Rewriting: How to Deal With Comments

Okay, so there it is–your manuscript.  You’ve just gotten it back from your beta readers. Or your editor. Or your agent. Perhaps it is a lovely stack of papers with writing all over the page. Or maybe it is a file on the computer, laden with those little comment boxes.

You’ve read over all the comments.  You agree with most of them. You’re ready to dig in.  But there you sit, staring at the pages. Where to start? Sometimes the sheer number of comments, written or digital, can feel daunting.

(Take it from someone who, earlier this week, invented all sorts of excuses as to why she couldn’t dive into her commented-upon manuscript. Because it’s snowing! Because I need to find my tax receipts! Because I really must finish knitting that sweater front. Lame, every single one of them.)

So here’s some guidance.

  • To begin, read, or at least glance, through the manuscript, so that you can get a feel for the gist of the comments. This is a safe, easy way to get started. You don’t really have to do anything, you’re just getting the lay of the land.
  • Now take a break for chocolate and coffee. Or wine.  It’s five o-clock somewhere, right?
  • Now that you’re revived, get back to it. Have paper and pen handy. Start working your way through the comments, with these caveats, one at a time. But here are some rules that will help you not faint with the effort:

–If you can deal with it quickly and easily, do it.

–If you’re flummoxed by a comment, or you don’t feel like dealing with it yet, skip it.  Make a deal with yourself that you will do this. You don’t want to get stuck obsessing over a comment. Better to move on and get some momentum going.

–If the comment is speaking to a larger issue, make a note about it on your paper.  You might need to parse out some ideas about it and the paper is the place to do it.

  • Take a break! More chocolate! Or maybe some popcorn. Few things better.
  • Okay, back at it. Continue working your way through the comments, accepting them as you’ve finished them, and noting the ones that will take more thought on your paper.
  • Once you’re all the way through the comments, go back to the ones you skipped or that need more work. Now that you’ve bravely gotten this far, you’re on a roll and momentum will carry you through.
  • You’re done! Celebrate. Champagne? Nah. Maybe just more red wine.

By the way, I wrote another post on rewriting earlier this week.  This one was on draft passes, a useful concept at a certain point in your rewriting. So go to it!

Let me know how it goes. Leave a comment!

Rewriting: Draft Passes (A Helpful Writing Tip)

The passing lane. Like a draft pass. Right?

Ah, rewriting. So fun! So engaging! So intense! I’m serious, I actually really like it. But it can also be mind-boggling.  Where to begin? How to approach it? What to do?

One concept that may be useful to you is that of draft passes.  I’ve done this myself and recommended it to others, but I’ve never had a tricky name for it until now. And for that, I thank Rachael Herron, who mentions it in her new (and highly recommended) book,  Fast Draft Your Memoir: Write Your Life.  

A draft pass is when you go through your manuscript looking for one specific thing and that thing only.  For instance, you might want to track the throughline of a subplot.  Or check that the description of a character is consistent throughout.  Or look at and vary how you note character movements. (I tend to have all my characters shrug, nod, and blow out long streams of breath, for instance.)

Isolating this one thing makes it easier to track it in the morass of pages that constitute a novel.  Draft passes work best after the bulk of your rewriting is done and you’re finished with the big story questions.  For instance, I just got notes from my agent on the rewrite of my romance novel. One thing I need to do a draft pass on is my two main characters thinking how attractive they each find the other.  There’s way too much of it, and readers need to see it rather than have it told to them. Another draft pass will be devoted to heightening the main character’s motivation for not allowing herself to be swept off her feet by the hero.

I liken the process of draft passes to gently pulling pages of the manuscript apart and dropping a few pithy new words on sentences or even a scene in.   You can use the search feature to help you find what you need, or, hopefully somewhere you have a list of scenes that will guide you.  (If you don’t, I recommend you create one immediately!) And I’m sure those of you who use Scrivener have all kinds of cool ways to track things that I’m not aware of.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, Janice Hardy had an excellent article on the difference between revision, rewriting, and redrafting on her blog this week. Check it out.

Have you ever done draft passes? Leave a comment or come over to the Facebook page and discuss.

P.S.–this post contains one teeny, tiny affiliate link.

Whining on the Yacht (A love letter)

One of my dearest friends read last week’s post with the subject line, a love letter about winning, and wrote me that she thought it said whining. To which I responded, what an excellent idea for a newsletter. And so here we go.

In the spirit of the Olympics, I am a championship whiner.  I can whine about anything, and I do.  It’s too rainy, it’s too sunny (only a native Oregonian would whine about that), I’m too tired, I’m hungry, I’m full, I can’t focus, my knee hurts, I don’t want to exercise, my writing is crap…on and on it goes.

Until I get pulled up short and reminded how lucky I am.  Most recently it was when I was watching a Facebook live event of an energy healer.  (I’m pretty fascinated with this guy, Charlie Goldsmith.) As he worked with people on camera, others commented. By the time I quit watching, there were something like 18,000 comments. And 99.9% listed the terrible physical problems people were having, and begging for help.

If that doesn’t make you sit up and realize how lucky you are, I don’t know what does. Which is when I remind myself of the phrase, no whining on the yacht. I’m not sure where this originally came from, but I first heard it from my daughter-in-law a couple years ago.  (Okay, I just looked it up.  There’s an article dated 2010 that attributes it to U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer.)

I have a wonderful family and friends, an amazing agent who loves my work and is determined to sell it, and oh yeah—I get to spend the whole month of March in France, writing. So yeah, not a lot to whine about.

And, most of all, I’m a writer. I get to write every day of my life and many days I get to work with other writers.  I have an activity that I never get tired of, and I never, ever get bored, because there’s always another story to uncover.

So yeah, my novels may not have found a publisher yet, and I may wish I had more time to devote solely to writing them. I’m not rich, money-wise, and I do have chronic knee pain.  I get called on way too often to watch grandchildren or drive neighbor kids to school because I work at home.  I’m always, always, always, looking for more time to do the things I love.

But who freaking cares? Because I’m a writer. I’m one of the lucky ones in the world, because I get to make up stories and bring them to the world.

(This article first appeared in my weekly newsletter, The Abundant Writer. If you’d like it to arrive directly into your inbox each Sunday morning, you can subscribe in the form to the right.)

What’s Your Word Count–and Does it Matter?

I’ve been working with one of my clients, who shall remain nameless (Hi, Mitch!) to trim down his long middle grade fantasy.  Clocking in at over 140,000 words it is, as I said, long.

Meanwhile, I recently set out to write a short story.   Apparently, I have a hard time writing anything short.  The story ended up at almost 15,000 words. Which isn’t terrible, but still on the long side for a short story. (When I was a kid, my Mom subscribed to all the lady’s magazines of the day and back then, they all published fiction, what they called short stories.  I expected short stories to be short, like one page or so.  I was always annoyed at how long short stories were. So it’s ironic that I am now the queen of writing long short stories.)  It gets worse. Last year I set out to write a novella.  It’s just shy of 50,000 words, which is short novel length.

Does word count matter?

So, with all these varying word counts, does it really matter? Should my client and I be struggling to trim scenes to make his novel shorter? Should I turn my novella into a novel by adding a few scenes?

Word count does matter–publishers will balk at anything over 100k. The first novel (women’s fiction) I submitted to my agent came in at over 100k and I was instructed to trim it done.  Publishers don’t like long works because they  will cost more to print, for one thing.  And even if your longer book is self pubbed, many people will balk at reading such a long novel. I know my own reading habits, and I tend not to finish overly long books, so I wouldn’t buy one in the first place.

On the other hand, if something is too short it might seem flimsy.  Trivial.  Not substantial enough to warrant going to the trouble of publishing. Of course, in these days of self publishing, all those rules have gone out the window.  But, still–many’s the review I’ve read on Amazon complaining about the shortness of a book.

So, what’s a writer to do? 

Probably aim for a reasonable word count within industry standards is the best option. What, you ask, are those industry standards? Well, funny thing, they tend to vary a lot according to genre. Or who you ask. Or what way the wind is blowing. Or how the planets are arranged.

But, I’ve  come up with some good guesses estimates. While I’m citing specific sources, I looked around a lot to find credible ones that seemed pretty ballpark. So I think the following are good guidelines:

According to Reedsy, here are standard word counts by genre:

  • Commercial and literary novels: 80,000 – 100,000
  • Science fiction and fantasy: 100,000 – 115,000
  • Young adult: 55,000 – 70,000
  • Middle grade: 20,000 – 55,000
  • Romance: 80,000 – 100,000
  • Mystery: 75,000 – 100,000
  • Thriller: 90,000 – 100,000
  • Memoir: 80,000 – 90,000
  • Western: 45,000 – 75,000

And here, some counts for shorter works (from Christopher Fielden):

 

  • Flash fiction: under 1,000 words
  • Short story: 500 to 17,000 words
  • Novelette: 7,500 to 25,000 words
  • Novella: 10,000 to 70,000 words
  • Novel: 50,000 words or more


Some random things to keep in mind:

 

  • The standard word count per page of double-spaced manuscript is still considered to be 250.
  • The industry relies on word count rather than page count because page size varies according to format, but word count remains the same.
  • Edgar Allen Poe defined a short story as a story that could be read in one sitting.
  • Here’s a fun infographic of the word counts of some famous books.  (593,674 for A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth!)
  • According to Amazon, the median length for all books is about 64,000 words.
  • And, finally, the best rule to adhere to is this: write your book as long as it needs to be.

What’s the word count of your current project? Do you worry about it? Leave a comment. Or come on over to the Facebook page to discuss.

***I have room for one client or editing job during my upcoming writing sojourn in France. Email me at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com if you’re interested.

Why Writing is Good For Your Brain (A Love Letter)

Here’s reason #5,001 (I’m counting): that writing is a worthwhile activity: it’s good for your brain.

Allow me to digress a bit. I’m teaching myself to crochet. (Head on over to the blog if you want to see a photo of my first finished piece, a scarf heavy enough to qualify as a weighted blanket if it were an afghan).   Every time I start a new project, I puzzle over the directions, which read like a foreign language—even to somebody used to deciphering knitting patterns like me.  Then I need to Google obscure abbreviations I don’t understand, and often refer to two or three sites to figure out what I’m supposed to do.  And finally I usually have to start the project several times before I get it right.

While I’m doing this I swear I can feel all the neurons in my brain firing.  Learning something new like this is good for my brain! And if there’s one thing I desire to maintain, it’s my brain. Which is why I do crossword puzzles, read a wide variety of book genres from non-fiction to fiction, and try to get my butt out the door or to my stationary bike to exercise. (Yes, exercise is good for the brain as well as the body.) 

But as I loop yarn around my crochet hook and congratulate myself for being a lifelong learner, I keep thinking about writing.  The thought occurred to me that it must be an excellent thing for your brain to be engaged in. Because, think about how hard your brain works when you’re trying to figure out how to make a plot work, or what happened in your character’s backstory that created her motivation that powers the story.  It’s hard to think up new worlds and create people to populate them.  (And I believe that is the reason some struggle to find time to write—they don’t have the necessary brain space to do it, what with the crazy amount of input we get these days.)

So I went to the Google and looked it up. And found this: “challenging your brain activates processes that maintain brain cells and stimulate communication between them.” Boo-yah. But this is even better: a German study observed fiction writers at work and found that their brains showed similarities to people skilled at other complex actions, such as sports.

Sometimes I think we need excuses to take time to write (which is why I maintain that afore-mentioned list). So next time your partner complains about you burying yourself in your writing cave, you can haughtily inform him or her that you are improving your brain.  Never mind that you’d much rather be writing than watching Fast and Furious #18 for the thousandth time.

Do leave a comment and tell me how you’ve improved your brain recently.

Note: these love letter are taken from my weekly newsletter. If you’d prefer to have them come right into your inbox, sign up to the right!

Don’t listen to writing advice (A love letter)

One day this week, I rose at 5 AM.  I worked for an hour and a half—nailed the organization of a book project—and then drove to my son’s house for emergency babysitting duty at 6:30. By 9 AM that morning I’d knocked a big item off my to-do list, watched George, eaten breakfast and done the crossword, showered and gotten ready for the rest of the day.

I love getting up early. It’s when I get my best writing done, and over the years my brain and body have adjusted to this and cooperate by waking me with the dawn, or before, naturally.  Rising early works for me.  But I’m donesies by dinner—I’ll do no work requiring energetic thought after 7, and by 9 I’ll be dozing in front of the TV.

So if you asked me to advise you on the best schedule for productivity, I would enthusiastically endorse waking early, telling you that by creating time to do what’s most important to you first, you set yourself up for success the whole day.

But consider my friend Robin.  She gets her best work done starting about the time I’m dozing off. By midnight, she’s in full work mode, often staying up until 2 or 3 AM. And I know not to text her first thing in the morning, because she sleeps in until 10 or 11.

If you asked Robin the secret to productivity, she’d tell you to stay up late.

My point, which I’m sure you’re already gotten, is that what works for me may not work for you. This goes for how your schedule your days, how you live your life, and yes, how you write. We are all different, thank God.

There are a ton of experts online and elsewhere who want to tell you how to write and when to do it. I’m one of them!  Many will try to convince you that their way is the only way. But don’t listen to us. You know best what works for you.

And, here’s the caveat to this: you are responsible for figuring out what works best, for following your own path.  And that’s not as easy as it sounds, and its where we “experts” come in. Read what we have to say, absorb it, put our brilliant advice to use and see how it works.

Experts can help light many ways, but only you can figure out what way is best. Knowing yourself is a lifelong pursuit.

Please do feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you’ve taught yourself!

Go With The Flow

This morning when I got up at my usual early hour (made even earlier this week with the time switch), I had plans to work on the rewrite of my novel. Because that’s what I do when I get up early to write. It is my sacred time, devoted only to writing fiction. (Except for those times when I, ahem, devote it to reading blogs and interesting news articles.) It is part of my daily morning routine.

But this morning I awoke and the juicy bits at the top of my brain were for newsletters.  (Which, if you don’t know, I send out every week–I post them here but you can get them right into your inbox by filling out the form to the right.)

So I did what any self-respecting writer would do–I argued with myself. Told myself I HAD TO WORK ON THE NOVEL AND NOTHING ELSE.  But the newsletters wouldn’t let hold of my mind. And when I tried to connect with my novel, nothing was there. It was like a blank wall in my brain.

And so I grudgingly did what my brain was telling me to do.  I ended up knocking out two newsletters (I’ll be out of town next week so I’m setting one up ahead of time) in no time at all.

What would have happened if I hadn’t gone with the flow? Knowing me, I most likely wouldn’t have gotten either the newsletters or the work on the novel done. Instead, in trying to force my brain somewhere it didn’t want to go, I would have ended up not doing either and heading off to my procrastination default of farting around on the internet.

And now, later on in the afternoon, I’m going to steal an hour or so to work on that novel rewrite after all–because I got everything else done. So sometimes it is a good idea to release expectations of what you should be doing. We should ourselves way too much anyway.

What do you should yourself about? Leave a comment!

On Writing and Determination (A Love Letter)

Hi Writers,

I babysat my 10-month-old grandson George one day this week, as I do most weeks, and as he gets older and more mobile I’m struck by one thing: his determination.

He’ll attempt to climb on his rocking moose, for instance, but miss and plop on the floor. Up he scrabbles again.  Then he discovers the moose’s handles, but in so doing, takes a header. Cries for a minute, starts over again. He’s teaching himself to walk by pushing chairs across the dining room floor.  Up, walk, walk, walk, fall, cry or sometimes not, up again, walk some more.

The sheer amount of effort it takes to grow from a baby into even a tiny toddling-size human is astounding, and I’m constantly in awe of his determination to get there. And observing George reminds me that writing takes energy and determination, too, just of a more cerebral kind.

I’m not naturally good at it.  Determination, I mean.  Sometimes I wonder what people would say my biggest tragic flaw is and I think I know—I give up too easily.  I remember how, early in my career, I got good comments from agents when I sent out novels but the faintest whiff of rejection and I got discouraged and quit. I also often made the rookie writer mistake of hiding something I’d written away when somebody critiqued it.  Note: I said critiqued it, not criticized. Big difference. But I didn’t know that then. All I knew was that I wasn’t good enough.

I lost faith in myself.  Over and over and over again.

And that’s the underlying key here, the one that I’ve discovered as I’ve aged. Determination is tied to faith in yourself. Because that’s when I quit. When I convince myself I’m not good enough.  When I lose confidence.  When I get scared I don’t have what it takes. I think that’s when we all quit.  If you have no confidence in yourself, it is hard to go out and face the big, scary world.

But—and here’s a big but—I’ve learned this about myself over the years. It is my natural tendency (yours, too?) to flounder when it comes to having determination and faith in myself.  (Getting older is good for some things. Quite a few things, actually.) And so now I can catch myself when I’m quitting because someone said boo to me. Or if I start worrying too much about product versus process when I’m writing. (As in: what will my agent think of this? What will my beta readers think? What will the public think? And of course, the thing is, the public will never have a chance to think anything about it because the writing won’t see the light of day if I keep second-guessing myself.)

Babies are good for reminding adults of lots of things, especially when said adults are grandparents and have a bit more distance from in-the-trenches, day-to-day parenting.  And what George reminds me of is this: we’re all born with this determination, or we wouldn’t be walking, talking adults.

And so next time you get rejected by an editor or agent, remember this.  Next time you throw up your hands in disgust because you think your writing isn’t good enough, remember.  Next time you decide you don’t have what it takes to finish Nanowrimo, remember.

Remember and go back to the page. Or back to the next person on your agent list. Go back to that novel rewrite. You can do this. You just gotta muster up a bit more determination. But I know it’s there somewhere.  It has to be—you got this far, didn’t you?

Leave a comment and tell me about a time you used your determination. Or just say hi.

On eclipses…and love (a love letter)

Dear Writers,

Tomorrow (August 21) is the Great American Eclipse, and as you read this I’ll either be on my way or soon to be on my way to view it.  Me and about a million other people—that’s how many visitors are forecast to arrive in Oregon, a broad swath of which is in the path of totality.  Traffic jams and food and gas shortages are predicted. You can’t get a hotel room or rent a car to save your life anywhere near by Portland. (We are just a few miles north of the path of totality.)

I love mass events like this.

And I love eclipses even more. I’ve been greatly enamored of this eclipse since it first came on my radar several years ago.  Because: eclipses are when day becomes night and night becomes day.  They shake things up, astronomically and astrologically.  And sometimes, shaking things up is good.

They are also about showing us our shadow side, the darkness in us that generally stays hidden.  All you have to do is look at the events of the last week to see that in action.  And difficult as it is to witness, I believe to my core that you can’t eradicate the darkness until you can see it.

On a far less serious and more personal level, I see the eclipse as a giant reset button, a chance to challenge old, stale ideas. Like: creativity is just fluff (even though it is vital to our health and well-being), or, you can’t make a living as a writer (even though you can these days, in a million different ways), or one of the biggies: there’s not enough (of course there is).

But the biggest outdated idea of all is the most pernicious: that of the other. As in, you’re different than me and that make me better. And all the variations on that theme that result in abuses of power, politically, financially, and morally, over and over again.

So I suggest, that along with our personal resets, we also focus our eclipse ideas on a grand scale.  And let this event uncover the fact that there is nothing more important on this planet right now than loving one another.

Because there isn’t.

Happy eclipse.

Leave a comment and tell me if you plan to view the eclipse! (And what you might like to reset.)

A love letter about resisting the status quo

There’s a lot of noise in the world at the moment.  Political, and societal to be sure. But there’s also all the information we get from the interwebs constantly, all day and even all night long. And much of it is designed to ensnare us—to click onto the website, read the news story, buy the item, support the cause.

It’s the status quo.

And as writers, it is our job to resist.

But wait, you say.  You need all that information.  You need it in order to have something to write about, you need it to support your WIP (as in research), you need it because you must know what is going on in the world.

Yeah, I hear you. I’m a huge input person.  Next to writing, one of the things I love best in the world is gathering information. Set me up with a topic to research, a pile of books, and access to the internet, and I’m a happy woman.

But, there’s a limit to how much I—and you—can take in before it starts to become a detriment.  Before it starts to affect our concentration levels, and our focus, to say nothing of our emotions and energy, both physical and mental.

Which is why I say you need to resist its lure.

Because when you do, you gain so much. It is difficult in the moment—I’ve had to tell myself not to click over to the internet numerous times as I’ve been writing this—but what I’ve gotten in return is clarity and focus.  And far more enjoyment of the writing process.

And by resisting, you’re claiming your right to be different.  To be a person who stands for writing and creativity and art.  A person who dares to challenge the status quo.  A person who follows her own inner tune.

That’s not always easy in this world, but it is vital.  If you are going to do good work, you need to be able to hear your inner voice and you can only do that if you tune out the noise of the world.

So, let’s do it together. Resist the status quo! Turn to the page instead of the latest news story or blog post. And together we will change the world one word at a time.

Leave me a comment about what you’re writing–and resisting.

(FYI, this originally appeared as my weekly newsletter. If you’d like to get it delivered directly to your inbox, just fill out the form to the right.)