Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

It’s been a wild and crazy week at my house, which comes on the tail of a wild and crazy four months. All of this wildness and craziness has amounted to no writing time. So I spent the last few days trying to decide what to blog about. My first chance to write something in months…precious beyond words…or perhaps not since here I am putting this down in words. Well, I woke this morning still uncertain what to write about and then I re-read Morgan’s spot-on contest post from yesterday and inspiration struck.

As someone who has long been involved with the contest circuit in some facet, I have seen plenty of those red pens and axes at work. Authors tend to get hung up in the “rules” and lose sight of the big picture along the way. They start to heavily sweat the small stuff. I can testify to the fact that I belong to this “perspiring” group. For a long time, I dwelled on each element of my story; agonizing over word count and lines per page, that each comma had its place, that my margins were exactly 1” with the header space factored in, and so on and so on. And then I became published…and I sweated all the harder.

Fortunately, that particular sweating has since ceased. It hasn’t come easy, rather taken nearly three dozen tales and several editors to move past. But I now know that the small stuff is truly incidental. Basic grammar comprehension is a must, as is proofreading your work, and making sure you use a font size that is readable, both in size and type style for the sake of saving your editor’s and/or agent’s eyesight. Much of the other stuff we authors, particularly early in our careers, spend so much time worrying over is quite trivial.

It honestly doesn’t matter if your margins are 1” or 0.9 or 1.1, etc. So long as there isn’t glaring white space running around your paper with a tiny bit of text in the center, you are fine. A few typos are not going to break the publishing bank or lose you that six-figure deal, and many houses nix the majority of commas these days, so wasting time agonizing over those is futile. What matters is the story. If the story is worthy, an agent or editor is going to read it. They can fix typos, commas, subplots and even minor holes in the primary plot. Most of my editors now ask for electronic submittals, so fixing margins and type face or style is as easy as selecting all and changing the layout to what they most prefer. Computer count and manuscript count are close enough that for the longer story (over 60K), it really doesn’t matter which you use. For the shorter stories and ones that rely on publishing to a certain page length, such as novellas and category novellas, you should check the editor’s or house’s preference.

The bottomline is focus on the story, the characters, breathing life into each word and setting the scene so that the reader feels drawn into it. Then share that story with your critique partners or the contest circuit. When you get feedback, weigh it and use it at your discretion, but for those who are nitpicking at commas, margins, type style, etc., don’t waste your time worrying here. These elements should be as simple as a cursory sweep, margins should go where they feel natural, and the rest should be left up to each individual editor or house. Everyone has a different style, and so to change your style to suit anyone outside of the editor or house your story finds a home with, is just a waste of time you could be spending on crafting another masterpiece to net that next six-figure deal.

~ jodi

www.JodiLynnCopeland.com

15 comments:

Sheila Tenold said...

Great advice, Jodi! It seems no matter how many times we writers are told "It's the story" we often waste precious time fussing over the trivial. I’ve been guilty myself and still struggle to this day. Your words are both timely and appreciated.

Mona Risk said...

Thanks Jodi for a great advice. I will remember it before editing 50 times and will move on writing the next story.

Jodi Lynn Copeland said...

I am still terrible at it, Sheila! I swear I have to talk myself down sometimes. The difference is that now I find it a procrastination technique and before it was paranoia.

Well now as to editing, Mona. That is a terrible fault of mine. It's so hard for me to move on to a new scene until the prior one is perfect in my mind.

Dawn Marie Hamilton said...

Thanks Jodi for your words of wisdom. I'll try to remember them the next time a set of contest scores gets me down.

Carolyn said...

No truer words were spoken, Jodi. I've been guilty of the same thing.

My problem stems from spending too much time on a scene. Reading it over and over, changing, etc, before moving on. I have a friend who can write a story in two months, get it published, and she's onto the next. Now, granted her wordcount is 30,000 less than what I'm shooting for, but if I could push myself to move on and finish the dang thing, it wouldn't take me so long.

Thanks for the reminder.

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Great advice, Jodi. It is so easy to stress over every little thing before one is published because one is never sure what is important and what isn't.

J L said...

I was just at a conference and we talked about this. I'm in the "write and move on" category and one other author on my panel was the same. I'm always surprised when I go back and re-read what I've written because I tend to forget it almost as soon as the words get on the page. That's a blessing and a curse sometimes ....

Cai said...

Great advice, Jodi! We're just back from RT and in every panel and workshop and publisher spotlight, we heard the same thing from the editors and agents: Give me a great story...I can fix grammar mistakes, I can fix margins, etc., but if the STORY isn't there, there's not a thing I can do for you.

Jill James said...

Jodi, YES!! It is so important not to sweat the small stuff. No book, published or unpublished is ever going to be perfect. We will do ourselves in if we think this is a reachable goal, it is not.

Jodi Lynn Copeland said...

Yes, Carolyn, that is me to a T! The more books I publish, the more critical I become of making each scene perfect in my mind. I used to write so much faster.

Jodi Lynn Copeland said...

Oh, JL, I envy you! I know there was a time when I was that way, but now it's so hard for me to write and move on. I hope you are able to maintain that, as to me it's a wonderful trait. :)

Jodi Lynn Copeland said...

I hope you had a blast at RT, Cai! Didn't get to go again this year, but perhaps one day. I hope to make RWA in San Antonio next year too.

Jodi Lynn Copeland said...

Hey, everyone, thanks for stopping in today! Sorry if I didn't respond to all or if I missed any questions, etc. We've been having a rough time in our house lately as noted. Yesterday our 13-year-old "puppy" was diagnosed with terminal cancer. They gave her a few days (a few months if her case was an exception). She's in a bad way now and we don't know if she will make the night. Hubby just called in sick to work. He will have her put down tomorrow morning if she is still with us. For a big dog, she's had a long, full life and it's still heartwrenching listening to her labor for breath and knowing these are her final moments with us.

Anyway, not to be a downer, but my mind is a little adrift tonight.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Great post, Jodi. I have to edit as I go because it helps me to move my story along. I guess what I sweat is that it moves along in the right order and makes sense. Glad to know the little mistakes are not sweat worthy...

Joanne said...

Jodi,
My husband just finished reading "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" so your post is very pertinent. I'm trying not to edit as much when I write, and instead focus on moving the story forward.