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Why You Should Stop Playing Defense

Writers do it all the time. No, I should rephrase. Creators do it all the time. It’s almost natural – something we were born to do. And after many bouts of defense, we consider it normal. To be clear, I’m not saying it’s wrong. I do it too. I’m saying we should change our game plan – we should stop playing defense and start playing offense. Because only then, we can win the game.

Recently, I’ve been playing Clash Royale (#NotASponsor). It’s a live mobile game played amongst strangers. The tutorial of the game teaches players how to attack and defend their towers. However, playing defense will not result in a win. In order for the game to end – for a victor to be crowned – one must destroy the opposition’s three towers. The only way to win a game… is to attack.

In games as such, it’s almost considered dumb to merely play defense. How long can you keep the enemy at bay? Why are you wasting troops and strategy on defense? My dad once told me that in a game of chess, you have to think about attacking not just defending. When you start moving in on your enemy, your enemy will stop making offensive moves in self-preservation. Now, you’re in control. And when you’re dominating the game, it becomes easier to win. So then, why can’t we stop playing defense?

When someone criticises our work, leaves a not so favourable comment, or voices their dislike, why do we play defense? Why do we explain ourselves? Why do we make excuses repeatedly, without considering a possible problem?

Again, I’m not saying it’s wrong to be defensive of your work. I’m defensive of mine too – I always feel the need to explain myself, my actions, and my plans. But being defensive and never taking a constructive feedback into consideration is a silly move. If we’re constantly sweeping the problem under the carpet, we’re not cleaning the mess. We’re merely hiding it until someone else uncovers it. It doesn’t make anything better. And as creators, don’t we want our works to be better?

It’s time to stop playing defense and start playing offense. Always take a step back and evaluate every comment – good and bad. If there’s an obvious problem with your work, stop making excuses and fix it. If more than one person finds something odd, stop justifying and look into it. Defend your work, but learn to attack issues that are holding it back from becoming better.

Just like us, our work isn’t perfect – there’s always room for improvement. Sheltering ourselves from the truth changes nothing. Protecting our pride will not help us grow. If we want to improve in our craft, we have to start attacking. We have to accept we’re flawed. It is only when we stop hiding our flaws – embracing our weaknesses – that we become strong.

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Posted by on November 2, 2017 in Writing Journey

 

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The Emotional Evolution of Editing

Editing mimics the making of a blade. It is a test of endurance forged in fire. It reflects a heated steel cooling in flames. And it produces a refined weapon ready to face resistance. But unlike the art of blacksmithing, we’re not made of steel. So it’s impossible, I dare say, for the makings of a book to be without emotion. For more often than not, a book is an extension of its author. And an author is made of flesh and bone.

I believe that all authors go through a similar emotional evolution when it comes to professional editing. Though not everyone has the same response, most of us experience a facet of a particular emotion. So if you’ve undergone any of these stages, know you’re not alone. And if you’ve yet to experience them, know they’re not something you should be ashamed about. After all, we’re only human.

Stage 1: Taking Offense

“Dear editor,

Did you even read my book? How dare you call him irrational? And what do you mean ‘it sounds weird’? No, you’re wrong. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Similar thoughts have ran through my head upon reading my editor’s comments. I won’t deny it. I take offense almost immediately. Come on, after all my hard work, how can I humbly accept an outsider brutally criticising my art? Yes, yes, I know it’s for my own good. But don’t expect me to read those blunt statements unfazed. I am angry! Calm down? You must be kidding me. Fortunately, despite the desire to explode in pride – with a letter of detest toward my editor – I know to take my words elsewhere. I go to someone I trust – someone who understands me – and vent.

I have an author BFF (or better put, best author friend forever). Her name is Erin. She wrote the super awesome, would-be-so-cool-as-a-movie novel, The Pirates of Montana. We come from the same author community and clicked almost instantly. And as much as she’s my confidant, I am hers. We share our frustrations, voice our concerns, and celebrate our accomplishments together. We support and encourage – pushing each other to be better authors.

Now, I believe it makes a lot of difference when you have someone like Erin. People who understand your predicament can help you rationalise before you act. In a stage where you’re offended by the truth, they can realign your focus and bring to light what matters most. Thankfully for all parties, stage one isn’t long standing. And having a friend as such will help you get through it objectively.

Stage 2: Explaining Our Flaws

“Dear editor,

I explained that issue in chapter seven. It’s a metaphor about life and death. And I was trying to be creative with my words. Maybe… I should’ve been clearer with my descriptions.”

I usually sleep on the blatant truth for a couple of days. It helps me get over my initial offense, allowing me to tackle the issues with minimal emotions. Then again, who am I kidding? The fact that I’m explaining my flaws instead of fixing them is an act of emotion. However, it is during this stage that I understand and grasp the problems in my book.

As I explain a character’s actions, I understand the character better. As I unravel my metaphors, I develop a better grasp of its notion. As I cover the holes of my story, I discover new ideas to improve it. And as I question my own use of words, I find even more creative ways to express myself.

By explaining my flaws, I acknowledge those flaws. And acknowledging my shortcomings, whether in my art or in my own being, drives me toward improvement. So if you have to explain yourself, do it! You might be right about some things, but you’ll also find that you’re not perfect. And when you acknowledge imperfection, you allow yourself to imagine again.

Stage 3: Recognising An Editor’s Gift

“Dear editor,

Thank you.”

You don’t have to – and possibly won’t – take everything an editor throws at you. If you strongly feel that an editor’s change pulls your work away from your initial direction, goal, and expression, you can make a stand. You’re the author. It’s your book. But oddly enough, while we wrestle with our editors, we’ll come to realise that being an editor isn’t easy. And that having the skill to improve someone else’s work is a gift.

I’m not an editor. I have done some editing work, but not where I work with authors. I can only imagine what it’s like for editors who face authors in the first two stages above. I’m sure they’ve encountered authors who respond immediately with hate. I believe they’ve met authors who think their books are without a single flaw. Yet I’m amazed at how editors remain patient.

Of course, not all editors are on the same playing field – some less professional than others. But I know it’s their job to help. So if you have an editor who has assisted you in bettering your work, do say ‘thank you’ – a simple show of gratitude goes a long way.

Without a doubt, editing is an emotional roller-coaster. And it is through this emotional ride that an author becomes a better author, not just in skill but in personality. Editing teaches us to be humble, to acknowledge imperfections, and to embrace change. It helps us be more creative, to challenge our abilities, and to try new things. The goal of editing may be to mature a book, but it also matures us – the soul between the pages.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2017 in Writing Journey

 

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What (The Heck) Is Developmental Editing?

“What does developmental editing entail?”

Perhaps you’ve once asked this question. If not, you’re now probably wondering what it is. So to answer, allow me to share my most recent experience with you.

First and foremost, I’m certain dev editing varies from book to book. However, the approach taken by a dev editor is the same. And from the perspective of The Slave Prince, I’m sure you’ll grasps its function. Let’s get to it!

My dev editor goes by the name of Matt. Matt took two weeks to read my manuscript. After which, he sent me a developmental letter alongside comments on my manuscript. The comments were secondary to the letter, but both addressed key issues in my book. What were they?

#1 Descriptions

Matt told me my novel was sorely lacking in descriptions. And here I thought, I did a pretty decent job! I was wrong. Before my latest rewrite, I failed to picture the named ships. I fell short on the kingdom and palace layouts. I also didn’t establish racial differences, facial features, and physical changes over a 3-year time jump, for my characters. With dev editing, this issue was brought to light. And out of the 6000 words of new material, a chunk went to descriptions.

#2 Characters

When it came to the characters, Matt said their needs and wants weren’t clearly established. I had to reevaluate my protagonist, antagonist, and supporting characters. I needed to make it clear in writing – establishing their former desires and the changes that occur. And through this process, I made a major shift in my protagonist’s behaviour. Clear on his goals, he’s now more human than before.

#3 Plot

Matt asserted that one of the key subplots in the book made my protagonist unlikeable. He then suggested an alternative, saving Thom from the hate he would possibly receive from readers. As I struggled with this particular subplot in my earlier edits – somehow knowing it would ruin the book – I’m grateful Matt saw a way to change it without altering it completely. What I once couldn’t resolve, has now found a resolution – what a relief!

#4 Magic

Talk about cliche, Matt stated that the appearance of magic in The Slave Prince was over done. The white tree in a snowy cave reminded him of A Song of Ice and Fire and Lord of the Rings. He advised me to change the entire scene. And, after much re-imagining, I did. The white tree, rooted in snow, no longer exists in the book – a new, more awesome scene, has taken its place. But don’t worry, this post contains #nospoilers.

#5 Language

Both in dialogue and prose, Matt pointed out that the language I used was sometimes anachronistic. To align the writing to a medieval setting, I was told to remove modern day phrases and words. Idioms such as ‘throwing in the towel’ and words like ‘awkward’ didn’t belong. And so backspaced I went… on all of them.

So, what does developmental editing entail?

I hope these five points helped you understand the fundamentals. Of course, what you’ve just read is merely surface level – what I can share without spoiling the story. There was more in Matt’s dev letter, including additional suggestions on how to add value to the book. And aside from his comments, Matt also worked with me on a rewrite outline to address the present issues. It’s safe to say, developmental editing made The Slave Prince a denser book – it helped build three-dimensional characters, and establish a richer and fuller world.

The next question you’d probably ask is if developmental editing is worth undergoing. Well, if you have a publisher, it’s usually a part of the publishing deal. If you don’t, and are on a tight budget, candid beta readers can sometimes act as dev editors. But if you have the funds, getting a professional dev editor is advisable. You might need to spend 56 hours rewriting – like I did – but you’ll end up with a better book.

Do note, that approaching any form of editing requires a realisation that editors exist to help you. You may be offended by their claims – it’s normal, your book is your baby – but know that their honesty will make it better. And hey, if you don’t like their suggestions, it’s fine! You don’t have to incorporate their ideas – dev editors cannot force you to do anything. But sleeping on their words will definitely help. After all, it’s their job to see things you cannot see and work toward fixing them.

With all that said, I’m excited for my next stage of editing. Matt is currently reading my rewrite. And if he thinks I’ve tackled the issues well, The Slave Prince will enter copy editing! Having gone through copy editing before, with The Battle for Oz, I know what to expect. One can only hope I’ve improved in skill that will result in a swift pass.

Now, to plug my book! If this post has piqued your curiosity, click HERE to learn more about The Slave Prince. Then, consider joining over 300 other readers as they become the first to receive the book before it hits the shelves! That would make you so very cool… in my starry dreamer eyes.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2017 in Writing Journey

 

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A Royal Pain

It’s been awhile since I posted something like this. I assume you have to be famous to write such a post regularly. Alas, I’m not. But no matter the frequency, to be able to write this is a blessing. Hence, here I am – on this rare occasion – to make a public update regarding The Slave Prince. And if you supported the book during the contest, or have pre-ordered it, this will be good news.

As of this month, The Slave Prince starts production. Yes, the ball is rolling! But despite the celebration, I have my work cut out for me. Unlike The Battle for Oz, The Slave Prince is receiving extensive developmental editing. This means I’ll be rewriting and editing the content a whole lot. With the first dev letter being 14 pages long, one can assume there’d be more where it came from. So… I guess it’s time I book a room in Alpenwhist. After all, it would be a while before I leave.

Since it’s just the start of production, I’ve spent the past few days responding to the general issues present in my book. At the same time, I’ve drafted a rewrite outline to be discussed with my dev editor. Also – hoping to get the book in your hands sometime in 2018 – I’m putting the writing of the sequel to my trilogy on hold. I can’t juggle two novels at the same time. But have no fear, my blog will still be here – I’ll be posting as usual.

So with all that said, it looks like everything would be smooth sailing… right? No, I joke.

Writing and producing a book isn’t easy. You probably know this. But often times, we forget. In fact, after I’d completed my countless edits of The Slave Prince, I naively thought I was done. I heaved a sigh of relief. Then, I received my first dev letter. Then, I realised I wasn’t done. And I know, I still won’t be done once I pass developmental editing. Copyediting will include another series of rewrites and edits. It would be another season of change for the book. And when I finally let go of The Slave Prince, it would be publication day. From that day on, I can only hope my hard work pays off.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all these to deter you from writing. You know me – I’m an advocate of chasing your dreams. My reason for sharing this is to cheer you on. It’s tough – I feel you, bro. But we can do it – we have the strength to trudge through every phase of writing. And, it will all be worth it. Whether our book sells by the millions or the mere hundreds, the act of bringing them into fruition is worth our blood, sweat, and tears. We just need to stay focused and don’t lose heart. With the finish line in sight, let’s give our very best in every leg of the race.

Now, if you’re a reader, I’d like to drop you a message too. I know not all books are great – I’ve read some pretty dreadful ones. But if you could give writers some slack, that would be wonderful. If you could be kind with your reviews, we would appreciate it. I know hard work doesn’t excuse horrible writing. And I know, you have every right to dislike and leave as many 1-star ratings as you deem fit. Personally, I’m fine with that. But, you can also be kind. Go easy on your words and encourage writers to be better. Choose to build dreams instead of tear them down. Because who knows, your 1-star review might just birth the next bestseller.

As I’ve said before, writing is a journey – there would be ups and downs, easy days and hard days, great sales and no sales, fans and haters. But, we don’t choose our craft because it’ll be smooth sailing from start to finish. We choose our craft out of passion. No matter where we are – no matter who we are, whether writer or reader – let’s live with passion. It gives us a purpose, and it makes life so much more interesting.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2017 in Others

 

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I’m Not Done Yet! Or am I?


Am I done with this novel? Is it good enough? When can I say I’m truly done?

As a writer, I always ask myself these questions. But the fact is, one can never say a novel is truly done. There’s no benchmark. There’s no checklist. There’s just me… and my novel. I’m the judge of when it’s complete. And yet, I cannot judge. I wonder if the extra rounds of editing would make my book worse. I oscillate between editing again or leaving it as it is. I don’t know what to do! Help! The uncertainty drives me crazy. But recently, I’ve come to a realisation.

Whenever I edit my novels, I mostly dislike what I read. I’m rarely happy with the text before me. I always think my story sucks – that I’m not a good writer – and I know I’m not alone. But in the midst of that, there’ll be a moment in time – a second of contentment – that hits me like an unforeseen kiss. It’s rare. It doesn’t happen as frequently as I hope it would. And it only transpires after I’ve grown tired with my work. This emotion comes after my self-loathing is replaced with fatigue.

Have you ever felt worn out from all the editing? Have you told yourself, “I’m done. I’m not touching this again. I’ve done all I can”? This brief moment of unexpected tranquility is how I know I’m done. Because… it only sweeps past me after my final round of editing. And by ‘final’, I mean I decided it would be the ‘final round’ before even starting work. How convenient, right?

You see, subconsciously, we know when we’re done. We can sense it. It’s an innate ability. Like how animals can sense an earthquake, it’s a gut feeling we writers have. But the two things holding us back – driving us to spend years on a single book – are doubt and fear. We doubt we have what it takes. We fear we’re not good enough. So we keep at it, on the same piece of writing, not realising that by working on the same thing over and over again, we’re not growing. We’ve boxed ourselves. We’re unable to learn by exploring other stories within us. We squeeze our creativity, then question why we’re not good enough. And when that moment of contentment hits – when we’ve come to believe we’ve given our all – we quickly brush it aside. We disregard the prompt that’s telling us to stop. And we repeat the vicious cycle of wondering, questioning, and not knowing when it’s done.

I, personally, don’t believe we should work on a single piece of work for years. I know I say this with The Slave Prince being a novel I worked on for 3 years, but I wrote plenty of other work during those 3 years too. And by honing my craft, I’m able to better The Slave Prince as I find my own style and voice. Am I done with The Slave Prince now? Yes. Very done. I’ve given my all. And there’s only so much I can do where I am, right now.

Moving forward, I’m ready to dive into new worlds. I’m ready to challenge my creativity and imagination. And I know I cannot do that if I’m stuck on the same book. Don’t let the question of ‘done’ stop you from moving forward. Because in reality, we’re never done. We will always grow, and we need to let ourselves grow.

So take it from me. The next time a wave of surprising satisfaction washes up your shore, after your ‘final round’ of editing, ask yourself these:

Am I done with this novel? Yes. Is it good enough? No. When can I say I’m truly done? Never.

You don’t have to publish your novel tomorrow. But you most certainly need to start writing something new. Only then can you free yourself from a curse, so cruel, it robs you of your much needed ‘happily ever after’.

The End.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2017 in Writing Journey

 

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The 7 Stages of ‘Writing’

the-7-stages-of

Or should I say, The 7 Stages of ‘What did I get myself into?’

Those who think writing a novel is a single phase operation, I believe it is my duty to inform you that it isn’t. Oh, how I wish it was. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Alas, this arduous truth should not be withheld. Hence, I’ve decided to write this post and share my 7 stages of writing.

Disclaimer: My process isn’t benched at 7. Often times I go beyond when working on a novel. Sometimes I go under when working on a short story. But as my standard guide, 7 is a wonderful number. Do note that these stages do not include planning, and most certainly excludes professional editing.

1. Word Vomit

Mean Girls, anyone? My first stage of writing is vomiting everything in my head onto a word document. It’s just me, getting the story out, while trying to be as creative as I can. However, creative writing isn’t my goal. This stage is about telling, or should I say ‘reporting’, the story as it is. I do build the universe, I do develop the characters, but only as much as it is required to complete the story. Then, once my head is figuratively empty, I move to stage 2.

2. Rewrite

This is where I get creative. I research, google, and expand my imagination to paint vivid worlds and mold believable characters. I endeavour to be as ‘literary’ as I can, one paragraph at a time. Yes, one paragraph at a time – I rewrite every single paragraph. And yes, I detest this stage. If I could skip it, I gladly would. But I can’t, of course. Nobody wants to read word vomit.

3. Line Edit

Once I’ve heaved a sigh of relief, after completing stage 2, it’s time for line editing. I read aloud, test the pacing, check for errors, and split lengthy sentences. I scour for problematic areas. And as an extra step, I send the manuscript to beta readers.

4. Rewrite… Again? Again.

There’ll be areas in my writing that bug me excessively. So in this phase, I rewrite those paragraphs, dialogues, and sentences that rob me of my sleep. I also catch repetitive words in each chapter and find alternatives for them. And while doing all of that, I request feedback from my beta readers.

5. Line Edit… Again? Again.

Since I rewrote, I need to re-line edit. It’s back to reading aloud, testing the flow and pacing, and making minor changes if required.

6. Proofing

Before proofing, I usually take a break. And by break, I mean working on another story (either a new one or an existing one – it doesn’t matter). I try my best to clean my palate of the current work, and only return to it a month or so later. Fingers-crossed, my brain wouldn’t default to autocorrect upon my proofing. Though, let’s be honest, there’ll be mistakes I’ll overlook. Hence, stage 7.

7. Audio Proofing

Depending on the work, I sometimes run audio proofing twice using different voices. I alternate between tssreader.com and speechninja.co. Audio proofing helps me catch what I’ve missed, while testing the tempo as if read by a reader. It’s not a full proof stage in cleaning a manuscript, but it does call out errors. Despite it taking a while, it’s worth the time.

So, there you have it – my 7 stages.

Like I said above, this is just a guide for me to follow. The Slave Prince has gone over 10 stages, with multiple rewrites. Trails of the Wind has been audio proofed 3 times. Whereas most of my stories below a 1.5k word count are only rewritten once.

Also, the stages differ from author to author. I know of authors whose stage 1 is carefully executed requiring fewer rewrites after, and of those who’ve lost count of their rounds. It depends on the individual. But, we can all agree on one thing: no story should be published straight from the head.

If you’re new to writing, I hope this doesn’t scare you. Draw strength from your passion and dream, and you’ll find yourself doing your very best. Writing may seem laborious, but if it’s what you love, you will do it. Heck, you have to do it. It’s your life! And you’ll embrace whatever it encompasses.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2017 in Writing Journey

 

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