52 Weeks of Editing: Week 11—Busting Through The Writer's Block

52 Weeks of Editing: Week 11—Busting Through The Writer's Block
Photo by Hadija Saidi / Unsplash

This is more of a journal than a proper blog post. This week has been extra, that's all I'm going to say.

I come to you now, exhausted and wishing I didn't still have a blog entry to write about editing Amnar. I mean, it's huge, right? I spent all week writing Amnar. It's the most I've written since 2020, I reckon, and what's even better, I'm actually enjoying it. But it's been a hell of a day and it's only 3pm. I've been trying to get a writing project done for one of my many jobs, but it's too much for me to do that kind of high level thinking all in one day. I'm going to have to break it up and try to get it finished next week. Thankfully, my boss is awesome and very understanding. I'm incredibly privileged to be in this position.

Normally, at this time of day I have a bit of a nap. My brain gets all sludged up with many full hours of work (I started at 7.30am), but I can't go lie down because we've got workmen here to finally clear the waste from the new roof installation. T has to go onto campus to oversee a huge IT project and so I'm here by myself to make sure that after two weeks of continuously asking the roofer to come and take away the rubbish like he promised, he actually does it.

And I am terrible at people.

It's only since being diagnosed I realise how insanely hard it is to deal with surprise strangers. Especially if I have to do more than just say "Sorry no thank you" or "Thanks for the delivery". Why do people make incomprehensible jokes? If you'd asked me before I was diagnosed, I wouldn't have been able to explain how I can't tell the difference between somebody's statement of fact and a joke, but damn it, I can't. It's upsetting.

Last week, a woman randomly told me they used to burn witches on the waste ground over by the hotel that's been there since the 1700s. Being a history nut, and well aware that this is the kind of thing people did in small communities, I wanted to learn more. "I'm joking!" she said, as if this was supposed to be obvious.

"Oh," I said. "Well, I'm autistic so anything you tell me I'm going to take as fact."

Which is probably oversharing but my god, if you're going to say something like that, understand there are people who can't read your face when you say it. The men who're here to take the rubbish said, "So we're going to charge £500."

I looked horrified. There's T on the phone, too, and I freak out because am I going to have one of those awful "No, I don't think so" conversations?

Oh boy. It's been an entire week of not understanding people and making mistakes and having to figure things out on the fly. I'm like a Windows PC from sometime around the turn of the century, and everybody else is running on, what, Windows 11 or something.

Here I am, on "waste disposal guy watch duty", desperately hoping they take all the right things because I don't know how the hell I'm going to handle that kind of confrontation otherwise.

Positive things, though. I need to think about positive things. I did quite a bit of work on the new first chapter last night. Last week, after I wrote the first chapter, I spent a lot of time on AutoCrit running it through the various checker tools. Some things were all right, but others weren't. My pacing and momentum were especially bad. I did another quick check this morning and things are much, much better. A much more reasonable score.

I still have so much to learn. Tools like these aren't the be all and end all of the editing process, but they do signal where things most need to be improved. They aren't especially great at understanding proper names and nouns, so the "repetitiveness" section of the report looked bad. Take out all the times I use characters names, and suddenly things are much better.

The rest of the editing process is trying to see your words from the outside, as if you had no idea what to expect. This is why I like having something like AutoCrit to take the pain out of picking out boring or incomprehensible sentences. One thing you have to learn for yourself, though, is how to do the more subtle work of identifying whether what you're saying is what you need to say to the reader. Are you communicating in the best possible way?

Here's an example. I open from Io's perspective. She says quite clearly that Tay is leaving, and that this is obviously bad. She wants to prevent Tay leaving the compound. Initially, I was pleased with this short opening paragraph. I've set up potential conflict, characters are doing things, and Io has a need that can't be easily met.

But look again. A couple of days after writing this, I realised that I wasn't being clear enough. For a start, I haven't said where Tay's leaving from, who is sending her, or dropped hints about why Io would want to prevent this. If I give it all away in a description, that's boring. I want Io's need to keep Tay safe stated but not Io's specific reasons for doing it. It's too vague. Tonight, I'm going to try to redo this opening paragraph a little to provide a more explicit surface reason for Io's fears.

It's possible to do a lot with some mystery; you don't need to say "Io was afraid because this specific thing happened in her past and that's the trauma she's here to overcome". However, you do need to say that there is a specific but more recent reason it's dangerous, which is why Io also won't leave the compound, and why everybody is to some degree experiencing this fear. It's not necessary to say what that more recent event was. In fact, it's better not to. At least, this is what I think right now.

Despite it being an intense week, the thrill of writing Amnar has been exciting. As part of this week's work I've realised just how incredibly vital it is to some kind of starting. It can be in the beginning, the middle, the end. It can be pretty much anything, but the big lesson for me this week has been about the way the creative process works.

I'd been partly stuck by believing I had to find every plot point because I could start. I thought if I planned, this would be much more straightforward for me. I kept trying to think of new scenes, new events, new plot points. My head was stuck, though. I needed to work through the plot points I had in order to figure out more plot points.

Writing is done in layers, at least for me. I started with what I thought was the beginning. It turned out not to be the beginning. But I could only realise it wasn't the beginning by writing the scene. The flaws of the what I thought was the opening chapter only revealed themselves when I wrote into it and discovered I needed to do more introductory work. I knew, as I began to write that chapter, I needed more events, I needed to ramp up tension and provide more conflict, to emphasise the stress contained within the courtyard space.

I never used to question this process. This wasn't something I read in a book—although John Truby recommends this approach—but it was something I discovered as I wrote what I had, I discovered what I needed, what was missing. The first time I wrote this series, I wrote the first few chapters in a burst, so I also assumed it had to be like that. The process I have now is evolving rapidly. Once I finish writing something, I leave it for a while then come back with the new information I received from that stepping back.

This is the scariness of creating, especially writing. So many words appear on the page for a while, or maybe only moments, then disappear. You have to be comfortable with that. I'm still figuring that part out, I think.