The Nuts and Bolts of Writing
Edit. Edit. Edit. Or not. Tags: writing editing

Thereís nothing quite as satisfying as writing a page or several pages of stream-of-consciousness prose. Or poetry, I guess, though Iíve little experience there. Releasing the creative juices in that fashion leaves me with a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Sometimes. But then what? Edit.

Reading it over straight away can leave me with the impression that it should be left as it is. Raw. Straight from the heart. Put the piece aside for a few days and glaring errors jump off the page.

Even so, I believe this kind of writing should be treated with silk gloves. Itís all too easy to kill the original spark of creativity that sets us off and kill the very essence of the writing. Plot, story, theme, characterisation can all be worked on, but not the essence. That precious unknown quantity.

So how much do we edit? Personally, I go for the usual suspects: grammar and punctuation, overuse of adjectives and adverbs, finding a stronger verb, saying the same thing twice, using the correct word, over-writing, making sure Iíve started in the right place. Often I delete the first paragraph completely. The same goes for the ending. And so it goes, on and on and on Ė ad infinitum Ė until my head is dizzy and I lose the will to live.

I read of one author Ė interviewed in Writing Magazine Ė who said that heíd edited/rewritten his novel 50 times before it was ready for publication. No surprise then that it took him 15 years to write! Authors lucky enough to have publishers and deadlines wouldnít have that luxury (probably the wrong choice of word). In any case Iíd be sick to death with the sight of a novel long before Iíd reread it 50 times.

I write mostly short fiction and have been guilty of editing a story to within inches from its grave. †Because rereading two or three thousand words is easy, the temptation is there to edit and edit and edit. Iíve done this with travel articles as well, but luckily when commissioned the deadline kept editing within reason as time ran out. Competitions also have deadlines, the problem is if you miss one thereís usually another one with a later closing date. And so the editing continues.

I donít know if any of you get this sudden moment of truth, when a little genie whispers, ĎStop! Send it off.í Enough is enough. I can tell Iíve gone a bit OCD when I start turning the verbs Iíve changed in the story back to the originals. Aargh. Stop. Stop. Stop.

Some articles or blogs Iíve read on the subject suggest you can never rewrite enough. On the other hand, hereís a quote from Margaret Atwood: ĎIf I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.í

It probably wonít surprise you after reading this that Iíve hardly edited this blog at all. My little genie whispered ĎPost or weíll be here all night!í

Hair, it's our Crowning Glory Tags: creative writing hair fictional characters human hair trade Emma Tarlo hair in fiction

At least thatís what women are led to believe from an early age and the beauty industry is more than happy to divest us of our money in pursuit of that ideal. Iíve been thinking about fictional charactersí hair a lot recently. In films and novels Caucasian women often have character-defining hair. Black; witchy and duplicitous, red; fiery and vivacious; blonde; angelic or tarty, brown; plain and intelligent, grey/white; wise and intellectual, curly; unpredictable and bubbly, straight; cool and calculating. This left me with a dilemma because I was struggling to choose the hair colour and type of my young, female protagonist, but I didnít want to push her into any of those stereotypes.

In a Tangle

So I began to tackle the problem in a circuitous way and by happy accident discovered the fascinating, non-fiction book, Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair by Emma Tarlo. Now, like you, I knew that both men and women can need wigs for a variety of medical, cosmetic or religious reasons but I had no idea of the global, largely covert, billion-dollar trade in the procurement and processing of human hair into wigs and extensions. Sourcing hair generally starts in third world countries. Some women sell their hair to barbers for a short-lived respite from poverty in China, India, Myanmar and Pakistan. On the other side of the world, relatively wealthy women choose to boost their income by selling their hair directly to the client via the Buy and Sell Hair website. The reasons for sale are as various as the hair types on offer. Hindus have their hair tonsured in Indian temples as a way of showing thanks, or to seek rebirth; indeed the vast temple of Tirumala acts as a magnet for pilgrims drawing people and hair from all over India. Each year the tonsured hair adds around 20 million pounds to the templeís coffers.

Giveaway Hair

Sometimes, hair donation is purely altruistic as in the recent case of the Duchess of Cambridge donating seven inches of her locks to the Little Princesses Trust for children and young adults who have lost their hair through cancer treatment. How bizarre to think that a sick child somewhere will be wearing our future Queen consortís hair. Truly a crowning glory! The hair is sorted anonymously so no one will ever know that their wig contains Kateís tresses.

Decisions, Decisions

While all these hair stories make fascinating reading, it isnít taking me nearer a solution in my writing dilemma! What it does show me though is how important this decision is and how much identity and status are invested in luscious locks or lack thereof. Would Dennis the Menace be as naughty without his black, unruly mop? Could Heathcliff have been blonde? Could Pippi Longstocking have had mousey-coloured hair? Would Bond villain, Blofeld, have been as menacing if he werenít bald? How do you decide your charactersí hair colour and type? Can you think of fictional characters defined by their hair? Iíd love to hear your thoughts.

Keeping Track of Time Tags: creative writing timelines writing tools

Keeping track of time in any genre of writing can be a little like blowing on a dandelion or licking your finger to see which way the wind is blowing. I've struggled to keep tabs in my historical novels, often spending hours and hours sifting through my manuscripts with bits of paper and dates hoping that I'm making some sort of sense with the timeline. There are several systems or tools to help with this particular issue and here are three that I've used.

  • Good Old Fashioned Paper Calendar

I'm a paper and ink girl first and foremost and this was a method I used for some time in the beginning. Creating a calendar for events that happened in the past isn't difficult with word processing tools or even if you have to draw the lines yourself. It can become a bit messy if hand made, unless you write in pencil then events are difficult to change. But it's a tool nevertheless. I've used Time and Date calendar which also allows you to select a country and therefore highlights any critical events that may also help.

  • Excel Spreadsheet

I progressed from a paper timeline purely because it didn't really cut the mustard especially with long timelines that existed over several years, or even months. Understanding what time of year it is in your story line can be quite critical especially if you are using the weather, for example, to deepen the subtext. There are plenty of templates around, this one is nice and simple. Even so, I'm not a great Excel user, my brain isn't mathematical enough to even begin to understand it and it still didn't give me the detail I wanted.

  • Aeon Timeline Software

This is my new toy! I've secretly yearned to own this piece of software which has transformed my battle with timelines into an experience that is pleasurable (and possible yet another excuse for procrastination...) When I came across a deal a couple of weeks ago offering this at half price I couldn't stop myself. It's so intuitive and easy to use. You can create characters, events and story arcs within a timeline in the past, present or future. Over a long period of time or just within days. If you write in fantasy, you can create your own calendars with different days, months, years, adjust the length of any measurement of time and allow yourself to create a whole new world. And, if you use Scrivener, it syncs your work, so that any changes you make in either will be reflected in the other.† What's not to like?

So how do you track time in your writing?

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