled up in their world, their King, their city, their rules and laws – and after about ten pages of this I came to a screeching halt and went…

What is the point of any of this?

So I stopped, forthwith, and went back to the last good point in the story. We have the hero and his relative facing one another down. Cue lots of mwahaha-ing and threatening language and displays of awesome magical power, and in this version the hero accidentally discovers how to use the secret weapon we talked about.

It should’ve been brilliant. But instead it was – flat. Ridiculous, actually. Images which looked so cool in my imagination came out of my fingers like so much fluff.

I junked all that, too, and went back to the first storyline which – if I’m being honest – seemed to flow better in terms of my ability to put one word after another, but I still had the nagging question in the back of my mind all the time. What is the point of any of this? Having been through a substantial edit on another book, I could anticipate my agent reading the work I was doing. I could see her comments. ‘Sorry, but what in the world is going on here? What does this have to do with anything?’ The only answer I’d be able to give her would be ‘Nothing. None of this has anything to do with anything, because it’s just silly. And unless I can find a way to tie it to the larger plot, it’s a piece of pretty decoration but not a lot else.’

Which meant, of course, it has to go.

So then it was back to rethinking the other plot, the secret weapon one. I had to consider what I wanted my character to do at this point; what does he need to learn? He has to overcome a difficulty, sure – but it doesn’t have to be a difficulty on the magnitude of being taken hostage by a bunch of magical creatures and having to fight his way out of their clutches at the same time as trying to fight his deranged relative. He has to learn that he has power within him which he hasn’t tried to tap, yet; he has to learn that when he needs to make a last stand and deliver, that he has the goods. So, there has to be another way – a neater and more pleasing way – of doing that.

There has to be.

So I decided to consider the scene in relation to the story overall, keeping in mind the larger movement of the book. One of the reasons I felt the scene with the magical creatures wasn’t working was that it was too slow, and took the story away from the primary field of action for too long. It wasn’t necessarily a bad scene, badly written or uninteresting – it just didn’t fit where I was trying to put it.

The first question I asked myself was: what is this scene trying to illustrate? I realised that the answer lies in several parts. Firstly, the power of the antagonist, and the lengths to which he’ll go to get what he wants. Secondly, the power – as yet untapped – of the protagonist, who knows not only his life, but also the lives of people he loves, are being put in danger by his relative’s megalomania. Thirdly, it has to hint at (but not give away entirely) the method by which the hero will eventually fight the antagonist, and I don’t want there to be too much repetition going on. As my agent said, repeatedly, on my last MS: ‘Ring the changes.’ As in, don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of using the same structure, plot device or conceit too often. It’s really easy to do, and it can be really hard to fix. I’m still not sure how to distinguish this preliminary battle scene from the one which I’m sure will come later – the showdown – but I think I have a calmer handle on the story at this point. I think. Though I’ve yet to look at it today, so that might all change in the next thirty minutes.

Anyway. I think I can safely say I found this technique (wherein I stop running around bashing myself into walls for long enough to think about the actual book and what I want it to do) very helpful. I keep forgetting who’s in charge when it comes to writing; I think of the book as being the one who calls the shots, neglecting to remember that I’m the writer and therefore the shots all lie with me. I also tend to put myself under so much pressure, as though there’s a looming deadline, that it destroys any sense of creativity or fun I might have in my work. There really is no need to panic: the calmer you are when looking for your story, the easier it is to find it.

That’s the theory, anyway. I’ll let you know how it all works out.

It’s the Most Busy Time of the Year…

Ding, dong, ding, dong!

So, yes. November. How are you? It only feels like a week or so since you were last here but apparently it’s been an entire year. (Did anyone see who made off with the last twelve months?)

November, my favourite month in many ways, and my least favourite in so many others. Loads of family events on (no fewer than seven birthdays among my friends and family, and that’s just the beginning of it), plenty of travelling all over the country going from the in-laws to the outlaws and back again, an important work event for my beloved, and an important work event for me (luckily on different weekends!) – and before we know it, December will have rolled around.

Time really does go quicker the older you get, I think. As I approach a painful age (one I’d really rather not face up to) I realise that the days are galloping past with gleeful disdain, hurrying my steps. When I was a teenager my mother used to say to me – pained expression turned up to max, of course – that she felt like a sixteen-year-old inside and that it was only like ‘yesterday’ since she was young and sprightly and that I was wasting my one and only youth and would I ever get out of that chair and put that book down and go out and meet people?! I used to think she’d lost her reason. Nobody I knew was more interesting than the people I met in books, and anyway I thought (as we all do when we’re teenagers) that I would feel young and capable forever.

Well, huh. It just goes to show your mama always knows best.

I have aches and pains in places I didn’t know I owned until they started to hurt. I’ve started making ‘old lady noises’ getting into and out of chairs. I have a dodgy knee. I don’t have any grey hair yet, but that’s possibly because my eyesight is failing. I am feeling every second of my age, and November reminds me that I’m getting older, for one of the birthdays I’ll be ‘celebrating’ during this month is my own.

*Sigh* Yeah. I feel your pain, young lady. Photo Credit: jDevaun.Photography via Compfight cc

*Sigh* Yeah. I feel your pain, young lady.
Photo Credit: jDevaun.Photography via Compfight cc

Luckily (I guess?), I’ve relieved myself of one mental burden this month, and that is ‘Emmeline’. I have returned the edits to my agent and I now have everything crossed that she doesn’t hand the book back to me pinched between thumb and forefinger, nose wrinkled, going ‘what on earth is this, then?’ The aim is to get the book good enough – good enough to catch the eye of a publisher, good enough to get a team of acquisitions people excited and enthusiastic, good enough to fall beneath the scalpel of yet another editor – and I can get on board with that. If we were trying to make it perfect, I think my brain would have clocked out a long time ago. I can’t deal with perfect; I can deal with good enough.

And so that means today is the start of a new-old project. I’m going back to basics and revisiting the first book I ever queried Polly with, one which she enjoyed and which she told me was good enough to engage child readers and make them look for other stories by the same author (which is catnip to anyone who writes, let me tell you); it wasn’t good enough for her to sign me, not at that point, but my aim is to bring it up to the same standard as ‘Emmeline.’ I like a challenge.

Essentially, I’m trying to make my agent fall in love with my work all over again. It’s a bit like a marriage, this agent-author relationship. It takes work and enthusiasm and openness and trust on both sides, and it can be dang scary – and one thing you should never do is take it for granted. So, I’m going to take everything I’ve learned from the editing process I’ve already been through, and bring it to bear on Eldritch, and hope to find a story I can polish.

No time like the present. Let’s begin!

 

Is This Progress? It Sure Don’t *Feel* Like Progress…

Emmeline in all her papery glory.

Emmeline in all her papery glory!

The other day, I did the writers’ equivalent of a workout, which basically amounts to running up and down the stairs every few minutes to grab the sheets of paper being spat out by a (groaning and overworked) printer. It took a while to print all of ‘Emmeline’, especially considering I did it in batches of 25 pages so as not to burn out the printer’s motor (later rising to 30 when impatience overwhelmed me), and there are 260 pages in total.

Two Hundred and Sixty Pages. Almost 75,000 words. Sometimes I worry that the book is still on the long side considering it’s upper Middle Grade (or 9-12, depending on how you like to refer to your children’s book age ranges), but I reckon worrying about making it the best I can is more important than worrying about word count. I hope the story is good enough to carry the reader through; I hope, after twelve edits, that the book is as lean and perfectly formed as I’m going to get it.

But just in case it isn’t, I’m going through it one more time. Hence, the printout.

It really is true that editing on paper is helpful, particularly if the past few editing runs have been on-screen. Your eye treats printed material differently to material on a computer screen, and if something appears new, you can fool yourself into reading it as though it actually was. Some writers like to mix things up with different fonts, different sizes or colours of lettering, on different passes of edits, but I find that a bit of a distraction (plus, as a font nerd, I tend to get more enthusiastic about the individual letters than the words they’re forming, which can be a bit of a hassle). Everyone has to find a system that works for them, I suppose. I find I like to do as many passes of edits on screen as possible before I print, mainly because I hate wasting paper and toner and so this way I feel like I’m giving the environment a fighting chance as well as trying to produce my best work. I’m not sure – because the various passes fade into memory, at this stage – how many times I’ve printed ‘Emmeline’ already, but I don’t like to think about it too much for fear of making my inner hippie weep. I guess that’s why we also have a shredder and a paper recycling bin, right? Gaia will forgive me. (I hope).

But it’s also true that, at this stage, when every tiny pore and cranny and wrinkle of this book is as familiar to me as the ones in my own face, that the idea of tackling it again holds very little appeal. I know that each edit is helpful (and, hopefully, it’ll spare me pain down the line), and that each edit will, with any luck, make my book more ‘saleable’, or whatever the marketing term is, and that – most importantly of all – each edit makes my book better, and closer to the dream I had when I started it, but still. I wrote it. I’ve edited it, over and over. Beginning another edit doesn’t really feel like progress – it feels like being stuck in the mire, like dying in a computer game and being dumped back at Level One to start again from scratch. My schedule has been off for the past few weeks (because life, you know?) and I’ve used that as an excuse not to begin the reading process. ‘I’ve got other things on my mind,’ I tell myself; ‘I can’t bring my best focus to this work, right now.’ There’s some truth in that, but I know I could knuckle down if I really tried. Next week, however, things should start to settle down again and my excuses will fizzle to an early death – and my handsome printout will still be sitting here on my desk, tapping its metaphorical nails, raising its impatient eyebrow at me and going ‘Well? Are we going to get this done, or what?’

We’ll get it done. I know myself well enough to know that when I start, I’ll bring an unrelenting focus to the task. It’s just getting up the motivation – and the courage – to begin which causes the problem. Every edit is one step closer to sending the book back to my agent. Every edit is one step closer to (maybe) getting the phonecall which says ‘There’s a publisher interested…’ Every edit is one step closer to seeing my book on a shelf, and holding it in my hands – if I’m lucky beyond all my deserving.

And all that is amazing, and a dream. It’s also scary as heck.

But I’ll get it done.

Just not today.

 

Passing Out

Image: cheezburger.com

Image: cheezburger.com

I am approximately two-thirds through the second pass of edits on ‘Emmeline’. I have long dispatched the purple prose and the overwritten sentences and now I’m on to the slightly nigglier plot issues, the things which left my agent scratching her head as she read and which I was hoping nobody would notice (fatal mistake, by the way). I’ve been making some big decisions – things to leave in, things to leave out, whether this particular piece of plot is needed, exactly how many baddies one slender book really requires, how much faffing about is feasible or realistic, and whether I’ve been consistent in my characterisation. They’re all big decisions, but luckily most of them are easy. This isn’t because I’ve suddenly become an editing and/or writing genius, but because it’s obvious what’s not working, what will never work, and which things I should just allow to gracefully retire. Other things I’m fighting a little harder for, and I’m preparing my ‘defence’ as to why they’re still there despite my agent’s advice to the contrary. I’m hopeful that once she reads my reasons, and understands that I didn’t just fling scene after scene into the book purely for something to fill the pages (and, of course, that I strengthen the book and make these scenes more vital), she’ll relent.

It really is, in so many ways, like writing a thesis and preparing an oral defence all over again. I’m having flashbacks to 2008, which isn’t, all told, a good thing. The only bright spark in the situation is that I’m not as afraid of my agent as I was of my doctoral examiners.

Anyway.

I’m also flitting about the country these days, zooming home to visit my uncle (who is still in hospital but doing really well – and thank you to the very kind folk who are still getting in touch to ask me how he is. Do keep up the good wishes!) which makes consistent work on the book pretty hard. It’s been a few days now since I looked at it, which is no harm in the long run. Time away from your work when writing and/or editing is something to be cherished. It just makes my fingers itch and my brain start to bulge with things I want to fix and need to change, and I’m only at peace when I’m sitting in front of the computer again, tapping away.

One of the writerly errors I make (and, hence, one of the things I’m having to edit the hardest, particularly on this pass) is over-description. It’s a strange thing: I tend to go nuts over the minutiae during scenes in which the reader, to be perfectly honest, probably doesn’t need all the help I’m giving them. Then, there are scenes which could probably do with a bit more fleshing out, but which I leave that bit more sketchy. There’s a scene in the book, for instance, which takes place inside a sort of laboratory/aircraft hangar, in which an injured woman is lying on a metal ‘grille’ floor, bleeding from a wound in her back. There’s a walkway not far from where she’s lying which leads to a stairs. I (almost literally) described the angle of the light being refracted from each metallic surface and gave the width, in millimetres, of every section of walkway and the depth of the tread in the stairs – all for nothing. Anyone can imagine a metal walkway leading to a metal stairs. Right? It’s not exactly 2001, here. Then, there’s a scene later in the book where a dogsled team (complete with driver, of course) comes across the burning wreckage of a downed aircraft and mounts a brave attempt at looking for survivors. Weirdly, I was far more loose with my descriptions here, flinging around terminology and unfamiliar words with abandon.

Guess which scene worked loads better? Big hint: it didn’t involve stairs.

I think I tend to over-describe when I’m not confident about what I’m writing. For whatever reason, I have a personal interest in dogsledding and I’ve read about it in various other books, so it seemed natural to just talk about it in a relaxed way. I don’t explain the terms I’m using – they’re not really important to a reader’s understanding. What’s happening is clear. Interestingly, my agent didn’t make any edits at all to the dogsled teams; her cool, analytical pen passed over them without once making landfall. However, in the scene which involved the hangar, and the stairs, and the metal floor, and the bleeding (all things which might, in some ways, be considered more familiar to the average reader) I got way too tangled up in describing things which didn’t need to be described, and she employed a slash-and-burn technique when it came to editing. In fact, she advised me to get rid of the whole thing.

The whole thing.

I didn’t, because I feel I need it for structural reasons. But I have pared it right back to the bone. And it has done the scene the world of good.

That’s not to suggest it didn’t hurt, though. It did.

Writing a book, and then having it edited, teaches you a lot about yourself. Your patience levels, for instance. Exactly how much of a diva you are. How many times you use the word ‘just’ in any given paragraph (far too many). And sometimes you learn that you’re capable of having a good idea, and writing about it well, which makes all the pain worthwhile.

I’m off! Catch you tomorrow for some freshly-written fiction. Till then, adios.

 

 

 

In The Hallway

I recently read an article from an author who described the feeling of being ‘between novels’ as being ‘in the hallway‘ – the door to one book has closed, and the door to her next one hasn’t quite opened up yet. I know how she feels, sort of.

I finished the first pass of edits on ‘Emmeline’ (or whatever it’ll end up being called!) on Friday of last week. Soon, I want to begin a second pass. I have a ‘deadline’ (I’m mentally making it seem a lot tougher than, in reality, it actually is) of mid-October to get it back to my agent, and then we’ll see whether I’ve done enough to get the story ready for its first foray into the big bad world of publishing.

I’m in the hallway, except it’s between edits, not books.

Feels much the same, though.

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc

I really want to get started now – mid-October isn’t all that far away, after all. I feel like I’ve done so much work on the book over the past few weeks that surely this second pass of edits will be easy (but that’s a dangerous way to think, which is why I know I’m not ready to get stuck in yet). My mind is still full of Emmeline and her world, the people she meets and the places she sees and the battles she fights – and that’s another reason I know it’s too soon to go over her story. I need to be away from it for a little while, just long enough for it not to seem gloopy when I go back to it.

Gloopy? What’s that, then?

Well, it’s like this. When I try to edit something I’ve written before I’m ready, it’s a bit like trying to walk across quicksand. I get panicky. I start making frankly stupid changes and getting caught up in them and their ramifications and (quite possibly) I allow myself to ignore what really needs to be done instead of what strikes me, straight off, as a superficial problem – which, of course, simply makes things massively worse, even more gloopy, and then I eventually sink. Because the first pass of edits were largely (though not all) fixing things like stupid sentences or getting rid of needless paragraphs or tightening up on description, what I’m left with now are some of the bigger issues, which have been mulling in my mind for the past few weeks as I worked. There aren’t very many big issues with the book – and none of them are unfixable – but I do need to take my time and do them right. Anxiety and panic and ‘oh my God I need to do something and get away from this!’ will not help.

Hence, the hallway. I’m strolling down it, peeking out the windows, stopping to smell the flowers (okay, so maybe it’s more like a cloister than a hallway. Fair enough), having a good old think. I have already fixed some of the foundations of the bigger problems – character motivations, removing an entire person from the story (which was so sickeningly easy, it should have been obvious to me that, like Phoebe in that Friends episode, he ‘just lifted right out’), and overall making things clearer to the reader. It seems stuff that I thought was explained perfectly clearly… wasn’t. This is the problem with writing, I guess – you get so inside your own head that you forget everyone doesn’t live there.

So, now I have a few decisions to make and some clarification to do (and I promise not to use the words ‘snap’, ‘snapped’, ‘just’, ‘then’, ‘massive’, ‘huge’ or ‘gigantic’, or the phrases ‘before she had time to think,’ ‘without thinking,’ ‘without giving herself time to think’ ever again). However, before I get there, I’ve got to ungloop myself.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a hallway to amble down. Catch you at the other end.

 

Getting (Re)Started

Life has conspired to keep me away from Le Grand WiP for the past few days. My edits have been allowed to sit, festering; my mind has been occupied with other things, like family and new responsibilities and even – rather interestingly – the faint stirrings of enthusiasm for a new idea. Or, rather, a new way of doing an old idea, really.

Today, however – well. Today’s the day I need to crack on.

Photo Credit: the Italian voice via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: the Italian voice via Compfight cc

It’s hard not to feel guilty when my other duties take me away from what I see as my primary role – in other words, getting my edits inputted as smoothly, quickly and professionally as possible, and getting them back to my agent so that she can move my book to the next level, whether that means another round of edits or starting the publishing submission process. Bringing a book to publication is a hugely long, complicated and involved thing and it’s hard to balance the need for speed with the need for quality work, particularly when life insists on getting in the way.

I’ll manage, of course. As the old saying goes: ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person.’ I am rather busy, these days! Not complaining, of course. Would I ever complain? Sheesh.

But I have had a few days off, and the best way to assuage the guilt is to get right back on the job. Restarting, though – is there a harder thing? Kicking off your enthusiasm cold, trying to grind it up to working speed, building up a head of steam behind your motivation… it would be easier to climb the Eiffel Tower backwards, blindfolded, in a pair of stilettos.

It’s got to be done, though.

Opening up your computer file is the hardest part of the day, when you’re editing. It’s like a roller-coaster that has only one long drop – you climb and climb and climb up to the great precipice, where you teeter for a while before taking the (literal) plunge, and then it’s all whoosh to the finish. Well, not quite – there are a few small ups and downs along the way, perhaps – but the toughest part for me is definitely those few moments either side of clicking my file open and watching the MS, complete with my agent’s increasingly exasperated Track Changes, appear. It feels good, in a blisteringly painful way, to deal with each of the edits in turn and watch as the Track Changes bubble vanishes from the margin, and even though some of them haven’t been dealt with yet – they’re waiting for the second pass of edits, which I’m aiming to start before too long – I realised last week that I’m over the two-thirds completed point. That’s pretty good going. Better than that, though, is this: I’ve had a quick flick through to the end of the document, and the edits get thinner and less hair-pully from this point onwards. I think, without even realising it, I’ve slogged through the hardest part already.

And guess what?

I made it. I survived.

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc

Okay, so maybe the fireworks are a bit premature. But you’ve got to love an optimist, right? They’re pre-emptive fireworks, which are (of course) the best kind.

Now. I’m off to make some coffee, friends, and then throw myself headlong into the day. Godspeed on your own endeavours – may they be mighty – and remember: we’ll get through it. All will be well. One step at a time.

See you all back here tomorrow for some Friday flash fiction!