by Nita Sweeney | Jun 8, 2018 | Blog
Micro focus revision tip:
Once you’re happy with the overall structure of your manuscript (maybe the thirteenth or thirty-seventh big focus draft) use the search function to look for is, was, are, were, there. Rewrite sentences containing those words by using active verbs. The resulting sentences will be stronger and tighter.
by Nita Sweeney | Jun 4, 2018 | Blog
“I’ve always considered myself to be just average talent and what I have is a ridiculous insane obsessiveness for practice and preparation.” – Will Smith
I’m currently listening to Racing the Rain by John L. Parker. In one scene, young Quenton Cassidy, the main character, learns basketball tips from a famous one-on-one player. The professional gives Quenton the ball and tells him to take his best shot. As Quenton approaches the basket, the expert crowds Quenton to the right. He pushes him so far to the right that Quenton eventually must move to the left, his weak side since the boy is right-handed. Then the pro easily steals the ball. After repeated failures, the expert explains that Quenton must practice his weak side. “I see you practicing what you’re already good at,” he says. To become a pro, Quenton must practice his weaknesses until they becomes natural.
I think about this with writing. I too adore things I’m already good at and want to spend all my time “playing” at those. I love the first draft, no outline, staring down the blank page. I love the freedom to write whatever I want, making something from nothing. I also love detailed editing, crafting sentences, and choosing the right word. These are my “right side.”
But I grow the most by working on skills that don’t come naturally. Plotting and outlines are my nemesis. Big picture revision is a struggle. While I don’t practice them for hours the way the basketball pro urged Quenton, I recognize their necessity and feel my resistance when it’s time to pull those tools out of the kit. I wish I could say I just push through, but I don’t. I usually stall a bit. I’m like a horse that doesn’t want to get into the trailer. It takes a carrot or two, but eventually, because I’m well trained, I force myself to study the big picture and puzzle out the plot. Professionals do the hard stuff too. Hopefully, this makes the reading easy.
by Nita Sweeney | May 25, 2018 | Blog
I like for people to think I’m a punctuation and grammar whiz kid. I am not. I use cheat sheets like this. I also hire editors or ask friends to read my work. The spell and grammar check functions in Word are lovely, but they don’t catch everything.
by Nita Sweeney | Jan 4, 2018 | Blog
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
Outwardly, December looks like a failure. I hoped to revise Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, the running memoir, and submit it to additional independent publishers. I also wanted to follow up on some of the submissions I’d already sent. And I’d hoped to finish the first draft of Eat Your Toast, the daily meditation and practice book. But December got away from me.
Let’s blame it on Scarlet, the immensely adorable yellow Labrador puppy we got shortly after Morgan, my co-star in Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, died. In addition to her actual care and training, Scarlet takes a lot of mental energy. I feel exhausted a lot of the time.
Even before Scarlet arrived, November had already worn me down. National Novel Writing Month which I love, drained me this year. Beneath my desire to achieve my daily word count was the sadness of Morgan’s final decline from congestive heart failure. We turned our house into a doggy hospice reminiscent of the final days with my father and it brought up emotions I hadn’t felt since I’d written about that several years ago.
And then Morgan actually died. Man. That’s such a punch in the gut even when you know it’s coming. I didn’t realize how sad I’d been until that happened. So when Scarlet entered our world two days later, I was already worn down and reeling. She’s a gem, but such a distraction.
As a result, I spent much of December staring blankly into the middle distance unable to find the mental space to do the work. I did a few things, but nothing near what I’d hoped and I feel disappointed.
I refuse to beat myself up for this however. It is a new year. Scarlet is nearly potty trained! (Yay us!) And one month will not make or break the submission process. So here’s to not giving up. Let’s move forward and continue courageously toward our goals.
by Nita Sweeney | Sep 4, 2017 | Blog
“To write is human, to edit is divine.” – Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
This month I had the honor of critiquing someone’s novel. I read carefully and with gusto. I read for pace and plot and character. I read to find holes and places where it lagged. The author had done a lot of work so my job was easy. This isn’t always the case.
What do you look for when you read another writer’s work? Even if I know the person well, I try to distance myself and forget what I know about her. I tell the truth and don’t sugar coat my responses. But it’s helpful to be kind. If something’s not working, I just point that out. And, I don’t necessarily try to fix it. People who have read my work often make suggestions as to how to fix a problem. They want to help. More often than not, however, the thing they suggest is flat out wrong. It won’t work for the story or it won’t work for me as the author. I listen and note that there is something wrong in that place or near that place, but I try to find my own fix.
So how can you be more helpful to people who want you to read their work? I always find out how far along they are in the book. Is this a first draft? Is this their thirtieth draft? How long have they been working on the book? Is this the first year or the fifteenth? This makes a difference both in what I look for and how I handle the comments. I am unlikely to agree to read a first draft unless someone is just so stuck they need help figuring out if they have a book at all. And in that case, I read with such a gentle touch that most of my comments will be about what is working. I will apply lots of praise and, instead of criticism, ask questions. “What did you mean by this?” or “What are you trying to say?”
No matter what stage a writer is at, I always ask what they want. Do they want a line edit, fixing all the punctuation, or do they just want an overview of the big picture. I have a hard time not marking spelling mistakes, but I’ll do my best to focus on the big picture if that’s what they want. If a person is in later drafts, I’ll dig deeper. By later drafts, the author has gone deeper into the work and really needs a heads up about what a reader thinks. Hopefully by then they have also developed a spine around the book. I won’t be mean, of course. That helps no one. But I’ll really focus on the honest truth.
It’s so touchy. We writers have such fragile egos. We want help, but we mostly want you to tell us our words are lovely and that we should go have a cookie then send our work to anyone who publishes. It’s hard not to take any feedback, positive or negative, personally. This is our work. Our baby. But we need to learn that feedback is not personal. It’s about the work. That’s a good rule. Take nothing personally. If only I could make that stick.