Tag Archives: editing

Cleaning Bathrooms Is Exactly Like Editing

I have three boys, which means lots of resident testosterone. Add in friends, and the testosterone count increases exponentially. Throw in one daughter with finger nail polish, make up and ponytail holders to spice things up. Now you’ve got a glimpse into my house. As you can imagine, bathrooms quickly become a place I detest while maintaining a firm spot at the top of my TLC list. I can clean and clean and clean again, and yet every time I walk into a bathroom, I could clean it once again. Toothpaste on the mirror (how the heck does it get there?), soap scum in the sink, empty shampoo bottles, emptier toilet paper rolls and overflowing wastebaskets. Not to mention the toilet. I walk out, and someone else walks in. Scrub, restock, repeat.

Same with editing. No matter how many times I revise, rework and edit, my manuscript is never perfect. It just looks that way until the next time I pick it up.

Tiring: yes. Frustrating: even more so. Worth it? Heck yeah.

I just scrubbed my middle grade manuscript this weekend. It required a little picking up, not a major cleansing. Now to send it off to my editor, which is a bit like inviting the proverbial mother-in-law into the bathroom with a white glove…

What do you love about editing? What do you hate about it?

Curious minds want to know!


Seemingly Small Changes Can Add Up BIG Time

I’m polishing up a short story for the middle grade anti-bullying anthology (details found in this post here), and just got feedback from a writer friend of mine.

“First person, maybe?”

Yeah, first person, definitely. It took him to point it out, but as soon as I started reworking my 2,500 words, I knew he was dead right. And so I started revising with a vengeance.

Katy I peered into her my lunchbox…

By the time I finished, I must have had a thousand and one changes. It was tedious. And I missed a lot the first time around. I still probably have some third person where it should read first.

This isn’t a simple matter of find/replace. Story telling is too nuanced for that. It requires a reread of every sentence–nay, every word–to keep the style, voice and story cohesive. The change, while seemingly minute, was actually huge.

In writing, there are a thousand and one minute changes that all add up to lots o’ work. It’s called editing. And if you don’t have patience for it, you will never be a writer. Getting that rough draft on paper is the easy part. Polishing it is a challenge worth accepting.

You never know, it could make the difference between seeing your words in print or lining the bottom of the bird cage.

Other things that add up big time:

  • The writer who pointed out my POV mistake? Steven Carmen. His debut novel, Battery Brothers is set to release in March. Steve has been a critique partner of mine on several projects and I value his opinion almost as much as I look forward to holding his baseball novel in my hands.
  • Battery Brothers shares the same publisher as Whispering Minds, a YA novel that Steve also critiqued. Currently, author A.T. O’Connor has teamed up with four other authors for a romantic novel giveaway just in time for Valentine’s Day. Giveaway details here.
  • A.T. O’Connor and I both have short stories published in the Season Series by Elephant’s Bookshelf Press. The last one, Winter’s Regret, is due out any day!
  • Lastly, EBP has invested time and energy into a new anthology for middle grade readers. I alluded to it above and posted on it before, but in case you missed it, I am the acquisitions editor on the project and will be accepting short story submissions (2,500 words or less) for readers 7-11 on bullying to be told in the POV of the bully, the bullied or the bystander. Stories must have a clear resolution and must be emailed to me by February 15. So, what are you waiting for?


Are You a Chubby Writer?

I’m both lucky and unlucky enough to sleep with my work out partner. Lucky because he motivates me when I would otherwise stay in bed–it’s damn hard to roll over and put the pillow over your head when your hubby is strapping on his tennies. And unlucky because it’s damn hard to roll over when he’s strapping on his tennies.

Hopefully, his 5:20am habit will help keep writer’s spread from over-taking my chair (especially since I usually write from the couch, and not one of those little love-seats either). But what about the other kind of spread?

The bloated, chubby kind of writing that gets in the way of good storytelling?

Sadly, that’s something I have to do on my own. Well, on my own with the help of crit partners and Word’s Find button.

What makes chubby writing? Obviously words that are very over-used and so very often unnecessary. Yeah, the adverbs and adjectives. The dreaded “that”, “just”, “but” and “so”–to name a few.

Those go without saying. You can read blog post after blog post after book after article on those no-no’s.

What I’m talking about today are echoes. Word echoes and idea echoes. Beating your reader to death with redundant writing.

These things will give a reader gas any day. They bog down a story quicker than a Thanksgiving meal and have readers settling into the couch for a quick snooze.

While some echoes are purposeful and written to pack a punch, the majority of them I see (even in my own writing) are simply overlooked or unnoticed by the writer.

Your Task

  • Try really hard not to use the same word twice in one sentence.
  • Try really hard not to use the same word or phrase twice in one paragraph.
  • Heck, try really hard not to do the above in one page.

This can be a daunting task–like sleeping with your work out partner–and exhaustive when replacing common words with alternatives. But trust me, it is well worth the effort.

Common problems areas:

  • body part descriptions–hands, fingers, necks, etc…. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what a couple is doing and forget how boring it is to read of hands clasping hands touching hands.
  • room descriptions–doors, doorknobs, floors, steps, etc… “The front door was yellow. I walked up the steps to the door and knocked on it. The doorknob felt cool to the touch. The door swung open unexpectedly.” Kill me with a door knocker to the noggin already!
  • pet names. I know one Real Life Dude who calls everyone Dear. Every stinking time he starts a new sentence. I want to stab him with a spork. BEWARE the pet name trap. Make it mean something. Make sure only one person uses the same pet name. Make sure there are no sporks in your manuscript or your character will die an untimely death. I promise.

Now, for the far more difficult part of echoes: ideas.

What the heck is an idea echo, you might ask. It’s the repetition of information. It’s the consistent badgering or nagging. It’s beating your sleeping work out partner with your tennis shoe while shouting at her to get up because *hello* it’s time to work out.

Readers are smarter than we give them credit for and most of them are on a diet of slim books. They have an uncanny knack of understanding the idea the first time around and not needing us to shove a turkey leg down their throats before they get it.

When do writers get caught up in idea echoes?

  • romance novels: the internal debate of should I or shouldn’t I? The cure: show this debate through action.
  • mysteries: cutesy phrases that “cue” the reader to something important, that not-so-subtle foreshadowing of “I didn’t know when I picked it up how important it would be.” Ugh. Just let it be important and let your reader discover it along with the MC.
  • When don’t we?

Any idea that seems important to us as writers can become an echo idea for our readers. We want so badly to impart our information or make our readers see what we see and feel what we feel that we are compelled to TELL them about it. Over and over again.

Instead, we need to allow our readers to experience the events of the novel in their own way and trust that we’ve left a logical trail for them to reach their own conclusions.

So, if your manuscript feels bloated in terms of content or word count, strap on your editing shoes and check out your echoes. You’ll be surprised at how quickly careful cultivation of these words, phrases and ideas will slim down your writing and make for a better read.

Are you a chubby writer? If so, how do you check for echoes in your work, and how do you eliminate them? How do you recognize your idea echoes and what tips do you have for changing them?

Curious minds want to know.

Retreat! I’m Packing Up My Writing

A few weeks ago, one of my girlfriends texted me. “I’m packing for a 10 day trip and thought of you. Just fit all my clothes and shoes and swim wear in 1 carry-on bag. I’m learning.”

This from a gal who would pack a huge suitcase for a four-day trip. Who packed eleven pairs of shoes for one week of vacation. Who had to pay extra for luggage because, while it all fit, it still weighed more than the max amount.

She’s definitely learning.

Traditionally, I pack light. I hate carting extra stuff around and have long since realized one sweatshirt is enough to ward off the north woods’ chill for a weekend. Or that packing in color schemes lightens the load, as many items can be reused with little to no problem–sandals, for instance.

Easy when it comes to clothes. But next week, I’m packing up my writing. I’m attending a four-day retreat sans my little fam of one hubby, two dogs, four kids and 2001 dust bunnies. My only obligation during this time is to write.

And this is where the packing thing gets me. What do I bring?

Do I edit or write fresh? If the former, which manuscript and which copy: paper or digital? If the latter, what support material should I bring: my research books, my notebooks, my writing totem?

What if I have a brain fart and what I packed doesn’t flow? Do I need to pack multiple projects? What if I finish a project early and have nothing to do with my fingers besides shovel food in my mouth?

All of a sudden I picture an over-grown suitcase filled with eleven manuscripts and supporting documentation for each of them. I picture one small sliver of space left over for a ratty pair of jammie pants and one sweatshirt. I picture other retreaters stopping me at the door, badges in hand. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but your suitcase has reached maximum density. We’ll have to charge you an extra fee to bring all your words inside.”

I’ve never been on a writing retreat before and have no idea what to do. I need serious help.

So, dear readers, have you ever embarked on a writing retreat before? What did you pack that you shouldn’t have? What did you forget that you longed to have at your fingertips? How did you schedule your writing time: editing, writing or a combination of the two? What is a writing retreat must-have? Spill it all and help me learn.

Context Means Everything: Weighing Feedback

The other morning my Dear Daughter was in desperate need of an outfit.  She’s tired of wearing the same old-same old for speech and wanted a pair of slacks instead of a skirt.  I dug through my closet and found a pair of (shrunken) dress pants.  She slid them on.

“Mom!” said she as she held the waistband out inches on each side.  “I can’t believe your hips are this big.”

Now, I could have been insulted–especially since I knew those pants fit a little more snugly after their heated run-in with the dryer and my hips’ happy reunion with the salsa jar.  I could have taken personal affront at her comment and chastised her for speaking rudely.

However, she wasn’t trying to be rude.  She was actually giving me a compliment.  Regardless, her cheeks flushed and she continued, “It’s just that they don’t look that big.”

In defense of her, they don’t–generally.  Because I also have broad shoulders.  So, when taken in as part of the “big picture”, my hips are proportionate to the rest of me.  It’s only when studied alone, via a tape measure or a skinny girl in too-big-of-pants, that my hips can be classified as…uhm, wide.  Solid child-bearing hips, they be.

FAST FACT: Anything can hurt when taken out of context.  Over-sensitive types can blow things out of proportion, while narrowly focused folks tend to hone in on one aspect of the big picture.  Both of these traits can make us fail to see the positive side of something that otherwise feels negative.

Seriously, if we really wanted to, we could turn even the most caring and helpful statement into a tragedy.

What am I talking about?

Critiques, feedback from professionals and rejection letters.

Over the years, I’ve watched a fair number of writers (myself included) react to critiques from writing groups, partners, betas or rejection letters.  More recently, I see the same thing in the speech kids I coach when they get their critiques back from judges after a round.

FAST FACT: People have a tendency to focus on the perceived negative.  The one point that makes them really consider themselves, their writing or their performance in a way they absolutely do not want to.

Then, they twist this feedback into something ugly and hurtful and demeaning.  They toss it out as worthless and hateful.  They stick it in the shredder and refuse to acknowledge its existence.  In essence, they let their emotions get the best of them and they lose the opportunity to really consider the merit behind the words.

FAST FACT: If we would calm down and let our initial reactions take a walk around the block, we would see the big picture instead of an isolated statement or two.  We would put comments into context, giving us a better understanding of what the beta reader, judge, agent, editor, parent, speech coach or Dear Daughter really meant.

We would pause for a moment when confronted with loose waistbands and realize that wide might not be a synonym for fat like we first thought.  And while I get that we don’t always have the benefit of flushed cheeks and further commentary to clarify a critiquer’s meaning, we still need to consider each individual statement within the context of our work, the rest of the critique and the critiquers themselves.

Are you like me, occasionally guilty of taking feedback out of context?  Of totally dismissing an idea out of hand because the critiquer just didn’t get it?  How does this affect your writing and editing?  How do you give space to critique-induced emotions, and how do you know when you’re ready to evaluate the big picture of a critique rather one or two seemingly negative comments?  Have you ever come back to a critique or feedback of any kind and realized–despite your initial reaction–the judgment was correct? 

Curious minds want to know.

PS. Is “critiquer” really not a word?  WordPress Spell Check doesn’t think so.

Editing Is Like a Winter Storm

After the freezing rain, my back yard is captivating.  Grasses bend under the weight of their icy accessories–tiny crystal beads that coat their parched stems.  A light dusting of snow covers the rock and dirt and brown detritus of fall, creating the illusion of unblemished beauty.  In one night, my yard has been transformed into a magical place.

I’ve been known to feel this way about my manuscripts.  But only after I’ve survived the sleet, the blizzards and the sub par temps of editing.

You see, editing can be a gruelling process.  It’s a journey into winter, where hell can/and does freeze over.  Where chilling winds sweep across the landscape of your novel and leave some parts bare.   Where a writer can get lost in the mounting drifts of plot and character and setting, and lose sight of home.

Editing is a dangerous season that can kill dreams as surely as it kills car batteries.  It saps the energy from writers and throws them into combat against the elements.  Only a determined few ever reach the other side of the storm.

Editing is gruelling, but I love it.

What about you, dear writers?  How do you prepare for the task of editing?  What tips can you share to help other writers survive the pitfalls along the way?  How do you know when your manuscript is ready to send out? 

And most importantly, how do you prepare for the next storm?  Because, inevitably, there will be more rewrites along the publishing path.  Though hopefully with the guidance of an agent or an editor.

Curious minds want to know.

Leaping Over This Post!

Sorry, my dear readers, writers, family and friends.  I am leaping over this day and concentrating on my writing.  Tweaking a few things for my agent on my MG novel, ABIGAIL BINDLE AND THE SLAM BOOK SCAM.

That, and I should shower at some point today!

I Speech: Tapping into Your “Writer’s Ear”

On Saturday, I judged a speech meet.  Over the course of the day, I listened to teens present on various topics.  Some speakers were confident.  Others were self-conscious.  Some students were articulate while others spoke haltingly.  Some presentations were filled with emotion and character, while others felt well-rehearsed, though disconnected.  Often, all these characteristics were present within one single speech alone.

Just like they can show up over the course of a single manuscript.  I’m firmly convinced that all writers should witness a speech meet.  It is a great place to tap into your Writer’s Ear.

So, what is Writer’s Ear?

Writer’s Ear is a condition that allows us to “hear” our words, not just read them.  Writing can be technically correct, yet sound stilted.  It can be filled with alliteration in a way that comes off as juvenile.  It can have misplaced rhymes, a word that doesn’t quite convey our intentions or sentences that are so similar in structure they could be used as sleeping pills.

The words we put on paper are more than their immediate dictionary meanings.  They are nuanced and emotion inducing.  Some are difficult to pronounce while others roll off the tongue.  The way we string them together can make us cringe in near-physical pain or sigh with pleasure.

Tapping into our Writer’s Ears is extremely important for children’s lit and books that might be read aloud in the classroom or as bedtime stories.  Each word must be well-chosen and serve a distinct purpose.  Above all else, it must “sound” exactly right.

By listening to our writing, we can tweak our manuscripts to go beyond a great plot.  We can make them a work of art.

How do you tap into your Writer’s Ear?

Curious mind want to know.

Intelligent Writing–Whether You’re Smart or Not

Our writing reflects not only our ideas, but also our intelligence.  Mistakes can peg us as unprofessional, lazy, stupid or uninformed.

“We fix duel exhaust.”  Really, well I don’t have two knights battling it out in my trunk right now.

“My work experience is vast and in compass’ everything you’re looking for.”  Except mastery of your native tongue.

“I will definately be there.”  I definitely won’t.

I’m not saying you can’t make mistakes from time to time.  We all do.  Spell check is not infallible, nor is our grasp of every single word and every single grammar rule.

But, when it matters, it can make the difference between selling your product–whether it’s dual exhaust services or yourself as a job candidate.  So, don’t sell yourself short by writing carelessly.

  • Read your work out loud.  Or better yet, have someone else read it to you.  The ear can pick up mistakes the eyes can’t.  A fun trick that works quite well is having your e-reader do the talking.  This automated voice system pauses on every comma and rushes (as much as computers do) through sentences without punctuation.  It physically hurts to hear them read a poorly constructed passage.
  • Use spell check on all those squiggly-lined words.
  • Check the dictionary to make sure you’re using the right word at the right time.  Sounds like isn’t close enough.
  • Grab a friend to look over your work.  Because, trust me, everyone else will be looking…and pointing and laughing.
  • If it’s really important, grab a professional.  Freelance writers/editors are everywhere and can help you catch the mistakes that make you look bad.

You don’t have to be smart to write smart.  But, writing poorly can make a genius sound uneducated.

How picky are you at checking over the things you write?  Do you have other read your important emails or do you self-edit everything?  Have you ever used a professional editor?  If so, what was that experience like?  Would you do it again?  Have you ever sent something cringe-worthy into the world?  How did you remedy that?

Curious minds want to know.


Novel Failings of a Non-Baking Mom

Middle was asked to go to a friend’s house.  He excitedly relayed a fond memory from sleep-overs past at this particular home.  Namely that the mom makes dessert.

This triggered a memory for me: one in which Eldest told my sister (after he spent the night there baking dozens of cookies) that his mom (ie, me) didn’t know how to make cookies, only buy them.

For the record, I do know how to bake and can whip up a mean pumpkin pie–homemade crust and all.  I also only ever buy Oreos for my kids,  even though Eldest made it sound like our pantry is filled with boxes and bags and containers of these sugar-filled treats.

Early on in our marriage, Dear Hubby and I simply ate our meals sans dessert.  It was a habit we haven’t broken.  Neither of us are huge cookie fans, so batches of them mold well before they are consumed.  Ditto for cake.

In fact, we don’t even make cake for birthdays anymore because nobody in our house really eats them.

I’m a bad mom.  A failed mom.  A dessertless mom.

But…but, none of our kids are chubby, they devour zucchini and think that pomegranates are candy.  They are deprived, but not too much, as every once in a while, I will bake as a special treat.  They eat a little of it and we usually throw the rest away.

In other words, while they like desserts, their love for them is more ideological than real.

In my mind, great novels are zucchini and pomegranates.  They are roast beef and baby baked potatoes, chicken breasts and salads.  They are rare desserts on special occasions.

All the way from word choice to plot points and characterization, stable and steady is the key.  Solid, filling, healthy.  Then when we use an adverb, it really packs a punch.

Desserts–love them or hate them–too much is never a good thing.

As a reader, what do you consider the dessert of a novel?  What little things sweeten the books you love?  What makes a novel hard to choke down?

As a writer, what is your stand-by dessert, the one that usually needs cut to lean up your manuscript?

One of my shortcomings is packing too much into a tiny space.  Because I write about heavy issues, I have to be very careful not to make my novels issue heavy.