Uncategorized, Writing Advice, Writing Life

Branching Out

We all have our comfort zones, in life and in writing. Throughout my first nine years of writing, the only format I attempted was the novel, though I did eventually deviate from my initial comfort zones of the horror genre and the third-person limited point of view after my fourth novel-length work by shifting towards literary fiction and first-person narration. With that being said, it wasn’t until I took a creative writing workshop in my freshman year of college that I truly learned to challenge myself by branching out into new genres, fresh perspectives and experimental formats which, in turn, gave me new ideas on content, characterization and themes.

Having to take a workshop in poetry was crucial in teaching me the weight and value of every single word choice, and how deeply this could impact meaning. Furthermore (and perhaps even more crucial to my development as a writer), my numerous creative writing workshops in fiction inspired me to try my hand at short fiction, a format I had once balked at as being far too difficult; I had a hard enough time limiting my word- and page-counts with novels, how the hell would I manage to tell an entire story in 20 pages or less?

This led me to redefine my preconceived notions about what a story consisted of, and it made me find a deeper appreciation for subtlety and the unspoken. Where, in previous manuscripts I had written in high school, I could meander for pages at a time describing something that wasn’t really crucial to the plot or to character development (thus putting the story on hold), or I could waste precious plot progression time exploring a metaphor that I found particularly pretty (though, if pressed, I would be forced to admit that it wasn’t actually useful to anything but my own vanity), crafting a short story forced me to ditch these bad habits in search of the simplest way to convey an idea. Writing short stories–something I dedicated years to after that initial attempt in my junior year of college–changed my priorities while writing, and it made me more resourceful in my means of communicating information. Instead of spending a paragraph describing a sunset, maybe I could do it in one sentence. Maybe I could do it in one perfect adjective.

Writing short fiction also made me find a deeper appreciation of subtlety and small meaningful moments instead of grand, operatic scenes. My earlier writing had many such grand (i.e. over-the-top) scenes, where every emotion had to be dialed to 11 and every consequence had to be life or death. While you can certainly achieve this in short fiction, the brevity of the format can force you to, instead, look for the hidden, deeper meaning in smaller moments, quieter gestures and more restrained themes.

Experimenting with short fiction, thereby leaving my comfort zone and branching out into a new form of story-telling, would later improve how I wrote lengthier works like novellas and novels. This is also true of writing creative nonfiction (which made me reevaluate the emotional core of a story by influencing me to view my own life through this lens), and was especially true of screenwriting (which taught me to focus on dialogue and plot structure).

Perhaps the best advice I can give on the subject is this: if you ever find yourself stuck, stagnated or plateaued in the form of story-telling that you love most, be it poetry or short fiction or writing fantasy novels, one of the best things you can do to step outside of the box (and outside of the problem) is to take a break from your preferences and branch out to a new genre or format.

Study that format intensely. Read about the mechanics of poetry. Read about plot-progression and character arcs from the perspective of a screenwriter. Delve into the work of writers who only write flash-fiction and figure out the strategies they use to tell a fully-realized story in two paragraphs. Remove the blocks of dialogue and exposition from a comic book or graphic novel and fill in the blanks based off of the images provided. Do close readings of your favorite poems, determining all of the figurative language and references that add meaning to the thematic heft of the poem.

And try your hand at utilizing these tools in your own experimentation in other genres. Some of these tools will work so well for elevating your story-telling methods that they will translate back to your preferred genre and format, improving and fine-tuning your processes along the way. If you’re enrolled in any kind of school, seek out writing clubs and writing workshops in genres you normally don’t truck with. If you aren’t currently taking any classes, research workshops and seminars in your area, or create a network of fellow writers in your community to workshop each other’s work. Try a new approach or write about a topic you would never have considered interesting in the past. Seek out writing prompts and choose at random. After all, we learn the most from new experiences, new stressors, new pressures; by only sticking to what you know or what you’re comfortable with, you will stifle your potential, and you might never discover a new, reinvigorated passion for writing.

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Uncategorized, Writing Life

Why Horror is Important

I have always been a sucker for the horror genre. There is an inherent universality to horror that other genres lack: while comedy may be unique to a specific culture, fear transcends boundaries. This likely stems from the fact that the fight-or-flight reaction the genre may garner from us has been hard-wired in our brains since the first men and women faced their first life-or-death threat. That instinct remains, even as the catalysts have changed: oftentimes we feel the physiological effects of the sympathetic nervous system during job interviews, verbal confrontations or horror movies instead of due to threats from predators. We all know what it is to fear for our safety, for the safety of our loved ones, for our social status and possessions. We all know what it is to fear, above all else, the certainty of death.

As such, the horror genre (and its trends) can be one of the truest conduits into both individual fears and collective cultural dread. The focal points of our fears often center around a symbol that speaks to our reality. Take the alien invasion narratives that haunted the Cold War era–Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) both stoke paranoia through the existential panic of losing one’s identity, being supplanted by “the other” and being homogenized into a hive-mind of sorts. Is it reasonable to link the recent surge in exorcism-narratives to cultural fears of a loss of religious identity as atheism and agnosticism are on the rise? Or to link the zombie sub-genre to consumerism? The ghost or haunting sub-genre to universal questions about death and the afterlife? The vampire sub-genre to repressed sexuality? The serial killer sub-genre (which took the reins from the Universal Studios monsters–and the safety therein, as audiences were able to associate their fear and dread with a grotesque “other” instead of with humanity itself–and most notably did so with Norman Bates replacing Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man) to growing understanding of and terror with human psychology?

Some may argue that the trends merely follow whatever is lucrative at the time, with one successful catalyst (one Psycho, The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, Halloween, Paranormal Activities, Insidious or Scream) spawning countless tedious knock-offs. But it stands to reason that the financial success of the catalyst is due, in part, to that catalyst finding a way to find the pulse of the cultural subconscious and exploit or greatest fears. Horror, then, has a way of encapsulating the political, cultural, sociological and psychological anxieties of a given era in a way that no other genre can. Beyond that, it can also allow us to define our own fears, and what those fears say about us as people.

The genre’s respectability has of course had its ups and downs from the popularity of penny dreadfuls to the Grand Guignol theater productions, from the Universal Studios monsters to the German surrealist silent films, from Hitchcock in black and white to technicolor Argento, from the VHS horror boom in the 80’s that allowed for expanded viewership but also impacted quality, from Stephen King to Thomas Harris, from the self-aware and self-mocking horror of the 90’s to the contemporary resurgence of horror’s respectability as new mediums (particularly television) explore new avenues.

As a child of the 80’s who grew up on a steady diet of Tales from the Crypt, and whose grandfather allowed indiscriminate Blockbuster video selections, I have seen my fair share of the classics, the cult-classics and the garbage. There’s much to be said about what makes a horror film successful beyond the subject matter’s cultural significance: the ability to use atmosphere to create tension, writing characters who the reader or audience can identify with, creating scenarios that elicit dread, using imaginative and evocative imagery and metaphor to establish a deeper pang to the subconscious. One thing is certain: the most successful entries in the genre bring us all back to that primitive space where the only emotions that mattered were the emotions that kept us alive.

 

Uncategorized, Writing Advice, Writing Life

On Facing Criticism

Chances are, if you’ve faced rejection as a writer, you’ve also had to face criticism. Whether that criticism is levied against your work or your desire to write in the first place, it can be just as unpleasant an experience as rejection. Some of the emotional responses are the same: self-doubt, loss of confidence, and questioning whether you truly have what it takes to effectively tell stories or express yourself. There are some nuances in facing criticism, however, that you don’t have to worry about when facing rejection. How you respond to that criticism, for example: when dealing with rejection, you often aren’t in a position to respond to whoever has rejected your work, but with criticism that is often not the case. You might have to hear criticism face to face, and how you react to it will be pivotal to how you are regarded as a member of the writing community.

 

It should go without saying that every time you put your work out there—either in a creative writing workshop, on an online forum such as a blog or literary journal, or by enlisting the help of beta readers—you are opening yourself up not only to appreciation and praise, but also to criticism that can range from constructive to harsh and destructive. Having sat through dozens of creative writing workshop sessions where 12 or more students (along with the professor) discuss what they like and don’t like about your work while you are expected to silently listen and take notes, I have experienced the full spectrum of feedback. I’ve had fellow writers who had nothing but praise for my work, I’ve had some who provided constructive criticism in a professional and respectful manner, and I’ve had some who seemed to get great pleasure in issuing out the most mean-spirited, condescending and venomous critiques they could muster. In my junior year of college, I workshopped a story about a pianist undergoing a mental breakdown; one girl in my class, seemingly having a hard time differentiating between the narrator and the writer, stated more than once that “this scene just made you sound crazy.” In these situations, how you react (and how you absorb the criticism) can be crucial to your reputation, to how you view your work, and to your own sense of self-worth.

 

Below are a few tips for handling criticism.

 

  1. When dealing with unconstructive criticism: There’s really no way of knowing why some fellow writers (or readers) choose to be intentionally hurtful and mean-spirited in their criticism. Maybe they’re jealous of your talent. Maybe they’re an elitist who truly believes everyone else is beneath them. Maybe they don’t realize how abrasive they are because they don’t understand the concept of tact. Maybe they think they’re doing you a favor by not sugar-coating their response to your work. Maybe they get off on schadenfreude because they’re just a dick. While it may be embarrassing and infuriating to have to listen to this asshole, the best thing you can do in this situation is put on your poker face, thank them for their input and remind yourself that you have promise. That person just might not be your intended audience.

It might also be helpful to pay attention to the feedback of others, just to see if you’re being too sensitive (if you’re having the same emotional response to everyone’s feedback, you might be taking criticism too personally), if there are any consensuses on problem areas in your work, or if anyone actively opposes the harsh critic’s points (if the critic hated your use of metaphors but the majority liked or loved your figurative speech, for example).

I highly recommend not engaging the harsh critic in debate or trying to defend your work in a workshop setting, as doing so often looks like you’re making excuses, that your work can’t speak for itself and requires an explanation, or that you’re being thin-skinned. Ignore the sting, check your gut (as in determine whether there are any grains of truth to their criticism) and continue to believe in your work.

  1. When dealing with constructive criticism: It’s usually a lot easier to handle constructive criticism; these critics have your best interests and the improvement of your work in mind when they tell you what didn’t work for them. Often these critics know how to talk to you about their issues with the story, chapter or poem in a way that is tactful, respectful and promotes a sense of camaraderie instead of competition. This kind of criticism is a gift. It allows you to make the necessary changes to elevate your work to the next level. However, just because criticism is constructive doesn’t mean you have to implement it. The gut-check is just as important with constructive criticism as it is for unconstructive criticism. Listen to what the critic has to say, take your notes, and give deep consideration to what you think would actually help your work out and what wouldn’t.

I once had a workshop critique for an excerpt from a dystopian novel set twenty years in the future; the critic was very constructive and helpful in most of her feedback, but one of her suggestions was that, instead of bullets, it would make more sense for guns to be firing lasers because the story is set in the future. Again, though most of her stylistic advice was very helpful, this particular piece of advice was something I absolutely had no intention of implementing, for several reasons: one, no one else had any difficulty believing this story was set in the future just because the weaponry is similar to contemporary weaponry (had there been a consensus, I may have entertained the idea for a moment), two, this critique didn’t feel necessary or helpful for the story, and lastly, I knew in my gut that I wasn’t just being sensitive about it. My decision to ignore this particular critique, therefore, passed my gut-check.

  1. When responding to criticism: Whether you agree with the criticism you receive or not, and whether you feel it was constructive or intentionally destructive in nature or tone, the best thing you can do to maintain your professional bearing is to thank the critic for their feedback and extrapolate as much helpful lessons as you can from the criticism. Even when a critic is being a dick for the sake of being a dick, if a writer responds in a touchy and hysterical manner, the writer is going to look worse. That may seem unfair and it probably is, but artists are expected to have thick skins. This isn’t to say that you can’t give trolls a piece of your mind while maintaining professionalism and poise. For lessons here, just study J.K. Rowling’s Twitter: when you have mastered her level of composed sarcasm, you too can call out dickishness without looking fragile.
  2. Applying feedback to your work: The most important reaction to receiving criticism is to find the little nuggets of truth—those flaws in your work that maybe you suspected were there but couldn’t quite pin down, those imperfections you hoped no one else would notice, or those inconsistencies that you didn’t even realize were there—and to apply them when you revisit your work to edit. If you receive feedback from 20 readers and find nothing in their comments that prompts you to change something about your work, you might be being too stubborn and sensitive to accurately view the value of their points. And if you go through that much criticism and don’t change anything about your work, then you endured all those harsh words and blunt dissections for nothing.

Writers put their unfinished work out there to get honest opinions, to get the hard truths about their own shortcomings as writers, all for the purpose of going back and improving their work. If you don’t have the stomach for criticism, then you may want to be the kind of writer who only writes for their own enjoyment and not with the intention of releasing their work for others to see. And that’s fine, if you’re that kind of writer. It’s better to identify that early on than it is to keep torturing yourself until you give up on writing altogether. If, however, you hope for others to read your work someday, it behooves you to learn to process criticism, apply changes that you agree with, and thereby improve your skills and creative instincts.

  1. When dealing with criticism about your passion for writing: There are going to be people in your life (often people who aren’t writers or artists) who will view your endeavors as a writer with skepticism and condescension. They might say snarky things like “Do you even make any money writing?” or “You haven’t published anything yet?” or “Must be nice to have enough time on your hands to waste it on the computer.” They might make jokes about starving artists or useless English degrees. Or it might be your parents, worried that you don’t get out enough because you spend all your free time cooped up in your apartment working on a novel. The temptation might be there for you to give up on writing altogether, to pursue “normal” hobbies or social events, to go for the practical degree in something that bores you to tears. If you are passionate about writing, though, don’t listen to these people. The easiest way to respond is that you are just as likely to make it big as a writer as a high school football player is to make it to the NFL. Your goals, talents and interests are just as valid. You gain and learn just as many vital skills in the pursuit of writing as your mother did in her pursuit of gardening or tennis. If writing grants you fulfillment and a sense of purpose (and, sometimes, pure happiness) then that should be all that matters to anyone, especially anyone who cares about you.

Like rejection, facing criticism is never easy, but it does get easier with time and experience.

For more tips, check out Terrible Writing Advice’s take on Criticism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v4R2ZcxPlA

Uncategorized, Writing Advice, Writing Life

On Facing Rejection

I have been writing since I was ten years old, but I didn’t dip my toe into the realm of publishing until I was sixteen. After having written my first non-horror novel, I talked to my aunt about publishing—she worked at a local magazine and had always been a writer, herself. She gave me several books about publishing and even sat me down with the magazine’s editor to pick his brain about the process, and about his recommendations for how I should proceed. I had given him a printed copy of my novel prior to the meeting so that he could give me an honest assessment.
The magazine’s headquarters was in a beautiful Victorian-style home in the historic district, shaded by ancient moss-covered oaks. I had been volunteering at the magazine as part of my International Baccalaureate-mandated community service—organizing files, calling potential subscribers, that sort of thing. The editor was an older gentleman who spoke in a quiet, raspy voice. He always wore a suit; no matter how hot it got, he never removed his jacket.
In that meeting, he kindly and courteously explained the process for both traditional and self-publication (this was back in the early 2000’s, before self-publication had become the viable and more user-friendly option that is it now). Then he laid it on me: this book wasn’t ready for publication. I wasn’t ready for publication. If this book was to be published, it would have to be self-published, which would cost me a few grand (not exactly an option while I was waiting tables at an island-themed restaurant), and even if it was affordable, he wouldn’t recommend it, because my style and content weren’t fully developed yet. In other words, my narrative ambitions stretched far past my technical abilities, and I needed to work on my craft more before publishing could become an option.
This was my first foray into real rejection. I handled it better than I expected, mostly because I appreciated all of the advice and the fact that the editor treated me not like an amateur who would always be an amateur, but as a beginner who showed promise.
Since then, I have dealt with countless rejections. While trying to seek publication for a collection of short stories I completed in 2012, I queried around 100 different literary agents. I received rejection letters (or complete radio silence) from 99. The one agent who was determined to work with me (and who has worked with me on every project since) helped me to polish the collected stories into the most publishable work possible, and still when she pitched the manuscript to dozens of publishers, we received nothing but rejection back. In this situation, the prevailing urge is to feel completely and utterly demoralized; I caved in to that urge for a short while, wondering if I was good enough, if I was ever going to be published, if my stories were ever going to make it out into the world. After a month or two of crippling self-doubt, I found solace in small victories: a few online literary journals published individual stories on their sites, and workshop leaders and professors all had positive things to say about the pieces I submitted for review. And while the big publishing houses rejected my manuscript, many of them cited the same rationale: the work was well-written and ambitious, but too difficult to market or was too abstract. I could live with that.
Now that I’m in the same boat again—anxiously awaiting to hear if traditional publication is an option for my newest novel, or if self-publishing is in my future—I look back fondly on those past rejections, all of which have brought me here and have taught me everything I know about resilience, dedication and appreciation for every small victory. So if you find yourself in that position—maybe you’ve hit a brick wall with finding a literary agent, or every publisher has said no, or you didn’t win the literary contest you entered—and especially if you’re in the throes of self-doubt, here are a few things to remember while facing rejection.
1. Find the silver lining. This is true of any moment of perceived or actual failure: one of the best ways to keep yourself from slipping into depression or insecurity is to find a more positive and more productive way to look at your situation. For me, I am usually able to keep from beating myself up over a failure by focusing on what lessons I have learned from the experience; when you can’t find any other silver lining, this one is always available. I sent my query letters out for literary agents in two phases. The first 50 that I sent out were nothing but rejections or blistering silence, but instead of taking this as a defeat, it inspired me to take a closer look at the query letter, synopsis and excerpt I was submitting to agents. I realized that the synopsis was too vague and that instead of sending the first 15-50 pages of the collection (depending on the page amount each agent requested), which often cut off the opening novella before it concluded, it would be better to send the strongest stand-alone story instead. In other words, my silver lining in that situation was realizing that I needed to adjust my strategy before I exhausted my entire list of agents, learning from my mistakes and improving my ability to communicate with literary professionals.
2. Be resilient. When you’re questioning your desire or ability to write, this tip can sometimes be easier said than done. Resilience is the ability to bounce back after adversity, to get up more times than you’re knocked down, to keep trying and believing in yourself even when the odds are against you. Resilience isn’t a quality someone is simply born with, though: it’s a skill that can be taught and learned, and it requires rewiring your brain to keep it from jumping towards negative / counter-productive thinking patterns. Being in the military, we actually have an outstanding, comprehensive Master Resilience Training program that was first researched and developed by Penn State’s Positive Psychology Center. This program taught me a lot of skills and awareness of mental processes that I had never considered before. If you’re interested in researching this further, please take a look at the following website: https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/resilience-programs/resilience-skill-set. This site also includes several books that delve into the topic of resilience and its many forms.
3. Have a backup plan. These days, the traditional publishing route is not the end-all, be-all authority on getting your work out there. There was once a time when a writer was more likely to bend to the will of the gatekeepers or never get published at all, because there really weren’t any alternatives. This is no longer the case. From blogs to vlogs, from editing and contributing to online literary journals or underground, subversive magazines, there are many ways to get your voice out there these days. Self-publishing has seen a tremendous boom lately, with self-published authors gaining just as much (and, sometimes, even more) success as their traditionally published peers. Finding success in self-publishing requires a lot of research, planning, diligence and the willingness to branch out into new creative ventures in order to establish and grow an audience. If it begins to look like the gatekeepers of the traditional publishing world are unwilling to open up to you, you have three choices: abandon the manuscript, rework the manuscript to try resubmitting, or turn towards self-publication. Deep down you will know the right path.
4. Keep writing. No matter what rejection you face, the important thing is to learn from your mistakes, improve as a writer by taking valid criticisms to heart, and keep writing. If you have gone far enough as a writer to even face rejection at all—meaning you had a creative idea that inspired you to take up the pen to begin with, and you actually saw your ideas through from the first sentence to the last, and you believed in the finished product enough to attempt to get it out to the rest of the world—then clearly this is your calling. Whether that calling results in the best seller’s list or not, it’s your passion. It nurtures you on a fundamental level, and it is worth fighting for. So even when rejection rears its ugly head, keep writing. Write poetry in your journal, tinker with a short story idea, try your hand at a screenplay for the first time. Start a new novel or continue to work on improving the one that got rejected. Just keep writing. In the end, we all want to be published. However, if that is the only thing that drives you, you may need to find your inspiration again and remember why you started writing in the first place.
 
Every established author has faced rejection countless times in their careers. Stephen King’s Carrie was notoriously rejected by 30 publishers. Here’s a list of even more oft-rejected works that later found success thanks to the resilience of authors: https://lithub.com/the-most-rejected-books-of-all-time/. Take a page from their playbook: don’t give up!
My Writing, Uncategorized, Writing Life

The View of a Ladder from the Ground

*This is from a recent poetry workshop; though poetry isn’t normally my forte, I had a lot of fun with it!

 

The structure’s built of sturdy stock,

of the hearts harvested from Wormwood

still blood-slick and raw with splinters.

 

From down here the spaces between rungs

looks daunting, insurmountable;

even if you stood on the spines of lesser men

you couldn’t ever reach up and find purchase

in your sweet ticket upward.

 

So you stick to ground-level,

chase your neon signs touting payday loans

and merciful angels of bankruptcy

and multilevel marketing schemes—anything,

anything that will pull you from the mud like a great heron,

anything that will release you from the alleyway grit

and tenement housing grime.

 

Anything that will allow you the candied fantasy,

the scratch-off tickets and heroin, the reality TV and

our father who art in Heaven.

 

Anything that will let you dream in Technicolor,

in pastel suburbia,

and pretty, pricey things in glossy editorials—

things you need or else you will die alone and out-of-fashion,

and no one will labor to touch you again,

and no one will understand the meaning of your name

without your top-shelf name-brand heraldry to define it.

 

To the gods of commerce you pray for

tax-return miracles and

inheritance and

for your bank account balance to pull a Lazarus,

resurrect itself from the red back into the green.

 

To the Christ who transformed one meal into plenty,

you ask how come he can’t offer classes on

how to rub two coins together

until those coins breed.

 

To the nation built on dreams,

you ask why waking is so rough.

 

But you have to wake up sometime,

go work that minimum wage

go pay those bills

go buy those necessary things

go build that ladder and build it strong.

And when you’re done, set its legs on your shoulders,

hold it up, hold it steady.

 

Staring up from the bottom

The whole thing looks like train-tracks

pushing towards a vanishing point,

some unknowable dot at the belt of the horizon.

Which is where they dance and laugh and sup,

the ones who fabricated a beautiful world for you

and tricked you into becoming Atlas.

Uncategorized, Writing Advice, Writing Life

The Controlled Burn of Editing

Writers perhaps dread and avoid editing their work more than they dread and avoid any other aspect of the writing process. Creation is the fun part, after all, and some of us have weak stomachs for purging the words, lines, paragraphs and even entire sections that don’t benefit the story as a whole. We’ll make excuses to keep those empty words around, make excuses for the grammatical inconsistencies and make excuses for out-of-character moments, all because we’re either bored with the editing process, afraid to look foolish or amateurish (and would prefer to act as though our mistakes were intentional stylistic choices) or we are too emotionally attached to our book exactly as it is and can’t bear to change anything about it.

If you approach the editing process in a deliberate and planned manner, however, you can learn to become less sensitive to criticism, more open to logical changes, and capable of producing more quality work in the future. After all, the goal of editing is not just to improve your current work, but to grow and develop as a writer. Below are a few tips for streamlining the editing process. Please bear in mind: this isn’t at all an exhaustive list, and everyone eventually finds their own process with editing!

1. Soft Edit: The process that I call the “soft edit” is the section-by-section editing I do at the beginning of every writing session. This edit takes place while the project is still a work in progress. In other words, every day when I pick up the laptop to start writing, I begin by reading over what I wrote the last time I added to the novel, whether that be a page-worth of work or an entire chapter. The soft edit has two benefits: you’re still looking at your work while it’s fresh and untouched, meaning your eyes are going to be more perceptive to typos and simple grammatical errors, and this read-through allows you to start writing fresh material knowing exactly where you left off, allowing for a seamless transition from day to day. I do this faithfully every time I write, so that I have a clear understanding of my story and its progression, and I also can reduce continuity errors by refreshing my memory on the previous scene. The routine that works best for me is to read the previous day’s work to myself silently, and then to read it out loud before I start working on new material; by reading out loud, you’re forced to slow down which allows you to catch more issues and errors.

2. Content Edit: This is the edit I partake in after I have completed the novel. I read the work in its entirety, focusing on the transitions from scene to scene, the “flow” of the plot, character dynamics and dialogue. This is where I ask the big questions: do my characters’ actions and reactions make sense? Are there any scenes where plot progression lags too much? Is the pacing successful? Are there any characters who feel under-developed? Is the world-building adequate? Is there clear structure to my story and to the character arcs? What is the most prevalent theme, and is it expressed thoughtfully? This edit isn’t complete until I have read through the novel, answered the pressing questions about story structure and content, and have gone back to address those determinations (i.e. if I determine that the world-building was sparse, I have to go back and correct this issue before I can move on to the next edit).

3. Line Edit: For me, I always find that my next edit yields the best results when I wait a few months before diving in. Any time I have tried to proceed to the line edit right after having finished the content edit, I swiftly lose motivation and treat the work more like a chore than an opportunity to make the project better. After completing the content edit, I will usually shelve the work for 90 days, working on other projects or delving into my ever-growing list of books I need to read; this way, I can approach my work with fresh eyes, a restored perspective and renewed enthusiasm. The line edit, after all, is the most grueling part of the process. This is where to go line by line, checking for passive voice, grammatical consistency (to include how you convey possession, how you spell names, how you express slang or dialect, use of Oxford commas, and how you express numbers), use of figurative language (including use or overuse of similes/metaphors), use of descriptive language such as adjectives and adverbs, word count (can you delete words or lines that don’t contribute enough to the plot), ease of reading (can you declutter a sentence that has too many clauses, etc.) and vocabulary choices (does the diction fit the character/narrator, is there a word that would do more work for the reader, and is there a simpler way to say something). Again, this list isn’t by any means exhaustive. The main focus on the line edit is the actual nitty-gritty of your use of words and language.

For me, this is the bare minimum editing that is needed to present a polished draft, whether you intend this draft to be sent to queried literary agents, to beta readers, or to a thesis advisor. If I had time to do so, however, I would actually do another read-through after the line-edit just to ensure that the entire project still flowed for me. On top of this, you can expect to do more editing work each time you get another pair of eyes on your work: your agent, professor, workshop partners, publisher or beta readers all might have suggestions that will make your work clearer and more effective. This isn’t to say that every suggestion needs to be implemented: there will be several times when you disagree with critiques, and as long as your objections pass the gut-check (as in you know in your gut that you aren’t only disagreeing because your ego has been wounded and you’re being defensive), then it is absolutely acceptable to not implement those changes to your work. After all, this project has your name on it, and you have to be proud of it, defend it and identify with it.

What are some other editing tips and tricks that have worked for you? Do you have your own unique process? What part of the editing process do you dread the most?

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