Posts Tagged ‘first draft’

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!




Writing Resolutions for 2014

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions. I know from my experience as a Pilates instructor that promises to lose 10 pounds by January 31st or to, more vaguely, “get in shape” are all too easily derailed. This year, though, I came up with these writing resolutions, some specific, some global, that I hope will help make 2014 a productive and creative year.

1. I will stay positive, hopeful, and optimistic about my future work getting published. The fact that my agent, the fabulous Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary, left the business this spring made 2013 a tough year for me. But I’m determined to keep forging ahead and hoping for great things in the future.

2. I will continue to identify myself as an author. Since I haven’t published a book since 2011, I sometimes feel like I no longer belong in the “Published Authors’ Club.” But then I remind myself that I now have 8 published works out there, not including magazine stories and articles and website content. I think that earns me a lifetime membership!

3. l will remain open to alternative ways of bringing my work to readers. There’s no denying it: the publishing world is changing. What does that mean for me? I’m not sure, but I’m going to stay open to the new models that are being created.

4. I will be open to trying different genres of writing. For the past few years I’ve focused exclusively on writing YA novels. I want to continue with that, but I’ve also recently finished the first draft of a romance novella. Who knows what other kinds of works might surface this year?

5. I will be open to trying new writing processes. My modified NaNoWriMo experiment this November opened my eyes to the fact that maybe slow and methodical isn’t the only way to write. I plan to try lots of different writing methods and techniques in the coming year.

6. I will revise Novel #3 and resubmit to at least 12 agents. See Resolution #1 above.

7. I will revise my romance novella with the potential goal of self-publishing it as an e-book. See Resolutions #3 and #4 above.

8. I will read through my first draft of Novel #4 and decide whether it’s worth revising. This is the novel I completed at top speed during November. I think it’s a mess, but now that I’ve put it aside for a month, I’m willing to take a look and see if there are any gems hidden in the swamp.

9. I will be on the lookout for ideas for novel #5. I always like to stay a step ahead of myself. That way, if a prospective agent asks me, “What are you planning to write next?” I’ll have an answer.

10. I will remain joyfully committed to my writing practice. ‘Nuff said.

What are your writing resolutions for 2014?


Never fear the Nano

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

In all the years that I’ve been writing novels, I’ve never done NanoWriMo. (For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. In the month of November, writers are challenged to complete an entire 50,000-word novel in 30 days.)


I always find some reason that I “can’t” do NaNoWrimo. “I’m in the middle of a revision,” I’ll tell my writer friends, “so it doesn’t make sense to start a first draft,” or “There’s just too much going on in my life right now.” Either that, or I trot out my diatribe on how I just don’t write that way (see my post on why I choose to write slowly). But always niggling in the back of my mind was a suspicion that I didn’t do it because I was afraid.

Afraid of what? you might ask. Afraid of not meeting the goal, I guess. Or afraid of pushing myself that hard. Or maybe, just maybe, afraid that I’d succeed and actually like it.

I know what you’re thinking: now she’s going to tell us that she finally broke down and did NaNo this year. Well, I didn’t. Not exactly. What I did do was dip my toe in the NaNoWriMo water. Instead of writing a 50,000-word novel in November, I wrote 30,000 words in a novel that I’d already started – that I was 45,000 words into, to be exact.

Thirty-thousand words is a long way from fifty-thousand, but getting that many words down in a month was still a challenge for me. It meant I had to write a thousand  words every day. Every day. No Saturdays off  or days where I could argue that I was too tired after a long day of teaching to write more than a couple of paragraphs. It also meant that I had to keep pushing forward. No going back and perfecting what I’d written the day before, no sitting and staring at my laptop screen while I agonized over the perfect word or phrase. Just straight on, get-the-damn-story-down, writing.

The most difficult part of the experiment for me was that I had to write badly. This 78,000-word novel I’ve just finished is probably the worst piece of writing I’ve ever done, filled with inconsistent characters, a scrambled timeline, and clunky prose. But it’s also the fastest that I’ve ever taken a novel from idea to completion, which means that I have that much more time to revise and make it better.

I’m really glad I pushed past my fear and did this modified version of NaNoWriMo. Now that I know I can write quick and dirty, I’ll do it more often. It was a joy to just power through my story without angst-ing over every character motivation and word choice, and it feels great to have a finished manuscript in my hands, albeit a messy one.

Next year, maybe I’ll take the challenge and do the full NaNo.

Did you do NaNoWriMo this year? If so, would you recommend it? What did you learn from the experience?

In defense of writing slowly

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

I’ll admit it: I’m a slow writer. It’s taken me nearly four months to write the first 30,000 words of my current WIP – not very impressive, when you consider that people who do NaNoWriMo zip through an entire 50,000 word novel in just the month of November. I wish I were a faster writer, but that’s just not the way I work. I truly understand the value of accumulating word count quickly as a way to bypass the internal critic, the infernal inner editor, and I’d definitely love to shake mine. But I believe that there’s value in writing slowly, as well.

For one thing, writing at a slower pace allows me to plan and to consider alternatives. When I try to write at a breakneck pace, I end up taking a lot of narrative detours because I’m forced to set down the first thing that pops into my head – and unfortunately, most of those detours lead to dead ends. I like to pause at the end of a scene and ponder where the story might go next. And because I’m not in a hurry to latch onto the first idea that comes to me, I can sift through a number of options and decide what will really fit the story best before moving forward.

For another, I can pay close attention to language. Fast writing, for me, often leads to falling back on tired images and cliches. I enjoy taking the time to stare into space or consult a thesaurus so I can choose exactly the write word or come up with a simile I’ve never used before. I know, many writers do this kind of detailed work in revision, but I say that there’s nothing wrong with getting it right the first time, in the first draft.

But probably the most important reason that I choose to write more slowly than many is that I hate always feeling like I’m running a race. I want to savor the draft I’m in right now, not rush to finish it so I can get on to the next draft and the next and the next. I understand the value of deadlines, and when I have to produce a lot of work quickly, I do it. But right now, since I have no one hounding me to finish my novel, I prefer to take my time.

The only rule about writing is that there’s no one way to do it. What works for me might be impossible for you, and vice versa. If you produce your best writing at top speed, go for it. But don’t expect me to keep up.

How fast – or slow – do you like to write? Why does that speed work best for you?

First person or third person? That is the question

Friday, June 28th, 2013

Now that I’ve returned from my trip to the Oregon Coast…

Sea Rocks


And the Redwoods…

Helen Tree Dance

…I’m back to work on my new novel.

I’ve run into a snag, though: I can’t decide whether to write it in first or third person. I’ve now written three YA novels in first person present tense, and I’m wondering whether it’s time for a change. I’ve tried the opening scene in both first and third person, and there are things I like – and don’t like – about each of them.

Things I Love about First Person:

It fits me like a comfortable old shoe. I connect immediately to my main character, and I enjoy being right in her head, experiencing the story along with her. And scenes between two females are easy to write, because I can just use “I” for my main character and “she” for the other character in the scene.

Things that are Challenging about First Person:

It can get a little claustrophobic spending all my time in my main character’s head. Not only am I limited to writing about the parts of the story that she experiences, I can only write with her vocabulary, from her point of view. Sometimes, for example, I’ll think of a great way to describe a setting, but then I’ll think, “No, my character would never see it that way.”

Things I Like about Third Person:

Notice that I used “like” instead of “love.” I seldom write in third person, but in experimenting with it this week, I can see that it does have its benefits. It allows me to be more of a narrator, using a wider language palette and describing things in my own way. Third person also makes it easier to dole out essential information. For example, if I want my readers to know that Emmy is my main character Desiree’s best friend, I can just say, “her best friend, Emmy.” If I’m writing in first person, I have to be a little sneakier about stuff like that.

Things that I Hate about Third Person:

I’m fine with reading novels written in third person, but I feel awkward writing them. I feel distant and disconnected from my characters, and I find my sensibility drifting into adult territory, rather than sticking with a teen point of view. Also, it really sucks writing a scene in third person between two or more people of the same sex. Because there’s no “I,” and just calling everyone “he” or “she” can get confusing, you have to keep writing characters’ names.

So my dilemma here is whether to go with what’s comfortable and has worked for me in the past or to challenge myself to learn a new skill. Who knows? If I give it a chance, maybe I’ll come to love writing in third person.

Which do you prefer as a reader, first person or third person? How about as a writer? Have you ever had trouble deciding which  POV to use? How did you resolve your dilemma?