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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.

Things I Learning in Writing Class this Semester (Part II) November 28, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in On Writing, Study.
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Man I am slow.  Here is the second part of the things I learned in writing class this semester.  Part I can be found here, and there will probably be a Part III…eventually…

Be Persistent

I guess this applies to a number of things.  Of course, the most important thing when you start writing is to try and finish it.  Sounds easy but it’s probably the most difficult thing.  Unless it’s compulsory, it’s so easy to give up.  Just do something else!

We all know the success stories of writers who were rejected dozens of times before the same manuscript got through and became an international bestseller.  These people persisted in finishing their manuscript, persisted in rewriting and editing hundreds of times to get it right, and persisted in getting an agent and/publisher.  If they gave up anywhere along the way, they’d never have made it.

But what I really meant to refer to was journalistic writing, and the act of going out there and getting people to talk to you.  The first thing that crossed my mind when I was tasked with writing an article about something or someone was — why would anyone want to talk to me?  Well, you’d be surprised how many people love to talk about themselves.  Often it’s a matter of getting them to shut up because you just want to go home!

On the other hand, there are people, especially key people you must speak to for a piece, that won’t want to talk to you, or worse, simply ignore you.  I’ve had so many calls, emails, and even an in-person visit knocked back this semester.  For every successful interview, I’ve probably had five knockbacks and three delays/reschedules.  But the key is, as the heading says, to remain persistent.  Forget about people thinking that you are a pain in the butt.  Forget about the humiliation, the disappointment.  Such is real life.

For one particular piece, I must have emailed and called this one guy at least 50 times over the course of two months.  I think he thought that if he jerked me around for long enough (by not answering, by not returning messages, by continuous delays and rescheduling, and by refusing to come out to see me even when I showed up at the time of our appointment), I would eventually give up.  But no.  I just kept going, kept pestering, and eventually I got the interviews and information I needed, and it ended up being one of the best articles I wrote this semester.

Confidence does wonders

This one also has multiple applications.  In terms of journalism, I was terrified when we first had to go out and talk to people.  Petrified.  I prepared for hours and hours, researched, wrote up lists and lists of questions, anticipated responses, basically played the whole interview out in my head.  And, needless to say, I still ended up being a fumbling, mumbling mess that made little sense. I remember wondering at the time how I was ever going to make it through the semester.

But after a few more goes, my confidence started to build up.  I stopped making up so many questions, instead relying on a few dot points covering specific areas I wanted to talk about.  I looked my subject in the eye.  I spoke coherently.  I felt like a real journalist.  And they thought I was one too!

In terms of writing, I’ve also discovered the power of confidence.  Reading back on my old fiction stuff, I realised I was too timid, too afraid to make mistakes.  I kept gravitated towards the mundane, the cliched style that I desperately wanted to avoid.  It allowed me to get to the end, but it wasn’t something even I wanted to read because it bored me to death.

I still struggle with that a lot, especially when I am not focused, but I’ve found that the more you write and the more confident you become, the more you are willing to experiment with things.  Muck around with the structure a little.  Do something more outrageous.  It doesn’t always work, but it’s a lot more fun.  The most important thing is to develop your own voice and style — which doesn’t necessarily have to be the same all the time, but it should be something you can call your own.

It’s all about connections

Sad but entirely true.  I never used to think it would be that bad, but it kind of is.  If you have the right contacts, you can get access to people you would never have gotten access to in a thousand years.  I was lucky to know a friend who knew a pretty famous guy that was kind enough to grant me an interview.  And through that guy, I got a whole bunch of other powerful contacts who were kind enough to speak to me.  The same can be said for another article I did on a writer.

But I basically exhausted all the contacts I had for two articles.  There were some people in class that had a contact for just about everything.  If you want to give yourself opportunities, you have to put yourself out there and get to know people.  I used to think networking was disingenuous, and it probably is, but it’s gotta be done if you want to give yourself a chance in the industry.  Some of it might be fortuitous, but most of it will have to come from actively seeking contacts.

The same can be said for the publishing industry.  If you know the right agents and the right editors, or people that can get you through to such people, getting published becomes much much easier.  You can have all the talent in the world, but if you can’t catch a break…

Okay, now I’m certain there will be a Part III because there’s just a couple more things.  Stay tuned…

Things I Learned in Writing Class This Semester (Part I) November 22, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in On Writing, Study.
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My blistering year of writing and learning has finally come to a close.  Now it’s time to reflect.

Contrary to what a lot of people say, writing courses can be helpful for budding writers.  It’s not necessarily just learning the technical skills (which are of course important) — there are also many aspects of the business you can be exposed to.  This term, I did quite a bit of non-fiction and journalistic writing, as well as editing, subjects I originally thought would be quite dry — but it’s turned out to be the complete opposite.  As Cosmo Kramer once said, “I’m loving every minute of it!”

Here are some things I learned this semester (in no particular order):

Get a good editor

If my classes have taught me anything this semester, it’s that getting a good editor is one of the most important things a writer should put at the top of their list.  Even the most brilliant writer can use a good editor because editing is a different skill.  It’s not just picking up the typos and the spelling and grammar errors — everything from word use, dialogue, characters, structure, tone, style, voice — everything you can think of, can benefit from having an editor cast their eye over it.

I used to think if I spent enough time on something by myself, locked away in a room somewhere, I’ll eventually get it perfect.  Now I realize how silly that was.

Writing is all about structuring

I’ve never had much of a problem coming up with ideas and racking up the words, but what I found out the hard way this semester was how important structure is to writing.  Sometimes, just moving a few words or sentences around will completely change the shape and tone of a paragraph, or even the entire piece.

I used to think as long as you get whatever you want to write out of your system then everything else will take care of itself, but that cannot be further away from the truth.  Now, especially for non-fiction pieces, I spend most of my time figuring out how I will structure the writing before I write a single word, and then hours and hours restructuring it after I’ve written everything.

My main problem is that I waste too much time procrastinating over the structure before I start writing.  Sometimes you just need to get it all out and then trim it back and mould it into shape.  But then again, if I don’t structure it enough beforehand, I don’t know where to start when staring down at 6,000 words and knowing that I have to cut it down to 2,000!  It’s a dilemma.

Writing a good first draft is important

People say the first draft is almost always shit, but it doesn’t really matter because you’ll fix it up anyway.  The key objective is just to write it out so you have something tangible to work with.  I’ve discovered this semester that this is not necessarily always the case.  Writing a good first draft, while not imperative, is highly beneficial.

Once the first draft has been written, I find it very difficult to decide what to cut out, what to add, what to replace.  Clearly, the better the draft, the more difficult it is, but even crappy first drafts can get a little tricky.  It’s not easy coming up with a different way to say or structure things when it’s already laid out right there in front of you, especially if there’s nothing visibly or obviously defective about it.

So I say put in a bit more effort into that first draft, think it through more.  In my opinion it’s worth it.

More to come!

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