Archive for the ‘Revising’ Category


John Green says it’s ok to suck, and other links

March 5, 2010

Catching up on some of my blog reading today, I found a great YouTube video (I can’t display it on here, but check it out at Beth Revis’ Writing It Out blog, it’s worth it) with Looking For Alaska author John Green telling us what NaNoWriMo does:

  1. teaches us discipline because you need that if you’re going to write 50,000 words in a month (Note from me, especially in November. Seriously, NaNoWriMo creators, why did you choose November, which has Thanksgiving and the beginning of holiday shopping?), and
  2. it’s ok to suck in the first draft.

And for all writers who hate to revise, Green says that in all his books, he has cut 90% of the first draft in revisions, and some of the best parts of his book were written in revision. I saw Green talk at the SCBWI summer conference a few years ago, and, funnily enough, he was talking about revision then. So, he obviously really believes in it. And hey, if it works for him and he’s so successful, might be something in that. šŸ˜‰

Now for some other cool links:

This one is from January but for some strange reason popped up in my Google Reader today. Publishers Weekly has an article on Penguin’s hopes for the U.S. debut of Catherine Fisher‘s Incarceron, and it looks like it’s one of those books children’s book writers should put on their must-read list. I’ve added it to mine.

Guide to Literary Agents has an interview with Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency, and Tamar takes books from middle-grade older and she really likes fantasy. She looks like a good one to check out.

And here’s a nice bit of economic news, with a great showing of how wonderful the children’s book world is. Amid all the reports of bookstores closing, Publishers Weekly reports that Michelle Witte, an associate editor with Gibbs Smith is planning to OPEN a children’s book store in Centerville, Utah. Fire Petal Books is set to open its doors next month thanks to some help from HarperCollins Children’s Books editor Molly O’Neill and author Neil Gaiman, who have both provided items for a fundraising auction. The auction ends on March 20, so go to the Fire Petal Books page and check it out to show your support, because we can never have too many children’s bookstores. Good luck, Michelle!

Write On!


Knowing when to submit

March 1, 2010

Revision update: Done!

Yes, I did make my goal of finishing my novel revision by the end of February. Yay! My husband played videogames with a friend on Saturday night, so I took the opportunity to do three chapters, then I got up early on Sunday to finish the book.

Now, the big question is, what next?

This was my fourth revision round for this book, and coming into it, I felt like all the major problems were fixed — character, plot, story — and that was confirmed by my beta readers. So this revision was about fixing awkward sentences, evaluating word choices, and muscling up the descriptions, and I had planned to send it out when I was done.

Now I’m done, and I’m not so sure.

I was in a similar position with my first book, except that I had done many more revisions. I felt good about the novel, but not as confident as I feel now about this new book. I had a little voice in my head saying, “Hmmm, are you sure about this?” And then a bigger voice said, “Sam, you’re being neurotic. It’s fine. It’s good. Let it go.”

As it turned out, I made one of the standard mistakes a lot of writers make in going out too early. My query letter wasn’t the best that it could be, and I got only a couple requests for the book. I did more research and realized the beginning of the book needed changes, which I did, but the older version had already gotten some rejections, and closed off those agents to me. Then I redid my query letter in a much better way, and got a lot more requests, but still the book wasn’t as solid as it should be. It was roundly rejected with lovely notes about how great the writing was but…

All this, I should have known. And looking back now, I did.

So, now I’m in the same position with my second book. But this time, I’m not going to make the same mistake. Sure, I’m anxious and excited to start submitting it, but I’ve worked hard, and I want to give the book its best possible chance.

In this fourth revision round, I made a lot of changes, small ones, but a lot of them. And my gut is saying, “Go through it one more time,” just in case my typing wasn’t as accurate that I hoped.

In the next week, I’m going to work on agent research, my query letter and synopsis, then I’ll do one more quick read-though before I send it out.

If my little voice gives me the go ahead. šŸ™‚

How do you know when your novel is done?

Write On!


What do you do with your critique pages?

February 18, 2010

Revision update: Moving along smoothly. Having been at it for a couple days now, I’m enjoying being back in the story with the characters. On chapter 8 out of 29.

Doing this revision, I’m going through the stacks of notes from critique group sessions and my own notes on the print out of the entire manuscript and I’m feeling decidedly un-green.

Revising does take up a lot of paper — I just bought a box of 2,500 sheets as it was a lot cheaper in the long-run and I knew I’d go through it quite quickly, what with a 200-page novel and critique group sessions every two weeks using five copies of five pages.

But when I think about recycling these pages filled with the scribbled notes from me and others, I feel a tug in my heart that says, “No, don’t!”

I’ve still got a big stack of note-filled pages from my first novel under my desk. If I keep this up, I’m going to be in trouble after a few books. And yet, I’m reluctant to throw these out.

Is it nostalgia, am I a hoarder, or is this normal writer behavior toward their own words?

What do you do with your critiqued pages?

Write On!


Revising on paper or computer

February 17, 2010

Revision update: I buckled down yesterday and jumped in. More today.

I’m a computer hound. I have a laptop, and it’s like my good and trusty friend. It’s always with me. If I go on a trip, the computer is packed. When I went to the Austin SCBWI conference a few weeks ago, I stayed overnight with some friends and took my computer just in case. I didn’t end up using it, but I felt better knowing it was there.

My love for my computer isn’t because it’s a portal to the Internet. I’ve never been one to spend hours on Facebook or watching videos on YouTube (although, I do occasionally catch up with TV shows on Hulu). To me, my computer is my writing tool, and that’s why I love it — and feel lost without it.

So, when it’s time to revise my manuscripts — like I’m doing now — I find it hard, unnatural even to work on paper. I start on paper, but I usually end up getting back on the computer long before I’ve gotten to the end of my printed manuscript.

But working with paper on a revision has it’s benefits:

  • It allows you to see your work in a different way, as a reader instead of a writer.
  • It’s easier to make notes in the margins without doing actual changes.
  • Making notes instead of actual changes, allows you to think about the issue twice, once on the paper and again when you go back to your computer to input the revisions.

Still, for me, working with paper is hard. I wrote a blog post about this same subject last year, and although I stand by what I said then and say now, I always want to jump back onto the computer. That’s why I was amazed when author Lisa Graff, at the Austin SCBWI conference, said her revising strategy is:

  1. go through the manuscript on paper
  2. open a new Word document and retype the whole manuscript with changes
  3. print and repeat until she’s satisfied.

It works for her, and ultimately, every writer is different and must find what works for them — but, if you don’t try other things, how will you know whether it works for you? Of course, Lisa was an editor for five years too, so she knows a thing or two about revising. Maybe there’s something in this paper revising after all.

What about you? Do you prefer working with paper or computer when revising or writing your first draft?

Write On!


Getting unstuck in a revision

February 16, 2010

Manuscript update: I didn’t get too much done in my revision yesterday. Still on chapter one today.

A reader left a comment on yesterday’s post about being stuck during a revision. I’ve been there — I’m sure we all have — and it can be so frustrating. You want to write, you want to fix the problem, but nothing seems to work.

As I told Islesam yesterday, I fell into this predicament when I was revising my first novel. The middle was way more than saggy — it had huge gaping holes. I tried loads of different ways of writing the scenes, but nothing worked, nothing felt right, and my characters didn’t help. I’d ask them what they’d do next and they’d just look back at me and shrug.

Like Islesam, I tried taking a break and started to write my current novel, but after a while, I went back to the first manuscript and was still no closer to a solution. I realized that, although taking a break from a manuscript can be good at times, like in between revisions, when you’ve got a problem, the only way to fix it is to hunker down, roll up your sleeves and sweat your way through it.

What finally worked for me was realizing why I was stuck. I couldn’t fix the middle because, even though I knew what the end of the story was, I couldn’t picture them both as a whole story. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

To help give myself a better view of the bigger picture — the whole story — and how each of the scenes in the book fit in, I made a timetable. I drafted out a calendar of sorts with just Sunday through Saturday and week 1, 2, etc. Then I put the chapter number(s) for scenes in the days when they occured. When I was done, I could more easily see what was missing and where my characters were going at each part.

Here are some other tricks for getting unstuck in a revision:

  • New POV: Whether you’re writing in first person or third, the chapter you’re working on is most likely in the view point of one character. Try writing the chapter you’re stuck on in the point of view of anything character in the scene. Looking through someone else’s eyes might give you some ideas.
  • New document: When you save your manuscript in a new document and then revise, you’re just reworking your old version and are influenced by the words in front of you. Try starting a blank document and writing the scene, chapter or even the whole book from scratch. Author Lisa Graff does this in her revisions. For her third book, Umbrella Summer, she wrote 18 full drafts in this way. Sometimes she will copy and paste older versions of paragraphs or scenes into the new document, but for the most part, she rewrites as if the story is new. Starting from the beginning again, whether for just a scene or for the whole book, but this time with the knowledge of the whole story in your head, can open you up to new details and allow your characters to show you new directions. This tool helps you be a writer again rather than an editor, as if you’re writing the first draft for the first time and allowing new ideas to flow.

How do you get unstuck in revisions?

Write On!


Lisa Graff on writing and revising

February 5, 2010

Day five in my reports from the Austin SCBWI conference, and there’s still more to come after this one! Also, although I’m giving lots of great information from these speakers in these posts, I’m only giving a condensed version of their presentations. Reading about conferences is great, but going to them, even single-day conferences like this one, is so valuable for inspiration, networking and learning. I highly recommend going to as many as you can afford in time and money if the lineup of speakers are half as good as this one.

Quick recap of my other reports from the conference: agent Mark McVeigh on publishing, agent Andrea Cascardi on getting and working with an agent, editor Cheryl Klein on writing a great book and agent Nathan Bransford on finding the right agent for you.

Lisa Graff, author

Lisa Graff

And now onto Lisa Graff. Lisa has an interesting background. She sold her first two books around the same time as she got her job as an editor, so, as she said, she has spent the last five years learning how to be a professional writer and editor at the same time. As of the Thursday before the conference, Lisa stopped working as an editor for Farrar, Strauss and Giroux Books for Young Readers to focus on her writing full time. Her last book, Umbrella Summer, came out last June.

As someone who has been on both sides of a book, Lisa said both are equally important. She said an editor is in charge of finding the true story a writer is trying to tell, because writers are so in their head, it’s often hard for them to see the story for the words. But, she pointed out, editors can’t do their best work until writers have done theirs.

And, writers don’t do their best work until they’ve revised and revised until their best work is out. For Umbrella Summer, Lisa said she wrote 14 complete drafts, including eight different endings. It took four years from the first draft to publication. WOW!

She said she starts out with a brief outline of her story, but the book almost never ends up the same.

Here’s her writing strategy:

  1. Write the first full draft.
  2. Read draft on paper and write notes.
  3. Open a new document and write a completely new draft from scratch or pasting in what she wants to save from the original draft.
  4. Repeat 2 and 3 as many times as it takes to get her best work.

A writer, she said, is

  • creative,
  • inspired,
  • uninhibited,
  • free to experiment.

An editor is

  • aware of rules of storytelling,
  • aware that the first draft is never the best,
  • mean when necessary.

To be an author, a writer must be all of these but at different times.

For the first draft, Lisa said it’s ok to write garbage. Writers can’t get to their genius until they’ve written the garbage, she said. The editor part of the writer takes out the garbage after theĀ  genius has come through.

Here’s her other advice:

  • Read what your audience is reading, especially for picture books because markets change. And read like an editor, questioning everything, every decision that went into that book.
  • Know the rules (such as POV) as an editor, but be willing to experiment with them as a writer. It’s ok to break the rules when it’s essential for storytelling.
  • Write for yourself not for trends, because you won’t be happy.
  • Enjoy your own writing as a writer, but be prepared to kill your darlings as an editor. Do what’s right for the book.
  • Make sure that everything in your book is there for a reason.
  • As a writer, believe in yourself, but as an editor, push yourself to do better.
  • Don’t be a writer and editor at the same time, because it will make you overly critical, stop your creativity and lead you to writer’s block.
  • And, never try to appease an agent or editor. Be willing to stand up for yourself.

Finally, Lisa gave an idea of page counts for varies types of books. Although publishing houses vary, she said these are the general guidelines based on what the reader age groups will read and cost.

  • Picture book: 32 pages, including title pages, copyright, etc.
  • Chapter books: 90 manuscript pages, double-spaced
  • Middle-grade: 150-200 pages, double-spaced
  • Young adult: 200-240 pages, double spaced


Check back tomorrow for advice from the many other great writers at the conference.

Write On!


Critique like you mean it

January 22, 2010

Manuscript update: Three fellow writers have very graciously agreed to read my latest revision, which I finished yesterday. Thank you, to them. Once they’re done, I’ll do one more read-through, going through their notes and fixing anything else I see, then I think it will be ready to send out. So next week’s goal will be to get a good query letter written.

I’ve written before about the benefits of being part of a critique group. There’s the camaraderie, the support in an otherwise lonely activity, the comfort in being with others in the same boat as you, and, of course, there’s the critique itself.

That last one is the most important benefit of a critique group, but only if the members are really critiquing.

Good critiquing is priceless, but good critiquing isn’t always pretty. By that, I don’t mean writers should be nasty about their criticism. We all want to strive for constructive criticism. But what I mean is that identifying flaws is a part of good critiquing.

Andrea Brown Literary agent Mary Kole has a great post on her blog today about the need to grow a thicker skin. She points out that some critique groups meet only to hear how wonderful each others’ writing is. I like to hear good news as much as the next guy, but as Kole says, no one learns if they’re not told what they have to work on.

Now, sure, some critique group members are going to have less experience than others and might not be able to pick up on problems as easily as more experienced members. But that’s why it’s good to be in a critique group with members with all different levels of experience.

But even less experienced writers are readers — or should be if they’re writing books — and as readers, they should be able to contribute criticism as much as any book fan.

The important thing is that critiquers critique. If you’re part of a critique group, you’re making a pact to help others make their writing better, and to do that, you have to point out where they’re going wrong. If you don’t, you’re wasting their time and yours.

On the part of the critiquee, it’s important to just listen and write notes when getting your critique. Don’t let emotion, pride, stop you from listening. And don’t let emotion let you take the critiques for anything other than what they are: someone else’s opinion. Some of the notes you get are going to help you make your work better, some won’t. As the creator of the work, you can make the decision of which is which when you go over your notes later.

It’s always tough to hear people criticize your work, but without that criticism — constructive criticism — your work will never get better. No writer can see every flaw in their own work by themselves — that’s why there are editors. And if an unpublished writer can’t listen to the opinions of others, digest them and figure out which will make their work better, they’re going to have a hard time being published, because published writers work side by side with editors — who give their own educated, knowledgeable, experienced criticisms.

Oh, and by the way, when I say that critiquers are doing their job when they point out the flaws, I don’t mean critiquers shouldn’t point out the good parts too. We all need encouragement as much as we need to know how to improve. The best critiquers are those who can find both good and bad things to say about another’s work, and saying the good first is always a great way to help someone grow.

Got any other critiquing tips? Tell us in the comments.

Also, I’ve had some great questions about ghostwriting submitted for my interview with writer Laura Cross. If you haven’t entered one yet, check out my ghostwriting post for the details and enter your question for a chance to win a PDF copy of Laura’s book, Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent: Everything You Need to Know to Become Successfully Published.

Write On!


Five pages vs. the full manuscript

January 5, 2010

Revision update: Going well. I’ve been getting up early and doing about a chapter a day.

Being the only one to know the full story of my book has been driving me crazy. I think it’s good. I’m excited about it. But there’s always that little voice in the back of head telling me that I might have lost my mind. Don’t you love that little voice? Jerk!

My critique group has been reading the book, five pages every two weeks, but that’s slow going. So, I got my husband to read the full manuscript late Sunday.

There’s a huge benefit to getting people you trust to read your full manuscript. Critique groups are fabulous, but the same people don’t make it every week and a lot is forgotten over two weeks. So, in a critique group alone, you might miss great continuity notes that can only really be picked out if someone reads the whole thing. My husband pointed out descrepencies in different chapters, a few things that didn’t make perfect sense. These chapters had been read by my critique group, but without knowing what’s in the older chapters, they would never have found these problems. Also, his findings were things that made sense to me in my head because I knew backstory that wasn’t in the manuscript–another good reason to have someone else read the book.

Your spouse or significant other isn’t usually the best person for this job. Mine is a very good writer himself and will be brutally honest with me, although I do encourage him to tell me the good stuff too. šŸ™‚ But our partners in life are often the easiest to convince to spend a few hours or so reading our work, even if they might be too lenient on us.

But writers are helpers, and we know we are all in the same boat together. Reach out to fellow writers, in your critique group or other group, and ask them if they’ll be willing to read your manuscript, offering to do the same for theirs. It definitely helps to have that second or third eye and to have it on the whole book instead of just five pages every couple of weeks.

Do you have someone who reads your work? How did you find them?

Write On!


Getting to know your characters

November 30, 2009

Revision update: Nada! I’m away on vacation, but I’m going to get back to it soon.

Anita Nolan posted a link to character questionnaires from the Gotham Writers Workshop. They’re very useful, and I plan to bookmark the page, but it made me think of how we get to know our characters.

I read about using character questionnaires a few years ago. Basically, the questionnaires pose a bunch of questions and you fill in the answers as they pertain to your character(s).

The problem for me, however, is that I learn about my characters as I write the story, often having to go back to earlier chapters and make adjustments because of things I’ve learned in later ones. So, filling out a questionnaire before I’ve started to write is difficult. I don’t know those answers yet, and just making something up seems forced; the character tells me the answers as the story develops through the choices he or she makes.

However, I do think questionnaires can be useful at all parts of your progress:

  • Before you start writing: Running through a questionnaire can help you decide what you know about a character so far and help you figure out what you’d like to find out as you write the story. But, don’t be discouraged if you don’t know all the answers yet, and don’t try to force them. This is a time for awareness.
  • As you write: Everytime you learn something about your character, write it down somewhere to save and see if it answers any of the questionnaire questions. Remind yourself of the questions you still don’t have answers to, so you can look for the answers as you continue to write.
  • When you’re stuck: If you’ve lost track of your character and/or story, you can revisit the questionnaire and the answers you have so far, fill in any new answers you have, and see if any of these point you in the right direction for the next part of the story.
  • When you’re finished the first draft: Once the whole story is done, finish the questionnaire as much as you can. If there are still questions you can’t answer, maybe they’re a part of your character’s life that you don’t need for the story, but try to imagine what they would be anyway based on what you know of the character. Write down everything you can, a bible about your character’s needs, wants, feelings, decisions, choices, beliefs, likes, dislikes, etc.
  • Before you revise: After you’ve given yourself a break from your manuscript for a while, use the answers for your questionnaire to familiarize yourself with your characters again. Then, as you revise, make sure every action, decision, etc., all match who the character is at that part of the story.

How do you use questionnaires? How do you get to know your characters?

Write On!


Revising takes patience

November 22, 2009

Revision update: Finally on chapter 9.

Ok, so you know how I keep saying I’ve figured out what I needed to do to fix the problems I was having with my first eight chapters? Well, something was still nagging at me. We were still taking too long to get into the real meat of the story. There’s a scene that I liked and it had a purpose in the story, but it was one more chapter getting in the way of starting the real story. Ah well, I figured. At least it’s interesting, but that nagging feeling was still there.

After exhausting all my options, I was satisfied with my first eight chapters and decided to move on. The next part is where the meat starts, so I had just been working on the initial chapters in a lump before.

At 3:30 Saturday morning, I was trying to lull myself into sleep with a re-run of Baby Boom and some hot chocolate and I decided to look over the next set of pages I was going to tackle, chapter 9. And there, in my sleepless haze, I found my solution — again — I think.

This is the third or fourth time I’ve come up with the solution for this same problem, and although I think it’s the best idea so far, I’m not kidding myself by thinking it will be the final rewrite.

Revision takes a lot of patience. I’ve talked about Holly Lisle’s One-Pass Revision Method on this blog a lot, and when I started revising this book, I decided to try it, but the further I get along, the more I’m convinced that revising in only one pass takes a LOT of experience. You have to have quite a few books and revisions behind you, like Holly has, to really be able to fix all the issues in one go. I think I have that instinct for when something’s not quite working as best as it could, but it takes me a little longer to figure out what I can do to make it work the best.

But no matter how many revisions a book takes to get it in tip-top shape, it’s worth it. Maybe I should have insomnia more often. šŸ™‚

How are you with revising?

Write On!