Learning to edit

There are very few things as painful as having to cut a 6,000-word-long story down to under 3,000 words.

Still, sometimes it’s necessary. Editing and proofreading things has become almost as prevalent in my life as writing itself – I’m in the process of going through two novels for two different friends of mine (which I’ll definitely review and encourage you to buy once they get published), and last week I edited four different fanfics for teammates in the Quidditch League Fanfiction Competition. Not to mention my own work – which is significantly harder to edit, since it’s so close to my heart.

I used to be confused when I read interviews with famous authors who said that they had rewritten their novels about a million times before ending up with the finished product that they published. The concept was baffling to me. It’s already so hard to produce a quality first draft – how on Earth did they find the energy to rewrite the whole thing so many times? And once you’ve written a story, it’s mostly set in stone in your head – how much could possibly change drastically enough to require a full rewrite?

But nowadays, sitting at the computer with no less than thirty-five browser tabs, three pdf files and four different Word documents open (and all for a story that ranges between 3-6K), I think I’m beginning to understand. My writing has significantly improved over the past few years, thanks to things like the SATs that taught me to recognized when a sentence isn’t structured properly (I’ve never actually taken any English classes), and from editing other people’s work and figuring out what common mistakes we make as writers when we assume the reader will just get what we mean. I’ve rewritten and restructured short stories, and learned to go over them many times (on separate days, ideally, to try and keep a clear mindset every time). And beta readers are life savers – especially when even I’m getting confused with my plot.

Making every word mean something takes a lot of detachment, especially when there’s a flowery sentence that sounds amazing but doesn’t really contribute anything to the story. Switching between creative and critical requires a sort of blunt sincerity that I’m not used to – but it’s extremely useful, even though I have to control it when beta’ing stories for my friends, or my constructiveness will turn destructive. I’ve also found that reading snarky book reviews (see Jenny Trout’s hilarious blog) is both really entertaining and educational; sometimes after reading a ton of badly written mainstream fiction, you need someone to point out the gaping holes it has in order to avoid making the same mistakes yourself. It’s hard to notice when you’re so used to them.

And while I used to hate editing my things, I suspect that once I get back on track with my novel and actually finish it, I’ll have a much easier time going through 100K+ words and getting something of quality out of it. I know that I have a tendency to repeat words and use way too many commas, so those mistakes are some of the first things I seek out in my finished draft. I’ve become much better at punctuation and much better at cutting unnecessary things out – even though it hurts my soul, sometimes. But it’s refreshing to know that longer doesn’t necessarily mean better. You can write short things and still keep the same quality content.

(I’m still in pain about that story, though – I actually posted two versions. But I’m learning to let go.)

(also, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to put any editing energy into my blog. I’m lazy like that.)

What’s been your experience with editing? Please tell me in the comments!


Last week I wrote A Tapestry of Bruises for the QLFC, a Harry Potter fanfiction competition. I’ll be posting a new story within the next few days.

I have some pretty intense exams coming up this weekend, so please keep me in your thoughts! And if you see me on tumblr too much, please yell at me. I should be finishing the next chapter of The Malfoy Case sometime next week… I don’t want to focus too much on that and end up getting a bad grade.

Advertisements

The Feeling – and a Short Story

It’s been a crazy month! But it’s been a month of new experiences.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was doing a lot of research about the writing world. Well, I now have something to show for myself. Red Line Magazine has graciously accepted and short listed my submission to their ‘Conflict’ issue, so

you can now read my new short story, Rules of the Altar!

I don’t want to give away the plot – it does, after all, rely very heavily on the reader not knowing what’s going on while they’re reading it – but they described it best as the bedroom of a couple in meltdown, so let’s leave it at that. I look forward to reading what you think of it! I’m incredibly proud of it, and I’m so happy that they thought it was good enough to be short listed. I’m currently reading the other amazing stories on the list – I just read Don’t go, darling boy and it’s so well written, I’m still a little heartbroken by its characters.

Thinking about short stories and what makes a good short story has had me thinking about stories in general. Hank Green, it seems, had the same thing in mind:

I have decided that the thing that sets us apart as people, that makes us capable of air conditioning and hot showers and lunar landings and nuclear war can be summed up in one word, and that word is ‘stories’. If this sounds a little froofy to you, let me remind you that there was a time before email, before phones, before newspapers, before the written word even. When humanity was first benefiting from the massive utility of passing tremendous amounts of information from generation to generation, the vehicle for the passing of that information was the story. Stories were, and I think that they still are, how we define ourselves and our culture and even our technology and science. Every human society that wants to behave differently first has to change the stories that they tell. Stories, in songs, in books, on the stage, on podcasts, around the campfire help us define who we are. We are made of stories.

(do I mention the vlogbrothers too much on this blog? Pff, of course not.)

There’s an amazing weight set on the line Every human society that wants to behave differently first has to change the stories that they tell, but I’ll save that for another post.

2014-10-10 17.32.26I generally write short stories all in one go, so before beginning my writing I go through a very long process –  lasting anywhere from a day to three months, in my experience (let’s include fanfiction when talking about short stories, since they’re basically the same thing) – , and it includes a lot of brainstorming, staring moodily out of windows, reciting dialogue at myself in the shower, researching obscure facts, going through a thesaurus to discover the word I’m thinking about, making a general outline for myself, finding pictures and poetry and songs that fit… but I wondered, at which point in all the writing that wasn’t actually writing, did I say “okay, now I’m ready to write this”?

Before I wrote Six, I spent about a month and a half trying to understand what I wanted to put into words. It all started with a friend from the Narnia Fic Exchange mentioning something in a review of another one of my stories that prompted me to think about a relationship between Bacchus and Calypso. I started out with an idea of some sort of romantic, witty conversation – and ended up with something that wasn’t quite different, but was extremely different at the same time. While doing research about the gods and trying to understand their mythology, I spoke to friends from islands in the Pacific about the legends in their own cultures. I discovered that many legends from opposite sides of the world seem to overlap – and I began a hunt through six different cultures to try and find similar characters. But even when I had a list of names, I still didn’t quite know what I wanted.

Continue reading

Useful links for the stressed writer!

I’m extremely busy at the moment, working on my own stories, editing my own work, editing friends’ work and studying for upcoming tests… but what I’m doing in between all of this is a ridiculous amount of research about the writing world. Since I came across so many great sites during my adventures, I thought it might be good to share them with you, since you might find them useful, too!small

Clever Girl Helps – For all your reference help and advice! Possibly the easiest and most comprehensive tumblr writing blog I’ve ever found. You can ask things, but you’ll probably find all of your answers somewhere in their tags. I think I’m writing most of my novel thanks to this blog.

Cathy’s Comps and Calls – I’m poor and not really earning any money right now, so finding writing contests worth my while that don’t require an entry fee is tedious work. Thankfully, this wonderful person compiles writing competitions and calls for submissions by deadline–and they’re all free!

Tip of my Tongue – You’ve probably heard of this one already, but it’s great to have when you can think of the definition but are having a hard time coming up with the actual word.

Writing With Color – I literally just found this a few hours ago, but it’s a great blog for advice writing characters of color. In my opinion, no matter what your character’s ethnicity is, you should really read at least a few of their posts. They’re great.

Writing Contests – Another well-organized list of contests that you can filter through tags according to what you’re looking for!

The Review Review – Okay, so I haven’t had the time to go through everything, but the two articles I did read are extremely useful to me when it comes to submitting work to literary magazines and trying to understand what editors are looking for.

Have you discovered any other great sites lately that might help us tackle the challenges of the writing life? Please share them with the rest of us in the comments!


*and do I know why there’s a rat on that pile of books? No, I don’t, but I suppose he’s an intellectual rat.

I won NaNoWriMo 2014!

I JUST WON NANOWRIMO 2014!

I didn’t finish my novel… far from it, really, but I’m still proud that I managed to finish a day early (well, two days early – I just finished at around 1 a.m on the 29th so it counts as the 29th but in my head it’s still the 28th!) and that I’ve begun the long journey towards creating a beautiful product that people can enjoy.

So far I’m 50,077 words in and about halfway through the plot. I’ve learned a lot this year, but I’ll save an eloquent list of things I’ve learned for later. Right now it’s way too late and I have to get up in four hours to go to work. So I just want to say…

– I’m sorry I didn’t post more this month! But I did post, which is actually pretty impressive given my track record.

– THANK YOU to each and every one of you who gave me encouragement on twitter, followed me, commented and liked my stuff! You’re wonderful and I hope you’re also having a successful month.

– I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, if you celebrate that. I just know there’s turkey involved, and I hope you enjoyed your turkey and cranberry-stuff. (Okay, I admit I had a Thanksgiving dinner today, which was awesome because it was something I haven’t had often in my lifetime and guys, the food is amazing.)

Let me know how your writing is going! Be happy! Don’t stay up too late like I’m doing right now!

Things to feel happy about when your plot is too big for your word count

Help! I’m almost at 35,000 words and my characters haven’t even begun to unravel the mystery of my novel (and neither have I, for that matter. I still don’t know what happens in the last third of the story, and this novel has no title and therefore no excerpt posted on my profile). This came unexpectedly, since I was under the impression that I was writing a fun short novel that would be fast-paced and entertaining.

And I don’t really think it’s either fast-paced or entertaining, to tell the truth.

But this is the middle of the month –okay, a bit more than the middle, but whatever– and I think it’s normal to feel incredibly insecure about how things are going at this point. So in an effort to make myself feel more motivated, I’m going to brag a little (in second person). And hopefully my bragging will make you feel like bragging as well, because if there’s one thing you can always count on, it’s human ego! And then we can make each other feel better about our writing progress, whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or not, and arrogance will actually be a helpful thing, for once.

1. You’ve written a ton of words. So maybe you thought your novel was going to finish at around 50,000 words, and now you’re thinking the word ‘end’ will probably end up being word #108,245. Yes, you have a lot of work ahead, but think of how proud you’ll be when you get to open your Word document (or whatever) and see all the pretty numbers, and scroll through an impressive amount of text and feel extremely proud of yourself. Just don’t zoom in too close; avoid looking at all those typos and bizarre metaphors.

2. You’ll have more material to edit later. Which sounds like a punishment, I know, but it’s actually a blessing in disguise! This way, you’ll be able to pick and choose which scenes you want to keep, which paragraphs need to be shortened and which characters can be cut out all together, without feeling like you’re cutting off your novel’s limbs. You’ll actually want to make it shorter, so your finished product will be a concentrated version of all the things that make a good story: emotion, action, dialogue and great characterization. And you won’t even have to think up new scenes!

3. You’re exercising your writing muscles! They say that to become a good writer, you need to write every day. Not only are you currently writing every day, but you’re also writing a lot every day. And that’s an excellent achievement. Sadly, it doesn’t mean that it counts as actual exercise… so make sure you’re not eating too many snacks at 3 a.m. like I am.

4. You’re creating more for your story. Even if this first draft ends up being one of those novels that gets completely rewritten, and ends up looking like some badly-written Alternate Universe fanfic of your future published material, this will be what that successful bestseller will be born from. You’re getting to know your characters, expanding their stories, realizing what you need to learn more about and writing a couple of really funny or poetic lines in the midst of all that rambling and rather rushed description. This is like the first time you try to cook something by doing it straight from the recipe: you’ll do your best, you’ll be totally confused most of the time, and you’ll probably get the measurements all wrong. But next time, when you try again, you’ll know how much you should put of everything and it’ll all go much more smoothly.

So for now, I’m happy just aiming to just write as much as possible, no matter how far behind I am in the actual story. And you should join me in looking at my dashboard and smiling self-centered-ly because we’re achieving something.

This makes me proud.

This makes me proud. What makes you proud?

Seven words I constantly misspell

At day #12 of NaNoWriMo, I’m quickly realizing the words that I seem unable to spell correctly no matter how many times I write them.

It’s absolutely ridiculous. I know how to write these words -at least, some part of my brain must know, because I correct myself every time- but no matter how many times I write each one of these words, I always end up misspelling them; even if I literally wrote them last less than a minute ago.

So, here it is… the list of words that I’ve compiled over the past week and a half, and will probably misspell again, now that I’m writing them:

 Misspell: I KNOW. It’s Misspell, but I always write mispell. You don’t know how many times I made this mistake while writing this post. I need to learn to think of the word as Ms. Pell; maybe that’ll help.

Career: I always write carreer. Maybe it has to do with my knowledge of Spanish, and that’s why I identify the ‘r’ sound as ‘rr’?

OppressionRemember that post I wrote sometime ago? Yeah, well, I kept writing opression the entire time.

AcrossI write accross. I don’t know why.

OccasionallyWell, there already are two letters that are written twice… so I might as well go all out and write it occassionally…?

Triumphant: For some reason, it’s always thriumphant. Which actually sounds a bit more triumphant in my brain; I really like how it sounds. BUT THAT’S NOT HOW THE WORD IS.

 Possess: It’s four ‘s’ in a single word; which, in my opinion, is a little weird, but whatever… it’s still not okay to write posess. That would be like the feminine of pose, or something.

 

I’m sure there are more, but those are the ones I’ve noticed lately. I hope I’m not the only one who can’t seem to learn how to spell things properly!

What words are your constant enemies?


If you feel like procrastinating a little more today, here’s  my interview at The Kelworth Files, where I talk about writing, breakfast, and share a weird picture of a giraffe. You won’t regret it.

Progress… and constructive procrastination, maybe.

[Please just ignore my progressively less eloquent post titles… I can’t even name my novel. I need help.]

It’s the sixth day of NaNoWriMo, and my word count is at 8,676 right now, which is a good number… my goal for today is 10,002 (at least), so I should be fine.

Yesterday, I discovered that it is within my capacity to write 1,000 words in only 30 minutes, which is awesome but is also sort of unfortunate, because the ‘I don’t have enough time’ excuse won’t work anymore and I’ll be forced to keep writing instead of scrolling through tumblr for ten hours. But if you think about it, I could technically write almost an entire novel in a day (assuming I didn’t take any breaks at all, which isn’t healthy or plausible, really) and that’s pretty cool to think about.

How’s my novel going? Well…

It’s sort of limping along, and neither my novel nor I are particularly sure where we’re going with this, but we hope it’ll lead somewhere. My main characters are acting up and refusing to adhere to the kind of personalities I had originally assigned for them, I randomly decided to turn the story into a quest to redeem my MC’s brother who has suddenly been accused of multiple murders because of a nasty coincidence, and four people have already died in a pretty horrible way.

So… it’s going well, I guess?

This is probably the most badly-written novel I’ve ever written, but I’m learning to just embrace how terrible it is. In the past, I never really understood what people meant by the ‘inner editor’, but this year I’m painfully aware of it. My way of coping is just by leaving bolded, caps-locked notes of ‘[DEAR NASIM: CHANGE THIS]‘ so that I remember just how bad it is when I do get around to editing it after November.

 

Things that have been wonderfully useful this week: NaNo Pep Talks and Write or Die (honestly, I’m going to use Write or Die for homework when I start studying again).

 

THINGS YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT (Unless you’re procrastinating, in which case: go back to writing your novel immediately! or just procrastinate with these, I honestly won’t mind… I mean, seriously, I’m procrastinating by writing this blog post):

  • Constellations, my Chronicles of Narnia fanfic, which is new on Fanfiction.net. Things never happen the same way twice. Two nights under the sky with one thousand three hundred and forty two years (or three) in between. It’s a one-shot, so it doesn’t take that much procrastination!
  • Also, I got a chance to write a guest blog post for Lyn the Thorne-Alder here (or here, if you’re like me and your computer blocks LJ) titled What I learned from the years I did NaNoWrimo (and from the years I didn’t). If you’re like me and feel like you need confidence because this year, suddenly nothing works for you, you may find it a bit encouraging.
  • And if you happen to read Spanish… my friend Marcelo Alvarenga just wrote an epic post on the best classic movie adaptations. Check it out and leave a comment!

 

Now, how’s your novel going? Are you as confused about what’s happening to your plot as I am?