Category Archives: Writing

Editing Tips: Making the Most of Your Hard Copy Review

I’ve posted some updates recently on my editing process for Footfall and have gotten a few questions about how I edit my book. In particular, I’ve had some questions about why I am reviewing a hard copy. While I primarily edit electronically, I actually really enjoy reviewing hard copies of my work, both for my day job as a technical editor and for my creative writing work. It also makes me a little sad that, in this day and age when we are blessed with the ability to do all revisions through out word processor, few people actually look at hard copies anymore and the real benefits can get forgotten. So, I’m going to cover some reasons why I like to occasionally review my work in hard copy form and how I get the most out of that review.

Why Review a Hard Copy?

While I do enjoy reviewing hard copies, it’s not feasible to do it after every draft. In general, what works for me and what I recommend is to print and review a hard copy at two stages in the revision process, the first being after you’ve settled on your major structure (i.e., right after your first or second re-write). Why? Well, personally, I get a bit too attached to my work, meaning I can either be too light with edits or I can be hypercritical and over edit or fall into a self-hate fugue. Neither of these options are great or helpful for the revision process, so I need to force a degree of separation between myself and what I’m writing. Reviewing a hard copy does this for me. I think switching formats (from computer screen to paper) makes my work seem different enough that I don’t feel as close to it. I find that when I review a hard copy, I see the big picture issues clearer, without falling into self-criticism. Plus, you can take a hard copy more places than a computer (coffee shops without outlets, your backyard, the beach, etc.) which means, for a little while, you can change up your location a bit, which is refreshing.

My final flagged hard copy, spiral-bound with plastic front and back cover (to protect it while traveling around).

The second time I like to review a hard copy is for proofreading and fine-detail editing. This is something I’ve found helpful in my day job but I often forget when it comes to my creative writing. I see more issues with sentences on the page when I’m looking at a hard copy. I don’t know why, maybe it has to do with that level of separation I mentioned earlier. Either way, I highly recommend this step before sending your book/story out for review or publication (particularly if you aren’t working with a professional copy editor). You’ll catch more typos and grammar/punctuation issues than just looking at the page.

How to Review A Hard Copy of Your Book

So, you’ve decided it’s time for a hard copy review of your book. Great! What’s next? Like any part of the writing process, there are some steps I like to follow for my review process:

  1. Printing prep and printing
  2. Review
  3. Comment/revision incorporation

I’ll go into detail on these steps below, but the important part to keep in mind is that each step builds off of the previous step, so even when preparing for printing you’re setting yourself up to make better edits and improve your work.

Printing

Before you hit that print button, take a moment to do some preliminary pre-printing checks and prepare your document so it looks the best and easiest to read in a hard copy format. Here is my checklist to help me ensure my document is readable and I won’t waste unnecessary paper:

  • Run spell check
  • Make sure the first page is a cover with the story title and my name — for fanciness and easy location if I leave it somewhere
  • Apply some paragraph level formatting to make it easier to read — I find this website offers good advice on formatting a manuscript, which is also helpful when querying
  • Scroll through the whole document one last time to make sure I don’t have any blank pages or extra spaces between paragraphs

After running through the preliminary checklist, it’s time to print the document. Now, you have a few options when it comes to printing. If you have your own printer, the decision may be easy: print it yourself! However, remember that if you’re printing a full, novel-length manuscript (50,000+ words), you could be printing hundreds of pages. That is a lot for most home printers to handle, so make sure you’ve got enough paper and your ink cartridges are full.

If you don’t have your own printer or don’t want to print yourself, it’s up to you where you want to go to get it done. I personally prefer going through a professional service, like FedEx or Staples, only because I can get it done quickly (same day) and have a lot of paper and binding options. These services can rack up the price for thick manuscripts, though, so if price is an issue, you should look into budget printing services online that will ship to you. I haven’t used any, but have seen Best Value Copy recommended. Lastly, you can always check in with your local library. Some small libraries have flexible printing options, and will do discounts for large print jobs, but you have to talk to the librarian first.

Finally, when you print your hard copy, keep a few things in mind regarding the print specifications:

  • Double or single-sided — Let’s face it, hard copy prints use a lot of paper. If you want to save a few trees, print double-sided, but choose a higher-quality paper so the ink doesn’t show through the other side.
  • Paper weight — Not everyone will care about this, but I like the tactile sensation of a good-quality higher weight paper. Most standard office paper is around 20 lb, which does not do well for double-sided printing (show through). I like something a bit heavy, like 28 or 32. Remember that card stock is 80 lb, so don’t go too high or your paper will be stiff!
  • Recycled paper — As mentioned, you will be using a lot of paper, and some might worry about the environmental impact. Luckily, it’s much easier to find recycled paper these days, particularly if you go through a professional service. Ask them what options they have.
  • Binding — If you’re printing your own or going to the library, you may not have many options here. I would recommend getting some big, heavy duty gator clips to keep your pages together. However, if you’re using professional service, I prefer spiral-binding over comb-binding because you can flip the pages all the way around, making it easier if the book is just in your lap. If you go full-on book binding, like you might through a publishing service, that’s awesome! I’ve never done it, but am curious about what that experience is like.

Review Process

Once you have your hard copy, it’s time to review! However, I would recommend figuring out a way to compartmentalize your comments. Sometimes it can be a bit daunting holding a 200-page manuscript in your lap and worrying about all the things you need to catch. To avoid overload freeze, I’d suggest deciding on a few categories of things you want to keep an eye out for while you’re reviewing. For me, I wanted to look for plot holes, worldbuilding holes, character issues, and general inconsistencies. I assigned each category a color and bought highlighters and post-its in those colors to help me flag the edits with the right category. I found this system to be SUPER helpful this time around, and kept me from feeling overwhelmed. I also used a very nice, smooth red pen to make notes between lines and in the margins. Obviously, a red pen is not necessary—use whatever color you like. I like red because it’s easy to see and I already own a lot of nice ones (again, I’m an editor at my day job).

I use my yellow highlighter for character consistency notes. I usually write my comment on the post it, so it’s easy to identify what I wanted to note or change.

Transferring Edits

One nice thing about the category system I mentioned earlier, besides that it makes the review process easier, it also makes transferring, tracking, and making edits easier. For Footfall, I’m transferring my hand-markups (color-coded with categories) into an Excel spreadsheet, which will serve as a list of edits I need to make. Each category will be included in the spreadsheet, and then I can filter my comments by category, allowing me to make much smaller, more manageable to-do lists, rather than trying to tackle the whole edit with everything I need to do swimming in my head. Also, I’m adding a column to flag items that are global (like name changes) and items that need to do more research on before making the edit (like characterization or worldbuilding holes). This further narrows my field of edits and helps me prioritize what I need to do first, again, making the process easier for me and less overwhelming. I’m just starting on this step myself, but already finding it much simpler than how I used to tackle hard copy edits (that is, having the hard copy in front of me and just transferring the edits to the story as I go).

You don’t have to use a spreadsheet format to get the same benefits of a comment matrix. A paper notebook or word document organized to your preference would work just as well for organizing your edits and comments.

I love doing hard copy markups. I know some people might cringe at the paper waste, but I don’t do very many (I think this is my third for Footfall, but that’s spread out over 6 years) and I think the value of the process far out ways the costs.

Anyway, does anyone else like like to review a hard copy? Or is everyone word processor only? I’m curious what everyone’s preference is, so please share in the comments 🙂

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Dealing with Failure

So, in my last blog post I mentioned that I had applied for the Clarion West 6-week writing workshop. Since then, I’ve learned that I was rejected. Yes, I am super bummed. Getting rejected sucks. I even applied knowing it was very likely I’d be rejected and I was still bummed when I found out. However, as that old cliched saying goes, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. This isn’t the first time I’ve been rejected from something and it won’t be the last. I am a writer, after all, and rejection is a big part of this world. We all face rejection at some point in our lives, so in the interest of sharing and spreading some love, here are a few things I do to help me when I get the big metaphorical DENIED stamp.

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Four Things I’m Doing To Finish My Novel this November

Right, so last week I announced that I was doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year as a way to help me finish my novel. I mean, technically I’m not “doing” NaNo because I’m not trying to get to 50K words in one month. My novel is already over 50K, and I’m just trying to finish it. I need to write something like 30K this month (give or take a few thousand words, depending on how the story shakes out), and even 30K in a month requires a degree of discipline and some shenanigans to get through. After all, I have a full-time job, am trying to get back into running regularly, have a regular D&D campaign, this blog, and other stuff. So, what am I doing to set myself up for success and actually finish this thing?

Well, I’m glad you asked! Here are four things I’ve done to help me finish my novel.

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Formatting Tips for Your Manuscript: First Line Indents and Double Spacing

So, last summer I received feedback on my manuscript, Footfall, from a published author. It was great feedback, very helpful. But one of the items of feedback that caught me off guard the most had nothing to do with the content of my story, but instead how it was formatted.

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All the Reasons You Should Read the Broken Earth Trilogy

So, big historic stuff happened recently in the science fiction literature world. If you haven’t heard (you probably did, because I was screaming quite loudly), author N.K. Jemisin made history not only by winning the Hugo award for best novel three consecutive years in a row, but also for having every book in a series (The Broken Earth Trilogy) win a Hugo. If you’re not familiar with the Hugo’s, it’s a pretty prestigious award that recognizes great authors in the science fiction genre, with winners like Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Neil Gaiman.

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Another Draft Finished and My Summer Writing Plans

It has been some time since I last updated this blog, and I feel I’m due for a new post. The last few months have been challenging on many levels, especially for writing and my dedication to this book. I’ll share some of those challenges and what I think the next few months will look like (hint: more editing!).

So, let’s move on to what I’ve been up to the past few months. For starters, I’ve done another draft of my book. It has some substantial changes, but I also kept a number of scenes and elements from the old version. I finished this draft May 3rd and sent it off to its next beta reader. I’m hoping to get their comments back at the end of this month. Getting to this point was not easy, though. There were some very busy weeks at work, meaning I had to work late and write less. I also went through a difficult time with my mental health in February/March, and only started to feel normal once mid-April rolled around. But I have a lot of optimism for the coming months. The sun is shining, my brain is perky, and I have a path forward.

First on that path is reading, specifically about writing and how to create a novel. I know, I know. I can hear you now: “Hannah, wouldn’t it have made sense to read those books BEFORE you started writing?” Well, ideally yes. However, I’m learning as I go. And these books really would only have been helpful to me once I gained a closer understanding of my characters, which is difficult to do without writing those characters a bit. Anyway, I’m going to go back to the fundamentals and learn about character arcs, plot structure, and building themes. I know that a lot of these crucial story elements have a presence in my book, but they are muddled and get lost. So the trick will be making them stand out.

After I finish a few of those books (one down already), I’ll re-do my story’s outline and re-apply it. At this point I should have my recent beta reader’s comments, and I’ll use those to help revise. I’m hoping to keep this round of revisions fairly concentrated. There will be a lot of work to do, but I don’t want to spend all summer doing it. I am considering taking a few days off in June to help facilitate this goal. We’ll see how that goes.

The next step after revising will be sending the manuscript to one last round (hopefully) of beta readers. I know I need to find someone of African-American origin to review at this point. If you’re curious why, I will note that both my characters are black and I am not. So, it is important to make sure I don’t include potentially harmful tropes or anything like that. For more info on this subject, I highly recommend stopping by Writing with Color on Tumblr. I think I will also want a beta reader to review the magic system I’ve created and see if they spot any issues or  logic holes. I

So, after this round of beta readers, I’ll do more revisions as needed (hopefully they will be pretty focused) and then I’ll start querying. The goal is for the novel to be its best possible form at this point, and I will definitely do a final copy-edit and proofread before sending it to any agents. But really, once I start querying I will likely step away from actively working on the project and will try to start something else while the rejection letters role in. This novel has been my main writing project for 5 years, and I think my skill as a writer will improve if I start working on something different. Also, working on something else might keep me from burning out, which may have been a contributor to my need to take breaks in the past.

So, that’s where things are at. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little update. My plan is to do these more often. I think this is slightly more likely than not because I’m back into a steady writing habit.

Cheers!

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Hello, there! I’m Back.

Hello, everyone. It’s been…. quite awhile. One year, four months, and nine days to be precise. Yikes.

What have I been doing over the past year? Not a lot, honestly. OK, that’s not true at all. I’ve been busy, I just haven’t been writing. That kind of sucks, but it’s also been good in some ways, I think. I’ve taken some time to re-invest in my physical, mental, and emotional health through travel and running; worked really hard and grown a lot at my job; and done some definite values reassessing. But let’s get to some specifics, yeah? And then I can share some exciting news with you all! Continue reading

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So You Want a Steady Job in Writing: 4 Industries Seeking Writers that You Might Not Have Considered

I know from personal experience that many people feel writers have fairly limited career paths. After graduating with my English degree, I frequently was asked if I would teach, and after I responded in the negative, they asked what I could possibly do that was stable. The truth is there are many stable writing careers in a variety of fields, some of which require extra schooling, but many that don’t. So, in the interest of broader education and to support all those recent English grads out there, here are a few industries that offer jobs to writers.

People at work

Even in today’s technology-driven work environment, good writers with competent computer skills are desired. (Photo courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums.)

Software
From how I understand it, coding well isn’t necessarily the most important skill for getting a job with software. The software industry also requires excellent writers to convey their product to the consumer. Software documentation has grown exponentially with the boom of the industry. Sometimes called technical writers, the people in charge of software documentation produce the writing that the consumer uses to understand the software’s system requirements and its uses. Positions in this field usually require applicants to have some experience working with code, but with free online coding courses available, this requirement is easily achieved.

Engineering/Architecture/Manufacturing
Often overlooked by many writers, the fields of engineering, architecture, and manufacturing are filled with positions. Called technical writers, technical editors, or project assistants, writers in these fields help write, edit, and format the technical documentation. This documentation can be a user manual for a tractor or a complicated report on the production of naphthalene. The subgroups within these industries are also varied. I happen to work in Environmental engineering, but in the past I’ve worked in Oil and Gas. Technical writing/editing for these industries is also a somewhat niche field, usually requiring some extra schooling or on-the-job training. However, it is by no means impossible, and if you find a field you’re interested in, it can be a very rewarding career.

Marketing
Career-wise, one of the marketing industry’s greatest strengths is its flexibility. Both of the previous industries I’ve mentioned rely heavily on marketers to sell their products. Many other industries also require marketing. A bigger plus is that the skills any good writer possesses are a natural fit for marketing: know your audience and know your medium. Marketing also allows for a great deal of creative expression, which many writers enjoy. Extra marketing classes in college can help get a job in this field, but it is by no means exclusive in that regard. Positions in marketing include copywriters, copy editors, bloggers, social-media gurus, and editors.

Non-profits
While not offering the pay benefits of the previous three industries, non-profits often provide very rewarding work for the dedicated. While positions may include marketing duties, often non-profits seek dedicated grant writers, who submit the applications for grants to federal and state agencies and philanthropic organizations. I’ve also seen positions with non-profits dedicated to social media campaigns.

Wherever the cross-section of your writing interest lies, there is almost certainly a career out there for you. The best thing to do is to research what you enjoy, find positions in that field that interest you, and see what qualifications they require. Of course, this requires some forward planning, but that might just pay off in the end.

Are there any writers out there in industries not often associated with writing? Or are there many publishers or journalists out there with an opinion on getting started in those industries?

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Creative Theft: 3 Great Writers Who Stole Their Best Ideas

It’s vital that all authors find their own voice and strive toward a creative approach to their story. However, it’s also a little ridiculous to believe that all works of fiction must be entirely new and original. For instance, I grew a little nervous when a friend compared the magic system in my book to alchemy in Fullmetal Alchemist. But then, after considering historical precedent, I relaxed. After all, many of the great storytelling franchises relied heavily on past works. Here are three:

Screencapture - Fullmetal Alchemist (2003, directed by Seiji Mizushima

Screencapture – Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), directed by Seiji Mizushima

 

The Works of William Shakespeare
Assuming you believe Shakespeare existed (If you don’t, keep that opinion to yourself. This is a bard-friendly blog.), you are probably familiar with the fact that he did “borrow” the plots of most of his plays from other writers. One of those writers would be Geoffrey Chaucer. Like Shakespeare, Chaucer also borrowed many of his plots from other writers, including an Italian poet called Giovanni Boccaccio. A good example of this borrowing can be seen in Shakespeare’s play, Troilus and Cressida. Shakespeare’s plot was heavily influenced by that of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, which itself was influenced by Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato. So, even the great writers of history have stolen from each other from time to time.

Boccaccio

Engraved portrait of Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) by Raffaello Sanzio Morghen (1758-1833) after Vincenzo Gozzini and dated 1822 (Source: Wikipedia)

 

The Lord of the Rings
Sometimes seen as the father of high fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien is much loved and respected by readers the world over. I, too, love Tolkien; The Hobbit was one of the very first chapter books I ever read. It’s also well known that Tolkien based much of his world building on pre-existing cultures on Earth. Mythology too played a huge influence on Tolkien’s writing, a good example of which is displayed in Tolkien’s favorite plot device, The One Ring. Tolkien based his ring heavily off of Plato’s Ring of Gyges, a mythical artifact that turned the wearer invisible. Furthermore, the Ring of Gyges sparks a debate in Plato’s works between Socrates and another; they argue over whether that power would always be taken advantage of by the wearer, or if a just person could withstand it and resist his base desires. It’s pretty easy to see the link between the corruption of the Ring of Gyges and that of The One Ring; the biggest difference is that no one can resist The One Ring forever.

Plato

The School of Athens (detail of Plato). Fresco, Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican. (Source: Wikipedia)

Star Wars
A cultural touchstone in its own right, many modern works owe a great deal to the Star Wars franchise. However, like the previously mentioned franchises, Star Wars owes much to other works. What resonates most with many fans of the original films was the blending of familiar elements (plots structures, character types) with futuristic settings. George Lucas pulled those familiar elements from mythology from around the world. For Luke’s journey in particular, Lucas relied heavily on the works of Joseph Campbell. And, lest I forget, I feel I should also mention the Japanese film The Hidden Fortress, directed by Akira Kurosawa. This film is told primarily from the perspective of two bickering peasants (not so different from C-3P0 and R2-D2), and also features a battle-hardened warrior (like Obi Wan Kenobi) and a rebellion-leading princess (like Princess Leia).

While I want my books to feel fresh and original, I also have to be aware that borrowing from other works is not a sin. I do feel, though, that I should be aware of my influences. One thing I do admire about George Lucas is that he has never shied away from giving credit to his influences. If nothing else, it’s a good way to introduce younger audiences to time-tested works.

How do you guys feel about borrowing from works? Should it be frowned on, or celebrated? Is there a line between the two, and when have you seen it crossed?

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Writing Buddies

A common stereotype for writers is that we’re quiet, solitary things with a propensity for addictive substances and hermit huts. There’s some truth to this stereotype, but I intentionally fight against it. For one, it fails to take into consideration the powerful work that can be done in collaboration. As I work on growing in my own writing craft, I learn more and more each day that I cannot grow alone. Having fellow writer friends to bounce ideas off, and even start joint projects is a great thing. If you’re not sure how to go about this, here are two options that have worked for me.

writers

Writers Ford Maddox Ford, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and John Quinn. Picture Credit: Tophams/Topham Picturepoint/Press Association Images.

 

Join a Fandom
Fandom, the term for the group of fans of a particular work, tends to be stigmatized. I see this as unfair. My experience shows me that fandom is a place of community and is great for starting collaboration projects, especially if you’re having trouble meeting other writers. Many large fandoms are actually well organized, and it’s easy to find specific resources, such as forums to connect with beta readers or other writers. Also, the very nature of fandom is to engage with a group of people who feel just as passionately about a work as you. To start meeting people in fandoms, poke around on Tumblr, or look into fanfiction posting sites like archiveofourown.org.

Join or Form Writing Groups
Another good way to meet writers is by joining or forming a writing group. Sometimes, writing groups already exist in communities, and you can find them by going through your public library or a local book store. These spaces are good for bouncing your ideas off an impartial audience, but in general I find their less good for forming lasting relationships that can lead to good works of collaboration. For that, it’s best to start your own group. A fellow writer friend and I send each other little writing prompts and responses now and then. The exercise is simple, but keeps us both accountable to write regularly. Don’t be afraid to approach friends or acquaintances and ask to start writing with them. Chances are, they need a writing buddy too!

 

 

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