The Joys and Terrors of Working with an Editor (a guest post from LJ Cohen)

I’m delighted to host Lisa Cohen today. She’s one of my regular clients, and she’s the author of both the CHANGELING’S CHOICE and HALCYONE SPACE series, among other titles.

We’re doing a giveaway in conjunction with this post. To qualify, simply leave a comment here on the blog. (Tweets and comments on G+ do not qualify. The comment must be here on the blog.) At the end of one week, starting today, one winner will be chosen at random. The winner can select any one title from all of Lisa’s ebooks, in whatever format they prefer.

Without more prattling from me, here’s Lisa.

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The Joys and Terrors of Working with an Editor

I like to think of myself as a writer with thick skin. I’ve been writing novels for almost twelve years, publishing for over four. When I made the shift from writing as a hobby to writing as a profession, I knew I needed to separate my work from my ego. And that meant learning to deal with feedback.

For the most part, I’m fairly adept at accepting feedback. I’ve worked with writing critique groups for years, some more successfully than others. I’ve also cultivated a group of beta readers who are willing to take an unpolished manuscript and offer big picture/story-level feedback before I dive in to the work of revisions. It’s always interesting to see how I feel about critical comments. While I won’t lie and say they don’t hurt, once that initial pang is gone, I actually love to dig into why something didn’t work for someone.

I had a recent experience where a beta reader kept apologizing to me for not liking a short story I had sent him to read. In the end, I found his critical comments far more valuable than several other readers who were simply complimentary. Other people’s mileage may vary, but I don’t learn as much from what people like as from what doesn’t work for them.

But that earlier level of feedback is quite different from working with a professional editor. Dreadnought and Shuttle is the third novel Karen has edited for me. I think we have a solid working relationship. My job is to give her the cleanest manuscript I can write, making sure the errors she has helped me see so clearly in prior projects are not peppering the current one. Her job is to find all the new and different kinds of errors I have injected into the work.

What I love about how we work together is how much of a teacher and a coach Karen is. Even when I explain that my brain will never ever truly grasp the proper use of the subjunctive or the distinction among lie, lay, laying, and lying, she insists on trying to help me understand. I love her optimism in the face of my limitations.

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I also rely on her to see the blind spots that I cannot in my own writing. In an earlier project, Karen found a pattern of sentence rhythm that wasn’t wrong, per se, only overused. She named the pattern ‘wildebeests’. (Note, I also love Karen’s sense of humor.) One or two might not be noticeable, but an entire herd of them rampaging across the page was a definite problem.

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Once she pointed it out to me, I was able to internalize and eliminate the habitual pattern. (In my own defense, much of what I’ve internalized about grammar comes from decades of reading and writing poetry, where the rules are a lot more fluid.)

But as much as I’d like to think I can completely separate my emotions from my work, that just isn’t possible. Part of the baggage of being an artist is needing your work to be liked. Karen represents a critical reader that I want to please. I know she has a work flow that includes an initial read not as an editor, but as a reader. She (with my permission) shares her reactions during this read on twitter and google plus. Until I see her first excited reaction, I’m typically an anxious mess, refreshing my computer screen, looking for that validation.

Honestly, I think that’s the hardest part of the editing process for me. The actual work on the marked-up manuscript is fun. It’s when I take the story and give it its final polishing. There are types of corrections that I know I will simply accept and move on, there are others that I will consider and ultimately decide not to change. There are few of the latter and they are always instances where I learn something about my writing and my process.

Even if I dread seeing my manuscript full of comments, suggestions, and corrections, I actually do love the revision and editing process, especially when I get to work with an editor who is such a consummate professional like Karen. Knowing that her ultimate goal is to make me look good makes it easier to open that file with the track changes on and get to work.

“Okay,” quoth he

That’s extreme, but it’s also an example of today’s subject: choosing the right words for your work.

One of my biggest concerns when I’m editing is “voice.” I work hard to maintain my clients’ “writer’s voice,” because it’s their writing, not mine, that is being published. Part of that work is helping them choose the best words for the purpose. And part of THAT work is, quite often, teaching them about diction.

Not in the sense of “enunciation or elocution.” In the sense of word choice. None of my clients would come up with a sentence like the one I used for the title of this post. Some of them, though, have more trouble than others keeping a grasp on the language that best suits their purpose. It’s particularly difficult with “medieval fantasy,” a phrase I’m using here to encompass “the usual” in terms of a story with a pseudo-medieval setting, royalty, wizards, magic, dragons, elves (and perhaps orcs and so on), and the like. Your standard fantasy, perhaps.

When I’m reading a story with this kind of setting, nothing jars me more than modern speech patterns, phrases, and words. “Okay” is one of them. “Alright” (sic) is another. (Yes, I sicced that. I don’t like it. I’ve tried to get used to it, but — no. I see no point in it. I waffle about allowing it or not, and ultimately, if my clients overrule me, that’s on them. I mark it every time.) “Are you really going there?” is yet another, when used to mean “Are you actually taking that route in this conversation?” These words and phrases have no place, in my opinion, in a medieval fantasy setting unless there’s time travel involved. If a character from our modern world winds up in that setting? Well, I’d expect that character to speak appropriately for their origin, and for the other characters to be confounded by it.

Certainly there’s no need to write in the style of Shakespeare in order to write fantasy. But there’s no reason not to use appropriate language and sentence structures, either. The words shape the reader’s experience. What do you want your reader to see, hear, feel, taste, touch? For me as a reader, a voice that seems to have no direction, that wanders between the language I expect to encounter in a fantasy setting and that I hear every day, confuses me. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be seeing, hearing, feeling . . . I need to be grounded in the world the writer’s created. The diction is the basis for that grounding. It’s entirely possible to use simple sentences and words to achieve this, just as it’s possible to use complex ones. The secret is in the combinations. I am not a writer, but I know when I’m drawn into a story and when I’m left floundering.

Hook me. Pull me in. Let me breathe the air of your world. Don’t throw me back out with poorly chosen words.

Mechanics: Nested Quotes

Let’s say you’re writing dialogue. And in that dialogue, someone quotes verbatim what someone else said. How do you show that, mechanically?

“We were just sitting around talking, and all of a sudden Josh says, ‘Amy told me she’s leaving me.’ Just like that. No lead-in or anything. Just dropped the bomb on us.” Continue reading

The State of the Blog: The First Four Years

When Ray and I first had the idea for this blog, we were both solidly in the “English is falling apart, usage is doomed, grammar is abysmal” camp. I, in particular, had just read a few self-published ebooks (for which I paid nothing, in exchange for reviews) that contained a horrifying number of actual errors. I mean, grammatical errors. Not stylistic choices. We’re talking about missing words, wrong words, agreement errors, and so on. Not long after that, during the early discussions about the purpose of a blog (if we were to create one), I decided to hang out my editor’s shingle and help some of these poor (literally – they’re not wealthy folks, as a rule) writers publish professionally edited work. That was in June of 2012.

We’re nearly to June of 2016 as I’m writing this, and man, things have changed for me. (I won’t attempt to speak for Ray. He’s got a full-time job and does freelance game design, writing, and editing as well, and hasn’t been active on the blog for quite some time. We’re both okay with that.) I’ve gone from a very prescriptivist view (this is right, that is wrong, and I don’t know why the hell you’d want to write that like you did) to a pragmatic view (you can read about it here), and I keep inching toward descriptivism a little every day. Why? Mostly because I’ve been learning from linguists and lexicographers over on Twitter. I’ve been editing steadily (indeed, I’ve tripled my income since I started the indie gig), and I learn something from every client. Editing fiction is not like editing textbooks or game rules. If I were editing mostly academic or technical materials, I might well have remained firmly on the prescriptivist side of the fence.

But I’m not, and I didn’t.

So, rather than posting a lot of photos of greengrocers’ apostrophes and other mechanical errors and typos common to public signage (everything from professionally printed billboards to the corner store’s handwritten notice), I’ve been steadily moving toward writing about, well, grammar and usage and mechanics, but in a way that teaches rather than vilifies. I must be doing something right. One of my most popular series of posts remains the trilogy “The Mechanics of Dialogue,” which I wrote in October 2014. I still see people sharing links to that (particularly the third installment about interrupted dialogue) on Twitter. I’m happy it’s of so much interest and use to folks.

I was concerned that there wasn’t a place for my kind of grammar blogging because, frankly, there are already so many amazing grammar bloggers out there, what’s one more? However, some of them follow me on Twitter (and I squeal like a four-year-old when I get a notification that another one has added me!), and we chat sometimes, and that’s something I never dreamed would happen. My writing voice is unlike anyone else’s. My method of teaching is unlike anyone else’s. My blog posts might be about the same topics, but they’re written in a way that’s unlike anyone else’s.

I’m finding my voice. And while I’m doing that, I’m continuing to help writers find and polish theirs.

That’s what it’s all about, four years on.

They were all together in the altogether.

Meaning, they were all in the same place (“all together”) and they were naked (“in the altogether”).

“Altogether” can mean “entirely or completely,” too: “That was altogether uncalled for.”

(And just now I looked at the word “together” and pondered why it looks the way it does. I do that, sometimes.)

“I’m glad to hear he’s not gone [all together, altogether].”

The first option doesn’t make sense, really. He’s not gone all in the same place? What? He’s not gone completely. He’s not gone altogether.

This is the kind of post that comes to me sometimes when I’m reading social media. Perhaps the person who wrote “all together” knows it should’ve been “altogether” but didn’t bother to edit, or to read before posting. It makes no difference to me, honestly — except when I’m being paid to edit, or when I’m looking for post fodder.

That’s not Shakespearean.

My brain just said those words as I was reading the etymology for “layabout.”

I was sure, in my head, that the word had to be Shakespearean. It sounds Shakespearean. I’m sure I’ve heard or read it in pieces that are set, chronologically, well before 1932.

And yet, there’s the date, in black and gray (that box isn’t white, it’s gray). 1932. American. The word doesn’t even have the courtesy to be British.

The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online site further explains that “lay” in this sense is the “nonstandard alteration of lie about.” I figured as much, but it’s always comforting to see such a thing in print.

Then there’s the other term, “to lay about,” which means “to strike randomly in all directions.” As in “He laid about with a mace and still managed to strike nothing.” Here’s the link to Etymology Online’s entry, showing the “put down (often by striking)” meaning.

I suppose, then, that a layabout might lay about if awakened suddenly.

 

I don’t love you (anymore, any more)

Which one would you choose?

There really is a difference in meaning in AmE. They’re not interchangeable, and a copy editor worth their salt will be able to tell the difference.

“Anymore” is an adverb. “I don’t like pizza anymore. I ate myself sick on it, and now I can’t even smell the stuff without turning green.”

“Any more” isn’t the same thing. “I don’t want any more pizza. I’m afraid I’ll eat myself sick on it.” Here, “more” is an adjective (it modifies “pizza”). If you simply said “I don’t want any more,” “more” would be a pronoun (it stands for the thing you want no more of).

It might help to think “adverb” and “anymore” because both are single words. If you mean the adverb, use “anymore.”

As for the answer to the title question, if this is a complete sentence, then “anymore” is the word you want. “I don’t love you anymore.” (I no longer love you.) If there’s more coming, you might want “any more” — but it depends on what’s coming, y’know? “I don’t love you any more than I love my other three partners.” Or something. You figure it out. Please.

People who/that live in glass houses

Because, you see, either pronoun is absolutely correct in that usage.

Ed Greenwood (whom I’ve known, literally, for decades, and whose work I’ve edited) asked me to write a post about “all the folks who use ‘that’ for people, instead of ‘who.'” I have to presume, therefore, that Ed (I LOVE YOU, ED) eschews the usage of “that” for people. Continue reading

Shine a light

I have Elton John running through my head at the moment, since typing those three words. Sorry if I’ve earwormed anyone else.

There are two verbs that many people have trouble conjugating and using correctly. (Okay, there are many, many more than two. But I’m talking about only two today.) There’s shine the transitive verb, which conjugates shine/shined/shined, and there’s shine the intransitive verb, which conjugates shine/shone/shone. Continue reading

Grammar Day 2016: Two days later

I knew Greenbaum had to address the subject/object pronoun situation somewhere. It’s taken me this long to find it. (And if you think that means I’ve been tirelessly poring over the text, hunting for the entry, I appreciate your mental picture of me. I picked up the book again this morning, opened it, flipped a few pages, and there it was. Silly me, having tried to use the index the other day. What a maroon.) Continue reading