On a break, or “I hate downtime”

When looking for tips on writing on a book, one of the big ones you’ll be given is that once you finish each draft you should put it away in a drawer for x amount of time. This gives you a break, letting you relax your brain and come back to it fresh.

What they don’t say is how hard this is!

Writing is, by its nature, something that totally engrosses your mind. You’re crafting something by putting yourself in the middle of an imaginary world, creating, destroying and rearranging every little piece one by one. First you work in broad sweeps, then slowly dig deeper and deeper until you’re swapping words and punctuation back and forward as you try and find the perfect configuration of language. By the time you’ve finished a draft you’ve thought and rethought over ever bit of it so many times it becomes impossible to see the wood for the trees. You can remember every change and option not chosen to the point where you honestly can’t tell whether or not you made the right choice.

This is why giving yourself that space is important. You need to be able to clear out your mind and come back to it later with a new perspective. It’s a simple thing, really. Often, problems you couldn’t get through for love nor money suddenly give up obvious solutions you just couldn’t see before. The mistakes that need correcting become clearer, as does the realisation of which bits work and no longer need as much attention.

The problem is how suddenly having nothing to work on is something I’m not good at.

After so long trying to cram as much writing into what free time you have – especially when you have a day-job or family – suddenly having that time free just feels wrong. Today on my lunch break I’ve gone through some messages, organised some photos from the holidays on my phone, browsed social media a little, and written this blog post. And there’s still ten minutes left to kill.

But all I want to is get on with my book!

I think a large part of this is down to the fact that when you’re still looking for your big break its hard to fight the feeling you’re not moving forward. I can’t get an agent without sending them my work. I can’t send them my work until it’s finished. It’s not finished until its good enough. It won’t get good enough without my putting time and effort into it.

And when I’m not actively writing, then it doesn’t feel like I’m trying.I want, more than anything, to get my writing career off the ground. I have a – relatively – organised mind and I know each of the steps I need to follow. But the main step – the process of actually writing the book – takes so long that it can feel like I’m not moving forward at all. I hate the people who say they want something and then don’t try as hard as they can to make it happen. I don’t want to be one of those people, but I can’t help the fact that’s how I feel between drafts.

And so here I am, not working on my WIP, and forcing myself to believe that’s okay.

Luckily I have the fact that there is no point in my working on my WIP until I get notes back from my Alpha Readers. Currently I’m waiting on two more people to give me their notes, and until then it’s pointless my doing any work. And so I’m forced to stay away from my manuscript until they’re done.

I often wonder if this feels different for established authors. I know they have a entirely different set of worries, but when you have a agent and a publisher, when your work has been published before and you have a solid book deal in place, and when you can know that whenever you finish your WIP it will almost certainly get published, is this need to keep writing to get to the point where you can actively push forward with the “real” steps towards getting published still such a big thing? Or are you able to step away when you need to without feeling guilty?

Maybe one day I’ll be able to look back at this post and answer my own question. I can but hope.

The cat is staying, because of Quantums

It’s funny how the brain works when you’re writing.

In my current manuscript, I’ve had a cat appear throughout. There’s nothing particularly special about it. It’s not a magic cat or anything like that. It doesn’t talk, or lead my protagonist to hidden treasure.

But the thing is, I’ve not known why it’s been there. The idea came to be during the initial vomit draft, just one of many ideas I threw out during that messy initial version of the story. And when I eventually got past that draft and started considering why I’d put it there, I couldn’t work it out. I knew it worked, but not why.

And if there is something in your story that you like but doesn’t actually add anything to it, then in most cases it has to go. “Kill your Babies” is one of the universal mantras you’ll hear in any writing course. If it’s unnecessary, lose it.

But I didn’t want to lose the cat. I just felt that, somehow, it made sense.

And yesterday, while I was working on the first big edit of my first draft, it suddenly clicked. I knew what the cat represented, why it fits into the story where I’d put it, and why it should stay.

I love moments like this, when something suddenly makes sense and you get a fleeting moment of realisation that maybe you actually know what you’re doing.

it’s funny how the brain can work sometimes, isn’t it? These bursts of intuition. That it can throw out an idea, but then take literal months before it can work out why that idea worked. When you get these ideas, I wonder if the full thinking behind them is there in your mind and it just takes a while for it to put it together. Or do these intuitive leaps have something deeper behind them?

Maybe it’s a temporal thing. Where somehow in the brain can get a glimpse of a solution you’ll have reached in the future. Maybe “Intuition” it’s something we’ve evolved to show us that we’re on the right track and not to give up.

It would be cool if the brain had some ability to see glimpses of the future. I bet it would involve Quantums, somehow.  I’m not a scientist, but it feels to me like Quantums must have something to do with it.

Anyway, the cat is named Scrat, and he’s staying.

Quantum Cat

 

My notebook is dead. Long live my notebook!

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-13-41-16

My notebook has finally died. The binding has gone, and it is now a mere collection of paper collected together in its former covers.

It’s not been a bad innings for something I’ve been carrying around with me for seven years. And I mean literally seven years. The first entry in the book is a draft of a blog post I wrote about my upcoming wedding dated 15th September 2009.

That’s literally seven years ago to the day! 

How’s that for freaky?

There’s just so much in this little book; Story ideas, book drafts, brainstorming sessions, quick poetry, directorial notes, stage manager plans, to-do lists, job application notes, notes from seminars, room plans, timelines, meeting minutes, family trees. I wrote in a previous post how important a good notebook is to a writer, it feels truer than ever right now. There is a little piece of everything that was part of my life in the last seven years in here.

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-13-41-33And today, seven years to the day when I made my first entry, its replacement has arrived.

Look at it. Isn’t this just a thing of beauty. What is it about a Moleskine notebook that’s just so… right. They have something different about them, but I can never put my finger on what.

Well, here’s to another seven years with my little green book.

Writer problems; unexpected inspiration

Last night I had a flash of inspiration, which now has developed into a full concept for a new fantasy/horror novel.

Now I just have to deal with the struggle of fighting down the urge to start developing this new idea further, as I’m already well into my next novel and have at least two more already on the shortlist for the one after this.

So, notes have been made and stored, with each idea written down safely. Now to let it percolate in my subconscious while I get working on the next one in line.

I guess I can’t complain that I have too many ideas for novels. It’s still a pain, though.

On the importance of taking a break between drafts

As I’m having a break between drafts of The Æther Collection I’ve been working on one of my other short stories. It’s once I’ve had half written for a while. I had worked on it a few months ago – during the last break I took between drafts, in fact – and I thought it should be almost done. I’d already got notes from an Alpha Reader, and I was pretty sure it just needed a couple of scenes redone to make some point clearers, and maybe one small addition, I thought that at most these were cosmetic changes and it would get done quite quickly.

So far I’ve cut 2500 words, redone the act structure and almost completely rewritten the opening.

This one may not be as close to completion as I thought.

This is why you should always take a break between drafts.

The Æther Collection – latest draft

So yes, it’s been a while. As I laid out in my last post, I’ve been a little busy recently. Would you like to see what’s been keeping me away?

This.

The Æther Collection - 4th Draft

The Æther Collection – 4th Draft

I present to you the latest draft of The Æther Collection in all its glory. A collection of 13 short stories coming in at just under 80,000 words. I can’t really say what number draft this is, as the redrafting process has been a little haphazard. At the start, when I was posting each story on here as it was completed, I worked on one story until it was done and then moved onto the next. Later I began working on several at a time and the process became more linear. And so this means that different stories at at different levels on completion depending on when they were written. Some of the entries are basically done, while others will still need work. But for the sake of clarity I’m calling this the 4th draft, as it’s the forth version I’ve exported and saved in its entirety.

Now I’ve handed copies of the manuscript over to my usual Alpha Readers to make a start. Hopefully in the New Year they’ll start getting back to me with their notes and I’ll begin the next stage of revisions. Hopefully I won’t get any points back along the lines of “this one is awful, get rid of it”, but we’ll see what they think. Then comes the traditional fooling myself that I only need one more draft…

So what do I do while I wait?

  1. I have several more ideas for short stories than just those that fit into this collection. The problem is when you are focusing on one project you work on any old idea as you’ll never get anything done. But now I finally have the chance to work on these for a change. I have at least one that’s half done and has been sitting on my desk for months waiting redrafting. Hopefully I’ll that one done and still have time to at least get one more into decent shape before I need to get back into the Collection again.

  2. I need to start working on designs. I’ve already got Emily – my sister and designer – to put together the first version of the cover image for The Æther Collection, and it looks awesome. When I’m at home over Christmas we’ll go over this and start working on the final versions. This time I have a far better idea of what I’ll need. One of the problems I had with The Serpent’s Eye – it being my first self published bookwas that I didn’t know what I needed until I needed it. This meant that every time I wanted to put the cover image on a new website I had to go back to Emily and get her to work on it fresh and send me a new version in a different layout or resolution or some other strange variation. This time around I can make a full list of everything I used last time and get her to create everything (hopefully) in one go.

  3. In preparation for book completion I need to start working on my Scrivener-foo. I absolutely love the programme for writing, and I know that in theory it’s great for laying out a manuscript and exporting it however you need. However, at the moment my abilities are pretty much limited to trial and error, which leads to hours of frustration as I desperately try to work out how to make it do what I want. I’ll definitely be spending some lunch hours watching online How-To guides.

  4. I’ve spoken on here before about how advertising and promotion are not my strong suits. However project management is. Therefor I’m intending to make my promotional efforts far more of a structured project this time around. This one is the hardest, as (a) it’s not directly linked to the creation of the book, and (b) I don’t enjoy it. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean I shouldn’t put the effort in if I want to get my work out there. So, time to start thinking in advance about these things.

I think that’s probably enough to be getting on with. I’m also hoping to give my social media a bit of a kick and get connecting with people again. Focusing on redrafting does tend to put you in a very inwardly focused world. But then I suppose writing as a whole does that. I just have to get my head around the culture shock of wrapping up the writing side of things and focusing on the other aspects of life.

Fun.

Every writer’s best friend

Story ideas tend to come to me in one of two distinct ways. The first, and my obvious favourite, is when they just drop into my mind almost whole. I’ll be pondering a vague idea and suddenly an almost completely plotted short story just lands in my head. In these cases, if I can get two or three hours to type, I can get a first draft done in one sitting.

But the second, more frustrating way is when I only get a vague concept and have to spend time brainstorming and hammering the idea into shape over several drafts.

To this end I always try to carry my notebook with me. It’s nothing special. Just a simple A5 moleskine writers notebook. I’ve had my current one for almost six years now. It’s getting a little tatty, and it’s filled with ideas, brainstorms, early drafts, plans, and to-do lists from a whole host of projects; from stories, set designs for shows I’ve done, and even as far back as my wedding speech.

My notebook. Not quite the source of all my power, but definitely a tool no writer should be without

My notebook. Not quite the source of all my power, but definitely a tool no writer should be without

I have discovered that my thought processes works far better if I am able to write as I go. My brain finds it much, much easier to hold an string of ideas together if some of them have been put on paper as I go. I don’t have the greatest memory and if I’m following a train of thought I need to be able to remember each stop it makes along the way, no matter how rambling and disjointed the journey may have been. Having my thoughts there on the paper lets me see the entire process and, ironically, lets me keep the whole picture in my head far better than if I had actually kept them in my head.

And I find it much easier by hand. While I can use a computer or tablet I just don’t get the same clear flow of ideas. I think this is because I didn’t grow up typing in the same why I did writing. While nowadays I type far more often than I write by hand, I think it still takes up too much of my brain’s processing power. Pen on paper also gives me a freedom a computer doesn’t. I am able to write in any size, shape or position as and when I feel like. I can squeeze notes in between other lines of writing. While there are several note taking programmes on my Kindle that are remarkably good, none of them will ever come close to the pure, freeform freedom of pen on paper.

It’s not that I can’t work without it. It’s just that my brainstorming is noticeably slower without it. And yes, while I could do that on any old piece of paper, I like the concept of having everything in one place. I know if I have my notebook I have any notes I’ve made. It’s just simpler and easier.

It’s a weird thing to think about, how you use a notebook, but I suppose that it’s good to think about your methods and processes every so often, so you can work and improve of them. So, in summary: everyone needs a good, familiar notebook.

The selection of gender

How do you go about choosing a character’s gender? Is it the same as something like their name, height, or hair colour and a just a choice for the writer to make? Or it is more intrinsically linked with the nature of a particular story?

One of the many points of discussion that has sprung up in the current cultural debate about gender politics in society has been how there are so few “strong female characters” in our media. I’m not going to go into detail about the deeper issues here. There has been plenty written and discussed online already – to varying degrees of vitriol – but I want to address this particular issue that is unavoidably interwoven with any creative media. Like it or not we come from a traditionally patriarchal society, and thusly our storytelling traditions have been very much filtered through that ideology; men are the protagonists in life, with women at best secondary or at worst totally sidelined. As Joss Whedon famously pointed out, until we reach the point where strong female characters are no longer highlighted as different from the norm we will remain in an unbalanced media.

There are many reasons for this. Some of it is, of course, straightforward misogyny. The recent #GamerGate scandal has highlighted how much of that lingers around certain types of people. But as vocal as this segment can be it is not one that has an overtly active role in the real media. And yes, while I understand that many people have been seen to pander to this demographic I refuse to believe that entire industries have purposely developed around this kind of mindset.

No, the larger part of this issue has been blindness. Time and time against I have read interviews with men in the media who have told the same tale; unique to them but telling the same story where they were made to suddenly realise they had been perpetuating the gender divide without even realising it. They had never considered themselves as marginalising women. They were merely part of an established system that did so on such an ingrained level they could not see it for the trees.

This issue is an endemic one, but one that is slowly being swept aside. Mainly due to the actions of a few very strong and impressive role-models who have made a stand rather than allow themselves to work within a broken system, facing the far too often vitriolic nature of certain areas of “internet culture”. I honestly feel that today writers and media creators are far more aware of gender in their work than in any time in recent history. The issue is not going to fixed overnight, no social injustice ever is, but it has been set on the right path.

So, as a writer, how much do you need to worry about this? How much do you need to actively plan your work to help bridge the divide when it comes to female characters?

When I was nearing the end of The Serpent’s Eye I began to worry. I realised that I had written a book that hit all the traditional tropes of the old system without thinking; I had one single male protagonist, and all the female characters were viewed through the filter of his viewpoint. Did that mean I had written a bad story? Did it mean I was one of the many people perpetuating the gender imbalance through not paying attention?

No, I don’t think I was. Not everything needs to pass the Bechdel test. More things need to of course – in fact most things should – but the important question here was could I justify my choices for the good of the story?

And yes, I think I can. The story I had come up with involved somebody traveling aboard to deal with a serious of legal issues for a prominent family in the nineteenth century. Would there have been any female lawyers at that time? And if so would they be hired for such a job by an ancient and traditional noble family? For all the thousands of ways I could have created a female protagonist and worked them into the story, this would not have worked for the level of simple realism I wanted to achieve.

I know there are stories that can be told where the gender of the characters will not have one single effect on the plot. It is just that I believe these are as rare a chickens teeth.

The simple fact is, as much as we may not realise it, interpretation of gender plays a massive part in our lives. Everyday we are making thousands of snap judgements about the people we pass in the street based on age, appearance, clothing, attitude and hundreds of other tiny unnoticeable triggers. We don’t even notice we are doing it until we think about it. It is impossible to get to know someone without spending time learning who they are, and so our minds learn shortcuts based on what we can take in quickly so we can make a snap judgement of how they might act based on our previous experiences. These shortcuts are filtered and developed through the societal norms of a culture with thousands of years of momentum. We may try to be gender-blind, or colour-blind, or any kind of prejudice-blind, but it is simply not psychologically possible. It can take years to get to know someone personally, and until then, and even after, all our thoughts and interactions with them will be interpreted using the preconceived ideas that are simply so ingrained into who we are that we don’t realise they exist.

A good writer cannot simply spell out everything about a character, and so has to make use of their reader’s prejudices and assumptions to fill in the blanks. This is a tool that needs to be carefully used. Whether you want the reader to fill in the blanks in a character’s background, or to throw the reader by playing with their assumptions, the first stage is understanding how a reader will initially flesh out the character in their first scene.

These subconscious interpretations can have a profound effect on a story. The writer Brandon Sanderson has said how in earlier drafts of the first Mistborn novel the main character, Vin, was originally a boy. However he felt the tone of the story wasn’t sitting right but he couldn’t put his finger on why. Then he decided to change Vin to a girl and everything fell into place. The story needed a female protagonist, as the character dynamics simply were not working otherwise.

In Nice or Naughty – <shamelessplug> Available to read now in Dark Holidays, an anthology from Dark Skull Publications </shamelessplug> – the protagonist is a young girl with a little brother. Had I swapped the genders around it would not have altered the plot in any way, but the feel of the story and the reader’s relationship with the character would have changed significantly. Most people will have a very different preconception of a young girl’s attitudes towards her little brother than those of a young boy towards his little sister. You never meet the brother in person, he is only discussed, but that relationship is vital to the story and I can’t afford to bore the reader with a page and a half spent spelling out their relationship. Rather than do that I used what I feel will be the reader’s preconceptions and then subtly nudge them at the correct points to give the impression of the children’s relationship.

Now I don’t believe for a moment that, at this stage of my career, my work is going to have any affect in the greater debate on this issue, but also I don’t want to be seen as simply one more white male writer creating white male characters. What I do want is to create stories with a variety of characters and types, and this will sometimes mean developing a story about the character. Sometimes I will have to create male characters, if the story requires it, but at least I am aware that this is not the only option. I know that I need to develop stories to fit around female characters – and in the greater scheme of things also characters of different races and cultures – rather than let my stories grow around lazy writing. To make sure I push myself as a writer.

In the end my choice was not one of which gender I felt like writing, but which gender better fit the character and story.

How to use grammar

And so we come to the third of my posts on the issues I have with writing. The first two were more focused on areas of ability; the problems I have with spelling and proof-reading. This post is slightly different, as it is more to do with my attitude towards the subject. Or, more often, the attitude of others towards the subject.

I want to talk about grammar.

Grammar can be an interesting subject. What is it? It is the framework that governs the structure of a language, and a set of tools that allows us to ensure that what we say or write is interpreted the way we intended. It is the framework of unambiguity.

Now, first off, I want to state that I do agree that grammar is important. Despite what many people who know me might believe, I do endeavour to use correct grammar.* It’s just that I believe that there is something about it that is misunderstood by many people.

The English language is a magnificent mess. A mongrel of a language where words and sentences can be open to a vast array of interpretations. A famous example being the following two sentences:

A woman, without her man, is nothing

and

A woman: without her, man is nothing

Exactly the same words, in exactly the same order. Yet they have totally different meanings. I could go into all the many ways in which grammar can be correctly used, but I don’t want to. Instead, I want to complain about a certain misconception that far too many people hold to.

Yes, grammar is a vitally important part of language, and, by extension, writing. However, it should never be considered definitive.**

Too many people believe grammar has rules. It does not. “Rules” implies that there is a ‘correct’ and an ‘incorrect’ way of using our language, and that people who deviate from these “rules” are wrong. This idea is rubbish. Grammar is not a set of rules, but of guidelines.

Languages change over time. We do not speak the same way people did a century ago. Or a century before that. And so if language changes, then surely grammar must change as well. And what about accents and regional dialects. I might say “I am going to work,” while someone else may say “I’m going down t’mill,”*** but you know exactly what we both mean. Is one correct, and the other not? Vernaculars, dialects, cultures, idioms, all make a mockery of the notion that any one set of grammatical ‘rules’ is definitive.

We have, over time, created certain linguistic conventions to ensure we all know what we mean when we speak or write. These are good things, but they exist to clarify understanding, not to judge those who haven’t memorised them. If somebody uses “who” and “whom” interchangeably, it doesn’t matter. You can debate which one is technically correct, but the fact of the matter is that as long as we know exactly what the speaker means, they both are. If that person was swapping between “who” and “kumquat”, then they would have an issue. That extra ‘m’ adds no ambiguity. ****

But while grammar has no ‘rules’, it does offer us ‘tools’. These tools are called punctuation. As can be seen in the example I gave above, the correct use of punctuation is how we define clarity of meaning. They allow us to indicate the intended meaning in a set of words that might have more than one possible interpretation. And yes, there are rules for the correct use of punctuation. I’ll give you that. But those rules are to be used in the pursuit of clarity, not for their own sake.

For me, the most important thing in constructing a sentence is how it sounds; the flow and rhythm of the words that makes reading pleasurable. I use the tools of grammar to ensure that the reader can understand exactly what I am saying, but I am not going to be shackled in how I choose and arrange my words. To me, grammar simply is part of writing. To others, it is some holy law of language, and breaking it tantamount to sacrilege.

I found a wonderful quote on this subject; “Grammar is often a generic way of referring to any aspect of English that people object to.” These people are known as Grammar Nazis. These people believe there is only one way of doing something, and that is their way. They rule over us all on a magical grammar-cloud, informing us lowly word-peasants when we have spilt an infinitive or mis-conjagated with our errant words. More often than not, they bear the name like a badge of honour.

Tell me, when is the qualifier “Nazi” a good thing?

Yes, people have set down “rules” for grammar, but many of them were redundant to start with. Splitting the infinitive, for example, is a rule carried over from Latin that does not fit with a Germanic language such as English. And yet some people still argue its importance. These people are missing the point of language. *****

I’m going to be honest: my opinion on people’s attitudes to grammar has been coloured by people criticising my own. As I’ve stated before on this blog, from the age of eleven onwards I was never taught the rules of the English language as a separate topic. I learned grammar through literature. I read books, and saw how authors throughout history assembled and used the English Language.

And do you know what? I think that this is the better way to learn. Rather than sitting in a classroom and memorising cold hard rules, I was immersed in great literature. I read how the language worked, rather than being told how it didn’t.

They say the most important thing for any budding writer to do is read as many varied books as possible. This is why. Different authors will have different styles and feels to their work. Also, as I said before, language has changed over the years, and so reading books from different periods shows us how grammar and language are fluid.

I’m not saying that grammar is not important. It is. But it has to be understood that it is a framework, and what that framework is for.

My work is far from perfect. I’m not trying to argue that I am somehow above all the petty concerns of others. If someone reads my work and tells me that a paragraph isn’t as clear as it could be, that there is some ambiguity, that means that the grammar is wrong. This, I will fix. However, if someone tells me that I’ve broken some obscure tenet of the English language, set down by some dusty scholar two hundred years ago, I will ignore them. If I like the way it sounds, and it is clear enough to understand exactly what I mean, then I consider it acceptable.

So, to summarise, I do not consider grammar to be concrete. To put it simply; grammar equals unambiguity. If the reader/listener knows exactly what the writer/speaker means, then the grammar is correct. There are no rules to ensure this happens, but there are tools. Tools we must learn how to use.

*

And so there we are. Three blog posts discussing the three parts of writing that cause me the most issues: My problems with spelling, my issues with proof-reading my own work, and my disagreements about grammar. I hope they give some insight into how I work, or at least offer some excuse for the myriad errors I am sure you all find in my writing.

*

*Several years ago I was given a book entitled My Grammar and I (or should that be ‘Me’?): Old-school ways to sharpen your english. I’m honestly not sure whether it was intended as a joke gift or not, but either way it is invaluable to me. Mostly, to be honest, as a resource for the use of punctuation.

** Do you see what I mean about the inconsistencies of language? Even the guidelines set to guard against change, change over time. Isn’t the English language a wonderful thing?

*** Please don’t leave any comments pointing out that no one has ever actually used this cliched phrase. It’s just an example.

**** Incidentally, if you want to know the “official” way to learn when to use “Who” and “Whom”, The Oatmeal did a great comic on it. But even then he ends with the fact that the only real difference is that “Whom” sounds classier, whether it is correctly used or not.

***** Most of the blame for this attitude can be laid on one Robert Lowth, and his 1762 book; A Short Introduction to English Grammar. Research him if you like. Essentially, he was the first grammar-nazi, centuries before there were actual nazis. That’s quite impressive.

Proof reading

This post is sort of a follow up to my last. As I wrote last week’s post I found I had branched off on a couple of tangents, and so decided to cut them use them later. This was one of them, and the other will come next week.

I wrote before about how poor spelling can cause me issues as a writer. This week, I’m going to talk about proof reading my own work. In that I’m not very good at it. I’m not talking about editing. I can decide which sections need to be trimmed, expanded or otherwise tweaked. I mean actually proof reading and copy-editing the final product. My problem is that when reading my own work, I can sometimes simply not see spelling or grammatical errors, even when they are right in front of me.

I will always check my work, double checking every word, reading it aloud slowly, taking extra care to ensure I miss nothing. Then, having determined that I’ve caught and fixed all the errors, I will pass it on to someone else. Then, they will inevitably spot a dozen mistakes and typing errors that are blatantly obvious, and I look like an idiot.

It’s not spelling errors that cause issues here, as such. The miraculous tool that is Spell-Checker will highlight those for me. No, what gets me at this point is incorrectly used words. Words which are spelt correctly, but still wrong. Such as accidentally typing “spot” instead of “stop, or “weary” instead of “wary”. Or words that are redundant.

You want an example? Recently, a reviewer on YouWriteOn.com pointed out that in an excerpt I had posted of The Serpent’s Eye, there were two or three instances where I had left in unnecessary uses of the word “that”. I checked, and saw that they were quite correct; in the places they had mentioned, the word was utterly superfluous. Having fixed them, I decided to go through the entire manuscript, just in case I had done this anywhere else.

In the end I removed exactly 200 redundant “that”s.

Once it was pointed out to me I could see it easily, and using the Find function allowed a surgical search and removal. These redundant words were hangovers from the original vomit-draft, where I don’t worry about grammar and spelling and just get the story on the page. And over the course of the four following drafts, I just hadn’t seen them. Each time I re-read, my brain kept skipping over those extraneous “that”s.

It is deeply, deeply frustrating. I believe that the root of this is connected to the problem I have with spelling; when I am reading my own words my brain knows what is meant to be there and so often skips over the mistakes. But knowing this does not help the fact that it is still highly embarrassing to show your work to people and have them highlight myriad basic errors and mistakes. I know, as much as I don’t like it, that those of you who have read my blog posts and short stories on here must have spotted a bunch these errors. Just please believe me that these aren’t out of laziness. I’m trying, I’m just a bit rubbish.

I want to consider myself self-sufficient. That, if I needed to, I could write and polish my own work without needing any help from others. But I know I can’t.

This is yet another reason that alpha- and beta-readers are so important to the writing process. Sometimes you can be far too close to your writing, and you need honest, outside opinions of what works and what doesn’t work. And, in my case, to do my copy editing for me because my brain tries to be too clever.

Damn you brain!

And, as with my spelling, the only way I will improve is with practice. The more I read and critique, the better I will get. This is why sites such as YouWriteOn.com, which I mentioned before, are invaluable. Not only does this site allow you to get feedback on your work, it only gives you that feedback if you read and critique other people’s work first. This has given me the chance to see the kinds of mistakes others make, helping me to learn to spot them in my own work. I am better at proof reading other people’s work more than my own, so hopefully I will be able to develop this skill for myself.

At least, I hope that’s the case.