To Write or to Edit … That is the Question

Forgive me for taking a break from my own blog. I’ve been away for awhile, now. Since Election Day, 2016, in fact. I wanted this blog to remain a politics-free zone … yet I found myself unable to write without commenting on the swirl of political controversy in which we are all unwillingly immersed. The controversy over Trump’s presidency remains (grows, in fact) … but as that is not the topic of this forum, I will not address it here. (See me on Twitter :-).)

So… . Today I talk about a common dilemma for writers: keep writing the new novel or go back and work on developmental edits on the last novel.

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There are only so many hours in the day, after all. Like so many as-yet-to-be-published writers, I DO have a full time day job. So how does one make the call? Do I call it quits on my first manuscript and chalk it up to a good learning experience or do I keep plugging away? (The phrase “beat a dead horse” comes to mind.)

At the suggestion of my A-MAZ-ING critique partner Deborah Maroulis, I hired the hugely talented and fabulous Michelle Hazen to complete a developmental edit round on my  YA Paranormal MS Shift.

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Michelle and I kicked off with a “pre-project” chat where we talked about the manuscript, and what I thought were its major issues. We decided I would pull out the troublesome “backstory dump” and send that to her separately, along with the full MS. She spent about seven weeks with the piece, during which I plugged away on my current WIP Behind Cellar Doors, which is well underway and picking up steam: 19 chapters/42,000+ words.

Michelle’s comments on Shift arrived in three pieces: a thorough edit letter talking about the project as a whole, the full MS with her comments in bubbles throughout, and a helpful sample of a first chapter as an example of how to launch the story more successfully.

But now I had TWO projects demanding my attention: a much-needed, time-consuming edit of Shift  and a WIP with great momentum.

So here’s what I decided to do: I set aside a few days to review the edit letter and complete a long, full (and at times cringe-y) read-through of Shift, carefully absorbing all of Michelle’s comments. She has a real gift for delivering big change suggestions with a light hand, and helped spot all of Shifts (many) first-time-author flaws. Her feedback is incredible and useful and eye-opening; it was like taking a personalized writing class dedicated to my particular strengths and weaknesses.

After I completed the read-through, I immediately tackled rewriting Chapter 1 of Shift, taking all Michelle’s comments under consideration. Backstory is my nemesis, but I’m learning and refining how to deal with it–parsing it out instead of dumping it. (Ah–those fledgling novelist mistakes we all must make before we improve! ☺). You can see the results of the Chapter 1 rewrite here.

And now that that’s done … Sam and Emily will be put on hiatus for awhile, while I continue to devote my complete attention to Taylor and Alec, the stars of Behind Cellar Doors. With Behind Cellar Doors I made the leap to adult contemporary romance–and it’s a relief to have a main character who is allowed to not only speak with a full vocabulary but also have a sex life. (Whoop whoop!).

Who knew writing YA was so darn difficult? Telling a complex story with a teenage vocabulary and perspective is not easy, my friends.

And the good news? Having gone through the developmental edits feedback process, I am already incorporating all of Michelle’s suggestions into my new story, helping to keep the pacing tighter and the writing leaner.

I highly recommend you take a gander over to Michelle’s blog, which is filled with great posts on writing and editing. (Is it bad I keep re-reading “How to Write Steamy Sexual Tension?”)

Sending a HUGE THANK YOU to Michelle for her great feedback. If you’re looking for an editor for your work, I highly recommend her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So are You a Plotter or a Panster?

Plotter
[plot-er]
noun : one that plots: as
a : a person who schemes or conspires
b : a contriver of a literary plot

Panster
[pans-ter]
noun: one who flies by the seat of their pants: as
a: a person who doesn’t plan anything out
b: a person who plans very little

I was sitting at lunch with author Sandy Baker, a friend of my mom’s who happens to also be the president of our local Redwood chapter of the California Writers Club (arrgh – no apostrophe in the title of this group, which JUST KILLS me. I mean … we’re writers, right? Shouldn’t it be “California WRITERS’ Club”??). But I digress …

So, anyhow, I’m sitting there at lunch in Santa Rosa and she’s giving me all sorts of great advice about what to do now that I have a completed manuscript. And she asks me: “Are you a plotter or a panster?”

Clearly I’m supposed to know what this means, so I kinda fudge my answer. “I guess I’m a little of both,” I lie, hoping this is an adequate response.

Thank God her next lines explain what the hell we are talking about. Evidently “plotters” plan everything out in advance of writing, while “pansters” fly by the seat of their pants.

So later, I’m thinking about this. Which am I?

With many half-finished story ideas … but only one completed manuscript to my name … I’m not sure I’ve fully decided what I am quite yet. Completing my first manuscript was kind of like birthing my first child – I had no freakin’ idea what to expect. Was I going to need an epidural, the doctor asks me weeks in advance? HELL YES, it turns out.

So finishing that first manuscript was such an unknown. I wrote a few key scenes. Then I rewrote everything. Then I stopped for a few months. Then I freaked out after reading the first chapter of all my favorite YA novels and rewrote everything in first person. Then I signed up for NaNoWriMo and wrote a shit-pot every single day for the month of November, despite the fact that it’s my busiest time of year for Vice Communications (the holiday season is kind of my own personal tax-season).

As Shift was starting to feel like a finished story, I happened to take this amazing screenwriting class at the Santa Rosa Junior College, taught by a fabulous, energetic screenwriter named Anne Jordan – who, incidentally, has the longest, most fabulous legs, ever. Though the class was focused on scripts, she introduced an outlining process that might just change my writing life forever. Here’s the gist.

  • Scripts are about 100 pages long – period. This is what is expected whether you are turning in Ghandi or The Hangover.
  • The script is divided into four equal sections (let’s just say 25 pages, each).
    • ACT I – Setting the Scene > Turning Point
    • ACT IIa – Fun & Games > Turning Point
    • ACT IIb – Bad Guys Set In > All is Lost
    • ACT III – Call to Action  > Resolution

(There’s a lot more detail here, obviously, but I don’t want to give away Anne’s material. If you want to know more, order her book The Big Secret: What Hollywood Won’t Tell You. )

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So I go home and immediately apply this theory to my 250-page manuscript and it was amazing. My manuscript reached these points in the story almost to the page. A validating moment.

So now I’m working on Shift II: The Call (working title), and I have become much more of a plotter. I’ve outlined most of the story into Anne’s outline format, so I know where I’m headed. And it’s kind of awesome – I mean, in my professional life in marketing, would I ever embark on a big project without having a project outline to follow? Nope. Never.

The outline also allows me to jump around, the way I did when writing Shift. As of now, I have written the opening scene, the final scene, one pivotal scene in the middle and one “fun” scene blocked out. The outline allows me to be a “planster,” if you will. I can write a scene here and there as it comes to me, but I always know where I’m going.

So how do you approach your writing? I know there are a lot of us out there. Let us know what works for you!

-Keli

Reading, Writing & Red Wine

If writing is pain then reading is pleasure … and a dash of good red wine makes both far more palatable. I invite you to join me as I explore the fickle, fascinating and (sometimes) frustrating  journey towards the publication of my first novel (and beyond?).

So first –  the good news: I finally finished* my first manuscript! Yea!
*Quick caveat: I’m not sure “finished” is ever possible. But the story is complete, and I’m looking for an agent, so we are using it!

I’m trying not to downplay this first bit. As all first-time (or 20th-time) novelists know, it’s quite a personal achievement. For years I had bits and pieces of stories written. Several chapters here, an outline there, a story I couldn’t stop thinking about.

But I wasn’t getting it done. Heck – it’s EASY to come up with excuses not to write. Kids need attention. Work needs attention. That recipe I’ve been wanting to try needs attention. Frankly – it’s a lot easier to do just about ANYTHING rather than sit down in front of that blank screen and give yourself permission to write.

And the self doubt. Paralyzing. I found it to be a radically bi-polar experience (forgive me for using that term somewhat lightly). One day I’d sit and the words would flow and I would believe in myself. Man! I was SO FREAKIN’ good!

Then, inevitably, what seemed like just moments later, the self doubt would inevitably come crashing down.

“WHO ARE YOU?” it said in a scathing voice, “to think that you have ANY writing talent whatsoever??”

(Self-doubt’s best friend procrastination often joined the party, accompanied by good-old-fashioned laziness.)

So for a long time, I was “someone who wanted to be a writer.” And I have met a LOT of people stuck in that stage.

So here’s how I got the words flowing out of my fingers onto the page: I read. A lot. I read authors in my genre. I read authors outside of my genre. I re-read some of my favorite authors (Diana Gabaldon, J.K. Rowling, Kathryn Stockett, Cheryl Strayed, Stephanie Meyer), trying to pick apart what it was that worked so well with their books. I even read some authors I truly dislike – because if they got published, I wanted to know why!

I joined the local Redwood chapter of the California Writers Club. I took writing seminars. And, I read a lot of books and articles and blog posts about creativity and the writing process. It was comforting to realize that almost everyone else has this strange love-hate relationship with writing as well. It’s compelling. It’s exhausting.

(For those of you still stuck in that place where you doubt the value of your creativity, I humbly recommend the brilliant Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic.” No matter where you are in your internal struggle, this book may offer you the nugget of wisdom (or, more accurately, the permission) to go for it.)

I also tried to get out of my weird-little-YA-world by exploring other modes writing. I took a songwriting class (not so great). I took a screenwriting class from the fabulous Anne Jordan (A-MAZ-ING). I took part in the 2015 NaNoWriMo writing challenge.

So here I am, sitting proudly with my shiny new 67,200-word manuscript for Shift.

AND NOW WHAT?

Turns out this is just the first hill to climb. And there are many hills, so dig in people. While the publishing world has busted wide open – turns out it’s just as confusing and crazy as it was before self-publishing. I’ve spent the last few months on a self-guided boot camp learning about an industry in flux, and I’m still a raw newbie getting my bearings.

So that’s what this blog will primarily be about. This discovery of a new field, learning how to query an agent, how to perform a five-minute pitch, working with an editor. I am sure there are many like me out there – and I look forward to hearing from you.