Sunday, 28 November 2010

Editing Struggle

Last weekend, and the majority of today, has mostly been spent editing my first novel. It’s beginning to become an uphill struggle.

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

Atlas Shrugged Review

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


We all have it. That word, phrase, name, expression ... things we use repetitively in our writing; things we mostly don't even notice doing; things we reach for instinctively as soon as we hit a creative block. Nobody is exempt from this, but once you know exactly what words and phrases you're overusing, it can be a lot easier to curb the habit. Copy editors can be a great help in this. But for people like myself, who have neither the drafted manuscript or the courage (yet!) to acquire a publisher and copy editor, java scripts like Wordle are an amazing tool.

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

Age and Guilt

Today is my birthday! I'm not going to reveal the absurdity of my age, instead I'm writing about a more relevant topic - character and reader age.

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


Is here! The first day of NaNo has arrived, and around the world thousands of writers are embarking on that one month struggle to write a novel - and surrendering any hope of sanity for thirty days as they do.

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.