Self-editing 101

(October 2017) WRITING WEDNESDAY: Self-editing 101. I write fast; therefore, I make my share of mistakes. The more ambitious the topic, the more opportunities to go down the wrong path, make syntax errors, etc. Sometimes elements of your personality come out in writing. If you tend to be long-winded in general (be honest), your writing probably needs to be trimmed. For myself, I sometimes don’t want to make declarative statements unless I have ALL the facts — so here comes passive voice, not attractive on the page. I am working on a project that doesn’t have layers of copyeditors. (Luckily there’s not much text, either.) Being more and more aware of my writing weaknesses, I’ve taken out my brutal editing pen and attacked my copy as best as can to make it better.
1) When you can, read your text out loud. If you are writing something that is hundreds of pages, this may not be possible. But if you can identify a handful of pages that seem problematic, read it loud. You can do this with pages you like . . . it will help you with the flow of the difficult pages or may illuminate that your love for them is more of a misplaced infatuation.

2) Identify your weaknesses. This is sometimes not possible without some experience with a professional copyeditor. I know what some of mine are. First, passive voice in nonfiction. Second, misused prepositions. I make all sorts of excuses for it — Japanese is actually my first language and the one that was widely used at home when I was young. The use of prepositions in the Japanese language is very idiosyncratic. But even more importantly, American English use of prepositions is also very arbitrary. Jerry Seinfeld’s new stand-up routine focuses of the peculiar use of “on” and “in” in regular speech. (And yes, I feel vindicated.) So when I encounter some prepositional phrase that seems awkward, I Google. The most votes win.

3) Some issues are more related to style than grammar. So find out style rules from your publication. Most print outlets use Chicago Manual of Style and you can find some of their rules on their online website. (For wide access, you’ll have to pay.) When I recently searched whether to hyphenate “man-made,” I came across a comment on CMS that “man-made” is considered to be sexist language and should be avoided. Whether you agree with that perspective or not, it’s informative to know that some people think that. If you are writing for a large audience, why alienate someone?

Sometimes this level of line editing is painful, but it’s all in service of the end product. It’s like your eyebrows being plucked, your nose hairs getting trimmed, your hair being highlighted (purple, even!). You are just cleaning up the surface for the real you and the real story.

Literary Managers

(May 2017) WRITING WEDNESDAY: Not-yet-published writers often have online discussions about literary agents, but no one mentions the need for literary managers. What’s the difference? Agents will negotiate your book deals and make sure that you are financially compensated, but managers will look at the breadth of your writing career and help guide you in making decisions on future projects. The problem is, we writers don’t make enough money to warrant the hiring of a manager, so what do we do? We have to manage ourselves. But isn’t this the responsibility of the literary agent, you say? Well, let’s get real. Agents are paid a percentage (usually 15 percent) of our advances and royalties. That’s not a whole lot in terms of the annual payment received by a midlist writer. So agents have to make sure that they are either negotiating deals of many writers or at least a handful of superstars. We writers, on the other hand, can’t escape ourselves. In other words, our income depends solely on how much we individually make (unless we employ a bunch of ghost writers!). And sometimes we write things that don’t make a whole lot money in the name of creativity or perhaps to enter a new genre or type of writing. That’s where the managing comes in. This is the reason I keep abreast of the publishing world. I subscribe to Publishers Marketplace and follow publishing news. I have private conversations with my colleagues and meet editors and agents at conferences. In these situations, I’m a literary manager, and I have only one client. I’ve often thought that it would be cool to team up with other published writers and create a literary management co-op. But I have too many ideas and this would probably take too much of my already limited time. I will be over the course of some weeks take you through a “literary direction” so come on by these next few Wednesdays. Remember to bring a journal and pen or maybe your smart phone/digital device if you are oriented that way.

Pumping Iron

(May 2018) WRITING WEDNESDAY: Another birthday came and went, and I’m obsessed with blogs and books about how to get your financial state in order for retirement. The good news about writing is that even though it’s not usually lucrative, it’s something you can do when you’re older . . . and many readers are older women, anyway. While teaching can either be wearying or taking valuable time or energy away from your own work, spending most of your time writing can lead to more ideas or expand your notion on what you can write. I just read a blog how ageism is rampant in the high-tech industry where 30 is the average age of employees. The same is true for other corporations; you may want to work until you are 70 but you may not have a say in the matter. (It’s especially challenging for women.) If you have been slowly building a body of work, you will have a niche platform by the time you are in your 50s. It’s difficult to create that instantaneously. You are calling your own shots and digging your own path. I figure that I have 14 more years of writing left in me. I’m savoring this time of my life. Pumping iron (yeah, only 2.5-pound weights, but still) and eating more protein. I’m going to be working hard these last 14 years, but it’s a joy, not a burden.