Saturday, March 11, 2017

Self-editing by Editing Level

by Jean Kavich Bloom

Authors can possess an effective tool for warding off indifference, criticism, or even outright rejection of their writing: self-editing.

Not all writers enjoy self-editing, but I think we should all try to develop some skills for it. Search engines reveal a plethora of articles, blog posts, and books on the subject, and I recommend that approach for all the advice and tips and tricks you can gain. I've even shared some on this blog. But I also propose considering self-editing along the lines of others-editing, before you hand off your work to an editor. Especially to an acquisition editor with the authority to decide whether to publish you or at least to encourage others to do so. Maybe even before you send your work to a beta reader team.

If your work is professionally published, it will most likely go through several levels of editing (and yes, the many different labels used among professional editors is confusing):

·         Macro, substantive, developmental, or content editing: This is the view from 50,000 feet when an editor is looking at the substance of the whole work. Does it speak to the intended target audience? Does it make sense; hold together; present a logical flow-of-thought (or plot)? Is each chapter strong enough, or do some need work? Will the opening chapter or paragraph give the reader the most incentive to keep going, or is that incentive buried later—or even missing? In fiction, does the plot have gaps; are the main characters well-developed? Is the pace good? This is the editing level that can result in the author being asked to do some rewriting, maybe some reorganizing.

·         Line editing: This level is my sweet spot as a professional editor. Paragraph by paragraph, line by line, word by word, the line editor works to tighten up writing to maximize the reader’s experience and reduce reader distractions. He or she addresses repetition, awkward phrasing, wordiness, lack of continuity or sense, gaps that need to be mended, points that need to be fleshed out, and so on. Often, he or she discovers problems created by rewrites. But that’s okay; those can still be fixed.

·         Copy editing: I combine line editing and copy editing for my clients, but some houses separate the two. At its most basic, copy editing ensures consistency, that the chosen style guide has been followed, and that grammar, spelling, and punctuation are correct. Note: Proofreading is not editing, but a final task to try to ensure no error has been missed.

My advice is to wait until after you’ve written a draft that satisfies you before self-editing by level—and then wait some more. Hopefully you aren’t so close to a submission or posting deadline that you don’t have time to step away at least a couple of days, if not more. You need to gain perspective with fresh eyes and brain cells.

Then try self-editing level by level, one at a time. Ask yourself the same kinds of questions an editor will.

·         Macro, substantive, or content editing: Does your content hang together? Are all the elements what they need to be to tell your story well?

·         Line editing: Is your writing as strong as it can be? What needs to be reworked or addressed? What problem (such as a contradiction) might you have inadvertently created when you wrote your last draft?

·         Copy editing: This level might not be your bailiwick, but you’ll be surprised what you find if you read with the intention of spotting errors. And do run a spell check!

As I said, you can find many helps online and in books to develop self-editing skills. And no matter what we do, every writer needs an editor. (You can probably find a problem with this post because I, uh, didn't have an editor or a proofreader!) But consider how employing each editing level—just as professional editors will—could take your self-editing to a new level of expertise and success.

Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer for Christian publishers and ministries
(Bloom in Words Editorial Services), with nearly thirty years' experience in the book publishing world. Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also a contributor to The Glorious Table, a blog for women of all ages. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.

photo credit:

Monday, March 6, 2017

Confessions of a tenacious writer

I love to read. And lately I've been reading a lot of YA and middle grade books because my work-in-progress is for that demographic. There really is no rhyme or reason to the books I choose. If I like the premise, or the author is award-winning, that's usually what I read.

When I'm reading good fiction something almost always happens. And a couple of days ago it happened again. I opened a book, read the first sentence, and threw the book aside in despair.

"That's it. I'm never writing another word. That author just wrote the most perfect first sentence and paragraph in the existence of the universe. I quit."

Silly, I know, but I really did do that!

When I stumble on excellent writing like this, I have the strangest sense of euphoria and doom. Rockets fire off in my belly at the joy of reading something glorious. Those rockets are immediately extinguished by my angst. Will I ever be able to write as beautifully? Ever?

Wrong attitude, I know. I know. But admit it, you've done it, too. If you're a real writer, you've mourned over finely crafted sentences that failed to spill from your pen. And that's fine. We're entitled to feel a longing to be brilliant. The trick is to be challenged by great writing, not discouraged by it.

It may take years for me to craft sentences that match the brilliance of Kate DiCamillo or Natalie Babbitt. Maybe I will and maybe I won't. One thing's for sure: I won't if I quit. I'm convinced it's not always the most talented that succeed but the most persistent. I'm going to cling to that hunger to write sparkling, crystal prose the same way my Boston Terrier bull dog latches on to his rubber tire:

I'm not going to quit because I have this tiny ember of hope inside that someday I will write an award-winning story. Sometimes the ember is flaming and large. And then, sometimes, when I read the most perfect sentence ever written, it settles to a small cinder.

But what roasts the best marshmallows? Embers. These deceptively-small crumbs of fire can be fanned into flames. If we keep writing, those little flames have the potential to become great bonfires crackling with hope. Quit writing and they go completely out. That is just too sad for me to think about. Without fire there is no light or warmth  in the darkness.

This writing dream isn't all about me. (How many times I remind myself of this!) It's not about winning awards or even about writing better than someone else. It's about conveying the good news. It's about heralding truth.

Even if I never win a Newberry or Carol, if I've reached one soul and changed their mind toward Jesus? The reward is enough. And if I can do it with as well-crafted a story as those I read, that's all the better.

I hear too often (from the secular publishing community) that Christian writers aren't as good at their craft as secular writers. I don't agree, of course, but this reminds me that we should be striving even more for excellence. We don't write for just any audience. We write for a King to His children. We are writing for royalty. And they deserve the best story-tellers of all.

What are some of your favorite first lines and paragraphs? What sentences have your favorite writers written that are good enough to be framed?  I'd love to know. Weigh in below! I'll include them in our workshop notes on March 18 in Fort Wayne at our chapter meeting.

Karla Akins first novel, The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots was published in August, 2013.  A Pair of Miracles: A Story of Autism, Faith and Determined Parenting is due out in summer/fall of 2017 from Kregel.  She currently serves as President of ACFW-Indiana Chapter. 

Photo credits: 
Bonfire by Trzypiece - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Embers by by Jens Buurgaard Nielsen

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Touchy, Touchy, Touchy!

Anthony Trollope (1815-82) is best known to American readers for the "Barchester Chronicles," a series of novels about church life in a nineteenth-century parish. Although Trollope did not call himself a Christian author, he often dealt with moral and spiritual themes. One of his attempts aroused the ire of a well-known churchman, and illustrates the kind of trouble we can encounter when we deal with touchy subjects.

Trollope wrote about a young woman trapped in a loveless marriage in his novel, Can You Forgive Her? He later commented:
It must ever be wrong to force a girl into marriage with a man she does not love--and certainly the more so when there is another whom she does love. In my endeavor to each this lesson I subjected the young wife to the terrible danger of overtures from the man to whom her heart had been given...leaving for a while a doubt on the question of whether the lover might or might not succeed (Trollope, An Autobiography, chap. 10).
He received a letter from a distinguished Anglican minister who said he usually enjoyed having one of his daughters read Trollope's latest novel to him, but this story had gone over the top. The disgusted clergyman had told his daughter to put it away, and he scolded Trollope for writing a sensational book to gin up sales. Surely the author didn't think a wife contemplating adultery was a fit subject for his readers!

"I asked him in return whether from his pulpit, or at any rate from his communion table, he did not denounce adultery to his audience," Trollope wrote, "and if so, why it should not be open to me to preach the same doctrine to mine."

His critic invited Trollope to spend a week as a guest in his home, where they could "have it out," but the author never accepted this invitation. The novel ended with Lady Glencora staying true to her marriage vows, yet the churchman never learned how the story turned out. He might have forgiven a woman of adultery, but he couldn't forgive someone for having the temerity to write about it!

My crit group is now reading a young adult novel in which the teenage protagonist gets pregnant out of wedlock. It's skillfully written and portrays the girl's quandary in a most authentic way, but I've cautioned the author to expect a cool reception from Christian publishers, because the subject itself will draw a lot of flack.

What are some of the most touchy subjects for your fiction genre? Have you tackled them anyway? How did prospective agents and publishers respond?


Joe Allison has been a member of the Indiana Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN. His non-fiction books include Setting Goals That Count and Swords and Whetstones.