Editing Multiple Projects at Once: When It Rains…

It pours. Or in my case, when it snows, it blizzards. We are getting some snow this weekend, and predictions range from 5 inches to several feet. So we will see if this will turn into Snowmaggedon 2016, or be a big bust!

I like to tackle creative projects one at a time (with the exception of when I am burnt out on one story and jump to another for relief). With much less writing time, I prefer to be able to keep the creative part of my brain in one world, one story—it makes my writing time more efficient, since my mind has chewed over the story while I’ve been running around doing life-y stuff.

However, I don’t always have the luxury of focusing on one story at a time, and this is one of those times. I am in the middle of a major revision of a YA manuscript, and my middle grade adventure manuscript has come back to me from my co-authors. So now I have two manuscripts to work on—in very different genres, very different voices.

Veritas-Cover-Art-231x300Pharaoh-Curse-640x1024My YA, Veritas, is a science fiction narrated from three different points of view. My MG, The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone, is an adventure story set in 1922 Philadelphia, narrated by a 12-year-old boy. How can I keep them straight, creatively speaking?

One thing to my benefit is the stage of the writing process for each of them. Curse is in a final proofread/copyedit before I send it out to readers. Veritas is in what I call 3rd draft stage, where I am still working on story, character, and depth. Because the stories are not in the same stage of development, I can switch gears between them a little more easily—copyediting does not call for the same creative muscle as deep revision.

The other thing I do to keep them apart in my mind is that I never work on one directly after the other. In my new work day schedule, I have writing time reserved in the morning (9-11 am), and again after my daughter goes to bed at night (9-11pm). By doing one in the morning and one in the evening, I leave enough time in between to “surface” from one world before diving into the other.

This seems to be doing the trick, although I wonder if it would be the same if I was in, say, drafting mode for both stories.

When you’re working on multiple projects at a time, how do you keep from having them bleed into one another?

Stay warm, people, and if you are in the path of the snowstorm, stay safe!



How to Cut a Book in Half: 3 Tips

No, I am not doing that magic trick where a magician cuts an assistant in half. I would never hurt a book that way! Seriously, though, I had a big problem with one of my middle grade books.

I have been working with 2 co-authors on a middle grade adventure book. When we started writing it together a few years ago, we were all new to the publishing track of writing. None of us had any book-length publishing experience, although a few short stories had seen the light of day. So we wrote this awesome book together.

The problem was that it was 96,000 words long.

For those who do not know, that is a very long book. Even had it been an adult book, it would have raised some flags, depending on genre. A middle grade book, though, is usually dialed in at 40,000-60,000 words (depending on genre). So you can see how far off we were. Why did we get it so wrong? We were new, and didn’t know any better. We made the mistake and that is how you learn.

Even at that length, though, we had several agents interested in it–even asking for fulls. So obviously there was something in the idea that they liked. A good sign.

Developmental editor Kathryn Craft worked on it for us, and gave us great tips, one of which was that it was way too long. So, we headed back to the drawing board.

We have cut that book from 96,000 words to 53,000 words. Right in the sweet spot.

How did we do it? Here are 3 tips:

1) We took out all the scenes that were not in our protagonist’s point of view (POV). We realized we didn’t need those scenes to tell the story, although we loved a lot of them.

2) We dialed back the subplots. We loved our subplots. They really added to the color of the story, especially since it is a historical novel. But they weren’t necessary to move the plot forward. So we cut them down (or cut them completely) and settled for hinting at the subplots rather than fleshing them out. Instead of whole scenes, we used a line or two here and there to hint that:

  • Sister works at Wanamaker’s and wants more than to be a housewife
  • Pharmacist sells illegal booze from their store (it is Prohibition)
  • Brother has PTSD from World War I, drinks and brawls
  • Professor at museum drinks and must hide it from the administrators

3) Replotted the first part of the book. The last part of the book, where the action ramped up, was good. We had a lot of feedback that at a certain scene the book took off and people couldn’t put it down. Clearly, we needed to get people to that point much faster. We went back and revisited the longer, fuller, and thus slower-moving first part. By removing subplots and non-protagonist POV scenes, we had a clearer idea of where the main plot needed to go. We found ways to hit the high points faster, and compressed the entire timeline of the book from almost 3 months to 6 days. Much better!

Of course, after replotting and streamlining the first part, it took a while to wrestle the second part into shape, to make sure everything was consistent and the voice didn’t change. But we did it!

So that’s how you cut a book in half: ruthlessly cut everything that is not integral to the story and then make what’s left move faster. Simple, right?

Have any of you needed to make such a major edit? How did you do it?

Adventures in Queryland

I’ve sent out 4 queries for my WIP. I’ve heard back from one, and am in limbo for the rest. The long wait times are not unexpected—I’ve been here before. It is funny, though, how jazzed I get when I first send queries out. I check my email every hour for the first couple of days. Then slowly the adrenaline fades and I check a couple of times a day.

I wrote a while back about patience being a writing virtue when it comes to revision. Patience is also needed once you reach the query stage. Sometimes it takes weeks for an agent to get to your query. And some agents have that no-response-no-interest that lengthens the silence into eternity. While I am not a fan of that, I do understand where they are coming from. I do wish that all agents would set up an auto-response confirming they got your query, though. As the silence stretches, I can’t help but wonder if my email missed the mark and is lost in the ether somewhere!

So I am back to patience again. I do intend to send out a few more queries this week, but then will likely wait a few weeks before sending out another round. And of course if I get no responses by November, I will probably suspend querying until January, since the holidays make things grind to almost a halt in the publishing world, as far as new acquisitions go.

I have heard over and over on various blogs and from successful authors that to make it in the traditional publishing world requires (aside from a great book) patience and perseverance. I think I’ve got the patience thing going on, and I don’t have any intention of giving up, so hopefully I’m good!

I already can hear some of my writing buddies wondering why I don’t just self-publish, and cut through the waiting. I have nothing against self-publishing, and fully expect to use it for certain projects in my career (particularly the genealogy books I am writing). But for my first book, and hopefully for the majority of them, I would like to have the backing of an agent and publisher. It’s just a personal preference—what I need to feel more secure when starting this new phase of my career.

So for right now I am waiting. But I am not idle. I am working on an outline for a sequel, and I have another middle grade in mid-revision right now. I am also returning to a YA paranormal that I feel is almost “there” but needs another look now that I have learned so much in revising my current WIP in submission. Because that is another piece of advice I have heard over and over:

Never. Stop. Writing.

It is the cure for over-active nerves while waiting to hear from agents.

Patience. It really is a writing virtue.

Polish Editing and Potty Training

This month I’ve been neck-deep in revisions, trying to get my manuscript ready for the editor by August 1st. I added about 20,000 words to my middle grade WIP during “big picture” edits, and now am in the process of trying to pull out 12,000 to get my word count back to where it should be. (For the record, I’ve cut a little over 7,500 words so far.)

Some of those cuts have come in large swaths, where I deleted large amounts of words by restructuring a chapter or two. For example, it occurred to me suddenly that my entire first chapter was window-dressing. Aside from about 200 words, I didn’t need any of it. So I cut the entire chapter and moved the 200 words to other places in the book.

Unfortunately, most of my word-pulling has not been so effortless. And since I am a mom as well as a not-yet-published writer, this intense editing is not the only thing on my plate. My two-year-old announced this past weekend that she wanted to wear big girl panties. Great for her! Bad for me.

My productivity drops like a stone when escorting a toddler to the bathroom every 20-30 minutes.

But I found that potty training and this level of intense editing have a lot in common:

1. Both are painstaking processes. Often success seems almost impossible, but each small victory moves us one step closer. Toddler has a Potty Chart. I have an Editing Progress Chart. Hers has flower stickers. Mine has color-coded squares. It’s all good.

2. Both require constant concentration. Toddler has to pay attention to her body. I have to pay attention to every single word and see if it deserves to live.

3. Both are best accomplished by taking them in small increments. We set a timer for 30 minutes for Toddler. For 20 if she’s been drinking a lot. I focus on one chapter at a time. One paragraph if I’ve been drinking a lot. (For the record, I don’t drink.)

4. Both have their share of accidents. Toddler—well, you can guess. As for me—Did I really just delete half a chapter?!? UNDO! UNDO!

5. Both will be successfully accomplished. Toddler will eventually stay dry all day. I will get this manuscript polished and ready for the editor. I will likely reach my goal first, but I will not complain if Toddler beats me to it. 🙂

Working on two very intense yet completely different projects saps my energy, but I am managing to muddle through.

As long as I do not become potty-mouthed in my writing or try to delete my daughter, things will work out fine.

Oops, there’s the timer! (I feel positively Pavlovian.)

Hanging Pictures in Your Story: Putting the finishing touches on your manuscript

We’ve been in our new home just under a year, and we have finally gotten around to hanging pictures. That’s usually the last piece of the puzzle—that step that makes you feel like you really live in your house.

Hanging pictures is like the final edits of your manuscript. Just like a picture, you make sure each room (chapter or scene) has something colorful in it. A picture is often more than just decoration—it is either a photo of something important in your life or a painting/print depicting something that stirred you emotionally. Every chapter should contain meaning like that—something that forwards the plot and/or shows character development and emotion.

A picture is often a focus point in the room. Every chapter needs focus—a reason for being in your story in the first place. A fun way of ensuring that there is a point to your chapter is to ask yourself, “If I wanted to take a picture in this chapter, what is the best moment to capture?” If the highest moment of your chapter wouldn’t create a meaningful photograph, maybe you need to rethink your chapter.

Another facet of focus is directing people’s attention. Often, the arrangement of pictures on the wall can control how people view a room—the order in which they see objects, and even the overall feel of the room. In your final revisions, you refine where you want your audience to focus their attention. What do you need them to notice in each chapter? Are you purposefully misdirecting? Decide what’s important for the audience to pay attention to in each chapter, and write your prose accordingly.

So when you’re putting those final touches on your manuscript, pay attention to where you hang your pictures. You want your finished manuscript to be pretty, but you also want the pictures to focus attention and convey the deeper meaning of your story.

Hang your pictures with care, and enjoy finally being moved in!

Reading Your Work Cold

The Philadelphia Writer’s Conference is coming up in June. I’ve already registered to go, and am in the process of gathering the submissions for the critiques and contests. What’s been interesting is my reaction to reading the excerpts I am preparing to send.

Before I get to that, let me dump a little backstory in here.

I have a toddler. She takes up most of my time. For a while I tried to cycle my writing projects, trying to work on all of them at once. But that just made me feel like I wasn’t accomplishing anything, because I never got to the end of anything. So I decided for the sake of my sanity to focus on one project at a time.

The project I have been working on is a middle grade dystopian steampunk mashup. It will come as no surprise that this is one of the works I am sending in to the conference. I have gathered notes from beta readers and crit partners, and reworked the first 2500 words thoroughly. Then I got more feedback from my crit partners and reworked it again. The opening is significantly better than it was, and I can’t wait to get to work on the rest of the book to bring it up to the same level.

The second excerpt I am sending in is a YA novel—I’m not sure if it would be called a fantasy or a paranormal for genre purposes. The girl’s got supernatural abilities (paranormal) but they come via her father, who is a Greek god (fantasy). So take your pick.

I haven’t worked on this story for many months, so I came to it with very fresh eyes. And I was pleasantly surprised—mostly because I had made changes to the story that I had forgotten I had made. The edits I had made definitely improved the story, and I found myself excited by it in a way I hadn’t been last time I worked on it.

We always hear the advice to put a work aside for a time and come back to it fresh. Usually, this advice is intended to allow you to see the errors and mistakes you’ve made. We rarely hear about the flip side of that coin: Coming to it fresh also allows you to see the strengths of what you have written.

My YA wasn’t perfect, by any means—my crit partners still had some suggestions. But it was so much stronger than what I had remembered having, that I found myself thinking, “This is good—almost like a professional wrote it.”

When I find myself thinking that, I know I’m on the right track.

So if you have the luxury of time, put your work aside before doing a final edit. And when you do come back to it fresh, don’t just focus on what’s wrong. Allow yourself to see and revel in what you’ve done well.

Enjoying those gems in your writing will energize you to bring your A-game to the final edit, and that passion will make your words shine.

The Fear of Writing Badly

I have heard many writers say that part of writer’s block may be the subconscious fear of writing poorly. Of turning out dreck. And this is also the reason some people never start writing in the first place—if it’s not going to come out perfectly the first time, it’s too much work.

I can honestly say I have never been plagued by this particular writing demon (which is rather shocking given the plethora of anxieties I DO have). My key to freedom is twofold:

1) I cannot help but write poorly.
2) Anything I write can be fixed.

Number one is important because nothing we write will ever be perfect. There are some days the writing flows, but then there are the days when every word is a struggle and what comes out is utter blech. It is unavoidable that you will write poorly sometimes. Worrying about it is rather like worrying that the sun might come up in the morning. It’s going to happen no matter what you do.

And that’s okay.

Did you hear me? It’s okay to write crap. We all do it. And why is it okay? Because of statement number two: Anything I write can be fixed.

I am learning and growing as a writer all the time, but there are still things I need to work on. There are still facets of the writing craft I don’t fully understand. And much of my poor writing comes from these gaps in my continuing education. I make mistakes I don’t know I’m making, or even mistakes I know I am making but do not know how to fix.

Sometimes I learn what I need to know and can fix the poor writing myself. More often I need crit partners or editors to point out to me just what went wrong with the writing. By the time I have finished taking all of the feedback from my readers, crit partners, and editors and put it into practice, a wonderful thing occurs: My poor writing improves! And the more I work—the more I learn—the more it improves!

So don’t let fear of writing poorly hold you back. Write. Write well, write poorly, but just write. Because once the words are on the page, even the worst writing can be fixed. But if the words stay in your head, you can’t improve them. You can’t learn from them. You can’t transcend them.

Don’t fear bad writing—embrace it as a necessary step toward excellence.

Bad writing is never a failure—unless you don’t learn from it.

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