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Co-Writing With My Best Friend by Guest Author Wendy Janes @wendyproof

I’d like to share my experience of co-writing. Partly because it’s a funny story, and partly because I hope you’ll find it interesting to find out how we did it. It might even encourage you and a friend to have a go yourselves.

A few years ago my friend and I were sitting in her conservatory chatting about whether men or women could write better love letters, and via a little too much sharing, we bemoaned the fact that any books we’d read with good sex scenes had weak stories, or if the story was good, it glossed over the sex. So we decided to write an erotic romance with great characters that people would care about, an intriguing plot, and sex scenes that would excite our avid readers.

Now, bearing in mind neither of us had written a full-length novel before, one of us was a school governor and a grandmother, and the other enjoyed craft fairs and knitting, we didn’t seem likely candidates for writing erotic fiction.

I don’t want to get into the Fifty Shades debate, but I would like to say that we had finished writing our book before we’d heard of that publishing phenomenon.

So how did two middle-aged women from South London set about co-writing their novel?

Initially my writing partner (let’s call her Pandora) went out to buy lots and lots of stationery.

We met once a week to brainstorm characters, and pretty soon we had created four women who became real people to us. Authors need to know their characters inside out, but because we were co-writing we had to share out loud everything that we knew about them. Such as Hazel’s hairstyle, what Sonia ate for breakfast, the first song Paula bought and Jacqui’s worst memory from childhood. Within weeks the four women were joined by five men. We adored drop-dead gorgeous Billy, we also adored the vile Richard, but only because we were astonished that we could create such a creep.

During this time we also bandied around oodles of ideas for plots. Our notebooks were filling up fast, but we’d not written a word of the story yet.

We plotted Chapter One (which of course never made it to the final draft) and separately wrote our own versions of it. The idea was that we’d give each other feedback on what we liked and what we didn’t and somehow magically turn them into one sparkling opening chapter. That didn’t work. Mine was too full of emotion, more like a Mills and Boon romance and Pandora’s was too spare, more like a thriller. This was not looking good, and so far we’d not written a single sex scene.

Plan B. Pandora would write Chapter One and I’d write Chapter Two and we’d edit each other’s chapters. Plan B wasn’t wholly successful either. While we both agreed that we could write a darn erotic sex scene, I have to admit I took Pandora’s edits a little too personally and things were rather cool between us for a day or two.

Plan C. Pandora was lightning quick at generating ideas, and I was better at taking her ideas and developing them. Same with the writing. So for the next few months we met once a week to plot a chapter together. Then Pandora would take an hour to write the chapter, email it to me and I’d take six hours, often more, to develop it and send it back to her. We agreed there’d be no further revision until we reached the end of this first draft.

Then came the best bit. We read each chapter of Draft 1 out loud and talked through the revisions together. It was amazing how in tune we were with the characters and the plot, often voicing the ideas that were still in the other person’s head. I will gracefully admit that Pandora came up with the best ideas, including the plot twist that had us dancing round her conservatory with glee. What also became apparent at this point was that the four women who at the outset we’d thought were nothing like us, had traits of each of us. Pandora’s vibrancy and love of life shone through in gorgeous Paula. My insecurities were writ large in naïve Sonia!

We then sent the book to friends (male and female) who gave feedback – thank goodness I didn’t crumble in the face of criticism any more – and in the light of that feedback we revised again, and again, and again. By this point we couldn’t remember who had originally written what or whose idea was whose. We were having such fun we could have tinkered with our book for ever, but we also wanted to publish it. Eventually (!) we came up with a title and published our book under a pen name. We were proud of what we’d written, but our children (Pandora’s four and my three) begged us not to use our real names.

The book didn’t take the world by storm as we’d genuinely, honestly (naively) thought it would, but we had a wonderful laughter-filled two years writing it, and we’re still best friends. The whole experience introduced me to the world of self-publishing and helped me find my own writing voice. I reckon that’s a happy ending.

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Most Mortals Need a Proofreader by Guest Author Wendy Janes @wendyproof

Why can’t you successfully proofread your own work?

It’s very simple – you read what you expect to see.

When you read other people’s work it’s fresh and new. Any errors seem to leap from the page, as the following examples demonstrate:

“Perdita was so angry she felt like throwing the laptop out of the the attic window.”

“Mark was fifty-five minutes younger that Spencer. An injustice than irritated him no end.”

The errors in the above sentences look so obvious. However, when you’ve been working on your book for months, maybe longer, and you’ve re-worked, revised, edited, tweaked, fallen in and out of love with it more times than you can remember, it’s almost impossible to gain the professional distance that is required to proofread it effectively. This is no reflection on your skills as a writer.

I’d like to share my own (humbling) experience. You see, I’d been telling people for years that it was unwise to proofread their own work, but to be honest I didn’t believe it would be true for me. I’d been proofreading for over a decade, I knew what to look for. So when I co-wrote an erotic romance with a friend a few years ago (that’s another humbling story) and we sent the book to our proofreader, I was confident that she wouldn’t find anything to correct.

Let’s pause, while you chuckle, because you know what’s coming.

When the proof copy was returned to us, I was MORTIFIED.

Yes, it deserves capital letters.

Characters who were as dear to me as my own family had their names spelled inconsistently, missing quote marks made a nonsense of dialogue, and there were typos galore.

Nothing like first-hand experience to teach you (ie me) a lesson!

And now, to make me feel a bit better and to entertain you, I’d like to share a few of my favourite bloopers of recent years (I’ve used artistic licence to ensure that no author can be identified):

“Maddy checked that her trouser suit was free of creases before she walked into the interview room. She shook hands with the CEO and felt the waist band of her skirt tighten alarmingly as she took the seat he offered.”

“A warrior through and through, Mardor fought on, the blood dripping from his severed arm. Around him, his soldiers spilled their blood for the victory that was destined to be theirs. Mardor gripped his sword with both hands and brought it down…”

“Maria shook the last painkiller from the bottle and swallowed the table with a gulp of water.”

“Discretion is the better part of velour.”

“This was the last pubic lecture he’d ever give. His nerves were too bad to ever consider doing anything so embarrassing ever again.”

I hope you enjoyed those bloopers as much as I did.

I’d like to add a practical coda to this post:

If you want to self-publish, but you can’t afford a proofreader I encourage you either to save up or to consider some old-fashioned bartering. For example, swapping proofreads with another author, or offering your website design skills to a proofreader. Or you could try a micro-version of the approach used by an innovative publisher called Booktrope, where you offer a proofreader a share of the income from your book.

 

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Is My Novel Ready for Proofreading? by Guest Author Wendy Janes @wendyproof

Is My Novel Ready for Proofreading?

I love my job as a freelance proofreader, but sometimes authors make it very difficult for me to do my job effectively.

However brilliant your writing, however delicious your story, if there are too many errors and inconsistencies, you are asking too much of your proofreader to spot everything.

Here are a few examples of things that should have been removed by the author/developmental editor/copy editor prior to proofreading. Just in case you’re wondering, they are all products of my fevered imagination:

  • A tear-jerking family saga opens with Davina playing with her five-year-old brother, Oliver, on the sprawling lawns of their darling papa’s country estate. When our feisty heroine rescues sweet young Oliver from his evil kidnappers two years later, he is ten years old. The hapless Oliver dies in a fire soon after his rescue, and (miraculously) reappears at Davina’s sumptuous wedding to Henrico a decade later.
  • In the opening scene of a delightful chick lit novella, independent career girl Polly totters off to meet hunky Blake wearing a pair of Jimmy Chew’s. She jumps off a Central Line tube train at Sloane Square. (Tricky in those dubious heels and even more tricky because Sloane Square isn’t on the Central Line.)
  • In a sci-fi/fantasy, the leader of the Heliopians may well fight with grit and determination throughout the thrilling spat with the Lunopians, but his name changes from Garvord to Gurvord and back again in the space of ten pages.

I have to be honest and say that it gives me great joy to catch these types of errors, but when a novel is littered with them it makes finding the typos, which are the bread and butter of proofreading, all the more difficult. Not only that but if your proofreader is charging you by the hour, you are in effect bumping up the cost.

While it is the proofreader’s role to spot and correct errors and inconsistencies, there are number of things you can do to avoid your manuscript being inundated with them:

  1. Choose whether you’re using US or UK (or insert your choice here) spelling and punctuation. If you’re going for a hybrid, then be clear about your choices.
  2. Punctuate speech correctly.
  3. Check that spelling and hyphenation are consistent.
  4. Use hyphens, en dashes and em dashes correctly, and delete double spaces between words and after punctuation.
  5. Look for over-used words such as “that”, “just” (my own pet over-used word), “only”, “really”, “very” etc. Actually this isn’t something that every proofreader will automatically look for, but eliminating over-used words will improve your writing no end.

If a proofreader has been searching through a whole novel for “ise” endings in order to turn them into “ize” endings, he or she may miss all the unfortunate slips in the following: “Davina realized he loved Henrico wit all here hat.” If a proofreader needs to correct every single comma and full stop in order to punctuate speech correctly, there’s a good chance he or she could skip over that missing open quote at the start of Garvord’s battle cry.

I can’t say this enough, so I’ll repeat myself. However good your proofreader is, he or she won’t be able to pick up every single error if there are too many of them. It’s a bit like looking for a letter on a messy desk. You can’t see it for all the other pieces of paper, chocolate bar wrappers, pens, pencils, coffee cups and cake crumbs. If you sweep away the crumbs, put the cups in the kitchen and the wrappers in the bin, there’s a better chance of finding the letter.

You may be thinking, what on earth is a proofreader left to do if I make all these corrections before I send my manuscript off? The truth is that most mortals, even if they do all of the above, still need to have their book proofread by a professional. My next guest post will be about why it’s so difficult to proofread your own work, and will include some of my favourite bloopers (all made anonymous to spare authors’ blushes).

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wendyproof.co.uk

Wendy Janes GoodReads

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Wendy on Amazon

Wendy on Amazon UK

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