Sunday, July 4, 2010

Changing Hats

Let me begin by wishing everyone in the U. S., and all U. S. citizens abroad, a Happy Fourth of July! Have a safe and fun day.

I want to thank everyone for taking part in yesterday's blog. Just because a new blog post is going up, don't think we're moving on. We'll keep that one going for a bit to give everyone a chance to post and get some feedback.

Now for today's post. As writers, we have lots of different hats we have to wear, and I'm not talking about all the hats we wear in our every day lives -- parent, spouse, employer or employee, etc. No, I'm talking about all the different hats we wear as a writer. Just a few of them are: researcher, story teller, proof-reader, copy editor, market researcher, PR manager. Well, you get my drift. We are all better at some of these than we are at others. But to have a chance to succeed in this profession, we have to be able to move, if not seamlessly at least without too much trouble from one to the other.

Being our own editor is probably the hardest, at least to me, of all the hats we wear. This is when we have to step outside of our comfort zone and divorce ourselves from those 100k-plus words we've written and look at them with critical eyes. We have to keep reminding ourselves that our reader doesn't know what was in our head at the time we wrote that really great scene we love so much. No, we have to go back and make sure all the cookie crumbs are there to foreshadow that scene. Have we said enough or did we say too much? In short, we have to be more than objective as we edit our work, we have to be critical.

First readers are good resources to help with this. But, in the end, that final edit before we send our baby out amongst the strange agents and editors comes from us.

I guess I've been thinking about this a lot this past week because I've been in the edit process on several of my own pieces. I've been doing final edits on a short story that is about to be kicked out of the house to make the rounds. I've been looking at another short that has been out and back several times. Each rejection it's received has been very positive and the editors have asked me to send them something else. It's just that this particular story didn't fit what they are looking for just now. So I've had to look at that story and decide if I wanted to tweak it or send it out to other markets or just file it away for the moment.

Another project I'm working on is about ready to start making the query round of agents and editors. That means working up a query letter -- something I hate to do. I'd much rather just send the completed work, or at least a good sampling of pages and a detailed synopsis -- and synopsis. Actually, it means several versions of the synopsis because agencies and editors have different requirements. Some want a two or three page synopsis. Others look for 10 pages or so. Even others want every chapter, every scene, mentioned. This is one of the places where the researcher hat also has to come on, because the last thing you want is to send the wrong information to an editor or agent. And yes, this requires editing as well; not only for format but for content. Is there a sufficient hook in the query letter to get the editor to look at the enclosed synopsis and pages? Does the synopsis read in an entertaining manner or is it more "and this happened and then this and then this and the end"? Are the enclosed pages well-written, tightly plotted and is the hook firmly planted on that first page so they keep reading and wanting more?

Then there are edits to consider making on a novel that has been making the rounds as well. One editorial assistant, after reading the proposal, synopsis and first 100 pages passed. Why? It wasn't that he didn't like the story. No, it was the point of view that was wrong. For this particular genre, the editor he works with prefers first person over third. Sure, I could change it. It would be time consuming and I'd have lost about a third of the novel, maybe a bit more, that would have to be replaced. So my decision, after talking it over with someone else in the business who I trust, was to leave the novel as is and submit it elsewhere.

In the midst of all this, I have two more novels started -- very different in tone and voice -- and a short story waiting to be written. Did I mention being a writer means knowing how to juggle, at least in your head?

How do you handle the demands of editing? Do you have any secrets or tricks of the trade you use to make it easier?


Stephen Simmons said...

My "First Novel" is in an agent's inbox right now, so I don't *know* yet whether I'm any good at editing or not ...

I have a long history as a teacher. I tutored several of my classmates in multiple subjects in high school, helped classmates over the rough spots in nuclear power school after I joined the Navy ("rough spots" constituting, essentially, the whole six months), then did two tours of duty as a nuclear instructor. I approach critical reading the way I approached tutoring - where does the student start, and what tools do I need to give him to get where we need to be? Have I built enough of a foundation over there to support this idea yet?

Like I said, I *think* I got there, but I won't *know* until I hear back on my submission. Meanwhile, all I can do is keep cranking out more stuff, right?

matapam said...

Editing. Ugg.

I'm trying a text-to-speech program and despite the drawbacks, I spotted things that needed to be changed on the first page.

The voices you pay for are much superior to the free version. It still sounds like a really bad amateur actor with a slight accent mangling a script through faulty word emphasis. But it frees you from knowing what the words on the page are supposed to be.

So maybe it will help.

Otherwise, Know Thyself.

Go Find and Replace all the things you always get wrong. Its and it's. Their, they're, and there. Advice advise prefect perfect except expect . . .

Then reread it again, trying to not get sucked into the story, but stay aware of the words.

And find a good typo and continuity problem finding reader or two. They are beyond price.

Stephen Simmons said...

matapam - where doth one find these "readers" of which thou speakest so highly? Seriously, that has been my biggest problem. My family all perceive my work as "spending time at the computer", and aren't really interested in reading anything I write. I was recently invited into an online writing-circle, but everyone in it is pretty busy, so the actual degree of interaction in it is pretty low, for the most part.

C Kelsey said...

I've yet to make it through a really good editing session. That's about to change. I'll have to figure it out.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Amanda,you are right not to change the POV of your book. It would completely change the 'voice'.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Even the most experienced writer can edit themselves up to a point,t hen they need an outside eye.

That's my writing friend and I formed the ROR group.

I think my next blog might be on how to form a high level peer critique group.

Dave Freer said...

Editing - time is your friend. Your ONLY friend, the truth be told, with editing your own work. It's almost impossible to line edit well straight off, or at least for me. Try to 'rest' a story befor editing.

Kate said...

I'm with Dave - if it's at all possible, give yourself enough time that the story in your head doesn't dominate the words on the page.

A few other tips - for line edits, try a sentence at a time starting at the last sentence and working forward.

If you can, try to look for things that other people have told you are weaknesses - first in anything that isn't yours. When you can identify the problem immediately in someone else's writing, try looking for it in your older works.

And one for those of us who multi-task our multi-tasking - you can't do that with editing. It needs a block of carved out time where you don't do anything else.

C Kelsey said...

Here's the thing with editing for me... I put huge amounts of mental effort into first drafts. Once that's over, and I re-read what I have, it ALL sounds flat. Initially, I have all that emotion and newness... Once it's written, it's old. It *reads* old to me. I have a hard time recapturing the emotion. A really hard time. It's like the story hits paper, and leaves me floating in the storm of "now what".

Amanda Green said...

Stephen, absolutely keep cranking out more stuff. Not only does it mean you are getting your name out there, it's my experience that more the one writes, the better -- hopefully -- they get. Of course, the caveat to that is that you have to be open to learning and listening to constructive criticism.

Editing your own stuff isn't easy for most people. The biggest problem is that, as the writer, we know what is supposed to be there, what is going to happen, etc. So, in our head, the cookie crumbs have been dropped and all the clues are there. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. That's why it is good to have a crit partner or group to turn fresh eyes on your work.

Good luck with what you've got out there. And, by all means, keep on writing.

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, I hadn't tried the text-to-speech thing before the other day. I had put one of my stories on my Kindle and, while driving, had the Kindle read it to me. When I wasn't cringing over the automated voice (which really isn't all that bad), I did hear mistakes I hadn't seen when reading the piece.

Another thing I recommend using the search function for are those words and phrases you tend to favor or use a lot. It can be very eye-opening.

And you are right. Having a beat reader who is good at finding continuity problems is essential, especially if you are writing a series.

Amanda Green said...

Stephen, my best advice for finding beta readers or critique partners is to check with your local library and university. See if they have a writers group. Do a google search as well for your area. The problem with having your family or friends act as your beta readers is that, all too often, they will not be honest with you. They'll tell you how good it is, even if they didn't like it or saw problems with it. Of course, there is the converse where, because they don't understand or approve of you being a writer, so they try to tear down your work without good cause.

Online groups work for some. But there have to be some rules and there are real drawback, in my opinion. You've just hit one of the main ones...time. Unless the group is agreeing to "meet" at a set time at regular intervals, it is very easy to let things slip.

I'm not saying not to do online groups. I've done them and some have been helpful. But, if you can find a face-to-face group to work with, I suggest you give that a try. Then you can decide which format is best for you.

Amanda Green said...

Chris K, the key is to look at it dispassionately and with some distance between when you wrote it and when you are editing it. At least it works better for me if the work isn't that fresh in my mind.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, that was my thought about the book. Now I'm glad I followed my instinct. I'm seeing more and more people on some of the boards asking for books in this particular genre that are not written in first person. So, fingers crossed, the editor who currently has it will agree.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, how right you are about how we can only edit ourselves up to a point. What I've seen, with myself and with others, is that when we push beyond that point, we over-edit and tend to kill the story. That's what I rely upon my crit partners to keep me from doing.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, YES! If I'm doing a line edit, I need at least a couple of weeks from the time I finished the piece to the time when I'm editing to do an even halfway decent job. For a novel, I like to have a month. My solution is to send the novel to my beta readers and crit partners. While they are looking at it, I'm not. I'm working on something else. Then, when they get it back to me, I can look at it with somewhat fresh eyes.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, you are absolutely right when it comes line edits. Not only about the starting with the last sentence and working forward but with the carving out of time to do it. That is the one time when I am not working on anything else. It is too brain intensive. Or at least for me.

Amanda Green said...

Chris K, don't reread it right away. Once you finish, step away from it. Send it to someone to read over, with the note that this is the rough draft and you aren't looking for grammar and punctuation, etc. What you need to know is if it hangs together, if there are continuity issues, etc. You need to give yourself time to recharge and get a fresh outlook on it before starting the rereads and edits.

Look at it this way. Remember all those term papers you did in high school and college. You worked hard on them, especially those that needed sources quoted, etc. But when you finished writing one, proofreading it and checking your footnotes and bibliography was a pain because you knew what was supposed to be there. But, if you put it away for a couple of days, you could see where you used the wrong cite for one of your footnotes.

Not only will stepping away from it for a bit allow you to regain the charge you get from the story, but it will you look at it with fresh eyes, not jaundiced or tired ones.

Chris McMahon said...

For editing I usually give myself a time target i.e. edit for two hours a day or something like that. Its too hard to use a word target that that phase of things.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, the very thought of having a word target in editing make my blood run cold. The pressure that would add to the process would drive me stark raving mad, I'm afraid...not that I'm not close to that as it is ;-)

Mike said...

One odd suggestion -- change font size and perhaps font style. At least for me, changing the font size (which often rearranges the lines) makes some kinds of errors stand out. Do remember to change back to a standard font size before submitting.

Amanda Green said...

Mike, interesting suggestion. I hadn't thought of that one. I'll have to give it a try.

BCaffrey99 said...

A bit late to the party -- but two things on editing.

First, I agree with everyone who said to _rest_ the piece before you edit. This is essential. Otherwise, as Kate so ably said, you're fighting with yourself -- your own voice, as it were -- and that makes it incredibly hard to get to what's actually there rather than what you _think_ is there.

Second, read the story aloud as much as you can to yourself. I don't care how stupid it sounds to do -- read it. This will help you, for the same reason Amanda and Pam suggested listening to the story via electronic voice -- if you read it yourself and listen to it, you will _hear_ things that sound wrong in dialogue and/or in slipped verb tenses, and you may pick up on an inadvertent POV shift as well.

As for those writers reading this blog post who are looking for an unbiased look at a manuscript -- I can do a quick read-over for you if you have no one else to do it or want another opinion. I have some experience at editing, and while I'm not as good as my late husband the were-mouse/High Admiral, I'm more than good enough to help you out.

Barb (aka Mme. were-mouse)