Editing

Using ‘passed’ and ‘past’ correctly #writingtips #amwriting

Following on from my post explaining the differences between ‘lying’ and ‘laying’, another very common issue I find when I’m editing is confusion when using ‘passed’ and ‘past’.

Passed is the past tense of the verb ‘to pass’. It’s used to describe things that have already happened. It’s also the past participle of ‘to pass’ so it’s used for the passive voice (the law was passed) and perfect tenses (thirty years have passed by so quickly).

The definitions of ‘to pass’ are:

  • To move or make something move (the cars passed along the street)
  • To go by someone or something (we passed the supermarket on the way to the meeting)
  • To give something to someone (he passed me the salt)
  • To go by (time has passed so quickly)
  • To be successful in something (I just passed my driving test)
  • To approve a law (the law was passed)

Passed is only ever a verb form.

Past, however, has lots of different functions – it is an adjective, a noun and a preposition.

As a noun:

  • The time before the present moment (we didn’t use that method in the past)
  • The history of a place or person (he never talks about his past)

As an adjective:

  • Gone by in time or no longer existing (his best years are past)
  • Happening before and leading up to the time of speaking or writing (he’s really grown in the past year)

As a preposition:

  • From one side of something to the other (he ran past her and into the house)
  • Telling the time (it’s past midnight)
  • Further than a specific point (I can see past the harbour and out over the sea)

As an adverb:

  • To move from one side so as to move from one side of something or someone to the other (she saw a car going past) 
  • time going by (a year went past before she saw him again) 

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English. 

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

How to Handle Feedback #writingtips #writinganovel #amwriting

One of the most difficult things to deal with when writing a novel is getting feedback, whether this is from a friend, a beta reader or an editor. Honestly – it can be completely terrifying. I know this from experience having written two books myself. The first experience I had of getting feedback on a piece of fiction was when I began studying for a Masters in Creative Writing. A huge part of the course was the workshop. We took it in turns to send a few chapters of our WIPs to everyone in the group and then a week or so later we would gather (online) to discuss that writing. The first time it was my turn I actually felt physically sick. I was terrified that the other students would hate my work, that they would destroy it. So, as an editor, I do completely understand how nerve-wracking it is to get that feedback. And sometimes it’s not only terrifying, it’s also confusing, especially when two or more of your readers or editors have completely different opinions about your work. So how do you deal with feedback?

Feedback from Beta Readers

So you’ve sent out your manuscript to five beta readers and you have five conflicting opinions about it. What should you do?

First, step back and coolly asses your betas. Whose opinion do you really trust? If one of them is your mum, then she’s probably not the one to go with.

Then go with your gut – you know if someone’s comments ring true, if something makes you think, ‘Oh yeah. That’s a good point.’ You need to be honest with yourself.

Look for common threads. If three of your betas hate the same thing, but one loves it, then it’s probably safe to go with the majority.

Feedback from Editors

Again, take a step back. Yes, that’s difficult; your work is so personal to you, so much a part of you. But feedback is vital to improve your craft. So put the process into perspective. Your editor is (hopefully) trying to help you. Their criticisms (if they’re any good) should be constructive. Trust me, when I give feedback on a manuscript, I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, or upset you or belittle you. But it would do you no good whatsoever if I wasn’t honest. I want to help you. So bear that in mind and try to be objective when you look at feedback.

Make sure you understand what your editor is trying to tell you. If you don’t understand their comments or you need some clarification, then ask. Personally, I feel that if a writer comes back to me about a point I’ve raised, then it’s my job to address their concerns. Just because I’ve finished the edit, it doesn’t mean I can no longer answer questions or provide feedback. A caveat though – don’t take advantage of your editor’s good nature; ask a question, accept the answer, but don’t expect a long-running dialogue. And don’t argue either – you’ve asked me for my professional opinion, I’ve given it and I’ve given my reasons for that opinion. It serves no purpose if you don’t agree for us to have back and forth emails about it.

Remember – you own the story. You don’t have to do what your editor says. It’s entirely up to you. But do remember that your editor is not your enemy. We don’t sit there trying to pick faults – we want to help you make your manuscript the best it can be. So if we say something you don’t agree with, take a deep breath, read the criticism again and really think about it. Does your editor have a point?

Happy writing!

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English. 

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

BEATING WRITER’S BLOCK #writingtips #amwriting

Writer’s block – we’ve all heard of it, and lots of us have experienced it, whether it’s just that horrible half an hour of looking at a blank piece of paper or empty screen while our brains refuse to perform, or the more serious, crippling months or even years of inability to create that has afflicted some of the greatest writers. I know there have been times when I have tackled a huge pile of ironing, or walked the dog in the rain rather than face writing another chapter, or starting an article (or even a blog post), and the longer I’ve left it, the worse it has got.

Writer’s block can be caused by many things. For many, it often stems from a fear that their writing isn’t good enough, and that no one will want to read it anyway. Or perhaps you’re feeling guilty about devoting a day to working on your next novel rather than writing something you’re actually getting paid to produce. Then there are all the other little niggling responsibilities. But remember, writing is important because it’s important to you. So next time you’re faced with a blank page, rather than go for the usual avoidance tactics of cleaning the skirting boards or reading random articles online in the name of research, try one of these:

Write anything. Set a stopwatch for five minutes and make yourself write until the buzzer goes. It doesn’t matter what it is; just the physical action of writing something down can be enough to get your writing going again

Let yourself be terrible. Sometimes we can’t write because we feel our writing isn’t good enough. But when you are at the beginning of the writing process that doesn’t matter. Your first draft doesn’t have to be a prize-winner. Just write, whether or not it’s rubbish (chances are, some of it won’t be). You’ll be going back and re-drafting and editing over and over again. It doesn’t matter if what you write now actually is awful – it’s the finished manuscript that matters. As Margaret Attwood once said; ‘If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.’

Move on If you’re stuck in a scene or you can’t quite resolve something, move on to another scene. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t witting chronologically. You can write the ending first if you want to, or the middle, or a scene two thirds through. It doesn’t matter – no one’s watching! You can come back and fill in the gaps later. And writing a different scene might help ‘unblock’ whatever problem it was that you had previously.

Exercise your brain. There are literally hundreds of writing exercises and prompts available online. Use one to kick start your writing. Try Mslexia for lots of helpful writing advice and exercises. And there are plenty of prompts on the Writer’s Digest site.

Exercise your body. Walk the dog or go for a run. Sometimes being away from the house doing something physical can be enough to unblock your brain. Leave your phone behind and look and listen to what’s around you.

Plan your time. If you can, make sure you’re writing when you’re most creative and productive, whether it’s last thing at night or first thing in the morning. Try and keep an hour clear at those times to devote to your writing, even it if means getting up earlier or going to bed a bit later.

Set a target. Even if it’s only a couple of hundred words a day, or thirty minutes a day, make sure you write. Don’t worry how good or bad it is – just write for those minutes or write those many words. As Kingsley Amis once famously said: ‘The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s pants to the seat of one’s chair.’

Give yourself a break. It may be that you’re trying to do too much, that you’re tired and stressed. It’s hard to be creative at times like these. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Take a week away from writing to catch up on all those other little nagging tasks that spring to mind when you’re trying to write. Guilt about spending time writing can cripple creativity, and its all very well telling yourself that writing is important too – we all have other things in our lives that can’t just be ignored. Get these done, and then you can sit down to write without worrying. And the time away may be enough to cure your writer’s block.

Happy writing!

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English. 

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

Getting your writing off to a great start in 2022 #writingtips #amwriting

It’s been a tough couple of years, and goodness knows what 2022 will bring. COVID has shown us that we just don’t know what’s around the corner. But there’s something about January, despite what’s going on the world, that always feels full of hope. It’s like opening a fresh new notebook, full of blank pages just waiting to be filled. 

If you are planning on setting some writing goals in 2022, are beginning your first novel, or cracking on with your twentieth, thinking of self-publishing or are about to query agents, are a first-time author, or a seasoned pro, this is a great time to take the opportunity to brush up on your writing skills. Throughout January and February, I’ll be posting some writing and editing tips to help you on your writing journey.

From advice about the proper use of dialogue tags, to the problems with exposition, from commonly confused words, to managing transitions between scenes, the blog will be full of advice, quick tips and pointers to help get your writing on track.

Make 2022 the year your writing is the best it can be. 

And if you’re considering hiring an editor, do get in touch.

Do You Really Need an Editor? #writingtips #amwriting

The short answer is yes, you do.

If you’re reading this, the chances are you’re thinking of self-publishing. You’ve spent hours writing. You’re proud of your work, but nervous about how it will be received. You’ve spent time revising and polishing when you could have been doing other things. You’ve already paid out for a professionally designed book cover. You really need to start making some money on this project. So you don’t need the extra expense of an editor, do you? Well, yes, you probably do.

You’ve written your masterpiece. You’ve had family and friends read it; they’ve pointed out a few typos but have told you it’s wonderful and that you should publish. So that’s what you do next, right? Well, possibly, if your friends and family are completely impartial and will tell you the honest truth. And if you are completely sure that you’ve managed to catch every typo and grammatical error in your copy. And if you’re one hundred per cent sure that there’s nothing that can be improved, corrected and enhanced by a completely impartial, professional eye. By someone who edits as their job and whose reputation depends on how well they do that job.

You need an editor because, not only will you not see all the typos and grammatical errors but you will be too invested in your work to see it impartially. You know your characters and your plot inside out. You know the sequence of events and why and how things happen. And this is where the problem lies. You can’t ‘un-know’ all of that, so you can’t see the flaws in plot, in structure, in characterisation. You can’t read your book from beginning to end the way a reader will. And if there are flaws and inconsistencies, if there is more than the odd typo, then your readers, if you publish without having had a thorough edit, will be happy to point them out in reviews.

I understand how attached you are to your work. I know how horrible it is to send that work to someone else and have them criticise it, however constructively. However, I also know that this process is far less painful than sending your precious work out there, warts and all, to have those warts picked over by readers and reviewers.

So the question is not ‘can I afford to hire an editor?’ but ‘can I afford not to?’

If you’d like to discuss having your work edited, please do get in touch. You can use the contact form here, or email me at alisonewilliams@sky.com.

Update – and a special offer!

The year is flying past and it’s hard to believe it will soon be Christmas (how exciting!). My editing schedule has been full to bursting this year, which is wonderful, but it has meant that I’ve spent less time blogging, tweeting, sharing etc. than I would like. Add renovating a house, acquiring two more rescue dogs and attempting to knit a huge Harry Styles inspired cardigan (don’t ask!) into the mix, and the New Year has become March has become August has become October, and the year is nearly over.

The absolute bane of my life (the cardigan, not Harry)

But hectic as life is, I can’t complain. I’ve worked with some really lovely clients, old and new, on some fabulous books, I’ve read some amazing novels, now have four (yes, FOUR!) gorgeous dogs, and I have almost knitted a cardigan that has the dimensions of a small eiderdown.

So, to sort of celebrate, I have a special pre-Christmas offer. If you book an edit before the end of next week, you’ll get a 10% discount on the total price.

But hurry – I only have a couple of spaces left in my schedule before the end of the year!

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Punctuating Dialogue

Make sure you punctuate dialogue correctly, particularly when using question marks or exclamation marks before the closing speech mark. So, for example:

Incorrect:

“Who’s there?” He asked.

The sentence consists of the dialogue and the dialogue tag, so there shouldn’t be a capital letter in the middle of the sentence; even though a question mark is usually used at the end of a sentence, here it ends the sentence that is spoken, but not the sentence that the dialogue is a part of, so this should be:

“Who’s there?” he asked.

And:

“I’d like a cup of coffee,” she said.

Note here that, although the sentence of dialogue has ended, the sentence itself hasn’t, so you don’t use a full stop at the end of dialogue, you use a comma.

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Commas #Writing #Editing

1) Use a comma to separate items on a list. This always reminds me of a memory game I used to play with my kids on long car journeys:

I went to the shops and I bought an apple, a banana, a cherry and six bars of chocolate.

Be careful to avoid confusion here though:

I went to the shops and bought my favourite sandwiches – hummus, sardine and cheese and tomato. 

Now, are we suggesting here that I eat sandwiches with all these fillings? Or that I like hummus sandwiches, and sandwiches that contain sardines AND cheese AND tomato. Or sardine and cheese. Or just cheese and tomato? Commas can clear this up:

I went to the shops and bought my favourite sandwiches – hummus, sardine, and cheese and tomato.

2) Use a comma to separate a series of actions, events or elements in a sentence:

She opened the door, peeped inside, and screamed her head off.

3) Use a comma before a conjunction to connect two independent clauses:

She opened the door quietly, but he still heard her.

This is a case where the comma could be left out, but using it here helps the pace of the sentence, and adds to the suspense.

4) Use a comma after the introductory elements of a sentence:

Opening the door, she felt a scream rise in her throat.

Use a comma to set off parenthetical information:

She opened the door, her heart banging in her chest, and peeped inside. 

The bit between the commas can be removed without changing the essential meaning of the sentence.

5) Use a comma to separate adjectives.

She was a scared, pale little thing. 

If you can put an ‘and’ between the adjectives, then it’s probably better to use a comma there instead – you might say ‘she was a scared and pale little thing’, but not ‘she was a scared and pale and little thing’.

6) Use a comma when you are writing speech:

This door’s hinges,’ she said, ‘are in need of some oil.’

And

‘I think we should oil the hinges,’ she said.

7) Use a comma before a phrase that expresses a contrast:

‘The door was tall, but not very heavy.’

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Active and Passive #Writing #Editing

Using the active voice makes your writing simple, clear, concise and immediate, drawing your reader into the action of the piece and giving your writing energy. Using passive voice, on the other hand, can make your writing seem too formal, dull and wordy and can create a distance between the reader and the words.

Passive 

In passive sentences, the thing acted upon is the subject of the sentence, and the thing doing the action is usually included at the end of the sentence, for example:

The book was read by Sam.

The book is the subject receiving the action, ‘was read’ is the passive verb and Sam is doing the action.

Active

In active sentences, the thing or person doing the action is the subject of the sentence, and the thing or person receiving the action is the object. So:

Sam read the book.

Sam is the subject doing the action,’ read’ is the verb and the book is the object receiving the action.

What’s the problem?

The problem with passive is that the thing or person receiving the action becomes the subject of the sentence, but he, she or it isn’t actually doing anything. They are having something done to them. The first sentence isn’t grammatically wrong – it makes complete sense, but it sounds unnatural and forced. Another issue with passive voice is that it can be wordy. For example:

Passive

It was thought by most people that I killed my husband because he cheated on me.

Contrast the active:

Most people thought I killed my husband because he cheated on me.

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Sex Scenes #Writing #Editing

  • Skip the euphemisms. Show your reader some respect. If you need some awful examples to avoid read 50 Shades (Down there? Really? What are we, eleven?)
  • Make it consensual. Obviously consensual. Non-consensual sex is not erotic or sexy. At all. It is just wrong.
  • Your characters are not porn stars. Unless they are porn stars. It needs to be hot, but not unbelievable. Don’t use clichés from terrible porn movies.
  • Stay true to your characters. As with all action scenes and as with all dialogue, your characters need to behave and speak in a way your reader can believe they would behave and speak.
  • Make sure the scene has a purpose. Like any scene or event in your book it needs to drive the story forward.
  • As with all your writing, but especially when writing about sex, use all five senses. ALL of them.
  • Often the idea of sex is more erotic than the act itself. Build up the tension.
  • Act it out! Seriously – one of my best teachers on my Masters course had written both excellent fight scenes and excellent sex scenes and she insisted that the best way to make both realistic and readable was to act them out. (That way you don’t end up having your characters do things that would take three hands each and I don’t have to sit there on a Tuesday afternoon wondering what’s supposed to be going where when I’d rather be eating a biscuit).

Once again, my top tip is to read. Shirley Conran and Jilly Cooper write better sex scenes than a certain other author mentioned above as does Sylvia Day (sometimes). And of course you can’t beat a bit of D H Lawrence. Though in my humble opinion Flaubert did it best with poor old Madame Bovary.