Category Archives: Editing

Being Productive whilst on Holidays; Flights of Fancy

steampunk-book-as-vehicle

I went away to spend some time with my parents.I was away from my computer … but took plenty of pens and paper with me. I often do my ‘chunking’ exercises with pen and paper. ‘Chunking’ is when you write out your idea, as it comes to you in chunks and pieces; this is what my first year lecturer called the process. You might call it something else. It doesn’t matter what it is called, it is just the very first step – after thinking – towards writing a story.

I thought I was in holiday mode. My muse disagreed.

I came up with three solid ideas for short stories, including the ‘Dissected Graces’ story based on the artistic anatomical models. I finally have got a handle on the (hopefully final) structural edit to my Steampunk novel; I will have to kill quite a few of my darlings in the process. I also wrote five individual timelines for characters within the novel, which support the structure and at the same time give them all logical stories of their own that don’t conflict with their characterisations or motivations.

I even came up with a strategy for the structural edit that doesn’t make me too fearful of messing up. I am going to write up the new timeline I came up with, and copy and paste into it. In this way, I keep the original draft ‘pristine’ in case I do stuff things up. I’ve been trying to make better sense of my story and plot for a couple of months, so I am very pleased to be moving forward again.

Writers don’t really get proper holidays, because you can never predict when a great idea is going to strike. The muse can’t be ignored. So, I might not have done much in the way of writing on my computer, but I was certainly doing a lot of writing by hand. I was gone for five days, and I have over 13 pages of notes and observations, timelines and research plans. Some of this stuff is pure gold.

Sometimes, getting out of your familiar work routines kick-starts a new train of thought. That is what happened to me. So I am adding this to my writer’s toolkit.

 

 

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The Editing Blues

This post was inspired by a discussion with author, Kara Jorgensen.

https://www.facebook.com/thevampirelock

kara

I’ve discovered the biggest difference (for me) between writing and editing. The more I write, the easier it becomes to write. However, it never works that way with editing. *sigh* I get to a point where the manuscript I’m editing no longer makes any sense. Sometimes I have to step away to ‘freshen my brain’. I think of it as the Editing Blues or Editing Burnout. (This is why I use beta readers. Sometimes, I just get blind to the problems.)

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate editing. It just makes me want to add more, polish more, and fiddle with structure. It tends to become a never-ending process. The more I edit, the more I can see where I can add more details to help refine the plot, or highlight the importance of the setting, or to intensify characterisation. I want to make my Steampunk manuscript absolutely perfect.

In the past, I’ve been able to sit down and write a novel from start to end, and some of these novels haven’t needed that much polishing. I suspect this is because I am not so emotionally invested in these stories as I am in others. Some projects seem to require more attention than others. I suspect my expectations are higher. It is like expecting a pass mark for Phys. Ed. and a top mark in English; I am just better at some things and it is easier to put in the extra effort for a good mark. Maybe that isn’t the best analogy.

A mother shouldn’t like some of her children better than the others … but I do. My Steampunk novel has to be utterly perfect before I send it off. I want the plot to be convoluted by still logical and easy to follow; I want the characters to be fully realised and unforgettable; and I want the settings to act as framing devices par excellence, full of metaphor, resonance, and meaning. I want the prose to sing! To make my readers remember part for weeks after they have read the book, and smile to themselves. I wasn’t to see online discussions of who would play which character if a movie or television show was made based on the book. This book should bring as much joy to my readers as other books have thrilled and enchanted me.

quote-anne-lamott-perfectionism-is-the-voice-of-the-oppressor-23241

That kind of perfection takes work. Sometimes, it seems like too much work and I am overwhelmed by my own vision.

This is when the skills of learnt as a writer kicks in. Take it one page at a time. It kind of reminds me of that old adage: looks after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. Get one page right, and then the next page, and so on … and one day the editing will be finished. It takes time and dedication to climb a mountain.

In other news, I’ve received another rejection; my story wasn’t long enough and they felt I overestimated age of the suitable audience. This is great feedback, because now I know to re-target my submission list for this manuscript. I am well on track to get 100 rejections in this financial year!

power

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The Editing Philosophy of “Removing One Thing”

One of the best pieces of fashion  advice I was ever given was ‘Remove one item before leaving the house’. This was excellent advice when preparing for a night out, particularity in the Eighties when excess was encouraged. It might have been a bangle, or a hair ornament, or even a waistcoat, but whatever I took off wasn’t essential to the outfit. Sometimes I had to carefully consider what to take off, which often made me reconsider my outfit. To this day, I still tend to try to limit my outfits to just the essentials (unless I’m cosplaying).

Too much going on to appreciate the lovely details.

This rule can also be applied to the editing process, particularly if you tend to overwrite rather than underwrite. I am an overwriter most of the time, though sometimes I underwrite and need to embroider. I am not as much of an overwriter as Stephen King. Most of the time, what I really need to do is remove one thing.  It might be too many descriptive words (my weakness), a paragraph that breaks the rhythm of the scene, or even a whole chapter that is now out-of-place as the story has changed and progressed. I can usually find something to discard that will make the story cleaner and more lyrical.

This process makes me think about what is absolutely essential to the telling of the story. What can’t I take out? Some things are just necessary for a story to exist: plot, setting, characterization. There are foundations to any narrative that can’t be removed without the whole structure tumbling down: foreshadowing, action, dialogue, and so forth.  What is vital? What can be discarded?

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Strip Tease – flensing the story back to the bones

Dinosaur Bones

Rawr! The perfect image for my frustration.

This is one of my personal techniques in my toolbox to fight both writer’s block or being overwhelmed with so much to do that I don’t know where to start. The Strip Tease – taking the story back to the basics and asking the fundamental questions: Is this story a quest? What is the epiphany for the protagonist? What is the conflict? Does the style suit the story? What is the skeleton of this story?

What is essential?!

Leaf Skeletons

Stripping away the details gives me focus; an opportunity to breathe and reflect; and a chance to reassess the narrative and what I wanted to achieve. After all, it is the story that is most important, and everything else is just ornamentation. Six hundred writers might write the same story, and each would tell it a different way. What is the best way for my voice?

Even bare bone can be beautiful, like a sculpture.

I am currently struggling with NaNoWriMo, because I have too many options and I’m like a child in a toy shop and asked to pick just one toy. I need to get back to the bones, and start again.

 

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Kintsukuroi of the Written Word

Kintsukutoi, also known as Kintsugi, is a Japanese art; it takes a broken pottery item and repairs it with gold, silver or platinum lacquers to create something more beautiful than the original. Japanese æsthetics value the marks of wear and tear caused by the use of an object and is equivalent to what we call the ‘patina’ of an antique in Western Culture. It reflects the philosophy of accepting change and accepting flaws, that perfection is an unobtainable shadow concept.

This isn’t a bad philosophy to bring to the editing process. You might be breaking apart your work, smashing it into shards. However, you are putting it back together to create something more beautiful. I believe that the term ‘killing your darlings’ is very negative way of referring to editing. Instead, we should look at editing as a form of kintsukuroi, in that a writer is making a story sing by repairing what is wrong with its narrative.

Editing is a positive process, and is just as important as writing the story. There are some lucky individuals whose first draft is also their last draft, but most writers need to edit. I actually have learnt to enjoy my editing process, because I see it as improving and polishing. Putting a positive spin on it might work for you as well.

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Fiddle-faddle: an editing muddle

This is how Alice should look.:

This is how I imagine my protagonist, Alice, except she isn’t demure.

I have just discovered that I am editing two different copies of the same manuscript. “How did you manage that?”, you may ask. I’m talented. I wanted to keep a record of how the manuscript changed, and lost track of my copies. It is my own fault, and I hope I’ve learnt my lesson. I’m trying to do much all at once.

So, how do I get myself out of this mess?

By displaying patience – the lack of which got me into this pickle in the first place – and picking just one manuscript, swapping the alterations over from the other copy – and then clearing house. All the other copies can go. Seriously, why was I hanging on to those previous incarnations of my Steampunk manuscript? It’s not like I’m going to be studied in schools. When I cut mega-wordage from the narrative, I always transfer them to a file rather than just deleting them. I’m certain the practice is a hangover from when I wrote with pen and paper, and I haven’t done that for years (unless I’m deliberately working with a pen to shock the creative juices into action). Patience, determination, and a clear picture of where I am going is the only way past this kerfuffle.

This isn’t a trap I’ve fallen into previously, which may be why I made the mistake. It isn’t a problem I’ve heard about when other writers discuss their working process. But just in case one of you reading this might consider the multiple copy route, be warned. You might not be as organised as you think you are…

I now know I’m not. And I’m going to try not to muddle through in the future.

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Word Families

Writer's Tears

Frenetic, frantic, frenzy…

Glimmer, gleam, glitter, glisten, glow…

I am currently in the middle of editing my Steampunk narrative. I have become obsessed with using the right word.

"I'm a writer. Therefore, I'm not sane." - Edgar Allan Poe:

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Finding the Patterns in the Chaos

Sorry to neglect the blog, but I am currently trying to edit my Steampunk novel AND find a full time job. So, here are a few writing related images that inspire me.

Excuse the curse word.

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Your Darlings MUST DIE!

Editing. Slash and burn is probably just as correct a term where I am concerned. A first draft isn’t a proper story, as it is too random and erratic to make much sense to anything but the writer. The second draft should be the point where a beta reader can be given the manuscript and can make suggestions. It is taking me a long time to move my first draft of my Steampunk Work-in-Progress into this second phase. Why might it be taking me so long?

Perfection: We all know there is no such thing as perfection, yet I am constantly trying to achieve it. However, everything you read or hear about submitting work says to send the very best/most polished manuscript you can manage.  Sometimes this feels like a no win situation, where I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. The only person who can really make the call on whether or not my manuscript is ready for beta reading is me. And it is isn’t ready.

Lack of Confidence: Am I obsessing because of feelings of inadequacy? I really don’t know the answer to this one. I have completed a university course in creative writing, have achieved top marks in my grammar courses, have collected half a bookcase of ‘How to Write’ books, and still have days when I wonder if I’m just going through a lengthy bout of mental masturbation. Most days, I believe it is a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ when it comes to my dreams of being published. Other days, I am living in a pit of dark despair. Not getting my draft finished might just be displacement behaviour…

(Excuse me while I go put George Michael’s ‘Faith’ on continuous play.)

Depression: Well, yes, I suffer from clinical depression. So do a damn lot of other talented writers. I deal with it on a daily basis. Thanks to the love and support of my family, friends and the fine people of the medical profession, I beat back the black dog most days. In fact, there are days I can easily believe that my depression was just a phase I’ve grown through. But I’m not going to stop taking my medication, because I am delusional. Actually, I believe my depression gives a better insights into creating tension within a story, and making suffering believable to a reader.

Laziness: I write everyday. Some people might be surprised when I list this. However, but I have my lazy days. This is when the house actually gets cleaned, so it is a different kind of laziness.

Those are my personal flaws. What are yours?
Now, it is time to return to the salt mine, comrades…

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Green Freckles – a possible scene from my Steampunk Work-In-Progress

This is how Alice should look.

While working on her Green Man, Alice pondered the issue of photosynthesis. It seemed rather unfair that plants could make their own food using sunshine, whereas any lengthy time out in the sun just gave her freckles. What evolutionary use were freckles? They certainly didn’t mottle the skin enough to create good camouflage.

She could understand why a furry animal would be unable to use photosynthesis. Hairs were basically dead, and would be unable to transfer any benefits if the hair was green with chlorophyll. (Alice didn’t know about the special transparent hairs of polar bears, which transfer sunlight to the skin of the bear; she was a botanist, not a zoologist.) But the bare skin of a human being would be perfect for such a process.

Think of how mankind would benefit from such an adaptation. No person need ever suffer from starvation, due to poverty or a crop failure. And even the wildlife and the wild plants would benefit, because there wouldn’t need to be so much clearing of forest for fields. Animals like pigs could be converted over to photosynthetic feeding, and how happy would the farmers be when they could fatten their baconers simply by taking them for a walk in the sunshine?

If you wanted to lose weight, you would simply wear more clothes and a hat and carry a parasol!

If you were feeling peaky, you would go for a sun bath. You wouldn’t need chicken soup; which would make the chickens much happier.

Of course, people would still eat for pleasure, and they would still need to drink just as much. As well, the human digestive system would still need a certain amount of daily roughage to keep things moving along, as it were.

With all this to consider, Alice was still intrigued by the idea of having the ability to photosynthesise. So she experimented on a few lizards and naked mole rats until she was certain she had got her methodology under control. And then she tried it out.

Alice developed a process that converted the melatonin in your skin to chlorophyll, and turned it onto a symbiote, in the same way that lichen was a symbiotic life form created from fungi and algae. However, where the fungis couldn’t live without the algae and visa versa, Alice was quite capable of living without her symbiote if the experiment wasn’t a success.

Alice went to bed wondering if her experiment was going to work. She expected to wake up in the morning a pale shade of green, too pale for anyone to notice.  Things didn’t go quite to plan. When she woke up in the morning, her smattering of freckles had turned a rich shade of blue-tinged green, while her skin remained cream.

“Oh dear,” said Alice, when she caught sight of her image in her bathroom mirror. The effect wasn’t unattractive, but it was startling. Her skin looked like moss quartz or milk opal.

Her godmother dropped her spoon with a clatter when Alice sat across from her at breakfast.

“Mon Dieu! Have you caught the green measles?” Amélie exclaimed. “Are you contagious? Should I send for a doctor?”

“No. I am afraid I did this to myself,” said Alice. “I was attempting to give myself the ability to photosynthesise, like plants.”

“Oh Alice! How  could you be so foolish? You have a hard enough time gaining acceptance in society as it is, without green freckles.” Then another thought struck. “Is this permanent?” asked her godmother, with growing horror.

“I’m not certain,” said Alice. “Though I theorise that if I refrain from going out into the sun, I imagine the chlorophyll organelles with perish, or at least atrophy.”

“Do you have any idea how long that might take?”

“No. But it is such a pretty green. It goes nicely with my eyes and hair. Can’t we pretend it is some new French fashion? After all, there was a fashion for beauty marks for a time.”

Amélie looked thoughtful. “We can try. The only other option is for you to become a recluse and hope the green fades away enough to be unnoticeable.”

One of the side effects that Alice hadn’t counted on was that photosynthesis creates oxygen and uses up carbon dioxide. It meant that she tired less, and she wasn’t as easily winded. And for a time, it did become fashionable to have green skin or green freckles. Fashionable women dyed their skins or painted themselves with green dots. It looked fine on the redheads and the brunettes, but the blonde girls had to keep the green pale so as not to look rather strange.

Even fashionable men took up the practice. Several dandies went so far as to dye their beards and moustaches green, since they didn’t have enough facial skin showing. It started quite the Green Man fashion movement.

Felix was one of those who took to painting green freckles on his face. He didn’t go overboard. He just dabbed a light scattering of freckles over his nose, and made sure he always wore a matching handkerchief in the exact same colour. Sometime he wore a green matching carnation in his lapel as well. He started a fad among the Aesthetic Movement for wearing a boutonnière.

Alice was relieved to find that the green freckles did die off over time, even if they weren’t starved of sunlight. She liked the idea that she could have green freckles, but she didn’t enjoy the thought of having them forever, like a tattoo.  It was fun to look a little different when you wanted to, but there were times when you just wanted to fit in.

Being tall and a redhead made that hard enough. And there were times when you wanted to wear something other than green…

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