Interview with Don McNair author of “Editor-Proof Your Writing”

Today’s guest is professional writer and editor, Don McNair. He’s sharing a bit about his newest book, Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Publishers and Agents Crave.

Don will be giving away winner’s choice of any of his backlist books to a lucky commentor during the tour. Make sure to leave an e-maill address with your comment below if you want a chance to win. And if you’d like to increase your chances, you can visit other tour stops Don is making and leave comments there.

Don McNair
spent his working life editing magazines (eleven years), producing public
relations materials for an international PR company (six years), and heading
his own marketing communications firm, McNair Marketing Communications
(twenty-one years). His creativity has won him three Golden Trumpets for best
industrial relations programs from the Publicity Club of Chicago, a certificate
of merit award for a quarterly magazine he wrote and produced, and the Public
Relations Society of America’s Silver Anvil. The latter is comparable to the
Emmy and Oscar in other industries.
Don has
written and placed hundreds of trade magazine articles and four published
non-fiction how-to books. He considers his latest, Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Publishers and
Agents Crave,
to be the cap of his forty-year writing and editing career. It’s an easy-to-use editing manual
that helps writers edit, step by step, their first chapter, then use the
knowledge gained to edit the rest of their work.
Don has also
written six novels; two young adults (Attack
of the Killer Prom Dresses
and The
Long Hunter
), three romantic suspenses (Mystery
on Firefly Knob
, Mystery at Magnolia
and co-authored Waiting for
), and a romantic comedy (BJ,
Milo, and the Hairdo from Heck
). All are published internationally, and are
available at his website,
Don, a member
of Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, and the Editorial
Freelancers Association, now concentrates on editing novels for others. He
teaches two online editing classes.
Welcome, Don. Please tell us about
your current release.
My newest book, released April 1 by Quill Drivers Books, is
titled Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21
Steps to the Clear Prose Agents and Publishers Crave.
It’s based on what
I’ve learned in my lifelong career of writing and editing. I was a magazine
editor for eleven years, a public relations professional for a major PR company
for six, and ran my own marketing communications company for 21.
inspired you to write this book?
The idea for it came several years ago on a flight from
Chicago to Atlanta, where I was to research an article for a client. Out of
boredom I was reading a fog-filled paperback, and realized the same editing mistakes
appeared over and over. I was intrigued. I bought another paperback at the
Atlanta airport and edited it on the way home. A pattern emerged, and I became
excited. Had I discovered the writer’s Rosetta stone?
Over the next several months I edited many other paperback
novels. I joined critique groups, judged writing contests, figuratively tackled
new writers on the streets, aggressively editing their fiction. I next plowed
through all those manuscripts from pre-published authors and the marked-up
paperback books I’d tossed into a dresser drawer and painstakingly sorted
thousands of offending sentences and other problems by type. I eventually
identified 21 distinct problems. Today I call their solutions, appropriately
enough, the 21 Steps to Fog-Free Writing.
The inference staggered me. Just as there are a specific
number of elements in chemistry’s Periodic Table and letters in the alphabet,
there’s also a specific number of fog problems in writing. I realized many
unnecessary words are actually tips of bad-writing icebergs, and that
eliminating them resolves otherwise complicated editing problems. In fact,
almost half the Steps actually strengthen action while shortening sentences.
Does the book cover things other than
taking words out?
Yes. Taking
them out was my initial thrust, but I soon realized putting words in properly
was as important. So I divided the book into three sections: Putting Words In,
Taking Words Out, and Sharing Your Words. The latter discusses finding and
working with critique partners, professional editors, publishers, and agents.
How did you know your editing system
Because I field-tested
it in two online writing classes, over three years. One was “Editor-Proof That
First Chapter” (putting words in), the other was “21 Steps to Fog-Free Writing”
(taking words out). The feedback was phenomenal, and I realized I was on to something.
I include comments from enthused students in the book’s opening pages.
writer “Barbara Stevens” asked me to critique and edit her newest unpublished
novel’s first chapter. “I’ve written twelve other manuscripts,” she said, “and
they’ve been rejected a lot of times. I hope you can figure out what’s wrong.”
Well, I did
figure it out, and quickly. This lady was basically a good writer. Her blogs
sparkled, she dreamed up creative plots, and her heart was certainly in her
work. But she’d made a major craft mistake in that chapter and, presumably, in
all twelve of those manuscripts. It was a mistake that almost guaranteed she’d
never be published.
We discussed
her problem (we’ll get back to that later), and the light bulb over her head
glowed brilliantly. She rewrote that first chapter and I edited it again, and,
as if by magic, it became publishable. Barbara used her new-found knowledge to
revise the rest of that manuscript, followed by her twelve other novels. Within
two months she sold one, and she’s now been published many times. She’s on her
The point? Barbara’s
breakthrough came directly from correcting that one craft mistake. She’d made
it time and time again and was destined to repeat it again and again, until
someone told her what it was.
You may be
making that same mistake. Or perhaps you’re making another equally deadly
one—mistakes we’ll identify and resolve in this book—and are not aware of it. But
there’s hope.
There are other self-editing books out
there. In what ways is yours different? Better?
From my
viewpoint as a professional fiction editor, the biggest roadblock most writers
have is simply this: They have no clue about what their editing problems are! And
if they don’t know them, how can they solve them?
There’s a lot
of advice out there, of course, but I found that little of it is of practical
value to the beginning writer. Most editing manuals are like geography books that
give great information but don’t show how to get from place to place. They’re
like dictionaries from which one is asked to select words to write the Great
American Novel. Well, if you don’t know what your writing problems are, how do
you know what in those big books you should apply?
What writers
need first, before they delve into bucketsful of unrelated jargon, is a
practical way to identify their specific editing problems. And that’s the
premise of the new book. It helps writers identify their problems, Step by
Step, then shows them how to resolve each one.
Would you give us an example of how
your “21 Step” editing system works?
Using this
system is simple. Readers apply the 21 Steps one at a time, to only the first
chapter of their Work in Progress or that manuscript publishers insist on
returning to them. Then, based on that experience, they’ll finish the
Step 3 of the
21 Steps, for example, involves changing passive voice to active voice. They’ll
read an explanation and examples of the problem, then read a “Fog Alert!”
sidebar that shows several more before-after examples. Next they’ll edit ten
problem sentences, and check themselves against solutions in the back of the
book. After every two or three Steps they’ll edit a mini-chapter of “Sarah’s
Perils,” a tongue-in-cheek melodrama, to find and fix the problems they just
studied. Finally, they’ll search their own manuscript’s first chapter for
passive sentences—they now know what to look for—and change them to active. With
many Steps they’ll learn how to use their word processor’s “search” function to
find the problems.
When they’re
done with all the Steps, they’ll have a sparkling first chapter ready for that
publisher. Now they simply apply that same knowledge to the rest of their
manuscript. Students using the 21-Step method in my classes were delighted with
the results. They know that every manuscript they write from now on will be
clearer and more compelling than any they’ve ever written, for two reasons: they
won’t make most of those mistakes in the first place, and they’ll know exactly
what to look for when they self-edit. Past students today tell me they refer to
those lessons daily as they write. I believe most of the book’s users will keep
it next to their word processors.
When did you first consider yourself a
I remember that day vividly. I was in grade
school, and the teacher asked us to write a story about Mother’s Day. I turned
mine in and the next day the teacher told the class what a great job I’d done,
and proceeded to read it. After class a cute little girl with brown curls came
up to me and said, “Donnie, I loved your story.” My brain turned to mush and
dribbled out my ears, and I was afraid of girls for years after.
As a child, what did you want to be
when you grew up?
Well, I
enjoyed writing, and made up stories for years.
But back in the fifties, when I hit puberty and tried to look
into the murky future, I told myself I wanted to be the world’s foremost
cartoonist. I became the cartoonist for my high school’s newspaper, and later
for my college paper.

I joined a magazine’s editing staff after college and toiled as an editor and
writer ever since. In the sixties I drew a daily comic strip called Paradise
Park, which featured the goings on in a city park. I offered it to the syndicates, and learned their estimation of its value
differed from mine. A couple months ago, while cleaning out a storage shed, I
ran across those strips. Hey, they didn’t look bad! Just for grins, I’ve
featured the strips on my website. You can find them at .
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s
your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find
time to write?
I’ve written
six novels and four how-to books, but my current work is editing for others. I
roll out of bed and hit the computer, and work until lunch. I enjoy being able
to work from home, doing something I love. When I worked for the magazines and
PR agencies I did so in suit and tie, and attended conferences and board
meetings, and had to be my best every day. I consider that experience the
penitence for what I do now.
Do you have any writing quirks?
Unlike many
writers, I keep track of my time in fifteen-minute increments, and that keeps
me on target. I picked up that habit in my previous
working life, where I billed my work out to my clients in fifteen-minute chunks.
It was a good way to keep the muse working with me—and defeating writers’
block—since I had to justify my time with a detailed report of progress.
Thank you, Don.

Readers, don’t forget to leave an e-mail with a comment below if you’d like a chance to win your choice of any book from Don’s backlistAnd if you’d like to increase your chances, you can visit other tour stops Don is making and leave comments there.

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