Puzzling Out Your Revisions

I did it! I finished my draft! And now . . . ohhh boy, is it a mess.

I’m not talking about awkward sentences and sparse details—though there’s certainly plenty of that. I’m talking about huge plot and character shifts part way through, characters I introduced, then ghosted on, a beloved pet dog that appears in the first chapter only—that kind of a mess.

I have chapters I wrote, then moved, that now need to be rewritten so they’ll make sense within their new context. I have location shifts, missing parents, siblings that I may or may not add in. . . .

Basically, I have a TON of work ahead of me. When I look at everything that needs to be done, it’s overwhelming.

As writers, one of the most prevalent pieces of advice we’re given is to get the words down. Just get them down, finish that draft, worry about the mess later. We can’t revise what isn’t there, right? This is great advice; however, once we’ve followed it . . . what do we do next?

Puzzling

First, take a deep breath.

Then another.

Ok, just one more.

Now that you’ve calmed down a bit, open your document back up.

You might even want to go so far as to print it out so you can physically go at it with a red pen. Or, if you prefer, you can use the comments option in your word processing software program of choice. Do whichever feels easier for you when it comes to wrapping your head around the monumental task ahead.

First, read your manuscript and take notes—any and all thoughts that come to mind—but resist making any changes at this time. (I know, it’s hard.) If you make changes as you go though, you might find later that the changes you made at the beginning still aren’t going to work with the changes you end up needing to make at the end. Think of this as the Intel-Gathering phase. Right now, you’re a detective figuring out what best needs to be done to your story and how best to do it—how to fit the pieces of this messed up puzzle together in a way that makes the most sense.

Ok, so you’ve done that, and . . . you’re still feeling super intimidated, aren’t you? Maybe you should take a few more deep breaths.

Better? Good.

The next thing you need to do is categorize your notes. Just like separating out puzzle pieces into groups—grass pieces over here, sky pieces there, what looks like maybe the hull of a wooden boat? Maybe it’s a house . . . over there. I find organizing and separating the different types of fixes that need to be made in my draft, helps me break things down into more manageable tasks that make the entire process feel less daunting. Rather than go through the manuscript one time, tackling each note one by one, I’ll make multiple passes focusing on one problem at a time.

Big stuff comes first. (It’s ok to take another deep breath here if you need to. Ready? In . . . out . . . good.)

What is it about your draft that needs the most work? For me, it’s usually characterization. For you, it could be setting, or filling in plot holes, or smoothing transitions. Take the biggest task and go through only focusing on that. Trust me, you’ll feel so much better once you get that bit out of the way. Next, move on to the second biggest issue.

And keep on moving down the list this way. I haven’t finished taking notes on my current draft, but I’m guessing my big focus areas for example, in order from messiest to least messy, will end up being characters, setting, plot holes, transitions, dialogue.

Once you’ve finished these big picture tasks, move on to the nitty-gritty things, like grammar, punctuation, varying your sentence structures, and finally, removing unnecessary filler words (like, very, really, that, etc.) and adverbs.

And that’s it! Keep in mind, you might need to go back and adjust areas you’ve previously focused on after you’ve made some later changes, but it should be much easier now. And then, of course, you’ll absolutely need to go through the entire process again once you’ve let your critique partners and/or beta reads get a hold of it. But the hardest part should be over. Congratulations! You’ve now turned your huge, jumbled up, intimidating mess into something you’re actually willing to let people read! The puzzle is now complete.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Top 5 Branding Tips For Your Next Writers Conference

You did the research. You found the perfect writing conference where you’ll be immersed in a community of people who are as obsessed about writing as you are. It’s a perfect blend of sessions on craft and the business side of publishing, but if you’re like me, you’re feeling excitement and just a bit of dread.

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This week, I’m attending GrubStreet’s The Muse & The Marketplace in Boston. Now I’m no novice to the conference game, but this will be my first time meeting with agents to discuss excerpts of my novel manuscript. This can be daunting, so I’m sharing my top five tips for how you can prepare for and make the most of branding yourself at your upcoming writing conferences.

  • Bring business cards. This may seem basic, but it’s essential. There’s nothing worse than networking with an agent or editor who asks you for a card and you have to give the lame excuse that you forgot to bring yours or they’re in your other bag that you forgot to bring. It’s your call on whether or not to include your photo on the card. Some may say you’re over-the-top and cheesy to have your picture there, but luckily I don’t care what some say. I’ve learned over the years that we meet so many people at networking events that a photo can be a good way to trigger someone’s memory about meeting you.
  • Research agents and editors beforehand. Just as you’d personalize a query letter, you want to do the same when you meet face-to-face with industry insiders at the conference. There’s no need to research everyone. But if there are a handful of agents you’re targeting who will be there, read their website bios, check their Twitter feeds and look up articles or blogs they’ve written. This will give you a feel for their literary sensibilities and preferences for the kinds of projects they seek to represent. Then when you meet, you can demonstrate your knowledge, showing you’ve done your homework.
  • Prepare to answer: “What’s your book about?” I guarantee at least five people will ask you that question. Other writers, authors, agents, and editors will express interest in the story you’re writing. The last thing you want to do is give them that wide-eyed blank stare and then run from the room screaming in terror. Prepare a succinct, elevator pitch version that summarizes your book.  It should be as intriguing as back flap copy, but try not to sound robotically rehearsed. As counterintuitive as it seems, it takes some rehearsing to pull off that natural flow. 
  • Use the buddy system of networking. Okay, I have to admit I stole this one from my writing friend, Julie Dalton. She’s the one who invited me to attend the Muse for the first time. Her idea is brilliant. If you have a friend or member of your writing community who’s attending the same conference, share information about each other’s books: key themes, summaries, hooks, and more. Also, make sure you’ve read at least a few excerpts of your friend’s book so you have a sense of the story, tone, and style. Then when you’re together chatting with agents, promote your friend’s book! Sometimes it’s easier to be effusive in praise of someone else’s work. If your assessment of your friend’s book is genuine and specific, agents and editors may appreciate that third party endorsement. 
  • Hang for the after-hours schmoozing. I know. Your feet hurt. Your brain hurts. So does your throat from all that talking you did all day. You’re emotionally spent. You’re tired of selling yourself and talking about your book. Still, stay up for another hour or two for the industry cocktail parties, receptions and dinners. These are additional opportunities to meet other writers and industry professionals who can share valuable wisdom, ask you to submit pages of your book for review or introduce you to someone else. What you don’t want to do is leave that conference kicking yourself, wondering what magic may have happened if only you’d crawled out of the hotel bed to shake one more hand and tell one more person about your incredible book.

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nancyNancy E. Johnson is a senior communications leader with an Emmy-nominated, award-winning journalism background. She contributed to O, the Oprah Magazine which published her personal essay in the November 2015 issue. Nancy serves as secretary for Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter and was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s 2016 Rising Star Contest and one of the winners of Writer’s Digest’s “Dear Lucky Agent” contest. When she’s not reading, writing or pontificating about politics, she’s running and eating chocolate, sometimes at the same time. The Chicago native is writing her first novel.

 

Getting Back on that (Writing) Horse

I went horseback riding last month, for the first time in about [number redacted for security reasons] years. I grew up in Los Angeles, owned a horse, and went riding a couple times a week. My husband grew up in Southern Utah, had horses in his backyard, and had never been on one in his life. Go figure.

So I decided it was time to see what my life’s companion looked like on horseback. (Spoiler: like someone way more comfortable with a steering wheel in one hand and a gear shifter in the other.)

It wasn’t until right before the big moment that I started to wonder about what I would look like on horseback. Even though I rode all the time as a teenager. Even though I’ve been bucked off, stepped on, kicked, and shoveled more manure than I ever want to see again. Ever. Even though I endured months of riding lessons, walking, jogging, and cantering around in circles while my teenaged instructor made out with her boyfriend in the middle of the ring (which made me an expert in boredom, if nothing else).

So, yeah, I used to be an ok rider, but remember that number? The big one at the beginning of this post?

But of course that’s not the real reason I was worried. The real reason is plain ole’ everyday stage fright. The tittering voice in the back of our heads that tells us we’re just not good enough, and why on earth would we put ourselves on display like that when it would be so much easier to go sit in a corner somewhere?

Getting Back on that (Writing) Horse

I don’t know about you, but this gnawing doubt has always been part of my writing experience. As with riding, I took several years off from writing seriously. There was always a reason. My kids were young. I had just started a new job. I went through a divorce, and then a remarriage. But at heart, the real reason was this: I knew, just knew, that real writers had something I didn’t, and that nobody could possibly be interested in what I had to say.

Until I realized that there was something missing in my life, something I missed desperately. So I started taking my writing seriously again. But it took me some time to feel comfortable with it.

To return to my dubious horse metaphor—I was convinced I’d make a fool of myself, even though the poor little mare I hoisted myself onto wasn’t much bigger than I am. There was little resemblance to my old horse, Aman Mirage. Aman had been a piss-and-vinegar half-Arabian with attitude to spare. The horse before me now made me think of Banjo, the tired, grizzled pony I rode once a week until he died at age 24. I hoped this one wasn’t about to die, as well.

Now, I’d known all along this ride would be no heroic adventure. It was a cruise ship shore excursion, of all things, designed to suit every possible level of physical fitness. Sleepy toddlers would have finished the journey with their slumbers intact. I think my horse slept through it, too.

But I’ll admit, it took a minute before everything started to come back. And I felt so sorry for my little horse that I didn’t have the heart to push her into anything more energetic than follow the leader. But soon my feet fell into place, my hands remembered their job, and my back straightened up. Turns out riding a horse is like riding a bike. And you know what they say about riding a bike.

My “aha” moment, the profound thought that inspired this post, was when I noticed my right hand. These reins were short, but I had learned to ride Western style, with long, trailing reins. I glanced down, and caught my right hand resting on my thigh, looking forlorn. It was missing those trailing reins. My right hand had remembered what to do, even though I had never consciously reminded it. Here I was, trying to force myself to remember everything, and all along, my hand just lay there, unconcerned, wondering where the rest of the reins were.

I was trying too hard, as usual. When I started writing again, too, it took some time to relax and let my word-generating muscles take over. I (mostly) stopped worrying about what people would think and just let myself do it. And pretty soon, things started rolling along.

We’re all here because we love words—reading them and writing them. But we don’t always consciously remember what we know. Sometimes all it takes is to flex those muscles to get them doing their thing. And soon enough, we’re riding off into the sunset.

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Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah with her husband, son, dog, and more cats than she likes to admit. When not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she can most likely be found rereading one of her favorite books. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden. Her favorite children’s book is The Owl and the Pussycat and her favorite element is copper. She writes renaissance-era historical fiction topped with a generous scoop of magic.

13 Ways to Get OUT of Your Writerly Funk

FUNKSometimes we have a retreat, and we want to write ALLLLLLL the words ALLLLL day, but we get there, and… our brains don’t cooperate.

Sometimes we’re trying to finish a project over several months time, and it’s just not…happening.

 

Here are few tips to help you reset and start writing again:

1. Take a break. I know there are a TON of writers who say you have to write every day. You do not have to write every day. And most importantly, you need to not feel guilty about taking breaks. (If you’re at a retreat, don’t be afraid to step away from the computer for a while).

2. Remember that publishing is not personal. Sometimes passes (the nice way to say rejections) can get you down, but you HAVE to keep in mind that it’s the RIGHT project, in front of the RIGHT person, at the RIGHT time. That’s a lot of things that have to fall into place for a YES. Move forward. Prove them wrong.

3. Sometimes we have this precious chunk of time – a couple hours with a babysitter, or away from work, or at a writing retreat, and the words just aren’t coming. Remember there are a TON of non-writing things you can do to move your MS forward. Character sketches, character and setting pictures, storyboards, use a pacing or plotting tool to set up where your story is going next… Just because you’re not putting WORDS into your story, doesn’t mean you’re not putting WORK into your story.

4. Pick ONE thing you know is coming up in your story, and write that – even if it doesn’t come next, which brings me to…

5. Don’t be afraid to write out of order. Now, if you write the ending early on, chances are you’ll have to redo it when you get there, but it gives you SOMETHING to write. Sometimes writing ANYTHING will lubricate that sticky brain.

6. THEATER EXERCISES! Look up breathing, and characterization exercises. Getting into your character’s head can be a brilliant way to unlock those words, which leads me to…

7. Write something unrelated from your MC’s point of view. Maybe an essay on their thoughts after the end of the novel. Maybe an essay or their thoughts on one of the things you’ve put in your story to torture them.

8. Ask yourself, Did I make this big enough? The plot, the plot points, my main character – will be people be rooting for this to work out? Is there something else I can do?

9. Set the mood: Gum, snacks, drinks, music, smells… Maybe go a step further and pick stuff your MC would like.

10. Prep before your writing time. Try to think ahead…

11. Set a timer – YOU HAVE TO WRITE ANYTHING FOR XX MINUTES, and then you can break.

12. MOVE YOUR BODY. I promise that moving your body, lubricates your mind. Yoga, walking, stretching, running, swimming, biking… Bonus if it’s something your MC would like too 😉

13. DON’T PANIC. Finding yourself in a funk happens to everyone 🙂

HAPPY WRITING!!

~ Jolene

17361785_1313033622107898_5983686946276267719_nJolene Perry writes YA fiction for AW Teen and Simon Pulse. She writes about writing on BEEN WRITING? And you can stalk her on her website HERE. She’s also the vice-chair for the LDStorymakers Conference. YOU SHOULD COME…. Join the Tribe…

 

 

The Truth About Writer’s Block

I’ve heard people say that claiming you have writer’s block is akin to a plumber saying he’s got plumber’s block. To me, that comparison is ridiculous.

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A plumber has the exact same wrenches and other tools he uses every day on the job. He has a clear-cut list of skills he needs and issues he’ll face, and he’ll use the same tools to fix them. Chances are he’d better make use the same fitting he did on a similar job yesterday, or the connection will leak.  Continue reading

An Author’s Christmas Eve

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Writing and publishing are often compared to a roller coaster, because hey, we’re writers, and sometimes we want to save the really creative metaphors for our work. But writing and publishing could also be compared to a calendar year—some beautiful days, some rotten ones, seasons of bleak gray, seasons of anticipation and waiting and hard work.

If I think of my own writing journey in these terms (and as somebody who celebrates Christmas), I’ve arrived at Christmas Eve. There’s a red-letter day on the calendar that I’ve been counting down toward forever, and suddenly, it’s almost here. My debut novel is about to be released, and I have an actual hardcover copy that I can hold in my hands! In all honesty, I always imagined this part would feel like Christmas Eve, and it does! But there’s a catch.

I imagined this part of the publishing journey would feel like Christmas Eve as a kid. Nothing but parties and treats and gleeful anticipation of the day you’ve been waiting for forever. Knowing that on the other side of sunrise, you’ll get the very thing you’ve been waiting and wishing for, and all your dreams will come true.

Ahh. Christmas Eve.

The reality is that right now feels less like the Christmas Eves of my childhood and a whole lot more like Christmas Eve as an adult. It’s a wonderful time, to be sure, but there is also a crap ton of work to do. Things to assemble and buy and so many people to reach out to. Events to plan. And will any of it live up to the expectations of those you’re trying so hard to please?

In this Christmas Eve scenario, there is only one gift, and it’s both the one you’re giving and the one you’re receiving: your book. Talk about pressure.

By the way, I don’t think this applies only to writers on the eve of traditional publication. I felt this way before I clicked “send” on queries. Each time my agent sent a new batch of submissions. I feel this way a little even when I send something I’ve written to my closest friends and critique partners and even to my parents. The stories we craft are pieces of ourselves, and it’s an incredibly vulnerable thing to give them to readers of any kind.

So what do you do when Christmas Eve arrives, as it inevitably does? You take that gift that you’ve labored over and you try to find the very best ways to package it and present it, with a query letter or jacket copy or the perfect book trailer or postcards for libraries or…you get the idea. Sometimes this works beautifully, but sometimes the gift itself resists that packaging.

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Another thing: Even when things seem to be going smoothly, there’s a distinct possibility itching at the back of your mind that perhaps the gift itself is not quite right after all. That in spite of all your efforts and thought and planning and sacrifice, what you have to offer isn’t going to measure up. That even you will be disappointed when Christmas morning arrives and this one imperfect story is all there is. But it’s sure as heck too late to do anything about that, because it’s Christmas Eve and you couldn’t change it if you wanted to, and even if you could, on a fundamental level it is what it is and you would probably only make it worse. So maybe just put another bow on top…

No. See there? The bow was too much, and now you’re questioning all your wrapping choices, and the thing inside the package is still exactly the same as it was before, which is to say that it’s still not perfect.

As soon as this gift leaves our hands and passes to someone else’s, there is the distinct possibility that it won’t quite be what they were looking for. There is a high probability that they will recognize its imperfections.

But here’s the thing: That’s what life is. Imperfect and yet incredible. That’s what your gift is, in its own way. In fact, that’s what so much of what we write yearns to convey.

Here are my characters. Imperfect, yet incredible.

Here is their journey. Imperfect, yet incredible.

Here I am, the deepest parts of my soul visible in slivers of light and shadow and all shades in between through the words I put on this page. Imperfect, yet incredible.

What a gift it would be to recognize the value of our words and the value in ourselves, during all seasons of this journey. For me, on this Christmas Eve, I’ve still got miles to go.


profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.