The Director’s Cut

During my rewrites of the work in progress I came across a section which has given me trouble from the word go. Rewrites have improved it but I was still struggling to make it sing. Nothing seemed to work. All the usual tools in my writer’s toolkit weren’t able to get to the heart of the problem. Dispirited after another fruitless attempt to bring it up to the level of the rest of the book, I abandoned my study and stomped off.

Needing a boost I decided to watch The Devil Wears Prada on DVD. I’ve seen the movie several times. I can quote my favourite lines as they are being said but it always makes me laugh and I was in need of comfort. When the movie finished I decided to watch the outtakes and then look at the deleted scenes whilst listening to the director’s commentary.

What became apparent with a lot of the scenes that had been cut was that there was actually very little wrong with them. In most instances the point of the scene had been made better in a different scene making the cut scene superfluous or the movie was simply running too long and a scene had to be trimmed with the vital parts of that scene being retained and anything else being cut. Most of the scenes that were cut were beautifully shot and yet had no place in the movie because they didn’t carry their weight.

Lightbulb moment.

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I knew I could use the logic of this process on the section I was having difficulty with.

The next day I returned to the study, buoyed up and ready to attack the troublesome section with a pair of metaphorical scissors. For the next couple of hours I transformed the section from flabby to tight. With my Director’s Cut take on things I was able to zero in on the pieces of the work that were crucial and the parts that could be done away with – however nicely written.

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By the end of the day, the section worked. Up until that point I had been working too closely with it. What I needed to do was take a director’s bird’s eye overview of the piece and then it became apparent where the problems were.

So the next time you are having difficulties become the director and get your metaphorical scissors ready for action.

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Out of Character?

Before Christmas I blogged about wrestling with the rewrites of my current work in progress. At the time I was using the term “work in progress” in its loosest sense you will understand.

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I had been worrying away at trying to make a section work and failing spectacularly to understand why the piece wasn’t coming together.

My time away made me realise what was wrong. I was trying to make the characters act out of character to suit the plot.

It was so obvious when I went back it. Suddenly I could see that shoe horning the characters into the boxes that the plot dictated took away what made their characters work in the first place.

It was a salutary lesson. As soon as I stopped trying to make my characters act against their will, the scenes began to come together and the writing started to flow.

No plot is written in stone. It can always be improved upon. As soon as I made the necessary changes and allowed my characters to act in a way that suited the personalities I had built for them I stopped trying to push a boulder up a hill.

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Don’t fall into the trap of thinking just because you came up with a plot it must always remain as originally thought up. Adapt it, play with it, experiment.

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And the next time you are struggling to make a scene sing, ask yourself if you are making your characters act out of character just so that you can preserve the plot and if the answer is yes don’t sacrifice your characters, change the plot.

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Don’t be afraid to walk away

As some of you will know who follow my blog I am in the midst of rewriting a novel I wrote some years ago. It needed bringing up to date – smartphones have rather taken over our lives and I needed to address some inherent problems with the plot. I blogged about it here in Easy Option – https://goo.gl/qPP5SO

Now I am deep in the heart of the rewrites and my confidence is sometimes high but mostly low as I grapple with the mess that was once a cohesive novel albeit a troubled one. I am sure you are all familiar with the saying ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’. Well my desk is covered in broken eggs right now and it is hard to keep the faith.

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One part of the story was giving me more trouble than any other and I spent a couple of days beating myself up at the keyboard wondering why I just couldn’t make it work. Sometimes you can just be too close to a piece of work and all it takes is a little distance to see where you were going wrong.

Exhausted by the process of getting nowhere, my brain aching from turning the same problems over in my mind and not reaching any satisfactory conclusions, I decided to take a complete break from writing for a couple of days.

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It was a brave thing to do (some might say foolhardy) given I had a self imposed tight deadline but that in itself was adding to my stress levels. When you can no longer see the wood for the trees your writer’s spidey senses are hardly going to be at their best. So I decided to pull the plug for a while.

I stopped being Ellie Holmes the writer and just enjoyed being me. It took a few hours for the white noise of a busy writer’s brain to calm itself. A dose of reality TV and comfort food helped. And once peace reigned, I lived for a few days like normal people live. You should try it some time. I highly recommend it.

As you can tell from this blog, it didn’t last long. A brief holiday from my writer’s self was all I needed to recharge the batteries and rev up the creative engine. But as with a traditional mini break I came back refreshed, reinvigorated and ready for the challenge.

 

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Setting a Schedule

When you take the plunge and become an indie author there are lots of things to plan for but having a publishing schedule can sometimes slip down the list.

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If you were with an agent or a traditional publisher one of the first questions they will ask you once they have expressed an interest in your work is what you are currently working on and what other manuscripts you have. Some careers are built on one book alone but most are not. The professionals want to be assured that there is plenty more coming down the track from you which will make you a viable entity from their point of view.

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For indies, there is no one to ask that question but us and so it can slip off the radar but it shouldn’t and here’s why. Caught up in the excitement and terror of indie publishing your first novel it can be difficult to look up from the myriad elements you are juggling to take a moment to look ahead but one of the most popular questions I was asked when I did my blog tour for The Flower Seller was ‘When is your next book coming out and what is it about?’. Trust me when I say you want to have the answers to those questions and the only way to do that is to plan ahead.

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In an ideal world we would have all the time we needed to write, the stories would fly from our minds to our fingertips and out to the big wide world. We would be multi published authors in next to no time. Back in the real world not many of us have that luxury. Writing is something that has to be fitted around family and friends, hobbies and often a day job that pays the bills.

It’s good to have high standards and expect a lot from yourself but you also need a reality check. Consider how many books you can write, edit, polish, publish and market in a year. Don’t skimp on the estimates. In fact over estimate to allow yourself time for the emergencies that crop up in all our lives.

Hopefully before you indie publish your first novel you will have a pretty good idea of the genre you want to write in and that will also help determine the probable length of your books. This will also help you decide on a realistic writing schedule to produce new material and a realistic publishing schedule to turn the raw manuscripts into a lovely, shiny new books. I would recommend you set a publishing schedule across a period of two years at a time – any longer and it starts to lose its relevancy.

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Conscious that the more books you have in the market place, the higher your visibility should become, I set a year one target of one full length novel (100,000 words) and a novella (50,000) which is the first in a three book set. I felt that was a doable target for year one. For year two I have my sights set on one full length novel and, if I can manage it, books two and three in the novella series. Thus reaching my two-year target of two full length novels and one set of novellas. Will I achieve it? I’m going to give it my best shot so watch this space!

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The easy option?

So here’s the thing, my next full length novel White Lies is due for publication next summer. It is a story that I wrote some years ago. It needs a general update, a good edit and a polish which is what I expected.

I was aware that there were also some areas of weakness with it which would need to be addressed and I formulated a plan to tackle those.

Plan in place I began the rewrite. So far so good.

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Then on my way to my day job I had a thought. You know how it goes, you are turning the plot over in your mind, aware of the areas that need more attention and then you suddenly think ‘Hold on! What if…’

The brainwave addressed the weaknesses and concerns I had with the original version but the simple fixer-uper approach would have done that too with a lot less time and hassle. The new idea would take a lot more work but the book would be so much better for it.

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I’ll admit part of me gave serious consideration to taking the easy option. If it will be good enough then do it. But is good enough, good enough? Especially when the new version could outshine it. So what if it’s more time and effort. I am a writer. If I wasn’t writing this, I would be writing something else. Besides which I want every book I put out to be the best version of that book it can possibly be. If I had settled for the easy option I would have known that I had sold myself, the book and my readers short. Other people may not have noticed but I would have known and that in itself was reason enough not to do it.

There are two things to take from this. One is listen to your gut instinct because it is so often right. The second is be prepared to do the hard work because good enough is never good enough when it comes to writing books.

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Time to Write – Part Two

The thing about writing is you have to sit down and get it done. There are no shortcuts. Just you and the keyboard in harmony or despair – sometimes both in the same half an hour.

I have discovered the key to finding time to write is not to go looking for it in the first place. Your life will already be filled or else your natural instinct to want to relax will kick in. There is no free time to write. That is why you have to carve it out of your everyday routine. It is the only sustainable way to achieve your long term goals and call yourself a writer unless you have invented the ability to stretch time in which case call me.

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I happen to be a morning person. I love mornings! I am an early riser, the earlier the better. I love the solitude the new day brings when it is just me, my dog and a cup of tea as the world wakes up around me. I find writing early in the morning easy. Mentally, I get out of the way and just let the words flow. I do keep one eye on the clock because I have a forty-five minute window to make the magic happen. The reason I have a wonderful forty-five minute window? I get up early just to write.

It’s no good asking an evening person to do what I do. It would be like asking me to write good stuff at ten o’clock at night. It’s not going to happen.

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Once you know what suits your natural rhythms you will know the best time of day (or night) to write. Then you will need something to aim for – a set period of time or a word count target. I have both. I try for 1,000 words in my forty-five minute window.

If I have had a break from my morning routine I know that the first few mornings back in the saddle will take some adjusting to. I did this a couple of weeks ago – the first day I managed no more than 300 words, the second day it was 750. By the third day I had hit my stride. I didn’t beat myself up about not reaching the target on the first two days. I was simply pleased with the quality of what I wrote and the fact that I had SHOWED UP.

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Sometimes writing is all about demonstrating your commitment to the project and in yourself as a writer. Showing up for a writing session, day after day, is what gets a book written. We can all hit a rich seam of creativity for a few hours at a time but it is the sheer slog that pushes a writer over the finish line.

So my tips for getting the writing done are simple:-

  1. Find the time of day or night that suits the rhythms of your body best and carve out writing time from it.
  2. Set yourself a realistic limit on time and/or word count for your writing sessions.
  3. Show up, day after day, week after week.
  4. Don’t beat yourself up if you fall short of your word count target, just be pleased you still showed up.
  5. If you break the routine of showing up, get back to it as soon as you can.
  6. When you reach a milestone in your work in progress choose a little treat for yourself.
  7. Keep showing up until the book is finished.

Before you know where you are, you will be ticking milestones off your list and your writing sessions will be incorporated into your days as if they have always been there.

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Let’s do it all again

Even before The Flower Seller was launched I had already turned my mind to my next book conscious of the mantra of write, publish, repeat. My next full length romantic novel White Lies will be out in June 2017. White Lies was written a few years ago and did the rounds of the main publishing houses (as The Flower Seller did). I had some nice comments but no takers and so it went into a box and was tucked away. In my blog on 12th May 2016 I talked about Diamonds in the Drawer https://goo.gl/AchuZW those pieces of writing that have been discarded for various reasons but which might, with a little loving care, live to see the light of day once more.

Diamond in the Rough
Diamond in the Rough by Orin Zebest courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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So it is with White Lies. It’s been a number of years since I last looked at the manuscript. I remember the characters and the main plot points but I couldn’t remember every little detail because so much time had passed. In one way I found that exciting – how often have we wished to have the ability to see our writing through the eyes of a stranger, as if reading it for the first time. Now I would come as close to achieving that as possible. But I’ll let you into a little secret. I was scared of starting the read through.

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I’m a busy person so finding reasons to put it off was easy, so easy in fact that I didn’t even consciously register I was avoiding it until the avoidance became extreme. When I did finally grasp what was happening, I knew I was running scared in case reading it with fresh eyes opened my eyes to the fact it wasn’t very good and perhaps it would be better not to find out.

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But I’m a practical person who believes in meeting problems head on so I pulled myself together, poured myself a stiff drink and started to read. Three days and one hundred thousand words later I was finished. My assessment? It needs work but not as much work as I’d feared. The characters and the plot hold together. It needs a good edit and some finessing and I need to tinker with the structure at the end but it’s all doable. I even started to feel excited at the prospect of tackling the rewrites.

A couple of things struck me as I read the story through. I began to remember the scenes I had struggled with and sure enough they still don’t read as smoothly as the ones which came easily but at least now I could spot why this was. What really irked me, however, was the fact that on three occasions I ducked the scene.

Crucial scenes were told either in flashback or reported by one character to another. Reading the story in 2016 I can’t now remember why I did that. Perhaps it was the pressure of the word count (the story was bouncing up at 120,000 words at one stage) but I think it was more likely the case that I considered the scenes too big for me and the coward in me ran and hid instead of toughing it out and getting the scene down on paper.

Trust focus strength
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I stopped ducking scenes years ago but remember this was a story from a long time ago, I obviously still had the habit back then. My writing has now matured and instead of being scared that I’m not capable of doing justice to those scenes they are the scenes I am actually most excited about working on, their potential has got my mind fizzing with enthusiasm. I wouldn’t be surprised if when the book is finished, those scenes don’t end up being amongst the stand out scenes in readers’ minds. We’ll see.

The moral of this story is don’t duck the big scenes through fear. Readers are likely to feel cheated if you do. Back yourself as a writer to do them justice and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised…..I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

The Flower Seller Cover and Blurb
Have love and loyalty gone out of fashion? The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes available from Amazon now https://goo.gl/KFi7kw