Friday, April 29, 2011

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 4 of 10)

4. We Read. A Lot. Often. Constantly.

As serious writers, we read, and we do so in a variety of areas, always seeking to know more about writing and about our world. We read in our genre, but we read outside our field.

Too often I meet want-to-be writers who don't read—people who don't like to read—and yet they feel they must write. That doesn't make sense to me. Someone said it's like hating horses while raising herds of them, and lecturing around the country on how to love your horse. It's not only hypocritical; it won't work.

Professional writers don't like to read---they're compulsive and must read. They snatch minutes whenever possible to fill their eyes and minds with words and new thoughts.

Words are our tools and we examine their meanings. We feel them and we learn to distinguish between when to use small or little, tiny, miniscule, or minute. We read and pick up nuances of meaning, marvel at the expressive efforts of others, or groan at the lack of skill in our own manuscripts.

We absorb techniques and ideas when we read, mostly unconsciously. We find ourselves absorbed and challenged by writers who are better than we are. And there are always writers who are superior.

We read for pleasure but even then we read to learn and to grow. Every article or book we read becomes a teacher. As we read, we ask questions. Why did she start the story there? What does that word mean? Why did he use the subjunctive mood?

Professional writers are compulsive readers.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 3 of 10)

3. We Rewrite.

The best writing is rewriting. That means not being easily satisfied and sensing we can make our prose better.

To rewrite means to change our writing so that it becomes sharper and more coherent. That's what moves writers into the professional level.

When we rewrite we rethink what we've written. We admit that some words feel exactly right and we leave them. We delete sentences that don't flow or we add words for clarity.

I say it this way: I write subjectively; I edit objectively. That means that on my first draft I let words flow without censoring or interrupting. Once I finish I go back and objectively correct what I've written.

Effective rewriting is a skill we learn gradually
by going through the process hundreds of times.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 2 of 10)

2. We Write, Write, and Write Some More.

Would-be-writers often ask whether they should write every day. Instead of answering, here's my question: Why wouldn't we yearn to write every day? We may not do it every day of the year, but we do it as often and as faithfully as possible. And we form the writing habit.

I began my writing career with the commitment to write at least 15 minutes every day. At the time, that was all the time I could comfortably squeeze. (Within six months, I was writing an hour a day.)

If our goal is to be a great hitter, we swing at the baseball every day; opera singers sing every day; writers write every day. Every day and every chance. Nothing else betters our writing than working at it faithfully.

If we write on a regular basis, we’ll probably improve our writing. Not everyone improves, because some won’t learn.

We write at noon or nighttime, in the bedroom and the boardroom, on Saturdays and stolen moments.

But we write. We write faithfully.

We write fast, write slow, but we write.

You want to be a writer, don't you? Then write. If you want to write well and sell much, write much.

If you are a writer or want to be a writer,
three things you do regularly:
Write, write, and write.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 1 of 10)

1. We Don’t Bore Our Readers.

We can't bore readers, instead they stop reading. Perhaps that sounds obvious, but too many writers are fascinated with their topic—usually their own lives—and assume everyone else cares. If we write as a form of therapy (and that's valid), and recognize what we're doing, we don't try to push the rest of the world to read our struggles.

Some writers assume readers are eager to grasp every word they write. The opposite is true: We have to persuade people to read us and assure them that the time they spend with us will be rewarding.

We do that at the start of our manuscripts. What promises do we make in our titles? In our first sentence? Opening paragraph?

When we forget readers, we invite them to close the book. Whether we're entertaining or teaching, people read because of their perceived needs. We write to meet those needs.

Because we find it interesting, or we think our life is newsworthy, it's easy to assume everyone cares. It's better to assume no one cares about what we write. Our task is to give readers reasons to care—early in the article or book—and keep them interested because we relate to their lives.

If we put the needs of readers first,
we earn the right to be read.

Friday, April 15, 2011

How Editing Groups Work (Part 7 of 4)

Keiki raised the question that all editing groups have to face: Do we all need to write in the same general field? For example, many groups invite only fiction writers.

I personally oppose the limited-scope memberships. If our aim is to write well, we need to take advantage of any opportunity to improve.

Even more important, novelists need to learn to write narrative passages, which is a common weakness in fiction; nonfiction writers need to figure out how to write anecdotes and good stories.

Most important to me is that we can always glean and grow from other writers. Too many fiction writers in editing groups begin to sound like each other. By editing outside their area, members gain information that they probably wouldn’t otherwise read.

Good writers seek opportunities to grow.
Regardless of the genre, they can learn from each other.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How Editing Groups Work (Part 6 of 4)

Lisa asked me to show examples of how we edit a submission. You can do it several ways. If it's a face-to-face group, write on the paper itself. When you hand it back, it's easy for the writer to see what you've edited.

If it's online, I use different methods. I suggest the use of Comment boxes. (Two of the publishing houses I work with use only Comment boxes for their edits, so it's good to learn how to use them.)

Friday, April 8, 2011

How Editing Groups Work (Part 5 of 4)

Peter Lundell sent this email:

I’m lost in semantics. The online group I’m in does basically, in an online format, what you’ve described in these “How Editing Groups Work” posts. But we call it a critique group. I’m having a hard time distinguishing what you’re calling editing and what we’re calling critiquing.

Here’s my response.

Writers’ critique groups formed in the days when it was expensive to make copies of manuscripts. They were set up so they could read their manuscripts aloud. It’s an old-fashioned method that seems to have survived. Across the country people still sit around a table and read their manuscripts while the others listen without interruption. They make comments at the end of the reading.

In 1971, I decided what I wanted and formed such a group. I formed a group where I didn’t have to listen to anyone read aloud (or bore them with my reading aloud). As far as I’m aware, no one else called them editing groups in 1971. I did that intentionally to distinguish us.

I started the face-to-face group and called us the Scribe Tribe. A week before each meeting, we mailed copies of our manuscripts to every member—and we kept the membership to no more than nine people. Sometimes that meant typing (as in using a typewriter and making carbon copies) the manuscript twice or three times.

I wanted members to write on the manuscript so I could take the various responses home with me and ponder what they wrote.

In the days since the Scribe Tribe and the proliferation of the Internet, the words have tended to become interchangeable, but I still use editing when it means people edit manuscripts sentence by sentence. As long as read-aloud groups remain, I’ll insist on the word editing.

Editing groups edit manuscripts.
That’s why I call them editing groups.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How Editing Groups Work (Part 4 of 4)

One person acts as the evaluator on a manuscript. This person is responsible to guide the discussion. Normally each person leads the discussion on only one manuscript and encourages everyone to participate in the oral evaluation.

1. Set a time limit. In the Scribe Tribe we set 20 minutes for this task. If handled efficiently, that's usually enough time.

2. The editing begins with general comments on the entire manuscript. This includes structure, outline, beginning, plot, and conclusion.

3. Members use this time to speak about things they did not write when editing the manuscript.

4. Once each member has had the opportunity to make overall comments, the next step is a page-by-page discussion, including syntax, word choice, and clarity.

5. After the page-by-page discussion, the evaluator asks for any closing or overall comments that have arisen through the editing procedure.

When writers help each other,
all learn and improve the craft.

Friday, April 1, 2011

How Editing Groups Work (Part 3 of 4)

(Continued from the previous blog.)

6. The evaluation serves as part of the process of learning the craft. Members strive for honest opinions, tempered with kindness.

7. Members don't tell others what to write. They try to help each other write better and to make manuscripts marketable.

8. No one has to accept or implement anyone’s comments. (Take the ones that help; forget the rest.)

9. Members make no negative value judgments ("This is bad"), but offer suggestions for improving the writing.

10. Members won’t repeat comments made by others. If they have nothing new to add, they will say so.

11. Meetings center on assisting members to improve their craft. Members agree to stay on topic and not divert the group from its task.

12. When members make comments, they will offer at least one positive comment. Writers need to know what they are doing well and what isn’t working.

13. When the group discusses a person’s writing, that person may not talk or comment. This guideline forces them to listen to the comments. It also prevents their defending their writing. No one has to accept or implement anyone’s comments.

14. After everyone in the group has given comments, the person edited may ask questions. They will confine their questions to issues that didn’t arise during the group discussion or about any comments they want clarified. It is not a time to refute another’s comments.