Most of our visitors never see Jerry, our neurotic cat, they just catch a glimpse of a white flash as he retreats to his nearest hiding place. But whenever I am working he appears at my side, “helping” with the writing by batting at my fingers, sitting on the keyboard, or in this case, choosing a playlist to set the tone.
My current work in progress, Warm Pearls and Paper Cranes, is an intergenerational story, part of which is set during the second world war, so it’s been fun to select old songs to get me In The Mood, or in this case, choosing the D Day Darlings rendition of We’ll Meet Again. That track has been the theme tune to this story, partly because the older couple, Maud and Bea, keep getting separated; first by the war, then by convention and work and subsequently by Maud’s family.
When I wrote my short story called Pele, for the second Lesfic Eclectic volume, I listened to Iz’s version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which always makes me cry. I also listened to Pixar’s Lava on repeat to get into the Hawaiian vibe.
Talking to various writer friends some can’t listen to music at all while they write, others only while they edit or do admin tasks. I probably fit in to the latter category, and if I’m not working on a particular theme I tend to listen to opera because it’s full of passion and feeling. Now, I just need to make sure I translate those emotions into my writing :0) .
The stream of consciousness writing, the word dump, is the easiest bit of the writing, for me anyway. I like to scribble when I’m half-awake in the early hours of the morning. Ideally, I’ll then drift back to sleep with the opportunity for a second go around when I wake again around seven.
But the editing is hard. Why? Because I have to chip away at a crudely shaped draft stuffed with telling and formal dialogue and turn it into something that is engaging and beautiful. Well, that’s the aim, but I haven’t hit there yet.
Of course I’m talking about self- editing, before it goes to professional editors, such as the wonderful women at Global Wordsmiths, who spare no punches but will turn a raw manuscript into a crafted piece of work. They also run some great courses and I’m hoping that next year we’ll be able to go back to Spain, rather than zoom.
So, what has helped?
I’ve just bought the program Pro Writing Aid to help with the grammar, but it won’t tell me when I am going off on a tangent, or have major plot holes (and there have been a number!).
To help with the readability I’ve put my manuscript in Word, under the review section there is “read aloud” which converts text to speech. It’s very helpful to listen to what is working and what is not. Despite the monotonous tone and some strange pronunciations (sake being read like the Japanese drink rather than rhyming with rake for example) it’s been great for picking up pacing errors. And I make lots of those.
I’ve read lots of books about editing. Perhaps my favourites have been the Jodie Renner books and those of James Scott Bell. But if you have recommendations, I’d love to know them.
I’m also a member of a critique group, a group of like-minded readers and writers who meet monthly (on zoom) and critique writing uploaded onto Google drive. We are lucky in our group that we have some professional writers who give of their time to challenge and query, and we also have fun.
And finally, knowing I have a professional editor who will challenge hard, but also support and encourage.
And it’s all in the name of better writing.
So why have I been struggling? I was told I needed to go deeper and show more emotion. In other words, be more vulnerable.
As I private person I find this tricky, I’ll be honest. I don’t like “to wear my heart on my sleeve for daws to peck at,” as Iago would have it. The fact that I’ve spent a career’s worth of report writing, trying to obliterate anything emotional from my writing or working life, it’s difficult now to prise open the shell and uncover what’s in there. But I’m still seeking the pearl.
And even when I have gone deep and retrieved a feeling, it’s how to express it that isn’t already cliched or elicits the response in the reader that isn’t a yawn.
As pearls are formed as a protection of the oyster against an irritant, like grit, maybe I should just accept the irritant and learn to dive deep and see what I can uncover.
But still, I shall dive deep, prise open the oysters and seek that elusive pearl.