Tag: revising


Suggestion 3: Don't Let the Demons Win

I’m sure there are writers who don’t suffer from self doubt. There may even be some writers who never write a terrible sentence, let alone a terrible paragraph, or a terrible entire middle of the book. If you are one of these writers: good for you!  I’m not.  A variety of demons live in my head. Some whisper, some shout, some just drone on and on. I used to fight with them, but I’ve discovered that simply identifying them for who they are and accepting what they say lets me get on with things. Somewhat counterintuitively, my acceptance has softened their voices. When Overwhelmed Ophelia (that’s what I call her) screeches there is no possible way I can make all the PoV changes I need to make before my deadline, I accept her anxiety because it’s realistic, but I remind myself that I’ve done it before, and I can do it again. Here’s what my wise (and very kind and supportive) fellow Miss Demeanors say on the subject of those pesky writing demons: Paula: Writing really is rewriting for me. Because for me, the first draft can be an angst-ridden slog. But once I’ve pounded out that first draft, I can relax a little and enjoy the process of making it better. Now I have something to fix. Fixing is fun. Fun being a relative term. Susan: I have an idea of how I want something to sound. And it doesn’t. Or I’m trying to get a handle on a character and she just sounds like a cliche. And I torture myself going over and over it, but I’ve come to realize that if I’m patient enough, I’ll probably figure it out. Sometimes it will take months. At night I’ll think about it so that my dreams can help me out. I’ll read writers I like and see what they did. And then invariably the solution does pop into my mind. I guess an advantage to getting older is that I have a certain amount of trust in myself, or the process. I just have to force myself to wait. Of course deadlines are a whole other thing. Good luck, Alison! Michele: I’ve just realized after listening to and reading Walter Mosley’s writing advice that my first draft is really my outline. That makes sense to me as a pantser, and it explains why rewriting is so important. I’ve come to enjoy rewriting as a way to improve each draft, an opportunity to write a better book. The demons in my ear are often voices that conflict with my instinct. I think it takes a lot of experience to know how to distinguish sound writing advice from suggestions that may interfere with your voice, your originality, and your willingness to risk taking a chance. The best way to handle doubts about who to listen to is to learn who you can trust. On one occasion, an editor made suggestions to me that I knew were ill-advised. I asked our swell agent and she confirmed my doubts. Robin: I agree with the sentiments about rewriting. It’s the fun part. But there is one thing I agonize over and that’s pacing. Too slow is an obvious problem but too fast is just as bad. Am I missing opportunities to draw out tension? Am I drawing it out too much? What are secondary characters doing at the same time main characters are in focus? Is a subplot heightening the tension or too distracting? Do I need a distraction for the reader to catch their breath? With early drafts, usually the first or second, I storyboard the scenes with an eye on action and pace to literally see how it flows and look for gaps. On later drafts, I’ve been known to print out manuscripts and place each chapter on the floor of my living room then physically move them around to see how order adjustments impact the pace. It can turn into a weird game of Twister. One time, my dog played. I stood looking over the piles of paper and she walked across them. Out of curiosity I sorted the chapters in the order her paws hit them. It didn’t work out but it would’ve made a great backstory, wouldn’t it? 🙂 Tracee: So many good ideas here. I think I’m learning to edit in waves. Meaning, spend time perfecting every sentence and it is harder to cut (or re-cut) a big swath of the story, so don’t try to do it all at once. Maybe what I’ve really learned is each edit is for a different reason. Tone, pacing, character, continuity, etc. I agree with Michele that the first draft is likely an outline, regardless of whether you are a pantser or plotter. If I think of it as an outline then it’s easier to make the (likely necessary) big changes. After all, it was only an outline. I believe it is Amy Stewart (author of the Miss Kopp mysteries) who turns randomly through her finished manuscript and on that page picks the weakest sentence and tries to make it sing. She keeps a check list and does each page that way until finished. I like this idea. I also believe in the looming deadline….. fear and panic can be helpful as long as you’re in the final stretch. On that note, good luck Alison!          

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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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Steve Berry

Last week I went to the ThrillerFest Conference in NYC for the first time, and as part of it, I signed up for a Master Craft Class. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to Steve Berry’s class.     I’ve been working on a manuscript I thought was good. The opening pages received a finalist award for a fairly impressive literary competition. So I wasn’t concerned about the writing, but I worried they lacked oomph. And if you are writing a mystery or a thriller, oomph is a very nice thing to have. Enter Steve Berry. His class went from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and he gave lots of concrete information about plotting and openings and so on, and then, he met with each of us, one-on-one. I am talking about meeting one-on-one with a man who has sold 25 million books! Or 25 million and 5 because I went out and bought a bunch of them. So I sat down across from him and handed him my pages. I think he likes to read them fresh, to get a sense of how someone just picking up the book might feel about them. He read the first paragraph, the second, the third. Then he went back to the first paragraph, the second, the third. Then he put his head in his hands, which was probably a bad sign. And then he began to ask questions. Who’s this? What do you mean to say here? What’s this? Fortunately I knew the answers because I had spent a lot of time thinking about the plot and the characters, and then he got to about page 6 and said, “This is where the book begins.” He was absolutely right, and it had never occurred to me. Then he began asking about chapter 2, 3, 4, 5 and he began brainstorming how to set up all of that starting with the changes to chapter 1. I was writing down notes like a maniac.  It was genuinely the most helpful experience I’ve ever had. I walked out of there, or perhaps better to say I crawled out of there, with a strong sense of how my story should go. Got home, starting making the changes, and now feel so enthusiastic. My manuscript has oomph.  

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