Tag Archives: national novel writing month

Editing The Phoenix Fire: The Plan

My first NaNoWriMo novel, The Phoenix Fire, was a real learning curve for me. I wrote it at speed, left it for a month or so and then tried to edit it. In terms of length, it was about right, the plot largely matched what I had planned, and after a month I was still far too close to it to do more than edit the text.

I let a few friends read it, and their response was mixed. The biggest issue they had was with the main character. I saw him as troubled but ultimately redeemable, they all hated him or, worse, didn’t give a damn about him. Still too close to it, I dealt with their more specific comments, picking at the text but ignoring the big issues of character and structure. Then I had a single copy printed, stuffed it on my bookshelf and left it there.


We’re now almost 3 years later and I’m going to let myself take it down from its shelf. Because, in spite of its clear failings, I believe it’s a story worth telling and I believe I have the skill to tell it. I’ve learned a lot about writing over the last couple of years, I’ve honed my craft and more importantly I’ve put a lot of mileage between myself and this novel.

I’m dreading reading it, because I think much of it will make me cringe. But I’m also looking forward to giving it another chance. My goal is to do this slowly, over the course of 2013, so I’m setting up some not-too-ambitious targets for each month. I’m going to try to post on the last day of each month with an update on how that’s going.

January: Plan the plan. So far so good, here it is!

February: Read through the whole thing once. If I spot any textual errors, I will pacify my inner editor by highlighting them, but this read-through is intended to reacquaint myself with the story, the plot and the characters. And to identify the big-picture problems. I’ll keep a notebook beside me to keep a record of anything that strikes me as wrong, then if I have time at the end of the month, I’ll try to organise what’s in it into different elements – plot, character, style, etc.

March: Complete steps 1-9 of the planning plan here (http://fandelyon.com/?p=329). This is about identifying problems, not fixing them, so by the end of March I don’t intend to have made a single change to the text of the novel.

April: Taking the notes from February and March, plan out the structure of the novel as if writing it afresh. Work out which scenes, chapters or subplots need to be cut / rewritten / added. Re-assess the character arcs and work out if characters need to be cut / changed / added. Again, this won’t involve any work on the text itself.

May – July: Rewrite, based on the plan from April. This is likely to involve quite a lot of new text, so I’m allowing three months.

August: Read through the whole piece. Again, I’ll have a highlighter for textual errors, but the focus will be on big-picture stuff and on making sure I’ve fixed everything identified in Feb – April.

September: Rewrites based on August’s read-through and picking up any textual errors highlighted in previous read-throughs.

October: Read through. Look for big and – in particular – little errors, check for things like: clichés, anachronisms, repetition, overuse of adverbs / adjectives.

November: Leave it alone. I’ll hopefully be doing NaNoWriMo again this year, and a month away from PF will give me the breather I need before December’s read-through.

December: Final read-through. Careful check for typos and minor textual issues.

Are you editing anything this year? Is there anything here you think I’ve missed or should do differently? I’d love to hear from you.


Filed under NaNoWriMo, Writing

The Downside

I love writing. I love it enough that I would do it all day every day if I could. Enough that I don’t stop just because it’s a weekend. I even love editing, although less so, which is why I’m procrastinating more at the moment.

But there is a downside to writing, and in particular to the kind of intensive writing that takes place in November. As I speak to other WriMos this month, I find more and more of us refusing to type or whinging about lost wrist supports and ineffectual painkillers. Repetitive strain injury and various lesser forms of wrist pain strike the writer dumb.

So for my fellow sufferers who read this, I recommend the excellent advice of Joy Haughton, osteopath extraordinaire (and also my best friend, but she really is good and specialises in RSI) here: http://www.abodythatworks.com/blog. Unless you are fortunate enough to live in Cambridge, UK, she won’t be able to treat you personally, but the advice on her blog it still very useful.

Otherwise, here’s a few hints that I find help.

1. Wrist support. They are expensive but last pretty much forever. I can’t wear it to type, but I find if I wear it the rest of the time, it helps when I am typing.

2. Regular breaks. Download workrave (http://www.workrave.org/) to force you to take breaks, then make sure it’s turned on. And obey it. You can set the timings to ones which work for you, even really short breaks will help.

3. Massage your arms. For example when watching tv or waiting for the bus. Dig your opposite thumb into the muscle between wrist and elbow and ease it looser. An hour and a half of this is like a miracle cure (and hurts like hell at the time!), but even a couple of minutes helps.

4. Stretch. Again, at the bus stop, watching TV, first thing in the morning or last thing at night. A marathon runner wouldn’t finish a month of races and not stretch out, so don’t let December go by without easing the tension out of those arms. Anything that feels like a stretch is helping so experiment with what works for you. Stretching all over will help with posture and relaxation, but make sure you focus on fingers, arms and shoulders.

Right, better hit publish, workrave is flashing at me angrily.


Filed under Writing

More Writing Games

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is 1st December. NaNoWriMo is over, I won, so did huge numbers of the WriMos I am proud to call friends. WOOHOO! Confetti! etc etc.

So now we’re back to the real world, and what better way to celebrate than with a game.

“What I often do when I have to, say, describe a room, is to take a page of a dictionary, any page at all, and see if with the words suggested by that one page in the dictionary I can build up a room, build up a scene. Nobody has noticed. … You’re really normally doing what nature does, you’re just making an entity out of the elements. I do recommend it to young writers.” Anthony Burgess

Well, it’s an idea, isn’t it. So here’s the game, with due credit to Mr Burgess. Take a dictionary (yes, a paper one, sometimes the old ways really are the best) and open a page at random. Then write a story, or a scene, or a description, whatever takes your fancy. The only rule is, you have to include at least 5, ideally ten, or more! words from that double page spread in Chambers, Websters, the Oxford English or Collins’ Gem in front of you. Definition words, mind, no sneaking in with “well, there’s a ‘the’ in this definition here” excuses.

I’ll try to do this exercise and post it next week. If anyone has a desperate desire to pick a page number my dictionary has 1654 pages. First come first served to give me a number. Otherwise, it’ll be random.

Off to search out room descriptions in Clockwork Orange now…


Filed under Writing


It’s mid-October, which means a fair proportion of the writing community is starting to eye next month with nervous glances. November is National Novel Writing Month; in which writers across the globe try to hone a single story into at least 50,000 words over 31 days. It’s a challenge, it’s a community and, for many, it’s an obsession.

There are some basic rules to NaNoWriMo, like it should be a single piece of fiction, which you haven’t started writing (planning is OK though) before November 1st, but no-one checks up on you and “winning” is merely determined by inserting your word count into their count feature, so it’s a question of honesty. Mind you, the prize is a PDF certificate and a warm fuzzy feeling, so if you cheat, you’re only really cheating yourself.

For the last two years, I’ve followed the rules. Eric is the product of last year’s effort – 80,000 words or so – and Adam (at 120,000 with a LOT of padding) was 2009’s contribution. This year, however, I’m trying something slightly different.

I’m going to be away from my computer / internet connection / life for the next three weeks, (blog posts will be brought to you through the wonders of delayed posting!) so I’m going to start November a week behind. Also, I’m still deep into editing Eric, and don’t really want another novel on my back at the end of November. Finally, I’m signed up to do a short story writing project I’m referring to as Booker’s Seven, for which the target is 49,000 words.

So, as of November, I will be trying to write seven short stories, each 7,000 words long (plus a bit so that the total tips 50k!). Each story has been allocated one of Christopher Booker’s seven plots (he says there are only seven possible plotlines in all stories. More another time on my reaction to this), seven main characters, seven themes and seven first-lines. I’m working with a group of 6 other people, who are combining these differently, so that we will in the end have 49 stories mixing up our plots and themes, but the writing will be entirely my own.

To add to the challenge, I have decided to write the stories in seven different genres, most of which I’ve never dabbled with before.

In all honesty, I suspect I will find this harder than a single novel of 50,000 words, but I like a challenge, and having been a purist for two years, I’m ready to branch out.  To all my nano-ing buddies, good luck with the first week. I’ll catch up with you after 7th!



Filed under Booker's Seven, Writing