This week’s Writer’s Tips comes from a Canadian writer who has guest blogged here before. Last time he spoke about the importance of speaking up. You can read that post here.
I first met him at the Saints and Sinners Festival in New Orleans, but due to my jet lag I didn’t get to socialise as much as I would have liked with my fellow writers. It’s a mistake I won’t make next time even if my eyes are struggling to stay awake.
Here are Nathan’s tips.
I recently sent in a manuscript for a novel, and the last steps involved something I’ve started to think of as my “Foible List.”
If you’ve ever been edited, you’ll know the slightly embarrassing realisations that come with the process. My very first short story, Heart, came back with a note about adverbs (I’m sure we’ve all gotten that note) and though I didn’t know it at the time, my “Foible List” had just begun.
The next short story I sent off? Before I sent it, I took a moment to re-read the story specifically looking for those adverbs. They were there. Even though I’d known it, they’d snuck right past my fingertips and onto the page. I removed most of them, and sent off the story.
I think with that story, I got my first knuckle-wrap for using the word “asked” when the dialog make it perfectly clear there was a question being asked. I made a note—a physical one, not a mental one—and then remembered the adverb thing and wrote it down, too.
The Foible List: a bunch of things to check before I send in my final copy.
Since then, I’ve added a lot of things to my list. Some of them have become a bit of an in-joke with my editors and fellow author friends.
For example? My characters smile like idiots and nod like bobbleheads. I was in a group workshop in New Orleans when this was brought to my attention, and it brought a welcome levity to the whole group (there’s nothing quite like having one of your idols compare your characters to “bobbleheads” by the way) and we had a good laugh.
In my first drafts you’d swear they had springs in their necks and had been sucking on happy gas. The smile-and-nod hunt is one of the first things I do now when I’m done a first run through a piece.
If you create your own Foible List, you’re making your writing better and doing your editors a favor (always a good idea). And it’s fun when you realise you’ve searched a draft and finally not found one of your old bad habits there. My most recent novel’s draft had almost no nodding whatsoever. I was really, really pleased.
Then I found over a hundred smiles.
You win some, you lose some.
Your Foible List will be your own, but there are three things on my list that I think more of as advice that could apply to every writer.
Follow the Rules.
This seems basic, but especially in my first love—short fiction—I’ve heard so many editors talk about the number of submissions they receive that don’t follow the guidelines from the call for submission. Twelve point Times New Roman font might not be your favorite font, but before you send it in, follow the rules. Anything you can do to make your editor’s life easier is something you should do, and here’s the thing: what’s the message you send when you don’t follow the basic rules set up in the submission call? You’re saying ‘I don’t follow rules,’ or ‘I didn’t bother to read the instructions.’ What would you expect someone who didn’t follow the guidelines to be like if you offered critique or editing notes?
Basically? Treat the submission guidelines line a job interview. You wouldn’t show up dressed inappropriately, or without your resume, or with a cup of coffee and your slippers, right?
Read it Out Loud.
I find so many mistakes, repetitions, and just plain awkward moments when I read pieces out loud. I may look like an idiot walking around my house reading my book to my dog (who often walks away while I’m reading it—he’s a tough audience) but sometimes I notice he pays attention when I’m reading something I feel confident in, and so, yeah. Coach the Husky sometimes offers his seal of approval.
This is even more important if you’re planning to do a reading, or if you’re thinking of releasing an audiobook. On the page is different from out loud, and the two can inform each other with great effect.
Line Edit Backwards.
If you’re like me, when you get to the line edit stage, you end up realising, over and over again, that you’ve stopped line editing and started reading. Line editing is tedious, and when you’re hunting for those last few typos it’s easy to lose focus and just read your prose.
So, along with reading it out loud, I learned another tip from a fellow author: start at the end, and go backwards. Line by line, backwards. I’m much less likely to get lost in the flow of the story, and I find my brain doesn’t substitute in correct words where the wrong words are written.
I hope you find those helpful. And hey, by all means, share your own Foibles.
“He raised his hands to an imaginary god” is one of my Foibles, Nathan. And I use too many similes. My intuition told me I should go through my unpublished work at the end of last year, and sure enough, I saw many repeated in different novels.
I also read aloud, but I do it before I start my writing day. I go over the last chapter completed to make sure it all sounds perfect. Of course, by the time the next self-edit happens, nothing is always perfect.
Thanks Nathan for your advice. To get to know this author, visit his blog. I just did and learnt about Great Jones Street, which is what I like about his blog. There’s always an update on what he’s been up to and as a writer, what to keep an eye out for.
Next week another guest who’s guest blogged for me before, Christian Baines.