Monday, October 24, 2016

Masterclass: Backpack Literature Chapters 4-5

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          In continuation of my post on September 26th, I’ve completed chapters 4 and 5 of the textbook Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing 4th edition by XJ Kennedy and Dana Gioia. It’s as informative and engaging as the authors promised.
          I love this textbook! I’m so glad I’m auditing this class.

          I had planned on finishing a chapter a week, but my editing schedule only allowed me to complete chapters 4 and 5 this month.

          Chapter 4 covered elements of setting. After reading pieces by Kate Chopin, Jorge Luis Borges, Jack London, and Amy Tan, settings are part of the experience for readers, but writers use them in different ways from mimicking characters’ moods to plot points.  The setting in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” captured freezing cold perfectly.

          To learn to write about settings, I choose to write all the details about a place I like to visit then write a paragraph about what sort of mood is suggested by it. As often is the case, the mood wasn’t exactly what I thought before I completed the assignment. Writing is the best way to discover what you really think!

          Chapter 5 covered tone and style with short stories by Hemingway and Faulkner. Irony in its many guises was discussed then highlighted in pieces by O. Henry and Kate Chopin. I loved the inner dialogue of Mrs. Mallard in “The Story of an Hour” by Chopin which, of course, had an ironic ending.

          For the writing exercise, I chose to describe a city street as seen through three different characters in different moods and stages of life. The moods and ages are part of the exercise. I loved this assignment. It’s so freeing to step outside of yourself and see things through someone else’s eyes. The same street isn’t seen the same way. Fascinating to discover different actions taken because of a mood can make you oblivious or obvious.

          I recommend this textbook to all writers.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Editorial Advice from an Editor to an Intern: What it Takes to Become an Editor

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

This is the second part of my post started on October 3, 2016 where I gave writing advice to an intern who also wants to be an editor.

I didn’t set out to become an editor. I wanted to be a successful writer working from home. I became both by writing for years then taking a writing class where I met the woman who just bought one of the magazines I now write for and edit.

I started out as an unpaid intern for the magazines. I wrote articles as well as learned about copyediting (turning press releases and items sent in by the public about meetings and events into style copy for the magazine issue), layouts (placing texts, ads, pull quotes, photos, and captions on each page), proofreading (using the correct proofreaders’ marks), and the myriad of little things to check in an effort to publish an almost perfect issue (something always goes wrong).

A few years later, I became the editor of two magazines—a job I love. Now I’m working with an intern who wants to be a writer and an editor. I’m happy to share my knowledge and experience with her; however, writing skills are more straightforward to discuss than editing skills.

Here is my editing advice:

Reading is the most important editing skill. The more you read, the more you build up your sense of words—their rhythm, flow, and tone—and expand your vocabulary. You absorb grammar and punctuation rules. Even reading poorly written books teaches you what doesn’t work.

Reading widely gives you a feel for grammar, but also read grammar books like Words Fail Me and Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Conner and/or the Grammar Girl series by Mignon Fogarty then keep them for reference. Do the same for punctuation. I like the Merriam Webster’s Guide to Punctuation and Style. Refer to these books often.

All knowledge makes you a better writer and editor. I read all genres as good writers make any genre interesting. I also read books about science and art as well as classic novels and bestsellers.

For writers and editors, words are our medium. Spend as much time as possible reading and writing.

Poetry is essential. Ray Bradbury makes this recommendation to writers on page 36 of Zen in the Art of Writing:

Read poetry every day of your life…it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough…it expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition.

Editors use these muscles more often than writers. Read any poet who appeals to you then branch out.

Read every book by Diane Ackerman, Bill Bryson, Joseph Campbell, and their ilk, like The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt, for broad-ranging knowledge.

Read memoirs. Read philosophy. Read the classics.

“…a good editor reads omnivorously and is interested in everything.” –from page 128 of Editing Fact and Fiction.

This is true so it’s also essential to stay on top of the news, pop culture, and have a wide array of interests. Articles and essays you edit (or write on assignment) can include references to anything.

The more information you take in through books, magazines, news outlets, TV, the internet, movies, and conversations, the more you have in your arsenal to help you catch errors when editing as well as to connect with readers when writing your articles, essays, and posts.

While the internet offers access to almost every piece of information, I also like to dip into reference books like The New York Public Library Desk Reference; The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy by E D Hirsch, Jr., Joseph F. Kett, and James Trefil; and An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned But Probably Didn’t by Judy Jones & William Wilson to learn something new every day.

TV shows I recommend include CBS Sunday Morning at 9am as it covers a multitude of topics that are timely, interesting, useful, and fun. Writers and authors are often profiled. Also watch Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley on PBS as they interview many writers as well as cover a variety of topics. Book TV on C-SPAN2 offers weekends full of author discussions. Super Soul Sundays includes many authors talking to Oprah on OWN. Authors are interviewed on Well Read on PBS. BBC America has many shows about writers and the arts as does the Ovation channel. I also watch NOVA, Nature, and Masterpiece Theatre on PBS. I occasionally watch shows on the Discovery channel, Smithsonian channel, and History channel. Also, don’t overlook the knowledge shared on Jeopardy.

Yes, to be a good editor you need to read and watch TV as well as view movies and listen to all kinds of music—dream job!

As a freelance editor and writer, I never know what topics might come up. For example, I was the editor of a Boating & Fishing magazine for years. I don’t boat or fish so editing took more work to assign articles. Then I had to double check facts and spellings. You don’t have to know a topic to edit, but you need to put in the extra work to make sure errors don’t get into print.

A magazine issue does not exist without an editor tracking down article ideas, contacting people to be interviewed, assigning articles to writers with word counts and deadlines. Appropriate topics depend on the magazine. Columnists decide on their topics independently.

As these are monthly magazines, I decide and assign articles by, for example, October 25th that are due by November 15th for the December issues. There is no room for procrastination!

In the same time frame, I copyedit all press releases and information sent in by the public for each issue. I also write captions for photos with people's names left to right.

          Editors have to be prepared for articles to fall through at the last minute. Be prepared to write the articles yourself or have non-timely articles ready to go like profiles of artists. If you have a specific interest, like reading, be prepared with book reviews. 

Deadline is the 15th of every month. I have to edit everything by the end of day on the 18th and send it to the Production Department. Three days is not enough time for perfection. Hopefully, I catch most of the errors I missed earlier during proofing on the 21st and final proof on the 22nd. However, I do not get to see that changes were made correctly on the 22nd. If I didn't write clearly or the Production person missed a correction or made the change incorrectly, then there will be errors in the issue. We are all human so I just hope none of the mistakes are embarrassing misspellings.

For actual editing skills, train yourself by editing what you read, especially newspapers and magazines, using proofreaders’ marks. No publication is perfect. Also, editing is in part subjective. Cut articles you read by 50-100 words or more without losing any content. Look for repetition, wordiness, and filler as “every word should tell” (Strunk & White, page 23). Be concise and precise. Most importantly, let the writer’s voice stay true; however, clarity is essential. Please note, clarity does not mean only simple sentences.

An internship with an editor is the easiest way to see what editors do as well as ask why they make specific corrections and changes to pieces. Different editors make different changes sometimes due to the style of the publication, sometimes due to editing style.

Editors are required to check every fact. Check spelling. Look up definitions. When in doubt, double check.

Editors must:
change misused words;
correct misspellings, grammar, and punctuation;
double-check all names, titles, and facts;
find buried leads / reorganize paragraphs when needed;
include smooth transitions;
keep to publication’s Style Sheet;
stay consistent, i.e., U.S. or US; ten or 10;
check everything they are not absolutely sure about,
make writers’ work shine,
ensure clarity,
and meet every deadline without fail.

There is a lot to learn to become an editor and no easy way to teach editing skills. As I mentioned you need a sense of words, but also a discerning eye, an ear for language, and intuition when something is wrong even if you can’t point it out right away plus the tenacity to find and correct these errors.

Editing for magazines doesn’t require discussing changes with writers usually; book editing does.

Editing takes a lot of time, but deadlines are tight generally.

You need to work well under pressure.  

Fresh eyes are essential so take breaks as needed.

Read pieces aloud to catch mistakes.

As the saying goes: “Editors are like goalies. No one remembers all the ones you caught—only the ones that get by you.”
          Some mistakes will always get by you so you must have a thick skin.

          Learn from your mistakes.

          Feedback is sometimes negative.

          Tact and good people skills are important.

          Do your best on every issue or project. 

Reference Books:

Good dictionaries—one everywhere you work and read or use, look up every word you don’t know.
The Copyediting Handbook by Amy Einsohn
Editing Fact and Fiction by Leslie T. Sharpe and Irene Gunther
Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus (reviewed on 6/9/14)
The Synonym Finder by J I Rodale (reviewed on 6/9/14)
The Elements of Style by Strunk & White (reviewed on 12/8/14)
Words Fail Me and Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Conner
Grammar Girl series by Mignon Fogarty
Merriam Webster’s Guide to Punctuation and Style
Style Book (AP or Chicago Manual of Style)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Writing Advice from an Editor to Writers in General

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Last week I wrote about writing advice I gave to an intern. This week, I’m giving advice to more experienced writers.

          I have edited three local monthly magazines as well as a state-wide monthly magazine at the same time. The common challenge is filling all the space between the ads on all the pages.

To accomplish this, every month I have to come up with six to ten topics for articles for each magazine, depending on page counts, a month or two before deadline. Then I assign them to writers who will interview people, write comprehensive and well-organized pieces that meet the word count on deadline. I also have five columnists on staff covering sports, gardening, family life, books, and observations on life. Two columnists also write articles.

Finding good writers is essential which means there are writing opportunities out there. Experienced writers with tear sheets (previously published articles from other publications) are good to work with as they know what to do—although it may turn out these writers have been edited heavily. However, new writers are excited and willing to learn. Their energy is infectious and fun. 

As long as new writers are serious about completing assignments, they should ask for assigned articles submitting writing samples when requested. I often assign new writers articles I need in two months to see if they can meet a two or three week deadline. This gives me time to recover if they fail.

Short Inquiries:

To get published in a magazine, a serious writer should send editors short inquiries about article ideas he or she would like to write (or have already written) that fit a publication’s style. Be familiar with the publication. Make sure your ideas will be compatible. As I mentioned, editors have to generate a lot of story ideas every month so having good ones suggested by writers is helpful.

Put Article Inquiry in the subject line.

These inquiries should be short and sent to the editor by his or her name. If you cannot be bothered to find the editor’s name, you are making a bad impression and, worse yet, you are unfamiliar with the publication.

It’s best to pitch ideas for the future as issues are planned a month or two in advance. (Example: pitch December topics in September. National magazines may have even longer lead times.)

Introduce and discuss your article idea—what it is, why readers will enjoy it, and why you are interested in writing it. Then summarize your expertise and writing experience. If a new writer, offer to submit writing samples. Then end with: Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you. Include your contact information, phone and email address.

Do not expect an immediate response. Give an editor two or three weeks to respond. If no response, send the inquiry again. Editors receive emails from dozens to hundreds of readers, advertisers, the production department, the printer, press releases, compliments, complaints, and established writers so it might take a week or two for the editor to get to inquiries, longer if your email arrives during deadline week.

Once contacted, be prompt in answering an editor’s questions in response to your inquiry.


Once the editor gives you the assignment, a style sheet, word count, and deadline, deliver what you promised—an engaging and professionally written article about the idea you pitched that includes quotes from at least one person.

Interview Tips:

Do not procrastinate. Set up interviews immediately as there are always scheduling conflicts. Also, if interview has to be rescheduled, you have time to do so.

Make sure you spell each person’s name, title, and organization      correctly.

Have at least 10-12 questions prepared before interview.  Ask follow up questions where appropriate.

Make sure some require short or numerical answers to break up all the longer quotes for other questions.

Two questions I always ask:
          What do you like best about your job or the event?
                   (Personality shines through in answers.)

And end of interview ask: Is there anything else you would like the public to know?
(This gives the person a chance to discuss things you might not know about so follow up questions might be needed.)

I write all the questions in the margin of my notepad if it’s an in-person interview.

If emailing questions, double check for spelling errors before sending.

When emailing questions, put the deadline date for answers in the subject line and again before the questions.

Always thank people for their time before the interview or before the written questions in an email.

Listen to answers or read them carefully.

Ask follow up questions as needed.

If handwritten, type up your notes as soon as possible after the interview.

If you can’t read some of your notes or an answer isn’t clear when you are writing your article, contact the person again to get the right answers.


In your first draft, organize your thoughts then include every quote, fact, and point you want to make regardless of word count.

Use the strongest and clearest interview statements as quotes in your article. The rest of what the person said become facts in the text. Weave these facts in with any other researched facts along with the quotes which breathe life into your articles.

Know the correct punctuation for quotes. Also, some publications use said, some use says. Use right style.

Once first draft is written, reread it. Read it aloud. Often you will find you buried your lead (best start to your article) in paragraph two, three, or even six. Reorganize paragraphs as needed.

Then rewrite and polish your article repeatedly until it is the best work you can produce and within the word count.

Look for better choices of words—i.e., one word that can replace a wordy description. (Every writer in my opinion should have and use the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. Read the Introduction “In Search of the Exact Word” by Richard Goodman, pp. xi-xvii, to see exactly what I mean. )

Check spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

For reference: I spend less than 40% of my time writing and over 60% rewriting my articles for publication.


Submit assignments before or on deadline date. No excuses.

I advise that new writers especially submit their articles well before deadline. Editors will remember you for doing it. This means you can be counted on and will receive future assignments provided you also wrote a good or, better yet, a great article.

What constitutes a great article?

In every article emailed to me, I want to see:

a pertinent, even clever, title,

a byline,

an article with paragraphs,

only one space between sentences,

line spacing of 1.15 or 1.5,

do not start any article with a quote,

people need to be introduced to readers before being quoted,

organized thoughts,

smooth transitions,

quotes woven seamlessly into the text,

an attention-grabbing intro paragraph ,

and an ending paragraph that ties up the article well.

In between the first and last paragraphs, I look for:

proper punctuation especially for quotes,

good grammar,

correct spellings of words, names, and titles,

attention paid to details like dates, times, places, etc.,

true facts, statistics, etc.,

word count (within 100 words under to exact number),

and that the magazine’s style sheet was followed.

Q&A articles begin with an intro paragraph or two.

If submitting a photo, write a caption that includes (left to right) people’s names.

Writers can recommend pull quotes, but editor has final say.

Overall, I look for:

a strong writer’s voice and style,


Is lead paragraph enticing?

Is article fun to read and informative?

Are the facts clear?

Are quotes distributed throughout the article?

Is anything jarring? (bad transitions, out-of-order facts, person quoted without being introduced)

Are the contact phone number, email address, & web site listed if readers want more information?


Corrections are made following rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

The rest of changes are made to fit magazine’s style or the editor’s sense of words and style.

Most articles have excess words so editors tighten up the text by cutting these words or replacing them with more exact words.

Magazine editors do not usually discuss changes with writers unless want total rewrites

Writers may ask about changes, but not during deadline week. If you want feedback, ask the editor beforehand to see if it’s possible. Then turn article in early in case has editor has time before publication. Feedback takes a lot of time so the editor may say no. If that is the case, compare what you turned in to what was published. Changes should result in clearer or tighter writing.    

If a lot of text is missing, space may have been tight on the page so change may have nothing to do with your writing. (I’ve had ads come in very late. They always go in, so text must be cut. It’s a tough business.)

If you see a pattern in the edits, work on that area of your writing.

Once an editor knows you are a professional writer who turns in great work within word count on deadline, you will get more assignments. More assignments lead to tear sheets to use when inquiring about assignments for other magazines which is the start of a writing career.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Writing Advice from an Editor to an Intern

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I didn’t set out to become an editor. I wanted to be a successful writer working from home. I became both after years of writing then taking a writing class where I met the woman who just bought one of the magazines I now write for and edit.

I started out as an unpaid intern for the magazines. I wrote articles as well as learned about copyediting (turning press releases and items sent in by the public about meetings and events into style copy for the magazine issue), layouts (placing headlines, bylines, copy, ads, pull quotes, photos, and captions on each page), proofreading (using the correct proofreaders’ marks), and all the little things to check in an effort to publish an almost perfect issue (something always goes wrong).

A few years later, I became the editor of one then two magazines—a job I love.

Now I’m working with an intern who wants to be a writer and an editor. I’m happy to share my knowledge and experience with her; however, writing skills are more straightforward to teach than editing skills. My writing advice is posted now. My advice for editing will be posted on October 17, 2016.

Here is my writing advice:                                                                        

To be a better writer, write. It’s just that simple. There is never enough time to write. You must make the time to write. Get up early. Stay up late. Write anytime you are waiting for someone or something. Writers write! Jot down thoughts and sentence fragments, plots, and ideas in a notebook or record on phone. 

If you want to be a professional writer, learn to write on demand, not wait for inspiration, by writing to deadlines. Filling a notebook a month as recommended by Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones is a great way to start. Write a concise weekly blog—300-500 words—without fail. Write three pages every morning as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. If really short on time, write Six-Word Memoirs®. (See books by the same title or visit Smith Magazine online.)

Take writing classes or join a writing group. Deadlines and feedback are essential.

“It is easy to lose sight of the fact that writers do not write to impart knowledge to others, rather, they write to inform themselves.”   –Judith Guest

Choose a magazine you enjoy reading. Write an article following its style (topic, word count, tone, etc.). Write about what you love. Learn from the best as you can interview experts or participants in whatever topics interest you. Write your first drafts without thought to the word count. Then rewrite your articles repeatedly. Final articles should be your best work including all the points you wanted to make as well as meeting the word counts. Submit articles for publication.

“Don't market yourself. Editors and readers don't know what they want until they see it. Scratch what itches. Write what you need to write, feed the hunger for meaning in your life.”     –Donald M. Murray

Write with abandon then rewrite by writing concisely.

“Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hope.”   –William Hellman

For reference: on average, I spend 35-40% of my time writing and 60-65% rewriting pieces for publication. I rewrite my articles five, six, ten times until I’m satisfied it’s the best I can do. Read pieces aloud to catch mistakes.

“Writing is really rewriting—making the story better, clearer, truer.” –Robert Lipsyte

“Look for verbs of muscle, adjectives of exactitude.”  --Mary Oliver in Blue Pastures on page 89.

Meet all deadlines, no matter what, as professional writers and editors won’t work for long if they don’t.

Also, read everything. A better reader is a better writer.

Read writing books. I have recommended many on this blog (see partial list at end of this post), especially The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

All knowledge makes you a better writer (and editor). I read all genres as good writers make any genre or topic interesting. I also read books about philosophy, science, space, and art as well as classic novels and bestsellers.

“You learn to write by reading and writing, writing and reading. As a craft, it's acquired through the apprentice system, but you choose your own teachers. Sometimes they're alive, sometimes they're dead.”  –Margaret Atwood

Read often and widely including poetry to get a feel for words, language, flow, and rhythm.

Poetry is essential. Ray Bradbury makes this recommendation to writers on page 36 of Zen in the Art of Writing:

Read poetry every day of your life…it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough…it expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition.

Reading expands your vocabulary, too. Look up every word new-to-you for future reference. Write these words and definitions in your notebooks so you remember them.

Make sure the words you use (or edit) mean what you think they mean otherwise you look foolish. Once in print, it is out there forever so take the time to refer to a dictionary,, or the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. Use correct punctuation and grammar, too.  

For writers (and editors), words are our medium. Spend as much time as possible reading and writing.

“…writing is finally sitting alone in a room and wrenching it out of yourself, and nobody can teach you that.”       –Jon Winokur

Writing Book Recommendations: 

(I have reviewed most of these books on this blog. Dates of posts are in parentheses.)

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield  (8/30/12)

Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield  (9/9/13)

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg  (5/6/13; 1/12/14)

The Right to Write and The Writer’s Life by Julia Cameron  (5/6/13; 1/12/14)

Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald  (6/26/16)

The Golden Rule by Brian McDonald  (7/25/16)

The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase by Mark Forsyth  (2/23/15)

The Writer’s Home Companion edited by Joan Bolker, Ed. D.  (12/3/12)

Blue Pastures by Mary Oliver  (3/21/16; 4/4/16)

Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury  (3/9/15)

For Writer’s Only by Sophy Burnham  (12/17/12)

The Writing Life by Ellen Gilchrist  (7/21/14)

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild (1/28/13)    

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes  (1/11/16)

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block (will be reviewed)

The Book on Writing by Paula LaRocque (will be reviewed)

The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop by Stephen Koch  (8/5/13)

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (5/6/13)

A Writer’s Paris: A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul by Eric Maisel  (5/25/15)

Fiction Writing Master Class by William Cane (9/7/15)

The Soul of Creative Writing by Richard Goodman 10/19/15)

Backpack Literature by XJ Kennedy and Dana Gioia (4th post each month, September 2016-April 2017)

On Writing by Stephen King—needs no review

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion by William Kenower  (8/8/16)

The Writing Trade by John Jerome (1/14/13)


Mary Oliver  (4/28/14) I read all her books.

Billy Collins  (4/22/13) I read all his books.

Anthologies & classic poetry


A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman. (5/27/13) I recommend all of her books.

At Home by Bill Bryson. I read all his books.  (12/24/12; 1/26/15)

Books by Joseph Campbell & The Art of Reflection: A Joseph Campbell Companion by Diane K. Osbon


Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart  (8/26/13)

Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell  (9/29/14)

On Conan Doyle by Michael Dirda  (11/23/15)

Six-Word Memoirs edited by Larry Smith  (9/10/12)


Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman (11/26/12)

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (5/26/14) Title of an essay, not subject of book.

High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver (7/22/13)

A Cup of Comfort for Writers edited by Colleen Sell  (5/11/15)


Screenplay by Robin Russin and William Missouri Downs  (8/10/15)

On Story: Screenwriters and Their Craft edited by Barbara Morgan and Maya Perez  (6/6/16)


Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus (6/9/14)

The Synonym Finder by J I Rodale  (6/9/14)

Grammar and punctuation books


Are You There Blog? It’s Me Writer by Kristen Lamb, award-winning blog

Steven Pressfield, blog Writing Wednesdays at