Latest: Lotus

Buffing and Polishing and Prepping for Launch

One of the first steps in my editing process is to upload my entire manuscript to AutoCrit, an automated online editing tool which is light-years beyond all the others I’ve investigated. Not only does it analyze my writing, it’s configurable to help me with my specific bugaboos. Over time it’s helped me reduce those.

Except that’s wrong. D’oh.

As Anne “The Writer’s Process” Janzer posted recently, work from the outside in. Read that at her blog (scroll down to The Cycles of Self-Revision for this specific point.) First, read the book as a book and see if it works, if at a high level, all the parts come together. Then tidy up the specifics.

I’m parking the book for a week and then I’ll read it like a book. Yeah, it should be a month, to let myself forget all the brilliant turns of phrase and unbelievable bits, but this book is nearly a thousand days old and I’m being impatient. It’s also pretty good just as it is, so I’m pushing.

Watch for it in early summer. Or sooner . . .


Time for My Time Travel Fantasy

Knowing how closely our emotional and physical health are tied it is no surprise to me that I came down with a vicious cold the week I pushed to finish Rafe Keyn, nor that it continues as I keep working.

A half-mile south of the official end of the Wild Rivers Trail in northern Wisconsin there is a railroad bridge. The tracks end 100 feet north of the bridge.
My diminished mental capacity makes creativity difficult, but I can still read the printed manuscript and find obvious typos and make other notes as they occur to me.

Eating well, getting my rest and plenty of fluids. I wish those fluids included rye whiskey and a local craft brew, but our water is good and still my favorite drink.

I’m on track to release it early summer.


Write with Your Heart, Edit with Your Head

Writing has to flow, like water. Writers thirst.

Imagine, though, if you were dying of thirst (you are, you’re a writer) and the person holding the hose kept shutting it off so they could adjust something. Spurt of water. Shut it off. Adjust. Spurt of water. Shut it off. Adjust.

You’d strangle them. Just give me the water!

Continue reading “Write with Your Heart, Edit with Your Head”


Writing: First It’s Muck

It’s a writer’s nature to assume that what pours from our fingertips will be the brilliant story in our heads. When we read a book, we see the polished outcome, not the deadly trudge it took to create it, and when it’s our turn we forget.

Instead of polished prose streaming from our minds, it’s more akin to the green soup steaming in the concrete waste canal in a springtime milking barn back home in Wisconsin. Not even usable as fertilizer.

At least, that’s what we think.

Truth is, it’s probably 80% excellent, and all we see is the 20% green soup.

The 20% is 80% easy to fix. That is, once we dig in (to the words, not the mucky green soup) we find that most of what’s less than stellar in that last fifth is easy to fix.

Before you start thinking about another kind of fifth, do the math: 80% + (80% of 20%) = 96% done.

Now you’re down to the 4% that’s excruciating.

That’s where writing happens: the choices you make, and the fervor and grit to slog through that 4%.

No, you never get to 100%. If you can cure another 80% you’ll be at 99.2% which is closer than any of us have a right to expect.


Author Spotlight at AutoCrit

I’ve been a faithful user of AutoCrit ever since I first heard of it. In my opinion, the best automated editing and feedback tool an author can have.

Jocelyn from AutoCrit interviewed me about my long relationship with them and my writing process. Even if you’re not an author, there’s plenty there about Phil Brennan’s latest shenanigans.


Let’s Build a House! (Why Planning will Make Your Writing Life Better)

Fair warning: if you are committed to the spontaneous pantsing version of writing, please don’t read this. You won’t benefit, I won’t benefit. If you’re open to having assumptions challenged, read on. To the end. Don’t read the first 80% and quit or you won’t get the point.

What is a House?

Though wildly different around the world, all houses share certain characteristics. Let’s explore the ins and outs.

  1. Roof — Without a covering, it’s a yard, not a house.
  2. Floor — It may be dirt, but it’s not water or air. If your residents are standing in a pool up to their waist, or swinging in hammocks 30′ aboveground, you’ve built something other than a house.
  3. Privacy — Roof but no walls = carport or equivalent.
  4. Toilet — Yes, in some parts of the world this is not inside the house. If you live in one of those places, you may dispute this requirement.
  5. Services — Electricity. Running water. Drains. See above note for quibbles.
  6. Egress — Without a door suitable for us humans to enter through, it’s not a house, it’s something else.
  7. Lighting — Even if it’s windows and skylights, there’s a way for light to come in.

You may dispute any of these if you choose to live in the house yourself.

If you plan to sell the house, or even sell time using the house (called “renting”) I defy you to leave any of these out and still succeed.

build-a-house
Continue reading “Let’s Build a House! (Why Planning will Make Your Writing Life Better)”


I Trust Myself

want-of-toneJust as my editor does more than make sure my sentences and paragraphs make sense, my proofreader does more than ensure spelling and punctuation. Both are writers themselves. Equally important, both are avid readers.

The first proofreading pass of That She Is Made of Truth garnered some confused commentary from my proofreader, James. Plot points unclear, connections muddled — I could tell he wondered, a bit, what I was doing.

I trust his judgment.

Continue reading “I Trust Myself”


My Editor Makin’ My Book Better

You’ll want to sing that title to the tune of, um, something that fits. I don’t know what. I just know it’s better if you sing it.

polish-it-upMy editor, Tom Bentley, doesn’t just nudge my words into place. Line editing is important. His polishes my words from workmanlike to well done.

He also asks me hard questions.

Continue reading “My Editor Makin’ My Book Better”


How Not to Throw a Mess Over the Transom; or, Who Cares More, You or Your Editor?

the-best-part-of-waking-upMy finger hovered over the mouse button, ready to click “Send” and turn That She is Made of Truth over to Tom for editing.

But wait; there’s more!

Rather than tossing a soiled manuscript over the transom and letting Tom wipe it down before he even begins work, why not tidy it up myself, and let him spend his time doing what he does best?

I always run my manuscripts through AutoCrit before asking anyone else to work with them. It’s the least I can do (and sometimes, the least is exactly what I do.)

Continue reading “How Not to Throw a Mess Over the Transom; or, Who Cares More, You or Your Editor?”


Off to the Editor (After the Last Delay)

rollin' rollin' rollin'Yes, the book was “done” last Friday.

And yes, I’ve said it before: no art is ever finished, but at some point you have to be done.

Unless you’ve built a car with no brakes or a chair without legs.

My omission was less obvious, but still critical. I always run my manuscripts through a marvelous tool called AutoCrit before throwing them over the transom to Tom’s office.

Continue reading “Off to the Editor (After the Last Delay)”


Editing: Finding the Right Words

dripping red inkWe need new words for all the things we mean when we say the word “editing.”

Proofreading is a separate word for a separate process and yet I’ve seen the word editing used where the writer clearly means finding and correcting spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Let’s all agree not to call that editing. It is proofreading.

Professional editors may divide editing into even finer gradations, but I practice two: line editing and developmental editing.

A line editor ensures that each word is the right word, that each sentence says what you mean, the best it can be said. They make sure that each paragraph is properly constructed. And they do it all without stripping your voice from your writing or overlaying theirs.

A developmental editor looks at the big picture. Their job is to determine if the book as a whole is a whole. Are there sections or chapters missing? Does everything happen in the right order? (This applies to both fiction and nonfiction.) Is there extraneous material?

A developmental editor will tell you if your novel contains the 12 essential waypoints in storytelling. They will tell you if your business book clearly teaches the points you’re trying to convey in the most effective manner. The developmental editor’s job is to determine in the broadest perspective whether or not your book works. Then, in either case, to offer suggestions and refinements to make it the best version of your intent. Continue reading “Editing: Finding the Right Words”


Check Your Edge

another set of eyesUsed to work with my buddy Mike. He serviced pet grooming equipment, which is way more fun and interesting than it sounds. Huge mobile workshop.

Biggest part of the business was sharpening clipper blades. Clippers have two blades sliding back and forth past each other so unlike knives, which need a beveled edge, clipper blades need to be flawlessly flat on their face, the surfaces where they meet.

When Mike first started training me, sometimes I’d ask him to check my edge. Are these sharp enough? Am I overdoing it, grinding too much metal away, shortening the life of the blade? Am I working fast enough?

Because he’s the closest friend I’ve had in my whole life, our conversations included a bunch of personal sharing you might not expect to find in a greasy hairy machine shop on a truck. Life, the universe, and everything — we covered it all.

In time, the phrase “check my edge” came to mean more than the mechanics of blade sharpening. I’m almost 20 years older than Mike. He grew up in the country, having adult responsibilities when he was quite young. We each had a vast storehouse of experience and knowledge the other didn’t. We shared. A lot.

When one of us asked the other, “Hey, check my edge?” it was about the value of another mind and heart, another set of life experiences, weighing in on a choice, a challenge.

Continue reading “Check Your Edge”


Write with Your Heart, Edit with Your Head

fountainWriting has to flow, like water. Writers thirst.

Imagine, though, if you were dying of thirst (you are, you’re a writer) and the person holding the hose kept shutting it off so they could adjust something. Spurt of water; shut it off, adjust. Spurt of water, shut it off, adjust.

You’d strangle ‘em, screaming “Just give me the water!”

That’s what your heart is doing when you write slowly, methodically, with your head. Because you don’t write with your head, you write with your heart. You edit with your head.

No one but you will see your unedited words, so don’t worry about whether they’re perfect.

Because if you worry that they’re perfect, nobody but you will ever see your words, period.


Rewriting: Head and Heart

mystery author Elizabeth Spann CraigElizabeth Spann Craig shares an excellent outline of her method for rewriting. It’s short, but involves a lot. While writing should be done straight from the heart, rewrites and revisions will involve a bit more of the structural orderly stuff done best by other parts of your brain.

I’ll soon be doing the rewrite for the sequel to Through the Fog. Once I finish it.

Bookmark this. You’ll want it when you reach this point.

Ali Luke describes her method. Parallels and differences.


Stop Stopping Yourself with Premature Edits (Guest Post by Rosanne Bane)

Please welcome Rosanne Bane, author and writing coach and one smart cookie. Since I’m not here to beat this drum she’s gonna do it for me.

Trying to edit while drafting is like trying to polish your shoes while walking. Actually, it’s more like trying to polish your shoes while trailblazing over rough and unmapped territory. It takes longer to get where you’re going, you can’t possibly get a good shine and you’re almost guaranteed to lose your balance and fall.

photo http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1110158 by Michal Zacharzewski http://www.sxc.hu/profile/mzacha

“Short Cuts Make Long Delays” – J.R. Tolkien

Your brain stem and limbic system can do more than one thing at a time, which is why you can walk and chew gum and still notice cars in the crosswalk. But your cortex, your creative brain, simply cannot multitask.

Continue reading “Stop Stopping Yourself with Premature Edits (Guest Post by Rosanne Bane)”