On Loving (and Editing) a Book to Death

Posted by on Nov 27, 2015 in Advice, Encouragement, From the Editors |

Image via Examiner

Image via Examiner: click for link

Cait and I recently read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. In the ensuing whirlwind of tidying at my house, I emptied out over ten year’s worth of binders. The binders were stuffed with handwritten pages of stories, journaling, and printed copies of stories and plays.

As I emptied out the binders, I kept coming across copies of the same two books. I wondered if I had accidentally started sorting the wrong pile. But, no. They were the same stories printed a dozen times, stuffed into binders spanning across the years. Two stories alone took up half of the binders. Even a slightly different draft earned the project a printed copy, as if something astoundingly new was coming out of the printer.

It was so obvious, with time between me and the stories, that the stories had become like the crib bumper I toddled around with as my childhood security blanket.

I found the remains of that bumper when I was cleaning stuff out, too. My mom had slowly cut away parts of the bumper until only a small square was left, so well-loved that the sheep on the fabric was nearly rubbed away and you could see the polyester filling inside.

I’d obviously loved those two book projects. But the stories had been loved–and edited–to death.

The harder I fought for them, the limper they got. I hadn’t moved on, let the story live and breathe in the form my abilities had been capable of conveying the first time. I’d smothered them with attention, cut them to bits, left jagged scars across the pages. There was nothing breathing there anymore.

As a writer-editor, I’ve become increasingly careful about preserving the writer’s voice, keeping the pages breathing even if the prose isn’t perfect. With more experience, I discover the power of a light hand–and the power of moving on.

Finishing a project and moving on is crucial to learning.

It’s the learning experience that counts. There are flaws within each story–but they’re not always flaws. Sometimes those flaws are like the flaws in emeralds, serving as essential character, the fissures of work behind the stone’s gorgeous green glow. Not every story is a glittery Gatsby diamond. It’s important to know what you’re working with.

If you pick and polish and indiscriminately nag your story, you could end up with a sorry caricature instead of an imperfect masterpiece. (That’s why it’s so important to NOT follow every piece of editing advice you read, and not follow every suggestion your CPs or editors gives you.)

With these things on my mind, I suggest this:

Do not edit with a mind to fix problems and eradicate mistakes.

Yes, there will be grammatical errors and smarter ways to phrase sentences. But fixing all of those “mistakes” could wipe out any hint of voice the book has. And that shouldn’t be the mindset behind the work anyway.

Think to yourself instead: Am I making the story stronger? Am I highlighting the good, using the unique features of my words to their best advantage? What is special here, vivid, brilliant, beautiful, amazing? Why did I love this idea so much?

Without new projects and new ideas, you won’t be able to grow as a writer. No matter how hard you try or how thickly you spackle on the paint, it just won’t work.

Embrace what makes the project lovely: don’t make it be something else. And then move on.


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Writing lessons I learned from forum RPGs

Posted by on Apr 9, 2015 in Advice, Inspiration, Resources | 1 comment

Let’s talk RPG.

Cait and I both cut our writing teeth on these. Also called play-by-post RPGs, they are a form of collaborative storymaking in which a group of people come together on internet forums with their own characters (sometimes predetermined by admin, but more often BYOC) and throw them into a world–unique or a fandom–where they can interact and create a story together. This taught us many great lessons that apply to traditional fiction writing.

Listed below in internet brief are just a few of these valuable writing lessons. With gifs!

Your character has to be interesting and tied in some critical way to the world’s story. Otherwise, no one will want to play with you. (Or read your book)

Via giphy

Collaborative writing can open up so many possibilities. In storymaking, two (or four, or six) minds really can be better than one. So don’t be afraid to call upon your writing group, critique partner, or editor to throw ideas at each other until rainbows of magic spout between your heads in rays of awesomeness.

Via giphy

There is joy and value in people breathing down your neck with a deadline. Writer’s block? What’s that? My RPG buddy editor needs a post book STAT!

Via giphy

When two characters are in the same scene, don’t rehash all the details. That’s Boooooo (wait for it) RING. Highlight the differences in their POVs and skim the rest. Keep the story moving!

Via giphy

Don’t put words, thoughts, or actions into another character’s head.  Especially when it’s impossible for the invading character to know the info. That’s just rude.

Via giphy


Writing on RPGs really does make you a better writer. So does writing fanfiction. So did writing that woodshed project you dust off every now and then. The lessons you learn from writing in these different modes will vary somewhat, but the ultimate outcome is the same: you’re a better storyteller by virtue of getting the words down, doing it a lot, and interacting with other writers.

Who knew learning could be so fun?


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2015 News & Announcements

Posted by on Mar 9, 2015 in News |

With the new year come changes. (Or at least good intentions for change: amiright, O Neglected Treadmill?)

New Years was always one of my favorite holidays. That probably has something to do with the big NYE parties in my parents’ garage and the 60 pounds of homemade confetti we would battle with at the stroke of the new year. That sense of excitement and newness was thrilling. I would start the new year in giddy asthma-inducing dust clouds, all-day Lord of the Rings marathons, and absurdly late nights with friends.


It is in that spirit that I think about 2015 and the goals Cait and I have for our editing business. I’m EXCITED about the plans we have for this year. ALL CAPS EXCITED. You know the editor is pumped up when they use all caps. If you’re not convinced yet…hey look, excessive use of exclamation marks!!!

Here’s what we’re making of 2015 at Bear & Black Dog.

More content and services provided specifically for self-publishing authors.

This includes the addition of proofreading services (a big welcome to our proofreader, Keith Barbalato!) and a discount on all of our services to anyone who is self publishing. The discount is going to last ALL YEAR. All year!! (Note: all caps, excessive exclamation points) Plus we’re going to be posting here on the blog about self editing, marketing, book design, and the other important self-publishing skills.

More content and services for authors seeking traditional publishing.

But we’re not leaving out the writers who are seeking a traditional publishing deal. We’re also offering query letter critiques and phone/Skype consultation services for those who need help hooking agents and editors. Pretty awesome, right?

Answers to more of YOUR questions about editing and publishing.

We’ll be starting a semi-regular video series called Ask B&BD, wherein we’ll answer questions from you. To submit a question, tweet at us with the hashtag #AskBBD, comment on our Facebook page, or email us at contact [at] bearandblackdog [dot] com with “Ask B&BD” in the subject line. We’ll also be using the videos to talk about some of our favorite writing and editing resources. The videos will be posted to Cait’s YouTube channel, so be sure to subscribe!

Another B&BD anniversary contest.

Last year we gave away a free twice tried edit. For B&BD’s two year celebration, we’re scheming to bring a free edit to a new author–so someone who hasn’t been published before and is working in that direction, whether self publishing or traditionally publishing. This edit will be at whatever level the author needs. Our editing services are like an in-depth writing course, so this could be a valuable step forward for the winner!

Personal development to improve your favorite bear and black dog’s editing skills.

We’ll keep you updated as to side projects, conference attendance, and activity in the Twitterverse. We always like talking with writers. Find Cait @CaitSpivey and Ash @AshyAslan, and give a shoutout and a follow to our new proofreader Keith @BooksellerKeith.


For more information about these services, offers, and changes, stay tuned to the blog here or our official B&BD twitter account. Our updated service packages can be seen now under the Services tab above.

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On Day Jobs and Hobbies

Posted by on Sep 18, 2014 in Advice, Encouragement, From the Editors |


Bear here, enjoying a moment of quiet. I sit at my desk without any looming edit deadlines and my daughter at the babysitter’s. Crickets are singing in the yellowing grass outside my window. Tomorrow there will be no babysitter, and I will have house work. But today…today is mine. Today I can pause and decide what would please me to do.

These moments are wonderful, because they allow me to rekindle my love of writing. After doing the day, sometimes there’s not much energy left for the creative process.

But I don’t want to take the regular days for granted. I think responsibilities can remind us of the beauty of the creative process and drive us forward as writers. The day job, the kid, the family obligations, scrubbing the toilet…what kind of escape would writing be if I didn’t have these things?

And let’s take it to the next level. What if writing books was my only interest? What if I didn’t have an interest in music? What if I didn’t have native plant gardening to make me feel excited about something bigger than myself? What if I didn’t sew for the orderly, mind quieting therapy of it?

There’s so much to enjoy in life. Every day. Don’t make writing carry the burden of being the only thing you look forward to.

It’s good to have obligations to structure your day and motivate your passion. And sometimes it’s good to step away from the computer and pursue another hobby.

We all have things we need to do, and things we want to do. For a lot of us, writing is something we simply need to do. Myself included. But I also want writing to be something I WANT to do, as much as possible.

I want to tell any overburdened, busy writers out there: if you catch one of these quiet days, don’t let the thought of your obligations stop you from enjoying it. Free yourself. Do what you like. Feel no guilt.

Me, I’m taking the day. I won’t read over this post obsessively to make sure I got it “right.” I’m not going to waffle between this or that chore. No–not today. Today, I’m going to go outside and enjoy the garden.



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Anniversary Pitch Contest: The Winner

Posted by on Jul 1, 2014 in Contests |

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

Back in May we announced that we would be giving away a free twice tried edit to the winner of our anniversary pitch contest. We’d pick the entry that we felt was most deserving of our help. We got so many fantastic entries that even yesterday we were still deliberating. But a winner had to be chosen. And so, we chose the one project. The one that captured us from the moment we read it. You could say we were book-editor soulmates. This story was one Cait and I were both interested in for its own sake. We felt that we could help the writer on their journey in a meaningful way. Plus, this writer offered to make us chicken curry, and I LOVE chicken curry.

OK, in all seriousness, we do not accept food bribery. But this author had a unique story and unique story challenges that will make being their editor a wonderful experience. So, without further ado!

The winner is…

Shaila P., author of SOULMATED!

Congratulations, Shaila!

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