Let down

Letting people down is the worst part of being a published author/freelance editor. I hate it. But it’s happened before and I’m sure it’ll happen again. It is, in fact, happening right now.

I’m not the sort of celebrity that gets authors’ proofs or advanced-review-copies and are quoted on the front of books to help shift copies. I think you need an agent for that, or at least have some cachet of name. So I don’t have to let people down by failing to read novels and give some soundbite by a specific deadline. But I know that if I was, every book I receive will be an agony of hope. I’d want to read them, and to say something nice, because I want to pay back what I’d like to happen to me. And I like making people happy.

But you can’t possibly read them all, can you? Judging by the few ‘bookmail’ or ‘the ARC pile’ pictures I’ve seen on author’s Twitter, it seems that the elite receive dozens of books a week. Surely they can’t get through that many? Not whilst you’re expected to do your own writing, and (in some cases) a day job and a family?

As I said, this doesn’t affect me yet. I’m neither on nor receiving those piles. But I do have my dues to pay. I’m a member of a manuscript critique group – small, select, and not very busy – and I have a few other friends who have read my works-in-progress and to whom I owe a debt. They have provided me wonderful, perspicacious feedback and I owe them my time in return for what they’ve given to me.

But sometimes…

At the moment I have a 150,000 word novel to get through for said manuscript critique group. I have until the end of the month before we virtually meet to feed back. And I’m not going to get it done.

I have paying work that has a similar deadline and I can’t – or at least I don’t feel I can – get through both. And, at the end of the day, the commercial work takes priority.

But I feel horrible. I owe these people both for past opinions and future readings. And for friendship. I won’t let myself be someone who takes without ever giving back. Sometimes it seems like life is preventing the basics – being nice, being courteous, being human. We must fight against that constriction.

So it’s back to the Editorium I go, hoping to get something done on something.

In the meantime, I practice my excuses; doubtless they’ll stand me in good stead for the future.

Deadlines and assorted complications

Deadlines. Gotta love ‘em.

I myself am not so good at them. Not that I miss the buggers – rather the opposite, in fact. I’m no good at pacing myself sensibly. Whenever a job comes through I throw myself at it, body and soul, and work all hours until it’s done, even if I the timeframe is generous and the target wide. I am simply too afraid of failure, of letting people down. As character flaws go, it’s not the very worst, but it is annoying.

At the moment I have a great six-week chunk of work on my desk. I should be able to meet it fairly comfortably. So do I throw myself at it and let it absorb me in its cocoon? Or do I try and pace myself and mix in other jobs – and maybe a little actual writing – in with the Big Task?

I’m trying the latter, which means that I’ll be able to progress with Breathing Fire – albeit at a slower pace (if possible) than before. This is good because it means – at least theoretically – that I’ll be able to keep up some momentum and won’t entirely forget where I’ve got to, what I’m trying to mull. And I have, indeed, made a little progress. The big break-in and the subsequent climax rapidly approach, bringing with it the need for thought and intelligence which is, of course, where I fall down. It also may mean that I have things to write about in this blog, though I promise nothing interesting.

The downside of this multi-strand approach is, of course, anxiety. I’ll always be worrying that I’m not leaving enough time for Task A, that I’m wasting time when I should be focussing, laser-like, on my target.

It also relies on me having time – actual available time in which to do more than one task. I have a part-time day-job – I am lucky – and a small (though heavy) child to wrangle. So there’s only maybe two days a week when I can look at more than one job.

Did I mention I also have a beta-reading to undertake? That’s on a six-ish week deadline too.

But the main mission comes first. It may be that I have to abandon side-quests and this many-headed attempt will fall apart within a week. Or it may be that the main job is remarkably straightforward and I have time to broaden out my focus. At the moment I can’t really say.

As a non-professional author, life is going to throw times like this your way. You’re going to have to find some way to cope, whether it’s going hell-for-leather to clear the non-creative jobs aside, or multi-tasking, or even taking a whole chunk of time away from real-life in order to focus solely on what really matters. I am, as I said, very lucky in that I can afford to work two part-time irregular jobs – library assistant by day, editor by later-in-the-day – rather than having to scrape time around full employment.

But editing time is also writing time. And life is shortly going to become very much more complicated.

So it’s on me to make the most of what time I have. And, for now, that means forging ahead with both editing and creative work. Because anxiety is just another name for love.

Coasting

There’s a lot of fretting in writing. Or, at least, there’s a lot of fretting in the way I do writing. Worrying about submissions, worrying I’m not reading enough, or the right sort of books; worrying about making progress, about using the time well; worrying about editing and falling foul of tropes and, when you get right down to it, that I’m simply not good enough of that.

Balls to all that. I have a fairly clear period at the moment (which might end at any moment, if editorial work is despatched in my direction, but still) and I’m just going to coast.

 I have three novels I could be working on – the trilogy that begins with Oneiromancer could all do with some time spent on them – and, at the moment, I am perhaps foolishly choosing to work on the last: Breathing Fire. This is first drafting, and it’s gritty, attritional going.

Nothing comes free, and nothing comes easy. I am struggling to get into the flow of writing, and there are many slips between the brain and the fingers and what appears on the screen. The deletion key is getting worn away.

But I am not worrying about this. I am making progress, and that’s what matters. Word by word I assemble something that might be mistaken for a story from a distance. This novel has already taken an eternity to write; what’s a few more interruptions between friends?

I am trying to get back into that state of actively, positively enjoying what I’m doing. Everything recently has been contingency, emergency, short-notice work. This is the first spell of 2022 where I don’t have pressure or deadlines and I can simply take my time. And I want to make the most of it.

If this means I don’t get as much done as I would if I had the hounds of hell breathing down my neck – well, that’s okay. No-one cares what I do in the privacy of my own Editorium anyway. It’s time to embrace that fact and Make Writing Pleasurable Again.

It won’t last. Nothing ever does. I’ll be depressed by my failures before too long. I’ll have more deadlines arriving. I’ll have rejections to accept and I’ll feel like giving up many times over.

Despite this – because of this – I’m determined to just take it easy and enjoy myself and accept my shortcomings whilst I’m in a positive enough frame of mind to make the most of my time. And that’s not always measured in word count.

*             *             *

As I was writing the final words above an email pinged into my inbox. Another editorial job has arrived, bringing with it deadlines and a need for focus and other adultatious responsibilities. And so the holiday is over, and I must snap back into ultra-disciplined mode.

So it goes, the writer’s life. So it goes.

All hands

Too busy

All hands on editing. That’s how it’s going at the moment, as I forge my way through a commercial piece with a harsh (self-set) deadline and, frankly, no time to write this blog-post.

I’m doing a copy-edit but it’s an unusual piece that requires every single bit of my brain. So I’m not able to spare any neurons for my own work this week, and probably not for the week after. That’s frustrating – or it would be, if I had energy for frustration – but that’s just how it goes sometimes. As a freelancer one has to take the work that comes and do it with a much speed (and quality) as possible.

And, truth be told, it’s not come in at such a bad time. I’m kind of between my own projects at the moment; I’ve a novel that I need to hunt down beta-readers for (any volunteers?) and another to review before that too goes out to the great unwashed. Then it’s either back to Our Kind of Bastard for its biggest edit or on with something new… though heaven knows what that’s going to be.

I might even try writing an outline for my next piece. You never know.

So let me just apologise for boring the hell out of you. Fingers crossed that I can come up with something more interesting next week. Given the state of 2020 so far events will probably have been overtaken by a plague of locusts or a dragon attack and I’ll have even more of an excuse for writing gibberish.

Peace out, you wonderful people, you

Robin_Triggs_Banner_Twitter

Checking in

Check in

Today’s blog is a short one, I’m afraid, and more of a check-in than a fully-fledged post. This is because I have managed to simultaneously contract a proofread, a copy-edit and a structural edit. I am thus plagued by deadlines and have had no time for real writing.

Two of those three things are for other people – paid work, in other words, and thus a priority. The other – the copy-edit – is for my own work and thus a priority priority. I’ve been sent a manuscript full of corrections to my own half-baked scrawl and instructed to ‘sort it aht, geezer.’

Just because it’s for my own work doesn’t mean it’s deadline-free. This is from the publisher and publishers work to a schedule. I have to prove my dependability by not only making half-decent corrections but by getting them in on time.

It’s done now and sent off to the Great and Wonderful Editor of Oz – or, rather, New York. And it’s straight on to the next deadline.

copyediting (1)

All of which means that the novel I was working on has been temporarily parked. The realities of life and business get in the way sometimes and, with only finite time available, the novel has to be the one to go to the kerb. But that’s okay. It just means it’s had extra time to percolate around my brain so that when I return to it – and I will – it’ll be with a vengeance.

Whatever happens, the holidays seem a long way in the rear-view mirror. Hope you all had good ones. I’ll catch up with you again next week.

Becoming Rimmer

time-painting-fresh-45-best-images-about-surreal-time-art-on-pinterest-of-time-painting

The signature is of CristoF, but who they are defeats my Google skills

Things to say to a freelancer: “Here’s some more work! We’ll pay you…”

Things not to say to a freelancer: “…but the deadline’s shorter than the other piece you’re working on.”

Fresh after last week’s blog-post about the importance of keeping balance in work, all my plans are now somewhat askew. I’m not after your pity; it’s a great thing, to have work lined up for the rest of the month and possibly beyond. And I get to copy-edit the sequel to a book I read (and paid for) a few months ago, so woo!

But I am at a point where I must, must, must keep on with my own work whilst I’m trying to earn money. It would be too easy to push the creative work to one side: “oh, it can wait another month.” Of course it can. But, come February, what’s to stop the same thing from happening again?

time_management

stolen from xkcd

No, for the first time in my life ever (save maybe in essay-writing season at university, though I seem to remember I was rubbish at it then), I feel I have to sit down with a calendar and devise a proper work schedule. And this sucks. It’s always seemed to me like the old Arnold Rimmer problem of spending all the time on the plan and not the work.

But I must protect my writing. And family time. And give myself sanity-breaks.

Otherwise I’m not a writer at all. I’m this guy:

rimmer

 

On copy-edits

Copyediting 2

I have survived. I live to tell the tale. And what a tale it is – a tale of high-jinx, of derring-do and of rescuing suspiciously busty maidens from suspiciously inconvenient places.

I am, of course, lying. It is a tale of sitting in front of the computer and using Twitter to distract myself from all the thinking.

Here are a few little reflections on the copy-editing process, but before we can dive straight in I should clarify: there were three people involved in the process. I was one, the editor was the second and the copyeditor the third.

The editor works for the publisher and is responsible for overseeing the word-side of my novel (and, I think, that of the rest of the imprint). The copyeditor is a freelancer who was sent my manuscript to seek out errors great and small. I never had any contact with the CE; it all went through the editor. And here is what I now know:

  • There are many types of error:
    • Typos
    • Grammatical errors or mistakes of clarity (who’s talking? Does this modifier refer to this or that or the other?)
    • Continuity errors
    • Errors of taste or discretion
    • Bad writing
  • Typos happne. They can be shrugged aside. So can grammatical errors (you were tired at the time; it was late and that thing you like was about to happen – you know, the one that leaves you all distracted). Continuity errors are worse as they actually have to go back through the MS to find the original reference and decide which to change. Occasionally you’ll have to think and no-one wants that
  • But these are nothing on matters of taste and discretion. See this soul-tearing post from a few weeks back as evidence. Actually, don’t. I’d rather forget the whole sorry saga, thank you. Why’d you have to bring it up anyway?
  • Bad writing is the worst, though. You’ve been through however many edits; you’ve got it past numerous gatekeepers and you did it with this piece of shit? Rereading your own work, especially in this forensic detail, often makes it impossible to see what’s actually good about your work
  • And this leads to more doom: do you try and improve your manuscript? Will you just be annoying your editor by making last-minute, unnecessary changes? If the copyeditor didn’t comment on a particular sentence, is it not just irritating to dismantle it and reinsert upside-down?
  • You need a copyeditor to assess your copyedits

stet

A Google image search failed to identify an artist for this, but you can get it on a mug here; the designer’s listed as Shonda Smith

  • Copyeditors are great: they spot things you’ve never even begun to think about considering. But they’re not perfect. They have their own oddities and prejudices. Mine (whose name I don’t know) seems to have a weird thing about commas. They’ll insert them where I’m damn sure they’re not necessary
  • My biggest fear is that I’ll disappoint my editor. This is stupid, but it bears saying. I am afraid to ask him questions; I don’t want to appear amateurish or needing constant hand-holding. Your editor is always on your side, though; they want your book to succeed as much as you do
  • This has been my first real experience of producing work to a deadline since university. It was a challenge, and in the end I missed it by a few days, despite working evenings. Fortunately my editor is on Twitter and saw some of my more desperate pleas for help and emailed me to see how I was going. This gave me the chance to explain that a) I was just being melodramatic for the purposes of comic effect and b) yes, the deadline was a challenge. Which leads me to the following conclusions:
    • Good communication really, really helps
    • Try and get as much info as possible at the beginning: what has the copyeditor been told? What edition are you editing? I started without knowing that I was specifically working on a US release, which caused me some confusion
    • Be careful what you put on Twitter
    • If you have a problem or an issue with the editor’s/copyeditor’s ideas you should flag it as soon as possible
  • US and British English really are two different languages. One of the hardest things for me was seeing all my usage of ‘whilst’ being changed to ‘while’, even when it was plainly wrong. Also ‘homely’ has different meanings depending on which side of the pond you are
  • All these people really want to make your book better

This has been uncharted territory for me. This may just be a brief lacuna before another wave of work washes me away, but for now I am mopping my brow, breathing a sigh of relief and lighting up the metaphorical cigarette of post-coitality.

The copy-edits are done. I am a step closer to being a published author.

Fear of deadlines

writers-clock

There is one thing that scares me about the prospect of writing for a living, and it’s the thing I want most. It may be an illusion, an unfounded fear, but the prospect of writing a book a year is troubling me.

I should say that this is not an imminent prospect. Nor do I know anyone in the situation. This concern is solely based on casual lines thrown out in author interviews online and in ‘Writing’ magazine. But the knowledge that ‘one book a year’ is standard in publishing contracts – exactly the sort of thing I’ve strived for over the last ten years – is currently atop my mind.

I’m not worried about suffering writer’s block or my well of ideas running dry. Hell, I’ve got ideas all over the place; my biggest problem is which to draw and which to keep sheathed. I’m just worried about the simply logistics of getting a publishable work out to a specific timescale.

Let’s look at this in detail. My current work-in-progress is Oneiromancer. The first draft of that took nine months to get down. I then did a quick read-through to kill obvious errors – the plotlines that I set up then chose not to develop – and to weave in anything that, come the end, I felt I’d not set up properly. That took two months. Then it went to beta-readers and I had the agonising two-month wait for feedback. That’s over a year right there.

My readers gave good advice, spotted errors, spotted weaknesses, that needed addressing. This led to my major copy-edit. That took six months. Now I’m doing my read-out-loud through to improve rhythm, dialogue and pace as well as to further hunt out typos and other errors. That’ll take another three months. And then..? Back to readers? Or out to agents?

That’s 22 months minimum before I’ve got something approaching a decent standard.

And that’s what I’m worried about. I care about the quality of my output. I could churn out words fast enough to keep the publishing wolves from the door, but only at the expense of quality. The time I spend editing is the most important time. I want to produce good work – words that grab, a story that bites and gnaws and doesn’t let go.

A book a year? A draft a year, no problem: but a work worthy of publication? I’m not so sure.

It doesn’t help that I have a more-or-less full-time job. I’m under no illusions; a book contract won’t allow me to give up Paid Employment. I’ll be writing – like I do now – alongside other intractable commitments.

It’s quite possible I’m worrying unnecessarily. Quite apart from the improbability of my finding an agent in the first place, it’s my hope that experience shortens the process. As I grow the errors should diminish. You also have the benefit of an agent acting as primary reader. Again I’m basing this on author interviews alongside my own limited experience, but an agent will read a draft and will be able to tell you where the work is falling down and where it needs to be propped up. Add in professional editors and the whole process should be shortened.

This is all theoretical. I have no agent. I have no publisher. But I do have work I believe in, and a (possibly misguided) feeling that each work I produce takes me closer to my goal. And, for all I’ve just written, a traditional publishing contract remains my target. I’m good enough. I’m walking the right roads. I’ll get there.

But that goal isn’t the end of the story. It’s merely another page on a longer, harder journey: a trek littered with Deadlines and the fear of pushing out underdeveloped work. I’ve read too many rushed novels to know that isn’t a possibility. But how to avoid falling into that trap myself?

Writing uphill

‘I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.’

Douglas Adams

I currently have five books on the go. It’s too many. I need to put some of these to bed before I go insane.

I like multitasking. I always think it’s good for the brain to have several different levels of activity. At the front of the mind is your active project, the job that’s right before you. Behind that is the thing you did last, or you’re planning to do next, and beyond that the deeper images in the mid-memory. Your ideas pool swirls right at the back, ready to be called on at any moment – or ready to pounce upon you when you least expect it.

And though the majority of your energy is spent in your short-term memory, it does you good to have other things simmering away in the background. A little time not actively thinking about your work can invigorate it and give you answers to questions you were only dimly aware of posing. It’s good.

Right now I need a break. I’ve been swimming in various different incarnations of Antarctica for three years (Night Shift, Australis and New Gods) and, after a particular vicious slog, all I want is to start up something new so that when I have to return to the bottom of the world I’ll be able to see with fresh eyes.

But life doesn’t run like that. Writing is work and to be a writer you sometimes have to push yourself to places you don’t want to go. I’ve just received feedback from a beta-reader on the latest incarnation of Night Shift and I have to turn right round and get back on that particular appaloosa once again. See, I promised my interested agent that I’d get my manuscript to her ‘early new year’, which I’m reliably told is before the end of February.

Not gonna happen. I mean, I could just abandon my betas and send it off now, but then what’s the point in asking for feedback if you don’t act on it? No, I want this work to be the best it possibly can be, and that means ploughing through once more; my last revision was a biggie, and I need to reassure myself that I’ve not committed any egregious crimes against rationality or miseries of melodrama.

So I’m having to pull NS back to the front and opening that file once again. Hopefully this will be a bit of a canter. And then it’ll be back onto fresh virgin writing. Somewhere in there I’ll have to get back to my sequels, and to the last tidy of Chivalry, and maybe…

They say that no piece of writing is ever finished, it’s just published. I need to get something out there, to say definitively that this is done.

But not yet. There’s still a lot of work to do before then.

Issues of editing

Feeling frazzled. This week’s blog may be a bit disorganised, directionless. That’s because it’s crunch time. No more messing about. The votes are in, the deadline upon me and I’ve a better idea than ever about what works and what doesn’t about Night Shift. I mean, nine drafts – by this point you think I’d know it all, right?

Nah.

But I do have a better idea of what questions to ask.

Over the years I’ve built up a small but perfectly formed group of friends and writers who I can call upon for help and advice. The payoff is, of course, being willing to do the same for them. This time I’ve been particularly mean: due to my inability to set realistic deadlines I’ve begged for one last read-through to hopefully catch all the typos, inconsistencies and miscellaneous errors that have escaped the net so far.

Because the last rewrite was a big one. This was the one requested by the agent. For her I hacked up certain sections and recast the sequence: emptied some scenes, created new ones and, basically, did a lot of fresh, virgin writing. I did this over the course of around a month and a half; and, if you’ve ever met a writer, you’ll know that this creates a whole lot of agonising. Is what I’ve done any good? Does it disrupt the flow, mangle the pace, hurt the brain? Do I use too many rhetorical questions?

And of course I didn’t give myself anything like long enough to read through my work objectively and answer these questions myself.

So I’ve turned to my friends and colleagues, promising vague promises of wine and nibbles and eternal gratitude. I turned to my parents. I asked my fiancée. I was tempted to send out a blanket request for readers on Twitter, but I’m too paranoid for that.

Friends. Great, aren’t they?

And so this is the week that the responses come a-tricklin’ in. Trying to get a consensus, I am, on what works and what doesn’t.

One thing I’ve learnt (too late) over the many years I’ve been writing is that lack of direct criticism doesn’t actually mean a section is any good. I’ve had a tendency to use placeholders in my work, like dipping a toe to test the water. I’ve been assuming that if something doesn’t work then someone will comment on it. Nope. Ain’t the case. I can see that now. If it doesn’t feel right to you then it isn’t right full-stop.

And in this particular run-through – with a definite, tangible end to it – I decided to ask specific questions of my readers. These were only to be read upon completion of the novel (‘upon completion of the novel’ – how pretentious am I?) because I wanted to tap the readers’ emotional centres and not their logic-brains. These were mostly referring to the new sections and altered parts because they’re the bits I’m less able to assess: and, whilst much of the novel has evolved over a year and a half, these sections are essentially first draft.

It occurs to me that some of you might be interested in these questions. Some are specific to Night Shift; others are more general. And, in my eternal arrogance, I wonder if it might help any of you writers out there to reproduce them here…

General points:

  • The ending: does it work? Is it properly foreshadowed and not too obvious?
  • Foreshadowing: are there too many mentions of a particular item? Not enough?
  • Are there too many rhetorical questions? [Yes, I really did ask this: I wasn’t just joking earlier]
  • Are there any internal contradictions?
  • Are the characterisations consistent?
  • Is there anywhere I’m egregiously ‘showing not telling’?
  • Are there any sections that drag?
  • Do I over-describe characters?
  • Are there any sections you find repetitive?
  • Is there anything ‘missing’? Any sections/ideas hinted at but not explored that you think should be?
  • Did you know what was going on at all times?
  • Any ‘Chekov’s gun’s in there at all?

 And more specific questions:

  • Are the chapters of a consistent length?
  • Is the main character’s past laid on too heavily? Too much? Or not enough?
  • Should I condense the conversations between [pages] into a single section?
  • Are [character’s] injuries too severe for survival?
  • [Character] uses people’s surnames. Is it clear to whom she’s referring? Should this be changed, this trait abandoned?
  • Masks: do the references to masks work? Is there a theme here, a thread? Does it work, or is it just confusing? [this is a fairly specific reference; I don’t just have an obsession with face-coverings]

Is anyone actually interested in this? Or am I merely appeasing my own vanity this week? As I said, I’m a bit frazzled at the moment – all my chickens coming home to mix their metaphors and stir their pots.

Does anyone else have any questions they ask themselves when editing a project? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.