Category: Tips (page 1 of 2)

A podcast worth a listen

It seems everyone has a new podcast these days. If you are anything like me, you might find that podcasts worth your time are scarce.

Hence, I was delighted to learn that Merriam-Webster launched a new podcast for logophiles called Word Matters. The first episode tackles the controversial “irregardless” and explains why “dinner” and “supper” both exist.

The lexicographers also touch upon how words make it into the dictionary. If you enjoyed reading Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper as much as I did, I believe you’re going to enjoy this podcast.

If you have any words you would like the word nerds to discuss on the podcast, they encourage you to contact them.

Create a writing ritual

Before the writing comes the coffee.

I’m a big proponent of the idea that a writer can and should write anywhere, any chance they get. Sentences jotted down in a pocket notebook or on a note app throughout the day will accumulate into paragraphs over time. Life is busy, and dedicated writers will do what it takes to get their words down.

However, it is also essential to carve out substantial writing and rewriting time if you’re going to produce worthwhile material. It can be challenging to shift from regular life to your writing life. If you have an hour in the day of uninterrupted time, you’re supposed to be able to sit and write fluidly for the full sixty minutes. This isn’t realistic for most people, and you might find yourself staring at your screen for the entire hour, which only adds to the already frustrating life of a writer.

This is where a writing ritual can come in handy. Anything that tells you you’re about to start writing can serve as a writing ritual. The performance of the ritual serves to get your mind into author mode so that you can make more efficient use of your writing time.

Create something unique to you

Whether you brew a pot of tea before beginning or wear a certain hat while writing, the ritual should be something that is unique to you. Perhaps you place a talisman front and center or listen to a certain song before beginning to write. One writer I know says, “Let’s begin” at the beginning of each writing session and then gets right to it. Amazing. 

When you first start performing a writing ritual, it might not result in a flurry of words bursting forth from your mind onto the page, but after one or two good writing sessions in which you’ve performed a writing ritual, it will get easier to switch into author mode.

Your writing ritual could also serve to let your household know that you’re writing and curb an interruption or two. Considering how many times I’ve been interrupted while reading a book, I have to wonder if I’m being too optimistic in thinking you’ll actually be left alone to write. It’s worth a shot, right?

Should you create a closing ritual?

In the same way that the opening ritual signals you’re about to begin writing, a closing ritual signals to your mind that the writing session is over. Depending on your opening ritual, the closing ritual might be obvious to you: take off the writing hat or piece of jewelry; put away the talisman; clean the teapot or coffee mug; listen to a different song. 

A closing ritual is not crucial for everyone. You might think that a closing ritual would put an unwanted boundary on your creativity or limit you in some way. You might not find it necessary because it’s a lot easier to stop writing than it is to start. But what if you don’t live alone?

A closing ritual can signal to those around you that you’re done writing for the moment, which can be especially helpful if you’re usually in front of a computer screen performing multiple tasks throughout the day. You don’t have to run around telling everyone you’re done writing; you can simply take off the clown nose and move on to the next computer task.

Do you already perform a writing ritual? I’d love to hear about it.

The Editing Process

Many authors aren’t sure what should happen after they’ve written their first draft. This post will walk you through the editing process as it would occur at a publishing house, which is how I think it should occur even if you are self-publishing. I see editing as an in-depth conversation between author and editor. It is a conversation that must occur out of respect for the reader.

My ideal book publishing process is as follows:

  • Writing
  • Revising
  • Manuscript critique
  • Developmental edit
  • Line editing
  • Copy editing
  • Manuscript clean up
  • Interior book formatting (aka typesetting for those of us from the old school)
  • Proofreading
  • Proofreading corrections
  • Final review
  • Print
  • Celebrate

Many authors tell me they only need copy editing and don’t want to engage in the developmental editing and line editing process. Often the reasons behind this reluctance are time, money, and ego. My responses to these excuses are brief.

  • Time: Excellent writing takes time.
  • Money: One bad review will cost you more in sales than you would have spent on editing.
  • Ego: The right editor will fall in love with your manuscript and your purpose. A developmental editor is your assistant, not your boss. (A copy editor is your boss, though. It’s okay to hate them a little.)

The following sections describe each step in which the editor is involved. My turnaround time for each stage is ten business days for manuscripts under 90,000 words. For manuscripts over 90,000 words, I’ll review your book and provide you with an individually tailored timeline. Except for the manuscript critique, every step is performed using Word’s Track Changes and Comments features.

Manuscript critique

In the offices of America’s Editor, the manuscript critique can work one of two ways:

  • I read the manuscript and provide you with notes on your overall plot, diction, audience, marketability, organization, structure, premise, pacing, characters, and dialogue.
  • My assistants and I do all of the above on our own. We meet to discuss your manuscript (chair slamming and name calling ensues). We then provide you with our combined notes.

Developmental editing

In a perfect world, authors will make time for a manuscript critique and a developmental edit. In my experience, however, few independent authors do both. It’s possible to skip the manuscript critique, but that usually means the developmental edit will include redundant notes and questions that could have been easily addressed during the manuscript critique. The manuscript critique yields a sharper developmental edit. Developmental editing focuses on storytelling and your book’s purpose. This stage can begin as soon as you have a book idea. It’s a collaborative step where you and I discuss and research your manuscript at length. My suggestions at this stage are specific to your voice and intention. It’s not only about what you’re doing with this book now but also about what you want to do in your writing career and what you want the book to accomplish. This is where I really get to know you. Scary, right?

Line editing

During line editing, we fine tune your voice, sentence structure, and word choice. You’ll receive notes line by line, paragraph by paragraph. If we’ve done all of the ideal steps, the manuscript will begin to shine during this stage in a way you never thought possible. (This even goes for those writers who have fifteen books under their belts and feel they don’t need anything but copy editing.) I’ve heard of editors combining developmental editing and line editing into one step. Do I recommend it? No. If you’re at the stage in writing where you feel you can’t look at the manuscript anymore, combining these steps will make it feel much, much worse.

Copy editing

Copy editing is where punctuation, grammar, and consistency are finally addressed. If you’ve done all of the other steps, copy editing will be painless. In fact, it’ll be fun because we get to take a look at your shining manuscript and perfect it. You know the feeling you get when you look at your baby sleeping in an adorable pose? That should be the feeling you get when reviewing copy editing changes.

Manuscript clean up

Manuscript clean up is a step I perform for many publishing houses. After the author reviews the copy editing changes, I take a quick look to ensure there are no remaining comments or changes to be addressed. I also perform this step for independent authors who choose to work with my interior book designers.

Proofreading

Authors often think proofreading is the same as copy editing. It’s not. Proofreading comes after the book has been formatted. The proofreader reviews the proof pages. In addition to reading the manuscript and checking for grammar, punctuation, and consistency, the proofreader checks for missing text, incorrect formatting, stacks, widows, and orphans, erroneous running heads or page numbers, and more. There is a technical aspect to proofreading that requires a different mindset from all other stages of editing. Performing a proofread without first doing a copy edit will result in expensive revisions. A single comma can shift the text dramatically, sometimes even altering the page count. The book formatter has painstakingly styled your book, and every small change requires several minutes of work. The book formatter will charge you accordingly.

Working with tracked changes

This video gives a quick overview of how to review your editor’s changes using Microsoft Word.

A sampling of the Bard of Avon

Three steps to immortality:
  1. Skip the clichés.
  2. Use your own words.
  3. Live forever.

The secret life of a book manuscript

Author Thomas E. Ricks recently penned an interesting article in The Atlantic detailing the intricacies of the author–editor relationship as he wrote Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom.

Over our Caesar salads with sliced steak, I asked Scott why he had been so rough on me the previous winter. “Sometimes my job is to be an asshole,” he explained with equanimity. I wasn’t startled at this. At one point on an earlier book, when I told him how stressed I was feeling, he had replied, a bit airily, I thought, “Oh, every good book has at least one nervous breakdown in it.”

Whether you’re familiar with the writing process or not, this piece is a great read.

The next surprise, about three weeks into this process, was coming to realize, over the days of thinking about it, that Scott’s criticisms were spot-on. I saw that if I followed his suggestions and revamped the book, with a new structure that emphasized biography and told the stories of the two men chronologically, the book would be much better. I emailed a note to Scott. “You are right,” it said. This wasn’t so much an apology as the beginning of the next phase of work.

“Only a good writer would be able to say that,” he graciously responded.

You can read the article in its entirety here.

How long did it take to write the world’s most popular books?

Find time to write

Use those few minutes before a meeting starts, standing in line at the supermarket, and waiting in the doctor’s office. Instead of watching TV or checking social media, write. All those micro writing sessions add up to pages, which add up to chapters.

How not to start your story

There are many overused story openings that you should avoid at all costs. Several literary agents, acquisition editors, and publishers have written about this, but here is a short list of the most annoying and disliked ways to start a story.

Do not open your story with:

  • a dream;
  • an alarm clock buzzing;
  • a character jumping out of bed, running late;
  • the first day of anything new (e.g., school, job);
  • a wake up of any kind; or
  • the protagonist in bed for any reason.

Get your characters out of bed already.

Keep personality in your nonfiction

Nonfiction authors have the benefit of being real-life narrators, yet they often remove their own personality from their books.

When writing a nonfiction book, use your own voice. It should be a voice of authority about the subject and a voice that matches the tone of the book.

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