C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

When editing, search for remnants

A cross-genre flurry about  society's collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy's love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

A cross-genre flurry about society’s collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy’s love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

Here’s a secret about the first draft of This Plague of Days:

I started writing it in first person. For dramatic reasons (and other reasons I can’t reveal for fear of spoilers), I switched to third person, limited omniscient.

At the hub of this apocalyptic adventure is a young man who is on the autistic spectrum. We often see the world flu pandemic and the rise of the zombie horde through his eyes. However, to write the whole book that way would be too hard on the reader. Jaimie’s mind is not grounded in our reality. He sees significance in everything and is obsessed with dictionaries, English words and Latin phrases. To give the story a context of verisimilitude, I had to change how I told the story.

The change made for a better story but added more challenges.

Whatever writing choices you make as you revise and polish, remnants show up. Remnants appear in manuscripts when you make changes or corrections. When I edited other people’s manuscripts, I suggested changes for authors, but I also requested back up by proofreaders after my edit.

Corrections introduce new errors.

The manuscript is not done when the edit is done. This is good advice you would think unnecessary. Nevertheless, I was occasionally ignored by some authors and even a small press on that score. We all need a stellar proofing team and/or beta team to help scour the book.

You can always depend on remnants appearing. For instance, in This Plague of Days, the character of the looter named Bentley changed to Bently. This Plague of Days is huge, so I found several examples of the earlier incarnation when I searched for “Bentley.” “The Bentley”  turned up a couple of times, too.

An old man named Douglas Oliver is a major character. I found several remnants from the previous draft that labeled him “The Oliver.” That’s probably a switch from “the old man” to the character’s name.

Look for more corrections after you think you’re done.

Always look for spelling variations even if you haven’t changed the character name. The autistic kid is Jaimie Spencer, but once or twice I lapsed into “Jamie” or “Jaime”.

Search “stood” and “rose”. Consider if you really want the word “up” to follow those words.

Always enter “the the” in the search box. Our brains are trained to skip over that error.

Always enter two spaces in the search box just before you hit “compile”. You’ll find spaces in your manuscript that look like huge gaps in the text when the manuscript is converted into an ebook.

When you correct a typo, reread what you just corrected to make sure you haven’t subtracted one typo and added another.

It will be okay. Don’t get frustrated. The process is worth it.

After your masterpiece is published, alert readers will email you with helpful notes about typos you missed so you can correct them in the next edition. You’ll take solace in the fact that, without all your preparation, the typo onslaught and readers’ annoyance could have been much worse.

 

 

Filed under: Books, Editing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writing: The Rule of Three & the peril of semi-colons

Massey Hall, Toronto

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Saturday night I saw Bill Maher at Massey Hall in Toronto. Good show, fun time. Bill is known for Real time with Bill Maher, his documentary Religulous, his comedy and his New Rules books. Watching him perform, I noticed he never breaks the Rule of Three. It is a good rule, an effective rule and a memorable rule that I just demonstrated with this very sentence.

Wikipedia puts it like this: The “Rule of Three” is a principle in writing that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.”

Of course, you will write longer lists, but when you use a colon, do so sparingly unless you’re composing a scientific paper. Semi-colons can be very useful in separating elements in a list after a colon. However, if you use the semi-colon to separate related clauses, please do so sparingly. Wikipedia says, “According to the British writer on grammar, Lynne Truss, many non writers avoid the colon and semicolon…”

I disagree. It’s not just non-writers who avoid the semi-colon to separate interdependent clauses. 

The semi-colon can be a useful device occasionally, but as a punctuation mark, it is often either misused or has fallen out of favor.

When Lynne Truss refers to “non-writers”, does she not also mean people who are readers? Shouldn’t it be the common reader who sets the standard for what’s easily read and understood? I invoke the common usage rule here. When something has fallen out of common use, it’s too rusty to use without a lot of irritating squeaking. For instance, if a writer uses the word “behooves,” he sounds like he’s trying to be Charles Dickens. You just aren’t old enough for that.

Similarly, the semi-colon has fallen so far out of common use that when a reader encounters one, it pulls them out of the narrative to think, “Hey, look! A semi-colon! Why did the author feel it was necessary to separate related thoughts with a semi-colon, instead of separating those ideas with a simple period? Anything that stops me from breezing along through a novel is a speed bump that I would prefer shaved down so I can speed along and focus on content instead of transmission static.

I have never read a sentence with a semi-colon that I did not reread at least twice.

I’m not saying  you shouldn’t use semi-colons, if they suit you; I am saying, I won’t use the semi-colon.

Anymore.

Filed under: Editing, Editors, grammar, , , , , , , , , , ,

Editing tools and typo tips

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Write_your_book
EDIT YOUR BOOK!

When you’re checking your manuscript, use your word processor’s Spellcheck. Some editors turn up their snobby little noses at Spellcheck, but it can flag problems you might otherwise miss. Nobody’s perfect and problems will always appear once you’ve published your book (yes, in both traditional and self-published books). Don’t take every suggestion; Spellcheck isn’t always right. It’s a tool, not a panacea. You can also use Find and Replace to look for problems Spellcheck misses: its, it’s, there, their and so on. Spellcheck doesn’t replace editors and they don’t replace thinking. But you’ll catch more using it.

To the rude editor I met at the conference who said she never used Spellcheck: Yes, I’m saying that was arrogant and, just like the rest of us, you’re not nearly as smart as you think you are. Or funny. And you need to work on your social skills. (Now I’m worried that I’m projecting.)

I don’t edit blog posts obsessively, but when I’m working on a book, I have several websites up on my browser: Chicago Manual of Style, Wikipedia, and dictionary.com. I also use Autocrit for more input.

For me, yesterday was single quote day. I wrote parts of my books with Open Office, so I had to go through the manuscript and make all my single quotes curly…and curly in the right direction. I was cross-eyed and HULK ANGRY by 5 pm.

PentecostSelf-publishing guru and author of Pentecost, Joanna Penn, has a great suggestion to deal with typos: Publish your ebook first. Your readers will let you know (politely or not) about your book’s typos. Corrections to the ebook are easier than correcting your printed book. Corrections to print books are called “second editions.” Great tip! For more information from Joanna, check out this very useful interview. I loved this inspiring interview and it helped me calm down after Curly Quote Day. Well…much later, after the photo below.

Me after Curly Quote Day

Filed under: Books, DIY, Editing, Editors, getting it done, grammar, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Robert Chazz Chute: Literature hater & narcissistic bastard!

I realized something about myself the other day. I’ve been writing since I was a kid. So why haven’t I published a string of books yet?

Narcissistic Bio (Feel free to skip this paragraph to get closer to the point arrived at below): I went to journalism school. I wrote for newspapers and magazines. I worked in book publishing for five years in several positions, making books, editing books, selling books and promoting books. I’ve written a column for a magazine for three years. I submitted to and won writing awards or honorable mentions. And yet…I never pushed to get a book written. I have written several books, but I never got to the point with one where I was satisfied enough. For  a long time I thought this was just laziness or perfectionism or both. Even as I edited other people’s books, I still had my own cooking in the background. But I never sent out manuscripts or pestered agents or got anything really done, except short stories and feature articles, speeches and presentations. I’ve written about writing extensively, attended publishing conferences and writing workshops, chewed through publishing issues and edited several books this year for Five Rivers Chapmanry. I’m proud of all these things and enjoy them.

But everything I’ve accomplished centered around tasks with a short deadline, stuff that paid up front, stuff that required short bursts of intensity. I wasn’t working on my personal long term writing and publishing dreams. I wasn’t digging in to do the long hail work. It’s as if I’ve been mixing dough, letting it rise, shoving it in the oven and letting it bake…and never eating any bread.

I used to think that I wanted to be a writer because I love literature. I read and read and read and still can’t get enough, it’s true. (At least some of the above headline is supposed to be ironic, folks!) Obviously I don’t hate literature, but I don’t love literature as much as I thought I did. If I loved it all that much for its own sake, I would have either settled for reading tons of books without thoughts of my own. Or I’d have finished those revisions and delivered my stuff over publishers’ transoms. I would have added to slush piles and wallowed in rejection slips until I finally started breaking through. I didn’t do that. I raised kids, did piece work, indulged another career, dabbled around the edges and did other stuff.

So why self-publish now? I was disillusioned with the failures of traditional publishing when I worked within it (another post for another time.) I loved reading, still do. I love that floaty feeling you get when you write, go deep and a story comes together.

But these loves weren’t enough on their own.

I’m self-publishing now because ebooks have finally arrived. I can finally indulge my loves as well as my need to remain independent. Clearly, I’ve got a problem with authority.

My motto is Question authority before authority questions you. I do not wear a tie and I’m the kind of dog who pulls out of his collar.

 Love of literature wasn’t enough. Love of literature plus love of self plus digital opportunity was the ticket.

Embrace independence:

Control freaks! Unite! 

(Ahem…well, do what you want. Far be it from me to tell you what to do.) 

The revolution

(I didn’t know I was waiting for)

has arrived. 

Filed under: e-reader, ebooks, Rant, self-publishing, What about Chazz?, , , , , , , ,

The Writer Rejection Scam

Stephen King signature.

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Sometimes I hear writers take pride in the number of rejections in their file cabinets. The idea is that they compete with writer friends to pile up the rejection slips. The person with the most number of rejections by a certain date…er…”wins.” Riiiight. I don’t know how this myth got started but it’s a popular one.

It’s not that this is a totally useless strategy (and I’ll review the advantages in a moment) but first, let’s burst the rejection scam bubble:

If you are writing fast without second drafts or third or umpteenth drafts in order to pump up your submission rate, you’re losing. More rejection slips? That’s no measure of how close you are to publication. If that were true, the worst writers in the world submitting the most illiterate crap across the planet are all just on the cusp of bestsellerdom.

If you get a lot of rejection slips that don’t actually include personal notes on how the writing didn’t work for the reviewer, you’re losing.

It’s also very hard to get any personal notes on your work, by the way. Many agents and editors don’t believe in detailing the reasons for rejection. There are so many variables to evaluate writing that are idiosyncratic and peculiar to the editor, it doesn’t profit you to hear they rejected you for subjective reasons.

Neither does it profit them to take the time to give you a heads up that you were a near miss. Many editors have so many submissions on their desk that they really don’t want to encourage more people to resubmit. The mailbox will be full tomorrow regardless and your persistence is expected without free coaching and hand holding. (And just because you submitted a manuscript, no editor owes you free manuscript evaluations, feedback or reasons for rejection.)

If you’re clearing an alley of bad guys, use the twelve gauge with the .00 load. With manuscript submission, however, scatter shot is less effective than picking and aiming at your targets.

Submit everywhere without careful thought on how to target your market? Then you’re losing. It’s time you’re losing primarily, though the loss of confidence and self-esteem can’t be glossed over. It takes a lot of ego to put yourself out there, so choose carefully how you put yourself out there. Artists need all the narcissistic hope and unreasonable aspirations of a lottery player.

If you’re submitting everywhere in the slim hope that an agent or editor will take the time to take you under their wing, build you a nest and show you where you went wrong with your flightless novel, you’re losing. When dealing with mass submissions, editors and agents get impatient with bad writing, or even writing that isn’t bad but doesn’t suit them. I’ve seen it personally. Behind closed doors there’s even a lot of laughter at published writers’ work that’s bound for publication. (Oh, yeah, that’s right! I said it! I’ve seen it and endured it!)

If it’s feedback you’re after, alpha readers, beta readers, hired editors, writing and critique groups will get you more feedback than can be fit on a tiny rejection slip. Plus, you’ll be getting much more careful evaluation.

People going through a slush pile aren’t there to help the writer. They are there to evaluate whether your manuscript is a good bet for a business deal that suits their purposes and interests.

Much is made of Stephen King‘s pile of rejection slips. I think too much has been made of the rejection slips impaled on that spike in King’s attic. It’s not that some magic kicks in once you hit a special number of slips. It is, instead, what the rejection slips symbolize: sweat equity and time invested in improving craft. I’m not suggesting you submit fewer manuscripts per se. I’m saying, offer your work wisely.

A higher number of rejection slips is not an achievement to be celebrated any more than failing to complete every race you enter makes you a better runner. It might make you a noble aspirant. Or maybe you’re too bull-headed to train properly and learn. Either possibility has validity.

It was all the writing and reading King did while the slips piled up that mattered

It was the feedback he got from a newspaper editor that mattered

That editor sat down with King and went over a story about a high school basketball game. He showed King how to tighten his writing. A little mark up, some rearranging and red pen work et voilà!: The magic of editing improved the writer’s craft. (If you haven’t read Stephen King’s On Writing yet…well, just go do that and thank me later.) 

What are the advantages of piling up rejection slips? If you need to compete with a friend to get you to write, I don’t see anything wrong with that. Everybody needs some gentle  motivation (or a kick in the bum) sometimes. (Okay, maybe you don’t ever need a writing crutch, but that makes you an inhuman freak, Trollope!)

If you get personal feedback and encouragement from editors and agents, that’s a good sign you’re on the right track. If you just get a note or two though, that doesn’t constitute a trend you should necessarily heed. Editors and agents have their own agendas that may reflect very little on your writing and you’ll never know what’s in their minds.

Don’t rush to produce writing at the expense of quality. As Truman Capote said of Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road, “That’s not writing. That’s typing!”  (Granted, Capote could be a bitch and lots of people like On the Road.)

Still, getting a big pile of rejection slips is not the end game. Writing extensively (and well), reading broadly (and well) and getting righteous feedback will get you where you want to go.

Yes, I know: Rejection is part of the process. But neither should rejection be fetishized and assumed useful. Some lucky few writers are a hit right out of the gate. Are they still bad writers because they haven’t “paid their dues” and “jumped through hoops”?

That thick skin some say you’re supposed to develop through rejection would be used more effectively if you  got a manuscript evaluation or joined a critique group. (And thick skin is another thing that’s overrated and fetishized. Thick skin helps you take writing advice, yes. But when the reviews come in and someone writes something nasty in a comment about your book —your baby!—on Amazon, veteran author or newbie, you’ll be just as pissed.

Now, how do you target your submissions to likely editors and agents? 

Well, that’s a post for another day. Another day that will come soon.

Stay tuned. 

Filed under: Books, manuscript evaluation, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to edit without reading

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You: Edit without reading? How is that even possible? 

Me: You can tell when a story has problems at a glance if the page is too dark.

You: Um. What?

Me: This page. Look at all that unbroken text.

(HOLDS OUT A MANUSCRIPT AT ARM’S LENGTH)

It’s an intimidating, heavy block. Unless you are Proust—wait. Are you Proust?

You: (SURLY) No.

Me: Okay. When there are big unbroken blocks of text, you’re demanding a lot of the reader.

You: So I should assume my reader is too stupid to handle a long paragraph?

Me: Yes.

You: What?!

Me: Attention spans are shorter. Big blocks of text do not skip along. It’s hard to get a sense of making progress when faced with all that text. You need to break it up.

You: Show me.

Me: The first thing is, have you used paragraphs correctly? Maybe the unified sentences are there but you’ve missed opportunities to paragraph appropriately. Think of each paragraph as  one logically unified thought. Look for the flow, either progression or back and forth, to identify where the next paragraph proceeds.

You: Uh-huh. I’m not an idiot, you know.

Me: I’m sure you’re not. I didn’t create you to be an idiot, but a dialogue foil so I could parry back and forth a bit. Break up the didactic drudgery.

You: Wha–wait. What?

Me: (SMOOTHLY) So the next usual suspect is long speeches. Soliloquies usually need to be broken up with action, interaction and conflict from other characters.

You: Or?

Me: Or you get big blocks of text. Readers like white space, but this isn’t just an aesthetic issue. It’s an editorial issue. Shorter paragraphing looks more appealing, true, but when dialogue flies back and forth, shorter paragraphs are an indication of dynamism on the page.

You: And you think you don’t have to actually read the story to know it’s not dynamic enough?

Me: I don’t have to actually read the story to know that unless you get more white space on the page, no one will read it. I’m trying to give your story a chance at daylight. I haven’t read a word, but I’ve seen enough holding it at arm’s length and glancing through a few pages to see the pattern. If you send it to an editor or agent, they will heave a great sigh and turn away quickly. If you try to sell it yourself, it will not sell.

You: Do you actually talk to writers like this when you edit them?

Me: Of course not. This is just a blog post between me and an imaginary writer…you know, for educational purposes.

You: Educa…. About what you…hey! You’re saying I’m not real?

Me: (PULLS A WOODEN STAKE FROM BENEATH A DARK CLOAK)

The problem is real. The editorial trick is real. You, I made up.

(PLUNGES STAKE INTO THE FICTION’S CHEST AND ROOTS AROUND FOR THE HEART IN QUICK, GRISLY CIRCLES)

You: Ouch. Hey, that was…surprisingly painless.

Me: It’s okay. Sh. I wrote your reality this way so it doesn’t hurt anyone.

You: Oh. Thanks.

Me: You’re welcome. You live in the Matrix. It’s a bitch, but I try to make it easy on everybody.

(PULLS OUT THE STAKE AND THE SOUND IS LIKE AIR FARTED OUT OF A PARTY BALLOON)

(THE FICTIONAL AUTHOR WHIZZES AWAY LIKE SAID PARTY BALLOON AND, AT FULL DEFLATION, DISAPPEARS INTO AN UNENDING GREEN SEA UNDER A CLOUDLESS NIGHT SKY AND A BLUE, TROPIC MOON.)

THE WARM BREEZE, SMELLING OF COLITAS AND CARRYING THE SOUNDS OF THE JUNGLE TO THE WEST WHISPERS STERNLY: “Stop now, Chazz! It’s overwritten already!

Me: FADE INTO DARKNESS. THEN GOES SHOPPING.

And that’s how you edit without reading. 

Filed under: Books, Editing, Editors, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , ,

Writers: “Amount of” versus “number of”

Syrniki. Syrniki, fried quark cheese pancakes,...

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There are a number of cheese pancakes in this picture: six.

The amount of cheese is in the recipe. You wouldn’t say the number of cheese or the amount of pancakes.

A number of mistakes in a book I read recently kind of bugged me. Overall, there weren’t that many mistakes in the book, but one kept coming up. The problem was that, while the author tried to quote statistics and make a compelling argument, she repeatedly undermined herself by misusing the phrase “an  amount of.”

“A  number of” things can be counted.

“An amount of” refers to a measure of volume.

For instance, there are a large number of armies on earth. The amount of their combined firepower is uncertain. There is a certain amount of apple sauce in this recipe. There are a number of apples in that recipe.

Is it a big deal? Not really, but it’s a distraction and your job, as a writer, is to eliminate distractions from your thesis or your story. As a reader, you’ll notice mistakes and that’s often what you’ll remember rather than the writer’s point.

Filed under: Editing, Editors, grammar, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , ,

Stephen King: On Writing Under the Dome

It helps to be a fast typist. It helps to write fast and edit fast.

The reason is, you have to keep it all in your head. Maybe you’ve written out a plan or maybe you’re writing a day at a time without knowing how the story will twist to its end. Even if you don’t feel you have to know everything ahead of you, you still have to keep the details clear in what’s happening behind you. It’s a lot to track.

If you’re writing your first book, aim for the low end of the acceptable word count. If your first attempt is a vast sprawl of a trilogy, there’s an excellent chance it will suck. Finishing a book at all is an amazing accomplishment. Don’t try to write too long too quickly.

JK Rowling wrote a sprawling series with Harry Potter, but the first book is relatively short compared to the big bricks that came later.

Filed under: Author profiles, authors, getting it done, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , ,

Editing Part III: The joy of editing

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, 3rd...

I just received the gift of a book in the mail. I had already read this book but I was very pleased to receive it. In fact, I’d gone through this particular book in meticulous detail. The author signed the title page for me and graciously thanked me for my advice. The book in hand was a bonus for editing the work.

Editing is such picky work. I zip into and out of the on-line Chicago Manual of Style a lot. I tweak here and economize there. No matter the level of the edit, the key to good editing is asking the right questions.

Here’s a sample of the sorts of questions that run through my mind as I work:

Should that be 18th Century or Eighteenth century? Should I leave a quirky passage alone to keep the author’s voice or is the joke too much of a reach? Should I suggest new elements? Does the material make more sense if it is reorganized? Does this follow logically from that? Is that assertion a fact? Is that translation correct? What design elements could I suggest to make the book pop? What elements could I suggest that would convert a browser into a buyer? Is there an opportunity missed here? What marketing strategy could I suggest to make this a book with real long-tail potential? What’s missing? (That last one can take the work to a new level.)

In short, a good editor or proofreader will question everything.

An experienced editor will pick up on what’s on the page and what’s not there that’s hurting the book.

In the end, I let it go back to the author to decide which of my suggestions to act upon. When it’s done, the author’s name is on the front cover. I always say some variation of: “She’s still your baby. She’s healthy and you’ll recognize her. She wasn’t sick but she’s feeling even better now.” The reader will never know how much or how little I did. The job is to make the author look good. (And sell more books.)

And you know what? It’s fun. I’m not gleeful about it in the way I know some editors are. When I was in journalism school and when I worked for a daily newspaper, I ran into editors who were looking for stuff so they could catch you out. It was a game for them and they acted like it was the only way they could find to feel good about themselves. When they caught something—anything—writers got snarky remarks and not just a little passive aggressive indignation. Editors like that are sad and make me tired.

I find editing fun because it’s an intellectual challenge and the collaborative process makes the book better than it otherwise would have been. Higher quality editorial work translates to more authority to the author, more sales for the current book and more sales for the author’s next book. A helpful edit can morph an experiment that didn’t quite come together into a legacy book that will delight, distract, elevate, educate, provoke, redeem and earn for years to come.

A good edit will pay for itself.

And generally? No, an unedited book doesn’t stand a chance.

Filed under: authors, Books, ebooks, Editing, Editors, grammar, publishing, self-publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Editing Part II: Writerly idiosyncrasies

40 killer phrases

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There are words you can lose without losing meaning. For example, writers who repeatedly precede statements with “I think” generate in their readers a suspicion of insecurity or uncertainty. Make your assertions, state your arguments, declare your narrative.

Writers have idiosyncrasies. Repeated phrases crop up. As you revise your manuscript, look for them and make a note.

Take the example “my own.” That can — and should — be shortened to “my.” That’s my own business. See? You lose nothing by losing “own.” What you gain is economy with this small edit and your reader will appreciate it (though they won’t know why.) I’m an editor. It’s my own business to know.

When you identify your own idiosycrasies, use the search and replace feature and you’ll find the number of instances of the phrase. You may not want to replace them all. Idiosyncratic phrases can be fine in dialogue.

I think that’s right.

No.

That’s right.

Filed under: Editing, Editors, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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