Training the Eye (part 1): Teaching yourself to find the mistakes

Did you recently finish writing a novel? Or, did you finish one a while ago and now you’re sitting on the manuscript, dreading going into the editing phase? I’m with you, on both counts. I have a few manuscripts that are completed, manuscripts I’m just sitting on until I have the oomph to actually edit them. Which means that I’m also always just about to enter a new round of editing.

So I might be just the person to tell you a bit about what goes into those edits, and the things you should be looking for as you train your eye in the art of editing. All month long, let’s discuss, shall we?

 

Training the eye to edit (part 1)

 

I’m going to be talking on two points, today. Not because they go together at all, but because they’re both equally as important, and I thought the rest of my series would make more sense if I got both of these points out of the way from the start.

 

1.      Grammar, Word Usage, and Sentence Structure

Of course, these are the main things you probably already know you should be looking for. We all know one of the biggest pet peeves of readers is finding grammar errors in their favorite author’s books (I don’t know why it bothers them—there’re typographical errors in every document ever written). You can see how much that annoys me, I’m sure.

I’ve digressed. See, grammar and word usage are two of the biggest things you need to train your eye to edit. I know you know the difference between their, they’re, and there, but can you spot them on a page full of hundreds of other words? Can you find the teeny tiny incorrect punctuation mark amidst the chaos of your longest paragraph? I couldn’t, when I started out. But over the years, I’ve trained my eye to find them, wherever possible.

Word usage is another matter. All of us have words we love, specific words we adore and love to use as often as we can—unfortunately, a lot of those words also have tendency to jump off the page, in the eyes of our readers. Take myriad, one of the words I adore. It’s not a word we hear all the time, not a word we’re accustomed to reading or hearing on a daily basis, so when we do read it, it jumps off the page in an instant. That’s not something we want. That’s something that draws attention to the writing itself, and away from the story within the words. We want our readers to be immersed in our story, not in the words we used. Realistically, we don’t even want them to recognize the words at all. What we really want is for them to envision the world and the scenes we’ve created, without ever reading something that pulls them out of that word.

In the same way, we need to watch the way we structure our sentences. And I know this one can be difficult. I have this problem, in all my books, where I tend to write sentences with the exact same structure over and over again. That can get old, and is something you need to train your eye to find. Look at your sentences with scrutiny, searching for ways to vary your sentences. Use fragments. Add run-ons when you think they’re necessary. Remember, you’re writing a book: many of the sentence structure rules you learned in school can be thrown out the window. Just make sure the story is well-written, and that your sentences aren’t a thing that pull readers out of your story. 

Because whatever you do, make sure your readers remain immersed in your world. Don’t break the bubble you’re creating on your pages, the bubble in which you’ve made your story take place.

 

2.      Over explaining the simple stuff (and under explaining the complex stuff)

This is something I’ve been working on, too. I have a tendency, in my writing, to go into far too much detail on things that don’t really matter—which breaks one of the cardinal rules of writing. Don’t give it much detail unless it’s important. It’s a good rule of thumb, in general, while you’re writing. And it’s something you can train yourself to get better at while you’re writing, as well. But, if you’re like me and you just want to describe like crazy, then learning to fix it while you’re editing works just as well.

See, sometimes we get an image in our mind and we really want to show it to our readers. We really want our readers to see everything exactly the way we see it, even if that thing we’re describing doesn’t matter in the long run. On the other hand, sometimes we don’t describe things when we really ought to. Our character is using a tool we invented for our story, but we spend zero time to say what it looks like or even what it does, so that our readers has no chance to really understand it.

Either one is a bad option, and therefore becomes something we must train our eyes to look for, both when we’re writing and when we’re editing.

Genre, however, will play a large role in determining how much you describe in your book. For instance, if you’re a thriller writer, you’ll probably only describe very specific things, things to drive the tension forward. If you’re a romance writer, you might focus on the romantic nature of things. But if you’re like me and you’re a sci-fi or fantasy writer, your readers will expect you to add a fair bit more detail throughout. Especially with fantasy, readers want to be able to see everything in the world you’ve made. In sci-fi, they want to see the technological side of things in your world. It gives you license to use more words (which I use with mild abandon, honestly).

And there you have it. Two things for you to start with, things you should be looking for while you’re writing but also while you’re on your first round of edits. Next time, we’ll start to get a bit more in-depth.

 

Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.

The Writers Zodiac (finale)

Let’s finish up.

Libra: With your keen desire for balance you are often the pinnacle of objectivity, able to see and understand differing facets of a situation. You enjoy diplomacy so much you’ll collaborate to the point of letting the other author do all the work because you loathe conflict. While you’d make a great editor because you are usually unbiased and fair, don’t relax into a lack of creativity when it comes to your own work. If you’re concerned about your written words becoming divisive, try flirting a little with your audience. That skill is in your wheelhouse as well.
Suggested Genre(s): non-fiction communication training manuals, plea bargains. Editing.

Scorpio: Let’s face it. You’re scary. If Stoker and King had a literary baby it would be you. You don’t actually write, you puncture the paper, injecting it with venom until it foams at the edges and bleeds out in convulsive horrific glory. You make children and old people cry with your words and you wear terror like a crown. Combine this persistence to the point of gutting anyone who gets in your way and the fact that horror sells, if you don’t lose your mind before you’re published, you may be quite successful. And I don’t just say this because I know a writer who is a Scorpio and I value my life.
Suggested Genre(s): horror, terror, with lots of mauling and pillaging.

Sagittarius: You are nothing if you are not optimistic, except maybe tactless. While you usually have a conversational style that makes you an easy read, and adept at dialogue heavy voluminous works, you’re not big on details. You’re also not good with differing opinions, so topics like politics and religion probably aren’t for you. Unless your target audience is full of like minds. Then by all means, go for it.
Suggested Genre(s): travel blogs, suspense, material for Sarah Silverman.

Capricorn: Ambitious and disciplined, whatever the topic, you’re all in and eyes on the prize. Success is not an option for you. It is an inevitability. Never collaborate though, because you’ll no doubt have to drag the inert body of your lessor-abled partner over the published writer finish line and that will cause you embarrassment. And you hate to be embarrassed. You’ll do it of course because you are unstoppable. And probably offended by this post, but unable to tell me because you really embarrass easy, don’t you?
Suggested Genre(s): anything you want. Just don’t ask me to collaborate with you. I hate being dragged.

Aquarius: Eccentric, eclectic and light years ahead of your time you can create worlds with your imagination and yet be astonished that the rest of us might want to inhabit them because your logic won’t allow you to buy into what you created. Unfortunately, you struggle writing much of anything because you are often incapable of inhabiting a point in time for more than a nanosecond. In your head it’s a novel, no wait a screen play with a soundtrack and a companion board game, but on paper….nothing. If you want to write, give yourself a little more time before you morph into the next persona. It will be worth it.
Suggested Genre(s): Fantasy, myths and legends, astrology posts.

Pisces: If you can dream it, you can write about it, and my fishy friend your head is simply full of beautiful writerly dreams. You have all the feels inside your squishy heart and can reproduce the human condition with truth and empathy but you need to grow some alligator skin and quit letting the humans you so love walk all over your delicate finny tail. Don’t grasp for a series or even a standalone novel because we all know how easily bored you get. Try a bit of flash fiction, or a poem so you get a taste for finishing things you start.
Suggested Genre(s): free verse, vignettes on the human condition, your own personal journals to be found after your untimely demise.

And now the truth: We are all gifted and inept as this thing we do. No matter when you were born, you have your own skill set and your own wonderful way of bringing your story to the page. Never stop being you. This world needs writers who are genuine, human and able to laugh a little at themselves.

As for me? Even though I put no stock in astrology, I’m a Taurus and yes, it is all about that bacon.

Peace
Tammy Boehm, Associate Editor

The Writers Zodiac (part one)

Let’s have a little fun. I don’t believe in the zodiac any more than I believe in Santa Claus, but if I did… this is how I’d make a writer’s zodiac.

Aries: Aggressive and dominant by nature, you never back down from a challenge. Whatever you write, rest assured you’ll have readers or you’ll bludgeon them with your completed series of tomes. No is not in your vocabulary, nor is it allowed in the vocabulary of those around you, especially those whose opinions actually merit something, like your editor and your public relations manager.
Suggested genre(s): medical research books, tax law, assembly instructions for toys.

Taurus: Once you roll out of your 100-count Egyptian cotton sheets and polish off half a pound of bacon, you are always a ready, steady, and reliable writer. Unfortunately, because you rash up at the slightest discomfort you rarely step out of your groove and write something unpredictable. Step back from the line between determined and pigheaded and live a little, will you?
Suggested genre(s): food blogs, luxury vacation spot reviews, Amish romance.

Gemini: With your natural curiosity, your mad social skills, and your smarts, just think of the stuff you could write if you’d stop talking about it and grab a pen! A real Gemini does not know the feeling of writer’s block because the ideas never stop coming. If you really want to produce something read-worthy, hone in on things that keep you up at night, that make you stop and ponder. Don’t be a goldfish.
Suggested genre(s): science fantasy, fiction thrillers, fox news articles.

Cancer: It’s no secret that home and family life are important to you. You undoubtedly have a plethora of photos with paragraphs on the backs of them, newspaper clippings of family events and several volumes worth of dirt on everyone who shares a bit of DNA. I might even be able to find you with an ancestry.com membership, regularly posting on a discussion board. Which is why you haven’t written that historical fiction novel yet. When you’re finally ready to use your formidable perceptive skills to craft characters of your own instead of chasing leaves on your genealogy tree, you might pen a book. Or several.
Suggested genre(s): tabletop devotionals, historical fiction, scrapbooks.

Leo: Charismatic and attention seeking, if we aren’t immediately blown away by your brilliance, we’ll most definitely succumb to your prowess in chapter two because you are the epitome of performer. Most days you could write about pond scum and make us salivate for a bowl of it but unfortunately for you and your larger-than-life ego, not everyone likes you all the time. Chill out, will you? The pond scum is better scum for your efforts, and the majority of us who do love you are fat and happy. Really.
Suggested genre(s): Pirate novels. Slapstick comedy skits. Slam poetry.

Virgo: Precise and analytical, if you pen it your reader can believe it because you do your homework. You are a consummate fact checker and you’re never flippant about your efforts. You’re a unicorn where editors are concerned because you would rather dig out your eyes with a spoon than miss a deadline. There isn’t any style of writing you can’t tackle and we all know it so quit being so harsh on your fellow writers. You’re making us look bad.
Suggested genre(s): self help, sestinas, Speaking Mandarin for Dummies

We’ll finish up next week.

Peace
Tammy Boehm, Associate Editor

The Dark Side

Contrary to sporadic outbreaks of facebook kitsche, the Dark side does not in fact have cookies.

Let me be clear. Hell is hell. It is a real place full of real monsters and it has a real presence in reality.

Bear with me, I’m not tying bottle rockets to my makeshift pulpit. I just want to give you something that transcends the chaos, dear artist. Because you, by your desire and gift to illuminate and magnify all that is what ever it is about the human condition—you are susceptible to joining the dark side and never coming back to the light.

What am I getting at? Well I’m gonna make you think for yourself here about your influences, your inspirations—musicians, artists, writers who resonate with you and even those things which you yourself pen or draw or choreograph.

There is a mindset that beauty born from pain is relevant, lasting, and deep. And those things which are lighthearted, bouncy, are perhaps vapid and destined to disappear like so much happy unicorn glitter. Ephemera evaporates. Blood congeals. And most humans are more prone to slow down and ogle a car accident than they are to contemplate a rainbow.

Unfortunately, for the artist, there is real danger in that.

You see, many of us with a creative bent actually lived the whole “beauty from pain” bit. We can and do write books about it. We lived with demons in parent skin or sibling skin or the skin of someone who should have nurtured us but instead destroyed parts of our lives with whatever horror available to them to mete out on us. And in order to purge what we couldn’t digest, we wrote the pain. We danced the anger, the loss. We drew the blood in dark ink. And we lived it again, and relived it. And it became a part of us until we too lived in the darkness. Absorbing the abuse, the neglect, until it became us. And we perpetuated the chaos we so desperately wanted to escape.

Why? Because in the very act of validation we so desperately crave we allow it to become our muse, and then our identity.

Dear artist, your gift is there so you can heal.

Your talent to write exists so you can purge the monster and move on. Your story should help others perhaps not so eloquent to understand that not only are they not alone, but that there is beauty and light and joy beyond the pain of broken, of abuse, of neglect, of addiction, of slavery. Expose the darkness—and then kill it. Allow your gift to heal you, and then use it to heal others.

This is where the real power of “artist” lies. When we dance in the light, when we pen the victory, when the palette reveals the rich tones of life, when we offer hope…

When I pass from this place, sure, there are a few things I’ve written that may make my family cringe a little. I’m a faulted human. But after generations of creative souls lost to the dark side, not only did I step into the light with my gift, but my grown children are taking their creativity further. That’s a win. That is what you deserve.

Peace.
Tammy Boehm, Associate Editor

Don't be me

On the cusp of losing an hour of precious sleep due to some compendium of elected officials assuming they are smarter than the God who invented circadian rhythms and an unholy upwelling of snot from my lungs, I was a bit loopy this morning in the shower.

As I stood contemplating the condition of my razor and whether or not it was worth scraping errant bits of fuzz from my person with what looked like a prime delivery system for lockjaw, I found myself considering that which makes the gender specific me, a specific identifiable gender. Someone somewhere at some point in time determined that females should not sport lush growths of hair in certain places. Keeping it family friendly, this societal bent is causing my demented, aging mother-in-law significant frustration exacerbated by, well, dementia. Not only does she struggle with the concept of which personal hygiene items are hers and what regimen the hygiene product is for, when she does take a whack at scraping the lichen off the barn, she only succeeds in removing several layers of skin whilst the walrus whiskers on her chin remain stubbornly fixed. My exhortation of “Mom, no one is going to feel the stubble on your chin,” is of little solace.

Somewhere in her malaise an alarm is sounding, and those whiskers are the flashpoint in her quest for normality. And while in her case, she struggles with any level of cognition, her distress is not entirely foreign.

We humans love to label a thing and then hold the thing to the standards of the label—even if the label is inaccurate, irrelevant, or just plain stupid.

Just like my mother-in-law is innately female, no matter how swarthy her visage, something at her core eats at her, compelling her to acts of what are now self-destructive, because at that core she is insecure in who she is. And we writers, and creative types are prone to this behavior as well.

In our competitive, hyper-focused world of me me now now me me now identity isn’t just who you are, what you believe and what you do, there’s that viscous goo glommed on everything …. How successful are you at what you do?

The convo goes a little like this: “So what do you do?” “I’m a writer.” “Oh really? I wrote a novel. I should give it to you to read. Are you published?” “Yes but I’ve only sold a few books.” “So what do you do?”

Like we walk up to surgeons and say “What do you do?” “Oh I’m a surgeon.” “Really? I cut up a frog once. I should bring it in…” NO.

For all the bazillion of us who are creative, who identify ourselves as writer, artist, musician, dancer—just because we also hold down a soul-gutting day job and in our itty bitty hearts know we may never win a grammy or an emmy or any other meme, we are still who we are. It is society that has determined that in order to say you ARE something you have to put a dollar-per-hour tag on it.

You know this to be true even as that stomach acid inducing “So when are you gonna go get a real job” sentence rings in the ears of those of you who have actually stepped out in your chosen passion, and are on food stamps or living in your parents basement because of it.

Let me tell you something. I have a day job. And a family. And a mortgage and all those identifiers that deem me “normal” and inside, curled fetal, is a banshee.

Today, after a week of phlegm and obligations, the banshee is silent. But she won’t stay that way. She is my penance for attempting to conform. The only “day job” that will ever satisfy my inner screaming she-beast would be “novelist” or “editor” or “poet laureate of the known realm.” Accountant? That is a necessary evil in my life. Writer is who I am.

So here is my horrific warning. Don’t be me.

Don’t sell out. Don’t conform. And above all, don’t develop the myopia that tells you you are not successful if you’re not making money at the thing you love to do more than you love breathing. If you allow the world at large to define you, you may find yourself bitter, old, and crusty. Which is cool I suppose if you are a crouton. But if you are a creator of images and words and worlds, crusty won’t suffice.

I didn’t use that razor this morning, and guess what. No one questioned my girliness. My identity as a writer though? For now, it’s not common knowledge, even among those who think they know me. Don’t be me dear artist.

To thine own self….you know the rest.

Peace.
Tammy Boehm, Associate Editor