Guest post at Kathy Steinemann’s blog

naps are good thingsToday I have the honor of guest-posting at Kathy Steinemann’s site about the art and science of being productive.

I haven’t entirely mastered it yet, but I’ve been giving it a lot of thought!

Have a read:

Writers: How to increase your productivity and perseverance

 

12 Easy Ways to Become a Skillful Proofreader

proofreadingWe have become a nation of skimmers.

We buzz through emails: delete, delete, save, delete.

We flip through social media: scroll, like, heart, share.

What does that do to proofreader skills? It’s a train wreck waiting to happen. Three minutes after your eBook goes live on Kindle you spot the first typo in the “Look Inside” feature. Ten minutes later you’ve gotten a one-star review: “Doesn’t this Bozo have a copy editor?”

To which your response may be, “Yes, but she’s out to lunch with Oprah’s chef and Jillian Michaels, the personal trainer.”

Welcome to the real world of self-editing.

But there are some ways you can train yourself to be a better proofreader.

First, recognize that we all make typing mistakes. There is a reason why the backspace, according to Microsoft, is the third most used key on the keyboard.

We make mistakes for a multitude of reasons: First, remember that in the course of writing several drafts of a full-length novel, you may put hundreds of thousands of words on the page. Some of these will be the wrong words.

Then there are brain-finger coordination problems: If you type-when-tired or worse, type-without-a-break, you’ll find “stutters” such as duplicate letters or duplicate words appearing.

And consider the mechanical issues such as sticky keys and cursors with a mind of their own, inserting your cut-and-paste in the middle of the wrong paragraph.

So when it comes to proofreading your work, don’t be insulted if there are a lot of errors. Accept that you’ll need to put out some effort to catch typos.

STRATEGIES THAT WORK

Luckily I’m a mystery writer, so I’ve got a lot of experience developing strategies to help me solve this particular “crime.”

Let me share a few strategies that I use.

1. Look for patterns of frequent typing errors

In order to change bad typing habits before they kick in, keep a small notebook at hand, and note when you backspace to correct an error. Look for patterns of errors: the kinds you are prone to make.

Or, turn off spell check for several pages, then recheck spelling with it on. What errors do you find? Those are the ones to be watchful for as you revise your drafts.

2. Trick your brain

One reason why mistakes jump out of a manuscript to a reader is that they are looking at them for the first time. Whereas to you, those sentences are old friends. You’ve seen them dozens of times!

So change what you are looking at. Use a different font, use double spacing of lines rather than single space. Transfer the manuscript to your Kindle reader and read it there. Print out a hard copy and proof it that way. It will be much easier on your eyes!

Try changing the music you’re listening to. I have one playlist for rough drafts, another for revisions, yet a third (a slow, Baroque one) for proofreading.

Change locations: if you always write at your desk with a favorite cup of tea, do your proofreading in a quiet library reading room.

3. Spell check is not always your friend

Let me give you two examples: first, the hyphen in a compound adjective such as “ten-cent price” may not be caught by spell check, as “ten” and “cent” are perfectly good words, correctly spelled.

Second, watch out for flagged duplicates such as “the the.” It’s nice that Word catches these for you, but if you really meant to type “in the,” deleting the first “the” without adding the “in” introduces an entirely new error.

4. Be aware of your reading speed

Surfing the internet? Warp speed! We typically spend about 59 seconds deciding whether a site is worthwhile, before making the decision to stay or leave.

Proofreading on the other hand is agonizingly slow. We aren’t worried about seeing the forest for the trees, we are down to the twigs on the branches. We are searching for the bug on the twig, the eyelash on the bug.

One way to slow down is to read backwards. Start at the end of your manuscript and read forward, one sentence at a time. I keep a favorite blue plastic ruler, just for this purpose. You’ll be surprised what you’ll catch.

5. Keep your keyboard clean

If you have pets, break out the vacuum occasionally to siphon the cat hair, dog slobber, and mouse lint out of your computer. Cleaner keyboards will cut down on sticky keys and stutters.

6. Watch your posture

I like to compose sitting in my easy chair with said cat under my elbow and my laptop at a rakish tilt. Guess what that does to wrist-on-pressure-pad inadvertent cursor jumps. I pay for my comfort when it comes to error counts!

7. Do macro-corrections

The key here is to look for mistakes, not the right words. For example, do a find-and-replace for double spaces after sentences, for quotation marks before a period or before a comma. Double commas or double periods are not uncommon when your revision takes out a word or switches the order of phrases within a sentence. The Word find-and-replace can spot these quickly for you.

If a character has the name Sandy, the first time you spell it “Sandi” mark the mistaken spelling down to do a quick find-and-replace on the mistaken spelling when you edit your manuscript.

8. Little words can be tricky

It’s not that we don’t know how to speak English. We do! The problem arises in multiple drafts when we change tense and don’t add that final “d,” or change nouns and miss transforming the “a” to an “an” or vice-versa.

Be especially vigilant for prepositions: they are so tiny that the brain sometimes skips right over them. For example, keep an eagle eye out for missing prepositions such as  “to,” “of,’” or “in.”

Spell check can’t catch those missing words—that’s your job!

9. Set the timer

You do have a timer, right? Either Pomodoro on your computer or a hand model set way across the room so you have to get up to shut the darn thing off to give yourself a break when you are proofreading.

And once up, walk outside for five minutes, climb a flight of stairs, breathe deeply, or do a few toe-touches. The brain needs oxygen to focus.

While you are breaking, give your eyes a mini-rest as well. Focus into the distance, close them for a few moments, or dab in some eye drops.

10. Pay attention to headings and subheadings

Words look different when they are in all caps. A friend of mine got her book all the way to the proof stage at Amazon before she caught a spelling error on the book spine!

11. Use the text-to-speech feature of Word

You can find this feature by going to the help menu of Word for specific directions. I keep it handy on my tool bar where I can select about a page of the manuscript, click the icon, and this wonderful, calm, nonjudgmental male voice (I’ve christened mine “Bruce”) reads through my writing, word by word as I follow along, pen in hand.

12. Build in a reward

Proofreading is hard work. When you are done for the day, pamper yourself. Try a hot bath, a finger massage on your wrists, or soft music with a cold cloth over your eyes.

You’re darn well worth it, and your readers will thank you, too!

PS—Using the above techniques, when I proofread this post I spotted an extra word that didn’t belong, a missing Oxford comma, and six phrases that I wanted to change. Bruce caught a missing end-of-word “n” that I could have sworn I typed. 🙂

 

 

 

5 ways to deepen emotional layering in your writing

Even experienced wordsmiths struggle to portray deep emotion in their writing. It’s as hard as mining copper from sulfur-laden rocks.

Writers may either tell about the emotion, for example, “He felt really, really angry.” Or, they may use the “dot-dot-dot” bypass popular when describing sex in 40s novels: “They entered the bedroom, the lights went out, and the next day…”

But effective writers know that emotion is a vital part of the human experience and pull it into their writing whenever possible.

Here are five way to deepen the emotional layering in your writing:

1. Accept the challenge that writing about emotion is hard. Good writers get immersed in their words, just as they hope their readers will. And writing about unpleasant emotions is difficult. Who wants to experience, even vicariously, the deep emotions of rage, grief, humiliation, sorrow, fear?

Delve into a time you, yourself had such a feeling. How did you feel experiencing it? What preceded the emotional outburst? How did you relive and rationalize your experience afterwards? Then write about the universal emotion that you felt, and that your character is also feeling.

2. Emotion is a daisy chain. Your character doesn’t immediately go on a rampage or experience an out-of-the-blue terror about high places. Something came before. Consider giving your characters a chance to delve into their back story internally. “This was just like the time when I was four, and the dog next door pushed through the fence and bit me.”

3. Emotion is physical. The old adage “show don’t tell” is critical here. An emotion courses through a person’s body, affecting their breathing, heart rate, skin temperature, stomach tension. Only then may it be reflected outward on the facial muscles: clenching the jaw, frowning, weeping. Finally it erupts into words: “You can’t mean that!” and actions: “He slammed the door so hard the glass cracked.”

emotional thesaurus angela ackerman

 

 

Angela Ackerman’s book, Emotional Thesaurus is highly recommended to help you begin this journey of writing about the inward and outward signs of physical emotions.

 

 

 

4. Emotion is slower than rational thought. Think of seven objects: an orange, the London Bridge, a deck of cards, a big tree, a mailbox, a white horse, a can of Pepsi.

Not hard, right?

Now, picture in your mind each of these: fear, terror, joy, amusement, irritation, embarrassment, hesitation…

Can you feel your mind stopping to ponder each experience before moving on?

Give your readers a chance to do the same thing. Don’t rush over emotion, but rather create a scene that can fully explore what’s happening. And then go back and lengthen it by twice.

5. There is an arc to emotion. In other words, the emotion will typically build in intensity.

For example, the character punches the alarm and sleeps too late. In her rush to get ready for work, the glass of orange juice spills to the floor, she trips on the rug on her way out the door, the car battery is dead…by the time she gets to the office, she explodes at her assistant over one small typo in a memo…

And a bonus concept to build your emotional writing skills:

6. Emotions are not rational. Your character in the middle of intense emotion is not going to stop and think, Oh, I am afraid.”

But afterwards, there can be a place for a rational assessment of what happened: “I was stupid for going into that dark alley alone.” “I really did a good job at that presentation, even though I was nervous.”

Or they may decide to do differently next time. “I’ve got to watch myself and not make such a fuss. It wasn’t my assistant’s fault I was late.”

emotional craft of fiction donald maas

 

 

 

Donald Maas, in his wonderful book: The Emotional Craft of Fiction, explains that the purpose of fiction is to get the reader to feel their own emotions, triggered by the words on the page.

 

 

Think about it. What authors do is time-travel. They are able to connect with anonymous readers somewhere in the far distant future.

Including deep emotions in your writing can layer, deepen, and enrich your work. This skill makes your reader eager to return a second, and a third time, demanding more. Exactly what you as a writer want!

7 Ways Instagram helps authors find readers

My cat Leaf on Instagram

I’m an author who writes mysteries about a rookie deputy named Pegasus Quincy living in Arizona. So what does my cat Leaf smart-mouthing on a kitchen counter have to do with using Instagram in my writing career? Stay tuned!

I view marketing, whether we are Indie or Trad authors, as a sum-zero game. We’ve got X amount of time, nobody really likes to market–we’ve rather be writing, and it is TOTALLY necessary.

Enter this thing called Instagram. It is easy to set up: Most smart phones already have it installed, and you can easily download an app to your computer. It can be synced to Facebook, because Facebook has owned the platform since 2012. It’s like Twitter, only easier to use, in my humble opinion. It gives you immediate access to your readers in a very real, very personal way.

And Instagram is fun to use. As Sierra Godfrey Fong suggests in that great writers’ resource, Writers in the Storm, “Instagram is a visual snapshot of your head.”

Here are seven practical ways Instagram can help writers reach their audience:

1. Instagram is big, and getting bigger:

Statista estimates that Instagram has grown by 200 million viewers from 2016 to 2017 alone. That translates to some 800 million total users, evenly split between men and women. That’s a lot of people. And because it is a relatively new media platform, that growth curve is still heading upward.

Joanna Penn says, “If your reader demographic is between the ages of 18 and 49, Instagram can be a strategic application for you.”

I would go even further. If, for example, your preferred demographic is ages 50 to 64+, 11% of them ALSO are on Instagram. That translates to about 88 million people, many of whom also read books. Wholly cow!

2. Instagram is easy to use:

 I’m not a computer nerd by any stretch, but I was up and running in an afternoon.

Some things to remember: it is geared to your smart phone, not to your computer. So be alert to pictures of your local neighborhood–especially if they are representative of what your book is about.

If you are doing any book signings or author conferences, take some pictures.

If your book is in a library or book store, stage the cover strategically and take that shot.

3. The shape and orientation of your photograph can be changed:

The preferred format of Instagram is square, so that’s what you are aiming for. But the resolution has increased to a nice 1080 px x 1080 px, and there are all sorts of neat filters and aftereffects that are built in to Instagram.

In addition, Instagram now gives you the ability to upload vertical or horizontal aspects by clicking on the brackets shown in the left lower corner of your preview shot. The picture of my cat Leaf, above, uses the horizontal view. Have camera, will travel gives you an excellent step-by-step of how to do this.

4. Instagram encourages the use of hashtags–but only in certain places:

Like Twitter, Instagram uses hashtags. And they are always changing. Current policy from Instagram states that hashtags in the comments section will not be read. Better to include them in the description, and limit to about five or so. See a good rundown on this in the Pigeon Letters.

Store the lists of hashtags you might want to use in your phone memo app so that you can do a quick cut-and-paste.

Some great suggestions of hashtag lists to consider are given in 130 of the best hashtags for authors on Instagram. Rachel Amphlett has a great Cheat sheet for Authors on Instagram in which she suggests specific ways books can be photographed as well as offering lists of hashtags separated by type and genre.

And the list goes on. Google is your friend here.

5. Instagram is immediate:

One way is to combine YOUR BOOK with various backgrounds:

You drink coffee? How about a shot of YB with your favorite coffee mug, or a pic of YB on the table of your favorite coffee shop.

You a yoga fan? Guess what. YB looks gorgeous against that turquoise yoga mat.

I haven’t been able to get mine to cooperate yet, but I hear that YB next to a sleeping kitten or puppy is click bait. (And you don’t even have to pay a modeling fee.)

Be alert to the seasons and holidays: YB with a Christmas tree behind. YB in front of Halloween pumpkins. YB displayed in front of winter snow or a summer lawn mower. YB on the beach towel with the blue waters of the Caribbean behind it. (Just dreaming!)

Consider the visuals in your writing process: Shots of a hand-written manuscript, or a picture of a page of rough draft notes, or your wastebasket filled with crumpled first attempts connects you with your reader. What about the white board chaos of sticky notes that you use for plotting, or the desk or dining room table where you write your masterpiece-in-progress.

The nice thing is that you can either use a photograph you just took (easiest) or those you manipulate on your computer and then upload to your phone picture gallery. These can include text, for example, or quotations–always popular.

6. Instagram is a way to connect with other authors

We are all in this big splashy pond together, so any way you can connect with others can make you feel better. And happy writers are more productive writers!

Belinda Pollard wrote a funny and inspiration post on Instagram for Authors–my first six months. DIYAuthor has a great list of 25 authors using Instagram to give you some ideas about what others are doing. Even the editing program Grammarly gets in the act with their suggestions of professional writers to follow on Instagram.

Facebook groups are a great way for writers to connect with other authors, and yes, there are groups specifically for Instagram. Check out Instagram4Authors, for example.

And finally,

7. Instagram is a great way to play

Writing can be hard work, there’s no getting around it.

And when you are in the midst of a rational-brain deadline, one of those I’ve-got-to-get-this-proofread-right-now modes, the creative side can get a bit sulky. Instagram is one way to take a break and just play.

Think in terms of personal, color, and people (that includes fur-babies) to maximize the visual.

In other words, the Instagram venue gives your creative side another way to interact.

Keeping your muse happy and occupied brings her back for more!

Let me hear from you.
How do YOU use Instagram?

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ways to Help your Beta Readers

Once written, words live forever…or do they?

I’m an Indie mystery series writer.

I find my Beta readers get very cranky when I ask them to read for content and development, and they spend most of their time catching typos and missing words.

So I’ve developed the following protocol, which helps me help them:

I am aware of the quirks of the programs I’m using:

Scrivener is a dynamite writing tool for a modest price. In fact they have a free month’s demo. But the default (for PCs) is that old-fashioned Courier font, which means dumb quotes and em dashes written as “- -“. Both can easily be changed using a global replace in Word, which is where my manuscript usually resides, once I’ve done the initial organizational work in Scrivener. 

BUT, Word is not perfect, either. It has the annoying habit of auto-fill and auto-correcting the wrong words. It will subscript fractions, which leads to some interesting results. I’ve got to be alert to all of these and more as I read through the manuscript.

I recognize my OWN quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Mine include the following:

My brain gets lazy and echoes the same words and phrases…on the same page, in the same paragraph, in the same sentence, even.

Worse, I find myself using the same trope I’ve used in a previous novel. The poor heroine gets trapped on the same elevator, on the same floor…or the hero in two subsequent novels shrugs that same left shoulder…or the chase car squeals around the corner into that dark alley…

And there are those slightly unusual words that my subconscious likes to use again, and again, and again.

I foil my right-side brain by sticking all of these idiosyncrasies on a 5 x 8 card that I keep close by as I eagle-eye the manuscript.

Speed Reading

In addition to fingertip goofs, such as “think” for “thing” and “fine” for “find,” I find that the speed reading I do every day on the Internet allows me to blank on missed words in my writing, too.

If I proofread on-screen, I zip right over skipped words, seeing “in hospital,” rather than “in the hospital” as perfectly okay, even though I’m not from Yorkshire, England. Of particular distress are pronouns and prepositions: I can blindly ignore all sorts of two letter words: In, of, by, and on’s get lost by the hundreds!

“A” and “an” provide a particular field day. If you are like me, in the process of revision, I’ll often substitute one word–a much better word, of course–for the one in my original draft. If the second word starts with a vowel versus the first word choice starting with a consonant, I’m in a heap of trouble.

Names

I wish I could use “placeholder” names, but all of my characters begin their life in my novels with a carefully chosen first and last name.

This works, until one of the ensemble characters arrives on the scene with a similar moniker. I can’t change their name, which has been graved into the stone of Amazon’s Kindle system. So “John,” my series character stays, and “Johnny,” the new person, has to leave.

And if I change that name, it may mean changing yet another character’s as well. It’s a cascading effect that I try to minimize through the use of a naming data base.

But when a change must occur, I then have to go through the entire manuscript with Word’s find-and-replace to do just that. And a global replace with a space before and after doesn’t always work either. That procedure will not catch names followed by a period or a hyphen or in the possessive.

Punctuation

I’m pretty good with capitalizing sentences and making sure series are separated by commas and periods occur at the end of sentences.

But problems will crop up in the revision stage, when my computer curser will move to a weird spot and I’ll end up with an extraneous word like “and” in the middle of a word: strandaight.

Or I’ll move bits of a sentence around, and then there’s an orphan period at the beginning of a paragraph, or worse, a sentence that is missing one.

Having written a half a million words now, give or take a few hundred, I know all of the above will happen, on a regular basis, in each and every manuscript that I write.

I could hire a line editor for this phase, but I’d rather save their good efforts for my final draft after I get the rough back from my beta readers and follow their great suggestions for revision.

So here is my protocol for minimizing errors:

  1. I run my pre-Beta copy through Grammerly. They have a pro version, which costs $, but also a free version that incorporates right into the Word task bar. Very handy!
  2. I next put this Grammerly revised copy through an editing program that checks for echoes and repeats, since that is a standard bug-a-boo for me. The one I favor is a new one on the market, Editomatic which has some other handy editing features as well. They also have a demo version.
  3. At this point, I print off a hard copy, using a different font. If my original manuscript is a serif font such as Times New Roman, I’ll do a control-A and change the font to a sans serif such as Arial. And before I print the copy, I’ll change the line spacing to something different, for example, double space if I’ve been using line-and-a-half.
  4. I read this hard copy line by line, using a ruler, and silently mouthing the words. I  revise my online manuscript with the changes I make.
  5. Finally, I use that text-to-voice feature of Word to re-read the entire manuscript, dictated in a very nice male voice, as I follow along, my finger to the hard-copy page. You’d be surprised what he and I catch on this final read-through!

I’ve found that if I follow this protocol, my Beta readers are willing to give me another shot on my next book, and I am able to produce a clean copy for my line editor to fine-tune.

What works for you?
What errors are your nemesis?
How do you catch them?

 

 

Finding Water: The Fine Art of Persistance

Finding Water Art of Persistence Julia Cameron

 

My sister’s book club is reading one of Julia Cameron’s books, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond. I promised her I’d take a look at it. I did, and it is delightful. I recommend it highly!

In the process, though, I came across another book by Ms. Cameron, entitled Finding Water: The Art of PerseveranceI was delighted, because I’d read the first two of this trilogy when I was in art school: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and the Artist’s Way. Also highly recommended, by the way.

Julia is no novice to the challenging world of being creative. She’s been at it for 30 years and during that time has written–and had published–over 30 books! Would that I were that successful.

In many of this author’s books, she recommends a practice of three simple acts: 1) morning pages, a type of handwritten journaling, undertaken first thing in the morning; 2) making an “artist’s date” with yourself to explore some new facet of your environment; and 3) a long walk, at least once a week, to connect with nature. I’ve found all three to be richly rewarding.

In Finding Water, Julia encounters writer’s block, rejection, and discouragement as she readies a play for the New York stage. She speaks of the paralyzing effects of perfection. I can relate.

Julia’s inner critic is named Nigel, and Nigel has rules. “A critic such as Nigel has doubts, second thoughts, third thoughts. The critic analyzes everything to the point of extinction. Everything must always be groomed and manicured. Everything must measure up.”

“…an original thought may be disturbing, even dangerous. It wants to see what it has seen before. It has seen a cow, but it has never seen a zebra. Don’t try to tell it that a zebra might be interesting. Those stripes don’t look like such a good idea. Get those zebras out of here!”

I gave Julia a high five for that one. My critic and Nigel are old war buddies. Brothers-in-arms, soldiering on, unappreciated, firmly declaring that black is black, white is white, and forget about all those colors in between.

Right now I am struggling through the simultaneous editing of two works. In my writing critique group we are examining, for the umpteenth time, the first chapter of my next book in the Pegasus Quincy Mystery Series, Fire in Broken Water. 

I’ve read the last chapter of this same book so many times it is almost memorized, and yet my critic–let’s call him Clarkson–is still finding egregious errors any sixth-grader could correct in their sleep.

And when we take a break from that one, the two of us, Clarkson and I, are weaving together a new, very rough draft of the fourth novel in the series called Peril in Silver Nightshade.

Clarkson is having a field day. “You wrote what?” “Don’t you know you can never mix first and third person narratives?” “Info dump. Info dump. Info dump,” he chants.

I want to shout Shut up! in his overly large, cauliflower-shaped ears (the better to hear you with, my dear) and consign him to the upstairs, unheated garret. It is near winter here in Michigan, and that would be a fitting place for him. Although he has this loud screeching voice that would undoubtedly echo through the register.

But to be honest, I need his help. The fairy child has created these lovely works of art, and now it is time for her evil cousin to have his way. And perhaps he isn’t so evil, after all. He is persistent and perfectionistic. I must learn to accept that he is also a part of me, and appreciate what he brings to the table.

I am not sure if I believe in the left brain/right brain dichotomy. It seems much too simple an explanation of the complex workings of our mind. Yet there is a push/pull, an internal dialogue always at work. And that, too, is part of the creative process. I need both the fairy child and Clarkson, just not at the same time, in the same room, talking over each other.

What about you? What do you call your inner critic?
How does it muck about in your creative life?