What does 'home' mean to you? Home is a concept that most people understand, but it's not the same for any two of us. Whether it's where you hang your hat, where your favourite people are, or whether it's the house that your family has lived in for generations, such a familiar term has a different meaning to everyone. As an expat that will be returning to the motherland this year (fingers crossed!), to a house and a street that I barely got to know before we left, but to a city where friends and family are close by, my own concept of home will be shifting again soon. Until I turned 15, I moved every two to three years, so home was wherever my family lived at that time. When people ask me where I'm from, it's easier to just say I'm nomadic, a navy brat: I was born on one coast, spent six years on the other (in two, three-year intervals), and have bounced around in the middle the rest of the time. But where am I really from? Where's home ? I settled in my adopted hometown when I was 15, and my parents are still there, though they left for a while when I was in university. I lived there for 15 years in a row, but left it again as an adult with a family of my own, twice now; I guess it counts as home. I hope to return there this summer. But forever? I'm not sure.
I've had so much time to consider home over the last two years of writing and editing Ground Control . My protagonist, Sarah, is trying to come to terms with leaving. She's leaving Earth -- the largest concept of home possible right now -- but also her house (that she'd only lived in for two years), and her parents, who still live in the house she grew up in, in another city, a home that she really left fifteen years before. She thinks about her kids, and how she wants them to have a home. She looks back to her own childhood and the joy she remembers of riding her bike and feeling the wind in her hair, playing outside on summer nights till the lights came on, climbing trees, and spinning round and round until you fall down on the grass and the whole huge sky whirls around your head. These are things that I remember from when I was little, and things her children will never know: they'll grow up inside a biodome on Mars. She struggles with deciding which mementos to bring along: collections of photos? Which trinkets will capture the places she's left behind? Her journey, and mine, when I think of it, follows the change that happens when you get ready to leave a home: from loss and regret, to the thought of adventure and a new life, to acceptance that wherever you end up, in whatever becomes your community, eventually becomes home again. These themes also come to play in my next novel, which is underway, where the elements of Cate's home -- family, friends and community -- are far different than they first seem (but stay tuned). Join my newsletter for updates on my books
That's your theme. Embroider it. Embroider it.
So says Roxanne as Christian confesses his love without the help of Cyrano. This is the distinct phase which I am entering. For events like NaNoWriMo the goal is to get the story out. Commit the actions and the basic premise to the page. The prose is rough, at time choppy and bare. The second phase is the all important - Embroider! I'll give you an example - Before: She gritted her teeth only allowing herself a deep breath as the ice melted between her shoulder blades. Holding the crouch was making her left knee ache.
After: She allowed herself only one shuddering breath as the ice melted between her shoulder blades. She wouldn't lose this opportunity, not to a handful of errant snow. Nor would she lose it to her stiffening left knee. She tried to shift her weight to relieve the strain. Both are ways of presenting the same information to the reader. The first is bare bones. As you read it, listen to the meter of the words. Then compare that to the second version of the same information. There is a difference in the sense of the scene.
Whereas the first telling was short and clipped, which is more appropriate to action - the second iteration takes a lower and quieter tone, as if the reader was also crouching in wait among the winter evergreens.
For me this is one of the most enjoyable parts of the writing cycle. This is where I can explore the language and the nuances of a scene. I hear how the characters speak to one another, and to themselves. Personalities come forward and details are filled in. Personal quirks of the characters become visible.
The first writing is the sketch. This phase is where two dimensions evolve into three.
If you are a writer, or if you are starting your writing adventure, no doubt you will hear plenty about another very important aspect of writing - editing.
I, like many other writers, live under the delusion that all the words come out of my head and adhere to the page in the exact order that is optimal. (Rewrite: in the optimal order.)
See - even blog posts can benefit from a looking over.
I'm going to post a list here of my editing steps - please remember that, like all things in editing, this list is likely to be revised. I choose while working on a big writing project to NOT edit as I go. Some folks flourish with this approach, so I hear. I haven't met any yet. When I have attempted to edit as I am writing I have ended up with nothing. I never get off the first page. So - for me, the first draft is rough, unappealing, 'who the H* wrote this' inducing. But, the success is getting the story onto the page. That is the point of the first draft to capture those half-formed ideas. So go ahead slap the ink around liberally. No worries. Step the second: Put it away. Walk away. Ignore it.
For me, the only way to be able to edit a piece of writing is to come back to it with new eyes. That means I put it away, out of sight and out of mind. How long? Well, so far the average is just over a year. You have to find what works for you. I have a friend who can turn right around and swap into editing mode. Good for her, but that ain't me. I have to let the whole thing mellow. Third step - When it is time to break out the manuscript and look it over remind yourself that this collection of words and ideas was likely written in a flurry of inspiration or under a timeline. Don't read it for the words - read it for the story. While you do this ask yourself - What works? What klunks? Target the places that need a serious re-write. Mark 'em and then move on. When I have the big targets in place, I start with the smaller tasks while my brain works on the bigger picture. You will be surprised at how slowly reading your way through a piece can occupy the analytical parts of the brain while the creative right side is playing. Get comfy.
The first thing you need is a comfortable way to work. Do you do best with pen and ink, do it? Do you knock out edits on a computer like a pro, do it. Do you need to have it read back to you, do it. Pretty much do whatever works to get you to sit down and get started on the task. Tools
There are tons of on-line grammar helpers. Some well known, some not so well known. In the past, I have searched for "online grammar check free". There are always dozens of options. Pick and compare carefully. Not all of them are stellar. Rewards -
Yes, I really do give myself rewards. You might be a ruthlessly disciplined writer. I'm working on it but I'm smart enough to know I'm not there yet. So rewards might be
- extra time to write if I knock out 5 pages quickly.
- time to spend on other 'side projects'.
- an outing
The rewards don't have to be huge, but they should be something you want. A little something. Tackle those big picture tasks. As you work your way through the manuscript you'll be reminded of little details that you can expand on or use to weave in new ideas - or in the best of all worlds you can use them to solve a plot problem you discovered earlier. (Up there in point #3.) Last but certainly not least - learn the grammar and the style guides. Really. There are thousands of tools and people out there willing to take your money to give you their opinion on what is correct. The more you know the better you can sift the wheat from the chaff. It is an investment in improving yourself as a writer. So that's it. Like most of the parts of writing, editing is a process. Settle in, and just step your way through it one bite at a time. Remember - even War and Peace didn't come out perfectly. Tolstoy had to edit that monster. So there's proof, it can be done.