Posts tagged editing
Bored With Your Own Writing

 Have you ever written a passage—or even a whole chapter—then gone back to read it only to discover that it bored you to death? I'd bet so. After all, even the best writers write poorly sometimes. Usually I find this happens after a particularly difficult bit of writing: anything complex or with a lot of detail. You try so hard to get it out and paint an accurate picture that you end up oversharing and your reader (usually also you) ends up falling asleep between the lines. When this happens, you might be tempted to beat yourself up or even to give up, but don't! Use that backspace/delete key without mercy. Go back to the point at which you lost interest, and just cut, cut, cut. There's no shame in starting over, especially when the second try (or third, or fourth)  interests and surprises even the one who wrote it.

Today's Prompt: Dig up an old story you weren't happy with or gave up on. Read it, identify the problems, and then start over. Make it great.

Happy Writing!


Revision: Even Good Writers Write Badly.

 Thank God I'm not a brain surgeon. Do you have any idea how many times daily I have to call a do-over? My patients would not be happy (or alive, for that matter). But that is, as Cormier puts it, the beautiful thing about writing. You don't have to get it right the first time. Or the second. Or the third... You get my point.

After finishing chapter 20 in my current novel, Ourselves and Others, my momentum went dead. The fire flickered and blew out, spluttered into sparks as I tried to get it going again, then stubbornly stayed extinguished. My interest has been at level zero. I started brainstorming a new novel out of sheer boredom, and honestly I've been afraid I would move on from OaO and never come back. 

But finally, I recognized the problem: I didn't get it right the first time. The Chapter 20 I wrote is not the Chapter 20 the story needs. I've been fighting against the current of the plot when I should've been letting it pull me along. Now that my mind is oriented in the direction the story needs to go, I'm excited again. I want to work and get this tale told. The chapter 20 I wrote might end up as chapter 26 or 27, or it might not make it back at all. Either way, I'm calling a do-over.

Don't be afraid to go back a chapter, to cut and rewrite, or to eliminate altogether. Revise, revise, revise. You may be a good writer, but just because a good writer wrote something doesn't mean it's good. We all write junk sometimes—even the very best of us. So write a second draft, or a third, or a tenth. Do whatever you need to do to make your writing the best it can be. It's not brain surgery, after all. ;)

Today's Prompt: Write a short story from the perspective of the patient of an obviously clumsy neurosurgeon.

Happy Writing


The Other Side of Writing (Quote of the Day)

  The foundation of this quote can be traced back much further than Maya Angelou (check out its origins here), but I like her take on things. Easy reading is damn hard writing. It's so true, people have been saying it for centuries. At the same time, however, I wonder if it's always true for everyone, every time.  There are moments in which some force takes me over and the words just come to me, almost like I'm jotting down a dictation rather than actually writing. And sometimes, I read those "easy" scenes and find there's very little that needs changing. But there are other times that each word is a challenge. "And... Then... She... Bought? Purchased? Bartered for?" To top off the ridiculous difficulty, I go back and read only to discover that the last few paragraphs are utter crap. When that happens, I don't even edit. I just scrap and start over.

So I feel like there's something missing from this idea. Easy reading is damn hard writing. But is it really the writing that's hard? I don't know about you, but what I find hard isn't so much the writing as the dedication. We all know what words mean and how to put them together, but when you start a novel or a poem or a kid's book, you make a commitment to create something and make it the best it could possibly be—to finish, to hone it, to sacrifice favorite scenes and lines for the good of the whole, to kill characters you love, to show the good in characters you hate, to spend hours on a chapter only to realize you've taken the wrong direction, to write in past tense for ten chapters only to decide your book would be better in present, to actually implement that change. All of that is hard. And sure, putting words together in a way that sounds good is a challenge. But there's a whole 'nother side to writing that most people don't see. And that's where the real battle begins.

Today's Prompt: Write a short story in which the protagonist succumbs to the conflict. No happy endings.

Happy writing!


The Pain and Pleasure of Revision (Quote of the Day)

What I want to know is: what kind of crack was this guy smoking when he said this?

Just kidding.

Seriously though, anyone who has ever written a novel—heck, anyone who's ever written a postcard—knows that revising and editing can be tedious. Hellacious. Torturous. You stare at a screen or a piece of paper until your eyes are about to fall out, trying to decide whether you've used the word "is" too much and debating with yourself about comma usage. It can be absolute misery.

But then you reach the last page. You have one final battle with a semicolon, and you're done. The original word count has been whittled down by about 10,000, and when you go back to the beginning and start reading—by golly—it doesn't sound like a soap opera on paper anymore. Suddenly, that mess you wrote is a neat mess; a structured mess; perhaps even not a mess at all. It's become something enjoyable to read, and as you enjoy it, you realize: I did this. This is something I created and perfected: the culmination of all my hard work. And it's good.

That's where the "exquisite pleasure" comes in—not necessarily in the act of dismantling and repiecing your writing, but in the knowledge that with every change, you're crafting a better story. When you revise, you know you can handle the pain, drudgery, and exhaustion it so often takes to create beauty. Writing makes you feel like an artist, but revising makes you feel like a professional.

Isn't it wonderful that writers can be both?

Today's Prompt: Create your own superhero. In this hero's world, crime is at an all time low. For over a month, he/she has had nothing to do except his/her day job—no people to save; no bad guys to fight; no need to put on the cape. Write about this dry spell and how your superhero handles it.

Happy Writing!


Ditching the "Very": The Diversity of Language (Quote of the Day)

I have literally zero minutes today, so here's a short snippet of wisdom from Mark Twain. Language is vast, with a multitude of beautiful facets to it. Don't stoop to 'very' just because it's there and it's easy. Have some dignity! Reach a little. If you must have something, try "extremely," "undeniably," or "indubitably"—or here's a thought: allow whatever word your "very" would precede to stand alone. Most words can do their own fighting and don't need a "very" to back them up. Give your language a chance to shine!

Today's prompt: The quote is the prompt! Write a short story on a subject of your choosing, following Mark Twain's advice. 

Happy Writing!


The Trouble with Writing: Why  Writing isn't Easy (Quote of the Day)

Don't be discouraged if you're having trouble with your current work in progress. Anyone who's ever written anything "seriously" has had exactly the same struggle.

"What is the best way to go from here?"

"Is this character believable enough?"

"Is this scene really necessary to the plot?"

"What about that flipping Oxford comma?"

Getting caught up in dilemmas like these can make you feel uncertain about yourself. After being stuck for a period of time, you may start doubting your abilities, and maybe even your story as a whole.

Well, I'll let you in on a little secret.

The trouble you're having isn't because you're not clever enough or talented enough. No! The trouble with writing comes with caring. You spend hours or weeks agonizing over the validity of one plot point, not because you're too dense to recognize whether it's good, but because you deeply want your story to be told successfully. As writers, we shape our stories as carefully as we might shape our children as they grow; molding them into the best versions of themselves they can become. If we wrote whatever popped into our heads without thinking twice about it, our books would be rambling and pointless; they'd have no value to anybody--not even to us.

I've never met a writer who said, "This novel is just something I did for fun. It doesn't really matter that much to me." A writer's feelings towards his/her work usually run more along these lines:

"It's really close to my heart."

"This novel means so much to me."

"It comes from a very emotional place."

"Writing this book has helped me heal."

Funny. It doesn't sound all that fun--but it does sound worth it.

So if you're having trouble with writing today, good! Work through it, get past it, and move on to the next troublesome bit. When you reach the last page and write those final, beautiful words, "the end," you will honestly be able to say, "This is something to be proud of. I was met with an abundance of difficulty, but I persevered. I thought hard and made hard choices. Now I can say with absolute certainty that this book is the best it can possibly be."

"... Until I start editing, of course."

Today's Prompt: Set a timer for 20 minutes and then write a story about something that genuinely means nothing to you. Stop when alarm sounds. How does it read? Was it easy or difficult to write?

Happy Writing!


Love at First Draft--How to Keep the Spark Alive (Quote of the Day)

NicholasSparksQuote When I wrote the last page of my first novel, I cried. I mean, they weren't rolling-down-your-cheeks-and-landing-in-your-coffee tears, but there was definitely a shine in my eyes. There's an astounding sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing a book. All of a sudden, there you are, with a couple hundred pages that you eked out all by yourself--maybe over the course of months; maybe in a few frenzied days or weeks. For some of us, our stories have been in the works for years and are just now coming to a close. It's an emotional experience, no matter how long it's taken. And when it's done? Well that calls for tears--shouts for joy--happy dances--running out the door and kissing random people in the streets! It's finished; it's finished; hooray!

But notice that Sparks says, "the last page of the first draft." Does he know what he's talking about or what? Once we go through hours of editing and revising and scrapping and rewriting, the excitement tends to wane. Your once-cherished story starts to lose its loveliness after you've stared at the same pages for hours, borrowing from the thesaurus and taking out/putting back the same bewildering comma over and over again. Before you know it, your relationship with your novel reminds you of your grandparents' marriage. You know what I'm talking about. The ones who've been together forever, which is amazing, but... They buy each other socks for Christmas and pick spinach out of each others' teeth.

Oh, and they keep squabbling about whether that silly comma belongs or not.

I wish we could hold onto that "last-page-first-novel" feeling all the time. Wouldn't that be great? Well... I think we can at least get it back. I propose that this week, you do something special with your novel; reignite that old spark.

No, I don't mean take it out for a fancy dinner and champagne; what I mean is, leave it alone. Seriously. Take a vacation from editing. Put your novel in a box or a dark corner for a week. Maybe even two weeks. Then, when you start to miss it, go back to the first chapter and read. Just read. Resist the red pen and pretend like this book isn't something you wrote. My bet? You'll find yourself falling in love all over again.

Today's Prompt: Write a comedic story about your grandparents, or another elderly couple--real or fictional--who've been together "forever."

Happy Writing! KC

The Value of Revision (Quote of the Day)

In writing my first novel, I learned the value of "intelligent, even fastidious revision" as Oates puts it. The end of the first draft came in at a hefty  115,000 words, not all of which were necessary. Luckily for me, I was born with a very analytical, rational sort of mind (which isn't better than any other sort of mind, but does happen to be well-suited to editing). I'm generally able to read my writing and say, "this particular part is junk. It has to go" and then cut off pieces as mercilessly as if they were unsightly warts or over-long toenails.

And that's exactly what I did with my first novel. After three rounds of revision, I had whittled it down to a significantly sleeker 90,000 words. It was much better off, but the truth is that rational and analytical as I am, the cutting was hard to do. It was necessary to remove some parts I had grown extremely attached to. Although I loved certain phrases and scenes, I had to revise, revise, revise and put the good of the whole book above my emotional investment in a few lines and pages—and also above a certain level of pride. That's incredibly difficult. 

I can see what Joyce Carol Oates means by calling revision an art. But more than that, it's a discipline. It's a willingness to sacrifice, and it's a practice in humility. To write well is a gift. But to write well and still be able to admit, "this could be better?" That's how you turn a gift into a way of life.

Today's prompt: Revisit a story you wrote in the past and treat it like it belongs to someone else. How could it be better? Are there unnecessary parts? Questions that need to be answered? Print it out and mark it up with a red pen. Show no mercy. Now go make the changes and turn it into the best story it can be.

Happy Revising!