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.

~Bear

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First Steps Post-Draft

Posted by on Dec 1, 2014 in Advice, Encouragement |

Many of you have just finished NaNoWriMo, so I figured now would be a good time to share our tips for what to do after typing “the end”. (Step one is to read up on our 10K, 10% NaNoWriMo promotion and see if it’s for you!)

Sit back and bask in your glory.

You wrote a novel! A freaking novel! It’s an achievement and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There are so many people out there who want to write novels and never do, people who don’t dedicate the time to it–and on top of that, there are plenty of would-be novelists who never finish a single draft. (I was one of them for a long, long time.) You’ve taken a big step and overcome a big obstacle. REVEL IN IT.

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Step away from the darlings.

When you’re finished soaking up the warm glow of accomplishment, put the manuscript away. Don’t touch it. Delete your word processor’s desktop shortcut. Forget that it ever happened. Return to your regularly scheduled hobbies.

Love on your supporters.

We writers often ask a lot from the people in our lives. We ask for space, we let the stories and the inspiration take precedence over conversation except when we need to bounce an idea off someone, we get frustrated when all we want to do is go write but there are other demands on our time and they just won’t go away. Sometimes we write dark things and it puts us in a funk and our spouses/siblings/roommates/parents/friends bear the brunt of our self-induced bad moods. We get super self-centered and all we want to talk about is our characters.

Now that your draft is done, do something nice for all the people who helped you do your writerly thing while the work was in progress. Even if it’s just a card or a heartfelt email, they’ll appreciate it and they’ll continue to support you in the future.

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Do something different.

By the time you finish your draft, you may have gotten used to the rearranged schedule you made so that you’d have writing time. Feel free to relax it a little, but don’t be afraid to take advantage of that extra time to do something new and different. Play chess. Take an online course through places like Coursera. Knit a sweater. Ride a horse. Steal a TARDIS. Whatever!

New experiences are food for writers’ brains. You made room in your schedule to write a book, now use that room to learn and try new things. You never know what you might need to know for your next book (or even the one you just finished, when you get to editing it).

When you’re ready, make an editing plan.

Give yourself a nice long waiting period. The time required is different for each person, and even different for each manuscript, but what’s always true is that you need some time away in order to see your manuscript with a clear head. Spend some time just thinking about your manuscript first. Your first round of editing should be about story structure, character development, plot, all those big picture things. Make a plan. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, now is the time to outline your manuscript and make sure everything flows. Get the big parts in place before you start hunting for typos.

What are your favorite self-care steps post-editing? Share in the comments or on Twitter! 

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On Day Jobs and Hobbies

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

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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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-Bear

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Don’t Fear the Editor

Posted by on Feb 3, 2014 in Encouragement |

(Not us. Probably. Photo by EK-StockPhotos)

Make no mistake: the editing process is a big, scary step for most of us. You’re willingly offering up your hard work to someone else’s careful scrutiny, and the probability is very high that they will have criticism at the end of it.

Because of this, it’s very easy to panic, both during the wait for edits and once edits are received. This is especially true if some of the critique is leveled against your favorite part, or something you’re not willing to change. Have you ever gotten a comment, in a review or swap or beta read, that made your heart jump into your throat? That’s what we’re talking about here.

As writers ourselves, Ash and I understand.

We’re not executioners out for every last one of your darlings. Nor are we  out to test your endurance, weeding out the unworthy who can’t accept constructive criticism. We are the ones you’ve trusted to help you; that is what we want to do, and not at all with a “this is for your own good” attitude.

Fundamentally, we are open to discussion. The writer is always the one who knows their work best; our job is to refine the story, yes, but it’s always up to you what that story is. I had a lovely discussion with a client a few weeks ago where we talked about some major structural changes to her manuscript, and it was two hours of fun full of possibility and inspiration.

And that, friends, is what an editor brings to the table. So put aside the panic, temper the suspicion, and join us there.

In the comments:

What have been some of your favorite experiences working with an editor or critique partner? Did something that seemed devastating at the time end up being a breakthrough moment? (I know I remember when Ash told me to cut a main character…it was a complete breakthrough!)

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Catch That Idea! (The danger of working in a vacuum)

Posted by on Oct 19, 2013 in Encouragement, Inspiration |

Wanted to get a quick post up about an idea my husband (a songwriter/mixer) and I were talking about recently. He was describing how tough it was to write pop songs, which are deceptively simple. (The elements are straightforward but executing them successfully is tough…sound familiar?) This got us started on the topic of the blank slate. The beginning of new projects.

As we talked, I realized one reason why it may be difficult for writers to get momentum on their projects.

THE MENTAL VACUUM.

In our everyday lives, we let a lot of things slip through our fingers–moments of time, opportunities, fleeting thoughts. So many things are tossed out of our heads in favor of mundane survival requirements. That’s how we’re made, to enhance that which is important to our lives and chuck the rest.

Getting morning coffee > Writing down an interesting dream

For creativity, this can be deadly. We may start to believe that “I don’t have any ideas.” We think, “I just don’t know what to do with this.” When the truth is, we have simply let the ideas flit away. We lost good solutions somewhere on the road behind us, a road we cannot travel again.

This is why it is so important, essential, for writers to put their ideas on paper. Do the cliched thing and leave a notebook on your bedside table. Put one in your kitchen too. Have a voice recording app on your phone. (They have those! Who knew?) Have a file on your computer specifically for tidbits of ideas.

The next time the creative doldrums hit, you’ll be prepared. You’ll have an arsenal. You’ll realize that you actually DO have a lot of great ideas…and there they are. Ready to be worked with.

WRITE YOUR IDEAS DOWN!

-Bear

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Five Ways to Make Your Writing Social

Posted by on Oct 11, 2013 in Encouragement, Inspiration, Resources |

Are you feeling lost with your writing project? Do you need fresh inspiration or direction? Do you find yourself staring at your manuscript, reading it without comprehending it?

It may be time to call upon the power of writing partners.

These can come in many forms. The five I’ve listed here are just five that have helped me personally, and I’m just scratching the surface! I’m sure I’ll post more ideas in the future, but for now, here are five ways to get out of the writing cave and into a writing village.

1. Critique Partner: This is a classic. Find a person who matches you well in reading preferences, writing genre, skill level, and availability. Swap manuscripts. Read. Critique the work. Return. Talk (a lot). Be amazed at the power of a fresh perspective.

2. In-Person Writing Groups: Say you’re blessed with actually having real life friends who are as writing-obsessed as you are. Don’t let that kinship go to waste–put it to work in a symbiotic critique group. Meet at a predictable time every week or month and rotate through the group members’ work, reading and debating. These groups can also work as actual WRITING groups, where you simply get together and force each other to write via peer pressure.

3. Co-Writer: This is a trickier option, though potentially a powerful one. If you can find the right person and the right project, a co-writer can make an idea double the fun, double the creativity…double the awesome. (Just look at Bear & Black Dog!)

4. Forum RPGs: It’s co-writing, but in a low-stakes environment. The premises for these vary greatly and range from “RL” (real life) games to fandom spinoffs. Forums RPGs can be found through companies like Invisionfree and are wonderful tools for improving your writing skills in a fun, addictive way.

5. Writing Forums: If you’d rather find support for your writing in the form of commiseration, tips about publishing, and craft chats, consider writer-specific forums. There are many excellent communities out there that are only a search away!

For all of these, there is the possibility that you’ll meet people you don’t get along with, or maybe your skill levels or philosophies are opposed. But honestly? Every time I’ve come across that situation, it’s been a great learning experience.

A fresh perspective is always useful. Give it a try!

-Bear

 

Bite-Sized:

A fresh perspective is always useful. Give it a try with Bear’s Five Ways to Make Your Writing Social: http://bearandblackdog.com/?p=267 Click to Tweet! 

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