Editing As You Write

So lately I’ve been seeing a lot of writing advice that seems to be suggesting that if your first draft isn’t a steaming pile of absolute crap that you wouldn’t show to your dog, you’re not doing it right. “Write with abandon!” they say. “Don’t worry about the writing quality, or whether everything makes sense, or whether your grammar is any good! Just get the words down, and you can go back and fix everything later.”

Which is great if that’s what works for you. I know a lot of people have problems with staying motivated and getting through their first draft without stopping and nitpicking forever. But the problem, for me, is that I absolutely hate having to go back and fix everything later. When I’m done a first draft, I want it to be something resembling a book. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t do developmental and line edits, because I absolutely do. But by editing as I go, I mange to reduce my line edits humongously, and bring my developmental edits down from what would be catastrophically awful need-to-rewrite-three-quarters-of-the-book edits, to oh, okay, I can change this and add this and the book will be much better kind of edits.

What I’m saying is, it is absolutely possible to edit a book as you write it, and come out with something fairly clean that you’re not incredibly ashamed of. The actual process of writing the book will be harder. It will take longer, and it will be very frustrating at times. But in return, your editing after the fact will be much diminished, and you can focus on making the book even better, instead of just focusing on making it good.

So, without further ado, here are my tips of editing as you go.

1. Set measurable goals for yourself.

Obviously the number one issue with this method is the temptation to just keep editing and picking at the first chapter forever, and never move forward with the story. I’m usually incredibly impatient to get the story down anyway (“I don’t like writing, I like having written”) so I don’t have too much of a problem with this, but I do have a wordcount that I try my hardest to achieve whenever I sit down to write. Sometimes I’ll write 800 words that don’t work for the story, and in that case, I’ll scrap them, but I’ll still count those 800 words towards my daily wordcount. And then I’ll write another 1200 words. Even if it’s two steps forward, one step back, you’re still moving.

2. Edit every session.

This one is simple. Every time you sit down to write, read through what you wrote last time. Fix any grammar mistakes, awkward phrasing, etc that you see as you’re reading. Try to get a feel for how the story is flowing, what kind of pace it’s moving at, what direction it’s going, and what your instincts and/or outline (don’t be afraid to pit those two against each other either) tell you should be happening next. Then start writing, and keep going until you hit your wordcount.

3. Develop your ability to sense when something isn’t working.

I’m still working on this myself. Sometimes I’ll write up to 2000 words, the whole time completely ignoring that little nagging voice in my head that’s telling me: This isn’t right. This isn’t how the story is supposed to go. Then I’ll finish and wonder why I’m not satisfied with the day’s writing. For me, it’s essential that I listen to that voice. If I don’t, everything I write after that will be flawed. Pushing on with the knowledge that that one scene is wrong will colour everything else in the story, and when I do have to inevitably go back and fix it during edits, there will be a million other little things in the story that I’ll have to fix in order for everything to line up. Sometimes it will have changed the whole course of the story! Instead, I prefer to stop and rewrite before continuing, so that my path is clear. Unfortunately, this requires you to be really in tune with your story. It also requires a lot of patience, and a touch of perfectionism. But if you can do it, you’re saving yourself a lot of time and frustration later.

4. Don’t think this gets you out of editing later.

I know, I said it already, but I mean it. Writing like this will keep you from having to spend too much time getting your story submission-ready after you’ve finished the first draft. But you should be prepared and willing to make it even better with the help of a professional editor. And that’s a good thing. Having a professional editor is a great privilege, and listening to them and being willing to rip your book apart and put it back together for the sake of the story is incredibly rewarding. Going through and fixing all the typos and grammar mistakes you made the first time around? Not so much.

So there you have it, a peek into my writing/editing style. Let me know in the comments if you write like this too. Or if you’re the type to write without doing any editing until after, let me know how that works for you! It’s fascinating how different writing styles can be, and what works for some authors and doesn’t for others.

Thanks for reading! Oh, and have a picture of my cat. She loves to sit like this. It’s the weirdest thing.

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Being Conscious of Your Narrative

So last week I talked about diversity in fiction, and why it’s important to have a variety of stories about diverse characters. Some of those stories should address the issues of privilege and discrimination, but it’s also important to write stories about diverse characters that don’t function solely to expose prejudice, and just show diverse people as the real, rounded individual people they are. And this sentiment is echoed by a lot of people. There’s a great discussion going on online about how important it is to include people of different race, sexual orientation, gender identities and backgrounds in stories. But what I don’t hear discussed often enough, is how it’s not good enough to just insert diverse characters into your story, you have to also be mindful of the narrative of your story, and the way those characters are used in the narrative.

A few examples come to mind of wonderfully written, complex, developed minority characters who were completely betrayed by the narrative of the story. 

1. Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I haven’t even seen every season of Buffy (I know, I know) but I’ve heard enough people lamenting Willow’s fate to know what happened. The show’s creators spent years developing an amazing gay character (problematic bi-erasure aside) that people related to and identified with, and then threw everything away by having her turn evil and die, and incredibly common and harmful trope surrounding lesbian characters. (Edit: my apologies, as mentioned in the comments, Willow doesn’t die. Her girlfriend Tara dies, and Willow reacts by “going dark”. Queer characters have a history of being evil and/or dying, and the show hit them both in one fell swoop, which was disappointing after they had done such a good job developing Willow and Tara’s sexualities and relationship.)

2. Daisy Fitzroy from Bioshock: Infinite. The game goes to immense trouble to set up the city of Columbia as a false utopia, where the rich white bourgoisie live in luxury, while the poor black and Irish workers are exploited. One character whom we are led to sympathise with is Daisy, an African American maid who becomes the leader of the inevitable revolution that occurs. For the first half of the game, we are shown just how awful the situation is, and how justified Daisy’s actions are. And then Daisy is abruptly killed by, and her death used as character development for the white, female main character. To add insult to injury, the formerly sympathetic rebel group is then condemned in the narrative, and it is implied that they are nearly or just as bad as the wealthy bourgeoisie because they resorted to violence.

3. Well, just read this: Visual Representation: Trans Women in Comics

These are all fairly extreme examples, but there are also a million little ways in which minorities can be negatively represented. Female characters constantly falling for and/or being less competent than the male main character. The same female character dying to further the male main character’s character development. And even just plain old stereotypes like gay characters being interested in fashion and black female characters being “strong, independent women.” There’s a seemingly endless trail of pitfalls to avoid when writing diverse characters. And often a narrative tool or trope isn’t inherently bad, but it’s been used so often with regards to a particular minority, that it becomes a harmful stereotype. And of course there’s the simple but dangerously easy pitfall of including diverse characters, but in the end making them less important in the narrative, and ultimately sacrificial to the needs and character development of he majority characters. Like I said, there’s really no foolproof way of avoiding hitting some of these stereotypes, which is why it’s important to accept that when you’re writing about a minority you’re not a part of, you are going to screw up, and behave graciously when you do.

So why do we write these tropes? Why can’t we seem to avoid falling into these pitfalls? Well partially it’s because, like I said, there are just so many of them, you’d need extensive history and study to unearth them all. Although, here is an excellent reference page from tvtropes: Avoiding Unfortunate Implications. (Yes, that’s three external links in one post. Next you know I’ll be writing academic essays and citing my sources.) The other reason is that, unfortunately, we’re steeped in these stereotypes. A lot of the time it’s subconscious, and for a lot of authors, we rely on our subconscious knowledge of stories, plots, and characters to produce our work. I mean, yes, some authors study narrative extensively and produce best-selling books based on a perfected formula. But for a lot of us (myself included) we’re mostly winging it, allowing our experience with stories and our natural creativity to guide us. Unfortunately, a lot of the stories we experienced growing up and are continuing to experience are deeply racist, homophobic and sexist in ways that aren’t always visible on the surface. If we’re not careful, we take these deeply hurtful tropes and insert them into our work, without ever becoming aware that we’re doing it.

I don’t really have any easy tips and tricks or life hacks to help avoid putting harmful stereotypes into your stories. The number one thing is just to be aware, be critical of all the media you consume, and look for patterns that you want to avoid. It’s also really important to listen to people from the minority you’re writing about, and if possible, ask them to beta your work. And be creative, for goodness sake. Don’t use tired old tropes in your writing. Come up with new ones. Subvert the old ones. Have the girl save the guy. Make your main character a person of colour. Make the story revolve around them. In fact, write a book with no white people in it at all! Write something different. And write something real.


Coming January 27th, 2015: Double Take
Part of Less Than Three Press’s Trans Geek Out Collection
Wordcount: 14,500
Pre-order now for only $1.91 (save 36%!)

Studying magical science at the prestigious Kemet Academy is a privilege and dream come true for Teka, a poor student from D’mt. But focusing on school doesn’t mean xe can’t also admire Hasani, the handsome graduate student overseeing Teka’s work.

Then late one night at the school library, Teka runs Hasani and is completely astonished when the stern, quiet man xe knows by day acts so flirty and casual, it’s like he’s a different person. When the late night encounter leads to dating, Teka can scarcely believe xyr luck.

But the luck plays out when xe discovers why Hasani seems so different between night and day, a discovery that seems to have no resolution except heartache… (Warning: This story contains incest)


Tips for Writers: Beating Self-Doubt

Every writer gets it sometimes. That feeling of crippling self-doubt. You’re writing away, minding your own business, and suddenly you decide that you might possibly be the worst author who ever lived. Maybe you got a bad review, or you’re staring down a recently finished manuscript and realising how badly you missed the mark. Your writing is awful, childish, lacking in subtlety. You’re a joke, no one will ever want to read your work. You tell yourself that this feeling is normal, and irrational. That every author feels this way sometimes. But what if in your case, it’s true? What if everyone who’s read your book and said they liked it was lying? What if those reviewers were just being nice? You’re so embarrassed, you just want to crawl into a hole and never let anyone read another word you’ve written.

Okay, stop it. Slap yourself firmly in the face, and snap out of it.

It’s harder than it sounds, and there’s really no way to escape that nagging self-doubt. The only thing you can really do is ignore it and keep writing. The less attention you pay to it, the less you wallow in self-doubt, the easier it gets to ignore it. So what if you’re a bad writer? (Hint: you’re not. No, not even you.) The only way to improve is to keep writing. So, below are some tips on how to shut that little voice in your head up, and keep on writing.

1. Remind yourself that while you’re definitely not the best author out there, you’re not the worst either. The end goal isn’t to convince yourself that you’re the best author who ever lived. People who genuinely think that are almost always terrible writers. You should never be completely satisfied with your work, or you won’t keep striving to improve. But it’s also important to remind yourself that you are not the worst author in the world, by far. Look around the internet, find some examples of truly horrendous published writing. Don’t spend more than a few hours looking, and don’t be cruel about it, but get a sense of the range of writing quality that’s out there. Allow yourself to accept that you fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of bad authors to good authors. You’ll probably never be right at the top, but neither are you right at the bottom. And you can always be working yourself up the spectrum.

2. Remember that everyone likes something different. The thing is, even the most critically condemned books, the ones with godawful writing, or horrible plots, or ridiculous, cliche characters- plenty of them are still very popular. There’s no real, tried-and-true quality indicator for books. What one person finds tedious and boring, others will revere as a classic. What another person finds highly entertaining and emotionally impacting, others will write off as trite and overwrought. Those books that everyone on the internet loves to complain about? At least as many people bought and enjoyed them, or they wouldn’t be so popular. Everyone likes something different, and even if you find your own writing absolutely horrendous, there is someone out there who is going to love it. Maybe even a lot of people.

3. Focus on your strengths. No one’s good at everything. Every author has strengths and weaknesses. Some authors write such amazing characters that there could be no plot to speak of, and you’d still be happy reading 100,000 words of them just hanging around talking. Some authors are so good at world-building that the characters and plot fade into the background in comparison. Some authors have literally one character that they write a hundred different books about, but their plots are so good that people keep coming back to read them. And some authors (hint: not me) have such beautiful prose that you’ll keep reading well past the point where you have any idea what’s going on anymore, because you just love the sound of the words so much. The point is, while you may be lacking in some places, (and you should definitely work on that, because the best authors are good at everything) you probably have at least a few aspects of your writing that you’re absolutely fantastic at. And even if you’re just passable in some areas (*cough*myprose*cough*) readers who really like the stuff you’re good at will still enjoy it.

4. If you’re published, read your good reviews. If you’re not, save the nice comments your betas or friends have left on your writing. Hoard your good reviews. Keep them easily accessible and whenever you’re feeling down about yourself, go read them, and remind yourself that people like your writing, because you are awesome.

5. Write something just for you. Forget your readers, or the reviewers who didn’t like your book. Remind yourself what it is that you like about writing. Write something that you don’t intend for anyone to read. Write the kind of stories that you like, that you want to read. Actually, you should be doing that anyway. If there’s a particular author you really like and want to emulate, go read something by them, and take mental notes of their technique. Keep writing, keep improving, and enjoy yourself.

6. Write a list of tips for authors on beating self-doubt. 😉


Coming January 27th, 2015: Double Take
Wordcount: 14,500
Pre-order now for only $1.91 (save 36%!)

Studying magical science at the prestigious Kemet Academy is a privilege and dream come true for Teka, a poor student from D’mt. But focusing on school doesn’t mean xe can’t also admire Hasani, the handsome graduate student overseeing Teka’s work.

Then late one night at the school library, Teka runs Hasani and is completely astonished when the stern, quiet man xe knows by day acts so flirty and casual, it’s like he’s a different person. When the late night encounter leads to dating, Teka can scarcely believe xyr luck.

But the luck plays out when xe discovers why Hasani seems so different between night and day, a discovery that seems to have no resolution except heartache… (Warning: This story contains incest)


I’m running low on cat pictures! I recently received my print copies of A Touch of Mistletoe, so I’ll have to take some pictures of her modelling with them. For now, here’s this one:

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Thanks for reading!