Writing

Saturday writing tips: Write the right word – homophones #writingtips

weekend writing tips

I don’t often post on my blog at the weekend, but as it’s the time that a lot of writers who also have a day job might get some time to focus on their writing, I thought it would be a good idea to start a new series of writing tips on a Saturday morning. so here’s the first in the series – cracking those annoying homophones. Enjoy!

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A homophone is a word that is pronounced in the same way as another word, but has a different meaning and is spelt differently. They can cause writers, and in turn their readers, confusion.

One common example of this is ‘there’, ‘their’ and they’re’. Since I’ve been editing I’ve been surprised by how many people get this wrong. It isn’t always that a writer doesn’t know the difference, but often the wrong word has been used accidently and just hasn’t been picked up. But if you use the wrong version in your published book, readers will think you don’t know what you’re talking about (there’s another one – your and you’re) and will lose their trust in you and your book.

So, just in case:

  • there – refers to a place or is used with the verb to be: ‘There is a lion in the zoo; look, it’s over there.’
  • their – shows possession. ‘It is their lion.’
  • they’re – the contraction of ‘they are’. ‘They are looking at their lion.’

Other commonly mixed-up homophones I’ve come across are:

  • waive and wave
  • for, four and fore
  • to, too and two
  • discreet and discrete
  • wrings and ring (‘she was ringing her hands’ should be ‘she was wringing her hands’)
  • fazes and phases

A homonym is a type of homophone in which the word is spelt the same, pronounced the same way, but has a different meaning, so, for example:

homophones

One of the best ways to make sure you’re using the right word is to have someone else read over your work, whether that’s a beta reader, a fellow writer or an editor. Sometimes we’re so close to our work that we don’t notice these relatively simple errors. A fresh pair of eyes can make all the difference. and don’t rely on Spellcheck. it won’t always catch these errors.

Spotted any amusing or weird homophones? Do tell me about them by leaving a comment below.

For $%*@*’s sake – is there any need for swearing? Warning: (obviously) contains swearing #WritingCommunity

swearing

I never, ever once swore in front of my mum. Not once, even as an adult. She would have been horrified, even though she swore. My children (well, they’re 23 and 21) swear in front of me all the time. I swear in front of them. I’m sure some people reading this think I’m a terrible mother.

I saw a tweet the other day (bloody Twitter, causes me so much stress) asserting that using swearing in your writing means you’re too ignorant to think of another word. This lady was implying that those who swear, or whose characters swear, are stupid.

This made me f#$king furious.

Firstly – swearing doesn’t make you stupid. This is not a brag, but I have a master’s degree. One of my foul-mouthed children is studying for a master’s at King’s College, London. The other is studying veterinary medicine at the Royal Veterinary College. They are kind, compassionate, thoughtful, caring, wonderful people. And they are certainly not stupid.

Secondly – as a writer, you need to use the right word, for your character and for the situation. Not the most fancy word. Or the longest word. If your character is about to be murdered, for example, are they going to say ‘Goodness me’? If they have just found out a deadly secret, or had their inheritance stolen, been shot in the knee, or are being burned at the stake, they’re not going to say, ‘Oh dear, what a calamity.’ They’re going to swear.

And that goes for historical fiction too. Street urchins, prostitutes, shopkeepers, manservants and working class women swore. So did the gentry. And the clergy. And everyone. Apparently the first recorded use of the word ‘fart’ is from 1250! ‘Fuck’ was used in English in the fifteenth century. ‘Shit’ is one of the oldest words in existence.

Swearing has its place. Sometimes, the most filthy word is definitely the right word. If you’d been at my house on election night, the air was blue. And it made me feel much better! And as writers, we need to make sure that the words we use are the right words. Adding a ‘shit’ or a ‘fuck’ to your manuscript doesn’t make you stupid. If it’s the right word, then it’s the right word.

So put down that fucking thesaurus!

 

Writers – Respect Your Readers #writingcommunity #selfpublishing

angry 1

I’ve seen a few tweets recently about the need for writers to hire professionals, be it editors, proofreaders, formatters or book cover designers. The reactions to these tweets seem to be split 50/50.

As an editor, obviously I believe that authors benefit from having their work professionally edited. I appreciate that the cost of this can be prohibitive. I’m not suggesting that authors shouldn’t write because they can’t afford to hire professionals. But that doesn’t mean you should publish.

I know this is going to be controversial, but I’m going to say it anyway. Unless you are 100% capable of editing, proofreading, formatting or design, then you should hire someone to do those things for you, because if you are expecting someone to pay for your books, then your books should be worth paying for.

Authors – the people who buy your books are not your critique group. They are not your beta readers. They are not your editors or proofreaders. They do not owe you anything. Your readers work to earn the money that they spend on your books. They deserve for those books to be worth what they’ve paid. I hear of far too many authors who say they can’t afford to pay professionals but they’ll publish anyway. I hear of far too many authors who think they don’t need advice. They think they can turn out a perfectly-formed book, without any feedback, any advice, any help.

You don’t have some god-given right to publish a book and expect people to pay for it. And anyone in the creative fields has to expect to spend a little money. Artists have to buy their paints and canvases. They may have to hire a venue if they want to exhibit. Musicians have to buy recording equipment, instruments, maybe hire a recording studio. They all have to work at their craft. Confectioners and bakers and dressmakers and potters and wood carvers and sculptors, they all have to invest and practise and learn. Why do some authors think they don’t?

Just because you can type a manuscript, put together a basic cover and upload it onto Amazon doesn’t mean you should or that you should expect other people to pay for the privilege of reading it.

Now this might come across as if I have something against self-publishing. I absolutely don’t. I’ve self-published. I work every day with authors that self-publish. Some of them are brilliant. Most of them write gripping, entertaining, fabulous books that I would choose to spend money on – but none of them would publish a first draft. And they’re always the ones who take advice, are willing to learn, who respect their readers.

I am heartily fed up of authors on Twitter saying that they can write what they want, how they want, and if people don’t like it, so what? OK, that’s fine, until you expect people to pay for it.

Getting a traditional publishing deal is hard, and often not the best way for a writer to publish anyway. There is absolutely nothing wrong with self-publishing. There are thousands of hard-working, talented, wonderful independent authors out there. They deserve to be successful, to have thousands of readers. They work at their craft. And they’re being let down by those other self-publishers who throw out sub-standard work.

One indie author told me that she can’t afford to hire an editor, or a proofreader. So she’s publishing as many books as she can, and using the reviews as free feedback. I find such disregard for your reader and their hard-earned cash hard to fathom.

Bad indie authors tarnish the reputation of all indie authors. Have some pride in your work, some pride in your industry. And above all, have some respect for your readers.

How to choose an editor #writingcommunity #writing #editing

writer

A new year means that many of us will be assessing the past year and making plans for the future. If your resolutions and goals include finishing that novel, or self-publishing or submitting to an agent, you should consider using an editor to make sure your manuscript is up to scratch.

The boom in self-publishing, as with any industry, means that a multitude of businesses have sprung up around writing. There are editors aplenty out there, but not all of them are up to the job. I’ve worked with countless writers who have paid hard-earned money to editors who haven’t a clue what they’re doing. As a writer myself, I understand how fellow writers feel about their work, and also how difficult it can be to hand that manuscript over to someone else, often someone you don’t know, and trusting them to do a good job. So what should you expect from an editor? And what should you look for when choosing one?

Testimonials

Look for testimonials from previous clients. If an editor can’t provide testimonials, find out why. When I began my business, I provided free edits in return for honest testimonials. This way I began to build a reputation and a client base (most of those clients that I provided free edits for came back to me with their next projects) and could also provide new clients with evidence that I could actually do the job. I’m happy to say that since then I have had testimonials from many clients and that now most of my work comes from happy clients who come back to me.

Sample edits

An editor should offer to provide you with a free sample edit. This way you can see how they work and see if it is right for you.

A contract

An editor should provide you with a contract setting out exactly what you should expect and what the editor also expects from you. This contract should include dates, fees and a summary of what’s included in your edit.

A price

I have worked with clients who have lost money to unscrupulous editors including one client whose ‘editor’ asked her to pay up front and then didn’t deliver. OK, you might think she was naïve to pay out, but this was new territory for her and she was unsure how things work. Unfortunately, I’ve also worked with clients who have paid the deposit, received their edit and then vanished without paying the balance. It goes with the territory, but please don’t be that person.

Make sure you know the rate, and when you’re expected to pay. And please do stick to this.

A reasonable timescale

Your editor should give you a date when your edit will be done and back to you. If they can’t commit to a date, ask yourself why. I’ve heard of editors who haven’t delivered when promised, have made excuse after excuse or have refused to give a firm date in the first place. Where does this leave a writer with a publication date in mind? And don’t let the process go on for months and months. If I have an editing project then that is what I work on – it takes priority. I plan my schedule so that projects – paid for writing projects or editing projects – take priority over everything else. I give a client a firm date – usually ten working days for an edit of a manuscript of up to 80,000 words. I have seen editors who will take up to six weeks to do the same amount of work. That’s fine if that works for you – but make sure it does work for you and that the deadline is agreed by both of you.

Honesty

Sometimes this is a hard one to take. It’s not very nice having someone tell you about all the faults in your work, all those things that don’t work. But an editor should do this. What’s the point otherwise? I know that I have built a bit of a reputation for my honesty – and that some people don’t see that as a good thing. They usually don’t ask me to edit their full manuscripts if they don’t like my honest appraisal of their sample. Which is probably a good thing. If you’re paying money to someone to edit your work then you must realise that the editor isn’t there to pat you on the back and tell you what a great writer you are. They are there to offer a professional, unbiased, honest critique of your work and to show you how to improve it and get it to a publishable standard. Yes, I do compliment a writer on things they have done well, things that really work. But what’s the point of me glossing over something that isn’t right? Something that doesn’t work? That will mean you’ve wasted your money. As one of my clients says:

‘Alison will pull no punches, but then, why would you want her to? You want your book to be the best it can be, right? You want your readers to get the best possible story you can produce, right? You want five-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, right?’

Exactly

So when you’re looking for an editor, do make sure that you are very careful, make sure you both know what’s involved and what everyone’s expectations are. And do be ready to listen and take advice. That’s what your editor is there for.

Happy writing!

I’m currently offering a 10% on bookings taken before the end of January for February and March. My schedule is filling up fast, so do get in touch soon to discuss your project. You can use the ‘contact’ form or drop me an email at alisonewilliams@sky.com

 

 

New Year, New Goals and a Special Offer #writing #editing #NewYear

resolution

I’ve taken a break from social media over the holidays because it can be a huge distraction, and I really wanted to enjoy some family time. But the house is now empty, much quieter and very tidy!

A new year, of course, is a time for reflection, and for looking forward. I love making plans, and the feeling of having a fresh start, and I’m looking forward to the year ahead.

This year I am determined to get through my huge TBR list – I really need to read at least one book a week, and post a review a week on the blog. Please do hold me to account if I fail to do so – I sometimes need a kick up the bum!

book pile

This is pretty much what my TBR list looks like

I also desperately need to get back to writing. I’m setting aside a day a week this year to do so.

And now I’m fifty I recognise the need to really stay fit and healthy, so I’m going back to running. Luckily I have a husband who is a keen runner and he’s also great at motivating me, as well as putting up with me swearing at him when he makes me go out even when it’s pouring with rain (which is every day in Wales).

To keep me motivated I’m going to sign up for a 10K – I last did one ten years ago (gulp!) and it felt wonderful when it was done. My daughter also wants to do a ‘Tough Mudder’ and I’m definitely considering that.

And of course I want to continue editing – working with wonderful clients. I love my job and one of the shelves in my bookcase is filled with books I’ve edited. It makes me hugely proud to see them and I hope to add many more this year.

To celebrate the New Year and a new decade, I’m offering a 10% discount on any bookings placed before the end of January for February and March. Drop me an email at alisonewilliams@sky.com and I’ll get straight back to you.

You can find out about my editing services here, and read testimonials from very happy clients here.

Wishing all my clients, old and new, and all my lovely blogging and writing friends a very happy and successful New Year!

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Writing and Editing Tips – Capitalising Kinship Names #amwriting #writingcommunity

tips

Kinship names are the words we use to indicate family members, like mum, mom, dad, aunt etc. Incorrect capitalisation of these names is a huge bugbear of mine. I see it done incorrectly in so many self-published books, and more and more in traditionally published  books too.

It seems to cause a lot of confusion, when it’s really actually very simple:

Capitalise when the name immediately precedes a personal name, or when the name is used alone in place of an actual name.

So:

Did you remember to get Mum a birthday card?

We went to see Dad when he was in hospital.

Lily and Joe loved visiting Aunt Susie’s house.

I was seven when I last saw Grandma.

Don’t capitalise when these words follow the personal name, when they don’t refer to a specific person or when they are used with possessive nouns or pronouns.

So:

The Sinfield sisters always stuck together.

There aren’t many dads who would do that.

My aunt wasn’t feeling well.

I bought a card for my mum.

Sally’s grandma lived next door.

Many children’s books portray families and use these terms and I shudder each time I see it done incorrectly. Children learn from the books they read. It’s up to writers and editors to make sure we get it right.

 

The Blurb and the Synopsis – Know the Difference #amwriting #writingcommunity #writingtips

frustrated writer

I’ve seen a lot of posts on Goodreads lately where an author posts their blurb and asks for advice and feedback. The biggest issue I’ve seen is that the blurbs are far too long and detailed and read more like a synopsis. It’s really important to get the blurb right – its purpose is to attract a reader, to make them want to read your book. And if you’re approaching agents, you really need to nail that synopsis. I’ve posted on this subject before – but I can’t give this advice often enough.

What is a blurb?

blurb

The blurb is the hook, along with the cover, to reel those readers in. You need to make sure that you entice your reader, that you intrigue them without giving too much away. Longer than the elevator pitch, but shorter than a synopsis, the book blurb is key to whetting a reader’s appetite.

So how should you approach it? Here are some quick tips on getting that blurb up to scratch.

  • Keep it short. This is NOT a synopsis. You want a couple of two to three line paragraphs. Too much and you risk giving too much away and turning off your reader. Too little and you might miss the mark.
  • Mention your main character(s). It’s important for your reader to know who the book is about.
  • Be precise. There is no place or space for vagueness, long-windedness or clever clever vocabulary in your blurb. Short, sharp, to the point.
  • Make it interesting. Obviously. What’s intriguing about the story? Why would I want to read it?
  • Don’t give away the ending. It might sound silly to even point that out – but it does happen.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other writers or compare the book to other books. Tell your potential reader that you’re the next J.K Rowling or Stephen King and you’re more likely to annoy them than anything.
  • Watch out for clichés or overused words and phrases. Try and be refreshing and new. And interesting.

What is a synopsis?

synopsis

A synopsis is basically a summary, or outline, of your novel. If you are approaching agents or publishers, they will want to see a synopsis. A synopsis is not a blurb and you should not include a synopsis on Amazon, Goodreads or wherever you are selling your book.

First of all, check what the agent/publisher is looking for. They may well specify a length and may want you to write a chapter by chapter synopsis. If there are no specifications, then I would advise sticking to one page, single-spaced, six hundred words maximum.

Remember to write in third person (even if your novel is written in first person). Use active voice and present tense.

Now to the actual writing of the synopsis itself.

When I was studying literature, we learnt a lot about narrative structure, and although it might not initially seem like it, most novels do fit into this basic structure:

  • Set up – main characters introduced. Introduction of the problem.
  • Conflict – the main body of the story. There is a catalyst that sets the conflict in motion. Characters go through changes because of this conflict and develop – the character arc.
  • Resolution – the problem is confronted and solved – or not – and loose ends are tied up.

To write your synopsis, it is really helpful to look at your novel in these terms and break it down into this structure. Start with the set up – who is the protagonist? The other main characters? What is the problem?

Then move on to the conflict – there may be more than one. Decide what conflicts, plot twists and turns are really important; what do you need to include for the ending, the resolution, to make sense? How does this conflict change the main characters?

Finish with the resolution. Remember – this isn’t a blurb. The agent/publisher needs to know how your novel ends.

Remember:

  • Don’t get caught up in too much detail. Think about what’s really important.
  • Don’t include lots of backstory – you don’t have the space.
  • Be short, concise, clear. This isn’t the time for showing off your beautiful prose. That’s what the sample chapters are for.
  • Agents/publishers are looking for something new, something exciting – if your novel has that (and it should) then make sure your synopsis makes that clear.
  • And please, please, please remember the point I made above. This is not a blurb. You MUST include the ending.

Good luck!

Authors – please choose your editor carefully #writingcommunity #amwriting #selfpublishing

when kpis turn to poison

As I have said many times, I love my clients. I love working with them and I feel privileged that they choose to share their writing with me. I am often the first person to have read their work and I really appreciate how brave that can be.

So I do feel a little bit protective towards the writing community. And I am a little tired of seeing people taking advantage of these lovely writers.

I have seen lots and lots of people recently selling their services to writers. Not a problem – it’s what I do. But increasingly these people have no experience whatsoever – they just seem very, very good at giving the impression that they do.

Now, I have no problem with entrepreneurs, or people trying to make a living. What I do have a problem with is people who have maybe written one or two books (not necessarily good ones either) setting themselves up as experts. I have seen in the last few weeks the author of one book (a book that hasn’t sold many copies and has few reviews) pitching themselves as an editor, proofreader, and self-publishing advisor. This person also sells books on how to write.

Now, I may not be a wildly successful author. But, I do have  a first degree in English Language and Literature, a master’s degree in creative writing, I’m a qualified and experienced freelance journalist and copy writer, and have had hundreds of articles published. I have edited three hundred fiction and non-fiction books. I have plenty of testimonials. I know lots of other editors with similar backgrounds, all of whom provide excellent services.

We have qualifications and experience. We know what we’re talking about. We earn the money you lovely writers pay us.

Over the years I’ve been editing I have worked with so many clients who are paying me after they’ve already paid an inexperienced, unqualified person who has set themselves up in business. These manuscripts are often full of the most basic grammatical errors, unnatural dialogue, cliched descriptions and similes, and dreadful dialogue tags. In short, the author has been diddled.

And the big problem is that often new writers don’t realise they’re being given the wrong advice. They assume that what the editor is telling them is correct.

Please, lovely authors, you’re worth more than that. Look really carefully into your editor’s background. Ask for testimonials, look for experience and qualifications. Be very, very careful.

And arm yourselves with knowledge too. If you know basic grammar rules, understand what helps to make good writing, can punctuate properly, you’ll be able to tell if an editor is all they’re cracked up to be.

And would-be editors, proofreaders, ‘experts’ – I’m not saying that you’re excluded from some club if you lack these things. These skills can be learnt, after all. But don’t charge authors money for old rope. Learn your skills, practice, get experience first.

And remember – writing a book doesn’t make you an expert on writing.

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Using Feedback #amwriting #writingcommunity #writingtips

feedback 2

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 my master’s 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 rings 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?

feedback

Fabulous Opening Lines #amwriting #CharlesDickens

dl-portrait-charles-dickens

Charles Dickens was born on this day in 1812. One of my favourite writers, he has a lot to teach us today (and some of his compassion and philanthropy wouldn’t go amiss either).

I wrote this post about opening lines a few years ago, but Dickens was the master of them, so in celebration of his birthday, here it is again.

The opening line for your novel must draw your reader in. They should read that first line and think: I need to read this book. I want to know what happens.

So how do you create a great first line? That’s a difficult thing to try and explain. The best thing to do, as with most things, is to read. And when you read, think about your reaction to that opening line. Do you want to read on? If so, why? And if not, why not? I can do no better, though, than to share these wonderful first lines:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

Charles Dickens: A Tale Of Two Cities (1859)

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

“You better not never tell nobody but God.”

Alice Walker: The Color Purple (1982)

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar (1963)

“It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.”

Joseph Heller: Catch-22 (1961)

“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.”

Christopher Isherwood: Goodbye To Berlin (1939)

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

Dodie Smith: I Capture the Castle (1948)

“Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.”

Albert Camus: The Stranger (1946)

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

J.D Salinger: The Catcher In The Rye (1951)

Got a favourite opening line? Share it by leaving a comment below.