After the Draft

Many new writers confuse editing with revision. Editing is one of the later stages and is focused on cleaning and polishing of your prose. During this stage you (try to) catch typos, misspellings, incorrect grammar, and ensure you have clean presentation (check formatting) and have carefully followed the guidelines for your submission. Editing is often completed by someone at the publishing house. But it should also be completed by the writer and is often possible in a single pass.

onestepattimeRevision, on the other hand, comes a bit earlier in the writing process than editing. It is also completed in numerous passes and/or various attempts. During writing workshops when someone asks, “How many times do you revise?” I tell them it depends. I revise as many times as it takes to ensure it’s clear and the best prose I’m capable of writing at this point in my career. This is never what the participants want to hear but it’s a reality of the writing world. If you want to publish, this is what you do.

It helps to think of revision as “rethinking” your story. Now that you have your draft–your story framework and basics–on paper, you can shape it, like clay; refine and rework it as you ask yourself questions about characterization, point of view, use of dialogue and detail. Perhaps you’ll even try a different approach in plotting or viewpoint for a scene or two. Revision is about refining but also developing and deepening the story so the reader has the best possible experience.

not-writejpgMost writers break revision into section or passes. How you approach it is up to you; it depends on your creative approach. Some writers draft and then revise a bit, draft and then revise, but eventually, they reach a point where they are focused on reshaping and rethinking (rather than adding chapters and pages to the manuscript). I’m in the camp of getting a complete draft on paper and then playing around with the writing elements, expanding and deleting scenes, rethinking, shaping, looking at the draft with fresh eyes: re-visioning.

REVISION CLASSES:
If you’re ready to learn more about “looking again” at your draft and revising, I have a revision class starting Wednesday, October 28 through ACE (Adult and Community Education) in Naples, Fla. Find details on my website workshops page.

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Looking Back to Move Forward

I’m making my list and checking it twice. Yes, I know Christmas is over. No, I haven’t overindulged in eggnog. And, no, I haven’t bumped my head and now think I’m Saint Nick. But I am creating goals for the coming year.

Reflecting on where you’ve been in order to make plans for where you’d like to be is something I learned to do right out of college. I landed a job at a mid-sized corporation that was rapidly growing (and have management in their early thirties), and every year we had “Make It Happen” days to plan corporate, department, and personal goals.

An article I wrote based on what I learned at those "Make It Happen" corporate events.

An article I wrote based on what I learned at those “Make It Happen” corporate events.

I learned to begin by making four lists: accomplishments, failures/misses, big dreams, SAM goals (that last stands for specific, achievable, and measurable). Over the decades I have adapted this “process” to include a fifth list. It’s my first list.

1) Begin with gratitude. List everything you can think of–great and small. Challenge yourself to make this as long as possible. Aim for 25 items. For example, I list:

  • the silence of the early morning on a dew-covered golf course (I can see Tee 3 from my lanai)
  • an abundance of westerly sunshine in my living room every afternoon
  • books in every room
  • my health (no meds)
  • watching wildlife on my walks
  • listening to birdsong in the mornings
  • listening to frogs and crickets in the evenings

Once you have a few things on paper it becomes easier to think of things and add items.

Think of all the "victories" great and small you achieved this year. Challenge yourself to think of several dozen.

Think of all the “victories” great and small you achieved this year. Challenge yourself to think of several dozen.

2) Make an accomplishments list. Again, list any size achievement (and you can look at goals lists from other years to do this). And, I get silly–listing minor events just for the fun of it. For example, I have a variety for my list:

  • interviewed about The Right To Counsel for CitiesTour program on BookTV/CSPAN2 (a highlight of my year)
  • getting involved in Marco Island Writers group
  • conducting seven summer reading program library visits
  • reorganizing my office
  • finally recycling my dad’s cellphones
  • finding a new venue for writing workshops

These two lists alone can go far in setting a positive mind frame for the next steps. Making these lists are quick ways to reflect on the past year. They also help in jogging memory, especially small items from early in the year. (Of course, I have the benefit of reading these items in my journal and planner.)

3) Make a Dream Big list. Spend time thinking of and listing what you’d like to accomplish in the new year. Think of this as a preliminary goals list. This is for your eyes only, so dream big. Write each as if it has happened, (as if this IS your accomplishments list for 2015.) Don’t allow the inner critic to tell you your dream is impractical, unattainable, a pipe dream. (This IS the dream big list.) For these second and third lists, I challenge myself to come up with more than 15 items on each. In fact, I try to outdo the year before, so this year I’m aiming for 25.

4) Disappointments List. Now you’ll make a list of the goals you didn’t reach. While this may not be as fun as the previous lists, it should be enlightening. Just do yourself a favor and do not judge. (Gag that inner critic.) This list is easy for me since I have a journal ornament which has become a tradition. Each year when I take down the tree, I list my hopes for the new year. Sadly, a few of the SAME goals have been listed for the past four years. Don’t dwell on the negative–this list is to help you gain perspective. The point of all these lists combined is to help you reflect on the past year–the ups and the downs. The misses and disappointments can help you create both realistic goals and the desire to follow through.
Since I have done the above for several years, I have the benefit of looking at past lists to see that I have made progress–a LOT of progress n fact.

5) Create New Year’s Goals. Now that you’ve made all four lists, from the fanciful (dreams) and fun (accomplishments) to the misses and disappointments, you should now set five goals. But this is key: not only will you get a goal, you will also decide what steps are needed to achieve each goal. And you will then create an action plan for each step. It helps to think of this as creating short-term and long-term goals. The action steps help make each goal achievable. (If you can’t figure how you will take steps to meet a goal, it is probably not attainable–at this point.)

Dream

The difference between a dream and goal is the ACTION you take to make it so. (Advice shared with my college FYE students.)

It also alerts you to a goal that is dependent upon other people for you to achieve it. For example, getting an agent and receiving a huge publishing contract is dependent on a lot of factors out of your control. When you create the actions steps to meet this “goal” you’ll realize that you can do a lot of things that will move you toward achieving publication (polishing your manuscript, researching agents who rep your type of book), but they have no guaranteed results. NOTE here that these “unrealistic” goals can remain on the dreams list. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming of getting a great agent and a huge contract (and according to The Secret, daydreaming about it creates the positive vibrations to help it manifest). But the point of setting clear and attainable goals is so you can take action to achieving them.

Once you’ve created action steps, your goals list will be longer than 5 items (another reason I aim for a smaller list of goals). They will also likely be specific, attainable, and measurable because you’ve used your four lists to reflect on the past year to ensure your make progress in the new year.

Have fun, happy writing, and best wishes for productive and prosperous 2015!

Fresh Season–Happy Autumn!

It’s here! The autumn equinox today heralds the next season. While we won’t see the transition clearly here in Florida (just more rain and humidity with the added adventure of flash flooding), I’m glad for the “change” in season. 

It’s perfect timing for a “fresh” start, something I feel a bigger need for this year after losing my father. Also, I like my routines. I’m a creature of habit—to a point. I do like shifting things around and creating new routines. New seasons are a natural time to do this. They’re a natural transition with the hope for something better in the coming months. And during autumn, I’m also looking forward to the holidays. So, as I prepare for what’s ahead, I plan with the same eagerness as I do a vacation.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t do my new year’s sort and toss. Or maybe because I didn’t have a chance to “spring clean,” or maybe it was triggered by sorting and packing my father’s house. Whatever the reason, I’ve been itching to make some changes. This month I’ve been reorganizing my home and office, sorting, tossing, and giving away. I feel I’m lightening my load and files.

Egrets at the pond.

Egrets at the pond.

Not only have I been captivated by memories, I’ve found projects ideas that got buried during moves. Several are intriguing. One is a middle grade novel for Christian girls that I started for my niece when she was 8 or 9. (She’s just celebrated her 32nd birthday. But, the basic plot is still feasible, and the ideas are churning for updating the characters and events.) Another is a proposal for an elementary nonfiction book on swans. Hmm. I’ve certainly spent plenty of time photographing them in the past. I now spend mornings watching egrets and ibis in my backyard. Perhaps it’s time to act on a “bird” book.

Swan on Higgins Lake, Michigan

Swan on Higgins Lake, Michigan

I’ve spent time in the past few weeks reading words I wrote nearly a decade ago (sometimes longer) and I’m amazed that “I wrote that!” It’s even fun to see comments from my first critique group on some of the manuscripts, too. Then there are the handouts and promo pieces I used during the first school visits I ever did. Fun to reminisce but also viable ideas for future articles.

So, I’m excited that autumn has arrived. I recall how much I always loved the bright, sunny days and crisp nights for hay rides and hot cider when I lived in the north. Now, I know I have only a few weeks more of rainy season to suffer through. In the meantime, I’ll make fresh plans for new projects and ride the excitement of change; this autumn heralds a change in season as well as a transition in my life.

What are your plans for autumn? Do you set goals? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts: Subtle Seasons; Good Morning Season

Subtle Seasons

It’s been more than a decade since I swapped peninsulas to move from Michigan to Florida. When I did, everyone told me, “You’ll miss the seasons. Florida only has two: hot and rainy or warm and dry.” They were right – and wrong.

They were right because I loved autumn with the crisp nights and sunny days, the bonfires and hay rides at the orchards, and the fresh apple cider from the local mills. I also loved the vivid colors of fall foliage; a weekend pastime was to drive Edward Hines from end to end to soak in the beauty. I missed autumn. I also missed winter–more accurately, the beauty of winter. It was the endless dirty piles of snow and ice from plowed parking and roads that I disliked. It was clearing the car in frigid temperatures that caused me to move away. And because spring stopped making all that bearable. I used to love spring and seeing the fresh light green of budding trees and tender grass sprinkled with the white and yellow and pink and purple of new spring flowers.

But they were wrong, too. When I settled in Florida, I felt the joy I felt for northern summers with their deepening and varied shades of green and their bursts of vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. Day lilies and tiger lilies were a staple around my patio in Michigan. Though I couldn’t get them to grow here, I have fallen in love with the creamy white flowers and glossy green-black leaves of the Frangipani trees and the sprinkles of white, star-shaped fragrant jasmine flowers on hedge-like bushes. These plants herald summer and the coming rains. Our season to “suffer through,” just like the winters of Michigan.

Autumn emerges with vivid greens after all the summer rains. It is a subtle transition, one likely to be overlooked except by the very observant. Another herald is the noise of congested beaches and numerous cars, including more honking (something about southern drivers limits their use of horns, even in near-accident situations or car horns are usually northerners). The arrival of the Snow Birds is a true indicator of autumn when overnight travel time will double no matter how sort the distance.

The coming of winter is marked by the dropping of humidity and cool, zephyr-like breezes. Tension in the air also drops as locals give thanks for “paradise weather.” Leaves of the Ficus trees fall and walkways crunch with the hard brown leaves. For about three weeks we experience cool nights when sweaters are needed and sometimes frost advisories cause citrus grove owners to scramble to protect their delicate crops.

Spring arrives around March with the orange blossoms delivering their heady, sweet scent for miles on the breeze. The scent is citrus-y in the dewy mornings, but the sun-warmed fragrance in the afternoons reminds me of the lilacs I miss from my northern home.

So the seasons here are subtle just as the seasons of our lives creep up on us, yet they exist all the same. Someone tuned into her surroundings will notice the patterns emerge that transition one season to the next. And just as when I lived in the north, I look forward to the next season, the next stage in the progressing year, and my heart is content.

What transitions suggest season’s change where you live? Note those details for your next story or essay draft. Happy observing–and writing!