Tag Archives: Writing and Editing

Writers’ Week, Adelaide style

writers week 1

Adelaide Writers’ Week (photo by me)

This week is Writers’ Week in my home town of Adelaide, part of the annual Adelaide Festival of Arts. It’s a week I always take off work so I can make the most of the opportunity it offers – surrounding myself with people who love reading and writing, and hearing straight from the authors’ mouths what makes them tick, where their ideas come from and how they turn those ideas into the books on offer in the book tent.

It’s autumn in Australia and this week the weather is fine and ranging from 24-34 degrees Celsius (75-93 Fahrenheit), which can be a little warm on the hotter days but there is plenty of shade to be had. And people are making the most of it – I’ve not been to other writers’ festivals but we do seem to be bursting at the seams here at times. Most of the authors offer book signings after their sessions and if you try to get into the book tent between sittings you’re fighting a hundred other people to find what you’re looking for. And you know what? It’s fantastic. While  I was lining up to meet Elizabeth Gilbert yesterday I found myself in conversation with a bookseller from Queensland who had come down for the week to see what all the fuss was about; the family days on the weekend were packed out with kids dying to hear Mem Fox or Andy Griffiths read their works aloud (and can I say there is very little more satisfying than seeing a hundred eight year olds with piles of well-thumbed books, hoping to meet the author); Hannah Kent was still signing copies of Burial Rites a good 45 minutes after her session ended; and Alexander McCall Smith was seen wandering around enjoying the atmosphere before his first session today. Yes, we have an embarrassment of riches here this week, and the best part is it’s all free. So everyone can come and enjoy a session under the trees, listening to some of the best authors the world has to offer.

(As an aside, this is Australia’s ONLY free literary festival. If you are interested in helping it stay free, then please buy some books from the book tent on site, or if you are not in Adelaide (which I expect is most of you) then please consider making a purchase or two at the online e-book retailer associated with the event, which can be found here. Funds raised from book sales are what enables the Festival to continue to offer this event at no cost.)

The west stage

The west stage

I’ll be able to offer more commentary on it next time because I’ll have seen more of the sessions by then, but in the meantime I urge anyone reading this, who has a writers’ festival anywhere near them during the year, to go check it out. It’s fascinating, it’s eye-opening, and you may just discover a new favourite author or two. :)

 

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Feedback, glorious feedback

 

Photo from Girl with computer emerging technologies social media by Walton LaVonda, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Girl with computer emerging technologies social media by Walton LaVonda, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 

Today is a big day for me. Today, for the first time, I read the first feedback I have received for my completed novel draft.

Okay, I admit it, I received said feedback weeks ago. However, what with the Christmas rush, holidays, kids running around my feet and a very real fear of what the document said, I put off reading it. It was from someone whose point of view matters to me and who is in the novel’s target audience. I was terrified they would say they hated it.

Today, though, I forced myself. Found the email. Opened the document. (Okay, I’d opened it before now, and given it a quick glance. But that was it.) And read the whole thing through, word by word. And do you know what? They didn’t hate it.

Sure, they picked out a few things that need working on. Some, I already knew about (or suspected). Some I hadn’t realised were weak spots. But they also pointed out a few things they really did like, and which they thought worked well. That, my friends, was amazing to read. Yes I’ve had reviews before, but this is the first novel I’ve ever thought of trying to get published, so it felt more important.

Naturally, all this pressure was self-inflicted. We are all our own worst critics and we are convinced that every error we see will be magnified tenfold by others. The truth, though, is that this person who is in my target audience liked my story. Said they would read it again. Said the characters were real and vivid and engaging. And that the story flowed and – generally – worked. And that, my friends, is a huge load off my shoulders.

I still have some other betas who have not yet got back to me, and I’m okay with that. The Christmas period is one of the busiest for pretty much everyone and it can be hard to find time to spare to critique someone’s novel. This first one, though, is like manna from heaven. It means the novel isn’t crap, and I haven’t been wasting my time for the past couple of years. Sure, there are a few tweaks that need to be made, but overall it shows promise and potential. And that, I think, is the best Christmas present I could have received.

 

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O Blogger, Where Art Thou?

Yes, I know. It’s been several months since I posted, and then it was a book review. You’ve heard nothing from me in simply ages. Why? Well, I don’t really know. There are a number of reasons that come to mind, so I’m going to share them with you. Put your hand up if you can relate to any of them.

  1. Lack of material/time. I was finding that blogging twice a week was draining my mind of ideas and cutting into my writing time. I work almost full time and the pressure of coming up with material for two days each week, as well as trying to keep up with other blogs, comments on my blog, and the rest of it was leaving me with next to nothing for my creative writing.
  2. Competing priorities. Update my blog or spend time with my kids? They won’t remember having to muck around the house waiting for me to do my computer stuff, but they will remember me taking them to the zoo. Or the pool. Whatever.
  3. An overall sense of cutting out what was less important. This is an extension of #2. I blogged earlier in the year about cleaning out my cupboards at the same time as I was cleaning up my manuscript, and that attitude still stands. Things that were less important were jettisoned in favour of those items higher up the list. And maintaining my profile as a budding author, while important, felt less so than putting my life in order, spending time with kids (as above), and just generally getting myself in a position that I was happy with. You only get one shot at life so why waste it doing things you don’t want to do?

I know I could have just cut down on the blog frequency, but like a lot of people I suffer from procrastination, and there was also a very real fear that if I started it up again then I might drop back into old habits, which was what was draining me in the first place. And I was drained. I didn’t write a thing for two months, and nor did I do any editing. Nothing at all. My brain just needed a break from all that, and I obliged.

So, what’s changed now? Well, my novel is now at the point where I am happy to send it out to my beta readers for their feedback. I could tinker and fiddle till the cows come home but I don’t think that by myself I’m going to get it much better than it is now. It’s time for new eyes and new perspectives on it. So I’m sending it out for comment, and putting it down till Christmas at the earliest. Then in the new year I can take everyone’s ideas on board to improve it even further.

As such, I’m ready to get back into the world of writers. I won’t be blogging as frequently – once a week will do me, on Mondays like now, with the occasional interview or book review thrown in instead of commentary. It’s a scenario designed to keep me involved, yet help take the pressure off, and to give me more time to devote to novel #2, or the kids, or anything else that seems important at the time. One less post per week will help with my whole-of-life de-clutter that I’ve been undertaking for most of this year.

So yeah, that’s me. Sorry for the long blackout, but fear not, all is good. Oh, and if anyone reading this would like to have a look at my novel in a beta capacity, leave a comment or send me an email at Emily[dot]wheeler02[at]yahoo[dot]com. I’d love to hear from you.

 

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Purging

English: Yard sale on Green Street in .

English: Yard sale on Green Street in . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I quite enjoy a good purge. Cleaning out the cupboards and donating ninety per cent of their contents to a local charity because you just don’t need it is cathartic, exhilerating and frees up vital storage space.

I’ve been doing this a bit at home lately. Only a little at a time, sure, but the church down the street, which has large garage sales every couple of months, is certainly reaping the benefits of my efforts. I’m also selling a few more valuable bits and pieces, in the hope that the spare cash they provide will help pay for an interstate trip for the whole family to attend a wedding later in the year. I’ve made a couple of hundred dollars so far and am hoping to both free up cupboard space and cash flow even more in coming weeks.

That’s all very nice, I hear you say, but what does it have to do with the writing life? Well, I say, plenty. Purging is very much a state of mind. It’s that part of the brain that hoarders can’t seem to access, and many of us only access sporadically. But we’re all guilty. Who among us hasn’t kept something because it was nice, or it might come in handy later on, only to come across it again two years later and wonder why on earth we have it? But, when the purging spirit takes hold, you can rid yourself of a lot. And the same is true in writing.

Purging is only good, really, when you’re in the editing stage. Ridding yourself of the unnecessary when you’re still trying to get the book written can be time consuming and take away some of the creative urge. Doing it when you’re editing, though, is what the whole thing is about. Don’t need it? Cut it. Doesn’t progress the plot? Cut it. Character not adding anything to the story? Cut him/her. I’ve got rid of about 15,000 words, two characters and a whole subplot so far, simply because they weren’t adding value to the manuscript. I’ve got some more purging to do, but this ruthlessness on multiple fronts is feeling good. Cleaner cupboards, cleaner prose and cleaner schedule. It’s a win-win situation.

Of course, not everyone finds it easy to be this ruthless. And this is why I recommend doing the purging on many levels at once. When you’re already in the mindset to clean up that space under the bed and just get rid of things you’re not using, why not get out the manuscript and have a hack at that as well? You’re already thinking in that way. Try to make the most of it!

So that’s me at the moment. Going through what makes up my life and just cutting out things I don’t need any more. It applies to a lot of things and, the way I’m going right now, I should be cleansed and clear in no time. (Sounds like an ad for a face-cleaning cream … maybe I should think about re-wording. Oh, heck. Why not just cut the whole sentence?) (See what I mean?) And it’s my recommendation to anyone who is having trouble with their editing. Don’t just edit your manuscript. Edit your whole life. You might be amazed what you can achieve.

 

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Looking for exclamations(!)

English: A black exclamation mark Magyar: Egy ...

English: A black exclamation mark Magyar: Egy fekete felkiáltójel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

Ah, the humble exclamation mark. So much debate about such a little thing. Or is it?

 

For the uninitiated, exclamation marks are, apparently, to be used sparingly at all times. Elmore Leonard once famously opined that “[y]ou are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” F Scott Fitzgerald once told a student that “an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke”. More modern rules include the directive that you should use only one in any one e-mail, for example. In other words, exclamation marks are a bad habit of the novice writer, which must be broken at all costs.

 

Naturally, there are exceptions. I recently re-read the Harry Potter series, in which exclamation marks are sprinkled with gay abandon. In fact, even a novice writer such as myself noticed the excess of exclaiming, which perhaps says that there may have been a couple too many. A lot of sentences are, in fact, stronger and more meaningful with just a full stop (period) rather than an exclamation mark.

 

Is the exclamation mark rule quite so cut-and-dried, though? Stuart Jeffries from The Guardian argues that they can make the written word friendlier, especially in things like e-mails which can feel a little sterile otherwise. (It depends, of course, on the content of the e-mail, but “Thanks!” usually sounds friendlier and more enthusiastic in its gratitude than “Thanks.” does. Don’t you agree?)

 

But what about in fiction? I admit, using it too much is off-putting, and using it in narrative rather than dialogue  is just plain annoying. But then again, in dialogue the rules change – apparently up to six per 100,000 words is considered acceptable. A quick scan of my novel (thank you, find function) had somewhat more than that, so clearly I need to do some work on this aspect of my writing, but sometimes I wonder how much weight that old rule still has.

 

I’m not alone in my appreciation of exclaiming. After all, people do exclaim and that should be recognised. But even I (along with like-minded thinkers) understand that there needs to be a limit. I’m just not sure that six per 100,000 words (in dialogue only) is it.

 

 

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Editing

Edit Ruthlessly

Edit Ruthlessly (Photo credit: Dan Patterson)

I know, I know. I haven’t blogged for two weeks and I’ve given exactly no reason for it. Well, to be honest, I’ve just been too busy lately. What with Easter and a bunch of other things going on (birthday of youngest child, for example) I simply haven’t had the time. I’m sorry. :( I’m also going to be writing a Monday post on a Friday, mainly because I have something I want to talk about.

I’ve been editing. (What? I hear you say. You’ve had time to edit but not blog? What sort of author are you?) The thing is, of course, that editing does not require the internet so I haven’t needed a web connection to do it. This isn’t saying a web connection isn’t handy, but it’s certainly not necessary.

The funny thing is, I’ve been enjoying the editing process immensely. Sure, there’s still a long way to go, but there really is something satisfying about taking a red pen to a manuscript. Figuratively speaking, of course – I haven’t yet printed out my novel and I don’t want to until I cut at least another 10,000 words. (I’ve cut 15,000 so far, so it’s not impossible.) This isn’t due to any preference to editing on screen, though I generally have little problem with that, but more that I don’t want to use up too much paper. Especially considering that the only decent printer I have access to is at my work.

Generally, I’m happy with the structure at the moment. There are still some scenes that need rewriting or moving or incorporating into other scenes, but overall it’s looking pretty good. So what I’m focusing on now, because it’s easy and something I can do when I’m feeling a little brainless, is taking out words I use too much. A few samples of web-based editing services have told me “that” is a word I use approximately eight times as much as I should, and “just” is the next worst offender, so I’m using that old staple of find-and-replace to either change those words to other things, or, in many cases, just delete them entirely. I think I got rid of 1000 words by that method alone.

Like I said, though, there is still a long way to go. I intend to go to a proper professional editor when I am finally as happy with it as I can be through my own editing, but in the meantime there are some really helpful sites out there. Sites like Autocrit, FirstEditing, and Book Editing Services (to name a few) will give you a free sample edit, which is really helpful for identifying some of your common errors before you commit to a paid service. Helpful hints can also be found everywhere, like here and here. I’m now taking a few days off the edit to spend with my kids, but come next week, wish me luck!

And while we’re on the subject of luck, I know I’ll need more than a little to make it very far, but if you like my blog then I would love you to vote in the Best Australian Blogs competitions for this year. Just click on the button below and look for Emily’s Tea Leaves in the list.

I think you should also consider voting for Confessions of a Stuffed Olive, which is one of my favourite blogs and one I’ve mentioned more than once on these pages. You don’t have to be Australian to vote but you can only vote once, so please do so with care and consideration. Thank you.

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I’ve done it!

Celebration champagne

Celebration champagne (Photo credit: Lisa Brewster)

 

Yes, folks, it’s celebration time. After WAY too long (I started this process over two years ago), I have finally finished the first draft of my novel.

*pops champagne*

It’s been a long and interesting process, and I’ve learned a lot along the way, both about storytelling and also about myself. From my decision to cut over 70,000 words back at the start of the year and restructure the whole thing, to the blogs I’ve been frequenting and the courses I’ve attended (a big hello to Lucy Clark, who has been extremely helpful), it’s been a journey of ups and downs, peaks and troughs, finally culminating in today, when the last scene was penned and the book finished.

It’s an odd feeling. I have written completed novels before, but this is the first one that I’ve felt confident enough to unleash on an unsuspecting public by way of publication. (Yes, I have other things online, under another name, but that’s something else entirely.) And I know that this is only the start – there are months of editing ahead of me. Heck, I haven’t even read the whole thing through from start to finish yet to make sure it makes sense! I have a bundle of notes that I will keep handy when I get to that point, just to make sure I’m going in the right direction when it comes to structure and the like, and I’m full of enthusiasm to get that process underway. I know, though, that I need to let it rest for a little while. Give myself a break. Because only when I’m looking at this story with fresh eyes will I be able to edit it properly.

As such, I’m taking December off writing entirely. I shall continue to blog, of course, and to read, but the novel is being put away until the Christmas and new year celebrations are over. Then, once I’ve had that break, I’ll bring out the red pen and really go through it – structurally first, then characterisation and the like, and finally line edits. I’ve chosen this order because line edits are so easy to do, and if I start with those I’ll get sidelined with those and never do the big stuff. Besides, why busy yourself with the minutiae when you know that it’s all likely to change anyway when you do the structural edits?

So there it is. I’m about to uncork the champagne to celebrate, and I’ve promised my fingers a manicure as a reward. After all, they’ve done the bulk of the work here. And then I’m putting this manuscript away until 2013, when I can hopefully attack it with fresh eyes.

Boy, am I exhausted. But really, really pleased with myself at the same time. This is a milestone and one I’m determined to mark. Cheers all!

 

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When going back to work means more, not less, writing time

 

It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? But for me, at least, that’s how it’s worked out. Going back to work has given me more writing time than I had when I was at home.

I returned to work on August 6, after a seventeen-month maternity leave. I work part time, four days a week, one of which is from home and three of which are in the office. And do you know what? I’ve written more in these past three weeks than I did in the three months before, I think.

Before you jump to conclusions, no I’m not writing when I should be working. However, what being back at work means is more time spent in front of a computer, without the interruptions that young children generally provide. What being back at work means, for me, is a good half an hour to an hour each day – in my lunch break – when I can just write, without interruptions.

Sure, I could have got that much time at home … but not uninterrupted. Even when the baby went to sleep, getting a solid hour’s writing time was almost unheard of, and there were other things to do that couldn’t be done when he was awake, like the vacuuming, or cleaning the bathroom, or whatever. (My youngest child is a climber. Leaving him alone for more than a few minutes means that you’ll find him on top of the dining room table, or something similar, when you return.) In short, there were always other things that had to be done in order to keep the house running smoothly. Besides, clearing off the table and getting the laptop out also took more time and frankly, that didn’t always sound appealing.

I recognise, of course, that there is an element of choice in all this. I could have chosen to have an un-vacuumed, un-cleaned house and used that time to write. I could have done all the cleaning on weekends, when my husband was around to keep an eye on the kids. (Don’t worry, he does his share of cleaning too. I’m just referring to my jobs.) I could have chosen to use that time to write. And it probably says something about me that I didn’t – maybe some people will think I’m less of a writer because I didn’t make that time every day. That’s okay. I’m comfortable with my decisions.

Now, though, the fire is back and the manuscript is definitely getting finished. I’ve written 5000 words a week over the past three weeks, upping my tally to 86K altogether. And it’s all because I’m already sitting at the computer, I’m already in that writing pose, and I have some time when I KNOW that no kids are going to need me. It’s heaven.

So yes, going back to work has, for me at least, meant more writing time. Now what about you? When have you found that something helped your writing when you expected it to hinder it? Because I’m sure I’m not alone here. Writing, it seems, has a way of sticking its head in and sorting things out when you least expect it.

 

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On deadlines

Deadline

Deadline (Photo credit: Digital Game Museum)

I have a deadline coming up. Not from a publisher or an agent or anything exciting – indeed, one that was self-imposed – but a deadline nonetheless. And I am in danger of not meeting it.

It’s my fault, of course. I set a date to have my first draft finished by (August 6th), without setting mini-deadlines along the way to make sure I was on track to meet my major one. And, like everyone, I have procrastinated. I joined Camp NaNoWriMo in June to try to up my word count, only to fail miserably by writing approximately ten percent of what I was supposed to. I made excuses. I wasn’t inspired. I just didn’t write.

Now I’m about 30K shy of my goal (to allow for major cuts and still have a decent word count for the finished piece) with three weeks left in which to do it. NaNo all over again, in a way. I think I have enough story in my head to do it, but the danger of procrastination always lingers. Sure, school is going back this week which means I will have much more time during the day, but I’m sure I can fill that time with useless other things like, say, cleaning or gardening. In other words, everything else that has suffered as I’ve been idle.

Things are looking up, though. Yesterday at about 3am I had a great idea for a new character who will hold things together much better than they would have done without him. He even has a history and a religion and everything, which is unusual for me because I often leave religion out of my writing. The downside of being an atheist, I suppose. I also have some great scene ideas which again make the story much more fluid and believable. Really, I think I can do this if I put my mind to it. The trouble is putting my mind to it.

Where has my inspiration gone that enabled me to win two consecutive NaNos? Where is my lust for writing? Where is the desire to see the words “The End” in my manuscript? I’m afraid that I’m losing my passion for this story, which would explain the lacklustre progress over recent months. Yet, I still think it’s worth finishing. It’s a weird kind of internal conundrum.

Naturally, some child-free hours can theoretically work wonders for my word count. With the kids either asleep or at school I can, potentially, kill off a couple of thousand words a day, which will reduce my 30K shortfall very quickly. I CAN meet this deadline, I just need to motivate myself.

Wish me luck!

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Assorted writing tips #2 – don’t wait for inspiration

Image: Paul / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


I know what you’re thinking. I can’t write if I’m not inspired! What would I write about??

This is, of course, an excellent point. But the problem is, if you only write when you’re inspired, you’ll hardly ever do it. Besides, inspiration often comes at the most inconvenient times – in the shower, at 3am, when you’re making dinner, when you jump into the car to do the errands or whatever. In any case, it’s often when you are simply not able to make the most of it. But what of writing when you’re uninspired? Well yes, it can be difficult … but it can also be done.

Take my case – and I’m sure I’m not alone here. With young children, my writing time is limited to when they are either being educated or, mostly in the case of the baby, asleep. I rarely get more than an hour or two at a time to write, and even then I have no idea how long it will be before the baby monitor starts lighting up again, signalling that my attention is needed elsewhere. As such, I have arranged my time to have a Writing Day each week. (See? I’ve even capitalised it. That’s how important it is to me.) This is my day when I don’t do anything else – no extra-curricular activities for the kids, no shopping, no running down to the post office, nothing. For as long as I can (ie, when the baby isn’t complaining), I sit at my computer and I write.

The thing is, naturally, that I’m not always feeling particularly inspired on my Writing Day. Maybe the baby got me up at 4.30am and I’m crying out for a nap. Maybe the house needs cleaning. Maybe there’s something that I want to watch on television. Maybe I’m just not feeling creative. And I’m sure you’ve all been there.

However, I make myself do it. I have a look over what I’ve already written, and I can generally find something to do. Maybe it’s just the odd paragraph here or there. Maybe it’s editing – which I know I shouldn’t do till the first draft is finished, but I feel that any progress on a Writing Day is good. Maybe it’s a scene that I’ve been playing with in my mind, when I have been inspired (generally at 3am or when I’m doing the grocery shopping, I find), that I remember enough of to get a start on.

The thing is, just the act of writing is beneficial. I find it’s easier to edit and re-write a scene than it is to start it from scratch, even when there are a lot of changes to be made. After all, if you’ve already done it and you think it doesn’t work, then at least you know now what not to do with it. And of course, the more you write, the better at it you get.

Besides, who hasn’t had a day when they start out writing what they think is rubbish, only to look at it at the end and realise it’s actually quite good? I know I can’t be the only one.

So, if you have a time set aside to write, then make the most of it. Don’t wait to be inspired. Don’t spend that time surfing Facebook or Twitter or anything else that the net might throw at you. Just do it. You never know what might come out.

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