Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Editing’ Category

Editing as Torture (it can happen, even for editors!)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Self-Editing, Writing, Writing Advice on June 14, 2020 at 11:00 am

Editing is like getting rid of weeds in a field. Even beautiful sentences like the puff of seeds pictured here need to be cut if they do not belong in the story.

Editing for editors on occasion can be torture—not when it’s someone else’s work but when it’s your own.

Why? The work seems ready when it’s written and edited a few times, but really it isn’t. What it may need is content and developmental editing in the case of fiction, or editing for major elements like pacing and tension, character and plot arcs, and setting, atmosphere, world building, dialog and repetition in scenic elements and description.

Or if it’s nonfiction or an article, the content may not be well organized, go off topic or lack transitions.

I’m editing a novel I wrote 15 years ago, “A Bar Girl’s Starry Nights,” about a cocktail waitress and an older gentleman who become friends and help each go through the Twelve Steps. I’d set it aside and wrote other books, thinking, “Oh, it’s cute. It’s my first one.”

I want to self-publish, but I’m close to having my two key projects getting agents (but not quite yet!), so I went back to it and saw I’d made many of the mistakes I’d learned to avoid or fix after the fact.

Being “Objective” in Self-Editing

It had taken experience and working as an editor to be able to be a somewhat objective editor of my own work. I read it like a reader and had forgotten what had happened and while editing, pretended it was written by someone else. I could do that, because I wrote it a long time ago, though I still will need an editor, because as many editors say, you cannot edit your own work and catch all the mistakes.

One fellow editor said some writers are pretty good at editing their own work. They can edit in steps, separating out the different elements, such as editing for pacing, marking the areas where they stop paying attention or want more detail. They can work with beta readers and writers groups to get even more feedback for revision.

While editing my novel, I saw that the first five chapters were back story with a tiny bit of plot, and I thought, this is horrible! I cut 6,800 words in the first 50 pages and first nine chapters. I wondered if I should stop, but then I thought about all the bad books I read because I have a problem with quitting. So I read.

Identifying Major Problems

I saw other problems, including a prelude that looked like I came from the Victorian era. I tried to emulate Ernest Hemingway and Charles Bukowski, just coming off of my English major high. I had two main characters, but then thought it would be clever to include 30 pages telling the story of a third character—so I removed his point-of-view chapters to turn into a short story companion piece. I over described a few things. I repeated scenic elements and plot points. I overwrote. I had too much dialog, even the silly things like “Yeah, okay.”

My first impression is this lacks tension, the characters are unlikeable, and the plot is incredibly boring. I even had a character get full description and not mean anything to the plot but only appear in one scene.

Looking Forward to Editing

But then I got to the middle and started looking forward to editing. And by the end, I’d gotten teary-eyed, feeling the big “oh no!” for one of the main characters. I realized, yes, I have something to work with. It will need a few more editing rounds, especially if I want to consider it a novel instead of a novella.

It started at 65,200 words (barely the length of a novel, starting at 50,000 or 60,000 words, depending on the source) and now is a novella at 49,200 words (a novella is about 20,000 to 50,000 words). We’ll see what happens.

Now I’m having fun with the project, because I’m acting as an editor, something all writers need. But then I’ll turn it over to an editor for that final polish.

From Crappy to Great Writing (a sample of the difference editing makes)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on May 3, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Do you ever read a book and wish you could take out your red pens and start marking up all the errors? I did just that with one page from a self-published book on self-publishing.

 

Sometimes writers just want to get their book out and start earning money, and readers love the content.

But readers who notice grammar, mechanics and the like will get caught up in the errors. And if there are too many of them, the writer loses authority. Especially if the writer is self-published.

Writers planning to self-publish or find an agent are advised to hire an editor to not only fix the errors, but to notice things that we, as writers, skip over knowing what we’ve written and believing it all makes sense.

Errors on the Page

I just read a great book about self-publishing, because I’m planning to put a couple of my books on the market. The content of “Kindle Bestseller Publishing: The Proven 4-Week Formula to go from Zero to Bestseller as a first-time Author!,” by Gundi Gabrielle, is great, and I got the tools I need, including how to launch a new book, get great reviews and please Amazon to get even more readers. I learned the steps of submitting a book on Kindle Direct Publishing and what to expect along the way.

In other words, I give this book a great review, because the content is well-organized without over explaining or skipping over anything. But I just got a little tripped up on the grammatical errors—the writer said to hire an editor as part of the self-publishing path, but maybe her editor focused on overall content and not the details.

A Before and After Sample

Here’s a sample of before and after of what good editing can bring to the page (also see above):

BEFORE: Don’t forget to add your book link to the “Review Request” page in the Kindle version and then upload/ publish again.

You will probably have to re-upload your book a few times before launch day, because there are usually corrections, additions, links not working, etc.

Also, add the book link to your website and add reviews as they come in.

Keep building buzz on all your social media, friends, family, colleagues, mailing list, forums, Facebook groups, Reddit threads, Goodreads. Anywhere you can possibly mention your book—Do it!—And spread the excitement!!

You can also add a press release, schedule interviews with relevant newspapers, blogs, podcasts, and local TV stations. Whatever can help spread the word about your book. Guest posts during launch week can also be very powerful as are daily short excerpts on Facebook to let people take part in your bestseller journey.

AFTER: Don’t forget to add your book link to the “Review Request” page in the Kindle version and then upload/ publish it again.

You will probably have to re-upload your book a few times before launch day, because there are usually corrections, additions, and links not working, etc.

Also, add the book link to your website and add reviews as they come in.

Keep building buzz on all of your social media accounts; with friends, family, and colleagues; on your mailing list and forums; in your Facebook groups; in your Reddit threads; and on Goodreads. Anywhere you can possibly mention your book—do it!—and spread the excitement!

You can also add a press release and schedule interviews with relevant newspapers, blogs, podcasts, and local TV stations. (Or it can read as: You can also add a press release, schedule interviews with relevant newspapers, post blogs, upload podcasts, and make appearances on local TV stations.) Whatever can help spread the word about your book. Guest posts during launch week also can be very powerful as well as daily short excerpts on Facebook to let people take part in your bestseller journey.

Great Sentence Structure

The main issue with this page is that the verb tenses and nouns do not align and are inconsistent in the lists presented in the last two paragraphs. Also, one exclamation mark suffices. Otherwise, the writer looks like they are in high school, doing things like putting hearts in place of the dots over the letter “i.” However, the content here is well-informed and obviously well-researched. It just needs a tweak or two.

Why Good Writing Still Matters (and crappy writing loses readers)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on April 19, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Achieving good writing is easier than trying to line up ducks on a snowy, winter day. And here in Colorado, winter extends into spring!

I started reading an article about a topic where I had the opposite opinion of the writer, and after slogging through the first paragraph, I figured I’d get the message in the second paragraph.

Quite frankly, I wanted to learn something and maybe even change my opinion or alter it in some way, since I try to be open-minded.

Stopping in the Middle

I skimmed to the halfway point, then stopped reading, because the writer never got to the point. I’m busy, even stuck indoors during the stay-at-home executive order for the state of Colorado (and other states). I just don’t have the patience for poorly written content—and I’m not alone.

In our fast-paced, fake news, article- and blog-heavy society, we don’t spend the time reading as if studying for a final or needing to absorb the content. It’s click and move on.

Achieving Good Writing

Good writing needs to get to the point right away (this excludes fiction and poetry that’s more about atmosphere and storytelling with the time and space to build plot, character and description). It needs to make apparent the theme or main topic of the subject, covering what you want to say in one to three sentences.

Good writing has a lead in, just like a news article, with a short story or a compelling detail that peaks interest. The reader wants to learn more and reads the second paragraph, or in journalism speak, the graf.

Good writing also has structure, moving from one point to the next with enough details supporting each point but not overly describing or going off on a tangent, or off topic—this loses the reader.

And good writing has transitions, so that paragraphs flow from one to the next.

Losing Bad Writing

The article that annoyed me is lost. I won’t find it again, nor did I get the writer’s intended message, because I clicked and moved on. Good writing that flows moves the writer from point to point, keeping the reader within the text. The reader stays until the end. Start to finish, that’s what you want in article absorption.

Adjusting (albeit reluctantly) to COVID-19

In Adjust and Readjust, COVID-19, COVID-19 Response, Editing, Readjusting, Self-Isolation, Social Distancing, Writing on April 5, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services works in the Murray’s Cheese Department at a Loveland, Colo., King Soopers store for her gig job. Here, she is handing out samples before Kroger temporarily discontinued food demonstrations and sampling in response to COVID-19.

At first I thought the media response to COVID-19 was an overreaction, and then as I read fake and real news, I changed my mind.

I also changed my patterns, though I had no choice with the March 26 executive order to stay-at-home issued in Colorado, where I live.

Not a Joke!

On April Fool’s Day, I went on a walk with my dog, Zoey, and I had a dream the night before—the word that came to mind as I walked in the nice sunshine was “readjust.” The night before, I cut and pasted my dream—I don’t recall the parts that I moved around, but I made changes, or adjustments, to the content. Changing my mind also was an adjustment as is editing—it adjusts a rough draft into polished writing.

On March 13, which was Friday the 13th, I significantly noticed the world was changing in response to coronavirus, though I’d already been reading the articles. That’s the day my gym closed for 13 days—now extended through the end of April. I cried and complained, because I couldn’t live without the gym, where I lifted heavy weights and ran.

Adjust and Readjust

But I adjusted, albeit slowly, and instead of running 30 minutes every other day amped it to 45 minutes a day with Saturdays off. I also brought out my weights set—don’t laugh!—of 5, 3 and 2 pounds, plus wrist weights of 1.5 pounds. I was in a lot of pain for one week—I have fibromyalgia and cope through daily exercise. I adjusted, at least physically, and saw my pain return to normal as I pretended I was at the gym and did the same exercises with tiny weights.

I also work at a grocery store for my gig job and literally felt shocked at the empty shelves starting in mid-March. The energy from the shoppers felt disjointed, chaotic and fearful. There was an increase in lack of manners, which then returned to caution and politeness with social distancing. And there was a scarcity in a weird list of things—yes, TP, but also potatoes, onions, bread, meat, cheese, yogurt, eggs, other paper products, and um, I don’t get this, bananas.

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The paper products aisle at a Loveland, Colo., King Soopers store is nearly empty March 13, which was Friday the 13th.

I began to store associate isolate, focusing on cleaning—I work in the cheese island—notice the word, “island.” That means I’m in a U-shaped section with tall counters and can focus on my task list, which I self-increased by adding the cleaning duties. I reacted out of fear of catching the virus, staying six feet away from customers, washing my hands for 20 seconds, avoiding touching my face and showering after work, plus separating my work clothes from my other things.

Avoid Self-Isolation

My other job is freelance writing and editing, and I used to work part of my day in a coffee shop. The state limited restaurants and coffee shops to to-go orders, so I isolated at home to do my work under the stay-at-home order. I thought I couldn’t live without a way to get out of the house and be in a busy, social environment, but I adjusted.

And now when it rains, I take out my inside running shoes, and I go for a run—inside. Yep, I make due.

Speaking of which, all the books that I have due at the library aren’t overdue, because, you guessed it, the library’s closed. But words haven’t been cut off—we still have ways to communicate—Zoom, email, text, the telephone. I even wave as I run by my neighbors from that six feet of distance.

Did I mention that I do editing? And that I have room in my schedule for one to two editing projects. I also do writing for individuals and businesses with the content adjusted perfectly to the message.

 

Getting a Book Vision: Brand Editing

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing Tips, Fort Collins Startup Week, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on March 15, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Loveland, Colo., author Harrison Hand signs a copy of one of his books. He spoke about self-publishing and editing during Fort Collins Startup Week in February 2020.

Do writers need editors? Yes. Do they need a brand? Probably. Do they need a why? Most definitely.

When writers start writing, they typically plan out the plot of their book or start with a character or two or a world-building premise. Or they jump right into the writing without a plan. The two types are plotters vs. pantsers.

The Why of Writing

But what about the why of writing? Why do you care about the characters? Why do they care about the story? Why should readers care?

These “why” questions are just a start. They also have to tie into the journalist Ws of who and what, or who are you as a writer and what you want to produce. The Ws are important for the business side of writing, or the branding and marketing of a book or series.

“What is your reason for writing your book? Why should the audience listen to the author?” said Harrison Hand, author or the Skyler Tortuga series, including the latest release, “Secrets of the Dragonfly Dancer,” and owner or The Harrison Hand Studio in Loveland, Colo.

The How of Publishing

Hand spoke about The Why during his one-hour presentation about self-publishing, “How to Publish Your Book for Under $100,” which he gave Feb. 24 during Fort Collins Startup Week in Fort Collins, Colo.

“You are your brand,” Hand said, explaining that building a brand about who you are as a writer and what you create is key to marketing. “Be sure to establish your voice, owning your words and owning your place in creating.”

Voice is part of that branding, alongside the books the writer creates, Hand said.

“The audience cares about both the creator and the creations,” Hand said, explaining that the audience wants to connect with the creator. “Marketing starts with the why; that’s how you connect with people. Why do you have this voice?”

The What of Finding Voice

Writers need to find their own voice, Hand said. He looks at writing differently than many other writers, where he is breaking the rules. He says it the way he wants to say it, he said. He advised once the writing (and hopefully editing) is finished to tie the book to something.

Hand’s Skyler Tortuga series is about bullying, and he wants to empower the next generation of readers to believe in themselves, where young female heroines learn that they can complete themselves without needing a romantic figure. He conducted a heroic reader crowd funding campaign, handing out paid copies of his books to children who are readers—his target is third- to sixth-graders.

Hand found a way to not need an editor by working with early readers, getting feedback and doing his own editing. He recommended jumping into the self-publishing arena before slogging about looking for an agent.

Where to Start

“Start publishing other stuff, get a following, create some buzz and credibility, and then it’s easier to find an agent for your great American novel,” Hand said. “They let the audience determine what’s interesting.”

Writers need to get the branding and marketing in place, or they might get noticed by an agent, but either way, knowing The Why is crucial to finding, keeping and growing voice, style and story.

Are Editors (Really) Necessary?

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Fort Collins Startup Week, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on March 1, 2020 at 8:39 pm

Notebook2

Do writers need to hire an editor to bring out the red pen? Or is better to get a self-published book out to market?

Do writers really need editors? Do they really want all that red ink and those corrections?

A self-published author I encountered at a class on self-publishing during Fort Collins Startup Week said he would never hire an editor. He said in his presentation to an audience of about 25 aspiring authors that he had several readers of his first story and got feedback and was able to publish his book for under $25 (now it’s about $125 with the cost of an ISBN). He also said he was able to make a profit right away.

Editing and Voice

I believe he has a point, but also hiring an editor gives that professional outside perspective to both improve the writing but also the storytelling.

The author said he does his own editing and artwork and looks at writing differently, where he is breaking the rules. He says it the way he wants to say it.

“Writers need to find their own voice,” he said.

I held up my hand and explained how I had good and bad experiences with editors. As a journalist, I worked with editors who changed my lead and my voice, inserting in their own voice, and that I did not consider them to be good editors. I reflected on “the importance of not changing the voice of the author as you are editing a manuscript.”

I also mentioned that editing happens at several levels from structural, or the overall content looking at things like flow and transitions, to the line level, or reading each line for errors in grammar, spelling and mechanics, plus things like word echoes. Both are important.

Why Hire an Editor?

Here are a few other reasons why hiring an editor can be a good idea:

  • Editors are trained to notice the small errors readers may detect but that are hard to find if you aren’t looking for them, such as a comma where there should be a period or the ’re words, such as they’re and you’re vs. their/there and your.
  • Editors memorize style guides and know how to look up things and which sources to use.
  • Editors understand grammar down to the fine details (I see it like the Periodic Table of Elements combined with a dictionary with the rules clearly visible and meaningful).
  • Editors are keen readers. Their minds are constantly editing all day long (which also can be annoying, since it’s a game but also makes reading more chore-like).
  • Editors understand voice and how word choice effects the sound and meaning of language, plus they know how to turn analytic writing into something that’s more conversational or vice versa.

Why Self-Publish?

Lastly, to bring on an editor is a choice. What’s more important is that writers write and look at their creations as something worthy of publishing. It can be a solo project, or there can be a team that includes a graphic designer for the cover and internal layout, an illustrator for the images and, of course, the editor to perfect the overall content.

It’s an investment to hire an editor or any other professional, and as the author/speaker mentioned, it’s more important to get the work out in front of an audience. The audience is the reader, and sometimes they want the story. Now!

Fast and Fun Tips for Editing

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing Tips, Top Editing Tips on February 23, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Editing smooths out the beauty of writing so that what’s ordinary, like this table, becomes even better, such as with the ice pattern on top.

Editing is not easy, and for many, it’s not exactly fun.

It’s never a one-time thing either and often requires a couple of read-throughs. To be the most effective, editing needs at least three rounds: structural, line and proofreading.

Structural

Look through the entire document for the overall structure, or how the information is put together and presented to the reader. Make sure everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.

Line Level

Check for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics; words that are missing or misused; and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy.

Proofreading

Give a final pass to catch the errors not caught in the first analysis and second read-through, since it’s impossible to see every single mistake in a solitary read. This requires a careful, slow read word by word.

As you edit, there are several things to think about.

The Fast and Fun Tips*:

  • Cut the long sentences and use varied sentence lengths and structures; plus, mix in short and long paragraphs.
  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say. This will get you to the essential meaning or intention of what you want to say.
  • Check for sentences that don’t make sense or are too technical or heavy in ideas.
  • Avoid repetition of words, facts and details.
  • Opt for the active voice over the passive voice. For example, say, “The dog ran after the cat,” instead of “The cat was chased by the dog.”
  • Keep verb tenses the same, especially within a sentence.
  • Replace adjectives and adverbs with nouns and verbs.
  • Avoid clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they serve as space fillers.

Lastly:

If looking at sentences or paragraphs is boring to you, hire an editor! Your writing will improve tenfold, and it will be clear, clean and concise. It’s worth the investment of effort, time and resources.

*I provided a series of articles on fast and fun tips, but didn’t get this last one in—I was sidetracked by the holidays and my New Year top tips.

Top 7 Editing Tips for 2020

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Top Editing Tips on January 26, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Editing is a great way to get your geese in a row, such as the geese walking across the ice at the Foote Lagoon in Loveland, Colo.

Good writing only can go so far if there are errors in it—reading it is more difficult, and it’s hard to get the message if attention gets caught on a misplaced comma or a wrong word choice.

That’s where the chore of editing comes in, though it  takes time, precision and repetition.

Editing is best done on multiple levels and in several rounds to be the most effective. That’s because not every error can be caught in a single pass, since there are several things to pay attention to all at once.

What Editing Involves

Editing involves a close read and making large and small-scale changes to the look of the text. The changes are made at the line level, or each line of text, and at the structural level for the overall content with proofreading providing a final review of everything.

At the line level, editing involves fixing sentences and paragraphs for errors in grammar, syntax and mechanics, as well as spelling and punctuation. At the structural level, editing looks at the entire document for organization, structure and intended messaging, as well as transitions, adherence to the main topic and flow from one idea to the next.

To edit in layers, do a first read through for errors in spelling and grammar, words that are missing or misused, and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy. Then ask if there are missing details or areas that need to be cut that give too much description or information. Edit the overall structure to determine if everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.

Top 7 Editing Tips

  • Determine if there are boring parts or parts that are over-explained.
  • Look for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of any inconsistencies in how things are stated and look for any elements that don’t carry through, such as a dropped idea or an incomplete example of the main topic.
  • Vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Get rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they demonstrate a lack of creativity.

One Final Thought

Editing moves a rough draft into a polished product that people will want to read. It gets rid of errors and unnecessary words and descriptions to get to the core or heart of the message.

 

The Best Editing Checklist

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips on February 3, 2019 at 6:00 pm

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Editing is best done in layers to achieve clean and great copy.

Editing isn’t a quick fix of reading over an article, story or novel, making a couple of changes and hitting Publish.

It takes at least a couple of rounds of evaluating the overall content, checking for transitions and gaps in flow, and fixing paragraphs and sentences. It takes looking at the whole and the individual lines to make sure the result is a clean, easy read.

With my own work, I used to edit randomly, reading the text from start to finish over and over, but I found editing involves multiple layers of analysis. My original approach was time consuming and I missed things both at the line level (I’d reread the same things) and in the structure of the beginning, middle and end.

Simplifying the Editing Process

To make the process easier, I compiled an editing checklist to make sure I address the levels of editing, while also breaking the task into smaller parts so it doesn’t seem overwhelming and tiresome. After going through the list, the task is completed, and it’s time to do some more writing.

Editing can be done in any order, but it is best to include a read-through for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics; words that are missing or misused; and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy.

As you edit, ask if there are missing details or areas to be cut that give too much detail or repeat. Also review the entire document for structure, consistency in approach (using the same types of bullets for example) and intended messaging. Make sure everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.

While editing through the various layers, there are more specific things to check, and here is where the editing checklist is great to have on hand.

7 Things to Look for While Editing

  • Determine if there are boring parts or parts that are over-explained.
  • Look for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of inconsistencies in how things are stated and look for any elements that don’t carry through, such as a dropped idea or an incomplete example of the main topic.
  • Vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Avoid clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they serve as space fillers.

Writing without editing is a rough draft and work that is incomplete. Editing helps get the writing to the core and essential components of what you want to say.

Valentine’s Day and a Writing Love

In Editing, Loving Writing, Uncategorized, Writing on February 14, 2018 at 2:00 pm

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Besides writing, Zoey the Cute Dachshund is another of my Valentine’s Day loves!

Valentine’s Day is about declaring your love for someone—or something.

It’s about cards, flowers and candy. But it also can be about other loves— a hobby, a passion or a job.

For me, my love is writing, and a close second is editing.

Here are a few things to love about writing:

  • Writing is a way to figure out what you really think or feel about something.
  • It’s a way to be creative.
  • It’s a way to play around with words and language.
  • It’s a way to improve your understanding of words and how to be concise with language and how to effectively get message across.
  • It’s a way to express yourself, using your intelligent and creative minds at the same time.
  • It’s a way to make connections with text, memory or experiences that you might not otherwise make by thinking or talking.
  • It’s a way to tell stories and disappear into another world, where you don’t see the page and can’t tell you’re writing.
  • It’s a way to be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do, going places and doing things you might not do otherwise.
  • And it’s interesting to find out what it is you created after spending a few minutes or hours on a story or essay. It’s a process of discovery.

Writing is an accomplishment:

Lastly, it gives you a sense of accomplishment after completing a story, meeting a word or time goal and finishing a novel or other large project.

In essence, it’s reciprocal, just like love, because you give your words and you get back a product, starting in rough draft form. But as you get to know each other even more, you develop a relationship, turning something rough into your perfect match.