Writing is the easy part. Revision is where the work resides and in order to slog through it with grace, you need to have a strategy. That is, you need to plan your approach otherwise you are just poking at words with a stick.
Start with a big-picture view of your manuscript and work down into the details. There’s no sense in fussing with punctuation and word omissions if your novel is not yet structurally sound. Be prepared to rewrite your book–my college professor used to tell his students, “It doesn’t begin to sing until at least the thirteenth rewrite.”
If that terrifies you, hang on. Let’s pause to do some math. First you had your idea. That counts. One. Maybe you outlined your chapters or developed and arranged scenes. Two. You wrote, word by word, scene by scene. Three. You rearranged your draft, added some research. Four. You renamed your character, changed his hair color, added his Meyers-Briggs type and gave him a quirk or two. Five. You shared sections with your writers group or took your first ten pages to a workshop. Six.
Even if your writing path has taken a different trail, chances are you have been tweaking your novel. You’re half-way to a singing manuscript. But now it is time to stop tinkering and start strategizing a revision plan. This is what mine looks like:
- Read for gaps in the big picture. Research missing details. Write missing scenes.
- Read for flow. Map the action. Read dialog out loud. Rewrite scenes to improve continuity and clarity.
- Cut. Ouch, yes, but necessary. Cut every scene, line and word that doesn’t serve a purpose. Be brave; cut your words. What you don’t say is as telling as what you do say.
- DIY corrections. Read for correctness and not just grammar–check your story for flaws. To be credible in fiction you need to be consistent with your details.
- Assign beta-readers. Review feedback. Make final changes.
- Hire a professional editor to proofread.
If you try to “revise” in one grand sweep, you will overlook too much. What editing publications has taught me is that you have to break down the process. When editing “This is Living Naturally,” the first read is simply for fit. Does the article fit the tone and message of the publication? Next I edit for clarity. Will the readers understand the story? Next I edit for correctness. Is the study cited accurate? Is that a comma splice? Did the writer mean “there” instead of “their”? Finally, I pass it off to a proof-reader because one set of eyes is not enough. And after that, I read it to to catch any omissions or errors in the final proof. If I tried to do all that editing in one sitting, I would either miss problems with structure, typos or facts.
No matter how big or small your writing project, you need to develop a strategy. It doesn’t have to look exactly like mine, but it needs to begin with the big picture and end with the smallest details. You also need to invite extra “eyes” to help see what your eyes have missed. Let your novel sing!
Before I jump into that question–directed at writers, so my apologies if you are a rodeo queen–I want you to know that I’m building a Flash Fiction blog hop at Carrot Ranch. Wednesdays will be “Flash Fiction” days and I will post more about the rules of play between now and its debut on March 5.
In the meantime, I’m curious to know if you, as writers, enter your writing into contests. I did. Why? Well, if I wanted to be a bronc rider, I’d need to prove that I can ride a bronc (an untamed horse; one that bucks wildly). Rodeos are a test of a cowboy’s skills, including bronc riding.
So, I’m a career business writer making the transition into writing fiction. I’ve long dabbled and throughout the years, from workshop organizers to former lit professors to industry posts, I’ve heard that winning a few contests like winning a few rodeo belt-buckles is good for building credibility.
It’s a bit nail-biting because I might be a great bronc rider, but if I get bucked off during a rodeo, I look like a clown. Thus, I might be a great writer, but fail to win any contests that I enter. Do I then demote myself from great to failed? Such are the questions writers wrestle with daily as we cling to credibility in our craft.
Nonetheless I sent a submission. It was thrilling to get accepted so at the very least I need to remember that an editor did chose my story. The contest organizers are building reader engagement and require Facebook “likes,” good comments regarding the writing and closing arguments to persuade the judges. It’s really hard to tell if this is just a popularity contest or an authentic way to engage writers and readers. I feel caught between the confidence of an adult and the agony of being sent back to junior high school.
Leave me a comment about your views on contests or any experiences you want to share. And if you want to help a writer win a writing rodeo, at least give my story a like at: Midlife Collage Contest. If you want me to shout, “Yeehaw!’ loud enough to be heard across the horse pasture, leave me a stellar comment on my story. Winners are announced next Monday morning, Feb. 3, 2014.
As writers we tap at keys, sit at desks and largely ignore our feet. Even when we do get up and move–go for a walk, stretch or boogie to the dance station on Pandora we may forget to stretch the foundation of our bodies. Ballerinas on the other hand, have feet strong enough to make ballet look graceful and effortless. We can learn from ballet how to stretch our feet as part of our movement plan.
Today’s review follows a fitness article I wrote for The NestWoman. To keep your body strong while writing, start with your feet: “Ballet Foot-Stretching Exercises With Resistance Bands.”
You’ve probably heard this phrase said another way: write what you know. To be honest with you, I didn’t think anyone would be interested in fiction based on what I know. It stumped me, but only until I learned about a writer’s truth.
In 2011 I went on a retreat held at the Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse, WI along the upper Mississippi River. Sleeping in basic rooms often occupied by nuns or clergy, I committed to a journey called, “Awakening the Soul of the Writer.” At that time my fledgling novel manuscript consisted of a few scenes and I knew that I needed a break from my busy career to just focus on writing.
What I learned that week in retreat was that not only are my characters on a hero’s journey in their story, but as the writer, I’m also taking that same journey into transformation. We think we change the writing, but truly writing changes us. And how it changes us depends upon how deep we are willing to write into our truths.
On retreat, we took a riverboat tour on the Mississippi. We were instructed to observe and write. Watching a tiny spider in her web, I realized that her carefully crafted silk was knitted to paint and steel. When I shared my observation with my fellow writers, I had a huge epiphany. It wasn’t so much that truth resided in facts or that my writing was purely brain activity, it was how I perceived the world that gave me my own truth.
Think about your creativity a moment.
That creativity sparks when we engage with the simplest things around us, like a spider. Our truth is what it means to us, what we have to say about it. Suddenly, I realized that I could speak truth simply by paying attention to life all around me. That realization breathed new life into my writing; I felt connected. I had found my voice.
Driving home, the world looked different to me. Suddenly, my camera was fun again. It had become a point of frustration because I felt critical of my lack of technical skill with a camera. But the truth is, I don’t see with the aperture and other settings; I see with my writer’s eye for stories. I felt free to take pictures as a writer; I no longer had to be a photographer. Some of my best photos came from that trip home.
Use your own truth, your observations, experiences and natural settings to enrich the worlds and characters that you write about. Weave a web of words that can only come from you and connect with readers through simple truths as you connect silk to steel. Go into your writing willing to discover who you are, and accepting the writer that will emerge.
Next Monday, I’ll focus on crafting a writer’s statement as a way to empower your writing commitment.
© Image by Charli Mills from After the Retreat
Writing ruled the ranch last November. “Warm Like Melting Ice” developed as a NaNoWriMo project, and I won with a few words over 50,000 by November 30. My daughters were on hand to uncork the champagne to celebrate my second consecutive NaNoWriMo project. The first, “Miracle of Ducks,” is in the revision process and I hope to polish it up for the Great Rejection Rodeo.
Actually, I’m excited about the Great Rejection Rodeo. If you’re not getting rejected, you’re not trying to catch the calf. If you’re not getting rejected, you’re not learning to throw a new loop. I know enough about traditional publishing to know that I don’t know much. Sending out my polished manuscript and agent queries will fill in those learning gaps. After a period of rejection and recalibrating, I look forward to victory in publication.
Now that 2014 is blooming before our very eyes (okay, for some of you it’s a frozen horizon, but that’s why I spurred my boots outta Minne-snow-ta) this blog is going to refresh. Other than the occasional “carrot sticks”–random posts such as this–I’m going to focus on the following blog topics:
Tips for Writers. Writing is a business. Writers are creative, of course, but if you want to write successfully (insert your own definition of success), you need to balance creativity with strategy. Strategy for what? Well, that could be making time to put pencil to paper or developing a plan like the Great Rejection Rodeo. Each Monday, I’ll alternate between tips for creativity and tips for strategies.
Review Roundup. Much of my online content writing revolves around reviews of products, media or best practices for businesses and careers. Each Tuesday and Thursday, I will focus on a short introduction with a link to a published review. If you are a newly published author and would like me to review your book, contact me and we’ll negotiate a horse-trade of sorts.
Flash Fiction. It’s a blog-hop (something like a square dance with other blog-writers) and the beginnings of a monthly contest. Currently under construction as I hammer out the details and recruit willing hands to play (because I can’t just lasso other bloggers). Look for the hop to begin March 5, 2014. The rules are simple: using the weekly prompt, craft an original story 99 words or less, post it on your blog and then submit your blog link to my host-post. Each week a new prompt is issued for the following Wednesday. All participating bloggers get a link back to their own blogs. Once we start getting at least 10 submissions a week, one blogger will be selected as a “Blue Ribbon Winner of the Month.”
Recipes From the Ranch. A buckaroo’s gotta eat. And around this ranch, she’s also gotta grow the food and cook. On Fridays, I’ll post a seasonal recipe from my very own chuck-wagon, often using ingredients from my organic garden, inspiring you to use seasonally fresh and local food. If you can’t garden, shop the farmers markets or co-ops.
If you’d like to follow my creative non-fiction, please join me over on Elmira Pond which is the real-live headquarters for Carrot Ranch Communication where migrating blue herons, mergansers and osprey distract me from writing. Most times, the natural setting inspires reflections and stories, like the time I sat on a bee to pick raspberries.
If you are a business, professional or fellow creative looking for some help with a 2014 writing project, give me a holler at the ranch as I am still accepting limited clients for the year. E-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 208-263-3766. Ask for the lead buckaroo!