Saturday, November 7, 2009

Guest Blogger: Author JO ANN HERNANDEZ on Revising

Please welcome today's guest blogger, Jo Ann Hernandez. There isn't enough room to list Jo Ann's qualifications. She has a Masters of Arts in Writing at the University of San Franciso. Her work has won awards and recognition throughout the United States. Her novel White Bread Competition and The Throw Away Piece continue to this day. I've worked with her since the mid 90s, and nothing she accomplishes surprises me anymore. Bravo, Jo Ann. Thank you for being such a pain when it came to editing my prose.

A little R and R for the Writer (Revise and Revision)

I love to write. I find writing to be fun, enjoyable, and thrilling. Don’t worry. I outgrew that quick enough. I didn’t consider it a career because it was too easy to do. Should a person’s life work be tedious, boring and darn hard? Isn’t that what the pilgrims said? Then some friends told me that the universe needed my voice. Well, hey, who am I to argue with the universe? I did what I always do when I approach a new subject: I read a thousand books, attended conferences, kissed up to, met agents, and finally went for a Master’s in Creative Writing. C’mon. Ask me what my GPA was. Please ask me. I have so few things to be proud of about myself that I have to tell you. A university professor said I was being an amateur by telling it. Being the literary-minded individual with a 3.8GPA, I retorted with a “So?” Actually writing is still fun for me. Takes me to some fantastic places. When, in Joylene’s home, her son complained that I was annoying him. She explained, “I met her on the internet. Haven’t I told you how you had to be careful of the things you get off the internet?” Dry humor wins every time.

The mostest fun part of writing is revision. Be warned that the all-explosive editing shown here should not be done at home without supervision.

In my revision, I break the manuscript into parts. There are many parts and I can only mention a few here. I guess you’ll have to hire “Fresh Eyes” for more. Oh, oh, a plug. Is that allowed?

I do a search of every single 75k word that ends in –ly. You can color them, highlight them, or work on them as each comes up. Up to you and how you work best. That’s the thing about showing and teaching; what works best for you may be different. I tend to work each one as they come up. Thoughtfully. Fantastically. Inherently. Secretively. I secretly hide my faults. Hmmm I secret my faults. I fault my secrets. Hmmm I do secrets with my faults. I hide my secrets. Ohhhh I bury my faults like secrets in my heart. Dang, I’m good. I absolutely love my job. Isn’t this fun?!!!

Then I go on to the really, really hard words. The articles. When I taught a class, I discovered the OWL of Purdue website of grammar. If you don’t feel like writing or aren’t producing, go there and look around. There are little pictures to go with the lesson. They had a stick man jumping IN to an empty pool. There was a kitchen table with a glass of milk ON the table. Can’t quote you the rule or where you can find this, and the pictures are in my brain for life. The vs. A. “A” meaning general, out of a whole bunch. “The” being specific to one of its kind. Amazing isn’t it? To vs too. There are so many more.

Oh sorry, couldn’t forget my pet peeve. Be specific. Specificity is in the details. Did the cloth feel coarse or smooth? How old is old? How fast is swift? Did they fall like a sack or did they fold when they swooned? Details are what make the picture tune in clear. Details are what give the reader the sense of being there inside of the story. And too many details kill the flow of the story in a heartbeat. Ain’t this job fun?

As sport coaches say, learn each movement, each detailed step of the process then forget all you have learned and do it in one fluid graceful movement. Like learning how to drive a standard car. Any of us here remember those?

Ah, the biggie. I have only heard of this in a couple of places, and I was saying this long before then. Crutch words. Everyone has Crutch words - like the stick you put under your arm when you break your leg. If you think you don’t use Crutch words, please wait before submitting your manuscript to an agent so you won’t be disappointed. And the miserable thing about Crutch words is like having allergies. In your home, you’re allergic to dust. At your sibling’s home, you’re allergic to milk. Whichever house you visit, you are allergic to something different. Every single book or story you write will have a different Crutch word. You have to hunt them out.

Crutch words are those little words that show up about every other third word. In writing your first draft, you allow them. They are actually helping you write your first draft. Lately, my Crutch words have been: so, really and just. So I’ve been really writing a lot to just have a few. Then here comes Revision, able to leap tall buildings in a single vowel. You discover what your Crutch words are. It’s helpful to know there are usually only two or three Crutch words in each first draft of each book. As you search, you go to each one and revise, either deleting it or rewording it. Simple. Takes only about four to ten hours. Heh!

Have you seen those “only” sentences?

If you have gained weight.

If only you have gained weight.

If you have only gained weight.

If you have gained only weight.

Got it. Having fun? Isn’t this the best business in the world?

Just two more and I’ll be out of your hair. Clang. Clang. Cliché. I learned about these two words in my two million thousand years of therapy. When using the word “not” you are actually encouraging the person to do what you don’t want them to do. Do not touch the doorknob is translated in the brain to do touch the doorknob. What’s a “really” big hoot is thinking about what you are saying (or writing) without using “not.” I’ve found that my speech and my writing becomes much more positive. Go ahead. Take one day and be conscious of preventing the use of the word “not” in your vocabulary. You’ll surprise yourself with how affirming it can be. And Fun!!!

The other word I learned about is “but.” What I was told is that everything that comes before the “but” is false. “I love you, but…” Oh, I was told that a lot by guys I dated. “I agree with your theory, but…” Can you sense it? “You look nice in that dress, but…” Bash him along side of the head, Ladies. Think about it for a while. I bet you’ll understand, but…..

Okay, my last one. Joylene knows I’m a stickler for this one. There have been quite a few articles out in cyber space about reading your novel aloud to yourself. It’s supposed to help you find errors that your eyes don’t see any more. That’s cool. Go ahead.

What I encourage you to also do is to get someone else to read your manuscript aloud to you. They read along on one manuscript. You follow along with another manuscript and a highlighter in your hand. When there is a mistake, keep from disturbing the reader and highlight what was read differently or awkwardly. Every place where the reader has trouble is a spot that needs to be fixed. Guaranteed.

I have also noticed that when I read aloud from my manuscript, I sometimes still miss problems like missing or repeated words because I know what the text is supposed to say and my brain corrects the errors without my noticing.”

This guy talked about software that would read your manuscript to you on the computer. I’m looking into that right now. The other thing I’ve found when someone else reads your manuscript is that – especially in the dialogue – the person will read it as it is spoken and not as you have it down on the page. Highlight that part. Jot a note if you are fast. That’s an important correction you will want to include to make your dialogue sound natural. How it’s spoken is how you want your dialogue to sound.

One suggestion I keep making is if you have teens in your home or close by, they can earn extra money by reading to you. Also if you have a certain type of character in your novel – military, financial, accountant – and you can find someone in any of those professions to read your manuscript aloud to you, I bet you’ll find ways to improve your manuscript from the way the words automatically come out of their mouth. Don’t believe me. (Get the not?) Find someone and try it.

There is so much more Fresh Eyes can do. I tend to write too much, and before I go, I have to tell you about a book. The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner should be mandatory reading in every writing class and MFA program. A new edition is coming out soon. She is an agent now accepting only non-fiction submissions. This book is not a how-to. It’s a how-come. Talks about the industry and why things happen the way they do. The chapter on rejection is inspiring. You come away from this book with the feeling that you can do it after all. On the last page of the book, she tells a sweet story about waiting for her grandmother at a train station. Her grandmother’s train has been delayed. When the grandmother finally arrives, the granddaughter asks her if she had been lonely. The grandmother answers, “When you have a book with you, you’re never lonely."

Thank you Joylene for allowing me to invade your pages and spread my sick humor. I’ve enjoyed myself immensely. I hope you have too.

Jo Ann Hernández
BronzeWord Latino Authors
BronzeWord1 AT yahoo com


  1. Thank you Joylene for allowing me in among all your great guest hosts. I am in distinguish company. I hope I was able to add a bit of enlightment to the revision process. I had fun visiting your blog and always learning something new about the writing process. I have always admired how you take the writing process as a challenge to conquer, unlike most writers just hope everything turns out right. You are a sensational writer. You deserve being published.
    Jo Ann Hernandez
    BronzeWord Latino Authors

  2. It was fun having you, and my pleasure. My way of thanking you for those hours and hours and hours of editing you did on Dead Witness and Broken But Not Dead.

    I know the Comma-Connoisseurs are thankful!

  3. Great tips, thanks. And, I like the part about the "but."

    Karen Cioffi

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Karen. Yes, Jo is full of wonderful tips to make your prose work. She's all about helping writers, a gesture that continually inspires me.

  5. Thanks for recommending Betsy L's book. Do you recommend any others?

  6. Hi Shelby,
    Yeah, anything by Donal Maass has to be good. His Breakout Novel is good and the workbook for that book is sensational. You know how Joylene talks all the time about 3 acts and the climb of the tension and all that stuff. She's so smart in that way. I'm a complete duh! I just nod a lot when she's talking all smart and stuff. That workbook takes everything Joylene says and puts it into action. Also the question you're supposed to ask "What If" well if I ask myself that, my brain freezes. I go completely blank. With Maass's workbook the question is asked in a different way that really gets me excited.
    hmmm Renni Brown and David King have an oldie and goodie. Also David King offers editoral service at a really good prize. He even has a starving artist prize. No one else has.
    hmmm actually I have a list of good books on my blog on the sidebar if you want to check that.
    BronzeWord Latino Authors

    leave a comment and say Hi.
    oh i also have a letter to Santa that you could read!

  7. Shelby, Jo's being modest. I just ordered Mr. Maas' book. Everyone who's read it says the content is outstanding. Good. I could use the live.

  8. Thanks Joylene. I was raised Catholic and I get his last name mixed up with "Mass" and his name is Maas so I throw in an extra s because I know one of those letters is double and I can never remember which one it is so I do both to cover myself. ha ha ha

  9. Joylene, "you could use the live." What?

  10. Thanks V.L.
    One reason I don't use initials is because I am JAH. and that means God in Jamician and I have a big enough head as it is.

    Also I knew not to marry my childhood sweetheart because then I would be JAG.

    And certainly not a Ramos = JAR. ha ha

  11. Hi Joylene,
    Thank you so much for publishing this from Jo Ann Hernandez -- love the sense of humour. I knew JoAnn years back when I first joined IWW and JoAnn was a real hot buddy on the novel critiquing list. She and I exchanged many a sub/crit. I missed her so much when she left. Many a recent day I have looked at 'Newbies" work on the list and wondered what JoAnn would think of it today. I'm so glad to hear she is doing so well.
    Carole Sutton

  12. Carole, I have a faint recollection of who you might be. I bet if you tell me what you write, I'll remember you right off. ha ha Yeah my wacky sense of humour gets worse as I get older. Email and let's connect. Would love to catch up and maybe do some critiquing! I've been thinking of going back to IWW. You still participating. Did you see how Tomato Girl was published? Ah the sniff of gossip. Like that crazy guy in that movie: Love the smell of gossip first thing in the morning!!!!
    email me please.

  13. I remember you too, Carole. It's wonderful hearing from you again. How's the writing? You wrote mysteries, right? Intense stuff. Really glad you stopped by.

  14. This is a great post. Lots of really good information. So glad I stopped by.

  15. Laura, I'm glad you stopped by too. Anyone I can hook into liking what I do may one day maybe hire me to do it for them. Did I just make sense? Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. Are you aware of how important it is to leave comments. Actually you also need to add your name and blog url so that the search engines can pick you up. Both Joylene and you will get brownie points on the search engines. But you probably already know that, but I needed something intelligent to say and I couldn't think of anything else. ha ha
    Jo Ann

  16. Very good post - I disagree with absolutely everything. Just kidding.

    "Crutch words are those little words that show up......"

    Ah, those little buggers - just & really being great examples. My favorite word to keep track of is THAT. It's ONLY one of those words THAT creeps in & is JUST not REALLY necessary.

  17. I respect honesty becuase I complete disagree with you too. Because ONLY one THAT at a time is too many THATs THAT JUST control the REALLY ONLY important parts THAT show how THAT is ONLY THAT.

  18. Vicki, thanks for stopping by. How was the opera?

    Dave, lol, you are so weird that it's actually comforting.


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