Editing

What To Know When Hiring An Editor

You’ve written something, and you need someone outside your friend and family circle to read it. You have a short list of editors you want to talk to. There’s a good deal  of back and forth before you hire someone you don’t know to edit your work. You need to establish a few things first.

Level of Editing

The first thing you want to figure out is the level of edit you want. Do you just want a quick polish for glaring errors or do you want someone to help you rethink the organization of your work?

Developmental editing is where the editor works with the writer to flesh out ideas, identify compelling storylines or themes, and organize the larger work.

Copyediting ranges from “heavy” to “light” depending on how much work needs to be done. In a copyedit, the editor checks for grammar, typos, awkward wordings, some organizational issues (that’s on the heavier side), consistency, readability, and continuity.

Proofreading is usually quicker and less hands-on for the editor. The text is in its relatively final form, and the proofreader is just looking to correct errors introduced earlier in the process.

Writing coaching is the process of helping the writer set and meet their writing goals. It can include all of the above level of edits, but what makes it unlike editing is that writing coaching involves helping the writer with their creative process itself rather than just the writing.

Budget and Time Frame

When do you need the manuscript returned to you? Is it ready to go today or are you halfway through and want to set something up for a few months from now to give yourself a deadline?

How much money do you have to spend on an edit? I live and die by the Editorial Freelancer Association’s chart of common rates. Editors will often ask for a certain amount of money up front and the rest upon completion of the project. For longer projects editors might want to be paid weekly, biweekly, or monthly.

Be direct (and polite, of course) about both your budget and your time frame. (And pay your editor promptly. We editors like to eat too.)

Editing Style

This is the less concrete part of your negotiations. Each editor has a slightly different set of interests and approaches. Each writer has different styles and needs. A successful editor/writer relationship needs compatible styles. Sometimes people are perfectly good writers and editors, their styles just don’t mesh. And there is nothing wrong with that; it’s just something one should find out earlier rather than later.

You can always ask an editor to talk about their editing practice and approach. Also think about what approaches have worked well for you in the past. Haven’t been edited before? Think back to other collaborative and teaching experiences. What works for you and what doesn’t?

The best way to figure this out is to ask for a sample edit. (This is more common with larger projects.) Some editors (such as myself) will edit 2 pages or so for free. Others will give you a sample edit for a small charge. Either way, this is a great way for the writer to figure out if they like the editor’s approach and the editor to figure out if the writer is receptive to what the editor says. It also helps the editor set a more accurate estimate on the final project.

What do you ask when first contacting an editor?

(Image from https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/help-tools/proofreading-marks.html)

 

Uncategorized

Marie Curie’s Kitchen

At some point (maybe around 2010 or so), I read Obsessive Genius by Barbara Goldsmith, and it changed my writing life. This was a book not just about Marie Curie’s accomplishments, it was also about how a poor Polish woman became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. There was all the domestic detail a nosy writer could ask for about how she managed her life and her work.

The personal lives of scientists became my new interest. How did one woman become a successful scientist in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, while another woman became merely a woman who knew more about science than her peers? It was place, education, and encouragement. It was class, ambition, and personality. It was all fascinating.

“Marie Curie’s Kitchen” began its life as an idea. I was in the early twenty-first century still trying to kill the Angel in the House, Virginia Woolf’s specter of domesticity. I had a sink full of dirty dishes and poems to write. What did Marie Curie’s kitchen look like? was my rebellious thought.

The idea became a poem, and then a few years later it became prose. My friend encouraged me to submit a piece to Flashback Fiction, a journal of historical flash fiction. It never occurred to me that I could write fiction. However, a slightly fictional interpretation of real-life events I thought I could manage. Evidently the editors thought so too. Today you can read “Marie Curie’s Kitchen” up at Flashback Fiction.

What’s your favorite personal detail about a historical figure?

 

 

 

Writing

How To Develop A Sustainable Writing Practice

I once had a workshop teacher who would light a candle in the beginning of each class in order to “invoke the muse.” I secretly rolled my eyes, thinking it was hokey. A year later, I found myself making tea in a china pot, taking it to my desk, and making myself stay and write until the tea got cold.

My teacher was right. Sometimes we need something external to signal that we are taking time from our daily life to write. (A door that closes and locks is another one that comes to mind.) Lots of people want to write, but what makes a writer is the ability to establish a practice and get their work done.

This is where sustainability comes in. It’s a buzz word, sure, but “long-ass haul” doesn’t have the same professional sound. You want to develop a practice that keeps you writing, not one that burns you out. I had a friend who said she was going to walk five miles every day. If she missed a day, she’d walk ten the next. This is not a sustainable practice, and she did not sustain it.

Ignore all Advice That Is Not Useful to You

Sure, one person might write only in the library, and another meditates before an hour of writing. Standing desk, timers, waking up at 3 am, in the car at your kid’s soccer practice. There are a thousand stories of how people get writing done. The only one you need is the one that works for you. Not the romantic image that you would like to be part of, but the actual system that will keep you writing in the middle of the summer and in the middle of the winter, when you have company or when the other members of your household are away.

Don’t know what works for you? Try a new approach every week. Figure out what works best for you, and stick to it.

There Is No Magic

Sorry. The fickle fairy, the muse, creativity blessing you and abandoning you in turn is a myth. Writing begets more writing. Reading begets writing. Write on a regular basis (whether that’s every day or a few times a week) and you will almost always be able to write something. Major life events do mess up your access to your writing brain, but be patient, it will pass. If grad school taught me one thing, it’s that I can sit down and write a decent poem draft in two hours given enough caffeine and pressure when I’m “in shape,” that is, writing regularly.

Not in shape? Start slow. Do low-stakes writing, like keeping a journal. Do writing exercises. Work your way up to a short story, essay, poem, or—lord help you—a book. Write a blog or a letter to a friend. During my last move I made up soap opera versions of my daily life to regale a friend. Moving was stressful, and that was all the writing I did on those days. But it was funny and creative. It was better than nothing.

How do you keep writing?

 

 

 

Writing, Writing Residencies

Should I Go To A Writing Residency?

Yes. Next question?

Oh, you wanted more? Writing residencies are one of the best things that ever happened to my writing. The other is Scrivener and possibly my MFA program. And perhaps a series of life events that I did not enjoy, but that gave me something to write about.

What Is A Writing Residency?

An official writing residency (as opposed to a DIY writing residency, which is also awesome and worth doing) is a place you apply to go stay for a certain period of time to write. They range from opulent to rustic, sometimes they provide food, other times they only provide kitchens. Size, expense, location, and number of coresidents all vary wildly.

Why Should I Go To A Writing Residency?

Yes, you can write at home or the library. But do you? Writing residencies offer a block of time where your only responsibility is to write (although your coresidents would probably appreciate it if you cleaned up after yourself in the kitchen as well). You have your own space, usually with a bed and a desk, at the very least. Often there is a common area and interesting places to explore and get your mind out of its ordinary patterns.

Residencies are a gift. For those of us who squeeze our writing around work and other responsibilities, the time is magical. You have days that you structure entirely based on your writing needs. You have time to write AND read. You can go into depth in your work in a way that you can’t when you snatch an hour at a time from your daily life.

What Should I Consider When Choosing A Residency?

Think long and hard about what you need to write.

Cost: Can you afford to pay for a residency? Are there scholarships? (Often yes.) Can you afford to get to the residency? Do you need a stipend? (Sometimes there are stipends!) Can you afford to feed yourself while you’re there?

Setting: Be brutally honest with yourself. Will you like living in a cabin in the woods or will it freak you out? What is your relationship with spiders? If you go to a residency in a foreign country, will you write or will you gad about? (No judgment.) Do you need to be in an isolated place so you sit your butt in the chair and write? Do you need the Internet? Do you need to be in walking/driving distance of a grocery store, urban center, national park, or coffeeshop? Can you haul firewood? What creature comforts can you not do without?

Food: Would you benefit from being fed at specific times or would you resent having to stop work and go to dinner? Do you want to talk to other people? Do you hate to cook? I have never been to a catered residency (I hear they’re great), but I’ve got a pretty good repertoire of bachelor dinners and don’t mind PB&J on a regular basis.

Level of Sociability: Do you like people? Do you like talking about writing? Do you want to avoid all humans and just get your work done? Do you secretly long for a glass of wine at the end of your writing day and conversation with other writers? In my experience, there is a lot of drinking at writing residencies. I’ve never seen anyone be intolerant of nondrinkers, but if drinking makes you uncomfortable, plan accordingly. I’ve had so many amazing conversations with coresidents at my various residencies, and I have some strong friendships as well. But I also have a couple eye-rolling crazy stories. Fortunately, the good outweighed the bad.

Your Level of Resiliency: How do you feel about solitude? Can you be somewhat alone with your writing for the length of your residency? The running joke is that you’re not allowed to knock on other writers’ studio doors during the day at Yaddo, because the writer is either napping or crying. It’s funny because it’s true. I have napped and cried, despaired and rejoiced at every single residency I’ve been to. Can you deal with the challenge of writing every day and the intensity that comes with it?

Where Do I Find One of these Magical Things?

Poets and Writers and the Alliance of Artists Communities

What is your experience at writing residencies?

(Photo: the porch at Woodstock’s Byrdcliffe Residency; I recommend the residency, but see above point re spiders.)

Writing

The Cliche as an Opportunity

I was at a bad poetry reading—the kind of reading where the architectural details of the room are more interesting than the poems themselves. I focused on keeping the “politely interested” look fixed to my face. But my concentration was broken when one of the poets intoned, “the tulips were yellow as the sun.”

I don’t need to tell you, dear reader, that this is a cliché. The purpose of poetry is to see things in a new way, not to repeat childish clichés and tired imagery. But not only was the image uninteresting, it was incorrect. The Sun is a yellow dwarf star, but rarely appears to be the color of a tulip. In fact, most of us look at it directly only when it is shrouded in haze and has taken on a dark orange glow.

I don’t mean to shame this poet. We’ve all written boring lines and come to obvious conclusions. It’s part of the writing process! But this is where revision becomes important. Look for places where your writing relies on other people’s phrases. I don’t mean plagiarism, but rather descriptions that are encoded in our language. Some examples are a cozy village, a feisty heroine, sleeping like the dead, being cool as a cucumber, lost in the weeds, coming down the pipeline, time heals all wounds. Clichés have their place in the language, but not in literature.

I told an undergraduate intro to poetry class about my bad poetry reading, where the tulip was yellow as the sun.

“Tell me something about the sun,” I said.

“It’s a star,” one student said.

“What’s it made out of?”

“Helium?” a student ventured.

“What color is helium?” I asked.

“I think it’s odorless and colorless,” she responded.

“What color is the sun?”

“Orange?”

“How often do you look at that the sun?”

“Hopefully not very often.”

“Exactly. The sun is made up of colorless gases and we can’t look at it straight on. It is hot and dense enough that nuclear fusion occurs at its core. The Parker Solar Probe is heading there now, where it will come as close as anything can to ‘touch’ the gaseous sun. All of those things are more interesting than the fact that the tulip was yellow as the sun.” The class agreed. Sometimes it’s good for students to have something to superior about.

Don’t beat yourself up (cliche) for writing a cliche. Instead, think about how to make the image more specific. A cliche is an opportunity to make your writing more interesting. Do you need some inspiration? Here is a poem by Margaret Atwood (please ignore the crap line spacing):

You fit into me

like a hook into an eye

 

a fish hook

an open eye

 

(Photo credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben)

 

 

 

 

Writing

Eyes Closed

I prepared to teach a nature poetry workshop at a local yoga studio, but it was cancelled. As a result, I have a bunch of poetry exercises floating around in my head. These can be adapted to any kind of writing as well. I think I inflicted one of them on my students a few years ago.

First Exercise: Go outside. Close your eyes. How do you know it’s spring?

This one is easy for me now that I’ve moved to Vermont and have a backyard that borders a field, a forest, and a stream. I’ve got birds trying to nest on a tin roof. Blue jays are fighting each other for resources. At night, I can hear peepers. The air does not hurt my face. It smelled like manure last weekend when the guy across the stream plowed his field.

Second Exercise: What did your house growing up/your friend’s house/your first apartment (insert dwelling of the past) smell like? What are the nonvisual reminders that you have arrived to a particular place?

My college town smelled like the cereal factory and my hometown smells like greenery. The train wailed at each of the many crossings going through my college town, and I know I’ve pulled into my own driveway in Vermont when I hear the blackbirds kicking up a fuss. The house I grew up in smelled like cool ash on summer mornings, and one house I lived in sometimes smelled like low tide. The ducks and gulls were deafening.

Close your eyes. How do you know you are where you are?

Memoir, Uncategorized

Dad Jokes

There is a joke my father used to love to tell.

There’s an astronomer, a mathematician, and an engineer walking through a field in Scotland. They see a black sheep on a hill in front of them. The astronomer looks at the sheep and declares, “I conclude there are many black sheep in all of Scotland.” The mathematician shakes his head disapprovingly and says, “I conclude there is at least one black sheep in all of Scotland.” The engineer shakes her head and says, “I conclude that the sheep is black on the side facing us.”

When I was a kid, he explained it to me, and I didn’t get it. In my twenties, I got it, but didn’t think it was funny. Now, I both get it and think it’s funny.

The engineer can only swear to that which she can verify for sure. You don’t want to build a bridge assuming the pilings are thick enough. You want to measure, design, and plan to be sure. This is how copyeditors look at the words they are paid to edit. Is there a period there? There should be a period there. But is it actually there? Would you bet your paycheck on it?

All day I read scientific papers that might as well had been in a foreign language for all I understand them. This lack of comprehension means there is nothing to distract me from how these sentences are constructed. Eventually I become familiar with the vocabulary and although I do not know what the words mean, I learn what part of speech they are, how they tend to be used in a sentence and how they fit together. I am a structural engineer of language.

Do you think the joke is funny?