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Goodbye, Tone Editorial

I’ve been thinking about this for weeks. No, months. Months as I’ve been struggling to balance what my clients need, and what they want, with how much time I can actually give them. When I first started freelancing full time, I was eager, fast, and cheap. I made my clients happy with the quick feedback I could provide them. And I mean quick. Like, two weeks turnaround time for full manuscript critiques (that were really more like developmental edits, but hey!). I was booking clients left and right. I was having fun.

And then I fell.

I didn’t work during that first month that I fell. But when financial struggles hit, I booked as many clients as I could without thinking that I’d still be feeling the effects of my TBI. I didn’t even consider that the weekly migraines were from how hard I was pushing myself. I didn’t think that my inability to do school work or even put a bookshelf together was because I was using all of my mental capacity to edit. Plus, I was editing better than I ever was before. I could see more details in the manuscript, pull at plot holes, call out weak character development. Suddenly, each project I worked on wasn’t taking me the estimated 2 – 4 weeks; it was depending on how long the project was and how much work needed to be done. That’s when I changed my menu from critique services to developmental editing, because the services I was offering had changed. My edit letters grew from around two pages to four, five, or even seven pages. But I was also slowing down. Somewhere along the way, I hit a wall and I had to take a week off. And then another. Some days I could work, some days I couldn’t.

I was doing too much. I was hindering my healing.

By pushing myself as hard as I have the past seven months, I’ve actually made my recovery time longer — by a year.

I take this business seriously. Editing, for me, isn’t just something to help supplement income. It’s not a fun side job I do because I feel like I have enough experience. I’ve put time and money into my education. I’ve done my time with internships. I’ve worked for years to get where I am.

But I have to say goodbye to editing. At least for now.

The thing is, I know there are faster editors out there right now. I know that, as an editing client myself at times, how frustrating it is to wait, and wait, and wait for feedback from someone (even if you know, deep down, you don’t want them to rush through your edit that you paid good money for).

What does this mean if you’re a current client of mine? I will be finishing out our contracts, don’t worry! From here on out, I won’t be taking on any new clients.

I’m shifting my focus back to writing: essays, novels, and whatever else comes my way. Right now, I’m able to manage freelance writing a lot better than freelance editing. I can meet deadlines with articles and essays, but I can’t keep living with the disappointment that comes from not being able to meet editing deadlines I set for myself.

Who knows, maybe when I’m healed I’ll jump back into the editing game. But I need to heal in the first place — and this is the first step towards that.

 

 

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On Voice: Whose do you hear?

As a reader, you can tell when a voice feels real and authentic or not. You can tell from page one whether or not you’re going to connect with the main character — even if the character is unlikeable, or unreliable. You can connect with them because it feels like they’re talking to you, that you’re in the story with them, that you’ve been pulled out of wherever you are and into the world the author has created. Even in memoir.

Perfecting voice is hard. As a writer, I can admit that. It’s easy for me to write personal essays and blog posts in my own voice but when I sit down and work on long-form prose, everything falls apart. I immediately put up walls in an attempt to separate myself from my character. I worry that my reader will think that this main character is me and that these are my thoughts, feelings, and experiences. I try and imitate writers I admire who, on the surface, feel like they write with distance. It’s not until I walk away from a project for awhile and come back to it (with a playlist specific to that book or character) that I can get into character. I have to ‘method’ write. I have to look at different situations through my character’s eyes and even experience the world — my world — through them.

For me, the best way I learned about voice was reading memoir. A memoir lives or dies based on the voice of the author. Many know I’m a fan of Marya Hornbacher, who wrote Madness and Wasted. I keep going back to those books not just because I find her stories comforting in an admittedly messed up way, but because I’ve learned so much about voice from her stories. When I read them, I’m sitting across from her.

As an editor, voice is one of the more difficult things to make suggestions about. At this point in my career, I can feel when an author is trying too hard or feel the distance in the formality of their prose. I can tell when it’s them speaking and not their character. But I can’t make the changes for the author. They have to take the advice I give them and wade into their story. They have to find the voice for themselves.

So how do we find our voice? Or how do we fix it?

Simple.

Sort of.

Your voice will come from embracing you. It’ll come from embracing your writing style and the characters you’ve created. Starting from diction — your vocabulary, the way you write — you need to embrace who you are, not who you want to be. You’re not J.K. Rowling or Cormac McCarthy, so don’t try to be.

We put so much stock in “being the next” instead of trying to forge our own paths. This ultimately holds us back as writers. So just be you. Let your characters speak. Listen to their voice instead of trying to mold it to fit someone else’s. And have a real understanding of who you target demographic is. If your character is six, sixteen, or fifty-six they should sound like that because your target demographic is going to be looking to connect with characters who sound like them.

Relax. Do your research. Read in your genre. And be you. That’s how you start finding your voice.

 

 

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Why do you need to read?

Writing advice is always subjective. It’ll depend on the person giving the advice and the experience they had. There are rules you should follow, but if you’re good enough you can get away with not following them. So people say write every day, some people say don’t push yourself. Some say you need to outline books before you write them while others say you need to let your characters lead your story. Honestly, any piece of advice needs to be held up against your current writing habits and whether or not you’re getting positive feedback.

Except for this: you must read in the genre you write in.

And not just books that were published years ago. You need to have a good handle at what books are being published now.

Part of this is for when you query. You need to be able to come up with comparative titles from within the past few years. This shows the agent or editor you’re querying that you understand what the market is for the genre you’re writing in and where your project fits into it. This also shows the agent or editor that you understand the genre that you’re writing in. You understand the voice needed to write young adult or middle grade. You understand what it takes to write literary fiction or the tropes accepted in romance.

The other part of the fact that you need to read in the genre you write in is that you actually need to understand your genre. I’ve seen many pieces where the author felt their book was one genre, but ended up belonging to a completely different genre. In my experience, not knowing how to write characters younger (or older) than ourselves is a big problem writers face.

“But I don’t have time to read!” – Anonymous writer

I’ve heard this excuse a lot. Not from any of my clients (because they are all amazing), but I’ve seen this on Twitter. I’ve heard this from writers who, like so many of us, don’t have sponsors and whose writing time is so incredibly limited. I get it. I really do. Making time to read is hard when you’re being pulled in a million different directions. You don’t want to let other people down and, yes, it’s possible that you feel actually writing is far more important than reading.

But it’s not.

Reading is part of the writing process. Not just reading your own work, or a critique partner’s. You need to read recently published books. You need to see what techniques authors are using, the way dialogue is handled, and even the way things like texting is handled. We’re living in a constantly changing world and the books we’re writing need to reflect that.

Of all of the things graduate school has taught me, learning  how to read as a writer has been the most useful. As a writer, you need to study new books and best sellers. Read reviews and talk to people about what worked for them in that book or what didn’t. But don’t forget to read for fun, too. Read to be inspired, to relax, to support a friend’s new release.

We (editors) don’t tell you to read in your genre to be mean. We don’t tell you this because we don’t think you know what you’re doing. We want you to succeed AND save time on having to re-edit your manuscript over and over, and save money on having to hire more editors to help you with your project. We want to save you from rejections.

So put reading in to your writing schedule. Make notes. Understand what works in your genre and what doesn’t. Figure out voice.

You’ll be amazed at how much your writing changes.

 

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#MondayBlogs: Patience in publishing and healing

Patience is something I’ve always had — or at least I’d like to think I’ve always had. Waiting has always been a part of my life. Waiting my turn, waiting for the bus, waiting to get home, waiting to hear back from colleges, waiting for grades… well, you get the picture. These are just micro details; the smaller parts that make up the bigger picture of waiting to figure out who I am and what, or who, I wanted to be. I just didn’t think that so much of following my dreams would include this much waiting.

If you come into publishing thinking that it’s a fast-paced industry, where you’ll sign your agent tomorrow and have a six-figure book deal by the end of the week you’re wrong. Not to say that this doesn’t happen, but it’s rare. It’s the exception. It’s the Cinderella stories that give us hope that we, too, can be the next Stephanie Meyer or E.L. James. I don’t bring up J.K. Rowling here because of the amount of waiting she did, of the amount of rejections she received. She just happened to make it big despite it all.

10409082_10204685365558106_3350743356138276695_nEven if you do get that book deal now, your book won’t actually come out until a year or two from now (at a minimum). This is just how things go. And it took me awhile to accept that, for being a New York-centric industry, it does not move at a New York pace. As a writer, this can be frustrating. And this same frustration has, instead of being focused on the waiting game of publishing, has been focused on how long it’s taking me to heal from my traumatic brain injury, or TBI.

When you query an agent in January, you’d hope to hear back (realistically) in six to eight weeks. Sometimes this takes even longer. Sometimes you never hear back. When I fell in January, I had expected to be back to normal in four weeks. But here it is now the end of July and, well, I’m still waiting.

11825670_10205009280015765_3786229445907326045_nAnd it’s hard to wait. It’s hard to sit have to have days where I’m completely tuned out from work and it’s hard to be completely honest on social media about how I’m feeling. I mean, how professional does it look when your potential editor tweets something like Too depressed to get out of bed today  or Even the Ritalin my psychiatrist prescribed cannot help me focus today.

The thing is, though, I have to be patient and I can’t push myself. I have to only take on as much work as I can handle without prolonging my healing time even further. If a press or agent told me it would be two years before I’d hear back from them, I’d seriously question their professionalism or ability to run a business. But I can’t do that with my neurologist. I can’t look at him, at one of the best neurologists in the area, and tell him that a two year recover time isn’t good enough. Especially when I continuously end up pushing myself in ways that prolong my recovery time.

It’s like when you query an agent, and then you send a follow-up which then puts you back at the bottom of their slush pile.

Advice for querying writers is to get busy with new projects to help them take their mind off of staring at their inbox. Advice for those dealing with post concussion syndrome or TBI’s is much different. We have to relax. Go slow. Be aware of what triggers our anxiety and other symptoms.

13342942_10206754742251230_3583614598801949968_nBut studies are showing that there are certain activities that do help brain injuries heal. There are things I can do that will help restore my balance, my concentration, and my motivation, beyond what I’m doing with physical therapy. As far back as the mid-1990’s, therapeutic horseback riding has been seen as helpful for those recovering from TBI’s. Although physical therapy co-pays have been eating into my riding lesson funds, horseback riding has helped immensely. Not only have I begun to restore my muscles, but it’s a workout I can handle without my symptoms getting worse. Plus there’s the added bonus of being around horses.

This weekend, however, I started a new aspect to my recovery. I started playing a video game. It’s not Pokemon Go (okay, I admit that is on my phone), but a game called Never Alone. The premise is pretty simple but I’m able to work on my coordination, problem solving skills, and helps me work on my inner-ear issues which have been causing massive dizziness when I try and read for prolonged periods of time.

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The point to all of this is that waiting is a part of life. It’s not one of the more fun parts, but there are things we can do to help making the waiting easier. We can rediscover how much we loved something that we used to do when we were younger. We can find the inspiration that helps us move on to another project. Or maybe, just maybe, we find that one reason that helps us get out of bed in the morning.

Whatever you’re waiting for, just remember that you’re not alone. No matter what happens, there are people in your life that love you and support you. Even if you’re like me and can’t remember someone’s cell phone number, what day of the week it is, or something that could’ve been said five minutes ago.

We’re all waiting for something to happen. We just have to keep living our lives despite the wait.

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#MondayBlogs: Finding Focus

Focus is something I had once, I think. I’m not sure how else I was able to work full time, plus part time, plus take classes full time, plus work an internship, plus write one book and edit another. There had to be some sort of magic that I was tapping into, some superpower.

And there was. It’s called denial.

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It’s not just denial in the sense that I was ignoring blatant facts. Well, not exactly. I was ignoring my own needs just because I was able to multi-task. I could work while binge-watching a show while working on discussion posts for school. I had social media platforms running all day. I read manuscripts in the tub. I was at the height of this multi-tasking process when I was living in Arizona. I was living in a familiar city, but didn’t know many people, and my husband and I only had one car. With his set work schedule (instead of the rotation he’s on now), I had a routine. I grocery shopped on the same day every week. After he left for work, I’d walk the dog along the edge of the alfalfa field that grew next to our development. When it wasn’t insanely hot, I’d sit by the pool to read (while still paying attention to Twitter). All of this felt perfect because I felt like I was finally, finally, in control of my life. There was order. I was working on making my dreams come true.

 

All of this made me think that I was doing what my body needed me to do. I was eating healthy, I was exercising, I was seeing plenty of sunshine, and I found the perfect doctor who helped me get my vitamin and thyroid levels straightened out. I was living in an apartment that felt like home because I picked the colors for the walls and I could afford to decorate it the way I wanted to.

But I was denying myself the rest, relaxation, and fun. I was able to make one writing group meeting and I left feeling amazing and inspired. I barely saw the friends I do have in Phoenix, but when we did we were checking out local breweries — something I really love doing. Something I don’t do now that I’m back in Buffalo. Something I didn’t do when I lived in Buffalo before.

The thing is, I worked the way I did when I lived in Arizona before I moved across the country. I’d been working full-time, whether through one actual full-time job or through multiple part-time jobs, since I was a freshman in undergrad. I was focused: I had bills to pay and I wasn’t going to let things get in the way of that. I lost friends; friends who didn’t understand that when I said I didn’t have free time, I meant it.

11951952_10205116461175227_1018979658808439871_nThat’s how it is now. At least, that’s what I’ve convinced myself. Now that I’m back to functioning on a semi-normal level after my TBI, I want to deny myself relaxation. Self-care. Having fun. I feel like I need to make up for the past seven months of not being able to make deadlines, of taking classes, of relaxing. I need to focus on re-establishing my old work routine that includes taking on as much as possible.

But I need to deny myself that life again.

I want to focus on my career and work as much as possible. I want to focus on making my life everything I ever dreamed it would be. But that’s not what I need to focus on.

What I need to focus on is making sure I can keep working. That this burnout I feel after working hard three days in a row doesn’t last longer than one day. I also need to focus on not being mad at myself, or feeling guilty, if I need to take an extra day for myself. I need to focus on me, on what makes me happy outside of work.

I need to focus on figuring out who I am as an adult who doesn’t need to be working eighty hour weeks. On finding out what I love about Buffalo again. On setting up my house in a way that feels like mine.

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#FridayReads: Research for my new book

I’ve been tweeting very quietly the past few nights about the new book project I’ve been working on. This has been a book idea that I’ve been kicking around for a little while now. An early draft of the opening was even used as my final fiction project for undergrad (and was ultimately the project idea that helped get me into Goddard). So how does this whole starting a new project thing work for me, anyway? Well, you can have the girl take a break from her MFA program, but you really can’t take her out of the MFA way of doing things.

Seriousness aside, I even have a Pinterest board for Hallucinogen.

This week’s #FridayReads is a list I’ve complied to help me research this new project. I tackle some big, dark issues–things I haven’t experienced personally but know that this is a story that needs to be told. The following list is incomplete and, for me, too heavy on some subjects and not focused on what I need to make authentic characters. This is the real problem when it comes to writing outside our comfort zones, outside of our own experiences: becoming authentic.

To combat this, I’ve added the following memoirs to me reading list:

  • In My Skin by Kate Holden
  • Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Sofran Foer
  • How to Stop Time: Heroin from A – Z by Ann Marlow

Since my writing so is so character driven, memoirs are always my go-to for understanding experiences outside my own. Not only do I get to digest the experiences of these memoirists, but I also get to learn from their voices and the way they tell their stories.

But memoir is only going to help with one aspect of this project. For the rest, I’ve put together a smattering of literary fiction, dystopian, and young adult novels as a jump off point for inspiration, as a way to learn new techniques, and insight into what has already been done before. The positive of never shutting off an editor brain is the comparison between what was done and what could’ve been done better is always there. I’ll be learning from:

  • Smack by Melvin Burgess
  • Zero K by Don De Lillo
  • Barkskins by Annie Proulx
  • The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall
  • The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
  • The Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi
  • Candy by Luke Davies

Even though I’ve started to outline the manuscript and even started to write the first draft, these books are still going to be important to read. The first draft is always, always for the writer. As I work my way through this reading list I can make notes for myself on ways to improve scenes, on ways to change things around, or even add in new scenes when I go back to edit.

Doing research is such an important part of pre-writing that I rarely hear authors talk about. Even when we’re writing what we know, it’s important to hear opposing opinions or even see the topic from a different perspective. Otherwise, how are we going to be able to truly write fiction (instead of a semi-fictions novel that’s mostly just our memoir)? How are we going to write actual truths, instead of our own truths?

Research your books before you write them, writer friends. Read broadly and deeply. Read outside your genre and inside your genre. Read nonfiction. Understand who your characters are and who they aren’t. Understand exactly what your book is about and become an expert on the subject.

Learning is never, and should never be, over for writers.

What other pre-writing steps do you take before you start new projects, if any? If you don’t take any pre-writing steps, why not?

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An Army of Specialists

I’m not sure what I expected my late twenties to look like, but I don’t think this would’ve been it. Ten years ago I was going to be a Communications major and get into journalism–or something. I knew that Communications was a marketable degree, which meant I had a good chance at getting a job out of college. I was supposed to graduate with my B.A. in 2011. After that, my options were limitless. I could get into politics, I could stay local, I could move away. At 17, I really believed that the world was my oyster (and every other cliche in the book). But that’s what my high shool inspired me to believe. That we, women, could do anything we wanted because we had four years of rigorous college prep to back it up.

But college didn’t go as planned. I got married before I even graduated. I ended up getting a degree in Creative Writing even though I hadn’t convinced myself that I’d end up using it. The B.A. was meant to be a stepping stone to the MFA, where I’d zip through and get a degree that would get me a job on the university level.

Fast-forward to today. I still don’t have my MFA, but I’m close. I’m a Publishing Director at an amazing small press. I’m a freelance editor. I’m a (published) freelance writing and a published author.

It’s the fact that I haven’t finished my MFA that’s bothering me. The fact that I’m currently on a break from school that has made me second guess every accomplishment. I had a

I had a six-week follow-up with my neurologist today. We made appointments for physical therapy and cognitive remediation therapy. So in a matter of fifteen minutes, the amount of specialists I was working with doubled. It’s a slow process that may take even longer now–two years, instead of one–even with the added therapy. Progress is going to be made. I just need to have patience.

It’s like me with horseback riding and learning dressage. I’m retraining my body, the way I think, the way I move, so I can be mentally and physically strong. So I can control a 1200 lb animal. So I can not fall off again. But I can’t be down on myself when I have a bad lesson and I can’t expect to be the same rider I was a few years ago. That doesn’t mean that I’m a worse rider, or that I’m back to square one. It just means things are different now.

At this point, I don’t know if finishing my MFA is going to be possible. But that doesn’t mean I can’t keep learning, growing–becoming a better writer and editor. I just need to find specialists to help me in the areas that I’m weak in. Specialists who I can reach out to when I start going down the wrong path, or who can help me with specific problems with my writing. Weak secondary characters, for example. Or creating deeper scenes and character conflict. With editing, it’s learning more about all of the genres (which means reading more widely) and staying on top of industry standards and market trends.

In the meantime, I’m writing everything down. I’m updating my to-do list every week. I’m sending out e-mails when I can’t make deadlines and setting realistic deadlines for myself with new clients. I’m taking notes as I read through manuscripts and doing multiple read-throughs. I’m taking my time. I’m learning to be patient with myself so I can be one of many specialists for my clients.

But none of this is going to be easy.