After You Type “THE END”

You’ve spent months or maybe years working on your book. You’ve organized it and reorganized it. You’ve read it and re-read it. You’ve given up on it at least once and come back. It’s become so much a part of your life that you don’t know what you’ll do without it.

Don’t worry. Just like a favorite son at his high school graduation, this is a major milestone, but the book is not ready to leave the nest. Enjoy the moment. Raise a glass to your accomplishment. Celebrate. Let the book rest while you revel in your feeling of satisfaction.

At least a week later, it is time to begin the long and often daunting task of editing. Edit is such a short word for the complexity of the process. It comes in steps and levels. The first level is self-editing. The first step of self-editing is to put your manuscript in whatever form you prefer to read for your own entertainment. Do you prefer paper? Then print your manuscript and read it on paper. Do you prefer ebooks? Send your document to your kindle or other ebook reader and read it there.

On your first step of reading, do not try to fix the mistakes. That will slow your reading and get you back into writer mode. Just highlight the problem. You might want a piece of paper or notebook nearby to jot down thoughts. Make your notes as short as you can.

Some basic things to notice:

  • Physical characteristics of your characters. Do you introduce them with blue eyes? Then, make sure they still have blue eyes when they reappear in the last chapter.
  • Time line. Make a rough time line and make sure you are consistent. If you back track in time, be careful to take the reader with you. If you have a skip forward, again, keep the reader with you. Have scene breaks whenever you move in time or place, and make sure your reader knows where and when you want him to land.
  • Spelling and grammar. Run spell check and maybe even use a grammar checking software. Word has its own, Grammarly has a lot of fans, and ProWritingAid is also good. WARNING: None of these are perfect. You must check the recommendations and make sure you agree.
  • Dialogue. It is ALWAYS a good idea to read your dialogue out loud. Does it flow naturally? Does the speaking style agree with the character who is saying it? Is it clear who is speaking? Make sure your attributions are correct and necessary.
    • Don’t burden the reader with extra dialogue attributions.
    • Don’t assume the reader can follow a three-way conversation just because you know who is talking.
    • Don’t get fancy. This is not the place to show off your vocabulary or work out the thesaurus. “Said” becomes invisible to the reader. As much as it sounds repetitive to you, the reader virtually skips over the word and grabs the intent.

This is just the beginning. Each writer has his or her own order and process of self-editing, but every successful writer knows the first draft is just that—the first of many. Consult websites and books for other lists of things to check.

Always send the best manuscript you can to the next person to read it. If your editor is busy looking for the many typos and grammar errors, they won’t be seeing the big picture. Your carefully crafted plot and beloved characters won’t get the attention they deserve.

For a list of my favorite books on self-editing, see http://sandhbooks.com/resources/.

The next few blogs will focus on what happens next. Hope to see you soon.

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Be a Winner with your writing

I did it! I won the Wordscape tournament. No, I didn’t get a gold trophy for the mantle, nor did I get a purse of cold coins. I got a lot of points, which I will never use. The point is not what I won, but why I won and what that has to do with writing.

Learn new words. My life-long reading habit has given me a love of words. Sometimes I love the feel of them as they fill my mouth; sometimes I like the sound of them The tintinnabulation of the bells, bells, bells has always felt and sounded like word candy. Over the years, I have amassed a large vocabulary and seldom come across words I’ve never seen or heard before. It’s always fun to find a new one.
If Wordscape accepts a word that I’ve never seen, I can tap the word and the definition pops up on my screen. Of course, if I don’t see or use it again, I will not remember it, but the word itself is a discovery—even if ephemeral. If I do manage to make the word part of my vocabulary, my writing will be the richer for it.

Gain a new skill. The ability to see words in a set of jumbled letters is a skill that helps with other things. My Scrabble skills have increased as well, even though I seldom play. My crossword puzzle skills have benefitted, too. I can see a partial word and my brain automatically starts filling in reasonable letters for the blanks. 
No, I don’t sit around playing word games all day, but it is another way of keeping my brain active. Keeping your mental game sharp and exercised is always a winning strategy.

Strengthen your Self-Discipline. I spent the final day of the tournament alternately writing, editing, and confidently playing short bursts of my game. I was Number 1 until two hours before the tournament ended. As I watched the screen, my standing dropped to Number 2! Oh, no!
It was nearly time to sleep, and I could always try again next weekend. But that would be quitting, wouldn’t it? How far behind could I be? I turned off the TV and concentrated. The Game Was On! It took me an hour to regain first place, and then I couldn’t stop because I pictured the now-number-2 player hunched over his own screen, gritting his or her teeth and working furiously to unseat me once again. I was tired and sleepy, but I persevered. I played on, keeping my Number One seat until the tournament ended.
That is how books are written. It’s not all fun, especially the proofreading, but that’s what makes a story shine. The discipline to stick with the research, the editing, smiling through the critiques, staying at the computer when your favorite show beckons from the other room…writing needs self-discipline.

Consistent effort. I play Wordscape every day. Sometimes just ten minutes, the equivalent of stretching exercise for my brain, sometimes for a half an hour through a not-very-inspiring TV program, and once for two hours at top speed to make it to the finish line first.

All of this is relevant to writing. Read voluminously, absorb new ideas, learn new words, pay attention to the craft as you read. Stephen King says, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

Writing is hard work. Form good habits, be consistent, be self-disciplined, keep your mind alert.

sandhbooks.com
dixiane hallaj.com
You, too, can be a winner!
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Starting the new decade

DON’T WE WISH!

It’s the fifth of January already. We are almost one week into the new year…you know, the one that fired up all our latent ambition and resolve. There’s something about a new decade that is more challenging than “just” another journey around the sun. Mind you, I’m not making light of the annual journey. Believe me, I’ve been around that fiery ball enough times to be truly grateful for one more trip. But there’s something about changing two digits on the calendar that stirs up the internal fires.

So today I looked at my still-new goals to take stock and perhaps even do some planning. Planning is not my forte, but I wanted to change my goals into actual tasks that I could arrange in a reasonable order and get to work ticking them off the list.

I smiled at my lofty list of goals, and they stared back at me, unmoved. I did the oh-so-satisfying stretching exercise of patting myself on the back for actually writing down my goals for the year. I picked up one of my favorite pens and the writer’s nemesis—a blank sheet of paper. 

Tick tock. My paper filled with doodles and crossed out phrases. My smile changed to a frown, then back to a smile, and finally a small chuckle. All my goals boiled down to a single statement:

KEEP DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING BUT BE MORE EFFICIENT

Unfortunately, we cannot add sand to the hour glass. Once a day has passed, it is gone forever regardless of whether we used the time wisely or not. It is our responsibility to make the most of the time given to us.

That being said, we cannot always measure good use of time by the number of words we added to the manuscript. Word count is important, but it should not rule your world. Good writing requires good thinking. Exhausted writers are neither brilliant nor overly productive. Sometimes we need to stop and recharge our batteries. Then we can begin anew with fresh ideas and more energy.

I’ll work on that—right after I win the Wordscape tournament of the weekend. I’ve never been higher than #5 but I’ve been #1 since Saturday morning. Wordscape is my procrastination method of choice for today.

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We’re baaaaack—with tools

woman_plumer_300_nwmI can’t believe it’s been over a year since the last blog post. I don’t know what you’ve been doing, but we’ve been busy making big changes to the way we operate.

One of the big changes is the loss of the Short & Helpful Online Writer Workshops. We had fun with it, but the time has come to concentrate on other things. So…the website is gone. If you were one of our participants and want to see a video, please send an email and we can make it happen. We still have the videos.

Instead, we will be sharing the accumulated knowledge of many years of writing to focus on small things that can improve your writing and the presentations of your manuscripts. As you may know, we see a lot of manuscripts in the course of our lives as writers. We all should belong to writers groups and critique groups, because these groups provide great sounding boards. They are also a major source of emotional support when the well seems to run dry.

We follow our own advice in that respect and belong to groups and association. We share and read and contribute our two cents. However, in addition to being writers, we are also micro-publishers. Our website, sandhbooks.com showcases our collection of women fiction that has grown slowly over the six years we have been in business.

The advice of the day: Have patience—writing takes patience. Nothing about it is quick or easy. The writing is hard, and it can take years to finish your book. Then you finally write THE END, but you’re nowhere near done. You still have to polish and refine it…also hard. Sending your baby out into the world to find a home with a publisher. Ha! Talk about needing patience. Just as this blog has languished for over a year, so have the manuscripts in the S&H submissions inbox. Life throws roadblocks in the way.

 

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Is Your Chair Killing You?

fall_chairWriting is a sedentary occupation, and writers who are serious about their efforts to live by the pen often worry about the effects of sitting for many of their waking hours. It is often said that the only way to become a writer is to sit in your chair and move your fingers on the keyboard. Now we read that an essential ingredient of our career can kill us?

Millions of people have flooded the internet with articles warning readers that sitting can kill them. Most cite the results of long term studies concluding that spending long hours in a chair leads the way to serious medical problems.

As usual, it does not take long to uncover a host of articles saying the exact opposite, or touting ways to circumvent the possibly disastrous effects of sitting all day. Most of the ideas claiming to counteract too much sitting involve exercise—always a good idea for improved health. Then BAM! Another study, Sitting too long can kill you, even if you exercise, pops up to confuse the issue. It seems to have valid research behind it. Now what?

After reading a few articles, looking at the sources, and then skimming even more, I made my own plan to combat the sitting-too-long malady. My distillation of the articles I considered reasonably well-grounded gave me two takes on the idea of spending too much time sitting. One is the over all number of hours per day you are in a chair, but equally important was the duration of each period of sitting. What doesn’t work is spending all week sitting and going to the gym to work up a sweat for three hours on Saturday morning. What does work is sitting for 20-30 minutes at a time, broken up with 5-10 minutes of walking.

That’s a great plan, but not always practical. The muse has gifted you the perfect scene and your fingers are flying on the keyboard…not the time to take a break to exercise. Or you’re working on a tight deadline and can’t lose your train of thought for an exercise break. I’ve been there and done that. Before you know it, hours have gone by and you haven’t moved anything but your fingers.

And then I got a perfect birthday gift—a sit-stand desk! I absolutely love it and I can stand often without taking more than a few seconds with my fingers off the keyboard. It changes height easily, accommodates my monster monitor and two computers, and lets me change positions as often as I like.

Do you have any midday exercise tips that work for you? Please share with your fellow writers.

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