Writing: Go slow to go fast

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(Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Ireland, taken on our recent vacation)

This quote, or quotes similar, are used all over the place: the corporate world, leadership trainings, education, technology, etc. Apparently the founder of the Roman Empire even said “Festina Lente.”  “Make haste, slowly.” A reminder to himself to perform duties with a balance of diligence and urgency.

Oh, and Aesop’s fables. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Tortoise and the Hare.

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The same philosophy should be applied to writing your novel. Not on the first draft per say, that’s just exploratory, but rather when you get feedback from critique partners, editors, or your agent on your book baby. When you’re working trying to sculpt that probable hot mess of a first draft into something beautiful.

For me personally, I just got some unexpected developmental feedback while in the throes of trying to cut 10,000 words of what I thought was nearly a final draft. By the way, I had cut over 5,000 without even finishing the read-through; pretty much all unnecessary prepositional phrases, dialogue, description. And when I say final draft, I mean I thought for real this time, not like the last four times …

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My agent is right. She called out some things my subconscious was quietly nagging me about. But now, I’m not quite back to square one, but I have to take a step back and look at plot … again.

It’s frustrating, but this feedback will push my WIP to be even better. And as much as I want to be done a year ago, I need to take time to breathe, process, think it through, rather than rushing to… Get. It. Done.

I need to free write on her main suggestions, let my brain go crazy processing the ideas, blocking out a scene, writing bits of dialogue, seeing through different characters’ eyes. Then pull the good stuff from that, new potential plot points, and throw them on some sticky notes to make them concrete and, well, movable. Next, I need to toy around with those ideas, expand or change existing scenes or write entirely new scenes.  See what happens. Then I need to consult with trusted crit partners and my agent to see if I’m going in the right direction. Or they might have genius ideas.

As much as I want to just be done, I need to take time and space to make sure I do it right. Because writing in the wrong direction just to get it done, only hurts that beautiful thing you’re trying to sculpt. Been there, done that more than once.

Whether you self-publish or attempt the traditional route, you only get one shot to put that book baby out into the world. Well, in traditional route, you get one shot with each agent (or perhaps, if you’re lucky, a Revise & Resubmit) then if you get an agent, you likely get one shot with each publishing house. So that baby needs to be as sparkly and shiny and perfect as possible.

So grab a coffee or a beer ….

Or both 😛

And go slow to go fast. Take the time to do it right, whether it’s line edits, processing and applying developmental feedback, or even plotting before you embark on your book baby-venture.

Take the time to sculpt your book baby into the most beautiful creation it can be.

Happy writing!

How to (hopefully) cut 10,000 words

I’ve finished the fourth draft of my WIP, Hooligans in Shining Armour. Fourth draft of the third version written over nearly three years, to be clear. And… I’m about 10,000 words over where I’d like to be.

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Yeah.

I’ve also been waging a war on the rather large gardens around my new house, which have been neglected the entire season because baby and work and writing. As I was yanking out another five-foot-tall thistle, it dawned on me. Kind of a perfect simile for my next editing adventure, the weed jungle hiding the beauty underneath. When I started weeding, I wasn’t even sure which were weeds. After some digging (and finding evidence of previously-chopped weeds), internet searching, and consulting with my neighbor, the master gardener, I feel fairly confident I’ve got it mostly figured out. Here’s a pre sample of my gardening adventure.

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So…cutting those 10,000 words. I have a multi-pronged plan of attack, as I did with weeding. I’m going to take a step back, be objective, and ask myself some hard questions. In the end, hopefully I’ll have a more focused, streamlined manuscript where every line has a purpose: to advance plot and/or characterization. It will likely require the killing of several darlings. The good news is, not only will weeding your WIP help with word count, it will help with oh-so-essential pacing as well. I usually look first for scenes and big picture things to cut, then go line by line.

Before I get to work on major WIP weeding, I always save a new version of the document and create another document to save everything I cut, in case I decide later that, yeah, it actually was necessary.

Here’s my plan. 

Step 1: Stop freaking out. It IS possible.

Step 2: THINK THROUGH the main plot and subplots. Ask yourself how subplots are progressing the main plot or driving essential character development. If they are not, consider cutting.  I created a color-coded diagram of both the main plots and subplots for both MCs. This helped me to distance myself and think objectively, as well as see new connections between plot and characters.  

Step 3: List out all the characters and their roles. Ask yourself, what role does each serve for the MC? Are there any characters that duplicate the same role and can be cut?

Step 4: With each scene, potentially with each paragraph, ask yourself, “is it nice or is it necessary?” I’m going to have to ask myself this a lot. I have plenty of scenes that brim with conflict or humor, or both. Are they nice to have and enjoyable for the reader? Probably. But are they serving a unique, essential role in progressing the main plot and/or character development? Are there other scenes that get the same job done? If the answer is yes, then it is just nice to have, not necessary. Start cutting.

Step 5: Now start from the top. Go line by line. Does the reader need all the setting descriptions to picture the scene? Do they need all the body language? Dialogue tags? Or is some of it just nice to have. In dialogue, every line should advance plot or character. If it doesn’t, it’s just nice to have. Cut it. Look for places where you can write more succinctly. Trim the fat. Pull the weeds. Cut any line, any word, that is not essential to establishing new setting, advancing plot or developing character. It’s amazing how much this adds up. Cutting even one hundred words per chapter will add up to thousands.

Step 6: Admire all your hard work, then take some time away from it. Read through your MS again to make sure it still flows and makes sense. Personally, I try to get this read through done relatively quickly to ensure everything flows and connects, which I can lose a sense of if it’s spread out over too many days or sittings.

Step 7: Send to your beta readers.

Oh, and here’s my garden post picture.

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Wish me luck and objectivity! Happy writing.

 

 

Tackling structural or developmental edits: Free your mind

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Developmental edits can be daunting, particularly if you may need to take characters or plot in new directions. My agent is challenging me to think differently about both my characters and my plot. I need to get out of my head and think differently. When you’ve been working on an MS for months (or years now, in my case), it can be hard to think differently about those characters that have been living in your brain for so long. Taking plot in a new direction can be such a challenge, because the path has become so ingrained.

One of my personal challenges for this re-write has to do with the way I structured the story. Hooligans in Shining Armour is first person dual POV. One of the things I need to work on is ensuring each character has their own unique external story arc in addition to their growing relationship. Per agent advice, I’m going to treat them as independent stories as much as possible, then weave them together.

Here’s what’s working for me as I try to free my mind and blow up this manuscript with another re-write.

  1. Time, time, time. I sent the last version to my agent at the end of July. I got it back about two weeks ago, which gave my brain almost a two month break. Much needed. During that time, I didn’t think about those characters at all. I worked on another WIP with radically different setting and characters. Now I’m refreshed and eager to get back to the manuscript in question , to explore my beloved characters again, and to detach myself from plot as it is currently written.
  2. Read the feedback…multiple times. The first time I read pages of feedback, it overwhelms my brain. Impossible, it screams. Or it tries to argue. So I read it. Set it aside. Read it the next day. Perhaps take another day, then read again. In the interim, my brain my start working on things, saying “well you could do this” or “she has a point there.” Etc. But I need several days to process it, and I need to read it multiple times for all the pieces to come together. Then I highlight it, pull it apart, copy/paste to connect ideas.
first read through3.  Create a new playlist. I create playlists for each manuscript I write because it helps get my brain in gear to capture characters and emotion. I’ve been using the same one for Hooligans for the past two years, so to change my brain, I created a new one. Some of the same songs, yes, but I got rid of a bunch and added some new ones.
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4. Organize my life. And by that, I mean I created a binder with tabs for research, agent feedback, and–perhaps most importantly–separate tabs for each POV character so my brain thinks of them as separate, yet connected, stories.
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5.  Get out of  my space. My brain works differently when I’m not in my house distracted by chores, dogs, husband :P. I have a favorite coffee shop I like to escape to that allows my brain to free itself. Even on the drive over (while listening to my new playlist), my brain is working.
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6.  Free write. I’m taking the bits of feedback I need to process and just freewriting my thoughts on them. Sometimes I start writing new scene or dialogue. It’s amazing what that unlocks in my subconscious. The direction my brain goes often surprises me. Even on the drive over (while listening to my new playlist), my subconscious starts unlocking pieces and finding new potential paths through.
kermit-typing-on-a-typewriter-like-crazy-animation
7. Go back and read the feedback again. This time I tear it apart, try to pick out major trends, lump ideas together, select what’s an easily actionable item versus what do I need to do more free writing on. The feedback looks and feels different now, and I pick up on things I missed the first times I read through it. Then more free writing. I start firing questions at my agent or critique partner to see what they think.
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These are a few of the steps I take to get my brain primed for the hard work of tackling intense structural or developmental edits. Then I’m ready to dig in and do the hard thinking. I’m so excited to delve in and explore these characters in new ways.

Writer friends, what first steps do you take to prime your brain for major structural or developmental edits? To prepare yourself for a huge re-write?

Tackling those overwhelming developmental edits

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(Me on top of Mount Oberon, Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria, Australia)

I’m about to embark on an epic writing quest. Yet again. I got the second round of developmental edits from my agent Claire. The first round was nine and a half pages single-spaced. After six months of re-writing the first 2/3s of the manuscript, working closely with a cultural consultant, and another trip to Belfast, I sent my agent my manuscript at the end of July. For those of you in the query trenches hoping to get an agent, waiting and waiting to hear anything, once you get an agent…you still do lots of waiting. When you eventually go on submission (agent sends your manuscript to editors at publishing houses), you do even more waiting.

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Because you’re not done with that novel most likely. It takes time and lots of support to sculpt a masterpiece; your agent should be your much wiser, more experienced partner-in-crime. Time very well spent for me so far.

Anyway, last week, I got my second edit letter. It was only five and a half pages this time…of more developmental edits.

Fainting-GIFAgents have different styles. This is important information in case you ever do get “the Call,” i.e. an agent wants to offer you representation. Some agents want to get your stuff out on submission as quickly as possible. Their philosophy may be, let’s test the waters and see if we get any bites, tweak as we go. At the same time, you only get one shot to submit to each editor. But there’s always the next book, right?

Some consider themselves “editorial,” such as my agent, Claire. They want your novel to be polished and perfected before it lands on the desks of editors of major publishing houses. For me, this means I still have a lot of work to do. And while part of me just wants to get it out there and see what happens after the two years I’ve spent on it, I want it to be the best it possibly can be. I absolutely trust Claire to guide me there.

Anyway, whether it’s from an amazing critique partner or an agent, getting intense, mentally challenging feedback like this can feel a bit overwhelming, especially when you’ve been working on something for awhile. It’s easy to just dismiss it, but my agent has been right about everything so far. Some of it wasn’t a huge shock, because one of my CPs did mention it before. Eek. So I took a few days to let it simmer, and now I’m working on unpacking it.

I’ll be blowing up Hooligans in Shining Armour yet again: digging into character needs and goals, delving into character relationships, unpacking secondary characters’ motivations and feelings, re-plotting both main characters’ story arcs, writing new first chapters (I don’t know how many times I’ve THOUGHT I was done but here’s one time), cutting from the ending because the climax happens at about 75% and should be 90%. Basically re-writing the whole thing most likely.

But as I said in my last post:

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Wherever you are in the writing process, whether prepping for your first NaNoWriMo, in the query trenches, or working through line edits with an editor at a publishing house….

One foot in front of the other.

When it comes to becoming a successful writer…

Attitude is everything 2

So the picture featured in my little inspirational poster above was taken on the Routeburn Track on the South Island of New Zealand. My husband and I decided to try out for real backpacking through mountain passes for the first time while we were there. We embarked on a three day hike which started on a nice, warm sunny day through some mossy woods.

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And quickly turned into three days of straight rain and snow and cold. Thank GOD we packed for it.

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I may or may not have almost fallen off a narrow cliff path and plunged to my death. Our tent may or may not have almost been washed away during a torrential rainstorm that flooded the waterfalls and actually closed the trails just after we finished. I may have also had to climb up a spontaneous waterfall to get out.

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And this was not the worst part of the washed-out trail:

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But we lived. And it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I learned I’m a bit braver and tougher than I thought. One foot in front of the other, that’s what I kept telling myself. I’d do the whole thing again in a heartbeat.

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Okay, so what does any of this have to do with writing? In my humble opinion a lot. Attitude, persistence, realistic expectations, and a lot of hard work, that’s what it takes to make it as a writer. A lot of near falls and unexpected twists and dead ends and bitter disappointments that push you to be stronger rather than give up. It is a long journey to be traditionally published.

Landing an agent is such an exciting thing for an author. Like feels miraculous. And kind of is, given the odds of even getting a request for more while drowning in the slush pile. When I was picked by Claire Anderson-Wheeler of Regal Hoffman, like, I can’t even….

lambeau leap

(What can I say, I’m a Packer fan and it’s game day)

Here’s that story (and a brief synopsis of the work it took to get me there). Preview: I sent my first query letter for a 200,000 monstrosity like 6 years ago…. I’ve come a long way.

Now for those of us who’ve been in the heart-wrenching, barren wasteland that is the query trenches…..

Mordor

Okay, that was melodramatic. Though that’s how it felt to me before I sprouted my armor and started looking at the whole thing like the business that it is. If I hadn’t repeatedly picked myself up and dusted myself off, wrote more books and developed my craft–kept putting one foot in front of the other–I would have given up after my first 20 rejections.

When I started working with Claire, it really hit me. I knew TONS about how to query, but nothing about what to expect after getting an agent. I’ve learned since then, but here’s a preview. My journey is just beginning, even after I finished my first round of feedback. I have a lot left to do, a lot of tough feedback to work through, before Hooligans is even ready to go on submission to editors of publishing houses. And then there will be a lot more waiting and rejections.

I have my work cut out for me, but I know Hooligans will be the best it can be thanks to Claire’s wise guidance.

One foot in front of the other.

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