Editing, My point of view, Tips, Writing

Write the Novel – First Editing Pass – Backup & Format

This week I begin a five-part blog on editing with likely the dullest things, backups and formatting. Best to get the dull things out of the way first.


Whether we’ve been doing backups or not on a regular basis; whether we’ve stored material in the cloud, thumb drives, DVDs, or other options, the gap between finishing content and beginning editing is the absolutely essential backup point.

Editing can muck up or even irretrievably erase everything we’ve worked on so far. We need a copy we can easily get our hands on; a copy that we can use when the computer has eaten everything, including our ability to read the copy we can easily get our hands on; and a worst-case copy that we can use when we had to flee for our lives from some natural or man-made disaster. One of the top three reasons small businesses fail is that they don’t have duplicate business records in multiple, widely scattered locations.

Collect everything — research, notes, every saved version, the final working version — everything in one folder.

  • Use as many DVDs as needed to make 3 complete copies.
  • Copy #1 is our at-home backup copy. Put it in a place we can find it. This is for when the computer eats our files.
  • Copy #2 is our local backup copy. Give it to a family member or friend who lives nearby.
  • Copy #3 is our flee-for-our-life copy. Give it to a family member or friend who lives at least 500 miles away.

Now that our files are in one place anyway, sort them into three categories: absolutely need for editing, likely need for editing; and not likely to need for editing.

  • Absolutely need for editing: a complete copy of the last rewrite.
  • Likely need for editing: some notes and background information and our style sheet and glossary. If we’ve put off starting a style sheet and glossary because we really don’t need those silly things, start them now. Yes, we’ve reached the point that we absolutely need them. To brush up on what a style sheet and glossary are, go here.
  • Not likely needed for editing: everything else.
  • It helps to make three folders and divide material into those folders. Why have a lot of things we aren’t going to look at get in the way when editing?

There are two ways to edit: by chapters or some other divisions of the author’s choosing, or the entire document in one file. Some writing assist programs, like Scrivener, make it possible to edit in smaller units, and then combine the edited work into one document. Yes, we can do this in Word, but we run the very real risk of leaving out one or more chapters when compiling and submitting the completed work. This is personal experience speaking, and it was hugely embarrassing.

My preference is to edit chapter by chapter. I simply can’t find things in a 300+ page manuscript. I also live in fear of losing everything all at once. Other people are quite comfortable working in the entire manuscript. Go for it. Whatever we choose, we need to be consistent throughout the editing process.


Before twirly ball Selectric typewriters came along in the summer of 1961, there was one font: courier. Words could be in all caps, all lowercase or a mixture; they could be underlined, or not. Line spacing could be set for a limited number of options, but unless the setting was changed manually, it was the same for each line in a document. Because of the machine’s limitations, formatting rules were universal and sacrosanct.

If we only get one thing out of this blog, make it this. The computer is not a typewriter.

Formatting Rule #1

If we are writing for a particular publisher, we must use the formatting that publisher wants. Go to their website and look for formatting guidelines. If there are none, or they seem to have been posted more than 6 months ago, send e-mail to the publisher and ask for a copy of their current guidelines.

Formatting Rule #2

In all likelihood, we have no idea who our publisher will be. We need to write a list of the rules we plan to use, or pick someone else’s list and stick to those. Yes, our formatting rules need to be written because we won’t remember on page 68 or 249 what we did on page 12. Here’s a link to the format I use, and why I use it.  Feel free to use it if it meets your needs. If it doesn’t meet your needs, use it as an outline to develop your own style.

Formatting Rule #3

What drives me absolutely crazy critiquing or editing other writers is that they use their word processing program for tons of other stuff. Either they have never set up personal styles or they have dozens of different styles that they’ve used for other fiction and non-fiction documents. As a rule, the first thing I do when editing is spend a half a day deleting unnecessary styles and setting up clean styles for their document.

Do ourselves and our editors a favor and set up a limited number of simple styles. Delete everything else we can from the styles palette. And yes, the less than helpful people who put word processing software together, won’t let us delete everything. They’ve done us a favor by protecting a whole raft of useless formats from deletion.

These are the essential styles needed for a work of fiction

  • Normal – for 99.9% of the words in the novel.
  • First paragraph normal – some publishers require that the first paragraph in a chapter not be indented, while the rest of the chapters are indented.
  • Chapter Title – used for the first line in each chapter.
  • Quote – for material that the characters are reading, such as notes, newspaper articles, etc. All quotes should be double spaced, just like text.
  • Heading – for headers
  • Footer – for footers

That’s it, the only styles needed.

To those of you in the States, Happy Thanksgiving.

Next week, Tuesday, December 2, I’ll be doing Editing – Second Pass – The General Clean-Up. Remember all those things we were going to do later. Later has arrived.

My point of view, second draft, Writing

Write the Novel — How many drafts are enough?

Since January, I’ve blogged about writing a novel, starting with a global theme and working through the zero draft (an unfinished manuscript), which becomes the first draft when we finish it. And the second draft, which serves completely different functions from the first.

How many drafts are enough? Because we each write differently, and because for any writer finishing a entire first draft is an enormous accomplishment, my standard for the zero/first draft is, simply, finish it. I don’t care how, but get all the way to the end of the story.

My standard for beginning the second draft is one question, “Am I writing this for publication?”

There are only two answers: yes or no. I don’t think I’m a good enough writer, but maybe a miracle will happen and someone will want to publish it is not an answer. It is a daydream. The reason that the answer needs to be a firm yes or no is that the beginning of the second draft is a major crossroad. Say yes to publication and we go in one direction; say no and we go in a completely different direction.

Saying no to publication

We’re likely to say no to publication if

  • the material is highly personal or dangerous, and we’re not ready for the rest of the world to see it
  • the story is just the way we like it, and we don’t want to submit our characters and story to the meat grinder of editing and publishing
  • we don’t have the health, time, or finances to participate in the publishing/marketing that the book will need. Keep in mind that neither traditional publishing nor self-publishing is a free ride. Traditional publishing requires that we submit what the publisher wants, when they want it. There are less of those restraints in self-publishing, but a well published/well marketed self-published book (e-book or print) will cost the author $2,000 to $10,000 and take hundreds of hours to accomplish.

If we say no to publication, there are no limits to how many drafts is enough. Keep writing, keep revising as long as the story holds our interest.

Say yes to publication

If we say yes to publication, initially two, maybe three content drafts are enough. A content draft focus on character development, storyline, raising the stakes, maintaining continuity, etc. This is completely different from editing drafts.

After the second or third content draft, the book needs to go to at least five beta readers. Beta readers are people we know well enough to ask them to read our manuscript, but aren’t so close to them that all they’ll do is say how great it is. Finding five good beta readers is tough, but it’s the best way to find out what really needs honing. Beta readers are looking for minor plot tinkering, typos, grammar, and spelling mistakes. Readers have to make a commitment to getting the manuscript read and back to us in a timely fashion.

Taking comments from beta readers into consideration, another one to two content drafts will need to be done. Here are questions to ask ourselves after the beta readers are through.

What is this novel worth to us?

  • How much more work do we plan to do before we submit our book?
  • How will we know when our book is ready to submit?
  • Have we set a personal deadline for when this book is to be finished?

How strong is our voice?

  • Read sections we suspect are problematic aloud to examine our voice.
  • Is it strong and clear?
  • Are there places when it seems to disappear?
  • Are there places when it overshadows the story?

By this time, we will have done a total of three or four content drafts, half before beta readers and half afterwards. Then comes at least five editing passes

  • the first is attention to format, how the work is presented on the page
  • the second is a general clean-up
  • the third gets rid of book killers
  • the fourth gets down to the nitty-gritty of grammar and spelling, word by word
  • the fifth is the final, what-have-I-missed fine tooth combing

So the answer to how many drafts is enough — my personal opinion hat is firmly in place here — is three to four content drafts; at least five beta readers; and five editing drafts.

Then we’re ready to either go looking for a publisher or to take the self-publishing route.

Next week, Tuesday, November 25, we take off our writer’s hat and put on our editor’s had for Editing Pass 1 of 5 — Paying Attention to Format. Hope to see you then.

My point of view

Remembrance Day — In Her Own Words

It’s Remembrance Day north of the border and Veterans Day in the States. ROMVETS is a list for women who have served in the military and are writers. I asked some of my ROMVET sisters to contribute a short quote about what they thinking about on November 11th. Here’s what they said, and links to their sites, in case you’d like to know more about what they are writing.

I thank God for the opportunity to serve, to give my children the freedom of choice. ~Diana, AGC(AW), United States Navy (Retired) www.dianacosby.com

If I could do it all over again, I would without hesitation. ~ Rogenna, United States Navy www.rogennabrewer.com

I will never forget St Peter’s Cave where the U.S. Army prayed on Christmas Eve before the Battle of the Bulge. ~ Kim, United States Air Force, www.sosaloha.blogspot.com.

I was 24 years old when I got to Vietnam. Real cherry. Soon though, I was middle age. And when I left, I was 95 going on dead. Forty years later, I’m back in the world in body…missing in action in spirit and soul, Sharon, American Red Cross (Korea and Viet Nam)

Forty years out I still remember names and faces of the people I served with. Some links are never broken. Some friends are never forgotten, Sharon, U. S. Army www.wildwindauthor.com

And from the male side of the equation:

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity… Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. ~General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Nursing Sisters Memorial Window, Pemberton Memorial Chapel, Victoria, British Columbia

Nursing Sisters’ Memorial, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

Vietnam Women’s Memorial, Washington, DC

Women in Military Service for America Memorial, Washington, DC

Art, I made this, Maker

Art I Love – Knitted Hyperbolic Plane Headband

Years ago, my husband and I attended a panel about living with a writer. One of the participants said he has a writing hat. When he wore the hat, his spouse wasn’t allowed to interrupt him unless she was closely followed by a fireman with an ax and a need to evacuate the building.

Thus began the hat tradition in our house.

  • My writing hat is a purple fedora with a yellow band, saying Police Line Do Not Cross around the crown. The same rules about the fireman apply when I’m wearing this hat.
  • My playwriting hat is a crocheted yellow, orange, and lime green African kufi hat, with crocheted butterflies. Don’t ask why, crochet, butterflies and wild colors seemed appropriate at the time.
  • My maker’s hat is a pink engineer’s cap with Thomas the Engine and Proud to be an Engineer on the front.

Doing the household accounts is my least favorite thing. Going digital has helped, but not much. I decided I needed a hat, or rather a headband a la 1920s style to wear when I was dealing with numbers. A few years ago a mathematician at Cornell University did some work on crocheting hyperbolic planes. Here’s the link. So here’s my hyperbolic headband, designed to concentrate math rays into my brain.

2014-11-07 HyperbolicPlane

My point of view, second draft, Tips, Writing

Write the Novel — Dawdle and Plant Seeds

We’re almost done with the second draft. We’ve looked at how this draft is the place to strengthen our voice, build emotional muscle, knead a story into shape, and let go of things we may love, but which aren’t working. The final thing to do before finishing this draft is to dawdle and plant seeds.

Dawdle? Are you kidding? I’ve been working on this book absolutely forever. I want it done. Now! No way am I dawdling at this point.

Think again.

In the first draft, the focus was on two things

  • Goal, motivation, and disaster: Who wants what? Why do they want it? What’s preventing them from getting what they want, or if they do get it, how is it different than they thought it would be? This is the builder’s equivalent of preparing the lot, digging a basement, pouring concrete, framing, and roofing a house. It’s where the heavy lifting gets done.
  • Satisfying the demands of the genre. For mysteries, this means clues, red herrings, detective work, and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Following the building analogy, this is all of those choices to be made. Carpet or hardwood floors? Paint, wallpaper, or paneling? Appliances? Faucets and taps? Lighting?

The second draft is where interior decorating happens

  • Enhance every chapter’s first and last lines.
  • Where can the story’s volume be adjusted up or down? When should the story go over the top? When should the story be a seductive whisper?
  • Sprinkle flash symbols through the book. A little hazy on flash symbols? Check here.
  • Mix and match characters, narrative lines, settings. Elements that serve more than one purpose or function enrich the story’s density. The rest of this list was taken from Chris Roerden’s Don’t Murder Your Mystery. I strongly recommend this book to all mystery writers.

Deepen the context

  • Appeal to the senses
  • Establish a sense of place
  • Evoke mood
  • Provide texture
  • Sketch a description

Humanize the characters

  • Change sexual tension
  • Establish or betray trust between characters
  • Ground or anchor characters (needs to be done periodically, not just once)
  • Increase a character’s insight
  • Increase what is known about a character

Offer a perspective or counter perspective

  • Juice up the plot
  • Change pacing, emotion, or suspense
  • Raise the stakes
  • Use violence as dialog

Embellish with

  • Buried agendas or secrets
  • Foreshadowing
  • Comic relief
  • Irony
  • Surprise!

And, finally, there’s the landscaping: plant seeds for future books. This is especially important if the book is part of a series. We may know what seeds we’re planting, or we may have no idea at all. Knowing isn’t important. The idea is to plant possibilities than can be explored in subsequent books. Seeds may be as simple as a single line of dialog or a short description.

  • “I had a brother, but he died.”
  • Marcy had seen enough of Chicago, thank you very much. As far as she knew, the warrant for her was still outstanding.

That’s the second draft. When it’s done, take a break.

Put the manuscript away for at least a couple of weeks. Like making bread or aging fine wine, the material needs a chance to settle down before we begin the final content revision.

And that’s just what we’re going to do. Next week, November 11, will be a Remembrance Day blog. We’ll resume our writing the novel journey on Tuesday, November 18, with Final Content Revision. See you then.

Nuts and bolts

Art I love – western author George Wilhite

In August 2013, I participated in a Western Mysteries panel at When Words Collide in Calgary, Alberta. As part of that panel, I compiled a bibliography of western mystery writers.

A couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from a charming man, George Wilhite, one of the authors listed in that bibliography. It turns out there are TWO George Wilhites and I’d mixed up who wrote which books. My sincere apologies to both of them.

2014-11-01 GeorgeWilhite

The western writer is Chair of the English Department at Texas State Technical College-Waco and the author of The Texas Rodeo Murder, rodeo/western short stories, and a textbook called Reading & Writing: Plain and Simple. He’s also interested in historical novels, one about the cowboy strike at Madison Square Garden in 1936, which I think is fascinating because I had no idea that cowboys had gone on strike.

You can check out George’s writing at http://drwrightgooder.webs.com.