Category Archives: WritingTips

The Professional Edit

 

You’ve spent months, years, cramming stolen hours into your manuscript. You’ve floated around at work, down the shopping aisle, at long-overdue family reunions, glassy-eyed and dreaming of the day your novel hits the best seller lists (even though you tell everyone you wrote it only for the love of writing).

Finally, you send your manuscript off to that perfect publisher, the one you know is your match, they published that other book that’s similar to yours but nowhere near as exciting. You wait eagerly for weeks, unable to think of anything else and, finally, a response arrives rejecting your manuscript on the basis that ‘whilst strong in plot and imagery, is not quite up to the professional standard necessary for publication.’

It’s not an easy thing, handing our pride and joy over to someone we barely know only to have it handed back smeared in squiggly, red lines and crosses. After all, ‘Asking a writer what he thinks about criticism is like asking a lamp-post what it feels about dogs’ (John Osborne). Yet as we writers know, criticism is part of the job.

So – it’s time. I need an outside point of view. Some professional guidance. I’ve exhausted my family enough. My turn at writer’s group is weeks away and, even then, I can’t submit the mountain of pages I need help with.

But what kind of edit do I need? The SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) provide a helpful explanation of the different types of editing services available on their website.

Here’s a section from their page:

  • Manuscript assessment or critique. A broad overall assessment of your manuscript, pinpointing strengths and weaknesses. Specific problem areas may be flagged, and general suggestions for improvement may be made, but a critique won’t usually provide scene-by-scene advice on revision.
  • Content editing (also known as developmental or substantive editing) focuses on structure, style, and content. The editor flags specific problems–structural difficulties, poor pacing, plot or thematic inconsistencies, stiff dialogue, undeveloped characters, stylistic troubles, flabby writing. The editor him/herself may rewrite the ms. to fix these problems, or may provide notations and detailed advice so the author can address them.
  • Line editing. Editing at the sentence level, focusing on paragraph and sentence structure, word use, dialogue rhythms, etc., with the aim of creating a smooth prose flow.
  • Copy editing. Correction of common errors (grammar, spelling, punctuation), incorrect usages, logic lapses, and continuity problems.
  • Proofreading. Checking for typos, spelling/punctuation errors, formatting mistakes, and other minor mechanical problems.

It’s important to have a clear understanding of what you want from a professional edit. If you already have an experienced mentor you may need a simple copy-edit or proofread. If, like me, you’re in need of that extra professional opinion, you want to improve pace, structure and identify character weaknesses, you may need to pay for the full content edit.

Jane Friedman claims in her article, Should You Hire A Professional Editor? ‘Most writers don’t clearly understand how an editor might improve their work (or to what extent). Writers must have a level of sophistication and knowledge about their work (or themselves!) to know where their weaknesses are, and how a professional might assist them. When writers ask me if they should hire a professional editor, it’s usually out of a vague fear their work isn’t good enough—and they think it can be “fixed.” There are many different types or levels of editing, and if you don’t know what they are—or what kind you need—then you’re not ready for a professional editor.’ 

She goes on to say, Writers may sincerely seek professional help, but very few are willing to pay for it. You probably will not receive a quality review on your entire manuscript—that will actually affect your chances of publication—for less than $1,000 USD —unless it’s line editing (copyediting, proofreading).’  To read the whole article, click here.

So, it appears, I may need to apply for a third job.

I’ll need to find an editor I respect. They’ll need experience in my genre – and with my target audience. They’ll need excellent references and testimonials from clients. They’ll need to offer the service I require. I may even ask them for a sample edit to see if they’re a good match. It’s a lot of money, so I may as well do the research to make sure I get the service I want. The Editorial Services section of 2013 Writer’s Market lists over 500 entries, many of which provide some kind of critique service.

I know they can’t perform miracles – that part is up to me. But I need that other set of eyes, those ones with years of experience in the publishing industry to help me make this novel the best it can be. $1,000 USD is a little on the steep side, so I may need to find a compromise.

What are your views on the professional edit/critique? Have you ever hired an editing service for your manuscript? Did you find it helpful?

 

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A Simple Request

Yes it’s me again! IMG_0719

It appears, having swapped to self-hosting, I have lost all of my followers and I would so like to keep you!

If you could just take a minute to visit the new site and subscribe via email it would make me very happy 🙂

Hope to see you soon,

Gemma Hawdon (Rolleman)

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Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Share with me, what was the inspiration for your current novel? 

Happy Days – My Grandparent’s Farm In Wales
Me (far right), my sister and my two cousins.

Was it a dream? An incident that altered your life or the life of a friend? A trip overseas? Or perhaps a simple observation that, for some reason, sparked your imagination?

The inspiration for my novel – a children’s fantasy – was my grandparent’s farm in Wales. A place I spent much of my childhood and haven’t been back to in decades. A place that represents adventure, discovery, innocence and characters of such eccentricity I have to convince myself they actually existed. Writing the novel has plunged me back into those familiar surroundings, the old farmhouse, the mud-spattered yard, the stables with the wet noses of young calves peeping out, and their warm, sticky tongues as they suckled on my fingers.

By the way, I am really, really enjoying writing this blog.

Stephen King claims the idea for Misery came to him as he dozed off while on a New York-to-London Concorde flight. His dream was supposedly influenced by a short story about a man in South America held prisoner by a chief who falls in love with the stories of Charles Dickens and makes the man read them to him.

The inspiration for Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels supposedly came from the sleeping giant profile of the Cavehill in Belfast, a 368m hill that looms over the northern fringes of the city.

A manor house in North Yorkshire, that Charlotte Bronte visited on a day trip, is long thought of as a likely inspiration for Jane Eyre’s Thornfield Hall, where Mr Rochester kept his mad wife Bertha confined in an attic.

It’s interesting – the spark, the birth of an idea that captivates us with such intensity we’re driven to invest hours developing it into the concept for a novel. Like a seed, we spend months watering it, nurturing it and encouraging it to grow. The roots, the branches, the rich, green leaves and fragrant blossoms that stem from a strong, solid trunk. And sometimes, unless you’re a meticulous planner, the finished product has morphed into a story that is vastly different from our original idea.

There are so many places we can draw inspiration from: Our childhood, an interesting relationship, an incident we witness or a place we visit, our local community, an historical event. Sometimes, it helps to sit down and brainstorm your ideas. Grab a notebook and pencil, retrieve to a quiet corner and allow your imagination to run wild.

How do you know if your idea is strong enough for a novel? You can read as many articles and blogs as you like, but I believe you have to go with your gut. If you’re passionate about an idea, your writing will be passionate. One question you can ask yourself – is this something I would want to read? Consider the question as an outsider. If the answer is yes, you have an idea that’s workable. And anyway, perhaps – in Jack Kerouac‘s words – ‘It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.’

Back to my original question – share with me, what was the inspiration for your current novel(s)?

Did I mention? I am really, really enjoying writing this blog 😉

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Enjoy The Richness Of Your Journey

When the world says, “Give up,”                   

Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”

~Author Unknown

As writers we’re often introverts by nature spending hours in the company of our own thoughts and imaginings. We’re quiet observers of life, reflective and frequently sensitive to feelings and emotions – of both our own and those of others.

So it’s ironic that in order to succeed in the brutal world of publishing we have to become shrewd networkers and dogged masters of rejection.

Time after time we’re barraged with the hopeless statistics of our cluttered industry.

Yet we keep going.

Because we share another common trait – we love what we do. We know how lucky we are because we’ve found something that keeps us alive inside when, we’re told, the world around us is dying. We’ve found a therapy to overcome our obstacles. A drug to alleviate our daily chores.

If you have the discipline, the insight and the determination, I believe you’ll make it. But in the meantime, enjoy the richness of your journey.

I’m feeling sentimental today. 

Gemma Flying High 

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Managing Kids, Writing And Insanity

It’s school holidays.

My son is chasing his sister around the house with a broomstick.

I’ll intervene shortly, but I wanted to capture the insanity in its wildest moment. I asked for just one hour. One hour of tranquility to write so that I could give the rest of the day to them, satisfied, no begrudged feelings.

Ahem. One moment please…

Broomstick is back in the laundry where it belongs. Trip to ice-cream parlour is cancelled. House is quiet again.

They were sent to bed early last night after a supposed ‘play-fight’ ended with my son wearing an icepack on his private parts. I managed to write a thousand words, punishment couldn’t have been more suitable – all round.

Don’t get me wrong, I cherish the holidays – all six weeks of them. But it’s not easy finding periods in the day that are long enough to write. Rather I steal disjointed snippets of time between shoving a wash on, taking the kids to the movies, clearing up breakfast, lunch, dinner, a dash to the park. There’s the normal work too, piles of invoices, bills to pay, emails to respond to. When I read over what I have managed to write, it’s rushed and shallow. I haven’t been able to shut off and find that place in my mind that enables me to write freely, imagination flowing.

Perhaps it’s about accepting the school holidays are a write-off, or rather an off-write. Or perhaps it’s about being super organised – even more than usual. Rising before the kids do and stealing that precious hour while the sun rises. Or in the evening when the kids have gone to bed, if your mind is still functioning.

My snippet is already over – my son has squashed up next to me for a cuddle. I know it won’t be long when those are hard to come by, so I’ll have to make the most of it and say goodbye for now.

I’d be really interested to find out how you juggle your writing with the distractions in your life?

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Ever feel like it’s all too hard?

Do you ever drop your head in your hands and wonder if it’s all too hard? 

I do. Frequently. And the truth is – it is.

Here we are, slogging away at our keyboards hour after unpaid hour, blurry-eyed with lack of sleep, coffee-fuelled and hunch-backed with arthritic fingers, and we don’t even know what will happen from it all.

So, if we’re realists, we consider the possibility of self-publishing even before we’ve finished our manuscripts. We throw ourselves into the blogasphere thinking we’ll get ahead of the game, plan ahead, gain a following. Until we realise there are already a hundred bloggers to every novelist – we’re flitting around amid a galactic swarm of them. It’s probably more competitive than the publishing industry itself.

So we have to pull ourselves back to reality and ask ourselves, why are we here? What do we want from this?

When the distractions of the outside world begin to choke me and lure me away from my intentions, I remember this quote –

‘You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.’  Ray Bradbury

Of course, he meant it a little differently, but it works for me by reminding me why I’m doing this – a love for writing.

I enjoy this blog because I’m learning about a new medium and reaching out to new and interesting people. I’ll embrace the world of social media because it’s another learning avenue and it can be fun, but primarily it’s the writing and communicating that’s the motive for me.

In his blog ‘Ten Commandments For The Happy Writer’ Nathan Bransford mentions‘Enjoy the present. Writers are dreamers, and dreamers tend to daydream about the future while concocting wildly optimistic scenarios that involve bestsellerdom, riches, and interviews with Ryan Seacrest. In doing so they forget to enjoy the present. I call this the “if only” game. You know how it goes: if only I could find an agent, then I’ll be happy. When you have an agent, then it becomes: if only I could get published, then I’ll be happy. And so on. The only way to stay sane in the business is to enjoy every step as you’re actually experiencing it. Happiness is not around the bend. It’s found in the present. Because writing is pretty great — otherwise why are you doing it?’

To read the whole article click here.

It’s easy to feel lost and overwhelmed within this industry, but if we try and remember what our most important motives are, we shouldn’t lose our way. I try to keep my blog and my novel separate by setting aside specific days to write them. I find this helpful.

I’d love to hear about your own motives and how you deal with overwhelmed feelings, no matter what industry you’re in?

(The photo below has nothing to do with my blog, but I took it and I like it – so I thought I’d share it with you!!)

Keeping A Clear Mind

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First Drafts And Thick Skins

Hello again and Happy 2013!

As I write this blog, I’m sitting under the shade of a Gum tree. Its leaves are shaking in a light breeze, rustling like a distant stream. I’ve no phone reception. No Internet connection. The children have vanished to some remote corner of the park. My husband is floating out at sea on his surfboard, feet dangling to the sharks.

This must be heaven.

To post this blog, I’ll need to hike up the hill to the tower, stretch the laptop above my head and plead for a signal. I haven’t figured out how I’ll navigate the keyboard yet, so it could be a miracle if this even gets to you.

I’m so close to finishing the first draft of my novel my fingers are tingling. I say first draft but, to be honest with you, I’ve already revisited many parts (secretly, soundlessly, tail between legs), for many writers will tell you to keep pushing ahead with your first draft and don’t look back until it’s finished. Whilst I’ve kept this advice close, I haven’t followed it entirely. As the book’s evolved, I’ve changed much of the plot and even wiped out one of the major characters, so I’ve found myself drafting and redrafting as new things come to light and major elements change.

Now, I’m really excited. I have a clear understanding of what the story is about and who the characters are. The framework feels strong, I just have to breath the magic inside – to shape it, colour it and make it whole.

Sometimes, reading over what might have taken months if not years to write can be daunting to say the least. We have to prepare ourselves for the parts that are bad – really bad. When we wrote them we were probably in full swing, basking in our creative genius, smelling the imminence of our success (perhaps enjoying a glass or two…). Yet we shouldn’t get disheartened. Ernest Hemingway once said, ‘The first draft of anything is shit’.  James Michener, ‘I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.’

So perhaps we have to give ourselves permission to let the first draft stink. Forget about what people will think – we don’t have to show it to anyone until we’re ready – and let our fingers flow on our keyboards like pianists’.

Elizabeth Sims mentions in a piece she wrote,Why does a coherent first draft give birth to a stilted finished product? Because it means you haven’t let it flow. You haven’t given yourself permission to make mistakes because you haven’t forgiven yourself for past ones. Admit it: Unless your throttle’s wide open, you’re not giving it everything you’ve got.’ I found the article helpful – to read it in full click here

Right now, I’m feeling proud and excited about what I’ve achieved so far – It’s a liberating stage of writing. Soon, I’ll be ready for a professional edit and I’ve no doubt that what comes back will peel another layer of my skin away – but it’s tougher and thicker than it used to be…

How do you get through your first draft?

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New Year Writing Resolutions

They’re saying the world might end tomorrow – in which case this will be my last blog. It doesn’t feel like my last blog, so I choose to side with the sceptics. In which case, a fresh, new year is approaching and I thought I’d share my top ten New Year Writing Resolutions with you. If you can, I’d love you to do the same. Hopefully, we shall inspire each other.

WRITING RESOLUTIONS 2013

1. Unplug kettle. In fact, get rid of it altogether, it’s an unhealthy distraction.

2. Stop using Thesaurus on first draft – and stop referring to it as a The-o-saurus.

3. Colons: stop using them.

4. Rouse from coma when not writing.

5. Tweet no more than three times per day. Stop checking Follower stats.

6. Read more, write more, drink less wine.

7. Get novel published before I die or the world ends – whichever comes first.

8. Write first draft for me, subsequent drafts for you.

9. Clean house at least once per month.

10. Learn, evolve, enjoy.

What are yours (writing or otherwise)?

I shall be spending time with my novel after Christmas, far from Twitter and my blog, immersed in the wilderness with the kookaburras and koalas. Hopefully, I shall draw inspiration from my surroundings and finish my book. Look forward to catching up in the New Year!

Until then,

Happy Writing and Merry Christmas.

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How True Are Your Characters?

I was told by my teacher once (very nicely) that she found some of the dialogue in my novel unconvincing. She couldn’t imagine my central characters – ten and eleven years of age – saying the things they did. As I read back through the dialogue, I realised she was right.  Having a ten-year old son myself it should have been obvious, but I think I had been drawing from previous reading experiences rather than the world around me (I read too many Enid Blyton books in my youth). I had to tune back in and remind myself how children interact and behave in the modern world.  I began to stalk them, secretly studying my own kids as they argued, as they played. I hid behind their bedroom doors when they had friends over. I lurked around at the park  jotting down the words they used, the things they talked about, their tone etc. (No charges were laid).

Charles Dickens created some of the most memorable characters in fiction and most of them were based on real people. Dickens’ friend and biographer, John Forster, once said that Dickens made “characters real existences, not by describing them but by letting them describe themselves.” 

I have started again using my observations, working to create characters that feel alive, that kids can identify with  – there’s nothing more jarring in a novel than characters that don’t ring true.  This applies to the most imaginary characters  –  meaning you recognise their emotions and believe their actions. The concept of the film ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is far from believable, yet we go along with it because the relationship between the two characters is driven by a real affection – it doesn’t feel artificial.

A friend once gave me a useful piece of advice to read through your story separately for each character. That way, you can gain a better grasp for their reactions, mannerisms, dialogue – are they true to the character?

Other pieces of advice I have in my notebook – highlighted with bright yellow stars  – are:

–     Draw from people you know, the world around you

–     Understand what your character wants, what is stopping them, how they are going to get it

–     Create one character from a range of people if necessary: the way one person speaks, the way another walks etc.

–     Build your characters up both visually & verbally

–     Ask yourself, what are their relationships, beliefs, habits, activities, strengths, weaknesses, vices, pet peeves

–     Let your character grow naturally as you write

–     Get your characters to describe each other

The better we get to know our characters the more alive they will become.

Do you have any different or interesting techniques to develop your characters?  

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Too much word play?

Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words.

For sale, baby shoes, never worn.

So simple and yet so haunting.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated with a novel.  We have to consider scene, characters, plots, subplots, goals, conflict, tension, structure, dialogue, drama, resolution… Breathe. Rotate neck. Put kettle on. 

Yet there is something consoling about Hemingway’s six words. It’s often the simplest sentences that are the most evoking.  It’s about making every word count and scratching the redundant ones.  Part of writing well is the gift of arranging words to evoke image and emotion, so long as the writing contributes to the progression of the story.  When we become too lost in word play we need to ask ourselves whom we’re writing for – ourselves or our readers?

I revisited a few chapters of my novel the other day.  I try not to do this too often – I have to fight my restless fingers itching to edit and push myself forward (for me, editing is like sorting out my wardrobe.  Kill the clutter.  I feel cleansed and liberated).  I scrubbed two thousand words of pure descriptive genius that had absolutely nothing to do with the story.  I set them aside, in a file named ‘homeless’.

Stephen King once famously said, Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it break’s your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.

Elmore Leonard,  I try to leave out the parts that people skip.

But then this one,

Toni MorrisonYou rely on a sentence to say more than the denotation and the connotation; you revel in the smoke that the words send up.

Reminder to self – Create fire, make earth move and people weep, but make every word count.

Here’s my attempt at a six-word story –  

‘Congratulations it’s a boy. Not human.’

What’s yours?

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