Edit out the habits: How to Improve Work

There are certainly a few recurring ‘snags’ as it were in the cloth of my carefully constructed words. By editing and work-shopping I’ve been lucky to identify the trends in my work that make it less accessible to the reader. If you have to work hard to read something, then you’re more inclined to give up part-way though. For my rambling thoughts on what puts me off reading a story, there is a post here: Scared of Reading – actually funny story. I started writing this blog post and it originally turned into that one. So I decided to split it into two complete and hopefully coherent articles! Fingers are crossed.

But here are the trends that I learnt to look out for in my work.

  1. Passive verbs passive verbs.

My characters had many limbs that did things for them, but instead I needed to just write, that the characters –did-the-thing- much simpler, much clearer. So for example: Her hand reached out toward the glowing embers. – Passive. What would be better is: She reached toward the glowing embers. – Active. It’s just easier to imagine what the protagonist is doing.

  1. Did uh…did that just happen?

A lot tends to happen to my heroine as she goes about her journey. But I was informed, and then realised that although she reacts physically to the things around her and says things, the reader was being cut out of her thoughts. This was causing a second problem in that my reader felt disconnected from her and therefore my storytelling was less effective. The manuscript I’m working on, was supposed to have a close-third person narration, but too often it was just narration and I wasn’t as close in the third-person as I thought I was. Cue thoughts and responses! It sounds very juvenile but I listed a number of responses such as:

‘She was surprised’, ‘shocked, Sarah turned,’ ‘torn between’, ‘relieved’ etc and then used them as a prompt sheet to include things more in my writing. The result has so far been successful and feedback very positive. Hooray!

  1. Too many wonderful, amazing, blue, sparkling adjectives.

Description is a beautiful thing. However, going through everything with a cut-happy pixie on my shoulder I realised something else that I’d been previously told. I have a tendency to repeat myself. With repetition and a build-up of adjectives, some of the writing was getting lost in itself. Cut, cut, cut! And the work made more impact. I kept the best phrases and descriptions or reworked the ones I really loved and couldn’t bring myself to part with.

  1. For a moment she was a little afraid.

In a final bid to avoid unnecessary repetition in the manuscript I did a ctrl-f word search for a few phrases such as ‘For a moment’ and ‘a little’. I’ll tell you something, I use those tags far too often! I think within 30,000 words I ended up deleting them over 50 times. They didn’t add anything to the story, the plot, the description. They were filler! All they did was water down the writing and stop the protagonist committing to any particular emotion. If she was ‘A little afraid’ why is she just not afraid? If ‘she paused for a moment,’ why doesn’t she just ‘pause.’ Cut!

Everyone has different version of these phrases that they fall back on. My nemesis as I’ve started to refer to them. They’re things I don’t even remember writing! Maybe I don’t, maybe they just appear… That must be it. Those and spelling/grammar errors.

It may be worth going through any work under editing and seeing if you can find one or two and then doing a word search to find out just how many times they sneak in, pesky little things. I definitely go through additional phases of ‘word of the day’ that will sneak in over and again in a chapter if I took a shine to a certain sound when the chapter was in construction. Thank goodness for editing!

The best thing about recognising (the latest) failing of you work, is that when you go on to write new things, you are aware of them and so you make them less often. This does open up the path to making shiny new mistakes, but I like to believe that by slowly eliminating bad habits and trends I’m improving every time I do a thorough edit.

I’m sure there is even evidence to support this as whenever I write I feel it’s better than what I was able to write 6 months ago. I still need to edit the draft, but the process is less painful. I know what I’m looking for, what needs to be edited for clarity what is actually my style. Maybe I still use too many adjectives- but that is because I like long and rambling description. That is a choice, it’s not just the adjectives sneaking in a little.

What are the writing habits you have learnt to look out for? Let me know 🙂

Fibi xx

Everything is going to plan – Panic!

So this is an update. Hello world! I feel as though I’m emerging out of a cocoon of books, writing, endless of paper with red, purple, blue scribbled notes.

I’ve finished and submitted my MA thesis. Party!!!!

So excited!

And yet…

Scared.

I remember handing in my undergraduate dissertation. I spent the week before it was due scrambling to pull 8000 words together in library. I would swipe in at midday and force myself to write at least 1000 words and then as I inevitably didn’t get that done, by the end of the week I was locked in a private study room until I’d finished the entire thing!

Then I was sat in the library with loads of time to spare the morning the assignment was due. It was beautifully formatted and I had two hours to print, bind and swipe it through the electronic system. I decided to casually browse through the requirements one last time. 8000 words to be handed in, including footnotes. What? Including footnotes. What?! PANIC! Suddenly I have just under two hours to remove 2000 words from my carefully crafted, painstakingly edited dissertation. 2000 words of content and footnotes to remove. Editing, re-formatting, re-reading and hoping that I find all the now half-words and cuts and manage to make everything into a proper sentence again once I’ve gone through with a brutal delete key! 30 minutes to print, dash around the library to find someone from the ‘unhelpful-desk’ to help me use the weird spiral binding machines. Which no-one knew how to use. They were like a dusty alien lifeform, left over from the 1970’s.

I had to run up six flights of stairs to swipe my student card in time. I managed it- just!

The ultimate lesson in how not to finish writing your dissertation.

Much beer was had in celebration.

And then I came back for an MA.

Hand – in this time was not traumatic. It was quite lovely. I was given a cookie by my tutor.

I’d managed to finish writing up a few days early. I spent three mornings re-writing an accompanying critical piece (I have never, never written a draft essay before this! I have to admit, they’re not wrong when they advise you to go back with fresh eyes after a few weeks. Especially if, like me, feedback consists of: ‘needed proof-reading’. Followed by my red-faced realisation that some of the sentences are not sentences and the odd word is missing. Just missing. Not miss-spelled or grammatically incorrect (my undergrad suffered from that) – missing. Anyway, essay was re-done commas’ were moved, reading aloud completed.

And I had a whole day and a half before going to print.

It was printed.

It was bound.

It was handed in.

Where is the panic.

WHAT HAVE I MISSED?!

Nothing. So far, honestly – I think all my hard work has just paid off.

Now I can return to my blog. Hooray!

*dusts shelves & generally spruces up the place*

Just as a further update. My cousin Alex is fast approaching his 8th adventure!!!!!

Good luck to him and the rest of the adventure crew.

Especially the little pony who would. Daisy. She’s going along for this one. I can’t wait for the posters.

I now go to celebrate with a more sophisticated beverage than my undergrad allowed.

Dialogue Advice – Reading Aloud? Nooooooooo

Following yesterday’s blog post, a fellow writer of Young Adult fiction replied that she always reads her dialogue aloud after writing it. That is, all around brilliant advice!

But what if you have a crippling phobia and inability to read aloud? Yes, yesterday’s blog post was about my fear of writing dialogue. Well, surprise! I’m also afraid of reading it out.

Why am I afraid? Well, I could give a few reasons and it all starts back at school. I was bullied throughout my school career, with very little support from teachers. It was however, a long time ago. But as a child being bullied, the last thing I ever wanted to do is draw attention to me, imagine!

“Yes – I spend most of my time in this school, trying to hide from the rest of the people in this classroom and what I really want to do, is stand up in front of them, have all of their attention devoted to me, and read aloud. This is my dream!” – No, it’s a nightmare.  It’s the mental equivalent to walking onto the stage and realising that you’re naked, or something.

Now combine this desire to hide from the spotlight and some minor dyslexia. Imagine staring at the white board, concentrating as hard as you can and still seeing absolute gibberish. Difficult. Very difficult. You begin to believe that you are stupid. The words are making sense to everyone else, but for me, at times I felt that I was trying to read hieroglyphics. Brain did not compute.

Reading however, is brilliant. I loved reading, I lived for reading and still live for words. But as a youngster it was my escape and I read much more quickly than I could ever write, or speak. The result? My eyes and my mind are far further ahead than my mouth. Cue tongue-tied-twisters. Combine with innate fear of a. reading aloud in the first place and b.  giving my classmates another reason to mock me and the results are a put of dread as the ‘turn’ to read goes around the room. The Turn is coming closer, creeping creeping, only three people away. I’d be so worried about having to read, that I’d start losing touch with the rest of the world and feel a bit spacey. I couldn’t breathe. The words would start to wriggle under my gaze, slipping over the page. Sweaty palms. The person reading is next to me. I’m next. What are they reading? At this stage there would be no understanding of the text or comprehension of what had just gone. Just a mad skim to the bit I was supposed to speak aloud before the inevitable doom arrived. My turn.

Moving onto University did wonders for my confidence. I was able to rebuild myself from the very shy and defensive person I had become. I was found and accepted by friends and it was wonderful. However, the fear of reading aloud had become a physical reaction as well as a mental one at this point. I studied creative writing, and so once a week during our seminar would need to read aloud my work. It was awful and still isn’t very pretty! Having to read once a week, every week made things a bit easier. But when it’s your own work? Well, at that point you’re definitely naked. I can’t help but feel that my work is a part of me. A creative output, it’s found form that I’m pleased enough to try and share with other people.

This year, I was privileged enough to have a piece acted out at RADA as part of my Masters. My classmates were elated to watch their pieces and each had a strong reaction to the work. The actors and actresses were also absolutely amazing. I couldn’t bring myself to watch however. Mine was a particularly personal and emotive piece. But all the dizziness came flooding back. There was nothing wrong with the writing and the feedback was astounding in its positivity. But this reading aloud thing – I think it’s really just not for me. Which might be a problem.

As my fellow writer replied to me on twitter, in order to publicise their work, writers are required to read aloud. Yikes! I hadn’t really considered this before. I’m of course, happy to work my socks off to publicise my writing and any future publications. But reading aloud?

Well, this is one fear I’m going to need to work on. All of the above are reasons, and possibly excuses as to why I have managed to avoid reading aloud for so long. Like my desire to avoid dialogue – I’ll need to get on with it won’t I?  I’m thinking acting classes… Actors have to read dialogue, and after seeing professionals at work, their ability to read/act, in the same moment of being handed the script, is truly inspiring to watch.  I’m not longer the shy person I was either. I am, by necessity confident and far more outgoing than I was.

All the advice also says, that you should never submit something without first reading it aloud. I need to at least be able to read my work to myself.  This is my new mission, write, edit – read out. Put the words out there in the open air. Even if only the kittens can hear me.

I don’t think I’ll ever want to be on stage, but maybe if I push myself beyond my worry and so far beyond my comfort zone, then hopefully, possibly – sinking back to simply being able to read my work aloud to other people, and enjoy it will be comfortable; or at the very least easier.

What do you think? Do you have any tips and advice?

How necessary is it, for new writers to read aloud?

Daily Prompt: Back to School / I don’t got no gramma’

Daily Prompt: Back to SchoolIf you could take a break from your life and go back to school to master a subject, what would it be?

Now here is an interesting question! If I could go back to school, what would I want to master? Well, ideally I’d love to learn all the ‘stuff’ about grammar and punctuation – I’d particularly like to learn how to spell (auto-correct, you are a fiendish friend!) I don’t know where I was, when everyone else was learning all the ‘rules’ of grammar, but I’m certain I wasn’t in the class!

When it comes to the rules, I always feel deficient. Why does i go before e except after c? When should I use a semi-colon, and the possessive apostrophe ends up everywhere, even when there are no s’sssss to be found! I’m aware these days, that with the wonder of googliness, I can read up on all these rules and re-learn them. However, I feel cheated. These aren’t things I should be learning, (I can’t relearn something that I’ve never learnt) these are things that I should know.

The deficit is a hole within me. When I’m pulling out the story and the flow and the words and throwing them onto the page like an artist with paint; I can’t help but feel I’ve been robbed of a valuable tool – the paint brush perhaps. Yes, I can throw a variety of colours onto the page, and I might even be more imaginative, painting without a brush, but when I’m trying to be a serious artist, the lack of definition shows.

Please could I learn some grammar?

Thanks!