Monday, 27 January 2014

Tools of Editing: Part One

Just to prove I am actually following through on that rash declaration of mine...

These tools are actually pretty new to me.  I finally cracked and bought a Kindle just after Christmas, mostly for reading on the bus to and from the COBOL factory every day.  I'd been lugging around 900-odd pages of China Mieville and it was just getting ridiculous.  Now I have something that slips into the front pocket of my bag, doubles as a useful place to store my bus ticket, and lets me read classic French literature for free.

It's also proving a handy way of reading my novel draft without ending up tweaking it.  If I read it on my laptop I'll want to make little amendments here and there, instead of reading it through and getting a feel for the story as a whole.  I'll also have to waste ten minutes of my lunch break booting up and shutting down, but that's by the by.

Instead of tweaking, I'm going all old-fashioned and making pen-and-paper notes of things that strike me as I go through it.  I'm looking at big picture stuff at the moment: plot, pacing and characters.  The fiddly little things will come (much) later.  The notebook pictured was a Christmas present from a fellow writery-type.  When I unwrapped it, she commented that it was practically compulsory for writery-types to buy each other notebooks for Christmas and birthdays.  I agreed heartily, not least because she was just in the process of unwrapping the notebook I'd bought for her...

The pen also has writerly credentials.  It was a gift to mark the completion of five full years as a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo, and is engraved with my username from the website (I could have had it engraved with my real name, but I've been 'Magenta' in various corners of the internet for so long now that I'm actually more likely to answer to that than the name on my birth certificate).  It seems like an appropriate pen to be making notes on a NaNo novel, plus it's not a pen that anyone else in the house can wander off with (always a danger around here).

The notes in the picture are some of the ones I made today, my first day of editing.  Reading through it, I was surprised by how quickly the first part went.  What I read today took the best part of a week to write, and at the time I was itching to get further on into the more exciting parts of the story.  It felt like it was dragging and would be terribly dull to read.  In fact, it seems to whizz through and there's definitely room for expansion.  I always knew I was going to need to put more work into establishing the characters, and it's heartening to see that I can do that without dragging the story down too much.  I'm quite excited to get going now, but first I have to finish the rest of the read-through.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Untitled, like its subject

Every November, I write a terrible novel.

The National NovelWriting Month challenge is reasonably well-known these days, I think, and involves churning out a first draft of at least 50,000 words within the 30 days of November. I've been doing it since 2005, mostly because I find it an absurd amount of fun but also because it affords me the opportunity to transfer the stories in my head onto paper.

One upshot of having done it for so long is that 50,000 words really isn't that much of a challenge any more. It's not that much of a novel by modern standards, either. So I've taken to setting myself harder challenges instead. In 2012 I had ideas for two separate-but-related paranormal romances, one with zombies, one with demons. Rather than choose between them I elected to write them both and aim for 100,000 words in total. Parts of it were undeniably fun; there was zombie sex with parts falling off at inopportune moments; there was tentacle sex with at least fifteen tentacles; and there was a decidedly D/s threesome where the two gentlemen were technically the same person and the lady was under orders to obey one and not the other. Writing that many words in such a short amount of time nearly did for me, though. I struggled with RSI (never normally a problem) and had a massive meltdown in week three when the effort of sustaining the pace finally caught up to me. I made it to the target in the end, but it was only by the skin of my teeth.

So for 2013, 100,000 words was definitely out of the question. Instead I set myself the more manageable target of 75,000 words, but with a determination to get that much out of a single story. Much of what I've written over the years has petered out shortly after 50k, and I was keen to finally write something that would run a little longer. In the end, that story got to 78,000 within November and was finally finished in the following week at around 82,000. It's the longest first draft I've ever written, and I'm surprisingly pleased with it even now.  It's a tricky tale that starts as the story of a bored wife embarking on an illicit affair, takes a sudden left turn into urban fantasy with musings on the philosophy of creativity and ends, as all the best stories do, in betrayal and tragedy.

Why am I talking about this now, in January? It's a long time until next November and the next NaNoWriMo project (for which I'm thinking of tackling gothic horror). It comes back to the idea of challenges. I can write a first draft. I can knock out a story in a month, but it'll be baggy and uneven, and things will change mid-story as ideas suddenly come to me. It's not something I can share, except possibly with a couple of trusted beta readers. I need to get better at editing, at spending the other eleven months of the year putting in the graft that's needed to knock that story into shape, rather than leaving it languishing on my hard drive forever.

So this is my declaration: I will edit this novel, this year. I will put in some effort, and work on those words, until I have something I can be proud of for more than just the speed at which it was written. I say this here, so it's in writing. I can't go back on this pledge now, and anyone who reads this can chase me about it and ask me how it's going. And if it's not going, they can ask me why the hell not and refuse to accept any excuses from me.

I will edit this novel, this year. I will.

Make me.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

I've been musing on the concept of exercise lately

This is because I've somehow wound up taking up running.  Thanks to the wonder that is Zombies, Run! I've been working my way through a couch-to-5k program and surprising myself with the results.  Not just in terms of how much further I'm now capable of running after five weeks of training, but also in terms of the fact that I'm five weeks in and still interested in continuing.

I'm not a sporty person.  I lack co-ordination and grace, I'm suspicious of the kind of enthusiasm implied by physical activity, and I was raised to favour intellectual achievements over sporting ones.  And it's only now, having somehow fallen into going for a run, that I realise how far my education fed into my prejudices rather than encouraging me out of them.

Like I said, I'm not co-ordinated.  Nor am I built for speed.  There was no way I was ever going be a natural athlete, no way I could be top of the class at PE in the way that I was top of most other classes.  Where I think PE lessons failed me is in never giving me a way of seeing any kind of improvement.  Regardless of the sport we were doing, I was flailing around at the back somewhere.  Sometimes I wasn't even entirely certain what the rules were, or what I was supposed to be doing.  And because we never seemed to do much in the way of organised training, I could only measure myself by comparison to other people.  And I was always, always down at the bottom.

Now I'm running.  I'm running alone, after dark so no one can see how awkwardly I run, how red my face is or how often I have to stop and walk for a bit.  There's no one to measure myself against, except me.  I may never trouble Mo Farah, but I could leave me from three weeks ago for dust.  That lardarse could hardly run for thirty seconds without gasping for breath.  The difference really is remarkable.  There's only three weeks left in the training scheme, but suddenly that 5k is looking reachable.

I'm not expecting to win any races.  I'm not even expecting to take part in any races (although this one always looks oddly fun - who doesn't want a free fish?).  Mostly I just want to be able to run for the bus without almost dying.  For years I thought that was, if not impossible, then certainly something that would take a lot of effort with no real enjoyment.  I'm still trying to get my head around the idea that it might actually be fun, but there does seem to be something quite satisfying about pounding along the pavement with heavy metal in my ears and zombies on my tail.

And of course, there's something even more satisfying about getting back home and into a nice hot shower afterwards...