The Impotance of Editting

The editing process can be harrowing and to a writer it can feel like every movement of the Red Pen is a cut against your own heart. However, Blake Morrison makes an astute observation:

Editing might be a bloody trade.
But knives aren’t the exclusive property of butchers.
Surgeons use them too.

Editing can be a bloody trade indeed. Tears can be shed and the lives of commas lost, but there is an art to editing. A good editor is a surgeon – they remove the problems with a skilful slice, leave the arteries intact and ensure vital organs remain functioning and, in the best case scenario, function better when the editing is done.

There are many articles and suggestions around the importance of  editing your work and how to do this. What I am offering here is a very simplified version of editing presented in two parts.

1.       The Bare Essentials

Revise punctuation. Check your use of commas and semicolons, and all the other little darlings that might make inappropriate appearances or startling disappearances – if in doubt, look up the correct use online (there are ample resources) or ask someone.

Check your spelling. Don’t be lazy when it comes to re-reading your work to check for spelling and don’t rely on spellcheck. You’re about to ask people to take the time to read your work – if you can’t be bothered doing it to check for basic errors, why do you expect others to do it for pleasure?

Double-check your paragraphs. The general rule for paragraphs is to start a new paragraph for a new topic or change in event, and to start a new paragraph when a new person speaks. Contemporary writing gives us a bit more lenience when it comes to new paragraphs and sometimes single sentences can be their own paragraph. Don’t overdo it and do ensure your new paragraphs are deserving of the new line.

2.       Essential Style

Regardless of how well you’ve used apostrophes of possession, if your writing style is inconsistent or the content lacks quality, no amount of grammatical revision will save you. Ask yourself the following questions:

What makes my story interesting? Is it the unusual plot or fascinating characters? How might you revise it to make it compelling?

Does it make sense? Are the plot and characters plausible?

Are my characters solid? Can they exist outside of the story? Would they survive in the ‘real world’ or are they lacking in core components that make them human?

Does my writing flow? Are there missing explanations or have you over-complicated simple events?

Throughout all of this, I encourage you give your work to others to read, too. They will pick up on errors you didn’t notice and ask questions that help you re-examine your work with a fresh perspective. As writers, our work is never really finished, simply abandoned (as observed by Leonardo da Vinci). By carefully editing your work, you can at least be sure it has been abandoned with the best chances possible.

This post originally appeared on Budding Writers League and can be viewed here.

Giving Constructive Criticism

Being a writer is terribly difficult because, for many of us, our writing is deeply personal. We put our own time and energy into what we write, and that time and energy is often accompanied by a part of ourselves. The idea of giving our work to someone only to have it criticised can be terribly demoralising, thus while it is important to understand how to receive constructive criticism, it is also important to understand how to give constructive criticism.

What is Constructive Criticism?

Constructive criticism is not criticism for the sake of pointing out faults and flaws, nor is it criticism for the sake of being negative about something. Constructive criticism is defined as:

“criticism kindly meant that has a goal of improving some area of another person’s life or work”

 – Wise Geek

Note the use of the word ‘kindly’ and the phrase ‘goal of improving’. Constructive criticism is not about being mean and this is something that both the giver and receiver of constructive criticism should keep in mind. Keeping in mind it has a ‘goal of improving’, constructive criticism should be a positive experience for everyone involved. It is not about shredding a creative piece apart, but about constructing it with strong foundations to make it strong and worthy of its place in the literary skyline.

How do you give constructive criticism?

Rather than offering brusque, negative comments like “I didn’t like it” or “it was pretty crappy so I couldn’t read past the first paragraph”, constructive criticism asks you to be constructive in your criticism. Explain why you did not like it, or what it was that made the work ‘crappy’ in your opinion. Don’t be afraid of saying something ‘negative’ about the creative piece – after all, if it’s constructive, it’s not negative, just remember: the goal is to improve the work.

The easiest way to give constructive criticism is to explain your opinion. Explain to the writer exactly what it is you did and didn’t like about the work. Give your opinion (I dis/liked it), then your reason (because … ), and then point out a particular example (in the paragraph when you described … ).

Use the sentence starters what worked well for me and what would work better for me (if the writer was to re-write the piece) to help articulate constructive criticism.

Compare the following:

The beginning was boring.

or

What would work better for me would be less description in the opening paragraph; I wanted to get to the action sooner.

If you are more confident about giving feedback, go into more detail about what did and didn’t work for you in the piece. If the writer has specifically asked for feedback on certain aspects of their work, be sure to focus on those areas. Alternately, you might ask yourself the following questions in order to provide quality constructive criticism:

What was interesting about the piece?
Did you find the setting plausible? Was the writing compelling? If there was nothing interesting about the piece, question yourself as to why you found it boring or uninteresting: Is the genre different to what you normally read? Did you struggle to believe the world that was constructed in the story? Was the writing too descriptive or not descriptive enough?

Could I relate to the characters?
This is a vital part to any piece of writing and if you cannot relate to the characters then the writer needs to know. If you can relate to the characters, explain why you feel like you could be friends with them. If you cannot relate to the characters, explain why you would prefer not to get stuck sitting next to them at a dinner party. What qualities do the characters have that make you like/dislike them?

Who would I recommend this piece to?
A big part of the reading process is being able to recommend a book to your friends – and if you can’t think of anyone to recommend the creative piece to, then the writer needs to know why. It’s also very helpful for the writer to know if they’ve appealed to their target audience. If you’re more comfortable recommending a creative piece to your eight year old cousin than to your sixteen year old best friend, explain to the writer why this is so. Why are you making such a recommendation? What makes you think the piece would be more enjoyed by a boy than a girl? Why do you think the plot is more appealing to a teenager than to an adult?

Why would I keep reading this piece?
Is it well-written? Do you care about what happens to the characters? Ask yourself the question after every paragraph – unless you’re so absorbed in the plot and characters that you cannot think beyond what will happen next!

Constructive criticism is feedback that will improve the creative piece. If your feedback is not constructive and does not have this underlying intention to better the creative work, then your feedback is not constructive criticism but mere criticism – and no one likes a critic.

This month I am facilitating a workshop Critique vs Criticism, presented by Budding Writers League. If you’re in Singapore and interested in learning more about giving quality constructive criticism, sign up for a seat and come on by!

This post originally appeared on Budding Writers League and can be viewed here.

Inspire Me

Greece - Photo by Stef

I love old boats. I often wonder where they’ve been, how many storms they’ve weathered (in and out of the water) and how many fish have brushed up beneath its belly and escaped from the fishing line.

This is one of my favourite photos from when I travelled in 2010. Winding along the road on a bus in Greece, I saw this scene approaching and grabbed my camera. I managed to snap the photo just as the bus lurched around a sharp corner, throwing me across the seat and my backpack onto the floor. Somehow, the photo worked (though it needs a straighten)!

Come on baby, light my fire!

Kindle.

Mmm, hmm. You saw this coming, didn’t you …

My mother was brave devious kind enough to lend me her Kindle this week (actually, the past two weeks) so I could experience the joys of eReading. In its slim red case, it looked quite fascinating – more like a diary than a book. I opened the case and surveyed the image of Mark Twain on the screen.

“Slide and release the power switch to wake”, it urged.

I reached for the switch. Hrm, nope, not in the top right corner where my iTouch button is. Ha, not down the side, either. Not near the keys …

“Do you need some help?” I declined with an expletive.

Ha! On the bottom! Right, we have power!

“Your battery is running low, please recharge your Kindle.”

What? Oh … *blank* The screen died. I sighed and set it aside, picked up the printed copy of The Help that’s been waiting for me on my bedside table for quite a few weeks and read it cover-to-cover before I went to bed in the wee hours of the morning. Stupid Kindle.

It took me a week to get the darn thing charged by the time we found the charger (it hardly ever needs charging, apparently, so the charger was in some obscure place). I finally turned it on and decided to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. The Kindle accompanied me on the train every morning and every evening, and I must admit I felt a bit embarrassed sitting on the train, red leather cover splayed and grey Kindle blinking black every time I “turned the page”. Were people judging me? That cute guy reading an actual book, what did he think? Did he care? I judge Kindle users with a conceited sniff, surely now I’m being judged …

The anguish was almost unbearable.

But, from Monday to Thursday, I persevered. I read to and from work on the train, during my lunch hour, and before bed.

“Your battery is running low, please recharge your Kindle.”

Again?!

“The battery is supposed to last a month!” My mother protested.

“Evidently it can’t handle my reading habits!” I scowled darkly.

Fortunately, the battery survived long enough for me to finish The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and to have a play and explore its features. I also read a few other things, determined to get a good, solid use out of it before making up my mind.

Here is what I didn’t like:

  • Damned if I could figure out the bookmark feature. How do I go back to the bookmark? Do I have to scroll through and find it or is there a special command that takes me straight to it? Ergh.
  • The little bar down the bottom telling me how far through the book I was – it made me feel pressured to race through and beat it.
  • The blinking-black to change pages freaked me out. I though I’d broken it the first time it did it.
  • Being bumped on the train terrified me. I had visions of the Kindle hurtling forth and smashing on the floor. I never panic when my book is bumped.
  • The power issue. You can’t just grab it and read if the battery isn’t charged. A mild inconvenience, but when I’m on a train and there’s nothing to read, my friends get bombarded with stream-of-conscious texts. It’s really best if I’m constantly entertained.
  • The buttons are too small for my fat and clumsy fingers.

Here is what I liked:

  • The size and weight were super convenient. Lots of books in one place! Joy!
  • The ease of downloading a new book when you’ve run out of stuff to read.
  • The idea of (haven’t actually done it) being able to upload quotes from what you’re reading onto Facebook. That’s pretty cool.
  • I actually didn’t mind the screen. It was easy to read from and I quite enjoyed the experience overall.
  • The ability to load a PDF onto it so I can read it from the screen. Much less glare than a computer screen so it’s easier for my old eyes to read.

I wouldn’t mind playing with some other eReaders, as I’m definitely starting to see the appeal! Any recommendations?

versatile (noun) – capable of many skills, variable or changeable

I’ve had a very busy week of tormented thoughts and woe-is-me harrumphing – you know, typical grumpy-writer behaviour. Yet it doesn’t take much to lift me out of a slump and so life got a little more sparkly when the Versy came ’round! In fact, it came to me three times (that I’m aware) from three blogs I thoroughly enjoy: the ever delightful Storytelling Nomad, the thoroughly enjoyable My Other Book is a Tolstoy, and the recently discovered Mini State of Mind. Thank you!

What next?

  • Post a link to the person who gave you the award.
  • Tell your readers seven random things about yourself.
  • Award 15 newly discovered blogs.
  • Send them a note letting them know you nominated them.

Here are my seven random things:

  1. I speak Italian. I started studying it in high school and when I was fifteen I went on exchange to Milan for two months. I’ve since been back to Italy (and to my host family in Milan) several times. When people find out I speak Italian they automatically assume I (or my family) are Italian – I’m not, they aren’t – it’s purely a passion for the language and culture!
  2. All I want is a cottage in the country. I don’t need fame or fortune, I just want a little cottage that I can call ‘mine’. I want to fill it with books and spend my days reading and writing … And maybe a little bit of travel when the mood strikes. *wishes*
  3. I collect magnets. It started when I went to Europe in 2008/9 and I decided to get a magnet from every town or city I visited in the six weeks I was there. In 2010 I decided to limit this to a magnet from every country – I went to too many towns or cities to get one from everywhere and still have room for my books in my backpack! They’re currently in a box with my other souvenirs and photo albums – one day, I want a magnetic wall in my cottage so I can cover it with all the magnets I’ve collected.
  4. My sister is a brilliant photographer. I know that’s not really a random fact about me, but it’s a pretty awesome fact about my baby sister. You should totally check out her website!
  5. I don’t have a hero. I actually hate when people ask me who I look up to or who I admire and see as a mentor or hero. I don’t have one, and I haven’t ever really had a hero, though I have admired certain people. This doesn’t mean I want to be like them or seek to emulate their achievements or personal creeds, it just means I respect what they do (or have done). I actually find that people who stick a poster of their hero on the wall and say “I want to be like this person!” are a little bit creepy. Single White Female, anyone?
  6. I used a kindle this week. Seriously. I need some time to digest my thoughts and feelings about the whole experience! I feel unclean. Yet also a little bit excited.
  7. Sunday is my favourite day of the week. I actually try not to make plans for Sundays, or I at least try to minimise the need for an early morning or stressful experience. When I was at Uni doing my undergraduate degree, Sundays were the only day I had off work (the shop was closed on Sundays – yay!) and Sunday became a bit of a sacred day. It was a day to frump around in PJs and get some Uni work done, or curl up with movies on the couch, or stay in bed with a book. It remains my favourite day of the week!

Now, some blog plugs … The three previously mentioned blogs are all very fabulous, and I’m not sure I can come up with twelve more (keeping up with fifteen blogs is a big ask for a lazy person like me!) but here is a list of blogs I really enjoy reading:

Enjoy!