Scrivener… after NANO thoughts (part one)

Last time I talked about Scrivener  I said I would get back to it after NANOWRIMO. So, that’s where we’re going today dear reader. Actually, we’ll be talking about Scrivener this week and next week, there’s enough to say just based on my first draft experience.

This still won’t be an entire, comprehensive review of Scrivener (I spent the last month writing a first draft not just learning a software package…), but I definitely learned some things during NANOWRIMO that have shown me a thing or two and will affect my writing process from here on out.

First… A general statement: If you make the jump to Scrivener from other programs like MS Word there will definitely some habits that need reshaping. The nature of the software is such that it works differently. But, if you’re going to work on writing a book, it’s worth the effort to make the change. Once you’ve learned to use Scrivener, some parts of the writing process become much easier. And… some specialized tricks and features available if you have both Scrivener and MS Word.

Next… The things I wasn’t fond of (but can live with…):

Formatting (While Writing):

The standard format that Scrivener works in is RTF and the screen view you see while you’re writing is basic and doesn’t reflect the layout that will exist on the printed page. This is something that takes getting used to., at this point in the game (working on the first draft and early edits) layout doesn’t matter as much for a book or story. There is enough editing and other moving around that needs to happen that you’re not seeing a finished product yet anyway.  Scrivener’s way of dealing with formatting has big payoffs later, but if you’re used to functioning in MS Word, or are a very visual person, this can be off putting.

Printing (a piece at a time):

Over the years, I’ve developed a habit of printing out the day’s written work and adding it to a physical copy of the book. Well, that gets more complicated with Scrivener. In Scrivener you need to compile before you print, so there’s another step. If you compile to print, there’s no dialog box to choose which pages to print.

Don’t get me wrong, you can tell it to print only certain sections of the writing but you have to make those selections before you compile to print. And, as a result, you don’t get the same pagination you would when printing a section of a Word document.

There are workarounds, for instance you could compile to a pdf and then print part of the pdf. But if you want to print the latest part of a work in progress on a regular basis, you might end up with a bunch of PDFs that have to be deleted or stored…

But, in the “print today’s work” method pagination can get off anyway if you insert a section between parts you’ve already written. So, you’re not giving up a lot. And, like I said, things will change between first draft and ready to publish, so the “print your daily work” method has pagination problems anyway.

Chapter titles and finding stuff

Within a scrivener project you have folders and text documents. For a fiction manuscript, when you compile the document the folder names become chapter names and the documents within the folders become chapter content. This can cause headaches when you have sub folders you forget about. You should also remember you need not type chapter titles into the documents within the folders.

Once you see how it works, it seems to work well. But, I still have to figure out headings and subheadings within a chapter (not so much for my mid-grade novel, but I’ll want them for other projects…)

Summing up the negatives

The issues I’ve mentioned are more about getting used to a different program and work flow. There are ways around them and ways to cope with them. Though it takes effort I think working in Scrivener is worth the investment.

Next week, we’ll look at what I really liked about Scrivener while working on the first draft process. If you’ve got any thoughts so far, leave a comment.  And, come back next week for part two!

Soundtracks for writing?

Environment is important for writing. There are a lot of plusses and minuses to writing in different locations. There are also a lot of elements in those environments that can be hard to control. But, there’s one environmental element we can control, and even bring with us as we travel. It’s also been claimed to have the power to transport us to other places. It’s as simple as listening.

Music can tell stories. Music can trigger memories. Music can tap into raw emotions. Music is a tool that shouldn’t be overlooked in the preparation and process of writing.

There are also complications and problems. But many of those can be controlled by choices you make.

(Some of) the problems with music

Some of us like to write in public. And, it’s problematic to listen to our ‘writing music’ in public places. We don’t want to be offensive, but we also want our music. Can you (safely) wear headphone or ear buds where you’re writing? What about finding somewhere that has ambient sound/music that works for you?

A bigger problem, whether you’re in public or private, comes in the form of sensitivity to lyrics. I don’t mean the “I’m gonna shoot a cop then rape your grandma” lyrics (though there are problems with that kind of lyrics…). The problem we’re talking about is that for some of us, and in some processes, lyrics in music can be distracting.

This one is easier to cope with when you can choose the music you’re listening to (so… in your writing spot at home or using those ear phones/buds…). Choose music with lyrics that work for you, or just instrumental music.

It’s true that sometimes the lyrics you’re listening to get in the way. Sometimes that happens. For me it happens more in new writing. I like lyrics during the editing process. The answer (as usual dear reader) is to experiment a little, learn what works for you, and use it.

And music can work for you dear reader.

Music, emotion, and taking you there

Music (the sound portion) operates on a different level of thinking/feeling than the spoken word. It can convey emotion to us in ways the written or spoken word can’t. This effect can be amplified when you add the right lyrics. Because of this ability, music can be helpful for getting into the right headspace for a scene in a story, or for building up our courage for writing that difficult or scary part of your non-fiction (both my wife and I have finished graduate degrees we know about difficult and scary parts in writing fiction and non-fiction…).

Music can also be linked to a time and place. That’s both good and powerful.

It wouldn’t be too hard for me to get to some of the physical locations we call the old west (a lot of them are within a day’s drive). But, getting back to the time of the old west is harder. Music can help with that. I can find modern (recorded) performances of old western music to help put my mind in the frame of that time and place.

I can also pull out my Japanese, Pilipino, and Thai music to get me over to Asia.

Or, I can throw on some Bach or Telemann (You know… Just in case I need to get back to Leipzig in the 1840s and my TARDIS is in the shop…).

We have the technology to feed ourselves a steady stream of music that helps us be in the mental space to write and even to feel a link to times, places, and experiences near and far. We can use that music to inspire us and make writing easier. (It even helps some of us concentrate better!)

For me, developing a ‘soundtrack’ for a writing project is as useful, or more useful, than ‘teacher approved’ techniques like outlining. Thinking about and planning my soundtrack gets me thinking about what the themes of the story are, what the feeling of the story is. In its own weird way, planning my soundtrack is outlining the story on an emotional level… It can also count as part of my research if I’m doing a period piece.

What are your thoughts about soundtracks for writing dear reader?

Leave a comment if you like. And, I’ll see you next post.

Scrivener… Almost first thoughts

Early this year I rehabbed a laptop. I wanted a word processing program on it and didn’t want to pay for another MS Office license. So, I bought Scrivener, and then used my other laptop and desktop instead of the one I just fixed. Then, I learned a few things about Scrivener, and I kept using Word because I had too much to do to learn a new program.

But, in the last month I’ve wanted to work differently. Some organization features I’d heard about with Scrivener weighed on my mind. So, two weeks ago I pulled out the manual. And, I have to say I’m impressed.

What scrivener isn’t

There are some things it’s obvious Scrivener is not.

It’s not another Word/Open Office/Word Perfect style word processer. You can write in it, but it’s not a straight forward create a document word processor. And, that’s good. It’s a larger, more flexible, system that can interact with Word and several other products. It helps the writer organize and create, not just type.

Scrivener isn’t a linear tool. You could use it linearly, but it’s more of a pain than going linear with a standard word processor. If you’re just going to use Scrivener linearly you miss a lot of its power (and might as well go back to your wax tablet and stylus).

Scrivener isn’t something you can ‘just use’. You need to think about your project and how to use the program. Again, that’s ok! Actually, that fits with the principal we have around here that you should think about what you’re writing!

What Scrivener is (so far…)

I’ll be coming back to this. I can tell that already; this is just the start of the journey. Reading the manual and thinking about the way I write, I can see Scrivener has a lot of possibilities.

  • I can include all my notes and inspiration stuff in the project without having to include it in the draft.
  • I can do script stuff, book stuff, and HTML in the same program without having to worry about formatting issues.
  • I can compile (format) and print/export parts of the project in a variety of ways without having to mess with the main projects formatting (I can do E-book, print, and web formats with a few mouse clicks without having to screw up my main document).
  • I can easily create pieces, move them around and know what they are without having to read or navigate the whole thing.

Those last two really intrigue me for both blog posts and books. I can put a whole series of posts into one project and have them all in one concentrated, easy to find, spot when I’m adding to the series. I can add and quote parts with a couple of clicks. If I (and my readers) like a subject enough, I’ve got everything concentrated into one place and can move seamlessly from the blog series to writing the book.

I think scrivener will help me on new editions and rewrites of previous stuff. I can import the word files (and other types, especially RTF files) and then break them up and organize them better and a lot more easily than I could in old school word processors.

So far, having climbed through the manual and doing some initial experiments, I think there is a lot of power in Scrivener. I definitely think it’s a tool for serious writers to consider.

I’ll come back to this one after NANO (I’ll know more by then).

In the meantime, dear reader, do you have any thoughts, rants, or questions about Scrivener?

Leave a comment if you do. And, I’ll see you next post.

The words will come

Shortly before I wrote this:

  • I hadn’t had a decent writing session all week
  • My schedule had been thrown off all week (first week of school, doctors’ appointments, my wife needed my help…)
  • My blood sugar was about 50 points high
  • I had a headache
  • The music in the restaurant didn’t work for me
  • There were kids screaming
  • The wierdo across the way was straight up glaring at me…

 

In other words… not a lot of writing was getting done. I mean not a word of writing, not until I took charge of myself.

I did what I could. I drank some (diet) soda. I took some deep breaths. I prayed. I got my mind together.

And then, the words flowed.

  • My schedule was still off
  • My blood sugar was still too high
  • I still had a headache (but the caffeine and stress reduction helped)

But, a different song came on. The kids found their way back to the play area. And, the wierdo found someone else to be mad at when I refused to take the bait.

The words flowed. Within minutes I wrote more than I had all week. And, I had ideas for what to write next.

Writing and writing…

There’s writing and then there’s writing…

  • There’s writing you do because you have to
  • There’s writing you do because you should
  • There’s writing you do because you want to
  • There’s writing you do because you can’t stop yourself (when you find this one, you’re a real writer and on your way to being a serious author…)
  • There’s writing that’s two or more of the above combined.

The secret to getting any writing done is to put yourself in the mental space to write. You need to put yourself into a good physical space too. You need to have your supplies. You need to do your research. But, being in the mental space to write, getting past your fears, concerns and hang-ups and into a mental place where the words will flow is something you have to learn if you want to write.

Putting yourself in the mental space to write is a management thing. It’s a self-mastery thing. You need to develop skills to deal with outside people and things, and the determination and self-control to put you into the place to write.

Sometimes we all need to break out the (hopefully metaphorical) battering ram and break down the barriers that are keeping the words from flowing. The problem may be one big thing or lots of little things working in concert. Your problems might not be my problems (or maybe they are!). But, one way or another we have to deal with them if we want to write.

That’s what this series is about dear reader. It’s a conversation (I’d love to hear from you!) about making the words flow. It’s about putting body and mind in a place to write.

There are lots of things we can talk about and not nearly enough time to cover them all in one post. So, let’s start with something simple.

Priming the pump

One of the more annoying kinds of writer’s block is fear of the blank page. This one occasionally hits even those of us with lots of words under our belts. And, it’s one you can cope with.

If you’re writing long hand (like I do) pick up your pen (pencil, crayon, whatever…) and move your hand to the top right corner of the page and write the number ONE (1) in the corner (and circle it if you want…).

If you’re writing electronically type a 1 on the first line, then hit return (or just turn on page numbers…)

Good news, your page isn’t blank anymore!

There’s still more to do. It’s time to put words on the page.

If you’re having trouble writing about what you think you’re supposed to be writing about, give yourself permission to ‘stream of consciousness’ write.

Write what’s on your mind. If you trust the process, your writing will probably “find center” and (after editing) you’ll have a written something that you can use.

Even if your something isn’t a sellable piece, you have proven to yourself that you can create a stream of words from your mind to the page. You may have written something that will help you learn and understand. You may even have created something that other people will want to read, after you clean it up a bit.

Sometimes you really need to write on a specific topic. In those cases ‘stream of consciousness’ may not be the right technique. Here we need to delve into our self-mastery toolbox and move the stream. But that, dear reader, is another post.

We all have hard days. We all have times where it feels like the words aren’t coming. But, if we do our part, they will.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Good luck with your words, and… I’ll see you next post!

Use your tools…

There comes a time when the big things are done: you’ve figured out your audience; you’ve finally got your voice down; your themes, concepts, and symbols are there; your plot is running; and your characters are who they need to be. But, sadly, the big things being done doesn’t mean everything is done.

This is the point where editing becomes a bug hunt. You’re triple checking continuity. You’re checking punctuation. You’re fixing wrong word and spelling errors. You’re straightening out formatting problems. Unless you are a very special person this part of the editing process isn’t a lot of fun.

But, you can make it better if you use your tools

Formatting follies…

My wife is a full-time employee and affiliate faculty at our local university. I go there to do research. Between us we hear many people (students and faculty) whining about nitpicky problems with formatting.

Yes, weird stuff happens. But, you can cut a lot of your formatting headaches out of the bug hunt if you do your work up front.

Think then write…

Think and plan what you’re working on from the start. This helps you have the formatting in place from day one. There is less to do at the end if you’ve been doing it all along.

Learn, use, and love styles…

A certain professor who shall remain nameless constantly protest that styles are a plot by Microsoft to control our writing. To be honest, I’m not sure if it is laziness or just paranoia. Styles existed before we had any word processing or desk top publishing software.

Most desktop packages have styles options. Most good ones allow you to edit styles and create your own. Even if you’re not ready to create your own styles, just using and changing existing styles helps you a lot.

Using styles helps keep all those formatting bits under control and allows you to change the easily when needed. I can change the body text of my entire 73,000+ word novel from Calibri to Times New Roman, or even Wingdings with a couple of mouse clicks using styles.

Without styles… Now we’re having headaches.

Styles allow you to have your formatting under control without having to do lots of little fiddly stuff on every page.

Choosing and/or creating styles at the beginning allows your manuscript to be formatted right from the get go, even if you want to do something obscure.

Using styles simplifies the bug hunt. But, we can do even more…

Editing add-ons…

A while ago I wrote about Pro Writing Aid and Grammarly. Choose the one you like, or some other that works better for you, and use it. The sad truth is we can easily go blind to punctuation, spelling, and grammar issues in our work. These packages can help us find these problems (but like I said don’t let them do all the work…)

You might even consider volunteer or paid copy editing help. A good editor is better than the software, and can really help. Software doesn’t understand intent. Editors just might. Editors can hash through things with you in ways the software can’t.

You might get away with eyeballing an email or text. But, maybe not… For a book… Do yourself a favor and get some help (and if your help finds nothing wrong, maybe you have a career as a copy editor…)

Summing its up…

The bug hunt is necessary dear reader. Even the best story becomes hard to read if it’s full of errors. A story without copy editing is kind of like showing up to a wedding in your underwear… You might get away with it in some limited circumstances, but most of the time you’re opening yourself up to ridicule and denial.

Using your tools helps make your bug hunt easier.

Do your editing dear reader. I know your pain (I’m working on mine…). And, I’ll see you next post.

Software vs writer… You have to choose

Spell checkers, grammar checkers and other software tools can be helpful, but they don’t replace the human mind. Eventually you will come to a point where you disagree with your computer; sometimes your computer won’t even agree with itself.

Last week I almost got a 100% score from my ProWritingAid, except for one comma. If I included it, the grammar editor said I was wrong. But, if I removed it the style editor said I was wrong. So, I had to make my own decision (I went with the comma because it fit what I wanted to say).

My wife brought me another example. While writing an email she used the phrase “I want to talk with you,” which her computer flagged and wanted to ‘correct’ to “I want to talk to you.”

With and to are different words with different meanings. When you talk with someone you’re having a conversation. When you talk to someone, that could be a monologue, a lecture, or some other “talking at you” situation. And, those can be two very different things.

Ultimately editing software is useful, but it can’t replace your human writer/editor skills. I recommend finding editing software you like, but I also recommend learning for yourself. English (or whatever your primary writing language is) classes help you understand the rules of the language you’re working in. Foreign language classes can also help you understand those rules…

Literature classes (and just reading on your own) can help you understand how language is used. It’ll also help you see when and how to break those language rules…

Software can tell you what is ‘normally’ correct, or ‘usually’ correct, by the parameters it’s given. But, software doesn’t understand what you’re writing. It doesn’t understand your purpose and meaning. So, while the software helps with the day-to-day grunt-work editing. It can’t make the decisions you do about intent, purpose, and artistry.

Ultimately it’s helpful to use the software, but you have to make your own decisions. You are the writer, and while the software advises it is you who have the final say on what you write.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Choose your words well, and I’ll see you next post.

Tools: organization systems…

Welcome to 2019 dear reader! One of the new things we’re doing this year is we want to use an FMP Instagram account to feature pictures related to the stuff we’re doing, and some pictures meant to provoke stories and ideas in the minds of our viewers and readers.

I’ve thought about using some of my toy collection in the pictures. But, it’s hard to do when you don’t have a schedule, and even harder when your tools (my toys) look like this…

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So… one thing I’ve been working on is organizing.

It’s a little too common to hear people saying “I don’t have time to get organized”.

If they actually took the time it would pay off.

It takes an investment of time, and often money, to get organized. But, every time I compare organized work to unorganized work, I find I can get more done when I’m organized. That initial investment pays me back fairly quickly, and well.

In fact, some of the benefits can be quantified (as I’ll show below).

In the Instagram example there are two kinds of organization we need: physical, and planning/chronological

Physical organization

It’s costing me some money (about $9.00 per container), but I’ve found a solution for organizing the bits and pieces I’ll use for the pictures.

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This method is costing money, but makes things much easier to find.

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And this technique is flexible, I can alter and expand the organization as I go.

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By taking this time now I’m making myself more willing to make the scenes and do the pictures.

And when I make the pictures, I can do them faster and easier. Because I can find the stuff I spend less time searching for the stuff.

I can even improve my pictures because I can see options I might forget otherwise.

Planning and time organization

As much as I love my bins and boxes I’ll never get around to doing the pictures if I don’t decide to do them and decide when they will be finished and posted. I also need to keep my decisions in front of me while I work.

My favorite tools for this (at the moment) is my Google calendar and task list. I can see how much time I have to get things done, and when things are due. They also help me figure out what parts to do when.

The tools help, but you have to get into the habit of using them and doing the thinking.

When you do the thinking, and then incorporate your decisions and plans into your calendar and task list, you are committing yourself to action. Committing yourself to action improves your chances of completing the task. Remembering that commitment (which your calendar/task list helps you with…) strengthens that commitment, and your probability of success.

Does it really help?

Yes, it really does. In fact, you can put numbers on it!

I finish 90+ percent of the things I put on my calendar, and maybe 50 percent of the ones I don’t

I can also get my pictures done faster, and as they say… Time is money. If having my toys organized saves me two minutes per picture, and I only do one picture per week that is a savings of 104 minutes over the course of a year (about 1.67 hours…),

If you figure 1.67 hours at the $15.00 minimum wage folks are talking about these days, that organization saves you $25.05 per year. Since I value my time above minimum wage, I save more. And, these numbers are for one picture per week. Some posts will have four or five pictures (plus pics for the blogs, etc.). When I figure in the value of my time and the multiple pictures per week, I’m definitely saving the cost of my boxes this year….

Getting and staying organized takes an investment, but doing it allows you to spend more of your time and money doing what you want and need to do in the long run. Saving that wandering and flailing around is worth it. So… I supposed I should get back to getting things organized and ready for the months (and books!) ahead.

If you have an organization technique you want to share, or a question about organization, let me know in the comments. I love responding to comments. And of course… See you next post!

Plantser…

There are two standard ways to write a novel: the “Planner” method and the “Pantser” method.

Planners have (or claim to have) everything planned out. They figure out everything first, outline every detail, and then write the book. This method will work because it creates a pile of text with sufficient words and all the parts of a story. But, there is no Ah-hah moment. It‘s all laid out. Where’s the joy?

These books are often plot driven. Too often I see characters bent to fit a preconceived idea even though the author might feel the character would do something else.

Pantsers “just write”. Real Pantsers don’t have a plan… Writing this way is possible, but you at least need an idea!
Steven King is a Pantser done right. He starts with an idea or interesting concept, finds a starting group of characters, and then allows them to behave realistically.

This method can work. But, you need to have a good concept, and a handle on your characters (a handle… not a complete plan (please skip the second grade report card!)). You can succeed if you have the right skills and mindset.

But, people think the Pantser method is easy, “you jump in and write”. What they miss is that people like Steven King have had a lot of practice and an idea or concept in mind. Without those your story has a good chance of acting like a cow that finds a hole in the fence.

Being a Pantser takes work, it’s just different work. But, I like the freedom for surprises (that’s part of the fun).

Unless you‘re willing to put in the work; all I can say is “MOOO!”

When writing, I try to hold the middle ground. I have a situation and some big challenges planned. I have a handle on my characters and key events thought out (“fixed points in time” for you Doctor Who fans…). But, I don’t plan everything.

In one spot I may say, “Here my characters move out of their comfort zone into their adventure.” In another I may ask, “If my characters do this, how does the government react?”

I have a plan; however, I also allow things to move and grow as I learn about my characters and story.

This is the “Plantser” method. You plan (you know won’t happen), but you also leave yourself some freedom for the spontaneity and surprises that can make those great moments of literature.

Starting on the first, I’m once again doing NANOWRIMO dear reader. You might not hear much from me until December. My plan is here. And, I’m looking forward to having my questions answered!

I invite you to join us in the fun and madness of trying to write a 50,000+ word book in a month dear reader.

The choice is yours. And, I’ll see you next post!

Reading and writing

Well, I had planned to do a software thing this week… But, as it happens the new technology is kind of being a pain in the rear. So… We’ll talk about some old technology instead.

Woven in-between the other things on my schedule I am almost finished reading Steven King’s On Writing. For any of you who haven’t met the book it is a bit of a memoir, but a lot more of a how to write well book than a “when I was five we moved to…” sort of book. It is definitely worth a read.

One of the things Steven talks about is the relationship between reading and writing. I actually agree with him very much, to paraphrase his words “If you’re not reading you shouldn’t be writing either.”

We read for a lot of reason:

  1. We read to gain information
  2. We read for entertainment
  3. We read for inspiration
  4. We read to find good examples
  5. We read to find bad examples and to learn from other’s mistakes
  6. We… Well, you can run the list out as long as you like. The point is that there are a lot of reasons to read

Reading and writing are two different sides of an exchange of ideas. If you are going to do the writing side well, then you have to understand what the project looks like from the reading side including format, language use, punctuation, voice, etc. The way you learn about what things look like from the reading side is to read.

Reading shapes writing

It does. You pick up bits and pieces while reading that will show up in your writing (or will be kept out of your writing because you learned to avoid the mistakes…). But that doesn’t mean that your writing has to echo someone else’s too closely (that would be plagiarism…). No, reading shaping writing works best (and most ethically) as a process in which you pick up bits and pieces here and there and “try them on” in the process of finding your own voice and your own story.

I might pick up an arcane detail here, a formatting style there. I think I picked up my preference for using a polyphonic structure in large stories from George R.R. Martin, but some of my thoughts on how magic works are heavily influenced my David Eddings.

It’s a process that works over time. The stuff you read will influence how you write, but you really do need to draw in the bits you like and work on your own style (a while back I looked at some of my earlier stuff (like my first finished book length manuscript) and immediately decided I have to rewrite it before I put it out (can you say Tolkien much… And, that’s not even counting the fact that I hadn’t really figured out how to write female characters yet…)).

Don’t limit your reading

Don’t. I know you might want to write in a given genre, and you need to read a lot in that genre if you’re going to learn and write it well. But, it will help if you read outside your genre too. You might even want to jump the tracks and read some nonfiction (or read some fiction if you’re a nonfiction writer).

Reading outside of your area of specialization helps bring in fresh and interesting ideas. It can help sweep out the cliché’s and help you write things differently.

When I’m in my ‘normal’ work mode I usually have two or three books going at the same time. Usually I’m reading a novel or memoir (something where story is king), a nonfiction book about a subject I’m interested in or researching (coins, guns, history, psychology, geology (pretty much any of the ‘ologies’ really), or anything else I want or need to know more about, and one ‘worky icky’ book, one that is about writing, publishing, or marketing (you know the books that you don’t necessarily want to read but you need to in order to succeed in your craft).

One of the reasons I cycle between books is that I know the limits of my attention span, and I know how fast I can read. If I read too much of the same thing for too long my efficiency drops and it takes me longer to finish a book. Reading and rotating actually helps me pay attention and read more books in a given amount of time (your mileage may vary).  One of the keys is to make the books different. Reading three of the same kind of book at the same time would be more confusing than reading in three separate areas at the same time.

Putting it on the page

I’m a writer and an editor. I think a lot of the people who read this blog are writers, editors, and other sorts of folks involved in putting words on the screen or page. When we are reading, at least one of the things we are doing is learning about the writing process. We need to ask ourselves some questions about the stuff we’re reading and actually use our answers in the stuff we’re writing and editing.

Is that arcane fact interesting for some reason? How can you use it in your own work?

Is that opening effective? Is the writer conveying his/her meaning well? Is that an aspect you can borrow?

If the scene you just read sucks, then why does it suck? Are you guilty of the same mistake?

When we analyze the stuff we read, and then apply that analysis to our own writing, we develop our writing style and we are on the way to making ourselves better writers (you know, the ones who can write better, sell more, and actually make a dollar doing this stuff…).

It is important to put stuff into the system by reading and experiencing the world around us. And, if we want to be writers, we need to take that stuff we’ve put into the system and put it out in our own way, in our own words, and in our own works.

If you want to be a writer you’ve got to write. If you want to learn how to write better, you need to examine the written word, and that means reading.

There’s lots of other things to do (experiencing life and people is important too), but reading is a key to being a good writer (even a great one). And, of course, writing is kind of what the job is; it’s taking the knowledge and tools that we’ve gathered and using them in a satisfying and effective way. And that’s kind of what this is all about.

That’s it for this one dear reader. If you’re looking for something to read between this post and the next one, give On Writing a try, or take a look at a couple of posts here and at my other blog Words Mean Stuff (last week we actually talked about meaning, and next week we’re talking context). 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!