Monthly Archives: November 2016

Writing: A Typical Day at WISC

One of the reasons writers crave time away to write is that so much of our daily lives isn’t actually spent writing. We all have family, friends, community work, administration (answering inquiries about writing assignments, talks, workshops; publicity, paying the bills, reminding people to pay us, accounting, etc), and so on.

If you asked the average fulltime writer how much time they actually had to put pen to paper or hands on keyboard, the answer is likely considerably less than 8 hours a day (except in the days or weeks immediately preceding a big deadline, when we panic and make those words fly!).

Two hours of actual hands-on, uninterrupted time is a figure I hear. I’ve been writing a long time, so I have more practice in focusing and ignoring interruptions than many writers, which means on a good day I might get in three or four hours. But that’s a lot.

So when we have the opportunity to leave our daily routine behind and just focus on our writing, we’re ecstatic. Or terrified, because then we have to actually produce something. Or both ecstatic and terrified.

Which I think describes how I feel having a whole month here in Santa Fe at the Women’s International Study Center, with few responsibilities besides writing. I’ve gone through the whole gamut from over-the-top excited to what-the-heck-am-I-doing-here? And that was just the first day…

So what’s a typical day of my writing fellowship like?

Pretty ordinary. I get up at my usual time, around six a.m.. (Which is easier now that we’re past daylight savings time and those very dark mornings!)

An especially lovely dawn

I take a moment to appreciate the dawn out my windows, and then I do half an hour of yoga (which reminds me to be in my body while I write, not just in my mind), and my morning gratitudes, which include a salute to the four directions, plus earth, sky, and self, in place wherever I am; plus sending out love and good wishes to friends, family, and my far-flung community, human and moreso.

After yoga I write in my journal for half an hour or so, and then I bathe, dress, and eat my simple hot breakfast cereal of organic whole oats and other grains, plus organic dried fruits, and cinnamon for sweetness and blood pressure/ blood sugar control. I read the news online over breakfast (although some days I wonder why I even want to know), and then head back to work.

Breakfast (earthenware bowl by Jim Kempes–see below)

I do my best to focus and write until early afternoon, usually about one-thirty or two. Usually that means I write for a while, then have to stop to think, pace around, check my email, resist the obsessive urge to read the news, and then sit back down at the keyboard again.

When the stream of words dwindles to a trickle and nothing I try restarts it, I break for a late lunch, answer more messages, and then go back to the writing to see if there’s anything else I can say. If not, I need to move, so I head out for a walk.

Sometimes I have an errand (like walking to the grocery store for food!), but mostly I just ramble at random, letting the writing rest in my subconscious while I look at interesting walls, gates, gardens, sculptures, plants, and other sights, and listen to bird calls or ravens croaking, people talking in different languages, traffic whizzing past, cathedral bells… I smell tortillas frying or chiles or spicy piñon smoke.

Eye-catching details in a woodbine (Parthenocissus vitacea) vine with blue berries and red stems

When I get tired, I come “home” to this quiet casita on a dirt side street and read a book from my stack, or check the news or answer emails… I usually eat my simple dinner early and then read until bedtime, do a bit of yoga and am asleep by ten.

Yesterday I played hooky all afternoon and drove out to the Chama River Valley (Georgia O’Keeffe country) near Abiquiu with my agent, Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli. Our mission was to visit Lesley Poling-Kempes and Jim Kempes, she a fine writer (and another of Liz’s clients) and he a ceramic artist. (Lesley and Jim stayed with me last month in Salida and brought me one of Jim’s wonderful ceramic vessels.)

Jim’s large sculptural ceramic forms issue from the desert along the dirt road leading their house; I could have spent all day finding and sitting with them. (And I so wished Richard could have been there to delight in them and talk art with Jim.)

See it?

As it was, we had just time to admire the beautiful adobe house they built with their own hands (building the studio first, as is proper for any artist, and then the house), and then we followed Lesley to the house of a member of her writing workshop. We had tea with Peggy and another poet and workshop member, Ginger, and talked writing and women’s history and elections, and life.

And then, all too soon, the sun set to the south of Pedernal Mesa, and it was time to head home to Santa Fe, tired but full from the time with friends and art and beautiful landscapes.

Sunset from Peggy’s house

Today was an ordinary day, which meant I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote, a joy in itself.

Thank you to my Santa Fe friends for understanding my need to write, and also making sure I get out of my cave from time to time, and to Laurel and Jordan of the Women’s International Study Center for the blessing of this time. It is rare and precious, and I am using it well!

Thank you, Peggy Thompson, for the gorgeous hand-knitted wool scarf as well…

For more from Susan J. Tweit, visit her blog.

And You Thought You Were Finished: The Revision Process

My publisher advised me to revise the second half of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, almost entirely when she decided to publish my book. To that end I used many of the steps I learned while working as a writer-editor-manager of proposals to the U.S. Government to revise my book. Here is my revision process.

1. Plan before doing. I created a revision plan based on notes from my publisher and advice from my first reader. Then I got my publisher’s buy-in.

2. Read before revising. Since I hadn’t looked at my draft for almost two years, I read it front to back with my revision plan in hand. I marked up a hard copy with a red pen and made no electronic changes until I was through. Wow! did I find lots of things to edit, including typos, awkward sentences, repetition, and inconsistencies. I also noted where I needed to insert new material, move things around, and update.

3. Use storyboards. I set up foam storyboards along the hallway next to my office and pinned up a printed copy of each chapter as I electronically finished incorporating my first round of edits. Storyboarding allowed me see the book all at once and better spot redundancies, inconsistencies, places that needed cutting, moving, and expanding, and where each chapter best belonged. I highlighted problem areas in yellow so I could see text I needed to revisit again.

4. Get others to review. After I completed these edits and reworked the yellow-highlighted portions, I gave three willing writer friends an electronic copy. One person did a line-by-line edit. He also found punctuation and sentence structure problems. Another friend looked at the content for repetition, inconsistencies, and writing accuracy. And the person who originally helped me create my revision plan read it again for organization problems. She made suggestions about where to move, eliminate, or combine material.

5. Stay in control. However, I made the final decisions about whether to take my editor’s notes or not. Even my publisher, said,”… Others can only offer advice. Only you can write this book.” So I reviewed each comment and only fixed what I thought relevant.

6. Stay on schedule. Because I was reliant on other people’s inputs, I created a tight schedule. I allocated five months to complete everything, including incorporating my revisions and reviewer’s comments, merging the finished chapters into one document, gathering photos for the cover and body of the book, getting permissions to use quotes from other authors, and writing dust jacket copy.

7. Know when you’re finished. After incorporating review comments, I still felt the needed to make a few changes, add a few words, and edit a little more. Finally when I didn’t have any more changes or adds or deletes or reorganization ideas left in me, when my mind stopped living and breathing the book every waking moment of every day, and when I felt comfortable letting it go, I knew I was really finished.

For more from Madeline Sharples, visit her blog.

From Manuscript to Book: Part 3, Editing Your Own Work


I’m posting a brief series about editing and copyediting. Here’s Part 3– important lessons learned from long experience in editing my own work and the work of others. Here are seven things you can do to clean up your manuscript before you send it to a reader (a friend, beta reader, agent, copyeditor, or editor).

  1. Put your darling on the shelf. When your project is finished, go on to something else. Give your work time to cool off and yourself time to put some distance between you and that precious thing you’ve written. When you come back to it, return as a stranger, with analytic eyes.
  2. Print and read (or read from your Word file). Seeing your work on paper and hearing it read may clue you to problems, glitches, and stylistic infelicities. Print and read aloud, making pencil changes to your text. Or read aloud from your Word file, making changes as you do. Another option: send your Word document to your Amazon Kindle account, and read it on another device. I sometimes read a Kindle copy on my iPad, marking the changes I want to make.
  3. Search and destroy those personal gremlins. Every writer has her own personal gremlins (words like affect/effect, less/fewer, your/you’re). Know what yours are, so you can be on the alert for them.
  4. Repetition repetition repetition. Readers notice careless repetitions of words and phrases. You should notice them first (and reject, revise, replace) before you submit your work. My copyeditors use the phrase “close repetition” to remind  me of too many raised eyebrows, frowns, nods, sighs, and so on. I try to catch these before a file leaves my computer.
  5. Present a professional appearance. You don’t wear shorts to a job interview; you make sure you’re appropriately dressed and your hair is combed. (Makeup optional.)  Conforming to “industry standards” makes your work look professional. Here are the basics:
  • Send your manuscript as a Word document (.doc or .docx).
  • Align the text to the left, ragged (don’t justify).
  • Double space in Times New Roman black 12-point font.
  • Single space after periods.
  • Use page breaks between chapters. Start chapters a third of the way down the page.
  • Use #s to indicate scene breaks: insert a space above and below.
  • Number the pages. Center bottom is fine.
  • Check for chapter breaks. I reduce my file image to about 50% or 60% and click rapidly through the pages. This gives me a quick overview of the file and I’m able to see missing breaks.
  1. Run spell check. Yes, I know—Word checks spelling as we type. But another spell check won’t hurt. You might not accept the changes, but you may catch some errors before they get to your editor or reader.
  2. Puzzled? If you have a question about usage, grammar, or formatting issues, check with an industry-standard style manual, such as the Chicago Manual of Style. I subscribe to the online edition (currently $35 a year), and I use it when I’m writing. When my copyeditor returns a file, she frequently notes problems by referring to the CMOS. The print edition is also available, but the online edition allows you to make notes, create your own references, and search.

I’m expecting The General’s Women back from my copyeditor in the next few weeks. When that arrives, I’ll share some thoughts on that process. Watch this space.

Reading note. Editing is the very edge of your knowledge forced to grow–a test you can’t cheat on.–S. Kelley Harrell

From Manuscript to Book: The Copyeditor


Part 1 in this series, The Copyedit, is here. This is Part 2.

The Copyeditor

As a traditionally published author, I’ve worked with many copyeditors, but I never get to know their names, since we only meet via the manuscript. In fact, because they work on contract for the publisher, I rarely get the same copyeditor twice. One of the pleasures of publishing my own work is the privilege of working directly with the people who help me produce the book you’ll hold in your hand or read digitally.

For The General’s Women (coming March 2017), I have a new copyeditor, Sandra Spicher, who comes with a great deal of experience and a top recommendation from my (now-retired) editor at the University of Texas Press. I thought you might like to meet her.


About herself, Sandra says that she was “one of those kids who drooled over those old ads in the back of comics and magazines: ‘Get paid to read books!'” As a freelance writer and copyeditor, she’s living the dream. She tries to leave time for her own projects, but a good book can usually tempt her. “If a manuscript sparks my interest,” she says, “I can’t say no. I work on a mix of fiction and nonfiction, but my heart belongs to fiction. I’m especially drawn to complicated stories that feature female, LGBTQ, and POC protagonists.”

As a copyeditor, Sandra is radically eclectic:

Because I’m fluent in Spanish, publishers often treat me to books that are written at least partially in Spanish or have some Latin American affinity. Recent projects I’ve copyedited or indexed include a translation of a colonial Spanish religious official’s investigation into the deaths of priests in Florida, an architect’s loving description of colonial churches in Mexico, a view of syncretism in Guatemala, and the relationship between art and literacy in colonial Peru. An offshoot of that has been books set in the Middle East, either historical or contemporary. Besides Latin American and Middle Eastern studies, film and TV, race relations, aviation history, and literary criticism are some of the subjects that crop up in the nonfiction books publishers send me.

But Sandra isn’t just a copyeditor. The General’s Women won’t require an index, but if it did, she’s the person I’d turn to. “I also enjoy the process of indexing,” she says, and tells us why:

It requires a deep engagement with the text to choose what headings and subheadings will most serve a particular book’s varied audiences. I recently indexed a book about the HBO seriesThe Wire that made me want to watch the whole thing again. Books about race in Brazil and post-Katrina New Orleans have left me gasping for breath at their insights. After indexing the revised edition of Philip Naylor’s North Africa, I sense that George R. R. Martin might have had a peek at something like it while writing A Song of Ice and Fire. There’s certainly some precedent for the Red Wedding.

I’ve asked Sandra to tell us something about a day in the life of a copyeditor. That’s coming in Part 3 of this brief series, so stay tuned.

Reading note: Knowing how to tinker with a broken piece of prose until it hums is a source of contentment known by all who have mastered a worthy craft.― Carol Fisher Saller. The Subversive Copy Editor

From Manuscript to Book: The Copyedit, Part 1


The General’s Women, the third in my series of historical / biographical novels, is now in the production queue. I’ve asked a number of people (historians, a biographer, and other readers) to read it and give me suggestions. The next step is to put together a production team, which includes a copyeditor, a cover designer, and a formatter, in addition to Kerry Sparks, who manages publishing, distribution, and subrights.

I asked an editor, now retired from the University of Texas Press, to recommend someone good–someone who is used to dealing with footnotes. (The epilogue of the novel tells a true story for the first time, so I’ve documented my sources.) My editor friend recommended Sandra Spicher. Sandra and I got acquainted via email. After this preliminary handshake, I sent her my manuscript (in Word). She returned several sample pages, edited. I was delighted, and asked her to join my production team. (More about that in future posts.)

You can meet Sandra via her website. But since I know that many of you are also writers, I thought you’d like to know what a copyeditor does. (The book publishing industry makes copyeditor one word, Sandra tells me; for journalism, it’s two.) Readers may be interested in book production, as well. After all, you’re the final beneficiary of the copyeditor’s work. The copyeditor may be invisible, but she (or he) contributes enormously to the book’s final presentation.

I asked Sandra to send me some of her thoughts, as a copyeditor, about the process of working with an author. Here are her thoughts. (More coming in a later post.)

1. An author usually starts looking for a copyeditor when she has revised the manuscript in response to feedback from herbeta readers and/or a developmental editor and feel that it’s super clean. It just needs fresh eyes and a final polish.

2. An author needs to be sure she’s compatible with her copyeditor, and we want that, too. Ask published authors in your writing groups and on social media for a few recommendations. Out of these, choose two to four prospects who appeal to you, or who have worked on manuscripts similar to yours. Investigate us online, if you like—you’d do that for a person watching your children or pets, right? Your book deserves someone who will treat it with similar tenderness and respect.

3. Approach the copyeditors you’ve selected one at a time (that is, no multiple submissions) with a query similar to what you might send an agent: include word count, a brief description of the book, and how you heard about them. Suggest a schedule and ask about availability. Be frank about the genre, any explicit sex or violence, religious and political themes, and so on.

4. Most copyeditors are glad to provide a brief sample edit at no charge. It’s the way many of us discover whether we’re compatible with an author or manuscript, too, and what our budget should be. It’s best to send your entire manuscript in Microsoft Word so that the copyeditor can choose a few pages to work on. Most of us realize that the first few pages are likely to be the cleanest, and we’ll pick a section from the last half of the book to sample.

5. When you receive the sample copyedit, read through the corrections to get a feel for the kind of things that are marked. You should sense a willingness to explain rules but not necessarily to insist upon them. When I’m editing, I refer constantly to dictionaries, websites, and style guides—and many of those contradict each other.  From the beginning, English has been expanding to fit our world, to the delight of many copyeditors and the dismay of others. When in doubt, an experienced copyeditor will query or let the author’s decision stand. The sample should help you determine which way your copyeditor leans, and whether the two of you are a match.

You’ll hear more from Sandra later, and I’ll also include some of my own observations about working with a copyeditor.

Reading note. Self editing is the path to the dark side. Self editing leads to self delusion, self delusion leads to missed mistakes, missed mistakes lead to bad reviews. Bad reviews are the tools of the dark side.–Eric T. Benoit

In Good Company

Tomorrow afternoon will be the first meeting of the Writing Circle I’m starting in the Houston/Galveston area, and I’m beyond excited. The group is comprised of both old and new friends, including a high school classmate I have not seen for 20+ years. Our ages span from the 30s to the 80s. Just thinking about the stories that can be told by these ladies motivates me to be the best facilitator I can be, and also to be the best writer I can be.

This week I have also submitted four proposals for regional and national writing center conferences. And as I contemplate the possibilities for travel and meeting other professionals in my field, scattered from Las Vegas to Montana to New York, I wonder what new strategies for my students and tutors I can glean from these gatherings; I also wonder how enlightening my own experiences will be for them, and what we can all learn from each other.

What is it about the fellowship of other writers that is so darned exciting?

Whether we write for a living or for ourselves, we often do much of what we do in isolation. The camaraderie with fellow writers is difficult to achieve. As the supervisor of a college writing center, my staff and I are somewhat of our own island. We have fascinating conversations amongst ourselves that no one else on campus would give two shakes of a stick to listen to. And in terms of my personal writing, there are very few people I trust to share it with, so that circle of collaboration is even smaller, tighter, and harder to break through.

But being in the presence of other writers, whether it be the online relationship through Story Circle Network or the professional conferences I attend, encourages me in ways that are difficult to explain to non-writers.

Writers need fellow writers for encouragement, accountability, and inspiration. I recently attended a one day workshop in Austin at The Writing Barn. This Write Away Day gave writers an opportunity to meet and greet, but
also to write in quiet and solitude for an entire day. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I settled into a comfortable chair, plugged in my laptop, and simply wrote, for six straight hours. In those six hours I added about 6,000 words to my novel, I edited several shorter essays, and I simply relished in the presence of other like-minded people.

Yes, I drove 3 ½ hours to spend 6 hours writing, then drove 3 ½ hours home. My husband found it something between laughable and nerdish. And that’s okay. I’ve long accepted the fact that other people just don’t get it.

So I’ll be anxiously awaiting feedback on those proposals, and anxiously awaiting the first Writing Circle meeting tomorrow. And I know I will come away from both experiences a little more certain that yes, I’m a writer, and I have good things to say. Because my fellow writers will say so.

Lisa is a community college writing center supervisor, an adjunct writing instructor at a local university, and a freelance writer. She lives in Santa Fe, Texas, and enjoys traveling and crochet. She looks forward to the day when she can live in a little house in the woods, in the middle of nowhere. Visit her website.

NaNoWriMo 2016

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, begins on November 1st. On that day thousands of people sign on to the website,, and commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days. The stated goal is to complete the first draft of a novel. However, many folks work on memoir, essays, maybe even expansion of a work in progress. The primary goal is 50,000 words. That’s what you need to complete to be declared a “Winner!”

Yes, you have understood that correctly. The prize for doing this is a little badge that arrives via email that declares you a winner. That is the prize but the reward is much greater. In my four years of participation I wrote 206,575 words, completed three solid first drafts, and over 40 essay starts!

This will be my fifth NaNo. In the first year I worked on my memoir-in-progress. Yes, I began as a NaNo rebel. That is what they call participants who do not adhere closely to 50,000 new words, on a new novel, with no revision. By doing memoir I was outside those parameters. The second year I did write a novel but with a small twist. I had heard many stories about writers who got their 50,000 words but then never finished their book. So I promised myself that at 40,000 words I would stop and write an ending. My logic was that it would be easier to fill in the missing middle or near end if I knew the ending. My third year I wrote a draft of the follow up book to the first novel. I am thinking series. Last year I entitled my project “Life in Brief.” I wrote essay after essay. When I got stuck I simply started another one. This was golden. Writing while knowing I was not going to revise at that moment really freed me and new ideas kept popping up. I still have more than a dozen essay starts left to mine for future pieces.

This year I am back to fiction and have given myself permission to work on a project I have been wanting to do for a very long time. I am writing a Christmas book. It takes place in the same town as the first two novels and some of the characters from those have minor roles in this work.

The photo above shows my preparation work. I have read Christmas or holiday books by some of my favorite authors. I have been watching Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. And I have a very cool, mostly instrumental Christmas Collection CD for a playlist. It is easier to write to music if you are not tempted to sing along!

This year I am going to blog about my NaNo process, sharing what works, and what doesn’t. I hope to edit and assemble the blog posts into an e-book that I can share with NaNo writers next year. Click to go to the blog. Please join me and post any thoughts you think might be helpful for the e-book. And if you have never attempted a NaNo project, maybe this is your year!

Jude Walsh Whelley writes fiction, memoir, and poetry. She lives in Dayton, Ohio. This post was previously published on her blog, Writing Now.