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Absence makes the heart grow fonder…

It’s been a while since I last posted, but I assure you, it’s for very good reason… I’m deep in the throes of final revision – three chapters down, nineteen left to go! I know, three chapters doesn’t sound like much – it doesn’t even feel like much. In fact, it feels like an enormous mountain looms before me and I’ve only taken the first few steps to cross it. But believe me, it really is significant! It means I am three whole chapters closer to finishing my novel for good, querying agents, and getting published! Woohoo! And let me tell you, after all this time, it feels amazing 🙂

Gotta love Finn and Jake... And there's the worm king at the bottom of the mountain - just like me! :D

Gotta love Finn and Jake… And there’s the Giant Worm King at the bottom of the mountain – just like me! 😀

I won’t be posting much (if at all) in the next few weeks – or more likely, the next few months – as every tiny speck of time I manage free up for writing will be dedicated to editing. But I thought I’d share with you some exciting and immensely helpful tools I’ve come across so far during this final revision process…

1. Pdf-Notes

I’m staying at my parents house at the moment for the Christmas break, which is wonderful because I have an amazing writing area to retreat to as well as Daddy and Grandparents help with the kids (which gives me some extra time for writing). Unfortunately, my father’s printer is prehistoric (it takes about two minutes to print one page and then, between pages, it likes to make heavy breathing noises for another two minutes before it prints the second page. And so on. And so on. And so on.Aaurgh!!!

As I’m sure you can appreciate, this is not good news for someone who is doing multiple edits for each chapter and needs to read a clean version after every edit!

The solution? Pdf-Notes!

An app for my iPad, it enables me to read and edit my manuscript on my iPad just like I would on a hard copy print-out! Using a stylus I purchased from Dick Smith for $15, I can now edit over and over again on as many new versions of my chapter as I want (or need) without having to print out a single page 😀 Yay!

2. Pro Writing Aid

This beauty forms a part of my line-editing arsenal (fyi. line-editing is the very last thing I tackle in my editing process).

I have my own list of things I look for when line-editing, of course (like -ly words, passive writing, telling rather than showing, etc.) But there comes a time when my incredible skills reach their limit of effectiveness (hard to believe, I know… but unfortunately it is the truth).

That’s when Pro Writing Aid comes into play! It locates things my mere human eyes only dream of noticing, especially repeated words and phrases. And it double-checks all the things on my list too, which is an added bonus.

As some of you might know, there is another online editing program available that many writers recommend – Autocrit. I tried the test editor for this software too and found it to be just as helpful. But there were a two things that tipped me over the line towards Pro Writing Aid. Firstly, the cost (PWA is free). Secondly, word count is unlimited (The cheapest subscription on Autocrit is $47 for a maximum word count of 1000 words per submission. Even though you can submit as many times as you like, I find that it’s not very effective for finding repeated words and phrases in complete chapters when you are analysing only 1000 words at a time. Of course, you can always pay more for the higher word limits).

Both of these tools are amazing and I recommend them to anyone who is in the process of editing. I can definitely say they have made my life so much better! And how many things can you say that about?

Anyways, back to the grindstone I go…

Wish me luck!

Oh, and by the way – here is an updated photo of my writing retreat 🙂

My writing retreat in Tasmania...

My writing retreat in Tasmania…

If I don’t post again til I get there – see you on the other side!

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I write, therefore I revise…

Well, things are getting very exciting now! I am officially ready to start my final-of-all-final revisions 🙂

All of my notes are ready… I have my:

  • chapter-by-chapter notes (all things that need to be changed, added, noted in each chapter);
  • general notes (things to keep in mind for every chapter);
  • character summaries (detailed notes on physical appearance, clothing, items, weapons, scent, dialogue, mannerisms and personality quirks for each character);
  • calendar (complete with season transition dates and moon cycles);
  • sets and stages inventories;
  • list of phrases and words I’ve repeated throughout my WIP that need to be reworked; &
  • list of line editing rules* I need to keep in mind (ie. passive voice, strong verbs, etc.).

I seriously cannot wait to get started…

Unfortunately, I have to. The end of the year is nigh and writing must be set aside for a few weeks while I clean house and pack bags in preparation for our annual Christmas trip to Tasmania (where my parents live). Plus, my youngest man turns one the weekend before we leave, so there is party planning to be done too 🙂 Not that I mind. It’s a good thing to have a break before I throw myself at my manuscript – it puts some well-needed space between me and my words so I can be more objective 🙂  

I love writing in Tassie. I have a gorgeous little table set up in the attic beside a window with a breathtaking view…

This pic is old, but it is all I have for now. Once I get to Tassie I will take some new photos and post them then…

This pic is old, but it is all I have for now. Once I get to Tassie I will take some new photos and post them then…

… and all I have to do for a whole month is write, relax and catch up with the relos 🙂 Absolute heaven! I don’t have to worry about housework or cooking, and I get extra time for writing while the kids hang out with their grandparents – in short, exactly what I need to clear out the cobwebs in my mind and get stuck into finishing this book for good…

At the risk of sounding redundant, I can’t wait!

It is so amazing to think that once I finish each chapter now, that will be it. Fini. Ferdig. Finito. Then it will be off to agents for querying. Woohoo! I am soooooo going to celebrate when that day comes! And if I proceed the way I hope to (ie. finish two chapters per week) it should come sometime in March. Oh my! I cannot even imagine what it’s going to feel like when I press the save button for the last time.

Anyways, I’d better get back to real life… dust and cleaning products await! 

* A few years ago I stumbled across a great list of rules I think every writer could benefit from – Allan Guthrie’s Hunting Down the Pleonasms (you can download the original HERE).

1: Avoid pleonasms. A pleonasm is a word or phrase which can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning. For example, in “Hunting Down The Pleonasm”, ‘down’ is pleonastic. Cut it and the meaning of the sentence does not alter. Many words are used pleonastically: ‘just’, ‘that’ and ‘actually’ are three frequently-seen culprits (I actually just know that he’s the killer can be trimmed to I know he’s the killer), and phrases like ‘more or less’ and ‘in any shape or form’ are redundant.

2: Use oblique dialogue. Try to generate conflict at all times in your writing. Attempt the following experiment at home or work: spend the day refusing to answer your family and colleagues’ questions directly. Did you generate conflict? I bet you did. Apply that principle to your writing and your characters will respond likewise.

3: Use strong verbs in preference to adverbs. I won’t say avoid adverbs, period, because about once every fifty pages they’re okay! What’s not okay is to use an adverb as an excuse for failing to find the correct verb. To ‘walk slowly’ is much less effective than to ‘plod’ or ‘trudge’. To ‘connect strongly’ is much less effective than to ‘forge a connection’.

4: Cut adjectives where possible. See rule 3 (for ‘verb’ read ‘noun’).

5: Pairs of adjectives are exponentially worse than single adjectives. The ‘big, old’ man walked slowly towards the ‘tall, beautiful’ girl. When I read a sentence like that, I’m hoping he dies before he arrives at his destination. Mind you, that’s probably a cue for a ‘noisy, white’ ambulance to arrive. Wailingly, perhaps!

6: Keep speeches short. Any speech of more than three sentences should be broken up. Force your character to do something. Make him take note of his surroundings. Ground the reader. Create a sense of place.

7: If you find you’ve said the same thing more than once, choose the best and cut the rest. Frequently, I see the same idea presented several ways. It’s as if the writer is saying, “The first couple of images might not work, but the third one should do it. If not, maybe all three together will swing it.” The writer is repeating himself. Like this. This is a subtle form of pleonasm.

8: Show, don’t tell. Much vaunted advice, yet rarely heeded.  An example: expressing emotion indirectly. Is your preferred reader intelligent? Yes? Then treat them accordingly. Tears were streaming down Lila’s face. She was very sad. Can the second sentence be inferred from the first? In context, let’s hope so. So cut it. If you want to engage your readers, don’t explain everything to them. Show them what’s happening and allow their intelligence to do the rest. And there’s a bonus to this approach. Because movies, of necessity, show rather than tell, this approach to your writing will help when it’s time to begin work on the screenplay adaptation of your novel!

9: Describe the environment in ways that are pertinent to the story. And try to make such descriptions active. Instead of describing a book lying on a table, have your psycho-killer protagonist pick it up, glance at it and move it to the arm of the sofa. He needs something to do to break up those long speeches, right?

10: Don’t be cute. In the above example, your protagonist should not be named Si Coe.

11: Avoid sounding ‘writerly’. Better to dirty up your prose. When you sound like a writer, your voice has crept in and authorial intrusion is always unwelcome. In the best writing, the author is invisible.

12: Fix your Point Of View (POV). Make it clear whose head you’re in as early as possible. And stay there for the duration of the scene. Unless you’re already a highly successful published novelist, in which case you can do what you like. The reality is that although most readers aren’t necessarily clued up on the finer points of POV, they know what’s confusing and what isn’t.

13: Don’t confuse the reader. If you write something you think might be unclear, it is. Big time. Change it or cut it.

14: Use ‘said’ to carry dialogue. Sid Fleischman calls ‘said’, “the invisible word.” That’s not quite true (anyone who doubts this should track down a copy of Fletcher Flora’s Most Likely To Love), but it’s close enough. And don’t use adverbs as modifiers. Adverbs used in this way are ‘telling’ words (I told you rule 8 was rarely heeded!).

15: Whilst it’s good to assume your reader is intelligent, never assume they’re psychic.

16: Start scenes late and leave them early.

17: When writing a novel, start with your characters in action. Fill in any necessary backstory as you go along.

18: Give your characters clear goals. Always. Every scene. And provide obstacles to those goals. Always. Every scene. If the POV character in a scene does not have a goal, provide one or cut the scene. If there is no obstacle, add one or cut the scene.

19: Don’t allow characters who are sexually attracted to one another the opportunity to get into bed. Unless at least one of them has a jealous partner.

20: Torture your protagonist. It’s not enough for him to be stuck up a tree. You must throw rocks at him while he figures out how to get down.

21: Use all five senses in your descriptions. Smell and touch are too often neglected.

22: Vary your sentence lengths. I tend to write short, and it’s amazing what a difference combing a couple of sentences can make.

23: Don’t allow your fictional characters to speak in sentences. Unless you want them to sound fictional.

24: Cut out filtering devices, wherever possible. ‘He felt’, ‘he thought’, ‘he observed’ are all filters. They distance the reader from the character.

25: Avoid unnecessary repetition of tense. For example: I’d gone to the hospital. They’d kept me waiting for hours. Eventually, I’d seen a doctor. Usually, the first sentence is sufficient to establish tense. I’d gone to the hospital. They kept me waiting for hours. Eventually, I saw a doctor.

26: When you finish your book, pinpoint the weakest scene. Cut it. If necessary, replace it with a sentence or paragraph.

27: Don’t plant information. How is Donald, your son? I’m quite sure Donald’s father doesn’t need reminding who Donald is. Their relationship is mentioned purely to provide the reader with information.

28: If an opinion expressed through dialogue makes your POV character look like a jerk, allow him to think it rather than say it.  He’ll express the same opinion, but seem like a lot less of a jerk.

29: Characters who smile and grin a lot come across as deranged fools. Sighing and shrugging are also actions to avoid. Eliminating smiles, sighs and shrugs is almost always an improvement. Smiling sadly is a capital offence.

30: Pronouns are big trouble for such little words. The most useful piece of information I ever encountered on the little blighters was this: pronouns refer to the nearest matching noun backwards. For example: John took the knife out of its sheath and stabbed Paul with it. Well, that’s good news for Paul. If you travel backwards from ‘it’, you’ll see that John has stabbed Paul with the sheath! Observing this rule leads to much clearer writing.

31: Spot the moment of maximum tension and hold it for as long as possible. Or as John D. MacDonald put it: “Freeze the action and shoot him later.”

32: If something works, forget about the rule that says it shouldn’t.

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To write is human, to revise is divine…*

* That’s just a little twist on the famous Stephen King quote: “To write is human, to edit is divine.”

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’m currently doing Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel course (HTRYN). For those of you unfamiliar with HTRYN, it’s an amazing (and incredibly intense) 22 week course which guides you through the revision process. I’m loving every minute of it, which is no surprise really since it’s just like being back at school (and anyone who knows me, knows I love school). There’s lots of reading and lots of worksheets to do – my idea of heaven!

HTRYN is divided into three parts:

  1. Triage (Lessons 1 – 8) – where you get to know your manuscript inside out, flaws and all;
  2. Major Surgery (Lessons 9 – 17) – where you learn how to cut your manuscript and do block revision; and
  3. Cosmetic Surgery (Lessons 18 – 22) – where you focus on all of the surface stuff, like line editing, and perfecting dialogue, description and flow.

I’m nearing the end of Lesson 7 now – I should be done in two more days, and then I’ll get to move on to Lesson 8. I can’t wait! Lesson 8 is the final lesson of Triage, which means finally I’ll be able to start Major Surgery! Yay!

I have to say, the hardest part about HTRYN is waiting. I only get access to one new lesson a week, so I can’t skip ahead, but I’m dying to dive in and make all the changes I want to make (I have a whole list of them – several pages worth)! If it were up to me, I’d be cutting and revising and rewriting right now! I know in this case though, patience really is virtue. I’ve never revised a novel before so I need to learn as much about the process as I can. And even though I’m spending a lot of time on the process right now, I know the next time I revise, it will only take me a fraction of the time – because everything I learn now will be firmly ensconced in my mind the next time I write.

My revision notes so far - getting as big as my manuscript!

My revision notes so far – getting as big as my manuscript!

I have to say though, I’m very glad I’m not a pantser – by pantser I mean the kind of writer who writes without a plan and just jumps in, letting the story guide them (ie. writes by the seat of their pants). Because I plotted my WIP in a very detailed, precise manner before I even started typing words onto the screen, my manuscript is in pretty good condition. There aren’t many superfluous scenes or storylines that go nowhere – pretty much everything in my WIP was put there for a reason. So the work I have to do during revision is not as full-on as it is for some writers who just wrote like crazy and are now left to plough through all the excess dirt to get to the gold. Pretty much what I’m doing is locating scenes and parts of scenes that need improvement and finding little unrelated things tucked here and there throughout the book that can be tied together to give the story more depth.

It’s a fun process, and one which warms me every now and then with little flames of enlightenment. For example, back during Lesson 4 when I was working on my plot and subplots, I discovered the underlying theme of my story:

Finding strength and power in oneself to do what you want to do, and be who you want to be – not just do what (or be who) you think everyone expects you to do (or be).

This realization blew me away! I hadn’t even known it had slipped into my story yet it reflected the same struggle I’d faced when making the decision to drop law and pursue a career as a writer – a  decision which, if it had been made any other way, might have resulted in the story never even having been written!

It sure is funny how the subconscious works.

Anyways, if I want to finish Triage, I’d better get back to it. Time waits for no one, and manuscripts certainly don’t revise themselves on their own.

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Everything’s live… So now what?

I’m not quite sure what the protocol is for writing blog entry #1 but I thought I’d start with a little bit of background…

On 7 August 2013, I officially finished drafting my first novel, and let me tell you I traveled one hell of a long journey to get to that point. I started working on my concept idea way back in 2007, a concept I’d been percolating on since my late teens but had struggled for the best part of a decade to get the ideas to gel into a workable story. I wrote all of about four pages that December and they stayed four pages until February 2009 when I finally decided to bite the bullet and pursue my dream of being a writer

The key catalyst for this crazy life-changing decision was my then boyfriend-of-six-months’ complete and utter belief in my ability, and his overwhelming (and maybe just a little over-the-top) enthusiasm.

Ever since he laid eyes on those first four pages he has been my biggest fan, and if it wasn’t for him – as well as a harsh berating by a friend who basically told me off for whining about wanting to be a writer but not having the gumption to do what it takes (and coming up with all sorts of excuses in the meantime) – I might never have dropped my budding career in law and thrown myself into writing full-throttle. And what a mistake that would have been (trust me, the legal world is no worse off for my absence).

Anyways back to the journey…

In 2009, I finally buckled down and over the next 18 months wrote over 140,000 words (and believe me, that was no mean feat – I was a slow writer, and by slow I mean if I managed to write 500 words in a six hour writing session I was stoked).

I almost had a complete book. It was very exciting, but at the same time I knew something was wrong. Everything I was reading about writing was telling me that if I wanted to be published (especially as an unknown writer) my novel needed to be (at most) 120k words and even then that would be pushing it. Plus, I had a sinking feeling that even though my writing was okay, my plot sucked big time and my main character was too passive (she seemed to be sitting on the sidelines while everyone else was having all the fun).

So, I came to the only conclusion I could come to… I needed to do something drastic:

  1. Split my Gone-With-The-Wind-sized epic into two books; and
  2. Come up with a cool superpower for my leading lady.

As for number 1, cutting the story into two parts worked well. The first third of the book was set in Scotland (before the characters took off on a tall ship to Macau where the bulk of the story took place) so I just lopped the story off there and reworked the plot so it could stand alone.

Now, being the kind of man who gets things done (think Hare in the story of the tortoise and the hare – I am Tortoise), my now boyfriend-of-three-years was not too keen on the idea of me throwing 18 months of hard work away and starting over from scratch. But after a little cajoling from me (and a lot of resigning himself to the fact that when Yani makes her mind up about something, her mind is made up) he got behind me 110% and even helped me come up with the most kick-ass superpower for my girl (see number 2 above). By the way, don’t even bother asking what the superpower is – it’s a secret

So, in December 2011, I started out again with a brand new plot (which I loved) and lots of enthusiasm. It took me a year to write the first draft and then another eight months to rewrite. My final word count was 108,555 words. I was so proud – it was probably the first time in my entire life I’d come in under a word limit.

And that brings me up to today.

Right now, with the help of the illustrious Holly Lisle, I am in the process of revising my 564 page manuscript (I am up to Lesson 7 (of 22) of her HTRYN course). It is my plan to have a complete manuscript ready for agent query some time in 2014.

Complete manuscript ready for revision

Complete manuscript ready for revision

I have to say I am very happy with what I’ve got and am feeling optimistic. On 7 September 2013, I had the good fortune to meet with senior agent from a Sydney-based literary agency to discuss the first 20 pages of my manuscript (for the Brisbane Writers’ Festival’s 20 pages in 20 minutes). It was the first time anyone other than my boyfriend-turned-fiancé and family had read my stuff so I was expecting her to tear my work apart.  Amazingly enough she had only positive things to say! I am taking that as a good sign.

I have learnt so much over the past four years of dedicated writing, and that is what I want to share with you in this blog. That, and all of the twists and turns I experience on the way to being published. I will do my best to blog once a week, although I cannot promise anything. My WIP is top priority as far as non-family focus goes.

On a final note…

I think I’ll finish with a few words of writer wisdom – advice I’ve picked up along the way that I’ve found to be invaluable…

If you write, call yourself a writer. Embrace the title. You’ll find when you do, everything shifts – your priorities, your confidence, even how other people respect your writing time. Plus, it feels really awesome, and that’s always a good thing!

Oh, and by the way, feel free to hit me up with a comment, email or tweet anytime. I would love to hear from you! And be sure to like my Facebook page @ www.facebook.com/yanickeforfang

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