Tag: rewriting


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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Suggestion 2: Plan Your Re-write Attack

This is hard. Even writing about it is hard. I’m not going to lie. When you have eighty thousand words, give or take, and editorial pages critiquing what works and what doesn’t, making a plan can seem overwhelming. Don’t let it be.  For me, there are four basic steps to the rewriting process.  Step 1: Check the calendarCount the number of days you have until your deadline. Be honest about how many days in the week you can work. Is Sunday impossible for you? Take it out of the rotation. Is there a family wedding? Be honest about how much time you can sneak away from family obligations. There is no right answer, there is only a truthful one.  Step 2: Attack the big stuffBy “big stuff” I mean the major plot issues. In Blessed be the Wicked, my editor had wanted a minor story line to become more central. She was completely right. I ended up writing a handful of completely new chapters developing the relationship between Abish and her brother. I had always adored her brother and I knew Abish and her brother John were close, but none of that made it into the first version of the book. My editor was right to push me on it. It was natural. The writing came easily because it was what the story needed.  Step 3: Make a master list of all the small stuff.It’s easy to forget the little stuff, so I make a list of “global changes” that I literally check off as I go through the manuscript. This is something that is ongoing, but by the time you are at your deadline, every item should be checked off. This list consists of everything from language tics (I use the word “just” too much, so I search the entire document and eliminate every non-necessary “just”) to checking times and dates (if the murder happens in the late morning and your detective has spent hours working, you don’t want him to then meet someone for breakfast…unless you explain the time lapse). The main point here is to not lose track of the details. Suspense and mystery because readers are a very observant lot.  Step 4: Let everything else in your life take a back seat.This step has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with writing. You have creative energy, that’s why you write. When you are on a deadline, you need to manage that creative energy in the most exacting way. If that means shifting your exercise routine, do it. If it means ignoring the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, ignore them. Let your dear friends and family know that you are working and will be back to your normal self soon enough. After you’ve finished your revisions. Good luck on your re-writes! See you tomorrow for a discussion with my fellow Miss Demeanors about writing demons and how to make friends–or at least learn to tolerate–them.

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What I Learned from Walter Mosley

   I recently had the honor and privilege of interviewing Walter Mosley, who was the Guest of Honor at the New England Crime Bake, which I co-chaired this year with Edith Maxwell. I thought getting to interview Walter was a reward for my hard work preparing for Crime Bake until I realized the man had written fifty-four books in less than thirty years. Time magazine says Mosley is a “writer whose work transcends category.” I learned he has not only written several fabulously successful crime series, including the beloved Easy Rawlins series, but he has also written sci-fi, literary fiction, erotica, a political monograph, and a writing book. And awards, he’s won them all, even a Grammy. In short time, my excitement over interviewing Mosley bordered on terror.            It shouldn’t have. Walter is a very smart, funny, and warm individual. Here’s a few things I learned from him over the weekend: 1. Why you should write everyday.            When I worked day and night as a lawyer, mediator, and adjunct law professor, this writing “rule” infuriated me. Never mind that I worked twelve hours a day and spend the same amount on weekends writing. It didn’t seem to count. I regarded it as a rule that emphasized form over substance. It felt like another way to shame people who are struggling to write. God knows there is enough of that already. But then I learned about unconscious writing from Walter. 2. You don’t have to be holding a pen in your hand to be writing.            Here’s another hardline I resent. If you aren’t putting words on paper or on a screen, you are not writing, or so say the Writing Police. To me this has felt like an insult. I spend hours thinking about what I will write, what I have written, and why I am writing words that become paragraphs, and then pages. Some of my hardest work is in my head before I use my words. It turns out, I may be guilty of “unconscious writing” according to Walter. Unconscious writing works best when you show up everyday and make an effort to find your words because there is a bonus to this. When you think you are done writing for the day, your brain runs on an unconscious level that is later revealed when you return to the page. Now I get why you should write every day. It’s so you can connect with your unconscious mind. 3.Writing is rewriting.            I’ve heard this a thousand times. I knew revision is where it’s at. But hearing, “The first draft is a little more of an outline of the novel you wish to write. Rewriting is where you make the story into song,” was liberating for me as a panster. I’ve tried outlining, even with moderate success, but I always feel constrained by the process. Writing a first draft on a keyboard without an outline excites me as if I’m playing a musical instrument and the words are my notes. There’s plenty of time for the somber business of revision. My first draft IS my outline.  4.        A novel is larger than your head.“The writer creates herself while telling a story about somebody else.” Mind boggling. I’m still thinking about this gem. 5.        Write without restraint. Edit but never censor your words. Telling the truth is the first tenet for Walter Mosley and it applies to writing and everything else.    

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