It Came from the Drafts Folder

In September I participated in Project: Mic Drop, a little circle of artists and intuitives and other business owners facilitated by Brandy Morris, in which we were challenged to dig deep and tell stories and release our mad flava into the world.

I dug deep. I told stories. I broke a seal on my writing that had been in place since my daughters were born (my favorite form of writing was lengthy introspection, which babies don’t much give you time for), and I’ve written almost daily since September 1. Project: Mic Drop gave me back something powerful.

Earlier today I posted about my rockin’ Friday night with a cup of chai and 87 WordPress tabs open. It turns out that the Drafts folder had a few stories worth telling, but they languished there because I wanted to tie them to some link of the day instead of letting them stand on their own. So, in the spirit of releasing mad flava, I’m going to publish It Came from the Drafts Folder, a series of stories about me and who I am and what I know. The first installment is queued up for Thursday.

Maybe they do or don’t illustrate some bit of publishing industry ephemera. They’re just fun for me to tell, and hopefully fun for you to read, and that’s enough.

The power of breaking a rule

On Friday night, I was changing posts from tags to categories in advance of a design update (I clearly know how to rock a Friday night). This quote, from You’ve Got the Power: For Good or Evil on the Subversive Copy Editor blog, was worth a post in September 2012:

I recently spoke to a classroom of new copyeditors, and I took this “knowledge is power” idea one step further. Copyeditors have a choice as to what kind of power they wield. They can wave about the rule book and try to assume the power of saying “No, you can’t” to writers, or they can acquire the power of knowing when to break a rule in order to help writers achieve great writing.

My regular readers know that I like to call that second choice “subversive,” but they also know that it truly isn’t. Choose the second kind of power: it’s a better way of life.

It’s still quite true, and the rest of the post is worth a read as well, here in 2015. The point of knowing the rules isn’t to “take a chunk of writing and… grind it through the style-guide mill,” as Carol Fisher Saller says. The point of knowing the rules — from basic ones like capitalizing the first word of a sentence to arcane ones that rule reference lists — is to make that chunk of writing easier for the reader to understand. If a rule is making something harder to understand, it is eminently possible to throw the rule out. 

(Watch me end that sentence with a preposition. Besides, that’s not even a rule.)

NaNo writers: Don’t choose an editor now

Cheers to everyone writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month! We’re getting to the midpoint of November, and the middle can be a tough slog for any writer. (“Oh, you’re at that part of the book?” Neil Gaiman’s agent once told him).

If you’ve been thinking about publishing the novel you’re writing — or if you’re sure you will never, ever publish your novel — let me tell you this (and I have my editing tiara on as I say this): Do not make that decision in November. Right now, let the words flow. Write some absolute crap. It’s okay. This is exactly the time and place to do donuts in an empty field. Don’t get too bogged down in the idea of fixing it later. Crap will still get you to 50,000 words, and in November, that is your goal.

The next step is to leave your novel alone. Ignore it for the entire month of December. Put it in a desk drawer, as Stephen King advised in On Writing (though now that’s probably a metaphorical desk drawer). This is key. Let it simmer, let it percolate. Let yourself recover. Forget exactly which sentences tumbled out because you were within 150 words of the day’s word count goal and you didn’t care what came out to get you there. Remember only the highs you felt when a plot point worked itself out, when you suddenly knew what to do with Chapter 10, when you wrote something so glorious you weren’t entirely sure it really came from your own brain.

Then, in January and February, pick it back up again. Read through it with fresh eyes. Let your inner editor come back out to play.

Then decide whether you want to publish this thing.

In March, I’ll be offering a $999 copy editing special for NaNo writers, but if you’re still in the thick of writing, don’t email me about it now. Copy editing comes way after writing. Write the thing, let it sit, then read through it again and fix the spots that jump out at you. Fix the macro things, like adding or subtracting characters, throwing out a whole scene, rearranging scenes or chapters, or writing transition paragraphs.

When you’ve got that down and you’re pretty well happy with it, go through a third time and pull out some editor tricks:

Change the font (Garamond is a nice choice to mimic a printed book), or bring your manuscript from Scrivener into Word, or even print the whole thing out (with page numbers). Trick your eyes into thinking that you’re looking at something entirely different.

Make a style sheet and refer to it as you reread. Do you use any nonstandard spellings or phrases? Write them in the style sheet so you can keep them consistent. List the full names of all your characters, too. (That way, you don’t have to find where exactly in Chapter 2 you introduced that minor character when his name pops up again in Chapter 17 and you have to check the spelling.)

Here’s a few more tips from Making Professional Editing Work for You, a post by fellow editor Allison K Williams:

What can you do to prepare, and how can you bring down the price?

There are some basic technical fixes you can apply to your manuscript that will improve your writing remarkably in a short time.

  • Search for “ly.” For every single adverb in your manuscript, ask if you really need it. If the adverb’s in a dialogue tag (that’s the “he said” part), rewrite the dialogue to make the tone or emotion clear, or use an action.

“You’re hurting my arm!” he said angrily. (Adverb states the obvious)

“You’re hurting me!” He wrenched his arm away. (Use an action)

“You’re hurting me!” (Trust that the dialogue’s tone is clear)

  • Search for “being” “doing” “going” “began” “continued” and “started.” Most sentences will be stronger if you just use the verb.

“He began to get angry” vs. “He got angry”

“She was doing her knitting” vs. “She was knitting”

  • Read through the manuscript focusing on only one character. Are their actions consistent? Does their dialogue sound uniquely like them and not like another character? If you removed the dialogue tags, would you know who was speaking? Repeat for every character.
  • Is your manuscript within the usual word count for the genre? If not, look for cuts. Ask of every scene, “Does the main character’s journey move forward? What important discovery or action happens here?” Cut the least useful scenes. Use the old screenwriter maxim, “Get in late and get out early”—does every scene start as late in the action as possible? Does every scene end as soon as it can? I trimmed a client’s book from 130,000 words to 95,000 words without cutting any of the actual story by editing out characters getting out of their cars and walking down hallways. Start scenes when the action starts.

Your book will be stronger for all this work. In January and February. Bookmark this post and come back then.

For now, happy writing!

Bits and updates

Happy Friday! I’ve got a few interesting bits and updates from the past week-ish.

As I mentioned on Facebook, I have an immediate editing slot open for a completed, unpublished novel, preferably romance. (I read historicals, the occasional paranormal, and contemporary romance; my past fiction work is all contemporary fiction, romantic elements optional.) Hit me up! The newly updated Rates page now includes pricing for fiction under 40k words. Quotes and sample edits are always available for novel-length works.

If you’re working on a NaNoWriMo novel: YAY!! Go you!! But hold that thought re: getting it edited. I’ll have a post up tomorrow talking about why.

My post Don’t get suckered: National Association of Professional Women went up almost three years ago and still draws comments from women who say that NAPW is up to the same tricks. Journalist Nikki Gloudeman’s new post at The Establishment, Anatomy of a Scam: The National Association of Professional Women, is a deep dive into the experiences of former members and whether they think membership is worth it (spoiler: no), who exactly runs the organization, what it’s like to work for NAPW (spoiler: awful), and what the future holds. My post is linked in the piece, and I chose not to be interviewed for it because anxiety gets the best of me sometimes, but nevertheless, this is an excellent piece. Recommended reading.

Lighter recommended reading: this Tor.com post on How Huge Door-Stopper Fantasy Novels Get Made, with plenty of photos showing the hard covers getting foil stamped, the pages being printed and bound, and the cover and dust jacket added. (You’ll have to add your own somnolent How It’s Made narration.) The post returned to me the term signature. Presses like this one print books in signatures, or chunks, of 32 pages. A half-signature is 16 pages.

Folded and cut signatures. (Photo via Tor.com)
If you’ve ever read a book that had a bunch of blank pages or an unexpected Notes section at the back, it’s probably because there were pages left in the sig or half-sig, so the publisher either left them blank or added the Notes heading. The pricing of a print run is also based on how many signatures each book will take to print. Months ago, I read some romance-related post (at Cooking Up Romance? Smart Bitches Trashy Books?) that wondered why category romances run exactly 192 pages, and I can tell you: it’s because 192 pp = 6 sigs. If a book ran even a page longer, it’d cost more to print; much shorter, and you’d have to argue to call it a novel, I suspect (back-of-the envelope calculation puts 192 pp at 48k words). But at the time I could not for the life of me remember the term signature. Now that I remember, of course, I don’t know where I read the question. (I ran into the other room and shouted at Matt, “Signature!! The word is ‘signature’!” He was just confused. It didn’t help either of us.)

Book of interest: Sigil Magic for Writers, Artists & Creatives

Writer and mystic T. Thorn Coyle has a new book out: Sigil Magic for Writers, Artists, and Other Creatives.

Cover of Sigil Magic by T. Thorn Coyle

I had the honor of hearing Thorn speak in Baltimore in 2009, when she was on tour for Kissing the Limitless, and her Elemental Castings podcast accompanied me on many hours of driving around the same time. Her earlier book, Evolutionary Witchcraft, also made a huge impact on me and my practice as a baby witch. So I’m comfortable saying, without having read Sigil Magic, that Thorn knows her shit and the book should be an interesting read grounded in the Western mystery tradition.

Sigils are marks or designs created with specific intent and layered with symbolism to accomplish a task. (Bindrunes are a parallel concept.) Ceremonial magic uses a number of sigils for varying purposes; you can use one that already exists and tap into the power that repeated use over time has imbued in it, or you can create and charge your own sigil. If you want to learn more, check out Thorn’s book.