Back to the Editing Board

Like most writers, I’ve read my books a million times. Maybe not literally one million, but it certainly feels like it. They are both terrifically fun novels to read, by the way, just ask me. 🙂 No matter how many times I review them or how many editors I have, there is always a sneaky little typo hiding like a ghost in a corner. They jump out at me and I catch my breath.

Where was it hiding and how did it manage to evade my notice for months? I don’t have any answers on that outside of the obvious ones like writers ‘know’ what’s going to happen next so our brains just skip the typos. My typos usually fall into two categories: The missing word and the right word, wrong spelling. I can tell you from experience that ‘spell check’ is generally rendered useless by those circumstances. Grammar check likewise, and grammar check also toys with my inability to correctly use a semi-colon.

When I first started sharing my writing with people not related to me, I would nearly hyperventilate if anyone told me about a typo or missed word.

Writing is hard and sharing one’s writing with strangers is probably up there on the chart of scary things like jumping out of airplanes, online dating, joining the circus, or cooking lobsters.

My biggest fear of someone finding that my writing wasn’t perfect has been realized a few times and I survived to write another day. I’ve grown a sort of writer’s leathery thick skin that means I can survive a bad review or a grammarian’s scolding. That said, even today when I find a typo or bad form in one of my novels or works in progress, I still feel that sense of dread and shame.

And then I get over it.

I fix it and try to do better next time. I hope that gentle readers out there find a way to forgive and are still able to enjoy the story and the worlds created for them.

Hope is more powerful than fear. It’s what keeps me from giving up. My novels may be rather unknown with a few readers, but as I continue along this journey, there are more and more readers who have never heard of me, seen me at Christmas in my home town, or been exposed to my high school yearbook photo – yet they still find my books and enjoy the read.

Thanks to the gentle readers who can see the story through the glitches and thanks also to the critical readers who point the way toward improvement. I’m very grateful that you read my novels and took a chance on some writer you never heard of.

I’ve just re-published my latest novel, Christmas at Maplemont Manor, and I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ve neutralized any outstanding gremlin typos. Each of us gets better every day and that only happens by not giving up. Keep writing and editing. Onward!

What the Water Teaches Us

There are few summer activities that will make one more aware of river currents than kayaking. Sitting in the kayak, provides a front row view of the water and an immediate pull of the current. As the water ebbs and flows, suddenly it can take a lot more effort to direct the kayak than it did before. Perhaps the flow of the invisible current pulls one toward the beach or pushes away from the beach.

The invisible hand of the current shapes the entire trip, making the person on the kayak strongly aware of when they are going against the current or along with the flow of the water.

Writing can be like that sometimes too, where each project seems to have an ebb and flow of its own. An author can have a terrific outline or story in mind, only to discover a few pages in that the dialogue seems labored and the plot feels impossible.

Stories, especially novels, can take on lives of their own, and I know several writers (including myself) who get stuck in their writing projects. Sometimes it’s the character that doesn’t fit or the plot, and all roads seem to lead to dead ends. Sometimes it’s worth starting over completely from scratch and trying something new, like pulling the kayak out of the water completely and trying a more navigable river.

Other times, it’s a matter of pushing through the current by paddling like crazy to force a way to the other side by continuing to write until the problem works itself out and quieter waters appear through the struggle. Lastly, it can also turn out that the river isn’t the problem, and instead it’s the solution. Going with a new flow turns a story into something even better, by floating in a direction entirely.

Both writing and kayaking are creative processes of adaption and adjustment, changing course when necessary and making judgment calls about how much effort to expel when something isn’t working as planned.

I suppose that’s also true about life in many ways. If the universe is telling us that we are going against the current, we always have the choice (and even invitation) to change course. That said, we often become stronger by paddling harder upstream than by coasting with the flow. Growth can sometimes be only managed through a lot of effort and change.

Of course the true secret of life is knowing when to paddle like crazy to get where you are going and when to pull up oars and float awhile to go with the flow. Either way, we’ll learn something if we are paying attention.

Small Things Shine Brightly

Recently I had the fun opportunity to visit a lighthouse that had been moved to the shore, after it was decommissioned. At the top of a second set of very narrow stairs, I found the light itself and snapped this photo of the upside view of the water outside when looking through the light.

As anyone who has visited a lighthouse before knows, while the glass around the light is quite large, the light bulb itself is small. Of course there’s some excellent science involved about how a small light can extend miles away to show the safe path home for those at sea.

Small things can always shine brightly, which gives me hope and a reason for optimism. It’s easy to get discouraged when things don’t work out the way that we hoped, but important to keep shining anyway.

As a writer, it can be easy to feel discouraged when someone else doesn’t share the same joy after reading your novel or first chapter. However, those moments also provide opportunities to improve and grow.

The novel editing process can be like the trial and error involved in building the first lighthouse light designs. Each improvement and even small adjustment can result in that final, dazzling beam of light which can illuminate and connect with readers.

Keep shining brightly. Eventually the fog will clear, the glass will be adjusted, and that small light will dazzle in brightness.

Changing Perspective

Writers talk a lot about point of view and for good reason. How each character sees and understands the world is what makes them genuine and unique compared to other characters. Several characters could experience the same event, like attending a cherry blossom festival in spring, yet only one of them noticed this view of the sky.

Perhaps the other characters focus on the crowd, another on their uncomfortable shoes, and yet another on a remark from someone else in the group. Sometimes scenes can read rather flat, until the author changes perspective and finds a unique twist for the characters in terms of perspective.

This photo is one that I took recently after being a little overwhelmed at a cherry blossom festival, sandwiched into the mob of tourists and locals out to see the trees and their splendor. Whenever I travel to places like this or deep, green forests, I always end up with at least one photo looking up.

The wonder of this perspective is how timeless it is, and with cherry blossoms, how fleeting. The blooms will only be around for a very short time before they shake off their pink flowers to transform again. Yet, this image could be seen by almost anyone who catches a blue sky day and looks up while the trees are in bloom.

In both writing and travel, perspective changes everything. We could walk away from any experience or chapter, focused only on the flaws or complexity. But, if we are really lucky, the genuine moment is what we take with us. The magic of the shades of pink, floating in a clear sea of blue sky.

Wherever April takes you, I hope you have the opportunity to find a little magic in the April showers, frogs singing at night, or the pink cherry blossom flowers floating gently toward the green grass. Happy spring, everyone. Here comes the sun!

Starting from Scratch

Something inspired me to start baking bread from scratch. It was probably a cross between thinking it was an impossible task and not finding the Finnish cardamom bread I wanted to eat within a twenty mile radius. Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure this won’t turn me into a food blogger.

Building on my experience of seeing people make bread on television in a period TV drama series, I decided that I would give it a go. I found a recipe, bought all the supplies, and went to work. If you haven’t ever made bread yourself, I’d recommend giving it a go. There is something wonderfully creative about it. The feeling of throwing stuff in a bowl and kneading it, then letting it rise and shaping it into bread.

The reward of your house smelling like a dream bakery is another bonus. To my sheer delight, the bread turned out perfectly and I felt like a genius with my newly obtained bread making skills.

It also reminded me a bit of the writing process, how any new novel starts from scratch with a few ideas and builds from there to create a new world with characters that someone will hopefully enjoy reading about. Both bread making and novel writing result in something tangible and crafted with care.

Will I end up becoming someone who only bakes their own bread each week? Maybe – I suppose time will tell. It did encourage me to spend a little more time on crafting up excellent food and there’s something fun and creative about the whole process.

Wherever you find inspiration, I hope that you embrace it. One never knows where it will take you.


Taking Time to Edit

Editing a novel or, well really anything, can be tricky. As for me, I tend to write quickly and let the ideas flow before going back to tidy things up and link everything together. It’s an iterative process for me because I’m constantly editing and drafting. I’ll typically edit something a few times before sharing it with someone else in a writers group or simply with a friend.

Getting feedback from someone who isn’t as close to the work is a wonderful gift to any writer. It really helps to get perspective from someone else who isn’t as close to the characters and the setting as the writer is. Another opinion adds a different view on the material and helps the writer know if they’ve managed to successfully convey the characters and their lives or not.

After I’ve run through something a few times, then gotten some feedback from a few people, I rework things again myself. I’ll also usually share it again with probably the same friend to see if it’s getting better. And then there’s more time spent editing.

I also have a trick that works well for editing drafts several times, which is to take a break and let the draft stew a bit. Doing something else and focusing on other things for a while, like the gym or spending time with the friends I’ve ignored while madly writing something, helps provide some distance.

Distance is a key ingredient of better editing and I know from experience that I’ll find more things to fix if I’ve spent a few days away from a manuscript than if I try to edit constantly.

Wherever you are in your writing, I hope that these tips are helpful. Find someone you trust to help you edit and really listen to their feedback. Keep editing while drafting because writing is an iterative process. Give yourself some time in between editing sessions, so that you can look at the manuscript with fresh eyes.

Most importantly, keep going with your writing (and editing).



Writing that Novel

January brings us a brand-new, shiny year that is all fresh and ready for us to add things to buckle down and start fresh. Perhaps you are planning vacations or getting serious about going to the gym or writing that novel. Sometimes they are resolutions or just recurring New Year themes.

I’ve been very busy writing a new novel and what’s funny is that my house is either spotlessly clean while I’m brainstorming or avoiding time typing – or it looks like a band just left for the night after a big party – when I’ve been typing away and building the new world of the latest novel. There seems to be very little in between! LOL!

One thing all writers can relate to as they are writing that novel aside from lack of progress on domestic tasks is keeping track of word count. Novelists talk about progress in terms of how many thousands of words they are from their goal and how many they have completed that week.

Typically most novels range between 65,000 and 80,000 words, which generally speaking is close to 300 double-spaced pages in a typical word processor with an average font size. Novellas are much smaller than that at somewhere below 40,000 words, or about half the size of a regular novel.

I also pay more attention to word count than pages and, in my latest project, my writing goals relate to words per week instead of pages per week. For example, if you are starting a novel or planning the work, it can be helpful to think of the writing schedule in terms of words. If your goal is to write 80,000 words within 8 weeks, then that means 10,000 words per week to stay on schedule.

At the end of the day, writing a novel means A LOT of time sitting at the keyboard and carving out the time to keep forging ahead. In my case, it all means a rather messy house during that same time and I haven’t seen the inside of the gym since 2019 rolled out. But, I’m keeping up with my word count goals, so that’s the current priority.

Whatever your writing project of 2019, I wish you much success! Keep going and remember that building a new world within a novel takes time and a lot of patience. Remember that your characters will help you build things along the way and that you don’t have to have everything planned out ahead of time – there’s a fog in fiction that you can drive through a few feet at a time. Just keep going! Happy 2019, writers!