Today’s post is about two things. Firstly, I finished the first draft of ‘That which is Found‘ – this now means that I have finished writing three novels. This astounds me. When I first began this blog I had trouble writing one sentence a day, in fact this piece of wisdom is still stuck up on my notice board, so the evidence that I now have before me demonstrating I have written three novels is boggling. Sure, it’s taken me a few years but I’m much more confident about starting new things now that I know I can follow through on them.
Secondly, I’d like to report that I am enjoying the Future Learn Starting to Write Course that I expressed concern about in a previous post. Now that I’ve realised I can’t approach it as a writer who is just starting out – seriously, did you read the paragraph above: I’ve written three novels (!) – it means I can take what I most need from the course and possibly learn lessons that may not have been intended from some of the simple exercises suggested on the course.
For example, today I was working on a module that asked us to edit the following passage (which we can assume is deliberately overwritten):
The heavy black and blue winter sky groaned awfully with rain clouds that at any moment were really about to fall crashing heavily down upon the street where, because it was rush hour, so many people, wearing all manner of different clothes, hats, shoes, boots, some of them carrying bags, suitcases, briefcases, scampered and strolled about the place as though oblivious to what was just about to happen over their very heads. One of these people was called Hilary and concealed inside her voluminous coat she carried the loaded, snub-nosed gun, and she also seemed to be the only one looking upwards into the tempestuous thundery heavens.
I went through these two sentences and pulled out what I believed was most relevant: that it was stormy, that Hilary was carrying a gun and that she was the only one out of all those people to be looking up. As a result, this was my rewrite:
At the height of rush hour, Hilary gazed up at the purple-bruised sky that threatened to release its pregnant load. Hoards of people scuttled around her, ignorant of the loaded gun she was hiding beneath her thick winter coat.
The exercise was to edit the sentences. The more ‘correct’ version would have been (as suggested in the course):
The winter sky was heavy with rain. It was rush hour. Hilary concealed the loaded gun inside her coat.
The exercise was to take what was already there and cut it down – not reinterpret and rework it until it formed an atmospheric piece of prose. However, my method is to get down the first draft in order to figure out just what it is I’m trying to say, and then re-write this to effectively create the written piece I would then edit. So, I took the exercise and applied what I already know to take the writing one step further, in that I rewrote it. In my process, I would then need to edit my rewritten version:
At the height of [too many unnecessary words, can be tightened] rush hour, Hilary gazed up [gazing is very passive, possibly not appropriate for a woman with a gun] at the purple-bruised sky that threatened to release its pregnant load [Hmm, not sure about pregnant load]. Hoards of people [is this the right description?] scuttled [don’t like this word either] around her, ignorant of the loaded gun [do I need to state it is loaded?] she was hiding beneath her thick winter coat.
Lots of things to improve there still. And, again, some rewriting may need to be done, but on a much smaller scale. The specific time of rush hour isn’t significant, so that can be lost. Having Hilary stare, rather than gaze seems much more intense and replacing the word heavy, back into the text from the original, simplifies the imagery. ‘People’ already suggests more than one and changing the verb to ‘bustled’ suggests that these people are vying for space. Finally, the reader will assume the gun is loaded – it would be more significant if it were unloaded, at which point then it would be appropriate to point this out.
Taking these things into consideration, here’s my final, edited, version:
During rush hour Hilary stared up at the purple-bruised sky that threatened to release its heavy load. People bustled passed her ignorant of the gun she was hiding beneath her winter coat.
Hopefully this version has some of the atmospheric elements that draw the reader into the motivation behind why Hilary has a gun in her coat and still contains the necessary elements important to a reader. Personally, I like my use of the comparison of a bruise to describe the sky and the idea that it ‘threatened’ to rain. Both of these things suggest violence and potentially set up the intentions of Hilary with her gun.
So, yes. I’m learning. I’d forgotten that I’ve already been writing for some time and that I have had more practice than I realise. I have developed my own methods and processes for writing and can now appreciate this course for making me more aware of them. Certainly it is making me acknowledge that I can write, that I have potential and can recognise ‘clunky’ writing when I see it and pick out the most relevant areas requiring improvement. I am understanding that perhaps my writing doesn’t always have to be rewritten when I’ve considered the key message I want to communicate and that verb choice and choice descriptions can alter good writing to great writing.
I started this course thinking I was going to revise the basics. Instead, I’m now continuing with it with more ambition than that. I’m doing the course to recognise my own ability, to refine my processes and build my confidence. I’ve been struggling so much this year wondering if I am capable of revising and editing my novels into a publishable state, but through the reflection this course is permitting me, I am realising that I can do it and that I should believe in myself that little bit more.