blog, writing process

All writing is #writing

Cornfreak via pixabay

I’m working on something new right now, a long form story that might run over 10K words. It’s flowing very well, and I’m writing to a mental outline  (because I’m really bad at writing them down).

What’s the problem, you ask? It isn’t my primary WIP.

I signed up for a course to help me plot that WIP like a pro, and then write it efficiently. Sadly, I am struggling with the step-by-step approach that is absolutely guaranteed to work. Except when it doesn’t.

Because the plotting isn’t working, my WIP has ground to a halt. In contrast to writing the shiny new story, I found myself blocked, struggling to regain that easy sense of creation. Meantime, I have written a few short stories for the writers’ group. But the more I struggle to fit into a particular way of doing things, the more constrained I feel. It’s like wearing blinkers inside a box. I can’t see which way to go, and straight ahead isn’t working.

Plotters vs. Pantsers

We are often advised, if we want to grow in skills and as humans, to challenge ourselves. I am all for this. So as a confirmed pantser, I am trying to learn the art of plotting. Currently, this is not going well. But – I am still writing. During the writing and re-writing of my first novel, taking time away to work on another short project had many benefits.

  • A sense of achievement from finishing shorter pieces
  • A rest from story problems
  • During which I gave my brain a chance to come up with answers
  • Returning to the main WIP refreshed and with new ideas

It’s all material

I found the picture above at random. I chose it for this post not because it’s immediately useful, but because I like clouds and mist, and it suggests a story, . It’s beautiful, and therein lies its utility. Inspiration cannot always be harnessed to a particular vehicle. Like a wayward horse, sometimes creativity needs to have its head and explore the meadow. Afterwards, it is more amenable to direction.

If I think I have writer’s block, it is a sign that I am trying to force myself in the wrong direction. Time to check out another path and keep going, because all writing is #writing.

Keep writing, no matter what you’re writing.

blog, writing process

How to edit your writing, part 2

jarmoluk via pixabay

And on with part 2 of thoughts and tips on self-editing.

All the following are suggestions. You are the author, you are in charge of your words. Feel free to disagree, just make your choices conscious ones.

Crutch words

These words support our speech, giving us time to think. Actually, um, honestly, so, are all examples. You might find them when you write natural sounding dialogue. Good dialogue is not the same as natural speech. It’s natural speech, polished.

When we write, crutch words are those we use repeatedly, and often without being aware of them. I discovered that I use ‘but’ way too often, to start sentences and join clauses together. You can find them using a word frequency counter. Next, you need to search and destroy. Print the list, and highlight them individually in your document using the Find/Search function. Now you can consider each one separately, and decide if it stays or goes. Some more tips, such as using a word cloud generator, can be found in this post by Alyssa Hollingsworth.

If you cut out a proportion of and, that, when, but, and similar words, it will tighten your prose. It immediately becomes clearer.

Adverbs: friend or foe?

I read that when asked what she would change about the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling said she would remove all the adverbs. The first book in particular contains lots of adverbs that tell rather than showing. I am a huge JKR fan, and it’s interesting to see how her writing (and editing) evolved over the series.

It is an article of faith that adverbs should be killed off, but like all absolutes this is too extreme. Think of them as seasoning, to be added judiciously lest they overpower the whole. Often in rewriting, there is a better choice to be made.
‘Walked quickly’ can become strode, hurried, ran, or another word that conveys the exact meaning. When you can’t quite remember the word you want and the thesaurus isn’t helping, try this site for the word that’s on the tip of your tongue. Maybe English isn’t your first language, or it is but you’ve temporarily lost your words. This site is brilliant for those times.


This is a favourite construction of mine, and maybe yours too. Perhaps this is because we naturally retell events this way, but good prose is more than natural dialogue.

While you need not banish was/-ing totally, minimising its use improves your prose. Consider the following examples – featuring adverbs (and a cliché for good measure).

She was walking slowly along the road, when suddenly he came into view.
She walked slowly along the road, and then saw him appear from nowhere.
She shuffled along, eyes scanning the road ahead. There was no time to hide when he stepped into her path.

Most times, the simple past tense, with or without a better choice of verb, will improve the text. If you overwrite and need to cut words, this is one good way to do it without losing the sense of your text. If you underwrite, better verb choice and more description might be needed. Search for ‘was’ and look critically at every instance.


Overused phrases only hurt our brilliant prose. Be creative and find a new way to say it. This site allows you to paste your text and find any cliches that slipped in. At the end of the day, you know it makes sense.

Next time: filter words, passive voice, flashbacks. See you there.


blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

How to edit your writing, part 1

senlay via pixabay


All writing is rewriting, and self-editing is integral to that process.

There are books available, and really good editors as well. I learned a lot from Morgen Bailey when she edited my novel, and I wanted to share some tips I picked up over the last year or two. I hope they will help you to edit your own work, because it’s an essential skill for every writer. I will split this into several posts with a few points in each, in no particular order.

Oh but I don’t need to edit, the publisher will do that for me

Well maybe, but if your work is littered with errors and things that need fixing, you’re not creating that first impression of a writer who knows what they’re doing. You may never have the chance to show what a great story you wrote. If you write short stories, or blog posts, or anything really, you are your own editor.

All the following are suggestions. You are the author, you are in charge of your words. Feel free to disagree, just make your choices conscious ones.

Read your work aloud

This is a great way to catch awkward dialogue, choppy prose and repeated words. More of them later. If you have a Mac, you already have text to speech. Go to System Preferences, open dictation&speech, and you can specify how your text is read. Play around with gender/speed/accent, choose the keyboard shortcut, and enjoy hearing your words. It is not as mechanical as you might think. While not perfect, how many of us can get another person to read our words?

If you read it aloud, and you trip over the words, the reader is doing the same in their head. Take notes. Rewrite till it flows.

Don’t trust the spellchecker

Homonyms can trip you up. These are words which sound the same but have different meanings, like hear/here, site/sight, red/read, write/right. Spellcheck won’t highlight them. If you are unsure about a spelling or meaning, you don’t know. Look it up.

Watch sentence length

In my first drafts particularly, I am inclined to write long, rambling sentences that go on and on, one action after another, explaining the events as I see them in a way that makes perfect sense to me because I’m writing it and I just need to get it all down before I lose my thread…

See what I mean?

Sometimes you want to use a longer sentence, and I certainly don’t mean that every sentence should be short. It can lead to choppiness. Be aware of the effect you want to create. Short sentences are punchy, great for blog posts, or action scenes. Longer sentences used skilfully create flow, slow things down, and build towards a climax.

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length.

And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

Gary Provost

The application Hemingway can be useful. I don’t always agree with it, but it highlights passive voice, long sentences, complex words, adverbs, and so on. It gives a reading grade, and we do well to pitch our words at a level that most of our readers find easy to manage. It’s a good starting point, and there’s a free version.

Next time: crutch words, adverbs, was/-ing, and clichés. See you there.


Maybe next time


I have yet to see a piece accepted for publication.

And selling anything is a numbers game, not dissimilar to getting a piece published. In order even to begin this marathon task, I first had to give myself permission to be a writer. Then, I actually began writing. I put stories up online. I gained the confidence to write an entire novel. I joined a local writers’ group.

Then came the scary part. I started to submit, to competitions and journals. I expected rejection, and I got it. I hoped for success, and it is yet to come. I kept going, for a complicated web of reasons.

How many rejections will it take before I give up? So far I have remained fairly sanguine, though the polite email was a little harder to open today. How many rejections constitute a message to stop, go away, you’ll never make it? I don’t know, at all. There is no magic formula. But every submission takes a little hope with it, and hope is not infinite. Just one more try, maybe this time will bring the success that repays my faith.

Maybe next time.


The discomfort of creation


Why do we keep writing?

The advice is contradictory. Write for yourself, but write for SEO and keywords. Write as though no-one is listening, but don’t sweat it if they don’t like what they hear. Strive to get published, but don’t rejoice when you do, it’s only the start of more problems. Stay sensitive and also grow a thick skin. The work is the thing, but only successful work is valued. Be humble about your work but also proud.

I’m tired, today. Today, I can’t make those words motivate me, and I can’t find the words to motivate myself. It all seems pointless, writing stories and blog posts and working on a novel that no-one will ever see.

Why should I keep going?

I am weighed down by life and responsibility. It’s easier to sit in front of the TV, gorging on mindless ‘entertainment’ that is as nourishing as a marshmallow; sweet on the tongue for a moment and then gone. It’s easier to look out the window, my brain an empty thought bubble until my oughts, shoulds and musts call me back to earth.

It’s easier not to create, because creating is hard.

But what will happen is this. A tiny grain of an idea grows below the surface of my working brain. Hardly noticeable at first, it gathers size and whispers to me in odd moments and ambushes me as I fall asleep. Pictures and dialogue jumble in my mind. And without thinking, without planning, layers of story start to accrete around the grain.

Eventually I am drawn back to my keyboard, and drawn back to creation.

Because it may be hard, but it is necessary. Creative sparks can be exciting but more often they are like grit in the oyster. They are the start of something, but they need time, and work, and care to become something better.

I make stories because it is in my nature. I tried not making them, I redirected my drive into different areas but after all of that, I came back to words. So I will allow myself some rest, and listen for the whisper, feel for the thing that will not vanish even when ignored.

Then I will cast out my pearl to see if someone else finds it valuable; but remember that a pearl is no less precious because some people prefer a diamond.


The red line of truth

writing hand

I finished it. Cue balloons and confetti!

I finished the line-by-line edit of my primary WIP. I reached The end, and I shall enjoy my reward shortly – lemon cake, since you asked.This is how it went and what I learned.

I expected to do this in small bursts, having made a small start before. In fact, I started (in earnest) one Friday evening and kept going all weekend, whenever I was free. On Saturday, I probably spent eight hours, all told. Now, it is finished and I feel good about that. The ache in my shoulders and dryness of my eyes is worth it, because this is the polished product. As anyone who has completed a long project knows,  the last push often feels the hardest, as you zoom in on the tiniest imperfection, buffing to a high shine.

I have utmost respect for my editor, who added and removed commas and full stops and “he said” to tighten my prose. I’ve learned about formatting, as she explained why she made changes in her accompanying document. This kind of detailed work is beyond most of us. She has given me some feedback on how the story flows, pointing out what is obvious to me, the author, but unclear to a reader. After all, I can see the whole thing in my head.

I did not give her a raw document. I had gone over my WIP for story and pacing, for spelling and grammar, for passive voice. I had looked at it so long that I could no longer see clearly. There were still many, many changes to make. I made them gladly. Now, I can let it go, knowing it is as ready as it can be, thanks to Morgen Bailey.

I am ready to send my creation out into the world, though I’m not sure yet what form that will take. No doubt this will be another tough learning process. Also, I have a new baby WIP to nurture. But for now, I will eat lemon cake, drink tea, and enjoy that feeling of satisfaction. I earned it.


Just write


I recently discovered the writing site Medium from a Twitter conversation with a friend. Although our  world is ever more varied and connected, the fact is that with so much content a personal recommendation is worth a lot. I have been thinking about this post by Nicole Tavares.

I have read a lot on craft recently, the skills and tools needed to write well. I am not fond of this kind of reading, but it is necessary and wholesome, like broccoli. I quite enjoy broccoli, but too much is tiresome. I am itching for a change of diet.

Nicole’s post poses a different take. She urges us to write. Write everything, write all the words, all the feelings, all the experiences. Sift through our life and discard nothing. Write without an end in mind, with ourself the only audience. The written page offers no judgement. We can lay ourself bare and choose from those fragments the perfect jewel to decorate our work, and the most suitable brick with which to build a story.

After the New Year resolutions are made and abandoned, this is an idea which can stick in the heart, where word count goals and marketing strategies do not reach.

Just write.




So, that’s all for NaNoWriMo 2015. How did you do?

I failed, and I won.

‘Failed’ because I didn’t reach 50K. Or my stretch goal of 40K; turned out there was less time and more life in my way than I thought. I won’t get to brag online and wear a Tshirt proclaiming me a winner. I have a sore wrist from typing too much and poor technique, probably.  And that is okay, because I claim a qualified success.

‘Won’ because I wrote 35K on this one story. This is more than twice as much as last year. Despite everything, despite coming home drained from work and not writing much on many evenings. It is more coherent and it has heart. Last year’s effort feels more like a series of short stories than a novel. I wanted to do better, and I have.

‘Won’ because I now have the solid basis of the sequel to my WIP, and I’m now actively looking forward to working through my editor’s comments. I want to polish my WIP and send it out. Plus, as I explained here I also have the bones of a poem, an unexpected bonus.

‘Won’ because I have proved to myself that I can average >1000 words a day, if I stick to it and don’t let it become a chore. Last year it felt too much like work; well, I have more of that than I can handle already. For me, writing is meant to be fun, an escape. I won’t physically starve if I don’t write, but my spirit will certainly wither and die. It’s the same for you, I’m sure.

Maybe this sounds like an apology, rationalisation, ‘all must win prizes’ fudging of the fact I missed the mark. It’s not. There are external goals and internal goals, and I know which are more important to me. I’m going to give writing a rest now, read, edit, and let the rest of my new story bubble to the surface. No pressure required.


Am still writing – just about


The end of NaNoWriMo and November is upon us.

I’m not sure where it went, and can it really be less than four weeks till Christmas? And what now, in the dying days. Well, it is clear that I will not manage 50K words. I didn’t start this to build the habit of writing, which I already have, life permitting. I had told myself I would not, could not, too stressed, too busy. Then I started anyway because it’s a worthy challenge, I wanted to get further than last year, and I had a moment of madness.

My personal goal is 40K. It’s still a stretch target for me. I didn’t have Thanksgiving but I was out at a fundraiser last night, when I could usefully have been writing even a bit. I will have to push to make it.

Let’s see.


Not writing?


Am I a writer if I’m not writing?

It sounds like the old tree falling question. Actually I am writing, rewriting to be more exact, editing and polishing my WIP. But real life consumes the rest of my energy and so I am not producing much new content. It’s different than being stuck; that I can deal with. The WIP pulls me back. I know it isn’t finished, not properly, and I can’t commit to something new yet.

I hate not making new words.

But I have to finish this novel, and then I can turn my face forward and start letting the new ideas float to the surface. I hope they are composting nicely while I’m busy elsewhere.