Tag Archives: BWB

Wednesday Writers: J.R. Johansson

 As you may know, I went to Worldcon last year and had an incredible time. One of the people who made that possible was Jenn, who helped me organise my membership when I had left it rather late indeed. Jenn is another wonderful person who I have been fortunate enough to meet through the Brotherhood Without Banners. As well as being extremely generous of spirit, she is also very modest, she gave me no hint of what a talented writer she is. So, I was surprised and delighted to discover that she had a book coming out, Insomnia, which has received some awesome feedback already!

Here, Jenn talks about the ultimate truth of being a writer – write!

The Universal Rule

One question I get quite a lot is, “What is the most important piece of advice you’d give to aspiring authors?” This always struck me as odd. First, I’m only just beginning my own career. Second, every journey in publishing is vastly different. One writer will write twelve books, get an agent, and sell to a big publisher. Another will write three and achieve the same results. Yet another will go with a small publisher, and still more will go the self-publishing route. We all have different paths. How could I possibly know the most important thing to tell another writer to help them with their own unique journey? But there is one piece of advice that applies to every path.

Insomnia final

Every writer, no matter which path they take, no matter where they are on that path—every one of us will encounter obstacles. We suffer heartbreak, disappointment and rejection on a daily basis. Being a writer isn’t easy, nor should it be. We channel that pain into our work and it comes out better for it. But no matter the struggles we face, there is one rule that should apply to all of us:

Keep writing.

I prefer to add something else to that statement.

Keep writing—no matter what.

This means exactly what it sounds like.

Get rejected by 10 agents, 50 agents, 100 agents? Keep writing—no matter what.

Go out on submission and get scathing, or—sometimes even worse—bored, rejection letters from every editor on your dream list?

Keep writing—no matter what.

Pay good money for a professional editor and gorgeous cover for the book you’ve spent years making, and then only five people buy it on Amazon, and three copies went to your Nana?

Keep writing—no matter what.

There is one truth I hold onto that gets me through the hard times:

Being a writer isn’t what I do. Being a writer is who I am. Writing is the way I hold my life in place. It reminds me who I am, what I love, what I’ve lost.

I don’t believe I’m the only writer that feels this way.

Following this one universal rule keeps me steady when the rough waves roll in. It helps me improve and hone my craft. It keeps my focus on the things I control instead of the things that are far beyond my reach. This rule makes everything possible. And when it can do all that, there’s only one thing left to say…

Keep writing—no matter what.

J.R. JOHANSSON is a young adult thriller author published with Flux & FSG/Macmillan. Her debut, INSOMNIA is coming June 2013. She has a B.S. degree in public relations and a background in marketing. She credits her abnormal psychology minor with inspiring many of her characters. When she’s not writing, she loves reading, playing board games, and sitting in her hot tub. Her dream is that someday she can do all three at the same time. She has two young sons and a wonderful husband. In fact, other than her cat, Cleo, she’s nearly drowning in testosterone.


Jenn’s Links –

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JennJohansson
Blog: http://www.jennjohansson.blogspot.com/
Site: http://www.jrjohansson.com
Tumblr: http://jrjohansson.tumblr.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jenn.johansson
J.R. Johansson on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5100095.J_R_Johansson
INSOMNIA on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12260608-insomnia

Wednesday Writers: Zoë Sumra

Long before I started taking my writing seriously I was a member of the Brotherhood Without Banners, the George RR Martin fan group. Our online home was a place called Westeros.org, and it was my first real taste of the joys of online community. The people I met there were some of the most generous and genuine folk you could imagine and, while I have scaled back my posting, I still keep in touch with many of them and consider them a big part of my life.

This generosity of spirit was demonstrated a few weeks ago when I was moaning on Twitter about how much I hate proofreading. It’s something I suck at, I am a big picture sort of guy, rather than being gifted with a great attention to detail (or, to put it another way – I am lazy). Zoë was kind enough to offer me some tips and I was so impressed that I rewarded her kindness by asking her if she would like to write a post on the subject, knowing it would be of great interest to the many other writers who struggle in this area.

Instead of stabbing me in the eye for presuming on our somewhat limited acquaintance in such a way, Zoë immediately agreed and produced a truly exceptional article which I am sure will be a great help to this blog’s readers. Any proofing errors below are, of course, mine!

When David first asked me to contribute to Wednesday Writers, I was pretty daunted, given the extensive writing credits of so many of the other contributors.  I have never had a novel picked up and have never submitted a short story.  I do have professional publishing experience, though, but from the other direction.

I started proofreading at an early age.  I was the annoying little oik who wrote a letter to Corgi about the typos in my edition of Dragonflight when I was nine, although, owing to the practicalities of obtaining stamps, I never posted it.  When I started writing novels a few years later, I absorbed as much as I could from as many different sources as possible about editing, and carried that on as a saleable talent as well as for the pleasure of improving my writing.

Proofreading and Editing: In The Beginning

So.  Your completed first draft is staring at you.  Well done: it takes a lot of work to get this far.  You’ve heard of editing, but don’t know where to start…

Novels require three types of editing: structural editing, which addresses issues of story structure, character development, plot progression, flow etc., line editing, which is nitpicking each individual word independent of the plot, and proofreading.  “Copy editing” may refer to either line editing or proofreading depending on which country you are in.

Holly Lisle has perfected and promoted her One-Pass Revision technique where she tackles structure, line editing and proofreading in one large revision phase.  I typically proofread while I am editing my novels, though I do structural edits and line edits separately.  Once you are confident with structural editing, line editing and proofreading, you will find yourself doing all of them at once, but they are different skills.

Structural editing is beyond the scope of this article, so from now on I will assume that the draft you proofread is structurally sound.  You should have already cut out extraneous scenes, rearranged dialogue and action to improve the book’s flow, deleted unnecessary conversations where characters discuss their plans for the next chapter, riffled two characters into one, changed three characters’ gender, and knocked the book down to its approximate final shape.

Line by Line

No matter how tight you thought your first draft prose was, it will invariably be less concise than it could be.  Now, consider your working genre carefully.  In literary fiction, prose is critical, whereas in SF, fantasy, horror, romance, crime, thriller or any of their subgenres, the author’s usual aim is to stop the prose from getting in the way of the plot.

We genre authors therefore have a great opportunity to remove 10% of a book, or anywhere up to twenty thousand words, at the line edit stage.  (This is habit-forming.  I line-edited down this article by 10%.)  Did you say something in nineteen words where you could have used twelve?  In twelve words where you could have used seven?  Knocking out extra words will knock down a wall between the story and the reader.  Adverbs are a big pitfall: most of them are unnecessary.  It’s more effective to delete the adverb and use a more precise verb.  English has rather a lot of them.

During a line edit, ask yourself whether each word is in its correct place.  Sometimes you will want to use a coruscation of purplish, perfect prose: keep these patches to a minimum.  Over-wordiness is off-putting to readers.  If you are writing a pure romance novel the mileage will be slightly different, particularly on sensual topics such as sex and food, but on the whole, you will still need to pare down the book.

Other things to spot while line editing include unintentional rhyming and rhythm repetition (intentional is great: unintentional isn’t), overuse of the definite article, overuse of the construction “the pen of my aunt” (what’s wrong with “my aunt’s pen” unless you are writing dialogue for a character whose first language has no possessive?), inappropriate variations in each character’s dialect/register, repeated use of the same word in any given four or five lines of text, starting successive paragraphs with the same word even if this word is a character’s name or “the” (in general, twice in succession is OK but three times in succession is not), repeated use of the same punctuation marks and sentence structure, unintentional double entendres, and unintentional use of phrasing that could cause confusion.

Line editing will alter your prose, but this is a necessary component of polishing your style, which will change every year you write.  As you grow as an author, focus on creating a pleasant environment for your reader.  In genre fiction, the story is important.  Pare out those words that are getting in the way of the story.

(For pointers on line editing literary fiction, please contact a specialist.)

Whither Proofing?

Proofreading is line editing’s analytic companion, complete with librarian-glasses and a disapproving expression.  Line editing is a craft with more than a little art in it.  To proofread is to correct your mistakes.

This includes mistakes in typography and in content.  If a character is called Maria 95% of the time and Mariah 5% of the time, proofreading is the process that picks up that discrepancy.

Before you start proofreading you should create relevant lists of character names and titles (especially if complicated), fictional place names, relative distances between plot locations, time taken to travel between those locations etc., so that you can check during the proofing step that they are correct.  Even if you are certain of your facts, keep appropriate reference material close at hand, just in case a fantasy country moves position on the map while you aren’t looking.

Pay particular attention to technical terminology – make sure you aren’t constructing cutlery from silicon and circuits from silicone.  In my day job I once printed a finance industry textbook that lauded the delights of pubic accounting in a chapter that should have been about public accounting.  (I didn’t proofread that one.)  More relevant to most here will be my mistake while writing an SF novel of putting a decimal point in the wrong place, overstating the speed of light by a factor of ten, and factoring that error into my spaceplanes’ speed and the distances between my space stations.  That one took a while to fix.

The Art of Proofreading

Your right brain may be rebelling at this point.  On the face of it, originating and proofreading are two diametrically opposite skills.  The one requires creativity and spontaneity: the other is an exercise in concentration.

You need to learn to take off one hat and put on the other.  Just as with synopsis creation, something else that differs from writing fiction, proofreading is a necessary part of the strong writer’s skill set.

In order to proofread you need a high standard of English spelling, punctuation and grammar, and the discretion to know when to use misspellings, variant grammar and creative punctuation.  If you know your English is faulty for any reason, including dyslexia, someone else needs to proofread your work.  This may have the side effect of correcting things you did not want to be corrected, such as appropriate misuse of language according to context and character.

How Not To Edit

Editing requires concentration.  If you corrected obvious proof mistakes while you were working through your structural edits, and if you are not combining a proofread and a line edit, you may find yourself proofreading a pretty clean copy.  It is quite difficult under these circumstances to maintain concentration.  Make sure you do so.  The moment you lose concentration, your eyes will slide past a mistake.  That said…

Editing is a marathon, not a sprint.  Studies of schoolchildren and university students show that neurotypical humans have a concentration span of around twenty to thirty minutes.  Every half an hour, stop and look at pictures of kittens (or supercars, or My Little Ponies, or mediaeval Welsh castles, etc.).  If you persist for too much longer than this your concentration level will drop and your work’s quality will suffer.

It will take you a long time to edit a book properly.  Don’t become discouraged when you realise you have been working for hours and are still only on chapter 6.  This is the step where a book becomes finalised: you can’t skimp on it.

Electronic v. Paper Editing

Modern editing professionals work on screen ninety percent of the time.  There is a specific drawback to doing this for one’s own writing – even if you handwrite your first drafts, the version you line edit and proofread will be a Word, OpenOffice, Indesign or other DTP document that you have seen several dozen times before.

The notorious difficulty of proofreading one’s own work stems from this familiarity: as authors we become too used to each sentence’s visual appearance.  I therefore suggest that before attempting to proofread, you change either the font, or the font size, or both.  One of my sentences spent nine months missing a “was” before I read it in Palatino instead of my usual draft font, Times New Roman.

As an alternative, you can print out your book and proofread it on paper.  This has three down sides: it is expensive in terms of paper and ink unless you work for a very understanding (or oblivious) manager, the results will take up space on your shelves, and you have to make each change twice – once on paper and once when typing it up.

Despite this, I normally line edit and proofread on paper after my major structural work is done.  I find it helps me to focus on just the errors in the text rather than on the story structure.

Nitpicking on Screen – Markup Functions and Not Using Them

Microsoft Word has a markup version whereby you can enter changes for later approval.  If editing someone else’s work, use this.  If working on your own, just put through everything you can at once, and create a separate document for noting serious inconsistencies.  You know when you’ve missed out a punctuation mark rather than leaving it out for dramatic effect, you don’t need to ask which of two spellings of a character’s name is correct, and if you notice a discrepancy in the current-year income of Fantasy Country W, maximum acceleration in a gravity well of SF Spaceship X, scholastic history of Fictional Character Y or lethal dose of Genuine Poison Z, make an entry on your problems list and work out later which is correct.  (You do not have permission to ignore the problems list.)

Nitpicking on Paper – Proofreading Marks

In order to line edit or proofread your work on paper, you need to use proofreading marks.  Learning the BSI Standard marks, or equivalent, will be useful for the future if you ascend the ladder far enough to sign with a publishing house.

Even if you normally single-space your drafts to read on screen, double-space or 1.5x space your final draft before printing it out to edit.  You need room to mark it up more than you need to save paper.  If you are concerned about the number of trees you are killing, reduce the font size and narrow one margin, preferably the left (you need one wide margin).

The usual method of marking a page is:

Left margin                                          In the text                                       Right margin

X (denotes there is an error)               Textual mark                                  Marginal mark

The most basic BSI proofreading mark, the insert mark, looks like the foot of a Hangman tree: image002

If you have missed out a word or punctuation mark, put this symbol in the missing item’s space.  Note the missing item in the right margin.  If you can’t fit it in, for instance if you have left out a fantasy nobleman’s full title, an SF IT technician’s whole shopping list, or most of a paragraph because you leant on the DELETE key while doing the structural edit, put a capital letter (for reference) in the right margin and write out the missing text on the reverse of your current sheet.

If the missing item is any punctuation mark other than an apostrophe, circle it for added visibility.  Don’t circle missing apostrophes, in order to distinguish them from commas.

Score through text to be deleted.  Underline text that should go in italics.  If text is in italics incorrectly, underline the affected text and score through said underline.  Double underline denotes a change to small capitals, and triple underline denotes a change to large capitals.

The BSI mark for inserting a paragraph break looks like this:  image004

Underline the last word you want to put in the shortened paragraph, put a vertical line in the break place, and add a line over the first word in the new paragraph.

If you have been overenthusiastic and marked up something that does not need correcting, “stet” means “leave this the way it was”.

These marks and others are online at http://www.lancingpress.co.uk/factsheets/images/proofmarks1.png.  There is much more to learn about proofreading marks, including the minutiae of when to use a blue pen and when to use a red pen (really), but this will get you started in on-paper editing.

Twice to Tango?

Should an author line edit just once?  Extra passes are likely to give diminishing returns, partly because you will have picked up most errors on the first pass, partly because of enervation.  I prefer to read through the book as a book once I have edited it, and to try to experience it from the reader’s perspective.  If I’ve missed any proofreading errors, or if my prose isn’t tight, I’ll notice.  Proofreading twice is an option you should certainly take if your “final” read reveals a lot of errors.

When Enough is Too Much

A famous author once observed that when a book is finished, the author should stop writing it and step away.  The same goes for editing.  You can’t keep reworking that one scene again and again, and neither can you keep on editing its every sentence into perfection and checking it for punctuation errors.

Your novel will never be perfect.  Your goal is to make it as good as you possibly can, and release it into the wild.  The search for perfection will carry on, into your next novel.

Zoë Sumra started writing fantasy novels at the age of twelve, because she lived in the countryside and there was nothing else to do.  Twenty years on, her working credits include typesetter, proofreader, print controller and stock controller, sometimes all at once, in two branches of non-fiction publishing.  None of her fantasy or SF novels have been published, though not for want of trying.  She cherishes the moment when Alastair Reynolds opined that her most recent novel’s opening was “pretty good”.  She is an associate member of the Society for Editors & Proofreaders.  Away from the written word, she is an enthusiastic amateur fencer, currently ranked inside the British top forty at women’s sabre.  Her knees hate fencing and are plotting a rebellion.  She lives in London with her husband. You can find her online at http://zoeiona.livejournal.com

zoe in wedding dress


I was planning a detailed Worldcon roundup today, but my planned writing time on the plane did not happen thanks to the gentleman in front of me. But, the good news is that I am Perth which means I get to see a lot of the people I met at Swancon (which has a special place in my heart because of them making my first Con so amazing AND some of the Aussie BwBers – plus I get to go yachting! Oh, and I am meant to do some work lol

This being a jetsetting writer is a tough gig…

AUSSIECON 4 (or why I am a slack blogger)

Well, the past week or so has been crazy. Surgery (again) last Tuesday, then the extraordinary madness that was AussieCon 4. I had an incredibly good time there, which I will go into further, but I am absolutely exhausted. Who knew geeks could party like that?!

I have also received a rejection notice for a short story I submitted more in hope than anything else, and a rewrite request for an anthology I desperately want to get into. It’s long odds, but there were (as far as I know) approximately 170 stories rejected in the first round, so I am happy to get a chance to submit a revised version. The challenge, of course, is balancing how much I want to get published with maintaining the integrity of the story.

AussieCon was my first major convention, and I really did have a blast. The funny thing was that I only actually made it to two of the panels for the whole event! But, I certainly don’t think I wasted my money, because it was the activities that surrounded the Con that really made it a truly memorable experience.

For a number of years I have been a member of a fan group for the author George R.R. Martin. This started when I started reading his “A Song of Ice and Fire” series and went looking for some information online. I stumbled across a fan run message board called Westeros and discovered a massive online community of fantasy and science fiction fans (15,000 plus). While it was ostensibly about GRRM and his works, there was discussion of every author imaginable, and huge debates about politics and religion. I made a lot of friends there and for a number of years was very active. I credit my exposure to so many diverse view points and some of the most intelligent people I have ever spoken to with honing my skills as an apologist, because in those debates if you didn’t know what you were talking about you would get torn to pieces. Lazy arguments were punished they way they deserved to be.

While as life moved on I cut down on my day to day posting, I still maintained the relationships I had formed, because these people meant a lot to me. Anyone who doesn’t understand that online friends can be just as important as ones you see daily probably should stop reading now! But, I had always hoped to meet some of them, and I knew there would be a fair few at AussieCon, and that GRRM would be there as well.

The fan group (the BWB – Brotherhood Without Banners) prides itself on its profile at conventions. and usually throws at least one party for the entire Con and organises a chance for the fans to meet GRRM. As someone “on the ground” I was involved in organising things in the lead up, like buying supplies and finding a venue for dinner the first night. Unfortunately, surgery meant I couldn’t be as useful as I had hoped! But, I managed to get the things done that were needed. It meant a fair bit of running around t, but I certainly didn’t mind that. The amount of pleasure I had gotten from GRRM’s writing and from my involvement on the board meant whatever help I could give was a privilege.

On the Thursday night 25 of us met with GRRM and his partner Parris for a private dinner at a pizze place in Southbank. It was incredibly exciting to get a chance to chat to one of my favourite authors, and over the course of the Con he gave  us all plenty of his time. In fact, I cannot speak highly enough of their attitude to fans and how accessible they made themselves to us, even in the last stages of the Con, when they must have been exhausted. The way they treated their fans was in stark contrast to some other authors who were there, including one very big name, who I will refrain from identifying!

Obviously, GRRM is someone I have always wanted to meet and I really did feel honoured and privileged by the amount of time I got to chat to him one on one. Not only at the dinner, I also shared a cab with them when taking them back to their hotel. I am, however, terribly embarrassed by the fact that I really did babble like the rankest fan boy each time! He was also very kind about my very modest writing achievements (which I couldn’t stop myself from telling him about) and left me inspired and encouraged to keep going with my dreams in that area.

But, as much as meeting George was the fulfilment of a long held dream, I have to say that I enjoyed just as much the chances I had to chat with Parris, and getting to hear about her fascinating life. She really is a lovely person, and she really made us fans feel important and valuable. I just can’t say enough good things about her (my wife thinks I have a bit of a crush on her because of how much I have talked about how wonderful she is, and maybe she is right haha).

On the Friday night there was a Con party, and I spent a lot of time talking to my fellow BWBers, and before I knew, it was 4:30am. After taking a few pain killers (due to the surgery after effects) I crashed and didn’t get back until late afternoon. Saturday was taken up with organising the finer details for the official BWB party we were throwing. We had to make a last minute venue change, and ended up hiring the VIP room at a Crown nightclub. I have to say it was a interesting experience going in and out and walking past the line of 50-100 people waiting to get into the actual nightclub to flash my ID and have a bouncer lift the ribbon and gesture me through with a “This way, Sir”!

The party was a huge success with hundreds of Con attendees turning up, and again we got a chance to see more of GRRM and Parris. We also raised a significant amount of money for charity. As fun as the party was, my glimpses of the nightclub itself reinforced my lack of interest in such things. No one out there looked like they were having much fun. My opinion of nightclubs is there are only three reasons to go…to drink, to dance and to pick up. As I don’t drink, I can’t dance and am very happily married it doesn’t really appeal to me at all!

Again, I got home in the wee hours of the morning only to discover I didn’t have my house keys. My wife reacted surprisingly well to being woken by my tapping on the window!

Sunday night we had more of a private party with GRRM and got to go on a traditonal BWB quest. Everyone just sat around and chilled, getting to talk to GRRM about all sorts of subjects. Monday was a sadder day as everyone began making their goodbyes, until finally there was only a few of the overseas visitors, the driving force duo from WA and myself left, sitting around reflecting on the wonderful time we had all had.

Aside from meeting one of my inspirations and spending time with people I had wanted to meet for years, I also got to make a lot of new friends (people who had started using the board after my time there had lessened). You couldn’t meet a  better bunch of people, and I will be endeavouring to catch up with them as soon as I can. And, the Con allowed to me to find out what some of the resources available to me as an aspiring Australian writer, and caused me to sit down and set some real goals for the next few years.

I will probably post more on the Con in the next few weeks, but right now I am still recovering from all the excitment!!