Category Archives: Editing

Are My Teeth Strong Enough?

Recently I was offered a volunteer editing job for an organization based out of Asia helping to start new churches and orphanages.

I’ve edited one newsletter so far, which took all of fifteen minutes to do. It was quite well-written, especially for someone who’s English isn’t his native language.

I was also asked how many I could edit a year, and I told them one every two weeks would be doable.

Thinking all requests would be easy like the last one.

I may have bitten off more than I could chew.

A few nights ago I received the following email (in part):

“I have a very rough story (it’s a bit difficult story). You will need to work on it to be developed into a story. What I have in the attachment is a basic story and very rough outline. Will you be able to develop it into a story? The audience will be our friends in the US. If you need to do any research on alcoholism, winter or the plight of slums, you can always do a Google search. If you need any specific information, do let me know.

But you do have full freedom to do this story. You will have to rework it completely. You have that freedom.

So how do I describe the sounds, the smells and the overall sense of a place I’ve never been? I found hundreds, if not thousands of photos of the slums, so describing the look will be easy.

To create an immersion of the place for readers will be difficult, and more than a little daunting. And not only the five senses, but the spiritual sense of the place, the despair, the anger, and sorrow. How can I capture that in such a way without being over-dramatic, but to someone who has been there can say, “She got it right.”

I’ve never sat down and consciously prayed before I wrote anything. I just wrote. In this case, however, I will have to pray quite hard before a single word is typed, because I don’t think I can write this on my own — and have it be believable, and honest.

I’m writing, after all, about real people in real circumstances. To over-dramatize or change their life story to fit my idea of what it should be is the height of disrespect, both to the people who live it, and the readers who want to know the truth of what happened, and is happening.

Surprise, surprise, surprise

If anyone knows where that line came from, it only proves how old you are.

Truthfully (as if I lie to my own blog), I am a bit surprised. For the last several months, I’ve felt God pulling me to research publishers and agents and get my query letter written.

I fought him a bit, like I always do. Part of it was lack of confidence. I haven’t written anything in a while (legal descriptions for my job not included), and I feel woefully out of practice.

Nevertheless, I finally gave in to God’s urgings and spent a few days researching.

In a word: Ugh. My novel is not in a genre largely accepted by CBA or ABA publishers. That’s the challenge I accepted when writing a Christian Science Fiction book; I knew it would be a hard sell from the beginning.

Still, I found one agent and one publisher possibility. Not a lot, but it’s better than nothing. I admit to teeth-gritting-until-I-got-a-headache frustration when researching publishers/agents and so many said “no science fiction.”

It’s enough to make a person throw up the hands and go Indie.

I have thought long and hard about the possibility. After all, I did publish “A Reason to Hope” through Amazon. Truth is, I simply don’t want to spend so much money and time doing it all myself.

The next step was to tackle the query letter — my one true writing fear. How does one boil a book down to a single page and make it sound interesting? After all, it took me almost five years just to come up with a title that I thought sounded good.

Because work was slow today, and it being a Friday, I decided to go home early and attempt writing a query letter. Less than an hour later, it was done, and to be quite honest, I like how it turned out.

Part of it was I let go. I shut out the internal editor and those horrific voices pounding at the back of my head telling me what a talentless fraud I am.

A little prayer helped, too.

That’s the awesome thing about God. Sometimes it takes but a small step toward him and his goal for us, and he smooths out the trail ahead.

A little praise is in order.

The work is not done, though. Not only does the agent I’m submitting to first require a query letter and synopsis, but a chapter-by-chapter outline. That shouldn’t take but a few days. Once it’s written I will set it aside for a while. A fresh eye always results in finding sometimes glaring mistakes.

Then comes the most difficult part: sending it off.

Once that’s done, it’s out of my hands and success or failure depends how well I sell my book through the . . .

Don’t you hate it when you forget the absolute perfect word? I just did that!

Dang it.

Anyway, to get back on track . . .

It’s the simple act of placing 26 letters in the right order that will either pique their interest and ask for more or they will send a terse email saying, “Thanks but no thanks.”

But one cannot succeed without first taking risks.

What? It’s Not Perfect?

I read a while back that to help gain interest of publishers and agents, a writer should have endorsements from other authors. Taking that advice, I asked Amy Deardon if she’d be willing to write me one for “Traitors,” but only if she felt it was good enough. I also asked if she found any boo-boos to let me know.

She kindly agreed.

A few days ago she mentioned there was a consistent mistake I’m making that’s reducing the tension in my story, and she would explain what it was if I wanted her to.

She emailed me back today and said that although she is enjoying the book, she’s found a consistent mistake that reduces the tension, but that it was a big enough problem it would take some work to fix it. My response was to email her back and nearly beg her to tell me. it’s not mere curiosity, but a fidget-in-my-chair eagerness to know what that is.

It’s funny how I no longer tense in horror at the possibility of criticism, or even take the blows with quiet grace. Instead I’m banging at the proverbial door for it.

Does that make me a glutton for punishment, a slight case of masochism?

Or perhaps I want to see my novel as perfect as can be before it’s released into the public.

Soon (I hope) I will have yet another editing project to add to my list.

In the meantime (so I’m not checking my email every three minutes for the author’s advice), I’m going to continue on with my Nanonovel.

From the Just ‘Cuz Files:

I’ve decided to reduce my inventory of “A Reason to Hope” by offering it at a 55% discount. See my Products page for more info.

My Strongest Weakness

Is that an oxymoron?

I’ve always known my greatest weakness as a writer is description. Dialog I could write all day, and I’m comfortable writing action sequences.

Describing the sights, sounds and smells, on the other hand? Blech.

When “Traitors” finalled in the 2010 ACFW Genesis Contest, I was supposed to receive the final scoring from each of the three judges. I completely forgot about it until the contest coordinator emailed them to me this morning. Her life had some upheaval including a pregnancy, so she also forgot until today.

She attached the overall scoring of “Traitors” including the judges’ comments.

One contained a score of 81 (the lowest score). Comments included a question about whether the “. . . CBA is ready for this type of futuristic.” The short answer is “no” unfortunately. As for the story it had “a good strong opening, then it dragged.” Characterization was good, conflict excellent and dialog good.

No arguments on any of those.

Second judge gave it a score of 91 with only one comment: “Definitely a good read and a fast read. I was sad to come to the end of the sample — I wanted more!”

Every author wants to hear those words!

The third judge was a bit more thorough. He/she gave “Traitors” an overall score of 93. Added to the score sheet was the 15-page sample along with specific comments to the story itself.

Most of them focused on small continuity problems such as the main character calling another one simply “a woman” then a few paragraphs later he recognized her with no explanation as to how.

The judge also pointed out several instances of telling where I stop the story to explain something. And here I thought I eliminated most of it. Darn it. (I know I’m telling here, but adding specific examples would take too long. Instead click HERE for the 15-page excerpt and comments if’n you’re curious). Also, the excerpt in question has since been revised since the contest. The first part has since been taken out and moved to a prologue although I haven’t decided to keep even that, because I’m not a huge fan of prologues.

The judge pointed out more than once that “Traitors” is missing a lot of description, a failing I’ve known about for a long time. In fact as I’m rewriting my current WIP I’m concentrating on adding a lot more details.

Part of a writer’s responsibility is plunging the reader into our story world. Without setting description how will the reader know if they are sitting in a comfortable living room or standing on a frigid street corner? I know, more telling, but you get the point I’m sure.

Considering the comments, I’m tempted to set aside “The Red Dagger,” and applying the suggestions to “Traitors.” The problem is it’s still at Marcher Lord Press. Would it be better to wait until I hear a yea or nea on publication with them, or go ahead with the changes regardless of the outcome? Or perhaps let the publisher know what I’m doing and ask if he’d be willing to look at a revised version, especially if he’s not even looked at my submission, yet?

I’m leaning toward adding the missing details and work on the other issues the judge mentioned for no other reason than they’re fresh in my mind. I’ve got nothing to lose either way. On the other hand, I could use the practice on adding description. If I do it enough, perhaps I won’t dislike it so much. I may even get good at it.

Definitely a good read and a fast read. I was sad to come to the end of the sampleā€”I wanted more!

You mean I get paid?

I finished the magazine edits on Thursday. At the end, only one article needed more help than I could give it. In fact if I were the editor of a paying magazine I would have sent back a rejection. The rest were fun reads overall, and I learned quite a bit from each one. I was pleased most of the articles needed little editing by way of the technical side, and one didn’t need a single edit, grammatical or otherwise. That was refreshing.

After I completed the edits and moved them to the proper online folder, I sent an email to the Editor in Chief to let him know I finished.

He emailed me back thanking me and asked me to send him an invoice for $250. My response was, “You mean I get paid?” Considering the magazine is free to subscribers and the writers don’t get paid for their submissions, I assumed the editing was also volunteer.

The editor did add I could contribute my services for free if I wanted, because it would affect my year-end taxes.

You may be surprised that I did think about it. Part of it was due to, what if they no longer want me to continue the technical edits because I want to be paid for it?

On the other hand, if my services are worth anything — that I did them well — then they won’t mind paying me.

So were my edits worth the $250? In the end, yes. And since they offered, I doubt they’s begrudge me for taking the money. In fact, I found my name and email on the home page of the AUGIWorld website, so they definitely appreciate my efforts and expect me to continue.

Plus it’s one more thing to add to my writing resume.

The timing could not be more perfect. We’re trying to spend as much time as possible with my dad, and adding in the traveling, gas and motels, the costs are getting up there. The $250 will go a long way in alleviating some of the monetary burden.

Thank you, God.

Because I can’t help myself!

I recently offered my services as Technical Editor for the CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) magazine entitled AUGIWorld (AUGI stands for Autodesk User Group International). I’ve written two articles for them so far. With no article ideas when the Editor In Chief asked for them as of late, I jumped at the opportunity when he asked for help with technical editing.

Basically my job is to go through the articles and make sure they make sense from a technical standpoint such as software command structure.

Grammar and such I don’t need to worry about, because that’s another person’s job. But I can’t help myself! Of the three I looked at so far, I found minimal grammatical errors on the first two (I still corrected them). The third article tended to not only be wordy, but extremely long sentences. And I thought I wrote long sentences. Oy.

To not tighten up the entire article is like asking me to ignore a chocolate cake sitting in front of me. Again: Oy.

I managed to restrain myself except for the more glaring errors such as using the incorrect word.

Some words of advice:

  1. Do not depend on your software’s spell check. It will not find words used incorrectly such as to, two and too.
  2. Read your work out loud. Some people balk at this, but if you tend toward long sentences this is important. As you read, you will naturally take a breath at the appropriate spot. If there isn’t a period there, add one.
  3. Read a hard copy. A lot of times what is missed on the screen will be found on paper. Don’t ask me why that is. It just is.

Since most of you write, those tidbits are more “Well, duh!” than anything else. Nevertheless, I needed to vent.

Let’s hope the other five articles don’t tempt the Grammar Nazi in me as much.

Making the Words Disappear

The hardest part about writing isn’t coming up with a good story. It’s not even the sitting down to write it or editing later.

It’s making the words disappear. How can we when we’re concentrating so hard on structure, grammar, proper wordage, etc? As writers we’re supposed to see every word on that page, whereas as readers, we’re supposed to ignore them.

Which is why experienced writers say, “If you can easily point out a favorite paragraph or phrase in your story, it likely shouldn’t be there.” When something jars the reader away from the story, such as a florid statement (unless it’s said by a character — and the statement is within character), it might take a while for the reader to get back into the story. Or worse, the reader will set the book down.

So on the one hand, we need to be aware of every word on the page, yet at the same time make them disappear.

Here’s where a good story comes into play. If it’s intriguing, the characters likable and sympathetic, and not too much backstory/narrative to drag it down, then the reader won’t care about the grammar, sentence structure, et al.

Do I have any sage advice to make that happen? Not really, except write from the heart as well from the head. Don’t try to copy another writer’s voice, and don’t try to follow writing rules to the letter. Study proper grammar, etc., but also don’t be afraid to break those rules. If we follow them too stringently, our writing will appear stilted and dry.

I actually miss the days when I started writing and didn’t know a thing about it. Writing then was like finger painting to a child. It’s messy, there are no rules, and I could let my imagination run wild.

Now I’m overly concerned about whether or not my story is intriguing, my writing is above average, and the plot (and subplots) are strong enough to grab hold of a reader’s attention from the first page through to the last.

Ah, to be a kid again.

Then again, knowing that, perhaps I could convince myself that I’m writing for the mere fun of it, and not necessarily for public dissemination. Let my imagination go nuts in a sandbox of words.

Besides, the best part about writing is that it can always be fixed later.

What’s My Purpose?

Is writing — or more accurately — seeking publication my true dream and passion?

I question that because I keep putting off writing and editing. I instead content myself with reading and watching television (admittedly more of the latter).

To help motivate myself, I picked up James Scott Bell’s “Plot & Structure.” He recommends all writers should write a statement of purpose to get motivated to write and improve their craft.

His statement was worded thusly: “Today I resolve to take writing seriously, to keep going and never stop, to learn everything I can and make it as a writer.”

I could easily copy that as my own, because at this moment I don’t take my writing seriously.

I’m procrastinating my time away, and if I don’t change my habits soon I will find there is no more time left to waste, or to write let alone get my stories published.

Another consideration is my goal to the reader. What do I want to say? Do I merely want to entertain or convey a message?

As a Christian I could easily say I want to either bring others to Christ or draw them nearer. A worthy goal, I suppose, but it seems to broad and even trite.

Jesus told stories to make a point, each one geared to a specific audience with a specific need.

I need to also to determine my audience and with God’s help determine and satisfy their needs. I can then wrap my story around it. I believe I succeeded with my novella “A Reason to Hope.”

My audience is the Christian who condemns the homosexual. My message was not to judge. We are all sinners and whatever the specific sin is each one of us commits is largely irrelevant. Our job is to show Christ’s love and sacrifice that we may be deemed righteous in God’s eyes no matter what we’ve done.

Did I succeed? I know of one person for certain it touched in a positive way. As for others, I don’t know, and that, too, is largely irrelevant. I wrote the story and sent it out for others to read. How it touches them is in God’s hands.

If I no longer write, edit, and send out my novels for others to read, then how can I convey the message or messages that ache to be heard?

I’ve said it countless times — it’s easy to dream, not so easy to make it come true.

I admit I’m terrified to make my dream of publication true. With a successful publication of my book comes the expectation of more, and better, novels. On a deadline no less. I don’t have enough confidence in my abilities to meet those expectations.

It’s one of those things I need to give to God and ask for help.

And have faith that he’ll deliver.

I must continue to remember:

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

(2 Timothy 1:7)

Why I Hate Fishing

Although I have a few good fish stories, fishing was never my thing. I don’t have the patience to spend five minutes baiting a hook then three hours waiting for a fish to come along. Sure, there’s the more active fishing where the arms wear out from constantly tossing out a line and reeling it back in.

Only to find some fish came along and stole the bait.

Other times, the fish couldn’t care less about my little offering.

I figured out there’s another form of fishing I despise. Well, not the fishing so much, but the bait. I can’t seem to come up with a good hook for “Traitors.” An author who will be attending the conference offered to give advice on hooks. I presented two iterations, and both left her befuddled.

The author basically said why would anyone care about the protagonist who’s an assassin? What makes her the protagonist? In the second shot, I added that my protagonist is telepathic, but again that didn’t do much for the hook. The author asked why the telepathy is important? Does it help or hurt the protagonist?

How can I answer that in one 25-word-maximum sentence?

I’ve written so many one-two sentence hooks I couldn’t begin to count them. At one point I got so frustrated I wanted to throw my hands up and say, “I quit! It’s not worth attempting to get published if I’m this stressed over one teensie sentence.”

As with all temper tantrums, however, I gave myself a moment (or fifty) to calm down. I purged on an electronic notebook, and was able to come up with what, I hope, is something better. Although I’m more than a little nervous to ask the author to give it one more look. I don’t think I could take the disappointment.

Today anyway. Tomorrow? Who knows.

I’ll give you a chance to weigh in, however. Tell me, does this pique your interest?

Given a Bible by a man she’s about to kill, a telepathic assassin discovers God’s forgiveness. However, redemption demands she betray her friends and a military who considers her more weapon than human being.

Not quite the 25 word sentence, but that’s as far as I could get with this frustrated brain.

Did I mention I hate fishing?

Planning Ahead

There are three advantages to not having published (traditionally) a single book:

1. No expectations.

By others, that is. I don’t have to worry about my words offending or pleasing anyone.

2. No deadlines.

If I don’t feel like writing one day (or year), I don’t have to. Unless, of course, my muse starts pounding on the back of my head to get to it.

3. No need to brainstorm ideas.

Once a writer signs a contract with a publisher, it’s usually for multiple books, and the writer is expected to churn out about one book a year.

Writing my first book was a dream. I spent a mere three months pounding out 103k words. The sequel I wrote a year later, and it took me only six months to write 130k words.”The Red Dagger” took a month to write 2/3 of it since it was my first national novel writing month effort. I then spent another three months finishing it. All three came to me with a flash of insight, so it felt more like dictation than actual writing.

Since then I’ve tried writing three other novels. None are finished. I can’t seem to bring out the passion to write them as I did my first three. Where are those flashes of insight? Or are they there, but buried deep within a pile of too-high expectations?

So thinking ahead, how can I meet the possible requirements of a publisher with one book a year?

Believe it or not, I think I can do it. Sometimes I merely need an outside source to push me to complete a project. Coming up with a good idea, however, proves to be the biggest challenge. Writing it comes in a close second.

For that reason alone, I admire authors who can continuously write one novel a year, and see a good portion of them succeed.

I’d love to be one of those.