Tag Archives: editing

Getting serious about writing (wk3): Don’t scald yourself (plus book update)

We use a stovetop kettle. This is pretty rare here in the UK where most people use an electric one, but we have our reasons. Our kettle is the first stovetop kettle we’ve had and it took some getting used to.

(Kettles? What does this have to do with self-publishing/ my new book? Trust me I am going somewhere with this… However, if you just want an update on the new book, scroll down to ‘Book Update?’)

Back to kettles.

The main difference is that electric kettles rarely hold much heat once you empty them. Stove-top kettles don’t cool anywhere near as quickly. I didn’t realise this at first.

The thick cast-iron body of our kettle really holds heat. This is tricky for someone who drinks as much tea and coffee as I do. You see, I often finish a cup so quickly that I don’t make it back to my desk. When this happens I march back to the stove and refill that kettle for the next cup.

That’s where my problem started.

In my ignorance I was not aware that a hot stove-top kettle can turn tap water into instant steam; steam that rises up to meet the soft fleshy hand holding the handle directly above the opening. This isn’t enjoyable for said soft fleshy hand (or its owner). For weeks my kettle punished me for my quick return, for my overindulgence in hot beverages.

Then I found the knack; when you trickle the water in it hits the hot iron and evaporates quickly but if you blast that cold water onto the hot iron in a torrent the level rises too quickly to get heated through and magically not a plume of steam comes to eat at your fingers.

Yes John, your kettle (and you) sound pretty daft. What does this have to do with writing?

Why am I talking about steam and kettles in a post about writing and self-publishing? Well, it’s all to do with how you handle critical responses.

Prior to writing books my experience of critique primarily lay in school and higher academic settings. My work was the plastic kettle; simple, light, with no significant emotional weight. Even though my essays/ dissertations etc. were the result of hard work, in the grand scheme of things the work was only mildly important to me. You might say that it that cooled in my esteem quickly.

Criticism of an essay or a dissertation needs to be taken seriously, advice followed methodically with mental notes on how to avoid such mistakes next time. My approach to such criticism had always been to look through notes slowly, fixing mistakes with careful attention.

When I first received criticism about my books it offered an alarming contrast; not only was I still invested in what I had written, but it also had the emotional weight of being a part of me. It held its heat.

So, when I took that criticism and poured it gently over my work it burned unimaginably deeply. It stung and it made it hard to get down to the job of fixing mistakes. There were times during this ‘scalding’ process when I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for writing. Every red mark, every queried plot point, it scalded me. I wanted it to stop.

It didn’t take long for me to change my approach, to avoid being burned. However, that didn’t mean hiding from criticism. Instead, I came to realise that when it comes to more personal work, taking criticism has to be done in a big fast blast. Get in and get the job done. Puzzling over every comment will just hurt.

If you trust your beta-reader or your editor then look at their comment, fix the problem, and move on to the next point. Don’t linger long enough for it to even sting, just keep going, and eventually, you’ll find that the job is done; your book is better. What’s possibly more important is that you’re out the other end in a good state of mind. Unscalded, unscathed.

As I said in my HUGE how-to post on self-publishing last week, editing is vital. Those people involved in the improvement of your manuscript are indispensable. If you find someone who can make you a better writer hold on to them and most importantly take what they say seriously.

However, what I also should have talked about was the emotional toll that criticism can take. It can’t be denied, it can’t be avoided, but as I noted above it can be reduced. You can get used to constructive criticism and not let it drain you. It is possible to improve your book and still hold on to that desire to be a writer right up to the last page. Just do it quick, taking it slow on your manuscript will hurt.

Book update?

 

Last week’s step-by-step guide to self-publishing didn’t exactly leave me with much room to talk about the new book. I think I left a passing mention about reaching out to make contact with the people who make a project like this happen. However, that was pretty much all the progress update I had.

This week lets try and go into the reality of where I’m at. My beta reader is working through my draft chapter by chapter. This is great because I can launch into improvements in steps. Last night I started work on chapter 4 and I can already see the effect of an objective pair of eyes.

This book is the third in a trilogy arc but it’s also the launching point for a continuing series. This brings odd challenges with it, things I didn’t have to worry about it books one and two.

Completing the tale

Every book I write has to have an ending, a moment of emotional catharsis. To be honest, as a reader I have been known to drop a book series on book one if there isn’t something conclusive in that story. Book one doesn’t mean you can leave all the conclusions till book two or even three, the reader needs to feel as though they’ve read some form of ending.

That said, a series is made with the idea that some parts of the story will continue. You expect loose ends. I left loose ends in the first two books of my own series. Now I have to tie (some of) them up. This was not as easy as I had expected it to be. However, I think I got it. Time will tell if I’m actually right about this, as more chapters come back to me from my beta reader.

Setting a foundation

If I had just written a trilogy this would have been the end of my problems. However, ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ is more than this; it’s also the launching site of three other books (books that I’ve already written). This gives me the odd task of creating a sense of finality and conclusion whilst leaving that all-important dot…dot…dot… at the end.

One of the key things I had to look at in order for this to work is character development. For the most part, we as readers will get the bulk of our sense of catharsis from the characters emotional/personal arc.

The main characters have to be different, affected. After all the events of the book, I need to show that they’ve changed. Where possible I’ve tried to make this a good change, but where this hasn’t been possible I’ve at least tried to show that the differences in their personalities will have positive results.

However, to lead into the next books I also have to show that my characters aren’t quite the best versions of themselves just yet. To be honest, things got a lot easier when I realised how subtle this hint could be; a passive character might become more headstrong but that doesn’t mean they’re taking a completely active role (as opposed to a reactive role) in how they deal with the world.

Just like normal people in the real world, book characters can develop and change for the better or the worse, in big or small ways. I’ve had to embrace this sense of constant change in order to be able to finish book three comfortably, while still leaving room for the next instalments.

A Change of Plans

Another important update from this week is that I’m going to have to push back my publication date a little. I’m sorry to have to do this but I want the book to be its best. I’ve been talking to various people involved in the book. Their schedules in this slightly-locked-down, slightly-not-locked-down limbo we’re in are slowly filling back up (so is mine if I’m honest) so I’m having to work with what we can all manage.

As a result, my release date is still November but now it’ll be later on (possibly the last week or so). On a positive note, this might let me combine the release of ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ with the release of another wee side project.

It’s early days on whether this will work but if it does there might be a bonus release of something in early December (just in time for Christmas). I’ll keep the updates coming.

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As always, thanks for reading,

Hope writers and readers found something useful in this week’s post, please add any questions or comments in the comments section below,

All the best, John

 

A second chance at a first impression (showing off the town) 

taylor park macrosty park bandstand crieff jack reusen john brayA few months ago I decided to rework ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’ with the intention of submitting it to a publisher. It’s safe to say the idea of a publisher looking at it is a little disconcerting.

I hadn’t done a full read through of ‘the Fey Flame’ for a long time. I’ve written four more books containing these characters since then and I was surprised to see how many ‘out of character’ things they do/say in the first book (at least from my perspective).

In the course of the other books the characters obviously grew and changed (how dull would a book be if the main characters learned nothing from their experiences?). However, reading the Fey Flame again has made me realise that I don’t know much about who they were before I first met them (if that makes sense). It’s been interesting getting to know this earlier version of these now very familiar characters.

I’m also discovering how hard it is to rework the Fey Flame without at least hinting about what will happen to them. I’m in a constant battle against spoilers.

Once this rewrite is complete I’ll have a shorter, snappier version of the book. (Don’t worry I’m not cutting that much, I just wanted to keep chapter length consistent etc.). I’ve also added a few wee touches here and there in places where I thought it would be nice to know more about some of the characters (Granny Reusen gets a wee mini story about her childhood).

One big change (but one that didn’t take much work to alter) is the fact that I’ve decided to be a lot clearer about the fact that everything takes place in and around Crieff. From the b….. with the W……… at the bandstand, to Jack’s first experience of Fey on Lady Mary’s walk.

All the books are inspired by the (admittedly slightly less extravagant) adventures I’ve had with my family in the town and countryside where we live. It felt only fitting that the books reflect that a little more strongly. If Harry Potter can visit Kings Cross station then it’s only fair that my characters can pop down to walk the Illohound in MacRosty Park.

It’s hugely intimidating realising that the Fey Flame will soon be in the hands of a publisher to await judgement. I’ll be sure to post once it’s been sent through and you can join me in my worries over the following months before I hear back. Wish me luck.

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

NaNoEdit? Over a year of Jack Reusen books

birthday-candlesNo it’s not Jack Reusen’s birthday but it is just over a year since Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame went out into the world, and today marks another landmark too; it’s my birthday.

When I turned thirty I decided that before I hit forty I would write ten books and one album. If you count my philosophy book (don’t worry you don’t have to read it, but I’m thinking it counts) then to date I’m six books in, so not going too badly.

I’ve got a new job so I’ve had to give April’s ‘Camp NaNoWriMo’ (National Novel Writing Month) a miss. On top of that I still have two of those six books to edit properly, with that in mind the actual writing bit has taken a back seat.

To be honest it would be great if the folks at NaNoWriMo made an editing month as well. I’d be surprised if anyone can finish writing a book in just one month and still be able to walk away with something in final form.

Each of the books I’ve already released have had at least three edits, it’s a gruelling part of the process and it definitely would have been beneficial to be able to talk to others going through the same thing.

Maybe this post could count as a plea to the nice folks at NaNoWriMo, or simply to other writers out there who are at the same stage. It can be a bit of a lonely and thankless task at times, and it’s definitely nowhere near as satisfying as the huge rush of creativity that you find in the actual writing bit. It would be great to share this part of the process with others in the same way that people do with NaNoWriMo.

Today I won’t be thinking about editing too much, it’s my birthday so I’ll be spending some time with the family. However, I’m aware of how much I still have to do so if any other writers out there fancy going through the editing process together in May (after this round of ‘Camp NaNoWriMo’) then let me know.

Perhaps we could set up a twitter hashtag or something to tie our experiences together, maybe #nanoedit (it looks like it’s had a bit of use already). If you aren’t a twitter user feel free to post updates on the Jack Reusen Facebook page or in the comments for this post.

In the mean time feel free to pop over and see some of the things I’ve learned since I started writing here, one issue that was particularly difficult for me was simplifying plot, you can get an idea about the ways I’ve found to get around this by clicking this link.

Apologies for the silence on the blog post front over the past wee while, I’ll try and be better.

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John