Rip it Up and Start Again

One of things I struggle with as a writer is revising and rewriting. When I finish something, I want to move on to another project or idea. The thought of going back to a manuscript, reading through it and working out what’s wrong never appeals.

I decided to try something different with one of my finished/unfinished projects – Two Slices of Carrot Cake. Writers tend to get wedded to their own words. It’s difficult to detach. I’m editing a book at the moment for someone else and it’s easy for me to strike that red line through unnecessary text, or see what needs to be rewritten.

Some years ago, I read an interview with the writer, Elizabeth Buchan. In it, she said when she writes a book, she writes it three times. Her first attempt gives her the ‘bones’ and from there she starts again and improves the original story. I’ve decided to try this, albeit I’ll just be writing the whole thing one more time, and not two…

The Creative Stuff

Although it seems daunting, writing the story again appeals because it’s about doing the enjoyable, creative stuff again. I know the plot, I know the characters and what they are like, how they speak and I know what happens to them afterwards, seeing as I wrote another book that featured them.

I wanted to change the angle of the story slightly too. After I wrote my first book, Katie and the Deelans, I sent it to agents. It was rejected by all of them, but I was contacted by one after I’d published it through Comely Bank Publishing, who said that he liked my ‘voice’ and was I working on anything else?

When I told him I was working on Two Slices of Carrot Cake, he said I could send it to him when I’d finished it. I did, and he rejected it, saying the ‘issues’ thing in it (eating disorders) didn’t work for him, but he did like the ‘voice’ and he thought a better idea would be to concentrate on the teenage girl using multiple personalities online and the trouble that results. Keep the eating disorder, but don’t make it the main focus.

The Flow Trap

When you try to shift the focus of a story by going back to the existing document, it’s hard. Sentences, paragraphs and chapters flow in a certain way. You get caught up in that flow – if I change this, then that won’t work, etc. If you start writing again, the existing flow isn’t an issue.

I’ve started it. I’m excited about it. I’m feeling creative once more. Keep your fingers crossed for me…

The Modern-Day Super Power

And today’s challenge is… I listened to a podcast earlier, where the guest was Tim Ferris known for books such as The Four Hour Body/Working Week and others.

During the podcast, which centred on self-improvement, he quoted someone who’d come up with the line that in today’s world, if you are able to focus on one thing only for two to five hours, it’s the modern-day equivalent of a superpower.

What do you get if you focus solely on one thing for two hours, then? I’m on a mission to find out. When I write, I seldom, if ever, complete any piece of writing without doing something else at the same time.

Mostly, I’m listening to the radio. But I’m also watching the email icon, and if I get a new e-mail, I’ll come out of Word and read it. Then, I might write something and feel the need to look stuff up—whether it’s fact checking or the thesaurus as I seek an alternative to a word I keep using. Or I’ll just look up anything random that pops into my mind.

There’s one piece of work I do every week that I never manage to write without doing something else. I wander off to see if my cat wants attention, or I check on the washing hanging outside. I fold up clothes or change the sheets on my bed. As I don’t find the work inspiring at all, it’s an effort to finish it. It would be much less of an effort if I just concentrated, wrote the whole lot at once and got it over and done with.

Ah, procrastination… thine embodiment is the writer.

The radio? Switch it off. My inbox? Close the mail app. Checking things—highlight them as a reminder to verify or refine after the words have been written. Housework? It will wait.

Here goes…

 

Pic thanks to Topher McCulloch on flickr

 

A Meeting

Here’s a little flash fiction…

A Meeting

The tutor looked familiar. It took her ten seconds to remember – the sofa in her flat, ten years previously.

Did he recognise her? Hopefully not. She made sure to look at him when he talked, the way someone who has no history with another person would.

Maybe she waved her left hand about a bit too, waggling the fourth be-ringed finger. His own left hand was bare.

Nonetheless, when he said ‘good’ in response to a point she made, she glowed. At the end, she thanked him – glad that his attention was taken up by others anxious to talk.

Exes.

Book Revising & Editing – Some Tips!

Not so fast, my friend. Now, the hard work begins…

Ever heard of the ing sentence construction? It’s new to me, but once the concept had been explained, I thought, “Aha! I do that a lot. Time to stop.”

Here’s an example:

Grabbing the cheque from his boss’s hand, George ran for the door.

What, at the same time?

George grabbed the cheque from his boss’s hand and ran for the door.

Dropping ing sentence construction was one of the tips I picked up at a recent Book Revising and Editing Course I did as part of the Aye Write festival. It’s hard work rewriting and revising a book – far harder, perhaps, than writing the first draft – but that’s where the magic happens.

What did T S Eliot have to say about rewriting? “I maintain that the criticism employed by a writer on his or her own work is the most vital… and that some writers are superior to others solely because their critical faculty is superior.”

General tips for revising and rewriting include:

Check punctuation. Punctuation errors wear away the reader’s confidence in the writer and his or her abilities.

Shorter sentences and paragraphs are easier to read. As a writer, you want to make your prose as readable as possible.

The ing sentence construction. See above!

Dialogue arrangement. Generally, if a new person is speaking, put the dialogue on a new line. Make it clear who is speaking.

Read out your dialogue to check it sounds authentic.

Remove redundancies, padding and clichés. Redundancy examples include “screamed loudly”. Isn’t it enough that the person screamed? Padding includes too much description and lots of adjectives. Clichés are overused phrases, such as “cling on for dear life”.

Try to show, not tell. Angrily he put the book down. He slammed the book down on the table is better.

Other things to consider are:

  • Is there too much exposition or back story? If there is, it feels as if the story is taking place in the past. This kills the energy of the story.
  • Are points of view consistent?
  • Are there too many characters?
  • Are there any digressions or tangents that don’t tie up with the main plot?
  • Is there anything you think, “I’m not sure that works”.
  • Is there any possibility of a gap between your understanding and that of your readers?

If you can say ‘yes’ to any of the last four points, revise and rewrite.

I have plenty of material in need of revision. Having a list of issues to go through will help considerably.

 

 

Alternatives to Shaking or Nodding Heads

wordcloudWho doesn’t love a wee word cloud? I came up with this one to help myself and to help you.

Some time ago, I found an interesting discussion online about characters forever shaking or nodding their heads. “Aha!” I thought. “Me too! Yes, my characters have become flippin’ marionettes.”

Or characters from a Twilight novel. I can’t confirm that last comment as it’s a long time since I read any of the Twilight series and at the time I didn’t look out for excessive head nodding or shaking.

When you’re writing communication scenes, the first technique you use is dialogue. But if you have ever watched people communicate with each other, you soon realise the words they speak only make up a tiny part of communication.

(70 percent, I was told once.)

The rest of it is body language, tone of voice, pitch and what the eyes are doing. And yes, we all nod and shake our heads frequently.

So, how do you make your writing less repetitive? You find other ways for your characters to communicate non-verbally. Other examples include – she signalled her disagreement or agreement, he acknowledged the truth, she moved her head up and down, he moved his head from side to side, he saw that she didn’t want to accompany him…

 

 

Writing Residencies: Alone With The Voices in My Head by Jackie Copleton

Ever wondered what a writers’ retreat is like? Me too…

Author Jackie Copleton (A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding, long-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2016, a BBC Radio 2 book club pick and a Richard and Judy Book Club choice last year) kindly obliged me with this explanation…

Alone with the Voices in My Head

By Jackie Copleton

I’m just back from a two-week writing residency in rural Ireland in January, probably one not best suited to those who like the comfort of a street lamp or a café that hasn’t closed for winter. But I loved my stay at the Heinrich Böll Cottage – including all the solitary hours and one offer to marry me off to a neighbour who sold turf.

The ‘Secret’ of Writing Retreats

Jackie Copleton

The desk in the room where the Nobel prize winner Henrich Boll used to work – a bit intimidating at first!

The cottage had a fire but no internet or television and only one radio channel. By day three I already knew which presenter to avoid. Nightfall came at 5pm and unless I wanted to put on a luminescent safety jacket and walk ten-minutes in the dark to the nearest pub for human company, that radio was the only contact with the outside world. It was lonely but I wrote shedloads. I had little to do by way of an alternative. And therein may lie the ‘secret’ of a writing retreat.

The temptation to get the whip out and only write from dawn to dusk is understandable if you’ve forked out money on a tight budget for a self-funded stay and that voice in your head keeps asking, ‘Can you afford this? Is this whimsical self-indulgence? Why can’t you just write at home?’

However, a writing residency isn’t just about the words, it’s about space and time. The best lines, the plot breakthroughs, the aha moments of observations or dialogue often come when you’ve fallen in a bog or have run into an abandoned house to avoid the hail or you’re having a stand-off in the middle of the road with an annoyed looking tiny horse.

Flowing Words

wr-viewsDespite setting myself rough word targets a day, I also managed to get outside to walk, cycle and drive over Achill Island in County Mayo. I saw megalithic tombs, a deserted village, treacherous cliffs, rainbows and stars. And I suspect these spots of beauty, rather than chaining myself to a desk, were what helped me get the words out in a flow rather than a dribble.

I have no idea if what I’ve written is any good, but in a fit of enthusiasm I went from that funded solo retreat to a subsidised self-funded one with other artists at beautiful Cove Park in Argyll thinking I’ll push on and try to finish a first draft – but I’ve hit a tiny wall. I’m still writing but not in the flurry I experienced in Ireland.

As I type these words a couple wearing matching slippers are curled up on the sofa opposite me in front of a wood-burning stove at the main centre. They look the picture of domestic compatibility while my book and I appear to have had a small domestic. Our slippers are not matching but we are still talking to one another.

Noisy Distractions

That’s the thing: you can find the perfect location, a great set-up (solo or surrounded by inspiring other writers), have an action plan and the money saved but if you’re not feeling it, you might as well be at home doing the ironing or getting your tax returns completed, with Facebook, Netflix and Radio Four all providing a glorious noisy thrilling distraction until the words bubble to the surface.

However, if you get the opportunity, go for it. But remember to leave your chair at regular intervals – you’re collecting experiences not just writing about them.

dictionaryJackie’s book is available in all good book shops and from Amazon and other e-book outlets. You can keep up to date with her news on her website, jackiecopleton.com

(Top pic shows the paperback cover, while the bottom picture is the hardback.)

 

Writing Resolutions 2017

RockyWriting-wise, 2016 was a productive year for me. I finished three books, re-wrote one and started two more.

When I finished my first book three years ago, I vowed I’d never write another one. It had been a long, drawn-out process. The second one was easier and the third easier than that. I hit upon a formula. You might argue it’s not good to be formulaic, but if it helps you write who cares?

It would be nice to sell books… I accepted a long time ago that writing books was never going to make me money, but supplementing my income would be terrific. There are plenty of self-published authors out there who give out free advice on how to make money from writing – Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn and the likes. Perhaps 2017 should be the year when I start taking and following their advice?

Another resolution is to stop abandoning books when I’ve finished them. When I eventually got round to revising book number three, I ended up enjoying the exercise. I got plenty of feedback from people and it proved very useful. It improved my writing too. I got rid of the long sentences, the too-frequent use of parentheses and I cut down on modifiers. Another basic I was getting wrong was repetition. Once that’s been pointed out, however, you become almost paranoid about it. I use the online thesaurus more too.

I’d like to finish those two books I started last year. I’m a third of the way through one, but the other one needs more thought. I know what happens at the beginning and the end. The middle’s a bit tricky. Most writers probably recognise that issue. You know where you’re going – getting there is the tricky bit.

Anyway, Happy New Year! Here’s to your health and happiness in 2017.

Wattpad – Advice for Writers

wattpadDo any of you use Wattpad? Wattpad, if you’re not familiar with it, is an online storytelling community where people post stories, articles, fan fiction and more.

You create an account and upload stories via the website or the app. Wattpad has 16.9 million unique visitors every month and an average of 30 minutes spent reading. It’s an interesting experience for an author because Wattpad breaks down the information for you. The site will tell you how many reads you get and, crucially, the percentage of a chapter that is read.

Bracing stuff!

Wattpad success stories include Lily Carmine, whose book The Lost Boys clocked up an impressive 33 million reads. She eventually landed a deal with Random House UK thanks to an editor who’d read her book on Wattpad.

Standoutbooks offers the following advice for authors wanting to publish on Wattpad:

Upload a whole book, not a half-written one. If you get engagement, it’s best to make the most of it. You can’t upload chapters regularly if they’re not yet written.

Be prepared to give your book away for free. If there are only one or two chapters uploaded, this will irritate readers.

Remember it’s social media. Respond to comments. Follow other people. Use the comments to send messages to your readers, telling them of other books to come and suchlike.

Be aware of the audience. Most Wattpad users are teenagers and 20-somethings. The genres that do best on Wattpad are science fiction, young adult and fantasy.

I began to upload a story recently, uploading a chapter or two a day. My readership is very small, but it’s loyal. Unknown American readers are reading the book. They read every chapter, which is gratifying. I feel duty-bound to keep posting because they’ve done so. I plan to upload a YA/fantasy novel next, seeing as those genres seem to be the most successful.

Artists Town

kbtI’m trying a brand new project – Artists Town. If you’re about to read this, be warned: it contains swear words.

“It’s called the Artists’ Town.”

He used his special voice, the “family, listen carefully; I’m going to tell you interesting information” tone.

Daisy wondered how her mother put up with it. She’d only had to endure it for the last ten years (if you didn’t count ages 0-5 when presumably she didn’t take account of such things). Mum, on the other hand, must have listened to him drone on for the last 17 years.

Urgh.

She glanced out of the car window. The scenery hadn’t improved. Trees, fields, grass, water. Times 20. It had looked the same for the last two hours. Where were the Golden Arches, the glass-fronted towers, the railway tracks and the mass of traffic that made up her usual familiar and comforting views?

Toby, luckily for him, had fallen asleep at Carlisle. His head lolled, sometimes to the side, sometimes falling onto her shoulder. When it did that, she shrugged it off as quickly as possible.

Mum turned in her seat now, her expression concerned and probing. She hated that.

“Daisy, do you want to do a blood test love? We haven’t done one since this morning.”

We? What’s this we thing – I don’t see you stabbing your finger to get it to bleed.

“I’m fine,” she did her best to make her voice sound neutral. Too aggressive and her mum would insist she test, convinced she knew better than her daughter. Too flat, the same thing.

You couldn’t bloody win when it came to sodding blood tests. Forgive the over statement. Bloody was the most appropriate adverb.

The car had stopped outside a terraced house, its exterior displaying a sign; Vacancies. Enquire within.

“Inquire.”

“What’s that love?”

They had all exited the car, Toby shaken grumpily awake. They stood in the street, the four of them, looking up at the sign: Braemar Quality B&B.

Vacancies. Enquire within.

Quality was an optimistic description, Daisy reckoned. The place was tiny – the windows meanly small and draped with dirty looking lace curtains. One curtain twitched now and the front door (red paint, flaking) swung open.

“Aye?”

The woman crossed her arms.

“Mrs Burnett?” Her dad embarrassed her all the time. Now he was doing it again. He said Mrs Burnett like… Oooh, Missis Burrrnettt. The woman looked scornfully at him throughout.

“That’s me.” She stamped her feet on the mat, wiping them back and forth several times.

“We’re the Williamsons. We’re booked in for two nights?”

“C’mon in. You’re early.”

Daisy’s dad turned to face them and smiled widely, encouragingly. He followed Mrs Burnett into her B&B and everyone else traipsed upstairs, Mrs Burnett droning on about when they could expect breakfast and what it comprised of.

“I will do you a Scottish cooked breakfast. If you ask the night before. One sausage, one rasher of bacon, one egg, beans and toast. Otherwise, cereal and fruit.”

Daisy grimaced and then stopped abruptly. A teenage girl lounged against the wall in the hallway, her expression louche.

“Enquire/inquire?” She grinned. “You fucking snotty wee cow.”

Daisy, insulated from her own rudeness most of the time, grinned back.

“Are you the cool girl round here?”

The cool girl smirked, her mouth moving up, stopping and then tilting upwards once more.

“No.”

She leaned forward, the movement enabling her to whisper in Daisy’s ear. “You cannae be cool here. This place is a dump.”

Daisy wondered if she meant Braemar Quality B&B or the town itself.

Personally, Daisy thought “dump” could apply equally to both. The Quality B&B was no more impressive inside than it was out. It smelled of burnt toast and the hall carpet had dirty foot marks on it. Someone hadn’t wiped their feet properly. There were also lots of pictures of Scottie dogs, their cheeriness in complete contrast to their host.

And the town? Well, she’d only seen a bit of so far and none of it included a cinema, clothes shops or a McDonalds.

Cool girl said she wasn’t cool, but Daisy had an instinct for the cool girls. Mainly because she wasn’t one. How could she be – her mother hovering anxiously over her all the time? And being dragged along on family holidays at her age. Daisy wasn’t one of her school’s in-crowd.

She longed to be.

“What’s your name?”

Cool girl was back leaning against the wall, arms folded.

“What’s it tae you, posh girl?”

See, this is what cool girls did. Daisy answered questions straight, imbuing a questioner with automatic authority. And being called posh. That was the biggest insult, wasn’t it? Cool was never, ever posh.

Greatly daring, she gave cool girl the bird, pushing down on her forefinger hard to emphasise the gesture.

Cool girl grinned again.

“Katrina. Ma friends call me Kit-Kat. You can call me Katrina. And you? Lady something? Bo-peep?”

“Daisy. My friends call me Daisy. You can call me Your Royal Highness.”

Katrina laughed – the noise deep and dirty.

Mrs Burnett had reappeared at the top of the landing, her three guests peering over the banister at Katrina and Daisy.

“Kitty,” she said sharply. “You’ve no’ finished tidying up the back bedroom.”

The girl looked up and then back at Daisy, who raised her eyebrows.

“Lovely to meet you, Kitty,” emphasis on the word ‘Kitty’, the person in question responding with something only Daisy could see, a flip of the bird too,

She started up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Watching her go, Daisy admired her thin legs. She wore a printed dress, much shorter than Daisy would ever dare.

As Katrina/Kitty reached the landing, the old woman startled Daisy by ruffling the girl’s hair. “Hurry up, aye? And then you can go out.”

“Alright gran,” she responded.

So… Daisy liked building up stocks of information on people. To date – rude teenage girl, knows about inquire/enquire, name Katrina (likely), known as Kit-Kat (in her dreams), called Kitty by everyone (yup), helps at the B&B, the B&B owner is her granny.

“Come on up, Daisy!” Mum did her best not to make it sound like an order. “We’d better get all your stuff unpacked.”

Mrs Burnett looked at her first and then back at her mum. Daisy read her mind – what stuff? She’s only got a backpack on.

She contemplated flinging the rucksack up with the instruction: you unpack it then.

Best not to.

Upstairs, the décor was terrible. There were yet more Scottie dog pictures on the walls of the room she’d been allocated and several creepy china dogs on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. The wall paper print was enough to give her a headache and it clashed with the curtains and the carpet.

And, she was sharing with Toby, who’d already bagged the bed next to the window.

On the other hand, it was bigger than her room back home and it was right next to the B&B’s bathroom. Daisy usually needed to get up once or twice during the night to go to the loo. At home, this meant traipsing all the way downstairs.

Mum opened the door now. “Right, we’d better get lunch. We’re a bit later than usual. Are you okay?”

Daisy gave her the same “I’m fine” reply she’d delivered earlier – careful to avoid aggression or lethargy in her tone.

Downstairs, Dad was already telling Mrs Burnett how much he liked what he’d seen of the town so far. She looked bored.

“Mrs Burnett?” Her mum sounded anxious. “Is there somewhere near here we can get something to eat?”

Mrs Burnett glanced at the watch on her wrist and sighed.

“Aye, well you’re a wee bit late for most places. They stop serving at 2 o’clock. Try the Gordon Arms and if no’, the chippie might still be open.”

She looked offended when Daisy’s mum grimaced at the mention of the chippie.

“Well,” Daisy’s dad clapped his hands together decisively. “I’m sure we’ll find something. Thanks so much for all your help Mrs Burnett.”

Mrs Burnett was back to staring at him scornfully. Even she knew the help she had offered so far had been shit.

“Well, see you later,” she opened the front door wide and shooed them out.

As they spilled out on the street, Daisy’s dad remembered to shout back – “Where is the Gordon Arms, Mrs Burnett?”

But the door had closed. They were obviously expected to find their own way there.

 

©Emma Baird 2016

 

Picture thanks to Artists Town.