Quotes from Experts, Writing Advice, Self-Editing Tips & More
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration.
The rest of us just get up and go to work.”
In this new addition to the website, I’ll be adding insights from experienced authors to encourage other writers, whether they’re just beginning to play with words or have been manipulating words for fun and fortune (ha!) for years and years. Every experienced writer I’ve ever met has been more than willing to share his or her knowledge gained through hard work and trial-and-error. I look forward to sharing their wisdom with you.
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“Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” Kurt Vonnegut
Turning a Corner with Your Writing
Years ago, we knew a lady who never turned left when driving her car. She organized her travels about our small town so that all her turns were right turns. I thought of her the other day while making a left turn onto a busy street in the not-so-small town where we now reside. The way this city is laid out, I would waste a lot of time and gas if I practiced the right-turn-only approach.
Yes, right turns may be safer than left turns, but I admit I wonder what else that woman did to avoid risk. Planet Earth is a scary place, from germs lurking in public restrooms to stranger-danger, from slipping on ice to email scams, poisonous snakes and tsunamis. But unless we become monks or hermits, we have to buck up and face life. As Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but be courageous. I have conquered the world.”
Sometimes we writers also tend to use the safe approach. One writerly “right turn” might be to pen something and then store it where no one will ever see it and thus not be able to criticize it. I once knew an author who wrote book after book of historical fiction. When he finished a novel, he’d print it out, place it in a box, seal the box and set it on a shelf in his closet. As far as I know, he’s never attempted to publish his work.
Other writers only share their work with “safe” people, those who’ll tell them how wonderful their story, essay or poem is without saying anything bad about it. Those are the writers who are afraid to ask critique groups, beta readers, proofreaders and professional editors for input.
More daring creatives (yes, that’s a word these days!) might allow a critique group to read their writing, but they argue against every criticism and, therefore, gain nothing from the experience. Back when the indie publishing movement was just beginning to take hold, I heard of an indie writer who listed her book on Amazon, which was brave of her. But then she wrote scathing replies to reviewers who posted negative comments. I don’t remember her name, which is too bad, because I’d like to know whether her writing career progressed from that point or fizzled.
Some of us worry about offending readers and we shy away from the nitty gritty of a story or memoir. As an editor, I’ve discovered that authors often hint at a problem but they don’t delve into the intricacies of it, which can make for a boring, unsatisfying read. I’m not saying we should fill page after page with lascivious detail, but I am saying readers need to know how a person got into and out of a tricky situation, how they survived it. I’ve written a couple novels that include scenes related to sex trafficking. I understand the wisdom required to provide needed information without including gratuitous details – and I thank my critique partners for assisting me with that balancing act.
Maybe you’re someone who has thought for years of writing a book. You know the subject matter; in fact, you even have a title and some chapter headings or scenes in mind. But, all you can see are left turns. You don’t know where to begin. Where would you find the time? Writing is hard and the competition is tough. Your neighbor, the one who writes for the newspaper, would laugh at your feeble attempts to turn thoughts into written words. On and on go the excuses and the “I’ll never be a writer” right turns.
My advice to you? Be courageous! Go ahead. Turn left. Grab your laptop or pen and paper and start writing. Every worthwhile endeavor requires step-by-step effort to achieve the desired result.
Word by word, write your story, article or blog and with the help of savvy supporters, take it all the way to publication, whether for an audience of one or thousands. Your goal may be to write a song or a letter to your city council or to surprise your wife with a birthday poem. Just do it. You’ll be glad you did.
Eight Ways to Make Your Editor Do the Happy Dance
Posted by: Becky Lyles on August 22, 2016
Some of you may know that in addition to writing books and blogs, I also work as a freelance
editor. Over the years, I’ve edited a wide variety of publications from white papers, newsletters,
articles and business letters to Bible studies, short stories, memoirs and novels. I’ve met a lot
of great people along the way and learned much about the writing process.
The key insight I’ve gained is that writing intended for publication, whether it’s traditional, partner or self-publication, should be sifted through an editor filter. Why? Because we authors tend to read what’s in our heads, not what’s on the computer screen. We also have trouble pinpointing weaknesses in our own manuscripts. Editors who have no emotional attachment to our work can provide unbiased, professional feedback. Even editors need editors. My writing is always improved by an editor’s candid comments, more than you might imagine.
Just so you know, an editor’s job is not to clean up your first-draft mess; rather, it’s to hone your second, third, fourth, fifth draft—whatever it takes for you to submit your very best work. In order to receive the most benefit for your investment when you hire an editor, take these suggestions to heart.
1. Read. I’m always surprised when someone says they don’t like to read but they want to write a book. Reading teaches us word usage, sentence construction, paragraph rhythm and flow, a feel for building tension, scene and sequel construction, character development and so much more. Read everything, from newspapers to novels, blogs to biographies, cereal boxes to political soap boxes. “At the risk of sounding obvious, good writers are first and foremost good readers.” (Joseph Bates, July/August 2016 Writer’s Digest)
2. Study. Study the craft of writing. In order to move your writing from good to best, take writing classes, attend workshops, seminars and conferences, listen to writer-focused podcasts and webinars, read how-to magazines, blogs, newsletters and books. Send me an email if you’d like recommendations (firstname.lastname@example.org).
3. Learn. Learn correct grammar and punctuation. Few manuscripts arrive on an editor’s desk with perfect grammar and punctuation, which is expected; however, you’ll do yourself a favor if you learn how to properly use the English language, and your editor and readers will appreciate your effort. Instructional websites abound online that specialize in English usage.
4. Follow. Follow formatting rules. Your agent, editor or publisher will provide format guidelines. These vary slightly from person/publisher to person/publisher. I ask writers to submit their work in a Word doc with one-inch margins all around and that they use a 12-point Times New Roman font. I also ask that the lines be double-spaced and the paragraphs automatically indented five spaces (not spaced or tabbed). Each chapter should begin approximately one-third of the way down the page, and page breaks should separate chapters rather than multiple line spaces. (Please don’t add frills and fancy fonts, etc. to your submission. Plain text is great. When your manuscript is ready for publication, the publisher or you or your formatter can bold the chapter headings, enlarge the fonts, add section breaks and whatever else is required to make it look pretty.)
5. Double-check. Check for wordiness, which can involve searching out repeated information, redundancies and overwriting. Oftentimes, a forty-word sentence can be written in five to twenty words. Strive to be clear and concise.
6. Enlist. Ask your well-read friends, colleagues and critique group to serve as beta readers. I suggest a minimum of three people other than or in addition to family members (I enlist six to twelve beta readers). Ask them for honest feedback and accept it with gratitude, not defensiveness. You may not choose to use their input, but when they take the time to read your work and offer you advice, thank them and include their name in your book’s acknowledgements. And gift them with an autographed copy of your published book (or a trip to the Bahamas…your choice). My experience is that beta-reader and critique-group input is priceless.
7. Fix. Make changes as you see fit and set the manuscript aside for a couple weeks. After you’ve had time away from your project, you’ll see it with fresh eyes. Again, fix as needed and then, ta-da…hit the send button to shoot your manuscript to your editor, which leads us to number eight.
8. Grow. Similar to number six above, appreciate your editor’s input. Accept his or her comments and suggestions without defensiveness. Feel free to disagree, to dialogue about issues and to ask questions, but do so as a student who’s anxious to learn and grow into a better writer.
Writing and Publishing Panel
I can’t think of a better way to open this page than with a panel discussion I moderated for my writing group, Idahope Writers. Several Boise area top-selling authors graciously took time out of busy schedules to talk about how they navigate today’s ever-changing publishing world. The panelists shared a wealth of information that evening. Listen to what authors Lisa Phillips, Angela Strong, Peter Leavell, Robin Lee Hatcher, Patrick Craig and Ray Ellis have to say about writing and publishing—then click on the links below to learn more about them and their writing.
© 2019 Rebecca Carey Lyles, All Rights Reserved