Now That You’ve Finished Nanowrimo: A 10-Step Plan for Rewriting

post-itsSo, you did it. You finished Nanowrimo. Huge congratulations! It is quite a journey, isn’t it? But now what, you might be thinking. And rightfully so.  You’ve just put forth a ton of creative energy over the last month.  Here is my 10-step plan for what to do next.

1.Decide if you’re at the end, really, or have farther to go. This depends on if you set out to complete a novel in 50K words or knew you’d be 50K in but not finished.  I fall into the latter camp. I completed Nanowrimo but figure I have about 15K words to go to finish my draft.  If this is the case with you, also, then finish up before proceeding to step #2.

2. Take a break.  It will do your creative spirit good to step away from your WIP for a bit.  When you do come back to it, you’ll have fresh eyes and new energy to bring to it. So go stare out the window. Take a bath. Get a pedicure. Go for a walk. Knit a pair of mittens for someone you love for Christmas. Go forth and put your novel out of your mind.

3. Resist the urge to consider it done and begin your agent search.  Please, please, please remember that what you’ve written is a draft. It will need to go through at least one and possibly several rewrites before it is ready to go out in the world.  Agents dread December 1st because their inboxes fill up with manuscripts completed during Nanowrimo, though only the authors of said manuscripts would consider them finished.

4. Reread and make notes.  This is the heart of my rewriting method. Which, by the way, I stole learned from Rachael Herron and have adapted for my own purposes. (Shout out to Rachael, who besides being one of my favorite novelists does lots of incredible things for writers, including a podcast of author interviews and essays on the creative process you can access through Patreon.) Anyway. This step has two parts to it, that you will do concurrently as you read:

A. Make an outline of the story.  Rachael says to do a sentence outline of each scene, but if that’s too much for you, figure out a way to do it that will help you to keep track of the story. Because the point here is not only to get the story back into your head, but also to give you a reference point later on.

B. Put any thoughts and ideas on post-it notes.  One idea to a post-it. This is the freaking brilliant heart of the method.  You don’t have to organize them or think deeper thoughts about these ideas, just scrawl on a post-it note and slap that note on a piece of paper. In no particular order. That will come later.

5. Review any rewrite notes you kept during the writing process.  Add these notes to your post-it pages.

6.  Create a page per chapter. Just a blank page with the number of the chapter at the top. I like to put them in a three-ring binder.

7.  Go through post-its and order them. Take your little post-its, put all the ones that go in chapter one on that page, all those that belong to chapter two on the #2 page, and so on. You can refer to your sentence outline to help you remember what happens when.

8.  Review and ponder.  Do your characters need deepening? Does your setting need clarifying? Does your structure need shoring up? Do the necessary work here and add to your post-it note outline.

9.  Celebrate.  A glass of red wine is called for. Because look how far you’ve come!

10.  Have at it! Carry on!  Get this baby rewritten so you can get it out in the world.

That’s all there is to it, friends!

Okay, so if you have any questions, email me at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com.  And if you need more help, let me know. You might be a great candidate for my coaching. (Which, I just so happen to be having a sale on until midnight Friday, December 3.)

Thanksgiving Gratitude and Giveaway

turkey_gobble_dinner_268746_l

On this Thanksgiving day, I’m grateful for so much, including, but not limited to:

My family and the fact most of them live close to me. (Hello, amazing, brilliant, beautiful and perfect grandchildren!)

The rain that is falling outside my window.

The sun that peeks through the clouds every so often.

My cozy house. (Hello, wonderful new bed.)

Happy Hour with good wine to drink, knitting to work on, a fire to sit by.

My wonderful friends.

The fact that I get to journey to France every September. (Hello, Paris, my favorite city in all the world!)

The fact that I’m a writer and I get to spend part of every day throwing words at the page.

You! Yes, you. I’m grateful for every one of you who reads this blog or my bi-weekly love letters to creatives, or who works with me through coaching or workshops.  And to show my gratitude, I’m giving away one copy of my new prompt journal, Just Prompt Me. To enter, leave a comment about what you’re grateful for. I’ll draw the winner’s name on Monday, November 28th.  (U.S. residents only, please.)

Here’s my all-time favorite gratitude song by the glorious Karen Drucker (and never you mind that this clip is from Father’s Day):

 

Nanowrimo Update: Some Core Truths for Maintaining a Writing Practice

Typewriter_Writing_Writer_238822_lI know. This is like, the ten thousandth blog post you’ve read on Nanowrimo.  I wrote one myself (well, okay, it was sort of about the election, too), and there’s another good one here.  

But, here’s the deal. As the headline promised, I’ve been reminded of some helpful core truths about the writing practice as I’ve toiled away on my Nano novel this month.   None of these are new, nor are they earth-shattering.  What follows are just plain, practical tips for getting the freaking words on the page regularly.   Here we go, in no particular order:

Set a word count goal.  When it comes to Nanowrimo, if you’re going to win the damned thing, you need to attempt to write a certain amount of words every day. I choose a goal of 2,000 words, because that gives me some wiggle room for days when I don’t write. (Like this morning, for instance. For some reason Saturdays are not productive for me when it comes to writing.)  And this is helpful even when it’s not November, because it gives you at least a vague idea of how you’re progressing.

Lower your expectations.  Yeah, I know. This sounds contradictory to the above advice.  And it is, sort of.  What I mean here is this: if its 11 PM and you’ve not yet hit your word count, adjust accordingly. Maybe this is a day when you get 500 words in. That’s nothing to sniff at!

Know where you’re going.  This is the single most helpful thing I can tell you. Even if you are a pantser and hate outlining, always have a sense of where you are going next.  Make a few notes about the next scene before you end your writing session for the day. Keep an ongoing scene list. Have a pad of paper handy next to your computer to scribble reminder notes.

You can get unstuck.   If you find yourself stuck, don’t despair. You can pull yourself out of it.  Turn to your journal and do some free writing, either specifically about your WIP or to a random prompt. Or plow ahead in your project–I’m continually amazed at how often the unstuck-ness comes in the actual writing.

You can write more than you think possible.  2,000 words a day sounds like a lot to some people, but you could do it if you tried.  The other day I wrote 6,000 words, participating in 10K for Writers day.  It was exhausting, but exhilarating, too.

Momentum carries the month.  There’s nothing more exciting than knowing you are making steady progress on a WIP.  You wake up every day and chug along. The pages pile up. And life is good, because part of you is living in the lovely fictional world you’re creating every morning.  Momentum carries you through when you miss a day. It leads you back to the page, reminding you that all is not lost, that you can pick up where you left off.  This doesn’t happen when you write only occasionally.

Brain.fm is a revelation.  This is a site that advertises itself as “music for the brain.”  You can listen to tracks for relaxation, sleep, or focus. I plug my ear buds into the computer and choose which kind of focus music I want (chimes and bells, cinematic, rain, forest sounds, and thunder are just some of the options), and off I go. I swear it helps enormously.  You can get 10 free sessions before you commit. I was so taken with it I bought a year’s subscription.

Find your best routine. It works best for me to get up early, take a quick look at email to see what’s going on, and then get to it. If I can (if I have no morning appointments), I write until I reach my word count. This way I feel good all day, knowing I’ve accomplished my most important thing. But I could spout off about writing first thing until I’m blue in the face and if this routine doesn’t work for you (if, say, you are a night owl), then you’re just going to ignore me. With good reason. Because you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to get up at the crack of dawn when you’ve been up late the night before.  Moral of the story: find what works for you. And then do it.

Thanks for reading.  What tips do you have for maintaining a writing practice over the long haul?

PS. You can find my books on my Amazon author page here.

The Wordstrumpet Last-Minute Guide to Nanowrimo

nanowrimo-badgeNanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) starts next Tuesday, November 1st. Are you ready? I did it a few years ago, resulting in an early draft of my novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior.  And I’m planning to do it again this year to knock out a draft of a romance novel I have in mind. I think I have a pretty good plan for completing it, she said, modestly, which I shall share here.

First of all, loosely, here are the rules: you can prep as much as you want before November 1st, but you can’t actually write anything until that date.  Write 50,000 words and you win! Prizes include a button for your website and a certificate (at least that’s what they were last time I checked). You can sign up on the Nanowrimo website to get support and encouragement. If you’re a social type, many cities hold Nanowrimo write-ins that you can participate in.

All this is great, but the most important thing about Nanowrimo is that it encourages you to fling words at the page with abandon. You kinda have to if you’re going to meet that 50,000 word goal.  And please, please, please remember that THERE WILL BE MUCH REVISING NEEDED after November 30 has come and gone.  But you know that, right? (Its surprising how many people don’t.)

But, here’s the deal, guys, you only have a few days to prepare.  Like, three. But its not too late! You can totally get yourself in the right headspace to do this in three days. (Trust me, the right headspace is half the battle.)  And, I do highly recommend it.  Nanowrimo is a lot of fun, it  totally gets you over any fears you have about writing a novel, and it helps you learn how to silence your inner critic.

So here goes, the Wordstrumpet Last-Minute Guide to Nanowrimo:

  1. Come up with an idea. Maybe you already have one? Maybe you’ve had an idea for a novel for forever? This is the time to do it.  Here’s a little secret about writing a novel: you can use any idea you want. Really. Its all about how you put it together on the page. Just remember that all novels that work are based on conflict. Somebody (your main character) wants something, but forces array to prevent him from getting it.
  2. Do some prep work. This doesn’t need to be extensive, but it will help if you know your settings (main character’s home and work place, plus her hang-out at a minimum),and some things about your most important  characters (email me if you need a character dossier for this).
  3. Create a loose outline for your plot. (Quit cringing, pantsers.)  This can be as simple as a list of scenes or you can make it more complicated if your brain works that way. (Mine does not.)
  4. Write notes. Ponder things like theme, motivation, the above-mentioned conflict and write your thoughts down. These will likely change as you progress through the pages, but it is good to have some initial thoughts. I like to create a little binder or use a spiral for this, so I’ve got everything together in one place.
  5. Figure out a schedule.  I like to get up early and write, so that my most important thing is finished first. I set a goal of 2,000 words a day. If I stuck to it exactly, I’d end up with 60,000 words after the 30 days of November. But life does intervene. There’s Thanksgiving, for instance. And that’s a time suck if there ever was one.  With my 2K a day goal, I’m good if I lose a couple days to emergency grandchild watching or whatever.
  6. Monitor your habits. This is a good time to forego that nightly class of wine. (Brahahahaha. Like that’s going to happen.) Make sure you eat well and get enough exercise and sleep.
  7. Write like the wind.  Make freaking forward progress! Your goal is to hit 50K words, not obsess over every word. If you’re going to win this, you’re going to have to write fast.  The time for rewriting is when you are finished
  8. Be aware you might not finish. Winning Nanowrimo means completing 50,000 words on one single novel project in a month. You might choose, from the start, to write more of a novella, or know that you’re not going to be quite finished at 50K. And that’s okay–because you’ll have most of it done.
  9. Have fun. We don’t do this to torture ourselves. Do we?

So, are you going to do it? C’mon, let’s! Leave a comment and let’s chat about it.

What it Takes To Be a Writer: Part Two

(For the best part of this whole post, scroll to the end for the video. Seriously.)object_smiley_fruit_241984_l

When last heard from on Sunday, I was extolling the virtues of meditation and other such mental activities. Which might lead one to believe that one can sit in one’s chair and let one’s mind do all the work. Ha! Only if you have monkeys to do it for you. Too bad we can’t get them out of our brain and put them to work, right? But I digress.  Here’s the deal: YOU HAVE TO SIT YOUR BUTT IN THE CHAIR AND WRITE. You just do.  And worse, you have to do it over and over and over again, day after day after day to finish something.  You can’t just think about it. You can’t just ponder great, delicate thoughts about it.  You have to do it.  And I can’t help you with this. (Hell, I can barely help me with this.)  You just have to freaking do it.

And this is hard. It is hard for a couple reasons. Yes, because it takes time, and we have to find it, but really, that’s just an excuse. (A good one, and I rely on it often.) Because you can find time to write if you really want to do it. You can get up early, stay up late, sacrifice your lunch hour, give up Happy Hour with your husband, forgo watching TV.  You can, if you want to.  You (and I) just don’t. Because:

Energy and Bandwidth

What I think is a much bigger issue is twofold: having the energy and the bandwidth to do it.   We are all busy people, most of us way too busy.  (And we wrap that busyness around us like a shield at times, too. I know I do it.) And busyness is exhausting. Which leaves us with little energy for writing. It also leaves us with over-full brains.  Sometimes I want to write, but I just can’t connect with my WIP. Can’t find a way in. Can’t remember where I was, why I wanted to write the book in the first place. I simply don’t have enough mental bandwidth.  I’m exhausted, and so is my brain.

The antidote?

  1. Recognize that you’re exhausted and get some freaking rest. Sometimes you just have to say enough already and take a break. (For a helpful push in this direction, read Wayne Muller’s How to Be, Have, and Do Enough.)  I have a hard time doing this because its inbred in me to feel guilty when I take a break.  And then, funnily enough, when I do take a break, all I want to do forever is laze about.  Which may be why I resist relaxing in the first place, because I’m afraid I’ll never stop. (And now that I think about it, this is a clear sign of letting the busyness get to me.)
  2. Cleanse your brain. Besides meditation, which I’ve already recommended, the best way to do this is to watch what you eat. And, as far as I can tell, the only advice that everyone seems to agree on when it comes to nutrition is to eat lots of fruits and veggies. Beyond that, I believe that you need to figure out what works best for you. Some people do need to be gluten-free. Others can happily eat pasta and bread without a problem. And yet others, like me, need to be mindful of having enough protein at every meal to prevent energy crashes.  Only you can figure this out.  But remember that old adage from the sixties–you are what you eat–really is true.  And it affects our writing as well. (There’s also the issue of you are what you drink, but I’m not going there at the moment.)
  3. Take imperfect action.  When I get anxious and stressed is when I magnify things in my mind. I don’t just have to write a blog post, it has to be the best blog post ever. I don’t just have to write a scene in my novel, it has to be compelling and thrilling. Pretty sure this is the brain’s way of signaling overload.  But if you allow yourself to be imperfect and just do something, anything, you’ll feel good about it and then you can start to build some momentum.
  4. Say no. Or cop to the activities you’re saying yes to. What is more important to you–being volunteer of the year or writing your novel? I’m not asking facetiously, it is a serious question. Maybe it is most important for you to spend hours you could be writing at your volunteer post. No judgement. But if it so, then admit it and quit stressing about not having time to write. Just clearing the stress will open up mental bandwidth. Also, it is a good thing to say no. Period.

So you’ve got yourself all cleared and psyched up. Ready to go.  Your butt is in the chair. There you sit, ready to write. What next? That’s the topic of my next post. (I really didn’t think there were going to be three posts in this series, but this one is already pushing 800 words so it seems like a good idea.)

And, because we were talking about monkeys, and because I love ya, here’s a compendium of trunk monkey videos

What are you monkeys up to these days?

What it Takes to Be a Writer: Part One

asok_project365_mydesk_1059218_hWherein I talk about what it takes to be a writer, in my humble opinion, anyway.  To finish a book project, or even an article or short story.  To get the book out in the world, either into the hands of an agent and editor, or publish it yourself, which is a whole other enterprise. To hit the bestseller list. To rinse and repeat, which you’re going to need to do to build a career as a writer. What it takes to accomplish whatever your dream is.

Fresh off teaching a recent workshop in France, I’ve been pondering this.  Working with writers, listening to their hopes and frustrations opens my eyes over and over again, because their concerns echo mine in my own writing practice.  We are all gloriously different, right? And, at heart, we are also all very much alike.  To that end, here are two arenas in which many frustrations lie:

  1. Mindset
  2. Butt in chair

Let’s look at mindset,  otherwise known as the way you think, first.  It is easy to groan about this, to hold up your hands and say “Don’t tell me I am what I think!” But the cold, hard truth of the matter is that it’s true. If you think you can do it, you will be able to. But if you don’t think you can, you won’t. Sigh. You really do need to master your mindset about your writing.

But here’s a lot of the reason why—because after thinking about it, you need to do it. I know. Duh. But if you’re busy telling yourself that you can’t do it, you won’t. It’ll be too much pressure. You’ll get bored and wander away, take up archery or long-distance swimming or bird-watching.  Thoughts wear grooves in your brain and if you keep thinking you can’t, then your brain will believe you. And you won’t take time to write, because, well, you’re convinced you can’t. Or that you’re a bad writer. Or that the odds are stacked against you.

I follow a young woman named Jennifer Blanchard.  She is always ranting fervently about mindset and how important it is, how one must write down their goals every day, or at least re-read their goals. Etc., etc.  Part of me loves this stuff. Loves it. And part of me—the part that actually has to take the action—rolls my eyes at it.  But the thing is, everything she says about mindset is true.  You gotta get your brain in the right place to be a writer.  And that means doing whatever it takes, be that rereading your goals every day or monitoring those pesky negative thoughts.

Most of all it means you have to believe you can do it. Because if you don’t believe, you won’t make the time for it.  You’ll read knitting blogs (like I do when I get blocked), instead. Or you’ll decide the kitchen floor needs mopping. Or the cat’s nails need trimming. And the thing is—you won’t even realize why you’re indulging in these procrastination activities. You’ll convince yourself that it’s because there’s that spot of dirt, right there on the floor where everyone can see it.  Or that you absolutely must read that blog because you have to figure out where you went wrong on the sweater you’re knitting.  Or that the cat pulled up a thread on your gorgeous slipcover. Like that.

What’s the antidote to this? In truth, a lot of it is in taking action, which I’ll get to in a moment. Because the more you write, the easier it becomes and the easier it becomes, the more you’ll believe you can do it. Yeah, there is definitely an endless loop going on here.  But here are a couple other hints about mindset:

  1. Visualization has scientifically been proven to help. Not visualizing the moment you stand at the podium and accept your Nobel Prize for Literature, but visualizing yourself actually sitting at the computer writing. Thinking about how it feels as the words flow and your fingers range across the page.

Here’s an article that gives a good rundown on how to do it, and here’s one from Psychology Today on its benefits.

  1. Meditation and positive thinking. Activities that go hand in hand with visualization are meditation (you knew I was going there) because it quiets the damn monkeys in the brain enough to allow you to think positive thoughts about your writing, and affirmations. Yeah, I know. Dopey. I get it. But you can use them in the most casual of ways, as in when you’re thinking how you just can’t seem to get the scene right instead of berating yourself for being an idiot who can’t write, turn it around and tell yourself you know the story and you can figure out the scene. Just tell yourself that the rest of the day. C’mon, you’re a storyteller, right? So tell yourself a positive story. That’s all an affirmation is, in truth. You’re going to be telling yourself something all day anyway, it might as well be something positive.

As for meditation, just try it. Really. It is ten or fifteen minutes out of your day, and if it helps you become a better writer, isn’t that time well spent? I highly recommend downloading the Insight Timerfor your phone and using it. You can set interval bells so that the fifteen minutes doesn’t seem to stretch to fifteen hours, and there’s all kinds of cool ambient sounds you can meditate to, as well as a selection of guided meditations to try. Plus, it’s like social media for meditators. You can create a profile and interact with others all over the world.

Okay, so, alas, one cannot sit in one’s recliner and meditate and visualize and think positive thoughts all day and become a writer.  Would that we could. So I’ll discuss part two of the topic of what it takes in a blog post slated for Wednesday.

Until then, happy mind-setting. Or meditating. Or whatever.

And do tell what you think it takes to be a writer.

Fall Planning, A Special Offer and Off I Go

I’ve been working hard getting clients set for my absence while I’m in France, and I’ve found myself with a bit of time this week. And so I’ve been planning. If there’s one thing I love to do in this life, it is to plan.  Give me a calendar or a planner or a workbook or a template and I’m a happy camper.

When I get home, I’ll have three months left to make my mark on this year. Three short months! And I’ve got tons I want to write, novels, books, blog posts and newsletters.  So in order to accomplish it all, I’m going to need to be organized.  Hence the planning. (Never mind that sometimes I get so enraptured with my planning that I never get to the actual action-taking.)

But here’s the deal.  In all that planning, I know the unexpected will happen. Like people wanting to hire me.  And so I had an idea. (Those are my husband’s most dreaded words in all the world, by the way. Because when I utter them it usually means he’ll be moving furniture or painting walls or digging up a garden bed to create a sculpture garden.) What if I could get an idea who might want to work with me now, to aid me in my planning.

Just think, in the final three months of this year, you could:

–Write the first draft of a novel (Nanowrimo is coming right up)

–Start a blog

–Write and submit article and essay ideas

–Complete a couple of short stories or a novella

–Write a book proposal

The sky’s the limit! Wouldn’t it be great to end this year on a high note, knowing you’ve accomplished your biggest goals? (Because if you are like me, writing is always the biggest goal.)

So, in order to entice you to sign up  and pay, I’m offering a special deal. I’ll add in one session to my one-month package, which brings the total to five sessions, and I’ll add in two session to my three-month, paid-in-advance sessions, bringing the total to 14 freaking sessions! Geez, people, this is  smoking hot deal.

And yes, you are correct, there is a catch.  Because I don’t want to worry about administrative things while I’m in France, to take advantage of this offer, you need to sign up by the end of Labor Day weekend.  That’s midnight, Pacific time on September 5th.  And here’s the other catch: I’m not going to have time to chat with you beforehand. We can communicate via email, but no phone calls. Oh, and one more catch, which is that our coaching will begin in October.

But you can use the sessions any time you want, over as long as you want. And we can work on whatever you want. (For the record, each session is one phone call and me reading up to 20 pages of your work).

Here are the pay buttons. I look forward to working with you!

Three months coaching + two bonus sessions for $1200



One month coaching + one bonus session for $450


Preparation is Three-Quarters of the Battle

Tour_Eiffel_Wikimedia_Commons_(cropped)I’m leaving for France (Paris and Ceret) soon. I’m not one of those people who pack and repack a week ahead. No, you’ll find me throwing clothes in the suitcase the night before.

But, and this is a big but—when the time comes for me to commence said throwing, I will know exactly what I’m going to take. (Okay, because I’m a terrible packer and a confirmed right-brainer, there will be last minute changes and additions.) Because I’ve been thinking about what I need to take clothes-wise, book-wise, and technology-wise all month.

Chance favors the prepared mind.  And the prepared packer. And the prepared writer.

At least I think so.

I know there’s an endless debate between pantsers and plotters.  (For the record, a pantser is one who flies by the seat of his pants when writing, and a plotter is one who plans everything out.)  And, seeing as how I have a completely somewhat loose approach to organization and house cleaning and the like, you would think I would fall down on the side of pantsing.

But I have learned through many years of experience that when I pants, I get into trouble. Not that I don’t love it, because I do. What could be better than allowing your mind and fingers to ramble down shady lanes and sunny byways in strange worlds? But the key word here is ramble, because that’s exactly what I do. Ramble along with no worry for the strictures of plot or character. Or showing a cohesive setting. Or anything but my rambles.

And one cannot write a novel without worrying about plot or character or setting.  Or one can, but one will need to do a lot of rewriting when one is done.  I do love rewriting—but not when I have to figure out how to make a shapeless lump into a story.

So, I plot. And write up character dossiers. And draw maps of locations and diagrams of houses and offices.  I call all of this prep work and I actually enjoy it. Sometimes I think I enjoy it too much, as I can get so engrossed in it that I never quite get to the writing of the novel.

It occurred to me, as I pondered what clothing I should take to Europe, that it might be helpful to share what I consider to be the bare minimum of novel prep work, because it’s been awhile since we discussed this.  So here you go (and remember this is a minimum. You can do a lot more if you wish):

Character Dossiers.  I fill them out for all of my main characters and do at least the rudiments (appearance, personal traits) for the minor ones.  Because all story starts with character, this is time well spent and often helps me come up with plot ideas as well.  It is also helpful to know who is going to tell the story and if it will be in first person or third.

Setting Sketches. I need to be able to see where my character lives and works.  This goes for big setting, such as the overall city she lives in, and small setting, such as her home and office.

A Loose Outline. And by loose, I mean loose. I’m not one of those people who plans out every single beat and action and character thought. I do like to leave some room for surprises.  A simple list of potential happenings will do.

Really that’s it. I know, you don’t see research on the list. That’s because, like technology, I’m on a need-to-know basis with it.  When I don’t know how to do something on my computer, ask the Google How do I do _______________ ? I always get a quick answer.  Same thing with research.  At least for the first draft you do not want to get mired in a lot of facts you might not really need. (And if you’re writing an historical, my hat’s off to you. And you’ll need to do a lot more research.)

Since I just finished my rewrite, I’ll be prepping a new novel myself soon. Can’t wait.

While I have you, are you a pantser or a plotter? What do you think are the advantages of your approach?

Photo from Wikipedia.

Cutting the Fat

So, my novel manuscript, the one I’m almost done rewriting, originally came in at over 107,000 words.

I know.      spaghetti_fusilli_pasta_242129_l

Waaaaaay too long.

“But part of it is recipes,” I told myself.

Right. Like maybe 500 words.

Under orders from my agent, I’m in the process of cutting it to under 100K. (I’m currently at 99,378, with about 100 pages yet to comb through, so not bad.) I’ve realized as I do this, a couple of things: 1. that trimming the fat is making it a much better book, and 2. that this is a very inexact process.

All that being said, here are some ideas about how to approach cutting your precious words back:

Keep the noodles on the stove.  My characters love to noodle. To ponder. To think deep thoughts about life. And I, in my efforts to make sure the reader gets it, often have them noodle about the same issue. Over and over and over again. Noodling is one of the easiest things to cut. (A brief aside. I was cooking Mac and Cheese for my three-year-old granddaughter the other day and mentioned that the noodles were on the stove.  “What’s a noodle, Nonni?” she asked. Because only people of a certain age call it anything but pasta. Duh.)

Cut entire scenes or chapters.  This is far and away the most painful thing to do. And the most effective–in my case, I ditched several thousand words in one quick swoop.  It was a chapter I’d added in to supposedly give the reader more insight into a particular character, but much of it was fluff. So I held my breath and slashed it. (Though nothing is ever deleted forever. See my procedural notes below.)

Ditch telling and then showing.  I see this often in my client’s manuscripts.  First they tell us something, then show it.  I thought I was good at not doing this. But hahaha, turns out that’s not only the case. Since my characters love to noodle, they often sometimes think about doing something, then say it in dialogue, and then…gasp…they actually do it.  Thus I am repeating the same thing three times. A good rule of thumb in such situations: dialogue or action is always stronger than thoughts.

Edit out sentences that say the same thing in different ways.  Similar to the above, in my efforts to hit my reader over the head with my brilliance, I say it on way. And then another. And then…oh wait, just in case, let’s try yet another way! Away with all of these repetitious bits.

Keep the momentum moving forward.  It’s easy to unintentionally stall the action.  Here’s an example. My main character, Madeleine, is at a party.  She goes outside to deal with one of the party-goers and then thinks, “Suddenly the prospect of returning to the party wasn’t so appealing.” But I’ve still got a bunch of things that have to happen at the party. Yet she’s letting all the air out by saying that. This also happens when writers build up to a scene, say an argument between husband and wife, and then don’t end the scene without writing the argument.

If something is niggling at you, pay attention to it.  Sometimes it happens that a little thought comes into your head along the lines of you should go back to chapter 14 and look at what Richard says. But you ignore it. Because, you’re way beyond chapter 14 and who wants go go back? But that thought keeps niggling at you. Pay attention. This happened to me earlier today and after I dragged my metaphorical feet long and hard, I finally went back–and rewrote a chunk of the chapter. It’s much stronger now.

That’s it for the actual wordsmithing.  But below find a couple of procedural tips:

Keep a hold file.  This is an extra file in which I copy and paste the gems I’m cutting.  I’ve done this for years, so that I’m certain to hang onto my brilliance. However, I learned a better way to make sure I don’t panic when I highlight vast swaths of copy and hit delete. And that is:

Save a new file every day.  I do this by date: BCRewriteFour8.25.16. And so on, through all the days I’m working on it.  Then you know you can always go back to what you wrote the day before and your brain won’t tell you that you can’t delete those delicately beautiful words because the world will suffer if you do. (I learned this tip from Rachael Herron.)

What are you working on? Doing any rewriting? Got any tips to share? Please do!

(Photo by brokenarts.)

Rain and Writing

drops_wallpaper_texture_225146_lWe woke to rain in Portland this morning and I cheered. I know, I know, but as a native Oregonian, I love the rain. Plus it had been humid (by our standards) for awhile and it felt like we needed a good storm to clear it out.  And that meant I didn’t have to water the garden, and that the gamble I took on not watering my son’s yard (we’re caring for his house while they are in Hawaii)  yesterday paid off.

The sky is already brightening here, which means I probably get to go to my grandsons’ swim appointment after all. But today’s rain reminded me of my favorite writing and rain quote ever, by Tom Robbins:

“People ask me who I write for, I tell them I write for the rain.”

The funny thing is, this quote exists only in memory as a part of an article about Robbins in Esquire.  Despite wasting tons of time exhaustive searches looking for the quote I’ve never been able to actually find it. In honor of the rain this morning, I looked for it again and guess what came up?  A couple of my old (2011) posts.  The one that mentions the quote doesn’t have much of value in it, but another one did, including some gems from Annie Proulx (that link goes to a great interview with her) and Chris Guillebeau.

So, in lieu of a Five on Friday post, I give you this link.

(And, in a lovely bit of synchronicity, when I looked up a link on Robbins, it turns out that today is his birthday. Boo-yah! And happy birthday, Tom.)