Tag Archives | editing

Committing the Cardinal Writing Sin

manzana_original_adan_241995_lForgive me, father for I have sinned am sinning.

I am committing one of the cardinal writing sins.

I am three-quarters of the way through the first draft of my next novel, and rather than writing all the way to the end, I am starting over.

I hear your gasps.  I see your open mouths.  I understand your shock and dismay.  Because I feel it, too.

Here’s the story.  I am known to expound on the virtues of the writing process loudly and often, at least among certain groups.  By the writing process, I mean this the following.  You do some prep work, such as character dossiers and a loose outline, and you write your first draft (also known as the discovery draft) from start to finish, emphasis on the finish.  And then you ponder and make notes and ponder some more, and return to the manuscript and write the second draft.  You rinse and repeat as many times as necessary, ending with the revision draft, in which you concentrate on word choice, deleting adverbs, and grammar.  All the little things.  Then, and only then, do you consider your manuscript complete.bulgaria_sinner_saint_51020_h

Any deviation from this process is frowned on in my world.

But here I am doing it.  I am planning to launch into the second draft before completing the first.  I have good reasons, I swear it! From the start, I’ve known this draft was lacking in everything a few things, such as, oh, voice and plot and interesting characters.  I started it on a whim while in France last year, and had written several chapters before I really started thinking about where I was going with it (do not try this at home).  I knew I had issues and yet I liked the main character and her arc a lot and so I plunged on.

But the antagonist was a soft, sweet Mama-bear type.  And the love interest was too perfect.  And I had a whole sub-plot going that really didn’t combine with the main plot.  At all. Sigh.  While in Nashville last week, I did a ton of journaling and writing about, which is my way of thinking through issues with my fiction.  And I came up with ideas that pop the whole story open and make it all sparkly and shiny.  Ideas that I love.  But my antagonist is totally different now, and the love interest’s imperfections make him a new character.  That stupid sub-plot is gone and there’s a whole new location.

Often, you can come up with ideas for big changes in your novel and keep writing as if you wrote the first three-quarters of the story with those ideas in place.  But the changes that I have in mind seem to me to be so innate that I need to begin again.

So that’s what I’m going to do.  HOWEVER, I just received rewrite notes from an editor who is very interested in The Bonne Chance Bakery and so I am setting everything else aside to work on that.  Maybe–just maybe–I will change my mind about starting over in the interim.  I have agonized over this a fair amount.  But I highly doubt it.

What is your usual process? Have you ever started over on a project before finishing it? Do tell!

Photos by intrusoft and KevinWalsh, both from everystockphoto.


Writing Tics, or What I’m Learning From the Emma Jean Edits

Lens_magnifying_glass_266925_lI'm deep into the edits for my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, and some things are becoming apparent.  As in, writing tic type things.  As in, the little silly stuff I do over and over again.  I thought sharing these tics might be helpful to you.  I know I'll be much more conscious of them as I write my next novel.

So here goes:

–I use the word and too much, often a lot of times in the same sentence. 

–I misuse commas.  Don't ask me how, because I don't quite get it, but I think I use too many of them.

–I over do it with the dialogue tags.  My editor, Nannette, is forever knocking them out.  And I would have told you I used them sparingly.

–I am guilty of repeating words.  I am a demon when it comes to this on my student's work, always exhorting them to change repeated words.  And I would have told you that my manuscript was clean, so clean when it came to such things.  But, no.  Nannette finds plenty of instances of this habit.

–I need to write around lyrics.  Emma Jean always has a song for every occasion, and will happily share it with you.  But this does not work because one must get permission to use song lyrics.  And such permission costs one money.  So I'm writing around them.

So far, the issue with the song lyrics has been the biggest thing I've had to deal with in the edits.  I know there's a problem in one of the final scenes that I've got to deal with and I'm dreading that.  But that's still pages away.  At the moment, I'm on page 200 of 374 and enjoying the process.  The great thing about going through the edits is that it's teaching me about my own writing, and hopefully strengthening it.

Tell me: what are you writing tics?  Have you ever had an editor point them out to you?




Emma Jean Edits

The day came.  My edits for the novel arrived.  And I promptly left for a two-day vacation. Arch-cape-or

We went to the beach to stay with old friends, our daughter and the Most Adorable Baby in the World in tow.  I had visions of myself on the deck, feet propped up, laptop in lap, working away on the edits.  Or sitting in a corner of the beach house, happily revisiting my old friend, the novel.


Because it was way too sunny on the deck for me to see the laptop screen.  And every corner of the beach house was filled–gloriously so–with people. Most importantly, I wanted to be present in the vacation world and hang with my living friends, not hobnob with my fictional pals.  And so I sat at the kitchen table and answered a few emails and replied to some blog comments (thank you, I love your comments). And then I called it a day and went for a walk on the beach.

Turns out I'm not really slacking.  Before I left I emailed my editor, asking her for a deadline, thinking she'd probably mention a date in mid-August.  But, no, she said I could get it in right after Labor Day.  So I've got plenty of time. 

I'm eager to get to this.  As already noted, it's not a huge job, at least it doesn't look like it from a quick scan of the file.  I'm always a little wonky in the Track Changes feature on Word until I get into it, so there's that.  And I did see one comment about an important character reappearing at the end that my editor thinks is unnecessary.  That will require some thought in how to fix.  I'm sure there's more stuff like that throughout.

But I can't wait to get started on it–opening the file was like visiting old friends.  Which, come to think of it was the theme of the week, both in my real world and my fictional world.  How about that?

What about you?  How do you feel about the editing process?  Do you have experience working with an editor?  I'd love to hear!

**If you want to write a novel of your very own, I've got a novel-writing class beginning August 14th.  We'll cover the basics of the process and all the things you need to know to have at it.  Read more here and join us!

(I found the photo on the interwebs, and I think it comes from Tripadvisor.)




The Writing Life: Update on My Novel

So, I hadn't heard from my editor in a long time.

I signed the contract for my novel in the early part of May and then, nothing.

I wasn't too worried, because my friend who had his novel published by the same house said that happened with them.

But still, time passed and no word.

Meanwhile, my friend Dan, one of three people in my writing group to get a book contract this year, got his edits and sent them back to his editor.  And he got his novel accepted after me.

So I kept thinking I should write my editor.  But then I didn't.

I, um, procrastinated.

Because what if something was wrong?  What if they didn't like it after all?  What if they decided to back out of the contract?

I know, silly thoughts.  But maybe they weren't.  Because you never know.  Shit happens.

Finally, last week I screwed up my courage and wrote my editor.  She cheerily wrote back, saying edits would be done this week or next and not to worry–that there were no massive changes that would take a huge chunk of my time (another one of my worries).

When will I ever learn that most of the things I worry about are baseless?

Probably never.

Anyway, it looks like we're on track.  Or I should say, I'm on track, because my editor was never off-track.  I'll keep you informed about the editing process, as a matter of writerly interest, when it happens.

Meanwhile, do tell: do you worry about writing-related things (or non-writing-related things)?  How do you control your worries?

**Speaking of novels, I'm teaching a novel writing class starting August 14th.  You could join us if you wanted, and if you're interested, click here.



Writing Process 3: Rewriting

This is part four of a continuing series of the writing process.  For the previous articles in the series, see the end of this post.

What's there to say about rewriting? You just get in there and do it, right? So what's there to write about?

Well, plenty.  For starters, let me make one thing clear: I make a distinction between rewriting and revising. 

Rewriting is what you do after you've written a rough or discovery draft, glumping everything onto the page.  You've written the rough draft, which is you figuring out the story for yourself.  And now you have to figure out best to present the story to your readers.  So you work on things like character arcs and ways to show theme and plot.  

Revising is what you do after you've rewritten that first draft a gazillion times and finally feel you've gotten all the big picture stuff down pat.  Revising has to do with word choice and making sure you have lots of different kinds of sentence structures, and grammar and punctuation.  (And its the subject of next Monday's post.)

So, here's the deal about rewriting: at first, its hard.  Because at first, especially when working on a long project, there's puzzlement about how to find a way back into your work.  The logical place to start is with reading it again, but that can be confusing, also.  Because, what are you supposed to be looking for while reading? How do you know what to change?

This is when giving your rough draft to trusted readers  (critique group or a mentor) can be incredibly helpful, because they can give you a starting point.  But what if you don't have access to such readers? Or if you're simply unwilling to yet show your draft to anybody(which is your right–follow your intuition about when to share)?

Here are a few tips:

1. Begin with reading.  Because, really, you've got to go back to the beginning and remind yourself of how it all starts.  I don't know about you, but by the time I've written some 350-odd pages, I have a hard time remembering every single nuance of the start.  Or even the middle.  So, print out  your manuscript, grab a pen and notebook, and go sit in your favorite chair.  The one where you sit to read books (of the sort written by other people).  Read through your manuscript and take notes.

2. Find a way in.  Your entry point might be something you notice about a character–how, for instance, he talks about his desire to become king in chapter 10 but really needs to inform the reader of this vital point a bit earlier.  Or maybe you realize that a crucial plot point is misplaced.  Or perhaps it is something small, like a description that you think could be rewritten.

3. Expand on your notes.  When you're finished reading the draft, go back over the notes you took.  Between the notes and the reading of your draft, you should now have a better idea of things you want to work on.  Turn your notes into a plan for rewriting, even if its just a to-do list.  This will help you enormously.

4.  Look for places to go deeper.   Rewriting is most often a process of adding to, not removing, contrary to popular opinion.  Far and away the biggest problem I see in scenes is that they are not developed enough.   There's not enough description, not enough scene-setting, not enough of the viewpoint character's thoughts.  As an experiment, choose a paragraph at random from your draft and pull it apart and add to it. You might hear this referred to as unpacking.

5.  Remember that rewriting begets more rewriting.  Because once you've changed certain areas of the story, other areas are revealed.  You've gotten the character arcs straightened out, so now the parts of the plot that need work are evident.  And so on. 

Those are my tips. By the way, an excellent book to use as a guide for rewriting a novel is: Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook, by Donald Maass.  (The companion book is Writing The Breakout Novel, but I don't find it as helpful.) Another, more general title, is The Artful Edit, by Susan Bell.

What are you best tips for approaching the rewrite?  Do you find any books especially helpful?

Previous Posts

The Writing Process, Again

5 Guidelines for Critiquing the Rough/Discovery Draft

Writing Process: The Three Ps of Glumping


Good is Good Enough

I spent yesterday afternoon writing copy for my website.

Seeing as how this is a chore that's been hanging over my head for a year, it felt good to finish it.  And the way I finished it was to tell myself that good was good enough.

It didn't have to be perfect, I told myself.  It didn't have to be the most brilliant copy ever written.  It just had to be done.  And it had to be good enough.  And so it was.

Perhaps it sounds strange and counter intuitive for me to say that.

After all, we writers tend to be a perfectionist lot. And in order to get the attention of an editor or agent, our prose has to be perfect.

I agree.  I've argued this point many a time with civilians (aka, non-writers), who wonder why I obsess over making sure that my novel manuscript is as perfect as it can be.  "It doesn't matter," friends have argued.  "Because if they like the story, they won't mind a few typos here and there.  They'll clean it up for you."


What they will do, however, is take one look at the typos and pitch the manuscript over their shoulder, never to be looked at again.  Agents and editors are far too busy to waste their time on someone who submits a less than perfect manuscript.  This holds true for literary agents, book editors, and all those magazine editors who you're sending your articles and essays to.

So here I am, contradicting myself.

With good reason, because there's a difference between web copy which, at least for me, is going to change as my business changes, and a novel which is going to be published without changes for many years (if I should be so lucky).  There's a difference between a blog post, which is meant to reflect a certain dailiness of life, and a carefully crafted magazine article.

But it is more than that, too.  It is the way we hold ourselves back from the page because we're afraid its not going to be perfect.  The way we refuse to start that novel because it feels like such a long, long way to the finished form.  The way we never get around to starting the business because we're afraid to put ourselves out there.

The finished novel goes through many good enough drafts before the final one is reached.  Blog posts can be edited even after they are posted.  A website can be changed and added to and subtracted from. 

Many a creative project and idea has been stifled by perfectionism.  So don't let that happen.  Instead, allow things to be good enough.  And then take them to a new level of good enough.  And another, and another, until you have something that truly sparkles and shines.


When is good, good enough for you?