I’m having a heck of a time coming up with a post this week. So, here! Check out this Word Repetition Counter I made!

Screenshot that reads 'Word Repetition Counter. Do you use the same words over and over? Paste in some text and see which words you use the most.'

Click to see the actual tool!

Warning: I made it in JavaScript. I’m very new at JavaScript. If you break it, I won’t be surprised. Just tell me so I can fix it.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Paste in a part of your novel. (I usually do one chapter or scene at a time.)
  2. Click “See what words you use the most!”
  3. It’ll count how many times you use each word and put them in the “results” column. Click on each word to highlight it in the text.

Optionally, you can click “Remove Common Words” to remove words like the or a, or “Hide Words Only Used Once” to remove words you only used once, since… well, you’re obviously not using those words too many times, right?

How does this help?

It highlights specific words so you can see, visually, how often they appear and how close they are to each other.

Sometimes this is fine. Repetition isn’t always a problem. Sometimes the story is perfectly fine just the way it is, even if you used a somewhat distinct word seven times in 4,000 words.

Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes you get stuck on a word and your character lurches five times on a page or absolutely everything in a room is brilliant. This kind of repetition can stand out if you use a word multiple times in a sentence, or in multiple consecutive sentences… but it can be harder to see if it’s spread out over a few paragraphs, or a page or two.

This tool is not pointing out “problems” that you need to “fix.” It’s just a tool to help identify when you might be getting stuck on a word.

Why did I make this?

When Justice Unending was being edited by Evernight Teen, this is something the editor did for me. Whenever I got stuck on a word–which was surprisingly often–she’d highlight every instance of it in MS Word.

And it was great! Sometimes I just didn’t see this stuff. “Her breath caught in her throat,” “she drew in a breath,” “her breath shook…” It all feels like I’m saying different things, until I use the word “breath” a dozen times in a 3,000-word chapter. Seeing it on paper, with color, helped me see when I was using a word a lot.

I don’t know what tool she used. (Maybe she did it manually. Ugh.) But I thought it was cool. And since I’ve been studying JavaScript, I decided to make my own program that did this automatically.

And here it is!

Tell me if you find it useful!

I really just made this so I could practice JavaScript. But if you use it, and if it’s useful, tell me! I’d love to know that something I made was useful.

And if you manage to break it, tell me.

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I wanted to do a short post today. So let’s talk about something easy!

Here’s the situation: You, like so many unfortunate people, might have been taught to put two spaces after every period, because that’s how it was done in the days of the typewriter. But alas, that’s not how it works anymore. When you type on a computer, you put one space after a period. Always.

But you didn’t know that, and now you’ve written an 80,000-word novel with two periods after every punctuation mark. How do you fix that?

If your answer is “I guess I’ll clear out an afternoon and spend 5 hours deleting the extra spaces,” then have I got a lifesaver for you. (And if you’ve done this in the past, then I offer my condolences for the hours you’ll never get back.) This takes five seconds to fix.

Here’s how you do it in Microsoft Word.

  1. Open “Find and Replace.” (Shortcut: Control+H.)
  2. In “Find What,” enter two spaces.
  3. In “Replace With,” enter one space.
  4. Hit “Replace All.”

    Screenshot of Word's "Find and Replace" showing two spaces in "Find What."

    This screenshot is almost useless. But there are two spaces in “Find What,” I promise.

That’s it. That’s literally it.

Note: This will indiscriminately replace any place with more than one space in a row. So pause for a second and ask yourself: do you use multiple spaces for anything else?  For example, some people use spaces to indent. They shouldn’t, but still: this’ll mess that up.

(In fact, that would be a great opportunity to use Find and Replace to replace your space-indentations with tabs or to remove them entirely and use Microsoft Word’s automatic first line indentation.)

Find and Replace is surprisingly powerful, and can replace much more complicated things than just spaces. So if you’re ever faced with a messy manuscript, just remember: most formatting problems can be fixed in a couple of clicks. (And if you want to know how to fix most of the other problems, check out my mini-tutorial on putting a manuscript into Standard Manuscript Format.)

Anyway, that’s it! We’re done!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about how there are a lot of different kinds of edits and how you can edit a novel more easily by fixing different parts of your story at different times. If that sounds interesting, go check it out! This post’ll be here when you get back.

I was intending on jumping right in with a post about structural editing. But after a couple of drafts, I realized that I needed to start a little farther back. On day #1 of Mission: Edit this Awful First Draft, you’re not going to start by rewriting chapters 6-9, right?

Of course not. Your first step is to figure out what your problems are. Let’s start there.

Step #1: Read your entire novel and take excessive amounts of notes.

First thing’s first: read your entire novel.

But here’s the key: you’re not reading it like a reader. Your job isn’t to passively sit there, letting the word-thoughts beam happy feelings into your brain. You have to read your novel like an English major charged with dissecting it to death. You’re going to challenge every assumption. Think deeply about everything that happens.

You’re going to look at every single scene and ask: why?

  • What just happened?
  • Why did it it happen?
  • Does that objectively make sense, based on the facts of this world and the characters involved?
  • Have you previously explained the character/plot/worldbuilidng elements that the reader would require to understand this scene?
  • What new information does the reader learn from this scene?

These are simple questions, but they can open a lot of doors: why would this character [do the dramatic thing that makes for a good story] if you haven’t given them a strong enough motivation to do that instead of an equally viable, less-crazy choice? It’s awfully exciting to open your story up with an explosion, but will the reader understand it if why it matters hinges on understanding a lot of details about this world and the characters?

Don’t let yourself get away with lame answers. “Because it’s dramatic!” is not a good answer. “Because I like it!” is even worse. Remember: there’s nothing sacred about the creative process. Just because your first instinct was to write a fight scene or six chapters of chatty banter doesn’t mean that’s the one-and-only way to convey the information you need.

So ask why. Why did this happen? Is this the only way to do this scene? The most interesting way? Why is this scene important?

While you do this, take notes. I keep a separate file, create a new section for every scene, and then write down every thought I have. If I encounter a problem, I bold it. If something feels really important, I highlight the text or flag it in a different color.

Other Techniques to Try: Story Mapping

If you’re new to editing, you might want to take this opportunity to dig very, very deep into the structure of your story. Thankfully, there are a million ways to map a story!

Usually, this process entails identifying all of your main story arcs, including your character arcs, main plot arc, and subplot arcs. This lets you look at specific story arcs, by themselves, and ensure they aren’t abandoned for long stretches of time and that they grow and build over time.

Some of the story mapping techniques I’ve seen include:

There are a million ways to do this. See what works for you!

Step #2: Identify your problems.

Now it’s time to organize your notes.

My notes are always long and wordy. I write sentences and sentences about how such-and-such sounds weird, and maybe I should try this, and maybe I should be doing something more like this other thing…

These are great, but they’re not actionable. You can’t do anything with a paragraph-long rant about how your motivations are garbage.

So first, take each problem and distill it to its core:

  • [Character’s] motivation doesn’t make sense for this scene.
  • This plot twist wasn’t foreshadowed.
  • This doesn’t make sense. This character doesn’t know [fact], so they can’t act on it.

You will probably find that some issues go on for chapters and chapters and chapters. That’s good! Identify what scenes are affected.

Step #3: Turn those problems into a to-do list.

Now turn those problems into assignments for yourself.

  • Fix [character’s] motivations. (Chapters 4-8)
  • [Plot Twist] occurs in chapter 8. Foreshadow it before then. (Chapters 1-7)
  • Have character learn [fact] before chapter 5. (Chapters 1-4).

These are things you can do. Some of them are specific–“this character needs their motivation fixed in every scene where they appear between chapters 4-8” is a specific fix in a specific set of chapters. “Foreshadow this thing sometime before it happens” is not.

But that’s OK. You don’t need to know all of the solutions right now. In fact, during the first major editing phase (what I’m calling the “structural edit”) you may end up deleting entire chapters and rewriting entire sections. So some of these issues may end up resolved by the time you’re done rewriting. And if they don’t? Well, you can figure out which specific chapters to insert your specific fixes into once you know you’re not going to delete or rewrite them.

Step #4: Pull out the to-dos that require you to delete or completely rewrite content.

My to-do list is naturally organized by scene: it lists every scene in the book and what things I want to fix. But before I do those, I want to pull out two very special things:

  • Problems that require me to delete or completely rewrite scenes from scratch
  • Problems that need to be fixed, but I’m not sure where those fixes should happen

These are the two things we have to resolve in the structural editing phase. We can’t go on to step #2 (the scene-by-scene edit) until they’re done.

And now you’re done with this phase!

Hurray! You have now:

  • Read your entire story with a critical eye
  • Mapped out your story to track what happened when
  • Created a note file that lists the problems with each scene
  • Developed a to-do list to fix every problem
  • Pulled out the to-dos that require you to delete or completely rewrite scenes.

Now you’re ready to edit.

What comes next?

The first two editing phases are the biggest ones: the structural edit and the scene-by-scene edit. During them, you’re going to fix every single problem on your to-do list. Here’s what you can look forward to:

  1. First, we’re going to do the structural edit, which will include the big changes: deleting, rewriting, and other things that result in 100% new, never-seen-before text.
  2. Then we’ll see if we have any “floating” problems left–problems that we know we need to resolve, we just don’t know where. If they weren’t fixed in the structural edit, we’ll decide what specific chapter they should happen in.
  3. Then, using our to-do list, we’ll go through every scene in the story and fix all the issues we found.

Next week, we’re finally going to get to the first big lift: the structural editing phase. See you then!

 

Writing a novel feels great, doesn’t it? It’s so emotional! So engaging! (All right, well, it can be, when you don’t feel like you’re yanking ideas out of your brain with a pair of pliers.) But when you’re in the zone, everything you write feels powerful, important, and deep.

Then you edit it. And whoops! It’s… not. It’s clumsily worded, it doesn’t make much sense, and that scene you loved to absolute death feels shoehorned in. So you feel angry and maybe a little embarrassed, because it all felt so good at the time.

To nobody’s surprise, many writers hate editing.

But not me. I friggin’ LOVE editing. This is probably–just a guess here–why it’s also my day job.

So I thought I’d do a few posts about how I edit my novels and why, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t need to be a soul-crushing process.

First thing’s first: there are a lot of different types of edits.

I’m going to start with an observation about something a little different. Have you ever noticed that people who don’t write often think that writing is a single, monolithic skill? They figure that you are either “good at writing” or “bad at writing.” If you ask them what “writing” is, they’d probably think that it’s just the act of having an idea and writing it down. There are no other talents involved. Just have ideas. Be literate.

But when you write your first novels, you learn otherwise. “Writing a novel” involves dozens of completely separate skills. Writing dialogue, pacing logically, creating micro-tension, and developing realistic characters are all completely different talents. Some of them will come naturally. Some of them are really hard!

Editing is exactly the same.

There is no one, monolithic thing called “editing.” You cannot hand your piece to an editor, tell them to “edit it,” then walk off knowing you have explained everything about what you need them to do. There are many kinds of edits that do many different things. And some of these will be easier for you than others.

Editing will feel overwhelming if you think editing means “I’m going to sit down in front of a document and magically know whether every word, sentence, scene, and chapter is perfect.” Thankfully, you don’t have to.

It’s easiest to edit in phases, from the largest level of edit to the smallest.

In the editing world, there’s a thing called “levels of edit.” When you hand your work to an editor, they often want to know what level to edit it at, and that tells them what to look at and what to ignore. This isn’t standardized, so every organization has a different number of levels of edit, and those levels are called different things. So I’m not speaking out of authority here, OK? These are the levels of edits I think about when I’m doing my own novels. They’re not even the same ones I use at work.

But when I’m editing my novels, I come at them from several different angles:

  • Structural Edits: Structural edits look at concepts and how they are organized. A structural edit asks big questions: Do the events that occur happen in a logical sequence? Do characters act in a consistent way? Do details and concepts remain believable and consistent?
  • Scene-level Edits: Scene-level edits look at scenes. Does every scene have a purpose? Does every scene add information, build on the stakes, and do so in the most interesting way possible? Does each scene include some sort of micro-tension? Does each chapter end on an interesting, engaging note?
  • Line-level Edits: Line-level editing is the first level of edit that acutally deals with the words you used. Does every sentence communicate the meaning you want it to? Did you use the words you wanted to? Are you using words that literally convey the meaning you want them to (as opposed to words that sound lovely but don’t convey your intention as well?) This is when you remove fluff and look for opportunities to use stronger words and more active voice.
  • Proofreading: Proofreading is literally just looking for errors in grammar. You look for typos, punctuation, and spelling errors.

And–here’s the clincher–you can do these one at a time.

These steps go from big to small. They’re also in order. It doesn’t make sense to obsess about your word choice and fix all the typos in a scene you’re going to delete. You don’t want to agonizingly polish your dialogue before you come back and cut out a character.

That said: Do some people edit everything at once? Of course! And if that works for you, that’s totally fine.

But if editing seems complicated and intimidating, it can be very helpful to think of these as completely separate processes that you do one at a time.

And remember: you’ll probably need to practice these.

These are all completely different skills.

Structural editing is kind of like a college English class. You’ll be good at it if you’re good at critically reading content, challenging every assumption, and playing Devil’s advocate. (Since they know [this important thing], wouldn’t it make more sense for the characters to do [this]? Why wouldn’t this character do [that] when they’ve previously shown to believe [whatever]?) Line editing requires the ability to look at words critically, and to think about how they communicate meaning. Proofreading requires a strong knowledge of grammar.

And I’ve known authors with pristine grammar who struggle with pacing and authors who have aced scene-level tension and should have their semicolon button pried off their keyboards. We all have things that come more naturally to us and things we have to practice.

And that’s probably enough for one post!

This post is long enough, isn’t it? I’ll probably do a series on this.

But just remember: editing isn’t just the act of taking a first draft and just editing the whole thing, magically. There are many different kinds of edits that look at totally different things. And editing a novel–which is a huge and monumental task–can be broken up into different phases that look at different things.

And next time, maybe I’ll talk about how I do structural edits!

I’ve been reviewing works in progress for folks on Absolute Write’s Beta Readers, Mentors, and Writing Buddies board. (Which is an amazing place if you really want to get a story reviewed, by the way. I got 4 offers in under 24 hours for my 70,000 YA fantasy novel.) One of them taught me how to make EPUB files.

And it makes sense. Unless you’re asking for line edits (and none of the people I was reading for were) you don’t have to read an 80,000-word novel on the computer. So it’s apparently very common to convert the file into a quick-and-dirty EPUB file so you can read it on an e-reader.

Making a professional, polished EPUB would take a lot more time and care than what I’m showing here. But if you just need something for a beta partner? Here’s how you’d do it!

Please note that I write everything in Microsoft Word 2010, and that’s what I’m using in this tutorial. (These features exist in every version of Word from 2007 and onwards, however.)

1. Start with a well-formatted Word file.

So, I started with my .DOCX file. “Well-formatted” means:

  • Chapter headers are marked using Word’s “Heading 1” style. (You can customize this style so that it looks how you want it to. The important part is that the headers are flagged as headers.)
  • Each new chapter starts on its own page. It’s easiest to do this with a hard page break (which you can do by hitting Control+Enter).
  • Use 12 pt Times New Roman font. Or Courier, I guess. Courier looks awful.
  • Double-space the document.

2. Save your file as a “Web Page.”

This is under Save as > Save as Type. Select “Web Page” from the drop-down menu. This saves your manuscript as an .HTML file.

3. Open your HTML file in Calibre.

Calibre is a free-to-use program that creates EPUBs. It’s also very easy to use.

Screenshot showing a list of chapters.

Screenshot showing how Calibre has broken my story automatically into chapters.

  1. Go to Add Books. Select your HTML file.
  2. Go to Convert Books. Select “Convert Individually.”
  3. There are a lot of conversion options. You don’t have to change anything. I changed the metadata so that my story’s title and my author information were correct. Then I hit “OK.”
  4. Give it a few seconds to convert.
  5. Right-click your newly created story. Select “Edit Book.”

Now you can change whatever you want. If you marked all your headers correctly in Word, your book should already be organized into chapters, just like the screenshot to the right.

If you want to add a table of contents, you can add it by going to Tools > Table of Contents > Insert inline Table of Contents.

Calibre will add its own generic cover page. You can change that if you want. I don’t have custom art (and I’m not going to make any for beta readers), but I didn’t like the default cover, so I went to the title page slide and deleted the “SVG” tags and everything inside them.

I didn’t do anything special in Calibre. I find it’s much easier to do all the special formatting in Word. You can make changes to your novel in Calibre, but it requires some knowledge of HTML/XHTML.

And that’s it! Now you’ve got one shiny new EPUB, ready for all your non-professional needs.

This was in last week’s Guide to Literary Agents newsletter:

The Top 10 Worst Types of Critique Partners | WritersDigest.com.

Oh man. It’s amusing, because many of these tropes apply to getting anyone, anywhere to read your novels, but… It’s also kind of fascinating, because I’ve never actually attended an in-person critique group for creative writing. (I mean, I’ve done group reviews in Journalism classes, but that’s different. People read stuff differently when they’re being graded on their ability to edit than they do when they’re trying to give open and free feedback on a novel.)

Now and then I’ve thought about finding a creative writing critique group in real life and… It just never happens. It’s just way easier to stick to my LiveJournal community.

I know I’ve already mentioned this a few times. I’m going to mention it again, because now it’s actually timely.

The Fire in Fiction, by Donald Maass is such a lovely book. I love it to death. I need to get a non e-book version one of these days, because then I could actually flip through it without having to hit five zillion buttons on my first-generation Nook.

I’ve been thinking about it recently because it’s a book about making your writing more powerful. It talks about adding more tension, editing your words for impact, writing better descriptions, and otherwise “punching up” your writing. It’s also written with the assumption that you already have a finished manuscript.

So it’s pretty well perfect for folks who are editing. And now I’m torn! I really want to read it again. But I also really just want to edit. I got nearly nothing done during my trip last week. I need to do more! I have to catch up!

But at the very least, I should make time to skim the chapters and re-read a few of the topics I’m terrible at. It’s certainly better than editing now, reading later, and then having a brilliant idea about how to improve my scene-setting.

Of course, finding time to read is a challenge in itself. That is probably the one and only reason I occasionally miss having to ride a bus for 40 minutes every day.