Three Questions Your Editor Will Ask You

A lot of people think that when they contact an editor, the editor will just give them a price right away, correct spelling and grammar and hand the manuscript back, and that will be the sum total of the editor’s involvement. But your book is precious, and you need an editor who will also see your book as precious and will do it justice. This is what editors want to achieve for their clients.

To make sure they can achieve that goal, editors will ask you a number of questions to see if their skills and expertise fit well with the book you’re writing. These questions will guide you on how the editing process works, so you’ll get a greater insight into what an editor can do for you.

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Editors ask questions to make sure they’re the right fit for you.

Here are three of the questions that an editor will ask you to help you decide if they’re the right fit for you.

What type of editing are you looking for?

Editing is about more than spelling and grammar. It’s about making language and structural changes that will help your book become the best book it can be. Editors will ask you whether you’re simply looking for spelling and grammar changes (proofreading) or whether you’d like more help. Editors can also help you to structure your sentences more effectively and check any facts you mention for accuracy. This is called copy-editing. They can also go even deeper and give you a chapter-by-chapter analysis of your story structure, giving you feedback on your plot, character, setting, point of view and overall language use. This is called developmental editing.

What genre are you writing in?

It could be argued that the principles of all stories and the skills required to edit them are the same, so in theory, an editor could edit any type of book. But to really bring out the best in your story, you’ll need an editor who understands the rules of your genre and adheres to the rules of that genre. For example, if you’re writing historical non-fiction, you would need an editor who is experienced at checking references and checking the formatting of a bibliography.

How far along are you with the book?

This is another way for an editor to determine how much editing will need to be done on your book. If you’re just finished your first draft, you would need fairly extensive editing advice, a developmental edit or an in-depth critique. The editor may even feel that it’s too soon for you to hire an editor, and you need to develop the story more yourself first, so the editor won’t have too much influence on its structure. If you’ve done all the drafts you can, but still need more work, a copy edit might be helpful. And if your book has already been professionally edited and is on its final draft before being published, a proofread may be all that’s needed.

If you’ve hired an editor, what questions have they asked you? And what questions have you asked them?

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My Big Fat Sightless Writing Project

Followers of this blog may vaguely remember that in recent years, I’ve given a number of workshops for service users at the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) in Dublin, Ireland, which supports people with sight loss throughout Ireland. Stuart Lawler, who runs its training centre, has been of great help in getting these workshops off the ground, and by and large, the take-up has been enthusiastic.

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How visually impaired people write. Photo source: NCBI Website.

But now I feel it’s time to take all this good work and good will and expand it into something bigger. I want the participants to feel that they have something to show for their efforts, and I hope the process will bring them a lot of personal satisfaction.

The idea I had was for a series of recordings of people’s writing, mixed with music. There’s an Irish radio programme called Sunday Miscellany, which features reflective writings based on people’s memories, especially if they tie in with significant historic events. These are interspersed with pieces of music that match the mood of the piece. From working with groups over the past two years, I’ve noticed a great interest in writing about real life and recording experiences. Many of the members also have a great interest in radio. So a Sunday-Miscellany-style radio programme would be a good fit for the group. And as broadcasting is deemed to be publishing, the participants can be proud to call themselves published authors.

Building Confidence

For logistical reasons, it will be some time before the project happens, and Stuart and I will be using the time to build people’s confidence and build up enthusiasm for the project. The thought of producing a piece that’s good enough for publication/recording may be a daunting prospect to someone who hasn’t done much writing, so we’ll run a few writing workshops before the project to help people overcome those hurdles.

The next workshop is on 18 February and I hope I’ll see familiar faces at it. The project will have a greater chance of success if there’s a core group who’ll commit to it. The workshops will help people the skills they need to take part in the project and take them step by step through the process of creating a short memoir piece.

Conceptualising Work

When the project gets underway, the participants will do more workshops, but this time, the emphasis will on getting participants over the line and helping them produce a polished piece of writing. We’ll rope in other writers who have experience of writing for radio. To give people a sense of the sort of language and writing style that comes across well on radio. Many arts facilitators conceptualise the work through group discussion and prompts. This will be more of an individual process, as participants will have strong ideas of their own. But they will give each other feedback, which will help people identify ways of improving their pieces that they mightn’t have spotted on their own.

Recording the Work

After the workshops, it will be time for the participants to record their pieces. This will be the most nerve-wracking part of the process. Most people feel extremely uncomfortable at the sound of their own voice. To get around this, we’ll have a rehearsed reading or two, to get people used to the studio and familiar with the recording process. This will hopefully remove the fear factor in time for the final recording. We haven’t decided yet what will happen to the final recording. It may be broadcast in front of a live audience of family and friends, or be aired on a local radio station as part of its programme schedule.

Funding and Collaboration

Stuart Lawler has been talking to a local community radio station and to a disability arts organisation about what form the project will take. I’ll be updating you on how these discussions evolve, and I’ll be taking part in them at a later stage. But we hope that the radio station will broadcast the programme and provide support in helping people write for radio, and that the arts and disability organisation will fund the project. Whatever happens, NCBI and myself are committed to ensuring that this project will see the light of day.

Have you ever facilitated a project for people with disabilities or other minority groups? How did you secure funding and what did you do to keep the participants motivated right to the end?

Want to Write About Your Life?

When I tell people I give creative writing classes, one of the most frequent comments I get is. “Really? I’ve always wanted to write my life story.” There is a great hunger in people to set their experiences down on paper and record their lives for themselves, for their children and for the wider world. That’s why when I was submitting a proposal for my next creative writing workshop in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, I chose to deliver a memoir-writing workshop Write About Your Life.

The goal of the workshop will be to help people put a shape on the stories they want to tell. Writing about your life can be overwhelming. How do you sift through a lifetime of memories and pick out the most important one? The workshop will help people create a filter for those memories and focus on specific ones. A lot of the techniques of fiction work well in memoir-writing, so people will learn how to use plot, character and setting to bring their memories to life.

Here’s a flavour of the activities the participants will be doing in the workshop.

Writing About Characters

All of our lives are shaped by the people around us, for better or worse. Those people are usually our family, but they can be friends, teachers or local community figures as well. People will write a character sketch about a person who meant a lot to them, and do other activities that will help them get to know their characters better and bring them to life. They’ll also explore the connections between themselves and the people in their lives by drawing up their family tree.

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Exploring our connections with the people in our lives

Writing About Place

People have a huge attachment to the places where they grew up, even if their relationship with that place is sometimes troubling. The aim of the activities connected to setting will be to help participants see the places in their lives with new eyes and find the extraordinary within the ordinary. Participants will write about rooms in their homes that they have a deep attachment to, such as the kitchen or bedroom. They’ll also imagine that they’re aliens who have just landed in front of their childhood home. To the alien, this will be a strange sight, and they will write a report about what they see and hear to send to the mothership.

Writing About Events

Our lives may not make the news, but they’re still full of events that provide rich materials for stories. Some are life-changing; others are small yet significant. Participants will write about events in their life as if they were news, which will give them a sense of the power of their own story. They’ll also do activities that will show them how interactions between themselves and the other people in their lives can form the basis for stories.

How have you approached writing about your own life? Have you used time period or theme as a basis for it? If you’re a creative writing tutor, what activities do you do to help people shape their stories?

Three Differences Between US and UK English

Anyone who knows me knows I’m rather fond of Americanisms. But I’m also a fierce advocate for speaking and writing in the brand of English you grew up with. I fight hard to prevent Americanisms from cropping up in my speech and make sure I spell words the UK/Irish way. When I see my fellow Irish citizens, or British people, using American English, a very small part of me dies.

There’s always been a bit of friendly rivalry between speakers of US and UK English. American writers may argue that their spellings are simpler and hark back to an older, purer form of English. Writers in UK English may counter-argue that American spelling is dumbed down, or that their words are more authentic. In reality, neither is right or wrong. They’re just different, and different in many subtle ways that go beyond the question of colour/color.

Here are three of the main differences.

How Words Are Spelt (or spelled in US English!)

This is the most obvious one. In US English, words are often written the way they’re pronounced, whereas UK English may add or change. At night, a British person may wear pyjamas, while an American wears pajamas. A British sceptic becomes a US skeptic. US English tends to swap double letter ms or ls for single ones. Therefore, a British jeweller becomes a US jeweler, and a TV programme on the BBC would be described as a TV program if it is exported to the US.

How Sentences Are Punctuated

The debate continues to rage over the Oxford comma. Despite its name, this comma is favoured by American writers. This is the comma that appears before “and” in a list. So American writers would say, “For Christmas, I got chocolates, flowers, and a brand new TV. British writers would leave out the comma before and. Another significant difference in punctuation styles relates to quotation marks. In American books, double quotation marks (“”) are used to denote dialogue, and single quotation marks (‘’) are used for quotes within a sentence. It’s the exact opposite for UK English.

Vocabulary Quirks

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Difference between US and UK English bring richness to language.

Some words in US and UK English are very different from each other. This distinction is most obvious in the names of certain vegetables. In US English, an aubergine becomes an eggplant, a courgette becomes a zucchini and a beetroot becomes a rutabaga. Also, US English often uses older forms of English words such as, “I had gotten” instead of “I had got,” or describing graduates as alumni. Some words appear to be the same, but have very different meanings. A biscuit in UK English is a sweet treat, but to an American, it’s a type of savoury scone, often eaten at breakfast.

So as you can see, the differences between the two are vast, so vast that editors will specify to their clients whether they can offer editing in UK or US English, to ensure that the manuscript remains true to the chosen language. Because in the end, it’s up to you which version of English you choose. Neither are right or wrong; they are just gloriously different. The important thing is to understand the rules of the version you choose, and use it consistently in your writing.

Have you got an opinion on US or UK English? If you are in the UK or Ireland, do you find that there are sound professional reasons for using US English, or vice versa?

My Upcoming Writerly Year

A new year, a new start. Even the most cynical soul can’t help but be seduced by the thought that 1 January means a new beginning. It’s a cliché at this stage that a new year goes hand in hand with new year’s resolutions, but I’m allowing myself to be seduced, and I’ve put together some writerly resolutions for the year ahead. Some are personal, and may be revealed in due course once there’s something to reveal. But for the moment, I’m going to concentrate on my goals for the three main writing-related services I offer.

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What are my writerly goals for the year?

Creative Writing Workshops

I’m hoping this will be a packed year for writing workshops for adults and children. I’m relaunching my children’s writing camps for Easter and summer, which will be for 8-12 year olds. I also want to give more memoir workshops and am scheduled to give one for eight weeks in Dungarvan starting in February. I’m also gunning hard to get funding for workshops for people with disabilities, in particular with the National Council for the Blind in Dublin. We’re planning to apply for funding from Arts and Disability Ireland and by the end of the year, we’ll know whether we’ve succeeded.

Content Writing

Towards the end of last year, I noticed that businesses were starting to contact me again about writing content for them. I see this as a sign of economic recovery and will be looking to write more content for small businesses, and possibly on an outsourced basis for larger companies which specialise in marketing. I’m particularly interested in helping businesses develop an overall strategy for their content, which will give them the tools to create their own content.

Editing

I’ve done some proofreading and copy editing courses, and this year, I want to put the skills I’ve learned on those into practise. But I believe I can be of most help to people in the area of developmental editing: in other words, helping them with the overall structure of their stories. A lot of the work I have done has naturally fallen into that category, and it’s a privilege to help people bring their stories to the next level.

What are your writerly resolutions for 2017? Are you going to finish that novel or develop a new service? Or are you simply going to write on? Whatever you do, best of luck to you all and a happy, writerly New Year.