Burnt Nuts for Breakfast — Revisions or Rewrite?

After making Chex Mix (R) every year since cereal was invented, today I burnt my first batch. Last night I’d left the ingredients out so I could make it first thing in the morning while I did an extended morning workout between the scheduled stir times. Only, before the hour time of baking was up, I noticed that distinct burnt smell filling my kitchen. The only thing I can think of was that because it was early morning, and I didn’t want to turn on the bright overhead lights but used a small side light, this may have meant I pressed in the wrong oven temperature. I also may not have stirred as often as in past times because, well, I was multitasking, after all.

So here was my burnt batch of Christmas treats–with a full extra can of cashews added to the mix!

On went the overhead light to see how much, if any, I could salvage. I put a plate on one side for the burnt pieces and a bowl on the other for the non-burnt pieces. I picked out the obvious ones, and dusted the burnt crumbs off of some bits. I taste-tested many of the sad-looking, dried-out nuts to see if others with those same hues and shrivels should go to the good pile or bad. I’d made a double batch, and it was taking me forever to pick out each individual piece. Plus, my stomach wasn’t feeling too hot from eating all those burnt nuts for breakfast.

All this got me thinking about writing (of course). Or in this case, revisions v.s. rewriting. With any novel I finish and set aside for a time, I always find things which need some serious work. There are pieces which can be fixed with revisions. With other novels I feel need for a total rewrite. And still others were obviously merely for keyboard typing practice.

You, the author of your finished work, are in charge of your words. Should you go over your novel and hand-pick word-by-word, line-by-line to make it good? Or should you toss the entire batch, I mean, manuscript, and start from scratch with a rewrite? Whichever way you choose, choose, but please don’t serve burnt nuts. (I also don’t recommend eating them.) After all, what is your end goal? Isn’t it to provide good taste for your readers (or relatives’ tummies)? Never, ever be satisfied with burnt.

Happy reading, writing,…and eating.

Pre-writing, Raw Writing, Revisions

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I’m working on a new story, started a couple months ago. It takes up a lot of my thought time. I’m rather anti-social right now, even when it comes to posting on my writing blog. It’s as though all these other things in life are merely interfering with what I am passionate about, and what I can’t stop thinking about. I’ve done pre-writing, outlining, know where the story is going. I’ve done some raw writing — love doing this rambling, care-free part of writing. And, because I have been submitting chapters to my critique group, I have also had to work on revisions. Sometimes I find that all three of these writing stages (pre-writing, raw writing, and revisions) go on interchangeably, like a wild writing dance. I just hang on to my partner (the story line); sometimes I lead, and sometimes the manuscript leads.

So now I’m at about 35,000 words, with some chapters merely book-marked with a paragraph telling what goes on there. If I were a more disciplined writer, or a writer without a critique group to hold me accountable each month, I think I’d write out the entire story in one shot. But then, perhaps I’m not that disciplined writer. So I pre-write, raw-write, then revise and re-write until the story is finished. Dry to talk about, but exciting to do. Off to write.

Poor Ole Secondary Characters

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As I was writing on my story this week, suddenly one of the secondary characters died.

Wait one minute! That wasn’t in the outline! Who was typing when that happened?

But then I thought to myself: total twist in the plot element. Cool. So I’m keeping him dead, poor guy. I just must take some think-time now to rework a few things, well, like the rest of the story, basically. Still, very cool.

Before this, I have intentionally gotten rid of characters, even main characters who didn’t serve any purpose except to give company to the main character. A parrot would have been more interesting. For me, taking out one of the major players was simply boring revision junk, to get rid of any sign the person existed.

Writing Challenge: Is each one of your characters essential to the plot? To the MC? Might a couple of them be combined, and still accomplish the same thing?

Poor ole secondary characters. Every last one of mine are now shaking in their paper boots.

Time, Priorities and Discipline for Writers

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I missed the last day of the WriteOnCon. Out of town. Out of internet availability. I have had nearly a week to catch up. I listened to some of the talks, but now that I have them just sitting there, waiting for me, I have allowed myself to get distracted by other things in my life – big things, like cleaning turtles from our very own river oil spill, to the more mundane, like mowing the lawn, doing laundry, or meal prep. Each of those things are important in their own rights. (Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention making and canning the salsa today before the tomatoes overripe.)

Discipline and priorities involve decisions in our every-day lives. We only have twenty-four hours in a day, and we do need to eat and sleep and get a bit of exercise; besides that, most people need day jobs in order to eat and sleep with a roof overhead.

How serious are you when it comes to writing? Are raw writing (first drek-drafts), or revising, or learning more about the craft and the market, priorities for you? Or do you say you’ll get to it “someday soon, as soon as xx is over”? (In my opinion, the only “xx” excuse to keep yourself from discipline, is family, especially your children. They grow up way too fast to ignore them.) So… be disciplined. Write!

My Writing Rejection Goal for 2010

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I just read a post on Darcy Pattison’s blog about setting a goal of 20 rejections per year. It wasn’t the rejection bit which she stressed, but she was saying that at least 20 times you’d have submitted your “baby” somewhere.

This idea was a twist to my goal of 4 subs per month — making mine 48 possible rejections (or never hearing back from), and I’d like to stress the possible part. Since I’ve been working on mostly revisions for the past couple years, my submission level has somewhat dipped; to be honest, it has very much dipped in the past two years. But my thought on that is that I am getting my story/stories stronger. Each month I feel that I learn new things about the craft of writing. This means I’m (hopefully) becoming a better writer, enough to someday stand out in the eyes of some cautious, but very supportive editor (or agent).

Thanks for the poke, Darcy. But I think I’ll pass on a Writing Rejection Goal, and go back to mere submission goals. I know the rejections (or worse yet, the ignorings) will come. I’m just more the-cup’s-half-full type of person. But 20 subs for 2010 isn’t such a bad goal to shoot for.

March Writing Submission Goal

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Today I revisited my March Writing Goals to realize I hadn’t submitted anything for this month yet. Actually, since I’ve been in revision mode, I’ve only subbed 3 ms over the past year. So today I dug out my old flash drive and opened 3 PB stories I knew I had ready to go. I intended merely to print them out and zip those babies out… as in,  getting them in the postal or emaild today. Then I read them, each of them. Did you hear my forehead ka-thunk onto my keyboard? First in embarrassment at such poor writing, then in realization that I had hours to go before any one of them would be submission-ready. I know they are good story ideas, but anyone can come up with good story ideas. The good news in this stinky process is that my writing craft must be improving — right? — if I am able to recognize need of improvement all by my lonesome. Although, there are some days when I wish I had an editor like Hemingway did, and only have to write about 2/3 of any story.

For now, I think I’ll focus on a couple of my other writing goals for this month — like my write three raw/new chapters by the end of the month (got one done), or like my thinking up 10 things I’m thankful for each of 10 days without repeating anything. Then there is my Personal April Challenge to tackle the whole-novel critiques from my critique group and rewrite that little baby, too. Maybe I’ll have things ready by May to get back out there into the slush piles.

Now, wouldn’t you agree that the writing life is never dull?

Warning — Deleting Old Files

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Talk about heart-sink. Warning to other pre-published writers — never, ever, ever delete an entire manuscript from your files early in the morning when you aren’t quite awake. I THOUGHT I was being so clever to consolidate my files, and deleting old mss, leaving room on the jump drive for the most current versions. Funny what one little push of a keyboard key can do to your heart. After about 7 revisions, I’d wiped clean a 55K novel from my jumpdrive, along with several other files relating to it.

Yeah, I know: backups. I do have the old stuff backed up. My intention was to delete the old and keep the new.

Maybe I was just supposed to write it from the beginning, anyway.

One author I heard at a conference several years ago wrote a book from beginning to end. Burned the book. Rewrote the book from beginning to end, without, obviously, looking at the first copy. Burned that second rewrite and wrote the story out a third time. She did this 7-9 times for each story she wrote. She explained that the first time you write out a story, you don’t really know your characters very well. By the fourth rewrite, you know your characters, but then you have to work on story arch.

I think what I have to work on is not making stupid decisions early in the morning. I used to be a morning person. Really I did. I think I’ll crawl back to bed and curl into a fetal position for a while.

My Scheduled Writing Time

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“Would you consider writing on your blog about how you schedule your time? How many hours a day do you devote to writing? Are they set hours? When you revise do you have a specific pattern you follow?” – Sharon Willett, 2-17-10

Sharon, I will answer the first of your “two” questions (“one” was on schedule, the other on revision), but not as an example of what you should do.

Personality tests show I’m unstructured task-oriented, but not too far off from the structured people-oriented point, because I do like being organized, and I like people. But when I discovered this orientation preference for me, guilt slipped off my shoulders and I could stand up tall and say, “Hey! I’m unstructured.” (I’d be a prime candidate for Manana Time or Indian Time.) However, I see unstructured as in the area of time, only, for, like I say, I like things (and me) to be organized.

How this interesting tidbit of personal information translates into my writing schedule is this: I have no writing schedule.

Having given a truthful answer to your question, I could stop this post now, but I don’t think you’d be satisfied, since you also now know I’m also task-oriented, therefore, inclined to get things done (e.g., first drafts and revisions).

So this is how I’ve made my tasks (manuscripts) get done (written and revised):

1) I’m in a critique group which pushes me to write and holds me accountable. (There’s my forced structure.) We also change and evolve as we writers change and evolve.

2) I’m a morning person. By about 1pm my brain starts getting lazy. By 3pm I’m ready for a nap, although I hardly never take one. By 6pm I’m on mundane routine automatic mode. After that, it’s rather downhill working towards total shutdown for the day. This all means, that I am most productive in the morning, so have chosen that/this as my time to think and write.

3) I work best in uninterrupted time chunks – 3-5 hours at a stretch.

4) Now that I’m no longer in the paid work force, there are many times when I decide to write when my husband is at work, i.e., I work while he works, even though I’m not paid (yet). This gets to be a problem when I have meetings and errands and cooking and housework building up like behind a beaver dam which must be torn down.

5) I never write on vacation time, nor when family visits, nor when my husband gets a day off. Family always comes first.

On a sidenote for number 3, lately, I’ve been wondering how these long writing times are affecting me, physically. So, every once in a while (like, once a month or so) I try to play “the writing games.” Like, I’ll set the kitchen timer for an hour. When it goes off, I leave the computer and go toss in a load of laundry while hopping around like a bunny and woggling my head from side to side, go up and down the steps a couple times, grab a glass of water or pop, then get back to writing.

Regarding writers’ writing schedules, I have always been jealous of James Michener’s – go to some exotic place you’ve never been, spend all morning writing or researching and all afternoon exploring the lay of the land and the people, then relaxing in the evening with your spouse. Very nice.

In the end, you must find what works best for you. Hope this helped. I’ll save the revision question for another day.

Rewrites and Quick Revision Mode

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I did NaNoWriMo for the first time last November. I came up with about 37K words.

By the end of December I had 44K, finishing the story line.

Then started my “quick revision mode,” which means slashing and burning all irrelevant stuff, and building bridges to make a story arch.

The first week of January, I was left with 3K. Yep. That would be three thousand words, down more than 10,000. Permission to write dreck during NaNoWriMo left me with a skeleton at the rewrite stage, but a very nice skeleton.

Now, mid-February, I am up to 23K with three chapters to revise/rewrite.

Seems like my MG novel will be short even for a MG. When I’m “done,” after I sit on it for a while, I’ll get back to it again for some more rewrites and revisions. I hope to have this baby ready to be submitted by spring. That would be the shortest amount of time I ever spent on a book — not by hours, of course, but by days. Because I’m not working full time, I can spend a lot more time writing instead of spreading it out over years. Pretty cool.

Rest of January Writer’s Challenge

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Writer friend Sue told me her critique group was doing a Write-10,000-Words-During-January challenge… but that no one has mentioned anything about it since last year. And here we are a full third of the way through the month already. Tisk-tisk. I told Sue I’d take her up on it. Writers need accountability, after all, even if it’s “only” with each other (v.s. deadline with agent or editor).

Since we are both in revision-mode, we’ve found that our WIP word count is shrinking instead of growing, as is to be expected.

So… here’s our revised challenge:

1) 10,000 RAW words (i.e., newly written) by the end of January; and

2) At least one hour per day of writing in our busy schedules, be that RR or R — raw , revising or rewriting.

Anyone else want to take up the Rest of January Writer’s Challenge? Please feel free to join us.  You may place your word count or hours in the comment area of this blog during the remaining three Mondays in January. Good luck, and keep on writing.