Don’t Do That!

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…

“Honey!”

“Yes, Sweetie?”

“We’re taking off for the mountains.”

Excellent, bacheloring it for the weekend!

“Okay, have a lot of fun!”

Now, what time does Resident Evil 3D start?

Resident Evil: Afterlife

A rare weekend to myself, but one that I will take great advantage of. First, I can catch up on my writing tasks before taking in a “non-family” movie. After watching Up last night, I feel the need for something more … violent.

Last month, I taught you my process for making editing a more manageable task in your writing. If you wait till the end, you’ll give up in frustration at the monumental effort before you. By breaking it down into smaller pieces, your frustration level decreases while your writing quality increases. After all, reflection is a powerful learning tool.

This month, I would like to let you in on some of my most infamous editing faux pas in the hopes you will avoid them. The fact that I call these out in my book and blog would lead one to believe that I no longer make these mistakes. One would be wrong.

None of these are earth shattering, but they definitely can mean the difference between sounding like a beginner versus a professional. The first and foremost editing tip I will share is “Don’t do That!”. Really, I mean don’t use the word that unless absolutely necessary! This is one of those words that creep into our vocabulary regularly, but is really not necessary in our writing.

Here is an example to emphasize where it tends to show up:

It was really that he didn’t want to seem upset despite churning inside.

A better alternative would be the following:

He didn’t want to appear upset despite churning inside.

That is a wonderful word, but superfluous in most writing circumstances. There are times when it is necessary like “That was wonderful.”, but usually an alternative restructuring can remove it from a sentence. Do a global search in your document and read every instance of where you use the word. Then attempt to rewrite it out of the sentence. I think you’ll find a much better flow when you are done. I still put that into my writing, which is why I search them out and attempt to replace them.

An extemporaneous writing style creeps into my work on occasion, thus leading to the infamous “passive” writing that we are repeatedly warned about in numerous writing books and classes. Here are my most common “passive” combinations I search out while editing:

  • could hear
  • could see
  • could touch
  • would know
  • would be
  • would feel
  • was saying
  • was wondering
  • was hoping

The list is far from complete, but it is the most common set of offenses I find in my writing. Again, do a global document search for these passive verb combinations and you’ll be surprised how often they appear. Get rid of them. Sometimes they are appropriate, but very rarely.

Another very common problem is word repetition within a paragraph or set of sequential paragraphs. An example will best illustrate this. Read the following and see if you can pick it out:

He felt nervous when they started moving towards the car. What were they looking for? Him? Nervously, he crept around the back of the shed to get a better view of these intruders. They might be police, but until he was certain he would remain nervous.

Under the light post behind his car, one of the persons appeared to be in a uniform. Still, without confirmation they were not after him, he would be nervous. Best to wait them out before taking off. Suddenly, a flashlight swung in his direction, and he scrambled back behind the shed, nervously hoping they hadn’t spotted him.

See the problem? Feeling a little nervous after reading this? I suppose this is a bit contrived, but you would be amazed how often this type of repetition can enter your writing when you are ‘in-the-flow’. Look for this while editing.

Another problem I seem to create after blasting out twenty pages in a single sitting is the usage of very simple vocabulary. Let’s look at this through another example:

He went to the table to get the gun before they returned. It wasn’t like he would actually use it, but just in case. No one knew who he really was, but if they found out they might try to take advantage of it. If they did, he would have something to say about that.

At first blush, this seems a reasonable passage. It is clean, concise and hard to misinterpret. In fact, it is too clean and concise. This style is wonderful if you are writing technical documents, but you are trying to tell a story, so broaden the vocabulary to add interest. Here is a rewrite of this passage:

He retrieved the pistol from the table, certain he wouldn’t require it, but pleased it was available. He wisely assumed if anyone discovered his true identity they would take advantage, profiting from the information. With the additional firepower, he’d have something to say about that.

Although this was a quick edit, notice how the change in vocabulary changed the passage from utilitarian to something more dramatic. It adds interest simply through the use of a broader vocabulary. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t going for more flowery prose here, we simply want to increase from the basic words to something more appealing. If you are not sure, have someone read both versions and tell you which is more interesting.

Okay, my final faux pas that even creeps into traditional, commercial writing is using the wrong word. See if you can pick them out of this passage:

When all was sad and done, there was little he could do. The parents had changed out the locks preventing him from assessing the box. Without the proper combination, he’d never reprieve the book. His friends would be appointed, especially Shelly.

Clearly this isn’t what the author intended to say, but since spell checkers won’t catch these correctly spelled but incorrect words, they are nearly impossible to find without careful reading. Even when you read these, you can easily miss them as our minds automatically replace the wrong word with the correct one. However, when it isn’t your work you are reading, these really stick out, making for an unpleasant reading experience.

With Microsoft Word, it often ‘helps’ me when I really don’t want the help. When I mistype something, a common error, it fixes it for me. Unfortunately, it usually replaces the misspelled word with a correctly spelled but wrong word. Yes, I have found this in even the best writer’s work.

As our software becomes more sophisticated, it becomes even harder to avoid this error. As if our writing didn’t suffer enough from our own mistakes, we now have to contend with our software adding more in a vain attempt to help us. Ain’t technology great!

There is so much more to editing that I cannot instruct you in all of it. There are thousands of books, seminars, classes, and examples of what not to do in writing. However, I assume you have already mastered most of these and only suffer from the same common blunders I still enjoy.

It is easier to say “Don’t do That!” than to actually do it. But if you are following my regular editing technique, you will easily sweep up these common pitfalls before they make it to press. Once you let a large chunk go unedited, you will be more likely to permit these faux pas into your writing. Edit regularly to avoid such rookie mistakes.

Okay, off to Fandango to check out movie times. Although I am not really into Zombie movies, you got to love Milla Jovovich in tight clothes holding a weapon. Alright, I’m a guy, I admit it!

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Write, Edit, Write, Repeat…

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…

“Daddy!”

“What is it, Princess?”

“I want to watch a movie in the new minivan!”

What a strange concept. A new twist on drive-in movies?

Why did I ever agree to that feature? Sigh…

Princess Erika

With much chagrin and very little humor, I have entered the minivan world for the first time in my forty-seven years of life. Worse yet, I am selling my sports car, a beautiful 1987 BMW L6. I thought when you got near fifty, you did it the other way around? No wonder I am always so confused.

The truth is I have always loved vans almost as much as I love my sports car. In fact, I have owned two VW Camper vans over the last ten years, so technically you might call them a minivan. I called them campers, but my students called them creeper vans. Go figure!

My wife is nearing the end of this round of chemo, and we are hopeful life may return to normal in the not too distant future. I have released another Onyalum Wars blog and wrote two chapters in the two novels I am currently working on. Don’t ask why there are two, I am still trying to figure it out myself! I am also scheduled to compete in the first ever Rocky Mountain Book Signing Competition in September, so authorship moves forward. Okay, its me and two of my writing group buds, but hey, it is a competition!

All of this means it is time to get back on that writing horse and make some progress. For me, the writing is the best part of the experience. It is the ultimate freedom, if you write fiction, and it is still the best catharsis next to my new hobby, stargazing. However, we all know this is only part of the process, and like washing clothes is to fashion, there is dirty work that must be done.

Editing. Yes, the seven letter word that should be four. Wait, Edit is a four letter word? Anyway, we all shun it, despise it, avoid it, and worse, ignore it, but it is an author’s dirty little secret that cannot be avoided. I know, many of you are like, ‘Well, I write the novel and then go back to edit it, but it is so distasteful, I have a hard time completing it.’ Not surprising when you wait so long to perform your professional duty. I can hear your old English teacher rolling in her grave right now! Let’s hope she is not dead.

What did all those old English teachers tell us over and over again? Edit your work! Yeah, I am right there with you, but I have devised a way to make this process less burdensome and more productive so that when you finish writing, you’ll already have a nearly completed manuscript. After that, it’s on to proof-reading and you are done!

Oversimplifying? Maybe, but my process does work and breaks that monstrous editing beast into bite size chunks. Actually, I might blow chunks from that metaphor. Yuck! Better yet, it can also improve your writing process, as well. And if you call in the next five minutes, we’ll also send you the ‘get published in five minutes’ video for free!

Tongue-in-cheek aside, this process can make you far more productive while helping you improve your writing along the way. By the end, you barely need to edit anything as your writing quickly improves. Okay, enough of the upsell, here is the process.

When I write, I like to think in terms of chapters. After all, they are nice logical blocks of writing. Though many will take weeks to complete, they are a milestone I work towards. So, when I complete a chapter, I edit that chapter before starting the next one. I only do a single pass edit, very manageable for a chapter. At most, it usually takes about thirty minutes to edit a chapter, depending on the number of pages.

This is a small price for the benefit you will get out of it. First, a little time usually passes between when I complete a chapter and when I start a new one. Because of this, the storyline has lapsed slightly in my mind from the previous chapter. Editing that previous chapter right before I start the new one adds transitional consistency between the chapters, making the story more cohesive.

In addition to this consistency in your writing, by doing an editing pass before you start writing seems to make my newer writing a little better. The process of wordsmithing and sentence restructuring on the old work carries over into the new work, thus producing a slightly higher level of writing than I might have had otherwise. I realize this is a bit subjective, but I really do believe this effect does exist.

Okay, I continue this process for each chapter as I write the novel. But wait, there is more! Since I am part of a writing group, I post each chapter on our group blog site for the other members to read and comment on. Because of this, I always edit that chapter one more time before hitting the post button on the blog site. This go round, it takes even less time since I have already edited it one time before.

I realize that for some of you, this seems excessive, but trust me when I say you will be glad you did this editing while you go rather than waiting until the end. Nasty grammar and spelling is easily caught, and the story seems to flow more readily without those pesky consistency problems that can creep into even the best writer’s work. Again, think of it as your weekly laundry that must be done despite how distasteful it is. Yeah, some of you may have guessed, I am doing my laundry as I write:)

Now, assuming you bought into this process, there is more yet to do. You see, after I have written about half the book, I want to go back through all that work and get the big picture of the novel so far. This means I edit from the beginning to the halfway point one time before I continue. This will catch more of the those consistency errors and also give you an ‘enjoyment’ measurement. After all, if you don’t like what you are reading, why will your readers? Look for slow parts that don’t add to the story as part of this pass, timing is important!

Finally, when you have finished the last page, go back through the last chapter before going back through the entire manuscript. This is your final edit pass before you begin the proof-reading process that is also an important part of your writing. Since you have been editing as you go, this final edit will go quickly, thus saving you from that massive anxiety facing those who waited until the end before editing.

Let’s summarize the process assuming we are writing a ten chapter novel (big chapters):

  • Write chap 1 – Edit chap 1 – Edit chap 1 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 2 – Edit chap 2 – Edit chap 2 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 3 – Edit chap 3 – Edit chap 3 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 4 – Edit chap 4 – Edit chap 4 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 5 – Edit chap 5 – Edit chap 5 – Post to blog
  • Edit whole manuscript
  • Write chap 6 – Edit chap 6 – Edit chap 6 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 7 – Edit chap 7 – Edit chap 7 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 8 – Edit chap 8 – Edit chap 8 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 9 – Edit chap 9 – Edit chap 9 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 10 – Edit chap 10 – Edit chap 10 – Post to blog
  • Edit whole manuscript

I would characterize this as the minimum level of editing that you should shoot for while writing the novel. If your writing group provides feedback on errors, then you may choose to go back and fix those, doing another edit pass to boot. This is your choice, but either way you have taken that editing beast and cut it down to size while improving your writing.

It is a win-win, but requires discipline on your part. So, how do your integrate this into your writing process? Easy, you add it to your task list in Excel that you already created to manage your Appointment To Write! By placing it in this list, you will have a regular reminder that you should edit after you have checked off that ‘Write chapter 1’ item in your list.

Of course, I haven’t told you what to edit or what to do when you proof read the manuscript, but hey, those are food for future posts, so come back again for more sage advice. In the meantime, keep your Appointment To Write faithfully, and don’t forget to edit that laundry … I mean writing.

Now, where is that Cinderella movie again? Hey, wait a minute, is this a new alternative to the afternoon nap? Uhmm, probably not. Being a parent is too much work! Sigh …

A Road Map to Fame!

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…

“Daddy?”

Uh-oh, who stole what?

“Yes, sweetie?”

“I want to make a kwaft.”

And I want to make a book. Sigh…

Empress Erika

Empress Erika

These are the sands of our life. Okay, pretty melodramatic, but these things will steal our time from writing while fulfilling our other needs. Erika loves crafts, and who am I to stifle creativity?

After last time, you are probably sitting in front of your new computer with a redundant drive currently setup with all sorts of neat-o directories, but still unable to create your masterpiece. Not a problem, we will continue to work on making you a productive writer.

One of the most basic problems when starting any project, big or small, is organizing the activities from which the product is created. Task management is the bane of our existence but the soil from which our creativity takes root.

All right, maybe you are one of those artsy people and the idea of a list or organized set of tasks makes your skin crawl. Too bad, because everything requires organization or you will spend all your time trying to figure out what to do next. Remember, you only have your appointment to write, so you must make the most effective use of that time.

Organization is not just another “tion” word, but a real active process that you can easily master with some simple practice. Not me, you say? Yes, you, I say! Now, there are many tools at our disposal that will help us manage our time. Some are expensive, some are not. Some are electronic, some are not. Some are red and some are blue, but not all of them are right for you!

Wait a minute, I think I was channeling Dr. Suess! Later, we can spend time sorting out which of the many solutions are right for you, but for now, let’s begin with the basics. Task Decomposition is another big “tion” word you need to become familiar with. We cannot proceed until you have created a broad stroke list of tasks which you must accomplish to create your book, short story, blog, or whatever.

Task Decomposition is simply that. You take a task, say writing a book, then you break it down (decompose) into smaller tasks. Let’s say, write chapter 1, chapter 2, etc. From there, we break those tasks into even smaller tasks, if necessary. When we are done, we have a very good start at what must be accomplished to create the end product.

Obviously, if this is your first go round, then this process will not yield every single task you must do to publish your writing, but it will be a good start. The rest you will learn as you go, modifying your list as necessary. The list becomes your appointment scheduling book. Instead of saying something like ‘see Mrs. Smith about her molar‘, your appointment will say something like, ‘write outline of chapter 1‘. Come appointment day, you will work on that specific task. Voila! You are now a writer. Well, sort of.

Your mission until next time is to sit down, state a high level goal like, ‘write a science fiction novel‘. Then, think of all the things you know you need to do to make that happen. Order does not matter until next time, so don’t get bogged down in operational details, we will flesh those out in the next blog. Your road to success can only be paved if you map out the path to get there. So start mapping!

Well, that craft won’t get done by computer. Now, where did I put those scissors?

Let the writing begin!

 

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…

“Daddy!”

Oh, boy…now what?

“Yes, honey!”

“Tori keeps taking my pictures!”

Sigh…here we go…

Tori the terrible.

Tori the terrible.

Welcome to the new blog titled “Why Can’t I Get Anything Done?”. This blog is the logical follow on to the book of the same name and will contain similar material as presented in the book. Of course, the book will always have the most detailed information, but sometimes the blog will present something new that will make it into a subsequent edition of the book.

So what is the blog about, you might ask? Simple, it is a collection of tips and techniques to make you more efficient in your writing and in your publishing. Now, don’t start thinking this will give you tried and true techniques that will land you a big publisher contract, because there are plenty of trade magazines that will do that. No, this is for the DIY author who loves controlling their own work from start to finish.

So, who am I to tell you how things should be done? Well, I have been in the military, worked as an engineer in the high-tech fields, and currently teach mathematics in a local high school. How does that qualify me? First, I have developed easy processes that help bring sanity to an insane world, and second, I love to tinker with technology, so I play with it first and then bring it to you. You could say I am an efficiency expert with a slant towards technology.

Along the way to helping you achieve your publishing dreams, I will entertain with short vignettes of anecdotal stories about why I can’t get anything done. You may relate to this yourself, assuming you don’t live alone and do nothing but write. My life is very full, and while I love it dearly, it easily takes me away from my passion, writing.

Between my lovely wife, our house, my job, our dog, our two kids, my orchids, my mountain bike, my golf clubs, my friends, and my XBox, I always have plenty to distract me. My fabulous daughters, Empress Erika and Tori the Terrible, are a constant source of distractions except when napping. My wife, very understanding about my “hobby”, has her own ways of distracting me, some of them I don’t mind so much. They are a magical part of my life, and despite the distractions, they are an inspiration for my work.

Oh, did I also mention I write novels? Three published to date, the fourth struggling to get traction (I’ve been busy)! Okay, yes, I need to take my own advice, but I’m working on it. They are part of a Science Fiction series which I hope to follow up next year with an Urban Fantasy series. Hey, maybe the train has left the station, but I am sure I can still hitch a ride!

So sit back, relax, subscribe to the RSS feed, and prepare for entertaining DIY information to help you pursue your publishing dreams. I’ll try to update the blog monthly, but sometimes life will get in the way of even that. However, for most of the year, it should be regular as clockwork (see picture at top to understand pun). Since I teach for a living, yes, writing hasn’t been profitable enough, I do get summers off so I may throw out an extra blog or two during those months. Keep tuned in and keep writing, no matter what!

Can’t wait for the blog? Well, you could always buy the book first and see what you think! Either way, if you want to publish your work without others to get in the way, then find out why you can’t get anything done and learn how to work around life to fulfill your publishing dreams!

Norm