Tag Archives: writing as work

Line by Line

As a girl, one of the eternal truths I learned (along with ‘other people care a lot less than you’d imagine about your life,’ and ‘tears are very rarely worth it’) was ‘If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well – and, that usually means it’s going to take forever and drive you ’round the twist.’

Well, quite.

You’ll be pleased, perhaps, to know that editing continues apace on ‘Emmeline.’ It’s, at once, the most dreary and the most exciting thing imaginable. It’s great to feel the book taking shape under my hands, and it almost feels cathartic to slash and burn my way through stupid sentences and pointless description and continuity errors that would be embarrassing if anyone else had a chance to read them, and I’m really enjoying the act of indulging my inner pedant.

But, as well as that, it’s hard. It’s hard work. There’s no way around it.

Image: cutestpaw.com

Image: cutestpaw.com

One of the most useful things that editing on paper does is it forces you to read your work as though it was already a book. I know that sounds a bit ‘out there,’ and perhaps it is, but that’s how it works for me, at least. Reading on-screen feels a little informal; it makes my brain think I’m reading a Work-in-Progress, where errors don’t really matter too much. When I’m reading on a screen, my work is in a permanent ‘holding area’ where nothing needs to be finalised or corrected because, on some level, you’re always thinking: ‘there’ll be another draft after this. If I miss something, no big deal.’

Printing out your work and going through it with a pen makes you realise – this is a big deal. Printing makes it more permanent. Printing means investment, of time and effort and money, and that fools you into taking it more seriously. Printing something reminds you that there is an end-game in sight; this is what you’re aiming for. You’re shooting for a day when your words will be down on paper, permanently, like the ‘ever-fixéd mark’.

Even if – as it does for me, right now – it feels so far away that it’ll never be a reality, you have to keep heading for that permanence. You have to keep believing that every tweak, every removed comma, every excised sentence, every smoothed-over paragraph, every cliché bopped on the head is bringing you closer to that goal.

Image: picturesof.net

Image: picturesof.net

Editing requires hard work. Writing the book requires hard work, of course, but somehow editing takes a different sort of effort. Writing the book can feel a bit like freewheeling – you feel a certain wild joy as you put something together for the first time, and as you watch an idea that you’ve nurtured and grown finally take shape. Getting to the end takes huge effort, and sometimes – when you’ve struggled over the line – you feel like the work of bringing forth the idea is done.

Except it isn’t. It’s only beginning.

Just like you can’t bake a lump of dough whole if you’re trying to make perfectly shaped cookies, or thinly-rolled pastry, you can’t deliver a freshly slapped-together book to a reader and expect them to be able to digest it. The ingredients are all there, present and correct and in the appropriate quantities, but it’s just not right. It needs shaping and refining and – crucially – it needs the unnecessary bits trimmed away. ‘Emmeline’ was full of errors in its first draft – the character wearing a dress in one scene, and trousers in another; Thing’s eyes were green in one chapter and brown in another (this is so common as to be embarrassing); characters were short and stumpy in one chapter and tall and willowy in another – and that sort of thing is bound to cause dyspepsia when it’s read. It’s depressing to read other books where the idea is there – the ingredients are all used, and used well – but the finishing hasn’t been done to quite the right extent. It makes me more determined to make my own work as sleek as possible, as well-formed as I can, before it is sent anywhere. I don’t always succeed – I am, needless to say, still learning the ropes – but it’s something to aim for.

Luckily, as I’ve read further and further into ‘Emmeline’ (I’m now just over halfway through, again), I’m spotting fewer and fewer basic errors. I’ve stopped mixing up eye colour and appearances, and Emmeline’s clothing has decided what it wants to be. This means that I can pay even closer attention to the plot, in particular those parts where my eye skips or my brain turns off, because those are the parts which need the most work. If you find yourself skimming over any part of your writing, then it’s vital to force yourself to go back over it in forensic detail. Perhaps you’ve tried to patch over a major plot hole in such an awkward way that you don’t want to deal with it, or perhaps it’s just that your story sags at that point, becoming turgid. Either way, it can’t be allowed to remain unchecked. It’s as difficult a thing as anything I’ve ever done, this ‘forcing myself’ to go back over my own work when something in me really doesn’t want to – it makes me feel like I have a stroppy teenager in my brain, refusing to clean up their room.

But just as a teenager can be coaxed, so can your brain. Changing up your working environment always helps me; something as simple as burning a nicely scented candle or making a cup of coffee can work wonders. Reminding yourself how great it’ll feel when the work is done is also a help, sometimes. Taking a break and getting some fresh air is also vital.

But the most vital bit of all is never giving up. Hitting ‘print,’ taking up the pen, turning on the critical brain, and understanding that, with every correction, you’re bringing yourself one step closer to your goal is the most important thing you can do – and not just once, but day after day after day until you’re done.

So, like I said. At once the most exciting, and the most dreary thing imaginable. But, like anything that’s important, it’s absolutely worth it.

Image: menaulhead.wordpress.com Artist: Kevin Spear, 2009; kevinspear.com

Image: menaulhead.wordpress.com
Artist: Kevin Spear, 2009; kevinspear.com

 

 

Friday Befrazzlement

This morning’s missive comes to you from a person who has been trying to put together a flash fiction piece for the past three hours, and who is starting to foam a little at the mouth.

So, here’s the deal. I have to create a story between 140 and 160 words, based around a picture prompt and a word prompt, and I feel like the proverbial camel going through the eye of the needle. My brain has a story in it, but it would take an entire novel to tell it properly, so getting it down to a teeny-tiny tale is proving (almost) too much for me. I am definitely feeling the Friday frazzle, and I have an idea that today is going to be a challenge.

My head is tired. My shoulder aches. My eyes are blurred. Writing is a hazardous endeavour, don’t you know?

Image: skybackpacking.com

Almost *exactly* like this… Image: skybackpacking.com

So, it’s been a busy few days for me. This past week, I edited ‘Emmeline’ on-screen. I thought things had gone pretty well; I’d managed to take a huge chunk out of my wordcount, bringing it down to a far more reasonable level. The book had seemed reasonably strong, and I felt I had a good, stable base to build draft 2 upon.

However, then I also started the process wherein I print out my work, in order to take a pen to it and slash it into ribbons. As before, I have been amazed by the difference between looking at a text on a computer screen and seeing it, in the flesh, in front of you; errors that I just didn’t see when I was writing the book, and even during the first editing go-round, leapt out from the printed page. I found myself drawing lines through whole paragraphs of carefully-worded text, excising them without a twinge of conscience – but it’s so much easier to do that than hit the ‘Delete’ button. Watching your hard work disappear into oblivion before your very eyes is a lot more difficult than just scribbling over your printed text. At least your words still exist, after a fashion, beneath the scribble, but when you hit ‘delete’, well. They’re gone forever.

The short of it is this. Draft 1 was all right, but not as strong as I’d thought. Draft 2 has, hopefully, started to spot all the stupid mistakes and the mindless repetition and the poor word choices and the clunky dialogue and the idiotic descriptions, and here’s hoping Draft 3 doesn’t see me putting them all back in again.

The process has been excruciatingly, painfully slow, though – I’ve only got as far as page 53 – and I hope this means that I’m doing a good job. I just want this book (complete with a shiny new name, which I’m keeping under wraps for now) ready for querying as soon as humanly possible, so that I can move on to my next project, which is already butting at the back of my brain. Such is the never-ending conveyor belt of life, isn’t it – just as you’re trying to finish one job to the best of your ability, along comes something else which needs your urgent attention. Oy vey.

Anyway.

Today, I need to take care of some writerly stuff, but also lots of non-writerly stuff, such as taking myself off for a long draught of fresh air, and doing some stretches, and remembering what life is like outside of my office. I may even bake some cookies, like the crazy renegade I am.

In the meantime, here is that piece of flash fiction, written in tandem with this blog post (finally):

Statue of the Republic, with the Court of Honor and Grand Basin (1890s) Image: illinoisstatesociety.typepad.com

Statue of the Republic, with the Court of Honor and Grand Basin (1890s)
Image: illinoisstatesociety.typepad.com

The image (above) had to be combined with the idea of ‘Destiny’. Tough, isn’t it?

So, of course, I decided I’d write about something really complicated.

The Stonecarver’s Boy

At his birth, his mother wept.

‘A daughter would have been wiser,’ frowned the doula, taking him away.

His training began immediately. He grew within the workshop, chisel in hand, prodigious and alone. From a distance, his mother watched.

In time, the Emperor took a wife.

‘Let it be his masterpiece,’ came the order.

His mother tried to warn him; once, she even passed beside his workbench, so close she could feel his warmth, but her dropped note was swept away.

The finished statue was fit for a goddess. On its raising day, The Imperial Guard came for its maker, and – willingly, unknowingly – he went.

‘You will never better this,’ decreed the Emperor. The blade fell quickly – there was no time for anguish. He never knew his fate was sealed from the day he was born, like all stonecarvers’ boys.

The Empress’ statue was anchored with its maker’s blood; a fitting memorial stone.

 **

Happy Friday, and happy weekend.

I am a warrior! Image: cutestpaw.com

I am a warrior!
Image: cutestpaw.com

 

 

Beep Bip, Bip Bip Beep…

Image: qualityinformationpublishers.com

Image: qualityinformationpublishers.com

Good morning, listeners! In today’s show, we’ll have old favourites like the Flash! Friday flash fiction contest, and a slight frisson of the loopiness that usually marks our Friday, but there’s also a teeny bit of news.

Are you ready?

(Audience gasping with anticipation)

Are you sure?

(Audience laughter)

Well, all right then! Here we go. Hold onto your neighbour, everybody, because…

*drumroll*

Yesterday, I managed to finish draft 1 of ‘Emmeline and the Ice-God’!

(Applause)

Yes, yes, thank you. Thank you so much!

(Sustained applause, cheering, stamping of feet, &c.)

Image: intermezzo.typepad.com

Image: intermezzo.typepad.com

Yeah, yeah, all right. So I’ll quit it with the playacting now. But – in all genuine seriousness – I am very, very glad to be the proud owner of a completed manuscript of the story of Emmeline this fine morning. It’s slightly awkward that I managed to finish it on the same day as I blogged about how it seemed to be going on… and on… and on, but I just got overtaken by a spirit of urgency yesterday, and I worked right through, all day long. I wrote over 6,000 words, and I brought that story to heel.

This means my brain’s slightly fried today, of course. I’m quite sure nobody will even notice, though.

I’m almost afraid to share the final wordcount, lest I cause some of you to have nervous and/or bilious attacks, but I guess I’ll take that chance. It came in, all told, at 93,500-something words – which, before you start pointing it out – I know is far too long. My brain’s been abuzz with ideas for pruning the beast ever since I placed the final full stop, and I’m pretty sure there’s an entire chapter near the beginning that can be entirely cut out. I’m pretty sure I can bring it down to around 80,000, or as close as possible to that figure. Like every first draft, there’s plenty of excess to trim.

Even though writing ‘Emmeline’ was no picnic, particularly in the last few weeks, I am so glad I did it. I’m glad I got a burst of inspiration that day in late October, and that a little girl with a know-it-all nose and a shock of curly hair decided to stroll into my head and demand that her story be told. I’m glad I got to accompany her on the adventure of a lifetime, and that I got to meet her friend Thing, who – if I’m being honest – I want to adopt as my very own. I’m sure if I’d gone with the idea I was supposed to use for my NaNoWriMo project, that it would have worked, too – but it probably wouldn’t have been as much of an exhilarating joyride.

I’m also very glad that I can say the following sentence: ‘In the last year – since January 2013, when I put aside ‘Tider’ Mark I forever – I have written three books.’ Three.

There’s a lifetime’s dream fulfilled, right there. Even if no other eye roams across a word I put on paper, I know that I have written, and that’s good enough for me. That’s not to say I won’t fight tooth and nail to have ‘Emmeline’ published, by hook or by crook, but that’s a fight for another day. My first job is to make the story as good as it can possibly be, and I’ll worry about the rest of it later.

And now – on to our other Friday feature. I’ve been getting into the habit of posting my entry for the Flash! Friday contest here on my own blog, for a few reasons: one, because I’d like to get some feedback on my flash fiction, and two, because it forces me to get my act together and produce a piece of writing. So, today’s no exception.

This week’s prompt image was as follows:

Tiger and Turtle Magic Mountain, Duisburg, Germany. Image: worldlandscapearchitect.com

Tiger and Turtle Magic Mountain, Duisburg, Germany.
Image: worldlandscapearchitect.com

We had to include a tiger, or a turtle – not just the word, this week, but the actual thing itself.

So. I made this.

The Tiger’s Mark

‘You’ll know ‘im by the tiger on ‘is jacket,’ Jez had said. ‘Idiot’s never without it.’ So I’d followed the flash of gold all the way up to the Whirligig, the tiger’s jewelled eyes starin’ me down with every step.

‘We’ll see who’s smilin’ in a minute, mate,’ I winked at it.

He jogged up to the viewing platform, me a shadow in his wake. The tiger seemed to nod, almost knowingly, as he went; I checked my blade, sweatin’ hard.

‘Get the job done, fool,’ I muttered.

I glanced at the CCTV camera; nearin’ the blackspot now. I picked up the pace.

Suddenly, he turned, flingin’ the jacket off. He was covered in long, thin scars, shinin’ silver. His mouth gaped wide, and I smelled it – hot, meaty breath. I heard the low rumble. I saw the yellow eyes like trapped suns, and the gold-black fur.

I never had a chance.

Screw you, Jez, I thought, as he pounced.