Tag Archives: steampunk

Editing is Hard

“Editing is hard.”

One of my editing clients said this to me the other day – yes even after I’m done tearing apart their manuscripts clients do still speak to me.

My internal voice said “No sh** Sherlock,” but externally I smiled and nodded and agreed.  But it made me realised that this is news to some people.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people think that writing is easy, that you just scribble a few lines and that’s it, you can self-publish and everything will be great, best seller, right.  Wrong.

You can write a novel in 30 days (see NaNoWriMo), I’ve done it.  Normally I can write a novel in two months – well that is 60 days of work, not always every day for sixty days on a trot because I have a life and two jobs.  But if I had sixty days on full-time writing, I could do it in 60 days, hell full time I would write it in 30 days.  But it wouldn’t by any means be publication ready.

That’s where editing comes in.

Writing is the quick part, editing takes forever, and sometimes it feels like it’ll never end.

Let me give you the example of my last completed novel, Shades of Aether.  This is my first steampunk novel, and I wrote it in about 60 (non-consecutive) evenings.  Then I reread it – the first self-edit.  With that, I picked up any obvious inconsistencies, made any changes I thought necessary, in this case, I upped the level of steampunk in the text. Then I booked it in for an edit.  My editor couldn’t do it immediately, so I have time for another read through to find a few more typos, tweaks, and corrections.  Then it went off to my editor.

Let me underline that – it went off to an editor. At no point did I think that could ever get a book complete for publication on my own.

So it went off to edit, that’s another four weeks gone – though I think in this case it was five weeks.  Then it came back with loads of questions that I hadn’t even thought about, so I had to do some major edits after that to ensure that I answered all those questions for the reader.  Having the facts in my head are no use if I can’t get them onto the page.

So that was another couple of months of rethinking and rewriting, editing and tweaking. And it wasn’t easy.  Some of the questions and queries that had been raised really stretched me, forced me to re-imagine my ending completely.

Then – guess what – more editing.  Yes, I sent it off for another professional edit, because to a certain extent I had a new book.  That one is due back to me any day now, but even then, I’ll still have to edit it, then reread it.  So there’s another couple of months gone by.

Once that is done, then there is the last stage – proofreading.  More time, more money, because proofreading, like editing, cannot really be done by the writer.

Writing the full novel is only the beginning.  Once it’s done all the hard work really starts, that is editing.  So don’t underestimate how much time and effort editing takes, but it’s well worth it.  Editing is the only way that you will ever get a publication ready book.

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Steampunk Saved His Life

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Following on from my last blog about how writing Steampunk saved my writing life, I wanted to share what happened next.  Steampunk also inspired me to write in a new direction.

As mentioned before I mostly write contemporary crime, a bit of horror and Cthulhu too, but mostly contemporary crime. Well, a while back, I had an amateur detective who worked with a local copper and I thought it was a good book, series material in fact.  Then I sent the manuscript to my editor, Tony Fyler of Jefferson Franklin Editing, and it came back trashed.  Well, not trashed exactly, Tony isn’t the type of editor to do that, but basically, the message was – “This is rubbish, you can do better.”

And looking back now, it was a fair message, but at the time I was devastated.  And that book was consigned to the waste bin.  The main character, the police officer in that book was this guy called Maker, I’ve mentioned him a few times, mostly in Schrödinger’s Edit, a brief overview of which is that Maker was trashed and I rewrote him and was scared to see the edit.

Turns out that while Maker was never a punk, what he really needed was some steam.  What I did was take him out of the 21st century and put him in the 19th. For him, it was a change of clothes, not a transformation.  But it transformed the way I wrote about him, and it gave me much more license to show who he really is, and why he is that way.  It’s still basically a crime story, but one in a very different vein to anything else I have done.

Once I was done, I (in total trepidation) sent Maker back for the edit in Schrödinger’s Edit, and got nervous about what it might say.  Eventually, of course, I opened the edit up and read it.  Tony loved the new version, to quote him:  “Maker SO belongs in this time period, all tight bows[1] and tighter corsets. He’s like Darcy’s grandson.”

Yes! An actual comparison to my absolute all time favourite character!  Sooo happy!

The new book has been revised, I did the thinking bigger I was advised to do, and it has also gone through a name change, it’s now “Shades of Aether”. And it’s back with Tony as I write this, to see what he makes of it now.  Hopefully not a dog’s dinner!

The point is, in the last blog I said thank you to Steampunk for saving my writing life.  This blog is saying thank you to Steampunk for showing me where Maker belonged – for saving his life – Literally.

 

 

[1]  Bow the action, not the bow you tie in a ribbon.

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Dreaming Cost nothing.  Giving up All Dreams Costs Everything.

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I’ve been a writer all my life.  I’ve tried all sorts and come to settle on crime (mostly).  But I also came to settle on the idea that I just couldn’t get published, I was ready to give up my dream.  Then one day I heard about this call for short stories for an upcoming anthology, the theme being “The Strange Island of…”

I was instantly inspired, dreamed a new story, so I wrote a piece.  It took some changes to my thinking of how to write because it was a very different genre to the one I was used to.  The piece, The Steel Inside, still had mystery and suspense, like my crime writing, but there wasn’t a crime, well not in the illegal sense.  The whole island isolation helped.  The fact that I had read a few steampunk books helped too.  But mostly what helped was having a good story idea and then twisting it.

So I finished the story – all 10,000 words – and sent it off.

Then promptly forgot about it.

I try to do that.  Remembering that I’ve sent something off for consideration always leads to painful worrying.  Will it be okay?  Will they like it?  Will I tie myself up in knots wondering?  The only question I ever answer yes to is that last one.  I guarantee I tie myself in knots waiting to hear.

Then I heard.  I really thought that it was going to be another thanks but no thanks, but – stunningly – they loved it.  I was accepted!

My first ever piece of steampunk and it won through.  Amazing.

The Steel Inside, is now the last entry in Steel & Bone from Xchyler Publications.

The real point of all this isn’t blowing my own trumpet, though that’s quite nice too. The point is the effect that it had on me.  I was just about ready to give up on the idea of ever being published, and finally a proper bona fide publishing house was going to print one of my stories.  It renewed my belief that I really can write.

Renewed belief allowed me to carry on, and I have since managed to secure an agent in Ian Drury of Sheil Land Associates. I have also published a collection of short crime stories, Last Cut CasebookThe Steel Inside also inspired me to write a whole new steampunk series, but I’ll tell you more of that later in the month.

Without steampunk I wouldn’t still be writing, so thank you Steampunk, you saved my writing life.

Steel and Bone front cover (newer 2)

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Rules and When to Break Them

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Rules, rules, rules.

At a conference, I once heard Joanne Harris say that the reason she wrote Chocolat was to break every rule she had been given by an author who had critiqued (and torn apart) another of her novels.  I love that story.

We all know that there are always rules to every aspect of life and writing is no exception.  But here’s the thing about rules – there are exceptions, so I thought I’d highlight a few of those exceptions.

Rule:  Never use ‘Emolument’ when you mean ‘tip’.

(Stephen King)

What this rule is actually saying is keep it simple.  I have an editor who screeches about some of the vocabulary I use.  He hates words like ascend, he writes comments on why it should be ‘went up’, similarly with descend, he doesn’t even like entered or exited.  Now, maybe I wouldn’t use emolument (because I had to go look up what it meant anyway) but as for ascend and descend, entered or exited, they have there a place in the English language so they have a place on the appropriate prose.

When to break the Rule:  When it’s appropriate to what you are writing.

I write crime, mostly contemporary, but I have recently written a steampunk crime novel set in the 1870s.  These are very different styles.  No one in the twenty-teens would descend – that lot go down stairs.  My Victorians though – they descend from the upper floors.  Then there’s conversation.  Like Stephen King says in another of his rules – Talk whether ugly or beautiful, is an index of character. The vocabulary picked for the character tells the reader who that person is.  So if you want an upper-crust, over-educated egotist, they might not so much leave a tip as talk about extending emolument. Yes as a reader I already despise that character, but then that is the point of the description and the vocabulary choice.  Remember Mark Twain’s rule: Use the right word, not its second cousin.

Rules: Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue

(Elmore Leonard)

The more that I edit, the more I agree with this rule.  It also goes back to the previous rule: keep it simple – I say.  Also remember that you don’t have to use speech tags on every line of speech.  But yet, I can’t always agree with Mr Leonard on this one.

When to break the Rule:  When it gets boring.

There is nothing more irritating to a reader than constantly reading the same word, and after a while, that is true of ‘said’ too.  So if someone shouts, say they shouted.  If they whisper, use the word whispered.  But make sure they do so sparingly and correctly.

Rule: Work on one thing at a time until finished.

(Henry Miller)

If you can stick to this rule, good on you.  I can’t and I’m not going to beat myself up over that.

When to break this rule:  When it works for you.

Love this rule as an idea, but let’s get real here it’s not always possible. So let’s bring a little reality to the world and let me give you a clue how this works for me.  Right now I am writing a User Manual, my second steampunk crime novel, and a contemporary thriller.  Now the manual – that’s part of the day job, so I do it in working hours.  While I’m in the office, because I’m also doing other things, if I have to wait for a long calculation or upload, I have my notebook by my side to write the steampunk because I write that out first in long hand, I find it helps with the Victoriana tone. But when I get home at night, if I’m not editing, I write my contemporary crime because I’m doing that on the computer only.  Three things, all writing, and all happening at the same time.

Rule:  The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season

(Stephen King again)

Wow!  To be honest, there’s a huge part of me that utterly agrees with this one.  Generally, I do complete a book in that time frame, so why is it in my list of rules to break?  Because this is a list of WHEN to break the rules.

When to break the rule:  When life gets in the way.

I know that that sounds like a cop-out, and frankly it is, but here’s why.  Unlike Stephen King, I haven’t yet been able to give up the day job, so I can’t write solidly for three months.  If I could this would be easy.  The book that got me my agent was written entirely during NaNoWriMo.  But I know a lot of writers and a lot of us are unnecessarily harsh on ourselves, so you have to be real about the rules you follow.  I started a novel in November I still haven’t finished.  Why haven’t I finished it?  Because I’ve was diverted on to a different novel by some solid agent-y advice, and I have taken some time out to (a) edit my first steampunk crime novel and (b) do a paid editing job.

Admittedly I haven’t finished the other novel either, but I’m 37k words in and trying for 1000 words a day, but even that goal goes by the wayside when I get home from the day-jobbery exhausted.  So the real point of this is to give writers a reason to give themselves a break – don’t beat yourself up too much if you can’t meet this time frame.  Equally – don’t take this as a reason to slouch either.  If it’s taken ten years to write the first draft, that’s not a good sign.

So, go on, be a rebel, break some rules but get the writing job done anyway.

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What a Difference a Week Makes

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Well, it’s Jan 3rd and I’m already on the back foot.

I try to blog at the start of the month, but despite having the week between Christmas and New Year off, I didn’t have time to write a blog.  I thought about writing it, but didn’t get around to actually doing it.  However, I did do a lot of other stuff.

Obviously, a lot of the “stuff” I did was Christmas, family and New Years.  Had a great time – thanks for asking – hope you did too.  But I also got a lot of writing work done too.

In the seven days from Boxing day to New Year’s Day bank holiday, I managed to write over 12k words of my latest contemporary thriller.  This may not sound like much to some of you (may sound like masses to others, what would I know), but for me this was a surprising rush.  You see Elaine has been giving me grief all through November and most of December.  Let me explain…

Elaine is my main character and she has to basically carry this book.  She’s an everyman (and no that’s not sexist, it’s just a description), and she has to go through some fairly big changes from the first chapter of this book and I’m now 22 chapters in.  But despite writing and pushing, I couldn’t get her to go where I needed her to go.  This was mostly because I didn’t really know how she was going to go there, or who she was going to have to deal with when she got there.  Well, that’s not entirely true, I knew what he was, I knew what he looked like, I knew what he’d be like, I knew how he would react.  In fact, the only thing I didn’t know, was his name.  But I hadn’t even got to him, and Elaine was still reluctant to go anywhere.

I think in the end what it was, was that like a lot of mothers, she just first had to go see her daughter, and like a lot of those lot of mothers – it took longer than this outsider expected.  But then, there were an awful lot of issues that needed to be resolved between the two of them. Once I’d sorted that things really started to flow.

Then, of course, there was him.  He was fine once I decided what to call him.  That was one moment when keeping a database of my characters was really useful in ensuring that I don’t double name, I had to check it just to be sure, because once I had his name it felt so familiar that it was like déjà vu.

Now they are properly on different teams the book is working well, can’t wait for the time when these two characters have to start actually working together.  Really looking forward to that.

That wasn’t all the writing I did either.

I also hand wrote (yes in a book with a pen) about 1000 words of my second steampunk novel – then I realised I didn’t like it and started all over again with a different point of view character and it works better though I haven’t had chance to catch up to where I was yet.  That has a lot to do with the fact that the new POV required that I start the scene several minutes earlier than I had and that takes up word count – that and now Elaine is cooperating I’m concentrating on her.

I’m also working on an editing commission so that’s me keeping busy.

Unfortunately, I never got the cover design last year, but this year I have found a new artist so I hope to have my collection out in the next few weeks.

Well, life and editing calls…

 

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