Category Archives: My novel

On-Line Writing Course #4 Revising Structure and Plot

I committed 6 weeks to following an on-line course on self-editing the first draft of my novel. I enjoyed it very much and learned a great deal, and when I finished I drew up a plan for the editing. You can read about my plan here. It involves six stages, each a focus for roughly a month on one aspect of the course. Phase one was structure and plot. Phase 2 is characters.

JG Ballard's edit of The Crash, tweeted by @johnnyGeller

JG Ballard’s edit of The Crash, tweeted by @johnnyGeller

It’s time to review how it’s going.

Here are the excuses, aka reasons

  1. All the things I had put to one side so that I could complete the course have claimed my attention since I finished.
  2. I have several writing projects –the blog, a co-authored book, writing groups – and these have also claimed my attention.
  3. I have had other time-consuming activities such as joining a panel at WOW The Truth about Ageing and the City Lit meet the authors event.
  4. All the other time-consuming activities such as walking, grandparenting, seeing friends, going to the opera, a day at the spa, all these have stolen away the days.
  5. Spring means that the desire to spend time in the garden has overwhelmed me, until …
  6. … I got this rotten cough and cold.

So it’s not surprising that my progress has not been as I hoped and envisaged.

What I have done

  1. I have decided on a new structure for the novel, which involves re-ordering half of the chapters, adding a new one and moving some scenes around. Not much re-writing there, but it feels like an important decision as well as the right one and I looked at it carefully before the physical task of renumbering consumed me.
  2. I have read lots of posts on writer Emma Darwin’s excellent blog: This Itch of Writing. I especially liked the one about the exercise where you go through the plot looking at fortunately/unfortunately. This reveals where the plot is engaging and moving forward. For example: ‘Fortunately Lorna’s niece came to stay. Unfortunately the nosey girl opened the box of letters.’
  3. 163 Into woods coverEmma Darwin recommends Into the Woods by John Yorke (Penguin), about story telling. It’s an interesting book about structure, and what keeps a story moving and why we tell stories this way. That’s stories of all kinds: novels, plays, tv series, films etc.
  4. I’ve been reading novels recommended during the course to help me look at structure and also psychic distance. I need to grapple with both of these during my revision.
  5. I’m learning that revision means asking questions, taking a longer view and lots of thinking and considering. At this moment, not so much rewriting. I am predicting that this will change as I move through The Great Plan.
  6. And now I’ve started on the second phase, revising aspects of the characters. I have already redrafted the arrival of the second main character. It’s not tight enough yet, doesn’t quite say enough about her yet, but I’ll get some feedback from a writing group this weekend.

    Pencils from tree trunks. Have I bitten off more than I can shew?

    Pencils from tree trunks. Have I bitten off more than I can shew?

Well I’m being systematic, which may not be a good thing. But at least I have a plan and I am following it. When I first tried to revise my first draft I had no real clue what to do. Now I feel a little more in charge. Will it last? Oh I do hope it will last.

Do you have any recommendations for books about revising a first draft?

 

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On-line writing course #3 Finished?

I signed up for a six-week on-line writing course to learn how to edit the first draft of my novel. Longstanding readers of this blog will be aware that my draft has been in a drawer for a long time. I have been busy in the meantime but I was aware I didn’t know how to proceed following the achievement of the first draft.

145 writing keyboardThe course was called Self-Editing Your Novel run by The Writers’ Workshop. It required a payment, joining a website community and a commitment for six weeks. I tried and largely succeeded in giving an hour a day, six days a week for the six weeks. During that time I composed my own questions on each of the six themes, watched the weekly introductory videos, read the tutor notes, composed and posted my homework, read other people’s homework, commented on them, read comments on mine, and paying particular attention to the tutors’ comments on my homework.

The tutors were Emma Darwin and Debi Alper. They demonstrated sensitivity, encouragement, critical commentary, suggestions, occasional ticking off, generosity, as well as deep knowledge and understanding of the processes of novel writing and editing. I am full of admiration for their skills in teaching these.

My aims have been achieved

These were my aims for the course (as reported on a previous post):

  • √ To acquire the skills I need to move my novel on to the next stage.
  • √ To practise these self-editing skills.
  • √ To begin to identify the tasks and approaches I need to attend to to move my novel on.
  • √ To identify specific tasks I need to undertake related to these aspects: plot, character, voice, point of view and prose.
  • √ To connect with other writers through the Cloud who are involved in the same processes.
  • √ To blog about the experiences at least once more.

153 tick153 tick153 tick

Learning

I have learned a lot, not all of it comfortable, about myself as a writer-learner (see my second post on progress). The on-line context became irrelevant once I found my way around.

I have learned a great deal about the process of editing, in each of the 5 categories:

  1. plot,
  2. character,
  3. voice, point of view,
  4. psychic distance and
  5. prose

I have ways of thinking about each of these now, and some activities that will help me see if large-scale revisions are required. I have a notebook full of things to attend to. We were advised not to try to revise our WIP during the course, so these had to be noted down for later. And here we are at ‘later’.

I learned about the power of the group, how encouragement, comments, reactions, questions from others can nudge, push and force writer-learners to see their WIP in new ways.

And I learned about the stimulating, inventive and creative ideas of my fellow novelists.

And while I’ve been learning…

… I have been getting on with blogging, meeting my fellow authors on our non-fiction book for a three day write-in, reading 9 novels, publishing some short fiction (see previous post on this), getting ready for two events to promote Retiring with Attitude, and attending a workshop where I learned how to make a red felt hat. This one!

153 Red hat

What next?

I have a plan. Better than any of Baldrick’s plans.

It includes completing the revision of my novel by the end of August when I am due to go on a trip abroad. I will revise it to the level where I feel a professional critique would be the best next step. So not finished then.

Many thanks

To Emma Darwin, Debi Alper, The Writers’ Workshop website and my fellow participants.

 

Previous posts about this course.

  1. An On-line Writing Course #1 Purposes
  2. On-line Writing Course #2 in-progress

 

What has been your best learning from writing courses? Can you say what helped make it a good learning experience? Would you recommend the course to others?

 

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On-Line Writing Course #2 in-progress

So this is how I’m getting on with the course on-line, focusing on 5 responses to my experiences so far. In my post about learning aims, I left you as I was about to enter the on-line site. Immediately I experienced something that was familiar but unexpected:

1. Disorientation

Remember when you first went to school, college, university? You found the building and stood in the hallway looking at all the signs, the many doors and the other people who all appeared to know what they were about. It was like that. I got onto the site, which looked just like a Facebook page, by which I mean lots of possibilities with no clues about how to proceed. So what to do? I hadn’t expected to feel so lost or uncertain. Where do I go? How do I find out? Have I time for coffee? I don’t want to be here.

145 writing keyboardI was surprised by my own sense of powerlessness, and of the familiarity of these feelings of disorientation from all the occasions when I had begun courses in the real world. And even more surprised because I have sat on the other side of the screen, as it were, and done some on-line tutoring. Hah!

I like the idea that being intelligent means knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do. I had been emailed some joining notes. First find your group.

And now, after three weeks I know exactly where I’m going and I go there. I ignore all distractions, invitations to chat, linger and discuss the writing ideas of other people. I go straight to my course and do my stuff.

Note to self: remember you always feel like this when a course starts. Just get to the right place at the right time.

2. The seduction and distraction of praise

Praise is such a difficult thing. I’ll be honest, I’d love people to be stunned by my writing, exclaim over its brilliance, its depth, the imagery and characterisation etc etc. But I notice that when I am praised (and I have been!) it gets in the way of reading the other bits that will be more helpful in the longer term. This is, after all, a course about self-editing and my intention is to improve my novel with the skills learned.145 emoticon

Feedback is a wonderful thing and I am getting a great deal out of both receiving it and giving it. But if there is praise I have to steer myself past it to see the stuff that I need. I have discussed praise in other places (see Annethology and Norah Colvin’s blogs for example) and its relevance to learning.

Note to participants: please don’t stop the praise if you think it’s deserved. I will get to that useful stuff.

Note to self: it’s about time you ditched this childish need, it is in danger of inhibiting your learning.

3. Disadvantages of being on-line

In a classroom I would hear all the contributions of every participant. As we make our comments on each other’s topic lines this is not quite so easy. I would have to check 14 lines every time I entered the site, as well as checking the Wall. It’s permanent so it has advantages, and it’s not that difficult. But I have to make the effort, which is challenging when I’m in a hurry.

4. Advantages of being on-line

On the other hand, we are freed from the restrictions of all turning up at the same time, in the same place. Suits me. And the comments wait until I’m ready.

5. Learning

And I’m learning lots. I wanted to develop some skills, and some insights into my novel and the work I need to do to take it from a first full draft to a better crafted second draft. I am beginning to see how I could do that. I’ll say 145 inkwell noun projmore about this in a later post.

A major issue for me now is that I also want to steam ahead with another writing project (non-fiction) with a March 2016 deadline. The three authors had a 3-day write-in last week, so I’m brimming with ideas. How will I manage both?

 

Any comments about on-line writing courses? Anything from my fellow participants? Or tutors?

 

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An on-line writing course: #1 purposes

Writers must take risks. Personally I hate those little motivational quotes that seem to flood through the twitter timelines of the writing community. Are there a lot of procrastinors out there, delaying the moment of getting down to it by searching for pithy emoticon-strewn one-liners?

Being a good writer is not about nailing it first time. It’s about not giving up until a piece is polished to perfection.

Thank you. I know. But how?

Easy reading is damned hard writing. (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Thank you. I know. But what does ‘hard’ mean? How do you write harder?

The successful writer listens to himself. (Frank Herbert)

Thank you. Are all writers men? And what on earth does this mean in practice? And here’s my all time unfavourite:

Smiling is the best way to face any problem, to crush any fear and to hide any pain.

Not helpful. Smiling has not helped me edit one single sentence. Why do people write this stuff? I probably have to accept it comes with roaming in twitterland.

Despite my impatience with this stuff, the quotes that resonate with me are the ones about taking risks. Anne Rice says it:

145 Risk quoteHere’s my risk – blogging, that is going public, about an on-line writing course I have signed up for. I plan to write about my aims and purposes, about the processes and the outcomes. It’s that virtuous learning cycle of Do, Review, Learn and Apply for those of you in the education world. And risk can be a good learning strategy. Although I’m keen not to make a fool of myself.

Here goes.

Preparation for the course – clarifying my purposes.

The course blurb boils down to an intention to help writers develop self-editing skills. It begins in January 2015 and last for 6 weeks.

Some introductory explanation:

A long-term reader of this blog may have wondered what has happened to my novel. Is it still in the drawer, resting its way to perfection? Has the success of Retiring with Attitude since its publication in July 2014 led me to abandon the novel? Has it quietly been improved and is now ready for whatever the next thing is? No to all of those.

58 Bird by birdI had completed the first draft of the novel. All first drafts are ‘shitty’ according to Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. She was quoting Hemingway. Little of my first daft was raw, first splurge stuff, but I was still conscious that it was not yet ready to be shown to anyone. It needed work.

So I read through it. And I made notes. I began to work through different plot lines. I made notes. I read parts of the chapters to my writing groups that relate to one of the two protagonists. They commented. I made notes. And I say to myself, I don’t really know how to go about this revision. But I have lots of notes.

I want to make my novel the best it can be before sending it to a literary critique service. But after all the actions I have described above, it is clear to me that I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do next. Intelligence is knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do, according to the educationalist Guy Claxton.

145 inkwell on screenI know what to do. Find help! And this course, on self-editing skills will be the start of that help! I hope.

So here are my aims for the course:

  • To acquire the skills I need to move my novel on to the next stage.
  • To practise these self-editing skills.
  • To begin to identify the tasks and approaches I need to attend to to move my novel on.
  • To identify specific tasks I need to undertake related to these aspects: plot, character, voice, point of view and prose.
  • To connect with other writers through the Cloud who are involved in the same processes.
  • To blog about the experiences at least once more.

My very first task is to find out how to get to the course on-line. It looks daunting but I must be able to do it. I set up a blog for goodness sake. The tutors advise familiarisation and practice in advance. My faith in them develops. Not only are they published writers but they seem to know a bit about learning to write and learning on-line.145 old hands

Wish me luck and no procrastination. This is it. *Moves cursor to enter website.* Six weeks of writing and editing to the discipline of another’s drum. I’ll let you know how I get on. I’m smiling, by the way.

145 emoticonMeantime, you could tell me what you think I have missed out in my purposes/aims/objectives for the course.

 

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