Self Editing

Editing a story, or even worse, completely rewriting one, is something a lot of writers are scared of. There really is no need to be though. We all need to edit. No first draft is ever perfect, or even readable. They tend to ramble, get too wordy, lose their way in a tangle of sub plots and generally get messy. At the very least they need a good run through the spelling and grammar checker.

This is because, when we’re tapping out that first draft, we are being creative, letting the words flow out and the story tell itself. It feels great, especially when you hit that last word and sit back, blow out a satisfied breath and think “Woah, did I really just write all that?”

Well, yes you did, but now it’s time for your creative side to move over and make room for the inner editor, the part of you who spots the typos, the loose threads and the characters who just stand there looking pretty. He (or she) will find all those bits that don’t make sense and all the other things that will get your story thrown into the reject pile.

Sometimes though, it’s hard to see where you went wrong until it’s pointed out to you. This is one of the benefits of having other people to bounce your work off and one of the disadvantages of having PTSD. I find it difficult to commit to regular rounds of critiquing with other people like I used to years ago (back in the days when I frequented Forward Motion and Hatrack, both unfortunately gone), but back then my head wasn’t such a mess . Some days my head is just off on its own and nothing gets done. I easily slip into “can’t be bothered, eat junk instead” mode. Thankfully, sometimes, advice just comes along.

Back in October 2020 I submitted a story to Writers of the Future. I can’t remember which volume or quarter it was but it did get an Honourable Mention which, at the end of the day, is a rejection with glitter on. Anyway I submitted it to a couple of other places and had it bounced back. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it, it had got an HM from WotF after all. Eventually I got some feedback from Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores (I know, I’ve mentioned them before, but these people are great) and reread it, again, then dumped it on the back burner while I got on with other things.

I took it off the back burner the other day and read it again. Immediately, the feedback having finally filtered through my brain, I saw the problems. It was too wordy. The plot, while good, didn’t really develop the main character and there were parts that weren’t totally clear to the reader. It did have good points, the setting was great, the overall story idea was sound, with caveats. All these things had been pointed out by CRaES, but I just couldn’t see them at first. I also decided I had a couple of superfluous characters in there as well and the main characters needed a different kind of relationship.

I’m not adverse to revising, in fact I’ve actually started enjoying editing after reading Ken Rand’s 10% Solution. I like the way I can trim my stories and reshape them to make them flow better and lose some wordage, thus giving them a wider audience to submit to. It’s much like going out into the garden for the afternoon and pruning fruit bushes. It can be a chore, but somedays the sun is out and it’s a pleasure to be snipping away and, when the job is done, I know I’ll have healthier plants and more fruit come autumn (or summer depending on what I’ve been snipping).

With all this in mind and the problems highlighted (literally, in pink and blue), I set to. The story, which will remain unnamed as some places like to read blind and I intend to send it back out again, weighed in at 12,800 words and I really wanted to get it under 8k. Drastic I know, but 8k would give me more places to submit to.

I’ll go through the process, partly to help anyone else wanting to do the same and also to act as a reminder for me. I’ll also note how long it took.

It needed several passes so firstly I searched for all the places those two characters were mentioned. This enabled me to change scenes to not involve them or actually put their actions and dialogue onto a different character. In most cases I just cut them out altogether. This initial pruning cut 1500 words, though the editor side of my brain had to plug its ears and ignore the writer half screaming. This took an afternoon.

The plot changes were a much more involved task. Firstly I took a printed copy and went through it with a couple of highlighters, found all the places the plot changes needed to be made, where mention was made of things that would no longer exist or be relevant. I marked where loose ends were flapping about and things weren’t quite clear or didn’t match with the new vision I had in my head. Then I went through it all again and made notes on what each required change involved. This process took a day, perhaps a little more, but was done in dribs and drabs between other things (yeah I have a life too).

Next came the actual revision, which took in the region of just over four hours, spread over the week. I chopped out scenes, cut a lot of superfluous bits and trimmed it back to just over 7800 words by the time I’d finished.

It was still looking a bit stale though to be honest. I needed to go back through and chop out any wordiness, repetition, check to make sure it still all made sense and to add a bit more suspense. This took another couple of hours. By this point the word count had been cut to a tad over 7300 words, or by nearly 43%. I must admit I didn’t think I would be able to trim that much off without losing the essence of the idea behind the story, but it really was that wordy.

At this point it was more like a rough draft again so I read it all through to make sure it all still made sense and check I hadn’t made any stupid mistakes. Then I double checked the spelling and grammar and prepared to lunge on into Ken Rand’s 10% Solution. That lasted almost five hours, spread over a couple of days. I can’t recommend this book enough, go get a copy, it’s the best writing book you’ll ever buy.

I then read it out loud to myself (actually part of the 10% solution). It sounds odd, but you really do find a lot of problems that way. What the eye misses the tongue trips over. Another quick edit to smooth out the tongue twisters and the story finally came out at 6900 words.

It’s still the same basic story, just shorter and, I hope, better. Now I’ll let it sit for a few days before reading it through again. Then it can go back out into the big mean world of submissions.

In the meanwhile, I have a story to plot.

New Tumble Dryer, Stories Submitted and Veggies Growing

Yes, yes, I’m still alive. I’m still on furlough and still writing away. I’ve been busy wrapping up a few manuscripts and doing the odd bit for the day job. I’ve had just enough to do to keep me away from blogging for a bit. Anyway, I’ve found a few minutes now.

My last post was about buying a new washing machine so it makes sense to start this post with a whinge about having to fork out on a new tumble dryer. The old one not only wore it’s belt out but also the thermostat, so things were coming out roasting hot. I couldn’t change the belt as the machine was one of those designed to keep out all but madmen with chainsaws and explosives. So I bought a new one.

On those manuscripts, I’ve got four stories out for submission at the moment, with a few on hold awaiting a good editing. Since I read Ken Rand’s 10% solution I’ve been finding more and more wrong with some of my older work, so it’s being put back through the mill, so to speak.

In the garden, the chickens are laying well, so well I’m sick of eating eggs. The brassicas are ready to go out on to the plot and the tomatoes are just waiting for the weather to warm up before being stuck in the polytunnel.

The spuds have all come up, and then been nipped by late frosts, but they’ll recover. On the positive side, I’m already eating home grown lettuce.

Washing Machines and Sofas

As well as new bookcases (see earlier blog post) I was forced to buy a new washing machine the other week. The old one, at least fifteen years old, gave up the ghost in the filter department. Much like our old dog, who was also fifteen, it was dribbling from beneath and leaving puddles behind. The spin was no longer spinning properly either.

I decided to go with AO (you know, the one with the Ramones song on the advert, “Hey ho, let’s go,” or Blitzkrieg Bop if you’re old enough).

They delivered in a couple of days, which was fair enough, but it was at the back end of their delivery time estimate and was starting to feel like “Hey ho, let’s take all day about it.”

When they did arrive they got everything off the van, and I mean everything, because mine was stuck somewhere at the back. Then their faces dropped when they realised the one they thought was mine wasn’t. They’d delivered and installed mine at the previous customer’s. Not to worry I was informed, this one is a better one! It was indeed the next model up from the one I ordered but, I had to enquire, just what the person who had mine, a model down from what they had paid for, would think of it?

I contacted their customer services while they phoned home. In the end they went back to the other people and gave them the right one, the one they had ordered, and carefully wrapped mine in enough bubble wrap to refloat the Titanic.

Now it all turned out right in the end but what really annoyed me was the attitude of the delivery driver. It was just fine with him to leave the other people with something less than they’d paid for. They would have noticed at some point, I’m sure. Then someone else would have had to clean up his mess.

I got what I ordered, but I’m not sure I’d use them again.

Another thing that puts me off these companies is their policy of charging a fortune for installation. AO wanted, if I remember correctly, in the region of £50 to install a washing machine. It only needs fitting to a water pipe and plugging in! Thankfully I have the wherewithal to do that myself.

I had a similar experience when I last got a fridge freezer, only this time it was Curry’s (do they even exist anymore). They wanted £170 to install it. A hundred and seventy pounds to put in a plug. Some people must pay it otherwise it wouldn’t be there.

Now I find myself in need of another sofa. They want around £100 to take the old one away. Presumably these people think most of us are too daft or lazy to look up waste disposal on the internet. I’m not. My local council will take it away for £32. It’ll have to sit in the garden for a while until they get around to it, but I’ve got a big garden and a load of other rubbish they’ll take with it.

Now all I have to do is wait the 8-9 weeks DFS reckon it’ll take to deliver a sofa and armchair that were on clearance but, apparently, not actually in stock. Luckily they’ve just extended the furlough scheme, so I’ll probably still be sat here on the old one when they come.

Of Chickens and Ladybirds

Ok. We’ve had a couple of posts about writing and reading. It’s time to give the garden and allotment some attention.

In the garden, I’ve finally managed to put some summer bulbs in. I’ve also cleared and fed the polytunnel borders, ready for spring.

I’ve replaced the netting on the chicken run. The old stuff was starting to rip around the edges and the man from Defra still insists that they can’t come into contact with wild birds. It doesn’t seem to be bothering the chooks much to be honest. They’re still laying eggs faster that we can eat them. It makes for a lot of omelettes and cakes.

On the allotment, I’ve got most of the digging done. The shallots, onions and most of the spuds are in. I’ve got a little more digging to be done, but thanks to being on furlough still, there’s no particular rush.

Things are starting to wake up though. Buds are appearing on fruit trees and bushes. Even the ladybirds seem to have got out of bed.

I counted twelve, maybe one more, in that photo. That was one ivy covered fence post out of about six. That’s an awful lot of ladybirds all in one place.

Books, books, books.

I am a writer, not full time and as yet unpublished, but I do a lot of it. Being a writer also means being a reader. When most people run out of shelf space for books they have a tidy out, fill a few charity bags with the books they’ve read.

Not me. I go out and buy more bookcases. Then I go on Ebay and buy more books to fill up all the space I suddenly have.

I got two bookcases (from ManoMano, delivered next day too) and, almost as soon as I had them assembled, I was on Ebay. I did manage to shuffle all the existing books around first and was quite surprised at just how many history books I have, oh and genealogy books, parish records and other sundry stuff. The majority is fantasy and science fiction though, but I can’t resist a good research book.

Anyway I managed to bid on a box of fantasy books. There was something in there by Diane Wynne Jones and a couple of other titles that caught my attention. There was a dozen in all. I also ordered a few books on Victorian London and society in general for research and a couple of other bits and pieces, as you do. Oh, and then I spotted a job lot of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine. In fact, having looked at my Ebay history, I have bought just over 40, yes forty, books since Christmas.

I even got a freebie. On the walk to the allotments I pass a house which, just recently, has had a big box of books at the end of the path with a sign, “Please take one”. So I did.

These will all get read, I must point out, just as long as I don’t die of old age first.

The box of books arrived yesterday. The rest will be dripping in over the next week or so. Anyway, when I opened the box there was a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring in there too, which my son immediately stole (because I’ve already got that one twice over anyway), saying “Oh, I’m having that one.”

I am a writer and a reader and I admit, I may have a problem, and it may just be hereditary.

The 10% Solution, by Ken Rand

I was looking on the Writers of the Future forum and found mention of a book called The 10% Solution, by Ken Rand. I know it sounds like a religious thing or some self help manual, but it’s not. It’s a guide to trimming the excess fat from writing and making it clearer and more accurate, faster paced and all the stuff you really need to put a bit of polish on it.

Anyway I hunted around and finally found a copy on Ebay. It arrived, all the way from America, last week and I decided to put it, together with what I picked up on the WotF workshop, to the test on an old bit of writing I had sent to the void that is known as the trunk.

This piece was something written as a response to a writing challenge on the Hatrack River forums, which have closed down since, and was just sat there. It was about 3,000 words long and had no try/fail cycles at all, in fact it was flat and with no real story in it, but the idea was there. So I sat down and re-plotted it, edited it, put in the try/fail cycles, reinvented the main character and brought it up to a smidgeon over 7,000 words. Now it had a story, read pretty well and seemed to be pretty fast paced.

Then I got out The 10% Solution. Rand’s book is not very long, not even a hundred pages, but is packed with a lot of useful stuff and his entire editing process to cut out all the rubbish you didn’t realise you’d written. It’s done by searching for syllables, such as ‘ly’ and ‘ing’, finding words that are just too long, cutting out passive voice and correcting formatting. There’s more to it than that, but if you want the full idea it’s on Ebay and Amazon.

After I’d finished I was amazed at how much I’d chopped out from the story. It wasn’t ten percent, more like seven by my calculations, but the story is much better, the pacing sleeker and easy to read. It has also been sent out for submission.

I’d recommend it, and I don’t do much recommending. I will definitely do this process with anything I write in the future. I have a novel that could do with at least ten percent knocking off it.

Rejections, Eggs and Bloody Rain

A few weeks ago I got a rejection from a magazine called Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores. They are though, a magazine who will give feedback on submissions if asked, and I did.

It is nice to know why you got rejected. So many publications these days fall back on either form rejections that encourage you to try again with something else, or just don’t reply at all. I have had many like that, though I’ve also had a few personal ones.

Well, the feedback from Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores went beyond that. I went through the usual reaction to such critiques (horror, disbelief, fury) then, after filing the story under “edit this” for a few weeks I looked at it again and found that the readers’ notes I was supplied with (pretty much a full crit from one), were right, or mostly and now the story is in much better shape and has been submitted elsewhere. So thanks to Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores for providing such a brilliant service to those of us yet to make it past those first readers.

On another writing note I have entered something in quarter 2 of this year’s Writers of the Future competition. I’ll let you know how it does, as well as the quarter 1 entry which hasn’t been judged as yet.

In other news, the chickens, after a long hiatus due to bad weather, dark nights and being cooped up eternally by order of the man from DEFRA (bird flu apparently, even chooks are in lockdown in the UK), are finally in lay. They started, just as Mr Sod’s famous law predicted they would, right after I bought a box of eggs from the supermarket. They are now firing on all cylinders and producing three a day for two of us to eat. It looks like there’ll be plenty of omellettes in the meal plan.

All I need now is for it to stop raining so I can get the winter digging finished and I can get ready for spring planting. I shouldn’t complain too much though, some people are up to their armpits in water in their own living rooms. I’m still getting mooli, kale, beetroot and leeks off the plot and have spuds, squashes, apples and onions in store.

And almost finally, I lost half a stone doing dry January. Now I’m going to have to have a drunk February until I find it all again.

And finally…

KODAK Digital Still Camera

A picture of a collared dove sat in my cherry tree. There is a pair of them who come down into the garden whenever they see me feed the chickens because they know I also put out birdseed at the same time.

Always Check Twice.

I don’t do DIY as a rule, not unless necessary, not even a lick of paint. I can do it. I’ve made my own desk fitted my own kitchen, decorated the whole house, tiled bathrooms and kitchen floors. I do all kinds of odd jobs in the garden and on the plot. I just don’t care for it. My general rule is, if isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it. Those magnolia walls will generally do for a few more years, that’s my approach.

Then the other day I was walking out of the bathroom and the landing floor sounded out a loud clunk as it has done regularly for years now. Anyway, it seemed that some necessary repairs were needed, long ago to be honest. So, up came the carpet and the offending floor board. It was just a little bit, a foot long, that had been cut out when the central heating went in roughly eighteen years ago. Anyway, it had slipped off the joist and was clattering against the water pipes under the floor. It was a simple fix, a length of timber slipped underneath and screwed through the boards either side of it. It took a quarter hour, if that.

Then came lunch, then tea, then a nice soak in the bath, a movie (Zulu, if you must know), then bed. It wasn’t until I went to turn off the heating (none of those fancy smart thermostats in my house), that I noticed the pressure in the boiler had dropped to next to nothing. Then the penny dropped. A drop in pressure meant a leak somewhere. I had a sudden vision of all those water pipes under the landing floor and just knew one had a screw through it. It was the only explanation.

I checked under the stairs, directly under where I had repaired the floor, and saw nothing amiss. There should have been water coming through the ceiling, though it might have run along a short way, but there was nothing either side. So, up came the landing carpet again, out came the screws and the little bit of floor board that had started the trouble in the first place. Nothing. Under the boards was snuff dry, dusty as hell, but snuff dry.

Then it dawned on me. After I’d repaired that floor board I’d seen another sticking up proud and, after checking there was nothing important under it and that there was indeed a joist beneath it, I rammed it back down with a nice long screw.

Yes, you guessed it, that was where I saw the tiny little wet patch and where, when I took the screw out again, the water squirted up. There was something under it, both central heating pipes that went to the radiator in my bedroom, through the joist. I turned to a quick mental map of the house and worked out I was just above the corner of the living room and yes, there was water in the living room. Where half an hour earlier Michael Caine had been slaughtering scantily clad African warriors, there was now a mini Victoria Falls welling up in the coving and dribbling down the magnolia wall. The picture is from the next morning after it had dried a bit, at the time I was too busy drying up to take photos (save a couple for insurance if needed).

Cursing whichever god looks over DIYers and clumsy oafs, I went into a mild panic, which is not like me at all. I went all of a dither for a moment (possibly something to do with having PTSD) and blanked out mentally for a few more. I had to give myself a shake and a stern talking too. All the things I’ve been through in the past few years and a holed water pipe is the one that turns me into a jibbering wreck? Not likely, said I, and rummaged around for the Tesco insurance documents.

By the time I’d picked up the phone it was nearly eleven at night and the only number I could get through to was Tesco’s emergency cover line, which I quickly discovered wasn’t part of my policy. To his credit, the guy on the other end gave me the number of the emergency plumber they use and said to just keep any receipts and ring the normal claim line the next morning.

The emergency plumber they recommened was a company called Metro Rod, based in Manchester as it happens. After a bit of confusion, as they only deal with insurance claims and this didn’t seem like one, they got in touch with a guy on call. They reckoned he’d be a couple of hours (by this time it was gone midnight), and he was here quicker than that (I can’t remember what time he arrived as I was dead on my feet by then). He’d come all the way from the other side of Lincoln and had just pulled up on his own drive when he got the call.

While I had been waiting for him I took up the bit of floor where the leak was so he could get straight at it when he arrived.

It turned out that he didn’t have enough of the size of pipe in question to do a proper repair but managed to find a couple of connectors and an off cut from somewhere in his van, and fixed the leak.

He wasn’t registered Gas Safe though, so I had to repressurise the boiler and bleed all the radiators myself (which I actually knew how do do), though he did supervise and give advice. It was just gone two in the morning when he left. I was surprised at the price too. I was expecting my eyes to water and was all set to ring Tesco in the morning to try and get some money back, but it wasn’t that bad. Given the time of night and the distance the guy had to travel I thought £145 was quite reasonable.

He also left me a momento, which I may or may not get framed.

Still, it could have been worse. The water in the living room was pretty close to the TV and the sockets that power my PC, internet and everything else in the living room. As it is, the damage is all cosmetic, no one died and, in all the years I’ve been begrudgingly doing DIY, it’s the worse thing that’s happened (that was my fault anyway). So, put into perspective, it was an expensive dribble that wll take a lick of paint to put right.

Oddly enough, a small, but persistant dripping that had been coming from the boiler, long ago fixed but suddenly returned, seems to have just as suddenly gone away again.

Anyway, thanks man from Tesco and Metro Rod.

Here we go again.

Well, here we go again. Back to work (after a fashion) and back in lock down. At least, I suppose, we are all used to it now and know how to get on with things. We should, for instance, know not to bulk buy toilet roll, though I notice that Tesco, my local one at least, are only letting people buy one pack at a time.

We can only go out for exercise once a day again, so instead of a walk in the morning and another in the afternoon, I’m taking a bit of a longer stroll in the morning.

Work is a bit slow at the moment so I’m keeping my self busy reading, both my own manuscript (which is not as bad as I thought it might be) and the few dozen books on my ‘to be read’ shelf. It’s helping me keep my mind off the fact that I’m trying to stick to a calorie count (I’ve lost 5lbs since New Year’s day), and helping to preserve my sanity (though many would say that is a lost cause).

It would be better if I could get on with the plot, the winter digging is only half way done, but last week it was sopping wet and this week it’s frozen solid. Still, I’m still getting leeks, kale, mooli and beetroot off it.

On the writing front I’m almost done with a first pass through of a novel, it needs a good edit and a drastic trimming, it’s way too long. But I think it deserves to be sent around a few places. I’ve long since given up on ever getting published, but I’ve never given up trying (contradictary, I know). I’ve also got the beginnings, a few scrappy thoughts, of a short story stirring around in my head. I just need to grab hold of them all and pin them down in the right order.

Anyway, happy lock down three, (or is it four?) and a merry New Year.

I’m Still Alive

Well, It’s been a while again. I am still alive and kicking, but I’ve been busy lately.

For a start I’ve been decorating again. My daughter has left home and so my son has had a bedroom upgrade and his old room has become an office for me. I’m still working from home and have been quite busy with that too. It seems some of our clients deal with the EU on a regular basis and their software needed changing to meet whatever the new rules will end up being.

We have a new member of the household too, a rather agile and quite speedy bearded dragon called Viserion (yeah I know, but my son named him). He’s also rather prickly, in physique, not temper. I had to spend a little while repairing and upgrading a large and worn out vivarium for him, all the while keeping his impending arrival a secret. He was an early Christmas present for my son from his sister. I know the thing about not getting pets for Christmas, but we’ve had one before (in fact she left home with my daughter) and we’re not the kind of family to go abandoning him.

The new office, along with a new desk and filing cabinet, made from a double wardrobe that was no longer needed, is a wonderful thing of magnolia. It is now home to my laptop and wireless printer (which is connected to my brand new full fibre internet connection).

I do seem to spend an awful lot of time in there though and I’ve had to stop using my laptop for writing as my brain associates the office with, well the office. I now do my writing on my PC downstairs and take a break whenever my son needs to use it for school work. I may switch back to the laptop over the Christmas holidays when it may feel less like being in a workplace.

At the moment I’m editing more than writing anyway. I’m going through a novel that I finished the first draft of at the beginning of lockdown. It’s not bad, in fact I think it deserves to be published once it’s trimmed back a bit and cleaned up. So I’ll be submitting it as soon as I’m able, though it’s a pretty hefty size and will need an awful lot of cutting back first. I’ll probably do it in fits and starts, hopefully with a few short stories and a plot for another novel in between.

On the gardening front, I’m still eating lots of fresh veg, even at this time of year and with all this horrible weather, though I have been forced to buy eggs just lately. The chooks are just not pulling their weight at this time of year.