Editing and One Bad Line (Glimpsing Glimpses)

So it’s been a bit of a stalled week in working terms. Not a huge amount of editing done on the book at the moment as I’m trying to crack the the back of this particular hump. They come and go, and I’m thinking that the beginning parts of the story are perhaps a little more underdeveloped because they’re closer to the original draft, whereas the later parts became more developed as the ideas unfolded. Fingers crossed.

Perhaps the most mind numbing element of having to do all this editing and rewriting is that you end up reading your own work repeatedly, to the point that you just feel so tired you shut down and go and do something else. That’s what ousted me from the cafe and I went home where it was hard to get anything more done.

One piece of advice that I heard on editing your own work is to read it to yourself out loud. Apparently (I haven’t tried it just yet) it helps you to discern whether or not the sentence works, especially if you’ve been going over and over it until it feels like your brain is melting. I’ll certainly be giving it a try when I’ve finished the chapter I’ve been working on as its had a lot of edits and needs to be checked for how well it flows.

And as I said, it was a bit of a slack week work wise, but I did catch up some books that I wanted to read. Working my way through some fantasy series I came across an example of editing gone wrong, and this is not meant as disrespect to the author as I enjoyed his work. No, it was just this line jarred me hard:

“He could scarce blink without glimpsing some shredded glimpse of their ordeal.”

Given how huge this guys work was, there’s going to be a bum line somewhere, and as a writer you can’t be too careful about editing. Hell, I’ll probably be reading my own work for the tenth time and still find lines like this that aren’t right. It’s also probably a reflection on the fact that writers are expected to do their own editing more and more as the publishing industry looks to cut costs. It seems that these days, no matter what you do for a living, you have to make more effort than ever. So, edit edit edit.

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(Briefly About) Dynamics, Clarity and Tension

Recently I came across some Youtube videos about action films which prompted me to think about certain scenes that appeared in my own work, such as the is the dynamics between characters, their interactions and the meanings that are generated. A key scene I had written was really quite flat until I introduced another character and highlighted the urgency of the task set for my protagonist, and as I proceed through the redrafting, I come across pieces of narrative that need attention. For example, the reluctant kidnapper scene near the beginning of Part 2 was really nothing special, but with a little adjustment and some exploration of how he lost his job, the scene becomes  tense (I hope).

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about this, but I think that the videos are in themselves quite interesting. I was particularly struck by how even the simplest cinematography can work so well to make the story clearer, more dynamic and give it more feeling.

By a strange co-incidence I had just been asked about the links between myth and cinema and having watched the video about the Terminator I was struck by what a great example it was of the principles that make up so many of the narrative structures of modern action movies. Having dug out the scraps of work about this that have accumulated I think that it might be possible for me to put a little book together about it. Terminator will certainly be a case study. To summarise it I would say that the core idea is that the central ideas revolve around Time, Marriage, Heroes (as saviours of fertile marriage and thus society) and something that seeks to destroy fertility and society (be it a robot, a shark or an alien). There is a lot more, but that’s for later.

Anyhew, these videos are worth checking out:

So there you have it. There’s plenty to think about in terms of narratives and especially the way that we convey tension, dynamics and meaning. To do it successfully, to do it with clarity, that’s one of the real arts of writing.

A Snowball’s Chance

Where does the time go? I find it hard to believe that I’ve been working on this project for so long and still haven’t finished. With so much time spent working on the book I neglected the blog but there wasn’t really any news to speak of, no new insights into the writing process beyond the continual process of going over and over the story. Writing is rewriting as they say.

With the second draft now completed it’s clear that the first 70% is realtively stable but that the last 30% is still in flux – as a brand new drafting it’s going to require lots more work, especially to have a finale worth the wait. Once that’s done it’ll go out to my chosen few for test reading while I concentrate on writing a proposal and finding an agent. I’ve already attempted to draft two of the mind bending tasks required in pitching the book: one is the little author bio that you get just inside the cover and the other is summing up your story in one to two paragraphs in such a way that people will read it and say to themselves “I want to read this!”

It’s a test of compacting as much meaning and excitement into as little space as possible.

On the other hand, I’d like to do something that’s a little bit of fun too, probably a little mini series set in the same world as my main book. I’ll post a link if it comes together, but I like the ideas, in part brought on by reading the graphic novel Rumble, and I’ve mixed them with a few oddities that I jotted down a month or two ago.

So for now I’m just trying to accelerate the pace and wtih changes in my circumstances it is getting easier to work regularly. With the new year I feel like the snowball is gathering momentum and as part of it I thought I’d be good to give this blog another chance.

Maybe I’ll even come up with a catchphrase to sign off my posts 😉

July 2015 Update

Progress as of June 15th (and my first Youtube vid)

Away With The Fairies as of June 21st

So, yes, the week before the Solstice I had actually finished the first draft of my book – the vid was made just before that to show what can be achieved even by just spending a few hours here and there writing. I was going to write the epilogue parts about how things turned out for everyone after the events in the finale had been done, but I figured that these would be subject to change anyway and it would be better to begin actually typing it up.

Good Intentions

With the limited time that’s been on offer this blog hasn’t really been going anywhere, and so despite best intentions it’s not living up to previous standards. It’s also perhaps a reflection of the mixed advice you get about being an author. On the one hand you get advised to get involved in social media and on the other there’s the limited good it does you if you are unable to provide worthwhile content.

Of course being able to type anything requires a laptop and it was with sadness that I found my old Macbook has decided that it’s 8+ years of service would come to an end. On a tight budget I opted for the smallest, lightest word processor I could and got an HP Stream for £180, and because of the restrictions on Microsoft Office I went for the open source version Open Office. We’ll see how that all pans out.

So that’s all for now. I’ll be working on the new draft for the next month or two and then I’ll be heading for the End Of The Road festival for a break. Stoked that I’ll be able to see Jane Weaver live. This damn song has become a serious earworm.

Anyhew, until later, all the best.

Rebooted?

Restarting something doesn’t make it easier; once the habit is broken it can be a chore to get it back. Getting it back makes it feel like the first time all over again and starting is most times awkward, done with reluctance and often lacking in style. Yet in his time of seemingly perpetual reboots it’s  time to jump on the band wagon and reload back into the game.

So first you might want to know: Where the hell have you been?

Everything went on hiatus due to first moving out of our flat and into a bell tent, then out of a bell tent and into a yurt. With the break in my work pattern everything all became too disjointed to do any concentrated writing and there was a series of little issues, such as learning about what kind of woods you can burn in a stove. Turns out that the pile of readily available fir tree was a huge mistake as it left thick, resinous deposits in the flue which caused the smoke to start blowing back inside. Cue the chimney sweeps and a bill we could barely afford…..

Compounding this were a raft of other family problems, Christmas and general stresses. So, there you have it.

The other thing you probably want to know is: What happened to the mythic content?

This is still something that occupies the corners of my mind. Initially it seemed like a good idea but it all became too convoluted and burdensome so I ave removed it for now. At its core the concept of myth as a ‘narrative with authority’ holds true – everything is a story, from science to religion to history etc, it’s just that some story tellers are more important than others and it is their vision of reality that informs us of the de facto natural order of our world.

So for now I’ll chalk up the attempt to experience and move on. Most likely I’ll make related observations as I go along and return to it proper when I can devote the proper time to focusing on the specific elements that can be found in popular media, specifically film. For now, with the limited time available, I’ll be focusing on finishing my primary narrative.

And to that end…..

Countercrastination Is In Effect

As I stated earlier, starting out on a new venture can often be done with reluctance, and so it was that the morning came and I said ‘I don’t really want to go.’ But as both my other halves said (my partner and my conscience) ‘you know you have to.’

So off I cycled to the cafe, and it seemed that the sunshine and open air bolstered a newfound sense of purpose. Still I was nervous and that first visit was indeed suffused with a sense of awkwardness. Yet the next time was easier and so the snowballing began. It reminded me of ethnographic fieldwork as the anthropologist pitches up with the locals. At first comes the suspicion, then the curiosity, and then the acceptance. You probably know the last part – it’s when you walk in and the staff just ask you if you want your usual.

Now it’s costing me a small fortune in coffee but it’s certainly easier to focus on work. There’s no temptation to do odd jobs around the yurt or fiddle with a guitar when I reach one of those writing pauses where you have to think about which way to take the narrative. For now it’s all going in a notebook until I finish the first draft. One of the big problems I have had in the past is getting ahead of myself and trying to type up as I go along. This tends to cause problems. I’ll discuss what I think is the cause of this tendency and its other impacts in a future post.

My only concern now that I’ve started to plunder the cheese list for names is that I’ll be sued for using a copyrighted fromage inappropriately……

So, If I’m Not Procrastinating…..

….. does that mean that the name of this blog has become redundant?

And the answer should be never! For as I have said, the ways of procrastination are without end. I can find infinite ways, infinite…….

What we need to do is stay on guard, stay inspired and creative, and keep focused on the objective. This blog was originally intended to be an accompaniment to my writing of fantasy, and so with that in mind, I’ll mostly reside within those boundaries.

I’m sure they’ll be plenty to explore along the way.

#4 The Procrastinatrix: A Domestic Goddess

Proud and regal, she calls to me as I sit here, staring at the screen of my laptop which miraculously isn’t filling up with words of its own volition. She soothes me with soft words, and suggests that I might feel better if I take a little break…..

She can always find any number of little things to take interest in, like recycling that cardboard or just tidying the kitchen a little……

I swear I’ve never been so meticulous about cleaning my teeth.

The Procrastinatrix has me in her grasp, and now I stare out the window wondering why I still haven’t finished that chapter I was so eager to type out.

A God or Goddess?

As I mentioned in my previous post fantasy has some deep roots in mythology, amongst the most obvious examples being J.R.R. Tolkien’s understanding of northern European myth and the book I am reading to my son, Three Hearts and Three Lions draws on the same source, much as Poul Anderson’s other notable work The Broken Sword. There are a whole host of themes to be found, and again in a previous post I made mention of clichés being comfortable, being familiar; wizards with pointy hats, witches with cauldrons, heroes and dragons, kings, virgins and transformative magical powers, not to mention a pantheon of deities. Aside from the persistence of these ideas in (supposedly) predominantly Christian nations which is testament to the endurance of myth, folklore and older pagan ideas about the cosmos. We know them, remember them, see them recycled not only in the genre of fantasy but also in many movies, music, games and even children’s cartoons:

(NB Don’t watch this on drugs kids, you wont need them)

My question, and one I should note for future investigation, is how far does this subsconscious understanding go? Are we so at home with certain concepts that we can perhaps extrapolate something about the nature of our own society from it? Bruce Lincoln drew my attention to the fact that the priesthood controls the religion, and that the deities and myths that go with that religion structure the cosmos, reinforcing the order of society as something ordained and natural.

With this in mind we might point a finger at my use of ‘goddess’, but how would it have felt to have a domestic god instead? It seems comfortable to make this anthropomorphic embodiment of a homely situation into a woman, and as much as that may seem to be a patriarchal stereotype, it is one that endures in popular culture nonetheless. As gods and goddess are associated along gender divides so we often think of gods of war, lightning (spermatic, inseminating male power!) and law, all good things that go with civilisation, while we have goddesses of the home, nature, childbirth and love.

So, would you rather a domestic god, a golden haired, golden bearded, rip-muscled divinity brandishing a three headed scrubbing brush? He smites limescale! He lays waste to sinks full of washing up with devastating floods and sends prophecies to the kitchen table seared into giant, well-done steaks.

No no no, this must be a goddess because her words are like silken strands of moonlight, caressing me softly into idle action. Ooooh, that foul temptress…….

PROCRASTINATION #7

I sip my tea, regretting how minty fresh my teeth are for a moment. I think that perhaps she has put something in it because I’m losing focus. I stare a while longer, making small attempts to write something until I get distracted by something else to do. The tea goes cold and so so requires another one to be made while I wait with patience for the first line to come to me, the first line that will lead to a something finished. Sitting back down with a fresh, steaming cup I get ready but something out of the corner of my eyes calls to me……

PROCRASTINATION #8

Split ends are like being haunted in this respect, always spotted lingering at the edge of your field of vision. I exorcise those that I see, but as with the worst hauntings it doesn’t take long for the disturbance to start up again. It’s not vanity I tell myself, despite getting the kind of looks from woman that say they want to scalp me and get a hair transplant. I laugh! Vain? Me? It’s just that their split ends dammit! THE SPLIT ENDS! They call to me, like sirens gently singing, illuminated as by shafts of golden sunlight that stream through my window. Trimming the first one you capture is a victory, leading you to hunt for more.

This is absorbing work, for their song is never ending!

PROCRASTINATION #9
To escape I flee into the future and fight against the pixelated enemies in Warframe. I become a great warrior fighting for the Lotus. She is our guide, our conscience. We must fight, for our enemies multiply and seek our destruction. I tell myself that it’s just one mission, just one foray into the heart of the enemy. Who the hell can resist being a bad-ass space ninja after all?

Such digital distractions have become an extension of the domestic realm, and if you let yourself be taken in by their increasingly complex and involving universes it is like accepting the goddesses own opiate.

HERESY

There is but solution, and that is to get out! Get yourself away from the infernal machinations of the goddess! Slip away when you can, break the tea cups, shave your head, and uninstall these digital distractions. Got to get out of the house.

To be sure I have uninstalled Warframe while the goddess wasn’t looking (in fact I removed Steam altogether). I got sick of what devotees refer to as the grind, a term referring to the endless pursuit of goodies that can be harvested from games where you level up and build things and power up your equipment with more powerful modifications. It’s the same reason I stopped playing Diablo II, TitanQuest, Torchlight and others. You reach a point where it’s just not fun anymore. It’s literally a grind. It ends up being nothing more than habit, and they have designed it to keep you coming back by giving you a reward every time you log in, so logging in becomes a habit that is itself rewarding. I made a conscious decision to break this habit.

I felt better immediately.

I have a friend who writes and she says that if she stays at home then she finds it hard to get any writing done. She hits the local coffee shop and works for three hours. I’m of a mind to do the same now that a local coffee shop has opened just 10 minutes walk from here. You just have to remove yourself from the temple of distractions, from the house of the goddess.

Escaping, we embark on the quest into the wilderness (or coffee shop), there to grind at something more important as we seek instead the Muse.

Perhaps I can borrow a toothbrush while I’m out there…….

#3 Summer Solstice & The Climb

We’d been hitting the bottle hard. Bruce had crashed out in the humidity. I soldiered on, cracking open another cider and working on getting sunburned, but something told me that I must have Mediterranean genes in me somewhere. I wondered if they were selfish, but that didn’t make any sense because a gene is a theoretical construct that cannot have a personality attribute. On the other hand I fantasized about turning into a frog and diving in the canal to escape the heat.

In the tent Bruce smiled in his sleep as if he were dreaming the same thing.

I tipped back some more cider and played guitar to the Sun. It was getting close to the Solstice, and I was camping. Procrastinating over this blog would have to wait…….

Under the hot sun the week passes in an atmosphere of pseudo tribal living: an hundred people sharing fresh air and sunshine, the freedom of the countryside and the feel of dirt under their fingernails. It becomes its own little microcosm of allegiances and affiliations, personal power struggles in a cocktail of griping and bitching mixed in with caring and sharing. It’s a social network that binds disparate circles of people together under the one purpose of coming together on the Solstice to do a performance at Avebury stone circle.

During my stay I talk to Lionel, one of my old lecturers who got us all thinking about  myths and folk tales. He tells me that he has been writing a paper about the juxtaposition of Apollo and Dionysus in relation to the turning of the constellation Draconis in conjunction with the Solstices. Heavy stuff. It’s taken six months but he’s nearly finished it. At some point we discuss my ideas for relating myth to modern media and he mentions Game of Thrones. Lionel doesn’t know much about fantasy as a genre so I dive into how fantasy is consistently using and recycling mythic content, from the shadow that chases Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea to the crucifixion of Paul Twiceborn for three nights on the Summer Tree in the book of the same name. I mention Tolkien and the foundations of Dungeons and Dragons and how it spilled over into computer games. Then there is Beauty by Sheri S Tepper, and the Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers, all fairy tales and old legends reshaped, reimagined. The list goes on.

Later my posse hits Marlborough and we scare the middle class, Daily Mail reading retirees in Polly’s Tea Room. The cooked breakfast is a necessary ritual:

breakfast
tea room breakfast

Returning to camp we swelter for a while until the gong from the communal kitchen signals lunch:

lunch
lunch at camp

Most importantly though, we attempt to live off of as many of these as possible:

Obligatory cream tea
obligatory cream tea

And so slowly we wend our way to the culmination of our trip, but along the way there are camp fire singalongs, communal washing up duties, walks by the canal, a camp quiz and a presentation about the complex issues of warfare based cannibalism in South America. I talk with friends about hiphop, about Kanye and Ice Cube, but also about those songs that contained social and political reflections. I recall something I saw recently coming out of the UK grime scene that fired me up.

Then the night of the performance comes and we make our way to Avebury, bringing drums and fire.

Debriefing

With it all done and dusted there is no choice but to pack up and leave the countryside behind.  The good news is that the holiday isn’t quite over as we head down to the coast to disseminate all the gossip over a breakfast debriefing with friends. The heat hasn’t let up, but the breeze coming off the ocean is pleasant as we walk up the sea front, talking. Later I take a stroll up into town and get a couple of records. On the way back I get hailed by a destitute man called Francis and we talk a while about the records I bought, how everything is done on a card and that if he’d known I had a family to support he wouldn’t have pestered me.

“I wouldn’t take the piss,” he says earnestly. We shake hands and I wish him well.

He hopes I enjoy my records.

Later we all go to the pub and discuss writing, publication and amid all the salient points that were made Mikey makes a very salient one for those

The Climb – Looking Up

I’m sweating as I climb. Ahead of me I see those who have been on the same path. Some of them have published, some of them are selling dozens of books an hour…….

It seems to be typical that we compare ourselves to those who we consider to be the best, to those whose name is an industry standard or has achieved a pinnacle of publicity and success. So, we as writers will often compare ourselves either in terms of creativity to those who we think are simply genius at coming up with great ideas, those who are fantastic at prose and dialogue, whose writing flows, or even to those who have achieved a great level of financial success, and although these ideas may overlap, they might not be linked. Heaven knows, I find JK Rowling’s writing to be truly awful, but I marvel at the success of writing and marketing something that gets a huge influx of readers. To be mean-spirited about it I would say that we should all bear in mind that quality is not necessary to be successful, and certainly it makes me feel like administering a mighty slap to my own face when I worry about not be good enough to put into print.

In doing so we undermine ourselves, fostering self-doubt and lack of self-esteem. It is important to remember that these people are in the light because they are the peak of their ascent. We see them because they have, through whatever means, climbed higher than us and as we pursue on our own paths there they are, ahead of us all the time.

Taking A Breath – Looking Down

I stop and take a deep breath, stretch and look at how far I’ve come. Below me are untold numbers of people who haven’t even begun to make the climb. They mill around at the bottom of the slope and call out how they wish they we capable of making the climb.

And you realize, they envy you…..

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was working as a temp in an office and given an hour for lunch I would sit in the break out area and write. This prompted many to talk about my writing, and often in discussions you would hear how they would love to have a gift like that. Is it a gift? I certainly don’t think of it so much as a gift but more of something that I have practiced for a long time. Certainly I have my doubts when asked what I do for a living, and my friends often pull their hair in frustration because I quibble over it and don’t just say that I am a writer. This lack of confidence is in many ways an impediment to publishing, but you just have to remember that you are far ahead of the majority who don’t do anything with their lives, those who will do nothing but say how much they would like to be able to do it.

So, take a breather for a moment and try to get some perspective. I don’t know how far you’ve come, but stick with it and keep working on whatever creative endeavors you are engaged with. Chances are that there will always be someone better than you, but they are certainly few in number compared to those who aren’t even trying at all.