Easy Editing Trick

I think for new writers, especially those that have just completed their first book, one of the most daunting challenges facing them can be the revision process. I remember after I completed my first novel I had two very distinct emotions.

Tremendous joy, "I completed my first book!"

And utter dread, "How on earth am I ever going to shape these 100,000 words into not only a readable but enjoyable story?"

Now, as I work on the edits for my fifth novel, I can say that my entire process for approaching a work of fiction has completely changed over the last fourteen years. From the onset I approach a story differently, there's more intention, more planning, more careful consideration about where my story is going and who I want my characters to be--how I want them to change. That's not to say that there isn't a tremendous amount of discovery that also happens while I'm crafting, but I have definitely turned into a plotter. Every writer is different, this is absolutely true, but for me planning the book out before I even get started has proved enormously valuable when it comes time to tackle the big picture revision once I’m finished.

However, there is one thing about my writing process that has never changed—a pesky problem that no amount of planning and plotting can solve. When I’m writing that first draft, the highly detailed portions of my brain seem to be taking a backseat. What do I mean by this? I've discovered that, when it comes to writing fiction, there's two parts of my brain. One side is creating story and imagining scenes as I'm writing them. It feels slightly like not being completely present in the here and now. It is a very similar experience to what happens when I read other people's books or when I watch a movie. I am seeing the action happen, I am sharing the dialogue in my head. I am imagining the setting my characters are in and I am I'm transcribing that world for the reader.

The other side of my brain, barely awake when imagining the story, is in charge of sentence and word level mistakes. This is probably different for everyone, but when I'm in the story mode my brain simply doesn’t recognize details like the difference between there, their, and they’re.

So over the last fourteen years I have taught myself to produce a more manageable end product by planning first off, but I've also developed a few tricks to help me catch some of my most obvious and repeated word and sentence level mistakes.

One of the simplest tricks I have to eradicate an enormous number of errors littering my manuscripts utilizes the word find feature on my word-processing program. All the silly mistakes I make, whether it’s because two words look very much alike, I’m not zeroed in on correct usage in the moment, or I have a bad tendency to overuse particular words and phrases—this feature helps me hunt them down.

Here's my list of my most frequent repeat offenders.

just, through, though, although, thought, there, their, they’re, were, where, an, a, further, farther, awhile, a while, all right, alright, nodded, really, shook, stupid, smug, sighed, laid, lay, lie, suddenly, and people rolling their lips between their teeth

It's likely that your repeat offenders are not the same as mine, our brains function and dysfunction in completely unique and different ways from each other but hopefully this list is one you can use to get started creating your own personalized list of searchable mistakes.

I should also add for new writers, maybe in the throes of tackling their first revision ever, this little trick in no way encapsulates all of the editing and revision that will be required to take your first novel to that next level regardless of whether you’re self-publishing or are submitting it to agents and editors. Searching repeat offender words is simple but it still takes many hours to go through an entire manuscript. It’s not something you're going to be able to crack out in an hour.

And for anyone who may be curious, my other big mistake involves comma use. Sigh. Sadly, I've yet to come up with an easy way to detect and quickly fix all of those—sorry.

In the meantime I suspect my comma problem will continue to help my editor put her children through college.

 

Always Be Researching

One of my most enduring beliefs about being a writer is that you should always be researching. Of course, the sort of research you need is completely dependent on the type of story you’re constructing, but outside of closely examining human behavior, my favorite research involves travel.

Writers don’t have to love far flung destinations, or writing about them, but for those that do we frequently turn all those “vacations” into “research opportunities” for our novels.

And right now, it’s summer. A time for sun, less restrictive footwear, and for many, trips out of town. I have always loved to travel. Maybe it was growing up in a military family that shifted around so often, or the years I spent in my early twenties roaming the globe working for an international airline, whatever the root cause, my bags are always at hand and easy to pack on a moments notice. Even as I write this, I am tripping through London, Paris, and Rome for three weeks with my family. “Vacationing” yes…but always the writer in me is searching for and noticing the specifics. Notebook at the ready, I am always eager to jot down those details, scents, sounds, the energy and feel of a location that I might not be able to conjure up in my imagination alone.

I find it’s these specific details that seem to breathe life into our settings and locations, and there is no better way to know about a place than to experience it first hand.

And yet…

It’s not always possible to get to all those locations we wish to bring to life on the written page. I mean, where exactly does one hop a flight to Mars? Middle Earth? Maybe the Death Star? Even placing all our fantastical settings aside, not all writers have the ability to get to Zambia, Brazil, or even Canada to experience those places first hand to capture all those multisensory details themselves.

I myself have never been to Oaxaca, Mexico, the Ellora Caves in India, or Mount Emei in China; and yet all these locations have provided the backdrop for major events within my novels. As writers, we often have to find a way to get there…without actually getting to go there.

Here are my favorite virtual travel tricks for learning about a place:

  • Guide books (preferably the ones with fantastic color photos)
  • Travel blogs
  • Expat blogs
  • Interviews with people I know who have lived in a location I’m writing about
  • Local ethnic restaurants (that are praised as being “authentic”)
  • Foreign films from the region I’m writing about
  • Translated books set in, and written by writers from, that region
  • Google street maps (where available) that can take you there on your computer

I tend to set my characters everywhere but here, and I blame my roving, adventurous heart for this. While I’ve had the great good fortune to see much of this world myself, I still depend on all those virtual travel tricks to round a place out and provide me background knowledge that I wouldn’t have necessarily picked up simply being there. But in truth, while these elements give your books and stories foundation of place, it is likely your life, the sights, sounds, aroma, the people weaving in and throughout your everyday world that provide you breadth and depth of material. As writers, we should always have our research hats on, even if we’ve traveled no farther than the distance between our beds and the coffee machine.

Because it really is interesting what strikes you when you simply remember to pay attention to the world—especially the parts that occur only inside your own head.

Staying Positive in a Negative Industry

It can be difficult for a writer to keep her chin up. For a person who needs to be sensitive enough to reflect the most compelling attributes of humans and humanity through story, the harsh landscape of a writer’s world can be difficult to endure.

Like our beloved characters, writers contend with a multitude of external and internal conflicts seemingly hell-bent on keeping us from our personal MacGuffins.

Perhaps at the top of every writer’s list of roadblocks, there is the often dreaded rejection, a seemingly never-ending parade of “No” echoes around every turn. Agents, editors, magazines, conferences, bookstores, reviewers, even other authors. If being a writer is primarily about connecting with the readers waiting for your story, some days feel like there are a hundred gatekeepers standing between your characters and the people waiting to meet them.

And yet, for all the disappointment in every rejection, the sting, the bite, the venom that slow drips into the writer’s heart is not the actual “no.” It is the poison laced through all the words unsaid. It’s what we fear drives that “no” to our doorstep again and again—judgment. Of our work, our ideas, our thoughts, our abilities, maybe even ourselves. The people with the power to say no formulate judgments we are rarely privy to. We are instead left to our own imaginings about why we have failed to make the cut.

And writers have excellent imaginations.

Enter the writer’s psyche. If ever there existed the worst hot mess of internal conflicts, it surely took root and sprouted from a writer’s self doubt, anxieties, fears, and the ever dreaded peer comparisons. We fear these no’s may be based on negative judgments that are correct.

What if I suck?

What if I can’t write?

What if it’s me?

Am I horrible, vile…not mediagenic?

What are all the things “THEY” are not telling me thus making it impossible for me to revise these personal imperfections and failures?

A writer can end up mighty frustrated.

I hate this.

I hate writing.

I hate publishing.

I hate wanting this thing that doesn’t seem to want me back.

Maybe…maybe it’s time to quit.

Does any of this sound familiar?

If yes, I have some good news for you. It doesn’t have to be this way. More importantly, it shouldn’t.

I happen to believe it is possible to stay positive despite all the negativity. But first off, inhale, exhale. Again. Deeper this time, really fill those lungs, hold it…now let it out. Do this several times an hour.

Next, don’t quit writing. If you truly love it and are not just hoping this is a get rich quick exit strategy from a demoralizing soul sucking job you’re hoping to escape, don’t quit writing. If it is just a escape plan, make a better plan.

Realize this:

Writing is a terrible way to try and get rich quick.

Writing is a terrible way to try and get famous.

Writing is a terrible way to try and feel important, special, unique, talented, or better than other people in general because there is ALWAYS someone else more special, unique, and talented than you and chances are pretty good you will end up in the same room with this person. Likely you will be listening to them read aloud from their amazing, New York Times Bestselling, National Book Award winning novel.

If these are the motivations that drive you to the keyboard, you are probably wasting your time and setting yourself up for failure because your sense of “success” is contingent on criteria that is either controlled by outside forces or dependent upon who else is in the comparison pool with you.

Write because you love story so much you are compelled to try and create it yourself. Be motivated by the desire to live a creative life. If this is why you write, you will NEVER fail. You can NEVER be rejected by outside forces. Outside forces are not allowed to interfere with this, they don’t get to control it, they cannot say no to it. I dare them to judge it. This love is yours, you decide when, where, and for how long to live in a space of creative energy and output.

Secondly, try to wrangle that spinning, spiraling, better-future-seeking brain of yours. The worrying, obsessing, hoping for that big break so you can finally be whatever it is you think you’re not already—STOP. Right now, in this moment, you are already amazing. An agent won’t make you any better of a person than you already are. Neither will an editor, or an award, or a book deal. These are only things and other people you may one day co-work with on projects (who have their own neuroses and personal hang-ups I might add). When you get an agent, you will wake up the next day exactly the same person you were the day before. If you win an award, you will take it home and hang it on your wall…eventually it will get dusty just like all the other crap in your house. If you get a book deal, you will one day find your hardcover book on the remainder shelf being CLEARANCED for 3.99. Try not to confuse other people’s opinions and the bestowing of plaque shaped things with your own feelings of self-worth and personal validation. Other people change their opinions and things don’t last. Keep your power and decide for yourself if you’re a good enough writer or not. And if your answer is that you are not yet producing your best work—learn to get better, then do it.

“But,” you might say. “I need these people and things in order to achieve the writerly goals I’ve set for myself. I need an agent to open the gilded New York Literary Gates and awards to prove to the readers that my stories are good and worth their time and monies.”

And I would reply, “No you don’t. Well written stories that readers like to read prove to them that your stories are good and worth their time and monies. Guided passage through the Literary Gates and awards are one way to get your stories to readers, and for sure it was once the only way. But now, there are other ways too. Most readers don’t know all the gory details that happen behind publishing curtains anyway, they only know a story they love when they read it. Get that story to them by any means necessary. You may find that love from your readers is the only external validation you ever really wanted in the first place.”

Find your personal center, remember why you started writing in the first place, then try like hell hold on to it--no matter what.

The Plague and Power of Perfectionism

First off, thank you RMFW for inviting me to be a regular contributor to this blog. RMFW has played an important role in my writing career over the years—I’m grateful that I now get to participate with the organization in a more regular way.

Before making the switch to full time writer, I worked as a psychologist. I feel it is a career that has benefited me a thousand times over when it comes to not only my writing, but my understanding of writers in general.

Because we are an interesting bunch—on that, I’m sure we can all agree.

There are many personality types drawn to the profession of writing. A weekend spent at any writers’ conference will convince you that we run the gamut from stodgy to bizarre—and even at times evidence the ability to be bizarrely-stodgy.

I both love and find myself fascinated by writers.

In all my years writing, and talking with writers, and thinking about writers, I feel that there is one particular personality trait that has the potential to either serve you or slay you and your creative endeavors.

Perfectionism.

Now I know plenty of people, non-writers too, who tout their perfectionistic ways and natures. They love their highly controlled world of “just so” and “the right way” because it lines up, is correct, and runs from A-Z with an exacting precision that smacks of I’m in control.

Because who doesn’t like to be in control?

Perfectionists strive for the flawless.

Perfectionists hold themselves and others to incredibly high, sometimes impossible standards.

Perfectionists are often thought of as extremely conscientious and “ideal” by society at large.

The problem with this character trait, frequently praised and even admired by those of us less perfectionistic by nature, is that it can also hold you prisoner. When it comes to going after your dreams, perfectionism can jail you for a very long time with no hope for parole.

Because the simple truth is that no one, not even you, is perfect.

No.

Not even if you catch all the typos.

Not even if you see the every flaw.

Not even if you clutch with white knuckled fists to all the rules.

Perfect is not realistic, sustainable, or even happy. It is a world where there is no room for mistakes even though mistakes are a vital component of the learning and growth process.

Perfectionists sometimes measure themselves and others, a person’s worth as an individual, by their accomplishments. Perfect is usually a horrible judgmental harpy—most often looking in the mirror, probably harder on themselves than anyone else.

Perfect is also, and probably most importantly, the killer of creativity. It will always talk you out of trying something outside the box. Taking that risk. Daring to try. You may even feel like a slave to your own exacting judgment. Never free to take a creative risk. Terrified of “others” who you fear will condemn you and your creative choices just as harshly as you judge others.

As harshly as you judge yourself.

Many writers who struggle with this can often point a laser at what is wrong with other people’s work, but are incapable of committing their own story to the page because they may never allow themselves to be vulnerable enough with that horrible first draft.

Now if you happen to be a perfectionist, the news isn’t all bad. In fact, you have some amazing strengths and rightly deserve all our admiration and acclaim, once you can wield that X-Acto knife instead of being kept hostage by it.

Mistakes are not bad; they are how we learn.

Allowing your flawed work a place to exist in your world is how every writer starts any book, short story, narrative poem—you name it. Struggling past flawed to better is how we grow as writers. Not a one of us is fully formed.

Perfectionism is a powerful tool, so use it to serve your purposes.

Writers in particular can benefit greatly from their exacting attention to details when counterbalanced with allowing themselves creative freedoms first. It can be a gift, but only if you’re in charge of it. You need to use it instead of allowing it to keep you from trying.

At best, the perfectionist can unleash beautiful and mighty work into the world.

And at the very least, you’re already most editor’s dream.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Rebecca Taylor

By Rebecca TaylorThe Exquisite and Immaculate Grace of Carmen Espinoza

Yesterday, I uploaded my most recent book, The Exquisite and Immaculate Grace of Carmen Espinoza, to Kindle—Yes, I self published it. And as I, only hours later took it down to make changes (I suspect it won’t be the last time) I wondered:

Why don’t more writers make the leap into self-publishing?

I thought about it all day and here’s what I came up with:

  1. In truth, self-publishing still reeks a bit of failure (if you think it has completely lost all stigma, then you’re not looking hard enough outside the self publishing community. Like it or not, self publishing is still judged pretty harshly in some circles, especially the ones surrounded by the high gates of traditional publishing. There are only two things that truly mask this odor: Winning legitimate awards and big sales.
  2. If you do it right, it’s a ton of work. It can be super easy and not at all a ton of work if you just take your first draft, upload it to Kindle, and slap one of their cover generated images in front of it. Of course, if you do it that way you should also expect to get out what you put in—which is almost nothing.
  3. And finally, and this I think is the big reason why many don’t take the plunge, you stand completely alone beside your work, taking a huge risk that, even after all your labors the only sound to reach your ears is the eerie silence of your one hand clapping (the other one is, of course, occupied holding up your book to a world that doesn’t give a shish.)

Yes, number three, lack of self-confidence, I suspect it is the real reason why many writers don’t give it a go—of course this may be simply because it was the real reason why I didn’t.

Confession: I am always a little bit in awe of someone in possession of flagrant self confidence. I watch them, without even the slightest hesitation of self doubt, they will happily spread their feathers befor2000 x 1333e you and shimmy—it has been my experience that these people are usually connected to the theatre in someway.

When that self-possessed someone happens to be a writer—well I’m flat out flabbergasted to be in the presence of such a rare bird.

In March of this year, I sat on a publishing panel answering a variety of questions from writers. Towards the end of the session, one young woman approached the microphone and asked, “What one piece of advice do you have for aspiring writers?”

Now, there are many, many good answers to this question: Write, Don’t give up, Learn the craft, etc, etc. But what popped out of my mouth was, “Toughen up.”

Yes, find those bootstraps and pull them hard because the truth of the matter is, if you are still a walking wound of self-doubt, anxiety, and crippling insecurities when your first book, traditional publisher or no, comes out—that first three star review is going to knock you to your knees. And that one star, the one with the especially snarky, and yet cleverly crafted, dissertation-length review, may likely drive you from your dreams of writing anything ever again.

I think many writers, who might otherwise be interested in the allures of self publishing, still avoid it because they believe having a publisher (regardless of the publisher’s size and actual knowledge of the publishing business) is going to fill that void, that empty gaping hole where the writer should believe in themselves, and their work. That acceptance acts like a Band-Aid of, “Look, it’s not just me…someone else likes my book too.”

And maybe that Band-Aid will be enough.

But I will tell you, if this is how you are going to prop yourself up, by leaning against the facade of traditional legitimacy, all it will take for it to all disappear is for fickle winds of favor to start blowing the other way.

And then, where does that leave you?

Ever heard the tale of the traditionally published debut author that didn’t sell enough books to earn out his meager advance? It left him with no sales, no offer for that next book, and no confidence in his ability. Even with traditional publishing, nothing is guaranteed!

Self-confidence is an absolute MUST in this business.

Be bold! Stare the very real potential of deafening silence in the face and say, “I’m not afraid of you.” Once you face that fear, whatever yours may be, it can’t hold you in paralysis any more.

When it’s ready, when you’re ready, get your work out there anyway you can. If a traditional publisher wants to stand with you—great! Just don’t fool yourself into thinking they’re going to sit up with you in the middle of the night and rock you back to sleep.

Kind of like your kids, no one will ever care about your work as much as you do. (except your mother—for both examples.)

This is just my opinion, but I happen to think you have to stand at the center of your writing career and act as the captain of your own ship—no agent or editor is going to do that for you.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to talk you out of your Big Five dream—I don’t think self-publishing is for everyone. Truth be told, I actually hope it’s not the only avenue forever open to me because I’m probably the first writer in line to lick the feet of a Random Penguin should it happen to deign glance in my direction. I still want my books in Barnes and Noble just a bad as you do.

But, if it turns out that the publishing powers that be don’t want me there, I’m not afraid to stand alone, book in hand, and brace myself for silence. My biggest fear is not that I will make a fool of myself—it’s that I will stop trying.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rebecca Taylor 2000X3000Rebecca Taylor is the young adult author of ASCENDANT, a recently selected finalist for the 2014 Colorado Book Award. The second book in the Ascendant series, MIDHEAVEN, will release in 2014 and her standalone novel, THE EXQUISITE AND IMMACULATE GRACE OF CARMEN ESPINOZA, is now available.

You can find more information about her work at: Web: www.rebeccataylorbooks.com, Blog: www.rebeccataylorbooks.blogspot.com,  Twitter: https://twitter.com/RebeccaTaylorED,  Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/Rebeccataylor, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaTaylorBooks, Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/RebeccaTaylorED