Why Write?

a man on a mountaini holding his arm up while the sun is settingWhen struggling with a first draft, rewrite, edit, or final polish, do you ever ask yourself, why do I write? Why must I put myself through this excruciating exercise that I don’t have the time or energy for? I do. Sometimes writing feels Sisyphean, the interminable project-boulder keeps rolling back, nearly squishing me, and the moment I’m confirmed un-dead commands me in a Simon Cowell voice to DO IT BETTER.

How easily I forget the joy writing brings, the satisfaction, the peace. Which is why, during times like these, I must remind myself to ask this ever-important follow-up question: why did I start writing? This teases out the truth—it untangles the act of writing from the web of “things that make me busy” and reclaims its position at the forefront of “things that make me sane,” also known as, “self-care.”

Five Reasons We Write

If you, too, ask yourself why you started writing, I bet you’ll come back to one of these five reasons:

  • To make sense of something. Writing is one of the few ways to work out the tests we face and the choices we make, hopefully landing us on the positives in a sea of negatives.
  • To heal. Some of us heal by sharing our burden in hopes that people facing similar battles will feel less alone. We yearn to provide a balm for the next person in this struggle, in hopes their pain can be mitigated. In this way, writing is generous. And generosity heals both the writer and the reader.
  • To share a unique perspective. Maybe you saw a side of something that no one else had the opportunity to see. And maybe it bugs you that people are drawing conclusions without having the full story. This type of writing, though it may feel like a duty, also provides healing.
  • To provide a legacy. I wish my grandparents had written their stories; I’m so curious about their lives. I for one want to leave at least part of my history behind, from my perspective, for future curious progeny.
  • Because you don’t have a choice. Your story communicates to you in clear ways that it must be told, and you are the teller. Physical symptoms make it impossible not to write and tell you with certainty—your calling is not optional.

These reasons are distinct but also connected by their healing power, whether it be the healing of ourselves, our loved ones, our community, or humanity. And the best side-effect of the reasons our craft has hold of us—they force us to honor ourselves. Writing is our form of self-care, how we keep ourselves sane and show ourselves love. And when we do this, when we grant stories life, we also bestow an immense favor upon our world. We show, by example, that self-love comes first and then, with the energy that writing our truth breathes into us, our words have the opportunity to create change, soothe, heal, and share our love for humanity.

 

 Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash

First Draft Postpartum

an empty boat near a tiny island with crystal blue waterFinishing up a first draft? Here’s how to prep yourself for your emotional responses.

You would think that completing a first draft of your book or play or screenplay would make you feel giddy. And it might. And it should. I mean, you have likely been working on this project for months or years. You have poured out your heart and soul, struggled with the characters, scenes, dialogue, setting (etc.), and fretted over this word or that word. And finally, finally, you have a concrete stack of papers that have a beginning, middle, and end. You should want to throw a party.

But don’t be surprised if finishing up that first draft comes with a host of other emotional responses.

Let’s look at a few of the possible responses I have both witnessed and experienced within myself:

  • Unexplainable nervousness or anxiety
  • A desire to quit
  • A sense of emptiness or purposelessness
  • A wave of anger
  • An inexplicable depression

Why? Why? Why?

Many writers ask me if it is normal to have these types of reactions, then they wonder why they are experiencing them in the first place.

Normal—yes.  Why? Here are my thoughts:

Fear of Exposure

You are shifting from a very internal space, where you have existed for quite some time, to a more exposed, public space.  The thought of sharing your work might bring on unexpected fear or panic. You may be nervous about reactions you will receive.  You may wonder, is it good enough?  Did I just waste years of my life?  The imposter syndrome may even start to take over your brain.  Know that this is very normal. Try journaling all your fears to get them out of your body.  And don’t believe everything you think.

Exhaustion

Yes, you are most likely very, very tired. Take a nap.

Confusion About What Happens Next

It can be scary because in the first draft writing stage you had most, if not all, of the control.  Now you may not know what happens next, and that can be terrifying. Don’t worry; there are many Book Sherpas out there that can guide you; you are not alone.

So, what can help?

  • Allow Your Emotions

Be aware that you may tumble through a series of emotions and know that there is another, much shinier, side.  If you need to cry, do it. If you need to yell into a pillow, do it. If you just need to dance, I say dance. Get it out.

  • Pat Yourself on the Back

Force yourself to celebrate.  Don’t just pass through this marker. You did a ton of work. You deserve to sip a little champagne, do a little retail celebrating, or take that long bath you have been wanting to take. Snap a picture of yourself holding your first draft and post it on Facebook—allow your community to celebrate with you! Whatever helps you to mark the occasion, do it. (In our writing group we even came up with a first draft song to sing when members complete their first drafts).  Pat yourself on the back. It is a big deal.

  • Do No Harm

Depressive or anxiety-riddled thinking can lie to you. It may tell you that you are not good enough or worthy enough—or that you should just toss it all and start over.  Don’t believe everything you think during this period of mini-tumult. Don’t quit writing or stuff the manuscript in a drawer. The angst is temporary.

  • Get it Out of Your Hands

Give the manuscript to a beta reader, content editor, writing coach, or writing group member that you trust, then let it go for four to six weeks. Allow the reader(s) to do the read, and take your mind off it.

  • Look at Shiny Stuff or Bathe in Some Trees

Distract yourself. While your manuscript is in someone else’s hands, you may experience a loss of purpose or even more anxiety. It’s a great time to focus on your social media platform, create your website, open a twitter account, or start on a brand-new project—one that is very different from the one you have just completed. Or, better yet, get outta dodge. Go on a trip. Drive into the country. Nap, a lot. A sure-fire way to regain excitement and balance is to get out into nature for at least two days. You will see how much your myopic perspective changes by washing your brain with ocean breezes, swaying trees, and sunsets.

Congratulations! The Feisty Writer wants to celebrate along with you!  Send us your pictures of you holding your first draft to marnifreedman18@gmail.com.

Three Steps to Finding the Editor for You

Marni in a pink hat working with clientsAs a writing coach and developmental editor (some of you are already going – whaaaat?), I get asked this question often: What type of editor do I need?

I am going to give you my best advice as to who does what, or who is supposed to do what. But I will say right off the bat that many editors overlap in what they do. In other words, they may perform one or more editing tasks. This can all be highly confusing for a writer. Let me try to break it down for you.

Let’s start by walking you through the process.

STEP ONE: EDUCATE YOURSELF (Hey, Editor, what exactly do you do?)

STEP TWO: FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU NEED FOR EACH STEP IN THE PROCESS  (Hey me, what do I need?)

STEP THREE: INTERVIEW THE EDITOR OR WRITING COACH (Are you the right person for me?)

STEP ONE: Educate Yourself

Most people will agree that there are three types of book editors.  (As I said earlier, some may overlap in what they do.)

Each editor is needed in different parts of the writing journey. The first type is the developmental editor who looks at the big picture and the general substance. The second is the copy or line editor that looks at the nitty gritty before you submitty. The third is the proofreader, or the last point of contact before your work is born into the world (checks the copy in its entirety to make sure it is ready for publication).

Editor #1 Developmental or Content Editor – The “BIG PICTURE” Editor (Sometimes known as a writing coach.)

(This is the kind of editing I do, and I know it most intimately.)

A developmental or content editor (sometimes called a substantive editor) looks at the big picture. Many choose to work with a developmental editor before they begin the writing process (by that I mean the-words-on-the-page stage) to hone the idea and help craft the story. This type of editor sits down with you and looks at your idea, your dreams and goals, and your plan to execute your vision.

You may also seek out a developmental editor after you have completed a draft and before you start the query process, or if you have submitted and are not receiving the kind of response that you had hoped for. If you are receiving comments like “uneven” or “good idea but not well executed” or some version of “almost,” a developmental editor can be an invaluable asset to keep your work from ending up in the slush pile.

The developmental editor can do any or all of the following: assist you in creating and developing your core idea, plot, structure, characters, concept, outline, tone, theme, and general marketability of concept. In other words, they can help you develop the full plan (or story, or world) that you will use to write your book.

Once you have a first draft (or even a chunk of pages), a developmental editor can offer analysis and specific suggestions about the concept, plot, structure, characters, organization, style, flow, tone, and presentation.

For Fiction they look at:

  • Structure
  • Plot
  • Flow
  • Characters
  • Pacing
  • Core Idea or Premise
  • Description/Action
  • Theme
  • Setting and/or World Building
  • Dialogue
  • Scene Creation
  • Point of View
  • Writing Voice
  • Marketability and Fulfillment of the Genre (not all editors do this)

 

For Non-Fiction they look at:

  • Structure
  • Organization of Ideas
  • Voice
  • Theme
  • Style of Writing
  • Pacing
  • Tone
  • Description and Detail
  • Thoroughness of the Argument
  • Effectiveness of the Argument
  • Approach to the Thesis or Core Idea
  • Marketability
  • Target Audience (Are you giving them what you promised and what they need?)

Once the BIG PICTURE issues are solved, most of the time you can stay with your developmental editor and zoom in a bit on the material to check it out for style and flow.

With all of the above in mind, they look at the material and address questions like:

  • Is this material clear and understandable?
  • Does the information or story flow?
  • Does one idea support the next? Or, in the case of fiction, does the tension continue to build toward a climax?
  • Is the information presented accurately?

To improve the flow of the piece, they may write or rewrite sections, re-organize paragraphs, suggest changes to the order of chapters, and assist with introductions and conclusions of your material. They may also make suggestions as to places you can cut or trim or just get in there and revise any aspects that can improve the overall readability and clarity.

Some developmental editors get in there and assist with research, offer resources, and assist with the rewriting process.

Marni says: While most developmental editors assist with style and flow, some stop after the big picture and refer you to the copy or line editor for the paragraph and sentence structure issues.

Editor # 2:  The Copy Editor (or Line) Editor – or – what I call “The Nitty Gritty Before I Submitty” Editor

When most writers think of an editor, they think of this person. The copy or line editor dives in and makes sure the document is in order so that it can be presented professionally.  This is the last stop before submitting to an agent or publisher.

Copy editors will check and correct: spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax, word usage (or over usage), consistency of style, and format.

The copy editor will read the draft as if they are a beta reader and offer notes or changes that will enhance overall clarity and flow.

A good copy/line editor will always try to respect the author’s voice and try to fulfill the author’s original meaning. In other words, your book should still say what you want to say, and it should still sound like you.

They may cross check your references, facts and figures, tables, quotes, infographics, and illustrations to make sure that the information in the text that points towards these is consistent and accurate. If they find copyrighted material, they may alert you to the need to gain permission for use. When completed, a copy editor will give you a manuscript that is ready to be submitted to a professional such as an agent or a publisher.

The Third Type of Editor is called a Proofreader or the “Are We Good to Go?” Editor

A proofreader looks at the formatted manuscript and makes the final assessment on how it looks. They pay attention to catching any of the errors or inconsistencies that the previous editor(s) or writers may have made (it’s hard to catch everything). They notice any typographical errors or any errors in typesetting. This editor looks at the last version that the copy editor and writer signed off on and they ask: Are there any discrepancies? Did the typesetter make any errors? How does the page look? Is the layout correct?

In my experience, some copy editors also offer proofing services.

STEP TWO:  What do I Need?

Here you want to ask yourself where you are in the writing process.

PREWRITING

If you are just starting out in the process and want some help developing your story or core idea, a developmental editor or a writing coach is a great place to start.

If you have a first draft and you are not sure what you have exactly, you may want an assessment or critique from a developmental editor.

With prewriting, you do not need the other types of editors.

AFTER 50 or so pages or THE FIRST DRAFT

At this stage, you can still work with a developmental editor. Since they do both assessments and reworking of the material itself, you want to figure out what you need. Ask:

Do I want a critique? (Where someone tells me what is working and what is not working and how to fix it.)

OR

Do I want someone just to get in there and fix what is not working?

Marni says: My advice is to get a critique first as it is less expensive and you may be able to make many of the changes yourself. You can always move on to the “just fix it” phase where you have an editor smooth it out and make it all pretty.

Once you are clear on what you want, ask your editor if they perform that service. If not, ask for referrals. (A good editor will have referrals.)

STEP THREE:  INTERVIEW THE EDITOR

Ask the editor what types of editing they do and be specific about it. (Don’t be afraid to ask questions, if they can’t take questions, they are not the right editor for you.)

Questions to ask:

What type of editing do you do?

How do you define the type of editing? As mentioned before some editors use different language—so it is entirely appropriate to ask for clarification as to what services they are offering.

How do you charge?

What will I receive as feedback?

How specific will your notes be?

How long will it take?

Do you have any testimonials or former clients I can speak to? (If this editor is a referral, you can skip this step.)

Can I speak with you if I have follow-up questions?

How would you like to receive my material?

Marni says: Each editor may have their own best practices for submissions. However, here are some general guidelines. Submit in a Word doc or rich text file. Your page size should be 8.5 by 11. 12-point font, double-spaced. One-inch margins on the top and bottom.

Remember that your editor does not need to be your best friend. One of my editors told me, “I’m not your best friend, I’m the best friend of the material.” You want them to tell you the truth. Still, it’s important to know if you tend to be pretty delicate with feedback.  If so, you may want an editor with a gentler touch so that you will stay in the process.

Overall, my advice is: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If this is your first experience with an editor give yourself time to become acquainted with the process and be patient as you stumble through it. Try to go with referrals from a trusted source. The best editors are known within their writing communities. Best of luck!

Photo Credit: Marni Freedman (She’s in the pink hat)