Monday, 31 October 2011

Write for love, not money


The best advice I was given when I started writing was to do it because you enjoy it and not with the hope of making your fortune.

Anyone who puts pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) in the belief that writing will make them instantly rich is deluded – it won’t. We have all heard of incidences where a ‘first time’ author has been offered a six figure sum for their debut novel but dig a little deeper and you will probably discover that the writer has been at it for years with several failed attempts and false starts behind them. Those who succeed have tenacity and determination. It can take a very long time to get published and it is those who stick with it who will eventually succeed, so don’t give up your day job at the first flash of inspiration.

If you love writing and do it because you enjoy it, it will show. If you are bored with your characters and plot, then your readers will be too!

In my last post, I said that all the magic happens at the editing stage and this is true but the hard part is sitting down at your desk and committing the words to paper (or screen). This is why National Novel Writing Month which kicks off tomorrow is such a great idea as it focuses on quantity rather than quality and forces you to churn out words on daily basis. The aim is to have written a 50,000 word novel by the end of the month (November) – the end result might not win any prizes for literature but you will have laid the foundations for your book and with a bit (or quite a lot) of editing, who knows where it might lead?

Nanowrimo is an excellent example of writing for the love of it. For the sheer joy of creating something from scratch and having fun with words. For first time writers this is an excellent starting point.

Sadly, I will not be participating this year as part of the rules for entry are that you start from scratch and I want to press on with the book that I am already working on. I have signed up in the past and managed to write the best part of a truly awful romance that I would never dare submit to M&B as it stands, but I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of writing without boundaries. I tend to edit as I go along and having permission to write unchecked was extremely liberating.

So if you haven’t signed up yet, take a look at the website (www.nanowrimo.org) and have a go.

The very best of luck to everyone who is taking part in Nanowrimo and everyone writing (whatever, wherever) throughout November.  

Monday, 3 October 2011

It's all about editing

This morning when I was reading through what I had last written in my novel, I found myself writing ‘crap’ in the margin next to one particular paragraph.

This may sound a little harsh but the passage was all wrong; forced and clich├ęd, and had the result of making me laugh at what was supposed to be a serious moment in the book. If I found the diabolical prose hilarious, then I know full well that a reader would too.

This is the point of editing. When we are in the flow and the storyline is progressing well, we lose control of the fine detail, as the words pour out onto the page. This is as it should be, but the real magic only happens when we start to edit. 

During my time as a magazine editor, I always told writers that the best way to check their work was to print out the article, put it in a drawer and come back and read it later, making corrections with a red pen. You always miss your own mistakes and it is far easier to spot things on a printed page than on a computer screen (I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone reading this that they should never rely on the spellchecker).


Some authors churn out an entire book and then go back and start the process of editing. I am not this kind of writer. I have to edit as I go along and each time I work on my novel (or anything else) I begin by reading through and tidying up what I have written the previous day. That doesn’t mean that I won’t need to revisit the whole thing again at the end, but I prefer to keep improving the text as I go along and it is helps my writing to evolve and grow.

I once heard it said that ‘good novels are not written, they are rewritten’ and I think that there is an element of truth in this, although there has to come a point when you are satisfied, when you have done the best job that you can and it is time to send your manuscript out into the world. 

I also know perfectly competent writers whose novels are yet to see the light of day, who perfect and rewrite to such an extent that they will never be happy with the finished book. 

The ideal lies somewhere in the middle.

As a copy editor, numerous people’s books have passed through my hands and they have varied in quality.  Some are as near perfect as the author can make them, others are closer to a first draft and need extensive rewriting to make them anywhere near publishable.

Naturally, I find it much more difficult to be objective about my own work and would never dream of writing ‘crap’ in the margin of one of my clients (even if on occasion I might have thought it!).  

One thing I am certain of is that there can be no book without some form of editing. Now, having struck a red line through that awful paragraph, all I have to do is rewrite it!