editing techniques


Writing a memoir or nonfiction book but afraid you’re not a “real” writer with a broad enough vocabulary and an ability to create elegant metaphors? Banish that fear. I can offer you three ways to energize your writing to bring it up to the next level so that your book is compelling and your ideas and anecdotes come alive for your readers.

1. Pick strong verbs.

Avoid variations on the verb “to be” where you can because “to be” and its forms are weak, wimpy verbs. Also, turn nouns into strong verbs that make your writing and storytelling more energetic and compelling.

 

Weak: Summer is my favorite season.

“Is” is a form of the verb “to be.”

Strong: I favor summer over all the other seasons.

“Favor” is a strong verb compared to “is.”

 

Weak: My partner made an assumption that I was not ready for change.

“Was” is weak.

Strong: My partner assumed that change would overwhelm me.

“Assumed” is stronger than “made an assumption” and it’s less wordy. “Was” is weak. Also, when you begin choosing verbs that could go into that clause, you start getting more precise with your words, which gives your writing more oomph. Here, turning the noun “assumption” into a strong verb helps tighten the writing, making it more energetic.

2. Use a thesaurus to find variations on words.

Look for the overuse of certain words in your writing. Did you use “creative” in the first sentence of a paragraph, “creativity” in the second sentence, and “create” in another paragraph on the same page? Even if your book is on creativity, you want to use a variety of words to get across the concept of creativity. A thesaurus can lead you to words such as innovative, resourceful, imaginative, originality, inventive, and more. Bonus tip: If it’s hard to find a synonym you haven’t already used, maybe you need to tighten the writing so it’s less repetitive.

3. Use figurative language and wordplay.

If you keep using the same words over and over, you’re in the company of the great writer J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, who said she became frustrated trying to find new ways of saying “corridor” or “hall” when describing the movement of characters. When it seems there’s no way to avoid overusing a word that’s key to your story, work, and message, consider using figurative language and wordplay.

Weak: I created my 40-day program for people who think they’re not creative to help them develop their creativity.

We get it! But using variations on “to create” over and over will bore your reader.

Strong: I developed my 40-day program for people who think they’re not “the creative type” to help them discover their inner playground child, the self that sees the world as a playground filled with possibilities for doing something different and innovative.

Here, the writer actually is using figurative language to energize her writing and help brand herself at the same time. As a developmental editor or ghostwriter who also does book publishing consultations, I would say, “Terrific! Now Google ‘inner playground child’ to see if anyone else is using it, and consider buying the dot com URL (www.PlaygroundChild.com) to reserve it—and setting up an Inner Playground Child professional page on Facebook to help secure your brand and a clever turn-of-phrase to go with it.” Branding is key for setting your book and your work apart from others’ in the marketplace, so I would help steer you toward words, phrases, and clauses that would be unique to you.

 

Need help with writing, strategizing, branding, and envisioning your nonfiction mind/body/spirit book? Contact me today and let me know where you are with your plan for your book and what kind of help you need. (Perhaps a Vision Plan is your next step?)

 

 

energize your writing book power

 

 

 

Have you completed a memoir, or written a lot of material, and become stuck? A developmental editor can help you figure out what you need to do and how you can reshape your material. I do this work and find it very rewarding because I love helping clients tell their stories. Whenever I can, I offer would-be authors advice on how to get unstuck in the process of writing their memoir or self-help book, and in that spirit, I’d like to share with you an interview I did with a colleague, Al Desetta.

Al Desetta is a ghostwriter/developmental editor I have referred people to when the project isn’t quite right for me or the timing isn’t going to work out given the client’s plans and my schedule. I asked him to shed some light on how he works so that people who follow my blog can learn from him.

 

Nancy: Many people are confused by what a developmental editor does. How would you describe what you do?

 

Al: A developmental editor helps an author develop the true potential in a completed or partially completed manuscript. Unlike a copyeditor who simply corrects a manuscript, a developmental editor looks for ways to help the author improve it, which typically includes helping the writer reorganize the book, rewrite parts of it, add new or additional information, cut or deemphasize parts of a manuscript, etc. For example, I often help memoir writers deepen certain aspects of their stories that they may have overlooked or not considered important. Writers—especially first time writers—are frequently too close to their experience to fully realize the true power in certain events. As a developmental editor, I help authors find the “diamond in the rough” of their experience.

 

Nancy: Who is your typical client? Why do they hire you? For instance, where are they in their process of writing?

 

Al: A typical client is a first-time author who has written a book, but who is uncertain about the quality of the work and seeks me out for objective and constructive feedback. They know they have the germ of a good idea, or even a pretty well-developed book, but they want someone who can offer a professional opinion on the state of the manuscript and ways to improve it.

developmental editor

Stuck on writing your memoir? Hire a developmental editor to evaluate it and help you write it! Developmental editor Al Desetta explains.

 

Nancy: You ghostwrite and you do developmental editing. How do you help a client decide which service is the right one for that particular project?

 

Al: Usually clients are pretty clear about which service they want. Ghostwriting is for people who don’t have the time or skills to write their own books. Developmental editing is for authors who have written their own books, but who are stuck in some way. Sometimes developmental editing also includes some ghostwriting. I’m helping an author right now who has partially completed a memoir. Some of what I do with her is developmental editing—I ask her questions and point out areas where she can improve and develop the manuscript. But I also do a little ghostwriting to help in the process—I interview her about aspects of her life, write chapters based on the interviews, and she then revises these chapters and adds more information.

 

Nancy: When you get full or partial manuscripts from a new client working on a nonfiction book, what are the most common problems you see?

 

Al: Two common problems are overwriting and lack of a workable structure. These problems often surface in memoirs, but are also true of most nonfiction books.

 

Memoir writers often tend to overwrite—they are so close to their experience that they don’t know how to manage or shape it. They think they can write their way out of this problem, but that only compounds the problem. A memoir can’t be about an entire person’s life—it has to focus on an aspect of a person’s experience. What you leave out is as important as what you decide to include.

Related to this is the importance of structure. When an author doesn’t have a workable structure or organization, it’s like driving without a map. Or, to use an analogy that a writing teacher once told me, you set out rowing on the ocean and you lose sight of land. And you keep rowing, hoping to sight land on the other side. But pretty soon you realize you’re lost on the ocean and more rowing (or more writing) won’t get you back to land. Having an organization or structure at the start helps a writer from getting lost, especially in memoir writing, where the author has access to great amounts of information about her life, but often isn’t sure what to include or how to organize it.

 

Nancy: Are there any recent developmental editing projects that stand out for you that self-help mind/body/spirit or inspirational memoir writers could learn from? Any lessons you drew from these recent projects, or were reminded of?

 

Al: One lesson that always stands out is how gratifying the process can be, for both writer and editor. People have life experiences or ideas that they’ve always wanted to write about, but all authors encounter obstacles as they try to write about them. Right now I’m ghostwriting a memoir for a mother and son who were held captive for months by Islamic terrorists in the Philippines. It’s been a wonderful experience to help them create the book they’ve always wanted to write, a process that has also helped them to heal.

 

As a developmental editor and ghostwriter myself, I understand Al’s enthusiasm for helping people to tell stories that lead to healing for themselves and others. If you are eager to get unstuck in writing your memoir, consider contacting a professional, experienced developmental editor to get you back on track.

 

Al Desetta’s website, where you can learn more about his services and the kinds of books he has worked on, is www.AlDesetta.Com

 

 

Thinking of self-publishing? Should you choose the editing or editorial evaluation package from the self-publishing arm of a publisher, or from self-publishing houses such as Xlibris and Author Solutions?

As a former in-house acquisitions editor at HarperCollins, a current ghostwriter and developmental editor, and the coauthor of several successful books, I don’t suggest this route. You need to know whom you are hiring (and yes, you want to hire someone who knows why I used “whom” right there!). You also want to get the most bang for your buck, and that means making sure your book’s structure, approach, voice, and concept are solid before you start line editing it. You don’t paint the walls of a house before you’ve installed the plumbing and wiring correctly!

Many editors don’t know anything about structuring and editing books, which is a skill of its own. Also, those of us who are developmental editors do not work on all sorts of books. I do turn down and pass along projects I know for certain I’m not the right editor for because I don’t have enough background in working on that type of book.

 

ADVICE FOR NONFICTION AUTHORS

Here’s what I recommend for authors who want to self-publish nonfiction: Work out your outline and the beginning of the book, looking to other successful books as your guide, and then call in a developmental editor who can evaluate the material and advise you BEFORE you get off track. Write a clear description of each chapter whether or not you do a whole book proposal before contacting an editor–don’t make the editor guess at what’s in each chapter based on the chapter titles. If you’re looking to sell the book to a publisher and need a book proposal, follow the standard templates for creating one (you can use the one on my website, and please pay close attention to the all-important comparative books list instructions). Then, ask a developmental editor with an acquisitions background or success in shaping proposals that sold to evaluate it. A developmental editor will alert you to writing issues you need to be aware of, and will guide you on structural changes you need to make. Then, when you’ve gotten the ms. into the best possible shape, hire a copyeditor/light line editor to clean it up. He or she should simultaneously create a style sheet for a proofreader to work from (a style sheet lists all the proper nouns and the grammar and punctuation rules you decided upon, such as whether or not to capitalize the first word in a full sentence that follows a colon). Hire a proofreader and ask a friend or fellow author to be another set of eyes. And always, always check the resume of the person you’re hiring. Don’t write the whole book and expect someone to restructure and rewrite it for a few grand. Invest time and money early in the process and you’ll save money later.

 

Hiring a developmental editor early on in your writing process can be key to staying on course with your writing.

ADVICE FOR FICTION AUTHORS AND MEMOIRISTS

If you want someone to evaluate your novel or memoir, recognize that it will take hours just to read it, much less to read it, make notes, and correct those notes afterward (“Oh, I see–now I understand what she was talking about back in chapter 2. Let me go back and change that note.”) If you want to get an evaluation and save money, create an expanded chapter outline and a plot description. Otherwise, the editor has to skim and skim to get the big picture. I was trained to do this as an in-house editor and had lots of practice reading for literary agents, book clubs, and publishers, and I regularly met with other editors doing the same sort of work to compare notes. We became masters of skimming and evaluating. But even masters need time to go through a manuscript whose entire cover letter with plot description is three sentences long! Make it easier for an editor to evaluate your book by creating the one-page synopsis at the very least. And if you can also write up a list of chapters with short descriptions, that’s even better. It will help the editor and it will give you a big picture view of your book in the process. Maybe in preparing the chapter outline, you’ll spot sections that need to be edited down, for instance.

If you decide that you really must write the whole book and “get it on paper,” so to speak, before getting direction from a developmental editor, then don’t let me stop you. Just know that if you go that route, you are likely to have to do a lot of cutting and restructuring, and you may end up spending a lot more money paying an editor because you’re presenting that person with a manuscript and no “cheat sheet” with plot description or chapter summaries. Don’t be married to what you wrote.

I hope this helps! I really don’t want any of you feeling you must approach the book writing process a certain way, but I also don’t want you shocked by how much money and time it takes to shape your very raw manuscript.

Good luck on your writing and editing!

At the moment, I’m in the early stages of ghostwriting a book based on a manuscript with only bits and pieces of ideas that are salveagable and notes from conversations with the expert. So, I’ve been using my favorite tools for editing a lot these last few weeks: color coding in Word and scissors and tape.

First, I type an all-caps header above each paragraph or section that describes the main idea in short. Then, I color code these paragraphs or sections based on what chapter they’ll probably slot into. For instance, Chapter 1 is coded turquoise while chapter 2 is coded navy blue (in Word, you can go beyond the main colors and actually access a color wheel that gives you many hues; I don’t like to use a color on color background, which is another option, as it’s very tiring on the eyes to look at). When I’ve coded a big manuscript or section of notes, I simply cut and paste into chapter files: All the turquoise text goes in c. 1, all the navy in c. 2, etc.

Next step: Print out in doublespace 12-pt type and grab the scissors and tape. Cut up sections and put them in order, fastening them with tape, and penciling in headers and transitions that come to mind. Eventually, I end up with a long scroll that I can use as my template for constructing the chapter. Sections that are simply ideas, not crafted text, I just read and rewrite as I go.

Will this process work for you? Try it and see!