Ten Tips for Grooming Drafts, Straight from the Horse’s . . . Hoof

The author poses with a horse on a cold February morning
Smitty, the horse, posing with Lisa, the author, on a chilly February morning.

Why do I do this to myself? I wonder as my alarm jolts me awake on a dark Sunday in February. Its glow seems spitefully cheery combined with its announcement of the temperature for my horseback riding lesson: -14 degrees. Ugh.

Flannel pajamas, a quilt my great-aunt sewed, and a cat’s soft bulk plead with me to stay. But I love to ride, so I roll from my cocoon and don layers.

Once at the barn, I’m glad I ventured out, not only because I’m assigned to ride a favorite horse I haven’t been on for a long time, but also because grooming him sparks insights about grooming my writing.

During the previous two years, I’ve ridden Penny, a horse who spends her winter free-time in a stall because she stirs up trouble when allowed to roam the paddock (the fenced holding area). Preparing an indoor horse for riding is easy: brush her coat, pick her hooves, cinch her saddle, buckle her bridle. No muss, no fuss.

Smitty, the gangly, dark brown gelding I’d ride that February morning, spends his winter free-time in the paddock. A laid back personality makes him easy to catch, but an outdoor life makes him difficult to groom. As soon as he crosses the barn’s threshold, a dull thud replaces the hollow tock his metal shoes usually make on concrete. A look at his feet confirms my suspicion: Ice balls have formed in his hooves’ recessed center, so his shoes float above the ground.

I slide the blanket from Smitty’s body and grab a nail puller (a flat metal bar bent at one end). He lifts a foot, and I cradle his hoof in one hand while I use the puller as a chisel with the other. It’s tough going; the tool glances off the ice instead of carving into it. Just as my back begins to ache and my wrist to throb, an ice chunk falls away. And so do the blinders I’ve been wearing when I revise my writing.

Smitty’s hooves remind me that if I allow grooming—whether horse or draft—to become a series of unaltered steps, I lose touch with its purpose. And process without purpose turns futile.

Grooming must be shaped by context, such as weather for horse, audience and intended effect for writing. Here are ten tips Smitty revealed for warming up to revision:

  1. Start slow. Grooming’s first step is the toughest. I chisel away but make little progress. Then, suddenly, a piece falls. That’s all I need to build momentum. The chunk’s absence reveals weaknesses in what remains, so I attack each spot in succession.
  2. Don’t rush. It’s obvious, but when eager to submit my writing for publication, I forget. Forcing grooming’s pace is as fruitless as it is unwise. Hoof-picks dig mud, grass, oats, and manure from recesses, but they aren’t designed to break ice. Similarly, digging into paragraphs before chiseling big ideas into shape leads to wasted effort.
  3. Rest. I don’t have to clear the whole mess on the first attempt. I merely have to chip away enough frozen muck that the hoof or draft rests on solid footing. Once Smitty can stand flat, he’s safe. Body heat will melt the rest, making it easier to pick. Time away from a draft thaws problems that seem intractable, too.
  4. Let nature share the workload. Allowing Smitty’s bodyweight to warm his hooves offers an opportunity to luxuriate in brushing. Instead of going through the motions, I take my time and stay present, which calms Smitty. I’m surprised how often a solution arises when I let a draft’s trouble spots stew as I work on something else.
  5. Switch it up. Not much gets under Smitty’s skin, but other horses (ahem, Penny) don’t like being brushed. If I start with picking her hooves instead of brushing her coat, I give our relationship a better chance of starting off on the right foot. Switching up where I start revising a draft highlights thematic strands I can braid into something special.
  6. Follow the text’s lead. I’m present enough while brushing to address what Smitty’s coat shows me it needs. A curry comb’s zig-zagged metal teeth cull debris that causes saddle sores and inhibits new hair growth. Reverse outlining is the comb’s textual equivalent. I isolate each paragraph’s main idea and decide whether it benefits the whole, detangling knotted logic.
  7. Apply pressure. A stiff-bristled brush lifts to the surface what the curry comb has loosened. It also distributes oil that nourishes Smitty’s coat, but only if I push hard. When revising, I press myself to answer, “Do I really need this?”
  8. Let it go. A soft-bristle brush provides a gentler way to “kill my darlings.” Dust flies from Smitty’s coat with each stroke. Sometimes the grit makes my eyes water, but the effect is worth the discomfort: Smitty’s hair gleams. My draft, too, shines once stripped clean.
  9. Go back to the beginning. With Smitty’s hide ready for saddling, I return to his hooves—those key points on which he stands. A few swipes with the pick is all it takes. Skipping this step would compromise Smitty’s health. Just as hoof problems left untended can escalate to life-threatening crises, proofreading errors left uncorrected can escalate to career-threatening rejections.
  10. Enjoy the ride. The most important lesson Smitty teaches and re-teaches me is to value process as much as product. In both riding and writing, I used rush preparation to get to the best part: stepping into the arena. Over time, however, I’ve seen how crucial grooming is to success. Now, I look forward to grooming’s meditative nature.

When I finish grooming Smitty, I look him in the eye and see my reflection anew. When I apply to revision what he teaches me, my writing gallops toward unexplored territory.

 

Photo of author with Kitten on shoulderLisa Whalen has an M.A. in creative and critical writing and a Ph.D. in postsecondary and adult education. She teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at North Hennepin Community College in Minnesota. When not teaching, she spends as much time as possible with animals, especially cats, dogs, and horses. Then she writes about them. For more information—and pictures of Lisa’s favorite animals—check out her blog, Writing Unbridledor find her on Twitter @LisaIrishWhalen, Facebook (lisawhalen4hs), or her website: lisawhalen4hs.wixsite.com/lisawhalen.

Photos courtesy of Lisa Whalen

 

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)