Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lost in Transcription?—Leaving Out the Why in Non-Fiction

So. You probably know and understand all about transcribing and translating a gene. People, presumably trained biologists, transcribe a DNA sequence and translate it into a protein.

Yeah, I don’t understand it either. I read about it on-line, and it's no surprise I didn't understand much of anything said. But to boot, I have no idea Why scientists go through this process because the article I read didn't say. To be fair, the author probably knows his main audience already knows Why. But what if the Why could help an interested layperson?

Writing is more up my alley than genes and proteins. You see, transcribing (and yes, I am making this up) is writing about what you think, or know, or think you know. Translation (still fabricating here) is turning that information into a complete message that entertains, informs, inspires, or all three.

Occasionally as I edit, however, I notice that an author leaves out a Why. Not Who, What, Where, and When (see self-editing what’s not there), perhaps, but Why. For example, I edited a piece that promised a certain benefit if three specific entities are present in a person’s life. But Why (or the oft-related How) would those two entities create that benefit? He did not say. Why ask the reader to ponder the Why on their own when a few more words transcribed from the author's brain could enhance the reader's experience in the first place, helping to translate the intended message?

So as you review your work as a writer, be mindful of whether or not you have included a Why. Consider whether a Why will enhance your reader’s experience. Sometimes the Why is not necessary, but it is still better to leave it out deliberately, after some thought, not inadvertently.

For readers, have you ever read a book that never explained a Why? How did that change your experience?

For writers, do you already have a process for ensuring everything your reader needs to know is included in your work?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Repetition: 3 Easy Tips for Repeatedly Avoiding It

Many of us tend to use certain words and phrases over and over. They are so familiar to us and our friends and family that none of us even notices the repetition. When those same words and phrases are expressed to an audience, however, they can be a distraction for those who don't personally know us. Instead of enjoying the interesting colors of our story, they might get hung up on a pattern we don't intend.

All the eggs in your storytelling basket can be eggs, but perhaps they don't have to look so much alike!

As a line editor, it's my job to ask authors if they want to address repetition I have identified in their writing. For example, in a recent edit, the words utter and utterly were used a total of twenty-eight times in a rather short book. I suggested employing those words only when their power was truly needed, and using, for example, the words total and totally or thorough and thoroughly instead. It’s up to the author what to do, of course; she has written an intensely personal story and paints the power of her experiences in part with her word choices. But if an editor like me notices repetition, readers might also notice it.

Consider these three tips for hunting down repetition:

1.       Ask some folks if they have noticed you have a repetitive speech or writing pattern. A spouse or close friend might be able to tell you without hesitation. A new friend, however, might give you a fresher take—if they think you truly want to know! 

2.       Make one of your revision/editing passes a hunt for repetition. If this kind of review is a first, you might be surprised by what you discover. If this type of review has become routine, you probably not only discover repetition more quickly but have become more adept at eradicating it in the first place.

3.       Keep a list of the words and phrases you tend to repeat. Just as it is a good idea to keep a list of words you tend to use incorrectly, it's a good idea to make a “repetition” list. Then you can search for those words and phrases and easily make changes—where some variety will not change the impact you are trying to achieve. After all, repetition is not bad if the word or phrase you use is the right word or phrase for your message or story.

For readers, what do you think about an author who is repetitive?

For writers, do you think addressing repetition sooner than later is a valid use of your time as you practice your craft? If so, what method do you think does or would work best for you?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What Should a Discouraged Writer/Person Do? (Hint: Think "Ant")

It's ridiculous, I know. Maybe even sad. But I am prone to rather sudden discouragement. Everything can be just fine, splendid. Then one little, tiny, on-the-negative-side thing can happen and I feel blue, down, dragging. Fortunately, something nice can then pick me right up off the floor. If this is a truly psychological disorder, please do not tell me. That would, I think, prove the first half of this equation.

When writers become truly discouraged, however, they might be tempted to Q-U-I-T! (I know; I've done it.) Maybe it seems almost no one thinks what they write is anything unique, no one comments on or “likes” their blog posts, their goals suddenly seem unreachable and unrealistic. 

What to do? Think (and pray) about why you are writing, about whether you are on the right track to build toward and eventually satisfy your specific goals (though it’s taking a long time)? Yes. Research what you can do about it if you are not on the right track? Yes, all that. The Internet alone can lead you to a multitude of inspirational and practical helps and opportunities (from assessment tools to joining a writers' group or attending a writers' conference).

But try this too. Really. You can’t go wrong with the “High Hopes” rubber tree plant song, a nice, pick-me-up ditty that will make you smile, sung by Laverne and Shirley (here) or Frank Sinatra and a bunch of kids (here). Sing along, enjoy, take heart, renew your high hopes!  

You are a writer, and you can keep going!

For writers, what have you proactively done to work through a time of discouragement?

For readers, other than buy their books, what can you do to encourage authors, such as on Facebook or Twitter?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The “Me” File—Why Writers (and Everyone) Should Have One

These days I supervise one person—me. It’s not that hard to keep track of how I'm doing, and most of the time, I'm a generous, supportive, encouraging boss. I will probably work for me until I retire! 

As a manager in a company for many years, however, I supervised other people. In part to help me develop meaningful annual performance reviews, I asked everyone who reported to me to please keep a “Me” File with hard copies of  any communication that contained praise related to their work, even notes they wrote themselves about verbal praise they received—including from me. It was a wonderful tool for us both to ensure I didn't forget or was unaware of all their accomplishments. 

I also knew, however, that keeping those records was a means for them to reach for a confidence booster whenever they needed one. When they, as I too sometimes did, felt misunderstood, rejected, or generally like a "failure"; actually “messed up”; or weren’t sure if what they did mattered. In my opinion, everyone should keep a “Me” File of some kind. This is not an exercise in self-involvement or self-praise; it's an exercise in self-awareness and valid self-encouragement. 

Writers, too, sometimes feel down, unworthy, rejected . . . feelings that can come at them full force some days. (Surprise! Editors have those days too.) Here are some “Me” File ideas for writers:
·         Don't let people who only give negative critique sabotage your "Me" File.  You’ll give up before you even start if everyone who gives you feedback only has negative things to say. Don’t let those who tend to withhold deserved encouragement do that. Even a single entry can be significant when you need it. 

·         Don’t let the positive slip by. If you tend to zero in on negative feedback, you might let positive feedback go unnoticed. Train yourself to look for it—in emails, in editorial notes . . . everywhere. It will be there more often than you think.

·         Save the positive, not the negative. Don’t put the negatives in your “Me” File. Address them if they are valid, of course, but rely on the positives for confidence-boosting. You are not playing “ostrich hiding in the sand.” You are gathering encouragement, especially for when you need it.

·         Include encouragement of your own. You know when you have done a good job, even if no other person seems to have noticed. So write yourself up! And if you have favorite inspirational quotes or books or Bible passages that especially remind you that you are indeed a unique person of worth, use them for continued encouragement. It’s wise to remind yourself who (or whose) you are, not just focus on what you are or do.

For readers, don’t dismiss the idea of a “Me” File if you are not a writer. Whatever you do (stay-at-home parents and volunteers included!), record positive feedback—even from yourself.

For writers, if you start a “Me” File, what sources of encouragement can you place there right away?

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