Tag: editing


The Art of the Rewrite

 “The only kind of writing is rewriting.”  This oh-so-famous Ernest Hemingway quote has been on my mind lately. You write, polish, revise, and edit. Then, you pass on your manuscript to another human being. The moment of truth. If you have a publisher, this is when you get your comments. If you’re breaking into the business, it’s when you hear back from your beta-reader, freelance editor, or agent. No matter where you are in your writing journey, it’s the time when you see your book in the harsh light of day through someone else’s eyes. Why am I obsessing about the Hemingway quote right now? Because I just got comments back for Abish Taylor #2. I have exactly twenty-six (26!) days to incorporate my editor’s thoughtful critique into my manuscript. There aren’t any shortcuts. No app. No Ted Talk. No podcast. Just me, her critique, and my computer.  As I’ve been contemplating the art of the rewrite, I realized I do indeed have something resembling a process. It’s not perfect, and it certainly may not be for everyone, but because I’m in the middle of crunch time, I’ll share what helps me not only get through rewriting, but actually helps me (pretty much) enjoy the process. Feel free to take what resonates and leave what doesn’t. For those of you who are planners, here’s a preview of the posts about how to navigate the rewrite:  Suggestion 1: Get honest, reliable, and tough feedback. (Finding someone to critique your work can be a challenge itself, which is why on Wednesday I’ll be interviewing Mike Cavaioni, the CEO of CritiqueMatch.com, about his platform that helps writers and bloggers connect and exchange feedback). Suggestion 2: Make a detailed plan of attack. Suggestion 3: Don’t let the demons win. Happy re-writing! See you tomorrow to explore how to make the most of your feedback.    

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Storage disaster day. And a few solutions.

 TRACEE: Let’s get the facts out there first. It shouldn’t be difficult: You write or type words on paper. There they are! Ready to be manipulated, changed, read aloud, or published. At least that’s what I used to think. When I was in junior high school I had a long obsession with James Michener’s books. I won’t claim to have read them all, but I made my way through quite a few. Some more than once. I then read in an interview that Michener had a near final manuscript on a book set in Russia. For an adolescent Russophile, this was pure joy for me. Then…. the bad news. The manuscript was lost in a suitcase and he simply couldn’t imagine trying to re-create it. This may have been when we parted ways. Was he lazy? It was written! Flash-forward years later and not only do I empathize but I can’t imagine how he ever wrote anything again. Needless to say, now I fully understand that the re-creation of a sentence or phrase is difficult enough. The re-creation of an entire chapter is impossible. The rewriting of an entire book…. What’s the word beyond impossible? I’m going to create a new word for this level of depression, despair, and inability. Which brings my modern writing self to the all-important question. How do you make sure you don’t have a James Michener moment? How do you store your work, both in the moment (not to lose the changes of the last hour) and long term? I used to rely on backups to an external drive. More recently I’ve taken to emailing a daily copy to myself and keeping every printed copy ever made (and these are legion). What say the rest of you? And let’s hear from our resident computer expert last. That’s you Robin. We should probably all do what you do. ALEXIA: I use cloud storage and paper. I have an Office 365 subscription which includes Word. I turn on auto save and Word periodically saves whatever I’m writing. I also keep all of my handwritten notes and drafts and I print out a hard copy of my manuscript at various stages in the editing process. And, yes, I keep the paper versions indefinitely. I love paper. SUSAN:  I save things on my flash drive every half hour or so. Then every day I change the flash drive so that if something’s wrong with it I won’t lose anything. Then every so often I print out a complete draft. I also put the date of the draft in the header so I can figure it when it’s from. Amazing all the things you can forget. Susan TRACEE: The date in the header is so key!  CATE: I email the story to myself at the end of every day and I save on my hard drive.  MICHELE: I have auto save, Carbonite, and use flash drives. I email myself and husband (he is a saint) drafts as I go along. When I have a first draft, I print it because I am a very visual person and viewing my work on screen doesn’t work well for me. I put it in a three ring binder so I remember it is a book, not a plight. Like Alexia, I love paper. I finished my WIP while traveling and couldn’t get it printed. It made editing a nightmare and resulted in a few glitches.  TRACEE: I used to rely mainly on the hard drive and the external drive, then we were burglarized and the hard drive and external drive were stolen. Thank goodness for printed copies and email! PAULA: No power now thanks to nor’easter so reminded that pen and paper work as long as the dog doesn’t eat it! MICHELE: Well, there was that time when I was just about done writing a brief for the Appeals Court and a powerful thunderstorm blew through, taking every word I had written with it. Of course, it was due the next day. There’s a good reason I am neurotic! ALISON: Like the rest of you, I’ve had my brushes with terror. I back up to both iCloud and a backup folder every few pages. When I’m done for the day, I email myself. Once I’m at the revising and editing stage, I print out everything and use a good old-fashioned pen (purple not red) for making changes. TRACEE: We need a separate discussion on pen color. I LOVE red ink. If you ever mark up one of my manuscripts I’ll send you a good and bloody red pen.   ROBIN: I save WIPs on my laptop every few minutes while I’m working (keyboard shortcuts for the win). Years ago I lost a report at my day job when my computer crashed and I’ve been a compulsive saver ever since. Every couple of days I save both the Pages and exports in Word formats onto a USB thumb drive. If I’ve created or added to any notes files, those get copied, too. Each book gets its own folder and in each folder I stash all versions, notes, and research. Every few weeks I save the folder (and any new ones) to another thumb drive and a desktop computer. All of it is local. You can see my feelings on cloud storage here: https://www.missdemeanors.com/single-post/2017/11/20/Cloudy-With-A-Chance-of-Uh-Oh. TRACEE: I was waiting for this Robin! And admit to editing out that I use Cloud storage for my files. I’ll read your post again and perhaps change my ways…. Perhaps. ROBIN: (after a long sigh and possibly some muttering)During the first draft, I do a significant amount of writing in a notebook. I keep all of my notebooks in boxes (some dating back to high school) in my home office closet. While revising, I print out 3 chapters at a time to edit in pen and paper. For whatever reason, I see errors or omissions, leaps of logic, and such on paper that I overlook on a screen. Plus, I just like writing with a pen. Every night, I transcribe either the first draft from the notebook or the edits I made on paper to the “soft copy” on my laptop, saving every few minutes. Lather, rinse, repeat. CATE: Reading how compulsively everyone saves and in how many formats I have realized that thriller writers must all have anxiety disorders. Myself included TRACEE: Thanks everyone! Now I’m going to spend a few moments backing up everything I’m working on. Any other storage solutions out there? Any horror stories?    

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Writing is editing. Right?

 Writing is about editing. We all know that. However, that doesn’t answer the question when to edit. There are a few basic options.Write a draft straight through, perhaps making notes on things to be changed, but use a one directional process. Don’t second guess yourself.Write a good chunk of the manuscript and then revise. This level of revision may involve deleting parts, adding parts, re-ordering scenes, and, of course, fiddling with words.Revise each page as you go. Perfect the page then move on. Pros and cons can be argued for each process.Write straight through and you risk going far down a path you later eliminate entirely. On the other hand, no time was lost in detailed revisions prior to scrapping entire sections.If you revise section by section too much time can be put into the earlier sections and less into the end. Sometimes it shows!Aim for perfection and prevent yourself from moving on. What happens when those perfect sentences end up not belonging in the manuscript at all?  I suspect that authors evolve. For example, the more experience you gain the more confidence you might have in a story arc (and therefore revise each page to perfection as you write). Sometimes the story itself drives the path – the words are flowing and stopping to revise is counterproductive. What is your early editing path? Revise, revise, revise or first reach for the end? 

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The final edit. Why stress?

 TRACEE: This is KillerNashville weekend and I’m thrilled to be here! I was looking through the schedule and thinking about the different panels (and doing a bit of prep for the ones I’m on) and it occurred to me that getting a book ready to submit will be a big theme for many people here. Some are planning to submit to an agent, others are submitting final manuscripts to their editor. I wanted to turn this question over to you all. What is your tidbit of advice for the final edit? Some authors have a list of words they check for overuse (often highly personal as we are all idiosyncratic in our word usage). Others do an ‘ly’ check, or read the verbs (are they the strongest possible). What is your advice to writers for a final check beyond looking for typos; one meant to raise the bar overall? PAULA: I do what my editor tells me to do: Make sure that I’m breaking all the chapters at a compelling point, and if not, fix it. This often means adding chapters.  As Hallie Ephron would advise: Make every chapter end with a hook, and the succeeding chapter grab that hook and run with it.  MICHELE: The check for too many overused or unnecessary words for me comes way before the final edit. So does the read-it-aloud to myself and anyone else who can bear hearing my story one time. (Bless you, beta readers!) My last edit is with a printed version in a binder (to mimic a real book), sitting in a chair with a cup of coffee or a glass of lemonade, reading it as if I were reading it for the first time. I do this without a pen because what I am doing is hoping is that it reads like the book I wanted to write and that I can now finally let it go off to the readers I hope will enjoy it. In a way, I am saying goodbye to my book, but it’s a happy farewell. Almost like sending your child off to college. TRACEE: Michele, I agree with you…. when I hear people say they are checking for specific worlds at the last minute I think…. and then you’ll replace it with another overused one? On the other hand, many successful authors do this, so it must work for them!  I recently changed a minor name very last minute for reasons related to the actual name, and substituted a name too close to it (and used often in the same scene.) Fixed one problem and created another. My editor caught it and we changed it again in copy edits, which I just received. I hope the fix worked! ALEXIA The final edit before sending your manuscript to an agent or editor when you’re trying to sell it? Don’t overthink it. Yes, do the check for overused words (I was surprised by the number of times I used the word “smiled” (or some variant of). Double, triple, quadruple check for typos and grammatical errors that will make your manuscript seem unprofessional. (Hint: get someone to do this for you. You never spot all your own mistakes.) Then tell yourself it’s done and hit send or drop it in the mail or whatever. If you keep fussing over it, you’ll never get it “out there” where someone can discover your literary genius. For me, personally, my final edits before publication: I send it to my mother. Seriously. Proofreading is her hobby. She’s eagle-eyed and ruthless. She even spots those stupid apostrophes next to quotation marks the word processing program insists on turning the wrong way. She’s so into it, she asks me when I’m going to send her the manuscript to proof. (Not yet, Mom, I’ve still got three rounds of edits to go.) She may be willing to freelance. Let me know, I may be able to get you a rate. ROBIN: Alexia, Your mom sounds great. I may need her services…. There are a few checks I make. First, I check for tension and pacing. Does the first page compel the reader to turn to the second page? And the page after that? And the page after that? I’m on the lookout for anything that stops the action, passive sentences and unrealistic or unbelievable contrivances. In the final edit, because I include heavy doses of technology, I do a “plain English” test – have I simplified the language enough to get the idea across without sounding like a textbook? And does the reader really have to know *how* something works for my fictional hackers to be imperiled and sympathetic? Spoiler alert: the answer is usually “no.” 🙂 MICHELE: Alexia,  Your mom and my oldest daughter, Julie, ought to start Eagle Eye Editors. “Brutal editing for those we love.” TRACEE: My husband’s former administrative assistant has an eagle eye for so many problems that I have her read for me. Let me add another “Bless the Beta readers”. Especially those with eagle eyes. CATE: I’m pretty good about not using too many adverbs–thank you Stephen King for that lesson–but I do a check for “just” and “But” and “shook” or “shaking” and “grimaced.” I need to force myself not to use head shakes and twisted mouths as easy shorthands for displeasure.  SUSAN: I like to make up a chart of each chapter’s opening lines, final lines, and number of pages. It gives me a sense of the flow. Of course, by the final edit I would hope I’d have a reasonably good idea of the flow, but this is my final sign-off.  Sometimes I’ll break a chapter in half. But mainly I just like to try and get a sense of the whole thing. Have fun in Killer Nashville, and belated happy birthday, Tracee! TRACEE: Thanks and it was such an amazing eclipse / birthday experience! ALISON:  I just received my first notes from my editor for Blood Atonement (my first book). No wisdom here, but thank you all for the great advice! TRACEE: Thanks everyone for these hints and words of wisdom. I’d love to hear what others do to get their final manuscript in shape. 

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The Developmental Edit

Today is my birthday. It was also the initial due date for my developmental edit. As a birthday/Christmas present to myself and my family, I finished the second draft a week early. And, it was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life.  Novel writing is the long distance running of careers. You have to maintain a pace and get to the finish line, which is typically months, if not years, away.  People take a year or more to pen a first novel. It then takes months–if not a year–to secure an agent and several months to secure a publisher. (Obviously, some books never do. But I learned from the experience of NOT getting an agent for a few novels in drawers that it takes about a year to give up on them too and start something else). If you have a publisher and a contract for a next book, you still have six to eight months or so from the publication of the last novel to the delivery of the next one.  However, writing becomes a sprint during the editing process.  I got back my latest novel from my editors on December 3rd. I had until today to add fifteen to twenty thousand words to it (some parts were cut during the initial edit), make my protagonist have more agency, add a few more red herrings (can’t add all those words without new twists and turns), change some personality characteristics about another character, and rejigger a pretty significant plot point.  I finished the rewrite on Monday December 19th. Sixteen days from when I first received the novel back. It took me a day to just digest the editorial letter and my kids were out of school for three days during that time period (I am a stay at home mom, sans babysitting).   But I knew I had to finish it then because my daughter’s birthday is on the 22nd and I was hosting Christmas and a party for her. And, I needed a day to shop for Christmas and birthday presents, wrap them, and make the house look festive because it’s the holidays, darn it! I finished the developmental edit by working the six hours when my kids were in school and then, after putting them to bed, working another six hours until 3:30 in the morning for two weeks. But, I did it. And I got to spend the whole holiday week planning in-class Christmas parties, baking with my kids, taking care of one kid who got a stomach bug, writing Christmas cards and making my daughter’s 5th birthday pretty cool.  So, I am feeling pretty awesome on my birthday today. Turns out that I can run fast when I need to.      

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Copy Edits

    This is my week for going over the copy-edited version of my new novel, Maggie Dove’s Detective Agency (which will be coming out on November 8.)  It’s my last chance to make changes before it goes into publication, which means it’s my last chance to get everything right. On every page of the draft, there are notes from the copy-editor. Sometimes he just wants me to think about a word. Other times it’s more substantive.  Here are some sample questions: 1. Timing is very important in mysteries, as you can imagine. At one point I say that something happened two weeks ago, but actually it happened 20 days ago. Fix that! 2. Early in the novel I refer to a cat as having green eyes, but later on he has yellow eyes. Fix that! 3. I keep misusing “further” and “farther.” 4. Maggie has a conversation with her nemesis, Walter Campbell, and she feels badly for him. But soon thereafter she loses her temper. Take more time, the copy editor cautions. Wait a beat before she yells. 5. I tend to use the word “dumbfounded” a lot. Which I frequently am. But I shouldn’t use it too much. 6. I refer to a book of magic spells. (There are witches in this book!) But I got the title wrong. I fixed it. And so on. None of these things are onerous, but it’s important to get it all right. There’s nothing worse than finding a mistake in a book. Completely damages the author’s credibility. In my first Maggie Dove mystery, the copy-editor found a real doozy. I was referring to a psalm and got the number wrong. Maggie Dove is a Sunday School teacher and that would have been an embarrassing mistake. One of my favorite things about this process is that it does give you a chance to fix mistakes, which is not something you always get in life. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were someone walking alongside you saying, “Just a minute. Are you sure you want to do that?” (Maybe that’s my husband’s job.) Anyway, only 100 more pages to go through and then my new mystery will be as fresh and shiny as I can make it. Then I can get going on a first draft of a new book and make whatever mistakes I want! Have you ever found a mistake in a book? Or have you made one? (In a book, or in life?)    

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