Category Archives: Editing

I can explain…

Loyal followers of this blog (assuming there are any left at this point) might notice that it’s been rather a while since I last posted anything. More specifically, it’s been about three months, or fourteen weeks if you want to be picky. I like to think I have a good excuse for my absence, but I’ll have to let you all decide that for yourselves.

See, I just finished up my last semester of grad school. In ten days, I will be graduating with my Masters degree in Secondary Education, which means I will soon be certified to teach English/Language Arts to students in grades 6-12. It’s very exciting. And terrifying. And soul-crushing as I’ve only had one face-to-face interview with a school I really wanted to join but never heard back from.

Anyway, as easy as the actual degree was to attain, this past several months have been rather stressful. For those who don’t know, the last semester of a teacher prep program is student teaching, which means that I was in a high school classroom every day from the start of the semester (the first week in January) to the end of April. Actually, my last day was April 25. Most of my time was spent observing my cooperating teacher and others. For a full month, though, I was the teacher in charge. I taught all five classes and graded their work. I liked it, but it was really stressful, particularly because I didn’t really know what I was doing half the time.

I taught Romeo and Juliet to a bunch of ninth graders. I actually had a lot of fun with it, and by the end of the unit I had a better understanding of how to actually engage them in what we were doing (wish I had figured that out sooner, but better late than never, I guess). I’m actually really sad that my time with them is done. They might not all have been the best students, but I’m going to miss getting to talk to them each day. There are so many kids, especially in the lower level classes, that need more help than I was able to give them, and I wish I could have done more to try to help them.

The reason all this is (sort of) relevant is because I didn’t really do much of anything else while this was happening. I read a bunch of books (I’m up to 20 total for the year, because apparently that’s still something I can do when I feel too tired to do anything else), but I didn’t really get much writing done. I didn’t even write reviews for most of those books, which means I still have 14 book reviews to catch up. I also didn’t finish editing TILT YOUR HEAD AND SMILE, which is now in its sixth draft.

But that is changing now. I’m done with school, and I’m going to start using this time to catch up on all the things I didn’t do before. I’ve already started, actually. I’ve edited three chapters in the past two days, which isn’t much but is a lot more than I have been doing. I’ve applied to more counties. I’ve exercised and made relatively healthy meal plans again. I’m getting back into the swing of things again. My goal is to get used to eating better and exercising and writing a little every day now, when I have free time, so that when I’m busy again in the fall, it’s not such a shock to my system.

I’ve also come up with a schedule to keep my on track for the next week and a half. I figure I have 21 chapters left to edit of TILT and 14 book reviews left to write. My goal is to write 2 book reviews and edit 3 chapters a day. I’m not entirely sure just how doable that plan is right now, but I’m going to start it tomorrow and see how that goes.

My editing process

As most of you probably know, I’ve been editing lately. This novel is the one that’s the closest to being finished (or at least as finished as it can get when no one but me has seen it), so I figured I would take this time to share what I have learned about editing.

This should go without saying, but just to make sure everyone’s clear about this: THIS IS JUST MY EDITING PROCESS! What works for me might not work for you. And that’s fine. This is not THE way to edit; it’s just MY way. All that matters is that you find a method that works for you. I’m sharing my process because I’ve found it can be helpful to see how other people edit. I like reading about other people’s editing processes to get ideas for how to improve my own and to help get me in the editing mood. As such, I’ve also added a list at the end of this post featuring the editing posts that I’ve found most helpful.

I should also mention that I am a planner, and some of what follows presupposes that you have gone into writing the first draft with some sort of plan. If you didn’t, that’s fine – you might just find that some of the specifics don’t apply to you.

Step 1: Figure out whatstory you wanted to tell.
The first thing I do, before I even look back at what I’ve written, is figure out what I hoped the novel would look like. I write a brief summary of what the overall plotline is, and then I jot down the main threads (plots and subplots) that appear and where I wanted those to go.

So with TILT YOUR HEAD AND SMILE, the novel I’m editing now, I basically had the following plots/subplots:
○ College/career (main plot)
○ Romance
○ Parental pride
○ Sibling rivalry
○ Friendship

I’m not going to share my summaries because that would give things away. But I would just write down what’s happening in each thread at the beginning, middle, and end of the novel – or at least what I wanted to have happen. If I added a new subplot while writing, I will go ahead and add it to this list. Once I have a clear understanding of all of the plots and subplots that I wanted to include, I am ready to move on to the next step.

• Step 2: Read the manuscript.
As some of you might know, I have a habit of throwing out my first drafts. That’s part of why I write them so fast – the first draft is just a practice round for me to figure out how my original outline works. Occasionally I’ll write a first draft I like, but more often than not I’ll end up throwing it out and writing a second draft, and then it’s that second draft that I’ll end up editing. But before I can do that, I have to determine if the draft is worth saving.

That’s what this reading is for. I never print out my work until it’s gone through the first few rounds of editing (because I’ve learned that I waste way too much paper if I print out the first draft), so I just read it on my Nook. But you can read it however works best for you. I like to try to read as much of it at one time as I can so it’s all fresh in my mind. I also generally have a notebook next to me so I can jot down any notes I have about big picture problems – mostly thinks dealing with the plots/subplots listed above.

When I’m done reading, I look over my notes and think about what I read and decide if it can be fixed or if it needs to be completely rewritten. If it needs to be rewritten (as most of mine do), I’ll start back at the planning phase and then write a new draft and then start back over at step 1. If it doesn’t need to be completely rewritten, then I move on to the next step.

For TILT, I had already rewritten it several times, and I had reread it back in September, so I knew that I didn’t have to start all over again. So when I started editing it again this month, I started on Step 3.

• Step 3: Make the spreadsheet.
In the past I’ve written this down on notebook paper, but I started using Excel this time because it was easier to go back and add things. I figure the first two scenes won’t really give much away, so I’ve included a sample picture:

editing chart

As you can see, I start with the chapter and scene. I keep a running total of all scenes (1-92), but you could also do it by chapter (Ch. 1, Scenes 1-3; Ch. 2, Scenes 1-2). I include a summary of what happens – just enough to help me remember the key parts of the scene – and then a justification of why that scene is important. Sometimes it’s not the whole scene that matters but rather a bit of information that we learn in this chapter. I’ve found this is helpful for deciding when to cut a scene. If it’s only important because it contains the same information as something else – or if I could just as easily share that information a different way, I know I can cut the scene.

Next I list all the characters present and then use parentheses to list characters that are mentioned even if they aren’t physically there – though if someone’s communicating via phone or computer, I consider that present. I used to only list main characters, but then I started including all characters, which was helpful when trying to decide if I had too many characters who only showed up for one scene.

For the thread column, I list the main threads that appear in the scene and then use the parentheses to show threads that appear but aren’t the main focus. For instance, the first scene in TILT is mostly about how she’s about to graduate college, and we just see a small hint about the romance plot, so the romance thread is mentioned in parentheses. For the second scene, on the other hand, all three threads are of equal importance, so none of them go in parentheses.

Notes and word count are, I think, pretty obvious. While I do not yet care about the length of each chapter, I like having that information there because it will be useful later.

• Step 4: Read and highlight – and fill in the spreadsheet.
Now I go through the novel again, filling in the spreadsheet as I go. I also highlight the text and write notes about things to fix. If there’s a paragraph I’m thinking about deleting, I’ll highlight it orange. If it’s a paragraph I want to rewrite later, I’ll highlight it yellow. If I need to add more description or setting information, I’ll highlight it green. If there’s something that doesn’t work with the plot, or something that I feel should be expanded, I’ll highlight it blue. Character problems are highlighted pink. Then I fill out the “notes” column on the spreadsheet to remind myself of what needs to be fixed, or possible scenes to add or delete.

If this were my first time reaching this stage with a manuscript, I would try not to make any changes until I had gone through the whole thing. Since this is draft 5.2, though, I felt safe making some changes as I went. So I went ahead and wrote in a couple of scenes and deleted a few that I knew for a fact were not adding anything to the novel. Although it should be noted that these “deleted scenes” went into a special Scrivener folder – just in case I later changed my mind and wanted to bring them back. I also fixed typos and awkward sentences as I went – for the most part. Anything that required serious thought, though, I made a note to fix later.

Step 5: Examine notes and make changes.
Depending on how detailed my notes were in previous steps, this could be a simple matter of just making a checklist for each scene, or I could have to write a whole new outline. If there’s a weak thread, I have to figure out how to make it better. Then, once I have a game plan for what I need to fix, I start making the changes. I have to rewrite scenes and add new ones. If I’ve deleted something, I have to make sure that the story still flows. If there was important information there, I have to find a way to include it elsewhere. If this is my first time through the novel, this takes a lot of time.

For this particular novel, I made most of the changes as I went because, like I said, this is draft 5. I was pretty sure I had most of the novel in order, and I got impatient and went ahead and made most of the changes as I went. But often this is the stage where I get stuck. I start making changes and then get overwhelmed and stop and then never come back.

• Step 6: Rest and (possibly) reread.
Once I’ve made all the changes I planned on making, I let the manuscript rest a while. At least a week. Maybe longer. Depends on what else is going on. If I’ve made a bunch of changes in the last round of edits, I’ll reread it – once again without taking too many notes. The goal is just to see if I’m done with the big picture edits. Do I have all the scenes I wanted? Are there any scenes to get rid of? Are all the characters developed? Are the plot lines as developed as I wanted?

If there are still big-picture issues to sort through, I’ll go back and work on those, following the same steps as outlined above. If I’m happy with it, though, I’ll move on to the next step. Note: “happy with it” doesn’t necessarily mean I think it’s as good as it can get. It just means that I’m happy with the order of all the scenes and that I don’t wish to add or delete any.

• Step 7: Print out the manuscript and reread and take notes.
When the big-picture edits are done, I feel comfortable printing out my novel. I’ve tried to print my novels out before this part, and I always end up hating myself for wasting the paper and ink when I inevitably throw the whole thing out and start over. Now I wait until I’m reasonably sure I’m not going to make any more big changes, and then I print it out. Now I make sure that there are no grammar or punctuation mistakes. I fix oddly worded sentences. Basically, all the line and copy edits occur now. I should probably separate this phase, but I just can’t do it. Really, I probably will have been fixing problems as I’ve seen them, but I try to hold off until this point.

• Step 8: Make changes, rest, and reread (again).
Hopefully this time the changes are easier to make than in step 5 because these shouldn’t be major changes at this point. It should really just be a matter of typing up the changes that I wrote on the paper copy. Then I’ll let it sit for a little while longer (again, depends on what else I’m doing), and I’ll read it again to make sure I didn’t miss anything. This is my final draft before I show it to anyone else.

• Step 9: Get outside opinions.
This is the point where I would share it with beta readers or critique partners or whatever. Or, as is the case with me, this is when I try to find a critique partner for the novel.

So that’s my editing process. As promised, here are the links to some of my favorite posts on editing:
Tackling Revisions by Susan Dennard @ Publishing Crawl
Marissa Meyer’s “Process for Major Revisions”
Jody Hedlund’s “Self-Editing Checklist”
Holly Lisle’s “One-Pass Manuscript Revision”

Life After NaNo

It’s been about a week and a half since NaNo ended, which means it’s been about a week and a half since I updated my blog. I wish I could say that the reason I’ve been so neglectful is that I’ve been super productive, but the truth is that I’ve been lazy. I’ve watched a lot of TV with my parents and boyfriend to make up for the time I didn’t spend with them in November. I’ve been playing video games (mostly Fable: The Lost Chapters). I read a book.

And all that was fun, but now I’m ready to start being more productive. As some of you might recall, back in October I said that I was going to start editing Tilt Your Head and Smile, my contemporary NA that I’ve written at least three times. Although somehow it’s now labeled as Draft 5. But anyway – that’s what I was going to do before I decided to do NaNo, so that’s what I’ve gone back to. I’ll do a post on how I edit soon, but for now I’ll just say that I’ve created a spreadsheet and have already gone through the first four chapters, and I mostly like what I have. I’m a bit unclear about the relevancy of some of the stuff, but I’ll wait to make big changes until after I’ve gone through the whole thing.

I have to say, it feels good to be doing something again. I’ve spent a lot of time lately feeling sort of lost and confused. This always happens to me after NaNo is over. I keep checking the forums, but there’s not really much there to hold my interest. I keep trying to find something fun to do online, some new article to read or something, but nothing catches my eye. But instead of just editing or getting off the computer, I end up just sitting there, being bored. It’s incredibly stupid, but it generally takes me at least a week to break out of this phase. At least I’ve moved on now.

Of course, one other thing I should be doing is catching up on all of the book reviews that I should have written this year but didn’t. I read those 24 books for my YA lit class (and even read a few more than were required), but I didn’t write reviews for most of them because I was reading so fast and kept putting them off. And then I didn’t write them in October because I was trying to use that time to prepare for NaNo.

I thought about how to best deal with the lack of book reviews, and I’ve finally decided what I’m going to do. Rather than post the 16 book reviews here and flood your inboxes (because you are following my blog, right?) with posts about books, I’m just going to post them to GoodReads and then link them here in one post so you know when they’re up (if you care – which you totally should). From now on, I’ll be better about writing the reviews as I finish the books so I don’t get behind.

So that’s what I’ve been up to since NaNo ended. What have you been up to? Still writing? Editing? Doing something completely unrelated?

Hello, October. Where did you come from?

So, remember that blog post I wrote back in August, the one where I felt the need to assure everyone that I wasn’t dead and then complained about all the stuff I hadn’t done and vowed to do better the next month?

Yeah, this is another one of those.

I haven’t written a single post that wasn’t about someone else’s book since August 19. A huge reason for that is that I started my penultimate semester of grad school on August 20. My first class was YA Literature, which I was really excited about. I still am, mostly. For that class, I have to read 24 YA books. I’m currently reading book 24. Yes, I’ve 24 books in 6 weeks (6 weeks and 1 day if I finish the book tomorrow instead of today). Only two of those books have been less than 215 pages. Four I would classify more as MG than YA. But still – that’s a lot of reading.

This is part of my problem. I’m bad at multitasking. I should have just stuck with reading two books a week and then found a way to fit writing into that, too. Instead, I threw myself into reading. I wanted to see how fast I could read those 24 books. I liked being able to read without feeling guilty, like I was supposed to be doing something else. Yes, I should have been writing, but reading was homework, and homework is always more important.

Well, like I said, I’m about to be done with book 24. That means I should really cool it with the reading. I’m not saying I should stop, because I love reading, and I’ve really enjoyed the past 6 weeks. I’ve read so many books that I’ve been meaning to read for a while, and I want to keep going. I’ve read 62 books this year, and I really want to see how high I can get that number.

But I also want to do other things, which means I shouldn’t keep reading at that pace. I would have nearly had to post a book review a day to keep up with all the books I was reading. I still have two book reviews that I wrote but forgot to post, and I have nine more books that I’ve read but haven’t written reviews for. I’m not really having fun writing them, and anyone who follows this blog for the writing has probably been pretty sick of the book reviews.

So starting now, I’m going to try to go back to posting 1-2 book reviews a week. I’m also going to try to write at least one post per week that’s about writing. And in order to do that, I should actually write something.

My grandmother was in the hospital at the beginning of the month, and my mom was gone for several weeks to be with her. That trip and what she told me about it gave me a lot of ideas for how to make Degeneration a better novel. I will have to go back over my outline for that one and rewrite more than I thought I would, but I’m okay with that. I feel even better about that novel than I did in August. I know for sure where it’s going.

I also want to work on Tilt Your Head and Smile. I haven’t read that one since I rewrote it back in July, but I remember liking it and feeling like I finally got it right. I just rejoined a critique group, and I’ve been wondering which novel to give them. I think I’m going to read/review Tilt and then see what they think of it. Then I’ll work on Degeneration, since that one will take more time.

I’ve spend so much time jumping back and forth between novels. It’s like I don’t want to finish-finish one until they’re all at the same level, which is stupid. I have a new novel idea that I’ve been writing down notes for, but I’m refusing to let myself write it until the three that I am closest to finishing (Tilt, Degeneration, and For Real This Time) are actually finished.

So, yeah, those are my goals. Edit Tilt. Rewrite Degeneration. Stop reading 4 books a week.

And not have my next writing post be November 1 saying “Gee, where the hell did October go?”

Hey, look – I’m not dead!

This month hasn’t gone quite how I imagined it would. I thought I would have most of my dystopian novel planned by now. Instead, I’ve put that one on hold again to work on another novel. It’s not that I don’t still love the dystopian novel, because I do. I just still feel so overwhelmed by that novel.

Not that I haven’t worked on that novel at all. I spent the first week or so of this month watching documentaries that I thought would help me picture what the United States would be like 80 years from now. Those documentaries include the following: Standing Army, Superpower, I.O.U.S.A., An Inconvenient Truth, Detropia, Trouble the Water and Tapped. I’ve also been flipping through my old International Relationships book and reading one of the political books that’s been on my shelf for years.

I have notes on all of those documentaries and books. I feel more knowledgeable than I did last month, so that’s something at least. But as time went on, I found myself less interested in reading or watching those documentaries. I guess it was just too depressing, and I like to spread out those negative emotions so I don’t get too overpowered.

Part of the problem this month is also that I was supposed to be put in a school three weeks ago. I’m two semesters away from graduating with my Masters in Teaching, and one of the things I have to do this semester is my practicum. That’s where I spend at least 60 hours in a high school classroom and observe the teacher and then slowly start taking a more active role, helping him/her teach and actually teaching 10 lessons myself. My orientation meeting was July 29. I was supposed to have my placement by then. I didn’t. I was supposed to go in and meet my teacher Aug. 5-7 so I could be there for the first day of school. I didn’t have a placement. It’s now 3 weeks after the orientation meeting, 2 weeks after the semester started, and I still don’t have a placement. So I’m freaking out rather a lot, and that has made it hard for me to concentrate on anything else.

So between all those “the world as we know it is about to end” documentaries and the fact that I’m now worried I won’t have enough time to do everything I’m supposed to for the practicum, I’ve been rather unhappy lately. Plus most of the fiction books I’ve been trying to read are horrible and not at all the nice distraction I was looking for.

Which brings me to the novel I’m currently working on – Degeneration. I don’t know if that’s necessary a happy book, considering it’s about a family that hates each other that get together for a wedding, but at least it was something else to think about. This is the novel that I wrote twice as a screenplay and then once as a novel, so I’m familiar with the plotline and characters. Besides, I really wanted to work on a novel that I knew what to do with.

So that’s what I’m doing now. I’m working on the second draft. Or at least I’m about to. Earlier this month, I imported the novel into Scrivener and fun putting it in e-book format. I put it on my Nook and read through it. It’s rather short – about 48k – but I still really like a lot of it. I made notes on the big-picture stuff that I need to change. I made her trip to visit her family longer (a week as opposed to a weekend, which wasn’t nearly enough time). Yesterday I created a new Scrivener project for draft 2, making index cards for all the scenes in the new draft. This morning I copied the existing draft into the correct files so I can see which scenes I need to edit and which I need to write for the first time.

So for the rest of the day, this is what I will be doing: (re)writing Degeneration and checking the practicum site to see if I have a placement yet.

Letting go of LET GO (for now)

It’s been a ridiculously long time since I wrote about what I was writing. That’s mostly because it’s been a long time since I actually wrote anything. I started to write the first draft of 2000 MILES in April, but I stopped after 15k. I was just sort of making it up as I went, and it wasn’t working for me. Some people can write entire first drafts on the fly, but I’m not one of them. I think I underestimated my ability to write without any real outline. After several weeks of barely making any progress, I stopped.

Part of the reason I stopped, though, was also because I turned to editing LET GO. I got some CP notes back for that one, and I went through and reread that manuscript. I still really love those characters, all of whom you can read about here. There were also parts of the novel that made me laugh, and I figure that’s always a good sign. The feedback was generally positive. I got some great tips on how to tighten up my writing.

I did, however, get some notes that addressed issues that I probably should have dealt with before I sent it out to people. Natalie’s storyline doesn’t really make that much sense, and her storyline doesn’t really go with Chloe’s and Samantha’s. While that part doesn’t really bother me (since Samantha and Chloe start spending time together partly because Natalie is gone so often), I do wish that her storyline made more sense. There’s a bit at the end that I sort of threw in there while I was writing, and it doesn’t really work.

I’ve also realized that Samantha, the MAIN main character, has no real storyline, at least not until most of the way through the novel. Until then she sort of reacts to those around her and gets to know Chloe. That part of the novel I like, but she definitely needs more going on in her life. Sadly, I don’t have any real idea how to fix my Samantha problem right now. I know how to fix Natalie’s story line, and Chloe’s story line doesn’t really need that much work, but I’m completely stuck on Samantha.

That’s why I’ve decided to put this novel on hold for a little while. It’s stupid to spend this much time and energy trying to fix a novel that I have no idea how to fix when I have so many other novels to work on, novels that I do know how to fix.

Of course, that brings me to my most recent conundrum: which novel do I work on now?

I have two novels that I want to work on right now. The first is ALONE, a YA/NA political dystopian that I wrote for NaNo last year. I have the first draft completed and have started the first draft of the sequel. It needs to be completely rewritten, but I’m much more hopeful about it now. I know people are sort of over dystopian novels right now, but I need to write this novel. Plus, it’s different from the other dystopian novels I’ve seen, as this is a very political novel.

The other novel I really want to write is TILT YOUR HEAD AND SMILE, which I first wrote for NaNo 2011. That was the first manuscript I ever completed, though I have like three different versions that I started and then stopped. That was back before I had never heard of “contemporary New Adult,” back when I thought this novel would fall under the “literary fiction” category. I still love lit fic, and there are definitely still elements of it that will be in this novel, but I have a new understanding of what this novel is going now.

I love both of these projects. ALONE is important to me because it deals with several political issues that I care deeply about. TILT is important because it deals with unemployment and helplessness, which I think is something that a lot of people can relate to these days. TILT is one novel, which I would not take me that long to plot. ALONE is the first in a trilogy, and I don’t quite know how books 2 and 3 end yet, although I’m much closer to figuring that out than I was when I finished the first draft.

Right now, I think I’m leaning toward TILT YOUR HEAD AND SMILE, as it’ll be easier to write. I’ll probably end up sleeping on it and deciding in the morning. I’ve been doing school work all day, and I need a break from thinking right now.

Zombie novella – draft 2 – complete!

I finally finished the second draft of my zombie novella, CHOICES. I added 6,756 words to this draft, and the total word count still dropped from 30,531 words to 23,586 words. I’d be more upset by this if this didn’t happen every time I tried to work on a second draft. Some people’s word counts increase with the second draft. Mine always seems to decrease.

As a reminder, this is the novel that I wrote for the first day of NaNo. I’ve never written about zombies before, and I never see myself writing about them again, but it was actually fun writing this one. This was the least amount of preparation I’ve done for a novel. I knew the characters’ names, and I knew the overall plot line. That was it. I had a lot of fun learning about the characters as I went.

I meant to finish this draft in February. Then I was separated from my computer for the last few days of the month, and that didn’t happen. I finished it today instead. I’m quite pleased with how this draft worked out. It flows better. The chapter lengths are a bit more consistent. These chapters mostly range from 2k to 3k. In the last draft, one of the chapters was 12k.

My next step with this one is to show it to my sister and see what she thinks. She normally doesn’t care about the stuff that I write, but she was really excited for me to finish this one.

Before this moment, I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to what I was going to work on for my March project. Last year, I had all of my months planned out before the year even started, and then I didn’t follow through with any of those plans. This time I’m just making it up as I go along. I had been hoping to start working on my new novel this month, but I’m nowhere near ready to work on that yet. Hopefully I’ll be ready to work on that for Camp NaNoWriMo next month, assuming I actually participate in that.

What I’m going to do instead is work on the second draft of DEGENERATION. This is the novel that I originally wrote as a screenplay during my very first Script Frenzy. I wrote the second draft of the screenplay for the final Script Frenzy, too. Then I wrote the first draft for Camp NaNo last June. I was half happy with what I wrote last year, but I feel like there was a bit of the story that I was missing. Most of the story took place over three days in this draft. I’m thinking that it will be a week in the second draft. I’ve been thinking of ways to improve it ever since I finished the first draft, and I’m looking forward to writing the second draft.

Zombie novella off to a good start

For those who don’t know, my February writing project is the zombie novella I wrote for Day One of NaNoWriMo – Choices. It was supposed to be 50k and ended up being 30k instead. I wasn’t thrilled with the length, but I think it works for this story. It doesn’t need to be longer. It probably would be if I went back and added in a bunch of stuff, but I don’t see that happening. There is a very simple plot to this story, and most of the action comes not from the zombies but by learning about the characters, and trying to drag out the story to fit some minimum word count would just be stupid.

This story came about based on a dare that my region sent out for NaNo. There’s a game that (I believe) one of the MLs came up with called “Make it Sadder,” due to his love of writing depressing literary fiction. Last October, as everyone was scrambling to plan (or not) for NaNo, someone came up with the idea of “A man goes to the grocery store. Make it sadder.”

I don’t normally use the dares that my region sends out, as I usually have enough ideas to work with on my own, but this one caught my attention. I had already been thinking of zombies lately, and this idea mixed with zombies perfectly. A man goes to the store because they ran out of food during the zombie apocalypse. How could I make that sadder?

Marcus, the main character, came to me fairly quickly. Usually my characters introduce me to them a little bit at a time, but he was much more forward. He told me that he was a college graduate with no real career prospects who was trying to take care of his wife and baby daughter. He lived with his friends from college, a group of nerds who managed to survive longer than everyone else they knew.

This is a zombie story, yes, but the zombies aren’t really the main focus of the story. I would compare this novella to Courtney Summers’ This is Not a Test in that way. The characters have their own issues and secrets outside of the zombie problem, and those issues are the main focus of the story.

I’m a bit late to the zombie party, I know, but this story wouldn’t let go of me. For a novella that I wrote in 24 hours, it’s actually quite good. Obviously it’s not perfect – there are so many inconsistencies with some of the characters that it’s probably easier to just delete several sections than to try to fix them. There were thousands of typos. I need to rearrange a few scenes and provide more information in others. I definitely need to add more description, as there’s not enough even for me, and I usually hate description.

But I still like it. I like the characters. The inconsistencies that I mentioned aren’t that crucial to the plot. They definitely need to be fixed, of course, but once I delete a bit of text, it won’t be that hard to fix. I finished the new outline on Friday, and most of the scenes are going to stay in the same order. I can only think of a few scenes that I need to completely rewrite or add. For the most part I just need to clean up the text and fix the typos and inconsistencies. I don’t need to completely trash the whole thing, or even half of it. This is definitely an exciting moment for me.

I just finished fixing the first chapter of the novella. There are six chapters total. The second chapter is the one that is going to require a lot of fixing, as I have almost no description at all, and I’ve decided to reveal one of the major plot points later, so I need to fix that. I’m looking forward to it, though. I’m hoping to finish the second draft this week. Of course, I also just got six new books from the library, so I might be a bit distracted. I’m going to try to find a healthy balance between reading and writing, though.

Novel 1 of the New Year – Complete

My writing goal for January was to finish the second draft of For Real This Time, and I have succeeded. Well, sort of. I finished it two days after I was supposed to finish it, but I’m okay with that. I finished it, and that’s what matters.

The first draft was 72,000 words. The second draft is 48,857 words. I’m not really sure how that happened, but I’m trying not to freak out at how short it is. I’m sure that I’ll add more words when I edit it next time. Right now, the novel is in the proper order. I have included more of the characters that I was supposed to include, and I have taken out a lot that didn’t really fit with the story. It still needs a bit of work, but it’s a lot better now than it used to be.

I’m learning to edit in stages. When I write the first draft, I try to stick to my outline, but I allow myself the freedom to change the outline as I go. When I edit the novel for the first time and turn it into draft 2, I work on making sure that the events happen in the proper order. Then, draft 3 is when I make sure that I have all the right details and descriptions and conversations. I try to make sure all of that’s right in draft 2, of course, but my main focus is getting everything in the right order.

I’m rather pleased with how this draft turned out. I actually managed to keep a fair number of scenes from the first draft. I edited those scenes a bit, but I didn’t change all of them. That makes me happy, as it means I didn’t completely trash my first draft. I trashed half of it and then moved the other half around a bit.

I’m not 100 percent sure which novel I’m working on next. I promised my sister I’d work on my lit fic zombie novella next, but I also have a new plot bunny that I’m really interested in. It came to me in early January, and it won’t leave me alone. I don’t have all the details of that one worked out, but I’m really excited about it. The main character keeps telling me a bit of her back story, and I’m really interested in learning more about her. I’d feel better if she’d tell me her name, but I guess I can’t ask for too much too soon.

I’ll probably end up working on Choices (the zombie lit fic) next and make notes on the other one as it comes to me. Besides, this is the shortest month, and Choices is my shortest work, so it makes sense to work on that one now. I wrote Choices for my Day 1 NaNo novel. Some of you might remember that I tried to write 50,000 words on November 1. I did not succeed, but I did manage to write 30,531 words, and I finished the first draft of Choices, so I was still pleased with myself. Now I get to go back and see how much of that actually makes sense.

Finding a process that works for me

Julie wrote a wonderful post the other day about the importance of being happy with what you’ve accomplished instead of always comparing yourself to other people. This is a great piece of advice, especially when you’re starting to doubt your ability as a writer.

I go through moments when I’m happy with my writing process and all that I’ve accomplished, and there are times when I’m not. For a while last year, I thought I was happy because I found a process that worked for me – write a first draft really fast, then throw it out and write a second draft really fast, and then edit that second draft. It wasn’t the process I wanted to have work for me, but it was what seemed to be working.

And then I started following more blogs and people on Twitter. I started realizing that it was time to get serious about writing if I ever wanted to actually get something published. I read articles on editing and saw what other people did. I read about people who took their first draft and fixed it and turned it into a good draft. And I thought, Hey, I can write like that, too! And I decided to try to change my writing process.

To be fair, part of this desire came from one of the novels I finished this past NaNo – LET GO. This is the novel that I started for NaNo 2008. I got about 10k in before I quit. I started it again in 2010 and got only a couple of thousand words in that time. Then I started it again for Camp NaNo 2012, and this time I liked what I was writing. I wrote the last 15-20k for 50k weekend during NaNo, and I ended up with a completed draft that I was actually quite happy with. I spent the end of November/beginning of December getting it ready for Pitch Wars, and I submitted it. I didn’t get chosen, but I learned a lot about writing and queries, and I found a whole slew of interesting people to follow on Twitter.

While all of that was wonderful, there was one thing that came about from all that that wasn’t so great – I got the idea that I could write a first draft that was good. I thought that since LET GO was decent the first time I wrote it, I must have outgrown my old process of write a draft and then throw it out and rewrite it completely. It’s like I forgot about the first two drafts that I started and threw out.

That’s why I was happy when I sat down to edit FOR REAL THIS TIME. I thought that it was a great first draft that just required a normal amount of editing, not a complete rewrite. So when I finally read over it and made a bunch of notes and realized that I did need to mostly start over, I was devastated. I felt like I was a failure, like I was regressing as a writer.

But you know what? I’m over that. I’m sitting here with 8 chapters and 20,000 words written for draft 2 of FOR REAL, and I’m really liking what I have so far. I’m not saying it’s the most amazing thing ever written, of course. I know it’s going to have to undergo one more round of edits before I try to show it to anyone. But you know what? I’m happy with it.

I’ve found a system that works for me. I write a first draft as fast as I can (in this case – 2 weeks). Then I leave it alone for about a month. Then I go through and edit it. I make a line edits and substantive edits. I know every single article written on this topic says not to do this, but you know what? I can’t help it. I went to college to be a copy editor. I was called a grammar Nazi in high school. I can’t read a novel with a pen in my hand and not fix errors when I see them.

When I finish this round of edits, I go about fixing the manuscript. In this case, that meant throwing out most of the book and rewriting it. Now, I will admit that I’ve kept more of this first draft than I thought I would. Some chapters were completely rewritten. Some were moved but kept mostly as they were. Others were added. I’m doing whatever that chapter calls for. The important thing, though, is that I’ve learned to stop doubting my process.

Would it be nice to be able to edit a draft and not have to rewrite almost all of it? Sure. But that doesn’t mean that I’m a failure if I end up rewriting all of this. That’s just what works best for me. That’s what I did in college with my creative writing classes. I would write a really fast draft of a story the night before it was due, and then I would throw that out and write a new draft, and I always ended up loving that second draft.

I need to stop doubting myself. I need to stop comparing myself to other people. I need to do what works for me and stop worrying that it’s not what other people do.

I set a goal for myself this month to finish the second draft of FOR REAL THIS TIME. My goal was to write one chapter a day every day of the month, starting Jan. 11, which was the day after I finished the outline for it. I ended up missing one day, but I also combined two chapters, so I’m still on track to finish on time. I’m not doing this as fast as I wrote the first draft, but it’s working for me – and that’s what matters.