The written word doesn’t work alone…

Writing is in many ways a solitary process. Ultimately if you want to write something you have to sit down and actually write (if you pay someone else to write it you didn’t entirely write it). The thing is the writing process, and even more so written communication, is seldom actually a solitary process.

It is true. Written communication and the writing process are not things you can solo your way through. Well, there is the case of you writing a note for yourself, but that’s the exception that proves the rule…

Generally when we write, be it a text, an email, a blog post, a pamphlet, a novel, a series, or a set of encyclopedias (remember those?) we are writing with the expectation that someone will read what we wrote. That means we might finish the writing, but we haven’t actually communicated until someone has read and understood what we wrote (and then there’s the issue of multiple ‘right’ meanings…).

Someone has to read what we wrote for communication to happen. That means, unless you really are just writing to yourself, at least one other person is involved in the process (and even if you left yourself a note you have to come back and read it for communication to have happened…).

Sorry… Other people are involved and we actually need them…

Because we can reasonably expect at least one other person to be involved in the process, we have to start thinking about our audience and how to communicate with them. Sometimes we can do that on our own, but as we get into more complex projects or deal with new and different audiences it can be useful to get other people involved before you finish the writing part of the process.

It’s not always easy to listen to criticism, and not all criticism is constructive (or even helpful). But, pre-readers, editors, and other helpers and advisors exist to help you, the writer, convey your message.

Sometimes it’s annoying (like when the guy you asked to check punctuation wants to rewrite your opening scene); sometimes it’s thought provoking. Sometimes it becomes down right funny (like the time a 14 year old pre-reader thought the story was about him, even though it was written before I’d ever met him). But, no matter how little (or how much) you like having that second set of eyes, having someone read and give honest feedback is really valuable in writing.

In fact, some writing projects won’t work out without some help and feedback. (if you leave out texts and shopping lists that’s most projects…)

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

P.S. I’ve left out the very special category of book reviewers… That’s not any form of disrespect. It’s just that they work at a different point in the process, so I’ll talk about them at another point in the blog. For now let me just summarize this way… If you want the book to be readable find an editor. If you want people to read it find a book reviewer!

The good (and bad) of NANOWRIMO (Part 1)

I know it’s still a long way till November, but since the book I just finished and the novel I’m editing right now are NANOWRIMO wins I might as well start talking about it now…

For those who aren’t familiar, NANOWRIMO means National Novel Writing Month. It is an event and an organization that can be a major help to fiction writers (especially those just getting started). It is also a major cause of stress. The idea is that during the month of November those daring few will sit down at their notebooks/computers and write the first draft of a novel (at least 50,000 words).

There is good and bad about this. There are reasons I have found it useful and reasons I won’t do it again unless I’m working with a writing partner I want to encourage through the process.

NANOWRIMO can help you commit to the act of writing. Through the website you have a way of tracking progress and sharing with likeminded people. You have a deadline to work against. You have a source of advice. All of these are proven to help at least some of us get through the process.

On the other hand…

Not completing could act as a depressant that impedes future attempts. Some people are legitimately busy, with “day jobs” and lives that make it harder to finish. And, when you get down to it a ‘write it in a month’ rush doesn’t work for every writing style, or every book.

The first two books in my Johnson Farm series were NANOWRIMO projects. The second book is taking a lot of reworking. The third book will definitely take a different process, so I’m not even trying to turn that one into a NANOWRIMO project.

There are challenges, and limitations on what you are going to be able to do in a single month. It is going to be a lot of work. You definitely shouldn’t mistake what you get out of the process for a finished novel (you’ll hopefully have a finished draft. But, a finished novel? Not the way to bet…)

NANOWRIMO should be treated as what it is, something to help you write and something to help encourage the growth and development of fiction writing. It is a tool to be used and a way to test yourself. It is also something that I will be talking about occasionally on the blog.

I’m not going to guarantee that NANOWRIMO will help you dear reader. I am not going to promise it will ‘work’ for you. But, I think it is useful and I look forward to discussing it more in the future… And I welcome any comments/questions/discussion you choose to provide on the topic…

See you next post.

Understand your rules!

With the completion of Johnson Farm I’m on to edits for the second book of the series Going Home the Hard Way. I’m also engaged in several nonfiction projects including projects of my own and some where I’m providing editorial support. As you might expect this leads to some meta thinking about writing.

Rules part 1: other people’s rules…

Every project has rules and if you’re going to succeed you need to understand them. Some rule sets are fairly obvious, like publishers rules for what they will accept and general rules for the kind of story you want to tell.

Sometimes these sets are fairly simple and clear. Your magazine publisher wants a particular format and word count. Your book publisher hates it when you send them a manuscript that’s printed on maroon construction paper and uses the six point wingding font. Your mystery novel needs to include some sort of mystery.

Sometimes the rules make less sense, but if you want to be published you still need to follow them. Your magazine publisher may insist on APA style, except for that one little detail that looks more like MLA. Or, your book printer may demand images be in CMYK instead of RGB format. You might not understand them, but there are reasons for the rules and knowing and keeping them helps you get published.  If you do a little asking and digging you might even find out why the rules exist and that will help you grow as a writer.

Rules part 2: you and your stories rules…

There is a second kind of rules for any given writing project; the rules that you create based on how you choose to write, and what you choose to write about.

Some of these rules are based on biology and other realities of life. For example I avoid writing anything late at night because the things I write late at night make no sense (even to me…). If you drive a cab for a living you probably shouldn’t write while trying to do your day job…

Other rules are created when you make choices about what you write. If your hero is riding with William the Conqueror in 1066, I’m sorry he did not just call Will up on his smart phone and he definitely didn’t find the Saxons by Googling them. If you’re choosing to write a midgrade novel it shouldn’t read like the letters column of a porno mag.

This gets more complicated as you progress through the story and into sequels. If your character has aged several years between books you’d better communicate that up front. If your character is allergic to shell fish in book one, sorry he or she should not be commenting on how good the shrimp cocktail tastes in book two.

Sequels and new situations can invoke new rules as well. In Johnson Farm my hero is on a farm. In Hard Way he is back home in San Diego. In Hard Way he also has his dad’s girl friend to contend with. Both of these changes affect what John can and can’t get away with. He’s back in school now so if I want him running around the mall at 10:00 AM on a Tuesday I’d better explain why he’s there and he may have some school complications as well.

Summing it all up…

No matter what you write, long form or short; fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, one of the things you have to do is learn the rules for what you’re doing. Sometimes this comes from looking up or reading, other times it comes from deciding or doing. Either way if you want to succeed as a writer you have to learn the rules. You have to learn how and when to keep them and how and when to break them (and what happens when you do…)

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

When editing turns ugly…

Well, we did it! We got Johnson Farm done. As we speak the proofs for the e-book are on my desk and the physical copies aren’t far behind. It’s a success, but it’s also a point where we have to change our thinking a little as we move to other projects…

A few weeks ago I talked about editing a blog post vs edition a book. In that post I mentioned that editing a book is a much longer process. It is, and editing a book can be ugly in a number of ways.

The last day editing Johnson Farm there was one edit, a single period in a 50 page stretch of writing. The first day of editing for my next nonfiction project I had entire paragraphs that were moved or rewritten. There were quite literally more changes in the 20-30 page section I worked on that day than there were in the entirety of Johnson Farm on the last pass.

That many edits can make for quite a messy page (I’m one of those weird people who does a lot of his ‘thinky’ writing and editing on actual paper (but if you work on the computer and use track changes it isn’t much prettier…). The thing is that visually ugly editing is actually beautiful if it’s done right. You are making what you’ve written better. You’re clarifying and developing what you’re said. This kind of editing can be a lot of work, but it makes your ideas worth reading.

Eventually this editing transitions into another kind. This time the page looks fairly pretty, but the process seems ugly to me. But, I know this kind of editing is still vital.

We’re done with getting the big ideas in place. For the most part we’re finished getting the small ideas in place. Now we are doing things like checking capitalization, stressing about commas and finding that period or quotation mark that seems to have wandered away.

This kind of editing has a dramatic effect on people wanting to read what you write (and how seriously they take you as an author (Myth takes c4n bee ape roblem)).

You really need both kinds of editing, but you probably only like one or the other (if you like either one…). Whether you like them or not you still need to do both kinds of editing. The purpose dear reader is to make your writing the best it can be, to make it something your reader will have confidence in and want to read.

Writing that first draft can be fun and challenging, but skilled editing is what gets you read. It is really worth doing, especially when the editing seems ugly.

Keep going!

Years ago I was reading a book about USMC machine gunners in Vietnam. That was where I discovered the ‘Marine Corps way of doing things’: an artillery barrage followed by an advance, no matter how small, and then you did it all again. Well, sometimes writing is like that too…

I know this is true because, well, I was about 10 when I made my first attempt at writing a story (I’d been telling stories a lot longer…) and now I’m a writer and I’m running a publishing label. It takes time, effort, and learning to become a writer. It takes even more time, effort, and learning to become an author, one who has actually gotten something published. And, you really do have to keep working at it.

When I started Forever Mountain Publishing it was because I had something to say to the world and I wasn’t going to let anyone stop me. I have found in the process that I would like to help others say what they have to say. That’s why Forever Mountain does some of the things we do. I know we can make it on our own (I’m doing it…), but we’re stronger with others.

Recently I’ve been talking here and on my other blog about a book called Johnson Farm. This young adult novel was the first time that I really allowed someone other than myself to have a chunk of the creative work on one of my stories. I enlisted a talented young artist named Sariah Ann to do the cover.

JSFwordswood

Because we’re a startup company we used a Kickstarter to fund the publishing of the book, and the Kickstarter failed and didn’t fund. Even this cannot and will not stop us. If you have an honest desire to be heard and you are willing to put in the time, work, and learning things will work out (even if they don’t come out the way you initially expected).

My team and I did some rethinking and replanning. We found other resources. We found a way to get the book printed and into an E-book with a wide distribution. In fact the book is going to the printer next week!

The point dear reader is that if you want to achieve in writing, or any other field, you have to keep working at it. You have to find a way. As I’ve said, I know because I’ve done it. And soon I’ll be able to tell you where to buy a book that some people thought would never be published…

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

Blogging vs Books: Similar but different

As a writer and Editor in Chief I have to wear a couple of different hats in the process of getting a book out. Similarly writing a book and writing a blog post are both writing, but there are some real differences.

A blog: writing in the now

Blogposts tend to be things that are on our minds when we’re putting them up. To be effective they are generally about things happening (or at least on our minds) right now. If you’re blogging about something that happened when you were five it is probably because it has something to do with something that’s going on right now. It probably has some current purpose that you are trying to achieve.

Blog posts have a sense of immediacy. They are generally meant to be read shortly after you wrote them. This has effects on the writing process. You don’t have a year to get a blog post out; you want it out now. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t edit your post (PLEASE EDIT YOUR POSTS!!!). It means that you are going to have less time and work in your editing, fortunately you also have less to edit.

Blog posts are shorter (hopefully much shorter) than a novel or self-help book.  A blog post (hopefully) is simpler in terms of themes. There is a real difference between editing a 600 word post with one theme and editing a 50000+ word novel with multiple subplots and shifting points of view. This means editing a blog post can be simpler and more straight forward (I’m hoping you can maintain continuity for a page or two…). Keep your posts simple and to the point, that way you can edit them well and get them out there.

A book: longer, thicker, and more complex

A book has a lot more words in it (usually). If it’s worth reading it also has a lot more ideas in it. That means there is a lot more that can go wrong.

A book will probably have a different voice, sound, and feel than a blog post. You could have blog posts in a book, but the book has a lot more going on than a blog post (or most series of blog posts). There are (probably) going to be some differences in language used and (definitely) major differences in editing.

A blog post with 600 words and one main idea may be editable with a couple of hours work. A 50000+ word book is difficult to completely read in two hours, much less completely edited. Checking punctuation, point of view, continuity, and all the other aspects of good editing are going to take time no matter what kind of book you’re writing.

In fact some kinds of editing (worky icky line editing for example) are best left until you have the have the real ideas and writing part of editing done. Yes, fix that dropped quotation mark when you find it, but don’t obsess about finding all the dropped quotes, commas and periods until you are done getting the ideas and words in place. Until you get the big stuff in place dropped punctuation, misplaced capitals, and other issues of the sort are going to keep happening. Fix them if you see them, but don’t go hunting for them until there’s nothing else to fix.

You are going to have to put real time and effort into editing a book. (Well… you could just put in an hour or too in… if yyou only want a fewy people too read it… and then never read anything you write… ever again!)

You can get your editing done in a number of ways, but sooner or later it boils down to time and skill. Either you have to take the time and learn the skills, or you have to get someone with the time and skills to do it (better yet do both!). Either way if you want to write a (successful) book it is going to take time and effort, and not just in the first draft.

I don’t want to be “Mr. Bringdown” dear reader. I just want your projects to be the best they can be. You need to do the work or find someone who will (hint… editors and publishers help with that…).

Writing and editing are what I do. I want our writing (yours and mine) to be the best it can be. So I’m going to let you get back to work dear reader, and so will I.