Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Spice of Life (writing, too)

So what’s left for me to say about self-editing? Not a whole lot, since these pros throughout the month have done such an excellent job.

As hinted at by the title, I like to look for variety with my writing. Let’s begin with the visual. The eye catches an overall view of a page. Too much narrative in fiction can be boring before you even start to read. Children, especially, will reject an all-narrative page, chapter, book. White areas give a restful, more interesting aspect to the reader’s eye. Most of those white areas occur in fiction because dialogue is used. There again, too much dialogue can become boring, and even confusing.

Dialogue needs to be written skillfully, with the readers’ and the characters’ ages kept in mind. Tags can be a problem. Some writers will do most anything in their stories to avoid a redundancy of “said.” The results can be laughable. Instead of trying to be creative with unusual tags, use action part of the time to designate the speaker. For instance: “Oliver sat on the bench and looked at Sharon. ‘So what are you having for lunch?’” instead of: “Oliver sat on the bench beside Sharon. ‘What are you having for lunch?’ he asked.” Again, variety in the way dialogue is used will be more appealing to the reader. But there is nothing wrong with plain old “said” if it is not overused. Dialogue can further action, show character attributes, thoughts, or as we say, develop voice of the character. By blending these forces dialogue can also show growth in character, a point editors look for, whether the writing is for adults or children.

A variety of sentence lengths also improves our writing. Some writers for adult books have a signature style with the length of most of their sentences. Max Lucado tends to write short, to the  point sentences. Some people object to this style, calling it choppy. I like it because that author is emphasizing certain features this way, and definitely makes his statements stand out. John MacArthur, another Christian author, writes in a more scholarly style, using longer sentences and intellectual words. I like both authors but my preference would be a mixture of the styles. If we are writing for children, it’s important to keep ages in mind for the length of sentences. And definitely vary sentence structure as well as length.

Sprinkling in humor, metaphors, reminders of setting and character descriptions add more variety to our writing, and again, a little at a time works more efficiently than too much.

So let’s continue to spice up our writing with variety, and when we self-edit we can catch the areas that need a little more seasoning to bring zest to the written words. As in a favorite food recipe, it can make the difference between dull and delectable.



Put on Your Editor’s Hat

Do you like to edit your own manuscripts? You know—self edit? Come on…really?

I don’t.

I mean, it’s just not the cat’s meow.

But I know I should. I know I’m supposed to. I know it’s what a cat’s gotta do to learn how to be a successful writer. So I decided to break my habit of neglecting this part of my writing life.

The first thing I did was get myself an editor’s hat. You know—first you wear the writer’s hat and then you take that off and put on your editor’s hat? Right? Well, I didn’t have an editor’s hat. So I went out and got one. Like it? It even has a little mouse at the top and this twirly thing to twirl around. It’s purrfect for a cat like me. You should get one, too!

After I finish my first draft of my manuscript, I set aside some time to edit. And now I make sure it isn’t the drudgery it used to be. I make sure it’s fun!

I put on my silly editor’s beanie. It gets me in the mood to have fun, dude. Then I get out my special highlighter pens. I splurged and bought some wa-ay cool ones that I can use to make neon colors and decorate all over my manuscript. (They don’t even have a cap to lose, but click like a ballpoint pen.) Since I have neon yellow and neon pink and neon orange, now I’m HOPING to find mistakes in my manuscript just so I can mark ‘em on my page and turn the boring black and white little marks on the paper into bright, fun, colorful pictures.

I know my weaknesses, too. So I made a list of ‘em. Here are the first three, for starters:
1. Don’t always use punctuation correctly.
2. Weak verbs.
3. Poorly constructed paragraphs without a clear beginning, middle, and end.

I also printed out some self-editing checklists from how-to-write books, and articles I found on the Internet. These lists remind me to check for realistic dialog, show don’t tell, and lots of other important stuff.

I take my highlighters and have some fun! First I look at every single sentence I wrote in my first paragraph. I highlight the capital letter at the beginning of the sentence in pink. I highlight the punctuation in that sentence in yellow. Then I make sure to check that I used that punctuation correctly.

If I’m not sure about the punctuation rule, I look it up in my reference books. But hey—my reference books aren’t bo-o-oring like yours might be. Oh no! First I made specially decorated book covers for each one of ‘em so they’re bright and colorful, not scary-looking or over-the-top academic. Then I got my highlighters out and really decorated the pages I use the most to remind me what the rules are that I most often forget. Plus, I got sticky notes in all shapes and sizes to stick on the pages I look up over and over again. I want to save my energy for chasing mice, not for flipping through the pages looking up the same rule I’ve used a zillion times before. Like I said—I want this self-editing thing to be as fun as a cat can have it.

So hey—how about you? Are you having fun when you self-edit your manuscript? If not, do something about it. Make it fun, like I did. Now editing’s my favorite part of writing. Not! But really, it’s way more fun than it used to be. Especially when I put on my editor’s hat. And nibble on tunafish…but that’s another story.

-contributed by Humphrey, Nancy’s writing buddy

Trying other Personas

One technique I like to use when self-editing is to take on different “personas.”  Here’s how I do it.

Once I have gone through writing many drafts of my manuscript, cutting, tightening, bringing it to the correct word count, I set it aside for about a week and work on something else.  When I pick it up again, this is where the other personas come in.

First, I try to imagine I’m the editor who will be reading this for the first time.  Would she/he be pulled in by the first line?  Does the timeline of the story or article flow effortlessly from one scene or point to the next?  Are my transitions smooth?  Have I made an effort to catch all of the typos, my particular nemesis.  Most importantly, if I were an editor would I want to keep reading this?  Would it appeal to the audience our publication is trying to reach?

THEN, I switch gears (waiting an additional two or more days) and read my piece in a completely different mode.  I now try to imagine I am the child (or adult) who will pick up the magazine or newspaper, looking for something interesting to read.  Would this story or article be it?  Again, I want a compelling opening, smooth flow, good transitions.  But as I put myself in the reader’s shoes (or mind!) I try to anticipate their attitude and questions.  Does this story or article speak to me?  Can I relate to the main characters and their problems?  Are these difficulties and the characters’ reactions and solutions to them believable? Will this piece give me information I need, want, or otherwise find useful and interesting?  Does the timeline make sense?  If I’ve said something at the beginning of a story, have I unwittingly contradicted it (even in a small way) later on?  Surprisingly, since I began doing this, I’ve noted quite of few of the last two oversights in a number of published books!  I’m not sure how these books got published and these errors slipped in, but I definitely don’t want to join the ranks of these authors! 

Since I began following this technique, many years ago, I’ve found that my manuscripts are stronger and my article and short story sales increased.  I found it especially useful when I was trying for my first sale to the “Kids’ Reading Room” page of the Los Angeles Times, 10 years ago, and it was successful. I’ve since sold them over 20 stories!

Why not try putting on other “personas” as you self-edit your manuscripts and see if that approach makes a big difference for you?

Marjorie Flathers

Don’t Edit Your Journal . . . until later

I often write about the Four Steps to Successful Revision. The advice still stands: add, subtract, substitute, rearrange. But it occurs to me that there is another kind of editing that adds an extra dimension to creative writing. The editing of ideas involves instant replay, form, and focus. In my case, it has always started with journaling.

Journaling is journeying . . . traveling through introspective space . . . a trip without reservations! When my husband and I traveled, I wrote, and Bob took pictures. I carried a journal (nothing fancy, simply a thick notebook), and I scribbled along as we rattled in questionable transportation along bumpy roads. There was no time for traditional editing. I recorded quick descriptions that consisted of mostly nouns and adjectives. I also wrote directions and necessary details, such as road names, opening and closing times for special stops, and entrance fees. We were, after all, planning Step-by-Step travel books and articles for England, Italy, and other not so familiar places. We had contracts, and up-to-date details had to be collected on the spot.

Memories are flighty things, and I often heard fellow travelers ask, “What was that place we visited yesterday?” “What were those spreading trees called?” “Can anybody remember the story about the castle?”

We couldn’t afford that kind of faulty memory. But details in my journal weren’t enough. That’s why every evening, without fail, we collaborated, practicing instant replay. We talked about the day, tried to recapture moments in time — visions, smells, sounds — before they got away. Remembering, brainstorming, checking the journal for accuracy, and brainstorming again was not easy — or convenient. But it was a must.

We discovered that our best, and most easily sold, articles were those that were formed on site. On one trip, we visited the infamous Devil’s Island, the former French penal colony about 11 kilometers off the coast of French Guiana. After hiking from shore to shore through the overgrown jungle, we wanted nothing more than to relax with a cold iced tea, maybe even two. We did get the cool drinks, but we didn’t relax. The island was fresh in memory. Beauty and brutality. Hell in Eden. We sat under a coconut palm and, without even taking out our notes, we began to discuss the feelings, impressions, locations that had assaulted our senses and taken us back in time to when this tranquil place was filled with sickness and pain. A rough outline emerged (form). Then we brought out the journal and compared our memories to what I had written on the spot. These memories served as fillers, the joints that connected the whole. But the meat of  the story, the form, was in the emotion of the moment.

Of course, we used traditional editing methods. But I believe that editing our ideas by zeroing in on instant replay (recalling sensory experiences that captured moments in time), form (using journal memories to connect emotional impressions with factual details), and focus (finding the heart of the story) was what made the difference between a journal entry and an article in print.

Contributed by Marilyn Donahue

A Critical Eye

My usual procedure when writing an article, after all my research is done, is to sit down with a pen and legal pad and start writing. I’m hoping that I’ve absorbed enough material that the ideas will flow down onto the paper in coherent and practical sentences. I’m a professional. Writing is my career; so all my work should be polished and perfect from the beginning, right? Wrong!

While just composing the above sentences, I’ve crossed out, inserted, and tweaked each one. Although the intent is to deliver a message or piece of interesting information, that goal takes time, determination, and self-editing. No one can write a perfect paragraph. Sure, we can come close, but a true professional will know that each line must be carefully reviewed, looking for clarity, creativity, and craftsmanship.

Does self-editing ever get easier? I’d like to think so. After writing many, many stories and articles, it’s much easier for me to trim and recompose and restructure. Perhaps, too, I’m more comfortable with the process as it’s now a natural part of my writing from first draft to final manuscript.

Will I ever be perfect at writing? I doubt it, but that’s where the editors will come in later. My job is to deliver the most professional manuscript I can possibly turn out, and that takes looking at my work with a critical eye.

Contributed by Catherine L. Osornio

Self-Editing, A Necessary Evil, I Think

Ah, life would be so much sweeter if I could afford to have someone else edit my material and leave me with only the fun stuff! Not so. It falls to me. And, since it does, I need to be diligent about doing it.

When I first write my manuscript, I put it aside for a few days. When I come back to it, I am shocked that it is not the “perfect” manuscript I tucked away. Someone has surely gone in and sabotaged my work. I could not have made all those punctuation errors, left things unclear, or just written downright boring sentences.

No matter the culprit, it is now my responsibility to re-work the manuscript until it shines.

The first thing I do is read the story out loud. It’s amazing how many errors you can find by doing this!

I check punctuation and run on sentences (and is used way too much!)

I check to see if I have used adverbs and adjectives instead of the more powerful nouns and verbs.

I check to see if I have made the reader understand what I have imagined in my head.

I tend toward being a perfectionist so, if I allow myself, I can spend months reworking something. I have learned to LET IT GO! My work will never be perfect in my eyes so I have to draw a line and say, “I’ve done all I can and I’m going to send it out.”

While self-editing is not my favorite thing to do in the field of writing (OK, it’s down there at the bottom of the heap), I know it is vital that I do it if I plan on receiving any acceptance letters. It is also a great way to become better at my craft.

So, I guess I’ll just quit fighting it and get on with the job. Who knows, I might even learn to like it. NOT!

Self-editing because I know I have to, Gloria

The Easy Stuff

Since I get to kick off the month of self-editing strategies, I’m going to confess my first step in editing a manuscript. Since I have a nasty habit of redundancy, I look for those repeated words. I always find some! Then I check sentence beginnings for repeats. From there I go to paragraph beginnings. What a surprise to see how unoriginal I am. From there it’s a long list of what to watch for. Of course, the age you are writing for makes a difference in your editing and style of your manuscript. Dialogue is important, and there again my old habits show up in rubber stamp characters who tend to all sound alike, and unhappily, like me. Sometimes an emphasis on character traits and dialogue to establish the voice differences helps, then I can go back and fine tune.

So many other things to check when we edit, but I’ll let the others h