Some writers say, “write until you have a first draft with no editing.” Others like myself edit as we go along. Proponents of the “no editing” say that doing this stops the creative flow. For some reason it doesn’t for me, although I know it does for other writers.
Here’s how I work. I’m writing away and then have to pause to think about what’s going to happen next, or maybe I should say, how it’s going to happen. While I’m thinking, I often go back and reread a paragraph or more and at that time may make edits. It could be I don’t like how I said something. Or perhaps I need to add a few more details of setting. Or cut dialogue that is unnecessary. I also fix obvious typos while writing as they bug me. (For example, in this sentence I originally typed wiriting—my word processor underlines it in red--argh!—so I can’t ignore it.)
I think part of my process is that I’m discovering things as I write. A discovery on page 20 may affect what has gone before as well as what is coming. For some issues I make a note, but others won’t leave my mind unless I go ahead and go back to the beginning and fix them. Donna Gephard says, “And if writing were blocks, I rearrange more than a dozen times for some of my word towers. And even if the whole structure topples, I begin again.”
After a break in writing, whether it’s two hours, two days, or two weeks, I usually reread what I wrote in the last writing session. Rereading gets me back into the character and the scene and helps me move forward. And I make any edits that jump out at me.
Once I have a number of chapters written, I usually take a chapter to my critique group. I reread it and edit before they see it. Then I edit based off of their comments. They can really help me see where to deepen or add to a scene, and sometimes where I need to develop a simple transition into a scene. Some of their advice carries through to where I’m currently writing in the novel.
When the novel is “done,” I usually let it sit awhile before going back to make more edits. Then I read the whole thing straight through to get a better picture in my head of how the story is working. But that waiting time is so important first. As Robyn LaFevers says, “A critical part of my process is letting the book lay fallow for a while between drafts.”
My process means I don’t have draft numbers as other writers do, but it’s what works for me.
How about you? Are you a “write the first draft without editing” writer, an “edit as you go” writer, or something in between?
I’ve found it useful over the years to get feedback on my Christian fiction from those who don’t believe as I do. Some writers may have similar beliefs, but not the same. Others might have opposing views. Either way, how they react is helpful.
If a non-Christian doesn’t “get” something spiritual I wrote, is it the general concept that’s a stumbling block? I’ve had a non-Christians say, “Believing in God is like believing in Tinkerbell.” That person won’t understand my character’s reliance on Him. Or was I too “churchy” in my writing? I can’t change someone’s basic beliefs, but I can make sure that what I write is as clear as I can make it. Or a Christian from another background may point out where I’m being too specific to my local body’s interpretation of scripture.
We’ve all read the stories where the characters are “too good.” Or they spout Bible quotes for every situation. Real people aren’t like that. Even the “best” Christians I know have flaws and aren’t a living Bible reference book. We need to give our characters flaws and make them believable. Let them make mistakes, too. This all helps them be relatable.
But what if you don’t know where to start to get feedback? First, search for Christian Writer organizations/groups in your locale. If there is one, visit the group’s website and meetings. They may offer critique hookups. Check secular writing organizations in your area, especially if you write in a specific genre such as romance, sci-fi/fantasy, or children’s writing. You may find national groups and then look for local chapters. Meeting others has been the best way for me to get involved with others to exchange critiques.
If you can’t find a writers group, or the one in your area doesn’t work for you, check out online groups. Here’s a few I’ve found with the caveat that I cannot vouch personally for or against any of these:
Christian Women Critique Partners and Beta Readers on Facebook
Christian Writers finding-a-critique-group.html
One I’ve joined recently on Facebook is Christian Writers Support Group.
(Earlier this year I wrote another post on finding critique groups. You can read it here.)
But back to the why of getting feedback. I’m seen too many writers who say, “God told me to write this story/book.” They seem to think that means not working on what they write. Learning craft, editing, revising, feedback, and more revising are all steps on making our writing the best it can be so we can honor God with the finished product.
It can happen when life is very stressful, or as recently when I read three really great books in a row. Two authors were young. One was so young she had success before I even started writing seriously. Or when both things—stress and comparison—happen at the same time. The thought hits me, maybe I should quit writing. Sometimes, it’s followed by voices saying things such as, “You fool. Why did you ever think you could do this?” Or “Shouldn’t you get a real job?”
On the down day (or period) my thoughts go to negatives such as the royalties on that book aren’t doing well, that agent hasn’t responded on the requested material, the other agent rejected the requested material with no comments, none of my high school teachers ever encouraged me to be a writer despite good grades in English, etc., etc. etc.
On a good day (or period) I counter those thoughts. This book may not be doing very well, but the next one will do better. Publishing is a very subjective business—it’s not finding every agent who loves my stuff, but one. My high school teachers didn’t encourage me to do anything. Someone who had that encouragement was very fortunate.
But God has been very good to me. I may not be a very successful writer monetarily, but every single time I think about quitting, I get encouragement. This time, it was two things:
One, a writer whom I’d worked with before contacted me yesterday and asked me to critique some of her work. She paid me my asking rate before I finished my edits and letters. Doing the line by line editing and offering advice reminded me of what I do know. I can help other writers.
Two, this morning I woke up to a messenger notice from another writer friend. She didn’t know I was down. The image used in this post came from her with no comments. If you haven’t read the text on the image yet, go read it now. (And here’s where it’s from: http://kriscarr.com/blog/inspiring-prayer-for-trailblazers/. You’ll see two bonuses if you follow the link: a video and downloadable wallpaper.) Isn’t it perfect?
Yes, life right now is stressful. Yes, there are better writers out there than me. But we each have our own path and I must do the best I can. How about you?
Pleonasm, defined – the use of more words than necessary to make a point.
You may recognize some of these redundant phrases and combinations of words that I find vexatious. They may annoy editors, too.
“Fiction novel” – um, a novel is fiction, so this is like saying “frozen ice cube.” Conversely, a melted ice cube thins my soda.
“Nonfiction article” – since an article is by definition nonfiction, why add the redundant adjective? I’ve seen true story, which makes sense as the word story is more ambiguous.
“Unexpected surprise” – aren’t surprises unexpected intrinsically? If they were expected, they wouldn’t be a surprise.
“Past history” – isn’t all history by definition in the past?
“He thought to himself” – who else can he think to?
“She said to me” – if we’re the only two in the conversation, who else would she say it to?
Here’s a list of more pleonasms, http://www.wordfocus.com/pleonasm.html, but if you have some favorites that bug you, feel free to share in the comments.
Overused cliché – clichés by nature are overused phrases.
You can find lists of these so I won’t go on. But what about these types of sayings?
Oxymorons - figures of speech with apparently contradictory terms
“Authentic replica” – how can it be authentic if it’s a replica?
“Invited guest” – it’s more interesting as an uninvited guest.
“Cash money” – I’d find it easier to simply say cash.
“White milk” – of course, it’s white! But I know people used it to differentiate from chocolate milk. Plain milk would make more sense if you have to have an adjective.
Here’s a fun site with lots of oxymorons. Although, I don’t agree with all.
And these aren’t usually considered oxymorons, however, do they really mean what we want to say?
“I honestly think” – what? Usually you’re dishonest?
“To be honest” – ditto.
“Frankly” – ditto
Anyone know what these are called? Or is oxymoron good enough?
Overuse of “As”
My critique group calls me the “As Nazi” since I notice when this simple two letter word is overused. Sometimes, writers simply need to use “when,” “while” or “and.” Other times, rephrasing the sentence is better or we might break the one sentence into two. I think we want to show things happening simultaneously, but since one can’t read both sections of a sentence simultaneously, how often is it needed?
See how tiring it can get:
I petted the cat as he jumped up onto the afghan in my lap. As he kneaded the blanket, I pushed on his body so he’d lay down. As the waves of contentment oozed from the cat as I petted him, my dog whined with jealousy. As my husband walked into the room, he laughed. “I’m the servant,” he said “and you’re the petter.” As if to prove his point, the dog pushed her muzzle under my arm. I petted her with my left hand as I petted the cat with my right.
I might have gotten a bit excessive with my “as”es in this example, but when I’m critiquing stories or guiding students, I often see an overabundance.
Overused Words Specific to the Writer
There’s a well-published writer that both my husband and I read. This author’s favorite verb is “eased.” If there was a way to count how many times it was used in his novels, I’d find that interesting.
Do you notice overused words in a body of work? If so, share the words—but not the author—in the comments.
And if there are other writing overages that irritate you, I’d like to hear about them as well.
I’ve seen dialogue from new writers that was too realistic. It included um, uh, and other fillers that we use when we speak. It rambled. Things were mentioned that no one cares about. It didn’t make sense. When I suggested cuts and tightening, the response was, “But that’s how people talk!” Yes, it is. When we talk we can all be pretty boring at times. Our thoughts aren’t always organized. We go off tangent. We use filler words. We see something that sidetracks us. Squirrel! We forget what we were talking about. We talk over others.
But writing fiction isn’t a record of what goes on in the real world. In some ways, it is better than the real world as it leaves out the dull parts. In fiction, every piece of dialogue has a purpose. It might be character development; it might be plot related. It moves the story forward. It’s intentional. It doesn’t bore the reader. We don’t need all the greetings and good-byes in a story. Nor simple pleasant chats. We want tension and disagreements. We want flirting and romance. We want questions raised that we’ve been thinking as a reader. "The dialogue is generally the most agreeable part of a novel, but it is only so long as it tends in some way to the telling of the main story." – Anthony Trollope
Does that mean a fictional character can never stumble or go off track? Of course not. Used judiciously these are all appropriate. Um, er, and other pauses can show a character’s nervousness or uncertainty. It might indicate lying. A character going off track might be changing the subject deliberately. A character might ramble to show tiredness or drug or alcohol influence. Or one character might be a rambler that other characters are always interrupting.
Readers will stick with characters they care about. Our job as writers is to make it easy for the reader to care. If we’re bogging down all the dialogue, it’s too easy for the reader to give up.
"Dialogue is like a rose bush – it often improves after pruning. I recommend you rewrite your dialogue until it is as brief as you can get it. This will mean making it quite unrealistically to the point. That is fine. Your readers don't want realistic speech, they want talk which spins the story along." – Nigel Watts
Many of us share our buy links* with others. But are your links clean? While doing a project for my publisher I discovered many authors didn’t have clean links. (I also didn’t myself for one site!) Or in other words, they had extraneous letters, numbers and symbols that were not actually part of the real link. How does this happen? Often, when we do a search the url shows part of the search as well as what was found.
Let me give you some examples.
For Barnes and Noble many links included this information after the real link: ?ean= followed by a bunch of numbers. What is actually needed? http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/book-title-authorfirstname-authorlastname/10digitnumber. (In some cases there was a /p/ instead of the /w/.) In my book’s case when I search for “alone by sm ford” on the B&N website, my address bar shows: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/alone-sm-ford/1124041307?ean=2940158495786. However, this is all the address that is needed to reach the book: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/alone-sm-ford/1124041307.
Many Amazon links included /ref= followed by numbers and letters and special characters. Often, you’ll see something like keywords= followed by what you searched for connected with + signs. Here’s the url I get back when I go to Amazon.com and search for my book “alone by sm ford”-- https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=alone+by+sm+ford. This is a search url, not a direct link to the book. By clicking on the book title itself, I get https://www.amazon.com/Alone-SM-Ford-ebook/dp/B01HR7O0Y0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504655116&sr=8-1&keywords=alone+by+sm+ford. All I need though is https://www.amazon.com/Alone-SM-Ford-ebook/dp/B01HR7O0Y0. See how it specifies the type of book?
For itunes books the extra info was much shorter. Usually it was ?mt=11. Removing those six characters made a cleaner url.
The kobo links all looked clean. They were usually in this format: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/book-title. If the book title wasn’t unique enough it had a dash and a number after the title.
Smashwords books had clean urls too usually with an id number. Here’s mine: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/650072
Fortunately, most websites give clean urls. For example, I entered “how to write devotionals” in my browser. When I clicked on a choice, the url was clean and readable: http://devotional.upperroom.org/how-to-write
Are your urls for your buy links clean? Check them out. I’m off to fix my problem one.
*buy link – the direct link to a product on a site that sells the product
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.