One Writer’s Journey

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.


September 14, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: Testing Your Characters and Your Setting

Are your characters unique?  Is your setting woven into your story? These are the kinds of things that can make a story top-notch instead of ho-hum.  Here are some simple thing you can do to test how well you’ve done.

Change the setting for your story.

If your story is contemporary, consider resetting it 100 years ago.  If it is set in modern New York, move it to San Antonio.

If this is easy to do and nothing changes, you need to weave your setting deeper into your story.  The time period needs to be seen through the culture, the artifacts, and how people get around.  The environment needs to impact people’s clothing and outdoor activities.  The culture of where they are needs to come into play.

If your story can take place any-where and any-when, sadly you have work to do.

Swap one character for another.  

Two of your characters are about to confront the antagonist.  Swap the secondary character for a different secondary character.

Or your main character has just discovered who the informant is.  Swap this sneaky so-and-so for another secondary character.

Does your main character have two sidekicks?  Find a scene with both of them in it.  Can you cut it to only one sidekick?

Or find a scene with only one sidekick.  Can you swap this sidekick for the other.

Love interests, adversaries, and mentors can all be tested in similar ways if there is more than one.

You’ve probably guessed by now but if you can swap one for the other or eliminate one altogether, they are too much alike.  They are probably also two-dimensional. Contemplate what you can do to make them both interesting and integral to the story.

If you’ve discovered that your setting and/or your characters are ho-hum, don’t panic.  Rewrites are a great opportunity to fix problems just like these.  Speaking of which, I have a two-dimensional sidekick to bring into a three-dimensional world.


August 8, 2018

Writing Nonfiction: The First Draft, One Hot Mess

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:45 am
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I’m drafting a new book this week.  This isn’t a picture book.  I can actually create a picture book first draft that isn’t terrifying. I’m not saying it is great but it doesn’t make you want to hide.  A first draft of a 15,000 word nonfiction for tweens?  Oh, what a mess it is.

I have an outline which my editor approved so the basic structure is there.  In draft #1, I fill in the information.  This is everything the young reader needs to learn about this aspect of the larger topic.  That’s it.  I solve the rest in subsequent drafts.  Note the S.  Drafts.  There will be more than one.  The things that I fix include:

Filling in the gaps.  When I wrote the first draft, I mark all gaps WITH NOTES TYPED IN CAPITAL LETTERS AND OFTEN HIGHLIGHTED IN YELLOW.  These are places that I need to add information I couldn’t find.

Double check the order.  I always try to get things down in the right order in the outline but sometimes something that looks perfectly functional in the outline doesn’t work where it is in the manuscript.  I don’t do much moving of sections but this is where it happens.

Cut duplicate information. Sometimes I end up repeating myself.  Often this is because I forget something will be covered in a sidebar and I write it into the main text.  Now is the time to decide where it belongs and get rid of the other.

Creating transitions.  In the first draft, I go from topic to topic.  I don’t worry about it being smooth.  Why? Because I can fix it now.

Fix the word count.  Normally I’m pretty close.  Sometimes I have to cut.  But that’s okay because most everything we write can stand to be tightened.

Reading level.  Because this is educational and part of a series, I have to hit the right reading level.  I’m usually close.  Fortunately, I’ve found which reading level is my natural writing level so I can get by with minor tweaks.

A first draft doesn’t have to be perfection.  It just has to pull information together so that you have something to work with.  Make a mess, then fix it.



August 3, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:06 am
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rewriteAt the moment, I’m slapping down two really rough first draft.  Seriously rough. One is so bad that tomorrow I’m going to start this chapter all over again.  But that’s okay because I don’t have a deadline.  This is a something I’m writing for fun.

But the other one? Once I get a draft down, it is time to rewrite.  When I have to rewrite and it just won’t come, I know that I am most likely trying to do too many things at once.  I can’t make sure the order is logical, add more examples, punch up the language, and cut words all in the same pass.  When I try, something gets neglected or I get frustrated and quit.

To keep this from happening, I may a super detailed to-do list.  If you decide to do something like this, make a list and then get to work.  Normally it takes me about five minutes to make the list.  Then I take the rewrite chunk by chunk.

  1.  Fix problems and holes that you marked while writing.  You know the ones.  The note you left yourself says something like – ADD A TRANSITION HERE or COME UP WITH A WORTHWHILE EXAMPLE.
  2. Opening hook of whole manuscript.
  3. Opening of each subsection/chapter.
  4. Conclusion.
  5. Make sure there are enough examples/details.
  6. Punch up those verbs.
  7. Do what it takes to get rid of the adverbs.
  8. Check the main character’s emotional development/story arc.
  9. Repeat #8 for secondary characters.
  10. Is the setting clear and present?
  11. Do the setting details fit the tone/mood of the story at that point?
  12. Are there several sensory details on each page?
  13. Read the dialogue aloud. Does each character sound unique?
  14. Check your dialogue tags.  Can you replace them with beats of action.  This is one of my favorite tasks.
  15. Read the manuscript aloud to double-check voice and flow.
  16. This one is optional but I also check the reading level.  Most of my nonfiction has to be written to a certain range so this may not be essential in your own work.

It looks like a lot, and it is.  But if you want your writing to be top-notch, you need to find a way to work through a rewrite.  Ultimately, you need to find the method that works for you.  Give this one a try.  It just might work.


July 27, 2018

When What You Write Isn’t Great, Don’t Ignore That Nagging Feeling

Honestly, you could pour me into a bucket tonight. It isn’t that I’m that relaxed.  I’m that wiped out.

As I write this on Thursday evening, I’ve just met a deadline for an outline and sample chapter.  Easy peasy mac-n-cheesy as my friend Renee says.  I write for Abdo.  I know what they want.


This series is different from their others.  So different and new that it is new even to my editor. In fact, I’m writing the first book in the series. I’m the guinea pig . . . trend setter.  Who am I kidding?  Guinea pig.

My husband read the chapter for me and pronounced it “fine.”  But something was nagging at me.  “No.  It is not.  It kind of stinks.”  I wanted to listen to my husband.  I wanted to package it up and send it in and let me editor find the problem.

So first I did a hard copy-edit on the outline.  Then I finished the bibliography.  Finally, with the deadline hard behind, I pulled up the chapter.

Yep, still stinking.  But this time I could tell what was wrong.  I’m writing about a topic that, while important, is less familiar to me than some others.  As I wrote about it, I realized that I actually knew quite a bit but I still felt insecure.  I needed to sound like I knew what I was talking about.  Heaven save us from all that is overwritten and purple.

Instead of doing the hard copy-edit I had planned on, it was back to my computer.  Three of the four sidebars only needed minor tweaks.  The feature at the end of the chapter lost only a few words.  Working with the main body of the text, I moved phrases, cut sentences and smoothed, smoothed and smoothed some more.  By the time I was done I had bumped up the reading level, which I needed to do, and crafted a much more coherent, readable piece.

When you have that nagging feeling that something stinks, don’t take the easy way out.  Go on a hunt until you find the source of the problem.



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