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Writing Wednesday – Editors

When you reach a certain point in your journey, it is time to bring on the editors! I don’t mean your BFF who took a few advanced English classes either. There are some who honestly believe that they don’t need editors. Yeah, no. I have met a LOT of writers in my life and I have never met anyone who didn’t need an editor. I’ve read a lot of self-published work that really needed an editor. I’ve read books from the big five where the editors were certainly having an off-day when they worked on that book (or the writer decided s/he was better than editors). You need an editor, you need an editor, EVERYBODY needs an editor!

I have always loved my editors. They really are working toward the same goal – they want your book or story to succeed because it helps them to succeed. You are too close to your own work sometimes to see the flubs and inaccuracies. Yes, there are some terrible editors out there – I’ve come across a couple myself – but they are a minority and it doesn’t take them long to out themselves as terrible.

If you go the self-publish route, I highly recommend an editor – you WANT to put out the best work you can. If you’re going the more traditional route, editors are unavoidable and awesome both.

I have mostly been incredibly lucky with my editors. They’ve been great professionals who really do know what they’re doing and what they’re talking about. I have always taken the position that, unless there’s a really valid reason I can back up with factual research, the editor is probably right. I have no problem rewriting sentences or cutting scenes that were there more for me than for the story. You always hear the phrase, “kill your darlings,” and for the most part, I agree. Sometimes, a line is so good it’s worth making an argument for keeping or moving but, for the most part, if you really love it, it’s probably there more for you as a writer than for the story and you can keep it in the file.

I have a file where I keep all my really precious “darlings” that were more for me than for my stories and generally, I turn them into other stories or poems and both the originating book and the next project are both better for it.

That’s not to say all editors are created equal. Or publishers for that matter. My horror stories are at least small ones. I had one non-fiction editor who accepted my work and then stripped out everything that made it mine before it went to publication. I signed all the things, she was absolutely within her rights to do it but, honestly, I don’t even understand why she accepted my story in the first place. It wasn’t a paying gig and I’ve never seen a physical copy of it so really, it doesn’t matter but I definitely was upset when she sent me the final approved copy, just so I could take a look. It made me sad more than anything as the story was very personal. Years later, I can say that she was probably right for her vision of her collection of essays but it probably wasn’t the right collection for my story (too late now though!).

The other terrible editor I came across had zero business being an editor in the first place. I love little ezines and new magazines and I don’t shy away from submitting things to a new publication that has a beautiful landing page or an interesting premise. At one point, I sent a poem set to a pub run by a guy I knew. He accepted one of my poems then turned around and brought on an editor who had zero experience who took that poem, ripped it apart – literally moved lines between stanzas, changed words so they no longer fit the meter (though in her defense she probably didn’t understand that there was a meter as it looked free verse if you weren’t paying attention). I tried to explain, she got snippy, and I pulled the poem because I really don’t do drama that way. I later sold it to a really great magazine (and a note in my email from a reader who loved it as it was meant to be).

Editors are there for more than silly grammar and punctuation problems (though I humbly apologize to all my editors from the past, present, and future, for my comma happy typing style!). They help you keep the continuity and make sure hair color, eye color, names, and personality doesn’t change during the story in ways it’s not supposed to. They aren’t going to annihilate your story just because. They want you and your work to succeed. Remember, the better you do, the better your story does, the better reputation they get, the better they do too. Editors are friends, not foes. If you have one, thank them don’t argue with them. Yes, your work is precious and awesome but I promise you, it’s not perfect.


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Writing Wednesday – The Tools

Writing is very simple. Ultimately, all you really need is a writing implement and paper or electricity (depending on your preference). It’s something you can do anywhere, any time, without much preparation. I have been known to scribble down a thought on a paper napkin or, in a real pinch, my jeans or my skin. But everyone had a different ideal writing situation.

Software: Please note that I haven’t used Apple anything since my Apple IIgs a few decades ago and have been a Windows user since the very early 90’s. I use Microsoft Word now but prior to that, I used Open Office and never had a complaint. If you don’t have access to Word, Open Office is very user-friendly. I have not tried Scrivener but I have used yWriter and, if you need a little more organization than a standard word processor can handle, yWriter is pretty amazing. I do use the free version of Grammarly but I find it’s most useful in making me rethink my word choices sometimes. And it catches most of my comma problems (which I’m certain my editors appreciate!).

Implements: Some writers have a favorite type of pencil or pen and I’m no different. Mirado Black Warrior pencils are hands down my all time favorite pencils ever. They almost quit making them. My now husband bought me a case of them for Christmas in 1999 because we were told they were going to quit making them. I actually haven’t had to buy pencils for me since then (because no one ever gets to use my pencils but me). Since my RA, I’ve had a lot of adjusting to do with all things writing because of my hands and I discovered the Dr. Grip pens because my son likes fat pens and it is honestly just the greatest pen for my difficulties. I can even use the gel-style pen on my really swollen days because it requires no pressure and is big enough that, as long as I can bring my fingers to my thumb, I can write. At least for a little while.

Reference books: The internet is great but sometimes you really want to thumb through paper. Years ago, I had a really great grammar manual that I gave to someone who needed it even more than me (and that’s saying something!). One of these days, I will remember which one it was as replace it but until then, I have an old AP style manual and the Describer’s Dictionary on my desk at all times. I don’t use them often but I like having them right here to supplement my Google-fu. I also love to hunt down new to me but old if not ancient research materials in junk shops and used book stores. I love finding a bit of inspiration for a story in an old book. I just need to build myself a library to keep them all in…

Hardware: I am not the person to give recommendations of any kind of computers. For me, as long as it runs, hooks up to my external drive, and is compatible with my vertical mouse (if you have arthritis, look into one of these it is AWESOME). It helps if it runs the software I want but most machines do anymore. I like the idea of a tablet but I’ll be perfectly honest, a laptop is about as small as this mama is going to get. I hear great things about bullet journals but I’ve never had the time, dexterity, or talent for that.

Assistive Technology: Speech to Text software. I have tried several but can’t find one I like. I’ll be perfectly honest though, I don’t know that it would really work for me in the long run. I really just feel stupid talking to myself in my house. Mostly, I have trouble finding one that doesn’t flub my words up. I talk too fast for most of them and edit more than I should have to. It did help me get through last season’s Face Off recaps when my fingers weren’t working well but even typing slowly and painfully is better than all the speech to text software combined. Especially the almost right one that won’t let me curse. That just irritates the snot out of me. My software shouldn’t get to censor me. I’ve mentioned my fat pens and my vertical mouse already but I also use compression gloves on really bad days that have made a world of difference when my hands hurt. Having physical limitations doesn’t mean you have to put your writing on hold.

What are your favorite tools? The software or books or AT that you can’t be without?

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Writing Wednesday – Public Speaking

It’s one of those things I really am not comfortable doing but speaking is a part of writing. It mostly comes after the publication part unless you’re an active poet. It’s an important part of getting to know your base and connect with them. My dad was awesome at it but it did not pass down to me. I speak, even to a small group, and I can start off strong but by the end, I’m a shaky, trembling mess of a woman who really would rather sink into the floor than do it again. I’ve always been that way. But, there was a time when I did it anyway and I’m doing my best now to do it anyway again.

1997 reading at Borders. I’m the one in black as usual.

When I was young and brash, I was a part of a reading at a very lovely Borders in Pennsylvania as part of a group of writers who’d been published in a small local magazine. That was the last time I’ve ever participated in an in-person reading. I’d done a few poetry nights at coffee shops during that same year prior to that reading. About ten years ago, I did a phone interview on a radio show and read from a novella and absolutely had a little panic attack (and you can hear it as it builds to boot). I haven’t sought out more opportunities since then, though I did a recording of a short story of mine that found it’s way to a radio show/podcast and that’s fine, no nerves, no twitching (and it’s still available too).

Yesterday, I went to that local writer’s group I wrote about a few weeks ago. I took my oldest kid with me for moral support (poor kid always gets dragged into stuff so I don’t have to do it on my own) but I went. I’m happy to report that, so far, this is not one of the judgy, preachy, picky groups but one where I think I can do some good while I grow and stretch as a writer too. From the people I met, it seems like it might be a really good fit, where I can help and be helped and learn things I didn’t realize I needed to know. You can’t beat that. One of the things this group does is a monthly assignment – a prompt type thing. I did mine and it ended up being more of a poem than a story but I read it. Before I was done, I was shaking and my voice was trying to swallow itself but I read all of the 178 words. And I’m planning on doing it again. And again. And yet again.

I don’t know that’s I’ll ever be as comfortable as my current favorites to watch (there is some language warning in the links if you’re at work or sensitive): Neil Hilborn  or Rachel Wiley, but I’d like to be comfortable enough to share that part of me, that poetry that lives inside me but struggles to get out.

I am not good at peopling but practice makes, not perfect yet, but better. With each craft fair, each face to face, I get a little less me and a little more that person I’d like to be. I write because I love it because it is who and what I am but I also write to publish and part of that is marketing. When you take a story to market, you’re not just selling that story, you’re selling yourself. You can’t really build your base if you aren’t participating in interactions, real world or online, both matter. I’ve been working hard at doing better with that. If you get a chance, go to your local writer’s group, find a slam (and if you do, tell me how!), join Toastmasters – practice the public face of the craft. Go somewhere no one knows you and if it all goes wrong, try again later.

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Interesting Title Here

I am not having a good title day – my brain does not want to find one, so, yeah. I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately which is good. I’m not working through Christmas in Bear Ridge the way I normally do as I’ve written the ending before I’m done with the middle. My memory hasn’t been that great lately and, if I don’t write things down when I think of them, no matter how interesting, important, or neat it is, I’ll forget it when I’m ready to use it. Writing is nothing if not flexible! I’ve also been working on poetry again. Poetry is where I started and where I’ll end most likely. Most of my poetry will never see the light of day – not everything a person writes should be seen anyway. I’ve neglected my poetry for a very long time but a thing happened.

I’ve had a lot of poetry published over the years but only recently started submitting a particular collection – it’s currently out and I’ve got fingers and toes crossed as I adore it. I’ve been in some pretty widely distributed publications with my poetry including the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and Chronogram. I’m still a nobody where that’s concerned as it’s not a thing I do enough of to be noticed but you would think the people around me would know it’s a thing I’ve done but nope. My son started writing poetry and instead of asking me about submissions and the process (a thing I know an enormous amount about), he went to a girl from school who’s had a poem published. He didn’t realize. He didn’t know. And that’s mostly because I haven’t been doing any of it. So I’m working on my poetry again because he didn’t know because I haven’t been.

I always figured I’d be further along in my career by this point. I’ve been doing this dance for better than 20 years now. Part of that problem is me also – every time I reach a goal, it’s not the end, it’s just a step and the next goal has to be met. I don’t know if I have a top of this staircase if I’ll ever feel like I’ve reached the top or will be happy with what I’ve done versus what I have left to do. My new goal is to send out at least two submissions a week and just by virtue of length and time constraints, the majority of that will be poetry again and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.

I’m also working on another thing but that’s six months away and deals with two of my current crafty, artsy fiddlings and twiddlings.

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Writing Wednesday – Rules

As a kid, rules were stupid. As a parent, rules are necessary. As a writer, it’s both. Knowing when they’re malleable and when they aren’t is the tricky part. Some rules will vary by publisher or style guide and that is completely unavoidable (though it would be really great if we could come to an actual standard). Some rules are grammar rules or structure rules and those are harder to ignore and get away with ignoring but not actually impossible.

During the initial writing, the zero draft stage, I pay zero attention to the rules. Any rules. I don’t care where commas go or what my margins are or which way we’re typing numbers, I just want the story, start to finish. It doesn’t have to follow a rule of logic or even a linear timeline, it just has to get out. I’m big on fixing when it’s finished which really means that you’re not likely to ever see a proper serial-type story from me.

Of all the rules of writing I’ve ever read, only one is, to me, non-negotiable. If you want to be a writer, you should first be a reader. Consume as much as possible, as varied as possible. Read works from other times, other cultures, other genres than your preferred.

Some rules are case by case basis at best. Maybe working in silence is great for you but it would drive me absolutely mad. Maybe outlining is the “approved” method but that, too, would drive me bats. There are several like this that aren’t really rules but foundation issues. Some people need to write within a set of physical parameters or have a set routine they follow to get from point a to point b, it doesn’t always work for everyone and that’s not terrible.

The rest of the rules are pretty malleable, provided you understand why they’re there. Some rules say limit your adjectives. Some say to never use absolute words like never or always. It’s good to keep in mind these rules so the story doesn’t get bogged down but I couldn’t get through a story without breaking them. I do agree with the 3 exclamation points per 100k words though (even if I’m fairly certain I’ve ignored that one too).

I have my own personal rules but that’s come after reading a hundred rules lists by a hundred different writers (and no two are alike) and spending the last 20 years or so figuring out what works for me and what bad habits I’ve developed. I have to watch the number of times I use the word “just” in a story. I have to watch for passive voice. I do tend to get a little adjective heavy and I hate the word “said.” I honestly have to force myself to use “said” and shake up my general speaking pattern so it’s not all homogenous and formulaic. I love balance and aesthetic and mood but I know I have to watch how much of that goes into a story. And I have to watch my sentence fragments. I love a good punchy fragment a little too much. I also tend towards unnecessary words and try to, in the last edits before submission, cut my word count by 10% to tighten up the story.

It takes time to find your rules, to know what you do too much, what you need to shake up to make the work exciting not just for you but for your readers. I’ve never met a writer who knows their weaknesses right from the beginning (I certainly didn’t!) but maybe it happens. Knowing your weaknesses and habits leads to better crafting, better, more thoughtful word choices and sentence structures. All of that leads to a better reading experience too.

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JD Holiday was kind enough to interview me! You should all go read it now: JD’s Writer’s Blog

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April Wrap Up and May Goals

Happy May!

So, April wasn’t exactly as productive as I’d wanted it to be but I did take some time off to recharge a little and I’m still having memory issues so, I’m not actually disappointed in myself. In fact, I’m pretty happy with myself.

Submissions sent in April: 2

Total words written in April: 20056

Days missed: 12

Art projects completed: 1

I might have more missed days than last month and fewer words but I have more submissions sent, more art finished, and I went to a convention and had a few family days in there too. Maybe I’m not where I want to be but it’s still more than it could be!

Goals for May: I’d like to double that word count. Actually, I’d like to double all the things except for the days missed, that one I’d like to halve. I also have an upcoming interview, figuring out this summer’s craft fair schedule (I’m definitely doing at least one!), and other neat and interesting things. I’m going to end up with another category that I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to quantify – it’s art but it’s different than my crafty art, it’s something else and I hope to do some really interesting things with it. But I don’t want to talk about it too much before I figure out if I can actually do it well enough to show it off.

Health wise, I’m doing pretty good. I have one foot that just always hates me but the rest of me is getting really good at compensating for that foot (and I have a really neat cane for when I can’t). My levels are leveling out but not quite where they’re supposed to be yet. We’re giving it a few more weeks before adding or changing stuff. I hope it just settles out. I don’t want to get used to a whole new set of side effects when the worst I have now is the memory issues (as long as I’m drinking enough water anyway).

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Writing Wednesday – Impostor Syndrome

I know it’s sort of a strange topic for a writing Wednesday post but I think it’s something that goes hand in hand with the process, especially when you’ve just hit send on that submission or are waiting for your first reviews to come in.

Impostor Syndrome is a common thing among creative people. At least it is among the people I know.  It’s more than just doubts, not some false humbleness, and really annoying. Writing is really the only thing I’ve ever felt like I was good at but I’ve never really been all that confident that I’m good enough at it. Sure, I may have four books published, many short stories published, and even more poems published, but still, I don’t quite feel good enough and I’ve heard a number of my very talented, super creative friends lamenting about the same thing.

When I was young and dumb, I had the opposite problem – all the confidence, some of the talent, and mountains of skill to learn yet. Somedays I wish I could go back to that though – that confidence was heady and wonderful and I miss it. Now, I see it in my kids and enjoy their exuberance about whatever it is they’re throwing themselves into.

I’m sure there are links to my anxiety and my depression that make my Impostor Syndrome manifest is different ways but I don’t think they’re requirements for it. I do think the anxiety amplifies it some.

Realistically, I know I’m fairly good at what I do. I’ve only ever had one not so nice review and the others have all been really glowing – not counting my dad’s review because he was biased. Though I did have someone explain to me that they just flat couldn’t follow the mythology of my stories or didn’t care for the genres, I don’t actually count those comments against my abilities. I’ve had people message me on facebook with lovely comments. Though, that is a little weird (and awesome) the first time a stranger messages you to say something nice. None of that gets taken into account inside my head though, I guess. In my head, I’m still worried that someone is going to peek behind the curtain and find me as lacking as Dorothy found the Wizard.

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Writing Wedesday – Recharging

Sometimes you come to a point where writing becomes more job than passion. I love my stories but I love them more when I’m enthralled with the process. For me, taking some time to recharge makes all the difference. I’ll set aside the writing and not worry about it and spend some time reading books, making other kinds of art, and just trying to gather all that wonderful energy up again. Sometimes I’ll pick up a fluff book, a bit of fun brain floss. Not today though – today I’m reading a really fun book that I’ll review in a day or two when I’m finished. If it stays the way the first quarter has been, it might be my favorite book I’ve read so far this year. Sometimes I’ll pick up a paintbrush or a bit of fabric (I have three projects like that that I’m preparing for in pieces). Sometimes I just want to binge watch something scary or fantastic.

Writing is my favorite thing but sometimes, my work is better if I take a few days to do something else. I’m having a bit of a recharge right now but I don’t expect it’ll last super long, maybe not even all of today. I won’t know until I’ve read a bit more and caught up on Killing Eve (super good so far btw) and watched a bit more Blue Exorcist so my friend and I can write up a proper review. I need to make myself a better schedule so I can get to all the things I want to do as well as all the things I need to do. Maybe get a timer for my router or block certain websites for certain hours of the day – it’s so easy to fall down that particular time suck (but somehow I don’t count internet surfing as recharging, it’s less brain floss and more like brain junk food).

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Writing Wednesday – Writer’s Groups

I’ve been a part of several different writer’s groups over the years – primarily online, not counting a few poetry nights I went to in high school. It’s great being a part of a community, having the camaraderie and support from other writers. I’ve been without a group for the last few years and I’m finding that I miss it more and more. There was a booth at Tekko last weekend with people from Confluence (the sf/f/h writer’s con in Pittsburgh) and I really got to thinking about the community and how important it can be to be a part of the larger community.

I’m really feeling that itch to be with creative people (that I don’t have to drive an hour to meet up with). Online is awesome but lacking somehow also. I’ve never had a face to face group, people who get the process, the drudgery, the excitement, the never-ending waiting. I found a group sort of nearby, if I figure out where they meet and how to get there. It’s a little nerve-wracking for me – yay anxiety but I’ve sent the request to join the group and get more information. We’ll see where that goes.

I admit a little part of me would rather start my own if only because I’m more comfortable with things when I’m the one in the leadership role. It’s silly and plays to the teeny bit of control freak that lives inside me but there it is. I’d rather do far more work and set the time, date, and location than give up that control and hope for the best. However, part of the reason I’m looking into groups are to find like-minded people with similar goals and drives and if my Googling led me there, anyone else local looking for the same will end up in the same place.

At this point, I’m not really looking for a crit group situation but people who understand the process, the drive, and all that would be really great. The odds are good that this group doesn’t really deal with genre work, for whatever reason, there are a good number of people who think that paranormal romance, urban fantasy, science fiction, and horror just aren’t as cool as mainstream, non-magical, no monsters, no superheroes literary type works. We’ll see. I don’t want to prejudge. Besides, maybe they’ll deal with poetry too that would be awesome (so long as no one expects me to rhyme as I’m generally only able to do two couplets per poem).

I find crit groups to be hugely beneficial when people are honest with themselves about whether or not they can deal with actual constructive criticism and not just happy head patting. I had a hard time getting people to understand that I was much more interested in the problems in my story than hearing how wonderful someone thinks I am or could be. (granted, hearing you’re wonderful is, was, and always will be awesome). Tact is awesome but help is better. You’ll always come across those who are more interested in showing you their great skill sets and incomparable talent but I’ve found that they’re pretty easy to spot and ignore. My writing is the one place in which I have rhinoceros skin – too thick for mere words to ding.

If the group I found doesn’t work out, I may yet just start my own. I do need to people better and starting small seems to work for me. I have my hopes up a little for the local established group but I’ve been around long enough to know not to count on it.

What’s your experience been with creative groups – crit or otherwise?

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