Rising from rejection: the search for recognition

The Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger shortlist has been announced – http://www.thecwa.co.uk/daggers/2012/index.html – and I didn’t make it into the chosen few.
Am I surprised and dejected at what at first felt like rejection when I was desperate for recognition?  Part of me is – the part that thought Spiral of Hooves had been honed into a version worth entering into the Debut Dagger competition back in January. But now I’m seeing flaws everywhere: from the sport background creeping into the foreground which creates a mid-novel slump, to the 2012 setting when events in my story have been rained off in reality. Plus there could be other things IF I do yet another rewrite.

Moral: Keep the main plot focused and the sub-plots in the background.

Getting the basic preparation right

Do I want to do another revision after 12 years of working on the same story?  My mind has moved on to other plots that are already drafted, like Wyrm Bait which I have just re-read and done the ‘Overview’ edit of.  Will tinkering with Spiral of Hooves rescue what is the result of listening to too much advice and making changes that play to critics’ whims?  The original story is in there somewhere, but I’m no longer sure where.

Moral: Learn to recognise constructive criticism and ignore everything else.

Telling it like it is

Do I count the first novel as experience and just move on?  I could just resign myself to doing one final edit, an attempt to remove the worst offences and then self-publish in a minor way.  I have a low-key strategy that would be more about developing my platform than about selling books worldwide.  However for those who need to know what my first novel is like, it will at least exist in more than a bottom drawer.

Moral: The bottom drawer is for work in progress.

European Championships at Blenheim

What do you think as one of my readers and as a fellow writer? Am I giving up too easily or is the idea dying along with my enthusiasm?   Constructive criticism and advice invite here.

Of course I could burn the offending manuscript like Robert Louis Stevenson and from the ashes a phoenix would rise….  However I’m ready to move on and work on one of the newer fresher stories already alive and trying to fly.

From the ashes

And yes, I want recognition for what I’ve done but my wife already gives me that – then there was yesterday. We went to the Horse Trials that I revived in 2005 at Borde Hill with the help of a knowledgeable friend. Due to my MS I handed the reins to a new team of organiser at the end of 2009 but was made the President. Sitting with my First Lady having lunch we were joined by various officials including the British Eventing CEO.  In things said there was recognition for what I had achieved as an event organiser; also reflected in a silver salver that I received in 2008 from BE for everything I had done over 14 years in the sport.

So I’ve got recognition and the writing will follow suit.

Borde Hill and sculpture

Time, Editing, plus Writing a Novel

As I slowly write my way to sixty – well 59 come August – I am increasingly aware of that precious commodity called Time and the need to juggle the commitments that life has thrown up.  Writing is of course my chosen profession for retirement and therefore the one I should choose to focus on.

For the last two weeks I have been carrying out what I have called The Overview edit on my second draft novel Wyrm Bait and yesterday I completed it.  Time was an important part of the edit in at least two respects:

(i)           Chronology – I needed to ensure that the sequence of events worked even if in some instances flashbacks were needed;

(ii)         Length of time – ensuring that the storyline covered the right amount of time in terms of weeks and months.  (My first novel Spiral of Hooves suffered for a while by getting that wrong.)

I am reasonably satisfied that the overall storyline works and that there aren’t any glaring gaps or wasted scenes/chapters. The best analogy is that the dominoes look like they are laid out in the right order to fall in sequence but I still need to check that I have chosen the right domino in every instance. Maybe there is room to fit in some more dominoes – a subplot maybe – especially as I have at least one chapter which feels too short and in need of another scene, but as yet nothing is crying out to be added.  I could however see plenty of places where I could expand on things like description and insert more actions to underline the words, in the next edit stages.

Continuity:  from an overall perspective I ensured that glaring errors including character inconsistency and muddled motivation were corrected and that plot revelations were timed right. Even found one character with a name totally wrong – taken from a pre-novel idea.

Pacing: this feels right but I know that when I start to work on Chapter level editing that pacing will really be tested.

I made some grassroots changes as I read the draft through and saw the mistakes, but I also made notes on things I needed to do at the next draft stage.  I even got some inspiration for the sequel Wyrm Blood and was compelled to scribble out the opening lines and the structure of the first scene.  The basic idea was already lurking in the wings as the protagonist, a wannabe writer, is asked what his next short story is about: ‘Umm..human sacrifice.’.

At this stage I find myself reflecting on how writing has changed over Time because of the computer.  Pre-writing and for thousands of years, storytelling has been a mix of stories learnt from the bards almost word for word but perhaps Chinese whispers change even storytelling.  Was The Iliad as the transcribed Greek stands, told exactly in those words originally?

Famous writers from Chaucer to Hemingway all had to re-write their work at each draft, word for word.  Each draft was truly a new version while with computers it is tempting to just change the errors in the previous draft.  And there lurks the danger that every subsequent draft can carry hidden errors, compounding the mistakes.

I admire Robert Louis Stevenson for his rewrite after supposedly burning the first draft of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He re-wrote the novella in three to six days.  Whether the story is true or merely apocryphal, it suggests that the effort in the reworking was worthwhile.

So should I be re-writing my novels word by word, searching as I write for a better way to craft each phrase, each paragraph, each scene so that the next draft is not an amended version of the previous?  Can plotting the story in detail, knowing my characters intimately, reviewing each day’s writing, focusing down a level at each draft, have the same effect? At least I can try to re-write some of the scenes in Wyrm Bait where I feel there is more to add.

Time well spent of course but then there are other things to do and the juggling is not easy.  For a start there is the MS which some days slows me down so much I can’t even crawl out of bed and if I do the headaches, stiff hands and exhaustion can drive me crazy.  Fortunately I have learnt to live with the MS and my wife Juanita is my daily blessing.   I admit that at the end of the day we escape together into another world as we are both passionate gamers – playing Lord of the Rings Online at the moment.  It is escapism but also inspiration especially for Wyrm Bait which is set against a Massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) – also the setting for a future series.

Then there is social media: I’m finding that the time commitment is increasing as I read more blogs, post more Tweets, check out my two Facebook pages – one more equestrian and one more Writing.  Plus there are all the emails to check and react to.  I sense that soon it will become too much if I don’t limit myself as I’ve also had to do with the gaming.  Today I found these blogs: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2012/05/02/book-marketing-giving-up-social-media/ and http://writerunboxed.com/2012/04/27/should-you-focus-on-your-writing-or-your-platform/ which say things more succinctly than I can.

So this Blog will be weekly but never daily, the Tweeting will be whenever I see something important and I will prioritise my Facebook writing page over the other.  Then perhaps I can write more.

The next stage for Wyrm Bait is research on the workings of the gaming world using a book called The Complete Guide to Game Development, Art & Design to add missing colour & texture to some crucial characters and scenes.  Beyond that I have to work on another novel for a competition – but that’s another post from The Silver Scribbler.

Editing that Novel

Originally posted on http://www.rolandclarke.co.uk on 17 May 2012

As I embark on editing my second novel, Wyrm Bait, it seemed a good moment to reflect back on the lessons I learnt editing the first one.

Editing was one of the reasons why Spiral of Hooves took 12 years of writing before I had a final draft that I had confidence in.  Sounds like I kept on re-writing and in a way I did, but in totally the wrong way – I call it back-editing or back-pedalling.  I would write a few of the early chapters and then show them to other writers, mainly reading short sections aloud to the novel group I belonged to.  They were anxious to help and I failed to discriminate between constructive criticism and comments to discard.  So I kept going back and re-writing the same chapters, even re-reading the same scenes to the poor group.

Eventually I saw the error of my ways and began to be more selective in what I listened to, although by then my characters and plotline had gone through major changes.  When I finally had a complete draft that I could begin to revise, a lot of the novel in terms of structure, chronology and scene order as well as character consistency was all over the place.  Revising that was a massive scissors & paste rewrite but at least I then had a draft that began to flow – so I could then go through and hone the actual words.

While going through all these drafts I read somewhere – apologies if I don’t know where – that one should start with the overall picture and work down to the level of the individual words with each rewrite.  Hopefully after the chaos that was Spiral of Hooves I might have an easier time editing Wyrm Bait and enjoy what is meant to be as much fun as the writing.

I envisage 3 phases to Editing:

1.   The Overview:  ensuring that the overall structure of the plotline works and even surpasses the original intent of the plotting done before I even started writing.  When my partner/No 1 critic-reader read the finished novel aloud, I made notes on what didn’t work BEFORE putting the novel in the bottom drawer; so those notes are my starting point.
It helped having the background & detailed characterisation worked out even before I devised a detailed scene by scene plot using cards plus my novel writing software. I also wrote the second novel (and subsequent ones) without back-peddling EXCEPT each day I re-read and made minor changes to the previous day’s writing before I wrote the next chunk.  Also I kept ensuring that events that needed foreshadowing were inserted or changed as necessary plus any potential inconsistancies were avoided.
Therefore this edit should in part have been done in (a) the read-through notes & amendments; (b) the daily review and other corrections while writing the first draft.  But it doesn’t mean everything works at this stage so I will still have to do an overview.

2.   Chapters – Openings & Cliffhangers:   It remains to be seen whether I was beginning to write more self-contained and concise chapters in Wyrm Bait, with the cliffhangers to keep readers moving on. I will need to ensure that the tension is kept up but not at a break-neck speed as there need to be lulls both overall and within the individual chapters.  One crucial thing is that the plot keeps moving forward and the characters either grow or at least learn.  I also know that although I did research when I plotted the storyline and when I was writing, that there are areas that will need researching in more detail, given how the plot evolved.   This could all mean one draft or probably more like two or three as I know the chapters in Wyrm Bait vary in how they are written, with some sketched roughly and others overwritten with flights of purple prose.

3.   Every word counts:  So finally at the grassroots level there are the individual words and the phrases they either enhance or kill, deciding if the sentences flow and the paragraphs work.  After Spiral of Hooves, I know that there can be a lot of dead wood hiding at this level as unwanted adjectives and adverbs, inappropriate verbs or obvious embellishments.  I might have cut out large chunks by removing whole scenes and even chapters but fine tuning the words and removing the dross added light and shade to the flow of that story.

On one level it’s daunting reflecting on what has to be done but I know that it is also exciting as I will be discovering Wyrm Bait again and I have the chance to find the jewel at its heart.  Isn’t that what we are doing as writers – crafting a precious object from words?

Although I’ve used various online sites and real-paper books as I tried to learn this craft of writing, one comes to hand as useful at many stages: Writing The Thriller by T. Macdonald Skillman – Published by Writer’s Digest Books ISBN 0-89879-928-7.  With contributions from other thriller writers it has some invaluable chapters including one on editing called ‘Words on a Page’ which is one of my ongoing references.

Finding My Writing Wings

Originally posted on http://www.rolandclarke.co.uk on 14 May 2012

There was a time some years ago when MS had so clipped my writing wings that it was hard to write and I had to turn down commissions to write articles or even take photographs.  Even the novel that I had dreamt of writing was a mess and going nowhere – except perhaps to a shredder, one day.  Spiral of Hooves as that unfinished opus was called, had taken almost a decade of scribbling and gone through so many plot versions that even the characters were confused – although we all perhaps realised it was meant to be a mystery set against the equestrian world of eventing. However at that point I realised that I was listening to far too much good advise but not to my inner muse whose voice had gone quiet as far as I was concerned.

Any crutch that I had left to help me continue writing had failed so I had literally started to shut down and accept my life in a wheelchair doing very little of worth.

Then in 2009 I met Juanita and we got married. She showed me how to fly again, telling me to trust my own instincts and stop believing in ‘I can’t’.  She gave up her life in the USA to be with me and she was the one who took me out of that wheelchair, inspiring me to write again.

Since we have been together I have completed what I hope will be the final acceptable draft of Spiral of Hooves  – which probably took 12 years. In one month last summer I wrote the first draft of Wyrm Bait – a cyber mystery set against the online gaming world – which is potentially the first of a series. Then in November I took on the NaNoWriMo challenge – www.nanowrimo.org/en – and wrote the first draft of The Last Leaf – a fantasy mystery.   This spring, taking a bit more time, I completed the first draft of Fates Maelstrom – a psychological mystery.

So what about the quality of three drafts written at red hot speed during 9 months compared with 12 for my first attempt? Well judging by the comments of my number 1 critic when she read all four through aloud, Juanita could see that I was improving as I wrote more, which is what I felt as I was writing each new draft.  The words came more easily and they flowed in interesting directions that on hearing them spoken seemed to work. Plus after each day’s writing I would work through what I’d done the day before and the daily editing process became more constructive. That’s not to say these drafts are perfect and that is the next step, honing. So of course I am looking forward now to the fun but hard part of revising these drafts – but that’s perhaps another blog.

At least now I know that at last my imagination is soaring as my writing wings have been unclipped again thanks to Juanita’s support – and perhaps my accepting that ‘I can’.  As I have said I sense that the writing in these draft novels feels as though it is improving as I slowly learn the craft.  I am only a fledgling novelist but I am learning the basics of writing flight and the crutches have become wings.

Never give up, believe in yourself and you will begin to have writing wings.  I invite you to join this fledling on a winged adventure with The Silver Scribbler.


Welcome to Writing Wings

Welcome to Writings Wings, my Blogging home online and a place to keep friends and followers informed about my journeys in the World of Writing & Scribbling as I try to evolve from a fledgling fiction writer into someone that can offer words of import or entertainment or even amusement.

On this Blog I will post my more instant musings as I perfect my writing and learn the art of editing the words into something that you would like to read.  For details on my writing you can also visit my website at www.rolandclarke.co.uk where Work In Progress gives a few clues to the novels and other creations that are finding their own wings through my scribblings.  If you want to know who I am, click here on About fora few clues.

In time I will add some Favourite Links including a portal to my life beyond writing at The Duskweald – www.duskweald.co.uk – as well as other valued links.  Finally if you want to get in touch either click on the Facebook, Twitter links above OR by following the blog by email below.

See you on the journey fellow traveller ~ The Silver Scribbler aka Roland Clarke.