One Writer’s Journey

April 11, 2018

Revision: Taking Advice and Reworking Your Manuscript

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:41 am
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On Monday, I posted about Kansas Missouri SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators) Agents Day. As part of this event, you got a paid critique from an agent.  Mine was with Adria Goetz from Martin Literary.  She critiqued Drip by Drip, Cave Below, a nonfiction manuscript about a cave.

While she had positive things to say about my manuscript, she also had a big change that she wanted me to make.  Parts of the manuscript were very lyrical.  Yay, me!   But there was also a lot of science.  And I do mean a lot.  She wants me to separate the two so that I have lyrical text and science rich sidebars.

I like this idea a lot.  In fact, I like it so much that it is the way that I originally wrote People Pray.  That said, I took the sidebars out of that manuscript at the advice of an editor who then passed on it.

This is one of those moments when I have a big decision to make starting with Drip by Drip, Cave Below.  I can keep it as is – lyrical bits and science together. Or I can take Adria’s advice and keep the lyrical bits in the main text and separate the science into sidebars.  Or I can just reduce the science which is not going to happen although I am going to create separate sidebars.

But I am also going to take Adria’s advice and use it to rework People Pray.  Why?  Because I’ve been invited to send that one in and I want it to be lyrical and full of the kind of information that will make it a great social science text.

Rewriting based on what you learn at a writing event.  It’s never fast but if you take what you’ve learned and apply it?  You’ve got a much better chance of getting your foot in the door and finding an agent.




March 22, 2018

Tighten Your Text: Cutting Excess Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:41 am
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Yesterday my post on Writing Nonfiction that Sings appeared on the Muffin, the blog for Women on Writing! One tip involved cutting excess words.  I working on a hard copy.  One reader asked if this really makes a difference.

Yes, I really do.

Monday and Tuesday I rewrote a nonfiction title, working on a hard copy. My goal was a final word count of 15,000 words down from the 16,870 I had. I knew how many words I should have in each chapter. Some were fine. From others, I only needed to cut 40 words. That I could do on-screen without much trouble.

But another chapter had to be cut by about 400 words or approximately 25% of the the chapter’s length.  A word here and there wasn’t going to accomplish it.

As I read the hard copy, I spread it out on the dining room table and noticed that most chapter sections were about one page long.  One was closer to three making it easy to see which section needed the most radical tightening.  I reread, identified one topic that touched on each important point, then highlighted what I wanted to keep and x-ed out what needed to go.  I did the rewrite on-screen but it still wasn’t tight enough.  I printed it off and went back into the dining room.

When you are looking at a hard copy with only a couple of words crossed out, you can’t lie to yourself.  Not much has been cut. That’s vital when 25% of the total word count needs to go.

A word to the wise – cutting something in half often results in something that feels clunky and doesn’t flow.  When this happens, I open a brand new file and start from scratch. It may seem like a lot of work, but I know where I need to go and what I need to say.  The excess never makes it onto the page and writing it again helps it flow.

But once I’ve keyed it in?  I print it out and head back into the dining room to see what I can cut.


February 12, 2018

Revision: Overhauling a Manuscript from Top to Bottom

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:31 am

Rewriting a manuscript is a lot like cleaning out and redo-ing your office.  You have to believe that in the end it will be magnificent because before it gets better it will be a disaster.

I say this because last week I finished cleaning out the freestanding book-case in my office.  My husband and son took it downstairs on Sunday but only after I hauled everything into the dining room.  I know it will be worth it in the end, but not I have an even bigger mess than before.

When I rewrite fiction, I work through Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis.  Darcy’s method is highly analytic.  In one chapter, she has you fill out a narrative arc worksheet.  In another, you survey beats of action as a way to study pacing.  Another survey looks at the variety of emotions in each scene.

One survey after another, takes you through your novel.  But this also means that one survey after another yields a variety of things that you need to change to create the best possible version of your novel.

Some of the fixes will be relatively easy. Two of your characters look too much alike.  One of them will mostly likely need to be changed.  You discover that you include visual details as well as sounds but no details of motion.  Unless your POV character doesn’t perceive motion, this will most likely need to change.

Other fixes will take a lot more work.  You need a new first chapter.  A character has to be completely cut.  Your balance between dialogue, action and narrative?  Simply put, there is no balance and that is going to have to change. Making these changes is going to take time and they won’t be easy.  Add to that the fact that things are going to get super messy along the way.

But that’s okay.  Because when you have your newly jazzed up novel completed, it will all be worthwhile.  My office?  I’m watching my husband noodle over the anchors for the bookcase even as I type.




February 7, 2018

The Most Important Thing for a Writer’s Career

I don’t remember where I saw this on Tuesday.  I read blogs while I’m on the treadmill.  But somewhere on the great web, someone made the comment that the most important thing an author can do to further their career is develop their online presence in a way to help sell their books.

Now, I’m not discounting the importance of this.  It is vital. But there are two things that are actually more important.

First, you have to write.  So  many people talk about how much they want to write.  They have ideas.  They have plans.  They set up a workspace. They buy cute office supplies.  Ooops.  Writing at home is too distracting.  They buy a lap top and set up shop at the local coffee shop.

What they don’t do is write.  Sadly, that’s kind of central to the whole idea of being successful as a writer.  Sorry, but it is true.

Second, you have to finish what you write.  I don’t mean that you have to finish a draft.  That’s important.  You aren’t going to get anywhere without that first draft.  Because the first draft is the raw material that you shape into the second draft.  And it doesn’t end there.  You keep working until it is as good as you can make it.

But wait!  There’s more.  (Ha! I’ve always wanted to say that.)

Then you take it to critique group.  They read it and comment on it and now you have a plan to make it better.

All of this has to take place before you have something publishable.  Until you have something publishable, you have nothing to sell.  I’m not saying don’t develop an online presence.  In truth, there are days that the online community is all that keeps you going.  But to be a successful writer you have to write something of quality.

Then you can sell it.  But first?  You need to write.



January 30, 2018

Draft by Draft: Working Towards a Solid Picture Book Manuscript

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:12 am
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A line of gold marks a repair. It isn’t invisible but it makes an intriguing change much like a rewrite does in your manuscript.

When I draft a picture book, I generally go through four drafts before I have a solid manuscript.  And by solid I mean ready to show people not ready to publish.

In draft 1, I get the story down.  This is just to lay out my concept and get the pacing down and achieve the right number of spreads.  Sometimes I show it to my critique group at this stage.  No, technically it isn’t ready to show people but if I’m experimenting with something they can tell me if my concept is flawed or I need to move things around.

In draft 2, I fix anything that my critique group found if the read draft 1. I make sure that I have everything I need on this spread.  Is there something for the illustrator to illustrate?  If it is nonfiction, are all of my facts in place.  My word count tends to expand a lot from draft 1 to draft 2.  But by the end of draft 2 things look pretty good.

Draft 3 is when I pull the word count back down.  I shift phrases and look for ways to make use stronger verbs and more concrete nouns.  My word generally drops between draft 2 and draft 3.  For some spreads this is my final draft but sometimes it takes one more to get it right.

Draft 4 is when I go through and make sure each and every spread sounds like a picture book.  Not everything is going to be playful and fun but a serious book should be poetic and/or lyrical.  Sometimes my word count goes up a bit in completing this final draft.

A solid manuscript isn’t achieved in a single draft.  Sometimes it helps to think of your rewrites as repairs – these tweaks and adjustments are often what glimmers in the end.


October 2, 2017

Ho Hum Boring Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:14 am
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Especially when your word count is limited, it is important to use vibrant, meaningful language.  Why say very hot when you can say molten?

But there are just times when your brain gets stuck.  What’s a better way to say good or bad?  Happy or sad?

Author Jack Milgram at the Custom Writing blog shared this info-graphic of “28 Boring Words.”  But Jack wasn’t happy just to tell us what words to avoid.  He gave us several possible substitutions for each weak word.

Check this out and see if you don’t find a better word for very or things.  Whether you are writing a poem, a picture book or a novel, strong language pulls the reader into the world you have written.  They help provide the details that bring it all alive.

Sometimes you are trying to choose a more interesting word.  Sometimes you are striving to find a more accurate word.

But don’t let this search bog you down.  This isn’t necessarily something I worry about in draft one.  But it is something that I make sure I address when I rewrite. I should be working on chapter 3 of my next project so —

Happy writing!  Or now that you have this word list, perhaps you will be rewriting?


September 27, 2017

Side Bars: Bite-Sized Chunks of Info

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:50 am
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I’d love to say that I finished a whole chapter today.  That would sound really impressive.  And I thought I would manage to pull it off when I saw how few comments my editor had on my chapter.  Seven.  You should be able to pop through seven comments lickety split.

Sidebar from The Ancient Maya.

Pfft.  What I hadn’t realized was that one of them was a “big comment.”

Little comments are things like:
Double check this fact.
What country is this in?
Make sure this word is in the glossary.

Big comments take a lot more effort to address.  Big comments are on this scale:
I’m not saying it should be here, but somewhere in the chapter/book, you need to address X.
Cut the preceding two paragraphs and expand on the ideas in this paragraph.
Make sure that your sidebars are spaced evenly throughout the chapter.

This particular comment was the last one.  The one about sidebars.

For those of you who haven’t included sidebars in a manuscript, sidebars are those bite-sized write-ups that provide just a bit more information about something in the chapter, article or book.  A sidebar is offset from the rest of the text often by a box, title, different font, or background color.  This sort of thing is handled by whoever does the interior book design.

Within the manuscript, a sidebar includes a title and is double-spaced.  It looks a lot like the surrounding text.  When I write for Red Line, I set sidebars off by including SB: at the beginning of the title.  The one above would have been SB: Jade.  I also have a fairly tight word count that I need to stay within when I include sidebars.  On my current project there are two sidebar lengths.  Short are less than 100 words.  Long are 150 to 200 words.

The hardest part?  The part that took me so much time today?  When there are multiple sidebars in a chapter, I need to make sure that they are spaced, more or less, evenly from beginning to end.  When there are four, they don’t have to be at the 1/4 mark, 1/2 way, at the 3/4, and at the end.  But most of them can’t be bunched up at the beginning of the chapter either.  When they are, you may have to fold one into the main text and come up with another.

It may not take long to write an individual sidebar, but making sure you have them dispersed correctly is another thing altogether.


September 7, 2017

Cutting Excess Verbage

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 6:16 am
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remove filtersAs I work on my chapter book project, I’ve been studying various fiction writing and rewriting techniques.  In part, this is because I’m trying to produce the cleanest manuscript possible.  I appreciate writing that is straightforward and concise.  I want my writing to be similar.

Because of this, I work to cut excess verbage.  A lot gets cut when I rewrite but I’m also trying to be more aware of the words that I’m laying down as I draft a chapter.

What am I cutting or avoiding?

Very.  Instead of walking very fast, my character should stride or lope.  Instead of closing a door very hard, my character will slam or bang it.

Beginning or starting.  This is a personal weakness for me.  My characters don’t need to start 90% of the actions that follow this particular word.  What do I mean?  Why start to speak?  Start to look? Start to leave? Just speak, look and leave.  Simple.

Another one that I just read about is often called filtering.  When you filter, you use phrases like “she saw” or “he noticed.” You might say “he heard” or “she felt.”  It works something like this.

If you filter, you might write something like – Annie saw the bullies stomping across the playground.  Her stomach lurched.

Remove the filter and write – The bullies stomped across the playground. Annie’s stomach lurched.

You can tell that Annie is our POV character.  After all, her stomach is lurching at what she sees.

Instead of writing “he heard the sound of the doorbell,” write “the doorbell rang.”

Replace “she noticed that the key was missing from the hook” with “the key was missing from the hook.”

“The clammy draft ghosted across her ankles” takes the place of “She felt the clammy draft ghost across her ankles.”

Fingers crossed that I don’t find too many instances of filtering in my work.  No one wants to dumb things down but why place excess verbage between the reader and the story?

For additional posts on rewriting, check out:

Picture Book: Rewriting is like Home Improvement

Rewriting, Revising, and Using Things in New Ways

Rewriting: Working from my Editor’s comments


July 28, 2017

Distance: The Key to a Successful Rewrite

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:08 am
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Put it away for a month.  Whether you are writing  novels, picture books, or poems, you’ve probably been given this advice.  Put your work away.  Gain some distance.  Then it will be much easier to see what needs to be fixed.

And it’s good advice when you have the time and space to take it.  Unfortunately, if you are doing educational writing that happens to be work-for-hire, your deadlines tend to be tight.  You know you don’t have the right word.  A phrase is rough. Something just isn’t working.  But you don’t have time to put it away for a month because you have six weeks from start to finish.  You might find the time to clean the bathroom (oh joy) but then you’re right back to it.  Hopefully swishing the porcelain clean was all the break you’re going to need because it is all you’re going to get.

About 2 weeks ago, I started playing around with a new preschool poem. You can read about it here. It was originally a type of poem known as a Golden Shovel.  Mine was a riff on a Poe’s Eldorado.  To put it mildly, it did not work.  Three lines just wasn’t long enough to develop the rhythm or any type of rhyme scheme I liked.

Version 2, written the next day, was 8 lines long.  Or at least it would be 8 lines when I managed to fill them all in.  Day 3, I filled them in but the rhythm was a bit off.

Day 4 it was almost there but . . . nope.  Some word just wasn’t quite right.  I’d change one word and then change it back.  Then I’d fiddle with a different word.  I suspected that I was on the verge of doing more harm than good so I put it away.

After a break of about a week, I got it back out this morning.  Coffee cup in hand, I changed one word in line 3.  Line 4 wasn’t quite right.  I stared at that for a bit, changed 2 words.  Changed one back.  Changed the other to something brand new.  It took me maybe 10 minutes.  Ten minutes to fix what I’d messed around with for 2 days.

Distance.  It really does help.

I wonder if it would have gone quicker if I’d set it aside for a full month?  Just kidding.  But I do have another week to ignore it before I show it to my critique group.


July 17, 2017

Picture Book: Rewriting is like Home Improvement

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:39 am
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While I was working on several work for hire projects, I roughed out two picture books.  While I’m pretty happy with the astronaut book, it needs work.  The yoga book?  If it was a house, I’d say it was a fixer upper.  It’s that bad.  But that’s okay.  I’m going to rewrite.

I don’t mean fix typos and punctuation.  This is a chance to revision the story.  Did I get it down as planned?  If yes, does it function well or is it time to knock out a few walls?

To work as a picture book, there has to be enough to the story to keep the reader coming back.  Your picture book will cost $15 – $20.  No one will pay that if it won’t hold up to repeated readings.

A story has a beginning, a middle and an end.  Your character has a problem to solve.  In a picture book, it can help to have a twist or surprise at the end.

Have you addressed your full audience?  Yes, your picture book has to appeal to the young “reader.” But picture books are usually read by an adult to a child.  There has to be something that will make the adult willing to read it 297 times in a row.

Small things to contemplate — this is like painting or refinishing hard wood floors.  It may take time, but it isn’t structural.

Do you have too much dialogue?  Dialogue cannot carry a picture book.  Talking heads make boring illustrations.  You want to give your illustrator something to work with.  This means …

Hone that action!  Something has to happen on every spread and use specific verbs to paint a picture. Why does your character walk when he can leap, lope or stride?

As you look at your draft, make sure you haven’t used up your word count describing what can be illustrated.  Leave the illustrator room to play rather than describing what can be seen.  Instead describe what can be smelled, heard or tasted.

Last but not least, read your story out loud.  Your manuscript needs that picture book word play. If it doesn’t have it, look for ways to repeat sounds and words as well as use rhythm and rhyme.  A picture book is meant to be read aloud. Help your readers, young and old, enjoy the experience.

Hmm.  Looking at all of this, I think I have a lot to do!  Happy writing, all!


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