Editing for Others

I often edit pieces of writing for friends and family and lately I’ve edited a couple of letters and a resume. I noticed a few of the same issues coming up. Back when I edited medical textbooks and articles, the same things came up—and that was a long time ago.

The first thing I noticed is how often people don’t say (write) what they mean. When I ask, “What did you mean here?” the author of the piece can usually tell me in one sentence. So I write that down. Instantly, the communication is clearer.

Another common mistake is putting the most important information last. Why not lead with what’s most important, whether it’s a letter or a resume? People don’t always read through an entire piece, so you want to make sure you put your main points toward the beginning—that’s why reporters put the “who, what, where, when, and why,” in the first paragraph of a newspaper article.

The last common mistake I see over and over is a lack of parallel construction. Parallel construction, also called parallelism or parallel structure, is the use of phrases or clauses that have the same grammatical structure.

Use of parallel construction is important for fiction writing as well as all kinds of nonfiction and business writing. Just making sure you use parallel construction can improve a piece of writing immensely.

The grammatical structure can be simple, as in this example:

“I like to cook, run, hike, and craft in my free time;”

or more complex, as in this example:

“I convened a committee, created a work group, and monitored the progress of the work group until the new clinic was a reality.”

Writers who don’t use parallel construction in fiction pull the reader out of the story, which is potentially when the reader could put down the book, and in nonfiction or business writing, lack of parallel construction allows miscommunication to happen, especially when you shift from active voice to passive voice.

An example that lacks parallel construction:

“Job description: Lectured twice weekly to undergraduate students, reviewed graduate student theses, and was able to have research done on a weekly basis.”

I don’t know about you, but when I read this, my first thought was—who did the research?

As an editor, I can ask and find out the answer (the person writing the resume did the research,) but it would have been clear if the author had just used parallel construction:

“Job description: Lectured twice weekly to undergraduate students, reviewed graduate student theses, and did research every week.”

In conclusion, it’s good to take a look at whatever you are writing with an editing eye—or give it to a grammar-loving, detail-oriented friend, like me!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, and stepmother. I’m enjoying the spring weather and looking forward to the day when it’s warm enough for me to sit out on my back deck and write.

 

 

Professional Writer Super Power Tip: Buffers and Backup Plans

tiny supermanAhhh, the life of a professional freelance writer – the freedom, the creativity, the coffee shops.

The deadlines.

I love my life as a self-employed writer. I get to make my own schedule, choose my own clients, and run the show my way. I honestly don’t think I can ever go back to working in a corporate job. Ever.

But, and let me be crystal clear about this, it’s not like I don’t have a boss. In fact, I have many bosses. Each of my clients is my boss, each project lead within a client company is my boss, my business (managing and building it) is my boss. Add on top of that all the professional and personal responsibilities I take on voluntarily (professional education, blogging, side projects, being a mom, having a life), and that schedule I get to set for myself starts to look pretty scary.

CONFESSION: I had planned to publish an entirely different post today. I was really getting into writing the second half of my two-parter on getting started as a freelance content marketer. But, I had to put the breaks on. I could have pushed through and cranked out “something,” but I realized that I just didn’t have the time to do it the way I wanted to. (Sounds like a familiar refrain. *hangs head in shame*)

Here’s the thing – when you’re a freelance writer, your schedule is a living beast that can (and probably will) mutate at any moment. Despite my strong Type-A tendencies, project management background, and magical calendaring skills, I still fall victim to the whims and wiles of my never-fully-tamed schedule.

BUT … most of the time, I protect myself from catastrophe with two super powers:

BUFFERS:

Most things will take longer than you expect.

It’s a harsh reality, but one you should go ahead and accept. Estimating the time a task will take is, in the experience of many writers, one of the toughest part of this gig. And, even when you nail your estimate, there is a whole slew of unforeseen events lying in wait to ambush your beautiful plans and turn your whole day (and week) into a mad scramble.

The solution: build in buffers wherever you can.

Don’t pack your day with back-to-back, end-to-end tasks and obligations. Make it a point to insert as much “white space” as possible. If, like me, you use calendaring to manage your tasks and time, actually put that non-working space on your calendar. Make it a pretty color. Put a smiley face on it.

Most of your buffers will get eaten up by things like impromptu phone calls, tasks that took longer than you’d planned, having to pick your sick kid up from school, etc. That’s okay. (Well, not your kid being sick. That’s the pits.) Buffer time is there to be eaten. If it doesn’t get eaten, yay. You get bonus time. The point is to have it “just in case.”

BACKUP PLANS:

But even if you’ve made a beautiful plan and built in buffers, Life can still throw you a left hook and leave you down for the count and unable to get back on your feet. That, like having a sick kid, is also the pits. BUT … it’s not too horrible if you employ the freelance writer super power: backup plans.

This post is a kind of backup plan. I had hoped to write that other massive, epic, deep-dive post today; but life (and work) got in the way and my buffers got all eaten up. SO … this post was my fallback position, my safety net.

In a perfect world, I would have had a few posts like this queued up and ready to publish at a moment’s notice. But, this isn’t a perfect world, so I’m writing it “live.” Still, it’s taking me about a quarter of the time it will ultimately take me to write the other post, so – that helps in my time-crunched day.

Always have a backup plan. Always know the answer to the question, “If I just can’t make this happen, what will I do instead?” Give yourself options.

 

So – buffers and backup plans. Learn how to use them. Make them part of your freelance writer world. You’ll be less stressed and more productive. Trust me.

And now, I have to go. Those other deadlines are nipping at my heels.

 

"There are never enough hours in the day." - Freelance Writers Everywhere

Feeling tangled up in your schedule?

 

PS – In case you missed the two links above, you really might want to check out this post from the archives: How to be a Freelance Writer: 5 Tools for Smart Planning and Time Management. It goes into a lot more detail & walks you through some actual tactics for wrangling your schedule into submission.

 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Photo Credit: Terence l.s.m via Compfight cc

When Opportunity Knocks . . .

Open the DoorWhen opportunity knocks – open the door!

As a direct result of Speaking in Public, I’ve been offered the opportunity to teach a graduate-level writing course at Marlboro College Graduate School. While open to any graduate student, the course is aimed at educators from across the curriculum who want to improve their own writing as a step toward inspiring and instructing their students to improve theirs.

Expository Writing for the 21st Century will teach the elements of good writing in all fields: science, social studies, history and literature. We will study methods of discourse, rhetorical strategies and argumentative logic while attending to diction, syntax and structure. We will also cover rules of evidence and citation, using the style sheet for each discipline for the writing of research papers. We will explore how to chose and control voice and point-of-view; we will learn how to address different audiences in different formats, from broadsides to journals to editorials and blogs. We will write our hearts out, and we will have fun.

The class will meet in-person four times, when we will model workshop methods that increase confidence, skills and understanding of what makes writing good and what makes a writing class spectacular. All other work will take place on-line, so we’ll also be learning effective uses of technology in education.

You can tell I’m excited. I love teaching, I love writing, and I’ve spent a lifetime caring for the caregiver. In this case, that’s you, the teachers who work so hard educating others; this class is an opportunity for you to be renewed, refreshed, challenged and inspired – as well as a chance to learn about language and craft.

I’ve taught writing for thirty years. I’ve taught writing in the Ivy League and in Vermont’s prisons – and just about every population in between. And I’m a professional writer, practicing and honing my craft daily. I use language to tell stories, convey information and change opinions. Language is how we think; the better we learn to control language, the clearer we can think.

I have to confess there’s a catch: We need ten students to open the door to this class. So here are the details:

  • Four in-person meetings at the Marlboro College Graduate Center in Brattleboro, Vermont to be held on either Saturday or Sunday September 19 or 20; October 10 or 11; November 14 or 15; and December 12 or 13;
  • 3 graduate credits;
  • A chance to read, write and talk about writing;
  • A chance to develop a personal writing practice;
  • A chance to complete a personal writing project of your own design;
  • An opportunity to develop a personal pedagogy that will translate into enthusiasm for writing and writing skills for your students.

What you can do to help open this door:

  • Let me know if you’re interested by saying so in the comments below
  • Or contact me through my website
  • Spread the word about this class! Tell all your friends who want to bring their writing to the next level and/or learn new techniques for teaching great writing.

This isn’t just my great opportunity; it’s also yours.

I’m ready. Are you?

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin is an award-winning novelist, a Vermont Public Radio commentator, an editorial columnist & blogger, a pen-for-hire, and an experienced and enthusiastic educator.

Weekend Edition – Finding Your Readers Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

So Many Fish in the Sea, So Many Readers in the World

wooded roadWriting is an intrinsically challenging task. To do it well you must corral and harness many different parts of your intellect and spirit. You must learn to manage the diverse elements of your vision, imagination, and craft so that they move in tandem, pulling your story forward. The process requires varying degrees of earned skill, innate intuition, and stubborn stamina.

If, in addition to getting the words on the page, you also hope to have others read those words, you introduce an entirely new layer of complexity to your literary endeavors. In essence, you invite strangers to collaborate in your creative process. Because, make no mistake, crafting your story with a reader in mind (even an as yet unknown reader) changes both the writing experience and its outcome. As Samuel Johnson said, “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.”

As if the prospect of putting your words out into the world where they will be subject to comment, critique, and interpretation isn’t scary enough on its own, there is the matter of finding readers in the first place. The road to connecting with your audience can be a long and lonely one. Leading you through dark forests and across parched stretches of desert, it is pockmarked with potholes of doubt, misleading detours, and (on the worst days) roadside hecklers. This is not a path for the weak of heart or intention.

And yet, for those of us with a writer’s heart, it is not so much a matter of courage as it is a matter of simply putting one foot in front of the other. As it turns out, we are not separate from the path; we create it with each step we take.

But, sometimes, we forget this truth.

We falter, unsure of our next step, and we wind up putting our feet down on someone else’s path. We are distracted by the story of another writer’s success or swayed by other people’s presumptions about the kind of writer we should be. Though it looks as though we are still making progress, we have actually lost our way. We trudge happily (or, laboriously) along the road, hoping at each turn to finally meet our audience, completely unaware that we have taken a wrong turn and left our audience somewhere back there in the wilderness.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to find your audience by writing the Great American Novel, hitting the bestseller list, or having your books turned into box office gold. These are lofty goals to be sure, but that does not make them any less worthy. A word of caution, however, is warranted against allowing a single goal to consume you to the point of creative blindness.

The world of writing is vast, diverse, and always evolving. While it is admirable to commit, heart and soul, to reaching a specific audience by accomplishing a particular writing goal, it is not the best creative practice to let your pursuit of that one achievement blind you to other writing opportunities that might be uniquely yours.

For instance, while publishing a novel is a common, almost ubiquitous, goal of aspiring writers, it is only one of many possible ways to share your writing skills and stories. In addition to the long list of literary genres applied to novels (literary, historical, romance, mystery, cozy mystery, science fiction, fantasy, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, realism, magical realism, erotica, parody, paranormal, paranormal romance, fan fiction, dystopian, etc., etc., etc.), the world of writing also includes many different forms: essays (opinion, humor, editorial, lyrical), short stories, flash fiction, poems (in all their various forms and structures), scripts, non fiction (on every and any topic under the sun), journalistic stories, creative non fiction, educational texts, business writing, copywriting, and the list goes on and on and on.

If you have chosen to commit the lion’s share of your writing time to the pursuit of a particular goal, that’s fine. Just be sure it’s your goal, and not someone else’s. Also, don’t let your focus on that goal keep you from doing the two things that all artists must do to keep their creativity alive and connect with other artists and potential audiences: LEARN and PLAY.

Even if you are bound and determined to become an award-winning, bestselling novelist, know that there is still a lot you can learn about not only novel writing, but about writing in general. Be committed. Pursue your dream. But, make time to EXPLORE and EXPERIMENT.

Do not let your writer’s world get small.

READ EVERYTHING. Let your curiosity guide you. Taste all the different formats and genres. Indulge in the experience of reading the work of unfamiliar authors, new and old. Crack the stories open. Analyze them. Look at them through the lens of your life experience and your writing experience. Take away what serves you, and leave the rest. Remember that most innovations are mash-ups, putting two things together in a new way to create something new and exciting. Try out new combinations.

WRITE EVERYTHING. Don’t box yourself in with restrictions about the kinds of things you write or the way you write them. PLAY. Dabble. Turn things upside down. Try “translating” a story from one form to another. If you consider yourself a short story writer, take one of your stories and rewrite it as a poem or a play script. If you think of yourself as a serious journalist, take a piece you’ve written and make it into a humorous parody or a fiction story. Give yourself writing prompts that stretch you beyond your comfort zone. Don’t let your writer’s road take you in circles. Remember, each step that you take creates that road in front of you. Step off the beaten track and explore some new territory.

The search for your audience, your reader, may not be a linear journey. It’s more likely that the path will wind much, taking you through strange lands full of unfamiliar people and giving you the chance to discover unknown parts of your creative self. It is only by taking this journey and learning about yourself that you will finally be able to recognize your readers when you meet them.

The world of writing is vast, and so is the world of readers. You do not need to co-opt someone else’s readers or dream of writing success. Dream your own dream. No matter how crazy you may think your idea is, there is a reader out there waiting to read exactly the thing you are writing. The possibilities are truly endless. Not all of them have mass appeal, and that’s okay. That’s more than okay. Explore. Play. Experiment. An audience of one is still an audience, and if you are able to truly connect with one person, that one person will help you connect with another person, and another, and another. And, suddenly, your audience of one is growing.

What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

In a recent episode of the Writing Excuses podcast, Mary Robinette Kowal (one of the four regular hosts of the show) said this about books:

“The book is a way to hack the brain … When people pick it up, they are picking it up to produce a specific emotional state in themselves.”

Think about that for a minute.

What kind of emotional state are you promising your readers? What emotional promise does your story make? How are you going to keep that promise?

Thinking about your story in the context of the reader’s emotional state is subtly different than thinking about the “kind” of story you’re writing.

What I’m Reading:

I’m about two-thirds of the way through a new novel. I’m really enjoying it, but not quite ready to share. In lieu of writing about that particular reading experience, I thought I’d share a wonderful source of reading recommendations who has been around for quite a while, but whom I’ve only just recently discovered: Jen Campbell of the blog This is Not the Six Word Novel.

The book I’m currently reading is one I picked up because of one of her recommendation videos. Here’s her most recent one. I hope you find something interesting to check out!

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin write what you wish

I wish you luck and joy on your writer’s road. Happy writing. Happy reading. See you on the other side! 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Forest Road Photo Credit: WarzauWynn via Compfight cc

Friday Fun–Three Questions

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: These are actually three questions, but they go together!

  1. How do you feel about your writing (and/or your writing life) right now?
  2. How do you want to feel about your writing (and/or writing life) right now?
  3. What do you need to think in order to feel the way you want to feel about your writing (and/or your writing life) right now?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD:

  1. How do you feel about your writing (and/or your writing life) right now? I feel excited and frustrated about my writing right now. 
  2. How do you want to feel about your writing (and/or writing life) right now? I want to feel excited and satisfied about my writing right now.
  3. What do you need to think in order to feel the way you want to feel about your writing (and/or your writing life) right now? I need to think: I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now. Every word written is a step toward my goals. 

I’m going to write these words on a Post-It note and stick them to my computer. I am doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now, and every word written is a step toward my goals.

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: 

  1. How I feel about my writing right now: Open-minded, optimistic, curious, committed
  2. How I want to feel about my writing: I am actually pretty happy with how I’m feeling, but I would like to feel more productive and more profitable.
  3. What I need to think to feel the way I want: I have time to write, and people are willing to pay for my creative writing.

 

 

 

 

Step-by-step creating a project in Scrivener

Last time I posted, I told you about how I was going to learn Scrivener by designing and writing a book in Scrivener (trial by fire.) As I am at the end of the semester (with papers to correct and final projects to discuss) I don’t have a heck of a lot of time, but I did manage to set up part of my project.

scrivener-512As an aside, I want to remind you that I’m writing a non-fiction book. Using a non-fiction project to learn this tool is a heck of a lot easier than using a fiction project. Although there are many similarities (memoir/fiction) I don’t have to worry about characters and plots as much.

Also, I’m learning this tool with the book Scrivener for Dummies in hand. It may not be the most creative approach to writing a manuscript, but I’m killing both of those birds with one stone, aren’t I?

Creating a project in Scrivener

When you start a project, you need to choose your template. Scrivener offers a few including non-fiction, fiction, and blank.

This was my first little bump in the road. Technically my project is non-fiction but because it will be written in a memoir style, it would follow (to a degree) a fiction template.

I chose non-fiction and quickly realized that non-fiction was intended for a reference book. I’ve since tried to switch the template but am having difficulty doing that.

Advice #1 – think about your story structure *before* you choose a template, if your story does not fall solidly into one of the template categories go with Blank.

Action item #1 – figure out how to switch templates or just start a new project.

Naming your project

When you create a project, you’ll need to name it. Give it a name (title) that you’ll be able to recognize (don’t call a project something like Wendy’s book.) When you get to the point where you might have multiple projects to choose from, you want to be able to quickly identify the one you want.

In my case, I’m calling this project – Clear the heart, clear the house

Advice #2 – create a descriptive title.

Filling in the title page

Go ahead and fill in the title page. It has a blank spot where you can enter your literary agent’s name. If this doesn’t give you incentive to work on your project, not sure what will.

Advice #3 – as soon as you define your project, fill out that title page. It will give you major motivation.

Including previous material

If you’ve written about your project, if you have notes (I cut and pasted my description of my project from an earlier post) put then in your project folders.

When you click on the binder level of your project, you’ll see the index card “tiles” that you’ve created so far. In my case I have that all-so important title page and I’ve put a piece I wrote years ago about my previous decluttering experience in as a forward.

I’ve since realized that it shouldn’t be a forward, but should instead probably be Chapter 1. See what I mean about choosing the right template? I should have gone with Blank and just created parts as I needed them.

Advice #4 – load in what you’ve got baby, get used to keeping all your material in one spot.

That’s it. That’s as far as I’ve gotten in this project. The semester ends in two weeks and when it does, I plan to spend a lot more time figuring this tool out and creating my project in it.

Until then, write on.

Oh and if any of you are following along (time to learn Scrivener yourself? – you can get a free 30-day trial) please post questions and/or comments on your progress, I’m sure we’d all like to hear.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Conference 101

I have the great good fortune to be working on the committee for two different conferences right now. The StageSource Theater Conference will take place on June 7 at the Boston Opera House. It is geared towards theater administrators, artists, and theater lovers. It is a full day of workshops, panels, and networking opportunities.

I am also co-chair of the New England Crime Bake (November 6-8). Crime Bake runs from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, and the programming committee is working overtime to provide a full day of panels, some workshops, and networking time.

I am 0attending Malice Domestic next week. Whereas the StageSource Theater Conference and New England Crime Bake are smaller conferences (250-300 people), Malice is huge–over 500 people. The focus is also different for Malice, since it is mainly for fans, though there are a lot of authors there. Malice Domestic is very specifically focused–for the lovers and authors of cozy and traditional mysteries. I am thrilled that I will be moderating a panel on Saturday afternoon at Malice Domestic–a great way to be introduced to future readers of Just Killing Time, my debut cozy mystery.

Since I am in conference mode these days, wearing multiple hats, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a successful conference. Here’s my top five must-haves:

Programming. As you go to more and more conferences, you spend less time in the workshops and more time talking to people. That said, I need to learn something at a conference, so programming matters. It also says a lot about he conference planners, and their priorities.

Location. There are two ways location can work. First, it can be a destination that makes the conference itself more attractive. A conference in a place I’ve never visited, for example, can be really enticing as long as I can get there with my budget. Second, the conference site can be easy or inexpensive to access. The New England Crime Bake, for example, had been in Dedham for a few years. Not very sexy, but easy to get to, inexpensive, and with good amentities.

Food. Food isn’t just about the meals themselves, though that is important. Food is also about coffee access, snacks, breakfast options. At the last StageSource conference we had a “make your own trail mix” bar for the afternoon break. Bowls of pretzels, nuts, M&Ms, dried fruit, and other items like that. Everyone got a bag, and made their own trail mix. For some, it was the hit of the conference.

For writer’s conferences, make sure there is a well staffed bar close by.

Amenities. Is there free Wi-Fi? (This used to be an option, but now is critical for social media interactions.) How is the room temperature? (I bring layers of clothes these days.) Can people go outside? Is there a gym for overnight conferences. (I always ask, I never go.) How is the sound? Is there water available? How comfortable are the chairs? Can people get around easily?

Talking Time. Otherwise known as networking. Sometimes, often, the best part of conferences are the conversations outside the meeting room. Is there enough time built in for people to talk to each other? To socialize? When you start going to conferences a lot, you get to know people in the circles. Chances are you want to catch up with them, and you may not want to miss a session in order to make that happen.

What would you add to this list? What makes you leave a conference, and say “that was terrific”?

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Julie Hennrikus is an arts manager. J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series, which debuts in October.