Whole Book Revisions

I have a book which is half done-ish at 50K. That is, I’ve completed the rough draft of one of the character’s POV, with lots of hours of revisions and rewrites already done to it, which also means the word count fluctuates as I add or delete. I was going to start in on the other character’s POV. I mean, I already have done that with 18K down, but decided to hold off until NaNoWriMo in November to completely rewrite it and add a bunch of twists and complications. It is so hard to wait when all I want to do is write. In the meantime, until November 1st, I am doing a whole book revision on the first guy’s story.

Some of my writer friends love revisions as the best part of the writing process. Perhaps that’s because the story line is done, the characters already developed, etc. Revision means delving into both the big picture and the micro (even down to a single word use) picture. To me, that’s like wading knee-deep in mud. That said, I really, really like my completed revised drafts. I just whine pitifully all the way there. And these are just my own personal revisions, not an agent’s or editor’s input.

I’ve got Darcy Pattison’s shrunken manuscript workbook next to my tiny-print manuscript and go back and forth and back and forth between them. I’ve done the “simple” tasks of marking strong chapters, boxing off scenes, etc., and can’t help but also do some micro editing. Sorry, Darcy. I know. I know. Big picture first. And so much think-time! They never teach you that in writing classes/books. There’s so-so much think-time to writing a book.

After I do this particular whole book revision, I’ll then print it off again and mark any major, medium, or detailed changes still needing attention. And then print it off again for another look-though.

You would think I would be content doing whole book revisions. I mean, it is writing, after all, isn’t it? Well, in fact, no, it isn’t. Revisions are a part of the writing process, the part to make your story stronger, to plug up those plot holes, to make your characters more loveable…or more hateable. Whether I particularly like this bit of writing or not, it sure will fill my time for the next five weeks. And then–hurray!–I can start in on a new story which has been teasing me ceaselessly to pay attention to it, which is actually the other side-of-the-coin story.

(All right, Sandy, quit writing all these fresh words and thoughts and get back to work already! Revisions-ho!)

Revisions – The Big Picture

They say (“they” being conference speakers and authors of books on craft) that first you must get your story written before you go back to rewrite, revise, send through your critique group, revise more, and make the big picture make sense.

I thought after nearly a year of writing that I was done with my WIP story, and could look back on the big picture. Actually, I am far from it. What I thought I was finished with was the one character’s POV of the story. And then this past week I saw the big picture and realized that I had it snowing (in my story) from mid-September to the end of December. All I can give for an excuse is that while I wrote the bulk of the story last year that it must have been a long, cold winter. I mean, whatever happened to autumn?

I love the fall. It’s my favorite time of the year. And here I went and wrote a story going from summer directly into winter, totally skipping an entire season. And, yes, it was a long, cold winter last year. Still…no excuses.

The past couple of days I’ve been getting rid of winter (until the more appropriate later in the story). But another, perhaps more serious, trouble I have is that when I look back on whatever I’ve written, I have the irresistible urge to do revisions, not just seasonally related. It’s like I can make every single sentence in my 60K story better.

When I taught second graders one year and used the cute term “sloppy copy” for the rough first drafts of their stories, some of my best writers scribbled, scratched out, and wrote in both big and little letters even in the same word. I was confused until I realized they had taken me quite literally and had tried to make it sloppy.

I am not joking that my file with this WIP on it reminds me of my second graders’ sloppy copies. A couple weeks ago, I felt so good to be “done” with at least one character’s POV. I now know I am a long, long way from done. Oh, what a yucky sloppy copy. But at least I know the story, where it’s going, how it ends. Now to take care of ONE of the big picture revisions.

Keep on writing (and revising and learning).

The Writer’s Journey – Baby Steps

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler is a terrific craft book for writers on characters and plot. My own Writer’s Journey is made up of more mundane baby steps.

I am presently in revision mode. It’s not that I’ve finished this third book in the series yet, which is what (finishing your rough draft) is highly recommended, but it’s been a while since I’ve worked on it.

So I reread what I wrote. Then I naturally revise or rewrite what I wrote. This process takes me about an hour per chapter, and were I to go back over it for another look, I’d still find ways to improve the writing. I’m certain I could revise much faster if I were going through it one point at a time, e.g., finding any missed passive voices, or reading through for plot inconsistencies only. But I need to finish the entire story first.

So today’s baby step in writing is revising chapter by chapter until the words start to blur.

I force a few real life steps at the conclusion of each chapter – stretch those ole legs every hour, rip out a few weeds while I walk around the yard, grab a fresh cup of tea, then dive back in.

I want to scream, “UGH! This is so hard!” But my tea’s ready, so I must return.

Baby steps. One step at a time. One chapter or scene at a time.

Revise as you Write or Finish the WIP?

At 47K, I’m more than 3/4 of the way through my “first draft” of my WIP, War Unicorn, Book 3. I feel a bit stymied as it has now become a rather complicated story and I want to write on several places. I found that I needed to delete a character from several chapters in order to make her entrance more dramatic and essential to the plot line. I was also writing the middle, the climax and the ending all at once as new ideas and situations threw themselves into my mind. then there was the rearranging chapters and sequence of events. These are all revision techniques. But like I say, I’m only 3/4 of the way through the story.

Usually I’m a pantster – I write without any detailed outline, although I usually know the ending before I start with the beginning.

Some writer friends say to revise as you write. Others say finish the manuscript and then go back to rewrite or revise. Both methods are…okay. I guess.

At the moment I feel as though I have this delicious-looking stew which is just about done cooking, but then I decide to transfer it to another location, and I trip. The stew flies all over the floor and walls and furniture. (Well…thus ends the analogy, for I’d never scrape food off a floor to put back into a pot. Ew.)

My point is, I see the need to gather the pieces of my story to put them back together in a more logical way. But if I just would have left that pot on the stove and finished it there, then fixed it to taste better…Or perhaps it would be best to scrape it all into the trash and start over (rewrite)?

Looking over how-to-revise notes and books is NOT helpful. That actually gets me into even more trouble, adding bigger complications.

Finish the WIP first draft? Revise as you go? Revise after the first draft? Rewrite? So many options. I don’t know about your own  WIPs, but mine needs some serious attention right now, so whichever method works best for you, I suggest that’s the one to go with. (IMHO) Just keep on writing!

Post NaNoWriMo Syndrome

One week ago today ended #NaNoWriMo2015. To those who won — Hurray! To those who wrote any new words on your WIP — Hurray!

I’ve participated seven times in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Each year during the month of October, I gear up and prepare for the writing marathon. Then, about mid-way through the month of November, I fall behind on my 1,700 words-per-day count and slink into a temporary depression. I sometimes cheat during this bleak time, just so I won’t dump too much emotion into a failure, but also, and more importantly, so I can focus once again on my story.

I didn’t reach 50,000 words on my WIP (Work in Progress), however, I certainly wrote over that word goal though the month…on other things. But I have a nice solid 25K of rough draft babbling to work with.

Today I’m to submit a fresh chapter of something to my critique group. A couple of days ago, after the collapsing break from the writing race, I once again picked up those raw words. In my mind, before looking at them, I thought those first six chapters were near perfection, but only a few days later: Oh, what a rough draft of babble.

I sat down for a three hour block to do some revisions on just the prologue and first chapter, and marked where I stopped and counted up my revised words: about 700. Seriously? I can pound off 700 words of babble in a third of that time! But that’s the trouble with revisions — it takes time and labor to get the words right, and to chuck out the worthless stuff. Or perhaps I just fell asleep at the keyboard. Somehow sleeping sounds better to me than spending three hours on 700 words of a novel revision.

Whatever your revision process is, don’t give up. Keep writing new. Keep improving what you’ve got. Don’t be afraid of the delete key. May the good words rule!

Storytelling and Writing/ Repetition and Revision

Last week I had the privilege to spend a few days with my grandkids, one-month-old twins and a three-year-old. I’d taken my laptop along to write in my spare time–there’s always so much to be working on–but oh, hahahaha, I found that the only spare time was when I slept. (I really don’t know how young mothers find time to write. Really.)

Last January, I’d tell my smart-as-a-whip three-year-old Nursery Rhymes. If she liked it she’d say, “Again.” By the fourth time through, the kid was reciting the rhyme with me. This last visit, because there was often a babe in my arms, I told her folk tales instead.

Once when I asked if she wanted to hear about the Three Little Pigs, she said, “NO!” So I turned to her baby brother in my arms and asked him if he wanted to hear the story. He stared at me, flailing his arms and kicking, anxious for me to get on with it. I told the boy the story of the pigs with his older sister kneeling beside me on the couch, facing me, but not saying a word. It became one of her two favorite “tell it again” stories this visit. Interestingly enough (but not really), I found that each time I told it, I tweeked it a bit, I stumbled over my wording less, until it was storytelling perfection, until at last my telling had come to a point where there wasn’t a word I wanted to change. The three-year-old and I would do a Reader’s Theatre (without us reading, of course), and switch roles of who said the lines of the Big Bad Wolf and who spoke the lines of the Three Little Pigs. I was always the narrator.

Naturally, most of what I do, even if not writing, I can relate back to writing. The retelling over and over of the Three Little Pigs until there wasn’t any word to change reminded me of revisions of my own tales. Every time I read something I’ve written, there’s always some phrase I can rewrite better, always unnecessary words I can cut out, always points where I can add more feeeeeelings.

My writing challenge to you: Keep rewriting until there isn’t a single word you would want to change.

Art and Art Lessons Learned — Watercoloring and Writing

Last night I attended a watercoloring demo with Ken Dey at the Battle Creek Art Center. I’ve taken watercolor classes before, but this style of demo was new to my experience. (And thank you, all my illustrator friends, for your cheers and encouragement at my untalented-but-willing painting-for-fun efforts.)

I do like to dabble with both sketches and paints, but I’ve never felt I was very good. That said, I know from my writing experience the more practice and more I study about the craft, the better I become. But any craft takes time to learn in order to get it…acceptable for others’ eyes. Time is a huge factor in pursuits. At least for me.

With most of my adult life focused on writing (v.s. illustrating), it wasn’t much of a surprise to find my mind last night translating what Ken was teaching into writing. So here are the things I parallel-learned from last night’s demo:

1)  Study and practice your craft under someone who is more experienced than you, someone who also answers even the most basic questions. (For writers, these can be conferences, workshops, webinars, writing craft book clubs, etc.)

2) Good equipment and materials make the act of doing your craft more seamless. (For illustrators, a workspace, paper, paint, and brushes; for writers, a workspace, working computer (or paper and pen), related computer programs.)

3) Have a plan. (Illustrators–sketches; Writers–theme, plot outline, and character sheets)

4) Start with general placement. (Watercolorers–wet on wet, section by section; Writers–rough draft, or what I call Raw Writing, loosely following the Three Act plan until your story is “done.”)

5) Take time to let it set. (Painters–wait till the next day, or use a hair dryer; Writers–time is your hairdryer. There’s no rushing the set time for us. Put your story aside a few days or months and come back to it with fresh eyes.)

6) Go back to fill in details. (For artists this would mean tree branches, grass blades, shadows, removing gumm, etc. For writers this is what we call “revisions,” like making clearer motivations for each action, working on language to make your words count, making sure your readers can use their five senses which you’ve planted in your scenes, etc.)

7) Say thank you to your friend who invited you to the demo (or whatever), and make sure to invite others to things you care about as well. (It’s a lot about connections and networking, people.)

Throwing Away Your Loved Ones

Last fall I got poison ivy…again. I was put on steroids…again. Today I looked over my 2014 writing goals and started thinking about my 2015 ones. (Can these two thoughts possibly have anything in common, or have anything at all to do with throwing away your loved ones? Yes, indeed.)

Steroids gives me a perk. This past fall I started digging through some boxes buried in an unused room. One box had notes and papers from writers conferences I’d attended, some nearly twenty years old. I loved attending each and every one. The faces of dear old writer friends popped into my head. The laughter from those times rang faintly in my ear. There was the excellent food and simply a break from the day-to-day life reality. I loved those times and those people–many of whom I am still in contact with. I was glad for the remembering, but I didn’t need a box of outdated files. That large box of past conferences narrowed down to one small file on writing craft gleaned from all those conferences. The rest of those loved ones, which I’d clung to for decades, I threw away.

I do the same with my writing, but never while on steroids! I appreciate the umph the medicine gives me to do things I know I should but don’t necessarily want to do. But when I revise or even rewrite, deciding if an entire chapter or even a character must be thrown away is not a decision I trust while on meds.

Even though I accomplished most of my 2014 writing goals, they were rather chatty. Thing is, even when writing a simple thing like a list of goals, I find myself stockpiling and hording words. Who am I to think that my words are that important that anyone wants to read so many of them, even me? So for 2015, I decided to throw away extra words. Even though it’s not 2015 yet, I’ll stop here.


What is Writing – Publishing Success?

A writing friend recently called me successful. Her comment gave me pause. What is writing and/or publishing success?

I see author success in steps.

Step one: Write a good book. This involves taking classes, reading books on craft, attending conferences, webinars, workshops, joining critique groups – all to improve your writing. Every year you should be a better writer than the year before. If you’ve got a well-written story, you are successful.

Step two: Submit to and have agents and editors give you positive feedback about your work, even if they reject you as client or for a manuscript. When your story makes it through the initial reader, through the editor, through the editorial group, and to the acquisitions group, this all indicates that people in the publishing industry verify that you have been successful with step one. If traditionally accepted, follow that route, and I’d strongly recommend it.

If wanting to pursue self-pub, follow the next steps.

Step three: Partner with an awesome cover illustrator. Sales rank has proven that fresh covers make a difference even when there is no text change. You can judge a book by its cover. Traditional presses can pay $1,000 – $5,000 for a single cover illustration. That’s out of my price range. But if you know an illustrator whose work you admire, negotiate for a reasonable fee. Never accept an offer for a free cover. There could be legal and relational repercussions in the future. Finding a good illustrator match is success.

Step four: Learn how to self-publish. There are entire books on this subject. I could list a few hundred tips here, but it would be like a flood gate opening. Read as much as you can about how to self-publish. If this is the route for you, then do it. Having an ebook, or holding a physical copy of your book in your hands with your name on the cover, this, too is success.

Step five: Book sales indicate success. If only friends and relatives are buying your books, your success is limited to who you know. To me, when one stranger buys my book or does a review, this is success. To sell books, learn about marketing and promotion. Again, many books on this subject. Read. Read. Read. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Repeat what works and embrace your failures. I spent $92 on gas alone for a far-away book signing and sold a mere three copies of my book during the signing. I didn’t get paid for those books, not until, according to their contract, all their inventory of my books had sold, which they never did because they went out of business and donated my other 17 copies someplace. I can only hope that “someplace” wasn’t the dump. What is marketing success to me? Marketing success is when I sell books.

Step six: Write another book. If you make millions of dollars from your first and only book, good for you, but that’s not truly literary success. Being able to be creative enough to write more and more good stories – this is success.

Step seven: Having the strength and endurance to repeat these steps with each book, and to convince your friends and family that you really do have a job which takes up your time – this is success.


(Success to the successful thistle sifter.)

Your Writing Process – Revisions and/or Rewrites


This morning I stared of out my work window at leaves sparkling in the sunshine in a light breeze. Then reality struck as I realized these are last fall’s brown oak leaves, clutching onto branches overhanging snow mounds, not-not-not giving way until the new leaves force them off next month. It made me think of my present WIP.

The story has been done for months. Then, as it sat while I was involved in other projects, I began to see ways to improve WIP Story, even wanting to delete it all and begin from page one on a blank screen.

This morning, it struck me that the old dried brown oak leaf represented my WIP Story. Then I went out and took a picture of the shivering old things. Realizing no one could see the shivering in a still photo (although I’ve inserted the shot), I took a video and panned up the tree. In my mindset, I was horrified to see ALL my WIPs fluttering before me. At least hundreds of my old ideas. Thousands.

Oh, spring, come quickly! I welcome fresh green ideas and stories.

(P.S. My original intent of this post was to ask what’s YOUR writing process – if you revise as you write, if you do multiple revisions, or if you go back to the beginning and rewrite?)