Tag Archives: reading

People Pleasing, and why I won’t do it

To start with, I have never been a fan of being a “people pleaser.” Catering to the desires of others – especially desires of what they think I should be, do, or say – has never appealed to me on any level. It’s fake. It’s awful. It’s atrocious. I am who I am, and no one can change that. What does this have to do with writing? Let me open a few cans of worms.

1. I can’t stand the idea of writing to reach a specific audience. Will young millenials – a term I utterly despise – sit themselves down long enough to enjoy anything I write? To quote whatshisname from Gone with the Wind, “Quite frankly… I don’t give a damn.”* I don’t write for anyone in particular. I just write, because I can’t not write.

2. Writing contests make my skin crawl. I like the idea of getting money for writing, but I turn into a Nervous Nelly at the thought of the requirements. Wordcount limits, required subject matter, etc., and then there’s the possibility that I might not have rights to the piece after they get ahold of it… I’ll put it this way – Most of what I write feels like a child I’ve raised from birth. If I no longer have the rights to do with it what I please (even a short piece), it limits me considerably. Oftentimes, short excerpts that have nothing to do with anything else sneak their way into longer writings – usually months or even years down the road (and, in some cases, decades).

3. I hate unsolicited line edits. Yes, I hate them. Receiving them is like dressing up in something really pretty, then having someone point out a zit on your face. I know my work is not perfect. If I want deep criticism and word choice advice, I’ll ask for it. In the meantime, get over it. Of course, if I have something utterly silly like “the the” in there, please point it out.

4. My characters are who they are. I don’t necessarily control them. They will fly off the handle, say off the wall stuff, chase after squirrels,** and get flustered when they have to walk through a room full of spiderwebs. I can try to change who they are and what they do, but when I do that, it brings about the biggest writers’ blocks I’ve ever had to deal with.

5. I don’t care about tropes or about avoiding them. If I tried to make sure I wasn’t writing something that had already been written before, I’d be lying to myself. As Solomon once wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Until you get this, you will forever be looking over your shoulder for the Trope Police. Just write the thing. Worry about originality later –– much later.

6. Never ask me to write anything specific. Just don’t. It’s another pet peeve, another writing block, etc. Also, do not ask me to copy anyone else in any way, shape, or form. I will glare at you, and possibly write you into one of my stories –– which could be good or bad.

7. Don’t be surprised if you ask me what I’m writing and I don’t have an answer. I should, I know, but I often have no way to put it into coherent language. I just write. Period.

8. Please, please, please don’t try to “ship” any of my characters (aka – hook them up). I will immediately stop sharing my writing with you, or kill one of them off just to spite you. Seriously. Just don’t do it. It’s tacky and annoying. Keep your shipping suggestions to yourself, and everyone will stay happy. Who knows? I might already have plans for it, and just don’t want you to know.***

9. I follow the characters I choose to follow (or rather, the ones who drag me into their lives). Some of the others just don’t open up to me. If you have issue with that, I’m not apologizing. You’re not writing the story –– I am.

10. I don’t care what Freud or any other psychologist, phsychotherapist, etc., has to say about this behaviour or that. Don’t get too analytical. It totally turns me off. And remember: There is no way I’d ever take Freud seriously. Ever.

All that to say: Don’t crimp my style, and let your criticism be truly constructive. Drop all expectations, and get to know my work before you rip it to shreds –– and I will do the same for you, should you trust me to read your writing. I will find as much good in it as I can. It is, after all, like your own child. You can’t say to a mother, “Your child is ugly.”**** It’s just plain rude.

Thanks for letting me get all that off my chest… Hope I didn’t scare you off. 😉

*Probably the only detail from that film that I actually loved. Apologies to anyone who loves that movie – it’s simply not my favorite.

**This only happened once in my writing, and there were mitigating circumstances.

***There is one exception to this: If you are my writing buddy, and have read a substantial amount of my work, you are allowed to make such suggestions. Otherwise, don’t bother.

****I mean, you can, but I don’t recommend it.

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Different Species of Critics…

I hate to admit this, but critics are a valuable resource to anyone in the midst of the writing and editing process. There’s a few different types, and I’ll list the least helpful first:

1. The Yes-Men: These people will read anything and say it’s awesome. At least, it seems that way. They might think they’re helping by encouraging the writer, but without offering any more than a general compliment, a yes-man is not getting into the nitty gritty details that are needed to fine-tune a work.

2. The Haters: Haters are gonna’ hate. It’s a fact. Some folks just want to make everyone miserable, and they’ll say stupid things to push your buttons. Statements like, “This is crap,” or “You suck,” really don’t go deep enough to explain whether the reader is simply being an ignoramus (I love that word), or if they honestly believe that what they’ve just typed is true. Different writers might react to such comments in different ways, but I figure that if my writing has caused a strong reaction, then I must be doing something right… I hope.

3. The Grammar/Spelling Nazis: No one is perfect. Even the grammar and spelling Nazis aren’t perfect (though they won’t always admit it –– and I know because I can be one). I’d like to think that my spelling, at the least, is perfect, but it’s not. I have weaknesses –– terrible ones. My grammar? Ha… right. As much as I appreciate the effort to perfect my spelling and grammar, such things are details that I would ask specific people to address during a later draft. Suppress that inner Grammar/Spelling Nazi!!! However, if I am ever so atrocious with said details that you feel that you’ll go blind from trying to read it, please print out my writings and send them back to me with red pen marks and notes all over them…

4. The Romantics: I run from writing romance. I’ll be honest. It is awkward. It is cliché. It is ridiculous. Yes, I do give in sometimes, but… I try to avoid it. However, now and again, there will be the reader who suggests a pairing, and I cringe in the same way that I would cringe if fingernails were scratched across a chalkboard. Does it have its place? Absolutely. Am I going to force it? No.

5. Anti-Tragedy Readers: Hear me out. I am not necessarily a writer of tragedies, but I do put my characters through hell (Just ask Feann, from Perseverance). If you don’t like it, read a different book. Life is not fair, and my characters are fully aware of that fact…

6. True Critics: These are folks who generally read quite a bit and ask all of the right questions. Things like, “Why on earth did _____ do that?!” or “What about the _____?” or “Who is _____?!” or “I’d like to hear more about _____.” Even comments like, “_____ really acted out of character in that scene.” or “I like how _____ said this.” can be beneficial. Reactions, questions, advice, etc. These are the tools with which a writer can learn exactly how to tweak things to make the story read smoothly and have deeper meaning to the reader.

So the next time you are asked to critique my writing (I can’t vouch for anyone else), here’s my request: Tell me what you like, and then be completely honest with what could be better –– even the enormous plot details. Don’t hold back! I might not go with everything that you say, but I will consider it. Most likely, I will be very happy to have a challenge to work with. Otherwise, the editing process grows stale, and I get ready to throw in the towel… and we don’t want that, now, do we?

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Filed under How To Edit, Writing Advice

The Editing Begins: How To Help Others

Computers in the 90s vs the 10s
Do you ever have one of those days where you just feel like you’re fighting against your computer? I did today. Allow me to share this amusing graphic I created to express my frustration.

More to the topic at hand: National Novel Writing Month has ended. Perhaps you managed to crank out 50k words. Perhaps fewer than that, or maybe thousands more. Whatever your results of NaNoWriMo 2012, you are probably feeling burned out. I know that I have been. I managed 50,320 words on November 29th, and I have only managed to add 16 more words since that point, despite sitting down several times at the computer and saying “okay, I’m going to write now.” What happened?

I do hope that I’ll be able to snap back into the writing spirit soon, as my 50k words hasn’t quite wrapped up the story that I’m trying to tell. I can bring you more details on my story at a later date (can you believe that I still haven’t worked out a title for it?), but one of the things that I have found to be most helpful in getting myself pumped up about what I’m writing is to have other read it. Whether it’s a large group of people reading an excerpt, or a trusted friend slashing away with the red editor’s pen, knowing that my work is being experienced by other people always gets me excited to work harder on my story, whether that’s writing new content or simply editing what’s already there.

In December, I can image that good readers and editors will be in high demand, since oodles of sloppy prose have been produced. What does it take to be a good editor, though? Here are a few tips I’ve come up with during my time as a writer.

  1. Understand Your Author’s Style and Tone

    If you are a writer, I’m sure you have a personal style (even if it’s a crummy one). It is probably different than the style of the author you are editing for. This is fine. Perhaps your author friend enjoys the use of the semi-colon; she derives great joy from scattering them liberally. You, on the other hand—oh, you, you sly scoundrel—prefer copious helpings of em-dashes. These are not problems. You don’t need to strike them up with the red pen just because you think that one would be “superior” to the other in this situation. Obviously, if the punctuation is used incorrectly, then you ought to say something. But many things are a matter of style, and just because Strunk and White tell you that something ought to be one way does not mean that your author necessarily must agree. For example, perhaps they are of the Charles Dickens school of comma usage, or perhaps they take great joy in verbing nouns. You will need to come to grips with this early on, in order to avoid unnecessarily needling your author. It also helps to understand the type of writing your author is aiming for. Obviously the appropriate tone in a Danielle Steel-style bodice-ripper is going to be dramatically different than a biography of an American president (other than Clinton).

  2. Don’t Be Afraid to Question

    Often times, we try to be generous to writers. We assume that we understand what the hell they are talking about, and if we need to read a sentence or a paragraph three or four times in order to get it, we do that. After all, we’re decent people, and sometimes we’re less than clear ourselves. But this is not the time to be generous. If you don’t understand something, now is absolutely the time to say it. I mean, if you had to reread the sentence three times because you were trying to edit drunk (don’t do this), then it’s your fault. But be sure to point out anything that seems confusing. It’s plenty easy to have extraneous sentences sneak in (or slip out), particularly when you’re writing at NaNo speeds. Did a character just go from eating to running down the street? Did day turn to night and back again in the course of a conversation? These things happen. You need to point them out to us. Sure, we’ll be embarrassed, but not as much as we would be if we submitted that kind of crap to a publishing company.

  3. Use the Technology Available to You

    This is more a personal thing than the others, but there are so many great collaboration tools out there today, and so we ought to use them. In particular, I’m big fan of Google Docs. Even using the Track Changes and Comments features of Microsoft Word is great. I like to write comments on things while I’m reading, because it provides my author with my initial impression when I read her material. I find this particularly valuable advice, because it’s what I want to receive myself. This isn’t to say that some “final thoughts” aren’t also a good idea. Often we feel differently about something after we’ve read it than we did while we were in the process of reading. There’s no right or wrong with this, though. Just make sure that you discuss it with your author and make sure that you’re both happy with the way that you are providing feedback. (An Aside: As an author, I let my editors pick their preference for this sort of thing, as they’re the ones doing me a favour my reading my unfinished crap.)

It’s hard to believe how quickly the end of the year is approaching. But it is exciting to know that already, I’ve done more this year as an author than I ever have before. Tune back in on Monday when I’ll talk about something. Probably more on editing, and perhaps a bit on style.

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Filed under How To Edit, Writing Advice