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Archive for the ‘editing’ Category

Story Time

Hello. Did I mention I’m loving Edinburgh? This may be the root of the lack of posting you see before you. Too much drinking, lots of reading, and some writing, but not enough.

That’s why I’m here, posting.

The fiction workshops (which I mentioned in my previous post) are weekly, which means that we need to submit stories once every two weeks (or slightly less frequently depending on the size of the group). This is a comfortable rate of submissions for me: it keeps me focussed and gives me a definitive deadline to work towards, without making me run around screaming in panic.

In the workshops, everyone discusses your story and then at the end they hand over their annotated copy for your records, so you can collate all the thoughts and redraft bearing in mind their suggestions.

I have submitted one story so far, which was discussed two weeks ago. I wimped out at the last minute and submitted a relatively old story, which I knew was more polished than anything I’d written recently.

My next story is getting critiqued tomorrow (yay) and that one is new; I wrote it last week.

Here’s my thinking at the moment: how do I motivate myself to revisit that old story, which I wrote about 4 months ago and of which I’m unequivocally bored? I need to look at my classmates’ suggestions with fresh eyes and muster enthusiasm for this story, so that I can improve it. But the (destructive and unhelpful) temptation is to gather all the comments, file them away in my shiny new folder, and worry about the redrafting in the middle of November when we need to prepare portfolios.

It’s good that I’m even writing this post, for the Rosie of Old (Undergraduate) would be humming to herself while she refreshed Facebook and invited someone to pop for a crafty pint in the pub. Ah, but the Rosie of New (Postgraduate) is fretting and questioning and is aware that Something Needs To Be Done. Bravo.

Next step: actually doing it.

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I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes have trouble concentrating on one thing for a long period of time. Or occasionally, as a product of the internet generation, not much longer than 30 seconds. A couple of weeks ago, I did genuinely wonder whether I had Adult ADHD.

While I’m on the internet (generally at work… oops), I often have 10 or more tabs open on my internet browser. Often, each of these tabs is writing-related article. I’ll read one paragraph, and then click on the next tab and read one paragraph of something else. Then I’ll check my emails, Facebook, Twitter, and move onto a new article. Then I go back to original and sometimes pick up where I left off, and other times have to start at the beginning again because I’ve forgotten what I read. (In fact, as soon as I finished typing this paragraph, I clicked on Twitter).

The problem isn’t as huge with writing or reading: I can read a book for hours without getting distracted, and I can spend 2-4 hours working on a piece of writing once I get into my stride.

But with writing on computer, the problem comes as soon as I get stuck. To write completely without distractions, I have to turn off the internet router, and even then I occasionally find my mouse trailing down the screen to open a browser window, before I realise what I’m doing.

Aside from a great need to implement some form of self-control, possibly reduce the amount of time I spend on the internet, thin out my GoogleReader feed, and get a grip, another method of tempering this insanity came from a friend of mine last night.

“I’m working on five or six different creative pieces at the moment,” he said. “I often have all of them – each document – open on the computer at once. That way, when I get stuck, I can just click on the next one and work on that for  a bit. Writing six things simultaneously!”

“Well, that sounds great!” I said, enthusiasm buoyed by many gin and tonics. “Because when I get a little bit stuck, I always end up clicking on something else. For that something else to be something productive would be great. I’ll definitely try that.”

And try it I will. But what does everyone else think? Is this a sensible idea? Obviously not necessary all the time, as when you’re immersed in something then distraction is not an issue. But as a technique when you’re at a tricky stage, having one or two stories open and in progress at once might not be a bad idea for someone who is as attention-deficient as a forgetful moth at a candle. Opinions?

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  1. Sometimes I get an idea for a story and I think it’s the best idea ever. Then the path forks. If I start writing immediately, the enthusiasm for the idea buoys me for the first 1,000 words or so.  If I write down the bones of the idea then leave it for a couple of days, I generally start to doubt the quality of the story idea. Sometimes I decide not to write it at all.
  2. The ideas which are the most emotionally connected to me – the stories loosely based on my own experiences and feelings – tend to be the least successful stories. It’s almost as if I can’t extricate myself enough to apply the devices which are necessary to make the piece work well.
  3. My first draft is often twice as long as the final piece. It’s a monstrosity which should be locked in the basement, like one of the characters in a Lesley Glaister novel.
  4. A friend of mine is so good at suggesting little tweaks and edits for my drafts to polish them up. I’m terrified that I won’t be able to write well without him.

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With every story I write, there is an inevitable period of utter misery involved.

I hammer out the first draft, cheerfully accepting that it’s going to be terrible, but trying to retain the essence of my original idea in the word jumble which I’m projectile-vomiting onto the computer screen. Ideally, after that, I leave the story alone for a couple of days or longer so I can step back from it.

Then the trouble starts.

Maybe I re-read the first draft, maybe I don’t quite get there. Either way, somewhere at this point, something switches in my brain.

I procrastinate endlessly, wasting entire evenings on the internet. Then I get angry with myself for wasting my time.

“How can I ever be a proper writer if I can’t sit down and actually write? I’m dooooommmmeeeeddd,” I wail, stamping around the house and slumping onto furniture with my head in my hands. Occasionally I slide to the floor and lie on my back, staring at the ceiling in the vain hope that this will give me a fresh perspective and the motivation to start again.

“I hate myself. I’m useless,” I howl. “I might as well just give up now.”

Those nights are lost causes.

I ride them through, teeth gritted against the misery. Then, suddenly, I break through the pain barrier.

I tentatively begin to restructure and edit the draft, word by word, line by line. I spend three hours on one paragraph, questioning every word and bending the spine of my thesaurus as I pore over the incomprehensible sections, desperately trying to find a better way of saying “all at once”. (NB. Still haven’t. Any suggestions before I post my final assignment tomorrow?)

I try to suspend an entire sentence in my mind, switching the word order over and over, mumbling it out loud to see which sounds best. I comment all over the draft and highlight awkward phrases. Then I go back to the beginning and address the comments one by one, deleting them when I think I’ve dealt with their issues.

I slowly forget how miserable I was a couple of days before, and I realise how much I love writing. I forget that I questioned myself, and forget that I considered giving up writing forever (due to being doomed, remember?).

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I went to school in America for a couple of years, from age 8 (second grade) to age 10 (fourth grade). The school I attended for fourth grade was an elementary school in Texas, and from what I remember, it wasn’t particularly academically high-flying.

Our history lessons began in 1620 with the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock, and ended at the Texan war of independence in 1836. A music lesson was interrupted by a radio broadcast of the OJ Simpson verdict.

One aspect of this time of my education which has particularly resonated over the past year or so is English. I remember writing a lot of stories at school, which is excellent, and I enjoyed it even then.

But I also remember a handout sheet of paper, with a symbol at the top: the word ‘said’, with a giant red cross through it. Underneath, a list of words which one could use instead of ‘said’:

shouted, yelled, whispered, muttered, called, mumbled, shrieked, expostulated…. you get the picture.

Now that I have started reading blogs and books about writing, I’ve learnt that this is wrong. Here is an example from one of my favourite writing websites, the Blood Red Pencil:

If you do use taglines, it’s better to stick with the word “said”, rather than trying to come up with substitutes such as cry, interject, interrupt, mused, state, counter, conclude, mumble, intone, roar, exclaim, fume, explode. These are “telling” words. Let the words in the dialogue show the emotion. And you can NEVER smile words, or squint them, or laugh them.

So, it just goes to show, not all of what you are taught at school is correct.

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Editing Time!

I’m excited about the current topic on A215.

This is what I have been waiting for: how to edit your work.

I’ll keep you posted on my thoughts. Hopefully.

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First Assignment Submitted

I have submitted TMA01, and it’s early by about 24 hours . This is astounding, because my previous track record, as vaguely mentioned before, is poor. While doing my degree I frequently began an essay the day before it was due and just wrote all night until I felt it was finished. Bad bad bad Rosie. I really can’t imagine doing that now, and it wasn’t that long ago.

But now I care what I write and I examine the structure, the sentences, the word choices… brilliant!

I’m a member of a Writers’ Group in Birmingham, and I’ve become friends with someone through that group who is very meticulous about grammar and structure. Fortuitiously, he also seems to enjoy reading through my writing and advising me about it, which is splendid luck for me. He’s a bit of a Devil’s Advocate, too, so occasionally he says provocative things to make sure that, if I feel strongly enough about something I’ve written, I’ll ignore his comments (this is important).

So now it’s time for some serious catching up on the rest of A215 – where did I put the BRB? I’m so behind on the Activities!

 

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