- M.A. Greene: I’m M.A.Greene. You can keep up with my updates about me reaching for publication on twitter @MAGreene996. What made you decide to write this book?
Kris Spisak: I speak at a lot of events, from writing conferences to university programs to public library workshops and beyond, and while my range of topics vary a bit, it all comes down to empowering yourself with the words you choose. My first book, Get a Grip on Your Grammar, was in line with this mission, but over time, I realized I had so much more I wanted to say.
I frequently teach workshops and give keynotes on the power of creative storytelling, so I wanted to dig in more on that note. After experiencing the transformative power of deep editing discussions, both with audiences and my own editing clients over the past ten years, I wanted to create a resource that could be a writer’s go-to, something that would give them a list of specific exercises and tactics that they could use to bring their work to the next level. And with that idea, The Novel Editing Workbook was born.
- M.A. Greene: One great aspect of your book is it is divided into macro editing (big picture revisions) and micro editing (smaller details once you’ve finished your macro edits). Did you write one section before the other or work on both sections simultaneously?
Kris Spisak: This workbook is really a novel editing plan, and it is a compilation of all the advice I’ve given to my editing clients and workshop attendees over the years. People think of “editing” and “revision,” and they want to start with sentence one of page one; however, that’s not where to process begins. You’ve got to have the bones in place before you can worry about your skin’s complexion. There’s an order to the editing process that all writers must follow if they want to be effective and efficient in their spit-and-shine of that first draft that emerged out of them. If you don’t have a process, the editing stage can feel endless. You’ll find yourself circling back on old issues again and again. But with structure, you can feel the progress being made, and a story can, stage by stage, slowly become that book that the author first dreamed it could become.
- M.A.Greene: One example I’d like to share from The Novel Editing Workbook is exercise 6 from the Macro editing section, which says, “EXAMINE the first paragraph of every chapter. Do you rehook your reader within that paragraph? If not, make it happen.” I’ve heard of trying to have chapter endings make the reader want to turn the page, but not making sure they are still interested during the proceeding paragraph in the next chapter. It was such a great piece of advice. How did you come up with this tip?
Kris Spisak: As a freelance fiction editor, I read a lot of writers’ work, and there are common weaknesses that arise in newer writers’ stories. Cliche chapter beginnings, “data dump” chapter beginnings, or “warm-up for the writer” chapter beginnings don’t do anything to help a story. Every single page, every paragraph, and every single sentence needs to make the final cut of a finished manuscript for a reason. If it’s not hooking your reader and/or driving the story forward, why is it there at all?
You’re absolutely right that people think about this with chapter endings, but they seem to forget about it at the start of chapters, right where a reader pulls out their bookmark, ready to dive in. Don’t ever give a reader the opportunity to put that bookmark back in the book.
- M.A.Greene: I know you write fiction as well. What is your writing process like? Does it differ when you’re writing nonfiction vs when you’re writing fiction?
Kris Spisak: It differs dramatically. I found my nonfiction voice through my blog and Get a Grip on Your Grammar, but fiction has a different vibe for me completely. I love being a storyteller and having the opportunity to pull readers into my imagination. I think because I work with so many fiction writers, I see that power so much more profoundly.
I usually juggle multiple of my own projects at a time, but I almost always have at least one fiction and one nonfiction book on my mind. Different moods make me lean more toward one or the other on any given day–and deadlines, of course, really force me to make that choice sometimes!–but I do love the possibilities that both offer a writer and a reader.
- M.A.Greene: Do you mind sharing what fiction writing you have completed or are working on?
Kris Spisak: I’m happy to share. While I have a few stories in progress, the one that is closest to its debut is a women’s fiction project, a novel about two contemporary sisters (a social media-addicted supermom and her bohemian opposite) on a wild goose chase across eastern Europe searching for their elderly Ukrainian grandmother, who was either lost by the airline or covertly escaped. It’s a story about sisters, the power of a strong line of women, and the folk tales of baba yaga.
- M.A. Greene: Sounds like it’s a comical book that also might have its more serious moments as well.
Kris Spisak: There’s definitely a lot to play with across this territory.
- M.A. Greene: One aspect of this book I love is that all the tips are concise even though there are many. How did you make these tips so condensed?
Kris Spisak: By the time that writers get to the editing stage of a manuscript, they’re tired, right? They don’t want to slog through a lot of meaty discussion. They just want help–help that’s logical, well-organized, and straight-to-the-point. That was my goal with The Novel Editing Workbook.
Hiring a paid editor can be a valuable experience, but not everyone wants to go through that process–and not everyone has the means to go through that process. This workbook is a bit like a mini experience with a professional editor. If a writer’s ready to push up their sleeves and get to work, this is a resource that (hopefully) can be there to transform a project, preparing it for whatever its next stage might be.
- M.A. Greene: It helped me be more at ease with revising knowing I can turn to this book for help. When did you first start writing fiction? Childhood? Adolescence? Adulthood?
Kris Spisak: I’m so happy to hear it’s been helpful to you!
I’ve been writing stories since I could write sentences–from a diary to childish mystery books and beyond. Poetry had my heart for the longest time in middle school, high school, and college. My first publication was actually in poetry, and it was there that I really recognized the power of every single word within a line. Every writer should experiment with poetry, because there’s so much to learn from that medium–whether you plan to pursue it or not.
- M.A. Greene: How many revisions do you do for a novel?
Kris Spisak: This is a question that always prompts me to think of the daVinci quote, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Of course, one can’t abandon it too early, or it won’t be as powerful as it could be.
There’s no real answer to a specific number of revisions. I always recommend that after a novel draft is ready, an author needs to give it a period of rest, not looking at it (and trying not to think about it) for a bit. Then, they need to tackle the macro-edits, all of the big picture revisions we’ve discussed (story structure, character depth, balancing of description and dialogue, etc.). Only after a writer feels like their macro-editing has really covered all the necessary territory should they move into the micro-edits, looking at language choice and sentence-level subtleties. And, of course, the third stage is the final proofread. Yet each one of these stages deserves some time. It varies depending on the author and even depending on a specific work, but powerful editing can make such a difference in a project. I encourage every writer to give each of these editing stages their best effort because the world will see what they can do if they put in the work.
- M.A.Greene: Do you suggest writers only do macro edits before sending their work to beta readers or critic partners or macro and micro edits?
Kris Spisak: This largely depends on who the beta readers are and what a writer hopes to gain from their perspective; however, it’s best to put in as much work as you can up front, not asking for feedback until you’ve given your project everything you can. Otherwise, you might hear feedback that you could have figured out yourself if you only pushed harder.
- M.A. Greene: I agree poetry can help writers. I got into writing poetry when I took a poetry course in college. It’s amazing how a few words can evoke so much power just by the way they are strung together. What is your favorite fiction genre and why?
Kris Spisak: I’m led so much by my mood when it comes to what I’m looking for in a great book. I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction, but when it comes to fiction genres, historical fiction and women’s fiction often are where I spend my time. However, I also love YA (young adult), suspense, thrillers, mysteries, and the occasional romance. Literary fiction is like a little occasional treat for me, just like poetry, where every line is composed with such care. Different genres have different structures and conventions, and it’s fascinating to me to see how different authors make it come alive. Reading talented writers is a lesson for every writer out there.
- M.A. Greene: So true. I really believe in order to be a good writer you need to be a reader. What’s your least favorite genre and why?
Kris Spisak: “Least favorite” seems strong to me. I’m less drawn to sci-fi and fantasy personally, but I have endless amounts of respect for writers who craft those genres well. My critique partner is a fantasy writer, and she consistently amazes me. World-building in such stories can be jaw-droppingly awesome.
- M.A. Greene: If there was one piece of advice you could give aspiring fiction writers, other than reading your Novel Editing Workbook what would it be?
Kris Spisak: Writing is a craft to be learned, and hard work and perseverance are what can enable you to meet your writing and publishing goals. There’s no such thing as a “born writer.” Sure, people want you to think that, but even the greats had to learn. Maybe this is just your time for learning, but keep going. Who knows what’s on the path ahead if you just continue to read widely, write as much as you can, listen to advice, and figure out what truly makes sense for you.