Editing versus Rewriting – The great slog onwards

In 2009 I completed my first novel as part of National Novel Writing Month.

In 2012, after 3 more NaNo-wins and in my opinion completely unsalvageable but finished first drafts, I finally got up the courage to go back to that first novel and start editing it.

I went through the novel, editing and shifting and refining it over the course of several months. By the start of spring 2013 I thought it was time to show it to other people. I even took part in PitchMas, a twitter agent/editor pitching session.

I am very grateful for this, because it taught me two things:

1. My novel idea can generate interest

2. It needs a complete rewrite

Now the agent I corresponded with only suggested changing the start to be more dynamic, but it opened my eyes to a whole load of other problems that my friends would have never pointed out to me. So now I am starting from scratch, which is terrifying in itself, and adding a new POV character, which will be very challenging, and just generally trying to avoid making the same mistakes I did last time.

The reasons I am sharing this is because I want to learn from my mistakes, and maybe you can too. So next time, I will:

1. Look at the big picture; does the story stand out among everything else on the bookshelves right now?

2. Create more emotional distance. After the first draft is done, it’s ok to accept that you need to start from scratch and rewrite the book with a clearer picture of what’s going on. Like Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”

3. Not waste time polishing a turd, even/especially when people close to you say it’s not a turd at all. Sure there might be hidden gems in the text, but that doesn’t matter if the overall plot has holes in it as big as, or just lacks action in general.

4. Trust my instincts. When a novel is worth editing, then it is worth rewriting as well. It shouldn’t take 3 years to figure that out.

Now I’m sure there are people out there who can write something on the first go, and only have to edit it later on, but I am not (yet) one of those people. And even though I’ve written other novels since, this is still the one I think is most likely to be published (based on nothing but instinct and years of reading). So I am diving in, scared but determined, convinced that I have something worth saying. I just hope I will manage to convey it on the page.

Wish me luck!

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When Inspiration Strikes

The other day I was lying in bed, about to fall asleep, when the perfect start to my novel just popped into my head. Now it has taken me ages to come up with something, so of course I got up and wrote it down, destroying any chances of a good night’s sleep in the process. But that’s a story for another blog.

In this post, I want to talk about these moments, in bed or in the shower or out on a walk (and always away from writing equipment), when things just pop into your head. Some call it a strike of inspiration, or their muse communicating with them, but really it is your brain working efficiently.

Eureka! Not just something to shout when an idea hits you out of nowhere, but also an amazing TV show.

Since we can’t capture inspiration in a controlled experimental environment, there are a lot of things we still don’t know about what happens in the brain when we get inspired. So if anybody tells you they can ‘switch on’ creativity through brain stimulation, they’re trying to sell you something. What we do know through simplified experiments is that a lot of different brain areas need to be synced-up for inspiration to be able to strike. And I’m not talking about just the right hemisphere either, which is a common myth, I’m talking about areas all over the brain.

Scientists have hypothesised that the reason moments of inspiration occur when you’re away from your computer is due to the Default Mode Network. This network of brain areas becomes active while we’re at rest, so specifically while we’re not thinking about anything in particular. Like when we’re about to fall asleep. And since the network extends all over the brain, it is ideally suited for combining different types of processes and creating new connections. The result; inspiration instead of rest.

The most important thing to note is that inspiration does not occur in a vacuum. Inspiration relies on a lot of experience, expertise and active unconscious/semi-conscious processing. While the idea of a muse is appealing and can be helpful for visualisation, in reality inspiration is not the result of genius or divine intervention, but instead heavily dependent upon our own abilities. So the next time you’re wishing for inspiration to strike, just remember that inspiration (and your brain) needs something to work with, so keep working, thinking about writing (or whatever else you may want to do), practicing, and just going about your daily activities, because it’s the only way you might be able to open yourself up to ‘spontaneous’ inspiration.

Jack London said it best: “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”

NB: These views and thoughts are my own, creativity is not my particular area of expertise, so feel free to take everything with a pinch of salt.

Ode to a software package

For my first proper post, I thought I’d introduce my top choice in writing software, Scrivener. There are several reasons why I love Scrivener:

First of all, it makes it really easy to look at and edit a giant manuscript. After using Microsoft Word for my PhD thesis, it’s a great relief to open Scrivener and jump through all the different scenes of a book, switch them around, and play with the cork-board. Not only is it easy to separate huge chunks of text into sections, but also just as easy to combine them again. This is my number one reason for loving Scrivener.

Second, I love the fullscreen option. It allows for (in theory) distraction-free writing time, and is easy on the eyes.

Third, and most useful for NaNoWriMo (I think) is the ability to set deadlines. You can not only set the 50k (or in my case 60k) goal of NaNoWriMo for the end of November, but also set daily goals, and see the little bar at the bottom turn from red to yellow to green. Instant motivation.

Fourth, the research section. You can add pictures, scraps of dialogue, character/place descriptions and/or deleted parts of text to your research section for referral and, again, mixing and matching. It’s separate from the main story so that once you’re ready to finalise your manuscript it gets left out, but you can still see it all the time while writing.

This brings me to five; compile i.e. saving as doc/pdf/whatever. Now I have to admit I’ve had some problems in the past trying to compile large manuscripts using my Mac, but ¬†Scrivener support have been very quick to respond and help. Overall, the compile option is not only handy, its ultimate goal is to turn your work into something that can be sent to a publisher, and this is something where I need and welcome all the help I can get.

Now there are many more features in Scrivener, and I haven’t used nearly all of them myself yet, but these main five benefits is why I would recommend anyone taking part in NaNoWriMo this year to try the free trial and allow yourself to fall in love too (also 50% off if you win!). If you’re not NaNo-ing, but want to become an author like me, then it’s a great investment, and in my opinion a lot easier to use than¬†Liquid Story Binder, which is the only comparable software that I’m aware of.

So that’s my tools of the trade; a Macbook with Scrivener. And it’s worked for me for the past 5 years. Feel free to ask me anything about using Scrivener, although their website covers most everything.

Not with a bang, but a whisper

Hello people of the Internet,

I am going to be blogging to you about interesting things to do with the brain, and what is involved in writing, and hopefully a combination of both.

This November, I will be once again attempting to win the National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org), so this blog will focus on the moment on my preparations for that, as well as the painful edit/rewrite of my 2009 NaNo-attempt. I’m a pantser by nature, so I hope I’ll be able to think of something in time, but stay tuned to find out.

That’s it for now. Let’s see if I can keep this thing alive.

As you were.