wild and dreaming stories from the edge of the world

How To Edit Poetically

I've been deep in final edits for my latest book, which is why I haven't been writing here often lately. I have a lot of words in my head but not so much to say!

I don't know how many of you are writers, but I thought this morning I would share a little of my editing process, since it's currently the focus of my days. Specifically, editing for voice or poetics.

Editing voice is a relatively easy thing to do with short stories, but considerably harder when it comes to novels. (Incase you were wondering, the stories offered here aren't edited. They're written in the space of about half an hour and handed over as rough little gifts, like leaves or wildflowers.)

I have two writing voices myself, and I relate to them synaesthetically: one is silk over velvet, one is stable, brown, gritty, like earth beneath a pair of well-shod feet. Before I begin a period of editing, I get myself into those moods by listening to specific music and preparing my mind. (During editing, I want quiet, or else the external rhythms mess up the book rhythms.) Sometimes I'll also wear particular clothes, change the light in the room, burn incence or candles.

I do editing for voice after I've done a thorough word edit. It's helpful to be able to focus on the rhythm without being constantly snagged by wrong words. Then afterwards I'll do another word edit (or two or twelve) because it will change at the micro-level when the voice has been harmonised.

For me, there is really no other way to check for poetics than to read the whole story through. Yes, you can edit the rhythm of individual scenes and chapters, especially if you're following a particular beat. Do the sentences flow together - or do they bounce off each other if that's what you want - does the pace build and ebb and build again - have you stayed true to your tone? But eventually you have to check that the whole thing does all this as a complete unit. (For example, when I published Deep in the Far Away in serial form, I was able to focus on the poetic each week in an individual block, using threads from one to weave harmony into the next; but when it came to putting it all together, the story needed revamping because the rhythm of an actual novel is different. That is why the book is about twenty percent different from the serial, with some scenes moved around and several added.)

When reading on screen for voice, it's easy to save the manuscript as a PDF and scroll through comfortably. But having a printed copy is invaluable. Really, if you can, use a printed copy for word editing then another for rhythm editing after that. Seeing the manuscript in print, holding it in your hands, changes it completely and separates you just that little more from it. Taking it out to read it under a tree in the park, or in bed at night, or wherever else you read real books, also helps: getting it out of your writing zone. if you can't afford to print it, reading it on a different screen (eg, your phone, a friend's computer) can help.

This isn't an easy task, because it means blocking off as much time as possible to do it straight through if you can, so you stay in the meter and rhythm, and are not distracted by other thoughts or voices. It may mean reading for hours.

You can chart it if you are a visual person. You can make a line which rises and falls for each chapter or scene, depending on the pace. You can block out the scenes on paper. You can use colour or music. If you do any of this, you may still have to go back and just do a plain read, letting the poetics just wash over you.

For me, the greatest tool I have when looking at voice is a two-leveled thesaurus. The first level is a list of words I've compiled which resonate with the tone I want. I don't necessarily use all these words, but they are an excellent way to align myself with the kind of voice that would use them. The second level is a more complete thesaurus, so that when I've said warily or ethereal or gumboots too often, because I'm too deep into the voice, I can replace them with something equivalent.

Instinct is another irreplacable tool. And instinct works when you put down the pen or keyboard and go to bed. When you take yourself for a walk. When you're doing the household chores. Instinct picks up poetics from the world around you. It also guides your subconscious into nagging you about particular scenes which seem to work just fine when you look at them on paper. So I would advise one of the most important things to do when editing is NOT EDIT for a while. Let the material rest. Let your instinct and dreaming self have a look at it instead.

I'll stop here so this post isn't mammoth. I don't know if technical information about creating poetics is actually helpful or not, but I'm a meta-thinker, so I like writing about it. Maybe someone likes reading about it too.

For the technicalities of how to write poetically, read here.

The Witch Word

I read an indepth essay this morning by Sarah Anne Lawless on the history of Wicca and paganism. (Before you click the link, be aware its contents may be triggering.) I'm well versed in that history already, and I've long been bemused that people still talk about the ancestry of witches, and the deep roots of the religion, when those things don't really exist. Even the Wheel of the Year, which some say is the foundation of modern Celtic pagan spirituality, never existed in the way we know it now.

So why, knowing all this ... and feeling repulsed by Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wiccanism ... and not being herbwise ... nor even remembering the moon cycles most of the time ... why do I nevertheless call myself a pagan and a witch?

This is quite a personal subject but I thought I'd share it incase anyone else can relate.

1. I use the terms pagan and witch as shorthand because they immediately tell people I don't subscribe to the Abrahamic religions but am actively religious. (Except, you know, Jesus was awesome, and I'll always love Mary, and I believe in angels and an afterlife, and I'm all for Love, so Christianity and I aren't exactly enemies.) I know the terms aren't historically accurate, but they are taking on new meanings these days and I'm happy to compromise with that.

2. I was raised to be a witch, to see the world through a spiritual lens; it is my oldest and most certain identity. As such, it's a highly personal thing, and while I don't relate much to other people's experiences of witchiness, I can't just discard mine because it doesn't fit with them. I am my type of witch; I am me.

(Ironically, the person who best described what witchness means to me is, as I've often said, that old atheist Terry Pratchett.)

3. Witch is evolving as a word to mean, at least in part, something like Shaman. That is how I apply it to myself. I don't like saying I am a shaman because that's not my cultural language. Witch is.

4. Witch has a tone of feminine power to it that I want to hold close around me. Not only does it strengthen me and keep me centred, but it also is an offering to my god.

5. Pagan means so many different things it's basically meaningless, and none of those things are even what I myself believe - the goddess as matter, the god as motion. The goddess as what-is, the god as what-could-be. The lovers who created the universe. However, pagan aligns me more closely with the bear-poets and smoke-dreamers than with the Wiccans, and so while I don't really belong with them either, I'm more in that circle than the other. Words and meanings become so diffuse here on the borderland.

6. Witch in particular, but also pagan, hold connotations that trouble many people, that leave me vulnerable to judgment if I claim them, and that don't always mean what I personally believe. I take all this on like grit beneath my feet and in my throat, to prove and strengthen my devotion to my goddess and god. And in a tiny way to express my goddess (who I am myself) in the same way Christians embrace suffering to be Christ-like.

5. I'm currently writing a book about witchery - it's a comedy, so I'm not exactly delving seriously into the matter - but it does remind me about what witch ultimately means to me: standing in the middle of life's ambiguities and watching how they weave and unweave so beautifully and strangely to create the endless patterns of Love.

art by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite

The Madness of Dancing Alone

One of the most disheartening things I've read lately is the proof that a murder was crazy because he danced alone in his garage. Obviously the man was indeed severely mentally disturbed, but dancing alone is not an indicator of this. Why are we so quick to shame people for moving into the endlessly flowing passion of life?

toby burrows

My wish for you is that you have the courage and wild blessing of your heart to turn the lights down, turn the music up, and dance alone.

My wish is that you dance in the room, dance in the garage, dance within yourself as you walk the supermarket aisle. Life is not a march towards goals. It is not a polite queue. Life is a paso doble*, a waltz, a spiralling conga line to the beat of an eternal drum.

* best movie ever
ps, is this template too cluttered? does it make reading the post difficult?