The first afternoon of the SCWW Annual Conference in Myrtle Beach was just as informative as the first morning. After a delicious lunch enjoyed while overlooking the beautiful Atlantic Ocean, I attended a session by David Coe, award winner and author of twelve books. In case you haven’t heard of him, he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe. Quick, energetic, and informative, Coe offered some suggestions for editing one’s own work and then gave several recommendations for writing in general.

When writing, sometimes it’s hard to tell whether your work is any good or not because you’re so close to it. Stepping away from your writing for a while is a good recommendation, but when you’re actually in the rereading and reviewing stage, there are other things you can try. Here are three of Coe’s recommendations:

  • Role play. Coe puts himself into someone else’s shoes, someone like an editor or a friend, and sees things like they do. I thought that was a great idea and one that I already practice. I often find myself thinking, “Ann would catch that,” or, “Doug would say something about those gerunds.”
  • Go back and read an older piece that you’ve written and look for all your warts or bad habits as a writer. Then go back and read some of your new stuff. This practice will not only help you see how you’ve developed, but it will also show whether you’re still doing some of the same things. I have a tendency to be a bit wordy (would you have guessed that?), and I’m working on that. It’s hard. Last week, two members of my writing group suggested that I scratch out the entire first sentence of a piece they were critiquing. And you know what? They were right.
  • Step into role of professional editor and act like you’re him or her. Just like an editor would do, tell yourself the good things about your work and then be honest in spotting all the things you need to do to get the manuscript where it needs to be.

In addition to the above editing recommendations, Coe presented the following beneficial tips, also known as do’s and don’t’s:

  • Don’t overwork the manuscript. A book is never perfect. Sometimes you have to let it go.
  • “Adverbs are a part of speech and people can use them intelligently. I just did,” Coe said.
  • It’s not a good idea to start a book with a dream.
  • Change chapters if you’re changing point of view. No head hopping.
  • Use said unless you’re talking about volume, and in that case you can use whispered or mumbled or something.
  • Exposition slows things down and dialogue moves it along. We like eavesdropping and dialogue allows us to do that.
  • Short fiction sales are really the way to go. You’re working on stuff and getting it ready for novel.
  • Get “street cred.” It shows that somebody paid you and that you can finish what you start.
  • Nobody can really teach you how to write. The MFA isn’t going to make you a writer but will show you some stuff.

I left the session thinking of some material I needed to edit using David Coe’s suggestions and wondering what I could do to get street creds. I’m still pondering his recommendations and have put most into practice.

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