Tag Archives: editing

Freelance, part time, no time

Regular visitors might not have noticed the lack of action on these pages lately and I apologise for that. This week is unlikely to be different.

Much as I’d like to say I’ve paused by the side of Thunder Road to camp and enjoy the view, the truth is I’ve been in my writer’s cave juggling deadlines.

Last week’s task list included an Internet trade show, a training course, a real estate brochure, a mortgage broker’s newsletter and a health bulletin. Throw in a mate’s book launch and some lobbying work on behalf of my kids’ school and the week was crammed.

This week looks… even more intense. I’ve just received final mark-ups on the manuscript for Five Parts Dead, due Friday. There’s still quite a bit of work to do and the book will benefit from the extra spit and polish. I’m learning a helluva lot about writing from this process. Wax on. Wax off. (Think I just exposed myself as a child of the ’80s.)

I’m also co-writing an online stress management course (need to practise what I preach) and documenting my role as a website editor for my new employers at my main freelance job.

Best of all this week, I’m spending three days leading writing workshops with students at Manor Lakes Specialist College. I’m looking forward to checking out this shiny new school and wallowing in creative chaos with the students.

Busy, yes. Under pressure, sure. But that’s the life of a freelance, part time writer. It’s rare that you can plan your workload and common for deadlines to overlap. It’s also why blogging and Twittering have had to take a back seat.

Interestingly, there’s been recent coverage of the value in writers stepping away from online distractions. Check out this LA Times blog and author article on going cold turkey on Twitter.

I’ll resume trudging down Thunder Road as soon as humanly possible.

In the meantime, here’s further proof of my ’80s leanings.

It ain’t all fun

If anyone ever tells you that writing a novel is easy then:

a) they have a very good ghost writer; or
b) they have a rubbish publisher and therefore poor editors; or
c) they’re a prodigy; or
d) they’re a liar.

A), B) and D) are far more likely than C). The truth is, it isn’t easy.

It is a solitary occupation, which rules many folks out. Personally, I kind of like the quiet.

It requires determination and discipline. Distractions are plentiful, as Catherine Deveny recently noted. If you work from home and tend towards a neat freak personality, you’re really going to have a battle on your hands. “Do I sweep down the cobwebs above the TV cabinet or try and write that intro I’ve been procrastinating on for a month… OK, so the cobwebs are down now but the dishwasher still needs emptying…” By the time you crank up the laptop and re-read what you last wrote, it’s time to cook dinner or collect the kids or both.

Being a novelist requires a resilient ego. You need to be bold enough to risk putting your work into the public domain, yet malleable enough to deal with rigorous editing, meagre sales figures and critical flagellation. While you’ll have times when you revel in a sentence that sings, I guarantee there’ll be periods when you despair whether you can write at all. And that’s without picking up book written by someone else and collapsing into an inferiority funk. Comparing your work/career with another author’s – and caring how you measure up – is a recipe for insanity.

You’ll need an eye for detail. If you write using the same phrases, descriptions, adjectives and verbs over and over, you’ll get panned. If you overuse adverbs, the same applies (although commercial success is still possible). There are websites that delight in dissecting books to reveal such failings. Poor research is another minefield.

A good editor will assist with these issues but you can help yourself. Read your work aloud. Listen for words that pop up too often, unrealistic dialogue and sentences that tie your tongue in knots.

Read and re-read. Write and re-write.

Chances are, you’re unlikely to ever feel your work is finished and perfect.

Indeed, you can’t be smitten with your own work. In all probability the passage you are fondest of will be first to fall under the editor’s scalpel. If you’re trying to be funny, you may be in for a shock. What’s funny to one set of eyes isn’t necessarily to another.

I’ve worked as a newspaper journalist so I’m somewhat hardened to being edited. I work as a website editor so I’m accustomed to rewriting contributors’ copy. But when it’s your own work you’re editing it’s much harder.

I’m working on what I consider the 8th version of my current novel and there will be further redrafting required. It took me four days to read it aloud and note changes required, and several more days to take in my own edits. I still managed to miss bits or mess them up and introduce new errors. Writing really can be Sisyphean in the demands it makes of you.

So why do we do it? Because it can be intoxicating and seductive. And if you get the stone to the top of the mountain, there’s a chance that someone will read it and like what you do.

Here’s YA phenomenon Maureen Johnson, courtesy of the vlogbrothers, sharing some other home truths on writing as a profession:

Turning the page on Book Week

Book Week has been and gone and authors everywhere are … self-medicating. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic fun and a real privilege to be spruiking the pleasures of reading and writing but hey, I’m not teacher-trained and soon learned I lack stamina. After four consecutive days of workshops, I was totally Jatz Crackered. I’ve got to say I have the utmost respect for educators who are committed, clever and energetic at what they do, day-in, day-out.

I also feel for those struggling with the enormity of their daily duties. Flicking back through the diary I’m reminded of one educator who looked to have lost control of their class. It reminded me of a scene I witnessed in India, a pack of vultures tearing apart an injured lamb. The daily stress for that teacher must be nigh-on unbearable.

The Melbourne Writers’ Festival has also wound up for 2009. I didn’t get to any sessions this year because I was workshopping in schools. I did score an invite to the launch party hosted by Text Publishing – because I’m teaming up with Text for my next novel! It was a top night, a good chance to meet the Text team and to introduce myself to some great wordsmiths. Hopefully I kept the faux pas to a minimum. Hopefully.

I was also chuffed to attend the YA Muster – a delicious dumpling dinner with some of Australia’s gun authors for young adults. It was reassuring to hear that we’re all on the same page, if you’ll pardon the pun, when it comes to issues such as book signing tables, school visits and juggling author time with other duties.

Other recent highlights included selecting prizewinners for writing workshop activities at Overnewton Anglican Community College (and seeing their eyes light up) and a reader-to-writer-to-journo-to-author talk to Year 10 at Aitken College, where they actually laughed at some of my gags.

This week I helped relaunch a library at Kilvington Girls’ Grammar, which was a first for me. On Friday, I’ll be be workshopping out west with young storytellers.

I’m also filling in again as Younger Readers’ book reviewer for the Sunday Age. And, in another first, some of the books on my desk are by authors I have met. Will that influence my reviews? I don’t think so. As I have written previously, 150 words doesn’t leave much room for bias.

On top of all this I have 10 days left to get in sufficiently good nick to survive a 120 km bike ride through the Kinglake hills, four weeks to help my wife set up her new business and four months to edit/redraft what will become my second novel. Not that I’m counting… or freaking out. Much.

For the record, I’m also jumping on the Bulldogs bandwagon for the footy finals. Personally, I reckon my team, the Kangas, should merge with the Dogs as they have similar histories, colours and cultures and traditionally struggle for cash. I say solve the money and membership issues and create a western suburbs superteam. Unlikely, I know. So, this September, go Scraggers!

New ways to read, new ways to write

I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about usability expert Mark Hurst and his Good Experience website. Today’s post is inspired by Mark’s January 13 piece about reading using a Kindle e-book reader.

While reading a lengthy thriller, Mark stumbled across the phrase “his heart in his mouth” (or “her heart…”) often enough to bug him. Using the Kindle’s search tool, he discovered the phrase occurred 17 times.

My interest in Mark’s “user experience” is as an author. Here’s the sting for me. As an author, I need to be hyper-vigilant when writing. I need to deliver positive usability – a book that doesn’t unintentionally bug readers.

With people finding new ways to read and analyse text, I need to find new ways to keep them engaged and entertained. I need to use word combinations that are fresh and fun.

And I need to proof read and re-write my manuscripts until I have terminated any passages that are dull or don’t work.

Mind you, that’s a whole lot easier with a 40,000 word manuscript than one ten times longer.