Thursday, March 22, 2012

Editing is Hard Work - How Do You Know Your Work Is Good Enough

Sarah Duncan has been running a great series of posts on editing. The latest one is here. The big thing is that editing is hard work. I can hear my inner student SIGH. I hate hard work or at least I did. I have learned to love it. Back when I mentioned I was on the 27th draft of August Rock people were amazed so I outlined my process (here). It's long and there are no short cuts. But in the past I would try and find them...The result was that I short changed myself and didn't get the result I wanted (an agent, a publishing deal and an audience for my stories).

Look at it this way...if you want muscles you need do strength training (unless you are still growing when it appears that food and sleep are the only requirement - casts glance at sleeping teens). If you want to be a concert pianist then you practice. If you want a publishable book you have to write, rewrite and edit. I know there may well be a few cases out there where the first draft was flawless but they are rare. So if publication is your goal embrace the work.

For make no mistake it's work and at times I rebel against this. I am lazy at heart. I don't want to read the damn thing 300 hundred times. I don't what to check my verbs, adverbs, adjectives....I don't want to look at each chapter, scene, paragraph and sentence. But I must if I want readers to love the story and not feel the writing. I make sure that each word, each sentence and so on is there for a reason - and just because I like isn't good enough. As Donald Maass reminds again and again in his books...tension is the key to page turning quality...this of course is another matter altogether but while you are examining your writing so closely that should be in the back of your mind....more on this later.

So coming back to that do you know your work is good enough? Does every word in your story carry its weight and move your story forward? Each sentence? Paragraph? Scene? Chapter?

Now be honest...have you looked that closely? If not check out Sarah's posts because they are a good starting point.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Head-space and Editing

Head-space is a funny old term...but an important one when editing ,well, for me any way. What I mean by this is the ability to think of the story or large chunks of the story as a whole. In theory this should be easy but I find that in practice it can be very hard, especially for the writer. I don't know about others but when writing I am intent on the that scene, that moment in time and frequently can forget the everything else like how it fits into the story and all it's ramifications. My heads starts getting fuzzy just thinking about it...But boy is it important. Think of it as a camera on close focus and then pulling back to wide angle...I'm struggling to pull things into focus in wide angle....

At the moment I using draft 26 of August Rock as the starting point and draft 3 as a reference point for the of writing draft 27. In draft 26 I knew my voice (discovered it writing The Cornish House and the books that followed) and I knew I'd lost it in August Rock somewhere between say draft 5 and 25. So my goal for draft 26 was to put my voice back into the story which meant to darken it...not in a bad way but make it deal with more than just boy meets girl. I think on the whole I achieved it. I can't remember what the goal of draft 3 was other than to improve, but draft 3 contains the hero's pov view and lots of deleted scenes that I find I'm needing for their details - those terribly important things that ground a scene.

So for draft 27 I'm changing from 3rd person to 1st...this does not just mean changing from she to I - oh, how I wish it did. It means re-envisioning each scene and rewriting it. In my head it's not what does Judith see but what do 'I' see and feel. What am 'I' thinking?

At the same time, I have given a character a Lazarus moment... all the previous drafts the story had begun after he was in the ground or about to be put in it. Now he's alive and kicking for the first 5th of the book which mean I'm moving scenes willy nilly and trying to hold onto so many different considerations that I'm finding I struggle with head space to put the whole picture together.

I think if I could use index cards this would help but past attempts have proved futile. I just feel so spacey and long for the clarity of the first draft when I can just write through the story and not try and weave the old with the new....I wish there was a magic wand to clear away the fog but there isn't. I must use instinct to clear and hope I can fix the gaps later when I feel the story is finally coming together.

Do any of you struggle with head-space?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Going Back in Time - on the Blog and on The Cornish House

The past two posts have been well received...thank you. So that had me thinking about my drafts and my process as it has developed. Then I remembered an exercise that I did on the first scene of The Cornish House...and particular on verbs. Yes, verbs...those action things that motor our stories along.

Here's the post.

Now first let me say you would go mad if you did this through a whole 100,000 word script (however it might be better for it) but it's a very useful exercise on a scene or two to check how you are doing on the language front.

I also found it interesting as this was done in 2009 and the first page is different now...although much of it's the same....I wonder if I fished around in my archives what the original first page looked like back in 2006.

Here's page one out of the bound uncorrected proofs...can't remember what changed on this post copy edits and proofing...

Have you ever scrutinized your wirting like this? has it helped?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Growing As A Writer - When Is It Good Enough?

Official Group Photo of the Authors at EAFOL
Yesterday I mentioned I'm on my 27th draft of August Rock. Before I clarify, let me say that I also began book eight this November and August Rock was book two. Just wanted you to know that I didn't spend all my time polishing one book. Instead, I write a new one then go back and take all that I learnt from writing that one and apply it to August Rock or until recently The Cornish House or whatever the current book is.

Also a bit like when you are learning the piano...or at least how i remember it. You learn a piece of music in parts...left hand then right or vice versa. Well for me - with each rewrite I focused on a different aspect because I still had so little experience that I couldn't do an edit for pace, look at spelling and at continuity at the same time. Each phase of editing was new to me so they had to be kept apart. I still can't do all the editing required in one pass...

So if I were set my process out it would look like this...

a. write dirty first draft
b. leave it alone and edit previous book
c. maybe write synopsis for story now that I know my character and what will happen thanks to step a. I also look at this point to see if I have any themes - I usually do but I don't know them or see until the first draft is done
d. look a the twists and turns of the story...are there places where i can turn up the heat and make things worse for my heroine? This draft is about upping the conflict and also beginning to look at pace
e. leave it alone and rework another story which is at a different stage
f. at this point I look at the the past this might have been a couple of drafts, but now seems to be one. I look at verbs - am i always using the same one? Are they strong enough or are they fiddly? I look at word choice - again am I always using the same ones - I get certain words into my head and use them to death...
g. rework another script
h. now I look at sentencse and paragraphs... do they vary? are they in the right order? (see my comment yesterday about page 2 of The Hunger Games - boots before trousers) are they necessary??? This phase hits on my key weakness - repetition.
i. work on another script
j. look at the story at a whole again and break it into chapters - make sure that each chapter grabs you at beginning and end. Finally does the promise of chapter one get fulfilled in the last chapter...

Long process isn't it and now with adding an agent and an editor it becomes longer...
k. agents sees things I've missed and I work on her suggestions
l. editor can see the book as whole in a way I don't think I'll ever be able I will rework again
m. copy editing...who knew my characters sat up so straight so often!
n. proof reading...
o. letting go....

It is true a book is never 'done' until it's published...

Looking at my 'process' above, it sure seems like a lot of work and it is. But I can hope that as I grow as a writer somethings will become instinct, but i know it will always be hard work because I always need to be pushing myself to be a better writer. And by that I mean in the technical/words department and in the story stakes...I was never going to be a concert pianist - i didn't have the passion, skill or most importantly the hunger. However I want to be the  writing equivalent of of that and that means all this 'practice' draft after draft will help me reach my goal - being read.

So now I'm working on August Rock with new eyes...and it's exciting and scary. I want it to be better, need it to be better...

How many drafts do you do? And how much do you try an achieve in a draft?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How Do You Know It's Good Enough - Part 2

I know I owe you a few posts about the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature but I keep coming back to the question of how do you know when your work is ready. This of course does tie into the discussion that came up at the panel on First Fictions...

First off let me state...the first draft is never the one to send.

And in my case nor was the sixth for The Cornish House. It was the seventh.  At the moment I am working on book two of my contract with Orion, August Rock. This will be draft 27, yup 27. August Rock is the book that i really began to learn the skill required to write and I wrote the thing to death. Now I am trying to breath life back into a good story...

This morning in order to find a scene I had long since cut, I went back to 2007 or to be precise draft two (remember nothing is ever wasted). Now the scene is written in a point of view that no longer exists but the concrete details of the setting were what I was looking for...they are like gold dust. Much of the writing made me wince...and yes, this version was submitted and rejected. And boy do I know why now.

So I come back to when is it ready...first, it's not ready because you are heartily sick of it or your brother told you it's good, unless of course your brother is Jonny Geller. It's not ready if it's still filled with mistakes..grammar, spelling or otherwise...

Luigi Bonomi stated clearly in the First Fictions section that the spark has to be there in the first three pages...ideally on the first.

So they are not going to see the great story if they are pulled out of it by mistakes...I know there are huge success stories out there with bad writing but they are few. More importantly is that what you want people to saying about your book...great story but crap writing. My hope is that my writing serves the should be invisible.. But that's me and others may well feel differently but never does bad writing help a story unless that what's it's about...Saw a link again this morning to the book HOW NOT TO WRITE A had me howling with laughter which of course is it's intention.

So as a test - pick out your favourite book in your genre and then your book and have someone else read the first three pages aloud... now in all honesty how does your compare? Good? OK? Needs work?

Don't submit yet if your in your heart know that it needs a bit more work but you're thinking ...surely the agent/publisher will see through that...they won't. They don't have time. Treat them with respect and polish that submission to within an inch of it's may only have one shot.

ps...I can tell I am truly a nerd now thanks to being edited - copy edited and proofed. In the fabulous YA book the HUNGER GAMES I was pulled out of the story on page two...

'I swing my legs off the bed and slide into my hunting boots. Supple leather that has moulded to my feet. I pull on trousers, a shirt, tuck my long dark braid up into a cap, and grab my  forage bag.'

I was out of the story...trying to figure how she put her boots on before her trousers...what type of boots or trousers can you do this with... Yes I know I am very sad...But I need to hold onto that to apply it to my own work....but not in the first draft- there my characters run free and dress as they damn well please

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature - Heritage Evening with David Nichols

I wasn't sure I would be able to stay awak having landing at 1 AM and had a wonderful time in Sharjah during Education Day but boy was I happy I'd had a double espresso and attending last night's session with David Nichols.

First the setting...coming down the to the boardwalk the venue was beautifully lit up and the sound of Arabic music filled the air. Carpets and cushions line the way and people we sitting relaxing watching Emirati men sing and dance. It created such a lovely feeling as we walked down the red carpet into the 'heritage' venue.

So here are my hastily scribbled notes of Rosie Goldsmith in conversation with David Nichols author of ONE DAY...(as always these are just my notes...and will not be represent what I could capture when not laughing :-))
Rosie Goldsmith and David Nichols

-He's working or not as the case may be on his 4th novel
- writing novels took him by surprise as he wanted to be an actor and spent years trying
- this is his first trip to Dubai

Rosie asked if he still recognized ONE DAY as it has taken off? He replied yes and that he still loves the book but this is the last event he is doing with it as his focus. He needs to move on. In his house he has packed away all copies as they are distracting him from getting on with book 4.

-his first book, STATER FOR TEN did well in the UK but didn't travel. His second book THE UNDERSTUDY didn't do as well and he expected ONE DAY to continue the downward trend.

- ONE DAY was pleasure to write.

- He hasn't written fiction now for three years other than a short story

-ONE DAY is like 20 snap shots, a love story in 20's about friendship and it's a social & political novel

- he loves the hidden significance of St Swithan's Day

- for a screen writer structure is everything...before dialogue and action must come structure which is not the case with novels. About half way through ONE DAY he shared it with ket people and they told he needed more exposition in it so he rewrote at the stage.

- he is trying to improve as a novelist

- of any character he's most in Ian

- everyone journey into writing is unique

- he pointed out that there is an in-built hostility to university student in the UK. There is no sympathy for them and for actors and so some of TV ideas were turned down

- STARER FOR TEN is a coming of age story

- he finds now trying to write book 4 he is becoming self-conscious about writing

-Screenplay writing is different...something a bit lazy in adapting the a screen play - the genius is already there- this work is more editorial - it's a privilege and you get to keep all the brilliant bits

- all adaptations have a little bit of the writer in them as the you get to chose what bits go in

- he loves Rom Coms and sites Much Ado About Nothing as his favourite

- Mismatched couples create great friction in a story

Rosie asked how he kept is the love story of ONE DAY from becoming too sweet? He replied  that he undercuts, keeps a meanness, a darkness/bitterness, an irony that makes them more enjoyable and more meaningful.

In the Q&A session here were the key points...
- always tries to write the best book he can
-he writes to be read
unlike many other writers of popular fiction he gets reviewed
- he's worried about book 4 because it needs to be different but not too different
- planning is less fun but the planning for ONE DAY had to be quite rigorous because of the structure and in the end it was quite close to the plan
- it took him two years to write it
- his key tips for writers was to print the book off..hand write the edits and then retype the whole book...when it's on the screen and your editing it's too easy to say 'thanks okay, it will do and ignore it' if you are retyping then you look at every word..
The Queue for David Nichols' signing

Well, that's the it for now...hope to be able to bring you more tomorrow depending on access to a computer (I left my brain behind in London...did I say brain I meant laptop)....

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The RNA RoNA Awards and Education day at the Emirates Airlines Festival of LiteratureJust what Jill mansell is doing

Monday was the RNA RoNA awards and today was Education Day at the Emirates Airlines Festival Festival of Literature...and i'm not sure where i am....
Good guess what Jill Mansell was up to...

But here are a few of the out takes from the photos i took on Monday...the rest are here.
My killer heals
Jane Wenham Jones and Judy Astley

Today i have the pleasure of running two creative writing workshops in Sharjah for the Education Day. It was such fun. The girls were interested and I loved the questions they asked....