Editing · Writing

Why You Need An Editor (Yes, you!)

A few nights ago, I had a dream about a friend I had not seen in a while. She was lamenting how she had this piece of finished work, but that the story just wasn’t having the impact she wanted and it wasn’t selling. 

I gave her the same advice I’ve given to a lot of my friends over the years. “You need an editor.” 

I found it funny I had said that in my dream. People often view editors as an “extra” cost, but if you think about the world of professional writing, they are not an optional service. Every author I know of and admire has editors they work with who help them clarify and strengthen their vision. 

The reason I’ve given this piece of advice so much is because I’ve read a lot of work out there that could have truly benefited from some editing, and I know my work is ten times better when I have someone edit it. That pair of fresh eyes can spot things you can’t see, because you are so close to the work. They can also help you learn from those mistakes and become a better writer. That is why you need an editor.

And realistically, editors can be pricey, so if you’re not on the level to pay someone to review your work yet, there are a few other ways you can level up your work.

Ask Friends, Exchange Services, Or Join A Writing Site

If you are not in a position to pay for an editor just yet, you can ask friends to look over your work. Ideally, these should be friends who do some writing themselves so they can give you a critique you can really use. You can also offer to review and critique their work in the future.

If you aren’t able to exchange critiques, you can see if there are other services you can swap with your friends. Right now, I’m providing editing/coaching services for a friend and they are going to do some artwork for me. It’s a mutually beneficial agreement for both of us.

Lastly, if you don’t have any writer friends just yet, join a writing site that focuses on improvement and feedback. There are tons of services out there that should meet your needs. In the past, I’ve used both Writing.com and Scribophile.com and both sites have systems in place to help you get your work reviewed/critiqued.

When Your Ready For An Editor

The great thing about a good editor is that there are no feelings involved. With friends, they may try to spare your feelings and avoid giving you critiques you may need. 

A good editor is there to help you fix mistakes, clarify your vision and improve your writing. You may want to build up a thick skin before you hire an editor. Taking critique can be hard, but it is truly necessary if you want to learn and improve your craft.  Every professional author you admire is able to take feedback. I’ve written more on the subject here.

You also don’t have to take every edit your editor suggests. Now and then, you will feel it in your gut that you need to stick with your instincts and keep a line or a part of the story. It’s okay to take some of the advice, but not all of it. Do your best to consider their edits thoughtfully and incorporate what you can.

When I work as an editor, I always remind myself that I am there to help the author communicate their vision. The author/editor relationship is all about communication and compromise. 

Writing

Why Taking (And Giving!) Feedback is an Essential Skill for Writers

Feedback provides us with an opportunity to learn from and improve on our mistakes. Learning to take criticism with grace and positivity is an essential skill for writers.

Building Your Feedback Skills

First off, it’s okay if you aren’t perfect at taking feedback. I’ve spent the last few years building up a thick skin for constructive criticism and I still feel the burn sometimes when I ask for critique. The defensive monster at the back of my mind pokes her head out to say “noo, my work is great, how dare you!?” but I push her back into her cave after letting her rage for a minute or two. Here are some ways you can work on building your skills so you can make feedback work for you. 

Don’t make excuses

It’s okay to explain why you wrote something a particular way if you have a strong reason for doing it, but don’t give your critique partner or editor a bunch of excuses. If you find yourself constantly explaining why you did something, what you’re really saying is that your work can not stand by itself and that you have to explain it. That alone is enough for you to do a re-write. 

React, but don’t respond right away.

As I said above, I still get defensive of my work sometimes, even with critique partners and editors I’ve worked with for YEARS. These folks know me and they know my writing, but it still stings sometimes. I don’t tell them that it stings or let my defensiveness leak through.

I give myself a few hours to process the sting and then I go back in and try to look at the feedback constructively. 

Take the feedback and make edits.

Read through the feedback carefully and do your best to use it as a tool to improve both the current piece your working on and future work. You might find that you actually really love the feedback once you’ve incorporated it and strengthened your writing.

Be Aware of What Constructive Criticism looks like

I used to be a teacher and during my undergraduate program, I learned some really vital things about feedback. For every 1 negative we give a young student, we need to give them 4 positive and specific points of feedback. I don’t use that exact ratio when I do editing work, but I do try to provide them with both constructive negative criticism AND specific positive feedback. 

If you have ever had someone edit your work and just tear it apart, without telling you that you did anything right, you know how hard it is to take that person’s advice. It’s important to be able to discern when feedback is constructive and when it is just overly negative or critical. If you feel like a feedback partner/editor isn’t giving you helpful notes and doesn’t get your vision, it’s okay to look for a new feedback partner or hire a new editor.

A good feedback partner or editor should help build you up, not just tear you down.

Also, don’t take unsolicited feedback from someone you would not ask for advice from. If you’re in a workshop setting and you know a writer there is not someone who’s advice you really want, it’s okay to take their feedback with a grain of salt.

Giving Feedback Helps You Become A Better Writer

Giving feedback to others also helps you improve your own writing. Figuring what is and isn’t’ working for others can help you problem solve your own writing issues. It can also help you gain a deeper understanding of good dialogue, good plot and more!

Writing · Writing Career

Building a Writing Career: How to Submit to Anthologies

Getting published seems like a scary and hard-to-achieve goal for a lot of the writers I’ve talked to, but one way to get your name out there is to submit to anthologies. It’s a great place to get started because you can focus on short fiction for a bit and learn about story structure.

If just one anthology accepts and publishes your submission, that’s it, you can say you’re a published writer. 

Finding Out Where to Submit Your Story

Literistic is a monthly email service that sends you a list of open contests, literary magazines and more. They have both a free and paid version of their monthly newsletter. The free version is quite a bit shorter than the paid, but if you are just starting out, the free version is a great way to get a feel for it and find a few different places you would like to submit your work to.

Many universities and community colleges have a literary journal/magazine or anthology that they publish yearly. They usually have open submissions but prioritize student authors or local authors. You can contact your local institution or take a look at their website to find out if they have a literary journal.

You can check out this link here for a list of the top 100 literary journals. This is a great list to get you started!

Read the Submission Guidelines Carefully

I’ve submitted several stories and though the process is almost always similar, no two submissions were exactly the same. Some journals want a cover letter with an author bio, while others just want your story. Some will want your name on every page, while others will only want your name on the cover letter. Make sure you read the instructions carefully and follow them very closely. 

Many editorial teams will not read your work if you did not follow their guidelines.

Rejection Happens

Now, just like any other submission process, you will want to ready yourself for rejection. Just because you did not get accepted, does not mean the story is bad or poorly written. It just means that it was not right for that particular literary journal. Hold on to the story, edit it again if you feel you need to, and submit it somewhere else. I personally try to submit to journals that either offer a free copy of the book/journal, or even offer some kind of payment for the story.

Keep Writing

The more short stories you write, the more work you have to submit. I keep most of my stories in a folder in google docs and when I find a literary journal I want to submit to, I see if I have anything already written or if I need to create a new story.

Good luck! Let me know if you have any questions, I’m happy to share more of my experience.

Book Review · Personal Post · Writing

My 2020 Reading List

Hey everyone, I wanted to share a part of my reading list for 2020, just to put some awesome books on your radar!

I tend to read a lot of self-help and instructional books, I enjoy the way they help me center my thinking. Last year, I tried to balance that with a bit more fiction reading. In my teens and early twenties, I would to ravenously devour fiction books and I’d like to get back to that. I struggle to sit still and ignore distractions, so sometimes sitting quietly and reading can be difficult, but this year I want to try to retrain my brain to be okay with quiet time. 

I also make a list of books each year that I would like to read and create a page in my bullet journal for it.

My Full Reading List So Far

Some of the books are novels I’ve read before that I want a refresher on, some of them are books I meant to read last year but didn’t start…And a few are books I started but didn’t finish. 

I listen to audiobooks pretty often, so it can be easy to get a few hours in and forget that I was reading that book. This year, I hope to finish a lot more than I did last year.

Here’s a few of the books on my list that I’m really excited about:

  1. Brave, Not Perfect by Reshma Suanjani – Reshma started the “Girls Who Code” organization and this book dives into studies on why girls tend to develop a fixed mindset about what they are capable of. She also shares insights on how we can move beyond trying to be “perfect” and choose to be brave instead.
  2. Meditations of Marcus Aurelius – I just find stoic philosophy pretty fascinating and would like to practice it more.
  3. Protect the Prince by Jennifer Estep – I read the first book in this series last year and I really enjoyed it. It was the sort of adventure/fantasy/romance book that fits exactly what I look for in those sorts of genres. Often, I’ve found a lot of stories like this are reserved for YA, but the main character in this book is 27. 
  4. Wyvern by Grace Draven – Draven is one of my favorite fantasy romance authors. Once I get started on her books, I typically devour them quite quickly. 
  5. Lagom by Niki Brantmark – This book is about the Swedish art of living a happy, balanced life. I picked it up after I really enjoyed Hygge by Meik Wiking. Hygge is a Danish concept of happiness. I have Scandinavian ancestry and books like this help me feel more connected to the cultures of my great-grandparents.
  6. The Night Witches by Garth Ennis and Russ Braun – This is a graphic novel about female military aviators who fought during WWII. They would idle their engines and glide toward their bombing targets and that got them the nickname “Night Witches” from their Nazi enemies. It was very uncommon to see women in combat roles during this time in history.

So there you have it. Obviously there are a lot more books on my list in my bullet journal, but these are the ones I hope to start the year off strong with.

Writing

2019 Theme: Level Up

2018 was an interesting year for me in a lot of ways and some of those issues were part of why I did not blog quite as much as I should have.  A lot of the year was figuring out and re-negotiating my balance in life.

2018’s theme was “Hustle” for me, but as I said above, it probably should have been “Balance.”  I spent a lot of 2018 learning and building my skill set and trying to figure out my personal direction with things.  I went to Denver Comic Con in June and spent many of my hours there in writing panels, learning from experts about the craft I love so much.  Late in the year, the lessons learned there helped me recommit to writing and publishing my first novel, which I’m still currently working on.

I formatted and self-published a short on Amazon in the fall of 2018, which was both a big and little accomplishment.

I found new friends and let go of some of the people who were not quite right for me (and I was likely not quite right for them).  I think that will be another part of 2019 for me, letting go of people who aren’t really kind to me and aren’t really worth me investing a lot of thought into.

I improved my health in some great ways (Lower body weight, better blood panels), and then got hit with some unexpected health problems of the chronic variety.  I’m still working on getting those under control and doing my best to remain hopeful.

One of my goals this year is to blog more consistently, so hopefully, this is not the last you hear from me for months!  I hope you are having a great beginning of the year and that you’re ready to work and strive towards your dreams/goals!  This year I want to “level up” by writing more, learning more and publishing more!

Writing

Punctual, Easy To Work With, & Brilliant: 2 Out Of 3 Is Fine

In a lot of ways, this blog ends up being posts that I write because I need to read them or someone close to me might need them.  Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writing role models and I come back to his book “Fantastic Mistakes” over and over again.  The book is just a fancy version of a speech he gave at the Philadelphia’s University for the Arts commencement ceremony, but it was filled with amazing advice for creative people.  One of my favorite parts of his speech was a specific tip about freelancers and getting hired for jobs.  The advice basically goes as follows–

Freelancers get hired for the following reasons:

  1. They do good work.
  2. They are easy to work with.
  3. They are punctual and meet deadlines.

…And you really only need two out of three to get hired.

Even though I’m doing less work for hire because I’m focusing on writing fiction, this idea still echoes in my head.  If you are easy to work with and you always hit deadlines, you can build a freelance career, even if your work isn’t always brilliant.  If you’re brilliant and easy to work with, you can miss some deadlines and people will most likely be forgiving.  If you do good work and hit deadlines with ease, it might be okay for you to not be the most social/easy person to work with.  Focus on what you’re good at and build your skills accordingly.

I personally strive for all three, but my main focus is that I’m easy to work with and I always am either on time or early for deadlines.  I think deadlines are important because they can really help you show the people you work with that you can be reliable and consistent.

Anyways, that’s my short post for this week.  I would highly recommend “Fantastic Mistakes” to anyone who wants to pursue a creative career or even a creative hobby.  Gaiman’s advice is always so uplifting and yet so grounded and simple.

Personal Post · Productivity · Writing

Self-Care for Creative People

I am a very type “A” person.  I also have ADD, so I tend to bounce around from project to project, furiously trying to get everything done.  In the last year or so, I’ve learned that self-care is kind of key to my mental health and I’ve been learning more and more about what it means to me.  Often times I feel too ‘busy’ to take a minute for myself to refill and refresh my mental state.  It can be difficult to do this normally but I’ve also found it can be hard to do creatively.  There is always the temptation to push for more.  Push to get more done.  Push to write more, draw more, create more.

Instead of feeling super accomplished after I push for more, I tend to feel like no matter how much I get done there is always more to do.

My Favorite Self-Care Rituals

1. Read

It can be tempting to get so into my own projects that I leave no time for reading, but lately, I’ve been trying to set aside 10-20 minutes a day to read something.  A book, a comic, something with some kind of storytelling aspect.  I’ve even gotten a little app called “Webtoons” on my phone where I can scroll through short comics and binge read entire creator-produced series.

2. Color 

I’ve found that coloring is a great way to feel creative without the burden of creating something brand new.  I spurlged on some colored pencils and markers and I have a mermaid coloring book I pull out sometimes.  I’ll listen to music or watch youtube and just feel in the lines to my linking with purples, pinks, and blues.

3.  Go For A Walk

I’m bad about taking my own advice on this one, but getting out of the house can be a great way to clear the mental/creative clutter.  It’s also summer, so right now it’s a lot easier for me to take a stroll.

4. Declutter/Clean Up A Small Area

If it’s really for self-care, I try to pick a small cleaning task like loading/unloading the dishwasher or picking up my office.  I’ve always found that small cleaning tasks can help me feel a little less disjointed and a bit more together.  I have also found that sometimes it helps me work through ideas I’m stuck on.  Something about using my hands/body, allows my mind to hum and work in the background.

Book Recommendations – Novels To Help You Avoid Feeling OverWhelmed

I also want to recommend a couple books that might help you avoid feeling completely overwhelmed in your creative journey.  Sometimes their advice is a little at odds with each other but I’ve found gems that I cling to in each of them.

  1. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero – I still re-read this book on a regular basis.  It helps remind me that I have great to things to share with the world.
  2. The Life-Changing Magic Of Not Giving a F* by Sarah Knight.  So yeah, this one does swear quite a bit, but Knight has a great approach to figuring out what things you should care about and what things are okay to let go by the wayside.
  3. Anything by Gabrielle Bernstein.  – She is totally Guru-esque, but she’s also just full of light and love.
  4. Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis – A really lovely book that helps you work on the lies you tell yourself (You’re not talented/good/skinny enough).
Writing

Passion Vs. Skill

This is a struggle that many creators often face.  The idea they want to write is so perfectly formed in their head and yet when it comes time to put pen to paper, the story doesn’t quite match what was in their head.  It’s much rougher and not as fully formed as they would like it to be.

I recently faced this with a project I’ve been working on.  I had plenty of passion for the project, it’s a story that has been on my mind for 4 years or so…But after a few months of working on characters and plot, I realized though I loved the characters and my idea, my skills to tell this story weren’t up to snuff.

When you hit this crossroads, you can do one of two things:  

  1.  Give up and throw your hands in the air.
  2.  Put the story away for a little while.  Build your skills.  Come back to it later.

If you give up, it’s over.  If you put the story on the shelf and keep working to become a better creator, you can come back to it someday and do it justice.

I’m an avid Neil Gaiman fan.  I loved his writing advice before I fell in love with his writing, because he is often very raw and very honest.  There are a few times where he will mention that he started a story or got an idea, only to finish it years later, long after the initial spark.

Sometimes you just aren’t ready to tell a particular story, even if you love the story to pieces.  I find that I know I’ve hit this point when all the pleasure goes out of writing the story.  Writing is a job, yes, but for me I never want it to feel like hard, monotonous work.

It’s important to have passion and skill for any project you plan to work on.  If you are pursuing a creative endeavor, if you are making stories or art you should love it.  It shouldn’t be just a job, if it feels like a constant slog and you can’t find your passion for the project…Switch projects.  If switching doesn’t help, maybe it’s time to find a new passion.  You want to be excited about what you are working on.  If you can’t find that excitement no matter what you try, then it’s either time to take a break or time to try something else.

There are much easier jobs that pay better that don’t require creative stress.  Creating is labor, but it should be the kind of labor you enjoy doing.

I’ll end this post with a great quote on this topic from Ira Glass:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Writing

A Goal, A Plan – What Is The Difference?

I am a bit of a planning nut, so I tend to have daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly goals. Goals are fantastic and necessary if you want to work toward achieving something you have never done before.  A few people do magically stumble into the career or life of their dreams, but they are the exception, not the rule.  Your goals don’t have to be perfect starting out, nor do they have to be as thorough as mine tend to be.

Here’s the thing though, goals are just sentences on a piece of paper or glyphs on a google doc without a plan to work toward them.  So let’s break both concepts down and look at what makes a good goal and what makes a great plan.

How To Write Good Goals

There are a few tried and true aspects you need to have a good goal.  Here are the basics:

  • Be Specific – Don’t be vague.  Being vague about your goals tends to make them more difficult to work toward.  While it’s tempting to say “I want to be a writer” and put that as your goal, it is very general and not very motivational.  A goal like “I want to publish two short stories this year” gives you specific information about what you would like to achieve.
  • Make Your Goal Measurable – For a goal to be measurable, there needs to be evidence you have done something once you achieve it.  Again, “I want to be a writer” is sort of a flimsy goal because there is no way to measure progress when the goal is so general.  If your goal is about publishing two short stories, as mentioned above, if you get one or two stores published, you have a clear, measurable way to look at your progress.
  • Make It Attainable –  If you set impossible goals, you are sabotaging your motivation.  Making goals that are attainable is going to help you build on the momentum you get as you start achieving the goals you’ve set.  “I want to be a famous writer” might be unattainable in the short-term.  “I want to steadily self-publish two shorts and 1 novel per year.” is something that you can do if you put your nose to the grindstone and keep working.
  • Make It Time-Bound  – You need a deadline.  Sometimes deadlines still pass you by, but having a clear time limit can be a great way to hold yourself accountable for the goals you have set.  This is why I make daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly goals.  It gives me clear time constraints on the different projects I’m working on.

How To Make A Plan To Achieve Them

If a goal is a thing you want, then the plan is the nuts and bolts of how you get it.  I find that the best way to avoid overwhelming yourself with a big plan is to break it all down into smaller steps.

When I taught special education, we often used a thing called “Task Analysis” to help students learn new and complicated skills.  We would do this by breaking the task or skill down into smaller steps and then we would teach those smaller steps to the student.  Once they knew the smaller steps, they could chain them together and accomplish the more complicated skill.

I use this sort of method all the time when I approach plans. To make a good plan, you break the goal down into various small steps, steps that feel a lot easier to accomplish than the goal as a whole.

Here is an example of a recent way I used this method to make a plan:

One of my current goals is to publish a short story I wrote on Amazon.  It was a story that was accepted into an anthology but the publishing contract fell through.  Rather than let it sit on my computer, I decided I wanted to self-publish it.  The writing and editing are already done, but for example’s sake, we’ll pretend like I’m starting from scratch.

My plan might look something like this:

  1. Write a short story (6-10k words)
    1. Write the Draft of the story
    2. Self-Edit the Draft
    3. Have a friend or friends proofread and give feedback
    4. Polish the final draft
  2. Get the story ready for publication
    1. Figure out how to format the story for e-publishing (or commission someone to format it)
    2. Commission or make a cover for the story
  3. Publish the Story

Now, the steps in between may have other sub-steps that require learning or research on my part, but this is an actionable plan with clear steps to help me work toward my goal.

When working toward your dreams, you’ll want to set goals and then make plans to work toward them.  I hope this little break down helps give you a better idea of how you can do both and do them well.

 

Writing

“What Do We Do Now?” – We Write. We Create. We Tell Our Stories.

Like many women around my age, I grew up totally in love with Legally Blonde.  Elle Woods inspired me, because though many underestimated her and did not think she was smart enough to achieve her goals, she was determined.  I have always had a bit of that contrary attitude in me.  I think sometimes spite can be a great motivator, we can push past some of the boundaries that hold us back, just to show the nay-sayers that we are more than capable of accomplishing what they said we could not do.  Or would not do.

I recently saw the Glamour Woman of the Year 2015 speech given by Reese Witherspoon, the actress who played Elle Woods, and really struck a chord with me.  I’ll link you to a video with her speech below so you can watch it as well, but the question she brought up and it’s prevalence in movies really made me think.

In her speech, she draws attention to the fact that in a lot of films there is a crisis moment where a female character turns to a male character and asks this question “What are we going to do?”  Like most women, I have had times in my life where I have turned to loved ones and asked this question, but I think they are probably greatly outnumbered by the times where I did not ask this question.  I have also watched countless women in my life go through a crisis and handle it.  Sometimes with grace and elegance, other times with tears and perseverance.

I have been blessed to be surrounded by amazing, complicated, inspiring women for most of my life.  I have watched my mother lose the love of her life and continue on against those sorrows to carve out her own happiness after that terrible loss.  I have grandmothers who are both strong in their own ways, even though they are opposite in many ways.  I have darling sister and her amazing daughter, both who help bring out the best and most caring side of my heart.  I have female friends, a mother-in-law, step-sisters and sisters-in-law who all work to create the life they love, despite the hardships we all face in life.  Each of these women are unique and all of them are capable.

I say it a lot in my life and some on this blog, but women’s stories are important.  It is important that those stories are as nuanced and unique as the women we meet each day.

So that is why, lately, I have been asking myself “What am I going to do?”  I am going to let the women in my life inspire me to write interesting and nuanced stories.  I’m going to write comics about heroes one day that my nieces can both read and be inspired by.  I’m going to write stories that feel important to me.  Stories that tell about the complicated inner lives of both women and men.