I have began editing my novel, well it is more of a re write than an edit, but an edit all the same. I discovered recently that Microsoft Word has improved its Read Aloud function, so I decided to listen to what I have edited so far.
This is what I discovered.
My prologue is really very visual and I’m excited about it. It sounds nice and punchy.
The narrator sounds funny when she reads Scots.
Read Aloud let me close my eyes and edit at the same time. I found parts that need cut back, and some that need further explanation
More importantly, in chapter one alone, I found 25 errors. It might have taken me three or four edits to find those. They were mostly duplicate words or missing words that an online editor wouldn’t pick up.
Read Aloud is my new best editing friend.
The voice is better on my phone that on my laptop. I’m thinking when I do a deep edit, I’ll print it and use Read Aloud at the same time.
Do any of you guys use a narrator as an editor?
Thanks for reading my blog today and happy writing.
This advice is taken in part, from a conversation with a friend on messenger. I thought it might shine some light on my writing process. The question was, how do you motivate yourself to write a full length novel?
Hiya, I had the intention to write every day, but didn’t always manage. I didn’t beat myself up about it though, what’s the point.
Posting on Facebook was a great way to hold myself accountable, if only to myself.
I have a friend, (a non booky friend), who read each chapter after I had finished, errors and all. Her response to the writing, (and I mean response, not feedback at this stage), assured me that what I had written made sense and worked. I have a Helen too, who gives me the more honest and good feedback.
I had a loose plot, but it was loose. I let my imagination guide the shape of the novel and, regularly altered the plot line as I went. I guess the main thing for me was to think of why I wanted to sit down and write and, what I would get out of it. When I found the answer, I began to sit down and write purely for the love of writing. I wanted to enjoy the process, and have fun. I never gave myself pressure, I didn’t beat myself up if it seemed disjointed or went in weird directions, I just kept writing.
I had a rough idea of word count, but not a solid ending so that was changeable, and I did make some major changes in the last chapter and I think it gave the whole story a twist.
But I guess I went at it with a want to write, a real desire to bring my idea to life, to slow down in order to really enjoy what I was writing, and the actual act if writing itself. And with no publishing goal in site at this stage, I found the act of writing, for writings sake, fun. I guess that the process would change when working to a publishing deadline.
A maliable plot. Facebook accountability. A strong desire to bring my story to life. An intention to write. Writing for the love of writing. A desire to enjoy each part of the process.
Another thing. Finishing each chapter on a hook is great for the reader, but also for me as it made returning to the story exciting.
I always leave myself notes of ideas at the end of a chapter too. Scrivener is a great piece of software that lets you break the novel down into wee chunks. It’s not too expensive either. Also, I take notes of loose ends so I always tie them up.
Don’t edit as you go, it’ll slow you down and you’ll get stuck. You’re going to have to edit anyway once it is written. Try just writing and ignoring the mistakes. It is liberating. That’s when your real voice comes out and the magic happens. That’s when you’ll love it for what it is, a weird fucking delve into the unknown.
If you are still struggling, meditation is a good way to shake of expectations. Or a walk before you sit down.
Some images evoke the senses without any effort, for me it is logs. Look at all that rich colour, the moss, the darkness of the wet wood compared to the dry wood, see the reds, browns and blacks in the bark and the yellows, oranges and shades of brown in the trunk. What do these colours resemble?
Now imagine what the wood smells like, the just cut smell, the dry wood before it is thrown on the fire, or the wet wood that has been frosted over. Can you taste the smell of the wood on your tongue? What are each of those smells like?
Imagine the noise of the tree being sawn down, or the axe splitting the logs into small pieces. Imagine the sound of the wood being bundled together and then thrown on the fire. What does it sound like?
Finally, what does the wood feel like? Imagine it in its natural form, a tall tree, rooted deep into the earth. Think of the birds and the animals scurrying through its branches, the leaves and buds, fruit and nuts, that it produces each year. Imagine all the insects living in its bark, on the leaves, amongst the roots. Now imagine your fingers on that bark, the roughness, the damp and the moss, the knots and the sap. Now think of the log, the weight of it in your hand, the lines and the grooves of the split trunk, the softness and the hardness, the jaggy and the smooth. What does the log feel like?
As a writer, we rely on the senses to help us to describe an object, a place or a person or an emotion. Transfering your own experience of the senses into language isn’t always as easy as you would think, after all, you might normally use the most beautiful, poetic sentences that drip of your tongue like nectar, but if the reader cannot see it in their own minds eye, the detail will be lost on them, and it might be the most important detail in your work.
Let me give you an example:
I beleive a good way for writers to develope their craft is by allowing themselves the gift of presence and curiosity when researching, or, when looking for inspiration. Remember when you were a child and experienced something or somewhere new? If we allow ourselves to look at the world through the eyes of a child again, with curiosity and without judgement, and then apply all of those wonderful senses available to us, we might widen our knowledge. Then, if we try to describe that experience, with all the fancy, exciting adult words and techniques that we have learned, but with absolute clarity and precision, perhaps we will deliver a win.
In the novel that I’m currently writing, my character is watching Swift’s flying through the air. I described them as being like fighter jets ducking and diving and tearing the twilight into scraps. Now, I personally love that sentence, it fills my heart up with joy because that is what I imagined when I experienced something similar myself. However, the latter part of the sentence doesn’t make sense. The similie of the swifts being like fighter jets is something that can be imagined, but tearing the twilight into scraps doesn’t work, if you can’t see it in your mind’s eye, drop it.
So why not give it a go? You might even do this as part of a mindful walking excersise, or, to really focus on something, someone or somewhere, do it with intention. Take three long deep breaths and allow yourself to arrive into the present moment. Take time to feel your surroundings, the air on your skin, the temperature of the air, is it wet or dry? Then feel you body making contact with the earth, or your hands on the wheels. Check to see if you are holding any tension in your body, and relax. Now it is time to go forth into your present moment, with curiosity and without judgement.
One of the best things about living in the Scottish Highlands in the wee detached village of Killin, is the night sky. It’s pretty dark at night, with little light pollution and the brightest moon I’ve ever seen. When there is a scattering of clouds, however, the sky puts on the most spectacular show of patterns and shapes, it’s like art. When the days are clear and the rain is at bay, we have a new exhibition to indulge in every night, and often with twinkling stars dotted in between. That’s not to say it’s not freezing, wrapping up is essential for sky gazing. The picture that accompanies this post was taken in December 2020. It was taken on my phone and zoomed in. I couldn’t help but notice a genie smoking his pipe and pondering what’s to become of this bloody pandemic.
What do you see?
The night sky is a great place to start for writing inspiration. Perhaps on a clear night, get yourself wrapped up and venture out into the dark.
Listen Look Smell Feel
By tuning into the senses, you might be surprised at what the night has to offer. For me, on a night like the one in December, I would hear the hoo-hoo of the owl, the swishing of the trees on the old railway, the creaking of the car port roof, possibly a car in the distance bit mostly not.
The sky can be anything from a yellow oil slick, to a blue fox stretching lazily between the seven sisters and the plough.
There’s usually a smell of a burning wood in the air, the smell of wet grass, sweet frost or mulch. Sometimes even the smell of laundry from someone’s tumble dryer.
I will feel the sharpness of the air as it reaches my lungs, the sting of cold on my cheeks, my feet on the ground, my heart beating, the clothes on my skin.
This is present moment awareness, a moment of mindful contemplation. All of it relevant as I stand completely alive, sharing the sky with those brave enough to be out too.
Today the temperature has remained below zero, the lowest being -4°, but the sky was the deepest blue I’ve seen in a while, and with only a slither of cloud on the horizon. Me and my two chocolate Labradors walked along the river bank, the river was flowing so slowly that the opposite bank was reflected clearly on its surface, apart from the odd random ripple and patches of grey ice around the bank that is. My dogs love the water, but they also love chasing the ducks, and there are an abundance of ducks on the river at the moment. So they remained safely on lead while I took lovely photographs. Here’s one of them in a little sandy cove.
Once we moved away from the river and into the field, the dogs relaxed a bit and I was able to settle comfortably into my surroundings. The mountains seem to have gathered more snow overnight and looked particularly dramatic. One in particular, Ben Lawers, looks to me like its twisting away from the other. There are parts of Lawers that are so incredibly steep and its a wonder that so many people climb it. And even though I view it with that sense of fear, I can see the draw because it is overwhelmingly stunning. This sensation reminded me of an English Literature lecture about the feeling one gets when confronted with the beauty and the terrifying in nature – I believe it was described at the sublime.
Edmund Burke identified the sublime as the experience of the infinite, which is terrifying and thrilling because it threatens to overpower the perceived importance of human enterprise in the universe.
Where was I? While I was having these wonderful emotions, and keeping one eye on the dogs, who sounded like little piglets sniffle out truffles, except it wasn’t truffles, it was frozen rabbit poo, I wandered into some frozen flood water.
We had an incredible amount of rain in December and the field, which is normally filled with sheep, was flooded. The sheep were replaced by ducks, but with this new cold snap, even the ducks are warming their bums in the river rather than the solid ice.
So, as I stood in this mini ice rink wondering how I’d got there, I realised there was an opportunity to walk mindfully, to bring myself back into the present moment, all because of a crunch…
What does it mean to walk mindfully?
Mindful walking is about intention and paying attention. Let me explain. When I found myself on the ice, the first thing I noticed was the sound, the satisfying crunch as my wellington boot broke through. It was a familiar sound, something that drew me back to my childhood and I found myself smiling. This is when I decided to walk mindfully, in other words, I made an intention. The dogs were sniffing around, eating poo and were in no hurry to move on, so I stopped, and I took three long deep breaths, (this is kind of like the Bell or the Gong in my previous post as the breath allows you to arrive into a moment, to be present). I then took a moment to check in on how my body felt, to relax any muscles that had become tense, to feel my feel on the ground, or in the ice for that matter, and that’s when I noticed, for the first time that day, the cold on my face. In fact, I was so surprised to feel the sting on my cheeks and neck that I raised my hand and touched it. Then I began to move. Mindful walking is walking intentionally, walking slow and feeling the range of motions while experiencing all the sensory pleasures available to us. That’s not to say that this exercise is exclusive to able bodied people, it can be adapted to wheelchair users too, although I wouldn’t recommend wheeling into a frozen flooded field, but the exercise can be adapted on less dangerous terrain. As I began to walk, I concentrated on each movement, the weight of my legs as I lifted my feet, the feeling of my feet landing on the ice, that moment of resistance before my foot broke through the ice and then landed on the sticky earth below. Then there was the sucking sound, and a moment of fear which I noticed landed between my shoulder blades and high in my stomach. It felt like a screech, if a screech were a feeling, and for a moment my breath became tight as I lifted my foot. I suddenly felt my face flush with warmth and my hair filled with prickles, and I breathed a long sigh when I discovered my wellington was still attached to my foot. I continued to walk like this, observing each movement, each emotion, watching the ice crack and crumble as I punctured a path of size fives through the middle. It was the crunch that kept me right there though, the brief squeal before the coosh sound, (I think it sounds more like a coosh than a crack). I could smell the frost, that sharp almost sweet smell, followed by a rush of mulch and sulphuric bog smell. I only walked like this for about two minutes, but managed to collect so much information as well as becoming more aware and feeling relaxed.
How can Mindful Walking help with my writing?
It’s all about the experience.
What did I notice?
How did it feel?
When we walk mindfully, we begin to notice a range of things, such as the temperature of the air, the ground beneath our feel, textures and smells, our surroundings, the soundscape. Have another read at my experience and see if you can identify these things. There is definitely many benefits for a writer to practice mindful walking, although it is easier to plan the mindful walk than to decide halfway through a walk that you are going to do it. By planning a walk, you can pick a place that may resemble a setting in your story, then you can experience the setting in the same way your character will. This will enhance your description. Remember the old phrase,
Write what you know.
It might be relevant to disclose to you at this time that I am writing a novel set in this very village and partly in this very field, so all of this is wonderful research for my book. But I will conclude today by saying, thanks for reading, and also, of you would like any more advice on mindful walking or how this could be adapted to a wheelchair, please comment and we can chat. In the meantime, here’s a photo of my side of the mountain.
Being a writer means also being an observer, how else are we able to describe the world around us but through our senses. I believe we can become better writers by learning the art of deep observation and paying closer attention to the here and now.
So, what is a deep observer? It is someone who actively experiences the world with a strong curiosity, who opens up all the senses available to them in order to examine what’s happening. That might seem obvious, however, for much of the day we actually miss what’s happening in the world around us because we are lost in our own thoughts.
Learning to pause, to be still, and to open up the possibility of becoming an intentional deep observer takes time and practice – it requires the ability to be present. Presence is simply being aware of where you are, in body and in mind, and actively choosing to be fully aware of what is happening in that moment. In mindfulness practice, we would describe this as arriving in the moment.
“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
So, how do we arrive in the moment? In a mindfulness meditation practice, we would arrive in the moment by ringing a bell or a gong. By doing this at the beginning and end of a practice, we are setting an intention to be present during that time period. Being present though, isn’t necessarily about meditation, although we can build a stronger ability for presence when we practice meditation, but we can be present at any time, we just have to do be present intentionally.
Setting an intention to be present is more difficult than you think. Try, for example, setting an intention to be present while washing the dishes.Try to become fully aware of where you are and what you are doing. Perhaps take a moment before you begin to say out loud, ‘right now I am washing the dishes.’ How long was it before your mind began to wander? Perhaps you started thinking of what you would like to be doing instead. Perhaps you were thinking of something that happened last week, or an hour ago. Regardless, it is difficult to stay focused for very long without the mind going of on its own journey and taking us along for the ride. This is particularly prevelant when we are partaking in something mundane or repetitive, and are happy to loose ourselves in thoughts and dreams. But the mundane can be such an important part of our writing and by actively seeking out those mundane experiences ourselves, we can so enrich the quality of our work.
When we practice intentional deep observation, the present moment experience will become richer, and certainly more interesting. Perhaps, before we begin, take a few seconds to arrive in the moment (I’m not suggesting sounding a gong every time you do the washing up). Maybe stand by the sink. Feel your feet on the floor or the area where your body makes contact with the chair or stool, become aware of the temperature in the room, the sounds, then perhaps take three deep breaths. When you begin washing up, try noticing the tactile experience of washing the dishes, the temperature of the water on your hands, the feeling of the detergent, the way the water changes when it starts to become greasy or dirty. All of those experiences, pleasant or unpleasant, are knowledge. Use your other available senses too, such as your sight, what does that blob of tomato sauce look like when it is dissolving in water, look at how the oat milk in the bottom of that glass mug resembles a monkey’s face (see my post image). Try to experience the smell too, the smell of the detergent, other smells in the room, the smell of the sink once the water has washed down the plug hole. All of these observations are knowledge, material.
Setting an intention to be present, to be a deep observer, does not mean that the mind will not wander, of course it will, that’s what minds do. However, noticing the mind wandering is, or can be, part of the observation. Where did the mind wander to? How long did it last, what were you hands doing during this time? By practising these observational skills we can expand our knowledge and awareness which can only enrich our writing.
As we get more practiced, we can begin to use these skills when on the move, while walking in nature, on sitting on train, in a busy supermarket, or climbing a mountain. We can really begin to explore how to intentionally and deeply observe. We can even observe people, body language, quirks, moods, etc. The possibilities are endless.
So, while I hope that this post was helpful, I would like to finish by saying that in no way am i suggesting it is helpful to be intentionally and deeply observant all of the time, in fact I value the ability to disappear into my own head, I like it there too much, after all, that where the magic comes from and the ideas begin.