Romantic Life Lessons, Writing Tips

25 Things I’d Tell Myself If I Joined Publishing Today–The COVID Edition

Four years ago, I ambitiously worked up 50 things. Even 25 things is a massive undertaking and pandemic attention span says no way can I do this. Just resist the lists, people. Or say yes to an amber liquid on the rocks first.

Because of pandemic(s), there are things you won’t tolerate anymore. Honor the new truths that blossomed out of way too much tragedy. Knowing your boundaries will help you navigate any industry that tries to suck your well dry.

Balance the boundaries with an amazing show of skills–consistently. It will freak everyone out.

It’s easy–and temporarily satisfying–to get angry on social media at the many injustices in publishing, especially when you are doing more for less. Like Charmins toilet paper, you are nine rolls smushed into a four-roll package for thirty cents less. That’s publishing–and most corporations. Social media is one of the few places where you can let it rip. Do that–and take concrete action to further yourself: job search, join a group that does active things and speaks truth to power.

One of the best ways to succeed is to figure out every nook and cranny of your job and your boss’s. Anticipate the needs of your manager and conquer what they don’t even realize they need. A lot of knowledge is power, not to mention swagger.

It’s okay to edit late at night while heavily medicated or intoxicated. Just go over it again in the morning. Don’t tell anyone.

Reward yourself RICHLY for every accomplishment. Also, as I said in Fifty Things, write it down immediately. Not only do you have a living document of your achievements, but you can also relive how great you are at times when you really need it. There’s no greater pleasure than whipping out your Scroll of Excellence for The Aboves. Even though they won’t read it, message received.

Make friends/be friendly with anyone in Managing Editorial/Production departments. They are the best.

In life and at work, there is always someone you can’t stop loving even though they’re unvaccinated. But you shouldn’t have to work in the same office with them.

Avoid assholery of any kind, even though it’s tempting to engage because real life can be damned boring. This is not the 1950s or the 1980s or even 2020 anymore. Mad Men is just so…gross. You absolutely don’t need to bear the degradation of anyone’s bad behavior. Keep careful notes and visit HR as often as you need.

The best way to get through a remote workday is to break down the day by half hours (like Hugh Grant does in About a Boy) and take many window-shopping breaks. Bonus points for suggesting makeup tutorials to me since that is my heroin.

Always wait at least a day before answering a pissy email from a “professional,” especially the kind who doesn’t give two shits if you’re wheezing with COVID.

It doesn’t matter what you wear to work anymore, but it kind of does.

Email triage is a sick, twisted game corporations dreamed up to raise your cortisol levels, especially as we remote. Don’t fall for the flimsy communication with the human types we miss. As noted by work gurus, hyper-email-vigilance negates productivity.

Stay in touch with your work buddies who are resigning. It doesn’t have to be a daily email. Over a long career, you will see each other again and why not have more friends?

When applying for a job or sending a submission, write a charming and targeted cover letter. Even if they don’t ask for one. They are more fun to read than a resume.

Everyone’s social skills have deteriorated. Maybe there’s one person who hasn’t been affected by this whole mess, but let’s believe they are crying softly in a dark corner the way I was last week.

Many things can be accomplished by turning off all electronics and jotting down ideas on paper. It’s so simple it’s crazy.

You don’t have to explain why you listened to every second of the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard trial. As an editor, you need to know everything. Plus, you’re kind of a lawyer.

Always have a question in your pocket, but use it wisely and not just as the meeting is ending. Exception if your meeting is with one person, who is likely desperate to prolong human contact so please keep talking with the more questions.

Never ingest things from communal fruit plates, bins, urns, refrigerators unless you know exactly where the grub has been, who touched it, and in what century.

Get back to reading for pleasure. This can be one of the first things to go, but very easy to pick up again.

Do keep track of whether or not Kim Kardashian finishes law school. Your laser focus on this is everything.

Don’t beat yourself up for keeping twelve different notebooks tracking different versions of the same thing. I see you.

If you can envision working in a field other than publishing, investigate further. That quiet jotting-down-ideas thing works really well for this. Sometimes you don’t know another path even exists.

But if you love books and editing, you might be stuck with this complicated soulmate. Publishing is going through things right now–though it’s always been like a mission to Mars via roller coaster. Take a hard look at the years ahead. Do you believe in the work you are doing? Will you ever make a livable wage? This is where you pull out the self-awareness and determine what you want, what you can bear, and what you can do for books.

Now excuse me while I go back to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

Writing Tips

Fleshing Out Yossi’s Journey

There are numerous places where editing and writing intersect. One of these is when a manuscript reads as if it’s been written in a rush. Action, action, line of dialogue, action. The scene might call for fast-paced movement, but weaving in a little description or POV won’t necessarily slow down the pacing. On the contrary, it can save your reader’s wandering eye.

When I edit, I read the jumpy, too rushed text “out loud” in my head. If the writer’s voice is consistent, shows command of the unfolding scene, I make mental smiley faces. But if the narrative feels vacant or confusing–with characters moving like robots–I wonder how the writer has skipped a few steps to get to the end and omitted adequate description. Sometimes writers (and editors) just want to finish their quotas for the day. I feel that pain myself and then suffer for it later when I have to go back and do the job right.

A few times, I’ve been given the task to flesh out stories (mine or someone else’s) where the need to rush to the end is strong. It feels fine when you’re getting down all those words. But then, it’s flat. Diagnosing the problem is easy, but sitting down to fill out empty spaces can be daunting yet thoroughly exciting. One suddenly has lots of room to play. Why not play?

As an example:

First of all, who is Yossi and why does he need to leave? He must be Alexander the Great since he needs to conquer. But also, he fears the elevator. How interesting that there’s only one adjective. Basically, the reader can only gauge so much. This is where you roll up your sleeves and go to town.

Don’t glossy moth carcasses sound awesome? You have to wonder if Yossi is about to engage in some kind of mating ritual. I don’t want to see what comes next. Or maybe I do? It’s not like I ever look away.

Maybe we need a sentence or two about why he needs to leave. Is it just because of the Bichon Frise or is it something else? What’s driving him–aside from what we could assume to be dog sex?

You never know where a story’s going to go, do you? This one definitely isn’t finished.

The moral of the story is to fill in those cracks even if you think your story is fine. In the end, Yossi may have a simple journey from Point A to Point B and we don’t need all this crap. That’s why the delete button is there for your pleasure. Part of the joy of writing is discovery. So what you feel is filler could be the darling touch that the reader will remember forever.

Glossy moth carcasses.

Shameless Promotion, Writing Tips

2022 Is Up to You

I usually make resolutions on New Year’s Eve, put them in an envelope, and seal it until years later when I’m feeling nostalgic. This time I bailed. I kept thinking I should continue this tradition, but just put it off. As an ardent fan of resolutions and lists in general, I wondered if something was wrong (pandemic, Betty White).

Maybe this year should be different. I don’t know. What do I know? With questions like this, I typically pick up a book or watch a show. It’s an easy save. Taking in someone else’s creativity helps me figure out what to do next. Today, though, I have no such desire. It’s time for a little introspection sans outside noise.

Often, when I need guidance or inspiration I have this trusty exercise. The best part is that it’s free and entirely up to me. No astrology, Fitbit, Noom, or pulse oximeter to show me the way.

It involves asking myself one question:

What do I need to know today?

I find a blank piece of paper and pick up my crappiest pen (à la Natalie Goldberg). The question hands in my head and I wait. Then, my hand just moves along, creating words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages. I’m never quite sure what will emerge but when I reach an end, I go back and read. What I find always shocks me. Asking this question usually unleashes powerful feelings, benevolent ones. There is a message from somewhere that turns out to be exactly what I need to know today.

Writing reveals so many mysteries about who you are.

A secondary advantage to this exercise is loosening up the creative muscles, which don’t get a lot of use during Below Deck: Mediterranean marathons. I remember that I have my own stories. They need to get out somehow, so a little guided scribbling can be the right brain’s perfect Drano.

So what do you need to know today?

Romantic Life Lessons, Writing Tips

Quitting Writing Can Help Your Writing

When asked for my best writing advice, I usually say, “Never quit writing,” and it took me centuries to come up with this genius. I consulted vocabulary lists, did focus groups, and finally pulled this sentence from an angelic stream of wisdom.

But seriously, the inspiration comes from the many years of watching writers get discouraged by rejection and the knowledge that good things do happen from time to time in publishing. Not to mention, everyone’s path is different so who am I to say anything other than, “Go forth and multiply those words?” If anything, I’d want to be proven wrong over and over with creativity as a global superpower. There have been times when I’ve thought “this writer should stop” and have turned around to find them soaring on bestseller lists.

The only thing I can say is that the desire to quit writing can be an important period in a writer’s process. I’ve gone through this myself–maybe even a couple times in the last decade. A writer will feel that she has nothing left. It’s over and there are no good outcomes to this craft. All she hears is No and there are limited venues for publishing or getting paid to write. It can be a mind-numbing, thoroughly depressing way to live.

As an editor, I’ve had many heartbreaks over a writer delivering a couple books and nothing after this. I see the struggle and have always wished I could do more. I totally relate–but sometimes, nothing helps. The writing isn’t working. No advice or reference book refuels that writing engine. Sometimes, it’s not meant to be. Giving up can be a freeing experience.

Just think: You don’t have to do this anymore. You can dream about other things again. Think outside of the story you’ve been raging about since forever.

Maybe you could open up a bar/library/cafe. And during free moments, you could write blog posts. Just for fun. But nothing else related to publishing. No more writing, no more conferences, no more pitches, no more asking for someone to read your stuff, and no more “No.”

The desire to quit does mean that something has to change. It doesn’t have to be as drastic as stopping writing altogether. Maybe you need to kick your own butt in a different way. Or the story needs to be put aside–or calls for a radical rethink. Maybe you need to reconsider who you’re sending your projects to. Your characters may not be ready for prime time. Whatever your block, it’s okay to acknowledge the block and look elsewhere for clarity.

Live life normally again. Discover birds. Discover your husband, wife, children, friends, pets!

The only thing I will say is: Observe what happens after you decide you’re done with writing. Are you relieved, even more distressed, or happily taking tap dancing lessons?

Do you see the name of your protagonist everywhere? Does the answer to your plot problem hit you as you’re pouring milk into your Grape Nuts? Do you find yourself on an entirely new–happier–path because you had the courage to set aside a project? Or is your brain not letting you leave that blank page?

You should never give up on yourself, but there are times when quitting can bring you back to what you love: which could very well be writing.

Writing Tips

You *Can* Write While Depressed (but you don’t have to)

It’s almost funny how little I want to type this post. The thoughts are in my head, but the idea of full sentences is too much. You need to plan out the subject, verb, predicate. Have a snack. Vary sentence structure. Go on to Sentence #2. Consult Chicago Manual of Style as to whether you capitalize “sentence” in previous sentence. Find stills of Nicole Kidman’s hair in The Undoing, costarring Hugh Grant on HBO. Watch Practical Magic.

You guys, I made it to the second paragraph and even included a GIF! So what next? Right. Let’s see. The last eight months have been shit on a stick for everyone. Creativity can’t thrive in such environs. Or can it? Writers are supposed to be depressed, understand the inner workings of…something. All the greats were bozonkers! But there’s depressed…and *depressed*.

So, how does one shake out of it?

I really don’t know. No one does unless they’ve survived the 1918 pandemic. They didn’t have the same “therapeutics” or mental health resources as we do, so we shouldn’t complain. That doesn’t lessen the suckiness, does it? COVID-19 has been so long lasting, so global, epically shitty (I said it again, Mom). Forming new sentences seems at the bottom of our lists of needs, just below Sprite.

Even though the idea of writing strikes me as impossible, a few tools kick me further toward a butt-in-chair situation. I know I’m not alone in this, so I hope you can relate, and if not, never mind.

Helpful tips!

  1. Work while your spouse, friend, child, colleague, pet is working (or sleeping). My husband starts remote teaching at 6:30 pm, so that’s when I write. The sound of his voice lulls me into a relaxed state, which is how I can type this now.
  2. If you can’t write, read books or watch movies that are related to your story. Because I’ve been writing a women’s fiction novel (with twisty suspense), I’m reading about jewelry, Structuralism (I don’t really know what this is), Paris, New York…and lots of celebrity stalking. So if I can’t write, I can read until the wee morning hours and feel on track.
  3. Set a low, achievable word-count goal. For me, this is 1K words. Easy peasy. Even if it’s a pile of crap, as Anne Lamott says. Bird by Bird is a must read, btw.
  4. The obvious: Reward yourself often with things that please you. Wouldn’t it be funnier if I said, “Run at the wall headfirst until unconscious?” Seriously, I appreciate whatever makes my surroundings beautiful, like Essie nail polish. I take an hour to do my nails or watch a makeup tutorial. My husband likes to cook and go on bike rides. What do you like to do?
  5. Suspense-aholics: For months, I’ve been making the mistake of over-watching Snapped, Dateline, other types of murder shows. Pace yourself since the awfulness of crime can rattle your psyche further. Temper bloody knife-waving with a little The Office, Hallmark Channel (as much as possible), Ted Lasso, or dramas where the acting is so good it’s like a happy story.
  6. This is a hard one, and I promise I won’t buy another leopard print blouse or eat the rest of my “share” bag of M&Ms, but the impulse purchases and naughty food is a poor substitute for writing. Maybe on a Monday or Tuesday. And Wednesday.
  7. But if you have to spend the day in Michael’s getting fun beads for necklace-making, consider that there’s a book waiting to be written. You have all the time in the world, no pressure…but it’s there. Break it down into small steps. Make a promise that one day you’ll return to the extremely rewarding and not-at-all-challenging world of writing.
  8. And yet, no one can tell you what to do. Especially now. As South Park‘s Cartman says to his mother, “I do what I want!” Genius truth–Life is too short.
  9. Doomscrolling, not a word 13 years ago. While my grandparents faithfully watched The Love Boat and Fantasy Island with me, along with several soap operas, Grampa Smith said that it was a “waste of time.” So is Doomscrolling. Forget that, I love it too. But it sucks.
  10. Romanticizing past productivity and the evils of technology can be your depression-go-to–and you can also venture out into a semi-normal world and do something as ordinary and normal as filling out a ballot, which can lead to a desire to tell the world (which is officially writing). I love Mondays, so I set out today with my new sneakers (impulse purchase).

With so much change, there is much to be grateful for (and totally pissed about). Getting to this end of this post is my win for the day…and finally voting. However you strive for inspiration in these not-normal times, it sounds good to me. I hope you find little pockets of creativity and can share it with us–along with pictures of COVID impulse purchases in the comments.

Writing Tips

5 Ways to Outsmart the Editor

This past December, the list of “read immediately” submissions was longer than my winter scarf. We masochists love a challenge, especially if it involves staring at words. Reading for eons is a pleasure–not to mention my job.

I tackled this assignment because it was the end of the year and that’s what vacations are for. Open doc, read, make notes, decide yay, nay, or maybe. I got into a zone. Sometimes it took two pages or a whole chapter before I knew the verdict. After years of urging writers to focus on the whole book, not just the first three chapters, I’ve changed my mind. With our increasingly complex world of fast vs. thorough, we are in an age of just-get-me-through-the-door. On the traditional publisher path, here is what a writer might face.

I am a meaner reader than I used to be. It takes less time for me to decide if I want to keep reading, which is why I am now urging writers to pay extra special attention to those opening pages. Time is limited. Even as I write this, I am distracted by a new Cynthia Rowley sweater. It’s important that you grab an editor’s eye quick–and keep it. Read on, and don’t be distracted, not even by this.

Tip 1: Make that first paragraph, first page count, even if it drives you to eat twenty of these. Elmore Leonard has a helpful list of writing rules. Every little bit helps, right? I’m not a stickler, but weather descriptions are a bore unless you’re in an elevator and you have no idea what to say to your neighbor. And don’t be distracted by everyone’s tips, even these really good ones!

In this vein, if you start off with dialogue, it better sparkle like Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. No mundane comments, like “How does this dress look on me?” Start with a big moment, without throwaway lines. Instead of showing off a dress, maybe she sees a dead body on her doorstep; her test says Not Pregnant which is funny given the kicking in her stomach; as she walks down the aisle, she notices the man she actually wants to marry and he’s officiating the wedding…and you have no idea who your groom is. Or you can knock your reader’s socks off with irresistible points of view (Hello, every Kristan Higgins novel).

Tip 2: So I hear you detail your car. Do that with your first three chapters. Go over every sentence. Every word. Every feeling, movement, description, conversation. Is there balance and flow? Do you repeat “very” and “definitely” and “actually”? As your editor shrink, I suggest you and your book become intimately involved. Does your voice shine through? Do you find cohesion in your plot? This is the moment when you pare away unnecessary sentences, without going overboard. Bribe yourself with treats (candy, beer, cat nip) all the way through.

Tip 3: I love a romance checklist, though you can distill all advice into one question: Will your reader care? If you have those first three chapters the way you want them, have gone over them a million times, and you definitely feel, Yes, my reader (and future editor) will care, you could be ready. But read the next tip first.

Tip 4: Pretend you’re at a glamorous reading for your book. Your hair/makeup are perfect. You manage to appear scholarly and hip at the same time. You have the voice of Maggie Gyllenhaal or Colin Firth. Read your chapters out loud to an audience. As you listen, mark down parts that don’t sound right. Fix them! Read that part again like it’s your audiobook.

Tip 5: During writer/editor pitches, if the story appeals to me, I ask for the complete manuscript and a synopsis. So yeah, it’s better if your book is done. It shows you can write a complete book. But between us girls, you really should have those first three chapters polished and shimmering with wit. Readers like me will likely make a decision based on your beginning. If the writing is solid, she or he will eventually request the complete story. Send three chapters, synopsis and, while you’re waiting for an answer, get that complete manuscript in order.

Bonus Tip: Don’t worry that the editor has read so much and you can’t compete in the slush pile. You totally can! Even after reading 30 submissions, editors will keep reading if #31 is page-turning. We are professionals so we don’t reject an amazing story if we’re in a bad mood. A great book makes the editor forget the real world.

You made it through. It’s now time to work on the beautiful adventure that is your book. Do not click on this harmless yet tempting link.

I am waiting.

Writing Tips

Easy Romance Writing Tips

In the last week, I read 40+ submissions. You may not believe this, but I love reading slush! It’s not fun to walk in when you’re wearing new shoes, but slush is an oft-tarnished term that means a submission from the publisher’s general pile. What’s wrong with that? Publishers need submissions to survive, end of story.

As I was reading, I noticed once again (as I do with non-slush pile submissions) easy fixes for those about to submit. So, before I forget, here are items you can revise in your sleep.

Clean up your synopsis. Let’s get out of the way that you can’t write a synopsis to save your life. We know that already–though some of you are pros at crafting a summary of your book. One tip is to be aware of how many times you begin a clause with “When”. Vary your sentences. Even if you can’t write a synopsis, do try to write a good one. 🙂

A comma of direct address sets you apart. Pet peeve alert! In the last ten years, maybe more, the comma of direct address has disappeared from many submissions. I don’t understand this. Or I do, but it’s still infuriating. For love of the English language, throw in that comma. I won’t say that leaving it out will make me reject a story, but…

Open your story in the right place. Often, there is an abundance of setup in the first few pages, which bogs down the pacing. I’m more interested in the voice, the character’s point of view as he or she experiences a remarkable event. I don’t care that she’s driving to a scene or getting ready for a party. I don’t need to know what she’s thinking as she goes up the hill in her Honda Civic, wondering if she’ll encounter her mean ex. I want her to be examining the zombie’s body and realizing it’s her lost husband. Some good examples of openings: The Morning Show, Mission Impossible 2, and The Bodyguard (the one on Netflix, not the Whitney Houston one).

Monitor your use of And, But, Actually, Apparently, especially at the beginning of sentences and paragraphs. Even with writers I’ve worked with for decades, I have to strike sentence misfires. It is so easy to start a sentence with And or But or He or She. And it adds to the flow of your paragraph. But it winds up sounding repetitive. And lazy! And did I say repetitive? At some point, you will need to go over every single word in your manuscript (don’t leave it to the editors). Be brave in getting rid of those easy words or at least use them sparingly.

So your villain calls your heroine a bitch. Do you envision a man with a twisty mustache, too? Since I first began reading romance novels, I encountered this same bad person. Forty years later, bitch is stale and dated. In the real world, don’t you think your villain would call her something…I don’t know…hard-hitting? Better yet, give your evil mastermind a creative way to insult the heroine. Think of Hannibal, who knew exactly how to push Clarice’s buttons without name-calling.

That’s all I’ve got on this Sunday. Happy Writing and those who are Nanowrimo-ing, keep on rocking those words! You can do it.

Romantic Life Lessons, Writing Tips

Hamilton

When Hamilton first appeared on Broadway, I didn’t care. My historian parents would soon discover its existence and make us see it anyway. As a late-forty-something and new iPhone addict, I no longer had the band-width for academic things. Plus, it seemed manipulative for a play to feed me American history. Why did I want to know more…about anything?

The buzz grew. As presidential candidates began their tap dancing, I heard you, Hamilton, and your room where it happens. Obama even went to see it, blessing it as the best thing to exist in this galaxy. At the office and on Facebook, friends treated Hamilton seats like winning the golden ticket in a Willy Wonka chocolate bar. OMIGOD, you’re seeing it in eighteen months? You are so lucky! (You could die before then)

I rebelled against this peer pressure, which meant I had a budding interest. What a great time to be in theater ticket estate planning. When I croak, my nieces could inherit my Broadway tickets. Smug in my non-history-play-seeing (but still alert), I returned for my tenth viewing of Frankie Valli vowing to pay off his bandmate’s tax lien in Jersey Boys. Meanwhile the scent of 250-year-old treasury secretary wafted its way down to the West Village, at which point my mother, a famous historian, said, “Get us 6 seats, orchestra, anything in the next month.” Sure, Bonnie. I’ll do that.

For my mom, I’ll snooze my way through a history lesson with its creative rethinking of the birth of our nation. For Mom, I’ll even accept that Hamilton has a man-bun. But alas, my computer laughed me silly as I tried to purchase 6 seats together in the same year. That’s not only impossible, it’s the price of a Honda Civic circa 1991 (fact).

Mom and I said, “Whatever” to these results. We didn’t want to see it anyway. What’s this about non-Classical music in a period piece? We don’t even listen to hip hop (My iTunes purchases say differently). So, American history, hip hop, and a scarcity of tickets. No thanks!

All around me, the hype continued and I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda on shows, being happy and excited, not the least bit tired or jaded over being a sensation–again! He was in the thick of that wonderful genius bubble where you create something meaningful for the world. Damn him!

My friend from work finally went to see it and came back saying, “It’s nothing you’ve ever seen before. Another level.” Her review weighed on me. Another level means another level. I bought Ron Chernow’s book and started to read. The text was engrossing, as was LMM’s adorable book of uplifting tweets (600 pages shorter, tho). Add to this the synchronicity of my giving a Hamilton bill to my takeout delivery person multiple times per week.

But, people, my fever broke. I gave up pursuing the secret dream. Sort of like when I knew I wouldn’t be able to score a ride, shelter, and Duran Duran tickets in 1984.

When LMM did Hamilton in Puerto Rico, I saw it as a sign of renewal. Go. I even entered the contest to win a chance to fly to PR (I don’t like to fly) to see Hamilton. The realization took years to appear like a banner in my brain: I have to see Hamilton. I really have to see it. Over and over, I thought this. Tickets still too much. But I still have to go. I checked calendars. Asked my husband wouldn’t it be nice. No, he said. When the play Charlemagne opens, he’ll be there (he likes France).

Weeks went by. After a couple years of not wanting to go but secretly wanting to go. I started to think about going by myself. No follow through.

Last weekend, Sam and I were dying of boredom (it happens even when you love each other). He looked through the plays and clicked a few icons and said, “We’re seeing Hamilton tomorrow, 3 pm.”*

So.

Everyone was right. I won’t go into detail because I’m running out of ink. Just know that it’s a masterpiece. I am still thinking mostly about the labor involved in creating those three hours of joy. Hamilton is what happens when you work harder than anyone else. Great works take work. Writers who are stuck or crawling toward that agonizing finish line–answer that call to witness someone else’s talents. It might be the motivation you need at the exact right time.

The Hamilton ear worms are brutal, though.

(Okay, Mom. Now it’s your turn.)

*Yes, he’s really nice.

Writing Tips

Ramble On (but please edit), Brave Writers!

When I decided to be a great novelist, I knew exactly how to start my story. With me! And my Extraordinary and Very Rare experience of dating a tortured intellectual who drank…in college…and sometimes he was mean! This narrative went on for pages and pages. Oh, the pages! The fact that my pen glided so effortlessly across the paper meant I was genius and this story would capture the hearts of millions. I wasn’t even at the good part or even the beginning. By the time I was done, I had filled a notebook, one I couldn’t go back and reread because, I’ll be honest, it was a little boring. But someone else would find it fascinating!

And so I began my relationship with writing fiction. As an editor, with now daily experience in reading critically, I notice how rambling points of view can kill a story. Mind you, I still do this—go on and on for pages (or even blog posts). What one writer might consider fascinating character revelations, one editor might use as a sleeping agent.

Is this Rambling POV bad?

Only if you don’t edit it. Rambling POV is actually a good thing. It gets your brain moving and pushes you to free your imagination. In editing, you can make that point of view more succinct and targeted to your storytelling.

How do you know you have rambling POV?

Keep rereading what you have written. If you find yourself skipping over paragraphs, consider cutting those paragraphs. You might feel liberated. In case of regret, always save your drafts. If you have the energy to go back, cut and paste, your words were meant to stay.

When I read submissions, a common mistake is a rambling POV at the beginning. Too much of a good thing can bog down the pacing and a character with sass can quickly turn off an editor if the sass goes on forever before anything happens.

Just remember that all talk and no action renders your character a big snooze fest.

When can rambling POV be good?

In narrative nonfiction, it can be lovely. Though in this format, it’s not so much “rambling” as “telling a true, gripping story.” You can bet that the editor is looking at every word and trimming what comes off as rambling.

One way to tell rambling from elucidating prose is that it seems to be more about the author than about the reader. There’s a sense of “I so love my voice” or “I need to get this out before I move to the next thing” or “I’m writing so fast, this must be brilliant!” So, in the end, rambling POV can be good—as in, a good start, but amateurish if not done well.

How do you deal with rambling POV?

Understand from the beginning that may overwrite in places. Often, it’s to show your character. You can always go back and cut. In fact, you should go back and cut.

Think about how your character moves through the scene rather than thinks. We all think. It’s easy to share thoughts on a page. But what does your character do?

Don’t censor yourself from rambling. More writing is better than no writing.

Remember that most of the time, rambling doesn’t help. There are many exceptions, authors who do it brilliantly. Sophie Kinsella comes to mind. She can immerse you in her story with her rambling characters, who do very little but are ablaze with thought and insight, all of which is highly entertaining, at least to me! Those thriller writers with the unreliable narrators or fascinating protagonists, also pros at rambling POV. And good memoirists can go on and on with a purpose.

It’s always good to err on the side of knowing you’re probably not an exception, though maybe you are. It never hurts to experiment.

Back to important stuff: my “fictional” story about the alcoholic in college. Yeah, she’s sitting somewhere in my mother’s closet along with Teacher’s Pet, my attempt at writing a romance. And my master’s thesis, a truly rambling onus from the depths of Hades.

May you fare better than this. Go forth and ramble, experiment, and edit. And lastly, read the exceptions and learn.

 

Writing Tips

10 Reasons Why You Should Write that Book

1. It engages your brain. How easy it is to sit and let others entertain you. If you’re like me, you want to sit on the couch and take the easy way out of writing: watch a movie or hours of reality TV. Because mama is tired. She’s so tired of the idiots fighting, the long hours, and oh me, I just need a break. I’m not saying that these are wrong, but they can keep you from getting back in the chair. So, let’s put down the Snickers and say, “Extended breaks and self-care are good. But it’s time to put my creative genius to work.” Hop to it!

2. Why not expound on your favorite topic? I really love cake. Someday, I’ll write a story about cake, but until then, I love reading about cake! May the gods bless cookbook authors and the chefs creating desserts on TV. I also love knitting, astronomy, jewelry, celebrities, romance, cooking shows, and serial killers–maybe even in the same story. I know exactly where to turn to get my fix: a writer like you. Show us readers something delicious–and dangerous!

3. That life is too short thing. My grandparents told me that watching TV was worthless. That said, they clocked at least four hours daily of Wild Kingdom, nightly news (aka The Murder Show), The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Search for Tomorrow (aka Search). At the end of the road, you may have a better story to tell than the ones parading in front of you. Think about it.

4. Don’t we have enough short form outrage right now? You know what I’m talking about. Believe me, I’m there, too. Twit/Face/Inst (short form) eats up whole days, months, and the more informed I am, the stupider I feel. Social media has a hold on me and I need to be plugged in at all times. There are so many better words we could be writing. Take your life back, writers!

5. If you’re reading this, you might identify yourself as a writer. I caught you red-handed! Don’t worry, I’ll keep your secret for now. In the meantime, show me I’m right and get yourself in that chair. I hear Nanowrimo is next week (wink wink). So, sure, you have your day job or whatever, but you’re a writer. You’re a writer. Say it over and over again, then stop and write. 

6. Writing a book is an actual accomplishment. It’s one of those empirical beliefs that finishing a book is a big deal. Not many people can write a book. But you can. Maybe you have. Or you just feel strongly that you can. Write one page, then another, etc… Eventually, if you keep pushing, you will get to the end. There will be MANY DISTRACTIONS. It’s okay because you’ve got support and talent and persistence in your DNA. Do the work and get to the end.

7. Living vicariously can be a whole lot of fun. I don’t know about you but sometimes I like to pretend that I could be a moviestar–like completely overhaul my wardrobe and makeup situation and try to act! Or that I’m a psychic 32-year-old shopgirl who heals people. Or a sweet middle-aged manager who plots a murder, then actually goes through with it. This is when I shut out the real world and start tapping furiously on my computer. Am I right to think you have an awesome life/story/character that you like to dream about? 

8. Because a world without creativity, well, let’s not even go there. The more we scroll for that quick fix, the more our attention spans and imaginations die. What would our lives be like without books? I’d be sitting on the couch. Oh, and unemployed. Think about that. An existence without those great classics, those romances, those writers conferences. Can you feel the emptiness? The world needs you.

9. Don’t you have something to say? Everyone I’ve ever met has something to say, even (especially) those who pass under our radars. So many stories out there! You may be that quiet person who thinks she’s nothing special. Or the opposite. At each end of the spectrum and everywhere in between, you have an experience, an imagination, and a message.

10. You will change someone. It’s unrealistic to think that you don’t affect someone else’s life. If you’re a writer—and I suspect you are—you know which writers have changed you. If I hadn’t read Mario Puzo’s Fools Die, I’m not sure I’d be sitting here writing this. Reading Emile Zola helped me understand that I never wanted to live as a drunk in 19th Century Paris. And Penny Jordan’s romances helped me find a better path (and a way not to fail my history exam). Just think of the good you can do for someone by the story you have inside you. It’s time. Don’t you think?