Archives: writer’s habits

Job Title – Writer

In Midcoast Maine we have an abundance of artists and creatives. My small town has 2 world-class museums and fifteen galleries. The first Friday of every month town turns into a party as residents and tourists wander in and out of art spaces. The energy is palpable. Catch up conversations, opinions of a month’s offerings and gossip abound. The spring and fall bring open studios. Arrows point toward destinations out one peninsula after another. It’s a lovely way to spend a day. Seeing the art of others spurs creativity for other mediums. There is only one creative school invisible in this sea of plenty – writers.

This was brought home earlier this week when I went with a writing group to surprise one of its members. The surprise? A Sudden Fiction group, spent months compiling the stories of CJ Quigg (Carol to her friends). An artist Nina Holland designed the cover, Chris McLarty did the design and Pamela Evans served as editor to ensure a professionally finished book. In addition, they paid for the printing out of pocket. Why would writers invest so much time and money on a fellow traveler’s work? It’s simple. These writers have met for years. Each week they write from a prompt and read the result aloud for immediate feedback. Over the years the group has liked and respected Carol’s work. She has been encouraged many times to submit her stories for publication. Carol’s fear subsumed her talent. And like many writers, her stories collected on a hard drive or in a desk drawer. Faced with ill health Carol thought her work if ever published would be done posthumously.

Publication does not a writer make, but there is nothing more thrilling to a writer than to hold a book with your name under the title.  We have no galleries. We invite no one to view our workspace. Our community congregates in small, quiet groups in libraries and living rooms. Our work is heard by other writers who we support and who support us. If you meet a writer, don’t ask, “What have you published?” Say, “Tell me about your writing.”

Prepare to be enchanted.  How do I know? I’ve worked with writers for decades and have hundreds of unpublished story threads in my head as a legacy of those classes. The above mentioned Sudden Fiction group has continued to meet since learning of the practice in one of my classes. Beautiful writers all, they have for their own reasons not published. That does not negate their ownership of the job title, Writer.

 

The Right Editor for the Right Job

Think of an editor as a medical professional. If you have an infected foot, a brain surgeon may not be helpful. Your manuscript must have vitality, to be submittable or published independently; it must be fit, throbbing with life, well-formed, well-groomed, and dressed in its Sunday best. The editor needed for the job depends on where you are on your path to print.

Post Second Draft Check up – Manuscript Critique

You’ve survived your first round of revisions, cleaned up obvious errors, filled story holes, polished tone and pace, and digested feedback from beta readers. Now what?  Time to put on your big writer pants and seek a professional. Genre is key to finding the right (write) editor. If the editor is neither experienced nor aware of your market, save your money. Find an editor well versed in your genre. If you write memoir, you want a seasoned creative non-fiction editor, not a  fantasy/sci-fi editor.

What can you expect from a manuscript critique? The editor is an attentive reader who provides feedback regarding content. Think of it as a physical. Expect a 5-10 page report that highlights the health of your work — both the good and possible trouble points. Anticipate criticism and comment about the opening, structure, POV, style, pace, dialogue, and ending. Specific pages, passages, and plot points will be highlighted. Is the work compelling, does it work as a whole, and if not, what steps need to be taken? Prepare to be relieved, with moments of associated delight and terror.

Terrified about what a manuscript critique might cost? Editing, like a good diet, is an iterative process. The more you improve your practice, the better you can manage the ultimate cost.

Identify your writer’s habits. with the help of an editor/writer’s coach. Your habits: qualifying phrases, word overuse,  complicated dialogue attributions, a preference for stutter verbs, voice shifts, adequate pace, and characterization can be identified in as little as three chapters. The editor will mark up the work with highlights and suggestions. It is up to you scan your full document for other examples and make corrections to achieve the third draft. The cleaner the draft, the more focus on content by a developmental editor.

Developmental Editing – Penultimate Draft

If a manuscript critique is equivalent to a physical at a GP, a developmental edit is on par with a full work up at the Mayo Clinic. You look for a developmental editor when you have taken the manuscript as far as you can toward a goal of submission or independent publishing. Expect in-depth feedback on all issues: word use, historical accuracy, questions regarding writer’s choices, under or overdeveloped characters, pace, a tone in keeping with the genre, marketability, and praise for strengths. Don’t waste your money on developmental editing if your work is not ready. Patients do not go to the Mayo Clinic for hangnails or two or three bouts of indigestion.

Copyediting – Final, Final

You can be a brilliant writer but be a horrible technician. I’ve coached many writers who insist on creating their own document structure rather than follow standard submission guidelines. A unique document structure may feel creative at the beginning of a draft, but it is hell to clean up at the end. Ignoring structure and punctuation rules is like living on Tostitos and soda until 5:00 and happy hour appetizers and alcohol until bedtime for ten years. A seven-day detox will not correct the underlying and long-term issues. Writing is a practice. Copyeditors are perfectionists. They want every comma, paragraph indent, en dash, and period in its proper place. Many a prospective agent has dismissed a manuscript for sloppiness, not content.

Many a Mayo Clinic visit is built on a foundation of bad choices. Ensure that your work is the best you can make it for a clean bill of health. A strong, healthy, and clean manuscript increases publication chances and happy readers.

 

I Can’t Afford an Editor

I Can’t Afford an Editor.”   

I hear this claim in every class I teach or writer’s group I attend. The complaint hides two fears: bloody red ink on your manuscript and the idea that a supposed, expert stranger will tell you what to write. The cost is a factor but it is not the factor. 

 

To allay your fears and minimize the cost know that editing is an iterative, not a one and done process. What do I mean?

  • Only you can write your 1st draft. Introducing an editor at this phase is a form of creative suicide;
  • Create a full draft, celebrate, and self-edit after you take the following steps:
    • Celebrate your accomplishment
    • Allow the text to marinate in a safe inaccessible place for 2-6 weeks
    • Read the full manuscript as a reader, not a writer
      • Understand that you can never be a fully objective reader
    • Return to the text to read as a self-editor
      • Is the point of view consistent?
      • Are there adequate transitions?
      • Have you used enough dialogue to move the action forward?
      • Is the pace and tone in keeping with the genre?
      • Did you use the five senses as tools to show not tell your story?
  • Use your self-edits to write a second draft.
    • Be amazed by how you have improved the text
  • Do a copyedit of the second draft, use online tools to help you
    • Spell & grammar checks
    • Grammarly.com
    • Search and replace tools
  • Ask other writers to act as beta readers:
    • Specify what you want from readers
    • Specify the desired turn around time
      • Be sure the anticipated return is reasonable for the length of the manuscript
      • Don’t resent a no response, timing is everything
      • Be willing to reciprocate
  • Read through the provided edits with care
    • Consider every comment and use those that resonate to complete your third draft

Presuming that you’ve made edits to the manuscript based on reader feedback, re-read the text with the above-bulleted self-edit questions in mind, performed a second tools scan, and made all changes you can identify you will have a completed third draft and you haven’t spent a cent. Congratulations!

Time to hire an editor.

How do you find the right editor?

See you next post. Happy writing.

 

 

 

                         

 

 

Make Your Own Rules

If you write and you want to learn more about your craft you’ve probably read dozens of articles that include the following:

The 3 rules of…

7 rules to…

If you want to be published follow the 10 rules…

Preface the word rule with a number between one and ten and you are well on your way to a silver bullet article or blog.  Why silver bullet? Like a diet that starts on New Year’s Day, our magical thinking likes to believe the last set of rules read will rock our writing world. We don’t like to accept that a successful diet requires less food and more exercise and successful writing requires, wait for it, writing. You become a better writer by writing. Bummer, huh?

As a writing instructor, I’ve seen eager faces wait for the silver-platter epiphany. I’ve also experienced the group reaction of eight students who become simultaneously crestfallen at the reality of writing as a practice.

If you need rules as a writer, make your own. Define your writing ritual. My writing ritual is of little value to you. I can’t tell you which space resonates with you. I can’t say whether you should sit or stand, use a keyboard, a number 2 pencil, or a quill, play music as you write or meditate before you begin. Writing is personal. Success is defined by you and the goals you set. Success is reached by the recipe you create to attain your goals. Stay true and practice, practice, practice until you become the writer you want to be.

 

Happy Writing.

Writing Styles: Plotter, Visualizer, Pantser

There is no right way to approach writing a book. We all have our individual comfort zones. Consider how you work best. Do you require an outline to begin? Outline away. An outline can be an excellent blueprint for what you want to achieve. And speaking of blueprints, ask any architect if the final build of a plan is one hundred percent in line with the concept drawings. You might be surprised to learn that architects, like writers, find unexpected challenges along the way. You must be willing to abandon or adapt your outline to the story as it unfolds. Creativity lies in the surprises.

Perhaps you are a visual writer. What does that mean? The office wall of a visual writer is scattered with drawings or images of characters, locales, and proposed story arcs. It is not unusual to see a display of multicolored Post-it notes coded for characters, chapters, and/or plot points. The patchwork serves as a reference point as the writing develops. It is easily rearranged to accommodate story order and to insert new plot developments as they occur during the draft process.

 

The third most common variety of writer is a pantser. A pantser sits at a desk with his or her writing tools of choice and begins without an outline, without a storyboard, to create the story as the words come. Although this implies that the pantster starts with nothing, that is untrue. A pantser has an idea, a central theme, or a character in mind, but they want to see how the story unfolds as they write. The pantser approach reminds me of an old movie where a spunky character says, “Let’s build a barn and put on a show.” What will the barn look like? Not sure. What is the show? Don’t know yet. How many roles are there? Is it a comedy, a drama, or a fantasy? This is my preferred methodology. I wait to see what the story wants to be, and I trust that it will unfold.

Is one method better than another? NO! In fact, as your writing practice evolves, you learn that there are benefits to each method and you develop your own hybrid style. You may have to submit three chapters and an outline to a potential publisher; you may learn to rely on the Post-it scheme to reorder chapters for an enhanced story arc, and you may realize as you revise that you have to trust yourself to flesh out the story.

The trick is not to allow the way you attack or prepare for the work to become a limitation or a roadblock to the actual writing. If your goal is a one-hundred-percent detailed outline, that is what you will achieve—an outline. If you want a story with heart, imagery, and color, you must trust your words to write. Perfection in preparation is like perfection in creativity: resistance. Regardless of your style, you must trust your ability to tell your story.

 

 

Writer’s Block v. Writer’s Slump & Self-Rejection

You’ve heard of writer’s block. If you haven’t experienced it, you still fear it. Every time you sit down to write you think is today when the words stop appearing? Is today, the end of ideas? Is today, the death of my story. See a pattern here? Like maybe these thoughts are a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe this pattern of thinking is a form steroidal self-rejection. If you imagine your creative spirit as dead, its spark falters, sputters and dies for lack of oxygen. The minute you form the words Writer’s Block as a self-descriptor,  SNAP OUT OF IT.

Maybe you need magical thinking, maybe you need a walk, maybe you need to try to meditate for the thousandth time. Shake yourself into the reality that only you can believe in the block of your work. Become a writer’s block atheist. You’ll thank yourself after you push through the self-rejection.

 

A writer’s slump is similar to writer’s block but instead of I can’t write, it manifests as I don’t want to write. During a slump, all external things become significantly more important, intriguing and entertaining than a pen in hand or fingers on the keyboard. Remember the last time you committed to the gym?  Worked like a charm until that morning you rolled over and hit the snooze button. Writing is no different. It doesn’t happen unless you show up. You show up even when your sister calls, there’s a great thread on Twitter or your sink is full of dishes. Once you push through, call your sister, check Twitter and hose the plates. They’ll all be there after you do YOUR work. This form of self-rejection diminishes the value of your work as less important than the ordinary tasks of the day. Only you can write your words. Anyone can wash the dishes.

The Other Bogeyman in the Closet – Self-Rejection

Writing is hard. Go to any social media site and you’ll see posts from writers who declare that they want to write but don’t.  Others wait for divine inspiration and express frustration at their lack of ideas. Still more, state for public consumption that what they write is drek.

If as you sit at your writing place and start from the position of,”I have nothing to say” you have self-rejected.  If as you take your morning walk or drive and your internal editor knocks down ideas that pop at random. You have self-rejected.

All writers live under the delusion that every word they write must be both brilliant and perfect. Many forget that writing is a process, a practice. Self-rejection interrupts both. If every sentence, paragraph or page is rejected you may end up with a few finely honed, technically precise pages but in the process, you will remove the heart, the truth, the vulnerability of a readable story.

First, we must write. Think of first draft words as lumps of coal. Miners know that one found lump of coal indicates that there must be others. So many that perhaps a little digging will bring up enough coal for warmth and power.  They also know that coal can hide diamonds or other veins of ore. Diamonds are accessed by rubbing away the coal to get to the sparkle.

Fill your first draft with words that are misshapen, string them together until you have pages. Allow the pages to see daylight. In the sun look for the hints of sparkle. Allow the pages to age before you read a completed manuscript. Surprise your self. You will find that you have mined more than coal.

Edit and polish until you find the true vein of your work.

Let Your Internal Editor Out of the Closet

Your draft is done, correct? I hope you celebrated this major goal. It a rare occurrence and few can appreciate the work involved to attain it. Is your draft perfect? No. But guess what no one’s first draft is perfect. After the celebration, even if it is a party of one, put your manuscript away for three to six weeks.  Why? It allows you to create space between writing and reading. It’s amazing what you see when you return to the text as a reader with fresh eyes.

Please read the text without pen or other writing implements. Read for story, flow, pace, and context. Treat the manuscript as any book you read. Create a review. What works, what doesn’t work for you as a reader, not as an editor. Your internal editor will be chomping at the bit to chide you, demand changes and question your every word. She’s hungry for red ink. Reread the text as editor and reader. It is the editor’s job to hunt for your writing habits:

Reread the text as editor and reader. It is the editor’s job to hunt for your writing habits:

  • Overuse of comfort words: would, could, when, turn, became
  • Qualifying phrases
  • Misuse of synonyms
  • Punctuation
  • Fear of jumping into the action
  • Overuse of internal dialogue
  • Wordy dialogue attributions

It is the editor’s job to draw the blood of red ink, an indication of decisions you need to make as the writer. Not all ink splatter is equal. As the writer, you are the CSI. You must decide what is relevant and what is superfluous. Second draft is not the time for copyediting it is the time to make decisions regarding story. Are you telling the story from the best point of view? Are character details consistent throughout the text? Do you have adequate transitions to enable the reader to move forward without question? Have you refrained from over telling? Are the details consistent with time and place?

Reread the text with pen in hand and mark up content with the above questions in mind and indicate with question marks in the margins to indicate decision points raised by your internal editor and your notes as the reader. Let the revisions begin.

Remember you have the final say as the writer and referee for all feedback from the reader and editor.

 

© 2018 Lee Heffner – Author