Archive for the ‘writing process’ Category

Manuscript Marinade

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Today I’m going to diverge from the usual and share a recipe with you. I call it Manuscript Marinade.

Ingredients: 1 completed manuscript

Directions: Allow manuscript to marinate in its file for 1 week to 1 year. After a suitable amount of time, open file and read.

I know it sounds ridiculously simple, but allowing your manuscript to sit – and your brain to rest – before reading your work and passing judgement, is an essential writing step. Time away allows you to approach your story as a reader, to see what works, and to gain new awareness of what doesn’t work. More importantly, a break from your manuscript will help you get a sense of what your book is truly about.

To mix cooking metaphors a bit here, think of your manuscript as a stew. You assemble all your ingredients (first draft) and then toss them in the slow cooker (time away). In the process of cooking, the meat becomes so tender that it falls off the bones. And it’s the “bones” of your story that will jump out at you when you come back to your manuscript for that all-important first read-through.

Sometimes those bones may surprise you. For example, my first draft of my YA novel FLYAWAY contained a lot of ingredients that didn’t end up in the completed book. I’d muddied the story by including a character with fetal alcohol syndrome who took up a lot of page space. When I read the manuscript after letting it sit, I saw that although he was an interesting character, he didn’t really belong in the story and took up too much valuable page space. Time away helped me realize that the bones of my novel were my main character, Stevie, and her relationship with her mom and her aunt. I let the unnecessary ingredients fall away to give those essential “story bones” room to grow.

Right now, I’m in the process of letting my current work-in-progress marinate – or stew, depending on which metaphor you prefer. Next week, I’ll open the lid of the pot, breathe in the steam, and then take a big spoon and plunge in, searching for the bones. I can’t wait to see what I’ll find!




Productive Waiting

Monday, February 13th, 2017

I jokingly posted on Twitter yesterday that so much of writing is waiting, so someone should teach a class on Productive Waiting. I got enough “likes” that I assume my post touched a chord, so today I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on how to be productive while waiting.

This topic is big for me right now, because I’ve got a novel out on submission. Every time the phone rings or an email pops up in my inbox, my heart goes into overdrive. It would be tempting just to sit all day, staring at my phone, waiting to hear news from my agent, but if I did that, I’d go insane.

The key to enduring an agonizing wait is to find ways to distract yourself. The stock advice once you’ve finished a writing project is to start the next book, but what if you don’t yet have a new book in the pipeline? There are other things you can do to assure that your waiting time is productive.

Here are some things I do while I’m waiting:

1. Take a break. Yes, it’s counter to the traditional wisdom of “butt in chair,” but sometimes after the completion of a major project, your mind – and body- need a rest. This is the time to fill the well: go someplace you’ve never visited, spend time with friends you’ve neglected, indulge in some much-needed self-care.

2. Connect. Write a blog post or comment on other writer’s blogs. Post on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and interact with others on your social media site of choice. Participate in a writing-related online chat.

3. Write for fun. Put “product” aside and focus on process. Find a writing prompt online (I particularly enjoy the daily prompts at or in a craft book. Let yourself go and see what happens.

4. Brainstorm ideas. If you don’t have your next book mapped out, this is a good time to start collecting ideas. Give your imagination free reign. Use newspaper headlines, overheard conversations, or your responses to writing prompts (see above) to inspire you. Try resurrecting an old idea and combining it with a new idea to create something surprising.

5. Read. Prime your pump by reading. Read craft books, books in your genre, books outside your genre. Read poetry, read newspapers and magazines, read blogs.

6. Research. Pick a topic that interests you and research it. Start online, but move on to the library and then to hands-on experiences. You never know: your research might show up in your next book.

These are just a few of the ways that you can make your wait time productive, even if you’re not ready to start your next book. I’d love to chat longer, but I hear my phone ringing….

What do you do to distract yourself while you wait?

Revise Yourself!

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

Every time I revise for an agent or editor, I learn something about myself as a writer. Whether it’s a tendency toward overstatement or a habit of going too light on action and description in my dialogue scenes, a professional’s comments always help me hone my ability to convey my stories on the page.

My latest revision was no different. In challenging me to add more “side streets and alleys” to my novel and to delve deeper into my characters’ emotions, my agent drew my attention to the fact that I tend to write very tight and spare. I put out what some people call “skeletal drafts” – the bare bones of a story which I later need to flesh out. The problem is, I have trouble putting enough flesh on those bones. In some ways a tight manuscript can be good, but it can also leave readers feeling rushed through the plot and cheated of fully connecting with the characters.

In pondering my agent’s challenge, I realized that my propensity toward “fast and tight” relates not only to my writing, but to the way I live my life. I’m one of those people who is always in a hurry. Perhaps because my childhood experience of cancer left me with an awareness of my mortality, time feels like it’s at a premium, and as a result I tend to rush through both tasks and interactions in my urgency to move on to the next thing. Even in my teaching, I tend to value flow over depth. I’m afraid that if I go on too long, people will get bored. If you want proof, take a look at my posts on this blog, few of which are over 400 words. Up till now, my motto has been “Get to the point.”

My agent has made my see that in my writing – and in my life – I can afford to slow down and take the time to explore each moment, each interaction, to it’s fullest. I don’t have to worry that my readers will get bored if I elaborate on a characters thoughts and feelings, and in the course of a day, I can risk a few moments of downtime or a lull in a conversation.

And maybe someday, I’ll even take the ultimate risk and write a 500-word blog post.

What have you learned in revisions that you can apply to your life?

Break or Butt-in-Chair?

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

If there’s one rule writers hear more than any other, it’s “Keep Your Butt in the Chair!” The idea behind this well-worn phrase, of course, is that writing requires consistency and discipline. You can’t just wait for inspiration to strike, and you can’t make a habit of throwing in the towel after twenty minutes to respond to the call of dirty laundry or on-demand TV.

I’m all for discipline and productivity. In fact, most of the time, I’m the work-ethic queen. When I’m in the middle of a draft or revision, I work with laser-like focus, letting nothing get in my way until the job is complete. The problem I then bump up against is, what do I do when the work is done?

Take my current situation, for example. About a month ago, I completed three rigorous rewrites of my current novel and handed it in to my agent. The very day the manuscript went on submission, she asked me to write a pitch for my next book, which I did. I’ve revised the pitch three times, and am awaiting her feedback on my latest draft. There are many things I could do while I wait: write blog posts (well, yeah, I’m doing that), come up with ideas for future projects, do background research for possible new projects, etc., etc. In other words, in spite of not having a deadline-driven, concrete job to do, I could keep my butt in the chair.

But another path calls. When I’m eyeball-deep in a project, the rest of my life takes a back seat. I spend less time than I’d like with my family and friends, dust collects in the corners of my house, and the garden goes untended. The beauty of nature becomes something I see through the window – and most of the time I’m so glued to my computer screen that I don’t even see it.

So my dilemma is this: Do I stick to the rules and keep my writing time sacred and exclusively for writing? Or do I look at this break in the action as an opportunity to fill the well, so that when I do get back to work, it will be with a new perspective and a refreshed mind?

Helen Tree Dance

What do you do in-between projects? Do you maintain the practice of Butt in Chair, or do you give yourself a break?

End of an Era

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

For those of you who have been following my writing career – or lack thereof –  I’ll soon have news for you. I can’t tell you exactly what’s happening yet, but know that it’s something that I’ve hoped for and worked toward for the past three and a half years. It will be cause for celebration, but it will also mean I’ll have to get my butt in gear and GET BACK TO WORK!

Not that I haven’t been working. I’ve just finished the second draft of a novel, and I’ve done multiple rewrites of another one. I’ve written guest blog posts, done critiques, and even toyed with my steamy romance novella. But I’ve been doing all that at a leisurely pace, on my own time.

Now that I’ll soon be plunging back in to the world of deadlines and pressure to produce, I’m thinking of these last final weeks of writerly freedom as the end of an era. I’ve missed the excitement of publishing, but I will always be grateful that I had these few years to explore, play, and fall in love with writing all over again.

I’m grateful that, during this time, I’ve developed some habits that should serve me well when I return to a more hectic pace. I have a writing schedule, and I stick to it, letting nothing short of a true emergency get in the way. I set goals and complete them, even though no one is looking over my shoulder, urging me to get things done. And I hold myself to the highest standards, not declaring a piece of writing finished until I feel that it is absolutely the best I know how to make it.

Now that my writing practice has become such an important part of me that I can’t imagine life without it, I look forward to the next chapter with a little anxiety, a lot of excitement, and the readiness to roll up my sleeves and go for it!