Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Tally: 2020 writing (and other) progress

 It's that time of the year when we're all making our new year's resolutions and some of us are tallying up what we did in 2020 to see whether we're happy with it. (ok, fine, it's actually a week or two after that time of the year, but what can I say? I had to perfect my Lebkuchen and Challah habits before anything else).

Things I did in 2020 that weren't very productive:

* fudge around too much with old stories (seriously. I'm trying to ONCE AGAIN edit my first ever novel series and I wrote that in 2015 so... probably not the best idea to re-paint something you did as a child).

There were probably a lot more but I don't tend to dwell on stuff that doesn't go well.

Things that did go well in 2020:

* My Master's degree from the University of Glasgow. There were some disappointing things about the program (about half of the lectures we paid for cancelled due to strikes and some would have been cheaper if I just googled) but there were good things as well. I wrote a story I'm quite proud of. It's good. I like it. I even had it edited by Justina Robson and handed it in as my Master thesis. This was good. I would not have written this story without the program. The idea came to me there and I ran with it because it was rad.

* hiked all across the Southern German Alps. I mean, I live in the Netherlands and travel was shut down for a lot of the year, so I went into the mountains where I was (mostly) alone and no one could get hurt from my germs. This was when it was ok to travel during the summer months.

Do you think there's actually a path in the picture below? BECAUSE THERE IS A FUDGING PATH. It just means your behind is sticking out over a 3000m drop while you climb!

*wrote some more short stories I like. The total number is 4. I am not finished editing all of them yet though. They'll still count as 2020 works when they're done.

The one I did finish is called 'When the Moon Was Still Young' and it's about a book mage who travels through different dimensions to collect/help/aid strange beasts. I really enjoyed the character and his assistant. The story is written by the assistant. I even (poorly) drew one of the beasts he encounters - a ghostly octopus-human maid!

 (Let's not talk about her enormous head though. Please let's not.)

* I queried 1 story (When the Moon Was Still Young actually) to a magazine in 2020

This is worse than 2018 (9 queries) and better than the 0 of 2019. (I suppose getting a new day job did that.) I've already queried 6 in the last few days so I'm off to a good start.


* I'm on track with my fitness regimen.

I started squats at 15kg and can now do 50kg.

Deadlifts ~20kg to now 50kg. 

Pullups are difficult to measure. I'm doing differently every day. I started at around 2-3 (which left me absolutely unable to do any for the next three weeks) and can now do 3-5 almost daily. Closer to 3 if I do them daily. Closer to 5 if I wait half a week and don't do any other lifts (pushups) in the meantime.

Pushups have seen great growth. I'm proud of this. I used to not be able to do ANY (ok maybe 2-3) in the beginning of the year. I can now regularly do ~14 difficult ones where my feet are up on the sofa/bed/other sofa. My max is 16 before collapse. I call that a win!


*I signed on buying a house. I'm not sure this is an achievement. I don't like the house that much in hindsight. However, there'll be a room just for me, so there's that.

I might edit this list once other things came to mind.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Recap: 2020 Reading List

 I read 50 books in 2018 and made a post that quite a few of you liked. This year I only managed 27 novels (37something books in total). I won't bore you with the bad ones (looking at you, Bone White) but here are the highlights!


 1+2. Those Above/Those Below by Daniel Polansky

I was surprised how much I liked these two books. It's a classic revolution overthrowing a fascist (-ish) government plot with a twist. The fascists are weird fantasy alien bird-people and we get to see a lot of things close to their point of view through one of their servants. They've basically created a utopian city that's not utopian for all of those who live on the lower levels. There's a grandma-aged heroine who's just so incredibly smart (tricky!) and snarky you have to enjoy her. The character who you start to hate early on dies in the second book. (Is that a spoiler? Eeehh...) The other characters seem well rounded and their whole lives don't revolve around the revolution. They're just people who live in the bird-people's utopian city and are drawn into the revolution (or not).


3. Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear

 This was fun! I wasn't really much into the 'romance' plot because it felt mostly silly but the rest of the book was cool. There are some ancient alien whales which are super rad (I forgot their name but I still remember the super-cool concept!) and the imagery in the novel is quite good. It's all about stars and starlight and turns quite romantic while not being over the top or cheesy. 10/10. I already bought the second novel (Machine) and look forward to reading it soon.

(Side note: I liken this book to Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne. If you can only read one of them then go for Ancestral Night. Architects of Memory has nothing to do with either architects or memory and the 'plot' is very... let's say chaotic to be kind.)


4. The Forbidden Stars by Tim Pratt 

What can I say about Tim Pratt? As the other Axiom books The Forbidden Stars was FUN! Tim's imagination takes you places and a lot of his characters are great. The main character and her girlfriend are not really my thing (the main character's a meat-head and the girlfriend doesn't have any personality) but there's also two other characters who were absolutely awesome. One is a flying alien squid called Lantern, the other is Ashok, a cyborg engineer who's very fun. The ending of The Forbidden Stars wasn't my thing either. THE WHOLE SERIES HAS SO MUCH POTENTIAL I'M MAD TIM WANTS TO STOP AT THREE BOOKS. I get it. Tim probably wants to do other things and has other projects. But come on! A) It ended very inelegantly and B) The series could have been 20 books and I would have read every single one of them. The characters (even meat-head and no-personality) are so entertaining to read about!

5. Planetside by Michael Mammay

I absolutely loved this! It was so fun to read and the action great without being brain-dead. It helps that the main character is an older dude (think grandpa age) and not a young hot-headed (read: brainless) spud. There's some sinister experiments and explosions and soldiers fighting on an alien planet. What's not to like? I recommend you just buy it and read for yourself.

6. The Deep by Alma Katsu

This one was a good read. I didn't like it as much as The Hunger (by the same author) but it was well written and the plot tore me along on a magical journey. In terms of aquatic horror-ish it could have done better. There are books like Mira Grant's Into the Drowning Deep, The Swarm by Frank Schätzing, and The Fisherman by John Langan that use the water that surrounds the characters and out of which the horror comes much better. Heck, there is an absolutely brilliant short story I read last year which uses the water/ocean theme to a much better effect than The Deep (This might have been The Deep by Corissa Baker in Kat Rocha's Whispers of the Abyss but not entirely sure. I'll update once I've got it.). In The Deep the water was circumstantial rather anything else. There was no need to tie any of the plot to water/the ocean if we're going to be strictly honest. But ok, fun premise, good execution, and the characters don't wear layers of layers of plot armor, so that's refreshing as well.

7. The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

Who hasn't sung the praises of this novella lately? It's short, it's thoughtful, the style is fresh. There's nothing more to be said. I liked all the characters (although the their/they pronoun used for a singular character still confuses me and it makes things more difficult read at times) and the story was... as you'd expect Neo-Chinese ancient mythology to be, full of magical realism, full of lovely imagery. 12/10 I liked it well enough to pre-order the next in the series (hopefully?), When the Tiger came Down from the Mountain, and I don't usually pre-order books.

8. An Unnatural Life by Erin K. Wagner

Another novella, but vastly different from The Empress of Salt and Fortune. This one is sci-fi and deals with AI and AI's rights. I got sucked into it and read it in 1-2 hours. The ending jarred me a bit. It's not the fact of WHAT happened, but that there were no consequences and no segue out of the story. The ending was quite abrupt. Still would read and possibly re-read (another thing I generally don't do) 10/10.


9. Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee

The series starts with Ninefox Gambit (read in 2019) and is kind of a space opera and kind of not. It has one POV for the most part (which can make it seem small) but a massive world. That world is great. It's amazing even if you don't understand half of what is going on because you're unfamiliar with the things the author is describing or your imagination fails. The spaceships are (semi?) sentient moths. The space stations (?) are castles with names such as 'Fortress of Scattered Needles'. I won't pretend I read it closely enough to be in any way able to describe what these things look like. I just used my imagination. The books are fast-paced and I just liked the trickery in them! Fun read.

There are some more that I liked but wasn't blown away by. They don't really warrant a whole paragraph so they get a honorary mention instead. These are:

Gamechanger by L.X. Beckett (Virtual reality overlaid across the real world. A kind of battle-royale situation inside the game and outside the main character's struggling with her infamous father and his drug habits. A decent read.)

And Shall Machines Surrender by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (This was a novella and it was neither good nor bad. It didn't have much substance but was a futuristic 'slice of life' with a lot of action/detective-ery. I'm still going to read the author's other stuff when I'm in the mood.)

The Perfect Assassin by K.A. Doore (gay assassin's creeds in some sandy land. It was a fun read but I'd have loved a happier ending and didn't like the twist that much.)

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff (eeeh... I've read better things but it was entertaining.)

Hold back the Tide by Melinda Salisbury (This one would have gotten a paragraph because it was quite a refreshing read. However, the ending was completely unwarranted and went against everything the rest of the story told. There was no sense in the novel ending the way it did.)


I'm looking forward to reading some follow-ups of the above the year. These two are on my reading list and already bought:

Machine by Elizabeth Bear

When the Tiger came Down from the Mountain by Nghi Vo 

How did your reading go in 2020? Leave a comment and all that. I'd love to hear what you enjoyed and let me know if you read some of the same books as I did!

Reading List 2021

 This year I'll attempt to read some books I've had on my reading list for a while. All titles are hyperlinks to Amazon.co.uk in case you want to check the books out yourself.

I'm starting with:

Eden by Tim Lebbon


The rest of the list as follows

Already purchased:

Machine by Elizabeth Bear

When the Tiger Came Down from the Mountain by Nghi Vo

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

I'm especially stoked about this one too: The Walled City by Ryan Gaudin (who appears to be a woman despite the name???) 

Out of the Dark by David Weber and Into the Light (by the same) published 12. January

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Black Cranes by Nadia Bulkin (and others)

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected on Water by Zen Cho

Then Will the Sun Rise Alabaster by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill (The previous novel, Sea of Rust, was definitely worth the read!)

Beneath the World, a Sea by Chris Beckett (The cover is gorgeous, man...)

Edges by Linda Nagata

Otaku by Chris Kluwe

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

City of Bones by Martha Wells

In nonfiction:

Into the Planet by Jill Heinerth

I'm always looking for more recommendations on THE GOOD STUFF so let me know if you have any!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

A short review of Ted Chiang's 'Exhalation'

Last week I read the short story collection 'Exhalation' by Ted Chiang. I'd heard about it somewhere, and bought it because I needed something new to read to stick with my target of 100 pages a day.

As a whole, the collection was great, each piece carefully crafted and all of the pieces fit together like a puzzle to create a comprehensive collection of science fiction that focused heavily on the person. Personal choice, personal freedom, personal development.

The collection spoke to me, because quite frankly these are topics I often struggle with. What does it matter if I act like a good person one day? If I do a good deed? I know I'm not infallible. I know I can hurt people and have done so in the past – both unintentionally and (to my great shame) intentionally. I'll probably do it again (hopefully not the latter). I often think that either way it won't matter in the end what my actions were throughout life. In the face of sometime-death I could just as well become a bad person and live an ok life. I could cheat my way through life and it would not matter in the end. There is no inherent benefit in being 'good' and I often feel like I've suffered enough due to (primarily) depression and OCD that it no longer matters how I act – that life will not improve whether I'm a good person or not.

But let's go back to Ted Chiang's 'Exhalation'.

There were some stories that left me largely unimpressed. Though perfectly executed and detailed like any other Ted Chaing story the titular story 'Exhalation' was one such. It's about entities that run on cogs and gears – 'clockwork' people is not entirely accurate but will suffice for the purpose of this post. They believe themselves immortal until one of them – a scientist – realizes that a) They will die at some point. And b) Their environment is turning hostile towards them because of their way of life.

In a way, the main character's seeking a way out, a way to survive beyond the melting of the sun, so to speak, but they know it is most likely hopeless and the most they can expect is to be found far in the future by a race of archaeologists who might be able to piece together the stories of their lives.

This story was obviously reflective of our own world. Though things work much differently for the clockwork people there's nonetheless an inherent warning relevant to our own world: Observe your environment and be careful of it. No one is immortal. We must find ways to mitigate the damage we're doing to our world and find a way to survive.

I get it. Take care of the environment. Chain yourself to a tree. Hug others. Reduce pollution.

On the other hand there were some stories in 'Exhalation' (the collection) that resonates with me more than the rest. Ted Chiang ponders the question of choice and free will in most of the pieces included. What does it mean to have free will? What does it mean to be able to make one's own decisions? Is there such a thing as fate, or can we actually influence the direction of our lives?

Ted offers arguments for both.

In one of his stories there is a machine called 'predictor'. It's a simple device of a single button and an LED light through which he illustrates how life's choices are predetermined. The LED light will only switch on if you press the button – you can wait endlessly for the light, but the light always follows your press of the button and the mechanism cannot be cheated.

In the rest of his stories however he turns around to argue entirely for the other side of the equation. In one story he grapples with the question whether God has a purpose for us and if He does then what does it mean? Do we lose our freedom of choice if He does? In another story he illuminates through the use of parallel lives how our choices will have an influence on us no matter whether they are good or bad. Do our choices truly matter when there's different parallel realities where we make the opposite choice? Ted argues they do. That every good deed has the potential to improve a person, and therefore improve a person's parallel realities going forward.

I'm not doing the story justice – You have to read it to understand.

The two stories that spoke to me the most were these:

'The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate': This is the first story of the collection and the one that had the most emotional impact on me while reading it. The character's protagonist is a merchant of Baghdad who recounts his journey from the future into the past. In the past, he has committed a sin for which he has tried to atone all his life and which he has regretted since it happened. In the future, he is warned the past cannot be changed, but the merchant nonetheless wants to try his luck. The story illustrates wonderfully how one might observe the past, how one might have influenced one's own past from the future, but it makes clear there is only one fixed way forward. The same events will happen no matter how one tries to change the past. These in turn will make the future immutable as well.

There is something to be said for this story being too much of a denial of free will, but the part that impacted me was the simply fact that no matter what one's intentions are, the past cannot be altered. The past has happened. It cannot be changed.

The second story I still think about is called 'Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom'. This is the story mentioned above about parallel lives and whether it matters if in one branch of reality a person makes a bad choice or not. Ted argues here that each time a person chooses the 'bad' course of action, the person sets themselves up for future 'bad' choices. On contrary, if the person chooses the 'good' path, then they are more likely to do the same in the future as well.

This resonates with me because it reminds me of that old saying 'a thousand drops'. A thousand drops, no matter how small, form a puddle, then a lake, then an ocean (Ok, this might be exaggerated, but bear with me.). It means to me that each time we choose to be 'good' people, the urge to choose 'good' again when we're at the next crossroads increases. It means that no matter who we were in the past and what bad deeds we might have allowed ourselves to commit, we can still change whenever we choose to. All decisions are choices. In a way, you can remake yourself simply by doing a small good thing and letting it spiral into more and more goods things over time.

Though both stories can feel a bit on the nose (and in fact most of Ted Chiang's stories in this volume do) there is a clear message I liked: The past has already happened. It cannot be changed. The train has left. The only course of action anyone can take is to look towards the future and decide what kind of person one wants to be.

How will you decide? Will you put your chewing gum in the bin or simply spit it out? Will you help when you see someone in need on the way home or will you tell yourself 'the next person coming by can help' - I'm busy. Will you speak kindly with your loved ones even when you're angry enough your head seems about to explode? Or will you explode on them just to get some relief?

Good choices aren't always easy, but I believe they are definitely worth it. So tell me in the comments below – What good choices are you making to change your life?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

#PenPower Myth Debunk #8: Writing has to be scary and difficult!

This week's post is a bit later than usual. Apologies! I've had to hand in several assignments and hit plenty of deadlines this week and a lot of my time simply disappeared. Yes. All of the above are excuses for poor planning... but here is the post! I hope you enjoy it.

As I mentioned last week this one is a bit special. We've been looking at all the scary things in writing so long that I thought for the last post it might be really interesting to see: Why do writers write when it all seems so difficult? Why make the effort and put in the time?

So this week's question is this:

What about the writing/editing process do you enjoy the most?

ADRIAN: The freer I can be in creating, the better. Those parts of my writing where I really get to explore the world, to show new perspectives and vistas, are definitely my favourite, even though they can also be the most challenging. The sections from the PoV of non-humans in Children of Ruin almost broke my brain, but they are definitely favourites. I am also a sucker for the big emotional scene – the chase, the fight, the doomed charge into the teeth of the cannon. There are definite scenes I’ve written that still carry a huge emotional weight for me, and hopefully some of that transfers to my readers.

SUE: I like editing the most, and that’s because I have something tangible that I can work with. I can fix any problem, but first I have to have a problem to fix.

ANNA: I love the feeling of seeing characters and settings come to life on the page. I love it when I really nail a scene - an interaction, a piece of action, a setting - and it feels immediately real and visible. It's a great feeling when the image in my head matches the one on the page. That can also come with editing; being asked to trim a certain scene, particularly a favourite scene, can be hard, but it's a bit like sculpting - all of a sudden the true image emerges from the surrounding detritus and what I was trying to say all along is still there, it's just much better.

And I love being taken by surprise by my subconscious!

YOON: Honestly, the planning is the most fun. Actually writing is kind of a chore because it goes on foreeeeeeever, and then revisions become fun again. Kind of like a sandwich? I like twisty chess plots, which are hard to pull off, so that aspect of Raven Stratagem was particularly satisfying.

CAITLIN: I think my favorite part is the first draft. Seeing how the characters interact with each other (it's not always how I predict when I first start writing), how my brain starts riffing on my original plans, figuring out the shape of the story. In The Luminous Dead, getting to the crunchy meaty bits about Em and Gyre's similarities (and how much they hated seeing those) was an absolute joy. Getting those scenes exactly right usually takes several editing passes that are totally agony, but getting the main ingredients down in the first place is just... fun.

THORAIYA: Like a woodworker who has to build their own chessboard and carve their own pieces before they can play with them, I definitely enjoy writing big emotional or action climaxes more than I enjoy setting up the board. It’s sad when you leave the game, too. That’s why, in every trilogy, whether to write or read, my favourite is book two.

EOWYN: It's hard to explain but there are certain moments in writing and revising when a sentence or a plot element will just appear to me, and it's as if it's part of me and has always been there, and when I click it into place, the whole thing shines in a new way that I couldn't have imagined before but feels perfect now. Those are the rare moments I live for as a writer.

RICH: That’s like asking whether I’d rather be poked in the eye or slapped around the head. I don’t enjoy any of the process, I find it extremely difficult, so you might ask why I do it in the first place? And I guess it’s more of a compulsion than anything. The burning need to create your story and get it on paper for others to read. Add to that the feeling when you receive your first print copies and smell that ‘new book’ smell! There’s nothing like it (just have a look at some author unboxings on YouTube).
Saying that, I did enjoy writing a diverse cast of characters in the Steelhaven books. I enjoyed inhabiting their heads and learning about them as I went (despite already knowing what they’d do, if that makes sense) – I liked Merrick’s witty irreverence, I liked Nobul’s brutal desperation, I liked Rag’s impulsive cunning, I liked Waylian’s unexpected bravery. Despite the hard work, despite the monotony of grinding out that first draft, particularly when times were almost unbearable, it was an experience I cherish. Go figure!

TIM: I like drafting, seeing and hearing the story unfold in my mind and documenting it as well as I can on the page. The romance was great! I had different favorite parts in all the [Axiom] books. In the Wrong Stars, Elena's confrontation with Sebastien near the end was great, and Callie growing to trust Lantern too. In the Dreaming Stars, all the virtual world stuff was a blast, and their rescue of Q, and the simulation scenes where Sebastien tries to murder everyone. In the Forbidden Stars, Callie's assault on the prison/lab on the planet was super fun, and every scene Kaustikos was in (scene-stealing little jerk). Also, of course, every single time I got to write Ashok, because Ashok is a character who writes himself.

MARTHA: I like the final stages of revision, where I already have the story down and I’m just polishing and figuring out how to really focus in on the important points. Nothing about writing Murderbot is easy, but I think my favorite parts are when I figure out a scene and know it’s right, and it’s just a matter of polishing it.

JOHN: There's something wonderful about the act of creation, about seeing what's inside you expanding onto the page.  There's something strange and beautiful and a little scary about walking around feeling that you're as much in what you're writing as you are in the world around you.

KAT: My favorite part about editing Whispers from the Abyss was reading all of the submissions. True, sometimes it was a bit of a slog but often the stories were entertaining on one level or another. I also was on the ground floor to be exposed to awesome authors I may never have heard about before.

What a great set of answers to end on! As much as we may sometimes be afraid or worried about our progress it seems writing isn't just sweat and hardship! There are many enjoyable things about the writing process as well, whether you enjoy the puzzle of the edit or the many many pathways you can take from an empty page.

As a last call to action to all readers: What do you enjoy the most when you're working a new project? What makes you get up and do it again and again even if one of them doesn't work out? Leave a comment below!

I sincerely hope you enjoyed this series.

It's been great to work with the authors and editor and get to ask questions! They've been very generous with their time and their answers. A huge thank you to all of them! (In no particular order...)

Sue Burke
Adrian Tchaikovsky
Anna Stephens
Eowyn Ivey
Thoraiya Dyer
John Langan

Martha Wells
Caitlin Starling
Yoon Ha Lee
Rich Ford
Tim Pratt
Kat Rocha

and you the reader!

Friday, April 17, 2020

#PenPower Myth Debunk #7: The editing process is difficult!

We've already looked at our superheroes' writing process in much detail. Writing can be difficult. It can be easy. At times it feels horrible and other times it feels great. This week we'll be looking at the editing process from our professionals' points of view!

There seem to be a few fears every writer has when it comes to editing:

It will take time!
I'll never be able to put together this puzzle/How could I ever fix this mess?
I don't know how to edit!
I'll have to edit so much the whole story will be different!
The editor (if I can even get one) will force me to change everything! It won't be my story anymore!

A lot of us are downright scared of the edit... but do we have to be?

This week we've asked the superheroes:

How did you decide how much and what to edit in your novel/trilogy? What's your editing process like?

SUE: [A very] useful thing I’ve learned is the “zero draft.” That is, the initial draft of the story is sort of an experiment, and it’s okay if you make mistakes. No matter how carefully you’ve planned, the initial draft will have errors, problems, shifts in tone, failed scenes, etc., anyway.

The first (next) draft and subsequent drafts attempt to improve the story, and that might mean adding or combining characters, shifting events from one chapter to another, or approaching a scene from a different direction. I try to be patient with the process.

I usually edit until I don’t know how to make the piece better, then I submit it to critiquers and editors to get their suggestions. No story will ever be perfect, though, and if you find yourself in your edits changing “red” to “scarlet” and then back to “red,” you’re tinkering with the story, not improving it.

ADRIAN: When things work as intended I don’t edit much before submission. However there have been a few projects that have needed a more thorough go-over. Sometimes there’s a major change I’ve made during the writing that means earlier sections need to be brought into line with it. Sometimes it’s something mechanical, such as deciding that some sections need a different tense or a 1st/3rd person shift in the telling, which is frankly the most tedious and time-consuming sort of change but if it needs doing, it needs doing.

YOON: Some of the plot points changed in the course of the entire trilogy because I wanted it to work as a whole. I'd initially conceived of Ninefox Gambit as a standalone, but then came up with ideas for two sequels, and ended up changing things in the first and second books to accommodate ideas I had for the third. My agent also had a number of suggestions that improved Ninefox Gambit before we went out on submission, mostly to tighten up the action.

I lucked out with my then-editor, Jon Oliver. I was basically not asked for substantive edits to the trilogy. 

CAITLIN: I've mostly covered this already, but obviously most of the edits were determined by how The Luminous Dead was purchased - That whole second half rewrite [I discussed in previous questions] was part of the process. Before that, though, I did go through some various approaches. For a while, it was a YA book. I realized once I finished that revision that it didn't feel honest of me to say I wanted to write YA, so I undid some of that revision, but other bits stuck around. Em being Isolde's daughter, for instance. Originally, Em and Isolde were the same character, which changed the dynamic between Em and Gyre quite a bit.

THORAIYA: Luckily, I had a Hugo Award-shortlisted professional, Diana Pho, to help me! But there were no drastic changes. Nobody lived who would have died. On the too-many-people front, there were a few minor characters who were cut or combined.


ANNA: Because the journey from first draft to publication was so long for Godblind, editing became a very organic process. In the five or six years prior to getting my agent, I'd read it and edit the bits I thought were weak, then send it out on submission and have it rejected. Then I'd stash it for a few months, reread it and invariably see something I didn't like, so I'd edit it again and send it out again. It became an annual tradition, but each time how I edited and what I edited would be informed by my changing worldview and the books I was reading. 

Over the years, my characters went from traditional high fantasy tropes to much more morally ambiguous,'real' people who made mistakes and got angry and wanted revenge and were consumed with jealousy, alongside being good people. Because we're all of us a mix of every emotion. I started writing about women who were resourceful and capable in a variety of ways and men who weren't afraid to be vulnerable in front of those they loved. I wrote about trauma and survival and did my best not to fetishise either.
I can safely say that the first version of Godblind was unpublishable garbage, and although much of the skeleton of the story remains the same, absolutely everything else on top of it is different. It's no longer a story of noble warriors rescuing damsels in distress from evil villains, much to everyone's relief. But despite all the work I'd done, I still got a set of editorial notes from my agent, and then we went through two more rounds of editing with the publishers. 

We removed a lot of plot points at that stage, things that simply weren't important or didn't really make sense within the wider narrative, and we tightened up a lot of smaller things that seem insignificant until you get to the third book. And it was all vital work.

RICH: I didn’t decide – my editor did. And thank heavens for that. Book one started off at 159,000 words, and the final draft was around 151,000. It was all the better for it, though I don’t remember any radical plot changes other than two of the characters started the book knowing one another where in the original draft they had been strangers. Book two was much the same, though after a suggestion from my editor an important non-POV character was killed off. For book three I pretty much had free reign, but by then my original editor was gone, and I was basically left to my own devices.

EOWYN: I often think a work is finished well before it is. I revise and edit and revise and edit until my agent and editor tell me it's done. It's a long, at times arduous and at times exciting process, and I know I'm finally done when I'm sick to death of the book and can't wait to get it out of my sight.

JOHN: By the time I turned it in to my agent, I had been working on the book so long there wasn't much in the way of edits necessary--chiefly some grammatical stuff. I had edited as I went--sometimes, if it had been a while since I'd worked on the manuscript, I would begin by looking over what I'd written and tinker with it--so it was in pretty decent shape by the time I sent it out.

MARTHA: I’m not sure we mean the same thing when by “editing.” There’s revising, which takes place when the writer is working on the first through the last draft of the story. Some writers finish a draft before going back to revise, others revise as they go along. I revise constantly while I’m working on a first draft, and because of that sometimes my first drafts are actually very close to my final drafts. Editing is usually what takes place after the book has been acquired by a publisher. The editor will go over the manuscript and make suggestions to add or change things, and a good editor will help you make it a better story. The first draft of All Systems Red was close to a finished draft and didn’t need much editing or revising. The others all needed tons of revising, but the editing stages were pretty easy. The editor suggested I make the climax scene of Exit Strategy longer, and that made it a better story.

TIM: I'm a putter-inner, not a taker-outer. My first drafts are often a little sketchy. I always have to go back and add texture, details, little character beats, sometimes extra conflicts if I made things too easy on my protagonists. My books tend to swell by about 10% in revision. I did cut a lot of Ganymede facts from The Dreaming Stars. Ganymede is really interesting! But perhaps not that interesting.

KAT: Writing [and editing as a writer] is really hard. I understand that. Writers need to have thick skin and take criticism daily from every angle. Whether you are just starting out or you are Stephen King. And yes, it is my job to give them that criticism. 

I have been lucky enough to work with writers who all were welcome to constructive criticism and were comfortable enough with me to have a discussion when they disagreed with my opinions.
True. Anthologies are different. You get authors from ever level of talent and maturity when you issue an open call. I’ve received some letters from authors who didn’t take rejection well. On the other hand, I also received letters from authors who had the courage to ask me why it was rejected so they knew what not to do next time. I don’t get too many of those. This shows guts and a willingness to want to improve. Not every anthology will respond to this question, but I encourage authors to do this. 

The only time I have worked with a writer who didn’t handle criticism well, I was doing a favor for a friend. It was a free review and easy to walk away from. I think he thought I would tell him that his idea was awesome… because everybody else had. When I told him how much work was needed to bring it up to speed, he got defensive. Used another cliché I hate which is “this has never been done before” and we never spoke of this book again.

Doesn't editing sound a lot less scary when reading the above answers?

It seems like:

You don't have to edit 99% of your manuscript. The edit doesn't have to be lengthy at all.

You don't have to edit at all unless someone who pays you or who will make sure you get paid later on tells you so.

And if you're worried about not knowing what to edit... well. The editor will tell you!

Kat (an editor herself) too has a wonderful point when she advises writers to send in the big 'why' question after rejections. A lot of the time this practice is labelled as 'taboo' on various writing advice websites. The deed is done. The editor/agent does not want to work with you. Don't waste their time by sending even a 'thank you' and never even mind a 'why not?'.

It's useful to nonetheless do this. If the editor or agent in question doesn't answer... well nothing is lost by asking. And if they do answer then the writer only has to gain. A lot.

I hope this clears up some of the editing fears! Don't be afraid. If you're stuck then let someone else read it. If you have an editor then they're the person to go to. If you don't then ask someone else you can trust to be honest (not your mother or friends usually). I can assure you even a novice at critique will have something useful to say if ever they get bored in your manuscript or something doesn't make sense!

This post marks the before-last entry of the #PenPower project. Next week's question will be our last and it'll be fun. It's also a surprise! So stay tuned!


Friday, April 10, 2020

#PenPower Myth Debunk #6: Editing is scary!

All writers know that writing and editing go hand in hand. Yet whenever someone does an interview with a writer, the editing part is mostly forgotten, and the interview veers strongly in the direction of the writing process itself. Why did the author write the book? How did they write it? Interview questions are usually centered around those questions while editing and the editing process is almost entirely left out.

I wanted to know: How do my favourite writers edit their pieces? Do they get cold feet when the time comes to make sense of their (messy?) first draft?

A lot of writers think editing is the scariest thing they will have to do when it comes to what they've written. Writing is fun. It uses the creative half of the brain and doesn't really care about anything but play. The editing process is a different beast entirely.

But is this actually the truth? This week we've asked the twelve writing superheroes a question that'll help us get to the bottom of whether editing is actually as fearsome as it's made out to be:

What is scarier? Writing or editing?

TIM: I don't find either scary... I used to find editing difficult, when I started out. Eventually I grew to love it, but I sometimes say that drafting is an elemental pleasure and revision is an intellectual one. First draft writing is fun like going down a zipline is fun, like sex is fun, like swimming is fun, like psychedelic drugs are fun. Revising is fun like doing a crossword puzzle is fun. If I didn't get paid to write, I'd still write, but I *would* revise a lot less.

I didn't really have any trouble working on the [Axiom] trilogy, except balancing the action with the quiet character moments. There's SO much action I thought there was a danger of skimping on the characters, so I did my best to make sure the action reflected things about the people too. I was unevenly successful.

MARTHA: Writing first draft is the hardest for me. I actually like the revising and editing stages. First draft for Murderbot is very difficult, since that’s where I figure out the logistics of Murderbot’s multiple inputs, and that can be very tricky.

ANNA: This is not an easy question to answer; both! Drafting a brand new book from a rough outline (in my case) is very exciting, but it's always scary because I know I'm not going to hit all the arcs and story beats in the way that I want. Plus, what if I completely fluff the story? What if it it's boring, or over-long, or florid? Then again, getting edits back can be terrifying, but once I've sulked and railed at the injuctice of my editors pointing out my mistakes, I get really excited to make those sections better. I'd say actually, the scariest parts are the parts where I'm not writing and therefore have no control over the story - waiting to see if my publishers want to buy it; waiting for edits; waiting for the book to come out; waiting for those first reviews... 
I actually enjoy all the aspects of writing and editing, within a mildly stressed and terrified framework!

YOON: Writing, definitely. I'm not afraid of editing. I like taking a mess of manuscript and whipping it into shape; it's like doing a jigsaw puzzle and making everything fall into place, except more fun. (I hate jigsaw puzzles. Sorry, puzzle aficionados!) Writing, on the other hand, is just a long slog of getting the words out. Editing lets me fix the words that already exist. I'm much faster at editing than writing

RICH: I worked as a professional editor before I started writing, and I’ve always been more comfortable with the editing process. However, I do find if you put the prep in before you begin the drafting process (i.e. plan your story, know your characters, have your chapter breakdowns ready) there’s a lot less work to do at the back end.

The Steelhaven trilogy was a long journey, but it was helped by the fact I knew the characters inside out before I started writing the first paragraph. Still, I found the editing process much easier than writing the first draft, and probably always will.

THORAIYA: They’re both scary! But on Titan’s Forest, I found the writing more challenging. There were so many people and places I wanted to fit into the overall story, and I was worried it was too confusing, or that I wasn’t introducing things in the right order. I really relied on my editor to help point out the places where there was too much exposition in one hit. Contemporary fantasy or near-future science fiction is so much easier from that standpoint.

EOWYN: I don't find either process scary necessarily. I do sometimes find it challenging to get into the zone, to really become absorbed in the work to the point that nothing distract me. The initial writing process feels very intimate and private, something like dreaming when it's going well. During editing, I have to shift gears and think outside of myself and try to engage with how other people are experiencing it. It can be hard sometimes to set aside my own ego and defensiveness, but I always remember to be grateful. As hard as it is to hear from my agent or editor that something isn't working, I know that ultimately it will push me to make the book better. Often the most difficult part of that process is figuring out how to fix the problems that they've spotted, because I'll know they're right, something is not working, but they won't have the right solution. All of it, though -- the writing and the editing -- is a rollercoaster ride. One minute I'm chugging uphill and it's such hard work and I'm doubting myself, and then suddenly I'm cresting the rise and the wind is in my hair and the ride is positively exhilarating.

ADRIAN: I don’t think I’d class either as scary, but if forced to go for one then, editing. Writing is definitely more fun. Editing always feels gruelling, and I often have a gap between receiving edits and starting on them in which I feel the whole business is insuperable and horrible, but once I get down to it, it tends to go efficiently enough.

JOHN: I think each has its challenges. With writing, you're trying to get down on paper something that comes as close to what you want as possible. With editing, there's the realization that you've used the same word four times in two sentences, or that you've used the same type of sentence ten of the last eleven times.

With The Fisherman, I think the first was more of the issue, especially when it came to the book's middle section. I had to encourage myself to be as bold, as wild, as I could.

SUE: I think “scary” is the wrong word. Writing should be fun. If it’s not, maybe there’s a different job you would enjoy more. So, which is more fun, writing or editing? For me the first draft is generally harder and editing is easier, but that will vary from author to author. In any case, both writing and editing are necessary, like different parts of any job, and I try not to attach stressful emotions to the process. As Nike says, just do it.

KAT: Editing. If nobody likes my writing, I’m the only one that gets hurt. But hell hath no fury like a writer whose been told their ideas need work. 

CAITLIN: Editing. Even though I know it's necessary and therefore doesn't mean I got the previous draft wrong, there's still some pride caught up in it. And also fear that I won't be able to see or solve all the problems. I've had a few projects that, while good, have required substantial revisions/rewrites in order to be really good, which can be [difficult].

For The Luminous Dead, as I already mentioned, I had to rewrite half the book after it sold. The original draft had very real, very physical monsters, and the threat of those monsters formed the whole plot of the second half of the book. My editor, David Pomerico, decided we didn't need those monsters, and that the relationship between Gyre and Em, plus the uncertainty and dread of the cave itself, could more than fill the book. That meant I had to reorder a lot of events, and find a way to make a book with no big reveal of "the real threat" still feel satisfying. That's a tall order! I started by identifying the major problems and gaps caused by pulling out the monsters, then re-outlined, then started in on redrafting. It took about three months to get the second half redone to specifications. Then we cleaned everything up over the next half a year.

It appears from the answers above that editing is indeed scary. And so is writing. And some of our superheroes are even worried about both. Again there's no one answer. There's only sitting down and doing it anyway.

So this time comes a call to action in this last paragraph: What do you think? As a writer, which is more scary to you personally? Writing or editing? Or are you not scared of either like some of our superheroes? There's of course the option to be scared of both (and more!) too! Leave a comment in the comment section below or chime in on Twitter @Jasmingelinck!

In the next post we'll be looking closer at the (scary? Non-scary? You decide!) editing process itself! Must you edit? Why is it so essential? And how much should you edit?