Category Archives: General Writing Tips

Finding the helpfulness in fun things. AKA: Fun and easy ways to improve your writing

About four years ago I posted about a cool website called Wordle (http://www.wordle.net/) that will make a cloud of words from the most used words in your manuscript.

The words that you’ve used the most (AKA the words you may be overusing) will appear the biggest.

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I don’t know what made me think of this suddenly, but I decided to drop the novel I am currently editing with my Month9Book editor into the program.

This is what spit out.

ASHES Wordle2

 

I guess I am not alone in struggling with overused words. I think everyone does to some extent. But I found this very enlightening.

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The largest word is the word that appears the most frequently in the novel.
“David” was not a surprise. The novel is in first person, and Jess spends most of the novel with David.

Runners up

The runners up, though, are cause for concern.  “Eyes” “Like” “Back” and “Dad” all appear equally high, tying for the number two position.

I used search and replace to see how frequently they appeared.

Yikes!

“Eyes=322″ “Like=356″

“Back=406″ and “Dad=390″

“Dad”, like “David”, is probably not a concern, but 300-400 instances of Eyes, Like, and Back certainly are a concern. “Pulled” and “Just” are pretty high up there as well. I will definitely be looking at those, too.

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While word clouds are, for the most part, just fun, you can also use them to point out stuff like this.

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I’d missed this during my own editing before turning in the manuscript. “Back” wasn’t even on my radar screen.

It is now.

Try dropping your current WIP into a word cloud generator. You might be surprised what you find.

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Finding editing help in unexpected places. AKA: Social Media Rocks!

Last week I faced a little bit of a pickle.

I had a very short (147 word) scene that included a little bit of Spanish, and a line of French.

PKO_0005301I had an A+ in Spanish in high school, but I haven’t practiced in years. I was reasonably certain that I “had it right”, but after seeing quite a few reviews lately where people blasted authors for using non-English languages incorrectly, I was stressing over it.

I don’t have the money to run it by a translator, and everyone I know is in the same boat as me (Rusty high school Spanish)

Sooooo… I thought I’d give something a try.

I took to social media, and asked my fans for help.

I found that having a mostly international fan-base helped in ways I never expected.  Not only do I have a treasure trove of languages following me, they are all fans of my work, and are tickled pink to be the first people to see an excerpt.

I didn’t just get translating advice… I got advice from native speakers, Spanish as a second language, and people from several different Spanish-speaking countries, as well as one of these kids’ parents that provided insight into the way I learned Spanish that didn’t even occur to me.

Yes, I found, I was speaking correctly, but I was speaking TOO CORRECTLY. Book learning, and the real world, are apparently very different.

So, that’s my thought for this week.  When you get your work out there, make friends with your readers. It’s ten tons of fun. And when you need a little help, you might just be surprised at their enthusiasm.

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Two novels in nine months. Wow. Taking stock, and taking notes

For the first time in my life, typing “The End” felt like a huge relief rather than an epic accomplishment.

PKO_cheer30010118I just fulfilled my third contracted novel in the FIRE IN THE WOODS series in record time (at least for me) but still late, after asking for a one-month extension.

PKO_cheer10001289Looking back, I have to appreciate what an incredible personal accomplishment this was. A year ago today, I was checking my email daily, waiting for responses on my submissions while working on a dystopian novel (that is still only in fourth draft form)

Month_9_Books_Mermaid1It wasn’t until June 9, 2014 that I received the offer from Month9Books, with a three book deal attached. SWEET! But I looked at the tight deadlines with a shudder.

They wanted me to come up with two more novels, write, edit, and submit within eight months; while working at a break-neck speed to release and market book one in a “window of opportunity”.

If you’ve been here a long time, you know I rarely balk at a challenge.

Looking back, though, I think if I am ever faced with such an offer again, I might try to push out the dates to five or six months for each book.

Can I write a clean book in four months?

Yes. This little adventure has proven that. But I’d rather have more time than I need, and submit early, than hit a bump in the road (like I did in the middle of book three) and have to ask for an extension.

Yeah, I may be dreaming, because I am a little fish in a big ocean, and some publishers won’t budge. But at least now I will know what I am getting myself into.

Would I do it again?

Yes. In a heartbeat. Like I said, a year ago my debut novel was sitting in query cues, and still getting rejections. Now that same book that I was considering “shelving” is a three book series, with decent sales and great reviews on book one.

Yep. I have to admit: It feels good.

But I still need a vacation.

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The huge sigh of relief after typing “The End”

“The End.” Aren’t they wonderful words?

Fire in the Woods CoverAbout four months ago while polishing up my dystopian novel, I got the surprise of my life…

a contract offer for my YA Scifi FIRE IN THE WOODS.

And not just any contract, but a three-book deal.

Surprise!

Suddenly, I needed to come up with two more novels continuing a story that I had already typed “The End” on in my mind. That’s right… no planned sequels.

Yikes!

But never to be thwarted, I accepted the challenge, despite what looked like impossible-to-meet deadlines for getting the sequels out. I had a light outline of a concept, and I hit the ground running.

Now, I would be lying to say that I wasn’t pantsing ASHES IN THE SKY to begin with. I started off simply re-kindling my love for the voice and characters of FIRE IN THE WOODS, but within a few chapters I was able to scroll out a decent outline.

Here I am today, with a clean, completed rough draft of the novel. I have five weeks to edit the story, send it to beta readers, and make it sparkle before it is due in my editor’s hands.

So I am here to say: It can be done. Now I move on to editing, which is actually one of my favorite parts. Now is the time to add the little extra zing that will make my characters pop, and the explosions… well… explode.

For all you stats lovers: Here are the numbers…

Started writing June 18th

Finished CLEAN* first draft September 26th

Total time from start to finish=98 days

Total number of those days actually spent writing=60 days

One three-day weekend dedicated two writing = 10,392 words

Average words per day = 1,114, but the actual words per day ranged from 249 to 3,366

Let the editing begin!

*Clean just means that I didn’t write NANO-style. I corrected my typos and spelling as I went along, and re-read each chapter at least once and edited whatever did not work before I started the next chapter.

_JenniFer____EatoN

Sometimes life just gets in the way.

I admit I am mildly psychotic. I give myself goals, and once I see them on paper, they might as well be chiseled in stone.

I hit them.

Always.

No matter what.

It’s something that was driven into me since I was very young. I thank my father for this most of the time. Being driven has helped me get to where I am today.

But I have trouble dealing sometimes when I realize what I challenge myself with is sometimes too much.

PKO_0008514 SICK GUYLike this week, when I was thrown a little curve ball.

I got sick.

Really dern sick.

Flat out in bed, can’t move, stricken-with-a-chill sick. Then sweating-to-death can’t- turn-down-the-temperature sick. Horrible… zig zagging back and forth.

Yep, I even looked like a guy.

It’s terrible to have to take off from work, waste vacation time, and get NOTHING DONE.

Arghhh! Picture

It drove me crazy, laying there under piles of blankets, sometimes with a fifty-pound poodle on top of me for extra warmth… doing nothing when there is piles of work to be done in real life, as well as my writing world.

I couldn’t even THINK of my scenes. I couldn’t formulate a plan for when I could get out of bed. My mind was dead. Caput.

My poodle all fifty pounds of her. Isn't she cute?

My poodle – all fifty pounds of her. Isn’t she cute?

What a terrible couple of days.

I’m better now, thank goodness. But now I have to take stock.

First things first.

I just completed my immediate need: The interviews/blog posts requested by wonderful people who signed up with my marketing company to help promote FIRE IN THE WOODS.

Whew… That was a lot of work.

Today, I do something I have not done in a VERY long time.

I set the writing aside.

No aliens. No space ships. No conflicts (except a few real life kids)

The book will be there tomorrow, and I know the first thing I am going to do is look at my goal sheet (yes, I have one, with word counts for each day.)

I will see that I am now a month behind, with a deadline looming.

I will not panic. (You hear that? I WILL NOT PANIC)

Life happens. Vacations are needed. Current books need to be marketed. And hey, there’s not much you can do about getting sick.

Tomorrow I re-align my goals, and I suppose I should start lining up beta readers, because if I do manage to hit my publisher’s deadline, it is going to be close.

Deep breath. This can be done.

How do you dig out of a hole when you realize you’ve fallen far behind?

Jennifer___Eaton

It’s marketing time! More blog posts and interviews, less novel writing.

While I was on vacation, dreaming about getting back and leisurely finishing ASHES IN THE SKY, my publicist sent over my blog tour interviews and guest post requests.

Just_Breathe

After reviewing them (14 in all so far) I decided to write “just a little” of ASHES IN THE SKY per day to keep myself going, and bust out the marketing for FIRE IN THE WOODS as soon as I can (They are all due back by September 15th)

I cringe when I think of it, because my original goal was to finish ASHES IN THE SKY before my vacation.  Then I moved the goal day to a week after vacation when I got bogged down with the edits. Right now that deadline doesn’t look all that rosy either.

Sigh

But I will not be thwarted!  I am doing my best to write clean copy. I am hoping that all I will have to do is general insertion of emotion and setting. Hopefully there will be no huge changes or additions to be made, but I won’t know until I send this puppy out to my beta readers to be slapped around a bit.

As it stands now, I am just turning the corner into act three.  The third and final act should be a roller-coaster ride and easy plot-wise to write, but hard in the “action” department.  I probably only have about 10,000-20,000 words to go.  I can do this. I just need to keep plugging away.

JenniFer_EatonFFire in the Woods Revised Cover

When the edits are finally over… Whew!

Edits are finally done for FIRE IN THE WOODS. Part of me breathes a sigh of relief, while the other part of me cringes in horror.

This was a multi-faceted process, which would have been much easier if I was not writing book two, ASHES IN THE SKY at the same time under a very stringent deadline. I work great under pressure, but not always great under double pressure.

Book Left1Developmental Edit

Anyway, step one was the Developmental Edit. This was not all that hard. There were two minor changes… one that took a half-hour phone conversation with my editor until we worked it out… but really minor for the overall story. #1 was ramping up the father’s reaction at one point, and #2 was giving Jess a little more of a reason to be afraid of another character. Overall, easy fixes.

Book Right1General Editing

After the developmental edit we went through three rounds of general editing for flow, readability and stuff like that. Here is where I found all those words that were repeated. This was the most painstaking part for me.

Book Right1Proofreading

After this we went through three FULL READS of the novel front to back looking for typos, mis-spelled words, improper punctuation and the like. THIS is the part that scares me. I found errors each time I read it (after correcting what I found the previous time). This really stresses me out because being a perfectionist; I would like to have been able to read through front to back without finding any typos. All I can do at this point is hope and pray I found them all. (And maybe bite off a few nails)

So, I leave for vacation knowing that my work is done, and all I need to do now is worry about book two… and reapplying sun screen.

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Great opportunity! Get your first five pages critiqued by a professional editor

I’ve missed this opportunity the last two times this call opened up because I was on vacation. Boy was I mad!  But this time I’m all ready to go. Yay!

Breathless Press (Adult) and Lycaon Press (YA) are opening up for a “Tender Love Critique Session” on February 14th (Valentine’s Day) until midnight EST Sunday, February 16th.

Send your first five pages **Times New Roman, 12 pt font, double spaced** in .rtf or .doc format (no .docx) to critiques@breathlesspress.com

The cool thing is that you don’t have to be one of the first 10 or even the first 100 to enter. EVERYONE who submits gets a critique. (I don’t think they are giving a turnaround time, though)

Another cool thing is your manuscript DOES NOT need to be complete, and it is not even a formal submission. They are critiquing everything.

Why would they do this?

They are pretty smart, actually.  Most editors know if they want a book within the first few pages.  If they like what they see, they will ask to see your manuscript when it is complete. (This happened with a friend of mine)

My question for you…

What do you have to lose?  Send in your first five, even if Breathless/Lycaon are not on your radar, your first five pages are the most important pages of your book.  Why not get an educated opinion of how good they are?

Who’s going for it?

_JenniFer____EatoN

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How to make Your Reader Care About Your Character #5

I am skimming over notes I took from a class about creating characters that your reader will care about.

Disclaimer:  I honestly don’t remember where this handout came from. I’m going to paraphrase the topic and think up my own ideas, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m stealing without giving credit.

It should be a given to an author that they need to create characters that their readers will care about. They do not necessarily have to like the character. Some really great characters are very unlikable. But we need to CARE about them, or we won’t keep reading. Right?

So how do we do this?

1.       Relationships.  (See previous post)

2.       Give them a goal (See previous post)

3.       Caring about others (See previous post)

4.       A special gift or talent. (See previous post)

5.       A handicap

Oooooo.  That’s a good one.

Here’s a good one. Even though you might not be handicapped, you can imagine what it would be like, right?  You feel for someone with a disability.

This came up recently in a comment on my blog, when someone mentioned that the horrid character on the TV show House was softened because he had a handicap.

How about a phobia?

A phobia is a good one two… something they need to overcome in order to fulfill their purpose of hero in the story.

Or something even more simple and relatable

Maybe it is something simple, like they need to run for their lives and the only car available to flee in has a stick shift, but the character does not know how to drive a stick.

Anything wrong with your character is an easy way to make them relatable. No one wants to read about someone who is perfect, right?

Unless you are Mary Poppins.  (But she was only practically perfect, right?)

That’s it!

Five ways to create the ever-important care-factor.  Give your readers characters that they can care about, and they will scream for more!

Think about the main character in your favorite novel. Pinpoint exactly what it was that made you engage with them. What was it? Come on, share the ideas!

_JenniFer____EatoN

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How to make Your Reader Care About Your Character #4

I am skimming over notes I took from a class about creating characters that your reader will care about.

Disclaimer:  I honestly don’t remember where this handout came from. I’m going to paraphrase the topic and think up my own ideas, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m stealing without giving credit.

It should be a given to an author that they need to create characters that their readers will care about. They do not necessarily have to like the character. Some really great characters are very unlikable. But we need to CARE about them, or we won’t keep reading. Right?

So how do we do this?

1.       Relationships.  (See previous post)

2.       Give them a goal (See previous post)

3.       Caring about others (See previous post)

4.       A special gift or talent.

A special gift or talent can be tricky

This one can be tricky, but it can be used when the others fail. A special talent, I think, needs to be part of the plot to make it work.  Like a person loves to draw, so we want to see them become a successful artist.  If they don’t, then why did they have the talent mentioned in the story to begin with?

Make sure it has meaning

This needs to be all about fulfillment. They need to use the talent to make something happen in the story.

Yes, this could be a great device, but be careful to make sure it fits inside your plot and story arc.

What recent special talent have you read that really drew you in to a novel?

_JenniFer____EatoN

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