Writer Beware: Speed Bumps Ahead

There are moments when a writer feels blocked. No words come. The story stalls. You’re staring at a brick wall. Every writer needs their own bag of tricks for overcoming Writer’s Block. (One of the best: a deadline.)

Speed Bumps

You might not have heard of another writer condition, one similar to Writer’s Block, but it differs in a significant way. I call it Writer’s Speed Bump, and knowing how to treat it is critical. Continue reading

Goals and Revising in 2018

Happy New Year! I hope 2018 is a year full of joy and peace for all of us!

Like many others, around this time of year I find myself thinking back on the last year, thinking about what worked out well for me, what turned out…less well, and how I would like things to go better in the future. It recently occurred to me how similar this approach to my life is to the act of revising.

Now, I have always preferred drafting to revising. I love the freedom to do whatever I want in a story, to go wherever I want with it, and that push to get the words on the page. But revision? Not so much. I’ve struggled to know how to approach revision and what to even do with my words once they are on the page.

In the last couple of years, I’ve pushed myself to try to learn to revise better and, although it’s slower than I would sometimes like, I am making progress. Good progress.

Goals and Revising in 2018.png

There are several similarities between making goals and progress in my personal life and making improvements to a manuscript. Here are three of the ones that have really stood out to me as I’ve tried to learn to revise better:

1. Slow down and take time to think.

I draft pretty quickly. I get the words down on the page in a happy, slapdash sort of way and don’t worry too much about whether a scene needs to be in the story or if the motivations make sense or any of that.

When I revise, though, I need to slow down and take a more thoughtful, deliberate approach. Same with making life goals. If I decide I want to exercise every day, I need to figure out how that will fit with the rest of the moving parts of my life. If I decide to add a scene or a character or a subplot to my story, I also have to consider how those changes will affect the rest of my story. I can’t just bulldoze my way through without taking the time to think or I end up with the same problems with my next draft.

2. Look at the whole.

When I decide to make changes in my life, I have to step back and take an honest—and realistic—look at how I’m doing. Both the good and the bad. Maybe I do need to eat more vegetables and eat less sugar and drink more water…but I’m also doing great at working out every week. Making sure to recognize the good in both my life and my story helps me to keep going and to not give up in despair because, frankly, I don’t particularly like most vegetables.

Sometimes it’s so easy to look at a project that needs revising and make a seemingly endless list of everything that’s wrong with it. But there are good things, too! There always are. Look for them, for the places where your writing does what you wanted it to, and try to bring the rest up to that level.

3. Remember it’s your life/story.

One of the hardest things for me to learn—and remember—in life and writing is that I will never be able to make everyone happy. Just as I can’t base my New Year’s Resolutions on what my neighbor needs to do, I can’t revise based on the issues I see in someone else’s book. And just as I shouldn’t base my goals on what I think my neighbor thinks I ought to do, I shouldn’t revise my story to fit someone else’s notion of what my book should be.

In the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice, the director chose to show in-scene a small incident between Elizabeth Bennet and Maria Lucas. Maria was so undone by Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s insistence on the only right way to fold clothing that she tried to repack all her boxes. Elizabeth responded by telling Maria that it was her luggage and that Lady Catherine would never know.

It’s your book. Revise it to match your image for it, not Lady Catherine’s.

Happy revising in 2018!

What about you? What tips do you have for approaching a revision? 


Jenilyn Collings loves to read and is always looking for books that will make her laugh. She is currently working on an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She enjoys watching Korean dramas, BBC period pieces, and thinks Avatar: the Last Airbender is the best show ever made.

Use Small Details to Strengthen a Story

“It’s amazing, in this game played on a 120 yard field, how many times inches make games.”

This is the statement Cris Collinsworth said during the Sunday Night Football Game I was watching last night. The Packers were playing, down, and almost out of opportunities to tie up the game. It’s not the first time that I have heard such statements, but as I was thinking about writing and habits, craft and successes, I became quite aware of what this really meant.

In order to make the big things really happen, there is a necessity to make the small things happen too.

Yes, you have to be able to draft and think up characters and outline settings. Yes, there is a necessity to finish – all the way – and then do some large, sweeping revisions and edits and layering. But, to take the writing from a good story to a great story, it is the small details that really need to be solidified.

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Tip #1: Hone in on the Senses

Last year, Orly Konig shared some great ideas on how to utilize sensory details in a story. If you have someone who is naturally musical, their preference is probably going to be sound. Knowing how they interpret that is what will make the character development stronger. If it makes sense in your story to rely on sight, consider the character who is seeing: a cop walking into a room for the first time will notice different things than an interior designer or a professional cleaner/organizer.

Tip #2: Use Rhetoric

One of our contributors, Rosalyn Eves, has a PhD in rhetoric, and from this post, you can tell she knows her stuff. It may seem like a silly thing, but the ebb and flow in and out of sentences can make or break a full story. This is what makes readers forget they are reading through a story and, instead, get immersed in the language and the voice, which, I think, is the goal of most writers.

Tip #3: Speed Up & Slow Down

There are certain times in a story when the pacing needs to pick up a little. This is when the story is jumping ahead, when someone is driving from one place to another because they need to be in a different place. Or when there is nothing until the end of a day. Unless there is serious character issue involved with lunch, we don’t always need to see it.

But there are also times when the plot needs to slow down. This can be detected by staying tuned into the emotional arcs that are weaving into the fabric of the plot, by noticing the way that the emotional pacing is moving the story and the character forward.

What times have you used the small things to make a story great? Any tips you’d like to share with our readers?


Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

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?


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.


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.

Book Deals Come from Rewrites & Revisions

Last month, I got to finally announce my book deal. It was one of those days that you dream of for years and years and it was amazing. THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC is the second novel I’ve ever written, but the book that finally sold to a publisher is totally different from that first draft I started typing two and a half years ago.

I shared on Twitter that it took three rewrites for me to get an agent with this book and three large revisions after that to get a book deal. That tweet got shared a lot and I had a few people want more details about what those revisions were.

So, in the spirit of honesty, and because I feel it’s important for other writers to see what deep revision looks like, I thought I would give you the short version of how my book changed from first draft until now.

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First Draft

My story started out as a light paranormal about a girl whose two dead grandmothers come back as her guardian angels to help her win back her best friend and find her dad and bring him back home.

I wrote it in about two months and as soon as I typed “The End” I knew it had potential.

What it didn’t have was VOICE.

Rewrite #1

So I let it rest for a couple of weeks, maybe a month and then rewrote the entire thing from scratch. This time with a strong, clear voice that had only shown up occasionally in the first draft. Funny thing, that voice came out in second person. Weird. But I went with it.

After I finished that rewrite, I realized it was in second person because it was a series of letters this girl was writing to her dad. I also had beta readers tell me that the last half was awesome, but the first half was slow and I needed to add more of a goal to give it some direction.

Revision #1-3

Change each chapter into a letter. Add a goal. (If she does well on her math test, they’ll ride horses on the Mist Trail at Yosemite for her birthday.) Try to speed up the beginning.

I spent several, several revisions trying to fix my tension issues in the beginning. I worked on it from May-August

Then I got a second chance at Pitch Wars and a team of three volunteer mentors who were going to help me with my book. I sent it off to the first mentor feeling pretty confident. She got back to me pinpointing exactly why I was having tension issues. The guardian angels had no real purpose for the first half of the book. She said I needed to give them goals. But then made a gentle suggestion that maybe my book would work better a straight contemporary.

I thought that she just must not have gotten my book at all and wasn’t the right audience for it, blah, blah, blah. But she told me it made her cry and she loved the heart of it and I couldn’t get that suggestion out of my head. So after a week of thinking about it, I decided to give it a try.

Rewrite #2

No more guardian angels. One grandma with early dementia. A new idea to tie the story together. The three rules for creating the Everyday Magic behind friends, forgiveness, family, etc.

My CP loved it. My mentor loved it. But it still needed work.

Rewrite #3

Rewrite #3 was more like a series of two or three big formatting revisions that felt like a rewrite by the time I was done. See, I still had this problem of no tension in the beginning of the book. My first mentor suggested it was because all of the letters are written at some time in the future after the story had happened. So I rewrote the letters to being written as the story played out.

Then I sent it to the next mentor and she gave me probably the hardest revision note of all.

The letters weren’t working for her. They were too long and started feeling like regular prose and then all of a sudden went back to sounding like letters. She suggested I change it to a prose story with letters bookending each chapter.

My CP’s and first mentor didn’t agree. They thought I could make the letters work. They LOVED the letters.

***Side Note*** I rarely toss aside a revision note, but it’s so hard when you get conflicting advice. And this whole business is so subjective. How do you know what advice to follow? I have no great advice. All I can tell you is that one of my CP’s who read the earlier drafts of this book told me that she was still sad I got rid of the guardian angels. That she had really loved them. See? Subjectivity. This is hard! It’s okay if you don’t always know what to do.

I decided to try it for a few chapters and then run it by people to see which version won out. I got at least ten beta readers for the first couple chapters.

The version that was only partial-epistolary won by a landslide.

So I changed it and that was a really big revision. Then my mentor suggested I change the prose from past to present. So I did.

Phew! See what I mean about how this series of revision is rewrite #3 in my mind?

But guess what? That tension problem in the first half was so much better. Not totally, completely solved. But so much better.

Thorough Line Edits



Post-Agent Revision #1-3

These revisions were a lot of character deepening for side characters, making certain ones more important, having some show up more, making my mom character more involved, making the bully less stereotypical.

Rewriting my first chapter.

Then two revisions focused on connecting the reader to my main character more. This required a painstaking line edit by a friend with a sharp, sharp eye who pointed out every single place in the manuscript where he felt disconnected from my character or like he didn’t know how she was feeling. It was beyond thorough. It was amazing. But also a lot of work.

I also added a cat. Because kids taking care of cats, I mean, that makes you love a character, right? These were my thoughts.


R&R from an editor!

This revision was a rewrite of probably 30% of the book at least. I added 3 or four new chapters to the beginning, a lot of memories that became kind of a tiny sub plot, I completely overhauled the bully character into someone who I felt barely registered on the mean scale. I did a lot more that I can’t even remember because I ended having to do it on a very tight timeline (10 days!) It’s kind of a blur, honestly.


Wait Anxiously

Book Deal!


More Revisions!

You guys, my first round of revisions were a doozy. I had to rewrite about half the book. My beginning and ending were both too long, the beginning was still too sad. My bully was still too mean. I had to find ways to show how my MC was similar and different from her mom to draw out the tension and connection there more.

And then she asked me to cut stuff. All that stuff that I’d added to kind of be a bandaid for my tension and connection issues? My editor is so good, she saw right through it. She didn’t know that I’d added the subplot with the math test and the birthday in Yosemite so my MC could have a goal. Or that I added the subplot with the cat so readers would connect with her more. But she picked both out and said, “These are extraneous. You don’t need them. Take them out and you’ll find something else closer to the very heart of your story to replace it with.” Then she suggested something that had just barely come out of all those memories I added in the last revision that I hadn’t even thought were a big deal. She wanted me to focus more on that.

So, that’s two subplots cut. Another character overhaul on the bully. Three or four chapters deleted, two or three new chapters in their place. I cut the ending length in half and added a subplot that served to show my MC’s dad fall further and further into depression. I changed the timeline of the story from six month to four weeks.

It was a huge revision.

And you guys, it’s so much better.

But guess what I’m going to get soon?

More Revision Notes

This is publishing.

Writing is rewriting is probably the most truthful thing ever written about writing.

Not every book that gets published has to go through this many intense revisions. But mine did. And that’s okay. Don’t quit. Don’t get discouraged. Keep working and trying and rewriting.

You’ll get there.


Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. She now resides in central California where she is a gardener, chemist, homeschool mom, Yosemite explorer, and Disneyland enthusiast. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.

4 Tips for Decluttering Your Manuscript

This week was my Spring Break, and I spent the time getting my affairs in order. Spring is most definitely in the air (at least it is where I live), and decluttering is something I’ve been putting off, but this week I threw open my windows, rolled up my sleeves, and dove in(to my closet).

I also took the opportunity to declutter my WIP, a process that I dreaded but wound up enjoying. (What?)

When revising, you should go through your manuscript and declutter by cutting unnecessary words.  Yes, sometimes those words amount to an entire line. Or a scene. Or a character. Or an entire subplot. Yes, most writers find it painful to cut thousands of words *cries* when we invested so much to get to that high word count. However, a meandering story or pointless dialogue will not engage your readers, and if any of your words do not serve your plot or your characters, they need to go. (For super useful information about when and why you should be ruthless at cutting words, I highly recommend Elaine Vickers’ post on The Reductive Revision.)


If either your house or your manuscript is beginning to feel like fodder for the producers of  Hoarders, here are four tips on how to declutter your life…I mean, manuscript:

  1. Put things in their place. I always feel better when everything is stored away in its place. There’s no reason to keep all of those hair scrunchies in my writing desk drawer, after all. Laundry, while functional in its basket, could be hung, folded, and put away, I suppose. As applied to writing, I like to organize the work that I have left so I can systematically put everything in its place. Scrivener has a handy feature where you can mark your chapters/scenes as “To Do,” “First Draft,” “Revised Draft,” and so on. I love this feature because I can tell at a glance where I need to be when I’m revising. Just like making a chore list at home (my kids do this, and yes, I also do this for myself), I also leave myself document notes for what I need to change in my drafts. As I complete those tasks, I cross these off one by one, and it’s even more satisfying than putting all of my winter clothes away for the season.
  2. Put things in storage. Not sure if you’ll wear that trendy jacket next year but not ready to get rid of it because you bought it this season? Put it into storage. Likewise, if you’re not sure if you need that scene or dialogue that you cut from chapter three, put it into storage. I save all of my extraneous scenes in a separate section in Scrivener called “Saved for Later” (you could do the same with a separate word processing file). If I do need those words, I know exactly where to find them. Sometimes I resurrect these words, but more often than not, I *gasp* don’t, which brings me to #3.
  3. Throw things away. My storage room in my basement has bins for toys that my kids don’t play with anymore. Occasionally they dig around in them and play with an old favorite, but the ones that are not touched within six months wind up being donated to charity. I also have items stuck away in that storage room that makes it to charity on a semi-regular basis, but a few pieces of this “favorite” junk have made the move with us to multiple houses. Similarly, I admit to carting around those deleted scenes and lines for multiple manuscripts. But here’s the thing: I’ve never used these words. When I’ve tried to insert something that I cut from one manuscript into another or even to a different version of a manuscript, it feels like trying to shove a puzzle piece into a space that doesn’t fit. I have to restructure these words so much that it would have saved me time and emotional energy if I’d just written them from scratch. Holding onto cut words and characters is primarily an emotional decision (in my opinion). If you’re holding onto them from project to project, evaluate whether it’s time to let them go. *clings* *says goodbye*
  4. Take a moment to admire all the things. The best thing about this week is that I’ve rediscovered the floor of my closet. Just kidding. I mean, I did rediscover the floor of my closet, and yes, the carpet is still the same color. But I’ve also rediscovered the joy in my story. It feels strange for me to say this, but I think I have been so focused on fixing my manuscript that I had fallen slightly out of love with my overall writing. Matt Williams posted earlier this week some great ideas on how to add voice to stories, and it inspired me to convert the chapter I’d been working into a .mobi file and drop it onto my Kindle app. As I read it, I was happy with how my changes translated to the page, and I was able to quickly bookmark one or two things that made it onto my to-do list. By decluttering, organizing, and shining up my characters and their scenes, I also have a better view of where they need to go from here. And I have a better appreciation of my writing, too.
  5. Have some chocolate. Technically, I said I would share four tips, but I find that a reward is always appropriate for good work. If you’re not a chocolate fan, choose your reward accordingly. ❤

Do you have any spring cleaning tips for your manuscript (or life)? I’d love it if you could share them in the comments!


helen2Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romances LOSING ENOUGH and SCARS RUN DEEP (coming soon). You can find out more about her writing life at www.helenboswell.com.

Tips for Getting Through a Revision

I love to draft stories. I love the freedom to play with ideas, to go wherever my imagination takes me, and the lack of pressure that comes with that messy first draft.

Revision? Yeah…not so much.

I expect my first draft to be terrible, so I’m not undone when it isn’t amazing. When I revise, though, I start to expect that the story is going to be good, but it often isn’t, at least not right away, and I get all dramatic and woe-is-me about it.

Lately I’ve been working on revising a project. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever worked on, but it’s also taught me a lot. So even though it often feels like this revision is going to eat me alive, it’s been a very valuable experience.

What I have learned so far:

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1. Don’t give yourself an out

As soon as I tell myself I don’t have to do it or I let myself start to dabble with that shiny new idea, I’m lost. The shiny new idea takes over and soon I have another messy new draft that needs to be revised and the cycle begins again. I can’t let myself even think about not finishing or I won’t do it.

2. Break it down into manageable parts

One of the biggest problems I faced with this revision was knowing where to even start. There was so much that needed to be fixed that I was completely overwhelmed. (And, yes, there may have been a couple of days of sulking.) I finally identified a couple of the bigger issue things that were, in my opinion, the most important to fix and started there. When I get ideas for one of the other issues I still need to fix, I write it down, but don’t stress about getting it done yet. This allows my brain to focus on solving the problem at hand instead of bouncing all over the place.

But, seriously, write the other ideas down. I’d forgotten about a couple of things until I found notes to myself on what I wanted to do. They were good ideas, too, but ones I never would have remembered had I not written them down.

3. Point out what is working

Often in a revision I spend so much time looking at what is wrong that I forget to think about what is right. I get caught in a negative spiral and soon I start to wonder what’s the point of revising. I mean, the whole thing is so terribly, irredeemably awful, so why bother trying?

It’s not a helpful mindset.

Instead, when I come across a sentence that flows well or an idea that I like, I try to acknowledge it and that positivity helps me keep going.

4. Don’t be afraid to tear it apart and put it back together

One of the hardest things for me is the fear that I’ll make the WIP even worse through the revision. I’ve done it in the past and revised the life out of a piece, so it’s not an unreasonable fear. But it is one that haunts me and keeps me from moving forward. With this revision, I made a copy and then deliberately messed it up. I changed things around and then left it like that for a while to see if it worked. And it did! But more than that, by ripping part of it up, I freed myself from the fear of making it worse. It wasn’t perfect, but I could see that it was getting better. This fear was holding me back, making me afraid to even start, but by messing it up on purpose, I was able to acknowledge the fear and work through it.

5. Deadlines

I’m fortunate to have a due date for this revision and knowing that someone else is expecting to see a revision and will hold me accountable makes a big difference for me. If you don’t have an agent or editor or professor or whatever, find someone who will hold you accountable for getting the revision done.

6. Bribery

And, yes, when all else fails, I resort to bribing myself. The hardest part of a revision for me is starting it. After that, the second hardest part is finishing that last 15%. When I’m so close that I can see the end, I find myself doing a slapdash job just to race to being done. But that’s not actually finishing, not when it’s a revision. So, yeah, I bribe myself to slow down and do it right.

What about you? Do you prefer to draft or revise? Do you have any other revision tips you can share with me?


Jenilyn Collings loves to read and write things that are humorous or romantic (preferably both). She has worked as a dental researcher, a florist, a martial arts instructor, and a tracker at an alternative high school (she’ll leave it to your imagination what that entailed), but she’s now focused on writing and child wrangling. A long time resident of the Mountain West, she recently moved to New England with her family where she is gaining an appreciation for umbrellas, fall colors, and turning lanes while driving.