Tag Archive: editing

3 Reasons Authors Need Style Sheets

Style Sheet ImageI have always used style sheets. This might be because I come from an academic background where adhering to style criteria is a required component for a submission. So I found it strange to learn most fiction writers skip this helpful step.

What is a style sheet?
A style sheet is a single document where you define all the writing rules that apply to your project. The sheet must include all your grammar preferences, for example using American spelling vs British spelling, and any unique aspects of your style. A good style sheet includes anything and everything that might cause an editor to have a red pen moment or to scratch his or her head in confusion.

The items found on style sheet vary based on each book’s need, but some examples are:
– If you want to include contractions, or not.
– If numbers should be spelled out every time, or not.
– If you want to allow for misspelled (or misused) words to indicate a character ‘s lack of education, or not.
– If ellipses dots should include a space between dots, or not.

The creation of this file will help you stay consistent while you write, but it takes on its greatest role once the work is finished and you send it off for publication.

Here are three reasons every writer need a style sheet.

1. It saves money on editing:
I bet that got your attention! Who couldn’t use a new way to shave a few bucks off editing costs? Style sheets can save time, and Time = Money! The reason style sheets work is because editors read everything from the perspective of what is “correct” within their set of grammatical truths. However, sometimes while trying to make your work fit their rigorous rules, editors disrupt the prose. That means someone (you or the editor) must go back over the novel again, pulling out these changes. This extra level of work will cost you, if not in money, then in time. You might miss a critical deadline during these revisions. A good style sheet prevents this problem from happening in the first place by clearly conveying your desires to your editor.

2. It helps sell more ebooks:
If you’re a digitally published writer (and who isn’t at this point), keeping a style sheet just got a whole lot more important. Last week Amazon announced their intention of publicly red flagging ebooks that suffer from any formatting and/or writing mistakes.

The official Amazon notice was:

This policy means proof editing and ebook creation done by a professional ebook designer is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. Believe it or not, a good style sheet will also help your interior book designer. While coding your files, they will need to adjust the layout of your work. That creates opportunities for a good designer to catch mistakes. However, it also introduces the possibility they will inadvertently fix something you didn’t want them to fix. A style sheet creates an additional layer of coverage, and helps you get you the highest quality end product for your ebook.

3. It makes writing a series cleaner:
Between projects even within the same fictional universe, it’s not uncommon for the details to get fuzzy over time. You might not care if the first book in the series features curly quote marks and the second book has straight quote marks, but someone else will. And that person will make it sound like a grammarpocalypse in their review. A style sheet serves as a resource for these details and for invented spellings, unusual capitalization, proper names and/or italic rules. Make sure you expand your style sheet document with a record of the fonts and visual affects your cover designer and book formatter used on the first book. This will help keep any new books in the series looking visually akin to the older ones. Since every writer wants to stick around for a long time, and share new adventures from their fictional worlds, the lovely style sheet you made for book one is going to come in handy every time you create a new project in the series.

Although fantasy writers are often the neediest genre for a style sheet, in part for their large custom lexicon, every writer needs one. We all include personal writing variations. Oxford comma anyone? Perhaps you like to start sentences with “and” or to occasionally end with a preposition. Maybe you have a character that’s big on using clipped speech or sentence fragments. We often don’t think about our writing preferences, until someone else comes along and questions/fixes them. By then it may be too late to convey your wishes to the right people.

Although some editors send their clients a style sheet form, having your own document is still important. For one thing it communicates what you feel needs special attention within your work, rather than relying on your editor’s judgment. Don’t skimp on this critical part of every novel, and when you’re done creating your style sheet, add a copy to your author bugout kit for safe keeping.

If you’re looking for an example of a style sheet template, you can find a nice one over at Sue Archer’s blog.

Do you have a style sheet? Please share your experiences (good or bad) in the comments.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/the-road-to-publication/style-sheets/

Outlining – Method 2: Active Beats (aka “Show Don’t Tell”)

Happy Archive Revive Day! It’s always helpful to refresh what we know about writing by digging up past posts and updating the information a bit, so here we go…


Originally posted on Oct. 7, 2013. Updated Sept. 21, 2015

I learned this method of outlining at Ryerson University. My screenwriting professor called it a Step Outline. He instructed us to write a scene-by-scene outline and ONLY describe actions, i.e. what the characters physically do. No dialogue. No narration. Like turning the sound off a movie. The test: could the audience get the gist of the story just from the characters’ actions?

The class reacted with a mix of confusion and frustration. Students insisted they needed dialogue to explain. The professor insisted they did not. Dialogue enhances a story, but it doesn’t make it. Action begets story. Characters must DO things, not just sit around and talk. He told us if a scene uses only dialogue to move the story forward, we needed to change it and use action as well. A simple example would be a character who wants to tell her roommate she’s mad at him for making their apartment an episode of Hoarders. Instead of using just words, she should throw his collection of deflated party balloons in the trash. That would get the point across nicely.

It’s the classic rule: SHOW don’t TELL. SHOW don't TELL

Not that you won’t use dialogue or narration in your story, but it’s important to realize that these only support the story. A story needs action.

Why is it stronger if the characters DO rather than just SAY? Because, generally, people don’t like to be told what to think. They like to discover, figure stuff out, and come to conclusions themselves. Therefore it’s more intriguing if your characters show their emotions/desires instead of simply telling the reader what they feel/want. At the most basic level, showing is simply more interesting. I mean, would you rather have someone tell you the ocean is beautiful, or take you scuba diving so you can see for yourself?

Still not convinced? I’ll give you 5 Reasons to Write an Active Beats Outline:

  1. To make sure you have an actual story. A story needs more than pages of clever character chatter; it needs characters who take action.

  2. To see if beats are missing. If you write down your active beats and find out the story doesn’t track, you need to add that missing action.

  3. To cut beats which don’t serve the story. Does you character do something that doesn’t move the story forward? Probably. Can it be cut? Most likely. When you distil everything down to actions, it’s easier to spot what can be edited out.

  4. To ensure the protagonist is active not passive. Is all the action done by supporting characters? Is your protagonist merely an observer? If so, maybe you need to reevaluate whose story this is or make your protagonist more active.

  5. To avoid being boring. Because no matter how clever or observant your character, he is boring if he doesn’t do something.

Just like the Basic Story Beats, the Active Beats can be used to outline your story before writing or to story edit after writing. The important thing is to use this tool to make your story as strong as possible!

More posts about Outlining/Story Editing:

Outlining – Method 1: Basic Story Beats

Basic Story Beats of The Hunger Games

How to Story Edit Using the “Save the Cat” Basic Beats

Outlining – Method 3: The Wall of Sticky Notes (aka “The Board”)

Outlining – Method 3 cont.: From Sticky Notes to Proper Scenes

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/outlining-method-2-active-beats-aka-show-dont-tell/

T is for Trello

BLAST_TWriting a book is not as labor intensive as, say, launching a space mission, but sometimes it feels like it is. I use Trello to keep my sanity in check. It helps me manage all my brainstorming, to do lists, blog posts, home repairs, work deadlines and even my kid’s schedules…all in one place. And best of all, the basic version is free!

3 More Tips for using Trello
I wrote about Trello a few months back in the post 5 Reasons Why Every Writer Needs Trello, but since I’m still learning new ways to use the program, it looks like I have a lot more to say on the subject.

Trello makes outlining easy. Like most writers, I keep a corkboard and it’s covered with plotting index cards, character relationship maps, blueprints of my settings, inspiring photos, etc, but it’s only for my current project. I don’t have the space to keep two or three project boards in my office. But I can keep 100 boards on Trello, one each for the ideas, inspiration, characters or plot notes of every writing project I’ve ever dreamed of. I used the 3 act structure to set up a my boards. First I created a basic template with a card for each of the common story elements. I also threw in an other card at the end of each column to catch any oddball items. I can always adjust the board parameters as my project progresses.

Full 3 Act Board Once I have a template board set up the way I like it, I can quickly create a new board for a second (third, fourth, fifth) writing project. This saves time and makes plotting a simple process. I love watching a plot take shape on Trello and I can’t miss any of the important story milestones (inciting incident, pinch points, or midpoint reversal) because the cards in my template keep me on task.

Trello is perfect for world building. When sci-fi, fantasy or historical fiction writers start to flesh out their worlds, it gets complicated. We need to keep track of all the aspects of the setting: the political system, geography, flora and fauna, social structures… it’s file folders and notebooks full of raw data. Some writers use spreadsheets like Excel to streamline the process, but with Trello I can see the data more clearly. Plus the entries click open for more options. I can add links, make notes, create to do checklists, and upload research notes and add photos for inspirations. It’s like having Pinterest secret boards, but with more options for storing written data. The flexibility makes it extremely helpful for planning a series. I can create one board for each book, or keep track of all the series threads on one board to make sure I’ve created a cohesive series.

World BuildingTrello streamlines the editing process. This is something I’d never thought of doing, but once I saw another writer doing it, I was convinced. Trello boards make an ideal place to keep my self-editing checklists and to track the revisions. As an extra bonus, I can upload chapters and invite other people to read and comment on them. This makes Trello perfect for online critique groups. I can sit back and watch as each beta reader marks the project read and adds their notes. Plus all the readers can have access to the comments leading to group discussions. The system makes it a great way to work closely with a remote editor or to get feedback from a writing partner or an agent. Best of all, I control who sees the boards on a project by project basis. I can set a board to unrestricted public viewing, or invite members into my group.

2 Examples

The Page Turners blog did a great job on showing how to use Trello with a remote editor. If you want to use Trello for an online critique group, I highly recommend this post.

If you want to use Trello for day-to-day management or just want a basic crash course try this How To Post from LifeHacker.

1 Link for more help

This is already a link-heavy post, but the last one you might need is the Trello Blog. This is the best place to find out what other users are doing with their Trello boards. It might surprise you. Everything from designing a book marketing campaign to planning a new author blog is easier with Trello.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/t-is-for-trello/

To Pickle, Or Not To Pickle?

 CC 3.0

CC 3.0

Since I’m in the thick of buying a new house, and packing to move my family, my time is limited. Kathy did me a huge favor by mentioning my pickle trick last Friday in her post.

Pickle Trick = Use your software program’s FIND function to locate weak verbs and replace them with the word “pickle.” *

Today I’d like to share the story behind how pickles got started.

If you’ve read any of my other posts you already know I’m the historian of the Write On Sisters crew and I’ve spent every day of my adult life reading and writing in the past tense. My academic training shut off the part of my brain that said the word “was” is the literary equivalent of a super villain.

Historians are all about “was” – it’s our raison d’être!

Pickles arrived as my fiction writing savior when my husband succumbed to one of those big box impulse buys. No judgments here, we all make this mistake at some point in our shopping lives. His moment of glory/shame is a 128 oz. jar of pickles. Mind you, he’s the only person in our house who eats pickles, so I knew this jar would languish in our fridge for months – if not longer, taking up prime real estate on the tall shelf.

The pickle event coincided with my first round edits on a manuscript, and since pretty much everything in our house centered around pickle jokes at the time, I engaged in a lark by replacing every instance of the words “was”, “had”, “has” and “been” with the word “PICKLE”.

And – wait for it – in a moment of mom distraction, yes, I saved it! In an instant I transformed my only copy of a 90,000 word novel into relish vomit. “Pickles” mocked me from every paragraph.

Many days later as my keystrokes gobbled up the last PICKLE, I’d learned several valuable lessons and embraced the PICKLE as my new favorite writing tool. Now I think of that pickle jar’s long tenancy in my fridge as a metaphor for weak verbs, they both hog space that I could fill with something else, something delicious and satisfying.

The empty pickle jar still resides in my kitchen, however it’s relegated to the deep recesses of my cupboards while my husband contemplates giving it a new reason for existing. Some people might think I should purge the jar during my move, but I’ve made peace with it and now I like having it around as a reminder. To-be verbs and my huge pickle jar have a lot in common, they both won’t just go away, I must learn to actively avoid them.

  • The pickle trick is an evaluation tool. I do not recommend saving your document this way unless you are committed to a line by line edit. It also helps if you start by tackling only one weak verb at a time.

Look here more posts by Robin.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/to-pickle-or-not-to-pickle/

Is Killing Your Darlings Murdering Your Book?



We’ve all heard it. Murder your darlings. But what does it mean? Is it just another tip in the ever-growing list of misunderstood writing advice? Or is it the cornerstone of every successful writing project?

First the history lesson. It appears this advice originated from Arthur Quiller-Couch. He made this comment in 1914 and all the other sources have repeated it ever since.

News Flash: Writers borrow from other writers.

When Quiller-Couch urged everyone to do some killing, he was responding to late Victorian literature, which I happen to love, but you couldn’t call sparse or tightly constructed. So how do we take this century old adage and make it work for modern writers? In my view it comes down to asking yourself why you’re sending your prose off to the big sleep. There are times when you should reconsider total carnage and keep your darlings right where you put them.

Start by examining your motives for word genocide.

  • Sharpen your axe for these three:

Word counts: If you had your heart set on inking a publishing deal with a 250,000 word novel, I’m afraid that boat has sailed. Find the dead wood and chop it out.

Basic craft issues: We all need to edit but if you have massive craft blunders it’s time for a shock and awe campaign. Pesky passives and those ugly to-be verbs deserve murder most foul.

Mismatched reader demographics: You may have written the most spectacular phrases in the world but if they cross some content boundaries you might need to clean house.

  •  Reflect on the value of word life for these two.

Negative beta reader feedback: Unless your beta reader is an agent or editor, beware! You need to listen to your readers and critique partners, but pause and consider the source. Perhaps you need to slice with the skill of a surgeon, and not attack it with a hack saw.

Tropes and clichés: Some tropes are just awful, but others are necessary evils. The same with clichés, you don’t want a book full of either one. Avoid full-scale massacre and review them case by case.

  • Stop the senseless slaughter on this one.

Meandering plotline: It the plot wanders, getting in there with a machete isn’t going to solve the problem. Plot flaws tend to run the full length of the book. Unless you plan to scrap the project, stop the random cutting and find the real criminal.

Once you’ve set your mind on an assassination, here are a few things to make the hit run smoothly.

Start small: Take on just a chapter or two at a time. Stop when you hit that limit. Murdering is addictive, and writers can go crazy and kill everything in sight.

Open a morgue: Use a new file folder and lovingly plant your dead darlings in it. Make sure you keep enough of the connecting framework so you can resuscitate them.

Attend a wake: Now eat some food. Have a good cry. Laugh with a loved one and get some rest. Murder is emotionally draining work. Try to sit with your guilt for at least a day or two, this helps put the experience in perspective. Take all the time you need to grieve.

Take stock: When you’re ready reread with fresh eyes. Is the new chapter more or less powerful? If it’s less powerful you may need to review how you’re choosing your victims. I recommended you look around the morgue for clues, you may see a pattern. If it’s more powerful, congratulations! You have successfully rid the world of meaningless prose. Readers everywhere will thank you.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/is-killing-your-darlings-murdering-your-book/

Reading Aloud: Why Hearing Your Book Is Important


Last week I gave a few tips from The Oxford Inklings on improving your critique group. You can read that post here if you missed it. This week I want to share one of that group’s most valuable writing tips. The Inklings all advocated reading works-in-progress aloud. Historically this make sense, they were from a generation free of TV and computers, where family entertainment meant one person reading to the rest of the household in the evenings. Now, most writing groups meet monthly or not at all. Some, including my own email the drafts back and forth, making it hard to model a read aloud critique method. However, there are four excellent reasons why every writer should read their work aloud.

1. You will catch mistakes: From on-the-nose dialogue, clichés and repeated words, reading aloud makes all the small mistakes stand out. Nothing drives home the need to fix long sentences and pretentious vocabulary like hearing them come out of your own mouth. If it makes you stumble, it has to go. You will also learn something about your own sense of voice, catch when characters sound too much alike, and hear if your prose has a natural rise and fall quality that’s pleasant or annoying.

2. It helps prepare your work for audio book creation: Did you know that audio books sales are a 1.2 billion dollar industry? Yes, billion with a “B.” Every year more Indie authors are making audio books and the monetary upside can be considerable, too good to pass up. Some of an audio book’s success comes from pairing the right voice to the content, but you also need to give the voice actor the highest quality material to work with. This is even more critical for Indie writers since the best voice actors are in hot demand and have their pick of projects.

3. It gives you more marketing options: I can not forget the image of J. K. Rowling reading from Peter Pan at the opening of the London Olympic games. Of course it was magical, why wouldn’t it be, but it’s Barrie’s words that moved me. As a playwright, Barrie naturally wrote with the idea of spoken words in his head and his prose still sounded amazing even after over a hundred years. Opportunities abound for writers to read their own works aloud, from podcasts, coffee shops, libraries, book clubs, conventions and book store signings. Make it your mission to create pages that, when read aloud, draw new readers to you. Make sure your passages are smoothly crafted and peppered with dramatic words that will help cause a reaction from the crowd.

4. Audience demographics may demand it: If you’re writing kidlit and not reading the books aloud to real live children, shame on you. I’m not just talking about picture books here, many parents keep reading to their kids long after they learn to read. I know I do. Even my eldest son will slip into the room to hear me read to my youngest.  If you don’t have your own kids to read to, network until you find an audience. A classroom setting is ideal, but if you need to make a tape and mail it to a long-lost cousin’s offspring, just do it. Or jump on Skype, or use your cell phone with unlimited minutes and read to some family or friends across the country. It might be a challenge to arrange a proper audience, but make sure your book has killer read-aloud appeal and little readers will love you for it.

I’m sure I speak for many book lovers when I say great audio books are always welcome. I never take a trip without a few tucked into my glove box or loaded into my iPod. Listening to other writers also improves my vocabulary. It trains my ear for dialects and helps me think about new (or old) phraseology. It also helps me understand what makes a great read-aloud book work and what quickly puts me off the story. Both reading your own work aloud and listening to other authors read theirs provides valuable and often overlooked writer training that everyone can benefit from.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/reading-aloud/

Things are Getting Drafty

MS editFollowing up and adding to Caryn’s post yesterday:

What exactly is a “draft”? If you go from beginning to end without any revisions, that could reasonably be called a draft. But do we really? I work on a scene forever before I move on, maybe I skip around a bit to feel out other characters, go back and take out scenes because now it doesn’t work, maybe revise a bit before moving on.

I was lucky enough to meet Ray Bradbury in the last year of his life. I asked him for advice for a newbie, and he said, “Honey, just sit down, get your story out, and have a ball, because it’s sheer hell after that.” He went on to say the work starts after you’ve played, after you’ve gotten the story down. The revising and the editing is where the actual work comes in.

My book took two years to get to the point where I thought it might get some bites, and I can’t say I went straight through from beginning to end.

“How many drafts did you do before you felt comfortable letting other people see it?” A question from a stranger at a party that made my eyebrows knit together. As usual, I didn’t want to disappoint with my answers. I thought about pulling a respectable number out of a hat, only to impress with all the hard word I put into the missive. “Twelve,” I would answer firmly. “Twelve long, hard, tough drafts where I killed all my darlings and created new ones.” That would certainly impress them.

But no. I said I didn’t count drafts, only to have the questioner turn away in disappointment. I can’t lie in real life. In stories, sure, but not to someone who seemed so deeply interested in my process.

Drafts? I don’t know. I messed, fussed, picked at, read, adjusted, moved, clipped, expanded, dumped, re-wrote, and massaged words all through the two-year episode.

But drafts? I didn’t start at the beginning and go all the way through to the end, if that’s what is meant by the word draft.

Which segues nicely into my next meander: are you a pantser or a plotter? See, if I were a plotter, I might have a better answer. I could go from the beginning, looking over at my outline of beginning, middle, and end, and breeze right through to the end.

But no. I’m a pantser. I write from the seat of my pants, my gut, my instinct as to what a character might do. What I think might happen seldom happens. As I get into my characters and start conversations (my husband hates it when I make that statement) with them, it becomes clear to me that they might do exactly the opposite of what I had thought the direction of the story might go. “Aha! She’s not going there – she’s going there and doing that, which makes the antagonist mad, and therefore leads us to X.” But when it comes to writing the “X” scene, what I think might happen may or may not happen. And so it goes.

I once had a mentor tell me that letting the characters dictate what happens when you’re writing is the wrong way to go and you’ll go off course and get muddled.

I call BS on that. “Stick to the outline,” he said. He even had us write out what each scene meant, where the conflict was, and what the motivation was for the character to do whatever it was that they did, and how it affected other characters. It ended up being an eighteen-page document that I resented for the time and effort I put into it, because I just wanted to write my story. I tried going by an outline, but didn’t feel at all creative and my characters were champing at the bit to do something different and surprise me, but I forced myself to stick to the script. I had no fun, and neither did my characters. They came out moody and dark, like bad actors on the stage. There was no heart, nothing to give them any dimension. I threw it all away and went with my gut.

That’s not to say I didn’t know the ending. I knew exactly where my characters would end up, it’s what happened in between the beginning and the ending that surprised me, and that’s where the creativity comes in.

Drafts? In my book (pardon the pun), it’s not a finite thing. What I start with in the beginning days of a new project I know will never appear in final form. It will be tweaked many, many times before it’s deemed ready to be seen by others’ eyes. And when I look back on the first keystrokes I blush at the audacity I had to even begin this journey, but with a lot of massaging and thinking, adjusting, and tossing, it can become something that rises from a humble beginning into something I am proud of. It came from me, pulled out line by line from my psyche, my heart, and my life.

You can’t get that from an outline. Just one woman’s humble opinion.

Just don’t ask me how many drafts I’ve done. I don’t have a respectable answer.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/things-are-getting-drafty/

My Dreaded Homework Assignment: The Scene Outline

I hate homeworkI loathe homework. I always have. I know that sounds ludicrous coming from a former teacher and assistant principal. I’m reminded of that old cartoon—a woman is standing at the foot of the bed, hands perched atop her hips and says, “Time to get up, you’re going to be late for school!” A muffled voice from beneath the covers says, “I don’t want to go to school. The teachers pick on me and the kids make fun of me.” Her reply, “You have to go to school. You’re the principal!”

I never assigned much homework, much to the delight of my students, and from my personal experience homework is frequently busy work and often merely a reinforcement of a teacher’s authority over her students. So I’m on a tear about my current homework assignment. My editor is requiring a scene outline to make sure that all aspects of the story hold up, otherwise he’d have to read the entire manuscript all over again. And well, I’m in full-blown tantrum mode. It feels like busy work to me. And as you know from my usual rantings, I’m a die-hard panster. I write scenes as they come to me, then put them in order and smooth them out so they flow, providing backstory and references as needed. And voila! My book is done!

I recently read a post from Writers Helping WritersMichael Crighton’s Method of Plotting Out a Story, and was elated to discover that my all-time favorite author was a bit of a panster himself. Just to refresh your memory, he wrote Disclosure, Timeline, Sphere, the TV series, ER and the blockbuster Jurassic Park. But my favorite was Travels, a deeply personal memoir of his fascinating adventures as he traveled everywhere from the Mayan pyramids to Kilimanjaro.

While attending Harvard Medical School he used the popular technique of noting important information on index cards for later study and as a pre-med major myself, I often used this methodology to study for an exam. One summer, I took ornithology along with a buddy of mine. We shared a house with a few other students. Our professor required that we learn every Phylum, Class, Order and Family of the avian world and the characteristics differentiating each. All the names are Latin and seriously taxed my memorization skills. We had index cards taped everywhere—on the kitchen cabinets, the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, stove, walls, you name it, each replete with the Latin name on one side and the defining characteristics and examples on the other. Our roommates found it somewhat annoying, but we did ace that final exam.

Dr. Crighton adapted this practice to his writing methodology. He noted scenes on index cards as they came to him and then stuffed them in his lab coat or pocket. At the end of each day he threw the cards in a shoebox and when no new ideas came he’d arrange the cards in the sequence he wanted and then he’d write. When a scene comes to me, I write it down in as much detail as I can and save it in my new book file. I don’t bother with an index card, but now I realize this is an important step I’ve overlooked.

Consequently, writing a scene outline is the virtual equivalent of a homework assignment to me. I have to read through my completed manuscript, identifying each scene along with the setting and time of day, characters, a brief description of what the scene is about and answering the simple question: WHY? (Which for me isn’t simple at all.) My mind drifts, I’m easily distracted, and frequently I give up, having made little progress that day.

My editor constantly reminds me that it won’t take long, that I can knock it out in a few hours, but it always takes me at least a week. And it’s pure torture! I’m mostly left-brained, and I agonize over the details, analyzing and re-analyzing. I over-think and under-think. I change my mind a hundred times. I love solving math and logic problems and have no difficulty tackling that kind of analysis, but when it comes to the written word, well, it frustrates the bejeezus out of me.

It takes me back to English class. I truly dislike dissecting written works, preferring to just read for enjoyment, which is how I write– for pure enjoyment. As a bio major I did plenty of dissecting, but when you’re done ripping the specimen apart there’s nothing but random bits of bone and tissue and it’s something ugly. You’ve destroyed the beautiful entity that it was meant to be. I would never criticize an author (unless I’m a crit partner) or tear apart his work to attempt to discover some hidden theme or message. Sometimes a story or poem speaks to me, and sometimes it doesn’t. As a fiction writer I’m just telling a story, not trying to proselytize some moral or belief on my reader. My first novel was about the afterlife and lots of people asked me profound questions about my beliefs in God, religion, death, reincarnation…my reply was always the same: “It’s just a story…that’s all.”

When I’m writing a scene, I feel it, it sort of comes to me like a dream or a fantasy, and some times it actually does come in a dream as I explained in a prior post. I guess the reason I find this process so difficult is that it really is more of a feeling for me and very emotional, and I’ve never been good at dissecting my feelings and emotions anyway. Maybe therapy would help?

Consequently, I’m turning over a new leaf, vowing from now on that when a scene comes to me, I’m going to write it down on an index card (I can see you smirking at me, Heather) and put it in the proverbial shoebox so that when I’m done and my editor calls me out on it, I’ll be ready. At least, that’s the plan. Unfortunately, it’s going to take some work, as planning is not something I’m terribly good at either.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/my-dreaded-homework-assignment-the-scene-outline/

The Yeti Inside My Brain!

YShe sneaks up on me. A snarl freezes me, my fingers dance between the send and delete keys. The caustic drip of saliva trickles over my shoulder, splashing down on my keyboard in icy pools. She perches next to me, urging me to backspace my wretched pages into oblivion.

It’s the yeti inside my brain!

You may have your own yeti, it’s better known as an internal editor, and it’s an evil monster.

Insecurity strikes everyone, but many writers battle the yeti everyday and it can be our biggest hurdle. Of course we also need that voice, the one that makes us work harder and strive for perfection. But perfection isn’t real, and sometimes the yeti takes over, turning every decision into an agonizing internal debate.

Here are a few things to try when you need to silence the inner yeti.

Do something else for a while:
Tension feeds my yeti, the more stress I’m under the more I tend to find fault with what I’ve written. Getting away from the keyboard helps. I go for a walk, read for a while or I brew some tea. When I come back to the computer the yeti has retreated, I’m in a better frame of mind and more in control of my emotions.

Set a timer:
Sometimes I need to allow myself time to write without the yeti attacking a single word. Freedom from that fault-finding inner voice often helps clear a block and gets me rolling again. I also find turning off the monitor helps. If I can’t see what I’ve written the analytical side of my brain shuts up and lets me write. Once the timer rings I’m willing to invite the Yeti back into the discussion, but not a minute sooner.

Listen to pink noise:
There are tons of program apps for generating background noises. The one I have plays about 150 soothing sounds, rain, wind chimes, reed flutes, crickets and the sound of a campfire’s crackle. Background sounds drown out the yeti’s growls, block out environmental distractions, increases focus and feeds creativity. It’s a scientific fact, not just my opinion that pink noise works wonders.

Call in a friend:
When I keep writing and rewriting the same page, the chances are I’m just feeding the yeti, and he will gobble up every word and demand more. Calling in fresh eyes gives me some much need perspective, not to mention someone to brainstorm with if I’m stuck. We all get too close to our own work and we may need an outsider to help us put the brakes on a destructive revision cycle.

Change perspective:
Sometimes I need to load the project into my Kindle, or print it out. Once I can experience the project like a real reader would, I see the work differently. It creates distance, helps me find mistakes and it’s exciting to see your work this way. It just might make you fall in love with your project all over again, it works for me.

Remove the backspace key:
An extreme solution, and one that you may need to consult an expert for. I am huge believer in removing keys. I never keep the shift lock key on my keyboard, I pop that sucker the moment I get a new computer. The act of backspacing is too easy! If I make myself cut and paste I have to think about what I’m doing in a different way. Again removing keys is not for everyone.  If you’re squeamish about defiling your lovely keyboard, try some double-sided tape as a reminder.

Do you have a yeti hanging around inside your head? If so please share your favorite tips for sending him packing.

Up next…. Z The last day of the Blogging A – Z Challenge

Click here for more posts by Robin.

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An Editor’s Perspective on Killing Our Darlings

In the life of any book, there comes a time when the writer has to step back from the creative process and move into editing mode. Once that first draft is down, whether written in spurts or a steady stream, the task of critical evaluation and tweaking begins. We go over our work multiple times in an effort to identify what’s working and what isn’t. Because we’ve spent months with our characters, shaping our plot, losing and finding our way and picking up dozens of threads, it can be difficult to see clearly with fresh eyes, and chances are, because we’re so close, we miss a whole lot. We need to cut without remorse, address issues of craft that might have been neglected, rearrange paragraphs or chapters, and even lose a character or two.

Source: tumblr

Source: tumblr

William Faulkner said it in a handful of memorable words: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” He was echoed by Stephen King, who went a step further, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

What does it mean to kill our darlings? It means that every word has to count, and if it doesn’t earn its place, it must go–even those sections of prose we feel most precious and sentimental about, the ones we’ll do anything to protect. The ones we have the most trouble doing away with. And killing our darlings unfolds during the editing process.

Editing is in many respects an act of destruction and rebuilding. It drives us crazy because it can go on forever. Change one element of the story, choose a different path, mutilate the manuscript, and you have a different book. There are an infinite number of different books in one novel. How do you know when to stop? Well, the easy answer is, you don’t know and you don’t stop, not until your eyes squint and all the words look like gibberish. At some point we develop what’s known as manuscript blindness, where we cease being effective because we can no longer see our work’s errors and flaws. At that point, when your brain feels like grated cheese, you might consider asking a beta reader or a professional editor to dig in, someone whose insight you trust and respect.

FugitivePiecesCoverIt’s important to choose whom you work with carefully, because an editor who doesn’t get it is as bad as a mismatched therapist. Both can topple you over into new levels of paranoia, desperation and futility. You want someone who knows books, who knows writing and craft and is savvy enough to jump into your work with the sole purpose of helping you make it the best it can be. It’s that person who understands the nuances of rule breaking and can recognize the difference between mistake and innovation. You’re not looking for the editor who wants to turn your book into something they would write, nor are you looking for someone whose approach is rigidly formulaic. By that I mean someone who tells you to lose every adverb and adjective and never use the passive voice, or someone who has no sense of poetry. In the hands of such an editor, Anne Michaels’ exquisite Fugitive Pieces might have been a very different book, and all the poorer for it. Because creative writing is defined by its very name, the last thing an editor needs to do is turn your novel into a clone of everyone else’s. Adverbs, adjectives and the passive voice have their place, but like everything else, they must assert their right to be there.

Once you’ve found a professional editor who feels like a good match, you’ll want to be very clear about the kind of editorial feedback you’re after. These are the broad categories and levels of editorial service that most professionals offer:

  • Proofreading (light). This is the most basic service, and will usually cost less. The editor will read through the manuscript, checking for inconsistencies and errors in syntax, grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting. Proofreading is usually the last step before a manuscript goes out on submission.
  • Copyediting (medium) includes a deeper evaluation of use of language and elements of craft such as style, voice, dialogue, narrative flow, pace and plot. A copyeditor will also check for inconsistencies in content.
  • Developmental/Substantive Editing (heavy). This type of edit takes all the above into account but gives priority to structure and foundational aspects of a manuscript. It’s the most comprehensive of editing services. An editor may recommend cutting, expanding, or reorganizing and may raise questions or make suggestions that call for rewriting.

While you can expect a degree of conformity, editors charge different rates and possess varying levels of skill. Some will offer payment options and work within your budget. While a substantive edit can be expensive, a broad editorial overview will be less so. It’s also important to ascertain whether proofreading is included in a quote, as this will need to be done once the author has completed his/her revisions. An editor should be very specific about what you’re getting, and will usually give you a breakdown of what each step costs. A useful website to check out is the Editorial Freelancers Association which goes into more detail about rates and services offered in the industry.

As a literary agent, the bulk of my day was spent editing clients’ manuscripts for submission to publishers. It’s what I do best, and I’ve since chosen to concentrate on freelance editing. I make sure that every author I take on knows exactly what I can do for him/her and what s/he can expect from the process. Because I’m also a writer, I’m sensitive to the emotional and practical investment in work that’s taken months to produce, and the anxiety around entrusting it to a relative stranger. I make it clear that I can be tough, and I don’t lie. I’m not brutal, but my job is to find the flaws and excesses an author might have missed, draw attention to what’s working and use my knowledge of the industry and craft to bring out the best in a book. That requires rolling up my sleeves and getting dirty. Throughout, I always make sure that the author knows she has my support.

On a lighter note, consider the wisdom of Dr Seuss, who said, “…the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” Whether you choose to trim and tidy those words yourself or with help, there’s a better book waiting at the end of it all with your name on it.

Next up: A Holiday Wish.




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