On Car Repair and Rewrites

This is one of the best analogies of editing / re-writing that I’ve seen. It perfectly captures the hard work that has to go into writing a novel, the necessity of it, the pain but also (hopefully) the joy of the final result … eventually.

WRITERS' RUMPUS

By Almitra Clay

As I have rewritten the manuscript of my novel, I’ve had a mental picture of myself: I’m a mechanic leaning so deep into a car’s innards that just my legs stick out. I’m pounding on something that probably shouldn’t be hit with a wrench. Every so often I yank out some part gross with rust and grease, which I toss over my shoulder onto the lawn.

Illustration by Almitra Clay Car repair, novel repair, it’s all the same. Right?

There are quite a lot of those parts lying around. Discarded chapters. Plot arcs. Characters.

So yeah, that first car was my NaNoWriMo draft. It was my first novel ever. I was ever so proud that I’d made a proper car-shaped thing that did what a car is supposed to do. It rolled! The horn honked! Never mind the duct tape, or the missing exhaust system, or that the whole thing would…

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Amber Glasses: Write Late, Sleep Well

Interesting article! I may try these, especially after my next late-night writing session. Generally I sleep OK but not quite as well as I used to, and that may partly be because I spend so much time staring at screens of one sort or another now. Also might help with my upcoming trip to India – got terrible jet-lag last time …

WRITERS' RUMPUS

By Marianne Knowles

Call it writer’s insomnia: You’re on a roll, writing for hours, late into the night. Finally, exhausted but accomplished, you save your work, back it up, switch off the computer, and fall into bed.

And then you stare at the darkness for an hour or more before finally nodding off. It’s so frustrating! You’re exhausted, so why can’t you go to sleep? Is your story too exciting? Are your characters too insistent?

Maybe. Or maybe it’s the blue light shining out of your computer screen and straight into your eyes.

Several recent scientific studies have demonstrated a connection between blue artificial light and insomnia. Early forms of artificial light — candles, campfires, and oil lamps — emit wavelengths only in the red, orange, and yellow parts of the spectrum. Sunlight contains the full range of visible wavelengths, from the longest (red) through the shortest (violet). Until…

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A writing quote that made me smile …

… from Erin Kelly’s latest, The Ties that Bind (and no it’s nothing to do with Fifty Shades of Grey and you’ve got a dirty mind). Great book (she’s one of my favourite authors) and I loved this quote:

Luke’s parents had not blinked when he had told them he was gay, but he wasn’t sure they had ever quite recovered from the blow of learning that their son was a writer.

You can get all sorts of reactions when you tell people you’re a writer, and they’re not always predictable or positive. (The reactions that is, not the writers.)

More on Hybrid Publishers: An Innovation to Success?

Very interesting look at so-called ‘hybrid publishers’, comparing and contrasting with ‘traditional’ and self publishing. The linked Forbes article is also worth a read. Now that I’m nearing the end of Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer, the question of how to publish it is a major preoccupation of mine right now …

Publishing Insights

ebookbook

David Vinjamuri presents his view in the article How Hybrid Publishers Innovate To Succeed on Forbes. He introduces the rise of hybrid publishing, who is considered to be a combination of both traditional publishers and independent authors who are digitally skilled. It is a new and controversial model of publishing in the industry, but Vinjamuri outlines three characteristics of successful hybrid publishers, including offering small advances, operating on voluntary contributors, and speeding up on product development cycle. He concludes that “agility” is the biggest advantage of hybrid publishers in their competition with traditional publishing houses and self publishers.

I agree with Vinjamuri that a fast response to the market — sometimes achieved through the use of social media platforms — can often get you in the upper hand of sales, which is one of the biggest challenges for traditional publishers, who may get stuck in the slow motion of product development cycle…

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Editing my manuscript: the wrestling phase …

Wrestling

Work continues on draft 3 of Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer. I’ve made the more significant changes recommended by the reviewers, and now I’m on to the full read-through, edit and polish. I can’t decide if this is one of my favourite or least favourite parts of the writing process. That might sound odd, so let me explain.

For the most part, I quite enjoy the process of hunting out mistakes, or finding a replacement word or phrase that works better. Or identifying a word, sentence or even paragraph that you suddenly realise isn’t really necessary and that can be cut without detracting at all from the book – in which case it probably enhances it. Or finally managing to resolve a less-than-totally-convincing plot development. Or finding a way of breathing more life into a character. Or shortening or re-ordering sentences to make the read or ‘scan’ more easily (especially since this is a children’s book).

Or realising you’ve started several consecutive sentences with the same word, like ‘or’.

So, often when I step back from an editing session, I can survey the (hopefully) observable improvement with some satisfaction, remembering the wise adage that ‘good writing is re-writing’. (Can’t remember who said that, and I’m not going to check because being too lazy to research is one of my biggest writing weaknesses, along with over-reliance on parentheses.)

On the other hand, editing sometimes seems too much like plain hard work, like wrestling with a giant slab of jelly (if you can imagine such a thing – or even want to, come to that): sticky, messy and faintly absurd. Thinking about it, I wonder if my worst moments come when one of two extremes occur. Either I come across a section of text that I’m so dissatisfied with that I virtually tear it to shreds and start again, all the time pondering gloomily on how on earth I came to write such gibberish in the first place. Or (there I go again) I arrive at the end of a page in which I’ve changed two words, fixed one typo and inserted a semi-colon; and I think, come on, was that really such an unimprovably* near-perfect piece of prose, or have I just missed loads of stuff?

(*Is that spelt correctly? Word doesn’t like it, but I do so I’m keeping it in.)

It’s most satisfying when I find enough things to fix and improve to make the whole exercise seem worthwhile, but not so many that it becomes a real slog and I wonder if I’m actually going backwards rather than forwards. But, this writing lark being what it is, both extremes will happen, along with every point in between, and we have to just do what we find needs doing.

I’m currently just over half-way through this process, and so far it’s gone pretty quickly, but I’m now entering the part of the book where I’d made the most changes following the reviewers’ commendations, so I expect to spot more mistakes, inconsistencies, repetitions and all the other things that will need hammering out. And, viewing things more positively, find those ways to make the good stuff even better.

Anyway … to give a flavour of what I’ve been up to, here is a sample of the edited first page of the book. It’s a screen capture with the ‘track changes’ in Word switched on and comments inserted. Actually these are functions I don’t routinely use, as I suspect the resulting migraine-inducing multi-coloured spaghetti of changes, deletions and insertions might drive me crazy, but I’ve used them here just for illustrative purposes.

This sample doesn’t show particularly extensive changes, but does demonstrate many of the things I tend to do during this stage of the editing. I’m probably going to review the first few pages at least twice more, the start of a book being especially important. If you have any thoughts at all, therefore, I’d be very pleased to hear them.

PD James: 10 tips for writing novels

PD James tips

A few days ago, upon hearing of the death of the novelist PD James, I blogged about how inspiring I found aspects of her writing career and her approach to the craft. I also found a link to this: her ten tips for writing novels.

I have mixed feelings about such lists of rules, tips or whatever you want to call them. On the one hand I’m always interested in hearing what others have to say on a subject of such importance to me – and especially when the opinions are of a writer I admire. On the other hand, you have to take such guidance as just that: read it, mull it over, and apply it (or not) according to what works for you. The rules are rarely (if ever) unbreakable.

To be fair to James, she more or less admits this in her tip #3 (Find your own routine):

‘I think all we writers are different. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how different we are?’

There are two other tips, however, that I want to pick out. The first is because I agree with it so much – #5 (Read, write and don’t daydream!) – and I quote it in full:

‘To write well, I advise people to read widely. See how people who are successful and good get their results, but don’t copy them. And then you’ve got to write! We learn to write by writing, not by just facing an empty page and dreaming of the wonderful success we are going to have. I don’t think it matters much what you use as practice, it might be a short story, it might be the beginning of a novel, or it might just be something for the local magazine, but you must write and try and improve your writing all the time. Don’t think about it or talk about it, get the words down.’

Amen to that.

The other I one I’ve picked because, although I think I broadly agree with it, I can see that some might not. It’s the very first one (which might indicate its importance to James) – ‘You must be born to write’ – and again I quote in full:

‘You can’t teach someone to know how to use words effectively and beautifully. You can help people who can write to write more effectively and you can probably teach people a lot of little tips for writing a novel, but I don’t think somebody who cannot write and does not care for words can ever be made into a writer. It just is not possible.

Nobody could make me into a musician. Somebody might be able to teach me how to play the piano reasonably well after a lot of effort, but they can’t make a musician out of me and you cannot make a writer, I do feel that very profoundly.’

I don’t know how that strikes you, but to me it makes sense. I would never want to discourage anyone from writing – far from it (see #5 above) – but it probably is the case that some have more innate talent than others. Like James, I don’t think I could ever get very far as musician – or a football player, or a dancer, or a hundred other things – because I have something between limited and zero natural gifting for those things. The best I might become, with much hard graft and good teaching, would be an enthusiastic amateur able to give enjoyment to myself and maybe some others. And that’s great. But if I ever entertained serious dreams of playing for the London Philharmonic, turning out for Manchester United or pirouetting for the Bolshoi Ballet, then I fear I’d be in for a disappointment.

(I am not claiming to possess a massive talent for writing; but I am at least pretty sure that I’m not as bad at it as I am at most other things!)

Of course this is an over-simplification. There are many factors that contribute to how successful a writer might become, and almost as many ways that ‘success’ might be defined. And also we’re probably all unreliable judges of how much ‘talent’ we might have. If we have a passion to write then that’s what we should do, and in so doing we will do justice to whatever talent we do possess.

I wonder what you think of James’s tips, and in particular on the role of natural gifting in our progress as writers?

 

Your Voice is Your Voice: Keeping It Real

This is a great post about ‘voice’, which is one of the aspects of writing that I’ve struggled with the most – but I know it’s important and I’m always on the look-out for wisdom on the topic.

Ingrid's Notes

An amazing voice is the number one “must-have” on every agent and editors list. So what is this odd and illusive thing known as voice? How do you find it? What does it sound like? Why is it so gosh darn important? Scholastic editor Jennifer Rees (The Hunger Games, Purge) spoke on this exact subject at the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference. The following is her two cents on why you’ve got to have a knock-out voice and how to develop it.

The Importance of Voice…

  • Voice is the most powerful and prized possession in a writer’s tool box.
  • Voice is that amazing thing that taps you on the shoulder (the character) and asks you to come with them on a journey.
  • Great voice is not reserved for fiction alone. It can also be in non-fiction.

What is Voice?

  • When writing you are concerned about: What is the story? How…

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The Dos and Don’ts of Dialogue Tags

Really good post, and re-blogged because I totally agree and I couldn’t put it better myself. I think every writer should read this, because it’s one of the biggest pitfalls of inexperienced writers – and I have to say a few published ones I’ve come across too. I completely agree that balance is key, but the bias should be towards the humble ‘said/says’ precisely because – as you say – the tag is there to point towards the dialogue, not itself. There are exceptions of course. The other thing that grates with me is the completely unnecessary tag – e.g. ‘I’m sorry you’re upset,’ he commiserated. That’s not necessary because it’s obvious from the text that he’s commiserating.

So what’s with the gargoyle anyway?

cropped-christopher-peter-the-way-he-sometimes-feels.jpg

I bet you’re wondering why I’ve adopted that gargoyle as my new avatar, and why this website is now described as my ‘online hiding place’. You aren’t? Well I’m telling you anyway, so there.

For one thing, after six months or so of blogging, I decided the site would benefit a bit of a makeover. Meanwhile it dawned on me that calling it CHRISTOPHER-PETER.COM in shouty capital letters made it sound a bit in-your-face corporate, which it isn’t. As for the demented-space-invader avatar, taken from the cover of BASIC Boy – well I still like that, but I fancied a change.

Then there’s the fact that I’m one of the majority of writers who sell very little. I once read that something like 95% of self-published authors sell fewer than 100 copies of each title, mostly to family and friends. (I’ve almost certainly got that stat slightly wrong but then, as we all know, 92.4% of statistics are made up on the spot.) It’s just so hard to get your writing noticed when there’s so much of it about.

The situation isn’t helped by the fact that, like many writers, I’m not too great at marketing. Jumping up and down shouting ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ isn’t a core strength. So I thought, well, why not embrace my inner introvert?

I live just outside Oxford, and that spired city is full of those little stone beasties, gargoyles; and when I found a picture of one who looked like he was hiding, I knew I’d found my new image. At least until I get bored with that one too.

So there you go. Now you know, whether you wanted to or not.

I think this is the funniest book cover ever – see if you agree …

When I spent a year as an exchange student at the University of Illinois, (ahem) years ago, I took a British History class. (To be honest, I saw it as a route to some easy credit.) One of the recommended texts was an American-published book about Winston Churchill. Whenever we saw this book, the small group of Brits in the class tended to snigger quietly to themselves, while our fellow students looked on with some bemusement. We tried to explain why we found it so funny, but I don’t think they all understood.

Here’s the cover:

Churchill cover

If you’re British you’ll understand instantly what’s wrong with this picture. If you’re American, you may not. (Not sure about Australians – I’m not an expert in antipodean hand gestures – maybe someone could enlighten me?) If you don’t understand, here’s the thing: in the UK at least, the two-fingered ‘V for Victory’ salute, so beloved of dear Winston, absolutely has to be done palm-forward. If you give the ‘salute’ as shown on this cover, showing the back of the fingers, it means something rather different. I mean, completely different.

Actually, I’m not completely sure exactly what it does mean. But it sure ain’t ‘victory’. It’s more like the one-fingered salute, which is pretty much equally insulting on both sides of the Atlantic and probably in many other places across the globe too. In short, it’s not nice, and old Winny would never have dreamt of doing it. (Certainly not in public anyway. I’m guessing he may have deployed it against Hitler though, had they ever met.)

Of course this book was published in the US, where the mistake would have been entirely innocent and which probably 99% of the book’s readers would have seen nothing wrong with. Until a British student stumbled across it, that is.

I like to think of how this cover may have come about. Just imagine …

Designer:        Hey, I’ve got this stock photo of Winston Churchill. Can I just sketch from this?

Publisher:        Sure … though it’s a shame he’s not doing that ‘V for Victory’ thing. Can you add that in?

Designer:        No problem. I mean, how hard can it be …?

Some heavyweight theses have no doubt been written on the whole subject of hand gestures and how they vary between cultures, and how something totally innocuous in one country could lead to a major street brawl in another.

I’ve still got this book, one of the few I’ve kept from my student days. Not for the content of course, but for the cover which still makes me giggle like a smutty teenager whenever I see it.

One final thing: this book is still available on Amazon, though it doesn’t look like a new edition has been published since the 1980s – but there’s no cover image. I wonder why …