Is an MFA worth it?

Quite a few people argue against a Master of Fine Arts.
Too much money. Too much time. Not enough payback.

I beg to differ.

If your goal is to become an excellent writer
(or painter, or sculptor, or screenwriter, or whatever),
then an MFA might be your short track to get there.

(It is for me.)

As I sit in my dorm room for my third on-campus part of Western Colorado State University’s low-residency program, I’m reflecting. Before I enrolled, I fancied myself a pretty good writer. But we all know that good is arbitrary. Good is relative. (How good is good? Can good be better? Oh, yes. Much better.)

While in the program, my writing didn’t just take leaps and bounds; it jumped canyons.

  • There’s something about people who’ve been-there-done-that giving insider advice that I really like, that makes me better, faster.
  • There’s something about building relationships with other writers striving through the same exercises that boosts drive and focus.
  • There’s something about someone chopping up your work (nicely, of course) that carves precise meaning that (eventually) feels good.
  • There’s something about creating bonds with professionals that last into publishing and beyond.
  • There’s something about working hard with a goal that puts a lamp in your hand to light the pathway ahead.

Years ago, someone said to me, “Education is compacted experience.” I agree.

As with any degree, it’s not about the letters. Or the arrogance of a title. It’s about learning. Growing. Becoming. And, because of the hard work and experiences, being able to give back more.

(I love to learn. And give.)
(If I ever act pompous or arrogant, you have my permission to bop me upside the head and set me straight, fast.)

But the question remains:
Do you need an MFA to tell a good story?
To create a beautiful work of art?
To share your passion?
Of course not.

But an MFA may be just the spark to creating powerful, touching, dynamic work.
Work that makes a difference.
Work you’re proud of.
Work you can share with others,
to inspire, to encourage,
and to give a greater sense of living fully together on this big, blue earth of ours.

*Thup
CoffeeJuly3,14

PS. James Scott Bell just posted a good post that dovetails into what I’m talking about here.
You might want to check it out here.

In fiction, to truncate time is to jump — or skip over — time in the story.

Authors truncate time because we readers don’t need to know every single minute in the character’s life.

Or every single hour. Or every single day. What the heck, we can skip whole months and years, if we want to, and the story goes on.

For example…

* The wet ropes kept slipping, so it took him about five minutes to wrap them around the ship’s metal bars…
* Within five hours, we’d broken down the sprawling camp and packed the two jeeps full…
* The next morning, even after the sun rose, it was still dark as the rain continued
* After five days of driving the reluctant horses across the dusty plains, we rested…
* It took five weeks for the party of twelve to cross the range…

(Okay, you might not get away with five weeks… but if you’re writing/reading a War-and-Peace-type-of-story-thingy, hey, it might happen.)

Truncating time is tricky.
You have to pick and choose the place of your time loss with thought. You have to choose your amount time loss with care.
(It has to make sense.)

In our personal lives, though, truncating time doesn’t make sense.

We have to go through things, good and bad.
We can’t skip the hard parts (even though we’d like to).

(Oh, how we’d like to.)

Pain happens.
Rejection.
Loss.
Death.

And it never comes at a time that’s convenient.

Instead of truncating the time, we go through it.
Minute by minute.
Hour by hour.
Day by day.
Week by week.
Month by month.
Until the bad has passed, and we are okay again, in a new now.

Yes.
We do get through.
The pain gets to be less.
We do find a new path, a new way.
(And it’s good.)

But in the middle, we wish for truncated time.

Think about those around you.
I bet you can be there for someone who wishes for truncated time.

And if you’re in the middle this,
of time you wish could be skipped,
reach upward and outward.
Find a way to give love. Because love, on any level, heals.
And healing takes time.

* Thup
coffeeJul7-14

At its base, art is about the complexity of life.

For example.
Sometimes, we as people are just not enough. We miss the mark of someone’s expectations. Always. At some point.
It’s the way it goes.

And when we’re not enough for someone.
They may ignore us.
They may turn on us.
(They may do both.)
Oh, people. So human. So flawed. So completely uugh sometimes.
(All of us.)

A few may extend grace. But that’s rare.
(unfortunately. so unfortunately. rare.)

Writers, in your story, your hero has to get to the place where he or she is not enough. He doesn’t meet expectations. He gives up.

In other words.
Nothing works.
Nothing matters.
(A moment of death.)

It’s the hero’s decisions at that point that make your story run its fingertip along the sand of humanity.

Story is complicated.
(So is life.)

Artists draw or paint it.
Photographers capture it.
Dancers express it.
Writers write it.

Perhaps that’s the way we, as a people, can deal.
As in understanding.
As in catharsis.
As in simply being human.
Through art. Creativity. Expression.

Humanity.

* Thup
coffeeJune21-14

I don’t know about you,
but I thought summer was supposed to be easier.
As in sips of lemonade and lounging in the sun.
Right?

Beach days and sleeping in.
Right?

Nope.

All of a sudden, the pressure’s on. Why?

Deadlines.
(GAH.)
I have a love-hate relationship with deadlines.

I hate deadlines. Because it’s as if a tiny little man with a tiny little pickaxe is chip-chip-chipping away at something in my head, morning to night (and sometimes showing up at 3 or 4 AM). As he chips, the story (or nonfiction work) unfolds. Sometimes in pieces. Most of the time in stops and starts. And often when it’s inconvenient to get out the computer (or notebook), to capture that thought.

(Authors, you’ll get this.)
I live inside the story that the little man sculpts. And on the outside, real life whirls and whizzes with its own noise and intensity, like papers caught in stormy gusts.

(The little man and the wind compete for my attention. All. The. Time. Which can be really. really. irritating. Like having a gaggle of people talk to you at once. I don’t need that. I have lots of kids who’ve been doing that to me for years. oy. Got kids? You know what I mean, then.)

Ahem.

But then, I love deadlines. (Bust out the smile, here.) Because deadlines thrust me forward … which means that stuff is actually getting done and coming to fruition. As in end result. Accomplished. Completed. And that feels glorious. Ideas have downloaded out of my head, cascading over the falls and into the pool of finished. And I look at the result and feel relief.

(Little man has, for a moment, stopped. He’s actually sitting on a rock, polishing his little pickaxe with a smile on his face.)

So.

Problem is, when the little man does his work
and too many outside pieces whirl in the wind around my head,
Big Bad Overwhelm threatens to jump in the picture and taser me into something frozen.
(Please don’t sing Let it Go, here. Thanks.)

Overwhelm = the worst response to deadlines.
Because overwhelm stops me cold.
Staring at the page. Or at the calendar. Or at the wall.
Not sure which pressing problem to turn to, first
(which only increases deadline pressure).

Anyone else feel this?
I thought so.

So when the pressure’s on, it’s time to
step back,
take a breath,
organize the rampage of thoughts into little lines
(“take a number”),
listen to each one’s plea,
and DO.
Act.
(Just start on one thing.)

So.

Do you have a deadline looking at you, right now?
Something happening soon that needs attention?
Something that you need to take care of?
Something you’ve been putting off?

Yep.
Time to stop blogging and start doing.
(Time to stop reading and start doing.)
Bazinga.

(See you later.)

* Thup
coffeeJune17-14

Yes, I believe in success formulas.
They’re everywhere.
For just about everything.
(In work, life, and love.)

Okay. So if you want to be a successful writer (or creative artist),
read through to the end of this post.

Because writing has success formulas, too.
For instance…

* Look at Blake Snyder‘s Beat Sheet. Following Snyder’s formula, movies surge through the box office to pulse in our veins. We remember the movies: their meaning, their message, and how they made us feel.

* Look at Joseph Campbell’s monomyth and The Hero’s Journey. Following Campbell’s formulas, books surge through bestseller lists and into our cognitive and emotional pathways. We remember the journey, the challenges, and the characters like they’re our friends.

* And I believe that we’re hardwired for story --
hardwired to receive epiphanies, challenges, and emotional catharsis through story. Time after time, story captures and changes us.

You may not like formula, but it’s there.
And it works.

I sat in the movie theater two nights ago enveloped in The Edge of Tomorrowbreathing Blake Snyder’s beats, ticking them off one by one. And I loved it. The formula worked — the beats of story lined up perfectly. The opening image…the setup…the theme stated…the catalyst….right up to the mirrored closing shot. To me, the movie met all my expectations, and then some.

Expectations.
The operative word.
We go about life with expectations.
Some good, some bad.

Regardless, we like to have our expectations met.
The fulfillment of expectations brings certainty.

Tony Robbins names certainty (predictability) as one of our Six Human Needs. When we expect something, and it happens, we feel good.

As artists, we have to meet expectations…while also bringing freshness to the formula. We all know The Edge of Tomorrow is Groundhog Day with a twist. Yep. Same concept. Same premise. Same players. Different setting and scenarios. How did the writers get away with it? They made the twist twisty enough.

(By the way, Robbins also says that we need uncertainty. Hence the need for the twist.)

The Formula vs. The Twist
How much do we stick to the formula? How much do we deviate from the formula (how much of a twist is too much)? I believe balance is learned, then practiced — to learn the skills of the formula, and then to know how much to push the artistry into difference, beyond the receiver’s expectations. It’s something we have to try out.

So.
Learn the formulas. Use the formulas.
Then, yeah, just get creating and see where it goes.
(Writers, WRITE.)
Push the formula. Then push it a little more.

Oh. And here’s an Aside Life Application (of course)
(You know me – loving life application):

Life truths (formulas) make for our lifestory’s success.
(Covey’s Law of the Farm is a formula to pay attention to.)
(Maxwell has Seven Laws.)
(Blanchard says we need to get to higher levels of interaction.)
(Goldsmith says our formulas work to a point, but we need to be careful to not let our formulas be our downfall.)
(And on and on. There’s no shortage of life truths and formulas.)

Ignore the life formulas, and you get way off track. Yeah. Bad.
So. Really. Get to the good. Get going, get learning. There are a lot of formulas ready for us, waiting for us.
Let’s. Use. Them.

They will save you (and me) from a lot of wrong thinking, hurtful actions, and pain that could have been avoided.

And. As we write today
(or draw today)
(or paint today)
(or take that photograph today)
(or whatever-create today),
may we know the formulas and use them.
(May the formulas be with you.)

Balance between formula (certainty) and twist (uncertainty) creates the best result.

* Thup
coffee white

PS. Here’s a list of Leadership Gurus with a lot of great formulas.
PPS. Okay, let’s not forget Zig Ziglar. Read or listen to him, and you’ll find success formulas growing all over the place.
PPPS. And, oh yes, Nick Vujicic‘s life truths. POWERFUL. Watch this.

Public service announcement:  Writers of fiction, this post is for you.

Warning:  Contains embedded content and conclusions for the Average Joe and Josephine’s life.

(Read on.)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mounded foam on my latte is good.
(No question about it.)
coffeeJune2-14

But are bubbles good?
coffeeJune3-14

I mean, both the latte and the black coffee came from reputable shops.
But somehow, the bubbles bug me.
I’m used to a smooth, black surface on my coffee.

Something doesn’t seem right.

Fiction writers, at the opening of your story, this is the feeling you want your reader to have.

Everything seems fine.
(There’s nothing bad happening, really.)
But something — just one little thing — is off.

It’s subtle.
But it’s there.
(trouble lurks)

Even on your first page, before all breaks loose, your hero’s Ordinary World has bubbles.

In my current story, I’m in the process of putting bubbles into the story. Story outline in hand, I’m deliberately placing (“planting”) little, bothersome pieces in earlier chapters that, if you’re really paying attention, simply don’t seem right. Later on, those plants give the reader an, oh! I get it! I knew something wasn’t right! confirmation (so he/she can pat him/herself on the back for “catching’ it).

Bubbles entice the reader, prepare the reader, and draw the reader further into the story’s web.

We should pay attention to bubbles.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

But in our lives, we often don’t pay attention to the bubbles. We pass over the bubbles, brushing them off as outlier thoughts with no impact on our lives.

Brushing off bubbles can be dangerous.

If something doesn’t seem right, paying attention might be the thing to do. (Just sayin’.)

I’ve been caught in bad situations because of not paying attention to bubbles.(Haven’t you?)

Sometimes premonitions give us warning (as in this article, on the possibility of a sixth sense).

(By the way, fiction writers, you can get away with creating premonitions in some stories. But back to reality….)

Bubbles are more than premonitions. They’re our brain catching inconsistencies. We simply need to pay attention. Because there’s something in our brains going on all the time, where the parts of the brain work together to signal, to alert us to potential danger.

Some call it gut instinct kicking in (even Oprah puts in her two cents on gut instinct). But there’s something more.

Referring to his bestseller, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell states, “When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions.”

Those “instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.”

We notice the bubbles. Our brains are smart. But, then again, we can blow off the smart signals our brain is sending to us.

FBI, CIA, and Special Ops persons are trained to pay attention. They’ll be the first to tell you how much the Average Joe and Josephine miss, on a daily basis.

(By the way, I ADORE Joe Navarro’s book, What Every BODY is Saying: An ex-FBI Agent’s guide to speed reading people. Paying attention to body language is one way for us to notice bad-bubbles people. And as a writer, it’s full of practical description for us to “show, don’t tell” our characters.)

So.

While it’s cool for your main character to blow off the bubble-event or clue (it makes good story), in real life, blowing off the bubble-event or clue brings us trouble we could have avoided.

Sometimes we simply need to pay attention. Because though bubbles look harmless (and even fun), and we may brush them off as non-important, bubbles can spell danger.

If something in life seems off, we need to pay attention.
Don’t go on as if nothing’s wrong.
(Take care of yourself.)

* Thup

 

Ever heard of “coffee snobs”?
(If you are one, you’re grinning. Uh-huh. Yup.)

Definition, please…
A coffee snob is someone who doesn’t just know and love good coffee; the snob knows and loves the best coffee — and doesn’t accept anything less.

We’ve studied coffee, tasted all kinds of coffees, and become spoiled on quality coffee.

By definition, a snob believes that his or her tastes in a particular area are superior to those of other people. And for coffee lovers, it’s not belief; it’s truth. (*Caution: Coffee Snob Crossing. ha.)

So for those of us who adore coffee, “just any old coffee” will NOT do.

““““““““““““““`

Coffee snobs are the ones who drive across town
to get a cup of coffee at the “good” coffee place –
because no other coffee will do.

Coffee snobs not only know the difference between Sumatra, Guatemalan, and French Roast
(can there be anything more different?) –
we talk Indonesian, Yemen, and South American, too.

We use words like “espresso shots pulled,”
“berry, wine, and chocolate notes,” and
“intense, lime-like acidity.”
(And we get really excited about “single origin expresso.”)

And if someone offers us offee from McDonalds — oy!
Off with their heads!
(That’s not coffee. Get real.
It’s water with coffee-ish flavoring splashed in. duh.)

““““““““““““““““““““““““

Who, me? (Yes, you.)
Snobs exist everywhere. It’s too bad the word has a horrid connotation, because we’re really nice people (most of the time).

Now hang with me here, because there’s a point to this.
(You know me. There’s always a point.)

Snobs exist in all activities. Within all phases of activities.

For instance, 
there are pen snobs, too.
I know. I am one.
(Oh, yes. We can be many snobs all rolled into one.
Wow. That conjures up weirdness.)

Yesterday, when working together with a fabulous young author and her work, I couldn’t find the right pen. All had to stop, until I found it. All was not right with the world — until the correct pen rested between my fingers.

You see, particularly for those of us who adore writing, “just any old pen” will NOT do.

We have to have the pen that feels good in the hand.
With the perfect weight.
And the perfect tip.
And the most perfect movement across the paper.
(I know…there’s no such thing as most perfect. The words simply felt right. See. There I go. I’m being a snob about word choice and rhythm, too.)

A good pen allows you to engage when you write. Really write.

Hear me again: Snobs are everywhere.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For those of us who adore painting,
“just any old brush” will NOT do.
Right?

And for those of us who create photographs as an art form,
“just any old camera” will NOT do.
Right?

And for those of us who play an instrument,
“just any old instrument” will NOT do.
Right?
(Don’t get me started on this one.)

There’s a message here.
When it comes to creativity and artistry,  each of us has preferences. But they’re not just preferences. They’re personal, comfortable habits of creativity that allow us to do our best.

We learn what works for us, and we refine the process over time. By using the best equipment, the best processes, and even the best coffee and pens, we slide into our creative sweet spot — getting to the artistry faster and with more excellence because we turned a creative preference into a habit that increased our artistry and productivity.

(That’s a mouthful. But a true mouthful, at that.)

What’s your sweet spot?
What tools, tricks, and processes help you to create at your highest levels of performance?
(Have you been attentive enough to know what helps you to create at a faster rate, in the zone with the brain, body, and soul working together at optimum speed and skill?)

Snobbery, if you will, in the form of your own special process –
where you tap into the creative –
where creativity takes hold of you and thrusts you into the ring –
where you flash the fists and fight and win –
emerging victorious, arm held high – and the winner is! –
held high by the audience, collective individuals experiencing your work, as the crowd roars –
Yes, this kind of snobbery benefits everyone involved.

(Application Button, please…)
Okay. Bottom Line.
Find the physical and mental tools that take you to creativity’s center.

Don’t let the tool become the focus, though. Fuse with the tools, to become the opponent who’s fully in the mental and physical game, to create at the highest pace and performance.

We’re all entering the ring to win,
right?

Find what pulls you to excellence, even in the small things.
Like the right pen. And a good cup of coffee.

* Thup
coffeeMay29-14
* This post is dedicated to my husband, who kindly offered me a coffee from McDonalds and got more of an answer to the why not? than he anticipated. No matter how nicely it’s explained, it just sounds…snobbish. *sigh

(For writers.)

A good breezeful of comments came in on the “three editing types” post,
so on request, here are some off-beat yet effective ways to edit your piece for content, sound, and cadence.

1. First, I’m not going to mention reading your words aloud. And I won’t utter a word about using another person to read your work to you. Far be it from me to mention the power of hearing your words’ layout and cadence, through speech.
(Inside paralipsis joke for English maniacs.)

2. Read “Back to Front” First. For a paragraph or a short piece, read the text backward. Word for word. Then read it forward (normally). There’s something about reading backward first that makes the eyes and brain see the words differently — catching flat-out errors and exposing uncomfortable word/sentence choices. I know — it sounds bizarre when you do it, but reading backwards first works. (Say that ten times.)

3. Use the “Read to Me” Function on your computer. Sure, the cadence won’t be perfect. But errors do pop out with ease — even within the robo-voice imperfection. (If you don’t know how to make read-to-me-robo-voice work, get the how-to instructions here.) Personally, I like Mr. Australian voice. (Let’s leave it at that.)

4. For Deeper Editing, Read to Answer these Three Questions:

QUESTION 1: What’s the point?

For a nonfiction chapter,
that’s does my reader walk away with one idea that moves him or her to action? Nonfiction is all about motivating the reader to feel, think, or act. Know the response you’re trying to elicit, and you’ll be able to focus your words to get your target response.

For nonfiction, on the margin of the every page, write the main point (main idea/action). If you can’t come up with a clear point, then you need to edit more, for focus.

For a fiction chapter, that’s does the reader walk away with 1) a feeling and 2) a plot question? Fiction is all about relationships — and the plot points that move those relationships forward. In order to capture the reader, in each chapter, we need to know the emotional/relational response that we’re trying to elicit from the reader. Then we need to know what actions (the plot) bring out the emotions the best. It’s like riding on the back of an alligator. The alligator’s the plot point. The “Whheeeeeeee!” is the emotion. (Fun picture, eh?)

For fiction, on the margin of every page, write the relationship feeling you’re trying to elicit and the plot point that you’re moving within. If you can’t come up with either, edit for emotional focus.

QUESTION 2: Is it linear?

In other words, does my writing hold the reader’s hand from one thought to the next? No skips. No bumps. Nothing left out.

There’s an easy way to find lapses in the linear construction: You hold one copy of your page, pen in hand. Your friend then holds the exact same page and begins reading your work to you. Every single time your friend pauses, hesitates, stops, restarts, squints his eyes, cocks his head, makes a face, does a double take, or even takes a breath and licks his lips, mark the page. Exactly where the hiccup happened, mark it.

There’s a reason for every hiccup. Something is wrong. Something needs to be changed. (Oh. And the deep breath/lip licking is usually a mark of a run on sentence or too many ideas/too much info at once.)

QUESTION 3: Is the sensory detail balanced? 
Sight, sound, touch, taste, smell — Do I have all of the senses on the page? Even nonfiction needs sensory writing.

To check your sensory writing (to see if there’s too little or too much sensory description), print just one page. Then circle every sensory word. Note what kind of word it is (which sense is being used). Check to see if you use one sense over the others…or if you’re completely missing a sense…or if your use of the senses is so overkill, you’re drowning the reader in mushwords, slogging the reader into boredom (“Get on with the story!”).

Well, speaking of slogging… that’s enough to sip on.

(Insert long drink of coffee here.)

Don’t leave the job of editing to others. The more deeply you edit, the better your work — and the more readers will stick around.

(Go forth and edit.)
* Thup

coffeeMay21-14
PS. Yes, this is my cup today. I’m impressed, Miss Barista. Bravo.

What would happen if companies got rid of the policy, “batteries not included,” and actually put the batteries in with the device?

At this point, I don’t know if people would get excited. After all, we’re used to starting at a deficit. We’re used to not getting the best. We’re used to not having what we need, to make it work.

Funny, how we accept less.

We’re used to opening a box, handling the cool device,
and then  putting it away until we get to the store to buy what’s missing, to make it work.

We’re used to getting the batteries separately, spending extra money and
adding a “by the way” package at the bottom of the present’s bag or box.

We’re used to the company giving a product that’s lacking completeness,
of expecting the consumer to be happy with deficit. And we are happy.

How is that?

As a consumer — and as people who give a product to others (whether it be a physical product or our work of art) — why do we settle for deficit?

And the “batteries not included” mentality follows us into all areas of our life.

Maybe I’m too much of an idealist, but this business of organizations having “batteries not included” policies gets to me. Except it’s not the batteries we’re talking about. It’s humanity.

Humanity is the part of caring. It’s the part that recognizes individuality, steers clear of a “one size fits all” mentality, and deals authentically with people as people, not entities to use for the organization’s end result.

We function on a deficit of humanity: of caring, of giving, of being complete in our connection as individuals and not as cogs. All the time. And we’re okay with it.

I can’t stop asking myself: How is that?

Without batteries, the device doesn’t work.
Without humanity, the organization stands a hollow shell.

When humanity is not included, the entire usefulness of an organization is brought into question. What good is the end result, if humanity is lost in the process?

And writers, there’s a lesson for us here. We can’t leave out humanity.

We can’t leave out the languid longings, the sallow struggles, and the most bitter pain. Story needs shredded hope, pounded disappointment, and flayed effort. Life is not dry of the blood of humanity — positive or negative. And neither is story.

We can’t leave out the earthy passions, the scintillating satisfactions, and the sweetest drips of humanity savored on the tip of the tongue. Story needs the blood-red bricks of loyalty, the  love-stained satin of self-sacrifice, and the fingers entwined in the richest greens and blues of liquid humanness at its finest.

To see the humanity in another, to respond as one human to another in authentic connection and with gentle understanding, takes going beyond the norm to include the batteries. To be used to deficit, to accept that deficit as normal, is to deny ourselves of humanity.

To leave out the sharpest edge or the opulent fullness of story, to stay with the safe, the bland, the expected, is to deny our readers and viewers of humanity.

The trick is to add humanity to story with taste. To let imagination have full sway. To have the mind fill in the gaps. You see, our minds can create much more than blatant explicitness ever could.

For effective organizations — and for meaningful art — “humanity not included” isn’t an option.

* Thup

coffeeMay8-14

I’m in the middle of an editing project, and editing is popcorning all over my brain cells. So if you’re serious about editing your written work well, then this one’s for you.

Here we go.

editor graphic
And editing takes form in three ways:
Details.
Content.
And rhythm & sound.

If you want to be a fabulous self editor, then you’ll need to know all three.


1. Details…
Just about anyone who knows punctuation and grammar well can edit for details.
A period here, a comma there. No, a semicolon does not work there. Yes, in this case, the question mark goes outside the quotation marks. No, you can’t put the words not only in your sentence without but also. The style guide says so, and we follow the rules.

So many people believe that they know the rules. They even charge money for “professional editing” but, in reality, don’t know what they’re doing.

Yeah, this is a pet peeve of mine.

I’m currently editing work that another “editor” did already, and I’m horrified — because the details that this person missed are details that I teach middle schoolers. I’m setting my own record for how many times I cringe in one sitting. GAH.

Please. Do yourself a favor that lasts for years to come. Learn the rules. They’re finite.

And please. If you don’t know the rules really well, then don’t call yourself an editor. Polish your ability, first. Then take on the job.


2. Content…

Editing for content is much harder than editing for details. It’s harder to take a run-on sentence and make it concise. It’s even harder to realize when something’s missing and ask the author to add details.

In order to write well, you have to know what I call reader questions.

Reader questions are those questions that pop into the reader’s mind — the next-step info that the reader naturally wants to know, from sentence to sentence.

If I said, “I had a fabulous day,” your reader question is, “Yeah? What made it so fabulous?” So the next sentence that I write needs to answer the question and tell you what made it fabulous.

Basic.

If I said, “We went to the beach,” you might want to know, “What beach? How long were you there? What kind of things did you do?” Each of these questions is valid — and each one comes in rapid-fire response.

The good writer answers these questions linearly, in the order that they pop into the reader’s mind. (Yes, writers have to be mind-readers.)

Most authors and writers (of all kinds) miss info. They skip important stuff. Since the idea is clear in your own mind, you think that the readers get it, too.

But they don’t.

Editing for content is knowing reader questions, identifying what’s missing, seeing what’s out of order, and identifying what’s too much info (the infamous rabbit trails).

The best editors can take text, assess content needs right away, and understand what parts of the puzzle need to be arranged, removed, and added.

3. Rhythm & Sound…
Editing for rhythm and sound is, I believe, the hardest editing of all. Poets, I think you know more about editing for rhythm and sound than anyone.

It’s all about what you feel and hear.

Words:
* The word choice matters. (A new “flavor” of a word might be stronger.)
* The sounds of words matter. (One word’s assonance, consonance, or percussiveness might sound better, next to another.)
* The lengths of words matter. (One word might feel better, next to another, because it stops the sound with a /p/ or moves the reader forward with an /m/.)

Sentences:
* Sentence lengths matter. (Short, medium-length, or long — each sentence has a feel to it.)
* Sentence sound matters. (Sentences are like music. Really.)

Paragraphs:
* The way that sentences are arranged in the paragraph matter. (The combination of sentence lengths can increase, decrease, or keep steady the reader’s momentum.)

The best editors focus on rhythm and sound. And if you want to be a great self-editor, then focusing on rhythm and sound will make it happen for you.

Read John Gardner‘s works. He’s brilliant with these kinds of things.

So.
Writer.
Become an editor in all three ways, for your own work –
in details, content, and rhythm & sound.

It matters.
(And I want you to be successful.)

* Thup

CoffeeApr27-14

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 71 other followers

%d bloggers like this: