On Editing

All the writers in the world are about to collectively balk at this statement, but I’m going to say it anyway:

I’ve come to really enjoy the editing process.

Let me clarify that:

Once I know what edits I’m going to make, I really enjoy the editing process.

The worst part about editing (or about starting a book, or starting anything new, really), is not having a clue what you’re doing or if/when you’re going to start feeling like you know what you’re doing. For some people, this part is thrilling. For me, it’s torture, but I was the kid throwing up on the first day of class every year up to seventh grade (maybe college) because I was so overwhelmed by the change in routine. I have a hard time with the beginning of things.

The great thing about editing (once you know the edits you need to make), is you already have material right at your fingertips. No more scratching your head to figure out how the book should end. You already know that. No more wondering who your characters are at their core – you (should) already know that too, although perhaps one of your revisions is you need to communicate it a little more effectively in your next draft. It’s all there in front of you, just waiting to be marked up with a red pen!

And the best part is, with each stroke of the delete key, you are actively improving upon your manuscript. That’s a very satisfying feeling.

I’ve developed a system for editing that helps me feel a little less overwhelmed by the process:

1) Once I’ve typed the words “The End,” (which I don’t actually do, but you know what I mean), I walk away from it. For at least two weeks. I can start on a new project or a short story just to keep my writing muscles from lapsing, but I can’t do anything with that finished draft for two weeks. I need to cleanse my palette in order to come back to it with fresh eyes.

2) I make a list of things I think might be problematic. After two weeks, you’ll think of some. Trust. I’ve learned while writing a draft to make a spreadsheet with each chapter having its own line. I keep track of word count and pages as well as major happenings in the story. This is a HUGE HELP in editing. It helps you recognize plot holes, extraneous chapters, and remembering all the little details that will need to be incorporated somewhere else if you decide to remove/change a chapter. When it’s time to start editing, I go right to this spreadsheet and add the column “Edits” and then insert where I think the problems might be and how to fix it. Now you basically have a roadmap to editing, and all you have to do is go through and do it!

3) Each new draft I do actually goes through TWO read throughs. The first is electronic. I literally open the document and start reading it, line by line, cleaning up crappy sentences and moving around backstory so I can bleed it in rather than flooding my reader with it. I also have my above referenced spreadsheet open so I can keep in mind more major edits I need to make.

4) After my computer revisions, I print it out and bind it. I wait at least one week (again, cleanse the palette and come back with fresh eyes). Then I read it with my trusty red pen. No matter how many times you electronically edit your book, you will catch so much with that red pen it’s almost embarrassing. This also helps you put yourself in your reader’s shoes–although not totally, because you know things your reader doesn’t know and it can be hard to “forget” them–because you’re actually holding the book in your hands.

5) Make the edits I red-penned in the hard copy.

So that’s how I edit. It’s intense, but having a system (even if it’s drastically different from mine) really helps! The above process doesn’t mention feedback from others, which is intentional. I always do a second draft BEFORE I send out to beta readers. Reason being, not even my worst enemy deserves to have to slog through my crappy first draft. The third draft is when I basically repeat this process but using the feedback I’ve collected from others. See here to read more about receiving critique.

Quick Tips for Writers

I’m skipping the preamble today in an effort to keep it quick. Here are some tips that have helped me as a writer:

 

  • I’ve said this before, but if you are in the querying phase, write something else. You have heard this before, and rolled your eyes. How can you focus on something else when any day now you will be getting the news any day now that you will be taken on by an agent who is going to magically change your life? The short answers:
    • The querying process is long. Each agent can take up to three months to answer even just a query letter.  Trust me, you’ll go nuts with the waiting if that’s all you’re focused on.
    • Even if you are lucky enough to land an agent (I hope you are), your world is not going to automatically change. There is a long road between signing with an agent and actually landing a publisher, and then another long road once that happens.
    • Agents are interested in representing authors, not just one book. They want to know you’re serious about a career in publishing, which means they’re going to want to see that you’re working on another project, and maybe even have a plan for your next few books.
  • Don’t check your email or any social media until  you’ve done your writing time for the day. If you get a rejection in your email, how good is your writing going to be that day? Unless you’re someone who is motivated rather than deflated by rejection, (which I’m not), I’m guessing probably not so great. If you go on Twitter – poof, you’ve just spent an hour reading about everyone else’s writing time.
  • At any phase, don’t finish writing at the end of a chapter or section of a chapter. Always take that extra minute or two to write a few sentences into the next part. It makes starting up the next day SO much easier!
  • Feeling stuck? DON’T go on Facebook or Twitter. I find it worth repeating that social media is like a black hole for inspiration. But DO try switching tacks. For me, every time I get stuck I take to pen and paper and just write notes until something usable comes out. I’m not sure why, but it’s easier for me to “sketch” out different ideas on paper than on the computer. Or even just walk away from the computer for a set time limit, like five minutes. Do a quick doodle. Put on your favorite song and dance. Do a cartwheel. Jiggle your brain a little, maybe something great will shake out.
  • If you’re having a bad writing day, push through and do a little anyway. Even if you delete it all the next day, you’re keeping your writing muscle strong. Also, when I have a particularly bad writing day the next day is always AWESOME. So there’s something to look forward to.
  • Don’t send out too many queries at one time. If you happen to get a helpful rejection (don’t hold your breath for that, but it happens more and more as you get closer to getting an agent), you may want to consider a major revision that will take some time, and you don’t want to have already burned through your top choice agent list and have no one left to turn to when the revision is complete.
  • I can’t believe I’m admitting this on the interwebs, but when I’m feeling low and a little hopeless (happens to the best of us, people), I practice signing my name with little notes to my readers, like I’m at a book signing! It really lifts your spirits. And just in case that whole law of attraction thing is real, it shifts you back to attracting good things instead of bleak things, like dying a frustrated failure.
  • When you’re done writing your book, do Ctrl + F for the word that and eliminate at least 75% of them. You can also do this for just and really. Also search for all the numbers (start with 0 and work your way up to 9) and make sure any number under 100 is spelled out. Please correct me if that rule is not correct. Also, go drink some champagne or something – you just wrote a book!
  • Most people will tell you to join a critique group. I know I should do this, but I haven’t found the right fit for me yet and so have found crit partners on Twitter so far. I’m going to tell you join a book club. You already know you need to be reading A LOT (you know that, right?), so why not read with the pleasure of knowing you’ll get to discuss it at length with a small group of your choosing. You’ll learn what people like and don’t like about books (so, a critique group of someone else’s work), and you’ll probably end up reading something you wouldn’t otherwise have read, which just expands your toolbox.

Hope one of these was helpful to you!

A Writer’s (Very Basic) Guide to Twitter

I’m not going to lie. I used to hate Twitter. I had an account. I posted links to my blog posts on it. And that’s about it. Turned off by the endless self-promotion (which, of course, I was totally contributing to), I never checked my home feed. I followed people who followed me back. In short, I was a passive user at best.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m checking Twitter twenty times a day or that I think in 140-character witticisms, (at least not with any regularity). But I have been awakened to the powers of Twitter, especially the power Twitter has to connect writers to each other.

Writing, as you know, is a solitary business. When it comes to doing the work, however you get that work done, it’s all on you, baby. Whether you accomplish your daily word count goal sitting in a bustling coffee shop or in a sound-proof bunker somewhere, it’s not a team sport. You have to force your fingers to keep tapping away at that keyboard. The words, the dialogue, the genius plot twists–they all come from inside your own scary little brain.

Couple that with all the feelings—oh my, the feelings—that come with writing. The self-doubt, the self-loathing, the confusion. The sting of rejection. And even (because it’s not all bad) the occasional victorious thrill of “Hey, that was a pretty good sentence,” or, “Wow, I accomplished a lot today,” or the ever elusive “Holy s@#% I got a full request!” It can get pretty lonely. And you can share that stuff with your family and friends, but they can’t really understand, and they’re quite frankly probably sick of hearing it.

That’s where Twitter comes in. A place for us creative types to share all those feelings—again, SO many feelings. A place to commiserate and congratulate (and secretly envy) the people who are in pursuit of their dream. A place to share resources that may make the journey that much easier. A place to educate each other on the market, the industry, the secret (Good God, someone give me the secret) to getting published.

I mean really, that’s pretty fabulous.

So here are some things I’ve learned about Twitter that I wish I had known when I first started tweeting:

Hashtags are key

In order to be plugged in to the conversations which are relevant to you, you should be searching hashtags. The most used and most broad of which is #amwriting. Type that into your Twitter search and watch your computer explode with data. It’s everything from articles about writing to people promoting their books to people just wanting to whine that they are blocked (I am not knocking this as a practice, as I certainly do this when I’ve had a bad writing day). So that means, guess what, if you include that hashtag in your post, it will show up in the search of another lonely writer who is trying to delay facing that empty page they’re supposed to fill with words. And they just might follow you! #amediting is slightly less used, although I like to differentiate between what I’m talking about, most people just use #amwriting for everything. There are also hashtags for specific genres–for example, I check #womensfiction to see what’s trending. And #amreading is helpful too, but you’re finding out what actual readers out there think of what they’re reading.

For querying writers, like me, #MSWL is my favorite, which stands for Manuscript Wish List. This hashtag is used by actual literary agents who are posting about specific likes/needs/wants. This could range from announcing they are accepting a new genre (hop on that quicklike if it’s yours), to a very specific taste, like “I’d really like to see a novel about a 12-year old boy who lives in Albuquerque and wears a yellow jacket that allows him to fly.” They can get pretty quirky, but the cool thing is that little quirk could fit your manuscript exactly (or exactly enough that you could fudge it and get their attention anyway). Other handy agent hashtags are #querytip, which just gives advice about how to construct an effective query letter and conduct yourself during the querying process; #tenqueries, in which agents give you a 140-character summation of why they did or did not request more from the next ten queries in their inbox (without naming names), and #askagent, which I haven’t quite figured out but sounds pretty cool, right? Note: these hastags are NOT to be used in your own tweets, only to be followed.

Also for querying writers, the new thing (confession, I don’t know how new it is, but I just discovered it a few months ago), are pitch contests, where you can pitch your book in 140 characters, and agents troll the hashtag to find something that interests them. If they “favorite” your tweet, they are requesting more, and you visit their Twitter feed to find out exactly what they want you to submit. It’s not like they’re committing to rep you or even read your full MS, but you have that connection through Twitter first that may make them more likely to request more, and it’s better than cold querying with no connection at all! I have participated in a few #pitmad’s, and have gotten FIVE requests for more material from that. Pretty cool, huh?

There’s some good information

Sure, you have to slog through the zillion people who are quoting from their own novels and announcing their book is on sale at Amazon for .99 (No offense to the self published writers out there, work it girls. And boys). But there are actually some great blog posts from agents and other writers about how to better your query letters, how to create better characters, how to give and receive critique, how to balance your writing life and your pays the bills job, how to format your manuscript correctly, etc. It goes on and on. By the way, if you find something you think is actually helpful, retweet it with the #amwriting hashtag so other writers will see it. The original poster will be psyched, because it means more people will read it, and if you’re posting good stuff (please don’t just retweet every post of other people’s, that is supahdupes annoying), people might just want to follow you!

You can make real friends

I didn’t think this one was possible when I first started. But I’ve actually made TWO Twitter friends who also write fiction and are also in pursuit of traditional publishing. Both of them became critique partners! We email each other semi-regularly to check in on our progress towards The Big Dream, and give each other feedback that is maybe a tad more subjective than our mothers, who think we are geniuses. (Genuisi? See, I don’t even know that, so obviously I’m not really one). I found them by throwing out some tweets about wanting more writing friends who want to talk about the process, or who would be willing to trade books, (hashtagging them with #amwriting, of course).

You can burn bridges

I know it’s tempting to fire off a tweet at a literary agent who’s sent you a form rejection, but don’t do this. Ever. Don’t even allude to it. Don’t waste your precious 140 characters complaining and displaying your misery to the world. Yes, an occasional “Blocked today, grrrrrrrrr,” is fine. I mean, be real. But always remember your profile is public. More and more agents hit the web before requesting to see what kind of person you are and get an idea of what you would be like as a client. If your feed is full of unprofessional attacks and whining, how likely are they going to be to want to work with you? My guess is not very.

It’s important to remember that at the end of every @[insert clever handle here], there is a human being. Don’t say things on Twitter you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Don’t use your Twitter exclusively to quote or link to your MS. Reply to people. Have conversations. Spread some encouragement. Retweet good information. Send an occasional tweet that has nothing to do with writing (pictures of my dog, anyone?). Be human.

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What’s your favorite thing about Twitter?

What basics am I missing? Feed me your great hashtags and tips!