Writing & Editing

In Praise of Editors

The launch date for Pitcher Plant is rapidly approaching, and the team at Filles Vertes Publishing has been hard at work behind the scenes. We’ll have a cover soon, and I can’t wait to show you all. We’re currently working on final edits, and it’s been a great experience. I truly believe the book will be stronger for having feedback from an editor and multiple proofreaders.

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As a writer, there comes a point in the process of writing and revision where you can no longer see your mistakes. You know the story inside and out, so you can’t see the plot holes or the need for more character development. You can’t even see when whole words are missing. You’ve read the material so much that your mind fills in the missing parts.

It’s so important to get a fresh perspective from someone who is not as familiar with the manuscript, who can spot errors. You can use spellcheck, of course, but it doesn’t catch everything. It’s easy to spell a word correctly and use the wrong word, like there versus their or your versus you’re. Editors help with other grammatical issues too, like lay versus lie. That’s one that trips me up. Whether I’m working as a writer or editor, I always have to look it up to make sure it’s correct.

You need an editor for the big issues too, like plot and the pace of the story. I know what I want to say, but am I communicating clearly? Editors can help develop a story, fleshing out the parts that seem thin, engaging readers emotionally. They can also help you with logic, consistency, and mapping out the physical movements of your characters. A great scene can be spoiled by a mistake that pulls the reader out of the story. An experienced editor looks at a story holistically and also has an eye for detail.

Essentially, an editor helps you make a story as bullet-proof as possible. I’m grateful to have that help with this new book. We release Pitcher Plant in May, and I’m so excited for you to read it. I learned a lot about the craft in the process of writing it, and I’d like to think it’s my best novel yet.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017


Tellin’ Stories

When I was a kid, my grandmother never outright accused me of lying. Instead she’d cock her head, look at me with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, and ask, “Are you tellin’ stories?” My mother’s mother had a number of endearing habits. She said the word wash like warsh and fish like feesh. Her white hair was an adorable dandelion fluff, and she wore an old-fashioned apron when she cooked, sneaking me treats. She was pretty cute when she cursed too. I’m one of those people who think it’s hilarious when elderly people say naughty words, but it wasn’t just that I found her colorful language amusing. It was because I could see her when she did it—not her as an old person, but her as a person. I remember catching glimpses of her when she was moved to a nursing home after suffering a stroke and losing most of who she had been. It was close to Valentine’s Day and she and the other residents made construction paper hearts during craft time. I asked her if she was going to give her valentine to my grandpa. “Depends on how he acts,” she said. What a character.

I suppose writing, or “tellin’ stories” is a socially acceptable form of lying. Some would argue it’s also a form of mental illness, considering all the characters who live in a writer’s head. If that’s true, I don’t want to be sane, because I’ve come to believe that the characters are always right. That is, when I let the characters take charge and drive the story, it turns out much better than my original vision. I don’t always know the ending, and sometimes my characters surprise me, but that’s when things get interesting. Sounds crazy, but it’s true.

I don’t remember when I first started telling stories, but I do know I started by telling them to myself.  Like a lot of little girls, I had dolls when I was growing up. My favorite dolls were mermaids and fairies, not Barbie. I remember going on a long road trip with my family and telling myself stories in my head, acting them out with dolls as I watched the landscape change from dry desert to green fields. I don’t remember the stories, or even where we were going, but I remember what it felt like to tell the stories, the excitement of watching a scene play out in my imagination. I had a set of Disney paper dolls—Cinderella and Prince Charming, Peter Pan and Wendy, and many more. They too played a part of my inner world, though never in their prescribed roles. I gave them different names, different relationships, different stories.

The Raven and the Sea Shell

In school I was easily bored, and after finishing my assignments, I’d draw. Most of those stories featured me and my friends on wild adventures with mythical creatures, sometimes inspired by books I’d read, sometimes inspired by dreams. I’m not embarrassed to admit I drew stories even in high school. I wasn’t the best artist, but the habit kept me entertained, and kept me out of trouble. Without those stories to sustain me, I don’t think I’d be who I am.

These days I tell stories with words rather than drawings, but the experience is much the same—losing myself in another world, seeing things through my characters’ eyes. I don’t always know where the stories come from, but I suspect they stem from a desire to escape reality. Reality is so often dreary and boring, isn’t it? Where’s the adventure in normality? Doing what everybody else is doing requires no daring.

I like to ask “what if” questions. What if stray cats were really goblins in disguise? What if sea monsters did exist? What if that seemingly benign fixer-upper really was haunted? Once I have an idea and can see the world as my characters do, the story gets rolling and the fun begins.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016


Open for Business

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You all know that writing is my passion. Books are my life. I have a book with me everywhere I go—either one I’m reading or one I’m writing. I usually have a notebook with me so I can write while I’m waiting, whether I’m in a dentist office or the auto shop.

What you may not know is I’m also passionate about helping other authors. For over a year now I’ve been contributing monthly articles on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing to BookDaily, an online organization that provides resources to authors and helps them promote their books. I’ve also served as an editor for Barking Rain Press, helping wonderful authors birth books. This spring I taught a publishing and marketing class for a local college, and I absolutely loved working with students to talk about publishing options and create personalized plans for book marketing.

Because I found these experiences to be so rewarding, I’ve decided to embark on a new adventure. I joined the Editorial Freelancers Association, and I’m opening up shop, providing editing, writing, and other services. Check out my Writing & Editing Services page if you’re interested in seeing what’s new.

I’ll still keep writing, of course, and I have quite a few ideas for new books. But, I really want to help other authors too. I know how hard it is when you’re first starting out as a writer, and I know I made a whole lot of mistakes when my first book was released and I was trying to market it. If I can, I’d like to help other authors have a smoother journey than I did.

If you’re an author needing assistance, let’s talk. I look forward to helping you.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016