It’s a Process…

CAUTION: LONG POST AHEAD!! I highlighted for your convenience.

One of my critique partners and I were discussing our latest critiques this morning when she suggested that I should write a post about my editing process. I LOLed and my editing process is a big puzzle and promised to write a blog post about it before dashing off to work.

To explain my process, I have to say some things that may make you think I’m crazy or just plain lying, but I promise I’m being as truthful as possible. Before I tell you my editing process, I have a few confessions to make:

  • I don’t actually have a process. As someone who has been writing a long time, you’d think I had a full formula to lay out, complete with charts and graphs and formulas for success, but I don’t. I’ve written mostly for myself. I’ve only been actively pursuing publication since September, so I’m still figuring out my process editing wise. 
  • I’m what some would  call an English prodigy. I never tire of saying that. I have to remind myself of it constantly when I can’t seem to write well to save my eternal soul. I got a nearly perfect score on the English portion of the ACT, which was mainly saying whether or not a sentence was wrong and fixing it. My brain is hardwired for copy editing and proofreading. I enjoy it. Red pens make me happy. Feel free to hate me.
  • I never revised before my senior year of college Creative Writing class when we  were required to revise an earlier work. I didn’t revise for years afterward. I liked to think I was the Jay-Z or Lil Wayne of writing–a one take wonder. Of course, the quality of the material the two of them have put out over the years is debateable enough for me to rethink my writing role models. 😀 My stories benefit greatly from revision. I was an arrogant little prodigy (see above), so it took me a long time to figure this out.
  • I have never written a complete first draft. I’ll explain this one later.

Now that you know I am no expert (but kind of am), I’ll share my process. I am a person who edits/revises as I go. I know this is anathema to some, but it’s the only way I can function. I HATE rough drafts and never write them. When I finish a first draft, it is more like a third or fourth draft. I usually write in the mornings and revise later in the day. I print out the day’s writing and take it with me to proofread and make revision notes in the margins. At the weekends, I will read the week’s writings for content and continuity across chapters, development, etc. I perform the most pressing revisions here. About every other week, I try to read through everything I have from a reader’s perspective and make a few more notes.

Once I finish the first draft, I go through chapter by chapter, polishing and making sure all the revisions are completed. I sit down with the entire thing and read it as a reader would once more, addressing anything I feel needs changing before my critique partners get a look at it.

There are times when myprocess is different. When I entered So You Think You Can Write with Pleasure’s Payne, I learned that the Harlequin Love Inspired editors do not like prologues. They want to jump into the story and see the hero and heroine on the page together as quickly as possible. They like larger sections in one point of view without head hopping. They were looking for everything my entry wasn’t. 

I wrote until the announcement of the top fifty, then set it aside. When I returned to the manuscript, I scrapped the first 7-10 pages. It was heartwrenching. I hate major revisions, and I loved that prologue, but I had to kill my darlings. I found a spot where the action began and began from there. I set up the heroine’s internal conflict and inciting incident, then got the hero on the page. I sprinkled in expressions of her grief and other important information from scrapped pages. I changed areas of head hopping to one perspective and showed the other character’s feelings through dialogue and body language wherever possible. I hated every bit of it and did it with one eye open and the original tucked away on a flash drive just in case.

And I came out of it with a much stronger story. I proved to myself that I can revise and make my manuscript even better. I don’t have to get it right in one take (that is made up of tens of takes!). I have to step back and let things marinate for a bit before I wade in, but I can do it.

How do you tackle editing and revisions? 

Taking Myself Seriously

Personal Photo. Where they kept powder for the cannons in the Castillo de San Marcos, a fort never taken in battle. St. Augustine.

It’s been such a long time, friends! I’ve been working so hard on my book and feeling like I have nowhere in the world to talk about all the stress, struggles, triumphs and decisions I have to make. Then I remembered I do have somewhere to talk about these things to people who might get it; here!

I worked up the courage to approach the man about the book from my last entry. A while ago, I sent an email, but I never got a response back. I felt a little crushed. I really wanted his perspective on publishing and help with this book. But what I realized is this is my vision and my book, and it’s up to me to get it out there to the world. I wasn’t even close to being ready to share anything that I’d written of the book; I wasn’t even done writing it! I didn’t have a completed chapter yet. I was a mess. I should know better than to reach out before I have anything to send if someone should be interested. It was a rookie mistake.

Since I’ve gone back to the drawing board, I have discovered an interesting thing about my book: I can tie nearly every chapter to the story of Adam and Eve without stretching too much and overselling it. Everything else I want to talk about flows easily out of this pivotal beginning. What I decided to do is to make the Adam & Eve chapter my introductory chapter, to introduce each topic that will be in other chapters as well as to say something of its own. The way that the organization of the book is coming together is really a blessing.

The second inspiring thing happened when I was speaking to my minister a couple of weeks ago. He mentioned that he had read some of the things I had given him to read from my book and he really enjoyed it. It was so encouraging that he had actually read it and took the time to let me know he enjoyed it. There’s nothing like having someone come up to you and give unsolicited praise of your work. When I was in high school, this happened to me a few times and I remember feeling so pleased, especially because of who it was that was speaking. It opens you up like a flower to sunshine. It makes you want to write even more and let’s you know that no matter how fruitless it can seem while sitting with your butt in the chair, it really is worth it. I love when my writing touches people, causes them to look at something a different way, takes them to another place. It’s the best feeling in the world.

What I’m learning with this book is that there is so much depth to writing that I hadn’t touched. By not doing all of the rewriting and extensive proofreading before, I missed out on these stunning revelations and connections that make my writing so much better. I don’t have to read a published piece and regret that I didn’t do more with it or dig deeper now, because I have. I am learning to concisely convey what my book is about, to pitch it to someone and get them excited about it. I am learning that I don’t have to be a one take writer and that I CAN market myself and my work. I am learning to get my butt in the chair even when I don’t feel like it. I’m learning to enjoy the hard work as well as the moments when lightning strikes.

In the coming days, I hope to share many more things about this book and writing with anyone who’s still reading me, or begins to read for the first time.

Happy Writing,

2blu2btru

The Ten Commandments of Editing Self-Help, Relationship Books

During the course of time that it took me to edit my father’s book, I developed many different “rules” for the editing process. Here, I attempt to share these insights and techniques with you. These are all my opinion and should not be taken as gospel. It is written specifically about the self-help genre, as this is the type of book I edited.

X. Thou shalt remove/correct typical grammar mistakes. This is a commandment of editing any type of fiction, with the exception of dialect/vernacular passages in fiction written to emulate a pattern of speech.

IX. Thou shalt be ambivalent to statistics. The interpretation of statistics, as put forward by the author, will be allowed to stand unless there is a gross error in logic or feasibility. It is not the editor’s job to posit their opinion of the spin the author puts on the data unless they are specifically asked to do so.

VIII. Thou shalt handle humor with care. Written humor can be tricky to navigate. It can be hard to convey without vocal inflection or visual clues. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that any humor present in the work is as humorous read as it is said.

VII. Thou shalt competently execute tie-ins/tie-backs to other chapters. Be sure to refer to the chapter by name when referencing it. Also, be sure to indicate whether you are reminding the reader of a concept from a previous chapter (ex. “As previously stated in “Heartbreak Hotel…”) or are introducing a concept to be expounded upon later ( ex. “This concept will be discussed in depth in “Conversations and Conversions”).

VI. Thous shalt fina a way to say the same thing a thousand different ways. Self-help jargon can get repetitive, especially as the same characteristics may be  highlighted in different chapters for different reasons. Make sure that you find effective synonyms and similar phrases to avoid using the same words over and over again.

V. Thou shalt strengthen wishy washy propositions with assertive language. No one likes to take advice from someone who sounds unsure of their own message. Wherever only one solution is offered, avoid using soft language. For example, instead of saying, “It is quite probable that all men are dogs,” say “All men are dogs.” (Of course, this is a rough example, but hopefully you get what I mean) The point is to present your solutions and ideas with conviction, support the argument, and move on as if everyone can agree with your conclusion.

IV. Thou shalt learn the basic chapter structure and flow and ensure adherence to it. For example, in my dad’s book every chapter started with a brief story that introduces the central relationship issue(s) dealth with in this chapter. He goes on to expound on the issues presenting by this brief story before giving a solution or a strategy to deal with them. One or two chapters did not offer any solutions or strategies, and I brought this to his attention. Did he want to offer solutions? Should the person seek professional help? If the purpose is to address problems in relationships, you should offer ways to address them in each chapter.

III. Thou shalt keep the voice of the author despite changes. Each author has a unique style and voice in which they write. While you are editing, it is important to do so working within the author’s unique style and voice. Otherwise, the sections you have corrected will seem out of place with the rest of the manuscript. Even if you have to tell the author what’s not working and have him or her correct it, it’s preferable to an inconsistent voice.

II. Thous shalt read at least once for enjoyment. We can get so caught up in trying to make sure that things are said clearly and the grammar is correct, we can lose sight of the story that’s being told and the advice that is being given. Make sure you read the work at least once with no aim other than to enjoy the work and try to see the author’s point of view. This helped me greatly in the editing process.

I. Thoul shalt remember this is not your book. No one should be able to see where you’ve changed and tweaked things except the author. Your job as an editor is not to write the book as you see fit, but to display the author’s work in the best light possible. You are cleaning it up, mending a few frayed edges, but it’s not your handiwork.

Do you agree with this list? Would you add anything to it?

The Gift of Confidence

Medieval illustration of a Christian scribe wr...

One of these days, I'll at least have a writing desk like this! Image via Wikipedia

I again sat and read the beginning of my NaNoWriMo novel (which is in need of a better working title) this past week. I was expecting to be bombarded with mistakes and plot holes, to be blindsided by changes in tense, and to find that the way I manipulated time in the story was confusing instead of opening up the possibilities of what could be done with the story. I wasn’t expecting to find much useable material.

As I sat on my floor (still need that writing desk/computer desk), editing my work in the reading mode of Microsoft Word, I was pleasantly surprised to find there were many strong points in the story. Even though I’d felt I had a good story as NaNoWriMo was underway, I expected to feel differently about the writing once the rush was over. I didn’t have an excessive amount of filler words that were written just to meet the requirements (which is probably part of the reason I fell short). It gave me a boost of confidence in my writing to see how well it’s held up to proofreading.

Even though I’d promised myself not to proofread until I actually finished a first draft, I’m glad I broke my promise. I know now that there’s a reason to continue. I didn’t do any extensive editing, just fixed a few typos and let the material stand as; I suppose this was an effort to compromise with myself over editing.

On a sad note, one of the pages of the handwritten draft is missing. It’s a page I hadn’t transcribed yet. Hopefully a good organizing of paperwork will yield the missing page. I hate when I misplace pages and have to recreate things. Either I don’t remember what is missing or I can’t recapture the magic of the moment. It’s much easier to get the jist of a thing down and craft it out of this rough material than it is to start from scratch with only a general idea of what the jist might have been.

It’s going to be easier for me to go forward with my writing goals in this new year because I’ve restored a bit of my confidence in my writing. I’ll share my writing goals with you as it gets closer to the New Year. I hope everyone finds the courage and the confidence from somewhere to continue to persevere in their writing.

Trust Issues

Tessa Laird writing workshop

Writing Workshop as Writer's Anonymous Meeting. Image via Wikipedia

I have a confession to make: I have trust issues. I’ve been burned before. I’ve had people betray my trust to get . I stay closed to keep my trust from being violated, although I know I need to be open to accept love & support. The only way to grow is to examine and sometimes you need a third party examination to point out weak areas and help strengthen areas in which you are already strong. I say all of this to say…I need a reader/editing partner I can trust.

In writing you (or at least I) reach a stage in which your eye is unreliable. Your brain has this auto-correct feature. You know what you meant to say there, and your brain just fills it in. That’s part of the reason I advocate putting a piece away for a while between writing and editing.

But once you’ve gotten the grammar (almost) perfect, corrected punctuation, and closed plot holes, you still need a reader to critique your work. I learned this twice, both in the incident from the previous post and from writing workshop classes. It’s important for an impartial party to read your work for clarity & interest, to point out what’s working and what’s not, to help you find the lie in your writing. But there are pitfalls to sharing your unpublished work.

I read some of my poetry in class when I was in the tenth grade. A few years later, I found out that someone from that class “co-opted” one of those poems and was passing it off as her own work. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like Maxine Hong Kingston‘s No Name Woman–like someone had broken and sullied everything in my house and it was all my fault (“No Name Woman” is the first part of Kingston’s  The Woman Warrior).

I got queasy in each creative writing workshop class when I had to hand each person a copy of my work. Even though we all were equally vulnerable, I felt somehow more exposed, easier to victimize. I realize it was mostly a self-inflicted paranoia, but it never got any easier.

I know writers need readers, but I’ve no idea where to find a “Dear Reader” to my Charlotte Bronte (or Jane Eyre, as she is “telling the story”).

So, tell me, who reads/critiques for you? How did you find them? Does anyone read your work before a literary agent or editor? Do/did you have trust issues, and if so, how did you overcome them?

NaNoWriMo Novel: Trash or Treasure?

Hands collaborating in co-writing or co-editin...

You may feel like the writer and editor in you are two different people. Image via Wikipedia

If you’re like me, you decided to put away your NaNoWriMo novel as soon as December 1st dawned. I needed a little distance from my frantic efforts to come up with a specific amount of words. Whenever I finish working on anything, I like to put it away for a while so that I can come to the proofreading/editing with fresh eyes and a little distance.

Through the magic of time, your novel may begin to look very different to you. If you actually have the goal of turning your novel into something an editor and publisher could love, you find yourself in the difficult position of proofreading your novel for a different focus and purpose than it was written. The beauty of NaNoWriMo is that the emphasis is on writing–as much as you can, as often as you can, whether it’s something you can use or not. Now, you find yourself more interested in the story–what advances the plot, what develops the characters, what’s weighing the piece down. You may find you have a lot of superfluous material in some areas while not having enough material in others.

So what do you do with your novel now? How do you know when you have the makings of a good story and when to shove your efforts into the trash before they start to smell? How do you go about editing and proofreading your first draft?

I found a piece of my NaNoWriMo novel far away from where I’d stashed the rest of my manuscript. Reading that one wide rule sheet of paper, front and back, I fell immediately back into the story. There’s something there, something I want to put out into the world for discussion and for people to relate to. It may be a lot of work to finish the piece and edit all of the NaNoWriMo out of it, but the story connects to something in me that says it’s worth pursuing.

Have you looked at any of your NaNoWriMo writing yet? Is your novel trash or treasure? What’s new on the writing horizon for you?

NaNoWriMo

St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writin...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been (in)actively participating in NaNoWriMo this year. This is my first time participating, and the circumstances aren’t ideal. I am moving at the end of the month and have no internet access at home at the moment, so I can’t keep my word count up to date. I’m packing and cleaning a lot of the time. I write at work during lunch and have to type up all the things I write whenever I get access to a computer.

Writing 50,000 words by hand, then typing them out while preparing to move to another city would be hard enough to do if I wasn’t a chronic perfectionist. I keep taking out words that aren’t necessary or cross out phrases to say things more succintly. I can’t make myself skip around in the story when I get stuck in a scene. I have to write in a linear fashion most of the time. I can’t get through a first draft without proofreading. It’s a sickness.

The good thing about this whole process is that it’s gotten me back into the habit of writing daily. I may not meet the word count each day, may fail at the 50,000 word count goal, but I’m writing daily, writing a story that I care about and that’s a lot of fun.

This is my first attempt at chick lit, and I am enjoying it. I don’t have many of the clichés and the story is quite complex. I’m happy with the level of writing I’m doing (even though it is a first draft and I’m rushing, I have some really good things written already). I love turning to the spot where I left off, and falling back down that hole in the page, revisiting these characters.

I saved a story from the DOA pile to try for this NaNoWriMo thing. I started over from scratch with just four characters and a sticky situation, and it’s been evolving ever since. I hope to share more details with you as this journey unfolds.

Other NaNoWriMo participants, what are you learning about yourself as a writer this go around? Would also love some encouragement!