Cliches: Avoid them like … …

This writing business, it’s a roller coaster ride, up one minute, down the next. It’s been emotional and I’m struggling to come to terms with it. Some people think it’s as easy as pie and writers don’t have a care in the world. But you have to be tough as old boots and hard as nails to suffer the slings and arrows and weather the storm. You have to think outside the box, have nerves of steel, take the rough with the smooth and above all, don’t let it get you down.

You may get out of bed the wrong side and feel like a bear with a sore head some days, but you’ve got to keep on keeping on, because at the end of the day, it’s down to you. It is what it is and if there’s no pain, there’s no gain. Just don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

But keep your chin up. Every cloud has a silver lining and every dog has its day. What goes around comes around, and time heals all wounds. In the grand scheme of things you’ll live to fight another day.

Freshly Pressed – and Juiced about it!

juicedHey, this is fun.  I found out yesterday that my last post, One word at a time, is to be featured on Freshly Pressed.

I began blogging two years ago whilst in the early stages of writing my first novel.  I thought it would be good to have a web presence that wasn’t about my work life (that’s my marketing web site) but instead reflected my ambitions to become a writer and my writing journey (I know… I’m sorry, I hate that word too).  It also afforded me a soapbox to grumble in a very Grumpy Old Woman-ish sort of a way about the language I love and the way it gets corrupted. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve no problem with language evolving for an altered cultural landscape.  What I dislike is lazy language.

For two years I’ve been pinning my posts to a tree in the middle of a forest.  Every now and again, someone has wandered past and enjoyed a read, but mostly, ants have chewed at the paper and rain has washed away the ink.  To be fair, I’ve done little to boost my follower numbers – until now – I’ve been too busy trying to finish my first novel.  That’s my excuse, m’lud, and I stand by it.

But by a strange and synergistic coincidence in the very week that I finally declare Singled Out to be a finished manuscript, I get Freshly Pressed.  So I’m juiced! And now that my 97,000 fledgling words are almost ready to fly (yes, another few hundred evaporated on the advice of one of my Beta readers), I promise to be a better blogger in future.

And if by chance you’re a reader who stumbled upon my tree in the forest as a result of Freshly Pressed, do take a moment to say Hi!

One word at a time

scissors-editI’m line editing.  After almost three years of writing words into my first novel, for the last month I’ve been taking them out, one by one.  With two line-by-line passes through my draft, I’ve shrunk 107,000 words to 98,000, dipping below that 100,000 word marker beyond which, apparently, novice writers venture at their peril.

Line editing is an interesting if tedious technical exercise and it’s involved a few tactics, amongst which:

  • Culling 99% of occurrences of these words: really, rather, just, quite, very, oh, so, well and suddenly. I said a silent prayer to the twin gods of Search and Delete.
  • Appraising every instance of verb + adverb and replacing many, many of them with… a more descriptive verb. Yes, you can’t escape that one. I love my well-thumbed Roget’s more than ever now.
  • Interrogating every adjective cosying up to a noun and consigning two out of every three to the scrap-heap. I’m ashamed to admit, there were places where an inexplicable, suffocating, weighty chain of three adjectives dragged down a noun.  Oops.
  • Radical surgery on long sentences and complex constructions.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition: Eliminating the second and subsequent instances of a favoured word of the day – over and over.
  • Sometimes it’s obvious who’s thinking or saying something. Deleting he/she said/thought where it isn’t needed dealt with another hundred or so surplus words.
  • It doesn’t always matter what a character is wearing, or what colour eyes they have.  In fact, as far as I can see, it only matters when it tells you something about the character that is useful or relevant to the reader. Physical descriptions resembling witness statements have gone; only selective, telling details remain.

This literary fight-the-flab regime has been a good deal more effective than the one I’m (still) trying to impose on my extra physical pounds.  Aiding the process of editorial expurgation was an e-book I purchased recently (no, I’m not going to tell you what it was). Clearly never having been subjected to a disciplined editing process, this book was overrun with an abundance of wasted words, superfluous sentences and drawn-out dialogue.  Reading it (or, I confess, just the first 20% of it) made me realise how irritating – and dull – it is to plough through pages of rambling narrative, bloated with excess detail.  I saw where my first novel would be without the rigour of a line edit.

It’s not perfect – how can it be?  But it was a serious job, diligently executed. Doubtless if I’m fortunate enough to attract the attentions of an agent and a publisher, there will be a second and even subsequent culls.  But for now, it’s enough.

This weekend, my first novel went out to two test readers.  Now all I want to do is hide under the duvet and eat ice cream.

Let them eat cake

cakeIt’s a whole new linguistic world out there on Tuesday evening telly.

I’m loving Great British Bake Off (I’m finally on-board after poo-poohing it for three series).  And I’m deeply into series two of Top Boy too.  For those of you not in the know, Great British Bake Off is, basically, a baking competition, executed in a sunny marquee bursting with pansy-scattered aprons and chocolate sprinkles. By significant contrast, Top Boy has been labelled The Wire for Brits.  I’m not sure I agree, but it’s very good – hard-core narrative, compelling characters, dark places and lots of gritty, visceral action.

So, without further ado, and not for the first time, I’ll confess to a split personality.

But my two favourite Tuesday night programmes have presented me with a mini linguistic conundrum. At 8 o’clock on Great British Bake Off dough is used to make bread.  But an hour down the schedule on Top Boy they’ve said a fierce farewell to the traditional ‘crooks and drugs’ slang for money – that would be, um…,  dough or bread.   Money is now apparently paper.  And as for drugs, well, that’s apparently food.  Which, if nothing else, brings us back to bread, I suppose.

But I can guess what you’re going to ask.  Where would that gritty ‘crooks and drugs’ film, Layer Cake, fit in with all this?

The delightful delusion of shopping TV

I love shopping TV – I confess to the odd purchase or three, mainly to feed a hard-to-control paper crafting habit.  I can be easily persuaded that I cannot live a moment longer without the latest paper cutting gadget or the newest, fanciest embossing powder, and that I must rush to buy before stocks are exhausted.

What I love most about shopping TV however, is the way the concept of spending money on the purchase of a product is re-moulded into the seductive language of demand and delight, temptation and treat.

So just for fun, here are a few of my special shopping TV language favourites:

  • It isn’t cheap, it’s affordable
  • You aren’t buying, you’re investing
  • You aren’t spending money, you’re going for it. Woo hoo!!!
  • It isn’t absurdly expensive, it’s a considered purchase
  • It’s all about praise and reward:  Well done if you got yours!
  • Nearly ten percent of the stock has gone! Really, and that makes us all anxious, why?
  • It’s not tasteless and trashy, it’s making a statement
  • Spending running out of control? No, you’re adding to your collection
  • Why stop at one?  Buy two and give one away.  But why?
  • We can’t get it back in stock.  Then what, pray, are you doing in the selling game?
  • A set of six – great value. Not if I only want one, it isn’t
  • We’re giving you. . . No!  It’s not a gift. You’re spending your hard-earned cash money for real

More is More

As a professional copywriter, I’m often required to write to a word count to fit a defined space in a  web site, brochure or e-communication. I find the best approach is to write what feels necessary to convey the message and then sharpen and sharpen, finding more powerful words to replace flabby phrases, cutting out unnecessary ones and so on, until I arrive back at the designated word count.

I hear it’s not that different when editing your novel’s first draft. Some people say you should expect to cut at least 10% of your word count simply by eliminating superfluous adverbs, finding more concise phrasing and crossing through all the redundant and’s, but’s, that’s and was-ings. That’s never mind what you do to improve the narrative itself.

I look forward to it – mainly because it will feel like an amazing achievement simply to have reached the second-draft stage. For the time being, I’m still on my first draft. And here, encouraged by my esteemed mentor, the job is very different. ‘What else?’ she asks. What else? What can I ADD to enhance the scene, show another facet of my character’s state of mind, deepen the experience and immerse the reader more thoroughly in the time and place and space? ‘Stay here for longer,’ she says. ‘Let the reader into this scene,’ and ‘I want more of this’. I think, I must be doing something right – and that’s encouraging – but it’s not quite right enough.

It’s a challenge to this neophyte, would-be novelist, still flexing and connecting creative synapses and discovering what it means to move beyond fact and marketing-speak into storytelling and imagination. I’ve written WHAT ELSE? on a card and fixed it to my PC monitor. From now on, every scene, every piece of dialogue, every paragraph will get the question, WHAT ELSE? That is, until it comes time for the second draft massacre, when I guess the question will be what else can I delete. . . ?