Tag Archives: writing

Quick Notes – How to Edit Your Own Work

Here are some notes most generously copied for me by the talented Laura N. Stephenson. I met her at ConDor in San Diego and we swapped panel notes.  Conventions are a great place to make friends, learn from pros and strut your stuff. For more on convention prep, check out this post.

  • Writer’s ticks – Words/phrases you overuse.
  • Read it aloud – ear will pick out mistakes the eye glosses over.
  • Read your sentences backwards to prevent brain glossing over mistakes (Sentence 3, sentence 2, sentence 1)
  • Don’t edit before the manuscript is done.
  • If a section is terrible, rewrite rather than edit.
  • Put cut material in separate document to look at after the manuscript is over and judge if its worth putting in somewhere else.
  • Read one character’s dialogue at a time to be sure they’re consistent with themselves and different from each other.
  • Make sure sentences don’t go longer than two lines.
  • Gail Carriger writes 2k words/day
  • Write a mark in the manuscript for where you need research, whether into your own work or to fact check.
  • Don’t use too much or too little stage direction.
  • Act stage directions out.
  • Scrivener is a useful tool (K. M. Alexander swears by it)
  • Too short? Ad another POV character.
  • Before making a major edit, back up current version.

My own two cents, on top of these tips, is to make sure you do all your spell-checking and re-reading BEFORE you hand your work off to a beta reader or editor. Let them help you with the things you miss; not the problems you ignore.

“The great artist is the simplifier.”
— Henri-Frédéric Amiel

“A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood.”
— George S. Patton Jr.



Your Strangeness is Your Strength

There’s usually one question that we get all the time. For the cellist hauling her instrument, it’s, “don’t you wish you played the piccolo?”

For the tall man, it’s, “how’s the weather up there?”

That question gets really annoying, really quickly. The angry responses don’t make sense to the innocent questioner, who was just making a joke. They don’t realize that they’ve rubbed an already sore spot again, and we hold them accountable for all the crimes against our strangeness we’ve heretofore encountered. We alleviate these conversations through well-practiced one-liners, or half-truths, just to move on and not talk about it.

The general populace doesn’t care about the hard-won pride we earned through struggle. There’s no room in small talk for big ideas. We come up with snappy one-line responses to deflect or guide the conversation away from our own strangeness. In the course of this repeated exchange, day after day, year after year, we forget that our strangeness is a valuable tool. What makes us strange, what makes us stand out, may be the key to our destiny.

Captain Awkward posted a blog about the low-mood cycle, and how to break away from it. The most eye-opening part, for me, was that if you’re not around people who support you, get the hell out of there.

Heigh-ho-the-derry-o, get the hell out of there.

Think of that question you get all the time. Maybe it’s about your ethnic background, or the shape of your nose, or the fact that you’re a writer. If you’re made to feel ashamed or embarrassed, you’re in the wrong environment. If you’re made to hide it, you’re in the wrong environment.

The longer you ask yourself to act against your core nature, the dimmer your light becomes. You are an artist. You have the secret power to slip sideways into another reality. No matter how cobwebby the slip-path becomes, you can still get there. Your flame still glows. Follow it.

Yeah, well, artists are a lot like gangsters. They both know that the official version, the one everyone else believes, is a lie.”
– Jocko – Quoted by Russell Banks

The truly great writer does not want to write: he wants the world to be a place in which he can live the life of the imagination. The first quivering word he puts to paper is the word of the wounded angel: pain.
– Henry Miller



“But what is that I don’t even –” “TREASURE IT” Wonderbook, Jeff Van Der Meer

Beats: Creating Harmony and Contrast in a Scene

Yesterday was a series of moments in contrast for me. It went from heartening to despair, then to hope, to annoyance in the course of a few hours.


There are lots of spiritual paths that insist a price must be paid for good experiences, and that we must suffer through bad experiences in order to be worthy or appreciative of a good one in the end. Perhaps by experiencing joy we have a better sense of what anger does to us, and vice versa. Life, like stories, is broken up into beats.

In terms of writing, a beat is a unit of a scene. Each beat involves an exchange between characters, or characters and environment, where the action/reaction/revelation advances the story and shapes the scene.

Harmony and contrast, remember? No objects are beautiful or ugly in and of themselves, and no moment is horrible or hilarious in and of itself. A perfect moment is the culmination of everything around it – a love-child of circumstance and context.

Breaking up your tone helps each moment become clearer and more poignant. A slow, harmonious crescendo, (surprise, serenity, romance, tragedy) can sneak your readers into an emotional state; whereas conflicting beats (horror, humor, horror, humor) can make two opposite feelings play off each other for catharsis.

These contrasts are just as important as conflict in terms of moving a story along. Each beat is a chance to show off a different facet of a character or relationship. A beat can be a shout. It can be a the shift of a hand, a murder, or even silence. When you use many beats to say the same thing, your pacing slows down and focuses in on a single moment. When you use each beat for a different purpose (he said, she said, he gasped, she exploded) it ramps up your pacing to full-throttle.

And what would humans be without love?”
RARE, said Death.”
― Terry Pratchett

Darth Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke Skywalker: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Darth Vader: No. I am your father.
Luke Skywalker: No… that’s not true! That’s impossible!
― George Lucas


AeJi du pissenlit

The Cave

BayCon is coming up, I’ll post my schedule and prep notes later today.

I’m hitting one of my favorite parts in the story I’m working on now. Kar’s been so tough for so long. “She carries the story on her shoulders, up a rope ladder and across a swinging tightrope into the sky!” said one of my beta readers.

As I’m writing, she’s really badly hurt, and there’s a good chance she’ll remain that way for the rest of the story. Since she has relied on physical prowess for so long, having that taken away from her is becoming a shattering experience. Especially, as with Kar, her expertise is something she fully embraced as a way to escape and ignore deeper fears and doubts.

Music is really important to my process. This smaller, scared version of a power anthem captures the fear, devastation, and last drops of determination remaining in a warrior heart when it realizes the body doesn’t work anymore.

How I Tripped Over My Literary Agent

When I started calling myself a ‘legit’ writer, I sought out a lot of people in the industry. Those adventures never went the way I wanted. More often than not, I left the meeting frustrated that I didn’t get what I asked for.

No one gave feedback on my query letter, but they’d tell me how to construct a good story. As much as I had failed in my perceived mission, I got the tools I needed to plot my course long-term. They were all fruitful meetings.

What held me back and made me frustrated was the need to achieve a finite goal at the expense of a broader one. The Law of Attraction, prayer, and to some extent Being Positive are all finite, specific requests. They’re the north star – fixed high above everything else. How would it be to set sail, when you could only utilize that one star — glossing over the waves, the angles of the wind, the sounds of the boat, and the salt in the air?

What can you ask the wind?
Can you make demands of the sea and be understood?

Fixating on one specific want may make you miss the aid you need, and greatly annoy your friends who deal with your venting.

I met my agent, Lynn Brown, completely by accident. At the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, I did agent speed dating. Basically, you have three minutes to impress the agent you sit with. Not only was Lynn not planning to take queries at that conference, she wound up at speed dating as a place holder for someone else. While on line for a more well-known agent, I caught a glimpse of something shiny — her earrings, she always has fabulous earrings — and wandered over to her table. I just wanted to practice pitching my book. I had no idea who she was, and the agent’s name on the table clearly wasn’t hers.

She wasn’t planning to take submissions, and I took a risk hopping out of a long line to pitch to someone who wasn’t on my list. Neither of us had any expectations; but we discovered we have the same vision.

I couldn’t have planned that.

Whether it’s the business side — like marketing and networking — or the intuitive side – like listening to your characters — a wide net helps more than a narrow one. Hell, making friends follows this model. So too does the flow of your story. You can’t know where a relationship will lead. All you can do is keep your eyes peeled and mind open — ready for whatever comes.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
― Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

But, instead of what our imagination makes us suppose and which we worthless try to discover, life gives us something that we could hardly imagine.”
― Marcel Proust


Serendipity ain’t just a book by Stephen Cosgrove



Good News, Everyone!

Two quick updates before I skitter back to the secret lair:

1. I’m going to be a speaker at Baycon in May! This year’s theme is close to my heart. From their web site: “2014 will see the 32nd incarnation of BayCon as we celebrate Honor – among enemies, the knight and the shadowknight – and all the other ways we find our own ethos of Honor.” More importantly, it falls on Memorial Day weekend, and there will be a march to remember the fallen men and women of the US military. The gravity of the holiday is somewhat tempered, for me, by the fact I’ll get to stand alongside some truly talented and innovative folk. Be sure to check them out and follow them all on Twitter.

2. My fantasy novel (the first in a series of four) has been picked up by an agent.

You guys, I couldn’t have done it alone. Lauren, Carson, Loretta, REDdog, Tom, Drew, Margit, shoe1000, and everyone else who has been reading this blog… Y’all are the ship and the star to sail ‘er by. I’m overcome with gratitude. Thank you for hanging out with me and keeping my spirits up through this process.

Tomorrow, our work begins in earnest; but tonight — we celebrate.