Why You Should Edit Your Novel Backwards Plus Other Possibly Insane Yet Effective Editing Tricks

Why You Should Edit Your Novel Backwards Plus Other Possibly Insane Yet Effective Editing Tricks

writing blog post

I recently finished a major revision of a novel I’ve been working on since 2015. You read that right. I’ve spent almost three years with this novel, in which I’ve gone to hell and back. And trust me when I say that is not an exaggeration. I used several editing strategies with this novel that I’ve never used before and I’m convinced it has made me a better writer and editor. After 10 years of writing and working on multiple manuscripts here is my best editing advice:

Revise the manuscript backwards. Meaning, if you have thirty chapters in your book start editing Chapter 30 first, then Chapter 29, and on down. I don’t know why I’d never tried this before, but it is my new favorite technique. You see things going backwards that you don’t see when editing in a linear fashion.

Color code the thing if need be. Again, this is something I’d never tried before. My writing mentor said there wasn’t enough body language in my book. So what did I do? I printed the thing out and highlighted all the body language in orange. If there was no orange on a page or the color didn’t appear for several pages I looked at where I could add body language in. This was painful–VERY painful–but man did it work!

Map out chapters in Excel. Chapter length wasn’t something I took a serious look at before. I tracked the length of chapters in Excel as well as charted characters’ feelings to make sure they were changing. If there were too many or too few pages between chapters I looked at where an alternate break could be made.

What about you? What unique editing techniques have you tried? Share in the comments.

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P.S. I also wanted to share that I have an agent 🙂 I’ll write a longer blog post about how I did it, but I’m happy to say I’m now represented by Penny Moore of Aevitas Creative Management.

What Can a Writing Mentorship Teach You?

What Can a Writing Mentorship Teach You?

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I’m excited to guest post for YA Interrobang today! I talk about what I learned from my Writing in the Margins mentorship. Go here to check it out.

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What I’m Reading, Watching, and Writing This Month

What I’m Reading, Watching, and Writing This Month

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It’s that time again for the monthly update where I review what I’m reading, watching, and writing. Enjoy!

What I’m reading:

  • The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan. This YA novel recently hit the NYT bestseller list. I am not big on magical realism or the fantastical at all, but I did enjoy this book a lot. The protagonist, Leigh, believes her dead mother has become a bird.

What I’m watching:

  • Dirty Money on Netflix. If you want all your suspicions about corporate greed/corporate America to be confirmed this documentary is for you. Be warned: you’ll be angry after watching!
  • Flint Town on Netflix. What can I say, I love me a good docu-series. This one is about Flint, Michigan and its struggles with crime, the economy, and its water.

What I’m writing:

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How to Avoid Burnout as a Writer (and as a person)

How to Avoid Burnout as a Writer (and as a person)

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Let me start off by saying I don’t know the answer to avoiding burnout. I’m not a doctor or a psychologist or anything like that. But since the start of this year I have been trying to find it. Putting too much pressure on yourself can make you feel like you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown every week. Trust me I’ve been there.

This year I set one personal goal for myself: to be less stressed. Stress can kill you or make you sick so reducing it is something I take seriously.

Of course, I didn’t do anything in January to help me achieve this goal. I started off the year pushing it hard in all areas: work, writing, and saying yes to as many things as possible. After a month and a half I was exhausted. Working full-time, writing a novel in one month, and taking care of a house, dog, etc. is a lot for anyone. Over the last several weeks I’ve been trying to reduce the stress in my life and feel like I’m on the way to making progress.

Some things I’ve found helpful:

Remove social media apps from your phone. I used to check Twitter and Facebook multiple times a day. It wasn’t leading to anything productive. I used to be afraid of missing out on writing articles, publishing advice, and family photos. I removed the one-tap apps from my phone and find I visit the sites less and less. I might even delete Facebook altogether.

Make time for exercise. I sit for a good 8 hours a day and for another hour to write. Sitting is the new smoking according to some. To combat all the sitting I try to do some exercise every day. A good friend of mine recommended the 30-day Fitness Challenge app. I find it pushes me just hard enough to break a good sweat and reset mentally.

Get outside for at least five minutes a day if you can. I work from home a lot so it’s easy for me to fit a walk in. On the days I go to my office I walk a mile and a half to and from work. For those who don’t have the freedom to do this, set a daily reminder on your calendar to get out, even if it’s just for five minutes in the parking lot. I feel so much better after I get some fresh air.

Write when inspired and don’t push it just for the sake of pushing it. This is one that’s been hard for me to adhere to. I’ve always had the “butt in chair” mentality when it comes to writing. The more you do, the higher the output, the better you will get. But writing a novel in one month made me loathe writing (usually it takes me several months to write a first draft, but I wanted to see how many books I could write in 2018). I really don’t like that feeling. For now, I’m trying to write when I want to write. Recently, I took a two-week break from writing and editing, something I haven’t done in over ten years.

Say no more often. I had several interviews lined up to talk about writing and publishing and I did something I thought I would never do: I cancelled some of them. These were opportunities I had sought out to try and promote my work, and I couldn’t believe I was turning things down. Here’s the thing, though. I didn’t feel bad about cancelling. I felt relieved. Could I spend more time promoting my books? Yes. Is it good for my health to always be on top of it? No.

Your turn. What have you done to try and reduce stress in your life? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.

Don’t miss my other post, How to Avoid Burnout as a Writer Part II.

 

2017 accomplishments & 2018 goals

2017 accomplishments & 2018 goals

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It’s that time of year again where I assess what I accomplished in 2017. DNC = did not complete. DONE = accomplished.

At the start of 2017 these were my goals:

  • Find a reliable critique partner. DNC
  • Produce an audiobook of One Night. DNC
  • Secure a traditional publishing contract. DNC
  • Finish current work in progress, a new YA novel. DONE
  • Attend at least one writer’s workshop or conference. DNC
  • Start another novel. DONE
  • Accept praise more graciously. KINDA DONE

I met almost half of my goals. I think I accomplished the two most important ones which had to do with writing output. I wrote two novels last year while working full-time, taking care of a house, dog, etc. which I consider a triumph.

This year my goals are:

  • Write two novels
  • Publish a novel
  • Focus on scalable, long-term marketing for my books

What about you? What are your goals?

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Behind the scenes of a novel: One Love

Behind the scenes of a novel: One Love

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A lot of people ask me how long it takes to write and produce a novel. Here I’m going to break down step by step what I did to write and produce One Love.

  • September 2016: I started getting ideas for a sequel to One Night. I started writing two different potential sequels that I abandoned. The story lines weren’t strong enough and bored me, to be honest.
  • January 2017: I got a different idea and wrote a four-page outline for what would become One Love. The story structure template I’ve used for many years is the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. Technically it is an outline for screenplays but it works great for novels, too. To order Blake Snyder’s book which details each part of the template go here.
  • January-March 2017: I wrote the first draft of One Love. I wrote roughly 1,000 words per day, five days a week (I take a break on weekends if I can).
  • April-June 2017: I did two revisions of the manuscript. This brought me to draft number three.
  • July 2017: I sent the book to my editor. It took about eight weeks for her to review. I also worked with a designer on the cover.
  • September 2017: I got the editor’s report back and spent two weeks making edits. I edited what I could on-screen then printed out the book and did one more edit. If you’re keeping track this would be version four of the manuscript.
  • Early October 2017: After I was satisfied I sent the book to a proofreader.
  • October 2017: I reviewed the proofreader’s changes then laid out the print version of my book which took approximately 4 hours.
  • November 2017: I ordered a print proof of the book. I read it, made minor word changes (I changed maybe two or three words) and updated the print file.
  • December 2017: I released the book. It would have been out sooner except I submitted the book for consideration to Amazon’s Kindle Scout program.

There you have it. I hope this takes some of the mystery out of the writing and production process.

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How to Balance Writing With a Day Job

How to Balance Writing With a Day Job

One of the questions I get asked most often is: how do you find the time to write? People seem to equate finishing a novel while working a demanding full-time job with pulling off a miracle, but I’m here to tell you there’s nothing miraculous about it! I make time to write because it is important to me. I juggle balancing writing with my day job, spending time with my family, cleaning, working out, and taking care of my puppy. Among other obligations. If you’re having trouble fitting writing into your life I suggest checking out Jessica Abel’s book Growing Gills. It will help you prioritize tasks and organize yourself so you can carve out time to work on creative projects.

My writing week in a nutshell (also seen in the infographic below):

  • 1.5 hours spent on word output/active writing during my train ride to work
  • 1 hour (sometimes 2-3, depending) spent editing another project on Saturday or Sunday morning
  • 1.5 hours on marketing – throughout the week, when I can or on the weekend
  • 35 minutes on social media – 5 minutes per day or one 30-minute session on the weekend

I have worked at this pace for several years. At this rate I am able to finish 1.5 books per year. Would I love to write more? Yes. But I think I’m doing alright if I do say so myself 🙂

Writing life info graphic

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How to make sure your manuscript is in great shape before sending it to an editor

How to make sure your manuscript is in great shape before sending it to an editor

writing-goals

One of the things that terrified me about self-publishing was working with an editor. Even though I was confident enough in my novel to go about publishing it independently I was still worried the editor would have some harsh words for me when it came time to read his evaluation of my manuscript. As I waited for my editorial letter I was sure it was going to say I should abandon the idea of publishing my novel and quit writing altogether. I was afraid it would say my story was stupid, filled with ridiculous characters and shoddy writing. Instead, my editor said, “The story world feels real, like it’s inhabited by real people instead of shallow caricatures…you don’t tell us what a character is feeling, you show us the symptoms of that significance or those emotions.”

Though there were loads of grammatical corrections, in terms of rewrites the changes I had to make were very minor and could be accomplished in an hour or two. I think the reason the letter was so complimentary was because of my relentless editing and vetting of my manuscript.

To ensure a smooth reception of your own manuscript, I suggest following the steps below:

-Self-edit as much as possible. This translates to: read the damn thing as much as you can without going crazy. I read my manuscript probably 12 or 15 times before I took it to an editor. I did specific searches in Word for show vs. tell, re-read the first and last sentences of each chapter, and changed the font a few times which let me see my manuscript with fresh eyes. I discovered something I wanted to change with every single read.

-Start writing something else. I got a good chunk of another novel completed while editing One Night. Even though I loved the characters in One Night it got trying at times, spending so much time with them. To get a break I started a new manuscript. Taking some time away from One Night also allowed me to look at the novel with fresh eyes when I came back to it.

-Employ the use of beta readers at different stages of the editing process. I used beta readers after I finished a first draft and again after I finished the third draft. It can be hard to find good beta readers—i.e. ones that are actually helpful—but they are a must if you want to improve your manuscript. Whether you send the entire thing to beta readers or a partial manuscript it will help you immensely. They will catch things you yourself don’t see. There are many people out there willing to beta read for free so I suggest you save yourself some money and recruit people who are happy to devote their time at no charge.

-Read your manuscript out loud. This is really a companion to step number one, but since it involves reading aloud I wanted to add it separately. Reading your manuscript out loud makes you aware of awkward phrases you can’t catch when you read the pages in your head.

-Have professionals vet your novel. Before I decided to publish One Night, I tried to get it traditionally published. In fact, I urge all of you who are thinking about self-publishing to try the traditional route first. I queried agents for nine months. The reason I decided to go ahead and publish One Night myself was because of the high request rate I had for the full manuscript. Without this I would’ve been hesitant. Moreover, the reasons for rejection were all over the board and subjective. If agents had rejected One Night for the same reason over and over I would have thought major changes were needed, but since they varied greatly in their reasoning and complimented my writing and the characters I knew I was onto something.

I wish you the best of luck as you work with an editor on your manuscript and hope you find these tips useful.

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How to edit your novel

How to edit your novel

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Every writer has a different editing process, but over the years I’ve figured out what mine looks like and wanted to share it with you in case it helps you with your writing. There’s more than one way to edit a novel, but this is what works for me.

After I complete a first draft these are the steps I take to get it to what I consider a finished state:

  1. I do an initial read-through. In this stage I read everything on the computer and fix any glaring issues: grammatical errors, plot holes, add/delete scenes. Etc
  2. I add details/description. I have a tendency to underwrite on the first draft – leave out what someone looks like, what the setting looks like, etc. On this draft I add those details in.
  3. I print out the book and read it again. The whole time I am in these stages I am also developmental editing. Are there enough obstacles for the character? Are they changing enough?  Is the pacing ok?  Some writers do this as a separate edit but it’s always in the back on my mind as I’m editing.
  4. I edit for show vs. tell. Using this checklist usually catches all the culprits.
  5. I do another edit for the first and last sentences of each chapter. Those should be as compelling as possible and make the reader want to read more.
  6. Assuming I am satisfied at this point I show parts or all of the book to at least three beta readers or critique partners.
  7. I make edits if people are commenting on the same issue and/or I agree with their suggestions.
  8. I print the book out and read it to my dog. Usually there are errors that crop up when hearing the book out loud.
  9. I change the font of the manuscript, print it out, and read it again.
  10. I show the book to three different test readers than before.
  11. I make edits as I see fit based on their comments.
  12. I read the book on my Kindle. I feel like this is the only real way to mimic a reader’s experience. If anything jumps out at me I fix it in the manuscript.

As you can see, if you can’t find something to love on the fifth, tenth or twelfth read of your novel, perhaps you should move on to another project. Also, keep in mind all of this happens before the book goes to a professional editor.

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Interested in having me speak to your writing or school group to cover more techniques? Go here for more info.

 

The Complete Novel Editing Checklist (aka Why You Have to Love Your Novel)

The Complete Novel Editing Checklist (aka Why You Have to Love Your Novel)

writing-goals

Every writer has a different editing process, but over the years I’ve figured out what mine looks like and wanted to share it with you all in case it helps you with your writing. There’s more than one way to edit a novel, but this is what works for me.

After I finish a first draft these are the steps I take to get it to what I consider a finished state:

  1. I do an initial read-through. In this stage I read everything on the computer and fix any glaring issues: grammatical errors, plot holes, add/delete scenes. Etc. I add details/description. I have a tendency to underwrite on the first draft – leave out what someone looks like, what the setting looks like, etc. On this draft I add those details in.
  2. I print out the book and read it again. The whole time I am in these stages I am also developmental editing. Are there enough obstacles for the character? Are they changing enough and/or are they remaining consistent when they need to be (i.e. staying in character)?  Is the pacing ok?  Some writers do this as a separate edit but it’s always in the back on my mind as I’m editing.
  3. I edit for show vs. tell. Using this checklist usually catches all the culprits.
  4. I do another edit for the first and last sentences of each chapter. Those should be as compelling as possible and make the reader want to read more.
  5. Assuming I am satisfied at this point I show parts or all of the book to at least three beta readers or critique partners.
  6. I make edits if people are commenting on the same issue and/or I agree with their suggestions.
  7. I print the book out and read it to my dog. Usually there are errors that crop up when hearing the book read out loud.
  8. I change the font of the manuscript, print it out, and read it again.
  9. I show the book to three different test readers than before.
  10. I make edits as I see fit based on their comments.
  11. I read the book on my Kindle. I feel like this is the only real way to mimic a reader’s experience. If anything jumps out at me I fix it in the manuscript.

You can see why the alternate title of this post is “Why You Have to Love Your Novel.”  If you can’t find something to love on the fifth, tenth or twelfth read through perhaps you should move on to another project.

If you have any editing tips for me I’d love for you to share in the comments section.

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