Sunday, 13 August 2017

Not Giving Up

This week, I gave up on two things.

The first was a book:

When I was younger, I would plough through a book to the end, regardless of how badly written/boring/annoying it was, just because I felt I ought to finish it. I'm not sure why I thought this. Maybe it was because I'm from a generation that was taught to eat up all their dinner because there were starving people in the world (I never understood that one) or finish the egg and spoon race even when there was no longer an egg in your spoon.This week, I had no qualms in giving up on a book that had many high-scoring reviews but which, to me, had narrative that was amateurish and a formulaic plot. I have too many books waiting to be read to waste time on those that aren't entertaining me so I gave myself permission to leave it and start a new one.

The second was a future concert:

Earlier this year, I was encouraged by some members of my choir to join them at the Royal Albert Hall in November to sing The Messiah. I was in two minds (not really knowing the piece and not being very good at reading music) but agreed to give it a go. For three months, we've been practising and last week I gave it up. Why? Because it's hard and to sing it well would need more time commitment than I am able (or willing) to give. The main reason though is that I was just not enjoying it. I know I'm probably in the minority here, but I found the music and words all rather depressing. His 'yolk' might have been 'heavy' and his 'burden light' but my burden was massively lightened when I gave myself permission to give the concert up. Luckily, someone has taken my place. Someone who I know will get a lot more pleasure from it than I would.

But, in a week where I've given up two things, there's been something I haven't given up on (even when the going's got tough) and this has allowed me to say these magic words:


Yes indeed - novel two has left the building and is with my agent. It's also been sent to the RNA New Writers' Scheme for a critique. Yay!

I could easily have given up after my agent suggested that novel number one (which I still love) be put aside so that I could work on a different project. I could have given up when new ideas wouldn't form. I could have given up when I got to twenty thousand words and stalled. I could have given up when I was nearing the end and thought 'I've been here before'... but I didn't.

Why? Because this is something that's important to me. Because I knew I had it in me to do it. Because, as I wrote the book, I fell in love with it and you don't give up on something you love unless there's a mighty big reason, do you?

I was going to try and find some inspirational quote to end this post but gave up (ha ha). Instead, I'll just say this:

If it's not right, if it doesn't give you enjoyment, if it won't alter your life unbearably if you give something up, then give yourself permission to do so. But, some things are worth pushing on with and fighting through the hard times for. If you love them enough, you'll know which ones they are.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

5 Top Tips for Editing Your Novel - Guest Post Alison May

I'm a big fan of Alison May. Why? Well, firstly, because she tells me it's OK to be a pantster (she's one too). Secondly, she gave the RNA Writing Conference 2017 a great lift with her humorous and informative talks. Mostly, though, it's because (despite her soft spot for aliens and her penchant for writing 'this is where stuff happens' in a synopsis) Alison clearly knows what she's talking about. So much so that after hearing her talk about editing in one of her conference sessions, I nabbed her and asked if she'd like to write a post for me on this same subject.

Luckily for us all, she said yes. So over to you, Alison.

Five Top Tips for Editing Your Own Novel

Editing your own novel is hard. It’s really hard. It can be really difficult to know where to start, and even more difficult to know when to stop. Editing is vital though. So often writing a first draft is a journey towards having something terrible. Editing, on the other hand, is a journey towards having something good or even – fingers crossed - great.

So having ridden my story-writing pony through the rocky outcrops of the self-edit a fair few times now, here are my top tips…

1. Editing is fun

Honestly it is. At least it can be, and if you try to view it as something fun and empowering rather than a trial that has to be survived, the process will go more easily. I think of it like this - you’re basically god of your own tiny universe, but unlike actual God if it turns out the world you’ve made isn’t that great, you get to change it around and fiddle with it until it’s all perfect and lovely.
So don’t feel overwhelmed by the challenge of revising your manuscript – try to feel empowered. You can do this. You can totally do this.

2. You’re allowed to hate your own book

In fact I pretty much insist upon it. If you never reach the point of utter despair and absolute certainty that the whole story is a steaming pile of poo then you’re probably not being sufficiently self-critical. As a writer, you need to be your own toughest critic AND your own biggest fan, sometimes simultaneously, which can be a little bit challenging.  But you do need to look your own book squarely in the eye and be honest with yourself about what doesn’t work. Focussing on the negatives will make you hate the book. Don’t panic – it’s temporary, I promise.

3. Always know what stage you’re up to

Editing is not just one process. It’s at least three processes, and one of the most common mistakes I see from newer writers is the tendency to jump past the bit where you make the actual story work, and onto proofreading.
I break self-editing down like this:

Stage 1 – Major Revisions
This is where you look to see if the actual story works. Are your characters consistent? Are there gaping plot holes? Does your timeline make sense? If you’re anything like me the answer to that last one is invariably no. My first drafts are replete with two month and two year pregnancies, but editing can fix that. So stage 1 is where you tackle the actual bones of the story and character arcs.

Stage 2 – Line by line
Now the story hangs together we can look at the prose itself. Is every sentence as punchy or as elegant as you can make it? Does your dialogue have the believable rhythm of speech? This might also be when you fact check any outstanding little details. Could your heroine really have travelled from Edinburgh to Bath in a day in 1901? What is the legal driving age in Mauritius? I have no idea, and you probably don’t either - this is your last chance to check.

Stage 3 – Proofreading
This is spelling, punctuation, and grammar time. It’s also time to check that you’ve been consistent with any disputed spellings eg. OK, Okay or Ok, and to check things like chapter numbering that might have been messed up if you moved things around during Stage 1.

Know which stage you’re at as you’re editing and resist the urge to jump ahead.

4. Don’t cut corners

Because editing is not just one process, that means it takes time. Don’t be tempted to submit your work (or publish your work) before it’s ready. Allow yourself enough time to edit and revise. If, like me, you’re somebody who writes without much of a plan, it’s quite likely that you’ll need longer to revise and polish the manuscript than you did to write a first draft. That’s fine so long as you allow yourself the time you need.

5. Know when to stop

This is the flip side of number 4. It can be very tempting to keep tweaking forever, and you could easily do that. No book is ever really finished – I never read my books after they’ve been published because I know the editing pen would want to come out again. Ultimately though you reach a point where you have to stop. Knowing what stage you’re at helps with that. When you’ve finished your proofread (the final stage) you’re done. Time to press ‘Send.’

Good luck and happy editing!

About Alison

Alison is an author, creative writing tutor and freelance editor. She has published five romantic comedies and numerous short stories Her next full-length novel, All That Was Lost, will be released with Legend Press in 2018.

Alison is the current Vice-Chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. She is also a qualified teacher with a degree in Creative Writing. She runs novel-writing workshops and offers individual tutoring and manuscript appraisals. Her next scheduled courses are in Birmingham in November 2017, looking at Dialogue and Synopsis Writing:

You can find out more about Alison at, on Facebook or on Twitter @MsAlisonMay