What Should Every Writer Know About Journalistic Writing?

Late last fall, I announced I’ll be teaching at the 35th Annual Southeastern Writers Association conference (yay!).  Believe it or not, that is at the end of this month(Where does the time go, I ask you??)

Right now, I am putting the finishing touches on my workshop, “The Well-Prepared Freelancer: Journalistic Writing and Its Benefits for Writing of Any Kind,” but I need your help. (Pretty please?)

When I originally designed the course and pitched it to SWA, I intended it to be a four-class workshop, in which I’d teach the basics of journalistic writing and then show how to apply those skills to not only news stories but to other types of writing (i.e., query letters, manuscripts, short stories, etc.).*

However, with all the great presenters who are going to be in attendance at SWA this year, they were only able to fit me in for one class.  So, while I still intend to do this, I am somewhat limited on how much I can cover.

My question to you, Dear Blogosphere, is: What should every writer know about journalistic writing?

What questions do you have?

What do you think is important to know about it?

Furthermore, if you were attending a course like this, what would you expect to take away?

(Okay, that was technically four questions—but it’s a writing conference, not a math conference!)

I would greatly appreciate any thoughts you might have on this subject, as I whittle down my syllabus.

Thanks in advance, pals!  *mwah* (That was a kiss, not the beginning of my evil laugh!)**

Leave a comment, or I'll gnaw on your kit-ty. MWAH-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAA!!

*Click here to see my previous post on this, where I go more in depth in terms of my my purpose and rationale for the class.

**No, I don’t know what’s with my colored text today.

This Week’s SWO LIVE CHAT & Story Openers

I’m hosting a live chat this Tuesday, May 25, from 9-10 P.M. EST on Shenandoah Writers Online.*

Our chats sometimes run over, if we feel so inclined, but the “official” time for this event is from 9-10 P.M.  Even if you can only stop by for a few minutes, it’d be good to have you poke your head in and say hello.**

TOPIC

We discussed story openers at the last Shenandoah Writers (IRL) meeting, and I’d like to further that conversation with the online group.

WHAT TO BRING

It would be great if you brought the opening line or lines of something you’ve written as well as the opening line or lines from one of your favorite books.

I would like to discuss what makes these openers successful (i.e., what hooks the reader, what we learn in the opening, etc.) as well as what we think are the elements of a successful opener.

This will also give participants a chance to workshop their own opening lines/paragraphs with the group and gain some feedback.

EXAMPLE

Here is one of the openings I’m bringing:

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

What do we learn from this opening?

  • We gain some insight into the characters of the Dursleys:
    • J.K. Rowling (yes, this is the opening line to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) straight out tells us they are “normal” and happy to be so.  “Perfectly” in front of “normal” and the “thank you very much” shows that they are a bit snooty—it gives a sense of being uppity (a.k.a. we’re getting voice here).
    • Just from this first line, we learn the Dursleys are the type of people who don’t like their feathers ruffled—they like to maintain decorum.  They feel strange and mysterious things are nonsensical.
  • The first part of the second line (“They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious”) suggests to the reader that, although you wouldn’t expect them to be involved in something like that, they were involved in something like that.  Thus, the juxtaposition of these opposites—normal and strange—hooks the reader.  We want to know what it is they are involved in—and how these uppity people will deal with it/cover it up.

That’s just a taste.  I’ve posted some other novel openers—including my two novel openers—in “Files” on the SWO site, so please feel free to take a look.  If you’re not a member, see below to get started.

QUESTION

What do you think makes a good opening? 

If you can’t make it to the chat but would like to get in on the conversation, please leave your thoughts in the comments of this post.

*For more information about SWO, click on “Shenandoah Writers” in “Categories” in the right-hand side bar.

**You must be a member of SWO to participate in the chat.  Not a member yet?  E-mail me or click here to get started.

In the Blogosphere: 4/26-5/21

“In the Blogosphere” is a series, which lists links to writing-related blogs I’ve stumbled upon throughout a given week (usually).

It’s been a few weeks since I did one of these posts.  As I’ve mentioned, it’s been busy, busy, busy.  I’ve been saving posts, but I haven’t been sharing them—how inconsiderate of me!

RESOURCES

This oldie but goodie post is from John Robert Marlow’s Self Editing Blog, and it deals with something I’ve seen a lot of lately: bouncing eyeballs.  Many writers—especially those writing young adult lit—have eyes and jaws and stomachs (and such) doing all sorts of things they couldn’t possibly be doing.  And while expressions like “she rolled her eyes,” “his jaw fell to the floor,” “his stomach dropped to his knees” are simply that—expressions—idioms—they can sometimes be jarring to the reader, and it is recommended by many that writers avoid using such phrases.  Marlow’s post does a great job of explaining why.

I mean, this is an eye-roll according to Morfland of OpticalFantasies.com!

And, my absolute favorite example of this comes from when I attended book doctor Bobbie Christmas’s class at the 2008 Southeastern Writers Association conference.  Christmas said she was editing a romance novel, and one of the lines read, “Her eyes were glued to his crotch.”  If you think about that image—the literal image—that can definitely take you out of what I’m sure was supposed to be a hot-and-heavy moment!

But I digress. 🙂

In this post, Paulo Campos of yingle yangle suggests using film to expand your use of body language.

WRITING FOR YOUNGSTERS

Since I write YA and am a recovering high school (and middle school for one year) English teacher, I have a soft spot for all things kids’-lit related.

In her guest post on the Guide to Literary Agents blog, Jewel Allen offers some tips on writing middle-grade lit kids will dig.

To swear or not to swear?  Andrea Brown Literary Agency’s Mary Kole discusses this very question in a few posts over at her blog, Kidlit.comHere is the first of those posts.

LOGLINES & YOU

In the quest for representation, I have discussed queries and pitches and loglines a lot with other writers as well as here on the blog.

Over at Writer Unboxed, Kathleen Bolton explains why you need to be able to boil down your novel to one or two sentences.

Curtis Brown Ltd’s Nathan Bransford concurs.

Here, Bransford tells you just how to do that.

Perfect your pitch! (Yes, Kyle, this pic is for you. Sadly, though, I have no idea who this player is. Sorry - I'm trying, though!)

PEP TALK

And what would the writing world be without pep talks?

Over at TotallytheBomb.com, YA author Jamie Harrington uses Rick Astley to keep us going when writing gets tough.

Sick of Nathan Bransford yet?  Get over it!  Here, he ‘splains that willpower is the greatest strength a writer can have.

Seekerville’s Camy Tang gives some ways one can balance writing and, well, everything else in life.  Stress not—it *can* be done!

PLATFORM

What’s this whole platform thing everyone’s talking about all the time?  Well, YA author Jamie Harrington will tell you.  She did a great little series over at her blog.  A must-read/view for all writers.

If You Missed the SWO LIVE CHAT . . .

. . . you weren’t alone.

For those new to the blog, I just had to move my online writing group from Ning to Grou.ps, and the new network is buggy: I tried to send a reminder about the chat to all SWO members today to no avail (I found out that feature has been defunct the last two days—grr!), one of my regular attendees couldn’t access the network at the time of the chat, as well as a host of other wonky things with the new site.

Eeeeeeeeh - the site is buggy, Doc!

Overall, I’ve been impressed with Grou.ps.  After all, it can’t be easy for them to accommodate the Great Ning Exodus of 2010.  They have a tech support group for administrators, which has been helpful to me, and they seem to be actively taking care of buggy things as people report them.  However, don’t mess with my chat!

I suspect they’ll have all the kinks worked out before the May chat.  (I hope! I hope!)

THE GIST

If you missed our chat on revision and rewriting tonight for whatever reason, here are the highlights:

  • Re: Revision & Rewriting: What’s Your Process & How Do You Know When to Stop?
    • We discussed a method of editing I use: editor Bobbie Christmas’s “Find and Refine Method” as outlined in her out-of-print book, Write in Style: Using Your Word Processor and Other Techniques to Improve Your Writing
      • In the book, Christmas discusses how to tighten your writing and lists words and phrases you can search for within your manuscript to quickly find the problematic areas—all using your word processor’s “find” function (i.e., passive verbs, adverbs, certain words and phrases writers often overuse, etc.)
    • One member mentioned a CD called Writer’s Mind, which is designed to engage patterns of your own EEG and stimulate your creativity
    • We talked about reading your manuscript aloud
      • Doing this not only makes others think you are strange, but it also enables you to catch spelling/grammar mistakes as well as pinpoint problematic syntax, etc.
    • We touched how allowing space/distance between yourself and your manuscript is key
      • If you are too close, you’re not going to catch as many errors—your brain kind of fills in missed words, etc.
      • We debated how much space one needs—how much distance—and this, of course, is subjective
        • Some felt sleeping on it and revisiting the manuscript the next day was sufficient
        • One person suggested you not live, touch, or breathe the MS for at least a month before editing
        • Some mentioned sending the piece to beta readers and working on something else to get your mind off said manuscript
          • By the time the betas have read it, you should be sufficiently recharged

    Make like Michael Strahan's front teeth, and get some space between you and your MS!

  • This led to a discussion about beta readers—Re: where to find them and how to know if you can “trust” someone to give you constructive feedback
    • Some places suggested to find beta readers included: listservs, online writing groups, writer friends you make at conferences, etc.
      • One of my favorite comments of the chat: “Beta readers = fellow writers. Avid readers. Not Mom, Not Dad. No one you’ve slept with.” 🙂
    • Re: How to know if the betas are going to be any good
      • We pretty much agreed that it’s a crap shoot
      • You want to be on the lookout for someone with a “good eye”
        • You might establish this by getting a feel for the person through e-mails, chats—get to know them—see if they’re a good fit—research them.  THEN, make your decision.
        • One member said he has his betas complete a questionnaire so he can elicit constructive feedback—a very interesting way to guide the beta reader to focus on whatever you need them to focus on!

You could also pick up a beta at a pet store for, like, a dollar.

  • Re: How to know when to stop editing
    • We pretty much said it can be kind of a gut thing
    • My rule:  When you’ve revised so many times that you hate yourself—and your manuscript—and you feel like you might physically die if someone made you look at it again, then you *might* be done . . . but you should probably still have someone else look at it at that point.  Get that distance we mentioned.

Rappers from the '90s have surprisingly good advice for revising. (It was a toss up between this and one with "Stop - Hammertime" spray-painted on it.)

  • Re: Miscellaneous
    • We discovered that the new chat has awesome—but random—emoticons that we just stumbled upon
      • For example, by typing “(rain)”, a raincloud appears in place of the words—WHA?
      • This distracted us several times.
    • We discussed light versus edgy YA, as a few of us learned we had been hearing similar comments from agents about our MSS.
    • Marice decided she’s going to host a writing conference at her place Down Under. 😉
    • I invited myself to Australia, Los Angeles, and Macon, Ga.

Now, it’s your turn.  Anything to add to the conversation?

You Have a Question; I Have an Answer: Where Do I Start?

“You Have a Question?  I Have an Answer” is a feature that answers real questions from real writers.

Q:  Hi Ricki!

I know I haven’t been participating much in the online writer group, and this is honestly because I feel completely out of my depth.  I never worked on newspaper staff, I didn’t major in English, I don’t work in journalism—I took one creative writing class in college and loved it, but that’s about the extent of my training.

I want to break into the writing world, but I really don’t have a clue where to start. Do you have any suggestions for starting points?  I don’t just mean for writing a novel; I’m also interested in freelance or nonfiction writing.

—M

A: Thanks for the question!

First of all, none of this talk about how you didn’t major in English and blah blah blah.  That doesn’t matter!  I’ve been hearing a lot lately, and it’s a little disturbing to me.

Just because Molly happens to be a professor doesn't mean you have to be one!

What matters is you are into writing now and you want to learn the things you don’t know—and that is AWESOME.

I did major in English, but I didn’t always enjoy everything in my program of study.  Nothing against my alma mater—John Carroll University has a great program—but my interests always lay in writing, and I did not get to do enough of it.

Thinking back, it was probably my fault.  I was good at all the analysis and everything, but it wasn’t until I immersed myself in all this that I learned most of what I know today.  Teaching helped with that a lot—and quitting teaching helped with it even more!

The point is, you’re driven.  And that hunger to learn about writing will take you farther than if you were some Waiting-for-Godot-loving (I’m sorry—I hated reading that the 50 billion times I had to read it in college) English major.  So don’t feel hopeless!

But I digress.

As far as getting started with it all, there are couple of things I would suggest.

1) Go to a writers’ conference. There’s nothing like meeting other writers, attending workshops, hearing established authors speak, and schmoozing with industry professionals to get your creative juices flowing!  Although they can be pricey, the amount you can learn in one short weekend or a week-long writing retreat is totally worth it.  In addition to learning about the business as well as the craft of writing, socializing with others and hearing multiple perspectives from writers at all levels can put you on the right path for your own writing future.

Here's a great conference to try!

2) Read about writing. Immerse yourself in writing books, magazines, and blogs.  In terms of your interest in freelancing, I have two book suggestions offhand: Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer and Writer’s Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing (edited by Michelle Ruberg).  Both of these titles are chockfull of tips on how to generate ideas for articles, how to go about writing them, whom to query, etc.

3) Figure out what kinds of things you can write. Read magazines, newspapers, blogs—find your  niche.  Study the articles that are similar to what you’d like to be writing in the magazines for which you aspire to write.  You’d be surprised at how the ideas will flow.  If you want to try your hand at writing a novel or a nonfiction book, read several types of books until you find one that calls to you.  And when you do?  Read even more of that kind of book.

4.) Find your markets. But once you know what you want to write, you’ll need to check out a book like Writer’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books), which is a reference book published annually (you can also get a Web subscription to it) that lists and categorizes (by genre, region, type, etc.) where you can sell your work, what publications are specifically seeking, what they pay, and how to contact them.

5.) Learn to write an effective query letter. When you’re ready to pitch something, you need to query editors.  You can find several great resources on how to write a query letter (since that’s a whole other animal to attack)—there’s actually a section in Writer’s Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing that discusses writing query letters.

6.) Actually do it. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at first.  But if you’ve got that nagging feeling in your gut that says you have to write, get your be-hind in front of your laptop and start typing.  Join a writing group—online or IRL—take a class, whatever.  Just let those words out before your brain explodes. 🙂

But don't let it make you insane . . .

Writing Tips: How to Write Full Time & Stay Sane–Installment III

How to Write Full Time and Stay Sane is a series that offers advice to full-time writers about how to stay productive and in good spirits.

Much later than promised, here is the third installment of this series.  In writing it, however, I have decided that, instead of this being just a three-part series (as originally planned), it will be an ongoing series.  As I learn to write full time and stay sane (or attempt to do so, anyway), I so shall share my tricks with you.

Corner of the Sky

First of all, I’m using the title of a Pippin song that’s now stuck in my head (here’s a rendition of it as performed by the Jackson 5 = awesome!) to say: you need to set aside a place where you can work.

Little brat that I am, I recently got a brand new office in my new house 😛 , but if you’re not as spoiled as I, your “corner of the sky” could be a favorite chair, a side of the bed, or place at the kitchen table.  (Although, I recommend an upright seated position; otherwise, you’ve got procrastination written all over you.)

True, that was one of the tips we gave to fifth and sixth graders needing help with study skills the year I taught middle school, but it applies.  I’m much less productive if I’m all over my house or lounging on the couch with my laptop than if I’m at my desk.

Find your own place—one safe from your parents/spouse/kids/pets—and you’ll be much more apt to focus.

**Ooh!  I just got another great song in my head with lyrics that apply to this section—The Secret Garden’s “The Girl I Mean to Be.” (Musical theatre references?  No?  Okay…moving on…)

Don’t Let It Get Stale


At the 2008 Southeastern Writers Association conference, one of my favorite presenters, Bobbie Christmas, taught (I believe) a three-day workshop.  Each class, she made us sit in a different seat, on a different side of the room, next to different people.

The method behind her madness, she said, was that breaking out of your comfort zone gives you a different perspective, and our writing needs new perspectives in order to stay fresh.

The Type-A in me tends to cringe at breaking out of a routine when we’ve worked so hard to establish one, but Christmas had a point.  Although it’s important to establish a place of work so that you can get into “work mode,” writing is a creative process, and sometimes you need to modify your regimen in order to get the creativity flowing.

So, in all your planning, schedule an “off campus” writing day at least once a week.  Go to Starbucks—Barnes & Noble—your local library.  Indulge in a latte and let your fresh surroundings inspire you.  Even if 99% of what you write that day is drivel, 1% of it might be the kernel you were looking for to start a new manuscript or spin your existing one on its end.

As well, getting out of the house does wonders for your psyche.  Just when you forgot other living, breathing humans exist, there they are, interrupting your writing by yelling at the barista, hitting on the college girls next to you, talking about cheating on the SATs…giving you all kinds of material.

Speaking of Other Humans…

Pierce and Dean Pelton of Greendale Community College with GCC mascot "The Human Being."

Talk to other people—preferably those who understand you and your field.  As writers, we need to share our experiences with others who can best understand them—so we know we’re not nuts.  (Or, if we are, at least we can find solace in the fact that others are nuts, too.)

This is the aspect I have felt to be lacking most since I started writing full time because, without coworkers, writing can be a lonely existence.  I need to be able to bitch to someone who understands, to bounce ideas off a buddy, to ask questions about the industry, etc.

There are a whole host of things you can do to remedy this:

  • Writing groups. I’ve been pushing this a lot lately.  People serious enough to commit to a writing group certainly understand you.  There is a level of professionalism there—camaraderie.  They want feedback, you want feedback.  They have the same fears/grievances/joys as you.  Embrace that.

If there aren’t any writing groups in your area and you’re too lazy busy to start one of your own, the Internet has some great options:

  • E-mail. If you’ve met people at a writing conference and exchanged cards or e-mails—doink!—chat them up!  This isn’t rocket science.  Writers are some of the nicest, most approachable, most willing-to-talk-to-you (no matter what your stage of writing) people I’ve ever met.

If you’ve made a connection, follow through with it.  Don’t be afraid.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met someone at such a venue, followed up with an e-mail, and the person responds: “I’m so glad you decided to write!”

I’m not trying to sound corny here (it’s just happening!), but why are we surprised when people follow through?  In the words of Andy Samburg’s character in I Love You, Man, “He gave you his card.  It’s an open invitation.”  We have to stop being so afraid to take chances and just make stuff happen.  Nine times out of ten when I’ve done that, it’s worked out more positively than I could have imagined.

  • Blog comments. If you find yourself without business cards from writers, check around the blogosphere.  Comment on blog posts you find interesting.  The more you put your name out there—particularly if you have something worthwhile to say—the more Web friends you will develop.  (I’m always thrilled when I get comments on my posts or e-mails as a result of reading my blog or Web site.  Others are as well!)
  • Facebook. Plenty of writing groups/authors’ fan pages are just a search away on FB.  These are breeding grounds for other write-minded folks.
  • Twitter. This one is, perhaps, the most valuable of all.  I was previously a “skeptwic,” (is that a thing?) but I have been converted in the last month.

TONS of writers, literary agents, editors, and other publishing industry peeps hang out on Twitter—day and night.  Not only do they have hilarious things to say on a regular basis, they also offer free writing tips, answer questions, and more.

Whether or not you want to jump on the Twitter train, it’s a great way to stay on top of the writing world as well as network with professionals.

For example, one of my favorite things right now is #YALITCHAT, a weekly writing discussion hosted by YA author Georgia McBride.  This, along with other “Twitter parties” similar to it, happens weekly, and in it, several of the industry’s top agents and authors answer as many questions as they can, within usually an hour.

Here’s a link showing more of these hashtag parties for writers.

  • Online writing groups or forums. I currently belong to two such groups on Yahoo! (TeenLitAuthors and YARWA), one stemming from #YALITCHAT on Twitter, and I’ve started my own (which is associated with my writing group here in Harrisonburg, Shenandoah Writers).

These are great places to get advice, vent, network, and most are password-encrypted as well as membership-required, so you know it’s a secure forum and you’re not just posting everything out there in cyberspace.  (I will be posting more info about Shenandoah Writers Online soon, so stay tuned—and I hope you’ll consider joining!)

Lastly, Talk to Humans Who Love You

And if your family can't help you, maybe they can strangle you. (Pic courtesy of http://www.awkwardfamilyphotos.com)

As I said, writing can be a lonely business.  Even if you make a ton of cyber friends, you “meet” with writers on iChat or Skype, and you have 500 followers on Twitter, that can’t always replace people IRL, so don’t forget to hit up your family and friends.

Although these people might not know what you’re talking about when you discuss “platform” or “urban fantasy,” they still love you and most will still listen to you vent about things when the need arises.  As well, they will support your decisions, whether they fully understand them or not.

Even if you’re writing schedule has you keeping vampire hours, take some time out of your week to tell Mom and Dad what you’re up to.  In most cases, it will make you feel better just to hear their voices, and when they catch you up on what’s been happening in their lives, it might be just the downtime your brain needs to stay on top of your writing game.

Surprises in South Carolina, Coming Down off My Conference High

I spent the weekend in beautiful Myrtle Beach at the South Carolina Writers Workshop.

scww

Being around writer folk for the first time since June made it pretty darn difficult to return to writing all by my lonesome today.  However, I’m dealing with it by mad networking, blogging, querying—oh yeah—and editing.

Here are some highlights/surprises of the weekend:

LITERARY AGENT JANET REID

First of all, Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary Management is awesome.  Actually, I figured she would be, considering her blogs on agenting and query letters, but I was pleasantly surprised by her as an instructor.

Miss Query Shark herself really cares about writers.  See this blog post if you don’t believe me.  This hit me the most during her session “To Whom It May Concern: Effective Query Letters.”

Where most other agents say to narrow your querying pool to a select few, Janet says to query widely because it’s in the best interest of the writer to do so.

“What does it hurt you to query?” she asks.  “If it’s not right, you’ll just get a rejection.”

She also stresses not to beg in your query (e.g., “I know your time is exquisitely valuable…”).

“We’re all busy,” she says.  “Some of you have jobs and husbands and children to take care of.  Your time is exquisitely valuable.  We’re just sitting around reading.”

She even empowers writers—albeit realistically.

“Don’t demean yourself.  Remember: Agents and publishing cannot exist without writers—though, no one’s going to treat you like that.”

Another helpful hint?  To increase marketability, she says you might consider changing the sex of your main character, as this can make it stand out against other books like it.

Most importantly, however, she stressed that a query letter is the foundation upon which your publishing career rests.

“You can query too soon; you cannot query too late.”

For more of Janet’s query tips, see my guest post on Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog.

LITERARY AGENTS

  • Despite their busy schedules, they are approachable and willing to answer any questions at writers’ conferences.
  • They know how to party.  No elaboration necessary.
  • If you’re slightly dressed up, people might think you are one.  (Even though I look nothing like the fabulous Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary, I still enjoyed being mistaken for her.)
  • They are curious creatures.  They vary in submission guidelines as well as personal preferences, but check out their Web sites, blogs, and interviews to gain insight.

MORE

  • It behooves writers to be somewhat ADD.  As far as I can tell, the more active your mind is, the more ideas you’ll have for books and articles.  I gotsta get me some of that!
  • According to one faculty member, stealing ideas is okay, as long as you make them your own.
  • Pitching is scary, but just get over it and do it…because the agent might just request pages. 🙂
  • New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry is a down-to-earth guy.  It took him 12 years and eight finished manuscripts before he ever sold anything.  Keep at it, he says.
  • Your first novel may not be publishable.  And that’s OK.  Put it away and start the second.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this weekend such a success.  I had a great time and am rejuvenated to continue my work.

Bring on the next conference!

You Have a Question? I Have an Answer: Rewriting & Editing – What’s the Difference?

“You Have a Question?  I Have an Answer” is a feature that answers real questions from real writers.

Q: What is the difference between rewriting and editing?  To me, rewriting sounds like starting with a new, blank page.  Editing is going through and proofreading, making sure that plot sequencing and continuity work, and making sure that everything makes sense and remains engaging throughout the work.  Clarification there would be helpful.                                               -E.B.

A: When agents and others in the writing and publishing industries mention rewriting, they aren’t necessarily talking about starting with a clean slate.  I mean, sometimes they are, but not always.

These two terms are used somewhat interchangeably because they tend to be intertwined.  In fact, I would say rewriting is actually the umbrella under which editing falls because you almost can’t have one without the other.  However, I suppose it depends what kind of editing you mean.

The rewriting umbrella can save you from a downpour of rejection.  Yes, I'm a dork. :)

The rewriting umbrella can save you from a downpour of rejection. 🙂

Line editing is more like proofreading. When line editing, you go through, line by line, and check for grammatical, spelling, punctuation, and formatting errors—and generally, that’s it.

Copy editing takes the aforementioned into account (what good editor doesn’t notice those things?), but this is where you look at everything as a whole and focus more on character, plot, cohesiveness, sequencing, etc. Chances are, if you are wired to do either of these things well, you probably cannot completely shut off your grammar/spelling/formatting switch when you’re trying to focus on the piece as whole, and that is how these two become intertwined.

Rewriting is something that happens whenever the writing transforms.

You almost can’t have one of these without another (unless you scrap the whole thing and begin again at page one) because if you find that you need to alter something with plot sequencing or character, it’s usually not just a matter of changing one word.  You fix those things by weaving in new details in various places of your novel, and you omit what doesn’t work. Any time you tighten a paragraph or clean up a sentence, your original manuscript becomes something else—transforms into something better.  Translation: You are rewriting.

One example of something that toes the line between editing and rewriting is replacing passive verbs with active verbs.  Say you notice that you’ve used mostly passive verbs throughout your manuscript.  If that’s the case, you must rewrite because those are countless opportunities for revision.

Let’s take a look at a very basic example.

She is drinking the tea.

This is a passive sentence in that we’ve used a passive verb form here (present progressive form, for my grammar nerds out there).  We can do a number of things with this sentence, but even using an active verb can transform the writing.

She drinks the tea.

OK, so here, we’ve kept it in present tense, and we’ve cut down a whole word.  If you’ve got a manuscript chockfull of is/are/was/were, cutting down on just that one word per sentence will add up big time.  Paring down word count is definitely a transformation.  Depending on how much you cut, it can mean the difference between an agent asking for pages or rejecting your query.

But this sentence is kind of boring.  Not as much of a transformation as I’d like to see, as it doesn’t give the reader much of an indication about the character.  We could certainly use a better verb to convey something more—even if that’s all we change.

She slurps the tea;  She sips the tea;  She downs the tea;  She gulps the tea;  She ingests the tea;  She swigs the tea;  She guzzles the tea.

And so on, and so forth.  But you get the idea: One verb can mean the difference between proper and boorish.

Each of these verbs does something more than the original sentence, and—though it may be painstaking to some—it’s these kinds of decisions that make the writing clearer and cleaner.

To me, if you’re putting that kind of time and care into your editing (as we all should be), that goes beyond just editing and fits more into the category of rewriting.

I hope that answers the question!

Resource:

This book changed the way I write and edit.

This book changed the way I write and edit.

My favorite editing book—in fact, it changed the way I write and edit—is Bobbie Christmas’s Write in Style.

Christmas’s patented “Find and Refine Method” provides lists of words and phrases to put into Microsoft Word’s “Find” function to make for speedy editing.  If you follow her suggestions throughout your entire manuscript, adding, omitting, and revising where necessary, your writing improves 100%. 

Unfortunately, it’s out of print, but you can still get it here.

Getting Your Work Read & Represented—Part II: Give Yourself a Fighting Chance; Follow the Rules

Some say that rules are meant to be broken; I'm not one of those people.

Some say that rules are made to be broken; I don't happen to be one of those people.

Anyone who knows me or has read some of my other blog posts knows I used to teach English—and that I am totally psycho nerdy about grammar.  Ergo, once you’ve disregarded grammar, you’ve made an enemy of me.  This comes from one part of me just being wired that way and one part from my time in the classroom.

In my five years as a teacher, I taught every grade (from 5th through 12th), which means I had to read hundreds of essays, research papers, and news articles written by my lovely students.

The most painful thing about all that grading was—hands down—grammar and formatting errors—a.k.a. “the rules.”

“But, Mrs. Schultz, I didn’t realize we had to use quotes.”

“Um, Nick, it’s a research paper.”  Are my ears bleeding?

Not surprisingly, it was much easier for me to read assignments that followed the rules.  Even if the actual quality of the assignment wasn’t all that mesmerizing, I breathed a sigh of relief to find that one, proofread, properly-formatted, grammatically-correct diamond in the rough whenever I graded.

Generally, if a student took the time to follow the rules, the assignment was better by nature than the crumpled pages his classmate dug out of the bottom of a book bag and handed in to me without so much as utilizing Spell Check.

In this way, I can understand—on a tiny scale (YES, I am qualifying here)—what it’s like to be a literary agent.

As well, I’d venture to guess that, just as correctly formatted papers earned better grades in my classes, queries/manuscripts that follow the rules probably make it further in the slush pile than the ones that don’t.  Even the ones with weaker plots.

Think about it.  Conference after conference, blog after blog, agents and editors  beg people to follow the rules.  It both amazes and disgusts me.

You mean, people aren’t doing this? Naïve Ricki gapes.

Once, I actually heard an attendee say he didn’t “bother” with “all that grammar and stuff” because “that is what an editor is for.”

Um, yes, I suppose that is true to a degree, but do you really think you’re going to get to that point if you’re not bothering with “all that grammar and stuff”?  Editors aren’t really there to do your work for you.

In terms of agents and “the rules,” each agency has its own submission guidelines, which is another way of saying, “These are the rules.”  Presumably, these rules have evolved from a mix of industry standards and the agents’/editors’ preferences.  They have become annoyed with X, Y, and Z and rejected X, Y, and Z so many times, it was necessary to put the rules in place.  This is another way they can weed out the serious from the not-so-serious—the professional from the amateur.

Furthermore, what is so difficult about following the rules?  If an agent says no snail-mail and you send a SASE anyway, should you really be that surprised when you get rejected?

What I’m NOT saying:

**I’m not saying to come up with a lousy idea but punctuate properly and, magically, you’ll be  represented. But, theoretically speaking, if you take that much care with “the rules,” you’ll probably take that much care in making the rest of your manuscript top-notch as well—and agents will notice and appreciate this.

**I’m not saying I’m perfect when it comes to “the rules.” No one is.  However, I turn up my nose to writers who disregard these hallowed rules.  After all, how can one really claim to be a writer and not have respect for the craft?

**I’m not saying there won’t be typos. Of course there will be typos—that’s just an annoying fact.  However, the more you proofread, the cleaner your copy will be. And, good news alert: According to one agent I talked to recently, the occasional typo doesn’t bother agents—as long as that’s what it is (and not a horrible grammar issue masquerading as a typo)

Where to go for help:

**Reference Books

If you don’t know all the rules (again, no one does), then bow down to the sacred grammar gods and treat Chicago Manual of Style; Write in Style; One Word, Two Words, Hyphen-ated?; and Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript (four of my favs) and the millions of other great resources out there as the sacred texts they are.

**Freelance Editors

After you and your spouse and your cousin’s husband who majored in English have all proofread your work, if you still aren’t sure you have done the rules justice, hire a freelance editor.  It can be expensive, yes, but there are some who will work with you in terms of pricing, based on what you want them to do.  (Shameless self-promotion alert: like me!)

Lastly, a Desperate Plea:

Agents look at a lot of bad writing because everyone thinks they have an idea for the great American novel and that publishers are going to fall in love with it, regardless of “all that grammar and stuff.”  But please.  Once you’ve gotten over your own ego (please see Part I of this series), give these agents a break.  Respect the rules, and give your work a fighting chance.

Teachers have to read everything. Lit agents don’t.  And, in that way, literary agents are kind of like rock stars to English teachers.

Teachers have to read everything. Lit agents don’t. And, in that way, literary agents are kind of like rock stars to English teachers.

Getting Your Work Read & Represented–Part I: You Are Not a Pioneer; Deal with It

Guess what. You aren't any of these people.

Guess what. You aren't any of these people.

Over the weekend, I read two blog posts that fired up my synapses: “This Has Never Been Done Before!” on literary agent Nathan Bransford’s blog and “Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post” on Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog.

While not on the same subject, these two posts got me thinking about what works and what sells (“the norm”), grammar/formatting/submission guidelines (“the rules”), and how closely one should follow these things.

This summer, some individuals critiqued my YA manuscript.  Two critiquers echoed a concern I’d had about the time span I used in the story.  (It originally took place from a girl’s sophomore year of high school through her college graduation.)

Prior to these critiques, a friend of mine read my book for fun and liked the fact that it spanned this amount of time.  She said, quite rightly, that one doesn’t generally see many books out there of similar subject matter for girls in the 18-24-year-old age range unless they fall under chick lit.  She, therefore, concluded that my book would stand out because mine did.

This tugged at my gut a bit.  She was right.  Young adult literature is geared toward 12 and up, but the “up” doesn’t typically reach college age—my manuscript would stand out.  But did I want it to stand out for that reason?  If there’s no market for that age group or if that age group doesn’t really fit into that genre, shouldn’t I change it?

Of course, as any writer who has worked on a manuscript for a few years and who thought she was ready to query, I thought, Ugh.  I want to query now!

So this brought me to a dilemma: Do I overhaul it *one more time* (groan) and get it to conform more to the conventions of what’s already out there in YA lit in terms of time span, or do I forge ahead with what I already have and become a pioneer for an under-represented age group?

This was part of the reason I sought critiques.  I figured, if no one noticed the things the voices in my head said agents might red flag, then I’d give it a go and query right away.  But when two reviewers mentioned it, that tugging in my gut became more of a yanking.  If two people I respect as writers brought it up, literary agents would undoubtedly as well.

So that is where I am right now.  Overhauling one more time.  I believe in my writing ability, but I am not about to declare myself a pioneer and use that as an excuse to do whatever I want.  That’s just stupid.

Although you don’t want to write a cookie-cutter story, if you want to sell what you write, then stick to what works.  Stick to what sells.  If there isn’t a market for what you’re writing, there’s probably a reason.  Once you’ve been published and have sold tens of thousands of copies of your book, then maybe you can try to write that fantasy-romance hybrid geared toward men over 70, but keep it in your drawer for now.

I have quite a lot more to say about “the rules” and “the norm.”  Stay tuned for Part II.

Sugar Ray only did well when they released more conventional music.  Not that you want your books to be the equivalent of Sugar Ray songs...but I'm pretty sure they made a decent amount of money in their heyday, so who are we to judge?

Sugar Ray only started doing well when they released more conventional music. Not that you want to be the literary equivalent of Sugar Ray...but they made some cash in their heyday, so who are we to judge?