Tag Archives: National Novel Writing Month

The Second Draft: A Debut Novelist’s Journey

The Second Draft: A Debut Novelist's Journey

When we last heard from our hapless heroine, she was tied to the railroad tracks, screaming for help as the black locomotive chug chugged toward her. Where is that damn hero on the white horse, she despairs.

Whoops, wrong story.

Or is it?

My real life scenario isn’t quite as dramatic, but there are certain similarities. Restrained sitting in front of my computer screen, I scream (silently) to my creative Muse, Inspire me! Rescue me from the agony of an unfinished manuscript!

The hero on a white horse? My imagination jumping into the saddle.

Whoever said writing a novel was easy … wait. No one said writing a novel was easy.

To recap,

  • I waited until age 60 to get serious about writing a novel.
  • I wrote 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo in November 2014.
  • I submitted a first draft to a developmental editor in March 2015.
  • Working off the editor’s notes, I revised and edited, revised and edited.
  • I submitted a second draft (75,000 words) to my editor last week.

Hallelujah! The second draft is out the door. What have I learned?

Just to be clear, this is how the process is going for me. Every writer has his or her own style so I can’t speak for everyone, obviously.

A second draft is better than a first draft, but it’s not as good as a third draft.

My manuscript still needs work. If I had done more prep, perhaps it would be further along.  I would venture a guess that most writers start out with an outline. It makes sense to have a road map and a reasonably good understanding of your plot, your characters, and all the other elements in a novel.

But I am not an outliner. Never have been. So my process evolved differently. I had a basic premise of a story in my head and just sat down and wrote.  Without an outline, that road map was about as effective as my car’s faulty GPS. There were unexpected twists and turns, roadblocks and potholes. There were also dark tunnels that led me into the light.

Also, I heard voices.

You’ve heard writers say their characters speak to them?

They do. Mine did. They told me about their likes and dislikes, the way they walked, their desires. I let them take the lead and show me the way. So what I came up with was not exactly what I thought I would.

Experts tell you to not edit and write simultaneously. For the first draft, you should let your words flow unchecked. You finish the draft and let it marinate for a while. Then you come back to it with fresh eyes, better able to critique it.

As I soldiered on through my second draft, the things I focused on the most were:

Making sure each character had a distinct, unique voice. Was the point of view clear? Did the dialogue ring true?

Showing, not telling. SO important.

Justifying why each sentence should be there and trimming the excess.

Eliminating cliches and metaphors, of which there are way too many in this blog post.

So, what comes next?

Hopefully, hopefully the mistakes in the second draft will be fixed and the next draft can focus on fine tuning. When it’s in its final form I will share it with several beta readers for feedback. Revise and edit, revise and edit.

And I’ll be a little bit closer to freeing myself from the ropes on the train tracks.


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Eight Things NaNoWriMo Writers Should Do Now

Eight Things NaNoWriMo Writers Should Do Now

It is November 30. And that  means …

Congratulations, NaNoWriMo participants!

You made it!

Before I go any further, let me set the record straight for anyone not familiar with the term NaNoWriMo.

Here is what it is not.

It is not the ghost of Robin Williams invoking Mork from Ork language.

It is not baby talk for I Don’t Want To.

It is not a term of endearment for a grandmother.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, in which thousands of determined writers attempt to bang out 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November.

To all my writer friends partaking in the challenge this year, I hope you found it to be rewarding. It is no easy task to write that much in one month.

I know from whence I speak since I was a NaNoWriMo participant last year and hit my 50,000 words. It took a lot of time … and a lot of discipline.

But in the process, I realized that you don’t have to hit 50,000 words to be successful. Even 1,000 should count as a success.

If you wrote more in November than you have in any other month, give yourself a pat on the back. Congratulations!

Last year, the day after I completed NaNoWriMo, I shared 10 NaNoWriMo Tips for Writers based on my experience. But as the days unfolded into weeks, I felt a little lost now that the structure of the writing challenge had ended and I was once again on my own.

With NaNoWriMo now over, what’s the next step? When I was in your place last year, I asked for advice. Of course, you will decide what works best for you. But here are some tips that were shared with me.

And whether or not you participated in NaNoWriMo, these are good tips for all writers.

NaNoWriMo is over. Walk away.

Put your manuscript to bed for a bit of hibernation. You’ve written a lot and you’ve been consumed for a month. You can’t be objective about it right now. Walk away and let it marinate for a couple of weeks or even longer. In the meantime …

Work on a different project.

Don’t let your writing chops languish while your manuscript does. Keep the energy going with something else.

Start to craft an elevator speech.

This will be important down the road as you pitch your book to agents and publishers. The value of doing it now is it helps you evaluate the components of your story. Is the plot strong enough? Are the characters multi-faceted? Does their motivation make sense?

Work on a second draft but understand this won’t be your last draft.

The cognoscenti advise NaNoWriMo-ers to write, not edit, and hopefully this is what you have done. The idea is to let the 50,000 words flow without worrying about how good they are. I was fairly appalled at how bad my first draft was and I think many NaNoWriMo’ers feel the same. That’s OK. Your second draft will be better, but not as good as the third.

Broaden your characters.

You may have done character development before you even started to write. That is what is recommended. I did not do that. My characters threw some curve balls my way and that helped me better define their personalities. I think even if you have planned out the wazoo, your characters will still evolve over the course of writing.

Think as a reader.

As you go through the editing process, try to think as a reader, not a writer. Do your chapters end with a cliffhanger or at least an incentive for you to continue reading? Is there enough action, pathos, drama or mystery? Is there extraneous jibber jabber that can go away?

Keep writing.

Don’t stop now! You won the race but the marathon is not over yet. The speed at which you progress is up to you, but don’t give up. A year later, my manuscript is now at 70,000 words. I am still on the second draft.

Talk about your work.

I haven’t shared my manuscript with anyone except for an editor yet, but I do talk about it if people ask. I can gauge the general interest in my story with their response. It also keeps me accountable.

So writers, carry on. You should be proud of your effort and commitment. Good luck with the next phase of your writing!

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When Your Work in Progress is Not Making Progress

I got used to the incessant drone of crickets around here.

Not the ones chirping outside our bedroom window. Those I like.

No, it’s the crickets inside my head that bedeviled me. The crickets that invaded the space where my writing inspiration should be.

When Your Work in Progress Is Not Making Progress

Writing a novel has been a lifelong dream, one that has eluded me thus far. Ten months ago I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and banged out 50,000 words of my novel. It was actually a stress-free, even pleasant experience. I let my creativity flow and I sat back and watched what happened.

The outcome surprised me. My characters, with flaws and desires I hadn’t predicted, made choices I hadn’t foreseen. Major characters switched places with minor characters. My setting evolved from blurry to crystal clear, vivid and colorful, the way Oz looked when Dorothy’s house plunked down in it.

I felt like I was on the sidelines observing the action in a lively football game.

I kept at it, several hours a day. In the end, I proudly tacked the NaNoWriMo certificate of completion on my office wall. I did it! It would be smooth sailing now.

On a roll of self-confidence, I didn’t let the momentum subside. I continued to work on the draft, writing more chapters, editing, and finally in March, submitting the work in progress to a developmental editor. I wanted a professional to take an overview of what I had done so far.

Nervous to hear her say I would never be a writer get her feedback, I was relieved to get thoughtful, helpful notes of ways to improve my story.  She pointed out where the holes were, alerted me to inconsistencies in the timeline and, since I am writing historical fiction, suggested ways to give the reader a fuller context of the time period.

Charged with energy, I dove into the second draft, certain that 2015 would be my year. The year I finally finished the novel.

That’s what I thought.

Welp. It’s not happening.

Why? Well, life kind of got in the way. My son got married. My daughter got engaged. My dog got sick.

Maybe I should not have let these interruptions derail me, but I did. I was distracted. I couldn’t get back into my novel.

Chagrined, I started to feel like a failure. Would this novel never get completed? I had come so far, done so much work. Invested so much love in this project.

I sat myself down and did some soul searching. Some DIY psycho therapy. I resisted the inclination to slip into self-doubt. What could I do to get back on track if I couldn’t muster the energy to work on my draft?

I did three things.

  1. I gave myself a pep talk. Instead of my normal refrain — I can’t, I won’t, I’ll never — I told that inner voice to shut the hell up. I gave myself permission to extend my deadline. It’s my deadline, no one else’s.
  2. I continued to write, blogging at least once a week on topics of interest to me. This gave my writing muscles a regular workout.
  3. I kept reading. The hours that were not spent writing were devoted to the stack of books next to my bed. There’s nothing quite like reading brilliant writing to inspire your own.

The upshot?

I’m back. The juices are once again flowing, the wheels are turning. I’m happy to say that my work in progress is again progressing.

And I’ve kicked those crickets out of my head.

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Ten Writing Tips for Aspiring Authors

Timing is everything.

The Philadelphia Writers’ Conference (PWC2015) this past weekend could not have come at a more opportune time for this lapsed writer.

I needed a shot of inspiration badly.

To those of you I have bored kept abreast of my novel-writing journey, you may have noticed I’ve been a little quiet lately.

My novel-writing locomotive had screeched to a shuddering stop.

When we last saw our heroine (me), she was on that train headed for Destination Draft #2.

But all of a sudden, life got in the way and threw a roadblock on the tracks.

I’m not complaining. It was all good stuff: a couple of months of family celebrations that meant busy weekends and lots of company. With two of my children getting married in a matter of months, there was also wedding planning to be done during their visits home.

So that destination remained elusive. And the more time that passed, the less fired up our heroine was.

So she, or I, needed a shot in arm, and that I got in spades at this fabulous writers’ conference.

It's a new day!

It’s a new day!

Ten Writing Tips

Full of energy and ready to tackle that manuscript, I pause only to share some writing tips that I picked up at the conference and credit the presenters who provided them. I hope these will be as useful or informative for you as they were for me.

Don’t use adverbs.

This was a hard pill for me to swallow, because I love adverbs deeply. Admiringly. Hopelessly. But adverbs tell you how to feel instead of show you, and that’s not good writing. (Judi Fennell)

Use ellipses and m-dashes correctly.

An ellipsis is for trailing off thoughts. “His marriage proposal took me by surprise, and I wasn’t sure …”

M-dashes (long dashes) are used with truncated thoughts. For example, someone interrupts.

“A marriage proposal, so soon? I—“

“Surprised?” He reached over to touch my cheek. (Judi Fennell)

 Start your story where your life goes left.

You don’t have to start when you wake up in the morning, have a cup of coffee, get dressed, etc. Start it when the real action starts. Like, you walk outside and witness a car accident, if that is pertinent to the story. (Judi Fennell)

Romance and women’s fiction are two separate genres.

Women’s fiction is about a woman’s journey. Romance novels always end either happily ever after or happily for now. (Judi Fennell)

Short stories have hooks, lines and sinkers.

The hook is the incident that happens in the very first paragraph. The lines that follow serve to up the stakes. The sinker is the conclusion and the last line must relate to what you said in the beginning. (Fran Wilde)

In novel writing, setting comes first.

You have to anchor the reader in a world. Characters are products of the landscape you create and expressions of the world they live in. (Solomon Jones)

You can be both a pantser and an outliner.

A pantser is someone who writes by the seat of his/her pants without first making an outline (me!) and an outliner obviously outlines. It is OK to be pantser for the first draft and an outliner between the first and second drafts. (Stuart Horwitz)

What is the optimal number of beta readers?

Between three and seven. (Stuart Horwitz)

Increase the pace in short stories.

Make sentences short. Do not data dump. Dialogue should consist of a few quick pieces. (Fran Wilde)

How can you generate material?

Count your words (set a goal)

Find a neutral audience (avoid critics and find the cheerleaders)

Don’t try to organize anything

Make the time


Have fun (the most important) (Stuart Horwitz)

Thank you to the amazing presenters who provided so many valuable takeaways, and I’ll see you at PWC2016.

And now, my train is leaving the station. All aboard!

Ten Writing Tips for Aspiring Authors

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A Checkup With a Developmental Editor

I once wrote a post comparing writing a novel to baking bread.

Now that my first draft is written, I can also compare it to giving birth after a verrrry long pregnancy.

And now, I realize that a round of editing by a developmental editor is much like a baby’s checkup at the pediatrician.

So, if you’ll bear with me through this metaphor, here is a summary of my baby’s first doctor visit:

Scrutinized by critical eyes, my baby was gently weighed and measured. A stethoscope was held to my baby’s heart. The pulse was strong. Eyes and ears were checked. Notes were written on a progress chart.

I breathed a sigh of relief when my baby was pronounced healthy and ready for the next phase of growth.

A Checkup With a Developmental Editor

Yessir, that’s my baby. My novel, that is.

My novel is a work in progress now, not merely a figment of my imagination. I kind of took a leap when I participated in NaNoWriMo last November to get the ball rolling.  I reached my goal of 50,000 words knowing that this was just the beginning.

Every writer has his or her own method, and I’m not the most organized person in the world, although I try hard to be. So in preparation for the month of intense writing, I did … nothing.

I didn’t outline. I didn’t develop my characters. I had an idea and started to write on November 1. My goal was to write about 2,000 words a day. And, to my surprise, the words came easily. I reached the 50,000 word goal line with several days to spare.

The upside to that was my story flowed in unanticipated new directions. The downside was that I got lost in a thicket of too many characters and plot lines that went nowhere and chronology that made no sense. I needed a road map. Hell, I needed a forest ranger who could lead me out of the brambles into the clearing.

I reached out to my writers’ circle and got hooked up with a very good developmental editor to whom I entrusted this wildly flailing bundle of not-yet joy.

What is a developmental editor?

A developmental editor will take an overview of your manuscript and assess the organization and big picture, and then suggest changes to make it work better. I knew I needed this help because I was too close to my work to be objective.

From the time I hit Submit til today, when I received her feedback, I tried not to think about it too much, because when I did I dissolved into a pile of insecurity. I guess I really must be a writer now, because that insecurity kicked in big time.

A Checkup With a Developmental Editor

I felt insecure about my story, about the caliber of my writing, my chutzpah in even thinking I could write a novel. I was open to criticism of the book. I just didn’t want to be criticized as a writer.

I didn’t want her to tell me to throw the baby out with the bathwater. And she didn’t.

Instead, she had examined my baby with extreme care and thoughtfulness. As I read her extensive notes, I nodded in affirmation. Yes, yes, yes. This is exactly right. With her checklist of suggestions to guide me, I feel confident heading into the next phase working on Draft #2.

My developmental editor will remain nameless, but someday her name will be front and center in the Acknowledgements section at the end of my novel. That visual makes me smile.

For now, thank you, thank you,  nameless developmental editor. And if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some writing to do.

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How to Bake a Novel

Baking and writing have some similarities, it occurs to me as I plug away at my manuscript.

I bake, I write.

For me, both have been passions and creative outlets since as far back as I can remember. After all, I did proclaim “books is wonderful” at the tender age of four, and years later would make that the name of my blog.

And baking? To this day, each time I bake bread I am transported to my childhood and my maternal grandmother.

How to Bake a Novel

Nana lived clear across the state, so her visits to our house were infrequent and highly anticipated. After giving us big hugs at the door, she wasted no time in changing out of her travel dress to her “house dress” and, on top of that, an apron that she tied around her waist.

And then she got to work.

Her mission? To supply us with enough baked goods to last until her next visit. Clearly, there was nothing commercial that could compare to her bagels, onion rolls, coffee cakes and mandel bread. We shouldn’t have to be deprived. And did we protest? Of course not.

Her week-long bake-a-thons filled the house with continuous sweetness and and yielded enough goodies to take up most of the room in our full-size freezer.

Watching her in action was awesome, but I wanted to be part of the production line. “Let me help,” I begged, and she obligingly gave me a turn at kneading the bread dough until my arms got tired. When the dough had risen and was ready to be formed into loaves, she tore off a glob for me.

Together we would bake “gingerbread” man – ginger-less, of course – plucking off pieces of dough that I rolled out with my little rolling pin. I smoothed them out, gave them symmetry, rolled and re-rolled and pinched and prodded, poking in raisins for eyes and buttons. After the gingerbread men had baked and cooled, Nana made a thin icing out of confectioner’s sugar and water that we piped on for a final flourish.

This is pretty much what I’m doing now with the novel I started during NaNoWriMo last November.

The NaNoWriMo sages tell you that you shouldn’t worry about creating a masterpiece during the 30 days of writing. Rather, the goal is to “get it down.” That is, get 50,000 words in your manuscript. It doesn’t have to be pretty.

In the end, like a glob of bread dough, you will have something to work with.

And that is what happened. I made my bread dough.

Indeed, my 50,000 words did not have the smoothness, the elasticity of a well-kneaded hunk of dough, the perfection needed to move onto the next step. It needed a little of this, a bit of that, and then another bit of this.

As I wade through the morass now, I am smoothing out the phrases that didn’t make sense, prodding and prompting a better description of my settings and characters, garnishing a scene with a gloss that makes it shine.

It can be both frustrating and exhilarating, depending on the quality of my ingredients. So each step of the way I have to inspect. Be critical. Make changes to get it as perfect as it can possibly be.

And when I know I’ve hit on something just right– just like when my bread dough rises perfectly — it is immensely satisfying.

How to Bake a Novel

I know that Nana would understand exactly what I  mean.

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