Category Archives: Editing

Make the Writing Process FUN!

Let’s face it, there are few easy things about writing. You have to write the thing. Then edit the thing. Then edit some more. Then get the courage to share the thing. Then edit more and more…and after a while, the thing is “done!”

Then there’s the whole to-publish-or-not-to-publish decision, contests submissions, query letters, magazine submissions…

No, let’s not dwell on the publishing bits right now. Today, I want to make you want to love writing again! Writing a book takes TIME and PATIENCE. Even if we have these things it doesn’t make the process easier. Let’s take a step back. I want to list at least one fun thing about a few parts of the writing process. So, if you’re stuck on draft 1 or draft 258, maybe this will help you see it in a new light.

  1. FIRST DRAFT: Ok, we all know the struggle–the ominous blank page—but you know what? That page isn’t holding you back! You can literally put ANYTHING on that page. You can explore character development, setting, experiment with plot twists, anything you want. The first draft is there for your ideas, your spur-of-the-moment thoughts, and you can test the waters. Your first draft is all you, and it’s okay to ignore grammar and write a few terrible chapters. Get your ideas out of your head and let your conscious and subconscious flow onto the page with no restrictions. Once it’s done, you can brag that you finished it, and toy with your friends and family who are FORBIDDEN to read it. Bask in the glow of your finished product for a while, then begin editing once it’s had time to sit on the back-burner.
  2. SECOND/THIRD DRAFT: Now you’ve got this glorious WIP (work in progress) written, but it’s a mess. Ugh, now you have to sort through it…or…now you can improve it! You wrote it. The bones are in place, the ideas are there, and now you get to sort out the puzzle. I love editing since I don’t have to come up with a beginning, middle, and end. Sure, some of it is out of order, but it’s all more-or-less there. You get to read your ideas again, remember how fun it was to come up with them, and then weed out the bits that were less inspiring and build off the good stuff. Now your WIP feels like it’s going somewhere. Huzzah! But, you’ve done most of what you can do on your own, and it’s time to get new eyes.
  3. GETTING BETA READERS/CRITIQUE PARTNERS: This takes a lot of courage. Your precious baby WIP is ready to start walking and be out on its own. It seems scary, but that’s one of the reasons why you wrote it, right? We all write for ourselves, but most of us also want people to read it eventually! This is a stepping stone to getting the WIP into the world. Remember, the people you ask to critique your WIP know that it needs a little help before it can truly be on its own, but also they can encourage you and find places that are working. It’s a great way to find out what people want more of and what they want less of. You can return to your book with fresh eyes and make it an even better version of itself. How cool is that?
  4. POST-CRITIQUE DRAFTS: Now you’ve gotten all these opinions and you’re second guessing everything you’ve done in your WIP. However, these opinions are just that, opinions. You will get suggestions that may not feel like the right way to take your WIP and that’s fine. The beauty of this industry is that it’s all subjective. There isn’t one right answer. Yes, you should take suggestions from others, but if you get conflicting opinions about a chapter/scene/character, go with the perspective that makes the most sense to you. It’s still your work! You get to decide how to improve your awesome WIP. Also, if you get a number of people telling you the same thing, that’s the easiest edit in the world! If a number of people agree that XYZ should actually be YZX, then boom, your WIP is instantly better! Good critique partners want to help you, and once you see it through their eyes, hopefully you will agree and feel even more confident about your WIP.

The rest of the writing and editing process follows a similar pattern of fixing and getting more opinions. I often look for more and more eyes on my book and edit along the way. I can’t count which draft I’m on for most of my books. If you’re stuck on a WIP, try to let some things go if you can. If it’s a first draft, write down crap ideas and fix it later. (I call it productive procrastination: you’re still writing, even if you know it will be deleted.) If you’re stuck on an old draft, put it away for a while and start something new. We all need a break from our own tedious thoughts. It’s okay to put something in a drawer and move on for a while. When you come back to it fresh, you will either find those errors you couldn’t see before, or you can realize it’s actually in good shape.

Try to find the joy in the process, even if it feels like too much sometimes. Remember: all writers feel the same way you do. None of us find this easy, we’ve all been rejected, and we’ve all been given brutally honest feedback from trusted critique partners. Write on, write on, and keep the joy close.

 

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Filed under Editing, ideas, inspiration, Uncategorized, work in progress, writing

Writing and Editing is Better with a Deadline

I’ve always been a planner. Since I was a little kid I’ve planned ahead and finished assignments with plenty of time before it’s actually due. Procrastination was a rare occurrence.

That all changed when I started writing novels.

I’ve learned that I am not the best at getting things done without the pressure of a deadline looming over me. My novels have no end date when they need to be completed, and instead of it giving me freedom, it is breeding procrastination. Even when I have the basic plot of a book figured out, I still have days when it’s a struggle to sit down, focus, and write it.

I figured this out when working with my critique group. We meet up every other week and critique about 10 pages of each others’ works. When the email goes out with the week’s submissions, I am instantly opening them and have them read and critiqued that day so it’s ready for later in the week.

Having a deadline and a real-live person waiting for feedback is a great motivator to get me going. I don’t have that for most of my novels unless there’s a critique partner waiting for me to send them my writing, but even then, they’re only going to read it once. I can prep and get it polished up for them, but it’s not like they’re going to ask to see the revisions based on their suggestions later. I would love that, for someone to tell me what to fix so they can see it again, but alas, that’s not the reality.

I’m still trying to find the best way to motivate myself to write on a regular basis. I have a lot written, but my progress varies week to week. I have yet to find the perfect time of day or to-do list or something that keeps me on track. It’s hard to be a self-starter when I’ve spent so much time in school with teachers giving exact assignments and deadlines. Even though I don’t miss school, I do miss having other people holding me accountable so I finish things in a timely manner.

How do you stay motivated and keep your writing goals?

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Filed under Editing, inspiration, struggling, Uncategorized, writing

Why Critique Groups/Partners Matter

Don’t you love it when something finally clicks?

I struggle writing book openings. Most of my novels don’t get “good” until around chapter 6–and that’s a hard sell when you want an agent to read it! However, the more I tinker with the beginning, the more I hate it and it turns into a vicious spiral leading to me wanting to abandon the book. Not a good place to be. So I re-submitted the opening to my critique group.

My group had already read the whole thing, which turned out to be extremely helpful. These people had read both books one and two in the trilogy. Now that we revisited the beginning, they could get into how well/poorly I introduced the characters, and pinpoint why it the beginning dragged on. Basically, I wasn’t foreshadowing enough from the get go. We got into a big discussion about where to hint at information and where I over-explained, leaving no mystery for the reader.

I had my lightbulb, ah-ha, whatever-you-wanna-call-it moment during this discussion. There’s a conversation between the MC and her father about why he doesn’t want her to learn how to ride dragons. His reactions to her frustration and determination were bland and vague. One of my critique partners suggested he hint that if she doesn’t make it as a dragon rider, she will never come back home. This is revealed MUCH later in the books, but bringing it up here I think was a great idea. It hints at the danger of the school while still leaving room for the big WHY when the MC discovers it for herself. I got so excited I actually wanted to start working on this novel again!

It’s easy to get discouraged as a writer looking at your own work. You love it, you hate it, you kinda like it, you love it, then you hate it again. It’s a crippling cycle. I cannot stress how important it is to find people to help you critique your work. I am very fortunate to have found my group on Meetups.com. Talking it through in person (for me) helps get the juices flowing. There are online resources for critiques too if there are no in-person groups in your area.

Finding the right group is a process. You want to find people who are honest, yet not always negative. It helps to have people who can speak candidly, even if it’s hard to hear sometimes, but you don’t need to take every piece of advice. What I find most helpful is when more than one person mentions the same thing–that’s a sign something needs to be changed. Critique groups and partners also help with those “lightbulb” moments because they see things we cannot see for ourselves. If you’re feeling frustrated and discouraged, I hope you reach out and find people to help read your work. Critiquing other people also helps you learn how to edit and can even give you ideas for your own work.

Places I found critique groups/partners:

SCBWI.org: Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. For picture books through YA only.

Meetups.com: Great for a little bit of everything. Try out one or two in your area, and the people there may know of other groups as well.

Friends and Family: Yes, they will be BIASED, but they can be very helpful beta readers for general places in your book that work/don’t work.

You can always do a Google search too to find more specific groups for your genre. Remember: you don’t have to pay to get a good critique. What’s most important is to do your research about the group first to ensure they are in the same boat as you. Hiring a professional editor is another ball game. Swap with other writers first before looking for professional help.

If you have a critique group you trust, please share where you found it!

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Filed under critique, Editing, ideas, inspiration, struggling, Uncategorized, writing

Personalized Rejection Letters

I love it when an agent actually writes you a letter saying why a project didn’t work for them. It’s considerate, sometimes helpful, and more encouraging than a cookie-cutter rejection letter.

It still hurts though.

I’ve been waiting for six weeks to hear from the one agent who liked my #Pitmad tweet in December. This weekend I’ve been gearing up to actually start querying again, and then I opened my email to see her letter. She mentioned my main character by name and that she liked the tone, but the sample chapters were “too expected” and she didn’t feel compelled to read more.

I appreciated the time she took to highlight what she liked about the MS, although in some sense it hurt more when she didn’t want to give it a chance and read beyond chapter 3. Rejection is a huge part of the writing process, but it sucks. I can see why people give up sometimes or lose faith that their book will ever leave their computer. For me, I don’t want to give up writing, but it makes it hard to continue on with the same project. I think, “Maybe this other novel will be better, I should work on that one instead and forget about this one.” It’s true another MS may be stronger, but that doesn’t mean the one I’m querying now isn’t good, but why aren’t agents liking it when my critique groups have enjoyed it, but did the changes I add hurt the story, but what if I haven’t changed enough…ok I’ll stop now.

This whole process keeps me second-guessing everything I’ve put into my novel and now I’m procrastinating querying again, even though I’ve put months of revisions into the MS and re-written the query and synopsis multiple times. There is never “the perfect” time to query, and while the logic part of my brain knows that, the emotional part of my brain is afraid of getting another 50 rejection letters. The timing of this latest (although sweet) rejection letter is not helping.

If anyone has read King’s “On Writing” you will know he had a nail over his bed as a kid where he kept his rejection letters. That hanging reminder helped him move forward. I need to see past the rejections and keep going forward with this book, and then when my other MSs are ready, query them as well. Another book may be published before this one, but for now, I know this one is complete. There is no such thing as a perfect MS (we’ve all read published books we hated or with the occasional bad chapter) so why not keep going?

I’m also hoping if I say this over and over it will make it easier…not sure if it’s working yet!

Today I may not query, but my goal is to send out a couple emails this week. Today I will go through the first 15 pages and triple-check for grammar errors and probably fuss with some wording or something. I’ll review my query and synopsis again and see if I need to fuss with those too.

Keep going, don’t fall off the metaphorical horse, and seek solace in your family, friends, and critique partners.

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Filed under agent search, anxiety, Editing, query, Rejection, second guessing, Set Backs, struggling, Uncategorized, writing

Keep Those Midnight Ideas

Yesterday I was hanging out in a cafe, waiting for my car to finish at the mechanic, when I found myself bored with my current projects. Well, not bored so much as not willing/able to work on them. I finished draft #3 of the YA book which is now being read, another is with a critique partner, and the other 2 are “marinating” for a while. As much as I’ve gotten the editing bug (as I wrote about earlier this week) there wasn’t inspiration. Somehow I managed to not give into temptation and scroll through Facebook. Instead, I went through two folders on my desktop: Started Novels, and Ideas.

Have you ever had that idea that sounds amazing either just before you fall asleep or just before you wake up?I keep pen and paper/post-its on my headboard for just these occasions. Sometimes these ideas/dreams are the most revolutionary thoughts ever to come into existence…that is, until you’ve had coffee in the morning and actually read what you wrote.

I’m telling you right now: Keep them.

Those weird, incoherent thoughts that popped into your mind, write it down, start a Word/Google/Scrivener document and jot down more random thoughts. Save it in a folder for a rainy day and come back to it when looking for inspiration. A year after the fact, it may not be as stupid as you once thought.

I often find myself mulling over ideas for weeks before starting a project. If I’m smart, I write my initial thoughts down and then let my brain ruminate on them for a while. My YA book has been in the back of my mind since high school. I was thinking of a short story idea at the time, then when I came back to it, I realized it had the potential for a novel-length work.

Anyway, yesterday I went through my ideas folder and found some cool stuff. One was a project I totally forgot about, even though I wrote about 15 pages. I have no clue where I was going with it, and my Plot Points doc I had apparently decided to stop working. However, another project (one I actually remember starting) turned out to be a little better than I remembered. I saw a movie the other day and my mind went back to this little nothing of a book beginning and I got to thinking. My original plan when I started this book about a year ago was kind of unoriginal and cute. I went through the 3 chapters I wrote and have decided to take it in a different direction and see what happens. I may get stuck after another 3 chapters and let it sit for a year. Awesome, who cares. I’m writing, creating, thinking, and practicing my craft. Don’t give up on your half-awake brain too soon! You never know where you’ll find inspiration in a period of writer’s block.

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Filed under Editing, fantasy writing, ideas, inspiration, Uncategorized, writing

The Ideal Word Count

I’m going to be totally honest: My published novel is way too long for it’s genre. Word count may be subjective, but when you’re a new writer it’s a good idea to stay within the suggested guidelines. At the time, I didn’t have the heart to cut it down to the “ideal” word count for a middle grade fantasy. I still believe The Healing Pool is a good story, although if I hadn’t published yet I would totally be slashing away to trim it down.

Since The Healing Pool was published I’ve gotten much more concise with my writing. I’ve gotten better (with the help of critique partners) finding areas that drag and cutting them to get to the good parts. For middle grade (MG) that’s especially important. Young readers want action, drama, interest and not too much backstory. As much as I love backstory, I always end up cutting at least 80% of it from the initial draft for that age group. My latest MG novels are at a comfortable length of 35-40K words. Just in the sweet spot for the genre.

However, my new found joy in trimming the fat has come to bite me in the rear with my young adult (YA) novel. The first draft halted at a mere 48K words, just too short to compete with other YA books. For the first time in a while, I’m finding it hard to get more into the backstory or really hash out some arguments between characters, even when I have the luxury to expand, explain, and elaborate to my heart’s content. I’ve gotten used to writing fast-paced action, but with this book I should take more time. I need more practice hashing out relationships between characters. I’ve taken the time to do that over the past few months, and it’s been a painful process of adding sentences here, extra dialog there, with only the occasional burst of adding or doubling a chapter.

With several novels at various stages of completion, I should be glad I’ve gotten the editing bug. I enjoy working on a completed piece. It’s challenging yes, but sometimes it’s a relief to have a complete plot and just work on the details! I’m just at the end of the third draft of my YA novel and somehow managed to add about 10K words from the original. It’s satisfying to watch my novel creep up from still MG length to a just-acceptable length for a YA book. I’m hoping the changes are positive ones that stick and can continue to grow. My biggest fear is that when I come back to it after a break/critique group, all those lovely words will be eaten by the delete key…

Anyone else watch their word count like a non-boiling pot? Anyone have trouble cutting even one word from a first draft?

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Filed under Editing, Uncategorized, word count, writing

Feeling Discouraged

I’m sure you’ve all seen cartoons like this one before.

Right now, I’m in the fourth stage of this particular cartoon. I’ve been working on the same MG MS for about 2 years–not as long as some projects I know, but still, it’s a long time. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and right now I’m in a place where I feel the second book is better, but the first book is needed, but is the first book working and what do I do about that and what if it never gets published….etc.

All writers go through this and this is not my first rut with a project. The struggle for me right now is that I’ve read this MS so many times I can’t tell what or if anything is “wrong” with it. Every time I re-read it I find a chunk I think is boring or tedious, and I can’t tell if it’s because I’ve been reading my own work for 2 years or because it really is that boring and tedious.

This MS has been through my critique group and a few MS swaps. I’m always open to other people’s ideas and suggestions. If they find the same spots boring and tedious, then perfect, time to cut it out and replace with more action. I’ve also had people tell me what is not working and then I go back and “fix” the issue as best I can. The problem is, I can’t expect my MS swap people to keep re-reading the same book over and over, and I’m not sure I can afford to hire an editor on retainer!

I’m also at the point where I wonder how many MS swaps are too many. I’m swapping with someone after NaNoWriMo season, and I thought about sending them a different MS, but now I’m thinking I need at least one more pair of eyes to either confirm or deny my bleak thoughts about this one I’ve been picking at. I have made changes since my last swap so I know it won’t be a bad idea, now the question is how many more swaps until I feel confident enough to start querying again?

Long story short, ruts are hard. I know I’ll get out of it, it’s just a matter of me deciding when to push forward and get this thing done right or set it aside and work on something new. Come December I’m hoping to have a better sense of what I need to keep writing, whether it’s with this book or another one.

Thank you for reading my rant. We all struggle and I’d love to hear some success stories and positive words for frustrated little writers like me. 🙂

 

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Filed under anxiety, Editing, second guessing, struggling, writing

NaNoEdMo

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is almost upon us. For those of you unfamiliar with NaNo, the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days during the month of November. Impossible? I guess not.

Personally I haven’t ever done a NaNoWriMo challenge. Maybe someday if I have an idea percolating that’s ready to come out, but I’m one of those people who writes better with a strong idea than out of habit. I want to be one of those writers who can sit and crank out 3,000 words a day without batting an eye, but alas, not yet.

Each November I try to challenge myself to some writing goal, and this year, I am creating my own National Novel Editing Month! I currently have 4 projects that are between second-draft stage and ready-to-query stage. All of these books need different kinds of attention, whether it’s editing, polishing, adding critique comments, or writing a query/synopsis.

My distraction level is at an all-time high on the weekends, so my goal for November is to edit something everyday and not just when it’s convenient. This will be a challenge since I’m pretty burnt out on the weekends, and then some weekends get crazy with extra work, volunteer events, and family obligations. I’m hoping to stick to my guns and get this done so I can be one step closer to one of those writers who can sit and write all morning despite the temptations of Netflix and the internet!

Anyone doing the traditional NaNoWriMo this November? Anyone else creating their own version to fit their writing goals? I’d love to hear about it!

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Filed under Editing, nanowrimo, query, Uncategorized, writing

Secret to the Perfect Query

…don’t you wish there was one?

Here’s what you need to know: there’s no such thing as a perfect anything, especially when it comes to art and writing. The beauty of art is that it’s personal expression, and the downfall of art is that it’s personal expression. As much as you like it, there will always be people who think it can be improved. You put your love, sweat, tears, midnight-coffee-runs, tendonitis-flare-ups, and more into your books to make them as “perfect” as they can be.

Once your books has gone through proper revisions, drafts, and critique groups, you are ready to start the publishing process. This is much harder than it seems. Your lovely, full-length novel must now be compressed into 300 words or less! It sucks, it’s hard, and it’s doable. Remember: as great as your book is, the next task is to get someone to buy it. If you decide to go the agent route, that means a query letter.

A perfect query is the writer’s dream, but what you really need is a query that does its job well. You need an agent to: get hooked into your idea, understand the story, knows the important characters, and know a little about you, the author. Now, while there may not be a “perfect” query, there is a formula YOU MUST FOLLOW. I don’t care how awesome and creative you are, an agent’s job is to sell your book, not be entertained with a new version of a query. Make an agent’s life easier and get the attention your book deserves!

Basic query structure (Whole query is 300 words or less):

  1. Dear (AGENT): Personalized reason why this person will love your book. Keep it brief, always use the agent’s name unless querying an entire agency (which does happen) 1-2 sentences will show them you did your research about the agent/agency and also gets to the good stuff faster!
  2. Paragraphs 1-2: Hook the agent and give a brief summary of the events in your book. Don’t give away major plot points, but don’t be so vague no one knows what your story is about. Think of the back of a book cover you read at the library to figure out if the book interests you or not. Keep this under 200 words.
  3. The genre and word count of your book. Round the word count. Don’t be “that person.” If your book is 58, 432 words, you can say 58,500.
  4. Your Bio: Only put down things RELEVANT TO WRITING. Put down: other publications (magazines, short story contests, book talks, and other novel publications all count.) If you haven’t published, it’s okay to say that versus using unnecessary filler information. If you are write paranormal romance but you’re also an aspiring gardener who loves cross-breeding tomato plants, guess which factoid is worth mentioning? Unless your profession/serious hobby is relevant to your book do not fill space. If you haven’t published, that means your writing bio is: “This is my first novel.” Boom. Done.

(The examples and resources at the end of this blog do a much more in depth version of this)

I have been through countless drafts of my query for a couple years and it’s always changing. I’m lucky to be part of several groups that help with queries and other aspects of writing and critiquing. If you write anything from PB-YA, join the Society for Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators (www.scbwi.org) It’s an invaluable resource.

Seeking help, reading examples, and being open to throwing out what you have and starting over is crazy-making, but all part of the process. Writing a query is one of the hardest things you will have to write, but a good letter with the right balance of hook, summary, intrigue, and characters can get you on the path to publication.

Great sources for guidelines and examples:

Agent Query

Writer’s Digest

Fun Examples

Writer’s Market Books

Agencies: Many literary agencies have examples and guidelines on their websites. Great resource, especially if you want that agency to represent you.

Have you used other resources for writing query letters? Please comment and share!

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Filed under agent search, Editing, query, Rejection, struggling, Uncategorized, word count, writing

Fear of Critique

I was raised as an only child, and that combined with being the youngest grandchild in the family makes me sometimes want attention! Because of this I’m usually too eager to share my works in progress (WIP) with others. I enjoy being critiqued because a lot of the time there are large sections that people enjoy, and it makes me happy to hear that. (What writer doesn’t get all warm and fuzzy when someone likes their writing?) I’ve gotten better at being “selfish” with my WIP and waiting until I’m totally in love with the project before I open it up to my family or my critique group. However, for the first time in a long time, I’m nervous about critique.

I’m proud of this YA project, but for once I’m hesitant to get critique. I want this book to do well, and while I’m excited about my concept, I am battling with a lingering fear of rejection. I’ve been trying to get one of my MG books published and I’ve taken a break because of the rejections. Now that I have another WIP I think can succeed, I’m nervous others won’t feel the same way.

What if the drama feels forced?

What if my characters are not believable?

What if people like the concept but hate the writing?

What if…AHH!

Writing, like all art, takes courage. It’s risky letting others read your work, regardless if it’s family or a stranger I met on SCBWI. Family may be kind, but the people I let read my WIP are honest despite their bias. I can take critique, all of my novels have gone through MASSIVE overhauls because of the advice given by different people. The books always turn out better than they started. There will always be people who don’t like the book and that’s okay, but if everyone I show the book to sees that it’s not working then what do I do? For once, I’m having a hard time (as Stephen King so eloquently wrote) “murdering my darlings.”

In a few weeks I will have to let the outside world in. The MS has gone through 3 drafts, is likely as complete as I can make it on my own, and needs some other eyes on it. For now I’m still tinkering in case I catch a big problem before someone else does. I’m sharing this MS at the end of the month with my aunt who is also a writer, reader, and artist herself. I look forward to her critique, reminding myself that all my MSs are better after others read them…although a big part of me still wants to hold my darling close!

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Filed under anxiety, Editing, on writing, Rejection, second guessing, struggling, Uncategorized, writing