Editing: The Who, What and When

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At the end of January, the Christchurch Writers’ Guild held a workshop on Developmental Editing. Judy L Mohr (writer and freelance editor with Black Wolf Editorial Services) was one of the presenters. This post was basically what she spoke about.

Canterbury Earthquake 5th Anniversary Reflections Excerpt

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This Monday past marks the five-year anniversary of the earthquake that adjusted the shape of our city, and changed all of our lives. Deb Donnell is an editor/publisher of non-fiction who has spent the last five years looking at the way the community of Christchurch as come through in the aftermath of the Feb 22, 2011 quake.

This is her story about that day, and how it shaped her career path – and how she can help shape yours.

22 February 2016

Deb Donnell

Our sky had fallen, the earth had quaked, and although it seemed far into the future, I knew we would put the city back together again, some day. Christchurch was broken, but the people’s spirit would not – because we had no other choice.’

Christchurch publisher, Deb Donnell, was working with her parents in their High Street jewellery store on 22 February 2011. She counts herself as one of the lucky ones, escaping with her family, friends and neighbours to safety. Eight hours later, watching the television reports of the nightmare she’d left behind, she made three vows which honoured the victims, the injured survivors and the trained search and rescue volunteers.

Her fifth anniversary reflections look at those three vows, and how making them happen has become the driving force for pursuing her dreams of being an author, publisher and mentor to independent publishers.

Deb Donnell is the founder of the Diamond Publishing System™, Writing Diamonds Ltd and Keswin Publishing Ltd. She is the author of several best-selling non-fiction books, and mentor to several more. Deb is a GIA Diamonds Graduate (Gemological Institute of America), professional editor and publisher. Writing, editing and publishing is a lifelong passion. Her mission is to help release one million trapped books. Will yours be one of them?

Read the full reflection at:


Dealing With Criticism

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If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake,
lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready’.”
 David Mitchell, Black Swan Green

When it comes to criticism be a recycling depot not a dump: filter everything, take out the usable bits and create something beneficial rather than taking in whatever is thrown at you and letting it all sit and rot.

Like any creative endeavour, we have a strong personal attachment to what we’ve written, and having someone comment on it can be a significantly pleasurable or painful experience. Here are some things that I have found helpful when dealing with criticism of my written work:

Firstly, before you read any feedback on your work take a deep breath and accept two things:

  1. Not everyone will like your work. Even professional best-selling authors get negative criticism.
  2. Feedback is as much about the person who gave it, as it is about your work (or you) i.e. it comes from where they are at. Everyone speaks from their own life bubble which is made up of their experiences, what they’ve been taught, their personality and even where they are at emotionally at that particular time.

Once you’ve prepared yourself with those two understandings then you will be more emotionally ready to consider feedback on your work and respond to it constructively. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of any criticism you receive:

Take some time: Avoid responding to feedback immediately. You are likely to be quite emotional when you first read feedback and may either miss-read what was written or write an emotionally driven reply that you will later regret. Sometimes going for a walk or watching a movie and having a good cathartic cry can help you see things from a more balanced perspective.

Take Action (or not): Once you have settled with a negative feedback comment, take a considered look at it. Decide whether it has any validity to it and whether there is anything you need to respond to, or take action on. Is the feedback just opinion, or does it contain specific, substantiated points? Recognise that feedback that is opinion based is just one person’s point of view and probably best not responded to in any way by you. Also consider whether the person making the comments is connected to your target audience.  Sometimes someone doesn’t ‘get’ your work because it is not for them.

Alternatively, does the criticism contain information you can use to improve your writing? Hard as it is to have someone point out your weaknesses, see it as a flag for things you need to work on if you believe the criticism is justified. Sometimes after considering a negative comment we don’t think that it is valid, and not all comments will be. It is wise to consider all feedback, but that doesn’t mean that you have to accept it all as true. If the person giving the feedback has been inaccurate in some way then a calm, correcting response TO THE CONTENT, not the person, may be needed. Sometimes, we just need to let negative feedback lie and do our best to let it go.

Take Away the Positive: While any positive feedback makes you feel good, think about how much weight to assign to it. For instance, a comment from your mum gushing “This is awesome honey, I’m so proud of you. You’re an amazing writer!”, while nice to receive should not be given as much weight as an experienced book reviewer noting “A solid first novel with some interesting plot twists and well-developed characters.” Take note of specific aspects of your work that are applauded such as “this writer is skilled in the art of suspense” or “she writes with a lyrical beauty that suits the fairy-tale nature of her stories”.

View feedback as a tool to help you become a better writer. Take the valid points and use them to identify your skills, and strengthen your weaknesses. Receiving feedback can be scary, but it can also be extremely helpful so put on your big boy pants and dive in!

janineJanine Lattimore has been an avid reader and writer since she was very young.  She primarily writes poetry and children’s literature but has also written two books with a natural health focus and has had several articles published in the Tots to Teens magazine.  Janine currently blogs as  The Happy Homemaker.

Workshop: Developmental Editing

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EditingHave you just “won” NaNoWriMo? Or are you sitting on the first draft of a manuscript but not sure what to do next?

The Christchurch Writers’ Guild are here to help, with the first in their 2016 series of workshops:

Developmental Editing
The Editing Skills that Every Writer Needs

Saturday January 30, 2016, 10am – 4pm
South Library, 66 Colombo St, Cashmere
(Parking is across street by river outlet)

Half day: $20
Full day: $30 (CWG members), $40 (non-members)

As part of the workshop, one-on-one critiquing sessions with editors will be offered for manuscripts and query letters. Participation in the critiquing programme will incur an additional charge. More information can be found here. A list of the editors participating can be found here. Critiquing programme is now closed.

The full programme for the workshop can be found here. Registration is now closed.

Not a member of the Christchurch Writer’s Guild? Not a problem. There’s no time like the present. Join here.

This workshop is proudly sponsored by:

Black Wolf Editorial Services

Keswin Publishing Ltd

Millwheel Press

Writing Diamonds Ltd

NaNoWriMo in Christchurch

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It will soon be November and for writers throughout the world, that means it NaNoWriMo time again.

But wait… I hear all those new to writing ask, “What is NaNoWriMo?”

Well, NaNoWriMo is the international event where writers decide to throw caution to the wind and attempt to write that first draft of a novel within the span of a month. It’s free to participate. All you have to do is sign up at nanowrimo.org and commit yourself to your writing. To win amazing prizes and discounts to brilliant writers’ sites, you need to write 50000 words.

It’s a great way to personally challenge yourself in a way that doesn’t involve going to the gym, dieting yourself into starvation, or spending a fortune on something that you don’t need, however, I can’t guarantee that you won’t work up a sweat. Basically, if you cheat at NaNoWriMo, you’re only cheating yourself.

So what are we doing here in Christchurch?

Since the earthquakes, the writers within our region have become so spread out, living as far north as Pegasus and as far south as Rolleston and Lincoln. To accommodate the growing size of the Christchurch region, we have two Municipal Leaders for the forthcoming 2015 NaNoWriMo: Judy Mohr and Amy Paulussen. See Judy’s blog for more on the interests and writing background of our two MLs.

Amy and Judy will be working together to ensure that all NaNo participants throughout the greater Christchurch region get the opportunity to meet with other Christchurch NaNo crazies (I mean writers). Write-ins will be planned for throughout Christchurch, starting with the kickoff on Saturday, October 31st at Mexicano’s starting at 10:30pm. On Sunday, Nov 1, our first daytime write-in will be held at the Central Library on Peterborough St at 10am. Once Judy and Amy have a better feel as to where the writers are located throughout the region, more write-ins will be scheduled accordingly.

Keep an eye on the Facebook group (“NaNoWriMo Christchurch”), the hashtag #ChChWriMos on Twitter or the Google calendar for more information.

The Christchurch MLs for 2015: Judy Mohr (left) and Amy Paulussen
The Christchurch MLs for 2015: Judy Mohr (left) and Amy Paulussen

Kiwi Judy L Mohr writes fantasy and science fiction filled with adventure, dark monsters, humour and romance. She is also a freelance editor, working on projects from writers around the world. Judy is currently the president of the Christchurch Writers’ Guild, but is also a member of SpecFic New Zealand and the Scribophile on-line writing community. Recently, she was appointed one of the NaNoWriMo Municipal Leaders for our region. You can visit her at http://judylmohr.com, or follow her on twitter (@JudyLMohr).

Grammar and Punctuation Tips: Writing Dialogue

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Having dialogue in a story is great.  Dialogue allows characters to speak in their own voices and can quicken the story’s pace.  To some of you, the following tips will seem obvious, but to others they may be something you need to remind yourself of when you proofread your work:

1) Each new speaker needs to start on a new line.  For example:

“Where did you leave it?” John asked.

“In the shed.”

“Did anyone see you?”

2) Use double OR single quotation marks.  When writing for yourself, doing one or the other is simply about consistency.  Using one type allows you to reserve the other type for internal quotation marks (see below).  However, different publishers may prefer you to use a particular type of quotation mark – check what they want before sending anything off.

3) Put all sentence punctuation (commas, periods, question marks, exclamation marks)inside the quotation marks:

“I don’t think so,” Mary whispered.

“What do you mean, ‘you don’t think so’?”

“I couldn’t be sure.”

4) If you are adding a descriptor after the quotation marks, the final punctuation mark can never be a period, semi-colon or colon.  This is because what comes after the quotation marks should be considered part of the overall sentence (unless you are starting a new sentence).

A good practice is to read it out loud to yourself.  There shouldn’t be a long pause if you are describing what was said; a long pause only comes into play if you have started a new sentence (which is a sentence that, if you isolated it, doesn’t beg you to answer what?):

“What do you mean?!” he repeated.

“There was a man walking his dog, but I don’t know…” She swallowed.  “He might have seen me, but-” She cut herself off.

John picked up his keys.

“I’m going to collect it now then,” he said.

Here, ‘he repeated’ and ‘he said’ make you wonder – what did he repeat?  He said what?  Both are descriptors, not new sentences.  In comparison, ‘She swallowed’ and ‘She cut herself off’ make sense by themselves.  These are new sentences so require capitalisation and can come after a dash, an ellipsis – or a full stop.

Do you have any pesky questions about dialogue you’d like some advice on?  Please post them here as comments – just paste in your sentence and question and we’d be happy to give advice!

Tips: Grammar and Punctuation

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We’ve all heard it said that what agents and publishers really want is someone who can write a good story.  It’s the story that matters, the story that will make or break a publishing deal.  And I’ve no doubt that is true.

But I’m sure we’ve also all heard it said that first impressions count.  And, while it might be nice to think that we can just leave all that grammar and punctuation stuff to some future editor, it pays to make as positive an impression as possible to make sure that future editor will one day be secured.  For sloppy grammar and punctuation is often a red flag for sloppy writing.  And when you’ve only got a short space in which to convince a potential agent or publisher to continue reading your work, why not make the best impression you can?

For those of us raised in a school system that didn’t teach more than the basics of grammar and punctuation, the whole concept of getting good at it seems daunting.  Many New Zealand English speakers don’t start to get a feeling for the grammar of their own language (let alone an adequate vocabulary to discuss it) until they start learning another.  So most of us simply write as we speak – instinctively.  But there are some useful tips we can learn to polish our grammar and punctuation skills.  Which is lucky for us – because if we want to catch that agent/publisher’s eye, we want our writing to shine brighter than a rough diamond.

First tip coming up!

Camp NaNoWriMo

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I found myself signing up to Camp NaNoWriMo yesterday.

“What is Camp NaNoWriMo?” I hear you ask. I asked the same thing! But really simply, it’s the same as NaNo, but not in November.

There’s a few differences. It uses a different website (though you can log in with your NaNo details). It’s run twice a year, rather than just once. And you get allocated to a “cabin” which has 4 other random campers in which you can chat to and support during the month. That makes it an awesome way to meet new writers and build new friendships (which is totally in line with April’s themed blog posts: Writing and Relationships).

It also seems very easy to change your words goal, so if you just want an awesome environment to get some amount of words down, set yourself a goal and come join in.

There will be weekly meet-ups at The Make Cafe on Sundays from 2-4pm. I’ll make sure the ladies will know which table to point you to if you decide to turn up.

I’ve made a Facebook Group for us. If you’re in Chch or the Guild and participating jump into the group for the month and join us. We (Tammie and I) will probably post random challenges and dares throughout the month just to keep things fun and interesting.

Join us. Write words. Have fun!

Fran’s Experience with Writer’s Block

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This week’s theme is writer’s block, which, to be honest, I think I must be suffering from at the moment. I know that if I was to sit down and try to write, whether on something new or on a WIP, I would find a massive blank in my mind with not a clue on how to proceed. I finished a short story at the end of Jan, and I haven’t written anything (beyond poetical scribblings which I’m not sure count) since then.

Rather than get down about not being able to write, I turn my focus to anything that I can find inspiration on instead. Writing is not the sole outlet of my creativity. Lately I’ve been knitting, crocheting and designing cross stitch patterns.
Keeping myself this busy, and productive, I never have to sit down and face the page and suffer from writer’s block. Writer’s block, then, for me is a sense of knowing that if I tried to write nothing would come, so just don’t go there.

I’ve certainly had times in my life that I’ve really wanted to write but there’s just been nothing there when I’ve tried, and it is rather depressing, but I’ve learned that no matter how long it lasts, and how many things I get up to in the interim, the block does pass and I am inevitably drawn to story ideas and the page. Being away from writing for a time makes me really appreciate being able to write. I love the feel of words flowing easily from the brain to the page, and sometimes go on autopilot and just enjoy for a moment the feeling of the pen in hand moving across the page (I really do get distracted watching the point where the ink hits paper) or the feeling of fingers tapping away on the keyboard (I love my keyboard!)
So for me, these periods of writer’s block are not so much a barrier, they are more an opportunity to look elsewhere, be creative in other ways, and give myself time to forget the pain of trying to get words and ideas just right.

Inevitably the inability to write passes, and the need to write returns. That is what makes me a writer.

World Building: The People

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When creating your world your focus will probably be on the people your story is about. Even the most extreme sci-fi and fantasy stories have some form of humanoid creature as the dominant characters, or, if they’re not humanoid, they will to acquire human traits; the reason for this is simply because it’s going to be humans reading your story, and your reader needs to be able to relate to your characters. For that reason I’m going to focus on humans, though the same general rules will apply whether you’re writing elves or aliens. (Both mainstream fiction and historical fiction are set in real world locations with real world demographics, so there’s no space for creativity in this area, but even if you write these genres, knowing a bit about world-building might help you understand your people better).

Survival and Growth

Humanity needs some basic things for survival. Oxygen and gravity will likely be provided directly by the planet unless you’re writing sci-fi in which case, experiment, but don’t leave the people floating around because the planet you just created doesn’t have gravity.
Fresh drinking water is essential as is food. These will generally come from the surroundings of your people. How technologically advanced the population is will determine how these resources are acquired. History is the perfect place to find examples of how these can be attained and the effects that this has on settlements.
Hunters and gatherers tend to be nomadic, following herds or visiting known crop sites with the seasons. While a single centre may form, this will only occur if there is surplus food to support those that are not supporting themselves. They may have little in the way of minerals and technology, as ore cannot be mined by a nomadic people. While the need to mine may force people to settle and be supported by others, or people may trade for metals, it’s possible they live without metal, and spend time collecting flint, etc. from known sites when the seasons allow it.
Agriculturalists will settle on fertile land, inevitably near water, and may fell forests for more farmland depending on their location, needs and beliefs. It allows less work for more yield, and people could begin to find other pass-times, such as thinking (philosophy) and experimenting (science).
Nearby rivers provide the best early form of transportation. Villages and towns situated on river banks can trade with each other and eventually grow into towns or even cities as they trade for things that they can’t provide for themselves. As the population grows, more people are able to turn their skills to things that nomads may not have had time for, such as fashion and art.
As time progresses, your people will find other ways to provide drinkable water, such as wells, rain water tanks, condensation collection, or even salt to fresh water treatment plants, allowing towns to exist away from rivers and in less accessible or hospitable locations. However, out of the way towns are likely to remain small, while those that lie on trade routes or better yet at junctions will flourish.
Food will also eventually start being grown or made in the most appropriate areas for it and then traded across the world as it is today, allowing entire regions to specialise in a certain thing and relying on the rest of the world for everything else.

People will naturally go to the easiest places to survive, but it these areas are full or not appropriate for some reason, they may go elsewhere and develop ways to survive. Humans are the most adaptable creatures ever, so if you your setting is a swampy land with nothing but huge trees (the bark/leaves of which happen to be life-sustaining, or are able to be traded for food) then people would likely build tree-houses and swing bridges and live in this environment. If you want to see ways in which people adapt to different environments, then all you have to do is have a look around Earth. From Inuits to tribes in Africa, there are examples of people adapting to life in the extremes.


As the number of settled people grow, two things are likely to happen.

Belief in ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ will develop, and laws will have to be created to protect those that act ‘right’ and punish those that act ‘wrong’. Laws suggest a kind of government body to make the laws and a kind of police force to uphold the law. Even with the laws there will be inner conflict. What kinds of conflict, and how that is resolved will help show what your people value.
Not all laws make sense. Not all punishments make sense. One of the most basic beliefs is ‘an eye for an eye’. You kill, you will be killed. A common one (I think it’s shown in Aladdin), is losing your hand when you steal. It’s a good arena to explore your own attitude to things like capital punishment, or how to handle overflowing prisons.
Laws may be in place that are ignored. Some laws may get followed rigidly. And sometimes laws get used to exact some kind of personal revenge or to frame people (I’m thinking witch-hunts and the Salem Witch Trials in particular here).
Some laws aren’t so much ‘laws’ but more traditions that you have to respect, such as not interrupting your elders, or taking your shoes off inside, and often come from a place of reason.

Spiritual beliefs will also come into being, with people needing something to place hope in, and something to blame for the bad times.
No matter what your personal views on religion are, at some point as your society grows people will start questioning humanity’s place in the world. There are two sides to this: what is real, and what people believe to be real. What is real, and how it interacts with the people, may influence what people believe to be real, but you don’t have to look far to find real life examples that people will believe anything. The point here is, your people’s religious beliefs don’t have to be the truth, but they will believe something. Religion plays an important role in society. The type of ‘gods’ the people will come to believe in will depend on what is important to the people. If agriculture is the centre of their lives, they will come to have gods, or spirits, or energies, that control or influence the seasons or rain or fertility of the land.
People’s beliefs will affect their relationship with the natural world. If there is a great respect for forests, or a particular forest, there won’t be mass clearing of forest to make farmland. If people rely on swampland, or have some spiritual relationship with it, they won’t drain the swamps. Etc. People may avoid settling in a place that’s considered haunted or tapu. Places that are sacred may be settled by some kind of priests, or may be avoided and feared. While it’s easy to create a people who have no respect for anything other than themselves, often the culture will be more interesting if they hold extreme respect for certain things or places. And keep in mind, people’s relationship with the natural world will affect where towns appear.
Sometimes those that rule over religion also rule over the people, so laws are the laws of the ‘gods’.

Multiple Cultures

The more time that passes, so the more people their are, the higher the chance of their being clashes of cultural beliefs. Differences between cultures can vary greatly. It may be that only the gods they believe in are different, or they may completely different races with a different language as well as different beliefs. In sci-fi it would be possible to write so far in the future that all cultures have amalgamated into one, but how long this would take (and if it’s possible) would be debatable. Even if there was only one human culture, there would still be different dialects and beliefs in different regions, and these semi-cultures would be sure to interact and, at times, clash. What conflicts occur, and how they are resolved, will depend on, and affect, the peoples’ perspective on the world and those that exist in it.
Wars are all too common, and even if you are not writing about a war, it’s likely that there would have been wars in the past. In this case, there’s likely to be some kind of town fortifications or army, and even if peace is now achieved there may be some bad blood between cultures.

Language become an issue when there are more than one of them (you can delve into this area when you only have one culture, but it can be tricky to show in the story). If you’re going to start creating a language, have fun, but do some linguistics research first. I think it’s worthy of a blog post of its own so maybe I’ll do that another day. What I do suggest is if you’re going to have more than one language, then read how other authors have handled it. Misinterpretation (and mis-translation) can be fun to write, it can start wars and feuds than go on for hundreds of years, or could just provide some nice awkward moments. One fascinating thing I love about languages is that there will be words in one language that other cultures just doesn’t have an equal for (such as mana). You can try explain it or understand it, but often true understanding can only be found by native speakers.

Generally readers assume things are the same as their own world, and will continue in that belief unless you give them a reason not to, so if they know of a habitat similar to the one in their story they will probably assume the people there live in a similar way. To make your job as a writer easier, you may not want to turn your world on its head. If having something drastically different is relevant to the story, such as coastal towns that don’t fish as all the fish they catch are poisonous, and your story is set in one of these coastal towns, then have fun, but make sure you consider the impact of the change. If coastal towns don’t live off fish, then how do they survive? If the fish were always poisonous why are their coastal towns at all? It would make sense if this were the situation that the coastal towns would not be as well off as the coastal towns in our own world are. There’s always an impact, even if it seems like a small change.

Two things to keep in mind: you don’t have to know everything about your world, and you don’t have to put everything you do know into the story.