July 11, 2014
Stop shooting yourself in the foot. OUCH!
How do you feel when agents/editors/publishers either don't respond or send you form rejections? Frustrated? Angry? Depressed? Craving chocolate or a glass of your favorite adult beverage?
Most writers really, really, really want to move past rejection dejection. Ranting helps, temporarily. It feels absolutely wonderful to declare that the rejecter of your submission is a BIG FAT IDIOT. However, you only can rant and rave for a certain amount of time until that becomes boring and you decide to give it up in order to look for the root cause of non-acceptance.
Most likely, the problem is that you've "shot yourself in the foot" by not identifying basic writing mechanic issues that stall your march toward publication.
Writers constantly arrive at my story-doctor virtual doorstep, manuscripts and hearts in hand. (This may not be totally accurate. I've never opened an email that included a photo of the sender clutching a bloody manuscript in one hand, their bleeding heart in the other.)
These befuddled writers ask me to look at their work, evaluate it, and determine why industry professionals don't recognize their incredibly fabulous words as being the stuff of next year's best sellers.
Almost all wounded writers suffer from one or more of the following "un-diagnosed," self-imposed challenges.
These probably apply to your work as well.
Do you suffer from word infatuation? Is Roget's Thesaurus your favorite relax-by-the-fireplace book? Do you overwrite to flaunt a great vocabulary? Or drop in uber-descriptive adverbs and adjectives to "color up" what your characters do or say? Not only is this boring, it's also deadly. Overwritten manuscripts become DOA at warp speed.
Do you really truly believe readers are so stupid you have to repeat, repeat, and repeat information to ensure they understand what you're trying to convey? Boring, boring, boring. Give your readers credit for being smart enough to have picked up your book in the first place. They understand what you have to say. If a really truly stupid person picks up your book . . . whoops, silly me! They wouldn't.
Do you ignore basic writing mechanics? Do you overuse wimpy/weak words like "has, was, were, get, saw, very, every, about, really, when, just as" etc., etc., etc? Are you unaware that you probably have a tendency to actually split your verbs . . . like I just did?
Do you tell instead of show? Or both? Telling occurs when you describe how your character thinks and feels instead of showing through dialogue or action. Showing and telling at the same time qualify as overkill. The result? Same as in example ONE.
Do you describe characters in order to identify them? News flash. Characters have names. Use them. Don't ID them with adjectives like "the tall angular woman, the stocky, red-faced angry man, the doctor, lawyer," or "Native American Chief." Use their names. Period.
Trust me on this one, your reader will balk at having to keep track of characters who are identified as being naughty or nice, tall, short, sneezy, grumpy, or sleepy. (Whoopsie! I just described Snow White's pals). It takes too much effort to remember who is saying or doing what to whom. The result? Same as in example ONE.
Self-Evaluate Saves $$$~
Here's a major-league suggestion to help you save evaluation dollar$. Pre-screen your work. Self-evaluate and revise before consulting an industry professional (like me). This saves money because you have decreased the amount of time required to critique or edit your work. And, in the process, you increase your story-telling skill. When you expend time and energy to revise your current manuscript, this will affect (positively) your next one. As you increase your writing skills, you increase the potential for your book (s) to go the distance from agent to publisher to shelf space at Barnes and Noble.
April 4, 2014
Kiss Revision Blues Goodbye!
In case you haven't heard this before, the heart and soul of writing is re-writing, re-vision, re-doing, re-thinking and then, more re-vision. In the process, you not only re-invigorate your story, but you also re-shape yourself into becoming a more skillful writer.
You probably are aware (from personal experience) that re-vision of anything you've written can drive you certifiably insane.
Unless you apply The KISS method and Keep It Simple Sweetheart.
Admittedly, the task of editing and rewriting an entire manuscript can be daunting. 300 to 400 pages of text you have laboriously crafted, morphs into a Mount Everest of words.
Is this overwhelming? Certainly so. Doable? Of course.
What makes it doable? Simple words of advice from my grandmother who incorporated the following message into a needlework pillow.
Yard by yard, life is hard. Inch by inch, it's a cinch.
You can turn that simple saying into a technique that will help you move through the revision process easily.
Here's how. Revise one single chapter at a time. That's it.
A "chunk" of 15-to-25 pages at a time is totally manageable.
A writer recently requested a manuscript review to evaluate her writing skills and story flow. She felt something wasn't quite right, but couldn't identify what that "something" might be.
As I read her manuscript, (working in Word), I applied my usual "Story Doctor Diagnosis" techniques. These include identifying and marking grammatical problems on every page, and, at the same time, evaluating the flow and story structure. I discovered not only consistent grammatical errors, but also a problem with a main character.
Whenever fictional characters exhibit inconsistent behavior, or fall in and out of line with the plot, the entire manuscript requires revision to resolve the problem. Not a big deal, except, in this case, where the flawed character appeared in every chapter.
This is a big deal when the manuscript is 100,000 words (400 pages) in length.
The character in question had been introduced on page five. Naturally, from that page forward, every interaction with situations and other characters needed revision. (A classic domino effect.)
At this point, revision of the entire manuscript can appear to be an overwhelming task. Yikes!
However, my client decided to adopt grandma's advice instead of overloading with comfort food like chocolate, or banging her head against her desk top. Inch by inch translated into chapter by chapter. Whew!
Before rewriting a character in your story, write a brief biography. This will help you stay on track. Then, revise your first chapter accordingly.
Next, place your focus on writing mechanics. Hopefully, you are aware of issues you need to address. Make a list so you revise these chapter by chapter.
A word about chapter-by-chapter revision~
Begin the process with a look at the overall structure in ONE chapter. What works, what needs to be tweaked, what needs to be re-written.
Then, determine if there are issues with any of your characters.
And finally, place your focus on revisions of writing mechanics.
Once you've completed a chapter, celebrate! Get Physical! Engage in an activity you enjoy like bowling, running, shopping, or hiking, etc. Or treat yourself to a pizza. It's a big deal when you have moved your manuscript one step closer to completion.
Then, before you begin to revise the next chapter, read the last one completed to help you stay on track.
If you have an issue with your manuscript, but you can't quite figure it out, I can help you. No matter where you are in your creative process, if you need a professional opinion, the STORY DOCTOR is always available.
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March 22, 2014
Awaken Your Inner Editor~
Completing a manuscript is a daunting task, that's for sure.
And then, there's editing, which does not have to be an intimidating task if you enlist the aid of your inner editor.
As a writer, you are equipped with an incredible asset, a built-in editor who lives between your ears. Your inner editor helps you identify writing challenges by listening to the words you've written.
One, or all, of the following techniques will help you activate your inner editor.
Begin with the supportive members of your writing group. Ask someone to read your text, out loud. Then listen. Really listen. Your ears will pick up (and transmit to your brain) awkward dialogue, convoluted or unclear passages, ultra-long sentences, and repeated use of weak verbs and adverbs.
Even though you may have read your pages, over and over again, at some point, you can't "see" the words any longer. Here's why. Your brain shifts into snooze control. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I remember that word, that sentence, and that paragraph. I've read them dozens of times. Move on already. Yawn."
But, it's a whole different ballgame when your brain hears the words spoken out loud. Immediately, problem areas will jump out, demanding your attention.
You can do this on your own. Begin with no more than 12 pages of your manuscript. Print them out, so you're reading them like a book. Arm yourself with a yellow highlighter. Then, read each page o-u-t l-o-u-d and s-l-o-w-l-y. When your brain hears words or phrases that feel stilted or awkward, you'll know it right away. Highlight these, and continue reading. After you've completed all 12 pages, use the highlighted portions to guide you to text that needs to be rewritten.
Some of my clients record themselves reading their work. During playback, glitches are amplified and exposed.
If reading on your own isn't your cup of tea, ask someone to read your work out loud while you follow along on a printed copy. Pay close attention to spots where your reader stumbles or pauses. Mark these. Even if no rough spots jump out, your brain will identify phrases or passages that need your attention.
Your reader doesn't even have to be in the same room with you. One of my clients performed her first, full manuscript edit with assistance of her adult daughter who lived across the country. She emailed the manuscript to her daughter, who read it back to her via skype.
Once you've completed a first and/or second draft edit, you're ready for the assistance of an industry professional. And, because of the time and effort you've put into the first round of editing, the cost of their services usually will be budget friendly. Why? Because you've caught and revised many writing mechanics/grammar issues.
Depending on your editing effort and writing level, a "partial" line edit from an industry pro may be all you'll need. For example, many of my clients really don't need a "full manuscript" line edit because they have developed their writing and editing skills to a high degree. I begin the process by editing a portion of their manuscript pages, and mark text that needs revision. I also make suggestions on how to strengthen sentences. Then the client goes over my recommendations, and decides what and how to revise. They apply this experience as they revise the balance of their manuscript on their own.
Or, there's "leap frog," a customized editing process I've developed. It reduces my time-intensive involvement, saves my clients money, and helps them expand their writing skills . . . big time.
Here's how it works. First I read their entire manuscript to ensure the context/flow/structure makes sense and pulls the reader along, page by page. If there are no major issues, we move along to line editing.
I edit up to 25 pages, then my client uses these notated pages as a guide while they make the appropriate revisions and then work ahead beyond those first 25 pages. Using Word's "search and find" process, they discover the same types of errors in their unedited pages. As my client self-edits, I follow behind, to catch writing mistRakes they may have missed.
By the time we've moved through their entire manuscript, my client has improved their story, expanded their awareness of structure, characterization, dialogue, and writing mechanics.
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February 28, 2014
Red Flag Epidemic: is your manuscript infected?
There's an epidemic on the loose. As a book doctor, I'd be guilty of malpractice if I didn't call it to your intention because I'm pretty sure your writing is infected.
A bit of backstory first. When my children were young and learning to talk, I'd urge them, "use your words" to help stretch their minds and expand their vocabularies.
In that same spirit of encouragement, I say to you, "use your words!"
Most of you have well-developed vocabularies. Despite this, every single one of you overuse weak words, especially "was," the granddaddy of all weakies. Instead of stretching to use more powerful verbs, you rely on "red flag weakies" that infect your manuscript and scream "amateur, amateur, amateur" to agents/editors/publishers looking at your work.
Then, to compound the issue, you wave that flag with additional vigor as you link "was" and other weakies to verbs that end in "ing." For example: was running, was singing, was jumping, was thinking, was screaming, was laughing.
This deadly combination can result in the immediate banishment of your query or manuscript to delete-ville or the circular file.
The tragedy here is that even though you may have crafted a fascinating story with twists and turns, appealing characters, and snappy dialogue, a red flag infection will triumph over all.
Here's why: agents/editors/publishers reason that any writer who doesn't understand basic writing mechanics, probably doesn't possess the necessary skills to write a full book with sales potential. Keep in mind that industry professionals are overwhelmed with hundreds of query and manuscript submissions on a daily basis. When they come across any red-flag issue, they pass without reading further.
Manuscript pre-complete evaluation~
Most writers, as they work their way through the first full draft of a manuscript, wonder if the project is on track.
If you're floundering, and know something is off kilter in your story, I'll help you with a manuscript, pre-completion evaluation.
I can identify major issues within the first 15,000 to 20,000 words of your manuscript. My fee varies. If you'd like a quote for evaluation of your work in progress, (or a partial evaluation of your completed manuscript), use the contact box on the Story Doctor page.
This is my absolute favorite editing tool, regardless of whether it's a physical pen or the highlighting option in Word.
The Book Doctor is available for a house call to your critique or writing group, via Skype or google hang out, regardless of your location.
A private and customized group conference, lecture, or workshop can be just the ticket to help your writing group members.
Doesn't matter whether you want assistance on query letters, synopses, first pages, agent pitching, or any aspect of manuscript improvement.
Whatever you need, the Book Doctor can help you.
Start the conversation going by contacting me via the form on the Story Doctor page..
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