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?

Wolfskin Excerpt

Wolfskin is on its final edits and will be published May 1st, 2015! It’s set in the same world as Masque but is a standalone novel with separate characters. I will hopefully be doing a blog tour a month or two after publication, but in the mean-time, here’s a short excerpt for you to get a feel for the book.

Enjoy!

 

When I stepped from the thread to the path leading to Akiva’s front gate, there was a woman between me and it.

She was so beautiful. I’m not sure why I expected her to be otherwise. Her hair was black and glossy, and hung loose to her waist in a sleek, rippling sheet that mingled with royal purple satins and silks that were as sleek as her hair. Her eyes, framed by impossibly long, dusky eyelashes, were of an equally impossible shade of violet. I saw them and my herbs scattered themselves on the path, dropping heedlessly from my nerveless fingers. Those twin violets gleamed with the same darkness I had seen in Bastian’s eyes the first time I met him.  

Horned hedgepigs! I thought, swallowing. It could only be Cassandra.

She looked me up and down with those brilliant, purple eyes while I regretted fervently that I hadn’t been a moment quicker, and then said: “You’re not pretty.”

Her voice was bell-like in consideration; and, like every other part of her, breathtakingly beautiful.

“I know,” I said. Even if I had been as beautiful as Gwendolen, I couldn’t have hoped to compare with Cassandra. I eyed her unblinkingly, wondering why it mattered to her.

“You’re not pretty,” she repeated; a statement, not a question. “I didn’t expect that. He must be desperate.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” I said, scowling. I was coldly frightened, and that made me angry. Black, tarry magic was stirring around her, creating nasty pockets of corruption in the air that made me feel ill: it was vastly more powerful than anything I had ever seen.

She looked at me contemptuously through the haze. “Beauty is all that matters to him, stupid child. You can only lose.”

“Bastian isn’t here,” said Akiva’s voice suddenly and startlingly. I tore my eyes away from Cassandra’s and saw her, knobbly and infinitely welcome, leaning on a stick behind the enchantress. For a horrible moment it had felt like I was drowning in the brilliant lavender of Cassandra’s eyes.

Akiva hobbled past her and put a hand on my shoulder. I felt a sense of her power, welling up deep inside her, warm and comforting. I think I was still looking up at her with wide eyes when she said quietly: “Go into the house, Rose.”

As I closed the gate with cold fingers, I heard Akiva reiterate: “The wolf isn’t here.”

“I can smell him all over her!” hissed Cassandra.

There was a silence suggesting that Akiva was shrugging; then her old, firm voice said: “I sent him away: he knows what I think about him. Today was goodbye.”

Their voices faded with distance, but as I loitered on the garden path I saw the warm glow of an astonishing and formidable power rising to meet and match Cassandra’s. I recognized it as Akiva’s, hale and hearty, and stronger than I could ever have imagined. After that I hurried to get into the safety of the cottage, feeling the hairs prickle on the back of my neck, because I knew that it was no longer safe for me to be out in the open. Once inside, I plumped myself down in Akiva’s chair, absently staring into the fire and contemplating the extraordinary power I had just witnessed. For the first time in the excitement of my new magical prowess, I felt thoroughly humbled and weak. My own power, puny in comparison to that shown so effortlessly by both Cassandra and Akiva, was pitiful past thinking about. I was suddenly very thankful for Akiva’s protection. In the coldness of the moment, I knew there was no chance that I could ever hope to fight against Cassandra and win.

Wolfskin is available for preorder on Amazon and Kobo, due for release May 1st, 2015.

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?

Sound And Fury

I couldn’t really think of a blog post this week. Yanno: work, the dog, the hubby . . . a new tv show . . .

So you’re going to get 250-500 words of sound and fury, signifying nothing* about my week so far.

#1 on my list of nonsense is that my husband makes a great roast.**

#2 is that my dog stinks. I mean really honks. Can’t give her a bath because a.) no time and b.)when there is time it’s too late in the day for her to dry without leaving the whole house smelling of wet dog.***

#3 is kept for the smug, happy thought of the book I’m planning on reading next.****

#4’s job is to mention that I’m dying for a cuppa.

#5: Did I mention I really want a cuppa? A cup of tea is the best medicine. And I won’t say no to a couple of scotch fingers with that.

#6 would like to offer up the proud knowledge that I’ve figured out the kinks in a story I’ve been thinking about for years, making it properly writable at last *****

#7 is, happily for you, the end of this nonsense. Go do something productive with your day. I’ll be over here having a cuppa.

*Yup. You got it. I’m the idiot. You’re very clever.

**By this I mean that he cooked me a great roast, not that I cooked and ate him.

***Yes. Stinky dog smell is infinitely preferable to wet dog smell. Wet dog smell burrows into stuff.

****Re-reading Diana Wynne Jones’ Deep Secret, in case you wanted to know.

*****I have no time to write said book, of course. I have a schedule of four publications for next year, one of which I have yet to write, one of which is yet to be quite finished, and the third of which is on its last edits. The fourth is done, though. Go me!

When Beta Reading Makes Your Writing *cough* Beta *cough*

I don’t do a whole lot of beta reading. Don’t get me wrong, I love to read. Also, when I read nowadays, it’s not without my back-brain saying things like ‘oooh, I like how they did that!’ and ‘yer, bet I could do it better’. But beta reading is different. If you enjoy it, that’s a plus; but you don’t want to be enjoying it so much that you let things slide because you liked the book as a whole. You get into the nitty-gritty and point out the tiny inconsistencies and mashed sentences. You argue with your writer friends about tenses, and old versus new spellings, not to mention Australian versus American spellings. You tend to be more ruthless, even to nit-pickyness. Something that you might glide over in a run-of-the-mill book you’ve picked up, you don’t glide over. And that’s how it should be. That’s what you want in return. But it is hard work.

Book pile

Besides the obvious benefits of beta reading (someone who reads your work in return, someone with whom to discuss the ins and outs of writing) is another, overlooked benefit. In my mind it’s probably the biggest benefit.

It’s the benefit of recognizing in your own work the very thing you picked at in your friends writing. Come on. You know what I mean. You’ve just highlighted that part of the MS you’re beta-reading: the niggle that keeps happening in their writing. You add a note to remind them that this is becoming a habit. You put aside the MS for the time being, exhausted with your efforts, and settle down to work on your own MS. And as you’re reading the last paragraph you wrote last night in order to refresh your memory, you realize that you’ve done that thing. That thing that you just highlighted a dozen times in the novel you’re beta-reading. You look at it in horror. Go over the last chapter. Find you’ve done it another half-dozen times. Shriek and pull out your hair. Go back to the start of the MS and find the time after time that you’ve done that thing that annoyed you so much in your friend’s book.

It’s annoying. It’s exhausting. But in the end, beta reading is so very worth it. It makes you look at your writing like an outsider again, and if you don’t want your readers being constantly annoyed by that thing, it’s an essential habit to cultivate. Don’t be afraid of the irritation: it’s all part of the process. And if you’ll take my advice, do some beta reading.

The Joy of Last Edits

I started re-editing one of my books this week. It’s a fairytale rewrite of Beauty and the Beast as a murder mystery, regency/steampunk style. I’m working on it with the view to having it published in February next year, and so far the edits have been reasonably simple to do, which means my timeline is thus far intact.

That, of course, has made me think about my editing process. The first thing I notice when editing is generally clumsy words or phrases, and the occasional cough spelling mistake, which can range from a two second fix to a half hour session of mulling over the best way to rearrange a sentence. Lately I’ve even become able to delete whole sentences and paragraphs without so much as a pang (well, sometimes just a small pang), which makes the whole process significantly easier.

Next I start noticing the characters. This usually manifests as a general feeling of unease every time I read a piece of dialogue spoken by the character, or a section of action that just doesn’t sit right for some reason. That sense of unease is almost invariably because the character isn’t behaving in character. The dialogue is too much like another, stronger character, and needs to be made over to match this character.

The first MS that I finished had to be completely rewritten because of character problems. The problem being, my character had no character. She was a cardboard piece, angry because I said she was angry, happy because I decreed it, and was entirely lacking in any quirks or memorable features. The side characters were no better. Once I figured out what the problem was (thanks in great part to Frances Hardinge, whose characters stand up and determinedly claw their way out of the book and into my life), I could start fixing it.

It wasn’t easy, that first book. There was trial and error, a lot of research (me reading a lot of my favourite authors), and many, many discoveries along the way. First, I decided exactly what I wanted my character to be. I decided what quirks she had, what things she did with her hands and feet when she talked/walked/sat/spoke, and the ways in which she reacted to stimuli in general. Then I went over every single bit of dialogue with a fine-tooth comb, cut most of it, rewrote the rest, and thought I could finally see her emerging from the bones of it. I rewrote her actions. I rewrote her thoughts. In fact, there isn’t much in that book that remains of the original bar the basic storyline and the character names.

My second book, (the one I’m re-editing now) was by comparison, much easier. The characters were fully formed as I wrote, and I had all the tricks and methods I’d learned with the first. This time I knew just how to create an idea of a character in a few lines of dialogue, or a short paragraph of action. This has made the editing process a much smoother affair. There are still things I have to change, of course: I still occasionally come across a line of dialogue that sounds more like another character than the one it should, and I still occasionally come across a speech tag or reaction that doesn’t fit with the idea I’m trying to portray of a character. In fact, I rearranged a whole page of dialogue/action just yesterday. It’s a work in progress, this writing business.

The last read-through is generally the one where I catch all the plot/continuity issues that I’ve missed in the preceding read-throughs. Other than that, I try to leave it as it is. There’s always some little niggle that I catch every time I read one of my books again, and it’s hard to know when to let it go if I keep re-reading. So I stop. I let it go (let it gooooooooo- wait, no) and hand it over to my sister or my writing group.

And that’s when the fun really starts.

Proofs Have Arrived!

Ladies and gentlemen, proofs have arrived for the paperback of A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend! They’re almost all gone, too; because as soon as they arrived, various family members began to claim title to them. (Actually, I went a bit crazy a la Ophrah: ‘You get a book! You get a book! Everybody gets a book!‘)

So if anyone wants me, I will be sitting in my writing chair with my remaining proof, and gloating. Also, pics!

Book Proof 1 Book Proof 2 Book Proof 3

Getting Back Into The Swing Of Things (Or, Post-Publishing Blues)

TimeTravellers (No subtitle)

So I’ve finished my first, (self)published ebook (gratuitous Kindle link and gratuitous Kobo link to same).

There was a big sort of scuffle toward the deadline, when I seemed to be writing during every lunch break at work, then rushing home to write feverishly every evening until bedtime. After the writing there was the editing, and after the editing came the formatting. Then there was the realisation that Kindle and Kobo take a little longer to upload books than I had fully grasped. All in all, it was a big rush, scramble, and heave to get over the finish line in time.

Then, the day after I uploaded A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend to Kindle, I was uploading it to Kobo. The same day, I was researching how to upload it to iBooks and making preparations for a CreateSpace paperback copy. That kept me busy for the next few days.

Came the weekend, and suddenly I was at a loss. Somebody should have warned me about this. There’s a gaping hole somewhere around my middle that isn’t because I need to eat (doesn’t mean I’ll say no to those doughnuts, though) and I don’t seem to be able to settle to anything. The other book is done, finished. But I can’t seem to get right into my old WIP again, despite the fact that I know where I want it to go, what I want it to do, and exactly who my characters are. And let’s not even get into the usual stresses of “Why isn’t my book selling more than a few copies? I’ll press the refresh button again: that’ll do it!” or the continual jumping back and forth between book pages in the vain hope that somebody has reviewed your precious ebook in the five minutes since you last checked.

I’ve decided I’m gonna take it easy. I actually got to read a couple new books over the weekend, and managed to do a bit more work on a book I’m critiquing for a friend. Sometimes it’s good to have a break. Also, there are a few more seasons of 24 to catch up on, so there’s that. Only now I’m kinda feeling like I could actually work on my WIP after all . . .

Oh well. Who needs a break, right?