One Writer’s Journey

March 15, 2017

Revision: You Gotta Love It

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:00 am
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So many writers I know want to rush through their revisions.  If they get feedback from an editor, they are determined to turn the manuscript around in two weeks, three at most.  Me?  I want to give myself time to internalize the feedback. I also enjoy seeing the manuscript change and grow.  Why rush it?

In truth, writers really need to love revision.  You rough out the manuscript once.  Once you have a manuscript and have given it time to rest, you are ready to revise.  And you aren’t going to do it in one draft.  My process looks something like that.

  1.  Horrible, scary, terrible, no-good first draft.  Okay, maybe it isn’t that bad but I’m often just slapping it down at this stage.  There are even gaps because I don’t take the time to look up missing information.  I just type myself a note.  FIND OUT WHEN THIS WAS AND WHO WAS THERE.  Then I move on.
  2. During this draft, which is the first revision, I fill in gaps.  I also look for things that need to be shifted from one spot to another.
  3. Are any sections slight?  This is when I bulk them up.  Not that I want them to feel bulky but there has to be enough information to justify a stand alone chapter or section.
  4. Can’t manage that?  Then I combine sections or split something too dense in two.  I’m looking to create balance in this draft.
  5. Now is when I smooth things out and check the reading level.  Too high or too low? This is the time to make adjustments and make it flow.
  6. At last, I print it out and my husband reads it.  Then I take care of any issues he spotted and do a hard copy rewrite.  I always do one rewrite on paper because there are problems that I miss until I see them in print.  This is also when I cut excess words.  Again, I spot things on paper that I wouldn’t see on-screen.

That makes for six drafts total although sometimes I can do it in four.  Either way, that’s one first draft and three to five revisions.  You really need to love revision to make your writing work.

–SueBE

 

December 14, 2016

The Balancing Act that Is Nonfiction

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:45 am
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balanceHopefully when you read this I’ll have a full draft done on my next book.  Hopefully.  I’m only about 1/3 of the way through my last chapter and my willpower is more like won’t-power at the moment.

In this first draft, I do try to get everything in the right order but I don’t worry about things being smooth and perfect.  Or not.

I also don’t worry too much about whether or not I have enough information.  That’s something I’m going to address in the next draft.

When I prepared chapter 1 and my outline last week, my chapter was way too long.  This wasn’t a problem that I could correct by cutting a word here and a word there.  I had to eliminate entire paragraphs.  This meant less background information and fewer examples.

As I draft chapters 2 through 5, I’ve noticed that my word count is very close to perfect.  The reason that this worries me is that I should have to edit a paper draft to tighten things up.  This should be when I get rid of those extra words especially -ly adverbs or replacing a weak verb with two adverbs with a single strong verb.

I suspect that, as I worry about surpassing my word count yet again, I’m being too cautious.

I always have to add more information when I write the second draft.  That’s when I fill in the blanks — things that weren’t in my notes or that obviously need clarification with another example.  Instead of spending the time to do a great deal of research, I simply type a question or comment in CAPS and then highlight it.  When completing draft 2, I go back and do the research needed to fill these blanks in.  This time around I’ll be rereading each chapter and looking for places that the information isn’t dense enough.  I’ll add to any area that seems a bit weak.  Then I’ll cut to make it all fit.

I want to give my readers as much information as possible without overwhelming them.  As are so many things with writing, its a balancing act.  Here’s to leveling things out in the next draft!

–SueBE

December 7, 2016

Rewriting: Working from my Editor’s comments

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:06 am
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wondering-and-wanderingAbout two weeks ago, I got a rewrite request from an editor.  She had some comments and would be willing to take another look at my manuscript.  I sent out a note saying I would make the changes and then put it off.

In part, that was intentional.  I’m the kind of person who needs to let these things gel a bit.  It makes the rewrite that much easier.

But it wasn’t entirely intentional.  I also landed a contract with the first chapter and outline due tomorrow.  Obviously, that has been my first priority.  I also got sick.  Let’s just say that sneezing etc can be very time-consuming and leave it at that.

Today I set about making the changes. Part of the reason that I like to let things sit is because it gives me time to really consider the editor’s comments.  If I don’t, I make the changes in the simplest, most straightforward way possible.  There’s nothing wrong with that but these kinds of changes often feel cosmetic and superficial.

When I take the time to think about the changes, I can think of how they would ripple throughout the story.  I can consider what existing elements I can pull into these new sections to make them appear original.  My first set of changes were amended to eliminate one of the new settings.  Why?  Because it seemed to spread things out too much.  The rewrite led me to do a bit of research on traditional house design.  My first set of changes sent the characters in one direction and then another.  It terms of illustration and overall story flow, it seemed like a single path would be more easily understood.  I just needed to lengthen the path.

Their journey which wanders a bit more than before led to wondering between the characters.  Why do you think this?  Because of that?  This in turn made the characters seem more 3-D.

I’m going to let the story sit again and take it to my critique group before it send it back in.  I’m hoping that taking a bit more time with it will enable me to complete a manuscript that is whole and hearty and able to please young readers and editors alike.

–SueBE

 

December 6, 2016

Where Should You Focus: Marketing or Craft?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:36 am
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focusWhere should you be focusing your energies and time as a writer?  Should you be working on craft or marketing?

I’m going to tell you right now, my answer is not the popular one.  My favorite retreats and conference sessions have always been those led by my fellow writers and illustrators. I want to hear how other people work.  What takes them from fizzy new idea to finished manuscript?  How do they focus their rewrites?

For those of you who don’t know, for 10 years I was Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Regional Advisor for Missouri.  That means that I was responsible for sending out the quarterly newsletter and scheduling writing events.  At the end of an event, I would pass out a questionnaire.  What did you think of today and what do you want to see tomorrow?  Even if they loved learning about poetry from Constance Levy or mystery writing from Vicki Erwin, they also wanted to see the same things at future events.  Agents and editors.  They wanted access to markets. Craft might have been what they needed but it isn’t what they wanted.

And to a point, I see the logic in this.  Even if you write like Hemingway, you need to do who wants to publish Hemingway.

But the problem is that you first need to learn to write like Hemingway.  Really.  You need to study your craft. Here are five tips for my fellow craft hungry writers.

Read.  Read works that are similar to what you want to write and those that are not.  What do these writers do well?  Study those techniques.  What doesn’t quite work?  Take a hard look a these pieces too and figure out what you would do differently.

Study how-tos.  Check out some of the best how-tos on writing.  Everyone has their favorites and mine include Writing Picture Books, Writing Metrical Poetry, The Plot Whisperer, The Emotion Thesaurus, and Novel Metamorphosis. It doesn’t do any good to just gather such books.  Read them. Apply the techniques. If they include exercises, do them.

Write.  The only way to figure out if you’ve learned anything is to write.  Writing is a practice intensive vocation.  Write, write and write some more.  You’ll either figure out that you don’t really like to do it or that you are getting better.

Rewrite.  It doesn’t do any good to write one story after another.  Although some first drafts are really good, none are perfect.  You have to learn to compare the story you intended to create with the one you got down on paper.  Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis is a great tool for accomplishing this.

Rinse, lather, repeat.  That’s my quirky way of telling you that step #5 is to keep doing steps 1 through 4 again and again and again.  When you’ve honed your craft, you’ll actually be ready to take advantage of any market news that comes your way.  Until then?  You may have a market, but you won’t have a market worthy manuscript.

–SueBE

October 13, 2016

Editing Your Manuscript: Reading Level

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:43 am
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reading-dog

Why oh why can’t I get the reading level down?

Remember that optimistic estimate I had that it would take me three hours to finish the manuscript?  It was a lot closer to five. The biggest problem that I faced was bringing things to the correct reading level.

When I write for Red Line, I use the ATOS grade level calculator.  My goal for this book was a reading level of 7.0 to 8.5.  I don’t test the entire manuscript, preferring to test each chapter.  I do it this way because my Red Line editors are really good at spotting reading level problems.  If one chapter is off, they will catch it.  I’d much rather spot the problem without any help.

Yesterday I had finished the hard copy edits and just needed to make the changes and then test each chapter.  The first one was 8.8.  The second one was 9.0.  Thankfully the third one was 8.5.

How was I so off in one chapter.  In part because it had a section on Colin Kaepernick.  It wouldn’t be so bad if his last name was Colin because I could use that throughout most of the section.  But oh, no.  Kaepernick.  Kaepernick does frightening things to your reading level.  Not as frightening as Maya place names but bad enough.

I’ve seen some people recommend substituting Bob for such a name.  Bob is a nice low reading level.  The problem is that Kaepernick is going to be in the book.  It has to work with Keapernick in the manuscript.

Fortunately, there are several  ways to bring down the reading level.

First things first, look at your sentence structure.  No semicolons.  None.  Break down compound sentences.  Phrases are okay but don’t join two perfectly legitimate sentences with AND or BUT.  You don’t want the entire manuscript to be composed of simple sentences but if you can get rid of a complex sentence per page, that will drop the reading level by .2 or .3.

Second, don’t forget to look for passive construction.  That tends to make your sentences wordier.  “The boy hit the ball” vs “The ball was hit by the boy.”

Third, simplify some of the vocabulary.  Look for multisyllable words that can be replaced by shorter words.  Want replaces prefer.  Use takes the place of operate.

Of course, if your reading level is too low, you do the opposite, except for the semicolon (publisher’s preference).

And whenever you’ve been tinkering with the reading level, reread the section out loud.  You want to be certain it is still a smooth read.

–SueBE

 

October 12, 2016

Deadlines: How Close Do You Cut It?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:18 am
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I business-1067978_1920have a book due today.  In an ideal world, I’d have spent yesterday working through the last of my hard copy edits.  Of course, in an ideal world jr. wouldn’t have come home from school spiking a fever.

Granted, he’s a teenager so it isn’t like I need to be at his beck and call. But, you know how it is.  If someone else is here, you just don’t get as much done.  First he has to tell me his head hurts.  He may be 17 but he’s never willing to get over-the-counter meds out without saying something to me first.  Then his stomach was bugging him and that’s when we discovered the fever.

For better or worse, I tend to meet my deadlines without a whole lot of wiggle room.  Of course, that’s because things like this seem to happen on a regular basis.  When I was working on the Pearl Harbor book, I did hard copy edits on a clip board leaning against a wall in the emergency room while my dad slept.  They finally diagnosed him with . . . I think it was pneumonia that time . . . and gave him a bed.  But I edited at least two chapters with beeping and nurses bustling to and fro.

I try to have things ready to turn in the day before things are due, but that seldom seems to work out. In part, I think it is because I become much more productive and efficient as the deadline nears.  What can I say?  Monday, I did hard copy edits on 2 chapters and got everything changed on the computer.  Yesterday, I did hard copy edits on the other 6 chapters and got 2 chapters worth changed on the computer.  That means that today I have to type up the changes for four more chapters.  I also have to edit and update the back matter and clean up the formating on the bibliography.  It will probably take me about 3 hours.

This may not be the best method but it works for me.  I think that I’ve missed one deadline in something like 20 years.  Fingers crossed that as you read this, I’m attaching the file to an e-mail and sending it in!

–SueBE

 

October 6, 2016

My Misfit Manuscript

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:56 am
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work-1357001_1920I had a critique group meeting this afternoon.  I love my group and really wanted the chance to get some feedback.  But I’ve been working on the Race and Racism book, due Wednesday.  So that I didn’t have to miss out on their feedback, I pulled out an old manuscript that I jokingly refer to as my misfit toy.

When I wrote it, my publisher was planning to start a series of early readers.  “Can you write a few?”  They printed up scads of examples and sent me an entire box full of material to read.  Yes, you read that correctly.  A box full.  I read.  I thought.  I read some more and then I drafted three manuscripts for them.

They cancelled the program.

When a publisher put out a call for easy reading picture books that could be adapted into an app, I went through these old manuscripts.  I really liked one of them.  I rewrote it with this publisher’s specs in mind.  They loved it and we discussed the app.  Our ideas for this book meshed perfectly.

I waited for the contract.

And I wanted for the contract.

They explained having to delay things for a while and I waited some more.

Then they announced that they had produced the last of their apps and books.

Is this manuscript worth reworking again?  Or should I just let it slide?  At this point in our relationship, I have no perspective.  Is it a misfit or just unlucky?  So I ran it by my group.

They declared it not a misfit.  Then Rick suggested that I add another attempt before the solution is found.  And Rita recommended more onomatopoeia.  I can clearly see how this will improve the piece.  It looks like once I rework it that it will once again venture into the world of publishing.

Hopefully the third time really is the charm.

–SueBE

July 5, 2016

Chapters: How Many Is Just Right?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:28 am
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to-write-774648_960_720
A few days ago, I pulled out my outline for What’s Up, Chuck?  If I’m going to have it ready to submit by the end of August, I had better get to work.

I hadn’t worked on a new chapter for a while so I didn’t actually remember what chapter I was writing.  It turned out to be chapter 4.  Cool. That puts me at just under half way since I told the editor there were 10 chapters.  Actually, she asked if there were ten and I said, “Yes!”

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t remember numbers.  Phone numbers, house numbers, room numbers, number of chapters.  Pbbt.

According to the outline, there will be 7.  That’s great in terms of the fact that I am over half way.  That’s not so great if the editor really and truly wants 10.

Just how important is it that there be 10 chapters?  It depends.

If I was working on a book for an ABDO series, the number of chapters would be important.  After all, these are books published in series which means that each book needs to cover similar things.  The format needs to be the same.  This means that the number of chapters need to be close if not the same.

But this isn’t for a series.  Does that mean I can completely ignore “10 chapters”?

Unfortunately, maybe not.  There is always the chance that the editor knows how many chapters work well in this kind of format (a picture story book).  She is, after all, the one with the experience in taking a piece from manuscript to finished book.

I should probably attempt 10 if I can divide things up in such a way that it feels natural.  If it doesn’t feel natural, then I’ll have to go with a different number of chapters.  Fortunately, I’ve already spotted a few changes that I can make to expand the number of chapters.  It’s all in how I group the information.

For now, I’m going to focus on drafting the whole.  Once I have a complete draft, I can play around with how I group the information.  I’ll try for 10 chapters if it works.  If not, we shall see what we shall see.

–SueBE

 

June 30, 2016

Rewriting: Sometimes It Means Starting Anew

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:24 am
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starting anewIf you’ve been writing for any length of time at all, you’ve probably realized that 95% of any writing project is rewriting.  When I say rewriting, I don’t mean copy-editing, such as fixing commas and checking spelling.  I mean rewriting — shifting paragraphs, deleting pages, coming up with concrete verbs and more.

Most often I can see forward progress as I rewrite, but every once in a while the project just gets clunkier.  Instead of flowing more smoothly, the words seem to bog down and stagnate.  When that happens, the best solution is to start again.

What?

You heard me.  Start again.

You mean go back to an older draft, right?

No, I mean start again.  Fresh.  In a blank document.  The thing is that by now I know what I need to do.  I know where the piece begins.  I know where it ends. I have a good feeling for the stops in between.  Rather than try to manipulate an awkward document into this shape, it is simply easier to start anew.

And the funny thing is, when I do this, things come together quickly.  Really.  It’s leaner, it’s meaner and it lacks those blasted sidetrips that made the original manuscript so cumbersome.

This is the same technique that I use when I have to drastically cut a manuscript.  Drastically means when I have to cut a manuscript in half.  When I have to cut a piece drastically but I try to cut a word or phrase or sentence at a time, the whole often feels disjointed. When I start anew and rewrite it focused on the end goal, smooth, sleek text results.

The next time you find yourself hung up on a rewrite, give this technique a try.  Open a new document.  Start on a clean sheet of paper.  Then write.  You may be surprised at how quickly it all comes together.

–SueBE

June 9, 2016

One Manuscript, Two Attempts

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:57 am
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thinkingHave you ever had a manuscript that seemed to morph from one form to another?  That’s been the case with “What’s Up Chuck?”

As I did the research for a  book about why animals vomit, it became obvious that there was a lot of information.  In fact, there was probably too much for a picture book.  I was three chapters in when Get the Scoop on Animal Puke by Dawn Cusick was released from Imaginel Publishing.  Eighty print pages her book touched on a lot of the same animals but didn’t go into the science like I had planned for my book.  Still, I felt that the two books might too easily compete.

I took my manuscript to the Missouri SCBWI retreat and showed it to my critique group.  “Rewrite it as a picture book!” they said.

So then I created the picture book version.  Just as I was finishing that up, I needed a manuscript for the next Missouri SCBWI retreat.  Naturally, I sent the editor “What’s Up Chuck?”  I hoped to get a few hints that would make it sing.  ::cue the music of doom:: To put it simply, the editor likes my voice but thinks this book is way too short to work.

Now I vaccilate.  I’ll be talking to the editor in two days.  Based on her comments, I think she considers this a much better chapter book idea than picture book manuscript.  I still love the idea of this book and I have to admit that I really like the idea of writing it up as a chapter book.  There is so much information and the science is really interesting. Yes, it’s gross but it is also interesting.

But my last critique group was certain it would work as a picture book.  Certain.

I’ll be talking to the editor and I’m running three chapters through the peer critique group.  I know that whether this book ultimately takes shape as a picture book or chapter book, the decision is mine to make.  I just need to make up my mind.

Think . . . think . . . think . . .

–SueBE

 

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