Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Self-editing . . . editing your own writing


As an editor, the least ‘professional’ first drafts I see are often from my own keyboard.

Most writers I’m working with are kinder souls, and the writing extracts they email to me here at Writeaway are invariably ‘as good as it gets’, from their point of view. I’m spared the porridge I offer myself! In other words, the craft of self-editing needs to be deployed before you pass it around for comment. I assure you even a brief but forensic read will catch more absurd typos and errors than you can shake a stick at, unless, of course, you write with immense care and control in the first place (not advisable for sparkling prose, I suggest). And if, like bread dough, you are able to let the writing prove overnight, you will find your brain refreshed and better able to spot the absurdities it was happy to overlook when your muse was in full flight.

Here’s how I attack my own output: Having left the work for as long a period as practicable, I read through as slowly as I can, talking to myself as it were, or if the cat’s out and I’m alone, reading aloud. The alarming mistakes then become apparent and, if your breathing’s in good form, by reading as though it were for an audience, you will find a rhythm that demands you have correctly inserted commas where small yet critical pauses are demanded, or not. The simple comma, omitted or incorrectly inserted, is more a matter of commonsense than grammar driven. Get your commas under control and your punctuation nightmares will be nearly over.

At this stage, be on the lookout for repeated words and phrases. As you create prose, and thoughts crystallise and are transferred to the page or screen, the fact that you have trawled up, say, the word ‘well’ may well persuade your mind it has found a real winner and, well, it just trots it out again, whenever an opportunity arises. Well, put a stop to it. One well is enough, per chapter, unless you are seeking oil in the North Sea.

Repetition of a word, phrase or sentence, can be a powerful device if used sparingly and appropriately. But, if repetition is rampant, and by that I mean the same word or phrase pops up every page or so, or even in every chapter, then your reader will subconsciously gain the impression that something’s up, and once they notice the trait they can get irritated beyond belief. Beware of unnecessary repetition.

One final thing to be on your guard for: a proliferation of adjectives. Novice writers frequently trundle out far too many of their favourite adjectives. It’s understandable. They write as if they were in ‘police witness’ mode: they believe everything they imagine as seen or heard must be described, down to the last rivet and passing sparrow. Not wise. Storytelling needs to be about balance. And descriptive prose should be reserved for elements of the story that demand to be coloured and conveyed intensively.

A simple example:
“Agnes opened the green kitchen door, removed her soiled and bright orange pinafore and then looked out through the grimy window at the unkempt and overgrown garden where she’d despatched her elderly husband to collect some more earthy parsnips.”
On the above evidence, it’s going to take a few chapters before the poor husband returns to the kitchen with the vegetables. Too many adjectives weaken the nouns they are attached to, and clobber the pace of narrative.

Self-editing should not be regarded as a chore, but rather, an essential part of the writing and creative process. In my next blog, unless distracted, I’ll talk about the value of having an independent assessment of your writing.

Like a good plumber, we know where to tap to clear blockages, . . . but at a fraction of the cost, thank goodness.




Monday, May 15, 2017

Writing That First Book

Not everyone has a book in them, believe you me! But with a little teasing out, most of us have the ability to write a book, and here at WriteAway.co.uk we pass on tips that can make it happen - for you.
The first thing to say is that writing a book really isn’t difficult. Horror of horrors, I hear the literary establishment screaming, this man needs shooting. Don’t listen to them; they have a vested interest in talking ‘literary’; of making magical and out-of-reach what is simply a craft that, if worked upon, can deliver the goods, time after time.

My first novel, a wonderful work that totally failed to excite agents, was completed in a month. Looking back, I still remember the excitement of writing it, and of handing the first draft to a friend. What a privilege! This person should have felt honoured. Her response was muted and our friendship has mysteriously refused to blossom ever since. My first novel was tosh: lazily planned, poorly edited, and so inadequately marketed it was guaranteed nobody who mattered would read it. In that regard, perhaps, I was lucky.

But writing this dreadful book did wonders for my ego. I’d actually laid an egg, created an entire book, completed a task. This put me ahead of all those writers who promise much but deliver little if anything. I am a writer; they are still dreamers.

Your first book may hit the jackpot; next Saturday’s lottery ticket may also make you a millionaire! As a gamble, book writing is a better bet, and, the more you write, the better your chances become (not true of playing the lottery). But your first book should be regarded as a maiden flight, not the first leg of a round-the-world trip. That comes later.

If you want to be a writer, then everything you do needs to be planned. Coherent spontaneity is a gift that settles on the blessed few. Simply putting fingers to a keyboard will not do. Here at WriteAway we help you structure your writing project at the embryo stage so that the writing is easier and the end product has the maximum opportunity of becoming a success. The chances of your first book attaining bestseller status may be slim, but by following the protocols of the business, all your efforts will be directed at turning out the finest product. If, like me, you find this initial effort doesn’t tempt a publisher you will have discovered so much as you get the work off your chest that your following book will be both easier to write, and read. You will be, like me, a true writer.

Get in touch with us at WriteAway.co.uk and you can devil away in your garret – undisturbed, but whenever the need arises you can depend upon our help – from people who have been there and done it – big time.