Thursday, December 29, 2011

Eat that Elephant: Edit Effectively

Okay, so I stole the analogy from Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, but I don't think they'll mind. "Eat the elephant" comes from a question: "How do you eat an elephant?"

If you look at the elephant carcass, you'll get overwhelmed. You'll think—no, you'll know—that it'll take forever and God only knows when you'll finish it.

And while you dither over how gargantuan your elephant is, your neighbor is quietly finishing hers.

It's the basic concept of breaking things down into manageable chunks. If you look at too much at once, you'll be overwhelmed and the task will take far longer than necessary. (Yes, I omitted that comma before the conjunction on purpose.)

So how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Different folks have different-sized mouths, too, so chunks that are "bite-sized" for one person might choke someone else. The issue is knowing yourself and how much you can handle at a time. And being flexible when something happens that sabotages what you can handle. Bending with the problems rather than breaking under them.

You might be asking, "What does project planning have to do with editing effectively?"


As of this writing, I have several writing projects on the to-do list. A novelette to finish writing for a December 31st deadline, but I've been editing as I go so it'll only need a proofread. A final 10k words or so to write in A Fistful of Earth, which will then need a heavy coherence edit, because I changed my mind about some things while writing scenes but didn't go back to make it all fit.

And Jami Gold is hosting a pitch session on her blog that I think a particular novelette of mine would fit well—if I can finish it by January 10th.

Oh, and I got asked by an anthology for a story. No deadline, but I'd like to be prompt about submitting something.

And remember, my day job is writing, editing, and proofreading for clients. So easy to get overwhelmed, to go "Ulgh! I've already edited 20k words today! I'm done!"

Editing is insidious. It has a way of taking longer than you planned—and of making you think that's okay, when it's only taking so long because you're letting the size of the task ahead of you overwhelm you and slow you down.

To edit effectively, you break your task down into chunks. Get it done one bite at a time.

That might mean one type of editing at a time. That might mean one scene or chapter at a time. That might mean one task at a time—like reading through to evaluate what it needs, then making the plot connect, then the characters, etc. It all depends on you, how you think, work, write.

And different stories will need different things.

I often edit as I go. When that doesn't work for me, I like breaking it down with Holly Lisle's notecard method, except instead of colored notecards, I use white ones. Then I color-code the top edge to indicate if a scene's good, needs some work, needs a lot of work, or needs tossing. (I'll describe this process further in a later post.)

But this is me, how I work. Not everybody can write content and critically evaluate it at the same time—and even then, I draft faster if I drop the critical mode. But I'm capable of pulling off an "average" pace of 1k words per hour with critical mode on, so I don't often bother to turn that side off.

And not everybody's comfortable tackling content edits, line edits, copyedits, and proofreading at the selfsame time. Even though I'm practiced at it, I'm not always comfortable with it. When that happens, I make sure to break it up ASAP, so I don't waste too much time dithering over how much I have to do. (A Fistful of Earth will probably need such breaking down.)

How do you usually break down your editing?


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Goals for 2012

As I look at this month, I don't think I'm going to hit all my goals. Finishing A Fistful of Earth, for example. (Sorry about that.) I had to take most of last week off, which put a serious crimp in getting my goals accomplished.

(By the way, as Dean Wesley Smith reminded readers recently on his blog and Kristine Kathryn Rusch points out in her Freelancer's Survival Guide, goals are things you can control. Things you can't control are dreams. So word count output? That's a goal. Number of sales? That's a dream.)

So I'm taking a deep breath and setting up some public goals for 2012. Who's with me?

Goal #1: Write 50k words of fiction per month.

I'm doing the "50k words per month" thing with Margo Lerwill, fellow fantasy author. (If you're a fantasy fan and haven't read any of her short stories yet, shoo! They're $0.99 US each, and most are in the word count borderland between "short story" and "novelette".)

Not sure how she'll be tallying her words, but for me, it's of fiction. The blog posts here don't count. Forum posts don't count. Notes don't count.

Only story counts. An average of 2500 words per weekday. I even made myself a checklist.

Goal #2: Write 1, Sub 1 (per week).

I plan to write and submit a short story a week to markets. Considering my goal of writing 600k words of story this coming year, this goal should be a stepping stone for that other one.

Of course, it's one thing to know that you're capable of something, and doing it is another thing entirely. That's why I found a buddy who's willing to try it with me—my in-person friend Holly Parker, whose primary publishing experience involves Right now, she doesn't even know how to find story markets. She's learning that this week (I'm helping). Even writing original stories will be a challenge for her, but she's open to it.

I made a checklist by week for this, too—and submissions tracker worksheet on Google Docs, so we can keep each other accountable. I even set up a plan for the year, with characters/themes I can focus on each month, so I don't get overwhelmed.

Goal #3: Finish and release the Chronicles of Marsdenfel.

By Christmas next year, I want to have all 4 books out: A Fistful of Fire, A Fistful of Earth, A Fistful of Water, and A Fistful of Air.

Ideally, I also want to release print versions and a bundled version. (Note: I've been holding back on print version just yet due to cover image quality. I'm trying something that, if it works, will make photo stock quality a non-issue for that series.)

I think this one's self-explanatory. ^_^

Notice that none of my goals are about sales figures.

I can't control those. Thus the goals on things that I can control: output.

I have other goals, an entire 3x5 card full of them, some of which will help fulfill the others. But these are the three I'm making public.

What are your writing goals for 2012? Want to join Margo and me on the 50k words per month? Or what about Holly and me on Write 1, Sub 1?


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Taking This Week Off…

I could claim off on account of Christmas, but I don't celebrate. (Short version: there's no command in the Bible to celebrate it, and the holiday actually has pagan origins.)

No, I'm claiming this week off from any substantive blogging on account of the nasty rashes I've had all over since Sunday. At first, I figured it was irritation from my wool sweater. Then I thought it was hives, some sort of allergic reaction, but I hadn't changed my diet…

Then some of the bumps developed these little blister tops, today.

Yeah, this gal who even avoids the outdoors due to her grass allergy ended up with poison ivy for the first time in her life.

And a friend died last weekend. His memorial's this morning. He was ready to go; he'd survived his cancer for over a year longer than expected, and he was looking forward to being with the Lord.

He's left a wife and 6 kids behind, the oldest of which is newly married. The youngest will be 10 next month.

He and his family are all Christian, specifically Presbyterian. (Yes, we attend the same church.) Supportive prayers for the family from fellow Christians would be appreciated.



Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Sun Also Sets—Writers and Depression

Maybe it's because of all the time we spend in our heads, riding our characters' emotions as well as our own, but writers are notoriously prone to depression. Just think of all the big-name authors who have died young, either from suicide or other causes, like abusing their bodies. Ernest Hemingway and several songwriters spring to mind, and that's before I even check the Wikipedia lists.

I don't know about you, but it scared me, when I was in high school literature classes. Made me wonder if I was doomed to a gloomy life of depression and angst. (So I was a melodramatic teenager. Shoot me. And be glad I don't inflict my first few novels on you.)

As I've gotten older, I've realized that I'm prone to depression, too.

You may recall the hormone disorder I've mentioned having. Sometimes, it makes me giddy and inexplicably happy, but more often…

If my laundry lingers unfolded for more than a day, I'm depressed. If it lingers folded but not put away… Well, I'd better get some vitamin D ASAP. (Vitamin D's technically not a vitamin; it's a hormone that your body creates out of sunshine exposure.)

That sunlight's often the most effective treatment for depression—for me, anyway. Going out for some frozen yogurt or to visit some friends can help, if neighbors are mowing their lawns, since I then cannot go outdoors. (Alert: if you take melatonin to help you sleep, that can make depression worse, too.)

Okay. Great. Depression's not unusual for writers. Why am I bringing it up, and how does it relate to self-editing?

First, why I'm bringing it up: nobody was interested in my giveaway. That's pretty darn depressing. I'm figuring that it might've been an idea that was better in my head than in practice—or maybe I don't have a large enough following for it to work, yet. So. No more giveaways for the at least the next few months, unless I get personally invited or see an opportunity that seems too good to pass up.

And I'm pointedly distracting myself with songs like "Another Mad Science Love Song" and "Oh, Michelle" by Seanan McGuire* when I start dwelling on the "Nobody wanted a free story!" aspect. I know I can write well. *(Be warned that "Oh, Michelle" has PG-13 cursing, and I'm a fan of black humor.)

Second: how does writer depression relate to self-editing?

If you have to ask that, you've never faced a "sea of red"—a good editorial pen. (And if you've never given yourself a "sea of red," you probably aren't the best at self-editing. Are there exceptions? Yes. Some folks produce very clean first drafts. Are you likely one of them? Not unless you've already a voracious reader and you've written a ton.)

Look, it's not unusual for me to work as tutor or editor. And all the less practiced writers I work with are convinced that they're the most terrible writer ever when they see the corrections I make—even when I reassure them that they're not. (I could tell tales of fan fiction so bad that… Never mind.)

It's the ones who've faced it before that have some sense in how to conquer that "Oh, I suck!" sensation that comes when you're looking at a piece that needs to be edited.

Because not everything needs revision.

It's like A Fistful of Fire. I mercilessly marked up a printed copy of the book, then realized when putting in the edits that most of the changes were downright optional. Which I noticed because I'd bothered to take a step back and to take a deep breath before I dove into it.

If I'd been depressed, I would've applied every little change, some of which would've altered parts of the story into the voice of Destiny's Kiss. (…Ooops?)

When you're writing, when you're editing—whether it's self-editing or with a beta or with a paid editor—you need to pay attention to your personal cues. You should have something that you can pay attention to, to notice when you're getting depressed.

Nip that depression in the bud.

The sun does set.

But remember that it rises, too.

What cues you in when you're getting depressed? Do you notice? How do you counter your depression?


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Playing to Your Strengths – Writing to Hide Your Weaknesses

I promise I had this post in the queue before Red Tash guest posted over on Let's Get Digital (blog of David Gaughran). I also had it planned before Bob Mayer posted on his blog.

Ah, well.

Still, they spoke of making sure the first story or stories you write are simple enough for you to pull off. So they were talking specifically to newer writers.

Whereas I believe that everyone should make sure their project of choice is something they can pull off.

Don't get me wrong—writers should always seek to stretch themselves. But if you struggle with organizing plot logically and always have to go back and make sure you didn't overthink something and turn it into nonsense, well… As much as you might long to try your hand at writing cozy mysteries, you probably aren't ready for that, yet.

This is where self-editing comes into play. Ideally, you should do this before writing a story: sit down with all your story ideas and consider how they fit your abilities. What do you struggle with? What are you good at? What will each book require?

Struggle to write realistic dialogue, but your action scenes are killer? Then that character-driven drama with nuanced conversations probably isn't the best choice, right now. But lonely assassin story might work.

Do you have a hard time writing distinct voices for your different POV characters, but your humor scenes can make readers laugh out loud? Hm, then that multigenerational southern Gothic one probably won't work, but a lighthearted story limited to 1 POV, maybe 2, might work well.

Does plotting make you whimper and rip your outline to shreds and go back to the emotional arc outline? Then that plot-heavy spy novel probably won't work, unless maybe you could make it character-oriented… Hm. That might actually work.

See what I mean?

Now, don't neglect stretching yourself; but don't stretch yourself in every area at once. That way lay frustration.

Get fairly comfortable with what you're doing, then experiment. Always write in 3rd person limited? Try 1st person or omniscient POV. Always use present tense? Try past.

If you're feeling really adventurous—and are willing to produce something you probably won't be able to sell—try second person POV or one of the forbidden verb tenses (future, present perfect, past perfect). Those things aren't used for a reason, so trying to produce something that works despite that reason can be quite a valuable exercise.*

Are your stories always dialogue-heavy? Make yourself write a story that's description and monologue.

Are your stories always description-heavy? Try writing a story of pure dialogue.

If your experiment flunks, then you aren't as comfortable with your writing as you thought. Keep going. Keep practicing.

And don't tackle too many experiments at once unless you're willing to risk biting off more than you can chew.

For a writer to have novel or story ideas that they can't yet write is normal. I have one, myself, that I try to tackle every so often, only to sigh and lament "Not yet." Others that I stir, say "Hmm…", and nudge a little further back on the stove to keep simmering.

And the fun thing is, waiting to tackle the "hard" stuff will make it easier, because you'll have less to tackle at once. I struggle with transitions; I don't think with them—which even confuses me, sometimes—and therefore have had to really study when they're needed. I realized that it would be better for me to focus on stories with a limited timeline. But—

Even those limited timelines need transitions at every scene shift. So I was practicing the transitions, getting better at using them—and my ability to write a first draft that'll be coherent to someone other than me has increased dramatically.

What are your thoughts?


P.S. April 2012 Update: Jami Gold's addressed this on a different tack over on her blog. Worth reading. ^_^

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Cover Unveiling — Plus a Giveaway

I'm so excited! I have a few things to share with you today.

First, I've gotten a new cover for my urban fantasy for young adults and older, Destiny's Kiss, created by the talented Najla Qamber. She took my concept cover ideas and came up with something that fit what I wanted.

Moreover, she tackled working with me. I'm not the easiest person for an artist to work with. (Thus why I've learned to buy images from artists and do my own typography.)

In celebration of this new—gorgeous—cover, I'm hosting a giveaway, and the winner gets their choice of 1 of my stories in e-format (as a Smashwords coupon or e-mail attachment)—

And nobody entered. That puts this on my list of "ideas that seemed good at the time but evidently weren't."

Ah, well.

And one of the options available is the original draft of A Fistful of Fire. Considering the original edition of A Fistful of Fire was perhaps 17k words and the final book is 79k words, I think it'll be of interest for comparison.

This is an e-book giveaway, open worldwide, except where some law would interfere with it.

How the Winner Will Be Picked:

From a drawing. See "How to Enter" to see how to get entries into the drawing.

How to Enter:

(Each entry method can only count once.)

  • Leave a comment on this post: +1
  • Mention the giveaway on social media or your blog: +1
  • Leave a review for one of my stories: +1
  • Leave a comment one one of my blog posts* other than this one: +1
  • Blog about one of my stories or blog posts*: +2 per story or post blogged about

*Only substantial blog posts like "How to Serialize Your Novel (or Not)" are eligible. Miscellaneous ones like "Website Down" aren't. I'll assume you're intelligent enough figure out what "substantial" means.

You must leave a comment tallying up your points, with links to off-site entries. (And if you've already done something that would've qualified for an entry, like left a review for or blogged about a story, you can count that retroactively.)

If you have to tally points more than once,, I'll edit your comments to combine them.

Giveaway closes 7am Tuesday, December 13th, 2011. Winners will be announced the next day.

When I announce the winner, I'll also be raising the price for Destiny's Kiss and announcing the title for its sequel.

Now let's see the pretty cover that made me decide to do this:

Destiny Walker is an exceptional student despite her youth, sullenness, and the werewolf baby she had to leave on a stranger's doorstep. Across the Atlantic, Kismet Baros was a rare type of Magik who was under the protection of the vampire court. Only Destiny and the judge who emancipated her know why Kismet no longer exists.

When powerful Magiks from Kismet's past show up, Destiny must face her demons. She must decide what she is—person or property—and if she'll sacrifice the few friends she has to save the many.

If she doesn't, she'll be the gunpowder that sparks World War III.

(A novel of about 59,000 words / 215 pages.)

ALERT: Contains mature themes, some violence and gore, and a handful of cases of objectionable language.

And if you like this giveaway, just wait until you see what I have planned for when its sequel comes out!


Thursday, December 1, 2011

2 Types of Editors in This World

If you've ever started poking into online information about editing, you've likely discovered that the job descriptions for editor are myriad, and they differ from situation to situation. Some make sure all the content lines up and the plot works; some ensure that all the commas are in the right places. Some verify your data, while others make sure you're suitable for publication.

But when you get right down to it, there are only 2 types of editors:

  1. "Big-picture" editors who focus more on the forest than on the trees.
  2. "Little-picture" editors who focus more on the trees than on the forest.

Content editors, for example, are the first type. This is also the type of feedback you usually want from a beta reader. Does this plot work?

Line editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders are the second type. The technical aspects are their forte. Are my mechanics right?

A good editor of any type will have crossover in what they see, like a copyeditor who catches that your villain speaks like the heroine in one scene. That's a detail catch, but it's based on the big-picture analysis of who your characters are. The content editor who says you should study dialogue tags is catching a little-picture issue.

But every type of editing is skewed towards the forest or the trees. The skew might be slight, but it'll be there.

Acquisitions editors, for example. Acquisitions editors often don't edit at all but just make executive decisions about acquisition. They can lean either way. Both sides of editing will usually be important to them, because they're trying to find a piece to accept. They ideally want to find something that'll fit their publication or company as-is.

But what if an acquisitions editor needs a piece, nothing in the slush pile is ideal, and the choice is down to two pieces? One that's a little weak on the plot (forest) but that she couldn't put down for the beautiful prose and grammar (trees), and another that's missing a comma or two (trees) but that she couldn't put down for the compelling story (forest)?

Some acquisitions editors will prefer one, some the other. That's to be expected.

Because editors aren't the only ones like this. Some folks enjoy a movie or a story as a whole, while others enjoy them for the details.

Consider your average book review that's left on Amazon, which answers "Did you enjoy this story?"

A big-picture answer could be "I loved how Joe Blue always made lemonade from his lemons!" or "Suzie Maye was so annoying, but I couldn't help but love her anyway!"

A little-picture answer might be "I loved the poem headings to every chapter" or "That scene where Joe had to fish Suzie Maye from the semi filled with whipped cream made me cry!"

Neither type of enjoyment is better than the other. They're examples of how we're all different.

It probably doesn't surprise any of you to know that I (a proofreader/copyeditor) am a "tree" person. Sudoku's a breeze for me, and checkers isn't too hard, but chess? Eeek. So much to keep track of and analyze! (Interestingly enough, as I've gotten better at analyzing the "big picture" for stories and my own writing, I've gotten better at chess, too.)

What about you? Do you tend to analyze and enjoy things on a "little-picture" level or a "big-picture" level?


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