Self-Editing, for Independent Excellence

No matter what you’ve written, hiring an editor is always a good investment; however, sometimes there’s just no wiggle room in the budget. So what’s a writer to do when there’s no one to turn to for criticism? He becomes self-reliant in the editing realm, with the help of some targeted recommendations.

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Here are some pieces of self-editing advice that I’ve gathered from other writers, as well as from experience:

  • If there’s enough time, put it away for at least a week. Don’t look at it. Don’t think about it. Don’t even entertain the idea of peeking at it. The idea here is to trick your brain into believing it’s someone else’s work. When you’re too close to the composition, you tend to read what you remember writing, not necessarily what’s on the page. How many times have I glossed over an “if” that was supposed to be an “it” or a “your” that was supposed to be a “you”? Too many to count. Why? Because I was reading what I thought I wrote, not what my eyes were telling me was there.
  • Read it out loud. Saying words aloud improves metacognition, or the process of understanding how we learn. For auditory learners, this is particularly helpful when attempting to remember something. For self-editors, it introduces another cognitive aspect, doubling the chances of those mistakes being caught. You might say that when you read aloud, your eyes and your ears are all on the job. Plus, you get the chance to determine if what you’ve written just sounds stupid.
  • Change the font. I have found that when I read what I’ve written in the same old font, I associate it with me, and it’s all-too familiar. If I change the font style, make it smaller, or make it larger, however, I see mistakes that had until then remained hidden.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat. This works especially well for shorter works, 500 words or less. Read your work with a critical eye. If you find at least one mistake, read the entire thing again. If you find another mistake, correct that error and read through again, from the beginning. Don’t stop until you find zero mistakes.
  • Give yourself an incentive. After you are certain that no mistakes remain, challenge yourself to find another one. Make a deal with yourself. You get a chocolate for every additional one you can find. If you can find five mistakes you get to schedule a massage for next week. The commodity is up to you – the point here is that if you offer yourself a tangible reward, it will act as a façade for the real reward: personal and professional excellence.

No matter your level of genius, editing your own work demands fastidiousness that transcends intelligence. Today, promise yourself that you will never again click on Send or Publish without knowing, to a high degree of certainty, that what you’re putting out there is your personal best.

Together, we can change writing for the better. I’d love for you to share your favorite self-editing practices here.

Need an editor? Contact me. I’ll put your writing through the wringer.

Copywriting: Selling Brands in the New Age

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Copywriting is, quite simply, the writing of copy. Great copywriting is much more. It’s about knowing your audience, intimately. It’s about showing them your empathy for their pain, your top-shelf solution, and spurring them to action. Superior copywriting doesn’t stop there: it reveals the real, living and breathing substance beneath your brand because…

…are you ready?…

copywriting doesn’t sell products and services. It sells people.

A proficient copywriter can sell work boots to Paris Hilton – as long as that writer makes it clear that he recognizes her problem and has a solution that will ultimately, on some level, change her life forever.

Persuasion is not the same animal it once was. It has evolved to become less like a wolverine and more like a golden retriever. In the past, product was king, outrageous claims were made about those products, and clever wit found its way into most copy. Now, business names, straplines, and sales copy work to dig up the emotions that companies know will grasp the attention of their ideal clients and to create memorable experiences for the people who matter the most.

One example of effective copywriting is found with the long-established brand, Lysol. I’ll bet they wouldn’t have much luck selling their no-touch hand soap system using the product features and benefits alone. Let’s think about this: the product is costly to purchase and requires batteries and unique refills. It claims that you’ll stay cleaner because you won’t have to touch the germy pump…wait a minute. How good is the soap in that refill? Should we even have to worry about the germs picked up from the pump when the antibacterial soap is the best on the market?

None of this matters to Lysol’s ideal clients, who are, by definition, germ-phobes. They have come to trust Lysol as a market leader because its brand was built, largely by clever copywriting, to signify safety and cleanliness for self and family. And yes, the emotions they have tapped trump common sense. This is the power of solid, branded copywriting.

More than ever, this is the age of emotional purchasing. The economy has affected most of us, and one might think that would make price point a deciding factor. Think again. More than clamping our wallets closed, years of floundering economic status has made many of us emotionally raw, looking for security, a good investment, and something that just makes us feel good.

A great copywriter harnesses the power of emotion. He or she reveals you, your values, and the essence of your brand to the world so that people can make those emotionally driven decisions that have become all-too common in this, a new purchasing age.

Is your copy working for your brand? It is reaching the right people – and then touching them with words that grasp mind share and become ultimately unforgettable? Contact me today at jacindalittle@gmail.com for a free analysis of your current copy or to learn more about what a professional copywriter could do for your business. You may also like my Facebook page for writing news and tips.

The Perfect Day for a Book Review

I finished reading Ray Harvey’s More and More unto the Perfect Day more than a year ago – for the third time. I had intended to write a review of the book immediately following each reading, but couldn’t gather my thoughts into a neat pile. Instead, I was left with crooked, overlapped, often torn conclusions of how the book had affected me. I have taken notes. I have made an outline in order to follow the storyline. I still find myself unable to write a standard type review, so instead, I’ll submit to my visceral reactions…as a human being; not as a writer, critic, or editor.

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First, it pissed me off because it attempted to challenge the beliefs that I have held dear for the entirety of my 38 years. For this, I commend it. A religious man’s faith is tested. The pages where this occurred in real-time are now filled with dry gorges — valleys that were formed by the weight of my tears. Old tears.

Second, the crooked, yet parallel, line it draws with my own life had me looking over my shoulder with the turn of every page. From things as provocative and significant as sourceless anger and spontaneous illness to spooky similarities like Cherokee heritage, acne scars, stretch marks, the names and appearances of family members…I experienced what I would call a one-dimensional, reflective haunting.

Here’s where I stop counting and fall into what flirts with a search for words. This book reached deep within in me. I am a deer that is not yet dead, but being prematurely field-dressed due to her poacher’s anxiety, guilt…something. A hand grabs at my trachea, cuts off the air, and pulls downward, to a place outside my own body. This book has found places within me that have been injured. Some of them have been healed. Others are now bleeding.

I’m not a philosopher, and don’t wish to be. I’m not an intellectual, though I sometimes envy those who are. That’s why it’s so difficult to qualify how and why this book affected me so profoundly. I’m still not sure I understand all the material. Maybe I never will; maybe it’s not intended to be fully understood.

I have found myself wishing I had never read it. Yet, I have read it numerous times. I have attempted to rid my mind of the images it imparts. Yet, I revisit them and curl up into the places they have hollowed out for me. Its lyrical prose is like a song. Its imagery is dark, shapely, and at times, far too real.

Thank you, Mr. Harvey. I don’t know if you intended to do this to me, but it has been done. I doubt I will ever read another book like yours, but if one comes along, the will power to keep my hands off of it will have to be strong. Thank you for demonstrating how good literary fiction distracts the conscious mind while implanting belief systems into the subconscious and unconscious minds. You have reminded me why I love the written word and why I am addicted to its effects - even if those effects are those which I’d rather not endure.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is NOT impressed by predictability, pedestrian prose, shallow characters, and ignorance as an ultimate form of contentedness. If you fit the profile, hold on. There’s no telling how deep this one will take you.

Trust your Readers

As happens every six hours, AM talk radio had begun to depress my mood. There was nothing on FM to sing along with. The silence was too much to bear, considering I’d been alone all day.

A small voice came from the back seat. “Mom, I want to read to you.”

“That would be great! Let’s go.”

A rustling of pages ensued and my 10-year-old daughter started, “The animorphosisms stood before me. Around each one was an extremely disgusting pile of slime.”

“Honey?” I interrupted. “What did the pile of slime look like?”

She thought for a moment and responded, “It was disgusting.”

“Yes, but what color was it? Did it smell? Was it moving? Was it making any sounds?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t say.” She turned the page forward and back again. “It’s just disgusting…that’s it.”

This reminded me that, in my own writing, I must remember to strive for a “show, don’t tell” process and product. Regardless of the age of the reader, the author must remember that the reader will feel much more satisfied — more fulfilled and willing to keep on reading — if he or she feels a part of the deductions made in every story, every chapter…every paragraph. Don’t tell your readers that something is disgusting. Tell them that the pile of flesh-pink and mold-green, coagulated material moved with sucking waves of nauseating slurp and expelled clouds of stink – stink that could only be duplicated by plunging 3 dozen rotten eggs into a vat of decaying skunk flesh.

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Trust your readers and they’ll trust you. Give them the information they need to draw their own conclusions — and if the information is crafted with heart and plenty of thought, their deductions will match your expectations.

Why a Creative Ghostwriter?

A question has been posed to me recently:  “Why would I want a ghostwriter who’s creative?”

I can understand the mentality behind this question. Wouldn’t creativity on the part of the ghostwriter stomp all over the voice of the piece’s author? Wouldn’t it seemed contrived, particularly to those who have read things the author’s written in the past? Or to those who have made stereotypical assumptions about the type of voice the author should have?

I suppose the answer to the question should be something like, “Yes, a professional ghostwriter should be creative-minded.” Why? There are a few reasons:

1) Problem Solving: Roadblocks litter the path to objectives, and often, an author isn’t equipped to hurdle them. That doesn’t mean that he or she in incapable; it simply means that a bit of creative thinking might be necessary for overcoming one or more of these barricades.

2) Perspective Shift:  Because the author has been working as an administrator of some type of service in his or her own respective field, he or she likely has one perspective — the one from inside the lab coat, inside the batter’s box, or at the switch inside the execution room. What’s it like to be on the cold end of the stethoscope? Or on the mound? Or on the outside of the viewing glass? Maybe it won’t be appropriate to include these perspectives in the author’s story, but the creativity necessary for real or imagined empathy (or the ambition for seeking out those points of view) is necessary for delivering a finished product that will appeal to a larger number of viewpoints.

3) Idea Expansion: Every great idea holds the potential to be even better. When you add a creative mind to the mix, what you get might be something you never expected.

4) Willingness: Remember that creative minds are also open minds. In order to experience the satisfaction that comes with successful conceptualization, the creative mind is naturally more willing to allow masses of information to enter without bias. It is also more adept at spitting out a product not unlike a delicious dish that prompts the question, “What’s in this? I’m going to need the recipe.”

5) Professionalism: Finally, I should touch on the implication that I made earlier. A professional (in attitude and experience) ghostwriter will refuse to bastardize the concepts put forth by the author. The creative ghostwriter will distinctively expand upon ideas, make them digestible, use them to inform and/or entertain, and do it all while making the author feel that what’s on paper belongs to him or her…because it does.

Of course, creativity is a relative term, and every human possesses some degree of creativity. Those degrees vary when manifested, due in part to opportunity and to the evaluator’s criteria. No matter how you define creativity, the introduction of another mind to any project, when handled judiciously by the newcomer, can only enhance what you have to offer. Without creativity, a ghostwriter is not a ghostwriter at all — he or she is an editor.

Food for Fiction: Newspaper Funnies

Where do you get your short story and novel ideas? No matter your chosen genre, you might look to authentic life for subject matter…and where better to find real life than in the newspaper? There, you’ll find the best, and most often the worst, of this pack we call humanity. When I have the occasion to generate a short story (the bills aren’t stopping, and therefore neither is my ghostwriting), I like to consult local and national newspapers for help with sparking story ideas.  Today, I stumbled across some funny headlines and couldn’t help searching for some of their twisted cousins. Here are my favorites:

  • One-armed man applauds the kindness of strangers
  • Caskets found as workers demolish mausoleum
  • Alton attorney accidentally sues himself
  • Condom truck tips, spills load
  • Man eats underwear to beat breathalyzer
  • Sewage spill kills fish, but water safe to drink
  • Panda mating fails; veterinarian takes over
  • Marijuana issue sent to joint committee
  • Students cook & serve grandparents
  • Hippo eats dwarf
  • Lost:  African elephant
  • Topeka cemetery clean-up in need of volunteers:  A light lunch to follow provided by Waste Management of Kansas
  • Tight end returns after colon surgery
  • Miracle cure kills fifth patient
  • All you need to know about Obama’s package
  • A-Rod goes deep, Wang hurt
  • Hooker named lay person of the year
  • Blind man denied Minn. gun permit
  • Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25

Deeper probing took me to the police blotters:

  • A deputy responds to a report of a vehicle stopping at mail boxes. It was the mailman.
  • Wal-Mart: Police receive a report of a newborn infant found in a trash can. Upon investigation, officers discover it was only a burrito.
  • The Learning Center on Hanson Street reports a man across the way stands at his window for hours watching the center, making parents nervous. Police ID the subject as a cardboard cutout of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And I have to give proper credit to the classifieds:

  • Human skull, used once only. Not plastic. $200 OBO
  • Full size mattress, Royal Tonic, 20 year warranty. Like new. Slight urine smell. $40
  • Potty chair, solid oak, light brown stain

Quick — grab a pen. By the time your diaphragm stops cramping, you’ll have come up with a storyline involving a Hannibal-Lecter-wanna-be mailman who delivers special-recipe burritos, or a veterinarian who learns to embrace both the yin and the yang. Come on — if you write it, I’ll read it.

Should you Lie or Lay?

The decision to use lie or lay can bring my editing to an abrupt halt. Which one is it? They both sound right. Should I refer to song lyrics for the answer? Once I learned the present-tense usage for each, I was then faced with the hurdle of transporting each into the past. I added Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips Lay versus Lie page to my […]