I’m delighted to say that after a seven-month break Douglas makes a welcome return to TIPM with his latest contribution in his “Writing and Reading For Pleasure” series for February 2017 with a reflective post on happenings since the summer of 2016.
When I started writing this post last Friday I should have been on the hospital operating table. A small procedure making me either into a “new grumpy old man” or a frightening and fear filled start along a road to becoming a “bionic man” but instead the x-ray machine to progress the Asimov type procedure broke down. Totally unexpected, but it gave me a few hours to write a TIPM post and do other things on my long to do list. Fortunately, I only have to wait another three weeks for them to try again.
I made my usual annual trip to France for two weeks at the end of June 2016 using the direct London Marseilles Eurostar to Lyon followed by various time-consuming local links to my remote destination. Despite being unwell while there, I had the reassurance of my host plugging me into the local emergency services just in case, which thankfully I did not need. I also managed to return home, albeit with the stress of various connections and having to exit the Eurostar and reboard at Lille for security all thanks to Osama Bin Laden. Apart from the Lille experience, I recommend the Eurostar service and see it has been expanded from the twice a week service of last year.
While in France I surveyed the time I had available in my life and the various pressures. Since 2010 when I started writing essential activities, other than writing, had been crowded out. These now needed attention, so I took the decision to restrict writing to a major push on self-editing my million words written between 2010 and 2014 and to drift my reading back to non-fiction. The casualties were keeping an active web presence and checking web advice and posts which were taking much scarce time at the expense of editing time.
I also took some time to filter all the advice I received and read about how to write since 2010. Reading some of my early stories, I felt they were much fresher than more recent writing. I decided in my efforts to improve my writing I might have been squeezed into literary conformity by those giving advice. Many had not managed to write best-selling books or receive consistently high reviews in their own writing.
I have found my self-editing and limited external edits on my writing long and painful. As previously pointed out in earlier posts, I am a learn-by-doing person. Being a writer is not a short-term activity. While reading the splendid autobiography of Sir Geoffrey de Havilland – Sky Fever – I chuckled at his bravery in trying to fly his first self-designed and built aircraft. When airborne he did not have enough time to learn how to exercise control before crashing and destroying the aircraft. Fortunately he survived to build and learn to control later aircraft by flying. He did not copy the designs of other pioneers because he thought they were all feeling in the dark.
The main character in my long story-books, Henry Cross, believes in time travel and finds himself in much the same position as Sir Geoffrey. He has to learn how to control time travel once his journeys back into the past and future have started. Unlike the time travellers in H.G. Wells’ book, Henry has managed to return to go so far.
Stephen King and many other authors I respect have a high regard for the craft of writing short stories. Taking this as a foundation stone, I have gone back to my original approach of formatting my long story-books as collections of interlinked short stories, each with the following structure.
Fundamentally, a good storyline, normally, but not always has a beginning, middle and end, and a good hook at the beginning to keep readers wondering: a memorable moment or moments, some titillation, a surprise and/ or a twist in the tail or both. Also, a theme of LOOKING and SEEING runs through my writing and I have ordered books on the subject by the late John Berger to study and expand my own thoughts.
Both of the professional editors who examined my writing in 2011 remarked about my writing being “unusual”. This could have been code for “rubbish”, but if so I ignored their advice and ploughed on. I spent much time from November 2015 to May 2016 in composing a 5,000 word short story for a competition. I had looked at past entries and thought I could do as well or better. I did not get anywhere because I reflect the sifters of entries probably did not recognise the merit of my unusual fiction. Later testing of the text with editing software gave a high rating, at least the equivalent of recent and old speeches by our national leaders which I have also tested for fun. The editing software is much franker than my professional editors in describing less satisfactory text as “dreadful”. I wish those editors had given me such advice, but perhaps it is easier to accept such a comment from a machine than a human. Gary, one of my professional editors says most people, over 50%, stop reading books because they get bored. As readers do not know what to expect from page to page of my writing, I hope I can hook them in.
Since last June, my decision to narrow my writing focus has borne fruit. I have at last cracked the tense I wish to use, deciding on “predominately active present”. This is a means to move towards my hated mantra of show not tell in producing active rather than passive descriptions of events. The changes have been very time-consuming.
I have been helped by two features of the AUTOCRIT computer editing (old system) that is – pointing out passive text and overuse of words. The old system which processes text over the Internet crashed recently and I feared it would stay down, but it is up again. While AUTOCRIT was down I looked at other editing software packages. I have been evaluating STYLE WRITER 4 and find it good to use with a direct link to and from MSWord for editing. It would be even better if it included the over-used word facility found in AUTOCRIT. I wonder what editing software other writers reading this post use. Analysis of this post in draft signals an easy read rating but poor style and fair active writing and flow ratings. I will tune up before publishing. (My tune up now shows good text in style flow and active writing.) Any comments on the result would be useful.
When I was writing towards a target of a million words, an average daily writing target provided good discipline and pressure to write. I have failed to find a similar spur to completion in self-editing. This is because some sections of text are easy to bring up to a standard while others take many attempts. I am happy with my creativity expressed in the form and mix of my plotting with only a few matters where I have forgotten the plot. I am very pleased I did the million draft words in a continuous process rather than book by book. I amaze myself at some of the stories I have forgotten I had written. In various places, I left chapter headings and notes for detailed writing later. A big mistake because I find I am struggling to complete these, perhaps because, for whatever the reason, I could not. I have not experienced writer’s block in any other matter.
Since June 2016, I have managed to self-edit and bring text up to near publishing standard for over 300,000 words in my first long book trilogy. I have also found all but a couple of over 100 free-standing short stores on my computers and made them into another volume of nearly 100,000 words. The two lost stories are niggling at me because they must be somewhere. Despite my good intentions, my computer filing is not as good as it needs to be for saving my writing. I am pleased my concentration of effort has been worthwhile.
May I wish all writers, readers and those considering publishing an interesting, enjoyable and productive year in 2017. I will stop now as I have gone past my target word count for the article. I have some more material to write a later post when I am a new grumpy old man.
Douglas Burcham started writing on 1 June 2010 and self-published under the Allrighters’ name a story-book ‘Ywnwab!’ in September 2013. A million words of draft writing reached completion in January 2014 split between 900,000 words of fiction and 100,000 words of non-fiction. The latter being about writing and memories of buildings, trains, boats and planes. Since then slow progress continues to be made in converting the draft words into final books ready for possible publishing as short and long story-books under the Allrighters’ name. He contributed a monthly post to TIPM up to June 2016.