How To Get Started…

People keep asking me how to get started writing, ebook formatting, and copyediting, so I thought I’d do a series. I’m not actually sure how I got started, so I hope you’ll contribute with your advice, as well.

A programming friend of mine says most of the coders he meets, more than those with computer degrees, are either ex-teachers or graduates of the seminary.

I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Probably the number one skill one needs to start anything is the ability to self-educate. Teachers learn how to teach, and so they know how to teach themselves, and in seminary school, students learn how to question and investigate everything they do and don’t know.

Penelope Trunk, an eccentric blogger who’s made a career of predicting and understanding how each generation works in and impacts the workforce, says that homeschooled kids will rule the world when Gen Z hits the workplace.


Because they know how to teach themselves. They’ll be able to figure out which skill they need to learn next for their career, and then they’ll be able to direct their own education.

Question what you think you know: Better yet, pretend you know nothing. This is probably the most dangerous area to skip, and yet the area people skip the most. Most of the time when people start a sentence with “I remember learning in college,” they are wrong. Often they are correct in the information, but incorrect in the application, if that makes sense.

Search for what you don’t know: The more you learn, the more you realize you need to learn. It’s why I haven’t finished my Kindle Formatting series. It was easy to start when I was a beginner, but now I’ve learned too much. I thought I could explain it all in ten or so posts, but once I got through about five, I realized that to do it thoroughly, I’d need two hundred or so posts.

Keep leveling up: I constantly ask myself what I can learn next. The invisible things you think you don’t really need to know are the things that will take you from competence to excellence.

Get an edge by linking across disciplines: When I was a piano teacher, I studied the Suzuki teaching method even though I thought it wasn’t completely right for piano. (It is for other instruments.) But no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Investigate everything.

I also aggressively studied child psychology, self-help psychology, leadership books, business books, parenting books, homeschooling books, teaching philosophy books, sports coaching books, marketing, peak performance science, language learning, and motivation science.

Know everything in your field, and then link outside of it.

How do you get started when teaching yourself something?

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Give Copy Editors a Break

It’s not just me. Remember my first post on cleaning up your Word document in “Kindle Formatting for Novels I?” About not using Word like a typewriter? It’s not just if you’re planning on self-publishing; even for print publishers, it can allow your copy editor to get straight to copy editing, rather than cleaning up a mess of formatting.

Well, Carol Seller, senior manuscript editor at the University of Chicago Press, editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online’s Q&A, and author of The Subversive Copy Editor, agrees.

It’s just that word processing is not what I came on board for all those years ago. I’m not trained to do it, I don’t enjoy doing it, and I don’t really know whether what I do is of use to the typesetter. Just once I’d like to receive a perfectly clean and coded manuscript that would allow me to spend all my time copyediting instead of in rodent control.

After expressing some frustration at “Checking for Squirrels” on The Subversive Copy Editor Blog, she posted a useful list of things writers can do to help in “Advice for Writers: Preparing Your E-Manuscript,” including a few of the things I mentioned:

Never use the Tab key or the Space bar to start a new line.
Never use the Space bar to indent anything. I’ll go further: never hit the Space bar more than once in a row.

I admit I’m sorta in love with copy editing. I adore both editors and copy editors, at least the ones I’ve come in contact with thus far. (One was incompetent, but I liked him anyway.) I read the Chicago Manual of Style for fun. I’m looking forward to the next edition. :-) I need to review it again, though. You kinda have to spend some time maintaining the relationship.

The next Kindle installment coming soon!

Do you love reading style manuals? Do you enjoy copyediting? Do you clean up the “squirrels” before sending it off to a publisher?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Editing | Tags:

What Is Your Grace?

image I’m reading Graceling, by Kristin Cashore. It’s one of those deceptive books, where you think you’re reading a fairly good story, but for the first half you’re a bit puzzled as to why you can’t put it down.

Then BAM! About halfway through, you suddenly realize that this book is one of those books that changes you, one of those books that makes you think about yourself in a new way, one of those books that teaches you something elemental that you can’t quite put you finger on, but you can feel it’s there, working inside you.

And it’s something good.

A “grace” in the book is an extraordinary talent only a few are “cursed” with. Katsa is led to believe her talent is one thing, but halfway through the book, she sits and thinks and studies herself, and realizes her talent is actually something else entirely.

image It’s funny, her realization was timed perfectly with my own realization. I was reading along, and for some reason, it occurred to me that the problem I’m having with one of my WIPs is that I’m not empathizing with my characters enough.

As I read further along, I had absolutely no idea where the story was going. In my own writing, this is all but a sin. I’m a “planter.” If a gun goes off at the end, I make sure to place it on the mantle in chapter one. I try to hint at my entire story in the first page, and I try to plant the entire novel in the first chapter. So I was wondering if my stories lack suspense and are predictable.

I decided I would go back and read a few to see.

As I had these two epiphanies, I thought back to those who are big fans of critique partners, because the main reason to have them are to see your work in a different way. It bothers me, sometimes, that I don’t have a burning desire for the whole critiquing thing.

It’s not fashionable.

I love critiquing others’ work, because I learn so much, but to me it’s so close to teaching that I can’t critique their work; they probably wouldn’t get the best of me unless I were their critique partner for a year, or something insane like that, and deconstructed where they are, where they want to go, how to get there, who they are, how they work, and how they learn.

Teaching is so ingrained in me, that critiquing always makes me feel a bit like I’m teaching blindfolded without knowing the student. I know critiquing and teaching are different things, but teaching is me.

image But that doesn’t explain why I only ask for help myself rarely and when I’m absolutely desperate or scared. I mean, I love edits. I get a professional crush on most of my professional editors; I think they’re the coolest. Copyeditors, too. People complain about copyeditors, but I love copyedits. They’re fun to play with.

Then I thought about my two epiphanies, and how bored and disappointed I would be if they had come from someone else. I live for these epiphanies; I’m constantly seeking them out, turning my stuff over, looking at it in a different light, analyzing others’ stuff, and deconstructing this writing thing.

I always say I’ll seek out critique partners when I come up empty on how I can improve, but I rarely come up empty.

I realized then my talent isn’t writing; it’s learning, deconstructing, teaching. In piano, I knew how to deconstruct musical talent and teach someone to actually be talented. I can shift my thinking to look at things in a new light. I know how to learn and how to improve. I know how to study others and learn from them.

And that’s not just my “grace,” but my fun, my delight, my raison d’etre.

What is your grace? What is your raison d’etre? Or maybe I mean, what is your raison d’ecrire? (Your reason for writing.)

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Editing,Writing Craft | Tags: , , , ,

A Different Point of View

I’m sure you can write from different points of view. Can you read your work from different points of view? Can you put yourself in a place where your work is a stranger, and you’re seeing it through a specific person’s eyes?

And I need to say upfront that when I use the word “read” below, I actually mean a combination of reading, writing, and editing, all put together.

First, I read it as me, as a woman. I imagine my lonelier moments, particularly when I was sick and lonely in my twenties, because I always hope my characters can be friends to those who are having a rough time of things.

Then I try to read it as someone who has zero attention span. This is also easy for me, as I have the shortest attention span in the universe. Okay, not the shortest. But it’s pretty bad. And anytime my attention wanders or I start skimming, I cut and edit and re-write.

Somewhere in there, I try to read it as a copyeditor. I think copyeditors are the coolest, so I invariably end up reading half of the Chicago Manual just for fun, just to double check nit-picky things. Even though I tend not to use the serial comma that it suggests.

I read as both my target readers and my fringe readers. Pseudonym gets mostly middle-aged women, but also quite a few in their twenties, with a sprinkling of men. I think of what they want to get out of my story, and I read to see if I’m giving them that. For my NaNo novel, I’m imagining teenagers to college-aged reading it.

And then I imagine someone who reads my first sentence and hates my voice. Passionately. In fact, even before they get to the first sentence, they are prejudiced against me. They don’t want to like my story. In fact, they can’t wait to hate it and point out all of its flaws. They approach my story with reluctance; my world-building with skepticism.

For them, it’s personal. They don’t like me. If I’m writing in first person, they hate first person on principle. In fact, for them, it’s a pet peeve.

That’s when I make sure hooks are planted, questions are unanswered, and suspense is willing the reader forward. I trim every sentence. I try to make it so that reader can’t help but keep reading.

When my imaginary readers fail me, I beg for real readers, LOL.

Lately, I’ve also been visualizing my story as a graphic novel. I don’t know why. But when I do that, it’s very clear when the pacing falls flat, when I’m thinking aloud too much.

So how do you read your story? Which “skins” do you put on when reading your story? Whose eyes do you read with? How do you edit? How do you decide what goes and what stays?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Editing,Writing Craft | Tags: , ,

How I Do Edits

I have a strictly professional crush on my editor. I think she’s fantastic. Since my adventure has gotten blissfully boring to talk about (although I did lose a cat all day today), I thought I’d talk about the way I go through my edits. Not saying it’s interesting, but I’m supposed to be talking about writing once in awhile, no?

There was no letter this time, just a bunch of comments in the essay. Those are easier edits than the overall ones, anyway. I wrote and re-wrote this thing about three or four times. (There are a total of eleven documents to do with this one essay, if that gives you any indicator.) I wrestled with this one, let me tell you. I think if there had been fundamental issues, I would’ve screamed and cried and thrown in the towel.

When I get edits, I do them in passes:

The Easy-Peasy Pass: I tackle the easiest ones first. This is mostly going through, right-clicking, and accepting changes by my editor. Maybe changing a word or deleting a sentence. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it gets rid of a lot of red in one fell swoop.

Ahhh! Much better. Looks like I made a lot of progress.

The Sure! No Problem! Pass: Then there are the little changes, the ones that pretty much make no difference to me. Swap the order of this sentence? Sure! Delete this bit? Gone! Tweak this idea? Easy!

After that, finding the easy edits is hard.

The Procrastination Pass: Nothing actually gets done during this phase, and I keep looking at all the comments I’d rather procrastinate. These are the edits that are going to take some work. I might, um, actually have to write a WORD. Or maybe even a SENTENCE. In a few cases, it might even call for MULTIPLE SENTENCES. And worst of all, sometimes I have to go and LOOK SOMETHING UP. I go through at least once or twice and do nothing, in the hopes that another “easy-peasy” or “sure! no problem!” fix will appear.

After I’ve blogged about doing my edits, after I’ve played with my cats a bit, taken a walk, poured a glass of wine, vacuumed the carpet, fed the cats, and taken a nap, it’s on to…

The Grind Pass: These involve swapping the order of things, adding whole new paragraphs, fleshing out ideas, etc. Ugh. I mean, I have to THINK. I have to drink some coffee. In fact, these can wait until tomorrow morning, right? It’s ten p.m., and I can’t very well drink coffee now, right?

Besides, I had a traumatic day: I thought my cat had gone missing. The squirt was hiding all day. It’s ONLY a twenty-foot camper, and she still managed to curl up in a spot I couldn’t find. She didn’t come out for breakfast!!! I thought she’d escaped through a screen, so I was wandering the campground and crying, trying to find her.

It’s time for wine, not edits!

The Final Smooth: After all the work is done, I have to go through to smooth out the changes. Swapping the order of two sections means I’ll have to see what no longer makes sense. When you start changing words, you suddenly have the same word two times in a paragraph. Ick. Stuff like that. When you change one sentence, the rhythm tends not to fit in the whole paragraph. All has to be smoothed out.

And then it’ll be done!

It’s funny, as I was packing for this adventure, I came across a stack of my essays for my German lit minor. Wow! I was not a natural writer. You wouldn’t believe the stupid mistakes I made! (Of course, most of my essays were written the night before.) I’m astonished the professors gave me A’s. A few of the A’s were presented thus: “Nevertheless, A-”

After this, I have an endless bunch of fiction to write. Ahhh. Nothing like an essay to remind you how much you LOVE fiction.

So how do you do edits? You don’t go in ORDER, do you? LOL! ;-)

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Editing | Tags: , ,

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