Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Just Breathe

I know that I said I'd be re-launching my blog, and then I've been really bad and simply been uploading a bunch of posts that already went up on Published.com. But, in my defense, things have been a tad crazy, lately. (And, yes, I probably should have waited a month or so to re-start.)

First, let me offer you a bit of an explanation on my recent absence and reappearance.

A large part of my disappearance came from two things: A laptop computer that hasn't been wanting to play nice, and a wedding that just didn't want to plan itself.

My reappearance is coming, in part, due to the fact that the company I've been working for for over seven years has been purchased and I'll be out of a job one day shy of my seven-year full-time anniversary (I was here for 4 months part-time, first).

As cosmic life would have it, the wedding and the job loss are happening... basically... in the same weekend. (The job actually ends during the time that I was already planning to take off around the wedding.)

While I wanted to restart the blog, I also needed to work on creating a personal website (and wrap up everything at work - and prep for the wedding) and realized during the past few weeks that my brain only has so much planning capacity, and I needed a bit longer break. 

I've started to lean on a "Just breathe" mantra from time to time. You know, like Drew Barrymore's "Cinderella" character in Ever After.


Please forgive me as I take a little longer to breathe. I promise I'll be back together, dressed, and ready for the ball, soon.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Gay Male Author Seeks Same for Bouts of Impassioned Editing (But Should He?)

June being Pride month, I thought I’d address a topic that is fairly close to my heart: GLBT authors and editors.

Choosing an editor, at the best of times, can be like all of the worst kinds of dating. You’re looking at resumes and websites that might as well be personal ads in the back of questionable newspapers—or photos you’d rather just swipe left off of your phone. How much can you really learn from fewer than 140 characters?

Often, authors narrow their searches by looking for people who match them. People in their social circles or somehow connected on LinkedIn. The search is often pretty narrow: “I’ve written a gay romance novel about cat-loving men in Sheboygan, so I’d like to find a gay man who knows all about Sheboygan felines;” or “I’ve written an expose on lesbian influences in laundry detergent packaging, so I want to have it read by a lesbian who washes her own clothes.”

It makes sense, right? You want someone who knows a certain amount about your material to be able to read it and tell you whether it makes sense, or whether something is truly amiss. You want to meet your match and stroll off into the editorial sunset.

two people walking into a sunset

And I would agree with you. Sorta.

You see, you do want someone like that to be reading your book, but as a reader—not as an editor. This is the person you should hand your manuscript to when you’re thinking, “This might be good. I would love it if someone could read it and maybe give me a little light commentary on it. Nothing formal, but just point out what I missed. I could pay him or her with pizza.”

At that point, handing your book about lesbian laundry packaging to some of your lesbian (or bisexual, or simply laundry-loving) friends might be great. They can read your book and talk to you about what resonated with them, and what didn’t. After which, you can go rework what you’ve done, and then consider going out to search for an editor.

On the other hand, if you hand your book about the Sheboygan-based romantic escapades of your cat-loving hero to someone who a) hates cats; b) has a strong dislike for all things Wisconsin; or c) wears black every Valentine’s Day in protest of the commercial misappropriation of the death of a saint… sure… you might be setting yourself up for a some very non-constructive (and non-productive) criticism. But you might also find out where the holes are in your manuscript, because he’s bound to be looking for them.

Boiled down, this means that you should keep your “we know all the same stuff!” friends as your friends; and keep your “I don’t do laundry” or your “I prefer ‘Shipoopi’ to Sheboygan” frenemies as your editors. (Or, you know, hire someone who is a good, neutral editor and have a business associate as your editor—that works, too.) Basically you need to find someone who might have some in common with you, but who will still challenge you.

men arm wrestling over money

What does any of this have to do with Pride month?

I’ve been working as an editor for a number of years. And I’ve edited a lot of books (fiction and nonfiction) for which I was simply not the target audience—and a very few books that were written for “my type.” I’ve learned, over time, that the books I edit that aren’t “my kind of book” are the ones where I often find it easier to give better, fuller, and more active critiques.

I guess it’s a little of a “devil’s advocate” kind of thing (I swear I’m not referring to the really awful 1997 movie—I’m referring to the guy who argues against sanctifying a saint during canonization proceedings at the Vatican), where I’m able to use the knowledge I do have to try to poke holes in the manuscript. (“You’re the author—convince me I’m wrong!”)

Oh, sure, I’ve had arguments and push-back critiques with some gay male authors, too. And we’ve learned a lot from each other in the process. And (I think) the results have been really positive for both of us. But the critiques took me longer—and the points of contention were occasionally harder for each of us to describe and understand—because we were starting on the same page.

Think about it. If you’re looking at a package of laundry detergent, and you’re looking to see whether that shape on the front might remind you ever-so-slightly of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, if you turn to someone else who has studied art history (we’ll say that’s the point of using O’Keeffe in this description, just to keep this clean) and say “Does that look O’Keeffe-ish to you?” Your art history-loving friend is more likely to say yes than someone who has only ever seen O’Keeffe’s cityscapes, and never seen her flowers.

Having a similar background is great if the two of you are friends who are in a museum discussing art theory. But if you’re an author looking for critique and your reader already knows enough about your subject matter to not question why you’re making your assertions, well, that can be a problem.

For editing, you need to find someone who knows something about your subject—just enough to understand the innuendo, as well as the right questions to ask—but not so much that he/she doesn't ask any questions at all. If you're a GLBTQ author, that means you might want (and need) a GLBTQ editor, but make sure you get the right one and swipe left on the rest.

Okay. This is getting a bit long, so I’ll tell you what. I’m going to let you think on this a bit, and send me your thoughts. In a month or so we’ll revisit this topic and get into some broader genre discussions, where you both want and don’t want your editor to know your topic—all at once.

For now, let’s just take a moment or two to celebrate all of the cat-loving gay romantics from Sheboygan, the Georgia O’Keeffe-admiring lesbians in the laundry aisle at Target, and the incredibly diverse pantheon of GLBTQ authors who have given us so much pleasure and discussion through the years.



My family—my husband*, my cat**, and I—wouldn’t be where we are without them.***

*If I’m going to be honest, technically he’s only my fianc√©.
**And, well, technically, our cat is a dog.
***And, okay, for full disclosure, we’re also not stick people.
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Originally posted on Published.com - 6/8/2016

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Autocorrect and Spellcheck are Your Frenemies! (Don't Let the Robots Win!)

In this world of voice-to-text and email disclaimers that say “I typed this with my thumbs, please ignore any errors,” it’s easy to let typos slide in our quick communications.

When your partner texts to say that he’s already fed the hogs, but you don’t live on a farm, you can assume he probably meant the dogs.

When your boss sends you an email saying that she wants you to beet her in the conference room, you probably aren’t going to run out for a quick shopping trip thinking that she’s expecting you to bring borscht.

Beets and a knife

And, yes, we have all learned to live with those weird phrasings in our “we’ll assume we know that was just a speed-related typo” world.

Human Brains Trump Computers with Their Language Capabilities

The problem, however, comes in when authors decide to rely on these same pieces of technology for their manuscripts. Once you abdicate power from your own mental abilities and hand it over to the robo-language-cops, you’d better hope you have very forgiving readers (or a very patient editor).

Supposedly, autocorrect and spellcheck have your best interests at heart (or at the warm, squishy cores of their processor doohickeys, at least). They truly think (or algorithm-ize) that they’re giving you the best possible words for your situations. But consider the following real-life examples and then consider whether or not some computer got really bored and decided to mess with you.

From Microsoft Word, we were recently offered:
“As she tucked in her dead husband at night . . .” as a frightening alternative to the much cozier “dear” husband. (A Rose for Emily,” anyone?) 

Word also politely suggested to me this week that the French folie √† deux (a term meaning two people sharing the same delusion) would be better presented as “folio dues” (a term I can only assume means “payment for membership in a folded sheet of paper”).

Colorful paper

Where Spellcheck and Autocorrect Fail Miserably

And heaven forbid that you actually try to use a person’s name in your manuscript. Want to refer to the actor Benedict Cumberbatch? Be prepared for autocorrect to offer you “Benefactor Cummerbund,” among other things. Is there a Benefit Cumbersome in the house? Benedictus Cantus, anyone? (Note to prospective parents in the audience: Consider that we live in a world of autocorrect when naming your kid.)

Somewhere along the way, computers seem to have decided that “Shall we play a game?” was simply a way of life for them—and they’ve been working up to Global Thermonuclear War ever since.

How Do We Fight Back?

We stop allowing autocorrect to automatically correct us. We turn off the autofill function. We re-read what we’ve written to make sure that what the computer suggested is actually what we wanted. We make our own decisions on the proper usages of “hire,” “higher,” and “hi ya.”

Sure, it’s great to have Word looking out for you and marking words it thinks might be misspelled or misused. But remember that Word is geared for something like an eighth-grade audience. When you go over its head, it starts to freak out—just like any other impetuous teenager.

So treat your computers as you would your teenagers: Give them some latitude, but also keep a tight rein on them. Make sure they learn all of the lessons you have to teach them—and continue to check up on them, just to confirm that you didn’t miss anything.

After all, if we’ve learned anything from The Terminator or 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s that we can’t blindly trust the machines. Sure, a word processor or voice-to-text bot tweaking your messages might seem innocent, now, but in the same way that you don’t want your thirteen-year-old neighbor to drive your car, you also don’t want to find out what happens when your self-driving car decides that you really meant to say “Ram that truck” when all you said was “Open the trunk.”

hands with henna tattoos

I don’t know about you, but with that in mind, I’m thinking that some editorial decisions are definitely better kept in your own hands.

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Originally posted on Published.com - 6/20/2016

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Self-Editing Hacks You Can't Live Without

Have you ever been at a cocktail party and heard yourself utter a piece of gossip that no one should have heard? As the words are leaving your mouth, you try to reel them back in, but it's too late. They've gone out into the world, and now everyone knows that your cat—and your husband—both hate your new neighbors. The same neighbors hosting the party. And standing just four feet away from you holding trays of cocktail wieners and honey-sweetened Daiquiris. Wouldn't you love the chance to stop yourself from making that mistake in public?

If you're an author, you're in luck. Authors get to stop themselves from making stupid mistakes in public. The catch is that they have to want to stop themselves.

As an editor, I see a lot of errors on my screen every day. Some of them are pretty basic—a missed period at the end of a sentence or a "their" instead of a "there"—and some of them are amazingly spectacular, such as: "From the depths of hell, Stan arose in his fiery glory." (Yes, the latter is just a simple typo, but what a great typo!)

man with cigar

What's sad, though, is that almost every type of error I see could have been caught if the author had just taken a closer look at what was on the page—and not just what was in his mind.

As I mentioned when talking about the Oxford comma, authors (both fiction and nonfiction) tend to live so much within the world they create that they read what they want to read on the page (or screen) instead of what is actually there.

How do you get around that? There are as many different techniques as there are people who don't write but like to give writing advice (yeah… we all know one or two of those folks), but here are some of my favorites:

 

Read What You've Written Out Loud

Yes, out loud. You're much more likely to notice what's actually on the page if you have to pronounce each word and listen to it. Of course, this only works if you truly read each word. You can't simply read it all really fast and assume that it's correct. Read it like a script. You'll find the places where you left in typos, as well as the places where the punctuation might be wonky.

For bonus points, have a friend read it aloud to you. I recommend someone you can pay in pizza, cat-sitting, or a reciprocal reading, since this may take a few hours/days.

wood letters

 

Read It Backwards

Okay. This isn't easy. It's going to take some time. But if you know that you're prone to typing faster than you think, this could be a real eye-opener for you. Reading backward takes the context out of the words and forces you to see what's truly on the page. If it's not what you intended, you can change it before anyone else knows.

 

Re-Run Your Spellcheck and Grammar Check After You've Completed Your Work

My personal vote is to always have the spellcheck and grammar check pointing things out on my screen as I type. Yes, it can be annoying (after all, both programs are incredibly literal), but it forces me to rethink everything I leave on the screen.

Then—when I'm completely done—I re-run it with as tight a settings as possible (depending on your word processing program, you might even have "check spelling for context" as an option), and force it to re-check everything (even the things you've already declared to be okay).

This will force you to go back through the manuscript and look at everything the computer thinks might be wrong, but that you ignored the first time around. It's annoying as all get-out, but it works.


clock passing time

 

The Best Self-Editing Technique, However, Can Be Summed Up in One Word: Time

You may have noticed that the three previous suggestions each force you to slow down and truly read what's on the page. But if you're doing this the day after you've "finished" writing, you likely still have the whole book in your head. That preconceived notion of what you're going to read makes it much easier to miss the sometimes-glaring errors that others will see.

If you have the chance, close your files and put the manuscript away for at least a week (a month or two is better), then pull it back up and look at it again. (I'll admit that this is where having a printed copy that you can physically slam into a file drawer would be much more satisfying.) I've heard this referred to as the "oh shit" stage of self-editing, because when you re-open that file, you're bound to see errors in what you were sure was a perfect manuscript.

Why do these techniques work? Because each one, in its way, allows you to look at a manuscript as a reader, instead of a writer.

Now, I'm not going to lie. I work as an editor. I make my living as an editor. If every writer actually got really good at self-editing, my livelihood would fade away. Somehow, even though I'm giving away my secrets, I suspect that there will always be rushed authors who can't be bothered with fixing their own errors—just as there will always be someone at a cocktail party trying to eat a cocktail wiener around the foot he's just placed in his mouth.

Wouldn’t it be nice if that was always someone else, though, and not you?

What self-editing tricks do you use? Send them my way, and I'll try to include the best tips in a future post.
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Originally posted on Published.com - 5/16/2016