Monthly Archives: December 2013

Good Books on Editing your Own Work

I’ve recently read two good books by Elizabeth Lyon. I recommend them both. The first one is Manuscript Makeover. The second is Writing Subtexts. I think she has taken editing to a new level.

The first one has a great deal to keep in mind. I think the only way to use it is to go through your manuscript in several sweeps looking for different things on each sweep.

The second one is much shorter, but no less valuable. It helps you to write on a deeper level.

2013: A Good Year

Last year, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. I participated in the National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo. I finished a novel, Red Maslem and the Pilots of Anzu. About 14 percent of the participants finished a 50,000 word novel. That is no small feat to accomplish.

That doesn’t mean you are a published author, or the work has merit, it just means you’ve taken on a job and finished.

Following that, I decided to take my short stories that had not been published and put them into a book, then two books, then three. Anthem I and II are available on Kindle. Anthem III is still waiting for editing. I have also re-edited Anthem I and II, III is three-fourths of the way through. The originals were a bit flawed, somewhat like a sketch that eventually leads to a painting.

I have also written a novel this year for NaNoWriMo: The Making of Skean Dhu: Space Pirate. It’s about a young woman who hates her life, runs away and joins the pirate federation. I think it is much better than the one I wrote last year. I’ve learned a lot editing my own work and studying what I can find on editing my own stories.

I also managed to get a few short stories published in a local anthology, Chaos.

My next large project will be to write a story I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I’ve been debating whether to write it or not. It will be about a fallen preacher who is a child molester. I’ve hesitated to write it because the topic is a bit hot. However, this year I met a writer who was also a pastor’s child who wrote a story about a dysfunctional minister’s family – not her own.

I had always wondered if people who read my work would think it was somehow autobiographical as if I was writing about my own family. As I was looking at her work, I didn’t think about the story as being about her.  That surprised me and led me to decide that writing such a book would not necessarily reflect on my family.  While I will be using some stories from my past, the family I’ve created for my story is not my family. It is not a story about any family I know. It is about elements of child welfare cases I’ve been involved with as a social worker (again, not any one family or person), stories I heard from my father about ministers who molested, and my imagination.

So, I declare 2013 a productive year in terms of what I have accomplished, what I have learned, and what I am planning to do.

To keep up with my writing, I am going to have to teach less at the University. I love teaching, but teaching eats time. I feel obliged to study and read my texts and notes, then the student’s works.

If I do a decent job teaching, I fall behind in my writing. Teaching will not last forever, so I need to cut myself loose from it and become a writer.

I’ve already over committed myself to teaching this coming spring, so my reduction in teaching hours will take place next fall.


Elizabeth Lyon’s Writing Subtext

If you’ve read my previous review of Elizabeth Lyon’s Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore, you will not be surprised to know I am equally impressed with a second book of hers named Writing Subtext: How to craft subtext that develops characters, boosts suspense, and reinforces themes

It is a small book, only 49 pages on my Kindle. In terms of its importance to would-be writers, it looms large. She looks into character development, nature, human-made “stuff,” then mood and atmosphere.

If I can take liberties in an analogy between her book and painting, I would say her approach is like making a complex painting. First, an idea comes, then a sketch. The sketch is perfected, the the picture is painted in gray, white, and black. The final painting is then made in layers until it is finished. This may be an oversimplification, but I hope you get the idea. Writing is much more complex than just telling a story.

I’m planning to take a vacation soon. I usually take several books to enjoy. On this trip, I will take these two books and read them several times.

Read her books. You will like them.

Change in Direction

I’ve been reading Alice Munro’s Dear Life, a collection of short stories. Some of the stories are fictional some autobiographical. She has won the Nobel Prize in Literature recently. She has also won the Man Booker International Prize, and many others of note.

She writes in the first person about life in WWII Canada. Most of her stories are about teen to young adult girls and their experiences. I like how her stories flow in the first person view. I also like the direct simplicity of her storytelling.

I think I’ll write some short stories about my boyhood growing up in Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, Minnesota, and back to Texas. I’ve thought for years about recording some of my stories, but preferred to write fiction until now. My stories would be about life after WWII. The dominant theme among men when I was a boy was WWII and what they did in it. It was the measure of a man.

I’ve started a list of stories I could write now. I don’t think I’ll focus too much on fact, just on recollections though I know them to be distorted by time. What I mean by that is this: my sister has told stories about events I remember tremendously differently. She is four years older than me, and I have to defer to her recollection. For these stories, I won’t make an effort to make them historically accurate. I’ll just stick with my recollections with full understanding of their imperfections.

Also, I will give myself freedom to elaborate where I can’t remember details. Okay, if you want, I will be fictionalizing the truth. (If you are not writing, that is called lying. If you are writing it’s called being creative – go figure.)

I don’t know right now if it will be  a short termed or long termed trial. I’ll have more to say on this later.

Deep Listening Exercise and Speech to Text using Excel

I’ve been reading Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore, by Elizabeth Lyon, 2008. In my opinion, the name of the book does not mislead.  If you write fiction and you want to be published, you cannot ignore this book. It is easy reading, carefully organized, and thoughtfully presented. I only wish she had provided a condensed version of her Makeover Revision Checklists found at the end of each chapter.

I would love to be able to go through a checklist that that Lyons condensed to a few pages rather than having to thumb through the book to find something.

I just finished a NaNoWriMo novel and plan to subject it to a careful analysis using her book. I do not think I’ll start at the beginning and work straight through though to the end. I already know I skimped on scenes and characterization in order to meet the 50,000-word deadline. Even if I never get my novel to a publishable state, I believe the exercise will improve my writing overall.

I like her ideas on deep listening and have adapted them in two ways. The first way is to listen to conversations and stories during the day. Then create backgrounds, characters, and endings to the stories I hear. Of course, I’m not ‘right’ in the story I’ve made up, but it leads me to listening more carefully.

The second way I’ve modified her idea is more a change in medium than in substance. She recommends reading your story aloud. I’ve had this recommendation from my professors and have seen it in other books. The truth is, when I begin to read aloud to myself, I can make it about two paragraphs, then I slide into silent reading without being aware I’m doing so.

Maybe it is a character flaw, but I just cannot read aloud to myself. So, in the wonderful world of technology, is there a solution? Ah, yes there is. You can plug in a macro to your Word program that makes it read your manuscript to you. To do this, you can go to Microsoft’s Office Support page and follow the steps for converting text to speech in Excel.

Wow, that works for me. When I’m editing, I highlight a paragraph or so, then tell the software to play back what I’ve highlighted. I read along listening to the reader’s voice instead of mine. (I just had a horrible thought; I’ve been a professor for years. If my voice puts me to sleep…). By doing this, I hear errors that I would miss if I was reading my own work, even if I was reading aloud.

I’ve noticed I incorrectly read my works to say what I think they should say, not what they say. That blind spot can allow me to ‘read over’ a mistake many times without seeing it. However, if someone else is saying it, even an electronic voice, I hear the mistake.

I don’t know why this works better for me, but it does.