Tag: writing #amwriting rewriting process thrillers mystery editing cate holahan

writing #amwriting rewriting process thrillers mystery editing cate holahan

Sweet Dreams Are Made of These

My subconscious is on some serious stuff. It must take it while I’m asleep.  Last night, I woke up to the frightening music of my dog’s intestinal track (if you have been fortunate enough to have a dog live past ten years, then you understand). As a result, I remembered my ENTIRE dream . I was in Jamaica, chatting with my dead grandfather. He gave me sugar bun, a Jamaican concoction that is exactly what it sounds like: a bread, “bun”, made with raisins and glazed with sugar. I then took my kids out into the backyard where he showed me rabbits dressed up in human clothing, much to my children’s delight. My husband insisted that he had to go because hanging out with dead people was giving him the willies. I let him go and ate the bun.  This will make it’s way into a story–mark my words.  The story for my last thriller, Lies She Told, came to me in a dream–partially. I went to bed, after a glass of red wine, thinking about where I would get my next thriller idea from and I had a nightmare about this woman in a seedy Brooklyn apartment with blood on her hands. I felt that I was watching her from above or slightly over her shoulder. Close third person, in other words. She didn’t look like me, but I had the sense that she was me. And, after that, I wrote a thriller about a writer and the character in her head that may, or may not, be based on her–perhaps without her consent or conscious knowledge.  A lot of art, I believe, is taking what our subconscious mind gives us and rationalizing it until we have something that translates into a kind of story for broader consumption.  It’s late. I wonder what I’ll dream up next…    

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What I Learned About Deadlines

It’s been an amazing five days. Suspense writers are some of the most supportive and kind people I know. I’m grateful to be part of this community. Rick Pullen, Cate Holahan, and S.B. Woodson inspired me with their dedication to the craft, perseverance in the face of adversity and generosity of spirit.  To cap off this back-to-school week, today is the master class with my wonderful fellow Miss Demeanors. My question for them was: Do you feel anxious when a deadline is looming? If so, do you have any tricks for maintaining sanity? They had great advice, and gave me a fresh perspective. Thank you! Here’s the cheatsheet with full answers below: (1) Welcome deadlines as a sign you’re living the life of a writer.(2) Celebrate small victories along the way.(3) Get some sleep.(4) Meditate.(5) Take a walk, bike ride or a run.(6) Eat what makes you happy.(7) Prioritize writing over everything else. Paula: I started off as a reporter, so I’m used to deadlines. But the time frame for those stories is much shorter, as the stories (and their shelf life) are much shorter. When you’re writing a book, it’s one long sustained deadline punctuated by interim deadlines that can last years. The pressure ebbs and flows somewhat as you meet each of these interim deadlines, but it never goes away until the book is published. The shelf life of a book is far longer than that of a news story, so you have to live with your mistakes for far longer–at least until the first reprint. That’s why it’s important to celebrate every deadline you meet along the way. Rewards–from a glass of wine to a trip to Italy–are how I deal with the stress.
And then it’s on to the next book. Tracee: Hmmm. Sadly I work well under pressure. I say sadly because that prevents me from getting way ahead of the ball and never feeling a deadline again. I think that this harkens back to architecture school where no matter how far along your project is, there is always more to do. One more drawing, more detail on the model. It’s the same for me and writing. When the deadline approaches I feel my mind jump into high gear and want to make vast improvements, which only makes the deadline shorter. Tricks for sanity? Remember it’s normal, it’s the end of a big project and keep Benadryl on hand. My biggest problem is shutting down for a good night’s sleep, which is mandatory and Benadryl is my not-so-secret weapon. Alexia: Yes, always. The panic of a too rapidly approaching deadline is a big motivator for me. I binge on food that would make a frat boy’s diet look healthy, I cancel/ignore most social engagements, I cut back on FB posts (I’d cut them out but FB scolds me when I do), I don’t check the news (if the Apocalypse happens I won’t hear about it until my deadline passes) and I don’t check email. If I didn’t have to go to work, I wouldn’t leave the house. Susan: I like deadlines because I think they kick your brain into high gear, but they do make me anxious. I try to make them manageable by breaking them into small pieces. Finish first 50 pages by this date, next 50 by that date. And so on. But that doesn’t always work. I also do what I can to reduce the other pressures in my life. I subsist on take out. But I keep taking walks. That’s the one thing that keeps me sane. You have to walk away from your desk. Also, take a minute or two to enjoy the deadline–if you have one, it means you’re doing something right! Robin: Deadlines don’t make me anxious. It’s the life I signed up for so I welcome them. That said, a few minutes of meditation can help calm the mind and body to regain energy. If that fails, a walk or a bike ride somewhere away from people can be restorative. I’ll echo what Paula said, too. Rewards for little milestones then a big fat reward for completion are always in order. Then it’s time to get back to work – on the next book, a promotion plan, or both. Michele: I thrive on deadlines. I should wear a tee shirt that says, “Works Well Under Pressure.” All of the professions I have worked in required me to be able to deal with crises, so I may be one of those people who is adrenalin-addicted. Having said that, maybe not so much anymore as I “mature”, although I did wait until the last minute to answer the question of the week. Cate: I like deadlines. I think they help keep us on track. I make up deadlines for myself in addition to the ones that my publisher provides.  If you’re still looking for a little inspiration, check out Martha Beck’s blog on writing (even with a crayon) at http://marthabeck.com/2017/03/stop-doubting-start-writing/   

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Back to School

I’m feeling just ever-so-slightly anxious. No, let me rephrase that: I’m a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown (to borrow a phrase from Pedro Almodóvar’s fabulous film). Every few minutes I take deep belly breaths to loosen the knot in my stomach. I’m doing guided meditations with embarrassing frequency so that a woman with a soothing British accent can advise me to “watch difficult emotions without resistance.” I’m drinking copious amounts of tea because holding a warm mug makes me feel a little calmer. Why? My revisions for Blood Atonement are due uncomfortably soon. I’ve been diligently working for weeks without feeling at all nervous. I set up a schedule, made a plan and have been (mostly) disciplined. Yesterday, though, I looked at the calendar and became overwhelmed with a jumble of distinctly unpleasant feelings. With the help of that disembodied British voice from my meditation app, I acknowledged my anxiety and put it in perspective. Getting a revised manuscript to one’s editor is not a life-or-death problem after all. I know that, but the knot in my stomach doesn’t seem to. Rather than letting myself sink into the quicksand of nervousness, I decided to take a cue from the season and become a student. I’m going to learn from other writers about how they approach their craft (and, I hope, learn something to help me get through the next few weeks). So, I’m dedicating this week to going back to school.  Tomorrow morning, I’ll get a lesson in political thrillers from Rick Pullen. In the evening, I’ll be attending fellow Miss Demeanor and USA Today bestselling author Cate Holahan’s book launch for Lies She Told. (If you’re going to be in New York on Tuesday, September 12th, I’ll see you at the Mysterious Bookshop on Warren Street at 6:30 pm!) Wednesday morning, I’ll pass on what I learned from Cate about how she comes up with her spellbinding psychological thrillers. Thursday, I’ve got a tutorial with Daphne-Award winning writer S.B. Woodson. On Friday, I’m attending a master class taught by my fellow Miss Demeanors about how to work through the anxiety that comes with writing.  … gotta run. I hear my tea kettle.     

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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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Writing is rewriting

“By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” — Roald Dahl  I find myself repeating such sage advice lately as I am in the midst of rewriting my fourth book.   Some authors swear that they write just one draft. I wish I knew their secret. My process, despite extensive plotting, seems to demand that I write a draft (which I believe will be my final at the time) and then nearly destroy all of it.     Then, having a better sense of my characters due to writing through my story, I re-plot my tale and rewrite my story. Afterward, I work with my publisher and rewrite some more. Every book, by the time it is published, is three or more books.  For me, this writing and rewriting is necessary to tell my story in a way that grows organically from the characters while still exploring the themes that drew me to the story in the first place.  Though, when in the midst of it, I wish my process was a bit more streamlined. What’s your writing process? Are you one draft and done, save for copy edits? Or does it take multiple drafts? 

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