Tag Archives: Writer

Get Me Rewrite! Starting the Third Draft

Get Me Rewrite! Starting the Third Draft

I am writing a novel.

These five words have become my mantra, something I repeat silently to convince myself it is real. Not a dream, not a figment of my imagination. Not something I began and never finished.

This time I am getting ‘er done.

By putting it out there I am also making myself accountable. When “How is the book coming along?” is asked I don’t have to flounder around for a lame excuse.

It’s coming. I’m getting there. It’s moving forward.

“So after the second draft,” a friend asked me the other day, “your book is pretty much done, right?”

If only. But not by a long shot.

Get me rewrite.

Last fall I attended BinderCon, a writing conference for women. Among the many valuable sessions was a panel of four freelance editors, each of whom had worked in publishing for years. I was impressed with their knowledge and approach to helping writers make their book the best it can be. So after the conference I contacted one of them and I am working with her now.

I submitted my second draft to her and waited anxiously for feedback. Would she love it? Hate it? Biting fingernails, chewing the inside of my mouth, binge snacking: I engaged in every nervous habit I could think of.

Well, we had a phone call last week to discuss the book. There was good news and bad news.

Good news: she liked the story, thought the characters were well drawn, enjoyed the historical setting of the novel, and thought it would ultimately fare well with readers.

Bad news: a major rewrite is necessary.

Good news again: The rewrite is going to make it SO much better.

Before this feedback, I was having trouble seeing the forest for the trees. I was too close to the content. It was impossible for me to be objective.

With a few brushstrokes of her vision, she gave me clarity that I was unable to find on my own.  As I rewrite the second draft, I will:

  • Take a swipe at the number of characters. There were too many. “Beyond four or five major characters,” the editor told me, “people start getting confused. And it is really hard to make their voices unique.”
  • Narrow the time frame. The expanse was too wide, too Belva Plain. Instead of 50 or so years, now it will be five. And that’s enough.
  • Focus on the motivations of the characters. This has to be credible.
  • Intensify the drama. Make the precipice higher. This will make the reader want to keep turning the pages.
  • Be careful with the historical events. This is not a history lesson. Make the events part of the narrative but only in the context of their impact on the characters.
  • In each chapter, define where we are in time, what is going on with the family, and what significant event takes place that propels the story forward

These simple suggestions will eliminate many of the problems I had with the plot line and the development of the main characters. Instead of feeling angst, I feel a huge sense of relief – and excitement.

I will be deleting a huge chunk of my work, maybe even 50%. Perhaps some of it will return in another novel another time. A sequel, perhaps. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Onward.

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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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Book Buzz: About Women

Is there anything more soul satisfying than a deep, meaningful and uninterrupted conversation with someone you like and admire?

We don’t often have that luxury. With our busy lives, conversations are often limited to a quick how-are-you in the carpool line or grocery aisle.

I’m talking about the conversation that is honest and leisurely, meaningful but lighthearted. Secrets may be revealed. Wine may be consumed.

Book Buzz: About Women

About Women

Such is the nature of the conversations between two fascinating and accomplished women — one a French painter, the other an American author — as they share thoughts about life, romance, war, culture, work, fashion, religion and more in the intimate and lovely About Women: Conversations Between a Writer and a Painter.

The women, French painter Françoise Gilot and American writer Lisa Alther (yes, that Lisa Alther, author of  the bestseller Kinflicks, a huge favorite of mine) have been friends for 25 years and the conversations are culled from many over the course of their lives.

Coming from different countries and generations – Gilot was born in post-World War I Paris and Alther was born in Tennessee during World War II – their backgrounds are vastly different. Gilot, who happens to be the former partner of Pablo Picasso, had an upper class Parisian upbringing surrounded by cultural amenities. Alther grew up in Appalachia on a farm and later moved to small-town Vermont.

But what they share is a creative sensibility, an intellectual curiosity and an open mind. The  women muse about the influences that guided them as they developed their artistic passions. Sharing memories of parents and grandparents, of wartime losses, of school and fashion and religion, they are able to obtain insights into themselves as well as each other. And sometimes they just have to agree to disagree.

They have opinions on everything.

French and American customs, for example. An American woman resents hearing a wolf whistle on the street, Alther says, while according to Gilot a French woman takes that as a compliment. Alther says, “I think women react badly to comments int he street here because they’re often delivered with the intention of demeaning.” Gilot says, “Either that or you’re imagining that that’s the intention.”

Gilot claims that is is considered “extremely impolite to say thank you” and Alther counters that “Here it’s considered rude not to say thank you.”

About fashion, Alther says, “The attitude here is often to wear something so appropriate that you will fit in and not be noticed. Whereas the attitude in France seems to be to make an individualized statement that will make you stand out.” Gilot agrees.

They compare the genesis and trajectories of their careers. Alther says, “The odds against my ever getting published were staggering. I wrote fiction for fourteen years without getting published, and I collected 250 rejection slips.”

That is always encouraging to us unpublished authors, so thank you for that, Lisa.

It is timely that I have read this book just before attending the annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women this week where I will happily soak up wisdom from a bevy of stimulating presenters, all speaking to issues pertinent to women: health, personal finance, leadership, finding a balance, just to name a few.

Book Buzz: About Women

It is always reassuring to hear women speak about finding empowerment and fulfillment.

Just as Alther and Gilot did in About Women.

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I am happy to offer one of my readers a copy of About Women. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be selected randomly. USA addresses only, please.

I received a copy of About Women: Conversations between a Writer and a Painter from Doubleday for an honest review, which is the only
kind of review I write.

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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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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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10 NaNoWriMo Tips for Writers

Goodbye Thanksgiving, goodbye November, goodbye NaNoWriMo.

And hello to my novel!

NaNoWriMo Tips for Writers

I did it. I wrote my 50,000 word novel last month, a hugely gratifying experience for me. To  everyone who participated — whether you reached your goal or not — congratulations on putting in the work.

This was my first time doing NaNoWriMo. My preconceived ideas turned out to be wrong. It was not stressful; it was fun. It didn’t involve late nights and lame excuses.  And it helped me realize a lifelong dream.

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I share these NaNoWriMo tips that you can use anytime, not just November, and hope that they might encourage any struggling novelist (as I was pre-NaNo). If you are determined to do this, you.will.do.it.

Disclaimer: these NaNoWriMo tips worked for me. Not saying they will for everyone.

NaNoWriMo Tips

  1. Accept that your first draft will be kind of awful. An awful first draft does not mean you can’t write.

And it should be kind of awful. Because your focus should be getting it all down on paper (or computer screen). You will pretty it up later. This is a different kind of writing than what I’ve been doing with my blog posts and essays. You can’t fret over each word. Get it out, get it down, and leave it be. For now.

  1. You don’t have to outline.

I may get criticism for this because I know most writers do it. I’m not a good outliner. Never have been. So I had an idea in my head of where my story was going but kept an open mind and just let it flow. That worked for me.

  1. You don’t have to write chronologically.

Like, start with the prologue, then Chapter 1, Chapter 2. I did not do that. I jumped around and wrote chunks of the story as they came to me, and then fit them together, kind of like a jigsaw puzzle.

  1. I did not spend a lot of time getting to know my characters before I started to write.

Again, this is probably blasphemy. And certainly I will be spending plenty of time on character development during the editing process. I found that the more I wrote, the more the characters’ personalities emerged. I have a much better idea of who they are now.  I also added new characters as I went along.

  1. Characters really do talk to you.

I had heard this but thought, oh, come on now. But it’s true. I let them have their say and believe me, they did, along with some surprises. One of my minor characters turned out to be a major character. Several characters demanded a sex life. I had not been prepared for that, but how could I deny them?

  1. Discipline is good. But so are breaks.

I was strict with keeping a schedule. I think this is important but the actual schedule depends very much on your free time and biorhythms. Being a morning person, I started writing around 8 and stopped around noon to eat lunch and take the dog out. And often on that walk I would come up with fresh ideas, come back and do a little more work. When I needed a very short break I would sneak a peak at social media. But I didn’t stay for long.

  1. Writer’s block is not inevitable. But there is help out there if you have it.

I was lucky. I had dreaded the thought of writer’s block but it never happened. And yet, I was prepared for it. I learned about online resources to spark your creativity or give you writing prompts or even put you on a tight schedule with rewards/punishments, like Write or Die. Or if you work well with a little background noise, there is Coffivity that recreates the white noise of a coffee shop. The NaNoWriMo site has tons of help, and of course the Facebook groups of NaNo writers were my go-to for support and encouragement.

  1. An artificial deadline can work wonders.

So why had I been unable to do this my whole life and in one month I did? I didn’t really have a deadline, but completing the NaNo competition seemed to drive me.

  1. Tell your friends and family you are doing this.

I did, because I thought it would keep me accountable. I knew it would be embarrassing to  come up short, and having a cheering section definitely helped me keep going. So tell everyone that you will have done x amount of work by Jan. 1, or whatever date is reasonable.

10. You really can do this.

Trust me, you can. Because I never, ever thought I could do it, and I did. It wasn’t painful. It was exhilarating. And now I can mold this lump of clay into a real book.

Do you have writing tips that you can share?

 

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