Writing in Bolivian Dictatorship

I never been interested in politics, neither being active in it. Being Bolivian, I’m surrounded by latin-american literature influenced mostly by our turbulent political history. This is social literature that is marked mostly by conflicts and our disastrous governments. I didn’t understand well the impact of these events in literature until the last 3 weeks in my country. Social and political environment can definitely influence your writing soul.

To be honest, I didn’t write/edit a single word in these weeks. For those who haven’t heard it, we were living under dictator Evo Morales’ regime. He has changed the constitution to perpetuate into power. A couple of years ago, he did a referendum to ask Bolivians if we wanted him to run again for presidency, we voted “NO”. We’d had enough of this government that sympathized too much with Venezuelan and Cuban counterparts. However, the tyrant didn’t accept the referendum results and he searched his illegal way to run for presidency for a fourth time.

A bit more than three weeks ago, he blatantly committed fraud to forge his win in these elections. The people felt insulted and angered. We protested and took the streets, not knowing how else to protest. We suffered 3 weeks of attacks from delinquent groups that supported his regime of terror. These groups invaded our cities, burned whatever they saw, including houses. People were beaten to death with bats, sticks and stones. The police had instructions to not go out, leaving us to our own fate. They were complying with “orders” from above.

Finally, after weeks, the police couldn’t take anymore our suffering and pleas for help and riots started to happen into their own units. When the OAS’s audits revealed the fraud, the tyrant called for “new elections”. But we were no dumb. That wasn’t enough. He was a criminal. He had to go. When the army didn’t support him, he finally resigned and ran away.

Just when there was a brief air or relief, Morales’ groups attacked with more force. The police was now on our side but it wasn’t enough. People organized themselves to help defend neighborhoods. But we could still hear the dynamite explosions, people crying for help. The day following Evo Morales resignation was the darkest one of these weeks. I will never forget the days with warnings to turn the lights off, sirens with alarms to let you know that the hordes of delinquents were close to your home. Morales had ensured to feed these people with hate and anger all these years. They just wanted to destroy everything on their way, burn houses, business, and beat to hell whoever they found. When the police was surpassed by these hordes, we begged the army to step in. It wasn’t until they decided to step in that we had some relief.

It still hurts to think that this man tried to take advantage of the poorest segment of the population, the indigenous, that because of their lack of access to information were brainwashed with ideas of racism and division. A corrupt network of leaders ensured the poorest ones joined these delinquents groups, threatening them to take away their lands and resources if they didn’t comply.

When I see Tweets from people abroad, the international community, claiming this was a Coup, I get angered. Only Bolivians know what we went through. Through this week, we heard the tyrant’s speeches mocking us, telling us he would siege cities to see if we could withstand it, mocking from our protests and blockades, calling “his people” to defend him.

Days are showing a bit better now. We still have a long way to fight and hordes will keep coming in protest for the tyrant’s exile. They will never accept that we, the people, won. The dictator is gone. And even though he threatens to come back, we’ve learned a lot. We learned that unity is strength. Our patriotism and faith has grown. We love our country more than ever and we embrace our multiculturality, our diversity across all races, colors, and beliefs.

When I think why I didn’t write in this time, I just couldn’t. I couldn’t find the head to do it. I admire those writers that were able to write in moments of political convulsion where your own human rights are at risk.

I started to write today. It felt weird to go back to my science fiction novel when my feelings are still boiling inside. But I have to go back. I won’t let this tyrant absorb more days of my life. And for the first time ever, I definitely understand the impulse to write social literature. The writer I was weeks ago will always be marked by this experience.

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Editing methods

After a general revision of my manuscript – where I wanted to make sure that the story, plot and characters made sense – I’ve started a new round of more in depth revision/editing of my writing. To be honest, I wasn’t actually looking to this stage. I still have memories of endless rounds of editing in a previous manuscript that didn’t end that well (that project is now on standby for the moment). I remember spending a lot of time on individual paragraphs, re-writing the sentences, changing words, sentence order, etc. and making the editing process so long that I began to hate it.

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With this new project, my approach has been very different from the beginning. I had learned lots of lessons from my previous project and I didn’t want to make the same errors on this one. Writing the first manuscript was fun. It took me a lot of time but the process was enjoyable. The story and characters acquired a life of their own which helped me sustain the story until the very end (and unexpectedly with a chance for a second part if some day I decide to do it). I focused first on making sure that the characters were strong and that the story made sense. Later I would worry about the writing. And now the time has come.

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I began editing a couple of weeks ago and surprisingly it hasn’t been that bad. I’m not hating it and I still feel energized enough to continue this lengthy process. For this editing round, I’ve set up a list of what I really want to check in my writing:

  • Punctuation
  • Verbalization – that I’m using strong verbs and that I’m avoiding the “to be” verb whenever possible as I know it makes writing weak. Although, sometimes it makes more sense than any other verb.
  • Adverbs – Following the advice from many writing books, I’m trying to avoid them as much as possible.
  • “Excess” words – detecting those words that don’t add much to the writing, like “very”.
  • Passive voice – trying to get rid of this as much as possible as it also weakens the writing – although not always possible.
  • Order of sentences in a paragraph – Are they in the best order? Could I improve the order.
  • Connection with next paragraph – Does the paragraph ends well? Can I connect the paragraphs better, making it more interesting and prompting the reader to continue reading further?

There are many other “factors” to consider when editing your own writing and I know I haven’t considered all of them. But I wanted to only take into account the ones that I consider the most important ones. I didn’t want to re-write all the words thinking of all possible grammatical issues/improvements and fall into a never ending process again.

Aside from that, I’m using three tools to help me with the points above:

http://www.hemingwayapp.com/ to help you detect passive voice, adverbs, long sentences, etc

https://www.naturalreaders.com/online/ – this tool reads out loud your paragraphs. It’s very helpful as listening a voice read your text makes it easier to detect if the writing sounds good, if there are some weird structures, and if the sentences could be ordered better.

Grammarly – I’m using the free browser version that detects misspellings and basic punctuation and grammatical structure. It sort of double-checks the same as the Hemingway App. There is a paid version but too expensive for me right now.

Do you know of other free tools that might also help in this process?

What else do you consider that it’s important to check when revising your writing?

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People revising your manuscript

My previous post was published more than 3 months ago. I remember telling myself: I won’t distract myself from any other kind of writing until I have my current first manuscript ready. I originally targeted to finish it by January and Look! we’re almost in the middle of the year. Sigh… It took longer than expected but it’s finally done.

I initially had one friend volunteering to read it. She was an encouragement as I had told her it would be ready for January and having her asking about its status helped me push through the line and finish it. I soon found out I had two other volunteers to read it. That was exciting but it also made nervous. Extremely nervous. Why? Well, my mind was invaded by these thoughts:

  • What happens if the whole plot doesn’t make sense or is boring to death?
  • What happens if the whole idea of writing a book is not for me?
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I’m an amateur writer and always have self-doubts about my writing skills. I’m usually not that insecure about life in general but writing is important to me and therefore I tend to feel vulnerable to people revising my manuscript. But then I gather myself, I exhale loudly and I think that this comes with the process. I have to learn to listen to feedback and trust in my work. I’m starting; there is a lot to learn. I have to accept the challenge and keep my faith that hard work makes the master.

And you how do you feel when people start revising your manuscript?

One paragraph at a time in a never ending editing process

I finally finished my first manuscript of a fantasy novel I’ve been working for almost a year. I learned many lessons the last time I worked with a manuscript, one is that finishing the first manuscript is only a small step in achieving a readable book. Numerous rounds of editing and revision come after this, and they can become endless. They are not the nicest part of writing a book, at least not for me.

Last time I learned that before going into heavy editing, it is better to have a manuscript that you like, one where you feel satisfied with the story, the plot makes sense, you like the characters and they are likable. I learned that you have to be happy with what you wrote. You will need people who read your work, people who will criticize the plot, the characters and tell you how does the story feel. You will probably get lots of suggestions and you might need to rewrite chapters a couple of times more. Last time I understood there was no need to get into heavy editing if you were still working on the story development.

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But for the first round of people who will read your work, you have to have a manuscript that is readable. This is the reason I felt I needed one round of revision for plot consistency, character check, setting description, and at least decent writing – a writing that will still be workable and can , of course, be improved.

I’m not going for restructuring sentences, changing verbs, or more in depth editing, but it is still taking time. A lot of it. Somehow my first manuscript has managed to end with around 110 000 words or around 410 pages, and even though I’m doing a “quick revision” it still takes time. I still have a full time job and other activities, but I’m trying to find at least one hour a day to work on this. In an hour I usually deal with 5 or 8 pages, which means it is taking a lot of time. I told a friend I would be giving her the book for her critique around February, but it is already March and I haven’t reached the middle of the book with this “quick editing.”

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However, the writing process works this way, there is no easy path. Each day I’m a couple of pages done. A couple of pages more than yesterday, one paragraph more than before. I feel like doing tiny steps, but at least the steps are being given. And If I’m a couple of paragraphs done each day, then I guess it will come a time when I will finish the manuscript. One paragraph at a time. After all, writing is about the process itself.

And you how do you deal with rounds of editing?

Reviewing, plotting and just writing

Plotter or pantser

When I started writing, I found the question about being a “plotter or a pantser”. Plotter would be the person that plans the story before they write and a pantser would be the person that only lets the inspiration guide and build the story as they write. Initially, I was sure I would fit the plotter role, I wanted to set up everything correctly before starting to write. It didn’t work that well. As soon as I started to write, characters acquired life and different scenarios/events invaded my mind. I remember thinking then that I was definitely a pantser and welcomed the idea of getting inspired as I wrote. I ended my first manuscript of my first project, ditching the plotting and welcoming the pantsing.

The end result was not the best. After some rounds of feedback and self-revision, I found out that the story had many holes in it. The story was weak and it wasn’t working as I wanted. I started to re-shape the story, changing chapters, deleting scenes, adding new plot twists, etc. But after several rounds, I still was unhappy with it. Now that I look back, there wasn’t a time when I totally felt confident with how the plot evolved.

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Editing while writing

Then comes editing. When I started to write, without any previous experience, I reviewed/edited my reading after a couple of paragraphs or even after a single paragraph – trying to get the perfect grammar and writing. That didn’t last. This method certainly cut my inspiration and it would take me ages to finish a single chapter. Then my first NaNoWriMo came and I thought that this was the opportunity I needed to be able to end my first manuscript. And I sort of did it. I didn’t finish it, but I learn how to sit and write without giving a look to previous paragraphs. Editing would come later.

The result wasn’t the best either. There was terrible writing everywhere – not acceptable for requesting feedback. I had to go through a couple of rounds of editing before it was presentable. Those two/three rounds took me a lot of time, probably more than a month. And I really hated them.

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What I found out this time

It was trial an error. I still did a couple of mistakes when I started to write my second project. I initially tried to start as a pantser – my objective to write until the manuscript ended and already dreading the rounds of revision in advance. But I already got a feeling that the result would be a plot filled with holes and a writing so embarrassing that would only lead me to endless rounds of revisions. I stopped after a couple of chapters. Why would I need to be either a plotter or a pantser? Why I had to decide between editing while writing or editing everything at the end?

analysis blackboard board bubble
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I took a break after a couple of chapters. Then I started reviewing everything I had written. I wrote a little bit more – with a better mindset of the story in mind and continued writing. Then I reviewed my last written words, changed them into a more decent writing and continued. The result:

I write a couple of chapters. I go back to read them and do a general revision of the writing itself. I analyze the plot a little bit before continuing. I do a little bit of planning for the next chapters and continue. It’s a mix of all methods above. And I found that it works for me. There are no longer surprises, fears, or even apathy to future rounds of editing. There is no structured planned plot that cuts my inspiration but I also don’t write with no horizon in mind.

I edit my writing as I go. I don’t do it immediately, I let it sit for a couple of chapters so that it doesn’t cut the flow or the feeling of writing freely.  I go back to review the writing of previous chapters to make sure that I have a decent writing over there, knowing that at the end it won’t be a terrible manuscript, that it will be readable and that might only need few editing before requesting feedback. I like my own method. And I’m not suggesting it to other people. I’m only saying that each writer has to find its own way to do things…

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