Category Archives: Editing

Write the jagged edge - overcome writers block

Write to the Jagged Edge: a Tip for Breaking Writer’s Block

Write to the Jagged Edge: a Tip for Breaking Writer’s Block

For the purposes of this post, I’m not going to get into the discussion about whether writer’s block is real or not (Google “myth of writer’s block” and you’ll have plenty of results). In the ways that matter, whether it’s “real” or not doesn’t matter.

Write the jagged edge - overcome writer's block

Staring at a blank page can make you an anxious wreck. Fret not, you can overcome it! Image courtesy of Big Stock. Some rights reserved.

We can all agree that writers sometimes get stuck. Sometimes we get stuck because we’re burned out or lack perspective. Sometimes we get stuck because we put ourselves in a corner. Reliably, we are our own worst enemies, often playing ostrich with our manuscript because we don’t want to deal with some thorny issue (which might have something to do with the manuscript, OR with our relationship to the manuscript).

This second kind of writer’s block (putting ourselves in a corner/playing ostrich) is entirely self-constructed and you can make this problem disappear, every time. My advice on how to do this doesn’t rely on (y)our ability to make a clear choice in the moment—because you probably won’t want to. Instead, we are going to learn how to outsmart ourselves.

Set yourself up for success—by cheating

Now before you think I recommend nefarious/ethically dubious/illegal activity, ask yourself this: What’s the number one problem we experience when we sit down to write?

Answer: we don’t know what to write about.

Of course this isn’t true, not really. We do know what to write about—sort of. What’s more true is we can’t figure out where to get started…where to grab hold of the thoughts and how to line them up in a row.

Sitting in front of an empty page, we easily think ourselves into a state of paralyzed anxiety.

So how do we overcome this problem? Easy. We cheat.

Can you cheat yourself our of writer's block? Yes you can! Here's how Click To Tweet

The easiest way to cheat yourself out of writer’s block is to leave an unfinished thought for you to deal with later. Don’t finish the chapter. Don’t finish the paragraph. Hell—don’t even finish the sentence.

When you finish writing for the day, make sure to NOT wrap up your loose ends. Leave them dangling in the breeze.

The jagged edge

Are you annoyed even thinking about doing this? GREAT. Perfect! That is exactly what we want. Your fingers are veritably twitching to finish that sentence/thought/chapter, to put a nice bow on it. Seeing it dangling there, unfinished, provides you with endless frustration and…guess what? The desire to continue writing.

I call this leaving the jagged edge. You are purposefully leaving the writing unfinished, broken-looking—in need of repair. The magic is that by definition, you create the situation wherein you not only want to keep writing…you know what you want to keep writing about.

How to use the jagged edge - and why it will help to overcome writer's block Click To Tweet

Try it a few times this week. Come back here and tell me how easy (or not, though I doubt this) it was for you to pick up where you left off and keep going.

If you really need to finish that thought, fine: keep going. Continue long enough to create another jagged edge.

You don’t have to make any decisions in the moment or the writing session. Ahead of time, before you write one word, you decide this is how you’re going to operate while writing the rest of the manuscript. You will finish every day (except for the day right before you send your editor your draft) on the jagged edge. You will leave every day’s writing unfinished.

Then, while writing, you don’t need to think about choices at all. Are you frustrated because you wish to keep writing? Brilliant! Come over here and tell me so in the comments, or ping me on Twitter or LinkedIn. I will shower you with high-fives.

The Bottom Line

Much of the time, writer’s block is a condition we give ourselves, and we usually use it as an avoidance strategy (it’s REALLY effective). One of the easiest ways to sidestep your own self-sabotage is to adopt the strategy of writing to the jagged edge. Try it. Trust me, human beings were not designed to be ostriches. We lack the requisite feathers.

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Give the Gift of a First Draft

Give Yourself the Gift of a First Draft

Give Yourself the Gift of a First Draft

As writers, we talk a good game with our quotes on creativity.

We bandy the coolest-sounding advice phrases from successful authors and pretend we totally agree with them.

Unfortunately, this is almost always lip service. We agree with these successful authors…when it comes to anyone else’s manuscript. When it comes to our own manuscript, though…well, we’re just special, aren’t we?

One of my favorites is from Terry Pratchett, and it’s about the first draft.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

Give the Gift of a First Draft

Your first draft does not have to be perfect. Keep pushing through it to get to the next phase, making it better. Image courtesy of Big Stock. Some rights reserved.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? I’m sure if you were having coffee with a writer friend right now, you’d thoroughly enjoy telling them this and nodding sagely. Continue reading

What to do with your neglected manuscript

What to Do with Your Neglected Book Manuscript

What to Do with Your Neglected Book Manuscript

Remember when you were fired up by your new book idea? You were excited by the possibilities, and filled with ideas. You made tons of notes, perhaps sketched out an outline or started the first chapter… Remember those days?

What to do with your neglected manuscript

Is reviving an abandoned manuscript worth the work?  Image courtesy of Big Stock. Some rights reserved.

Now, you have a manuscript you’ve avoided or forgotten about for weeks or months…maybe years. Continue reading

colorful picture of boardwalk storefronts with sign saying fun zone

Have Fun While Writing Your Book—You’ll Be More Successful

Have Fun While Writing Your Book–You’ll Be More Successful

colorful picture of boardwalk storefronts with sign saying fun zone

Not what everyone thinks about while writing their book. CC image “fun zone” courtesy of Sandy Schultz on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Some folks consider writing a book a chore. After working on the manuscript for several months (or years), unfortunately, it can start to feel this way, including for those of us who begin with enthusiasm. You may wonder if all you’ve got is one long, dreary task list to plow through.

Finishing a book definitely takes work, no doubt about it. But if we’re going to spend so much time on this project, I want to make sure the process isn’t unrelieved misery. Let’s explore a few ways we can keep the fun in our writing process.

Find reasons to celebrate

Sounds obvious, right? How often do you do that, though? My bet: you’re waiting to celebrate until you’re “finished.”

Wrong idea.

What does “finished” mean? When you finish writing the first draft? When you finish revising? Going through the book with your editor? When the book is published?

Pick smaller milestones. Much smaller. Smaller still.

Celebrate when you complete your daily writing goal. Celebrate when you nailed that character description. Celebrate when you develop your outline. Celebrate choosing a title (even a working title). Celebrate when you wrote something—anything—no matter how awful, on a day when you wanted to write nothing at all.

Your celebrations can take many forms. A happy dance around your house. Dinner with friends. A Netflix mini-binge. A coloring book (children not required).

You spend a lot of time acting as your own worst critic. Time to be your number one fan, as well.

Treat writing as playtime

If you’ve seen my other posts, some of these suggestions should ring familiar. Some people write best when they sit down at a clean desk with their laptop in front of them—all business. After a few months/years, though…

Even if this comfortable writer is you, I encourage you to experiment.

  1. Write by hand.
  2. Use a “nonstandard” writing tool: pencil (graphite or colored), crayon, marker, fancy ink, the list goes on.
  3. Buy a roll of butcher paper, spread it out and tape it down to a surface, and write all over this, in the tool of your choosing. You can tape it to a wall, wrap your kitchen table with it, or if you have a hardwood floor, tape it on the floor so you can walk all over it. If you’re going to use a marker or pen that may saturate through, tape down several layers. Butcher paper is super affordable (your gorgeous floor or table, perhaps not so much).
  4. Every so often, write in a different location. I know I encourage you to make daily writing a habit as much as possible, and a predictable routine is part of that. Sometimes, though, you need to change it up. Even if the change is as small as another room in your house.
  5. Like hats? Get a couple of fun ones: your writing hat, your thinking cap, your editorial hat. Switch it up while you work.

Schedule writing “vacations”

All of us need a break from work now and then. That’s why there are weekends, and vacations (I personally know quite a few people who bring their work with them into these timeframes, which defeats the purpose, by the way). Set up writing holidays the same way (and treat them better than my workaholic friends).

Are you great at writing in sprints? Stretches of time where you do nothing else? Schedule a sprint, followed by some time off where you are not allowed to write.

Do you excel at the slow and steady? A little bit of the book at a time, all routine? Pick a predictable interval to schedule a non-writing interlude. Is it once a month? Every other month? Maybe you only need a few days to recharge, or a whole week or two sounds good.

Whatever method you choose, schedule the time off—and the time back on. That way, you can holiday guilt-free, because you know you are doing the work. And you can work knowing that your next break is just around the corner.

The bottom line

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Find ways to insert fun into the writing process, take breaks, and above all, celebrate every step you take. The road can be long. Let’s enjoy the trip.

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  • Determine what kind of help you need & how the process works
  • Get tips on where to find the editor that’s right for you

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yellow background with a line drawing of a person inside a huge T shirt that reads "potential"

Move Beyond “Potential”: Make Your Indie Book Shine

Move Beyond “Potential”: Make Your Indie Book Shine

yellow background with a line drawing of a person inside a huge T shirt that reads "potential"

Does your book have a shape or only potential? CC image “potential” courtesy of yukky.u on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I wince a little inside when I hear someone describe a self-published book as having “potential.” At the same time, I feel a small piece of acknowledgment—because not every author sticks with the project through the final, frustrating revisions that would make the book truly excellent.

In my work, I’m privileged to read a lot of books. Design elements aside, the one element that bugs me about many indie books is the short shrift given to the editorial process. If you’re a reader of this blog, you’ll have heard me say this before: EVERY good author works with an editor; no one comes out of the gate with a first draft that is as beautiful as what you see in the finished work. If [insert name of your favorite author] needs to go through revisions and editing, don’t you think you should give it a try?

EVERY good author works with an editor; no one writes a first draft that is as beautiful as what you see in the finished work. Click To Tweet

When you self-publish, you get to call the shots. That’s both the blessing and the curse of the model. I love that authors get creative control with independent publishing. Unfortunately, some authors use this control to veto work that would be good for their book. So, how do you know when your book might need more work? Below are a few clues.

Clues your book needs more editorial work

1. Have you finished writing your manuscript, and then gone back and re-read the whole thing, from beginning to end?

You haven’t? What are you waiting for?

I promise you, your story has logical gaps, discontinuities, and/or repetitions. If you haven’t re-read your entire manuscript, you are making a huge mistake, period.

2. Do you have title/subtitle ideas?

While you’re working on a first draft, it’s perfectly natural to have only a working title for your book—you might call it “My book.” You’re figuring things out. However, beyond the first draft, you should be getting other ideas. If you don’t, this is a sign you probably need to work more on your manuscript. Writing and revising will provide ideas.

3. Have you read your last chapter as often as your first?

Writers have a tendency to spend a lot of time with Chapter One. And the beginning of your book is important. But, newsflash: so is the end of your book. The end is what your readers will remember—assuming they read all the way through. If you haven’t paid attention to the end of your book, you’re not ready to publish.

4. Have you read your “middle” more than once?

Some of you are now thinking, “OK, this now makes EVERY part of the book an ‘important part.’” Yes, yes it does. Did you see #1 above?

Those readers who get to the end? They have to make it through the middle of the book. The reason I call out the middle by name is that writers give it even less attention than book endings, and by far less than beginnings. For this reason, it’s earned the name “muddy middle” in the writing world. Your book can get flabby around the middle—just like we can. Have you spent time working it out?

5. Did you make any big changes in your story/topic while writing was in progress?

I guarantee you will want a complete re-read of your manuscript, if you have. Skip this step, and you’ll hand your editor—or, so help us, your designer—a hot mess.

6. Are you clear on your audience?

If you can’t picture one specific person (not your mother) reading your book, stop and take a minute. You should not—I repeat should NOT—publish without this knowledge.

7. Are you sick of reading your manuscript, or only sick of writing it?

I get it. First drafts are hard. Most of us don’t want to look at the darn thing anymore, after we finish what we think is “The End.” That’s not the same as reading your manuscript a lot. By this I mean, you’ve taken a break after you reached The End; you’ve read either a hard copy or you’ve refrained from beginning to edit as you read; and you’ve done #1 more than once.

Being done writing is not the same as being done revising. You better be sick of revising before you publish.

8. Your editor hesitates AT ALL when you ask whether your book is ready for the next phase.

MAJOR red flag.

9. Your designer asks you, “Has this been edited?”

See number 8.

10. The people who read your manuscript say, “It’s promising.”

Ugh! This is like saying something is “interesting.” It means it’s not finished and they don’t know how to tell you.

The bottom line

If you at all wonder whether your book needs additional work, chances are yes, it does. Even after many revisions. This is your opportunity to ask an expert for their assessment.

Be careful to not let your enthusiasm and impatience for getting the wretched project out of your hair lead you to pull the plug too early on writing and editing. I love seeing manuscripts with potential. But published books should achieve that potential. Get out of the B leagues—do the work.

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Subscribe to the monthly newsletter and get all future blog posts delivered to your inbox. You’ll also receive instant access to the How to Find an Editor: a Resource for Independent and Self-Publishing Writers:

  • Learn what to look for in an editor & what questions to ask
  • Determine what kind of help you need & how the process works
  • Get tips on where to find the editor that’s right for you

Sign up today!

== ==

Don’t Make Your Book Cheap — Why comparing on price doesn’t add up

Don’t Make Your Book Cheap — Why comparing on price  doesn’t add up

piggybank next to a calculator-are you counting pennies for your book

Counting your book pennies? CC image “Investing” courtesy of 401Kcalculator.org.

April is the month that everyone in the U.S. thinks about money—which makes this an appropriate time to talk money and indie books.

Although comparing dollar amounts is an easy way to try and compare services for your book, including editing, this practice gives you an incomplete picture at best. At worst, it leads you to make a choice you later regret. Being cheap often leads to looking cheap, and may actually cost you more in the long run. Let’s go over the top parameters your editor considers—and why these are more useful than price.

Key information your editor wants about your book

Continue reading

statue of a woman holding her head

Why the Developmental Edit is One of the Hardest Things You’ll Ever Do

Why the Developmental Edit is One of the Hardest Things You’ll Ever Do

statue of a woman holding her head

All this editing makes my head hurt. CC image “headache” courtesy of threephin on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Friends, I’d like to address a difficult and emotional topic: the developmental edit.

You’ve sent your manuscript off to your editor for developmental work. You’ve completed a draft! The world is a beautiful place, filled with hope. Rainbows, puppies, and kittens are everywhere. You buy everyone dinner.

Then:

Your editor returns your draft manuscript filled with comments, cross-outs, lines pointing everywhere; or they’ve rearranged the content for you, and nothing looks like it did. There are questions, so many questions! You think about the pristine draft you sent out and realize now that it’s obviously defective and awful. You spend a week hiding in a dark room, blinds drawn, listening to sad music or watching Dead Poets Society on repeat.

A developmental edit is as necessary as it is painful

The best and worst part of a developmental edit is how radically it can change your book. Continue reading

closeup of typwriter writing word Feedback

Your book’s fresh start: How to ask for great feedback

Your book’s fresh start: How to ask for great feedback

The difference between dud and dazzle

closeup of typwriter writing word Feedback

CC image “Feedback” courtesy of Dennis Skley on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

New beginnings! Why is it we only think of them when we have spare time?

Truly. Ask anyone who has had to work over the end-of-year holidays: have they sat down to have a luxurious talk with themselves about the year past and the year to come? Probably not. What about that problem you’ve been trying to solve for months: how often did you solve it in the shower—when you weren’t thinking about anything else? My bet is: often.

When we’re in the middle of a situation, we often don’t see it for what it is. The same goes for that book we’re writing.

As you write your book, eventually you give in to the temptation to go back to the beginning, and “fix” it. Unfortunately, after you tweak one paragraph, you need to fix the next one, and the next… By the time you get to where you need to add new material, a lot of time has gone by, you’re tired, and you don’t produce much.

The more you play this game, the more likely you are to question any writing choices you make. Maybe the first way you said it was better? You can’t stop second-guessing yourself. Continue reading

black and white shot of audience from stage

Why does anyone care what you write?

Why does anyone care what you write?

How to not lose an audience

black and white shot of audience from stage

CC image “Audience @ LeWeb 11 Les Docks-9308” courtesy of OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

The single most heinous crime you can commit as an author—and the one most likely to lose you readership—is to make the whole story about you, and you alone, and to forget your readers.

But wait, you say. What if I’m writing a memoir, or a book that builds on my own personal experience? Surely that’s about me!

Not so. Your memoir or the details of your experience are interesting to your readers because of how it relates to their lives and experiences. Your readers care about what your book offers to them. You are purely incidental. Unless you are Michelle Obama, no one cares.

Be the reader

Think about yourself. What’s the first question you ask yourself when you think about whether you want to read a book?

Is this interesting?

When you read a book, you answer the question in the affirmative. If you skip it, the answer is no. Now ask yourself:

Why is it interesting?
What makes this book interesting?

This is the key to your audience.

Write down the titles of the last three books you read. Below the title, write what made that book interesting to you. Maybe you love books that make the technical accessible; you love books that inspire; you love books with actionable information; you love books with great characters; you love books that create alternate worlds you can lose yourself in.

Books are about the reader first. This is usually obvious to all of us whenever we’re reading a book…and we often forget it when we write one.

Don’t forget your audience

You the writer love what you are writing about. Whether your book is about sea urchins or is a fantasy novel, you’re mostly thinking about yourself. It’s easy, while you are writing, to get caught up in the story and forget those other people, your readers.

I see this happen a lot in early in early drafts. This is normal and perfectly fine—as long as we fix it before going to press. The most common ways writers forget their audiences are:

Nonfiction: while telling an anecdote or giving an example to illustrate a point, the writer keeps adding awesome details, and five or maybe ten pages later finally runs out of ways to express how cool s/he found all of this information.

Fiction: in writing a scene, the writer discovers that a secondary character’s backstory needs fifteen pages of manuscript space, or gets lost in a love poem describing the setting, where we have no paragraph breaks for several pages.

This is where the editor comes in and asks you why it’s all there. This is code for, “Why would the reader find this interesting/need to know this information, at this particular point in time, or in this way?”

After you finish an early draft, turn around to look at your audience. Bring the focus back to the reader. What are they going to do with this information? How would they relate to it? What questions would they have?

In nonfiction, you can directly ask your audience questions. That’s one way of turning to look at them. In fiction, generally we need to be more subtle. Does what we wrote make sense only in our heads? We may need beta readers to give us feedback.

The good news is, you can use your “whys” as a reader to help you build a wonderful book as a writer. Go back to the lists I had you make on the last three books you read. If you were to put together a list of whys for the readers of your book, what would that look like? What do you want your readers to say?

The bottom line

No matter how autobiographical your story is, your book is never about you in the way you think. If it was, you could keep a diary and be done with it. Why are you publishing?

This is a very, very important point from an editorial perspective. Readers, like all other humans, appreciate when we pay attention to them. If the story was clearly written for you the author and it’s an accident that other readers stumble into your monologue, how long do you think they’ll stick around? Treat them with respect. Build your book for them, as well as for yourself.

Proofreading

What a Proofread does and does not do

This post is the third in a series about different editorial services. Click for Developmental/Content editing and copyediting. Coming months will cover the manuscript critique and creating an outline.

closeup of medieval handwritten manuscript

CC image “Manuscript” courtesy of liz west on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

People assign characteristics to a proofread that actually belong to an edit. The two are not the same animal. Be aware of this, so you know what you are contracting (and paying) for, and so you are not disappointed with what you get. Continue reading