One Writer’s Journey

November 13, 2019

NaNoWriMo: Half Way

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:56 am
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We are just about at the muddled middle, half way through NaNoWriMo.  Whether you are doing the traditional challenge (50,000 words/month) or you are a NaNoWriMo rebel and have set your own goal, we are just about at the halfway point.  Like me, you may be wondering if writing a fast draft is worth the effort. Do these manuscripts ever see the light of day?

Librarians are amazing people who often know what readers and writers need.  Last night I walked into my local library and saw this display all about NaNoWriMo and published books that were written during this fast draft challenge.  Here is a list of fast draft winners for you to check out.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  It took Morgenstern three years and three NaNoWriMo challenges to pull this one off but it was well worth the effort judging by the many book clubs that have read her book.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  You can see it in the photo above.

The Beautiful Land by Alan Averill.  A best-selling fantasy novel.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  Rowell admitted she was unsure about the challenge.  This book is about twice the NaNo length but the content drafted during NaNo?  Most of it made it into the finished book.

Wool by Hugh Howey.  This one is also in the display above.

Three novels by Marissa Meyer:  Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress.  I love this series.  Love it. It too is pictured above but as a flyer, not the print books which are almost on in circulation.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. A YA fantasy.

As with so much of what we write, I don’t think the question should be “can something of value come out of NaNoWriMo?”  I think the question should be “am I going to learn to rewrite what I drafted?”

Because, really, rewriting is the key to good writing.


November 12, 2019

How to Create Suspense in Your Story

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:30 am
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As I work on my mystery during NaNoWriMo, I’m keeping my eyes open for any tips on how to lay in clues and create suspense.  I’m already fairly good at using cliff hangers to create suspense.  If you aren’t familiar with this term, a cliff hanger occurs when the author breaks a scene mid-action.  The heroine is dangling over the cliff.  Will she make it to the top?  You have to go to the next chapter (or whatever) to find out.

I’m less confident in my ability to use foreshadowing which is when you hint at something to come.  It may be as simple as mirroring something in a subplot that will later take place in the plot.  This could be an important item being lost or a missed opportunity.

But in one a diyMFA pre-Halloween posts, Savannah Cordova added three more ways to build suspense to my list.  The first of these was using flashbacks.  Often we think of flashbacks as a way to reveal what happened before the story takes place.  But a flashback can also, much like foreshadowing, hint at coming action.

Cordova also discusses creating what she calls ambiguous characters.  Thsi character can be an unreliable narrator, either someone who is intentionally lying or who has misinterpretted a critical event.  In my mystery, I have a character who while very sure of himself passes on a lot of incorrect information.  This may also be a character who lies about their identity.

The Writer’s Journey also discusses characters who while initially allies later betray the main character.  This could be because she has done something that goes against this person’s beliefs or simply because the person was too afraid to take a certain course of action.

I’m not sure how many of these techniques will eventually make their way into my mystery.  But I’m fairly certain that it won’t happen until the rewrite.


September 10, 2019

Shaking Things Up: Making Big Changes

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:42 am
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I’m not the only one who likes the sofa in the dining room.

Last Thursday as he left for work, my son dropped a request in my lap. “I’m having the everyone over to game tomorrow.  Can we swap the living room with the dining room?”

We’ve done this before.  Our living room is much larger and when all the leaves are in the dining room table scooting around it is like a slow-motion slot car race.  So when he got home that night, we moved our rather large sofa into the dining room.  Our dining room table made it into the living room.  Then the coffee table slid into the dining room and we placed the chairs around the dining room table.

The funny thing? I love having the sofa in the dining room.  I’m not sure why since it is a smaller room but I feel less crowded in there.  Maybe because the sofa isn’t facing a wall.  And, as we placed the chairs around the dining room table, I found myself evaluating things.  Whoa, this is really a lot of chairs.  Do we need them all?  Two ended up in the basement.  A few more pieces may go away.

Sometimes when you are working on a piece of writing, you know something isn’t working but you aren’t sure what.  Does the beginning drag?  If so, you may have started too early.  Trim your beginning scene by scene until you can’t cut any more.  Stop howling!  You don’t have to delete the scenes.  Cut them and put them in another document.  For almost every piece I write, I have a document labeled “stuff.” This is where I put the things that I’ve trimmed out just in case I need them back.  But once I’ve cut out scene one I can see how the whole thing works with my new lean, mean opening. Sometimes I have to rearrange some things to make this new opening work, but that’s okay.

The first fix you try may not work but that’s okay, too.  The great thing about writing in the digital age is that these changes are relatively simple to make.  You can rewrite a scene with a new setting or a new point-of-view character.  You can change the tense.  And it if doesn’t work?  You pull things back out of the stuff document and try again.


August 5, 2019

Free Class: Self-Editing for Writers

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:02 am
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I had a different post planned for today but I wanted to get the news about this class out as soon as possible.  Joan Dempsey is offering a free course, Self-Editing for Writers.  Yes, there is a paid Master Class, but sign up for this class.

You will learn about:

  • Lesson 1:  Whether you should complete a draft before you rewrite or rewrite as you go.
  • Lesson 2: Use listening as a tool in your rewriting toolbox.
  • Lesson 3: Several different approaches to self-editing.
  • Lesson 4: How to create a strong opening that doesn’t get bogged down in backstory.
  • Lesson 5: How to know the difference between action (good) and activity (not so good).

I am currently on Lesson 4 and if I hadn’t already developed a rewrite tool kit, I would sign up for the master class.  That said, this is definitely giving me some things to think about.

My own techniques are based on Darcy Pattison’s book and workshop, Novel Metamorphosis.  I’m a seat-of-my-pants writer.  Darcy’s techniques for rewriting are highly methodical, or, in other words, exactly what I need to turn my loosy goosy text into a finished manuscript.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Joan Dempsey, her first novel, This is How It Begins, came out in October 2017.  As described on the book jacket:

“In 2009, eighty-five-year-old art professor Ludka Zeilonka gets drawn into a political firestorm when her grandson, Tommy, is among a group of gay Massachusetts teachers fired for allegedly silencing Christian kids in high school classrooms. The ensuing battle to reinstate the teachers raises the specter of Ludka’s World War II past–a past she’s spent a lifetime trying to forget.”

Joan is also well known as a writing instructor.  I’ve already completed her free course on writing dialogue and I signed up for her rewriting course knowing that Joan does not lure you in with free content only to spend every moment shilling her paid content.

Her classes aren’t cheap but judging by what she delivers for free they will be well worth the money.   Why not start with a free class or two?  You can sign up for both Dialogue and Rewriting here.


July 9, 2019

Rewriting: When One Section Is Clearly the Best

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:35 am
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It doesn’t matter if you are working on a picture book, graphic novel or novel.  When the time comes to rewrite your work and you read through it, one section will stand out.  “Wow.  This is really good.”

Good for you!  Take a moment to celebrate and then get ready to get to work.  No, I’m not going to tell you to cut this amazing section..  I am going to tell you to bring the rest of your work up to this level.

Cutting the amazing part doesn’t sound all that awful now, does it?  Because bringing everything else up to the level of amazing is going to be a lot of work but that’s okay.

At the moment, I am rewriting a graphic novel.  My first spread is amazing.  It isn’t just me.  One of my editors looked it over and confirmed my suspicions.  “This section is spot on!”  I start with a great description for the illustrator.  There’s action.  My three main characters each have dialogue.  I’ve even worked in sound effects and the story challenge.


The next spread isn’t as action packed but again you get to know my characters a bit better as they puzzle out how to solve the problem.  So that’s two really good spreads out of 14.  Not bad, not bad at all.

But it does mean that my other 12 spreads need to be pulled up to this level.  I’ve got some really good material in there but I have to admit it.  The rest just is not as good.  For the most part, there isn’t as much description.  My main characters don’t each have dialogue/play a significant part in the spread.  And I sometimes forget to use sound effects which is ridiculous because making up text to give voice to a fight scene, a spill, or something toppling over is half the fun of writing a graphic novel.

To solve these problems, I’m going to make a check list.  Then I am going to rewrite each spread and make sure that if an element is not present there is a darn good reason.  My checklist will look something like this:

Eva Dialogue
Morgan Dialogue
Carlotta Dialogue
SFX (sound effect)
Moves story forward
Atom Mom
Super power/mad science

That’s quite a check list and in all truth not all of it needs to be on each spread.  I probably don’t need SFX if the chorus comes into play.  And Dad, the twins, and Atom Mom don’t need to be in every spread but graphic novels make room for additional characters in the background.  I have to show the editor that I understand how a graphic novel works.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got 12 spreads to work my way through.


June 14, 2019

Proofing: Four Tips to Help You Catch Those Errors

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:04 am
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A friend of mine just got a rejection letter.  Yes, it bothered her but what was more upsetting was opening her essay to find a wide variety of errors she hadn’t seen before.  How can you avoid this in your own work?  Here are three tips.

Cultivate Absence.  It is easier to spot errors when you aren’t overly familiar with a piece.  That’s not so easy to achieve when it is your writing.  One way to give yourself an edge is to put your work aside for a week or a month if not longer.  Unfortunately, deadlines sometime make this impossible.  Not to worry.  There are other ways.

Work on Paper.  A lot of people really strive for that paperless office.  That’s fine but most people edit much better on paper.  I print my work out and then set myself up in the dining room with a cup of coffee and my rewrite candle.  Yes, I have a rewrite candle. Don’t judge.  I light it every time I need to work on a rewrite and once I smell the aroma of licorice (I said, quit judging!) I get right to work.

Change the Font.  One of the reasons that we miss errors is because our eyes are skimming over the text.  Change this by changing the font.  I’m not suggesting that you go with Comic Sans or Wingding or anything like that.  And, personally, I need a serif font just because they are easier for me to read.  But instead of Times Roman, I can use Cambria or Century. They are just different enough that they help me see my work differently.

Listening Ears.  Last but not least, read your work out loud.  To do this, I use the Word add-on Speak.  It reads selected text in a robotic voice.  Annoying? Yes.  But I can hear errors that I don’t seem to see.  Many people can just read their work aloud. When I try that, it works for a few paragraphs and then I resort to reading in my head.

Do any of you have other techniques that you use to help you spot errors in your work?


January 4, 2019

Writing Is Rewriting

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:56 am
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Yesterday Morgan Wright asked fellow writers on Twitter to show how we felt about your current WIP using a GIF.

There’s the initial enthusiasm — woo hoo!  This is the best idea ever.

And there’s the current reality – seriously?  Really?  Did I write this?  It is so lame.

And that, my writing friends, is why 90% of writing is in fact rewriting.  The idea, powered by enthusiasm, gets us started.

But that draft we get down on paper just is not as amazing as what we had in mind.  In fact, to get it even close, we need to take a hard look at what we’ve actually written.  Only then can we begin to take it from the let down we have created in reality to the amazing story we had in mind when started.

No manuscript is ever perfect the first time around.  Not one.  Although some of them are pretty amazing even in the first draft.  That said, these, in my experience, generally pretty short.  Because they are short, I can hold them in my mind from start to finish. I can manipulate them and make changes before I write anything down.

Otherwise?  What I think of is never quite what makes it onto the page.

And that’s okay.  When we rewrite, we have the time and space to fill in gaps.

This means that we have the time and space to fix our characters.  This might mean fleshing out a two-dimensional character.  Or it could be a matter of making an unsympathetic POV character a bit more likable.  Or we might have two secondary characters when only one of them is needed.

We also have the room to make our settings work.  For me, this means weeding out interesting details and replacing them with details that actually serve the story.  A hobby that comes into play later in the story might be hinted at by the items on a shelf.  A cold family life can be reflected by sterile, frigid decor.

Rewriting is also where I end up showing what my character is feeling vs saying “she was mad.”  Or varying the 397 times I showed this rage through aggressive lip chewing – something no one can sustain through a whole novel without doing themselves harm.

A lot of people get frustrated and give up when their first draft isn’t the sleek, star-bound story they imagined.  Unfortunately, giving up means that their story never really has a chance to take off.


November 21, 2018

Picture Books: Rewriting a Problem Spread

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:41 am
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Recently, I had to polish up a picture book and get it out now.  This wasn’t something I was drafting.  These were fine changes.  Fiddling with word sound and rhythm.

I read my manuscript out loud. After all, a picture book is like a poem.  It has to work when read aloud. Most of my manuscript was fine but two spreads felt off.

I always suspect when I am doing this kind of rewrite that I change something, let it rest, and change it back again.  And then I do it again.  And again.  Maybe if I could keep track of my various versions there wouldn’t be so many.

Do not say “track changes.” NO.  I despise that Word feature.  I use it with my editors at RedLine.  Some areas of the manuscript will have very few marks.  Others have lots and lots of text struck out and added.  While it can be good to see what was removed, a section that has been worked over multiple times can be almost impossible to read in part because I’m mildly dyslexic.  It gets too busy and I can’t follow it.

When a single person uses track changes, it doesn’t always track all of the changes.  That means I can’t go back and see what the manuscript said before.

Fortunately, I found a trick that works for me. I opened up a clean Word document and copied the problem text, pasting it at the top of the page.  Then I pasted it in again and made changes to the second version.  Then I pasted it again and made changes to the third version.  There was no back and forth.  And I never had to rewrite a passage more than three times.

When I was done, I let it sit and then reread all three versions.  There was no guess-work.  No wondering if maybe the first version was better.  I had them all right there in front of me.

Try it and see if it works for you.


October 30, 2018

Outside Readers: Helping You Create Solid Content

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:39 am

It’s been a while since the publishing world went crazy over the thought of sensitivity readers.  Was it a great idea or was it censorship?  And whose pocket was this going to come out of anyway?

If you missed last year’s debate, the idea was that people writing outside their own experience need sensitivity readers to review their books.  These readers will help determine whether or not these authors have “sensitively” portrayed people from different groups.  

In my work for packagers, I often find myself rewriting based on comments from at least two editors, possibly a rep from the customer who wants the content, and a consultant.  Hopefully you will understand when I say that I found the idea of yet another layer of comments to reconcile with all of the others less than thrilling.  

Then I read this post from The Horn Book.  Jason Low, publisher and co-owner of Lee and Low Books explains that Lee and Low has employed content readers for years.  They just call them expert readers.  

What are they experts in?  It all depends on the book.  For one book, the reader will be an expert on a particular culture and that group’s history.  For another the reader may be an expert in a scientific field.  It varies from book to book.

When I read this, I laughed out loud. I already work with these kinds of experts.  At Redline, they call these people content consultants.  

My message?  Don’t panic.  Take a deep breath.  Publishers are not your enemy.  They just want to help you create the best, most accurate, book possible.  Is that really a bad thing?


September 18, 2018

Reading Level: Taking It Down

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:31 am
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Most of the books that I write for RedLine have a reading level of about 7.5 to 8.0.  That’s good news for me because my natural writing level is in that range.

The book that I’m working on now has a reading level of 4.5 to 5.5.  I expected to have to play with things to achieve this.  RedLine always wants the first chapter and an outline before you proceed.  When I drafted the first chapter I was a little surprised to hit 5.2 with no fiddling required.  Whoa!

As I finished chapter 2, the online reading level calculator was down.  No big deal.  I’d just test them all once I was done.

Maybe my early success had made me bold but every single chapter tested too high.  Most of them weren’t even close.  I tried fiddling with chapter 2 several times but just could not hit the right level so I set it aside until Monday.

It helps to understand how reading level is calculated.  Most often, it involves word length, sentence length and possibly paragraph length.

Part of the problem is that when you try to adjust a chapter at a time, you make numerous changes early in the chapter and then . . . that should be good enough.  Right?  You quit making substantial changes.  I solve this by going through the book section by section. Each chapter has at least one subheading and two sidebars.  I reworked a single section and then tested it.  By the time I finished a chapter, I knew that each individual part worked.

One of the things that I do is look for more complicated words that can be swapped out for simpler words.  Apparently journalist tests higher than reporterExplained may be more specific but it tests higher than says.  Don’t dumb things down because your reader is going to want some of those fantastic words but explained really wasn’t that important.

When your editor asks for a reading level range, hit it.  It may take some work but better you work to write it than your reader struggle to access the information.


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