Just actually

Despite my promise to write new chapters on my novel, I’ve uncovered a big hole that needs filling. So I’ve gone back to edit the early chapters to fill in the base to shore it up before I keep constructing the novel on top.

These are raw first drafts I’m looking at, and it is amazing the number of times I repeat words. Some of the words are repeated in only one chapter, possibly written in one sitting (I sometimes do that) and for some reason that particular word was banging around in my head. Actually starred in five paragraphs in a row, with two mentions in one of those paragraphs – I deleted them all.

Another word, which sneaks into all my writing, from emails at work, to blog posts, to stories, is ‘just’. Nine times out of ten it is completely superfluous and has made me realise that one of the first things I should do when I complete any piece of writing is do a find and delete for ‘just’.

I know this affliction doesn’t only plague me, it features in enough ‘how to’ writing books, and stories I critique, that I know it is common to all of us. What I don’t understand is why.

Funnily enough (I took note in this edit) most of the time I preferred the second use of the repeated word over the first one. This immediately dispelled my theory that I had liked the first use of the word so much that my subconscious mind wanted to please me again.

I guess it is a quirk of the human mind to head back to the familiar. Or maybe this is more evidence of the subconscious having trouble distinguishing between what is real and imagined, as it is not sure that we did use the word the first time it proposed it. Who knows, but so far it is what is jumping out at me most from my edits.

And for reference; I have deleted five uses of the word just from this post (and no actually’s).

Page turning

I’ve always thought of writing as being split into two different areas: fiction and non-fiction. Recently I have come to realise there could just as easily be a different divide; entertaining verses experiential.

Because I like to swap between fiction and non-fiction books, I thought I was covering a fairly wide gamut of writing, it was only after I picked up two highly recommended (fiction) books in a row which I struggled to finish that it made me question what it was that I looked for in a book. All I could conclude was I like a good page turner.

Now I’m not just talking spy mysteries here, biographies, even text books can be written in an engaging way that make you want to know ‘what happens next’, or the page-turning effect. While other books can just ramble, telling us about stuff that happened, letting us experience different things, but not really foreshadowing events, or giving us the hopes and dreams of characters to be dashed or realised later in the story.

I can appreciate these rambling stories, the language if often lovely, or the historical facts interesting, or the how-to’s of the book useful, but for me, when they are presented in a way that doesn’t make me care about what happens next, I find I start to fade by page 200 and will often need a mid-book book to prop me up before I can finish off the rambler.

I know there are people out there who love to accrue facts, or just love the experience of ‘somewhere else’ that these books offer, and they can consume such texts with the idea that they will be better off for it. But I suspect more people are like me, the sheer numbers of people who ignore their instruction manuals points to this.

So maybe all I need to do to become a well-published, widely read author is work out how to turn the guide for your new smart TV into a story, where knowing how to set the auto child safety switch timer is the key to saving the world! Hmm could be something in that…

The voice in my head

I think of myself as a pretty good reader. I read often and widely, so I figured that met the criteria for a ‘good reader’, but recently I have realised that it takes a lot more than that.

I love a good writer’s festival, and after attending one I invariably end up buying at least a couple of books from authors I’ve never heard of before. Just recently I’ve finally gotten around to reading some of these books. This is how I know the voice in my head when I read is clearly not up to scratch.

When the authors read out their work the poetic sentence structure sounded musical, in my head it sounds laboured and a bit purple. The character accents sounded authentic, when read by the authors, in my head I can’t quite understand what they are saying.

Why does the writing sound so much better when read aloud than when read quietly? I’ve always been told to read my own stories aloud after writing to identify the clunky bits. So if reading aloud can identify the bad bits in the written word, why doesn’t it also identify the challenging bits in the read word?

I guess this brings us back to why two people can have such different experiences of reading the same book. It is not only our life experience, mood, and a million other things that shape our reading, it is also how the voice in our heads translates the written word into the story that we see and hear in our heads.

Typing vs longhand editing

I am not a big fan of longhand writing. For starters I’m so out of practice that my hand starts to cramp after about half a page, the other thing is that my writing is so bad now that even I struggle to read what I have written.

Yet I like to edit in longhand. Perhaps after so many years of writing groups where I have written my critiques on pages that can be easily handed back, it is now just habit. But I swear my eye picks up on things on the actual page that it glosses over on the virtual page.

The transposition of if and of, he and her, an and and, they all jump out at me like stains on a shirt when they are on the physical page, yet if I’m reading them on the screen, my unconscious brain corrects them without  my conscious brain having any idea.

Which leaves me in a bit of an annoying pickle; I am now printing off all my writing so that I can edit it on paper, but when I find a bit that I want to re-write, my handwriting struggles to keep up with my brain. I could have the computer open at the same time so I could swap between the two, but that all sounds a bit too complicated and if I have learned anything about writing, it is that you need to remove the barriers.

Now when I sit down to edit, I am not only armed with my purple pen and my reams of paper, but I also have two highlighters, one to indicate the bits that need to be re-written and the other to point out bits that conflict with earlier facts.

So the editing process is getting to be much longer, but the thing is it is turning into a process, which means it is much easier for me to get into it. I’m sure in a few years time it will get easier again, I’ll have some kind of advanced ‘paper’ which I can write on with an advanced ‘pen’ and when I’m ready to edit I’ll just plug it in and start typing.