Monday, June 30, 2014

Her Stomach Did What? (Authors and the Internal)

The inside workings of our bodies are one of God’s many miracles, and I am beyond astounded by that. I am also appreciative of people who study the human body—doctors, nurses, scientists, and probably some others whose work I don’t want to think about too much. Because you see, God did not make me to be one of those people. I am a squeamish sort.

I'll be editing words instead, not poking or slicing or injecting anything other than a comment or compliment for an author. 

As an editor, however, I am required to think about how authors describe the effect emotions—stress, fright, worry, love, joy—have on their characters. Most of the time, their descriptions don’t include anything too upsetting for me, like what is happening to their blood (though it sometimes boils) or muscles (though they sometimes knot). Occasionally, however, I need to address with authors a perhaps-not-quite-what-they-meant reference to their characters’ bodies, forcing me to think about internal places even though I don’t want to. 

“Kathy felt tears burning in her throat.” Really? How did the tears get there? This one isn’t so bad; I can do throats, though a choking or even drowning sensation is not beyond the realm of possibility as I think about this.

“A heavy pit dropped in Bill’s stomach.” Now I am gagging a bit. Is it a peach pit? Is Bill going to be able to digest that thing? I don’t really want to think about this.  

“When Bob walked into the room, Karen’s heart did a back flip.” Now my heart is pounding. Somebody call 9-1-1. Meanwhile, Bob really needs to think about the harmful effect all his wonderfulness has on women if their hearts are going this far, don’t you think?

Don’t get me wrong; we all know hearts and stomachs in particular are affected when we humans feel extreme emotion; that’s why authors have been describing those effects in creative, albeit not-the-way-those-organs-actually-behave, terms forever. (Can anybody quote something Shakespearean or biblical here?) I also am not criticizing hard-working, blessedly-into-their-characters’-emotions authors in any way. You try to creatively convey emotions in a novel. It’s not that easy! Too, authors can describe emotional reactions any way they want to. The books belong to them, and their readers love their books.

I’m just asking authors to be cognizant of the fact that, if and when they must write about the internal effects of emotion, they might need to slow down enough to consider their editors’ and maybe even their readers' sensitivities. Our hearts and stomachs can take only so much.

For readers, I have facetiously written about writers including heart- and stomach-related effects that help to convey characters’ emotions. But what do you actually think about them? Do you sometimes think there are too many in a given book? Or is “the more the better” what you love?

For writers, do you ever go back over a passage you just created to determine if the physical reactions your characters or subjects are experiencing as a result of their emotions say what you want them to say—without overworking those stomachs and hearts?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

3 Ways “Intern,” “Entry-Level,” and "Beginner" Have Power

Intern. Entry-level. Beginner.

You might think any position title with those generic words attached to it can just as well describe the people involved with green, wet behind the ears, bottom of the totem pole, or even the least Human Resources–friendly term of all, gofer. Intern or entry-level people may be all those things, especially if they are young adults or workers switching careers (though if I were you, I’d drop the soul-crushing gofer in both practice and word). But have you ever thought about how much power they actually have?

I worked summers while in college in the social service agency that hired me after I graduated. Later, after ten years at home with my children, someone I knew gave me a chance in a field I knew I would love: publishing. My temporary, entry-level position led to a twenty-four-year career in editorial management and, now, as a freelancer. So I’ve had my toe wedged in the door of opportunity as a beginner, and I have hired and trained—and yes, let go—many a beginner. 

I have come to the conclusion that beginners have often-unrecognized power. 

1.       Beginners have the power to make employers want to keep them. Internship and entry-level positions are fairly easy to fill, especially if many want their toes wedged in a particular door. But rather than endure a revolving door, employers like to pull good workers right through that door and keep them there. Starting over with someone new is expensive, time-consuming, and distracting. Beginners have the power to sway supervisors toward retention by mastering the basic “figure out what they want and give it to them” (within reason and ethical standards, of course).     

2.       Beginners have the power to surprise. Cajoling for opportunities as a beginner can come across as cocky, annoying, and lead to failure of point one above. But beginners have the power to surprise employers when a need arises and they know how to meet that need because they took any opportunity to learn on the job. “I can do that for you” might just be the sweetest six words an overwhelmed supervisor could hear.  (By the way, bad surprises can also lead to failure with point number one!)

3.       Beginners have the power to make decisions about their own careers. Sometimes a beginner does not want to become a seasoned, valuable, no-longer-a-beginner employee in a traditionally entry-level position no matter how many perks come along. I lost some great editorial assistants to other positions in the company because they had the power over their careers, not me. It did not take very many experiences like that for me to stop being a bit blind to the power beginners have over their own careers. And those beginners should not be blind to it either.

So did you think beginners have no power? Think again!

For writers and others, are you a beginner in your chosen field? What power do you think you have and might not have recognized until now?

For readers and others, do you enjoy reading about beginners and how they realize and exercise power? Can you think of a novel you enjoyed where the power of the beginner made a difference in a character’s growth?  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Freelancing: Is it a Real Job?

Did I hear you right? Did you ask if freelancing is a real job? Well, yeah. Okay, it’s more like lots of jobs, but still . . .

I happily spend most of my time as a freelance editor and writer, doing work I love, in a home office with a window and my own chair, and only the occasional meeting. Being my own boss and setting my own rules, I can even work outdoors or in a coffee shop if I want to. And I do, of course, have schedule and workload flexibility I didn’t have in the corporate world . . . that is, as long as I maintain quality work, meet deadlines, and stay reachable to my clients during normal business hours. 

Doesn’t that last part sound like a real job?

The thing is, this really is a job, a career—and, for me, it’s a full-time endeavor and blessing. But some people have the impression that freelancers are pretty much all stay-at-home moms (though many are), or retirees who want something to do (though they might just have no intention of ever “retiring”), or are only freelancing until they can find a “real” job. In other words, freelancing is work—here and there, part-time at best—but it’s not a job.

Well, not so much. Here, for example, is my agenda just for today, a Monday:

  • write a blog post for a client
  •  complete a PDF proofreading of a full-length novel
  •  begin a novella line edit
  •  make a 5:30 p.m. business call and immediately draft an article

In between, I will:

  • check and update my scheduled projects spreadsheet
  •  acknowledge an editing project due to come in today 
  •  field and care for any small, quick-turnaround projects 
  •  manage all other incoming and outgoing communication 

Other days I update my website, do sample edits for potential private clients, discuss business needs with my business manager (yep, my husband!), catch up on industry news, consult with editors about upcoming projects . . . you get the picture.

Because I know other freelancers, especially in publishing, and I follow still others on Twitter, for example, I can tell you that lots of us are full-time, empty-nester, not-“retired,” gainfully self-employed, hard-working people. Fortunately, I am quite good at juggling balls and getting a boatload of work done, even if taking a Wednesday off means working on a Saturday! Well, as long as I have coffee.

For freelancers (writers, designers, marketers, editors, and so on), do you have anything to add?

For readers, do you know how many editors it usually takes to bring a traditionally published book into the world? (I’ll tell you in a blog post sometime, and this is not a lightbulb joke!)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

You’re Not Lost; You’re Just Not Where You Want to Be

A colleague and I drove to Chicago for a Saturday seminar, in a rental car, before the days of common GPS use. I’ll call her “Jane,” because that’s not her real name and she won’t want you talking to her about this. 

Jane was driving and I was trying to navigate with a fold-out map. As we made our way to our hotel, which was right in the heart of the city, we ended up in a lane that forced us to eventually turn north onto Lake Shore Drive. It was Friday, during rush hour. Do you know how fast Chicagoans move those cars on Lake Shore Drive?

“We’re lost!” Jane said as she gripped the steering wheel for dear life. I didn’t blame her one bit for that outburst, but with all the confidence I could muster, I shot back, “No, we’re not! I can see where we are and where we want to be on this map. We aren’t lost; we just aren’t where we want to be.” 

I’ll skip the part where Jane threatened to abandon the car somewhere and hail a cab, but she did agree to make the next left turn possible for us to get back onto south Michigan Avenue. Thanks to the cab driver who gave us directions as we sat next to him in completely stalled, bumper-to-bumper traffic, we finally inched our way to our hotel. 

Sometimes we aren’t where we want to be and we’re feeling lost. We have a plan, we’ve been heading toward our goal, and then somehow . . . bam. But are we really lost, or just not where we want to be?

In writing, we often map out how to get an idea into the form it needs to be: a saleable article, a contest-worthy poem, publishable fiction, what the client asked for . . . But no matter how we have mapped the journey, sometimes we feel we’re no longer in control, about to fail. Here are three basics, and they are good for any kind of project, actually:

·         Don’t give in to any urge to abandon the project. Being off-track may feel like being lost, but don’t give up—at least not yet. Keep going if you really want to get there.

·        Recalculate. It’s not too late to look closely at your goal and, even from “way out on Lake Shore Drive,” make adjustments to get going in the right direction. Do it before you end up in Wisconsin. Maybe your book idea for a novel will actually make a better novella, but you can still live out your dream to write fiction with that idea. 

·         Seek more information. Even if you are going in the right direction, something important could be missing—like our hotel's street off Michigan Avenue not being on the map at all or a GPS that has become confused by too many wrong turns. Ask someone who can help—an editor, a mentor, a professional who blogs, your client . . . even a cab driver if he knows what he’s talking about. 

For readers, have you ever read a book where it seems obvious that the author got off-track somewhere along the way and never really got to their goal?

For writers, have you ever felt lost in the writing process? What did you do to get back on track?

Monday, June 16, 2014

“Hearing” an Author’s Voice—Beyond the Pages

When I am editing, I keep open several online resources for quick access: a search engine to check facts and proper names, a publishing industry style guide, and so on. But YouTube is definitely among my regularly accessed online resources. 

Why? Because there I can often find the authors I am editing moving, speaking, and relating to people, and that in turn helps me “hear” their voices as I work. Not every author has a platform that puts them on a video site, but especially when I edit for a traditional publisher, many of them do. Sometimes they are speaking at conferences or conventions, or are in trailers for their books, or have made training or teaching videos. Occasionally, I find them simply having some fun!

It’s not that I am not responsible to “hear” and maintain an author’s voice—or unique style—in his or her writing as I edit, even without ever meeting face-to-face; I am, as were any editors who previously worked alongside the author before my contribution as a line editor came along. But when I am not asked to work directly with authors, and certainly if I have never met them or they are entirely new to me, I am grateful for the opportunity to “meet” them through a video presentation.

For instance, if I see in a video the same, particular use of metaphor used over and over again in a manuscript, it helps me to know this is a standard element in how that author transfers his or her ideas into the lives of an audience. In other words, I should not tamper with that style, even if something about it seems less than the best writing style to me. And if a book is filled with humor, fiction or nonfiction, it helps to know from viewing a video that the author successfully entertains, informs, and inspires audiences with that particular brand of humor. Ill advised editing could skew that connection with a ready made audience.

How much authors should write the way they talk, how they find their writing voices, and how editors maintain authors’ voices during the editing process are topics you will find thoroughly discussed in resources for writing and editing, from books to blogs to master's degrees. And marketing folks have a lot to say about the use and value of visual presentation for an author too. But if you, too, are in the editing biz, don’t underestimate the value of that little thing called the web and how viewing video presentations can enhance your understanding of an author’s voice.

For writers, have you ever thought about how a publicly accessed video presentation enhances (or could enhance) your readers’ experience? Do you have a video link to share as an example?

For readers, do you ever check out an author you love or are considering by searching for a video presentation they are in? Do you have a video link to share as an example?
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