Writing Tip: Leaving Gifts

Today is Samhain, better known nowadays as Halloween. This is the time of year to celebrate darkness and the gifts it brings. It’s the time to reflect on the past and honor the wisdom of the ancestors.

As my writing tip on this sacred day, I recommend you read something that was written long ago, by a writer now long dead. Then write about what you learned from this author. What gifts of insight or beauty did you receive by reading their words?

When you are writing, remember that your writing may be read someday far in the future. You too are someone’s ancestor. It’s up to you what gifts you leave behind.

Ghostwriting for a Dog: Love Eyes

Goody Beagle here. My human has a high opinion of me, which is of course well-deserved. I know she thinks I am the best dog there ever was or ever will be because she writes poetry about me. This is what she wrote recently:

look in a dog’s eyes
they’re the source of Love, beaming
bathing you in Light

Isn’t that beautiful? I am the source of Love (with a capital L) and when I look at her I bathe her in Light (another capital L.) Don’t tell her that I only look at her this way when I am hungry. Of course, I’m hungry pretty much all the time, so maybe it is true.

Haiku Friday: Cramps

Here’s my haiku for today, on the subject of Cramps:

if your hands get cramps
because you’re scribbling too fast
stretch and continue

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

Writing Tip: Don’t Make Your Editor Crabby

My work as an editor means to make suggestions on what and how to change, relocate, delete, and fix things like cumbersome wording, trite or cliché-ridden passages, redundant or unnecessary words and phrases, and other such writing perils that befall authors. This means that the manuscript that emerges after I’ve done my thing will be much changed from the one that was given me. That brings me to what I want to tell you today.

Here it is: don’t spend a lot of time formatting your manuscript for your editor. Editing will change your manuscript – that’s the job of the editor. This is why a lot of formatting of your manuscript before it is sent to your editor is a waste of your time. It is also a waste of time because your book designer will most likely remove all your lovely formatting and convert the manuscript into their design layout program.

Formatting before editing also wastes my time. It makes my job harder, especially if major editing or rewriting needs to be done. Working around unnecessary or inappropriate formatting codes and design elements is harder so it takes longer and therefore may cost you more money.

Here are two of my most disliked formatting mistakes. When I see a manuscript with these, I become crabby before I’ve read one word – and who wants a crabby editor?

1. Always indent your paragraphs. Standard indent is 5 spaces. Do not insert a space between paragraphs. This is called business letter format, and often causes big problems in editing, because the formatting codes (which are not always obvious) must be removed.

2. Use one space between sentences, not two. You are betraying your age if you use two – this is the way people were taught to type back in the dark ages – you know, on typewriters.

Compost – More Adventures of Memoir Writers

I work with many memoir writers (and am one myself) and I know that we have things to say that may help other aspiring memoirists. Every month I feature excerpts from my interviews with those who have written and published a memoir. This month here’s the 2nd installment of my interview with Teresa Rhyne, author of The Dog Lived (and So Will I) to be published this month, October 2012. You can buy this book online at Teresa’s website, www.teresarhyne.com or Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com.

The Dog Lived (and so Will I) is an uplifting, charming and often mischievous story of the relationship between the author and her dog Seamus, including his diagnosis of cancer and her dedication to healing him, followed by her own cancer diagnosis. Teresa’s story shows how dogs come into our lives for a reason, how they steal our hearts, show us how to live, and teach us how to love.

Q: How did/do you make use of sensory details (smell, touch, sight, sound, taste) in describing the people, places and events in your memoir?

Teresa: Many scenes in my memoir take place in doctor’s offices, exam rooms and hospitals…so there’s an abundance of sensory details. Also, because chemotherapy affects your senses (taste is gone; smell is heightened) much of that was included. Finally, because one of the main characters is a beagle, there is much about his sense of smell, food, and the many sensory ways a dog communicates and receives communication.

Q: How did you handle sensitive subjects with the other “characters” in your memoir? Did you preserve their anonymity? Disguise them in any way?

Teresa: With the exception of the main characters and the good doctors in the book, most names were changed; locations and identifying characteristics were also changed. I felt “better safe than sorry” was a good rule of thumb. Anybody in the book who is an antagonist is disguised and has a made-up name.

Q: Were your family members happy or upset that you were writing your memoir? If they were unhappy, why? Were they afraid you would tell things that should remain hidden?

Teresa: I was mostly concerned with my boyfriend’s family (they did not accept me at first and we had quite a personal battle, some of which is detailed in the book). I have told them that the story is told in the book and they’ve said they are fine with it because, and it’s true, it all works out fine in the end. I was careful to present the story as my point of view and I believe I made it clear I was bringing an awful lot of baggage and skewed perceptions of my own into play in that situation. My own family seems happy I wrote the memoir, though I suspect they’re mildly nervous about what might be in it. Ask me again after the book is out!

Q: What publishing options did you consider for your memoir, and what were their pros and cons? How did you eventually publish your memoir?

Teresa: I only ever considered the traditional publishing route. Had I not had any luck finding an agent and a publisher, I might have then considered independent publishing, but I was lucky quickly and actually had a choice of agents. I signed with Sourcebooks, Inc. and have been delighted with them. They’ve been very supportive and I love my editor, marketing manager and publicist—they’re all “dog people” and great fun. Obviously those are important “pros” to a traditional publisher—the team behind your book and the connections. I haven’t seen any cons yet and I’m not expecting to.

Q: How did/do you promote your memoir?

Teresa: I’m looking forward to attending BEA in June for my first promotional event. I’ll be at the Sourcebooks booth signing ARCs. Shortly after that I’ll be at the American Librarians Association annual conference doing the same thing. My publicist is handling the national media pitches, and I’ll be doing a West Coast book tour. I’m also putting together a series of events called “Words, Wine and Wags” where we’ll combine a wine tasting (my boyfriend’s in the business) and book signing/ reading with pet adoption events as fundraisers for animal rescue and canine cancer organizations. We’ll be doing similar events, called “Words, Wine & Women” for breast cancer organizations, particularly during the book’s launch month of October, which is, of course, breast cancer awareness month. I’m looking forward to many enjoyable animal rescue and breast cancer organizations events in my immediate future!

Q: What do you wish you knew before you wrote your memoir, that you know now? What advice would you give someone who wants to write the story of their life?

Teresa: I never considered non-fiction writing before this experience and I really wish I had. I wish I’d tried this earlier as I think I may have found my true writing niche. I can’t imagine writing the entire story of my life though (huge chunks of it just aren’t that interesting and the concept overwhelms me) so I think my advice would be to focus on a few themes or a specific time period or incident. And just write. And write. And write more. Then start over again. Eventually your own story becomes clear and that’s part of the joy of writing memoir. I was surprised how much I learned about myself while writing this memoir.

Haiku Friday: Forgiveness

Here’s my haiku for today, on the subject of Forgiveness:

once my mother made
lime jello with anchovies
but I forgive her

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

Word History: Curiosity and the Cat

The other day I was thinking about my cat and how hard it is to be emotionally close to a cat, as opposed to a dog, because no matter how warm and fuzzy and purry a cat is, they always hold a piece of themselves aloof.

Then, because I was thinking about cats, the phrase “curiosity kills the cat” wandered into my mind, followed by a feeling of pride that I was a curious person, and that phrase about curiosity killing the cat is BS. Then my mind veered back to the cat’s aloof nature, followed by reflecting that the word “aloof” is a funny word, doesn’t sound English, which led to me wondering where “aloof” came from.

So because I am a curious cat, I went online (online is one of the best things to ever happen to us curious cats) to the Online Etymology Dictionary. www.etymonline.com

I’m sure you are now as curious as I was, and would like to know where aloof comes from. I was right – originally it was not an English word but adapted into Middle English from a Dutch nautical word, loef, meaning the weatherside of a ship. So a-loof meant away from the weatherside. Eventually this word migrated into common usage, meaning “kept at a distance” and so it still means today. When you (or your cat) are aloof you keep others at a distance.

Curiosity is fun.

Ghostwriting for a Dog: The Smell of Morning

Goody Beagle here. Yesterday me and Alex went to the dog park early in the morning. We had to go early because Sunday at 9 a.m. or so a gazillion greyhounds show up at our dog park and take over. They like running even more than Alex does, and they are way better at it than him, too. So we went to the park when it was just getting light outside and the greyhounds were still at home eating their breakfast crunchies.

At the park I smelled the world wake up. I bet you didn’t know that the world smells different in the morning, but it does. The smells of the night creatures are strong on the ground. The smell of the wind is sweet, and the breath of birds smells raw with hunger as they sing their morning songs. The grasses and the earthworms and the maple leaves that fell in the night smell as soft as dreams.

Ah, the smell of morning. Nothing better.

Haiku Fri: Sidelines

Here’s my haiku for today, on the subject of Sidelines:

come when you are called
on the sidelines of your life
nothing will happen

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

Writing Tip: Balance

It is an editor’s job to point out what does not work and where the problems are in a manuscript. We hunt for the bad stuff, so naturally we can sound negative and discouraging even though we might be positive, kind-hearted people. (I certainly try to be.) The trick for the editor is to point out the good stuff too, and the trick for the writer is to hold on to their vision for the book in the face of the realization that it’s not yet perfect. Actually nothing is ever perfect, not even carefully edited manuscripts. (I know for a fact that typos breed in the night.)

Working well with an editor means you must be willing to change, but also know where to hold your ground. Like everything else in life, the key to success is balance. Both for the editor and for you.