E30 – Interview With Sacha Black
In this episode, Miss Catherine M.H. and V.E. Griffith talk to prolific author and community leader Sacha Black about her editing process and how she’s grown as an author over her career.
A Game of Hearts and Heists by Ruby Roe
A Game of Romance and Ruin by Ruby Roe
Ohwrite – https://ohwrite.co
The Rebel Author Podcast, available in all podcast players
The Revision Wizards are at https://www.revisionwizards.com
V.E. Griffith’s website: https://www.vegriffith.com
Miss Catherine M.H.’s website: https://www.scribes-pen.com
Transcript at: https://revisionwizards.com/?p=2356
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:00:00
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast, I’m Miss Catherine MH. And I am joined by my fellow whatever you call a magic person and co host V.E. Griffith.
V.E. Griffith 00:00:10
This is episode 30 and we’re talking to certified rebel and author Sasha Black, joining us all the way from the United Kingdom. Sasha writes nonfiction under her own name and has just started a new pen name for her lesbian sapphic fantasy romance, Ruby Roe. Her first two Ruby Roe books, A Game of Hearts and Heists and A Game of Romance and Ruin are out now.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:00:31
Today we’re talking to her about her writing and editing process and we’re very excited to bring this conversation to you. So here we go.
V.E. Griffith 00:00:40
Okay, so we have a new and exciting guest today. If you would please tell us your name and your pronouns.
Sacha Black 00:00:45
Hello, my name is Sacha Black and my pronouns are she, her.
V.E. Griffith 00:00:49
Wonderful. Thank you very much. So I asked you here today, or we asked you here today to talk about your editing process once you get to the end of the first draft, sort of what’s the mechanic from where you go from there? I know you’re a speed demon writer. If you can do 2000 words in an hour, which is what I’ve heard you talk about.
Sacha Black 00:01:08
Yeah, I would say that I average 2000 words an hour. If I’m writing on my own, it might be 1700 words an hour. And if I’m writing with friends, it could be up to 2600 an hour. So I obviously prefer.
V.E. Griffith 00:01:08
Sacha Black 00:01:08
Yeah, I obviously prefer to write with people because I write faster, but so I always average it at 2000 because if I’m like, if I’m not tired, that enough, had enough caffeine, and I know exactly what’s coming, then I can write at about 2000 an hour, even on my own. But to get those higher levels, I have to be writing with other people. And not just anyone either. It’s got to be someone who, I don’t know, meets certain requirements, including their level of competitiveness. I write with one of my patrons who’s top five competition and we just smack talk and give each other shit all the time. And that basically speeds us up. Obviously not for everybody, clearly, but yeah, we’re savage bastards. So there’s that. In terms of editing, the interesting thing is I tend to edit about the same pace and it depends which edit I’m on. So if I’m on my first substantive edit, then I will edit about 2000 words an hour. Sometimes I’ll edit slightly more. Depends if I’m like, there’s nobody watching whilst they edit because it’s much you can’t really edit in those community like web rooms. But still, if I know that somebody I’m checking in and accountable with, somebody, I will still edit faster than if I’m on my own. And then if I am on a final kind of read through tweaky type of one, I can do up to like 30,000 words in a day. But that’s like a final tweak. Don’t look at me like that. It’s like a final tweak. There’s not a lot that needs it’s just you’re essentially, like, read and tweak. That’s what I call it. So I can read a book in a day. Anybody could read a book in a day. So it’s just like reading a book in a day. Just tweaking a couple of sentences here and there. So, yeah, it would depend on which edit I’m doing.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:03:26
I love that you have someone who’s accountable because that’s how I love to write, because I love having somebody else over there and I’m like, yo, what’s your word count today? And I’ll be like, I’m going to beat that.
Sacha Black 00:03:37
Yeah. The funny thing is I need more people because it’s really difficult. If you only have a very small if you are kind of reliant on having that group of people to be accountable with, then you need a big pull because you’re not always editing or you’re not always drafting at the same time. And the thing that helps the most is having somebody drafting there with me. A really good second to that is for somebody to open. All right. And just watch my word count. I won’t be quite as fast, but I will still be faster than if I’m just doing it on my own. I don’t know what it is, but knowing somebody’s watching, I will not be slow.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:04:23
Yeah, no, it’s amazing because I find that, too, that it will be like, as soon as someone’s there with you writing, you’re like, all right, let’s do this. And it’s such a strange feeling.
Sacha Black 00:04:34
Yeah. The other question was how many passes do I do?
V.E. Griffith 00:04:34
Sacha Black 00:04:34
Okay. So I fast draft, and then I will do my own edit. That will be a substantive edit. So I will be looking at I will look at story structure, characters, pacing order. I will look at prose. But it will only kind of be like really big things if something’s incorrect, if I know that I need to fill out a bit more description, something like that. Because the way that I fast draft is that I do not stop. I do not go back. We do not go over anything. So if I don’t know a character’s name, then I type in capital letters, insert character name, or XXX says, for example, one of my characters in a Game of Hearts and Heists was just called Brother in capital letters for the whole first draft because names are really important to me, so I won’t just randomly name a character. They have to be named the correct thing. So I would rather put, like, a moniker of, like, brother than I would put a name that doesn’t feel right. So anyway, so in this substantive draft, which will take me two weeks, I will do all of the character development, all of the kind of pacing, story order, story structure, plot holes, subplots, anything to make it a cohesive whole. At that point, it goes to a beta reader who does a very similar job to a developmental editor. But in order to make the developmental edit process quicker, I will do this, like, beta read, and she does it for me and I do it for her. And we’re savage with each other. So when it comes back so here’s the thing, right. Obviously, I used to do editing, and so the drafts that I produce, the editing that I do already takes it to a certain standard, and then it really is only like the blind spots that I’m missing or because I’ve looked at something for too long and I’m just out and dry of ideas. So when I get the notes back, it will take me two to three working days. I always leave a week in my diary, but really, it takes me two to three working days to do her edits. At that point, it then goes to my editor and I hand in on a Monday, she hands it back on a Friday. I will do all of her developmental edits over the weekend. I hand it back on Monday, I get it back on Friday, and she’s done all the copy edits, and then it’s done by the weekend. And depending on how in depth the copy edits were, I will either take it to a proofer or I will send it to an up team to do the proofing for me. So that is the process.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:07:28
V.E. Griffith 00:07:30
Yeah, that is ungodly fast. I’m a line editor and it takes me a long time. I’m very slow at it, so I don’t think I could do it that quickly.
Sacha Black 00:07:42
Yeah. I have worked with all different types of editors, and I’ve worked with editors who take a month to do edits. That was about average. And I have worked with editors that take two weeks. And I’ve just found somebody who’s very quick. And because I’m quick, I need somebody who’s quick. It really kind of depends. And the other thing is this new editor that I’m working with, because this wasn’t the old process that I went through. She’s incredible. Like, I haven’t had an edit like this in years. And it’s really nice to be at a certain point in my career and know that I can write a good story and still have a developmental edit and still be learning stuff. So this is just the power of editors, really.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:08:30
Well, that’s awesome.
V.E. Griffith 00:08:31
Excellent. Is there a process difference between your fiction and your nonfiction?
Sacha Black 00:08:35
For drafting, yes. For editing, yes. I’d probably say so as well. Do you want to know both, or shall I just tell you the editing difference?
V.E. Griffith 00:08:43
Go ahead and do both.
Sacha Black 00:08:45
So for drafting, I didn’t used to, but I do now write in order for the fiction and for nonfiction, I absolutely don’t write in order nonfiction is like doing a puzzle. And so to draft, I kind of draft in chunks. So like an idea or a tip or a concept. And then it’s a matter of like, the closer I the more words I produce, the more I can order them and structure them. And so then I’ll have these great big chunks which end up as chapters. But the hardest bit about nonfiction is the structure, because you have to take somebody from the base foundation information through to how to solve this complex problem or how to write this complex thing, and therefore you have to layer up the knowledge. And I always feel like my brain is in need of defragging. So, you know, like how computers used to store bits of information all over the place and you had to defrag it. That’s kind of the process of writing a nonfiction book for me. So as I’m outpouring this information, my brain is, like, defragging it, and I can then pull all of the correct pieces together and put them in order. Fiction mostly I write in order. I say that. And tonight I’m just reviewing the next few scenes to see whether or not I’m going to skip around. I wrote, I think, 18 books out of order, and the last three, I think, have all been in order. And this one so far has been in order. But I don’t know. So, yeah, I mostly write fiction in order. I would say now in terms of editing, there is less of a difference, although I would say the fiction gets edited a significant amount more than the nonfiction. And I think the reason for that is that nonfiction is very fact based or very informational based. Like, obviously craft is not really facts. There are no rules. You can break all of the rules. But you know what I mean when I say fact. It’s more like that kind of hard line information. It’s not like you’re weaving art. I suppose there is a bit of that in terms of making sure your voice is good in nonfiction. Once I have drafted nonfiction, I will do a substantive edit to make sure that I’m leading people through in a logical increasing level of difficulty through the book. And during that, I will also add in a bit more voice. So I will work on prose more in that draft. It then goes to a beta reader, I will make their edits, and then it goes for a proof, and that’s it. I don’t do any more editing on nonfiction than that. So it’s a lot quicker to publish.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:11:40
Do you find that it takes you longer to write your nonfiction than it does the fiction?
Sacha Black 00:11:46
No, just the same, yeah. If anything, nonfiction is faster if I know what I want to talk about, which is why it will sometimes take me longer to start, because you can’t just make shit up like you can with fiction. So I have to have the concept or the idea. I have to have the depth of knowledge. Like, I will spend a long time researching before I start writing for nonfiction. I mean, I input in the same way for fiction, but it’s less brain heavy, I think, because I’m structuring information before I start vomiting it onto the page.
V.E. Griffith 00:12:31
Is there a process difference for your various pen names? Was Ruby Roe a change?
Sacha Black 00:12:38
Say more. What do you mean by that?
V.E. Griffith 00:12:39
Well, did your process change? I know sort of your attitude changed about how much fun you were having. Did that make a difference in your process at all?
Sacha Black 00:12:48
Yeah, massively. So before I would take six months to draft a book, the first draft, one draft, would take me six months. And I went through Clifton strengths coaching. And over the course of 18 months, I have gone from an average of about 1700 words in a whole working day to 2000 words an hour. And that has literally been based on writing to my strengths. So both the content, the style, the voice, the process, and the mechanics of literally how I’m getting words on the page, do you want me to tell you all of the random and things that I do?
V.E. Griffith 00:13:32
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:13:33
I love it.
V.E. Griffith 00:13:34
I’m starting Clifton strengths 101 next Monday, hopefully. Yeah, I’m in that class.
Sacha Black 00:13:46
What I would say is that not everybody should try to write this way. I have a unique set of strengths which make me a bit masochistic in how hard I push myself. But, hey, maybe people will hear these things and think that they’re useful. I don’t know. So the first thing is that I write in a competitive environment. I’m number one competition, which means I am viciously competitive. And so therefore, writing in a competitive environment works. What does that look like? Well, I use Ohwrite, so ohwrite.co, which is a web room where you can see your friend’s word counts, but you don’t know what they’re writing. Your words are private. So this kind of tags two of my strengths, my top two, in fact, which is competition and achiever. So, achiever. For every 100 words, you get a black star. For every thousand words, you get a gold star. Fucking love me a gold star. Give me all the gold stars. Right? Like, I will do anything for a gold star. So that really helps, which is why often I write in there, even if I’m not with other people. But the other thing that works is seeing other people’s word counts. I do not want anyone else to get more words than me. And the interesting thing is, though, I do try to write with people who can write faster than me because that pushes me to write faster. And so then I do other things, like, I have a candle. I do a fresh candle. So this candle, not that listeners can see, but this candle here is my current book candle and I purchase 40 hours burn candles. So 40 hours of burn because if I write 2000 words an hour and an average book is about 80k, I need to beat the candle, right? So I light the candle every time I start drafting and then I blow it out every time I finish drafting. And you better be fucking sure that I want to beat that candle. And they’re just like little motivation tactics. Another strength I have is SIG significance. And so I love to influence people, I love to have an impact on people and I love encouragement. I love when people cheerlead for me. So I will share my word counts on social media and people will be like way and I’ll be like Way. And that helps to keep me motivated. What else do I do? Another thing that I do is I know that I need to input and I have input and learner in my top ten. So I have to be reading in the genre that I’m writing and typically I need to read in advance of starting to draft. A couple of other things I outline and then I outline again, and then I re outline and then I re outline some more. So I used to not start writing because I couldn’t get the outline right. Now I will get to a tipping point where I feel like I know enough and I will just start writing because I know that in any draft, any first draft, I’m probably going to re outline three times. So I will just let myself go and do that. And there’s other things that I’m doing, like using tropes as the skeleton story structure because tropes have innate conflict in them, which enables me to write quicker because there are certain beats and scenes you have to hit in a trope. So that really helps as well. So yes, I would say and also now, how could I forget this? The biggest thing that I’ve done is blend an understanding of the market with what I’m writing. As a number one competition I love to look at the market, understand the market, know what’s popular in the market. Is that always exactly what I want to write? No, but usually what I can do is take enough of the popular items and blend it with what I want to do in order to make it still sellable. And I did not do that with my first series and not getting the sales made it really hard to want to write the next book because of SIG, because of competition, because of achiever. So for me, and in order to keep me writing, I have to know that there’s at least a chance to make money with the series. Otherwise I’m just not interested and I just can’t get the words out. So yeah, I would say that Ruby has been a real shift in every level from physical drafting to new editors to new. Like, I will continue to look at the market whilst I’m drafting as well. Like, it’s a daily thing. I check the top 100 every single day and I look at my genre top 100 most days, I would say, but it’s giving myself permission to do that that gives me pennies to know who’s winning right now in the market, right? That is something that’s really important to me because I want to be the fucking winner, of course, right? So in order to do that, I have to know who else is doing it and how they’re doing it and why they’re doing it and what is working and what can I do that’s better than that. But I would not do that before. I wouldn’t give myself permission to do that. Ruby has been a lesson in permission giving, I would say.
V.E. Griffith 00:19:17
Well, it’s always interesting to listen to you talk about this because I’m like, complete opposite. I’m 24 SIG, 30 competition and 34 achiever. So it’s like, yeah, I don’t give a shit. It’s funny. Okay, what’s next on your editing journey? Do you have anything? What do you think you’re going to change next? Do you have any idea?
Sacha Black 00:19:45
Yeah, I mean, I’m going to change something changes every single series, every single draft, right? This last series was about writing fast paced, unput downable stories. And so whilst there are some really nice lines of prose in there, most of the good prose is like, banter dialogue. And what’s good about these books is that I’ve used tools and techniques to prevent people from putting the book down. So things like playing with white space, playing with hooks at the end of chapters, playing with secrets, things like this that keep its story, right, as opposed to looking at prose. The thing is that I also really, really love prose and the art form of creating beautiful sentences. And so my next challenge for the next series is to blend a little bit more of that back in and to have slightly more because what I don’t want to do is lose the pace that I have. Like, pace is just something that is me. And therefore it’s like the next challenge is to edit in deeper prose whilst not losing the pace of the story. So that is going to be an interesting one for me. Is that the kind of what do you mean? Am I answering the question?
V.E. Griffith 00:21:10
Absolutely. Yeah, you are. It’s fine. Whenever I ask a question about what’s in the future, how the hell do I know? But it’s always neat to be open to change as opposed to, oh, this is the thing that works. I’m never going to change it because it’s the only thing I know.
Sacha Black 00:21:31
No, the other things, I completely agree. I mean, I’m top five learner, so I’m always learning something. And one of the things that I have discovered is that I.
V.E. Griffith 00:21:46
At least there’s something we have in common. I’m number seven Learner.
Sacha Black 00:21:49
Oh, there we go. Okay, so I had the same problem with this current book, book three in the series that I had with book two in the series. And that was I went to start and I couldn’t get the emotional tone right between the couple. And I was saying to my coach, like, why is it wrong? Why have I tried to rewrite this four times? What is going on? And I was like, I can’t get to the bottom of the conflict. Why is the conflict wrong? And she was like, it’s not conflict, it’s context. She was like, you don’t know where they’ve come from. And I’m like, well, why don’t I know that? Why do I need to know that? And she’s like, your context 33. So of course you’re not going to think about that. So for me, it’s like, okay, all right, we’ve worked on the things that I’m good at. Now let’s look at some of the putting that stuff into place whilst I’m outlining before I start, rather than stumbling across that like 10,000 words into the book and going, fuck, now I need to go back and rewrite the beginning or whatever. So for me, this next series that I will be starting in September, I need to give myself a bit more time in the outlining phase so that the drafting and editing is easier, I would say.
V.E. Griffith 00:23:08
Okay, well, that sounds great. What did we miss that we didn’t discuss that you thought about as you were reading what I sent you? Okay, great. Well, where can we find you on the Internet?
Sacha Black 00:23:26
So you can find me at https://Sachablack.co.uk. That’s Sasha with a C so S-A-C-H-A the color black co UK and on instagram at @sachablackauthor or you can listen to the Rebel Author podcast.
V.E. Griffith 00:23:41
Okay, great. Well, thank you very much and we’ll see you next time.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:23:47
Thank you so much for joining us. For today’s episode, you can find every episode on your favorite podcast player and on YouTube. For transcripts, please visit our website at revisionwizards.com. They go live the same day as our episodes.
V.E. Griffith 00:24:01
If you’d like to reach out to us separately, you can find me at https://vegriffith.com and Miss Catherine at https://scribespen.com.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:24:09
Stay a magical.