Revision blues

I have revision blues. I was so excited about starting to revise my WIP but I still have no real understanding of how to go about it, and when I can’t do something it makes me sad. Not very helpful or grown up, I know. If my daughter said such a thing to me I’d tell her it just takes practice and it’s okay to ask for help. She’s three. It’s okay not to know how to do something when you’re three!

I like to think it’s the impossible deadline (combined with a killer cold) that has sucked my motivation, but that’s just an excuse. I’m good at excuses. If I’m honest (in a way you can only really be with yourself at 1am) the difficulty with revision is that it exposes how little I truly know about writing.

I hate being a novice.

I nearly sobbed in rowing today because the coach was telling me I was doing it all wrong. It was only my fourth lesson but I’d done so well the week before it was crushing to be told I was rubbish. No one is more critical of me than me and I get extremely frustrated at myself if I can’t do something. To the point that – like my stroppy three-year-old – I stomp my foot, yell “Can’t do it!” and chuck whatever item I’m holding across the room. (Did I mention I’m more of a child than she is sometimes?)

I read another instructive blog by Kristen Lamb this week, this one was about structure and how it separates the beginners from the professional writers. I confess I didn’t completely understand the blog which probably puts me firmly in the not about to be published anytime soon camp! I do at least own the Plot and Structure book she quotes from: I just need to read it.

So, as well as trying to polish a first draft in an impossible six weeks, just in case I’m shortlisted for the Mslexia award, I’m trying to learn how to write and how to revise all at the same time. It’s no wonder I’ve picked up Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom again. I’m already on Drowned Wednesday. I may not know much about scene and sequel or Goal – Conflict – Disaster but when it comes to displacement activity I’m a master.

The one positive I’ve had so far is discovering a useful revision summary by KittyB78. It doesn’t tell me how to revise but it does give some things to look for, such as scene flow and characterisation. I like the idea of highlighting different parts, like dialogue, internal thought, characterisation, in different colours. There are also some other great revision tips in the comments.

My biggest challenge this year might be resisting the urge to do NaNoWriMo again. I love it and several of my (unfinished) novels were born in November. However the last thing I need right now is another first draft to nag at me and distract me from actually finalising one of my existing manuscripts. Kristen Lamb is always talking about writers being distracted by the next new shiny.

That’s me!

Writing first drafts is so easy compared with revision and yet seems more like Writer work, so I don’t feel guilty for being unemployed as I do most days. If only they could do a revision equivalent of NaNoWriMo, to help and motivate you to beat a Nano first draft into shape. Now that I’d sign up to!

Anyway I think my darling son is finally asleep, despite the tap-taping of my mobile phone and the eerie sight of me up-lit in the darkness, so it’s back to bed for me. I haven’t revised more than a page in a week so must get a good day in tomorrow.

May the muse be ever in your favour.

Renewing my love affair with dragons (and editing)

Still from Stefen Fangmeier’s 2006 film Eragon.
Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Allstar

I find myself in the unprecedented position that I am itching to start editing my work in progress, Dragon Wraiths.

Usually I only enjoy the writing part and approach revision and editing much as I would a trip to the dentist. This time, though, I am having to force myself to finish the four or five chapters in the final section before I start taking it all apart. Thankfully I decided on a structure of nine 3,000-word-ish chapters per section (although I have added a whole extra section in my usual scope-creep), otherwise I would take the easy way out and decide the first draft is done already.

For most of my novels I am aware that I have underplayed the climax because I ran out of steam, or ideas, or a new book lured me away. So I am determined to battle through my battle scenes before I let myself review the whole and start drawing out the themes.

This time I think my last-chapters-lethargy is caused by things other than exhaustion or boredom (although with an average word count of 10,000 a day on the two days a week I get to write, exhaustion of ideas is definitely a factor. Hence no blog posts for a couple of weeks – all out of words!)

Firstly I’ve already closed out the love story and written the final scene. A mistake, but an unavoidable one. The final scene presented itself while I was walking the dog (see next post) and I never look gift words in the mouth. As a result I have written the bit of the story I’m interested in and skimmed over the same parts I often skim-read, namely the battle scenes.

The other problems are more positive. I am nervous, elated and excited about this book. It feels good. I have ideas about themes, character development, setting and so on that I want to build on during revision. All the wonderful blogs I read have clearly had an influence and I am eager to put them into practice.

I have also been reading some excellent and varied middle grade and young adult books about dragons, including Eragon by Christopher Paolini (written when he was fifteen!) and The Dragon’s Eye by Dugald A. Steer. These were complemented by an interesting blog post from 2009 that I discovered when searching for an image for this post: Dragons in Literature by Imogen Russell Williams, adding yet another great blog writer to my growing list.

As well as my eagerness to get going on revision I am also conscious of my deadlines. I am writing this book to enter in two Children’s Novel competitions, with deadlines of 10th September and end October. Clearly there is not enough time to revise properly so I need to get started as soon as I can or face a difficult decision: Whether to forget the competitions and focus on finishing the novel to the best of my ability or do a rush job (including reducing word count from 110k to 80k) and hope for the best.

What are your views on dragons in literature?

Have you ever had to rush revision to hit a deadline? All advice gratefully received. 

This interview with Christopher Paolini contains some great advice for writers.

Beta Readers

Apologies for my silence, to those of you who are kind enough to follow my novel writing exploits. As well as drying out my soggy soul in sunny Italy for a few days, I have spent weeks immersed in major editing of my WIP Pictures of Love.

It seems the nearer I get to pressing save on my final draft, before sending it to my lovely beta readers, the more I feel compelled to rewrite the whole bloomin’ thing from the first page.

I understand the need for my novel to be the best it can be before going out into the world at large. But how polished does it need to be for beta readers? I mean, what if I spend hours filling in all the extra bits of back-story for a secondary character only to be told she adds nothing to the plot?

Or – my biggest fear, certainly in my academic days – what if I remove something, only to have someone suggest it’s exactly the thing that is missing for them? Do I take out the long words – as has been suggested – when I know most of my readers will understand and expect them? Most importantly, do I take out the sex?

I have one sex scene, right at the beginning, to show my main character’s relationship is based only on lust. There is no more sex after that, well none shown explicitly. What if I set the expectation that it’s an erotic novel when it’s nothing of the sort?

Sigh.

I knew writing novels was going to be hard but, like parenting, it’s hard in all different places to the ones I expected.

Making the goal visible: Self-Publishing, Book Covers and the Blurb

Proposed book cover for my WIP

I’ve read a few blogs recently on the topics of self-publishing, designing your own book cover and writing your book blurb.

It got me thinking.

Maybe what I need, to help me get to the end of my final revisions, is a nice visual goal. So I’ve wasted several days of precious writing time pulling together a book cover for either paper print or e-book publishing.

 I haven’t actually decided yet whether I am going to go down the self-publishing route or continue with the plan of applying to agents. I admit I still tend towards the latter, for two very important reasons.

1. I cannot afford to hire a professional editor, and I am terrified of publishing something full of grammatical or typing errors.

2. I am rubbish at self-promotion. I have set up various ventures in the past, all of which required me to sell my talents, and I know already that I’d rather pull out my own teeth.

I could add a third barrier, but it is one that should be surmountable, if I can get enough enthusiasm to do it, and that is the need to fill the gaping hole in my knowledge about social media. From everything I have read, promoting your book on social media sites and building up a following are both essential if you want to sell your book to more than family and friends. I can just about negotiate my way around Facebook, but even that is a challenge. I’m far too young to be such a Luddite, but there you are. I need the kids to grow a bit, so they can teach their old mum a few tricks!

I cannot describe how many hours it took me to find a photograph that encapsulated what I wanted to say about my novel. I wanted to catch the eye, to make sense of the title, but not give anything away about the plot. (I hate spoilers.) And I wanted to be able to afford it. The first image I fell in love with was about £80 for the size I needed, in case I have it printed. This one, thankfully, was considerably less. Thank you www.dreamstime.com

If you are interested in creating your own book cover, Keri Peardon has some very useful lessons on her blog: http://keripeardon.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/how-to-make-your-own-book-cover-lesson-5/. I use Photoshop Elements (currently on a free 30-day trial which would be plenty for getting your book cover done).

As for the blurb, I’m sure I will do a few more re-writes before I’m happy. It’s not an easy thing, getting someone interested in your story without giving any key plot points away (did I mention, I hate spoilers?) 

There has been an interesting discussion on blurb agony over on Keri Peardon’s fab blog. Definitely worth a look.

Anyway, diversionary activity over, time to get back to editing, with my lovely new book cover to inspire me (if I can just resist the urge to tweak the colours, layout, font, text, images….)

Other great links:

http://keripeardon.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/7-reasons-why-e-books-are-great/

http://catherineryanhoward.com/self-printing-home/self-printing-posts/ (Catherine is currently offering her book on self-publishing – The Best of Catherine – Caffeinatedfree on www.amazon.co.uk. Go check it out.)

Maybe I’m not lazy after all

Edit Ruthlessly

I think I’ve discovered my problem with editing. I always thought I was just lazy, each time I found myself resisting the necessary process of honing and polishing my work. After all, serious writers spend months and years editing and I can hardly bring myself to do a few days before I’m ready to start writing a new novel from scratch. I’m clearly not a serious writer, just a housewife with delusions.

But maybe it isn’t that at all (well, perhaps the delusions bit is true).

I think the problem is to do with visible progress.

When you write a first draft you can watch the word count growing, the number of chapters increasing. Characters develop and do crazy things, taking your carefully crafted outline in a new and unexpected direction. It creates a buzz, fills you with euphoria. It’s like going for a run, when everything is working properly and you feel like you could fly if only you knew how.

With editing there is no way to track progress. Word count, if anything, goes down. Chapters need to be moved, re-numbered, scrapped. And who’s to say the chapter you’ve just spent three hours rewriting is actually any better? It’s more akin to doing housework: five hours’ of effort and what is there to show for it, particularly after the kids have been home five minutes.

I get confused, too, with what I’m actually doing. Am I checking for readability? Grammar? Continuity errors? If I’ve spotted a character gap do I go fix that, trying to find the right place to add in extra scenes or sentences that will make the character work, or do I stick with my linear progression through the novel?

I’m not the most organised person and I find it hard keeping track of what needs changing, particularly when I only work on it two days a week, with two or three days of childcare in between. (There’s nothing like 57 verses of Wheels on the Bus to dam your creative flow.)

I could do with a tool that magically highlights everything written about one character in green, another in red. All adverbs could be in blue, all passive tense in orange. Clichés could be highlighted in flashing letters so you can pick them off one by one. Even better would be a tool that says ‘This bit’s great, this bit is pants, re-write it.’ (I know, now I’m just being silly.)

Thinking about it seriously though, there are probably thousands of writing programmes out that that might make me more organised. Maybe I should look for one. Or is that just another form of procrastination (like starting a new novel or short story) to take me away from the unavoidable hard slog of editing? I think I probably know the answer.

Still, if anyone knows of super-organising software that won’t kill my netbook, I’d love to hear about it.

P.S. Since writing this post (while out walking the dog, as usual) I have downloaded the free trial of Scrivener, which I have been meaning to do since completing Nanowrimo last November. So far I’m half an hour in to the two-hour tutorial and it does look as if it might be helpful, if only I can figure how to use it!

Anyone used it before?

Life vs. Writing

English: Paintbrush Português: Trincha

It’s all about the carpet.

A few weeks ago we decided the carpets had absorbed as much wee, poo, vomit, coffee and dog hair as they could stand.

They had to go.

Immediately. Because in this house everything has to be done immediately once a decision has been made (although the procrastination can go on for years prior to that.)

So, five years after moving in, we made the decision. We immediately found a great deal on a wool carpet that had to be bought immediately (it was in the sale). You get the idea.

The fitters were booked to come in five weeks, job’s a goodun.

Sounds simple doesn’t it?

Not for us. There is always a chain of events that have to occur whenever anything needs to be done. This is because our house is a disaster zone of unfinished projects.

What has this to do with writing, you ask? Well, everything really.

My novels are all unfinished projects too. As are my husband’s novels. We’re not great at finishing things. We use the writing projects to put off having to finish house stuff, and house stuff gets in the way of finishing our writing.

Also, we get bored.

Starting something new is much more fun than finishing off the fiddly, hard, quite frankly tedious bits that make something look finished. You know, like skirting boards, architrave, painting.

Or editing, formatting, redrafting.

So our house, which could look like a lovely show home, rather resembles a hopeless case on DIY Disaster. Well, not that bad (in case my husband reads this), but close. And my novels, two of which are finished in draft form, are, to be honest, a bit boring. They need all that tedious editing time to make them sparkle.

So, anyway, before the new carpets can be laid we have to:

Laminate the hallway. Which means finish the utility room step, put the new architrave up, take off the skirting boards, fill holes in the plaster and so on. The laminate fitters come today, so husband has been busy for the last two weeks doing his bit. I was meant to be painting the woodwork downstairs, but I’ve been writing this blog instead. Oops.

Now husband has done his part, and hopefully the hallway fitters will actually arrive at some point (already two hours late), it’s my turn. I’m redecorating our bedroom. Since we’ve moved in it is the only room that hasn’t been decorated. We’ve managed to ignore it until now because, well, basically, we could.

I have hated the wallpaper since moving in, but I hate painting woodwork even more, and our room is chock full of it.

I’ve managed to strip the wallpaper (I like that bit), and paint a few feet of dado-rail. Then child#2 got rotavirus and nothing has been done since. And now the carpet fitter comes in two weeks. But the closer the deadline, the more my brain is fizzing with writing ideas – blog posts, new novels, restructuring of old novels. I am trying to emulate Fireman Sam, and do One Thing At A Time (he says it with the capital letters). But I’m so scared of losing an idea, I push them all along together, and ignore the decorating.

Anyway, you may have noticed that this post doesn’t contain any writing advice. Sorry about that. I just thought a little insight into the life of writer/mummy might be interesting. I’m sure I’m not the only person on the seesaw of life vs. writing. Currently life is winning, although I’m fighting back: I’m writing this while on a tea break, waiting to let the fitters in who, apparently, ARE on their way. Then back to painting.

I would love to hear about your battles of life vs. writing.

May writing always win in the end!