Working from home for the first time?

While self-quarantining to stave off spread of the COVID-19 virus, many people will be working from home instead of in an office, some for the first time. As a freelance writer and editor, I have worked from home for more than 30 years. Here are ten tips for those just starting out:

1. Find your most productive time and use it. For me, it’s mornings. As the day wears on, I find focusing harder. I often start working as early as five or six a.m.

2. Think of your work in terms of tasks to complete, not in terms of hours to fill. When you’re in an office, part of the job is just being available at a desk, filling hours. When you’re home, the job becomes completing specific tasks.

3. If you complete your tasks, don’t worry about how many hours you put in. I’m a faster-than-average worker. It took me a long time to realize that having time left over after completing tasks wasn’t something to feel guilty about.

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Let’s talk dangling modifiers

Even the cleanest manuscripts will sometimes contain a dangling modifier. In the throes of inspiration, it’s an easy mistake for writers to make.

See what I did there? That last sentence in the above paragraph contains a dangling modifier. “In the throes of inspiration” describes “writers” in the sentence, not “it.”

Strunk and White’s brilliant short book The Elements of Style has a very brief section on these, under this admonition:

“A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.”

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Why freelance editors should provide style sheets

As I edit for clients, I will toggle back and forth between the manuscript itself, on which I spend the most time, and a style or work sheet that I provide at the end of the edit. Here’s what that sheet includes at a minimum:

  • Character names and any descriptions author provides (hair and eye color, age, etc.)
  • Place names
  • Style and usage notes (does the author use the Oxford comma, for example?)
  • Reference books I used to edit the manuscript (what dictionary edition, CMOS edition)
  • Lists of odd and/or compound words

Here’s why I provide that style sheet: So the author can remain consistent when she makes changes, and so a proofreader can have a reference when going through the manuscript one last time before publication or submission to a publishing house and/or agent. Continue reading

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For editors: It’s not your book

As a freelance editor, I’ve done everything from light copy edits, fixing grammar, style and usage, to more extensive developmental edits, where I make suggestions to the author on how to improve her story and characterizations.

Through all of these edits, though, I try to keep this mantra floating through my addled brain: it’s not my book.

My job as an editor is to correct and clarify, not to write my book or even a portion of what I’d like in my book. Because…it’s not my book. It’s very tempting as an editor to change phrasing to suit your own tastes, but if the change represents a “distinction without a difference,” hold the red pen, editors. It’s not your book. (Do you sense a pattern here? :)) Continue reading

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Authors, don’t give away your age

I’m a woman of a certain age. I’ve been writing and working in publishing for…mumble, mumble years, and I’m happy to be in a creative field that provides me with such an enduring sense of fulfillment.

Many authors are like me, of that “certain age,” having writing careers that stretch back to a time when phones had dials and TVs had antennas. These more seasoned (ahem) authors need to be aware of certain things in manuscripts that could date them. Here’s a short list of items I usually suggest changing when I encounter them in manuscripts: Continue reading

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Writing sex scenes in the MeToo era

fabio coverThere’s a reason romances are sometimes referred to as “bodice rippers.” For many years, they were filled with alpha male characters aggressively taking what they wanted, even if what they wanted was the trembling heroine. We live in a time, however, where aggressive male sexual behavior has been wisely denounced as unacceptable, something women should not have to tolerate. What does this mean for the romance writer?

Romance novels range from sweet to steamy, from hero and heroine exchanging chaste kisses to graphic descriptions of hot sex. I edit books within this spectrum, and, before anyone gets on a high horse, I greatly admire the women who write sex well. As I edit now, I’m acutely aware of one word, though, a word that I believe must undergird any love scene, whether it’s a quick peck or a sizzling romp in bed. That word is “permission.”

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To Tell Your Story, Learn Style Rules

cheerful editor header 2Creativity trumps all. If you have a creative, imaginative, compelling story to tell, you’ll find an editor who wants to buy it and readers who want to snatch it up.

But if you want to control that story, to tell it the way you see and hear it in your mind, here’s my advice: learn style, usage, and grammar rules and increase your vocabulary. Otherwise, you’re ceding control of the story to pesky editors like…me. 🙂  Continue reading

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“Replace All” should have flashing warning lights

imagesImagine you’re writing a tautly plotted detective story, and your tough-guy PI’s name is Stephen “Sting” Raye. Imagine your beautifully crafted tale has lines like this in it:

He saw the setup. He could spot it a mile away. He was probably the only fellow in the audience who guessed the setup in that Paul Newman movie, “The Sting” before twenty minutes of the flick had rolled by…

When he caught her gaze, he was immediately taken by the deep blue of her arresting eyes…

“You know why they call me Sting, don’t you?” he hissed at the perp, gun to his neck. He didn’t wait for an answer but slapped the guy–hard–with the gun across the cheek, leaving red welts and watery eyes. “Sting. Like bees. I swarm in and sting.” Continue reading

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How much activity to describe

Noting continuity issues is a big part of a copy editor’s job. Not just timeline continuity, making sure the author stays true to the days of the week or any mention of time passing, but also continuity within one scene.

For example, if a character enters a room and stands talking to another character, then several pages later, the author writes, “He stood…” readers will stumble if they didn’t know when he’d sat down. The last time they “saw” him, he was standing. Readers might even shuffle back through pages to see where they made a mistake and missed the author’s reference to him sitting down. I know I’ve done that, as a reader. I want to keep an accurate picture of the tale unfolding in my head.

Does this mean an author has to describe every action in a scene? No.  Continue reading

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Testimonial from bestsellng author Courtney Milan

“Libby is fast, meticulous, and detail-oriented. I highly recommend her as an editor.” —Courtney Milan, New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author.

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