Walking Home In The Fog

I’m a fiddler.*

Even if I’ve only written a chapter of the manuscript, the next day will see me re-reading, editing, revising.  Fiddling.  Reworking.  Obsessing.  By the time I reach the midway point in a manuscript,** I will have read it in excess of 40 times. Then the MS is finished, and the fun really begins. There’s the line by line edit, where I catch*** all those stupid little grammatical errors; not to mention the glaring errors in spelling. There’s the paragraph to paragraph read, when I try to make sure of continuity and flow. Then there’s the last**** read through to be sure my story structure stands up on its own two feet.  That’s not to mention the time I spend on my characters, making sure that each of them is separate from the others; each with their own personality, voice, quirks, and reactions.

That’s now.

But when I finished my first MS, fiddling aside, I did nothing like that. I did read the MS. In fact, I read it exhaustively, niggling at wrong word choices and bits that just weren’t quite right.  The problem was, 9 times out of 10, I didn’t know what was wrong.  I spent the first few days after finishing the MS in a happy daze, certain that I was the next Austen,***** or Patricia Wrede, or Diana Wynne Jones.  Then I re-read it, and I was just as certain that it was rubbish. I could feel that this paragraph or this sentence didn’t fit, or didn’t sit right, or just plain felt wierd; but I didn’t know what was wrong.  I knew that the characters weren’t right, and that everything felt flat, or too fast, or too slow; and that the conversation that felt so very witty and/or grand when I first wrote it, now seemed somehow not quite so witty or grand.  I just couldn’t put my finger on where it was that I’d gone wrong.  The next few weeks after finishing the MS I spent in a black fug, gloomily certain that I would never be published.

I still get both of those feelings.  The euphoria, the fug.  The difference is, now they’re in moderation because I do know what’s wrong and I do know how to fix it.

It’s the difference between walking home on a clear night and walking home in the fog.  In the fog, you know where home is and you’re pretty sure you know where you are, but the turns are obscured and everything feels just that little bit off.  The familiar parts of the road aren’t familiar in the fog, and you can’t see enough to know if you’ve turned rightly or wrongly.  Then the fog lifts, and suddenly you know exactly where you are, and where home is, and every turn and step of the way there.  You know that in two steps you’ll have to turn left, and that the gate across the field is already open so you won’t need to wrestle with that rusty hinge, and that the neighbour’s dog is outside, so you’ll have to watch out for that irritating burst of barking.

walking home in the fog

I know more now that I did when I started.  I know about pacing, and structure; I know about characterization and voice; style and flow; a little grammar and a smattering of spelling.  I read a sentence I wrote last night or last week, and I know straight away what’s wrong with it.  I still make mistakes and write flat characters and make a complete mess of continuity,****** but now I know how to fix it.

And that makes all the difference.



*No, really. I play the violin.

**Usually 60,000 words, give or take.

***Alright, so I try to catch ’em.


*****Well, I am a writer.  Did you think I bought that imagination at a garage sale?

******That’s what sisters are for.  Right?  Right, Naomi?  What’s that?  You say that they didn’t have fluffy towels in the whatever century?  And that gun popped up out of nowhere?

A Slightly Better Class Of Slush?

Well, it’s that time of the year again.  In other words, a publisher has read the first three chapters of the manuscript I’m subbing, and asked to have the full sent to them.  So, moderate hooray!s.  I’m now in a slightly better class of slush!

Cue the ridiculous dreams of fame, fortune, and astronomical sales . . .

That’s all folks.  After all, I have to make sure the MS is squeaky clean O.O

Full-length Novels Vs Short Stories

Until about half a year ago, I’d have told you that I don’t write short stories.  My stories tend to grow exponentially as I write them, and the meagre 2, 000 to 10, 000 word limit on short stories has never seemed enough to do them justice.  Added to that was the fact that, well, I just wasn’t interested in short stories.  So I kept on writing my novels.

It was only when I recieved feedback from an editor remarking upon the need for improvement in pacing that the idea of short stories came up again.  At around the same time I began to attend a writer’s group in my local library, where we were quite often given a list of words and asked to write a poem, short story, etc., using all the words.

The setting was the Second World War.  The place was a rooftop.  The words were ‘ladder’, ‘shopgirl’, and something else I can’t remember now.  And for the first time, I had an idea for a short story.  I gave myself ten pages. Ten pages to experiment with pacing.  Ten pages to see if I could actually do it.  Ten pages to play out the entire idea, and a week in which to write it.  You can see how it turned out here.  I had so much fun with A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend.  More importantly, it gave me real life practise in trying a different type of pacing.

You see, you can’t waste words in a short story.  You’ve got a limited amount of them, and you have to make sure each word counts.  If you’re a writer like me, that means figuring out how to slip from scene to scene neatly and coherently, in as few words as possible.  I’ve always been overly verbose, and wrangling words into their simplest terms was refreshing.  It was challenging.  And when you have to read your short story aloud to a room full of impatient elderly writers who each want you to Shut Up So I Can Get On With MY Story, you’re going to be confined to an even smaller word count.

A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend was preceded by Ruth and the Ghost, which I found even more enjoyable, if possible.  After the two short stories came flash fiction, and then the Drabble.  I still love my novels.  I still even prefer them to short stories.  But now I know a little more about pacing, and I’ve had practise in stream-lining my fiction.  I’m stretching myself as a writer.  I’m learning.  And when you’re still in the slush pile, that’s about all you can hope for.

Keep writing, fellow slush-ites.  Stretch yourselves.  Try something new.  One day that’ll be us in the Best-Seller list.

TimeTravellers (No subtitle) Ruth and the Ghost pic