Friday, 31 December 2010
Since it’s 2010, I thought I’d share ten things I’ve learnt to do with writing, editing and publishing this year.
1. How to properly structure a manuscript. I’ve learnt the importance of keeping chapters roughly the same length, how to format dialogue and paragraphs, as well as how to include different elements in my plot. It doesn’t sound like much, but compared to my abandoned project from 2008-2009, I’ve learnt a great amount.
2. Outlining is not a restriction. Using outlines does not restrict my creativity. It organises my creativity, meaning I have a more cohesive plot and a better idea of where my novel is going before I sit down to write it. I couldn’t keep writing aimlessly without a sure heading. I don’t ever start anything without some sort of outline. My next novel has been planned so meticulously I would have cried out in horror last year – now, it’s made me even more excited to write it. I have so many scenes and ideas for it; all that’s left is to put it on the page. I can’t wait.
3. Researching and timelines will always help. No matter how much time they might take away from writing, they help make my novel seem real. I can put my own story into context, and I can be sure that my readers will be able to as well. That’s worth the time spent away from my MS.
4. Practice makes perfect. There’s been a lot of trial and error. I’ve had to write a lot of scenes to see that they needed to change. I’ve had to write manuscript upon manuscript to see how my writing needs to develop and to discover the true extent of my characters and their actions. The time I’ve spent writing has all gone towards developing my writing skills. My first drafts aren’t quite as terrible as they were at the beginning of 2010. I will always have editing to do - I know and accept this. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be just a little bit easier the more I learn from my mistakes.
5. Editing is not my enemy. Before the start of this year, I feared editing. It was a horrible point I never wanted to approach. Going into the editing cave was a terrifying experience. But it was only when I couldn’t see the light which had been blinding me outside that I realised editing is a fun experience. It is separate from writing, but it’s still an enjoyable part of the process for me. The backspace button is my friend, and editing is another part of the ride. I plan to enjoy it to the fullest.
6. Writing often wins over sleep. There have been many nights where I’ve had a to make a choice over writing and sleep, and until recently it was hard to remember a time when sleep won. I want to get to the end of the scene or chapter so I can sleep happily. A few tired nights are nothing I can’t handle. In fact, I like watching the hours tick away while I’m writing. Though I'll make sure to listen to my body when I need to sleep, I know how ridiculously fun writing into the midnight hours is won't change next year.
7. I know how to get to where I want to be. I know the process of how to get published. I'm thinking about querying, agents, editors, and the entire process all the time. Obviously, I won’t be ready to experience it this year. Maybe this time next year I won’t be repeating those words.
8. I’m no longer writing just for fun. Writing is still incredibly fun for me. But this isn’t something I'll come back to every once in a while. This is what I want to do. Someday, I want to get to the place where I can write all day and know that in the future it’ll be on the shelves for people to read. Every little bit of progress I make is working towards something now. I’m going to make every part count.
9. Time and money will come into play. I have invested a significant amount of time into my writing. I had to in order to achieve the amount I did this year. I’ve set aside so many hours for writing, editing, plotting and thinking over scenes. I’m becoming even better at managing my time to get all this done. It’s a balancing act, and right now, I’m feeling pretty steady on the tightrope. Money has also come into play in the form of reams of paper to print my MSs, printer ink, ridiculously over-priced folders, and red biros which have an awful habit of running out during my paper edits. Still, you get what you give. Any time or money I spent towards this will be given back some day.
10. How to get more involved with the writing community. I love my blog. I love Twitter. But most of all, I love speaking to all of you. Sharing our experiences, the things we’ve been through, plot ideas and our passion for writing. I’ve found so much support in the writing community which I would have never expected; it’s yet another thing which continues to motivate me. Thank you, all of you reading this right now. You have no idea how much you’ve helped.
I’d love to hear what you’ve learnt this year. I hope you all have a great new year, and I’ll see you on the other side of 2011.
Monday, 27 December 2010
Yesterday was the exception. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I was in a different mood. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel particularly creative or energetic – I wrote a short story and got a load of work done – I just didn’t feel like editing. I stared at my MS, desperately trying to edit one of my favourite scenes in the novel, all the while fighting the feeling that something wasn’t right. Eventually, I made myself shut it down and didn’t come back to it that day.
I was worried that night. I was worried something was wrong with the scene. I couldn’t quite place what, whether it was sentence structure, dialogue, overall tone ... I was stuck. I simply couldn’t place my finger on it. I stepped away from it, and after a good night’s sleep, I woke up today feeling refreshed.
All the worries that had been on my mind had disappeared. I tackled the scene easily, and I was surprised to find that everything worked. There was no problem which had been nagging at me yesterday. The only problem had been me. I wasn’t in the right mindset for editing, and because I wasn’t, any chance I had of doing a decent job went out the window. Days where I’m not in the right mindset are rare, but I have them. Writing is no exception. Some days, you can only step back from the project and hope to tackle it tomorrow.
I’ve done a lot of work today, and I know I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near this much done yesterday; it would have been an uphill struggle. Putting off editing for one day didn’t kill me. Actually, it helped. Maybe it was just my mind forcing me to get other tasks finished. Either way, I’ve had a productive few days, and I’m happy with what I’ve achieved.
Getting a fresh start can make all the difference. Whether it’s choosing sleep over writing for once, waiting a few extra days to do those revisions, or even using the new year to start another project – it can really refresh you. Some days, creativity is harder to find than others. The trick is knowing when to search for it and when it let it build for a while. Breaks are your friend, no matter how horrifying it may be to walk away for a time.
I’ve finished editing Part Two in RW, and I’m onto Part Three. It’ll be great to get the third draft underneath my belt, so I can polish it up one final time and send it to my test readers. Then I have an incredibly nervous wait with the thought of their criticisms and what they’ll think of my characters. Hopefully, I’m on the right track. Wish me luck!
Friday, 24 December 2010
The Christmas holidays mean I have a block of free time, which is unusual for me. I had been looking forward to my holidays for weeks simply because it would give me chance to sit down, finish my third draft, hopefully get more (if not all) of my side project tucked away before new year and it would allow me to get more work done.
Then came the chest infection.
I’m the type of person who likes to strive for perfection in things I care about. My writing is probably the one thing where this matters the most. I take pride in my work. So to be presented with the option of not being able to get my work done to a good standard because of my illness was an awful thought for me.
I honestly tried. I made myself sit down and do some work. In the earlier stages of my chest infection, I managed to get the entirety of Part One edited. I had hoped to get a readable draft of RW done for my test readers before January came around, and I was hopeful that I would get it done – I’d even put my side project on hold to try and focus on editing. But as I began to feel worse, it became even more of a struggle to edit. I would force myself to open up my MS on my computer, edit around a page, then become incredibly frustrated with myself when I had to shut it down and go back to bed because I was coughing so much I thought I was about to be sick. This happened quite a few times, and after every attempt I only became angrier with myself.
I’m generally a determined person. If I need to get something done, I’ll put things aside, make the time if I have to, and get it done. But these weren’t general conditions. I was ill, and by stressing myself out about not being able to write and edit, I was making things worse.
Soon I had to admit to myself I couldn’t fight this illness on my own, and that I couldn’t get anything done to a decent standard until I wasn’t as ill. After a few days on antibiotics and making myself rest up in bed, I began to feel well enough to come back to writing. It was only when I was in this better state of mind that I realised I had gone against my own rule – know your limits.
I should have had the sense to know while I was fighting an illness my usual limits of what I could and couldn’t do didn’t apply. I should have been more flexible. Another reason I was frustrated with myself was due to the bad timing of the infection. Christmas is the one time of year where it’s a given that you can relax with friends and family. Watching films in bed at Christmas isn’t something anybody would criticise me for, even without being ill. It’s a season of peace and relaxation, and here I was being furious with myself for trying to completely go against this when my body couldn’t take it in the first place.
I finally realised that this chest infection was my body’s way of telling me to slow down and take it easy for once. I never stop. Apart from my writing and the few new good friends I’ve gained this year, I’ve had a bad 2010. It was a year that went from bad to worse, and instead of looking at my chest infection as a sign that I should finally let myself breathe after running around non-stop all year, I tried even harder to push myself. In a way, I don’t blame my body for getting ill. Everybody has their limits. That it took a chest infection for me to realise what mine are isn’t something to be proud of.
That I realised eventually what they were is.
I’m feeling better now. I’m still coughing, but now it doesn’t leave me breathless, sick, or worrying I’m about to puncture a lung with the strain. I can enjoy writing again. Yesterday, I did a few chapters on my side project, and today I’ve achieved over ten thousand words. I’ll get back on track sooner or later with editing. All I’m concerned about now is getting healthier, enjoying the holiday season, and cutting myself some slack for dealing with a bad year like this and still having the determination to go on.
I hope you have a happy holidays, and if you don’t continue reading the next part of this blog, then I’ll see you all after Christmas.
Jessica Lei tagged me in the Versatile Blogger award, and seeing as I didn’t feel up to doing it when she originally posted it – no matter how much I wanted to – I thought I would do it now. To keep it short, I won’t tag anybody, but feel free to do this yourselves.
Basically, you explain seven things you want to share about yourself. Here’s mine:
1. I’m torn between which publishing path to take. I have two options. Either, I want to become an editor at a publishing house, or I want to be on the other side of it writing my own books. It’s always been my dream to publish my own novels, ever since I was a kid. But I love the thought of working with authors and watching a book do well. I want to be a part of that team, and being involved with publishing all-day every-day seems like a stressful and completely wonderful dream. I still haven’t completely decided on which route I want to take, or whether I can find some way to do both.
2. As you might have guessed from the post above, I tend to aim high. I can’t imagine settling for the average. I hate average. I always think I can push myself further and that I can be even better. I’m always striving for what I think I can achieve, and even if other people don’t understand it, I’ll keep my motivation no matter what.
3. I’ve been training in Shotokan Karate for six years now. I’m a First Dan black belt, and by the end of next year, hopefully I’ll have reached my Second Dan (which is the second level in karate. The highest you can get to in my association is Tenth Dan).
4. I overthink things far too much. In the past, I've even managed to irritate people with how much I overanalyse things. In the past year or two I’ve gotten better at not being so analytical and critical of everything I do and say. The amount of confidence I’ve gained recently has helped that. Instead, I put my efforts into thinking about less neurotic things, such as scenes and details for my novels.
5. Sometimes, I worry that I spend far too much time thinking about my characters. I love writing and my novels so much, but I can’t afford to revolve my life around it quite yet. When I’m finally at that place when I can say writing is my career, then I’ll give in to it.
6. I’ve almost written five novels this year. I worked on the majority of RW the latter part of 2009, and finished it up in February (I still remember the exact date and day I finished it). Apart from that, all my other novels have been completed this year. My side project has a very good chance of being finished before January if I continue at the pace I’m going recently. Next year I’m only going to finish my final novel in the Resistance series, then I’ll spend the year editing. I’m thrilled at both prospects.
7. It borders scary how insanely enthusiastic I am for my novels and characters. When I speak to my writing partner about my projects, I genuinely think she worries about how excited and happy I am over them. But she’s been amazing support this entire year, and I’ve never regretted confiding in her about my projects and the worlds I create in my spare time.
Those were probably longer than they were meant to be, and I probably shouldn’t have revolved them most of them around writing; I hope that tells you more about me Jessica, and everybody else who was curious to find out.
Have a great holiday, and I’ll be back soon!
Saturday, 18 December 2010
There have been so many times during editing where I’ve thought of another scene or additional information I would love to include, but because it is about my MC or separate from my MC’s story, I can’t always include it. While scenes like this can be annoying to think of – as you can’t give any context to the reader, only yourself – it is good for adding in details and as a basis for major/minor characters which may have otherwise been left out.
To treat myself after working so hard to get my second draft finished, which included a lot of rewriting, chopping and changing scenes, I’m currently writing something connected but different. It’s RW rewritten – in the perspective of another character. Not only this, but the major character whose POV I’m writing is male rather than female like my protagonist. It was an idea which kept bugging me during editing; I kept thinking of what he would think about during a certain scene or secret conversations my MC couldn’t be party to.
I thought it would be harder to write than it is. Actually, it's one of the easiest things I've ever written. Probably because I don't have to think too much about plot line - I've already created it. All I have to do is add in a few extra scenes and rewrite some conversations from his perspective, which has been incredibly fun to do. But I’ve learnt so much more about my characters this past week whilst writing. Not just the character I’m writing in – I’m writing it in first person like RW – but other minor characters I may not have focused on as much before. I can’t believe how much I’m discovering about them that I never knew! It seems crazy to only be finding this out now, seeing as my next project I want to tackle is the third and final novel in the series.
This will only make editing the second novel in the series easier. I'll have a better idea of their motivation, and I'll be more considerate to other characters' thoughts. I retweeted Therese Walsh the other day, saying ‘even at this late stage, my characters keep surprising me. I love that’. It’s true! My characters never fail to surprise me with the things they throw at me, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop being grateful for it. This is yet another thing I'm thrilled to discover.
Considering another perspective in your story can expand a novel so much. Even if this side project might never be read, it’s still going to let me express so much more of who my characters are and it’ll be easier as I know them better than before. What started as a reward has turned into an incredibly helpful writing tool. I’m not saying I’ll rewrite my first novel from my other series (I’m not even going to think about that, otherwise I’ll end up writing it!), but it will definitely be something to consider for any future editing.
I might do another post on how writing male voice has been for me instead of female soon. It came up on Jessica Lei’s blog, and I definitely have more to say on it. Any thoughts on this, or male perspective vs. female?
Monday, 13 December 2010
Keeping on track with your writing and editing makes you feel good. There’s nothing like the feeling of completing a chapter, scene or even draft – which I happened to do yesterday, hence the day late post – after working so hard to get there. You get what you give, and if you put the effort and time into it, you’ll always get it back out again in some shape or form.
No matter what works for you, there are always some general rules I try to stick by.
Work in a way which works for you. Don’t tie yourself down to a schedule you know you can’t keep, because you’ll only disappoint yourself by trying to attain something that’s impossible. If 1000 words a day is too hard, lower it to something that’s more suitable. The important thing isn’t how fast it’s written, only that it is. Sparing a few hundred words a day won’t kill you. Stressing yourself out about word count won’t kill you either, but it will get you down, and your disappointment will translate in your writing. Know your limits.
Recognise progress when it’s made. If you’ve reached something you’ve been aiming for, celebrate it! However small or insignificant, recognise that you have achieved something with the time you’ve put in, even if it’s only as small as fixing a scene that didn’t quite fit, or tackling a chapter you were terrified to attempt. Any achievement goes towards your overall goal; give yourself some credit. Treat yourself. The reward might even give you the motivation to keep going towards the next target.
Don’t regret life getting in the way. Life tends to throw us obstacles. As writers, we have to try and scale these as much as possible. Sometimes, this simply can’t happen. Things crop up which can’t be ignored, and your daily writing goal might suffer for it. Never get caught up in guilt with circumstances you cannot control. Even if you can control them, don’t ever feel bad for dealing with something which needed to be done. Balance your priorities. By all means try to write, but if you can’t, don’t beat yourself up over it. Only move on and try again tomorrow.
Finally, take pride in your achievements. You see that word document filled with words and scenes and ideas? You’ve made them all. Look back at that manuscript – no matter what state its in – and smile. It’s something to be proud of. It’s yours. No matter what happens, that will never change.
I hope these helped in some small way. I'd love to hear what your writing methods are, and how you motivate yourself to achieve them.
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Firstly, it gets your name into the real world. If you have a blog, there is officially some way other writers and other people can connect to you without knowing you personally. They can see your opinions; your tastes; your style; all without ever having to read your work or speak to you directly. You create a sense of who you are. In creative writing, this is especially good for your own skills. A reader wants to identify with a character and their personality. Blogging uses exactly the same technique, only for you personally rather than somebody you’ve created.
Secondly, you create connections. You begin to speak with other writers, gain advice from agents, editors, authors and writers you may follow about publishing and the journey towards it. Everything I know about publishing has mostly been taken from people I follow. They’ve blogged, I’ve read it, and found out more about the industry. This is invaluable for anybody trying to break into publishing, as not only do you have a chance to read about it, you can ask the blogger about it. You won’t ever get the same opportunity by reading a guide on publishing. But you have plenty of chance on the blogosphere.
Thirdly, there’s promotion and planning. If you reach the stage where your writing is being published and thrown into the world, people want a way to contact you. A high percentage of fans, agents and editors follow or write some sort of blog. Having this to connect you with them is something you can’t afford not to have. Somebody may only be looking at your blog by chance. It’s the only time you have to show your writing, speak about projects and give a sense of who you are. It’s rare, but there have been cases where agents have contacted people based on their blogs. Consider this, and realise how silly it would be not to maintain some sort of blog with this possibility.
I could go on and on about the reasons why it's important. And there are so many ways you can get connected even after you’ve created a blog.
Twitter has gained an incredible amount of popularity in the last few years. As well as members of the publishing industry, there are writers who you can relate to, and who may be going through the same process. Speaking to other people about similar processes is never a bad thing. You can bounce off each other, and create great friends in the process. Also, through accounts such as @AdviceToWriters, @WritersDigest and @PublishersWkly to name a few, you can be linked straight away to helpful articles and quotes. The list of genuinely helpful tweeters is endless. And Twitter is another way to get your name into the world.
One other way to promote yourself is through comments. While it is invaluable to read blog posts, it’s also worth your time to comment. It’s how people find each other. If you comment on somebody’s blog and a reader likes what you say, they might decide to look at your blog. If they like what they see there, you may have gained another follower, simply by commenting on somebody else’s blog. It happens all the time. I’ve found an incredible amount of bloggers through this process. Comments and discussion is a wonderful thing to take part in, as it allows subtle self-promotion without any required effort other than speaking on a topic.
All these methods are so simple, and yet they are so incredibly valuable to writers. Social networking can be the starting point to your career. In the end, publishing revolves around getting your name into the world. That is what every writer aspiring to publishing wants – an opportunity to see their name in print. Blogging and social networking is simply an extension of this. Don’t disregard or overlook it; it could become a great help in the future.
Saturday, 4 December 2010
At some point in their life, most writers will have stumbled upon a plot hole in their own work. We’re all human, and mistakes are easily made. The thing you have to master is filling them when they’re there and learning from your mistakes.
Smaller plot holes are much easier to manage. They may only require a change in wording, or a slight adaption of the setting, dialogue etc., and everything will run along smoothly. If you continuously get errors like these, problems can start occurring. Nobody wants a holey manuscript. A reader wants the novel to make sense. They want to bring a sense of realism to it, no matter if it’s set in Middle Earth or West London. If they see a gaping plot hole, they might not let it pass so quickly.
Like everything, there are exceptions to this rule. I read a hilarious blog post a few days ago about plot holes in famous films which are generally disregarded. But never fall into the trap of thinking you are the exception to the rule. No writer is ever an exception until they prove themselves to be one. And even then, don’t make it the norm. Conventions are there for a reason.
However, we then come to the other side of the spectrum: big plot holes. Holes you’ve unthinkingly woven into your manuscript with details so finite and intertwined you can’t see their flaws until you are looking at it as a whole. The best thing is to catch them quick. If you realise a plot hole whilst your writing, it’s a lot easier to go back and change it then and there so it won’t ruin the rest of the novel, rather than continuing and leaving it to editing. If you do, there may be a lot more work on your hands.
If worst comes to worst, and it’s only during editing you realise a massive plot hole, take a step back and think. Is there a solution? An exchange that could be made to replace the plot hole with something that makes sense? If there is, get out your metaphorical needle and start picking out the woven plot hole strings. Once you’ve extracted them, go back and fill in the blanks – making a note of what needs to be changed beforehand, obviously.
Then we come to the hole so big your entire MS might fall through it. If you are unlucky enough to experience this type of plot hole, take a big step back and re-evaulate. Question everything. Are you sure there is no way it can be fixed? Are you sure there is no logical solution to join one end of the plot to the other? If you are, don’t abandon ship. Anything can be salvaged – you just have to look for enough raw materials. A rewrite can be beneficial. Not only will you be able to sew up that pesky plot hole, but you’ll also be able to combat any other smaller problems you’ve found. Keep repeating the word ‘before’? Make sure you learn for the rewrite. Overuse of commas, semi-colons and one word sentences? Make sure you avoid them for the rewrite. While rewriting can be a pain, it can also have the potential to save a novel that was otherwise sinking, and refine your own writing. You have to fall down to get back up again. And if you’re entering the world of publishing, you’ll soon learn writers fall down a lot.
So the next time you come to a plot hole, no matter what size, remember to take stock and see what can be done. If you’re planning major changes, make sure to outline so you have a handle on what is being done and how everything is being solved. It keeps things much tidier, and will save a lot of trouble in the future.
Touching on the subject of falling down and rejection, Natalie Whipple has shared her story on the other side of the publishing this week, and it’s been an incredible read. If you want to read, scroll down to ‘What Happens When It IS You’ and the follow up post ‘What I’ve Learned From Being On Submission’. They’re definitely worth reading, and I'd recommend her blog to anybody.
Thursday, 2 December 2010
NaNoWriMo has officially ended! How did everybody’s NaNo’s go? I have to admit, my NaNo turned into editing RW before my December deadline. I couldn’t focus on my project whilst my mind was still caught up in thoughts of other characters and a completely different world. The change from writing to editing was something that needed to happen, and I’m glad it did – this month has been very well spent.
Like writing, I've quickly found out that struggling through editing works. An example of this is yesterday morning. I was ill enough not to go into work, and I was exhausted. But I knew if I didn’t spend some of my miraculous free time editing I would kick myself for it later. Begrudgingly, despite my illness, I turned on the computer, got out my paper edits and brought up the redrafted version. For the first few pages, it was a struggle.
I kept going to different internet tabs, made several cups of tea, ate plenty of food, and slowly worked away for a while. Then something changed. I became eager for editing. I wanted to continue; I wanted to finish the chapter and move onto the next one. By the end of the day, I had edited two and a half chapters thoroughly and hit the half way point on my computer edits. For an effort that had begun unwillingly, I was incredibly pleased with the amount I managed to get done.
Occasionally, struggling through works. You can find the motivation – you just have to be willing to look for it. So even when the next word you write is a humungous effort, or every sentence you delete weighs you down: keep going. Don’t stop. Simply try, and see where you end up.
It might be somewhere you least expected to be.
Sunday, 28 November 2010
Due to it being my first complete novel, there are a lot of plot inconsistencies and issues I’ve had to face as I have made my way through the beginning and near middle of the novel. To give you an idea of how much I’ve had to change and cut – the novel sat at a massive 140,000 words before editing. I’ve been through roughly fourteen chapters and have cut nearly 40,000 words. Surprisingly, I’ve enjoyed cutting. Everything I cut has been completely necessary to the furthering the plot and making the novel work as a whole. I created enough distance for myself in the gap between writing and editing that chipping away at all those words I laboured over isn’t a problem for me. They had to go, and it wouldn’t have been rational to try and keep them.
This weekend, I reached my first real editing block. After going through so many chapters that desperately needed cuts, I’m beginning to reach the chapters where only minor changes and cuts need to be made. But I find myself questioning everything; wanting to cut; doubting whether the scene makes logical sense in the novel anymore. Begrudgingly, I have kept some scenes. But it’s meant a lot of reworking on my part. This part is much harder than the overall cutting. It’s harder because while the material is good; it’s not good enough. During editing, it is my job to bring it up to the standard. This often means having to rewrite or add in scenes and pages of text. I’ve done so much work on it already, editing has simply become an arduous struggle.
I imagine this will become part of my editing process. My next novel in the series has substantially better material. Which means I’ll have mostly rewrites rather than cuts to deal with. I can only describe it as a double edged sword. While I love going back over my favourite scenes and polishing them, editing can become very draining. It leaves me with little energy to do other tasks and work I need to get done, simply because I’ve spent all day staring at a computer screen and cannot bear to sit there anymore. It’s exhausting. I love my novel to bits, but sometimes, I wish it didn’t need quite so much work.
The only thing I can do is continue working and try and get my second draft out of the way. Once I’ve made the major structural changes, I cannot begin to describe how much easier editing will be, especially after receiving the comments from my test readers. My main fight now is getting to that place. So while editing has been entertaining and rewarding, it has also been a challenge on my part. There are around two thirds of my novel left to edit and my self-imposed deadline is near the end of December. At the moment, I’m confident I’ll get there, especially with the free time Christmas will bring.
Wish me luck. I’m going back to fight through the muddy and murky waters of editing.
Sunday, 21 November 2010
For the first time in what seems like years, I have a million and one things on my to-be-read list. This includes Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, A Handmaiden’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, and many gritty dystopia novels I noted down from a Twitter link to the best dystopia novels of all time. Needless to say, I’m thrilled. But the novel I just finished, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, simply had to reviewed. It blew my mind. It’s on par – if not better – then 1984 by George Orwell. And that is saying something.
For anybody who’s not familiar with Atlas Shrugged (I certainly wasn’t when I picked the 1168 page book off the shelf of the classics section), it’s a political novel, bordering dystopia in that through the years of the book, we see society crumbling at the hands of the ‘moochers’ and ‘looters’ of government. The downward progression of society and the country of a whole as man loses his morals and values is skilfully done with a plot which keeps the reader hooked and passionately reading throughout. The novel itself is extremely intricate; a fact the reader can’t truly appreciate until you see the eventual outcome of the novel. It’s incredible how Rand has manipulated the plot, throwing in hints and clues of future events without the reader even registering them until the situation links back to it later. There is hardly any of the novel that isn’t relevant, an impressive achievement for a novel over a thousand pages long with size nine font.
I truly wish I could say every point in the book was relevant. Rand’s one downfall, in my opinion, comes to the crux of the novel. It’s a seventy page chapter, in which around sixty pages is uninterrupted, continuous speech. Whilst Rand’s musings and philosophy on the morals and values of man is riveting and central to the plot of the novel, it began to feel like the same points were being circulated through different language. The text was beautiful, but the reader is left with an overdone sense of anticipation for what happens after the speech, resulting in rather monotonous reading no matter how wonderful Rand’s rhetoric may be.
But this as far as I’m concerned is the book’s only real flaw. Despite my ignorant knowledge of railways, steel mills and business as a whole, Rand introduces the themes of her book with little confusion, the reader picking up on the knowledge automatically as the book progresses. You may be wondering why, if I had no knowledge of central themes of plot, did I buy the book in the first place. Simply, it was based on the sheer quality of language. It’s a rare find, to see such beautiful, captivating and lively prose, quality of which people come to expect only in poetry, which I personally do not find to be as enjoyable as fiction to read or write. However, Rand is an exception of this widely accepted rule. Even in the first few pages, the introduction of Eddie Willers and John Galt – both key, but the former nowhere near as important as the latter – as well as the state of the current world the novel is set in, there is a bittersweet beauty to it.
Atlas Shrugged is a breath of fresh air to my normal reading. It’s wonderful to see such ornately crafted prose, so delicate yet emotive to the reader. I can honestly say this is a text which changed my political and conscious outlook on life. The entire novel is a testament to Rand’s own political ideology of Objectivism, promoting high business, low sustenance based on the claim of ‘need’, and man’s own moral code, which he and his peers must live by to succeed and be truly happy in life. The ideology has been presented in a way that’s far more persuasive than any political campaign or television advertisement. If David Cameron changed the entire Conservatism ideology to Objectivism, I would be thrilled.
As well as plot, there is one more thing Rand does wonderfully – characters. The main character, somewhat surprisingly for such a business and politically centred novel, is a woman called Dagny Taggart. She, along with her brother James, runs the transcontinental railway service Taggart Transcontinental. Although it is James, often referred to simply as Taggart, who has the title of railway president, we soon learn it is Dagny who is the real brains behind the business, going from one catastrophe to another with the grace and finesse of a businesswomen who knows exactly her place in the world. Having been published in the 1940’s, Rand’s world is one which does not take kindly to businesswoman, Dagny being a rare find and a target for controversy. It is Dagny’s sheer spirit and loyalty towards the legend of her railroad and founding ancestor Nat Taggart which pulls her through the majority of the book, even as society collapses around her.
Now, let me say this. I love Dagny. I want to be Dagny. Everything about her embodies my perfect vision of a strong female protagonist; fearless, brave, confident, and totally assured of the world around her. Even when she is forced to question everything she knows about the world and society, she never loses her central character. One of the main things that disappointed me about The Hunger Games was how much of Katniss’s character was loss in the chaos. I was incredibly thankful to see none of Dagny’s character was lost as the plot developed. She was true to who she was throughout the entirety of the book. Rand either had an incredibly strong sense of Dagny’s character, or – as I suspect – is simply a very gifted and talented writer.
Dagny is by far not the only character to dazzle me in Atlas Shrugged. Every character Rand introduced had flair and individuality, but it was the main characters who I really came to love. There is a select choice of love interests for Dagny, some touched upon significantly more than others. Every time one love interest was introduced, I was sure he and Dagny would end up together by the end of the book. I fell in love with these characters, wishing for their success with Dagny, hoping for advancement in their relationship ... all to be erased when another love interest came along. This happened at least three times. Despite all my love for the previous interest, Rand turns the plot in a way that you can’t help but not hold new affinity for the next person, the circumstances in which they meet and their relationship develops too tempting a trap not to fall back into. I was devastated when Dagny moved on from who I assumed to be the main partner by the end of the book, but delighted as I read more about the new character, who eventually did end up with Dagny. Rand had twisted my emotions enough that I was satisfied with this and very content with the outcome of the novel as a whole.
Ayn Rand has what every author should aspire to achieve. Gorgeous prose. Captivating characters. Genuine emotions and a truly awe-inspiring piece. It was a book that stayed with me long after I had finished reading it, and encouraged me to buy another of Rand’s novels, The Fountainhead. She claims it is along the lines of a prologue for Atlas Shrugged, which at first worried me in case the writing style differed. I’ve only read fourteen pages and it is clear that is not the case. Rand’s prose is as eloquent and beautiful as ever. I sense an avid fan in the making.
My only real disappointment is her death. I sorely wish she was still alive, simply so I could continue to read such fantastic work. I wish every novel I read held the power Atlas Shrugged has, and someday I hope to write a novel even half as good. I can truly say she has been my best book find all year, and I’m already desperate to work through my reading list simply to go back to her novels. In my opinion, she’s achieved what every author theoretically should – to keep the reader coming back for more.
Now, I’m going to read The Fountainhead, edit, and brush up on my adjectives to find more ways to describe how brilliant I found Atlas Shrugged to be.
Friday, 12 November 2010
I found out about Wordle last year, from Scott Westerfeld's blog. Basically, you copy and paste text into the box (or link to a feed), press create and see the most common words from said text displayed in a customisable text bubble, often in different fonts and colours. Copy and paste your entire manuscript into the box. Press create. Horror ensues.
All those words you thought you could get away with, the overused little phrase represented as separately occurring words, the name you constantly refer to, the verb or adjective you have to use. Everything displayed for you to ridicule, mock, and gasp at. Helpfully, the words also vary in size. The bigger the word, the more times you've used it. See the biggest words on the page? Those are your biggest challenge.
I did this for my first manuscript, called Resisting Wonderland. I'm a few chapters into the computer edits, and picked up some awful repetitive words during the paper edits. The amount of times I've underlined or written 'repetition' above a certain word was enough to drive me insane. I'm sure I once used the world 'finally' three times. In one paragraph. How anybody could do something finally three successive times I have no idea. It's flaws like these that are the easiest to catch. Then, there are the sneaky ones. The word you overuse, but have no idea that you overuse it until bam! it's right in front of you. Another helpful feature on the Wordle site is the word count of every single word in the text. As you can imagine, it’s a long list. From the main image, words like 'I', 'the', ‘a’, 'you', 'she', etc., are all cut out, so you don't have massive 'I's crowding up your image. Just names, nouns, verbs, adjectives, and any other overused word.
My Resisting Wonderland Wordle
The biggest word on my page is Elliot. He's the love interest for my MC. His name is used 634 times. Even in a 120,000 word manuscript (though that total will be significantly reduced by the time I've finished computer edits with the cuts I'm making), that still seems excessive. His brother's name, Ash, comes up second highest with 523. Considerably less, but probably too much to be logical.
Surprisingly, 'back' is the second largest word on the page. I'm sorry, but back? Why would I ever need to use this word 565 times? I don't care that Alice often looks 'back' to the past and the way the world was before it was destroyed. It's excessive.
Other common words include 'just', 'thought', asked', 'look', 'looked', 'around', 'like' and 'get'. All words that should be used in moderation, not hundreds of times in one text. 'Finally' comes in at 98, not nearly as high as I expected. But still way too much.
Although horrifying, seeing something like this is incredible useful. I want to print it and put it on my wall to remind myself that all these words are hence to be known as evil, and allowed at the barest minimum in my MS. Curbing the habit will be hard, but knowing your mistakes will make it much easier to correct them. I'd recommend Wordle to anybody for use during NaNo, or the aftermath, when you seriously begin to think about editing. It may just save you a lot of time in the future.
Copy editors – People who fix and correct syntactical structure in your MS for fluidity
MS – Manuscript
MC – Main Character
I think I overused italics in this post ...
Saturday, 6 November 2010
There's this strange stigma I've found between the age of characters and how writers are represented. For some reason, adults that write YA are seen as trying to relive their youth, not as credible as adult fiction writers and/or can't be read by anyone other than teenagers. This stereotype has got to be one of the most degrading, wrong, and illogical things I’ve ever witnessed.
It’s degrading, because any writer that has managed to publish a book, or any work in fact, is in no way untalented or irrelevant. Writing children’s books is an art form. I have the utmost respect for any writer that writes or publishes books, regardless of their age or their readers’ age.
It’s wrong, because there is nothing that says books aimed at teenagers can’t be sophisticated and cutting edge and gripping and a whole number of other words that emphasise YA having same appeal as general fiction. The teenage years are all about discovering yourself, finding your identity, experimenting with anything and everything and growing up. Everybody has been through it, and everybody can relate to it. Whether you’re 15 or 50, everybody knows that being a teenager is no hard task. So why would having a teenage protagonist make any difference to the reader’s appreciation of a text? Some photographers say that it’s not the camera you use, but the photographer taking the picture. It’s exactly the same convention in writing. It’s not the character age or audience, it’s the writer writing about or for them.
Finally, it’s illogical. Does anybody remember Harry Potter? The Hunger Games? Who could forget Twilight, of all things? All wildly successful books, with both children and adults, which came under what branch of fiction? That’s right – YA. There is solid proof that it isn’t anything to do with the character’s involved or age as to why a book is a good read; it’s the writing contained in the text that makes it a best seller.
Another age related topic is the age of the author. Christopher Paolini wrote Eragon when he was fifteen. He finished editing and redrafting the book a year or so later, then self-published, before touring in schools, libraries and anywhere else he could find to promote the book. No author who goes to such lengths to work for their book should ever be pulled up short because of age. There was a reason it was later re-published and went on to sell over twenty million copies. Anybody who has the audacity to criticise that simply over age doesn’t deserve to criticise Paolini in the first place.
Another recent example would be sixteen year old Steph Bowe. On her blog Hey! Teenager of the Year, she explains how targeted she feels by the critics who evaluate her book on the basis of her age, rather than her talent. In publishing, there are no acceptances for age. You either have the talent to be accepted by a publisher or you don’t. Clearly, Bowe did, and has received great reviews for her novel Girl Saves Boy. Why age would even factor into that is beyond me.
So there it is. Never judge authors, writers or readers on the books they write and read. It’s irrelevant. Everybody has their tastes. Some people – like myself – love gritty dystopia. Some people crave heartbreaking romances. Some people like everything, and some people don’t. Everybody is entitled to an opinion, I get that. But how they can even dare to criticise somebody who has earned their publishing credentials fair and square (despite whatever age they or their characters may be) truly amazes and horrifies me.
Don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t judge a book by age. It’s that simple.
Now, onto a NaNo related topic.
I will admit that this week, I had a falter in my schedule. I left the house on Wednesday morning at 7:50AM. I didn’t get back until 8PM. I was exhausted, and all I wanted to do was curl up in bed for a few hours and read a book. So, that was what I did.
I could have felt awful about this. I could have forced myself to sit at the computer and get those words written, despite my eyes dropping, my fingers making mistakes every few seconds and my bed calling to me mere metres away. But surprisingly, I didn’t. And looking back on it, I know why.
That terrible flaw that made me miss my daily 2500 on my NaNo? It’s called being human. Everybody is entitled to it, including you. There are some days where you just have to take a break. And Wednesday was one of them for me. Knowing this means I won’t feel guilty over the words lost, because I know I’ll sit down tomorrow and make them up, as well as my total for this weekend and then some. Weekends are my write-a-thon days, and I have no doubt that it will get done. As long as there is something there, it’s fine to miss a day or two. Nobody but you will condemn yourself for it, and even then, you’ll be stricter than anybody else.
You are your own worst critic. Embrace it. It’s extremely useful during editing.
But learn the different between motivation and blindly struggling through something you don’t want to do. Writers block and pure exhaustion are normal. Forcing yourself to do something that will never benefit you or your health isn’t. Learn that difference. It might just get you through this November.
Monday, 1 November 2010
Many people chose to make systems in their writing. An example of this is a set word count every day, maybe with flexibilities at weekends or on certain days to match their schedule. This is both good and bad. Good, because it gives you a chance to plan how much you will theoretically get done by the end of the month, and bad, because it's horribly restricting. For first time NaNoers, I would discourage a system like this. Only because it’s harder to struggle for words when you are trying to reach a target, than when you know you're free to write however much or little you want. Freedom is a liberty, and its one first timers usually like to hold onto. This obviously isn't the hard-and-fast rule for everybody; depending on different people, they may in fact find it easier to work towards something. But generally, adding more word counts to that massive one (the seemingly impossible, allusive 50k), can be discouraging.
I myself am using the word count system, only because I know without it, I won't be strict enough in my writing habits to get it all finished before the end of the month. It only took a minute on the calculator to figure out that I needed to write 2500 words a day in order to reach 70,000 in a month (I'm aiming slightly higher than the pre-requisite), with a hundred words or so flexibility of this total. Compare this to the time it’s taking to achieve the first 2500 - I have been going back and forth to it all evening - and you will see that planning and execution are two entirely different things.
Obviously, there are exceptions here. On weekends, naturally with more time I write more. Sometimes, I get within the realms of 8000-10000 in a day. This means I'll have less to write on a particularly tricky day later in the week. But I'll still write. Never let yourself fall out of the pattern of writing during the month of NaNo. It is a luxury you can't afford. Whether you use a word count or not, you must write every day. Whether it’s a sentence, a paragraph, or a whole chapter, it doesn't matter. Just write. Write like there's no tomorrow, write even if every word is the biggest struggle of your life, write even if you're sure it’s the worst thing you've ever written. It can all be improved after NaNo. But you won't get that line to shine if you haven't written it in the first place.
I realise I've given a range of tips here, just to get you kicked off with your novel. So, in summary:
- Words counts have advantages and disadvantages. Use them wisely
- Make writing work around you. It doesn't matter whether you diverge from a schedule if you make the words up later
- Write. Write, write, write, write. Oh, and then write some more.
There will be more NaNo tips in the next few days. Feel free to tell me how your NaNo's going, I'm sure I'll be telling you the trials and tribulations of mine.
Saturday, 16 October 2010
Admittedly, I psyched myself out with editing. I told myself it was a long, awful process, filled with struggle, hardships, and long hours spent crouched over chapters. In fact, I rather like it. Editing is good in that you get to look over your previous work, laugh at it1, then fix it. It’s a given that your first draft – even zero draft – is going to be terrible. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, continuity, character flaws, dialogue, chapter length, history and science ... I’ve had trouble with them all. But you fix it. The reward is from that sense of accomplishment; fixing the work you slaved over and making it shine.
Editing is a long process. That part I was right about. At the moment, I aim for editing a chapter every day. That’s 7-8 pages of size 12 font, checking each page twice, writing comments, fixing small syntactical errors, changing structure, adding ideas and cutting. Lots of cutting. When I first started editing the pages, it took roughly one hour. But as my editing process has changed and grown, it’s nearing two hours per chapter. It is a long time to spent crouched over the paper (I have terrible eyesight), back screaming, and a million and one things left to do.
But I put aside the time. To be a writer, you have to. There’s no two ways about it. If you don’t have the time to put in, then don’t even attempt to start. Because you won’t finish. There’s another skill writers have to learn. It’s called making time. You make time whenever you can, through little snippets and caught moments. Time management is probably the biggest and greatest unaccredited skill you gain from writing. Use it wisely.
I’m very teacher-like in my editing style. I edit with a red biro because it stands out on the page and it tricks my mind into already thinking of what I need to fix. These aren’t annotations. They’re edits. And even if I’ve left my school days, this still comes back to me. Something as small as this can have a big impact in editing process.
The first thing I do when I’m editing is print it all out. That’s 250 pages strained out of the printer. Needless to say, the ink levels were next to nothing when I was finished. But trust me when I say editing on paper is the most useful editing tool to apply. There are so many flaws and mistakes that pass you by on a computer screen. It’s easy for your mind to glance over mistake and automatically fill the right words in. Don’t get caught in that trap.
I only edit the chapters on the computer when I have checked and rechecked my paper edits. And even then, the edited chapter is in no way the final draft. When I’ve finished all my computer edits and got the feedback from my test readers, I’ll probably print out the entire manuscript again. It’s a long process. But not one you should dread or avoid.
Editing is long and tiresome. But it’s also extremely rewarding. I have a massive folder for the manuscript, each chapter contained in the plastic wallets. A forty page folder containing thirty four chapters. Over half of them are edited on paper, and the other half will be complete by 24 October, if I follow my one-chapter-a-day schedule. The sheer pride I feel leafing through that folder is unbelievable. Because that manuscript in my hands? That’s my baby. My first ever novel, just waiting to get better and better. It’s mine. That’s what makes editing worthwhile. That’s what will keep me awake in the early hours, what I’ll change my schedule and make time for.
Take pride in yourself and your work. Trust me when I say you won’t regret it, even for a second.
1 I had a male character literally reference his mother spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I’m a women, and I’m sure it was late enough that I didn’t realise the sexist connotation, but I still wrote it. Needless to say, it made me laugh so much I nearly cried. The joys of editing.
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
As I'm taking a two month break from writing in the run up to NaNo, my main focus for the two months was meant to be editing my novel. Suddenly, over half of September has gone by, and until yesterday I hadn't done ANY editing. After not editing for so long, admittedly, I am finding it harder to get back into the flow of it. Especially when I have other things to do. Many distractable things that can and will do everything possible to get in the way of my editing.
Time management is a very good skill to have. At the moment, it is something that I'm lacking, my brain still holding onto the last vestiges of summer. Summer's over! and I have work to do. Once again, it comes down to balance. I can't hope to do everything I want to if I don't find some way to balance my time, and fit everything in. Life has a funny way of screwing everything up. But it's getting around this that is the real skill. Hopefully, I'll have developed my sense of time management before November. Otherwise, things really will be bad.
So while I continue my juggling/balancing/time management act, I'll be working towards my goal of a redrafted manuscript, ready for my first test reader. And another publishing related blog post. Maybe another book review.
If only time would slow down for a few seconds...
Saturday, 11 September 2010
For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. For the entirety of November, everybody is encouraged to write a novel/novelette for the month, which means 50,000 words in 30 days. I know what you're thinking. It sounds impossible. But it can be achieved. With hard work, effort, and a lot of writing, you can write a novel in a month. Or if you don't manage the 50,000, at least you have the makings of a novel to finish and redraft when you have time.
NaNoWriMo is a great experience. I only found out about NaNo a couple of years ago. Last NaNo, I had such a busy November that I could only manage 30k, and it was on a novel that was already in progress. But that was OK. Back then, I still had a lot to learn, and the month really taught me about writing. My limits. What I could do. How fun writing could be, how good it felt to have my fingers running across the keys like crazy and seeing the plot develop in such a short time frame. For that month, I lived and breathed writing. Put simply, I loved it.
That's not to say it wasn't stressful. It was. Hours spent at the laptop, watching the clock and calendar as my time ticked down, desperately trying to sort any plot holes, thinking of new scenes and creating sub-plots ... it was a massive challenge. But at the end of the month, I was extremely proud of myself, and I made a huge amount of progress, both in my writing skills and my novel. I ended up finishing that novel in January, and it became my first novel. Without NaNo, I probably would have taken a couple of months longer to finish, which meant I wouldn't have started my second novel so soon. NaNo set things in motion for me, and it will for you too.
It's not just the NaNo itself which is good. The website for NaNo has helpful articles and information in the run-up to November, the forums are a brilliant way to connect with other writers and participators in the event and have information on publishing, rewrites, plots, life after NaNo, literally everything you could need. Even if you aren't participating in NaNo I'd recommend it, you'd be hard pressed to get such a wide and informative forum anywhere else. It's a fantastic way to relate to other writers of any age. Nobody is exempt from NaNo, and you don't have to limit yourself to 50,000 words. Set your own target! You don't even have to write a novel. A script. Non-fiction. Memoir. Anything you want. It's your month, and you can do with it what you will.
This year, I'm aiming high. 70,000 words in one month. I have my plot, I have my characters, and I have an outline. All I have to do is fill in the blanks between the main points in my outline, then write the novel. And obviously, lot of redrafting. Writing in such a rush does not prompt the most coherent pages. But that can all be fixed later.
Personally, I'm excited for this year’s NaNo. I have a great idea, something I've wanted to put on paper (or computer) for a while now, but until now I haven't had the time or schedule to do so. I'm also taking a break from heavy duty writing for the next two months until NaNo, so I'm looking forward to get into the part of writing I love - writing itself. Rewrites can always come later. Plus, it'll be good to think that somehow this year I've accomplished five novels. Obviously, the main body of a couple of them were done last year. But I finished them this year. The first drafts are completely done, and I've even completed one of my series, which I'm thrilled about. But finishing first drafts means in no way that I'm done. I have a ton of editing to do, which I'll probably get to next year. I had my writing fun this year. 2011 will be a year for growth. But more on that in another post.
I hope you do participate in NaNo this year. It's such a great experience, even if you don't 'win', and it'll help a lot. Oh, and despite the stress, it is incredibly fun. Check out the forums too, they really do have good advice and help.
Wednesday, 1 September 2010
For me personally, it's the 3/4 mark. I'm deep enough into the story that I know exactly where the plot is going, but sometimes it's hard to hash it all out in outlines. Or I'm close to the finish line, but not enough to sprint into the home run. Always, with every novel I write, I get stuck at this point. It's horrible to go from writing so much, to struggling to even write a page. Like running in mud, I just slow down. But this can be good. It gives me time to really consider what's going to happen, and see how exactly everything will play out. Being at the climax of the novel, it's much better to sort out little details here so you don't have to change everything later than go storming ahead with an incomprehensible climax to revise later.
The one thing that keeps me going during this stuck-in-the-mud phase is knowing how close I am to the end. Once I get past the mud, and get to what I call 'the home straight', my finger are flying across the page. I write, and write, and write, because I want to get to that end. If I had any sense, I'd draw out the process so I don't have to go back and fix silly grammar and punctuation mistakes later because I was writing so fast. But I just can't help it. Knowing that I can finally finish the novel I've been working on for long is irresistible. As well as this, the fast paced action usually keeps me writing at a fast pace. The deadlines I set myself help too.
Some people struggle with beginnings. While beginnings do unsettle me first, I quickly get into the pace of the story. But some people find it impossible to write beginnings, and I understand why. You have so many ideas circulating for the novel, but where to start? The one thing that helps with beginnings is knowing that they're not set in stone. When you come back to revise a novel, you might find you've started in the wrong place. In one of my novels, I had to cut out two whole chapters at the start to get to where the story should have started. But that's OK. Once you have a whole draft, it's much easier to go back and see where a story should start, or adapt the beginning you already have. Think of a beginning as temporary, in no way the be-all-end-all of your novel. It's a start, and that's what counts.
Middles can be hard for some people as well. You're far enough into the story that you want to carry on, but the ending is so far away, it seems impossible to ever get there. While there may be action happening, and the plot developing, it's not fast-paced enough to keep you writing, writing, writing. If you find this happening, don’t just struggle through it. If the story isn't interesting enough for you to want to write it, then it's not going to be interesting enough to read. So do something crazy. Throw in a gunman. A murder. An old flame. Anything to stir up some more drama and action, that will keep you motivated to get through the middle and towards the end. You might find it makes the story better in the long run.
Finally, endings can be troublesome. Just how can you wrap everything up in a way that satisfies both yourself and the reader? It's hard to see an end to all that work, even if you know the work isn't really over. First drafts are completely malleable after all. But the writing stage is always something special, to me at least. It's understandable to want to cling on to it for as long as possible. But all good things come to an end, and you have to trust that better things are on the horizon. When looking at the end, things like timelines and outlines really come in handy. You can see the direction of the plot, and this can help you establish just how to end the story. Remember to be true to your characters, and yourself. Don't make an ending fit that isn't right. You'll feel much better if you know you've ended the novel right than if it sits uncomfortably in your plot. Even if it takes that little bit longer to find.
Every person's style is different, and you can find hurdles all throughout your novel. The thing to remember is that when you get past them, you'll be heading towards something great. You will get there in the end. It just takes a little bit of determination, motivation, and work. Actually, a lot of work. But the results are always worth it.
Saturday, 28 August 2010
I'm not telling you this to put you down, or to dishearten you, or to swear off writing forever. I'm telling you this so that you know what to expect when you go to revise your fresh new novel and realise its nothing like a normal book should be. Here's why.
As you go, there are a lot of things you learn about; writing, your voice, characters, and what works for you. During the process, things start changing which you can't really control. You might find that the beginning seems to be a much better quality than the end. This is because of progress. Finding your footing in writing can be an exhausting experience, but it's something that will make you a better writer. You just have to get there first. So yeah, the paragraphs might be all over the place, the dialogue may not fit with the character anymore and there might be more plot changes and sudden decisions than you can keep up with. But you're learning. And that's what first novels are all about.
I'm not saying this will take away from the impact of finishing your first draft. Finishing a novel is one of the happiest experiences in the world. To finish that final sentence of the manuscript, scrolling up and down the Word document and realise that every word belongs to you. Every part of it was made my you.
I finished my third novel around about a month ago, and there were still tears in my eyes when I thought, 'I did it'. If I'm going to be honest, even when I'm redrafting some of previous work, I realise it's terrible. That there are continuity issues and awkward phrasing and the character dialogue isn't right ... but sometimes, I still get teary eyed. Because no matter how awful parts of it are, I'm proud of every single word on that page. That single feeling is what keeps me motivated. One day, when you've finished that dream first novel, it'll motivate you too.
Another bonus - everything can be redrafted. A first draft really means nothing in a way of an end product. During redrafting I find myself scrapping whole paragraphs and editing sentences, changing little parts of the plot and twisting things so they work. But I'm OK with this, because I know that I'm not deleting hard work and effort. I'm polishing it until it's perfect.
So yes, your first novel may suck. But writing is a learned practise. The more you write and edit, the better you become. You've just got to trust that behind that scramble of words and dialogue is something with the potential to be shine.
Thursday, 26 August 2010
Nobody could argue that Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins was one (if not the) most hotly tipped book of the summer. In the past two years, the Hunger Games has boasted an incredible fan base, and this looks to become even bigger if the film of the first book is put in the works. I bought Mockingjay yesterday from Waterstones Picadilly, and finished it yesterday feeling ... kind of unsatisfied, if I'm honest.
With the increase in fanbase, it was inevitable that Mockingjay would be built up to be something amazing. The previous books have been incredible, fast paced, unpredictable, with very realistic and lifelike characters, as well as a brilliant narrator, Katniss Everdeen. Suzanne Collins sucks you into the story and plotline, while still managing to keep everything real. And with such a huge build up to the final climax of the trilogy, it was only natural that people went in expecting something astounding, myself included. The only thing I can really compare it to is what happened to Stephenie Meyer's Breaking Dawn in 2008. People expected everything from it, and came out the other end feeling disappointed and upset that the series hadn't come to a conclusion they wanted. I read Breaking Dawn when it came out, after following the series for a while, and luckily I was not one of these people. Maybe that's why I didn't think to hold back my expectations for Mockingjay.
Let me explain why I didn't feel completely satisfied with Mockingjay. From the very start, there was something off about Katniss's voice in this book. Though the same elements of her character were there, it just seemed to lack the continuity of the other books. This is understandable, what with the strain and horror of everything that has happened to Katniss, it's only logical that she should change as a character. But in my opinion, the change was too big. The main character that people fell in love with during the first two books - strong, independent, fierce, a survivor - completely fell through the cracks here. By the end of the book, Collins presented us with a drug-addicted, depressed and frankly, ruined version of Katniss. Once again I understand that the impact of everything that happened in Mockingjay, and the build up to it would alter her character. But it didn't feel right to me, how much Katniss changed and altered from her previous personality. Like Collins was trying to keep with reality so much, she lost a sense of the real character.
Another thing I didn't like about the book was the pace. In both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the pace has been one of the best things about it. There was never a dull or boring moment, and everything flowed easily. They were page turners, right from the start. But in Mockingkjay, the pace was completely different, and it suffered for it. In the beginning, I have to say the pace was incredibly slow. It starts of a few months after the bombing of District 12, with Katniss narrating what happened to the District, and how District 13 became their home, as well as their part in the Quarter Quell. (I have some issues with this as well, but I'll get to that later). But in the first hundred pages or so, while Katniss is making the decision to become the Mockingjay, a task we already knew she would take on, the book drags. It is as lifeless as Katniss, and had I been reading this book without being invested in the series, I probably would have stopped. The book should have started when Katniss became the Mockingjay. I don't particularly understand why there was any build up for this, because that was what she accepted in the arena, when she shot the arrow into the forcefield. That there was a rebellion, and that she was the face of it. Katniss, the girl on fire. Even with all the emotional trauma, what was the point in delaying this?
On the other end of the scale, still speaking about pace, we have the climax of the novel, when they are in the Capitol. Here, the pace moves to fast. Way too fast. Main characters are dying left, right and centre, in a way that seems sloppily done by Collins. Finnick, a character who has become central in Mockingjay, dies abruptly. One moment he's there, the next he's being eaten by Mutts. But it just seems like with this, Collins is trying too hard to play on the reader's emotions. The death of Rue in The Hunger Games was extremely well executed. But the death of Finnick? Not even close. Everything is moving so fast, it's hard to take in, and even if this is the reality of the battle, it just seems like Finnick is one more person to add to Katniss's death count. A non-entity.
After this, the pace was so fast I almost couldn't keep up. One minute they're in the underground, the next they're on the street. I was sitting there reading thinking, 'wait, where is this taking place? Where are they?' because I honestly didn't know. Maybe that was my fault as a reader. Being pulled along by the fast pace meant I was reading quickly. I could have skimmed some details accidently, or not let the words sink in, so that might be my fault. I'm planning on reading the entire series again soon, so then I could see where I was wrong. But one of the things that really confused me while reading the climax was the end. How did Prim end up with the Capitol children? This isn't really explained even after this, which is irritating, seeing as Prim was another central character who died abruptly. No time or care was taken to consider this death, and even in Katniss's aftermath she seems empty about his. Then it skips to Katniss being in a hospital bed. I'm sorry, but what just happened? There wasn't even a line break to show this. Just a tab break, and suddenly Katniss is in hospital, the entire climax scene is over, and oh yeah, Prim's dead. Too much time was wasted in the build up, and too little in the execution for the war itself. There wasn't balance, and as I result, I didn't feel satisfied.
One final thing was the epilogue. I've known for a long time that the series was going in this direction, Katniss ending up with Peeta. In a way, it was inevitable, and despite the character development Gale has in this book, he's never presented as a real contender. Just a distraction. Which, if we look at the amount of time agonising over this in the previous books, doesn't give Gale much credit at all. Then it seems since the war, he’s not featured in Katniss’s life at all, which doesn’t seem like Gale. He would want to be in Katniss’s life, even if it wasn’t as her partner. Like the rest of the book, the ending is far too abrupt. Katniss falls in love with Peeta, they have children, the end. This just didn't sit well with me. After all the time and effort Collins has spent to create this story and world, you would think more would have been put into its final conclusion. But there's not, and the reader is left feeling disillusioned and incomplete, just as I did when I shut the book. I thought to myself, 'is that it?' I guess so.
There are good points to this book. I disliked Coin immediately, and Collins presented her in a way that she was a real contender for Snow, something I didn't think was possible. I liked the twist at the end, where Katniss has been manipulated again, because it encompasses everything about the series - Katniss will always be used as a piece in their games. Until Katniss has her own revenge on Coin, that cycle wouldn't have broken. Also, I liked that Finnick was brought into more detail, seeing as he'd been something of a question mark in Catching Fire. One more thing Collins did well was answer questions, about Snow, the blood and roses, District 13, and Haymitch. The only thing that troubled me about District 13 was how different it was, compared to what we were lead to believe in the previous books. I didn't expect the resistance there to be like what it was, so while my questions about the District were answered, I felt slightly disappointed it wasn't what I expected. But again, that was my fault.
I don't mean to criticise Collins with this. At all. She's done a fabulous job in creating characters, a world, and a concept that people truly care about. After The Hunger Games, the nature of things like reality TV and what people will and won't do for power rests on a lot of people's minds, and it is definitely a series that makes you think. The characters are very real as well, I just wish they'd had a better end.
Sorry for this little rant about Mockingjay. I've got a few more writing and publishing related blog posts planned, so stay tuned!
Tuesday, 24 August 2010
Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld
I'll admit I much prefer the UK covers for this series (though they've been redesigned now, something I wasn't happy about). The first thing that drew me to these books was the covers. I'd never heard anything about Scott Westerfeld or the Uglies series before, but it was the controversial covers that drew me to the books. This series prompted me to become an avid follower of Westerfeld.
Nobody can deny that these covers make a statement. Broken Barbies in the surgical bowl. The image itself is simplistic, but instantly it grabs you. In a way, this is pretty macabre, with the unattached limbs in a bowl. But it's the doll plastic that makes it less of a horrifying image, and more of a thought-provoking one. It draws the audience in, and if you know the book, it's a pretty well thought representation. The rest of the covers for this series were fantastic as well, each one not only making a statement about the book itself but intriguing the audience. It's just one example of how a cover can gain readers, and even a future fan.
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Again, another book where I personally prefer the UK covers. This cover is absolutely beautiful. I love everything about it; the colour scheme, the tree branches, the falling leaves and title font. The cover is very aesthetically pleasing, and definitely appeals to its target audience. I would be ecstatic if I published a book with a cover anywhere near as gorgeous as this. Like the Uglies series, the image actually tells us about the book. The forest setting is relevant, as most of the drama and action in the book revolves around the woods, and the dripping blood used in the font tells us there's an aspect of danger in the book, which are the wolves in Mercy Falls. Its sequel Linger is equally fantastic, and I think the Scholastic cover and art department did an amazing job on this.
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
This cover tells us a lot about the book itself. Teenagers in parts, ready to be assembled. Because it’s such a recognisable image of an assembly pack, Shusterman is allowed to draw the reader into the horror of the book without the cover doing all the work, but still being incorporated into this. The colour scheme is pretty good as well, the white on metallic blue is very striking, and visually pleasing. Another small detail to note is that the art department have paid attention to the book itself. On the cover, one girl and two boy’s heads are displayed. Unwind revolves around the journey of one girl called Risa, and two boys called Connor and Levi.
This is actually a very rare thing in the publishing industry. It’s common for a cover to be completely irrelevant or inaccurate, even going as far as whitewashing characters. Take what happened to Liar by Justine Larbalestier. Her character was not Caucasian. This was clearly described in the books, yet her publishers used a white model for the first cover of Liar. Due to the controversy and backlash, they were forced to change this to a more accurate representation. But it just shows how far publishers will misrepresent books in covers to sell.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
It's such a simple design, but I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it. The parchment paper tells us that the story itself is old. The image tells us about the main character Lisiel, and that she is a teenage girl. It also shows her main struggle through-out the book - she is dancing with death. It's the contrast between the two images, the pretty girl and the disturbing skeleton, that tells the reader there is something more to this book, and that in itself gets the reader to reading. And at the end of the day, isn't that one of main functions of a cover?
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Many people would argue with this and say that the cover was boring, irrelevant to the book, and plain. But what many people don't want to see is how iconic this image is. With the massive rise in popularity of the Twilight Saga, there are not many people now who could see the image of the apple in the hands and not know what it was referring to. This single cover has been copied by so many other books, replicated to try and attract the same audience.
I was angry to see Graceling by Kristin Cashore had a cover design which replicated the font and black background of Twilight. The cover quote advertises the book as '[Cashore] will slake the thirst of Twilight fans'. I can say right now that Graceling is nothing like Twilight. At all. The fact that it has been pigeonholed into something it’s not to try and gain readers honestly horrifies me. But do you know why? Because that cover image sells. Twilight sells. So while it may be degrading to incredible writers like Kristin Cashore, you can't argue that the cover art for Twilight has become something iconic and recognisable, a statement even. That's why it works.
The main points mentioned here are:
- Makes a statement
- Draws the reader in
That is what makes a good cover. Another thing that is interesting to note is that all those books are popular. While you may not have heard of some of them, all the books featured do have a big fan base. So maybe there is a link between how far an art department will work to make an effective cover, and the potential of the book. Publishers want to make their book sell, and good covers can do this, so it might not be so coincidental. It's still interesting to consider though :)
*Sorry about the size of some of the pictures, I couldn't get them smaller.
Sunday, 15 August 2010
A novel needs balance. It can't be too weighty on character, description or plot, otherwise things start to get complicated. Unless you are a proclaimed literary genius (Charles Dickens for description, J.D. Salinger for character etc.), there is no way you will get away with this. Also, things like plot holes, grammar flaws and general messiness in your manuscript are a lot easier to spot than genuine talent.
Balance is also key as a writer. Writing is tiring. Coming up with the right words, the correct scene, best dialogue and making a novel flow is hard work, and you have to know the difference between 'if I keep writing I'll get through this' and 'if I keep writing all I'll end up with is babble'. While it can be motivating to set yourself a deadline, it can also be restrictive. Putting things like deadlines and targets on writing can hinder you, and it can be even more frustrating when you don't meet them.
Keeping balance between these things is hard, but if you do, your writing will be a lot better for it. Sometimes it's easy to keep this balance, and sometimes it's the hardest thing in the world. You've just got to know your limits, and always have the determination to be better. I don't know how I would write without them.
Friday, 13 August 2010
I needed editing supplies, which meant getting three pocket folders, post-its, subject dividers, and a ream of paper. So I needed to get all of that, and get it back home without my roomates - who I was shopping with - noticing that I'd bought it all. A pretty hard task, right? It involved splitting up with everybody, running from Ryman Stationary to Tescos and back, and carrying around a 500 sheet pack of paper for two hours, as well as everything else. I literally had cuts on my hands from carrying the heavy plastic bag around, because the handle kept cutting into my hands. Ow.
I printed off a lot of chapters for my editing work, and though I've printed off 100+ pages, it's only over a quater of the actual novel. I had to print all the chapters while said roomates were out or busy, so they didn't stumble onto me printing lots of pages of writing. And now, we don't have much paper. So to keep suspicion down - I hardly ever print anything - I can't bring up the fact that there is low paper, or low ink. Now, I've got to wait for somebody else to discover this and buy a new cartridge before printing new chapters. I would buy the ink myself, but not only do I have no idea how to put it in the printer, but after a big London shopping trip, editing supplies and new haircut, I have no money.
Keeping the secret is hard, expensive work. But I hold onto the hope that it will all be worth it in the end. If seeing the finished product is anywhere near as emotional as finishing a first draft, I'll deifnitely have a good return.
Tuesday, 10 August 2010
Truth be told, I'm scared of the Revision Cave. And I'm about to enter it.
Due to my insane amount of writing, and procrastination of revison, I will soon have four first draft novels to revise. All of these novels are 100,000+ words, and its going to take a long time to revise them all. Yesterday, I decided that I had to stop being scared of the Revision Cave, and actually enter it sometime soon. I'm going to finish the fourth first draft by the end of summer (maybe sooner), and after that, I'm doing no more writing until the NaNoWriMo in November. I'm effectively banning myself to the Revision Cave for over two months. And while it's going to be hard, it'll be good for me. I'm starting some new courses and resuming my job, and other things in September (I'm on a break at the moment), so things will get busy. There will be less time to write, though I'll make time for it when November comes. And I'm in dire need of revisions.
I actually started doing some editing today. Usually, I hate it. When I'm trying to revise things on the computer, it's harder to see the flaws. So today I took the initiative to print some chapters out from the first novel I'm redrafting, and I couldn't believe what a difference it made. It was so much easier to see the flaws! I now have a whole chapter filled with red pen, scrawled with changes and instructions and things to add and take away, and while it is a little bit of a mess, its the first real progress I've made revision wise in a long time. And the most surprising thing ... I enjoyed it. Maybe the Revision Cave won't be so bad, or maybe it's because I'm only starting to crawl into it.
Wish me luck. It's going to be a long journey...
Monday, 9 August 2010
- There's an enter and tab button for a reason. Bad formatting will make hell for revisions. There was a very, very old manuscript attempt that I wanted to try and salvage, and found it almost impossible to read. Put simply, it was all over the place. I thank dearly whatever possessed me to learn to use these buttons before I started my first real novel.
- Do not abuse commas, or semi-colons, or regular colons, or any other punctuation you may be fond of using. They are precious things, and do not like to be abused. It makes your writing another nightmare to revise, when you're automatically pausing because of a comma or semi-colon every five seconds. The same goes for words you have a habit of repeating.
- Make every chapter roughly the same size, especially first time writers. Things start to get a little silly when one chapter lasts for ten pages when another lasts for five, simply because you couldn't be bothered to finish it and wanted to move onto something else.
- Contents pages make the world of good. So do timelines. And outlines. I'd be lost without these things now, and if you ever want to be organised, keep them.
- Be prepared to waver from an outline sometimes. Characters have an annoying habit of springing things on you out of nowhere. They love to disrupt scenes and plots with their crazy actions, and resisting this will only make it worse. Characters don't do this to hurt you, they do it to make your story better. When they are alive, even if it does disrupt things, it is better than a character who always bends to your will. But don't let your characters own you, it's your novel after all. Be prepared to chnage things. Most of the time (if not all), it works out for the better.
- Don't be afraid to chop and change. To cut whole sentences and paragraphs (and if it is as disasterous as the pre-first novel, whole chapters) as you are redrafting. Less is more. Quality not quantity. They might be old sayings, but in writing, they are usually right.
- Never revolve a novel around word count. At the end of the day, word count - for first drafts especially - is meaningless. When redrafting, you will almost always end up with a lower word count than when you started. There are guidelines, of course, if you are thinking about the publishing market. 60,000-80,000 words for a Young Adult novel. 80,000-120,000 (though even that is pushing it), for an Adult novel. But there are always exceptions, so don't let word count dictate you, or your novel.
- You're only human. If something isn't working, don't blindly push on, just because you're too stubborn to change it or take a break. You will only end up with more redrafting to do, and nobody wants more redrafting.
- And finally, be proud of your work. (Hopefully no blood), sweat and tears went into your novel. Nothing worth having is ever gained easily. It is hard. And it takes a lot of motivation, determination, time and effort to create a new world, new characters and novel, so don't be ashamed of what you've created. It's beautiful, even if it hasn't had enough redrafting to make it shine.
None of what I said should be taken extremely. What works for one person may not work for another, and everybody is different. This is only what I've learned personally, and I hope it helps.