Hit Your Word Count, pt. 2: If You’re Falling Short

Adding words to your manuscript is the easy part. What’s not easy is bulking the material you already have in a meaningful way, without adding extra scenes. Yes, adding extra scenes will jump your word count, but it could also throw a kink in your timeline or draw out the narrative a bit too much (I speak from experience!). Before you resort to adding new material, build on what you already have.

Add Sensory DetailsSensory Details

Adding sensory details is one of my favorite exercises, because sensory details really make a scene spring to life. Writers focus so much on the visual, on painting a picture, that they forget that they should really be creating an experience, which includes all senses. Even if a writer includes sounds and sensations, they often neglect taste and smell.

(I’m recycling a great deal of this from an old post, in case it sounds familiar)

Let me SHOW you, rather than TELL you:

Karyn looks embarrassed as she opens the door to a filthy apartment.

What a shithole, Thatch thinks.

The author was kind enough to tell us that the apartment was filthy, but how? Are kids’ toys strewn about the place? Food containers? Are the walls decaying from a leaking pipe? Is it a health hazard, or just unpleasant to look at?

The character is crass enough to think shithole, but that tells us very little about who he is and how he feels about the resident of the apartment.

The general rule is three sensory details to one “tell” or thought. This not only shows how and why, but also to what intensity.

Somewhere down the hall, a woman was yelling. Karyn’s face fell into a tight-lipped expression of resignation as she stood before the door. She wiped her palm across her jeans before unlocking the dead bolt, then took the doorknob in one hand and threw her body against the door. She repeated the maneuver, and it shuddered open.

Thatch was assaulted by the stench of stale cigarettes, mold, and cat feces. Acid rose in his throat. He had trouble choking it back down.

“Nan, I’m home!” Karyn yelled over a TV blaring in a back room.

Thatch grabbed the doorknob to shut the door and wrinkled his nose. He wiped his hand on his coat, but still felt the grime sticking to his palm. The motion of the door strewed fluffs of animal fur across the floor.

“This… is where you live?” He bent his head back to peer at the ceiling. Black spores spotted the water-stained plaster, trailing its way down the corner.

“Mm-hmm.” She pursed her lips, her eyes on the floor. She closed them with a sigh as she caught sight of the partially-eaten corpse of a roach.

Thatch nodded. “You’re moving in with me,” he said. His tone didn’t allow any room for argument. The small smile that played across Karyn’s mouth told him she wasn’t about to protest.

I never state what the characters are thinking, but the reader can determine their feelings based on their responses. Thatch wrinkles his nose. He almost vomits. You can tell Karyn is embarrassed, even though she never says or thinks anything that would reflect that. Her facial expressions and short response reflect her emotions. You can also determine the relationship between them to some extent: It’s his first time at her apartment and he’s already demanding she move in with him.

In adding sensory details, I turned 17 words into 223.

Exercise: Add sensory details to this excerpt:

Shannon was exhausted when she arrived home after work.

“No rest for the wicked,” she said, sitting down in her home office.

Or use one of your own. Copy and paste your results into the comments below!

Characterization

Characterization“Characterization” means any details you can add that tell the reader about a character: Their quirks, appearance, background. These can be laced into existing narrative without too much revising.

For example, after I finished the first couple of drafts of COLOSSUS, I combed through it to flesh each character out. This led to Rhodes tugging at the hair on the back of his head when he’s anxious, and Heather hissing through her teeth when annoyed. This also helped me plan quirks for future characters while in the drafting stage, such as Steyer from Two Guns twisting his wedding band when deep in thought, and Remington grinding his teeth.

Adding New Scenes

Adding new scenes to an already-completed manuscript is risky for three reasons:

  • it may make the narrative drag
  • there may be voice discrepancies
  • it may cause continuity issues

If you have declared your draft completed, although the word count falls short, adding a scene or so at any point may draw the narrative out a bit too much, making the reader feel as if they are muddling through. This is especially true, since these tacked-on scenes are rarely bolster the plot or race toward the climax as each scene should.

From the start of a draft to the finish, you are learning and developing as a writer. Therefore, your voice and technique may change drastically over the course of the narrative, and especially so after setting your draft aside for a while, then revising. If you go back to write extra scenes, the writing itself may sound dramatically different from the original scenes.

If you write an extra scene, especially if anything of significance happens, you will have to comb through the remaining manuscript to accommodate any changes that were made. For example, if someone breaks their nose in a new scene, allude to its appearance or soreness a couple of times later. If you reveal something about someone, you may want to include foreshadowing beforehand, as well as reference it after.

Keep in mind, all of these issues could be resolved by rewriting the book, which I am discovering is time-consuming, but also incredibly gratifying.

 

If you have any different tips or tricks, I would love to hear about them in the comments below, or @ me on Twitter!


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Hit Your Word Count, part 1: Crutch Words and Cut Words

Last week, I alluded to the general length novels tend to be in various genres. I noted, and will reiterate here, these word counts are for finished novels, not first drafts, and not necessarily for queries, because the books are going to contract or expand (or both) with revisions.

If you are approaching the point of querying, I recommend checking out the #tenqueries hashtag on Twitter. Agents use #tenqueries to post a brief description of why they request or pass on a manuscript (there are other forms of this hashtag as well, but this is the one my favorite agents use). One of the common issues I see is “too long for genre” (it is much rarer I see a “too short,” but that will be next week’s post).

editingThe easiest way to trim your word count without trimming plot material is to target specific words or phrases that are either unnecessary or used too frequently. Strictly speaking, you should do this whether your manuscript falls into your genre’s sweet spot or not. Consider it “grooming” for your novel; Those words and phrases are the split ends of the writing world. If the word is not necessary to the meaning of the sentence, cut it. If the sentence is not necessary to the narrative, cut it.

Now, if you read the sentence and think, “I like this; It sounds better as-is,” that is perfectly fine. Remember, these are only suggestions and left to the writer’s discretion. As long as you cut unnecessary material more frequently than you keep, you’re going in the right direction.

Note: This process is not something you will be able to do upon finishing your draft, because you’re going to gloss over the fine details. Let me reiterate the importance of putting the draft aside for two weeks to a month before putting your editing glasses on.

Crutch Words

The first thing you want to do is skim your manuscript for crutch words. “Crutch words” are filler words or pet phrases a writer uses too frequently. I am not exaggerating when a cut the word count for COLOSSUS by 1500 by using ctrl+f “just” and “that” and deleting anywhere it was not necessary either to the meaning or meter of the sentence (“meter” being the length of a line – in this context, the flow of reading). L. M. Bryski’s crutch word for Book of Birds was “even.”

Crutch words are not always useless: A few of my beta readers for Sweet NOTHING pointed out my overuse of “scoffed,” “huffed,” and “scowling.” Fixing these is going to take a bit more than the find function and backspace key. And, yes, Thomas Granger really does scowl that much, but if it’s irritating the reader, it needs to be resolved.

Since we as writers are not always cognizant of or don’t always notice things like crutch words, I recommend asking beta readers to keep an eye out for them.

Cut Words

There are several words and phrases we use in everyday dialogue which we include in narrative out of habit: Flavoring particles, words to place emphasis, or elaborations that are not necessary to the understanding of a sentence. When speaking, we don’t need to worry about how many words we use, but when writing, word count is part of the job. These words and phrases also imply there is a stronger way to convey what is going on. I tend to rely heavily on Nat Russo‘s editing checklists (part 1, part 2), but here are some basics:

  • that
    • She knew that he didn’t know what she had seen.
  • just
    • He just knew the direction she had just been heading.
  • even
    • He couldn’t even understand why she would even bother.
  • quite
    • She was quite attractive for a country girl.
  • turned
    • He turned to stared at her.
  • caused/made
    • A branch caused her to trip. She tripped over a branch.
    • A roll of thunder made her jump. Thunder rolled. She jumped. / She jumped at a roll of thunder.
  • suddenly
    • The door opened suddenly. / The door flew open.
  • instantly
    • He rang a bell. A maid instantly appeared.
  • really
    • She really needed to see what they were up to.
  • fought/struggled to
    • I fought to keep from screaming. I clenched my jaw.
    • I struggled to my feet. I stood uneasily. / My legs wobbled as I stood.
  • in order to
    • She needed the recipe in order to make the potion.
  • sentences in passive voice
    • A string of swears were uttered from under the bookshelf. A string of swears rose from under the bookshelf.
  • Perception filters
    • He heard tires crunched on the gravel.
    • She watched people danceding across the floor.

Also keep an eye out for phrases like “nodded my head,” “reached my hand,” “kicked out with my foot.” These are redundant. It’s like saying, “I walked with my legs”; Unless you’re walking on your hands, which you would state some other way, you don’t need to specify body parts. Similarly, watch out for “My heart pounded in my chest” and “Tears fell from her eyes.”

Adverbs and Adjectives

You want to weigh the value of every adverb and adjective. I will not expound on cutting them all mercilessly – just weigh their value. Consider them red flags that the word they are modifying could be strengthened:

  • She closed her eyes tightly. = She squeezed her eyes shut.

Or that you are being redundant:

  • He shouted loudly.

In addition to that, verify the exposition does not already imply the adjective or adverb. A well-structured narrative will lead a reader to imagine the scene a certain way without the help of extra words:

  • Snow covered the ground thickly, glowing palely in the bright moonlight. The moment she opened the door wide, her warm breath came out in clouds and goosebumps rose visibly on her bare skin. The chilly night air bit at her exposed nose as she trekked slowly across the vast parking lot.

Said Tags

Another way to cut your word count dramatically would be to cut the majority of your said tags. These are attached to dialogue to state blatantly who spoke, and often elaborate on how the line was spoken. This includes other words that convey “said”: “stated,” “whispered,” “yelled,” “called,” “cheered,” etc.

I generally cut these and use the framing exposition to indicate who the speaker is:

“Sorry, man. Just… the thought of those kids running away or being held for ransom… it’s just…” Byron said, shaking shook his head. “It would make for a pretty funny movie.”

Remington nodded. and replied, “Well, that funny movie is preferable to the theory we’re pursuing, so I hope that’s the case.”

Byron sighed, remembering what his friends could be going through. “Yeah, man, I’m sorry. It’s just… unreal.,he muttered.

“You don’t wanta imagine your friends in pain, I understand,” Remington sympathized, “and I hope they’re not. But…” Remington looked away, nodding slowly. “The circumstances–the vehicles, the call–they send shivers down my spine; They’re that familiar.”

Here I have two speakers, but never need to indicate who is saying what, because the dialogue is accompanied by actions that imply who is speaking and how they are feeling as they saying it.

Time for an experiment:

Apply the suggestions in this post to a chapter of the draft you’re picking at, and comment with your before and after word counts! Keep in mind, you don’t need to keep these changes – simply see how it impacts your word count.

If you have a different method of cutting down your word count without cutting material, leave a comment below or @ me on Twitter!


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Set Goals (however lofty)

CAS5TxjWMAAnQftWhen I was studying education – way back when – there was a lot of research supporting how setting reasonable goals and tracking progress toward those goals significantly increases one’s chance of success. Now, this led to a lot of ridiculous requirements in the classroom, but since we as writer’s march to our own drums, or find a writing tribe to march with, “setting goals” can take many different forms, and those goals are literally limitless.

If you’re just starting out (with writing or goal-setting), or want to experiment with something new, here are a few suggestions to help you set and attain your goals.

Start with the big picture.

You’re a writer. Your goal is to write *something* whether it is a short story, novel, or epic series. Whether you’re planning or pantsing, you have a vague idea of what form your end result will take.

Now, if you’re new to writing, or writing with serious intent (as Orwell puts it) you may not be aware that the length of a work is tracked by word count, since page numbers vary based on font, page size, line spacing, margins, etc. It is also useful to know the general length of each genre. Keep in mind, these are not set in stone, and should not be considered goals for a first draft. A good place to aim for if writing the first draft of a novel is 50,000 words. If you reach the end of your narrative and fall short, THAT’S OK. Say it with me: That is OK.

Break it up.

Something something building Rome, something something eating elephants…

Now that you have your BIG GOAL, break it up into manageable pieces to complete daily. It may take a while to figure out what a manageable piece looks like, as everyone’s pace is different. For some, a manageable piece is a scene, for some it’s an hour, for some it’s 500 words. Unless you have a prearranged competition, don’t feel pressured to achieve someone else’s goal.

You could even set your daily goal that day. *GASP* However, I recommend having a vague goal in mind beforehand, so you’ll have a rough timeline for finishing the project. Remember: You can always reset your goals and your plan for achieving them. Don’t view that as a step back; View it as a constructive part of the process.

Track your progress.

Have a system in place for tracking your daily and cumulative progress, as well as how much work you have left. One reason I April2017love NaNoWriMo is their tracking system (shown right). WriteAllYear.com has a similar pre-formatted spreadsheet you can download for free.

You may announce and reflect on your daily progress via social media. This is useful if you need a little boost, as others will cheer you on. If you already have a platform, it shares your progress with your readers.

I have one friend who creates spreadsheets documenting words per chapter per day, and – to add a super-dose of professionalism – keeps a timesheet (which would be useful for placing a definite monetary value on your work). He showed me his graphs and progress via this Twitter thread (scroll up).

If you handwrite your materials, I recommend tracking hours and pages. You may also calculate roughly how many words per page you write (for my handwriting, it’s a little over 200 words per page/400 front and back). Once you know roughly how many pages you can write in an hour, use that to set future goals.

If you outline like I do, track your progress by crossing out points on your outline!

Set a timeline.

Once you have a good idea of what your pace looks like, create a timeline for your project. For example, if you set aside two hours every weekday, write 1200 words per two hours, it should take you roughly 41 weekdays to achieve a 50,000 word count goal.

Put aside time for unexpected incidents, burn-out, writer’s block, or errant plot bunnies. It is always a good idea to schedule in wiggle room (“Under promise and over deliver,” as my former manager says). Therefore, a good timeline for a first draft for this example would be three months.

(Which, of course, makes me wonder what else I’m doing with my life!)

A note on lofty dreams:

Make these goals too!

If your dream is to be a New York Times Bestseller,  find out what you have to do to qualify for that. Beyond the basic qualifications (which is based on volume of sales out of overall percentages, so there’s no easy way to calculate this), research which books have been on the list and what they all have in common (I don’t mean plot or genre, but story elements). There are several books and articles on this very topic: identifying the characteristics that bestsellers have in common.

If your dream is for your novel to be made into a movie (which I know absolutely nothing at all about, I swear!), go for it! Write the novel with a more visual style, adapt it into a screenplay, rub elbows with creators you love and admire to pick up tips and make connections, and research screenwriting competitions.

Note: I’m using the word “research” quite a bit. That’s very important.

 

I want to hear about everyone’s current goals and their plans for success. How are you tracking your progress? Where are you on your current project?

I especially want to hear those lofty dreams! Despite what I said earlier, mine is to see my works made into faithful on-screen adaptations. I’m about half-way through adapting COLOSSUS into a screenplay, and I know a guy who knows a guy, who is asking for it, so we’ll see how that pans out.


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Approaching Feedback

Feedback can be rough, especially when you are first starting out. And I don’t just mean the nasty one- and two-star reviews, or snide comments on social media (I’ll get to those). I mean the constructive criticism from your beta readers, sensitivity readers, and editors.

FEEDBACK IS A DISH BEST EATEN COLD

When you first create something, it’s your baby.  Whether you are blind to its faults or overly-aware of them, most constructive criticism smacks, no matter how kindly-put. The best way to resolve this with the best results is to distance yourself.

As I suggested in a previous post, after you’ve finished your manuscript, re-read, and corrected the small issues, it’s time to send it out to your beta readers. As you receive their feedback, make any changes you fully agree on. Everything you are hesitant about or anything that smacks, let it simmer for a few days or a few weeks. This allows emotional responses to take a backseat, and rational responses to take over. When you are ready, re-read the area(s) in question with the suggestions in mind. Maybe even make the changes and save it as a different file (with a very different file name!). Test the suggestion out and see how it works. Phone a friend. Test alternatives. You may find you like it better, or don’t like it at all. You may even tweak their suggestions into something you are more receptive to.

Keep in mind: You don’t have to make any changes just because someone suggests it, even if they are a professional editor! They are simply giving you food for thought.

Aside: If you receive feedback from more than one person – or from a sensitivity reader – saying that something is problematic or potentially harmful, I highly recommend changing it, whether you recognize it as problematic or not; In most situations, you won’t see the issue, as it is outside of your scope of experience.

“Critical” Feedback
Now, time for critical feedback: Negative reviews, nasty remarks, etc. The easy, off-handed answer is: Don’t approach B9GlMoOCUAAQFGLnegative feedback. Of course, that’s not an easy or practical answer. This [lack of] approach can also be harmful, as negative feedback, however snidely-written, can have nuggets of useful criticism. It just might be a matter of translation and extraction.

A better way of putting it should be: Don’t argue with negative feedback. Then, as Mark Twain puts it, you have two idiots instead of one.

The Benefit of Critical Reviews

Besides having some salvageable constructive criticism, one critical review can prevent more critical reviews. If someone mentions something bothered them, other readers who would have felt the same will pass on the purchase. Likewise, someone may appreciate that certain thing, and invest in your book. I’m seeing a lot of this on Diversity Twitter recently (Oh, the presence of a gay man offended you? Let me have him!).

I also know a few people who will not purchase a book unless it has a few two- or one-star reviews. It gives them a fuller picture of the benefits and flaws. Keen readers know how to vet reviews; Trust them to recognize a nasty or biased tone.

Subjectivity

Feedback is, generally speaking, a matter of subjective taste. Good reviewers acknowledge this.  For example, the Immerse or Die review for COLOSSUS from @Jefficus (which is not nasty at all, just critical):

http://creativityhacker.ca/2017/01/18/colossus-by-jette-harris-626/

He has a couple of pet peeves concerning sentence structures. After reading his review and re-reading the prologue, I recognized what he was referring to. I was even able to apply his feedback as I re-read Sweet NOTHING, which I had just finished. I thanked him for his feedback and told him how useful it was. (He can pry my parrallel declarations from my cold, dead hands, though! 😛 )

I am not perfect, of course. The one time I responded to negative feedback, it was a beta-reader who hoarded all of his negative feedback just so he could write a negative review, which in my eyes made it a personal issue (but probably still the wrong move). Despite that, I still took the few nuggets of potential constructive criticism and will keep them in mind for later.

Defense Mechanisms

Taking the constructive from the negative, in my case, is more of a defense mechanism than anything else. I have anxiety, so I tend to mull over things far too long and let them cut far too deep. Convincing myself that some good can come of it allows me to put is aside easier. (I won’t lie, that review got under my skin and effectively halted my progress on the Heather Stokes novels.)

On that same note: If someone gives you a one-star review and cites the way your characters take their coffee, you have my personal permission to dismiss that review (this is not what I originally wrote, but I’m trying to make a conscious effort to keep my posts clean).

And as always, when you read that *one* negative review, it may help to go back to the *many* positive reviews you have, or speak with a mentor, or an enthusiastic reader – or all of the above, whatever it takes. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum!

 

I hope you were able to salvage some nuggets of useful information! If you have an experience you would like to share, or some additional advice, I would love to hear it in the comments below!


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Meet the Book: Sweet NOTHING

Thomas Granger and his forbears have been a thorn in the Wilkinsons’ side for generations. Or have the Wilkinsons been thorns in the Grangers’ side…? Nobody knows, and that suits them just fine, until Tom comes to burn down Nathan Wilkinson’s wheat field, and is met by Wilkinson’s headstrong eldest, Elizabeth. The blood feud spanning four generations is called to court, resulting in an ultimatum: Thomas Granger must marry Elizabeth Wilkinson, or serve time for attempted arson and assault.
Now Granger is trapped with a wife he believes seeks to ruin him, so he will ruin her first. Elizabeth is trapped with a husband who refuses to acknowledge her, so she will win his esteem. They engage in a battle of wits, where the weapons are subversion, tears, as well as many unforeseen circumstances.

SNCover (2)This concept rattled around in my brain for several months before I started working on it. The original idea involved a lot of malicious coercion, and letting the idea sit for so long, and misplacing my initial notes in the process, let to those plot devices being forgotten and neglected in when I finally sat down to write. I chose it as my July CampNaNoWriMo project (the results of which you can read about HERE).

This project was different because I sat down determined to write it chronologically. All of my other projects have been written by jumping to the scenes that come to mind most prominently. I wanted to try something different, and see how it worked.

It worked splendidly when it came to the bulk of the story, but it suspect it also contributed to burning out near the end of the narrative, leading to a weaker ending. Fortunately, I had a small, strong army of beta readers attack the first draft. I will be revising soon using their feedback.

Something else different that I intend to do with this novel: Traditional publication. Since the content is highly marketable, I will be querying Sweet NOTHING. So cross your fingers for me!


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Break Your Give-a-Damn

Writing is an anxious job. We are creating content that could potentially be read and discussed by many. Maybe even your family. Maybe even your co-workers. Maybe, just maybe, even that person you’re crushing on, whom you based your romantic-interest character on.

Oh, my.

There are so many possibilities, and to many writers the idea is crippling. This anxiety brings writing to a full stop. And not just new writers, either (I hate the phrase “aspiring writer,” but that will be a different post), but most writers at some point for each project are hit by the thought “What if ____ reads this? What will they think?” or “What if someone reads this and thinks _____?”

These thoughts have a time and a place, and neither of those are during your first draft.

Pause here to address potentially sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic, etc, material, because these are VALID concerns: All of those considerations, and efforts to avoid them, should be done in the planning stage. After the text is written, revise potentially-harmful content, and consult a sensitivity reader for possible slips.

I have a moderate anxiety disorder, and a large amount of time has been devoted to worrying over how COLOSSUS will be perceived, ranging from How should I address representing rape in such a raw fashion? to What if _____ reads this and hates it? I wasted hours of writing time fretting over these things, discussing them with my friends, and not writing.

Most writers have this experience, and I am here to tell you: Those whispering worries in your mind are useless. You know that, but I know it also helps to hear someone else say it. Those thoughts are inflated fears, unlikely situations, and if you continue to fret over them, all you are going to do is play through the worst possible result, which is also the most unlikely outcome.

(To wit: I actually sent COLOSSUS to the actor who inspired Avery Rhodes, and you know what? He never read it. So all that fretting I did  over what he would think was literally a waste of writing time.)

Somehow, while you write your first draft, you must convince yourself that you do not give a damn. These fears are literally not important, and need to be pushed aside or overwhelmed with encouraging self-talk. Take a bit to engage fully in something else: focus on breathing, cook, sing, talk with someone about anything else, watch peppy videos (I suggest the Word Nerds), or read author interviews. Once you’re done, sit back down and get back to writing.

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Breaking your Give-a-Damn is important for two reasons:

1.) Caring too much about someone else’s opinion stifles your progress, no matter what the end result might be. There is most likely nothing wrong with your narrative, and there will be nothing wrong with your book.

2.) No two people read the same book: It could touch one person so much, it saves their life; It could make another person throw their Kindle against the wall in a rage. You are not responsible for either of these results.

This is especially important when it comes to follow-up novels and sequels, because there is a lot of pressure for it to be as good if not better than the first. The only thing is: This pressure is not from others – it’s from yourself. Brush off the feeling that this piece needs to compete somehow. It doesn’t. Approach each project in a vacuum; Block out everything else.

Your time is the most precious thing you have, and wasting it on fictional future drama is one of the most stressful and least productive things you can do. Break your Give-a-Damn, sit down, and finish that draft.

 

If you have any other tips for overcoming anxiety or pushing through, please comment below or @ me on Twitter!

 

Need an extra push? Check these out:

Sara Bareilles – Brave 

Your own personal writing cheerleader.

Please add your own motivational songs, videos, or memes in the comments below!


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Reread, Revise, Rewrite

As an editor, I’ve seen manuscripts in varying states, from almost perfect first drafts (L. M. Bryski’s Book of Birds) that only needed light revisions and proofreading, to garbage fires of already-published works that should be completely rewritten (after a great deal of soul-searching and sensitivity training).

When I wrote my first novel in 2006, a romantic suspense entitled Perfect Words, I had no concept of revisions. I queried a greatly-flawed first draft and didn’t listen to my friends’ feedback about its plotholes. It wasn’t until I started writing again in 2014 I began to research and learned that “great novels are not written, but re-written” (I don’t recall who said that).

All writers need to sit down knowing that your first draft is merely a skeleton, not an entire body. When you complete that first draft, I recommend setting it aside for a few weeks and working on something else. If you’re still in the zone and don’t want to put it aside, that’s OK as well, but accept that it means you’ll have to go through this step twice:

 

REREAD

This seems obvious, but let me clarify: Read through the entire manuscript all at once. As writers, yes, we’ve read our manuscript a million times! But those reads are generally piecemeal, and so that we can continue writing, so it’s never a complete read-through. I recommend putting it aside, because you’re less likely to get bored or gloss over details.

Many others recommend going through strictly as a reader, not a writer or an editor, but I personally would not be able to do that. I recommend as you reread, pick at any typos you find, repetitive words or phrases, inconsistencies, etc. This makes a cleaner draft for your alpha and beta readers.

But it’s probably not time for an editor yet.

 

REVISE

CbL6WT2W8AIR_IJAfter you reread your first draft, you may feel the need to revise it a bit. Remember to reread again (at least those scenes), because revisions are also a great time for typos to sneak in when you least suspect them. When you finish these revisions, or if you don’t feel compelled to revise just yet, send your manuscript to your beta readers. After you receive their feedback and chew on it for a few days, then it is time for revisions.

Revisions come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, whether it is adding a scene to explain
something, adding sensory details throughout, or fleshing out your side characters. Besides listening to feedback, I recommend reading articles, such as what makes characters come to life, why readers quit books, and how to write a good chapter ending, as well as author interviews. You never know where inspiration will come from.

Aside: One of the best articles I’ve read was how a writer based a character on her high school bully. The character turned out flat and one-dimensional. In fleshing the character out, the writer began to feel sympathy and pity for her former nemesis. This helped me develop the character of Witt in COLOSSUS.

To tackle revisions, I recommend making a check-list of assignments. For example:

  • Add sensory details
  • Add characterization
  • Make dialogue sound more natural

Skim through your draft and indicate places you need to make these changes (if they’re big changes), or just change them. For COLOSSUS, I printed out a draft and used differently-colored highlighters for each assignment, wrote the revisions out on paper, then added them to the draft.

NOW it is time to send your manuscript to an editor.

After you receive your editor’s feedback, make the revisions you agree on, then sit on the rest for a few days, maybe even weeks, then reread and revise again. The distance will help you look at your manuscript less as a baby you need to preserve and more as something you wish to cultivate. (I actually recommend taking two weeks to a month between all of these steps, but I know enthusiasm rarely allows that.)

 

REWRITE

OH MY GOD PLEASE NO DON’T MAKE ME REWRITE THIS THING

OK, I won’t. But it needs to be acknowledged as an option, and sometimes the best path to take. You may even do this in lieu of extensive revisions. *GASP*

Rewriting has two ends of a spectrum:

  1. Throw away the original manuscript and start over again with the same idea.
  2. Literally re-write, almost word-for-word, including your improvements.

Most rewriting will be some form between these, such as consulting the original draft on occasion, but using fresh words.

Rewriting is not as daunting as it sounds, nor is it as time-consuming as writing the first draft, or even the entire revision process outlined above.

I first realized rewriting was a viable option when I was finishing up Phoenix Rising – FLINT RANCH. I wrote each scene freestanding, and not in chronological order, so when I put them all together, it felt disjointed and inconsistent (Jed’s dialect, Thatch’s personality, etc). After beta readers and my editor read it, rather than attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole, I decided to rewrite it, almost word-for-word, to smooth it out. Since it was only 17k words at the time, it was an easy endeavor, but made me realize how beneficial the method is. The end result was almost-perfect and published soon thereafter. (Most readers say FLINT RANCH is better than COLOSSUS by far.)

Two Guns is in a similar situation where it is disjointed, and it feels like there is too much going on. I’ve decided, rather than hack at it until it resembles a publishable story (which is what I’ve already done), I’m going to completely rewrite it, using method #1. This is my April Camp NaNoWriMo project, and I will keep y’all posted on my progress.

 

After all this, of course, send it out to some fresh beta readers. Nothing compares to fresh eyes.

 

Do you have any other advice on the revision process? Drop your tips in the comments below, regale us with your revision battles, or give a shout-out to your editor!

If you don’t have an editor yet, check out my editing services!

Speaking of shout-outs to our editors: Mine is named Michael Keenan. He’s worked with me on COLOSSUS and FLINT RANCH. He is thorough, thoughtful, and makes me laugh.


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