E10 – Interview with Shane Millar (video, show notes, transcript)
In this episode we talk to Shane Millar, a Fictionary Certified Story Coach and editor about his new book, How to Edit Your Novel: Self-Revision for Authors Made Easy, and about his editing and revision process, both as an author and as a professional editor.
How to Edit Your Novel: Self-Revision for Authors Made Easy by Shane Millar
Find Shane online at https://www.swmillar.com/editing
Support us on Patreon at https://patreon.com/revisionwizards
V.E. Griffith 00:00:00
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m V. E. Griffith and I’m joined by my wonderful co-host, Ms. Catherine M.H. This is episode ten, and today we’re talking with Fictionary Certified Story Coach Shane Millar. We’ll be discussing his new nonfiction book, How To Edit Your Novel: Self-Revisions for Authors Made Easy. This episode is sponsored by our amazing patrons who help us build our podcast so we can help you make your editing and revision process better.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:00:28
If you would like to support the show for as little as a buck an episode, we have a bunch of neat benefits that you can take advantage of, including special podcast feed with extra content and personal updates, early access to scene analysis slots, the opportunity to ask questions at the Ask the Editor episodes, and professional editing, and so much more. You can find out everything else that you need to know at patreon.com/revisionwizards. And with that here, let’s go to Shane.
V.E. Griffith 00:01:04
All right, Shane, thank you for joining us today. I really appreciate you coming on to talk about revision on Revision Wizards. Would you mind telling us your name and your pronouns?
Shane Millar 00:01:15
Yeah, of course. My name is Shane Millar. My pronouns are he his him, and thanks for having me on.
V.E. Griffith 00:01:21
Shane Millar 00:01:22
V.E. Griffith 00:01:23
So tell us briefly about your book. What is it and what’s the title and why would an audience member want it?
Shane Millar 00:01:31
Yeah. So my latest non fiction book is how to How To Edit Your Novel: Self-Revisions for Authors Made Easy. And what I’ve tried to do is break down the editing process step by step so that when somebody reads it, they will go through the exercises. It takes them all the way through developmental editing, down to copy editing and proofreading, and then also working with professional editors as well and what a writer can expect from that. So I’m trying to give a real high level overview of everything that a writer needs to do to prep their manuscript for success.
V.E. Griffith 00:02:03
Great. Okay. What was the idea that brought you to the need for this book?
Shane Millar 00:02:11
Yeah, so this is the book that I wish I had when I first started out because you’re writers as well. So you know as well as I do that we have shelves and shelves full of craft books, but it can be really hard to narrow down the exact information that you need at the right time. And some craft books have loads of different aspects of the process in. So there’ll be a little bit about editing, a little bit about drafting, a little bit about productivity. But this one, I really wanted to nail it down because I think not only is editing one of the most crucial stages of the process, because no editor really wants to wade through pages and pages of draft first material. But it’s also my favorite thing to do. So unlike most writers, because I write as well, I’m not a fan of the draft process particularly. But I do enjoy sculpting and refining once the drafting is done.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:03:07
Oh, that’s a little different.
Shane Millar 00:03:09
It is, yeah. So I’m told.
V.E. Griffith 00:03:13
And why are you the right person to write it? Is it just your experience, or is there something else?
Shane Millar 00:03:21
So I am a Fictionary Certified Story Coach Editor. I trained under Christina Stanley in developmental editing. Parts of the process I’ve adapted from the Fictionary method and parts of the process I’ve used myself. So I am an active editor. I do fine work for people.
V.E. Griffith 00:03:40
Okay. Tell us about your process briefly.
Shane Millar 00:03:44
Yeah, sure. So when I look at developmental edits, because that’s really where I’m at in terms of client work, I will edit scene by scene, read the book through first so that I get a good global idea of the story, tackle each scene. And I will look at three main areas, which are character, plot and setting. Within character, that can be things like the character arc. So is the character achieving every goal they’re set? Are they failing? How is that making them grow as a person? For plot, I’ll look at things like scene hooks, opening hooks, ending hooks, character goals in terms of external goals for the plot. And then for setting, I mainly look at the senses because I feel like the five senses are really important where setting is concerned. So I like to make sure that writers are using enough of the sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and using it in such a way that enhances the reader without overwhelming them. But that’s what I look at and I edit. And then in terms of my process, like I said, I edit scene by scene. So I’ll go through each scene and make sure that all the elements that a writer should have. So, like I said, opening hooks, senses, character goals, they are in each scene, and if they’re not, then I will point that out. I will also point out the good stuff as well, because I feel that’s really important. I’ve had some interesting experiences with editors in the past where you don’t necessarily get that good feedback, you just get the red pen and ths, do this, you know, you need to do this, or very vague comments, and that’s not helpful either. So when I prepare a summary report or a manuscript critique for a client, I will try and make it as detailed as possible and break it down into subsections with each of the elements that I’m talking about so that they know exactly what they need to do to fix that one thing. And I’ll reference specific scenes where possible, but also I will say, what’s good. So I had a client recently who was excellent at handling conflict and tension throughout the whole manuscript. And as we all know, that can be something that newer writers struggle with. So that was a nice surprise, and I made sure to point that out to them throughout the summary report.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:06:04
Nice. That’s great. Because I love when editors do that too. I’m one of those who definitely wants the red lines all over, but would love a smiley face every now and then to break up that, oh, this is so bad.
Shane Millar 00:06:17
Exactly. That yeah. I think it’s really hard, especially if it is a first time author, because you don’t want to crush their confidence, which is never good, but at the same time, obviously you need them to know where they’re going to improve. And I never say you must do this. I will say you could consider, like I phrase things more softly, especially for the newer writers, just so that they don’t quit writing forever.
V.E. Griffith 00:06:47
No, we don’t want to scare them off, but we do want to help make them better. That’s always my approach, is I want to make you a better writer and help you correct the ongoing issues that you have in an ongoing way so that the next time you don’t have those problems again. Let’s have new problems instead of repeating the old ones.
Shane Millar 00:07:10
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:07:13
So since you edit a lot of work, how does editing your own work go for you? Do you find it easier or maybe it’s a little harder? How’s it work?
Shane Millar 00:07:23
I thought it would be easier being an editor. It’s actually harder than it was when I didn’t know what techniques I was looking for. So I find now that when I draft, I’m trying to produce much cleaner drafts, but I think that’s hampering the drafting process because in the back of my head, I’m always thinking, oh, I haven’t got a character goal here, or I haven’t got this. And then I’m trying to add it in as I go. So, yeah, it’s definitely not easier like I thought it was going to be.
V.E. Griffith 00:07:55
I’m feeling called out here, yes. So as your drafting and trying not to do that, do you have a method for trying to keep track of what you need to accomplish or what your “I didn’t get it in this draft goals” are?
Shane Millar 00:08:18
Yeah, so I am a eavy outliner when I first start, so I try and try and work out the foreshadowing and the niggly bits beforehand. I also have a book, how to Plot Your Novel, which is out now, and that outlines my plotting process. But basically, I’m not… For a beginning writer, I would advise just getting the starting the key scenes down. So inciting incident, plot point one, all that stuff. For the more advanced writer, they could look at a scene by scene outline, but I’m not one of these that necessarily believe that plotters are superior to pantsers. I really hate that. I really hate that outlook because everyone’s process is different. Just because plotting works for me or whoever, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everyone. And a discovery writer can always come back at the end and use those plotting techniques to finish off their draft. I mean, let’s be honest, I plot, but I probably get halfway through and it’s gone off the rails anyway, and I end up having to discovery write the last half or up to the all is lost or the tragedy or whatever you want to call it. So I think we use these terms and we box writers into these. You’re either a plotter, a discovery writer, but I genuinely think we’re all somewhere in between on that one, to be honest.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:09:42
I agree with that. Yeah, I’m mostly a panster. There are definitely times where I will think about what’s going to happen and then decide, yes, so this is the absolute must happen in this story, and then the rest can be whatever.
Shane Millar 00:10:00
Yeah, that’s fine. You do what you want.
V.E. Griffith 00:10:06
In your experience, how can a writer, especially a new writer, tell when they’ve gotten it as far as they’re going to be able to take it by themselves and it’s time to look for a professional versus when they can tell it’s not ready and they shouldn’t waste the money yet?
Shane Millar 00:10:25
That is a tricky one because everybody’s skill level is drastically different. But I would say if a writer is struggling to decide when to let the manuscript go, I would usually advise to put a limit on the amount of times that they’re going to keep going back through it. So for me, even when I was a new writer, I said to myself, I’m not going to do any more than three passes after my draft. Because if you do, in my experience, and in a lot of people I know experience, if you do more than three passes, you end up making it worse or stripping out your author voice. So it has to be raw enough that some of your voice is still in there so that the editor knows what they’re working with, in my opinion, but not too polished, because I do think you end up making it worse. There has to come a time when you stop. So I would suggest put a limit on the amount of times that you run through and don’t worry about… I think a lot of writers worry about spelling and grammar and things like that way too early on. So even in your first two passes, I’d be more looking at getting the story right than getting the grammar right. Because if you have to delete three chapters because they no longer work and you’ve spent hours polishing them and they’re grammatically perfect, but you delete them anyway, there’s no point. You’re just wasting your time. So, yeah, I would say the last thing you should do is look at grammar and spelling and all that kind of stuff.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:11:55
I can work with that, no problem. That’s the part I hate about editing the most, is that section right there.
Shane Millar 00:12:05
V.E. Griffith 00:12:06
And that’s the part that I love. That’s why we’re doing this together. We work well as a team because Miss Catherine has a bunch of skills that I need to develop, and she probably would like to learn a little from me, too.
Shane Millar 00:12:25
There you go. That’s perfect, then.
V.E. Griffith 00:12:27
Yeah. When you’re going through a client’s work, how do you keep track of what they need? My experience has been that when I’m going through a manuscript for the first time, I usually wind up reading client manuscripts twice. The first basically is a quick read to get the idea of the story, and then the next one is a deeper look on a scene by scene basis because I find that if I do the detail first, I lose track of the whole story and then I miss the larger points that they need to work on because I’m looking at the little bitty stuff.
Shane Millar 00:13:07
Yeah, no, I agree with that. I always do a read through just as if I’m reading to start with so that I get the whole story in my head and then go for the scene by scene because there’s no way you could keep track of any foreshadowing elements and things like that if you try and jump into the detail first. If I’m doing client edit through Fictionary themselves, they have a piece of editing software that all the coaches use, and it lists the 36, I think, Fictionary story elements, and you mark the manuscript based on those. So that’s simple. If I’m doing an edit outside of Fictionary, I’ve kind of adapted my own spreadsheet and that sounds really geeky, and I’m not a spreadsheet person at all. It took me a long time to kind of get around to this, but I mark it off in sections. So character, plot, setting, and I edit a lot of fantasy. So if I’m doing magic systems, I will have a section for that as well. And then literally in each, I will read the scene after I’ve done the first read through, and then go down each column of the spread and check the individual elements off so I don’t lose track. That’s more for me because I am the sort of person that if I tried to do it without a system, I’d never do it. I know some editors who just, like, blindly go in and write notes and while they’re great at it, that wouldn’t work for me because I forget what I was doing.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:14:30
So do you find that editing is a little bit different outside of, like, we’re in the US, so our editing style might be a little bit different. Do you find that at all?
Shane Millar 00:14:41
Well, my editor for my fiction is Canadian, and I’ve worked with an American editor before, so in fact, I’m working with Jeff Elkins now on the Dialogue Doctor on my new series. So I’m used to working with editors outside of the UK. I’ve never actually worked with one in the UK. And because I mostly focus on developmental editing, when I’m editing a client’s work, I’m not looking for the differences between British and American grammar. So yeah, I’m not really sure. I guess it probably is different if you’re a UK author and you’re writing for the UK market, then I guess it would be different because you’d have different grammar conventions, different terminology for certain things like car park and parking lot. I know when Jeff did some work for me before, he was shocked that I’d said, what did I put in the manuscript? The police here has to call out armed police because they’re not all armed. So if there’s an armed response unit, they have to say they’re armed. Whereas obviously in the US, pretty much every cop is armed, so they don’t need to say that. So there are little differences, I guess. But I don’t think it would be anything that would massively impact the edit from a developmental point of view. If you’re looking for a copy editor, it’s probably best to find one who specializes in your country’s language.
V.E. Griffith 00:16:10
Do you find that you specialize in non-US work or do you get a lot of crossover from Americans?
Shane Millar 00:16:20
Yeah, I’ve had a lot of crossover from Americans. My last client was Canadian again. So I think if you are just looking at story, those principles are universal. And I don’t think it really matters where your client comes from, particularly. Like I said, though, if it’s copy editing, probably best not to use an editor from a different country, because that could be problematic, I think.
V.E. Griffith 00:16:46
Well, what have we missed about you and your process that our listeners should know about or that you’ve learned over the years in terms of editing and revision?
Shane Millar 00:16:58
Yeah, so I think my biggest lesson learned is not to like, drafting is drafting and editing is editing, and don’t confuse the two. So I used to be really slow at completing first drafts purely because I was always going back and fixing silly little things that didn’t need to be fixed or trying to write part of the story that I didn’t really know what was happening yet before I had a plotting process, which works for me, but obviously, as we said, doesn’t work for everyone. So they’re the things I think that’s one of the major things is don’t jump ahead in the process and try and edit before you’ve actually got a draft to work with, because it will change dramatically anyway. And if you are editing and you do make it to that stage, which I hope you do, I would say tackle it in chunks. So when I used to edit, before I knew about Fictionary and their process, I would batch my edits so I would go through my manuscript. If I spotted anything to do with setting that needed changing, I’d mark it with a symbol that I don’t use in my manuscript, like an ampersand or something, and then I would do the same for conflict, I’d do the same for tension, so that each of those things were marked with a specific symbol. That you’re never going to see anywhere else. So that when you go back into a pass you can search that symbol and literally do a pass on setting all in one go. And relationships all in one go. Or magic all in one go so that you’re not jumping around. Because I think that’s what I used to do when I very first started and I was trying to self edit and I didn’t know what I was doing, I would be looking at character one minute and plot the next and sitting down here and you get so confused and so lost because it’s in some cases 80- to 120,000 words depending on your genre. And that’s a lot to wait through if you don’t have a system in place and you’re not looking at one thing at a time. So I think that is the major. If you’re new to this and you haven’t edited before or you’ve written your first novel and you don’t know where to start, I’d say try and organize your manuscript in such a way that you can do batch edits of all the different areas and you’ll find it goes a lot faster, you’ll get into a quicker rhythm and then you’ll be done a lot quicker.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:19:20
That’s a really good idea. That’s similar to how I go about my own editing because like I said, I don’t look for spelling. That’s somebody else’s job.
Shane Millar 00:19:30
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:19:33
What would you say is your favorite part about the editing process since that is the part that you enjoy the most?
Shane Millar 00:19:40
Well, in two parts. So my favorite part for me is if I know that I’m sending the best possible work that I can to an editor, then I know that I’m not paying them to do things that I could have done myself. And that can save you a bit of money depending on how the editor works, their rates. So that’s always helpful. And if I’m editing for a client, my favorite thing, I offer a consultation afterwards so we can go over feedback. And my favorite thing is when they come back with a ton of questions because then I know that they’ve actually digested the report and they’ve at least thought about my suggestions so that we can work together. I think that’s it, the collaborative process because everyone has this idea that writing is this really lonely kind of introverted, well, we are introverts, that’s a bad example, but like really lonely thing to do. And it doesn’t have to be all of us on this call now. We’re part of huge writing communities and that’s how we met. And the more you put yourself out there, the more you’re going to have these connections, whether that be with editors or cover designers. So there are ways to collaborate in writing, whether that’s with a writing partner, with your editor, whoever it may be. So please don’t think that you have to be alone if somebody’s out there listening now and you’re thinking, oh, this is so lonely. Doesn’t have to be. Come find us. We’re everywhere.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:21:03
Yes, we are.
V.E. Griffith 00:21:08
Where can we find you?
Shane Millar 00:21:11
So you can find me, My website is Swmillar.com, my editing services, specifically. That’s swmillar.com/editing. If you want to reach out and chat to me on social, I’m on Instagram or TikTok at swmillar. So I’m pretty easy to find.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:21:30
Nice. And when this airs, your book will be out. So where can we find it?
Shane Millar 00:21:35
You can find it anywhere books are sold, so this one is a wide one. Amazon, Kobo, all of those kinds of places. And you can buy from my website direct as well.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:21:47
V.E. Griffith 00:21:49
And for those of us who are, shall we say, electronically challenged, are you also going to be doing hard copies?
Shane Millar 00:21:56
I am indeed. They will be a paperback edition.
V.E. Griffith 00:22:02
All right, well, thank you very much for joining us.
Shane Millar 00:22:05
Thank you for having me. Is a lot of fun.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:22:07
Yes, thank you. Yay, I’ll go hit the stop recording, button, once I find it. There it is.