Category Archives: Editing and Proofreading

An Independent Author’s Checklist: What You Need to Have Ready for Ghostwriters, Editors, and Graphic Designers

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As an independent author (a.k.a. “indie author”), you are the project manager of your own book’s production from start to finish, from conception straight through to publication. This may include hiring a freelance ghostwriter (if you choose not to write your book yourself), an experienced editor, and even a professional graphic designer for best results. It all depends on the type of book an indie author wishes to produce.

For example, there are different components involved with designing a paperback book than an ebook of any kind; and there are even more components to consider if that indie author wishes to publish and print a hardcover book. An Independent Author’s Checklist includes an important list of questions indie authors will want to answer for a graphic designer, ahead of time, to ensure the book is completed properly and professionally the first time around. This type of preparation can save time and money for both project stakeholders because it can prevent complete do-overs in cases where the designer was unclear about the indie author’s original vision.

Communication is so important throughout this process—not only with your graphic designer. An indie author will also want to have certain things prepared ahead of time, in certain ways, for both the ghostwriter (if applicable) and the editor. As such, it’s often helpful to have a checklist at your disposal that makes this entire process run as smoothly as possible—particularly for the indie authors who are new to the whole publishing business. That’s why I created An Independent Author’s Checklist and decided to publish it online for indie authors everywhere. I want you all to have as much helpful information as possible at your fingertips, so you all have a positive publishing experience coupled with the best possible chances of success. That is my wish for you.

An Independent Author’s Checklist includes helpful information for indie authors regarding effectively communicating your book’s vision to a ghostwriter. Although some indie authors are both qualified and have the time to write their own books, you might choose to hire someone else to help you create that compelling narrative. Both are acceptable ways to produce a book. That said, when hiring a ghostwriter to help pen your book, it is important for indie authors to remember that ghostwriting is an ongoing, collaborative process (much like the entire publishing process). To make things run smoother, you should be prepared ahead of time.

An Independent Author’s Checklist also includes important guidance for indie authors regarding how to submit one’s manuscript to an editor so that it contains all the information you want edited. For example, some indie authors will only have the main body of their book interiors professionally edited. In that case, often any front matter, back matter, and back cover copy that is added after the fact is riddled with all kinds of spelling errors and typos, diminishing the professional quality of the book. But for indie authors like you who follow the guidelines in this checklist, you’ll avoid these issues and end up with the best possible result.

The Science of Revision: Words Are All We Have

Jack Strandburg, Freelance Editor at J. S. Editing Services

Revising fiction, whether in the form of a short story, novella, or novel, is more than spell and grammar check; every fiction writer knows that; otherwise there would be no need for editors, and having recently started a freelance editing business, I’m thankful for that fact.

I have edited more than thirty-five novels in various genres, and although different genres offer different challenges, and “what to look for,” the common goal among the genres is to capture the reader and throw him or her into your world.

A work of fiction, if written well, consists of three major components – Character, Plot, and Setting. The argument of whether one is more important than the other two can, and is, discussed in books and articles ad nauseam, and for that reason, is beyond the scope of this blog.

My intent is to provide a set of guidelines on how to approach editing in all three components to produce the best possible story.

You probably got enough sleep last night, so I won’t bore you with a lot of narrative; instead I’ll stick with examples, which I believe does a much better job emphasizing my point . . . you know –show v. tell.

I will spend a little time on the three major components, but want to focus more on a topic, that perhaps does not command as much attention, yet, in my mind, is as equally important as “the Big Three.”

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Character:

We want the reader to “see” our characters, so we strive to provide as vivid a physical description as possible. We accomplish this by using similes and comparisons.

“In the eyes, round beneath soft brows, the slender, finely shaped nose, and full lips, I saw both sensuousness and refinement.”

“His measured walk resembled a skilled countryman as distinct from the shamble of the general laborer.”

“Joe left Arizona to attend college in California,” tells the reader little about Joe, but “Joe said goodbye to his parents, left his rural home in Phoenix, and drove to California to study engineering in UCLA,” not only reveals much more about Joe, but perhaps raises the question, why did Joe drive rather than fly?’

Plot:

Ensure there is conflict and obstacles for the protagonist, the antagonist presents a challenge, and the flow of events is seamless.

Ensure the accuracy of factual information. For example, if a character travels from New York to Spain, he or she should not complain about the rental car’s lousy gas mileage.

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Setting:

Show v. tell when describing a place in your story, with heavy and frequent references to the five senses.

Word Power

When I edit, either for myself or for a client, I spend at least as much time, if not more, on word power. The goal should be to write each sentence in the least number of words as possible, provided, of course, it does not change the meaning or sacrifice what the writer wants to say.

Most writers know to avoid adverbs by either eliminating them, or substitute more powerful verbs.

Weak words and phrases, such as “that, had, have, would have been,” (the list is far too long for this blog) are, in the majority of cases, are unnecessary. They function only as a distraction to the reader. The same applies to overused words and phrases, such as, “the fact that, all of a sudden, at the very least, in spite of, and if nothing else.”

I see a lot of unnecessary words and phrases, and although not necessarily considered “bad writing,” and usually skipped over while reading, when such words and phrases are eliminated, their distraction is obvious.

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“He thought to himself to “he thought.” (who else would he think to?)

He nodded his head” to “he nodded.” (as opposed to nodding his shoulder?)

“He shook his head to indicate no.” to “he shook his head.” (Granted, he might shake his head for another reason, but the context would indicate whether he was responding to a question).

“He got up out of bed.” to “He got out of bed,” or even better, “he climbed out of bed,” which eliminates the unnecessary “up,” and also substitutes a more powerful verb.

Of course, we have the ever-popular phrase I read in books, newspapers, and hear in movies and TV shows.

“Past history or past experience.” All history and experience is “past.”

A number of verbs used to link a second verb are prevalent in fiction writing, most notably “take and took,” “made and “make.”

“He made a move,” to “he moved.”

“He took a shot,” to “he shot or he tried, or he attempted.”

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During the first revision of my first commercially published novel, the editor cited the elimination of two unnecessary words – that and had.

Of course, has and have can be included by default.

That can be eliminated in most (not all) cases unless the writer was referring to a specific person, place or thing. (that man, that chair, that city).

Before: “By the way, I just wondered if you think that this dress looks good on me.”

After: “Does this dress look good one me?”

Before: “Suddenly, I thought that perhaps she should go back over there and sit down on top of the fence.”

After: “She should go sit on the fence.”

Eliminate or substitute all forms of “some.” (someone, somebody, sometime, somewhere), by instead being specific in identifying the person, time frame, or place.

Minimize the occurrences of pronouns within the same sentence or paragraph.

Before: He got out of bed. He went to the bathroom. He washed his face and shaved. He took a shower. He dressed and went to the kitchen. He made breakfast. (6 sentences, 6 occurrences of “he”)

After: He climbed out of bed and went to the bathroom. After a shave and a shower, he dressed and went to the kitchen to make breakfast. (2 sentences, 2 occurrences of “he”)

By applying these concepts during your revisions, you will produce a much tighter,  much cleaner, and easier to read story.

© Jack Strandburg

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The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

Michael LaRocca of MichaelEdits.com

There are no rules to assure great writing, but there are ways to avoid bad writing.

That’s from the introduction to The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. It’s also the focus of the book.

Lukeman presents examples of what not to do. If you see something in them that reminds you of something you’ve written, then you know what you need to fix.

I feel like adding that you should be grateful to have something written and fixable. The empty page is the worst.

Anybody who’s been in this business a while has seen thousands of manuscripts from all over the world. Remarkably, writers everywhere are doing the same things wrong. If you read tweets and blogs from most editors, you see a whole lot of snark about it. But Lukeman decided to group these mistakes into categories, set forth definite criteria for rejecting manuscripts, and write one of the most helpful books I’ve ever laid my hands on. Hence this review.

Lukeman also acknowledges something I’ve been saying for years. We don’t always need five pages. We might shoot down a manuscript within the first five paragraphs. Does that sound cruel? Well…

Agents and editors don’t read manuscripts to enjoy them; they read solely with the goal of getting through the pile, solely with an eye to dismiss a manuscript — and believe me, they’ll look for any reason they can, down to the last letter.

I do this. By starting his introduction this way, he hooked me. Absolutely. I was reading to figure out why my work in progress wasn’t going so well. But once I found the answer, I didn’t put this book down. I enjoyed learning from all of it.

I could list his criteria, but that’d be kinda like stealing. Read the man’s book. I got mine at the library. If you can’t do that, Amazon comes to mind. So does my favorite, Better World Books.

People send me manuscripts, wanting me to evaluate them. I’ve told more than one author to go read The First Five Pages and then get back to me. Yeah, I’m turning work away, but that’s because some manuscripts require too much of it. Lukeman will teach you how to do that work yourself, if you’re willing to learn. If you’re a real author, you’ll enjoy learning. If not, that’s a valuable lesson too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to return to my regularly scheduled snarking.

Technical editing since 1991. Business editing since 2006. MichaelEdits.com

© Michael LaRocca 2017

The Ins and Outs of Outlines: Plotters Versus Pantsers [PART II: PANTSERS]

Jennifer D. Foster, freelance writer, editor, and content strategist

What an honour it is to be able to share this article from
Jennifer D. Foster that was originally published in 2016 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published. There is so much information here that I’ve split the article into two separate guest posts. This second one deals with what Jennifer describes as “pansters.” Enjoy the read!

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Behind every successful novel or short story is an outline, right? Maybe. Some authors swear by a detailed plan (they’re known as “plotters”), while others, namely those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants  writers  (known as “pantsers” or “SOPs”), despise outlines. New York Times best-selling author Joseph Finder, for example, believes that “writing without an outline is like doing a high-wire act without a net. Some people can do it, but wouldn’t you really rather have a net? I would.” New York Times best-selling author J.A. Jance, however, says she “met outlining in Mrs. Watkin’s sixth-grade geography class in Bisbee, Arizona. I hated outlining then; I hate it now. I do not outline.”

What exactly causes this great divide?

By examining this question of process via authors who do and don’t outline—and why—and via key insights from a selection of those working directly in the world of publishing, including authors, agents, writing instructors, editors, and publishers, we’ll get front-row seats to this age-old debate. For those looking for practical how-tos, tips on creating an effective outline will help send you on your writerly way.

PLOTTERS VERSUS PANTSERS: THE GREAT DEBATE

Pantsers: The Cons of Outlines

For those who love to hate outlines, the writing process is viewed as more organic and free-flowing. Weiland believes many authors are “so talented and so able to hold the entire novel in their heads. They simply don’t need the tools that help the rest of us achieve that same end product.” Key West, Florida-based Meg Cabot, a number one New York Times best-selling author, is one such writer. “Because writing a book, to me, is like taking a trip. I know in my head where I want to go. I just don’t write out an elaborately detailed itinerary. Because the fun part—to me—is figuring out how I’m going to get there, and checking out the interesting sites I see along the way.” Author Harlan Coben is another New York Times best-selling writer with a similar mind-set. “I don’t outline. I usually know the ending before I start. I know very little about what happens in between. It’s like driving from New Jersey to California. I may go Route 80, I may go via the Straits of Magellan, or stop over in Tokyo … but I’ll end up in California,” he says. In an interview for the U.K.’s The Telegraph, he clarifies further: “E.L. Doctorow has a wonderful quote on writing where he says that it is like driving at night in the fog with your headlights on. You can only see a little bit ahead of you, but you can make the whole journey that way. I concur, except that I know, in the end, where I’m going.” And, interestingly enough, for Coben, “there is no ‘why’ I don’t [outline]—you just do what works for you as a writer.” Sims believes that memory plays a role in why some writers, like Coben, don’t outline—they can hold seemingly endless amounts of material in their heads before turning it into a book. But she muses on the impact time may have. “I sure wouldn’t tell him to change, but I wonder how that method will work as he gets older and the brain cells get a little less efficient!”

Pronovost looks at it this way: “Instinctive writers sometimes hold a book’s architecture in their mind—essentially, the outline for them is something private, maybe even sacred, and speaking it out loud or commit- ting it to paper can feel counterintuitive or even rigid.” Deborah Grabien, author and editor at Plus One Press in San Francisco, California, is in full agreement. “As  both a writer (eighteen published novels and music journalism) and an editor of other peoples’ work (two anthologies of short fiction), I loathe outlines. I find working with an outline the functional equivalent of trying to dance in a straitjacket or having sex while wearing a suit of armor. My mantra is, ‘A writer writes, period; just tell the damned story.’ An outline is rigid and, for me, unworkable.”

Embracing the Serendipity

Many writers simply love the serendipity and unpredictability of writing that comes without an outline. They don’t like what Finder calls being “constricted by the steel girdle of an outline.” Hiyate agrees. “The biggest flaw is, you can write yourself into a corner, and the characters are fighting where you want to go with them. Or, because you’ve planned too much, some of the spontaneity—and suspense—might be lost.” Cabot concedes: “Story ideas don’t come along often, and when they do, you have to treat them with care. Outlining them too thoroughly—even talking about them too much over coffee with a friend—can actually ruin them, because it can make you feel as if the story is already told. And when that happens, if you’re like me, you’re dead.”

MacKinnon explains it this way: “Some authors might be less inspired to start writing if they think they have the story all figured out. They find the story as they write it. Maybe they need the excitement of finding the characters’ motivations and the plot as it unfolds to them as well.” J.A. Jance is such an author. “I start with someone dead or dying and spend the rest of the book trying to find out who did it and how come. Knowing what the end will be would make it impossible for me to write the middle,” she says. “I think if I knew what the ending would be, my motivation to write would disappear, as would the sense of discovery. I write for the same reason people read—to find out what happens—and I have never read the end of a book first.” Her reasoning? “This way, I discover the answers at the same time the characters do. This morning, at 60 percent of a book, I just found out that a character I thought was dead isn’t. If I had written an outline, would that even have happened?” Finder, a big fan of outlines, agrees in this case: “That’s just the kind of unpredictable twist you want, because if you didn’t expect it, your reader won’t either.” And that’s exactly why, says Cooper, the biggest hazard of outlining comes to those who refuse to deviate from their meticulously plotted course. The story may have decreased energy or mystery or sense of surprise—for the reader and for the writer. Writing without an outline or with only a loose outline ideally allows the story to unfold like a movie as it’s being written.”

Sims, who has worked on both sides of the outlining fence, can relate to Jance, Finder, and Cooper. With her Rita Farmer mystery series, she’s had to put together a very detailed outline for each book for her agent. But, she says, “the more detailed I got while outlining, the more frustrating the process, because my natural inclination is to figure out a lot along the way. Things come to me, answers to difficult plot questions appear as I write chapter after chapter. And, of course, as I develop characters, I get to know them better and better, and they themselves suggest action, plot points, resolutions, and so on.”

Remaining Surprised

For Black, despite her attempt, outlines do not work. While she’s not against them and “envies” people for whom they do work, for her “they are a little deadening,” and here’s why: “With the first novel I wrote—one I wrote, sold, and then withdrew because I saw its failings all too well—I used a pretty detailed outline. But I found that my ‘knowing’ what was going to happen took out some element of something like a romantic, if rocky, relationship with the book. I wasn’t intrigued by it. The process was a bit like paint-by-numbers for me, and finally I realized that the product was a bit that way as well.” So for Black, spontaneity and what she calls “openness” are imperative. “One of the great benefits of winging it—or making it up as I go along—is that I feel fluid not only about such things as what is going to happen but also about the deeper meaning of the story. I like being a little stupid about my own work as it’s in process, so I don’t fight too hard against its natural process of evolution.”

Green, a creative writing professor at Western University, cautions against outlines in terms of their relationship to the organic processes of change and revelation inherent in writing. “If one is a micromanager in terms of adhering to the outline, the pleasure of discovering that your character is going to do something that you didn’t know he or she was going to do (like a real human being, your character is unpredictable) seldom happens, and formula fiction often rears its head this way. If writing is discovery (and often self-discovery), the fully outlined and adhered-to story can become a ‘product’—albeit a professional one.” When it comes to writing, Green has “found it more valuable to keep a charted summary of each segment or chapter after it’s completed than to try to chart it in advance (like a journal of the novel; Steinbeck did this).” The purpose? The summary “lets me review it each morning and see clearly what has gone before and what I should be addressing next. Then comes the actual writing that day, and often (in best case) the sense of wonder at what has been created at day’s end. And repeat the next day. And the next. In that sense, it’s a kind of reverse outlining and progression, tied into what has come before.” 

In her book Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True, Chicago, Illinois-based, New York Times best-selling, and award-winning author Elizabeth Berg says, “there are two kinds of writers: those who start with a plot and those who end up with one. I am one of the latter.” Berg says the few times she tried to plot a novel, “it was as though the book rebelled—it went another way entirely, and then all those notes I’d taken to follow the ever-so-neat sequence of events I’d planned were in vain.” Like Jance, Black, Sims, and Green, for Berg “part of the joy in writing fiction is the surprise of it, the discovery of things I hadn’t known were in me or that I wanted to say, or, more likely, the way those things chose to be said.” Berg starts her novels only with a strong feeling of something she wants to say and/or understand, and the novel helps her do it. “I find almost nothing more enjoyable than to be working on a novel and wake up not having any idea what’s going to happen that day. It keeps me interested. It keeps me excited. If I had to write what the plot told me was ‘up’ next, I’d be bored—it would feel too much like homework.” Like other pantsers, for Berg “the magic in writing fiction comes from taking that free fall into the unknown and, rather than making things happen, letting them.”

Mockler, who outlines depending on the project, shares Berg’s overall sentiments: “I’m not a fan of obsessively outlining every scene because, for me, it kills my desire to write the story. Writing is a process of discovery, and you can miss great nuggets and details if everything is pre-planned. Too much focus on the structure and not enough on the characters and details and themes can make the writing seem formulaic and flat.”

FINAL FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The reasons why some writers outline and some don’t are as vast and varied as the creators themselves. Bottom line? Use whatever structure, or lack thereof, works best for you, without judgment. “Explore and experiment, and figure out what best unleashes your creativity,” says Weiland. Writing is a highly individual and personal process, a journey of finding balance and what works best. And the tools and techniques that work best for each writer are always based on “personalities, backgrounds, and circumstances,” emphasizes Weiland. If you choose to go the outline route, then remember, she says, that outlines are “about discovering your story and organizing it, so you will then have an accurate road map to follow when writing your first draft.” But, stresses Wiese Sneyd, remember not to become too attached to your outline. “Outlines need not be written in stone, but in sand. And don’t buy into the idea that an outline is essential to writing. It’s not,” she stresses. “I know many writers who sit down every day and write into the dark, so to speak. They allow the story and the characters to carry them rather than relying on an outline to do so.”

Regardless of your path to the finished product, keep this quote in mind, from Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, for inspiration: “Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

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Watch for Jennifer’s feature in the upcoming 2018 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market in mid-September 2017.

Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto, Canada-based freelance writer, editor, and content strategist. She’s been in the writing and editing business for two decades, and her company is Planet Word. Jennifer’s clients are from the book and custom publishing, magazine, and marketing and communications fields and include The Globe and Mail, Art Gallery of Ontario, D. F. Plett Historical Research Foundation, Greystone Books, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Canadian Children’s Book News, Dundurn Press, Ontario Dental Association, and Firefly Books. When she’s not busy spilling ink for her first novel, walking her greyhound, Aquaman, or reading, Jennifer enjoys travelling, antiquing, gardening, camping, and yoga. She’s a long-time mentor to novice editors via Editors Canada and novice writers via the Professional Writers Association of Canada. Jennifer is chair of Editors Toronto and administrative director of the Rowers Reading Series. Find her online at lifeonplanetword.wordpress.com.

© Jennifer D. Foster 2017

The Ins and Outs of Outlines: Plotters Versus Pantsers [PART I: PLOTTERS]

Jennifer D. Foster, freelance writer, editor, and content strategist

What an honour it is to be able to share this article from
Jennifer D. Foster that was originally published in 2016 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published. There is so much information here that I’ve split the article into two separate guest posts. This first one deals with what Jennifer describes as “plotters.” Enjoy the read!

* * *   * * *   * * *

Behind every successful novel or short story is an outline, right? Maybe. Some authors swear by a detailed plan (they’re known as “plotters”), while others, namely those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writers  (known as “pantsers” or “SOPs”), despise outlines. New York Times best-selling author Joseph Finder, for example, believes that “writing without an outline is like doing a high-wire act without a net. Some people can do it, but wouldn’t you really rather have a net? I would.” New York Times best-selling author J.A. Jance, however, says she “met outlining in Mrs. Watkin’s sixth-grade geography class in Bisbee, Arizona. I hated outlining then; I hate it now. I do not outline.”

What exactly causes this great divide?

By examining this question of process via authors who do and don’t outline—and why—and via key insights from a selection of those working directly in the world of publishing, including authors, agents, writing instructors, editors, and publishers, we’ll get front-row seats to this age-old debate. For those looking for practical how-tos, tips on creating an effective outline will help send you on your writerly way.

PLOTTERS VERSUS PANTSERS: THE GREAT DEBATE

Plotters: The Benefits of Outlines

Elizabeth Sims, Florida-based author of the award-winning Lillian Byrd crime series, says her favorite method is to “jot down some basic ideas for a plot, focusing on what I call ‘heart-clutching moments,’ then work out the rest as I write the book. Beyond that, I’ll often look ahead two or three chapters and write a paragraph for each one that simply says what has to happen in that chapter.” And she prefers to use the term story  map, disliking the word outline. “The term outline seems to connote rules and distasteful work. Story map brings to mind discovery, adventure, and getting somewhere,” emphasizes Sims, who’s also a contributing editor for Writer’s Digest. Lynn Wiese Sneyd, owner of LWS Literary Services in Tuscon, Arizona, refers to outlines as “tracks,” and Mary Lou George, a Toronto, Ontario-based mainstream romance novelist, likens them to a “road map,” stressing that her willingness to “prepare them is the only thing that separates me from the animal kingdom.”

Regardless of what they’re called, outlines, for those who prefer them, are a godsend. “For me, the outline is crucial,” says George. “A good outline helps me plot and pace the work. It can keep me on track and help me identify weaknesses in my story. I can see where I’m going to run into trouble before I start writing, and I can structure the story accordingly.” How does an outline help her? “I map out what’s going to happen in each chapter. If my story involves a mystery that needs to be solved, I highlight the clues, misdirection, etc., just to keep track. I list each scene. That way, I can get a feel for high-tension points in the story and pace accordingly. Once I’ve mapped everything out scene by scene, I know where I want to introduce a love scene, a confrontation, some mystery, or a funny bit, just to keep them wanting more. I get a feel for whether it’s all going to work to my satisfaction.”

Sims feels that “an outline is well worth the trouble when writing a mystery.” So does Kathryn Mockler, Toronto, Ontario-based publisher of The Rusty Toque (an online literary, film, and art journal); senior editor at the literary magazine Joyland: A Hub for Short Fiction (Toronto); and creative writing lecturer at Western University in London, Ontario. “If you are writing genre fiction or screenplays, you pretty much have to have a tight structure, and outlining can be helpful for that.” Nita Pronovost, editorial director at Simon & Schuster Canada and a former senior editor at Penguin Random House in Toronto, Ontario, agrees, adding: “Often, genre writers have more practice using the outline as a technique and tool that guides their creative process rather than stifles it.” Jennifer MacKinnon, a freelance editor in Newcastle, Ontario, and a former editor at Scholastic Canada, concurs. “Mystery novels need to have very specific events happen for the story to work in the end, [and that’s why] it may help writers work out some plot holes and structural and pacing issues beforehand, which would mean less editorial revisions later.” Finder feels the same holds true for his novels. “Thrillers have too many moving parts. They’re all about plot. They’re almost always too complex to write without doing some sort of outline in advance.” For his novel Power Play, he took his writer friend Lee Child’s advice and “brazened” his way through it, sans outline, which “wound up taking me several months longer than usual, simply because I wasted a lot of time on plot and on characters that I ended up cutting out.”

Unleashing Creativity

No one knows how long the controversy over outlining has been around, but it’s a bristly debate with deep roots. One thorn of  disagreement stems from the notion of creativity: Plotters feel outlining is advantageous and part of the whole process, boosting creativity. Pantsers feel outlining squelches their creative flow. “If you feel like you need an outline in order to write or feel that an outline releases your creativity, then you should use an outline,” says Wiese Sneyd. MacKinnon believes that “even with an outline, the author has thought creatively about the story and the plotting and the characters.” And Toronto, Ontario-based award-winning author and freelance editor Janice Weaver stresses that new writers should be mindful not to “adopt the mind-set that the outline is somehow the enemy of creativity.” George agrees, adding that an outline is “there to help me, to enhance my creativity. That’s its reason for living. I don’t look at my outline as written in stone. I created it; it’s mine to morph into whatever I choose. It’s as adaptable as I want to make it.”

Sims says, for her, the greatest benefit of a story map is “anxiety reduction. You get up and grab your materials, and you can start that next chapter knowing at least basically what you have to get done in it.” Wiese Sneyd concurs. “As you venture into the storytelling and the manuscript, an outline can ease the anxiety of creating that which has never been created: unique characters acting within a unique story. It can shed light on a writing process that otherwise takes place in total darkness.” Philadelphia-based non-outliner Robin Black, author of the novel Life Drawing and the short story collection If I Loved You,  I Would Tell  You This, expands on this notion. For her, one of the downsides of not outlining is that “it is definitely a less secure process—emotionally, I mean. When I wrote my fully outlined novel, I knew what I was doing every day. … I enjoyed the lack of panic that nothing will occur to me next, or that I’ll take some giant wrong turn.”

Taking Control of the Process

Another benefit of outlines, according to plotters, is being in the driver’s seat. “It partly has to do with control. It feels good to know ahead of time where the story is going and how it ends. The blank page can feel very unsettling,” says Wiese Sneyd. “I’ve heard some authors say that their out-line consists of a beginning and an ending. Their job is then to fill in the middle.” For Wilmington, North Carolina-based Wiley Cash, New York Times best-selling author of A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy, “the greatest benefit is that it offers you the chance to see the totality of your idea. I’ll typically outline a novel once I know who the main characters are, so that I can get a sense of how I see their lives unfolding and how their lives will flow with and against the narrative.” His rationale? “Each character has a tiny plot evolving inside him or her, and it’s important to keep that in mind before you try to develop the arc of the broader narrative.” Cash says he won’t look at the outline for months while he’s writing, “but it will always be there in the back of my mind. It’s like the map in the glove box that you’re hesitant to get out and unfold because you think you may recognize a landmark around the next bend in the road. But the map definitely gives you some peace. It’s there if you need it. For me, outlines are the same.”

Pronovost also agrees with the outline-as-map benefit. “The initial outline is a kind of map. I can sometimes spot narrative problems right from the outline, which means that the author is saved the aggravation and time of falling into a potential black hole in the story.” For her, outlines provide “clarity of thought, organization, direction … an architecture to a story, and it helps the author (and editor) retain a kind of muscle memory of the framework long after the outline has been put aside and the work on scenes and chapters begins.” And, she says, “what an outline can do, especially for new writers, is save them from becoming too involved in the journey and becoming lost in the maze of superfluous narrative.” Weaver concurs: “Outlines are especially important for new writers, because those are the people who sometimes lack the discipline or the critical distance needed to see the problems with their manuscripts.” Pronovost also stresses that “the outline provides a way for the author to think from the point of view of the creator and from the point of view of the readership.” How, exactly? “The outline creates awareness in the writer of the techniques they are using to tell the story: what each chapter covers, what the main actions are, how each segment opens and closes, where the major turning points occur, and so on. That’s taking care of the reader’s experience, something an author should always consider.”

Treating the Outline as a First Draft

Scottsbluff, Nebraska-based K.M. Weiland, author of Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and the fantasy novel Dreamlander, has an interesting theory about the pros of outlining. “Many authors who don’t use an outline are actually using their first drafts as an outline of sorts—from which they then figure out the story’s problems and use it as a template to write a better second draft.” So, she says, “outlines are my rough draft. And then when I actually go to write the first draft, it’s actually the second draft. Since I already know what’s going to happen, it’s where I get to fine-tune those ideas, smooth them out, and explore them further.” For Weiland, “outliners do most of the major revising in the predraft process, which allows for much faster (and, dare I say, more fun?) first drafts and much less revision time afterward.”

Karen Wiesner, genre author of more than one hundred novels and of First Draft in 30 Days and From First Draft to Finished Novel, agrees. She used to be a pantser, but after writing sometimes twelve drafts of a novel to finally get it right, she decided to give outlines a try. “With the right preparation, you can create an outline so complete, it actually qualifies as the first draft of your book and includes every single scene of your book. You can see your entire novel from start to finish in one condensed place. An outline like this … contains every single one of your plot threads, unfurled with the correct pacing and the necessary tension, culmination, and resolution from beginning to end.” For Wiesner, the outline is “the place to work out your story settings, plot conflicts, and in-depth characterization before starting the actual book. This allows you to focus on scenes that work cohesively together and advance all of these. Additionally, tension, foreshadowing, dialogue, introspection, action, descriptions, etc., can best be done within the outline, building strength while adding texture and complexity.” The best part? “Creating an outline like this puts the hard work of writing where it belongs—at the beginning of a project. If you work out the kinks in the story in the outline, you ensure that the writing and revising are the easy parts.” Wiesner’s analogy cements her argument: “When I write a book based on a ‘first draft’ outline, pure magic happens because I watch the skeleton—the framework of the book contained in my outline—putting on flesh, becoming a walking, talking, breathing story.”

Like Weiland, Pronovost, and Wiesner, Weaver believes an outline can save a writer both time and frustration. “Ideally, it will force you to think through the events of your novel before you ever put pen to paper, and in doing so, it can reveal potential pitfalls, uncover creative opportunities you hadn’t considered, and give you a broader perspective. An outline can condense that process and minimize the wrong turns, and that makes it more likely that you’ll finish what you started.” Sally Cooper, Hamilton, Ontario-based author of Love Object and Tell Everything and creative writing professor at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario, agrees with Weaver’s thoughts. “A good outline helps me think through the story ahead of time, so I avoid writing myself into an unresolvable corner. Outlines also create direction, signposts, or goals to look forward to and meet.”

Kathy Lowinger, Toronto, Ontario-based author and former publisher of Tundra Books, says that, “oddly enough, a detailed outline can be of most use to those who write beautifully. For them, it is easy to write a great sentence or paragraph or even several pages without benefit of a good skeletal structure. Eventually it becomes apparent that the plot isn’t well thought out, but good writing can hide the plot flaws for a long time.” She also believes that for writers who claim to be smothered  by an outline, “I always think that they don’t understand what an outline is. It can be changed if it isn’t working, but,” she cautions, “the author has to understand that a single change should be looked at in the context of the whole work.”

Speaking of the whole work, Weaver has a fitting metaphor regarding outlines. She likes to compare a manuscript to a jigsaw puzzle. “Your job as the writer is to make all the pieces fit together to form a complete and pleasing picture in the end. The outline is the photograph on the puzzle box—it’s a guide to remind you what picture you’re ultimately trying to create. Sometimes you’re contending with a puzzle that comes with extra pieces that don’t quite fit. A big challenge for most writers, in my experience, is recognizing that those extra pieces don’t belong, and having the courage to let them go. An outline can relieve you of some of those decisions by making it clear when something doesn’t fit.”

A Word to the Wise for Plotters

Even pro-outliners caution against following an outline blindly. “If you get extremely detailed and rigid about the outline process, you can rob yourself of the chance to stumble upon something awesome,” says Sims. “An outline can and should be fluid. Be okay with throwing an outline away and starting over or slicing and dicing and adding in new stuff—even if you’re halfway through your book. If you get a gut feeling you ought to try something drastically different, give it a go.” MacKinnon concurs. “The outline is just a written guideline. Most authors I know would never let an outline get in the way of a good story. If inspiration hits in the middle of writing, and the characters or story seems to be going in a different direction, they follow their instincts and go with the story rather than the outline.” Cash holds the same theory, stressing that “the greatest drawback is that there’s always the risk of being shackled to your outline. Trust me, you won’t disturb the universe if you don’t follow it.”

Pronovost feels the same. “Just because a writer has a plan doesn’t mean she has to dogmatically stick to it. There is always room for creativity in any structure, including in an outline. A rough, flexible, dynamic outline—one where change can occur throughout the drafting process—is a very practical tool.” Kevin Morgan Watson, publisher at Press 53 in Winston–Salem, North Carolina, agrees. “An outline should be, to borrow a phrase from the movie Ghostbusters, ‘more of a guideline than a rule.’ A writer should always be open to new ideas that present themselves during the writing process. When that little voice says, ‘What if my character does this or goes there instead of following the outline; I wonder what would happen?’ I think writers should listen to that voice and take the detour.” He cites the “wise words” from American poet Robert Frost as further evidence:

“No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

Shaping the Story

For Sam Hiyate, literary agent, president, and co-founder of The Rights Factory in Toronto, Ontario, “outlines are essential for helping shape a story. You wouldn’t start building a house without blueprints. Why start a novel without one?” For Hiyate, who’s also a creative writing instructor at the University of Toronto and a publishing instructor at Ryerson University, “the most important thing is to write an outline at the level of detail that makes you comfortable. Some writers might have one [outline] that is two pages, whereas some might want ten to fifteen pages. If you have it in bullet points to start, you can still enter a chapter or scene with a lot of possibility, as long as you know where it will quickly go.” For him, it’s all about “writing with the level of detail that will keep your writing spontaneous and fresh.”

For number one New York Times best-selling author John Grisham, outlines are the Holy Grail of productivity and structure. “The books are carefully outlined before I ever start. Chapter by chapter, from beginning to end. And usually tedious and boring and even painful—but it’s the only way to make sure the story’s going to work. Usually the outline is fifty pages long. And the longer the outline, the easier the book  is to write. I have started several books and put them aside—and a couple of times I’ve gone back and been able to finish them.” This level of planning for an outline on the part of the author could be an example of what novelist and short story author Terence M. Green refers to as “the micromanager, who plans the whole story out in advance before the actual writing. I think it’s fair to say that the writer who benefits the most from the micro-planning is the one most concerned with plot, and plot intricacies and twists.”

George sees an outline as a life-enhancing literary safety net. “If you run into trouble, it’s never too late to create an outline to help you along. It can be as detailed or as sketchy as you’d like. Sometimes, when I’m having a crisis of confidence, I will hone the outline in order get reassurance that my story has merit. That, alone, can get me writing again.” And George stresses that the outline may be for the writer’s eyes only. “Remember that no one else needs to see the outline.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to update it or stay faithful to it—it’s so unlike a spouse in that way. In fact, my relationship with my outline is probably the best I’ve ever known.”

Best Tips of the Trade

Looking for some writerly inspiration not only to create but also to nail an effective outline?
Our industry experts weigh in with these helpful tips.

“If your book were divided in pieces, what would they be called? How many pieces
(acts or parts) would there be? What would happen in each segment? Summarize in
only a few sentences, not in a thousand pages. Does your outline have a climax? If
not, why not? Does your outline have a clear beginning, middle, and end?” —Nita
Pronovost, editorial director at Simon & Schuster Canada, former senior editor
at Penguin Random House

“Don’t confuse your outline with a summary of your novel. Keep your outline brief.
It doesn’t even have to be comprised of complete sentences. Don’t be afraid to
change it or move things around, and consider putting it away once it’s completed.”
Wiley Cash, New York Times best-selling author

“Know your characters. Think in terms of scenes, like a filmmaker. Include thematic
and symbolic beats, not just plot points, and be open to throwing the outline out the
window if the story takes a promising turn.” —Sally Cooper, author and creative
writing professor at Humber College

“Outlines are a great way to think through a story, to envision a story, much like a drive
across the country or a family vacation: You can plan it down to the hour of every day,
but it’s in the detours along the way where the better story, the better adventure,
may be hiding. And what’s the harm in taking a detour to see what is there? If you
work from an outline, make it a loose guideline. Give yourself permission to veer off
course and explore.” —Kevin Morgan Watson, publisher, Press 53

“The outline is simply a tool; don’t let it intimidate you. Use it as an aid to pace your
novel well. Read it over from time to time. Your outline can help you identify slow
points in your story. It can remind you that you’ve forgotten something and, if so,
then how necessary is that something? Or maybe it was key, and you can’t neglect it.
The outline will help you make decisions.”—Mary Lou George, romance novelist

“Be flexible. Think of an outline as a collection of puzzle pieces. At first you think a piece
might fit well here, but then you see it fits better there. Keep moving the pieces around.
Don’t be afraid to toss some and add new ones.” —Lynn Wiese Sneyd, owner of
LWS Literary Services

“Think of your outline as the bird’s-eye view of your manuscript. It’s meant to show
you the best path to take—and to reveal any roadblocks long before you get to them—but it shouldn’t prevent you from taking the odd side road on your way to your destination. An outline can take many different forms, and if one technique is too restrictive or makes you feel too constrained, try another. One bad experience with outlining doesn’t mean all outlines are bad.” —Janice Weaver, award-winning author and freelance editor

“Don’t be afraid to make a mess. Writing is like life: glorious, unpredictable, full of
passion, woe, and joy. Be okay with ambiguity as you map your story; you’ll figure
it out. And be open to making parts of your outline rough and other parts very detailed.
Don’t worry about following any particular form.”—Elizabeth Sims, award-winning
author and contributing editor for Writer’s Digest

“Start out with what your central quest is; give your protagonist a series of trials of various
flavors (by that I mean level of difficulty, mood, etc.) to overcome; and put the resolution
in the protagonist’s hands. And make sure that the protagonist is marked by
each trial in some way. This holds for almost every novel, whether the quest is something
intangible like acceptance or tangible like the Holy Grail.” —Kathy Lowinger,
author and former publisher of Tundra Books

“Use the outlining phase as an opportunity to build story structure. The single most
important factor of a story’s success and salability will be the strength of its structure.
The outline is the place to start figuring that out so you will be able to place the important
plot points and other structural moments at exactly the right place to allow
them to achieve their utmost power.” —K.M. Weiland, author

“When writing a short story, I’ve found it useful to take a sheet of paper and divide it
into three (usually Intro, Body, and Conclusion, the Body being the substantial part
of the page). By filling in these sections with ideas and details, the story can come to
life in a general way. The actual writing of the story is where it can come to life in its
particulars. For a new writer of fiction: Know the ending of your story. If one has this
in mind, the goal is clear, the path straightens itself.” —Terence M. Green, creative
writing professor at Western University, novelist, and short story author

… to be continued

Watch for Jennifer’s feature in the upcoming 2018 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market in mid-September 2017.

Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto, Canada-based freelance writer, editor, and content strategist. She’s been in the writing and editing business for two decades, and her company is Planet Word. Jennifer’s clients are from the book and custom publishing, magazine, and marketing and communications fields and include The Globe and Mail, Art Gallery of Ontario, D. F. Plett Historical Research Foundation, Greystone Books, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Canadian Children’s Book News, Dundurn Press, Ontario Dental Association, and Firefly Books. When she’s not busy spilling ink for her first novel, walking her greyhound, Aquaman, or reading, Jennifer enjoys travelling, antiquing, gardening, camping, and yoga. She’s a long-time mentor to novice editors via Editors Canada and novice writers via the Professional Writers Association of Canada. Jennifer is chair of Editors Toronto and administrative director of the Rowers Reading Series. Find her online at lifeonplanetword.wordpress.com.

© Jennifer D. Foster 2017

Eliminate Bad Breaks, Widows, and Orphans for Professional Results

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

There are certain telltale signs that differentiate a traditional trade-published book from a self-published book. There are little subliminal types of things that separate a professionally published, properly edited/proofread book from the rest. Much of this is subconscious. Your average readers will pick up on these things without even realizing it, and this will influence their opinions of your book.

If you want to self-publish your book and you want to ensure the most professional result possible, then it is always wise to hire outside help to catch all these little details for you just as the trade publishers do for their books. In an ideal world, you’ll work with a professional copy editor, designer, and proofreader because they each bring something different to the table that can dramatically improve the quality of your book.

Where a copy editor’s job is to review and improve an author’s raw manuscript, and the graphic designer’s job is to arrange that raw edited text into a professional and appealing layout, a professional proofreader provides yet another set of eyes to ensure that all the components fit together properly and the book is ready for public viewing and printing. The proofreader’s job is to complete the following nine-point check:

Interior Check

• The front matter (such as the table of contents) is accurate and correct.
• The back matter (such as the index) is accurate and correct.
• Headers and footers are accurate and correct.
• Bad breaks, widows, and orphans are eliminated.
• Text is kerned to flow smoothly throughout.
• Margins and trim size all measure properly.
• Spelling and punctuation is correct.

Cover Check

• Spacing, bleeds, and trim size all measure properly.
• Spelling and punctuation is correct.

As shown in the above list, a professional proofreader is someone who is knowledgeable and experienced with both basic language editing (spelling and punctuation) as well as the technical aspects of book design (kerning, bleeds, trim size, et cetera). His or her job is to catch all the “leftovers” such as bad breaks, widows, and orphans that may still be in your book once it has been copy edited and designed.

Bad Breaks, Widows, and Orphans

A book’s interior is usually either justified or flush left as shown in the diagram below.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typographic_alignment

If you choose justified alignment for your interior, then you have to be especially concerned with bad breaks in words. For example:

http://nitens.org/img/latex/hyphenation.jpg

The words “curious” and “remember” are badly broken up in the above sample. To avoid this, you can kern that particular block of text either slightly looser or slightly tighter to ensure the full words land on one line rather than breaking up into two lines. Believe me when I say that extra little detail can subliminally affect the quality of your book in other people’s eyes. It takes no time at all to fix it, so I highly recommend that you do.

Widows and orphans are a concern whether your text is justified or flush left as shown in the below image:

http://www.edgee.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/widow-orphan.png

As shown above, a widow is a lone word stuck on a line by itself anywhere in a page; whereas, an orphan is a lone one or two words that have landed by themselves on a line, up on the next page. Both of these things affect the flow and professional appearance of a book whether you realize it or not. Professional publishers always ensure these types of issues are eliminated by meticulously kerning certain blocks of text throughout the book (as opposed to adding in extra line breaks or paragraph breaks in random places to try to correct the issue).

Self-publishers should do the same for best results. It will make a subconsciously noticeable difference to your end result by ensuring a more professional product.

* * *    * * *    * * *

As a user of this website, you are authorized only to view, copy, print, and distribute the documents on this website so long as: one (1) the document is used for informational purposes only; and two (2) any copy of the document (or portion thereof) includes the following copyright notice: Copyright © 2017 Polished Publishing Group (PPG). All rights reserved.

Common Formatting Issues in Microsoft Word: Four Easy Tips for Authors

Lynette M. Smith

Basic formatting knowledge will serve you well throughout your writing career. If you perform some types of basic formatting on your manuscript, you’ll not only prevent distractions as you focus on quality writing, but you’ll likely save money too. Here’s why.

Formatting errors and inconsistencies that remain in your manuscript will distract your copyeditor from performing high quality work while reading. A smart copyeditor scrubs (basic-formats) the manuscript before starting to read, but you’re billed for that time. Even if you tell your copyeditor to disregard the formatting, your book-layout professional will have to resolve these problems later on, and you’ll still be billed for that time.

Figure 1

Here are four common manuscript-formatting issues and how you can address them.

1. First-Line Paragraph Indents

The wrong way: Use the tab key or type a series of blank spaces.

The right way to change only one paragraph indent: Go to the Paragraph window (see Figure 1), click the down arrow, and select First line from the resulting pull-down menu. Then use the vertical arrows to select your preferred amount of indent (either the 0.5” default or something smaller, such as 0.3”, or manually type in a more precise measurement, such as 0.25”).

Figure 2

The right way to change all paragraphs that use the Normal style: Click on the Home ribbon tab. Right-click the Normal style and select Modify to open the Modify Style window (see Figure 2). Here, you can customize the font and font size, and many other options.

When you click the Format button in the lower left corner of that window, you’ll see a pull-down menu with several options; left-click on Paragraph, and the familiar Paragraph window will appear; there you can select First line indent and the amount of indent, plus change other settings, like type of Justification (left vs. full), line spacing, points of extra space below each Normal paragraph, etc. When you finish customizing the settings in the Paragraph window, click OK to return to the Modify Style window.

Once back in the Modify Style window, make sure the radio-button “Only in this document” (located just above the Format button) is selected; then click OK to close the Modify Style window.

Note: In your document later on, you can override this indent for an individual paragraph, such as the first paragraph of a chapter or the first paragraph after a hiatus in a novel. Simply click once in that paragraph, access the regular Paragraph window, and change “First line” to “None.”

Figure 3

2. Spacing between Sentences and Words and after Colons

The wrong way: Type two spaces between sentences, after colons, or anywhere else.

The right way: When you finish your final draft, go to the far right-hand side of the Home ribbon tab and click Replace (within the Editing section) to open the Find and Replace window (see Figure 3). In the “Find what” box, type two spaces (press the space bar twice). In the “Replace with” box, type one space (press the space bar once). Then click Replace All, as circled in Figure 3. Repeat as needed until no occurrences of two spaces remain. (This process also corrects the accidental typing of two spaces between a pair of words.)

Figure 4

3. Horizontal Centering of Titles

The wrong way: Use a combination of spaces and tabs to horizontally center text.

The right way: Left-click once anywhere on the line or paragraph or graphic you wish to center. Then, on the Home ribbon tab, click the icon circled in Figure 4 to center what you’ve selected.

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4. Starting a New Page

The wrong way: Press the Enter key repeatedly until the desired text is forced to the top of the next page. The problem with this technique is that, if you later insert or delete text on an earlier page, then the line of text you intended for the top of the new page with will have moved either further down the page or to the bottom of the previous page, forcing you to spend extra time making adjustments—and you’ll likely have to adjust every subsequent chapter too!

The right way: Instead of inserting all those blank lines, insert a manual page break between chapters and/or sections. Here’s how: At the end of your chapter or other major section where you want to begin a new page, strike Control-Enter to insert the manual page break. Your cursor will then be at the top of the next page, where you can type your next chapter heading and content.

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When you follow these tips, your formatting will be clean and easy to work with, you can focus better on quality writing, and you can reduce your costs for copyediting and book layout.

________________________

Lynette M. Smith works with book authors on their manuscript copyediting and book-layout proofreading in her long-established business, All My Best Copyediting and Heartfelt Publishing (AllMyBest.com). She is also the published author of the popular 40-page handbook, 80 Common Layout Errors to Flag When Proofreading Book Interiors, as well as the award-winning comprehensive reference book, How to Write Heartfelt Letters to Treasure: For Special Occasions and Occasions Made Special. Contact Lynette through her copyediting website, publishing website, or email , and follow her on LinkedIn and Facebook.

© Lynette M. Smith 2017

Finding Forrester

Michael LaRocca of MichaelEdits.com

The existence of a movie — any movie — about the topic of writing is surprising enough. But for it to actually be a good movie? Wow.

I taught Advanced English Writing in several universities in China from 2002 through 2006. Showing this movie became an integral part of those classes, because so many of its themes are identical to what I was trying to teach. I was happy to watch it over a dozen times with my students, and lecture about it in a style more Robin Williams than F. Murray Abraham.

But all these years later, will I still think it’s a good movie? Let’s find out.

We begin by meeting Jamal, the student who hides his intelligence in order to fit in. Fair enough.

Jamal is also a writer who hides his writing. Do they still exist?

Sean Connery is William Forrester, the reclusive genius of a writer.

Jamal is writing all the time. By hand. He’s constantly practicing his basketball. He’s constantly practicing his writing. That’s how a person gets to be the best he’s able to be at either pursuit. Or any pursuit. So if you’re not writing every day, listen to Sean Connery and Rob Brown. Write every day. You’re never going to write like Shakespeare or shoot hoops like Michael Jordan, but if you write every day, you’ll get better at it than you are now. Unused potential is worse than lack of potential, because the former is a choice.

Jamal and Forrester are both obsessed with reading. As writers must be. Jamal snoops in Forrester’s shelves both to learn about him and for suggestions. I already know you’re reading every day. Aren’t you? How many times have I said it? If you don’t enjoy reading, you can’t write something that somebody else enjoys reading.

Jamal: “You read all these?” 
Forrester: “No, I keep them to impress all my visitors.”

Amusing because Forrester’s an agoraphobe whose only visitor is the guy bringing his royalty checks and his groceries. (Wouldn’t you love to be an author living well on royalty checks for something you wrote 30 years ago?) But also a chance for me to riff on people who keep all the books they’ve ever read shelved at home. You know how much I love the written word. But Goodreads tells me that in the past three years alone I’ve read over 1000 books. Why would I keep them? I’m not going to read them all again. (Just the five-star books.) I do love a library, but I choose not to own one. I know where they are.

Jamal gets his writing notebooks back from “Window,” that strange old dude who we don’t know is Sean Connery because we haven’t seen his picture on every movie poster ever made. And what has this man of mystery added to the notebooks? Honest feedback. It’s not all kind. Not even close, actually. Brutally honest. That’s what we all need. And if we’re mature, it’s also what we want, because this helps us improve. Jamal’s first reaction was negative, but the next day, he’s knocking on the door. He says: “I was wondering if I could bring you more of my stuff.”

Finally, Jamal reads a book by Forrester. When Forrester gets the book back, he says, “Christ, you’ve dog-eared one of them. Show a little respect for the author.” I say screw the author. Have a little respect for the next reader. Don’t vandalize your books.

In the film, Forrester wrote one book. It won a Pulitzer. He reacted to a mix of critical praise and personal tragedy by not publishing another one. I don’t think you have to be an author to enjoy the pot shots he takes at critics.

Forrester: “I know what it is. The last thing I need is another person telling me what they think it is.”

I know the feeling.

Forrester: “Critics spend a day destroying what they couldn’t create in a lifetime.”

True.

Jamal: “What’s it feel like?” 
Forrester: “What?” 
Jamal: “Writing something the way you did.” 
Forrester: “Perhaps you’ll find out.”

I like that little exchange because, while I remember what it felt like to write at my very best, I’ll be damned if I can explain it to you. Write your own books and you’ll find out for yourself.

Jamal: “Did you ever read your own writing?” 
Forrester: “In public? Hell no. I barely read it in private.”

I used to say things like that all the time. But I did finally reread all fourteen of my published books last year. In private. Not bad, Michael. Not bad at all. Oh, and they’re better “inside proper covers and everything,” just like the author’s wife noted in the second Robert Galbraith novel. Don’t act like she’s weird for waiting.

[It’s eighteen books now. When the hell did I write this movie review?]

Forrester: “A lot of writers know the rules about writing, but they don’t know how to write.”

We know it’s true. But let me add that the writers who don’t even know the rules are screwed. You need not obey the rules. But you do need to know them. I break writing rules all the time, but never out of simple ignorance.

Clever dialogue about starting a sentence with a conjunction. Who knew such things were possible?

Forrester just sits at a manual typewriter and immediately starts writing. Jamal likes to think first. So do I. Hell, I’ve even used an outline once or twice. Also, I start with pen and paper or (more often) computer keyboard. Not a typewriter.

Forrester: “No thinking — that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!”

I’ve used freewriting in class and given it a spot in my textbook. It’s a good technique, and I’ve seen a lot of students surprise themselves with the results. But I’ve also never written anything publishable that way. Blogable, perhaps. I do agree with the heart/head thing, of course.

Using other authors for inspiration can be a complex issue. Plain old stealing is wrong, but even the most original thinkers seek inspiration. The movie finally moves its dramatic conflict into high gear by examining all that. It was probably a bit predictable the first time I watched it. It was certainly predictable the fifteenth or twentieth time I watched it. But it still works. It’s still powerful, moving, and five-star all the way.

Enjoy!

Technical editing since 1991. Business editing since 2006. MichaelEdits.com

© Michael LaRocca 2017

9 Things Star Trek Can Teach You About Writing

Michael LaRocca of MichaelEdits.com

1) Readers Matter

In the first STAR TREK film, Gene Roddenberry finally had the budget to create all the footage he wanted of ENTERPRISE just sitting there, looking real purty, and by gum he was gonna use it. While I don’t mind watching all those minutes, 22 or 187 or whatever it was, most folks think that’s too much. If most of your readers say something needs to be changed or added or deleted, listen to them.

2) Characters Matter

When the second pilot was filmed, it was pre-ordained that William Shatner was the star. Since Spock was the only character from the first pilot to also appear in the second pilot, it was safe to assume Leonard Nimoy was a costar. McCoy and the chemistry just kinda happened.

When I write, character comes first, and plot etc. unfold from there. Even if you start from some other place, character always matters. Nothing happens unless it happens to somebody, and that somebody is who your reader cares about regardless of species.

When you write, have some sort of plan, and have some control, but be flexible. If your story’s telling you to go in a certain direction, listen to it. That might be your characters talking to you. (And yes, I know you made them all up. Don’t bother me with details.)

3) Turn Weaknesses into Strengths

Why did the ENTERPRISE have a transporter? Because it wasn’t in the TV show’s budget to film launch and landing sequences for shuttlecraft on various and sundry new planets every week. This forced the writers to invent the transporter, and that’s some seriously cool tech. STAR TREK wouldn’t be STAR TREK without it.

4) Forget Grammar

Okay, not really. Spock used English with scientific precision and it wasn’t even his first language. Speaking as your editor, please don’t forget grammar. You can break any rule you want if you have a good reason. Never break a rule from ignorance. But if you’ve got a reason, go for it. That’s how we as authors change the language.

Why did Shakespeare invent 10% of the words he used? Because if he’d invented 20% or 50% he’d have confused too many of his viewers.

Meanwhile, the “rule” about splitting infinitives is totally bogus. “To boldly go” is a perfectly good English phrase. In Latin, it isn’t possible to split an infinitive because “to go” (for example) is one word. You can’t write “to boldly go” in Latin because “to go” is only one word. Someone decided English grammar should follow Latin grammar — that sounds like some of Noah Webster’s rubbish — and was soundly shouted down for being too stupid to live. Feel free to boldly split infinitives like James Brown split tight pants. Then jump back and kiss yourself.

5) Wishful Thinking Is Allowed

In the STAR TREK future, everybody quotes long passages of Shakespeare from memory. If I say it like that, it might sound hard to believe, but in the context of the STAR TREK world, it fits. It’s allowed. Dagnabbit, people should quote Shakespeare from memory. I taught a customer’s cockatiel to recite Hamlet’s soliloquy without warning the humans. I never could teach him context, though.

6) It’s Not About the Money

Okay, sometimes it was about the money. But in roughly two years of the original show and roughly ten years of Next Generation, it wasn’t about the money. In most of the films, including some of the stinkers, it wasn’t about the money.

I’ve always said that you should write what you’d like to read, then find readers who share your interests. Yep, that’s what Gene Roddenberry did. He believed in world peace, racial and gender integration, trying to shake off old prejudices to the best of our limited abilities, freedom of religion and non-religion, true equality for women rather than today’s lip service, gay rights, cooperation rather than killing, the Prime Directive of non-interference in viable developing cultures, war as a last and not a first resort, and seeing just how much political and religious commentary he could slip past the censors, who weren’t as bright as the average STAR TREK viewer. (I like to think the censors weren’t always as clueless as they pretended to be.)

7) Choose Your Battles

That’s what Roddenberry had to do every time he butted heads with TV executives. It’s what I do as an author when I disagree with my editor, and what I expect an author to do when I’m his or her editor. “I’ll say Starfleet pays its officers in credits if you let the white guy kiss the black girl.” Or whatever.

8) YOU Are The Writer

Remember when I said to listen to your readers? That doesn’t mean you have to always agree with them. When Gene Roddenberry’s vision put him at odds with the majority, he went with his vision. We should all do that. Such judgment calls are what separate the great writers from the merely ordinary. And to pull all that off within the confines of a 1960s TV show is nothing short of extraordinary. You could do far worse than to follow his example.

9) Posterity Matters

How long has it been since Captain Kirk first flexed those biceps and paused in funny places during his speechifying? It’s been over 50 years since Roddenberry started writing STAR TREK, and we’re still talking about it. That’s what we write for. I don’t want you to love my writing now and forget it tomorrow. A novel is not a blog or a tweet. Write something timeless. Something to annoy future generations the way it does your immediately family, something teachers can torture students with, something that just will not die.

Technical editing since 1991. Business editing since 2006. MichaelEdits.com

© Michael LaRocca 2017

Do You Really Have What It Takes to Write a Book?

Jeannette DiLouie

So you wrote a book? Congratulations! That’s amazing.

But do you really have what it takes? Are you a good enough writer to reach the audience you want without making a fool out of yourself? How do you actually know your writing is worthwhile?

Those are questions every single writer wonders at least from time to time no matter how many books he or she has written. Sometimes they pop into our heads on their own. Other times, they grow from a single negative review we get on Amazon or GoodReads or maybe in person.

In those cases, it doesn’t matter how many compliments we’ve gotten and how many positive reviews we’ve received. Our personal doubts or outside critiques – constructive or otherwise – can cut through our egos like chainsaws through butter.

The resulting mess is time-consuming to clean up, to say the least.

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But guess what? You have, in fact, written a book! So clearly you do have what it takes. You put in the time and effort necessary to start, continue and finish your manuscript. So the question you should be asking yourself isn’t whether you have what it takes. You need to switch gears completely by focusing not on approval so much but improvement.

What you really need to be asking is: How do I strengthen my current book or my next novel or my writing style in general?

Because there’s always room for improvement. Always. And it doesn’t matter whether you’ve just completed your first manuscript or you’re on your 25th. We writers never perfect our craft, only strengthen it.

Fortunately for us, there are a number of great ways to grow, mainly by seeking out other people’s opinions and advice. This could be by:

Finding a writers’ critique group: Just about anywhere you look, there are writing communities to be found. One might be offered through your local church or synagogue, on meetup.com, or perhaps posted on Craigslist. And if for some reason you can’t find one in any of those hotspots, then consider starting one up yourself! After all, if you build it, they could come.

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Getting a writing buddy: While it’s always nice to get multiple opinions about your work, a writing buddy has the potential to be more consistent than a writers’ group. With the latter, you might be able to submit a chapter every six weeks, whereas with a writing buddy, you could be swapping story segments every 10 days or less. Just be careful if you go this route that you’re getting just as much as you’re giving. There are some very selfish writing buddies out there that you need to be on guard against.

Getting beta readers: Beta readers are great resources to utilize if you know how to find them. These are random reviewers out there on the internet who will critique your manuscript for free. Though – warning – some of them can be pretty harsh. You asked them for their opinion, and believe me, they’re going to give it to you. While you can simply send out social media requests for beta readers if you’re up for this route, you can also find them on organized sites such as Wattpad and Scribofile.

Hiring an editor: Depending on how thorough of an edit you want, you can hire an editor for anywhere from $15 an hour to $4,000 for your whole manuscript. $15 an hour is going to get you a speed-read edit, so if that’s all you can afford, you’re probably better off just going with beta readers or a writing buddy instead. Though that’s not to say the $4,000 option is worthwhile either, since that usually gets you a read-through with grammatical and spelling corrections, plus a summarized edit. Try going for something on the cheaper side of the middle instead ($25-$35 an hour). And regardless, make sure to ask your editor what you’re going to get out of that investment in return.

One quick note about that last statement: When I say to make sure you know what you’re getting out of an edit, what I mean is to ask lots of questions.

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Will they be using track changes? Will they be adding in comments? Will they be looking for plot pitfalls as well as spelling and grammar? Are they going to look line by line, or are they simply critiquing the big picture?

For example, when I edit someone’s book manuscript, I take a holistic approach. That means I’m looking to make sure the dialogue is convincing, that details mesh together, characters are believable and the story flows well from paragraph to paragraph. So my clients get a thorough edit from start to finish, complete with a complimentary summary that highlights areas they’ve already sold me on as well as spots that need improvement.

Whatever editor you go with though, make sure you feel comfortable with them before you sign on. Don’t let them pressure you at any point.

And always keep in mind that you really do have what it takes to write a book. The rest is just practice.

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Jeannette DiLouie is the published author of 10 books and counting, and the Chief Executive Editor of Innovative Editing, a full-service editorial business with a special focus on authors and authors-in-the-making. You can find her writing insights and guidance at www.InnovativeEditing.com, and her books on Amazon.com.

© Jeannette DiLouie 2017