Saturday, 30 October 2010

Excuses Not to Write...

All writers do it – we come up with all sorts of excuses not to write. For every reason you can’t there’s also another reason why you should. How else will you accomplish anything?

Why we do this depends on many factors. Sometimes it’s because we lose flair and give up, perhaps it’s because we can’t find inspiration and then stagnation sets in, or it’s simply that we’ve grown bored with writing completely and we can’t be bothered to write anything worthwhile.

We make excuses because it’s easy. Sometimes we allow them to fester until our lack of writing becomes a long-term problem – in the end, nothing gets done.

The most often used excuses not to write are:

• Procrastination
• Lack of motivation
• Writers Block
• Writing laziness
• Boredom
• Fear of rejection
• Life
• Indifference

Procrastination is a way of canny avoidance. That novel needs finishing but the goings on in EastEnders or CSI diverts your waning attention. You need to write a story, but instead you decide to take the dog for a walk, or you go out for lunch...which takes most of the afternoon. Another short story has been stagnating in a pile of papers since last year, but no matter how much you want to, you can’t be bothered to tackle it. Even Facebook is far more interesting than your book.

Procrastinators allow too much time to pass since their last creative spurt and seem content to carry on with life as it has become, therefore bypassing any writing or productivity. This isn’t unusual, it happens to a lot of writers – sometimes life just gets in the way, if you allow it. Of course, writers love to talk about all the reasons why they aren’t writing instead of actually sitting down and writing. Writers are master procrastinators.

As Epictetus famously wrote, “If you wish to be a writer; write!”

Lack of motivation is another excuse that writers use. But the very thing that drives a writer is everywhere around them and present in everything they do. Motivation comes from the Latin word movere (to move) and is the driving force behind the desire to write, but why is it so often used as an excuse?

Inspiration is the answer, or lack of it. Inspiration and motivation are inextricably linked, they work together to feed a writer, but lack of inspiration can lead to lack of motivation, and lack of motivation can in turn stifle the amount of inspiration. It’s an endless cycle.

Of course, in reality, inspiration surrounds us, it’s in everything we see and hear, touch, taste and smell. There should be no excuse for not writing - there are always new people, new experiences and new places to stimulate the creative process. It’s whether we choose to pay attention to any of these that matters.

Something inspires us – a word, a phrase, something we see, or hear or touch or smell or taste, it motivates us and we write and we create. This should be your endless cycle of productivity.

I find one of the best motivators to get back to writing is to read your favourite authors. This has an inspiring effect; reading what they have written, and how they have done so, is a great motivator, because they have accomplished something. Never neglect aspiration.

Another widely used excuse is writer’s block. While this affliction can have real underlying psychological causes, too many writers take advantage of it and often complain ‘I can’t write a thing, I must have writer’s block’. More often than not, it has nothing to do with an actual writing blockage, but rather suggests that apathy has set in. Writer’s block is always about the writer, not the project you’re working on. By feigning writer’s block, you’re denying yourself the opportunity to write and create. In truth, you’re being lazy...

We all become a bit lazy with our writing from time to time. We’d rather watch the TV, go out with friends, spend hours surfing the internet or we end up blaming writer’s block. It’s a fact that sometimes writing can become a chore and you just don’t want to tackle it. Perhaps you’re writing something you don’t particularly like or have no real interest in or perhaps you’re writing in a genre you’re not used to. This naturally leads us to avoid doing it.

In reality, writers become lazy because they allow themselves to, but then they’ll blame their lack of writing on just about anything, but the only person they should blame is the person in the mirror.

Perhaps the worst excuse for laziness is the internet - why work on something when you can surf, look for holidays, chat in forums or play online bingo and poker? The internet sometimes affords even the most diligent writers the attention span of a fly. It distracts and allows writers to switch off and forget that they have to write. We all like time to have fun and chill, but in order to avoid becoming apathetic and lazy towards writing, a writer needs to balance leisure time (like the internet) with actual writing and not be too distracted.

Another excuse is boredom with writing. On the surface, this appears a shallow excuse, but it probably means there’s an underlying cause. Maybe you’re working on a project that is out of your comfort zone and you’re not used to writing a different genre, or perhaps you’re trying to force a story from an idea that simply doesn’t work, maybe it isn’t strong enough or doesn’t have the right characters. It doesn’t feel right, so invariably it isn’t. The story doesn’t hold your attention so you become bored with it.

To tackle boredom, switch to something else to gain some inspiration - drum up some ideas for short story competitions, do some research for the next novel idea, sort through all those old notebooks and files and bits of paper to see if there are any ideas for flash fiction pieces, short stories, or even a novel. As already pointed out, everything around you is a source of inspiration. How you exploit that is up to you.

The art of writing is a long creative process which involves planning, making notes, research, actual writing and editing, so there should be no excuse to become bored.

Another problem for writers is fear – the dread of what others will think of their work, the prospect of receiving criticism, or the fear of rejection. Writers equate rejection with failure and turn that fear into an excuse not to write. This fear then takes the form of self-doubt. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle which every writer can fall into and is sometimes hard to get out of.

As Sylvia Plath once wrote, “...everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt”.

Fear can stop any writer from writing, but in actuality, over time it stops becoming a fear and turns into an excuse. It’s wise to remember that winners never give up, losers do.

But what about the biggest excuse of all?

Well, life in general. The biggest and most often used excuse. There is no doubt that it can and does get in the way the creative process. Writers have to devote a large part of their time looking after family and a home, as well as a career, and writing can sometimes become a forgotten pastime, a lost hobby or even a missed opportunity. Life becomes one huge excuse not to write.

All these life factors demand our time and can sometimes suck the creativity from us. Writers often complain about the lack of time to write because of their busy lives, and yet miraculously, they find time to watch TV, read a book, surf the internet or go out for a drink. If you can do any of those, then an hour of writing is not impossible. You can make the time to write because not every minute of your day is filled by being busy.

Life only gets in the way if you let it.

But what if it’s not a lack of motivation, a busy life, or boredom or laziness that you can blame on your lack of writing? Well, I’ve saved the most unusual one for last.

Indifference. It’s not strictly an excuse, but writers fall back on it too often. Indifference is the complete lack of interest in writing. The spark has gone; the creative light has fizzled out, your muse has grown weary and left you for someone else.

This is reminiscent of a writer who has struggled for years to be published, but without success, and eventually he or she gives up without ever returning to it. This happens to a high proportion of would-be writers who start out but eventually give up.

Don’t let this be you. Ask most writers why they write, and invariably most will say they do it because they love to write, published or not. It’s that simple, there is no magic formula.

The reality is, there should be no excuse not to write, but it’s so easy to make excuses and put off writing when so many other things require attention or distract us. Ignorance can be bliss, except it doesn’t get you anywhere, so we should remember that inspiration surrounds us, motivation lies within us and creativity is always present, ready for the next big idea. It’s up to you as a writer how effectively you use these tools and when you use them.

I’ll leave the last word to Benjamin Franklin. “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing”.

Next time: Plot v. Character driven stories

Friday, 22 October 2010

Self-Doubt - Why It Stifles Success

I’m rubbish; I’ll never be a writer.’  Not if you don’t do something about it.

We’ve all had these negative thoughts, thinking we’re simply not good enough to reach the glorious echelons of the Literati. Most writers have suffered this at some point and it usually manifests when fear of rejection overrides logic because it’s easy to doubt your own abilities when comparing themselves to others and thereby decline their own talent in the process.

When you begin to doubt everything that you write, it becomes a problem.

So you’ve written your novel, or your short story or article, but you're not going to send it to an agent/publisher/magazine because you think it's not quite good enough, despite the time and effort you’ve put into it, regardless of how good or bad it might actually be. You’ll spend another week or so editing, and still it won’t be good enough. You ask yourself: Is it any good? Who will want to read it? Will anyone be interested in what I have to say?

Let’s be realistic: not everything you write will be a masterpiece, nor will it be terrible, but it’s very important to understand this idea. Writers suffer from tunnel vision when it comes to their work, their talents and their limitations. They spend too much time wondering what others might think about their work rather than concentrating on the quality of their writing. It’s the fear that it’s simply not good enough, not up to standard, but it’s a perceived standard which is so elevated that it’s simply unattainable and it allows doubt to creep in to starve any ambition.

Where does self-doubt come from?

Psychologists believe self-doubt is borne from our childhood, usually from parents, teachers and peers telling kids that they aren’t good enough, they’ll amount to nothing. Eventually the child will start to believe it, causing them to doubt their abilities. These doubts are then carried through to adulthood. Most of our cognitive development and reasoning about our abilities is laid down through childhood.

In adulthood, rejection will cause self-doubt and continual rejections can shake any writer’s resolve. Praise from others quickly builds resolve, but all it takes is one rejection and that resolve crumbles and all that positivity is gone. Regardless of talent, writers can quickly lose confidence in their abilities after a series of rejections.

Second only to rejection is criticism. The key to handling criticism and rejection is to turn them into something positive. If you don’t then you end up holding yourself back, with little room to develop as a writer.

Self-doubt is a coping mechanism for fear of rejection and criticism. It’s a self-perpetuating syndrome of ‘it’s not good enough; it will be rejected, so why bother?’

If you don’t bother, then you won’t know how good a writer you are. Ignore the negative sting of criticism because critique is an important writing process in understanding your level of skill, your writing limitations and the need for development in weak areas such as grammar and spelling.

Another part of the problem is that sometimes we aspire too much. We want to the new Stephen King, Dean Koontz or Lee Child, but what we need to understand that we won’t ever be anything like them, because we’re not them. What we achieve is only through what we do, as writers, but predictably, when our work doesn’t measure up to famous authors, we become disappointed in ourselves and we start to doubt our abilities.

Always remember that each writer has a unique voice and style, each is different. Don’t compare your work to others, because your style will be vastly different. Aspire to be like others, but not to be them.

Overcoming self-doubt

The most damaging thing about self-doubt is that it makes you irrational about your abilities. This can cause a loss of writing opportunities because you’re afraid to send anything out into the big bad world, you’ll never let go. You need to take control of your approach to writing otherwise you’ll never be published.

Success only comes if you pursue it. Positivity is the key to that success. Sometimes positivity can be hard to foster, but through either your success or lack of it, positivity helps the mind focus and keeps that determination in place.

So how do writers find positivity and banish self-doubt? The most important thing is to understand that you are as capable as any other writer. If you believe in yourself then your ability will help you create your own success.

• Find a support system – That could be friends, family or teachers. Find people who can offer constructive feedback rather than pure negative criticism, people who will help bolster confidence in your work.

• Join online forums or a writers group where you can showcase your work and receive the benefit of knowledge, experience and encouragement from others.

• If you can afford to, sign up for writing courses or perhaps take on a creative writing degree.

• Look out for writing events in your area. Share your work with others and gain inspiration and ideas from them.

• List your goals, and what you need in order to achieve those goals. Don’t focus on personal failings or rejections, but concentrate on positivity, relish even the smallest success. This will build your confidence and help you recover quickly from setbacks.

• Take on board constructive criticism. As a writer, you need it. We all fear having our writing flaws exposed, but that’s how we learn. Criticism is a building block to becoming a better writer, so embrace it.

• None of us are perfect – no writer or work of fiction is.

Positive Reinforcement

Not in its true sense, but it’s a way of rewarding yourself for positive behaviour.

For instance, not sending out your work for fear of criticism and rejection or not being good as JK Rowling et al = negative reinforcement.

Posting your novel/short story or article, regardless = positive reinforcement. It may come back rejected, but you don’t let self-doubt stifle your creativity. Instead, you get back to work, improve your story, novel or article and send it out again. By doing this you gain a stronger sense of commitment to your work, and with it you’ll also find satisfaction and improvement and you give yourself positive reinforcement.

The more work you send out, the better the understanding you gain from feedback. It helps you develop your skills, improve your writing and gain experience.

Most of all enjoy the whole writing process. You don’t have to be great all of the time because in reality, you can’t. Confidence breeds assurance, so keep sending, keep learning, keep developing and become a better writer.

Next time:  Excuses why we don't write

Sunday, 17 October 2010


The Dreaded Rejection

Every writer can vouch for rejection. Every writer will experience this.

Rejection is emotive, it produces feelings of hurt. Writers take it personally, but you have to understand that it’s the piece of writing that was rejected, not you as a writer. There could be dozens of reasons for rejection. It doesn’t mean you’re rubbish and should instantly give up.

Writers do what comes naturally: they equate rejection with failure. It’s hard not to. Weeks, months or even years of hard work has been arbitrarily dismissed, leaving you with questions such as ‘Am I a bad writer?’, ‘Was my story that bad?’ and ‘Why am I a failure?’

The simple answer to those questions is, not necessarily. If you were lucky enough to get feedback with your rejection, that means you may have to tweak it and make changes in order to improve. If you don’t get any feedback with a rejection then don’t feel obliged to take your masterpiece and rip it to shreds in the belief that it’s rubbish and needs a complete overhaul. Leave it a while and go back when you’ve digested your disappointment and had time to think about it. Go through your work objectively and see where you can make improvements.

Don’t make the mistake of internalising your rejection. This just serves to make your thoughts fester and convince your mind that you’re a complete failure. Externalise that rejection into determination. Desensitise yourself from rejection. After all, it follows that the more rejections you receive, the less they will hurt. After you digest your rejection, look at your work carefully, tweak where necessary and re-submit.

Many writers don’t understand that rejection actually helps them develop and improve their work. Rejection isn’t a personal thing; it’s an encouraging way of aiding the learning process and yet many writers turn that fear of rejection into an excuse not to write. That fear takes the form of self-doubt. (More about this next week).

Continual rejections can shake any writer’s resolve. Praise from others quickly shores up your writing defences, but all it takes is one rejection or a critical review and those defences start to crumble and all that positivity is gone. Despite their underlying talent, writers can quickly lose confidence in their abilities after a gamut of rejections. It’s a typical, natural reaction because your self-confidence has taken a battering.

Remember though - most, if not all great authors have received rejections. Stephen King and JK Rowling, among others, received dozens of rejections for their work. Rudyard Kipling was told, “You don’t know how to use the English language” by the editor of San Francisco’s Examiner. The Diary of Anne Frank was rejected on the grounds that Anne didn’t have a “special perception of feeling”. Ironic, considering the trauma her family suffered.

William Faulkner’s Lord of the Flies was rejected because it was deemed an uninteresting fantasy, but he became a prize winning author, and even George Orwell’s allegoric tale Animal Farm was rejected until it eventually found a publisher and gained success.  Both the Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm are now studied worldwide by English students.

All these authors had one thing in common: they did what you should do - grit your teeth and persevere. Perseverance is the building block of success. If you want to succeed, you must persevere. Read up on successful authors and how they were rejected repeatedly – it will make you feel better.

Sylvester Stallone once said, “I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.”

So don’t stand still, keep writing, move forward and keep learning. We all deal with rejection in our own way and it until you become desensitised, it will always hurt.

Handling Rejection in a nutshell

1. Don’t take it personally. Acknowledge that everyone is rejected during his or her writing career. Quickly get it out your system and resolve to keep to a writing plan.

2. After a while, go back and look at the rejected piece objectively. Tweak and improve and follow any constructive feedback.

3. Remember why you write in the first place. Don’t be disheartened.

4. Boost your confidence by reading about how famous writers handled rejection.

5. Externalise rejection, turn it into determination and perseverance. You are not a failure.

6. Keep going, don’t give up. Rejection is part of the challenge. Are you up for it?

I’ll leave the last word to George E Woodberry: "Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure."

Next week: Self doubt.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

How to tackle editing...Part 2

Part 2 - The Remaining Drafts

You’ve done the first draft and filtered out the grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes. Now you have to look out for the less obvious things, the more detailed and technical factors. This is the primary work.

Again, it’s wise to put aside your story or MS for a while, then return to it with fresh eyes for the second or third, fourth or even tenth draft. This time, not only should you be on the lookout for the grammar and spelling/punctuation errors you may have missed first time around, but also you should be looking deeper into your story for less obvious errors.

Does your story start at the right moment? It should start at the heart of the action, or a defining moment in your protagonist’s life. Does it have a hook to keep the reader interested? Does it have a great opening line or paragraph? If it doesn’t, then you need to address that. A story should grab the reader's attention from the very first paragraph. Once hooked, you need to keep that momentum going through the entire story. The story should have some forward momentum, moving the reader through the tale to find out what happens next. Better still, can you keep them guessing?

You have to have a clear, believable main plot that sustains the entire story, and you won’t find that out until you’ve read it several times. This is where plot flaws emerge and where you might find gaping holes in the narrative. Everything should knit together seamlessly. If it doesn’t then you have to redress the balance.

Do you think the plot twists and turns are acceptable? Do they work well or have you spotted fault with them? Do they appear contrived or forced? How can you change that? You should be looking for a natural flow to your story - it should progress naturally, while not forced, and the plot should unfold gradually, allowing the reader to become immersed in the story. If it doesn’t, then you need to correct it.

Another thing to look out for is conflict. Does your story have the right amount of conflict? I’ve touched upon this in previous posts, but without conflict, there is no story. And to understand the kind of conflict your story needs you need to understand what conflict is required and by whom. The protagonist will have conflict with one or more antagonists. Remember conflict can be man against man, man against himself or man against his environment. Too little conflict and the story will fail, too much and you could confuse your reader. You have to find the right balance.

Is there more telling rather than showing in your story? If so, then again you need redress the balance. Important scenes need showing rather than telling, so make sure your story does this.

Another thing some writers tend to neglect is characterisation. Are the characters real enough? Are the characters consistent and strong enough to hold the story? They need to be multidimensional or believable for the reader, not one-dimensional clich├ęs. Your story won’t be as effective if you don’t have the characterisation right because your reader won’t be able to empathise with the characters and their situations.

Do any of your subplots advance the story? They should tie in with the main plot, but should never wander off at a tangent. They’re a useful, effective tool for enhancing your story. If they don’t support the main thrust of the story, then you need to get rid of them or construct new ones. Used effectively they should reach their own individual conclusions (as well as the main plot reaching a conclusion) and should never leave the reader to wondering what happened.

Another thing to look take note of is the main character’s journey through the life cycle of the novel. Does your protagonist undergo some sort of change as a result of their experience? If not, then what is the purpose of the story? The actual change doesn’t have to be a major thing, but you do have to show how the character came out of the conflict a better/changed/happier or even sadder person. Life experiences always changes us. The same should be true of your characters.

Have you peppered the story with background information? Just as important as foreground information, the background of your characters, the story and the places you describe and where action takes place need a sense of cohesion. Lack of background information might leave the whole story deficient, and your reader will notice this.

Don't be afraid to cut whole sections out of your work when editing. If there are any redundant scenes, dialogue or descriptions, take them out, or perhaps rephrase them with stronger writing. Anything you cut can always be recycled and put to good use in another story at a later date. A good writer never wastes anything!

Do you have all the facts? Getting your information wrong can be embarrassing so always be mindful when describing real places, organisations, institutions and history/historical figures. Thorough research makes the entire story all the more interesting.

When will I know the editing is complete?

Some writers go through the process several times, drafting and re-drafting until all these elements make sense and provide a smooth, believable, enjoyable story. Never rush through the editing process – it’s vitally important you get it right. If that means doing it seven, eight or fifteen times, it will enable you as a writer to learn and understand the process better.

As for knowing when it’s ready – that is down to the writer. There is no defining moment. Think like a reader. If everything falls into place and it leaves you satisfied and entertained, then you’ve constructed a well-written story.

A writer will always keep going back to tweak their work. Always. It’s a natural in-built urge to achieve perfection, but since perfection is not actually achievable, aim for making it the best you can possibly make it.


• Re-read it
• Check spelling, punctuation, grammar and repetition.
• Check sentences – do they make sense, have rhythm and vary in length?
• Does it start in the right place?
• Does it have a clear, believable plot?
• Dialogue – does it feel real, make sense and move the story forward?
• Description – too much? Too little? Too dull? Too flowery?
• Does the story flow smoothly, does it have clear transitions and does it make sense?
• Characterisation – aim for real, believable characters. How has your character changed throughout the story?
• Is there enough conflict in the story?
• Balance of action and non-action.
• POV – make sure you don’t switch POV’s halfway through scenes. Make sure you are telling the story through your protagonist’s eyes.
• Subplots – do they tie in with the main plot? Do they have a satisfying conclusion?
• Balance of showing v. telling.
• Background information – make sure it’s correct
• Present all the facts
• Don’t be afraid to take out scenes or even chapters that evidently don’t work or just simply slow the story.

Next time: The dreaded rejection.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

How to tackle editing...

How to Edit – Part 1

Knowing how to edit your work is an essential part of writing. Not only do you need an editor’s eye to evaluate what you’ve written, you also need to be objective with yourself. Not easy, especially when you’ve spent so long writing your masterpiece and you’re emotionally attached, but unfortunately it’s a necessity in order to reach that level for an editor to accept your work. You do have to be hard on yourself sometimes so that you can take your story from ordinary to extraordinary.

Actual physical writing is a small proportion of what a writer does. The hard work comes afterward, during editing, which is all about making your work much better. This is where true investment and a willingness to re-write mark an amateur from a professional.

The best preparation for the editing process is to leave the finished work for a while, let your mind relax from creativity and writing. The idea of this is to detach yourself from the story you’ve worked on for so long and to allow yourself to become objective. Leave it a couple of weeks and then return when you’re refreshed for editing.

Editing onscreen v. paper

All writers are different and therefore work differently to each other, but for editing, I would advocate the printed manuscript rather than on a computer screen. The reason I say this is that after spending weeks, months, and sometimes years on a project, staring at the screen, it is incredibly easy to skim read the text and miss errors and flaws because your eyes are so used to the screen.

Having printed sheets in front of you has a couple of advantages: the first is that you have a fresh perspective of the story because it’s a physical presence on paper and it forces you to look more carefully at the text. Secondly, it allows you to write on the MS, make notes in the margins, add ideas, or interjections. Thirdly, it comes down to the old-fashioned act of writing with pen or pencil.

There is no doubt a lot of editing can be achieved onscreen, and instantly too. It’s preferable for some writers, but with printed sheets you get to understand if you need to reduce or increase wordage, whether the chapter lengths look right or need adjusting. This is because you can instantly see this. You can’t always perceive that onscreen. Also, with a printed MS you can take it anywhere and edit while you’re on the move.

The disadvantage to this is that it’s not terribly kind to the environment. Since it’s only a first draft, re-use paper, or print on both sides of the paper, and when finished, make sure it goes back for recycling.

Why is editing so important?

Some writers enjoy editing, as I do, others hate it, but the one thing you should do is edit your own work as much as possible. This allows you to learn more about the process and it helps you become your own toughest critic.

This makes you understand more about your own writing, it enables you to learn about your writing habits and common mistakes you tend to make, and it teaches you ways to avoid them. Just as the practice of writing more and more makes you a better writer, the same is true of editing. The more you do, the more you learn and the better you become.

Being a self-critic means doing away with self-indulgences and self-importance. You are only as good as the work you send out.

Better editing makes better finished work.

The First Draft – Basic work

If you’ve never edited before, or you’re new to writing, you won’t be entirely sure what it is you’re looking for when it comes to the editing process. So what should you be looking for?

Firstly, never be hasty with editing. Don’t rush through it thinking that after the first draft you’ll be ready to send it out, because it won’t be ready. Editing can be time consuming, but it’s also the most important aspect of the writing process and it demands your full attention. Secondly, you’re looking for improvement.

The aim of the first draft is to weed out the glaring errors. This means correcting all the basic mistakes that everyone, even novice editors, should be able to pick up easily. This is the fundamental basics. The second draft (and drafts thereafter) is primary work, the technical, deeper aspects of editing.

For the basic work, read your story or manuscript carefully and look for obvious errors such as spelling, grammar and punctuation. Commas and apostrophes should be in their rightful place, adverbs and adjectives should be culled to the bare minimum. A common error in first drafts is repetition. That means words, sentences, phrases or snippets of description that keep cropping up. Repeated words can be especially easy to miss, so be thorough.

Read the sentences, not just the words. You should be looking for good sentence structure and rhythm and whether these sentences make sense and move the story forward. Do the sentences vary in length; is there enough pace in them or do they stutter or stop? Have you put in overly long, complicated sentences that could confuse your reader? If so, you need to cut them. Clarity and simplicity is what counts.

You should also know from the start whose story it is and why. If you don’t and it’s unclear, then you need to address this. Is should also be clear within the first three chapters exactly what your story is about – the overall theme. Again, if it’s not clear, make sure this you correct this.

Beware clumsy phraseology. Are you trying to be too clever with your words? Sometimes trying to be philosophical, highbrow or overly literary can backfire. Again, it’s worth saying - keep it simple and don’t over complicate your work.

Do you have a balanced mix of dialogue, narrative, and action? Large, unbroken chucks of description could bore your reader. Conversely, large chunks of dialogue could too, so vary each element for a smoother, more palatable read. Is the dialogue necessary to the story or should it be replaced with narrative? Remember to do away with unnecessary chitchat or mundane waffling.

Is your narrative and dialogue moving the plot along? If it isn’t and you find that you suddenly come to a stop while reading, or the story goes off at a strange tangent, then cut that bit out. Don’t be afraid to cut what isn’t necessary, especially when you really like a passage/scene/paragraph. Be judicious. You can always reuse it in something else. A good writer never throws away any writing because in truth, we can always use it somewhere else and make it better.

You may also spot where some sections need more description, or ‘padding’.

You should also look out for inconsistencies and plot flaws within your story. This should become apparent as you read through. Some things may not make sense, or might confuse. Does the order of events remain consistent, does it read correctly? If not, there’s a problem which you will need to address.

The ending should reach a natural and satisfying conclusion. If it doesn’t then it could spoil the entire story. Is there a satisfying resolution? Have all the questions been answered? If not, you have to re-write to make sure they are.

Summary checklist for first draft:

• Re-read and don’t rush
• Grammar
• Spelling mistakes
• Punctuation – is it correct, is the dialogue correctly punctuated? Any repetition?
• Sentences
• Whose story is it?
• Correct choice of words – using the right phraseology
• Good balance of narrative, dialogue and action?
• Does narrative and dialogue move the plot forward? Is there too much chitchat, is it boring?
• Inconsistencies with plot
• Satisfying ending?

Next week: Part 2 – Primary editing work, including a detailed look at of conflict, sensory/imagery, exposition, characters, subplots and more.