Read the interview here on Jane Friedman’s site. I’ve mentioned Jane Friedman before. Her site is like the Fort Knox of information for writers. Gold standard, gold mine, gold star–okay, enough. Some days I think my blog should simply be: check out Jane Friedman, repeated two or three times a week.
So much to read on editing and writing and publishing, so little time . . . so I often miss things the first time around. Or read them and file them somewhere on my computer. (I am most definitely not of the clean desk, focused mind school of thought.) This interview is a few months old. Apologies if you’ve already seen it.
April Eberhardt is an agent in the Bay Area, who’s embraced the changing landscape of the publishing world. This interview presents a good overview of that world in general, and good women’s fiction in particular. I urge you to check out her site as well.
What I particularly want to call out and re-emphasize is her recommendation to writers to read. My first creative writing teacher in college made form, function, and imitation assignments: write a poem in the style of ee cummings, a Shakespearean sonnet, like that. That’s one way of learning to write by reading. There are others.
For me reading and writing are like one compound activity. As I read I notice pacing, story arc, characterization techniques, choice of details–dozens of things I’m not even necessarily consciously aware of. It becomes something akin to muscle memory that I bring it to my own writing.
And when I teach or coach writers I almost always encourage them to read something that their work reminds me of in some way or for some specific purpose.
Read on and write on!
Of course when we’re writing, the first sentence we put down on paper (up on the screen) isn’t always (often) the final first sentence. We rethink and revise before publishing. But we need something to get us going. And I think it’s inspiring, sometimes a direct trigger to my own writing to read lists like this.
What is going to happen next?
That, of course, is a question I ask myself after almost every single sentence (and sometimes word) when I’m writing a poem or a story or working on a novel. I think it’s a good question for narrative non-fiction as well, even when we think we know full well what happened next in the scene we’re reporting.
Enough said. Here’s Stephen King’s take on 50 best opening sentences.
If you live in the SF Bay area, if you’ve long wanted to write or book, or are stuck in the middle of the book, join me at Book Passages in Corte Madera for six Sundays beginning April 17 for a workshop on narrative techniques in fiction and non-fiction.
Click here for details and to register for the workshop.
You’ll get personal feedback on your chapters, stories, outline, and an honest assessment on how and where you might seek publication. You’ll get advice on making and executing a plan to publish your work from an editor and publisher with more that 40 years in the publishing business, who has edited everything from NY Times Bestsellers to amazing tales of other worlds, non-fiction and some fiction. (You can find more information about me on this site.)
I usually only work one on one, at a much higher cost to writers. So this is a rare opportunity of good value and an opportunity to hang out with other writers. There aren’t that many spots left. The workshop is limited to 10.
Join me if you can. (And if you can’t, please pass this invitation along).
I found this post on a Facebook Page, Writers on Writing. Here’s the link: Jennifergaram keep on writing. I love this post. Keep on writing because it feels better than not writing (even if you’re rejected, even if hardly anyone reads your post or article or book). Because you have something to say. Because you want to tell a story.
Reach out and touch someone used to be a slogan–maybe for long distance telephone calls (back in the dark ages before cell phones) or maybe for a greeting card company. The thing is, when we write and submit for publication and even publish, we are reaching out. And as Garam writes, we never know when what we write will touch someone.
Metrics and money seem to me not to be good ways to measure our success as writers. Okay, I don’t mean to be disingenuous and I’m not a fresh-eyed young artist who thinks money isn’t important. Quite the opposite. Many years ago, when I was a new mother, with a full-time job, and trying to write and submit poetry and have a life, something had to go. It was poetry because poetry didn’t earn money to support my family, and it took away from the little free time I had to spend with my family. So money was my metric.
Now I’m looking for a different one. I don’t have one. I’m looking for one. And I’m looking to connect with my writing–to find out what I think about growing older, living in this increasingly complex world, tell a story to entertain myself.
Why do you write?
A friend recently sent me the link to an article by Mary Norris, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Here’s the article. It’s a fine read, even if you have little interest in commas. (I’m guessing the article might pique your interest, though.)
I’ve had many different jobs in several, quite different book publishing houses. Copy editing was my least favorite, in part because I dithered. Did this rule apply–or that? Was it a restrictive clause–or not? Later in my career, I used to drive a managing editor who went through comparing author and proofreader changes to distraction by telling her that grammar was an art, not a science. I also told her that, in all but the most egregious instances, the author is always right. If you are the author it is, after all, your name on the front of the book.
I worked with one writer who took a leaf from Kurt Vonnegut about semicolons. To wit: “Don not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” The copy editor and managing editor on the project did not share this view. Many semicolons were added. The author took them all out. The managing editor put them back in. The book was typeset and sent back to the the author and the proofreader. The author blew a gasket at that point and called me. The author, as I said, is always right. The semicolons went. The staccato sentences stayed.
I am not a very good copy editor. I have great admiration for good copy editors. They save writers from grief. They make the illegible legible. Sadly, except at venerable institutions like the New Yorker, copy editing is becoming an archaic activity. Computer programs with spelling and grammar checks are not copy editors.
My takeaway is this: read the article if you wish. But, whatever you do, before you publish a book, pay attention to the copy editor. I always tell authors that he or she is the first disinterested person to read your work. Pay attention to queries that essentially say: I don’t understand what you’re getting at. If a person who’s being paid to read is getting kicked out, imagine how your readers might react. And, if you’re publishing independently, do yourself a big favor. Hire a copy editor.
Now I’m going to post this and wait for the friend who sent me the article to correct my post. He’s a much better copy editor than I am.
When I speak to groups about writing and editing, people sometimes ask about what an editor can do for them. If you are closing in on a finished manuscript (fiction or non-fiction) or proposal (for a non-fiction book) you may want to look for a line editor–someone who can sort our tangles of sentences; re-order your paragraphs; suggest cuts or alternative wordings; and generally polish your work. And/or, if you have a more polished version of a manuscript almost ready for typesetting, you may want to find a copy editor (and if you are being traditionally published, your publisher will find one) who corrects grammar and punctuation; makes sure that there are eight steps when you say there are or that all your characters have retained their final version names and biographical details in a novel–details like that.
But, if you’re not at that stage, if you’re stuck in the middle or at the beginning of a new project, or don’t know if you’re writing a memoir or a novel, or need some motivation and direction, you might benefit from a writing coach. Like life coaches, writing coaches do a lot of different things, but what they mostly do is encourage you, find ways to allow you to be your better self and write a better book.
In my consulting with writers, one of the things I do is to ask a lot of questions. I read the first 25-50 pages of a novel, maybe an outline if the person has one, or a chapter or two of a non-fiction book. In my first meeting, I’m generally trying to help writers clarify the scope of their project. We talk about structure, how to tell the story, what to leave in and often what to exclude. We agree to next steps–goals if you will, or assignments. When we meet again, and these meetings can be in person or by phone, we review progress, set more goals. I continue to read and comment on the manuscript in progress. I make suggestions about possible avenues for publishing. And I continue to ask the questions and suggest the goals and deadlines that will get the book done. I’m on the virtual sidelines cheering, cajoling, coaxing you to get that book done.
Okay, I’m not actually going to write about how to write about sex here. I’m not even sure I can put the word “sex” in a blog headline. If the blog police don’t blow the whistle my Catholic upbringing might. But, as Noy Holland points out, there are a lot of ways from the explicit to the barest innuendo, the down and dirty to the sublime, to write about sex. See the article here.
I’ve read many, but not all, of the stories and novels Holland mentions in the article. And I recommend them to you. It’s been said many times and many ways: if you want to write fiction, if you want to write a particular kind of fiction, reading fiction–studying it–is one of the best things you can do. Besides writing. Dive in and try it!
It’s a good thing I clean out my email inbox every once in a while. I see the most amazing things there. I found an article about a Women’s Media Group meeting last month where editors and agents gathered with interested others to talk about YA novels (mostly) and what’s hot and what’s not. And what’s interesting to them right now and why. See the article here. If you write (or read) YA fiction, I think you might like this article.
One of my favorites is The Book Designer, started by Joel Friedlander, a San Francisco Bay area publishing fixture. This site, with its newsletter and monthly magazine “Carnival of Indies” really does have something for everyone. Independent (self) publishing has come a long way in the last decade. The Book Designer has kept up with the times. You’ll find articles for newbies, writing tips, and in-depth how-tos for typesetting and cover making and e-book conversion. Check it out here.
If ever I was stumped or had a specific question, especially about book production or design, about new software resources, I’d start here.