Help me tell my story

“ I’ve got a story in me that’s important to tell. I want to write a story but I don’t know how to start. Help me tell my story ”

Does this sound like you?

help me tell my storyI’ve spoken with many people who have an important book inside them. Some people in their 70s, 80s and 90s may never have told their family about the ‘real you’, because the past holds painful memories. But one day, you decide it’s important to tell your story. As an older person, the era you lived in and the way life used to be is fascinating for younger generations. Your history could well have relevance outside your family. History is lost once people who lived in a certain era ‘move on’. There is great value in recording these memories for posterity.

Whatever your story may be, and whether you’re ten or a hundred and ten, if it’s important to you, then these suggestions may help get you started.

Common hurdles

Some of the most common obstacles to would-be writers seem to be:

1. ‘It seems too overwhelming to write a whole book’
2. ‘I don’t have the writing skills’
3. ‘My story’s in my head.’ ‘I don’t own a computer but I have handwritten notes.’ ‘I can’t type.’

The hardest step is usually the first step.

Make it manageable. Simplify.

Start with a table of contents

Type (or write) up a structure for your book, a table of contents. You may find a chronological structure (e.g. divided into years) works for you. A table of contents will give a starting point to any type of book, and may be particularly helpful if you’re writing your memoir, or a non-fiction book about historical events.

You can always add to or take away from the contents as the writing progresses – and you will probably want to.

It doesn’t matter if it takes you a few minutes or a few days to come up with a structure that you’re happy with. But one thing is certain: working to a structure will make writing the book much easier. You’ll be amazed at how the ideas begin to flow once you have a starting point.

You might want to number the chapters – Chapter 1, Chapter 2… or you may prefer to have chapter titles – Growing Up in Adelaide; First Boyfriend…

Don’t get fancy at first. Just come up with the major headings.

start with a table of contents. help me tell my story! I have a story to tell but I don't know how to startThen, when you have your top-level structure worked out, think about the topics or themes you want to cover under each chapter heading. Then you can begin to flesh out your table of contents.

For a non-fiction book, it may be easiest to have several sub-headings for the topics you want to cover in each chapter, in the order you want to cover them.

For a fiction book, write a brief description under each chapter of what you want to cover – a chapter-by-chapter synopsis.

Again, it’s quite okay for your initial structure to be fluid. As you begin writing and as your book progresses, you may decide to reorder, add or remove chapters.

Help me tell my story! I don’t have the writing skills

Join a writer’s group

Joining a local writer’s group or writer’s centre is a great way to get help and support while you are writing your book.

If transportation is an issue or you are housebound, ask a writer friend to come over so you can write together. It’s amazing how having another writer in the room inspires and motivates.

Look for a writing mentor online.

Join a writing Meetup group.

Hire a ghostwriter

If you are adamant that you don’t have a writer’s bone in your body, and you can afford this option, a ghostwriter will write your book for you. To find out more about it, click on the link to read my ghostwriting blog.

My story’s in my head, I don’t have a computer and I don’t type

Free classes

Take free classes through your local library to learn how to use a computer. Libraries offer free use of computers for specified periods, usually a couple of hours at a time, so once you build up the skills, you don’t even need to buy a computer to write your story if you don’t want to.

Ask a friend

You may not be interested in learning how to use a computer for any number of reasons. You may have transportation or health issues, or you may be sight impaired. So ask a friend to help you type up your story.

Arrange with your friend to come over to your place once or twice a week. Set aside one-hour-long sessions and work to that diligently. Don’t try to spend longer or you both may become overwhelmed. Focus on only one topic each session, and get down as much as possible. Avoid becoming side-tracked – don’t chat about the weather, that can come later! You will make much faster progress this way, and both you and your friend will feel a sense of accomplishment after each session if you are disciplined. Reward yourselves with wine afterwards!

If you have any handwritten notes or letters for inclusion, your friend can type them up for you and slot them into the relevant chapters.

What is your story?

help me tell my story! i want to write a book but i don't know how to start

There’s no age limit to writing.

You will find a way.

Let me know how I can help with getting your book started, no matter where you are with your manuscript or what editorial service you need. If you’re not sure, it’s free to ask. I’m approachable and always happy to help new writers.

Commonly Confused English Words

It’s been a while since we’ve posted an English grammar blog, so here is another on commonly confused English words. We also recommend you read the previous grammar blogs, Cool Writing Tips, Commonly Confused Word Pairs, and Desert or Dessert? More Commonly Confused Word Pairs.

When revising the draft of your book, it helps to know some of the grammar basics, and this knowledge can also save you editing fees. (If you’d like to find out how to save on editing fees with some simple formatting tips, we invite you to download our concise, to the point guide, How to Format your MS for Editing and Save.)

Commonly Confused English Words

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Commonly Confused English Words

Perspective and Prospective

Perspective is a noun that deals with sight or view, including point of view. Some synonyms are ‘viewpoint’, ‘standpoint’, ‘perception’.

Example: From your perspective, there’s nothing to worry about but I’m the one who’ll cop it if anything goes wrong.

Prospective is an adjective relating to the future. Some synonyms are ‘potential’, ‘future’, ‘likely’.

Example: The prospective employee was called back for a second interview.

Since and Because

Since refers to time.

Example: Since I quit drinking, I’ve married and had two children.

Because refers to causation.

Example: Because I quit drinking, I no longer wake up with a hangover.

Stationery and Stationary

Stationery is a noun referring to writing materials such as papers, pens and notebooks.

Example: He bought his kids’ stationery for the school year at the local newsagent.

Stationary is an adjective that means not moving.

Example: The car was stationary while it waited at the level crossing for the train to pass.

Subject and Verb Agreement (and possessive pronoun agreement)

This grammar rule may seem counter-intuitive given that in English, many nouns become plural with the addition of ‘s’ (e.g. snail, snails).

With verbs, on the other hand, most plural subjects – such as ‘we’, ‘they’, ‘John and Mary’ – take verbs without an ‘s’.

Example: They type letters but She types letters

With possessive pronoun agreement, you add a possessive element to these sentences.

Example: She types on her computer, and They type on their computers.

Their, They’re and There

Their is a possessive pronoun.

Example: The students turned in their papers.

They’re is a contraction for ‘they are’. A contraction is when two words are contracted or joined together by dropping a letter (or more than one letter) and replacing the missing letter/s with an apostrophe.

Example: I thought Jen and Steve were coming but they’re (they are) studying all day.

There is an adverb of place (it has parts of speech other than as an adverb, but this is what we’ll cover here).

Example: I can’t see the baby anywhere…oh, she’s over there under the sofa.

Then and Than

To distinguish between these two words, think ‘then’ when discussing time, and use ‘than’ when comparing one thing (or person) to another thing (or person).

Example: We had a meeting and then we went to lunch.

Example: This meeting was more productive than the last one.

We’re and Were

We’re is a contraction (see above) of ‘we are’.

Example: Today, we’re (we are) going to learn about English grammar.

Were is the plural past tense of the verb ‘to be’.

Example: We were going to attend the party but we changed our minds.

Whether and If

Whether expresses a situation where there are two or more alternatives.

Example: Whether I go on that overseas trip or stay home depends on finding someone to look after the dog.

If implies a condition where no alternatives are expressed.

Example: If I find someone to look after the dog I’ll go on that overseas trip.

Who’s and Whose

Who’s is a contraction (see above) of ‘who is’ or ‘who has’.

Examples: Who’s (who is) attending the auction tonight? Who’s (who has) taken my jacket?

Whose is the possessive form of ‘who’.

Example: Whose notebooks are these? (to whom do they belong? or who do they belong to?)

Your and You’re

Your is a possessive pronoun.

Example: That is your pen.

You’re is a contraction (see above) of ‘you are’.

Example: You’re (you are) planning to take me to the dance tonight, aren’t you?

 

Like help with your manuscript? Not sure which pre-publishing service you need? By viewing your manuscript or a sample from your manuscript, we can advise whether an edit, a manuscript appraisal, mentoring, or other service best suits your manuscript. Unsure of the difference between structural editing, copy editing and proofreading? Send us a no-obligation enquiry and we guarantee a same-day response, often within the hour!

editors4you.com are professional and experienced Accredited Editors

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We are dedicated to helping writers develop their craft, especially first-time writers. Please contact us. Asking is free!

The Writer-Editor Relationship

The writer-editor relationship

The writer-editor relationship (acknowledgement below)

The Writer-Editor Relationship: a Case Study

I am currently working with a first-time writer, Robyn (not her real name), as mentor and developmental editor on her fiction manuscript in the ‘chick lit’ genre. I thought it would be helpful for other writers to read about the writer-editor relationship in this context.

Mini appraisal

We began with a mini appraisal on the first few chapters of Robyn’s book. She had finished writing the manuscript – about 75,000 words – but she was not confident enough about her writing to consider submission to a publisher yet. She realised that she needed professional guidance and sought it out.

As I read some sample chapters from her manuscript in order to do the mini appraisal, I saw potential in her writing – despite her lack of confidence, which is a common issue with new writers. I work with many new writers, and I respect them for seeking professional guidance. It’s a big step to leave the comfort of anonymity behind and put their hard-earned manuscript into anyone’s hands, let alone those of a professional editor when they really don’t know whether they will be applauded or crucified! Yes, I have heard some horror stories from various clients!

What next?

Having completed the mini appraisal, Robyn and I then discussed various options for moving forward. In brief, one of these included Robyn making changes to the whole manuscript by applying the suggestions from the mini appraisal, and then having me edit the complete manuscript. Another option was having me work through her manuscript in ‘chapter chunks’ so that by the end of the process, she would have a strong second or third draft that would probably only need a copy edit. I provided some additional options, and combinations thereof, but what Robyn decided was to send me her work in ‘chapter chunks’, initially three chapters at a time and more as she grew in confidence, and I would give her feedback to apply not only to the reviewed chapters, but also to the rest of the manuscript as well. This is because individual writers tend to make similar errors throughout their manuscript. For example, some writers overuse the passive voice; others consistently make errors in punctuation – and when this interferes with the flow of the story, it becomes a distraction to the reader; others have trouble correctly formatting their manuscript.

In Robyn’s manuscript, some of the areas that required work were:

  • Overuse of clichés
  • Not rounding out her principal characters, which made the read confusing
  • Using too much argot (the vernacular) in dialogue without any explanation. While the vernacular is great for characterisation, if readers didn’t understand some of the expressions the characters used, she was going to alienate potential readers. This narrows down the audience of the book, which needs to be as broad as possible so that potentially any reader of the genre is ‘on board’ with it
  • Making assumptions that her readers would be familiar with the location of her book, when she needed to add a little extra detail for the benefit of ‘out-of-town’ readers.
writer-editor relationship

An editor is…

Whenever I send a writer an appraisal or a sample edit on their work, I explain that it is important to the writer-editor relationship that they not feel discouraged by what may seem to be many comments and changes on the returned manuscript. Referring to the ‘track changes’ feature of MS Word, I let them know that many of the marks relate to formatting, or to some very minor editing changes. The edited manuscript always looks worse than it is.

The editor’s role

Changes and comments should always be helpful and encouraging, never critical or cruel. The job of a professional editor is to critique a writer’s work, that is, to provide the writer with constructive criticism, not to criticise it.

In that spirit, with Robyn’s manuscript, I brought to her attention some suggestions that would make the story tighter, make it flow better, and improve her characterisation, all of which would create a strong foundation for the rest of the book. These included the areas mentioned above, as well as:

  • Moving information around to make her story flow more smoothly. She had many changes of location and time within chapters, which were distracting and interrupted the flow of the chapter
  • Bringing in detailed character descriptions when she introduced each character.
The writer-editor relationship

Introduce your characters

Because Robyn had completed writing the first draft of her manuscript, she already had the raw material to work with, and the ideas. She also had the natural ability as a writer to improve upon her first draft.

Key to the writer-editor relationship is that the writer feel encouraged by the editor’s comments and suggestions and maintains the enthusiasm and drive to keep on writing, and so I ended the mini appraisal by suggesting to Robyn:

  • Always remember to keep your readers engaged
  • Begin and end each chapter on a ‘high’ note, which encourages the reader to keep on reading
  • Remember that every word, every sentence, every paragraph needs to count. The aim always is to move your story forward.

Robyn made the suggested changes to her first three chapters, and returned them to me for a second review. I was so encouraged by the improvement in her writing that I felt like doing a little dance!

Subsequently, Robyn has completed a couple more iterations of these three chapters and she has recently sent me the next three chapters. We have only been working together for a couple of months, but during this time I have seen her confidence grow from that of a newbie ‘apologetic’ writer, to someone who now believes in her ability as a writer. She is shortly to attend a national writers’ conference where attendees take along their writing and their prepared query letter. The latter will be submitted to every literary agent who attends the conference.

Robyn has definitively come out of the ‘writer’s closet’ and is striding towards writer’s success.

writer-editor relationship

You can do it! Come out of the writer’s closet

If you have written your manuscript and you would like a full manuscript appraisal or a mini appraisal, or a sample edit, or you would simply like to make a no-obligation enquiry, please send me your contact details and let’s talk about your work.

Quotation from beginning of post acknowledged to “Embrace Your Editor (but Not in a Weird Way)” by Erin Brown (http://www.authormagazine.org/articles/brown_erin_2011_10_14.htm)