Posts Tagged ‘writing process’

I’ve been talking quite a bit about revision the past few weeks because of where I am with one of my novels. Two weeks ago, I talked about micro-level revisions, and last week, about how to maintain voice while revising.

Now, after several critiques and twelve drafts, and reading my manuscript out loud, I’m in the final polishing stage.

I always print out my manuscript for the final read-through. I find that I catch more errors on paper than I do on the screen.

 What am I looking for?

  1. Misspelled words
  2. Missing punctuation
  3. Formatting issues
  4. Any other errors

I’m about half-way through the hard-copy and I’ve found one backwards apostrophe, two misspelled words or typos, one place where I had to add a word, and a couple places where I’m considering using a hyphen.

Yes, it’s not much, and none of these little errors are deal breakers, but this read-through gives me something very important: “Peace of mind.”

How do I do this read-though?

  1. Mindfully
  2. Slowly

I know the story so well that if I didn’t force myself to read the words in a slow and mindful way I probably wouldn’t catch anything. It’s easy for my brain to fill in words that I know should be there even if they aren’t. And unlike a read-through for plot, pacing and character where I like to read the whole book in one or two chunks, this time I break it up more because I’m really doing more proof-reading than anything.

Do you do your final read-through on hard-copy or on the screen? How do you maintain your concentration when reading a story that you know so well? How do you train your mind to see what is on the paper instead of what is in your head?


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Maintaining Voice

The voice. I think I lost the voice.

When I’m in the latter stages of revision, and I’ve done everything listed in my Micro Revision post, and I’ve shared the novel with a few beta readers, there comes a time when I try to look at every word in the book. 

Of course, I can’t look at every word individually because words in a story don’t stand on their own. I look at words in relation to the other words around them. But I consider every word when I read sentence after sentence, and here’s the main question I ask:

Are there words I can eliminate while still maintaining the Voice of the MC?

I’m not a fan of chopping words just because the sentence will still read okay without them.

I’m not looking for okay, I’m looking to maintain my MC’s voice.

So, I’m a fan of focusing on my how my MC narrates, speaks and acts, and then going from there.

Do I cut a lot of words? I do. But I don’t cut them because they appear to appear too many times.

If there’s a phrase or word that my MC uses with some frequency, I’ll do a search to see where it pops up and I might delete a few of those entries because the same phrase, no matter how witty, has the potential to lose its punch, or become annoying, if used to often.

And yes, I don’t want my manuscript littered with little words like just, but, so, for, and that. However, I don’t cut these words just because a sentence will still read okay without them.

If you cut words without considering the voice, you might revise the voice right out of your story. And if you do that, it’ll be hard for anyone to connect with your story no matter how good the plot is. I did that once a few years ago and then had to do CPR on my manuscript to bring it back to life.

How about you? Have you ever over-revised a manuscript? How do you determine whether to cut or keep a word? All those little decisions can add up.

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I’m in the middle of a new WIP. I’ve got a rough outline that keeps me on track but leaves lots of room for growth and spontaneity. I have the back story written for my major characters. I have a potential scene list in a potential order.

I knew that some of the obstacles my MC would run into would be people, but as I approached each new scene I’d get new ideas about who those people were.

I’d been reading  The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell and decided to do a Voice Journal for each new character entering the story. I didn’t ask the characters questions. I just let them talk about their lives and what brought each of them to where they are now. I’ve written three of them, each about 1200 words.

Here’s what they are helping me do in my first draft:

  1. The dialogue is sharper.
  2. I’m more tuned in to the distinct voice of each character.
  3. I’m discovering more hidden motives for how my characters are responding.
  4. I seem to be writing more words in a shorter time.

Have you used a Voice Journal or a variation of one? How did you like it? I’d love to hear your response.

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I’ve had my head buried in my rewrite this past week, coming up for air only to take care of personal business.

The above is an attempt to make a face from some items plucked from my windowsill. I found all these things in some remote corners of this amazing planet, and there’s at least one personal story attached to each of them. And I might tell some of those stories someday.

But those stories are interesting mostly to me because I’m the one attached to those objects. Yeah, we could debate that. I do read and love lots of nonfiction.

But this past week as I tried to stretch and push and mold and refold my WIP, one of my favorite writing quotes kept nudging its way into my brain. I don’t even need this quote written out to remember it.

I heard the prolific YA novelist, Richard Peck speak a few years back and he said something like this:

           A story is not what happened. It’s what might have happened.

Sometimes, for me at least, simple wisdom, like the quote above, is just what I need to keep digging. To try to see beyond what I’ve already seen. To keep reaching toward what my story is becoming. To remain open to what might have happened.

And to remember that yeah, this is my story, but it needs to be way bigger than me if I want readers to connect with it.



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One of our bookshelves

When I was teaching, I read close to a hundred books a year, mostly YA. The more books I read, the easier it became to recommend books to my students, who were mostly reluctant and struggling readers. Plus, I love to read.   


However, as a writer, I sometimes find it difficult to read when I’m writing. Sometimes the voice of the book I’m reading creeps into the book I’m writing. This happens more in early drafts than in later drafts. Maybe this means I just haven’t found the voice for my book yet, I’m not sure.    

I once had a seventh grade student who came to school all excited about a story he had written. He handed me five notebook pages filled with his neat hand writing, a big smile on his face. And the writing was amazing: He’d copied word for word, the first chapter of Treasure Island.  

What happens to me isn’t that extreme. I’m not starting my novel with: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Or, Call me Ishamel.    


However, I’ve had more than a few writers tell me they can’t read when they are in the middle of a writing project. Others just keep devouring books non-stop.     

Then yesterday, via a link from Natasha Foundren’s blog, I found this quote by Will Self regarding reading while writing: 

Stop reading fiction – it’s all lies anyway, and it doesn’t have anything to tell you that you don’t know already (assuming, that is, you’ve read a great deal of fiction in the past; if you haven’t you have no business whatsoever being a writer of fiction).  

Right now, I am reading every night, enjoying some great YA novels, as I plow through a rewrite of my current WIP during the day. 

However, when I wrote Placement, I didn’t read anything. That story was buzzing in my head, inhabiting me. I’d wake up at night with a plot solution and scribble it down, or with a piece of dialogue, or a new scene idea. No way could I pick up another book. 

What about you? Do you read while you are writing? If so, are you reading in your genre or outside of it? Are there specific times in your writing process when you just cannot pick up a book? Are there other times when reading is helpful for you while you are writing? In what way? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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I own a pile of writing books. Some I’ve read just once. Others I come back to again and again.

The newest addition to my library is Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris.


Nail Your Novel is about how to take your idea and turn it into a novel, and about how to breathe new life into abandoned projects. It is not a craft book, but more of a process book.

I’m in the middle of rewriting a novel from a different POV. When I finish my first draft, I’m going to try Roz’s method for taking a close look at my scenes to see how they fit together. She’s taken the Hollywood beat sheet concept and adapted it to analyze the scenes in a novel for purpose, mood and pacing. Pages 80-84 in Nail Your Novel.

Roz says, “A scene must be interesting in its own right, but also because of what came before and what comes after it.”

I read Nail Your Novel in a couple of hours. It’s a short book (122 pages). And, it’s free. You can download it. You don’t have to log in, or give your email address, or register for anything. As far as I can tell, it’s just plain free.

I’m excited to have a new tool that looks at big picture issues in novels.

What is the most recent thing you’ve found or read that has helped you as a writer?

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