Tag Archive | editing

My Writing Process

ground_hog_2007Have you ever felt like you were on the set of “Ground Hog Day?”  You know the movie. Bill Murray relives the same day over and over and over again. There seems to be no way out. I think I know how he felt.

This winter has been horrible for everyone. People living in the northern states have learned how to endure the never-ending grey, COLD, snowy days. People in the southern states say have winter–temps in the 50s and 60s, but this year there has been ice and snow in Atlanta.

Everyone is talking about the weather, even though I try to keep my comments to a bare minimum, but being retired now, this weather is holding me prisoner.

One day my car didn’t start because even sheltered in the garage, the temperature was ten below zero. One day my back got a chill and the muscles seized up which has put a severe pain in my backside.

Ken and I feel like a couple of grounded teenagers. Worst of all, this inclement weather has emphasized the sameness of our “normal” life. When the temperature rises above zero, we have two or three inches of snow to jazz things up . . . and because Ken’s wheelchair doesn’t have snow tires, he can get stuck in the stuff.

The one good thing this sequestering has done has been to plunk butt down in my chair and finish the first draft of my seventh novel. Now, I’m re-reading the story and putting the first pass of editing on it before I send it off to my editor.

Yesterday when I talked to a friend who has moved to Florida (who was sitting on her porch slipping lemonade), she was flabbergasted I would reread and edit my work a couple of times before any other eyes saw the text. I see this element as part of the process. I was surprised at her reaction because she likes to think of herself as a writer, too.

Do any of you come from the school of writing that I do? Do you rewrite your prose a couple of times before sending it out? Do you pass it in front of a person you trust before thinking it’s “done?” I can remember doing such a thing since I was in high school. To me this part of writing is normal.

What do you do when you complete a “first draft” of one of your pieces?

Writing Restraints

wrist supports wrist supports2








It’s been two weeks since the doctor put me in hand and wrist supports. She wants me in these restrictions 24/7, which I’m finding tough. Things have improved, though. On Sunday, I was able to get through the whole day without taking any pain medication. The tingling in my fingers has ceased most of the time, so it’s safe to say that with the supports my nerves are getting a much needed rest. Unfortunately, so has my writing.

As you might imagine, typing in these things is challenging and frustrating because I must go slower and I experience mucho typos as I go along. So all you proofreaders out there, take the next month off. I don’t need any more aggravation.

My blogging has taken a hit, and so has my novel, but yesterday I eecked out a couple more chapters to the first draft of my eighth novel. For anyone who’s been following me for a time knows it’s my quest to write and publish enough books to fill up my bookshelf in my living room. When I see an interview with Paterson or Nora Roberts, who both could fill a library with their stories, I know I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me to compete. But should I?

It’s taken a forced retirement to get to the point where I have the time and inclination to dedicate myself to to write fun stuff. I have a twenty-year career of writing for profit, as a freelancer, a copywriter, a communication specialist, a marketer for small business, and a website developer.  I’ve written just about everything, from technical copy to sales materials to website copy. I don’t claim to be great at all genres, but I have enjoyed the writing ride.

After writing novels for the past three and a half years, I can’t say this kind of storytelling is more fun; it’s just different. My imagination, along with the research I do, does a dance with my own life experiences or people I’ve been lucky enough to meet. Then I let the characters tell their stories.

What remains the same is the writing process–A draft, a second draft, a third and possibly a fourth draft, then a pass to the editor, a rewrite or two and then off to the proofreader.

I have a tough boss. Me. If I don’t like the product, I can’t sell it. If I don’t understand a product, I can’t sell it. The only thing that has really changed is the deadline because I’m the one who sets it.

So, if you ever pick up one of my books, my promise to my readers is this: I promise to do my best to weave a good story that will keep the pages turning, so you will feel your money was well spent.

And the wrist supports–well, they may be with me for a time, but I will adapt and the writing will continue. I’ll leave the typos to the editor and proofreader.

Putting Writing & Work Together

writingHave you ever noticed students don’t seem to think “work” and “writing” belong together? They believe they can sit down with pencil and paper, or with their hands on the keyboard in front of a computer screen and turn out a work of art–the first try.

Throughout the summer, I’ve tried to explain to them that writing is not unlike a sculpturer who chips and chisels away at a granite stone until he reveals the shape he desires. Writing can also be compared to a painter who has a blank canvas and slaps on shade after shade of pigment until his or her painting comes alive. It’s the same with writing. It’s hard work. It’s a process.

Today I’m giving a practice exam so when my students take their final, they won’t freak out. Test anxiety seems to be high in my class. I have more confidence in them than they have in themselves. One problem is, they over-think their answers.

Since the first day of class,16 out of 20 students have diligently dragged themselves out of bed to attend class, and I showed them they have actually learned something. I proved to them they have grasped spotting grammatical errors with a proof reading exercise we did in class on Monday.

My goal is to inspire them so they can go on and be successful. I also want them to find that inner creative streak. Their creativity might not show up in the arts–it might raise its beautiful head in accounting, computer science, horticulture or even mechanics. I’ve given them permission (some people also seem to need this) to think creatively to ask “why?”

So as our class draws to an end, if they aren’t yet in touch with their inner two-year old, then perhaps more than half of them will pass the final.

What is Writing Excellence?

writing excellence

When my first novel was published, I thought I had achieved excellence. My family and friends said they loved the read, but now as I study the book, I wish I could take another whack at it. Typos and other annoying things jump off the page and taunt me. The story is good, but I wish I had a magic wand to improve the novel with the help of my editor and my proofreader.

Book cover 1APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS hit the shelves in 2010, and I had visions of being as prolific and successful as Stephen King or William Paterson. So far, though, I’m hardly a household name, even though four more of my books have gone to press. With 40,000 books published everyday, I’m hardly a whisper.

Am I a failure in pursuing excellence because my books aren’t on the best seller list?

Yes and no. I failed to bring in royalties so far, but I achieved a childhood goal to be labeled an author. I failed to create a big national buzz, but I spoke at our local library’s “Breakfast with the Authors,” was featured in the local newspaper, and interviewed on the local radio station.

A writing career is a journey, not a destination. A writer is a life-long student of observation of  life. This self-education is then explored on paper and shared with other to inspire, inform, or entertain. To build a reading audience writers make themselves vulnerable every time they publish. Reviewers and critics of all kind have the ability to make or break them. What’s more, the public eye causes people to scrutinize not only your work, but you. Still, public exposure is a necessary evil.  Failure to advertise is fatal because without it authors will remain invisible.

Through this journey of writing, I have learned not everybody loves my subject matter. I write about what fascinates me. That’s why my novels are all set in the 1940’s, a time when the world went crazy and emotions of every kind were at a fevered pitch. Each story can stand alone,, but certain characters may pop up again and again from book to book. I wanted it this way because the novels can be read in any order, but cohesive links exist.  For example, the next release, STEPHANIA IN AMERICA, is a prequel to the second book, STRANGER IN THE SPOTLIGHT.  LOVE IMMIGRANTS is a sequel to TEA & BISCUIT GIRLS.

But let’s get back to the question—what is writing excellence? I believe excellence to be an allusive quality like perfection. I also believe excellence means different things to different people. Someone might find excellence in a book which keeps them turning pages. A good yarn to one is drivel to another. Something deeply thought-provoking to one person is hard work for another. Excellence boils down to personal preference, but critics get the last word.

My goal is to write the best story, article, or post I can at that particular time and space. As I explore and share my ideas, I hope to touch my reader with something they may remember, and hopefully, they will return wanting more from me.

So you see, true success for me is not quitting. Being willing to fall is not failing,; striving to improve is a constant challenge; and facing a blank screen day after day is courage. That’s true excellence in writing.

What’s In Your Writing?

writingI found a terrific editing tool, compliments of Peter D. Mallet’s “Writing in Color” website. Peter has done us all a favor by providing several links to tangible aids that can help strengthen our writing. The one I explored yesterday was AutoCrit Editing Wizard

A guest to this site can copy 500 words into the Wizard and have the text analyzed. Without buying a thing or providing a credit card number, a person can use the tool three times a day. (For those of us who aren’t math geniuses, that’s 1500 words). I bravely plopped in the first chapter of the first draft of my novel, Stephania In America, and within seconds the tool spit out an analysis.

I’m not saying that this editing wizard knows everything about editing, but I discovered I have a tendency to use the verbs, WAS  and WERE, a lot. As writers, we know  these verbs are indicative of passive voice . . . a true no-no in forceful, good writing. The other thing I like to do too much is to begin my sentences with conjunctions.

The value of this tool is to give writers a chance to critically study their prose through the eyes of a computer program. It has no feelings or judgment like a human editor. Instead, it gives you a cold analysis of things you do frequently in your writing. I thought it was eye-opening. I never dreamed I had become so lazy with my verbs, but there was the evidence right in front of me–I had lazy, passive verbs plastered throughout my text.

Using this tool reinforces what I tell my writing classes. We all have words we constantly misspell. (But now we have Microsoft Word which automatically points these out to us as soon as we type the text like a sassy English teacher with a red pen.) We all make the same grammatical errors again and again. We misplace modifiers, have pronoun references that are not clear, and use passive voice, etc. We do these things because we write the same way we think and speak–at least the first time around. There’s no way to really avoid these mistakes.

So, how do we overcome our writing weaknesses? Our only option is to be aware of  our ever-occurring weaknesses and strengthen them with practice. The second step is to go back, fix the spots that need fixing, and many times that means chopping out unnecessary words, phrases, and even sentences. (With my students, I call this phase “killing your babies.”) In the real world, it’s called editing. Good writers do this after the thoughts are put down on the paper. Think of your first draft as a lump of clay sitting on a potter’s wheel. It needs to be shaped and molded into what it was meant to be.

Using the AutoCrit Editing Wizard was a good Sunday afternoon exercise. If you haven’t tried it, I encourage everyone to kick the tires, and take this tool for a spin. You might end up in a surprising destination, just like I did.

My Snow Job

Latest Novel from McCloskey

Latest Novel from McCloskey

Yesterday was a great day. I received my editor’s comments for FINDING GESSLER, and together with the horrible snow storm that was manifesting outside, my butt was planted in my writing chair all day. I had a big job to do and no procrastination route was available, so there I sat. No errand was important enough to drag me away from my task; nothing was worth taking a chance of sliding off the road and into a ditch. It was perfect!

I spent my day, sipping coffee–one cup after another–incorporating Heidi’s edits into what will be the final manuscript. (I’m also waiting for Linda, my proofreader to go through it, too.) I am bound and determined to make this manuscript  as close to perfect as possible. With all the trained eyes going through it, how can I miss?

As I wait for the proofreader’s corrections, I will be working on a different project. (I’ve got at least 6 WIPs, so I move from manuscript to manuscript to keep things interesting.) The latest project is a book several people have encouraged me to write. It’s about the journey Ken and I are traveling with  Multiple Sclerosis. They claim it will be a Best Seller, but I am reluctant to put my heart out there — which is ridiculous because I do THAT everyday on this blog. So I’m forging ahead — into a blinding snow storm of emotions– hoping I’ll live through the experience.

But hey, if it’s destined to be a Best Seller, I’d better get to it, right? 🙂

On another note — my literary agent through Publish America has presented TEA AND BISCUIT GIRLS to a larger publisher in Nashville, TN. Right now, that’s all I know — so stay tuned.

Who knows, this “writing thing” maybe turn into a “real job” after all!

Writing, Writing and Rewriting

frustrated writerPresently, I’m working on four very different novels and a couple of short stories. Two novels are part of  my “Apple Pie and Strudel Girls” Series, and the other two are new endeavors called “true fiction.” All of projects require different levels of research, and I’m finding that the true fiction is very difficult to write. You’d think it would be just the other way around, wouldn’t you?

Well, today, my editor friend, Heidi, finally read “Finding Gessler,” (one of the fiction novels) and gave me a good critique of what she had read over a plate of eggs and cinnamon roll french toast. She raised so many good questions, I have to go back into research mode and plan a big rewrite for the first third of the book.

As painful as this seems, I’m grateful for the feedback. Once I get into a story, sometimes I get confused about what I’ve included or excluded in the details. I get so anxious to get the thing written, off my desk and onto a new project, sometimes I forget important details. Anybody out there have the same problem?

Consider this. Heidi said, “Barb, you never described the physical appearance of the main character.” Really? How in the world could I have forgotten that? I guess I must have just figured the picture of the guy was in  my head, so why would the reader need to know that. Yeah. Right. Admit the error and carry on, Barb.

The moral to this story is to put someone you trust into your writing life. It’s the only way an author can obtain CONSTRUCTIVE criticism for your work. Even if you think your project is “done”, LISTEN to what this vital person has to say. Believe me, it’s a lot easier to take the remarks at this stage than it is when a professional review hits the Internet or a newspaper.

So, for the next several days, I’ll be polishing up my manuscript before it’s proofreading begins. I only wish my writing students could see me in this “process.” Maybe then they’d believe me that writing something once is never enough.

Words, Words and More Words–What is Really Being Said?

Shut upOne of the young bloggers I follow is a college student named Amelia. She suffers from Cerebral Palsy, but the girl has it going on. Like so many other people I’ve met through the blogging world, she’s amazing.

This morning I read one of her posts and found it almost poetic. It was about words. Here’s the link if you want to give it a read. It truly is brilliant. Go ahead and read it: http://lifeintheblueridges.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/reflecting-on-words/#comment-4636.   I’ll be here when you’re done.

Oh good, you’re back . . .

Amelia’s post got me to thinking about how many times in my day I even think about words.  Okay, okay, I think plenty about words when the “right” word is on the tip of my tongue, and I can’t spit it out into my manuscript.  So, for all the writers out there who are struggling with finding the “right” word, you are exempt from thinking about words because I know you’re exhausted. For everybody else, ‘fess up! Do we even give the words we speak a second thought?

In our hurried world, I don’t think so. Consider the sports casters who fill air-time with constant gibberish. Or how they babble prophecy about things that haven’t happened yet.  Or how about reporters standing outside in nasty weather and are telling us how terrible it is?  Or Congressmen and Senators on Face the Nation  and other programs like it, who “talk over each other” and rarely say anything?

Do you see what I mean? I truly believe people have become so accustomed to this constant blathering, they don’t know how to shut-up and words have become white noise. We must stop. These essential communication tools shouldn’t suffer this fate. We can’t let words lose their punch because we use too many of them.

Think before speaking. Rewrite what is written. Maintain word integrity.  Words praise. Words compliment. Words express love. And they spew hate.  They’re soothing, but vicious They build up; they tear down. They hurt. They heal. They wound and destroy. They guide our head and hearts. We can’t let over use dilute them.

Think about what Shakespeare said: When words are scarce they are seldom spent in vain.

I’ll shut up now.

The Very Queer Query

I have had my first four books published by PublishAmerica. For the most part, it has been a good relationship, but I want to move to the next level, so I’ve been researching how to find a literary agent. Like my writing students, I’m going back to school as an adult –only my schooling is self-taught.

As we all know, publishing is a whole different world from that of writing. It’s the “left brain” business side of things with lots of rules that most “right brain” writers don’t understand. Most writers find publishing a scary adventure into the unknown. BUT, I realize  if I ever want to receive an advance of more than $1.00 and subsequent royalties, I must face the fear and move on. It’s time to grow up!  Take a chance.Get ready to get rejected!

The good news is, I don’t have to go alone because I have the Internet to help me look smart and savvy. If there’s one thing my ego can’t stand, it’s appearing dumb.

Through the magic of Google, I found an excellent couple of books by Noah Lukeman that map out tips to finding the right agent. He provides great information, and I will follow his instructions, but Holy Cow, what a job!  This process is harder than writing the book!  He says I must develop my own database of over 50 agents who might be interested in taking me on as a client. That’s a lot of agents!

However, Mr. Lukeman has made this mysterious process less scary. As a successful agent himself, he decided to write and give his two books away to the writing community that unveil the secrets of securing an agent.  He didn’t have to do that. He could sell his books and all of us “starving artists” could keep on starving. We would continue to stumble our way through the publishing darkness, but thanks to Mr. Lukeman we have a flashlight to find our way.

So thanks, Mr. Lukeman, I appreciate your help. Your books will make me look like a professional as I search for “my person.” I am in your debt.

A “Cup of Joe” with Prolific Heroine

It’s Sunday. And once again, I find myself inspired by a story I saw on CBS Sunday Morning. Today the program presented a piece on novelist, Nora Roberts — you know the woman who fills the shelves of bookstores and libraries with romantic tales. As the interviewer talked with her, I dreamed of having coffee with Nora and talking “shop.”

Okay, ‘fess up! I’m sure most of you out there in “Internet-land” have dreamed about meeting someone you admire. I know you do. In fact, several years ago I remember an author having “A Conversation With God.” My goals are much less lofty than having a conversation with the Big Guy, I would just like to talk to a very successful author. Nora Roberts is such a person. She’s my age and has written over 200 books! Plus, she’s realized my biggest dream–she makes a lot of money by writing stories that millions of people want to read!

Holy Cow! Who wouldn’t want to talk to someone like her?

I also  just finished editing my latest novel entitled, “The Love Immigrants.”  This book is the fourth book in the “Apple Pie and Strudel Girls” series, and I must say, I was so surprised by my reaction to rereading this story to find typos, punctuation, grammar and other errors.  As I finished reading page 314, I was blubbering like a baby. It’s the first time I remember when something I wrote brought on such an emotional response. At first I felt silly to be crying over something I had scribbled down–that kind of emotion is usually reserved for something someone else has written. But, then I was thrilled that something I created brought me such strong emotions because ultimately, it will stir the same kind of response from my readers–I hope.

I don’t want to tell you what specifically brought tears to my eyes, but I will tell you that this story is one about the strong bond between women. It’s shows how women support one another when others fall short. It’s a story about times when words don’t bring comfort. It’s reveals why women need each other.  Okay, yes, I suppose it’s more of a “chick read” than some of the other books, but so be it. I’m a “chick.” If Nora can write stories about strong women, so can I.

Now that the edits are completed and submitted to the publisher, it becomes a waiting game for the book to be released. So far, I don’t have a date. I’m thinking it will be after the first of the year because “Tea and Biscuit Girls” has just been released on September 18. I’m excited that I’m filling up my book case with books, but I’m sure, I’ll never catch Nora Roberts.

And if any of you know her, let her know I’ll buy at Starbucks!