Showing posts with label editing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label editing. Show all posts

Friday, December 9

How To Use An Editing Program To Improve Your Writing

How To Use An Editing Program To Improve Your Writing

A good editing program will tell you how many words your story has, how many of those words are unique, how many sentences there are, how many paragraphs, how readable your text is, the number of cliches you’ve used, and so on. 

And that’s great, but one thing I don’t like about editing programs is that, often, the numbers displayed don’t give any context. For example, if I have 10 adverbs in my story is that bad or good?

The trick, I’ve found, is to compare my writing with that of my favorite authors; those people whose work I both love and envy. For me that’s writers like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood.

What follows is a comparison of two of my trunk stories—I wrote them when I was a teenager—with sections of Stephen King’s and Neil Gaiman’s work. 

Here are the results:

As you can see, the major difference between my old work and my favorite authors is the number of cliches in dialogue and redundant words. Beyond that, my old stories had more vague and abstract words. Also, my sentences were shorter than my favorite authors and I used shorter paragraphs.

That information is valuable. It shows me ways I can work on improving my craft.


Editing programs can be wonderful if you take the stats they give you with a grain of salt. Their value is in letting you compare your writing with others, to see the differences and similarities. If I love Stephen King's writing but he uses a few adverbs, I'm not going to be overly concerned about using a few adverbs even though I agree that they are weeds that deserved to be plucked from one's writing.

My own personal yardstick is the authors I admire, the authors I want to write like (and I don’t mean exactly like; each writer needs to have his/her own voice). But you have ideas about what good writing is and what bad writing is, and you've acquired these ideas from reading other writers. There are authors you think are terrific writers and authors you would be devastated if anyone compared you to.

The editing program I use is Pro Writing Aid. It doesn’t work well on larger blocks of text (10,000+ words) but it tells you many things about your manuscript: grammar, overused words, readability statistics, cliches, sticky sentences, vague words, repeated words, sentence length, consistency, dialogue, pacing, pronoun use, and much more. I’ve used the program on and off for a couple of years and, because I personally use and like their product, I’ve become an affiliate for them. 

What editing programs do you use? Have they helped you become a better writer? I'd love it if you shared your experience. :-)

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I'd like to recommend The Mental Game of Writing: How to Overcome Obstacles, Stay Creative and Productive, and Free Your Mind for Success by James Scott Bell. Lately I've been struggling with anxiety and find reading "you can do it!" books soothing. And James Scott Bell is a really nice guy (I met him!) who gives terrific advice.

That's it! Have a great weekend and I'll talk to you again on Monday. Till then, good writing!

Wednesday, December 7

Editing Your Zero Draft

Editing Your Zero Draft

NanoWriMo is over! If you participated and wrote more than you would have otherwise, you’re a winner. If you ended up writing 50,000+ words, that’s awesome!

It’s been a week since NaNoWriMo ended so you’ve had a chance to distance yourself a little bit from the story. If you don’t have sufficient distance from your writing the danger is that when you read your Zero Draft you won’t be able to be objective. What I try to do is put my manuscript away for a week or two so I can come back to it with new eyes.

In any case, after enough time has passed rescue your manuscript from the drawer and read it from start to finish. There’s only one rule: don’t edit until you’ve read the whole thing. This is torture for me, but it’s important to re-load the whole story into your mind without changing anything.

When I read something that’s not right, a misspelling, etc., I want to go into the file and fix it but if I were to do that then I’d start adding sections that didn’t need to be added and deleting material that was necessary for the development of a future event.

I find one way to lessen the temptation to edit is to print a hardcopy of the manuscript and, if I must make notes, then at least I can’t change the electronic file. By the way if you want to save paper and load your manuscript into an app that allows you to mark up a file I recommend GoodNotes, it’s the app I use.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you read:

- Does a character’s name change halfway through the story? Is the name spelled the same way throughout the manuscript? Do all the names you use begin with a different letter? Are all the names sufficiently distinct from each other?

- Is each character absolutely necessary to advance the plot? Can two (or more) characters be merged into one? Or are there too few characters?

- Do NOT worry about grammar or spelling (other than for names) at this stage. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to end up not using a lot of the text in your Zero Draft. Fiddling with grammar and spelling would just waste your time.

->After your first read through.

After you’ve read your story through try to answer these two questions:

(a) What state of affairs represents happiness to your protagonist? Being together with friends and family? Winning the lottery? Retiring from their job? Going into business for themselves? Traveling the world?

(b) What danger threatens to keep the protagonist’s dream from becoming reality?

Now try and answer these questions:

What is the protagonists external goal? That is, what concrete thing or state of affairs does the protagonist desire to bring about? For example, in Die Hard John McClane wants to protect his wife and the other hostages and defeat the terrorists.

Is there a physical object that represents this goal? For example, in Raiders of the Lost Ark Indiana Jones wanted to bring the Ark back to the United States.

In the recent movie “Arrival” the protagonist’s external goal is to understand why the aliens arrived on earth, to understand the alien language.

Make sure you know what the protagonist’s goal is—it will form the spine of your story.

Story Structure

I’ve written quite a few posts about story structure (link and link) so I won’t go into that here. But be sure that your protagonist’s external and internal goals are what drives the key scenes of the story.


Another thing to focus on at this stage is that the protagonist has a suitably strong antagonist. You want the antagonist and protagonist to have the same goal and for it to be impossible for them both to achieve the goal. Also, it tends to work well if the protagonist and antagonist are alike in many ways.

If the antagonist is the protagonist's nemesis then he/she will be quite a bit like the protagonist but differ in at least one important respect.

In Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Beloq is Indy’s nemesis. Both men are archaeologists and are driven to procure relics. But they operate by very different moral codes and view the relics they hunt for very differently. Indy appreciates the relics for themselves while Beloq is primarily interested in what the relic can do for him in terms of wealth or power.

The number one thing that you need to keep in mind as you re-read your Zero Draft is to be kind to yourself. There are going to be awful bits and there are going to be glorious bits. Don’t stress about the disastrous passages, focus on the good, focus on what works. Stay positive.

If you’re anything like me there are going to be a LOT of drafts between now and your final one. It’s a process of weeding out what doesn’t belong and gradually shaping the story. It’s early days still. If you keep at it you’ll end up with a story you love.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I am feeling whimsical so what better book to recommend than Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling. From the blurb: "When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt's fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone…"

That's it! I'll talk to you again on Friday. Till then, good writing. :-)

Sunday, November 6

How To Tell If Your Book Is Ready To Publish

How To Tell If Your Book Is Ready To Publish

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” 
—Frank Herbert, Dune.

Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. If the threat is real and your fear makes you act in adaptive ways then the system is working. Often, though, we’re afraid of things that never happen or that, in the big picture, just aren’t important.

Today I want to look at one fear that holds writers back from publishing their work: fear of receiving a one-star review.

If you publish enough books for long enough, you likely will get a one-star review. But let’s look at what that actually means.

1. Your reader found the book irritating to read.

If your story is poorly edited or if the formatting is off, your book could very well get a one-star review.

But these are easy problems to fix. These days it’s easier than ever to find a line editor for every budget. As for formatting your ebook, you can do this yourself using Scrivener or Vellum. If money isn’t an issue, and you have better things to do (like writing your next book!), my advice would be to pay someone to take care of this for you.

Remember: Never give someone a royalty for editing or formatting your work!

2. Mismatch between the kind of book readers thought they were buying and the kind of book they actually bought.

I think this is, hands-down, the most common reason for one-star reviews. Your story could be the best romance story in the long and colorful history of romance stories but if someone bought it thinking it was a science fiction yarn, they’re going to hate it with a passion!

Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to help accurately communicate what kind of book you’ve written:

a) The Cover

One of the things your cover should communicate is the genre.

Look at the covers of best selling books in your genre and subcategories. What themes do they display? Get specific. If you’re writing a cosy, look up cosy mysteries on Amazon. Look at the subcategories. Which subcategories are selling well? What kind of covers do these books have? How does the cover communicate the theme of the book? What sorts of objects are on the cover? And so on.

b) The Blurb

Take a look at 10 of the best selling books in your genre. If you have the money and time to buy these books and read them, I encourage you to! But at least read the blurb. Is the blurb consistent with the genre? Since they’re best sellers it’s a good bet it is. Now look at your blurb and your cover. Are the themes mentioned in the blurb consistent with the cover? With the genre?

c) The Title

Same thing. Take a look at your list of 10 books. Look at the titles. Is it clear from each what the genre of the story is?

Friends from your social networks can help you out here. Ask them, When you see this cover, or this blurb, or this title, what genre do you think of?

3. The reader hates (say) murder mysteries but decided to give your book a try because it was free.

There’s nothing you can do about this. It happens most often when you offer your book for free, but even if you don’t, eventually someone who intensely dislikes the kind of book you wrote will read it, become upset and give you a one-star review. When that happens reach out to writers who have received their own fair share of one-star reviews. Then get back to writing! :-)

5 questions to ask yourself before you act:

1. If you do this, what is the WORST possible outcome? What would you lose?

2. How likely is the worst possible outcome?

3. If you do this, what is the BEST possible outcome? What would you gain?

4. How likely is the best possible outcome?

5. Is there anything you can do to lessen the likelihood of the worst possible outcome and increase the likelihood of the best possible outcome?

If the best outcome doesn’t get you all that much and the worst outcome could completely obliterate your business then perhaps embrace the saying, “Caution is the better part of valor”! But do examine if there is, perhaps, a way to mitigate the damage that the worst possible scenario represents.

On the other hand, if the worst possible outcome wouldn’t damage your business and the best outcome is tempting, why not go for it?!

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I’d like to recommend Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell. From the blurb: “Filled with plot examples from popular novels, comprehensive checklists, and practical hands-on guidance, Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure gives you the skills you need to approach plot and structure like an experienced pro.”

That’s it for today! I’ll talk to you again tomorrow about another key scene. In the meantime, good writing!

Word count so far: 9,008 words
Word count today: 977 words
Word count so far: 9,985 words

Monday, October 31

Preparing For NaNoWriMo

Every day in November I’m going to lay out the structural bones of a crucial story scene.  I'll then break this scene down for three genres: Action, Romance, and Mystery. Then I'll talk about the different requirements of each. Today I'm kicking things off by talking about what we can do to prepare for the insanity that is NaNoWriMo.

At least, that’s the plan! This is going to be an adventure for me as well since, over the month of November, I’ll be blogging a book, only a non-fiction one. That’s something I’ve never done before!

My hope is that my daily blog posts will provide you with a seed, a start, something to hang your story ideas around—if you want it. Folks have been writing stories for millennia without all this explicit talk of story structure, so if you don’t feel you want or need it, that’s great! Go you!!

But, if you’d like to get an idea regarding what you might want to write on any particular day, or if you want to read something that might help get you started, then please drop by, pull up a seat and let’s write! :-)

Planning for NaNoWriMo

Here are a few things to consider as we head into the month of November (I expand on each of these, below):

1. What is your writing plan? How many words would you like to write a day?
2. What point of view will you write from? First, second or third?
3. What is the core of your story?
4. What is the essence of your protagonist and antagonist?
5. What genre, or genres, will you write in?
6. What is the setting?

1. Designing a Writing Plan.

How many days per week do you want to write?

For instance, you might want to plan on writing six days a week so you can have one day of wiggle room. Life has a way of derailing even the best laid plans, so giving yourself one day off a week isn’t a bad idea. That would give you 26 days to write 50,000 words which means your word count per writing day would be 1,924 words. This is what I did when I participated in NaNoWriMo and it worked out well.

On the other hand, if you plan on writing every day, your word count per day would only be 1667 words.

2. What Point of View Will You Write From? 

Will you write from the first, second or third person perspective? If you choose the first person perspective (which is my favorite!) then, although there are exceptions, you will likely have one viewpoint character throughout. Many of the first person perspective narratives I’ve read include short chapters written from a third person perspective featuring an important secondary character, but this is the sort of thing we’re not going to worry about on the zero draft.

If you choose to write from the third person perspective, then although one character will be the protagonist/hero, you will often have multiple viewpoint characters. For instance, many romance stories involve two viewpoint characters—the two lovers—and alternate their viewpoints every second chapter. Generally speaking, the point of view you open your story with will be that of your protagonist.

3. What is the Core of Your Story?

Generally speaking, a story is about a person (the protagonist) who wants something desperately but is repeatedly prevented from acquiring it by a person/force (the antagonist). Finally the matter comes to a head and the protagonist and antagonist face off in a final confrontation that will settle things once and for all.

If you would like to read more about story structure, here are a few articles:

A Story Structure In Three Acts
STORY STRUCTURE: 10 Simple Keys to Effective Plot Structure
Short Story Structures: Several Ways Of Structuring Short Fiction
Short Stories And Their Structure

4. Character Development

Let’s start thinking about our characters:

  • Who is your protagonist?
  • What does he/she do for a living? What would he/she like to do for a living?
  • Is he/she romantically involved with anyone? Does he/she want to be romantically involved with anyone?
  • Does he/she have children? If so, how many and what are their ages?
  • What is his/her biggest fear?
  • What is his/her darkest secret?
  • Is he/she an optimist or a pessimist?
  • Does he/she have a hobby?
  • Is he/she obsessed with anything?
  • What does he/she fear above all else? What does he/she love above all else?
  • Is he/she religious? Superstitious?
  • Does he/she own a vehicle? If so, what kind?
  • What special skill or talent does he/she have?
  • What could he/she NOT do, even if their life depended on it?

Here’s the most important question of all: What does this character want more than anything else? This is important because it determines the story question that everything else revolves around.

The character's main desire could be something your character doesn't know they want. For example, in the movie Titanic, Rose wanted freedom more than anything else, though I'm not sure she was aware of this at the beginning of the story. On the other hand, Frodo knew exactly what he wanted: to return the One Ring to Mordor.

After you’ve answered these questions with reference to the protagonist, try to answer them with reference to the antagonist.

Keep in mind that the goals of the protagonist and antagonist must be mutually exclusive: if the antagonist gets what he wants then the protagonist can't. Similarly, if the protagonist gets what he wants then the antagonist can't.

Here are additional questions that can help you get to know a character:

Character Question List
Character Checklist
Writer’s Digest: A Checklist for Developing Your Hero and Heroine

5. The Genre

Let's take a look at what Shawn Coyne has to say about genre:
"A Genre is a label that tells the reader/audience what to expect. Genres simply manage audience expectations. (The Story Grid)"
If you're writing a love story then your readers are going to expect a first meeting between the lovers, a confession of love, a first kiss, a break-up, and so on. (See: 6 Scenes Any Love Story Must Have)

In this sense a genre is a bit like a promise you give your readers. If your title is, "Murder at Whitemill" and the back blurb identifies it as a cosy then no matter how inspired your prose your readers are going to come for you with pitchforks if, say, no murder occurs or no one is brought to justice for the crime.

This is why it's important to know which genre, or genres, you are writing in and what the conventions of that genre are. That is, what readers of that genre will expect of your story.

6. The Setting

What is the setting? Where do the events of the story take place?

For instance, in The Matrix the Ordinary World is an illusion—an illusion of cities and office jobs and juicy steaks—and the Special World (reality) is one of human batteries and war between humans and machines. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone the Ordinary World is (roughly speaking) England and the Special World is Hogwarts.

The world of the adventure (this includes both the Ordinary and Special Worlds) is sculpted by the writer to provide a crucible for the protagonist. The setting is a cauldron, a crucible, designed to test the main character’s strengths and force him to face, and overcome, his weaknesses. Or, if it’s a tragedy, to fail and die.

Rather than go into this now, here's a post I wrote on this topic: Mind Worms and the Essence of Drama.

See also:
How To Give Your Character Meaningful Flaws
The Key To Making A Character Multidimensional: Pairs of Opposites

Just Breathe

If thinking about all this makes you hyperventilate, don’t worry about it! NaNoWriMo is about writing a zero draft, so it is about creativity and discovery.

I think the object of NaNoWriMo is to get as much of your story developed as possible in the month of November.

For some of us, that will involve writing 50,000+ words. For others, it will mean writing 40,000 or 30,000 or 20,000 or 10,000 or 5,000 or even just 1,000 words. And that’s okay!

If you develop a plan for your story, and begin implementing that plan, then you’ve won in the sense that you've pushed your story forward. If participating in NaNoWriMo gets you to write even one word more than you would have otherwise then, in my books, you’ve won!

For tomorrow: Try to figure out what it is your protagonist wants more than anything. Try to figure out the story goal.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

For a different perspective on NaNoWriMo here is the excellent, No Plot, No Problem!, by Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo. From the book blurb: "Chris Baty ... has completely revised and expanded his definitive handbook for extreme noveling. Chris pulls from over 15 years of results-oriented writing experience to pack this compendium with new tips and tricks, ranging from week-by-week quick reference guides to encouraging advice from authors, and much more."

That's it! Enough preliminaries and preparation! Got your writer's cap on? Awesome! Know what your character wants above and beyond all else? Excellent! I'll talk to you tomorrow. :-)

Sunday, April 26

Using Text-To-Voice Apps For Editing

I’ve been using a text-to-voice app for a few months now. When I load the dishwasher, dust, fold laundry, all the pesky little tasks of everyday life, tasks one can’t do while reading a story, I can now do while listening to one. It’s marvelous!

Lately, though, I’ve started to use a text-to-voice app for editing my first drafts and it has made me orders of magnitude more efficient. Why? Because I have a problem: I find it impossible to read my manuscript without diving in and changing it before I finish a complete read-through.

If you’re anything like me, that’s a mistake of mammoth proportions. 

I give myself (at least) a few months between completing a first draft and picking it up again for editing. That means—and this is the point of letting so much time pass—that I no longer hold the story in my head. Now I get to come back and, as much as possible, see it through the eyes of a stranger.

But it’s crucial for me to read the entire manuscript through before I begin making changes. Because, that’s right, chances are I’ve forgotten what exactly a particular scene is leading up to and if I cut it then I might very well just have to put it back in down the line. Which means I’ve wasted time and made the entire, painful, experience of editing that much more tedious.

The thing I love most about text-to-voice apps are that they let me listen to my story (I catch all manner of ticks and typos that way) and, at the same time, prevent me from changing the file. Because I can’t! The program I use doesn’t have that capability. Yes, I can take notes and highlight to my heart’s content, but I can’t edit the words.

That has been invaluable to me.

I thought I would mention my discovery here in case anyone else out there is like me and could benefit from 1) having their story read back to them while 2) being unable to change it.

Which is not to say that I don’t take copious pen and paper notes. I do! And that’s okay. After I finish listening to my first draft I’ll go through all my notes and type up the suggestions for changes I’m going to keep. 

And then the whole painful, wonderful, process of editing begins. But that’s a whole other post (I’ve written about editing here and here).

The Apps I Use

I’m sure there are many excellent text-to-voice programs out there. Here are a few I’ve used.


I used to use NaturalReader, and would recommend it. But I needed an app that read ePub files and, the last time I checked, NaturalReader didn’t. 

VoiceOver (Mac Only)

Have you ever heard a computer generated voice breathe? If not, give Alex a listen. It makes him seem much more real, more human-like. Also, depending where a sentence is in a paragraph, Alex will read it differently. Very cool. You can give him a listen here. I use VoiceOver every day and love it. 

Voice Dream Reader

This is the app I use most often. A while ago the company came out with Voice Dream Writer, but I haven’t tried it yet, though it looks as though it could come in handy.

Well, that’s it! If you have a text-to-voice program or app you’d like to recommend, please leave a comment!

Friday, May 10

10 Tips For Proofreading Your Manuscript

10 Tips For Proofreading Your Manuscript

This is a wonderful, must-read, article for anyone who has had trouble proofreading their own work: 10 Proofreading Tips For Self-Publishers.

Anna Lewis writes:
No matter how many times you’ve read through your work, it’s amazing how often errors can sneak through to the final stages. The problem: You’re so familiar with the text that you see what you think you have written rather than what you actually wrote.

That happens to me all the time. So, what can we do to catch all those pesky mistakes?

10 Tips For Proofreading Your Prose

1. Put your writing aside for as long as you can stand.

Stephen King says this, Chuck Wendig says this. Everyone I've ever read about writing says this. And, from my experience, it does help a lot. In the case of a book try to put it aside for at least a month, though I think a month and a half is better.

2. Know your weaknesses.

Every writer has weaknesses. Some of us are horrible spellers, some of us repeat phrases or overuse words. Some of us make certain kinds of grammatical errors. If you know what you're likely to do you can make a point of looking especially for that. (And, if you're getting a friend to go over your manuscript, you could mention your weaknesses to them as well.)

3. Read your work out loud.

Anna writes:
If you read aloud, your ear might catch errors that your eyes may have missed. Alternatively, you can use text-to-speech software.
Reading one's work aloud is great, a must-do, but I think listening to someone (or something) read the text is useful as well. I do both.

4. Try proofreading backwards.

The first time I heard this advice I thought it was nuts, but the person who gave it to me was a professional and highly sought after proofreader so I tried it. It works! But it is time consuming. Anna suggests using this method for areas such as the cover text.

5. Keep style and usage handbooks readily available and use them!

Excellent advice. I like using digital copies because they're easier to search.

6. Watch out for contractions, apostrophes and homonyms.

7. Run a spell check.

But don't rely on the spell check. You need human eyes on your manuscript as well.

8. Highlight all punctuation marks so you can evaluate each one for accuracy.

9. Proofread a printed version of your work.

I'm like this, I can more easily catch errors in a printed copy than I can by reading from the screen. I'm not sure if this is true for everyone. Perhaps folks who grew up reading from screens won't have this bias.

10. Get someone else to proofread your manuscript.

No matter what you do it'll be harder for you to see what you've actually written as opposed to what you'd intended to write. Trading with writer friends--I'll proofread your manuscript if you proofread mine--can help.

Of course the best solution, and by far the easiest, is to find a good proofreader and pay them to work on your manuscript.

I've paraphrased a good deal of Anna Lewis' article, I'd encourage you to read it in the original: 10 Proofreading Tips For Self-Publishers.

Do you have a tip for catching errors in a manuscript?

Other articles you might like:

- Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge: Smashing Sub-Genres
- Russell Blake's 26 Tips On How To Sell A Lot Of Books
- Chuck Wendig On Finding Your Voice

Photo credit: "My Brush With Death" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, March 28

Janice Hardy Teaches Writers How To Be Their Own Book Doctor

Janice Hardy Teaches Writers How To Be Their Own Book Doctor
Book doctors are wonderful!

I can tell you from personal experience that writers often--in fact, nearly always--lack the ability to see flaws, even major structural flaws, in their own stories. Myself included.

That's where a good book doctor can be worth his or her weight in gold. Janice Hardy writes:
One of the reasons a good book doctor is so successful, is that they look at a story without all the emotional baggage us authors bring to our own work, and can analyze the critical elements of good storytelling. (Be Your Own Book Doctor)
The key is that a knowledgeable stranger has the objectivity we almost always lack when it comes to our own work.

But what if a writer can't afford that kind of a second opinion?

Janice Hardy comes to the rescue, allowing us all to be--or at least try to be--our own book doctor.

Be Your Own Book Doctor

My advice is, if you can, put your newly completed manuscript away in a drawer and forget about it for as long as you can stand, six weeks or so if you can do it, then bring it out and give it a quick read-through. Now, answer the following questions (these questions are all from Janice Hardy's article):

1. Is the tone consistent?
2. Is the theme clear?
3. Is your plot structure solid?
4. Are your stakes high enough?
5. Is there enough conflict?
6. Is there a strong narrative drive?
7. Is there tension?
8. Are there character arcs?
9. Are the characters fully formed?
10. Does the dialog sound natural?
11. Is the setting developed?
12. Is the pacing working?

Janice breaks her analysis down even further, asking several questions for each point. It's a great article! (Here's the link again: Be Your Own Book Doctor.)

I especially liked Janice's comments on story structure, and would like to leave you with a link to one of her other articles on the subject: I Love it When a Plan Comes Together, Plotting a Novel: Part One.

Honestly, I can't believe how generous authors are on the web! In that article (I Love it When ...) Janice shares the fruit of her knowledge gleaned from years of writing. It is incredibly informative. I can't recommend Janice's blog, The Other Side of the Story, highly enough.

Question: Do you have any tips and tricks for editing a novel?

Other articles you might like:

- The Rules Of Romantic Comedy
- Different Kinds Of Story Openings: Shock And Seduction
- Chuck Wendig On Story Structure
- Story Structure

Photo credit: "Heavy Black & White" by Ben Fredericson (xjrlokix) under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, March 10

Chuck Wendig's Editing Plan: Edit A Novel In Four Months

Chuck Wendig's Plan To Edit A Novel In Four Months

I wrote about Chuck's post before, but only about the first couple of paragraphs because what he wrote there blew my mind: Editing is writing.

If you're looking at the screen blankly thinking, "Yeah. So?" then I applaud you. That held me back for a long time.


Of course writing new words matters, but here's how I look at it. It's not new words per day that matters, it's new words per year. I can't sell three novels and miscellaneous short stories a year if I don't write 250,000 or so words in a year.

Write and edit.

Okay. Enough said. Moving on.

Writing vs Storytelling

These are the twin pillars of writing and, yes, the analogy of pillars breaks down because unlike the Grecian pillars I imagined when I wrote the above, writing and storytelling intermingle like rum on a Bundt cake.

As Chuck Wendig mentions, writing is "technical and objective" while storytelling is "far more subjective and instinct-driven".

For instance, I had a friend in my university days who--though he couldn't write an essay to save his life--could spin funny, absurd and altogether spellbinding tales. I worried about him, though, since the majority of his stories began with, "I was out at the bar the other night". It was his version of "Once upon a time".

My storytelling friend had an innate understanding, in intuitive grasp, of the elements of story. But, since we're writers, that's only half the picture.

Writing problems

Here's what I mean by writing problems: an unreflective disregard of grammar. For instance, comma confusion, talking about the barber's convention rather than the barbers' convention. And so on.

Of course many of the greats spurned grammatical conventions regularly, but they knew them. Either explicitly or, like storytelling for my friend, it was in their bones. Their prose satisfied the ultimate grammatical directive: Be clear.

Garbled language can't help anyone express a thought. For instance, using "bakers" when you mean "baker's"--a mistake I know I've made a time or three (thank all-things-good for copy editors!)--never makes prose clearer.

Storytelling problems

Storytelling, on the other hand, is more about the flow and structure of a story. For instance, when you read about Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet or Michael Hauge's Screenplay Structure, or--something I've been writing about lately--the stages of the monomyth, we're in the realm of storytelling.

Get The Story First Then Write It

Before you pick up your pen to write a novel it helps (the writing will be faster and less angst-fraught) to have a good grasp of the story.

Think of it this way. When I open my mouth to say something I like to know, beforehand, exactly what I want to say. When I don't, things can get messy, and I suspect that's not just true for me.

Draft Zero

But life's not always like that. I find that, just like I'm not always 100% sure exactly what I'm going to say, I don't always know what story I want to write when I sit down to write it. (For instance, someone once asked me whether I thought it was a good idea for writers to keep a pet. It was an interesting question but one I don't have a settled view on; still, it was interesting to discuss it. To, as we sometimes say, "hash it out".)

Perhaps I'll have an idea, an image or two, a premise. Perhaps I'll have a vague idea how it all ends. Then I'll put my butt in a chair and write.

The first draft will probably be only 2/3 or even 1/2 the length of the book, but that's okay. These are my initial ideas. They're still growing, changing. The story is evolving.

After that initial draft (or, as Kim Neville says, draft zero) I'll have a much better idea of what my story is. I'll know how it begins (although this will probably change over the next few drafts), I'll know how it ends (this also will likely change but not as radically) as well as all the story points in between.

Detailed outline

Now I can sit down again, rip the whole thing apart, and write (hopefully) a good, clean, draft. One that, when finished, I can send out to my beta readers.

My first draft (or zero draft) is all about grabbing the story out of thin air--birthing the ideas on paper (and WOW, is that messy).

Then I do a good, detailed, outline of what I have, rearranging things as needed. Sometimes I end up scrapping much of the first/zero draft, but that's okay. It's main purpose is to birth the story.

The next draft

The second draft is more about writing. Now I know, more-or-less, what the story is. Sure things can still change, but not as much. Now I know exactly where I'm headed and how I'm going to get there. I've got my roadmap.

Before I send my baby out to my beta readers I give her a bath, dress her up and try to teach her some manners. That means checking the spelling, the grammar and reading my manuscript aloud.

Chuck Wendig's post is chalked full of great advise, I heartily recommend it. One of the best things about it are all the links he shares to his previous posts on editing.

Chuck Wendig's Editing Plan

This is the thing I've been meaning to get to, that the build up was really for. Chuck's handy-dandy editing plan. (cue trumpets)

You have just finished the first draft of your novel; perhaps you followed Chuck Wendig's plan for how to write a novel in a year. Here's what you do:

1. Edit 5 days a week.
2. For each of those 5 days, edit 5 pages.

That's it. You can do more than that. Chances are you'll have to junk parts of it and re-write others but the goal is to edit 5 pages a day.

Chuck estimates that, if you hold to this plan, it will take 3 to 4 months to edit an 80,000 word manuscript.

All together, this writing-editing plan will get you a finished novel in about a year and a half. If you stick to it!

Not bad. Not bad at all.
What do you think of Chuck Wendig's plan for completing a novel in a year and a half? Would you try this?

Other links you might like:

- Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose Your Random Sentence
- Stephen King Talks About Doctor Sleep, Winnebagos & A Movie Prequel To The Shining
- Handy Guides To Avoiding Mistakes In Grammar
- Writing Resources

Photo credit: "Home Base" by flossyflotsam under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, February 27

How To Edit: Kill Your Darlings

When I started writing this post I fully intended to discuss Chuck Wendig's distinction between writing and storytelling and how to use this distinction to help diagnose problems in your manuscript. But then I fell down the rabbit hole of layer cakes and editordomes.

That's right. Editordomes.

In a soon-to-be-written post I do fully intend to talk about writing versus storytelling--a distinction I've wanted to talk about for some time--but for now I'm going to talk (or, rather, write) about how to identify darlings and then massacre them.

Kill Your Darlings

What is a darling? It's something that exists in your manuscript only because you love it. Or, to put it another way, if something is in your manuscript, your story, only because you love it then it's a darling and needs to go. (1)

Simply put, a darling "doesn't connect. It doesn't bond with the rest of the manuscript." (1)
A true “darling” is a lone wolf, a ronin ninja, a pretty little unibomber, a delicate snowflake. It does nothing for your work. It dances alone with itself in the corner, and you don’t have the heart to tell it that it needs to join the rest of the crowd or drink a capful of drain cleaner. (1)
Okay, that's how a darling functions, or fails to function, in your manuscript, but what is it? Chuck writes: "Darlings can be anything: a turn-of-phrase, a character, a word, a grammatical crutch (1)".

The test: how to determine if something is a darling

Here's the question you should ask yourself: If you cut out this bit of text does the story loose anything? Chuck writes:
Theatrically kill it. ... You’re just… taking it out of the draft for a little while to see how it reads, how it feels, how it lays. Copy the offending section. Paste it into a blank document. Let it sit there on its own ... Come back after fifteen minutes (or, up to a whole day if you’re able). Now, check out the draft once more. Re-read it. Read it aloud. (Always read aloud. I will jackhammer that into your brain as often as I can.) Do you feel that it lays fine the way it is? Or do you say, “Y’know what? This is missing a little something-something. Needs more salt and pepper.”

If it’s okay without it — and I’ll bet 7 times out of 10 it will be — then the darling you’ve sequestered on its own is no longer on vacation, but now trapped in a Murder Room. Close that open window and let it die a swift death.

If you think it needs more spice, more flavor, put it back in. “Kill your darlings” is not meant to be a surly screed against flavor. Flavor is good, as long as flavor accompanies nutritional value. Again, to go back to the empty calories metaphor: darlings are garnish for the sake of garnish, or sweets just because you want sweets. (1)

Weak Words: An Example Of A Darling That Has To Go

In Strangling My Darlings In A Clawfoot Bathtub (Part Two Of Two) Chuck gives examples of darlings. It's well worth the read, but I want to talk about one of his examples here because this is something I still battle with: the use of weak words or as Chuck writes: "mushy, weak, wobbly words".
Maybe, actually, really, almost, sort of, kind of, very, theoretically, mehh, meeeehhhhhh.

You want your writing to sound conversational.

But you don’t want it to sound like uncertain conversation. You don’t want it weak-in-the-knees. (2)
That doesn't mean weak words always make your prose boring, in fact you might think they lend it flair. Chuck concedes this, to a point.
They’re not terrible in total, and some can lend to a stylistic flair, but it’s often too easy to default to that as your excuse. “My writing doesn’t suck. It’s just my style.”

Well, fine. Then your style involves copious amounts of sucking. (2)

How We Can Drown Darlings Without Drama

Be in the right state of mind

You need to let your manuscript go. Yes, you have invested a lot of yourself in its pages, into the story, but now it's time to let it go, to disassociate yourself from it. It is not you. Keep saying that until you believe it.

I love the way Chuck puts this: "You are not the sum of those pages." (1)

How does one distance oneself from ones litterary offspring? Put your manuscript in a drawer, close the drawer and walk away. Chuck advises taking at least a month off, Stephen King recommends six weeks. Don't even open the drawer. Forget about the manuscript. Wipe it from your mind as much as possible. You want to come back to it with new eyes and edit it as though it were someone else's work. That's the kind of objectivity you'll need.

Read Everything Aloud

I don't do this but I know I should ... and now that I've read Chuck's posts I think I will. He writes:
You do that [read aloud], you will hear all the fits and starts, all the awkward language, all the broken pauses, all the disturbed rhythms. Typing is not like speaking — we have the extra step of having our fingers do their little fingery dance. As such, you need to bridge that gap. (3)
Have you ever read your manuscript aloud? Have you ever had your manuscript read to you?


1. Strangling My Darlings In A Clawfoot Bathtub (Part One Of Two)
2. Strangling My Darlings In A Clawfoot Bathtub (Part Two Of Two)
3. Welcome To Editordome

Other articles you might like:

- Chuck Wendig Says That Editing Is Writing
- Looking At Plot: Urban Myths And What They Teach Us
- Monsignor Ronald Knox's 10 Rules Of Detective Fiction

Photo credit: "A petición de Fran." by www dot jordiarmengol dot net (Xip) under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, February 26

Chuck Wendig Says That Editing Is Writing

My title comes from Chuck Wendig's latest post. He writes:
Let’s get something out of the way:

Editing is writing.
This--his way of drilling down to the core of relevant writing issues--is one reason I've been increasingly eager to read Chuck Wendig's posts.

Believe it or not, there is some disagreement about the point. Some reasonable, smart, experienced, articulate writers would insist that, to the contrary, editing is most emphatically NOT writing.

The Problem With Saying Editing Is Not Writing

For me, here's the problem with denying that editing is writing: I'm a writer, but I spend most of my time editing because I write fast drafts.

Here's how I write a first draft: for two or three (glorious!) weeks I'll say goodbye to the collective illusion we call the real world and climb through a rabbit hole--or slink into a closet, or creep inside (what looks like) a phone booth, or ...--into a world it's up to me to create.

This is the part of writing I can't wait to get to. Writing a fast draft helps me stretch my creative muscles in a way I rarely get to otherwise. Of course, by the end, I can't wait to get to the editing!

The upshot is that I spend the overwhelming majority of my time editing that first draft (and editing, and editing, and ...).

Yes, I insert new scenes here and there, and I cut others, but I think of that as editing not writing. I can't say, "I'll write at least 1,000 words today" because I write as much as I need to and it varies day to day.

But perhaps that's wrong. Perhaps editing is writing and writing is editing.

Chuck Wending writes:
At the end of the day, the actual execution of your editing process is writing. It’s you doing surgery and excising all the unsightly tumors from your work and filling in the gurgling wounds with better material: healthy flesh, new organs ... Sometimes it’s as simple as killing commas and adding periods. Other times it’s as complicated as dynamiting the blubbery beached whale that is your entire third act, picking up all the viscera, and filling in the hole with clean, pristine sand. Sometimes it’s a leeeetle-teeny-toonsy bit of writing. Sometimes it’s a thousand rust-pitted cauldrons of writing.

Writing is editing. Editing is writing.

Writing is rewriting. And rewriting. And rewriting.
I would encourage you to read the rest of Chuck Wendig's article, though I should note it contains mature language.

By the way, all quotations are from Chuck Wendig's post February 26, 2013 post unless otherwise noted.

What do you think? Is editing writing?

Other articles you might like:

- Looking At Plot: Urban Myths And What They Teach Us
- Write A Novel In A Year, Chuck Wendig's Plan: The Big 350
- The Importance Of Finding Your Own Voice

Photo credit: "la nebbia di settembre" by francesco sgroi under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, December 31

Scene Goals: What Do Your Characters Want, Why Do They Want It, How Do They Get it?

Scene Goals: What Do Your Characters Want, Why Do They Want It, How Do They Get it?

Merry (almost) New Year! Today I'm going to talk about scenes and how to make sure each one pulls its weight in your story. First, though, I would like to solicit ideas from you, the wonderful folks who read my blog.

What sort of topics interest you?

1) Writing
2) Editing
3) How to self publish
4) News about the book industry and where things are headed
5) The structure of stories
6) What editors/publisher are looking for and how to help your story get accepted
7) Time management: setting goals, scheduling to your time, etc.
8) Platform building: Do writers need to blog? Social media: Do we need it and, if so, how much?
9) How to grow your twitter following
10) Indie publishing: How to design a great cover
11) Programs and apps that help writers
12) [Insert your topic here]

What kind of articles about writing would you most like to read in 2013? Do you have a specific question you'd like answered? You can leave a comment on this post, or contact me directly through my contact page, here. I'm also on Twitter and Google+. I'd love to hear from you! :-)

Scenes: How To Write A Riveting Scene

Now that I've made my impassioned appeal for your feedback (grin) let's move on to something writing related: scenes and how to write a scene your readers won't be able to put down.

I'm working my way through the second draft of my NaNoWriMo manuscript and I'm thinking about things like:

- What should each scene accomplish? 
- What are the essential elements any scene has to have?

Fortunately for the writing world we have Larry Brooks and his marvelous site, Larry writes:
Have each scene CHANGE the story and the reader's experience of it, even just a little.
That's from the article, Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before You Write a Scene. Any Scene.

In other words: What do your characters DO in your story and what DRIVES them to do it?

What are their goals? Why do they want those goals? What are the stakes? What happens if they don't accomplish their goal? What happens if they do? Cash this out in concrete terms.

On Christmas day I watched all three original Star Wars movies, so I'll use Luke Skywalker as my example. If Luke failed to destroy the Death Star in A New Hope then the Empire would have crushed the resistance movement and taken control of the galaxy. If he does, then the Rebel alliance has a chance.

But that example didn't have to do with scene goals, it had to do with story goals. Remember the scene where we meet Luke and his uncle for the first time? What is Luke's goal? To help his uncle find two droids to help out with farm duties. Luke is hoping that if the droids work out well that he can leave the farm and go to school. C-3PO, on the other hand, simply wants to escape his captors and not be separated from R2-D2 while R2-D2 wants to continue the quest Princess Leia gave him.

My point is that all the principle characters in the scene want something. Something tangible. Something that is easy to state in a few words.

The Kinds Of Things Characters Want

K.M. Weiland from WORDplay talks about the kind of things your character might want in a scene:
1. Something concrete (an object, a person, etc.).
2. Something incorporeal (admiration, information, etc.)
3. Escape from something physical (imprisonment, pain, etc.).
4. Escape from something mental (worry, suspicion, fear, etc.).
5. Escape from something emotional (grief, depression, etc.).
Those 5 points are from Structuring Your Story's Scenes, Pt. 3: Options for Goals in a Scene. It's a terrific article. If you haven't already, I recommend subscribing to her blog feed, she writes many articles about writing and every one I've read has helped me.

Evaluate Your Scene Goals

Another thing Weiland mentions is testing your goals. She writes:
1. Does the goal make sense within the overall plot?
2. Is the goal inherent to the overall plot?
3. Will the goal’s complication/resolution lead to a new goal/conflict/disaster?
4. If the goal is mental or emotional (e.g., be happy today), does it have a physical manifestation (e.g, smile at everyone)? (This one isn’t always necessary, but allowing characters to outwardly show their goals offers a stronger presentation than mere telling, via internal narrative.)
5. Does the success or failure of the goal directly affect the scene narrator? (If not, his POV probably isn’t the right choice.)
I'm going to try and keep these points in mind as I continue editing my manuscript today.

Talk to you again tomorrow!

Please do think about the questions I asked, above:

What sort of articles about writing would you most like to read in 2013? Or do you have a specific question you'd like answered? 

I'm going to leave you with this quotation from Stephen King. It doesn't have any direct bearing on what I've been talking about, but I thought it was great advice and wanted to share:
The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing . . . . It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn't, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor. (The Real Importance of Reading,
Talk to you again in the New Year! (wave)

Other articles you might like:

- How To Sell Books Without Using Amazon KDP Select
- Edward Robinson And How To Sell Books Using Amazon KDP Select
- The Magic Of Stephen King: How To Write Compelling Characters & Great Openings

Photo credit: "PopStar" by Wolfgang Staudt under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, December 20

How Many Drafts Does It Take To Write A Novel?

How many drafts does it take to write a novel? It depends on the writer. For the overwhelming majority of us it takes more than one. Probably more than two. As Beth Shope writes:
Some never rewrite, but those who manage to produce something publishable after a single, unrevised draft can probably be squeezed in among the dancing angels on the head of that proverbial pin. (True Writing is Rewriting)

Two Draft Writers

For every rule there is an exception.

Holly Lisle has a terrific system she calls One-Pass Manuscript Revision which I'll write about in more detail at some point in the near future. Her method requires a printed copy of your manuscript, a spiral notebook, pens, a cat-free table, good lighting and nerves of steel.

You'll go through your novel scene by scene: Is it clear what your protagonist's goal is in this scene? Is it clear whether she attains her goal? Does the scene advance the story? And so on.

At the end of the process you'll have a notebook filled with things to do/change and a manuscript marked up to within an inch of its life (you can see the pictures here).

As you do the revisions if snappier dialogue occurs to you, include it! If better character descriptions occur to you, use them! But if different character arcs, entirely new characters, new goals, and so on, come to mind write them down in another file and use them for the next book. As Holly writes:
The point of a novel revision is to finish this book. I guarantee you that as long as you’re willing to keep piddling around with the same manuscript, you’ll find ways to make it different. You don’t want to make it different. You just want to make it as good as it can possibly be, and then get it out the door.

Why? Because the definition of a writing career is: Write a book. Write another book. Write another book.

Nowhere in that description is included: Take one story and make it a monument to every idea you ever had or ever will. (One-Pass Manuscript Revision)

Three Draft Writers

The most common answer I've heard for the question, "How many drafts does it take you ...?" is, "Three. But new writers might do more".

For instance, Stephen King wrote in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft that he does a first draft then lets it sit for about six weeks. During this time he writes other things such as novellas and short stories. After the six weeks are up he re-reads the manuscript, thinks about theme, and so on, then writes draft number two. He sends this draft out to beta readers, takes their feedback into account--especially those points more than one person raised--and writes the third draft.

Or something like that. The above is more a summary of what a number of traditional writers have written about their process.

Multiple Drafts

Lisa Gail Green asked a number of writers how many drafts they complete before pronouncing their manuscript finished. (See: How Many Drafts Does It Take To Get To The Query Stage?) Their responses ran from 4 to 13. For instance, Leslie Rose wrote:
Here are my drafts:
1 - vomit draft - let it fly baby
2- Story arc pass - main story subplots - overall structure
3- MC & supporting character arcs - including character development & embellishment
4- grammar/punctuation pass & bad habit pass (adverbs/tense/sentence variety/word choice)
7 - Hard copy read - make corrections
8 - Kindle read - make corrections
9 - Including Beta notes pass
10 - Holistic read - wearing my audience hat
11 - Corrections from Holistic read
Sarah Skilton gives great advise when she writes:
[W]hen you can't stand it any longer and you're absolutely certain your novel is ready to go out into the world, wait. Give it another week before you hit "send." Take a break. Go on a walk. Wait just a teensy bit longer, and give it fresh eyes for typos. It's tough to do, but the person reading it will thank you.

Kris Rusch On Drafting

For some reason I had the idea that Kris Rusch (she'd probably laugh if she read this!) sat down and did a very clean first draft and that's it. Done! Apparently not, or at least not always. In The Business Rusch: Where Art Meets Commerce, Kris writes:
When I write fiction, I am constantly struggling to improve my craft enough to get what’s in my head on the page, every single time.

Failure is an option. If the manuscript doesn’t work, I redraft—in other words, I throw out everything I did and try again. Yes, that means I write sometimes two or three times more material than the readers will see in print. And yes, that means I sometimes toss out more material than I publish.

I figure it’s the price I pay to tell the story I want to tell.

My haphazard, follow-the-story writing method is one of the many reasons why I always balked when one of my editors in traditional publishing asked me for an outline of a book. I can write a damn good outline, one that will make an editor want to buy the book sight unseen. That’s what good outlines do.

But then I’m tied, in some way, to that story, the one communicated in the outline. And I hate being tied to anything. If I get deep into the writing of something and realize that my heroine is just too mean to be a credible protagonist for the romance I’m writing, I want to be able to start over and make her the villain of the piece.

An outline won’t let me do that. I’ve had to do all kinds of machinations to make sure that I’m not trapped by an outline, all the way down to writing the novel first and writing the outline second.
.  .  .  .
If you want to get technical about it, my early drafts are my outlines, and my brand-new second or third draft (done from scratch) are me trying to follow those outlines.

But even that metaphor breaks down when you get into the nitty-gritty of my writing process.

Every writer is different, and every writer has preferred methods of working. Some writers are lucky enough to have organized minds and can create a story in outline form before they ever write the first fictional chapter. Other writers make me look organized in the extreme.

Because, at its core, what we do is an art form. The fact that many of us choose to make a living while committing art makes for some difficult moments—made more difficult by “shoulds” and “have-tos” and “this-is-how-it’s-dones.”

None of that is true in creative mode. There are good ways to work and better ways to work, but mostly, there’s your way to work. And if what you—the writer/artist—are doing works for you (meaning you finish work regularly and get it ready to market regularly), then keep doing that, no matter what anyone says.
I'm a bit like Kris in that--while I do create an outline in the beginning, one that is more of a suggestion, a starting point--I get my real outline from my first draft.

In the end, use whatever works for you. The tough part is that you'll only find out what that is after you've done this a few times! If this is your first time through do as many drafts as feels right and, if you're in doubt, ask your writing buddies what they think.

Whatever you decide I like Sarah's advice to, after you feel your manuscript is finally, completely, done, to put it away for a week, or even a month, and then read it one more time with fresh eyes. If you're anything like me, you'll be glad you did!

What I Do

I generally do 7 drafts. In the beginning I outline my ideas and do character sketches. Then I write the first draft. This usually takes two or three weeks.

I let my first draft sit for at least a week (ideally, I'd leave it for six) and then do a complete read-through without editing. As I do the read-through, on a separate piece of paper, I create another outline from my first draft. After I have my more-or-less finished outline I see how it flows (I think about the monomyth, etc.) and make adjustments. (See: 11 Steps To Edit Your Manuscript. Edit Ruthlessly & Kill Your Darlings)

Once I have my finished outline I go back to my first draft and 'slot' scenes into the new, polished, outline. My second draft is spent filling in scenes that are in my outline but that aren't in my first draft and I prune out any scenes that no longer fit, or that are weak, etc. I print that all out and give it a read.

For my third draft I make sure everything flows, I look at grammar, spelling, prune out weak words ("very", adverbs ending in "ly", etc.) and then hand it to a trusted beta reader, someone I know well and who has given me good honest feedback.

After I get my manuscript back from my first beta reader I generally have to dig in and do revisions, sometimes extensive revisions. That's draft number four.

Once I've completed my fourth draft I give it back to my first beta reader but also hand it off to a trusted group of beta readers--my wonderful writing circle. I find that often my first beta reader--since the big issues have been dealt with--notices several minor issues that need to be addressed. Then my reading group rolls up their sleeves and gives me a whole new perspective. Really, I can't thank these literary angels enough. Any story they have commented on has been enormously improved by their feedback.

After I get my last feedback and make whatever changes are needed (this is the sixth draft) then I let the manuscript sit for as long as I can stand. At least a week! Then I give it one more read-though and call it done. I'll send it off to a line editor at that point. After I get my manuscript back I make whatever changes are indicated and, that's it. It's finally, finally, done. My seventh draft is the final draft (* knock on wood *).

There is no one 'right' way to draft, everyone is different. How many drafts do you do?

Other articles you might like:
- The Cost of Balance
- If Instagram Can Sell Your Photos Without Your Permission, What Is Next?
- The Cure For Perfectionism

Photo credit: "Saturday Evening Room Service @ The Hilton Dublin Airport // Rep. of Ireland : ENJOY!" by || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL || under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, December 7

Editing & Critiquing

Editing & Critiquing

NaNoWriMo is over and we're in the trenches again, this time editing our manuscripts.

For me, editing is EXCRUCIATING! I far prefer writing first drafts to editing.

That's probably why I loved Joanna Penn's blog post: Writing A Book: What Happens After The First Draft? You know what they say, misery loves company! (grin)

The Process of Editing: A Bird's Eye View

I wrote a post about this a few days ago (11 Steps To Edit Your Manuscript. Edit Ruthlessly & Kill Your Darlings) but here it is in a nutshell:

1) Write
2) Edit
3) Re-write
4) Repeat steps (2) and (3) until done.

By "done" I don't mean completely finished. No. At some point your manuscript will feel as though it's completed. You've told the story you wanted to tell to the best of your ability and now you need other folks to read it and give you feedback.

In other words, you need beta readers.

After your beta readers get back to you you'll then revise your manuscript and send it out to a line editor and there will be more rounds of revision (see: How To Find The Right Freelance Editor For You). But, now, I'd like to talk about beta readers and how to respond to critiques.

Beta Readers/Critique Groups

Beta Readers are wonderful people. They give up their precious free time to read material that may not be their preferred genre or style AND then they spend even more of their time formulating a thoughtful critique. And all for free. (Well, they'll probably want a critique from you at some point in the future.)

Dealing With Destructive Criticism

It's not always easy to receive criticism. Especially the first few times. And, occasionally, you may receive a critique that is an attack, not just of your work, but of you as a writer. When that happens--and I know this is easier said than done--ignore it. I guarantee you that by the time you've sold, say, 100,000 copies of your books you'll have at least one review so vitriolic it could scorch the hide off a dragon.

Receiving unreasonably harsh criticism of both yourself and your books is, unfortunately, inevitable. If you receive a critique like this now, look at it as practice. You can get used to dealing with this stuff now and be ahead of the curve, because you're going to have to get used to it eventually.

Dealing With Constructive Criticism

In some ways dealing with constructive criticism can be more difficult, especially when it's not phrased in terms of an opinion. (By the way, a fantastic article on how to give a critique is Andrew Burt's article The Diplomatic Critiquer.)

Here's what I try to do after I receive a critique:

1. Read the entire review first and make sure I understand it before I form an opinion about the worth of the advice. 

If I don't understand a particular point being made then I'll ask (politely!) for clarification.

2. Don't decide whether a certain point is worthwhile until you've heard from all your beta readers.

If two of your readers say exactly the same thing then pay special attention to it. If most of your beta readers say the same thing about anything, that's something you need to address, even if you don't agree with the criticism.

For instance, let's say you feel that your description of your main character isn't campy at all, or that a certain character doesn't have the sex appeal of a drunk sea slug. Whatever.

For you I'm sure that's true, but if a good percentage of your beta readers are saying your protagonist is 2-dimentional then that's probably what your readers will think too, but your readers won't tell you. They'll just drift away and never buy your work again.

Beta readers are doing you a huge favor so treat them like the treasure they are and, even if they hurt your feelings, look on it as an opportunity to develop a thick skin, because you'll need one as a professional writer!

Do you have any tips for how to accept criticism, constructive or otherwise? What have your experiences been like, either as a critiquer or as the critiqued?

Other articles you might like:

- Kristen Lamb: Don't Let Trolls Make You Crazy
- The Albee Agency: Writers Beware
- Short Story Structures: Several Ways Of Structuring Short Fiction

Photo credit: "Paradise" by Andréia under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.