Thursday, January 27, 2011

The art of editing

   Editing is just as important as writing. I never send a manuscript to the writing group before polishing it.There are exceptions to this rule, though. But, overall, I do polish them before submitting them to be critiqued.
   Searching for strategies and ideas to make the most out of my editing experience,  I consulted literary journals and books that talked about editing. These are my conclusions. I hope you will find them useful:

  The first stage of the editing process is to grab the big picture (macro-editing):
-Characters: what are their motives? Are they clear? Are they credible?
- Intention: what is the purpose? What am I trying to convey?
-Structure: do scenes flow well? Do I give too much information at the beginning? Or do I give so little that the reader doesn't get hooked to it? Check tension and climax. Do all the parts hold well together? Sometimes it may be necessary to reorder scenes.
-Theme: during the editing process, I may work on making it more clear through a recurrent idea or imagery.

Then the second stage is the one that deals with all the details. Now I read very slowly:
-Language: I pay attention to word choice. I may change words if I find better ones to express the same thing. I reread carefully to get rid of cliches. I avoid language that sounds artificial. I pay attention to unnecessary repetition. (Sometimes, there is stylish repetition and that is o.k) or redundant ideas ( what I call over-telling).
-Clarity.
-Dialogues.
-Continuity
-Beginnings, endings and transitions.
 One more tip: if something doesn't sound right and I don't know why, I rewrite it.
  Finally, I read the text in a loud voice to know how it sounds. I change  whatever I need to change.
 
  Then I send it to the writing group. The next stage of editing happens after  I read  my fellow writers' feedback.
  Sometimes editing feels like a never-ending task. But I enjoy the reward of ending up with a polished manuscript that I 'm willing to submit for publication...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Happy belated Martin Luther King's day!

 Every year I notice that when the media remembers Dr King, they only mention his leadership in the civil rights movement. Nothing is said about his non-violent means and his passive resistance through which he achieved his goals.
  The heart of his philosophy is almost always left out and ignored. I believe his philosophy should be embraced and acknowledged as much as the civil rights movement. It should be taken as an example and taught at schools in the USA and overseas. It is the seed for spiritual change that would help the world become a place where tolerance, compassion and love would prevail.
Here is an excellent article about what the media ignores.
http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19930116&slug=1680317

Monday, January 10, 2011

The adventure of writing.

  I wrote about how I was able to overcome writer's block in my last entry. I mentioned that first stage during which I let my mind  blow out all the thoughts on paper. However, I did not write anything about my stage "zero" of the writing process. The stage "zero" is the one that grabs ideas that come to me in the most unpredictable ways. They can happen when I  wake up in the morning,  or when I take a shower, or read a story, drive, walk. It can happen when I overhear other people's conversations. A sentence, a word, a life situation can all lead to a complex character and, ultimately, a story.
    There are days when ideas seem to flow into my head with a special gravity. I relish those days. I need them! Then I play with those ideas in my head. If they hook me, I grab my copybook and write the outline for a story. This is all I need to start the stage one of this writing adventure, and give myself confidence to put the story into words.
    Outlines are to my writing what wings are to birds. As long as I have the outline, I can fly and go far away; I can discover new possibilities and create new adventures. In other words, the outline does not restrict me; it gives me some direction and inspires me to dig deeper into the complexity of my characters. 
    When I start writing I have a theme in mind, but once I look back at what I have written at a more advanced stage of the process, I find new themes. Writing becomes an adventure of discoveries, new insights, reflections, and interesting conclusions.
      There is a secret that I have not mentioned so far. The first stage of my writing process is hand-written. I do not get to the computer until I have a first rough draft. Once I get to the word processor, a new stage begins.
  
  
 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Writer's block: a problem of the past.

   Writing takes courage and patience. When we write we have to deal with the infinite possibilities of saying the same thing in different ways. It can get overwhelming. We also have to deal with the sight of the blank page when we struggle to write down that first challenging paragraph. It is for this reason that reading the book "Writing without teachers" a year ago, has been a turning point in my writing life.
   Peter Elbow's main piece of advice is to let yourself write everything without censoring yourself. I find myself writing the same idea in many different ways. I normally have a central idea of what I want to do, and everything revolves around my goal.
  When I let my mind expand, fly and play with the same scene or idea in different ways, it leads me to new thoughts, metaphors, and conclusions. Not only that, but I also end up accomplishing my task.
     It is right at the beginning when I silence my inner censor to let the thoughts flow profusely without restrictions. The mind needs that freedom to discover the "hidden material".
     It will be during a second stage that I  will work on the editing process. During this stage I may start by underlining the sentences that I like most. Then I rewrite the piece with some of those sentences. I may swap paragraphs, add sentences, delete words.
  During the editing process I become ruthless and thorough. I may discard a lot of the writing but the result of it is a meaningful manuscript. So as long as I have slept enough and ate well,  I  am ready to take a deep breath and set my mind free to write.
 
  How do you deal with writer's block?

Monday, January 3, 2011

A review about Bye-bye Natalia.

   Bye-bye Natalia is one of the O.Henry prize stories of 2008. It was written by Michel Faber, who was born in the Netherlands but was raised in Australia. Faber worked as a nurse, and he was inspired to write this story after he took part in the "Writers in the Frontline" project of Medecines Sans Frontieres (Doctors without borders), which sent authors to emergency zones all over the world.
  Bye-bye Natalia is the story of an Ukrainian woman in her twenties, who lives on the outskirts of Odessa in one of the old communist-era apartment buildings, where she shares kitchen, laundry and bathroom facilities with four other people she doesn't get along with.
   Through a website addressed to men searching for a "mail bride" Natalia meets a middle-aged man from Montana, Bob. The guy, who is divorced and has three teenage kids, leads a comfortable but rather lonely life in the United States of America.
    The story carries us to Odessa, where we are invited to learn every detail about Natalia's world: her workplace where she sells modern music CDs, the internet cafe where she exchanges e-mails with Bob, the streets, the buses, her home.
    Natalia is highly motivated to find a way  of leaving Ukraine. She dreams of a civilized country where hospitals work. She hopes that marrying Bob will set her free from her miserable existence in Odessa. She also harbours the illusion of being able to fall in love with this American guy.
     It's in their exchange of e-mails that we learn how their relationship unravels, and we continue to do so in Natalia's dreams, expectations and thoughts.
      What I really enjoyed about the story was the realistic settings, the complex nature of the characters, their motivations and their interactions. As I read the story I felt that I was right there, beside Natalia, at all times.
    I have to admit that the end left me starving for more information about Natalia's fate and the outcome of her relationship with Bob. It was not difficult to empathize with her, and to understand her motivations and disappointments.
 Odessa could be like any city in the developing capitalist countries, and Natalia's  challenges of dealing with disease and poverty, might as well belong to somebody living in the United States of America.