Jackasses & Monkeys – Inner demons of writing

I’m in Iowa City this week, sequestered at a bed & breakfast, doing a deep dive into writing my next novel. I write, I think, I walk, I write some more. All the while, I struggle with monkey brain. Monkey brain is the form my inner editor takes as it hoots and scratches and leaps around, yammering that the writing is No Good. Uninspired. Not Interesting.

I fight monkey brain all the time. Mostly by putting my head down, setting fingers on the keyboard, and reminding myself that it’s okay to just write. For today, just write one thing.

Today I received some unexpected help from author Kimberly Brock. For her, it’s not monkey brain. For her  the inner editors are jackasses. She wrote an inspired post on the topic of jackasses, posted on Writers In The Storm, and I share it for your enjoyment.

The Jackass in My Head: Barnyard Lessons From a Rustic Writer’s Retreat

by Kimberly Brock

A few weeks ago I was heading to Cashiers, North Carolina for what was heralded as the answer to my recent writer’s weariness. I’d been driving for several hours, twisting up winding roads where the earth falls away into deep gullies and the air grows thin and the mountain walls weep.

I was dizzy with anticipation, and probably the higher altitude. For months, I’d been waiting and worrying about this retreat. I’d been invited to attend as a speaker, and I’d become convinced I was secretly meant to be the comic relief. The other authors on the panel were big names with long, illustrious careers. I had no idea how I’d gotten so lucky to be included amongst them, but I was already sweating through my new jacket.

photo credit: Donkeys via photopin (license)

Upon arrival, I dumped my luggage in a pile in my room and texted the event coordinator to let her know I’d found the joint, mostly so I couldn’t back out of the whole thing and hit the road with some sort of excuse – got kidnapped, bubonic plague.

I’d been battling my inner running dialogue all day, the one that reminds me of all my shortcomings, all the bad decisions, the bad grammar, the bad breath.

Some writers call this voice the Inner Editor. I call it my Inner Jackass. In my mind’s eye, this voice looks a lot like the Hee Haw logo, sporting goofy teeth, ready to take a bite out of me any chance he gets.

Read on for the rest of Kimberly’s essay.

* * *

Now I’m going back to my novel, encouraged to know I’m not alone with my monkey brain. We all have the inner editor – whether it takes the form of a jackass or a monkey. And sometimes they’re useful.

If you battle an inner demon on your writing, please share. And then go write something to put that jackass in its place.

The scoop on editing with Amazon Publishing

“What was it like working with Amazon Publishing?” “Did it bother you to lose control?” “Is it still the same story?” 

These are some of the questions I’ve received since my novel Go Away Home was acquired by Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. Since the editing process is complete, this is a good time to report on how it went.

When I published Go Away Home last July, it was as good as I could make it. I’d hired a professional for cover design, copyediting and proof reading. I felt good about my debut effort.

Editing to make it shine.

Editing to make it shine.

Even so, when Jodi Warshaw, senior acquisition editor at Lake Union Publishing approached me, she talked about how another round of editing could make my story really shine.

I was not offended by the implication that the novel didn’t already shine. It attracted her attention, that was good enough for me. In fact, I was excited to to see what new eyes and additional professional editors would suggest. From my perspective, good can always be better. Warsaw assured me I’d be involved every step of the way and I was. Here’s how it worked.

Developmental Edit: “Trim” is such a gentle word. Much kinder, much easier to hear than “Cut,” “Slash” “Eviscerate.” My developmental editor Amara Holstein suggested “trimming” so often I found myself laughing. She suggested changes that tightened the writing in ways I’d never imagined possible. She challenged me when characters acted out of character, when I over-explained, when I didn’t give readers enough credit.

Amara and I spoke on the phone before she began her work. After she sent her comments to me, she remained available by phone and email to clarify, respond to my probes, and react to approaches I took in rewriting sections. She was encouraging, helpful, professional. I learned a ton that made this novel better and will improve my future writing.

Copyedit: While not near as intense or time-consuming as the developmental edit, the copyedit was equally valuable. Where the developmental edit looked at the big picture, my copy editor Kirsten Colton delved into details. Colloquial word use. Consistency of use. Transitions in and out of flashbacks. Use of em dashes. She discovered several words that were out of historical context – some by only a couple of years – words I never thought to question. This was a tad embarrassing since I thought I’d been so careful about being historically accurate. Again the importance of another set of eyes.

An amusing thing happened in the copyedit: where Amara trimmed with vigor, Kirsten encouraged fleshing out – more historical detail, more character description. Their suggestions were not inconsistent, simply focused on different things. Reviewers who mentioned wanting more historical detail will be happy with these additions.

Proofreading: This is the step of the process I’m most clear about since I’ve done proofreading myself as a magazine editor. A set of eyes looking at copy with a magnifying glass. Is everything absolutely perfect – spelling, grammar, punctuation, page layout.

Each of the editors had plenty to say, and I seldom disagreed with their suggestions. The editing process was not easy. At each stage, I had two weeks to make changes, write, re-write and return the manuscript for the next phase. I believe it was worth every minute of effort.

I was impressed with the team of editors that worked with me to ready Go Away Home for re-launch in July. Going in, I thought I would get push back from the developmental and copy editors on changes I made or didn’t make based on their comments. Quite the contrary. When I asked Warshaw if this was common, she said: “We want the author to be in favor of all changes and don’t want to change their vision or voice.” Errors excepted, of course.

The whole process made me think of a dedicated effort to get in shape physically. Trainers look at the big picture and what you want to accomplish. They recommend exercises to strengthen here, reduce there, tighten, trim. The person getting in shape is involved every step of the way and must do hard work to recognize the benefit. When you stick at it in the gym, you come out a better you.

Having been through the entire editing process, Go Away Home is stronger, tighter, a little shorter here, a little longer there. Is it the same story? Yes, only now it shines a little more.

A “Marriage” of Fact and Fiction – Giveaway

Susan Weidener

Many authors write a memoir first and then turn to fiction, as I did. While those first works of fiction often have some basis in real people and events, the outcome is largely fictional as the author molds the story line, characters, and events to … [Continue reading]

A different kind of book review – Deeply Odd

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Memoirs and historical fiction are my normal reading choices. But every so often, I enjoy trying something different. Recently I caught a Dean Koontz interview on the CBS Sunday Morning show. Though I’d seen his books on bookstore and library … [Continue reading]

Going deep inside – Perspective 3

Carlsbad Caverns - "Curtains"

Recently, I’ve considered perspective from high up in a hot air balloon and up close at Cadillac Ranch. I also had a chance to go deep with a visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. I’ve been in caves before, but always in the company … [Continue reading]

It’s “I Grew Up Country Day” – How will you celebrate?

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We expect you celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. Hopefully with enough restraint to leave room to celebrate a far newer day. Since Iowa Governor Branstad signed a Proclamation declaring March 18, 2015, “I Grew Up Country Day,” 50+ folks have joined our … [Continue reading]

I Grew Up Country – New initiative encourages storytelling

IGUCD Proclamation Signing 3w

On Monday, March 9, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed a Proclamation declaring March 18, 2015, “I Grew Up Country Day” - in Iowa and wherever food is produced. Haven’t heard of “I Grew Up Country”? Let alone a day to celebrate it? Not … [Continue reading]

From high above – Perspective

Geometric lines of a farm field reminded me of Iowa.

Hot air balloons float over my house in Des Moines with some regularity in the summer. I've watched from the ground and wondered what it would be like to go up in one. What would it feel like? What would I hear? What would I see? How would it be … [Continue reading]

Can you believe your eyes?

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Seeing something with your own eyes is proof. Right? At one time or another, most of us have said: “Seeing is believing.” or “I’ll believe it when I see it.” We’ve also said the opposite when reality goes against what we know or believe to be true … [Continue reading]

What’s the value of taking a closer look?

Cadillac Ranch from a distance

"You have got to be kidding," I whispered when I drove past the Cadillac Ranch west of Amarillo, Texas. The famous line of ten Cadillacs planted front bumpers in the ground and rear bumpers in the air was barely visible in the distance. I shook my … [Continue reading]