My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Monday, July 22, 2019

Moving Some Stuff Around (Personal Update)

I mentioned my really sweet schedule on Monday, but what I didn't mention (and forgot myself because I have a tendency to run full speed into the brick wall of my own ambitions) is that I still have the last of my pet sitting jobs to finish up.

I'm hanging out with a dog three days a week. That's a nice long walk (to help this 60 pounds of ripcord muscle good boy burn through some of his remnant puppy energy) and then some hanging out just to give it a little less time alone while one of its humans is out of town. He's a good boy, but the walks are about an hour, the hang outs usually an hour more, the drive out to south Oakland and back about an hour (Oakland is weirdly huge and you can easily drive 30 minutes from Oakland and still be in Oakland).

And this is three days a week. I can double dip a bit by writing during the "hang out" time, but I'm doing that thing I do where I pretend that quick jobs with drive times don't add up.

I'm also doing a pet sitting job (my last job) this week. That's got a dog who needs walking and a whole system of pet feeding that goes down twice a day.

This is just to say that since I'm trying to be better about this overworking stuff, and even though I can bring a great posting schedule to bear because of my current nanny schedule, I have to admit that I can't do the new schedule AND the old one concurrently. In order to try and keep this next week under 70 hours, I'm going to take it a little easy this week (and next).

So this is all I'm doing for today, and I'm taking Thursday off. There's still plenty of good stuff planned. 

There isn't much didactic wisdom I can drill out of this announcement, and I know that if I counted all the readers who give a crap about my posting schedule as anything more than a reminder that even working writers struggle to find their writing time, I wouldn't have to take off my socks to count them, but I will say this:

(And it is a paradox and annoying as fuck.)

I think part of the reason I make money from creative writing is, in part, because I am brutal about my self-expectations. And from what I've seen of other working writers, that is part of the cocktail of what makes a working writer. The ONE thing I see professional artists have in common over and over and over and over again is that they're driven. Maybe even just a bit more than fits into a good work/life balance.

I meet a lot of people who want to know the magic of paying the bills with writing (the side gigs are to have health insurance and brand name peanut butter). "How do you accomplish this sorcery??!??" they demand. But when I tell them to try their level best to write every day, they act like I've gone off the rails. Then they scratch their heads the next time my career bounces forward, and demand again to know how I've pulled it off.

I am always trying to walk that tightrope between the fact that I will be less productive if I'm overworked, overtired, or overextended, and the fact that I don't think I would be doing as well if gave myself permission to stop writing every time I worked a sixty-hour week, had to come home after a long day and do some writing, or took a break at the first hint of overwhelmed.

Like any athlete or artist or anyone who is professional in a world where most are hobbyists and largely unpaid, pushing oneself to be better is forever a decision to ignore the little voice that says to just take a break and instead be just a little bit "extra."

I want you all to be the best YOU you can be, and if that means realizing that you love writing, but not enough to give up free time, video games, Netflix, a social life, or to do whatever it takes to wrangle it into a career, go be happy and do other things with your life and know that you made a good choice to write when it makes you happy.

And if that means going all in, do it with full knowledge of the sacrifice, but be careful you don't overdo it, and once in a while––JUST ONCE IN A WHILE––go ahead and remember that 15 extra hours of side gigs is a lot even if you don't feel like "just walking a dog" should interrupt your writing or if those 15 hours are deceptively spread out over a week.

And give yourself a damn day off.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Types of Editing (Basics)

[Note: everything in brackets will disappear in a day or two. It's been a long week and I didn't start out with any articles mapped or outlined, so I've been flinging the whole week in under the wire and then running off to the second job. And while I love my schedule, those are LONG days. I was at 60 hours by the end of Thursday. Since I'm going to be starting a new series soon about the peer review part of writing, I thought it would be a good idea to have a "basics" post about the kinds of editing it in The Very Basics.]  

Not all editing is created equal. And while many newer writers with the ink still drying on their first drafts think the only thing they really need is a quick revision and a careful proofreading, there are actually several levels of editing to go through. Proofing (usually called copyediting) is the last step. Sadly, this is the opposite of what most new writers seem to believe. I actually get an email every week or so that seems certain that if the grammar were perfect, the story would blow the New York Times bestseller list away so hard, they would have to come up with a platinum circle for them, JK Rowling, and God.

*Developmental (or Content) editing 1–5 ms pgs/hr $40–60/hr
*Substantive or line editing 1–6 ms pgs/hr $40–60/hr
Sensitivity reading 1-10 ms pgs/hr $30-60/hr
Basic copyediting (proofreading) 5–10 ms pgs/hr $30–40/hr
Heavy copyediting (proofreading) 2–5 ms pgs/hr $40–50/hr

*This is the kind of editing that your cute and cuddly Writing About Writing blogger Chris sometimes does freelance. Please don't ask about copyediting. It's not pretty. 

I will periodically update these prices.

Of course, even the range of these prices is not comprehensive. Unless you're getting a deal, I'd worry about the skill level of your editor if you're finding something at a substantially lower price than these (say more than $10 less). You might have found one of those amazing deals or someone who hasn't realized what they're worth yet, but it's just as likely the quality of their editing might not be professional. Of course you can find lots of stuff that's more expensive, even WAY more expensive. Everything from services that combine line and copy editing, charge $150/hr (but you get your stuff back by the next day), to writers whose names you might even recognize who will read your stuff (usually for $100-$200/hr or even more) and give you some feedback. (It's not necessarily worth that much more, but you get to say "Author McRecognizablename edited the first part of my book.") Just be careful. If you're paying much more than these prices, there should be a damned good reason, or you might be getting fleeced.

Developmental/Content editing: This is the big stuff. The character arcs that aren't working. The scenes that are redundant or dead air. The problems with pacing. The writing that seems stiff. The confusing setting. The tone that shifts. The dialogue that has no heat. The ham-handed exposition. This is the level of editing where you don't get told to make small changes (these people won't even circle a typo), but rather huge, massive ones. ("I would cut out this whole part. That entire character isn't working. Your story really begins at chapter 3.") It can be TOUGH to hear this about something you poured so much into.

This means this is also the level of editing most writers tend to avoid when they are first starting out and a little convinced that they are sitting on a masterpiece....or at LEAST will never have to do this kind of editing. (Spoiler: We all do.) It is paradoxically the hardest and slowest and most important level of editing to crafting a good piece of fiction.

Fortunately for your pocketbook, a handful of trusted peer review can save you from round after round of developmental/content editing. If you're writing the great American novel, you might want to have a professional take the last pass, but the more you trust your peer reviewer cohort, the more you can exchange your own feedback on their shit for the heavy lifting.

Substantive/Line editing: This is editing that is somewhere between the nuts and bolts of grammar and the lofty craft of fiction. It deals with the skillfulness of the writing itself. It concerns itself with "Is there a better way to word this?" The paragraph structure that is too monotonous. The sentence rhythm that relies on too many multiple clauses and not enough simple sentences for emphasis. The use of too many adverbs. A better word than that one for what you're trying to describe. Making it clearer what the action is, who is talking, or what they are trying to say.

When you change the font to read something with fresh eyes or try to read it out loud to yourself, this is the level at which you are hoping to catch mistakes.

Sensitivity Reading: This level of editing can weave throughout the other levels, even conceivably going into grammar if someone's speech patterns are reflected in their language. This is basically an editing pass for people who want to get their portrayals of typically-marginalized groups right without falling into cliché tropes or harmful stereotypes (even unintentionally). It may possibly point out how badly a work seems to be MISSING any kind of diversity. It is also useful to avoid a this-alien-race-is-a-stand-in-for-this-Earth-culture or the everyone-just-has-white-people-values-in-the-future trope. In an awful lot of "bold" science fiction written by men, for example, the women are still housewives and secretaries. Basically the more axes of privilege someone is on (white, male, cis, het), the more they should consider getting a sensitivity reader if they don't want to have an unintended impact that––post-publication––turns into the kind of criticism they never wanted.

Note: It would be extraordinarily INsensitive to try to get this sort of editing for free. You are literally asking someone to do something called "emotional labor" for you on a grand scale (you can look that up if you want to understand it a little better) People doing uncompensated emotional labor for hours and hours so that privileged folks (like straight white dudes) can understand "What's racist/sexist/homophobic about THAT?" is EXPLICITLY one of the problems of unequal power dynamics in our society. So pay them or barter something WELL worth it, but compensate them for this shit.

Copyediting/Proofreading: This editing gets into the grammar. Word form. Word meaning. Punctuation. Word order in some cases. Verb tenses. All that good gracious shit that you learned the names of in high school and then forgot but probably know better than you think you do if you're reading anywhere near enough to be a writer in the first place. We all make mistakes and a second set of eyes is vital for anything you want to submit. (And as the guy who has gotten more than a few shitty emails about my own grammar mistakes including not a few unkind words as regard to my ability to pass 11th grade, I would recommend it on anything you put out into the world at ALL if you can swing it.)

Copyediting tends to go faster the better copy is when it's received, so someone who has done their due diligence cleaning up their own copy can get several more pages per hour out of a copyeditor than someone who hands them a train wreck. Given that on a novel, this could be over a thousand dollars in editing fees, it's worth learning to clean up your own glaring grammar errors and hope that an editor just catches the few that get past you.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

I Can't Afford A Developmental Editor (Mailbox)

What do you do if you can't afford a content editor but you know you need one?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer questions about once a week.  I will use your first name ONLY, unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. We are back and now it is time to dig into.....dramatic music....The Backlog.]   
Emma asks:

Hey Mr. Chris,

I've only ever weathered peer reviews during a single Creative Writing course way back in high school, and have recently met up against a wall when it comes to polishing drafts on my lonesome.  Editors deserve payment for the professional service they could lend a 100k-200k+ manuscript (which I can't afford just now), and any willing audience can't quite pinpoint when or why a particular chapter can't keep their attention, though technical mistakes are easily resolved with their help.

So far I've applied font swapping to help catch wrong-footed phrasing, and reading out loud to better manage prose and wordflow.  I take breaks when I'm stuck to read some new authors for a refresher, but it feels like we're all suffering from the same 'character-driven' plot anemia, like maybe the introspective nature of writing has left modern storytelling open to a self-centered sort of rambling that can dull thematic impact.

I have a bad habit of skipping over chapters in published works that feel like filler or pointless exposition, like the author could have done with an editor's help - but when my readers express the same, it's always a different chapter per dissent, so.

I have "if you're bored, then you're boring" tattooed on the inside of my eyelids; but any tips for helping the hermits of the craft apply fresh perspective to swerve their own blind spots?  The Google results are too frenetic.

Thanks For Your Time!

My reply:
Have you tried the head itch test? I swear by it. I'm only sort of kidding, but let's get to that in a moment.

[We interrupt your regularly scheduled Mailbox to bring you a quick announcement that Mailbox posts will be returning as a weekly segment (on Thursdays) thanks to our new schedule and the Patrons who made quitting pet sitting possible. As I work my way back through what is truly the most epic of backlogs, with some questions literally going back as far as 2013, and the very realization that statistically speaking, someone out there has DIED waiting for my answer, I will be mixing in both new and old questions. However, if you want to jump from the back to the front of the queue with a question from before that I seem to have forgotten about across the sands of time, just reply to the email or ping me again or whatever it takes to show me that yours is not a new question but an old question that I lost track of, and I will bump it up the list.]

Ah editing. We all need it and it's such a tangled thicket. That mysterious and hard last part of the writing process. This reminds me, I really need to get on with my next series of articles about finding, getting, and giving feedback.

Yeah, Emma, there's a reason the content/development editors move slower and are MORE expensive than proofreaders. It's $50-$80 an hour and you're going to get about 2-5 pages an hour on average.

[By the way, that's the level of freelance editing I do––that and line editing (sometimes called "substantive" editing), which is more what you're getting when you try to change the font or read out loud to catch mistakes. (I'm crap at copyediting; I don't even bother pretending I can do that.)]

There's a lot of sticker shock when you say "My rate is $50 and just your first chapter clocks in at 20 pages so I'm guessing it'll take me around four hours." (And that is at the far low end of both averages--it wouldn't be uncommon to hear more like $80/10 hours, and if you don't think THAT adds up quick.....) People don't even really get developmental editing. They don't understand why it could possibly be that high.

Of course then they keep proofing and proofing their work over and over again and not understanding why it doesn't get published.

Proofreading is vital, of course, but it requires less direct engagement with the text, and understanding a grammar rule is a lot easier than understanding why a character arc isn't gelling with the setting. The first thing you need to do with a text, though, is the big fixes.

I've repaved the stone walkway!
Image description: house that has burnt down
Content (or development) editing is substantially harder than most people realize. They see the big stuff as exactly the shit they're good at, or should be, think their story is genius, and worry most about where the commas go. In reality it should work the other way and the job of a content editor reflects that. As a development/content editor, I read the piece two or three times. I get a real sense of what the writer is trying to say. And then I have to go back to someone whose soul is vested and poured out onto that page to tell them where it didn't work. And while there are some writers who are like "Tie my writing up, and smack it with this flogger, sir," most are like "This is my first time; please be gentle."

I have not yet NOT undercut myself on a freelance content editing gig. Usually it's because I read the thing four times and I'm almost out of allotted time, but I know how much they paid, so I want to offer some substantive written feedback, and I spend extra time on that, ending up running an hour or so over.

I get the "can't afford it thing," and that's where shit gets tricky. I firmly believe people should invest in every level of editing for the art they want to be remarkable. (And that almost certainly includes a sensitivity read as well.) If they just want to write some popcorn books and have a cult following that pays a few bills, maybe they don't have to worry so much about that super professional polish and just get some good peer review and crank the books out one a year. But if they want it to be something special, they've got to get the best editing they can. Although that doesn't necessarily HAVE to be low five figures in cash.

You're onto something in your last paragraph, Emma. You skip over boring parts. So does almost every other reader. But let me ask you this. Have you ever kept reading once things got interesting again? Have you ever thought a book with a boring part was overall good? I can't even remember the middle of Snow Crash where the guy was talking to the computer for huge chunks of text, but the beginning and ending play like an HD movie in my head even 20 years later. Have you ever bought the next book in the series or another by that author? Tad Williams slow bits make me pull my hair out, but I have to know what happens next in Otherland. Having a boring part isn't the end of the world. Lots of books that people love have bricks of exposition, even in the first chapter. *turns and glares right at Dune*

So how do you, a writer who can't afford to hire a professional development editor, find and expunge the most anemic, rambling parts of your own manuscript?

Get it as good as you can before you worry about editing. People who spend ungodly amounts of money on editing start tossing cash at their manuscripts by like the second or third draft. That's too soon. You are basically paying someone for the process of revision (and peer review) when you don't have to be. There's only so much an editor can do. Walk through as much of the process as you can. The further along you hand them something, the better they can make it (and work WITH your vision instead of just teaching you the basics). 

Then I would consider other means of getting that professional editor. Especially if you're talking about a novel. ESPECIALLY if you don't have peer review that is like a cadre of published authors who all have published a novel. You're going to want this to be the best you can. Don't cancel your health insurance or anything, but if there's any other way to save up the few thousand you'd need, I'd consider it an investment into your own writing. I know it's a tough economy and we're all working 37 side gigs to keep the lights on, but if there's any wiggle room in your budget, I'd try to save a little for that. Also do a sample chapter first and DON'T be afraid to fire an editor if you don't like what they're saying or it's not a good fit.

But if pulling down the cash could really never EVER happen, I'd try to work around straight capitalism. Editors are people. Maybe one of them will do an exchange. I've done content editing for home cooked meals, art exchanges, a massage, and even for copyediting help since that's what I'M crap at. I may even have once traded my skills to someone who happened to have some extra ecstasy-inducing party favors sitting around after their trip to Burning Man. Possibly. My point is, they know what they're worth, but you can probably do a deal.

Peer review should be used exhaustively (this is also a trade like above, but you're just always trading the same thing: their feedback for yours). However, even if you hooked up a professional editor, you are right, Emma, that you're going to get different feedback from different people. Their quality varies. Their experience varies. Their interest in what you're trying to do varies. And if you give your work to ten people, you're going to get ten different opinions on what to change.

If all ten of them agree on something, obvi that's a problem spot, but chances are they'll all have different ideas. Billy hates description. Marge hates internal monologue. Cecil hates dialog that isn't snappy. Those are what THEY want, so you have to pick the one who matches what YOU want.

Pick the peer (or peers) you trust. Pick the ones that give you feedback you find helpful. Not nice. Not doting. Not complimentary. Also not ruthless. Not vicious. Not merciless. HELPFUL––and that's not something I can define for you. Pick them and kind of stick to them.

Some people like online writing peer review sites like Scriblophile. Some like their writing groups. Some like their MFA cohort. I keep up with a couple of my old classmates and have a few people I know like my writing but won't be kind if they don't who I look to after I have cleaned something up as much as I can on my own. The main thing is that you, first, pick people whose feedback you trust as not trying to rewrite something they way THEY would, but rather help you be the best you writer you can be, and, secondly, who are on roughly YOUR writing level. An important part of peer review is that they be....well.....peers.

Read something that is the kind of writing you want to be doing right before you edit. I know it sounds weird, but it works. If you want a tight, pounding narrative that doesn't let go, read something for a half an hour by an author you think has done exactly that. Then go look at your own writing. That boring shit will jump out at you. It will leap off the page and grab you by the upper lip. Never did I ever find so much to cut from my character navel gazing as after I had chewed through some Steven Brust before sitting down to edit.

And also you can also use the head itch test (but be careful because it takes a needle-thread of self-confidence and self-criticism). When feedback is bullshit, we kind of know it. We dismiss it. We think "They don't get what I'm doing." or "Whatever they're just a first year." But when they start hitting a little close to home, it makes our head itch. We KNOW that's a part we had trouble writing or that felt a little stiff when we were gutting it out. We know we worried about whether people were going to get that thing. That's when we know they're probably on to something and it's time to try to rework it.

On the other hand you can't be like "You plebs don't know what I'm doing. You are all the riff raff. I am a genius and apparently no one knows it. MY HEAD NEVER ITCHES BECAUSE I'M PERFECT!" That just leads to self-indulgent bullshit and you self publish and can't figure out why your mom owns the only fifteen copies you ever sold. But my instinct given how hard you're looking for feedback is that this is not YOUR problem, Emma.

Think of it like insults. If someone told me I didn't know how to write a decent paragraph, I would roll my eyes (and have when some Rando incel or Nazi tried). If they called me a commie, I'd shrug. (I'm not, but people on the right can't tell the difference between a 3% tax cut on the wealthy and communism, so I'm also not too worried about what they think.) If they told me I lacked confidence in my own fiction or that I don't double check my sources for outright lies when I'm pissed off about bigotry...THAT would actually start to get under my skin. I know I can write, so that doesn't bother me. I'm a democratic socialist so *shrugs* to the "communist" label coming from a fascist. The other stuff....makes my head itch a little. That's when I know someone is kind of getting close.

Your FACE lacks confidence in its own fiction.

The combination of as much professional editing as you can scrimp, save, beg or barter for, peer review you trust, and confidence (but not OVERconfidence) in your vision should steer you pretty well.

And I'll let you in on a little trade secret, Emma, just so you feel like you're getting your money's worth from my blog. The harder you work, the more professional quality help you get under the auspices of "PEER" review. I can't make any promises, of course, and you'll basically never be able to find the one person who will do a pro-bono edit from your second draft to "publishable" no matter how grim and determined you look ––because we all need to survive capitalism. But this much I've seen merit out time and again.

The harder you work the more you're going to find the staircase kind of forms as you go up. A lot of people spend a LOT on editing because they sort of want to skip a step, either in their development as a writer or the writing process of their Work in Progress or something. But if you work as hard as you can, take what feedback you can get, and work as hard as you can to apply that, improve your prose, put yourself out there, then go looking for the next "tier" of help, chances are that you'll you're going to find serious people notice you and want to help. You give better feedback, and then you GET better feedback so your peer review quality goes up. Also as you really put in the time, editing becomes more and more like polishing silver instead of working the kinks out of dented brass. It takes less time. More than one is the author I've seen people volunteering to alpha and beta read for because they were solemn at each step about making their work as good as it could be.

I'd still recommend you find a professional if you're trying to publish the great american novel, but you've got some options to keep it reasonable.

We all need editing (all of us), and I sincerely believe that its value to a writer who wants to put good art in the world is worth even dropping some money, but if you are resourceful, like most things in life, a wily scrapper can find some workarounds.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Best Post Apocalyptic Book (Or Series) [Final Round]

What is the best best post apocalyptic book (or series)?


I do want to stress one thing. This poll is about books. It is not about Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald. This is about written literature. And if you thought that the books were a little slow, vote for something else.

This poll will be up for the rest of July, but THAT'S IT. So grab your friends, whip up those fan clubs, vote early and vote often.

Everyone get three (3) votes, but that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

I'm told if you're on mobile you have to click "webpage view" then scroll alllllllllll the way to the bottom, you can find the poll.

Best Post Apocalyptic Book (or Series) [Semifinal 2 Results]

The results of our second semifinal poll are here! Top four will go on to the final round. Bottom four will get some lovely parting gifts. It wasn't a particularly nail biting week, although I was a little surprised to see a fantasy take on post apocalyptic do much better than the science fiction ones.

Text results below.
[And yes, the free website where I do these polls changed the format to put more space between the pie chart and the text results so the text is smaller than it used to be and hard to read. Thankfully, as I said, text results are below.

One of the things I want to try to do as part of our new schedule here is not take two days to flip a poll like this. So stay tuned for the final round to go up TODAY instead of tomorrow. Yes, that does mean that from time to time we will be posting two posts. (I tried doing both things in a single post and the results were always ).

The Stand - S. King 39 46.99%
Station Eleven - E. St. John Mandel. 16 19.28%
Parable of the Sower - O. Butler 12 14.46%
The Uglies Series - S. Westerfeld 8 9.64%
The Postman Novel - D. Brin 3 3.61%
Book of the New Sun Series - G.Wolfe 3 3.61%
Swan Song - R. R. McCammon 2 2.41%
Road to Nowhere Series - M. Elison 0 0%