Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Writing Wednesday - Editing 1

For today's entry, I thought we could look at another difficult part of the writing process - the sheer terror that is editing.

You've worked for weeks, maybe months, maybe years, and you've got a big block of text.  You have thousands of words, a thick stack of papers that you've poured your heart and soul in to.  Characters you've created, plot lines you've made, worlds you shaped.  An entire universe, that would never have existed if not for you.

Now, you need to turn that stack of papers into a book.  Scary right?

Well, for a start, take some time off.  Feel proud.  Think of how far you've gone, go and see people you've been postponing due to your writing, think about everything you achieved.  If it's the first novel you've ever written, the first you've finished, or the hundredth you wrote, you've done something amazing.  You finished it.

Relax.  Treat yourself - do something you enjoy, if it's going for a walk, or having a nice coffee, or just having a lie in.  You did something amazing, so just enjoy that.  Take some time off, to get your mind clear.Take a week, a month or somewhere between.  Spoil yourself, and think about other things - maybe consider new projects, or put writing to one side.  Then, when you've thought it through, it's time to edit.

First thing you do, is you sit down, and read through the entire story.  You can scribble the occasional note if you need to, but focus on getting your work read.  Maybe your first thought is that it's terrible.  But look beyond that - find the good things there.  Maybe it's a particular scene, or a certain character.  A line of dialogue.  But there are good things.  If it helps you, then highlight the good things as you go.  Just the good things, so you can look back and see how much you've enjoyed.  That'll help you carry on.

Now, two options.  Rewriting, and editing.  Next week, we are going to look at rewriting, but for today, we're going to look at editing.  If you're wondering what the difference is, then rewriting is going over your story and writing it either from scratch, or writing large chunks of it again.  Editing is more small scale - you can think of it a bit like polishing it - getting rid of rough edges and making it look as good as it possibly can.

First of all work out if your scenes are in the right order, and which will need a rewrite, and which will need just an edit.  Some might need a lot of work, and others might just need a couple of adjustments.

A trick I use is to use a website called Wordle:  You paste a chunk of text inside it, and it picks out the most frequently used words, making the commonest words largest, as can be seen in this example here:  You can use it, and take a look at words you've used a lot - I have a bit of a weakness for nodded, shrugged and smiled, and this is a good way of seeing it, without it being overly oppressive.

When you've got an idea of which words you overuse (these are called "crutch words"), then you can keep this in mind as you read through it.  It lets you make small adjustments as you go.  This is the time to look it over scene by scene, making sure that each piece works, and fixing punctuation, spelling, and other things like that.  Some sentences might need to be cut and that's alright.  If what you are writing doesn't contribute to the story as a whole you need to ask yourself if it's worth having.  If your answer to that is yes because it shows a character's personality or reveals something about them then don't worry, that's contributing.

Work through it scene by scene, polishing each one, then look over it from the beginning.  It might be helpful here to print it out double spaced, and make any more adjustments you need.  Then, if you're very lucky, you will have someone you can ask to proofread it, and get feedback.  If no one you know has the time, then instead try and leave it a few more weeks, then read over it again - highlight good and bad bits, then fix the bad ones.

Repeat this, until you think the end result is good - but keep in mind that it is never going to be perfect.  There will always be ways you feel you can improve it, so just like with a piece of art, the challenge is to know when it is finished.  Best of luck with this one - it's down to your own judgement, but it isn't always an easy call to make.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Writing Wednesdays - Writer's Block

Today we're going to look at some ways of dealing with writers block, but first there is going to be some absolutely shameless self-promotion!

My short story Her Dream Day has been published, and is available here: as a single story, or at for the anthology.

"It is the day before Alex and Sophia’s wedding, and Alex is putting the final touches to the plans when she gets a phone call that leaves her feeling sick.  The venue has cancelled.  She has to find an alternative, and everywhere else is already full.

Luckily, the school where Sophia works might be able to help.  It certainly isn’t what they had in mind, but when it’s their only chance to still go ahead with the marriage, they decide to make the best of it."

Okay, so that's the shameless self promotion out of the way, now onto the blog itself - and today we are tackling that most feared of topics, writers block.  There is little more frightening than being faced with a blank screen, with a cursor blinking, and knowing that you are expected to write.  It's often enough to have months worth of planning and organisation disappearing from your mind, and leaving you staring in confusion, trying to remember how to construct a sentence.

Well, first thing is first - if you feel like this, you really are not alone.  I can't think of a single person I know who writes, who isn't familiar with this situation.  Sometimes writers block can be crippling, and stop you from writing for days and days.  But it doesn't need to.

Some people think that they should only write when they are inspired.  Writing when you are inspired is wonderful, but it can't be all that you do - in your day job, you would never decide "Oh I'm only going to do this when I feel inspired to do it" - quite simply because it would never get done.  If you are inspired, write a lot, but if you're not inspired, just try and get some words down.  They don't have to be perfect - you can always go back and improve it later, but you can only do that if you have the words down already - see my post about Nanowrimo last week.

I'd say set yourself a word goal every day - it doesn't have to be particularly large, just a few words to do every day, and they'll all add up.  Maybe 100 words a day?  Then if you only have five minutes, you can reach your goal for the day, and maybe you could do it more than once a day.  Then at the end of the month, with 100 words a day, you've got 3000 words.  Often you'll start writing, and just carry on - the first few words are hardest, and once you've begun writing, you can write pages.

So, you've decided you're going to write, inspired or not, but you need to start writing.  And the scene you've been planning for months just won't turn up on the page in front of you.  A few hours ago, you might have had a strong image of the entire scene, known all the dialogue, and been able to see it vividly in front of you.  Only now, there is nothing to say, and you can barely remember your characters names.

So now what do you do?
Well, if there's a scene you can think of, even if it isn't where you planned to start, write that.  You can always come back and add in other scenes later.

If not, then try and write something else - how would these characters act if they were on holiday? If they were going for a walk, on a beach?  What would they talk about with friends?  It doesn't have to be anything you can use for your stories, you're just getting something down with the characters - treat it like a warm up.  Then when you start writing what you actually intended to write, you no longer have the scary blank screen - and you've learned more about your character.

What if you are absolutely out of ideas?
Then just try writing a stream of consciousness.  Get words down, about whatever you can - what you've done today, your idea about the story, what thoughts you've had about your characters, anything you can do.

I hope that helps you get some words down!  Best of luck, and remember - small goals to do regularly are the way to go.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Writing Wednesdays - Nanowrimo

I've been looking forwards to this blog post - today we're going to look at how I actually got into writing, the spectacular idea known as Nanowrimo - National Novel Writing Month.

If you're interested in writing, you may already have heard of it, and possibly have dismissed it as a waste of time.  If you haven't heard of it, I'll explain what it is.  The basic concept of Nanowrimo is to write a novel, from first word until last, in a month.  You can come into it with notes and plans, or a blank notebook, but on the first of the month you start writing, and by the end of the month, you've got something that didn't exist before, an entire story that you have created. 

Sounds great right?  Well, Nanowrimo runs in November, and the recommended word count is 50,000 words.  So that means that every day for a month, you have to write 1,667 words.  Now, this might seem like a lot, but it doesn't end have to be.  Even if you don't reach the goal, you've still created words that wouldn't have existed before.

There is a supportive forum, with groups for different genres and methods of writing.  There are also places full of memes to make you laugh, and places you can ask for help if you are stuck on plots, ideas, character names, or need more information.  It's a really welcoming atmosphere, and knowing all these people are writing with you is fantastic.

November might be a long time to wait though, so you can look into doing "Camp Nano", in July, which is set out as summer camp - you're put into cabins, where there are up to 12 other people (writing in your genre, of your age, those you select, or just random people) so that you can talk together.  The main nano forums are also active then, if not as busy as they are in November.

There's one other special feature about Camp Nano - you can pick your own word goal, between 10,000 words, and 1,000,000 words.  You can decide for yourself how many words you want to write a day, between 300 and 30,000. 

So what do you write?
The short answer is anything that you would like to.  The slightly longer answer is that whilst Nanowrimo was initially set up to allow you to write a novel, you could write whatever you wanted - an autobiography, a series of short stories, or whatever else you need to get down on paper.

I started Nanowrimo six years ago, and at the end of it each year, I've had a rough start.  It wasn't always a good piece of writing, but it existed, and I could use it to create the basis of something better, redrafting and editing and creating something that I am actually proud of. 

Best of luck with it, and good luck with writing! It's definitely a good thing to try!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Writing Wednesdays - Starting to write

Hello everyone, let's see if I can manage to get this week's blog post up before midnight.  Just two weeks until the They Do anthology comes out, and really rather excited about that!

This is going to be quite a short post, as this time I'm looking at the process of starting to write.  I tend to find this quite difficult - I have everything plotted out, my characters down, my world plotted down to the smallest of details, and then it comes to time to write, and I get stuck.

The story exists in my head, but it's not on paper yet.  A lot of people just get stuck at this point, but it is important to get past it - so you have a permanent record of all your hard work, a story that you can actually read, and lend to others.

For a start, I'd recommend having a plan, knowing what you are going to do before you start to write.  Knowing where you are going is helpful, because it means you know what's coming next.  Not everyone feels that way, but I like having a brief idea at least.

Then, start writing.  It doesn't matter if the first few paragraphs don't flow, if the sentences are jumbled or you miss something you meant to include - this is the very start of your first draft.  You need to get words down, then you can edit it later - think of it like making a sculpture.  You need to get the clay in a big block - that's the plan, the idea, the spark, call it what you will.  Now, you need to get the rough shape carved out.  First drafts are, at least in my experience, often complete and utter rubbish.  That doesn't matter.  What matters is that by the time it's finished, you have a block of words set up, that you can use.  Later drafts and reworking, that's your chance to carve in the detail, to add the refinement, to turn your blob into a beautiful piece of artwork.

It doesn't matter if it isn't good, as long as it is there.  You can make it good later.  As long as it exists, then you can work on it.  If it doesn't exist, or if it's just perfect in your head, then you can't improve it.  Don't expect too much of a first draft.  First drafts are always going to be bad.  But it's a starting point.

Now, other than simply getting the words down, you want to start somewhere interesting - you can always revise what you're working on later, but when it does come to reading it, you want people to be gripped from the first page.  If they aren't, they will just pick up something else.

So where do you start?
Have something happening.  People don't want to wade through page after page of meaningless description before they get the key information - which characters matter, what to do they do, what is going on.

This doesn't necessarily mean you have to start in the middle of a fight scene.  Just start with something interesting, that shows how your character interacts with the world around him - it could even be them eating breakfast, if you do it in a way that pulls the reader in.

Here's an attempt at exactly that, pulling in my poor regular to these blog posts, Argen.

Argen stared at the bowl in front of him, poking the unappetizing grey goo inside it with the bottom of his spoon, then lifted his head to glance over at Vairel, who was devouring his breakfast as though he hadn't eaten in weeks.
"I'm not letting you cook again." He told him coldly, shoving the bowl in the direction of the half-elf.  Vairel simply hummed in amusement, emptying his own bowl and shoving it back to Argen to clean.

Argen stood, flinching slightly as the yellowing bruise on his shoulder sent a spike of pain the length of his spine.  His breath caught, and Vairel looked up, dark blue eyes wide with concern.
"How is it?"
"I'm healing." Argen spat, walking over to the sink and immersing the bowl in the icy water there, hissing at the chill to his skin.  "Forget about it."

Vairel opened his mouth to say something else, then thought better of it and turned his attention back to the food before him.

So... not perfect by a long way, and if I was including this in something, I would revise it a lot, but it shows you the characters, and how they interact.  It's a start.   If you can't think of how to start, try a variety of options, or just write short scenes with the characters to get a feel for them, and then maybe use one of them as a starting point.  Good luck.