Tag Archives: manuscripts

Retreat! I’m Packing Up My Writing

A few weeks ago, one of my girlfriends texted me. “I’m packing for a 10 day trip and thought of you. Just fit all my clothes and shoes and swim wear in 1 carry-on bag. I’m learning.”

This from a gal who would pack a huge suitcase for a four-day trip. Who packed eleven pairs of shoes for one week of vacation. Who had to pay extra for luggage because, while it all fit, it still weighed more than the max amount.

She’s definitely learning.

Traditionally, I pack light. I hate carting extra stuff around and have long since realized one sweatshirt is enough to ward off the north woods’ chill for a weekend. Or that packing in color schemes lightens the load, as many items can be reused with little to no problem–sandals, for instance.

Easy when it comes to clothes. But next week, I’m packing up my writing. I’m attending a four-day retreat sans my little fam of one hubby, two dogs, four kids and 2001 dust bunnies. My only obligation during this time is to write.

And this is where the packing thing gets me. What do I bring?

Do I edit or write fresh? If the former, which manuscript and which copy: paper or digital? If the latter, what support material should I bring: my research books, my notebooks, my writing totem?

What if I have a brain fart and what I packed doesn’t flow? Do I need to pack multiple projects? What if I finish a project early and have nothing to do with my fingers besides shovel food in my mouth?

All of a sudden I picture an over-grown suitcase filled with eleven manuscripts and supporting documentation for each of them. I picture one small sliver of space left over for a ratty pair of jammie pants and one sweatshirt. I picture other retreaters stopping me at the door, badges in hand. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but your suitcase has reached maximum density. We’ll have to charge you an extra fee to bring all your words inside.”

I’ve never been on a writing retreat before and have no idea what to do. I need serious help.

So, dear readers, have you ever embarked on a writing retreat before? What did you pack that you shouldn’t have? What did you forget that you longed to have at your fingertips? How did you schedule your writing time: editing, writing or a combination of the two? What is a writing retreat must-have? Spill it all and help me learn.


Dressing Up Your Manuscript for Prom

I have one princess readying herself for prom.  Eldest has gone through it twice, but being a boy, he’s pretty low-key.  Dear Daughter is a whole ‘nother experience.  She needs make up and hair pins and shoes and alterations for her skinny little butt and shiny bling and sparkles and pretties and paint and…

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun.  But it’s also a lot of hard work.  Colors must coordinate and styles must flow seamlessly from the tip of her top knot to her perfectly manicured toes.

Too much of anything is gaudy.  Too different is chaotic.  Less is definitely more.

In many ways, preparing a manuscript for submission is the same.  Less is more.

If you’re new to the writing gig, check out my list of references for a few books that can help accessorize your manuscript for your target agent/editor/audience.

For amazing websites or blogs on the business, please take a peek at my sidebar.  My favorite go-to places are yours for the asking.

What are some of your favorite writing resources?  What is your writing bible?  What blog do you turn to for all the answers?

Curious minds want to know.



Leaping Over This Post!

Sorry, my dear readers, writers, family and friends.  I am leaping over this day and concentrating on my writing.  Tweaking a few things for my agent on my MG novel, ABIGAIL BINDLE AND THE SLAM BOOK SCAM.

That, and I should shower at some point today!

Turn Your Novel into a Literary Destination

Yesterday, I took a few mug shots of my kids.  We’re in the process of getting their passports, and it got me thinking how books are passports to exotic destinations.  They take us on adventures unimaginable, with friends we never knew existed.  They show us horrors we never want to experience and provide us with experiences we are lacking in our every day lives.

As writers, we create these worlds.  We toil away beside characters we love and resolve conflicts in foreign kingdoms with new age technology.  We sweat blood and cry caffeine tears in the hopes that someday, somewhere, somebody will stamp our books into their literary passports.

So, where are these passports that honor our long hours and days and characters and scenes?  Where is the proof that such incredible worlds exist beyond our keyboards and how do we invite others inside our words?

In short, how do our manuscripts become destination spots for eager literary travelers?

Cat’s Passport Guide for Writers

Create a unique destination.  Few people want to visit an uninhabited island devoid of food and water.  As writers, we must build all-inclusive resorts for our readers.  Plot, character, yada, yada, yada.  We have to have it all, or nobody will book a flight.  We also have to provide something unique along with all our other amenities.  If our novels sound, feel, smell and taste exactly like the book it will be shelved next to…?  Seriously, what’s the point of trying out a knock-off resort author?

Customer service, baby.  Few people shell out cold, hard cash to stay at a resort where they wash their own dishes and dodge trash on the walkways.  Get rid of typos, cut down on wordy sentences and dispose of purple prose.  All those things detract from the experience and rarely garner repeat business.  Bad customer service = bad business.

Know thy audience.  A five-star resort with adult only beaches does not attract middle class families with small children.  Likewise, a water park resort with ice cream stands every fifty feet will surely turn the noses of prospective honeymooners.

Books must fit on bookshelves and in book clubs.  Librarians need to know where to place your masterpiece so it receives the best circulation possible.  “But, but, but, I have a crossover, multi-genre, space-opera, noir adventure for middle graders that everyone from age 8-80 will love,” you say.  “With hot cowboys telling fart jokes.”

To which I say,  “It’s doubtful this conglomeration–placed willy nilly within the historical romances–will be picked up by stay at home moms looking for an exotic escape while the kids are at school.”  Sexy cowboys or not.

Very few books have genuine cross-over appeal.  They are the exception, not the rule.  And breaking into the vacation market with an unknown is risky business.

Make connections.  Travel agents are great at directing customers to hot vacation spots.  Advertisements in the right magazines catch readers’ attention.  Discounts and deals make potential travelers feel good about their purchases.  A personal touch, a bit of history, a quiet sense of comfort.  These things effectively draw people to certain resorts.

Whether we self-pub or use travel agents and traditional publishers along the way, the key to booking sales is tasteful visibility–to the right audience (as proven by number 3 above).

Lastly, don’t brag.  Vacationers love to spill when they return from a fabulous island hop.  Their word of mouth often sells others on the same resort, while their pictures frequently entice on-the-fence travelers to pack up their bags.  Not so with the resort owner–who lives in this exotic locale–who can’t shut up about sipping frozen drinks while you literally freeze in sub par temps.  Not so much when her weekly vial of cornmeal beach sand arrives in the mail just as you vacuum your kid’s daily deposit of pea rock from your front rug.

It is unbecoming of writers to oversell themselves.  Let your novel speak for itself.  Then sit back and let your satisfied customers rank your book with five stars, making your story the hottest literary destination around.

Are you a frequent flyer, buying books to support the industry while getting a better handle on what is available?  Do you know your competition and strive to provide unique characters, settings and stories?  Have you ever been surprised to see similarities between your manuscript/idea and pubbed books?  How do you reconcile that within your own writing?   Which similarities can make a novel?  Which ones can break any chance of every getting published?

Curious minds want to know.

Reaching The End

I’ve reached the end.  My newest WIP is complete and marinating before its edit.  Fall, with its chill winds and splendid show of changing leaves, has replaced the warmth of summer.  On Saturday, Eldest will perform his final marching band show, rounding out his sixth season.

The End.

Sometimes those words are bittersweet.  Sometimes they are just bitter.  Rarely do I look back on them and feel sheer untainted joy.

The End.  My baby is growing up.  I’m no longer allowed to pamper him and smother him and do everything for him.  I’m no longer allowed to act on my motherly impulses, but rather, I’m in a place where he is in control of his new beginning.  I’ll cry this weekend.  No doubt about that.

I’ll cry for everything he’s accomplished and for everything he has yet to do.  I’ll cry for every missed moment and for every mistake I’ve made while raising him.  I’ll shed tears for the baby he’s left behind and the stunning young man he has become.

Even while I know the end is not final, it is a chapter closed.  One I will never get back, save for the memories and photos I have.

In the same way, finishing a manuscript feels final.  Yet, unlike raising a child, it is a chapter we get to read many times.  It is an opportunity to fix our mistakes and change the outcome to be stronger, better, healthier, more satisfying.

~the end~

Or, is it really just the beginning?

Manuscript Overgrown. Hidden Gems Found.

My lilac is overgrown…obviously.  This Dwarf Korean Lilac should only grow four to five feet tall.  We’ve pruned it, but the extra care only makes it come back stronger, fuller and taller.  Needless to say, the lilac is on its way out.

Sometimes our manuscripts can get overgrown as well.  We tweak  a phrase here or there, replace passive verbs with active ones and cut a handful of adjective and adverbs.

In the end, however, we are reluctant to cut too much and struggle to know what to keep and what to throw.

A beautiful turn of phrase.  A tense scene with great characterization.  Drama, action, romance, description, dialogue…sheesh, we wrote those things for a reason and now you’re asking us to pull out the shears?

Yeah, that happens.  I know, because I just cut an entire chapter, leaving only two paragraphs in tact.  Quite honestly, it was one of my favorite chapters.  I’d loved the interplay between my two leading characters.  I loved the tension.  I loved so much about it, but upon an astute observation by Agent Awesome, I realized I gained nothing that other chapters didn’t already cover.  They just did so differently.

As much as I hated the idea of ruthlessly chopping this section, the first three chapters are much stronger.  I’d stripped my manuscript  of the non-essentials and pared it down to find the gems hidden among the bulk.

Yet another manuscript of mine–an earlier one–didn’t look so great upon a deep editing look.  It boasted no inherent gems.  On the surface, I’d penned some great prose.  The story flowed well, but the trunk  didn’t support the branches.  My characters we not fully fleshed out.  My plot was a little too predictable.  My solution too pat.  A cliché hidden behind pretty words.  The question still remains: to trunk it or cut it back to the ground and let it regrow from the roots up?

When I scoped out my lilac bush from the back, I found three balls tucked into the branches.  My boys were in heaven.  “Dude, that’s where my football went!”

Editing isn’t much different.  “Dude,” we might say after some careful/vicious pruning, “that’s what I meant to say in the first place!”

Have you ever really peeked inside your manuscript?  If so, what have you found: a rotten trunk with bare branches or unexpected treasures hidden by the fluff of extra words?

The Last Leg: writing challenges

Chapter 2 of the Skeleton Key can be found at the Inner Owlet.  You won’t be disappointed by the turn of events.  Way to go A.M. Supinger!


Some of you know my pirate chapter book has a three-legged pooch.  He has a peg leg that meets with mishaps and misfortunes along the way.  At the end of the story, he’s literally on his last leg.

Our geriatric black lab is in a similar situation.  She’s had shoulder problems for years and has struggled to walk well since the last hunting season.  Last night she started limping and refuses to put weight on her back right leg.  We’ve known for a while that she was getting close to the end of her life, as we don’t feel it’s fair to keep her alive and in severe pain.  She, too, is on her last leg.

For both these dogs, their journeys have been a series of ups and downs.  Yappy, my fictional pooch, endured shark attacks and lightning strikes.  Kallie, the seventh member of our family, survived heartworm and a hunting incident that ruined her shoulders.  They’ve also been well-loved and pampered.

It can be hard to contemplate the end, even though we all know that life does, indeed, have a definitive finish.

Just like our stories.

Sometimes we lose track of this and drag our stories out too long.   We love our characters so much that we don’t want to part with them.  We may have unfinished business to settle–one more hunting season–so we feel reassured of a Happily Ever After.

What we don’t realize is that the climax has ended and the pain has set in.  We’ve outlived our time, but don’t know how to say goodbye.

Other times, we finish too early–an unexpected turn for the worse that takes us by surprise and leaves us feeling empty and hopeless.  We lament that we didn’t get to properly cherish the last moments.  We have loose ends that need tied up, but no way to do so.  The purpose for our story–for the dog collars and leashes, food and kennels–has vanished. 

But there is a happy medium where we know the end is near and we can prepare for it.  We can say our goodbyes and feel satisfied that everything is as it should be.  I just hope we can do it gracefully when it comes time to let Kallie go.

How do you know when your story is finished?  What steps do you take to make sure the loose ends are tied up during the last leg so you don’t drag your characters–and readers–through a painful goodbye? 

Dessert Disappointments: false advertising in writing

Have you ever noticed that the beautiful, glossy pics advertising scrumptious desserts rarely portray the messy, pasty, cardboardish lump the waiter plops down in front of you?

“Why,” you ask, “is it so hard to actually put whipped cream on mine and top it with a cherry instead of a whole can of chocolate Hershey ice cream sauce?”

And, “Why, oh why, does my brownie taste like left-over birthday cake that’s been frozen for a month and nuked on high?”

The answer is simple.  They could hardly advertise the truth or it would never sell.

Left-Over Birthday Cake Surprise: this frozen puck of a brownie has been over-nuked, leaving it hard and tasteless.  However, we have since drowned it in chocolate sauce to rehydrate it and added a dab of faux whipped cream for color.  And forget the cherry.  You had one in your Shirley Temple.

Query letters can also be dessert disappointments.

Writers advertise the heck out of their novels with beautiful words and promises of exciting things.  But somewhere along the way, they serve up a tasteless, cardboard lump. 

We get excited about finishing our WIP and forget that writing an enticing query letter is not enough to get our manuscripts on the bookshelves.  We must deliver what we promise.

So, the next time you’re tempted to shoot your query letter into the literary world of waiting customers, remember that you must have a product worth eating reading.

To find out if you’re ready, head over to A Steampunk Reverie.  Calista Taylor has a great list of questions to help you decide if you can deliver what you advertise.

Happy Writing!

White-washing the Grime

Welcome to the verbal tour of my preschool house (yes, I promise this will be relevant to the written word).  As we enter the kitchen, you will note that the walls are freshly painted and the old-style cupboards lend it a quaint air.

No…wait…don’t!  Awww, shoot.

Tell me you didn’t just open that cupboard.  Tell me you didn’t notice the fingerprints of previous owners.  Tell me…

Yep, we did contact paper the shelves.  I know, the inside of the doors themselves could use a white-wash to make them fresh and clean.  Fine.

Ever feel this way about your writing?

You have a perfect manuscript with perfect characters and a perfect plot.  Everyone loves it on a beta read.  You dream of it making the endcaps.  It’s awesome!  Except…

You can’t quiet put your finger on what bothers you.  It feels a bit dull.  Bland.  Smudged.  Used.

Sometimes when we spend so much time rewriting our plot and characters, we lose a bit of the magic we first felt when we wrote our rough drafts.  We’ve read our manuscripts so often that our brains no longer read the words.  They simply regurgitate the idea we know we’ve written.  We’ve given into the impulse to cut and paste and tweak and add, even as we’ve promised ourselves this is the final read-through.  It’s just so darned easy to do on a keyboard. 

This is the time we need to grab our metaphorical paint brushes.  This is when we print out a paper copy of our manuscripts onto crisp white paper and give it an honest read.

I know, this costs money and kills trees.  But I promise you, when you read your completed manuscript this way, it just feels different.  Some of that old magic seeps in through your fingertips.  Your eyes appreciate the clean lines of black print on white paper instead of computer screen shades of gray.  It’s not as easy to tweak a word or two and after a few pages, you see your manuscript in a whole  new light.

It finally feels like a book.

 What tips do you use to trick your brain into thinking it is reading a book instead of editing your manuscript?  How do you white-wash the grime so it feels as if you are reading your book for the first time?

Beach Towels and Manuscript Revision

We swim a lot at our house.  Nonstop actually, which means our beach towels take a beating.  While we have 23 towels, we try really hard to hang used ones up to dry so they can be used again.  And again.  And again.

If we didn’t, we could feasibly use all 23 towels every day between our kids and their friends.  That’s at least four loads of laundry.

And there’s nothing I hate more in this world than washing laundry.  But even if I weren’t sounding so lazy, I could justify not washing every towel after every use because it will wear them out quicker.  I could plead “green”–that I’m simply trying to stretch the life of my towels as long as possible.  Also, DH’s dollars.

After DD’s big, birthday weekend, all 23 towels had been wrapped around various bodies, numerous times.  Between uses, we hung them up.  Much like I set aside my manuscripts.

Over the past year of hanging out on AQ and other writing forums, I’ve noticed the tendency to submit a manuscript immediately after completion.  We finish them, read through them–checking for typos and other grammarly issues–once, maybe twice.  Then we send them off.

I’ve learned a lot about the process in general and writing in particular in the past year.  My best advice to writers is this:

Let your Manuscript Dry

Hang it up between uses.  Don’t run it through the washer after one use and declare it ready to go. 

Your manuscript will wear out.  Your list of agents will fade.  Your patience will become thread-bare, and you will end up on the Wanna-Be Writers’ Memorial Wall of UnFame.

Writing is not a race.  It’s a process.

Manuscripts must read and reread.  They must be checked for plot and character development, not just typos.  And in between edits, they need time to dry.

Only after our manuscripts are the best they can be, should we wash them and dry them in the dryer so they are fresh and clean and ready to share with a new set of guests.

This is when we should submit.  To do so earlier, is unfair to us and the stories we want to tell.

How long does it take before your manuscript goes from complete to submission?  How many edits do you put it through before you declare it polished and ready to go?