Murdering Your Words AKA Editing

Curious  Cow
A curious cow that wonders why I’m inside my office editing instead of enjoying the Lancastrian sunshine…

There is nothing beautiful or clean about the editing process – at least, not in my case. It’s a messy, frustrating and extenuating duty. But, at the end of the long day (or night) of fighting against your draft you know you’re turning that monster into a pretty piece of decent art, and that is what matters (that, and keeping your sanity in place, of course).

I used to hate editing so much when I wrote in Spanish. It just made me angry. I was very enthusiastic when writing my first draft  but then, coming back to it and realising that some parts were… well, just shit, that was not nice. So I basically went through editing because I had to, but it was a very draining process that I kept postponing as much as I could.

Now, hen I write in English, I cannot allow myself such luxury. I’m editing from day one, because I know my language can be quite obscure so I do need to revise one thousand times each paragraph to make sure it makes sense and it says what I want it to say. Paradoxically, I find editing in English much more entertaining than in Spanish. I see it as if I was carving stone and turning the ugly, shapeless rock in some unique statue.

the_ecstasy_of_saint_theresa
I imagine myself carving things such as this…

However, as I said, editing islike murdering your dear words, and there are a few things I always do to make sure the process is completed despite of my artistic vanity.

1. Read Aloud

Come on. Who doesn’t like the sound of her or his own voice? I love reading to myself (when I’m alone, I have to say, if I’m reading in front of an audience I get a bit self-conscious about my accent or my speed). Reading what I just wrote help me to change things because they simply sound better one way than the other. It also allows me to avoid cacophony and take out from the dialogues what is not essential.

2. Let It Breathe

Ideally, I’d let a text breathe for at least 24 hours before coming back to it to do the editing. This allows me to distance myself from the page so I start seeing the obvious mistakes (such as grammar or discordances). Also, the more time you can allow a text breathe, the better. Sometimes I write something I feel very unsatisfied with (I want to burn the pages and flush the ash down the toilet). However, experience tells me that if I come back to that same text six months afterwards, I’ll find many valuable passages that can be rescued. So, I’d say, never delete something. Keep everything (even what seems truly worthless) because in time you can still recycle some metaphor, some line of dialogue…

3. Bring Your Beta Reader In

Sometimes you feel stuck in the editing process. You know there’s loads of work to be done, yet you’ve become blind in front of your text and start thinking you’d rather let twenty Cumbrian spiders do races all over your body than keep editing that part of your work. Well… this is when your fantastic, awesome beta reader can be there for you and have a good read of the troublesome extract. Her or his perspective will help you narrow down your editing and identify what is not working and what actually does work (horray!)

4. Start at the End of the Page

This might be just my strange thing, but when I’m editing the same few pages on and on I get a bit (too) tired of them. Something that helps me spice up the task a bit is to start reading from the last paragraph to the first. By altering the order the text becomes slightly different and I’m more alert.

5. Choose Your Bright Period

I’m more awake  in the morning, so that’s the moment of the day when I’m more prepared (and motivated) to do the heavy editing. It’s important to do the editing with a clear mind so you can localise the mistakes quickly instead of feeling frustrated because the process is dragging on and on and it seems to never end.

editing
This is me after a productive day of editing…

6. Print It

This is so essential if you (as many of us do, for practical reasons) work on a computer. People may say what they want, but I see things differently when I can read them on paper (and not on the screen). Also, it makes more sense to me to grab a red pen and start crossing out sections, pointing arrows at things, doing mini comments… Also, I read somewhere that some writer said that editing on a physical page is good because the margins have reduced space. It’s not like on the computer, where you can delete and change endlessly. So you have to prioritise the areas where the bigger problems are. And also, helps you to keep focused.

7. This Won’t Be Your Last Work!

Well, hopefully not, right? Unless you’re a genius writer of a single, awesome book (like Harper Lee and her To Kill A Mockingbird, although she did write a sequel in the end) one work in your career is yet another step in a huge, steep stair… I like to think I improve with every story I wrote, so even if the one I’m working on will be better than the last, it won’t be better than the next. I think it’s important to think this not to fail in the perfectionist’s trap. No book or short story I ever wrote felt completely finished. Never. I could always go back and change this adjective, modify that scene, even add new features to a particular character… but instead of that I chose to let that story go to let other new ones come in return. It’s a pact you have to do with yourself. The end of your love story with a particular piece can occur when the professional editing is process is over and the work is published… or when the deadline for that contest or module is done. There is always an external event that marks this, and I think it’s okay to leave our pieces to approach new ones. Yes, sure, they could be improved… but remember you acquire new skills by trying new things!

Or, you can do as the Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez and dedicate half of your life to write and the other half to edit what you’ve written… it’s a very personal choice!

I won’t lie. I don’t love the editing process, but  it is the scary forest I have to cross to bring  to the other end of the writing journey. So I’m sort of accepting that is an important (and sometimes enjoyable) part of being a writer.

And how about you? Do you have any tips to share? If you write in a second language, do you find easier the editing process, as I do?

Emptiness

Williamson_sunset

What’s better to fulfill the heart that a beautiful sunset?

Lancaster gives us sometimes a glorious sunny day in which you feel you want to celebrate, no matter what. And so I did.

I went out and walked under the sun and the nature, letting them nurture me. I’ve been feeling so disconnected and sad lately, but still sunsets make me feel blessed to live here, so I feel grateful for that.

I was going out with two people I know, both of them from completely different backgrounds and situations. We were talking and suddenly both of them started talking about the same things that have been worring me for so many months now.

Emptiness.

Disconnection.

How can this be possible? I thought the fact of not having enough money for living on my own in a foreign country was causing me all this distress. But perhaps it’s something else, if these people who -in many aspects- are in a position that I wished for myslef, keep feeling the same.

I read Pure recently. Andrew Miller is one of my favourite authors. His novel Ingenious Pain was a great inspiration to my writing (in fact, it almost convinced me I didn’t need to write my Gothic Horror novella when he had already touched many of the themes I wanted to address and in a better way!)

Pure tells the story of a young engineer in 18th century France  who goes to Paris to make his fortune. (Like me, going to Lancaster, which is less fashionable but yet…) Once there he’s called in Versailles (no less!) to recieve a very special task… They want him to empty the cementery of Les Innocents, a place in the middle of the town were people had been ‘throwing’ bodies for centuries.

Digging out so much death, carcasses, bones and misery is quiet traumatic. Not talking abot ghosts superstitions and so on.

But sometimes, I guess you have to dig out ‘all your deads’ to breathe pure air again.

Another thing that has been inspiring me lately has been Brené Brown interview in Being Boss. I know I’m always talking about this podcast, but it’s been my running companion since January and I have to say it’s saving my life in these days. It brings me what I need: a boost of inspiration that fills my emptiness.

I loved when she spoke about the Hero’s Journey (the monomyth, Joseph Campbell) and the fact that nobody can skip that dark second act in the journey. To advance, we must go directly to the bottom, where all the shit gathers, and that it is. (Pardon my French, as they say).

Have you read more books about emptiness and disconnection? Sometimes there is nothing that explore ‘the whole’ instead of pretending that is not there, and literature is a safe tool that also allows reflection…

I can think of some:

Sputnik My Love, by Haruki Murakami: A young aspiring writer (Sumire) looking for inspiration and fighting against her unrequited love for an older woman.

1984, by George Orwell. This book doesn’t need an introduction. It gave me a depression when I was just 14…

Persepolis, by Majarne Satrapi. About being an immigrant… the bright and dark sides.

Blindness, by José Saramago. A book everyone should read because it’s simply brilliant. Imagine a future in which everyone goes blind but just one woman? I could also be read as a metaphor of how disconnected we are from each other in this society.

Journey.  A videogame you should play when you’re feeling sad and disconnected, as it was precisely created to combat feelings like that. As a person who normally doesn’t like videogames (I’ve terrible coordination skills that are necessary in most of them) this one has been fascinating me for almost a year.

Can you think about more? Have you ever felt empty? How do you nurture your soul?

 

 

About Carol and spelling your name

 

Carol

I went to watch Carol last December in York. I had great expectations with this movie and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightlest.

The price of Salt – the novel in which the film is based –  is way more than a classic lesbian story to me. When I found myself in love with another woman I was really lost. I had so many questions, so many emotions, fears and doubts boiling inside. Then I came to read this book and it reafirmed what I was feeling. To me, it was also important that it was written by one of my literary idols, Patricia Highsmith. Her stories are dark and twisted, like The Talented Mister Ripley – many of you will know at least the film adaptation. The price of Salt is not spooky but still powerful, one of these novels I cannot forget.

The is told from Therese’s point of view. She’s a young woman working in a shopping Center at Christmas time, where she meets  Carol, who is looking for a toy for her daughter. Carol is definitely the protagonist of both the novel and the film – Cate Blanchett is simply superb, anyone would fall in love with her. However, Carol herself cannot resist Therese’s mysterious aura.

Therese.

There is a scene in which Carol asks Therese about the strange spelling of her name – while both are flirting. ‘Therese’ has, for sure, the resonance from distant lands and that is because her parents are from Czech Republic. Can language or spelling make someone even more attractive? I wish so, as I always have to spell my name wherever I go these days.

Therese is not a common girl. She has a strong, non-apologetic personality, she’s one of these people who knows what she wants and simply goes there and takes it, no matter the price. I admire people like her because it’s so easy to sucumb to ease and laziness in life.

We do so many things a day – we wake up, we go to work or study, we switch on thousand devices, we spend money… – but do we do what we really want to do? No, because it’s complicated. There are so many things that provide instant relief – checking  emails, social media, or buying a sweet – that we have forgotten that the most important things are those difficult to get. We must endure suffering before embracing happiness, it’s always a cycle – I like to think this when things are not going that well.

Therese falls in love and she dares to do so – it is so challenging to open oneself to a stranger, to offer all that we are in exchange of nothing. She ends an unsatisfying relationship with her boyfriend – you also have to be strong to get rid of people who waste your energy instead of enriching it.  And she leaves her part-time job to pursue her dream of being a set designer – or photograph in the movie.

Therese comes a foreign background. I wonder why Patricia Highsmith did this. Perhaps because she knew that when you are from another country you feel like dancing between two worlds: the here and there. Languages and rites are separated and things don’t feel as they should sometimes. You know that no matter how hard you try, you’d never feel what’s to ‘fit in’.

That’s the same I felt when I started writing in English. I know I’m never going to write as well as a native, so I may as well have fun and do it shamelessly and just for the sake of it.

Therese sees in Carol’s love and – spoiler here – rejection a way of finding her own freedom. When you had it all and then lose it all and you discover you are still alive, then I guess everything seems simpler. Since the first second we stepped on this life we walked towards our own end – unavoidably. We should remember that more often to keep trying new things, meeting new people, travelling to distant places.

And those like Therese who are dancing between worlds… sometimes it is a bit sad when you cannot feel completely connected anywhere. But then, I always tell myself, because we are strange, strange things will happen to us. And I like that adjective, beacause strange means not boring. And boring… that’s death in life.

Switching languages to overcome trauma?

stationeleven

Viola had a harrowing story about riding a bicycle west out of the burnt-out ruins of a Connecticut suburb, aged fifteen, harboring vague notions of California but set upon by passersby long before she got there, grievously harmed, joining up with other half feral teenagers in a marauding gang and then slipping away from them, walking alone for a hundred miles, whispering French to herself because all the horror in her life had transpired in English and she thought switching languages might save her, wandering into a town through which the Symphony passed five years later.
Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

I read this book recently because it has been proposed for a Sci-Fi reading group I’m attending to next week. I’m currently writing a Sci-Fi novella – it’s in very early stages, shitty draft, as we call it – and because it’s my first time doing such thing I feel the need of surrounding myself of much ‘Sci-Fi-ness’ as possible. I admit I haven’t read that much Sci-Fi anyways – the Foundation series are a favourite of mine though, and films like Sunshine and Interstellar have inspired me a lot. Thing is, I always thought you had to know about science to write it – but apparently not, if you try ‘Soft Sci-Fi’. So there we go!

Station Eleven turned out to be a really addictive book that I devoured in a few days. The writing is very fluid and cinematographic. My previous readings had been Breakfast on Pluto – quite experimental – and Reading in the Dark – I found it very dramatic – so I must say that Emily’s prose felt kind of a relief.

The story starts when the Georgian Flu – why illnesess always come from places like Eastern Europe? I’m actually surprised it doesn’t come from Spain… – ends with almost the whole Earth population. I’m – slightly? – hypochondriac so reading about how the pandemia’s spread scared me quite a bit.

The characters are alright but I didn’t feel particullarly interested in Arthur Leander, the character who serves as a link to all the stories in the plot. I found the female character of Miranda – a Graphic Novels illustrator whose work gives name to the novel – way more fascinating.

The end felt a bit sudden but yet reasonably satisfactory for me. I felt the story didn’t focus as much in the post-acpocalyptic world as I would have liked to though – the plot has the potential to be much more longer, I think.

What I found really fascinating is what happened to Viola, a secondary character with a minor role in the end. If you were to suffer an extreme trauma, would you switch languages to overcome it? I associate Spanish with the country were I was born, with my family, with my childhood memories… If I wanted to forget all this things for whatever the reason, would the language have to go as well? Until what extreme are words connected to feelings the same way senses – as hearing or smelling – can trigger memories?

I tried to do a bit of research about this online and found about the Foreign Accent Syndrome, which is not at all the same thing but still is also very interesting.

What are your thoughts about this?