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Editing Your Own Work Is Hard Work! May 25, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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I’m up to the stage where I have just completed what is essentially a first draft of my masters project novel.  It’s not the whole novel but at 25,000 words it’s already substantially longer than what it needs to be for the purposes of the course (which I think is 15,000).

I am meeting my supervisor again shortly, and as usual, I am sure there will be more amazing suggestions and insights forthcoming.  The task now is to try and shape this first draft into something awesome.

Easier said than done.

I don’t mind editing my own work, not when it’s just copyediting — ie, fix the typos, the spelling, the grammar, etc — but when it comes to major overhauls and structural changes, I just want to bury my head in the sand and hope it miraculously fixes itself.

To me, editing your own work is the hardest part of writing.  Unfortunately it’s something that has to be done.  There are no magic bullets.  Just need to keep trying different things, testing various styles and combinations, and persevering until I get it right.  Well, either that or until the deadline, which is only a couple of weeks away.

Eek.  After that maybe I can get a real editor.

China, I forgot about you! May 15, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, On Writing, Study.
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I was running through my list of unwritten posts when I suddenly realised I still had a whole stash of posts about my trip to China.  The trip was from mid-to-late March, but for some reason I had forgotten all about them.  I had done a few posts in the weeks after my return, but the best were actually yet to come.

I guess it shows how busy I’ve been lately.  I powered my through a very successful essay and amazingly, actually completed a short book in the last few days.  It came from a sudden burst of inspiration one sleepless night.  I got up at around 4:30 in the morning and started formulating a plan over the next 3 hours.  I started writing it a few days ago and just completed it today.  I’m going to let it sit for a couple of days while I attend to my other novel (the major project, due in under a month), then go back to it, do a bit of editing and then look for a publisher as soon as possible.  I won’t reveal what it is yet but I think it has potential and let’s just say time is of the essence with this one.

Oh, and I still have a bunch of books I need to read and I need to prepare a chapter of my project for an upcoming workshop.  It’s time to put my head down and start being super productive.

And of course, the Sydney Writers’ Festival which commences next week, and I will be there for the launch.  I’m looking forward to it.

In the meantime, I apologise to China for forgetting you.  Stay tuned.  Lots of wonderful posts to be written.

It’s coming along nicely (my book) May 9, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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So I met up with my supervisor again recently, and the feedback was good.  Much better than I had anticipated.

To be honest, it was a bit of a lazy effort on my part — not in all the sleepless nights I had trying to think of different ways to approach the writing and the countless hours I spent piecing it all together — but rather, in terms of the actual amount of time I spent writing and editing.

After our first meeting, I dumped what was supposed to be the first chapter and started again.  Looking back at it now, it was the right decision because it wasn’t what I wanted to write.  It didn’t matter if it was any good.  What mattered was that it wasn’t the type of book I intended.  So out it went and I started over.

This time, I just typed down whatever came to me.  It was easy and I sped through it.  I think it was as close to ‘free writing’ as I’ve come in a long time.  It’s been a really long time, considering free writing was one of the first things I wrote about on this blog like two years ago, and I haven’t done much of it since.  I just belted out the story without worrying about form or structure, deciding that I was not going to worry about it now and will fix everything up later.  The only bit I put a bit more effort into was chapter one, but even that was a pretty casual effort.

As it turned out, it was the best thing I could have done.  The result was a little raw, somewhat rough around the edges, but it was the type of book I wanted to write.  Finally, I was getting close to discovering the right voice.  And my supervisor was happy with how it was progressing.  Joy.

It’s going to be a busy few weeks coming up.  I still have to finish a couple of books I borrowed from the library, plus another book I bought from the Book Depository — all three will supposedly help me with finding my stylistic mojo.  I have a book launch to attend at an upcoming writers’ festival (And yes, it’s MY book!  Well, mine and a bunch of other people’s, but it’s still MINE!), and most of all, I need to do a lot more writing with the project deadline coming up in a little over a month.

The next step is to write a bit more (I have a few chapters lined up, actually), but because the project does not requre me to finish the entire book, I will have to do some serious rewriting shortly.  The key is to develop the humour so that’s punchier, more even and with less cheap shots (I have a tendency to go for the low blow) and craft each chapter so that it can stand on its own, almost like a short story.

A weird analogy here but I’m looking for inspiration in some of the shows that Larry David wrote, such as Seinfeld and Curb.  I’m in awe of David’s ability to create various strands in an episode and allowing them to intertwine before bringing them all together at the end and making the story go full circle.  That’s the type of legendary stuff I need to come up with.

PS: On another note, on one sleepless night I came up with a new idea for a book. It’s not a novel, but is a potentially lucrative idea.  Or so I reckon.

It really helps to read writings out loud April 18, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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The other day I finally got to workshop a chapter of my novel in my creative writing class.  I was a bit nervous (as I always am when getting other people to read my writing), but this was a little different.

This was a genuine first draft, and it wasn’t the type of writing the class was seeing.  The style was chatty, colloquial, and very light on description.  There was a lot of telling, not a whole lot of showing.  It was my attempt at something new in order to try and establish the voice, the most important part and what I’ve been struggling with.

If I learned one thing that night, it’s that reading your writings out loud really helps.  As I said, this was a first draft, but I did have a read over it to correct typos and spelling/grammatical errors.  But I read it over in my head, and to me, it all sounded fine.  I thought it was good enough.

When I read it out loud in class, however, it was a different story.  The story itself was not problematic but there was something about the rhythm to the narrative and the voice that were just a little…off.  There were moments when it sagged, when it didn’t sound right.  It was a flaw my lecturer picked up and said it was particularly important in comedic pieces (which this was) to have the right beats.  I hit some and missed some in this draft.

There were various other tips and recommendations from my classmates (including, of course, trying to ‘dramatise’ the ‘telling’ a bit more), but this was one thing that stood out the most.  Reading my writings out loud helped me to capitalise on the problem immediately.

From now on, that’s what I’m going to do with every draft and redraft.  Read it out loud and see how it sounds!

Beautiful Writing vs Storytelling April 12, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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My creative writing class regularly features workshopping of pieces written by my fellow classmates, and it’s always interesting to see the range of writing that gets churned out.  Even more interesting for me is the reactions they have to the work of their fellow writers.

I am someone that can certainly appreciate good writing at the sentence level.  Sentences that touch on the senses and evoke vivid imagery.  Sentences with a strong voice, with realistic dialogue.  Sentences that are rhythmic and lyrical, maybe even poetic.  You know, the type of stuff you see in award-winning literary fiction.

I have classmates that can write bloody good sentences, and I have other classmates that gush over those sentences.  But to me, writing is much more than just putting together beautiful sentences.  I get impressed by them as much as the next person, but to be honest they can have the tendency to bore me sometimes.

That’s where good storytelling comes in.  I know in writing we are taught to show, not tell, but it’s actually more complicated than that.  If all you do is show, all you end up with is a list of descriptions and the pace sags.  If all you do is tell, you don’t get any visual images and the narrative loses its allure.

I think sometimes beautiful writing is overrated and masterful storytelling is underrated.  Guys like John Grisham are considered good ‘storytellers’ rather than good ‘writers’, but is that really a fair label?  They’re all good writers to me as long as they create enjoyable stories.

I’ve been struggling lately with the beautiful writing vs storytelling conundrum.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been too focused on writing pretty sentences, but recently it feels like my writing goes nowhere.  It’s nowhere near as fast-paced as I want it to be and significantly slower than what I used to write.

The last couple of days I told myself to forget about the bloody sentences and just write whatever came to mind.  Forget about the descriptions and just focus on telling a story.  To my surprise, it worked well.  I now have around 4000 words of almost pure storytelling, which feels good but is still problematic.

The next step is to try and find a balance between the two.

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