Breaking The Rules

I’d like to start out this blog post by saying that I break the rules. A lot. (Not laws and work rules and such- I’m almost offensively straight-laced when it comes to following those. I am not a rebel.)

Nope, I’m talking about writing rules. The ones that say things like ‘Cut ALL adverbs and adjectives’ and ‘Never start a sentence with a preposition’ and ‘Never use any dialogue tags’. Stuff like ‘Always sit down and outline your book before you write the first word’ and ‘Never use semicolons’. No run-on sentences! Not to mention all the various grammar rules and regulations. Let’s face it, when it comes to writing, there are a lot of rules.

For the record, I use quite a reasonable amount of adverbs and adjectives, and although I don’t tag every bit of dialogue I write, I do tag some. There are some rules of grammar that I break for effect or in line with a particular character’s voice. I quite often, for stylistic purposes, start a sentence with a preposition. I may, in fact, have broken most of the rules of writing. There’s a time and a place for everything.

HOWEVER.

There is a huge, monumental, gaping great difference between breaking the rules for stylistic/characteristic/etc purposes, and breaking them because you don’t know what the heck you’re doing. A huge amount of my favourite authors break the rules constantly, in one way or another (reading Terry Pratchett last night just reinforced this) and I don’t think there are many people who would be daft enough to tell Terry Pratchett, Patricia Wrede, Steven Brust, etc, to pull their socks up and get their grammar right. This is because they know the rules. They simply choose to break them every now and then. But they do know them.

I’ve read a heck of a lot of bad books. Books with bad spelling, the wrong homonyms, atrocious grammar: errors that stick with you whether or not the actual stuff of the book is good. I’ve also heard a lot of authors, when their errors are pointed out, say something along the lines of: “Oh, I didn’t realise that. But it’s okay, insert famous author here does it all the time.”

It’s not okay. Breaking the rules is okay, but there needs to be a reason. And you need to know that reason. You need to know the rules before you break them. It makes all the difference between good and bad writing. You might get it right by accident, breaking the rules, but you’re far more likely to get it horribly wrong and find your book being mocked for the rest of its (probably short) life.

So pull your socks up. Learn the rules.

Then go ahead and feel free to break ’em.

Last Edits And Other Means Of Torture

There’s this feeling you get after finishing a story. It’s something like: “Yes! I’m done now! It’s finished!”

It’s completely wrong. Your brain is lying to you because it knows just how much work there is still to go. In comparison to what you’ve still got to do, writing the MS was the easiest thing in the world.

I’m talking about edits. First edits, second edits, third edits- heck, anywhere from first to fiftieth edits. You painstakingly go over the MS from top to bottom, start to finish; hunting down every wrong word, misplaced comma, unnecessary adverb, missing preposition, and incorrect spelling. You sit back, exhausted from your Herculean efforts, and reward yourself with a cup of earl grey tea and as many biscuits (cookies, for the Americans out there) that you can scoff. Congrats! You’re done.

Except you’re not. There’s still Last Edits to go. (Why, yes, those are the Capital Letters Of Doom).

Let me show you what Last Edits look like.

MS #3MS #2MS #1

Admittedly, these are the most extreme of my Last Edit pages. Some of the pages have no red pen at all, just glorious black and white. Some have a scribbled-out word or two, with notes to remind me about continuity for one thing or another.

I usually leave a MS for at least a few months after edits before I begin Last Edits. It makes me more inclined to notice things I wouldn’t necessarily have noticed otherwise, and if I’ve been working on another MS, it’s the closest thing to a fresh look that’s possible. Last Edits are a chance to get an overview of the whole MS: what the pacing is doing, how the register is behaving as a whole, and if the continuity of well, everything, is smooth and painless.

The problem is, when you sit down to do Last Edits, you can’t turn the line editor off, either. (Well, can’t. Bully for you if you can.) So I end up doing little bits of line edit as I go. It’s excruciatingly painstaking.

And it’s worth every minute. (I can say this because I have less than 30 pages to go on my Last Edits of Wolfskin. When I was halfway through all you’d get from me were growls and snarls.) You may have to replenish your red pen supply by the time you’re finished, though.

Congrats! Your Last Edits are done!

Oh, did I mention the proof copy that’s going to arrive in the mail any day now? Yeah, you’re gonna find a lot more missing words in that one, too.

Enjoy it, won’t you?

10 Things I Hate Love About You Writing

I don’t say this enough, but I love writing.

It’s sometimes excruciating, often frustrating, and frequently exhausting. And it’s always satisfying.

Pic from https://thewritersadvice.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/page-hugging-a-person.jpg

There are days when I have to scrabble and scratch for every flamin’ word, glaring into the middle distance for inspiration. There are days when my fingers can’t fly across the keyboard fast enough to keep up with the flow of narrative, and I forget to do simple things like eat and drink. Then there are the days when I can see the whole thing so clearly, but each paragraph is a burden to type out; whether the problem is distraction, laziness, or exhaustion.

I wouldn’t give it up for the world. So without (much) more ado, here are the Ten Things I Love About Writing.

  1. I get to create my own worlds. Ever since I first read The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle, I’ve fantasized about what I’d make if I could create my own world ex nihilo. It’s probably why I loved Age of Empires so much.  

  2. I had a horrible boss once. Threw stuff at me. Bullied all his staff. Trotted his huge bulk behind me every move I made in order to try and catch me doing something, anything wrong. One of his favourite past-times was asking me every day as I wrote through my lunch break, ‘If he was going to be in my books’. Well, yes. Yes he is. I doubt he’d recognize himself, but it’s him all the same. Don’t annoy me, people.

  3. It’s perfectly permissible for me to listen to the voices in my head, and to document what they say. Admittedly when I start randomly snorting with laughter in the supermarket aisles, I get a few strange looks. But by and large, I’m safe.

  4. People buy my books. Guys, there are people out there I don’t know, who are reading my book! That’s the most surreal, delightful feeling you can imagine. And some of them love my books enough to tell me how much they love them, which is embarrassing and scintillating all at the same time.

  5. I love words. I love building them, taking them apart, studying them in different languages. I love crafting sentences with the right balance and the right nuance. I love creating rhythm and punch. I love discovering words like susurration and pulchritude and weasand. (Why, yes: I did use to read the dictionary when I was ten, why do you ask?)

  6. The more I write, the more I appreciate well-written books. (This has a downside, in that I have far less patience for badly written books; but then, why waste time on bad books when there’s so little left for good books?)

  7. Being a writer makes me look at things differently. It makes me look at people differently. Bottom line, it makes me look. It makes me pay attention.

  8. I’m never bored. Never. No matter if I’m stuck on a train or a plane or a bus, I can write. In fact, some of my most productive time (i.e. undistracted time) is when I have nothing else to do but write. I don’t understand the people at my dayjob who complain that an hour is too long for lunch. By the end of my lunch hour I’m usually typing like fury to try and get that last sentence in before I have to go back. My daydream time is precious to me.

  9. I have the most amazing dreams. Seriously. I dream in very often in whole stories, sometimes in vignettes, and even sometimes in snatches of character interaction. The trade-off is that I have very realistic nightmares; simple, terrifying, and entirely life-like. From these nightmares I frequently wake screaming, and only realize upon waking that I was, in fact, asleep. It’s worth it. It’s worth it for the euphoria every time I fly, or discover a forest city, or experience a whole world, background and story in dream. Heck, I’ve even had a subplot in one of my dreams.

  10. The sense of satisfaction is amazing. There’s almost nothing better than the feeling of achievement I get when I’ve beaten my personal record for words per day; or finished the first draft (or better still, the last) of my current WIP; or even finally arrived at that wonderful, euphoric day- publication day. The act of writing itself, is intensely satisfying. The difficulty is in stopping.

I may never reach a point in my writing career when I can quit my day job. I may become rich and famous overnight. I just don’t know (I can dream, but I don’t know). And I’m okay with that. My books are out there. There’s more where they came from, and the exercise of writing itself is so fulfilling that I don’t think I could give it up if I tried.

What about you guys? What do you love about writing?

Laziness And Self-Publishing, And Stuff

I’m lazy.

That’s one of the first things I learned about myself as I was growing up. You know the kid that goes to the toilet before it’s supposed to do the washing up and just never comes out? Yeah, that was me. (It’s still me, except I’ve figured out better ways to skive off work than shutting myself in the loo with a book.)

So one of the things about self-publishing that’s hit me hard is the amount of work. To be honest, it wouldn’t be that bad if it wasn’t for the full-time (and by full-time I mean 40-55hrs a week) job. There’s just so much stuff to do. Yanno, stuff stuff. It’s not even real writing stuff. It’s stuff like hanging out on Twitter to connect with people (and getting carried away ‘cos suddenly you’ve met this awesome person who’s at the same place you are, and writes these really fantastic stories), or figuring how to promote your book/s, or trying to discover exactly how Goodreads works. (I mean, seriously, I JUST figured out how to Twitter!)

And that’s before you consider the hours of writing per day, sandwiched into my lunch break, or before work, or after work. Then when I get home, there’s the housework to do.

I’m lazy.

I don’t want to have to do all that. Only it’s so satisfying when it comes out right, and the book’s published, and you can get on with the next book. It’s satisfying to see the follower count for my blog go up. It’s satisfying to find out that having a Twitter Follow-Me! box is worth the time and effort to install. And it’s really satisfying when someone else downloads one of your books.

Still, I’m pretty pleased with my foray into self-publishing so far. I’m loving the level of control I have over my own book. I’m loving the fact that I can publish on my own schedule. And I’m loving all the fantastic people I’m meeting along the way.

I’m lazy, but there are some things that are worth working for.

Inferiority Complex

We’re writers. We’re meant to be at least slightly neurotic. But there’s that day, every so often, when we’ll be reading a good book. I mean a really good book: solid to fantastic plot, fascinating characters we fall in love with and weep for, and the absolute perfect pacing; all wrapped in a superbly crafted structure.

You take a thought break to bask in the gloriousness of it, grinning foolishly to yourself. Then it hits you.

I’ll never be this good. This is the Van Gough of books. If I live until I’m fifty and keep writing better and better, I’m still never gonna be as good as this bloke.

And you know, that can be good. I’m not one of those people who thinks it’s damaging to the human psyche to admit to actual inferiority. You’re never gonna be as good as at least one girl or bloke out there, and sometimes that knowledge spurs you on to do better. Anything that gets us in front of that computer/notepad/whatever to write and grow, is a good thing.

But it’s also good to remember that writing is a growing thing. The first books of at least two of my favourite authors, had I read them first, would not have inspired me to read more of their work. I can literally see the growth as I read through those early books. You’re not going to be the best you can be right now. You’re going to have to work on it. Your first book is most likely not going to be your best. You’ve still got so much to learn. I’ve still got so much to learn- and practise, and put in to practise.

Who knows, one day we may be that good. But if we never had anything that spurred us on to be better, we’d probably never get there.

Embrace the inferiority. Just don’t let it stop you from being better.

Butt In Chair . . .

You know what you want to write. You know where the story goes. You’ve got a handle on the dialogue, and the ending is well within grasp. And yet, the thing just doesn’t get written. Why?

Well, if you’re me, it’s because you type a few words, or sentences, or paragraphs (if you’re really dedicated) and then get distracted. Or reward yourself with some internets, or a bit of tv. Or you have a blog that’s good for whiling away an hour or two because you’ve got to write that new blog post. In this day of distractions, there’s always something at your fingertips to take your mind off what you should be doing.

My problem is that I lack discipline. There are those days where everything seems to flow, and on those days I can sit and write for six or seven hours. Those days I mostly forget to eat, and only get up to go to the toilet when the need becomes so pressing that I can no longer ignore it. Then there are the days that, despite knowing where the story’s going, I can’t seem to settle and write. It’s just too hard. I’ll put something on the telly ‘for background’ and end up writing maybe 500 words after hours sitting in front of a tv show I wasn’t even really interested in. Worst (and kinda best) of all are the days where my brain is working furiously on Plot and Movement and Idea; and I can spend literally hours daydreaming the suddenly perfectly clear plot-line I want to outline. Character flaws become clear, tiny details and mistakes pop out at me, and I seem to know exactly how and where to build all the necessary little foreshadowing details. Of all my distractions, this is the one I love the most. Probably because it is, in a way, part of my process. It’s an allowable kind of daydreaming. It’s useful. It serves a purpose. But all the same, not much gets written on those days.

(Image from http://www.onethreefour.co.uk/2009/02/14/shiny-things/)

(Image from http://www.onethreefour.co.uk/2009/02/14/shiny-things/)

So how do you beat the malaise? How do you push past the disinclination and distraction and flat-out laziness? Really, it depends on who you are. When it comes right down to it, I’ve found that the best thing for me is to have a deadline. That’s why I announced the publication date of A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend before it was quite finished. It forces me to put my butt in the chair and just write. To sit there and type until it’s done. I’ve still got two short stories to write to finish up the collection, and a bit of formatting to do, but by and large, I’m on track.

Having a deadline is healthy for me. It may not be helpful to you, however. Every writer is different. But when it comes to writing, the one thing that is true for all of us is that distractions- well, distract. The most effective way to get your story written is to put your butt in the chair, and write. Turn off the tv. Avoid the internet. Write. Don’t worry if it’s rubbish. That’s how we learn and grow. Just write.

Write.