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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Anticipating . . . a Day of Writing

Children’s writers learn to look back on their childhoods to develop stories young people can relate to. It’s not looking back just for the memories but for the emotion too. For example, do you recall being in elementary school and looking forward to a new day because something good was about to happen? Maybe it was the first day of summer break. Maybe it was the start to a family vacation. Maybe it was your birthday. Or, maybe it was a simple as going to a movie, getting a book you’d been looking forward to, or the new Saturday cartoon line up every autumn.

When was the last time you, as an adult, looked forward to a weekend day with that same sense of anticipation as a long-planned for vacation? When was the last time you, as a writer, looked forward to crafting the next scene in your story or starting a new novel? I’ve thought about this sense of anticipation a lot during the past three months. It reminded me that when I still worked full time, I wrote in every spare minute I could find. To add to my writing time, I used to plan a long weekend with the intent of writing for 3 days straight.

The joy of making serious progress as I focused on a specific writing project provided the same break as a weekend getaway. At some jobs I had to use vacation days but at others they allowed personal days scheduled a week or so ahead. Whatever those circumstances at my job, I planned for my long writing weekend with the same attention I spent planning a vacation. I made decisions about which project I’d focus on and whether I’d stay home or turn it into a “private retreat” by reserving a motel room. I planned nutritious snacks to keep the creative juices flowing, and I scheduled my time–complete with exercise breaks and time for reading writing books or magazines and to connect with other writers (or get some feedback on my writing).  The progress I made on my project buoyed me through my day job.

Now that I write full time, I juggle a lot of projects and balance teaching writing workshops with client work and contracted writing (mostly nonfiction). During scheduling turmoil in the past year, I realized I was missing that sense of anticipation in my writing. So, I designated Fridays as my “writing” days, meaning I work on only my projects. Client deadlines infringed and again I realized I was lacking that sense of anticipation. During this year I’ve designated Wednesdays and Fridays as “my projects” days. It doesn’t always work out the way I planned (and “my projects” has broadened in scope) but I’m happy with the sense of accomplishment at the end of those days. I haven’t felt that since my weekend “writing vacations” of the past.

So, are you feeling that sense of anticipation in your writing life? Do you awake happy that at some point that day you’ll get to focus on your story, book, or article? If not, consider proclaiming one day (or even a half day) as your “my writing project” day. Mark your calendar. Plan what you’ll do. Let your family know and ask for their support. Then, wake up with anticipation . . . to write!

Writer’s Basic Training

This week several new workshops started so it was an especially busy week yet also quite enjoyable. I love meeting new writers and guiding toward a writing goal. I also receive a lot of questions about journals. The topic causes anxiety for some people, especially when I encourage them to begin (or continue) journaling.

Keeping a journal is the best way to harness thoughts, memories, ideas and dreams. Those penned experiences will provide plenty of details to add realism to your stories. Journaling also serves as “training,” to help you find your writer’s voice, among many other writing skills. The more you write, the more developed your natural writing voice becomes. Because journals are private, we let our subconscious guard down and allow thoughts to flow and so our natural voice emerges.

You don’t need to write daily, and the entries you make may be of any length you desire. One page or ten? It’s up to you (and what you have to say about whatever you write about). Your journal entries do not need to make sense as far as transitions or sequence either. I often use // in the margin of my journal to indicate a change in thought or when I’ve returned later in the day to add new thoughts or ideas. I put an asterisk next to ideas or dreams that I think have story or article potential.

I usually reread entries every few weeks to add idea notes in the margins or highlight pieces I think may be useful in the near future. Sometimes entries during the course of several weeks or months show how an idea slowly developed and I’ll start a new entry commenting on this, which then reminds me where the idea sparked and where I see it is possibly leading. Usually a lack of time prevents me from outlining or drafting these ideas right away, so using the journal helps me document them for later development.

I also do writing exercises in my journals, practicing different story elements – dialogue, description, sensory details. I find it helpful to clear my mind by writing ideas down before bed-time. When I’m under deadline, journaling helps me clear my thoughts so I’m able to focus on the project at hand. It’s an essential tool for many writers and fun “basic training.”

Reading with a Writer’s Eye

The best way to learn to write well is to note how published authors have applied all the writing elements and then trying to do the same in your own writing. Dissect published stories and articles to see how the pros assemble the writing puzzle.

Select your favorite novel, article, or short story from an anthology or magazine, then read it critically. Consider the following:

• Whose perspective is the story from?
• How is the conflict introduced?
• How does the main character react to the conflict?
• Does the main character solve the problem? How?
• How many scenes are included?
• With each scene is a new obstacle presented? If so, how is it resolved?
• If only one scene is used, how is the conflict escalated? Or, how do new problems arise as the main character deals with a problem?
• What is the length (duration) of the story? (A few hours, a day, several days?)
• How is the final problem resolved?
How quickly does the story conclude?

Sometimes it’s easier to reverse outline — that’s creating an outline based on what is already written.How has the writer drawn you into the piece? Underline each main point made in the article or key events in a story. Mark the anecdotes or facts used to illustrate each point in an article or note description in a story.

Review the “notes” on each piece you’ve analyzed. What have you learned? Try to emulate what you’ve discovered in your own writing. For example, suppose you notice how the author includes sensory detail. Ask yourself, have I includes sounds and smells as well as visual detail? How can I incorporate sounds? How can I weave in scent or smell? You’ll notice your own prose improving as you learn to read with a writer’s eye.

The “Read” Not Taken

Who got Kindles, Nooks, or iPads for the holidays? It’s time to load them with e-books and apps (and I’ll be offering my latest Kindle book free in the next few days). I never thought I’d read e-books; now I’m seriously considering writing more of them. The possibilities (for my background) are numerous. One of the big features is the option to publish shorter pieces, advice, nonfiction, fiction, etc.

Several of my traditionally published books also have e-book versions; in fact, my Kids Throughout History series was among the first (of my titles) electronically published for schools and libraries in early 2000. Still, I always thought I’d prefer hard copy books, or as my sister-in-law calls them, “dead tree mode.”

I’m particular about my books. They have to be hardback or trade paperback. I’ve never been a fan of the “pocket” paperbacks. But, I did purchase several PDF style books when Amazon first started selling their “shorts.” During my graduate work, I tried a few e-books to save on textbook costs. A big mistake! I hated sitting at the computer in order to read my assignments and it was tough to use the highlight and note features; it simply wasn’t the same as curling up with a book.

Eventually I downloaded the book apps for PC and acquired several titles. It wasn’t until recently, when I explored plans for e-publishing, that I began reading more e-books.

It’s sort of like research. Are the free books worth it? How does the pricing work? I read the reviews and comments carefully to help me make decisions for pricing choices and such with my own e-published books. I even played around with my sister’s iPad and a friend’s Kindle. They’re neat! They’re heavier than I assumed but probably not much more than the books I read. And, you can “curl up” with them.

So, in all, I like e-books though I still purchase my share of “dead tree mode” books. Two things bug me though. One, strange formatting. Maybe it’s because I spent a few years as a typesetter for a weekly newspaper but I notice whether text moves back and forth between flush left and full justification, or the font changes, or for some reason a word (or letter, or page) is suddenly red or blue instead of black. It bugs me! I notice. And it interrupts the flow of the story for me. Because I was “doing research,” I read the stories despite the format “glitches.”

These could become the “reads” not taken. I don’t want people to delete my e-books or write nasty reviews that state “it wasn’t worth the price–and I got it free.” Ouch! I read many such reviews, so when I published, I worked hard to eliminate these issues and get the formatting consistent.

The second thing that bugs me is typos. I’m calling mistakes in grammar typos because I truly hope they are mere typos and not a book that should have been edited or proofread before being e-published. This thinking is easier for me than when the errors are misspellings or frequently confused words. Sometimes I’ve noticed a place where an error was caught but the correction and the error remained “you’re your car key’s are here.”

Sadly there have been a few books (thankfully they were free) that were so riddled with grammatical errors, especially misplaced modifiers, that I wonder about the credibility of the author. No wonder e-books had a bad rep at first. Some of the worst offenders have the imprint of big publishing houses, too. Absolutely unacceptable.

Yes, typos and errors slip in. We’re all human. Sometimes deadlines are simply too tight and careful proofreading is rushed. I know I have to try my hardest to make my product the best it can be. I don’t want my writing to become the “read not taken.”

Plugged in again!

After much prodding by friends and fellow writers, I’ve taken the plunge and relaunched my blog. It’s been quite a long time (roughly 5 years) but I’ve been getting plugged in again, so why not share with a wider audience in every electronic way?

Around five years ago I became overwhelmed with how electronically I was. Since writing requires a lot of time and energy for tasks other than placing words onto paper, I found myself struggling to keep up with the demands of all those devices. I overreacted–and unplugged. I dumped the Palm Pilot (remember those?) and the cellphone (for awhile) and left all the listservs and online groups. I focused on writing. I loved dealing just with the words. I moved from magazines to books, and then to a masters program. I began spending much more time in classrooms working with my readers (mainly elementary and middle school children). And I was in love with my life againl!

Slowly I’ve been getting sucked into all the incredible things happening in cyber land again. And I’ve been attracted to the gadgets, the time-saving electronics, the devices! With these cool things came features and sites and methods to communicate. But I’m actually enjoying it this time around. I’ve learned how to balance doing all the things I love, so I actually make time for my writing. I’m enjoying it!

I look forward to sharing my “wonderings” about the things I love (books, writing, grammar, words, coaching) and my “wanderings” as I balance everything I do for a much happier me.

It’s good to be plugged in again!