Must. Stop. The Voices. Nanowrimo internal dialog

There are anti-nanowrimo voices in my head.

Their chattering is a consistent and slightly ominous low murmur until I sit down to write. When I sit down at the computer with intentions to “crank” out however many words I’ve fallen behind, the volume of their commentary rises from a whisper to a ruckus to a veritable keening.

It’s not pretty.

There are three conversations in my head: one that’s designed to distract me from the task at hand; one that’s hell-bent on convincing me that I have no business writing anything, let alone a novel; and a third one that wants to edit, edit, edit until the proverbial cows come home.

So, while I’m trying to craft a single, salvageable sentence, my lovely and charming mind is doing this:

Distraction Mind:

  • Maybe I should double-check and make sure that Carbonite is actually backing up my Scrivener files. Does it do that automatically? Perhaps there’s a help file I should check or a help desk I can call.
  • Maybe I should visit the Nano forums. That’s half the fun, right? Why do Nano if not for the camaraderie?
  • I should really find a new conditioner. This one leaves my hair all limp and tangled.
  • My Q3 quarterly taxes are overdue.
  • Are my favorite jeans clean?
  • I need a break. I’m going to Facebook for some LOL cats.
  • If I don’t email that client back, she’s going to be pissed …
  • I’m hungry. I can’t write on an empty stomach – maybe just a spot of toast and tea …
  • I should start my Christmas shopping soon.
  • The cat’s shaking her head. I should clean her ears.
  • I wonder if I should work on that other story …

Inner Critic:

  • You are so far behind. You’ll never make it. May as well give up now.
  • These other people are Real Writers. You’re a fraud. I bet they’re all tons better than you.
  • You can’t tell this story. Are you kidding? You can’t even tell a simple joke!
  • This is all a waste of time.
  • You’ll never get published.
  • That thing you just wrote? It makes NO SENSE. No one would ever believe that. Stupid. Rubbish.
  • Do you even KNOW who your character is? I didn’t think so. Hack.
  • What made you think you should write anyway? This is probably all a big mistake. Definitely.
  • Why am I doing this again?
  • It doesn’t really matter if I win or lose … won’t make a difference either way.
  • You’re vain. SO much going on in the world today and all you care about is writing a crappy book? Lame.

Eternal Editor:

  • If today is the 14th, that’s 14 days times 1,667 words per day = 23,338 words … so, if I’ve only written 12, 342 that means I’m 10,996 behind … which means … oh, crap.
  • Spellcheck will only take a minute …
  • Where’s my thesaurus?
  • What’s the name for those things that girl put in my drink … is it a “tincture?” Where can I look that up? Maybe I should be a bartender.
  • I should set up a reference chart and some character profile sheets and make a map and draw the interior …
  • Should that be a comma, or a semi-colon?
  • Does this make any sense in terms of story structure?

… you get the idea.

I’ve lost my Nanowrimo Zen. I need to get back to beginner mind. I need to wipe the slate clean, surf the waves of blissful ignorance, and just write – damn it!

My first Nano back in 2009 was a wild ride of I-don’t-care-what-this-is. I had no plot and no problem writing anything and everything – just to get the words down. This year, I’m much more hung up on wanting something that I can actually turn into a viable manuscript. I believe in the idea and don’t want to muck it up. Unfortunately, that fear is paralyzing me and sucking all the fun out of my Nano experience. I need to step away from my expectations and get back to being in the moment and not trying to ensure any particular outcome.

If you’re doing Nano, how are you faring? Are you having any of these conversations in your head? How are you getting your internal voices to shut the hell up so you can get back to work? Are you ahead of the Nano schedule? Behind? Thinking about giving up? What’s happening in your world?

Image Credit: Kaptain Kobold

Shutting off the internal editor for 30 days

Oops, I did it again! Signed up for National Novel Writing Month, that is. How could I not? It’s addictive knowing I can get 50,000 words down in 30 days.

NaNoWrimo 2012 Participant badge

I’m an official ‘participant,’ and on or before December 1, I plan to be an official ‘winner’ for 2012.

If you have any inkling at all about wanting to get a story out of your head and onto the page, I recommend NaNoWriMo. Even if that dark voice in your head starts whispering things like:

  • You don’t have the time
  • You’re already over worked
  • You haven’t found time all year for your writing so what makes you think now will work?
  • Ha! You think you have a good enough idea for a novel?
  • There’s a long holiday weekend in November and you have to cook, clean, travel, visit, watch football, or be a couch potato.

What I love about participating in NaNoWriMo is shutting up that dark voice – and I bet you can turn off your internal editor, too.

Despicable Me 2 Movie PosterI visualize my ‘dark voice’ as a yard gnome (I have nothing against yard gnomes in the real world), and stomping it with a large boot. But like the googly-eyed talking Twinkies, er, minions in the movie Despicable Me, (or the upcoming Despicable Me 2) my imaginary yard gnome doesn’t shut up, no matter what I try — EXCEPT during November.

In November, there’s some type of force field that separates me from the dark voice in my head when I’m writing fiction. And I think it works for a lot of other writers, too.

This is directly from

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000-word (approximately 175-page) novel by 11:59:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

NaNoWriMo is free and you can be as involved as you want with other Wrimos (the name given to other, um, crazy people who have signed up) in your area or online.

You can try “word wars” where people agree to start writing at a certain time (top of the hour, quarter past, half past, etc.) and for a certain length of time (15 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.) At the end of that time period, post your total words, and see how you compare to other writers. Competition can really kick those endorphins into high gear.

Honestly, there is just a feeling of freedom knowing that the internal voice has no power and that the words can flow onto the page. Editing can start in December, but for November, how about joining me in getting at least 50,000 words down?

Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson is a New England-region journalist and a year-round chocolate and iced coffee lover. She loves working with words, and helping others with their own. As Lisa Haselton, she writes fiction, co-blogs about mystery-related writing topics at Pen, Ink, and Crimes, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is a chat moderator at The Writer’s Chatroom. Connect with her on LinkedInFacebook, or Twitter

Critiques versus edits – what’s the difference?

As a writer, you hear talk about having your work critiqued and having it edited. Do you the know difference between two tasks?


Critiques are reviews of works; your assessment of what an author has penned. It generally includes an evaluation of good points as well as bad. I use ‘generally’ because there are reviewers/critiquers who only focus on the good elements in a work.

No matter what level your writing is at, I think you can benefit from a well thought out critique. Critique groups are a great place (if the group is a good fit for you) to learn how to improve your writing, as well as how to build your own ability to critique a piece of writing.

When you agree to critique a piece of work, you are saying you will give the piece the attention it needs and think about feedback that will be useful to the author. There is always something good to say about a piece of writing, but it’s usually easiest to identify what doesn’t work.

I feel comfortable saying that most writers are readers, and therefore know when a story works and when it doesn’t. The challenge in critiques is to highlight what works well so that the writer can adapt and fix the parts that may not work quite as well.


In an earlier post, I talked about the different types of editing. Different skill sets are required for the various types of editing. As examples: proofreading is not as comprehensive as a content edit, but both are needed when you are polishing a manuscript. A proofreader focuses on the technical aspects of writing. A content editor encompasses the entire piece and is more creative in regard to making sure all the details are consistent throughout the piece.

Critiques and edits

If you’re critiquing a piece and notice a typo, it would be hard to overlook it – at least it is for me. But knowing that pointing out a spelling error is not the focus of a critique will start you on your way to being able to give useful feedback to the writer.

Remember the sandwich: point out what works, give suggestions for what isn’t working, follow up with more comments on what works.


An edit is akin to surgery, implemented to fix what needs repairing. A critique is an overall evaluation of the body of work before surgery is undertaken.

Lisa J. Jackson is an editor, author, book coach, consultant, Big Sister, cat owner, and chocolate lover. She’s addicted to Sudoku, cafés, coffee ice cream, and words. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has a blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to chat with writing professionals on a weekly basis — and you can too! ©Lisa J. Jackson, 2010

Editing your own work – Part 2

Back in June I gave a few introductory tips about editing your own work. Today I want to expand a bit into self-editing tips to help you polish your manuscript before submitting. The tips can apply to any type of writing, but this is directed toward the long form.

One point I want to reiterate that is valuable to all self-editing: using a spelling and grammar checker is a good idea, but don’t assume everything the program highlights is correct.

Make a checklist

You’ll become familiar with your own weaknesses as you read your own work and get feedback. My best bit of advice is create a checklist of common errors you find in your own work. You can refer to the checklist whenever you go through a manuscript.

For instance, its/it’s. I know the difference in the usage, yet I can still find errors in my writing for each use. It’s now a check item for me to search the manuscript for each its and it’s. Sure it can become time consuming, but I’d rather find the error than a publisher or editor.

Another one that pops up for me, and again, I know the difference, is who’s and whose. There are several others. I blame the speed with which I can type on a keyboard. My brain gets ahead of my fingers, and by the time I get to certain words, I end up typing the incorrect variation.

Also on the checklist is that. In most cases, the word can be removed from a sentence without any harm to the sentence.

The checklist is organic. It should grow each time you edit and find something new. As time passes, you’ll realize that you no longer have to check for some issues and those can be removed from the list. It’s a learning process, of sorts. If you can stay focused on the words that cause you the most trouble, you’ll work them out of your system. Continue reading

Editing Your Own Work

So, you’ve written something you’d like published, is it ready to send off?

No matter what you are writing for publication, your goal is acceptance, top place in a contest, or best of all, a paycheck. Presenting your most polished work is important. Right? A few nods out there. Oh, and I hear a whispered “of course.” Excellent.

So, what does that mean? Editing. And it doesn’t have to be painful. There are quite a few items we can look at in order to polish our piece before sending it off.

Editing is a lot more than running spell check. (some suggestions)

  • Spell check and grammar check are not perfect. Use the tools, but know what you want to say and how to say it. Accept or reject suggestions as you see fit.
  • Step away from the piece for a day or more (short piece) or a few weeks (novel) and then come back to it with fresh eyes. You’ll be amazed at what you notice.
  • Take out what doesn’t work and can’t be fixed – every sentence should be relevant.
  • Pay attention to the details.  Read the piece out loud. What is in your head is not always what is on the page.
  • Focus on passive tense. Mark every “had ___” or “was___” phrase. Use the version that works best.  (drove might be more applicable than had driven; danced could be a better fit than was dancing)

5 common editing issues editors, publishers, agents, and judges notice:

  • Obvious non-use of spell check (use the tool if you have it to catch glaring typos)
  • Redundant words and phrases (stand up => stand, sit down => sit, whispered softly => whispered, shrugged his shoulders => shrugged, nodded her head => nodded)
  • Too many adverbs: “-ly” words (smiled sweetly => grinned)
  • Fluffing up the dialogue tags. Many are fine with “he said/she said”
  • Using unnecessary words such as: that, suddenly, just, really

There are different levels and types of editing:

  • Proofreading: Fixing typos, spelling, and missing punctuation
  • Line editing: Proofreading plus a bit of grammar
  • Copy editing: (similar to line editing) Making the copy clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent. It means what it says and says what it means.
  • Content editing: Reviewing the piece as a whole. Combines the other types of editing plus questions inconsistencies, notes conceptual problems, polishes to keep tone of manuscript consistent, verifies facts, makes sure all threads in story are resolved, makes suggestions for improvement.

Of course, having at least one other experienced set of eyes look over your piece before you send it off is priceless.

I’ll talk about critique partners and professional editors in upcoming posts.

Do you have any particular items on your self-editing check list that aren’t listed here?

Lisa J. Jackson is an editor, author, book coach, consultant, Big Sister, cat owner, and chocolate lover. She’s addicted to Sudoku, cafés, coffee ice cream, and words…she never tires of words. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has a blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to chat with writing professionals on a weekly basis — and you can too! ©Lisa J. Jackson, 2010

To Whom Must the Copy Editor Be Loyal?

In most jobs, it’s pretty easy to figure out where your loyalties lie. Follow the money, as they say, right? Whoever pays the bill deserves the loyalty.

But my question is a trick question (come on, copy editors don’t usually get to have all that much fun!).

Just so you know, I’ve been copyediting for a long time (yes, per Chicago Manual of Style, the verb is copyedit and the noun is copy editor. Go figure.)

Copy editors are those moss-covered, hunchback nerds who doggedly pursue perfection in spelling, grammar, style, consistency, logic, and understandable sentences. (Here’s an actual challenge from my archives: In actuality, the future possibility that a reaction to this book is rendered will be evidence enough.)

In my book editing work, I also do what a lot of manuscript editors do—reorganizing the structure and fact checking. (For example, did you know that, in British train jargon, it’s a goods wagon that carries the freight? Or that Swanson first produced TV dinners in 1953? Or that the Sahel Zone is the savanna that lies directly south of the Sahara Desert? What’s that you say? Enough already? Okay.)

Loyalty to the Reader?

So, here’s the answer to our loyalty question: A copy editor may be paid by the author or the publisher, but her loyalty, dear Reader, must be to you!

Yes. The reader is what makes the bottom line happy … the reader is the source of the ultimate revenue that supports both publisher and writer (not to mention the lowly copy editor). If readers (and the all-important and influential reviewers) don’t like/understand/enjoy the book, it’ won’t make money!

How about Loyalty to the Writer?

Well, okay. I admit, we do owe a little loyalty to the writer. More than a little. Lots. To a writer, every word is sacred. Every sentence is a masterpiece. (Well, maybe it isn’t … but don’t tell him!) A copy editor’s job is to help the writer tell his story well in his own voice. I used to work with an editing colleague who would rip each new job apart with disdain and triumphantly put it back together in her own voice and style. She could never understand why her authors didn’t like her “improvements”!

This comment from an author is what we like to hear: “You could have just edited the work and taken your check. You didn’t. You coaxed the final product out of me in a way that said, ‘I want this to be a good piece.’”

Loyalty to the Reader and Author = Loyalty to the Publisher

It’s that simple. If we do our jobs well enough to satisfy the reader and the author, the publisher will be happy!

Wait a Minute—How About a Copy Editor’s Loyalty to Herself?

As copy editors, we have to know all the rules. We have to know when to apply them and when to bend them. We have to be able to morph ourselves into an author’s persona so that we edit in her own voice. We have to be willing to learn about new ideas—as well as old ones—so our work will be sincere and accurate.

Copy editors can have great influence over a document, but her work usually shows up to readers as the work of the author! Sometimes we are acknowledged in print by an appreciative author, but, more often, we’re not. I don’t care, though—it’s the ride I enjoy! As soon as I finish an assignment (great or dreadful), I can’t wait to see the next one. What will I learn this time? How will I be able to help?

If you’re a copy editor, how do you engage with your authors?
If you’re a writer who has worked with a copy editor … how’s that working out for you?

In her professional life, Jan Howarth edits books in a multitude of genres and writes all manner of business documentation. In her personal life, “Jannie” is a wife, a mom, and a grandmother who loves studying history and looking forward to the future.