Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

Wordy vs. Concise

Hello everyone,

It seems the last time I posted on this blog was in late March. Oops!  How can we possibly be in the midst of November already? Life just gets in the way sometimes, doesn’t it? (Thank goodness for clichéd phrasing to explain away a situation!)

In an effort to dust off and revive my poor blog, let’s talk about November. What about it? No, not the weather. Not Thanksgiving or football season. Since I’m an American, it’s safe to assume I’m talking about American football, of course. And the holiday in which we remember a three-day feast attended by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians at Plymouth back in 1621, to celebrate the harvest after the Pilgrims’ first harsh year in America. A holiday that did not exist officially until President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it so in 1863. A holiday that intentionally forgets all the wrongs done by European Americans to American Indians over the years. A holiday that—sorry. The historian side of me kicked in. I do apologize for that. I mean Turkey Day—or not turkey day for some folks, as the case may be—the holiday that involves family, consuming large quantities of food, watching football, and either preparing to avoid or take on the shopping madness that is Black Friday. For those of my readers who are not American: Happy upcoming St. Andrew’s Day, etc., etc.!

This is a blog about editing and writing, remember? Apparently, I need to remind myself of that as well. So, how does good writing relate to the month of November? I could make the case that good writing relates to every month. Oh look, I just did.

First off, the 2012 US presidential election. I will not get into politics here, except to post and comment on the following that went viral during the presidential debates:

Let’s ignore the grammar mishaps and talk about the content. What content? Exactly. The political practice of talking a lot without actually answering a direct question is really annoying, isn’t it? It’s just as annoying for an editor to read content like that. Or for anyone else. Writers are often wordy in the hopes that flowery language will appeal to the reader and to make it sound like the writer is the authority on a particular subject. (Which, unfortunately, is not always the case.) Writers, please think of your readers! They might not want to wade through all of those words. It is the editor’s job to help the writer trim the fat, as it were, and get to the real meat of his or her topic.

The meat of this topic: Cut the crap and get to the point! Or: Be concise!

I admit, when I write, I often go on tangents (see Thanksgiving rant above). I tend to be extremely wordy, at least at first. My writing process is to throw a bunch of ideas down on the page and then to cut and stylize after.  Other writers prefer to outline first and/or edit as they go. The writing process doesn’t matter. What does is the clarity of your end result.

That brings me to my second topic: When not to be concise. “Rough” drafts. A prime example of this is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which takes place annually during the course of November. For those of you who aren’t familiar with NaNo, the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. That translates to 1,667 words a day for 30 days. Five thousand words is a bit on the short side for a full-length adult novel. But that’s not the point. The point is to get in the habit of writing every day. That’s the real goal for writers participating in NaNo. Whether the quality is beautiful or garbage does not matter. What does is getting words on the page every day, and lots of them. NaNoWriMo is an example of when you can and should let conciseness go. Be creative and let your ideas flow! You can return to your manuscript later to fix it. During NaNo, we are told to shut off our inner editor. (Hi, me!) This is a really difficult thing for most writers to do, but trust me, it is liberating and well worth the journey.

-Julia

28,377 words

“I’ll Do It Tomorrow”: The Procrastinator’s Way

Today’s topic is procrastination, the first part of a series I’ll be writing on time management. To demonstrate how you should not manage your time, I’ve procrastinated writing this blog entry for a solid two weeks. Remember when I said I’d post at least once a week? All right, it wasn’t an intentional demonstration. And I have my excuses: moving, getting to know my new roommate, starting a full-time editor job with EBSCO Publishing, adjusting to my new schedule, answering interview questions from fellow writer and blogger Vanessa Kelman. All valid reasons not to write. All excuses. Here’s Merriam-Webster’s first definition of excuse: “a: to make an apology for b: to try to remove blame from.” The second part implies that there is blame to go around in the first place. I can only blame myself for putting off writing this blog entry.

Here are some typical procrastinator excuses, with suggestions to avoid them (or in Julia terminology, “Smash them over the head!”):

“I don’t have the time!”

  • You can always make the time. Heck, you can make time for free time. Write down a schedule; write a to-do list. These are visual reminders that help keep you on the ball. Keep them open on your computer desktop, printed out and taped to your desk, or written on a calendar or whiteboard hanging by your desk. Anywhere that’s not hidden from view. As you get into the swing of your new schedule, you’ll learn how to judge the length of time tasks will take you. Manageable schedules only, please! Don’t overdo it. If you truly do have too much on your plate, cut something out. You still need to eat, sleep, and stay sane.
  • Crossing off each little task is incredibly satisfying. Even if it’s something as simple as “feed the fish.” (Your fish will thank you.) Actually, feeding the fish is a life or death situation for them, so it’s kind of a big task. To use an editing-related example, finding your red pen is an important small step toward the big one—editing that paper.
  • Reward yourself for a job well-done! Rewards are excellent motivators. Here’s one that works particularly well for me: “Once I finish this paper, I can read from Terry Pratchett’s latest Discworld novel.”

“I keep getting distracted.”

  • Disconnect the internet. Go on, I dare you. Make sure you have everything you need to do the task at hand. You’ll no longer have a valid excuse to stay connected.
  • For when you are clicking on article after article on a favorite website, do so at a particular time of day. I set a half hour aside every morning before diving into my work. Also try to check your personal Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest account in a different area from your work space; designate your work space for work only. Even if you’re working from home, which has comfort advantages over an office, a barrier between work and play will help you get things done.
  • Use a totem. No, I’m not talking about totem poles or totem animals. Not unless they help you meet the following criteria: an item that inspires you to write, edit, or simply buckle down and work by getting you in the right mindset. For examples, I recommend checking out the forums for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo); writers enjoy sharing their writing totems there. When I slip on my fingerless black and white striped gloves, that’s a signal for me to get writing, particularly on my fiction. (It also keeps my fingers warm if the room happens to be cold.) When it’s time for me to get to work, I place my second totem within view on my desk: a four-inch high knitted Death of Rats, a character from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. (Check out more of Paul Kidby’s artwork here.) He was thoughtfully crafted by a friend who understands my obsession with all things Discworld. (I somehow find him cute rather than threatening.)
  • Play music that will get you in the right frame of mind—not the kind that will have you singing at the top of your lungs, scaring the neighbors with your funky dance moves. Save that for your breaks.
  • If nothing else, employ the acronym coined by cartoonist Howard Tayler over at Writing Excuses: BIC HOK. “Butt in chair, hands on keyboard.”

“I’m exhausted.”

  • Yeah? Me too. Take breaks! Burnout is a bad, bad thing. Avoid it. Of course, you can’t be burnt out if you haven’t started working yet, can you?
  • Grab a caffeinated drink. (My name is Julia Gilstein, and I am a tea addict.) Stay hydrated. Water is a wonderful thing. It helps keep you alert. It also forces you to get up and take a bathroom break.
  • Run a lap around the office/the house/your sleeping chinchilla. (I do not own a pet chinchilla, nor do I endorse running around them.) Better, yet, fit in exercise sometime during the day. It’ll help you stay energized.
  • Turn on some music. Figure out what type of genre/artist sets you in the right frame of mind for work. I’m sure you’ve heard of classical music increasing productivity—instrumentals in general are great. My personal preference is for movie soundtracks. When the music gets especially dramatic, I suddenly feel as though placing that apostrophe is the key to saving the world.
  • If you find yourself staring at the computer screen, reading the same sentence over and over again, switch to a different project. You’ll be able to pour more energy into that second project, since it’s fresh on your mind. When that energy dies down, switch back to the first one.
  • It’s okay to have an unproductive day. Hey, that rhymes! Useful for a mantra, isn’t it? “Unproductive day? That’s okay!” Repeat this to lessen procrastination guilt. Sometimes, you just can’t concentrate. It happens. (If you’re like me, take pride in the cleaning frenzy you just went on because your brain felt too overloaded to work.) Just don’t let it happen all the time. To prevent that, having a habitual schedule will come in handy.

“The deadline’s not for a few days.” (Also known as: “There’s always tomorrow!”)

  • Except when tomorrow is today. And then you panic.
  • The hardest deadline to stick to is the one you make for yourself. Yet you need to do that if you want to be a successful freelancer. If you push things off until the last minute, you risk losing sleep, getting overly stressed, and turning in a lesser quality product. Even if you just meet your client’s deadline, you could lose that client.
  • I’m a procrastinator by nature, driven by the deadline. (As you can see, I have to work on keeping my own deadlines.) The closer the deadline approaches, the more I’ll dive into my work. That time pressure helps me turn out a decent product, because I’ll have poured my all into it at one go.
  • But I admit, I’ve been a lot happier when I know how long a project will take me. I’ll plan everything else that I need/want to occur at the same time around it, and then parcel it out, doing bits at a time. Turning something in early becomes possible, and it feels so good. I find that when I actually follow the advice I just gave above, I’m happily productive. Stopping procrastination before it starts is a habit that takes getting used to, one that you can manage if you listen to yourself—acknowledge how you best work, then follow through with it.