As the darker months approach, I emerge from my summer writing cave, bleary eyed but invigorated. Because I am a teacher, I relish the off-time to work on my writing. This past summer, I spent ten-twelve hours each day editing and revising my current manuscript.
I'd like to share a little bit of my process with you, then I'd love to hear how you revise. Something I hear from other writers: how do you know when you're finished?
Revising is like running down hill: you have to put on the brakes at some point and try not to scrape your face. I think I am at that point. I think.
This post is not about setting up a new story. It's about what to do once you've written your first draft and combed through it at least once or twice to see what you've written. I don't consider those revision stages. That's still part of the writing. For me, when I'm pumping out my story, I just go. I have a plan, that's true, but I'm writing non-stop. When I get to the end, I go back, read it, fix stuff, read it again, fix more stuff. I do this until it feels solid.
Then I put it away.
When I come back to it--weeks or months later--I see it through fresh eyes. Now I'm ready to revise.
Here's what revision looks like for me:
1. Brew coffee
2. Drink coffee
3. Turn off social media
4. Gather resources nearby
5. Get chocolate
6. Eat chocolate; think about lunch; turn social media back on...
7. Return to step 1
8. Open my document (yes, there are distractions until I get down to business)
9. Send my document to my Kindle
10. Read my story like a book (this is an amazing trick I learned from an author)
11. Mark up awkward phrases, typos, grammatical errors, etc., using NOTES
12. Re-open my document (for me, this is in Scrivener); make corrections from my Kindle NOTES
13. Share my story, chapters, opening, whatever, with my Critique Partners
14. Review their feedback; decide what to take and what to leave (remember, it's your story)
15. Now I revise.
Revision is the tearing apart and reconstruction of your story. When you first sit down, you might not even know what the story is really about until you get to the end. That's how it is for me. Steps 1-14 are actually the foreplay to revising.
Revision is messy, heart-breaking, frustrating, really, really hard. You have to get rid of characters who are in the way, develop characters who are too thin, tighten plots, destroy plots.
It's not easy, but when you get through this process, you have a story. And that's a beautiful thing.
What is your process? I'd love to hear it.
That's my story, what's yours?
Word choice matters.
If you are a writer, choosing the wrong word at the wrong time could land you in a mess.
When Alice tells the Mad Hatter that she has said what she's meant because she meant to say it, he scolds her: "You might just as well say that "I see what I eat" is the same thing as "I eat what I see.""
Words matter, and so does the order in which we use them.
Today is Leap Day, a perfect time to review the use of verbs. Let's start with leap.
Synonyms include: hop, jump, spring, vault, bound, hurdle.
However, those words refer to the act of leaping, such as: I leapt over the boulder. An equivalent sentence could be written using any of the aforementioned synonyms. Not true if you wrote this sentence: The company leaped at the opportunity to raise production. You wouldn't say The company vaulted or hurdled at the opportunity. You could say they jumped or sprang.
Say what you mean.
My esteemed critique partner, Gwynne Jackson, reminds me often that the best word to use is the simplest. If the frog hopped onto the lily pad, say so. Don't get fancy by saying it vaulted onto the lily pad. Do frogs vault?
Varying words and sentence helps your writing flow, but don't get overzealous. If the shoe fits...
When your vocabulary needs a boost or the word you've written doesn't sound right, take time to research the right word. For that, there are many resources.
Scrivener If you use this amazing writing app, you know all about its dictionary and thesaurus. Double tap the word in your document and bring forward a dictionary page to examine.
Etymolonline I use this in the classroom with my students. Type in a word and learn the word origin, common usage, synonyms, antonyms, or more.
OneLookDictionary Another creative site that offers up loads of suggestions to help you find the right word.
Whatever you are working on right now, take the time to choose the right words.
This week, I tackle another completed manuscript and ready it for queries. STARS IN MY POCKET is my fourth YA novel. Two books are part of the Logos Publishing House bookshelf and a third awaits an agent's love. If ON THE ROAD TO MARTY MCFLY doesn't land an agent, I'm hoping STARS will.
For the past four weeks, I've been editing, revising, sharing, and repeating the process on both manuscripts. Although the task is tedious and sometimes frustrating, I know the attention will only improve and tighten the stories.
Since this is my current world, I thought I'd share my steps with you. I'd love to hear others' methods when it comes to fine-tuning a new manuscript.
Here's my story...
After I've written the final chapter, I will put my work away for at least a month. While it sits and finds itself, I busy myself with other writing projects and catch up on my reading.
Next, I read through the story on my computer (in its Scrivener form) and listen to the flow, watching for key plot points and erroneous tangents.
If the story flows, I begin re-reading the book for as many major characters as it has. If there are three main characters, I re-read it three times, focussing on that character, his back story, details, arcs to plot and other characters. Then I take a read-through for the collection of minor characters, bringing them more to life.
I keep this editing/revising process moving for weeks and sometimes months.
Each time I read through the book, I edit and revise sentence structures, word usage, and grammar.
When I'm close to the end, I read through for filter words (words that pull the reader out of the story). Scrivener is great for this.
My final revision mode is on Kindle. I compile my manuscript, send it to Word where I format it, and email it to my Kindle app.
I read it like a book, but I use the notes and highlight colors to catch errors that slipped past on my computer.
Sometimes, I find major plot issues. In that case, I might go through a major revision and repeat the editing/revision process all over.
Throughout this time, I am meeting with critique partners and sharing with beta readers. All feedback helps.
Today, ON THE ROAD TO MARTY MCFLY awaits my critique partners' read-throughs to help tighten the plot. Two agents liked the writing and voice, but both had trouble with the plot.
STARS IN MY POCKET is on my Kindle with notes. I've read 68%, and will next go back to Scrivener to repair seams and mend holes.
It may not be a perfect process, but it works for me. Soon--I can feel it!--I will get that agent call. Until then, all I can do is edit, revise, rinse, and repeat.
What are your practices for editing your manuscripts? Please share!
This past week, I've been taking a fine tooth comb to my current manuscript, sorting through the fodder to uncover the gold. It is a tedious task.
It reminds me of something author Shannon Hale said: Working on a first draft is like "shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build sandcastles."
I believe at the end of this process, I will need a stronger eyeglass prescription. However, my pain is your gain. Each go through of the manuscript brings me closer to the story I want. I hope these tips are useful.
Here are five important items on my editing checklist.
1. Three or more read-throughs to flesh out the story. You don't really know your story until you get to the end. Sometimes the REAL story doesn't show for several read-throughs. The plot is not the story. Listen to Martin Scorsese explain this.
2. Pluck out filter words (see, watch, look, seem, like, feel, just, that, so, then, etc.). I go through my manuscript once for each of these. I might seek out more than a dozen filter words. Utilize your software's find/replace. (I keep a list of filter words on Scrivener's Scratch Pad.)
3. Review each character for consistency in tone, physical features, word choice, background, and history. That's a read-through for each. This might be another ten or twelve reads of the story, depending on the number of characters. Each time I read with that character in mind, I consider her arc and backstory; I view her as the hero of her own story. This will strengthen the entire novel.
4. Observe the settings for consistency in descriptions, distance irregularities, and vivid portrayals. Consider Hemingway and Steinbeck. Their settings become characters in their stories.
5. Review use of language. Look for: overuse of idioms, use of clichés (yikes!), inappropriate synonyms, repeated words, useless words. (This might take three times, but this is the heart of your writing. If you can master use of language in your manuscripts, you will write prose that flows like silk.)
One more: Read your story as someone else. First, you'll need to put your manuscript away for a week or two (more if you can bear it). Next, consider your readers; who are they? what do they look like? Embody that reader, and enjoy your story for the first time. The best way to do this is by downloading a word document and emailing it to your Kindle App. Reading your story on an eReader highlights things you might never notice on your laptop or desktop. (Beta readers and critique partners are great here, too.)
If you've been counting, you'll see I read through my manuscript up to thirty or more times. I never get bored. If I do, I need to go back and fix that.
I would love to hear what you have on your editing checklist. Please share below.
As some of you know, I recently fell in love. With Scrivener. We met, married, and are enjoying a passionate honeymoon. Scrivener saved my writing life.
If you don't use it, and have no interest in using it, I suggest this: take a sheet of paper and scratch out some notes before you write. Create a mind map, a word web, anything.
I was never a fan of outlines. Until now. Fellow tweeps agree. Try K.M Weiland and Gabriela Pereira. Between their helpful tips and my dear Scriv, I'm in writing heaven.
Before you go on, let me make one thing clear. By outline, I don't mean grade-school roman numerals and capital letters. By outline, I mean a sketch, a map, a skeleton of your story; I mean the major plot points, the central message, the potential obstacles. (Remember: what happens in your head, stays in your head. Unless you open your mouth.)
Here are my 5 take-aways on the importance of outlining your story:
1. Outlines build a frame - you can always change plot structure and other details during the writing process, but beginning with that initial skeleton clears a path and marks a destination.
2. Stories need an outline - a natural outline will grow from your writing even if you don't begin with it. Why not start with it? It's your skeleton. Without it, your story will be an amorphous blob inching across a barren slab of pavement.
3. Outlines make you a better writer - fleshing out details like character traits, scenes, conflicts, obstacles, etc., beforehand prepare you for the deeper context that will organically unfold as you write.
4. Outlines save you time - ninety percent of my writer's block cleared up when I began taking outlining seriously. Just scratching out those 8 arcs gave me visible landmarks and stopping points.
5. Not everyone agrees - I could add five more reasons I think outlines make you a better writer, and you could find just as many that counter me.
I'm not your mom or your best friend. You won't offend me or hurt my feelings if you leave me a comment below that says I'm wrong. I welcome debate. I began my writing life on the other side of this argument - "outlining is for pretentious writers; I'm organic; let it flow". I've changed my mind.
I might change it again, but for now, creating an outline (loose or tight) gives my stories strength and frees my thinking to create.
What do you think?
Since we last met, I have written 23,000 words, completed my third YA, and am revising and crying while preparing to meet with an editor this week. That's all in the last seven days. Now, I don't attribute it all to this delightful app, but I might extend to it half the credit. Yes, you heard me, Scrivener and I are tight, 50/50, that's us.
Let me tell you why.
Did you know that a scrivener is someone who writes for illiterate folk? That makes me laugh. I'm afraid it's mostly true. Scrivener has embedded its little multinational soul inside my head, snuggled in deep, massaging and word-smithing my tired literary brain. Although this darling scribe was birthed by Literature & Latte Ltd. less than ten years ago, it remains far wiser than me.
At most times.
But rather than give away all my power to a software program, I have developed a symbiotic relationship. I pour my heart and soul onto its stark white editor's body; it offers outlines and corkboards, character sketches and document storage ideas.
I continue to peruse the universe for its human form as I must admit I find Scrivener quite sexy, but that is between me and my therapist. For you, a share of VIEWS from my WIP (which I mentioned above reached its final chapter).
In Scrivener, you have, essentially, three choices in which to work. Document. Outline. Corkboard.
Last week, I discussed the dreamy Composition Mode you might use when in DOCUMENT. That's your main writing mode on a plain white scrolling background. Again, I recommend you enter Composition Mode when in Document view.
(NOTE: when you click on your entire manuscript in DOCUMENT mode, you can enter SCRIVENINGS mode and scroll through all chapters at once.)
If you want to view your plot structure 'at a glance,' take the time to enter a synopsis for each chapter. This makes OUTLINE mode a great place to check the seams of your subplots. You can also complete other items in the Inspector, which include synopses, word counts, and custom meta data.
CORKBOARD is another 'at a glance' view of your work in progress. However, here, you can post other notes, character ideas, keywords, pictures, etc. You can see my CORKBOARD view while I've clicked on the Characters list from the Binder. I added photos swiped from the Internet, so I could visualize my characters in real life. (Thank you, lovely actors and actresses for feeding my imagination.)
I won't go into more detail here, as I believe the Scrivener tutorials tell it best. As I assured one writer, yes, definitely spend time on the tutorial. It's worth it.
Please share your aha's here with Scrivener or other tools that aide us in producing our best work possible.
Read, Rinse. Repeat. My new Scrivener motto. After completing the first 8 tutorial steps last week, I decided to take another look.
Learning a new language takes time, and technology is definitely a foreign language. Each program, app, piece of hardware has its own lingo. It’s clear to me that I might never be Scrivener perfect, but I will improve with use. Perfection takes practice. My online friends agree:
Author Robert Bryndza said: “One thing I love about Scrivener is the way you can turn your project into any kind of file using just a few clicks, Word doc, PDF, EPUB and Mobi.”
Writer Chrissy Munder wanted to scrap the app at first, then: “The best thing I came across (note: I am not in any way an affiliate) was http://learnscrivenerfast.com/. I can't say enough good things about this program or the way it helped me get right into using the program.”
Here are 3 take-away’s from this week’s studies:
1. Where’d you go, Word Count? - while reading about “Footer View” (something I’d glossed over quickly at first, thinking it was useless extra stuff), I discovered I’d lost the Word Counter. But Mr. Scrivener knew that might happen. A few paragraphs in, I came across a NOTE suggesting that if one’s Word Counter disappeared, consider checking if you switched the Editor into Screenwriting Mode. And, uh, yeah, that was I.
2. I really dig that Composition Mode – click on the “compose” button up top, and it’s just you and your document in space (where no one can hear you scream, writhing in writersblockitis).
3. Weak at the knees for the Inspector - another favorite, The Inspector. (Although every time I read the word “inspector” I envision Matthew Broderick in a trench coat.) The Inspector is the set of collapsible folders to the right of the main Editor (where you write). The “Synopsis” allows you to save grabbed or typed text so you know in a blink what’s in that document’s section. However, my utter fave is the STATUS drop menu in the “General” folder there. Add any title here to categorize the stages of your work - “To Do”, “Final Draft”. I’ve already created “Yikes – need help!”.
Stay tuned for more insights with Scrivener next week. We’ll have some fun with that sexy Corkboard View.
Please consider sharing your experiences, perceptions and questions here.