How can anyone write like that?

deskroseTime for another confession. I posted this photo on Facebook last week, and Judith Baxter commented that, now, she could picture me at my writing desk. Well, yes and no. The vase is sitting on my desk, but the photo is carefully staged. Even so, it shows a bit of the mess on my printer stand. I’m a messy writer … not in my actual writing, but in my surroundings as I work.

I’ve read that this is a bad way to work, that a cluttered desk means a cluttered mind. Well, yeah. That’s my mind, ten things going on at once. To be honest, I can’t explain how I’ve managed to write and edit four full novels. Probably my messy ways explain why I have four partly written novels.  But even those I know will be finished at some point.

A lot of writers blog and even write whole books about their work habits. Some of them speak as if theirs is the only way to write bestsellers. They could be right about the bestseller part; I haven’t accomplished that—yet. But I wholeheartedly believe there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to writing methods. You can force yourself to work in a way that’s not natural for you. But why should you?

Writing is hard enough without stifling your “muse” with some other writer’s rules. I know. I’ve tried. My brain rebels at rigid systems of outlining, work scheduling, or fast and furious, non-edited first drafts. I don’t dress up like I’m going to an office. I don’t meditate before I begin work. I don’t create music playlists for accompaniment. I don’t use dictated writing prompts. I don’t set daily word count targets.

I write in comfortable clothes, generally without makeup or hair styled—to be honest, sometimes I never change out of my pajamas. I write while I should be doing the laundry or the gardening or a thousand other things. I write because there are stories in my head. And I love stories. And I delight in figuring out how to transform those stories into words.

Today, I sat at my desk surrounded by drawings and trinkets made by my grandchildren. I sat amid scattered papers and sticky notes, and tea mugs, and cookie crumbs. I sat beside the open window that enhanced my workspace with bird song and rose perfume. I closed my eyes and saw. I stopped my ears and heard. I rested my fingers on the keyboard, and the pure unadulterated magic of imagination directed them to create.

That’s the way I write.

Your mileage may vary. And that’s totally cool.

Okay, are you ready? Don’t judge. This is what the rest of my desk usually looks like.

cldesk

Linda

 

The Many Ways I Edit My Manuscripts, part 2

In my last post, I shared how I make lists in preparation for editing. Now I’ll share my process of editing a manuscript. I think most of this process would apply whether or not you’re an author publisher like me. The number of editing rounds may vary with each book, but this is my general process.

editingAs I said before, I do some editing while I’m writing the first draft. Actually, since I edit sentences and paragraphs immediately after writing them and then again as I reread the previous session’s writing in preparation to continue, I do a fair bit of micro-editing during first draft stage.

My next round is a macro-edit done within my writing software (Scrivener). As I read through the entire manuscript, I’m looking for plot holes and continuity issues. I also make notes on anything I need to verify with research. At this point, I’m checking off some items on the editing lists I mentioned last time. And because I write the dialogue for a scene first, I’m also checking to see if I have enough actions and descriptions. (Though it’s almost certain my beta readers will point out I need more.)

Of course, to try to fool my eyes into thinking I’m reading these words for the first time, I need to take a break. Usually, at this stage, I send my file to my alpha reader. Yes, I know, the true alpha is me, so maybe I should say my alpha-beta reader. While I wait for her feedback, I try to busy myself with writing something else or read a book or two.

After I receive the alpha-beta feedback, I edit and revise accordingly. My next step is to print out the manuscript, double-spaced so there’s room to make notes and corrections. Once again, I read from beginning to end, using both red pencil and highlighters during this edit. I also consult my editing lists. Then I transfer this editing to my computer file.

Then it’s time to send the file to my beta readers. Again trying to fool my eyes, I also send the file to my Kindle and read it that way. And then with the beta feedback and any notes I’ve made during my digital read, I go through the manuscript making edits and revisions.

During these editing rounds, I keep up a dialogue on the changes with my alpha-beta reader who, in effect, acts as my editor. If you can afford to hire a professional editor—or two—do so. You may want to enlist a content editor as well as a copyeditor (they serve different purposes), but my budget does not allow for that. However, I’m very lucky to have accomplished writer friends to call upon for these services.

Now, I want to tell you about an editing method I’d seen recommended many times, but I tried for the first time with my latest manuscript. For my final round of editing, I read backwards. I started at the end and read each sentence one by one. I couldn’t believe the typos, missing punctuation, and just plain clumsy syntax I found—some of which, I’m sure, I introduced during my editing rounds.

For me, reading backwards gave me the “freshest eyes” of all. Reading that way wouldn’t serve to find continuity errors, of course, but as a copyedit, it works great. If you’ve never tried it, I recommend you do.

I hope you’re enjoying life!

Linda

The Many Ways I Edit My Manuscripts, part 1

“Yay! Now I get to edit.” That’s my first reaction when finishing a first draft. After several rounds of editing, though, I’m a little less enthusiastic. But I trudge on and, eventually, end up with a polished gem from the lump of rock I started with.

editormarksWell, since I edit as I write, maybe lump of rock is a bit harsh. I know some writing gurus advise not to edit as you go, but I naturally write lean, and I’m too much a perfectionist to write past a clunker sentence or flabby paragraph. Why not fix what I already know needs fixing? That’s not to say I agonize over things like comma placement during first draft. That comes later.

If you’re a lightning fast first-drafter who stops for nothing, that’s fantastic. Many of your editing methods may vary from mine—and that’s perfectly fine. We should each work the way that best suits us. But in case I do something you don’t but might want to try, I’ll blog about my editing process in the next couple of posts.

As I’m writing the first draft, I keep lists to help me in editing. The main ones are:

  1. Things to Check
  2. Style Sheet

Things to Check:

This list is where I keep track of the punctuation and grammar errors I’m prone to make in every first draft, such as overuse of certain words (and, but, so, it, etc.) as well as words I frequently misuse (it’s for its, anymore for any more, etc.)

And of course, this list is where I remind myself to check to see if I’ve properly used commas. Most comma rules are static, but I vary a few depending on the genre I’m writing.

In my latest manuscript, I couldn’t remember, and got tired of looking up, the Alt key code to type the accented “e” in fiancée, so I added that to my list. (If you’re wondering, it’s alt+130)

I also list the spellings I use for sounds (hmm, uh-huh, hunh, etc.) and slang or curse words to make sure they’re consistent throughout the manuscript.

Usually, this list has several sections. One might be a list of words to work into the manuscript. Since the male lead in my latest book is British (and I’m not), I made a list of terms and phrases he might use. And since the female lead is only twenty-three (a bit younger than I am J ) I listed slang she might use.

And since I usually write the dialogue for a scene first, I need reminders to check for setting details.

After an editing round or revision, I might have to recheck some of these things, though I try to be very careful not to introduce new errors while I’m editing.

Style Sheet:

This is where I keep track of writing and formatting styles particular to the current manuscript. There’s some overlap from the Things to Check list, such as sounds, slang, and curse word spellings.

Style choices are things such as whether I’ll write out the time of day—eight in the morning, not 8 a.m. Also, how I’ll format certain things such as inner monologue, asides, imagined dialogue, and remembered dialogue. If I break a “rule” I want to do it consistently.

This is the list for unusual/unfamiliar spellings of character or place names and also for jargon. For some genres this list could grow quite long.

Other lists common to most writers are ones for characters and settings. These are handy not only in writing the first draft … yes, sometimes by chapter six, I’ve forgotten what I named a minor character in chapter one. But, of course, editing usually means revising, adding scenes and even whole chapters, so I want to make sure I’ve got the details right. I could run searches of the manuscript for these, but often it’s quicker to consult one of my lists. When it’s time to edit, I print out these lists and keep them handy.

Next time, I’ll share the various ways I read a manuscript for editing, including the very helpful one I recently tried for the first time.

Linda

Garbage writing?

Several weeks ago, I felt myself slipping into melancholia. It’s my nature and I accept that, but I try not to give into it for long. This time, reading what I shouldn’t triggered my dark mood. I’d read a couple of blog posts that made ol’ low-confidence me want to remove my books from the market and disappear from the virtual world.

garbageOne of those posts advised indie writers not to subject readers to garbage work—and I agree with that. The problem was that they defined garbage work as any writing that hasn’t been professionally edited. The bottom line: if you can’t afford to hire a professional editor you don’t have the right to publish.

The other post advised publishing only professionally edited writing—with this stipulation: if you do have the audacity to publish work not professionally edited, you must make it permanently free. After all, how dare you expect someone to pay for what is undoubtedly garbage!

I hung my head.

I hadn’t hired a professional editor for my first two books, but I didn’t have the heart to take them completely off the market. They’re exclusive with Amazon, for the time being, so I couldn’t make them permanently free, but I considered lowering the ebook prices to 99-cents and withdrawing the print version.

For a while, I was sad, sad, sad.

And then I said, “Hold on. Who says?”

Unfortunately, I didn’t save the posts, but if I recall correctly, someone affiliated with traditional publishing wrote one of them, and a professional editor wrote the other. So, yeah, consider the source.

No matter how much self-confidence I lack, no matter how hard my perfectionist nature judges my writing, this I know: my writing is not garbage!

For reasons I’ve stated before, I don’t think traditional publishing is for me, so having access to a professional editor that way is out.

The other option is to spend my entire month’s income to hire a freelance professional editor. Unfortunately, I’m too fond of running water, electricity, and food to make that sacrifice.

So I won’t be hiring a professional editor for my next book—unless I find one willing to volunteer their services in exchange for a testimonial or a money miracle occurs (not holding my breath for either.)

Instead, as before, I’ll write, edit, revise, seek feedback from capable writer friends whose writing is strong where mine is weak, and then edit and revise again, as many times as it takes to assure the result won’t be garbage.

I guarantee: My books won’t change the world or likely ever bear the New York Times Best Seller banner or may not suit your particular reading taste, but they’ll never be garbage.

Linda

Keeping the Voices Straight

I love to write dialogue. I’d guess that in 87% of my scenes, I write the dialogue first and fill in the narrative later. So, deciding what my characters say is rarely a challenge, but making sure their voices are distinct and stay true is.

character_speakWriting in both male and female voices is a challenge in itself. Then you have to consider the character’s education, life experience, and regional influences to develop a voice that sounds natural. And you have to repeat that for each of your characters. Ideally, even when your character is not identified by name, the reader shouldn’t have to read very far into a paragraph before realizing who’s speaking or narrating.

In The Brevity of Roses, a few of my characters, for whom English was a second language, didn’t use contractions when they spoke. Because I didn’t want my main character to sound too stilted, as often as possible, I challenged myself to form a natural-sounding sentence without using any words usually contracted in informal writing.  Still, after each draft, I made an editing pass specifically looking for contraction slip ups.

Also, in that novel, two characters were upper-educated poets and because I’d written a good bit of the book in their voices, by the time I got to a third major character who was a young, streetwise woman I found myself slipping back and writing words and phrasing, both in dialogue and narrative, that she wouldn’t have used naturally. I had to edit those out.

In one of my current works in progress, my biggest challenge is staying “in character” as I write the parts from my Jesse’s point of view. He was born into a poor mining family in the West Virginia mountains and left school when he was fifteen to hire on as farm laborer in Kentucky. I don’t want to write his voice in dialect as much as I want to give the flavor of his voice. That flavor is not my own and I catch myself slipping out of character often.

In addition to Jesse, I have several characters who speak with just a touch of country and a couple who are pure “city folks.” One of those is the main female character, Nicole, who happens to be an English teacher. So again, I’ve set myself up for several editing passes just to make sure I’ve kept the characters’ voices “natural.” I accept that challenge.

If you’re a writer, what challenges are you facing in your current work?

Linda