Edit Like an Editor

potteryThe job of editing is equal parts art and science, anchored in the golden rule of “eliminate unnecessary words.”

If you’re writing for yourself, in a journal perhaps, your first draft can be your final draft. When writing for readers, it’s a different story. In this case, your first draft is rich, raw clay. Unshaped. Unrefined. In need of paring down.

Crisp and clear DOESN’T mean boring or without personality or color. It means that words that slow down the pace, don’t add meaning or take away your authority should be reconsidered.

Here are words and phrases to look out for:

Slow down the pace

– One of the…
– Each and every…
– In order to… (try replacing with “to”)

Take away impact or authority

– In my opinion… or I believe… (rephrase to a sentence of authority)
– Just

Crutch words that don’t add meaning

– Literally
– Basically
– Honestly
– Obviously
– Any word that you find you use repeatedly

Crisp, clear writing is easier to read. Easier to read content keeps readers engaged. Engaged readers take in your great work and share their new findings with the world. Everyone wins!

If You Don’t Have Anything to Say…

INFP "The Mediator" - 16personalities.com
That’s me! INFP “The Mediator” Personality Type

I’ve had it with the pressure put on writing routines.

“Write five pages a day. (Every day. For the rest of your life.)”

“Real writers write every morning as soon as they wake up.”

“If you don’t write every day, you’re not taking your writing seriously.”

These messages are everywhere and this lady is not following along like they are commandments.

Guess what? Everyone is different. Every writing muse is different. Some muses respond to structure, to daily habits. My writing muse gives regularity the middle finger, with surprising regularity.

Forget about fiction, creative nonfiction or even journal writing for a moment. When I create a “habit” to write a blog post with any kind of regularity, my passion withers. No, it dies. There’s no fun in it for me anymore.

Apparently writing regularly is law when it comes to developing any kind of “following” on any social media outlet. You know what? I have to trust that my kindred spirits will not give a flying fish about how often I am posting (back me up here), but they will sniff out any content that isn’t filled with passion.

Passion for me starts from having something meaningful to say. Having a burning in my soul that needs to be released and shared in the world. For me, it doesn’t work to sit down and fish around for something to say. The muse comes in bursts. Wakes me up in the middle of the night because she needs to get her insides out. She sits me down at a computer (right now) on barely 5 hours sleep because she needs to talk.

It’s the same with fiction or any other kind of writing. For me. Maybe not for you. Maybe for you, the passion ignites FROM the structure of daily habits. And that, my friends, is the variety of which the tapestry of the world is created.

There are a million different ways to live a life and personality types abound. I am sure that the persons that advise about creating strict writing habits and goals have really different elements to their personality than I do. And that is ok. That just means that we all need to take each other’s advice with a grain of salt and trust our own intuition to know what’s right for us.

Now, if you DO have something to say and are avoiding writing that’s a different story, and a different post. I’ll nail that rant when the spirit moves me.

* * * * *

Curious about personality tests? Me, too! I love taking the tests and feeling understood and not totally off-the-wall when I read my profile. And reading the other profiles and guessing the personality types of family, friends and colleagues. No, it’s not a fool-proof science. (What science is fool-proof?) But it is fun and useful. It really drives home the point that we all see the world through different lenses.

I like the Myers-Briggs personality model as interpreted by 16personalities.com. I’m an INFP or the “Mediator.” The image above is my INFP spirit. Isn’t she so Zen?

Romance Your Muse with a Poetic Ditty

poetic-pen

As a freelance writer, editor and creativity coach, I often hear from clients that it’s hard to get started writing. Yes! It’s a real thing. You’re not alone.

Like a car that’s been covered up with a tarp in the garage, the writing muse takes some gentle, patient handling to get her engine humming. She needs some romancing, friends!

My new favorite writing warm-up is poetry.

I forgot how much I love to write free verse. Seriously, when was the last time that you riffed and just wrote words on a page to express yourself? No punctuation or grammar worries. No concerns about whether you’re making sense.

Just thought and feeling to paper.

For fun, I’m going to write a little live poetry here in this blog post.

I’ll start with what’s rattling around in my consciousness…sweetness I just saw on Facebook. One post of a high school friend with his son. They are wearing matching newsboy style caps and huge smiles. The other is a video of a friend’s son. He is wishing his mom Happy Birthday while sporting an upside down, baby blue mustache. Seeing these posts has my familial heart strings humming.

Hand to hand like magnets

That impossibly soft little hand

Heart in a smile, pure love

Eyes seeing a sweet and simple world

“Bad news” is time for bed or stop playing and wash your hands

If I could save time in a bottle, Jim Croce sang

Why didn’t I know that he was singing about you?

Next time you’re stopped or stuck, consider writing a little poetry to get you grooving. You may find it very liberating.

Beat Reader Fatigue: Mix In Short Sentences

fatigue

I’ll get right to the point; too many long sentences in a row make my brain hurt. And I’m not alone. It’s a human thing.

You like your audience, right? You want them to stick with you as you lay out your message, your points, your life’s work? Then it behooves you to make reading easy.

Here’s one good way: Mix in short sentences to give variety and texture. By doing so, you create a more sustainable pace for your audience.

Listen, I’m a big fan of writing as if you were talking, but that assumes that you engage in conversation in a way that includes pauses and breaths.

Imagine that you’re at a cocktail party. You meet a nice enough stranger and begin a conversation.

They are so excited to say what they are saying that they keep talking and they never stop and at first you’re engaged but then you fall into a trance of sorts and oh-my-goodness why can’t  you stop yawning and you wonder if someone slipped something into your drink and at some point you’ve stopped listening altogether because you are now distracted and focusing on how in the world they can keep talking for that long without breathing and you wonder if they are ever going to stop and you’re looking for an excuse, an escape and trying to find that friend that came with you to the party and they are nowhere in sight…

Short sentences allow you and your audience to pause and breathe.

Let’s take a look at some fine writing from author Tom Robbins in Jitterbug Perfume. Below is the longest paragraph in the first chapter. Of the fourteen sentences, just about half are 10 words or less.

The secondary function of a bathroom mirror is to measure murmurs in mental mud. Priscilla glanced at her “seismograph” and disliked the reading. She was as pallid as a Q-tip and as ready to unravel. Dropping the soap in the sink, she imposed a smile on her reflection. With a sudsy finger she pushed at the triangular tip of her crisp little corn chip of a nose. She winked each eye. Her eyes were equally enormous, equally violet, but the left eye winked smoothly while the right required effort and a scrunching of flesh. She tugged at her wet autumn-colored hair as if she were stopping a trolley. “You’re still cute as a button,” she told herself. “Of course, I’ve never seen a-cute button, but who am I to argue with the wisdom of the ages?” She puckered her bubble gum mouth until its exaggerated sensuality drew attention away from the blood-blue crescents beneath her eyes. “My bags may be packed, but I haven’t left town. No wonder Ricki finds me irresistible. She’s only human.”

Okay, that’s fine for fiction, you say, but how about non-fiction writing? Yep, works there too. Below is an excerpt from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Notice the length of the sentences and how they alternate between short, really short and longer.

Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be. If you believe in God (and I do) you must declare Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius. Genius is a Latin word; the Romans used it to denote an inner spirit, holy and inviolable, which watches over us, guiding us to our calling. A writer writes with his genius; an artist paints with hers; everyone who creates operates from this sacramental center. It is our soul’s seat, the vessel that holds our being-in-potential, our star’s beacon and Polaris.

We all have different styles of speaking and writing. I’m not suggesting that you adopt my casual style or that of Robbins or Pressfield or anyone else for that matter. Instead, I invite you to find the places in your writing where the sentences are a little long, where it’s gotten a little dense and see how it reads when you break up that sentence into smaller chunks. Or introduce a short snippet in the middle.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

If you’re feeling on the fence about how to do it, send me a paragraph with long sentences and I’ll send back a suggested edit. On me.

Want to Grab Your Audience? Start with the Middle

"renewing" by liebeslakritze
[photo credit: “renewing” by liebeslakritze]
OK, so you know that writing and editing are two completely different ventures. And now, after you’ve poured your soul onto the page, you’re ready to edit. Great!

Here’s a tip: To make your writing more impactful, it would behoove you to spell out your point with clear and simple language towards the very beginning of your piece. People don’t read; they scan. And it’s unlikely that they’ll scan beyond your first paragraph or two if they don’t know where you are going.

Here’s how: Reread your work, hunting for the paragraph or maybe even the single sentence that sums up your writing piece in a nutshell. Grab that gem and move it to the top of your piece.

Think of the fundamental structure for stand-and-deliver presentationstell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. By giving your audience a roadmap, they can relax with the confidence that you know where you are going – and they do, too. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing them, boring them or annoying them. By the way, this structure was created by Aristotle and has been working like a charm ever since 300 and something B.C., for goodness sake.

In Journalism 101 terms, you’re creating and elevating the “nut graph” to the top of your story.

Why not just sit down and write a “nut graph”? You can do this, of course. In my experience, the essence of what you’re saying will come out naturally when you sit down to write the full piece. As an editor, almost 100% of the time I find the nut graph in the middle of a client’s writing. Why? Because the writer is warmed up and flowing when they get to the middle, and what they really want to say just pops out naturally.

Give it a try and see what happens! It may take some practice to find the gem and to learn how to massage it into the beginning of your piece. But nothing that you can’t handle.

Hit me up if you want to talk through it. I’m happy to share more.

If the King of Horror Thinks Beginnings are Scary…

 

stephenking

…then you know it’s the truth. Just start writing something. I like to start with a prayer or an intention for my writing. By typing this short wish, the cobwebs start clearing, the blood starts flowing and my writing muse recognizes that my mind and spirit are – again – friendly places to visit.

Feeling Stuck? Write With A Little FU (Yes, It’s What You Think)

Come Away With Me
“Come Away With Me” from The Joie In My Vivre on Tumblr

I don’t curse. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I was a Girl Scout at 10 years old and am still wearing the badges (on the inside). And that’s why I am qualified to say, “Sometimes you just have to write with a little FU in you.”

It’s not always good to be so good.

There’s this teeny little pattern called People Pleasing. Heaven knows it’s hard to shake. Not wanting to ruffle feathers. Wanting everyone to be happy and included. Wanting to be liked and loved. Striving for your writing to be valued and of importance. It’s a great big ball of stress, insecurity and fear.

For a writer, People Pleasing is debilitating. I’d dare say it’s the #1 reason that we get stuck. Here’s the hard truth: You are not going to please everyone. But, I’ll be darned if you don’t please at least SOMEONE with your writing: YOU.

Yes, writing for your audience is important. Yes, editing and paring down your work is essential. None of this matters if your pipes get clogged and you get stuck in the muck.

Why come from a place of FU? Accessing a little anger can help break through to higher emotions like contentment and joy — anger is a higher vibrating emotion than fear or insecurity. I’m not suggesting that you stay angry. Use it to break through. (Check out this Emotional Guidance Scale for some incredible details.)

This is your writing. This is your life. So, put a little chutzpah in your step. And forget about the world for a moment. Forget that anyone else exists. Lie down and put your legs up the wall. Go for a walk somewhere you’ve never been, barefoot. Then just write. Forget about trying to make it sound profound. Forget about whether it’s publishable. Write to bare your soul and share your mind. Write to hear the music of the syllables strung together. Write like you are a child, too young to care what people think. That’s where the magic lives.

Editing is a completely separate venture. You’ll get to that later.

For now, write like no one is watching. Unless someone is. In that case, close your blinds and call 9-1-1.

Write For Your Audience Like It’s A Party Of One

Harmony With Flowers
“Harmony With Flowers” by Mariano Peccinetti

You’re in a great mood! You happily sit down to write. Tap, tap, tap. You are flowing!

Then, without warning, that person — oh, you know the one — pops into your mind. Maybe it’s an old classmate or someone you dated. Or a mom on the PTA. Or, if you’re as blessed as I am, someone in your family.

That person is the master of the backhanded compliment. They always seem to dismiss your ideas, your talents, your experience. And for some reason you still want them to like you…when you know for sure that You. Do. Not. Like. Them. At least not this passive-aggressive, competitive part of them.

You re-read your writing. It’s all crap. Suddenly, your imagination takes off to some future place in a different dimension. You’re a fly on the wall as that person reads your piece, and all you can hear is:

“Oh, how cute. It’s so great that anyone can get their work published nowadays.”

OK, let’s stop right here. We all have that person in our lives. Newsflash: That person is not your audience. I know you know this. Now I could put on my Psychology and Spirituality hats and dig deep on the underlying issues and dynamics here. But that’s for another day. Maybe.

Right now, we’re going to get you back to feeling happy and in the flow with your writing.

Here’s how:

  1. Know your onion. Imagine you are the center of an onion. People in your life naturally fall into place on one of the layers. Your dearest confidants and loves of your life are the first layer. Then the next layer includes your past, present and future friends – people who “get” you. Then warm acquaintances. And so on. Where does that person fit on the onion? Are they even on the onion? Right. Keep them far out. They are not in the inner circle. Hear me now: Your writing is precious. It’s your insides getting out. Keep your writing and exposure of your writing close to the center – especially while it’s in development.
  2. Know your audience’s emotional need. Who are you writing for? And what do they want? I mean what do they really want? It doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, getting clear on your audience’s needs is essential. Let’s say you’re an Acupuncturist writing a Free Report “7 Ways To Nurture Your Body During Your Workday.” The audience could be anyone, really. But what these people have in common is a desire to be productive at work and feel healthy at the same time. THAT’S their need. Hold that picture in your head and heart while you are writing. Not whether or not someone will like you. Or think you are smart.
  3. Make it a one-on-one conversation. One of the simplest ways I’ve found to let my writing voice and personality shine is to write to and for one single person. Oh, it can be a real person or an imaginary amalgam of people. For example, when crafting fiction, I write only for my sister Diana. Referring to point #2 above, her emotional need is to relax and enjoy an uplifting story of love and self-discovery – with a happy ending. Knowing this need guides me. But most importantly when I think of her reading my writing, I FEEL good. I don’t anticipate snide remarks, snarkiness or criticism. And I don’t try to serve a crowd with varying needs, tastes and preferences. If you haven’t before, try writing as if you are talking to this one person. That ideal audience member. You’ll be surprised at how much easier the writing flows.

Don’t be scared of being specific. Remember, if you try to appeal to the masses, then you dilute your work so much that your message appeals to no one. Not everyone is going to “get” you. But your people will. And they’ll thank you for speaking so clearly to them.

Music To Quiet Your Noisy Writer’s Mind

Slow Jazz on Her Red Lips by iNeedChemicalX
Photo Credit: Slow Jazz on Her Red Lips by iNeedChemicalX

If music soothes the savage beast, then my mind must be a zoo.

Years ago when writing my first full-length fiction novel, I’d sit for hours pouring my heart and soul onto the page. Just about once every other minute a voice inside my head whispered, “You don’t know what you’re doing.” And that was true. But I was figuring it out, thank you very much.

What moved me through the internal noise of self-doubt – and the external noise of what we call “the world” – was carefully selected music. I never was without my headphones. A single CD looped: “Creations Vibrations,” two tracks of meditative Tibetan Singing Bowl vibrations by Kenny Mazursky. (Shameless disclosure: Kenny is my brother-in-law and he is awesome.)

This morning my head is noisy and so is the coffee shop where I work. It’s got me thinking again about sound and music and productivity and our delicate brains. And how music affects writing, and frankly any other work that requires a quiet and steady mind.

I came across Music2Work2, a company dedicated to sharing music that makes us more effective at work. Here’s what they have to say about the science behind Music2Work2:

“To complete his psychology degree, Andrew [co-founder] studied the effects of sound on human reaction times. The data showed that adding noise to the environment increased performance until it became too distracting and performance started to decline.

This is the idea behind music to work to. If we create music that is stimulating but not too distracting, you can create an auditory environment that is optimized for work.”

If you do a search for music to work to, you’ll find a wide selection of styles and genres to match different tastes. Next time you’re hitting a block or need extra focus, try integrating music. It may very well become a vital part of your work routine.

On Writing Routines

Routines provide us humans with safety and security. Routines soothe anxiety. It’s true for babies, and it’s so true for writers.

Here are three cornerstones of my writing routine:

Write first thing in the day. It’s not new advice. Just about every book on the topic speaks of the magic of the early morning hours. But I mean, as soon as you roll out of bed. Before tea or coffee. Before brushing your teeth. Before breakfast. Before anything else. Why? For me, it’s because my brain doesn’t have a chance to object, complain or block my progress. That fuzzy, dreamlike state is the gateway to my creative brain. And, of course, getting the writing done early in the day prevents other life necessities from derailing the writing time. I use the same philosophy when training for a half marathon. Hit the pavement before my brain knows what’s going on.

Start with a short note. Time to talk about warm-ups. The blank page. The pressure of where to begin. The “what-if everything I write is pure crap.” To get going, I write a little short letter. Not just to warm up my writing fingers, but to ask for help from a higher power. No matter your religious or spiritual orientation, I think this routine works. It takes the ego out of the writing and refocuses your intention.

Basically, I write a note that begins like this:

Please help me to stay centered. Help me to let go and allow the words to come through me for the greater good.

Yes, it may sound hokey. I’m not above hokey. I’m just happy that it helps to ground me.

Create a Goal and Accountability. When I was a kid, my dad used to time me while doing my chores. “Let’s see how fast you can pick up all the LEGOs.” I’d race around, giddy, picking up those little bricks in record time. It was fun! It was a game! I do the same thing with writing. I set a goal, say, 1200 words in two hours. Then I text a friend and tell them my goal. They say something like, “Go, Laura.” Then I text them the word count after the two hours. They say something like, “Great!” It works.

What’s your routine?