Does Your Writing Lack Life?

By DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

When I think of a flatline writer, I think of a bowl of cooked spaghetti—limp, colorless, tasteless, no energy. It’s been submerged into boiling water and didn’t survive. None of us want to fall into that category when we can take steps to stay strong and avoid the vat of despair.

No one wants their story to be rejected!

Where’s the flavor?

What happens when a writer realizes her career isn’t shaping up to what she dreamed?

How can we ensure our manuscripts are fresh, filled with vitality, and eagerly read?

Let’s take another look at the lifeless bowl of cooked spaghetti.

1. Sometimes all a bowl of spaghetti needs is a little seasoning. It’s amazing what salt, pepper, and basil can add to the dish. When we sprinkle our manuscripts with a fresh edit, reach out to guest blog, or create an engaging Pinterest board, we add small but significant ways to apply zest to our careers.

2. When we have bad results, we take the time to evaluate the brand of spaghetti we’re using. Maybe a new brand or promoting the one we’re using will give us better results. Is a website redesign necessary? A smart writer evaluates what she is doing and how she is progressing.

3. Does your spaghetti taste blah, overcooked or undercooked? Adjust the cooking time and taste the results. What about your manuscript? We writers can get into the habit of turning out work much too quickly, and the quality slides down the garbage disposal. The opposite is true too. If a writer overthinks every word and sentence, creativity suffers. An under-edited or over-edited manuscript lacks   freshness and originality. 

4. When we rush with our recipes, we can be forgetful and omit a simple step like draining the spaghetti. Spooning out excess water is like watering down a manuscript with too many adverbs, telling phrases, passive verbs, redundancy, weasel words, shallow characters … Need I say more?

Creativity make cooking and writing a delight!

5. Creativity in our cooking endeavors means experimenting with different sauces. Perhaps a little olive oil and pesto is all you need, or a rich tomato sauce with chunky vegetables, or a creamy cheese. Exploring writing techniques adds dimension to our craft. Follow teaching blogs. Attend a conference. Seek out a critique partner or group.
 

6. Promoting
our culinary success means sharing our recipe techniques with others. A
writer who gives back to those who are serious is blessed with respect
and integrity.


How have you kept yourself from being labeled a flatline writer? Share your thoughts so we all can learn.

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers; the 2015 president of the Romance Writers of America’s Faith, Hope, & Love chapter; a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and International Thriller Writers. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at www.diannmills.com.

Power Packed Editing ~ Words of Wisdom from Beth K. Vogt

Improve Your Editing Process with Preferred Readers

 by Beth K. Vogt
When I reach a deadline and finish a manuscript, I do two things:
  1. I hit SEND and submit my the newly-completed novel to my editor
  2. I contact my Preferred Readers and let them know they’ll be getting their copies within the next few days

I’ve been working with Preferred Readers since my debut novel, Wish You Were Here, released in 2012. Back then I had one Preferred Reader. Now I have three.
What is a Preferred Reader?
My Preferred Readers are three women who read through my manuscript and then meet with me to give me feedback on my plot, my characters, as well as telling me which scenes worked for them and which didn’t. 
Why Work with Preferred Readers?
My group’s feedback is invaluable. They are my target readers: the kind of women I hope will pick up my novels, pass them on to their friends, or even to their teen daughters. Their insights let me know if I’m tapping into readers’ emotions, or if I’m confusing readers. Do they like my hero and heroine? Is my pacing working or is the story dragging? Did they like that challenging scene I wrestled with? 
How Do You Run a Preferred Readers Group?

  • Limit the size of your group. Having three Preferred Readers is ideal. When we meet, we discuss each chapter, keeping to “big picture” comments. Each person has a say. Even with a small group our meetings often last six hours and include a meal – and we talk while we eat.
  • Select different personalities. One of my Preferred Readers (PR) is a detail person, as well as a certified emotional intelligence (EQ) coach. Another PR is a writing buddy, and she brings that skill set to the group. My third PR is specifically a target group reader, as well as a former teacher and a homeschooling mom. The last time we met, she had her teen daughter read through the manuscript too.
  • Equip your group. I print out the manuscripts, which allows my PRs to mark up the pages as they read. NOTE: If you do this at someplace like Kinkos, this can be pricy. I spent $90 for printing and hole-punching. But if you do it at home, it’s your paper and ink, which you have to replace. I also provide individual binders and include dividers to mark each chapter, which makes it easier to go back and forth during discussions. 
  • Tell your Preferred Readers what kind of feedback you want. Be specific. I recommend staying with general comments and not getting bogged down with grammar, punctuation, and spelling – although they can go ahead and mark that too. Let them know you want both positive feedback and constructive criticism – no writer wants to hear only negative input. Consider starting with overall feedback about the book, like a character or a plot point, before going chapter by chapter. 
  • Appreciate your Preferred Readers. I always work with them to set a convenient time to meet and discuss the manuscript. We’ve met at restaurants for a working breakfast or dinner – my treat. Last time, we met at my house because it was quieter, and I ordered Thai food from a local restaurant for lunch. I also include my PRs on my influencer list so they receive a copy of each book when it’s released.

Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author who said she’d never write fiction, the wife of an Air Force physician who said she’d never marry anyone in the military and a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. Vogt believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “never.” A 2015 RITA® Finalist and a 2015 and 2014 Carol Award finalist, her 2014 novel, Somebody Like You, was one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of 2014. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Rob, and their youngest daughter.

For more information about Beth, visit her website, become a fan on Facebook or follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Trimming and Toning Your Manuscript

By Michael Ehret

Your manuscript is likely big-boned. I know mine is. Over the years, your MS has picked up a few extra words here and there. But that shouldn’t be a problem. All of those skinny manuscripts are airbrushed anyway.

Besides, Stephen King (not that you’re him) has written a bloated book or two—or three—and no one minds. Yegads, he even re-released an already huge popular book (The Stand) with hundreds of words his editors originally cut put back in—so there you red-penned devils!

But seriously, your book is likely overweight and if it doesn’t lower its word count it won’t be able to compete. Time to trim and tone your book.

Weight Watchers, which helps you trim and tone  your body, has four key principles that can be adapted to help you self-edit that extra verbiage from your manuscript.

Principle 1: Healthy word loss

Q. What’s healthy when it comes to word loss?

A. As trim as possible without sacrificing artistry or voice.

I think of it this way: If a word can be deleted, it gets deleted.

Cut the fat. Scour your writing for:

  • Introductory phrases: “The point I’m trying to make is…”
  • Redundancies:
    1. “Josh estimated that they’d arrive in Minneapolis by roughly 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon.” (14 words) “Estimated” and “roughly” are redundant, as are “p.m.” and “afternoon“.
    2. “Josh estimated they’d arrive in Minneapolis by 4:00 p.m.” (9 words)
  • Wordiness:
    1. “Sarah knew that at her place of employment Jason was knee-deep in advance planning for the next year’s fundraising campaign.” (20 words)
    2. “Sarah knew her co-worker Jason was knee-deep in planning next year’s fundraiser.” (12 words)

Principle 2: Fits into your life

Any approach at trimming your manuscript must be practical and livable. That means realistic goals. You are not likely to become Ernest Hemingway (renown for being succinct) straight out of the gate.

But you can set goals that will help you. Here are a few tricks:

  • That/Very: In almost every case, these words can be eliminated. Keep only the ones that add clarity or help with sentence rhythm.
  • Adverbs: Scorn them. “Adverbs are the tool of the lazy writer.” — Mark Twain
  • $$$: Pretend you are being charged a quarter for each word. If you take it seriously, you’ll start competing with yourself to pay less each time you write.

Principle 3: Informed choices

You need to learn not only how to cut your manuscript, but also why. If you know why, you gain the confidence to make the right choices for your writing. Here are some of the websites I often consult:

  1. Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips
  2. Purdue University Online Writing Lab
  3. Writer’s Digest Online

I highly recommend American Christian Fiction Writers as a place to get grounded not only in the craft of writing, but in the career of writing as well.

Principle 4: A holistic view

Finally, your approach must be comprehensive. Sustained word loss comes from practicing these and other tips.

One of the best ways to practice tight writing is in a writer’s critique group.

A proper critique group will, kindly and in love, kick your writing butt until you’re in shape. They’ll remind you of what you’ve learned (and of how often you’ve had to learn it). They will hold you down and sit on you until you’ve eliminated every extra word—and will expect you to do the same to them. With chocolate.

Michael Ehret loves to play with words as a Marketing Communications Writer for CHEFS Catalog and as a freelance editor at WritingOnTheFineLine.com. Ehret is the former editor of the ACFW Journal and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Search and Destroy … er … Find

Now a literary agent at WordServe Literary, Barbara J. Scott has been a book editor for 13+ years and has more than
30 years of publishing experience, ranging from newspapers and magazines to
books. The fiction line at Abingdon Press exceeded all sales expectations, and
Barbara has been credited for kicking off a well-rounded series of quality,
highly-reviewed novels. Among her many published works, Barbara is the
co-author of best-selling novel Sedona Storm, as well as the sequel Secrets of
the Gathering Darkness, both published by Thomas. Nelson. 
Over the years I’ve harped at authors
never, ever to turn in a first draft. Some writers think the editor’s job is to
spiff up their grammar, correct misspelled words, change passive voice to
active, eliminate repeated words and phrases, or do laser surgery on their
mixed metaphors.
Word travels in publishing circles about
whether you’re a professional or you’ve made your living on the backs of good
editors. You don’t want to be known as a hack writer.
Hopefully, the electronic tool known as search and find will make your
self-editing chore more enjoyable.
1. Passive voice (one of my pet peeves): Passive voice
is created by using a form of be, such as am, is, are,
was, were, being, be, or been and followed
by the past participle of the main verb, or gerunds comprised of a present
participle (ending in “ing”) that functions as a noun. Learn more in Hacker’s Rules
for Writers.
Search for these words and recast your sentences to make them
more active. Examples:
Passive: He was jumping over
the cliff into the river below to escape.
Active: He jumped over the
cliff into the river below to escape.
2. Qualifiers: These words
clutter up your writing. Sometimes I think writers use them to boost their word
counts. Examples: begin, start, started to, almost, decided to, planned to, a
little bit, almost, etc. Examples:
With qualifier: Mary felt a little
bit out of place among the nouveau riche.
Better: Mary felt out of
place among the nouveau riche.
3. Weasel Words: These words are
easy to spot. You can drop them and no one will notice. My high school English
teacher told me that if you could replace the word very with the word damn,
you didn’t need it. Other examples: really, well, so, a
lot of
, anyway, just, oh, suddenly, immediately,
kind of, extremely, etc. I’m sure you can come up with your favorites.
With weasel words: Suddenly, she stood up and said, “Oh well,
let’s retire to the drawing room and just stay out of his way.”
Better: She stood and said,
“Let’s retire to the drawing room and stay out of his way.”
4.Adverbs: I don’t hate
adverbs, but they “usually” are unnecessary, especially in dialogue tags. Your
prose should communicate a character’s state of mind without using a tag line
such as the example below. Use search and find to look for an ly followed
by a space or a period.
With adverb: “I’ll kill him,” she
said ferociously. (Really?)
Better: “I’ll kill him,” she
said.
5. Extraneous thats or thens: Use the global search-and-find feature for the word that.
If you can understand the sentence without it, you don’t need it. You notice I
didn’t write, then you don’t need it. Both of these words are over used.
Writing is rewriting, and rewriting
involves self-editing. It’s your job to turn in the cleanest manuscript
possible to your agent or editor. Use the search-and-find tool to speed up the
process.
Can you think of other ways you can employ the
search-and-find feature in Word to edit your work?