A Writing Journey

Posts tagged ‘revision’

Why Hire an Editor?

It seems these days that everyone is DIY-ing everything. And why not? It’s fun to make your own decorations, gifts, and cards. But one thing you should not DIY is editing.* That’s right, I said you shouldn’t edit all by yourself. This is a lesson it took me most of high school and the first year of college to learn. I was an avid self-editor. While self-editing is an important step in the editing process, it isn’t the only step.

So why shouldn’t you rely solely on yourself (or worse, spell-check) for all of your editing needs? For starters, you know your story. You know exactly what you mean when you write certain phrases – the same phrases that befuddle readers. If you only self-edit, you are going to miss an important opportunity to improve your writing ability. You might, even with your story bible, miss a detail that you changed in one place but not another (we’re humans, after all).

Another excellent reason is that spell-check doesn’t catch everything. I’m sure you’ve seen it yourself. You write see instead of seen and spell check doesn’t catch it. You’ve probably read and reread and rewritten your work so many times that you skim, and you miss it too. A second pair of eyes will help you beat typos like those.

Okay, okay, you say, but why hire someone when friends will edit for free, or some beta readers will, for free, read and give feedback about what passages don’t work? Simple: you get what you pay for. Friends will often be slow-going (especially when you are an adult writer and your friends are also adults) and, unless they are also writers/readers, they may not edit to the standard you need. Many friends and family readers will only tell you what you want to hear, for fear of hurting your feelings. This is unproductive if you are trying to improve your craft. In the blogging community or writers’ workshops** you may find people who are willing to give the feedback you need, but unless they have an incentive to get it done, they, too, will likely lag. It’s no fault of theirs – people simply have to take care of things happening in their own lives first. An editor, however, will be on a schedule. It is in their best interest to get the work done, and do it well so that their reputation prospers.

I get it, you may not have much money right now. Luckily there are a wide range of editors out there, with all sorts of different fees. There are both professional and freelance editors, some with specific skill sets or preferences for projects, and some who are open to taking on just about any project. If you are really strapped for cash but want to hire an editor, and if you have a computer, you can always earn some extra money with things like Smart Panel, MintVine, SwagBucks, and so many other similar sites. If you aspire to be a published author, you really should hire an editor. Your chances of being accepted by a publisher will increase because a better manuscript means less work for them. The same for story, article or poetry submissions to publishers and magazines. In some cases, even blog posts can benefit from hiring an editor.

So take a look around, find someone who meets your needs, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s what the editors are there for. To help your writing become the best it can be.

Take care,

Emily

*Of course start with doing it yourself. Clean up your writing as much as you can, that’s your job as the writer.

**Sometimes the writers you find in workshops or other locations take their role too far, and are crueler to your writing than they need to be. I’ve seen it happen. Always choose someone you trust.

Self-Editing

Your first draft is done, and you may want to start sending it out or letting people read it straight away. You shouldn’t. Let it sit, let it rest, and then after a few weeks (or months, or whatever), come back to the desk and look at it afresh. You will see bits and pieces that don’t fit, rocks among your gems, and you will get to work editing.*

So how does one go about self-editing? It’s a tricky business, I’ll tell you that. It’s tricky because you know what you’ve written, and you may either be sentimentally attached to certain parts of the story that need to be seriously changed (or deleted altogether) or you may skim over your writing and miss things that need to be fixed. If you are like me, you may intentionally gloss over something that you know is wrong, but you aren’t sure how to fix it yet.

Thus the first step in self-editing is to READ CAREFULLY. In fact, read out loud, slowly. When you do this, you will catch things that you would likely not catch reading silently (think awkward word pairings, misspelled words, horrifyingly long sentences). Read once through without changing anything.** Doing this will give you a good sense of your story, how it flows (or doesn’t) and what places need work. Once you’ve read through, go back to the beginning and get started editing with the following tips:

1.Get rid of your “catch phrases”

We all have certain words or phrases that we tend to use more frequently than others. You’ll notice them as you read, and you will remember them. A few times through the book is okay, because your reader may or may not remember that the phrase you used on page 238 is the same as on page 24. HOWEVER I will advise to use particularly “pretty” phrases or words (think quiescence) only once. A word that your reader has to look up or a phrase that they will linger on WILL be remembered. Go ahead and rework these phrases, choose different words, and go on from there. You may have to do this several times.

2. Cut “very”

Do you remember the scene from The Dead Poet’s Society where Mr. Keating talks about “very”? He warns the boys to pick stronger words. And now I’m warning you. If you are using “very” to beef up your verbs or adverbs, you need to work harder. And I know it’s tough. Sometimes you just can’t think of the perfect word. That’s why we edit more than once, and why when we are writing the first draft, we don’t worry so much about “verys.” But to make your novel as strong as it an be, pick “crucial” instead of “very important.”

3.Check your POV

No matter if you are writing in first or third, point of view is crucial to your story. (See what I did there? Huh, huh?) First of all, you should pick a point of view and stick with it. If you pick to follow two characters, alternating between them, don’t all of a sudden drop one (unless they die – which in that case I hope it’s a mystery and we know something the protagonist doesn’t!) or add a third. I’ll give you an example. If you’ve been a follower here for a long time, you know that I LOVE Robin Hobb. This is probably the only complaint I will ever have against her. In one of her recent novels, she changed perspectives and started following a different character – without any indication that this is what she was doing. It was confusing and, to be honest, it took me a couple pages to understand. I did understand, but for those few moments I was not immersed in the story – and our goal as writers is to keep the reader immersed.

When you are writing a single character, try to make sure that every word you write reflects that character. If your own biases or stylistic word choices slip in, cut them. Be careful about consistency. Your novel will shine when you are consistent.

4.Grammar, typos, and formatting

The general stuff, right? Make sure you use correct grammar (or stylistically consistent grammar). Correct misspellings and repeat words. Make sure that your formatting is consistent throughout the manuscript. It’s tedious stuff, but important. Publishers and agents expect a level of expertise when it comes to writing.

I hope these tips will help you as you begin self-editing, and if you have more, please feel free to share them in the comments below!

Take care,

Emily

*You may also need to rewrite huge swaths of your story. This is fine. This is expected. This is probably needed.

**Mark places that you feel need work, if you must. But try your best to refrain from changing things! You want to come into the work with “fresh” eyes – as a reader not a writer. It will help in the long-run, I promise.

The Unknown

Do you ever get to that point in your project, when you start to wonder what you’ll write  next? Not the next page or chapter, but your next book. I’m there now. I’ve finished yet another edit of Quest for Salvation (one that I was itching to do and once I got that rejection letter, I knew I could do it!), finished typing up the sequel, and I’m about 1/3 -1/2 of the way done with the third. I have an outline that takes me to the end, and I’ve been making steady progress.

So what will come next? I have lots of ideas, some I’ve even started writing out the first few pages. But they don’t feel right yet. It could be because I’m still immersed in Lacey’s world, it could be because I’ve spent so much time there building it up that everything else just feels hollow. I logically know that the next project I settle on will grow and develop to be just as good, if not better, than my current one.

To be honest, I’m trying my best to push back this worry and just focus on the writing – which works when I am actually, physically writing. I know I have a long way to go and a lot of time left with these manuscripts – after all book 2 is only a first draft – yeesh!

But I also like to plan ahead. And that means starting to think what I will do next. Will I stay in the same world and pick a different character, a different time? I have plenty to choose from! And a part of me yearns to write those stories as well. Another part, however, whispers, “Go somewhere else for a while. See different worlds. Don’t neglect your other ideas.” And it is this voice that has me wondering what, then, I will write next.

For now, I will keep writing what I’m writing, keep stewing on other ideas, and when the time comes, I will have another idea settled to shape and form and make great.

Take care,

Emily

Salvage Operations

I would say that in high school I was a fairly prolific writer of terrible prose. Two and a half manuscripts were completed between my sophomore and senior years – and none of it was worth sharing (though I did share with one of my college friends, including the disclaimer that it was very poorly written and very girly). And so, last week when I had the inexplicable urge to pull out one of the manuscripts and work on it, I didn’t know what to think.

Reading the first few pages, I was speechless. The adverbs were killing me. The characterizations were alright, though overstated. And there was line after line of worthless writing that did not advance the plot or add anything to the story. Not that the story had much to begin with. And this was a “first book” in a series of eight!

I cringe, I wince, and I almost quit then and there. Nothing could be done to save that mess I’d made.

Then I stopped, took a deep breath, and thought again.

Okay, so the story was drawn out and overly-dramatic. Things that I could do to fix it? Cut out the other seven books. Condense several of those plot points into one book. Write notecards with the plot points. Arrange and rearrange those notecards into a workable plot. Rework the characters – give them flaws and contradictions and secrets. Give them new names.

So, this is how I started salvaging a manuscript that I thought would never be worth anything except a lesson in how bad my writing can be. It’s a challenge, but I like challenges.* So wish me luck in my salvage operation! And if you are struggling to salvage a plot, idea, or entire manuscript, I wish you luck!

Take care, fellow travelers.

*This might be part of the reason I haven’t been working on QFS lately – I have the plot all done and the rewrite is just about making it flow better – no real challenge there. 😦 I’ll get back to it come spring.

Inside Your Head

I love this quote, because there is no questioning the truth of it. A writer is constantly “writing,” even if they don’t have a pen or pencil or keyboard. I constantly am thinking about my stories and writing and revising in my mind. Sure, those mind-compositions don’t always make it to the page, but the point is that I am using my mind, even when I am not physically writing.

I think that most (if not all) writers do this. If we don’t, our stories are flat, boring even. We have to think about them nearly every moment of every day until something clicks and the whole story falls into place. Have you ever experienced that? During one of my revisions of QFS, I realized that my minor villain did not, in fact, know everything about the major villain and was not working with her. The minor villain had a fascinating back-story of his own that shapes every action he takes – and I never would have realized it had I not spent so much time thinking about my story.

So keep thinking, keep imagining, keep writing!

Take care, fellow travelers.

WIP Updates

Well, revisions are coming along nicely for QFS. Some of the chapters require more work than others,  but I am pleased to say that overall the revisions are minor,  and mostly consist of converting narration from “telling” to “showing.” This is an enjoyable process because I get to add detail and play with the order of words to match my narrator’s voice.

I have also been working in the first draft of the sequel and am about six chapters in. So far I am happy with it,  and especially happy that I am following my outline so well!  I can’t wait to get the first draft done,  but it will be a while yet.  Still,  I am happy.

How are your various projects coming along?

Take care,  fellow travelers.

Those Productive Days

What to do with all my time? I was write, when I guessed that moving to a new place was going to give me lots of free time, and that I would use that time to read and write. In the two weeks and one day that I have been in my own apartment, I have read four books, edited six chapters, recorded readings of three of those edited chapters, written two chapters of my next novel, and written numerous scenes/plot summaries/outlines for various other novels (all set in my same world).  Whew! And that was in the midst of moving in, getting settled, and starting training for my new job! Looking back on these two weeks, I feel pretty proud at how much I’ve accomplished.

This last weekend, in particular, was especially fruitful. On Friday I got my new library card and read “Daughter of the Forest” cover to cover in the span of two and a half days (yes, I have to do other things like cook and clean – otherwise it might have been one and a half!). After I finished that on Sunday morning, I set to work on the sequel to Quest for Salvation (which at this point I am calling Scourge of the Daiyen). I was part way through chapter four the last time I stopped work on it, and that was about three months ago. Now I am at the beginning of chapter six! I have to say, I’m really excited!

Now I have two more books to read (in addition to all those unread books that I actually own) and I can’t wait to get back to my writing. I know where this story is going – not just this novel, but the one that comes after it and I have a rough idea of how my others stories that take place in this world are going to play out.

I know I can’t keep this up forever. I know, that sooner or later I am going to have another minor freakout about my writing. I know that I will have to take a break from my voracious reading. I know that I will have to set aside my novel and do something else for a few days.

But I also know that every word I write gets me closer to where I want to be – on the shelves of a bookstore, on the shelves of dear readers, spreading the story that speaks to my soul. Every word I read helps me learn more about myself and helps me develop my own voice. Even when I have to take a break, I know I will come back. I always do.

Have you had any productive days lately? What books have you been reading? How are your projects (whether they are books, paintings, or fixing that leaky gutter) coming along?

Take care, fellow travelers!

Voice

Voice is something that is incredibly important in writing. Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, voice is what defines our writing.

Now, I have always had a hard time developing a compelling voice. My natural writing voice is analytical and very blunt.* My voice did well throughout college and became more set-in-stone and I am good at it. But this isn’t the best voice for writing fiction. Readers want some level of mystery, and a blunt analysis of the plot provides no mystery. My first couple of drafts were written in my natural voice and my main characters knew pretty much everything that I did fairly early in the story. As I redrafted, I focused on shaping a second voice – my Fiction Voice.

Well, my Fiction Voice was definitely a step in the right direction, but it felt aloof. Quest for Salvation is in the first person, and this new voice felt more third-person than anything else. That would be great, if I were writing that way. But I’m not and so I had to continue to develop my MC’s voice.

Lacey, my protagonist and narrator for Quest for Salvation, has a voice that is so much different from mine that it is sometimes a struggle to keep writing her way. I would never be able to write in her voice if I didn’t know her as well as I do, and yet sometimes I still think I have to know her better. After all, I have to know her better than myself, or my own voice will bleed into hers. Keeping in her voice was the hardest part of draft five, and I am sure there are places that still sound a little bit more like me than her.

Practice is what has gotten me to this point, and practice is what will carry me forward in my journey to keeping in character-voice. It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it.

How many voices do you have? How do you develop those voices?

Take care, fellow travelers.

*Maybe that’s because, as an introvert, I despise small-talk and prefer to get right to the point, leaving all the fluff behind.

Reclaiming Fantasy Afterword

In all my writing on this series, I learned a valuable lesson: I don’t always follow my own advice. I use the cliches that I warn against, I craft my characters in stereotypical molds, I create bland, interchangeable settings. Everything I warned against, I’ve learned by doing. I’ve been questioning why I do the very things I say not to. My answer is: it’s complicated.

See, I love the cliches. I really do. In television at least. I like the shows and movies that are entertaining but have that typical character or plot or setting or whatever*. And sometimes I incorporate the cliches into my writing. And you want to know something? That’s okay. For a first draft at least.

A lot of my advice in this series was about things we should change or work on. But we’ve got to have something to work with first. We’ve got to know the basics of our stories before we can fix it. So write the first draft however you want and then worry about the cliches and stereotypes. You can try to do it all at once, but that might just discourage you. I know it would discourage me. First drafts are allowed to be – supposed to be – awful. Not in the sense that the story has no potential, but in that they have significant room for improvement.

I’m not advocating to purposefully write bad first drafts. What I suggest is writing without listening to anything outsiders are saying. Just get the story down. Then, while it is resting, explore the advice of others and apply it when you rewrite.

You want to know something else? Sometimes I write, just for me, and in those stories I have cliche after cliche. It’s comfortable, and comforting, to write that way sometimes. And guess what. All of the stories that I have shared with others started as a “just for me” project, filled with cliches and terrible prose. Because my goal in writing is to get the story out of my head (though as soon as I start writing it just gets deeper in my mind) and I don’t care if someone thinks it’s awful. It’s the story in my mind.

So. Write how you want to write, and then work on making it better. It’s a long process, but I fully believe that it is worth it.

Take care, fellow travelers.

*These shows are by no means my favorite, though.
If you missed any of the series Reclaiming Fantasy, follow the links below!

Reclaiming Fantasty – Part 1, Introduction

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 2, The Setting

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 3, Characters

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 4, The Plot

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 5, Magic

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 6, The Villain

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 7, Hero or Heroine

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 8, Series

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 9, Weapons

The Story

First things first: this novel does not yet have a set title. I keep going back and forth between “Quest for Salvation” and “Dragon Spirit.” Each has its merits, each has its downfalls. So I’m sorry that I keep saying things like the story and my manuscript. But I figure I still have time to choose a title, so I am in no rush.

Now, maybe you are thinking since I’m spending so much time talking about the Ibvailyn Empire that is where the story takes place. Alas, it is not (at least not this one). However, it is where my main characters are from, which is why I have spent so much time developing it. The characters need a strong base to propel them out into the World. And, the Empire is my favorite of the places I have created.

What is my story about? Well, it’s about a group of travelers going on a voyage to find an artifact that will save the Empire. I am reluctant to say more because I don’t want to give spoilers (which I have a really bad habit of doing – I always accidentally ruin a plot twist when my mom is reading a book I lent her…). Suffice to say that things go wrong and the main characters get swept up in events that threaten to ruin their chances of finding the object (it would be a pretty dull story otherwise).

When I finish up my editing (four chapters to go!) I will start writing synopses like you see on the back of books and I’ll probably post a few here. In the meantime, I will post some more about the Empire, and even some about other nations/regions of the World.

Take care, fellow travelers!

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