October 2007

I get into a trance state sometimes, and I feel as though the words just flow right out of my fingers and into the keyboard. Sometimes that sort of writing can be very good, but oftentimes when I reread it I find I am back to using the same old phrases and sentence structure. I used to push myself to write 5000 words a day when I was first starting out, but now I know that quality doesn’t always follow from quantity. These days I am lucky to write 5000 a week, but I think I have to do much less editing later on because I am much more careful about what I put down to begin with.

To help myself I have made a running list of words and phrases I want to avoid using if at all possible. It has helped me tremendously. With a good word processing program like MS Word, it is easy to use the find command to track down these annoying cliches, and then replace them with more imaginative prose. I don’t always catch them, and this is when having a writing buddy really helps. A fresh pair of eyes can make all the difference.

But one thing I have never been able to figure out–an acceptable synonym for the word shrug


I lead a full life–I have four children, a Japanese exchange student and a busy household to manage. Sometimes it is hard to find time to write, but I do try as hard as I can to do a little bit every day. Other times, when I am feeling particularly creative, I might sit at my desk for eight or ten hours. I try not to force it, either way.

But of course there are times when I think of some plot twist, or an inconsistency that I have missed and I am right in the middle of cooking dinner, or driving the kids to school. This is when having a voice recorder is priceless. If you have not invested in one of these little gadgets, then I highly recommend it. The digital ones are small, lightweight, easy to use and run just about forever on an AA battery. Keep it with you, and when your muse strikes get it down!

There have been occasions when I thought I would remember something, and it just vanished from my mind. When this happened I was always gutted, because of course I think any forgotten idea is probably the best one I have ever had…

With a voice recorder, this never has to happen.

It will be your best friend when you are editing because you can be thinking about your work all the time, not just when you sit down to your keyboard.


A voice recorder, though useful, can’t totally take the place of a writing notebook. I do all my composition on a laptop, but I keep copious hand-written notes about each book. These include character profiles, time-lines, pictures I have drawn or cut out of magazines, and word lists. Because of the nature of my writing–fantasy fiction, I have to create worlds and languages as I go. Having something to reference when I am trying to think of a place name or setting is invaluable. Ditto for editing. When you are going over your work, it is easy to forget why you did something a certain way. The notes help me to see if a character is really behaving the way he or she ought to.

But it only works if you keep them updated, something I don’t always do successfully.

It is a satisfying moment, when you finally key in those two words–“The End.” Especially when your novel has stretched to 120,000 words or more. However, as with most things, the end is not really the end, but rather a beginning of the next phase of writing. I recently finished the third book of my “Song of the Arkafina” cycle, called “Birth of the Dawnmaid.” Before I start editing, I find it very helpful to create a little distance between myself and my work. This usually means working on some other projects for a few weeks. So I intend to begin the fourth book–“Beyond the Gyre,” today, as well as doing some research for another planned cycle of books that will follow “Song of the Arkafina.”

My first book, “Song of the Arkafina: Heart of Hythea” will be coming out before the end of the year, via Mushroom E-books. I spent a lot of time editing that one, because it was my first complete novel and because I didn’t really know what I was doing half the time. I got to the point where I believed it was all complete crap, so I had to put it aside for several months. I like editing, don’t get me wrong, but doing too much of it at a time can destroy your objectivity and make you grumpy as hell. Trust me. Having a writing buddy who is willing to be brutally honest with you is a great boon, because he or she can tell you when you are either too easy or too hard on your own work. I am lucky to have such a person in my life.

Here are my bits of wisdom for this post:

Do your editing in small chunks, with breaks in between to work on new material. This keeps you fresh.

Show your writing to someone you can trust and be prepared to accept criticism gracefully. If you have a writing buddy you can always revenge yourself on him/her when you critique their work.

Never erase edited text all together. Either save a new version or cut and paste chunks of text into a different file. I cannot tell you how many times I have gone back to something I thought I didn’t want.

More about editing next time!