Friday 2 December 2011

Truths about Peer Editing by Unisse Chua

Source: Flickr

The epic National Novel Writing Month is finally over and you now have a novel that you would not want to go back and read again.

 If that's how you feel, think of why you joined NaNoWriMo in the first place.

Do you love to write? Do you wish that you could somehow publish your diamond-in-the-rough novel someday?

No matter what your reasons are, you wrote a novel. But. That novel is currently a novel written for the purpose of getting to fifty thousand words. Quantity over quality.

Book publishers would not want a wordy novel that lacks spice and has spelling errors.

Whether we like it or not, the novel we wrote just last November is still an unpolished diamond.

Let's polish our novels, but how?

"I don't want to reread the novel I've written. It's too depressing."

One way or another, if you really want that novel published by 2012, you have to make yourself read that novel and start using red ink to remove sentences and start revising your first draft.

But there is a way for you to avoid reading your novel.

Get a peer editor.

We might not be famous writers just yet but we all have friends or even NaNoWriMo writing buddies to help us.

Getting a peer editor is a really great idea if you want first hand comments about your novel and other writing, for that matter. Having someone else give their own insights to your novel is a good thing because you get to see how readers would react to it.

Even Jeff Goins, a writer, thinks that getting you a peer editor is the secret to great writing!

Where do I get myself a peer editor?

First of all, you joined NaNoWriMo, which has participants from all over the world! Ask your writing buddies on WriMo to help you edit your novel and maybe offer to edit theirs as well. Make a new friend. It won't hurt.

A peer editor is not hard to find. Your friend might be a real bibliophile, so why not try asking him or her if it's alright to spare a few hours checking your first draft. Just remember not to kill your friend if he or she gives you really harsh criticisms.

Anyone can be your peer editor. Your mom, dad, best friend, lover - even your little sister or brother could tell you a thing or two about that novel you spent a month mooning over.
Harsh comments equal good comments.

I am also a participant of NaNoWriMo and along the way, friends have been asking to read the novel I've written so far. I don't believe that I'm a good writer just yet but having friends wanting to read and comment on my unfinished novel made me want to write more.

NaNoWriMo is also not the first time I've attempted to write a novel. I've written quite a few unfinished drafts lying around in my computer's hard disk for months and years and I have also asked friends to give their review.

I have this friend who could really get a job as a grammar police if it exists. He found a number of errors in my writing and gave me really good comments but I felt a pang of hurt every time he corrected me.

It's okay to feel hurt when people criticize your work. It will help you grow and mature as a writer. Don't hate your friend for giving you harsh comments because these comments will provide you the best first-hand feedback.

 Unisse Chua is a twenty-something undergraduate Computer Science student from Manila who loves photography, writing and travelling. She started writing stories back when she was fifteen and still writes up until the present. She started a travel blog called Little Girl Travels to put all things she loves into one place. You can follow her on Twitter @sushixuni, on NaNoWrimo (sushixuni), and her personal blog, Little Girl Blogs.

Friday 25 November 2011

Wrapping It Up - Learning to Let Go by Val Hamer

Wrap it up, baby! 

When I was fifteen I filled several school notebooks with what was to become famous in my family as ‘that dreadful ‘novel’ you made us read and comment on every evening.’ The characters were vibrant, the twists ridiculous, and with a cliffhanger at the end of pretty much every page it certainly wasn’t boring. What it lacked was an ending. That wasn’t much of an issue at the time, as the project was largely a diversion from hard core studying for school finals.

Writing was to remain a marginal hobby for the next twenty five years. Two and a half decades of short story outlines, index cards noting characters for a couple of books, witty titles for things I never wrote – more litter than literary all in all! Looking back on this leads me to one conclusion: writing style reflects personality.

In my case I enjoy the journey much more than the arrival. Ideas flow easily but are rarely seen through, and while planning is a joy I tend to disengage when the event itself occurs.

I am also really, really, bad at ending things. That explains why I stayed married way after it was over, or allowed toxic friendships to pollute my life and well being. Even minor things can be a struggle. Getting off the telephone, leaving a party or exiting a fleeting conversation with an acquaintance in the street all bring some level of anxiety!

A couple of years ago I started writing again, this time for money and in the nonfiction field. I really enjoyed producing short articles, Tweets and blog comments. I had no issues at all with organizing content into a logical start, middle and end where it was necessary. Perhaps I should have been satisfied with having found my niche? Not everyone needs to produce fiction, right? But like a kid with a fresh scab I couldn’t leave my writing inadequacies alone.

Last year, attracted to the idea of a major challenge I entered NaNoWriMo. Working like a fiend on the novel produced 50,016 words of rants and raves about my life at that time. Great stress relief but no closure. Yes, I’d ‘won’, but the achievement was less about quality than about reaching a word count goal. The process was therapeutic but didn’t address my underlying issues with writing.

In some ways I wondered if this really mattered. I was enjoying the writing work that came my way, and everything else in my life was great. Then I got my M.A. thesis feedback and found I’d basically swindled myself out of a lot of extra marks because, guess what? Yep – a weak and brief conclusion had let me down. What makes it worse is that I knew the ending wasn’t great at the time, but had felt unable to make it any better. This feedback was the shock I needed to turn things around.

Facing the flaws in my writing hasn’t been easy, especially because it calls for some serious personal introspection. I’ve spent the last eleven years overseas. This kind of transient lifestyle equates to living in the present: enjoying friends, jobs and relationships without the depth of emotional commitment that brings pain when they are over. Rather than being bad at endings I’d written them out of my conscious mind altogether!

I’m still a work in progress, but there are a few writing maxims which I find help.

Embrace who you are: Your personality and circumstances drive what you write, but you can manipulate the outcome. Fiction can be the place where the ideal ending is played out.

Leave space for a sequel: That way you can tidy up the loose ends without feeling like the story is over and done forever.

Plan: This may seem obvious but it’s something I have always resisted. Knowing that there are particular things I want to cover helps keep me on track.

I took on the NaNoWriMo challenge this year with a fresh attitude. As I write this I’m at the 54% mark and on track to reach the technical goal. For me the real reward will come when words 49,999 and 50,000 truly mean ‘The End’.

Valerie Hamer is a British born global nomad. Currently living in South Korea, she blogs about life abroad, travel, culture, teaching and writing. Being active on Twitter (@Farawayhammer), maintaining a Facebook page, writing two nonfiction works of art and planning her next travel adventure make for a busy and rewarding life.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Quick Fixes for Your Plot Problems by Angela Goff

Welcome to the third week of NaNoWriMo! We've indulged in wild, literary abandonment! Hedonistic word abuse! Tangents that turn into plot development!!

It's great, isn't it? Only right now maybe it ISN'T so great. Maybe you are stuck. The how-the-heck-did-I-get-HERE??? kind of stuck.

Yep. Know that feeling well.

The problem with getting stuck in the middle of NaNo is that you're crunched for time. The whole point of NaNo is, after all, to give starry-eyed dreamers a kick in the pants so we will push on, even when we want to spin our wheels and edit, re-edit, polish and tweak Every. Single. Line.  So you barrel on, reminding yourself of that glorious finish line of 50,000 words, and that you can edit to your heart’s content come December. But sometimes you turn a corner and find yourself in a plot tangle that only gets worse the more you write.

Frustrated? Sure you are. Want to fix it? Absolutely. But since this is NaNo, the big, glossy edits come later. But take heart - there is a way to move on ---- even if you have to leave a mental "bookmark" or two for the editing process.

Below I've listed three common plot problems that make ME stop in my tracks, especially now, when I’m so focused on my word count. I've also given my "quick fixes" that allow me to press to the end of NaNo and THEN do the hard edit.

Here goes:

Problem #1: Too Many Characters, or Too Few: These are opposite problems, and neither of them can be fixed mid-NaNo. But you can still pause long enough to see if this is the root of your problem. Don’t be afraid to do it either – determining if you’ve got a problem in this arena will save you a world of hurt later.

Quick Fix: Too few? Add in the new people as you press on, but make some kind of notation to indicate you've introduced a character that wasn't there before, but ought to have been. (I manage this by putting that character's first appearance in bright red font.)
     Too many characters? Figure out which are your weaker characters, and mentally cut them loose. This will leave your stronger characters to pick up the slack, and they will be even more dynamic and engaging because of it. But don't try to fix your earlier pages now. Wherever you are in the manuscript, hit the enter key a few times to indicate a break from previous plot details, and keep going - but with the revised set of characters. You may even need to leave yourself a clear note about who got axed. Everything up to that point will need adjusting post-NaNo.

Problem #2: Murky Plot Points: For me, a "murky plot point" is something that I haven't thought through very well, that is now turning out to be a bigger deal than I thought. In my current project, I knew I needed an underground train. I had no idea it would become so central to the story. Now I realize I need to study up on trains come December. I can’t become a Train Expert just now; but I will.

Quick Fix: When I realize I need technical jargon I just don't have yet, I'll insert some notes in parenthesis and in red (or bold, or all caps) that reminds me of what I need: For example: "Then Finn looked under the train (((and detected some serious problem that stalls the train out for the next two chapters))). Then he turned to..." etc. Since I already have a basic understanding of trains, I'll know that Finn at least needs to go for some parts, which would be conveniently located in a troublesome part of town. Plot moves on. 

Problem #3: Not Thinking Wide Enough? This is a different sort of problem. It doesn't create so much of a writer's block as a moment of realization amounting to: "Oh, CRAP I should have done this four chapters ago! Now what?" If you've hit that sort of snag, you've realized there is some key character, scene, or whole chapter that is missing from your earlier writing, and without it you don't have enough internal scaffolding to bear the weight of your story. But this is NaNo, and you want to press on to where you NOW know the story ought to go.

Quick Fix: Print out the pages you have so far, and quickly scan what you’ve written. In the margins, make plain but simple notes: “Put Anne in this scene.” Or “Needs more cowbell.” Or “’Add chapter about Marv’s POV from the Inner Sanctum”, etc. If you do this while it's fresh on your mind, you’ll not only thank yourself later, but sometimes you’ll pick up on other things that need to be added to the margin notes. (I usually sacrifice a whole evening of NaNo-ing to do this step anyway, even if I feel I’m doing well.) The trick is to not bog down here, and forget to type. Make your notes and move on.

It’s been said that “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” As writers, that is what we ought to remember as we pursue our craft. Your first pass at a rough draft – whether hastily written or no - is going to be just that: ROUGH. But if your tale is worth telling, then it’s worth telling badly - at least during the first pass.

But you’ll get it the ultimate finish line. Of course you will! Because we’re writers, and we know that rough beginnings are always the first step – but never the last.

A special education teacher by trade, Angela has been at turns a sign language interpreter, governess, world traveler, potter, sculptor and marching band groupie. She currently lives in Georgia and juggles several jobs, while assiduously carving out time for her creative pursuits.  She currently has multiple manuscripts in various stages of readiness, and plans to begin the querying process next spring. Angela is also part of a close-knit writer's group that consistently plans out dignified writer's meetings, only to have them devolve into food fights, hysterical laughter, and plans for world domination. During the rest of the week, she meets with other aspiring authors one-on-one at various coffeehouses, so as to encourage other kindred spirits while maintaining a quasi-respectable appearance to society. This is her second year to participate in NaNoWriMo. She can be found on the official site as Ringscar, on Twitter as @Angela_Goff or at her blog.

Monday 21 November 2011

"The chickens are revolting!" by Eleanor Hutchinson

Excitement gave you the momentum to write your way through week 1. Bribing yourself with the edible treat of your choice ensured you survived week 2. Now there’s a good chance that you’ve arrived at a turning point in your novel. But what’s this? The hero doesn’t want to sweep the heroine off her feet? The villain would rather hang out in a coffee shop than plan his next fiendish trick? The secret that your main character was hiding has been revealed far too early by an insignificant minor character who really should have dropped dead by now?

Last year, my main character had a brief fling with a co-worker – or at least, she did in my plan. By the time I was halfway through the novel, he was resolutely knocking on the metaphorical door, doing his best to win her and me over. It worked and he made it to the end as a significant part of my main character’s life.

Whether your novel was planned down to every last detail, or you are just making it all up as you go along, there will be times when your characters are just not doing what you intended. You know what you want to write next, but they’re not cooperating. Everybody writes differently and thinks of their characters differently, but that doesn’t stop these figments of our imagination rebelling. For some, characters really do speak to you and tell you what they want. For others, it’s that little niggling doubt in the back of your mind that this scene does – not – feel – right.

My advice in this situation: just roll with it. If your hero would rather go shopping than save the world, let him. If a character waves at you and shouts “He’s not the bad guy, I am!” don’t ignore her. Because you know what that is? It’s your subconscious telling you a better way to write the story.

The part of you that wakes you up at 3am with an amazing idea; the part of you that is always making up stories and filing them away for future use; the part of you that remembers small details about other people’s conversations and idiosyncrasies that you can use in your writing. It is this part of you that truly drives the story. Ignore it at your peril.

Imagine that you were taking a journey and had planned out the route in advance. Halfway there, however, you come across road works. Do you sit there stubbornly until they are finished? In Scotland, you could be waiting for over a year. Do you resolutely plough through and find your car stuck in a pothole? The resulting damage could cost you hundreds. No, you find an alternative route. That is exactly what you must do when your characters start acting up.

Listen to the characters and listen to your gut. If you can’t bear to throw the plan out of the window, add in an extra scene that allows you to explore these new ideas that are appearing unbidden. Take the whole thread of your story off at a tangent if need be, but don’t forget to enjoy this part of the journey. It might take you miles out of your way, but you’ll reach your destination in the end and at least the scenery along the way will be interesting.

Eleanor Hutchinson is a teacher of the deaf from England, but living and working in Scotland. After nearly five years there, she is just about able to understand everyone. She has been writing ever since she was small, inheriting her story telling ability from her mother, who always made visits to the dentist far more exciting by telling her fabulous stories about villages inhabited by dogs to take her mind off the impending treatment. Throughout her adult life, Eleanor has been attempting to write novels but getting stuck at crucial points, until she found NaNoWriMo and the sweet bliss of silencing her inner editor with chocolate until the first draft was over. Since participating for the first time last year she has written (and finished!) three novels, one of which is on submission to literary agents. You can find her on NaNoWriMo and Twitter as BuddhistOnABus.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Announcing the WINNERS of the First Line Contest!

Hello WriMos,

I hope this post finds you in good health and writing stamina. Some of you have finished their novels by now, others have just figured out how to end them, and yet others are nowhere near the finish line (hey, you're in good company). BUT I bet all of you are still very much hopped up on NaNo.

Anyway, you might remember a little competition called 'most gripping first sentence' and the wonderful submissions by fellow WriMos a week back. And NOW it's time to shower the winners in praise and giveaways. But before this, I'd like to thank our judges and sponsors yet again, for being so helpful! In addition, I'll throw another thank you note at everyone who voted on the poll. You rock!!!

Just to remind you what the giveaways are...

1. Rochelle Melander (@WriteNowCoach) is giving the first place winner a print copy of her book Write-A-Thon, which is a great tool for jump-starting your writing career and writing your book for less than 30 days. I'd say it's a perfect fit for NaNo!
2. Roxanne Piskel (@roxisbrilliant) will give a complete critique of the second place winner's NaNo manuscript. In addition Roxanne is giving 20% discount to all entrants. 
3. Alivia Anders (@AliviaAnders) will make a pretty book cover for the third place winner. Woohoo!

So for a while there we had a tie between the first two winners and this is why I decided to put off the awards until there was a definite winner. Without further ado, I present:

Winner #1: So this was the cannibal train, March thought.
This precious gem was submitted by Angela Goff (@Angela_Goff). From the very start it was my favorite also, because it made me so damn curious about this train! Well done, Angela. I hope you'll enjoy your prize!

Winner #2: If everything goes according to their plans, I will be dead in three hundred and seventy days.

This one was submitted by Jenny Adams (known as @jennyadams on twitter), who will now get a free critique of her NaNo manuscript by Roxanne Piskel.

Winner #3: I have lived a life of deliberate anonymity.

But why? Why did the protagonist choose that life? See, we're on sentence one and already we're hooked! It's such a simple sentence, but we all know those are the best.

Congratulations for winning a book cover, Regina Grey (@TalesYetUntold)!

I'll be contacting the winners shortly to make sure the giveaways get to them. To everyone else, good luck with the final 10 days of NaNo! If you're behind, join me in catching up; and if you're writing like the wind, keep at it.