Friday, February 27, 2015


Sometimes in life the only thing you can control is your attitude.

It wasn’t until I started reading contest chapters that I realized the value of editing—both for spelling/grammar and content. I also learned quite a bit about creative writing for today’s market by reading others critiques of the same chapters. That was an eye-opener. I used what I’d learned to go back and write another draft of my story. But I still didn’t quite understand all the nuances of drafts and editing and certainly didn’t understand many of the terms used and what they meant for my manuscript.

I’ve written nonfiction for years and most of it professionally. I was used to editors shredding and cutting sections and picking apart word choices to make the piece tighter and have more impact. I’m not going to tell you I enjoyed the editing process because I didn’t. There were times I grumbled and mumbled profanities. But I did develop a thick skin to the process over the years.

I hadn’t dealt with editing of my creative writing. The purpose of edits is the same in both nonfiction and fiction. The focus and some of the terminology is different, of course, but rationale is to make the piece tighter and have more impact.  It’s one thing to realize that on the intellectual and a whole other thing to deal with on an emotional level. Creative writing, in my opinion, is a little more personal and for me a bit more of my emotional soul goes into my writing. I quickly realized I needed a change of attitude and rhino skin to handle edits, critiques, and rejections.

See, the whole purpose of having experienced writers and critique partners is for them to read the piece critically. Their job is to spot the problems. That’s what you’re asking for, not to tell you how brilliant you are—leave that to your mom.

The first time I did this; there was so much red ink I thought my manuscript was going to bleed to death. I can laugh about it now but at the time my heart dropped to my feet and I thought, oh my god, she thinks it’s horrible—and that was before I actually read her preface and comments (my eyes were too busy taking in all the red notations). In the preface she told me the story premise was great and there were many good parts but these things (the ones in bright red) needed some work.

Your job, as a writer in asking for a critique, is to be prepared to listen without getting your feelings hurt. Not always easy and an attitude adjustment may be necessary.

You don’t have to agree with everything said (and probably won’t) but you do need to at least consider the comments and suggestions—especially if several readers hit on the same point or area. The second part of your job is to fix those problems listed. Rewrite, repair, and smooth those issues in your voice and in keeping with your vision.

A thing to keep in mind:  Published books have been reworked multiple times. That means scenes have been rewritten, moved, abandoned, rewritten again, and abandoned again.  

That’s why they read smooth. If you saw the first draft of that story and compared it to the finished draft it would be, in some instances, like comparing night and day.

If you can’t take critiques now, you’re going to have major issues with professional editors. It’s not personal. This is the business of making your story the best it can be. For example, your agent may edit and suggest reworks and/or the agency’s creative editor may take a couple of passes prior to selling the final draft to a publisher. Even then, it might not be the final draft because the publishing house editors and sometimes more than one (like developmental and content editor and copy-editor) will vet the manuscript. You may have still more pages of reworks and suggestions to make the story tighter and better before it’s published. You have to have tough skin and a professional attitude.

I’ve learned that critique partners are a great training ground in getting you and your story on the right track to the finished product.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015



Ever had a great story idea and can’t wait to tell the story? You work hard on getting those words down and the images on the page. There are notations in the manuscript to research A, B, and C and hours are spent checking the facts. There’s a good plot and some cool characters. The story makes you laugh and cry as the characters play out their story before your eyes. Finally, you type; The End. There’s a feeling of elation because you finished it, but there is also a sense of loss because the story is done.

But is it?

Realistically, you know there are some sections that will need some work and probably words that need culling. You pare it down, polish up scenes and word choices but still…something’s not right, it feels a bit choppy and so you still continue working on it. You tackle the grammar check and spelling. It’s done, right? Finally you print it off and read it.

That’s when you realize a couple of things; one, it doesn’t read smooth like published novels you’ve read in that genre and two, there are still some off spots but you can’t figure out what exactly or how to fix it. Then you tear yourself apart: you’re a horrible writer and what possessed you to think you could write a book? The published authors out there are just smarter and better writers than you. You’re about ready to throw the manuscript across the room and swear off writing. 

A couple of writing friends and I were talking about this and what we had all gone through—most before we had writing friends and critiquing readers. We learned from it. I’ve learned so much!

I learned the meaning of the term first draft. Once you’ve typed The End, it’s only the first draft of the story and going through it to clean up grammar and spelling, doesn’t make it a second draft—just a cleaner first draft. Of course it doesn’t read as smooth as a finished novel because it isn’t finished. Not really.  It hasn’t been edited by anyone other than you, the writer. And that’s when I learned, or at least began to see, what editing really meant. And the value of having experience writers or critique partners read your story.

As a writer we are too close to our work to really see all the obstacles blocking that smooth sounding story. We miss weaknesses and errors in our writing. I don’t think there is a writer out there that masters all aspects of telling a story or the writing skills needed to do so.

It taught me that there is a lot of work (not at all as much fun as the initial writing) between the first draft and the finished draft. It’s not always small stuff. It’s cutting those words and scenes you thought were so good and you start to hear terms like ‘info dump’ and ‘backstory’ which lead to the 4th draft, where I basically rewrote the first half of the book. 

But, to be a good writer and tell a good story, you need objective readers to spot where the plot or a character is weak or where the flow and tension of the story is interrupted. Or a scene is out of place or where the story actually begins (I’ve learned it’s usually a few moments before all hell breaks loose in the character’s life or the event that changes their life).

You also need thick skin.


Because the editing and critiquing process can sting the ego. Especially when you have to lose some of those lovely words or a scene (or three) you loved, which might be well written but, don't add anything to the story or dam the flow of the story.

Friday, I’ll be talking about what I've learned about objective readers (and being one) and a good editor.

  • What have you learned about the writing process after you wrote, The End, on your first draft? 
  • Was it hard to let others read your story?

Monday, February 23, 2015


We’re braced for more very cold weather. It’s been an up and down ride between cold and very, very cold weather the past two weeks. We’ve had lots of snow, over ten inches in one storm, last week and then an added inch or two in each of the several storms since. Right now, we have probably six to eight inches on the ground. It’s no longer fluffy easy to maneuver through snow. It now has a three inch crust of ice covering it. That dropped on Friday when we had thunder snow and sleet.

The weather people say thunder snow is rare. I don’t think it’s quite as rare as they say probably more a case of not being able to observe it even when they know the conditions are right for it to happen. When there is heavy snowfall accompanying thunder snow, it tends to muffle the sound of thunder (which normally can be heard five- six miles away or more, in the summer to about a mile or two in the winter) and certainly masks the flashes of lightning. When you’re directly in the storm, the thunder is loud and rolling and you definitely see all the flashes of lightning.  Very surreal to see a flash of lightning light up the backdrop white fields and ice sickles hanging from the trees.  For thunder snow to occur the air layer closer to the ground has to be warmer than the layers above, but still cold enough to create snow—a very particular set of circumstances. Snowfall rates during a thunder snow (or sleet) event can reach two inches an hour, as was the case here on Friday night.

Saturday the weather was a warm 38 degrees and turned everything a bit mushy only to freeze again in the below freezing temps of Saturday night. Sunday morning it was pretty landscape but oh, so dangerous to navigate. Poor Gidget, my Great Dane, slid right down the three steps to the yard from the patio and spun around a few times before coming to a stop about four feet away. It took her a few minutes before she could get back up and she was very careful, after that, in placing each foot in the snow. The horses were also careful in foot placement. You could hear each foot break through the snow crust. Doctari is a 1200 lb horse and even he was careful in cutting a path for the mares to follow to the feeding areas. Pretty much a single file. The cats? Pfft. They walk on top of the snow and use their claws when necessary, for traction. But they were fun to watch as they would climb the snow banks made, from shoveling the driveway, and sit on the top surveying their world and then sliding down the other side. Very deliberate and hilarious to watch.

The driveway is slick ice. Jake and his best friend have a couple of old skateboards without wheels and had a ball sliding across the ice there and trudging over to the hilly area on the property and surfed the icy snow. They had both had on their skate shoes and had a merry time sliding across the ice.  “Hey, Mom, you should try it—it’s fun.” Um no, after last year’s fiasco on the ice and totally FUBARing my shoulder, I’ll pass. If I go out it’s with good snow tread boots and I stick to the thicker snow areas where I can break through the ice for traction. All the paths the guys made are all ice right now, so those are off limits for me.

As I sit here this morning, bundled up against the cold (3 degrees), sipping my morning coffee I have to say I love the light of the early morning sun on the icy snow. I can admit it’s a beautiful landscape but I’m longing for the bright green of spring. Like tomorrow morning, please.