Tuesday, August 4, 2020

How to Edit My Own Writing

How to Edit My Own Writing

Editing is the most important part of writing. 

No matter how great the agony is inside me for the untold story, I am also aware of Hemingway’s caution - If you can’t write, don’t.

I know the first draft is always ‘shitty’. Revisiting the first draft of my work-in-progress novel, which is only one third written (with  an outline sketched),I pause to check if I am going in the right direction.  I caution myself not to wear the critique or editor’s hat too soon as the creative process is not all done, yet, it is a catch 22.

I don’t want to strangle my budding story while it is still in its infancy at the same time I don’t want to proceed in the wrong direction.   

In the meantime I attended some webinars and workshops, read much on writing a novel and editing and decided to write this article to save  what I  have learned for future reference and help fellow writers.
Jerry Jenkins in his webinar mentioned several aspects of writing and polishing a novel. The things that got my attention  most are:

Why do I want to write this story? What is the central message? Does my story unfurl that  message (whisper, scream or sing) consistently? Am I convinced that the theme is deep enough to handle it for a very long time? A novel may take two years or more. Is it important enough for the readers?
Some  authors suggest testing it.  They advise us to learn to summarize it in six sentences and casually give elevator speeches to strangers. I may do that to those who ask about what I am up to these days. This is one way  dipping my toes and finding out the importance of the theme or the interest level of the subject.

Understanding the genre is the next step.Where do I visualize my book in the bookstore or library? Who are its companions?  How is my book similar?  Every genre has certain characteristics. Readers expect certain things from  reading those books. How does my book satisfy that, yet, is unique in its own way? Where is that authenticity? In order to grasp that, it is important to read books in that genre.

In the first draft, I might hurry to tell the story. That busy work needs to be revisited. Understanding wordiness, importance of showing vs telling, character sketching are all in this group.

My story is more character driver than plot driven, yet I must understand plot twists, foreshadowing, back story, pacing and all that.

There are different stages of editing, and professional editing is a must. Even Joyce Carol Oates uses them. The very basic ones are:
Developmental  editing
Copy editing
Proof editing
While a developmental editor is responsible to check if the story meets the genre expectations, coherency in different chapters, anachronism, facts and many other things, she may not check every spelling mistake or grammar.

On the other hand, the copy editor  is responsible for those nitty gritty details but may not be responsible to see if the story makes any sense or how it could be fixed. Sometimes the developmental editor may wear the same hat and also take the responsibility of the copy editor.He may charge accordingly.
Proofreader checks it after the book is printed and makes sure everything is in its place.

It is important to know what the editor I am hiring will do -- her experience, rates, time commitment and all that. 

Val Breit in her article guides us with this process. There are many resources including Reedsy where the editors’ profiles, experiences, rates are all spelled out. 

But before I give my book to Beta Readers or to professional editors, I must do my homework. And here I am talking about formatting too. There is a certain expectation in formatting from writers regarding the presentation of the work. 

The very basic expectations are:
  • Manuscript must be in Word document format- .doc, or .docx 
(I write in google drive)
Tucker Max in his article (scribe writing.com) talks about the different softwares that are available to edit the first draft.

These are the common ones. I use Grammarly and ProwritingAid both, and I am happy. I didn’t use Hemmingway.

The last thing is - 
Reading my writing immediately points out  where the rhythm is not working, when the dialogues sound unnatural, where it is getting boring. I have yet to find out how to make my computer read it to me. 
If you have any idea, please drop it on the comment box. I look forward to  hearing your feedback.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Review The Color Purple

Read a book like a writer.

Recently I came across an interesting site where we, writers or wanna b writers are asked to read like a writer. 
So far I have read many books just for the sake of reading not paying attention to the craft of writing.

Here I understood that we will have guidance to find out what goes in the process of writing - why a book resonates or doesn't, how the writer brings the scenes to life without telling.

If you are interested please check out.

Prompt # 1.  Choose a book

The first project was to choose a book. Any book. I chose The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I remember the book was banned in 1984. I was still teaching then and there were a  lot of noise regarding the language. Debates between Proper English and Black English, whether the subject matter was appropriate for eighth-grade class or not...et etcetera, etcetera. 

While decluttering my shelf I found this book, I held it close and decided this would be the book.

Prompt # 2. Protagonist

The next day we listened to a podcast and were guided by Gabriella Perrotta. She asked if we could find the protagonist. That will be the character the reader would get attached to. The protagonist need not be the narrator. 

In this case, the protagonist is Celie, the fourteen-year-old girl who is writing letters to God. This is how the story unfurls -- through letters to God (the reader). 

The very first line of the book is :
You better not never tell nobody but God. It'll kill your mammy. 

The next letter to God starts as --
My mama dead.    

Prompt # 3 Five Promises

'At the beginning of every story, the author makes five promises to the reader', says Gabriela. In a short story, they must be spelled out as soon as possible,  maybe on the first page.  The novel might get a little more time. But the reader expects it by the end of the first chapter. 

What are these FIVE PROMISES?
1. Character
2. Voice
3. Problem/conflict
4. World / Setting
5. Event 

Do they appear in the first chapter of the book that you are reading?  Asked the guide. 

Here are my findings. 

The first chapter is the first letter in this case which is about 200 words. 

The protagonist Celie, a fourteen-year-old girl and another main character, Mr. -- are introduced. Though we don't know their names yet. 

The voice is Celie's at this point. Charming Black English as if she is talking to me in her own way. 

The world is a dysfunctional family where her dad or Mr.-- abuses her sexually, verbally and physically. 

Problem: Celie is stuck. Docile, obedient, this poor, young girl admits to God that I have always been a good girl...Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me? ...I don't know how to fight. All I know how to do is stay alive.

Event: Did the author choose the right beginning for this story?

I think starting with the sexual abuse sets the tone of the story. How Celie is stuck in this bitter condition and I wish her to get out of this vicious circle and  I want to read more what happens next.  The author hooked me indeed.

So yes, within ten pages the writer kept all the five promises she made. 

What are you reading now?  I am curious to check it out in the comments.  So please leave one. Thank you. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

A Holiday Story

With a ‘Y’

I want that!” Lynda’s eyes popped as the crystal heart brooch twinkled attached with a postcard dated 1952.
“I collect antique postcards and antique brooches.” The sales lady nodded. 
Lynda read the postcard, “How I miss you! When I go to sleep, I never count sheep, I count all the charms about L.nda. …With one lucky break, I’ll make L…a mine.” The letters between’ L’ and ‘a’  got washed off as did much of the letter. Blurry.  Wiping her glasses, Lynda held the letter to her bosom, “Aww!”  Indeed it was written to a Lynda she had no doubt. “This brooch is meant for me.” She murmured. ”I’ll treasure it in my box, oh unknown sender!” She kissed the faded postcard. 
When Lynda was a little girl her teacher used to call on her and point to all the spelling mistakes in front of the whole class warning that she’d never make anything in life. There were five Lindas in her class. No one made such mistakes. ‘Thank God, it’s not me’ they’d cover their mouths, hiding their giggles.   How embarrassing - Lynda felt and broke down one day, “Why did you name me Lynda, Mom?” 
Mom replied,” Because of the song darling. ‘Linda, Linda 
morning noon an’ night, Linda’s always on my mind.” She twirled playing the record. Perry Como’s voice ‘…miracles still happen…’ filled the air.
“But you’re special, sweetie,   you are Lynda with a ‘y’.”
Fifty years later, those memories stirred. Lynda flipped the postcard to see the price tag and dropped it immediately. Twenty-seven dollars!
Hubby needed bridgework, the car needed new brakes. Lynda realized she was not a little girl anymore. There was no room for ‘wants’.
She went back to her own booth where she was selling handmade holiday ornaments. Her husband, Harry was minding her booth giving her a short break. 
“You sold three blind mice, honey.” Harry grinned with missing front teeth. “ I gave a discount of three dollars. Twenty seven for three. Here.” He held her the money. 
Lynda gaped. She ran to the brooch lady like a little girl, money in hand. “Oh Lord, you listened to me. Exactly $27!” She murmured, palm on her chest. 
But the brooch was gone. SOLD.
Next morning as Lynda opened the door of the Craft Fair the  first lady standing in line was wearing that brooch.
“My brooch!” Exclaimed Lynda.
“What?” The lady knitted brows. “I bought it yesterday.”
“Of course. Of course, you did, Ma’am. I know. Did you read the letter?” Lynda swallowed, “written to some Linda?” 
“No! I didn’t care. Threw it.” She rolled her eyes. Then turned, “ letter to some Linda, you said? That’s interesting, ‘cause my name is Linda too.”
Lynda nodded and moved away.
“Oh Lord, I see you listened to my wish. But you goofed. You made a mistake with the spelling. It was from Linda with a ‘y’. My Lord, you make  mistakes too.“

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Book Review The World We knew by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman's new book The World We Knew is just released. 

The World We Knew is not the real world — that is what I learned today in the book reading by Alice Hoffman at the Rakestraw Bookstore. The author believes in magic and that is what she brings in her writing. 

“Can you fathom why certain things happen in life magically, to save you or not happen?" She questioned. “Why did the car to Auswictz stop in the middle and turn around that day saving lives?  One of those holocausts  survivors was a doctor who lives in Palo Alto, I  had interviewed him.” 

Ms. Hoffman, a breast cancer survivor is drawn to themes of love, loss, and survivors, she said. That intrigues her to write this book, The World We knew

She told us a story that one day after a book reading an elderly lady approached her in the parking lot urging her to write her story —  how her parents had sent her away to save her from the Nazis.  Ms. Koffman didn’t bother to take her name or contact information as she knew that moment that she wouldn’t be able to write the life story of everyone who requests so. But this particular elderly lady’s voice, her words ‘Otherwise it’d be lost, such stories of hidden girls.’ kept haunting her, and the book was written finally.

Ms. Hoffman mentioned the power of grandmas. She talked about her Russian grandmother - whom she called Bobeshi — her love and impact on her career as a writer. 

“So that money may not be an issue my grandmother used to give me half her Social Security check, and I took it.” She confessed. "A short story about grandma later won me the Stanford Fellowship for Creative Writing." 

“There is a saying — write what you know. But I liked what my professor in my writing class used to say — Write what you imagine.” She shared.

Fairy tales, mythical characters, magical realism are places where she finds her answers, and that comes out in her style. 

“I like to question. That’s how I start my writing. What if…?”

She often writes about settings where she had never been, never visited except in her imagination. But she likes to do thorough research before writing.  She had interviewed many Holocaust survivors to write this particular piece. She visited France and went to every prison she could to write about the story of a hidden girl. 

She also likes to create the ambiance with images, quotes, colors and immerse herself in it in order to create that world, she shared with us. 

“When do you usually write?” One of us asked. 

“Usually from 4:45 to sunrise. That’s when the rest of the world is quiet and sleeping.“ She nodded. 

Margie, my writer friend and I exchanged glances. 

“Readers and writers have one thing in common. Both want to get lost in that other world.  But when you don’t find that on your bookshelf that is when you write. The book that is not written yet.” She smiled.

I am so excited. Now I’d get a blanket, a cup of hot tea, yes the temperature has dropped suddenly and find a cozy spot to open my new book, the signed copy of The World We Knew.  

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Book Review on Educated by Tara Westover

 A Book Review on

I watched her interview on television one day while I was on vacation. The author of this memoir was a  Mormon girl who never went to a school or to a doctor. But then she taught herself to take an ACT test, got into BYU college, then to Cambridge and later earned a Ph. D from Harvard.  The book is a best seller. I ordered the book from  Amazon as in the library my waiting position was thirty-fifth.  I couldn’t wait that long. 

After reading I felt like talking about it, sharing it with the whole world.  It touched me. I absolutely loved it. Once started I couldn’t put it down and gobbled the whole 350 pages or so in two and a half days. 

There are several levels to this piece. White supremacy, control of power, bullying, feminism, religion, psychology, all these things are interwoven. But what was striking to me was the lucid language, the frankness in the storytelling. 

The vulnerability of the protagonist girl in this memoir, her desire to go back to her old life,  to that dysfunctional family where she was beaten, traumatized and brainwashed, broke my heart. I would whisper, ‘Please don’t go back, Tara,’ turning the pages to see what happens next. 

Education opens eyes. It educates her to review history with a different lens.

It’s a beautiful memoir where as a reader I could understand how our family builds our core, the foundation of our values, no matter how wrong and warped they be, and how education reshapes that. Transforms even transcends us. What a price to pay!

Favorite excerpts:

“I could tolerate any form of cruelty better than kindness. Praise was poison to me; I choked on it. I wanted the professor to shout at me.I felt dizzy from the deprivation.”  Pg 241

“ The most powerful detriment of who you are is inside you. …Remember Pygmalion…Until she believed in herself …it didn’t matter what dress she wore.” Pg 242

“When the stillness shattered and his fury rushed at me, I would know that something I had done was the catalyst, the cause…There was hope in such superstition: there is illusion of control. Pg 283. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Writing in the Library

Did you ever consider writing in the library? You may ask — why the heck would I do that? Why not in my home, or at a cafe? 
Well, a cafe is too noisy and though I get some juicy eavesdropping dialogues, it is too distracting for me.
Home? It has another set of problems. The sink is full of dishes, a basketful of laundry, cluttered coffee table, the constant ringing of junk calls and the long to-do list hanging on the refrigerator door intimidate me.

So My writer friend Francie and I gave our favorite Lafayette library a try. The tall trees, vine wrapped deck across the large windows, the wonderful smell of books, whispering voices and page-turning shuffles of quiet readers proved just the right ambiance.

We decided on a forty-five-minute session first. As I was doodling on my journal, the old-fashioned way I could hear Francie clicking away on her keyboard. We got immersed in our own worlds and individual projects sitting across from each other sharing the same table, same light. It was like a parallel play with a dear friend we did when we were kids.
“How’s it going?” Francie asked when the timer dinged. 
“Good flow,” I replied.
We decided to give another forty-five-minute try.  

I thought of my childhood days when I used to go to the Calcutta National library with my father. The same smell of books and wood shelves, the same tranquil atmosphere I felt, only twelve thousand miles away and many decades later. It is the feeling that the library is such a sacred place resonated again. 

Calcutta National Library.

“My temple” -admitted Barbara Kingsolver. “The first library I knew was an upstairs room over a storefront in my little town, with a librarian who didn’t approve of children handling books”. At the end of this article, Ms. Kingsolver shares that there was a special book at the University of Arizona library’s special collection. ‘It wasn’t supposed to leave the room, but I am persuasive. I said, “Something good could happen if you let me borrow this book.” I took it home; The Poison Wood Bible happened.’

Ramona Ausubel shares how the Newport Beach Public Library “Made Me a Novelist. Each morning I packed up my laptop and some snacks and left the distraction of home and nestled myself near the library’s big window….After six weeks I had a draft. It was a mess, but it was alive. When I left my carrel, that last day I gave the window a high five. The library and I had done it together.“

Thinking of all these inspirational stories I felt enthused to incorporate this new routine in my life. 

As I reached my parked car, I found a tiny note stuck on my windshield. A parking ticket. 

$45 for two hours of writing!

Well, this must be a test. The more the obstacles the stronger gets your will power, whispered my obstinate alter ego. There must be a way out. 

Mind you even when you are writing a grocery list or a text message to your friend, you are writing. You are a writer.

 So...What's your favorite place to write. 


Sunday, May 19, 2019

To Ava - the Young Writer

To Ava

It was wonderful yesterday honoring the young writers at the Young Authors’ Prize ceremony. I met Ava, the girl who wrote a story about an autistic brother and a sister. I told her while handing her the name tag, 

“You are Ava! I read your story. We, all  six judges knew  that your story deserved the First Prize.” 

The girl, with a headful of braided Afro hair, wanted to crawl somewhere, hide under something, her eyes downcast, face touching her chest. Mom beamed and her teacher Mr. Somebody came and sat beside her with a proud smile. 

“Ava, look at her. Say ‘Thank you’!” Her mom nudged and apologized, “So shy!” 

“Shy people write best,” I said and left. 

There is so much to this writing life. The writer self differs from the real one that the rest of the world sees. Ava is so shy in person but not on paper. 

Her mom confessed later while she was not around, “God knows where she gets those ideas!” she rolled her eyes, “People who read her stories may think ‘Is the family okay, does her mom really abuse her like that and so...”. Mom giggled.

I know exactly what she means and to some extent how Ava feels. While she needs to let those imaginary characters free of her rib cage, she will also have to think how it may impact her close relatives or friends especially if she writes in the first person. Or in memoir form. Many things would be vividly true while much just made up, lies. She’d have to weave lies to tell the truth. That’s her obligation as a writer. 

For that, she’d risk losing friends and loved ones. They would misunderstand  her when her muse would take her by the hand to a mesmerizing world that doesn't exist for the others. She’d forget her known world, abandon her close ones,  lose herself to that  imaginary world.. She might  try to create that world she'd experienced for them later but no one would understand.

And when she gets to the top,  become the best author or so, many of her friends would curl their lips “I could write that too, only if I had given a chance!” 

Ava, you’re on the right track not letting yourself blown away with  prizes and awards, compliments and kudos. You don’t want to spoil your writer’s soul with rewards and praises or crush it with neglect, silence and harsh criticisms. Your writer- soul is much pure and delicate. Protect it, my young friend. Polish it alone. It’s a solitary thing. 

Write away, my dear girl. Young writer, tell us the stories of those who are suffering and we are not hearing. Bring hope to the world with your words for you have the softness in your heart to feel, the strength in your voice to speak up  and the gift in your pen. 

Crawl inside your shell if that be a better shelter for you to thrive. I am waiting!