Evolution of a Manuscript: Part 1 – On-the-Go Scribble to Writing Space

I’d like to take you through my iterations of a draft, from first conception to final product.  I’ve chosen one paragraph to do this way and dissect–the opening of my latest scene as of 7 March 2020.  Hopefully, you will come to the determination that the final draft is a good one, and one that is as close as possible to being publish worthy.

Gmail draft:  Gmail is an excellent conduit for writing on the go.  When you’re not in front of your desk or designated writing area, gmail is at your fingertips anywhere and everywhere, and will save your muse’s life.  It’s accessibility from any device is a godsend.  Boring meetings?  Pull up your draft in Gmail.  Bad gas station sushi?  Pull up your draft in Gmail.  On hold?  Pull up your draft in Gmail.  Listening to your boss drone on in a meeting?  You get the idea.

Here is the conception of my on-the-go draft in Gmail:

me_gadnor

Rough huh?  Yea…

Here it is again, copied into Scrivener and polished up a bit sitting in my designated writing area–my lovely desk in a room full of windows with a view at my lovely garden–this an important distinction for every writer:

me_gadnor2

This is less rigid, a little more sensory, and a bit less disjointed, but it still feels choppy.  There are several bits that don’t flow as smooth as I want.  Also, the POV, Gadnor, comes off too creepy in the first paragraph, and the sentence about Princess Lithaneva being wary doesn’t exactly seem to fit–wary of what?  There really isn’t anything mentioned yet that warrants that reaction.  The last sentence is also very wordy and redundant.

Also, this draft feels like it’s from the POV of an onlooker, and my goal is to transport the reader so they become the main character, and this doesn’t quite feel like I’ve done that.

So, with a few changes with those bits in mind, here is what I came up with:

me_gadnor3

It’s not at all ready, but it’s on it’s way to becoming something I feel good about showing to the world.  I’ll sleep on this and take another look tomorrow.  Stay tuned for part 2 of Evolution of a Manuscript.

2020 – Week 8

I exceeded my goal this week, tweaking my dream sequence and not only drafted the first paragraph of the next scene, but completed the draft, adding another 1041 words to my running total. My manuscript is now over 32,000 words.

My goal for this week is to tweak the new scene, and run it through my editing process.

Happy writing!

2020 – Week 6 “To Cut or Not to Cut”

I’ve made some excellent progress this week and exceeded my goal to fill in the missing pieces of the scene. The pieces are in and I’ve started my editing process. I’m currently on step 5.

Every step reveals something that needs changing, something that doesn’t look or sound right, or something that’s still missing or would sound better restructured, cut, or moved somewhere else. I cannot stress the importance of self-editing enough.

The original v12 version had a dream sequence before this particular scene I’m writing happens, and I’m seriously debating putting it back in. It might be important for character development…not necessarily for the plot at this point though, which is why I wanted to cut it. It’s a bit of a dilemma, but I think I’m going to add it back in. It does reveal to the reader a little something about this character, and also throws a little mystery in there too.

So my goal for this week is to finish up editing this scene and get it sent off to a peer for review, and also get the first paragraph of the dream sequence written. I won’t have a chance to write much this weekend so hopefully I’ll be able to accomplish this!

Happy writing!

2020 – Week 5 and “Agent Killers”

I was able to get all 3 scenes edited and sent to a peer to review. I did add in a few more paragraphs to two of the scenes to add a bit more depth, and one of them now reminds the reader of a small detail in an earlier scene and hopefully makes it more cohesive overall.

One of the issues I’ve experienced in my writing journey is how disconnected later chapters can become from earlier ones, especially when it’s a book executed over several years. I’ve read many self-published books that have this problem, and as much as possible I want to avoid this. There’s nothing more frustrating than reading a novel from cover to cover and by the end there are one or two things that were never or poorly explained. While I’m trying to be proactive about this with my work, it’s inevitable that I won’t catch everything.

This is why a beta reader is a must when the draft is finished because they can identify inconsistencies and discrepencies from throughout the book that we as the writer will miss. Everything flows in our head at super high speed, especially stories that have been near and dear to us for years. A new person who knows nothing about it reading it through from start to finish is the only way to truly find these “agent killers.” Cause that’s what they are. If there’s confusion somewhere, an agent will kill your manuscript and throw it in the burn pile. Ruthless. But that’s the truth. Agents exist to make money, and a book that needs reworking is not in their acceptance criteria.

Peer reviews scene by scene are great, but without that cover to cover beta read (at least once), it is just not enough to polish your manuscript for an agent.

For my scene I needed to finish this week, I almost got a very rough draft done. I rushed through a lot just to get it down and have somewhere to work from this week, and I’m still missing a small part of the scene that’s pretty crucial, but it’s like 90%.

A lot is happening in this scene and it’s going to be quite a large one once I get it polished and fill in the blanks. There are some tragic things happening here and happening fast, and it’s going to be a hefty chapter when all is said and done, but hopefully it will be an exciting read.

This scene still needs a lot of work, so my goal for this week will be to finish the last missing piece, revise it, and get it ready for the editing process.

5/52 weeks of 2020 are gone, and I’ve completed one scene so far. I’m happy with how I’ve kept up with my goals, but I’m realizing that if I really want to be done by this year I need to pick up the pace a bit. There’s a lot left to tell between current scene and the end.

Happy Writing!

2020 – Week 4

I only partially met my goal this week, but I feel that I made up for it by doing some additional new scene work.

Last week my goal was to edit the last three scenes I’ve completed, and I made it to step 5 of my self-editing process, which you can read about here. As a Scrivner user, I type in courier font. Compiling it into a word doc changes the layout and I also change the font to Times New Roman. It’s a totally fresh way to look at my scene. Not only did Microsoft identify some pronouns I dorked up but it also suggested I make some phrases more concise, and visually I caught a few redundant words also with the different view.

I also added in some missing character development pieces that are needed for this scene, since my character is meeting an old friend. This wasn’t really clear before, so now hopefully there’s a little more depth to the narrative and a greater impact for the following scene.

That’s as far as my editing took me. I have yet to convert it into a 5×9 10 pt font format, which is basically book form. That’s the next step, and then I’ll be ready to send it to a peer to review.

I made some good progress on the next scene this week as an extra. It’s not complete, but I’ve got a good start and I know how I want it to go.

So my goal for this week is finish editing those 3 scenes, and finish the first draft of the next scene.

Happy writing!

2020 – Week 3 and Scene Stacking

I met my writing goals this week, decided whose perspective the next scene would be, what would happen in it, and drafted my first paragraph.

There are about 150 words so far, but I have a direction now, and I’ve found that accomplishing that is the hardest part sometimes.

This scene is a continuation of the scene I just completed, and from the same POV. I usually like to move to a different character to avoid the story becoming stagnant, but I realize that nothing is really happening in the rest of the story at this particular time. I am also trying to make sure that all the scenes take place chronologically. For example, I don’t want my A character to be doing something on a Tuesday afternoon in chapter 4, and then jump to character B doing something on the previous Sunday at dawn in chapter 5. That’s just too confusing for the reader. This means stacking scenes from one character’s POV. The trick is making sure this character’s plot is interesting enough to keep the reader engaged.

Even when the character development is stellar, I have to be mindful that when having a lot of scenes back to back of one POV, there is a risk of the reader forgetting what was happening with character B way back in chapter 3. I don’t want to invent exposition to keep these characters alive per say, but I don’t want their importance to be forgotten either. I hate having to go back 30 pages to remember what’s going on. It’s a delicate balance that I’m not entirely sure I’m getting right. This will be an important piece of feedback I’ll be expecting from a beta reader when the manuscript in completed.

Even though I met my goal this week, I did not go back and edit my completed scene. I now have 3 scenes that need to be edited. So my goal for this week is to edit those 3 scenes and then send them off to a peer to review.

Happy writing!

2020 – Week 2

It’s week 2 of 2020 and I’m pleased to say that I have completed the scene I was working on in my last post, added an additional 949 words.  It is now 1687 words, an excellent scene length. Of course, this is the first draft of it, so I’m going to let it sit for a day or two and then go through my editing process, which you can learn about here on my blog Editing Tricks That Don’t Cost a Dime.

My goal for week 3 of 2020 is to figure out what the final scene in this chapter will be–from whose perspective–solidify what exactly is taking place in the scene, and at least get my opening paragraph drafted.

Here’s to keeping up the progress!

Happy writing!

 

Meaningful Writing – How to Not Quit

I’ve been struggling to make progress with my book for some months now. It’s not that I don’t know what happens next, but everytime I sit down to write I find myself easily distracted.

I began to think back to my unstoppable days, where churning out two or three thousand words daily was a default occurrence. How was I able to do it?

Honest answer? I didn’t have much of a life. I wasn’t married, didn’t have kids, didn’t have a job or a house to clean. Instead, I was a loner with no friends. By creating a new world through writing it was an escape from the mundane. The characters I wrote were my friends, I aided their struggles, shared their grief and success. Writing back then was so easy because it was more meaningful!

So what is writing now? Does it hold a similar meaning?

Well, no. I have a great job, a wonderful husband, and three beautiful kids that I love spending time with. There’s no going back to the way it was, and I don’t want to!

But I’ve been hanging onto this same story for 17 years, wanting to finish it and not being able to. Now I realize why–it’s no longer an escape, but I still love my characters dearly, and I’ve invested too many years to just give up on them.

So it’s sentiment. Sentiment has helped my writing survive, but it hasn’t propelled it forward. It’s a feeble reason to keep writing. Which is why I haven’t been very successful doing it.

That’s why other things distract me, that’s why I can’t write more than 300 words in a sit down even when I do carve out the time. I need to find real meaning for my writing again.

Obviously, my previous purpose is no longer feasible, I’m no longer a miserable teenager, I’m a content adult. I don’t want to escape reality anymore. So what substantial meaning can I attribute to writing now?

My answer: Drawing support from others who share the same struggles is a time proven method for success in almost every aspect of life from religion, to disease, to exercise, to entertainment, etc. So I’ve decided to begin meeting with other local writers at least once per month just to write together and support each other in the writing process.

I met with my group last weekend to test it out, wrote 400 words, and worked out several kinks in my storyline–a definite win!

If writing is a struggle for you and it wasn’t before, even though you’ve carved out the time and gathered your notes, then maybe the reason for your writers block goes deeper.

I suggest doing some soul searching to determine what remedy will work for you to get back on track. It may be trial and error for a bit, but once you figure it out I bet you find that writing comes to you much easier.

Perhaps joining a writing community is the answer for you too. If there isn’t a local group where you are, try searching for an online group, and don’t be shy about shopping around for the right fit.

Good luck and happy writing!

 

Editing tricks that don’t cost a dime

Editing.  It’s such a dirty word for authors because it means returning to  place you’ve already been, going back over something you’ve already done, and performing the tedious task of proofreading, grammar checking, rephrasing, rewriting etc.  In short, it’s a chore, one most writers despise.

I’ve read some articles and heard a lot of people say not to worry about editing until your manuscript is finished, and then to hire someone to do it.  I think this is a mistake.  While it’s likely true that you won’t be able to catch all of your mistakes or plot holes and you need a separate set of eyes, there are a lot of free avenues you can take to weed out as many inconsistencies as possible so when it comes time to pay a professional, you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

1) Write your manuscript in Courier or Courier New font.  This is old school typewriter font.  A few people have told me that it’s hard on their eyes or looks weird.  If this is you, then choose a different font, just choose one that is significantly different than Times New Roman, which most final drafts are submitted in.

2) Briefly edit as you go.  I’ve heard so many people say “don’t worry about mistakes, just write write write.”  I’m not a fan of this.  While it’s important to not get hung up on wanting it to be perfect (don’t do that!!  Read my article about that here), it’s also important for my own peace of mind to proofread sections during breaks in muse to correct spelling errors, replace redundant words, and rephrase things to fix flow if it’s a fast read through.  I don’t recommend spending more than 5 minutes editing a paragraph at this stage, do a quick once over to correct obvious mistakes, and then keep writing.

3) Reread your finished scene.  Again, so many people have told me to just keep going with my first draft until it’s complete and then go back over the whole thing.  But I must be honest, if I did 0 editing until the book is done, I would be rewriting my book over and over (which actually I have done 4 times because I followed the advice to go go go).  By rereading scenes as I go, I’m giving myself opportunity to figure out that I want a different cliffhanger, that I’ve already stated something in a previous scene, or that I want some other character to show up and do or say “the thing,” which will change the whole story.  Catching things like this after each scene can prevent the overwhelming book rewrites that are inevitable if you wait until you’re completely done with your novel.

Now, sleep on these changes and move on to step 4.

4)  For Scrivener users (if you aren’t one, I recommend becoming one!!), compile your finished scene into a standard double spaced word document using 12 pt. Times New Roman font.  This will allow you to utilize Microsoft’s spellcheck/grammar check feature for the first time, and can help you find the contractions and mistakes that you missed.  Microsoft’s concise feature is also helpful in eliminating common wordy phrases that bog down your narrative.

If you’re not a scrivener user, then just change your font to 12 pt. Times New Roman and double space your doc.

Why? Doing this allows you to see a new visual view/line/word placement of your work, and can really help you see at a glance sentences, phrases, and words that hinder flow, sound redundant, or need to be reworked.

Now sleep on it and proceed to step 5 tomorrow.

5)  Compile your scene into a novel-formatted (usually 5×9 page size), Times New Roman, 10 point font .pdf file.  Again, this is providing you a new unique look at your scene, and one that is extremely close to how it will appear in print, the ultimate goal.  Being able to see it in it’s “published” form will help you weed out anything else you’ve missed up to this point.

Follow the same editing process from step 4, and proceed to step 6 tomorrow.

6)  Print the corrected version out.  Same as above, it’s a different visual of your story, and something about paper vs. computer screen really helps to further highlight things missed.  Make any necessary changes to your computer file.

7)  Find another pair of eyes to look at your scene.  At this point, you have looked at your scene from 4 different angles and made edits.  But it’s well known that writers still miss so much when it comes to their own work.  We’re too attached.  We know every line, and our brains sometimes fill in gaps or skip over things regardless of how different we make it look with page and font sizes.

Many suggest finding a family member or close friend to read over it, which is usually your quickest and easiest option.  Keep in mind though that family and friends may not be forthcoming about their true opinions of your scene, so I always recommend finding a non-biased person to review your work too.  A family member or friend also might not be very inciteful about writing style, genre tropes, or spelling or grammar because they may not be avid readers or writers themselves.  If they are, wonderful!

Critique groups are one of the best options for a non-bias perspective.  You get multiple pairs of eyes on your scene from avid writers (and readers) and they can help you with flow, plot holes, even weird cultural nuances and character vernacular that you may have not even thought about.  It also gives you a chance to share your writing knowledge with others and exchange tips and tricks (let’s face it, most family members aren’t interested in hearing about your writing process, but other writers might be!).  Best of all, critique groups are free!  Just find a group in your area and start attending.

One drawback (and advantage – it’s a double edged sword) to critique groups is that members aren’t shy about voicing their true opinion.  In the moment, this can be hurtful, especially if several members are commenting on the same thing, or they flat out tell you they don’t like it.  Members of critique groups don’t have a personal connection with you like your family and friends do, so be prepared to receive some criticism, but be confident that the feedback you receive is given by fellow writers and readers who are genuinely trying to help you improve your story and style.

Of course, also remember that you can take or leave anything they say.  You’re not under contractual obligations to make the changes they suggest.  Make notes, thank them for their feedback, and then decide what to do with the information.  If they have identified confusing segments though, consider carefully how you can correct these in your story.  Odds are, other readers (agents and editors too) will encounter the same issues.

If you’re unsure how to find a critique group, a good place to look is google, the meetup app, your library, or local college, or even Inkitt.  And if none of these options produce fruit, start one yourself!  I started the Augusta Writers Critique Group last October via the meetup app and it now includes 150 members.  There are always attendees at meetings and the feedback has been phenomenal!

After all of this, your scene has been edited and revised many times over and is in great shape.  Once every scene goes through this gauntlet and you’ve come to the end of your novel, reread your entire manuscript and tie up any loose ends you may have missed.

8)  Find a beta reader to read your book from start to finish.  If you can find someone to read your entire finished draft for free and give you their thoughts, fantastic!  Again, family members are prime suspects, or even a member of your critique group may volunteer.  There are also several online websites such as fiverr where you can find beta readers for free or for a small fee who will read your entire manuscript.  This step is important for evaluating the overall story plot and execution, which can be hard to do in a critique group where only one scene at a time is shown to a varied audience over a long period of time.

But now, if it’s in your budget, is the time I recommend hiring a professional editor to go through it and make suggestions.  Professional editors can be pricey:  4 cents/word is a common price I’ve seen, which is $3,200 for 80,000 words.  Ouch.  According to freelancewriting.com, basic copyediting on average charges anywhere from $25-40/hr and tackles 5-10 pages/hr.  More strenuous editing could cost even more for fewer pages.  Once your book reaches this stage, you want it to be as polished as possible to get the most bang for your buck.

The bottom line:  You don’t have to rely on expensive professional editors to produce a polished manuscript.  Further, skipping free ways to improve your book means that the intricate details a paid professional could find may not be found because of surface errors that you could have corrected yourself.  Also, a professional editor is still just one set of eyes, and one point of view, and no amount of money you spend on them will change that limitation.  The more opinions you have, the more fleshed out your manuscript will be.

This process has personally improved my writing by leaps and bounds, and has given me confidence to continue moving forward with my story.  I do not plan to completely scrap and start my novel over again from the beginning, and these steps are helping to ensure that the story I’m telling is readable, interesting, engaging, and free of mistakes, inconsistencies, and plot holes as much as possible.

Happy writing!

 

Writers Block :(

Writer’s block happens to the best of us, it’s inevitable.  We go strong for a bit, churning out page after page and then suddenly we get to a place where the creativity takes a vacation.  I’ve been stuck on one scene for about four months.  Four months!  That’s a long time to be stuck in one place.  How many pages could I have written if not for this problem?

We experience writers block for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes we just get too busy with life.  We start a new job, have to go out of town, a new semester of school begins, grass and hedges grow, or grandma bought us a new guitar for our birthday and wants us to learn how to play Mary Had a Little Lamb.  The reasons why we halt writing are endless.

Sometimes though we are genuinely stuck.  Life settles down and we have time put aside for our craft, but we spend it all staring at the screen until we feel like our eyes are melting in their sockets.  Our story refuses to come out.

This scene that I happened to be stuck on was a very important one.  It’s my main character’s first real scene, and it’s a pretty pivotal moment in the book.  A lot is riding on getting this right.  I’ve established several characters already with unique personalities and intricately woven story arcs that have ushered readers from page 1 to this very point in time.  Now it’s my main character’s turn to take the torch and shine.  So amid all the weeds to pull, babies to feed and read to, work to be on time for, groceries to buy and put away, somewhere in there I have the responsibility to my readers, myself, and to my character to write a first impression that is both engaging and intriguing–to create a new reader favorite.

And so, I’ve been stuck.

In addition to life things that get in our way, as writers it’s easy for us to get so caught up in wanting a scene to be perfect that we allow it to be a stumbling block to our success.  So many pages did not get written because I was hung up on how perfect this scene needs to be.

The old saying “A house isn’t built in a day” is a perfect analysis.  That beautiful mansion was once just a patch of grass.  So too are each of our scenes.  Keep this in mind when you get stuck, especially if it is because you really want to the scene to be perfect.

I finally completed the scene by writing a little bit at a time, and boy was it ugly at first, and at second, and at third.  A couple paragraphs here and there, some rework here, some scrapping there, and some tweaking all over took it from a patch of grass to a house with four walls.  It still needs paint, but the foundation is there now for what I had envisioned as the perfect scene.  And the most important part is that it’s done, it’s written, and I can finally move past this point in my book.

Writers block will happen, just accept it now.  And when it does, don’t ignore it, or it could set you back four months or even longer.  Some writers have given up on stories because of writers block, because the scene isn’t perfect, because the mansion is just a concrete foundation and studs.

I’m telling you as one writer to another, that it’s okay to write a scene that’s ugly, rushed, devoid of detail and emotion.  It’s okay if you have to scrap a couple paragraphs or even the whole thing.  These are not wasted efforts, it’s part of the process of beating writers block.  Embrace it, push through it, and keep adding to your house until it becomes a mansion.

The only way to finish your novel is to keep writing until it’s done, even when it’s ugly, even when you feel that the scene you’re working on deserves so much better than what you can currently do.

You will polish it to perfection.

But first, just keep writing.

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