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To Plan or Not To Plan

19 Apr

Are you a “watch the weather forecast and pick your outfit accordingly” kind of writer, or a “put something on and hope you don’t sweat or freeze” kind of writer?

In life, I’m a weather watcher. In writing, I’m a forecast gambler.

A lot of authors will swear by their various methods of planning–storyboards, character charts, webs, lists, outlines, the list goes on. Planners are the ones paying attention to the forecast of their story–deciding on the mood, action, tension, and characters ahead of time. And, lots of authors swear by the process of writing to discover. They throw on whatever they want to wear at the time, maybe bringing along a plan B outfit just in case, but allow the climate of the story to shift on its own, and then adjusting the characters to be appropriately dressed after the fact.

With the former, authors benefit from economy of time. Planning, if you are the type who works well with such structure, means that very little writing time is wasted on things that don’t make it to the final copy. Characters are fleshed out before they even enter the story, plot has definite direction, and the motivation and drama of the story is decided, meaning you already know what characters want, why they want it, and what happens when they try to get it. These are great things to know in advance. I wish it was easy for me to write in this manner, to sit down and say, “Today, I’m going to make this happen.” Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to answer any questions about my characters or plot before getting to a moment in the story where a certain question must be answered.

The latter is my preferred method because I write first drafts off of train of thought. Authors don’t necessarily know where the story is going when it starts, which can be liberating. In addition, having no plan releases an author from the feeling that preconceived ideas about the story must be adhered to. It’s hard to let go of a plan you’ve spent a lot of effort on, even when it’s not working. If it’s not the first book in a series, there’s some direction left over from the books before it, but as a stand-alone plot, very few factors are decided. To dive right in rather than to plan means that characters truly drive the story, and they grow with the plot. Nothing is decided until it has to be, and nothing is permanent. I think this is a good way to prevent myself from writing what I would do rather than what the character would do. This method may produce more loose ends to revisit, but as long as you can keep track of following through on those connections, you can be assured that actions true to the characters are taking place.

Leave your thoughts on the planning process in the comments below!

 

 

Pro-Tip: Testing

14 Apr

Every novel goes through a test-phase. If it doesn’t, well, I think it should.

A test run of your manuscript means that you’ve pried your hands away from the keyboard, clamped down on your desire to continue editing and rearranging, and actually allowed others to read it.

I know it’s tough. You’ll want positive feedback, but the negative will be more useful.

This necessary step in the revision process affords you some time away from the text. When you come back, you’ll read with fresh eyes and new opinions. While it’s nail-bitingly nerve wracking to give something that you consider unfinished to others for the sole purpose of judging it, the feedback you’ll receive will be that last push you need to move toward completing the project. Finally.

Personally, this stage, which I’m about to embark upon myself, is exciting because I’ll get to hear from outsiders, both within and without my target audience, and who know nothing about the story, whether it’s as slow, redundant, cliche, or lame as I worry it is in certain parts. I’ll learn whether my jokes hit the right note, if my characters are relatable, and if I’ve classified the genre and age range correctly.

Help your test readers out by giving them a reader’s note along with the manuscript. Include your log-line and jacket summary. If they know what you intend to get across with the story, they’ll be able to tell you if you did or didn’t accomplish that. If they don’t know your intentions, they’ll find their own meaning along the way and assume you did a nice job. Include a bulleted list of concerns you have–things you want them to consider and report back on specifically. Include your prospective genre and age range to make sure you’re on target regarding content complexity and appropriateness. And DEFINITELY include a big thank you. Your friends and family have just agreed to do for free what editors charge enough to make a living doing.

And remember that no matter what kind of feedback you fear getting ahead of time, you will get to edit again because nothing in a manuscript is permanent.

Happy writing, happier re-writing!

 

Pro-Tip: Parallelism in Lists

10 Mar

One of the most common mistakes I see when editing is the use of a list where the tense does not match before and after the comma (,) or colon (:).

The easiest way to decide whether you’ve been consistent in each part of your list is to read your sentence all the way through using only one item out of the list as the completion of the sentence. Each item in the list should create a complete sentence with the phrase that sets up the list independent of the other items given.

Ex: In the study, researchers found that children who went to school hungry: lacked focus, felt fatigued, struggled with following instructions, and acted out more frequently than children not experiencing hunger.

Notice in the example that the phrase leading in the list is in PAST TENSE. This means that all verbs used in list items must also be in PAST TENSE.

To verify the consistency of tense, you can choose any one list item read it as a complete sentence.

Ex: In the study, researchers found that children who went to school hungry struggled with following instructions.

Each list item should complete the sentence correctly in this way.

The same goes for lists set up with commas.

Ex: It’s easy to walk into the grocery store and leave with a box of cake mix, three tubs of icing, and fifty granola bars, but not the milk I went for.

Using just one item from the list, it’s still a sentence because it’s conjugated properly all the way through. And, finally, to check your sentence one last time, you should be able to remove the entire list–that’s everything after the first comma and before the last comma, and still have a complete sentence (subject and verb phrase). The example below displays both concepts.

Ex: It’s easy to walk into the grocery store and leave with a box of cake mix, but not the milk I went for.

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading. Leave any questions in the comments section!

 

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast™

 

 

 

 

Pro-Tip: After You’re Finished Writing

4 Feb

So you’re done writing a piece. What next? Have you edited yet?

That’s the first step, and it’s a step that will be repeated as your own edits and the suggestions of professional editors or test readers begin to reshape the text. Editors will help you look at content AND the technical side of writing. Hiring a professional is a great second step in moving toward publication. Notice I say second step. This is because you should be editing your own work at least twice before paying anyone else to do it. You will spend a lot of money on an editor if she or he is paid to scrutinize a novel that is still at a first draft stage. There will be many flaws pointed out, and the story will not be publication ready when you get it back from the editor. That editor will need to read it again after you have fixed the issues mentioned.

If your novel is at that point where the content doesn’t need scrutinizing, a proofreader is the appropriate professional to seek. Proofreaders will find the mechanical and technical flaws without trying to do anything to the story or characters you’ve so clearly fleshed out–that’s for the developmental and line editors to worry with, and you’re past that stage.

With any hired writing service, you don’t HAVE to take the advice given, and you are not required to change something in your writing if the suggestions for improving it don’t fit with your purposeful intentions (and by purposeful, I mean YOU did it on purpose and IT has a purpose for being that way, that an end-goal will be reached because of that choice). However, we are paid to look for inconsistencies, errors, and inadequacies, so if a problem is found, chances are your purposeful choice did not convey as such. A purposeful choice to style your writing in one way is different than a blatant mistake, even if it does go against the grammar norm, but it should be written clearly enough to appear deliberate. If you can justify your choice to break the prescriptive rules of how writing “should be,” then that’s the first step in purposeful writing. The next step is clarity. This is because clear writing doesn’t need justification from its author. It is obvious. Editors and proofreaders get to ask the author why something was written in a certain way. Readers of the final publication usually don’t get to talk to the author. Your text IS your chance to make your meaning and reasoning clear. In writing, the author has a one-sided conversation with the reader where all information is given up front; the author must anticipate the opposition and the skeptics to ensure that any weak point that might cause a gap in understanding is patched up preemptively. This includes verifying that all purposeful rule-breaking actually seems purposeful (in both senses as discussed earlier).

Is it time to submit for publication yet? Maybe so. Whether you’ve hired one editor or five, please keep in mind that a publishing company will assign its own editor to your story if/when the manuscript is accepted. Getting it in tip top shape before submitting is the best idea. You want to be taken seriously. However, there needs to be a place in your process where you say, “This is good enough for now.” (Read the article at the link for more on this.) See what the publishers actually say before trying to change parts you still doubt, and see what they say rather than assuming you know what they want out of your genre in the first place. Most authors get many rejections, which are basically free critiques on how to get better. So, maybe before you spend any more money on editors and proofers, try submitting to a few places and see what they say. Then adjust the manuscript accordingly.

Most importantly, though, remember that it is YOUR text (at least until it is accepted and rights are purchased by a publishing company), and you’re never going to have a hired panel of professional problem-finders that 100% agree with the way you wrote something in its original form. Professional editors and proofreaders are all writers first, even if our careers are to help others with their writing. It’s likely you’ll find 100+ ways to say the same thing if you continue to seek out other writers’ opinions because writing is based on the individual’s aesthetic. But opinions have no power unless you adopt them as your own.

In a nutshell–There are artful ways to break the rules, and you ultimately have to go with your gut and your authentic intentions. If your intentions can’t co-exist with the recommended edits, make sure they are justifiable choices. If you can’t find a reason why you did something in a certain way, it’s probably better to change it. If there’s a purpose, a reasonable explanation for breaking the rules, you’re probably safe. But remember, clear and precise writing, even when it breaks conventional rules, should not need explaining. Your choices need to appear as choices and not mistakes, so make sure the unique “rule-breaking” areas are carefully crafted.

 

Happy editing!

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast™

Pro-Tip: Punctuation Quick Fix

4 Jan

Hello, Lovelies! Happy New Year.

Today, I’m giving you a quick list of the top five punctuation mistakes I see most frequently while editing for clients. Now, you can watch for these errors and correct them yourself BEFORE you have to pay someone to find them. Visit the links for full discussions on each topic and examples of execution.

In no particular order:

1-Comma Splice and Missing Comma: Thinking of a comma splice as an extra or unnecessary comma without its accompanying conjunction will suffice for this quick lesson. For a full discussion on the comma splice, see Self-Editing Tip #2. To spot a comma splice, ask yourself if your sentence is actually comprised of two (or more) complete sentences linked by a comma. If yes, is there a conjunction after the comma? If no, it’s a comma splice. To fix it, your options are to add a conjunction after the comma, to change the comma to a semi-colon, or to replace the comma with a period and capitalize as necessary to form to complete and independent sentences. Similarly, a missing comma is identifiable by asking if there are: three (or more) items in a list or series, two (or more) complete sentences connected by a conjunction, or a complete sentence preceded or followed by a dependent clause. Each of these requires a comma between list/series items, independent clauses/complete sentences, and dependent and independent clauses respectively.

2-Uneeded Apostrophes: I see a lot of apostrophes used to make words plural. This is incorrect. The pluralize a word, like going from one apple to many, simply add “s.” Apostrophes are used to show ownership. They precede “s” in possessive nouns and pronouns. In the occasional instance that a plural noun shows ownership over a plural object, the apostrophe comes AFTER “s.”

3 & 4-Incorrect Placement of Quotation Marks & Paragraph Formatting of Dialogue: If you follow the link, you’ll find a full discussion on the purpose of quotation marks and how to (and not to) use them. For this tip, though, I want to assume you already know the basics and focus on where the marks belong in a sentence when there are other punctuation marks in the vicinity. Quotation marks go OUTSIDE of periods and commas at the end of a sentence of dialogue (“Sentence here,” the author said.). Quotation marks precede and follow the word or inner punctuation WITHOUT a space (“Sentence.”). Quotation marks are not necessary at the beginning and ending of EVERY sentence by the same character speaker. Place one at the beginning of a character’s dialogue and one at the end where the character is completely done speaking. 4-The next piece of text, whether narration, description, or another character speaking, will begin on a new line as a new paragraph. (“Sentence of first character is long. There are multiple sentences. You see that there only needs to be a quotation mark at the final end of that character’s speaking. After I’m done here, I will start a new paragraph–new line, indent.”)

5- Hyphens: Knowing the difference between a compound word (one word made of two parts that are, on their own, also words) and two words that we conveniently slap together linked by a hyphen is important. Some words are correct–or at least accepted–written with OR without the hyphen (anti- or anti). Some are not (weekend, not to be confused with weakened, please). In addition, some words have different meanings depending on their usage or lack of a hyphen (makeup, make up, and make-up, the former as a noun for cosmetics, middle as a verb for catching up on something or resolving and issue, and the latter used as an adjective for something being completed after the fact). In most cases spell check functions will either allow any variation because it does not have precise enough understanding of sentence and word meaning. On occasion, these programs will encourage you to correct to the wrong punctuation. Watch out.

Thanks for reading. Happy writing!

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast™

 

Pro-Tip: Characterization

6 Oct

How do you talk to your friends? To your family? Bosses and coworkers?

For every person and situation, there is a way we present ourselves. Why should this be any different for each of your characters? It shouldn’t.

I remember when teachers used to say, “Don’t start a sentence with ‘because,’” or “You can’t use contractions in formal or serious writing.” And they had lots of rules about slang. To a point, those rules were useful. In the context of their classrooms, they were golden. Following such laws ensured decent grades. After all, breaking a rule so explicitly stated would render the teacher unable to take you seriously beyond that point.

But now, it’s time to forget it. It’s rubbish. Rules like that have a place in the classrooms of the teachers who value them and little place else. Try writing a realistic character without breaking them. It’s nearly impossible if you want that character to sound like someone you could really meet. And that’s the key—creating characters that we see ourselves and others in, even when the character isn’t a human. Characters are textual embodiments of our human experience. Even a talking dog on Mars will be based on the actions and emotions we know because it’s impossible to invent an emotion or characteristic fully new and alien. It may seem different but, somewhere at its core, every new creation of fiction is rooted in the human experience. If characters aren’t experiencing and acting organically as you or I would, then what are they? Caricatures of prescriptive rules, rules which tell us how language ought to be but do not reflect how language is actually used.

Example: “Tom, it is late. I find we will miss the movie if we do not leave now. Are we not going to the movies after all?”

“No, Summer, we are not. I have to complete this project for chemistry lab. It is due tomorrow, and I neglected to begin work earlier. I am very sorry.”

Ok, so there’s nothing technically wrong with that exchange between Summer and her boyfriend, Tom. The scene is clear. But how forced did that feel? If you were Summer would you talk like that? If you were Tom? Maybe if this was an exchange between Data and a Vulcan… otherwise, I doubt it. Plus, would a Vulcan actually forget to do his homework? I digress.

Many readers play the scenes of a novel like a movie in their minds. Less visual learners may not, but chances are, they at least listen to the soundtrack of the words. Reading a conversation like the example is as awkward feeling as it would be to watch that scene play out in real life. It doesn’t flow. It sounds like a business exchange between strangers, not a dispute between partners, lovers. The formality slows the natural rhythm of reading. It gets in the way. In more colloquial speech, the words run together. They sound in a reader’s head as they would out of the reader’s mouth. Smooth, easy, and with more personality.

When writing, make sure you’re not stalling the tension and momentum of your scenes by being overly formal. Fiction novels aren’t research papers, agent queries, resumes, or instruction manuals. Make your characters talk like real people.

Since you’ve thrown out all of those rules I mentioned earlier, replace them with this: Each character must have a unique and realistic voice that reflects personality. All quirks will at that point appear purposeful because they will be unique to the character.

Perhaps one character really DOES talk that way in the novel. The choice to leave the dialogue formal, or fully informal, at all times, or even riddled with slang or nonsense words would be obviously purposeful to your readers because no one else would be quite the same. The way we talk is a part of our personality, and it is no different for the characters you create.

Keeping that in mind, let’s try the example again.

“Tom, aren’t we going to the movies? We’ll be late.”

“No, Summer. I’ve got this project for chem that’s due tomorrow. I forgot all about it. Sorry.”

OR

“Tom, we’re not going to the movies, are we?”

“Nope. I just remember I have a chemistry project due in the morning.”

“You promised.”

“I’m sorry.”

“See, you always do this. You plan all this great stuff and then you’re all, ‘Oh, well, I gotta do this instead.’”

“I don’t sound like that.”

OR

“You ready to go, Tom? We need to leave now.”

“I’m doing this chem lab. I can’t stop in the middle of it.”

“Really? You knew we were going out at 4. You saw me getting ready. Why did you start the project if you knew you couldn’t stop until the end? Why didn’t you say something an hour ago?”

See how a simple exchange can escalate if you let the language develop to who the characters are individually and what their situation is as a whole? With additional characterization and narration, the reader may already know or soon learn that these two always bicker, that she’s a little spoiled, but that her irritation is justified due to his aloof attitude and transient interests, or maybe it’s a first fight and the reader has to continue to find out if their relationship can withstand it. With more surrounding description, the reader should be able to say these sentences in the voices set up for each character—the reader’s own variation of what the author has led her to imagine.

The takeaway here is, within reasonable consideration of appropriateness to your target audience, abandon all rules that don’t suit the reality of a character or scene. If your character uses contractions in speech or starts sentences with “because,” let him. If the scene requires slang, go for it. If your protagonist only curses when surprised because she hates to be surprised, let it fly, but only in the proper scenarios. Stay true to the character. All of them should talk in the text like they would talk to you in real life.

Happy writing.

Amanda Marsico,

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

Pro-Tip: Setting

5 Oct

It’s important to ground your writing in a time and place. This isn’t just for fiction writers, either. Every discourse needs a context. It’s not enough just to say that someone is in Philly on a Saturday afternoon. Yes, that is a place and time, but it doesn’t tell the reader anything about the larger scope of the scenario. Is this past, present, or future? Go beyond that, as well. If your character is in Chicago in the present, but your narrative flashes back three years to that time she visited Quebec, you’ll still need to tell the reader when NOW is and when THREE YEARS AGO was. Is NOW actually now, 2015? Or, is the NOW in your story 1955? From that point, the flashbacks and flashforwards will be greatly impacted. 2012 was a lot different than 1952. So, while visual (and other sensory) descriptions of your setting are very important in order for the reader to get a sense of what physically surrounds the characters, that setting isn’t just floating in some ambiguous time in history.

Example: Marley and Chris rounded the corner of 5th Avenue to hail a cab. It was a beautiful summer day, and there were lots of people about. Chris stepped to the littered curb and coolly signaled the yellow minivan. When it skimmed the sidewalk, leaves and papers rustled past. Marley approached, lost in thoughts of three years earlier. Not much around her had changed. The air smelled the same—hot, vaguely polluted, with mingled aromas of ethnic foods—and the buildings around her still stood watching in their fading brick skins. Beneath that, though, deeper, where the city had no jurisdiction over her thoughts, autumn was creeping in, and with it the rusty color-change of her feelings for Chris. Leaves drying before a fall.

Now, the paragraph above has a physical and geographical setting. It has a seasonal setting. It has sensory details about where they are currently, where they were three years before, and how that is impacting her emotionally. However, this paragraph would not be able to hold its own in a novel if this were the only indication of time and place. There are no markers to tell me when NOW and THREE YEARS AGO actually happened. The inclusion of a vehicle gives a better indication of NOW, but it still isn’t exact. We also can’t tell how old they are. Old enough to have been in a relationship for three years, but that still leaves a lot of options.
If this were a scene in the middle of a novel where those factors in question had already been established, there would, of course, be no need to repeat that information. If Marley frequently flashes back to three years ago, and that year was detailed in depth during the first flash back, it would be redundant to dig up those details every time. A casual reference of this kind would suffice.

The take-away, then, is situational. If you’re placing characters for the first time, the reader needs to know enough about that moment to ground them in the geography and era. You don’t want your readers imagining your futuristic, silicone body suit-wearing protagonist in a 1920s flapper dress. I assume. The pictures we imagine as we read are informed by what the author chooses to disclose. If you want a certain conclusion reached, or in this case a certain visual, lead the reader to it. Assess your situation scene by scene. Decide if you need that additional information or if it would be redundant to include it. Write accordingly.

And remember, this isn’t just for fiction despite my first example. A research paper, a piece of journalism, and editorial, a blog all need a context. It might be sufficient to say of a blog piece, “I’m on my couch with the cats writing this to you now.” A blog post will be time-stamped by the hosting website. Readers will know when NOW actually happened. An editorial on a great new restaurant might need more. “In order to miss the dinner crowd, I ate at Chez New Restaurant with my husband at 4pm. They just opened a week ago, which is a shame because opening a week earlier could have earned them the last of the summer vacationers, but I digress. We ordered the…” You get where I’m going with this. Without being overly detailed, the reader sees that I ate dinner, but early in the day, and that the restaurant is new as of the end of summer/early fall. Even without a specific date in the narrative, it gives a clear picture of the setting/season. I won’t bore you with more examples; the point is clear. Assess your scenario and the need-to-knows of your readers. Premeditate their questions and answer in advance by being detailed.

How do you ground your readers in a setting? I’d love to hear your methods in the comments!

Thanks for reading.

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

Join me on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/marsicowritesite

Pro-Tip: Clarity in Paragraphs and Transitions

30 Sep

It’s easy enough to say that each paragraph you write should make sense. It’s an obvious thing for me to say, and all of you reading this are probably thinking,”Well, that’s not advice.” And you’re right. But beyond that, clarity in a paragraph means that each segment of text should have a distinguishing factor, a reason that it is its own paragraph. In short, a main idea that is summarizable. So, if a paragraph is separated from the one before or after it just as a break in text, for visual appeal or as a small breather, that’s not enough reason for the segment to stand alone. If that separate segment doesn’t have its own main point, its own idea or skeleton that makes it exist separately from the previous paragraph, then it shouldn’t be separate. 

Don’t let high school lessons on paragraphs trip you. Forget the “a paragraph has about five sentences” lesson, and forget the “that paragraph is the entire page” complaint. If there is a reason for all of those thoughts to exist together, then so be it. BUT, that is the great and determining question, both for deciding if you need to break into a new paragraph or group smaller segments into one large piece. Ask yourself: 

  • Are like ideas together?
  • Does this paragraph have a main point?
  • Although related overall, does it exist independently of the previous and following paragraph?

Depending on your answers, you’ve either created a clear paragraph with backbone and purpose, or you haven’t. Revise accordingly.

If you have no reason for a paragraph to be on its own, if it’s a continuation of the previous paragraph, put it with that other paragraph. Keep like ideas together. Otherwise, have a good reason for your choices.

  • Example: Breaking a paragraph in the middle of one narrative moment because the paragraph looks too long on the page versus purposeful/stylistic dislocation or repetition of an idea apart from the main narrative that contains it to achieve flashback or flash forward

When you do need to start a new paragraph, use topic sentences or transition sentences. They say, “Here I am. I am related to the general ideas of the text as a whole, but I am my own entity. I am taking you from the idea in that paragraph to this one, and even though we’re different, we belong together. I’ll prove it.” And then you use the body of that paragraph to prove it. I’ve always said, and any of my formers students reading this can attest, that if you want your reader to reach a certain conclusion about your ideas, you must lead them there with transitions. What you see as related may not seem so apparent to others without that clear signal. You’re the writer. Of course YOU know what you’re trying to say. Will your reader? As such, use that transition as the topic sentence which lends the new paragraph clarity for being its own thing, clarity/summarizabiltiy in its topic, and clarity in its purpose for existing in the story at all. Again, if the paragraph doesn’t do these things, it probably shouldn’t be there (either on its own, or maybe at all–see pro-tip on letting go of the junk).

Finally, keep in mind that all of this advice on paragraph breaks applies only to narrative and content paragraphs. Dialogue, of course, does not fit in this scenario because all new beginnings of dialogue, whether switching between speakers or switching between speaker and narrative, begin a new paragraph. This is a rule of formatting not to be confused with what I’ve said here about lumping large pieces of text together if it all has the same main idea. Please don’t do that with dialogue. 

For more discussion, see the comments section below or email me at marsicoam@gmail.com! In the meantime,

Happy writing!

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

Pro-Tip: The Importance of Napping

9 Sep

Fair warning, today’s tip has nothing to do with the actual meat of your writing. This tip has to do with YOU.

I’ve read a lot of “How to Write” books, articles, blogs and all of them take considerable time discussing how vital it is to MAKE time to write. These how-to resources are quick to assume that aspiring writers are not full-time writers. I’m not saying this assumption is fully incorrect. Let’s face it; it’s very difficult to get by financially on the hope of future publication. For those who have not already started to earn a living by their craft, the reality is that writing is a part-time job, a late-night endeavor, a when-I-can hobby. Something else has to bring in the cash while we write toward that big break or perfect job.

So, while these how-to articles are not wrong to say that it is vital to plan a time to get the work done, they often neglect the person behind the task. I realize it’s difficult with jobs, families, and other obligations (plus the desire for a social life) to make time to write. What is even harder, sometimes, is to make time to relax. It’s easy to feel guilty for not using empty time for writing when all of these outside sources say that the best, easiest, only way to make writing a career is to force a place for it into your schedule. Sometimes, though, when you have free time, that’s exactly what you want to do with it. Be free. I call this post “the importance of napping,” but I don’t mean you literally have to nap—although I LOVE to nap. What it comes down to is avoiding the burn out or writer’s block that comes from stress.

Mind-fry is common when balancing so many facets of life, especially under the immense pressure for perfection that we put on ourselves as authors (see earlier Pro-Tip about obsessive revision). As important as it is to prioritize a part of your day for writing, it is equally important to prioritize some time (any time, even if it’s not daily) to mellow. Getting away from your writing can help you hash out new ideas, come back with fresh eyes, see mistakes you overlooked, and feel a general boost in motivation. How can you be excited to get started on something when you’re never away from it? Instead, it just stagnates.

So, don’t feel guilty or lazy or irresponsible for taking some time for yourself to nap, day dream, meditate, or take a walk. Not to sound cliché or sappy, but it’s true that if you don’t nurture yourself, you can’t nurture anything you’re trying to create.

Happy writing (and napping),

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

Pro-Tip: Reigning in the Obsessive Reviser

4 Sep

Reigning in the obsessive reviser, also called moving on.

As authors, we are our own worst critics, and there will always be those features (in our writing and in ourselves) we’d like to strengthen. A piece of writing (or art of any kind) never feels completely finished in the eyes of its perfectionist creator. And let’s be real—authors, for the most part, are just like that by nature. I know I am. You may realize after adding more material, completing some revisions, or going through a total overhaul of ideas that what worked during an earlier iteration of your project no longer achieves the desired goal in the newest. So, if a story-line, character, sentence, or word isn’t doing the work you need it to do, change it. Just remember that, when revising, the goal isn’t to get it perfect or even good enough, but to make it good for now. Revision is a recursive process. You will do it again. And again.

If your text isn’t perfect after that one mid-write edit, oh well. Keep going. If your text isn’t perfect after that midnight revise, oh well. Come back to it tomorrow. If your text isn’t perfect after your 5-minutes-until-due-date scramble, oh well. Turn it in anyway. You must resist the urge to edit so fiercely along the way that you cease to write anything new and, instead, produce one-hundred versions of the same paragraph, page, chapter, without progressing or meeting deadlines.

I’ll say it again: Revision is repetitive, but it is not meant to achieve perfection—especially if that obsessive quest for perfection results in late or no submissions. That’s not perfect at all. The point is, you WILL have the chance to make more changes (even if you are working on a deadline). What I mean by this is that, if on a deadline, you get the text to a “good for now” status—the best work you can do in the time given—and you pry your pen out of your hand or off of the keyboard in order to submit it. If the compulsion to continue revising remains, go ahead and work more on your copy of the text knowing that the submitted work was good for now, as complete or concise or creative or accurate as it could be with the time and resources allowed, and just move on.

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