The End of an Edit

Laugh at me if you like but I don’t mind admitting that when I reached the final page of THE BIG EDIT (TBE), I felt a bit emotional. If it hadn’t been a school night, I would’ve popped a celebratory cork (any excuse, I know).

download (2)It feels like I’ve been working on TBE for a looong time! In reality, I started the process last September and seven months later I’ve finally finished. In the course of TBE, I somehow managed to increase the word count by almost 20k. This wasn’t a conscious decision to pad out the story, it was simply the realisation that there were gaps all over the place and certain scenes were under-written. My writing can be dialogue heavy and I often forget that a bit more description is required to create a sense of place. So by darning a few holes here and there, the total word count is now 102k.

This is the third novel I’ve written and I’ve used an entirely different approach – the freefall method. I’ve blogged before about the pros and cons of the freefall method and the main negative is that TBE has taken much much longer than I’d have liked as my first draft was rougher than rough with hunners of typos, plot inconsistences, repetitive words and phrases – pretty guff in fact.  No wonder it’s taken me forever to reach page 364!

imagesI also used a new process for TBE. This time, I printed off the manuscript as I find it easier to spot mistakes on paper than on the screen. Picturing myself as Miss Jean Brodie, I unleashed my red pen until most pages had suffered a bloodbath of ink. I did the paper edit a few pages at a time and then read these pages aloud. Hearing the rhythm of the words really helped spot clunky phrases before I made any changes on screen. It was a three part process – edit on paper, edit aloud, edit on screen.

Hopefully TBE will have been worth all the time and effort and it means that I can now take the next step. After a few more minor tweaks (there’s always a better word, phrase…) I need to take a deep breath and send it to my two beta readers – both willing victims close friends. I’ve asked my colleague Anne Glennie, a literacy expert and writer Karen Campbell, my unofficial mentor to cast their critical eyes over my manuscript and offer their initial thoughts. I know from previous experience that they will give me honest feedback and not just tell me what I want to hear. There’s no point in asking your pal to massage your ego when you need a genuine critique although I hope they’re not too harsh…

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What’s your editing process? Do you use trusted beta readers to give you initial feedback?

 

 

 

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My Writing Process Blog Tour

Blog-TourI was flattered to receive an invitation from writer Catherine Noble to take part in a series of blog posts where writers nominate others to answer four key questions about their writing process. I ‘know’ Catherine via Twitter and hope to meet her one day in real life too – by the tone of her blog I’m sure we’re on the same wave length.

Some of my answers are things I’ve talked about in previous posts so regular readers (the blog stats reveal this figure is not in the hunners but there are a few of you out there!) might have read it all before and prefer to skip this post, hopefully I’ll see you on the other side. For those diehards or new followers, here are my answers to the questions passed on by Catherine…

1) What am I working on? 

I’m working on my third novel – you could describe me as determined or delusional but I’m definitely not a quitter. My first attempt was really just a personal challenge to see if I could actually go the distance and complete a full length novel. I had never written fiction before, not even short stories and I’m sure if I had the guts to read it now, I’d cringe. It has a DNR order firmly attached to it and its final resting place is in a ‘vintage’ style suitcase (can’t beat Matalan for a bargain in home décor). I got help with the writing (not my fantasies of being published) and went on two Arvon courses, left a permanent job to go to uni to do an MLitt so you’d think novel no.2 would be better. You’d be right; it got within a bawhair (a recognised unit of measurement in the west of Scotland) of being published and was shortlisted in Hookline Book’s competition for writing graduates. The rejections hurt but of course a whiff of success (and short stories being published) made me believe that I could write and helped to keep the dream alive.

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So, third time lucky eh? I love to think that this is THE ONE. I feel my ‘voice’ has developed over the years and because the novel is set in 1985, in the same town I grew up in, I hope the fiction has an authenticity the others lacked. It’s a coming-of-age novel about a teenage friendship and how the dynamics of their relationship has lifelong consequences.

 

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’d class my writing as Scottish contemporary fiction. Novel no.3 deals with gritty themes such as sectarianism and yet it still has lots of black humour in it (at least I hope it’s funny!) I admire writers such as Kerry Hudson and Damian Barr who have also tackled hard-hitting issues but still make room in their writing for lighter moments. That’s what I’m aiming for, and in that sense, my writing style is similar (if I’m gallus enough to compare myself to established writers) but obviously as they are my words, my ideas and my voice, then it has to be different – it’s my story, whatever genre label that’s slapped on it.

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3) Why do I write what I do? 

I write the type of book I want to read. I admire authors such as Jackie Kay, Janice Galloway, Anne Donovan, to name but a few, I could go on but you get the idea, they are writers of Scottish contemporary fiction who bring the world I know alive and help me understand it better. I want to do the same, give a voice to Scottish working class characters that don’t often feature in fiction.

4) How does my writing process work?

The initial ideas for novel no.3 came from an assignment I did during my MLitt course. The brief was to write an A to Z on any topic – I’m no expert on anything but myself so I wrote about my childhood. The exercise triggered ideas to expand the piece into something more substantial and before I knew it, no.3 had legs and ran off the page using the ‘freefall’ method. It’s a technique I’d never tried before and helped get the words down and the story out without constantly self-censoring each and every paragraph. The downside is that the editing process has taken much longer than I expected as the initial draft was so rough. I’ve hacked away at the words and tried my best to buff them into something worth sharing – if not, there’s room in the Matalan suitcase and no.1 and 2. would enjoy the company…

T-shirt pic 2This is the closest you’ll see me get to athletics by passing the virtual ‘baton’ to writer Paul Cuddihy to write the next blog post. One of my good pals is the sister-in-law of Paul and I’ve been to two of his book launches – both great evenings where Paul entertained the crowd with words and music. He’s a talented guy whose post will no doubt show off his wit and vibrant personality. Here’s a wee bit about him…

Paul Cuddihy read a lot of books in 2013 and then wrote all about his year of falling in love with literature again in a book called ‘Read All About It’, which is published on Amazon as a paperback and eBook. He’s also written a trilogy of historical fiction novels, as well as a couple of football books. He believes that subtle product placement is the key to book promotion.

Does your writing process sound similar to mine? Has anyone else helped you develop your writing process or have you improved through trial and error?

 

 

The Highs and Lows of my Writing Year

1473055_612428212125677_1989818867_nIt’s been an interesting year as far as my writing goes with a couple real yippee moments but also a few harsh kicks in the teeth. I’d hoped that 2013 would be my year and all those hours locked away with my laptop wouldn’t have been better spent watching The Great British Bake Off (at least I might have been able to eat the results of my hard work).

I started 2013 raring to go on my 3rd novel and for the first time I used the ‘freefall’ method. This has its good and bad points with the main bonus being that you quickly get the story down on paper (or screen in my case) so it’s great for keeping up momentum BUT when you finish and begin editing there’s a LOT of work to be done. I naively believed that I’d be able to finish editing by the end of the year but no matter how much I wanted to reach my goal,  I soon realised that my target was unachievable if I wanted to give it my best effort. Patience is a virtue which I don’t possess, I want to get it out there and also I’m keen to develop ideas I’ve had for my next novel (ask any writer, there’s always a next one…).

ups-downs-in-life-278x278Of course, I WILL finish editing at some point (hopefully early in 2014) but annoyingly it’s taken a lot longer than I’d like. Because I’ve dedicated my time to the novel, I decided to put writing short stories on hold this year. However, I submitted a story I wrote a while ago and was chuffed to bits to have it published in Gutter magazine. That was no2 in my top highlights of the year as I’d been unsuccessful in my previous submission and to have a piece in Gutter is to be in prestigious writing company.

Midsummer, it felt like it was all happening! The no1 high of my writing year had to be making the shortlist of the Hookline Novel Competition.  I was skipping round my bedroom singing The Only Way is Up (takes me back to hearing Yazz played on a constant loop in Kavos in 1988). It was an anxious wait to see if my last novel would be selected by book groups to be published by Hookline but unfortunately the bubble burst. I didn’t make it so it was a bittersweet high that became the no2 low of my writing year.

And the no1 low? Being unsuccessful in my application for the Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers Award, making the shortlist might have taken the edge off the disappointment but that didn’t happen either. The standard knock-back states that, “due to the high volume of applications we are unable to give individual feedback.” This is frustrating because this was my second attempt and I’m none the wiser as to how I could improve my chances next time.

imagesAnd will there be a next time? If the truth be told that despite positive experiences with Hookline, Gutter, Paragraph Planet and inspiration from seeing other wannabe writers succeed, I’m at an all-time low as far as my hope of achieving a career as a writer. I first blogged about my writing journey in 2011 when I began my MLitt course but I was on the long and winding route years before uni. I’d already been on two Arvon courses, written three novels, had a handful of stories published and yet although I’ve made progress, I’m wondering if being a published novelist will ever happen. What’s a girl (okay, forty something woman) to do???

When the latest rejection hit home there was a lot of, “Why am I bothering?” moans and groans. It’s not easy to constantly bounce back and keep telling yourself (and try to convince family and friends that you’re not delusional) that it’ll happen one day and maybe this latest novel is the ONE.

It took my hubby to point out that I was always writing the novel for me, for pleasure, not to win an award, a competition or even get published. The man talks sense. Seeking external approval is not why I started writing in the first place and it’s why I’ll keep going, no matter how many knock-backs 2014 brings…

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Writing Techniques – Are you the Hare or the Tortoise?

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If ever there was a dreich autumn night it was Thursday. It was one of those nights where you just wanted to coorie in with a good book and light the stove. But thanks to the Edinburgh Reads programme, I had tickets to see Jane Harris at the Central Library in Edinburgh so I peeled myself off the couch to take the train east.

download (2)I also dragged my hubby along for company and he did question whether it was worth braving the weather when the tickets were free. Couldn’t I just content myself with reading the book and stay cosy? Well no, because chances like this to see a writer you admire don’t happen every week so up went the brolly and off we trotted. And I’m so glad we did. I’ve followed Jane on Twitter for some time and found her tweets to be witty and interesting and she didn’t disappoint in person. If anything I was even more in awe of her talent to entertain as she had the audience in stitches with her banter.

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The stunning domed ceiling of the Central Library but it didn’t hold my attention once the event started.

Often at readings, I find it hard to concentrate on long passages and my mind wanders. Not this time as Jane’s skill at accents turned this into a performance rather than a reading. I’m currently halfway through her first novel, The Observations and Jane really brought the voice of Bessy to life.

I don’t normally read historical fiction as I prefer contemporary fiction but I kept hearing recommendations that Jane’s other Victorian novel, Gillespie and I was a fantastic book. Based on these rave reviews and the setting of Glasgow which appealed to my love of the city I decided to give it a go. The book is a dark tale with a disturbing psychological plot and a great read as you wonder about the motivations of the complex character of Harriet, the unreliable narrator.

download (1)downloadHearing Jane’s inspiration for memorable characters like Bessy and Harriet was fascinating but the best bit of the event for me was the Q and A session. This is always a great insight into a writer’s techniques and it was interesting to learn that Jane uses the complete opposite to the Freefall technique which I’ve been recommending others try since completing the first draft of my novel. Jane reads her work aloud as she writes it and finds it difficult to take off her ‘editor’s hat’ as she writes and won’t progress with the story until she’s absolutely satisfied with each and every sentence. Her meticulous attention to detail and extensive research means that Jane doesn’t churn out novels year after year. But then again, with such layered plots and well-drawn characters it’s easy to see why it would be impossible to mass produce work of this quality.

There is no right and wrong way to write a novel and I’m still experimenting with techniques. Which technique works best for you? Slow and steady wins the race or spontaneous freestyle to reach the finishing line?

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Birth of a Book

After nine months of tapping away on my laptop, I’ve done it! I’ve finally typed ‘the end’ and completed a first draft of my novel.  Woo hoo!

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It’s a girl! I’ve not finalised the name yet but I’m delighted to announce that I’ve given birth to a book. She weighed in at a healthy 87k words, 310 pages long and I’m pleased to report that mother and baby are doing well.

But a first (VERY rough) draft is only the beginning, not ‘the end’ of the journey so I’m trying not to get too hyper (although it was still a good excuse to pop a cork). I know now from experience that there’s still a LOT of work to be done. It’s still a ‘work in progress’ and will be for quite some time…

imagesThis is the third time that I’ve written a novel but it’s the first time I’ve used the ‘freefall’ technique. My verdict? It’s definitely the best method I’ve ever tried so far. The idea is that instead of beating myself up about getting every word right and every sentence perfectly constructed, I gave myself permission to let the story flow out, without fear, without checking for typos, without any inhibitions. This meant that I didn’t get bogged down in one particular section and was able to keep the momentum going.

images (2)The freefall method is all about being creative but now it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty of the text and start the editing process. This is the point where I have to be ruthless with my red pen.

I know before I start to reread the draft that there will be chunks of text where I’ll cringe at the first draft howlers where I’ve made mistakes and simply written a load of guff. But hopefully there will be enough raw material to polish into something shiny and worth showing…

How did you feel when you finished your first draft? What’re your best editing tips?

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Should You Publish and Be Damned?

imagesIs it possible to use material from your own life in your writing and still be on good terms with your family and friends? That’s the question I’ve been mulling over this last week.

download (2)In my current WIP, I have used threads of real scenarios from my own teenage years to stitch together and create a fictional story. The key word in that last sentence is ‘fictional’.

images (1)But after successfully using the ‘freefall’ method and going with the flow, suddenly I stopped in my tracks to consider whether I should be using factual memories for the sake of creating a juicy piece of fiction.

Is there ever a case for writing whatever you like without worrying about the effect on others? But if you start to self-censor, where do you stop? Does the writing become so toned down that it lacks power?

downloaddownload (1)I can hide behind the label ‘fiction’ and “the names have been changed to protect the innocent” get-out clause. But how do the writers of memoirs and autobiographies cope with the knowledge that their version of the ‘truth’ might not be palatable for their nearest and dearest? I recently watched an excellent documentary in the BBC One Imagine series, ‘Jeanette Winterson: My Monster and Me’ where the renowned author talks about the cathartic process of writing about her difficult relationship with her mother.  After the publication of ‘Oranges are Not the Only Fruit’, a semi-autobiographical account of Jeanette’s troubled childhood, her mother said to her,  “It’s the first time I’ve had to order a book in a false name.”

Is the answer to publish and be damned and simply to advise anyone who feels they might recognise scenes from your writing not to read it?  Or at the very least, remind those in your life that it’s fiction, not fact? I think it’s a tricky situation of getting the balance right and telling a good story but without crossing a line of confidentiality.

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Have you ever fallen out with family and friends over something you’ve written? Do you self-censor your writing to avoid upsetting anyone in your personal life?

Freefall Writing

imagesAlthough I think of myself as a creative person, I’m also a self-confessed control freak who likes order, routine and structure. That’s why it felt good this week when I hit my first milestone in my current WIP. Getting to 20k words is quarter way through an average 80k word novel so I already feel that I’ve bitten off a decent chunk of the story.

Even when I was writing full-time during my MLitt course, I’ve never written as much in a matter of weeks.  I believe that the main reason why I’ve been so productive is that for the first time ever, I’m following a writing technique known as ‘Freefall Writing’.

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I didn’t realise that there was a label for my new approach until I read a blog post by Sandra Jensen on the Mslexia website and it described the way I’ve been writing recently. Sandra writes about her experience of Freefall which was originated by W.O. Mitchell and developed further by Barbara Turner-Vesselago.

Freefall writing is defined as, “a method some writers discover spontaneously, but many have to (re)earn : the technique of writing from the larger Self beyond reach of the ego and its censors” and is likened to writing without a parachute.

This is a very different style from my usual method of revising as I go along but it often means that I get so caught up in fine tuning every sentence, that the momentum of the storytelling dies. When I decided to start a new novel, I was apprehensive that the plot wouldn’t be strong enough, the characters would be too dull, the themes would be too weak…, you get the picture.

images (3)And then I stopped beating myself up and decided to write without worrying about getting it right on every level. It’s a FIRST draft so I have to lighten up and write freely, without the fear of failing.

I’m convinced that’s why the words are flowing. I know eventually I’ll resort to my default perfectionist setting when I get to the end and accept that the WIP needs edited. But right now I’m learning to let go. The polishing process can come later…

Have you tried Freefall writing? Would this approach work for you or do you constantly edit as you write?

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