Category: On Writing

Cat Editors: Julia Park Tracey and Ophelia

By Midge Raymond,

Julia Park Tracey‘s Ophelia (also known as Fifi, Stinky, Princess, and Pooper) is very hands-on.

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Lady Ophelia is my Mews. She’s black and white like a newspaper, so her coloring reminds me of my writing work every day. She is chief office assistant, sitting on top of whatever is most important for me right that instant. She also enjoys my lap and the left-hand side of my desk where the to-do list is sitting. Unfortunately, she’s a drooler and occasional biter. She enjoys a bird or cat video, but dog videos annoy her. Open windows are the best kind. A different flavor of cat food every day means I must meet deadlines to make her happy.

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Julia Park Tracey is the poet laureate of Alameda, California. She is also a journalist and fiction writer. She has written two biographies, I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do: The Diaries of a Roaring Twenties Teen and Reaching for the Moon: More Diaries of a Roaring Twenties Teen; a novel, Tongues of Angels; two mysteries, Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop and Veronika Layne Has a Nose for News; and a collection of poetry, Amaryllis. Visit Julia’s website to learn more and to sign up for her newsletter.

Are you a writer with a cat editor in your life? If you’d like to share your story, send me a note.

Cat Editors: Mindy Mejia and Dusty

By Midge Raymond,

Author Mindy Mejia lives and writes with a cat named Dusty.

Mindy's cat

On working with Dusty, Mindy says:

Dusty’s main editorial talents lie in encouragement and prioritization. He usually lounges on the table or in my lap, purring his approval at whatever scene I’m working on, and if I start daydreaming he’ll jump directly on top of the computer or manuscript (see picture) as if to say, “Oh, you’ve got better things to do than write? I guess I’ll just make this my new bed.” It never fails to refocus my energy, which I’m sure is his intent.

Mindy Mejia is the author of The Dragon Keeper (Ashland Creek Press, 2012) and the novel EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE, forthcoming from Emily Bestler Books in 2016. Visit Mindy’s website and stay tuned for more news on the release of her new book!

Are you a writer with a cat editor in your life? If you’d like to share your story, send me a note.


Cat Editors: Judy Reeves and Rumi

By Midge Raymond,

Today I’m delighted to introduce you to Judy Reeves and the late, great Rumi.

rumi on the macbook

Here’s what Judy has to say about her lovely Rumi:

I’ve been told by other editors that I need to get more conflict and tension in my stories, but Rumi really does a “show, don’t tell” by falling asleep on my pages. Here’s what he did for me as a writer: reminded me to get up and move away from the computer sometimes. I believe he was telling me that I could get a different perspective if I’d have a little snack, or take just a tiny nap. He also reminded me not to take myself too seriously, and mostly, I think, helped me keep an open heart.


Judy Reeves is the author, most recently of Wild Women, Wild Voices: Writing from Your Authentic Wildness. She is also the author of A Writer’s Book of Days; Writing Alone, Writing Together: A Guide for Writers and Writing Groups; and A Creative Writer’s Kit, a fabulous writing kit that includes a 144-page book and a 25-card deck. Visit Judy online, and don’t miss the chance to catch one of her classes or Wild Women events!

 Are you a writer with a cat editor in your life? If you’d like to share your story, send me a note.

Cat Editors

By Midge Raymond,

As any writer knows, writing challenges us in so many ways. And, as any writer with a cat knows, writing can be even more challenging when our felines try to get in on the action. Which they inevitably do. And there’s no talking them out of it.

Yet while we may first think that they are getting in the way, these feline editors do, in fact, have something to teach us. Maybe they’re here (on our stuff) to remind us that good creative work requires the occasional break. Maybe they curl up in our laps just when we need to stay in the chair. Or maybe they simply make us laugh and remind us not to take our writing lives too seriously.


In honor of these dedicated yet unsung heroes (as they would surely put it), I’ve decided to celebrate our cat editors with a blog series.

To begin, I’ll introduce Theo.

Theo has been on my desk (or my laptop, or my papers, or my lap) for more than 14 years of creative writing.


In fact, I can’t think of a single project over these 14 years that hasn’t been overseen (often quite obsessively) by Theo.


He can’t seem to resist being near books (and warm computers), and he’ll also steal your pens (which are better than any cat toy we’ve tried to entice him with). He even likes to hang out among our vintage typewriters.


Of course, I’m far from alone in having a feline writing companion, and I look forward to sharing the stories and photos of many other writers and their feline collaborators. And, if you’re a writer with a cat editor in your life and would like to share your stories and photos, please feel free to send me a note!

How to be your own editor

By Midge Raymond,

I was recently editing a document online for which my client had already done a spell check, and just to be safe, I checked the spelling one more time (the automated way). According to the spell check, all was well — but later, as I read through the document, I discovered that neither of these spell checks had caught the word improeved.  (I actually looked it up, thinking perhaps I was missing something, but no: improeved is not a word. Not in the English language, anyway, according to Merriam-Webster’s.)

In the same document, I found the word particilarly — also not a word, also not caught by spell check.

Which brings me to Lesson #1: Do not rely on spell check.

Many of us writers rely on ourselves to edit our own work; after all, good editing is expensive. We may have friends, or a writing buddy or group, to read over our stories or novels — and while we hope that these folks can recognize that words like improeved and particilarly need fixing, they may not have the eagle eyes that experts have. And I’m guessing that most average readers may not know (or care) how to properly use a semi-colon, or what a serial comma is, or when The Chicago Manual of Style calls for an open compound versus a closed one. Not every writer can be an editor — but every writer who wants to be published will eventually put his or her work in front of an acquisitions editor, and part of making a good impression is having a cleanly edited manuscript.

So what is a writer to do? If you can afford to hire an editor, go for it. (There are a great many resources out there, too many to outline here — but visit your local community writing center if you have one, see this post for more on how to hire an editor, and check out this list of editing rates to be sure you pay a fair rate.)

There are a few shortcuts when it comes to self-editing — like spell check (which clearly isn’t entirely reliable) and this free software that apparently targets cliches and overused words — but this leads me to Lesson #2: Writers who hope to be in the game for the long term would be wise to learn how to be their own best editors (even though we all, at some point before publication, need a pro).

Below are a few tips for self-editing — not a comprehensive list, by any means, but a few things to keep in mind so that you can make your manuscript as polished it can be before sending it out, as well as avoid the errors most likely to irritate agents and acquisitions editors.

  • Put the writing aside for a bit. When you come back to it with fresh eyes, you’ll be better able to spot errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation, as well as clunky style issues.
  • Read widely when you’re not writing — and choose your material well. If you read professionally edited books and top newspapers and magazines, for the most part you’ll be getting good examples of what well-written, grammatically proper, and well-punctuated sentences should look like. If you read the work of prize-winning authors, you’ll be getting good examples of how to turn a phrase and how to construct a lovely sentence.
  • Read your work aloud. This is among the best ways to ferret out clunky sentences. If it sounds odd to your ears, there’s probably something going on grammatically or stylistically; rework and re-read until it sounds great out loud. Also, speaking the words helps you avoid some of the misspellings that spell check doesn’t catch: One writer I know submitted a piece to a critique group in which she’d used the word “pubic” instead of “public” (a mistake that was quite hilarious in the context of the story) — and while we’d all read the scene in question beforehand, not one of us noticed this typo until she read it aloud.
  • Read every word. Go through your piece sentence by sentence, word by word. This helps you check for misspellings that you might otherwise skim past, and it also helps you find missing words or repeated words. (I’m always amazed at how many of these show up in my own work…it’s embarrassing, really. But if you catch them all, no one else has to know.)
  • Ask a trusted reader to take a look. This isn’t exactly “self-editing,” but if you have someone who’s willing and able to read your work, ask. Even a casual reader might find a missing word or an odd spelling that is all to easy for you to miss because you’ve read the piece dozens of times.

And, finally, Lesson #3: Embrace grammar, style, and punctuation. Don’t make the mistake of being one of those writers who says, “I don’t need to know how to spell; that’s what editors are for.” These are the writers who very rarely make it to the point of having an editor because sloppy work doesn’t pass muster, especially in these days when getting published is more challenging than ever. So if there’s anything about grammar or punctuation that you don’t know, learn it. If you want to be a better stylist, study the authors you love and learn from them. As a writer your job is not only to tell the story and tell it well, but to hide all the strings (i.e., the grammar and punctuation and everything else that makes the story work on a mechanical level), so that readers can see only the story itself — or, better yet, disappear into the story altogether.

Book publishing in Antarctica

By Midge Raymond,

Of all that Antarctica is known for, who knew it was once a publishing hub? (Well, sort of.)

I’ve been reading about the Aurora Australis — the first book ever written, printed, illustrated, and bound in Antarctica — soon to be offered at auction by Sotheby’s and expected to bring in £70,000.

aurora australis - guardian

Photo from The Guardian.


Aurora Australis was produced during Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition of 1908–09, at Cape Royds on Ross Island in the McMurdo Sound. It was one of many activities Shackleton encouraged of his team so that “the spectre known as ‘polar ennui’ never made its appearance.”

What’s interesting is that by the time this book was created, publishing was not a new thing in the polar regions. Already explorers were publishing articles and newspapers detailing their expeditions — from Edward Parry’s 1819 expedition in search of the Northwest Passage to the South Polar Times, published during Robert Scott’s Discovery and Terra Nova expeditions. And now, of course, you can go online to read the news of what’s happening in Antarctica — for example, The Antarctic Sun, published by the U.S. Antarctic Program; and blog posts from the British Antarctic Survey.

Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition was sponsored by a printing firm, and Shackleton received training and traveled south with a printing press and paper. (Click here to learn more about the challenges of printing in the extreme temperatures of the Antarctic.)

Aurora Australis, which will be auctioned in London on September 30, is 120 pages long and contains poems, stories, essays, and illustrations by ten members of the expedition. Horse harnesses were recycled to create the leather spines, and the covers of the copy up for auction were made from a tea chest. Only eighty copies of the book were printed.