The Magic Of Swanwick


Firstly i must apologise for my blog absence recently. Health issues, along with an overwhelming sense of “i Just Don’t Know What To Say” Syndrome have hit me hard. Thanks to the 100k Challenge, I’m still writing, daily, and hoping that some of it, at some stage, might make it into the novel.

But why I’m really here today is to record/share my thoughts on Swanwick 2014…

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From First to Final Draft by Peter Jones


Continuing with our editing theme (i hope you’re finding these posts helpful) today, you’re in for a treat, because i have a very special guest…the lovely Peter Jones 🙂 I have been a huge fan of Peter (shhhh, don’t tell him, he’ll get big headed!) since I first met him at Swanwick in 2011 and read his book How To Do Everything and Be Happy which I’ve talked about before on this blog. I’ve attended workshops that Peter has run and I’m looking forward to the publication of the new book he has co-written with Della Galton and then of course, there’s this one in the pipeline.

Today is a very special day for Peter. It’s the publication day of the repackaged How To Do Everything and Be Happy by Harper Collins! CONGRATULATIONS Peter! 🙂

I just finished writing the first draft of How To Survive Online Dating.

Some explanation is needed.

When I say ‘first draft’, I mean the version of the manuscript that came into being, whilst I sat here, bashing away at the keyboard, with one eye on my outline. I can tell you now that it’s the very best thing I’ve ever written, and that there’s probably only a couple of minor things that need fixing – perhaps the odd smelling mistake, or formatting error – and then it’ll be ready to be released to the world. Part of me wonders whether I should skip my usual editing process and upload it directly to amazon, once I’ve cobbled together some sort of cover.

Another part of me knows that what I actually have is a nothing more than a collection of loosely associated words. And by words I mean a letters arranged into groups, because many of these so-called words won’t actually appear in any dictionary known to man. Where a genuine word does appear there’s a very good chance that it’s not the one I actually meant to type, or that it appears several times in the same paragraph, or it’s part of a phrase that I’ve used over and over and over again. There will be punctuation and grammar mistakes everywhere. Jokes that don’t work. Formatting errors galore. In short – it’ll be a train wreck. A disaster. And I realise yet again that ‘finished’ isn’t a word that should ever share a sentence with the phrase ‘first draft’.

My mate Vikki Thompson is in a similar position. Having taken part in NaNoWrMo this year she’s looking at a 50,000+ word ‘novel’ and wondering what to do next. And whilst there’s a whole host of writing advice out there, here’s what I do to take my manuscript from first to final draft.

  1. Let it rest – This is a luxury that I can’t always afford, but the truth is getting a little distance between you and your WIP (‘work in progress’ – I hate that expression) helps you to lose the rose-coloured spectacles you were wearing when you found yourself thinking, “hey, this is pretty good stuff.” And by you, I mean of course, me.
  2. Print it. Read it. Mark changes – for reasons that I’ve never been able to fathom errors are easier to spot on the printed page. Once you’ve invested paper and ink into something those stupid swelling mistaks will leap out at you and blow raspberries. But more than that, it’s easier to navigate through a printed document. I take a red pen and start ringing words, striking through whole sentences (and paragraphs), and putting wiggly lines in the margins (which is short hand for ‘meh – probably needs a re-write’).
  3. I make changes.
  4. Print it. Read it (aloud this time). Mark changes – Oddly, reading something aloud is the only way I know to find out if the ‘rythmn’ of the piece is right, whether my sentences are too long, and whether it’s clear who’s speaking. Sometimes I’ll even take a chapter to my local writing group and get someone else to read it whilst I follow along on another copy and mark where things don’t sound right.
  5. I make changes.
  6. Give it to Jules – my assistant Jules is usually the first person (after me) to read anything I’ve written. Having worked together now for many years I know I’ll get a brutally honest opinion. Gone are the days when she’d write a long diplomatic note about how she got a little lost, or “perhaps it could be better still”. Now she’s more likely to strike through an entire page and scribble “bit poncy” in the margin. Often Jules won’t be able to tell me what’s wrong with a particular piece, only that it doesn’t work for her. And that’s fine.
  7. I make changes.
  8. Give it to first readers – I’ll print a couple more copies and send it to people I’ve identified as my trusted ‘first readers’, a crack team of operatives who will give me their honest opinions on anything and everything. For this book that’ll be Wendy Steele and Della Galton. Together they’ll pick up on anything that Jules missed; jokes that still don’t work or can be misinterpreted, bits that ramble on too long, are hard to follow, or simply don’t make sense. Like Jules both ladies know better than to spare my feelings. I’m not looking for encouragement – I’m looking for things to fix!
  9. I make changes.
  10. Send it to my agent – finally, my lovely agent Becky will cast her beady eye over the book. If I’ve done my job well she’ll complain that she couldn’t speed-read the manuscript because she kept slowing down to read it properly. She’ll then send me her changes which are usually more structural in nature, moving elements she feels a publisher would particularly like to the front of the book, and generally making the book more commercial.
  11. I make the final changes.
This entire process will usually takes me longer than it took to write that initial draft, but what I’m left with is usually something I can feel mildly proud of. And for the first time I can finally say, it’s ‘finished’.

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Peter Jones is the author of two and a half fabulously popular self-help books on the subjects of happiness, dieting and online dating. If you’re over-weight, lonely, or unhappy – he’s your guy. Find out more at peterjonesauthor.com

Thank you so much Peter, some great advice! It’s so nice to hear the professionals say that their first draft is a train wreck….makes you feel so much better doesn’t it? 😉

Here’s Peter reading an extract from the book

Editing A Novel – Tips From Della Galton


Continuing our theme of editing this month I have a very special guest today *grins*

Today’s blog guest is the wonderful Della Galton who is a working writer (just tap her name into Amazon!!!) and agony aunt for Writers Forum Magazine. She has had over 1,000 short stories published in national magazines in the UK, and throughout the world.

Editing A Novel
So you’ve written a novel at top speed – what now? Package it up and send it out to all the publishers and agents in the Writer’s Handbook? Hold on just two ticks. Here are my top five editing tips.

Tip One
Put it to one side for at least a fortnight, preferably longer, a month is good. Then you can go back to it with your cool editor’s head, not your passionate writer’s head.

Tip Two
Read it through in its entirety. Make some notes based on these points.
Does it begin in the right place?
Is it in the right viewpoint?
Does the plot work?
Is the main character really the main character?
Is the middle saggy?
How is the dialogue – good, bad or indifferent?
Can you tell the characters apart?
Does it end well?

Tip Three
Rewrite, based on your notes.

Tip Four
Repeat Tip One.

Tip Five
Edit again, as follows:

Cut Repetition
For me, the number one fault in first drafts is repetition. I often repeat myself when I write a first draft, both in meaning and with words. I don’t know whether it’s they way my brain works, but I’ll very often find that I’ve repeated a word either in the same paragraph or in the one below. It’s almost as if my writing brain is saying, that’s a good word, we’ll have another one of those, shall we?

I also have favourite words. You’ll have your own, but these are some of mine: just; quite; suddenly; that; and bit. I sometimes use the word search facility to go through and delete these words in my final edit.

Another way of repetition is to say the same thing in a different way.

And standing there in the sun, on that dusty afternoon Pam realised she’d never felt quite so happy in her life, which wasn’t all that surprising when she thought about it. Pottering around a car boot sale was one of her favourite ways to spend a Sunday morning.

These two sentences are both telling us that Pam is happy. Only one of them is needed, although in the end I discarded both in favour of showing Pam being happy rather than directly telling the reader.

Check for overused punctuation
I’m also rather fond of dashes – I litter them through my work – and it’s a difficult habit to break. You’ll find plenty besides the two in this paragraph that I’ve put in deliberately.

A good rule is that less is more. Be sparing with exclamation marks. They tend to be very visible.

Watch for telling when you’ve already shown

This is effectively another form of repetition. There is no need to show the reader something and then tell them as well.

i.e. Tears streamed down Laura’s face. She was very unhappy.

Cut adverbs
Fashions change, but I am of the opinion that adverbs should be used sparingly. They tend to weaken writing, rather than strengthen it. If possible use a strong verb instead. For example, instead of saying, he ran quickly, try he raced.

Cut clichés
Most clichés came into being because they were the perfect way to say something. So why change them? The answer to this, I think, is that anything we hear too often is less meaningful – after a while it loses its meaning, and hence its impact, altogether.

They will certainly not make your writing original.

These are two good reasons to try and avoid them.

And finally, is it possible to over edit?
At the risk of contradicting myself, then I’d say, yes it is. Our first work tends to be a splurge of words that pour out – well they pour out on a good day! On a bad day it might feel more like pulling teeth with no anaesthetic. First drafts have a rawness about them and hopefully a sparkle. And I think that it’s possible to take this sparkle out with too much editing.

I’ve seen writers who have actually managed to polish all the sparkle away from their original piece, leaving a final draft that is flat and rather emotionless. Please be careful – but in the final analysis you’ll have to trust your instincts about when enough is enough. This gets much easier with time and experience.

Thank you so much Della, some great tips there!

If you found that useful, (i know i did!) nip over to Amazon where you can download Della’s eBook The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed – Your Quick Read, Straight-To-The-Point Guide To Writing and Selling Short Fiction (Writer’s Toolshed Series)

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Originally written as a series for Writers’ Forum Magazine, this snappy, no-nonsense guide has been expanded, amended and updated. Using new examples from her own published short fiction, Della Galton takes you from ‘story idea’ to ‘final edit’, and demonstrates how to construct and polish the perfect short story, ready for publication.

Ahhhh, yes, repitition lol….I have a HUGE problem with that. Did any of those tips strike a chord (CLICHE ALERT lol) with you? 😉