The Importance of Learning How to Self-Edit

The Importance of Learning How to Self-Edit

I’m not going to claim to be an expert self-editor. All I know is that I did a really good job at content editing part of my book and the synopsis, and all I had was one beta reader (I seriously took a huge leap of faith going for AEC Stellar, didn’t I?). I also want to mention that when I refer to self-editing, I am referring to being able to edit your own content so that way all you need afterward is beta readers that you do not have to go back to fifteen million times, or a freelance editor you don’t have to keep paying thousands of dollars for.

Beta readers can become time consuming, especially if you have your manuscript out to several of them at once and they all have entire tomes of flaws pointed out to you. Then you have to fix it and re-send it to them again, where they whittle their complaints down to entire notebook-fulls; then you have to send out again, then again. Granted, this process probably only applies to beginning writers, but that is why I stressed the importance of freelance editors in a previous post of mine. You want to learn from them once (or twice) so you don’t have to keep going back to them or your beta readers. But if you have to keep going back to your beta readers for the content of your story before even getting to the nitty gritty sentence structure, then you’re not learning what you should be learning and finishing that manuscript is going to become ridiculously time consuming.

Freelance editors can be ridiculously expensive. Some charge $4 a page for one service and $6 a page for another, so that’s thousands of dollars right there. There are ones who are cheaper, but you often want those ones recommended to you. Granted, they are worth it the first time and some offer to read it again for half off or free of charge, but if you haven’t learned from them and have to keep going back for every book you write, you’re wasting money. You only want to have to pay them for your first book and first book only–if your beta readers aren’t sufficient enough, that is. A good freelance editor will function as a teacher to teach you how to self-edit so that you can bring yourself to the point where you only need beta readers to wipe away excess dirt instead of them having constantly point out major flaws in your writing that will take whole re-writes to fix.

Never undermine the importance of being able to edit the major stuff yourself: plot holes that take entire re-writes to fix, being able to edit the pacing of the book yourself, character development, plot and sub-plot development, making sure something develops in every chapter, being able to know what your gut is telling you when something is wrong. These are things that you want to learn how to self-edit on your own that way when you get to beta readers you find your novel doesn’t need an entire overhaul to fix what they point out. Or so you’re not spending monstrous amounts of money on a freelance editor.

But how do you know that you’ve learned to self-edit? If your beta readers, assuming you have good ones, aren’t tearing your next manuscript apart. Or the freelance editor you decided to hire for your next book isn’t charging you so much because said editor discovered it doesn’t need as much work as your previous one. Or if your gut isn’t sending you alarm bells. For some, self-editing is a gift, and for others it is an acquired skill through experience. The point being is that you want to eventually bring yourself to the point where you are a strong self-editor not having to heavily rely on beta readers or freelance editors–as Georgia McBride taught me.

Precedence: the Story or the Writing?

Precedence: the Story or the Writing?

I was reading a thread on AbsoluteWrite that mentioned that while Stephen King’s storytelling skills may be flawed, apparently he is one of the best writers around. I have read a few of his books, but I could never really get into them. His writing is also a bit too simplistic for me. But this got me thinking about what I prefer in a book: good writing or a good story? And this is with the assumption that the quality of the writing doesn’t ruin the quality of the story, and vice-versa.

For me, I prefer the story any day over the writing. Books are about telling stories. Books can showcase the authors’ writing skills, but books are first and foremost about the story. I have read books with brilliant writing, but the stories were so dull that not even the writing made the book memorable. In fact, there were a few books with brilliant writing whose stories were so dull I stopped the book before I even finished it. I would have given these books bad ratings. No amount of good writing would have influenced by ratings in the least.

I also think brilliant writing is subjective for every person: To an extent. Blatant bad writing is blatant bad writing and this will kill the story for me, but I’m not talking about books with blatant bad writing. In any case, to me, brilliant writing and a good story go hand-in-hand. How can a great story happen without brilliant writing? I still prefer a great story over good writing because I have read books with grammar errors, but they weren’t enough to kill the story for me. The book just needed another proofread. For others, even if the writing is sub-par, but the story is stellar, they are able to forgive the book for its weakness in the writing department. Look at Twilight. The writing is fairly bad, but even some experienced writers will argue it has a good story (and I won’t argue whether or not I like it). And then there are others who are so by-the-book with grammar that starting a sentence with a conjunction seems sinful and might even ruin the story for them.

The point is, the mistakes I find in books are not going to ruin the book for me, especially if the story is strong. I’ll wish the book would have had another proofread, mostly for the writer’s sake because of the reviewers out there that nitpick, but it won’t kill my experience or even influence the rating I give.

I am a writer who wants both my writing and story to be memorable, but at the end of the day, I want the story to be remembered because stories influence people more than good writing. With a good story, the writing can be marveled as well. But I just can’t marvel the writing without a good story.

So, what takes precedence for you? The story or the writing?

The Madness of Romance in Young Adult Novels

The Madness of Romance in Young Adult Novels

While When Stars Die may be a paranormal romance, romance overall isn’t my thing. I had to play up the romance in When Stars Die to elicit the appropriate responses for the ending, but the sequel, I can tell you right now, will not be packaged into a romance genre.

I wanted to do this post because the trend lately for a lot of young adult novels is to have the MC and the love interest fall in love fast. The argument is that it is too fast and therefore unrealistic. The MC and her LI kiss on page 50 and perhaps go all the way on page 100. They weren’t even best friends before. Heck, they were hardly friends.

I want to posit that it accurately reflects not only princess culture but teens in general. I know I fell in love fast as a teen. I’d fall in love with the guy within two weeks–or so what I thought was love. The guy would love me back–or so what he thought was love. I romanticized love because I’d see all these long-term couples and how happy they were, and I wanted to be among them. I wanted to be talked about the way they were talked about–how cute they looked, how strong their relationship was, how inseparable they were. So when I fell in love with the guy, I was really just falling in love with love.

Young adult novels are primarily in the first person perspective. As readers, we have to remember that the unreliable narrator is common in first person. So the MC is going to think she is in love, but she might not be. There are no external forces in first person perspective to step out and say, “She only thinks she is in love, but she is a careless teen just in love with the idea of love.” Sure, some teens may realize this at the end of the book, but most teens do not have relationship experience and an adult’s perspective to step back and say, “I was just in love with the idea of love, not with the person I was with.”

So to say that the teens in these books fall in love too fast is to forget that there are teens in real life who do fall in love too fast. They just don’t have the life experience to be able to see that they’re not really in love. Now some may already be in love at the beginning of the relationship, but often it is with their best friends–so I’m not trying to argue teens don’t know what love is, because some of them surely do.

All I know is I didn’t know what love was until I met my current fiancé.

The Madness of Descriptions

The Madness of Descriptions

Let’s describe this, shall we?

Descriptions can be annoying. I know with contemporary novels, you don’t have to describe as much because, heck, we can all imagine our own school in place of the school the MC is going to. We can all imagine our own house, or apartment, or whatever that the MC lives at. Things like that don’t really need describing because an immediate picture can pop un place for us.

But what about when you come across a situation that needs describing, especially in fantasy situations? Sometimes describe can be daunting because it has the potential to turn into a list. The castle was gray, windowless, with vines crawling along the bricks, turrets, a moat, ect… You get the point. It can become boring, and then suddenly the reader no longer cares what this castle looks like because it sounds like every other castle in existence.

So how can you go about creating flourishing descriptions that bring your castle to life? Make the description part of the action or make the description part of the tone. I am taking this description piece from my blog post on my writing samples:

“And we’re here,” the driver announces, coming upon an enormous manor that rests on a cliff overlooking rapids.

I shrank against the seat, intimidated by the sheer size of the structure. I’ve never seen a building so enormous in my life. Then again, I’ve never traveled far from Belhame.

From where we are I am able to make out enormous gargoyles on the blackened shingles of the roof that look like they want to come alive, swoop down, and dig their stony teeth into my flesh. There’s a rusty bell on a bell tower behind a peaked roof, one that looks like a signal for funeral services. Thick vines choke the manor, and they cover so much of the building I wonder if the inhabitants inside are able to breathe.

The most frightening décor of Gallows Hill are the stained-glass windows. I have no idea if they are supposed to serve as a warning or not, but they contain pictures of shadowy creatures holding crosses as if to ward me off.

I tug my father’s sleeve. “I don’t want to be here.”

See what I do to describe the manor? I don’t simply say this: There are blackened shingles with enormous gargoyles, a rusty bell on top, thick vines crawling along the rocks, and scary stained-glass windows. That’s very dull. You want to make whatever it is you’re describing as alive as the characters viewing this thing. So I set the description with the tone.

My MC Alice arrives very mistrustful because the governor who wanted her dead in the first place recommended she be sent to this safe house. She thinks she’s coming here to die, so everything she views is going to have a somber tone to it. As human beings, we view our world based on how we’re feeling. When I was depressed, the sun shouldn’t have been shining outside because sunny for me was anything but. So whatever mood your character is in should be used to help describe something. That is how you can bring your object to life.

If Alice were in a happier mood, she would find the architecture fascinating. She might say something like this: While the gargoyles are frightening, their snarling faces look wizened, as if they harbor all the knowledge of the witches who have come in before me and survived their tragic ordeals. This sets up a more optimistic tone for Alice.

So you can use descriptions to reflect your characters’ moods. But mostly, bring that description to life! Make me want to imagine the castle as you described it instead of letting me imagine my own.

The Dancing Writer’s Samples

The Dancing Writer’s Samples

when stars rise Some of you have requested samples of my writing. Since I hate posting rough drafts, and When Stars Die is under contract, I can give you a taste of its sequel though a small part of chapter one. I’ll even through in samples of some dialogue. While this has been looked at and professionally edited, it is, of course, still a proof and not a final copy.

These are just samples and some of them are out of context.

 

Enjoy!

Chapter One Sample

I am a child of The Seven Deadly Sins. Witches, many people believe, are worse than murderers.

Rivulets of blood stream down my back as I think this, splashing red dots on the parquet floor that look like cherry spatter. On my knees, I watch this in a dirty mirror and even count the number of welts I wasn’t able to keep track of during my whipping sessions: fifteen. Perhaps there are more.

One welt for each year of my life.

I touch a welt on my shoulder and wince. Since movement is difficult, the rest sting as well. The flesh is puckered and cracked, sending forth beads of blood that join together and trickle down my side, caressing the ribs sticking through my pale, clammy skin. This will be the last welt I ever receive in my life. I take comfort in knowing I’ll never be beaten again. Or I should take comfort in knowing I’ll never be beaten again.

Tomorrow I’m going to be burned at the stake.

Dialogue Sample

Father comes over and plants soft hands on my shoulders. “I wish you could stay here, but Governor Branch would only let you go if you were exiled from here. Gallows Hill is safe, I promise you.”

Exile. A word meant for criminals.

“If it’s so safe, how come you and he know about it?”

He rests a hand on my cheek, bends down, and looks up at me. “He receives a lot to keep quiet. You don’t think Governor Branch lives as well as he does on tax payer money, do you?”

I take this to mean Governor Branch knows the location of certain safe houses, and he only keeps this information from everyone else in the towndue to money.

My insides boil at the thought that my life is a bargain, something to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. I pull away from him. “I. Don’t. Want. To. Go.”

“Be reasonable. If Governor Branch allowed you to stay here, people wouldn’t be kind to you at all. You know how they are in this village. I can’t protect you forever.”

I close my eyes. “Mother isn’t coming to say good-bye, is she?” I don’t know why I bothered to ask. Father’s eyes make the answer clear. He just can’t bring himself to disappoint me.

“Alice, don’t do this to me.”

Description Sample 

“And we’re here,” the driver announces, coming upon an enormous manor that rests on a cliff overlooking rapids.

I shrank against the seat, intimidated by the sheer size of the structure. I’ve never seen a building so enormous in my life. Then again, I’ve never traveled far from Belhame.

From where we are I am able to make out enormous gargoyles on the blackened shingles of the roof that look like they want to come alive, swoop down, and dig their stony teeth into my flesh. There’s a rusty bell on a bell tower behind a peaked roof, one that looks like a signal for funeral services. Thick vines choke the manor, and they cover so much of the building I wonder if the inhabitants inside are able to breathe.

The most frightening décor of Gallows Hill are the stained-glass windows. I have no idea if they are supposed to serve as a warning or not, but they contain pictures of shadowy creatures holding crosses as if to ward me off.

I tug my father’s sleeve. “I don’t want to be here.”

These are just some samples of my writing. Once the release nears for When Stars Die, I will be posting chapter one of it! As per my contract manager’s advice, of course.

The Dancing Writer’s Chamber

The Dancing Writer’s Chamber

My messy writing desk...and my cat.
My messy writing desk…and my cat.

I primarily write at this messy desk you see to the left. But I’ll on occasion write in my bed when my body isn’t feeling up to supporting itself on a chair. Every Saturday I’ll probably be writing at Panera Bread, and I’d like to start writing outside when the weather permits. But mostly, that disorganized desk is where I do everything.

I’ve never been an organized person. I try to be, but it all falls apart. But, hey, my messiness has worked for 22 years of my life. I am an organized mess.

So where I write isn’t anything special. I might even write at work sometimes, if lulls permit.

How long do I tend to write? I try to write a chapter a day, so this could be anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half, or shorter, depending on the chapter. If I’m really in the mood and I don’t have anything else planned, I’ll do more than one chapter. The most I’ve ever written in a day–besides being manic–was 8,000, and I was on a serious roll.

Tomorrow I plan to write in Stolentime, one chapter, because I have so much stuff to do tomorrow: get my pin number to register for classes at my uni, start designing a t-shirt I will use to promote my book, blog, social media to keep widening my audience, make stuff for the giveaway, and then of course ballet. I wouldn’t be The Dancing Writer without ballet, although I am going to have to start getting on to my boss about giving me my Monday nights. Ah, well, the summer intensive will be here soon, and I will be having that considering I’ll likely be paying for the entire thing ahead of time.

In any case, where do you all tend to write? How long do you write? Do you have word count goals?

The Madness of Writerly Insecurities

The Madness of Writerly Insecurities

Despair. Pure despair.

As writers we’ve all got our insecurities. I have mine. My insecurities revolve around my ability to be able to craft a story that doesn’t need to be sliced to ribbons. The writing itself I’m confident in, but I know when Georgia McBride sliced the sequel to When Stars Die, my confidence was shaken–but it was shaken only slightly because when I re-did the first chapter, I had nailed it the first time.

But still…I have insecurities about my story. Are my characters developed enough? Do I have plot holes? If I have plot holes, can I easily fix them with just a few tweaks here and there? Is my plot on track? Those are my general insecurities, and they’ll probably always be insecurities of mine.

However, they’re not so bad they keep me from writing. If anything, my insecurities fuel my desire to get better as a writer and a self-editor. I have enough confidence in myself as a writer though. I know my ideas are invaluable, that someone will love them, that someone will want to give them a chance. This confidence has come from years of writing experience. But I know there are writers whose insecurities run so deep they’re nailed to the floor and just can’t bring themselves to write. They lack confidence in themselves and their stories.

In order to fix insecurities about your writing, you need to search deeper to why you have those insecurities in the first place. Do you fear rejection or failure? Are you afraid of getting hurt? Of hard work?

This post is not coddling, by any means. Rejection is something you’re going to have to get over. It will happen, it will sting, but you need to realize there is an entire world out there devoted to publishing, so many options, and move on to another one. Or you need to learn to accept criticism that your instinct tells you will make your story better.

Look, I’m a sensitive person, but my sensitivity does not affect my ability to take criticism. I love it, but I’m also a perfectionist. Critique is not meant to hurt you or your story. Critique is meant to help you, and nine times out of ten, the person critting you wants you to develop as a writer. So keep that in mind.

There is also no such thing as failure in writing. Writing a novel that ultimately has no potential is not going to hurt you. You’re only going to learn from it and grow because you’re going to begin to develop an understanding of why it has no potential in the first place. Repeat after me: There. Is. No. Failure. Failure only exists because you say it exists, so take that out of your mind right now.

Writing isn’t just about publishing either. It’s about growing and developing as a human being and learning amazing things about you and your world around you. It’s hard work, it’s tough, but our ability to be able to fashion things from our minds is a beautiful gift, and once you’ve been bit by the writing bug, you should never take for granted what can come from that mind–even if it’s overdone, or seems stupid, or undeveloped. You can only learn and grow. Learn and grow.

 

 

 

Interview With Writer Shannon Thompson, Author of Minutes Before Sunset

Interview With Writer Shannon Thompson, Author of Minutes Before Sunset

Autumn Fog Photography
Autumn Fog Photography

Everyone, say hello to Shannon Thompson! I decided to interview her not only because we will be helping one another in AEC Stellar, but also because I read the chapter one of her novel and absolutely loved it. You can find it in here in my lit magazine. It is in issue 9. Read it. It will hook you if you are a fan of young adult. You can find her here. Enjoy!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. I was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania on June 23, 1991. Since then I’ve lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Green Bay, Wisconsin, Atlanta and Alpharetta, Georgia, and Stilwell, Leawood, Overland Park, and Lawrence, Kansas. I’ve been writing ever since I could pick up a pen (I’ve always disliked pencils ability to disappear over time) but I began taking my passion seriously at 11 when my mother suddenly passed away. At sixteen, my first novel, November Snow, was published in her memory. My second novel, Minutes Before Sunset, will be published May 1st by AEC Stellar Publishing. It is dedicated to my college roommates, Megan Paustian and Kristine Andersen, because the time we had together is very precious to me. Unfortunately, Andersen passed away in October, 2012. It brings me a lot of happiness to be able to dedicate my work to my loved ones, including my father and brother (not to mention my fat cat, Bogart—named after Humphrey Bogart, my favorite actor.) And I have eight other novels in various publication stages. I’m very excited to move forward in my career, but I’m even more excited to be able to help others follow their dreams!

2. What inspired November Snow? Minutes Before Sunset? Both my novels had very different inspirations, but they ultimately came from my dreams. As a child, I suffered from vivid nightmares and night terrors. I didn’t really understand, so my mother taught me to cope by turning my nightmares into stories. “November Snow” is purely based on one nightmare I had shortly after she died. It was very violent and had very young children in it. I imagine it happened due to the depression I was going through. But “Minutes Before Sunset” happened years later. I was in a very dark time in my life, and, without going into details, I began having a series of dreams. These involved a boy simply coming to visit me at night. He’d talk to me, ask me if I was okay, and we’d talk until sunrise about how I was coping and what I was going to do. Once I got out of the bad time of my life, the dreams halted, and I was saddened, because he seemed very real to me. Despite the insanity that can come within a blurred reality line, I decided I had to cope with losing him as well. So I created an explanation, even though I know, upon reflection, my mind created a person in order to protect itself during a hard time.

3. I read that you’re also a poet. What inspires your poetry? I am! I was in the poetry collection, Poems: a collection of works by twelve young Kansas poets, which was also dedicated to my late roommate. Poetry brings out a different kind of inspiration than my fiction writing does. It’s harder for me to figure out what inspires it though, because I still consider myself a very young poet. I’m still experimenting to find my voice, but it’s definitely helped me with my other types of writing! And I love writing and reading poetry on a regular basis.

4. What inspires you as writer in general? Everything between life and death. I hate to sound so dark by saying my own mortality pushes me forward, but it ultimately does. I’ve known (very seriously) that life isn’t guaranteed at 11, so, ever since then, I wake up every day, striving to be inspired and to inspire. The world is new to me every time I open my mind to it.

5. What is your favorite genre and why? That is very difficult! I can’t pick that for reading, because I love reading everything. I mainly love memoirs, young-adult fiction, fiction, and poetry. But I love writing young-adult fiction the most. I enjoy the simplicity of it, meaning the innocence of characters and how much room they have to grow. I also like it because of the audience I write for. My goal is to create stories with capable characters (not perfect, but characters willing to learn and value morals and question life) so they can relate to the struggles while learning possibilities of what maybe they can do, no matter if I write fantasy or not. Within genres, I definitely like fantasy and science-fiction, because I love how limitless it can be.

6. What writer(s) inspire you the most? I have so many, but my young-adult authors include Meg Cabot and Cassandra Clare, while my poets revolve around Ernest Hemmingway, Edgar Allan Poe, and Sylvia Plath.

7. What about AEC Stellar Publishing made you go with them? I love how in-tune they are. They really wanted to make sure my ultimate art message didn’t change during the process. They’re really open to the artist, and I love how much control they allow the author to have in the ultimate decision process. My managers, Ray Vogel and Christie Heisler, are so sweet and very passionate about writing!

8. When you graduate college, what are your plans? I graduate in December, 2013 with a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas. I hope that I can continue writing novels, but I’ve always had other plans in place. As long as I’m doing something with writing, editing, and/or reading, I am happy.

9. Anything else you’d like readers to know? I have a website ShannonAThompson.com that includes more information about my novels. I have extras (maps, music, fan art, and more) but I also post regularly on my blog about writing tips, publishing/marketing, and reviews. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me on either this website, Facebook, and/or Twitter! I’m here to help others follow their dreams

10. What are your other hobbies? I’m always reading and writing, including journaling, but also run, play with my cat, and drink a lot of coffee! And I love traveling, and talking, talking, talking, and talking. I’m never disappointed to meet new people and learn about their lives. I’m fascinated by psychology and all topics like it. I also love the History Channel and murder shows, but I don’t watch a lot of T.V. because of how never-ending it is. I’d rather watch a movie (like my favorite, Casablanca) or write.

The Madness of Writer’s Block

The Madness of Writer’s Block

Did someone call me for a case of writer's block?
Did someone call me for a case of writer’s block?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’ve never had writer’s block. I’ve never suffered from this malady because when a story idea clicks in my mind, I don’t run to my Surface and immediately start tapping it out. I let it stew in my brain and let the idea actually take me on an adventure where the plot points are endless. If it stays in my mind for a few days to a week and I can’t let it go, then I know it is a story that I want to write.

Everyone is different and needs to beat writer’s block his/her own way. I’m not going to tell you to step away from the computer and do yoga or deep-breathing exercises, because anyone who thinks he/she has the cure is going to tell you that. I’m only relaying how I have been able to prevent writer’s block: This is what this post is about, preventative measures. Like good healthcare should be doing, I’m going to give you the tools to prevent it.

In any case, if you’re prone to writer’s block, these tips may be able to help you.

After I have let the idea stew, I go right into creating an outline because all the points will be on paper and I have no excuse for not knowing what to write about it. If you relax and let the character take you on a journey, you shouldn’t find yourself too stuck on the outline. But if you are, remember an outline is an outline, and you can always take another day to let the idea stew. I took a week to create the outline.

I do not want to hear that outlines will limit your scope and you’ll find yourself bored. No you won’t. This is the argument a lot of writers use for rough drafts, and I especially love this, “But character development will be shoddy!” An outline is not set in stone. For Stolentime, I just go rid of three chapters out of my outline because they are unnecessary. I also find my MC is adding things to make the chapters more exciting that were not in the outline. If you feel like an outline is going to kill your character development, then you yourself still need to develop as a writer because then you’re using the outline as a crutch, not a tool.

I don’t take crap.

Once you have that outline written, sit your butt down and refer to that outline to remind you of what direction you’d like to take your story. It is merely a reference tool that will help you finish that rough draft without much fuss. If you feel yourself becoming bored because of the outline, remember that your MC is in charge of where the story goes, and that if you let the outline lead you, you aren’t properly utilizing the outline as it is supposed to be used. When I start writing a chapter, I glance at the outline to remind me what I want this chapter to be about–assuming that it makes sense with the previous chapter. If not, I’m allowed to make adjustments. People really need to stop treating the outline like evidence that needn’t be tampered with.

If you’re the type who has to write chapters out of order, use the outline out of order. I simply think the outline is the best tool for preventing writer’s block because your story is all there and you have no excuse for saying you can’t think of what to write. At the rough draft stage, you shouldn’t be worrying about how you’d like your sentences to sound. You should be writing.