Why reading your manuscript to your child(ren) is great for editing

Provided that your novel is kid friendly, you may find your best editing comes from reading it aloud to your child(ren).

My 16-year old son is my victim.  He has such great listening ears.  I write YA fantasy (which is his favorite genre), he laughs with me when I stumble upon something I wrote that is wrong on so many levels, and he’s a great collaborator, (plus he has other teen reader buddies that I can bounce my teen ideas/dialogue, etc. off of).

I cannot tell you how many mistakes I have found from reading my novel out loud, and I’m not just talking tiny things like misspelled words or commas.  I’m talking big stuff, like entire scenes missing, or scenes that repeated because I copied instead of cut and pasted.  I find dialogue that stinks, words that don’t make sense in the text (i.e. He stood there, his thumb honked on his belt loop), and just plain getting phrases backwards, i.e. He put his mouth in his finger (yes, I actually wrote that).  I’ve also written past-tense words that aren’t words at all, such as ‘droven‘.  (and I call myself a writer).  🙂

Reading your manuscript aloud also makes it glaringly clear where your flow is off, when inflections are wrong, and when characters close doors that are already closed.  If your kids laugh at parts that aren’t funny, you need to rethink the section.  If they laugh where they’re supposed to, you  got it right.

A lot of parents wouldn’t dream of reading to a teen.  I’m thankful my teen is so involved with my novel and he loves it when I read it to him.  He usually gets a few good laughs out of it (much to my expense), and his opinions and suggestions have been invaluable.  Thanks to him, I’ve grown as an author and I’ve spent valuable and wonderful time with my son.

So, if you have kids and you write for kids, try reading your own novel to them and see what they do or say.  They may turn out to be the best pre-submission editor you’ll ever need.

Training to be a career author

I don’t normally do two posts in one day but I thought all of you would like to read Kristen Lamb’s new post on training to become a career author.  In case you don’t know, Kristen is the author of We Are Not Alone – The Author’s Guide to Social Media, and Are You There, Blog?  It’s Me, Writer, and she offers up tons of useful info on her blog that can help every author, whether you’re published or still in the dream stage.

Her particular posting for today is how to train yourself like an athlete for the job of writing.  Everything she says is so true.  Be sure to check her out and take notes.  I’m so glad I stumbled upon her site.  She’s a great mentor and motivator, just what this author needs and aspires to be.

Distractions – can playing games at work increase productivity?

Distractions.  We all have them.  Whether we work at an office or from home, we are distracted from our ‘job’ by ringing phones, meetings, the occasional thunderstorm outside, or someone dropping in to say hi.  Stay at home workers, I believe, are subjected to twice as many distractions, especially if you are a stay-at-home mom or dad.  Kids and pets have an uncanny way of interrupting the ‘work flow’.

But what about self-imposed distractions, like playing games at work.  For the last year and a half I’ve had the intense pleasure (and pain) of not working outside the home.  It’s not that I haven’t looked for a job.  Trust me, I have and still do.  Every day.  But seeing as no doors have opened at this point, I have been following my passion and writing my heart out.  During this time I have finished my novel, sent it out, received a request for a rewrite and finished it again for re-submission.   I’ve written several short stories, won a few awards for my writing, and am currently writing on books two and three in my YA fantasy saga.

But not all my time has been spent on writing.  Outside of my normal distractions  (kids, disabled hubby, animals, etc.), I have one self-inflicted distraction:

It’s not a difficult game but I like it a lot, for many, many reasons.

Wizard101 is a 3D massively multiplayer online role-playing game  Players take on the role of students of Wizardry to save the Spiral (which is the set of worlds this game takes place in), and battle a variety of creatures by casting spells using a turn-based combat system similar to collectible card . Players advance in the game by accepting quests to learn new spells, gain equipment, and collect gold.  Although designed for pre-teens, the game appeals to all ages.  Players can play alone but it really is a game designed to play with others, and in fact, many of the bosses you can’t beat without collaborative play.  During play, you can ‘chat’ with your teammates.  Many times, I don’t chat much at all.  I ‘listen’ to the conversations between the younger members.  Great fodder for a YA author.  Also, seeing that I write YA fantasy, this game is right up my alley for having fun.

But, how does playing games affect my writing ‘job’?  If I’m playing games, then how can I possibly get any work done?  Well, according to WorldWinner, a provider of online games, playing casual games at work can increase productivity.  The survey from their 2007 press release states (and I quote):


The survey, which involved more than 500 players who compete at WorldWinner.com, reveals surprising new reasons workers take time out of their day to play casual games. Among them, more than 80 percent of respondents who play online games during the workday feel better-focused on work as a result of periodic mental breaks associated with game play, 76 percent report improved productivity, and 72 percent rely on game breaks to reduce job-related stress.Recent studies suggest that a growing number of workers are seeking alternate ways to reduce stress while on the job; and a great many of them are turning to casual word, card and puzzle computer games.

In fact, more than 60 percent of gamers who play games during their workday use “brain teasers,” including puzzle/strategy games (such as Bejeweled 2) and card games (such as Solitaire and Free Cell), as a form of therapy during the day. When asked how game play recharges their creative juices, the great majority of respondents answered that online games “take my mind off of work for a few minutes” or “calm me down after something has frustrated me.” An inference easily drawn from these findings is that casual game play may boost productivity by serving as a healthy way to refocus the mind in high-stress situations.


I personally find this to be true with me and my writing.  Many times I’ll get to a spot in a chapter or a short I’m writing and my brain freezes. I don’t know where to go with it or what to say.  At that point, I either take 20 -30 minutes to unwind in Wizard101, or I go for a 20 to 30 minute walk.  Sometimes, if time and weather permit, I do both.  It’s amazing what that time away from the ‘job’ can do to revitalize the brain and the body.  After such a break, I am able to go back to several more hours of work.

There’s no doubt that everyone needs a break at work, but whether this calls for gaming stations to be implemented at workplaces across the country is another matter… Does your employer let you sneak in the odd game at work?  If you’re self-employed, do you play a game of Angry Birds or Solitaire every now and then?  If not, maybe you should.  It might just increase your productivity.

The joy of writing

What is your favorite part about writing?  Do you like to research?  Do you like developing your plots?  Do you get the most joy out of creating your characters?

My favorite part of writing is the writing itself.  I love, no wait…LOVE…it when I sit at my computer and my fingers fly across the keyboard at lightning speed for  hours.  I can’t stop the flow.  It’s as if the novel is playing out like a screenplay in my head and I can see it, hear the voices, see the setting and it’s all coming out of my fingertips like magic.  It’s like being possessed but in a wonderful, spiritual way.  What I marvel at even more is, after putting what I wrote aside for a few days, I come back to it and I question, “Did I write this?  Really?  This came out of me?”  I love those moments of “This is Brilliant!”  It doesn’t happen often but when it does, I get hooked on writing even more.

What about you?  What keeps you writing?

Repeating words is so repetitive

I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty of using repetitive words and phrases in my novels.  I didn’t realize how glaringly obvious they were, though, until a few betas pointed them out to me. I would have comments such as “Jen, you just used the word glare.  Try another word.” Or “I counted the word ‘jump’ six times in the last two pages.  Can David leap, bolt, haul ass anything but ‘jump’?”  (I chuckled at that one.)  Somehow, VanHalen popped in my head, but I digress.

Ugh.  I knew I needed to clean up my manuscript, but I didn’t know I needed to de-contaminate if from the rafters to the basement.  It seemed like on every page I found those dratted repetitive words staring back at me with quirky little grins on their lettered faces.  But I fixed them with a sweet little program called AutoCrit Editing Wizard.  How in the heck did I get through life without this software?  It has really made my hunt and destroy mission much easier.   Now onto the additional edits I need to make to my novel.  Hmm.  I wonder if there is a program out there that yells back, “Enough with the editing, and send the damn thing out already!”

Formatting your manuscript – Part 2 – Line Breaks and Paragraphs

Happy Monday, everyone.  Today I’m going to talk about formatting your page breaks and paragraphs for your completed manuscript.  You can find Part One on how to format your manuscript here.  I wish I had a video to go along with this, but alas, I haven’t progressed that far technologically for me to provide one.  I hope you can follow along.

In addition, the information that follows is for those of you who have a finished manuscript and you are now trying to clear up the formatting before you send it out to agents/publishers/editors, etc.  I only use Word, so these instructions will not apply to you if you use a different word processor (though I’m pretty sure they all work about the same).

Okay.  Formatting page breaks.

Lots of folks like to space down to add the next page.  Others like to hit ‘space/enter’.  I’m going to show you how to format correctly and clean up all those irregular formatting codes.

Formatting page breaks

Place your cursor at the very bottom of your title page, go up to insert menu, click insert/break/page break and ok.  In Word 2007, just click on insert/page break/ok

An easy way to make sure your chapters are on a new page, click on the edit menu/find and type in ‘Chapter’/find next.

Place your cursor in front of each Chapter and click insert/break/page break and ok (or, for shortcut nuts like me, control/enter).

Keep doing this until all your chapters are formatted correctly and each chapter begins on a new page.

Formatting paragraphs.

Because you don’t want to change the formatting of your title page, go to the first page of your manuscript and place your curser at the top of page one.  Hold down control and hit ‘end’.  This will  highlight your entire manuscript, minus the title page.  Now you are ready to format your paragraphs.

Right click on your mouse and click ‘paragraph’.

Make sure the following boxes have the correct information:

General alignment – left

Indentation – .5

Spacing – double

Leave the other boxes empty as you don’t need to mess with them.

Click ok

Search for all tabs that may be hiding.

Sometimes when we type, we add tabs that don’t need to be there, especially in front of paragraphs.  The best way to find and delete these is to turn the paragraph mark on in your document.  It looks like this ¶ in your menu bar.

Click on ¶

In the edit menu, click on find/more/special/tab character/find next

Click on ‘Replace’ and in the replace text with nothing

Click ‘Replace All’

A little box will show up that says how many tab characters were deleted.  Click ok.

Next thing you want to search for are paragraphs that have an extra space.

Again, click find/more/special/paragraph mark with a space after it/find next

Click “Replace/special/paragraph mark without a space

Click ‘replace all’

Box comes up to show how many you found.  Hit ok.  Click replace again just to make sure you got them all.

Last thing you want to do is check for line breaks

Click edit/find/special/manual line break/find next

Unfortunately, you will have to delete these from your manuscript manually, or you will mess up your entire document.

Click ‘Delete’, then ‘Enter’

Make sure you look for all extra spaces while you’re at it just to make sure you go them all.

And, there you have it.  I know it seems silly to have to post this sort of thing, but I can’t tell you how many manuscript edits I’ve done for folks where the formatting was all over the place.  Trust me.  Take the time to edit properly.  Your future agent/editor/publisher will thank you for it.

Formatting your manuscript – Part 1

Today I thought I would try to answer a common question that keeps coming up on writer’s’ blogs and writer’s groups I attend.  I’ve done tons of research into this topic and hopefully I can shed some light on this subject.

First, contrary to popular belief, there is no one single correct format, nor one single correct typeface to use when formatting your manuscript.  However, after reading many, many submission pages on many, many agent/publisher websites, the following are pretty much industry standards for manuscripts, both fiction and non-fiction.  As always, familiarize yourself with your targeted agents and publishers, and read their submission guidelines.  If they want their manuscripts submitted in bold, purple 15 pt Alien Galaxy, I suggest you find where you can get the font.

You can choose to format your novel before or after you have written it.  I like to format ahead of time, that way I don’t have to worry about it later.  It’s just easier for me.

Standard page format:

Margins –  1.5 inch on all four sides.

Font –  Times New Roman, however, you can use Courier, Courier New, or any other clean mono-space serif font in 12 pt.

Line spacing – Double-space

Paragraph indent – first line, .5 pt.

Header – right justified, contains the following information:

Last name/ TITLE/ page#.

It is also acceptable to type your last name/title on the left side of the header and the page number on the right, whichever feels more comfortable for you.

Note:  A header does not belong on the cover page. 
Start headers on page one of the actual manuscript.  There are many sites online that can teach you how to do this if you don’t know how.

Title Page:

Contact information — Name and address, phone number, and e-mail address in the top left corner of the page, single spaced, left-justified.

A little note here:  make sure your e-mail is a professional one.  Remember, writing is a job.  Submitting your manuscript is no different than sending out a resume.  Refrain from using cute little names like cutiepatootie@_____.com.  This will give the impression you are not serious about your craft, and if you aren’t serious, the agent or publisher will not take you seriously.  Believe it or not, many agents and publishers have complained about writer’s making this mistake.

Title — centered, just above the middle of the page

by — centered and one double-spaced line beneath the title

Name and pen name — centered and one double-spaced line beneath the word by.  My experience has shown it is best to place your true name on one line and if you write under a pen name, place it in parenthesis beneath your name.  The agent/publisher wants to know the real you and if you are signed on, they’ll  need to know your name to write out the checks.  🙂

Genre and word count — centered and rounded to the nearest thousand, one double-spaced line beneath your name or pen name.  Note:  It is also acceptable to place this information just below your name and address at the top of the page.

If you are agented, format the cover page as above and include the following, left-justified, single-spaced on the bottom of the page: agent’s name, business name, mailing address, phone number, e-mail address of agent (get permission from agent),

First page:  Note before we continue (for  Word users only):  Make sure you are using “Normal Style”.

Header — should be in the upper right-hand corner of the page, and page number should be 1.

Chapter header — can be anywhere from one to six double-spaced lines down from the top of the page, and can be centered or left justified. You can title your chapters, or just write Chapter One or Chapter 1.

Body text — drop down two double-spaced lines to begin your story.

Scene breaks — drop down two double-spaced lines, insert and center the * character, drop down two more double-spaced lines, and begin your new scene.  Note:  Other formatting sites will say to use the # mark to separate scenes, however, my Kindle pros have warned me that Kindle doesn’t recognize the #, but it does recognize *.  To save yourself from headaches later, you may want to use the * mark to begin with.

Subsequent chapters — start each chapter on a fresh page. Keep chapter formatting and titling consistent with your first chapter.

Bolding, underlining, italics, highlighting:  Do not bold or underline anything in your manuscript.  Industry standard does accept italics for internal character thoughts.  Also, make sure there is no highlighting in your manuscript.   I sometimes will highlight sections because I want to revisit them for various editing reason before I send off the manuscript.  If you use this method, you want to make sure you take the highlighting off.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss page breaks and formatting paragraphs.


When listening to other opinions is bad for your health

I recently submitted my re-written manuscript to two brand new and one return beta readers to get  a fresh perspective on my novel and to find out if I’d fixed the issues a publisher pointed out to me in their amazing, red-lined critique.  One beta came back with overwhelming praise and a few minor niggles to correct.  The return beta came back with a somewhat harsher review but overall, I understood his points and I am considering them before I send the novel out to my last 2 betas.  The reviews from the third beta, however, broke my heart and reduced me to tears.  I didn’t eat well for two days, I snapped at my kids and my hubby, and quite frankly, felt horrible – like sick-to-my-stomach horrible. Not good.

What ground me to a halt and put me in such a state?  The following are just a few of the comments I received.

“I have never read such driveling nonsense.”  “The only fantastical thing I found in this book was that I actually finished it.  There were too many times I almost didn’t.”  “I felt cheated.  Why haven’t you thrown David and Charlotte together?  Are teens these days really so goody-goody? I think not.  You are obviously detached from today’s conundrums.  Get with the teen scene.  Charlotte’s comment to David to not look at  her boobs is ridiculous. Girls these days are all about showing off their boobs and getting as many guys to look at them as possible.  I felt like I was reading a D-rated fantasy novel from the 1950s.”   “I would not submit this to my English Lit teacher.  No offense but I think you should try your talents at something else because Tolstoy you are not.”

And the negativity kept coming.

I knew when I first read the comments (that also offered no hints as to how to make the  novel better), I should put it down and let it go.  It wasn’t beneficial.  It offered no constructive criticism.  Yet it was this review that stuck with me the most.

Why?  Why as artists, as human beings, do we allow the bad to outweigh the good, at least at first?  What is it about our psyche that makes us almost want to believe the bad?  Do we truly believe deep down we are terrible writers (insert hobby/job) and this stranger sees through the facade?  Why do we focus on those things that hurt us instead of those things that lift our spirits?

I wish I knew the answer.  All I know is I spent a lot of time over the past few days trying to figure out what was so horrible about my novel instead of what was so great about it.  After hours of shedding tears, and barking at my husband and my kids, I realized I was letting a stranger dictate my emotions.  A stranger.    Someone I will probably never meet.  Someone who hasn’t been with me on my journey.  Someone who may have had a bad day when he wrote his comments.  Heck, maybe he is just a negative person all the time.  How dare I let this stranger guide my emotions?  He’s not my husband, my children, my closest friends.  Why should I care what he thinks?

It’s ingrained, I guess.  I do care what others think, which is my problem.  I want to please everyone all the time and I forget to please me first.  I supposed that’s what comes with being a wife and mother for 27 years.  But it’s time for all that to change.  It’s time for me to be proud of me, of all I’ve accomplished, and to believe in myself and my writing.  My novel is not a D-rated novel from the ’50s.  It’s here, it’s now and I know there are good kids out there who are not focused on sex and drugs that will love my novel.

I therefore make a vow that from this point on, to take all comments with a grain of salt.  I will listen to all opinions, consider all critiques, however, I will first and foremost listen to my heart and the wonderful Spirit that gave me my voice and ability to write.  I have to please me and my family first.  And in the end, that’s all that matters.

What about you? Do you let critiques of your writing (or hobby/work) affect your moods and your health?

Can you hit a perfect pitch contest

The fabulous Brenda Drake is at it again with another fantastic contest.  This time the grand prize is a request to read more of your novel by the amazing agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette.

Here are the details, as copied from Brenda’s site:

Here’s how the contest is going down …
On January 15th post a two sentence pitch (no more than 35 words) along with the first 150 words (if it falls in the middle of a sentence, go to the end of that sentence) of your finished Young Adult orMiddle Grade manuscript to your blogs. From January 15th-16thhop around each others’ blogs and critique or praise them. Revise your entries, if you want, and post them by 8:00am (EST) January 17th to the official entry post. DO NOT POST THEM TO THIS POST. If you want, you may skip the blogfest/critique portion of this contest and just enter the contest.  I will have the official post up, along with details on how to format your entries, on January 15th so that you can start posting when you’re ready. To participate, sign up on the linky below.You want to know the prizes? The prize (or prizes) is a request to read more from agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. I’m crossing my fingers for all of you. Have I told you how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE this agent? Okay, well, I can’t say it enough! I totally ❤ her!
Here is my entry:

Title:  In the Shadow of the Dragon King

Genre: YA Fantasy
Word Count: 87,000
Pitch:     A seventeen- year old boy is thrust into a magical world, awakens an evil threat and sparks a war.  His salvation:  embrace his destiny, even if it means risking the life of his best friend.

First 150:

David Heiland sketched the final details on the cat-like eyes staring back at him.  Just like in his nightmares, the dragon clung to the castle’s battlement, a body clutched in one talon. Small horns jutted from the top of the creature’s head and two leather-like whiskers protruded from both sides of its snout. Crouched in the shadow of a turret were a man and a woman. Their arms were raised like shields above their heads, terror etched into their eyes and mouths.

Charlotte leaned in from behind, her arms folded across his shoulders. “Wow, talk about a major creep out.  I can’t get over how real it looks.” She kicked off her shoes and climbed into the center of the carved, four-poster bed. “Who are the people?”

“My parents,” David said, examining his work.  “You know, it’s funny.  When I was little, all I ever dreamed was for them to be alive, and someday they would walk through the door and all would be right with the world.”


Good luck to everyone!  What a great contest.

When hopes, dreams and prayers are not enough

I know an aspiring author with hopes and dreams of becoming the next James Patterson.  Every day he prays that someone will see his work, fall in love with it and offer him a contract.  I’ve read some of his work and it’s good…really good…and I would love to see him get that contract, too.  There’s just one problem.  All he does is hope, dream and pray.  He doesn’t write.

He has several manuscripts in the works (like most writers, I think), but he can’t seem to finish even one of them.  He says he’s afraid that no one will like his work.  He’s afraid of failure but he’s even more afraid of succeeding.  After all, if he becomes successful, his life will change.  He’s not a change kind of guy.  He likes his life on a smooth, even keel.  He also has admitted he lacks confidence in his writing and he’s always over-working his story to make it better.  (I’m guilty of the last one).

He also gets frustrated, unsure of how he wants to finish his novels.  He tosses ideas out at the writers’ group.  He is a member of some online critique groups, but it takes him forever to heed the advice and write and revise.  Instead…he plays video and computer games and thinks about his manuscript.

Sorry, my dear boy, your novel isn’t going to be seen by anyone that way, I don’t care how much you hope, dream and pray.

Writing is a solitary art.  It requires dedication, perseverance, time and focus, if you want to be published.  Otherwise, writing becomes a hobby.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with it being a hobby, but if you dream of being published, you can’t play video games and expect the book to write itself because you hope, dream or pray for it to happen.

As writers, we have to decide in our minds if we’re going to be hobbyists or authors.  Is it for fun or do you really want to be published?  Once you decide what kind of author you are, then you must take the proper steps to become what you want to become.  If you know you are a procrastinator like my friend, try setting reminders and alarms on your phone.  Set aside some time every day to just write.  It could be 30 minutes, 2 hours, or all day, but don’t stray from the schedule you’re comfortable with.  Eliminate all other distractions.  If you write on your computer like I do, get all of your Facebooking and Tweeting and game playing out of the way before your writing time, or do it afterwards.  Retrain your mind to focus and remain dedicated during that time to your writing only.  The first few times you do this, you may stare at the screen and your fingers and brain may lock up.  Stick with it.  Don’t give up.  Keep trying.  Before long, your fingers will fly across the keyboard with fervor, and thoughts and dialogue will come pouring out of the recesses of your mind like ants out of a kicked-up ant hill.

Above all, never lose your enthusiasm and belief in yourself.  If you’ve decided you want to be published more than anything in the world, don’t look at writing as a laborious job you go to every day.  This is your passion.  It is your hope, your dream, but no amount of praying without doing the work will make your dream come true.  You just have to believe in yourself.  I do.

Are you a procrastinating author?  What keeps you motivated to write?