Editing (and writing) tips

I recently got a question asking about writing tips in general, and especially related to editing. For privacy reasons, as usual, I won’t name the person–but I’m writing a post here instead of replying directly because 1) I always ramble like fuuuuuuuck and 2) maybe someone else out there is curious about the same thing from my perspective.

First, as always, I’m obviously not a professional. You’ll definitely want to go with what professionals say, if anything goes against my thoughts. But for what it’s worth, I helped a family member edit her book and a professional who worked with her on the book was really impressed with my feedback. Which I am not saying to pat myself on the back; I say only to mention that maybe, hopefully, some of this is useful and not totally leading people down the wrong path lol

Writing

I have some posts on writing advice here: http://ais-n.tumblr.com/tagged/writing-advice — and there should be some that Santino and/or I wrote under “writing questions” here: https://aisness.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/icos-master-list-feb-2016-edition (Note that there may be some overlap between the two links, also I’m not sure if all those links still work–if you see any specifically that don’t, let me know).

I have lots of thoughts on writing, but they’re all pretty informed by my personal writing style which is very much aimed toward writing what makes sense for that story and those characters, and “rules” be damned. I don’t like the idea of confining oneself to expectations if it interferes with the natural, organic progression of a story. That does mean I tend to go pretty hardcore into stuff I write because if I’m writing a dark story, I’m not going to pull punches; and I tend to add a fair amount of darkness into my stories because it doesn’t feel realistic to me otherwise. But this also means my style doesn’t work for people who want to feel like they always know what’s coming or at least know the limits to which the story will go. After all, as we’ve seen, you cannot trust me to not totally fuck up a character because it feels like the right progression for me. And that’s not fun for some people to read, you know? But it’s super hard for me to write a more chill story because it’s not the kind of story I tend to read. I try to do it and then I get bored, but other people can do that same concept and story in a fantastically beautiful way and really excel at it.

What I mean by this aside is that I have maybe a bit odd of a viewpoint on writing stories compared to some more traditional or mainstream views, so that may make me a terrible person to ask for thoughts for you, or it may make me someone who vibes better with your personal style. I think it’s most important we’re all genuine to ourselves so whatever writing style works for you is the perfect style for your stories. There’s a story out there for every occasion, every voice, every idea, every feeling.

There is no right or wrong way to write; in my opinion, the only way you can do anything “wrong” is by not believing in your own personal voice, your own personal style; by silencing your individuality if it doesn’t fit the stronger, louder voice. If it does fit, that’s perfect and you should run with it. If it doesn’t, don’t change yourself or your world or characters or story into something it isn’t. That feeling of dissonance will be what is taken away from your story instead of the story itself, at least to readers like me. Because I do believe what Maya Angelou said is true: people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. In my personal opinion both as a reader and a writer, I think that applies to stories as well.

I also think research is really important but I guess that’s a whole other thing. I’m getting too much into writing tips right now so I’ll leave it at this and the linked posts above — but if anyone is curious about anything in particular, let me know. If you’d be curious about my personal thoughts on anything, I’m happy to answer 🙂

Editing:

Editing is a pain, but also kind of fun. I have a few thoughts on it– most of what I’m first talking about below is you editing your own work. I touch a little on editing someone else’s work afterward.

**Read or edit for the overall flow as much (or IMO more) than you do the specific grammatical nitpicking. I know that’s going to go against what a lot of people feel about editing, but here’s the thing: stories are translations of the heart, whether it’s the heart of the overall story, the heart of the writer, the heart of the characters, the heart of the reader, the heart of whatever it represents. To me, a story is poetry on a larger scale, or it’s a song, or it’s whatever artistic endeavor that represents something that, to you, feels moving or meaningful.

Yes, it’s important that we understand what you’re trying to say. For that, yes, having someone check the grammar is definitely useful.

But the rules of grammar are not the rules of language. That may sound like an odd thing to say because, yeah, technically it is– but think about when you’re learning a new language. If it’s anything like when I’ve taken classes in the multiple languages I’ve taken classes in, the teacher tells you all the specific grammatical rules so you’re speaking properly, politely, in complete sentences with all the correct intonation and all the right tenses. You can definitely get your thoughts across if you learn a language that way, in that people will understand the concept of what you’re saying because you are literally speaking textbook to them.

But then think about your native language. Do you speak or type grammatically correct all the time? Do you avoid contractions, run-on sentences, do you not indulge in hyperbole, do you not have fun dropping an Oxford comma or two? If you’re feeling an intense emotion, aren’t you even more likely to play the strings of the language you know best? Changing vocabulary to emphasize meaning or form, adding intensity in your tone or your chosen verbal attack, throwing in swear words or cutting your sentences in half then in half again and again until it’s just partial words because you’re too upset or excited or something else to properly form a complete sentence?

There may be people out there who don’t do this, I don’t know. But for me, this is how I function, and it seems to me how a lot of people around me function. We rarely speak perfectly politely, perfectly properly, in our native tongue 100% of the time. Even languages built very much on the concept of polite and proper, even cultures with a clear sense of in group vs out group, have variations set in place in their language to indicate intimacy, friendship, a sense of understanding. Those levels are there so we can share that connection with others in something as simple as the word we choose when we call them, or the name we use when they come close.

To me, stories are like levels of language. There are different ways of telling the stories based on the story that’s being told. If it’s a character who’s distant or cold, or a setting that requires a sense of detachment, writing in very proper, polite, grammatically perfect sentences makes sense because it provides that sense of out group you would get in your native tongue. If it’s a story that should feel visceral, cloying, catastrophically vulnerable, then it’s meaningful to write in an ebb and flow of emotion dependent on the feeling of the character or the feeling the writer wants to create within the reader. Words breathe life into the story they relay, so the chosen words matter. Most of the time, I think stories benefit from a variation in the telling of them; perfect in some places, very imperfect in others, a constant reflection of the tapestry of emotions and motion in the world or story itself, or a view into the mind of the character displayed.

So, although it’s important to have someone who can help with any egregious and unhelpful grammatical mistakes, or spelling errors or the like, I also don’t think that should be the primary focus. It’s the sort of thing that’s important to take into account so that no poor wording accidentally jolts the reader from the story, but it shouldn’t be the be all and end all because that could result in losing the more emotional flow needed for what the story is trying to get across.

I think of it like this: writers are the translators for a character’s life. How would the characters feel at different points in the story, and therefore how best can that be worded to make the reader feel the same way reading it? How can you make the reader feel like they are experiencing that same emotion the character is feeling? That’s the best way to bring alive a world or plot or character, in my mind: by making it real.

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Why I’ve been quiet

I’ll be honest: I’m exhausted. There have been many years of different situations wearing me down in an ebb and flow but I’d mostly figured out how to manage that stress. The last several months have been far more exhausting for various reasons, though. In addition to personal circumstances that are stressing or tiring me, I’m also continually disappointed by humanity and the state of the world.

I don’t mean that as a dramatic statement, it’s just… as I’ve always said, I believe in humanity’s capability of change. I believe people all have the chance to choose positivity or empathy or at least not jump to hate or hurt, all of this of course very dependent on their specific circumstances at any given time. But that possibility regardless of its plausibility, I feel, is always there.

Being positive or kind or caring is not something that is always inherent. It’s a choice to try to see the best in people, it’s a choice to try to understand or try to reach out, just as it’s a choice to dismiss or distance other people, to belittle other’s opinions or belief systems or how they were born. It can be tiring sometimes to choose something more empathetic or positive, but I think it’s more important to try that than to take the easy route of hatred, which itself is a slippery slope downward.

I’ve always been used to feeling like an outsider to society, and I’ve been used to not always fully agreeing with other people on almost anything. That’s normal, really, to not see eye to eye on everything. It would be a boring world if we all did. But as the last few years have developed, I’ve grown increasingly disappointed by all sides of so many issues. I feel like so many people have become convinced they are in the right, morally superior to the Other they have designated in their mind, without recognizing that they are an Other to that person. And if they don’t like the way they are treated as an Other, why would they treat anyone else as an Other as well? If you believe in equality, for example, why is your loudest and most lasting message that of inequality?

The best way I can describe it is I feel like what I’m seeing in reality is becoming more and more Janus-like and I don’t think that’s a good thing. I don’t think this idea of reckless “RESIST” is good. Nor do I think it’s good to stay silent and complacent.

There’s a balance and frankly I don’t fully know what it is yet, which is why I haven’t been saying much because I think words have power. I do think it’s really important to fact check, fact check, fact check, because our “news” organizations for years have become entertainment bent on making money with little regard for actual journalism or truth, and yet at the same time that doesn’t mean they should all be disregarded with a broad stroke or even that a disreputable organization tells only lies or manipulated information. There could be phenomenal and fair, unbiased journalists in even the most biased of publications, and biased information put in allegedly neutral sources.

The trouble, I feel, is that more and more people are trying to turn everything into extremes. It’s black or it’s white. It’s good or it’s evil. It’s right or it’s wrong. Simultaneously, people seem to be blowing things up to be so much larger than they sometimes need to be, and other times ignoring things which should be looked at more closely. The fickleness of the public eye has become its own beast, where I fully believe you could have the exact same incident with the exact same things happening, but just flip one or two details of it and that will swing public outroar from one extreme to another. The hatred laid on this commercial or that brand or that person or that situation would easily have the exact opposite reaction if this or that part of it hadn’t already been deemed “good” or “evil” by the public eye–based, in part, on money, and based, in part, on convenience. What is a cute and funny meme can become an object of extreme disgust if only one or two pieces are different, and vice versa. The same words could be seen as sassy and endearing, or outrageously inappropriate, dependent on the bias the person reading it has toward the company or person saying it.

This idea of unified hatred speaking louder than anything else is incredibly distressing and disturbing to me. And yes, I do think the way people are constantly getting offended by things in massive waves is an outlier of hatred, because it seems more and more disconnected from a normal reaction to the instigating force. Therefore, my personal belief is that it’s a result of other anger or negativity being suppressed on individual levels, and then exploding out elsewhere disproportionate to the catalyst, feeding into a greater whole. Creating a mob mentality of swinging this way and that on the pendulum of public disgust.

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Julian Files chapter 8

Julian Files master list + what is it?

Continuing the sad train to dysfunctionville, I present to you:


Julian Files chapter 8

Thursday July 21, 2005
Carlisle Windsor School, All Saints neighborhood
Lexington, PA

When they pushed him, Boyd stumbled and fell. He had been paying so much attention to the book he hadn’t expected anything else, so he wasn’t prepared to catch himself. His foot missed the edge of the steps and he tumbled all the way down the stairs, bumping and rolling until he crashed to an abrupt halt at the bottom.

His knees skinned on the concrete, and his arms jolted. His head snapped forward.

It hurt.

The suddenness scared him. His heart thundered in his chest.

He curled his fingers against the concrete and focused on that instead of the startled pain that tried to overcome his natural ability to stay unaffected. His chin wobbled so he clenched his teeth.

He wouldn’t cry. Boys didn’t cry, and he couldn’t be a girl. They already called him that and more.

Carefully, he pushed himself up. It hurt even more doing that, and for a horrifying second he thought he was going to cry anyway. Everything got all blurry the way it did when he had tears. But he managed to hold it in, and he thought his mother and dad would have both been proud.

He could stay quiet no matter what. He was a good boy.

As long as he stayed a good boy, his mother and dad would always remember him. They would still want him.

As long as he stayed a good boy, Mr. Cole wouldn’t take them away.

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Julian Files chapter 7

Julian Files master list + what is it?

There’s a lot I was going to say about the 2 month gap between posting the last update in this book, and why, and how this book is super draft mode. It takes too long to explain, though, so I may post it separately. For now I will just say:

I MAY NEED JULIAN FILES BETA READERS!

If you are interested, let me know–especially if you are a Boyd and/or Vivienne fan because you may have paid attention to details I might have forgotten in our many reworkings of ICoS.

As for this chapter, it’s one that some of you may have been waiting for, and others maybe never wanted to read.


Sunday July 17, 2005
Cedar Hills neighborhood
Lexington, PA

Vivienne knelt in the dusty attic, the only place she felt safe from prying eyes. Her gaze, as always, strayed to the box that held her deepest treasure. And, as always, she made her gaze move away.

She had chosen her path and she did not regret it. She did not make choices lightly, and refused to question actions she had made to the best of her ability at any given time. Doubt was the path toward self destruction, as far as she was concerned; the path that only the weak and insecure took.

Still, there were days that drew her up here again, away from her husband, away the child that haunted this house. Up, up to where she could breathe freely with the trapdoor shut and the darkness surrounding her in comfort.

Cedrick was asleep, as was their son. Although Cedrick had difficulty falling asleep, once he achieved it he could sleep through anything. Their son never strayed from bed once he had settled in–whether it was because he slept through noises or was intelligent enough to not bother anyone, she did not know. It was a small thing she could be grateful for on nights like this. A small thing she wished could be part of a greater whole, but no matter how hard she tried it didn’t seem to happen.

When he had first come screaming into her arms, she had felt a detachment she had never expected. Exhaustion and a need to get away. From when he had been growing inside her to even now, years later, there were days on end where she barely wished to eat. Days where she found solace at her work because it was easier to concentrate on her expectations as a professional than it was to confront her inability to be the perfect mother, or even a proper mother at all. She was used to excelling at what she put her mind toward, yet her inability to meet even the most basic of expectations of motherhood felt like a betrayal; whether of her own mind and body, or of society, or of her son, or anything else, she could not always decide.

Perhaps it had been that or something else that had made his red, crying face bring to mind the image of the Nain Rouge. Vivienne had once met a woman from Detroit who, upon learning Vivienne was French, had talked at length about the Nain Rouge and how she viewed it.

Harbinger of doom, she called it. And Vivienne’s first sight of her only child had brought that swiftly to mind.

Vivienne had tried to ignore the thought, but perhaps her addled mind had known best. Only days later, the war had taken Vivienne’s family, and everything had twisted in Vivienne’s life from then on.

It was in memory of that family that she was here now.

As had been the case since she had birthed that child, she had been unable to sleep; caught forever in the shroud between dreams and the waking world. That restlessness had drawn her from the warmth of Cedrick’s side, down the quiet hallway, up the stairs, up the ladder, to sit with her knees pulled to her chest, where her gaze was drawn again, again to that box. 

It was Amy’s birthday.

Did Cedrick remember this and pointedly not speak of it each year? Or had he forgotten, now that the date no longer held significance?

It would always be meaningful to Vivienne.

Today, Amy would have turned fifty. Today, Vivienne would have insisted on bringing her somewhere special; buying her something beautiful. She would have made Amy breakfast if Braeden or Cedrick had not. She would have sat by her side and felt the comfort of her presence.

In a world that had not seemed ready to accept Vivienne since the sudden death of her parents when she was eight years old, Vivienne had grown accustomed to keeping everyone at a distance. She had come to expect negativity sent her way. It no longer bothered her, because her grandmother’s lessons had worked. Mireille had taught Vivienne how to live in a world like this and how to rise above it. To not care what others thought, so she could be free to do what she believed was best.

Life is war, her grandmother had told her since she was brought, orphaned, to Mireille’s Parisian home. Do not lose yourself in the battles. Think always of the long strategy. If you plan ahead, you will always win.

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Some advice on sharing, if it helps

“For years my friend has told me to share my writing but I’ve been self-conscious about how it will be received or perceived. Lately, I’m wanting to post, but I don’t know where to start. Do you have any advice?”

I got the above question in an email (don’t worry, email friend! I will not name you for any privacy concerns) and since I thought it was a good question that others may wonder about too, and since I wrote a long answer, I figured I’d post it here too in case it’s useful for anyone.

Basically, I totally understand self-consciousness; I feel the same way a lot too. It’s a tl;dr story but writing and sharing fanfic is what helped me start to feel more confident in my writing abilities because strangers said such nice things. I had a hard time believing all the nice things my family/friends had said my whole life about my writing was anything other than them being nice or taking pity on me. So I think sharing can be incredibly important if that feels like the right step for anyone at their current point in writing.

Below is from my emailed reply — I’m putting it behind a cut for length but I go into these topics:

**Sharing for free, **sharing for money, **compiling the story, and **how to look at feedback from readers if you are unused to sharing.

For posting, I should first of all say I’m not an expert so I may not be super helpful. But in case any of this is helpful, here are some thoughts I have:

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2017: voice, self-silencing, and circumstances

I just posted this also on tumblr – 2017: Voice – thoughts about self-silencing and circumstances

So, my friend Ashley (aka @smokesinatra) did some vlogs this month and she mentioned in one that she has a really interesting way of doing New Year’s resolutions. Instead of the usual “I’ll do or not do this thing!”, she chooses a word that is something that represents that year or what she needs to work on for that year and then every day she tries, in big or small ways, to do something related to that word. The word she’s chosen for 2017 is brave/bravery.

I freaking love this idea and have been telling other people about it, and so far everyone has really liked it too. I thought about what I wanted to do for 2017 and my word, and I’ve decided on what it is:

My word for 2017 will be: Voice

Something you may or may not know about me is that I silence myself a lot. It’s the byproduct of simultaneously being so used to not being mainstream on just about anything that I know I almost never will agree with the majority of people on something, and literally having a personality which is called The Mediator. I don’t like confrontations, I don’t like hurting people or alienating people. I would rather silence myself to let other voices grow in my presence if that’s what it takes to make a harmonious interaction. I would rather let other people feel heard in my presence than have to always be heard, myself. (I mean, sometimes I’m sassy and don’t let them feel heard, especially if I’m worked up on something, but generally speaking I try to make sure people know their voices didn’t just fall into the chasms of silence)

I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing all the time, honestly. I get along with a lot of people who don’t really know each other because I try not to alienate people, and if I realize I did I try to make up for it if possible. I’ve been able to have really great conversations with people who believe the exact opposite than me, even convinced people to change their minds on controversial topics, because I respected their differences instead of alienating them from the start.

But at the same time, I’ve always been someone extremely unwilling to change myself to fit mainstream society because fuck that shit, I’d literally have to euthanize my entire personality and become a 100% different person for that to happen. Because there is so little about me that’s “normal” or fits together “normally.” Which means I struggle daily with not hurting others while still being true to myself. I’m outspoken on a lot of things but so many other things I silence myself on because I think it’s safer to hurt myself than others.

That’s not a good mindset to have and it feeds into a lot of the issues I have that I don’t know that I talk about often?

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Julian Files chapter 6, scene 2

Julian Files chapter 6, scene 2 — read scene 1 first


Saturday July 16, 2005
Westwind Hospital, Financial South neighborhood
Lexington, PA

“Why did we have to come back?”

Cedrick mused how his five year old son passed the gift shop without a second glance but Cedrick, the twenty-five year old dad, slowed and eyed the wares longingly. The notebooks! They had his favorite sizes, although a bit more melodramatic in style than he preferred. He didn’t really need something gold and flowery proclaiming “be well” on it, but—but then again, it looked like it would fit into his back pocket well, and there was something to be said about hiding important notes in plain sight, and…

No.

Shaking his head to himself, he tugged Boyd along as he sped his walk. He had entirely too many notebooks already. Soon, they would run out of room in the library and Vivienne would not be pleased.

She actually liked the library.

On the rare days she wasn’t working or doing errands or otherwise engaged, sometimes he found her curled in the library’s corner chair with her hair tumbling over her shoulder as she slowly flipped the pages. Her free hand would be curled around a warm mug of jasmine tea with milk. Once upon a time she had scoffed at the addition of milk but after his mom had introduced it to her, she had continued to add it even on her own, even after his mother had passed.

Sometimes on those days, when he walked into the room and if she was really taken with a story, she wouldn’t notice his presence until he was behind her and kissed her on the neck. On those days she would turn, startled, and her sky blue eyes would be unguarded. He would get the luxury of her flushing cheeks, and a flash of the smile that had broken his heart and mended it back together the first time he’d seen it. A genuine, brilliant pull of her lips that brightened her entire face and made her, for once, look her actual age, if not even younger.

It would remind him of when they had been teenagers, back in France when they’d first met. The time it had taken him to win her over, to convince her he wasn’t just trying to use her or hurt her; that he wasn’t mocking her or demanding she become an entirely different person to become someone worthwhile.

The time it had taken her to believe in the idea that someone could like her for who she was, not who they wanted her to be.

On those library days they were years younger again, and it was the first time he saw her smile, the first time he heard the clear bell of her laugh, the first time she gripped his hands and danced on light feet backward, facing him and smiling while the wind swept her hair into a pirouette circling to the sky.

It was all the many firsts in one moment; all the times he got a glimpse of the fierce and lighthearted woman she might have been if her grandmother had let her be human.

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