Sunday, 31 March 2013 do I know when it's done?

Still here - in the deep, dark editing cave.
But how do I know when it's time for me to come out?
I mean - will I be able to tell when the book is as 'perfect' as I can make it? Will I even be sure that I've incorporated all the agent's suggested edits into it? How - how - will I know these things?

Editing Cave image suggested by Suzanne F - who has clearly been lost in the dark before me.  Cheers, Suzanne!

Because I certainly wasn't seeing it too clearly before.
I thought it was ready to submit - and I was wrong. Actually, I thought I was writing a romance, but the agent's remarks suggest it's more of a thriller. I even thought I'd caught all the typos - now I know that's never going to happen!

I don't know anything...

A kind friend said, "You'll know when it's right. Promise."
Aargh! The classically tactful way of saying, " You'll never know this, you sap!"
More than ten years ago, I can remember asking someone how I was supposed to know whether to get married or not. "When it's right, you'll know," they said. (I didn't know.)
"And how do you decide when to have a baby?" I asked someone else, later on. "Ahh, when the time is right, you'll just know," they replied.
Well, I went ahead and did both those things and I hoped for the best.
But I never knew - never!

Oh, Google! That's not the Editing Cave.

Most of all, I wish I knew how long it takes to edit a book. A few days? Weeks? Months?
"Ask the agent," suggests my husband, quoting the bit in the email that reads, "Do let us know if something's unclear."
Which is crazy talk, of course. I have to approach this as a test. I have to be quick - efficient - professional - slightly telepathic. And above all I mustn't pester the agent with stupid questions or reveal myself to be a flake until they've signed me!
(Besides which, if the answer is 'A few days' or even 'A couple of weeks' I don't think I'm ready to hear it. What if I never work up the confidence to send the stupid book out again?)

I'll probably wait until I feel as if my time is seriously running out - then send it in a panic! (Because - let's face it - that's how I made my decisions on marriage and children.)

One of the things I'm wrestling with at the moment is the suggestion that the heroine should bond with the (bad-boy) hero in talking about their respective home lives.
Trouble is, I don't think bad-boys do talk about their home lives - not willingly. Not unless you offer them money or crack or something. So I've been racking my brains to think of examples of some of my favourite bad-boys who open up about their home lives.

River Phoenix in Stand By Me became a bad-boy because he was accused of stealing the milk money. Actually, he did steal the milk money. But when he tried to give it back, it was stolen by someone else. A hard lesson - which made him tough and cynical.

Flynn Rider in Rapunzel became a thief because he grew up in an orphanage and - um - that's pretty much his excuse - although he adds that he often read stories to the other orphans about a dashing bandit named Flynn - which made him tough and cynical.

Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman became a bad boy because his father deserted his mother who promptly committed suicide. Richard Gere blamed himself - which made him tough and cynical. Although I think I may've left it a bit late to work anything quite this heavy into my plot...

Since I'm also supposed to be cutting as many words as possible, it's pretty tempting to write something along the lines of: -  "As the sun sank low in the sky, the two of them lay back in the long grass and chatted. He told her about his home life, and she responded in kind..which bonded them forever."

After that, I have to make my heroine more sympathetic. So I'll be pondering the virtues of Rapunzel, Debra Winger and Will Wheaton...before deciding to write a scene in which my heroine rescues a kitten from a well in the opening chapter. Gah!

(Approximately 12, 300 words now chopped!)

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Things making me happy this week...

Making butterfly cakes with the Six-year old. Mmm - sticky!
Memories of last Saturday's wedding.
Of course, I'd have more than memories if I'd bothered to take a few photos. I suspect I must've been having a nice time instead (hate it when that happens!)
Mother's day flowers in the sunshine.
...And my new glittery editing notebook from Mr Disney. I ordered one for the Six-year old while he was poorly and added an extra one for myself (Did I mention how sparkly it is?) Not only does this NOT really help me with my editing in any way - I am also thirty years too old to own it (at least!)
Ah, well..
This week's wordcount is 6,800 words cut. Although I have no real idea whether that's good or not. (Still so weird to be forcing my wordcount down instead of up!) 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Editing time

Last Autumn I wrote a post called 'Submitting time'.
Well, that's the one that probably should have been titled 'Editing time', but no, I was far too keen to send it off. So I said this - "As it turns out, I have no editing skills. I've read through my ms again and found a few typpos. I've shown it to a friend who said encouraging things. I think I'm just going to submit to a handful of agents and see if I get any feedback."
Which sounds both naively optimistic and shockingly lazy now. And of course the feedback for my unedited ms was largely 'No, thanks.'


But one of the agents I sent it to at the beginning of November has got back to me with a mass of editorial suggestions. Even on my first reading of her email, all her advice seemed so obviously right, it's hard to admit to myself that I would never have come up with any of it on my own. By the time I'd come to the end of her email, I was plain ashamed of myself.
And grateful.
And making notes.
And reading blog posts about editing on the internet - before making more notes.
So, that's what I've been up to this week - I've been learning to edit.

First, I've been cutting.
Agent-lady suggests losing 10 - 20,000 words. Ouch - that's hard! It took me a long time to think up all those sentences.
I tackled a middle chapter and cut 1,643 words. From the next, I cut 805 words. From the third, 472... So there is a definite pattern of reluctance here.
I suppose I'll have to cut what I can, then go back over the same chapters for another try.

On the third day, my will-power broke down and I began adding one or two new bits. Because that's what I like doing - making stuff up - it's writing!
So my strategy has now become one of cutting and adding at the same time. No, nothing can go wrong here...(What was that you said about my excessive wordcount? I can't hear you lalala!)

Trouble is, when I read each chapter, while asking myself whether all the words are strictly necessary - are they life-or-death vital? - then the answer is so often 'no' that I become hyper-critical. By the end of day two I thought chapter 11 was so bad, I couldn't believe an agent was actually trying to help me with it. In conclusion - cutting without adding can be a pretty demoralising business.

Although one thing I do like is the spring-cleaning feeling of having chucked out all the lines that weren't really pulling their weight. And I like the feeling of tightening - tightening - until the pace is flying along and polishing - polishing - until it reads like a proper writer might have written it.

Another steep learning curve I've been on is that provided by the art club. Although they've come up with some great 3D pictures, this was the week I learned never to try to teach water colour techniques to ten year old boys...

We all started off with this simple castle-and-houses-by-the-river-type sketch, and I explained about using the white of the paper instead of paint, keeping the brush moving - sideways and downwards - without going back, and building up layers of shading and so on.
Well, the girls all listened and painted their own delicate, watery castles-by-rivers.
Not so the boys...
Here's one that appears to be on fire...

And another which is made of cheese.
 (Ochre - I said. Not yellow - ochre!)
Oh, of course there ought to be aliens landing on the battlements. 
Just as there ought to be sharks lurking under the little rustic bridge.
But when it comes to the giant zombie who has taken over the bridge and is menacing the simple castle-folk - even I draw the line (groans and bangs head on desk!)

No, I really don't think my art club are taking me seriously anymore...


Saturday, 2 March 2013

All she wanted...

Yesterday, I read this quote from Sue Moorcroft on Twitter... "All I wanted was a quiet afternoon with my WiP. Suffice to say, that is not happening. How do you do a really peeved smiley?"

It may never make it into those long lists of epigrammatical quotes from Flaubert or Hemmingway I'm always seeing in the Guardian, but it really resonated with me -  'Yes, yes - yes! That's exactly how I feel - right now' - and even made me feel better about not being able to write, since a published writer couldn't either.

Sue Moorcroft didn't say exactly why she wasn't writing, but neither did she need to. It was Life. Life gets in the bloody way.

I was struck down by a horrible sickbug this week. The kind that makes you hot and sweaty, yet cold and shivery all at the same time. My head ached. I couldn't get up, but neither could I find a comfy spot anywhere in the bed. I couldn't read or sleep or watch TV - and when I opened my laptop, the light made my eyes hurt. Urgh!
Ten-year-old went down with it before I'd recovered, which was pretty miserable for both of us. Then yesterday, it was six-year-old's turn. I thought he was having a lovely, long sleep, but later realised he was actually in a boiling hot, incoherent stupor - which frightened me. I opened all the windows and spooned tiny sips of Calpol and cold water into him while he protested weakly and heartbreakingly. After that, self and ten-year-old spent the afternoon wrapped in blankets in six-year-old's icy bedroom, drawing pictures of the Sugar Rush Racers from Disney's Wreck it Ralph in the curtained semi-darkness. This seemed to be the only way to raise a feeble smile from him.

It's been one of those weeks best wiped away mentally and forgotten about. On Monday, my only plan was to get on with my writing - (oh, and plant some anenome corms, which have been soaking for about five days now!) In the words of the great Sue Moorcroft:

"All I wanted was a quiet afternoon with my WiP."
 "Suffice to say, that is not happening."
Maybe next week...

For balance, I'm going to finish with some of those-other-kind-of-quotes. You know, the ones that conflict with actual Life.

"Don't just plan to write - write. It is only by writing, not by dreaming about it, that we develop our own style." PD James

"I don't know where my ideas come from, but I know where they come to. They come to my desk and if I'm not there, they go away again." Philip Pullman

"There are no rules. Just do what you need to do to finish the book." Neil Gaiman

"The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page." Anne Enright

"Just write. If you have to make a choice, if you say, 'Oh well, I'm going to put the writing away until my children are grown,' then you don't really want to be a writer. If you want to be a writer, you do your writing. If you don't do it, you probably don't want to be a writer, you just want to have written and be famous - which is very different." Jane Yolen

"Get on with it." Colm Toibin

"Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write." AL Kennedy

"The real writer is the one who really writes." Marge Piercey

"How do you do a really peeved smiley?" Sue Moorcroft and me!