Publication Coach Beating writer's block, writing faster, writing tips, better writing, editing, communications consulting 2017-11-20T09:00:43Z http://www.publicationcoach.com/feed/atom/ WordPress Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[Considering John McPhee…]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17510 2017-11-17T17:54:43Z 2017-11-20T09:00:43Z Reading time: Just over 1 minute This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the.. Continue Reading]]>

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a New York Times Magazine piece on writer John McPhee….

I first heard of writer John McPhee [pictured above] back in 1982. A friend of mine had gone to journalism school in New York City and, gave me the gift of a book called The John McPhee Reader.

While I very much appreciated the gift, I cannot say I appreciated McPhee. I found his writing to be a bit dull and plodding. Funny coincidence: a website I write for recently asked me if I would review McPhee’s new book, Draft No. 4I declined, telling them that I was not an admirer of McPhee’s writing and didn’t want to subject his many fans to what would probably be a negative review.

Anyway, my writing friend Peter Wilson recently forwarded to me a New York Times Magazine piece on McPhee, commenting that he, too, wasn’t a McPhee fan.

But while the author of this piece, Sam Anderson, merely reinforced my view of McPhee’s writing, I found the piece itself to be delightful and engaging. Here is the very first paragraph, which won me over with its fine bit of figurative language at the end:

When you call John McPhee on the phone, he is instantly John McPhee. McPhee is now 86 years old, and each of those years seems to be filed away inside of him, loaded with information, ready to access. I was calling to arrange a visit to Princeton, N.J., where McPhee lives and teaches writing. He was going to give me driving directions. He asked where I was coming from. I told him the name of my town, about 100 miles away. “I’ve been there,” McPhee said, with the mild surprise of someone who has just found a $5 bill in a coat pocket.

Perhaps the message is you can enjoy reading about McPhee even if you don’t appreciate his work.

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[How do I write a book introduction? [video]]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17500 2017-11-17T03:06:25Z 2017-11-17T09:00:23Z Viewing time: 4 mins. and 52 secs. The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question.. Continue Reading]]>

Viewing time: 4 mins. and 52 secs.

The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question focuses on writing book introductions….

If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me at daphne@publicationcoach.com, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.

Transcript: 

Welcome to The Write Question, I’m Daphne Gray-Grant. Today we’re talking about how to write a book introduction.

Today I’m answering a question from science teacher and writer Fred Estes in San Francisco. Here’s his question.

[phone recording] Hi Daphne, I’m writing a book of biographical profiles about contemporary teenage scientists and inventors. To inspire and engage middle and high school students, I want to showcase young people inventing and making discoveries NOW as well as reveal a bit about how they do it. The introduction is a quandary for me. What are the essential elements and structure for a book like mine? How long should it be? How do I captivate potential readers? Thanks. 

Thanks for the questions, Fred. I just rewrote the introduction to next book so your question is very timely for me.

I’m a big believer in NOT re-inventing the wheel. Whenever I’m faced with questions like the ones you’ve asked, I always go to see what others have done. If I admire the work of another writer, I figure they’ve left a good model for me.

I turned to my own bookshelves and pulled down four books. They were:

  • Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.
  • Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.
  • Rising Strong by Brené Brown.
  • And Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki. (Links below)

After a quick look, I noticed that I could divide the authors into two groups: (a) Those who treated the introduction as just another chapter in the book vs. (b) those who made it a short, fairly informal salutation.

Notice I’m not saying that one approach is better than the other. That would make no more sense than saying that tomato is better than tomAYto. Both are correct. In the case of introductions, the important decision is to choose one and be consistent. After examining the four books more closely, I decided I wanted to take the informal approach with my own manuscript.

In terms of “essential elements,” most introductions will give the reader some idea of WHY the author wrote the book and a brief summary of what it contains. Other than that, I don’t think there’s anything that’s intrinsic.

To address the question of length, I also calculated the word count of the introductions of each of the four books. I didn’t have a PDF of any of them, where I could have done a word count automatically, so, instead, I counted the number of words on ONE page and then multiplied that by the total number of pages in the introduction.

I use this technique a lot when I’m trying to estimate the word count of books. It’s fast and easy and I’m guessing is usually within 10% of being accurate. (You just need to be careful not to count a page with lots of diagrams or photos on it.)

Anyway, here’s what I found out:

The two books that treated the intro as just another chapter were both significantly longer. Baumeister’s intro chapter was roughly 6,200 words and Colvin’s was roughly 5,000.

The two books that adopted the more informal style were really quite brief. Brown’s was just over 1,000 words and Kawasaki’s was about 1,300.

Good news for me! Writing my intro chapter wasn’t going to take nearly as much time as I thought. My goal became 1,200, so short it nearly wrote itself.

But, rather than just follow MY advice, I think it’s likely better for you to select four to six books that are somewhat similar to the one you’re writing. Every genre has its own rules and practices.

Once you look at those books, I’m sure you’ll learn all sorts of useful information and perhaps you’ll discover some unspoken rules that I failed to discern myself. There is never any downside to finding a good model and copying it. I’ve posted a link below to a blog I wrote on that topic.

As for how to captivate your readers, I think that relates to your writing style. Is it lively? Is it interesting? Do you use lots of active, persuasive verbs?

The job of writing an introduction is not all that different from writing the rest of your book. Yes, the chapter must fulfill a certain role — it needs to sketch out the purpose of your book — but once you’ve done that, simply apply the same rules you use for any other chapter.

Finally, let me wrap up with a funny quote from William Henry Pratt, who is better known by his stage name, Boris Karloff: “The average introduction to almost any book is somewhat of a bore.”

Thanks for your question, Fred. I know you’re smart enough to make sure you won’t bore, Boris Karloff.

Links: 

Why you should copy other writers

Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney

Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin 

Rising Strong by Brené Brown

Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki

 

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[The figurative language of John Green]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17494 2017-11-14T21:24:49Z 2017-11-16T09:00:04Z Reading time: Less than 1 minute I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading... Continue Reading]]>

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about some similes and metaphors from John Green….

I first heard about John Green (pictured above) about eight years ago, when my kids were 15. He was famous to them as a vlogger — a person who posted funny videos on YouTube and who offered an offbeat way of seeing the world. (In John’s case, he did the videos with his equally charming brother, Hank.) John also wrote young adult fiction, which my kids devoured. Green ultimately became famous for his breakout bestseller, The Fault In Our Stars, which was later turned into a movie.

I’m not generally enamoured by most young adult fiction but I loved the book Stars and, as a result, decided to try Green’s newest title, Turtles All the Way DownThe story focuses on a 16-year-old high school student living with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and her search for a fugitive billionaire. Green has said the book addresses a mental illness that has affected his own life since childhood and that while, “the story is fictional, it is also quite personal.”

I found the book carried Green’s trademark spritely and accessible style, although I must confess I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Stars. Still, he offered some very fine figurative language. Here are my favourite examples:

  • He accelerated with the gentle serenity of the Buddhist Zen Master who knows nothing really needs to be done quickly, and his brakes whined like metal machine music, and I loved him.
  • Her legs were crossed, and her left foot was tapping the ground like it was trying to send a Morse code SOS.
  • Davis’s gangly limbs occupied space like an army holds territory.
  • It had started to drizzle a little — one of those cloudy days in Indiana where the sky feels very close to the ground.
  • I looked up at him and smiled, but I could not cinch the lasso on my thoughts, which were galloping all around my brain.
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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[What does ‘spavined’ mean?]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17487 2017-11-13T18:03:47Z 2017-11-15T09:00:20Z Reading time: Less than 1 minute Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I.. Continue Reading]]>

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: spavined….

When I read a Calvin Tomkins story about artist Dana Schutz in the New Yorker, I was thrilled to see it gave me three fascinating words. Here is Tomkins’ text:

 

Large and medium-sized canvases in varying stages of completion covered most of the wall space in the studio, a long, windowless room that was once an auto-body shop, and the floor was a  palimpsest of rags, used paper palettes, brushed, metal buts filled with defunct tubes of Old Holland oil paint, colored pencils and broken charcoal sticks, can of solvent, spavined art books, pages torn from magazines, bundled work clothes stiff with paint, paper towels, a prelapsarian boom box, empty Roach Motel cartons, and other debris.

One of the wordspalimpsest — I have addressed earlier. (It means a manuscript page from a scroll or book from which the text has been scraped off so the page can be used again. The term is often used metaphorically meaning something having diverse layers beneath the surface.)

The word that most interests me today, however, is the adjective spavined. In my mind’s eye, I imagined it to mean “splayed,” with a broken spine and dog-eared pages. Turns out, I wasn’t far off the mark. The word means “old and decrepit” or “over-the-hill.” The etymology of the word is fascinating, however. The noun spavin refers to a disease of the hock joint (found in the hind leg, between the knee and fetlock) of a horse. It comes from the Middle French espavain but many sources speculate its true origin is from the Old English/Germanic word sparwan, meaning “sparrow.” Why? It seems that horses affected with spavin move with a walk that reminds people of the bird’s awkward gait.

Finally, the word prelapsarian means, “characteristic of or belonging to the time or state before the fall of humankind.”

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[Why writers should use a secret sauce — tracking]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17470 2017-11-14T14:57:15Z 2017-11-14T09:00:53Z Reading time: Less than 3 minutes Have you ever kept a writing tracking record? This simple document — you can.. Continue Reading]]>

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

Have you ever kept a writing tracking record? This simple document — you can create it easily in your own word processing software — will revolutionize your productivity….

When I wrote my first book, 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better, I made so many mistakes.

  • I didn’t have a daily writing goal that was specific enough
  • I allowed myself to edit while I wrote
  • I didn’t track my output

Fixing all three of these problems partway through the process helped me to finish my book and reduced the amount of time I spent yanking out my own hair. But when I consider the challenge/benefit ratio (how hard did I have to work to change my behaviour and what benefit did I get from doing it?), tracking my output was an extraordinarily beneficial change with almost no pain. You have to love that.

Here’s how tracking your output — specifically, recording how many words you write each day or how much time you spend editing — can help you.

It will reduce your stress. You’ll always know exactly where you are in your writing project and you can both celebrate your achievements or, if things are going awry, change your game-plan quickly.

It will improve your motivation. It’s tempting to have a vague idea that you “want to write a book” or “finish the annual report one week before deadline.” But if you don’t have a plan, you’ll never be able to accomplish either of those tasks. Seeing what you’ve done every day, however, will help make the project more “real” to you. And when your tracking chart shows lots of activity, that record will give you a big shot in the arm. And when it shows inadequate activity, this finding will help motivate you to make some changes. It’s just like wearing a pedometer (which I also do) — the act of tracking causes you to do more.

It will alert you to problems ahead of time. If you miss a day of writing because your car broke down or the babysitter was sick, that’s understandable. But if you miss five days of writing, you have a bigger problem. Tracking your word count will force you to be honest with yourself, acknowledge your shortcomings and, most of all, make a plan for doing better the next day.

It will keep you focused. If you’ve developed the habit of working only in “spurts” or binges you likely take off many days, or even weeks, between writing sessions. As a result, you’ll forget at least some of your research or your plans, and you have to spend a good chunk of time catching up every time you resume work on your project. With tracking, however, you’re more likely to feel comfortable writing for small amounts every day. Bonus: you’ll remember what you’re working on and won’t have to spend any time getting reacquainted with the project.

It will help you recognize that your feelings about writing are irrelevant. One of the key findings from my tracking chart was that how I felt about my writing (that it was great and I was the next Susan Orlean or that it was an abysmal failure and I should reconsider my career) bore no relationship to how many words I could produce each day. I could write 500 words on days when I felt terrible and, conversely, squeeze out only 350 on days when I felt terrific. In other words, writing is just a job, and my self-worth bears no relationship to it. This discovery is freeing.

Here’s how to track your writing:

I’m sure there is software that could handle the tracking job, but let’s keep this blissfully simple and affordable.

Open a Word document and click on the “insert” pull-down menu. Select “insert table.” Make it five columns and 35 rows for about a month’s worth of tracking. (Different computers may have slightly different instructions for inserting tables. Do whatever works for yours.)

  • Give the first column the title, “date”
  • Give the second column the title, “feelings”
  • Give the third column the title, “words”
  • Give the fourth column the title, “cumulative”
  • Give the fifth column the title “remaining”

Here is the only tricky bit. You need to calculate the total number of words your project will require. If this project is a book, let’s say that’s 75,000 words. Put that goal in the header with the word “remaining.” (See a photo of my own tracking record at the top of this post.)

OK, you are now the proud owner of a tracking record. Fill it in every day, tracking the date (column 1) how many words you wrote (column 3) and your feeling about that writing (column 2.) When you’ve finished that, calculate the cumulative number of words you’ve written to date (just add today’s total to the cumulative number in yesterday’s column 4). And, finally, wrap up your tracking by subtracting the new cumulative total from the number at the top of column five. Then you know exactly how much more work you have left to complete.

Here’s what I discovered: Once I’d hit the halfway point, the writing became markedly easier and faster with words accumulating like snow on a fence during a storm. I know this is illogical and unscientific, but that’s the way it worked for me.

Try tracking and tell me if it does the same for you.

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My 4-minute video last week aimed to help fiction writers improve their focus. See it (or read the transcript) here and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email,   Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

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Do you track your writing? Why or why not? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Nov. 30/17, will be put in a draw for a copy of Metaphorically Selling by Anne Miller. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[The joy of reading (and writing) about cooking]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17466 2017-11-10T22:15:26Z 2017-11-13T09:00:15Z Reading time: Less than 1 minute This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the.. Continue Reading]]>

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a New York Times post about food writing…

I am a writer. But I am also a foodie. I enjoy cooking, baking, eating, writing and reading about food. It is one of the great pleasures of my life. Perhaps this is why a New York Times post by Tejal Rao spoke so directly to me. Headlined, The Joy of Reading About Cooking, the piece traces the author’s move as a child from London to Paris. Rao is currently a staff reporter at the Times and a winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for restaurant criticism in 2013 and 2016.

As a child, Rao had a hard time when she was initially plucked from London, the city of her birth, and then dropped in Paris, where she did not know the language. Her reminiscences — focusing on how she coped with the sudden absence of her native language by reading cookbooks written in English —  immediately resonated with me. Here is part of what she observed:

We had a paperback of The Australian Women’s Weekly “Children’s Birthday Cake Book.” I studied its pages before going to sleep, lingering over the steps for a vanilla cake lined with chocolate biscuits, topped with finely chopped green jelly and white plastic figurines, which was meant to look like an aboveground swimming pool. It was a book about aesthetics more so than cooking, and whether the recipe was for a typewriter with candy keys or a rubber duck with potato chip lips, it began, like a prayer, in the exact same way: “Make cake according to directions on packet.”

I had that same book when my children were young; perhaps you did, too. I baked and designed many cakes from it for my triplets (although I always did the baking, never using cake mixes). The family-famous of these was the series of train cakes I made for their third birthday — see photo, above. The terrific volume of cake (what was I thinking?) had us giving away cake to neighbours for days afterward.

My thanks to Tejal Rao for reminding me of this special time and for causing me to rummage through our family photo albums so as to find this precious photo of our children…

 

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[How can I improve my writing focus? [video]]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17460 2017-11-16T18:24:28Z 2017-11-10T09:00:52Z Viewing time: 4 mins. 42 secs. The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s theme is.. Continue Reading]]>

Viewing time: 4 mins. 42 secs.

The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s theme is improving writing focus for novelists.

If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me at daphne@publicationcoach.com, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.

Transcript:

Welcome to The Write Question, I’m Daphne Gray-Grant. Today we’re talking about how fiction writers can improve their focus

Today I’m answering a question from Paula Terzian from Walnut Creek, California. Here’s her question:

[recording] Hi Daphne, this is Paula. I have a question: I’m finding it difficult to focus on my book when writing every morning. I tend to do free-writing — writing whatever comes up in my thoughts. It’s more like journaling. Will mind-mapping help with this?

Thanks for the question, Paula. There’s that term again — “free writing.” I think many writers get led astray by it. This technique — which requires you to write about whatever is in your mind for a set amount of time — can be a great tool but it’s not an all-purpose wrench. You can’t use it for everything! And, in particular, you shouldn’t use it for writing a book.

The problem with free writing is that it doesn’t involve preparation. It’s a good tool for reducing fear and improving fluency, but not for much else. If you want more information on the limits of Free Writing, I’ve included a link below.

I know your genre is fiction. A novel needs a plot and characters. Those characters must be situated in a certain place and time and they need to do things that make logical sense. And, by the end of the book, the characters must emerge from some sort of conflict that has either changed or improved them.

Making all of this succeed has more in common with trying to put together a challenging jigsaw puzzle than anything else. There are two general approaches that most fiction writers use:

The categories are  called “plotters” or “pantsers.” Plotters plan out their novels ahead of time and they know what’s going to happen before they write. Typically, they do this using an outline although the more forward-thinking plotters will use a mindmap. (You can find my video on mindmapping in the description) Apparently, J.K. Rowling and John Grisham are both plotters.

Pantsers, on the other hand, fly by the seat of their pants. They don’t make a plan in advance, but, instead, wait for their characters to tell them what to do. Apparently, Margaret Atwood and Stephen King are pantsers.

Neither group is better than the other. I think it’s a bit like being a night owl or a morning lark. Human biology has made the decision and you have to live with it. Fundamentally, though, these two styles are not two different types of writing, but of preparation. Once the writing begins, both groups are still putting words on paper. They have great days when words come easily and bad days when every syllable is a struggle.

Regardless of preparation style, both plotters and pantsers have to keep themselves focused on their novels. And this is why free writing is a problem. It just isn’t focused enough.

If you’re a plotter, you’ll probably start with a large and detailed plan; I suggest a mindmap. You’ll need some really big paper for this — butcher’s paper or unprinted newsprint — and a big table. Doing this mindmap might take several hours or even several days. Don’t rush it. Get a plot that’s really going to work for you.

If, on the other hand, you’re a pantser, you might think you should start with absolutely no planning. Instead, I suggest you begin by writing a biography of every main character in your book. This should go into considerable detail, not all of which will ultimately appear in your manuscript. The idea is to make sure you really know those characters. Then, on top of that, I suggest you do a small mindmap before every writing session. This should take you no more than five minutes and its sole purpose is to inspire you to write that day.

Whatever you do, Paula, spend more time preparing and mindmapping and I think you’ll be better able to focus yourself.

Finally, let me wrap up with some advice from novelist Murial Spark: “You should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work…the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp…And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede you concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it is has lost.”

Thanks for your question, Paula. I hope this video helps you decide whether to consider yourself a plotter or a pantser. And you might want to think about acquiring that cat!

Links: 

Freewriting video #1

Freewriting video #2 

Mindmapping video #1 (why)

Mindmapping vidoe #2 (how)

 

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[The figurative language of Pamela Paul]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17456 2017-11-07T17:26:37Z 2017-11-09T09:00:16Z Reading time: Less than 1 minute I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading... Continue Reading]]>

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of similes and metaphors from Pamela Paul….

When I heard about Pamela Paul’s “BOB” — an acronym meaning Book of Books — I knew I had to read her memoir. Paul, the New York Times book review editor has kept a list of every book she’s read for the last 28 years. I, too, have my own BOB (which I’ve kept for about 25 years) although I transferred mine from a notebook to a digital version more than a decade ago because my handwriting had become so impossible to read.

The value of having a BOB is enormous. It allows you to remember what you’ve read (a challenge if you read a lot — and one that becomes ever more acute as you age). It also helps you see patterns in your reading — the balance of fiction vs. non- and your obsessions with various topics and authors over time. As well, it gives you a handy place to look when friends request book recommendations. Pamela Paul needed to do no convincing of me — I was already completely onboard with the idea of cherishing a BOB.

I also liked the title of her memoir, which was both wry and self-deprecating: My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues.

But most of all, I enjoyed some of her figurative language. My favourite examples are here:

  • I almost wished I had missed the plane, because it hit a patch of rough air over the Atlantic and dipped its way to Europe in bell-curved swoops.
  • A place, known primarily for its cheese, which frankly isn’t a mark of distinction in rural France.
  • I still have a mental image of my feet overhead, hair obstructing my view, and then a whump as I landed and reverberated back up like a ball momentarily drawn by the suction of a vacuum cleaner, the air forced out of my lungs, before I slumped back to the ground and went into shock.
  • The morning headlines, Enid Nemy’s “Metropolitan Diary” in the Times, a breezy Vanity Fair article about a long-forgotten Las Vegas scandal, it didn’t matter what — in a miracle of thematic unity, everything managed to be about my heartbreak, every story thread getting tangled in the shreds of my unraveling life.
  • But no matter how hard I tried to dive into other people’s stories, it felt impossible not to get mired in my own, which rattled in my head like a taunting earworm.

If you’re a serious reader, you too might want to consider the idea of creating your own BOB. My only regret is that I didn’t start mine when I was younger.

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[What’s ‘omerta’?]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17450 2017-11-06T17:52:40Z 2017-11-08T09:00:06Z Reading time: Less than 1 minute Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I.. Continue Reading]]>

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: omerta….

Are you tired of hearing about the foul and reprehensible behaviour of Harvey Weinstein? I’m not so much tired of hearing about it as I am appalled that it was alleged to have occurred. Hasn’t our society progressed past this point now?

Still, I enjoyed a thoughtful and insightful piece in the Oct. 12 Globe & Mail newspaper by John Doyle, headlined, “The Hollywood fable that enabled Weinstein.” And, in addition to some food for thought, Doyle also gave me my word of the week: omerta. Here’s how he used it.

 There is, especially among men and among media, publicists and others on the fringes, a fierce impulse toward denial and there exists a strange omerta based on the notion that the public doesn’t need to know what’s going on.

The word sounded vaguely familiar to me but I couldn’t place it so I looked it up. Turns out omerta refers to a code of silence about criminal activity and a refusal to give evidence to authorities. As the word is related to the mafia, I assumed it would be of Italian origin, and it is, although its roots go back to Latin.

Omerta comes from the Italian umilta, meaning “humility,” referring to the code of submission of individuals to the group interest. This, in turn, comes from Latin humilitas meaning “lowness, small stature; insignificance; baseness, littleness of mind.”

I’m currently — albeit very belatedly — watching season five of The Sopranos (that’s Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini in the photo at the top of this post). You’d think I’d have heard the word there…

 

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[How to work with difficult editors]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17437 2017-11-05T18:46:30Z 2017-11-07T09:00:42Z Reading time: Less than 4 minutes We don’t always get rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes we have to work with people.. Continue Reading]]>

Reading time: Less than 4 minutes

We don’t always get rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes we have to work with people who aren’t very good at their jobs. Here’s a primer on how to work with difficult editors….

I once worked for a difficult editor at the daily newspaper where I cut my teeth. He started screaming at me in my first job interview, and I was so shocked by his aggression that I reacted by being icy cool. Regrettably, this impressed him. When he asked me if I was married, I knew he had crossed a legal line but I doubled-down on my Zen-like attitude. And when he concluded, “so we bring you in here, we train you, and you get knocked up,” I shrugged, literally. At that point, I knew I had landed the job.

But the abuse (not Harvey Weinstein type of stuff, fortunately) continued for the five years I remained in the newsroom. The man was a bully.

The world is filled with bad editors. Here’s how to deal with them:

If the issue is their personality…

You’ll want to minimize your contact with toxic personalities, as I ultimately did with my difficult boss. Steer clear of their tsunami of negativity and talk to them as little as possible. Many of them are attention-seeking narcissists and if they ever seek to belittle you in front of other people (as my boss tried on many occasions) politely move the meeting to a private office as quickly as possible. Otherwise, find ways to delay or postpone meetings, so you spend as little time as possible with such dysfunction.

If you need direction, email your editor politely and neutrally. And if they send you hostile emails — as they will — wait as long as you can before replying. It’s hard not to respond to angry emails with even more anger. Don’t get sucked into that vortex! If you can’t stop yourself from replying right away, at least don’t send the email immediately. Instead, let it “marinate” overnight and review it the next morning when you are calmer. Then you can edit a more thoughtful reply that should aim to de-escalate the conflict.

Most of all, train yourself not to respond in kind to your difficult editor’s deplorable behaviour. It’s bad enough that the person you work for is aggressive, insulting or demeaning. Don’t let the contagion infect you.

If the issue is they’re incompetent editors…

Some editors (like some writers) are nice enough people but they’re not very good at their jobs. Here are the signs of a bad editor:

  • They always leave their work until the very last minute
  • They complain but never praise
  • They never edit face-to-face but simply send you marked-up documents
  • They rewrite instead of edit
  • They always think they know more than you (or your subjects) on the topic you’re writing about
  • They give you unrealistic assignments

It’s tough dealing with bad editors. I was fortunate that my difficult editor was supremely competent at his job (otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed at the newspaper for more than two weeks). But I’ve also worked with my share of incompetence over the years. Here’s what I recommend:

Don’t freak out over every edit. Instead, pick your battles. If an editor has changed the meaning of your work (or worse, tried to change quotes from your sources), or inserted inaccurate material, speak up quickly and firmly. Be polite and thorough and propose ways of fixing the errors your editor has created. (It will be easy for them to cut and paste your suggested changes.)

Accept the majority of edits as graciously as possible — even if you disagree with them — and move on. If the editor is spectacularly inept, you might want to alert your writing friends, quietly, but it won’t make you look good to tweet or post on Facebook about your bad experience.  That will only make other editors suspect that you may be the problem.

If you’re a freelancer, rather than an employee, never accept a job without a contract. The contract doesn’t need to be super formal and written in legal mumbo-jumbo. Instead, it can be a letter that spells out the details of your assignment, your terms, your expected payment, the timeline for your payment and your deadline. Some operations have a standard contract, but you can also offer your own. See one here, but be sure to customize it for your own country.

Most of all, always think about specifying a “kill fee.” This fee is what the client will need to pay you if they change their mind about publishing what you write. Typically, kill fees are 50% of the money you’d get if the article were published. Also, be aware that you should always negotiate the timeframe for your payment (on receipt of the article? On publication? 30 days after publication?) I once had a publisher delay paying me for more than six months. I was young and stupid enough not to have had a contract. I never made that mistake again.

If the issue is a personality conflict…

Not all editors you dislike are necessarily bad or incompetent. Sometimes the two of you are both fine human beings, but you’re a bad match. If this is the case for you — and you still want to accept the work — then be squeaky clean and be sure to do an exemplary job writing. Check out my 10 tips on how to appear shockingly smart to any editor.

When to say no….

Your answer to an offer of work should not always be yes. Sometimes it makes more sense to say no. I can recall using that two-letter word at least twice:

  • An editor once asked me to interview 10 people and write a 600-word story. I stopped myself from laughing aloud, but the idea was so ridiculous — 60 words per person?! I told the editor I couldn’t do it. When she asked why and I explained the problem she hired me for another story. Happy ending.
  • I had pitched a national magazine on a story and, three years later (!) the editor finally called to accept. Too bad for me she wanted the story in just three weeks. I had a back injury at the time and knew that I couldn’t do the work. I said a polite no and told her she was free to use another writer to do the story. Also, a happy ending practically, if not financially.

I didn’t say no to my first terrible boss because I was desperate for a job at that newspaper. But I left the newsroom as soon as I could, ultimately accepting a job in management at the parent company. That bad boss left a couple of years after I did and, I hear, is now a grumpy 80-year-old.

Have you ever had to cope with a difficult editor? How did you handle it? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. And congratulations to SJ, the winner of this month’s book prize, On Writing Well by William Zinsser for an Oct. 18/17 comment on my blog. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Nov. 30/17 will be put into a draw for a copy of Metaphorically Selling by Anne Miller. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

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