Category Archives: Writing Advice

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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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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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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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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Tips and Tricks for Balancing Life and Writing

Writing is hard enough without having a life to live on top of it. Right now I’m back to working full-time while my co-worker is on vacation. It’s a temporary arrangement, but it has reminded me how hard it is to find time to write, especially when you have a full-time job, are a student, or have children.

While I can’t claim to have the perfect solution, I have been at this long enough to have some advice for you writers out there struggling to find time for your craft.

Prioritize
As with any long-term goal you set out to accomplish, if you want to write a book you need to make it a priority in your life. However, you have other priorities, too. Obviously you need to make sure you eat and sleep. Having income (and therefore, a job) is important to provide that food and the roof you sleep under. Then, we all depend on our relationships with others and entertainment. This list is kind of rough, but you get the picture. Our lives are busy. If you find you don’t have time to write but you want that time, you have to do without something else. I am lucky enough to have a flexible employer, so I made the switch to part-time at work. It meant less money in our bank account, but it was a sacrifice I and my husband were willing to make. If cutting hours at work isn’t an option for you, perhaps consider cutting out some pleasure time in your evening. Instead of watching a TV show, spend half an hour working on your book.  Both Samantha Shannon and Veronica Roth wrote their debut novels while still in university. Both said they had to give up things to do it.

Schedule
Scheduling your time more deliberately goes hand-in-hand with prioritizing. One problem I often have is letting other activities, like errands, get in the way of my writing time. Not everyone does well with a schedule, but I recommend trying it all the same. Perhaps, one day a week, make a spreadsheet of the rest of your week. Work out what you have to do and how much time it takes. Schedule whatever time you can to write, whether it’s fifteen minutes or two hours. The next part is the trickiest: stick to your schedule! It’s hard at first, but once it becomes a routine, it’ll make things a little easier on you, and your craft will benefit from the regular work.

Get Help
Maybe you have already tried prioritizing your life and working out a schedule and you still can’t find the time. In this case, it’s time to reach out to those in your life who care about you. Going back to my job situation, it would have never worked if my husband was not fully on board with me contributing less income. Perhaps you could ask a friend to watch your kids one day a week so you can have some alone time to write. Maybe a friend at work could trade shifts with you. We all need people to help us get through life. Just don’t be afraid to ask.

Plan For the Future
The sad truth is sometimes we go through periods in our life where it is impossible to find the time. Perhaps you’re a stay-at-home parent in the Yukon with no nearby friends and no time to yourself. Maybe it’s the busy season at work and you’ve been asked to work overtime. Maybe you’re a student. When I was a Sophomore in university I had to choose between writing a book and attaining the goals I set for myself in school. It was a tough decision, but I realized that I couldn’t do both and decided to postpone working on a book until I graduated. Making the decision to put off my big project helped me to focus back on my studies. These sort of life situations are often temporary. We will graduate. Our kids will start to go to school. Our jobs can change. If you can’t find the time to write now, work on a plan for the future when you can write.

So, does anyone else have any life balancing tricks you can pass on?

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My Favorite Writing Advice Blogs and Resources

I spend a lot of space on this blog offering advice based off my own experiences. This is my blog, after all. But, I feel I would be doing a disservice to all of you writer’s out there if I didn’t also share some of the goodness I’m learning from other blogs. I’m semi self-taught as a writer, and I owe a great deal of what I know (and what I therefore pass on to you) to many different, invaluable sources. So, what follows is a list of my favorite blogs and writing resources. I hope it’s as helpful for you as they have been for me.

Writing Advice Blogs
WriteWorld: Offers various writing tips as well as “Writer’s Block” exercises.
Small Blue Dog Publishing: Great advice for writing, traditional publishing, and self publishing. Her beta reading advice was particularly helpful for me.
Slithering Ink: Very thoughtful, general writing tips as well as book and movie reviews.
Yeah Write: More of a community base than strictly an advice blog, offering loads of resource links, ways to connect with other writers, and inspiration.
Legit Writing Tips: This blog offers loads of tips and answers reader questions regularly.
Writing With Color: A very good blog for any writer, but especially if you’re considering writing the stories of people of color.

Author Blogs
Fishing Boat Proceeds: John Green’s Tumblr blog. He mostly just reblogs/shares, but occasionally he opens his Ask Box.
Samantha Shannon: Samantha Shannon’s Tumblr blog. She regularly answers questions about the publishing and writing process and is also generous with reblogging other writer’s advice.
N.K. Jemisin: Author N.K. Jemisin’s blog. I only recently found this blog, but she gives great advice. Also, she talks about video games, which rocks.
Kate Elliott: Kate Elliott’s blog. Another great writer offering really good advice.

Resource Links
Behind the Name: A good jumping off point for finding character names. However, be wary if picking a name from an unfamiliar culture. It’s always best to do further research.
Good Reads: A good spot for connecting with other writers or your readers if you have published work.
TV Tropes: Despite its title, this site is not limited to just television. Great for checking your story for problematic tropes.

Do you guys have any favorite writing advice or author blogs?

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Four Teas for Writing

All writers should be familiar with the soothing powers of tea. Aside from numerous health benefits, tea can be used as a mild stimulant to get your brain working or a sedative to help you relax and recover. Case in point: I’m in between revisions of Footfall and looking to find other things to keep me occupied. Spending time worrying about starting my next draft just makes me unnecessarily anxious. So, I’m taking a short break from writing and I’m enjoying several regular cups of my favorite herbal and rooibos teas to help me relax. It’s a simple pleasure, but sometimes returning to simple pleasures is just what we need to make it through a difficult period of time. Here are a few of my favorite teas for writing, whether I’m powering through a draft or trying to recover from burnout.

Jasmine Green Tea
Brand: Sunflower
Why I Drink It: This is a very straightforward green tea with a very nice jasmine flavor. Unlike some jasmine teas, it doesn’t taste like it’s been sprayed with perfume. Also, the caffeine level is moderate, so it’s a good drink for when I need a mild boost but don’t want to be up late.
Where To Find It: I’ve seen it in several Asian groceries stores and I know Amazon sells it as well.

tea1

Summer Evenings Herbal Tea
Brand: Victoria’s Lavender
Why I Drink It: As with most herbal teas, I find the warmth and smooth flavors help keep me calm, if not down right drowsy. Also, this is a very satisfying blend of flavors, none overpowering any other. It’s good hot or iced and is what I’m drinking right now to help me relax.
Where To Find It: You can order it online here.

No. 18 Georgian Blend Tea
Brand: Harrods
Why I Drink It: This black tea blend is smooth but powerful, packing a nice punch of caffeine. I used to drink it in college when I needed to stay up late. This tea also goes nicely with cream and sugar, a little bonus when I feel like treating myself.
Where To Find It: Harrods in London or you can order it online. However, shipping to the US is nearly three times the cost of the tea, so be warned. As far as I can tell, Amazon does not sell it.

tea2

Market Spice Cinnamon Orange Tea
Brand: Market Spice
Why I Drink It: Mostly I drink this for sentimental reasons now, since it was a favorite of my mother-in-law. However, this tea does stand on its own two feet, offering a robust orange-cinnamon flavor. Market Spice makes it in black or rooibos tea blends. Both are tasty, but the rooibos is caffeine free, which is a nice option.
Where to Find It: Their store in Pike Place Market, their online store, or Amazon.

Are you guys tea drinkers, or do you prefer coffee or something else? I like coffee, but have learned that it upsets my stomach if I drink it too late in the day.

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Two Approaches to Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding is one of my favorite aspects of storytelling. Whether the story is fantasy, science fiction, or some dystopian future, a great world design can make or break a story’s credibility and inspire countless future stories. In celebration of this marvelous act of creation, I’m going to share two basic approaches to start building your new world.

But first, let’s discuss what worldbuilding actually means.

Forgotten_villa_by_CptHandel

Sometimes I like to start my world building by sketching . Here’s a building I sketched for one of my older stories.

Define: Worldbuilding
Worldbuilding is the creation of an imaginary setting, whether it be a small town or an entire universe. These imaginary worlds should have internal logic based on geography, history, biology, and so forth. They can be used for fictional novels, video games, tv shows, movies, and pretty much any other story-based media form. The best created worlds serve the story, enriching the setting of the characters and plot but not overwhelming them.

There are many aspects of a world you can latch onto when starting your story. However, I’ve found that there are two basic but reliable approaches to starting the worldbuilding process.

scan0001

This is Ofrina, an early map of a continent I created. I used political map because I was trying to decide the country borders.

Top Down Approach
A fairly common approach to worldbuilding is what I like to call the top down approach. The concept is simple: you start with the details of the world you want to build, and then work backwards, figuring out the world’s history and so forth to support the end product you want. For instance, say I wanted to tell a story where my main character was a member of a tribe of blue-skinned people. To build a world to support this idea, I’d need to work backwards, and ask myself questions about how this group of people came to exist. Are they the only blue-skinned people in this world? Were they created by a higher being, or did they evolve? From these questions, I can start to branch off these few details I know and create a fully realized world.

The top down approach has its positives and negatives. It works well because it allows for a clear picture of the end product. In this way, it’s easier to not forget the story and be overwhelmed by the immensity of an imagined world. It helps with early character creation, too. However, if the creator doesn’t have a clear understanding of what the world should look like when they start, the top down approach might cause more problems than it solves. If I change my mind and make my blue-skinned people have the ability to fly, I might have to go back to the drawing board. So, for people without a clear picture of what sort of world they want their story to be set in, it’s better to start with the bottom up approach.

The Bottom Up Approach
The bottom up approach begins with the very foundation of the world you’re going to create. Basically, you start with creating a world (earth-like or not) to serve as your canvas. To this, you add geography. What does your world look like? Also, it’s a good idea to decide how the sciences play out in your world. Some storytellers are happy saying that physics, biology, chemistry, and so on are just like earth’s. That is just fine. However, if you want to play around with those, feel free. Just make sure you research things so they stay internally logical. If you want to build a world where photosynthesis doesn’t exist, you better know what photosynthesis is and why it’s important for plants. Now is also a good time to decide if your world has some special aspect, such as magic or a unique energy source.

Once you have your foundation, it’s time to add the people/life forms that inhabit this world. How does this environment affect them? It’s probably not a homogeneous group (and if it is homogeneous, you better have a darn good reason why), so adding various cultural makeups is a good idea. From here, it’s a matter of figuring out details like language, politics, history, and so on before refining the final product to fit your story. It’s important to keep that internal logic you spent so much time crafting, but you also want to make sure you leave room for your story. Hopefully a this point your imagination is firing on all cylinders, and you’ve found a great source of conflict or a really interesting idea for a main character.

So, how do you guys feel about worldbuilding? I’m considering writing a second post with finer details about what we need to think about when we build a world, like infrastructure and political systems. Would that interest people?

P.S. Sorry I missed last week’s post. My husband and I were a bit under the weather, and also I’ve been trying to finish my latest draft of Footfall.

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Villains Part II: Crafting the Ideal Foe

Last week I discussed a few of what I see as the key archetypes for villains in literature and pop culture. I had a lot of fun researching it, but the discussion left me wondering what separated my favorite villains from the rest. In other words, what makes a good villain. Continue reading

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