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The Big Damn Writer Advice Column

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It’s Thursday! Time to answer all your burning questions about writing from the Big Damn Writer Question Box!

Q: What are your five tips for editing a first draft, before it gets seen by an editor?

A: Okay, good question! Don’t know if I can come up with five, but still, good question!

  1. Take a week off after you’ve finished writing it. Don’t look at it, don’t think about it. This will give you distance from the plot and help refresh your eyes.
  2. Read through the draft, fix any mistakes your new eyes can see, fix stuff that’s broken in the plot and delete stuff that became unnecessary as you wrote it.
  3. Keep track of often-used words/phrases, actions, etc. that stand out to you.
  4. Proof-read by reading the updated draft aloud. Reading out loud lets you catch typos and you’re less likely to read what you thought you’d written.

Hey! I came up with four. That’s a respectable number! Optional five would be, “have someone you trust read it” but I realize that not everyone has access to a critique group or people who won’t just blow smoke up your ass. If you give your draft to, say, sweet Great Auntie Meryl who loves absolutely everything you do and still has your kindergarten fingerpaintings on her refrigerator, she’s not going to give you valuable feedback. In that case, you’re actually better off on your own because praise from a trusted source can seduce away your objectivity.


Q: Do you have any advice or tips for proofreading/editing your own work? People sometimes say to take some time off and come back to the work with ‘fresh eyes’, but this is not always practical or feasible with deadlines imposed by publishers/managers/life etc.

A: Since I just gave the “fresh eyes” advice, I thought I would address this. And I’m not in any way making fun of the question asker or condemning them or anything, but I have to say something about the idea of deadlines making self-editing impractical.

First of all, I think a lot of times we’re confusing proof-reading and editing. If you’re working for a major publisher and you hand over a book with some minor proof-reading issues, that’s not a huge deal. Same for self-published authors working with editors. You’ll be seeing the work again during revisions and after it comes back from your proofer, and you’ll have a chance to proof-read again at that point.

But editing is a whole different ballgame. You absolutely have to self-edit. There’s never a point in the writing process where you don’t have time to self-edit. If you don’t have time to self-edit, the book just straight up isn’t done. Why? Because your editor can’t remember if your hero has three brothers, so they can’t correct you when you say he has two and you’ve got books planned for those three other brothers. Your editor doesn’t know if you forgot that scene you really, really wanted to include in chapter nine. And your editor can’t tell you whether or not the book you wrote is the one you saw in your head.

If you don’t have time to proof-read your work yourself, you could always run it through Grammarly and meet that deadline. But most people do need that extra time away as a buffer between what they thought they wrote and what they actually wrote when it comes to self-editing. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut for that.


Bonus Question #1: Sorry if this was already asked/answered: How did you come up with your pen name, and is there a reason you did?

A: The reason I took on a pen name was initially that I had switched genres from urban fantasy/paranormal romance and fantasy to erotic and contemporary romance. Those are such different audiences, I wanted to make sure my readers could tell the difference. Another factor at play is described in this post, but be warned that there are mentions of suicide in there.

As for how I came up with it, the story isn’t all that sexy. I picked the first name after Abigail Adams and the last name came off a name generator that uses U.S. census data. I just kept clicking until I saw something that sounded good with “Abigail.” Now, years later, I am watching The West Wing and realizing just how close my pen name sounds to fictional FLOTUS’s name.


Bonus Question #2: You’ve probably already answered this but what kind of formatter do you use for your books? I heard good things about Vellum. Or do you outsource that?

A: Either I format my own books with godforsaken Word, or I outsource them to someone else to format. I’m actually thinking of switching to Vellum, though, because only sorcerors can get Word to do the same thing twice and I had a horrible time trying to format The Sister.

Wanna see your questions get answered (or just wanna air a grievance?) Put it in the box!

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  1. Sara L.
    Sara L.

    Wow, this is some great advice, thank you! Anything else I write here keeps sounding like another question, so I think I will go write some questions in the Box.

    October 19, 2017
  2. Stormy

    Regarding your third tip in the first question, I use the find function in the word processor to look for my bugaboo words/phrases: “really”, “very”, “just”, and “kind of” get me every time. It helps a lot to a) find them quickly and b) realize how much I use them! Hopefully it makes my writing better by eliminating repetition and forcing me to be more descriptive.

    October 19, 2017
  3. zvi

    If you don’t have actual time to let the manuscript sit before looking at it, sometimes reformatting it helps a lot. Changing the font, color, and page widths (so the lines break in different places) or printing the whole thing out (maybe at your local office supply store) so you’re looking at it on paper instead of a screen.

    October 19, 2017
  4. Jayne

    Happy to be called a sorcerer

    October 25, 2017

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