Shannon Dittemore
  • Writing Advice
  • July8th

    6 Comments

    Hey all! WELCOME BACK! We’ve got a new blog series going here. And by WE, I mean ME and the quotes of some of your favorite authors.

    Since writers are notorious for giving others advice, I thought it would be fun to dig up some of the most recycled tidbits on writing and share my thoughts with you. Not because I’m an expert. Not at all, but well, I covered all that self-deprecating stuff in my first post.

    Today, I have a piece of advice from an incredibly prolific author who’s given us a zillion one-liners to chew on. This is a personal favorite.

    Stephen-King

    Stephen King just kind of says it, doesn’t he? He’s good at that. And he’d better be with all that editing-is-like-murder business. But, I absolutely agree with him. And the longer I write, the more I appreciate this point of view. In fact, it’s increasingly difficult for me to turn off my internal editor now and simply read a book. I’m always editing other authors. Something I’m sure they appreciate. It’s okay; I know they’re doing the same to my books.

    The liberating, albeit terrifying, truth is this: it’s not only the writing of a story that makes your stuff uniquely you, it’s also the ruthlessness with which you edit.

    You should be overjoyed by this fact. It means that if you’re true to yourself and true to the process, your story will be unlike anything anyone else is creating. I know the crushing pressure to churn things out quickly. The haunting terror that someone, somewhere has already thought of all your ideas and written all your stories. It’s not true. It can’t be. Your voice is distinct, but so is that internal editor of yours. Find freedom in that.

    There are ways to lessen the pain of editing, but one more thought before we go there. That phrase Stephen King uses, bare essentials, is entirely subjective. There are books that meander more than others, stories that do not walk directly from A to B. There are authors who set out to lead you on a delicious, slowly unfolding stroll. I think of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart trilogy and The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. In each of these books, there are scenes that could have been sacrificed for pacing. But during the editing process, the authors decided those words were essential. And, honestly, who are we to argue?

    What I’m trying to say is that regardless of a story’s pace or word count, every good author cuts. They delete. They whip out their almighty hatchet and they swing it. A well-edited manuscript is not necessarily a manuscript void of description and full of short sentences. A well-edited manuscript is one that uses only the words necessary to tell the story trapped inside the author’s head. But necessary is entirely a matter of style and preference.

    That said, most of us meander more than we should. We need to unshackle our inner editor. The good news is that once you get a taste for hacking up a manuscript, there’s something very addicting about the whole bloody thing.

    But it can be painful. As the mother of two, I’m not convinced it approaches the despair of murdering children, but for the sentimental author, it can be a lot like shooting paintballs at puppies. And that is quite painful enough.

    Here are a few ways to dull the pain:

    1. Consciously celebrate this stage of the writing process. Treat yourself to a slice of cake and a balloon bouquet. You have drafted a novel. Being IN EDITS means you’ve accomplished something only a fraction of us ever will. YOU WROTE A BOOK! You now have the privilege of brandishing your shiny new machete and hacking it to bits. You’re in an enviable place. Let yourself appreciate that for a moment.

    2. Stop monitoring your word count. You did that all the way through the drafting process. You posted it on Twitter and all your followers squeed! I’m glad. Truly. We need others on this solitary journey of ours. But, now, stop watching those numbers. They will fall. You will lose a few brave soldiers, but this is war. Keep your head down and your eyes on your own work. It doesn’t matter that Suzy Floozy just tweeted out her impossible word count. What matters is that you’re past that now. You’ve been promoted. YOU GET TO EDIT!

    3. Keep what you cut. Not everything. Not the four billion adverbs you used. Strike those down and move on. But if you’re cutting the bulk of a chapter, keep it. When I’m editing, I have two Word documents open. One is my manuscript and the other is called CUTS. Whenever I decide to scrap a large portion of text, I cut and paste it into this other document. There are three reasons I do this. One, like you, I can get attached to my darlings and I don’t like to vanish them entirely. Even if I don’t use the actual words, I may need to reference them again. It’s good to keep them close at hand. The second reason is vanity. I like to see how glorious a word slasher I’ve been. For example, my current manuscript has about 80k words that I’m almost certain I’ll keep. But, on my CUTS document, there are over 15k words. I wrote those words. They cost me time and energy and they moved my writing forward. They taught me what WON’T work and that’s just as important as what will. And finally, I save what I cut because some of it may work as an ‘Extra’ later. Once my book is published (optimism, people!), I’ll have pages of deleted scenes that I can share with readers during the marketing effort. This saves me from having to generate new material down the road.

    So those are my thoughts on Stephen King’s advice. What are yours? How do you dull the pain of cutting the excess fat?

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  • June25th

    4 Comments

    AdviceWriters are in LOVE with words. We go out searching and when we find a few morsels worth savoring, we form them just so, and then we spit them out for others to digest. That doesn’t mean though, that everything we say has equal value. Nor does it mean that all well-intentioned advice has a place in your world.

    If a thought does inspire, even if it does look rather nice on you, the words may fit you in a way the advice-giver never intended and that should be celebrated as a glorious turn of events.

    New authors, especially, are on the lookout for the very best, most beneficial advice an experienced author has tucked beneath their keyboard. Some golden nugget that will spur them on in their journey. I do it. Constantly. With only three books on the shelf, I am still in the very early days of what I hope will be a career in writing and I am always looking for a new wind of inspiration. Words that will bring clarity to my writing.

    I’ve collected thoughts in this way. They’re pins on my Pinterest board, quotes shared on Twitter. They’re purple scrawled sayings on index cards around my office. Advice is everywhere. And I thought it might be fun to take a look at the tips most often given and share my thoughts on them. Not because I know more–because I certainly don’t. And not because I’m set in my ways–because wouldn’t that be nice. But because I remember how ugly I looked when I wrapped myself in ill-fitting advice like it was a one-size-fits-all uniform and tried to pretend it worked for me.

    So, over the next little bit, I’ll share some of the advice I’ve picked up and I’ll get real with you. I’ll tell you why it works for me and why it doesn’t. And while my experience with someone’s words should neither deter nor encourage you to try them, I hope it will at least free you from the idea that all writers write in the same way. We don’t. We are unique and that adds to our value, both individually and as a creative whole.

    So, let’s get started. Here’s a good one.

    Nora-Roberts

    This quote is by Nora Roberts, but variations of it have been given as advice by nearly every published author out there. That, in and of itself, tells you one thing. It’s good advice. It works. And I can find nothing of fault in it.

    Except . . .

    The problem I have with this advice is that it weighs very heavily on an author who finds herself in a busy season. We feel that if we can’t find the time, we must not be doing enough, being creative enough, being awake long enough to be a REAL author. It’s a struggle I know very well. My kids were on different school schedules this past year and I spent half my life driving back and forth, up and down the same roads, and sitting in overcrowded parking lots waiting for my munchkins. And while I absolutely agree that we have to MAKE time for the words, I decided a while back to MAKE kids and regardless of my passion for story, those kids have to come first. And not out of some moral obligation, but because I want them to be first. I want them to be more important than my stories.

    It may not be children for you. It may be employment or another relationship. It may even be another art form that demands your time, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a REAL writer. Do real writers write? Absolutely. Do they make time? Most certainly. Will writing always be at the top of their priority list? Nope. Probably not.

    And that’s okay. I say, celebrate the season of life you’re in. Really, REALLY live it. Write whenever you can and when life slows down, you’ll have all the more stories to tell. You’ll have life experience and that is something you don’t get huddled in your writing cave. So, yes, I absolutely agree with Nora Roberts and everyone else who has given this advice, but I refuse to let it weigh me into depression. When I’m busy and enabling my children to live their lives and exercise their creative souls, it’s okay to take a deep breath and tuck the words away for later.

    It’s okay for me.

    And it’s okay for you.

    Really.

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