Category: Editing

Posts related to editing – of novels and academic writing. This may relate to skills that are useful for writers when editing their own work, as well as skills for those writing in the academic domain. As an editor of over 30 theses I have seen a range of issues and have an excellent understanding of referencing requirements and academic writing skills. I have also edited a number of novels, and believe good writers have become that way because they have learned how to be good editors. The number one rule of good writing is always to edit – unless you have taken several hours to write a paragraph, which is essentially editing as you write, every first draft is going to need some reworking. Experienced writers may need to do this less, but nobody can see all the faults in their own writing – we develop blind spots when we are too close to a piece of work.

Why write?

Why write?

Recently I have had very little time to write. To earn income I work as an academic editor. I’ve just edited several PhDs and an academic book in quick succession. Since finishing the first draft of Pierrot’s Song I haven’t done a single paragraph of creative writing. I haven’t had time in the midst of earning an income. It’s made me question why I am even writing, when I have to spend a large part of my time not writing in order to eat.

I’m 100% sure I’m not the only writer with this dilemma.  No doubt it occurred in all eras of history. Back in the old days I bet poor old Ugggh wanted to compose a tone poem, but the wooly mammoth were in season.  Dreamy young Riccardo wanted to carve marble like his hero, Leonardo, but there were shoes to stitch or he wouldn’t eat.

Writers don’t make money

Artists rarely make a living wage from their art. If you look at the figures, it’s a fairly depressing picture. The average Australian yearly wage 2 years ago was $84,032. The average yearly earnings for an Australian author from their books is $12,900.  And given that’s the average, it includes all the top-selling authors, whose books are the default purchases for many readers. That means there are many, many authors earning far less than that figure. So why write?

Excuse the economics for a minute…

In the last two to three decades we have been moving more and more to a neoliberal world-view. There are a couple of ideas that are central to this:

  1. The importance of product is valued over the importance of process. So, for example, in our neoliberal society taking the time to explore ideas and learn how to think is no longer the focus of education. Instead, for students what matters is the certificate that will open doors to employment, and for universities it is being seen to produce graduates who will become good employees. Rather than preparing young people to be good citizens, it is preparing them to be part of the labour market.
  2. Things only have value if they can be quantified and sold. That is, everything is a product. And the more income they can make, the higher their value. So people who work with money, and make ever more money, are valued highly and given a high income. People who work with intangibles, such as those in the caring profession and in the arts, are not valued. (And yes, I know there are other dimensions to this, such as gender and historical context, but this is a blog post, not an essay, okay? I don’t have the space to go into all the other issues.)

Authors and other artists rank pretty low on both these factors. They have a very specific skill set, which includes being thoughtful observers and even critics of society. Not great for employability. And they don’t earn a lot of money. So unless they receive the golden tick of approval from those with money who decide what art is worthy of reward, and what art is not, they don’t hold much value in a neoliberal world.

So why write?

When your why becomes your survival strategy

I mean, it actually doesn’t make sense to be an author in a neoliberal society. You’re unlikely to make a living wage, and you’re not highly valued.  I’ve been asking myself this question a lot in the last year to be honest. Writing is hard work. It takes many, many hours to craft a book. It takes a lot of rejection and heartache to find a home for your novel. There are negative reviews, months when you look at your sales figures and want to weep, and the sense that you are a tiny voice amongst a swell of loud voices, failing magnificently at being noticed.

Yet every time I ask myself whether I should keep writing, a tiny voice inside me still answers ‘yes’. Some of the reason for that I’ve written about before. Making art is food for the creative soul. Sharing art is sending a message in a bottle to the world*. You may never know who will find it, or how it will change their life. Or you might. If you’re lucky.

But writing is also a subversive act. By spending all those hours on something creative, something that may never earn you more than one or two cents per hour (or less) you are standing against the voice of neoliberalism. You are saying you have worth regardless of income. (Personally, I think artists and carers give a lot more to society than bankers do.)

And by writing for the joy of crafting a book, rather than in hopes of being the next JK Rowling and being able to buy a palace somewhere, you are placing value on process, rather than on product. You are saying being creative matters, no matter what the outcome might be.

But most importantly, if, like me, you hate the philosophy behind neoliberalism, because you don’t want to be simply a product or a cog in the economy machine, the act of writing can be a survival strategy. Taking time to be an artisan, without thought for the outcome, immerses you in a different world, for a time. It can be a healing antidote to the harsh realities of the world. And that can give you the strength to keep going. The creative process has a magic all of its own.

That’s why.

* Recently I read Neil Gaiman’s new book, ‘Art matters’. He uses the same metaphor in that. Just to be clear – I wrote my post BEFORE I read the book.

The forgotten secret to being a writer

The forgotten secret to being a writer

I have a confession to make. For the last year I have been suffering from imposter syndrome. Although I have a published book, it’s felt like I was coasting on writing I had done years ago. I finished Harlequin’s Riddle when my son was small. He’s starting uni next year. Columbine’s Tale was finished when my daughter was small. She’s nearly in year ten. With all the responsibilities of life and work I’ve had little time to write for a long time. To be honest, I was really starting to wonder if I could even call myself a writer. How could I be a writer if I wasn’t writing? Turns out I had forgotten something important. Something I knew far better as a child than I do now.

Typical advice for writers

One of the things you’re told often if you are an aspiring writer is to write. Write a lot. I’ve even told emerging writers that myself. It’s good advice. The more you write, the better you get with words. You learn how to say what you want to say concisely. You discover which words you personally overuse. Your vocabulary expands. When you give yourself challenges, you develop your ability to write emotions or fight scenes or whatever it is you need.

The other important piece of advice that’s given often is to learn to edit and to accept editing. This is also important. A first draft is always going to need work. So’s a third or fifth draft. You need to be willing to keep working at your writing until it sings. And nobody can see all the flaws in their own work – when you’ve read it often you become blind to certain problems or repetitions. I think once a writer is able to accept feedback from others and work out what is valuable and what isn’t, they’re well on their way to becoming professional.

What I have and haven’t been doing

I’ve worked as a professional editor for about eight years now, and that has definitely allowed me to develop my writing abilities. My instincts have vastly improved for understanding what the issues are in a piece of writing. The more you analyse and problem solve, the more you can pinpoint what is going wrong and how to improve it. I can absolutely say that being an editor has made me a better writer. And I did do intensive editing of Harlequin’s Riddle and Columbine’s Tale before they were published.

But I still haven’t done much of my own writing.  And it hasn’t just been the last year – it’s been about four years. Probably since I finished my PhD. I’ve written previously about doing a creative PhD (here’s the link).  While I wrote a novel during my candidacy, I struggled with switching between a creative and academic mindset. And once the PhD was over I didn’t feel like a writer any more. I was burned out, heartsick, doubting my abilities. In the next few years we relocated to a new city, moved house twice, had issues with our kids’ school.

I’d forgotten how to be a writer.

A journey to the past

This week a magical confluence of events occurred. I made an unexpected trip to Tasmania at the same time that I was reading Terry Brooks’ (Shannara) book on writing, Sometimes the magic works. I was born and grew up in Hobart but I hadn’t been back in a while. Life moves on, and sometimes you only remember things when you return to the setting where they happened. As we were sorting out what we needed to sort out, we were driving around familiar streets, past familiar landmarks. And I began to see shadows of what I had forgotten.

Terry Brooks has a chapter on the importance of daydreaming for writers. I was reading that around the same time I was revisiting the places I spent so much time in. And I could see the imaginary places that rested alongside them. As I drove past the walk home, along a long road, a forest sprang up. Years ago I had walked that imaginary forest, dressed in a velvet dress and cloak, no longer a school girl but a gypsy. When we stopped to walk through the local park, I saw the castle that had once been there, with its many rooms and fantastic feasts. Driving past our old home, I remembered Helen, my invisible friend who lived under our house.

The forgotten secret

The thing is, Terry Brooks is right. Daydreaming is where it begins. It’s where stories take root and begin to grow. When you daydream, you teach your imagination muscles how to stretch. You begin the slow, sometimes painful but ultimately exhilarating process of growing wings. I spent an awful lot of time daydreaming as a kid. My imagination was well developed from an early age. And imagination is the crucial, forgotten ingredient to being a writer – especially a fantasy writer.

Remembering this, I was able to realise that even in the years when I wasn’t writing, my imagination remained my constant companion. I still wondered, and was curious, and conjured possibilities. I may not have been writing on the page, but I was always, always writing in my head. The stories never left me.

I don’t feel like an imposter any more. The physical act of writing is only part of the process. Whatever else I am doing, my imagination, given life and strength when I was a child, remains active, conjuring stories and characters and settings. As long as I have that, even when I can’t put pen to page, I am a writer.


Caring for your new author

Caring for your new author

Congratulations! You’ve brought home a new author and you’re looking forward to going on an exciting journey with them. However, authors need to be treated with care if they are going to give you years of loyal storytelling. Before you begin, here are some important things you should know.


Authors need a regular supply of chocolate, tea or coffee and, if they write fantasy, baked rainbow goods, in order to keep their creative imaginations running. An author will struggle to feed themselves since they don’t make a living wage, so if you find one wandering in the wild, do your best to keep them fed and hydrated. If their inspiration runs dry, one day you will find them at a writers festival sitting in the corner, a dried out husk. If that happens to you, administer coffee immediately, intravenously if need be.

Emotional Care

Sensitivity is an important trait in an author since it allows them to place themselves in the minds of their characters with empathy. They also have incredibly active imaginations. However, this combination renders them somewhat fragile and prone to over-thinking. If you have promised to write a review of their book, make sure you do so because otherwise they will imagine you hated it and will die a little each time they see you. If you don’t read their genre, feel free to say that, but don’t use a superior tone as this is akin to saying their life choice is ridiculous. And most important of all, never, ever compare their book to Twilight.

Respect your Author

Research shows that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery of a skill. Your author has spent a long time learning to construct fiction. They have written some incredibly bad prose, survived the experience and lived to write better prose. They have mastered pace, dialogue, and characterisation, and may even know what a dangling modifier is. Unless you would say to a mathematician, “Yes, I expect I’ll  solve the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture when I retire,” do NOT tell your author you will write books when you get around to it. And it would be wise not to question their authorial choices on the basis of your personal preferences. An author will include things in their book for a reason, but that reason is generally NOT because you have a personal dislike of cut scenes. It is more likely to be related to the plot and story. Strangely enough.

Don’t make them beg!

Aside from coffee, reviews are the lifeblood of the modern author. Since there is no regulation of the author industry, author farms have sprung up where authors are kept in dark cages and made to churn out book after book. This means there is a glut of books out there. As a result, your author may be struggling to get noticed. This can lead to depression, over-eating of rainbow cupcakes, and paranoia that they will fade away and eventually become completely invisible. If you do not want this to happen to your author, keep them happy. This can be easily and cheaply done through little treats such as a review on Amazon, asking your library to get their book in, or buying their book for every single person in your extended family as a Christmas gift*. However, do not make them beg for reviews. It takes up precious time when they could be writing another book for you.

A final word…

Follow the simple rules above and your author will live a long and happy life. Your support will make all the difference. If you care for your author they will give you many years of reading pleasure. But be wary. Some authors are known to bite. If you fail to care for your author, you may find they turn you into a character in their book. Then kill you.

Have a lovely day!

* Ok, not all of them are cheap….


GIGO, or why you shouldn’t 100% trust Endnote

GIGO, or why you shouldn’t 100% trust Endnote

Using Endnote

Okay, I’m going to start with a confession. I didn’t use Endnote for my PhD. I did all my referencing by hand. Insane? Yep, pretty much. It wasn’t an impulsive decision – I actually spoke with others who had used Endnote. Most had some sort of problem with it, from crashes that lost all their stored databases to information coming out crazy. And when it did work, it wasn’t perfect. There’s a term that’s used in computer programming: GIGO, or Garbage In, Garbage Out. I think it applies to Endnote. Or to whatever referencing system you use. If you don’t get the right information at the beginning, you’re creating a world of hurt for yourself later on. Imagine trying to complete a puzzle when some of the pieces are wrong or missing…

I’ve edited a lot of theses now and I have never seen a perfect reference list, even when the student has used Endnote. The problems usually fall into 2 categories:

  1. formatting
  2. missing information

Formatting issues can come up because not every university uses the same referencing system in the same way. One uni’s version of Harvard may have minor differences to another’s, and you are supposed to follow your university’s formatting guide. The Endnote version of Harvard may be different again. And if you’re doing your reference list manually, this can be a minefield. Trust me, unless you have a serious love of making sure every single comma and full stop (period, for US readers) is in exactly the right place, this is a tedious job. Even if you do have that love (sorry, but I do – somebody has to!) it requires super-concentration.

The GIGO analogy particularly relates to the problem of missing information. Your Endnote database or Word Citation manager tool is only as good as what goes into it. If that information is incomplete, your reference list will be incomplete. Whilst consistency is important in a reference list, having the same error over and over is not the sort of consistency you want. When you import citations, the information you import may be incomplete, and when you have to add information (such as page numbers) human error can creep in.

So what to do?

First, make yourself very familiar with the reference system required by your university – the library will usually have a guide you can download or an online tool that will give you examples. What information is required in that citation? What format is it in?

Second, if you are using an electronic referencing system, make sure you understand how it works and how to get it to do what you want. If you are going to reference manually, set up your own template (eg an excel spreadsheet) to make sure you get everything you need.

Third, as you gather your references, check that the information you have gathered isn’t missing anything. The most common gaps are place of publication and page numbers for journal articles. If there is missing information, get it NOW, while you still have the original reference in front of you – it can be hard to track down later.

Fourth, DON’T forget to make note of when you accessed a reference! Online articles require a date accessed in the reference list and this is one of the MOST common errors I come across. Once you’ve been working on your PhD for 3 years you will NEVER remember when you read that article!

Happy referencing!


Don’t get tense about tenses

Don’t get tense about tenses

One of the issues I’ve noticed people struggle with when writing their PhD thesis, or other academic assignments, is how to write tenses correctly. They will often write about other peoples’ research in the past tense, with statements like ‘Bridge (2014) suggested that…’. You may have been told that academic writing is always in the present tense, and this is true a lot of the time, but there are really three different tenses that you can choose from- and an easy way to work out which one to use.

The present tense – in academic writing the focus is on ideas. Most of the time in the academic world ideas are considered timeless, that is, they belong to the ever-present now, no matter when the article or book they came from was written. The academic process is about scholarly debate – presenting ideas, discussing them, exploring them, critiquing them and adding to or developing them. This debate is considered to be ongoing- as though a group of scholars sit in a room outside time somewhere, constantly debating. So if you are presenting others’ ideas, you use the present tense: ‘Walker (2002) argues that such an outcome is inevitable.’ The same goes for your ideas- after all, with any luck you will join the hallowed debate yourself. You would say ‘I conclude that the reasons are complex…’ or ‘The data points to three conclusions’, for example.

The past tense – this is used when you are writing about things that are clearly located in the past- usually in the form of activities that have now finished or ideas that are no longer current. You would say ‘Participants were contacted via Facebook’, for example. This is an action that occurred at a particular time and is completed now.  The past tense can also be used for ideas- but ONLY when the thinking about that idea or theory has moved on to something different. For example, you would say ‘I concluded that this was due to a lack of information, but further investigation revealed there were other factors at play.’ In this case it would work to add in ‘at the time’ to the sentence (‘I concluded at the time that…’) since the conclusion (or idea) related to a specific time in the past. The same can be true of writing about other scholars – if what you are saying relates to a specific time, the past tense is correct. For example, you would say ‘Bowlby’s theory of attachment broke new ground’, because you are talking about what happened when the theory appeared, which is clearly in the past.

The future tense – finally, there can be a place for the present tense in academic writing – this relates to structuring your report or thesis. It is good practice to have ‘signposts’.that tell the reader where you have been and where you are going next, usually at the beginning and conclusion of chapters and sections. When you are telling the reader what is coming up, the future tense can be used: ‘In Chapter One I will discuss the main theories informing my work’, ‘In the next section I will explore participants’ responses to the research question’ and so on.

However, it is VERY important to make it clear you are referring to ‘this thesis/text/document’, as in ‘this thesis will present an analysis…’, ‘this chapter will discuss…’. Don’t use the future tense when referring to your research as a whole because then your thesis sounds more like a research proposal than like a research write-up. In these instances the future tense can be used because the reader hasn’t read that part of the thesis yet. If this seems like a layer of complication, and you are worried about getting your future and present tenses mixed up in your thesis, in most cases it is also okay to just stick with the present tense when writing about your thesis- ‘this thesis presents an analysis’ works just as well as ‘this thesis will present’.

The one referencing system that works differently to all of this is APA, which can use either past tense (‘Smith shows’) or present perfect (‘Smith has shown’) for the literature review but not the straight present tense (‘Smith shows’). Refer to the APA style guide for more details.

So if you are unsure, ask yourself if the thing you are writing about happened in the past and is finished now (whether it is research or activities that have been completed or ideas that someone no longer holds). If the answer is yes, use the past tense. Otherwise, present tense is usually the most appropriate approach.