Editing: 3 Uncomfortable Thoughts

Hello again ūüôā

I decided to give you all an update, a brief snapshot of the last few weeks.

As those who follow my posts here know, I recently finished the first draft of a novel, the opener in the¬†Mist Rock series. Adhering to all good advice, I set the book aside for a while, let it simmer in a corner of my room as I turned my attention¬†elsewhere. But no amount of poetry or thought-pieces could replace what I hid away in that bottom drawer.¬†Mist Rock was a story, after all, the one good thing I’ll always come back for. And so when April rolled around, I decided I’d fought the instinct far too long.

Last week, I sat down to edit.

So far, I’ve had mixed results. I’ve never edited anything this large before; 117,000 words definitely dwarfs my Final Year Project at university which only just crept over 4,000. That was science, this was fiction, and though there’s a place for those words together, this certainly wasn’t it.

This was fantasy.

As expected, I got lost in the world I’d created, swept off my feet in a Bilbo-esque fashion. But along the way, the lines started to blur, shifting on the page in front of me so that my own thoughts started to speak.

Here are a few things they said.

1. Who is going to share in this story?

An important part of any story is deciding its point of view. Fortunately, I found that part easy. This was Marke Calin’s story. Sadly, I didn’t have the same success when it came to determining who shared the world with him.

A lot of people would say this is a symptom of writing fantasy, of dreaming up worlds with a “cast of thousands”. But while I certainly didn’t lack for inhabitants, the real battle for me wasn’t asking myself which characters deserved to exist, but which 5 simply¬†had¬†to.

In a weird way, the real world (where I’m the protagonist) is the same. So much of life is determined by the company you keep, the friends you chase up, the five or six people you picture¬†smiling at your wedding.

Lately, in both editing and life, I feel like I’m always playing catch-up.

Trying to stay in touch with people is a lot like chasing shadows, searching for ghosts or emptying water out of a sinking ship. It’s a futile effort, a game we play for seventy or so years without ever stopping to ask ourselves can we win. Away from school and college, the levels take on a whole new difficulty. Not only are your chances to meet friends curtailed, but you begin to realise you can’t keep them all satisfied. There are too few pages to go round.

There’s just not enough room in the story.

2. Which Kyle is right?

Another thought I seem to be having more and more as I thumb through the pages is that rarely, if ever, will I come up with the same words twice.

I’ve often found myself reading the same scene one day apart, coming at it from various angles, writing it out in my mind a million different ways. It makes me wonder which way is right-which is the way I¬†really want to use.

Life lately is starting to look similar.

I have a fair idea what the story is for the next few years. The plot is there, as are many of the characters. What hasn’t been written yet are the words themselves, the many little details which one day might matter. The realisation that even a subtle edit here and there could change the ending is, well, “doing me a frighten”. I’d like to believe there won’t be any twists or unwelcome surprises.

But, as I’ve told you, I’m not the author. I’m the hero.

And the hero never sees the twists coming.

3. Is this any good?

Ah yes. This was the one you were waiting for.

Anyone who has ever written something substantial knows the fear that comes with finishing a draft, of realising that the beginning-middle-end is now all there to be judged. And for most of us, we’re streets ahead our own harshest critics.

I can’t decide, all these thousands of words later, if I’ll ever truly make it. That sort of success, the one we dream about as we slap the keyboard, is of course relative, defined by our own expectations and skill. But in a world where bestselling books rise from nothing, where authors sell a million copies with a click, it’s hard not to think we could one day be there too.

I, like many writers I know, still can’t really tell if their words are¬†hot, or if this entire effort, this whole “Oh-em-Gee I wanna be an author”, is just much ado about nothing. I do know I’m still hiding behind the curtain, whispering “It’s just not ready” as I try to will my novel to be better. Admittedly, I’m trying to will it to be brave.

And that in itself is the scariest thing about editing.

Because I’m not sure if¬†Mist Rock ever will be ready, or if it’s just going to have to face the world anyway.

Maybe that’s the only¬†way that it can.

 


 

I’d love to hear about your own editing experiences. What keeps you going? What runs in your mind? How do you deal with that inner critic?

 

10 Lies College Tells You Before You Even Get There

College. There’s just nothing quite like it. You’re probably never going to have another four or so years with the same liberation, the same shoulder-shrug attitude to life. Eating cold pizza, passing out on your friend’s couch, forgetting arguably most of what you went there to learn. Ya….college….definitely just like the movies.

I’ve decided to write this blog to continue pumping the vein of my recent content. Why? Well, partly because I have the luxury/benefit/fear of being on the other side, staring back at my undergrad with an unwelcome hindsight. And if I’ve learned anything from my time on the gridiron, it’s that at first, most people¬†really don’t know what they’re doing, then they think they know what they’re doing, then a year further on they wake up six weeks late to a lecture in someone else’s jeans and finally, they admit to themselves.

In college, nobody knows what they’re doing.

Perhaps the whole thing would run a lot smoother if we didn’t have so many damn preconceptions. Movies, television, friends. They all sell us a different college experience, most of them only half-shadows of the reality. But not all half-shadows are made the same; some fake news just sells better than others.

Here are the top 10 things I wish I’d never been told about college.

1. SUSI, be grand

This of course only applies to the Irish experience, but every country shares in the misery, the sad realisation that college, in fact, costs 1 x arm and 1 x leg.

You’d be forgiven for thinking you could do it all on the cheap. “Student Discount,” they said, waving fliers and free pens and a half-box of caramel Freddos. But in a world where that same chocolate now requires a tracker mortgage, you just can’t do college on a dime anymore.

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Outside of the obvious costs of fees, accommodation, travel and your course itself, the day-to-day expenses are what really grab you, stab you repeatedly¬†in the stomach and mutter “For the Watch” under their breath (seriously, if you don’t want¬†Game of Thrones spoilers, get on out of here!) A cup of coffee might cost you a kidney, a lunch out could do you for a heart, and a night out?

Have you got, like, a twin?

2. Everything from the course is relevant

If working a job in your relevant field during your degree does anything, it’s to remind you that, career-dependent, very little if any of your theory might be relevant. Most students quickly realise that literally no future employer ever is going to swing round the door of their office and say, “Hey Mike, can I get Maslow’s Pyramids of Needs on my desk by lunch? Thanks buddy. You know, you really are the mitochondria of this place. What’s a mitochondria?” *Grabs by the face* “IT’S THE POWERHOUSE OF THE CELL”.

*Cough* Ahem.

Sadly, other students aren’t exposed to the working world until, well, they leave college itself. And it’s only then, facing a swarm of angry customers, that they back into a corner, shaking, tears streaming down their face.

“Pluzz, just form a normal distribution.”

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3. Nothing from the course is relevant

On the flip side, some students prefer the cavalier approach of announcing from the very first lecture “Haha, but in the real world x is y not z. Who needs z?” You’ll probably notice they also talk a big game about “making connections” and “engaging with real businesses” (they may forget to mention their parents own one, two, maybe twenty of those same businesses).

Of course, they encourage you to have the same attitude, to just rock up to the roundabout of life in third gear in the wrong lane with no signal and oh God what’s that behind the wheel, is that a baby?

*Cough* Ahem.

Some 9 to 5’s actually share a good deal of crossover with their college counterparts, and while there’s always that one story of “that fella who never hires people who got 1.1s”, it stands to reason to not throw your grades off a cliff just because it’s funny to hear them scream on the way down.

4. The food is great

When I first stepped into college, I kinda imagined it would be a bit like Zoey 101, maybe just fewer scooters and without the same GREAT theme tune.

Unfortunately, I quickly learned that they didn’t have dacent sushi bars or foot golf or even that weird energy drink I’d been looking forward to. Instead, we kinda just got stuck with this weird alt-reality where all food came in roll format. Breakfast? Roll. Sausage? Roll. Chicken? *checks chart* Roll.

And at some point I realised that there was probably an Italian man sitting in the mountains above Milan, sipping wine at the pool, counting stacks of Pasta money.

“Ah Irish students, you make-a-me so happy.”

Is that racist? No, it’s Mario Kart. Mario Kart can’t be racist.

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5. The parties are awesome!

If I was let down by the food, then oh dear was I let down by the parties. That’s not to say those four years didn’t see memorable moments, but most weren’t the college dorm ragers I’d imagined. Often, they were nothing more than a few friends, five or six souls sharing a drink in the corner of a bar. A few close hearts wandering the empty backstreets or spread out under the stars, laughing at a joke they couldn’t remember. They certainly weren’t red cups and breakdancing and people swinging from the chandelier while Fallout Boy played in the kitchen.

The [insert college party at classmate’s house here] actually wore on me fairly fast. I’m probably an exception, but I think everyone would agree there comes a point three hours into the night where suddenly, collapsed in a chair, the walls start to look odd and you half-feel Stephen King is about to write you into a horror story. Everything in the house that’s supposed to have legs (chairs, tables, that room-mate who studies med) doesn’t while everything that shouldn’t just gets up and crawls off half way through the night.

You sort of transition from hearing the music to feeling it in your head to tasting it at the end of your drink.

*Spits* “Ughh. Why does Avicii taste like mouthwashed motor oil?”

prty

6. Study is easy. College is easy

I think after Leaving Cert most students feel they’ll never sit a¬†real¬†exam again. Just college ones. LOL. Hand me my A, teach!

Sadly, Leaving Cert sells you a lie. It promises you a world where there’s a¬†limit, where you just have to learn to a certain point and then just hand it all back. In college, there’s no defined limit, just this vague space filled with a lecturer’s voice on repeat.

*Echoes* “How long is an essay? Well, how long is a piece of string?”

College correctors act as though nobody has anything better to do than to wait for Murray et al to drop their fire new lit review 2017. Reference something from over 5 years ago and you might as well hand up cave drawings in support of your answer. Give ’em anything not double-spaced and they’ll look at you as though you just tried to sacrifice them to the flames.

The harsh truth is that most people try for half the first term, give up for most of the middle, and then rush it all in at the end.

That’s weird. I just had this random urge to write the word Arsenal. Anyway.

arsena

7. I’m going to make so many friends!

This is sadly the saddest of all sads that one learns through college. We all pass through those doors thinking we’ve just inherited a fortune. A fortune of FRIENDS that is.

*Sigh* I digress.

Most people I know agree that you definitely make friends, lots of them even, but they’re all just really hard to define. Some are lifelong, others are temporary, and some just sort of hang around long after their expiration date which, to be fair, is very college-esque of them. You could rename college “Acquaintance Land” and very few people would know the difference. Not that acquaintances are a bad thing, but for those who want more, you really just don’t have the time to sincerely commit yourself to 200 people. In fact, it’s not fair on you or those people to try. Choices will have to be made, but with luck, you’ll filter out the racists and the maybe-serial-killers and the ones who won’t participate in pizza at 3 am. Which brings me to my last point.

8. Participate

This is as true about life as it is about college. We’re all sold the idea that people just want to get involved, that they’re on the verge of it, that any moment now there’ll be a coffee morning or a flash mob. In reality, there is Netflix, and tea, and bed. Participating in anything at all requires effort, energy that could be better spent at home enjoying blankets and chocolate and Season 2 of Suits.

But the great thing is that sometimes you can share a pizza  buy two pizzas.

And that in itself is why it doesn’t matter what they tell you about college.

Because nobody talks to you about the times they fell asleep at house parties and missed the night out, or the times they slammed their head on the table in the library, or the times they just sat in a corner of college and watched the other people drift by. Because you just can’t sell those things.

And that makes me glad.

Because you can’t put a price on them either.

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. I lied, number 9 and 10 did not exist.

“What’s meant for you won’t pass you by”

Last week, I talked about the reality of the first six months in the¬†real world. That post¬†was a humour piece, nothing more than a joke, a quick jab at the 9 to 5 lifestyle I’ve become used to. This is slightly more serious, a whole foot further down the rabbit hole. I can’t decide which of the two posts matters more. I know the first was¬†easier. It was a much simpler story to tell. But it makes me wonder.

Which is the story worth listening to?

Anyway, if you read between the lines the last time, you’d have seen it wasn’t all smiles and sarcasm. There’s no doubt about it: life’s tough out here in the borderlands.

We all have our own ways of coping-tea, exercise, music, maybe even a drink or two. When flustered, a lot of people also turn to words, quick little one-liners (like philosophical Xanax) that ground them in something palpable again. Perhaps one of the most well-known (at least in Ireland) goes a little something like this:

What’s meant for you won’t pass you by

It mightn’t seem like much, a bare seven or eight words thrown together, but small sentiments like this have a way of resonating with people, of lasting. A phrase like that simply endures. And yet, of all the soft hopes held dear, this is the one belief I’ve yet to subscribe to.

A part of me thinks the reason reflects the bigger picture, the questions like “Why are we here?” or “What happens to us at the end?”. Spirituality, whether in the form of organised religion or not, requires a great deal of faith. Personally, it’s something I’ve always struggled with. The saddest change of heart I ever knew was realising that one day I didn’t truly believe anymore. I just wanted to. And in my eyes, the above phrase is filled with the same sort of uncertainty. I definitely want it to be real, but that’s an empty argument for someone who founds themselves on logic and gears. It’s as if the sentiment isn’t physical enough, like I’d agree in a heartbeat if I could just reach out and touch it.

Maybe the biggest issue I have with this phrase is that the evidence just isn’t there for it. From where I’ve been standing the last twenty-three years, it sure seems like a lot of things passed me by. Whether they were meant for me or not I don’t know, but I’d like to think that they weren’t. How do I know that? Like I said, I don’t, but I’ve lived by the attitude that if you want something bad enough, you’d better just go out and take it. Life isn’t equal, and it’s certainly not fair. Your aspirations aren’t just gonna pull over, roll down the window and tell you to hop in. Nope. If you’re going to be passive,¬†holding your thumb out and expecting a ride, those dreams are gonna put the foot down and leave you behind, choking on a cloud of dust as they roar down the highway. Of course, if you take the active role in this situation, those dreams won’t get far. Yes, you’re going to have to chase them, running like your life depended on it. You’re probably going to trip a half dozen times and bloody something, maybe even¬†consider giving up and laying down in the shade. But there’ll be a moment when you climb over the last hill, see lights in the city below. There’s every chance that moment will be worth it.

And of course, the above probably sounds awfully negative, but I’d wager the opposite is true. I can’t imagine anything worse than sitting in the back seat of the car, watching fields ghost by, waiting for the journey to be over so you can claim a prize already yours. That’s what happens when life is in charge, when things are meant for you, when¬†years simply¬†pass you by.

But perhaps you’re like me. You’d much rather take the hard road and risk never reaching the end of it. You’d suffer years of stumbling and falling, rising quickly to dust yourself off again, all in a world where we’ll only know a single breath, where we run the road of a mortal life. With time against us, it’s no wonder people want there to be some sort of guarantee. But destiny is a beautiful lie, a cushion for the wary and the unenthused. On the contrary, what was it Robin Williams said: “Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary.” Somehow having the responsibility in your hands feels a lot more reassuring.

And yet phrases like “What’s meant for you won’t pass you by” aren’t said as a statement of fact, more like a mantra or prayer. They’re spoken as if to quell the great unknown, put order to the chaos of life and reinforce the fact that in some ways it’s all been already decided. And I don’t blame them. It’s tough accepting the reality that every day you might pass your dream job on your way to work, maybe close the door of a coffee shop five seconds before your true love opens it. But all those maybe-moments are down to chance, and the mathematics are rarely if ever with you. There are just too many variables for you to ever ride off into the¬†sunset with the wind in your hair. Odds-wise, it’s more likely you’ll just fall into a job you don’t hate, pay your bills and some taxes, find someone you love and work hard enough to make it stick. Every day won’t be perfect. In fact, more than most won’t be memorable at all. But somewhere years from now, you’ll realise you needed all that background noise-all that adversity and that grey. After all, the lights over the hill wouldn’t shine half so bright had you not hit a few bumps in the road.

So yes, what’s meant for you may pass you by; I’m almost sure that it will do.

But so what?

Look at all the things that weren’t meant for you, but that you learned from all the same. Things that were never wanted, just needed somewhere on the road. Things that made you curse, tear at your hair, cry in a dark room at 2 a.m. Things that made those few steps a journey. Things that made an imperfect life.

And when it’s all said and done, when you have nothing left but a small audience inside the warmth of a fire, isn’t that the story worth listening to?

6 Things Learned After 6 Months Graduated

If you, like me, are recently graduated and work a 5-day week, you may find yourself spending Friday nights in the corner of the local, hand wrapped around a pint, looking for solace at the end of the glass. That sentiment¬†might sound a tad worrying, maybe even a little problematic, especially if one night lasts a whole weekend. But it’s a ritual some adhere to all the same. Next time you find yourself there, take a sip of your drink and steal a quick glance around you. You may realise you’re not the only one in the real world.

Most likely you’re just the newest.

The reason I’m opening this blog post in the drunk-warm comfort of a pub is because that’s where the idea for it came from. Over the last few weeks, talk at the bar always seems to turn to finishing college, moving on, growing up. Life (the adult mode at least), feels a lot like the big city, that promised land at the end of the highway. It’s a world of car horns and neon lights and ears ringing at 2 a.m. Paradise, sort of.

Yet all we think about are the broken fences and the dry grasses and the dust coughing in our engine as we pull out of that small town called home.

But we’re graduated, and since so many friends asked for it, here are the biggest changes I’ve noticed since I too packed up and left for the big city.

1.You die for the weekdays

I always wondered about this “live for the weekend” hype I saw in Hollywood movies and television and the lives of every other human around me. Newly graduated, youth¬†on my side (ish), I decided this wouldn’t be me. So for the first few weeks I grabbed dinner with friends, stayed up late, went out on a Wednesday night. Then the workiness of work (which is surprisingly high) hit me like a freight train. There really are some nights where you just come home, collapse onto the couch, and wait for hunger to move you. It’s not that work is tiring¬†per se, but there’s just so much of it, and it keeps coming, and it never seems to be done. You cut down one work and six take its place. Makes you feel like Hercules fighting a hydra except you’re not Greek and the only things you lift are pizzas out of the oven. When you were a child, you’d be fully awake by 9, battery life of about twelve hours. Now you’re an IPhone¬†4 that’s changed hands a couple times. You might be functional by midday. By five o’clock, screen’s gone cold.

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With such little energy, meeting friends becomes difficult, leaving only the dark side of the weekend (the part where you’re not passed out in bed) for some semblance of a social life. Which brings me onto my next point….

2.”Is there anybody alive out there? Can anyone hear me?”

Haha, lol. Yes, that’s a Titanic quote. But come back and laugh a year after graduation when a boat full of friends floats by and you dump your responsibilities in the Atlantic (sorry Jack, should have got on the door) so you can blow a whistle and hope somebody sees you. Ya, that’s pretty much your standard group chat.

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The scariest thing about finishing college is that you realise how most of your friendships lived off convenience. Now, cut off from their supply, those same friendships go cold turkey and you don’t see your xox besto for six months at a time. When you do, they’re as you expect,¬†rabid and living in the gutter¬† awkward if you strike up a¬†conversation at all. Think of it this way, for the last four or so years your top 50, 100, maybe even 200 friends were all contained daily within a square mile radius. Now, someone puts them in a cannon and fires them all over the world. I have friends in London, the United States, even a few in the Midlands (I mean seriously, is that even on the map??).

Sadly, you quickly realise you don’t have time to keep up with everyone. Even if you do, they’re most likely not free. And so quietly, and without much fuss, you sort of just lose a few people, a bit like your social life dying of old age. By the time you take stock of the situation, you probably have two groups left, one from home and one from college. If possible, merge them. Safety in numbers. It’s dark out there in the real world.

3.Free time is actually v. expensive no joke

Now that you’ve rounded up the survivors of your life before the apocalypse, you realise the world is crawling with zombies. And you have to pay for them to eat you.

Honestly, nothing is as gut-checking as earning more money than you ever have before, yet still coming up empty. It’s as if you work 40 or so hours a week just to enjoy the thrill of handing out as much money as possible in the four hours after you get paid. And everyone is nudging each other out of the way to get to you first. Since when does coffee cost half an hour of work? Why does the car have such expensive taste?

4.If it’s applicable, it matters. If it ain’t? *shrugs*

A lot of graduates are shocked to find out nobody gives a flying fuck about the time they organised a coffee morning for AdoptATiger.com. Why? Because your boss sells insurance to young, mostly not-tiger, Irish people. Unless evidence surfaces that dwindling tiger numbers are related to road traffic accidents (Ahh, I can’t take it. Such a majestic animal *turns wheel sharply*), then you’d best leave your little token charity points at the door. That goes for, well, most extracurriculars really. If you can relate your love of volleyball back to your work in a call centre, then by all means spike Seamus from the Finance Department to your heart’s content. If you can’t, don’t think selling it in your interview is going to wow employers as though the concept of hobbies is simply beyond them.

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I sat on maybe a dozen committees in my undergrad, but unlike a solid half of other students, I did it because I enjoyed it, not as some sort of promo video for my CV. Of course, relevant extracurriculars do look great, but as the old saying goes: “If you’re actually full of shit, you will be found out in the end (probs :P)”.

5.Success just ain’t what it used to be

By age 22 or so, you probably thought you had success all figured out. Maybe thought you had it placed in a nice little box, wrapped with a neat purple bow. But you haven’t. Success, much like a Games of Thrones character, is very grey, and just when you think you’ve grasped it, it’s gonna turn around and stab Robb Stark in the stomach (spoiler?).

In school and in college, we’re all pitted against each other, ranked on some sort of scale, given a tasty treat if we sit when we’re told to. In life, there are no such Pedigree Jumbones. There are way too many variables to ever truly know who made it and who ended up crying in their car outside work because their boss called them “the new girl” again after SIXTEEN YEARS. Ahem, anyway, success in the adult world is something that just can’t be defined. LinkedIn would want you to believe so, but everyone is a freak on LinkedIn (me included). I mean for Christ’s sake, Colm, you work as a network engineer in Meath. Why are you adding me?!?

In the end, only you can truly define your own success, your happiness, your satisfaction with your career and personal life. If you have a passion, you should probably chase it, unless it’s like, illegal, in which case you should just take up scrapbooking or something.

And it’s on such a note I leave you….

6.Hope

Leaving undergrad is a weird experience. It’s not quite “Naww you were in sixth class now you’re a little first year”, more “You used to eat chicken rolls daily now you genuinely laugh when your colleague says¬†‘Is it Friday yet?'”

But it’s not a bad change. Just a change. And like all transitions, you just have to roll with it, hope things level out and that you’ll be able to afford healthcare.

I leave you with a quote by a talentless hack hopeful writer.

A single, honest, familiar-face choice. That’s all there ever is. That’s all there ever will be, and it’s as easy as who you are.