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This past weekend (August 4-5, 2017), we held the second annual Taylor University’s Professional Writing Conference at Taylor University.

Last year, 2016, we did our first conference. We started with zero dollars and hoped that we’d break even or perhaps have a little extra to have seed money to hold a second conference. We didn’t know if we’d make it or not … until about two weeks prior to the conference when a flurry of activity brought us above our minimum (100 attendees) and encouraged us that we were meeting a need and should hold another conference.

Which we just did.

And this time? We got to 120  … 130 … 140 registrants, plus 20 faculty and staff, and suddenly my behind-the-scenes self was worrying about having large enough rooms for breakout sessions. So I closed the conference registrations (and still let through about 10 more people who begged) and held my breath that we’d have enough space.

THEN, our main session room was determined to not be ready, so we scrambled for another room and another breakout room. Thanks to staff at Taylor U, we moved to another room (holds 190, so we were tight but had close fellowship), and located another large-enough breakout room.

Then our folks arrived. Sessions began, keynoters encouraged, faculty taught, one-on-one meetings went on in the Campus Center, books were bought, snacks were consumed, staff people ran around, and while I used the passive voice here nothing was passive at all. It was proactive, energized, encouraging, and … from my perspective … so much fun!

It’s always terrific to get to communicate and rub shoulders with authors and agents and acquisitions editors and editors in the industry — some I’ve known for years, some I’ve known of, and some I’m getting to meet for the first time. They prepare talks and handouts, they sit on panels, they talk individually to conferees in one-on-one appointments, they stay overnight in college dorm rooms — simply because they love writers. All of them are amazing professionals with a heart for helping and encouraging.

And conferees? We couldn’t do a conference without those amazing people who set aside the time and money to come to a two-day conference. These folks were appreciative, which makes it all worthwhile!

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In addition, I had wonderful staff (former Professional Writing students) who spent two days running (which, as writers know, is not part of our general activity). They helped me put together conference packets, they ran to the store to purchase 160-people-worth of snack items, they checked on technology in the breakout rooms prior to each session, they got water for speakers, they ran extra copies of handouts, they carried boxes … they basically did whatever I asked them to.

And they made me laugh.

I couldn’t have run this conference without them.

Thanks guys.

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The purple staff shirts say, “You’re in the write place.” And we all definitely were. These were my “purple people.”

If you’ve never attended a writers conference, get thee to one! They’re a great place to be with like-minded folks, discuss the craft, be encouraged, and fill your tank for a few more months of lonely writing. Conferences happen all over the country (and world) at all times of the year. Look here and here and here for some listings of conferences.

And, of course, you can always consider the 2018 Taylor University Professional Writing Conference. We’ll be here!

 

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Back two summers ago (and Facebook reminded me with a photo I took of the dorm room I was staying in two years ago), I wrote a blog post where I discussed just getting started with this program here at Ashland University in Ohio. I talked then about how difficult it was to get started, to figure out what to write about, to discover my voice.

Well, it’s been two years and lots of writing. I ended up doing what I mentioned in my blog two years ago: “I’m experimenting right now with a series of essays talking about the whole process (and brilliance) of editing when it’s done well. I am thinking about tying in my research into the great editors (some of which I’ve begun doing on this blog) and extracting lessons from them.”

Indeed, that’s what I did. The final title of my thesis is Words with Friends: The Intimate Relationship Between Authors and Their Editors.

The struggles I faced in writing in the creative nonfiction genre were how to get a memoir out of my life as an editor and how to make that job an interesting read. As part of our study, we have to read similar books to help us understand the ways other writers approached what we are trying to do.

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Without Bonnie Rough, I might still be wallowing in despair. She helped to create a coherency and shape that made the writing process that much smoother.

From my own reading, I learned that editors, as well as folks in other seemingly mundane jobs, could write memoirs. Reading the memoirs of book editors such as Diana Athill and Robert Gottlieb, of a copy editor at The New Yorker named Mary Norris, and even a house painter helped me to understand that the power of such a memoir lay in the presentation of needed information (with a balance, not too much) and the ever-present interesting anecdote.

Even so, as I wrote I kept wondering, Is this boring? How can I possibly keep my reader fascinated enough to keep turning pages? Is the tone right? Have I found my voice? I didn’t have famous names to drop or fame in my own right or the cachet of working for a publication such as The New Yorker, as did many of the editor memoir writers I read. What I did have, however, was knowledge and longevity in my field (editing and publishing), a passion for words, and an understanding and respect for the power of words. What I needed to do was share that knowledge (just enough, not too much) along with anecdotal stories to illustrate and entertain.

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Joe Mackall, Tom Larson, and Steve Harvey honed the manuscript with me, asked the tough questions, and made me a better writer.

My theme is “the power of words.” Because words are so powerful, personal, and intimate, when we put our words into the world, we share a piece of ourselves. The special joy of being an editor is helping to shape words, sentences, paragraphs, and manuscripts by entering into that intimate space between the author and the work to help the author say what he or she really means to say. This requires a kind of familiarity and friendship with the words and the author.

I wanted to help my readers understand that if and when they enter the publishing world, the editors are generally there to be their best readers, their greatest encouragers, and their most strategic critics. The purpose is to help the writing be the best it can be—to help writers dig deeper, choose words carefully, and say what they really mean to say.

It’s all about the words.

Those powerful words.

 

 

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The manuscript for Word by Word is nearing completion . . . but it hasn’t been easy sailing.

That first draft looked perfect! I felt an overabundance of self-confidence as I emailed those 49,000 hard-won words to the publisher.

And waited.

After several weeks, I received a loooooooooong email with the editor’s comments — some positive, some negative, lots of suggestions. I cried a bit and fell into a funk for about five days. Then I thought about how I would want my author to react if I, as editor, had sent such a letter (and I have sent a few in my day). Finally, when I got into the right frame of mind, I printed off the editor’s letter and dove in. Among other things, she wrote:

There are a number of issues in this manuscript that need focus and clarity. As I read your table of contents, my first thought was that you had nailed the content that needs to be in the project. But then I discovered that the actual content doesn’t quite deliver in some cases.

I had my work cut out for me. The biggest issue my editor pointed out was that my audience wasn’t clear. As I reread the manuscript, I discovered that she was right. Sometimes I was writing the book as a textbook for my students; sometimes I was writing to the person who already has a manuscript at a publishing house and is working with an editor; sometimes I was writing to people who are critiquing others’ manuscripts; sometimes I was writing to people who want to become editors. Only sometimes was I writing to the true audience of this book. I realized I had done more of an information dump about everything I know than staying true to my audience.

Other issues included some random items that made me think, I know better! Why didn’t I see that?

But then this:

Thank you for your hard work on this project. You are obviously knowledgeable and have a broad background of experience to enable you to write this book. . . .

I trust you will take the critiques as constructive and that you will be challenged to take it up with renewed enthusiasm. . . . You are a wealth of knowledge, Linda, and your voice is needed in this arena. I really really want this book from you.

Yes, indeed. And I really really want it published! So yes, I can and will do this.

My editor listed a number of fixes.

1)    Identify a clear picture of the audience.

2)    Set definite goals about the type of material you want to write.

3)    Prepare an outline (extensive) of each chapter and what will be covered in that chapter, as well as the primary target audience for that chapter.

4) Rewrite the manuscript using these tools and suggestions.

I pictured my audience and knew what I wanted to write. My target audience is that pajama-clad and coffee-fueled author who has just pressed the key for the period at the end of the stunning final sentence on the first draft of his manuscript. He’s finished! But in the back of his mind he knows he isn’t really finished. He knows that no first draft is perfect; he knows he needs to edit.

But he doesn’t know how to do that or where to begin.

My goal is to help that writer understand both the publishing process and the steps and keys to self-editing.

bookProbably most helpful was my editor’s suggestion to create a revised extensive outline. Internally, I balked a little. Why do I need an outline at this point? But forcing each section of my manuscript to prove why it was there, where it fit best, and how it helped my target audience caused me to be very focused and brutal. Doing the big-picture editing with a revised outline proved invaluable.

I set to work with scissors, tape, and a red pen. Cutting, moving sections, taping pieces together — following my new outline. After a complete restructure on hard copy, I made the necessary changes on the electronic document. I let it sit for about two weeks. Then, I printed it out again. . . .

. . .  and read word by word.

That’s where I am now. Reading and marking with my red pen. Suffice it to say that my manuscript is very red.

It will be better for it.

I am doing what I said everyone should do — in my book. The lesson is, of course, that no matter how much you go over your own manuscript, no matter how many critique readers you have, editors will still make marks and offer suggestions. They come at the manuscript completely objective. While an author sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees, the editor comes in like a surveyor and see the trees and how to create a clearing.

I’m thankful to have been on this side of the desk with an excellent editor who saw exactly what my book needs.

What about you? If you’ve worked with a professional editor, what has been the best advice he or she gave you in feedback on your work?

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This morning I turned in my first draft of my pristine 157-page thesis for my MFA program. Pushed send, felt a sense of accomplishment, opened the document back up just, you know, for pride’s sake, and found this phrase: “This is a book to tell help writers understand the publishing process . . .” Really? “Tell help”? On page 1? Right there. In my thesis about . . . editing?

Let’s just say, humble pie isn’t very tasty.

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So to help myself feel better and remember that yes, indeed, I can edit and know a lot about it, here are 10 tips to help you with your own self-editing process, 10 things copy editors hate.

(1) Writers who press the space bar twice after the ending punctuation between sentences. 

See it?   Annoying isn’t it?   Because that is a no-no.

If you learned to type on a typewriter, you were taught to put a double space after your punctuation and between sentences. On a typewriter, every letter and punctuation mark and even space took up the same amount of space. So to clearly see the sentences and make a page readable, double spacing was needed.

But now our word processing software has typefaces that create proportional spacing, so that extra space is not needed. So stop doing it.

(2) Writers who quote sources and then don’t give me the source.

Lazy—and problematic. Same goes for Bible verses and no references or Bible version. (Please, thou shalt not do this.)

If you’re quoting a source, give it to me exactly. If it’s a book, tell me the author, title, publisher, date of publication, and page number. If it’s a magazine or journal, I need the title, the issue date, the article title, the author, the page number. If it’s on the Web, at least give me a hyperlink so I can find it and confirm all the needed information. If you’re quoting from the Bible or other religious text, give me all of the information I need, and make sure you’re quoting correctly.

(3) Writers who consistently use passive voice.

“The book was being written by a writer who wanted people to be inspired by it.” (Ugh.)

It’s lazy writing. You can spot passive voice if you find that you’re using a form of a “to be” verb over and over. In the above sentence, the “was being” and the “to be” are clues. If you change it up, you’ll find that you can use much more descriptive verbs: “The writer labored over the thesis, hoping that her words would inspire other writers.”

(4) Writers who add needless words.

“The writer wrote the sum of ten pages on each day of the seven-day weeks of the semester.” (Annoying.)

C’mon people. We’re way past the days when we were trying to stretch our writing to fill up the number of pages our English teacher required in our essay about The Great Gatsby. No more padding sentences. Good writing is succinct and to the point. Find the best verb, the best noun. Avoid adverbs. “The writer wrote ten pages every week during the semester.”

(5) Writers who dangle their modifiers.

“Sitting in a pile on the desk, the book writer looked at her manuscript.”

You have a dangling modifier if your modifier is not right next to the word being modified. In the sentence above, it sounds like the book writer is “sitting in a pile on the desk,” not the manuscript itself (although this could actually be true, depending on the book writer’s state of mind). These sentences sound right until you really look at them: “I saw the dead deer driving down the country road,” should be “While driving down the country road, I saw a dead deer.”

(6) Writers who don’t use the dictionary.

“I sat stationery as I wrote my letter on stationary.”

In the sentence above, the “stationary” words need to not be stationary; they need to be switched because they’re incorrect. If you’re unsure, look it up. If you’re even a tiny bit not sure, look it up.

(7) Writers who don’t understand commas.

Commas, put in the wrong places, are, and always, will be, annoying. (Yes, annoying.)

Commas are difficult, so don’t lose sleep over them. A copy editor lives and breathes commas and will make sure that your final piece has them placed correctly. But do your best. Check a grammar book or read a few articles online about commas to at least give you some groundwork.

(8) Writers who use random fonts and font sizes that change all over the place.

To impress whoever you’re submitting your manuscript to, follow the basic rules of submission: Times New Roman font, 12 point, one-inch margins, double spacing between lines. You can get away with a different font for your chapter titles, and you can bold or italicize where necessary, but other than that, stay clean and clear.

(9) Writers who write sentences that don’t have parallel elements, are mixed up, and because they are confusing.

Rereading your writing aloud to yourself can help you spot this one. It happens often when you’ve done some revising, so you need to go back and revise your revision to smooth it out and make sure your elements are parallel. “Writers who write sentences that don’t have parallel elements, are mixed up, and are confusing.”

(10) Writers whose subject /verb agreement aren’t correct.

This is a huge one. If I had a nickel for every time I fixed this. . . . Anyway, again, this error often gets introduced in the revision process where you’ve gone back and changed tenses or changed the number of subjects which then affects every other part of the sentence. So go back and read carefully to catch all of these: “Writers whose subject/verb agreement isn’t correct.”

But one thing I DO know . . . I always expect to find a random typo, no matter how carefully the manuscript has been self-edited. After a while, we just can’t see the forest for our own trees. After all, that’s what gives people like me job security.

I won’t stress (too much) about my typo on page 1. I’m sure there are more lurking in those pages. It’s funny but no matter how many years I put into this job, perfection still eludes me.

What’s the worst typo you’ve seen–in your own or in printed works?

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It’s 1976. I have just been dropped off by my parents to this place in the middle of nowhere. Houghton College, Houghton, New York. The town doesn’t even have a stoplight. Go too fast on Route 19 and you will go right on by without realizing there’s a really wonderful college just up that two-lane paved road part-way up the hill. In the years since I was there, the college astutely placed a large brick entrance sign and widened that road so that it’s a little more difficult to slide on by. However, there is still no stoplight.

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I’m trying America back on again after spending my four high school years in Europe. We didn’t have American television so all these guys are going “Ehhhhhhh!” flashing a thumbs up and the explanation I get is that they’re imitating Fonzie.

“What’s a fonzie?”

Clearly, I am way behind the times.

My first writing instructor in college is a man named Dr. John Leax (pronounced “Lex.” He was fond of telling everyone not to make him more exotic with some sort of pronunciation like the French word for water, l’eau. It was just “Lex”). After we get that he’s pronounced “Lex,” I learn that although he’s John, his colleagues call him Jack. Sort of that “John Kennedy–Jack Kennedy” thing going on that I never understood. How does “John” become “Jack”? Well, it really didn’t matter anyway since I would never have called him by his first name.

It’s the required 101 basic writing class with whatever department call letters are used at the time. I am terrified. I’m in a new place in, basically, a new country; all of my high school friends are scattered (literally) all over the world; I’m hoping I can hack this whole college thing; I’m eight hours away from my parents and sister. 

Here’s what I remember about Dr. Leax’s class:

Our papers are turned in and then mimeographed (I don’t think we yet had photocopiers in the world) onto clear plastic sheets. Our names are blacked out, and each paper is placed on the overhead projector so that all of its electric-typewriter-typed glory appears on the screen so we can read through it as a class. Not everyone gets this treatment. I think he picks out the especially good or especially bad papers.

One day my paper is being projected onto the screen, and I sit as nonchalantly as possible to make sure no one can possibly think it’s mine. Dr. Leax is underlining sections, discussing them. At one point, he draws a line through a paragraph and sketches a little trash can in the margin. It looks something like this–much more simple and crude, of course.

That’s what he did for everyone when something just was . . . well . . . trash. Trash cans in the margins. Sometimes, if the writing was especially bad, he’d do this:

The squiggly lines above the trash can signifying the especially pungent odor of said writing . . . er . . . bad writing. I don’t recall ever getting the squiggles on my papers, although I know I got more than one trash can.

Later in my career, I discovered proofreading marks, and there are no trash cans.

But there should be.

Since I eventually declare a double major in English and Writing, I will have the privilege of studying under Dr. Leax for other classes. He’s a poet and an inspiration. From Dr. Leax, I learn about the value of good writing and how to spot poor writing. And he teaches me how to make bad writing better. He teaches me the value of words and of finding just the right word.

Thank you, Dr. Leax. You gave me the tools I still use today.

Who’s your inspiration? Is there a person in your past who helped inspire you to be the person you are today?

 

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I’m all about self-editing. I’m all about encouraging writers to write that first draft, get down everything they want to say, then go back and massage the words. It’s at that point that you determine if you’re saying what you really want to say. It’s at that point that you can search to replace a blah word with the perfect word, play with some alliteration, try an unexpected metaphor or simile.

I teach a Public Speaking class this semester, and I encourage my students to play with words as they write their speeches. I also require them to watch and study several great speeches.

I mean, what if Martin Luther King, Jr. had said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by what they look like but by who they are.”

Instead, look at this brilliant alliteration: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Now that’s a memorable line!

Speaking of memorable lines, we have a great example of President Franklin Roosevelt self-editing a speech that made it one of the greatest speeches of all time. This year, December 7 will be the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The surprise military strike by Japan on the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, resulted in the loss of 2,403 American lives; the sinking of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers; and the destruction of 188 aircraft.

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USS Arizona Memorial, built over the sunken ship and the graves of 1,102 sailors and Marines killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The next day, December 8, 1941, President Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress. The first draft of his speech began this way (italics mine):

Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in world history, the United States of America was simultaneously and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

Instead, by editing just two words in this first line, FDR gave us these stirring words (again with my italics):

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

You can see a copy of the typed speech with FDR’s handwritten edits here at the National Archives website. On the three pages, you’ll see several places where he crossed out typed words, wrote in new ones, wrote in new words, and crossed those out.

In the end, on that day of great shock and fear, the president offered strong words of resolve that united a nation.

So there you have it. Now watch the actual speech. And remember those who died 75 years ago on December 7 and those who subsequently died fighting for freedom on both sides of the globe–in Europe and in the Pacific.

And remember the power of words.

Whatever you write, take the time to edit. Go back and look at every word, making sure it is the right word, the best word, the perfect word.

It will make all the difference.

 

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I don’t know how you novel writers do it. First, I am always astounded by fiction writers–people who can weave a tale, build a plot and sustain it, create believable and likable characters, keep the suspense going, and then end with a conclusion that satisfies.

Seriously. I admire you more than you know.

So as the month of November approaches, and with it NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I can hear weeping and gnashing of teeth from my Professional Writing students who are trying to decide if they can take on the beast that is NaNoWriMo.

If you don’t know, NaNoWriMo is when novel writers everywhere commit to writing 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. To translate, there are about 250 words on a standard double-spaced typed page. So 50K words = 200 pages, divided by 30 days = roughly 6 or 7 pages a day. That’s a day. Anyone who is a writer will tell you how difficult it is to sustain that kind of momentum for very long. Not impossible, but tough. Especially when you have, you know, like, a life. Like classes to take and homework to do and food to eat and sleep to enjoy.

My student Chrysa discusses her past experience with NaNo in her blog post this week. And Jessie is trying to decide if the commitment is worth it:

If nothing else, the commitment of NaNo helps writers see what is possible. Whether they get to that magic 50K number or not, they have discovered that setting a goal and working steadily toward it have their own rewards. Basically you just do it and see if, well, if you can do it. There are no prizes, no awards dinners. Doing the task is reward unto itself.

Only writers understand that.

Which brings me to EdBoWriMo.

I don’t write novels. Never have. Never will. I am content to be astounded by my fellow writers who do. However, as I shared last week, I’m under contract to write a book about editing. So I decided to join my novel writing friends in making a commitment to myself to make this “Editing Book Writing Month.”

And since I know my abilities, I’m not shooting for 50K words; instead, I think I’m going for a more modest 22,500 words, which works out to 750 words (or about three pages) per day.

you-canSo what about you, my fellow writers? Do you have something you need to work on, but NaNoWriMo doesn’t quite fit? Then create your own! Let’s join with our fellow novel-writing friends and commit ourselves to a certain number of words per day (or per week if that’s better). Create your own acronym. Create your calendar.

And on November 1, let’s commit to seeing how far we can finally get on that project.

So tell me, what could you work on this November? What languishing project could you breathe new life into? What project could benefit from your sustained attention during the month of November? Tell me about it in the comments below.

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