Writer Wednesday–Revising Stage Fright

Over the course of the month, we’ve covered revising tips, revising how-to’s, and even shared personal experiences with revising.

Awesome!

Regardless, I often find myself avoiding the entire process.

Why?

I have stage fright. Performance anxiety.

I psych myself out.

When I picture a manuscript, I see a intricately woven tapestry built over weeks and months of looming (uh, is that a word?) and weaving threads.

Sure, there are mistakes, knots, wonky stitches, but how can you cut out a section of a tapestry without redoing the whole thing? How can you tear apart something you so lovingly created?

Well, in reality, a manuscript isn’t a tapestry at all. It’s a word document. Words can be changed. Scenes can be deleted–without upsetting the flow of the rest of the piece!

But it’s still a lot of work.

I have some thoughts on how to make things easier. (Yes, I’ve tried these and it works!)

How to get to gettin’ when revising:

  • Schedule time to revise. (Saying “I’ll do this tomorrow or later” isn’t good enough. Just like starting a diet tomorrow, tomorrow never comes because a specific moment is never really determined. I mean, really, you can put off tomorrow for years. Right?)
  • Make your environment comfy. (Who wants to sit in an austere, cold, drafty, dark, boring place? Get your sweater, cosy socks, water bottle, coffee mug, favorite snack, and cushiest pillow.)
  • Get rid of distractions. (Turn off the TV. Lock the kids out. Turn off Facebook, Twitter, email, G+, YouTube, NPR, etc. I know it’s hard, but we survived without them before, right? So we can do it again.)
  • Open. The. Document. (Just because you’ve turned the computer on doesn’t mean you’ve got your manuscript open.)
  • Turn on the tunes. (I know several writers who develop soundtracks for each manuscript. I don’t, but I DO love to listen to music while I work.)
  • Be in the moment. (Don’t look at the entire document. Look at the first sentence. Then the second. Then the third. And so on.)
  • Copy and paste. (Hit a really tough spot? Copy the section into another document and have at it. If you don’t like it, don’t bother switching it out. But I BET you’ll make it better.)
  • When revising QUALITY is better than QUANTITY. (Rough drafts are for quantity. Revising is where you make every word count. It’s a laborious process, but take your time anyway. The slower you go, the more you’ll catch.)
  • Exercise Patience. (If you need a break or need to redo a section you’ve already revised, don’t beat yourself up. Listen to your instincts.)

What helps you revise?

Be sure to check out Deb’s response to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog topic of expectations!

Writer Wednesday–How Do YOU Revise?

Last week, I outlined a revising strategy, describing how it happens in layers.

This week, I want to address HOW to actually revise. I mean, strategies and theories are great, but when you sit down to DO something, how does it get done?

Well, thankfully, there’s no one way, which is why I want y’all to share your strategy in the comments. The more ideas we discuss, the more help people get, right?

Lemme share my technique…which can vary depending on my mood, LOL!

Sometimes, I revise using my computer. I open the document, enlarge the screen so I can see the words without squinting (I’m nearsighted, what can I say?), and read each scene paying attention to flow and plot advancement. (I change typos during this stage too, because, darn it, they’re there no matter how many times I read the damn manuscript!) Like I said last week, if a scene doesn’t advance the plot, I delete it.

I try to read as quickly as I can…not like speed reading, but more like reading in a condensed amount of time so I don’t lose the story thread and confuse details. (Time between readings makes my memory fuzzy, you know?)

Sometimes, I’ll use my iPad. It changes the “look” of the document, making it look more like a book. Somehow, it makes the words, sentences, and paragraphs seem new. I can often pick out redundancies, echoes, wonky dialogue, etc. easier that way.

Sometimes (after I’ve already revised a couple of times) I print out the document. I may still encounter lots of cutting at this stage (by then I have lots of beta feedback, several weeks or even months have passed, and I have a whole new perspective on the project), and it’s quite fun to slash a line through an entire page. I also mark up the hell out of each page, crossing out crappy bits and rewriting better bits in the margins. Then I transcribe the changes on the computer and re-read it one to two more times, tweaking as I go.

After revising the printed manuscript, I can end up with something like this:

(Note: This is not my actual revision…aftermath. But it can sure feel like it!)

How about you? What does your revising strategy entail?

Check out Sarah’s response to her question about writing expectations for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog chain!

Writer Wednesday–Revising Layers Should Include Chocolate, Right?

Overhauling a 80,000 word manuscript is a daunting process. You can’t catch everything at once. That’s why revising is a process that involves layering.

Your first draft no doubt contains many writing strengths. It also has a lot of rough edges. Don’t despair! Be proud of what you’ve accomplished!

And get ready to rip and tear.

Be brave with the delete key, keeping these tips in mind. 😉

Layers to consider:

The first pass through your rough draft should focus solely on what to keep and what to chuck. So, you’ve got a cute scene where your main character has a cutsy moment with her cat. If that’s the only scene with the cat, bye bye kitty. Your main character takes a shower, basking in lavender soap. FAB. But if she’s not joined by the hottie who she’s jonesing for or she’s not washing blood out of her hair to get rid of evidence connecting her to a crime, then you don’t need it.

Basically, EVERY SCENE NEEDS TO ADVANCE THE PLOT. If it doesn’t, chuck it! (I promise, it’ll be okay.)

Once you’ve determined what can stay and you’ve deleted the rest, then you can focus on the following layers:

  • Characterization–Have you described your characters so people can picture them? Have you made them interesting and quirky? Are they a cliche? (I hope not!) 😉
  • Consume Milk Chocolate
  • Character Arcs–How does your main characters viewpoint or perspective change as the story progresses?
  • Consume chocolate mousse
  • Description–Can the reader envision your setting or how your characters look? Make sure this is balanced! Too much of description can bog the pace…too little can leave the reader confused.
  • Consume chocolate cake
  • Emotion/Conflict–SHOW, don’t TELL! We want to feel what the characters are feeling, not be told, right? And if you want to keep a reader hooked, make sure the characters are at odds somehow.
  • Consume Death by Chocolate ice cream
  • Dialogue–Tighten, tighten, tighten! We don’t need the “Hi, how are ya?’s” cluttering up a page. Get to the point and be succinct.
  • Consume hot cocoa–whit or milk chocolate!
  • Action Scenes–Use strong words/verbs and make it clear.
  • Consume a dark chocolate truffle…or ten.
  • Tension–You need this on EVERY page!!!! (If there’s no tension, it may be a clue to nix something, right?)
  • Consume chocolate covered caramels until your fillings fall out.
  • Plots and sub-plots–This is something that outliners tackle ahead of time, but could still need a lot of revising depending on how the characters dictate their own story. The plot is the skeleton of your story, but it doesn’t have to be boring. Use sub-plots (maybe with secondary characters) to keep the interest alive.
  • Consume a mocha frappuccino.
  • Grammar and sentence structure–This is KEY of course. Vary your sentence length. Use the grammar to perfect your voice. Use as few words as possible. If you’ve got a lot of verbiage, you could be slowing down your pace!
  • Consume your body weight in M&M’s!

You don’t have to follow these layers in order, but I would recommend saving the grammar and sentence structure until later because why spend time perfecting a sentence if it’s gonna end up getting nixed because you don’t need that scene?

Lydia answers Sarah’s sisterhood question about expectations today. Check it out!

Flake-out Friday–Revising!

Ok, since you’ve all been good writers and left your NaNo manuscript in a drawer for a month (you have, haven’t you???), I’m going to focus this month on REVISING TIPS and BETA/CRITTING!

Aren’t y’all exCITed! I know I am!

To kick things off on a humorous note, consider this video, keeping revising in mind. 😉

You can see how setting (playing cops and robbers in the park VS playing cops and robbers in a bank), plot points, character interactions (kissing a loved one VS kissing a stranger)–whatever you choose–can make a big difference!

Erm, grammar can also make a difference.

Ex. Throwing a penny into a fountain to make a wish VS Throwing your cousin Penny into a fountain to make a wish.

Of course, the same words can also have different meanings.

Ex. Playing ball with your grandfather VS playing ball WITH your grandfather (as the ball).

Happy writing!

Finish Line

 

It’s the last day of NaNo!!!

So, gang, how’s you do?

Whether you finished or not, I’m totally proud of your efforts–every word you wrote is a word toward victory!

Debriefing is an important part of the process, so why don’t we all share our ups and downs of Nano?

Feel free post your experience in the comments.

Now, one tip I can give you:

PUT YOUR MANUSCRIPT IN A DRAWER AND DON’T LOOK AT IT FOR AT LEAST A MONTH!

I’m not joking. Set that sucker aside. Now. 😉

Next month, I’ll focus on topics that’ll help your resist the urge to open your NaNo WIP doc and start revising.

“X” is for X’ing it out

What, praytell, do I mean by this?

Well, I’ve come across a couple blog posts lately about the dastardly delete button and writers’ struggles with it. In my early writing days, I was quite afraid of the darn thing. I loved my wonky words so much that I couldn’t stomach the idea of cutting them out.

I was left with a gargantuan, 125,000 word mess. Oy.

It was through much learning and patient coaxing by my crit partners that I learned how to use Delete.

Much to my surprise, I found out Delete was not a monster. In fact, he was my friend. We erradicated passive voice, backstory, wordiness, even chapters that didn’t advance the plot.

We became BEST friends when I deleted the original draft of my YA dystopian. (I’ll be honest and say the deleting was figurative and not literal…I did reuse a few scenes in the rewrite.)

Now that Delete and I have a strong working relationship, I can use him without panicking or tears.

What’s your relationship with Delete like? Are you friends, enemies, frenemies??? Do you jump to Delete at a moment’s notice or do you use Delete as a last resort?

Work In Progress Wednesday

First, let me ask: Who’s REALLY ready for Christmas? Cause it’s FAST approaching! Anybody out there who still needs to go shopping? If so, may God bless you.

Second, it’s Deb’s turn to give her social media confessions for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog! Check out her response, then come back here. (Or finish reading this post and check out Deb’s. Either way. It’s up to you. I won’t get mad. I pwwomiss.)

Okay, back to writing.

So, back in late October, I had the shocking realization (thanks to my writerly buds and crit partners) that I had to MAJORLY restructure my YA Dystopian—like to the point of needing a clean slate.

With a bunch of support to give me momentum (and confidence), I brainstormed a new plot, using the Three Act structure for my outline (my first “for realz” outline, by the way!). As a result, the same characters and the same world went from “nice story” to “epic.” My main character discovered what made him unique. My antagonist found his reason to help my main character. And because of this, my main character realized why he needed to help the antagonist—namely, to get what he wants while still being able to save the world. (Whether or not he survives or he actually gets what he wants is still to be determined. Just sayin’.)

Initially, I was able to rework some original scenes (in a radically different order, LOL!) and that helped me get to the halfway point within a couple weeks. Then I hit the slogs of “mid-point of the novel-land.” I hesitated, unsure of my up-til-that-point trusty outline. As a panster, the emotions and dialogue I plopped down to stick to the outline felt…contrived (gasp!). It totally slowed me down.

BUT, I marched on. Whether it was 500 words or a 1000, I tried to write every day, with the provision that if I just didn’t have it in me then I wouldn’t berate myself.

I typed THE END on Sunday! Woot!

A long road, but totally worth it.

Why?

Because now I have a REAL story. A structured plot. Stakes that matter. And characters whose stories are intertwined to the point where protagonist and antagonist have both positive and negative attributes that draw them together to an inevitable climax.

Man, I love it when that happens!

Dear friends, what’s it like for you when you face major revisions? How do you handle it?

Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog/I Think I Can

Anyone who has experienced the joys of writing knows it’s quite common to get sucked into a story, only to have several hours pass without even realizing it. Seriously, I get so immersed in a project that I become detached from my surroundings and almost BECOME part of my characters’ world. That level of commitment helps me to visualize the scenes, characters, and emotions.

The drawback?

I often get so obsessed that the story takes over my thoughts, intrudes into my dreams, and seeps into my daily life.

Cool, BUT…

Getting too close to a manuscript leaves me vulnerable to blind spots. I can’t see plot holes, wonky phrases, or–gasp–adverbs!

So I take breaks. (Sometimes I need a rest too, Amen?)

Problem is…

Jumping into the thousands of words and hundreds of pages feels overwhelming. What if I get lost in the details and can’t find my way back? What if I think the whole thing is an exercise in futility? What if I find a problem I can’t fix?

Phooey. Now I can’t work on it. I stalled out because I flooded the engine with worries.

So, how do I get out of catastrophic thinking?

I talk to writerly friends. I read a book. I write blog posts. I read and comment on others’ blogs. I repeat a mantra that’s remarkably similar to that of The Little Engine That Could.

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

Somehow, it works. Thank. God.

My question: What do you tell yourself to keep the writing wheels churning when you hit a tough spot or a steep hill?

**********

Don’t forget to check out Zoe’s answer about how much she’s like her characters!

Blog Chain! The Revision Mill–Yes, It’s Grinding and Slow, Just As the Name Implies

Go to fullsize image The talented Sarah Bromley started this round of the blog chain. Be sure to check out her blog and congratulate her on her recent success of signing with an agent–so exciting! CONGRATS, Sarah! Woot!!!!

Her question:

How do you handle revisions? Do you revise as you’re writing, or do you wait until you’ve gone through beta readers and crit partners to revise? How soon after you finish do you begin your revisions?

You can read Sarah’s response here. And check out Michelle’s blog tomorrow for another writer’s take on the subject.

For me, this question is quite timely. I spent the past seven months revising a manuscript I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2009. Because of numerous revisions, that thing doesn’t look ANYTHING like it used to. For realz. And I owe a HUGE thanks to all the betas who offered EXCELLENT advice! I humbly bow down to you ladies.

So what have I learned from the process? I’ve completely overhauled my approach to writing. Instead of gushing a story as fast as I can (I’ve written a novel in two weeks time x2), I am more mindful of what I write, where the plot goes, and how the characters respond to each other and their surroundings. I pay more attention to logistical details, motion, senses, and emotions. I TAKE THE TIME to enjoy the PROCESS of refining my ART.

Honestly, I did none of those things before. * blushes *

How did the revision process lead to such changes? Well, it was INCREDIBLY PAINFUL starting over every couple of months, breaking down my novel chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, word by word. (Yes, people, it was that intense.) I NEVER want to stumble and plod around like that again.

Don’t get me wrong. I am prepared to revise and hack my writing to bits if need be, but I figure if I try to take care of some things (like lost story arcs, plot holes, and wonky dialogue) as I go along, it’ll make later pass throughs smoother. (I hope!)

The creative bug bit me a few weeks ago and I am well into a new novel (more than 50%, I’d say). This time, I’m focusing on AUTHENTICITY, TENSION, CLEAN WRITING, and making my protagonist AND antagonist WELL-ROUNDED and THREE-DIMENSIONAL.

As far as the logistics go, I do revise what I’ve written the day before, smoothing tics here and there before I move on to the next chapter. If there’s a snag, I want it fixed before it turns into a tear. When I’m done with the draft, I’ll read it again, fix the things I can, and then send it to betas. While it’s out and away, I will do my best to leave it alone, give it some space, and then tackle it again, incorporating the feedback I’ve gotten.

There ya have it, folks. My work at the revision mill. How’s your experience with revising? Is it your friend or foe?

Writers on Ice

In a lot of ways, refining a manuscript is like carving an ice sculpture. You start off with broad strokes and cuts to create a general outline. Then, as the structure within reveals itself, you need to make finer chips and cuts. The last step involves careful and delicate movements to shave off the remaining millimeters of unneeded ice. It takes time, but it leads to a polished, shiny, spectacular piece of art.

Developing the skills required to create a sculpture takes time. It takes another skill set entirely to make it a masterpiece. The same goes for writing. This lesson I learned quite recently. Today actually.

Let me share. My most recent manuscript is “close” to being “ready.” I’ve checked and rechecked the prose, spelling, flow of sentences, and overall plot, looking one more time for mistakes, holes, and wonky grammar. I’ve considered every comment my beta readers have made. I’ve tweaked my query letter again. I’ve ensured my synopsis is both concise and streamlined.

So, on the eve of wooing agents, I pause. What’s holding me back? Something’s off. But I’m not sure what. I’ve done all I can, right? All the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed (forgive the cliché, but it fits!). So, what is it? Why can’t I see it?

Guess what? Seeing the “obvious” isn’t so easy. Time and time again, I’ve learned the simplest things can often be the hardest. You see, just as finishing off an ice sculpture requires an eye for subtlety, so too, does completing a manuscript.

It means I need to tighten my writing more. I need to eliminate redundancy. I need to bring the reader closer to my characters.

So, what’s my plan to carry this off? I’m gonna listen to the invaluable advice that was just given to me by an experienced, skilled, and wiser writer than I. (She knows who she is! * wink *.) And by doing so, I’m gonna take my writing to the next level.

Bottom line: I’m ready to develop a more discerning eye. I’m ready to see the gleaming sculpture my manuscript can be. Watch out subtlety, here I come.

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