Monday, 16 September 2013

How I approached revisions

Hello! It’s been a while, but I am here! Quick update for my sake; after 7 months of being unemployed, I finally have a new job! It’s a replacement position, so I don’t know how long it will last, but it’s something! It’s also, for the moment, part time, which means, I still have time to write. Yay me!

The thing is, I’ve been mostly focusing my efforts on revising my completed manuscript. Let me tell you, revision is a bitch, especially if you don’t know what the hell you are doing. I was one of those clueless people. I used to write long ass, novel length fanfiction (yes, I admit it) and my editing and revising process was this: skim through the chapter, once all typos are corrected, hit post. Not a good idea. Amazingly, I had a few fans of my writing, but it could have benefitted from serious overhauls. Now I know better.
I combed the internet’s many writing blogs, read a writing book or two, and even took a Writer’s Digest Webinar on revising and editing. All taught me basically the same steps. And all of them said everyone has a different way of approaching the dreaded stage of revisions. Here is how I approached it:
1.       I set my printed manuscript aside for a month. I didn’t look at it. I didn’t read it. I refused to think about it. Get it out of your system. Catch up on your reading. Start writing something else. Watch some movies. Go have a life. It really did help because when I did get back to it, everything was fresh again.
2.       I read through it in one sitting. This is helpful to see the big picture. Of course, all those little errors glared at me with a vengeance, but I resisted the urge to correct them. I made note of them, but didn’t fix them on the spot. Instead, I focused on the plot, the characters, the structure of my manuscript. Was there enough tension in each scene? Did each scene move the story forward? Was every character needed? Could I combine one character with another? Did the conflict make sense? Did I start the story in the right place? I took note of everything I needed to change (i.e. rewrite or cut).
3.       I made the necessary changes. Some of it was painful. I cut out a lot. Let me tell you now, do all this in a copy of your document. You might want to reverse some changes. After tackling the big changes, I got to the little ones.
4.       I tightened my manuscript. At this stage, a lot more got cut. Here are some of the little things I looked for, (fixing these can make a big difference):
a.       Over directing. These are sentences like this:

She reached for the door knob, turned it, and pushed open the door.

Make your life easier and just write:

She opened the door.

b.      Repetition/over explaining. These are two sentences in a row that basically say the same thing. For example,

Her eyes drooped and she stifled a yawn. She was so tired.

Cut the telling one (She was so tired). You don’t need it. People are smart. They’ll get what you’re trying to say.

An example of over explaining:

She wore high heels on her feet.

Well, duh. Where else is she going to wear them? Same goes with gloves and hands, hats and heads, etc.

c.       Telling. You all know the show don’t tell advice. Here’s a simple one to get rid of:


“I hate you!” she screamed in anger.
Get rid of the “in anger” part. Heck, you could even get rid of the “she screamed” part depending on what happened before that sentence. Like I said, readers are smart; they’ll know if she’s angry. (Showing vs Telling in your writing|Show vs Tell in Creative Writing)

d.      Passive voice/to be -ing. You want to be active as much as possible. It just reads better. Grammar Girl can explain better than I can. Also, sentences that have some form of to be and –ing (which are not always considered passive). For example,
She was wondering what would happen next.

You could write it this way:

She wondered what would happen next.

e.      Filters. This is when you write something like,

She heard the flames flickering and sputtering behind her.

Change it to this:

Flames flickered and sputtered behind her.
Readers can assume you mean she hears the flames. This is especially good to look out for if you are writing in first person. For instance, if you write,

I saw the river sparkling in the distance.
There are some unnecessary words there. Just write:

The river sparkled in the distance.

Anytime you have sentences that start with I heard, I saw, I felt, I wondered, I thought, and the like (the last two especially in first person), it’s usually filtering. Sometimes they are necessary but most of the time they are not. (

f.        Word usage/placing. Sometimes you use the wrong words/phrases or words that don’t even exist, like quicker when you should use faster. It can be embarrassing. Or you can use them in the wrong order. That can be even more embarrassing. One example my crit group caught in my manuscript:
Instead of finishing Jackin off[…]

I’ll let that stew for a while…
g.       Favorite words/phrases. How many times do you write a certain word or phrase? For me, hands are all over the place. Ninety-nine percent of the time I don’t need to mention the word. But I do and I don’t know why. Cut them like there’s no tomorrow. (Word Choice)
h.      Backstory/info dumps. Watch out for these. Sometimes, you don’t need them and you realize they were only there to help you sort out your first draft. Cut whatever you don’t need. A long winded memory that has nothing to do with the story as it is? Cut it. A fat history of some mythical creature in the middle of a fight? Cut it or find somewhere else to put it.
i.         Dialogue. Is it cheesy? Is it realistic? I’ve often heard the advice to read it out loud. Also, is it a bunch of talking heads? Add some action to the conversation. Another thing about dialogue, the tags. Some people say vary the tags, other people say to keep it simple and stick with said or asked. I tend to stick with the keep it simple mantra. Once in a blue moon, I’ll use groaned or something else. Sometimes, you don’t even need tags, but make sure readers will know who is saying what. So, be careful.
j.        Adjectives/adverbs. You generally don’t need them. Cut most of them.
k.       Sentence length. Vary them. I wrote too many short, choppy sentences in a row and it didn’t work for my crit group. Also, fragments – limit the use of those.
5.       I re-read my manuscript on a different medium. Once I did all the changes, my story started to look familiar again. To combat this, I re-read my story on my Kobo. You can always read it off your computer and simply change the font. It will help to see your story in a new light. That way you can review your changes and see if they make sense. Or, gods forbid, you’ve made things worse. In that case, repeat the above steps.
6.       I shared my manuscript with my critique partners. They had all kinds of awesome suggestions and tips. I think this is an important step. You need to get other people’s opinions. They catch things you miss. They see your manuscript differently. And sometimes they’ll tear it to pieces. But it’s worth it. You don’t have to accept all their suggestions. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.
7.       Revise again. Yes, that is why revision is a bitch. But you want to make your story the best it can be, right? So if you think it’s not ready and it needs more polishing, then polish it up some more. When will it be ready? I’m not sure. I haven’t figured that out yet. My manuscript still needs a way to go before I consider doing more with it.
So that’s how I approached revision. I hope my examples, as dreadful as they are, will be helpful. I did a few other things in between the steps. For instance, I wrote a chapter by chapter synopsis for a large overview of my story. That way, I was able to see the big picture and what was and wasn’t working. And I didn’t always do things in order. I’d go back and add things later on. I wish I would have been more organized. That, I think, is the key to a happy revision process.
If you want a pro’s process, check out Chuck Wendig’s amusing post on editing (25 Steps to edit the unmerciful suck out of your story). Also helpful, Rachelle Gardner’s short post, Tighten up your Manuscript. Until next time, happy revising. Wish me luck as I wade through the mire once more.
(Sorry for the weird formatting of the post, I wish I had time to fix it).

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Jumping the gun: false starts in writing

So, at the end of last month, I finally finished the first draft of my story. Writing the end felt so good. It was like Christmas in July. It was like grape flavored slush on a scorching day. I was so happy. I felt accomplished. But then, the next day, reality returned.
I’d have to edit the monster.
And I mean, it is a monster – a nine-headed Hydra. It ended at 140,000 something words. That, my friend, is too long.
I joined a critique group a few months ago. Scary, to show people your writing, especially in such a rough form. But they have been really helpful. While I was getting my July 1st submission ready and rereading their thoughts on my opening chapters, I realized something.
I jumped the gun.
My story started in the wrong place. The first 50,000 words were back story. I didn’t need them. The really interesting things happened after those first thousand words.
I was tempted to feel like I had wasted my time. That I’d just spent months writing stuff that nobody would ever see. To pull my hair out and scream foul at the world.
But I didn’t want to think like that. And, well, I like my hair.
It’s all right, I thought. I read around author blogs. False starts happen. They don’t have to be a waste. So you wrote back story. You can use it. You figured out your characters. You know where they came from. So, you should know where they’re going.
And you wrote! Doesn’t matter if it won’t be used, you gained a lot of experience. You hopefully honed your craft. You learned things about your writing style. Your voice. Not all of it has to be a waste. Some things can be recycled.
I think, to be a good writer, you have to know when and what to cut. To kill your darlings. It hurts. But in the end, if it serves your story and makes it better, then go ahead and break out the scissors. You need a haircut, darling.
In my case, I burned off eight of those heads and buried the ninth under a rock, Heracles style. They won’t come back to haunt me. I sprinkled some magical fairy dust over them. J
How about you? Ever had a false start? Did you start too early? Too late? Also, if you’re interested in joining the critique group I’m a part of, let me know, I can get you in. We’re always looking for new members writing in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genres.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Btsk - MS MR

In love with this song right now, thought I'd share. The rest of the album is great, too!

And, yeah, I'm still around! :)

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

blah de blah blah blah

How to do this. How to do that. Sometimes I think I’m swimming against a never ending tide of writing advice. Lately, I’ve been reading many different books and blogs on writing technique, story technique, and all that. It’s getting really frustrating, though, to know how much to rely on them. Why can’t I just write the story I want to read and say to hell with it all?

Now, I know there are things that make your writing better – and boy, did I need to hear some of those tips – like cutting unnecessary words, keeping it simple, and blah de blah blah blah.

When does it end?

What’s the right dose to take?

All I want to do is finish my story once and for all. But all this advice floating around in my head has been hindering me these last couple of weeks. I can’t turn off my inner editor. I can’t just sit and write like I did at the beginning.

Maybe this is good, though, right? Maybe all that extra careful writing I am doing will mean less work once the first draft is finally finished. Right? Right!?


I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. It’s May already. I wanted to be finished by now. The weather is beautiful. My cats are escaping through the patio door and I sit around worrying about them. Or I go outside with them and have my thinking time – where I think about my story.

Some good will come out of this. And something will come out of all the things I read on writing.

In the words of Spartacus: apologies, for breaking words lacking invitation.

In other words, sorry for the ramble. I am obviously very frustrated, but still around.



Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Riddle me this, Google (a ramble about waking nightmares)

I lay awake in the deep of night;
To close my eyes is to block all sight;
But as the sweetness of slumber envelopes me,
My mind shows me things I wish not to see;
Of evil, of strangeness, of fearful things;
A shadow, a form, a slayer of everything.
A shuffle of feet on the other side,
The door knob twists – I open, I close my eyes.
Am I awake? Am I dreaming?
All I know is the fearful feeling.
Heart is pounding, body is in stasis,
Always appears the same faces.
Mother, brother, even father;
A cry of nothing – why do I bother?
They reach for me with taunting arm;
Oh, why do they wish me harm?
I've been good daughter, good sister, too;
But it seems there is nothing I can do.
A knife or a pillow – my end is always near,
With lids shut, I lie back in fear.
The moment arrives – this is my destiny.
Until I jerk awake and realize 'tis not reality.
Still, my heart races, my body shudders;
Though I know it will not last forever.
My heart calms, my limbs can move.
All it was, was a night terror.
That was a poem I wrote a few years ago (and published at fictionpress). I was having night terrors - the ones that leave you paralyzed with fear, unable to cry out or move. To deal with them, I decided to write a poem. Now, I don't really like poetry and in my opinion, the poem is not very good, but it actually helped me. I didn't have anymore episodes of that same night terror until this year.
It's always the same. I'm lying in bed. Someone comes into my room. Sometimes with a knife. Sometimes it's a stranger, more often it is someone from my family. They try to kill me. I try to scream, nothing comes out, I try to move, but I can't. Then I wake up, on my back, my heart pounding like a rampant drum.
The last time I had the dream, it was in a hotel room while on a trip with my mother. She called my name, I woke up. She told me I was mewling in my sleep. She said my father had dreams like that. My father has a term for them - a Mohawk term I forget at the moment (will edit in later when I ask him about it again). Interested to learn more, I googled "what does it mean when you have the same dream of being murdered?" and various other questions of the sort.
Gotta love the Internet. There's some real gems out there. Putting questions to Google has become one of my favorite pastimes. According to Google (well, the Internet, really):
  • I have been abducted by aliens
  • I am psychic
  • I have ancestor ghosts watching over me
  • I may be schizophrenic
Ah, that's what happens when you have too much time on your hands. Google is like the new oracle at Delphi. It answers you in riddles when the truth is obvious: you're an idiot for asking that idiotic question in the first place. But, I digress.
After that I simply googled "waking nightmares". I came upon an article in the Daily Mail. It turns out I have been experiencing "sleep paralysis". Self-diagnosing myself through the Internet is also one of my favorite pastimes, which I do not recommend at all - it could drive you crazy (and really, just go see a doctor if you are in tremendous pain). But in this case, I think I have it right.
The article says sleep paralysis: causes you to partially wake up during a dream, while your body is still ‘asleep’. It can be caused by stress, even by your partner's snores. People who suffer from this often see figures in their bedroom, can even feel touches, and because they are still in REM sleep mode, they can't move (the brain paralyzes you at this time so you can't act out your dreams) or scream. The vividness for me is what separates it from a nightmare. And because it always happens in my bedroom (or in the hotel room), this is sleep paralysis. If it were a nightmare it could be happening anywhere.
Anyway, I don't really have a point here. I just find dreams and sleeping to be a very interesting topic. These sleep paralysis nightmares can be a pain in the arse, and scary as hell (I thought I was going to die one time), but they are fascinating. It's amazing what the mind can do.
What about you? Do you ever have these night terrors? Recurring nightmares? Do you ever have those jerky falling moments (you fall in your dream and "fall" in your bed)? One regular dream I had a lot when I was a kid involved dinosaurs. Lately, it's been alien invasions and asteroids. You?
Have a good evening and may you experience nothing but sweet dreams!

Saturday, 30 March 2013


In the words of Blur, woohoo! The other day (thursday, I think it was) I met and surpassed my goal of 25,000 words. Now, it's a small victory. A bittersweet victory. After all, that goal was supposed to be a february goal, and then I cheated and extended the deadline to March 31st. But I succeeded. And I am allowed to change deadlines, especially when they aren't gonna hurt anyone. It's my party and I'll cry if I want to. Anyway... I just wanted to post an update on that. On the downside, the story is still not finished. I don't know if that's a bad thing... I know how it should end now, but it's taking long to get there. Oh well, I shall worry about my story's length when it is actually done. Have a good weekend, and Happy Easter!

Friday, 22 March 2013

"White Rose Rebel" by Janet Paisley

(Penguin, 2007)
Anne Farquharson was a Highland woman who fought to free her land from the harsh rule of the English. She knew she couldn’t live in their world, which King George was slowly enforcing onto her country. The English stifled their women and cared nothing for traditions. Anne did not want to become a meek and submissive woman. She did not want to have no say in how her clan was run. Neither did she want to lose her culture. So when Bonnie Prince Charlie sails from France to reclaim the Scottish throne, there was no hesitation for Anne. She rose up with him.
That was not the case for her husband, Aeneas. Their marriage was a fiery one, built on passion. There seemed to be no room for love, for when Anne gathered her clan, he joined the Black Watch. They argued. They fought. And through many misunderstandings, Anne went back to her first love, Alexander MacGillivray. But Aeneas did love her. Still, they ended up on opposite sides of the field in a battle between the Jacobites and the English, sometimes at the end of the other’s pistol.
The book was an entertaining read for the first part. It was a bit of a romp in the hay at times, but the sex didn’t really bother me. Looking at other reviews of this book, this seemed to be a problem for some people. Maybe it was gratuitous, who am I to say, but Anne was young. That’s what young people do. They have crazy libido. In any case, there was a bit of political intrigue there, too. There were the English antagonists, betting on how long it would take to stop the rebellion, being surprised when it wasn’t so easy, and being damn brutal. Which brings me to the second part.
The second part of the book, more towards the end really, was very depressing (Culloden – if you are even a little familiar with Scottish history I’m guessing you know what that battle meant). Janet Paisely mentions the word genocide in the afterword, and this really seems to be the case here. It was a little gruesome. It was very frustrating. I wished I could somehow get Connor from Assassin’s Creed III to come out and deal with the redcoats. But I couldn’t, so I just kept reading. The end didn’t completely satisfy me.
Despite that, I did like the book. It was engrossing. I enjoyed the characters, even if they were a little bit cliché. They had personality, which doesn’t make sense after what I just said but trust me it does. MacGillivray was probably my favorite. I’m not sure how much of the history was true and how much was made up, but I did learn something. I hadn’t really been familiar with Scottish history in the 18th century or the clan system either.
I wish I knew how to pronounce the Gaelic words tossed around and at least there is a translation that goes along with it on the page or in the back of the book. There was a bit of French thrown around too, which for people who don’t understand might make them scratch their head, but it’s not a lot and easy to guess the gist if you don’t understand.
My rating: 4/5
For another great book set in Scotland, but in an earlier time period, check out Jules Watson’s Dalriada trilogy. I highly recommend this series.