Monday, January 25, 2016

Tick, Tock, Countdown...

It's almost time! Although the 'official' start of our NaNoRevMo is next Monday, let's go through a few last minute things.

-You'll need to revise/reread your manuscript several times- but don't expect to do it multiple times in this month (only if you're on deadline, are stuck with nothing else to do, you have plans after the revision or you're quite adept at editing).

- When you sit down, do it in a workspace that encourages you to work hard: no too soft couches, no distracting noises (I can't work with music because I tend to sing along, and then the lyrics suggest other books, etc.) Make sure it's well lit, a comfortable temperature (but not too warm, it'll make you sleepy), you have space for all your resources like your theasaurus, coffee cup, etc.

-If you don't have to, don't answer the phone. There is nothing worse than being in the middle of a great thought and the phone rings for someone who wants to sell you something you don't need/want, or a friend/relative calling to chit chat. If it's your kid from school or someone else who you know most likely needs to talk to you, answer it- but jot down your thought first! It helps if you can tell your loved ones/friends that you'll be busy and could they call you after dinner or whatever hours you plan to work.

-Plan a schedule. Some of you have kids, like me. Some, jobs. Some, a sick relative. Whatever else you need time for, plan your editing around it- even if it's an hour while the kid is at sports practice as you sit in the car, or first thing in the morning before everyone is up. Find at least 1-2 golden hours total a day.

-There may be some days that you can't get any editing done. Like NaNoWriMo, don't beat yourself up! It took many writers years to write and perfect their drafts (and there still were changes), so unless you know aliens are coming next month to take you away and you want to leave the draft for your family to inherit, don't sweat it. It will get done in your good time. (But don't be a slacker! Don't give in to excuses like, 'I'm a little tired. I'll do twice as much tomorrow.' You don't want to get caught in the I'll-catch-up-eventually loop. A real writer can't rest until the job is done. Be one of those.

-You're going to have to cut up your baby. Be brave, be swift. Even when you have to lose scenes that you just love. (I'm still struggling with this- it's okay to cry and swear and throw a few pillows at the wall if it'll make you feel better. Usually it doesn't.) The goal is a polished novel, and like a gemologist, sometimes you have to sacrifice perfect bits so that the whole gem sparkles. And no, it never gets easier, but you somehow learn to do it and live with it.

-Take a break! Long periods of time sitting in a chair whether it's at Starbucks, your dining room table, the car, where ever, can make you stiff and drowsy. When you're pondering whether to kill a character, change settings, or even throw out a bunch of chapters, get up, get a drink, a snack, walk around. It may help you think, give your body an adrenalive boost. Never have everything at your fingertips.

-How do you work- on your laptop or the old fashioned way of pen and paper? I've done both, although for the first time through, I like the laptop. I fix the obvious- misspellings, format (centering of chapter titles and numbers, starting chapters halfway down page, etc.), obvious inconsistencies like when a character's name changes, and a general global search for those words I know I overuse, like 'just.' Then I move onto the paper and pen because it's slower, more deliberate (and I can take it anywhere- I can edit standing in line.) I find the mix of the two forces me to be more thorough.

-Stuck? Don't panic. Discuss it with someone (unless your relative/friend is an editor, agent, or fellow writer, find someone more neutral. No matter what, anyone with a close connection is probably going to like it. Trust me on this.). This is where a critique group helps (they can/should be brutally honest.) Or, make a list of possible solutions and see which one jumps out at you. Realize though, that you can't simply hopscotch over the problem and come back to it later because it's a domino effect- the problem gets bigger as your novel progresses. Fix it asap and let the rest of the manuscript fall into place.

-If the fat lady's singing... or simply if the book is not working- the characters are flat (fixable), the plot plods (fixable) or the dialogue is stilted (fixable) or the point of view jumps all over the place (fixable)- you can save the manuscript. But if you have a combination, most, or all of these problems, it might be the death knell for this book. There is not one successful author that doesn't have several novels sitting in a drawer or lighting the logs in the fireplace. It happens. Don't give up too easy- try to work through it by listing all the problems and then solutions. Attempt a resurrection, but if it doesn't work, kiss it goodbye and move onto that other idea that's been intruding at inappropriate times, keeping you from sleep or work.

-Don't even think of a 'book doctor' until you've attempted to fix it yourself. It's like calling in a carpenter to tighten a loose screw. If you become accustomed to relying on someone else to correct the flaws in your manuscript, you won't get valuable practice and experience, and if you ever sell your book to a traditional publisher, you won't be able to make the edits yourself. Plus, it'll cost you a fortune.

So get everything into place, read those books, make some notes (I know you've noticed some things needed fixing as you wrote the novel...). Maybe a chapter outline (one or two sentences per chapter) is a good starting point, so that if you have to cut out/add scenes, you can see how it might affect the subsequent chapters.

I'll be working on my time-travel YA romance. I've done one pass but I know it has a major flaw so that it reads as a collection of short stories. I need a better connector (I'm not using a time machine so I have to be real creative). Now that my belove New England Patriots didn't make the Super Bowl I won't waste time preparing for a big party and watching the game. This week I will be finishing my middle grade and my NA sci fi edits (again) so that I can focus on the time travel while we all edit together.

See you Monday, February 1st!

All graphics courtesy of Microsoft, Inc.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Making A List, Checking It Twice...

Actually, you'll be checking your manuscript many more times than twice. If you thought you only had to do it once, maybe twice, this is a very rude wake up call. For Sirenz (1st book), the revisions led to a stack of paper (between my co-author and I) to about my height (I'm 5'9"). Yep. I have boxes of revised, discarded, marked up pages. So, don't get too comfy, we've got a lot of work to do.

So grab your tablet, your Monte Blanc, your laptop. We're making a list of the things you need to look out for when editing.

The Easy Stuff  (Things you should know, but we're going to remind you.)

-Grammar (know if you use an apostrophe, a semi colon, a double quote. If you don't, consult one of the books I mentioned in previous post that you should have in your possession.)
-Spelling (don't rely solely on spell check; it doesn't know between read and red.)
-Consistency (If you've changed your character's name, town, eye color, gender, etc. make sure it's the same all through the novel.)
-Cliches (Unless the character is making a bad joke, eliminate them all, along with slang phrases that will date your work.)
-Dangling Sentences (Authors can take some artistic license, but if your sentence)
-Dialogue Confusion ("Go away," she said. She flipped her hair back, "I don't want to talk to you." If this one gal talking, or two? Make sure dialogue tags, modifiers and context make it clear who is speaking.)
- Repetitive Repetitive Words (There will be certain words that you love- everyone has them-but you use them way too often. Trim down the places where you use it.)
-Appropriate Language (Middle graders will not say "I must consider all the ramifications of your actions." Make sure the language fits not only the age, but the situation, place, and culture of your character.)
-Descriptive Language (Can't have too much, can't have too little; you have to find the balance between boring us to death with drawn out descriptions of everything and everyone, and leaving us struggling to picture the character or the scene.)
-Fact Check (even if you write fantasy, science fiction or contemporary fiction, you need to do basic research. The laws of physics have to work on other planets unless you can explain how they don't, but then you need research, right? If you're writing adventure stories, maybe you need to know the difference between a trebuchet and a catapult. Have the right highway when a villain gets run down. Don't wing it because readers will pick up when you're wrong.)

The Hard Stuff (Things that will take more than one glance, may have to be read aloud or by someone else to be picked up.)

-Solid Characters (Characters can't be perfect, too insipid, stupid, or blind. Moments of those things, yes, but not all the time. Make sure they aren't one dimensional; they need a personality and some depth.)
-Clear Plot (You remember high school English- your story must have a setting, rising conflict, climax, and resolution. Action is required even in 'quiet' books.)
-No Info Dumps (This is where the author spends numerous paragraphs--or pages--'telling' us background info instead of weaving it in through dialogue or internal thoughts, observations and knowledge of others. The rule is show, don't tell.)
-Unrealistic Elements (If your character knows what someone else is thinking, unless they're a superhero who can read minds, that's unrealistic. No one can know what's in another's head. Another example is knowing always the right thing to do or having everything work out perfectly. That doesn't even happen in fantasies)
-POV (Point of view- can't have everyone's thoughts jumping out, shouldn't have too many viewpoints-unless you're doing speculative fiction, you're really good at it, or you're famous and people let you get away with it. Know the difference between first person, third omniscient, et al.)
-Time Skips (Your character is going to the store on a Monday afternoon and suddenly they're waking up to Thursday morning. Unless they were drugged, in a coma, knocked out, went through a wormhole or have black outs, you're jumping the time line.)
-SAT Quizzes (Don't use big, fancy, overly pedagogish words. You're not checking SAT knowledge. Say it clearly. This is where that thesaurus comes in handy for synonyms.)
-Flow (Does the action flow consecutively? Do speech and reactions make sense, are in the right place? You don't want your character to ask a question that never gets answered, or the other character answers 5 pages later.

Yes, this is a long list- and it's not everything you need to check. As you learn to review your work more thoroughly, you'll pick up more with each pass. No crying or whining because this is part of the writing process. If you want to get published, and even if it's just for you to write and read, it should be the best it can be.  So...

We're in this together. We all made mistakes and need to correct them. If you think anything should be added onto the list, add it for yourself.

Until next week, keep positive.


(All images courtesy of Microsoft)

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Chain of Links...

Don't want to wade through books to start your NaNoRevMo? Want a quick article to fix a character problem, of help with a plot problem? Here is a list of links from authors and others in the publishing business who can offer editing help for your NaNoWriMo novel.

One of the best: Kathy Temean's Writing and Illustrating. As a former regional advisor of the New Jersey Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, she has connections to the great and the prolific in the book world. You will find articles on almost any aspect of the writing process. Bookmark this goldmine, use it, learn from it.

Friend, writing colleague and published author Yvonne Ventresca has a blog blog that offers advice to both teen and adults writers. There are numerous articles to peruse and offer advice on whatever writing issue plagues you. Take a gander and bookmark this site too.

Voted in the top 100 sites for writers several times is fellow author Rachelle Burk's website. She has so many other links and resources for writers that if you don't look through it, you're going to miss something you need. Remember, we're focusing on editing and perfecting that story, not looking for agents and editors and how to get published at this point- don't get distracted.

Need more? Check out these sites:

The Write Life

Writers's Digest

The Positive Writer

I could put so many more links, but you don't need that many, and shouldn't waste your time. Later, after the book is edited and having a 'rest' (the time between a finished edit and the next edit), scoot around Google and look some more. Don't overwhelm yourself.

Next Monday, a checklist of how to find flaws in your manuscript. Till then, keep writing!


Graphics courtesy of Microsoft, Inc.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Rolling Up the Sleeves

January I'm focusing on getting ready for our National Novel Revision Month. The NaNoWriMo org does this in June, but why wait? I plan to be writing another novel then, so now's the perfect time to revise NaNoWriMo projects. I didn't write another novel because I focused on editing three others. One I've since gotten back with revision notes from my agent and have already revised again. Fear not, I have plenty of projects to work on with you, so we're in this revision nightmare together.

Today I'm giving you some tools; books that may help. Honestly, I've used these books uncountable times and they are tops on my reference shelf. You can buy tons of books on self editing, but I don't think you really need them. I'll post more about editing with expert insight from publishing people so save your money. Next week, I'll put up links for editing advice. If you ,have any suggestions that you think should go on the list because they've been helpful to you, let me know and I'll include it.

My advice is not to sit and immediately read the following books. They're references, so consult them as you need them. There is so much information, you won't be able to retain it all.
  • The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. This book helps you to reveal character emotions without repetitive, tired phrases (like 'He quirked an eyebrow, questioning her claim.')  They list physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, cues of active/long term or suppressed emotion. Plus, there's a handy tip for each category. I have found this book invaluable. If you find yourself reading the same emotion indicators over and over, or realize you need to 'show' rather than tell, reach for this book. The co-authors also put out other books which may help when you're refining the manuscript, such as Emotion Amplifiers, Negative Trait Thesaurus (flaws for you characters), and Positive Trait Thesaurus (character attributes). 
  • The Oxford American Thesaurus. The thesaurus on your computer, no matter which word processing program you use, is still very limited. I have a trusty, beat up and mangled copy of the Oxford Thesaurus within arm's reach. (I prefer it to Roget's which I don't feel is as comprehensive.) Choose better, stronger words in place of weak or overused ones. 
  • US News (or AP) Stylebook. Everything from how to properly capitalize titles, make plurals or possessives, to when to use 'whom' is in this tiny treasure trove. I used it all the time when I was a reporter and when I wrote magazine articles. I still use it writing fiction as a quick grammar reference. You don't need (or want) a thick book on proper grammar. This book does nicely.
  • Oxford or Webster's Dictionary.  Yep, I know your word processing package has one built in. Again, it's not complete or exhaustive. Keep a dictionary on hand because sometimes you need a deeper search.
  • Encyclopedias. If you're writing a story about a witch, then The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft by Rosemary Ellen Guiley needs to be on your desk. There are specialty encyclopedias for just about every subject, from science fiction to vampires to folklore and more. Shop around for your subject and keep it handy.
There are books by famous authors like Stephen King's On Writing which gets rave reviews, and books by the not-so-famous. Bookstore shelves and online retailers are full of them. Peruse the inventory, maybe something will catch your eye and work for you, but don't go crazy and buy a ton of them- I guarantee you won't use them all. 

Finally, ask your writer friends which books they like. It's always good to check around because you'll get so many different answers and one choice has to work for you. Start building your reference library now.