Craft, General Writing, Technique, Tips, Writing process

A Few Thoughts on Editing

red-pencil

During a recent course I was teaching on researching for historical fiction and nonfiction, we got to discussing a bit about editing, as I mentioned that as an author, you can dump in everything that you learn that fascinates you on the first draft, but that much of it will need to be removed during the edit, to keep the story from dragging because of an info dump.

Not for the first time, I encountered a student who seemed horrified at the very idea of editing himself at all. I tried to reassure him that, when an author does it on his own work, it’s not really considered editing but simply rewriting. “Writing IS rewriting,” I told him. “No one nails it on the first draft, not even Stephen King.”

He was crestfallen. Clearly, the whole idea of having to go back over his work with a critical eye was absolutely mortifying. And of course, he’s not the first writer to have this reaction, but it did bring home to me how many folks really believe that everything that flows from their fingers on the keyboard or their pen on the pad is sacrosanct as written; held dear and precious, as though graven on tablets and handed to Moses on the mount.

I admit that at one time, I was one of those people. But having minored in writing in college and worked as a professional writer at least part time since about age 25 (I’ve since doubled that lap around the block and more), I long since got over any notion of precious writing. So I always have to remember that my students haven’t usually had that much time to adjust their thinking and grow a thicker skin.

But that doesn’t change the fact that they will have to get used to the notion that rewriting (or self-editing) is a necessity for serious writers. I hesitate to use the term “editing” for this process, because I don’t believe any writer can or should perform final editing on their own work. It’s really impossible: once you’ve spent that much time with a piece of work, you just know it too well. You’ve seen it too often to spot the errors, and simply cannot be objective enough. So it MUST go to a second party with fresh eyes (and adequate skill) to be called a true “edit.”

Until then, I consider all secondary activity by an author after the first draft to be “rewriting.” And I consider it a requirement of anyone hoping to be published (or even to publish themselves with any measure of success) to rewrite at least one round. Yes, there may be the rare exception to this rule, but I’ve never seen one. I’ve never encountered a single writer in all my years whose first pass won’t benefit from a fresh look, either from themselves or someone else qualified to evaluate writing.

So, with that thought, I offer this link to a great piece by Anna Elliott from Writer Unboxed, on The Dos and Dont’s of Editing. I hope you find it useful in your self-editing/rewriting, before you submit it to a real editor. Because I believe that first draft writing is largely about the creative and the technical, but the real craft of writing is in the rewriting. It’s where we get out of our Creator mind and into our Critic mind. Both are necessary to produce excellent work, but generally they do not happily co-exist at the same time in any given piece of writing. Good luck!

Tips

It’s that time of year again…

Fall Trees

5 TIPS FOR FALL HOUSECLEANING FOR WRITERS

Ah, fall…that most beautiful of seasons, bringing with it the bounty of the harvest, crisp days, frosty nights and abundant leaves swirling in autumn winds. And yeah, it’s also that time of year when many of us are looking ahead to the long winter, and having to spend more time in our offices because sometimes it’s just easier than going out in the snow to write elsewhere, or because we just feel more productive in our own spaces.

That means we also need to actually BE more productive there, and that means a bit of fall cleaning. One of the biggest areas where it’s easy to get behind is organization: clearing out unused clutter, filing, arranging and recycling. Here are five tips to help you get through this necessary task to keep you operating at optimum output for the closed-in months.

  1. Plastic File DrawersPILES FOR MILESDo you REALLY need all that paperwork that’s lying around in piles or stashed away in file drawers? Writers are, by nature, researchers, and that makes us all something of the packrat. But it’s amazing what you can live without if you just devote an afternoon to clearing out what you know you’ll never use again if you’re really honest with yourself. And if you can’t live without it, at least file it where you can actually find it when you need it. If you can’t afford the expense or space of a real filing cabinet, a carton of cardboard filing storage boxes is less than $20 delivered from most major office supply stores. Or, if you’re a visual organizer like I am, those see-through plastic drawer systems are available in either stationary or portable, wheeled “trolley” designs.
  2. FILING AND STORAGE – Many of us are left-brain thinkers and tend to be less than regimented in our filing and storage systems. But it truly does help to clear off the desktop and other surfaces in your office at least once a quarter. It’s a physical break from the day-to-day grind that translates into a mental break as well. So take a weekend every three months and file your papers, recycle any accumulated waste, and put things away. Do the same on your computer: back up your current files to an external drive, archive your old, completed jobs on CD or DVD (use good ones so you can depend on them and make a duplicate you keep securely off-site in case of an emergency or disaster), and get all those stray files off your cyber desktop. Not only does that visual clutter take its mental toll, the unfiled files lingering on your desktop actually slow your CPU down.
  3. BOOKS – How about all those books on your shelves? Are you really still using those “how-to” volumes you bought when you first struck out on your own? If not, donate them to your public library, especially if you live in a small town. These types of books might be the thing that helps another struggling freelancer on his/her way to success, and small libraries have very limited budgets, so may not otherwise be able to offer these titles.
  4. USER-FRIENDLY REFERENCE MATERIALS – If you haven’t already done so, arrange your reference books so that the ones you use most often are closest to you. It helps to have a desk with a few shelves for your thesaurus/wordfinder (and yes, the paper kind is still more thorough than the online versions), dictionary, usage/style guides, quotation collections, etc. right at your fingertips. And this may seem like a no-brainer, but it helps to have your research library arranged by topic if you write often in certain fields. I can’t believe how many people insist on an alphabetical or strict Dewey decimal shelving system. Shelve them the way you use them!
  5. Old CRT MonitorRECYCLING – Sure, you’re probably used to recycling your paper, cardboard, plastic and glass. Even the most rural communities now have some sort of public recycling program. But what about all those hazardous waste items you’re not allowed to send to your everyday recycling? Many communities now hold recycling events in September or October that include collection of toxic materials, though some also schedule these events in April to coincide with Earth Day celebrations. Now’s the time to get rid of the little clutter of expired batteries (you’re NOT putting those in your regular trash, are you?) and old aerosol cans; the medium-size clutter of empty paint cans and old cans and jars of solvents or other noxious chemicals you used to spruce up the office but that you’re not going to use anymore; and the large space-eaters like old computers and CRT monitors. If the latter are still usable, consider donating them to a local private school or church, or listing them on your local FREEcycle online group (freecycle.org, an independent network that promotes waste reduction and helps save our landscapes from being taken over by landfills). Though many places will accept a limited number of these items and substances for free during these public collection events, many are moving toward a small fee-per-item for things like CRT monitors and TVs, to cover the disposal costs of the heavy metals contained therein. In our area, it’s $5 each during these events and sometimes a bit more if you just can’t wait and need to haul your items directly to a local recycling firm between public events.

 

Books, Promotion, Tips

Promo Tips for Book Authors

I’ve been in the publishing industry since 1990, with my first book traditionally published by a mid-size Midwestern publisher in 1993. Since I kind of lucked into that first book opportunity, I hadn’t planned on it and had built no support structure for learning how to be a successful first-time author. The Internet was in existence, but I was only online via a 1200-baud dialup modem (remember those?) on AOL, which was pretty much the only game in town at that time. There was no Facebook, no Amazon, no social networks for writers, authors and indie publishers. In short, I had no network and was on my own.

Truth is, that isolation from other authors was probably a blessing in disguise. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing when I set out to make my first book a success, but neither did I have the influence of what I now know were people who mostly believed the conventional wisdom that first-time authors, unless they’re A-List big names with huge publishers, don’t really stand a chance to succeed. Because I wasn’t infected with that negativity and pessimism, I plowed merrily ahead with learning how to promote myself.

Now, I made a lot of mistakes, but ultimately, I was successful in getting my book to earn out its advance so I ended up getting royalty checks. But still and all, it often would have been nice to have the support of other authors who were also trying, also bucking the trend I didn’t even know existed. It was often a difficult, lonely and sometimes scary time. The great part is that new authors today have more options than they can possibly choose from to develop a strong support network of enthusiastic peers, both new and experienced. We also have some fantastic informational resources I would have killed to have!

Sandra Beckwith, PR ExpertOne of those resources is an excellent website and eNewsletter from Public Relations veteran and author Sandra Beckwith at Build Book Buzz. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me sharing some quick PR tips for the modern author here, which I gleaned from one of her recent newsletters. But for LOTS more excellent, free tips and other helpful author promo info, you really need to check out her site and subscribe to her newsletter. I promise the time you trade for the value you get in reading it will be WAY lopsided in your favor!

So, without further ado, here are some tips for getting national exposure for your book, from Sandra Beckwith (most of the links I added, so if you don’t like them, don’t blame Sandy):

How can you get cross-country, ongoing media exposure? Here are a few suggestions: