My apologies for being a day late with this week's blog of writing tips. We returned yesterday from a beautiful stay in New York. A week of family fun, the laptop tucked safely away. Today, back on the West Coast, I'm wide awake at 6AM and ready to write!
While scrolling through emails, ads, junkmail and trolling favorite Twitter accounts, I discovered something I'd forgotten about - the Scrivener Scratch Pad. If you use the writing app, you may or may not know all about this awesome feature. If you don't have Scrivener yet, but you're considering it, this may help you make that decision.
As you know, I'm a huge Scrivener fan. The app has organized my writing life, leaving me more time and energy to create.
What you need to know about the Scrivener Scratch Pad (on a Mac):
1. The pad is a great place to make lists of websites or links to articles and research that will help you with your story. Keeping the pad open means you can easily add a link or idea even when you aren't working on your project. You can keep the pad open at all times - no matter if you are working on Scrivener or not. Simply right click the Scriv icon on your dock.
2. You must open your projects then hide them so they can be available for the Scratch Pad feature.
3. The Scratch Pad will float in front of all other open windows. This enables you to type notes on the pad while viewing those sites in the background.
4. You can add multiple notes in the pad. Simply click the + sign to add a new note. If you are working on several projects, you can choose which one this note belongs to. Click SEND TO, and a variety of pathways will lead you to the location you want to drop in your note.
5. Click the x or OK to HIDE your pad when you're done. When you return to your project, you can open Scratch Pad in Window. This opens all your notes on the pad, so you can easily see what you've added. No need to remember, Scriv does that for you!
Scrivener won't write your story, but its organizational and time-saving features will enable you to devote your creative energies to what you do best.
What are your favorite Scrivener features? Share them in the comments below.
If you are a new or seasoned writer who seeks honest and constructive feedback, you might consider finding a critique partner. This writer will help you with your finished or developing manuscript. If you were ever to win an award for your story, this is one of the people you would thank.
Previously, you've heard me rave about my editor, Jane MacKay. While Jane provides constructive and detailed feedback on manuscripts and queries, I do pay her because she's a professional. And, even though I use critique partners and beta readers, I still hire Jane after they are through.
First of all, you need to know this: a critique partner is not a beta reader.
Beta Reader: someone who loves to read and can provide you with valuable feedback about your characters' authenticity, your plot's plausibility, your setting's inconsistencies, etc.
Critique Partner: a writer who wants to trade manuscripts for feedback on grammatical technicalities, style, flow, and all the beta reader stuff.
Mom: the person who loves you no matter how crappy your writing is or how many times you drop an Oxford comma.
Ryan Gosling: the guy who motivates you (or is it just me?) to get it done.
If you read between the lines, you might notice that you qualify as a critique partner for most other writers and maybe a beta reader for someone outside your genre. For instance, I write YA, but I love a good mystery. I'd be a good beta reader for mystery writers (but please don't send me a ms to read or my critique partners will hunt you down. Time is valuable.)
Currently, I'm partnering with several writers. I recently started working with aspiring YA author Brook Ellis. We met through Miss Snark's Critique Partner Dating Service (love that name!). Since three-thousand miles separates us, Brook and I exchange manuscripts via Google Docs and email. So far, it works. I'm also part of a local writer's group who met at a SCBWI event. Adult fiction writer Gwynne Jackson, picture writer and illustrator Evangeline, and I also exchange work via Google Docs. In addition, because we live within a five-mile radius, we meet monthly at someone's house.
I feel extremely fortunate to have these amazing writers in my life. Previously, I was unsure about working with a critique partner. I was embarrassed my work might not measure up; I was afraid I wouldn't have the time. Wrong. Wrong. Love, love them. When you want to, you can accomplish quite a lot.
So here are my top five reasons why you need a critique partner (CP).
A critique partner will:
1. Provide honest feedback. You are not paying them. They are not your mom. If something isn't working, or if something's truly amazing, they will let you know.
2. Have the skill to help you. Since your CPs are writers, they will not only be able to tell you where something's gone awry, they will be able to offer some pretty great suggestions on how to fix it.
3. Help you grow as a writer. Over the course of time, your CPs will become great teachers. Once they've learned your writing style, they will recognize your weaknesses and help you accentuate your strengths.
4. Not waste your time. They want what you want: good, constructive, honest feedback. If they can't provide this, they understand you might find a new partner. If you're good and helpful (because you're doing 1-3), they will make your time worth it.
5. Make you laugh. Make you cry. Mostly because of No. 1, your CP will sometimes tell you things about your writing that will make you feel so good, you'll laugh. However, every rose has its thorns. Because of No.1, your CP will also tell you some brutally honest facts about where your writing or story is falling down. The hope is that, because of No. 2, you will understand that the crying will help with No. 3.
If your relationship with your CPs look different, maybe it's not working. Remember, it's a partnership. As in any relationship, know when to get out and know when you're not doing your part.
I would love to hear your thoughts on finding and working with critique partners. Please share them in the comments below.
I'm always open to finding more CPs in order to create the best stories.
When I was younger, people told me that I should be a writer because I was a good speller. Today, I laugh at that. I know so many amazing storytellers who can't spell to save their lives. And you know what? We've got spellcheck. You don't need to be a great speller to write a great story.
The same could be said about grammar. Don't know an Oxford comma from a comma splice? That shouldn't keep you from writing the next Great American Novel.
For more thoughts on grammar, read the sage advice of my amazing editor, Jane MacKay.
Grammar Tips by Jane MacKay
People seem to use the word “grammar” very loosely, as a sort of all-encompassing term covering anything to do with language and how it’s used, but grammar refers specifically to “the system of inflections, syntax, and word formation of a language [and] the system of rules implicit in a language, viewed as a mechanism for generating all sentences possible in that language” (American Heritage Dictionary, 5th ed.). In basic terms, the rules and guidelines of grammar govern how words and punctuation are used in relation to each other to convey a desired meaning. Of course, that’s still a very broad category.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned in my years of copy editing is that few of the rules of grammar are hard-and-fast rules. There are some that must be followed or you risk looking uneducated or, worse, causing misunderstanding -- e.g., “you’re” means “you are” and “your” means “belonging to you” – but many others are open to interpretation, such as comma placement, hyphen usage, splitting an infinitive (e.g., “to go boldly” vs. “to boldly go”), or that persistent Thistlebottomism, ending a sentence with a preposition (up with which I will put).
How to improve your understanding and knowledge of grammar?
Honestly, some people’s brains just don’t work that way and no matter how hard they try, the rules of grammar just aren’t going to stick in their head. And that’s fine. Use your creative talent to create and do your best during the revision and editing phases to make your writing as clean as possible. Then ask a grammar-adept friend, fellow writer, family member to correct errors they find, and then, if possible, hire a copy editor to polish and put the professional touch on your manuscript.
A few tips for becoming more grammar adept:
1. Pay close attention to the corrections made by your editor, and ask for explanation if you don’t understand why a certain change was made. If the editor makes a particular type of correction over and over again, make a note of that error (with before and after examples) and keep it where you can easily refer to it so you don’t keep making the same mistake.
2. Read high-quality and well-edited writing. Pay close attention when reading. Osmosis is an underrated method for improving the quality of your writing. It obviously works negatively – we all absorb poor habits of speech and writing from what we encounter every day – but it can also be a powerful positive influence.
3. Study grammatical rules and guidelines in bite-sized pieces. Don’t overwhelm yourself. The Purdue OWL (online writing lab) website has a well-organized section of explanations and examples. Search around and find a resource that works for you. (Hint: a reference librarian can point you in the right direction.)
4. Know your weaknesses. Triple check those things when you’re revising and editing your work. Use reference books, reputable online reference materials, ask a reference librarian for help.
5. Study a foreign language. I gained most of my formal knowledge of grammar from studying German for nine years.
Thanks, Jane! You can contact Jane directly, visit her website, or find her on Facebook to learn more about the world of an editor.
More grammar tips soon.
In the meantime, if you have a comment or question for Jane, share it below.
This week, I introduce a monthly feature: author interviews. Through my cyber-world interchanges, I’ve met many amazing and talented independent authors. I decided you should meet them, too.
Every writer has a slightly different slant on style and process. These interviews are a chance for you to observe a variety of ideas on writing and hopefully take away new ideas on how to improve your own work.
Today, please meet, YA Fantasy writer, Jess E. Owen. Jess lives in her home state of Montana where she’s working on the fourth installment to her Summer King Chronicles series.
"One will rise higher
One will see farther
His wing beats will part the storm.
They will call him the Summer King
And this will be his song."
The Summer King Chronicles
A fantasy tale of destiny, adventure, redemption.
Hi Jess. Let’s start with you telling us a little about who inspires you.
I'm inspired by a mix of YA and regular fantasy authors: Tamora Pierce, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, J.K. Rowling, Meredith Ann Pierce, Patricia McKillip, Patricia C. Wrede, Jane Yolen. Oh gosh, the list goes on. I recently "discovered" a fellow indie author whose work I love, M.C.A Hogarth. Not only her sci-fi space operas, but her thoughtful and intelligent business comic/blog for creative entrepreneurs.
I've read and re-read the Harry Potter books to try and absorb their readable, addicting quality. I study books on writing by Orson Scott Card, Ray Bradbury and just about everyone else. I highly recommend other writers read writer biographies.
Fantastic. Let's talk about your writing process. Could you describe it for us?
Writing consistently every day works the best for me, but I don't always succeed. Writing first thing in the morning, with my fresh cup of coffee, before I look at my email or talk to anyone, has always been my most productive process. Sometimes I light incense or a candle, the same scent every day, because they say scent is the most powerful memory trigger. Having that can sometimes boost my motivation and help me get into the Zone. I start with a general idea for a story, build a cast of characters, and try to write a really fast, rough draft to capture everything while it's fresh and fun. Then it all changes of course.
What about other writing routines? Do you listen to music to keep the words flowing?
I make "soundtracks" for each book with music that fits the story, or certain scenes, and play that as I write. I write as early in the morning as I can stand to rise, with coffee, at my desk, until my husband wakes up ;) or until I reach my goal for the morning and decide to do something else productive, like exercise. Usually I end up on Twitter though.
I find it hard not to edit my writing as I go along. How do you manage the lure to fix things as you write?
I try to blast out a first draft as fast as I can to hold on to the initial freshness of an idea. This makes for lengthy revisions later, but it's still my old faithful for getting stuff done. If I stop too much to edit, I take way to long to finish a book. I've tried to go slow and edit but then it takes me forever. I prefer big sweeping edits and revisions once a first draft is done and I can really see the whole picture. I try not to tinker on the sentence level until the final draft even though it's my favorite thing.
As a self-published author, do you use a professional editor?
I do hire a professional editor. My strictly personal opinion is that I don't think people who plan to submit for traditional publication need to hire an editor — they just need beta readers and trustworthy critique partners who can give them constructive feedback. Then revise the best they can, polish, and submit.
Tell us more about your publishing process.
If you're new to writing, keep learning the craft. Please, please, fellow writers, remember that publishing is not a race. You have time to make your writing as strong as you want, to find the right story, before you publish. Song of the Summer King was the first book I published, not the first book I wrote, not even the second, third, or fourth. Each book is better than the last, according to readers and my own evaluation. Value your craft above all things, and the rewards will come.
Great advice, Jess. Any final thoughts?
Be kind to each other. I think it was YA author Elena Johnson who inspired me with a phrase: There is always someone above you and someone below you on the ladder of success. You can always help the person below you, and be happy for the people above you.
Jess, thanks so much for joining us today. Writers and readers, if you’d like to learn more about Jess or buy her books, visit her website, follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook.
Stay tuned for more tips from Editor Jane MacKay and future author interviews here.