Editing

I Did Not Finish Reading Your Book

by Steve Laube

unfinished-books

In the past year have you started a book, fiction or non-fiction, and did not finish it? I have. Many times.

There are many reasons for this to happen. Here are a few examples:

Fiction:
I didn’t care about your characters.
The plot fizzled.
The story became ridiculous and unrealistic.
It was too easy to put down. Or in other words, it was forgettable.

Non-Fiction:
It became repetitive. I already got the point, why say it three or four different ways?
The conclusions were obvious, to the point of cliché.
The author lost focus and began to meander.
The whole book felt manufactured. As if it has been an assignment and not a passion.

What about you? Have you had a similar experience? Love to hear your comments below.

To be clear, I did not say “the book made me mad because I disagreed with the author.” In fact that is usually a good reason to finish a book so you can craft your own response to a particular position. Instead the small sampling of answers above are a reaction to poor writing craft.

As I’ve written before, every reader brings their own story to your book and thus creates their own new experience. But if the book is poorly written or poorly organized or long-winded, the reader is pulled out of the experience and the “critic cap” is put on and the book is put down.

If your book breaks the trust of its reader it will be hard to get them to read your next one. This is why agents and editors are constantly talking about the value of a well written story. Make those opening pages incredible and then sustain that genius throughout the book. Let me give you one example (among many)…

At a writer’s conference a few years ago I read the opening chapter of an aspiring and unpublished novelist and literally gasped. The craft was stunning. I met with her and during the ensuing months the author worked hard to revise the rest of the manuscript a number of times before we shopped it around. The book, Words by Ginny Yttrup, was published by the B&H Publishing Group and last year Ginny received the Christy Award for “Best New Writer.” (A few of those first pages can be found in the Look Inside feature on Amazon  or on Barnes & Noble.) It is interesting to note that the beginning pages you read in the finished book are exactly the same as the words I read that first day. Ginny had crafted them so well they remain unchanged.

I finished reading her book.

Maybe yours will be next?

 

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Dear Editors

Dear Editors:

When I first started writing, not for a letter grade in college, but in hopes of a paycheck — or at least a byline — I solicited you with many articles, devotionals, short stories, and book-length manuscripts. Each was posted with dreams of finding your favor. More often than not, you sliced those dreams with your pens of rejection.

And for that, I want to thank you.

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The Writer as Editor: More Tools to Use

There are some great quotes out there about editors and editing. For example:

“Read your own compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” Samuel Johnson

“What I have crossed out, I didn’t like. What I haven’t crossed out, I’m dissatisfied with.” Cecil B. DeMille

“From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I shall not put.” Winston Churchill

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” Shannon Hale

And my favorite:

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” Dr. Seuss

SO, how to edit your own writing? Well, we already talked about three helpful tools in my post last week. Now, let’s take a look at three more:

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The Writer as Editor: Tools to Use

As we’ve been discussing over the last few blogs, switching hats from writing to editing can be a bit…challenging. In fact, it can make you feel like your poor head is about to explode! However, you can make the process easier by following the tips from last week’s blog by not letting the editor and writer come out to play at the same time, and by giving yourself time away from the scene/chapter/manuscript you just finished.

But when you’ve done both of those, and it’s time to get into the edit, how do you make sure you catch the real issues? How do you edit your own work? This week and next, we’ll look at six tools you can use to do that with excellence and ease.

Tip #1: Accept Your Limitations. It’s a simple fact, friends: we’ll never be able to edit our own work as well as we edit others’ writing. We see so much more when we read what others have written than we tend to see in our own work. That’s normal, and it’s okay.

Tip #2: Make A Checklist Of Your Weaknesses. We all have them, those little bugaboos that slip into everything we write. Things we seem blind to when we’re writing, and can too often overlook when we’re editing. So how to be sure we’re catching the places where we’re weak?

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The Writer as Editor

As we saw in my post last week, there are any number of ways a manuscript can go wrong. Hard enough to write a novel, but then to have to dig in and edit it yourself? That’s especially tough. So here are some tips to help you be the best editor you can be.

Don’t let the editor out to play too soon

Writing and editing are very different functions for the brain. Writing is a creative process; editing, logical and detail-oriented. When writing, we need to let ourselves forget the rules and coax the story to life. When editing, we must embrace the rules as a solid foundation to help us strengthen what’s landed on the page. I’ve seen so many writers almost drive themselves crazy by trying to edit as they write, which ends up making them second-guess everything. And freezes the story in its tracks.

Puts me in mind of one of my favorite pens (pictured below). It’s a two-tip pen—black ink at one end, red at the other. The body of the pen is made of two colors of wood, one with black tones, one with red. One end for writing, the other for editing. The pen works great—so long as I only use one end at a time! Trying to edit and write at the same time would be like grabbing the pen at both ends: totally ineffectual.

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Editing 101 – My Turn

Thanks for all the great comments and conversation on what needed to be edited in the text I posted in my last blog (Editing 101 – Y0ur Turn). You all made some great observations!

Below you’ll find the edited text. I tried doing it in Track Changes, which is what I usually use to edit a manuscript, but the blog server didn’t like that much. So I’ve made the edits red (think the dreaded red pen), and highlighted my comments for the author (who happens to be me, so I don’t say in my comments what I always say to my authors: feel free to change as you wish! It’s imperative the author knows my edits are suggestions, not mandates). The comments follow the section they refer to.

Sorry if this is confusing. Ah, the joys of finding programs that play nice together.

See if you agree with what I felt were the main editing issues.

 

Sammy said it was a long time since he seen Rufus. Said the ol’ dog shoulda been home long time ago. Said somethin’ musta happened to the mutt and said it was my fault fer bein’ so stupid and not tyin’ him up when I shoulda.

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Today is a Great Day to (re)Write

by Steve Laube


James Michener, the bestselling novelist, once said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” And today is your day to follow suit.

No one knows your work or what you are trying to accomplish better than you. In that sense you can be your own best editor.

In a 1958 interview with The Paris Review Ernest Hemingway was asked,

“How much rewriting do you do?”

Hemingway replied, “It depends. I rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.”

The stunned interviewer asked, “Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?”

Hemingway said simply, “Getting the words right.”

Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, said, ““By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.”

It is the same for both fiction and non-fiction since the principles are similar.

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Editing 101 – Your Turn

I’ve had a number of writers ask me if I can show an edited page from a manuscript, so they can learn from it. So that seems a fun way to start out the New Year. But what I want to do is let YOU take a turn as an editor first. So here, for your editing pleasure, is something I wrote just for this occasion. Print this out, put on your editing hat, and go for it. I’ll post the edited text next week, so we can compare and discuss!

__________

Sammy said it was a long time since he seen Rufus. Said the ol’ dawg shoulda been home long time ago. Said somethin’ musta happent to the mutt and said it was my fault fer bein’ sew stupid and not tyin’ him up wh’n I shoulda. “Gilly, you no good” he says to me. Like he’s so good and special.

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Editorial Feedback – Not Just Static

As Steve Laube pointed out the other day in his post “The Stages of Editorial Grief” receiving a tough edit can make a writer feel off-kilter, angry, unworthy, and summon other negative emotions. Of course it’s okay to experience negative emotions. You can’t control how you feel, though you can control how you manage your feelings. As he wisely points out, the key is to overcome emotions and get to work.

Detachment

I’ve edited and been edited, but I can’t say I have ever gotten such a tough edit that I wanted to throw a Waterford vase across the room. One advantage may have been majoring in Journalism in college which groomed me never to become attached to my words. News articles are no place for waxing eloquent, opining, or philosophizing. And with loads of information available today from so many sources, readers rarely indulge fluff from any but their most beloved authors. This is why it’s best not to become attached to your words. Any of them. Don’t become too fond of your title, which will most likely be changed in the Titling meeting. Don’t treat finding new names for your characters as though the courts are petitioning you to change your child’s name. And speaking of characters, don’t develop your own love affair with any secondary characters. They may get the boot in editing. Be willing to let go of your fondest habits and pet phrases. They may seem distinctive to you, but if they annoy an editor, it’s best to listen.

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Count Your Many Phrases

We all have our pet phrases and they can inadvertently sneak their way into our manuscripts. Yesterday I came across a marvelous web site that can help you discover how often your repeat a particular phrase in your article or manuscript.

Using the Phrase Frequency Counter online, you can actually track what phrases you overuse. It is also a great way to pick out those clichés that can creep into your writing.

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