Monthly Archives: March 2014

Eleven Rules for Freelance Editing

eleven car

Have you ever thought of taking up freelance editing? It’s a good gig for writers because you put your language skills to work and get paid for it, often earning more money than your client will as the author. And with the abundance of folks self-publishing their projects, opportunities are plentiful. After all, every writer needs an editor.

The bad news: Editing is skilled labor, not something you can pick up over a weekend. Before you spill a drop of red ink over anyone’s precious manuscript, you must know these eleven rules of freelance editing:

1. Write. Write some more. Write until knowledgeable people say you are a good writer. You have to understand the rhythm of language to edit.

2. Read. Read some more. Read all kinds of stuff, because it will help you understand the rhythm of language even better.

3. Know language mechanics and grammar rules (but don’t let them rule you).

4. Think expansively. You’re not simply editing words. You are editing words in a format within a genre using a language that serves a culture containing multiple sub-cultures. A book about the history of hip-hop in Los Angeles requires a different application of language than does a guide to refinishing antiques or a historical romance novel. In other words, “get” the material.

matt smith25. Respect your client’s voice. If your author styles herself after William Faulkner and you emulate Tom Clancy, you edit with William Faulkner in mind. Your job as an editor is not to make the story sound as if you (or Tom Clancy) wrote it. Write your own book.

6. Respect your author’s story. If you think chapter one is dull and needs an action scene to grab the reader, suggest that to your client. If you think your author’s inner-city drama about a middle-aged, married, white woman falling in love her 25-year-old gay, black, male parole officer would work better as a medieval-era papal conspiracy thriller about a robot triceratops discovered under the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, shut up and write your own book.

7. Understand that editing is a multi-stage process. Shaping the document involves reading the entire manuscript and identifying the parts that don’t work or the parts that drag or the sequences that confuse, and then suggest rewrites. In the line-editing stage, you will go line by line, eliminating redundancies and tightening prose until you have successfully removed that which blocked the full expression of your client’s voice. Proofing is the final pass, during which typos, grammar missteps, and punctuation mistakes are fixed.

8. Develop an eye for unnecessary words. Read:

“In the National Hockey League, 16 different teams make the playoffs at the end of the season each year, though only one of them will be able to skate away with the Stanley Cup raised proudly over their heads.”

Editing that, you can cut at least 15 words and up to 20, depending on the audience and the tone you seek. I hope your client writes less clunky constructions than the one above, but not all writers are equal.

Here’s the minus-15 version:

“In the National Hockey League, 16 different teams make the playoffs at the end of the season each year, though only one of them will be able to skate away with the Stanley Cup raised proudly over their heads.”

“In the National Hockey League, 16 teams make the playoffs each year, though only one will skate away with the Stanley Cup raised proudly.”

With 20 words removed, slicker but with less emotion:

“In the National Hockey League, 16 teams make the playoffs, though only one skates away with the Stanley Cup.”

9. Be consistent. If a movie title is italicized in Chapter One, it shouldn’t be placed in quotes in Chapter Four and bolded in Chapter Nine. You may not be ultimately responsible for formatting, but don’t set bear traps for the printer or publisher.

Lloyd10. Be prepared to fact check. Editing isn’t all limos and invitations to party with Justin Timberlake. Sometimes you have to make sure your author gets dates right, attributes the right quotes to the right real-life serial killers, and so on, whether you’re editing fiction or non-fiction. I recall reading a novel that mentioned a J.S. Bach symphony. I happen to know something about classical music, and I know that Bach did not compose symphonies; he composed concertos (there’s a difference). I can’t remember much about that book, such as its name for example, but that flub is still vivid.

Note that in my entry for rule #6 above, I joked about a robot triceratops found in medieval times under the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. Thing is, St. Peter’s was not finished until the Baroque era. How embarrassing! Keep your flub radar on at all times when editing.

11. You have to be on, all the time. You can’t zone out halfway down the page. You must read every single damn word in the entire manuscript and look at every last comma. You have to look at them hard and interrogate them. You must outlast the text. If you have a short attention span, editing is probably not your gig.

For real meaty editing talk, visit Candace Johnson’s blog Change it Up Editing, the top of the food chain for such things. And feel free to tell me what I missed in the comments!

Recommended Writing Process for the Criminally Insane


Do criminally insane writers exist?

I’m not even sure the phrase “Criminally Insane” means anything. A horror film called Criminally Insane came out in 1975, but it was not about writers and it was certainly not legitimized by the presence of APA-certified consulting psychiatrists on set. I prefer the alternate title, Crazy Fat Ethel, anyway. A movie should deliver on the promise of its title.

But I digress (if it’s possible to digress from a topic one hasn’t brought up yet). Now that I’m in the groove with my novel-in-progress, I believe I am taking pantsing to a new level of chaos. Warning: You plotters might experience actual physical pain reading this.

I have no outline, a given for a pantser. I am not using writing software (beyond MS Word). I have tons of characters existing in four overlapping subplots, none of whom have written biographies and all of whom are tracked only within the haunted labyrinth of my synapses. And the best part: I’m writing out of sequence. That is, I am not composing the story in the order that events unfold. I’m doing this because 1.) I’ve lost my mind, and 2.) I am realizing what this story is about as I go, and when the ideas hit, I often need to go back and set them up with a bridging event. Oh, I gave up on numbering the chapters for reasons that should be obvious. I’m giving them placeholder names like “Car” and “Run” and “What am I thinking?”

crazy fat ethelYou are no doubt thinking I have an unreadable disaster on my hands. It’s ok. I don’t blame you. No one can follow such a method and produce anything other than an incoherent word jumble. Funny thing is, it’s working for me. It’s like I have a box of invisible puzzle pieces and no idea what image I am assembling, yet an image is emerging anyway. Because once a piece is in place, the cloak of invisibility drops for that piece. Now I’m starting to feel the satisfying snap of pieces unexpectedly interlocking and creating clusters of pieces. I don’t know that I’ll ever work this way again, but I’m finding that chaos has its attributes.

In case you are a criminally insane writer, or just one who feels stagnant and is up for a change in methodology, here’s a summary of my steps so far. It’s the closest thing to an outline I’m composing this year:

I. Get a story idea from a three-word phrase that, of its own volition, pops into your head while you are showering

II. Write a short story based on the idea

III. Like the short-story enough to turn it into a novel, only set the novel years before the events in the short story take place

IV. Make the antagonists friends

V. Start in story in the middle, then tell the backstory

VI. Don’t think, just write. The characters and events will reveal themselves as you go

VII. Realize one of your minor characters is actually the villain and go back to fill in his story

VIII. Realize your characters are all connected and have been committing parallel acts (some overt and some symbolic), but with different motives, decide that is awesome in its organic-ness, and go back to build the bridges.

IX. Be confident that it will work and be interesting and different.

X. Nothing. I thought my outline would look better ending in “X”

That’s it. Happy insanity. Feel free to tell me I’m a fool in the comments!

A boring post… sweetened with unrelated media


I’m using my blog as an actual blog today, which is to say I am reporting on my life as if it’s interesting to anyone other than me. Hey; at least I have the self-awareness to keep it short.

See, after letting it rust for about a year, I’ve sort of been working on my novel here and there recently, and I want to accelerate the momentum. Thus, I make this public pledge/shaming statement:

I will finish the first full draft of my novel by August 31, 2014, and I will finish the second full draft by December 31, 2014.

Yeah, I know. Who cares? If WordPress is an ocean, bloggers writing novels are plankton. But you know what the experts say about writing down your goals: You use up paper and ink.


As promised, here’s some Unrelated Media, a concept I’m stealing from Michelle Proulx (she of the weird Canadian last-name spelling), inspired by a concept I’m stealing from Kevin Brennan, not Canadian to my knowledge, but that’s no reason for you Canadian readers to judge him. Get off your high horses already!

The other day, Kevin posted a photo of a fiction passage he admired and asked readers to guess who wrote it (we all failed. It was from Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates). I’m not going to make anyone guess mine. I’m simply showing you the opening paragraph from The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe because it is pure freakin’ genius writing. You learn everything about the narrator and know what the entire book is about in five short sentences and 70 words.

p mccabe

Author Skywalker Storyteller talks about her new book, “The Ultimate Wonder: World Stories Illuminating Death”


It’s certainly not a book genre. It has few fans, and it’s not a topic we typically seek out in our reading choices. We seldom want to think about it. Yet it is inevitably our common experience, regardless of where or when we live or whether we are kings or peasants (or if we talk, bark, or meow).

Sky payneIf you’re reading this, you’re still walking the Earth (go you!), but you have probably shared in the death of someone you care about or are facing such an unavoidable future event. If you yearn to make peace with that, or just be enlightened, you have to read The Ultimate Wonder: World Stories Illuminating Death by Skywalker Storyteller, an uplifting and unique collection of stories from around the world that show how the people of various cultures have faced and learned to accept life’s last great mystery.

I’ve been a fan of Skywalker Storyteller (a.k.a Skywalker Payne) since I first stumbled into her blog a few years ago and began reading her essays, poems, and stories. In addition to being a gifted writer, she is as original and fascinating a character as you’ll ever come across. I’ll let you discover for yourself as you read the brief interview and learn about her and her work in the YouTube videos posted below.

~ Eric


sky payne book coverEJB: Tell us about the concept of The Ultimate Wonder: World Stories Illuminating Death.


Skywalker: I wanted to share a selection of stories I told a few years ago on my storytelling website. I feel that they can help people face and accept this one, last experience of life we all share.


EJB: Describe the spiritual journey that led you to write this book.


Skywalker: It really wasn’t so much a spiritual journey as a storytelling journey. But, I do practice Tibetan Buddhism and my practice influenced me to begin the podcasts and write the book. I have a YouTube Three Minute story – My Journey to the Ultimate Wonder [see below] that explains a little more.


EJB: How did you go about collecting, adapting, and sorting the tales for this collection? Beyond the unifying theme of death, they’re quite diverse and illuminating in different ways.


Skywalker: When I began the podcasts, I first found stories I had told on the theme of death and then chose some, particularly the African ones, that I had wanted to tell for some time. And yes, as you noted, death is the unifying theme, but I was able to find different themes within that and then group stories around larger ideas, such as “Death is a Nurturing Woman” and “Resurrection.” All of these stories have been retold by me, and for many, I found more than one version. Also, for all, I gave characters names, researching names within the cultures that the stories originated. I also include a couple of original tales.


EJB: The framing device for the stories in this book—that of the storyteller before an audience—is interesting and unusual. I know you have been a professional storyteller in the past. How much of that character is based on you and your experiences?


Skywalker:  Well, I’m still a storyteller and I am the storyteller in the book. I wanted to give readers as much of a storytelling experience as I could in a written form.


EJB: Who do you think should read this book and what do you hope they gain from it?


Skywalker: I actually think people of all ages will enjoy reading The Ultimate Wonder. It is arranged in such a way that people can pick and choose the stories that interest them. It’s a book that is perfect for families—as older members can select stories for children and then those children can later return to find new stories to read. What I trust readers will gain is a new view of the end of physical existence, that they will be able to share my understanding of life’s last great adventure as the ultimate wonder.


The Ultimate Wonder: World Stories Illuminating Death is available on Skywalker’s website (follow the links there to your favorite bookseller).


Skywalker’s other website and blog are here. Do check them out! And here are some short videos further explaining the book and giving a sample of one such story:



Star Wars … retold entirely in Haiku!

Haiku? This is madness!

Haiku? This is madness!


Words scroll up the screen

Something about “Death Star plans”

Please pass the popcorn


Rebel ship is chased

Giant spaceship fills the shot

“Get in my belly”


Chick in a white dress

Talking to a garbage can

Oops. It’s a robot


R2 has the plans

Robots take the escape pod

Darth Vader looks pissed

Peripheral vision is for losers.

Peripheral vision is for losers.


Down on Tatooine

Gold bot has sand in his pants

Here come the Jawas


Luke works on a farm

With no animals or crops

This is the hero?


R2 does it all

C-3PO speaks “Bocce”

Buy one; get one free?


R2 runs away

He’s chased by a floating car

I want one of those!


Meanwhile, up in space

Vader chokes his co-workers

What will HR think?


Sandpeople shake sticks

Luke gets scared and passes out

This is the hero?


Obi-Wan saves them

He gives Luke a light saber

I want one of those!


Uncle Owen dies

Aunt Beru is baked alive

So much for Luke’s chores


Quite the wretched hive

Mos Eisley is not for wimps

You might lose an arm


 A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, men wore disco clothes, and their friends were naked. Or it was just the 1970s.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, men wore disco clothes, and their friends were naked. Or maybe it was just the 1970s.

They meet Han Solo

His ship made the Kessel run

Less than twelve parsecs


Off they head to space

Robots, ape man, and three dudes

Sounds like a good time


The princess won’t talk

How to teach her a lesson?

Blow up Alderaan


The Force cries in pain

Obi Wan says “Suddenly”

Twice in one sentence


Say, is that a moon?

We’re caught in a tractor beam!

Does Han still get paid?


death star

The Death Star is huge

They find Leia right away

That was pretty odd


They jump in garbage

Rather than run down the hall

They deserve squashing


Lasers everywhere

Storm troopers can’t shoot for shit

I blame budget cuts


Storm troopers fall dead

Plastic armor is useless

I blame budget cuts


The chasm is too wide

Leia kisses her brother

Ew. They swing across.


Darth and Obi Wan

Grampa-speed light saber fight

Obi-wan pops off


Luke is so depressed

A guy he met yesterday

Vaporized himself


Meanwhile, the princess

Her whole planet was destroyed

Double-u tee eff?

"Luke. My entire planet... everyone I've ever known or cared about... has just been obliterated. But here, have a blanket.

“Luke. My entire planet… everyone I’ve ever known or cared about… has just been obliterated. But here, have a blanket you poor thing.


To the rebel base!

But the Death Star followed them

Tricky S.O.B.s


Han get his reward

Apparently plastic crates

He’s easy to please


Attack the Death Star

It’s a suicide mission

Best scene ever filmed


Luke is all alone

Until Han Solo comes back

Darth Vader goes “Whaaaaaaat?”


Luke uses the force

His lasers turn a corner

That would never work


The death star goes BOOM

Luke and Han get gold medals

Chewy gets a bronze.

When do you stop rewriting and revising?

Dog tired

I’m a compulsive reviser, which I didn’t know was a word until I just typed it and my spellchecker left it alone. Huh.

But anyway, I will take 30 passes at a short story, revising and refining until I have every word exactly where I want it. And then I’ll take a 31st pass and move more stuff around.  I know what you are thinking: Baker doesn’t write outlines, so no wonder he has to keep fixing his mess.

[That was for you, Janna G. Noelle]


Beyond draft two, I’m not deconstructing and rebuilding plots and events anymore, just trimming and adding words. Line by line I go, forever finding one more little thing to tweak, never knowing when I’m done. Come to think of it, I haven’t finished a damn story yet.

So how do you know when to stop revising? And by “you” I mean You, the person reading this post. Are you a one-and-done purist, or a never-done perfectionist? How do you know when it’s time to hit save, sit back, and enjoy a nice, hot cup o’ Joe?