Tag Archives: revision

The Art of REwriting

9 Nov

by Susan Dennard

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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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Digesting the Revision Letter, a pep talk

19 Jul

A Guest Post by Erin Bowman

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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!

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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.

Researching Your Story – A Four-Step Strategy

30 Jun

by Julie Eshbaugh

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Unless you’re writing a book about your own life, chances are you’ll have to do some sort of research before you can say your novel is finished. (Even if your book IS about your own life, you’ll probably have to refer to your family albums, at the very least!) Historical settings, legal proceedings, and medical conditions are just a few examples of story components that would require research. The object of this post is to suggest a strategy for research that will provide the authentic details you need without bogging you down in the process.

Step 1 – Make notes about the factual issues that you will need to research.

What will you need to learn to ensure that your story is authentic and appropriate for its genre? (I mention genre here because some genres have higher standards for accuracy than others. A “police procedural” mystery will require far more exacting details than would a contemporary fiction that includes an arrest in the plot.)

Once you’ve made a list of topics and facts you will need to research, divide it into two categories – “big picture” and “important details.”

“Big picture” knowledge is the information you need as you create the over-arching idea behind your novel and start your first draft. Examples would be:

  • In pre-Columbus North America, were horses a part of daily life?
  • Would a heart transplant be an option for a pregnant woman?
  • How long does DNA evidence last at a crime scene?

What qualifies an issue to be in the “big picture” category is the fact that it is at the heart of your story and essential for your concept to make sense. For instance, if your novel is about a crime that was committed aboard the Titanic, and how it is solved in the present day by the use of DNA evidence, you need to take the time to research these facts at the outset. What you learn about DNA evidence will have a huge impact on the course of your novel.

Step 2 – Attack the “big picture” issues and gain knowledge about the facts that will help form the spine of your story.

If you know that there is an area of study that is a major component to your plot, investigate that area as you form the seed of your story. If your story is set in Vietnam during the war, study up on the geography and the people. If your story is about an astronaut who makes an error that threatens to kill his entire crew, get an understanding of space missions and how they are structured and staffed.

Step 3 – Firm up your concept and dive into your first draft.

This is why you divided that list from Step 1 into two categories. The second category – “important details” – can be put aside for now. I’m not saying that you won’t have to look up those questions and answers eventually.  What I am saying is that you don’t need to know every detail of life in revolutionary France before getting started writing your rough draft. Authentic details will be required before you turn in your final draft, but you shouldn’t let research prevent you from getting started. If one of your characters lights a candle to read by, and you find out later that gas lamps had replaced candles ten years before your story takes place, that detail can be fixed in the revisions stage.

Step 4 – Firm up the details and make your revisions.

This step is where you need to add accuracy. What kind of gun would a pirate have used? Did matches exist or would the main character light a wick from the fireplace? How long did it take to travel from Glasgow to London by carriage in 1814?  Now that you have your first draft down, you can take the time to get the facts straight without interrupting the flow of your writing.

Do you do a lot of research for your writing? What process do you use? Do you have any ideas to add to the above? I look forward to reading your comments!

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Bradford Literary Agency. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

Tackling Revisions

11 May

by Susan Dennard

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Note:

This post has been UPDATED

and re-posted on

Pub(lishing) Crawl!

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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.

Don’t Judge a Book by its… Title

23 Dec

Guest Post by Aya Tsintziras

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Aya Tsintziras, 2011 Debut Author

We’ve all heard the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.” But what about a book’s title? What you choose to call your novel is just as important as the cover image, the story and the writing. Titles can be mysterious or intriguing, drawing the reader in at first glance (Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife or Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games come to mind) or they can be clever, making the reader think and search for the title’s explanation within the plot (like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why or Gayle Forman’s If I Stay). Most importantly, your title should explain something about the book. So, yes, titles matter, just as covers do, and you should definitely judge a title.

What happens when you think you’ve found the perfect title? Or if you query an agency with that title, spend months and months editing that novel under the title, and get a book deal with that title – only to hear your title must be changed?

This is what happened to me. I wrote my novel, formerly known as RAINFALL, at sixteen, started working with a literary agency at eighteen, and got the good news that my novel had been sold this past summer at twenty. I was super excited (and still am!), of course, not only about realizing my dream of becoming a published author, something I had wished for since I was young, but about working with an editor and growing as a writer. I didn’t realize I would learn an important lesson in letting go. But that’s what this journey has turned into – the realization that not everything about your novel will stay exactly the same and always keeping an open mind is the only way to get through the changes.

My YA novel is a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl named Raine who suffers from an eating disorder and must learn how to deal in a world where being pretty means being thin. Therefore, my original title, RAINFALL, was a play on words and on the theme of the book – Raine falls, in a sense, and must pick herself back up. I’m lucky to have such a wonderful editor who was incredibly respectful about the title change, telling me that the book needs a title which eludes to the subject. She allowed me to be involved in the decision-making process and I brainstormed a few ideas. In the end, the title that was chosen was PRETTY BONES. On a personal note, I love it as it’s pretty and poetic, but from a business/marketing perspective, it’s perfect. Those two words say everything about the book – it is about beauty and it is about bones. I understand that RAINFALL does not tell you the book is about anorexia, whereas PRETTY BONES does.

My old title will always stay close to my heart. I chose it when I was in high school, a time full of many ups and downs, a time when I learned to believe in myself. I chose to write a novel and to pursue the path to publication, and that is what my old title represents to me. My title change, then, is symbolic of the fact that I have grown up, from a sixteen-year-old dreamer to a twenty-one-year-old college senior who still dreams, of course, but has made her dream into a reality.

If you are faced with the need to change your title, either a personal decision or a suggestion from your agent or editor, it’s fine to be upset – for a little while. You are letting go of something you have been attached to. But think of a title change, like any changes you will have to make during the editing process, as a new beginning. A step in the right direction. A step to making your book more marketable.

After all, if you are brave and believe in yourself as a writer, enough to pursue the crazy ride to publication, that’s what counts.

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Aya Tsintziras is finishing up her degree in Political Science and Media Studies at the University of Toronto. At fifteen, her play, Rainfall, won an Honourable Mention in the Tarragon Theatre’s Under 20 Playwright Competition. Aya turned this play into a novel and it will be published under the name PRETTY BONES on March 1 2011 by James Lorimer in North America. You can follow her on twitter @ayatsintziras.