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.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Trilogy

Writing a book is exhilarating, frustrating, satisfying, challenging, fulfilling, and let’s face it. 
It’s exhausting. 
Today I’m sharing some of the things that I learned while writing my YA trilogy. First and foremost: when you write a trilogy, multiply that exhilaration, frustration, satisfaction, challenge, fulfillment, and exhaustion by factors of three. 


If you’re thinking of writing a trilogy, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself first. If you’re a plotter, you may find it useful to work out these answers in your outline before you start drafting. If you’re a pantser writer like I am, you can still be a pantser and write a trilogy. However, you do eventually have to sit down and think about how you want to answer these questions along the way. 



1. What are the major themes for the overall trilogy? For each story?
Pick one or two common themes to weave throughout the trilogy, but also think about unique themes for each. Each story will build on the previous one so you don’t have to recreate the wheel with each, but you want to give your readers something new every time.
Star Wars had some great themes (e.g., the struggle to master The Force). Themes are essential.
2. What is significant (and new) about your characters’ struggles and challenges in each story? 
The first story needs to suck in the reader and get him/her invested in the characters and their struggles. The stakes need to rise with the next story and during a good part of the third before the epic resolution. (Think Lord of the Rings: Return of the King).
The struggle should be significant in each story, not rehashing the same old thing.
3. What is the overall ending? 
Even if you’re more of a pantser like me, you need to have an idea of the endgame for the trilogy. Where will your characters be in terms of development? How will the major issues that have been building in books one and two be resolved? 

Elements of your story may change from your original idea as you draft and revise, but you should plan out your endgame from the beginning.
4. Do the first two stories end at natural and appropriate breaking points?
You shouldn’t be resolving all of the issues that your character’s have in book one and two. Most of that should happen in the last book. Yes, cliffhangers happen (remember The Empire Strikes Back?), but your characters should be developing and at least be working toward solutions by the end of book one and two. Your readers need something to keep them going.
Cliffhangers for the sake of cliffhangers are not going to make your readers happy.
5. Does it need to be a trilogy?
This is probably the most difficult question to answer, but it needs to be asked. Do you have enough story for a trilogy? Do your characters need an entire trilogy to deal with their issues? Can you build those necessary stakes and envision a resolution? Are you invested enough in your story and characters to run that long mile with them? Because they’ll need you.
Writing a trilogy is like running seventeen marathons.
As for me, I walked, ran, and stumbled through that VERY long mile with my characters. 390K later, and I’m thrilled (and exhausted) to announce that I completed my first trilogy! 
(It might not even be my last, though I’m currently planning on writing a few stand-alones before I attempt another trilogy.)
In celebration of being DONE with my trilogy, book one is FREE through May 14.
Book two is on sale at $1.99. And book three? I just published it last Friday!  
#endgame
#celebratorybaddance
There they all are! I’m super excited that my characters all got closure at the end of the trilogy (except for the ones that died…okay, maybe even those characters) and also super sad that it’s over. 

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Helen 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 urban fantasy 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 YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. She is also one of the authors of the YA/NA crossover anthology LOSING IT.

10 Ways to Write More with Children Underfoot

Kids.

I adore them. Especially mine. Which is good, since I went and had six of ‘em.

BUT how does one actually get writing done with little ones around? Is the only solution to stay up after they’re all in bed and you’re completely exhausted? 

Sometimes I find the answer. Sometimes I don’t.

I decided to ask loads of writing friends for their thoughts and I received loads of fantastic advice. Here are ten ideas…



#1: Set a timer.

YA author, Jolene B. Perry said, Depends on the AGE of the kid, but I’ve ALWAYS set a timer, and when the kids come to me, I point at the time. Once the time’s up, THEN they can ask questions.

I love this idea. Kiddos can easily see how long they have to wait before they can ask Mom for help. It teaches them patience and respect. 

Of course, if they’re bleeding profusely or they’ve misplaced they’re little sister, they can probably ignore the timer.

#2: Invite more kids over.

Wha? This seems counterproductive. Or does it?

Writer Gina Larsen said, “I have found INCREASING the number of kids is super helpful. HEAR ME OUT. When they have a friend over, they forget I exist until they’re hungry. Ta-dah! I write. I’m not a hover parent, at all, though. If you are a worrier or aren’t like me in this area, this plan probably wouldn’t work for you. Anyway, I ignore them and they me, and they seldom get into trouble. {I don’t leave fingernail polish, markers, etc. lying around, either.} Sure there might be a bigger mess of toys to clean up… But the pay off is worth it, plus friends have to help clean up if they wanna come back.
Ok. That is an awesome idea. My kids completely forget I exist, too, when friends are over. *note to self: invite more friends over*

#3: Limit screen time.

“I try to limit screen time so that when I do turn on the TV, they’re glued,” said writer Melissa Meibos.

Ok. So, I’m not a huge fan of using the TV as a babysitter. I much prefer my kids to be devouring books or climbing trees. BUT there are those days. Those days when you need to get your twenty minutes of writing done or you have to finish up your pages for your critique group or you finally figured out the best way to fix a tricky scene and you need a few minutes of uninterrupted writing time. If you save screen time for when you really need it, it could be a lifesaver Or, at least, a writersaver.
#4: Get a babysitter.

Melanie Bennett Jacobson, author of romantic comedies, said, “Until this fall I had two little ones home, so I decided to reinvest some of my profits by spending 10% of my royalty checks on a babysitter when I was on deadline. I don’t get huge royalties, and this obviously only works if you’re making some writing money already, but I considered it an investment in my career AND my mental health because I’m much happier when I don’t have the stress of deadlines weighing on me. 

This is a great way to squeeze in writing time. And even if you can only swing an hour or two a week to pay for a babysitter, you’d still be moving forward with your manuscript.  

#5: Ask for help.

Maybe a babysitter won’t work for you. Do you have family nearby willing to help ? Or Mom or Dad friends willing to swap childcare? My daughter is in a little co-op preschool group. We take turns teaching once a week. When my baby was younger I made sure his nap time lined up with when she was gone. I had two hours a week with an (almost) empty house. It was awesome!

If not friends, then what about your spouse? Have you talked about your need to write? Every so often I run away for a mini writing retreat. I pack up snacks, water, notebooks, and my laptop. Then I reserve a little study room at the library and spend the whole day there, hanging out in my fantasy land.It’s lovely.

#6: Get creative.

Put together a box of activites, things your children only see when it’s time for you to write. Does your child love playing with tape and stickers? Or playdough and an odd selection of utensils? Maybe your little one likes to play in the kitchen sink with a bit of water. Get your children busy with a fuss free activity and then get busy yourself.

#7: Choose your poison.

Are you spreading yourself thin? Do you have a love of many hobbies, activities or pursuits? If you want more time to write, you’re gonna have to make a hard choice.

“I’ve just had to give up (okay, not give up but definitely limit) other things like crafting, TV, movies, and Pinterest to spend my time more wisely with my books,” said writer Judy Robinson.

Oy. This one is for me. I need to embroider it on a pillow. Or not…because that would defeat the purpose a bit.
#8: Yes makes less.

If you want more time to write, you have to say no. A lot. You can’t be on every committee. You can’t be involved in every PTA activity. You can’t go on every field trip. You can’t make every meal completely from scratch. You can’t sew ALL of the Halloween costumes (ok. That one might be just for me.)

Of course, you don’t want to be a curmudgeonly ol’ hermit who won’t help anyone and doesn’t ever do anything fun with their kids or spouse. BUT you have to realize creating comes at a price. It takes time! And time is finite. Choose where you want to spend it.


#9: Shove it in the cracks.

Writer Rebecca Birkin said, “I credit Josi Kilpack for her idea to always take a notepad or tablet wherever you go, waiting at the doctor’s office, soccer game, waiting at the bus stop, etc.

How much time do we waste waiting? For our kids, in lines, and on the phone with someone in the Philippines as we hope, hope, hope they know how to fix our laptop? (that last one was all me again.) Are you taking advantage of those potentially lost moments by writing? You could be like super smart Helen Boswell and carry an iPad mini and a cute little keyboard with you at all times. And then maybe you’d be as prolific as her, too!

#10: Make it.

The time isn’t going to fall into your lap. If you want to write then you have to make room for it. 

Writer Shelly Brown said, “When my kids were tiny I just hauled my laptop around from room to room. They play with toys, I write. They watch a movie, I write. I only got in an hour or two but add that to the hour or two I got after bedtime and it was a decent haul for the day. There really want more to it than that. It was about trying and being patient with myself and my kids when the day just wasn’t lending itself to writing.

“I take my thus-far MS and a pen everywhere I go, and make notes and try to work out plot and character so that when I do have access to a computer, I can sit down and get to work quickly, without wasting time thinking (er, which is what I’m doing right now–puzzling out the next chapter),” said writer Rose Green. “I even once (okay, or twice) brought my laptop to the delivery room with me because I figured that afterwards there might be a moment to work in those five minutes when the baby was asleep and I wasn’t. (Hey, it’s better than TV!)”

“When my kids were small, I got up at 5:30 and wrote until 6:30 every school day. I found that I could get 1,000 words down in that hour, and then I felt accomplished enough to be Mom the rest of the day, ” said writer Becca Wilhite

YA author Cassie Mae sums it up. “I don’t have anything to say other than you just do, lol. I’ve written with kids on my lap, kids hanging over my shoulder, kids fighting on the floor. You do what you gotta do.”


Now for a disclaimer. 
Writing is important. For many of us, it’s something we not only love to do, but we feel a need to do. However, my children’s needs come first in my book. (Puns are awesome. Especially accidental ones.)
I’m okay with working on my craft here and there. My children are little. Ok. The teenager is taller than me. Whatever. But I’m trying to soak up and enjoy these days. More uninterrupted time to plunk away on my laptop will come. For now, I’ve got block towers to build and swings to push. And it’s wonderful.

It’s all about balance. Find the one that works for you!

Do you struggle to find writing time because of the demands of parenting? What solutions have you found? 
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Erin Shakespear writes middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. With six kids, her days are full of quirky creatures, magic, strange adventures, and…loads of diapers. She also likes to dabble at photography, sewing, jewelry-making, and pretending she’s a grand artist. 

7 Ways to Stay Focused on Your WIP

A friend once told me that I have ADOS. Attention Deficit… Oh, shiny!

And she’s right. Especially when it comes to writing. I want it to be fun and exciting and…easy. I get distracted by new and shiny ideas all the time.
Another friend compared this to our dating lives.You know, like when you bump into a cute guy in the library (this is where us writer-types like to meet guys, right?). 

Your eyes meet and your stomach does a backflip. You give Cute Library Guy a shy smile. He smiles back. Pretty soon you are seeing him every day. And your time together is absolutely magical. You think about him all the time. You talk about him all the time. You want to be with him all the time. And it’s fun and exciting and…easy.

Then, one day, you learn Cute Library Guy only eats foods that are brown. What? Ok. I mean…that’s kinda weird. But, still… he’s fun and cute and he makes you smile. You can work past this.
Then you discover Cute Library Guy sees bathing as optional. And, he exercises. A lot.

But the last straw is when he starts speaking in his own language. I mean, really? Suddenly Cute Library Guy is boring, stinky and doesn’t even make sense.
And then you’re at the library again. You see another cute boy. He turns and smiles at you. Your stomach contemplates joining the gymnastic club as it does a somersault followed by a handstand.Before you say fickle pickle you’ve dumped Cute Library Boy and you’re with a new guy.
Until you discover Cute Library Boy #2 kisses like a vacuum set on Suck Her Face Off.
And that, my friends, is how my writing is going these days. I love writing the beginning of stories. I love dreaming up new worlds. I love the thrill of creating new magic systems or thinking up character quirks. I love designing cliffhanger chapter endings. But then… when I have to get down to the nitty gritty and figure out where the story is going, when I see there are problems with my idea that I’m going to have to work out or when I discover massive flaws in my world building, that’s when fun, exciting and easy-looking ideas begin to look incredibly attractive to me.

Anyone else struggle with staying focused?

After some research, I found some strategies for staying true to your (and my!) current project. 

#1: Get rid of the temptationIf a shiny idea comes along get it out of your head by writing the details down in a writing ideas document, folder or notebook.

#2: Remember all the reasons you love your current work-in-progress. I find this is a good use for Pinterest boards. Pin pictures to do with your project. Find lovely photos of spooky swamps, Victorian homes and guys in long jackets wearing goggles. Like I did.  And then when you want to be inspired or to get excited about your project, take a moment to scroll through your board.

#3: Keep in mind it won’t be easy. You’re going to hit road blocks. And you’re going to have to find a way around them. Decide now to stick with it, even when it’s hard. 

#4: BUT don’t focus on the difficult parts. Focus on the good stuff!  Think about what you love about your story. What makes your story different? Keep yourself motivated and excited by focusing on what makes your story fun and unique. 
      #5: Work on a different scene in your book. If you’re bored or distracted by where you’re currently at in your WIP (which might be a sign you need to change something about the scene) work on a different part of your story. Write the cool action-chase scene with exploding radish monsters and glow-in-the-dark radioactive octopuses (What? Your book doesn’t have one of those scenes? Mine either. But I think I better change that…)
#  #6: Make writing goals. Decide to write a page a day, a chapter a week or complete the book by a certain date. And then tell everyone about your goal. Tell your coworkers, your friends and family, the guy who stocks the bread in the grocery store. Heck, post it on Facebook and tell the world. This is called positive public pressure. If everyone knows your goal then they’ll ask about it, especially if you report how you’re doing periodically.

    #7: Be consistent. Keep your excitement and motivation high by making time to write every day. 
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Time for me to get real, people.
I am going to finish a decent draft of my work-in-progress, WW, by the end of February. (Now we’ll see how this positive public pressure works.)

And when things get tricky and I want to give up, I’m going to remember this…

Do you have ADOS? How do you stay motivated and focused on your work-in-progress?