Tag Archives: edit

Starts With P: writing advice

Our preschool letter of the week is P.  We talk about pickles and pinecones, pigs and peacocks, porcupines and pillows.  Not in that order, and certainly not in the same breath.  Yet, like all things, I could string them together into one cohesive theme if given enough time.  I’m just crazy that way.

While contemplating this today, it struck me that novels would never get completed without the all-powerful letter P. 

And so I present you: Writing Advice with the Letter P.

  • Premeditate: Every good story needs a bit of forethought before putting pen to paper.  While I’m a pantster (writing without an outline), a certain amount of premeditation can go a long way in understanding the nuances of a novel.  For instance, I researched multiple personality disorders for Whispering Minds.  I read four books, checked out numerous websites and tapped into my psych classes from college to pull together pertinent info to my story.
  • Plot: Next I plodded plotted my way through my story.  I wrote one word after another, stringing sentences into paragraphs and pages into chapters.  Soon, I had a viable story line with a workable plot–a conflict and a resolution.
  • Progress: Every day, I wrote a minimum of 1,667 words.  While that sounds impressive, it was a self-imposed timeline posed by NaNoWriMo and their annual novel-writing contest.  Regardless of the reason, however, I made progress toward my 50k words in thirty days goal.  Each and every day, I worked on my novel.  Forward motion is the only way progress is made.
  • Perseverance: Don’t get me wrong, there were days I wanted to quit.  Procrastination could have been my friend.  Instead, I persevered through the doldrums and worked despite my absent muse. 
  • Posterior: Eventually I reached THE END.  The backside of a novel writing endeavor is a much cherished success.  Whether our words ever get read by another human being or not, simply reaching the climax of a novel and wrapping up the loose ends is a success few wannabe writers ever reach.  If this is as far as you get in your career as a writer, congratulate yourself on a job well-done.  Only 17% of those starting NaNoWriMo each year complete their goals. 
  • Practice: After our final words find their way to the page, aspiring writers feel empowered with their success.  We want to rush our babies into the literary world.  Don’t.  Suppress this urge.  Quash it.  Kill it or hide it in a box in a dark closet.  Your rough draft is your practice piece.  Nothing more and nothing less.   
  • Polish: After a solid finish, your practice manuscript needs a good spit-shine.  It needs echoes beat out of it.  It needs plot holes filled and characters plumped.  It needs to be edited over and over again until you have clarity.  It needs beta eyes to pinpoint problem areas and help make your writing a work of art–precise, polished, perfect.
  • Perfection: Okay, maybe that’s too strong of a word.  But the gist of it is, if you ever want to go from wanna-be writer to aspiring writer to full-fledged author, you must learn the delicate balance between as-good-as-I-can-get-it and editing-the-magic-out.  When we reach that comfortable place in our rewrites, we must stop the urge to tinker and start pimping our babies to the professionals.

What other P words pave the way for good writing habits and stellar manuscripts? 

Inquiring minds want to know.

When Rabbits Grow

When rabbits grow, they multiply.  And not like 7 x 6 = 42. 

More like 1 x 1 = a litter.

My back yard is full of bunnies.  They eat my lilacs, poop on my sidewalk, and chomp away all the buds from my perennials.  They are a royal pain in my back side. 

Which reminds me of a WIP that is quietly hanging out in the TBRevised pile. 

Sometimes we get carried away with story lines and we let those plot bunnies multiply.  We think it adds tension and drama and depth.  And to a certain extent they do.

But sometimes, we end up with a whole litter of them and they run out of control.  They take over the main conflict, nibble at the important story lines and out number the MC. 

I should have let DH shoot them when he had the chance.  But no, I’m a sucker for those fuzzy little ears and milky white paws.  And their noses….  Be still my heart when a baby bunny twitches his little nose my way.  I’m a sucker for bunnies.

Sadly, my TBR manuscript shows it.  One agent suggested it might be too issue heavy.  What I think she meant was prolific. 

I’m going to don my farmer’s overalls and chase down my plot bunnies.  And the next time two of them shack up under my shed, I’m going to let DH give them the boot. 

One plot bunny is nice.  I think I’ll keep it that way.

Do you have a problem with runaway plot bunnies?  How do you balance the population in your manuscripts?  And how do you decide which plot threads add to your manuscript and which ones eat away at the gist of your story?

Just What the Doctor Ordered

Yesterday our geriatric lab made a trip to the vet due to a severe limp.  She had reinjured her shoulder while playing catch on Sunday and by Monday morning she could barely walk.  She needed a refill of her pain meds and her steroids to keep the swelling down.  Today she is a different dog.

My manuscripts get that way sometimes. 

During an edit I can take out too much or tinker around in all the wrong ways until I nearly cripple my story, forcing me to start all over again. 

But that’s the beauty of editing.  With our wonderful technology, we can play around with each draft until we find what works. 

It’s like a quick trip to the vet clinic.  When something doesn’t achieve our desired results, we try a new prescription. 

Have you ever tinkered too much with a manuscript and had to start over again?  What elements do you find yourself most likely to over-edit?  Or not edit enough? 

Do you use beta readers to help diagnose your problem areas or do you self prescribe?

Happy editing!

The last vestiges of snow melted from my backyard yesterday, leaving me with a view of spring.

Crumbled leaves, broken flower stems and matted grass litter my little corner of heaven.  My passion for spring runs deep.  I love the pungent odor of newly turned soil, the cleansing scent of spring showers and the perfume of fresh blooms.  My fingers itch just typing this.

In much the same way, I love editing a newly finished manuscript.  There is so much debris that needs swept aside, words that can be cut and hauled away, scenes that can be transplanted and new ideas incorporated to flesh out the story. 

Gardening and editing are two of my favorite things.  They both require creativity and organization.  And when they are complete, the end product is delightful.  My garden is my favorite place to write.  It inspires me.  My writing is always richer when I’ve had a chance to phyically mold and shape my outdoor office.

I cant imagine one without the other.

What are you passionate about?  How does your other passion complement your writing?  How is the process of each similar?

Major Manuscript Changes

Much discussion in the writing arena focuses on point of view.  Should my book be first person, third person exclusive, switch POV’s, etc.?  I firmly believe POV is a matter of personal taste–for each manuscript.

Every story has different needs.  Most of the time I know what those are going into it.  However, there are times when I’m unsure.  My best example is my NaNo09 novel Whispering Minds

I love, love, loved my character’s name: Gemini, Gemi for short.  I wanted to hear it and see it and love it on paper.  Selfishly.  In addition, I had a whole lot of characters to incorporate into the novel and planned to give each of them their own space.  So I wrote in third person and switched POV’s. 

Twelve thousand words into the manuscript I realized this was too impersonal.  I struggled to capture Gemi’s essence on the page.  She felt distant to me.  And if I didn’t connect, my readers would never give one flip about her. 

Enter first person with no POV switch.  From the moment I realized my huge mistake, I let Gemi tell her story.  It worked out much better this way because she knew her journey more intimately than I and it sounded natural coming from her rather than via my translation of what I thought she wanted to say.

This technique is encouraged in writing circles and by writing professionals.  I’ve heard it from editors, agents, writers and writing coaches.  “Give it a whirl.  See where it takes you.  Use what feels best.”

However, I don’t think they intended for anyone to write 1/5th of a novel before switching.  I have started editing Whispering Minds, but feel like I’ve gotten nowhere.  All I’ve done so far is change out my she’s with me’s and my Gemi’s with I’s and a few other prominant word swaps.  I haven’t even tackled the POV switch yet.  Even so, this is a daunting task.  To date, it is my least favorite edit.

It is even worse than the time I changed an entire novel from present tense to past tense.  Ten times more horrific than a character name change.  Scads more frustrating than the time I gave my MC a sex change.  Not literally within the manuscript–just a simple character shift throughout the whole thing. 

Everything is different.  Word choices, emotions, actions, everything.  Boys use shorter sentences and don’t get all touchy-feely.  Changing tenses means a verb swap in EVERY sentence.  Events feel foreign and forced when making simple substitutions.  Voice is lost and language becomes stilted. 

“Sharon and Gemi attended the play.  The girls laughed so hard their sides hurt.” cannot become “Sharon and I attended the play.  The girls laughed so hard their sides hurt.”  Every sentence needs to be read carefully to make every appropriate substitution.  This process is time consuming.

Along the way, I’ve learned some tips when making Major Manuscript Changes. 

  1. Use the find and replace button if you have one.  While this works miracles for POV or name changes, don’t try it on a tense change.
  2. In addition, do not–DO NOT–find and replace everything.  Confusion abounds.  I almost scrapped my whole project when I realized the magnitude of clicking replace all.
  3. Make your changes 100% BEFORE editing your rough draft.  If you try to edit and change at the same time you will never understand what is going on.  Your edit will be a Disaster with a capital D.
  4. Save the original manuscript someplace else and ignore it while you work on the new edit.  You may learn–when you are all done ripping your hair out making the changes–that the original was, indeed, the better option. 
  5. Relax.  It’s not a race.  You are not graded on how quickly you get the task done.  However, your final manuscript is judged by editors and agents.  Having Timmy start out the manuscript in present tense and ending the piece with Past-Tense-Tonya will likely get your submission tossed.
  6. Use fantastic beta readers before declaring your changes complete.  A Major Manuscript Change is far too difficult to accomplish going solo (ie, we are too close to the project and know what it is supposed to say).  At the end of the day, too many minute mistakes remain.

Have you ever made Major Manuscript Changes to a completed work?  If so, what tips or tricks do you have to help others? 

As readers or writers, what are your preferences regarding POV, tense, gender, etc.?  Is one form an absolute turn off?  If so, why?

~happy editing

Don’t Beat Me Over the Head

I have always been a huge advocate of using strong, active verbs in writing.  They move the story along with very little need for adverbs.  The correct verb can also provide emotion, description and attitude.  It packs a powerful punch.

However, I am in the middle of a book filled with strong verbs.  Every sentence utilizes a unique verb.  I have never wanted a was, is or a has been so much in my life.  For example:

“Regret graveled in his throat…”

“The scene fuzzed in his mind.”

“Low current shimmied in his mind.”

“He thumped to his desk….”

“Air shuddered down her throat.”

“Gravity sucked her blood to her feet.”

“His muscles startled.”

And my two favorites…

“Rage popped around his chest…”

“His rage splattered higher.”

These, and about twelve more, were found on two pages of my newest read.  While these images are vivid, an entire novel written this way has become distracting.  I am currently more invested in the verbs than the story. 

It just goes to show that there can be too much of a good thing.  Like anything in writing, balance is the key.  Beating your reader over the head with any kind of writing is annoying.  Because of that, I’m actually thankful to the author for writing this book.  It has taught me another valuable lesson on less is more.  Each manuscript will need to be reread with an eye to verb usage.  And so goes the writing life….

What are your best worst sentences?  The ones you thought were so poetic and perfect upon writing, but laughed at upon editing? 

Do you ever beat your readers over the head?  Have you read books where this happens?

Clean Lines-in books and in bedrooms

For Christmas, Dear Hubby and I exchanged bed sets. 

We replaced our old and ratty one for a shiny, new one.  It was time.  The mattress was sagging, the dressers were nicked up and the night stand was really an end table masquerading as a place to put our lamp. 

Our new bedroom is dark, heavy and full of clean lines.  There is nothing extra in our room and, in fact, we purged a chair, some pictures, candles and other “things”.  We also replaced the dingy, four-kids-and-a-dog, white carpet (not our choice) for a yummy chocolate flecked, low nap piece that will wear much better.

It was a great exchange and reminds me of my latest edit project.  Getting rid of favorite words, phrases and scenes can be extremely difficult.  Obviously I wrote them for a reason.  I loved them.  I wanted to keep them forever.  But somewhere along the way, they got worn out. 

Like the carpet, they didn’t withstand multiple readings.  They became faded and matted down.  No longer exciting to walk on.  Chapters became catch-alls for extra words like our dressers collecting trinkets.  Shiny baubles that we thought spruced up the place.  In reality, they did nothing but clutter.

Thanks to two outstanding critiquers, she-who-shall-remain-nameless and my cyber buddy, my chapter book manuscript has been pared down to the essentials.  I ditched the pretty baubles and replaced them with strong, active words that moved the story along. 

Monday I finished up my “final” edit and have since fallen in love with my story all over again.  Just in time.  An agent I queried last spring requested a full.  To non-writers, that means, the agent wants to read the entire manuscript before deciding whether he/she wants to represent it.  It’s a huge step in the endless cycle of submissions. 

So how can we ensure our manuscripts have clean, uncluttered lines?  In theory, the process is simple.  In practice, it can be hard–if only because parting with things we created can be gut-wrenching.  Here’s how I edit.

  1. Print out a paper copy of the rough draft and attack it.  I cut entire chapters, add new ones and generally do a lot of road work–filling in plot holes and connecting the story arc to make sure my road gets from point A to point B.
  2. Fix story discrepencies, fill out characters, watch for typos (always) and pay attention to things like pet words (that, suddenly, etc), dialogue tags (adding action rather than he sighed, she harrumphed) and weak verbs (replacing was going with things like ran, trudged and snuck).  Beta readers are helpful at this stage.
  3. Read the manuscript from front to back to “listen” with my reader’s ear. 
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 until I have replaced my old and ratty manuscript for a shiny, new one.

How do you exchange your rough draft for a clean-lined, ready to submit manuscript?  What kinds of things do you find cluttering up your metaphorical dresser?  What wears down your writing like foot-traffic on a carpet?

Happy editing~ cat

P.S. As a side note, agents and editors are like interior decorators–no matter how perfect our manuscripts might seem to us, they have an eye for finding a better color combo, a great accent piece and the forgotten plot bunnies hiding under the bed.

Fingers Never Forget

It’s been six days since I last held my keyboard.  When I booted up my computer this morning and began typing, my fingers flew across the keys.  Miraculously tapping letters in the correct order to form coherent sentences and fluid passages.  I was happy to learn that fingers never forget.

The physcial act of writing appears to be almost as soothing as the cerebral aspect of it.  Over the long weekend, I missed it. 

I wonder if writing is an addiction.  Physcially, emotionally and psychologically.  I think it may be.  I have heard of many writers who dabble in the craft, only to give it up for Real Life.  I definitely have.  And yet I keep coming back to it in much the same way an alcholic returns to the bottle. 

The drive become stronger with each dabble and the frequency between bouts shortens.  I come back to writing with renewed vigor and intensity, while the thought of not writing makes me want to throw up–literally.  My stomach hurts at the thought of not being able to write anymore. 

The pathway from my brain, and the incessant chattering of characters therein, to my fingertips has been forged.  I was fine during the long, snowed in weekend as long as I didn’t think about it.  I deliberately left my laptop at home so as not to be tempted during the midst of the Christmas celebration.  Out of sight, out of mind. 

Like an alcoholic, I steered clear of the bar and it worked. 

Until this morning when I woke up.  I had planned on getting up and working out with DH.  However, as soon as he left the warmth of our bed, my laptop called to me.  I was alone.  I had no responsibilities at 5:30 am.  And my computer was in my bag next to the night stand.  The temptation was more than I could handle. 

I booted up my laptop intending to finish my edit on my chapter book.  Yet my fingers instinctively hit the internet button.  I chastised myself as I waited for my homepage to load.  I knew that if I let this insanity continue, I would not get to my editing before the day demanded my attention elsewhere. 

I checked my emails and told myself to ex out.  Self said, “I can’t leave my fellow scribes waiting.”  After all, it had been six days since I last posted. 

So here I am.  Commenting.  Checking out Cassandra’s blog and posting on my own.  I’m thirsty for more.  It’s that first tiny sip as I perch precariously on the edge of the wagon.  I feel myself tipping over the edge.  I see the road on which I will land and yet I can’t stop myself.  When I am finished here, I will open my file and lose myself in the beauty of the written word. 

It may be hours before I come to my senses and realize I have lost half a day.  Like all addicts, I will feel guilt.  Guilty enough to motivate me to finish the afternoon responsibly.  Guilty enough to ignore my manuscript tonight.  Guilty enough to understand the raw craving and the consequences of giving in to the urge to work on my NaNo novel. 

Yet not strong enough to put my writing away for any length of time because I am an addict and fingers never forget.

Over the years, I have reprioritized things in my life to accomodate my addiction.  I have learned to let my house go just enough that it is still clean, but not perfect.  I haven’t turned the television on in years for myself to enjoy.  I have cut back on my reading and have given up my more mild hobbies of scrapbooking and card making.  I have sacrificed some pleasure to feed my addiction.  Thankfully I had the luxury to do so without significantly impacting my family. 

How about you?  Do you find writing to be a mere hobby or a driving addiction?  How have you reprioritized to accomodate your desire to write?  Do you feel any sort of guilt connected to the time you spend at your keyboard?  If you’re a non-writer, what activity in your life could be considered an addiction?

I have always thought there should be a support group for writers.  Then again, maybe there is and it’s called networking…

cheers~ cat