Archive for January 2015

Monthly Goal Check-in

As much as I hate to admit it, 2015 has not been off to a rockin’ start. This is up to and including the fact that my first “monthly goal check-in” is five days late… but at least I didn’t tell you it was coming, so you didn’t know it was five days late until now.

On January 1st (an appropriate time!), I listed my goals for the year. I’ve also broken them down into quarterly and monthly goals. For a variety of reasons, I only do these as they approach, so I have my first quarter goals and my January and February goals, but not my third quarter or September goals.

Here’s how I did in January:

1. Read devotional through 31 January. Complete and on time. I’m not a huge fan of devotionals, but it was a Christmas present from my Mom and I want to honor her at least. Since it’s all of a page a day, it’s an easy goal to accomplish. My biggest gripe is that it’s compiled from multiple authors and they don’t even bother to use the same translation for each new passage. I think in the first 31 days I’ve seen almost every English-language translation there is.

2. Read chronological Bible through 31 January. Complete, but a few days late. Most days I was on track, but the weekend the month ended I fell slightly behind. If you’re Christian and/or curious, I highly recommend picking up a chronological Bible. You see the stories through such a different perspective, and the prophets feel more relevant inside their historical context. The one I use is in the New Living Translation, which is a less old-timey translation as well, so it feels more story-like from the get-go.

3. Join two freelance editors’ guilds/associations. Complete! I am now a member of the Northwest Independent Editors Guild and The Editorial Freelancers Association. (Yes, the lack of apostrophes bothers me.) Both come with ample job opportunities, although (and probably for the best) I’ve yet to get a job I applied for.

4. Contact three seminaries about editing. Two out of three ain’t bad. Some of you know that my main freelance work in the past has come from doctoral dissertations for a local seminary. I’m hoping to expand beyond this one seminary in the future. I sent one cold email (in retrospect probably a bad idea) and contacted one of my editing clients who works at a separate seminary.

5. Create a blog post calendar and use it. Technically complete. However, having the calendar isn’t necessarily aiding me as of yet. It mostly just makes me anxious when posts I planned aren’t ready yet (I’m looking at you, unfinished Taylor Swift series). I’m working on being more efficient with my writing time so this will be less of an issue.

6. Publish 5+ blog entries. Blew this one out of the water and published 10 posts, 8 of them actual blogs.

7. Type and edit WIP through about 3/4 through. Big miss here. I only have about 40 pages complete, and I needed just about 100. I’ll get there, though… eventually.

8. Finish dissertation editing on time. Complete. Sort of. We’ll go with yes, because the “sort of” is a long story.

9. Read three books that qualify for my book-reading challenge. Two out of three is still not bad. Especially considering dissertation editing ended up going on longer than I’d budgeted for. I read “Blood of a Stone” by Jeanne Gassman (full review coming soon!) and “Looking for Alaska” by John Green. Coolest thing about LfA? The characters are my age! That is, they were juniors 10 years ago when the book came out, and so was I. So that was pretty nifty. I also got to share the reading experience with a girl I mentor, who’d already read it.

Analyzing Taylor Swift Part Two: The Successes

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Analyzing Taylor Swift

A long time ago, like right after I graduated from high school, a 16-year-old had her first country hit. Even way back then, she was breaking the rules: she broke into the business with a song whose title was the name of another country star. And Tim McGraw was a hit. Here’s the second verse and chorus.

September saw a month of tears
And thankin’ God that you weren’t here
To see me like that
But in a box beneath my bed
Is a letter that you never read
From three summers back
It’s hard not to find it all a little bitter sweet
And lookin’ back on all of that, it’s nice to believe

When you think Tim McGraw
I hope you think my favorite song
The one we danced to all night long
The moon like a spotlight on the lake
When you think happiness
I hope you think that little black dress
Think of my head on your chest
And my old faded blue jeans
When you think Tim McGraw
I hope you think of me

Taylor Swift over the years

Her image evolved over the years, but she still writes songs about the same thing. Take a look at these lyrics from her song Wildest Dreams, off of 1989:

Nothing lasts forever, but this is gonna take me down
He’s so tall and handsome as hell
He’s so bad but he does it so well
I can see the end as it begins
My one condition is

Say you’ll remember me standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset
Red lips and rosy cheeks, say you’ll see me again even if it’s just in your wildest dreams oh wildest dreams

She’s still writing songs, asking boys/men to remember her in a certain way. Some of it hasn’t even changed—wearing a nice dress, surrounded by nature. Some of it has—faded blue jeans are now red lips and rosy cheeks. There are minor changes that you’d expect when going from 16 to 24 (the second is much more adult in content, without being explicit by any means), but the biggest change is her sound.

She’s switched from country music, with longer verses and more explicit stories, to a minimalist approach to pop songs. You can see the change above, from complete sentences to fragmented thoughts. She says the same thing, essentially, in fewer words. In eight years, she’s certainly learned how to revise.

No matter the genre, the same things make her songs amazing: apt metaphors, and the perfect blend of universality with concrete details to create songs that are real for her and true for everyone. Let’s take a look at some of her standout lyrics from over the years, and what makes them work.

From 2006’s “Tied Together With a Smile”

I guess it’s true that love was all you wanted
Cause you’re giving it away like it’s extra change
Hoping it will end up in his pocket
But he leaves you out like a penny in the rain
Oh, cause it’s not his price to pay

Talk about a beautiful metaphor, seriously. The way she develops the metaphor throughout the verse is perfect. She uses cliche after cliche, but because of the way she’s building on a singular metaphor, they absolutely work. Beyond the brilliant metaphor, the verse is also both specific and universal. The metaphor itself is full of specific actions (“you give it away,” “he leaves you out”) that are about the protagonist, and yet the protagonist is going through something completely universal—being so desperate for love that you devalue both it and yourself in the process.

From 2008’s “White Horse”

This ain’t Hollywood, this is a small town,
I was a dreamer before you went and let me down,
Now it’s too late for you and your white horse to come around

In the last post, we mentioned her obsession with fairy tells. The fairy tale metaphor is obvious here, and it helps build a context that is bigger than the words she uses. The metaphor of “you and your white horse” immediately conjures an image of a princely figure, condescending to rescue Taylor. At the same time, we have the concrete details of the small town, Taylor as a dreamer, and how the princely figure let her down. Not everyone is in her small town, but her contrasting it with Hollywood helps make it universal. And the middle line? What obsolete child doesn’t relate to that?

From 2010’s “Sparks Fly”

The way you move is like a full on rainstorm
And I’m a house of cards
You’re the kind of reckless
That should send me runnin’
But I kinda know that I won’t get far
And you stood there in front of me
Just close enough to touch
Close enough to hope you couldn’t see
What I was thinking of

I had such a hard time choosing from Speak Now. I think it’s her best-written album. But this first verse for Sparks Fly captures everything. It starts out with an amazing metaphor. The image of a rainstorm wrecking a house of cards is vivid. It plays to at least three senses (sight, hearing, touch), and it is apt to the kind of crazy relationship the rest of the song details. She moves into specifics of the situation again—standing in front close enough to touch—and ends with a universal emotion. Who isn’t scared that the person they’re falling in love with could read their thoughts?

From 2012’s “All Too Well”

Oh, your sweet disposition and my wide-eyed gaze.
We’re singing in the car, getting lost Upstate.
Autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place,
And I can picture it after all these days.

Taylor never lets up. Technically this metaphor is a simile, but it’s a beautiful one. In this lyric piece, she starts with the concrete details, moves into a simile, and ends by bringing us back to relating to her. I’ve never been Upstate (I’ve never been to New York at all), but I remember several dates in this kind of detail: from the way we looked at each other, to the weather and the seasons, and it doesn’t matter that I’ve been in a relationship with my husband for six years. I can picture it after all these days.

From 2014’s “Out of the Woods”

Your necklace hanging from my neck
The night we couldn’t quite forget
When we decided
To move the furniture so we could dance,
Baby, like we stood a chance
Two paper airplanes flying.

This is by far my favorite lyric from 1989. In her extremely specific second verse, she details something I have never experienced: wearing a lover’s necklace, moving furniture, and dancing together in December (mentioned earlier in the verse). But it doesn’t matter. Because she is basically saying, “Remember that one night when we acted like a normal couple who didn’t have all the problems we have?” And “two paper airplanes flying” gives me chills with how perfectly it describes that feeling.

Yes, Taylor, you are.

Yes, Taylor, you are.

Taylor Swift Series:

Part 1 — The Process
Part 2 — The Successes
Part 3 — The Mistakes
Part 4 — Where the Analogy Falls Apart

Analyzing Taylor Swift Part One: The Process

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Analyzing Taylor Swift


This series has been a long time coming, put off by NaNoWriMo, freelance editing, and life, which tends to get in the way of the kind of research this series needed. So, without further ado, and several months late, I present to you the first in my series of posts analyzing Taylor Swift.

Taylor Swift

So T. Swizzle has a thing about wanting people to buy physical copies of her albums. My foray into minimalism is against this, but I did it anyway. The deluxe version. Why? Mostly because she’s a brilliant marketer and included something for everyone in her Target-exclusive edition. Polaroids with handwritten lyrics on them. Three bonus tracks. And, the selling point for me, three more bonus tracks that were just voice memos from her phone showing how the songwriting process works for her.

Like I’ve talked about before, songwriting was the first kind of writing I fell in love with, and my songs (while probably not as good and definitely not as profitable) were Taylor-esque in style. I went through an obsession with fairy tale references in my songs about the same time she did. Like hers, my songs got edgier as I grew up. While I never used a person’s name in my song (No “Dear John” or “Hey Stephen” for me), like her, almost every song I wrote was based on real life, and then exaggerated. (Yes, I’m certain most of her songs are exaggerated in one way or another. She seeks to capture feelings rather than details.)

So I bought her album the week it came out. I refused to listen to the CD in order. Instead, I listened to the first voice memo, then the song it became. Then the second memo and its song, then the third. That right there was worth the list price and more to me, and now it’s time to dig in.

Let’s talk about one of the most brilliant songs she’s ever written.

That’s right: Blank Space.

Blank Space

The voice memo for this song is just Taylor and her guitar, pitching the song to the producers. She said they record everything on their phones when they’re putting a song together “just in case one of us blurts out a cool melody and then forgets about it.”

Here are the lyrics as she plays it:

Nice to meet you, where you been?
I could show you incredible things.
Diamonds, seasides, [unintelligible]

Oh my God, [gibberish]
[gibberish] I do, too

[something that sounds like ‘All you think I’ve got is time’]

Oh my God [gibberish]
What you heard about me
Don’t believe what you hear about me
Hear about me

Cause it’s gonna be forever
Or we’re gonna go down in flames
You can tell me when it’s over
Got a long list of ex-lovers
They’ll tell you I’m insane
But I got a blank space baby–I’ll write your name.

So if you don’t know the song already, well… go watch the music video. I’ll wait. Obviously, the first and second verses changed a lot. She also changed the chorus, and made it longer. Plus, who can forget the “boys only want love if it’s torture” bridge?

Only if it's torture

The first draft of this song is a lot like the final, and yet not at all. She went from her original idea of showing the boy concrete incredible things to things much more suitable to her theme of “crazy serial dater strikes again”–not diamonds or seasides but “Magic, madness, heaven, sin.” The melody in the first draft doesn’t really change, but there is a lot added to it from just the “girl with her guitar” that the voice memo is.

Blank Space is credited as written by Taylor Swift, Max Martin, and Shellback. People who don’t understand how songwriting works have gotten upset that Taylor Swift “no longer writes her own songs.”

Because I Write Songs

Because I Write Songs

It’s important to remember how much shorter songs are than novels. At only 3-ish minutes, and usually 100-something words, every word and every second counts. Contribute a recognizable drum beat or riff? You’re credited as co-writer. Change one word of one line? Co-writer. There are no “acknowledgements” sections for individual songs. And so few people see the credits for each song anyway, now that most music is streamed or bought digitally.

If the same rules about crediting applied to novel editing, I’d be on the front cover of every book I’ve ever worked on, and some I’ve barely touched. I’ve contributed phrases and sentences, helped with ideas for sub-plots or motifs, even once helped rework an entire main plot. Novel writing is different. A single turn of phrase is not going to make or break the success of a novel the same way it might in songwriting. Even if an author uses my idea for reworking a plot, it still isn’t my story, because the way it’s told belongs uniquely to them.

By the time a book is complete, it’s likely that more than a dozen people have had some say in how it’s shaped. From the spouse or best friend who is there for brainstorming, to two or three critique partners, to a beta reader or two, an agent, a main editor, a copy editor, a proofreader… Not to mention the cover designer. And, credited or not, cover designs have a lot to do with how well a book sells.

While crediting co-creators is vastly different between the two, songs and novels are written in a similar way. Just on a very different scale. For Taylor,

  • First she sits alone at her piano or her guitar and messes around with an idea. A melody, a turn of phrase, a concept–she’s said several times that different things spark her songs and that’s what keeps her loving songwriting.
  • Then she plays it in a raw form (note the voice memo for I Know Places, which I’ve discussed elsewhere) for some trusted friends who happen to be producers and they help her move forward with completing it.
  • Finally, it’s recorded: polished, with more instruments and background tracks and layers.
  • When it’s ready, she can’t wait to share it with her closest friends who just happen to be in her industry (I’m looking at you Ed, Lorde, Jack…)
  • Then, months later, it’s released into the wild.

Is that really so different than a novelist’s

  • first draft
  • beta reads and critique partners,
  • the publisher’s editing process,
  • and our ARCs, blog fests, and retweets
  • leading up to publication?

Not so different

Taylor Swift Series:

Part 1 — The Process
Part 2 — The Successes
Part 3 — The Mistakes
Part 4 — Where the Analogy Falls Apart

Participate in NaNo 2014?

I’m offering a 40% discount to anyone who includes a link to their NaNo project page when you contact me before February 28, 2015.

Offer applies to work completed between February and September 2015, so don’t worry if your project isn’t quite ready yet. Reserve your spot for any time between now and the end of September!

Playing Snake

A few weeks ago, I went out with the 14-year-old girls I mentor for coffee. While we were there, we got to talking about games on our phone and I mentioned how when I first got a cell phone, the only game we had was Snake.

They looked at me, confused. “What’s Snake?”

So I did what any older Millennial would do: I went onto my phone and downloaded an app for it.


Screenshot of Snake ’97 on my smartphone.

Since I try to keep my cell phone relatively free from distractions (even my cell phone is minimalist), it is the only game I currently have on there. Even after I explained the game to them, I kept it and play from time to time.

Unlike the Snake I played as a teenager, I have various boards and cell phone layouts to choose from. My favorite board has soft edges: the snake can travel from the right side of the screen through to the same spot on the left. From the top to the same spot on the bottom.

Literally the only way to die is to run into yourself.

And I got to thinking this week, as I faced the busiest work week of my regular job, and the busiest freelance dissertation season I’ve ever had, all while being my first January as a mother.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, pellets appear on the screen. You “eat” them, and for every one you eat, the snake becomes longer. It moves in the same path you’ve already designated, and your goal is not to run into yourself as you seek more pellets.

Beating Snake

This week especially, it felt like an apt metaphor for the way we live. We take on thing after thing after thing, trying to remember all our commitments, trying not to let them run into each other. Every day becomes this balancing act, trying to press the buttons fast enough to keep you from dropping everything and losing it all. Except in our real-life versions, the pellets don’t show up one at a time. They show up all at once, begging us from all angles to add thing after thing to our already monstrous to-do lists.

I mentioned in my goals for 2015 post that my “word” for the year is intentionality. I want to be intentional about what items get added to my to-do list. As the year continues, I want to make sure I’m living out this word: looking at the things I agree to do and making sure that I can do them. Not in 70-hour work weeks, either, but in reasonable chunks that leave me time to relax, to read, and to spend time with the people who matter most to me.

Less than three weeks into January, I have already started this process and I can’t wait to share all the exciting changes I have coming up this year.

In what ways do you feel like that snake, chasing its tail and spending your time just trying not to get in your own way? How do you overcome it?

LitTube: 5 Reasons Why YouTube Adaptations Are Taking Over the Internet

A few days ago, I watched the latest episode on Pemberley Digital’s YouTube channel. It was a Draw My Life video, which, based on meme history, is about two years late to the game. But no matter, it still amassed tens of thousands of views in just one day. Why? Because the person drawing her life was Amy March, youngest of four daughters.

March Family Letters, Draw My Life

First, a history lesson. Pemberley Digital became a company because of one of Hank Green’s crazier ideas: making a YouTube adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Because he’s Hank Green, and even his craziest ideas become viable cultural phenomena (VidCon is another of his brainchildren), The Lizzie Bennet Diaries changed the landscape of YouTube. One hundred and fifty-nine episodes and just under a year later, Lizzie Bennet, a poor graduate student who can’t stand the young CEO of Pemberley Digital, William Darcy, had 250,000 subscribers, an Emmy, and a string of imitations. Read More →

Terrible Titles Tag

I was tagged by the awesome Leandra Wallace to participate in the Terrible Titles Blog Hop. The rules are to pull up your manuscript and randomly stop while scrolling through. Whatever words/phrases your cursor has landed on will become your eight terrible titles.

1. Back in Time

2. Trekking through the Forest

3. But We Just Did That!

4. Jokes about Cameras

5. Roughly by My Elbow

6. Maybe We Can Win

7. Gray Halo

8. Something about Dying

I think number 5 wins for the worst of the bunch. Number 8 is like a horoscope of my book: so vague it works. I’m fairly certain most books are something about dying. Number 4 is my favorite, but number 7 is good, too. Number 7 doesn’t win because I could imagine a book with that title, which sort of ruins the point. What do you think?

I tag Karyne Norton and Sarah Ahiers to participate. 🙂

Zen and the Art of Revision

I’ve pointed out before that I’m a fan of minimalism, and working on becoming a minimalist. A while ago, I found this old blog post by Miss Minimalist (who doesn’t blog regularly herself anymore) about creating space. It compares minimizing your possessions with art. Today I want to take her example and compare your art with minimizing your possessions.

Here’s a few tips on how to put some space between your notes:

1. Start with a clean slate. It’s often easier to compose from scratch than fix something that’s flawed. So when you’re decluttering your closet, your living room, or your schedule, empty everything out of it first. Then, put back only those possessions (or activities) that you cherish the most.

When I finished my NaNoWriMo draft of my WIP, I exported it to my Kindle and read the whole thing twice, the second time taking notes on what was already there and what needed fixed.

Now, as I create my second draft, I opened a blank word document, opened my Kindle, and began typing. I now have to question every word I originally wrote and put back only the ones that are doing their job.

astass / Pixabay

2. Lose the “filler.” Every item in your home, and task in your day, should contribute something of value to your life. If something does nothing more than take up space, give it the heave-ho. Filling your living room with extra tchotchkes is like putting extra notes into Clair de Lune.

Right now I’m struggling with the second scene in my book. The way it’s written now is 100% backstory. It’s like filling my living room with stuff I never use. During my read-through, I came up with a way to make it useful, but there is a lot of filler that has to go. Some of it is filler that I enjoy, filler I remember writing, that I think adds to the ambiance of the story. It’s time to realize what is ambiance and what is clutter.

Something’s gotta give

3. Put everything in its place. A melody depends on every note being in the right place. Similarly, having designated spots for all your things makes your daily life much more harmonious.

One of the most annoying things about revision for me right now is that it’s a dual narrative. I have the antagonist and the protagonist’s perspectives on different timelines. Deciding when to insert the antagonist’s mini-chapters is agonizing for me. Finding where “in its place” is will be one of the hardest parts of this revision, and I’m still not sure if I’ll get it right.

Magnascan / Pixabay

My services and pricing have been updated. The upper-limit cost for line editing has been dropped, and I’ve added a comprehensive edit/developmental edit service at the former upper limit for line editing ($0.03 per word). My proofreading price has been changed to $0.005 per word.

I also lowered and clarified my academic editing pricing and services. Editing dissertation content will now be at a standard per-word rate. Formatting will be provided as well, but charged by the hour. It’s now possible to opt out of either type of editing, but both are included by default.

Alexis’s First Christmas

Since Michael asked (that is, informed me that our friendship was over until this happened), here is evidence of Alexis’s first Christmas.