Today we are interviewing Sandy Tritt of Inspiration for Writers, Inc.
Gail: Good morning, Sandy.
Sandy: Good morning, Gail.
Gail: What can you tell us about Inspiration for Writers, Inc.?
Sandy: IFW is my heartbeat. We’ve been in business since 1999, and, at first, “we” consisted of “me.” Now we’ve grown and we have twelve editors and writers onboard. We’re different than most editing companies because we never bid on projects or give projects to the highest bidder. Instead, I handpick the editor best qualified to work on each project.
Gail: What genres do you edit?
Sandy: Just about anything! Our editors have quite the variety of backgrounds. Jimmy Carl is a retired Marine Corps Sergeant Major and university professor. He has an EdD in history. After three tours in Vietnam, he’s a great resource for war scenes. Charlotte Firbank-King is the author of fourteen books, most of which are historical romance. She’s also a world-renowned artist. Rhonda has a background in medicine (as well as a master’s of fine arts in creative writing). Sherry teaches creative writing both online and locally. And on and on. Our editors represent every age group and cover every genre. We live or have lived in five different countries. We all give workshops. We’ve all been published.
Gail: I wanted to interview you because of a blog you posted on the Inspiration for Writers, Inc., site. Is it okay for me to print that here?
Gail: Then we can finish up with the rest of your questions.
Sandy: Thank you.
GRRR . . .
And Sandy frowned. In one page–in approximately 250 words–the characters in this manuscript have smiled seven times, laughed four, grinned twice, and frowned once. Oh, and between all that smiling and laughing, there were four sighs. FOUR SIGHS! (Not counting the ones coming from me).
And, no, these characters were not in the audience of Saturday Night Live, David Letterman, or any other show. They were eating dinner and discussing a recent murder.
Unfortunately, this is one of the most common problems I see in manuscripts. In fact, I’d be willing to say that at least 90% of the fiction manuscripts I see overuse the common actions of smiling (always the worst offender), laughing, frowning, nodding, shaking a head, and grinning.
Most writers are not aware they do this. They’ve been told to use action, use body language. They’ve been told to cut passive verbs like was, were, is, are and so forth. They’ve been told to omit helping verbs like could have, would’ve, beginning to, starting to and so on. They dutifully have scanned their manuscript and cut back on these things.
I challenge you to do a FIND for the word “smiled.” See how many times you’ve used that word. Surprised? Try “laughed.” “Grinned.” “Frowned.” “Shook.” “Nodded.” Oh, oh, oh. One more. “Felt.”
I challenge you to replace as many as you can with more descriptive body language. First, consider the emotion this character is actually feeling. Is he bored? Joyous? Frustrated? Then, figure out a unique way to show your reader this emotion. (Or, cheat. Pick up a great book like The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi or Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Dr. Linda Edelstein). Then, have your characters scratch a mole until it bleeds or drop pieces of steak on the floor when no one is watching or polish the diamond on their rings. Or growl.
“Doing this one thing will bring your writing up to the next level,” Sandy said and smiled. “I promise.”
Gail: Thanks, Sandy.
Sandy: You’re welcome.
Gail: Shall we get to the rest of the questions?
Gail: What do you love about being an editor?
Sandy: Everything! It is my dream job. After more than 15 years in this business, I wake up each morning and think, “Yes! Another day to work!” I can’t wait to get on my computer. This company is my heartbeat. Why? First, the people. I get to work with talented people from all over the globe. So many of our clients—and all our editors—have become personal friends. Second, the work itself. Editing is a combination of everything I love doing—writing, reading, and teaching. Third, I get to hold in my hands the books my clients published. What a thrill! Fourth, did I mention the people?
Gail: What annoys you most about the publishing industry at the moment?
Sandy: I try my best never to be annoyed. So, let me put a spin on this question. What do I love about the publishing industry? That it is changing, that it is evolving, that today, writers have so many choices. Just a few years ago, there was only one way to publishing success, and that was to score a high profile literary agent who could, in turn, unlock the doors to the NYC publishing houses. But today, there are many ways writers can have publishing success. The e-book phenomenon has sprung open the doors for writers. Additionally, mid-level publishers, who were once swept to the corners, have become viable and approachable alternatives to the agent-protected Big Six. Today is a great day to be a writer.
Gail: What do you think new writers should know that they don’t seem to?
Sandy: Writing is a craft. Writing is something we get better at the more we study and the more we practice. If a writer is serious about writing, he/she will invest in his/her career—take classes, attend workshops, read books on the craft of writing, and practice. Writers conferences are a great place to meet other writers, attend workshops, and learn about what is going on in the publishing world.
Gail: What mistakes do you see new writers making?
Sandy: (laughs). When I first started editing, I found myself telling writers the same things, over and over. So, I wrote some “tip sheets” and included these in the package when I returned the manuscript (In the 1990s, editing was done through snail mail. Now, 99.8% of our edits are done through email). Eventually, I put the tip sheets on the Inspiration for Writers website. Later, I combined all the tip sheets, added in some worksheets, and created the Inspiration for Writers Tips and Techniques Workbook. I’m happy to give a free download of our e-workbook to the first ten of your readers who email me at IFWeditors@gmail.com and ask for it.
Gail: Thanks, Sandy. One last question. What kind of plot do you think has been done to death?
Sandy: Since long before Shakespeare, writers have worried about plots. Some academics say there are only three plots: man vs. man, man vs. machine, and man vs. himself. Others say there are seven. The one thing no one argues is that truly, there is a very limited number of plots. They ALL have been overdone. And, yet, at the same time, any one of them can be new all over again. What makes the difference? The writer. A skilled writer can take any plot, no matter how many times it’s been done, and make it fresh all over again by using an intriguing writer’s voice, sharp dialogue, and just plain excellent writing skills.
Gail: Thank you, Sandy. I appreciate our time here today.
Sandy: You’re welcome, Gail. It’s always a pleasure to visit with you. If any of your followers have a question for me, I’m happy to answer. Ask away! And don’t forget to email me to receive a free download of our Tips and Techniques Workbook. Thanks for having me on your site today.
Gail: My pleasure, Sandy. I have your Tips and Techniques Workbook, thank you. If it were a hard copy it would be in tatters from use. Every writer should have one!