“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Editing! Death by a million cuts! But editing is a major part of any writing journey. Heck, most of the writing job is editing. I estimate spending at least 6 or more hours editing a chapter I spent 90 minutes writing.
Now how does that happen? Well, because in the rush and the ecstasy of getting the content down/idea out of your head/sandwich out of Pandora’s lunch box, key things are always missed. These are things I clean up in a long editing session. For example:
And nasty things like:
Missed words (The quick brown fox jumped over lazy dog.)
Wrong words (manager and manger can look a lot alike when you type 100 words per minute)
Using the same noun, verb, or adjective twice in the same sentence (which is more of a technique thing and may only bother novelists, though it must not bother Kanye West because I’ve heard him rhyme “did” with “did” too many times to keep counting)
And smooth stuff authors like to change up so our writing looks cool. For example:
Replacing weak verbs with strong ones
Alternating long sentences with short ones
Replacing a sentence with one word to emphasize something. You. Feel. Me.
Killing the wizard of “was”
Removing the word “that” in all sentences where it is not absolutely, positively needed
Killing excess adverbs, adjectives, and other words in order to prevent purple prose
So yes, I do all the above, then I turn around and look at the forest by reading the story through. Does the forest (in other words, the story), pulls me in and hook me to stay in there? Did something knocked me out of the reading zone? If not, then I know editing is done and it’s time to shut the laptop.
But…if the story still isn’t pleasing to me, before I go back in for another round of edits, I ask myself why I wasn’t satisfied. I ask that question because editing isn’t about rewriting or creating a new story. So, the answer to the blog title is, stop editing when you’ve gone through the bullet points I mentioned above and you aren’t trying change the plot and write a new story.
Back in January I started a running habit. I’d made a resolution to myself to build up my endurance again (after many months of skipping hard exercise, but that’s another story). Making a resolution wasn’t enough though. I also downloaded the free 5K runner app onto my iPhone. Not only did the app track my runs, it also reminded me to run at least twice per week. What else did I need to do other than get up in the morning, lace up my Nikes and show up at the Planet Fitness?
It turns out…not much. I would show up at the gym with my “trainer” in tow, step onto a treadmill, turn on the app and go. Twice a week. Every week. For several months. By the end of April I’d made it to running 4.5 miles per session, I’d dropped ten pounds and lost a pants size.
Ladies and gentlemen, showing up is ALWAYS half the battle.
Its the same way with writing. Half of the job of finishing a novel is just having the strength to keep showing up in the same spot every day and taking the same set of actions.
Like the picture of the metal balls at the top of this blog post shows, any action you take is going to set off another action. Momentum means keeping those actions going. If you want to write, or run, or climb, or ANYTHING, after you take that first action, just keep going. It doesn’t matter how slow your pace. Each day your actions will add up to something.
What action do you need to take today? If you took the action, how do you plan to show up again tomorrow? How will you keep your momentum going?
Ten years ago, when I was a naive, young lass, I set forth on a journey to write the Great American Novel. After all, I loved to write! I loved to read! I loved to read great writing! And I wanted to move beyond corporate writing and see my name on a cover for a change. All I needed was a story premise, time, and a reliable computer. That’s all any writer needs. Right?
Insert crazy, maniacal laughter here!
I found out the hard way…if I wanted to complete my life’s work and get my name on the cover of anything, I had to be serious about it. I needed more than a computer equipped with Microsoft Word. Novel writing, script writing, non-fiction, even regular blog posts, require organization, concentration, and technique. You can learn technique from books, conferences, seminars, blogs and so on. But enabling yourself to get organized, focus, stay on track and do the work? That, my friend, is a little harder.
But never fear dear writer, your friendly Documentation Diva is on the case! Peek into my toolkit and see what goodies can help you to produce your life’s writing work.
Tool For Making Time to Write: Apple iPhone Calendar
You’ll never write anything if you don’t schedule time blocks when you are doing only that. During a writing block, you don’t dawdle, you don’t doodle, you write. To keep myself on track, I enter a daily time block in my iPhone. I include an alert in it. It dings 15 minutes before the block to tell me, “Get your butt in the chair and write…now!” I’m sure Android has an equivalent calendar but I don’t know what it is because I’m an Apple disciple not fluent in Droid. :-)
I tell people about this service so much you’d think they paid me to squawk about it. This is a music service (think Pandora or Spotify). But, it is no ordinary music service. This music HELPS YOU CONCENTRATE. How can I describe it? You know what? I won’t. Here’s a quote from their site:
Focus@Will’s has a unique library of instrumental music that you won’t find anywhere else. Every track has been remixed, re-edited and scientifically remastered specifically for focus enhancement. We’re soothing your fight or flight mechanism, engaging your brain’s limbic system, to increase your attention span and general concentration.
Engaged ya’ll! Focus ya’ll! This service is worth it’s weight in gold, but will only cost you $5.83 per month (based on their most popular yearly pricing). I know what you are thinking. Special music just for work? No, seriously, try it for free for 15 days and you’ll get hooked. And for writers like me who have a hard time disengaging from kids, distractions, and life in general, it’s a godsend.
Tool For Staying In My Chair: The Pomodoro Technique
You can read all about Pomodoro here. I’ll break it down into a few simple doable steps. Get a timer (any kind will do, even a kitchen timer, or an online timer). Sit down in your writing area. Make sure your writing tools are available (laptop or iPad or pen/notebook or green crayon and cocktail napkin). Set the timer for a 25 minute interval. Start the timer. Write. Keep writing until the timer goes off. After a writing interval, either stop for the day or stretch and set up another interval. You can write ANYTHING this way, and by the end of the week you will have made progress.
Tool For Organizing Long Writing Projects:Scrivener
Scrivener is a latecomer to my toolkit. I used to write everything in OpenOffice on Mac (because Microsoft is the devil). I would save multiple drafts of everything, and I’d have folders on top of folders. I ended up with finished work, but I knew I could do better. Then, I wrote my shorter blog pieces and eBook content using Evernote (another great tool). When I discovered Scrivener it made me fall head over heels back in love with creative writing. Scrivener has templates for every type of output you can imagine (novels, ebooks, non-fiction). But where it really helps a writer is with organizing. Scrivener organizes your characters, plot, summaries, notes, chapters, and research. It even stores images. Boy! The first time I wrote a character sketch then included a thumbnail picture of what the character looked like, I started to see my story as a budding drama waiting to unfold. And when you can see it, you can achieve it.
Tool For Blogging…what else: WordPress
In case you are new to the blogosphere, WordPress is the way to go. Yes, this is my opinion. No, you do not have to take it. But, if you are new to blogging, I recommend WordPress for three main reasons. One, they have awesome free templates with crisp, clean design. Two, its relatively easy to use and you want to spend your time BLOGGING, not fiddling around with web widgets. Three, did I mention, its free?
So, ladies and gentlemen, these are my main tools to help me git ‘er done. Do you have a tool you use for productivity? Post it here in comments! Thanks!
I have three children. Harvard. Sweetie. And Crazy. They live with me and my husband in a house close enough to Philadelphia to pop in for a cheese steak at any time, and far enough away to experience absolute quiet except for birds chirping in the early morning. Writers need quiet. It’s a thing with us. Anyway…
I love the kids.
I love the kids.
I love the kids.
So now there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that I do not care for these young ones before you read what I am about to write.
School just started. All summer my three offspring were my constant companions. We’ve done vacations, day trips, movie marathons, gardening, and casual drives galore. We had great moments. We made memories. And…I am now thoroughly grateful for the institution called SCHOOL!
I’ve returned to writing and contracting full throttle and I’m grateful. After three months of no blogging or major work getting done, I grew so tired of my kids that by late August I broke out in a sweat whenever I heard one of them opening a bedroom door in the early morning. I know…I know…what kind of Mom am I?
An honest one. We live in a culture full of Facebook pictures filled with frolicking kids having a good time, mommy blogs, parenting sites, and so on. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of it. But I believe in balance.
There was a me before the three of them came along. There is a me now. I’m a mother all the time, but I’m not “mommy” every single moment of the year. There are moments when I’m a worker, or a writer, or a volunteer, or a neighbor, or a dancer (yep, still addicted to line dance…and I will be…forever).
I have fun with my daughters and son. But on this day, I am happy they have the chance to go to school, enjoy their friends, and learn well. At the end of the day I will see them and hug them and joke with them and they will ask me if I wrote. And I will say yes. And I will smile.
A few years ago I went to the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writer’s Conference. While there, I bought a book called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Why? Because more than four conference lecturers mentioned the book, I figured it would help me insert greater detail into my prose.
I went home.
I read the book.
I thought about the book (which, by the way, was very well written).
Tried to apply the information from the book.
Did the book make a difference in my writing? No.
What I found out after buying way too many books at conferences, is that very little written material will help you complete a novel.
What does work? Sit in the seat and write. Then sit in the seat and edit. Then send the writing out to be read. Then sit down and cut out the crappy parts and rewrite the scenes that don’t work and put in the details that truly need to be there. And how do you know what needs to be there? Your beta readers/writing group/folks who read the work you’ve brought them will graciously tell you.
Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. ~Psalm 116:7
If I could, I would do everything valuable in the calm quiet of the early morning. Devotions. Writing. Exercise. Even paying bills or cleaning. For me, there has always been, in the beauty of the sunrise, the power of hope. Before the day truly begins, I have hope for how the day will turn out.
I’ve battled anxiety for the better part of my adult life. I’ve never had to take medication, and I’ve never been prescribed anything, which is likely a blessing. Negative thinking, anxiety, depression…you can battle it back but you never really overcome it. It’s kind of like having asthma or bad allergies. You learn what to do to keep it from raging out of control. If you are wise, you avoid excess sugar and caffeine. If you are a believer, you connect to the God that controls everything and place your worries in His hands. You learn to keep yourself fit and to move a bit each day (dancing and running have been lifesavers for me).
I woke up this morning, and before I opened my eyes, the negative thoughts were there. Early morning. Before the day truly started. So, I got up and got myself downstairs and I connected with the Lord. And that’s where I got today’s scripture. The words of the Bible speak to me…and today’s scripture reminded me that the Lord has been good to me. He is there for me. In the morning time, and always.
I am no better, but at least I am different. ~Jean-Jacques Rousseau
This week I saw a post on TheRoot.com, about an author named Kyra Davis who has an e-book hit with a series called “Just One Night”. The series is supposed to be the next “Fifty Shades of Grey”, and the hit is optioned for television. Fifty Shades of Grey started online, grew in massive appeal, became a dollar-churning hit and now the author is reaping the benefits.
Now, in all fairness, I have not read any of Ms. Davis writing work, so I can’t comment on the quality of her writing. In the 80s, Jackie Collins sold a new bestseller each year and all her writing was filled with sex. About eight years ago, the writer Zane came on the scene and became an “overnight” success with her sizzling novels. Her work was optioned to Showtime for a…