Category Archives: editing

It’s the end of the year! Time to look back at 2015 and see what’s ahead in 2016.

latest-happy-new-year-2016-photos

I can’t believe it’s the end of 2015 already! It feels like this year has gone past me at the speed of light. Whoosh! Gone. So I think it’s a good time to look back and see what I managed to accomplish in the past 12 months, and what I had planned to accomplish but never got around to do. And of course, now is the perfect time to set up goals for 2016 as well! So without further ado, let’s start.

 

What have I managed to accomplish in 2015?

 

  1. Well, I finished The Choices we make, or at least the first draft. This is a personal accomplishment for me because Choices had started as a mess of a draft somewhere in 2012 then had been abandoned after I barely put in about 25k words. This is the first time I pick up a discarded story and run with it to the end. Of course, I threw all of those initial 25k words out of the window and did an actual outline this time, so that might have helped. And as a bonus, while I worked on it, I got the idea for a sequel. So that’s a project for 2016!
  2. I finally finished the chameleon of a story that are Mists of the Crossworlds. It went from a 4k short story to a 20k novella and then to a 50k novel. But at least now the whole story is there. I have nothing else to add to it. And it’s gone through at least 2 rounds of revisions and rewrites. Now I’m just waiting for the final remarks of my beta extraordinaire to put some finishing touches on the draft. After that, it will go to my favorite grammar Nazi ahem editor and will be ready to be put out into the world for everyone to see.
  3. I have outlined two more short stories in the Eye of the Norns cycle, but I never got around to write the drafts. Bad me. I need to do better in 2016.
  4. I have outlined and started writing the first draft of a new novel called Shadow Hunters. It’s over 60k now and I’m still working on it every day, though slooooowly creeping along to the finish line.
  5. I participated at NaNoWriMo again this year and I won, though I must admit that I had a harder time muster the excitement for it this year, maybe because November proved to be one of the busiest months at work as well.
  6. And finally, I got another novel-length idea that I would tentatively call Ghost and the Good Doctor for now. All I did is jot a few notes and character profiles down. I haven’t even started truly mining that world or story yet.

 

Well, now that I look at that list, it doesn’t seem all that shabby, does it? I guess it’s easy not to notice everything you’ve accomplished when you have your nose to the grindstone all the time, so stepping back and taking stock is a good thing.

 

I have also managed to keep my full-time job for another year, read some truly wonderful books (post about the best books I read in 2015 coming soon as well), watch some amazing TV shows and movies, and play a couple good games. So all in all, not such a crappy year after all.

champagne

Now it’s time to make plans for 2016!

 

  1. First of all, I want to finish the first draft of Shadow Hunters and I’m hoping to be done with them by end of January.
  2. Once that’s out of the way, I will put the final touches on Mists and self-publish them on Amazon. This will be my first self-publishing experience, so I foresee lots of research and panic attacks in my future. And blog posts about it of course.
  3. I would also like to sit down and write those three short stories I had outlined for the Eye of the Norns That would bring the story count on this to 5 and it could be published as a standalone volume.
  4. Then I want to start editing Choice. Not sure if I will be able to go through the whole draft next year because I edit at a snail’s pace, but I would like to at least get a head start.
  5. Brainstorm and maybe outline the sequel to Choices.
  6. Brainstorm, outline and start the first draft for Ghost and the Good Doctor.
  7. Make that my NaNoWriMo 2016 project.

 

Pfew, that’s a lot of plans for the next 12 months! Let’s see if I actually manage to get any of that done.

On that note, Merry Christmas to you all and a Happy New Year! Make your plans and don’t forget to dream big.

Can I just hibernate till spring?

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

You might have wondered where I had disappeared to lately since I haven’t been very active on my blog: a couple of measly posts here and there, no book reviews to speak off… I’m very sorry about that! It’s just that I found it very hard to scrap up any motivation to do pretty much anything lately.

Call it winter blues, call it post-NaNo burnout, or even blame it on an insanely busy work schedule, but either way all I want to do is go into hibernation and wake up when it’s spring and everything is flowering again. And the sun doesn’t set at 5pm right when I get off work, when it even deigns to grace us with its presence at all. It’s only mid-December, and I’m already tired of the gray and the early dark. I want my sunshine back!

I think I wouldn’t mind winter as much if nature made up its mind and it was, you know, actually winter. Give me the cold weather and the snow and all the other good wintery stuff. But even that’s not the case this year! It’s 35 degrees one day and 70 the next, then back into the 40s, then oh, never mind, it’s 75 again.

Winter is coming or not

My poor rose bushes have no idea what to do about this weather, and the azaleas are trying to flower. I mean it’s 75 degrees outside today… on December freaking 15th! We had a bona fide summer thunderstorm yesterday. No wonder half the people at work are sick.

So since the beginning of December, I had been pretty much coasting on autopilot. I have a first draft to finish. I have several other books to edit, one of which I want to publish in March. I have books to read and review. I have good TV shows to watch. I have cross stitching projects that have been neglected for too long… Yet all I do when I get off work is sit and watch the grass try to grow in the middle of December while I listen to K-pop, and wonder if I should break out the riding mower or let the (hopefully) coming frost kill it. And then go to bed early because even that is exhausting.

But hey, the situation isn’t as dire as I made it sound! I’m still working on the first draft of Shadow Hunters, even though I went from writing 2k words a day to about 400-600 words. But speed is not as important as consistency, right? And the will to stick with it to the bitter end. I’ll get it done, winter slump be damned.

I have read two very good books this month as well, but I can’t post my reviews yet because they won’t be officially released until February 2016. I was lucky enough to get the ARCs (advance reader copies) of them through NetGalley. So look forward to those reviews (and books) closer to February.

I have also watched some excellent TV series, though I tend to favor Asian dramas lately. One of them, called White Christmas, stood out so much that I even posted a review of it a while back. And I’m planning on doing a marathon rewatch of it for Christmas, which only shows how much I liked the show.

So to paraphrase Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s excellent Discworld series, “I aten’t dead.” Now can we just skip this whole winter deal and get on with spring?

i-atent-dead

The Writer’s worst enemy – self-doubt.

I have noticed that since I started writing almost 2 years ago, I am a more susceptible to extreme mood swings about my work. I can be on cloud nine one day about finally finishing that first draft, and absolutely hate is the next day because I’m certain that it’s just a load of crap and I just want to press DELETE and set my computer on fire.

 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this must be a problem common to all creative people. I think it’s largely due to the fact that writing a book, creating a painting, or composing a beautiful song often takes a lot of time. Most of that time is spent toiling in our own corner, alone with our muse (if we’re lucky and that sucker actually deigned to grace us with his presence), our thoughts and our doubts.

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

It’s hard work and there is no instant gratification. You might get praise and admiration once that book is published, that painting is showcased or that song is played. Or you might get critiqued and ridiculed. Either way, there is no way to know until it’s done and out there for the world to see. Until that day, we simply have no way to know if what we create is any good or not.

 

It can be especially daunting when writing a novel, because it takes a LONG time. From the moment this plot bunny on crack happily hopped into your brain and wreaked havoc in it until the moment the finished novel is published, months if not years can pass. You spend time researching, creating your world, getting to know your characters, outlining the story to discover where it’s going. Then you sit down and write that horrible first draft with your own tears and blood. Then you have to edit it to resemble an actual novel that other people might want to read. Then you send it to beta readers who shred it to pieces. Then you get it back and edit it again. Then you send it to the editor who shreds it to pieces. Then you rewrite it yet again. That’s why you really need to be in love with our story when you start writing, because you will be spending  A LOT of time with it.

 

In any case, that’s a lot of work and a lot of time for insidious seeds of self-doubt to start creeping in and growing roots. And soon we start hearing that little voice in our head telling us that nobody will read what we write anyway, because it’s worthless, so we might as well give up now and spare us time and future humiliation. You know the sad part about it? Eight out of ten people who started writing a book will listen to this voice and give up before they even finish their first draft. And an overwhelming majority of those who actually finish it will be to scared by the prospect of dreaded revisions to pick it up again…

revision angst

Self-doubt is the slayer of dreams and the murderer of books. It’s an insidious monster that is very hard to fight against.

 

I must admit that it caught up with me about 3 weeks ago. I suddenly noticed that I wasn’t really motivated to write or edit anymore. I knew I needed to do it, but there always seemed to be an excuse NOT to do it. Dinner needs to be cooked, the day job is hard and demanding, the next episode of my favorite series is out… And when I would sit down to edit Mists, my thoughts would turn down the dangerous path of self-doubt.

 

The following thoughts would start crowding in my head. I’ve been writing non-stop for almost 2 years, but what do I have to show for that? One short story published in an anthology. I have three finished first drafts, but none of the novels is fully edited and nowhere near ready to be released. It feels like I have achieved nothing. And that feeling was dragging me down.

Facewall

So what is the best weapon against self-doubt? First of all, find someone who will cheer you up. Even though writing is a solitary profession, we are never completely alone, especially with the internet at our fingertips. Talk to your family if they support your dreams, or your friends, or that special beta reader whom you share all your ideas with. Get on Twitter or Facebook and shout out to other writers – you will be amazed at the level of support and understanding you will get.

 

But most importantly, try to look at the situation in a positive light. In my case, instead of thinking about what I haven’t achieved in two years, I looked at what I managed to accomplish. I had a short story published. I wrote 3 more short stories in the same series. I actually managed to finish 3 full-size novels. I have at least 3 more novels in various stages of planning. I am so close to finishing my rewrite of Mists that I can almost see the publication date… If you look at it this way, I actually managed to accomplish quite a lot in those 2 years. And what do you know? I am motivated to finish editing that novel now!

 

I am interested in your opinions as well. Do you experience self-doubt? What do you do to fight it off?

Write what hurts.

revision angst

The more I edit, the more I tend to agree with the statement that putting your first draft away for at least a month (and longer if you can) is a must. I also recommend writing something else to clear your head in the meantime, preferably in a different genre. That way, when you come back to your story, it feels like a stranger and you rediscover it like a reader would. Let me tell you that all the flaws and inconsistencies will jump right at you from the page!

 

Another realization I came to after almost 2 years of doing this and 3 completed first drafts in various stages or revision is that I have a much clearer picture of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer now. It’s one of those weaknesses that I want to talk about in this blog post.

 

Let me be plain – all my first draft endings suck. The last third of each story always requires the most changes to beat it into shape. I was flabbergasted by this realization at first and ran to my beta extraordinaire for some advice. Well, okay, it’s more like I ran to her in a panic saying, “Oh my God, I suck! Why did I even think I could be doing this for a living? I want to burn all my drafts. Somebody shoot me now!”

Editing

Thankfully, she managed to pull me off the ledge and screw my head back right… and she also explained why I kept dropping my endings. She said, “You’re too nice to your characters.”

 

I went back and thought hard about it and realized that she was spot on. I like my characters so much that when I need to let them go through something painful, I cringe and pull back. Yes, I spare their feelings and their lives sometimes, but I also lower the stakes, kill the conflict, but most importantly, avoid that cathartic moment that’s the lowest low before the character’s final rise. Because I love them so much, I don’t let them crash and burn like they should. But a phoenix can’t rise unless it immolates itself first, right?

 

That’s why my advice today, for myself and for my readers is “Write what hurts.”

 

Yes, you love those characters, of course you do! You wouldn’t have decided to stick with them for months, telling their stories if you didn’t. That’s precisely why you can’t soften the blows when something in your story will hurt them. In fact, that’s precisely why you SHOULD write it. Don’t just light a bonfire, burn the whole damn house down. Make your characters go through fire, flood, heartbreak and despair. Sink them low, because that’s the only way they can rise as better human beings.

 

You can’t wrap your characters into bubble wrap and expect to write an interesting story. If your readers like your characters, they need to be worried about them. They need to cry with them and for them; they need to rage against the injustice they are facing with them; and they need to be released for them once they emerge victorious.  This can only happen if the stakes are high and the odds are seemingly insurmountable.

Laughter can keep darkness at bay, even if you are laughing through tears.
Laughter can keep darkness at bay, even if you are laughing through tears.

And for that to happen, you have to write what hurts. In fact, if it doesn’t hurt to write something, then it’s a good indicator that your story took a wrong turn somewhere. I admit that I still cringe at the thought of doing that to my characters, but I reassure myself with the idea that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for them (and no, it’s not an incoming train), and all the suffering only makes the ending more sweet.

 

And now I just need to dive in and totally rewrite the last two chapters of Mists to make it right. Then I need to go back and rewrite the ENTIRE last part of Broken Things as well. I’m in for a lot of pain… But isn’t that what writers do? They suffer with their characters.

We all have 20/20 Hindsight… and that’s good for editing.

Editing

You have all heard the phrase “We all have 20/20 hindsight,” right? Well, today I want to tell you that when it comes to editing your work, that’s a very good thing.

I don’t know about you, but my experience with a first draft is a lot like stumbling through a forest at night with only a flashlight and a hand-drawn map. Lots of flailing about in the dark, tripping over protruding roots and falling face first into ant hills. By the time I get to the end of the draft, I feel like I had a boxing match with an angry bear.

I mean, unless you outline every single scene in your story and never deviate from the plan, you will always get some good and some rather nasty surprises along the way.

Like I know that I need to get my protagonist from point A to point B but I have no clue what would even make her want to go to B, because B is a rather horrible place. So I come up with some lukewarm conflict or justification that doesn’t really work (and I know it doesn’t work), but at least has the merit of getting my character where I want her to go. I plot it on the page like a big brown smear and move on. Because I need to keep the story going and it will come to a grinding halt if I start agonizing over that turd I created for too long.

Or when your plot suddenly makes a twist and takes you into uncharted territory, and you wave your little flashlight around, but all you see are trees, and you think, “Well f^%k, now what?”

good-luck-road-sign

Or when you can’t get the character’s motivation just right no matter how hard you try…

You have to learn to look past all those bumps on the road and press towards the end because otherwise you will never finish your story. And that’s okay. Put that half-baked plot point in there and keep on going, because once you are done with your first draft and are ready to edit the monster, you’ll benefit from the famous 20/20 hindsight.

Now that you see the big picture and you know how your story ends, you can go back and determine which parts don’t work towards that goal. And I can assure you, that they will stick out like a sore thumb now that they are part of something bigger and you’ve gained some perspective.

Looking at your character’s arc, you will suddenly have the revelation you needed about what really made him move from that point A to that point B. And it’s not the lukewarm justification you had concocted in your first draft, but something so visceral that your character runs to that point B screaming, terrified that he won’t get there in time.

Let me share with you something that happened to me this weekend. I was editing Chapter 12 of my novel Of Broken Things, notably a pivotal conversation between two of my protagonists. Protagonist 1 needs to persuade protagonist 2 that she needs to master her paranormal ability, but she’s always been reluctant to do so, because she is afraid of the power it gives her over other people and considers it evil. In the first draft, I came up with the justification that since they were locked in a research facility, their life was valuable only as long as they showed promising results. It worked, but it never felt quite right.

When I came back to that scene Saturday, armed with my 20/20 hindsight, I found a much better argument that fits into the way Protagonist 1 thinks perfectly. It was never about the lab and the experiments, because they had already decided to escape and were working on a plan. But Protagonist 2 ability turned out to be essential to the success of that plan and would help them avoid recapture afterwards. Something I didn’t know when I first wrote that scene, but that I know now. It’s a small shift in focus, but it makes her subsequent success and failures seem more critical to the reader, because the stakes are much higher.

So I think that 20/20 hindsight is a super power that we writers have and we should never hesitate to use it. After all, what other profession can say, “Wait, that didn’t work out exactly like planned. Let’s go back and redo it.” We can. Every time we edit our draft, we go back in time and change the past. We are like superheroes!

All these heroes belong to Marvel.
All these heroes belong to Marvel.

Anyway, I guess what I wanted to say with this post is don’t be scared to make mistakes when you write, as long as you apply your super powers to fix them later. The first draft of anything is shit, but we have the power to transform it into a masterpiece. All it takes is hard work and perseverance.

Kill your Darlings.

Editing

I will be elbow deep in revisions of my novel Of Broken Things, my sci-fi murder mystery which started as a love story, for at least the next couple of months, so expect to see some blog post about editing, starting with this one.

Today, I want to share with you a story that, in my opinion, is the perfect example of why it’s essential to kill your darlings when editing. And by that I don’t mean murdering your favorite characters in a particularly gruesome way. No, it means not being afraid to cut out and rewrite (or sometimes delete entirely) some scenes that you like, because they don’t work with the flow of the story. This, my friends, is the hardest and the most heartbreaking part of the editing process.

But let’s go back to the story I wanted to tell.

About a year ago, a writer I know finished his first novel and decided to get it published. He sent his manuscripts to several big publishers (yes, he decided to bypass the search for an agent process and submitted directly to the publishers), but none of them seemed interested. After doing this for several months and receiving several rejections as well as some negative feedback, he decided to seek the opinion of his peers and sent his manuscript to several beta readers. Yes, he probably should have done that before submitting to publishers, but he had been certain that the book was perfectly publishable.

The beta readers came back with the verdict that the story needed a lot of work before it was anywhere near publishable. All of them were unanimous in their assessment that the beginning needed to be scrapped in its entirety. Let me tell you why.

The story opens with a prologue which begins with the words “Dear reader, imagine a world where…” and is followed by several pages of backstory and worldbuilding. All of which is presented info-dump style. Then Chapter one starts with four paragraphs describing the weather and the scenery. So about 16 pages in, we still don’t know who the protagonist is or what the story is about. I don’t know about you, but I would have closed the book and moved on to the next one by that point.

The betas told this author, “Scrap the prologue. Find a way to integrate that information into the story in smaller bites. Introduce your protagonist early on. Start with the action.”

The author refused to change anything. His answer was, “But I like those scenes at they are!”

kill-your-darlings

He was so attached to his words that he couldn’t see any flaws in his story. He didn’t t want to kill his darlings…

As far as I can tell, he hasn’t editing his book yet and still tries to send it to publishers as is. Unsuccessfully, so far. Moreover, he is so fixated on getting this story published that he hasn’t written anything new since.

I realize that it’s one of the hardest things we have to do as writers. My heart bleeds when I have to scrap a scene I had fun writing, but it’s a necessary evil to make the story better. So when editing, I try to always keep in mind the following considerations:

 

  1. No word is set in stone.

I agree with Ernest Hemingway when he says that the first draft of everything is shit. So I set off writing any story with full knowledge that 99% of the words I put on the page will be changed during revision. I try not to get too attached to them, which is also rather liberating because I don’t have to agonize over clunky dialogue or lack of description and setting at that point; I just need to put the entire story on paper and reach the end.

There are passages that I love when I first write them, of course. But if I realize that they don’t really work with the rest of the story, I don’t hesitate to change them or ax them entirely upon editing.

 

  1. Every scene must add value to the story.

I think one of the mistakes most of us make when we write down our story is that we get too attached to a particular scene and don’t want to change it later. Like that author with his prologue.

What we must remember is that those scenes are part of something bigger, aka the story we want to tell. And the story must always take precedence over a scene, no matter how much we like it.

So when I edit a scene, I always ask myself: Does this scene move the story forward? It is important for character development? Can the same effect be achieved by adding a few paragraphs to other scenes? If the scene doesn’t meet those criteria, I don’t hesitate to take it out or cannibalize it for material to add elsewhere.

For example, yesterday I removed about 700 words worth of dialogue where my characters discuss the military structure of their world. I had tremendous fun researching and writing that scene, but it brought absolutely nothing to the story. Sure, it added to the worldbuilding, but knowing about the military structure had no impact on the story. So out of the window it went.

revision angst

  1. It’s all about the readers.

That’s the hardest lesson of all, I think. Ultimately, we don’t write stories for ourselves, not if we want them published and read at least. We write them for the enjoyment of our readers.

If a reader tells you, “I loved your story! I couldn’t put it down! What other stories do you have for sale?” that’s when you know you’ve done it right, no matter how many darlings you had to kill in the process.

Keep Writing – you get better even if you don’t feel like you do.

Last week, I finally finished the first draft of Mists of the Crossworlds… again. Yes, I’ve had to rewrite this story three times now and each time it nearly doubled in size. So it went from a 6k words short story to a 20k words novella and now, at almost 50k words, it’s a novel. Hopefully, I have finally told the whole story and I won’t have to go through this process again.

 

Anyway, I feel drained and rather low every time I finish a new first draft. I can’t help but feel like everything I have written is complete and utter s%$t and why did I even bother finishing it in the first place?

 

I know that feeling now. It happens all the time. So instead of panicking and sending the whole Scrivener folder into the Recycle bin or putting the printed copy into the furthest drawer, I sent it off to my favorite beta and most vocal supporter and decided to forget about it for a few weeks. Once she is done reading, she’ll come back to me with a long list of problems and some much needed praise, and I will try to make the story better.

write

So while I wait on her to suffer through the murk of my first draft, I decided to come back to editing Of Broken Things, the very first novel I managed to write from beginning to end. I had finished the first draft in January 2014, had started editing it in March 2014 and hadn’t touched it since about July 2014. Back then, I managed to edit about half of the manuscript and got burned out. Considering that I had to rewrite about 80% of Part 1 and change almost everything, It was probably normal.

 

Anyway, I had put the manuscript aside and wrote a couple short stories, did my first revision / extension of Mists and then got busy with the NaNoWriMo project which became The Choices we Make. After I finished that one, I jumped into yet another revision of Mists, so I never got a chance to get back to Broken Things before.

 

Well, I can tell you that what I discovered when I opened that manuscript again after almost a year took me by surprise. The first thing I thought was “Holy s%$t, I can write better than this now!” And that was a very empowering thought, especially since I was feeling low after finishing my first draft of Mists. So that’s and observation I really wanted to share with my readers.

 

We spend so much time in our current project that sometimes we lack the perspective. First drafts can be soul-eating and draining. They look more like Quasimodo than Prince Charming, and we sometimes end up hating them by the time we are done. And we can start feeling like nothing we write is worth reading, that nothing is good enough. Worse, that we’re not improving, that we’re not moving forward.

hourglass_parchment_quill_cover

What I discovered when I picked up Broken Things again is that it’s not true.  I have written a little over 200k words since the day I finished that manuscript, and I can see that they have made a difference. I have gotten better. I have grown more confident in my voice and my abilities as a storyteller and it shows. That doesn’t mean that this old manuscript is bad. It just means that I have a much better idea of how to improve it. And editing goes a lot faster than it used to!

 

So my advice to everyone who is feeling low at the moment; who feels like their craft is not improving – dig out an old manuscript of yours and re-read it. I guarantee that you will see the difference. You are improving with every word you write, with every story you finish, but sometimes you need a little perspective to see that.

 

Don’t give up. Keep writing. Finish what you started, even if it feels like you’re just smearing manure on the paper.

PS. If you are interested in checking Of Broken Things out, I am posting it on Wattpad.