“We have come here together so that you might know, through virtue of your own pain, your own hopelessness, your own fear, your own darkness and the lie of powerlessness, the very actual power of your own will, of the will of your soul.” ―Jennifer DeLucy
As someone who had a vicious kidney stone last December (and a few smaller ones I was unaware of for a few months prior. I wrote them off as ovary pain, believe it or not.), I can only hope things pass FAR easier than a kidney stone. I don’t know how I survived it.
“Correction does much, but encouragement does more.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I am an immense fan of what I call the “clean manuscript”. That means the manuscript doesn’t require me to do any of the following: Lose hair. Attempt to remove my eyeballs with a fork or melon baller. Grind my teeth. Slouch over my laptop in sheer disgust. And those are just a few of my reactions to having to work on the dreaded “dirty manuscript”. Clean manuscripts allow me to do my job properly, efficiently, and the result is always a pleased client, which is what both client and editor should desire as the end result.
The cleaner the manuscript, the quicker it will be returned to you. I am happy to correct all minor things I catch, all major things, and provide you with extensive notes regarding readability, plot, etc. It’s my job, and I do it well. The reason I loathe the “dirty manuscript” is because it requires months of attention. Most people have never re-read their original manuscript, they just turn it over to me and expect me to make it readable and sellable. I’m good, but I am not a miracle worker. If you give me a manuscript that requires rewrites, revisions, and overhauls, the blame does not reside with me. In fact, I don’t see why there needs to be blame at all. It is what it is. I cannot polish something that isn’t a diamond in the rough, or even a high quality gemstone.
The best way to get the right results in the editing process is as follows:
A- Work your story, and write it well. Outlining helps for some, and distracts others. Do what works for you. Everyone is different in this respect, and that’s okay.
B- Always use proper spelling and grammar. Do not use slang. When in doubt, use a thesaurus and/or a dictionary. They will be incredibly helpful tools for you at all times.
C- It is NOT beneath me to remind you that “alright” is NOT a word. Every time someone tells me they’re a writer and they use words like “alright” or “anyways”, I die a little inside.
D- I hate over-use of any particular word, especially in the same sentence or paragraph. If I see it twice in the same sentence to describe something or someone, I’m cutting it. I will tell you in my notes precisely why I cut it and correct you when you do it again and again.
E- Be open to any and all legitimate suggestions from your editor. After all, a good editor wants you to succeed.
Many writers struggle with spelling, proper tense, punctuation, remaining in one point of view at a time, and grammar. These are things I take note of and assist with. I always double-check spelling for the country of origin, or the country in which the author is seeking publication. American English is different from British English, which is also used in a vast majority of countries far away from the U.K. Some people request I edit in American English and others request British English. I’m good with both, but I do suggest that a person have two separate copies when they are looking for representation with agents more than one market.
When in doubt of how good or interesting your work may or may not be, hire a beta reader. You do not want friends, family, or the lady down the street to tell you how fabulous your work is before it has even seen an editor, but you DO need someone who will tell you the absolute truth and has no vested interest in your work.
Many people report how much others loved their story (read: family and friends), and then I read it and shake my head in disbelief because it’s as if someone spit random thoughts onto a page, as opposed to being a cohesive story that one can follow without suspecting they’ve lost their mind. You might very well be able to find someone willing to beta read for free, but I believe in paying someone who has absolutely no connection to you whatsoever. You’re paying for a critic, and their overall opinion. You can be specific with them about what their role is. It should cost under $50-$60, and is generally less than half that, depending on the person’s experience. I have seen people hire as many as ten beta readers and as few as one. It is a relatively small investment to help you better yourself as a writer and it helps you produce a better product overall.
Some people think it’s insane to seek out a beta or three, but I have had many authors publish work and then come to me later on to ask me to beta a new project, saying they wish they had done that with their first body of work, or their second, but that now that they know more about writing, they don’t see how people can simply go to friends and family. They’ve grown as writers and want to produce a better product. I agree with them, and applaud their candor.
I do plenty of beta work. I’m extremely honest when I do it for people because I know how hard it is to get the truth out of others when it pertains to something so close to your heart. I have been lucky to always have people tell me the truth. No one has ever kissed my ass in regard to anything, leave alone my work.
Your immediate instinct might be to listen to the praise you receive and run with it, but I’d listen for the constructive criticism and the person who is honest enough to point out the flaws and give you detailed feedback. Ultimately you can take opinions with a grain of salt and a shovel full of sand, but this is a crucial step. Some people prefer alpha readers who read chapters as they are completed. I have done that for people, usually reading one chapter at a time or a dozen chapters at a time, but I prefer to beta because I don’t end up feeling like I am somehow missing some huge portion of the story that will eventually be written. I also prefer material that isn’t raw. Plus, I think it’s good to encourage new writers to complete their projects and push them in the right direction in regard to their strengths. Not only is it good karma, it’s also genuine. There is room for everyone in the community. You are not going to be perceived as my competition because the only person I have to compete against is myself. It’s my job to write what I write and write it well, just as it is your job to do the same with your work.
Writers who believe they can edit their own work because they don’t want to pay someone is one of the saddest things I see. Not that long ago a friend sent me a copy of her completed book. I was, and still am, happy for her, but I didn’t have time to read it right away. I remember reading a few pages initially and then not being able to pick it up again for a while because I was busy. Late one night, when I was unable to sleep, I decided to give it a shot. I became slightly engrossed and then reached a portion of the story that annoyed me beyond words. She’d taken a conversation we’d had years ago and used it as an idea in her story. Initially, I was LIVID. Then, the more I thought about it, I decided that she probably didn’t recall the conversation, or who she’d had it with, and had simply logged the idea in her head. I really don’t think she had any malicious intent behind it, because if she did, then why send it to me if she knew I’d see what she wrote and flip out on her? It’s not even worth bringing up, so I have chosen not to mention it when I do give her feedback on it. However, my point in all this is that she didn’t pay for an editor, she had friends beta and edit for her, and so while I was reading, I found spots where the entire thing needs to be corrected and revised. Luckily, the mistakes are minor and only a very discerning eye would notice them, but I saw them and winced because I know this book is important to her.
I had a potential client tell me she couldn’t afford me. Okay. I went so far as to offer her a reduced rate and she still insisted that I was too high (publicly she told others I had the BEST prices). Freelance editors normally charge between $1000-$5000 for their services. My rate was significantly lower, but I reached a point in dealing with her where I said to myself “I am NOT going to price myself any lower simply to get a client. I work hard, this is not a game, and I have bills to pay, just like anyone else.” She, and many others, believe they can “do it themselves”. These are the very same people who want free advice from someone with experience and don’t listen to a word you say, because they’re convinced they know it all, which is the height of ignorance.
I don’t know it all, but I have the experience. I’m not perfect, but I’m open to learning. By proxy, we should all be learning something new each day.
Some days I write. Some days I edit. Some days I cannot get out of bed. And yet, I’ve never submitted anything that might make someone want to tear their eyes out. I suspect it comes from having excellent English teachers and from not having any one, ever, gloss my work over.
I’m grateful to those who helped me perfect my voice and even more grateful to those who encouraged it. It’s one of those things that helps me spot all the diamonds and gems that might never see the light of day without the proper encouragement.
copyright © 2015 by Lisa Marino & Blackbird Serenity LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.” ―C. JoyBell C.
My Writing Roots
We all start somewhere, especially in terms of writing. My roots are steeped in tradition in the sense that I come from a family well versed with the written and spoken word. I, myself, have a way with words. There’s not a lot I won’t say. I’m direct, I have no time for bullshit, I speak the exact same way that I write, but I wasn’t always like that.
At an extremely young age, I was painfully shy and introverted. My extroverted self only “came out to play” when she was completely comfortable with those around her. There had to be a measure of trust, and even still, I held back a lot. Today, I am an introverted extrovert, but I’m also an extremely dominant personality. I can’t even begin to count the times the word “intimidating” has been used to describe me. The people that know me best know that I’m actually not like that, but it’s something I can turn on in an instant. We all have built-in mechanisms we use when dealing with others. If I have to amp up my intimidation factor, I go with it. Dumbing myself down and playing the pathetic card aren’t things I do very well. What can I say? I didn’t major in drama, and I’m not an actress. To quote another Scorpio woman, “I’ve never faked it for a man, and I’m not going to fake it for anyone else.” Exactly.
I started writing as an alternative form of communication. I’d been given a school assignment at the time and I put it off for as long as humanly possible, until my mother was finally clued in that this assignment was way past due, and my Mom, God Rest & Bless Her Soul, was not the type to let her kids fail. She also never sugar-coated anything. If I had no talent in any area, she’d tell me not to quit my day job. If I had talent in an area, she was the first person to tell me to run with it. More parents should be that way.
I was convinced I did not have the ability to do said assignment, but my mother said “Honey, you’re over-thinking this. Just write what you think and write what you feel. If someone doesn’t like it, that’s their problem. You’ve still done the assignment and given it your best.” It was a very simple, honest statement, but it was as if she’d opened some kind of gateway for me, and in many respects, I know that she did. How many parents ever tell their children to say what they think and feel?! None that I know, but she opened a door that day, a door that has always remained wide open for me. I’ve been writing ever since.
I might have been kind of raw initially, but that grew into talent and ability very quickly. People commented on it, people took notice, and I started winning small awards. I was known for the fact that I was a writer, and I was also known for the fact that keeping my mouth shut when a voice needed to be heard wasn’t high on my list of priorities.
As I previously said, I was quiet, shy, and observant. Most writers are great observers of others, as well as observers of behavior and body language. I immediately realized that people responded to my opinionated take on all things, and I went with it. That eventually led to me operating my own “by-subscription-only” publication. It was not a magazine, but it wasn’t a flimsy joke either. A year into that project I was faced with a decision, realizing I could not run two publications simultaneously, and soon found myself the founder & President of a non-profit fan organization specializing in an individual’s athletic career (and at this point, I say “athlete” with a very thinly veiled cough. I’m not naming names. If I did, you’d throw rotting fruit at his house. I’m actually all for that, really. I’d be happy to give you his name and address. Okay, so I’m actually too classy to do that, but I’d still love to see someone hit him with an over-ripe tomato, or 400.).
I did everything from dealing with fans one-on-one, to handling personal appearances. Public & Fan Relations is no joke. I was also responsible for a fan based publication, which went out to roughly three thousand people all over the world at a time at its height (yeah, the post office loved me!). Sounds like no big deal, but it is, especially when you have to write more than half of it, do the layout and design, approve everything for print, and take it all by hand to the copier yourself. I had gotten to the point where I was turning people down because membership was out of control. If someone hadn’t said to me one day “You’re far too talented to be working for the likes of this asshole. You need to be doing your own thing, promoting yourself and your own work.”, I might still be in that job, which is still one of the most under-appreciated, but mind-blowingly amazing things I have ever created and done.
I did not have staff assisting me with any of that work. Not unless you count the fact that a handful of people submitted work, photos, and art for the publication, most of which had to be re-written, revamped, heavily edited, etc. And don’t get me started on all of the fan mail, because I answered all of it, every single bit of correspondence, myself. Not in a “form letter” kind of way, but in the most personal, professional way I knew how. I would never have been able to grow if it had not been for the fans, for word of mouth, for people being hooked on the work I produced. The work was mine. Every single second of hard work was mine, and mine alone, and in turn, people tried copying it. Many took my hard work and did exactly that without offering me so much as a “Would this be ok?”, and they quickly found out that the word “copyright” isn’t a lame or tame expression, it means “I own this, don’t fuck with it.” True writers and artists do not appreciate or respect theft of their work. Plagiarizing someone else’s hard work because you, yourself possess not an ounce of talent is cowardly, pathetic, and a host of other things I am lady enough not to say.
After many, many years of this work, which resulted in carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines, and ulcers, I then went through a series of personal & professional loss, and I had to take a step back. That step turned out to be a huge step away, a step I needed. It was a huge turning point.
Time doesn’t heal everything, but it can certainly help you see clearer than you’ve ever seen, to the point where you say “I’m done.” The only difference is, I meant it. I was done being unappreciated, I was done with the severe lack of respect, I was done catering to people who only wanted to get closer to what I had earned. It’s an extremely unattractive thing, riding someone else’s coat-tails. I went from being a sought after friend & adviser to having just a handful of people left in the world that I valued. More would continue to slip away, but after a while, you no longer think about it any more. It’s done, it’s the past, and I don’t spend a lot of time looking back.
At that particular point in time I chose a different career path and even started writing a book about my experiences in the new career. I had a lot of things I wanted to accomplish there, and only in the last year did I discover that someone else came up with a similar idea and is now turning a profit on it, which just goes to show you that there’s some truth to the saying “Everything under the sun has already been thought of.”, and yet, I am still fiercely protective of my work and ideas. I’m a writer, I have to be.
I shelved the book after getting my degree, not because I couldn’t finish it, but because my father was losing what would be a 15 year battle with cancer. I couldn’t write, constantly be at the hospital, constantly care for my mother, and maintain a decent level of sanity. The day I got a phone call from an Emergency Room physician telling me to get to the hospital immediately, I was prepared for the worst.
I stood there with my family, my father out like a light in cardiac care recovery, as a doctor quietly told me that the cancer they THOUGHT they had gotten through multiple operations, through several rounds of radiation, and the experimental treatment that landed him in the hospital for over a month that didn’t rid him of cancer, but brought all of his heart problems to light, had spread throughout his body. She was a fine physician, truly, but the next year and a half was hell on my father & my family. In the middle of all this, my Mom became sicker than she had originally been, so it was a constant back & forth. I was pretty sure I’d never write again, and at that point, I didn’t care.
I knew for quite some time that I was going to lose my father young. I always knew he would never see me get my degree (I graduated between semesters so that I could be close at hand, just in case.), that he’d never walk me down the aisle, that he’d never get to see his Grandchildren. I’d known this to the depth of my soul for a very long time, and yet the morning the phone call came, I was prepared and unprepared, all in the same breath. When I had gotten the final notice that it was time to move him to hospice, I fought like a vicious animal over it, I refused to do it, until he finally agreed that it was time, he’d had enough. By then he could no longer speak, the only person who understood him was me, and it was an extremely upsetting time for all of us.
Right about that time I picked up a newly released CD at my local Target and these incredible lyrics popped right out at me from the CD jacket. I read them to my Mom and said “Do you think I could write the eulogy? Would that be ok?” Traditionally at Jewish funerals, even the most relaxed, laid back ones, the only person who speaks is the Rabbi. I’ve always found it cold, a bit phony, especially if the Rabbi doesn’t truly know the deceased, and I wanted to do something that I knew would honor my father when he eventually did pass away. It took me about two months to piece it together, and the night before the funeral I was up until way past my bedtime putting the finishing touches on it. It’s truly one of the finest things I have ever written, and I know I not only made my father proud that day, but I pretty much brought the house down. People who have known me my entire life came up to me afterwards and said “I had no idea you could write like that!”
I remember e-mailing my best friend a copy and she was so floored by what I’d written. Unable to be present herself for the funeral, we immediately made plans for her to be present for the unveiling the following year, not knowing that my mother would pass away five months later, making her even more intent on being present, because she knew & loved my mother.
I gave the eulogy at my mother’s funeral as well. A cousin I don’t really speak to came up to me afterwards and said “You have a real gift, you should do something with it.” Yeah, because my incredibly expensive degree is just plain useless!! Backwards comments are so insulting. For my parents’ unveiling, I gave an 11 page speech to my best friends (my brother’s & my own) and the few family members that deigned to show up who I share blood with, and not much else. My Aunt being the exception in the family, we’re very close and I love & respect her. I absolutely adore my Rabbi as well, and he has been an immense support from day one. He too encourages my progress as a writer.
It was right around that time that I started praying more than usual. I would often say “Mom, send me an idea I can work with. Send me something we’d both love to read.” My Mom was the person I shared books, music, movies, and TV with. We’d fight over books, we loved so many of the same things, and sometimes she’d read something and say “You could do this. You’ve got what it takes. Don’t box yourself in to a genre, you’re better than a lot of what’s out there.” Sometimes I wrote that off as my Mom being my Mom, and simply being proud of her daughter and believing in me, but eventually I did start believing that she was right. Most of the time, she was, so why couldn’t she be right about this as well?
One day, a tiny idea blossomed inside my head. I shook it off, but it became persistent and it was my mother’s voice basically saying “I like this. You can write it. Start typing, here’s an idea, see what you can do with it.”
I spent a lot of time after that writing, researching, and four months in I presented the first few chapters to my Aunt for her opinion, and because I desperately needed feedback I could trust, feedback not my own. She liked 90% of it and recommended some minor changes. A few months later I was back with the changes she had recommended and the additional chapters I’d been working on. She loved it, every bit of it, and said “You need to finish this. If I was flipping through this book in Barnes & Noble, I would buy it, and so would a lot of other people.”
Like my mother, my Aunt isn’t into the sugar-coating. If I lack the talent, I’m told I lack the talent, whereas when I’ve got it, I am encouraged to keep on pursuing it. She’s been that way with me my entire life, she’s never played games with my emotions or bullshitted me, so I respect her advice and value her opinion.
Book 1 has since received an official title, and despite being in re-writes, it will eventually be ready to be shopped around. When you begin a book and it’s not a stand-alone novel, it’s important to do the groundwork for future novels, and to think about the back story to your characters. I’ve got most of the series story-boarded out and I continue to write and do research on where the story will take you, what you will learn about each character, all while taking you on a believable adventure that you can get lost in. I, personally, prefer stories that, while fiction, are still pretty honest in the telling. There is a LOT of truth in the first book and in each of the books I have started writing chapters for. In many respects, these books are therapeutic in how they have helped me write out my anger and hostility about certain things, but also tell a story I believe in.
Writing hasn’t just given me my voice and a great deal of strength & confidence, but it’s also how I met my best friend, and many other friends that I am close to and would do anything for.
Marion found me through a mutual acquaintance when I was doing Public & Fan Relations. Four years into our friendship (this was before e-mail became so huge, believe it or not we actually wrote *gasp* letters to one another. And by “letter” I mean 6-20 page letters on a weekly basis. Marion blames me for the length, apparently I’ve got a lot to say. LOL.), she & her sister flew here, though I was living in another state at the time, and spent a week visiting. We did everything from shop, goof off, laugh, enjoy great food, and I took them to the original Yankee Stadium where we took in their first official baseball game. It was a great week, despite the serious late July/early August heat/humidity, and we have been friends from day one. I have other friends that have also come in to my life through my writing and remained my friends through thick & thin, not caring what career change I may have made at any given time, but caring about who I am as a person, and knowing that at the end of the day, I say what I mean and I mean what I say, and that I am there for them no matter what, that my love and support will not waver. I can travel to a lot of places in this world and I have family in those countries, people who I’ve known for so long that they are closer to me than blood, and I think that’s a fabulous thing. Writing has gifted me with a lot, and I will always be grateful to my Mom for giving me the confidence to realize that this gift was in my arsenal.
So there you have it, my writing roots. Trust me when I say that as a writer, no matter what we may write about, we tell some of the best (true) stories.
Originally published in April of 2013.
copyright © 2013-2015 by Lisa Marino & Blackbird Serenity LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED