Okay, so I’m assuming you want to be a novelist. Obviously if you love the short form or you write screenplays then this doesn’t apply to you. But if you are a novelist, then there is nothing that makes you feel more like an author than getting to the “The End” bit of a novel.
I’ve done it four times, and it is such a rush. The first three times I cried my eyes out when I finished. Not because bad stuff necessarily happened at the end, but just because it was the end. My time with those characters was over. They were now in the world, able to stand on their own feet and they didn’t need me anymore.
At least that’s how it feels at the time. Pretty soon they become like annoying family members who keep dropping around as you go through the editing process and watch the same scenes over and over again. Tweaking, re-tweaking and then totally re-writing.
When I tell people I write it is amazing how many of them say they too want to write. They then start telling me about the great idea they have for a novel. It’s incredible how many of them have not actually written a word of this novel. And that is, ultimately, what the difference is between a writer and a non-writer. Writers write, and get things finished.
Incidentally I think the only reason I didn’t cry on the last novel was because I knew it hadn’t worked, so it wasn’t really finished . That’s the novel I’m currently editing (very heavily). This time around I have connected with the characters so much more, so I’m confident there will be tears when I get to the end. Hopefully in the next fortnight or so.
This week I wrote about 15,000 words… about a form. Half of that was technical support information. The other half was a step by step user and administrator guide. There was no twist at the end, no edge or your seat horror, and it had a rather Hollywood end where everyone finishes with… a completed form.
Putting the red arrows and green ticks on the print-screens was the most exciting bit about writing the manual. I don’t think anyone will be uploading it to their kindle for late-night reading. To be honest, I’ll be surprised if anyone else actually reads it from start to finish. Even I found myself glossing over bits. I should have secreted away an offer of a chocolate frog just to see if anyone came to claim it (I have done that in a user guide once and it took over a year for anyone to spot it).
A lot of people have suggested to me that I should try to get a gig as a technical writer so I can write each day. After this week I realise, for me, that would be a really bad idea. When I got home each night, the last thing I wanted to do was sit in front of a computer. So I’ve been doing paper edits instead while lying on the lounge. It was the least typing-version of writing I could come up with while still progressing my novel.
Building a form is fun. I get to layer logical rules over the top of each other to see if I can make the form work. It’s like playing a game. Writing about form is boring. So I’m going to stop saying that I want to be a writer, what I really mean is I want to be an author. This week taught me that they are NOT the same thing.
I know I’ve mentioned before that it amazes me how stories seem to pull themselves together when you write them, as if they already exist in their entirety and when you write them you are just uncovering what is already there. Well it happened again while editing this week.
In my re-read a couple of months ago I identified a question that was raised in the story and never answered. At first I thought it was too complicated to sort it all out so I was getting ready to cut all the bits that related to raising the question. Then, while laying in bed on Tuesday night, the answer came to me. More amazingly, the novel already had all the foreshadowing required to insert it.
The communal unconscious which (I’m sure) gifts us all these stories knew exactly what was happening and why the characters were doing what they were doing. It took me over a year to figure it out. I am stunned at how many hints were already placed in the book, hints I had no idea I was leaving. They just seemed right when the characters were living that part of the book.
So the edit to answer the question amounted to less than a half-chapter of re-writes for something that I think really contributes to the story. It is so addictive this story writing caper. I can’t believe everyone isn’t doing it.
In my opinion, there is nothing exciting about editing. It doesn’t drive me to the computer like new words. New words are like a wave that you catch and ride and you have no idea how far or how long you are riding until you collapse on the shore at the end, exhausted. Editing is like wading through mud. Well that’s how it is for me.
To make things even more tedious I found a time glitch in my novel. It is a Were-story, so the full moon is pretty important, and I realised the date (which I never mention) has a full moon happening on a Friday when it can’t happen. I need my people to be people on that Friday night, not Weres. I was writing the story with the calendar up behind me, so I thought I had it covered, but I must have misread it. That’s what editing is for; double-checking everything and finding all the places where you got it wrong.
So two hours of research later I had new dates that would fit and keep my Friday human-only. Two hours of research that probably didn’t really need to happen because I never mention the date anyway, but I would KNOW that I had it wrong. Editing won’t let you keep going if you know you have something wrong. Editing nags a bit.
The up side is that editing does not require you to be overly motivated, this is red-pen work after all, so you can force yourself to do it in small snippets or large chunks, whatever time you can spare. For me I can stop mid-paragraph if I need to, so it means I’ll get it finished in the timeframe I set if I can keep forcing myself to sit down and do it.
The problem is I am getting a bit sick of being muddy, I’m keen to ride another wave.
I know many will disagree, but I think good editing can turn nearly anyone into a good writer. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to edit your work if you want to present your story in the best light possible. I just wish I didn’t hate doing it so much.
I’m editing the pantser novel at the moment, and just by the very nature of pantsing there is a lot of editing required. I have to insert foreshadowing, play up character traits to help make secondary characters more recognisable, sometimes insert them into scenes where they previously weren’t present and generally cut out any questions that were raised in the novel that I never went on to answer.
It is hard work.
It will be interesting to see how much longer it takes to edit the pantser novel compared with editing my more traditional planned novels, which generally just needed a prose tidy-up. I think what I am seeing now is the compromise that comes from the much faster pantser writing process. It is almost enough to put me off trying it again. Almost.
I know I have only recently written about habits in writing, but I want to give you my own recent example. With my pantsing novel I got into the habit of booking non-negotiable writing times, and that was non-negotiable with friends, family and me.
As much as I wanted to jump straight into the edit when I finished the first draft on the Friday night, I knew that to do it justice, I should let the novel rest for as long as possible. With the deadline I’m trying to hit looming, I set that rest time to be two days (but I’d normally recommend at least a month).
At first I was excited waking up on Saturday morning, knowing I had given myself the weekend off. My writing time on Saturday is normally 12-4 in the afternoon. I was getting antsy at 10:30 and I was sitting at the computer by 1pm. I wrote the novel summary and some related content. It was such a relief to be back at my desk.
On the Sunday I was determined not to write any novel-related content, I was to have the day off. That lasted until just after lunch as well. While I haven’t written anything to do with the novel I have just written all my blog posts for the month of August. Again, it feels like a huge relief to be writing.
I love that my writing times are now a part of my weekly schedule, and I will keep them going. I also am really glad that I have all my August posts written because I have just one little month to do all the editing of the entire novel. Wish me luck!
I’ve been thinking about my first novel a lot recently because I’ve had some ideas about how to improve it, but it would require a total re-write. That would be the fourth re-write and the tenth edit. I really don’t think I’m up for it.
I was talking to a friend about her first novel and she said that it was put in the bottom draw and will never surface again. She has not laboured over it improving it as she improves her craft. Then she said something that resonated with me; we never see the rehearsals of a play, we only ever see the final performance. She sees her first novel as one of her rehearsals.
If I was to start writing my first novel from scratch I would do it completely differently, changing both the structure and story, but then it wouldn’t be recognisable as my first novel anymore. When I look at the first novel I see so many ‘mistakes’ of story writing in there, even if I do still like the story.
So I think it is time to put it in the bottom drawer and move on. There are too many other novels in me to keep going back to my rehearsal. It is time to get onto opening night.
The Australian Horror Writers Association Short Story winners have just been announced – and I’ve got an honourable mention for my short story ‘Glow’. I am so excited that I’m almost shaking!
I started this story three times. I finally finished the first draft in March and two days later put it through my Adelaide writers group. There were problems with the story. I re-wrote it, re-wrote it and re-wrote it. Finally I subbed it to the competition nearly a whole week before the closing date (I was determined NOT to be the final entry as I normally am). By now I both loved and hated this story.
Then I got the news that there had been a record number of entries. There were nearly double the number of what they had received last year. My heart dropped. This story had been banging about inside my head for four years, why did I pick this year to give it life?
Of course you know the punch line, so I won’t labour the point, but I do have to give a massive thank you to Lilliana, Sam and Margot from my writers group for their fantastic feedback. I thought the story was finished and they all explained to me the many reasons why it wasn’t. It was a much better story after I added and cut what they suggested, and this honourable mention is proof of that.
For all of you out there who think a writers group will crush your creativity or box you into a style that is not yours, I want to say that’s rubbish. You have been going to the wrong writers groups. I’ve been a part of two so far and they have both taught me so much. I am a better writer because of them.
There is a format of writing know as the unreliable narrator. This is where the character taking you through the story is lying to you, but you don’t know it. For example, they may talk about how wonderful person X is and can’t understand why someone would murder them, then the punch line of the story is that they are the one who murdered person X.
Generally this style annoys me (though when pulled off well it can be excellent), and the only way I can relate it back to real life is those friends (and we all have them) who exaggerate their stories and sometimes get confused about what they imagined and what actually happened. And let’s face it, we know they do this so we don’t put a lot of stock in their tales anyway.
But then I realised we do all have an unreliable narrator who we cannot trust; ourselves.
I recently wrote a story and tried to edit it within 24 hours of finishing due to a writing group deadline. The edit was a waste of time. The story looked like a mess to me. I couldn’t see enough good bits to exorcise the bad bits. Yesterday I edited it again. There were lots of good bits, yes there were also lots of opportunities for improvement, but it was not the total write-off that my first edit indicated.
Then I was talking to a friend who was saying how much she hated her novel right now, and instantly I went ‘oh, you’re up to that bit’ –because it is so common for writers to hate their story at some stage, usually closer to the end than the beginning. It is our unreliable narrator kicking in and telling us stuff is crap when it is not.
I’m sure this same narrator tells us we are stupid, fat, ugly etc. and we believe it. If only it was so easy to recognise our exaggerating, lying self in real life as it is when it comes to editing. I guess we do have the benefit of writers groups to tell us that it is not crap (and honestly tell us when it is), but our friends and family are probably a little less reliable when we check in with them about if we really are being stupid.
I’m working on a kids book at the moment, aimed at the 6-8 year old market. This area straddles the bracket between picture books and chapter books, but the books are not so long that parents can’t sit and read them to their kids. Because of this I had to make sure it sounded okay when read aloud.
I have heard that a lot of published writers go through an out loud edit, even for their adult books, and several people in my writers groups said they do the same thing for their adult stories. I had never seen it as being necessary before, and have always done all my editing and critiquing by reading in my head. But for the kids book I thought I’d better be more thorough as it might get read out loud.
Wow, what a surprise. Something my brain was happy to read, I was amazed to discover my mouth would stumble over. I didn’t realise how similar some words sound when read aloud, how twisty sentences can be when they don’t have a break in the middle. My red pen edit (the out loud edit) is by far the most prominent on the page. I slashed whole sections and simplified ruthlessly.
I think I need to do this for all my stories. As mad as I feel reading out loud when no one is listening but me, I think it does help you to see your sentences much better. The brain can be very forgiving, but the tongue doesn’t have the same level of tolerance, so I’m going to utilise that a bit more.