Tuesday 27 March 2012

Pinning down the Muse

When you first start writing you have lots of ideas. Then, they start to dry up; you use them up or you decide what had seemed good isn’t quite as engaging as you’d thought. Fortunately, as I mentioned the other week, I have the next four or five books planned in my head. Still, I’m not so teeming with ideas as I was when I decided TO BE A WRITER.  
Or am I really not?
Part of my routine is to take a break between edits of my novel by entering a competition or sending something to a small press outfit that accepts submissions at the moment. Often these are pieces of flash fiction or other short fiction. And I find as I drive, iron, wash-up, shop or walk I get thousands of ideas that are like dandelion seeds in the wind: they disappear again before I have time to write them down. As I talk to my first year university class about what they might include in their autobiography assignments I think of snatches of life-writing I might compose – and then forget again before I have time to make a note.
I sometimes have to push my students into finding a muse. Recently we played consequences in class. They did the following:
Created two characters, giving them name, physical and intellectual attributes and an emotional life
Created a setting
Introduced a problem
After each instruction – nine in all – they passed the paper on to the tenth classmate who took that home and wrote a story according to the information they had there. They produced some of their best writing.
Currently, as well as my major works, I’ve just entered a piece of Flash Fiction for a competition. I managed to recall one of those quirky ideas I’d had when I couldn’t get to my note book. It turned out rather well in the end, I think. I’m having less success with a longer piece I had been intending to enter for the Mslexia short story competition – deadline now gone. But it will come right, eventually and maybe that wasn’t really the right place to send it anyway.  
I have enough confidence now that even when I feel devoid of ideas if I sit at my computer I’ll be able to write. I prefer to do that earlier in the day for if I don’t, other tasks sap my creative energy. I’ve frequently noticed on the days I struggle the most, on the days when the muse seems to be in hiding, I actually write better. Just like my students.
What do they say? 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration? I can confirm that.                      

Thursday 8 March 2012

The Final Edit – does it really exist?

My novel for young adults, Spooking, comes out on 13 April with Crooked Cat. I’m currently checking the final edits. This is a combination of accepting – mainly – those suggested by the editor and adding a few of my own. We’ve used Track Changes, but I’m currently reading out loud a “clean” version of the text – and notice that a few new mistakes have crept in – probably because it’s hard to see the text properly with the changes showing.  
Now, this novel has been around a while. I completed it in 2009 and it has gone out to a few agents and editors. I’ve had some positive rejections, including one from an agent who read the full script and said “I liked it but I didn’t love it. If you don’t get this placed, please send us your next one.” Naturally, I’m delighted that Crooked Cat like it. I’ve considered every bit of feedback I’ve been given and in many cases followed suggestions or reworked bits that others thought were not working. And I’m still tinkering. I’ll have to stop early next week: Crooked Cat want it back then.
I have a similar novel, Veiled Dreams, that I also want to get out and am actually making some changes to that in view of the comments made by Crooked Cat on Spooking. An agent recently said she though the narrative voice was a little odd. All of a sudden I’m agreeing with her. This novel has also been tucked away for many months and it was pretty well perfect when I put it to bed, I’d thought. Even my beta-readers had agreed. Yet now I’m making changes.
The latest novel is generally the best and I have high hopes for Potatoes in Spring. I have just a handful of edits to do on this, including the read out loud one. I wonder how long it will be before another one is better?
And so we go on learning. Thank goodness for editors. They save us from ourselves when we get too bogged down with all of this. And if it wasn’t for that deadline they gave us, we’d go on forever. Indeed, I’ve been known to edit as I read out my work at events.