Writing for Food – Writing for Fun

I once told a good friend of mine that I write to put food on the table.

That was true, but it’s not exactly the whole story.

There’s a difference between being a Freelance Writer, and being an Author. I wear both hats. Allow me to explain the functions of each one.

The Freelance Writer Hat
This is the practical baseball cap that I put on and wear when I’m writing for other people. It is the custom-tailored hat that is probably worn on a couple of edges, but it still looks okay. It serves its function.

There are deadlines, demanding clients, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) keywords and phrases, revisions, more revisions, ratings, tailor-made posts that don’t sound like anyone else, client’s clients and their sub-clients, and on and on ad nauseam. It’s the type of writing where if you don’t write, you don’t get to eat.

The Author Hat
I like this fit better, of course. This is my sexy, wide-brimmed hat that shields my eyes from the searing pain of the sun and lends an air of je ne sais quoi to my appearance. It’s the hat I wear when I write for pleasure. If it sells on the shelves, great! If it doesn’t, well, damn, but it won’t stop me from writing and enjoying myself.

There are some deadlines when working with a publisher, edits and revisions, more revisions, helping to market your work, and moving on to your next story. It’s the type of writing where you write, sometimes get paid for it, and hopefully just have a great time doing it.

Both hats are valuable, and they’ve taught me a great deal about the writing process. Not only are you creating art with words, you’re crafting them, too. You’re building a structure that will hopefully stand for a good long while. You might not build the Sphinx or The Great Wall of China, but hopefully you’ve built something that will house a few generations of readers.

I have also said that it is not necessary to have a muse in order to write. I still stand by it, that it’s 100% true if you’re dedicated to your craft. That doesn’t mean you’re not inspired or uninspired on some days, but I’ll write more about that later. I’ve been accused of having a Puritan streak for it (thanks, Frank!), but that’s not true, either. The Puritanical work ethic can play into it for some, but I prefer to think of it as a dedication to producing art. I am not a machine nor a beast of burden. I am my own muse.

I used to think that I needed a muse in order to produce a story. As such, I wound up not writing very often, just waiting for the “right idea” to come along. Then, I got into Freelance Writing to help pay my bills. There was no room for waiting with this. There were articles to write and deadlines to meet, but each article had to be original and unique, and not look like the generic crap that a bot can crank out in minutes. If you want to stand out in the world of freelance writing, you MUST produce work that has a twist to it. Infused with humor, excitement, and quality. Considering my consistent rating is five of five stars, I think I’ve got that part under control.

Doing it day in and day out gave me the idea that I could do the same thing with creative writing, if only I would sit down and write…anything. Start with a dream I had last night and see where it went. Take a character from one of my games and tailor them to become original. Use my imagination. BECOME MY OWN MUSE.

That isn’t to say there aren’t ideas, dreams, and other people who inspire me. There are plenty of people I admire and things people say that wend their way into my head and sometimes wind up in my manuscripts. But there isn’t an intangible thing out there that controls me and what I write. I draw inspiration from elsewhere, but I am the creator. If I had to depend on something or someone else, I’d never get any project finished. But I’ll write more about that next week. This week it’s all about author hats.

No matter which hat you choose, one or the other, or both, try to approach them in the same way, especially if you’re feeling uninspired, ill, or otherwise ‘just not in the mood.’ Put yourself in the mood. Think it’s impossible? I’m writing this very moment with a migraine. I created this piece and I’m pretty pleased with it. If I can do it under these circumstances, then you can, too.

Follow me on Twitter (@Spellvira) where you can read absurdities on an infrequent basis. You can also learn more and read excerpts of my work on my tumblr page.

Keeping Track of Submissions

This process has become so overcomplicated, it’s ludicrous. I mean, there are even apps out there and complicated doodads to keep track of where you’ve submitted. It’s insane.

Listen, you want to get published. Yes, of course! It’s only natural. But this should be the least stressful part of being a writer. Unfortunately, it’s often the most stressful for writers.

Whether you’re submitting to agencies or to publishers directly, you do need to keep track of your submissions. Some places don’t allow multiple submissions, and others get very snippy when you submit more than once to them. SO, you need a method that will keep it simple without tripping you up.

My method is simple, straightforward, and it might even work for other people.

I use my email folders and sub-folders to keep track of my submissions. Very easy. Easy peasy, even.

  • Folder One: Query – Publishers
    Subfolder: Responses
  • Folder Two: Query – Agencies
    Subfolder: Responses
  • Folder Three: Publishing Agreements
    Subfolder: Responses

From there, I arrange the emails in them alphabetically. That way, I simply access the folder, and I can find to whom I’ve submitted already in just a couple of seconds.

Some people do the same, but with a spreadsheet. Now, while I love spreadsheets, to me, this seems like doubling my work. I’ve already got all the organizational tools I need in the email folders, so why take extra time getting out a spreadsheet and doing almost exactly the same thing there? For me, that’s going to take more time than I have.

Now, I’m not saying don’t use apps or spreadsheets. They may work for you. But what I am saying is, you’re a writer, not a professional submitter. Devoting too much time to this process just increases your stress and takes the focus away from your creative process. No one needs that!

Follow me on Twitter (@Spellvira) where you can read absurdities on an infrequent basis. You can also learn more and read excerpts of my work on my tumblr page.

Editing Your First Draft: A Tale of Terror

I once told you to go edit yourself after a break of about six weeks. So, let’s say those six weeks have passed, and you’re ready to start editing your manuscript.

So, there it is — 60, 70, 100, 200,000 words — all sitting there just staring at you, waiting for those first cuts or elaborations and clarifications. Where do you start?

Most read their own manuscripts through about five times, but I like to go through mine six. It’s not actually to be more thorough or a topper or anything. You’ll see why in a moment.

Step One: Read for enjoyment.

Here’s what I like to do when I start editing anything. I read it for its content. Just a read through as if I were picking up the book for enjoyment. This step is where you set aside all your judgments and just enjoy what you’ve written. Now, if you’re overly critical of yourself, you might find things during your reading that you don’t like, or catch a mistake in continuity, spelling, or grammar. If you can’t let it go, make a quick note of it and set it aside. Then, just keep reading. Read it through to the bitter end, or the happy end, or whatever ending you’ve written.

This is a healthy way to just get through and enjoy your work and what you’ve accomplished, and it will set you up to start gearing into editor’s mode in the next five steps.

Step Two: Read for supplementation.

This is where you need to add in what you forgot to in the first place. Did you describe a scene but find it lacking? Add details — sound, smell, sights — and the explanation of how characters got to be where they were wherever you feel it’s important. Yes, many people will tell you it’s not necessary to add anything to your first draft, but I’ve found that to be simply untrue. But don’t worry, you’ll cut it down later.

Step Three: Read for expurgation and condensation.

It’s later now…your third read should be finding all those ugly spots where there’s just too much exposition. If you lose between 20-25% of your manuscript, that’s fine. It’s expected. I’ve deleted entire chapters without hurting the story. Cut back on anything that’s getting preachy. You don’t want to mess too much with your story’s point.

You may also want to cut back things that got to be too much (too overtly sexual, violent, or factual). Use your best judgment. Did you really mean to have the family dog eat your antagonist’s manky bits? You might want to take it out, or not. Depends on what kind of mood your going for (and especially important in that case if you want your antagonist to have children). Of course, this will also depend on your genre. Erotica, slasher, shlock, and other genres may allow more graphic detail.

Tighten up your writing. Make your sentences pop, kill the verbosity when necessary, and get your point across.

Step Four: Read for content.

Hand-in-hand with expurgation and condensation, you need to do another read through for your content. Did one of your characters get stabbed on page 37 and is absolutely fine without reason on page 38? Did Sally J. mysteriously move from apartment #4 to #8? Oops! Now’s the time to fix it.

Make sure your timeline makes sense, and you don’t have characters meeting before they’re introduced (unless you’re going for a wibbly-wobbly timey wimey thing and totally doing that on purpose), and that your point of view isn’t bouncing around from one character to the other constantly (unless you’re going for that, but make sure it’s handled with skill to avoid confusing your readers).

Here is the ideal time to do your fact-checking. If you’re using anything in your story that is based in fact (for example, recently I needed to know some stuff about guns and helicopters), do your research. Google, watch YouTube videos, and ASK people you know to be experts. Get the information down and make sure your story makes SOME sense. No, you don’t have to be 100% accurate and can take license with certain things to fit your plot and drive it forward, but if you don’t even make the effort to be accurate, it will show, and your work will get called out for it.

Conversely, you can also write too much on the facts and lose the story — so go ahead and cut that back if you haven’t already in step three. Remember, it’s all about the story. Whether you’re character driven or plot driven, your main focus needs to be your story, not how many hours of research you’ve done or how many experts you’ve interviewed. Ultimately, it comes down to the story you’re telling.

That having been said, some people just don’t care and do it anyway — they just write whatever comes into their head, and damn the research. Unfortunately, it can ruin the fun for your audience. In this case, I would put a disclaimer in your author’s notes, preemptively asking for forgiveness. It can help massage the audience into a bit of forgiveness. However, I’m all for maintaining a balance between your facts and your fiction.

Step Five: Read for sentence structure and minutiae.

This read is where you do your real spelling and grammar check. Take out your fine-tooth comb and start scouring your pages for the correct usage of ‘too, to, and two’ and all that. Make sure that everything is consistent, too. Your dialog doesn’t have to be grammatically correct at all, but it needs to be consistent. You don’t want your Harvard Professor Emeritus sounding like a rural Kansas farmer, right? The same goes for your punctuation. If you’re using the Oxford comma, make sure you’re using it consistently throughout your text.

Check to see if you’re using a single word too often, and take those out. “Quickly, Maynard went to the door and quickly opened it. The girl stood still, soaking wet in the rain. He quickly took her inside and wrapped her up in a towel.” Guess which word needs to go? (Hint: it’s NOT Maynard.)

Do a quick review to make sure you didn’t rename a town by accident, and make sure you spell your place names consistently.

Double check your sentences. Seriously. Make sure you’ve gotten rid of clunky sentences or fixed them in such a way that they’re nice and smooth. Get rid of trite crap.

You’ll also want to ensure that your paragraph transitions are slick and easy. Do this now.

Step Six: Read it to an audience.

When all of this is done, go ahead and find a victim…a willing one, please — and read your manuscript aloud. If you don’t have anyone, record it and play it back to yourself as if you were listening to an audio book. This will help you with your previous five steps. You can catch repetitive and/or awkward sentences here, and that’s a huge help for clarity.

Additionally, you’ll also be able to hear dialog better, and see if you can keep track of who’s speaking.

Finally, it’ll help your pacing, and you can go back and fix spots that drag or slow down anything that’s too rushed.

That’s it!

Congratulations, you’ve gone through your first revision. Now, it’s up to you to do further editing, or allow a second set of eyes to edit your work. This can be in the form of an editor or beta reader. It can give you a different, more detached perspective on your work that can help get your manuscript ready for publishing, and an agent or editor will appreciate it.

Okay…what are you still doing here? Get editing already!

Follow me on Twitter (@Spellvira) where you can read absurdities on an infrequent basis. You can also learn more and read excerpts of my work on my tumblr page.