Writing: Never ending edits

I absolutely get terrified when editing my own works. Absolutely terrified. Not excited as I am when I write. The terror comes from the fact that I know I will be slicing and dicing, in true ‘kill your darlings’ style, and yet, yet, it will still not be perfect enough, flawless. Why? Why must this be such a hard task?!

I know that most writers, myself included love writing. We do. Other people find solace in shopping, in getting pampered, in sitting around by the beach and lounging, etc. the normal stuff you know. Writers find joy in writing. We do it because we love the rush of a new world that captures our imagination: the characters, their flaws, their stories.

We feel elated when we finish our first draft. I still remember the first time I finished my first novel. I think I may have literally done a jumping-giddy-run-on-the-same-spot dance before realizing I was standing in front of med building waiting for my friends to escape their microbiology lab.

But the thing is first draft of anything is always crap. We wouldn’t give it to anyone to read before we have had a chance to run through it and smooth it out somewhat. The real writing happens on the editing table. Which becomes excruciatingly painful to writers starting out, and still quite hard for others who have been through the grill before.

I’m doing a final comb through of ‘Charming Mr Stewart’ before sending it for final edit. Mind you, it has already gone through two rounds of editors. Editing is a job that never finishes, truly. And it’s not just a grammar here and punctuation there. Editing sometimes completely changes the landscape of a story from its first draft. I’m learning to kill my darlings and it’s not easy. If you are writing a piece you want to publish, I guess you have to make sure it’s as good as it can be. So my advice, don’t be in an impatient rush. And the other, DONT BE AFRAID TO DELETE WHAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE, or what is redundant. Cull, cull, cull.

I must do these myself:

– remove adverbs and replace with verbs (i.e. Words ending in  -ly)

– remove the words ‘very’ and ‘that’ and so many filler words,

And many more. I’m learning the art of editing my own work through examples on pinterest. Hey, it’s been helpful!

Two weeks ago I swept through the whole MS (manuscript) and it shed some weight from 100,000 words plus to under 86,000 words.

Today, I’m starting another sweep based on feedback from beta-readers and have a feeling the story will loose some more weight. I’m not worried about the story becoming skinny, I’m just worried I may loose some aspects of the story if I’m not careful. I mustn’t leave a tale full of holes!

Bit of a nail-biting moment. Yikes.

Writing: Killing your Darlings!

There are advice and then there are advice!

Who has heard of ‘killing your darlings’? I bet many of you have, whether you are in the writing business or film business, or any other business that has used it to essentially say kill the idea/project/scene/dialogue etc.

I’ve heard it on numerous occasions as advice, joke, or have used it myself. It sounds like a dangerous advice, but it is a very sane and useful advice. Especially for those creatives who fall in love with an idea and find it hard to modify/delete/rewrite etc because they are too attached to the project.

I used to be one. Believe me, I used to be one. Not a creative, but I mean, one who was always too attached to the project for its own sake. Ever since I’ve braved the blogging world where publishing is instantaneous, it really doesn’t leave much space for hiding. And when you no longer need to hide, you finally tend to come out from under the rock and see how much moss your creative property has gathered all the time you refused to emerge into the light.

A year ago, I sent my second novel out to get it professionally assessed because I was already looking to send it out to publishers, and for that, I needed to know how it stacked up. Yup, you heard right. My second book has been finished for over a year. Then where is it? What’s happened to it you wonder?

I didn’t kill my darlings! That’s what happened. I got the assessment, and refused to listen to the sage advice. I crawled back under the rock. Then life got in the way and I haven’t really given the book much attention since then because I was caught up in study and blogging and getting back into film.

Now it’s time. Since I published my first book, I’ve crawled back out into the light and I now see what they were advising me to do. Kill all those scenes that weren’t absolutely essential to the story, no matter how much it hurt.

Rule of Thirds was laid out as present/past/present, telling the main character’s story in a non-linear parallel format that juxtaposed past/present. The advice that had hurt the most? Kill all the past! That was hard to bear. Past was interwoven through 3 quarter of the book, it held soul, it held poignancy. I was not ready to murder that which I had created. Hence I refused to work on it for the last year.

Now, I’m back on the wagon, and in the last few days I have effectively killed the darling chapters of the past, and whatever was essential in them for the story, integrated into the present. Am I happy? Yes. I see it clearly now that I separated myself from it for a whole year.

Sometimes for the story’s sake, we have to do what feels harsh. We have to delete that which doesn’t work, or replace it. But whatever you do, do not refuse to kill the extra weight, extra darlings if it’s serving no other purpose than to increase your word count, or repeat the same information.

I’ve killed 3 chapters already.

Writing: Making of a ‘Good Writer’

What sets a good writer apart from a subpar writer? Is it the genre they explore, the writing style/voice they adopt, the point of view they use (first vs third person), is it the length of the works they write, is it how well they command the language – flawless, with flair and error free first draft on? What is it that makes a good writer?

Are you really thinking that Stephen King is a much better writer than Dan Brown, or Brown is better than Paulo Coelho, or would you consider Cecelia Ahern your ideal? Does popularity really mean better? Then, in that regard J K Rowling is the best of them all! Where does that place the popular writers of Twilight and Hunger Games series? What do writers have in common, even if they are the likes of Bryce Courtney, Jane Austin, or even Shakespeare?

They EDIT! We all do. No writer sits down and writes a perfect copy in one go. It takes drafts upon drafts, and edit upon edit to get it to even remotely get close to what goes on in the mind. Here is another thing, ask a writer who has published their books if they thought the ‘final’ version was the best, and I bet they will still find things that need more care.

I’m not trying to pick out specific writers nor books, just making a point that there are many writers to choose from, many genre that have rallied the readers, formed cults and following, turned into movies etc. Writers are varied, with varying styles and writing habits, but all writers edit.

Here is another question to you: do you think a writer’s command of the language is what spells their merit? Or that all writers are perfect in the writing department that they never have to worry about grammar, punctuation and such?

Here is what I’d like to reveal: when writers write that first draft of a work it will be far from perfect grammatically and punctuation wise, nor will the flow of the story be just right, nor would there be much care taken to fill in the details. Why? Because, they are in a hurry to jot down everything that’s coming to them immediately. In fact, most writer will probably never show the very first draft of their works to anyone! Yes, that’s right, writers aren’t perfect, their stories aren’t perfect when taking cues from a blurry picture in the writer’s mind. Writers make mistakes. Writers are not necessarily language obsessed. They are actually more concerned with the ‘flow’ of the story rather than how they should approach the writing.

Once a skeleton is drawn out there is always time to fill in with muscles and skin. Otherwise, why else would there be such a wide market of editing and consulting services if writers were perfect to begin with? Think about it! Half the writing industry people would be without a job!

So, in this festive season, take a deep breath, appreciate your own creative process, or if you are a reader, appreciate the effort each writer puts in to each story they write no matter whether that story has hit the best-selling list or grabbed a movie deal.

Happy holidays, and to all who celebrate Christmas, Merry Christmas. And to all, a wonderful New Years ahead!

And remember…


Be Savvy, NOT Shabby: publishing tips

One thing writers love doing is write stories. Stories that are beautiful, stories that are heart-wrenching or laugh-out-loud, stories that are about love, or courage, or defeating personal demons, or reaching a life-long goal. Whatever it is, the writing is done with one purpose, and one purpose only – and that is to have it published and reach millions and billions, and if feasible, trillions of readers world-wide. That sounds like the stuff of dreams – the trillion part.

Here is what you as a reader may not know entirely, but suspect regardless: writers imagine, much to their shame, that the stories they chisel at for months and in some cases years, get picked up by an established publishing house and distributed to the millions, billions or trillion audience/readers world-wide.

Now, there is nothing wrong with that ‘grand’ vision of books selling out of shelves, flying as they would if we were in Harry Potter world. There is however, one tinny-tiny flaw in that plan. The part that really should be telling you that books don’t sell themselves. I know, I know, you’re probably saying, ‘Hang on, Harry Potter pretty much sells itself’ as your defensive argument. Fail. You fail as a defence attorney on this one. Harry Potter sells itself now, but when it first started, I’m sure J.K. Rowling had to tackle many strategies with Bloomsbury to get the first of Harry Potters on their magic brooms and out the bookstore.

UNFORTUNATELY folks, that world isn’t real. I’m sorry. If it were, I wouldn’t be writing this but watching my books sprout wings and fly out. Hmm…

Back to the point. Books, in all honesty don’t sell themselves. It’s the person that does the selling, the one who convinces potential readers (aka. you) to part with their mullahs and walk home with a book they may or may not read. You, as a writer, will never know.

SO, how do you sell your book?

Below are some things you will need if you are to sell your book.

As a writer, you will fit either 1, 2, or 3 category:

1) A ton of money so you can pay for your own editing, formatting, printing, and advertising. In which case, go forth and do it!

2) Really attract the attention of a publisher/agent who will do the leg work for you and you simply reap partial rewards.

(Many of you will fit the next category I suspect)

3) You must get over that small thing called shyness and do your own marketing, and publishing. But how do you market a book on a shoe string budget?

Well, take it from me, since I fit this category. It is not the easiest thing to do. The writing was easy compared to what awaits you after you release your book.

Confession #1: Your book will just sit there and look pretty if you do not beat that drum of yours and announce its existence. Tell the world what awaits them.

Be SAVVY how you go about this. Don’t simply let your family and friends know that you’ve published a book (finally) regardless of format (print or eBook).They can’t be the only audience you target!

Confession #2: Not all of your family and friends will buy your book in all honesty. Why should they simply because they know you?! You need to treat them the same way you would treat any other potential buyer, with respect. Don’t force them to buy it. That is SHABBY! NOT COOL.

Here are 10 of the most simple ways you can start marketing and promoting your own book, one small step at a time. Take your writerly hat off, and put on your sales hat:

1) You could let your social network or blogging community know about your recent publication. You never know who may be reading them.

2) Contact your local newspapers and tell them what you have achieved and kindly ask if they would like to write a piece on you. (You will be surprised how often they say yes, and the reach of these medium is so much more than you can do alone.)

3) Hand out flyers or sample chapters to the public for free. Every body loves free stuff. And hey, if your writing is really made of metal and enjoyable, your work will sell itself. The public will go out and buy your whole work.

4) Contact your local radio station(s) if you can with the same respectful approach. You may never know when they invite you in for an interview.

5) Visit book forums and plug your work, or approach book reviewers. There are plenty online at the moment. Request a review. You’ll find that most times reviews really push up your sales. Remember, any publicity is GOOD publicity – but do try to avoid the bad route. Approach only forums and reviewers who are honest and respectful.

6) This is probably the most obvious one. Make sure your book is in the correct industrial format, and that it has been edited to the best it can be.

7) Choose your TITLE wisely. I can’t stress this point enough. Your first point of impact for potential readers is the title of your work. It has to be attention grabbing or memorable. An example of a great title at work is ‘Ps. I love you’. What Celia Ahern has done here is given her work a unique title that is thought provoking and gives a hint to what the story might be without revealing anything at all. These kind of titles are hard to do, but when you have a perfect title, it is wondrous how well they work.

8) Have a great ‘blurb’ written for the book that succinctly entices the reader without bordering on clichéd.

9) Cover page – make sure it is clear, concise and relates to your story. You do not want a confused looking cover page that makes people put down the book in bewilderment.

and last but not least

10) Make sure you have spent as much time as necessary to fulfil 6, 7, 8, and 9. These, before anything else are what will sell your work. If these are sub-standard, then your work may be devalued unnecessarily.

Be savvy how you approach your marketing and have strategies in place. This way, you will look professional and confident. Two things that are sometimes the biggest motivator of sales. But most of all, do your homework. No one else will do them for you unfortunately. And there is always a sense of pride and joy when you are out there talking and promoting your work amongst the public.

Good luck with all your ventures. And if there are any other tips and tricks you’ve learnt on your own journey, share them with others and myself here. I’d love to know. Happy marketing!

Writing: Grammar, a bumpy word

Hear or here? Hair or hare? There and their. Mash and mass.

They look simple enough, don’t they? Just words. But this is where a lot of people accidentally take a stumble. We know what we mean to write, but in our hurry, here, becomes hear? Their becomes there? You’re probably thinking why am I on about this now?

I’m not sure if anyone else has picked the grammatical mistake in this page? If you have, well done. If you haven’t, you may want to start again…

Grammar is the most common misspelling of ‘grammar’.

So why is good old grammar suddenly in the limelight of my blog? Because, continuing with my Catch 22 Trapping Writers, I am expanding on that ever-present pressure on writers to be perfect in writing. Of, course, that sounds absolutely silly. Who else but writers are expected to know the ins and outs of grammar and it’s best friend, punctuation? Actually, nowadays, in fact, everyone is expected to perfect grammar and punctuation considering we have access to computers and software. However it’s perfectly understandable to expect writers to automatically string beautiful, mistake free sentences after sentences to bring you nice cohesive, smooth running stories that move. Still, the final product that lands on your hands as readers is in reality the result of polishing and polishing and polishing of the initial story that gets written in paper or directly onto the screen. Either way, what you read is really not what we initially write. Our initial scribbling are full of mistakes.

Just like wine, writing is something that we brew and then let develop over time. As a writer, I feel the pressure to be perfect in my writing from the get go, and feel grammar and punctuation hover over my shoulders whispering away, driving me crazy. My remedy for this predicament? I just keep writing, ploughing through errors regardless of the nagging need to make sure G and P are down on paper correctly, because I know I can iron out the little bumps later on, either myself or hire some help.

Moral of this odd story: don’t worry about making mistakes. Just keep writing till you finish the story you want to tell. You always have time to refine the details later.

Write first. Worry about G and P later.

Writing: Catch 22 Trapping Writers

You are up a creek without a paddle, and the boat is slowly filling up with water seeping in through the cracks. How do you feel?

Well, let me put it another way. The boat is your book/script etc., the creek is your dream of being published, and the water is the time, in years that you’ve spent on your craft and approaching either publishers or literary agents in the hope that at least one will bother reading your work prior to saying no? That paddle? Well, isn’t it obvious? The paddle is either the publisher or the agent who will help you navigate the choppy waters of the literary world.

Now, the reason this feels like you are up a creek without a paddle is because the Ping-Pong effect publishers and agents have on previously unpublished writers who are simply looking for equal opportunity. I don’t know about any other country and how publishers and agents work there, but over here, in Australia, they each have their favourite sayings.

Publishers: They won’t take any unsolicited works, and the ones that do, offer a very small window of opportunity that most likely from the multitude of unsolicited and previously unpublished writers out there, only a few manage to slip through the cracks and reach the other side.

Agents: They mostly won’t take on previously unpublished writers.

Hmm. So you see the problem, don’t you? Publishers won’t take unsolicited works and authors, and Agents won’t take authors who haven’t previously been published.

That’s the trickiest Catch 22 if ever I’ve seen one!

So what to do, what to do? Self-publishing comes to the rescue, especially online self-publishing costing nearly nothing, is almost instant, and no approval of publishers and agents necessary. And frankly, the reason more and more writers are going down this online avenue is simply because of this trap.

Now, as someone who is very close to self-publishing her own work, I am coming close to sounding like a hypocrite with the following statement I’m about to make, but I think it must be made. Not everybody should go down the self-publishing path without first preparing. I do not say this lightly. Why? Well, from some of the works that are floating out there in the ether, are to put it bluntly, in the rough. They scream for the careful eye of an editor, some scream for re-writes, and some scream for a lot of nip and tuck.

My decision to self-publish wasn’t an easy decision to make at all. I literally spent hundreds of hours editing, and rewriting, and nipping and tucking excess weight from the story. I sent it off to multiple editors and assessors to get opinions and advice, and fresh pairs of eyes to do the work I couldn’t any more because, lets face it, after countless hours spent pouring over your work, you become immune to its mistakes. I sent it off to publishers mostly, but the timing was all wrong, and most of them weren’t taking anymore works for the year. And, from some of the responses, I suspect it never made it as far as being opened and read. Because I was an unsolicited work, it was immediately discarded. All I can advise to potential self-publishers out there, do your homework. Write, rewrite and edit, edit, edit, your work. Make it the best it can be.

But yes, in my personal opinion, Catch 22 hurts.

So after all this time, I am just another writer wanting their work read. You can’t blame me, or any other writer for simply wanting to bypass the impossible loop set by publishers and agents.

What has your experience been like, from writing, to editing, to polishing and publishing? I would love to know.