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When is The End The End?

July 14, 2016

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Editing. Hmm, the Marmite of writing tasks. But no matter how you feel about it, editing must be done. But how do you know when you’re done? When your work is really finished? How do you know when you can down your tools, sit back and breathe out? When ‘The End’ is well… most definitely ‘The End’?

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Needless to say, I am editing my novel currently, but not for the first time, nor, I suspect, for the last, because folks, I am an Eternal Editor. There, I’ve said it. I stood up tall, in the circle, my back nice and straight, and said the words out loud. You heard them. Yes, I acknowledged the truth. In so doing, have I taken the first step towards recovery? No! Alas, there is no twelve-step programme for this compulsion, because I suffer from a wholly debilitating and I fear, potentially incurable condition, called Obsessive Compulsive Editing Disorder. Yes, it’s a thing. And I have it.
It’s an affliction, a literary tick, borne I fear, from the fact that I am also a perfectionist. Either way, it’s encumbering and almost fatal to anything I write.
“You’ll never finish,” my friends and family cry.
“This book will never see the light of day!”
In my darkest moments, I suspect they might be right. But don’t they understand? I can’t let it go out yet. It’s simply not ready.
“It’ll never be ready!”
It will. I just… well, I don’t know quite yet when, but it will. I promise. One day.

Case in point – Despite finishing this novel several times over already, I’ve spent the last two weeks tweaking a single page. Yes, one page. But perhaps the most important page. Page One. I’ve worked on it every day of those two weeks, okay, not all day, but even so… I kept going, until I got it right.
Of course, I thought I had it right the first several times I finished it, but then the Eternal Editor saw the error of my ways. I got there in the end. I am finally pleased with it. But how many times have I written that page? Well, I’d rather not say. The point is, it’s there. Now. Finally. I think.
And yes, I know it’s probably not normal, but did I mention I’m an Eternal Editor? I know you can over work a piece but tell the EE that. You see, I can’t leave it alone, not until it’s right, not until I’ve… well, nailed it. But then again, that’s only in my opinion. And let’s be honest, this writing lark is so darn fickle, so darn subjective. Who knows if I’ve really nailed it? Who knows? But it’s so tough out there, especially for debut writers. With the stats so clearly against us, is it really so wrong to want to strive for perfection?
“Put it to one side! Move on and write something else!” they say. Are they crazy? I’m sorry. I really am. I can’t.
Editing, as an Eternal Editor, is a serious affair. Because, I don’t edit, I redraft, and rewrite – new scenes, new characters, new storylines, until essentially what emerges is arguably a new novel on some level, but it’s always so much better than the last. So, am I really so foolish to do so? In the lighter moments, I kid myself that this is healthy, that I’m learning my craft, but I’ve been doing this for a number of years now, and even I am beginning to think that it may finally be time to let it go.
This, must surely signify progress.
And the good news is – I am nearly there. I can feel it. And with that comes a sense of excitement, a huge and overwhelming anticipation. But alongside the elation, there is also consternation. The Eternal Editor whispers in my ear, “Really? Have you truly done all that you can? Are you absolutely sure that this is the very best that you can produce? How can you be so certain? Maybe one more fly past…”

‘At what point do you give up – decide enough is enough? There is only one answer really – Never.’

– From Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma, YA Author

So when is it time to let go?

The bad news is that there is no definitive answer, but I did find this very useful article on writersrelief.com. It offers sage advice on how to make it over that elusive Finish Line. So this is for you, and Eternal Editors everywhere.

Reprinted with the permission of Writer’s Relief, an American submission service for authors.

5 Steps To Stop Stalling And Start Making Submissions:

1. Let time pass. Finally! You’ve written the last word. Now, set your work aside. Turn your attention elsewhere—spend time outdoors, work on your hobbies, begin something new. After enough time has passed (whether it’s hours, days, or weeks) read your manuscript with fresh eyes. How do you feel about it now? Does the piece still ring true, or do you see where some revision will improve it?

2. Focus first on the big picture. When you’re ready to take that first fresh look, read the piece from beginning to end—without making any revisions! See the complete arc of the story you are trying to tell, and don’t get bogged down in nitty-gritty editing. Once you’ve seen the piece as a whole, you can go back section-by-section to make more-informed rewrites.

3. Proofread? Yes! Overly tinker with? No. Of course, your work should be meticulously proofread and formatted. After all your time and effort carefully writing and rewriting a piece, you don’t want to have a literary agent or editor reject it because of sloppy margins or blatant grammar gaffes. However, it’s also important not to overdo your editing. What started out as a great story or poem can be spoiled when you add or take away too much. When in doubt, let it be.

4. Get feedback. Still can’t decide if your manuscript is submission-worthy? Call in reinforcements. Ask the opinions of your writing group or critique group, friends, and mentor (if you have one). If the general consensus is that your writing is ready to be submitted—go for it!

5. Don’t flinch! Perhaps Leonardo da Vinci said it best: “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” You may not feel 100% certain, but if all indications are that your work is ready to send out, don’t let “what ifs” hold you back. Take a deep breath, be brave, and make your submissions.

Every writer experiences that irresistible urge to edit and improve his or her work. This is a vital part of becoming a better writer! Just make sure you don’t fall into the trap of insisting on absolute perfection and over-revising. Perfection is unattainable; chasing it will only leave you frustrated and unhappy. Instead, focus on creating the very best piece you can. After following these steps and making your revisions, you’ll develop a sense that your writing is done. And that’s how you’ll know—it’s time.

So there it is folks, and there’s no denying it’s good advice.
Cue sigh. Heavy sigh. Now, if only I could follow it…

The End… maybe, probably. No! Definitely. The End. Ta Dah!

Helen

Diary of an Accidental Naturalist

April 10, 2016

Something people always seem to do on the way home from holiday is to work out what was the best bit.  I won’t bore you with my holiday reminiscences— except for the one memory turned out to be the ‘signature’ moment.  It was an unscheduled animal encounter.

We did all the tourist bits.  We had to visit Kruger Park; one of the few unsullied and un-repopulated wild animal domains that at least approximated the original habitat and animal populations.  The animals mostly carried off their roles competently:  the solitary bull elephants were irritable old men, who barely acknowledged our presence in Land Rovers two hundred meters away; the white rhinos peered at us myopically from between the scrubby bushes and baobab trees; the giraffe affected the unconcern of elegant old ladies waiting for their turn at a tea-dance.

What happened to us on the morning of the last day was undoubtedly the high-spot and the keynote of our ‘extended family’ holiday.  One automatically reaches for superlatives when trying to describe what it’s like to come into close contact with whales, but I’ll attempt to resist the temptation.

We were lucky to be given hotel accommodation right on the shoreline of Table Bay, between Sea Point and Bantry Bay, for those who know the area. The emerald expanse of the South Atlantic stretched from almost below our balcony to a crystal sharp horizon several miles distant.

Earlier that morning

Earlier that morning

Patches of giant kelp carpet the sea floor and the white sand beneath is visible to depths of forty meters and more. So, we were packing up to return to England, yesterday morning, and something caught my eye just twenty or thirty meters off-shore. A glistening jet of water was propelled into the air by something just below the surface.  Then I saw the great dark shape outlined around it, silhouetted in the clear, sparkling water.  Then I saw another, then another.  I shouted to my family in the apartment: ‘Whales here! Now!’  The family cascaded onto the balcony area, tripping over the ankle- level recliners.  I focussed my camera on the nearest one: a large male, over twenty meters long and with a nose encrusted with orange barnacles.

Whales engender the strangest emotions.  A kind of fusion of sadness and joy.  A feeling of a spiritual connection that perhaps has its origins in a shared primal ancestry and common purpose: to stay alive in spite of everything. The whales, Southern Right-Whales, shouldn’t have been there. They are supposed to be viewable in the bay during mating season, from October onwards.  But then, thanks to our elevated location, we saw something that several other casual onlookers on the shore may not have noticed.  A long black, wavering ribbon wove a path parallel to the shoreline, about a hundred meters out.  At first, I thought it was kelp.  Then I noticed it was moving almost imperceptibly slowly from left to right across the shoreline.  It was a large pod of those massive creatures, apparently migrating, before our eyes.  Nose to tail, line astern, big and small they followed one another in what must have been a seasonal migration.  A large shadow at the front of the ribbon indicated the head of the procession and then smaller black shadows followed, many only a meter or so long in the middle of the order.

Part of the pod

Part of the pod

Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of our luxury and comfort alongside an ancient and timeworn ritual.  We were awe-struck in the face of these many giant creatures enacting a rite that evolution commanded them to fulfil, and felt uniquely privileged that only we of all the residents of Cape Town seemed to have noticed the stately progress of the giant black ribbon up the coast.  We, as a species, have a presumed arrogance.  Whether it is benign, as in the case of environmentalist concerns, where we try to wind-back the depredations of civilisation and restore a life and dignity to the creatures we share the planet with, or, the unthinking and ill-considered policy edicts of a president that puts populist short-term financial issues above all else; these creatures will keep on doing what they have done for millions of years.

I took photographs of course, just to prove to myself that I was not imagining it. But photographs are the reflection of a memory, and the experience itself buoyed us up as we regretfully left our holiday accommodation behind.

The watchman

The watchman

 

The Airbus that flew us out of Cape Town that morning flew over the sunlit bay and there, below us, were two distinct dark shapes, presumably still shepherding their brood past the Great Whites that ring Robben Island hunting for seal.  Sometimes holiday memories fade quite quickly, but we won’t be forgetting this one in a hurry.

 

Oliver

WordWatchers: Priceless

February 14, 2016

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Working hard at Symondsbury

As I write this, I’m nestled in a corner sofa in a rambling and eclectic house in deepest Dorset. The fire is crackling, I can hear the tap of keys, the hum of voices as two authors sit in the kitchen bouncing plot ideas around. The atmosphere is peaceful, relaxed, yet focused.

 

This is Symondsbury, the yearly writing retreat of WordWatchers, and the lovely folks who surround me are some of the most important people who have accompanied me on my writing journey.

 

I joined WordWatchers in 2008. I’d just moved to the area, was keen to meet new people and had an idea for a novel that I really wanted to write. One dark November night, I drove to a cottage in the woods and began the chain of events that led to the publication of my first book in February 2015.

 

What blew me away about WordWatchers was how dedicated everyone was, how invested they all were in their craft, how seriously they took it. I was shocked that they minuted their meetings – as if we were at work! Every meeting, each person made promises of what they intended to do that month, and those promises were revisited during the updates the following month.

 

I wondered if this was for me. It all seemed so formal. It was, after all, just a hobby – not a job. But as I got to know the group members, I realised how many of them had completed novels … yes, actually finished them! Katherine Webb, WordWatchers’ most successful member, had written six novels. When I joined, her seventh, The Legacy, was being considered by a major UK publisher. And then I realised something. Whatever it was this group had, it worked.

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Some WordWatchers at Katherine’s book launch

 

The first promise I made was to write 10,000 words. I’m a conscientious person and found the fact that I’d have to account for myself the next month very motivating. Of course, no one would’ve minded if I’d rocked up and said that I’d only managed 2,000 words, but I so wanted to hit that target.

 

Six months later, I had a first draft. Six months after that, an extract from my novel won a competition and was circulated in an anthology to agents and editors. The following year, I had signed with an agent.

 

WordWatchers provided the most nurturing, encouraging and supportive atmosphere in which to grow as a writer. Thanks to their careful critiquing, gentle guidance and advice, I have improved more than I did during my degree in English Literature with Creative Writing. And it has been considerably cheaper!

 

It’s not just about writing, though. I was delighted to have two ‘WordWatchers’ tables at my wedding. I’ve been to summer BBQs, Christmas meals and weekend retreats. I’ve roped some of them into moving furniture around my house. When I was stuck at home with no power and unable to access the copy edits on my latest novel, a WordWatcher (John) was the first person I called.

Playing hard!

Playing hard at Symondsbury

 

As you can probably tell, this is so much more than a writing group. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that WordWatchers is like a family. I won’t name names but I know who I think of as the matriarch and patriarch, everyone’s favourite aunts and uncles, the squabbling cousins (yeah, I’d be one of them!), the naughty children. And – in the same way a family does – WordWatchers listens, sympathises and supports when ‘life stuff’ gets in the way of writing.

 

As I sit in this fabulous house where we’ve shared food, drinks, games, ideas and laughter over the last few days, I think about how comfortable we all are in each other’s presence, how easy it is to sit in silence while we’re working, but equally how easy it is to look up, ask someone’s advice on a particular word, phrase or scene.

 

I am taking a break from writing, and therefore from the group. I’m not allowed to say I’m leaving – I’ve been told it’s a sabbatical. I shall miss these warm, funny, creative, intelligent and generous people very much, and am just glad that I will still be able to see them at socials.

 

I was talking to Julian yesterday about some plot problems he’s been wrestling with. At the end of the conversation, I could see from his face how much better he felt, how – just from talking – we’d raked back some of the brambles and he could see a clearer path ahead of him. He told me, ‘That conversation was priceless.’ I replied, ‘WordWatchers is priceless.’

 

A Christmas 75-worder #27

December 31, 2015

Photograph by John Hoggard

Photograph by John Hoggard

Well this is it my last 75-worder of this Christmas period, and, just like the double doors on the Advent calendar, I’m going for a big finish and I’m going to offer you two 75-worders today.

The first was written way back in September and actually appeared on the Paragraph Planet website on September 29th. Using the first few words of the story as the Paragraph Planet site does it is not inappropriately entitled, Autumn returns to the valley.

So, why am I sharing with you a story about autumn? Well, it was my fellow WordWatchers member, Charlotte Betts, who suggested that she’d like to see a complete series of these, one for each season. As this was never my intention, but an obvious thing to do once it was pointed out, so I decided to take her up on her suggestion.

While I have been unable, so far, to complete the series, lacking suitable inspiration for Spring and Summer, it was inevitable that during my musings over the Christmas period that a follow up to my Autumnal story would make itself known. So, here they are my two seasonal 75-worders back-to-back:

Autumn returns to the valley for the anniversary of my birth, as she does every year. I tip my hat to her, the first morning my breath blossoms as a cloud from my chest. I watch as she dances between the branches, igniting them in flickering flames of red, orange and gold. As the days shorten, she shakes the proud oaks, warning them of the coming of Winter and they shed their crowns in fear.

*

Winter comes to the valley and, tapping gently on the ground, he turns water to diamonds, a gift to those who slumber below. But they do not answer his call and in his frustration he rages at them, turns the earth to stone, entombing them. But anger turns to sorrow. He does not like the sad, grey world he has created, so he covers the world in a blanket of white and waits for her…

I am hoping I can write about her when real Spring arrives and not this strange pseudo-Spring that many of us seem to be in at the moment.

Thank you for all your comments, shares and likes on this series of stories, here on the blog, on Twitter and on Facebook. They are all very much appreciated and I have tried to follow up on each – so I hope I have not missed anybody out.

Until 2016!

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

A Christmas 75-worder #26

December 30, 2015

Christmas Sparkle by Yvie Hoggard

Christmas Sparkle by Yvie Hoggard

If there was a hint of sentience about wrapping paper then perhaps this is the tale it would tell…

Only a few days ago it had encased a Christmas gift, adding sparkle to otherwise bland packaging. Then it was laid amongst others, nestling down beneath an ornamental tree to await the morning light. Then it was ripped asunder and cast aside, its purpose fulfilled. Now it sits, poking from the top of an overstuffed bin, twitching in the breeze like the death-throes of a silvery carp, but such is the life of wrapping paper.

We have recycled as much as we can, but the recyclers will not take foil/metallic wrapping paper and so, despite our best efforts, our bins, which won’t be emptied for another 10 days due to the seasonal bank holidays, are approaching critical mass.

Until tomorrow…

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

A Christmas 75-worder #25

December 29, 2015

Snowflake by Yvie Hoggard

Snowflake by Yvie Hoggard

Unseasonably warm and sadly, for many, unseasonably wet, weather was the seed that grew into this 75-worder.

They found him sitting quietly on the sofa closest to the window. They watched as he gave the snow globe a shake, staring intently at the tumbling, sparkling flakes as they settled back over the fairytale castle. After a moment he turned away, stared out of the window and then sighed at the bright sunshine. His gaze returned to the snow globe and he shook it again. Perhaps it would snow tomorrow, they said hopefully.

Here’s to better weather, more appropriate for Christmas, for us all.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

A Christmas 75-Worder #24

December 28, 2015

Snowflake by Yvie Hoggard

Snowflake by Yvie Hoggard

I wrote this last year on a wet and grey and miserable day not unlike today. My youngest still rides the scooter with as much relish and vigour as she did that first day, although the scooter looks a little smaller now…

Despite the rain and the icy wind the child persisted, nagging her father into submission. Dressed as warmly as possible in their new hats and coats, they ventured out into the street. The child raced away, a single leg, piston-like, driving her forward on her new scooter, seemingly oblivious to the rain, wheels curving sweeping arcs in the surface water. Dad watched on while water dripped from his nose and his feet turned to ice.

Hope you’re all having a wonderful Christmas.

Until tomorrow.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

A Christmas 75-worder #23

December 27, 2015

The Deity Club by Helen Withington

The Deity Club by Helen Withington

This is one of my favourite 75-worders. I loved the idea of some ancient “Gentleman’s Club” where the divine hung-out when they weren’t being omnipotent. That idea seemed to get wrapped into the thought of whether Father Christmas would be allowed into such a club. He certainly has great powers, but it’s pretty specific and that potential conflict became the essence of the story. I think Helen’s water colour did a wonderful job of capturing the mood of both the chilled out Santa and the despairing God of Thunder.

The old man sat down heavily by the fire and patted his distended belly. “One Billion Calories an’ still only a fifty-two inch waist. Ho Ho Ho.” He pulled off his red hat, patting his sweaty brow with it. “I fear the million shots of whisky may have got the better of me this year!” he bellowed, snorting loudly. Thor shook his head and glared. Letting Santa into the Deity Club had been a terrible mistake.

Hope you’re all having a wonderful Christmas Time.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

A Christmas 75-Worder #22

December 26, 2015

Christmas Tree by Yvie Hoggard

Christmas Tree by Yvie Hoggard

I suspect that we won’t be the only household this Christmas that will be like this on Boxing Day. We were last year (when I wrote the story) and I’m sure we will be again.

The Boxing Day Menu: There were homemade mince pies for breakfast and a small bar of recently unwrapped chocolate for brunch. There was some deliberation at lunchtime and examination of tinfoil wrapped bowls before general indecision lead to a mixture of pigs-in-blankets, a few leftover Brussels Sprouts with half a tin of previously opened baked beans. Tea was a non-event although the fridge was grazed repeatedly and a generous portion of Christmas cake was devoured.

Hope you all had an wonderful Christmas Day and that the festive period continues to bring you happiness.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

A Christmas 75-worder #21

December 25, 2015

Snowflake by Yvie Hoggard

Snowflake by Yvie Hoggard

Do I know somebody who tried this…? Possibly…

When Martha and Ronald arrived at their son’s home a little before Eleven on Christmas morning the tension was palpable. Despite the pleasantries towards them, the daggers Jessica, her daughter-in-law cast towards her son, Ron Jr, each time there was an ominous ‘BOOM’ from the utility room was rather disconcerting. Martha eventually enquired about the noise when handed a sherry by Jessica. “He’s defrosting the turkey in the tumble dryer,” Jessica hissed between clenched teeth.

Hoping that you have a flawless day and that your turkey is suitably defrosted.

Merry Christmas to you all.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

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