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Paying the Fiddler and being the Juggler…

I’ve considered myself a full time professional writer since May of 2015. I have run my own publishing company since early 2016. I have learned a lot about these endeavors and I’m still learning more…

One of the things that you learn over time (you might intellectually know it, but you don’t really learn it until you get there yourself…) is that I can’t do everything. Sometimes you have to do it yourself. Sometimes you might be better off hiring it done. Sometimes you need to set something down for a while (or just write it off completely!). The key is finding balance in your life and what you do.

I for one am still learning that balance in one form or another, and I’m still adapting and growing. One of the ways that I’m choosing to adapt at this time is that I’m going to shift how I do the blogs…

As some readers know I’ve been doing two blogs my personal blog Words Mean Stuff, and my professional blog at Forever Mountain Publishing. And, some of you know that there has been some cross over between them. Some crossover makes sense, but I’m trying to refine what each blog is.

I am also trying to manage my time better so that can keep the blogs going, keep the books coming, revise my website, keep up with the social media stuff (really need to do better on that), keep the business side of the business in view, and maybe even see my family once in a while.

So, one of the ways I’m going to do this is as of next week I’m going to put the blogs out on alternating weeks. For example, next week I will put out a post on WMS; the following week I will put out a post on FMP. Hopefully this distribution helps me stay in contact with my readers, generate better posts, and get the other things done that I need to do as an author and business owner.

Life and writing are a balancing act dear reader. And we all have to work out that balance for ourselves.

That’s it for this week dear reader, see you next post.

Summer Holiday

As people may or may not recall, about 242 years ago next Wednesday a group of colonists put their lives and sacred honor on the line by signing a document called The Declaration of Independence. This action, this one event, was a critical moment in the chain of events that leads us to where we are in the world today. In honor of this event, and the upcoming federal holiday, we at Forever Mountain Publishing will be taking a little time off.

Thank you dear reader for being a reader of this blog. We’ll see you in two weeks!

Team Oxford Comma?

I know… It would sound weird to my younger self too, but the deeper I go into writing and editing I’m gaining an appreciation for the Oxford comma.

Once, as a youngster, I learned that that comma before an ‘and’ in lists really wasn’t necessary. It was optional and something the old guys did, so I didn’t use it. That approach works just fine if you only worry about eggs, bread and milk…

But, what if you get into lists that are longer? What if you want to put things that are actually interesting into your list?

If you want to talk about red flowers, jewels that shine like the moon, the smell of mature pecan trees, and the fine sand of a South Georgia beach, then that Oxford comma actually becomes more appropriate and important.

The Oxford comma, along with commas that went to less prestigious universities (and yes even that one that just got its GED…), are used to help parse sentences and add clarity. They help break things up in such a way that you can figure out what the %^&^&%^&%#$#@$#@%$#@$@$!!!! the author is saying. No, you probably don’t need it in simple sentences and lists with single word items, but if you want to add clauses to a sentence, or use conjunctions, or use parentheticals without the parentheses, then you probably want to ‘open up a pack of comas’.

The point of the thing is clarity in your writing, and big complicated sentences call for commas. And, that means big complicated lists need that Oxford comma. It really does make things clearer; except when it doesn’t…

Sometimes, when you’re making those big complicated lists, you want to create a list of things that already have commas in them. That is when you dig out another old and misunderstood friend of mine, the semicolon.

If you are making a list of items like: military uniforms, in a range of colors and camouflage patterns; fireworks, including bottle rockets and smoke bombs; lunch bags, preferably with cartoon characters printed on them; and all the other things you need for the new school year, you really need something to help break up and simplify that list. This time even the Oxford comma can’t save you (it is well educated, but it’s not a miracle worker…). This time you need to add another punctuation mark to help organize your list.

I know. I know. There are things a lot more fun than punctuation out there, and punctuation has all these fiddly little rules… But, when you’re a writer the point is to write in ways that help your reader get the point; to write in ways that help him or her to understand what the #%#%$#^#$^#^#!!! you’re saying.

And dear reader, that’s why we do it. That is why we spend so much time sweating the details of punctuation in our writing.

And that’s why I’m finding myself on team Oxford comma. Just like any of us, I would really like to be understood.

Thanks for reading today. Keep those sentences straight. And, I’ll see you next post!

Editorial Choices…

As always I’m working on a couple of my own writing projects. At the same time my wife and I have been working on some editing projects to help a couple of other writers. This has all gotten me thinking about the choices I can make and actions I can take as an editor…

You can’t dictate everything…

You can’t. Ultimately the individual piece is the author’s piece. You can help shape that piece. You can help refine that piece. You can help the author make it better. But, what you can’t do, is take it away from the author completely (obviously we’re not talking about the whole copy right/rights to the characters can of worms (we can talk about that another day but not right now…)).

In a lot of ways being an editor is to be an assistant. In a lot of ways being an editor is like being a teacher. You are guiding and supporting an author in the process of creating a work. You can put in a lot of work, and you should be rewarded for it. But the person who had the idea and did the writing needs her/his own reward as well (it was his or her baby!).

In this side of things you can advise, but you can’t dictate. You are helping the writer to create and improve a piece of writing that ultimately belongs to its author. If you try to take it away then you’re going to have issues (we’re back to that copy right thing again…).

There are choices you can make.

If your author comes seeking advice, or asks for your input, you can certainly give both.

If your author asks “should I do ‘A’ or ‘B’?” It’s kind of your job as an editor to give the best answer you can.

You can choose what advice to give. You can choose how to give it (actually it’s often a good idea to discuss and even negotiate what kind of advice your giving and how BEFORE you start working together).

You can choose to say “one or both of us need to think on this some more”, or even “Let’s bring someone else in on this”.  There are good reasons for making these choices actually. Some things need more thought and planning. Sometimes you really do need to hand things off to, or enlist the aid of, someone else.

What’s an example of that last one? Here are a few…

My author client wants support in telling a good story. I can do that!

My author wants advice on how to present statistics in a piece. I can do that (I’ve tutored doctoral students in stats and written scientific papers…)

My author wants advice on how best to portray a bisexual Latina living on the U.S. Mexico border. Umm… Let me call in a friend from back when I was at San Diego State. In this case it’s not that I’m unwilling, it’s just that I happen to know someone with a much better skill set for that particular need.

An author (I won’t call this one mine…) contacts me to work on a piece entitled “ALL WHITE MEN ARE RACISIT SEXIST HOMOPHOBIC BIGOTS AND SHOULD BE SHOT OFF INTO THE SUN!!!!!!!”. This time I’m actually going to decline to work on the piece. I can sense right off the bat that there will be some problems in working on this one and I’m not the right person to work with this author (if nothing else the fact that the presented title is in all caps is a bit of a red flag…).

There are choices you can and should make…

Even though I come from the school that says “don’t take the piece from the author”, there are choices you can and should make.

You can, and should, make choices about who you work with. If you can see that the author in question is going to be a headache (or from the author side if you can see the editor is going to be a headache); then why would you choose to work with that person. If there’s not a compelling reason, then you might want to seek another partnership. And money alone isn’t compelling enough (for me at least!)

You can make choices about how you work with the person. One of the concepts we learn about in the seven habits of highly effective people is the idea of the win-win scenario. It might be a good idea to find ways to make your author/editor interactions win-win (from either position why are you going into this if you’re expecting to lose?).

And then there are some bigger ‘special case’ decisions…

So far most of what I’ve said has had to do with helping an author with a piece; you’re part of a team working to create something and make it the best that it can be. But, there is another hat that editors occasionally wear; being an editor you occasionally also serve in the role of publisher.

As an editor (and chief editor at that!) I try not to take my authors projects away from them. I’m not going to demand that they change the main character from a male to a female and species reassign the sidekick to be a bottle nosed dolphin. But at the same time if I’m going to be the one to publish the work, that does give me more of a say. The author can choose to write what he or she wants, but just because somebody wrote it doesn’t mean I have to publish it!

The difference is that when one steps from the role of editor to the roll of publisher one is transitioning from helping someone else to tell her/his story to actually using one’s own resources to put that story out to the world. Now that we’re talking about publishing I’m in a place where it is my name and reputation on the line as well.

What you write says something about you. What I publish says something about me.

(That’s why “ALL WHITE MEN ARE RACISIT SEXIST HOMOPHOBIC BIGOTS AND SHOULD BE SHOT OFF INTO THE SUN!!!!!!!” ain’t getting published at my company. It’s a message I don’t agree with and I’m not going to be forced to put my name on it. But, if the author feels like going somewhere else to publish it and that person/group chooses to publish it, then the fall out is their problem…)

I’m not for taking away anyone’s free speech (that would negatively impact my business), but at the same time I don’t have to give up my free speech by allowing people to use my company to say things that I can’t ethically agree with.

Summing it all up…

So there it is dear reader… Editors shouldn’t try to take away a writer’s work, or mutilate it in ways the author doesn’t agree with. But, at the same time, it is kind of the editor’s job to do his or her level best to help the projects he/she chooses to pick up become truly excellent.

Editors and writers can and should choose partners/coworkers that they can actually work with in an amicable way. And both need to work together to make the piece really good.

No matter what else happens, no one in the relationship: writer, editor, or publisher really has the right to force someone else to say something she/he/whatever else doesn’t agree with.

So that’s it for this one dear reader. Choose people to work with who will actually help the work to go forward, and don’t try to bully folks just because you don’t agree. And of course…

See you next post!

Lessons learned from editing and commentary

Yep, I’ve been quiet on the blog for a little longer that I intended, but things have been busy…

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been working hard on helping a client get his doctoral dissertation into shape for his defense and for eventual publication. It’s been hard enough going that I even slowed down on some of my other writing and editing projects to give that one more attention.

I’ve also recently reconnected with the cartoon series Galaxy Rangers, something that I loved when it originally aired, but hadn’t seen for a while.

I have learned something about my own writing, and the writing of others, in both of these processes.

One of the reasons that we as writers should share with others, and one of the reasons we should actively partake in the genres we work in, is that we learn things as we are seeing and reading the work of others. In working on my client’s stuff I recognized that he occasionally has the same issues I do with making nonfiction stuff too wordy and ‘hemming and hawing’ at parts he’s uncomfortable with. Recognizing these behaviors in his writing makes me more conscious and aware of the same problems in my own work. Helping him figure out his issues helps me work on my own.

The same thing happened with Galaxy Rangers… I realized one of the flaws in my old favorite series was that they kind of rushed things and expanded the universe, and the cast, too quickly. It’s ok to have ideas for a vast universe, but if you’re spitting them out there before you can finish figuring them out that can lead to problems. And, even if you have them completely figured out you might want to pace things so that your reader/viewer has time to learn and get invested.

Now, that’s not to say that you need to move at a snail’s pace! In both cases it is about reader expectations. Whether you are doing fiction or non-fiction you need to work on pacing that works for your reader and you want to develop a voice that is confident where your reader wants/needs confidence, and is speculative when the time is right for speculation.

I can do these things dear reader. You can do these things dear reader! One of the best tools we have to develop these talents and figure out how to meet the challenges in our own writing is to help other people edit there stuff, and to analyze the work that other writers and directors have done and learn from their achievements and mistakes.

Writing isn’t usually done in a vacuum. Successful writing isn’t generally just done for the author her/himself. Because our writing is intended to reach and communicate with other people it helps us to look at the writing and communicating others do. It helps if we really analyze that writing and communication and learn what it has to teach us.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Get out there and read, write, learn, and live… And I’ll see you next post!

New projects

I’ve said we’re going to do and talk about some new stuff here and we talked about one last week. This week we’ve got another one that I hadn’t quite expected to be announcing.

Within the last week or so we have taken on a couple of new editing projects. On my side of the office I am helping a man true up, polish up and clarify his doctoral dissertation. On the other side of the office Dr. Kidder (my wife not my dad…) is working with a woman who wants to publish some quilting patterns.

Um Farangian you nut… I think you have that backwards…

Nope, I don’t… the guy with ‘just’ a masters is working on the dissertation because that project is more my skill set as a writer/editor for the word stuff. The craft project is getting the Dr. Kidder treatment because that one needs more of an instructional design touch.

The funny part is FMP is helping on the editing for these projects but we’re not the ones publishing them.

So why are we doing it?

Well dear reader, it’s because we like to encourage good ideas and truth no matter what the source. Sometimes it is more important to help good ideas to get out there; to help propagate knowledge; than it is to be the one inventing or discovering that knowledge. My wife and I get to do a lot of the inventing and discovering part and this is a chance to help others do the same. That’s part of what we’re about here.

The schedule is pretty full for the moment dear reader, but if you have something you want help with send me an email and if we can’t help out we might just know someone who can!

That’s it for this one dear reader.

Keep learning.

Keep writing.

And, I’ll see you next week.

Well dear reader we’re at one of those ‘fun’ points in the universe. And this time it really is going to be fun.

Within the last week or two I’ve finished a major editing pass on my second novel (it’s out for other people to chew on as we speak…); I’m finding myself in a new and exciting world of equipment maintenance (Yes I can actually replace a hard drive… But now I have this weird little nylon buffer that sort of decided to be a three piece set…), and I’ve been asked to be an assistant den leader for the local Cub scout pack. It is a time of finishing old projects and picking up new ones (including a few projects I’ve tabled for one reason or another).

One of the projects I’m starting on is a book about making your own ‘beach’ glass and using it in art projects. And…I’m asking you to join me!

Here’s the plan… I’m writing most of the book and making a bunch of cool glass in the process. What I’m asking you to do is accept some of the glass and try making something with it. The glass and the something are yours to keep, all I’m asking in return are a few pictures and answers to a couple of easy questions.

DSCN2265

Basically the last chapter of the book is a show and tell chapter where the stuff you make can be showcased and some of your thoughts and experiences can be expressed (naturally you get credit for all of your creations!).

This is the offer dear reader, you get some pretties, the chance to play, and the chance to show off what you made. I get to finish my book and the opportunity to share some of the goodies piling up in my workshop.

As far as kinds of projects…I’m open to anything: Jewelry, mixed media art, painted glass, diorama/miniature stuff, or anything else you want to try using some of this glass with. It’s all on the table dear reader.

If you’re interested, if you like playing with stuff and want some pretties to play with, contact me at Forevermountainpub@gmail.com and we’ll go over the specifics.

Play is a good thing dear reader, and I’m offering you a chance to join in my play.

If you want to play shoot me an email. Either way I’m going to have some fun! And, I’ll see you next post.

Keyboards and pruning shears

Some people might not see how yard work ties in with the writing process, but it does. It’s not just in some strange scene or subgenre, and it’s not because I’m more or less always thinking about writing.

Step one planning and prep.

Sometimes you get really really lucky and a plant or story grows where you want it to without you having to do anything. But, in a lot of those case the ‘volunteer’ plant or story happens a side effect of what you or some other living creature has already done.

It happens but it’s not something that can be counted on to happen as often as we might like.

Usually we have to do some planning, to decide what we want to plant (or write) and how we want to go about it, both step wise and organization wise. This can include sketches, story boards, outlines, or whatever other planning tools you see fit. What matters is you figure out what you want to put where and have a plan that makes it possible.

It is also a good idea to do some fertilization. In the yard that means getting needed nutrients into the ground. In writing it means doing some reading and research. In either case it means you’re making sure your seed (story or plant) has what it needs to grow.

Sometimes you get lucky and a cool plant or story ‘just happens’. Most of the time you have to put in the initial work before the ‘magic’ really happens.

Step two growth

Hopefully our prework has gone well and our little seed starts to take off. The job at this point has a lot to do with making sure our seedling continues to have what it needs. In this first phase of growth (that’s a first draft for your fiction and nonfiction writing) a lot of what we are doing is trying to get the seedling to grow big and strong enough that we can start shaping it the way we want it, shaping it so that it can grow into what we want and start producing for us.

Usually we don’t’ want to do too much tinkering at this point, but the time is coming!

Step three training and pruning

And then the day comes that our first draft is finished. Our seedling story or plant is ready to start the process of being shaped and managed into what it needs to be in order to achieve the maximal, most beautiful and productive, success.

There is a lot going on at this point. We need to be filling holes caused by pesky gophers or plot points we missed; adding more fertilizer, protective chemicals, and other needed things (researching that one arcane point that’s suddenly important); and, possibly most scary, pruning.

Pruning isn’t a whole lot of fun. My roses have thorns that just love to stick me when I’m trimming. It hurts just as bad to accept that I need to trim out that bit of text or side character that I really like.

The truth is, if the bit doesn’t belong there or is going to cause problems it is best to cut it. Pruning helps get rid of sick, dying or otherwise problematic material that hinders the growth and productivity of our plants and our stories.

But, we don’t want to just trim willy-nilly. We need to put real thought into what to cut and what to keep. We don’t want to kill the best growth to get at one wonky stick…

Often when you’re working on the roses you need to get near and far views before you cut. This applies in writing as well: there comes a point where you need distance. Often in writing this distance comes from someone on the outside, someone who isn’t the writer (or even the main editor), someone who can read the thing and give you feedback to help you know if you are achieving the effect you want.

A bountiful harvest

Hopefully the plants and stories we nurture will reward us for our labors. They may do this with beauty, fruits and veggies, prestige, or even good old cash money. If this is what we want (and you know it is…) we have to put in work before the seed hits the soil or the pen hits the paper. And then we have to continue the process right up to the moment of harvest (and even do the finish work after…).

We can do this, but it takes time and effort. With plants and pages we need to develop our skills: our ‘eye’ to see; our understanding of techniques and subject matter; our ability to do the work; and all the things that are needed for success. Developing these things is what separates the winners from the losers at the state fair and the best seller list.

We can do this dear reader. It takes effort. It takes study and thought. But, we can do this.

Now get out there and do! (and I’ll see you next post)

Understand your purpose…

One of the big things that we are often told as writers is “know your audience” and it’s true when you’re writing you need to know who you’re speaking to. Another thing we need to think about is why we’re writing. For that matter it’s a good idea to keep track of why we’re doing anything we’re doing as writers.

Case and point…

The post you’re reading right now (the one I’m writing at the moment…) should have been done already. It should have been in my computer and ready to be reviewed and then posted before lunch today. But then life happened…

Shortly after I got into my office today I had the side thought “Hey, let’s try one more time to see if we can get that computer to boot from the optical drive”…

Well, it did! And then I spent the rest of the morning messing with installing the OS, and getting it into the right position on my desk so that I could connect the network cable, and downloading software (actually that last one is still going on…).

Yes, I’m still installing software as I’m writing this… So, how am I doing that and writing this?

Simple… I’m writing this on my other computer (you know the one that was already set up and running that I should have been working on…).

I should have been done with this post hours ago, but I let myself get sidetracked by other things that I ‘should’ (read that as ‘other things that I want to do’…).

Now don’t get me wrong. Getting the other computer working is a good thing. It helps me get more stuff done and will be better for some of the video work I need to do. But, futzing around with it when I should be writing kind of put me behind schedule and means my whole day is off.

The schedule problem is fixable (I found a couple of work arounds during lunch), but what if it had been something worse? What if I missed the old income tax deadline because I was futzing? What if I was working on an educational piece and skewed more into entertainment territory. What if I was intending to write something entertaining and skewed off into arcane detail that might be educational but nobody really cares about?

When you forget your purpose, why you’re doing what you’re doing, it can easily land you in trouble.

Micro and macro levels…

And while we’re at it you have to remember your purpose on a couple of levels. In the case of my pc I knew exactly why I was doing some of that futzing. I wanted the %#@$##$# program to work the way I’m used to! Unfortunately I was losing sight of the bigger purpose of being a writer/publisher who provides interesting and informative content to my readers.

In the heat of the moment working on my other PC I got wrapped up in the minutia of what I was doing and forgot to think about why I was doing it. If I had remembered that I might have moved on to other programs instead of fighting with the one that was being troublesome. Or better yet I might have quit mucking around and got some writing done!

It honestly works both ways. You have to keep your eye on the big picture, on why you’re doing what you’re doing. And you also have to keep your eye on the details of what you’re doing at the moment.

Ever gotten an email, text, whatever that made reference to an attachment or link and then found that there was no attachment or link to use? Yeah, that person should have paid more attention to the details…

Forgetting the ‘minor’ details for the ‘greater’ purpose can be just as bad as getting lost in the minutia. We really have to remember what our purposes are and keep an eye on both levels if we really want to get anywhere.

This isn’t just a ‘writing thing’

It really isn’t dear reader. Keeping an eye on our purpose is a life thing not just a writing thing.

As business persons we need to keep in mind that writing is a business and keep our purposes for the writing project, or whatever we’re doing, in mind.

As human beings need to keep an eye on why we’re doing any of this. If our real goals center around our family and being there for them, then why are we stuck in the office so much? If our real goal is to tell the story we’ve always wanted to tell, then why are we wasting our time downloading grocery apps?

I love writing.

I encourage others to be writers too.

But we really need to keep our focus on why we’re doing what we’re doing. We need to remember our objectives and purposes and make sure that what we are doing is supporting them.

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you next week.

Be willing to be wrong

From the moment we are born (and some will argue even before that…) we are always learning, adjusting, and adapting….

Well, we are doing those things as long as we don’t mess it up for ourselves.

How do we do that? We’re human, we tend to invent new ways as we go. But, there are some pretty standard options. One of the most common is being afraid of being wrong.

Nobody likes to be wrong

It’s a general fact dear reader. We don’t usually like to be wrong.

Occasionally we are pleasantly surprised and something turns out better than we hoped, but for the most part being wrong isn’t fun.

It’s a matter of perception and perspective. We are generally invested in being right. We have put time and energy into learning, thinking, and believing a certain way. And being wrong means a loss.

We have put in the time and energy to learn, think and do and it turns out we didn’t get what we wanted. We were wrong.

And sometimes it’s more than just a little effort at stake. There can be cherished beliefs, love, money and possibly lifestyle at stake. And naturally we don’t want to lose any of it.

In fact, our opposition to the possibility of being wrong often increases with the perceived stakes. That’s why we’re darned tenacious when we think being wrong means loosing something important.

The more important things seem the more we will fight to be right. And that’s good… If we’re right.

Unfortunately we aren’t always right. Sometimes we’ve goofed and now we’re fighting to cling to an idea or belief that is wrong. We just can’t succeed that way.

But sometimes you have to be wrong to be right…

If we perceive being wrong as a loss we fight tooth and nail to avoid it, or at least to avoid accepting it.

But, sometimes we need to recognize that we were wrong so that we can change things and accept something better.

Sometimes dear reader, we are wrong and we are going to remain wrong until we do something to correct the situation.

Correcting the situation may mean a number of things: unlearning, relearning, accepting, adapting, or even (and people hate this one…) repenting.

No, I’m not going all religious on you here dear reader. The word repent has religious meaning, but it also has practical meaning. In a practical sense repentance means rethinking and behaving differently than you have in the past. In practice it means you stop being wrong and start being right.

Repentance is sometimes an unpleasant process. Being wrong is sometimes an unpleasant condition, but if we are willing to accept that we were wrong in the past and that we can choose to act and correct the situation; then we can take the necessary steps to be right in the present and in the future.

If we are not afraid to be wrong we can actually take the steps necessary to move from being wrong to being right.

It’s not easy, but it’s important

As I’ve said, a lot of the problem is actually perception. If we are afraid of being wrong we will fight against it.

If we see ourselves as striving to become better, and learning to be right, then the moment of wrongness and our  correction to overcome being wrong are just another step in achieving and becoming greater than we have been.

In practice any time we actually want to do something or be something greater than we are we have to accept the possibility of having been wrong. Then, if we focus less on having been wrong and more on becoming right, we can move forward and achieve.

If we recognize that we were wrong we can ultimately become right.

It is a question of perception and understanding dear reader. And for any of us out here in life there are many ways and times that we might be wrong. But for all of us it is necessary that we be willing to recognize when we are wrong and overcome our wrongness. It is then that we can succeed in our desires.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Until next time…

Be willing to learn and become right, even if it means being wrong for a little while…