The Costs of Editing

Good morning everyone,

I hope you’ve enjoyed your Memorial Day weekend. I did, though there’s something to be said about the joy of climbing back into your own bed, listening to the breathing of your dog, and falling asleep with a window open. No cat hair clinging to nearly every surface. No clammy sweat from sleeping in rooms where you could easily bake pottery. Your own space, your own schedule. It feels good to be up on this early morning and writing (and oh, the thousands of words on the docket for the day after this post …)

Today, we’ll take a break from Editing Out In The Open – don’t worry, there will be more – to talk about the costs of editing. And while ‘cost’ is often a loaded word that leads people to clutch their wallets tighter, or feel pangs of guilt about dealing with money at all, even though I am going to talk about the monetary expense, I also want to look at some other costs involved in and around editing. Maybe you’ve encountered them, maybe you’ve never thought about them – but that doesn’t make any of them less true or less worthy for your consideration.

I. The Financial Cost – Like so many other things in life, there’s a financial component. If you want something edited, you’re going to pay for it. Yes, I know there are exceptions to this – where you’ve received offers of free editing, or if you’ve bullied someone into it, or if you’re working in trade, but on the whole those offers and actions are the minority.

Some editors charge by the word, others by the page. There is no one single all-encompassing “right” way to do it. It’s likely there are even more ways to price out editing, I just haven’t thought of them or heard of them. Again, it doesn’t matter what the method is, it only matters how good/helpful the work is. A good editor is a godsend, helping the writer improve not only the specific book in their charge, but also impacting future books by illuminating habits and problems endemic to the author as part of the larger relationship. A poor editor is a hindrance, retarding the process, impending the expression of talent and ultimately doing a disservice to both author and work, all under the guise of collecting a check that may likely have many zeroes in it.

We’ll assume for this section that you’ve hypothetically come to me for editing, and that our schedules have worked out as to make this relationship viable. As I have discussed elsewhere, the first thing I’ll do is lay out a contract, explaining the costs and the timetable for doing work together. I want there to be no mystery or confusion about the money that is going to change hands here, how that money is being delivered and when that money transfer happens. I don’t do that to feed my ego, I do that so both writer and editor know that this relationship has a transaction component, that even though I may enjoy the work and enjoy the author’s communication, this relationship is built on the respect of work, and that I should receive money for my efforts.

The specifics of that cost are based on the number of words in the project, and the timeline for the project going forward. Have a lot of words? Have a lot of words AND you need this done quickly? Expect a higher price than if you have plenty of time or relatively few words.

So I explain how much money you’re sending and how much I’m getting, and we have come to an agreement as to when this is happening – so often that means one lump sum at the end of my work, or split up over a period of time and milestones in the project, or split simply in half. Whatever the schedule, it is followed.

You should pay your editor a reasonable amount. Yes, they might price out the work and the number might really make your eyes widen and you might liken their numbers to mortgage payments or months of rent or think about how many steak dinners and milkshakes you could buy. Yes, you might even have the thought that if editors all charge as much as this quote that we’re all swimming through large pools of money, cavorting in our wealth and using tens and twenties as kindling in the winter.

We’re not. We’re so not. Just like you might be a hard working office employee who makes more than a retail clerk and vastly more than a sweatshop laborer, you’re not driving a different car to work everyday and employing a cadre of servants to fan you with fronds, peel your grapes and dust your doilies. There are bills and expenses, and yes, there might be ‘fun money’ set aside for a social life, but that’s no different than what you’re doing. And no, just because you’re paying out several hundred or thousands of dollars, you don’t get to dictate what I do with that money.

When you take a price quote from an editor, you may be very tempted to haggle. You may look at the number and it may be several times larger than your expectation. Now you may have experience in stores being able to talk the clerk into knocking the cost of shoes, coffee or clothing down somewhat because it’s the last one, or you’ve had a long day or because the little button on the end is only lashed to the material with six and not seven stitches, but so often that ability leads people to think that everything is negotiable, that there is extensive power in manipulating the costs, and that you can easily grow entitled and spoiled thinking that people aren’t going to mind not receiving the paycheck they deserve.

Would you be upset if your boss came to you and said,

“You know [YOUR NAME HERE], you’re doing a great job, and we’re excited to have you working with us here, but we’ve gone over the numbers and quite frankly we’ve decided that for the next 40 hours of your job, we’re going pay you half or less of what you’re used to. Heck, we might just pay you ten percent. Oh, and there’s a chance we won’t even pay you at all! But, we look forward to seeing you in the office for the next 40 hours. And you’ll likely have to work some overtime. Oh, and hey, I heard you wanted to pay off your mortgage, good luck with that!”

This is something I hear a lot, only without the office elements. And for some reason, because I’m not likely if ever wearing a tie when I edit, and because what I’m editing is something you wrote on weekends and late nights and before the kids got up and in your free time, that I must be doing what I do in my free time, so money’s no thing.

Do you know what I do in my free time? Here’s a hint: Not editing.

Pay your editors.

II. The Social Cost – An editor is going to help you write better. For me, that ideally means I’ve not only shown you within the manuscript where the problem areas are, but I’ve gone even further and explained to you why possibly you’re making those mistakes time and again and how you stop doing them for the next project.

This can be frustrating. This can be humbling. You might really think I’m a jerk for pointing out your shortcomings, that I delight in saying you don’t know how to use a semicolon or that your sentences are vague. You might even dislike hearing from me because it means you’ve done something wrong and that people are going to find out and shun you from all the cool tables and events.

I have to tell you, I don’t talk much about my clients’ problems. If the relationship was a difficult one, I may warily say something to a close friend of mine that I gained a few more gray hairs over it, or I might confide in my companion that she’d probably have a much happier boyfriend if he didn’t have to sit down tomorrow and edit a particular section for the umpteenth time, but I don’t throw my clients under the bus, and I have the expectation that they don’t chuck me under there either.

Yes, you might not like hearing that you are in fact, not a perfect snowflake, that you make mistakes both large and small and that your work has errors to address. This might not jive with everything you’ve heard since the third grade when your parents told you in fact that your poop smells of roses and happiness and that you’re the greatest princess in all the land whose flatulence spreads rainbows.

But you’re not going to be ostracized for seeking help. No more than the addict who goes into treatment, or the athlete who seeks out a trainer. You want to improve, you get help. I really don’t think that’s as stigmatized as it used to be, nor is it a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of a desire to be better than you are, which I find noble and courageous. You’re to be commended, not chastised.

III. The Educational Cost – In a healthy writer-editor relationship, you’re going to learn things about writing, about your own writing and about yourself. You’ll learn why you can’t just mash twenty words into a sentence or why you need to be more clear about how many ‘he’s you put into a paragraph. You might even learn about why you’re afraid to finish a project, or why you always seem to get stuck when you reach a particular part of a story.

These lessons may be hard fought, these lessons may not come easily, and only after you grit you teeth and wipe away a tear and stop cursing either yourself or someone else. Learning new things can be tough, but there is little else as rewarding as overcoming something that previously held you back or gaining confidence in discovering you can accomplish something previously thought impossible.

Let me tell you a moment about the other side of that coin. Let me talk to you about how the editorial Spidey-sense doesn’t shut off, not without a lot of effort or good distraction or something significant. I have been known to edit the menu at the fancy restaurant. I once commented loudly about how a sales flyer would do better if the headline wasn’t passive. That’s the dark side of editing, once you start knowing the mistakes, you see them. This revelation of the Matrix can be good, because you can catch yourself or maybe help someone else avoid a problem before it starts, but at the same time you can all too easily forget the joy of producing a thing because you’re rather locked into looking for a thing’s problems. And yes, problems are inevitable. Even after careful editing. Even after several editors. Even after years go by.

Don’t forget to enjoy the work you’re creating. Love the characters. Love the funny dialogue, and the way character A feels about character B. Enjoy that mechanic you developed for tracking players over time, and relish the opportunity to revisit a character in a sequel or trilogy.

Love your work, then love it enough to get it edited, and love it more when it’s gone through hell and come out the other side even better.

***

I’ve outlined three costs, though I’m sure others exist. Feel free to let me know about them in the comments. Later this week we’ll dive back into Editing Out In The Open, and I’ll also announce some upcoming chances you have to hear me (and see me!) be interviewed.

Have a good day. Happy writing.

Editing Out In The Open #2 – Game Flavor Text

Continuing our discussion from yesterday, here’s more Editing In the Open. Today we look at the flavor text of a 4E adventure, written by and shared with the permission of Jeff Dougan. And just like yesterday, the inline edits will be red, and my comments will be blue.

At the end of the Dawn War, the gods sat back to observe the world they had created. (Remember, you can frequently eliminate the had in 2-verb construction and stick with the second verb.) Khala’s power was tied to the cold, but as the goddess of winter, wherever water traveled, she was able to observe the world. she could observe wherever water traveled. Traveling (the problem with this verb is that it suggests the sentence is going to be about how she got to the glacier, when in fact the sentence is about what she did once she got there, we can therefore just have her at the glacier.) to From the largest glacier at the heart of the winter, she removed took ice a slice as thick as her hand, bound it in silver, and polished it with snowflakes until it shone like a mirror (you can make an argument that mirrors don’t shine, they reflect). Laid on its side, it seemed to be a frozen lake on the valley floor.(Why do I need to know this sentence? It doesn’t  do anything other than take up space.) As Khala wove the words of power to enchant the mirror (wasn’t it already enchanted, what with being wrapped in silver, etc etc?), a tendril reached out from the Chained God, unnoticed by the lady of winter (how come Chained God gets capitalized and ‘lady of winter’ doesn’t?) . His touch disrupted on the magic caused causing the mirror to distort what she saw, so that she only perceived perceiving only the worst of anything reflected in the mirror. but it It also amplified the spell beyond Khala’s intent, granting the mirror the power to bend those reflected in it to her will.

When forced to surrender her power to the usurping death goddess (who’s the death goddess, why is she not capitalized and is she different than the Chained God?), Khala’s last act of spite (were there other acts of spite? Else it was just her last act.) was to break the great scrying crystal, (what’s wrong with calling it a mirror? And are you sure it’s clear enough that the purpose of the mirror was to scry? This is the first instance of that phrase.) shattering the ice and sending shards flying off in all directions. Unknown to her, these shards still bore the taint of the Chained God. Magically interconnected to each other, the shards of the mirror make those who are touched by them more vulnerable to the mirror’s power. Even worse Worse, when while under the mirror’s influence they are open to the Chained God’s touch, if he should should he chance to reach out, and those who dare to use the mirror are even more vulnerable. (‘Even more vulnerable’ suggests that there are more things the user is vulnerable to, although you haven’t mentioned them.)

Greatest of Khala’s retainers (whoa, we’re switching hard and fast away from the mirror to retainers. This is a jarring transition) was the exarch known as the Snow Queen, who spread the snows as winter approached and guided their retreat as spring approached. (Are we not capitalizing the seasons?) When the Raven Queen assumed control of the winter snows, the Snow Queen herself refused to bow to the goddess she saw as a usurper (Are you saying the Raven Queen is a goddess? That’s really unclear – you haven’t really named or established who are and aren’t gods, even if everyone named is a god, albeit one with a royal name). Absconding with the largest fragment of Khala’s Mirror, (how did she get it? what does the mirror have to do with this response? why is the Raven Queen important if we spent 2 paragraphs talking about a mirror?) she retreated not to the Shadowfell where Nerull’s bride kept her abode, but instead to the coldest reaches of the Feywild. (Why start the sentence by telling me where she didn’t go? Why not just tell me where she did go, and let the sentence be short?)  Some suspect her influence in transforming the Sun Prince into the mighty fey being known as the Prince of Frost. Certainly, her snowflake retainers can sometimes be seen as honored guests inside the Fortress of Frozen Tears. (Are these last two sentences enough of an implication that Sun Prince -> Prince of Frost? And are you sure that you’re making this connection clearer simply by mentioning her retainers? I thought this intrigue centered on the Prince’s change, so why bring up retainers at all? This paragraph screams for a rewrite)

    Hard of heart herself, the Snow Queen now roams the world and the Feywild, although her dislike of the Raven Queen keeps her far away from the walls of Letherna. (So you’ve got the Raven Queen in Letherna, and the Snow Queen is everywhere else. But weren’t we just talking about the Prince, and before that Khala and her mirror? Why are we jumping around from person to person and getting further away from the mirror, in the adventure that features the mirror?) She occasionally spots a mortal to whom she takes catches her a capricious fancy, and may transport that individual off to the Heart of Winter for a time, until that mortal freezes to death despite the gifts she bestows. (If the above information isn’t a plot hook for PCs, it can be cut. It doesn’t have relevance on the mirror) She can otherwise be found anyplace where there is water, for all water has the potential to become snow and ice. When her ire is roused, expect a blizzard to ravage the area. (Isn’t that a little cliche? Or at least obvious that a snow-person makes snow when angry?)
    Only rarely does the Snow Queen leave her palace without being accompanied by many of her retainers. Often, they may be present in lighter snowstorms, even when their monarch herself has not chosen to venture forth from the Heart of Winter. Serving as her eyes and ears, they are quick to advance, quick to retreat, and ride the winds with unmatched skill. Bitter foes of the Sorrowsworn, they will often summon reinforcements and swarm the Raven Queen’s servants who venture out of the realms of the Shadowfell. (This whole paragraph does what now? If the Snow Queen is roaming around, why is it rare that she leaves the palace, with or without retainers? That’s unclear. And are you suggesting the Queen can create snowstorms she can’t endure? That seems … problematic for a god with powers. And if the retainers do have unmatched skill, why wouldn’t they be equipped/capable enough to endure any strength storm? Rewrite this paragraph, find a focus for it, likely blend it into the above paragraph if ANY of this information is truly vital to the PCs)
    At times, the Show Queen appears to seek to reassemble all the lost fragments of Khala’s great mirror. If she did so, it is entirely possible that she could challenge the Raven Queen herself, especially if the Prince of Frost were to ride forth at her side. (AHA! Now we come back to the mirror. Why did you stray so far from it for so long? And if you’re calling the mirror “the main plot” is the Prince-slash-the Raven Queen the subplot? What exactly do you want the players to do? What information here is player-facing?)

***
Here’s what the email would look like:
Jeff,

Attached please find the edited excerpt. Not a lot of inline edits, but there are a number of comments that need addressing. Here are the key ones I’d immediately address:

1. Who reads this whole text? Is it flavor or foreknowledge for the GM? It seems nicely fantasy, but I don’t know who gets to appreciate it.

2. What exactly do you want the players to do? It reads like you don’t have a whole lot of avenues for play – are they getting the mirror on behalf of the Queen? Are they keeping it from her? Do they rescue/deal with the Prince? What’s the hook, or ideally, what are the hookS?

3. The text is … a little heavy on the purple. Again, I don’t know who gets to read it, but if it’s not flavor text, then the presentation may lead to some head scratching. Not that you need to pare it back to a minimalist vibe, but you may want to relax the construction and application of long adjective phrases and insert stronger verbs to prompt pro-active reader response rather than a passive appreciation of “oh that’s a pretty sentence”
I look forward to seeing version 2. Talk soon,

John

***

Flavor text is a difficult edit, because so often there are expectations the text has to deliver along with whatever facts the player(s) need to know. Sometimes, in the absence of flavor, there’s just an encyclopedia entry of basic material, without connection or investment of feeling. Sometimes, there’s too much flavor and big flourishes of adjectives and purple prose that although people can get swept up in the emotion and the bells and whistles, no one walks away with a clear idea of what they’re supposed to do.

So what can be done? Where’s the balance? It’s not like there’s one balance for all of writing, as each project it different, aimed at different audience and tasked with different goals (no matter how similar the goals may be when compared to other scenarios, settings, modules or whatever). There’s also an element of how the writer composes the words, since each writer has their own strengths and style to account for when constructing something to be read by other people. We’ll likely talk about that one later.

It’s Memorial Day weekend, a three-day weekend for many of you, and I have two favors to ask in closing.

First, I want you to tell the people you care about that you love them. I don’t just mean show them you love them by taking out the trash, putting the toilet seat down, or not quibbling over who took the last drink out of the fridge, I mean really sit down with them, maybe hold their hand, look them in the eye and tell them that you love them, that your life is made better by their presence and you love to see them smile. Tell them that they make you want to be better people, all the time, and that you treasure their support, faith, trust and encouragement. And that you’ll do everything in your power to help them be happy, if they ever ask. Can you do that for me?

Second, and yes, you’ve heard this before, I have this GoFundMe campaign running. And while I’m some ways off from the target goal, there’s still time to get me to the first goal of $2k. If I can reach $2k by June 17, I’ll extend the campaign another week and make a big push to end strong. But first that means getting 2k. And I need your help. Even if that help is a dollar or five dollars or six dollars and seventy-three cents. Any amount helps. Please. This money goes toward paying bills (like phone, internet, groceries) and medical expenses (pills and therapy). Without the 2k, I can’t even begin to focus on fun things like travel expenses, relationship budgeting or random amusements. Really, any amount helps. If everyone reading this gives two dollars…

Enjoy your holiday weekend. We’ll talk next week (I’m thinking Tuesday). Happy writing.

Editing Out In The Open #1 – A Short Story

I’m going to start something new on the blog – Editing Out In The Open. I’m going to take a submission, post  a portion of it, and edit it.

My goal is to show you that editing isn’t scary. That it’s helpful. That it makes a difference.

Normally, I use Word for my edits, allowing me to use margin comments along with inline edits to put together my thoughts. Because there are no margin edits here, I’m going to use two colors:

Red for inline edits, blue for comments.

Here now is a few paragraphs of “Sway” by Tracy Barnett, who is awesome.

Some weak yellow light filtered through the trees. Gave me barely enough light to see, and that’s about all. (It’s easier to start off in the positive about what you do have, especially if you’re trying to hook a reader and set a tone so people know what they’re getting into) . Way it scarcely hit was hitting the ground almost not at all was eerie. Was almost Almost like a haze hung over the tops of the trees what kept all but the general feel of light from making it to the ground. (Are we talking about how the light was and what it was or wasn’t doing, or how the scene should feel?) Wasn’t no proper light, you ask me. (At the end of the first paragraph, we’ve established a few things – 1 the narrator is somewhere in sight of trees 2 the narrator is likely southern (if American), but otherwise unpolished and “country” in their speech pattern 3 the lack of light is spooky)

Wasn’t for me to worry about much, though. (Then why did we just spend a paragraph talking about it? I’d flag these first two sentences for a re-write) The bigger part of my mind hung on to the plan of keeping one foot front of another, just moving forward. While that happened, I guess the smaller part of my mind kept on the same line it had been thinking, trying to figure how I could find her. Trying to figure what I’d do if couldn’t. (Again, I’m flagging a lot of this paragraph because the “southernness” of the narrator is actually getting in my way of understanding the new information — so it’s about finding “her”, whoever she is, and the narrator has been thinking about her since before the story started — but now we’re talking about how it takes a lot of mental power just to walk, so maybe “she” is less important since she’s not front-and-center in the narrator’s mind? What’s the important part(s) of the paragraph that I should take away here?)

Seemed it hadn’t been long since I’d seen her last, though I couldn’t say proper exactly how long. (The southern-isms are now getting ridiculous. The flavor of them should come across not ONLY in narration, but through the setting, which aside from trees and light, has gone so far unmentioned. There’s more to a southern sound than some y’alls and shuckses and tarnations, right?) The start of it all stuck out bright in the center of my head. (You just spent a whole lot of words telling me that you were devoting a lot of mental power walking and a little mental power thinking about finding her, but now there’s this third reserve of mental energy to power the memory of her? Do you want me to focus on the walking, her loss or the memory?) I‘d been working was in the barn, same as most days, and she’d been playing in the hayloft. Despite my telling her not to play up there, she did it anyway. She was always so hard-headed about that, and really, even with the warnings and the headshakings, I couldn’t say “no” her very often. I’d tried to stop her doing that, but she was always a bit hard-headed, and I could never say “no” for long enough to keep her from what she wanted. She screamed while I was racking tools against the wall. I turned fast, saw her hit the ground, and I was running to her. Spooked the hell out of the horse. Next thing I knew, it was night and I was cleaning blood out of my eyes. So there I was, racking some tools on the far wall, when I heard her scream. It didn’t last long. I turned fast and saw her hit the ground. I ran, fast as I could, and must’ve spooked the horse, ’cause next thing I knew, it was night and I was cleaning blood out of my eyes. (Now if you look over the course of this paragraph, there’s a TON of “I” all up and through it. That’s okay for conveying facts, that’s alright if we’re looking to sound simple or childish, but too much “I” and we’re moving somewhat out of the story to focus on the construction. Big things happened in this paragraph, and we’ve started seeing tension build up (she screamed, hit the ground, blood in the eyes at night, etc), so the focus should be there, not on the southern-isms or the number of “I”s – by now we NEED to be into the hook and meat of the story).

I sat up (weren’t you running over? when were you seated?) , tried to clear my head. (this suggests you were confused or foggy or something that you haven’t mentioned yet, and likely should, since I would love to know how you felt in addition to WHAT you felt) I wiped some more blood off of my face and looked to where I’d seen Emmy land. Nothing there. I shook my head to loose some cobwebs, and fell back down with the force of it. Last thing I saw that night was a small shape out in the field, walking away, east. “Emmy…” I tried to say, but the word died in my mouth and everything went all black. (I’m flagging the whole remainder of this paragraph because I have no idea what you’re intending to say. What you’ve actually said is that there was blood on your face, you stood in the location where Emmy – now she has a name – should have been and she wasn’t there, but somehow there was a shape in a field and it was walking away. The presumption here is that it’s either Emmy or some kind of body-snatcher-slash-killer, but that’s way unclear. A few setting details, maybe some context on the rest of the scene as this experience was happening to you, would better clarify where you want the reader’s focus to be. Also, the progression of action – A to B to C seems really unclear – is it You were racking tools -> she screamed -> she hit the ground -> you were wiping blood from your eyes -> you ran over -> she was gone -> there’s a shape in the field -> you said Emmy -> things go black ? Way too many things are unanswered for us to connect to the narrator and feel that sense of Emmy being important, of the narrator being in shock and/or driven on a quest to find her. This is rewrite territory.)

After I woke up, I scrambled around, trying to find her. (Well now you’re just repeating yourself, and if you’re still in that pseudo-recollection flashback mode, it’s unclear since things going black AND it being a new paragraph generally mean we’re back to the present moment, where you’re walking under difficulty) Didn’t see  much but my own blood on the barn floor, and a track leading off east. So, I walked. Didn’t think about it much, just gathered a few things and set out to find her. (Wait, you wanted to go find her, it’s important to go find her, you didn’t think much about it, BUT you had time to pack? How would you know what to pack? Are you tipping your hand to the reader, or just being convenient about why you’re going to use tools later?)

***
So that’s my first pass editorially on a few paragraphs. I’m cutting it off there because I don’t want this post getting too long, and the focus really is on how the editorial process works, rather than on this specific story. What I’d do next is attach the completed file (or however much we agreed upon editing) with comments and edits to an email, wherein I’d detail a few big broad concepts that Tracy can keep an eye out for when he rewrites and moves the story forward. For the sake of argument, let’s pretend you’re over my shoulder as I write that email.

It would look like this …

Tracy,

Attached please find the first chunk of Sway edited. There’s a few inline edits for structure made, but the majority of notes are comments. Here are the highlights.

1. Your setting is sparse. Outside of naming Emmy and mentioning trees, a field, a barn, a hayloft and a rack of tools, I have no idea where you are, what is or isn’t important, or how “real” the story feels. There’s not a lot of ground details here.

2. I don’t feel really invested in the story. I’m interested, but there’s a difference. Interest comes from wordplay and concept, the demonstration of ideas and the setting up of scenes. It makes me say “Ooh, that’s nice, I like that”. Investment though, is about connecting to the narrator (especially in first-person) and sharing the same feeling(s) they do – so if the narrator misses Emmy, we should know why and we should miss her too. Especially critical in first-person is the sense of discovery, that we’re learning new info at more or less the narrator is. Yeah, you can say that you’re telling this in the past tense, so really you’re recounting the story after the fact, but the narrator-within-the-story and the reader should more or less be on the same emotional footing. Invest me, make me care about Emmy’s not being there.

3. How critical are what I called the “southernisms”? Are you trying to show the narrator as a yokel, a mountain man, Slingblade, a farmer or a hick who is overcoming some superior force? Why do I need to know he (I’m assuming it’s a he) litters his speech and thoughts with colloquial expressions? There are other ways to show us the character, and you don’t really need to keep showing us the same facet over and over.

Talk soon, looking forward to Part 2,

John

***

It’s my goal in this series to make editing more accessible to people, and to answer their questions about what exactly they’re getting into when becoming part of a writer-editor relationship. And I like the transparency of doing it on the blog, even though it’s generally slower and without some of the trappings I’m used to.

Yes, you can totally point out things I missed, as no editor is perfect, but before you get all critical and discount the value of an edit based on the fact that I may have missed a comma, remember too that if he rewrites things based on the suggestions, the grammar will change. And right now, the story is greater and more important than the sum of the punctuation.

I’ve received a few more submissions for Editing In the Open, so expect more to come.

Happy writing.

The Writer and Tough Choices

I’m up early today, having come out of a deep sleep thanks to a dog scratching at my leg. The good news is that for the first time in two days, I wasn’t plagued with nightmares about failing, losing or being forgotten. Instead, I had a rather fun dream where I was at some diplomatic dinner that featured Bill Murray in drag playing “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” as Lao Che from Temple of Doom argued with me about how he was going to kill me for helping his daughter get married to her long-time boyfriend. I dunno, I thought it was cool. Writing it out certainly challenges that idea.

What I wanted to talk about today is something wholly different. It’s a cloudy day, humid and swampy, and I’m looking at the dress pants and shirt I have to put on in a few hours. There’s a big-deal personal life event that I’m attending (it’s not for me, I’m just going to be supportive and proud), and there’s a dress code, which  is going to be … not comfortable.

Forgive me for tap dancing here, I’m both trying to talk about something personal and not reveal a lot of personal things. But I’ll say this: I’m proud the accomplishments of my friends and loved ones, and I’m honored to be witness to their payoff.

Today let’s talk about tough choices. I’ve had to make a few of them lately, and while I’m no pro, I’m starting to see some patterns and wanted to get out in front of them, with the hope that my experiences help you out too.

For me, the tough choice is best exemplified cinematically – where the hero, usually an underdog, stands somewhere on the precipice of a monumental decision, the music swells, and the hero makes their choice, invariably to do the right thing, even if that has some hard consequences, some tough follow-up decisions or hard work ahead.

And that’s what I want – aside from the swell of orchestra awesomeness – I want to be the sort of hero who makes the tough decisions in the face of hard realities, to do the right thing even when that option isn’t the easiest or the most self-rewarding.

I never really learned how to deal with loss. As a mentally ill teenager and even as an adult, I was kept somewhat sheltered from the harder emotional places and contexts, usually to prevent me “from going over the edge”. I don’t blame my parents and friends and family for doing this, I understand that they weren’t really sure what would make me spiral into days or weeks of mania or depression, but that they were pretty certain that people dying or people moving away were likely triggers. (note – they usually are).

In the absence of loss, I grew up selfish. Or more specifically, without learning about loss and hardship, I grew up with a lot of my needs anticipated and catered to, so that I became selfish and all about “me and my life”, thinking the world did, to some degree, orbit around me.

When love came along, and I was totally without a context for it, I transferred that sense of orbit to the other person — so instead of the world spinning around the John-axis, it totally now spun around the other-person’s-axis. Everything I did (go to school, go to work, shave, shower, eat …) I did for the other person, so that they’d be proud of me or so that they’d praise me. It’s still selfish, but I went ahead and found myself a release valve for the guilt of being selfish – I wasn’t doing it for me, there was this other person.

This stunted growth continued as my illness and anxiety worsened, costing me a lot of relationships and opportunities. I was, to put it mildly, shit at making decisions. Better to run away, better to avoid the tough choices and reality and not make these decisions where I could get hurt or have to change what I was doing or how I was doing it. Avoidance became more than the watchword, it became a philosophy.

Now that attitude is great when you’re on the most simplest of levels. Avoid the big dangerous creature trying to eat you, cave person, you’ve got to chew some meat and maybe make a fire before you call it a day. But that’s an awful attitude to have in the 21st century, where people, you know, want to live not on simple levels. Cinnamon dolce lattes, smart phones and elliptical workouts abound as life goes on and it has tough choices in it.

There are people who will tell you that all those trappings and materials are just evidence that we’re still running away, that we’re still not dealing with our feelings, and maybe that’s true. I don’t know how true, but maybe to a degree. I’m not sure that the people who erect altars and vibe out with New Age-y psuedo-science really aren’t dodging their lives when they ask crystals for guidance, cures for impotence and listen to the universe tell them what to do when a traffic light changes color. Sounds to me like it’s the same hustle, just with different props.

So life has tough decisions. Life has choices you have to make, and these choices are not easy. I mean there are easy solutions, ways to solve the problem that are drastic and unsupported, but working in those extremes isn’t always as gratifying as you’d imagine. There’s a great initial burst of excitement, and then it swiftly peters out when the bloom fades. And then it’s right back to hard living, although maybe not in the same circumstances as before.

My hard decision of late has been a deeply personal one, at least since I got medicated and stable and really discovered what it’s like to love another person. And yeah, you can tell me I got spoiled by having that person within walking distance of the room where I’m writing this, and that in seeing my friends together and married I was maybe more than a little motivated to be a part of a great relationship. And possibly, yeah, this all teeters back on that selfish precipice.

So when that partner says there’s an opportunity and they’re going to take it, it’s somewhat natural, at least for me, to feel like this decision hurts me. I can remember being in similar situations when I was sick and thinking that their decision was an attack against me, but that was illness talking. A decision can hurt, and I guess some people somewhere can make it out of spite, but on the whole, other peoples’ decisions aren’t really about you. They’re about them: what’s good for them, what helps them, what makes them happy.

The trick, I’ve learned is being happy with their happy. Even if it means something doesn’t go YOUR way, the world is bigger than you. I’m not the axis, my partner isn’t the axis (even if she might have a really cute axis outfit). When the decision got made, yeah, I hurt. And I’ve cried a lot about it since then. I’ve melted down even right in front of my partner, and bless her, she sat there and we talked it out. But all that hurt, all those tears, all those moments of oh-god-what-am-I-going-to-do, none of that changes the fact that in two days she moves, and it’ll be weeks before I can even see her again.

And in that lies the lesson. Life has hard parts in it, you have to supply your own soundtrack, but you do get to be the hero who makes the tough decisions. And those tough decisions teach you that you’re going to find an actual solution, maybe even a healthy one, to the challenges you face.

I made my decision. I’m still her partner. I’m going to miss her, she’s going to miss me, but we’re going to still be us – because there’s more to us than distance and location. It’ll be tough sometimes, because we’ll each want to be in other places than wherever we are, and we’ll be busy and I’m going to honestly have a lot more free nights and weekends, but it’ll be okay.

I rambled a lot here. If you’re wondering what you can do, what support you can offer, how you can help or in what ways can you make things better, you can always email me. Also, my GoFundMe campaign is still running, at least for another week or so, and every little bit you give helps. And you can buy my books.

Thanks for reading.

GoFundMe update #1

For those that don’t know, I’m currently in the middle of GoFundMe campaign to raise the necessary funds to both do my job (edit, write, create things, teach about doing all of that) and pay my bills. It’s going well, I’m 44.57% to my goal at the time of this writing. And I wanted to talk today about my experiences so far.

It’s not been easy asking for this help. There’s something about asking for money or work that has always been somewhat of an obstacle for me. It provokes feelings of inadequacy, it creates nagging thoughts that maybe if I studied harder or wasn’t so sick for a decade that I could have landed a lucrative job somewhere and would be well onto a marriage and kids by now or something. But for every thought that I’ve missed something, I’m reminded of what I have instead – an incredibly loving and supportive relationship, some of the best friends imaginable and the unbelievable opportunities to help so many people accomplish such diverse dreams.

I’m humbled by the kindness of others. I’m an editor mostly, sometimes I help flesh out ideas, but frequently, it’s an uncredited job. Sure, my name ends up in the book somewhere, but it seldom gets attention. So when you look at the number of things I’ve done (you did see the addition of the new buttons above, yes?), even with a good resume of things, I can sometimes feel like a ghost, phasing in and out of projects at specific points, otherwise overlooked. Some people have taken to calling editing or development, “the kingmaker” job, as I get to empower people behind the scenes, but the Machiavellian overtones too easily inflame my ego. So, feeling as a ghost, I don’t expect to get much notice. And in asking for help, I didn’t expect a lot of response.

But the response came in and has overwhelmed me. I refresh the site with tears in my eyes, so deeply moved by everyone’s generosity. I do my best to pen quick thank you notes to every supporter, but saying “thank you” seems to pale in comparison to how giving people are.  I am blown away that so quickly I’m nearly halfway to my goal of a feasible, almost comfortable summer season of work, travel and finances.

Thank you, again, everyone who has so lovingly, so encouragingly helped make this a reality for me.

The honesty pays off. Especially in matters of money, I really feel the need to disclose how the money is going to be spent. There may be the notion that as an adult, I don’t need to explain myself to others, but here, when so many people have offered help, I want them to know that this money isn’t going to be wasted on empanadas, video games and books. I won’t breakdown every dollar, but here are the broad brushstrokes.

$1560 (the total raised as of the writing of this post) breaks down into:

  • $660 for insurance and pills (1 month insurance, 4 months pills)
  • $450 flight to WyrdCon in California
  • $250 my portion of a hotel room at GenCon
  • $200 “social” expenses (gas, travel costs, food)
I would love to see the “social” expenses part fatten up. But there are more immediate priorities, like meals at conventions, more insurance payments, taxes and other bill. As the GoFundMe increases, I expect to see more things become affordable to me. 
It’s good to work. For many of you reading this, you didn’t make financial contributions. Instead, you’ve gone one better and either paid me for work I’ve done, or given me more paying work to do, for those down times between convention weeks. And to all of you, thank you. Your checks and payments help knock down these walls of anxiety about affording things, and give me a little breathing room about staying in the industry. I can’t say that I’m at a point where I won’t need a day job, but I can tell you the need to run out and get one has been pushed back at least until late September, if I’m prudent. And I plan to be prudent.

Also, this new batch of work is new material, projects I’ve never done before, and their challenges motivate me to really work hard and do awesome things. 

The future is scary, but I’m not alone. There’s a lot of change on the horizon for me. Some is emotional, which I won’t share here, some is professional, which I’ll talk about throughout the summer, some is mental, which I’ll definitely dive into here. I don’t know, honestly, how any of these things are going to turn out, but for the first time in my life, I’m not assuming the worst about several of these big changes. To me, that’s a substantial victory compared to many years where a negative expectation led to pre-emptive sabotage and I was ultimately left without the thing I was afraid of losing in the first place. Not this time. I don’t know what things are going to look like, but I feel like I can handle them. Maybe not perfectly. Maybe not without stress. But I *can* handle them. And that’s because I have so many people I can turn to, talk to, share thoughts with, express myself and be myself with. I am not on some island, marooned for all eternity. This is my life, and it touches others just as they touch mine. 
I wrap this post up with a few statements, and a request that you, whoever you are, help me remember them, whenever you see me forgetting them. Tell me on Twitter. Leave me a Facebook message. Write me an email. I want you to catch me. I want you to speak up when you see it happening. Please.
  1. One day at a time. Today is a whole day, and a whole experience and while I can plan for tomorrow to a degree, I won’t know how tomorrow is until I get there. 
  2. It’s not always going to be sunshine and rainbows, but there’s always a silver lining, something to do to make things better and a way to work through the hard parts.
  3. Talking is preferable to silence. Bottling things up leads to not-good places, decisions and actions.
  4. Budgeting is scary, but a reality. I will get better at it over time. With practice. With discipline. 
Thank you so much for reading this. I hope your weekends are excellent, your writing goes well and that you share good times with good people. 

The Writer’s Toughest Post Ever: About Responsibilities, Maturity and Living

This is an incredibly hard post to write, and I’m putting it here, because this is where I can speak my mind, and not on Facebook where my family can read it, and not on Twitter because I’m already over 140 characters. I’m going to speak honestly, and my intention is not to point fingers at people, upset people or be a bother. This is just something difficult I have to say.

Looking at my finances, looking at what I want to do, looking ahead, I think I am reaching a crossroads where I either have to discover a new niche and a miracle, or accept the fact that I’m going to need a day job or quit editing and game design altogether and find other work.

There’s no part of that sentence that doesn’t fill me with shame, guilt and embarrassment.

Now, I know most of the people reading this have day jobs, so they may be saying, “So what?” but to me, it’s so much bigger than “So what?” To me, the taking of a job that isn’t editing games or novels feels like some measure of defeat, that my great hope to only do this has proved false, and that somehow this is a karmic rebound for all those times I scoffed at people and their jobs. Maybe it is.

Here’s the link to my GoFundMe. The numbers look so large and scary and astronomical as I write this, but that’s my fear, my illness and my pessimism talking. But if we’re being totally honest, this isn’t only about flights and hotels and meals. This is my life, and just as I did last year, I’m asking for help, even though this is a different context.

I don’t have the first idea if how people actually do this thing we call “mature healthy living”. I have been sick so long that I always had people looking out for me, which proved helpful at the time, but now stands as a detriment because I struggle to learn the “best” ways to manage money, time, expectations and responsibilities.

I’ve been making a big push for work, because after May 23rd, my calendar isn’t just Swiss cheese with projects, it’s barren until I get to conventions, but conventions aren’t for-pay experiences. So what I’m saying is, I’m down to my last dollars and I have a summer of not-working ahead. I want to work, I want to work so badly, I want to be busy helping people do what they want to do. I don’t want to give up, I don’t want to stop doing this, but it’s frustrating, it’s scary.

Take for a moment the times I have tried to organize “Pay What You Want Workshops”. On paper, the idea is amazing. But logistically a nightmare. The best software to manage a webinar or workshop is seriously expensive, and drawing only two people after technical failures and a lot of cancellations is both a blow to my pride and my wallet. I try to schedule something, and rather than get commitments, I get “That night doesn’t work for me” I have tried them in person, and even with a $10-a-seat pricetag, I can just about afford the gas it would cost me to travel to and from a location. What does someone do when they have a great idea, but it can’t seem to get off the ground? Does that make the idea less good?

What I can do is generate a burst of buzz. I say something about anxiety or depression or mistreatment of people, and lots of people check it out. Which is good, and I appreciate and love that. But I talk about work, and sometimes it’s crickets or a few people, then silence.

I get it, editing is expensive and maybe misunderstood or undervalued, and I’m not Ryan or Amanda or Jess. I haven’t been doing this very long. But dammit, I’m good at this. If this is all about the fact that neither you, possible client, nor I, possible editor, have money then I’m going to feel extra stupid for writing this.

And I know people tell me all the time, “You’ll get paid from my Kickstarter”, and that’s great, I look forward to that, but then when I ask you “When’s the Kickstarter?” there’s sort of a pause, then an answer that seems more “later” or “um” than a firm date.

I have done a lot of free work, handshake deals and I’ll-pay-later arrangements, and while that’s been a great source of pride for me (work very much is), I cannot begin to describe to you the gut-chewing feeling that I experience as I work on what could be some of the best things I’ve ever done, knowing that I’m basically going to get a “Thank you” for it. I can’t trade “Thank you” for pills, therapy, gas or a working Internet connection.

This leads me to think that maybe I’m too expensive, that I could lower my rates, offer coupon deals or something. Maybe there’s something I’m not seeing that keeps the money out of my wallet. If you have suggestions, please please tell me.

I made the decision not to talk about my personal social life on the blog since treatment, and for the most part I really haven’t. I’m going to do my best to continue that, but this is the personal section of the message.

My relationship makes me happy. Happier than how work makes me feel, and if you know me, work makes me pretty damned happy. And some of you have been lucky enough to see it directly, it’s a good thing. It’s a great thing. It is an unbelievable source of strength for me.

That relationship is about to get a wrench in the works. A 355-mile sized wrench. And before I also chalk this up on the tally board of “Things John Needs Support and Help On”, there is a financial aspect here too, because I am determined to get down there and be happy once or twice a month. And that’s not cheap, either in transit (train) or car (gas, tolls). If there’s anything I’m not giving up, it’s that relationship. Even if I have to walk or hitch or mail myself to her, I’m getting down there.

So what am I writing for? For support. For encouragement. For work. For help. For strength. Last year was so amazing, and while we all joked “Oh John, the bar is set pretty high for you.”, the bar was set really ridiculously high, and now I’m looking at a bar that seems miles above me and I’ve got no momentum to jump it.

Please help me. I write this with tears in my eyes, because I struggle so mightily with the ideas that money is tight for everyone, and I’m just one guy who wants to be able to see his girlfriend, travel the country and get better at what he does, and afford the therapy and pills that keep him alive.

To those who donate, I cannot thank you enough. I cannot begin to describe the depth of my gratitude and how humbled I am by your kindness. Here’s the link again.

I Have a Third Book!

Just wanted to let everyone know that my third book … I mean I guess it’s a monograph (finally I get to use my favorite Sherlockian word) is available now.

Pitch 101, Or Writing Effective Pitches And Queries is now available for $4.99 You’ll learn how to deconstruct pitches that don’t work, re-tool them and build queries that make people take notice. You’ll learn the components to a query, and how you can tailor them to suit your needs. It’s a practical guide with hands-on advice, not just a thick book for your shelf that intimidates you or obfuscates the process of querying.

If you’re keeping track, that means I have two ‘101 series’ books available: Character 101, and now Pitch 101. Yes, there are other 101 series books in the pipeline — my in-person and online writing workshops now include what will become Plot 101 and Book Marketing 101. I don’t have a timetable yet for their release, but Plot will be released, then I’ll probably do a compilation volume and put out Book Marketing 101.

If you’ve purchased the book, please consider writing a review.

Happy writing.

I Produce Books Now, Books Are Cool

I think when we’re younger, we draft these big plans in our heads (I’m going to be an astronaut! I’m going to be Batman!), and while some fade out as time passes and interests change, you’re always compiling a new list of plans, dreams and goals.

Maybe your goal is to live and work in New York City. Maybe your goal is to play a professional sport. Maybe your goal is to raise beautiful and compassionate children. You have these goals, and you should chase them down, do all in your power to accomplish them, hold hope and faith close to your heart and make what you dream about a reality.

When I was sick, when I was more fully in throes of mental illness, my plans got grandiose (I’m going to prove people wrong, I’m going to change the system!) and the route to those plans seemed light-years away. It felt like I’d never accomplish my goals, that I’d always be thwarted, and incidentally, that it was never my fault that things didn’t work out. It didn’t matter that I had unrealistic irrational goals, and it didn’t matter that I didn’t take more than one or two steps towards accomplishing them, it was always the fault of something or someone who wasn’t me. This of course led to me staying angry, staying frustrated and making even more grandiose plans that I didn’t do squat about. 

Now I’m stable. Now I’m making smarter decisions, setting smarter goals. Goals like straighten out my finances. Attend GenCon. Create new things that people like. Be honest. Be open.

One of the lingering formerly grandiose plans was “publish books”, and that often got inflated to this idea that I could crank out a book every 6-8 months for the next thirty years and then stop writing and swim through the sea of money I would have no doubt made.

I should point out that while I wrote and wrote and wrote, I never finished much. Finishing meant I’d have to take that next step, and that felt like work, so I found new and exciting ways to procrastinate.

That time’s over. And I’m thankful. Look what I did!

This is a link to my Smashwords page (or library, whatever they call it). You’ll see there are two items on it.

86 Things I’ve Said On Twitter is now a single volume you can read through at your leisure. It’s about 40 pages of all different kinds of advice covering writing technique and publishing advice and motivational you-can-do-it-ness. Also, it’s TWO DOLLARS. Yes, that is cheaper than a big cup of specialty coffee.

Character 101, Or How To Build Effective Characters is my one-stop guide to character development that is practical, detailed and interesting. It’s two dozen pages of easily applicable method and advice to turn your possibly uninteresting character into something memorable. It’s $4.99. Yes, that’s less than the cost of this silver bar. And may also be less than the cup of specialty coffee.

Did I ever think I’d get this far? Nope. But I’m glad I did. And I hope you stick with me on this ride. I’m excited to see where it goes.

**Note: I could have really easily turned this into a really vitriolic thumbing of my nose at certain people, deriding them, taking shots at them, and generally being a rotten person. I’m not saying there aren’t people who weren’t negative, toxic, unhelpful around me at various points in my life, but I am saying that the ultimate reason why I didn’t do this sooner falls on my shoulders, not theirs. But I’d be lying if this didn’t feel a little satisfying to prove those haters wrong.