Writing Tips

Welcome to Synopsis Camp!

IMG_2493What is more painful than writing a synopsis? Writing a blog post about writing synopses. Just kidding not really. While on an editor panel, I promised to write this post and I’m glad I did. From the bottom of my heart, I feel that banging out that synopsis is essential–and easy.

Let’s just get it out of the way, that every writer tells me, “I can’t write a synopsis.” And I can’t eat pickled beets unless you give me money, which is what my mother and brother did once. Seriously, you can write a synopsis. If you can write a book, you can write a synopsis. Remember high school, college? It’s a matter of getting into the right head space and practicing. I don’t blame you for complaining. I have to write synopses, too, and I do plenty of whining about it. Then I realize what a skill it is: being able to summarize your work.

One thing to note: Editors need that synopsis. They have to pitch your story to higher ups. We might even require a refresher if we haven’t looked at your book in a few weeks. There are so many books that we read between your submission and that second or third read. A synopsis turns out to be a handy guide to your story. It introduces everyone to the basics.

But how do you write a dry synopsis on a story you are so passionate about? It can be done, I swear. If we can survive the elements, reality television, and the presidential campaign, we can tackle this onerous task.

Because I hate writing synopses myself, I’ve devised a handy way to get through the pain. Maybe it’ll help you, too.

  1. Choose two days where your goal is to write the synopsis. No other writing, no other big projects. Just the synopsis.
  2. Write a logline, a one-sentence summary of your story, two sentences tops. Encapsulating your premise into one neat sentence is a talent and one you can show off when you pitch your story. You will use that logline over and over again.
  3. Prepare yourself psychologically for the longer synopsis. Editors have different requirements, but I like to ask for a five-page synopsis, double spaced. If you can do this, you’re in great shape. Line up your pencils, hydrate, and say, “I can do this.”
  4. Break down your synopsis into three parts. Act I, Act II, and Act III–but don’t label them as such in your synopsis. It’s easier to write a synopsis when you think of it in smaller segments. Never write a chapter by chapter breakdown. These are hard to follow.
  5. Write Act I in the morning. You have that surge of energy, you’ve had your coffee, so get out those first 500 words. You’ll be shocked at how little time this takes.
  6. Take a few hours off. Let Act II percolate in your head. Eat lunch. Have another coffee and then go at it. Get the middle of the story down in lovely prose. No need for gimmicks, just the story as if you were telling someone about it. Think generalities. Think that annoying paper that you’re writing for school. Readable, engaging writing that will inform the editor.
  7. Reward yourself. Watch an episode of your favorite show. Eat a Snickers and/or Cheese Puffs (see picture).
  8. It’s late afternoon, when you’re almost ready to call it a day. Maybe you want to take a nap, but you have one last item on your to do list: Act III. Make it dramatic and exciting! You’re on the home stretch!
  9. You did it. Was that so hard? Maybe, if you think mowing the lawn is hard. It’s just not something you want to do, but you did it because it needed doing. If you didn’t have a Snickers before, you deserve one now.
  10. Forget about your synopsis for the rest of the night. Sweet dreams! They will be sweet because you accomplished this one little yet crucial part of the writing process.
  11. Wakey, wakey! Don’t you hate it when people say that? I do, too, but not so much since I finished a synopsis. After breakfast or whenever the neurons start firing, go over your synopsis, revise it, edit it, then look over it five more times throughout the day. Remind yourself how awesome you are for writing a synopsis, which all of us hate to do.
  12. You are now done–and a new graduate of Synopsis Camp. For good measure and because this is a heinous chore, reward yourself often.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to go over your work, but the hardest part is often getting the words down. As a writer, though, you’re used to that, right? In conclusion, I’ll let you in on a secret. The synopsis is important, though many of editors don’t love reading them. It is truly a guide. The most important part is your voice, your story. But we still want the synopsis. 🙂

Romantic Life Lessons, Writing Tips

Express Editing

iStock_000000568002XSmallby Patience Bloom

A few months into my job as an editor, my boss came over, plunked a manuscript onto my desk and said, “Fix this.” My deadline was days–not weeks or months. I knew very little about what I was supposed to do, but trusted my instincts. I love an editorial challenge (usually) so I jumped at the chance to shepherd this project to its state of perfection. The prose had real sparkle, but needed pruning–correcting of typos, word choices and removing all mention of feminine hygiene products. I ate and slept this story to the point where I grew to love it, warts and all. By the time I turned it in to production, I developed separation anxiety and didn’t want to see it go (though part of me was glad for the sleep).

A year after this, my boss-adjacent came into my office and said, “Fix this,” then gave me a heavy manuscript. Deadline: three days. No sweat! Sure, I had a new artist boyfriend to distract me, but while waiting for him at the super-trendy Bedford stop in Brooklyn, I edited like a maniac, tuning out my surroundings and, sadly, the boyfriend. Could I help it if I was deadline-obsessed? It remains one of my favorite books. The relationship did not work out.

More recently–like say, in the last ten years–boss-adjacent decided to schedule a book and I had two days to edit it–on screen, which I hate. I took a few deep breaths, knowing I was about to embark on the mother of all editing experiences. With plenty of Sprite, M&Ms, and curse words, I carried out my assignment. Again, I loved the story within the first few chapters and twitched with panic when I had to let it go. Now and then, I’ll hear a song, eat an M&M, see a cafe, and remember the many hours I spent on a particular book.

All these express editing experiences were tests, ones every editor should have, though not the ideal condition. Recently (like within the past few years) and without too much guilt–maybe a little–I went to an editor and said, “Fix this.” She had the same reaction I did–eager to take this all-important test.

When you’re forced to edit too quickly, you focus extra-hard on two things: 1. not missing anything 2. not rushing too much. In some ways, express editing can be advantageous. You immerse yourself in the work and never lose your flow. I’ve edited books over months and sometimes the copyeditor will come back and I can hear her/him wondering, “What were you thinking by letting this go through?” Even with a year-long stretch, I try to stay in that one story. The momentum is not as strong as when my imaginary deadline Furies are screaming in my ears. Express editing is not my #1 choice, but I can see how much I’ve learned from it.

Romantic Life Lessons

Piles and Scatterbrain: A Love Story

It’s a Friday and my office is a mess. It didn’t used to be. Because my elementary school education in France drilled terror and organization into my soul, I’ve fixated on putting things in their proper places. Deadlines are my best friend and if I miss one, I get anxious. Will Madame G… take me by the ear and make me stand in the corner? This happened a few times when I blew off the four hours of homework–though, what do you expect from a six-year-old who can’t speak the language? I owe a lot of my work ethic/time management skills to the French school system.

Over time, my focus has splintered. Maybe it’s Facebook’s fault. Maybe we are all multitasking too much. Whatever the case, the memory of a ruler rapped against my knuckles doesn’t reverberate so much when I leave dishes in the sink. If I put aside a project mid-stream, no one will yell at me. Forty years later, I’m becoming a little scattered again and that’s just how it is.

Now, I see that I have piles and sub-piles, some consisting of one scrap of paper with one phrase scrawled, “Call so-and-so.” Other piles contain substantive emails I’ve printed out so that I’ll remember–though, let’s be honest, they often get stuck in the back of what I’m editing and I don’t find them until months later. Then, there are the To Do lists, which I’ve started to ignore. I have three lists: on my iPad, on the big pad of paper, then the beautiful little booklet I rescued from a paper store (for 20$). The sad thing: it’s the same list with minor variations. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin renewed my devotion to my lists, but I realized that I only love crossing things off. There we go there.

When I sit down at my desk, I look at the piles, panic, wonder if I have ADD or just am anxious about books. I do some  prioritizing, write myself notes in bold, rearrange the piles and then start reading something, since that stabilizes me. It’s all about the reading, right? Sigh. This is where I’m most zen.

Within ten minutes, I’m back to fussing with email, figuring out which ones I can answer fast, which will sit for eons, a frustrating endeavor. Will I call so-and-so now? No, I’ll wait till afternoon, though should do now since I don’t want to be a procrastinator. Maybe I need to take Ginseng. I’ll go down to Starbucks instead for a chocolate-covered graham cracker or two. I return, look up at my shelves, the To Edit pile. This month, I have four books to turn in. I’m done with one. Now I’m editing the remaining three at once, which doesn’t help de-clutter my brain–but it’s nice clutter. Since Madame A… said I was mischievous and lazy, I secretly start on a fourth edit–one that needs more TLC–due in late October. I’m thankful that I’m not Claire Danes’s character on Homeland since she’s really got a lot on her mind. Which reminds me I have to set my DVR….

The sun is shining in my window and I look out for a few minutes, soaking in the Vitamin D. That’s enough. I go back to the 20 manuscripts sitting in my ibooks folder and start to read another few pages–before I remember about the deadline for cover ideas for June 2013. Maybe I should do another blog post. So here I am…

Romantic Life Lessons

What Does a Romance Editor Do All Day?

This might not be an interesting question. In fact, I’m sure it’s not, but I get asked it all the time. So here goes: full disclosure. First of all, being an editor–at least in my world–is so not Sharon Stone’s character in the movie Sliver. I laugh at the gigantic apartment mostly. Am I the only one who saw this movie? Anyway, here’s my average day…

8:30-10am: This is my prime reading time. My office has amazing natural light so I take full advantage while reading. It’s the closest thing I have to a porch. I put my feet up, read and drink coffee that tastes like battery acid, my favorite. All that’s missing is the Country Time lemonade and the benevolent grandparents sitting nearby in rocking chairs.

Often, meetings happen in the 10am area. They last about an hour, maybe longer. Meetings are necessary and mostly an enjoyable break from staring at words–I find. It’s important to interact with real live people and my colleagues are a good bunch. Sometimes, there are snacks at these meetings–well, at least in meetings I facilitate. I just think donuts and M&Ms make the world a happier place. (lots of product placement in this post so far)

Between 11:30-12:30, I hit the gym because, as a morning person, I’m much more productive and alert in the afternoon if I work out. Plus, it neutralizes the chocolate eating and diminishes stress. I love my husband but I get a thrill out of watching Divorce Court while I run.

In the afternoon, I return phone calls, emails and do a lot of detail-oriented tasks–handing in books, updating a database, writing a memo, Tweeting & FBing, looking at numbers and lists and work-related blogs, obsessing about meeting deadlines, asking a question about a manuscript. My job involves a lot of sitting, so I try to move around once every 30 minutes. We sometimes have meetings in the afternoon, too.

Once I’ve finished with these details, I’ll do some more reading before retiring for the day. I go home between 4:30-5pm. A lot of my colleagues read on the commute home, but I play Angry Birds. It cleanses the palate because I tend to read even more when I get home.

Oh, so when do I edit? you ask. Well, either in the morning during my porch time or at night. To edit, I generally need a quiet few hours with no distractions. This is tough in an office environment, so I bring a lot of work home at night and on weekends. Since the sixth grade, I have hauled a heavy bag with me everywhere. My husband recently gave me a bag with wheels, which helps. I don’t like the idea of being stuck without a manuscript. Is it any wonder I read for a living?

You’d think I’d be sick of reading by evening. Sometimes I am and will indulge in some fierce knitting and a Criminal Minds, The Shield, or Gossip Girl marathon. But often, I will just keep going, reading some nonfiction or my trashy tabloids New Yorker. My eye muscles are just that used to inhaling words.

Now that I read this over, I see how pleasant my days usually are. I am lucky, for sure. Coffee, romance novels and chocolate. You really can’t go wrong.