Continuing my series of recaps of MWA-University in Denver, July 11, 2012.
The next presentation was given by Reed Farrel Coleman, an author and adjunct professor of English at Hofstra University.
Coleman began by telling us there is no such thing as wasted writing. Writing is putting words on a page or screen. They should be the best words you can produce. Also, he warned us against confusing our writing with our children. Unlike our kids, a lot of our words are expendable. For those who feel that they’re not getting it right, and that a day’s output might be considered a waste of time, he pointed out that if you want to get better at something, you actually have to do it. Your time is not wasted.
Next, he told us that we should be falling in love with writing, NOT with what we’ve written.
Editing, he went on to say, makes weak writing stronger, fair writing good, and good writing great.
He talked about two types of writers: Spewers and Writetors. Spewers write straight through, and Writetors write, then edit; write more, then edit.
He shared his technique when starting a new book. He writes his pages. The next morning, he starts on page 1, edits those pages, and then continues. On day 3, he again starts at page 1, edits, and then continues. He does this until he has 50 pages of manuscript. By then, he’s internalized the story, and each day gives him a running start and a feel for where he is in the book. This also ensures that your beginning will be as strong as it can be.
He encouraged us to read our book aloud, even if it’s just to the dog. (Aside: mine leaves the room, and I’m not sure how to interpret that). And, he added, aloud means aloud. No fair moving your lips and listening to your internal voice. By reading aloud, you’ll hear clunky language and catch grammatical errors. (Aside – I didn’t do this with my first book, and when I had to do a dreaded “reading” and practiced, I found a real clunker in the opening paragraph. Yikes. At least it’s now fixed in my indie version.) Reading aloud gives you a sense of rhythm as well. He point out that the basic “foot” of the English language is the iamb (remember iambic pentameter from high school?). That rhythm resonates with us because it’s the rhythm of our heartbeat.
Next, read aloud to a real person. No pets this time. For this pass, it’s not critical that your audience knows your genre.
Find three trusted first readers (one of whom may be the person to whom you’ve already read the book). At least one of these three should be a more experienced writer than you are.
Lastly, he warned against being quick to change based on a single criticism. If we have doubts about our writing, we’re going to be bothered by criticism.
He then gave 15 things to look for when editing. I’ll simply list them here, although he did elaborate on them. If you have questions, ask in the comments, and I’ll see if I can respond.
1. Entertainment value
2. Clunky/awkward language
3. Confusing language or plot twists. (In a mystery, misleading the reader is okay, but it’s never right to confuse them.)
4. Run-on sentences and sentence fragments; other grammatical errors. (I happen to use a lot of fragments, but that’s my voice and it doesn’t bother my editors—and no reader has complained—yet.)
7. Plot and character inconsistencies.
8. Inconsistencies in setting (which includes time as well as place – I’ve seen books set in the present where people are shooting pictures with film, for example.)
9. Inconsistencies in tone
13. Emotional resonance
14. Thematic resonance
15. Entertainment value!!!
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society