Category Archives: Editing

The Worst Part of An Interview

It isn’t the anxiety beforehand.

Nor is it during the interview itself.

It’s the aftermath.

I just ended an interview for a magazine associate editor’s position. This was especially nerve-wracking because I haven’t done an interview in twenty years.

It took place over Google Hangouts which was interesting and kinda cool (I’ll describe why in a second) with two ladies involved with the magazine. They asked me about my writing, my editing strengths and weaknesses, and my expectations with the position. They will be interviewing several others, and will let me know either way within a few weeks whether or not I obtain the position.

Now for why the aftermath is the worst part of the interview.

For the next two hours I will mentally scrutinize every word I spoke, and every action of my face and rest of my body.

Did I stutter too much? Did I blink too much? Did I pick my nose? Did I yawn? Did I talk with my hands too much? Too little?

I could have answered that question better!

I should have said something else!

Why, oh why did I say that?!

The upside of it taking place over Hangouts was they couldn’t smell my bad breath due to nervous dry-mouth, or that my deodorant gave out three hours ago.

Eureka?

I like that word mostly because of its history. It comes from ancient Greek meaning “I found it.”

From Wikipedia: “The exclamation ‘Eureka!’ is attributed to the ancient Greek scholar Archimedes. He reportedly proclaimed “Eureka! Eureka!” after he had stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose, whereupon he suddenly understood that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. “

I had a bit of a Eureka moment whilst taking a shower this morning. I think I figured out a better prologue for my novel (the one that failed so miserably in the contest).

I rewrote the first chapter already from a different point of view, but I’m not sure I like how it turned out. The first iteration contained a lot of information necessary to the rest of the book, but I couldn’t include it in the rewrite, because the new point of view character doesn’t have that information. Yet it won’t fit anywhere else. At least not yet. I did ask a few people to read the prologue and first three chapters to see what they think, so we’ll see how that goes. Maybe it does work, and I’m being overly critical.

Perhaps I’ll have another Eureka moment whilst in the shower tomorrow, or at least by the end of June. I intend to present this novel to an agent at a writers conference in July.

Also, I signed up to write more devotionals for my church. The focus is on the minor Old Testament prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah and Nahum. Each day is a separate chapter of each book (except Obadiah since it’s only one chapter), so the series will encompass a month.

So far I signed up to write six devotionals. I wanted to sign up for more, but I thought that might be too greedy.

I look forward to writing them, especially the ones in Hosea. It’s about how God not only punishes his people (Israel), but about his relentless pursuit of drawing Israel back to him in spite of her sins. It’s a love story in many ways. Plus, as a writer, I can appreciate the beauty of the prose, and the parallels it draws between God and Israel, and Hosea and his wife and children.

Hmm. Maybe I should study Hosea as a writer, and see how I can apply those techniques to my own writing. Something to think about anyway.

Self-Deceit?

I received the score sheets and suggested edits to my contest submission three days ago, and I have yet to download or even open the attachments.

I’m still too uncertain as to whether or not I’m emotionally capable of handling more criticism — even though intellectually I know many of the comments will only help to improve my craft.

As writers we get so close to our stories that we can’t see what readers see. What seems obvious to us can be confusing to the reader.

As I continue to struggle with feelings of rejection and inadequacy, I am nonetheless thinking and simmering over the scoresheets themselves.

I believe I have come up with a way to “speed up” the first chapter, and give the reader a sense — at least at the beginning — of who the main character is. As a reader, I do like to pick one character — at least to start — to latch onto, relate to, and root for. By giving the reader three equally important characters, the reader has more difficulty making that choice.

All it will take for me is to switch the point of view to a different character. Everything else that happens won’t change, so it won’t adversely effect the rest of the story.

Still, by avoiding the judges comments, am I engaging in a bit of self-deceit?

Adam Savage of “Mythbusters” once said: “I reject your reality, and substitute my own.”

Perhaps that’s what I’m doing, both with my previous entry about my manuscript not being the best fit for the contest (and hence the low scores), and by rewriting the first chapter entirely without looking at and thereby digesting the other comments.

I won’t know for sure until I read the comments . . .

Nope, still not ready to face them. I prefer to swim in my chosen “reality” for a while longer.

Maybe tomorrow.

“I Hate Writing. I Love Having Written.”

Quote by Dorothy Parker.

I can relate to this, especially recently. For the past month, I can’t seem to write a single blog entry. I had also hoped to write 50,000 words in October, and I barely surpassed 10,000. I started writing two short stories, but have yet to finish either.

My lack of writing boils down to a combination of lost interest and motivation, and a waning confidence. I don’t know where it comes from except to say that the more time passes with no writing, the more I believe I lost whatever skill I’ve gained, both in my writing ability, and finding interesting subjects to write about.

In short, I suck at this whole writing thing, and to share even a single word is to embarrass myself and waste readers’ time.

What I need to do is shelve my unfinished short stories in favor of finishing the second draft of my latest novel. I entered the first few pages to a contest for which I should hear how it fared within the next two weeks. Although it made it to the finals, I’d like it to win. The prize amounts to little more than bragging rights, but I’m okay with that. If I ever decide to seek publication for it, winning a contest will hopefully pique an agent or publishers interest when they might otherwise pass it by.

It’s not a big deal either way, because an agent once told me, winning a contest is based largely on comparing the quality of the entries. Saying my book is the best out of a lot could mean nothing more than mine was only slightly less mediocre then the other contestants’. It still has to stand on its own merits when read by others, whether my chosen audience or publishers/agents.

In the meantime, I need to submit another complete novel to agents. The question is, since one novel ready for submittal is science fiction, the other is fantasy that could work for either the mainstream or Christian markets. Not all agents take both mainstream science fiction and Christian fantasy. I may have to decide which audience is more important to me.

You’d think as a Christian, the choice would be obvious.

But it’s not. Does God want me to write books for Christians alone where Jesus sits front and center, or reach out into the world? Not to preach, though, because my mainstream novels contain little by way of Christian faith. At least overtly. Several of my characters believe in God, but they don’t preach or try to convert. They simply believe in a Creator, a power beyond their understanding, but worthy of worship anyway, however quietly.

Writing is hard, because it’s a skill in need of constant practice, just like any other artist or musician. “Use it or lose it,” as they say. It also requires constant thoughtfulness, to ever ask the question: is this interesting, and not only to myself? Aside from well-written, is it informative, or entertaining? Both? Neither?

Because we writers pour so much of ourselves into our writing, there’s the constant fear of rejection, of not being good enough. With every word we succeed in writing, we feel like we’re taking one more step closer to an abyss. We think that by not writing, we can avoid falling into that abyss with no bottom, no light, and no way out. That abyss is obscurity, of failure. Of learning beyond all doubt we wasted our time trying to develop a skill, but in the end will never be successful at it. It’s the fear of finding out we will never be good enough. Better to dream in blissful ignorance.

And yet, whenever I do push through those fears and insecurities, and finish a blog entry, short story or novel, I realize I didn’t careen into an abyss after all. While the story may not be publishable at first, it’s at least finished. That alone is an accomplishment.

Yet knowing I can succeed, because I have succeeded many times, why is it still so hard to finish?

Maybe it’s what Dorothy Parker said. Oftentimes we prefer the destination to the journey. To skip the lengthy step of bloody, heart-wrenching work.

After all, how many of us who have traveled long distances look forward to the many hours on the road, on the water, or in the air verses arriving at our chosen destination?

Unfortunately for the uncertain writer, the journey matters most to the reader, not the destination. If it didn’t, all stories would contain the first page and the last with nothing in between.

It’s the in between parts that invites people to read, and keep reading.

It’s also the part writers hate the most.

Research = Yuck (Sometimes)

For some, research is the definition of tedium. I am one of them, which is why I like to write science fiction and fantasy. While rules of physics, biology and human nature must be followed – to a point – at least I don’t have to know what the weather was like on January 3rd 1872 in Portland Oregon, and whether or not the moon was full that day. I also don’t have to know where the local grocery store is, because when I’m building my world, I can put that grocery store wherever I darn well please, thank you very much.

My junior year of high school, everyone had to take an asset test to see where their academic strengths and weaknesses were, so the students and guidance counselors could determine more easily where they should take their next educational steps, if any. My worst score (if I remember right) was history at 83. No surprise there. I didn’t care for history in school. I couldn’t appreciate it as much as I do now, because being so young, I didn’t see how history greatly affects our present and future.

My best score at 99 was research. Looking up where to find things, regardless of subject was easy for me. So you can imagine how much I like the Internet . . .

Even my chosen profession of land surveying requires a slew of research, whether it be finding property owners, easements, or plats. Every new job we get requires all that research. I’m good at it (and relearning almost every day how important thorough research is).

You’d think that because I’m good at research, and at least as far as my job is concerned, I’d enjoy it. And I do. Sometimes finding the one document I need is like finding buried treasure. Finding a property corner in the middle of a forest set over a hundred years ago is even more so. When it comes to writing, however, I prefer to not have to research at all. That’s because I’d rather spend that time writing.

Another not-surprise is that I’m a pantser writer. I’ve tried the outlining, character detailing, etc., and I simply don’t have the patience for it. I appreciate the writers who take that route, because they don’t have to worry about going back and fixing stupid mistakes such as describing the character one way in one scene, and change them completely in another. I think the time they spend researching, building and characterizing saves them a lot of editing in the end.

I think they also excel at finding the right agent and publisher for their works. They know the importance of thorough research (especially those who write historical fiction), so searching for someone to accept their work has to come easier than an impatient pantser like myself.

But it must be done, so I have to put on my research hat and look for agents. I found a few so far that look promising. I won’t know until I research a little bit more (such as whether or not they have social media such as a blog or Twitter), and in the end eliminate them as a possibility, or swallow my fear and pride and submit my proposal.

Sharpen Your Trigger

I am currently in Nashville, TN attending the ACFW Writers Conference. It is over half over, but my brain has tried to absorb so much information, it feels like tapioca pudding. That’s a good thing, because I’m learning a lot. I’ve discovered I don’t suck as a writer – at least not completely. In the two classes I took so far, I do more things right than I do wrong.

I still have to go through at least one manuscript (the first few chapters anyway, but more on that later) to make several modifications, but luckily not too many. I could have those done tonight – if I’m motivated enough, that is. It’s a bit iffy considering my tapioca brain.

Because I didn’t want to chance missing an entire day of the conference due to delayed or cancelled fights, I decided to arrive a day earlier than most. Just in case everything went well, I signed up for an early bird session with Donald Maass, the literary agent and author of “Writing the Breakout Novel.”

This seminar was titled “Writing in the 21st Century”, which is also based on his newest book of the same title.

Did you know that literary fiction paperback novels remain on best seller lists for nearly ten times or more longer than any other genres, including hard cover and non-fiction? Donald was a bit surprised by that, and read the top books to look for what those books had that others didn’t.

Literary fiction does have a bit of a misconception surrounding it, namely that they’re slow and detail versus plot oriented, when in truth, that’s not always the case. What literary fiction strives for is to make every paragraph, every page make an emotional connection to the reader. It’s intent is to draw the reader in, to immerse him or her into the author’s world.

Me writing science fiction and fantasy, that’s also what I long to achieve. As I’ve said before, I’m not detail/description oriented. I prefer action, and my greatest strength is dialog. When it comes to detail, I groan and moan, and have to almost tie myself to the computer to force me to put it in.

What Donald revealed, however, is it’s not the detail and description that’s important. Description is by definition objective, and even cold. It is another form of telling. The trick is turning that detail and description into an experience. We don’t just see the sunset. There’s an emotional reaction to that sunset, that mountain scape where three people died in an avalanche, and that dark room that your parents always told you to stay out of.

Donald may have converted me into writing more literary fiction. Is there such a thing as literary science fiction and literary fantasy? At the very least, because of everything Donald shared (and I shared with you not even a half a page of the eight pages of notes I took), my readers will have a better, more fulfilling experience.

Today I attended a workshop called “How To Think Like Your Editor.”

During the first part, the presenter, Erin Healy, told us to read our first chapter, not as an editor, but as a reader. She told us to write down our emotional reactions as we read. I was intrigued by the prologue, but when I started on the first chapter, I felt a bit of boredom and frustration. I knew instantly why. I had added a few chunks of description for the sake of description. It was like reading a school book on architecture. While some of the description is necessary, I have to write in such a way to make it an experience.

When we enter a building we’ve never been in before, sure we notice the sights, but what else do we notice? We take in the smells, the feel of the air, and even its mood – often created by our own expectations of what that room should feel like. Sometimes the room meets our expectations, sometimes it doesn’t. The writer’s job is to show that experience.

Here’s the rub.

I met with a literary agent, and I showed her my one-sheets. She asked for my pitch and I said, “I too easily get tongue-tied, so can I read it to you instead?”

She told me to go ahead. She liked it, and when I mentioned the other two I brought with me, she was open to hearing my other two. She seemed impressed at my “world building,” and the fact I had three complete manuscripts. She asked me to send the first three chapters of all three.

Two are ready. The third (the one with the icky, boring detail), needs a bit of tweaking. Thankfully not a lot, so I bet I could tackle it tonight, let it sit until I get home, go through the first three chapters again, and send them off. While she’s perusing them, I’ll go through the rest and hopefully elevate my writing, and make it more literary.

I’m sure you’re dying to know why I chose “Sharpen Your Trigger,” as my title. It doesn’t make sense, since it’s an obvious mix of metaphors. It’s one Donald Maass used during his talk (which he noticed right away), and I liked it so much, I had to use it.

Are My Teeth Strong Enough?

Recently I was offered a volunteer editing job for an organization based out of Asia helping to start new churches and orphanages.

I’ve edited one newsletter so far, which took all of fifteen minutes to do. It was quite well-written, especially for someone who’s English isn’t his native language.

I was also asked how many I could edit a year, and I told them one every two weeks would be doable.

Thinking all requests would be easy like the last one.

I may have bitten off more than I could chew.

A few nights ago I received the following email (in part):

“I have a very rough story (it’s a bit difficult story). You will need to work on it to be developed into a story. What I have in the attachment is a basic story and very rough outline. Will you be able to develop it into a story? The audience will be our friends in the US. If you need to do any research on alcoholism, winter or the plight of slums, you can always do a Google search. If you need any specific information, do let me know.

But you do have full freedom to do this story. You will have to rework it completely. You have that freedom.

So how do I describe the sounds, the smells and the overall sense of a place I’ve never been? I found hundreds, if not thousands of photos of the slums, so describing the look will be easy.

To create an immersion of the place for readers will be difficult, and more than a little daunting. And not only the five senses, but the spiritual sense of the place, the despair, the anger, and sorrow. How can I capture that in such a way without being over-dramatic, but to someone who has been there can say, “She got it right.”

I’ve never sat down and consciously prayed before I wrote anything. I just wrote. In this case, however, I will have to pray quite hard before a single word is typed, because I don’t think I can write this on my own — and have it be believable, and honest.

I’m writing, after all, about real people in real circumstances. To over-dramatize or change their life story to fit my idea of what it should be is the height of disrespect, both to the people who live it, and the readers who want to know the truth of what happened, and is happening.