Tag Archives: Editing

The Joy of Teaching

I recently had an incredible experience—guiding my six-year-old as he wrote his first story. I abandoned my Ph.D. track partially because my time as a T.A. in World History 101 convinced me I despised teaching, but helping my child discover the joy of storytelling was truly amazing. And a lot of hard work, for both of us.

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This journey began when I saw a post about the PBS Kids Writers Contest. I just knew my precocious kindergartner would latch onto a project like that, and he did. I took dictation as he spun an imaginative tale about his stuffed orca coming to life as a real whale. In no time, he had a complete story—or so he thought. But as every writer knows, that’s just the beginning.

The first thing I taught him was the concept of the first draft and that every story you read has been through several rounds of editing and rewriting. His face fell, but he wanted this story to be good. We used worksheets from the PBS website to break down his story structure. His story naturally had a good beginning, middle and end, but the worksheets helped him find ways to strengthen the final problem and resolution for a more satisfying ending.

He still wasn’t done, though. His story was now over 500 words, and the contest limit was 200. That meant he had to do a lot of cutting. We went through every sentence, talking about whether that sentence contributed to the story he’d outlined on the worksheets. He especially hated cutting the paragraph about his little brother’s stuffed seal, but he recognized that it wasn’t really part of the story. We searched for anything that was unnecessary or repetitive until the story was finally under the limit.

There was still plenty of work to do since the contest called for illustrations and Mean Mommy made him write his story out by hand (not required for the contest, but I wanted him to practice his handwriting), but for this post I want to focus on just the writing process. What really struck me was how similar this was to the way I craft a story. Whether it’s a full-length novel or a 200-word children’s story, many of the ideas and processes remain the same.

My child and I both invested many hours in this project, but it was time well spent. It was wonderful sharing something I love with my child. I ordered a hardcover version of his story for myself, and I’m going to treasure that book—and the memories of the time we spent together—forever.

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Oh, and in case you’re wondering, his entry took first place in the kindergarten category for our region and also received an honorable mention (second place) in another contest for 6-11-year-olds sponsored by the Springfield-Greene County Library. I can’t wait to see what he writes next!

How Good is Good Enough?

I wrote about this topic in my latest President’s Address for the Ozarks Romance Authors newsletter and decided to open it up for discussion here. When is your manuscript good enough? It’s a question that’s been on my mind a lot lately as I wrap up revisions on THE AMULET OF ISIS.

At this month’s ORA meeting, speaker Jacquelynn Gagne lamented that so many manuscripts go out the door before they’re ready. With the wealth of publishing opportunities available today, it has become all too common for books to be released while still riddled with basic errors. There’s a deeper level of story editing that’s often missing as well.

Agents and editors often tell us we need to have that manuscript perfect before we submit. But perfection isn’t possible. We can hire professional editors and enlist the aid of critique partners, but even then, our literary creations will still have flaws. Even the professionally edited books released by the big publishers contain errors. So when is enough enough?

The answer will be different for each of us depending on our goals, writing styles and supply of patience. Some authors turn out a book each season, while others spend years perfecting a single masterpiece. What kind of writer do you want to be? How good is good enough for you? Tough questions for all of us.

Happy 2014!

2014

Happy New Year!

Yeah, I know, I’m late to the party. That’s been happening a lot lately. The last couple of months have certainly been an example of when life gets in the way.

First—five weeks of pneumonia, including a few days in the hospital, while my husband suffered from bronchitis and my youngest had a painful double ear infection with a ruptured eardrum. That was a good time.

I was healthy enough to run the Ozarks Romance Authors meeting in December, but probably pushed myself too hard in the process and suffered a bit of a relapse the next week.

ORA Dirty Santa meeting

As I gradually became functional again, I focused on getting ready for the holidays. My boys are three and six, so Christmas is still a magical time. Lights on the house, a tree dripping with ornaments, cookies, presents—the list goes on and on, and I wasn’t going to let my boys miss out on any of it, no matter how sick Daddy and I were. The toughest part was taking them to see Santa without killing ourselves in the process, but we got it done. Phew.

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The next task was moving out of the photography studio I’d been leasing the last few years. While I was sick, I did some hard thinking about my priorities and made the difficult decision that it was time to cut my overhead and downsize back to a home-based business. My lease was up at the end of December, so no matter how bad the timing was, it had to get done.

Now I just had one last major hurdle. As president of Ozarks Romance Authors, I was largely responsible for organizing and running the annual Mega Critique Group and Write-In Event we co-sponsored with Sleuths’ Ink Mystery Writers on January 4. Several days disappeared in a blur of lists and e-mails and all the little behind-the-scenes tasks that crop up when you’re running an event. Thank goodness I had a great support team! We had a fantastic day, as always.

ORA Write-In

When I got home from the event that evening, I immediately noticed that the house smelled smoky. Apparently, my husband tried to burn down the kitchen while boiling water for tea. For the record, he’s an excellent cook and knows his way around the kitchen. Obviously, watching the boys all day imploded his brain. There’s just no other explanation.

The next day, the polar vortex hit with its snow and arctic temperatures. That was fine. After all that activity, I was perfectly happy to be confined to my nice, warm house. Unfortunately, that meant my boys were confined to the house too, with day after day of school cancellations. My Facebook timeline filled with humorous memes about frustrated parents wanting to devour their young. I could relate.

Even more unfortunately, a frozen pipe burst, causing minor flooding in a few rooms downstairs. At this point, we’d had fire, flood and plague. What was next, locusts? Famine?

So there’s my rather windy explanation for why I haven’t posted anything lately. Things seem to be getting back to normal now (knock on wood). We’re all reasonably healthy, I have every reason to expect my boys will be in school this week and several days have passed without any new disasters. Life is good.

I’d like to say that through all of this, I followed my own advice about what to do when life gets in the way and continued working on my book, The Amulet of Isis, through hell and high (or frozen) water. Not so much. But after almost two months of neglect, I made significant progress on my manuscript this week. I tackled some of the trickier editing issues and added another 2,500 words. By Wednesday, I plan to have it ready to send to the next—and probably final—round of beta readers before I begin querying and submitting. Woohoo!

Maybe after that I’ll finally get around to my New Year’s resolutions.

Bring On the Pain


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I’m a glutton for pain. I must be.

Getting a manuscript ready to release into the world involves revision and feedback, but how much is enough? Critique groups, contest judges, strangers on the internet—some chapters of my book have had dozens of eyes on them. The rest have been read by my go-to critique partners, the two most thorough, insightful and brutally honest reviewers I could find. These ladies know how to make me cry.

That means I’ve had a lot of practice lately accepting criticism. I thought I’d share a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Don’t Respond

One of the rules in the Ozarks Romance Authors’ critique group is that the author listens and does not speak. That’s a hard rule to follow, but a good one.

Sometimes we want to explain the bit the reader didn’t understand or why we wrote that passage the way we did. Don’t. If it requires an explanation, it doesn’t work. The writing must stand or fall on its own.

Other times we want to argue and show the critics why they’re wrong. Definite no-no. Hearing criticism of our work is painful, and the natural reaction is to become defensive. Remember that the people offering feedback have given their time and creative energy to help make your work better. Be grateful for that gift, even if you don’t like what they have to say.

Don’t Follow Every Piece of Advice

Although you shouldn’t tell your critique partners they’re wrong, sometimes they will be. Some suggestions won’t be right for your voice, your genre or your characters. Some advice will be just plain bad. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Trust your vision for your book.

However . . .

Don’t Dismiss Good Advice Too Quickly

Some critiques are easy. We know the commenter is right, and the change is quick and simple. Or we know the suggestion is wrong for our book, and we can ignore it.

A lot of comments require a tough judgment call, though. Maybe they’ve pointed out a real weakness, but we’re not sure how, or whether, we can fix it. Or maybe we’re not sure whether we should use the suggestion or not. That’s when things get tricky.

Give yourself time to let your knee-jerk defensive reaction fade before you make a decision. The comments that made me the angriest often led to the best revisions. I think that’s because, deep down, I knew the criticism was valid, but I didn’t want to face the problem. Make sure you’re not dismissing valuable comments based on wounded feelings.

And finally . . .

Don’t Take it Personally

They’re critiquing the writing in front of them, not your value as a writer. You WANT them to find problems. That’s what helps you make it better. You didn’t think it was perfect, did you? If you did, why did you ask for feedback in the first place?

I’m going to keep repeating these phrases to myself, because an important lesson I still need to master is how to take in all this criticism without becoming discouraged. You’d think with all the supportive encouragement, positive agent feedback and competition successes I’ve had lately, I’d be immune to self-doubt. Not so much. Although my work may be good, it can be better. And I’m going to make that happen.

What about you? What are your experiences with critiques? What do you struggle with?

Does Editing Kill your Creativity?

I’m closing in on the end of my manuscript, with just five or six thousand words yet to write. I am SO excited about that! And even though I haven’t quite made it to the end yet, I’m already starting to look back at the process that got me here, comparing my methods with those of other writers I know.

I love to read my friends’ blogs—I learn so much about how different people approach the challenges of writing that way. I recall one friend in particular, Sheila McClune, writing about her difficulties switching between “writer head” and “editor head.” Once she stopped working on her first draft to go back and edit, she had a terrible time beginning to write again. That internal editor just wouldn’t shut up and let her create.

One would think I would have learned from her experience and avoided editing until I had a completed draft in hand. But no.

From the very beginning, I’ve been obsessively editing and seeking feedback to help me identify my personal foibles. Some chapters have already been through multiple rounds of revision and more than a dozen beta readers. I know writers who would cringe at the idea of letting so many cooks spoil the broth.

So was it a mistake? I don’t think so. As long as you get to your goal, it’s all good, right? No doubt I could have completed a first draft more quickly, but since this is my first attempt at a novel, I was on the steep part of the learning curve. Having that ongoing feedback helped me identify mistakes early on, and my writing improved immensely because of it. I may eat these words in a few months, but I’m hoping that means I’ll have less of a mess to clean up when I officially enter the revision stage.

The biggest thing I have learned is that every writer is different, and no single approach works for everyone. So how about you? Do you edit as you go or wait until your first draft is finished? I’d love to hear your experiences!