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Edit. Edit. Edit. Or not. Tags: writing editing

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as writing a page or several pages of stream-of-consciousness prose. Or poetry, I guess, though I’ve 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. It’s 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 I’ve 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 – ad infinitum – until my head is dizzy and I lose the will to live.

I read of one author – interviewed in Writing Magazine – who said that he’d 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 wouldn’t have that luxury (probably the wrong choice of word). In any case I’d be sick to death with the sight of a novel long before I’d 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. I’ve 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 there’s usually another one with a later closing date. And so the editing continues.

I don’t know if any of you get this sudden moment of truth, when a little genie whispers, ‘Stop! Send it off.’ Enough is enough. I can tell I’ve gone a bit OCD when I start turning the verbs I’ve changed in the story back to the originals. Aargh. Stop. Stop. Stop.

Some articles or blogs I’ve read on the subject suggest you can never rewrite enough. On the other hand, here’s a quote from Margaret Atwood: ‘If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.’

It probably won’t surprise you after reading this that I’ve hardly edited this blog at all. My little genie whispered ‘Post or we’ll be here all night!’

Why do we write short stories and who reads them?
Category: Writing
Tags: short stories readers writers

Why do we write short stories and who reads them?

The first question is easy to answer – in my case anyway – so I’ll start there.

  • Satisfaction comes more swiftly by writing a few hundred or a few thousand words than it does by completing a full-length novel.
  • Competitions give a chance to validate your work. Merely getting placed on a longlist can boost the spirit. No less the ego. As a writer lacking self-confidence, that gives me further motivation.
  • Writing 2000 words and winning one competition might earn you as much as writing a novel. It’s only a suspicion. I don’t know. Often we writers say we don’t write for money but it is kind of nice.

There are downsides. If the chances of success are there, the odds are high. And is it as satisfying to finish thirty or so short stories as it is to complete a full-length novel?

Although I write short fiction almost exclusively, 98% of my reading is novels, not short stories. I find the experience of full emotional engagement and immersion in the story, over several days or weeks, more satisfying. On the other hand, the high standard of writing required in a short story is hard to keep consistent in the longer form. Perhaps why I hesitate to go there myself.

So, who reads short stories?

  • Writers are more likely to read them than your average reader. Personally, before entering a competition I check out former winners if they’re published on the site. A quick scroll determines the style of writing – literary or perhaps a mixture. Often I flash through to the end in an effort to gauge how conclusive they are. If you call that reading.
  • Short story anthologies, apart from the most prestigious perhaps, are mostly read by friends and family members of the authors. Free downloads are added to the statistics but there is no proof on how many stories are actually read.
  • The general public is more likely to buy a collection of stories if written by a celebrity (Tom Hanks comes to mind) or by a best-selling author – personally, I love Joanne Harris’s “Jigs & Reels”

The latter are the kind of books that build the sales figures and, as a recent Guardian article suggests, “create the myth” that the short story is having a renaissance. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom.  

In France a company called Short Édition is trying to engage the public, both adult and younger readers, by offering free short stories in paper format in over 100 dispensers throughout France, mostly in railway stations. You can choose between a 1, 3 or 5 minute-long story.

This brilliant idea has caught on elsewhere. Francis Ford Coppola, a short story fan himself, has installed a dispenser in his Café Zoetrope in San Francisco. Other places in the States have followed suit, hoping that the novelty of reading fiction from a piece of paper will inspire children, and keep them – at least for a few minutes – from their digital screens.

Like any character in a good story, I’ve had a eureka moment. Writing this has inspired me to read more short stories and I’ve just ordered another collection

For Your Eyes Only
Category: Writing
Tags: morning pages stream-of-consciousness writing

For Your Eyes Only

Through my angst-ridden teen years and my idealistic early twenties, I kept a diary which I wrote almost every day. What I wrote was private. Purely for myself.

Some diaries were sold with locks on. Or zips. Not mine, but I’d shudder at the thought of anyone else seeing their contents. I drew in them. I wrote long sentences with no time for punctuation, except a clutter of exclamation marks. I made confessions. I poured out my soul. Every emotion was exaggerated and tears often smudged the pages. Those tears were as secret as the thoughts and dreams I’d laid bare. My diary was sacred, as important as my life.

From my earlier diaries I moved on to journals. They were much the same thing but sounded more grown-up and serious. The emotions were just as real but facts and descriptions were sometimes included as well. Then, one day I lit a bonfire in the garden and – in an act of high drama – burnt the lot.

After decades of keeping no private accounts of my life, a stressful period made me turn to this again and start a new journal. It helped on many levels, giving me the support I needed without seeking professional help.

It’s the same thing – in essence – for serious or professional writers. If you wake up and write down whatever comes into your head, aware that none of this is for other eyes, there is no need for pretensions. If you’re like me, it’s sometimes hard to share feelings in total honesty – without self-censorship – by word of mouth, or even by text or email or whatever digital medium I use. Nor do I wish to burden others with my negative moods. I can also be self-conscious or embarrassed about my flights of fancy. Writing in this stream-of-consciousness way is energising. Liberating. And fun!

I’m trying to get into this on a daily basis, which I think some WA members already do. My preference is to write longhand in a notebook (by choice, still in bed and only semi-conscious!) Once filled, the book may go in the bin, or if I’ve written on a PC, a tablet, or any other gizmo, I can delete it. I may flip or scroll through it first looking for anything interesting I can use in my fiction. The honesty of this material can have a way of connecting with the reader in a way perfectly planned material sometimes can’t.

I find this practice lubricates the creative juices and puts me in the mood to write. Sometimes I write about writing, sometimes about something completely different. Other times I try my luck at our Monday Muse prompts. All can lead to something further. In this case, it led to this blog – a positive start to my writing day. 

And here’s another writer’s take on it that you might want to check out: www.juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/

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