Category Archives: editing

Free Advice Can Cost You

redpencil_thaikrit“NEVER DO THIS advice about writing style is rarely helpful. Writing is not an exact science. Authorial voice matters.”

I tweeted the above as part of a conversation on Twitter last week, and it got retweeted around a bit. I thought it deserved a little bit of expansion, so I wrote this post as a follow-up. 🙂

One thing that the internet has made easy is the dissemination of advice. Not just in the publishing world, of course, but the internet makes it simple for any random person (like, say, me) to set up a blog and start handing out suggestions, rules, guidelines, or manifestos about anything they want.

The proliferation of free advice is great for lots of things, including, in many cases, the publishing world. It’s easy to get help when you need it on anything from grammar to word use to location research. The problem comes when personal preferences or opinions are presented as facts. The end result is that there’s a lot of writing advice floating around that’s just not all that good.

When it comes to grammar and usage, most things are pretty clear-cut. There are widely agreed-upon rules regarding how to use the language, and even if not every source agrees, you’ll generally find consensus among different guides on things like word meanings, punctuation, and spelling. Where there isn’t a clear “winner,” a preference may emerge—or your publisher will have a house style that will take care of it.

Other issues aren’t so clear-cut. Idiomatic expressions, metaphors and similes, meter and flow… these are questions related to the author’s writing style, and they don’t have easy answers. They are likely to come down to clarity and authorial voice. To go back to that tweet, generally speaking, advice related to writing style that says to “NEVER DO THIS” is not helpful, no matter what “THIS” is.

Considering the collaborative nature of so much in publishing, it can be easy to forget that editing and writing are far different skills. Writing is a creative art, whereas editing is far more of a science. It’s all too easy for editors to get caught up in the science and lose sight of the art.

I think one of the most difficult things for a fiction editor to learn is how to fix problems without damaging the inherent voice of the author. Even when editors have good reasons for their suggested changes, that doesn’t mean they’re right, or what’s best for the story. I’m not advocating starting editorial fights by any means, but authors who feel strongly about the way they’ve written something shouldn’t hesitate to argue in favor of keeping it.

With every set of edits I receive, I go through basically the same process. I make one pass through to accept or fix everything that I immediately agree with: typos, missing words, incorrect words, and so on. Anything that needs more consideration or that I disagree with gets skipped. Most of the time, that first review clears most of the editor’s comments.

On the second trip through, I look at things more closely. If I agree with the editor’s comment, then I figure out a way to fix it. If I don’t, I mark the passage and explain my reasoning in a comment. Most of the second category contains instances where I think the editor has misread something or has corrected something that wasn’t actually wrong. Often, the choice comes down to “I think it reads better this way.” And pretty much every time, my version is what makes it through to the final copy. Not because I’m “right” and the editor is “wrong,” but because there is no right or wrong, only a preference. And my name is the one that’s on the story.

So the lesson? As with anything on the internet, don’t take every piece of writing advice you read at face value. Figure out what works for your story. And most of all, never say “NEVER.”

Image courtesy of thaikrit /

Help an Editor Out

My day job is editing. A totally different type of editing from fiction, but editing nonetheless. So when I read Theresa Stevens’ post at Romance University, it was all I could do to keep from standing up and cheering. (If I didn’t have a lapdesk and laptop in my, well, lap, I might have done it anyway.)

In particular, this passage:

Here’s a sad truth. When I evaluated a submission, the first question in my mind was not, Is this story good enough to publish? My first question was, How many hours of my life will it take to get this manuscript ready? If every other paragraph contains a grammar or usage error, that translates into time that I could be spending on other tasks.

This is why it’s easy for an editor to equate bad grammar with other flaws: arrogance, lack of self-respect, lack of respect for us, disdain for the product you’re creating. If you don’t care enough to distinguish possessives from plurals, then we’re not going to care enough to give you anything more than a form rejection.

In other words, if you don’t worry about your grammar, neither will I.

I have never understood the lack of regard many professional authors appear to have for proper grammar and usage. I’m not talking about off-the-cuff tweets and such (although I still cringe sometimes). I’m not even talking about errors and typos; everyone makes those (me included). I’m talking about failure to take the time to make actual manuscripts as clean and error-free as you can possibly make it, before you submit.

Sure, there are many great storytellers who are terrible spellers or can never remember when to use its vs. it’s. Everyone has foibles. But authors need to recognize their weak spots and do what they can to overcome them, whether it’s studying up on grammar or finding a personal editor who’s a whiz at it to fix things before submission. (Relying on spellcheck and grammar check won’t cut it.) Heck, I’m the one people I know come to for grammar questions, and I almost never submit anything without having at least two other people read it first.

Editors can’t fix everything. Give them a hand, and everyone (including your readers!) will be much happier for it.

Pen image via

Editing Lockdown

I know I’ve been quieter than usual lately. I had two writing goals for January: finishing a set of commissioned short stories, and getting an older story revised and off to beta.

Goal #1 is complete, and goal #2 is nearly there. I put myself on editing lockdown over the weekend (no reading! no writing! just editing!) and ended up slashing and burning huge swaths of the story, from around 64k to 50k. The machete work is done, so now I have to fix a few spots and give it one last good edit before shipping it to beta. With a week left in the month, I should hit the deadline just fine. 🙂

After that? Well, I’m still still deciding. I have several WIPs to choose from:

  • The high school story that started as my 2011 NaNo project
  • The ghost story that was my other possible NaNo project
  • A trilogy based around the owners/employees of a GLBT bookstore
  • A disaster story (earthquakes and volcanoes! Wheee!)

And some others that I’ve got in the pipeline in various stages of completion.

Decisions, decisions…

Motivation, Please?

I’m having a lot of trouble getting motivated to write these days. I still enjoy it, and I still get a lot done when I start; it’s the getting started part I can’t seem to manage.

I’m still working on two main writing projects, a fanfic bigbang story and an original novel, and I’m slowly revising a former fanfic story into an original. I had an idea this week for a Christmas story, so I’ve scribbled down some notes on that, too. 

I also have several editing/revising projects on my plate, but those aren’t as tough. I have first proofs for the novel, plus an original manuscript and a fanfic chapter to beta. Only the proofs have a strict deadline, but there’s not a lot to be done there. Editing doesn’t require as much effort or creativity as writing, though, at least for me.

On top of all that, I really need to get more organized with my writing files and projects. I have a long list of story folders all piled up together, but without much rhyme or reason. I should have them prioritized based on deadlines or progress or something. In short, I need more direction as much as I do more motivation.

I’ve been brainstorming to try to come up with ideas to get myself across the starting line. I have a “words jar” that I won as part of the Help Write Now auction, and I’m considering filling it up with a pile of “tickets” with various writing, editing, or organizing tasks written on them. Then I can pull one out each day and make myself doing it: write 1,000 words, write for an hour, revise a chapter, make/update a works-in-progress list, work on a character bio, write a synopsis/summary, organize folders and files… you get the idea.

So what do you do to motivate yourself? And how do you keep your projects organized? Any suggestions are welcome at this point! Help meeeeeeeee! 😉

Help Write Now: Come Over and Bid!

I’m participating in the Help Write Now auction to benefit the victims of last week’s killer tornado outbreak in the Southeast. I’m offering a full manuscript beta/critique, with an optional phone or Skype chat to discuss. Come on over and get in your bids! 🙂

The Multiplicity of WIPs

I am constitutionally incapable of working on one project at a time. My mind is built for multitasking. I get bored if I do any one thing for any length of time—even things I normally enjoy. And when I’m bored, I procrastinate in any of a million and a half different ways.

So, I never just have one work in progress.

Currently, I have one ultra-short story written but not revised, one short story about half finished, one novel in extensive revisions, and two probable novels each a chapter or so in. I’ve worked on all of them actively within the past two weeks.

Now, five WIPs at a time is a bit much even for me. I can’t keep up with that many at once and actually make any progress. I’m probably going to drop the short story for now, since it doesn’t really fit the original idea any more (it was an anthology target), and the ultra-short can sit a while longer, since it’s also for an anthology but the deadline is some time off.

That leaves the three novels. I can’t really choose between the latter two, because ideas and scenes keep popping into my head for both of them. The revision is more restructuring and editing than actual writing, so that gives me two writing projects and one editing project.

That, I think I can handle. I have at least a dozen other ideas noted or stories started, some of which have been sitting for a while now, but they can continue to sit until one of these projects is done. I never turn away inspiration, so if something hits me on one of those, I’ll open it up, but I won’t make an effort toward them.

In short, I need to find a happy medium between bored and scattered. That should probably be my writing goal for 2011: get in the habit of maintaining a WIP list long enough to keep me interested, but short enough to keep me focused.

Hey, it’s something. 🙂

Almost there!

Final notes for the novel are in from my last beta. She only had a few small comments, and since everything else is ready to go (synopsis, email body), I might actually get the submission out tonight.


I’m not going to know what to do with myself! … okay, actually, I do, but “work on novel #2” is a lot easier said than done. 🙂

Inching Closer

One final beta on the novel received, and comments incorporated. I also made a few more passes to fix some formatting and wording issues and get it generally in better shape. The synopsis is written, and my other beta has said Wednesday for her comments, so there’s a chance I might get this thing submitted by next weekend!

That assumes I survive another move first, of course. 🙂

Settling in…

Getting started with the new blog and website. I actually have pages now! There’s an about me and a bibliography and even a free read! More to come as I figure things out. 🙂

In the meantime, I’m writing and editing, as usual. I edited my friend D.M. Grace‘s first novella, which she just submitted, and she’s nearly done with her edits on my first novel. I’m dividing my time a little between fanfiction and original fiction right now, since I’m involved with my fandom’s second big bang event (including writing not one, but two stories. Ack). I’m waiting for a response on an anthology submission, I have another story written for a later anthology but not edited/revised yet, and I’m developing three different novel ideas, including a sequel to the first novel.

So, my plate is a little full right now! And that’s without getting into the real-life things. Which I won’t.

I used the editor hat a little extra this week. An author on a mailing list asked for help with ellipses and em dashes, which come in very handy for writers but can carry some pretty strict rules along with them. I gave a little explanation and some examples, with a few follow ups, and a couple of people thanked me for it. Maybe I should start doing some of those here? I mean, I’m no Grammar Girl, but I’ve been editing professionally for 20 years, so I have a few tricks up my sleeve. If nothing else, specific examples might be helpful. That seemed to be the most appreciated on the mailing list.

We’ll see how it goes, and what people want to read. Other than more fiction!

>Case of the Jitters

>I’ve finished the revisions on my novella and am ready to give it one more once-over and then resubmit.

I’m nervous.

Not to say that I wasn’t nervous on the original submission. I was. But sending out a cold submission, I was prepared for rejection. I wouldn’t have been happy about it, but I know good and well rejections are the rule, not the exception.

A tentative acceptance makes things more difficult. If I mess up the revisions, then I could easily lose out on the acceptance. And that would be more painful because I came so close.

I’m usually pretty good about having confidence in my abilities. I know I can write a good story. I know where my strengths and weaknesses are. I know I’m a good substantive editor and can pick apart holes in a story with the best of them.

But this whole process is new to me, as I’ve said before. I’ve never published original fiction before (other than drabbles). I’ve done a lot of things in the past year I’ve never done before, writing-wise: writing m/m, writing alternate universe fanfic scenarios, writing long stories. And now, writing original fiction for publication. It’s a lot to cram into a fairly short period of time.

At any rate, I’ll be resubmitting my story today, come hell or high water. Wish me luck.