Recently, on the Southern California Writers Conference Facebook page, I asked the group which of the following sentences was more compelling:
"She looked at
the burnt shell of the house she'd once lived in, remembering how she'd
once played dolls on the porch and swung on the tire swing."
"Looking at the burnt shell of the house she'd once lived in, she
remembered how she had once played dolls on the porch and swung on the
"That burnt shell was a house she'd once lived in—played dolls on the porch, swung on the tire swing."
The group agreed with me, almost unanimously, that the third choice was the clearer and most powerful sentence of the short list. And, no, I don't think any of the sentences are brilliant, they were written by me to prove a point.
I also posted the question on tsu.co on my group page (still in beta) of writers that aspire to write great memoirs and adventure travel books and essays—if you want to join tsu, click here http://www.tsu.co/jsilvaredmond
The point of this exercise was to show that writers use too many "filter words" like "look" or "looked," and too many "thought verbs" like "remember" and "remembered" in crafting their sentences—the building blocks of all writing. These filter words and thought verbs only serve to set us apart from the action of our stories.
For more on filter words and "filtering" click here for a short piece on Scribophile, and for more on thought verbs, read my posts here on JennyRedbug or read this tough-love post by Chuck Palahniuk.
Writing is a craft, and writing well takes hard work. And the more work you do on removing words that don't help your story—words that are not visual, visceral, and clear—the less work an editor will have to do to help your story succeed.
Why do I want writers to self-edit their writing better, thereby making less work for me? Because then I can, as a content editor, concentrate on their manuscript's story structure, and, when line-editing, on finding small errors and typos that might otherwise be missed. There is never enough time to look at a manuscript before it is published!
If you are interested in improving your craft as a writer, I would suggest that you join a writer's group—if you can't find one, start one. Also, you can attend SCWC at their two yearly conferences (in San Diego and Irvine), and join me on my tsu group. I hope you will keep following this humble blog, as well. hasta pronto!
And now for something completely different. I've been listening to baseball lately—first, the Divisional Series, then the Championship Series, and now the World Series. Since we don't have cable television on board, we listen to ball games on the radio. Last night I was wondering what life would be like with color commentary... And so, today's post:
Bob: Welcome listeners, it’s a beautiful day here in Frank’s office and we’ll be broadcasting live here all day, so we hope you’ll stay tuned in to our live, on the spot coverage of Frank versus The Manuscript.
Mike: And here comes Frank out for some warm-ups right now…He’s looking confident in his home colors—the traditional blue sweatpants and concert T-shirt—strolling out to the bookshelves to shag a few early ideas and try to build inspiration.
Bob: Frank was warming up in the field a while ago, before we went live, and let me tell you, his defense was looking spectacular. He had some snappy rationalizations, a few reasonable excuses, and a quick, spirited line of attack—you know what they say about the best defense being a good offense!
Mike: And speaking of offense, Bob, he’s stepping up to the computer right now…He settles into the writer’s seat with his trademark wiggle, and immediately goes into his stance. You wouldn’t think he had that long weekend off, the way his fingers hover over the keys.
Bob: He takes the first idea all the way. Never flinches.
Mike: Yeah, he’s obviously waiting for just the right—
Bob: And he hits that first line deep—that’s definitely deep, and with today’s conditions, it could lead to something very profound. Oh, yeah, that paragraph's easily profound, if not quite philosophical. What a start to the day!
Mike: A quick adjustment of his flannels and a tug of his cap and he’s back into his stance, fingers hovering, eyes on the page, once again waiting for that perfect—and he types! It looked good, but by the second sentence it’s starting to drop down into prosaic…Yeah, that has a definite whiff of cliche.
Bob: Whiff? Mike, that reeks cliche. But—as you know from the stats—his second paragraphs have always been a bit hackneyed.
Mike: Yeah, Bob, especially when revising, his first paragraphs have always scored much higher than his second.
Bob: And historically, his on-base percentage falls off as soon as he starts feeling the pressure from having produced some tired prose. He just loses concentration.
Mike: I wouldn’t be surprised if he reaches for the coffee now, Bob.
Bob: That’s his go-to move in this position, Mike.
Mike: Not that it’ll help him, according to our numbers.
Bob: And there he goes—he’s out of his seat and heading for the kitchen.
Mike: Time for us to take a moment for station identification…
I hope you enjoyed my take on sports radio commentary. Keep writing, and... hasta pronto!
Just finished my last editing project of September, and I'll soon be diving into my HUGE stack of advance submissions for the Southern California Writers Conference—and I'm filled with anticipatory glee.
Why? Because this weekend is fun!
I always have a great time at this conference—I get to both learn and teach,
which I love. This weekend, I'm teaching a new workshop called “Backstory: Employing Expository like a Screenwriter,” plus doing "Pitch Witches" and much more. SCWC inspires me to be at the top of my game, because
everyone else there is!
If you haven't been to a writers conference before, you're probably wondering, "Why should I go to SCWC?"
The biggest/best reason is to connect with a community of writers—and
readers (because all writers are readers, no?). Writing is often solitary so we need to meet and talk to others in our "tribe"—to hear people talk about going through the same things we go through;
to learn from their mistakes, and to gain insight from their successes.
Of course, you'll also meet and get to chat with agents, editors, and
publishers—not to mention people who are successful author-publishers.
The world of publishing is evolving fast, and it's important for
aspiring (and published) authors to keep evolving, to keep
their strategies always shifting, in order to compensate. Going
to SCWC gives you the cutting-edge tools to do
that. The panels and workshops include subjects that span the world of
today's publishing. Check out the schedule here.
Hope to see you there...
I am updating and re-posting this piece from a couple of years ago, since a new acquaintance recently mentioned how "fun" it must be to work for myself.
When I tell people that I'm a freelance editor, people always say "How cool—that must be fun!" and of course, it is—but, like most everything in life, there are good and not-so-good points about working for yourself... Most all authors are freelancers, even if they have a "day job" because they are not usually getting paid to write (not as they write, that is—hopefully, they do get paid, but usually months or even years later).
Here are just a few of the Pros and Cons of Freelancing:
Pro: You make your own schedule (plenty of time to read). Con: You can easily feel guilty if you are not working (never enough time to read for FUN). Pro: You're your own boss (no one to tell you what to do). Con: You have to motivate yourself—and on some (sunny) days that is really difficult to do. Pro: You set your own rates and can ask for what you feel your skills are truly worth. Con: You don't get a weekly paycheck. (Sometimes more than a few weeks go by!) Pro: You can work from home (in your pajamas, even; I don't because I feel better when I am "dressed for work") Con: Your home is your office and your job never really stops. Pro: Your job is your life and it's fun!
Feel free to add to the list—I'd love to hear from you. hasta pronto!
As an editor (and as a writer) I've always been drawn to true stories, and especially to people writing about adventures they have had or about their travels and voyages. Whether harrowing or humorous, these exciting memoirs are always my favorite reads, year in and year out.
Like all my "top ten" booklists, this one is quite personal and highly subjective. I had to leave out some classics like Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux, because it's been so long since I read it, I couldn't remember what I loved about it, only that I loved it. And I left out Into The Wild because it's not a memoir, it's the story of Christopher McCandless, told by Jon Krakauer, an excellent writer.
Readers may notice a number of these titles are about Baja California and boats. Well, I lived on a sailboat for many years, much of that time spent on and around Baja's Sea of Cortez, so I'm partial to stories about the area, and about sailing, too.
Anyway, here's my current list of favorite memoirs that involve travel or adventure:
Adrift: Seventy Six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan
Almost An Island by Bruce Berger
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
Into A Desert Place by Graham Mackintosh
Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand MilesThrough Baja California, the Other Mexico by C.M.Mayo
My Old Man and the Sea: A Father and Son Sail Around Cape Horn by David Hays
Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat
The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Let me know which of these books are on your top ten list—and which of your favorite memoirs I should check out.