How Do I Revise Thee? Let Me Count The Ways…

Blogging has been (and will probably continue to be) spotty this month, because I am revising the draft of my NEW NOVEL–a sequel to The Illuminator’s Gift!

So, in one of my brief appearances above ground, I’ll give you a quick, behind-the-scenes tour of my revision process.

It starts with my stellar team of test readers, who critique confidential advance copies of the manuscript. These amazing people are kind of like FBI agents, only with better punctuation.

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I pore over their comments for hours.

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Then, using all 3 cells from the left side of my brain, I consolidate their comments into a spreadsheet. I look for patterns and common themes.

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Using the comments, I map out a revision plan, using color-coded post-it notes for different sections of the book. Yet another reason I love office supplies.

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Then it’s back to the drawing board–simultaneously the most rewarding and most grueling part of the revision process. Just when I’ve finished writing a whole book, I have to write some more. But on the other hand, I get to write some more (longhand, of course), which is my favorite thing. It’s like having a play date with my characters.

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Then it’s time to type up what I’ve written, editing as I go. I go over the entire manuscript, paying attention to skipped words and long sentences as well as overall structure and flow, trying to make every scene fit seamlessly with the others. (Sneaky writer tip: it’s way easier to write a good beginning when you’ve already written the end.)

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Sometimes revision seems like a neverending process, gobbling up hours and hours and hours on end. But just when I think I can’t keep going…

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…ice cream makes all sorts of things happen.

If you’re a teacher or homeschool group coordinator located in the SF Bay Area, I talk about things like the revision process in my classroom visits! If you’re interested in scheduling a visit, send me an e-mail

Office Supply Love

After books, some of my favorite things are office supplies. As a self-employed writer/speaker/editor/tutor, not only do I need these tools for my trade(s), but they also make me really happy.

Like really, really happy. Probably way happier than a normal person should be about lots of paper, plastic, and ink. But normal is overrated.

Because smoothing the pages of a blank planner, cracking the plastic on a new box of post-it notes, opening a fresh dry-erase marker–these are the signs of new beginnings, like daffodils in a California January. With this new batch of tools, who knows what new starts I could make this year?

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I’m serious about my office supply shopping. I wait for back-to-school sales, compare bargains, then stock up for the whole year. This year my brother and I even made a date of it. He deserves a medal for waiting with great patience as I stood waffling in the notebook aisle.

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The best part of office supply shopping, obviously, is choosing pens. Though it’s also the hardest. Good pens are like good friends–with you through thick and thin. Nothing irritates me like a pen that gives up in the middle of a battle scene or that writes inconsistent sentences.

My new love is the Sharpie pen, which I discovered when I started signing books last December. It’s a fine-point, felt-tip pen with an absolutely consistent ink flow, just like a regular Sharpie. But unlike a regular Sharpie, it doesn’t bleed through paper. I meant to keep my supply specially for book signings, but found myself reaching for them all the time. So now I have them in 6 colors.

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My new love.

I feel like a dragon in a treasure cave. Happy day.

Hobbies vs. Passion

Singing is one of my hobbies.

From an early age, I’d wander around the house singing—sometimes my favorite Disney hits; sometimes tunes of my own making. A Christmas pageant director once told me I had perfect pitch. I took a few voice lessons and sang on my church’s praise team as a teenager. I even ended up in my college’s women’s choir.

When I was younger, I thought I wanted to make this dream into a career. I thought I wanted to be a singer.

But today it’s a hobby.

I still absolutely enjoy singing (especially when the Frozen soundtrack comes on in my car).

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But I knew singing wasn’t my passion when I realized I didn’t want to work at it. Glittering stardom and singing my heart out for a packed arena of fans sounded okay. But music theory classes? Hours spent in a practice room?

Ick. It would kill the joy of singing for me.

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Photography is another hobby of mine. My family got our first point-and-shoot digital camera in 2004, and almost immediately my finger was glued to the shutter button. I’d never enjoyed analog photography, because when my packet of prints would come back after 2 weeks, half the shots were invariably blurred or featured my finger across the lens—and by then, of course, it was too late to fix them.

With the help of the digital LCD screen, though, I began to play with composition, lighting, and color—knowing I could delete the hundreds of bloopers without cost or frustration. I learned a few things from friends and from books, and for high school graduation my mom upgraded me to a camera with many more capabilities. I did photo shoots for friends and family and even a few paid gigs. I thought about becoming a photographer.

But the fact was—

I didn’t want to work at it.

I may still be the family’s designated cameraperson, and taking pictures with friends is still one of my favorite pastimes. Unless otherwise credited, all the images on this blog are mine, and I’m glad I can make them decent.

But classes and books on color theory and darkroom technique? Lugging around loads of equipment and small-talking about white balance and f-stops?

No thank you.

That kind of work would take the joy out of photography for me.

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Storytelling is my passion.

I didn’t always know that. There was a time when I thought writing was my absolute nemesis.

But with some tastes of success, some writerly friends, and some encouraging teachers, I began to feel like I could be good at writing. I began to like it. Suddenly, around age 14, I realized I loved it.

At first, I didn’t want to work at it. I wanted my first drafts to be magically perfect (hey, wouldn’t that be nice?).

But as my confidence grew, so did my willingness to edit, to accept critique. I took classes, formed writing groups with other teens. I read books that inspired me. And soon it became evident.

Writing wasn’t just a hobby. It’s my passion—my calling—my vocation.

And when you find that one consuming passion, you’re willing to work for it. Even if it means cutting up a whole story with scissors, shuffling the pieces around, and rewriting.

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“I want to be a writer!”

I hear that a lot.

In elementary schoolers, I encourage it. A dream is something that can fuel you, give you direction. And I’m biased, but I think writing is a wonderful dream.

For older students and adults, though, I add a few words of caution:

Know the difference between your hobbies and your passion.

Not that I don’t want people to become writers. It’s a path filled with beauty, energy, and excitement. I wouldn’t choose any other.

But the road is also paved with risk, anxiety, isolation, and sacrifice.

And to stay the course without losing your joy, writing has to be your passion, not just a hobby.

 

Have you found your passion? What other hobbies did you dream of making into careers?

 

Blogiversary #2

I love fall. The student in me thinks of September, not January, as the beginning of the year. As the weather gets cooler, I get an almost Pavlovian excitement for office supplies, pumpkin spice lattes, and new beginnings.

Photo credit: Jason A. Samfield

But what almost took me by surprise is that this approaching fall season also marks my second blogiversary. I went to write this week’s blog post and realized it’ll be two years on Sunday! Which prompts a bit of reflection.

It’s a little harder to track this year’s progress than it was last year. I do know that I’ve published a total of 95 posts and accumulated nearly 20,000 page views since starting this blog in 2011 (numbers which thrill, startle, and humble me by turns). Sometimes numbers help me step back and get some perspective on the small routines I perform regularly.

This year I have branched out to share a wider variety of art forms, including poetry, photography, and excerpts from my novel-in-progress.

Speaking of which, that novel is in its 4th (and hopefully final) draft! Sometimes not losing vision in the last stage is the hardest part. I’m both eager and nervous to set out on the road to publication.

I struck the words “recent college graduate” from my Blogger profile. Now that I’m 2+ years out of academia, I think I’m really beginning to consider myself a working adult.

Which is beginning to make sense, now that my weeks are full with 15 tutoring students, regular freelance editing projects, novel revisions, and some very dear relationships that make my life full and sweet. Sometimes living has been so sweet that I’ve clean forgotten about blogging (that’s why there’s no December under the 2012 tab).

I had a chance to share my life story with some peers a few weeks ago and it gave me a chance to realize what this blog has done for me. Not only has it kept my writing muscles limber in busy times when other writing projects have gone into hibernation, but it’s been cathartic for me as well. Sometimes it’s easier to blurt out the truth in a public forum (especially online) than it is to be honest with your close friends and family.

Here I’ve reached new levels of honesty as I’ve broached subjects like vulnerability, loss, and lament poetry. What’s even better is that some of you have come to me and shared that my halting admissions of hurt, confusion, and failure have made you feel freer to admit your own struggles. And that makes it worth it.

It’s also been joyful to celebrate new beginnings throughout the year, noticing small magic, overflowing like popcorn, and cooing over adorable hedgehogs. It’s wonderful to celebrate fullness and joy. I think honesty about the empty and the hard makes this part even sweeter.

And with that, I commence celebrating blogiversary #2. No pumpkin spice lattes in my local Starbucks yet, but I’m waiting. Oh yes, I’m waiting.

Photo credit: brina_head


In the meanwhile, let this changing season give you a chance to reflect. What milestones are you celebrating? What are you looking forward to this school year? 

Cats, Dogs, and Grammar

When I’m not writing irresistible blog posts (*ahem*) I actually make a living by fixing people’s grammar. As a freelance editor and English tutor, mostly, but occasionally for free in conversation. I really try to keep that knee-jerk reaction under control, though.

Grammar is descriptive rather than prescriptive, meaning that what is “correct” changes over time, according to the way people really use words in speaking and writing. Unlike in science, there are very few absolute laws in grammar. So anyone who tries to collar you and tell you that ending a sentence with a preposition is a cardinal sin is probably just…overreacting.

Overreacting. Image courtesy of stock.xchng and xvoltagex

That being said, the goal of language is to communicate, and to accomplish that, the way we use language has to be standardized. Publications like the MLA Handbook, the Chicago Manual of Style, and the Associated Press Stylebook exist to teach us how to write standard English (and even write with style). And because of them, here are a few of my pet peeves from the last few weeks:

1. Take your sentences to the gym

I think of a sentence as a person going for a workout. Get rid of all the extra flab, and you’ve got a toned, healthy, athletic body. You can’t get attached to that extra bit of tummy fat; it’s about the health and fitness of the whole body. So for the sake of the sentence’s health, ask yourself, “Can I say the same thing in fewer words?”

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and ctr

2. “The difference between the right word and the almost right word…”

“…is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug” (Mark Twain). I love big words. I am enraptured by big words. My favorite word in English is tintinnabulation. (Go look that one up for a grin.) But every word has a shade of meaning, and you have to choose the one that best suits your sentence. So don’t use incursion when you mean raid, or hirsute when you mean bearded. There’s a time and a place for big words, but they’re not one-size-fits-all. Make sure you understand what you’re really saying.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and Catrya

3. Be nice to apostrophes

This one’s best explained with a couple of formulas and a picture.

Your=belonging to you
You’re=you are
You’re about to step on your French poodle.

Whose=belonging to whom
Who’s=who is
Whose French poodle is that? Who’s a French poodle? 

(Note: who’se is not a thing…)

There=a place
Their=belonging to them
They’re=they are
They’re picking up their French poodle from there.

Poor poodle.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and crs_171

Loving the grammar (or need some more help)? Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips is one of my favorite quick-reference websites. I also just found out that Grammar Girl has a whole Pinterest board of hilarious cartoons for grammar nerds. Enjoy!

Do you have any pet grammar peeves? Feel free to share them in the comments!

On This Day…

Ever look at your calendar and remember what you were doing on this day, one or two or three years ago?

Three years ago (well, April 25), I found myself in church. In western Ireland.

With only about 10 regular attendees, there were more people buried in the churchyard than alive inside the service. It was rather quiet. 

Aftewards, some friends and I went horseback riding! I hadn’t been on a horse since I was eight years old (when veterinarian topped my list of career choices).

This horse was named Rua (Gaelic for “red”). As we neared the hilltop, she bolted. Bouncing around, as in control as a sack of flour, I clutched the English saddle, watching my life flash before my eyes…and arrived at this incredible vista of clear sea and sky (with the Blasket Islands visible across the bay).

Having survived our adventure, we limped off, saddle-sore, to reward ourselves with…

…the world’s most amazing chocolate cake! Murphy’s is an Irish ice cream/sweets shop that makes absolutely the best chocolate cake in the world. If you’re ever in Ireland, find some. It’s an especially good way to forget about being saddle-sore. 
I still miss Ireland some days. Especially when I think about what I was doing on this day two years ago: editing my senior project in college. 
With scissors. Helps rustle up the necessary ruthlessness. No better way to visualize transposals or deletions. I also think I killed an entire rainforest’s worth of post-it notes. But I graduated!
One year ago, I was…

…at my desk, finishing the second draft of my novel. I’m now partway through the fourth draft, which (I hope) will be the last. Maybe this novel will see the light of day before I start getting a senior discount on my office supplies. 
And today, I am here, typing up this blog post:
Freelance life may not often take me across the world on exciting adventures. I don’t often find myself bolting up hills on a runaway horse or violently editing a story with scissors. It’s not every day I get to celebrate the accomplishment of a completed novel draft. But my imagination doesn’t starve. And that is a blessing.
What do you see when you look back at this day in past years?

Writer/Editor

My business card says Alina Sayre, Freelance Writer/Editor. 
It doesn’t say that those two halves of my brain have separate personalities. 
But before you ship me off to the asylum with multiple personality disorder, I’d like you to meet them. 
The writer in me is named Cordelia, after Anne from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (played by Megan Follows in the 1985 film). At her first meeting with her new guardian, Marilla, eleven-year-old Anne introduces herself this way:

“Will you please call me Cordelia?” she said eagerly.
Call you Cordelia! Is that your name?”
“No-o-o, it’s not exactly my name, but I would love to be called Cordelia. It’s such a perfectly elegant name.”
Cordelia is a dreamy, imaginative person with plenty of capacity for feeling and believing. She watches the habits of people and observes the world with eyes hungry for detail. No nook or cranny is too obscure to find wonder there. Sometimes she gets carried away with wild schemes, like dyeing her hair green, or flies into unexpected rampages, but overall she is a poetic and reflective person. She lets beauty “soak into her soul” and makes up stories about herself, her family, the neighbors, and any interestingly unsuspecting person. Consider yourself warned.
The other half, Madame Editor, is a middle-aged Victorian woman named Aunt Josephine (played by Meryl Streep in the film version of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events). Her watchword is:
“Grammar is the greatest joy in life, don’t you find?”

Aunt Josephine’s idea of a good time is an afternoon spent adjusting commas in accordance with The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed., of course). She flinches at the improper use of their/there/they’re and goes into raptures over a sentence that diagrams correctly. Her ideal man is one who says, “Why…grammar is the number one, most important thing in this here world to me” (even if he turns out to be a sham fisherman). 

How these two people co-exist inside my head is a mystery to me. They certainly don’t get along very well. Both are high-strung and occasionally fly into a temper when their opinion is contradicted. I’ve learned that the key to a happy mental life and successful writing sessions is to keep them apart. Do not cross this line. Do NOT cross this line. 

When I’m writing, usually Cordelia gets to come out first, because Aunt Josephine isn’t actually very good at coming up with original sentences. Cordelia, by contrast, could gush out words until the moon turns blue. With over 500,000 English words to choose from and an innumerable number of life observations and human subjects to choose from, she can imagine herself into any world she chooses at any time of day. But eventually it’s time for her to come away from the keyboard and give someone else a chance.

Then Aunt Josephine comes out to play. While she may look like an ogre as she ruthlessly slashes away, cutting out whole words, sentences, and paragraphs, she actually has a huge respect for writing and language. She simply believes that language forfeits its full power if it is overused or improperly used. Brevity is the soul of wit, and good grammar doesn’t hurt either. Sometimes she bosses Cordelia into submission, but when the dust settles, they usually agree that the end manuscript is better for their joint efforts. 

I saw a cartoon where a pencil point and its eraser were having dinner together. On the phone, the pencil point says, “Can I call you back? I’m having dinner with my editor.” Life in my brain is like that. As long as the two halves of the pencil work separately and respect each other’s abilities, they continue to co-exist safely and (sometimes) happily.



Does your brain have multiple sides to it? How does it help or hinder your creative process?