Posts Tagged ‘editing’

Oh wow.  Negative reviews, eh?  In case you haven’t seen it yet, I am writing this post to link you to the perfect of example of how not to respond to a negative review of your writing.  (It’s not even that negative a review, to be honest, but hey.)  (Link via How Publishing Really Works – if you don’t already read, subscribe!) 

Not only is the author’s* response utterly astonishing, but she doesn’t see her mistake (both in response and in the original book).

This made me think about the value of receiving negative reviews and constructive criticism.  I can only see that this reiterates the importance of having an honest writing group or buddy who will get their red pen out as readily as their words of encouragement. 

As writers, it is our duty to hone our craft and knowledge of the English language and to shape our novels to be the best that they can be.  If this involves paying/befriending/kidnapping someone who knows their ‘there’ from their ‘their’ or an apostrophe from a semi-colon, then so be it. 

OK, so I was joking about the kidnapping, but not the rest. 

And beyond any philosophical writerly duty, just be a decent human being who has the good grace and professionalism to leave reviewers alone.

Good grief, what is the world coming to!

* though I hesitate to call her an author considering her disgusting behaviour and low level of pride in her novel to ‘release’ it into the world in that state.

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A Craving for Words

Isn’t it always the way – when I finally feel that I want to get back to writing A Thief & A Gentlewoman, I’m so busy that I don’t have time (or headspace) to!  It’s going to be pretty hectic here for the next few days as The Boy is moving out of his place over the weekend, so we’ve got leaving drinks with our friends and packing and moving boxes to do.  But I really want to write!

Hopefully I’ll still have that drive when Monday comes…  I think reading it all though from start to finish will get me in the mood, as it were.

In the meantime, here’s a very important and interesting article about your main character: Rachelle Gardner – Is Your MC Proactive or Reactive?

The first chapter of T&Gw has changed a great deal so far and when it came to editing for my Masters handin, I realised that my main character, Quin, spent the whole of the first scene just watching and thinking – she was horribly passive.  A pass main character is not appealing.  Neither is one who just reacts to everything around them, wafting about with the storm.  Even if the main events of the novel/script/etc are beyond the main character’s control, there will still be things in their life that they are trying to achieve, whether it’s finding a better job or getting a date with that hot guy at the bar.  And, of course, those goals might initially seem unrelated to the main plot, but the best subplots end up interweaving with those central events. 

But stop reading my rambling and go read Rachelle’s article!

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Your Inner Editor & You

After writing about editing the other day, I remembered a post on my old blog about the Inner Editor.  I thought I’d share it again in case it’s useful to anyone…

I’ve got a writing friend who’s struggling with her Inner Editor while she’s writing the first draft of her novel (which is wonderful) – it sounds pretty gruelling, with a couple of paragraphs taking hours and hours because the Editor won’t let her just write! I’ve been thinking about the problem a lot as it’s something I used to really suffer with.

When writing an email to this friend, I articulated an idea I’d been pondering for the last week or so:

I was thinking about the process of writing a novel the other day and realised that it’s a lot like sculpting stone: Michelangeo didn’t carve David’s perfect face (with that amazing profile and those sensuous lips) into the slab of rock, then make a perfect neck and then some broad shoulders; he roughed out the hunky David from a block of marble, gradually refining the whole shape from ‘blob’ to masterpiece. Tell that Editor, if it’s good enough for Michelangeo, then it should be good enough for her!

So here are my tips for making your Inner Editor shut the hell up:

  • Try, just for a session or two, writing without being able to see what you’re writing. If you use Word or something similar, change the font to white, or at least a pale grey; if you write by hand, place a sheet of paper over what you’ve written. This way you will get used to not re-reading, re-writing and agonising over every single word, line and paragraph.
  • Any time your Inner Editor rears her ugly head while you’re trying to write, remind yourself (and herself) that there’s a time and a place for editing and writing the first draft of your novel/short story/poem is not it. Which brings me to…
  • Do not write and edit in the same period of time. Some writers start their writing session editing the previous day’s writing and that works for them, which is fine, but if you’re having problems with your Inner Editor not actually letting you write, then clearly a different approach is in order. Allow yourself to just write until your first draft is done and promise your Inner Editor that she will get her say once it is written. If you can’t manage that, then give yourself a word goal – once you’ve reached 20,000/40,000/half-way, then review and edit what you’ve done, that way you can spot and fix any problems while they’re still in progress, though you do run the risk of finding it hard to start up again when you go back to writing. (This way of working has probably helped me the most while writing A Thief & a Gentlewoman.)
  • It’s great to have readers who will be honest and constructively critical about your work, but perhaps save their services until you’re ready to edit and think as an editor. Preferably once you’ve finished the task of writing, or even until you’ve given the work a once-over yourself. Their comments, however true, will only bring out your Inner Editor and put you in edit-mode, seeking out all those typos, repetitions and scenes that aren’t yet working to full capacity. Which brings me to…
  • We all have sympathetic readers (at least I hope so – if not, find some, be they friends or family who like to read your genre or sensitive members of your writers’ circle) – this is their time. I’m not talking about people who don’t know anything or will just say “yeah, it’s good”, but people who are sensitive and sympathetic to the fluffy, delicate little creature the writer can be when writing that first draft. Receiving an off-hand positive comment can almost be as bad as receiving a bad critique – you’ll think “they don’t mean it”, “they’re just saying that” or “did they even read it?” A little constructive criticism together with praise of what’s working can really boost your confidence and show you where the text’s strengths lie (when you’d probably been focusing on the weaknesses!) and the minor criticism will remind you that they’re not “just being nice” and they do know what they’re talking about.

I’d love to hear anyone else’s tips for coping with the Inner Editor and writing a first draft.

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Thanks to distracting friends and sun, I’ve only finished my editing for last week on Sunday evening, so I thought I’d take a look at the process of hammering your manuscript up to standard.

A lot of writers suggest doing separate read throughts for different kinds of editing – an method I find effective.  As it’s so close to deadline (4th September!) and this is only the first part of a novel, I’m not going to be doing much of the over-arcing edit – cutting out scenes, altering the overall pace of the novel, and large changes, such as re-thinking characters, etc.  There are still plenty of read-throughs to be done, however, and I’m still looking at the pace within this first ~40,000 words.

  1. Line edit.  This is a close reading of the work, checking for typos and spelling/grammar mistakes, but also getting rid of reptition which happens a lot if you’re writing a first draft and forging on without re-reading (which is what works best for me).  At this point, I’m looking for errors and mistakes, really.  This would normally be done after that big edit as it would be a pain and potentially a waste of time to closely edit a scene or chapter which you then decide needs cutting because it doesn’t serve the plot or slows the story down, etc.
  2. My next read goes a little deeper, picking out the problems that are slightly harder to spot, such as clumsy phrasing and cliches.  This involves re-writing sentences or passages here and there, re-wording cliches and finding more interesting imagery for those tired, trite descriptions.
  3. Hack ‘n’ slash.  Not like an RPG, but more like weeding.  At this point I’m no longer distracted by the problems solved in the first two passes, so I’m trying to be brutal and cut out the flabby bits – the superfluous description (which I am prone to in a first draft) and over-writing.  For example, when walking into a new scene, pick out the interesting, important details that either give vital information or a flavour of the setting.  Don’t describe every detail and cut out those that don’t add to the sense of space.  This is hard to instruct upon, as it involves your own judgement of what’s important to your story.  This doesn’t mean leave everything in, because you wrote it in the first draft, this does mean take some time away from the first draft to get some distance and as you read, ask yourself honestly if this sentence contributes to the story, if that adjective is really important.  Adjectives and adverbs really need to justify their existence in your writing (the latter even more so).  Of course, this depends on what you’re trying to achieve and the style you’re working in – my short story, The Usher-Woman, was written in the style of Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber, therefore it’s heavy on the description and rich texture… at least, that’s what I was going for!
  4. Finally, when I’ve made all the changes I think need making, I look over other people’s comments and suggestions and look back over my own notes – sometimes I note changes for earlier chapters as I’m writing or think of something while I’m out and about.  As a consequence, I have lots of notes in random places – notebooks, my phone, scraps of paper (put safely in a folder when I get home!).  At this point, I bring all these notes together and make more changes.  Sometimes you’ll find you’ve already made a change noted elsewhere, and sometimes someone else’s comment or suggestion doesn’t fit with what you’re trying to achieve.  You don’t need to make every change someone else suggests, however, note criticisms and ask yourself if there’s a grain of truth in what they’ve said.  Other people’s questions can show you that something isn’t clear and therefore needs changing or clarification.  Evaluating critiques is a complex issue and could be a whole post in itself!
  5. OK, second finally – have another read.  I guarantee you’ll notice something else that needs changing.  At the same time, you need to know when to stop.

Now for some sewing time… maybe…

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I’ve finally got round to writing up my Master Plan of how I’m going to learn to sew, and here it is:

  1. Take up linen work trousers – practice hemming and hand-sewing (backstitch).
  2. Sew silk cuff from Sew It Up book.
  3. Make a shift from cotton lawn, using a combination of Marquise.de’s instructions and those on MaraRiley.net.
  4. Sew pair of pockets (thanks to the lovely Lithia Black and her dragonflies, I now am thinking about embroidering these – something I wasn’t originally planning to do!  It’s all her fault!).  I might go for white on the outside and something bright (to match the embroidery) on the inside as a little flash of colour at the pocket opening.  I already have the pattern for these in the Butterick Misses’ Historical Underpinnings pack I bought the other day (this pattern is in the clearance sale at the moment on Butterick’s site – make the most of it if you’re in the US!).
  5. Make my Halloween costume for this year to help me learn fitting.  I’ve decided to go for an undead/zombie Marie Antoinette as I like her pretty outfits but like to wear scary costumes for Halloween – I get the best of both worlds this way!  I think I’m going to go for the Simplicity 2832 pattern as it’s much simpler than an accurate 18th Century gown, but is still fitted on the bodice and therefore will give me that fitting experience.  Also, for a fun Halloween party, I would feel too over-dressed in a full-length gown and wouldn’t want to shell out all that money for the fabric when there’s a good chance it’ll end up with someone’s drink/fake blood down it!  I’m going to get the pattern and choose my fabrics in the next couple of weeks.
  6. Sew a kimono.  This doesn’t quite fit with the other things, but my mother and I bought the pattern and fabric a couple of years ago, but I was scared off by the bizzare, arcane symbols of the pattern, because I didn’t understand them.  With a bit more know-how and my helpful books, I’m hoping I’ll be able to work it out this time – a new dressing gown for me!
  7. Finally – the stays!  I’ve got the Butterick half-boned pattern, which I’m going to make up with heavy-duty cable ties, cotton coutil, a soft cotton lining and something pretty on the outside… Maybe some silk dupion like my cuff but in a different colour.  I’d quite like a greyish blue or silvery grey ooor a darker, more graphite grey, but I don’t think they’d have those.  I think they might have had a very 18th C pale blue, though.  Perhaps that with a deep pink cotton bias tape and as-close-to-matching-as-I-can-get ribbon to fasten…  Rather like the colours of the fashion plate I’ve posted previously.

Ann Frankland lewis - 1775 dress painting

Then I can start thinking about gowns and jackets and petticoats – oh my!  I just need some more excuses to wear them, as I’m developing quite a wish list (more on that another time).

Meanwhile, after being ill yesterday, I was well enough to go to lunch today with some friends, so the cuff had its first outing.  Here’s a pic in natural light (and hopefully a bit less blurred) of me looking with pride upon my creation ;P

Silk Cuff Luv

I am being a good girl, too – another chapter edited today – just two more for this week, then another 6 next week and Part 1 of A Thief & A Gentlewoman is all edited up!  This is A Good Thing(TM) too, as my hand-in is a fortnight today, then my Masters will be all done… It’s a little sad.

(EDITED – I forgot to cross off the things on The Master Plan that I’d completed.)

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I have been quite bad this week with my editing.  On some days there have been geniune reasons for not editing, but on others it has simply been me ‘not feeling like it’.  I get like that with writing sometimes.  I get like that with a lot of things, sometimes.

But today I sat down and edited three chapters and yesterday I did the same, and just like all those other things I don’t feel like doing, it’s much better once I’m doing it.

The moral of this story – just get on with it.  Even if you tell yourself you’re going to just do a few pages, once you get started, it’s so much easier to keep going.

Of course, I’m going to go back and tighten it some more, but I find it best with my own work to do a few reads because I know I’ll spot (and look for) different things each time.  This time I did the main thing I’d been putting off – adding some explanation and changing certain passages.

As I’d written on, I’d decided to change a couple of things – Quin’s obsession with jewellery became a more specific obssession with rings (to be explained in a later flashback) and Derry’s hair colour (obviously, that’s a much smaller change).  So I’ve just gone back to the chapters where the jewellery comes up and sorted that out.  I’m a lot happier with it and it’s actually added some fun to the scene.  The change came from discussions with the Dandy-man – initially it wasn’t clear that Quin’s thievery comes from a Robin Hood type desire to ‘rob from the rich to give to the poor’.  We chatted about how he read her character and I could see what he meant, and we worked out how a subtle change could make it work.

I’d definitely recommend having a sympathetic reader or two when you’re in the writing process and/or initial edits.  Now, by a ‘sympathetic reader’, I don’t mean one who will just tell you that you’re great.  I’m talking about someone who knows what they’re talking about, whose judgement you trust and who knows how to give constructive criticism.  I’m really lucky as I have quite a few of these to draw upon – the aforementioned Dandy and some friends from my MA.

Of course, everyone’s work needs hard pruning, but it has to come at the right time – ie, once you’ve written it.  While you’re still in that precarious place of writing the first draft, it’s too easy for your house of cards to get knocked down by a careless critique.  The danger being that you might give up on a work-in-progress that has a lot of potential because, based on criticism of a first draft, you think it’s crap.  Different people have differing levels of sensitivity, only you can say what yours is – be honest with yourself and choose your readers accordingly.

Next time – discussion of the other addition I made in today’s editing session, AKA Brevity in Fantasy (not a contradiction in terms!).

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