Science via Magic—Meeting Jane Goodall

Earlier this week, I was thrilled to meet Jane Goodall. After her inspiring talk at the University of Rhode Island, I lined up with hundreds of others to have her sign a copy of her book, Reason for Hope, and have my photo taken with her. 


But it was not the first time we had met.  


Some people have asked me to tell how this came about, so here goes:

1.       It was 1992, I was living in Tokyo, and one day, I saw a flyer in the supermarket (this was before the Internet) saying that Jane Goodall was coming to speak. I was disappointed I couldn’t go.

2.       As well as teaching English, I babysat for expat families. A few days later, on the bookshelf in one home, I saw books by Goodall, all signed with personal messages.

3.       When the parents got home, I asked about the books and said Jane Goodall had always been my hero.

4.       “We’re friends with her. In fact, she’s coming to stay with us tomorrow. Would you like to meet her?”

It has always felt so magical that I was in just the right place at the right time. I went there for an extended afternoon tea, and Jane invited me to come back the next day. So, I did. She is even lovelier one-on-one than she appears on the screen.   

At that point in my life, I was struggling to find my way. Her generosity in helping me sort through some stuff and point myself in the general right direction was no less than life-changing. I came away from the experience clutching two promises, determined I’d fulfill them.

The first promise I fulfilled within a couple of years. I’ve been living it ever since, though it has certainly had its trials. But her example helped me give myself permission to follow my dream. (Back then, I thought I knew what my dream was, but felt I should probably do something more conventional first. I inexpertly expressed “conventional” as a degree in archaeology, living in Japan, then a stint in outdoor education, before I knuckled down and worked in restaurants while pursuing that long-desired career in kid-lit.)

But finding my way to keeping the second promise, which required further exploring the first promise, has taken me along winding paths, brushing past the obvious as I hurtled into various dead-ends. That was until earlier this year when I knew I was finally fulfilling it. (Isn’t it funny how something can be staring you in the face all along but be so difficult to truly grasp—until you’re suddenly ready?) To say I’ve been longing for some years to tell Jane how grateful I am—especially for the promises that have steered my life’s course—is an understatement. So, it seems quite magical that I should be given that rare chance and with such perfect timing.  

But I’m just one person affected by my experiences with her. Jane’s extraordinary empathy and spirit continue to touch so many apes—both the chimpanzees and us human apes. I hope you’ll watch her talk at URI.

Check out and consider supporting The Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots.

And my second promise? Well, I'll just say it has led me to my work on the SNOWBIRDS Transect research cruise, my illustration of Volcano Dreams by Janet Fox (coming next year from Web of Life Children’s Books), and my new science, art, and adventure blog

Thanks for reading.

And thank you, Jane.

New Year's Editing Special Discount

As I do every year, I am offering a 20% discount to celebrate the New Year. There are a limited number of spots, so I encourage you to take advantage of this big discount before they’re all taken!

•Includes picture books, chapter books, MG, YA, and material for adults including novels, memoirs, and nonfiction. Applies to my other services including critiques, book design and layout, and art direction. Does not apply to illustration.
•Contract must be signed and 50% deposit on quoted amount paid by Jan 15, 2017.
•You have until March 15, 2017 (or later if desired) to prepare/revise your manuscript. While you may submit your MS earlier than March 15, my work may not commence prior to that date. 
•All quotes will be based on the total word count and a sample of the work (full manuscript for picture books; the first 5-10 pages for longer manuscripts). 
•Any discrepancy between the contracted word count and/or the level of editing will be adjusted on the contract and the balance due adjusted accordingly at the time of submission. (For example, if you contracted for a 10,000-word manuscript, but your MS ends up being 8,000 words, your balance owing will be reduced. If you contracted for copyediting but then need developmental/substantive editing, your balance owed will be adjusted upwards accordingly.)
•Other conditions apply as per my regular contract, which I am happy to provide for perusal.

Please click on the Contact tab.

Regarding Class & Crit Groups

Last night was the final class of my picture book writing course, which is always a little bittersweet. You get attached to people’s stories and the personalities who created them. The final night always feels like my last opportunity to equip them with all they’ll need as they step from the safety of the class environment into the wider world of publishing. We talked about interpreting rejection letters and how to deal with their sting, and we watched the interview with Kate diCamillo embedded in my Rejection blog post.

This year, the course went from 8 weeks to 12, which pleased me to no end. I was thrilled to spend not just one but three weeks delving deeper into narrative structure—very well-spent time laying a solid foundation for a strong manuscript. Extra weeks also allowed me to try a number of new activities and exercises, which was great fun for me and, I hope, beneficial for them.

It was also quite wonderful to spend extra time with such an engaged, supportive, talented, and lovely group with a wide variety of stories. I will miss it. We also discussed things they felt they’d miss about the class environment, which we developed into a list of qualities we think are important in a critique group:

Most of those are likely self-explanatory, but “awareness of wider stuff” means learning more about the world and ourselves by exploring each other’s work, which is just what we set out to help children do, isn’t it? It was a really thoughtful addition to our list.

And “sharing the crazy”? Well, maybe that’s the most important part. It is for me, anyway. Having real friends and a support team who truly understand why we started—and then continue—this inspiring, maddening, manic, rejection-filled, brilliant journey without us ever having to explain it or plead its case. Kindred folk who “get” it. Our people.

Did we miss anything from our list? What would you add or highlight?

I want to end by saying to my latest batch of Rizzies, thank you, it’s been such a pleasure. 

Working With a Freelance Editor—Part 2, the Process

If you missed Part 1 last week, it is here

You’ve chosen an editor, agreed to the level of service, signed the contract, and paid a deposit…

…What happens next?

Your editor is ready to get to work!

What do I need to do?

You need to supply the manuscript plus any other material requested by the editor such as a query letter or synopsis. Most editors work electronically, so you will likely email your document as an attachment. 

Most editors use Microsoft Word. It has advanced editing features that allow us to markup or redline the manuscript, so you can see exactly what we have cut, moved, or tweaked. It also allows us to highlight text and insert comments. (In rare circumstances, I’ve also had to wield a red pen and some traditional editing marks on an actual hard copy of a manuscript. Word makes it so much easier for everyone.)

Once you have emailed your manuscript as a Word document (or compatible RTF), take a deep breath! Then sit back and pat yourself on the back for finishing this draft, for having the courage to put it into editor’s hands, and for being a writer!   

Do I need to be available?

Do check your email now and then in case the editor is trying to get in touch with you. Communication delays can cause a slow-down. But as I said in Part 1, your editor may need little contact with you as they are working.

I sometimes ask the client a question while I’m editing, but I usually don’t. I do update the client on my progress at some point during the project and give them a brief, general idea of what issues I’m finding, so they know what to expect when I return the completed project. The client is always able to contact me during the process, and I respond quickly.

How does the editing process work?

I can’t speak for other editors, but unless it’s a children’s picture book, I don’t read the entire manuscript before I start editing. I'm going to describe the developmental + copyediting  process (which I call "full editing")

First pass—the tracked copy:

The first thing I do is format the manuscript correctly for submission to traditional publishers or literary agents (unless the client specifies differently). As well as making the manuscript look professional, it provides me with something standard and easy to read. You can imagine that, when you read all day long to catch errors, things like double-spaced text make a big difference.

Then I start to read. When I reach an “issue” or something that makes me pause, I determine the problem and then deal with it. “Dealing with it” could be inserting a comma where it’s needed, or it could mean pointing out that we’re on page five but haven’t met the protagonist yet. It could be correcting their/there/they’re, or it could be pointing out where the narration has head-hopped into another character’s POV. You get the picture—there’s a wide spectrum of potential issues that editors providing both developmental editing and copyediting watch out for.

I do both the developmental editing and the copyediting at the same time. But my approach varies a little for each manuscript. Some writers are great storytellers, but their grammatical skills are not as strong. Some writers are great with language but have trouble with their storytelling. So I might necessarily put more focus on copyediting and language on the first pass, or I might focus more on narrative and character development. It depends where the manuscript’s initial strengths lie.

But on my first pass, I always aim to capture my initial impressions, as if I were a reader picking it up from the shelf, so my comments on the first pass are spontaneous first reactions. I try not to overthink it.

Developmental comments:

The comments I embed in a manuscript could be about any number of things:

  • to explain why I have edited something
  • to suggest better wording choices

  • to highlight a technical issue such as an awkward shift in POV

  • to discuss a big picture issue such as one pertaining to narrative arc

  • to explain grammar

  • to provide links to helpful blog posts and instructional material

  • to say “This is great!”

  • etc.

I always aim to teach the writer as they go and may include instructional comments where needed.

Sometimes, when something is an issue but I haven’t quite determined why, I’ll simply bold a section of text and come back to it again on my next pass. Sometimes I highlight pivotal moments in the narrative in order to easily find them later. These are markers for me, and I’m sure other editors have different styles, triggers, and tricks that help them do their jobs.

The tracked (marked up, red-line) copy of the manuscript can look like a mess and be difficult for someone unfamiliar with tracked changes to read, but it will give you a sense of what was done.

Here is a fictitious page showing the tracking (copyediting and developmental editing) with embedded developmental comments.

"Fermentation" time: Once I have finished my first pass, I like to let the story sit for a few days. It’s amazing how many narrative issue I’ve worked out while walking my dog or packing the dishwasher. No doubt the writers among you have found that letting your project sit for a little while allows you to come back and see it with a fresh eye and greater perspective. 

Second (and subsequent) pass(es)the clean copy: When fermentation is complete, I take the edited manuscript, accept all the changes (so there is no longer any tracking), and save it as a new document called the “clean” copy.

Then I start all over again. At this stage, I do further copyediting, proofreading, and adding of developmental comments (as many times as needed) until the manuscript is fully proofed and I’m completely happy with any comments I’ve made.

Some food for thought: Until an editor has reached the end of the story, she can’t properly edit its beginning. It’s one of several reasons a single pass is never enough.

Here is a clean copy. Comments or explanations about things I have taken care of have been removed, the copyediting changes have been accepted and further copyediting done. The text has been proofed, plus there are extra developmental comments.  

Critique, critique notes, and reports: Developmental editors often provide additional feedback in the form of a full critique/report or detailed critique notes. Mine also include writing instruction relevant to the client’s needs. If you contract for a critique or additional notes, clarify with your editor what you can expect to receive. At minimum, a critique will likely discuss the big picture and give you an overview of the main issues.

What will I receive?

Most editors who also provide copyediting will return two copies of your manuscript:

  • a tracked (marked up/redline) copy of your original manuscript
  • a clean, fully edited copy
  • plus a critique or critique notes, if you have contracted for them

If you have supplied other material for editing, such as a synopsis or query letter, then you should receive tacked and clean copies of those also.

Book Editing Associates clients also receive a feedback form, so they can provide direct feedback to the Network Coordinator.

Again, not all editors have an identical process, so make sure you know what to expect before you sign the contract.

Can I ask questions afterwards?

Yes, absolutely! An editor should be happy to provide answers to reasonable requests for clarification. However, don’t expect the editor to reread your revised manuscript; there should be a clause in the contract that says whether the contract includes any reading or editing of revisions.

Why can’t you do the copyediting and proofreading portion of the contract after I’ve revised?

I answer this question as someone who is both a developmental editor and a copyeditor. Be aware that some developmental editors do not provide copyediting, and if you work with one, consider hiring a separate copyeditor later in the process. 

For me, there is no clear line between some aspects of heavy copyediting and light developmental editing. It’s just easiest and best for my process to do both at once. This yields the strongest project for the client. In fact, when I quote for developmental editing and copyediting, I don’t charge extra for the copyediting and proofreading. It’s just part of my developmental editing process.

Also, there are no guarantees your book will be ready for final copyediting and proofing (that is, almost ready to publish) after one revision. And it’s not something an editor can know in advance.

When you're ready, we can always set up a new contract for these services.

Why can’t you quote for multiple rounds of editing in one contract?

Every writer is different. Every writer revises differently. It’s impossible for an editor to know how many rounds of editing you’ll need to achieve a submission-ready or publication-ready manuscript. We could quote you for four and find you only need two, or vice versa. 

After your revision, you may choose to contract with the editor again for another round of editing, which the vast majority of my clients do. Clients return for subsequent rounds of full editing (developmental editing + copyediting) then copyediting/proofing when the manuscript is nearing publication-readiness.

Will my book be ready-to-publish when I get it back?

It depends, and ultimately, you’re in charge of when you upload (if you’re self-publishing) or when you submit (if you’re seeking traditional publication). But one of the biggest mistakes writers—particularly newer writers—make is a lack of revision. Consider:

  • Are you a beginner writer, or is it early in your writing journey, and is this your first round of editing? Probably you’ll need to keep learning and revising before your book is ready for publication.
  • Have you been revising your book for some time, and is it at the final proofreading stage according to your editor? Then yes, your book is most likely publication- or submission-ready. If not, your editor should inform you and suggest your next steps.

I think I can safely speak for other dedicated developmental editors when I say we are absolutely on your side. We know you are giving us a piece of yourself that has filled you with the breath of inspiration, which you have fawned over, hated, then loved again, sacrificed for, and labored to give birth to. We get it. (Many of us are writers, too.) We love words. We love stories. We love books and art. And we are devoted to helping you bring your vision to be the best that it can possibly be. That’s just what we do.

Do you have any questions I haven’t answered? Please feel free to post them in the comments!

How to Be a Healthy, Happy Freelancer/Writer

When people find out I work from home and I'm my own boss, their almost invariable reaction is: “I’d never get anything done.”

My response is: “Sure you would—if you wanted to pay your bills.”

The questioner smiles and nods but then says something along the lines of: “But I’m not that disciplined. I’d sleep in then sit around in pajamas watching TV all day.”

Other questions include: “How do manage your time? How do you stay focused? What does a typical day look like for you? How do you stay sane?” And most popular of all: “As a wife and mother, writer/illustrator/editor, how on earth do you get it all done?” I’m amazed at just how often I receive these questions and with how much longing they’re asked. Many people dream of working from home, or of being a full-time writer, but just have no idea how to make it work for them time, discipline, and sanity-wise.

Whether you’re a freelancer with your own business, a full-time writer or illustrator, or a creative person trying to get your project completed beyond the 9 to 5, staying in focus, on target, and in balance can be very tough, especially when the demands of home life including family, chores, and various distractions are all so close at hand.

So, I’m going to answer these questions and provide some tools in the hope that showing what works for me will help you develop systems, balance, and success in your freelance or creative life. (While these tools work for the freelancer, many also translate well to the writer or illustrator trying to make progress with limited time—I know all too well what that’s like.)

Starting your workday right—setting yourself up for success: First of all, I strongly recommend that you do NOT sleep in or sit around in pajamas all day. Treat your freelance or work-from-home job like any other and rise and prepare in time to get to work on time. (What that time is for you you’ll need to work out based on your natural rhythms and what else goes on in your day. I will talk about that in a moment.)

While I don’t go to work in heels and a pencil skirt, I do walk the dog, bathe, dress, groom, eat a healthy breakfast, and arrive at my desk by 7:30 each day. This routine and attention to self-care and healthy living just set up the right mental attitude, and you’ll feel better about yourself as the day progresses, I guarantee.

Systems: One of the great things about working freelance is the freedom and malleability of one’s day (though many freelancers I know work even longer hours than those who “go” to work). But just as systems are important to a multi-person business or corporation, they are equally important to the freelancer who wants to get anything done and grow a successful business—or get that novel written. I truly believe that for the freelancer, systems are the key to living a productive, healthy, balanced, and successful freelance life.

So where do you even start? I’d begin by mapping a typical day.

Your day, like mine, can probably be divided into distinct sections. Here’s how I divide mine based on when I rise, family needs, other stuff I need to get done, etc. in order to work out my optimum periods for working. (I define “free time” in this case as any time that isn’t taken by the needs of others.)

  • Pre 6:30: free
  • 6:30-7:30: family morning routine
  • 7:30-1:30: free
  • 1:45-5: free-ish—my daughter is home so there are frequent distractions
  • 5-9: family phone calls, dinner prep, family time, etc.
  • 9-bedtime: free

As you see, I have four distinct periods of “free time,” and Prime Time—my optimum, distraction-free work period—is between 7:30 and 1:30 because I’m an early to bed, early to rise sort of person. Therefore, I schedule all matters that require a “distraction-free” environment within those hours. During Prime Time, my phone is off, I use social media blockers (see below), and I accomplish the bulk of my work.

Take this opportunity to map out the distinct sections of your day and define your Prime Time(s). Try to make sure you have a 7 to 8 hour period (or two blocks half that length), no matter what time of day in which they fall. (Are you an owl, rather than a chicken? I have some freelancer friends who start late and work until 1 or 2 AM, and you may find that is perfect for you, too.)

Mapping your day into distinct time periods for specific purposes will help you stay in balance. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But when you work from home, your environment is never truly distraction-free. There is always something to be done: chores, errands, phone calls, and so many other distractions (such as family and social media) and all with no boss watching over you, cracking the whip.

So now we know when we can work, how do we stay both on target and in focus?

The List: The first task on my agenda each morning (and the last before I finish for the day) is making The List. Everything I need to achieve that day goes on The List. EVERYTHING (except things I obviously do each day such as bathing and cooking dinner). A typical day's list might include:

  • Walk Phoebe (my dog)
  • Reply... (and I individually list each email I have to respond to. I add to this the moment an email arrives.)
  • Workout
  • 10,000 steps
  • Finish and return Client Project A
  • Call my mum
  • Reach point Y on Client Project B
  • Pay bill Z
  • Post office and bank
  • Clothes washing
  • Write blog post
  • Make progress C on My Creative Project X
  • Etc.

Once I have a clear idea of what I need to achieve today, I can prioritize and start to chip away at it. The List, as well as providing a clear outline, helps provide accountability—it’s much harder to “forget” or ignore something that’s written on a to-do list in your clear line of sight.

The other benefits of using a list:

  • Clarity
  • Organization
  • A sense of achievement
  • A record of what you did on a certain day, which can be helpful to refer to later

I start my list the night before, and I write it in a lined journal (one journal lasts the whole year), but explore what method works for you. The moment I realize I cannot complete a task today, I begin my list for tomorrow.

The list also gives me a feeling of freedom. I know what I have to get done, but no one tells me what order to do it in. It almost becomes like a puzzle, a game of logic and skill I play with myself—how to fit it all in.

Email: It is my policy to answer email rapidly. Partly, that’s the nature of my competitive job—you snooze, you lose that potential client—but it carries through to all other emails as well. First thing each day, I check my inbox, delete what I can, file to specific folders anything I need to keep, and add those that need to be answered to my daily list. Then I answer as many of those emails as I can. An empty inbox is a happy inbox. 

  • Eliminate non-essential emails promptly
  • Prioritize emails
  • Answer email promptly. Your clients will not only appreciate it, you will feel less burdened by a growing pile of unanswered messages.
  • File emails as soon as you’ve answered them
  • Sure, all of this sounds completely obvious, but how many people do you know who aren’t stressed out by an overflowing inbox? It’s simple in practice—if you practice it.

Keeping up with the clerical work: I don’t have a secretary or an accounts department. The moment I receive payment from a client, no matter what I'm doing, I confirm receipt with the client, update my income sheets, and direct the money to where it needs to go (commissions, savings, working account). Don’t wait until tomorrow. Do it now. It’s too easy for such things to snowball otherwise.

Phone calls: If I have phone calls with clients, I schedule them within a two hour period in the morning or after Prime Time. Otherwise, I don’t answer my phone, which the nature of my business allows. The goal is to maximize uninterrupted, low-distraction time.

Staying focused during Prime Time: I use a Pomodoro style timer on my Internet browser called Strict Workflow, though a simple Internet search will provide many other free plugins for your browser. The Pomodoro method dictates 25 minutes of work followed by a 5 minute break.  

It’s important to get up and move around during that 5 minutes to give both body and mind a break. Use this time for boiling the kettle, transferring the washing to the dryer, unpacking the dishwasher, talking to your pet, jumping jacks etc.—anything that moves your body and frees your mind a little. You'll be amazed by how many pesky chores you can knock off your list in this time.

Social media: In my industry, social media is very important for network building and info-sharing. It’s also great for eliminating the isolation that can come from working alone. I have a large number of friends in the publishing industry who also work from home, and we enjoy our visits to the “virtual water cooler” throughout the day. But social media can quickly become a terrible time-suck. There are plug-ins like I just mentioned that block the social media and other websites for the amount of time you specify—which is marvelous.

Deadlines: Nothing much to say here except, “Make them and keep them.” Your clients or your creative project will thank you, and you’ll be much happier, too.

Distraction Time: Since my child is home by 2 PM, the energy changes in the afternoon, so I segue to activities I can tackle successfully in short bursts, those that don’t suffer from interruptions. I get a lot of the household chores done during this time, phone calls, more emails, and I also use this time to think about the projects I’m working on—I often have bursts of inspiration about how to solve peoples' narrative issues at this time, for example, so I am frequently back at my desk during this afternoon period, feverishly jotting down notes on how John Doe's narrative arc could be strengthened by this or that or editing ever more pages. I also work on my own creative projects then. It is a much less structured part of my day, but equally productive. What activities can you schedule for your own Distraction Time in order to feel productive and successful? Dividing your workday into Prime Time and Distraction Time will create a much less stressful workday.

Staying motivated: It’s not always easy to stay motivated in any job, but here’s my trick for staying fresh: I like to have several projects underway at any given time. This allows me to segue to something else before I get stale and keeps the deadlines turning over on time without real stress. It also allows my subconscious to solve some of the issues in other projects, without having to force it. Oh, and walking the dog—there’s nothing like a burst of fresh air and a tail wagging in front of you to keep you fresh and happy.

Staying Healthy: Health professionals recommend that we each take 10,000 steps a day in order to stay healthy. For anyone with a sedentary job, this can be quite challenging to achieve, but for the freelancer it is totally doable if you plan accordingly and then take action. There are many pedometer apps to choose from that will keep track of your steps.

If the weather isn’t cooperating and you’re really pressed for time, your Pomodoro timer is your friend. In your 5 minute break, you can add 1000, 2000, or even more steps by walking around the house, walking up and down the steps, running in place, etc. If you’re into using time as effectively as possible in order to maximize your creative downtime, why not use this 5 minute break to do some dishes, put on another load of washing, move your body, and give your mind a break? You’ll be amazed by how many steps you add to your daily regimen and how much you get done. And if you’ve already whittled down the number of chores by the time you get to the end of Prime Time, you’ll find you have more time for your own creative pursuits—or for getting some “real” exercise such as going for a brisk walk or to the gym, etc.

Also, while I’m on the subject of staying healthy as a freelancer, I recommend making ahead a pot of healthy, protein-packed soup or casserole that you only need to heat and eat, and do eat at whatever you specify as lunchtime and snack time each day. It will help you avoid the urge to snack on less healthy items—but it’s even better if you just don’t keep those in your “office.”

Downtime: And in the evening? Any freelancer who wants to be successful has to be flexible enough to answer the occasional evening email; however, family time and downtime are vital. What I do do is start The List for the next day, but otherwise I try to avoid the office.

But for many of us who are trying to get a book written, our “downtime” may be the only time we have to write or to make progress on that project close to our heart.

Use little bits of downtime wisely. As you do the chores, keep a notebook or memo recorder at hand; inspiration often strikes at such times. If it’s takeaway night, offer to go get it and use the wait time to jot down ideas or sketch out new illustrations. And if downtime is the only time you have to work on your creative projects, learn to set boundaries. It’s Ok for you to occasionally request some time to work and shut everyone out.

Balance: My systems will not work for everyone and, clearly, your schedule will differ from mine, but day mapping, a list, and tools such as productivity timers/social media blockers will increase your output, just as remembering to move, eating healthily, and staying connected with friends and family will keep you mentally and physically healthy and far less stressed.

It’s all about balance. Good luck!