Tag: writing tips

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 […]

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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 […]

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Suggestion 1: Get honest feedback

If you’ve written the perfect book, congratulations! You’re done. If you’re like me, and you haven’t written the perfect book, here are my suggestions for managing feedback. You must take time to process, but you don’t have time to wallow. Remember: right now I have twenty-five days. Step 1: Take time to digest. When I get comments, I read through them once and then set them aside for a day or two. I let my subconscious process what’s there. I don’t judge myself or my editor. I just take it all in like a neutral observer. Step 2: Get detailed. After my self-imposed time out, I go through the comments again. This time, I underline sentences, circle words, scribble notes in the margins. I do this as many times as I have to in order to understand the critique. There may be big themes like pacing and PoV. There might be issues like the number of characters or the setting. Perhaps–maybe–your dialogue sounds stilted. Whatever is there in the comments, make sure you understand it, even if you don’t agree with it. Step 3: Decide what resonates with you. I happen to think my editor is right on over 90% of her suggestions. That leaves less than 10% to be ironed out. If that […]

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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 […]

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CritiqueMatch: An interview with CEO Mike Cavaioni (and how to find your perfect writing critique partner)

Drum roll, please. Today, I’ve managed to corner Mike Cavaioni, the CEO  of Critique Match, a new platform that allows writers to find critique partners. It’s a beautiful website, but, more importantly, it’s easy to use and fills a gap in the writing universe: how to find yourself the right critique partner. Alison: Providing a community for writers to swap work is simply genius. How did you come up with the idea for CritiqueMatch? Mike: I’ve been a blogger for a couple of years now, writing ontechnical subjects, such as artificial intelligence. I can’t tell youhow many times I’ve edited a blog, passed it throughGrammarly, and yet, my lovely wife still caught errors! Irealized one always needs a second pair of eyes, someone whocan give honest, constructive feedback. Yes, one could rely ona professional editor, but a critique partner goes beyond a professional service transaction. Writing is such a solitary journey. The encouragement and companionship a partner can provide are crucial to keeping one’s momentum going. So I knew critique partnerships were crucial to writers. The next question was: where do you find the right critique partners? And how do you know if they are any good? Hence, the idea of creating a […]

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Have Laptop Will Travel

I have lived in the same two states my entire life: New Jersey and New York. More specifically, I have lived in Manhattan or within ten miles of it for my entire childhood and adult life (save for four years of college in Princeton, NJ, which wasn’t really that much farther).  I set many of my books in these two states because I’m most familiar with them. After a decade in the city, I feel like I have a handle on the culture of Manhattan and, even more so, its suburban environs where I live and grew up. As a writer and a person, I’m comfortable in my area.  But that very comfort is the reason why I must travel. I need to see other places to gain perspective on the location that most often serves as the backdrop to my stories. When I don’t visit other places for awhile, I can become so immersed in my home that I can’t recognize anymore what’s unique or strange or beautiful or nutty about it. Writers need the ability to see a place as both an outsider and an insider. We need to have the accuracy that comes from immersion but also the distance to point out what makes a place […]

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When I was a young mother, it was out of the question for me to go to an MFA. program. First of all, I didn’t have the money.  Secondly, I had four young children. Those years were filled with hiking around and laundry and writing late at night. Though I did manage to persuade my kids, for quite a long time, that they should go to bed at 7:30. I remember my oldest son once saying to me that he was the only kid in 8th grade who had to go to bed so early, and I said he didn’t have to go to sleep at 7:30. He could read for as long as he wanted. He just needed to let me have time to write. Anyway, during that time, I had to invent my own personal MFA program, and the way I did that was by finding passages in short stories and novels that I liked. I would type up those passages, because it helps to have the words in your fingers. Then I would print them out and put them on my wall. I’d read them over and over again, trying to figure out what worked and why they […]

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How long do you write?

I was on a panel not long ago, with several other mystery writers. Various people in the audience asked questions, and one wanted to know how many hours each of us spent writing every day. I answered, “six.” Whereupon one of the other panelists, (who happens to be a friend), barked out, “You’re lying.” (You might wonder what people who are not my friends say to me.) I pointed out that I wasn’t lying and that she was a bully and then she said… Well, never mind. Yesterday, though, when I did in fact spend 6 hours writing, I found myself thinking about the question and realized that when I say I’m writing, I don’t mean that I’m sitting at the keyboard typing for that six hours. I’m doing a bunch of things on top of that. 1. I’m thinking, which, to the naked eye might look like I’m looking out the window at the oak tree on my front lawn. But so much of writing is imagining, and so much of that is letting my mind wander. 2. I’m reading. Because the book I’m working on now involves a different historical period, I’m reading lots of books about how people in that […]

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Two classes

Although I spend a lot of time writing, reading manuscripts, walking dogs and watching Dancing with the Stars, every Wednesday I emerge from my lair and teach two novel-writing writing classes in NYC. I teach one from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then the next from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. In between I hang out at the Gotham Writers offices, which is a fun place to be, and I usually spend the time working on a chapter of something. What that means is that every Wednesday I get to hang out with 28 or so novelists. That also means I’m reading 28 novels in progress. And it’s taught me many things. 1. Writing a novel is an exercise in patience. Some of the people in my class having been working on their novels for 4 years, and they’re not done. They’re serious writers and they’ve taken on ambitious topics and it just takes a long time.  2. Revision really works. There is a huge difference between the first draft of a novel and the fifth, and yes. Sometimes it takes five drafts. Sometimes more! 3. No one really knows what they’re doing (the teacher included). Everyone writes a novel in their own […]

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What's in a name?

I teach novel-writing for Gotham Writers in New York City. My classroom is in an office building that looks right out on to Times Square. So from my window, I see something like this picture. Even when my class gets out, at 10 pm, it still looks like that.  Sometimes it’s a little scary. The other night I left work and walked by two people, arms folded across their chests, sleeping in a box shaped to look like a coffin. But for the most part working in Times Square is exhilarating, and I feel like I’m tapping into the energy that makes New York City so vital. My classes tend to reflect that vitality. My students come from all over the world–from Haiti and Dubai and London and Pakistan and of course, from the United States too. Their names are often unfamiliar to me. I grew up in a suburban part of Long Island, in a time and place where most of my friends were named Betty or Marcy or Patty. So it’s always a worry for me that I am either going to forget or mispronounce one of my student’s names. So I’ve hit on this writing exercise I do at the start of […]

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