Tag Archives: editing

Sometimes Rewriting Our Old Work Isn’t Worthwhile

The amount of time required to rework a piece is often too great, and it’s best to let it go.

Sometimes Rewriting Our Old Work Isn’t Worthwhile

I once read the debut novel by a YA author. I was quite taken by it. I loved her humor and writing style. I wanted more, but since it was her first published novel I would need to wait.

I later learned something surprising: she had written five other novels, all unpublished. True, few novelists land a publishing deal on their first novel. Or their second or they’re third. I understand it typically takes four or five before they find their voice and hone their craft. I heard of another author who wrote nine novels before he sold one.

Since I don’t write novels (yet), I wondered why authors give up on their initial attempts. Just fix the flaws in their back material, and it’s good to go. However, this may be naive thinking.

I recently pulled out a short story I wrote several decades ago. It is the oldest one that I still have. I read it. The premise was good. I grabbed readers with the opening, surprised them at the end, and had an interesting arc in the between part. All it needed was a simple edit to incorporate what I now know.

It wasn’t that simple.

First, I had written it in third-person omniscient. This was fine in 1977 but not acceptable for today’s market. Publishing’s gatekeepers now deem head-hopping verboten. I picked a point-of-view (POV) character, the mom, which required I rewrite all the scenes that included the dad’s, daughter’s, and boyfriend’s thoughts; this accounted for most of the story. Plus it took too many false starts to home in on the right POV character. Third-person omniscient writing is no longer acceptable. Click To Tweet

Next, my narrator’s voice was a juvenile’s, which makes sense because I was a teenager when I wrote it. I needed to update that as well. Last was a pleasant reality that I’m a much better writer now and had scores of novice errors to fix.

After several rewrites and the investment of too much time, my once unacceptable short story was now acceptable: good but not great. An editor told me as much in his rejection email when I submitted it for publication.

I suspect I spent four times the work trying to fix this old short story as I would have spent writing and polishing a new one. I should have thrown it away and focused on new material.

Now I understand why some first novels aren’t worth the effort to fix.

What is your experience trying to breathe new life into old work? Do you have a first novel that isn’t worth fixing?

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Is Your First Draft Too Long or Too Short?

Some authors write too much and need to delete; others don’t write enough and must add

Is Your First Draft Too Long or Too Short?

Do you write long or short? Some writers produce long first drafts and then shorten them – sometimes a great deal – as they edit. Others write shorter first drafts and then add to them – sometimes a lot – as they work on revisions. Which camp are you in?

Write Long; Edit Later: Some writers produce long first drafts. Then they remove the parts that don’t fit or edit it down to hit a target word count. I suspect discovery writers (those who “discover” what comes next as they write) or those who write fast tend to fit in this category.

I try not to do this. It pains me whenever I need to cut something from my work. If you do cut a section, a chapter, a scene, or a character, always save what you remove; it could come in handy later – especially if you need to put it back.

Writing long feels unproductive to me. Writers who do this spend more time writing their first draft and more time editing it later. That’s why I try to avoid writing long. This is why I plan before I write.Do you write too long, too short, or just right? Does it matter as long as the result is good? Click To Tweet

Write Short; Add Later: The opposite is writers who write a short first draft and then expand on it as they edit. They insert scenes, characters, sections, or points. Sometimes this is to round out the text. Other times it is to hit a minimum word length.

I needed to do this once. After including all the information I was provided for a ghostwriting assignment, I was 10,000 words short. I added paragraphs, lengthened sentences, and inserted words. The result was longer but I fear not much better. This arduous task drained me, as well as taking up a lot of time.

For another book, my dissertation, it seemed everything I added messed up the flow of what came next. So each thought I inserted caused me more work with the following text, requiring even more rewriting. That wasn’t fun either.

Just Right: My goal is to write the right length in my first draft. That’s a big reason why I outline, either on the page or in my head. This saves me the pain of cutting and the agony of adding.

Usually, I come close to meeting this goal. But not in this post. I just deleted 225 words because it was running long, but I saved them to use in a future post. So it’s all good.

Do you write long or short? Would you rather add or delete as you fine-tune your work? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

How to Make Your Writing Easier to Read

The Hemingway Editor guides authors in improving readability

How to Make Your Writing Easier to Read

A friend recently turned me on to the Hemingway Editor, a nifty online tool to assist writers in improving our work. The website says, “Hemingway makes your writing bold and clear. It’s like a spellchecker, but for style. It makes sure that your reader will focus on your message, not your prose.”

It’s simple to use. Go to the website and paste some writing into the text window. The software analyzes the writing and reports on what it finds:

Grade Level: The Hemingway Editor uses a standard readability algorithm to assess the U.S. grade level. It goes as low as a fifth grade and says the average American reads at grade ten.

Stats: Hemingway reports on the number of paragraphs, sentences, words, and characters, as well as the time it takes to read the text.

The Number of Hard Sentences: Each sentence that is hard to read is highlighted in tan.

The number of Very Hard Sentences: More critical than hard to read sentences are very hard sentences, which are color-coded as reddish-brown.

Phrases with Simpler Alternatives: I often type “implement” when “use” is a better choice. Hemmingway points these out in violet. Hover over the violet word or phrase and Hemmingway will show you the preferred alternative.

Number of Adverbs: While we don’t need to remove all adverbs, Hemmingway will point them all out and tell us the maximum acceptable number for our piece. Adverbs are in light blue.

The number of Passive Sentences: Once the king of passive sentences, I trained myself away from them. Still, they pop up and Hemmingway points out the passive voice in pale green horror.

The Hemmingway Editor is a quick, easy, and fun way to improve writing readability. Click To Tweet

Armed with this color-coded input it is easy to visually see where to make changes to increase our work’s readability. The adverbs and simpler alternatives are quick to fix. In general, the hard and very hard sentences are correctable by rewriting complex and compound sentences into shorter, simpler sentences. That leaves a passive voice, which takes some practice to reword. The good news is that having some adverbs and passive sentences are okay.

We can edit in the Hemmingway window, which updates its analysis in real-time. As we make changes, the grade level decreases, meaning the piece is more readable. Also, the various highlighted colors disappear. While editing it to become colorless may make for rather bland, fifth grade-level reading, less color is preferred.

Using the Hemmingway Editor is a quick, easy, and fun way to improve our writing readability.

The Hemmingway Editor results for the above text are:

  • Grade Level: 8
  • Stats: 14 paragraphs, 31 sentences, and 426 words. The reading time is 1:42.
  • Hard Sentences: 7
  • Very Hard Sentences: 3
  • Phrases with Simpler Alternatives: 5
  • Adverbs: 1
  • Passive Voice: 2, having 6 is acceptable

I’m tempted to edit this post in Hemmingway to make it more readable, but I think I’ll leave it as is so you can see the unedited version.

What is your experience with the Hemmingway Editor? What other online writing tools have you used? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Use the Right Editor for Your Book

Following every suggestion from the wrong editor leads to wrong results

Use the Right Editor for Your Book

In my work as a magazine publisher I learned early on that I needed an editor. After a couple of issues with embarrassing mistakes, I realized I would never catch all the errors myself.

I hired someone to edit the articles before the printing press permanently immortalized them. For a while, I dual-sourced this, but eventually, I picked one; she has been working with me for about fifteen years. (By the way, we’ve never met; we do all our work via email.)

She does a combination of proofreading and copy-editing, with the overarching goal of producing a professional result. I’ve also had her work on a couple of books but not all of them. Sometimes I need help from someone with a different skill set, such as in making my dissertation comply with a complicated set of formatting requirements.

A few years ago I showed an agent a finished memoir. He liked the concept but said it needed more work. He referred me to a book doctor to advise me in adding more zing.

I liked the guy, but he was expensive. After an hour or so of interaction, I realized we would quickly grow frustrated with each other: him pushing me to make changes I didn’t feel right about and me resisting most of his recommendations. I suggested we not continue. He agreed.

The agent was surprised (perhaps frustrated) at my decision to fire his recommended editor, but he referred me to another fixer. Her rates were much less – about one fifth the price. I eagerly accepted some of her suggestions but struggled mightily to implement others. Though her vision for the final product was different from mine, I pushed through to make every change possible. I assumed that once done, the agent would like the results and agree to represent me. Though he still affirmed the idea, the execution, he felt, fell short. He declined to take me on as a client.The most important factor when seeking an editor for our work is finding someone we trust Click To Tweet

I still hope to publish this book, but before I do, it needs more work. About half of the second editor’s suggestions improved my book, while the other half moved it away from my target audience. I will need to remove some of these things she pushed me to include before I can move forward.

Over the years I’ve worked with other editors on books and projects, but for various reasons, we never clicked: the cost, the turnaround time, their mindset, the manner in which they present recommendations or the value of the feedback provided.

When working with an editor we need to find the right one for our project, our audience, and us. We need to learn when to implement their recommendations and when to decline. And we must respect their opinions on things we don’t understand. Mostly we need someone we trust, just as I trust my magazine’s copy-editor.

What is your experience working with editors? What qualities do you look for? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

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Let’s Make the New Year Your Best Year Yet

In this blog we talk about writing books, producing books, and marketing books. Successful writers must do all three. Neglect one element and your book will fail to meet your expectations and reach its full potential.

Let’s Make the New Year Your Best Year Yet

Even if you find a traditional publisher they will only handle the second requirement: publishing your book. Unless you are an A-list author they will do little marketing for you and expect you to put forth most of the effort.

And if you self-publish you must master all three: write a great book, produce an excellent product, and sell it effectively. Few authors naturally excel at all three. These are learned skills.

What do you shine at? What do you struggle with? Look at your weak area and commit to improving it this year.

The first step is writing a great book. Without compelling words, the rest doesn’t matter. Not really.

However, writing a great book is just the first step. Next is producing it. This includes careful editing by skilled editors and a professional cover by an experienced designer. I’ve seen otherwise good books fail because of sloppy editing or an amateur cover.

Last, and perhaps most critical, is telling others about your book. We call this marketing. And though some artists think of marketing as the dark side of their craft, it is essential if you want to make money from your book and put food on the table.

Marketing starts with a great website, an email list, and an engaged social media following. Then there are ads, promotions, and pricing strategies.

Whether it’s writing, producing, or marketing, look to round out your skillset for this year and make it your best year ever.

Where are you at in the book publishing process? What will you do this year to shore up your weak area? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. Learn the 3 steps to successfully publish a book. Click To Tweet

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

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How Many Words Do You Write Per Hour?

Do you know how many words you typically write per hour? Do you know how long you can sustain that rate? This is a critical number to know when estimating how long a project will take. We need this for meeting deadlines and for quoting projects. Without having a firm grasp of our typical writing speed and sustainability we run the risk of not meeting deadlines or of underquoting projects. No one wants to turn in a project late or end up working for next to nothing.

How Many Words Do You Write Per Hour?

But what we shouldn’t do is compare our writing speed with others. If we write more than most people, then we may feel pride or look down on them; if we write less than others, then we might feel discouraged, assume there is something wrong with us, or even try to change our writing process to write faster than we should. None of these are good outcomes.

Also, we need to realize that our writing speed is for our first draft, which will require additional work, such as re-writing, editing, and proofreading. Some people who can crank out high word counts on the first draft often spend much more time bringing their work to its final form. Conversely, other people with slower writing speeds often have much less work to do afterward.

We need to know how fast we can write, how long we can keep up that pace, and how much more work is required to polish it to final form.

I’ve talked to writers who write about 100 words per hour. On the other end, I have heard of writers pushing two thousand. But people seldom share with me how much time they spend later on to bring these words to their final form.

On most projects I write in the neighborhood of four to five hundred words an hour, though it occasionally goes higher, approaching one thousand; my record is 1,750, though I’m not sure how I pulled that off. I also know my second hour is often more productive than my first, which is an important reason to set aside a block of time to write. I also know I can keep up this pace all morning, providing I take periodic breaks.

My “first draft” is in decent shape and seldom requires re-writing, so I just need to polish and proof the results, which takes 15 to 25 percent additional time. (Remember that I mostly write nonfiction.)We need to know how fast we can write and how long we can keep up that pace. Click To Tweet

Though I don’t like working on the same project for more than four or five hours, I often switch to something else in the afternoon, which seems to reset my mental focus and I’m off again. In the morning I can consistently produce two thousand words or more, assuming I don’t need to do too much research or fact-checking. When I write in the afternoon, it’s always smaller projects, such as articles or content marketing. In this way, I can hit up to four thousand words a day (my personal record) if I need to, but that doesn’t leave much time for anything else.

Armed with this information, I’m now able to set realistic writing deadlines and hit them. I’m also able to give reasonable quotes for contract work. And it only took me about five years to get to this point and figure these things out.

Do you know enough about your writing to set realistic goals? What things affect your speed and productivity? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Ramping Up Our Writing

I just began writing a book, an 85,000-word book. It needs to be finished by the end of November. That’s a lot of words in a short amount of time.

I made a schedule. I will write Monday through Friday and edit on Saturday. With a few exceptions, I need to write 1,750 words a day to make this work. So far, so good.

Ramping Up Our Writing

If I had been faced with this project five years ago, I would have laughed at how unrealistic that would have been for me to do. I would have turned it down without hesitating. But now this seems feasible; it is realistic that I can write that many words a day. The only question is: How well will I fair at keeping this pace up every day until after Thanksgiving? Again, so far so good.

What has changed between five years ago and now? Quite simply, I have ramped up my writing.

I went from haphazard blogging to blogging regularly. I then moved from blogging regularly to writing every day, if only for a few minutes. Next, I upped the goal to write for one hour each weekday. Then I added Saturdays and later Sundays, too. Writing for an hour every day, eventually became two.

More recently I changed the goal to write at least a thousand words each weekday, and then I began adding additional time to write more. I wondered if I could devote my entire morning to writing and handle my job in the afternoons. It looks like I can.

Along the way, I have found my writing voice, learned so much about the art and craft, and have improved. Yes, I have written other books, but this is my first with such an aggressive deadline.

Fortunately, I have been in training for five years. I am ready for the challenge.

Each writer has a different path, a different situation, and a different schedule. You are likely at a different point in your writing. Don’t compare yourself to me. Whether you are ahead of me or behind, comparison accomplishes nothing good. Only compare yourself to you. Strive to write, to learn, and to improve. Then you will be ready when the opportunity comes to you.Don't compare yourself to others. Only #compare yourself to you. Click To Tweet

What are you doing to ramp up your writing? What are your experiences with deadlines? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

What Was Your Week Like?

Regular readers of this blog know that I write every day. Another goal I have is to spend weekday mornings writing and afternoons working (which involves some more writing). I seldom realize that goal, but I am moving in that direction. Then in the evenings, when my schedule permits, I work on my platform. Again, this goal is only somewhat realized.

What Was Your Week Like?

This week was a whirl of activity. Here’s what I remember:

  • I write blog posts on weekends but had one unfinished. I wrapped that up first thing Monday morning.
  • I’m working on a book proposal that an acquisitions editor asked for. I hoped to complete another section of it on Friday, but I didn’t so I finished that section (with two more to go).
  • I had talked with a literary agent about a couple of book ideas. Inspiration hit, so I wrote the opening chapter for one of them.
  • I think I spent the afternoon following up on emails for work.
  • That night I listened to some platform building podcasts, adding more items to my to-do-list.
  • On Tuesday, I wrote a chapter in another book about the church we visited on Sunday. I needed to capture my thoughts quickly before the details faded.
  • I tried unsuccessfully to connect with a writers group before lunch. Since that didn’t work out, I went to a different one in the evening.
  • Work that afternoon was a blur, but I begin working on a freelance project for three blog posts.
  • Wednesday, I made edits to the piece I shared at my critique group the night before.
  • I went to edit the piece I wrote on Tuesday but realized I hadn’t edited the prior 12,000 words. Major distraction.
  • In the afternoon I worked on TAStrader that will go out next week. Now I just need to write my column for it.
  • I reviewed cover options for another book. Both are great; now I need to pick one.
  • I finished my freelance project and sent it out. Then I charged the client’s credit card. Both are great feelings.
  • The evening brought more platform work – and another item on my to-do-list.
  • Thursday I came up with the concept for the other book the agent and I had discussed. I outlined it before I forgot. I’m itching to start writing, but that will need to wait.
  • Then I finished editing the 12,000 unedited words I discovered on Wednesday.
  • Next, I made a final edit to another book. (A book is never done, but this one is now on hold for a while).
  • Email at work stacked up, and I whittled that down to a manageable level.
  • I sent out my writer’s newsletter (WriteOn!). It only takes about an hour to do, but it also takes an hour to do.
  • I worked on something Friday morning, but I already forgot what. I’m behind at work and cut writing short to start work early.
  • In the afternoon I edited some submissions for the next issue of Connections Magazine. One article came in at 1,200 words, and it was supposed to be 750. I knew I could edit it down to hit the needed length, but that took time.
  • I ended the week finishing another freelance project and charging the client. Plus the words were really good ones. Triple bonus.

I never did get back to my book proposal, and I’ve not started my newsletter column (but I do know the topic). I have a nagging feeling I have something else, but right now I can’t recall what. In the midst of this week, I had a near meltdown and a couple of times of overwhelmed lethargy-producing frustration.

I don’t share my week to complain or to boast.
I’m happy I have work to do, am overflowing with ideas, and have an agent and editor interested in my work. It is good, so very good. But the multitude of projects and ever-present distractions are insane. Sustained focus is elusive. It’s not manageable. I need to cut something out. Change starts today.

My purpose in writing this is simple: Be sure to guard your writing.

Is your writing schedule out of control, barely starting, or just right? What steps do you need to take to make things manageable? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

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Don’t Expect an Editor to Do Your Job

As a magazine publisher, I edit every submission I receive. Yes, every single one. (And then a proofreader fixes everything I miss.) Though some submissions are in much better shape than others, each one receives some changes. In fifteen years, I’ve never ever accepted a submission without making at least a few edits.

I may need to shorten a piece to meet space requirements. Or I may need to fix issues with the writing itself, such as using complete sentences, ensuring a consistent tense or perspective, fixing punctuation, and so forth. I may need to remove self-promotion, something that is unprofessional and that we prohibit. Other times I need to correct sections that readers will likely misunderstand. Occasionally, I need to remove something that will offend our audience.

Whatever the reason for the edits, I keep two things in mind: I don’t want to embarrass the writer, and I don’t want to change his or her voice. Most editors have a similar perspective: they have the writer’s best interest in mind.

Given that, some writers may wonder: If it’s going to be edited anyway, why should I submit my best work?

Submitting your best writing results in less work for the editor and earns you their respect. Your future submissions will be anticipated, more likely to be accepted, and may even be published sooner.

Submitting sloppy work has the opposite effect. The editor groans when your email arrives, puts off reading it, and is more likely to reject it. Don’t earn that reputation. This applies to both article and book submissions.

I have several writers who submit content on a regular basis. For some, each piece is well written and professional. For others, I see their quality slide over time, often degrading to a point where I think I’m reading their first draft; they didn’t even bother to proofread it. Maybe they’ve become complacent or perhaps they figure that since it’s going to be edited anyway, why bother?

Don’t be that writer.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Editing is Writing, Too

Since the new year, I’ve written early in the morning, every day, usually for an hour or two. Aside from my blog posts (which I write on the weekends) and work articles (which I write during the day), my total writing output for the year stands at far less than 1,000 words.

What have I been doing? Why don’t I have anything tangible to show for my efforts?

The answer is simple, I’ve been editing. Editing is tedious. Editing requires gumption. Editing demands focus. And editing is required.

I liken the process of producing a book for a home construction project. Writing my first draft is like framing in a wall. Progress is fast; the project takes shape; satisfaction follows with ease.

Doing the final edit is like sanding the final coat of drywall compound to finish a wall. It makes a mess, induces boredom, and necessitates patience. Without the proper attention to detail, I urge this step forward too quickly, which becomes obvious to all in the finished product, be it a painted wall or a printed book. A lack of diligence in this stage results in embarrassment later.

So for six weeks, I’ve been editing my work. First were a couple of miscellaneous projects, then a short story for a contest. Lately, I’ve been editing blog posts from my first blog, “The Musings of Peter DeHaan,” to make into a book, codenamed Woodpecker Wars.

Then, having just received feedback from my editor, on Monday I’ll start another round of edits on my book 52 Churches. Then I’ll do the same for its prequel God, I Don’t Want to Go to Church. After that will be final edits on a revision of my dissertation The Convergent Church. Then I plan to rework it into a more accessible book for normal people, like you and me. And then are two more rewrites lined up for past academic work. And there’s more.

The disheartening reality is that I’ll spend all of 2014 in editing mode. But editing is a critical part of writing, a step we dare not skip.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.