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Why It Takes Me So Long To Edit

Editing. The word I love to say and love to do… as long as it’s for other people. Yes, I’m one of the sad people who actually will sit there helping to proofread or edit other people’s work. Have I ever been paid for it? No. Although I think I’m competent at it, I feel uncomfortable taking money for something that up until now I’ve always offered to do for free. Part of me knows that’s stupid. After all, I’m currently sat in a house with my parents with no income coming in. Money would certainly help me a lot, but my stubborn brain refuses to accept it for something like editing.

            Now, I count myself as very good at editing. Ever since University, when I read an entire book about spelling and grammar (it repeated a lot and was very dull) I’ve been pretty good at utilising it. I also understand flow, syntax, how to write descriptions, how to build characters and when you should ‘tell, rather than show’. I also make sure when helping friends/other writers with editing that I find some positives to tell them so they’re not completely defeated by negatives. I’ve helped edited for University friends (including one who this year, despite having been locked in and isolating since March, has now officially gained her Masters. Woo!); I was in charge of a group of editors who helped edit fanfiction a few years ago and my old computer is riddled with all the stories…

            But then it comes to editing my own work. I hate it. I love editing, hate editing my own stories. But why? If I like to edit others work? I’m the sort of person that will say, when editing others work, that there’s good in everything. If you work on the bad things it will only make the good things even better. But, despite this positivity towards others, I look at my own work and I can only groan. These are characters that I love, people I’ve spent my life with. Some of these characters have been inside my head since I was a child. They’re as much my family as my actual family, and closer to me than a lot of them as well.

            The thing is, because of this, I want the work to be perfect. I want it to be perfect for these people that I love and that makes me brutal when editing. I will tear into my own stories like a hungry wolf, separated from its pack. By the end there’ll only be a few scraps for the vultures to peck at. It sucks. There’s no formal term for it, it just sucks.

            At one point I was so bad that I would delete whole stories from my laptop and throw the paper in the bin, never to see again. Now, I look back at this and curse myself. Even if the writing wasn’t up to standard it was a look into my brain: a brain that has a few good ideas. I could have taken the idea and improved them. Luckily, the majority of my characters remain in my head, but the words disappear.

            My Mother monitors my editing these days. She reads it before and she reads it after, knowing full well my tendency to pounce on any perceived mistake. In the past stories that she’s loved have been destroyed in my attempt to perfect them. I assure her that I only do it because I want the words to match the care I have for these plots and characters but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s right. I destroy my works and leave my initial effort pointless.

            Now, you could ask whether I edit these pieces before posting them on my blog? Well, you’re reading it, what do you think? No, the answer (at least usually, not always) is no. The truth is, this being myself speaking, makes me even less likely to edit. I have no confidence in myself and I hate to speak about myself in the first person (sometimes even breaking into third, accidentally, in real life as well). I read these posts, occasionally, to my parents to make sure it sounds okay. Then I spend a few days on a picture (yes, it takes me that long) and post it.

                        I don’t, however, do that with stories or poetry. They have to hit that perfect mark that my voice never will. You can see one of my story collections on this blog: ‘The Street Crawlers’. Now, you may have believed that I’m currently writing them and that’s why it’s been a long time since I posted another one. Nope. I wrote these stories over a course of a few years (starting at 16/17 years old) and finished them about four years ago. I’ve been editing them ever since. Yes, I have all of the stories to post all ready to go on my laptop. I’m just waiting until I’m happy with them and I never am. It took all my courage to put the ones out I have. I still have plans to put out the rest as, at least in my eyes, the best ones are yet to come but editing… it takes me a long time.

 Editing for me isn’t just a job to do. It’s a battle with myself, with my emotions and a fight to keep sane. It’s a battle ground where my anger and perfection keep charging at my optimism and determination, knocking them down with hit after hit until they fall to the ground and I walk away. It’s tiring but it’s how it is.

I’m not aware of anybody else feeling this way, but I could be wrong. I know nearly all writers struggle with editing their own work. My friend, who I edit often, comes to me because she reaches a limit on being able to do it herself. But as far as I can tell, the problem she has is that she loves her pieces so much that it’s hard to see the bad in all of the love she has for the piece. I’m the opposite. I see all the bad and none of the good. It puts me in a very negative head space.

            So, is anyone else like this? Does anyone else find themselves hating their own work so much that they struggle to edit without seeing red? Or is everyone, like my friend, so in love that they can only see the good? I’d love a sprinkling of your optimism. It would certainly makes things a lot easier (in writing and in life).

Thank you for reading my ranting. This was mostly to serve as an explanation as to why it takes me longer to upload a new post than perhaps I would like. I do plan to upload more Street Crawlers stories, including some of the really good ones (in my personal opinion—actually, that’s a lie, I’m mainly talking about my Mum’s favourite). I have plans for the Books Into Dishes, but again I need time to be able to make them work. Unfortunately, I’m seriously lacking in funds (i.e. I have no funds) which makes it harder to work on dishes that I need money for. I hope that you’re having a good 2021 so far, despite all the misery it seems to be trying to push. Keep writing, keep trying to edit and let’s make 2021 a good year for everyone (characters and real people).

Bonsoir, les ecrivains.

The Literary Onion

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So Can This Be ‘2020: Take Two’ Then?

An excerpt from ‘Comet’s Quiet Christmas’ by… well… me 😛

It’s another year. 2021. After all we’ve been through in 2020 it’s hard to be optimistic about the future. I could count the numbers of bad things that have happened to me personally on more than two hands, but hey, I’m still here. I’m alive which means I still have the potential for good things or, at the very least, a few more stories to tell. So, instead of counting the bad things I want to use my new year to think of all the good things that happened in the past year (no matter how small the list could do). I could joke around, as I usually would and end the list right here but, you know what? I’m not going to do my usual and hide behind jokes. I’m going to be honest with myself. Positivity let’s go:

  1. I successfully opened a business on the 13th March 2020. I did this in a different language, in a different country and I’ve kept on top of looking after the website etc. even after the disheartening lockdown that happened (and continue to happen) since the 17th March.
  2. In the first lockdown of many, I successfully finished a short novel from initial idea to editing. I may have done this for a competition that I then went on to not win but I actually did write again. More importantly for me, I finished it, which is rare on a normal year.
  3. I created a picture book in a month about a Christmas day under Covid regulations (a Christmas Lockdown) and I put myself out there on Amazon. Again, it was unsuccessful as it didn’t sell any copies (I’ll admit I’m still not good at marketing) but I actually did something towards gaining a career as a writer. And, unlike my usual negativity towards my work, I’m actually very proud of the drawing and the writing. It may have cost me a thumb for a month as I got a massive cramp from working so hard on it but it was 100 percent worth it.
  4. I started working on cookbooks and other picture books. Although they won’t be ready/up to my own self-prescribed standards for a couple of years I have started to compile a selection of my own creations. As anyone who saw my limited creations on this site (or it’s predecessor Literary Onion, which I disbanded because of money issues) I have a high amount of creativity and I throw them into my cooking. Hopefully I will be putting more recipes up on this blog this year, but I’m not holding myself to it because… well, hopefully new year, new me will mean something to me this year.
  5. I got through my depression. I’m not a-okay by any means but the fact remains that I don’t feel like staying in bed and staring at the floor anymore, which is a major win. As anyone who follows my Twitter may know (all two of you), I lost my dog a couple months ago. This is a big deal for me. We got her when I was fourteen. I wanted a dog, not just because I loved them, but because I had a fear of them. Kimi helped me to get over that fear and because of her I got myself another dog after I graduated university. On top of how much Kimi had helped me, it also came as a major shock when we lost her. She was well. She wasn’t young but she wasn’t old (according to the vet). She was bleeding, so we took her to get checked out. We gave her medicine and a week later we took her back, as she seemed to get worse. They gave her more meds and again we waited to see if anything would happen. Again, she didn’t get better. She started to become a rag doll, not able to lift her head to drink. We went into another lockdown, shutting down everything but managed to get through to the vet and agree to an emergency appointment. She went in again. The vet drained her and gave us more meds. It turned out we never had to use them. By the next morning, Kimi was gone… And I’m crying as I type that. So that’s fun. What followed was utter misery and, unfortunately, I’m still unable to sleep properly, but I’m starting to accept that she’s no longer here. I’m slowly starting to be able to remember all the good things that happened with her. All I want to tell her, and I am as I let loose in this blog, is thanks, Kimi. Thanks for helping me get over that fear. Thanks for being a good friend and loving me, despite all my faults. You were the best.
  6. Okay, on to more positivity. I started to design the gardens. You’re most likely going to see more of this in the future as it very much suits the theme of my blog. Our new house, which we moved into just before the first lockdown and is the basis for our business has a lot of land. We have woodland we’re slowly climbing our way through and three fields to work on. My plan is to turn each of these fields, slowly, into book-themed gardens. Unfortunately, it won’t be very fast at this rate as we’re lacking majorly in the money department but we’ve started our first two at least (Merlin and Beatrix Potter). I’ve also helped my sister to design her garden in England so, all in all, I’ve got to start doing something I truly love and haven’t been able to do in years (this time on a grander scale so… yay).
  7. I taught my first class on Creative Writing and I actually managed to help a fellow writer. When you’re a person as low on confidence as me all the time, it’s hard to think of yourself as anything but an idiot who doesn’t know what you’re talking about (even if you know you do) so it’s nice to have someone to talk to who does think you understand the things you love. It turns out I’m a smart person. Weird, huh? All joking aside, I’m glad to be able to be of use for someone and to help them. I’ve only managed one class so far, as we went into another lockdown straight after, but hopefully I’ll be teaching a lot more in the future (is this the point I shamelessly plug my courses on my website: www.lestylonoirretreat.com ?).
  8. I successfully helped somebody I loved through a panic attack. As someone who has them a lot it hurt majorly hearing someone I care about experiencing the same but I managed to help them out of their panic and taught them a bit about how to manage it next time. I guess there are benefits to having so many problems with anxiety? Who knew?
  9. Although we lost one dog, we did gain two new troublemakers into the household. Two little rescue kittens called Clio and Trixie (Beatrix for long). They are both little terrors and cuddle buddies. Pepper (our other dog) absolutely adores them and will rush to see them whenever she can. So far they’ve climbed everything they can see, got stuck underneath the stairs (which is blocked off), chosen Dad as their lord and saviour (the man who didn’t want them in the first place) and successfully infiltrated every place they shouldn’t be going. But they did it all with a cute face and purring so we forgave them.
  10. I didn’t want to leave it at nine, so here’s a tenth. I started writing and preparing a project for YouTube. Basically for me this was the year of Percy Jackson. It was the year I decided to read the books and then buy the next series and then buy a shirt and then think obsessively about a Percy Jackson themed plate of food. So, with that in mind (with many things on my mind), I decided to write a Percy Jackson-based audio series and record all of it with my own voice. It will explore a previous generation of Camp Half-Blood campers, before any children of the big three, came around in Percy Jackson. In other Percy Jackson related news, we found a natural archway in our woodland that we have now declared to be the entrance to Camp Half-Blood (picture below). This is the first and only time you’ll probably see a picture of me so… well… enjoy, I guess.
I seriously hiss at any pic of me like a vampire in the sunlight…

Overall, 2020 has been a horrendous year. It’s a year where I feel like I shouldn’t complain because I am still alive, and everyone I care about (bar one, none-Covid related) is alive too, but I still feel like screaming. I opened a business in an industry that was set to self-destruct four days later. Every other industry I have any skills in is crumbling as well and all I can do is watch because, well, I’m in it too. I don’t have any money to help them. I’m barely able to get up in the morning and I can’t sleep at night.

            It’s a year in which everyone, ironically, got a glimpse into how I think on a normal day. A year where everyone had to experience anxiety, misery, low confidence and over-thinking in a way that I wish they never had to. I wouldn’t recommend living like me as a lifestyle choice, just for your own sanity. But I’m glad I could find some positives. It’s highly unusual for me.

            I hope you’re all doing okay. If you actually made it to this sentence then thank you. Thank you for reading my rambles. I can’t promise anything for the future of this blog, especially as money continues to be an issue (it costs to be a blogger, unfortunately, especially one with food etc.) but I really do hope I can get up the courage and the motivation to write again because when I do I’m at my happiest.

            Have a great 2021. Let’s find more positives, shall we?

Dedicated to one of the best friends I’ve ever had, Kimi/Kimbo/Kimboo-a/Dig-Dog
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Poem: Tell Me What You Write!

What do you write?

Don’t skirt around the issue.

Horror? Romance? Fantasy?

What do you write?

Do you write tales of

Daring doo? Where the good

Defeats the bad? Do you write

Of orks and elves and dwarves?

What do you write?

Do you create courtly romances

Or a boundless journey to the east?

Do you marry princes to dames

And damsels or kill them all

Bloodily?

What do you write?

Do you create suspense with kidnapped

Kids or drop anvils and blood

From heights? Do you write of

Villages, of gossip and drama

Or give us insight into our past?

What do you write?

Why not tell us what you write?

What do you have to hide?

What’s your genre, where do you lay

Your metaphorical hat? What is

Your speciality? Your favourite?

Why not tell us what you write?

Do you not write a genre? Do you

Write plays or poetry? Are you

A Wordsmith, Worth all your Words,

Or can you Kubla Kha-not.

Do you place a body in front of us,

Or steal some hidden jewels. Shaken not

Stirred, or a sleuthing saviour?

Tell us what you write.

I write all, don’t you see,

I’ve tried my hands in all. I write

Of villains, heroes, of normalcy,

I write mysteries and poetry.

I show deep horrors in the human

Mind, and run around with joyous

Vigour.

I have princes, royalty, sure and

Damsels and Dans in danger.

I write of stars, and science and

Nature. I teach as I write and I hold

The key to many saviours.

But you ask me what is my favourite one?

I cannot answer to that, because all of

These I bring together and hang

In my metaphorical hat. I do not

Write a genre, per se, for I write for age,

Not for specifics.

I hold the key to apocalypses that don’t

Weigh down so heavily.

You want to know what I write? Well,

I write everything, applicable for

Everyone.

I’m a children’s writer, you see,

And children’s writers have all the fun!

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Why You Should Write FanFiction

Do you know which FanFiction line is for what show/book?

Fanfiction. You may have heard of it, you may have even partaken in it, or (just as likely) you have no idea what it is. Fanfiction is exactly as it sounds—it’s you as a fan of something, writing a fiction about it. You can write Fanfiction about anything: do you love a TV show so much that you can see new storylines in your own head? Do you appreciate a book’s characters so much you want to see what they’d be like in a different setting? Do you want to play in somebody else’s lands but copyright stops you along the way? Fanfiction. That’s the answer.

            I wrote fanfiction when I was seventeen, through to about twenty. Many of my friends write fanfiction, even now, as it keeps them sharp and engaged with other writers. Incidentally, the most famous fanfiction is ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ which started out life as a Twilight Fanfiction and then was tweaked to make it what it is (holding off on my opinions of the actual text, as I’ve only read snippets of lines). If you think back though, there’s been many cases of fanfiction writing being published. If you continue a deceased author’s work, you’re writing fanfiction. If you’re re-writing a classic story, you’re writing a fanfiction. ‘Four Children and It’ by Jacqueline Wilson, ‘Austen Land’ by Shannon Hale, any Enid Blyton book written post Enid Blyton. All of these are merely fanfictions that someone has been allowed to defeat the copyright (given special permission).

            Now, of all my ramblings, why am I so adamantly telling you this? Because, my dear readers, I believe we should all start out by writing fanfictions. Why? Because it will ultimately make us better writers. When we start out we can appreciate what makes a good character, we can even create the basics of one, but to truly understand how to write characters we have to know them inside and out. The best way to do that is by characters we’ve seen and read multiple times, who we already know inside and out because of another writer’s successes.

            During my time writing fanfiction I got to know the process of developing characters. Because it was in a fantasy world, I got to learn the process of developing worlds that people love and wish to escape to. I became an editor, helping many people on the platform I was on help reach their story’s potential. I became involved in the writing world, and got to know many people across many different countries and continents who all shared the same passions as me: the show/book and writing.

            Fanfiction is also useful for another reason. As well as growing you as an author, it connects you to an audience. You learn to take criticism, you learn to pick yourself up, you learn to accept praise. If you become a popular enough fanfiction writer, you can then more easily sell your own original stories to them. You’ve gathered yourself an audience. Yes, admittedly, an audience that’s there because they want to read stories based on the shared book/story you love, but one that you can persuade to love your writing style; to love your work.

            When writing fanfiction, you can go with any genre. You’re not stuck writing romance, if it’s a romance (remember somebody took ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and made ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, if that’s not fanfiction in a nutshell, I don’t know what is). You can do anything with fanfiction. If you want to change the plot of the original story, or change one of the characters, or the details of any of the characters—write an Alternate Universe (AU) story. If you want to take an episode of  ‘Friends’ and make it into a thriller, then do it.

            Do you know what’s so amazing then? If you spend your time developing your skills, using the building blocks somebody has already laid out for you, you can then start creating your own building blocks. You can understand the effort it takes to create all the different elements that make up a book. You can take your fanfictions, later on, look through them, pick out all the elements you like and write an original piece mixing the two pairs of building blocks together. If you’re very, very lucky you could be able to write fanfiction professionally (again, if the copyright police deems it so).

            Does it feel slightly dirty, like your cheating by not coming up with your own original ideas? Sometimes, yes, but most of the time, no. It’s an easy way to teach yourself how to write, and for me (mostly to do with the website I did it on) I learned by reading other people’s work and editing some others. There’s plenty of websites you can use, some better than others. I know some people who do it through fanfiction.com, some who do it through writer’s apps, some who write on their own blog (hey there!), some who do it on specific shows fanfiction sites (fimfiction.net, being the main one I know), even some who do it through social media. My friend, the main one who continues to write fanfiction, does all of hers through Tumblr and she often collaborates with other writers through the site.

            And on the fanfiction sites, you can often find even more. Due to my (very small) success on my site, I had people offering me artwork for front covers of my stories. All of these artists where better than I was, and the relief at not having to spend hours labouring over my own covers was amazing (unfortunately, I do all of the artwork on my blog though, hence why certain posts take so long to come out).

            I even met poets, like myself, who loved to write poetry about the shows/books we loved (incidentally, poetry is the easiest way to get through copyright, I think). You can choose anything, even real people (though I often think that’s a tad creepy, especially if they’re alive) and have fun with it. Because that’s the word of the day with fanfiction: Fun. Have fun, mess around a bit and see what you come up with. You’ll be surprised how much better a writer you’ll be by the end of it.

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COVID-19: The Wrong Time to Open a Business?

Front of the Retreat– Believe it or not, this picture was taking in Winter.

It was March 14th. A lot of milestones were happening, a lot were yet to happen. I turned 25, I went out to eat at one of my favourite chain restaurants in France, I went to the zoo (another favourite pastimes of mine, harkening back to my ‘Animal Studies’ days), I planned to go home and buy some kitchen equipment to use in the future, and most importantly all of the adverts I’d painstakingly paid for, written and worked on were coming out or were already out. Finally, the future looked bright; finally, I felt proud about something I’d done, something I’d created to help myself and to help other writers.

            And then, the Virus came. Yes, I realise that this all sounds like a rough draft of an apocalypse or dystopian story. I realise that even my backstory would add to a character in that world, but unfortunately it was a reality. Its name was Coronavirus, Covid-19 was its street name, and on the 14th March (although earlier in some countries) it shut down France. My birthday meal was the last time, to this day(it’s been a week at time of writing), that the restaurants in France were open. I was either extremely lucky or extremely bad luck for somebody else.

            I’d planned a blog post about my business, about how excited I was to show writers what I’d created for them, following up to the blog post I’d written for the Good Life France. Eventually, I’ll hopefully be able to put that up for real but it seems stupid to put it up now. The borders are closed, there’s quarantines throughout the world and everyone is worrying over the economic future of their country. Not exactly a time to be presenting a new business to the world.

            Honestly, of all the things I thought could put a stop to my dream: the Mairie denying us, Google not seeing our website, people not wanting to come, I never even once considered an illness preventing people from leaving their homes. It sounds so storybook, right? Like somewhere there’s a writer realising that their pen is enchanted and trying desperately to burn the pages? But, no, it’s real. It’s really here. It’s killing people around the globe and people are scared. Suddenly, there’s anxiety everywhere, and I’m sure most other usually-anxious people would agree, it’s really freaking weird.

What can I do about it?

            The short answer, nothing. I have to hope that after all this over, after we’ve finished our self-isolation and helped to continue people’s lives, people will still want to come. We’re in a beautiful, peaceful spot with plenty of fresh air and lovely views. I’ve managed to get more writing done here than I have in the last few years. I’m inspired and have helped to inspire ideas from my non-writer of a mother and even my no-imagination of a father (he’s great with numbers and has been a big help with other jobs though, so we’ll forgive him).

            It works. My place works and I’m really hoping one day writers will feel safe to come across and see if it works for them. I’m working on new recipes, made all the more difficult by the lack of ingredients in the supermarkets (the only place we’re allowed to venture to, basically). I’m getting some of the garden ready so it can look really nice by the time we actually do manage to open. All three of us inmates at the Retreat have delved into the library of books and are working our way through the different genres. If nothing else, we won’t run out of books to read.

What’s the point of me telling you all of this?

            I know, I know. Other people are having it hard to. As I said, people are dying of Covid and I’m not going to lessen that tragedy. Even the tutor I’ve booked in for teaching my summer courses is currently stuck in self-isolation (although an extreme form where she isn’t leaving a bedroom with en-suite) because she’s high risk. I worry for her and anybody else who could really suffer from the disease every day but my own worries about the future are still there, and I can’t simply make them go away.

            I’ve always believed in being honest. I’ve had a horrible habit of keeping things to myself and increasing my anxiety in the past. Okay, yes, I still do that a little bit now. But not on this. This is too serious. So, I’m telling you, whoever’s reading this, how I’m feeling. I’m trying to show you the mind of an anxious person who has opened a business at the same time as a pandemic strikes. I’m proving that your random story ideas are as likely to happen as anything else. Because anything can happen… to anyone.

            I know it’s hard to stay calm right now. The world’s pretty much telling us we should panic. But don’t give up on your writing. If you don’t feel like writing, that’s fine, but don’t lose it forever. Your story is just as valid and realistic as everything that’s going on in the world right now. And maybe, if anything happens similar to this in the future, by reading your book future generations may be able to figure out quicker and better solutions to prevent any more deaths.

            Because, as proved by the media in this wild situation, words are even more powerful than a small, invisible virus. Make your words be powerful in the right way. Make the world better one word at a time.

            Sorry for the unintentional sappiness there and, if you have any downtime, would you please consider checking out our website: www.lestylonoirretreat.com . Be safe and let’s get through this.

A Bientot, les ecrivians

Signed,

Amy Rose, The Literary Onion

Posted in How to Write

The Impossibility of ‘How To Write’

Writing blogs or articles on writing, teaching classes on the subject, even attending said classes is one of the hardest things you can/will ever do. I can stand and tell you the basics of my experiences, or of my fellow writer-friends’ experiences and I can do my best to encourage and support you – but I’ll never be right. If I wrote a book to show you ‘how to write’ and it was read by 100 people I’d be very lucky if I was 25 percent correct.

            There are basics every writer should learn. We should all know our grammar, our spelling, how stories form and how characters are created (most of which I’ve been taught and could teach) but after the basics are ingrained in your mind you’re let loose. You can do whatever you want. If you want to break these early rules, do it. Experimental literature exists for a reason.

            It’s the great thing about any form of art, be it words or painting or even food. It’s all an imperfect jumble of subjective passion. It can be whatever you want it to be; whatever you need it to be at that moment. It grows with us, constantly sliding back and forth through all the stages of life—from first conception to rebellious teen to self-critical adult and then back round again (and not entirely in a linear fashion).

            I do believe in learning the fundamentals/the basics of writing, just as I took professional cookery training so I could have the abilities and knowledge needed for experimentation. ‘Go on a course, get a degree, join a writer’s group’ – as a person who’s done all of these and more I can attest to how helpful they can be. They can be a helpful hand or a step towards confidence (and a great place to meet new like-minded people or inspirations for future stories).

            But don’t forget that you’ll continue learning throughout your writing career. As your writing flops back and forth through the stages of life so will you. You’ll be confident, miserable, shy, brave and the rules will change as every person in the creative industry changes around you. Everybody needs help with the basics, over and over again, but your words will always be yours.

            As I said, previously, I can tell you my experience and I can teach you the basics (the FUN-dementals, excusing the pun) but I can’t control your mind, your imagination. You will always pick out the bits of the self-help book that you want to hear, that you may already partly believe in. Just look at the #WritingCommunity on Twitter, each writer as different as the other but able to communicate and celebrate those differences.

            Continue to do this, continue to write. This isn’t something I’ve found easy recently but it is something that I believe in. Books change all the time. So do you. Accept that and you’ll hopefully find the words to say how your experience can help someone else.

            And don’t assume there’s a fix-all for writer’s block. I’m learning the hard way that there isn’t.

            The simple answer for ‘how to write’, beyond all the guff and ‘experience of others’ is to keep writing, keep reading and keep caring. With this as your mantra and as your guide to writing then you should be just fine, degree or no degree.

Small Note: I know. This is a short post. I’ve been struggling with finding words recently, due to being close to the opening of my own writer’s retreat and stress increasing because of it (a great discourager from writing). Soon, it’ll be open and I’ll hopefully get to meet some of you amazing writers in person.

And a quick announcement: due to lack of money I will be merging all past and future posts on literaryonions.com into literaryscribbles.com. Nothing will change for you on this site, other than some amazing food creations and book reviews coming your way.

Posted in How to Write

Editing an Old Piece

Looking for the smallest mistake in a sea of sentences.

It’s arguably the worst part about writing. It sucks all life out of the piece, makes you feel less confident in your words minute by minute and overall is something you would rather somebody else did for you (and yet something you also wouldn’t entrust to another person, in case they completely tear it apart). I, of course, am talking about that dreaded word—editing.

            There’s no other way to say it: editing is the worst. In fact, that’s wrong—editing your own work is the worst (I actually enjoy editing other people’s work, hence why I used to do it for Fanfiction writers). So, to help you learn how to edit your own piece (and exactly why I don’t enjoy it) I’m going to take an old piece of mine and edit it for a blog post. Yay. Okay, let’s get this started, shall we?

            So, the piece I’m going to use is one I believe I wrote when I was seventeen. It was a short story but extremely amateurish because of my age when it was written. To give some context: I was much more a poet back then than a fiction writer, meaning there were metaphors abound; I knew the character fairly well as she had been created when I was around ten or eleven; lastly, I have to say that I’m fully aware this is not me at my best, so apologies in advance.

            For this post, let’s focus on the first paragraph:

‘I am Rebecca and I am a recovering Photoholic.

Ever since I can remember I’ve had a long lasting infatuation with cameras. I never did much with the being on screen myself, but behind it was like a playground my imagination could explore. Everything seemed so much more toned and exciting from the little box on the back of the digital screen than in the reality of it all. I would spend hours on a night editing the footage of the day onto small compact discs or tapes and catalogue them into my ever-expanding filing system.’

The first thing I noticed is that the second paragraph needs to be indented. This, along with many other layout problems, is something that I automatically set before I start writing these days but didn’t know back then.

‘I am Rebecca and I am a recovering Photoholic.

Ever since I can remember I’ve had a long lasting infatuation with cameras. I never did much with the being on screen myself, but behind it was like a playground my imagination could explore. Everything seemed so much more toned and exciting from the little box on the back of the digital screen than in the reality of it all. I would spend hours on a night editing the footage of the day onto small compact discs or tapes and catalogue them into my ever-expanding filing system.’

As you can see from above, I’ve added the indent and actually changed the font and spacing to make it easier to read. Now that I’m happy with the layout, let’s take a look at the words. Okay, so despite the word ‘photoholic’ not being a real one I’m going to count it as a neologism. Knowing this character well enough I would say that she is likely to make up words, as she wouldn’t know the actual word for what she wants to say. However, in the second line, I think it loses something by saying ‘long-lasting infatuation’. She’s only a thirteen year old girl and implies future tense or a longer period than it actually has been. Also, infatuation implies a short-amount of time, whereas she has a continuing obsession with a camera.

            Let’s change the line to: ‘Ever since I can remember I’ve had a passionate obsession with cameras’—this then keeps the oxymoron (passion being good and obsession being bad, showing her conflicting feelings) but changes it to what it actually is.

            The next line goes back to what I originally said about my being more of a poet than a fiction writer, back when I was seventeen. I have a tendency in old works to use badly worded, almost cringy metaphors to describe things that could be described more simply. So, let’s say it simply, shall we?: ‘I’ve never enjoyed being on camera myself but capturing others’ lives on film inspired my imagination.’

            Now that we’ve had three shorter lines in a row, we desperately need a longer line to keep the flow. This means we’ll have to merge the two continuing subjects or add another relevant one in between them.

            Reading through it, I’ve actually decided on a third option: I’m going to delete the fourth line completely, which is redundant and doesn’t add anything new to the piece, and move straight onto the longer fifth line. This paragraph now reads:

‘I am Rebecca and I am a recovering Photoholic.

Ever since I can remember I’ve had a passionate obsession with cameras. I never enjoyed being on camera myself but capturing others’ lives on film inspired my imagination. I would spend hours on a night editing the footage of the day onto small compact discs or tapes and catalogue them into my ever-expanding filing system.’

Now, you see why it takes so long? And why it’s so heart-breaking, especially when the piece is more recent than this one? You end up deleting words/lines/paragraphs/even entire chapters, changing words, researching new words or meanings of some words—it takes a lot of effort and a lot of it you have to be harsh with and ask yourself: Is this important? Do I need this?

            I used to simply delete them completely but discovered this was counterproductive. I highly recommend to you to have a document ready to cut and paste all of these ‘deleted’ lines etc. into. Whilst they don’t work in the piece you’re editing they may work somewhere else, or they may even inspire a new piece.

            In fact, as a fun exercise (and to cheer yourself up after all of your hard ripping apart) take one of these sentences and write an entirely new piece around it. What do you end up with?

            Thank you for reading and I hope you make it through your own editing.

Posted in How to Write

How To Write Characters.

From Stick Men to Humans to Everything In-Between

Sitting down and thinking through my ideas for blog posts (of which there was a horrendously long list, so apologies) I had to move this idea to the top of my pile. Characters are, for me, the most important parts of a story—and I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating to say that in some way, characters are the main things you should focus on in your planning stages.     Let me explain myself. There was a vague theory I remember agreeing with whilst I was studying for my degree, in which it was suggested that there were actually only a small handful of plots available to the hard-working author. Although these plots could blend into each other, try to make a difference with their twists and turns and blend of genres, there could never be really anything new to come out of them. So, how, if a plot has been read so many times over the centuries of human existence, do they feel fresh and invigorating every time? My answer: the characters.

            Think about your favourite books. What’s the main thing you remember from them? If I asked you—what happened on page… 63, let’s say, could you tell me the important plot point that was happening? I’m assuming, and honestly hoping, you’re saying no (although if you do remember, kudos to you, my friend). Now, if I ask you to tell me the name of the lead character? ……. Did you get it? If I asked what s/he was like? … If I continued to ask what you liked about them? … And then, if I asked you what they got up to in the book? Could you now answer what the plot was? Can you get closer to what may have happened on or near the theoretical page 63.

            Now, you see, plot doesn’t drive characters—characters drive the plot. They are the only difference to a plot and so they are the integral part to the story. But, how do you write them effectively?

            Well, the key is in how well you as the author know them. Now, you may or may not have been told about the iceberg theory (if you have, I’m sorry, as you’re going to have to sit through it again). The iceberg theory includes a drawing of an iceberg—the tip is showing above the sea (we’ll say 15 to 20 percent) and then there is a giant bulbous piece of iceberg underneath the water (the rest of the percentage, of course). Now a ship coming towards this iceberg will only be able to see the tip, a primitive mind may think that’s all there is, but a good navigator—a proper seaman or woman, will know that there’s plenty more that they can’t see. It’s a feeling, a suggestion that the tip gives.

            To explain the metaphoric rambling: the tip is the amount of information you share about your character in the story, it’s the amount that the reader (or ship) will receive and that you have to steer them towards. The bottom of the iceberg is the large quantity you as the author should know about each one of your characters. The proper seaman/woman, the readers of your work, they need to feel the rest without you blatantly showing it. You do this by using your tip to hint at more—give your character a complexity, a hypocritic quality, a fault, a background that affects everything that they do.

            Don’t sit there and make a list of all their attributes. Okay, okay, let me give you an example:

            ‘Annie was brave, yet gentle and calming. She had long pink and brown hair and her smile was very white. She often went to get them whitened at a local dentist called Hollingbrook’s. She was always willing to go on an adventure and was the complete opposite of Anne in her favourite book ‘The Famous Five’. She liked this book because…’

            You see how this information deluge is bad? How is knowing this adding anything to what Annie is doing? In fact, it will, it all will, but it’s not important enough to spill in your work. You should know it, but the reader should only get the suggestion that they exist. And then one day, when Annie is seen reading a Famous Five book or going to the dentist to her weekly teeth-whitening appointment it will make complete sense because you have built that up in the tip.

            ‘Annie smiled at the man sat across from her, her dazzling white, almost plastic teeth, blinding him as she bent over the map of the island. Her little scarred finger leant on the drawing of the compass at the top and her pink-streaked brown hair laid playfully, sprawled across the coffee table. She reached out a bold, determined hand and rubbed the sweat from his cheeks. ‘It’ll be okay,’ she told him.’

The Iceberg Theory in Doodle Form!

            Now, I’m not going to say it’s a perfect example, as I don’t know this Annie that well yet but it is getting closer to the correct way to write. You see how the things mentioned at the top are almost inferred here? She has shown herself to be kind as she comforts him, brave as she looks at the map, her teeth are even brought into the action and develops their relationship. I’ve even added an extra detail, a flaw of a scarred finger, which suggests something else that’s happened in her past. This excites your reader’s imagination, helps them form their own interpretation of Annie, and isn’t that what makes reading lovely? Even though it’s written by one person and given to many, the many can make their own story as they read it. It’s truly amazing, and the main difference between the written word and visual interpretations of words (films, televisions etc.).

            What else is important for a character? As I’ve shown, flaws often help to make them more well-rounded. Even the Ancient Greeks, some of our earliest known writers, knew this—making their Gods flawed and interesting. Zeus a womaniser, Hera’s jealousy, Aphrodite’s cheating ways and narcissism, Athena’s blunt manner. Even Kronos, a Titan, is afraid of his children and of them copying what he did to his own Father. Give your character a flaw and they become realistic—they become something your readers can understand. It doesn’t even have to be anything big to be a good choice. And again, don’t blatantly say what the fault is, but show it to your readers at the opportune moment.

            To finish, as this is getting a bit lengthy, here’s a few bullet-points which should help you get an idea of how complex this area of writing actually is:

  • Remember that flaws are important.
  • Build a backstory. Spend time with your characters (if you love them it’s easier to connect).
  • Act like they’re your imaginary friends.
  • Characters are what fuel a story. There are only so many plots but there are millions of characters.
  • Remember that real people tend to be hypocritical. There is no such thing as entirely bad or good. People are confusing.
  • Think about social pressures. People change their character in real life depending on the situation and where they are.
  • If doing it from first person or from close-up third person, remember that people often think one thing/one way and act completely different. A timid person is often confident in their head because they’re used to speaking there. An open extrovert may be more likely to speak whatever they’re thinking before they even get a chance to think it.
  • Iceberg theory—show 20% but know 100%. I cannot reiterate enough times how important this theory is.
  • Write some practice short stories with those characters to figure them out. Put them in different situations.
  • And remember, a name will be the first guide to their personality (more on this in another blog post).
  • A narrator is always a character, including an omniscient, which moves us onto next week’s post—‘The Importance of an Omniscient’.

Thank you for reading and…

A Bientot, les ecrivians.