Thursday, 30 October 2008

Round 2

Nailed the little b*st*rd to the canvas. As it were.

I mentioned in earlier post about coming across stuff and thinking, "Did I write that?" It works three ways.

1 - Wow, that's good, did I write that? (Disbelief)
2 - Wow, that's crap, did I write that? (Resignation)
3 - Wow, I don't remember writing this at all. (Old age?)

I had several of No 3 today. Whole sections I simply don't remember writing. It is an eerie feeling. I know no one else has had any part in writing this book (although a number of wonderful people have critiqued), so to come across passages of prose that fit perfectly with the whole text, but which I'm encountering for the first time puts me in the place of Charlie. No wonder she feels disorientated at times.

I'll stick to writing about temporal adventuring. Others are better equipped to walk those roads.

It does make me wonder, however, what state I was in when I wrote those passages. Being 'in the zone' is a much used phrase - losing all sense of self in one's work. I have been there. Sitting down after a meal, for example, looking at the clock and realising the whole afternoon has gone.

I have sometimes suggested that Charlie sits here and dictates her life story, lured to my den with the promise of hot, buttered crumpets (cos they don't make muffins like they used to) and strong tea. Perhaps, in a sense, that is exactly what happens. She is very real to me. I know what she looks like as an adult (go look at her blog for a picture). For goodness sake, she has her own blog. And why not.

I'm not sure if there is any point to this. I just hope she keeps visiting, because she has so much more to tell.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

More editing

I have spent the whole day (with one or two pleasant interruptions) wrestling with one paragraph. The first two sentences both contain the word 'but'. They have been re-written, re-ordered, thesaurused to death. For now, the paragraph has won and I am retiring to my corner.

Friday, 17 October 2008


My private resolution to post on a more regular basis is staggering a bit. Already.



At once.

So here's one I made earlier, posted on someone else's blog (waves at Alison).

I try to keep my inner editor gagged and tied to a chair in a different room; work right through a first draft. Well, that's the theory. The guy is a regular Houdini, turns up out of nowhere and starts pointing things out. Scares the hell out of me.

Revision. These have worked for me:
1. When you've finished, give it a few weeks before you back to it. Let your head settle. Go get some fresh air. Your subconscious mind will still be working on it.
2. A recent tip from a friend which did wonders. Set the text up on and print yourself a private copy. Reading it as a book (rather than on screen or in manuscript form) is great for the ego and it helps you see things you might otherwise miss.
3. Read the whole thing as if it was a book, just to get the feel of the shape of the whole story. Make notes on major issues, but don't get into detail.
4. Get into detail. Correct typos, eliminate repetition, watch out for words and phrases you use a lot (paste the text in here: and it will give you a word use frequency chart, compare the results with a list of the hundred most frequently used words, cut those from the list and see whether you use particular words a lot).
5. While you are doing the above, you will start to see if there are structural problems (which you may also have noted in 3). Note these down but don't try to fix.
6. When you have finished the superficial corrections, look at structure and make any changes you think are necessary.
7. Do step 3 again.
8. Really get into detail. Start with the assumption you can make your work leaner, fitter, and sharper. Go through sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph making sure every word and punctuation mark is pulling its weight. If it isn't necessary, cut it.
9. Read it out loud. You'll find awkward cadences that screw the rhythm. You'll hear repetition that the eye hasn't seen. Fix these as you go.
10. Put it away for a couple of weeks. Catch up with the real world.
11. Read it through. Fix minor glitches (but resist the temptation to overdo it). Print up. Start sending it to agents/publishers.
12. Prepare your Nobel acceptance speech.

Disregard any or all of the above. It's what works for me. You will find ways that better suit your approach to your work.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Barrington J Bayley - 1937-2008

I just wanted to pay a small tribute to the science fiction writer Barrington J Bayley. He was a writer of enormous talent who produced work of startling originality. We went drinking when I lived in Telford in the late '70s and he was great company - witty, intelligent, and very kind. It has always been a wonder to me that he was not better known and his work more widely appreciated. A short obituary can be found here.

My heartfelt condolences to his family.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008


Wielding the red pen. Crossing out. Scribbling. Staring at sentences wondering what the hell they mean (doubly depressing because you know you meant something when you wrote them). And sometime, just sometimes, thinking, “Wow. Did I write that?”

It took me a while to get ruthless with this rewrite. There seemed little to do with the first few chapters except correct typos. It took a while to get into my head that I had actually done work on these chapters already. One has been accepted by a magazine after discussions with the editor and some rewriting. Another has already been published (and was an assignment for my degree course). Once I got beyond that first section, the red pen began to fly.

This is a part of the work that I really enjoy. Well, I enjoy all of it, in a masochistic kind of way. Tearing words out of my head that accurately represent the pictures in there is especially difficult, but gratifying. It’s like putting down a heavy suitcase, knowing you don’t have to pick it up anymore. And it is certainly the most difficult part for me.

Unpacking the suitcase and deciding what to keep, where each item should go is much more fun. Finding the exact single adjective to replace the four I put down (they’re like notes to myself when I draft), spotting the repetitions, the labouring of points, mangled sentences… And then improving them.

It still astounds me that a dull, workaday sentence can be transformed cutting or changing a single word, altering the punctuation, or simply putting elsewhere in a paragraph. It still astounds me that using the same building kit available to every other writer; I can produce something unique.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

The morning after the night before

The euphoria of finishing the draft of Thin Reflections has subsided (although I was chuffed to get a copy from Lulu, seeing it in book form is a blast).

It is still raining. Heavily.

I have to edit GreenWay in time for the November deadline.

I have to do a heavy rewrite of Thin Reflections (and I want to do this fairly quickly as I want to get it out to agents).

And today is the first day of A363 (and I've just read one of the readings - which I sincerely hope is meant to be an example of how to write crap and still get into print).