From The General Heap

The dangerous upside.

So lately I’ve been working on easing the swings in my mood.  Not getting rid of them, but just…easing them.  So they don’t have to swing so hard.  Part of that was learning (ironically) that the downs had some use to them:  mild depression is how my subconscious opens up to learn new things.

Now, when I feel myself getting depressed, I run down a mental checklist to make sure my basic physical and emotional needs are met (dehydration is depressing; just ask anyone with a hangover), and then I find something new to learn.  The openness remains, but the emotional reaction is much milder.

Recently I had a very hard time with the upper part of a swing.  We’d just fired our previous real estate agent (oh thank GOD), and I was feeling so much release that I spiraled out of control…in an upward direction.

Something I’ve come to identify with the downward side of my cycle is that it’s accompanied with a lot of the same symptoms as a migraine.  Hands swelling, lack of coordination skills, a feeling of anxiousness and inability to relax, tension headaches, visual auras.  I don’t get the massive migraine headaches that most migraine sufferers do, but I feel like my limbs are in the wrong places, or are the wrong size if I close my eyes.  I don’t like being touched, especially on my head.  There are days when I can’t find my words.  Sinus infections, stress, and the freaking fluorescent lights at Walmart set me off.

I’m used to seeing this pattern:

  • Stress.
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Purge.
  • Calm.
  • Repeat.

What I wasn’t used to seeing, but oh lordy lordy does it seem familiar:

  • Release from big stressor.
  • Elation.
  • Bouncing off the walls, inability to focus.
  • Extremely misanthropic crash, to the point where people’s faces look distorted.
  • Zen moment.
  • Calm.
  • Repeat.

I may not have that down exactly, but it feels close.  The hands still swell up, the jitters, the lack of coordination, the distorted body sense.  Harder to focus, but easier to give out hugs.

I’m not sure what this high/manic side of things does for me.  At this point, there doesn’t seem any kind of evolutionary survival benefit.  I have more energy, but I’m clumsier:  it’s not like I’m going to be better able to fight of a saber-toothed tiger or anything.

I’m not more productive per se, although I do find it an excellent day to do the pain in the ass/email/maintenance/website tasks that I set aside when I have good writing days.

I feel like I need to study up on things related to mania now, to find out what I can use it for, what super powers it could give me, if only I could understand…

P.S.  Here is a link to a list of all the fun stuff that can come with a migraine.

 

 

Halloween Recap: Where’s my haunted garage?

This year is the first year that we haven’t done some kind of mini-skit in our garage for Halloween in maybe five years.  It grew into quite the event; we had ~120 kids last year.  One of the little boys a few doors down drew a huge, 20-foot arrow leading toward our house so his little brothers would know where the cool house was.  Last year was FrankenLee, Raymonster, and De-gor.

This year, I set up with a humble bowl of candy in the front driveway of my friend’s house.  I had intended to get some deep-frying done the night before, but ran out of go juice.  So I’m standing around outside in perfect weather, passing out candy and deep-frying pumpkin donuts, crab rangoons, and fried pickles, and drinking Peach Cobbler in a Cup, by which I mean Jackie’s hot peach wine recipe.  Gotta say it, pumpkin donuts go really well with sugar glaze and peach wine.

Total number of kids this year:  15.  Which includes a) my daughter, b) the friend I’m living with, her daughter, and c) our other friends’ daughter.  We did have two kids stop by twice, though, which was good.  One of them was six years old, IRON MAN, with glow in the dark bracelets up and down his arm.  The first time, he’s with his jaded teenaged sister, who is convincingly dressed as a zombie victim, complete with bullet wound to the forehead and is talking on her phone about yeah, she’s taking her little brother trick or treating and it is so laaaaaaame.

The kid comes up to me, his arms shaking a little, holds out his pumpkin candy collector.

“You have to say the words,” his sister says, still on the phone.

“Ick or eat.”

“Good job,” I say.

I gave the little kid candy, the older sister refuses to take any, they thank me and leave.

Later, the kid returns with his magnificently dreadlocked father, leonine and dignified, who marches the kid up to the driveway and said, “He says he’s already stopped here and got candy but…”

“Yay!” I say.  “He can totally have some more, I have way too much left.”

The kid looks at me.  I say, “Say your words.”

“Trick or treat!”

Much more confident.

“Good job.”  I give him as much candy as I can grab with one hand.

Immediately, he’s like two inches taller, strutting down the sidewalk while the dad rolls his eyes.  “Have fun!” I say.

“Happy Halloween!”

Later, after the deep frying set up is broken down and we’ve retreated into the house, the older sister comes back with a friend, who is dressed up as a teen witch or something.  They hold out a single black cadet’s cap with two pieces of candy in it, so I dump two huge handfuls of candy in it.  Lee bought about half as much candy as we would have needed, maybe a third of what we would have actually bought, for the old house.  I got plenty to hand out sugar to a couple of teenagers.

“Happy Halloween!”

Every time the doorbell rings I cheer.

Kobo Sales: Alice a dollar; half off all Kobo-published titles.

Two promos on Kobo:

1.  Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts (all the episodes, that is), is on sale for $0.99 at Kobo from October 28-30.

2.  You can redeem 50% off any title published by KWL (Kobo Writers’ Life) by using the promo codes below.  The code can be used an unlimited number of times.  See below for the exact dates for each region.

My applicable titles include:

A Murder of Crows: Seventeen Tales of Monsters and the Macabre

 Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts

Tales Told Under the Covers: Zombie Girl Invasion & Other Stories (middle grade, 8-12 years old, pen name De Kenyon)

Guinea Pig Apocalypse (middle grade, 8-12 years old, pen name De Kenyon)

Canada

October 28th – October 31st
Promo Code: CA50SALE

United States/Australia/New Zealand
October 27th – October 30th
Promo Code: GET50SALE

United Kingdom
October 30th – November 2nd
Promo Code: UK50SALE

 

I think what this means is that you can get Alice for $.50, if you play your coupons right :)

Wonderland Press: Books in Progress

I am always fighting the extreme shininess of multiple projects, pen names, and various distractions, including both Real Life and Facebook.

It would probably be smarter to shepherd one book at a time through the process, but I don’t do so well when I’m not writing every day.  (It probably would have been smarter not to despair that the stories one was writing were horrible shite and thus one would not have such a horrendous backlog of unpublished work, but that’s another story.)

The current rotation/progress report thus looks something like this:

  • Currently Writing:  Unnamed Gothic/Ghost Story ~10K words of ~90K words finished.  Pen name:  Probably Kitty Lafontaine.  This is extremely melodramatic.
  • Currently Storyboarding/Sanitizing (as in, “making more sane because I didn’t know who done it when I started”):  The Second Cabin, muder mystery.  Not quite cozy; thinking of marketing it as an amateur sleuth and putting “A Disturbingly Cozy Mystery” as the tagline.  Pen name:  Diane R. Thompson.
  • Currently Prepping for Publication: Exotics Book 4.  Kids’ book in the Exotics series.  Pen name:  De Kenyon.
  • Just Released: Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts.  [Only reviewers accepted on this one, as it has been published.]

If you are interested in being a beta reader/reviewer (beta readers get the manuscript before final edits; editors get the ebook after final edits) for any of these books, let me know.

 

 

I am, er, doing things…

The marketing brainstorming has led to a bunch of insights, some of which relate to “If you build it to be less of a pain in the ass, then you will do it more often.”  So I’m going to be dinking around with the blogs for a bit, so if you see all kinds of mayhem, it’s probably just me and not some virus.

How to Entertain Unwanted Relatives over the Holidays (A De Kenyon Post)

(This post was written by De Kenyon, who’s my middle-grade kids’ book persona/pseudonym.  You can find more about De Kenyon books at www.DeKenyon.com.)

Holidays can be a very stressful time for kids.  Yes, there’s Christmas with its promises of presents, but there’s always this threat hanging above your head:  be good or Santa will throw your presents in a fire and stamp on them until they turn into coal, which he will then put into your stocking to torture you.  Even Thanksgiving, where likely all you’ll be called upon is to “be good” for a while then eat, is fraught with peril.  The entire holiday season has low-level background music playing:  one false step and you’re grounded, kid.

Worst of all are the Unwanted Relatives.

The two-year-old with sticky hands and a passion for ripping pages out of your comic books.

The bossy girl who is two months older than you are and who continually justifies her rudness by saying “…because I’m older than you and I know better.”

The adult who thinks you are still that sticky two-year-old and talks to you in the same squeaky tones he uses on his pet chihuahua, which proceeds to wee on your blankets (the dog, not the adult…).

The horror never ends!

And so let me present to you a list of ways to entertain these terrifying intruders, distracting them from your most precious possessions, tricking them out of excessive baby talk and other belittling behaviors, and entertaining yourself in the process:

  1. Identify your safe area. This will be the place you will hide if events become entirely too much for you.
  2. Identify your stash. These are precious possessions that you cannot afford to lose, have destroyed, see in the grubby hands of Cousin Dork, etc.
  3. Place your stash in a safe area, if possible. DO NOT place anything you wish to hide under the bed.  This is the first place anyone under the age of fifteen will look (the first place anyone over the age of fifteen will look is in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, incidentally).  Try the top of your closet, behind the most boring possible books on the bookshelves, in the garage, inside of socks in your sock drawer, taped to the bottoms of shelves, or any other difficult-to-get-to location.  Do not hide anything in a place that would make a good hiding spot in a game of hide and seek, and never hide anything in the trash!
  4. Identify your most annoying targets. Are they young or old?  Tall or short?  Full of energy or really just wanting a nap?
  5. Now that you have a profile of your targets, write down a list of five things they are likely to be interested in. For example, young children might like candy, small dogs, running around in circles for no apparent reason whatsoever, playing hide-and-seek, and eating crayons.  Older teens might like video games, snacks, saying mean and sarcastic things, talking on their cell phones to their friends, and avoiding adults.
  6. Now the fun begins. Take any two or more items on your list…and combine them to inflict maximum distraction on your targets.  For example, you might fasten a wrapped piece of candy onto a small dog’s collar, then turn it loose in the back yard in order to run pointlessly around in circles.  Or you might set up a video game with a pile of snacks next to it in the basement for two teenagers, who will keep themselves amused by saying sarcastic things to each other instead of to you.
  7. Take advantage of the distraction. At this point, you do not need to hide.  It is only once the distractions have worn off that you may need to retreat to your safe area.

Emergency tips in case your original ideas are not distracting or are not distracting for long enough:

  • Get in so much trouble that you are sent to your room (alone).  You may regret this later, though.
  • Find a slightly less annoying guest that you can hide behind/hang out with–and who can protect you.  A buddy next door or a cousin you like can also work.
  • Cough or sniffle a lot, or fake throwing up.  Nobody wants to catch a cold from you.
  • Insult them in a secret code.  Hint: don’t use pig latin on anyone over six.
  • Using actual itching powder is rarely as much fun as mentioning all the baby spiders you found in your room yesterday.  When asked to describe them, say, “Small and black, like a big pile of pepper, and with lots of little legs, and they crawl on you just…like…this…” and then gently tap your fingers on the backs of their necks.
  • Burst into tears and refuse to explain why.  Note:  Only do this if you can really burst into tears; fake tears will just get you more torture.
  • Bring a whoopie cushion into the bathroom with you and squash it every time someone knocks on the door. Then say, “Just a minute” and whine softly.
  • Start helping with kitchen cleanup.  I know, I know–this is torture.  But if we’re talking about a true emergency, this can work.  If you are helping out, then you can’t be dragged off by the teenagers.  Stay in visible, well-populated areas to avoid the really serious bullies and creepazoids.
  • Scream and blame it on the excess sugar, if necessary.
  • Hide in your designated safe area.  You’ll probably be found, but sometimes you just need a breather.  Note:  Do not do this if you’re dealing with a creepazoid or bully; they’re probably hoping that you disappear somewhere quiet…so they can pick on you some more in secret.  In that case, hang out next to the adults.

Remember, the holidays are supposed to be a time of rest, relaxation, and enjoyment, and with a little forethought, you can avoid the torture of having unwanted relatives foisted off on you, just because your parents were obligated to invite them.  If your plans work out, you can even earn some additional brownie points–because believe me, the adults want them to be distracted as badly as you do.

If you enjoyed this useful article, please check out my short story “The Secret of the Cellar,” about a very clever girl who plans ahead for her annoying cousins…by setting up a haunted house in the basement.  You can find it at B&NAmazonKoboSmashwords, iBooks and more.

 

Flaws & Honesty

Sorry, this should really be a touching post in which I confess some sort of horrible flaw, redeem myself, and cause you to have empathy with…well, with whatever I decide you need to have empathy with today.  Writing is all about manipulation, after all, even when you use honesty to do it.

But instead I’m going to go all analytical on you.  I was complaining to someone that I have no “heart” as a writer, that I have no idea what “heart” is or how to write it and thus certainly couldn’t give a @#$$%^& presentation on it…but what I could do was discuss flaws in an analytical fashion.  Apparently that counts as “heart,” so I’m testing out the ideas here.  I’m deliberately not using heart-tugging techniques here.  That seems like cheating.  This is a craft post, dammit, not a tear-jerking essay…

But to get down to it:

There are several ways that we have to deal with flaws as writers:

  1. The flaws in our work.
  2. The flaws in our writing process.
  3. The flaws in ourselves.

The first would be something like, “My endings tend to be train wrecks” or “I have slow middles.”

The second would be “Every time I switch to a new setting, I have to fight against writer’s block” or “I am so concentrated on perfection that I delete more than I write.”

The third is the hardest to deal with.

  • What if people who read my work don’t like it…and act like it reflects on me, personally?
  • What if I write about sex and people look at me funny?
  • What if I write about main characters who behave in ways that are immoral or unethical?  Won’t people think I think that way, too?
  • What if I haven’t lived a life of adventure/romance/etc. and can’t write about it convincingly?  What if I want to write about someone fundamentally different than I am–am I deluding myself into thinking I can pull it off?
  • What if I just want someone else to take care of all the problems so I can write?  What if I can’t handle being a professional writer?

We all have flaws.  We all have fears, desires, biases, prejudices–irrationalities–apathies–blind spots.  We can either spend our writerly lives trying to work around them, hide them, overcome them–or we can use them.

From time to time the advice “give your characters flaws” comes up.  If you write perfect characters–those tend to be boring.  Most writers have heard this and heard this and heard this.  But what flaws, and how big should the flaws be, and when should they be introduced?

I recently rewatched Harry Potter 3 with my family.  In that movie, which is my favorite one, Harry Potter is a bad kid.  He sentences his aunt to death for insulting his mother–it isn’t just an accident that he blows her up; it’s that he refuses to try to fix it or call in outside help to do so.  He’s an attempted murderer.  And yet he’s our hero.

Katniss from Hunger Games is intolerant, rude, and looks down on everyone who dares to be nice to her–except the one guy who’s more or less like her dad.  Even the little sister she claims to love is too weak and foolish to be able to take care of herself, in Katniss’s view.

Take a look at your favorite book, the one that’s lasted you through the years:  more than likely, the main character starts out as something of a turd (and may or may not improve after that).  Mine are the Alice in Wonderland books:  she runs away because she’s bored and solves her problems by throwing tantrums.  (Works for movies, too–Luke whines about having to contribute to his family, whines about being shoved into the friend zone, whines about having to save the world…in fact, his major change in Star Wars is that, for one freaking second, when he fires the missiles into the Death Star, he stops whining.  OMG!  A freakin’ miracle!)

The main question isn’t, “Should characters have flaws,” because great characters do. They have huge flaws.   Scarlett O’Hara?  Huge flaws.  Sherlock Holmes?  Pass the cocaine while I insult you, old chap.  The list goes on and on, more limited by my ability to come up with 1001 characters at the moment (Aladdin was a dick…Wolverine, what an asshole) than a lack of memorable characters with flaws.  With a great character, it’s almost like the flaw is more important than the redeeming characteristic.

However, the reason that we, as readers, aren’t really overwhelmed with how crappy our beloved characters really are, is that these characters are presented from the inside.   Sherlock Holmes isn’t an unemotional asshole…he’s a very smart man. Katniss Everdeen is a jerk to everyone around her…but she knows it and is uncomfortable about it, and is even, at times, sorry. Alice is a complete and utter brat with no attention span…but she’s really just reacting to the nutzoids around her. Aladdin just wants to make a buck (off a supposedly helpless old person).  Wolverine lashes out at everyone…but his past…oh, his past…

And so on.

What has this got to do with point 3?

Where do you think those flaws come from?

As a writer, it’s often easier to start with what you know.  “Write what you know.”  You don’t need to stop there, of course, or else a lot of great books would never have been written.  But you might want to start there–with the flaws that you know.

It turns out I write a lot of characters who think too much and who get lost in their own worlds.  Maybe not the grandest flaws in the world, but something to start with.

Do people judge me for it?

The answer that I’m discovering is that yes, they do (mostly in blog posts)–but they will almost always give me credit for honesty.  You’ll never get credit for satire; you have to be very careful about it, and I have a fairly dry, satirical wit; I’ve been called a racist before because I’ve written from the POV of a racist who thinks himself above racism.  Satire is tricky.  But honesty, taking ownership of one’s flaws in the most naked way possible–that, people can respect (although they may try to fix the flaws for you, which, really, is kind of sweet).

So write those nakedly flawed characters, because mostly we’re okay with that.  Yes, you have flaws as a human being.  But like ladies flocking around a bad boy in a romance, those might be the parts that we like best about you.

All right, now for extra dorkiness…I’m trying to work on marketing (see previous post), so I’m biting the bullet here and saying…if you found this post inspiring or at all helpful, why not check out my nonfiction short book How to Fail and Keep on Writing:  Kill Your Excuses, Combat Naysayers with Facts & Figures, & Mail Your Stories Like a Pro?  You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and more…

WHEW.  And I didn’t have a heart attack or anything.  Thanks!

Promotion: @#$%^&*@#$!!!!

My publisher brain put itself on hold recently:  I’m still writing my ass off, but there is no urge whatsoever to put it up.  Granted, I’m working on a couple of novels right now, but believe me, I have plenty of back material that still needs to go up.  So what’s going on?

It turns out that being a publisher requires creativity.  Which sounds obvious, but it isn’t, not when you’re in the thick of it.

Here’s my internal monologue:

  • Okay, covers, covers require creativity…pretty interior layouts…yes, yes…I get very creative with blurbs…
  • Wait, promotion?  Promotion needs to be creative?!?!
  • But I only have so many creativity points today and I want to spend them all on wriiiiting!  (I think this is the place where a lot of writers stop and say, “I think I’ll just hand all this off to a publisher.”)
  • No, wait.  There’s something else going on, rumbling around down there…

There’s something trying to come out from the subconscious.  It’s not here yet.  But, interestingly enough, I can see a little bit of the shape of it.

I ended up at Beth A. Grant’s website the other day, based on a friend’s recommendation, twice removed.  (That means, I read the stuff at the original recommendation’s link, and the original link led to another link, which led to there, which, on second thought, needs a new phrase for it so you don’t have to explain that it’s not a friend twice removed but a link twice removed–“two jumps removed,” maybe?)  It’s a marketing and promotions site.  (Most writers will shudder there.)  But she has some good stuff.  My favorite point so far is the idea that not everyone should market the same way…which she breaks down in a more analytical way into personality types.  It may be foolish, but I love me some personality types.  When I hit the sorting hat in Harry Potter I cheered.

If you’re curious, you start here.  But in short there are two axes–and I end up on the nerd end of the boxes, where I think the best thing I can do is make good content (versus being a good “speaker” or a compelling salesperson).  But this site is all about…providing people a service.  Not about writing and selling fiction–not about hustling art.  So there’s no cut-and-dried plan there that fits my creativity.  (And yes, art provides a service–but if you take a look at the concrete marketing tips, the concept just doesn’t carry over clearly.)

But it does help explain some things.

I have a hard time formulating my “brand” and selling it, because my brand is my content; either you like it or you don’t.  But if I look at it a different way–in a nerdier way, although that isn’t the language she uses–and I’m pretending I’m giving a book recommendation to someone out of my own work, it becomes much easier to identify who should get what.  My kids’ fiction?  Is for smart kids who are bored with reading; it’s very mischievous writing.  You shouldn’t give this to your kid if they are the kind who always obeys rules, if they’re horrified by scary movies, and if they aren’t constantly pushing buttons to see what they get away with.  So if your kid is a brat from 8-12 years old, they’ll probably like at least some of what I write.  Which is, um, a brand, although when I try to fit the two ideas together they just don’t work.

But.

I don’t see any really good “Marketing for Nerds:  The Book” floating around.  There are marketing nerds, yes, and marketers are learning from nerds, but mostly nerds who need to market are treated as people who need a crutch, rather than people who need to find their own voices.  I do like Seth Godin, but there’s something subtly off for me about his work.  It’s inspiring, but it’s not concrete–How do you promote book X?  Rely on the long tail!  Provide good customer service!  Don’t worry, you’ll find a niche!  All great philosophy, but…what do I do about it?  How do I make a jump toward something practical?  Or something fundamental, some core idea that I can use to form a specific plan?

I look at the way other writers are marketing, and…wow, I could copy what other writers are doing (and I have), but is it really a way to stand out?  I could chase the latest “thing,” but…well, no.  That’s not actually what I want.  I don’t want to play the numbers.  I don’t want to calculate the best time of the year to release.  I don’t want to figure out the best sites to put up ads on.  I don’t want to hound people to buy books on Facebook and Twitter.  I don’t want to obsess about new release lists.  I don’t want to go on the Endless Blog Tour.  I don’t want to give away bookmarks and Kindles…I don’t want to bribe people to like my work, and I don’t want to pound them into giving up and buying my stuff in the hope that I’ll shut up about it already.  I mean, I sound really negative about it, but it’s about me, not you.  I don’t like these things.  They might convince me to buy stuff, but I don’t want to be the one doing them.

Yes, I’ve run into the idea that I just need to be (essentially) more woo-woo about the whole process and accept what the universe gives me–but I’m a nerd.  I analyze.  In fact, I analyze so that when I get down to the real meat of the matter, I don’t have to worry about whether or not I’m doing the right thing.  I analyze in preparation for walking out into the woo-woo, not so I can avoid doing so.

So I both don’t want to analyze (at least, using the analytical tools that other people are using), and yet I must analyze.  Which means I need to start thinking about new tools.

I don’t have them yet.  Sorry:  I feel like this will be really useful if I can pull it off.  But I got nothing so far.  I’m running through the writers I follow online…and they aren’t the ones that I read, except for Stephen Brust, and the fact that he writes amusingly online isn’t why I first started reading him.  I’ll pick up a book IF another person recommends it to me and IF I like the opening page…but that doesn’t seem to be something that, as the writer myself, I can directly control–other than going on the Endless Blog Tour.  (I don’t mind writing blogs, but I’d rather they be nerdy ones, not interviews about my books themselves.  I wrote it already; my interest has passed on.) I am already working my ass off on writing better (and thus attracting awards and sales and whatnot that will speak for me).  I got that.  If I wrote a “Marketing for Nerdy Writers” book that would totally be a chapter, but it can’t be the only chapter, because it won’t tell you what else to explore, what principles to follow.   “Write better” is a sine qua non, not an action plan.

…And I fully expect that whatever I find will not actually be reinventing the wheel, just rediscovering it personally.  Heh.  I know I have a really good idea if I can trace it back to Neil Stephenson.  He’s a nerd.  I should look at his promotional prowess.

Editing Tips for Editors

Several editing observations have come up over the last week.  I’m not sure they’re going to do anybody else any good, but at the very least it’ll help me process.  This is coming out kind of rough and mean, I think at least partially because I’m trying to beat myself into submission,  and if nothing else I find my (former?) personal bad habits more than a little irritating.  Sorry.  Maybe I could be tactful about this later.  Like in ten years or so.  Although really I expect by then to be repeating these points, only louder and more rudely, having almost completely forgotten I’ve previously bitched about them here.  C’est la vie.

There’s a difference between the editing that one does in a critique group and the editing that one does for a client.  The editing that one does for a client may not have ego to it.  What you like, as a reader, doesn’t mean anything.  Praise?  Criticism?  You have to do it in a critique group; it’s expected.  Clients shouldn’t have to care if they don’t want to.  Your opinion is a side comment, something that goes in a cover email (or doesn’t get said at all) and not in the document redlines, except on very rare occasions, and then only when it’s praise.  Do you understand what the author’s trying to do?  No?  Then don’t ask repeatedly in the manuscript.  If you dislike a character, then you can disliked them in the privacy of your own mind.  Not in the comments.  You’re getting paid for those comments; they better be a value-add.

Review your comments and remove every single one of them that you can.

Genre matters.  Audience matters.  Context matters.  If your client is writing pulp, don’t edit them like they’re writing literary.  You are responsible to know the difference and to avoid genres you don’t know well enough to edit.  Otherwise, you will just piss the author off, and they will speak ill of you to others.  If you dislike the work, remove yourself as gracefully as possible.

If you never, ever bitch about poor writing again it will still not be soon enough.  Whether you are bitching about a client in particular or “clients in general,” as an editor, you’re kind of like a confessor.  Keep your mouth shut.  If writers were perfect, they wouldn’t need editors.  On top of which, when editors are in editor mode, we’re assholes.  Every piece of writing has issues, even after having been edited.  Even ones edited by a professional editor.  The general public can bitch about typos.  Readers can bitch about typos.  An editor bitching about typos is just someone bragging up their editing skills.  Keep it in your pants or send a private email, buddy.

And just because you know how to write better than the writer does–even if it’s only in one technique or another–that doesn’t mean you get to try to improve the writer.  –I have a problem with this.  “Oh, let me helpfully teach you how to structure a scene.”  Especially in cases when I’m not being paid to do content editing.  This just gets frustrating on both parts, as more and more time gets sunk into a project, and someone ends up getting screwed.  Let the writer learn at their own pace and back the hell off.  So what if their descriptions could be better?  You might consider telling them once, tactfully, in a cover email.

Look it up.  Ha ha, yes, you’ve been editing for twenty years now, of course you know what you’re doing.  Look it up.

If you see a writer break a rule consistently, remove your redlines and comments about it, unless the rule-breaking may cause the author issues with their readers.  For example, a consistently misspelled word–don’t fix it, unless it’s obvious that it’s not a dialect or slang or some other intentional change.  If you’re feeling paranoid, you can flag it once and go back and fix it if the author says, “Ooh, that’s wrong, good catch.”  Otherwise you’re wasting the author’s time as they dejectedly “fix” a bunch of stuff, then realize they didn’t have to in the first place.  Even worse:  pretend that you’re right even though you’re violating the author’s intentions.

No more hardcopy copyediting.  Ever.  Again.  It’s a lot of work and prevents tact.

Every time you change or comment on something, you’re sucking up a little bit of the author’s willpower, even if it’s a good change/comment.  If you can point out one thing that covers many items–if you can put something tactfully into a cover email–if you can shoot a quick email question before you flag fifty things–then do it that way.  If you’re editing under another editor’s direction (or, in a small press, sometimes it’s the publisher’s direction), then talk to them first.  Don’t drain the writer.  They need to have the willpower to write more than you need to prove that you can spot errors.  Trust me, you’re not impressing anybody with even a lick of experience by bleeding all over the page.

Don’t change the writer’s punctuation scheme.  Yes.  That means you…and you…and you.  And often me.  Change it for clarity?  Yes, but only as  appropriate, and if the author doesn’t use the Harvard comma on a consistent basis, then you will spread your legs and take that extra comma for the team.  Deliberate run-on sentences?  Bite your tongue and think of England.

 

Writers:  There are editors that make you excited.  Stressed, but excited.  There are editors who leave you feeling drained and hurting with a stubbed toe of the mind (or worse).  Sometimes you can’t avoid the latter.  Some will improve a manuscript; others will pick it to pieces and suck the magic out.  Learning to be edited is its own skill.  You win some and you lose some.  If someone else is paying for your work, then you might need to lose a few in order to win the ones that are really important.  Lord knows I have.  But if you’re paying the editor?  You win.  You just always win.  And if the editor gives you attitude about that, then get another editor.

Again, let me apologize to any clients–past, current, and future–whose mental and creative toes I stub, in one way or another.   I am often wrong, cranky while editing, and arrogant.  But you win.  Always.  In the end, you win, and don’t let me tell you any different.  It just makes me a worse editor.