Tag Archives: revising

The Art of REwriting

9 Nov

by Susan Dennard

~~

It’s NaNoWriMo month.

In other words, it is currently hell-on-earth for many writers around the globe. A self-induced hell that anyone who isn’t participating in just CAN’T UNDERSTAND.

Yes, we clearly enjoy torture, but no, we are not insane. (Though, ask again in 3 weeks…)

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to soothe the minds of worried first-drafters. Everyone will tell you this (including Vahini, here on LTWF), and all I can do is reiterate:

It is okay to write crappy first draft.

In fact, we’re all expecting you too…because so will we.

And, if I’m REALLY HONEST with you, then I’ll just go ahead and share a little secret:

I’m a really bad writer.

Like, downright dreadful.

Here’s a quote that pretty much embodies me:

“More than half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina.”

~John Irving

This is so, so, so me.

My first drafts are riddled with long pages of backstory and slow, unnecessary scenes in which characters (i.e. me) get to know each other. Every piece of dialogue has a tag–many of which are “snapped”, “hissed”, and “growled” (my characters, it would seem, are easily annoyed).

My first drafts are so bad, in fact, that I would rather be paper cut to death than share them with anyone. I’m serious–no one reads my first drafts. In fact, my crit partners are usually eyeballing third or even fourth drafts. It’s not just that I’m self-conscious about my prose–it’s that I am perfectly aware I can’t write well.

The issue is that my first drafts come out fast. We’re talking all my first drafts are NaNo-worthy, month-long passions of speed-typing.

I usually have a strong idea of the primary external plot, but I have zilch for my subplots or resonance. And as I write, my Muse strikes me with ideas for clever (or sometimes not-so-clever) threads to weave in.

By the time I finally reach the end of my book, the manuscript is what I (lovingly) like to as one giant clusterf***.

But you know what? That’s okay…

Because, by golly, I am one hell of a REwriter.

Just take a look at these massacred pages from the very first REwrite of Something Strange and Deadly. (It was still in third person! HOW WEIRD.)

Ah, but one REwrite wasn’t enough. Here’s the same section during round 2 of a total REwrite:

So let’s lay out some ground rules about rewriting–some things you might want to come back to when NaNoWriMo wraps up and you find yourself crying maniacally in the corner.

The first key to rewriting is to NOT STRESS. You may have a disaster on your hands, but you can always, always clean that up.

You have a story now (something you didn’t have when you began). All you have to do is take what you wrote and make it WHAT YOU WANTED TO WRITE.

If you want to see why stress is a killer, then read this hilarious post by author Libba Bray. My favorite line?

…then Tim comes in, takes a look at the dirt and staples all over you, your bloodshot eyes and borderline psychotic grin, puts his finger to his mouth in a thoughtful way and says, “I’m concerned.” And you say, “No, Tim, it’ll all work out—I swear!” And you staple some fertilizer to the floor and laugh.

The second key to rewriting is to STAY ORGANIZED. Go in with a plan and that messy first draft will seem way less scary.

You are gonna TACKLE THIS BEAST TO THE GROUND, GOSH DARNIT.

Plus, if you need help figuring that “plan stuff” out, well, I’ve got an entire revisions series that you can work through.

The third and final key to rewriting is BICHOK. Get your Butt In that Chair, your Hands On that Keyboard (or pen, if you’re like me…making it BICHOP) and work! You need to max out your stamina and determination for all they’re worth.

Because eventually and with enough hard labor (and possibly tears–those have been known to happen), you can turn any horrible first draft into a masterpiece.

I mean, just look at what my tattered pages above became:

Yeah, that’s an ARC of my book–an ARC of my REwritten, multi-revised (at least 8 times by the end…probably more), crappy-first-draft-in-a-month BOOK.

And with a little elbow grease and drive, you, my friends, can do the same.

So what about you? Do you write clean first drafts or rely on re-writing to get your novel where it needs to be?

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I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends…

19 Oct

By Sarah J. Maas

~~

So, several months back, I posted a semi-tongue-in-cheek survival guide to revisions on my personal blog. Mostly, my must-have supplies included things like ten pounds of candy and sweatbands. And to be honest, I totally did need those things to get through revisions.

BUT having just sent in my final line edits for QUEEN OF GLASS (now onto copy edits!!!), I can look back at the trek through revisions and say that there is a LOT more to surviving it than twix, diet mountain dew, and neon-green sweatbands.

Some writers go through many, many rounds of revision. Personally, I went through two rounds, with a third, very small round of line edits. But each round taught me something new. From the small things (it’s “toward” not “towards”) to the larger-picture stuff, I feel like I’ve emerged from revisions knowing not just more about myself as a writer, but also more about my strengths as a person.

It’s different than working with your agent or your critique partner (though it’s similar in some ways). Mostly because with each round, you realize you’re getting closer to the final product—which you CANNOT change. There’s a sense of finality looming over the whole thing, and it pushes you to really, truly making sure you’re giving your all. It’s exciting to realize you are SO close to being published—it’s exhilarating, actually.

But there are the dark moments, too. The moments when you wonder if you’re just kidding yourself and your manuscript is a giant mess that you’ll never have enough time to fix, the moments when you think every word is garbage and you just want to go veg on the couch and pretend you don’t have a deadline to meet.

And those are the moments when you really need your #1 resource when surviving revisions: your writing friends. See, I spent years thinking that CPs and writer-friends were great for everything before the book deal—no one ever really told me how very important they are for the stuff after it.

They will talk you off ledges, they will reassure you that your work isn’t garbage, they will brainstorm with you for HOURS even though they have their own deadlines…They will hold your hand and never ask for anything in return, because they know exactly what you’re going through.

You’ll find yourself revealing your doubts and vulnerabilities—voicing the things that really terrify you, the dread so horrible it keeps you up at night. And you know what’s the most surprising thing you learn? You’re not alone in feeling that way. Because your friends either have faced or are facing the same fears and pressures and doubts.

Not to mention, when you get stuck during revisions, they know your work well enough to help you brainstorm your way out of it, or to just approve a semi-crazy idea that you have that miiight solve a plot problem. I cannot tell you how many times I emailed or IMed one of my CPs with a “What if I did THIS!?” question about QOG, or a “How do I fix THAT!?” complaint, and they helped me through it. Better than that—they made me EXCITED about those changes.

I’m a fairly independent person, and leaning on others doesn’t come naturally to me. But I realized, thanks to all of those emails and IMs and skype sessions, that revealing my vulnerabilities doesn’t make me weak, and voicing my fears doesn’t make me a coward. It makes me human—it allows people to get close to me and allows my relationships to grow.

I recently sent in the acknowledgments for QOG, and I honestly felt that I’d never have enough space to properly thank the people who helped me through this process—that WORDS don’t accurately convey the gratitude I feel. I don’t think I can ever fully convey that.

Revisions made me open myself up to others in ways I didn’t think I’d ever be comfortable doing—partially because I realized that no one EXCEPT my writer-friends would understand what I was going through. (Family and non-writer friends tend to give you “You’re amazing! It’ll be fine!” answers. Which are great, but not helpful.) I realized I NEEDED to have writing-friends who understood what I was going through–that I wouldn’t survive the process without them.

So, please, do me a favor: no matter where you are in the publishing journey–first drafting, querying, on submissions, already published–if you do one thing today, go tell your writing friends/CPs that you love them. Thank them for all they do for you. Because while writing a book might be a mostly solitary act, publishing one isn’t. And it shouldn’t be. 🙂

~~~

Sarah J. Maas has written several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA epic fantasy that will be published by Bloomsbury in Fall 2012. She is repped by Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency, and resides with her husband in Southern California. You can visit her website here, and follow her on twitter.

And she loves her writer-friends  & CPs very much. ❤

Thinking = Plotting

18 Aug

A Guest Post by Marina Cohen

~~~

I’m often asked how long it took me to write my first novel. It’s an easy enough question. You’d think the response would be fairly straightforward, right? Not so much. In fact, by the time I’m finished I’m sure people wish they hadn’t asked.

I start by saying it took me six months to write my first novel—because that’s how long I spent hammering away at the keys of my old computer to turn the idea floating around my head into pixels. Most smile, satisfied with that response, but then I tell them I’m not finished. I go on to say it took me nine more months to rewrite the exact same story—just to get it right. This is when they begin to nod politely and back away. Hold on, I say. I’m not done yet. I spent another four years editing, revising, submitting, getting rejected, revising some more, editing again, re-submitting, getting truckloads of rejections, before I finally got my very first contract. And then it took another year before I held my novel in my hot little hands. At this point they turn to run but I give chase. Wait! That’s not the whole story! You’re going to miss the most important part! Because before my fingers ever grazed a keyboard, I spent ten years thinking.

Ten years.

Thinking.

Huh.

So what exactly was I thinking about? Well, my plot, of course.

For me thinking is synonymous with plotting. Even now, five novels later, I need to think out my entire story before I can begin to write the first word. There are all sorts of different plotting graphs and styles, but honestly, it all boils down to thinking.

My family has gotten used to it—that glazed look in my eye, the vague responses, the rich scent of burnt toast filling the air when my brain has abandoned the real world and entered the world of my current work-in-progress.

Now, I’m not a meticulous plotter in the sense that I don’t sketch out every chapter, nor do I use charts or configurations. But there are elements I must work out in my mind, or the idea just goes into a folder to revisit at a later date. Here’s what I need to know prior to writing:

  1. What’s the inciting incident?  What propels my MC off their path and spins them in a totally different direction? Of course this incident can be subtle, but I like to make it something quick and dramatic to hook readers.
  2. I must know how my story will end. This is critical, so that I can work toward setting up the climax and ending, building it, moving toward it with every detail. If you don’t know how your story will end, you can plod forward, but I think you may end up doing a fair amount of re-writing. I like to have a twist ending—something readers don’t see coming. And I also like to connect my ending in some significant way to my inciting incident.
  3. I divide my plot into three chunks—that three act structure I’m sure you’ve already come across. And each chunk ends in its own climax, spinning the story in a different direction again, but bringing the reader that much closer to the ultimate climax.
  4. Finally, it’s important to remember that plot does not simply refer to the events of your story. It’s also (and in some ways more importantly) about the emotional journey of your character. Who are they at the start of the story and how they change as a result of the events of the story.

Now, even though I have all this in my mind, when I sit down to actually write my story, more often than not, it takes unexpected turns. Characters I hadn’t imagined muscle their way into my manuscript uninvited—and it’s usually these surprise twists and characters that I end up loving the most.

So I sit. And I think. And I think some more. I think while I cook and clean and shop—but never while I drive, er, ’cause that would be dangerous. Ahem.

I think while I’m awake. I think before I go to sleep. And I even think in my dreams—which, by the way, often provides me with the best answers to my plot problems!

So the next time you’re just sitting there staring off into space and someone asks you what you’re up to—you tell them not to disturb you. Can’t they see you’re busy plotting your next incredible novel?

~~~

Marina Cohen is the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction for both children and teens, including three middle-grade novels: SHADOW OF THE MOON, TRICK OF THE LIGHT, and CHASING THE WHITE WITCH; and two teen novels: GHOST RIDE and MIND GAP. GHOST RIDE (Dundurn Press, 2009) was voted Honour Book of the 2011 Red Maple Fiction Award.

Digesting the Revision Letter, a pep talk

19 Jul

A Guest Post by Erin Bowman

~~~

You’ve written a book. Your agent has sold it. Your editor (holy cow, you now have an EDITOR) is working on getting you revision notes. They’ll come in the form of a “revision letter,” which will likely be long and single-spaced and full of big picture items that need addressing.

If you are anything like me, you will simultaneously crave and fear this essential document. So without further adieu, some things to keep in perspective as you read through your letter:

Remember that Editor loves your book

She had to love it enough to pitch it in an Acquisitions meeting. She had to get Sales and Marketing and Higher Ups onboard. She had to believe that your story was one the world should see, and then she brokered a deal that would make that possible. Remember this, because a revision letter can come with big and sometimes overwhelming suggestions. Things like: Subplot A should be cut, Character X feels flat, world-building is lacking, and oh, lets switch from first person present to third person past. You might not be prepared for it. So no matter how long your letter is, no matter how many characters are flat or subplots need cutting, remember it in no way correlates to how much (or little) Editor loves your story. She loves it. The end.

These edits will make your book better.

Stronger. Tighter. Un-Put-Downable. Everything Editor points out is done with the end goal of crating a better story. She might even ask a bunch of questions, offering no answers along the way, simply because she wants you to think about what these questions mean for the story and know that readers will be asking the same things as they devour your tale. As you read through your letter, there’s a good chance you’ll be nodding your head in agreement to 99.9% of the things Editor says. I know I did. You might even kick yourself for not seeing them first. Deep down, we know there are flaws in our books, areas that can be strengthened. Editor will find them, document them on paper, and then push you to man-up.

Take some time to digest it all.

There’s a rare chance it works for some people, but I advice against reading your letter and immediately jumping into revisions. I like to sit on my thoughts before any major rewrite. I let ideas marinate. I think about how one change here might affect twenty things there. I brainstorm several different options before I sit down to tackle the right one. I think this is a crucial step. Read your letter. Think about it for a week or two. Make notes. Think some more. Then start.

Ask Questions.

If something is unclear, always, always, always speak up. When I was younger, I never asked questions when I needed clarification. I thought it would make me look dumb, like I had no clue what I was doing. I am a firm believer that you actually look smarter when you say, “Hey, I’m not quite following this. Can we talk it over again?” And here is why I bring this up: Revising is hard. We all know this. You don’t want to spend weeks revising only to take the story down a path opposite of what Editor had in mind. If you don’t follow something in your letter, ask Editor to clarify. If you see what she’s saying but think it will drastically (and detrimentally) alter other points of the story, see if she can hop on the phone to hash it out. I’m pretty sure she’ll be more than happy to discuss things.

You have the answers.

You do. You envisioned the story, dreamed up the world, peopled it with characters. You have the answers even when you fail to see them. Remember this when you are knee deep in a scene, your story’s guts spilled because you’ve hacked it apart, and all you can think is, “I have no clue what I’m doing. How will I ever fix this?” You will. Maybe not that very day – you might need to take a break or go for a walk or come back to it tomorrow – but you will figure it out. You will find the answer and you will stitch your story back together impeccably. It won’t even scar.

Do it your way.

This has been more of a pep talk than an advice-centric post because I truly believe that writing (and editing) is an individual and unique experience. No two people will tackle it the same way. Only you can decide what works for your story, your situation, your process. Find those tactics and stick to them.

Happy Revising!

~~~

Erin Bowman lives in New Hampshire with her husband. When not writing, Erin enjoys hiking, giggling and staring at the stars. She drinks a lot of coffee, buys far too many books and is not terribly skilled at writing about herself in the third person. Her debut THE LAICOS PROJECT will be available Winter 2013 from HarperTeen. She blogs regularly at embowman.com.

Tackling Revisions

11 May

by Susan Dennard

~~

Note:

This post has been UPDATED

and re-posted on

Pub(lishing) Crawl!

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. Her debut novel, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, is now available from HarperTeen. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Never Forget WHY You Write

6 Apr

When you first begin writing, you do it for various reasons…  Maybe it’s an escape.  Maybe it’s for entertainment. Maybe it’s because if you didn’t you would just die.

Whatever the reason, it gets your butt into a chair and your fingers onto a keyboard. As you BICHOK away, you may or may not finish what you start…but ultimately it doesn’t matter because at this point you are writing mostly for YOU.

But then, at some point, you decide you want to write to get PUBLISHED.  Suddenly, your entire approach to writing changes–as it should!

You learn about writing.  You build your tool-box of characterization, plotting, scene-construction, outlining, voice, and more…

Then (or more likely at the same time) you start to learn about the PUBLISHING INDUSTRY. You accept that it’s not going to be easy, but by golly you won’t give up!

And maybe, if you’re obsessive (read: ME) you spend every hour researching agents, refining your query letter, joining another society/crit group/workshop–all meant to help you jump that first hurdle in publication: AQUIRING AN AGENT.

And then…one day–maybe one year down the road or twenty–you are retrieved from the slush.  Your MS is good enough, the agent makes an offer, and…

BAM! You have an agent! Now what…?

Oh, there’s still more for your obsessive nature to dwell on.  First, you’ll probably go through revisions with your Shiny New Agent, and then, lo and behold, you GO ON SUBMISSIONS.  To editors!  It’s out of your hands now, but that doesn’t mean you won’t check your email with psychotic determination.  That you won’t spend every waking hour daydreaming about that second giant hurdle in publication: SELLING YOUR NOVEL.

And then…one day–maybe one year down the road or twenty–your novel does catch the eye of an editor.  Your MS is good enough, the editor makes an offer, your agent negotiates the deal, and…

BAM! Your book has sold. Now what…?

And here, my friends, is where–if you’re really like me–you may suddenly have to revaluate everything. Technically, by all your friends and family, you’ve MADE IT.

Selling  your novel was your dream!  You’ve spent sooooooooo long and spent soooooooo much energy trying to reach this point, you never really thought beyond.

Um, well, if you wish to make this your LIFE (as must of us certainly do), then you’re going to have to write another book.  And another book after that and another after that…and multiply that by infinity.

But even harder, you have to write good books.  And that’s really freaking scary.

To quote my agent,

Second Book Jitters ares viewed as…cliche almost? Like it’s become such a normal discussion topic that many people don’t acknowledge it anymore. But that term has its roots, and in my opinion, is always worth bringing up.

The Second Book Jitters are undoubtedly real, and I think they come from the sudden realization that all that energy you’ve focused into steps 1 (Agent Acquisition) and 2 (Selling the Novel) has now got to go somewhere else: a good second book that readers will enjoy.

But truly, I think “second book jitters” could just as easily be renamed “First Book Jitters” or “Eighty-seventh Book Jitters” or how about just BOOK JITTERS!

Why? Because readers are notoriously hard to please, yet when we seek to be published, we take a vow to write for our readers.

And now we get to a point where you have to rediscover the “spark”.  You have to get back to the whole reason you started writing in the first place:

YOU.

That’s right.  Writing started with YOU, and now you’ve got to bring it back to YOU.

First drafts are for you. Revisions are for readers.

Yes, you may write for publication and for your readers, but when you BICHOKing out your first draft, you’re writing COMPLETELY FOR YOU.  You must tap into whatever it is that compels you to write, and you have to use it to get that first draft out!

I write because I have a feeling to share.  Just like a piece of music moves me, a story will burn in my heart until I have to tell it.  And finding those feelings, nurturing those stories, setting aside commercial-concerns and self-doubt for a few months while I hammer out a first draft–all of it is CRITICAL for me to write a novel.

And it took me a few months of chasing my tail to finally sort all that out…

But now I know what motivates me to write.

I know that, ultimately, writing is my career, and that means staying in touch with MYSELF.

I know I have to focus more of my time on WRITING than on All The Other Crud (social networking, obsessing over foreign rights, dreaming of selling future books I haven’t even written yet!).

Ah, now if only I had stayed in touch with myself throughout the querying/subbing process… I’d have saved a lot of time (and some crippling self-doubt) later on!

MORAL OF THE STORY: No matter where you are in the journey to (or on) publication, don’t lose sight of why you write.  Writing is for you; editing is for your readers.

So why do you write?

What is about storytelling that attracted you in the first place?

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Editing: The Bina Method

9 Dec

By Sammy Bina

~~~

Editing’s not my favorite thing,
Sad, I know, but true.
Rewrites make me happy
While editing often makes me blue.
Typos aren’t my forte
And lord knows my spelling stinks,
But even if the ms is okay
I’d rather someone else worked out the kinks.
Some people have one CP
And some people have four,
Me, I’ve got two that make me happy
And thanks to them, editing is no longer a chore.

Okay, so, clearly my poetic skills are not on the same level as Kat’s, but luckily this article isn’t about how terrible I am at poetry. It’s about one of our all-time favorite topics here at LTWF: editing! A blessing and a curse to us writers. It takes up so much of our time, and yet is often the most rewarding part of the writing process (I think so, anyway). Personally, I have a sick fascination with finding out how other people edit, and often find myself incorporating some of their methods into my own. Over the last year, I’ve really nailed down my process, and I thought I’d share it with you all in the hopes it might offer some suggestions to those of you feeling a little lost, or to anyone looking for a new approach.

We’re going to pretend I just finished the first draft of THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD (which we’ll just abbreviate as TANGO), the manuscript I’m currently querying. It was roughly 75,000 words, and a total disaster as far as first drafts go. There was at least one chapter I knew is missing, some plot holes that stretched deeper than a black hole, and characters who lacked motivation. Or a definitive eye color. But, overall, the foundation I’d laid was solid. Even though I needed to figure out a way for all the science-y things to make sense, it wasn’t an impossible task. I printed off the whole darn thing, ran through it with colorful pens until it looked like a rainbow exploded all over the page, then went back to the document to fix all the typos and errors I found (typos get red, inconsistencies are marked in blue, things to cut are crossed out in green, etc.). And while that was all well and good, it was obvious how much work still needed to be done. Knowing I couldn’t do all this alone, I took the advice I found here at LTWF and got myself some critique partners. And I really lucked out because the girls who offered to help did a fantastic job; I can’t thank them enough for all the hard work they did.

One of the most useful tools I use for editing is google documents. Originally the three of us had to figure out a system for sharing files, and gdocs seemed like the easiest method. Plus, you can leave comments in pretty colors – who doesn’t like that? I sent off my manuscript, then sat around and twiddled my thumbs while I waited for my CPs to get back to me with their initial reactions. What came back was something like: “It’s good, but it needs a lot of work.” Which wasn’t surprising. I mean, it was a first draft. So I asked myself, what now?

Before I sat down to do any more writing, I ran to Barnes & Noble and bought myself a shiny new moleskine. I labeled each page with the chapter title, then began outlining what I’d already written. When I was done, I had twenty-seven pages full of plot. And once it was all on the page, it was easy to see what needed improvement. I pinpointed the plot holes, figured out where I needed to add more exposition, and found the scenes I needed to cut. I also spent some time working through some of the more confusing science-y aspects of the book, like…

There were also plenty of terrible sketches in which I tried to figure out where everyone was during a particular scene. But, since I can’t draw to save my life, I’ll spare you the horror. Your eyes might bleed.

Besides that, I also had countless pages demonstrating my poor math skills as I tried to figure out everyone’s ages (since people can’t die in my book, it took some serious work figuring out how old everyone was in relation to everyone else) and the plot’s overall timeline (which has become a staple for every project these days. I find them incredibly helpful). Pages were dedicated to physical descriptions, laws and government-related things, random facts, and loads of other nonsense that would eventually be important. There was even a rough map of the city (which you can’t see because, as I said, my artistic talents are pretty limited). Later on, I also kept track of how long the book was at the end of each chapter in comparison to the first draft. Which, granted, isn’t really important unless you’re trying to cut down a 150k novel, or bulk up one that’s only 40k. But I digress.

After all that outlining and planning, I sat down and went through the novel to take care of more substantial edits. I added in the chapter that was missing, fixed the inconsistencies, and deleted a few scenes. The emotional arc of my characters was a lot stronger, the plot more cohesive, and so I sent it back to my CPs. This is what they sent me in return:

Clearly, there was more work to be done. That whole bottom portion of back and forth color? That’s all debating the use of one word. (My CPs were very thorough.) So I read through their comments and went back to make the necessary changes. And then I made even more changes. But you know what? The more time I spent with the manuscript, the more confident I became. It was slowly turning into something I might want to see on a bookshelf someday. In the months and months I’d been working on it, I hadn’t gotten sick of it. I took that as a good sign.

Eventually I filled up that notebook. Every time I made a new edit, I made a note. Every time I changed a character trait, it had to be written down. If a building changed location, the drawing got scribbled over and redrawn. I find that I have to record everything I do on my after-the-fact outline, or I forget things, and then create more inconsistencies for myself. If you’re as forgetful as me, this may be something you want to consider doing. Sometimes I feel really OCD about it, but I’ve learned to deal 😉

After four or five rounds of this, TANGO was in the best shape it could be. My CPs were happy, I was happy, my thesis advisor was happy… life was good. So I agonized over my query letter and finally made that leap of faith and sent my baby out into the world.

There is something I’d like to point out, however. As the author, you have final say over everything. If your CP makes a suggestion you don’t agree with, guess what? You don’t have to change anything if you don’t want to. I’ve known some people who would take everything their CP said to heart, even if they disagreed, and their book suffered for it. So stick to your guns. If you like that kissing scene, but your CP doesn’t, you don’t have to get rid of it. Consider what they have to say, but if, at the end of the day, you disagree, the scene stays. It’s your right, and I want to make sure you don’t forget that.

TANGO went through four or five rounds of revisions before I started querying. I don’t think there’s a hard or fast rule for how long edits and revisions should take, so definitely don’t base yours on mine. But I hope sharing this with you has given you some new ways to handle revisions, and I wish you the best of luck! And if you have any questions, feel free to ask. I’d love to know how you guys edit, too!

~~~

Sammy Bina is in her last year of college, majoring in Creative Writing. Currently an intern with the Elaine P. English Literary Agency, she is querying THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, an adult dystopian romance, and revising DON’T MAKE A SCENE, a contemporary YA. You can find her on twitter, or check out her blog.

Line Edits: the Art of Micro-Writing

24 Aug

by Kat Zhang

~*~

Hello?

…heelloooo?

(echo…echo…)

Hmmm…

*dials up LTWF central*

Hello? This is Kat. We have a problem. Seems like all our readers have disap—

Hello?

…anyone there?

Oh crud.

Well, alright. Here’s the article of the day for all you guys out there who aren’t reading MOCKINGJAY right now! I’ll keep it short, I promise.

In fact, this whole article is about “keeping it short.” I’m talking about your sentences here. Today, we’re delving into the world of micro-writing. Great stories aren’t just made up of great characters and a wonderful plot—they’re composed of well-chosen words and clear, beautiful syntax.

We’ll cover a few basics today, starting with this: Generally, the longer a sentence, the weaker it comes off.

Version A: All speech and all conversation slammed to a halt as a yellow tray soared through the air, smashing into the white walls, sending splotches of food flying in all directions.

Not bad, not bad. But I think this makes it tighter and stronger. And since this is an “action” shot, that’s especially important.

Version B: A tray smashed into the wall, sending splotches of food flying in all directions. Conversation slammed to a halt.

Now, yes, Version A is more descriptive, but in my mind, it has two problems. The first I’ve already mentioned: it weakens the action described in the story by being too long. The important bits of information (tray smashing into wall; conversation slamming to a halt) are buried under all the extraneous words.

Also, Version B changes the order of things. Version A tells you about “conversation slamming to a halt” before telling you about the tray smashing into the wall. Version B inverts things. That way, the last thought/image ringing in the reader’s mind is the deafening silence.

Okay, now on to point number two: present your information as clearly and concisely as possible.

Version A: The doors to the bathrooms were shut, but little panels declared in bright green: “Unoccupied.”

Version B: The bathroom doors were shut, but little panels declared Unoccupied in bright green.

There’s not a huge difference between the two versions, but I do think that B reads more smoothly. It paints a better picture in my mind. “Bathroom doors” and “the doors to the bathroom” mean the same thing, but the former saves you three words!

Which brings me to my third point: if a word can be cut, cut it.

What do I mean by “can be cut”? Well, if the sentence still makes sense without it, and you’re not losing any stylistic form you were going for, then say bye-bye.

Behold—

Version A: At eight, I jerked while Adie was bringing our dad his morning coffee.

Version B: At eight, I jerked while Adie brought Dad his coffee.

Not only did I change the “was bringing” to “brought,” which cut out the passive voice, but I got rid of “morning,” because it served little to no purpose to the scene. When I say coffee, you’re probably thinking “morning” anyway, and in this case, it didn’t matter whether you were or not. So out the window it went!

Honestly, I love doing line edits. To me, it’s like cleaning up a sketch. You get rid of all the extraneous marks until all you have left is the sleek, silver form.

Of course, we’re only looking at one or two sentences here. In a story, you need to vary your sentence structure, so if you have a paragraph with a bunch of very short, simple sentences, you do need to throw some longer ones in there to balance things out.

I’ll leave you guys with one final note: try reading your work aloud. If you stumble, then you might want to think about rewording things.

Now get back to that MOCKINGJAY reading! 😀

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She spends most of her free time either querying HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–or pounding out the first draft of her work in progress. Both are YA novels. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

Get Over Yourself

12 Jul

By

Sarah J. Maas

~~~

I’m going to confess something. Back when I started writing QUEEN OF GLASS (like, years and years ago), I was arrogant. And I knew it. I embraced it. I thought my book was the greatest thing ever written, and that everything I wrote was perfect. I sneered at my classmates in my creative writing courses—I scoffed at my teachers (one of whom deserved to be scoffed at, though, so I’m sorta justified). I thought I would never, ever, EVER have to change a word of QUEEN OF GLASS.

Well, I was a dumbass back then. Eight years and about five major rewrites later, I could seriously beat the crap out of my sixteen year-old self for thinking what I wrote was untouchable.

Nothing you write—especially a first draft—is perfect. And even when you’ve revised and polished until your eyes cross (which, believe me, they will), odds are, you could still revise and polish a little more. Sometimes, doing that billionth rewrite means the difference between publication and…more submissions. Deciding to do a rewrite—even after years of revising—means accepting that your work is not perfect, that you are not perfect. It means getting over yourself.

With QUEEN OF GLASS, I’ve had to get over myself a lot. But somewhere down the road (I’m pretty sure it was when I was about to query with a 240k word manuscript, and Mandy Hubbard was like: “Um, NO.”), I realized that I was the only thing standing between myself and publication.

I realized that cutting out 100k words wouldn’t kill QUEEN OF GLASS, nor would cutting out another 20k words, nor would another massive rewrite that required the removal of a major plotline and some beloved characters. I realized that I had to let go—I had to stop being narrow-minded about my vision for my book, and I had to consider whether keeping that one character or plotline was worth the cost of not being published.

And one day, I realized that all those changes had made the book stronger. Better. Something that I could actually be proud of—an awesomeness that I wasn’t entitled to, but rather something that I’d earned.

A lot of aspiring writers wonder if they’re selling out or sacrificing their artistic vision by doing extensive revisions to please an agent or editor. You’re not. Listen to your gut, but use your head: are you clinging to that character because he/she is necessary to the story, or just because you like them because of that one cute scene? No one in their right mind would have published that first draft of QUEEN OF GLASS. Or it’s 240k word version. And I’m glad. Because those drafts weren’t the best possible book I could have written.

But in order to learn that, I had to start looking at my book from an objective perspective—I had to let go of my sentimentality and arrogance. I had to let go of my fear.

Don’t be afraid of rewriting your manuscript, even if it means deleting 90% of it. Don’t be afraid of failure, or of ‘running out of time’ to get published.

But do be afraid of becoming a writer who refuses to change a word. Be afraid of becoming a writer who doesn’t listen to others when they offer great critiques. Be afraid of becoming an arrogant writer, who thinks they’re above rewriting.

Because the writers who rewrite, and who listen, and who polish until their eyes cross? Those are the writers who make it. Those are the ones you see on a shelf. Those are the ones who got over themselves.*

*Well, to some degree. 😉

~~~

Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in late 2011. Sarah resides with her husband in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.