Editing Bullet Journal Tracking for Fiction Writers

If you missed it on Instagram (Facebook, Twitter), I completed the first draft of my novella last week and dove right into editing! I’m so excited, that I’m breaking my monthly posting schedule to share the happy news! Now onto my favorite part: editing.

I love editing because there is material to work with. I can print things out, cut them up, move them around. For this novella, I’m doing a combination of analog and digital editing techniques.

Digital Editing Tools

I keep the manuscript in Microsoft Word and sync it across devices using Google Drive. I edit for passive voice, readability (grade level), and adverbs using the Hemingway App. I bought the desktop version, but it’s very buggy, so if you need an editor I’d use the free online version. This will allow me to submit a manuscript edit to my editor, who will find things I couldn’t, even with the digital tools.

Caveat: Digital editors will never replace a human. I use Hemingway to help find my blind spots. I default to passive voice and adverbs, so luckily, this tool helps me. If you have different writing crutches, you might need to look elsewhere for help.

Analog Editing Tools

I have my little desk calendar to tell me how many days in a month I spend on writing (first image in this post). I also created a bullet journal tracker for editing each chapter. Details below!

Typically, habit trackers are for days, weeks, or months. Whatever the unit of time, assign it as your table column headings. For editing, my columns are each chapter, 1 – 33. So it’s almost like a month anyway.

The rows are the habits you’re tracking, or for editing, the lenses you use to edit your work. I have rows for:

  • Plot holes
  • Research
  • No prose contractions i.e. narrative should not have contractions but dialogue can
  • Ready for editor
  • Ready for beta readers

I have space on the page to add more lenses as they come up. I’m through chapter 6 and haven’t thought of anything yet. I have a list of questions I need to address before the book ends, or little reminders I forgot because it took me three years to write the first draft. For instance, by the last chapter, one of the rooms in the house no longer exists. So half of the chapters I’ve touched included me removing that room and shifting where the characters are interacting.

I shared this with the Bullet Journal Writers Facebook group and got a positive response, so I wanted to share in case it might help you with your writing!

Tomorrow, we’ll return to my regular monthly blog post: I participated in a monthly writing challenge (six word stories for thirty-one days). With the release of this book coming in April, I expect to break my monthly posting schedule quite a bit.

Here are some additional resources that can help you:

Use the Hemingway App as a First-Pass Copy Editor

With a third of the latest work-in-progress written, I’m now ready to try out the Hemingway App. The Hemingway App is freeware that LifeHacker shared back in February 2014. Now, there are a lot of different writing apps, and I don’t put much stock into “write without distractions” software. If you want to write without distractions, turn off all your screens, turn on the radio, open a notebook, grab a pen, and start that shitty first draft.

So why did I want to try the Hemingway App? Because it promises to edit efficiently by highlighting common writing errors. It becomes, in essence, your copy editor. It will tell you a number of stats, including the:

  • Readability level
  • Number of adverbs
  • Number of complex phrases
  • Number of passive voice uses
  • Number of hard to read or difficult to read

Catching these errors by “yourself” could probably save you a cool thousand (or more) in editing fees! Find the easy stuff yourself so you can pay someone else to edit your plot. I’m all for it.

How did I do?

In short: not well. Not as bad as it could have been, but I was surprised by a couple of things. I thought I was doing much better at not using adverbs since reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, but lo, I had 128 adverbs! Similarly with passive voice… 92 times? Really?

untitledYA_hemingwayBefore

Let’s take a look at what happened when I began editing the text. I removed adverbs either outright, or replaced the verb-adverb combination with a better word. Passive voice? Gone, if I could help it. Complex sentences? Simplified, if it didn’t make the book seem juvenile (remember, I’m writing for young adults and older, 13+ years).

Let’s check out the results…


untitledYA_hemingwayDuringAfter

Just by editing chapter 1, I removed: 15 hard sentences; 18 difficult sentences; 10 adverbs. Not too shabby! I was worried this work would make it feel less like I was writing. Instead, the story feels more compelling.

Things to Keep in Mind with Hemingway App

Compatible with Microsoft Word

Importing a Microsoft Word file is super easy. They have a special import option for this, and the resulting text will match the hierarchy you put in place i.e. headings, bold, italics, and the like. The export back out to a Word file worked as expected. However, I edited in Word on half my screen with the Hemingway App open in the other half screen, because…

Clunky Experience with Large Amounts of Text

The Hemingway app does not like huge chunks of text. I imported my entire Word .docx file, which had over 24000 words. This included everything; chapters I didn’t know if I would use, back cover blurb, elevator pitch, etc.

Editing was tedious, I assume because the app was recalculating every time I made a change. I would hit enter to separate a sentence from a paragraph, and watched the app hang for a couple seconds to catch up to my keystroke. This was upon opening the app, too!

My suggestion is to dual-screen with this app so you can keep moving with your edits. Then, just re-import later to see your improved statistics.

Contractions are Not Your Friend

The Hemingway app thought every contraction (couldn’t, wouldn’t, didn’t) was a misspelled word. I suppose that’s fine, I’m writing historical fiction so contractions are a form of lazy writing, if you ask me. They work fine for dialogue, but probably should not exist in the prose.

Conjunctions are Not Your Friend

If you’re going for an easy reading level, conjunctions (however, but, and) bump the difficulty. Or rather, conjunctions with many adjectives bump the difficulty. I often found myself trying to write a sentence into two separate ones. Then I would lose the meaning I wanted, so I would rewrite the conjunction, and take out the adjectives. This made the Hemingway app happy and removed the highlight.

Conclusion

You don’t have to follow all of the Hemingway App suggestions. I’m going with it because it forces me to write cleaner sentences. I’m pleased with how this app is influencing my rewrite. Let me know how you guys like (or dislike) using this app!

When Someone Reads Your Writing

Dear Reader,

I just sent Atlanta & the Lion and Other Tales and The Rebel’s Touch to a trusted friend from my 8th grade after school writing club who continued to write and got her masters in the creative writing industry. Let me tell you, I am nervous. Caitlin O’Sullivan has always been a better writer than me, and I haven’t had anyone look at my work in two years while I’ve been busy setting up my apartment, transitioning to a new job, and diving into the swing dancing world.

Kind of terrified about her critique, even though I know I need it as a kick in the pants to get writing again. I’d like to release the short story and poetry anthology sooner rather than later as I have the whole thing compiled, it just needs severe editing. Which I’m sure she will rip it apart with the best intentions. This is the scary thing about beta readers… they’re looking at your work before you’re ready to show it to someone else, say, an editor you’re going to pay. The beta reader is usually a reciprocal relationship, so I fully expect Caitlin to ask me to look at her work at some point, and I’ll do so gladly.

Which reminds me… I remember Caitlin saying a while back she was interested in breaking into the editing gig, and considering I trust her opinion completely… for those of you who are looking to try out a new editor, send Caitlin a line asking about her rates. She’s working on a historical fiction, and I know she wrote science fiction in high school, so her range is pretty broad.

Looking forward to seeing what she has to say, though I’m cringing at the thought at the same time!

Best,

Belinda

Life as a Writer’s Block

Dear Reader,

Sometimes, we need a break.

After I graduated with my masters in 2010, I was dead-set on having my second book published within the year, which I did.

It took me seven years to write Haunting Miss Trentwood (because I was a full-time student and a part-time writer). I put my hand and head to marketing, and did so for a year… so much time spent interacting on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc, meant I wasn’t reading or writing anymore. Just talking about things that I had read and written before Haunting Miss Trentwood was published.

It was draining. Exhausting. It made me despise writing, the thinking and doing of it.

I have felt so guilty lately for not wanting to touch The Rebel’s Touch. I keep printing drafts hoping I will feel that old familiar rush that motivated me to put the Red Pen of Doom to paper. Nothing doing. Instead, I find myself staring out the window, wishing my head didn’t hurt. Or hoping a certain someone calls so we can hang out. Or looking up new recipes because I don’t want to be sitting, I want to be moving around and making something new. Or throwing my dance shoes into my bag because I have a performance or a lesson to teach or a party to enjoy.

Fact is, I have a very particular sort of Writer’s Block: life.

I never had a life before. It’s amazing! In high school, college, and even graduate school, my schedule consisted of…

  • School,
  • Homework, and then,
  • Because I wasn’t allowed to hang out with anyone after dark (in high school anyway which set my pattern for undergrad and grad school), I would read or write or paint or sew.

I love those years, they made me prepared and capable to handle the little fixes around the house.

But the truth of the matter is I have no idea how to balance a full life and my writing.

The first three months of 2012, I tormented myself by thinking I wasn’t being true to my craft. I didn’t want to admit that my “craft,” as it were, was switching. I’m a swing, lindy hop, and balboa dancer. I won’t have this “young” almost-27-year-old body forever. This is my opportunity to make the best of my youth and dance while I can. Writing… well, I hope with all my soul that I will always have my mind available to write one more story.

I’ve also begun exploring religion, something that has always been a part of my life, but never explicitly. I just have so much I’m trying to figure out right now… My psyche is in flux, making it difficult to write about characters whose lives are also in flux. Without knowing myself and what I want to write about, it is almost impossible for me to give my characters minds and thoughts and worries of their own.

Do you have any suggestions for me, to help me balance life and writing?

Anyway, that is my explanation for my radio silence.

All the best,

Belinda

Determining a Character’s Big Goal

Dear Reader,

The last couple of weeks I’ve talked about how I brandish the Red Pen of Doom for editing. I needed the edits so I could determine which characters were necessary to the plot, whether I needed to change motivations, and if I needed to tweak the hints I’ve dropped about character pasts.

Eventually I will have to type the edits into the manuscript but in the meantime, I’ve locked them away for safekeeping so I can focus on writing new content rather than obsessively tweaking existing content. To keep me on track with the new content, I wrote the characters’ Big Goals on a whiteboard.

What are Big Goals?

If I could tattoo the Big Goals on my arm I would. Just looking at them inspire me to write. Big Goals are the primary motivation behind the character  doing anything in the book. Let’s look at our h/h from The Rebel’s Hero, for instance.

Tempest wants to be free, but when she is kidnapped, she gets confused and thinks her Big Goal is to get home. Daniel wants to help runaway slaves, but when he meets Tempest he gets confused into thinking he wants to get rid of her. However, neither of these are his Big Goal. Daniel’s Big Goal is to figure out what happened to him; why he lost all of his memories from before age fourteen.

In Haunting Miss Trentwood, Mary’s Big Goal is to live her life quietly and in peace, but when her father begins to haunt her, her Big Goal switches to figuring out why he’s haunting her and what she can do about it. Hartwell’s Big Goal is to protect his family, and along the way in Haunting Miss Trentwood, his Big Goal is clouded by his growing attraction and affection for Mary.

So you see, determining the Big Goals brings characters together. The way they go about accomplishing these goals is where the spats, clashes, passion, and drama occur. It’s inspiring to me, and makes writing fun.

Also, imagery like the one in this post inspires me to write. If The Rebel’s Hero wasn’t already a play on Sleeping Beauty, I’d totally make it more Steampunk. After all, my masters thesis used Steampunk artisans as a case study. This fantastic piece is called On Steampunk Wings, by Gwendolyn Basala on DeviantArt. She’s got some excellent stuff there.

Procrastinate by browsing her work! Gotta love reenacters. I have half a mind to bug her about dressing the part and what a woman could get away with not wearing, since Tempest isn’t such a fan of crinolines (hoop skirts) or her stays (corset).

Best,
Belinda

Wielding the Red Pen of Doom (i.e. Editing)

Dear Reader,

This week I’d like to talk about what I look for when I pull out the Red Pen of Doom on my shitty first draft. But first, a sketch of Tempest Granville, the main character of The Rebel’s Hero, that I drew during a boring meeting at work…

She has wild hair because she is a tomboy. She is frowning because her dad wants to marry her to someone she doesn’t like. And then there’s the whole kidnapping escapade. That definitely brought a frown to her face.

Wielding the Red Pen of Doom

When I pull out the Red Pen of Doom, especially in the early chapters when I haven’t written the remainder of the book, I look for three main things:

  1. Is the heroine’s goal clear?
  2. Is the hero’s goal clear?
  3. Does the combination of their goals make for an interesting and intelligible story?

Notice I’m not too concerned about characterization or setting yet. That comes with the draft that is between the Shitty First Draft and the Reader Worthy First Draft. I like to call that draft, the one that is interesting and intelligible but lacking the meaty descriptions and emotions, Shitty First Draft B.

I use the Red Pen of Doom to remind me that I must be brutal to the Shitty First Draft. This is no time to hold onto my darlings. They aren’t my darlings yet, I haven’t lived with them long enough. This is my best opportunity to make goals of characters crystal clear. I consolidate unnecessary characters and plot lines, simplifying them so I can explore backstories and emotions fully in later drafts.

I ask the three questions I listed above on every page. If I don’t have an answer in seconds, then goodbye you lovely paragraph that was a study of beauteous grammar, but you are dead weight and you must go.

I tend to do this sort of editing when I’ve had a good day. I’m more objective when I’m in a neutral/good mood rather than when I’ve had a crappy day and want to punch everyone’s face in for even thinking of looking at me.

Writing. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

Best,

Belinda

P.S. If you’re here because of the Back to Books Giveaway Hop, welcome! This is a simple giveaway. Subscribe to my newsletter below to get half-off my book Haunting Miss Trentwood. You should receive your discount code upon confirmation of your subscription.

 

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Why We Write Shitty First Drafts

Dear Reader,

If your English teacher was worth anything in high school, then they should have told you that you must write a “shitty first draft.” I’ve talked about shitty first drafts before, but a friend complained to me recently that they didn’t like that advice.

Why? Because their college professor ripped apart their first draft, saying it wasn’t good enough. It traumatized my friend.

I stared at him a moment, not sure he was serious. Of course, he was. I said, “But darling, you never show your actual first draft to anyone. There’s a writer’s first draft, and then there’s what I like to call a Reader-Worthy-First-Draft.”

The writer’s shitty first draft is, more often than not, a really shitty draft. It is the definition of shitty. The characters are cardboard, the plot is dramatic and full of holes, the grammar is awful. That is the point. That draft is for the writer to get ideas to the page with as little judgment as possible. A Reader-Worthy-First-Draft is when you’ve gone back through so that the draft makes sense.

I am at that point for the first eleven chapters for The Rebel’s Hero. I had to go back through it twice. I wanted to share the result, in all its gory beauty.

I use a Red Pen of Doom because it means serious business. Now you know I’m alive and working on making my shitty drafts Reader Worthy. Look forward to my next blog post where I’ll detail some of the things I look for when the Red Pen of Doom makes an appearance.

Best,

Belinda