Monday, April 29, 2013

Tips for Self-Editing

From Kate's Writing Crate...

            Learning to self-edit is a skill we can improve. There are books and classes, but, in my experience, actual experience is the best way to learn. 

When I first started working for a monthly magazine, I was a good writer with room for improvement. Writing up to four articles a month for years taught me to be more organized, concise, and clear. Writing up to eight articles in a month for several magazines then became possible. Fact checking and copyediting for all these articles made me a better writer and a beginning editor, too.
I was good friends with an editor at the time so I asked her how I could become an editor one day. She gave me some excellent advice: Pick up a local newspaper and read it looking only for errors—grammatical and factual—then correct them using proofreader's marks and writing corrections like a professional. (I used Go Ahead…Proof It by K. D. Sullivan as a guide.) Rewrite captions to be punchier. Pick paragraphs at random and cut the word count by 10% without losing any facts or meaning while making sure there are transitions, then work up to 20%.
These practical exercises build our skills to catch and make corrections, smooth transitions, generate interest, and help make our writing more pleasurable to read. However, other editing changes are more subjective. Style varies person to person and publication to publication. The more you practice, the more your style will develop.
When it comes to your own work, it's best to build into any deadlines a day or two to put pieces aside so self-editing can be done with fresh eyes. Then print your work out and use a red pen to make corrections.

Start with the basics. Check for grammatical and spelling errors. Use references like The Chicago Manual of Style and Double check the spellings of names and titles. In fiction, keep a list of each characters' physical attributes so you don't change eye or hair color partway through the story.
As we self-edit, it's vital to keep our writing voices strong. Our voices are what first appeal to our readers then become memorable to them.
But also keep your readers in mind. Among other things, this means using the appropriate vocabulary and correct technical jargon. Be clear. Give your readers credit for general knowledge, but include background information or explanations where needed.
Self-editing is in part instinctive, too. We recognize what sounds good so read pieces aloud. Rewrite passages that are awkward or unclear. Clarity counts. We know when we use the right word in the right place; double check that you did. Write true to yourself and your voice will shine through.
As the saying goes: Easy reading means hard writing—and great self-editing!

What makes self-editing easier for you?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Create or Refresh Your Own Writer's Toolbox

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Now that the warmer spring weather is here, I'm spending a bit more time on a lofty list of spring cleaning projects around our home.  Whether it's purging a few closets, repairing broken tiles, organizing the garage or freshening up the main living areas with vibrant coats of paint that invoke the ambiance of the Caribbean one thing that all of these projects have in common is having the right tool for the job.

A toolbox is essential in keeping valuable items safe and ready to go for any project, big or small, planned or unplanned that arises.  Writers may not use hammers, screwdrivers, and pliers but we require important tools as well to get the job done, that's why I created my writer's toolbox several years ago.  It's not an actual toolbox that sits on my desk, although some of the items that I consider valuable tools, my favorite writer's books, pens, pencils and journals are always close by in my writer's crate.

My writer's toolbox is a collection of articles, essays, short-stories and even on-line books that I have on file so that I can research, become inspired, or simply re-read for pleasure to help keep my creative juices flowing.  I learn something new every time I re-read something in my collection--my toolbox--and am usually able to apply it to any of the projects I'm currently working on.

Now that I'm doing some redecorating in our home, I've decided that this would be the perfect time to review the content in my writer's toolbox and freshen it up with some new articles and other thought-provoking material such as favorite quotes, lists of books and authors I would like to explore this summer, and anything else that pleases my writer's fancy.

Here's a wonderful example of a new piece of inspiration that I will be adding to my writer's toolbox.  

Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Rules for Writing Fiction:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things - reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them - in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

For more great writing tips from Kurt Vonnegut, don't forget to check out:
Vonnegut: How To Write With Style

Do you have a writer's toolbox?  What tools help you get creative?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Reads for Writers: Billy Collins Provides a Masterclass


From Kate's Writing Crate...

             As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.
            Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, back stories, plots, settings, voice and/or creativity.

                In honor of Poetry Month, I recommend reading any poetry that appeals to you. Poets have  ways of distilling ordinary moments into memorable lines. 

As I read a poem, I underline any phrases that "speak" to me. Sometimes I copy them into my notebooks to use as prompts when I am feeling blocked as they give me new viewpoints to ponder.

                I am in awe of poets as they constantly see details I miss in everyday items and events. Their similes and metaphors keep our language lively, electric even.  Oh to be able to compare, contrast, and sum up our experiences in such succinct, precise, and mind-opening lines.

Who among us cannot quote a stanza, if not a whole  poem? I can still recite two I learned in grade school, but I prefer poems I have come across a bit later in life.

One of my favorite poets is Billy Collins, a Poet Laureate of the United States. His poems make me think, laugh, and pay attention. I think he is an excellent gateway poet—easy to relate to, but with a depth that makes you consider his word choices as carefully as he chose them.

For writers, I love two poems in his book Picnic, Lightning:  "In the Room of a Thousand Miles" and "Lines Lost Among the Trees".  

While his poem "In a Room of a Thousand Miles" focuses more locally for him literally and on the distance between himself and his wife figuratively, I found it a great definition of imagination for me. When you write, aren't you in a room of a thousand miles, a thousand years, a thousand places? We can write about anything we can imagine. Place, time, and space are all up to us, but the details are what ground the writing, make it real and believable.

"Lines Lost Among the Trees" is an elegy for all the phrases, words, and  ideas that slipped from his mind before he could reach pen and paper or wake from his dreams—something all writers have experienced and regret.

In his book Sailing Alone Around the Room, I love "Tuesday, June 4, 1991". He captures an ordinary writing day for him in the company of imaginary secretaries and stenographers, Samuel Pepys, a slow vocal rendition of "You Don't Know What Love Is", time unrolling like an intricate carpet, a small vase of faded flowers, and dawn the next day arriving as the ancients imagined.

In his book The Art of Drowning, his poem "Budapest" makes me smile as he transforms the physical act of writing, pen in hand, into a mythical creature foraging across the page. Good company for any writers feeling too solitary as they meet their daily word counts.

Who are your favorite poets?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Writing to Heal--Remembering the Victims in The Boston Marathon Bombing

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

My original post for today was about the absolute joy and excitement I feel each time I have the privilege of interviewing a person for a story I'm writing.  I happened to have experienced the ultimate of interviews last week when I landed an unexpected hour of 1:1 conversation with a well-known radio personality in our beautiful state of Rhode Island.  I learned so many things about a subject I know little about, theater and the arts, that I left the interview wanting to watch every Hollywood classic film I could get my hands on.

It wasn't so much the information that was  riveting (though that was fantastic in itself) but it was how this well-known radio talk host delivered the information to me.  It was effortless, enthralling and completely unexpected because the interview was a genuine, last-minute surprise.

Fast forward to this past Monday, April 15th--Patriot's Day and the date of the most historical race in our country--The Boston Marathon, and our country was hit with a completely unexpected surprise, but this wasn't filled with joy and excitement instead it was filled with utter devastation and horror as two bombs exploded killing three innocent bystanders who were at the finish line cheering on the racers.  One of these victims was a precious, 8-year old boy.  8 years old!
Martin Richard, the 8-year old boy who was one of the victims in the Boston Marathon Bombing.

When an event this horrific takes place, it's almost impossible to put coherent thoughts together to make any sense of it.  That's why today's post is dedicated to those who lost their lives, were injured and also to the hundreds of police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical workers, doctors and nurses, hospital staff and to the dozens of ordinary citizens who were innocent bystanders but rose to the occasion to help those in need.  These people are all heroes and lives are now forever changed because of a tragedy that most of us cannot comprehend.

As a writer, the way I make sense of anything that is emotional, good or bad, is to journal about it.  I find it cathartic to start my mornings by writing about what hurts, what feels wonderful and also about what's life-changing. I read a wonderful quote by Louise de Salvo that has always resonated with me.  "Writing is a very sturdy ladder out of the pit"   For me, this means I can be relieved of my pain or made to feel even happier if it's a joyful experience because of the sense of freedom that writing creates in my life.

Remembering all those affected personally and in any way at all by the senseless and tragic Boston Marathon bombings.  

Do you have a tool that helps you work through pain or express your happiness?  Please share with us in the comments.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Writing in Comfort Almost Anywhere in a Folding Writer's Chair

From Kate's Writing Crate... 

This is not a paid endorsement--just a chair style I discovered, love, and want to share with other writers because it gives us the freedom to create in comfort anywhere.  

I love to write. I have a notebook and several pens near me at all times in case inspiration strikes, but it's uncomfortable to write for long without a desk and chair so imagine my excitement when I discovered a folding writer's chair. Yes, I know it's technically considered a student's chair, but I am a writer so it's a writer's chair for me.     
         You remember the efficient furniture we

used in school--desks attached to chairs.

They're easy to slide around a room, but

difficult to pick up and move any real
distance. Convenient, but not mobile—until

            I can take my folding writer's chair with the
tablet arm into any room in the house or out
on the porch. In a city, I'd take out on to a

            I can take it out in the yard to be with family and/or the dogs and write as long as I wish. It's a bit unwieldy, but I can take it to the woods where I walk the dogs and sit writing while serenaded by birds, feeling the cool breeze, completely surrounded and inspired by nature.     
I can get up early and record my thoughts as the sun rises then later turn the desk around to enjoy the gorgeous sunset outside pen in hand, notebook on desk.    
I can put it in the car and go to a park. I can use it at the outdoor summer concerts in town sitting at the edge of the crowd inspired by live music. I can take it to a beach, lake, river, or pond.     
I also bought a pen with a light in the tip so I can write under the stars. That's truly inspiring! I feel at once both infinitesmal and infinite as part of an awe-inspiring universe. It opens my mind to all sorts of possibilities.     
Now I can't wait until the fireflies arrive. I can sit out at dusk and watch them flash each other. I've always felt they were magical—nature's twinkling lights decorating our yards in celebration of warm weather. And now my glowing pen and I can be writing outside with them, a part of the magic.

Does writing comfortably anywhere appeal to you?


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Easy Ways to Boost Your Writing Career

From Cheryl's Writing Crate
I'm often asked how I find the time to write anything more than a grocery list seeing that I am the mother of 8 kids.  It's a great question, and today I'm going to share some steadfast advice that I gleaned from one of my fellow writing colleagues and friends, Linda Formichelli.

I first discovered this inspiring author about 8 years ago when I read her terrific book, 
The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success.  This was one of the first books on building a writing career that really made sense to me, offering practical ideas and solutions on how to build my then limited freelance options into a solid and enjoyable writing career.  

After that, I read another of Linda's helpful books, 
The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock: The Freelance Writer's Guide to Selling More Work Faster and it was then that I really gathered up my courage to start querying outside my comfort zone of smaller publications, and I landed a piece for Disney's Family Fun magazine within a month of reading the book!

Next I signed up for one of Linda's on-line writing courses on ways to break into the exciting world of freelance writing which included a lot of personal feedback from  her with each week's assignment.  That was six years ago, and I still keep in contact with her now.  

I recently read one of her articles called 25 Ways to Boost Your Freelance Writing Business in Under 5 Minutes and couldn't wait to share a few of my favorites with any of you who are excited to take your writing to the next level, and hopefully earn some extra income as a result. 

Find and follow five editors on Twitter.
Check out MuckRack for editors (and journalists) to follow by publication.
Clean your work space.
Getting your writing work space clean and organized— even only 2 minutes worth — can give you a boost of energy and inspiration. Some quick ideas: Clean your keyboard with a can of air, clear the unneeded books from your bookshelves, or test your pens and throw out the non-working ones.
Add your recent clips to your writer website.
Linda's Writer's Den partner, Carol Tice, is all about having as many clips as possible on your site because you never know which one will turn on an editor.

What inspires you to add more freelance writing work to your writer's life?  We'd love to hear from you here in the comments.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Fear Factors for Writers and Editors

From Kate's Writing Crate...
         For writers and editors, typos and factual errors are a constant source of anxiety and, if we are honest, a source of pride as well when we spot them before publication–or in another writer's text.
         Recently, I found mistakes in a blog (phased was used instead of fazed), in an article (flack instead of flak), and in a book (a commercial airport was placed in Newport, Rhode Island instead of Warwick, Rhode Island which is referred to as Providence by the FAA–confusing which is why research is necessary).
         But I don't feel smug when I catch mistakes like these. At any moment, all writers and editors are only a misplaced letter away from disaster.
         In the funny and delightful Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, Anne Fadiman has a chapter about typos entitled "Inset a Carrot/Insert a Caret." On page 82, Fadiman shares that the first sentence in the first printing of Beverly Sill's autobiography read: "When I was only three and still named Belle Miriam Silverman, I sang my first aria in pubic."
         How many people proofed and edited that book? Yet this typo got past all of them.
        No one is perfect so errors will be made. Each one is just a matter of degree. Is it stupid, but trivial or mortifying and will haunt you forever?

          I still shudder to think that the title Education Commishioner instead of Education Commissioner almost appeared in a caption I was editing. It would have been twice as mortifying to me as it appeared after the word education! 
         As a writer and an editor, I try to live by the rule to look up everything I am unsure of no matter how small. Take a moment to double check spellings, titles, and facts either at or open up a dictionary or other reference books. It's gratifying to confirm you are right, but it's more exhilarating when you prevent a typo or an error that would have lived on forever in print.
         As someone once said, "Being a proofreader is like being a goalie: no one remembers all the shots you blocked, only the ones that got by you." However, unlike a goalie who is applauded for each save, no one knows or cares how many errors we writers and editors prevented. Readers only see what we missed.
         There ought to be a chat room–or maybe there already is–where writers and editors can discuss and celebrate their proofreading saves. We work long hours and under extreme pressure at deadlines to prevent errors. Why shouldn't we get some appreciation for it? Plus, reading about other people's corrections will prevent us from repeating them in our own work.
         The typos and errors that do get by us don't need to be discussed amongst ourselves. Readers and critics will let us know about them or, in the nightmare scenario, they will be highlighted on national TV by a late night talk show host.
What typos or errors have you caught or missed?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

If You Want to Write

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

There are two things I long for as a writer: 1) More time to write. 2)  More time to read.  It's when I'm writing or sitting peacefully reading a great book that I feel most content, and although I don't get to do either often enough, when I am writing or absorbed in a wonderful book I truly don't take it for granted.

My bookshelf is crammed with everything from saucy romances to the latest self-help books on diet and exercise.  I'm never at a loss when I need to quickly grab something to keep me occupied because of my eclectic personal library.  Part of that library contains a very large section of books on how to improve the craft of writing.  Thanks to my blogging partner, Kate, I have expanded this collection considerably over the past couple of years, and am I ever grateful.

I'm currently reading a fantastic book called If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland.  This classic was first published in 1938 yet the information she shares is so appropriate for all of us 21st century writers.  Ueland stresses that love and imagination are the key to not only successful writing but also to the success of anything in life you pursue.  

Brenda Ueland gives some great advice to those who really want to write!

One of my favorite chapters is entitled, "Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It For Their Writing"!  It resonates so deeply with me because of the guilt I often feel when I break away from a household project to work on my novel.  Ueland's advice was simple yet powerful on this topic. 

"If you would shut your door against your children for an hour a day and say: " Mother is working on her five-act tragedy in blank verse!"  you would be surprised at how they would respect you.  

After re-reading that particular chapter many times, I feel as though Ueland gave me permission to spend time on something that is very sacred and important to me, without the guilt I usually attach to my writing time.  How refreshing!

Do you have a particular writing book that speaks to you and makes you feel as though you are unstoppable and should be allowed to write whenever the muse strikes?

Monday, April 1, 2013

90-Day Novel Project Update 4

From Kate's Writing Crate...

          After 90 days, I can officially highly recommend The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt. Even if you don't plan on writing a novel this quickly, it should be on your Writing Books To Be Read List.

          Just by reading it, I am a better writer as the content is excellent. But I also better understand how novels work because I followed through on the majority of the exercises and directions.

          I found Watt's insights invaluable. He made me think--to see and consider my options. I learned to tighten my timeline, deepen my characters' backstories, and move my story forward.

          As with most projects, I started out with a lot of enthusiasm. Writing a novel has always been a goal, but it takes a great deal of work--more work than I realized.

          For the record, I didn't complete my novel, but I did a lot more work on it than I would have without this book. It wasn't the author's fault that I didn't finish. I missed out on writing time during my job's monthly editing deadlines. I plan to complete my first draft soon.

          If you choose to meet the 90-day deadline, my advice is to make sure you have the time to put into it. Wintertime worked for me as the weather kept me indoors with time to focus on this goal. I tried to write the same time every day which also helped. For the first 28 days, you only spend 10-30 minutes a day. After that, you need to put in whatever time it takes to meet your daily goals.

          This book works best when you already have a story in mind along with a feel for your characters. Your plot may veer off your planned course; your characters may change names, physical attributes, occupations, and locations as you write, but that is what keeps you alert and interested for the long haul. And it is a long haul, but this book keeps things manageable.

          Success, of course, depends on your efforts. If you put yourself into Alan Watt's professional writing sphere, you will write your novel as long as you pay attention to the suggestions he makes based on his own novel writing experience and follow his flexible directions.

          Speaking of success, I saw Bill Geist on CBS Sunday Morning interview a 76-year-old author writing under the name Desiree Holt who has written over 100 racy romance novels in about four years. Quite an impressive body of work! Apparently, she writes according to "The 14-Day Novel" plan.

          The reality is that if you want to write a novel, write a novel. You don't need The 90-Day Novel to achieve your goal. However, Alan Watt, author of the prize-winning novel Diamond Dogs, thoughtfully shares all he learned in this writer-friendly and inspirational book that makes the tough work of completing a novel easier. Writing is a solitary pursuit so why not enjoy the company of a supportive, successful professional cheering you on?

How are your novels coming along?