Monday, August 20, 2012

A Progressive Checklist for Writers Part II

by Stephanie Morrill

(Psst - if you missed Part I, you can find it here.)

First of all, a quick reminder that the 500 word writing contest is open for one more week. Get details on getting thyself entered here.

Also, now that I no longer smell like campfire, I've rounded up the judges for this contest. Yay!

They are:



Shellie Neumeier, creator of the NextGen conference, author of Driven (among other books) and an all-around cool lady.


Erica Vetsch, New York Times bestselling author, Carol Award Finalist, and my first ever writing friend.

We needed super special judges for this contest, and I was thrilled by their enthusiastic "Yes!" when I asked them to consider it.

Moving on with our progressive checklist. So you've figured out a few basic things about plotting, you know to give you main character a goal or an objective, and you've even written a story from beginning to end. Now what?

Step 3 - Edit your first draft

Now that you can write a book from start to finish, it's time to learn how to edit one. If you still believe in this manuscript, then invest the time in editing it before you move to another project. Notice I'm not asking if you like  the book, because I honestly I think most of us are pretty sick of a manuscript by the time we type THE END.

Editing is a completely different beast than writing. Which isn't a big surprise since writing and editing utilize different parts of the brain. Or so I've been told. I haven't, like, done my own research over here.

Or maybe, for whatever reason, you don't think this book is worth editing. I made that choice with a few of my early manuscripts. So if you're not going to edit it, then your goal will be to repeat step two (writing a full manuscript) until you finally churn out one that feels worthy.

If you've never edited a complete book before, it can be daunting. (Heck, if you have edited a complete book before, it can feel daunting.) I have three recommendations for you:
  • Give yourself space between writing your first draft and editing. Not just a couple days, but a couple weeks. Stephen King takes 6 weeks, and I've decided if it works for him, that's all the argument for it that I need.
  • When the time comes to edit, read your book in as few sittings as possible. Hopefully one, but more likely two or three. This is mostly to become familiar with your story again.
  • After your read-through, focus on big stuff that needs to be fixed. Like a plot line that went nowhere or a pointless character who should be deleted. When you've taken care of all that big stuff, then I encourage you to get really fussy with it. But often with my early manuscripts, I found so many big things that needed work, I would retire the manuscript before I got to the fussy stage.
Once you've written a complete manuscript and put it through some form of the editing process (whether you've done some serious rewrites or done a read through and decided it's not worth it) it's time to take inventory of your strengths and weaknesses, and also to evaluate what worked for you and what didn't.

When I read through the manuscript for my second book, here were some of the things I listed:
  • I tried to write this book out of order - just write whatever scenes I felt like. That did not work for me. It was tough to keep track of my timeline, and my character arcs were much worse than the last book. Next time I'll write in order.
  • Ugh, I'm totally the main character of this book. Again! I can't keep writing books about my life.
  • My secondary characters are so "main character focused." I need to figure out how to give them problems of their own...
The list went on and on. So long that I decided to just scrap the project and move on with my life. (A move I've never regretted. That book is a long, boring mess.) Once you've made your list, you'll have a choice to make - do I believe in my book enough to fix everything on my list, or do I take what I learned from this experience and move on to a new project?

And before you dive into editing this manuscript or move on to your next project, take some time to study up on those weaknesses. Was your villain boring? Read up on how to craft better villains. Did your ending lack oomph? Study oomph-y endings.

We'll continue with the next step on Wednesday. Have a great day!

30 comments:

  1. Oomph-y endings? Haha. That made me laugh! :)

    To be honest, editing is not my thing. I hate the fact that I have to cut out those 'killer' yet unnecessary sentences. That just hurts.
    Anyhow, interesting post. Thanks, Stephanie !
    Congratulations on getting rid of that campfire smell! :)

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    1. I know :( It's hard to cut stuff we like. If I really like it, I save it to another file, but that's definitely the hardest part of editing.

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  2. I just finished my book (last week actually) and so now I'm starting this all-fun-editing-process. Ah, cough. Maybe not. But I'm determined to enjoy the editing too, because it's part of the writing journey! (We'll see how that goes...) :D
    I think the "6 week break" makes a lot of sense.
    And I entered the competition (about 3 days ago). Do we get conformation replies? (Just wondering is all.) Super excited for it. Thanks for hosting such an awesome opportunity!

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    1. You will - I was just down with a head cold late Saturday and all day yesterday :;( Confirmations should come today!

      And congratulations on finishing your book! Early on, I didn't enjoy editing. Now I really do. Keep us posted!

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  3. "Notice I'm not asking if you like the book, because I honestly I think most of us are pretty sick of a manuscript by the time we type THE END."

    Frankly I find this a bit odd. You have to bodily tare me away from my first draft when I'm done with it. I mean honestly what's not to like about spending almost 24-6 living in a different world with people who you made up. I felt a terrible sense of loss when I finished the first draft of "A Legend of Honesty" I wanted nothing more than to never never never be done. Right now I'm fleshing out the different plot lines and character arcs and I'm dreading the day when I'll have to put it down and start the nit-pick process.

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    1. I forgot the question mark on the end of my third sentence.

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    2. I'm so glad you said that, Anne-girl! I'll be interested to hear what others think as well.

      When I'm done with a first draft, I'm usually eager to type THE END, get a break, and then come back and make it sparkle. I'm always eager to get back to the story, but I'm more of an editing girl than I am a first draft girl.

      I'll be interested to hear others' thoughts on this as well. Thanks for bringing it up!

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    3. I know how you feel, Anne-girl!
      I've written 40k words on my WIP so far, so I'm only about halfway through, but I'm torn between wanting to finish it and not wanting to.
      Knowing me, I'll probably find it very hard to stop with editing once I reach that point. The thought of finally finishing it and moving onto something else scares me, in a way.

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  4. EXCELLENT post! I love how you look through it and find your strengths and weaknesses. I should really go through the book I retired about a year ago and look for mine. Thank you so much for this post and the judges look great! I'll be waiting with baited breath for the next step.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Kelsey! When I still hadn't written a full book, I never took the time to evaluate why a project hadn't worked. The evaluation process can be painful, but it's worth it!

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  5. I've been excited all week to see what the next step on the list one :) last night I thought, tomorrows the day. Wow, I'm a dork.

    This was a great one! I sort of have a book written, I let it rest 6 weeks and then read it through in as few sittings as possible, made a list of things to add that immediately came to mind, added them which added 10k + more words, let it set for a week and haven't had the desire to go back and edit further. I've given myself permission to write a short story.

    I LOVE you first paragraph here bc I'm not liking my manuscript at all, the concept has gotten old to be but when I think of it in terms of a book I still see pieces of potential. Maybe I should read through the beefed up MS and see how I feel then. Eventhough I already know it needs reconstructive surgery, the question is- is it worth it?

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    1. Lol, Tonya. I love your dorkiness!

      I've been in that same situation. With Me, Just Different, actually. For awhile it did NOT feel worth it, so I just put it away. After a month, when my thoughts kept returning to Skylar and Connor, I knew the reconstructive surgery was worthwhile.

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  6. Love this post! It really helpful now that i'm halfway through editing...

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  7. quick unrelated question. What format would you choose to submit something to an editor? PDF, Word document? help please! i've just finished a project and there are a few editors that acept the first 50 pages of your manuscript but they dont specify the format. I dont want to be an inconvenience and i dont want to send anything in a format they cant open. Can you help?

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    1. Sure. The industry standard is Microsoft Word. To be super caution, I would save it in "compatibility mode" rather than as a docx. Just to be safe.

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    2. thank you so much! you are a lifesaver!

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  8. I'm more than halfway through my WIP (only about 2,500 more words and it'll be the longest thing I've ever written: Party time! :D)and I'm getting really excited to edit it. :D

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    1. Congratulations, Allison! TOTALLY worth partying over.

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    2. It is!! All my "books" get longer than the last...and I party every time ;)

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    3. Same same! I'm just about to party with mine.

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  9. This post came at the PERFECT time for me. I finished my first draft of my first-ever novel four weeks ago, and I'm going to let it rest for another couple of weeks before I dive into all of this. But it's almost like I've got separation anxiety because I haven't interacted with my main character for so long!

    Now my main concern is that I'll end up overwhelmed with how many changes I need to make. I mean, I like my story (maybe a little too much!), but I know there's still a lot of work ahead of me. That's why I'm so thankful for this series of posts (and Go Teen Writers in general)!

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    1. Anna,
      Congrats on finishing your novel! I'm working on my own first-ever full length manuscript. It's so encouraging to hear that you still love your story at the end of the rough draft. My biggest fear is that I'll put all this work into it and then decide it's un-salvagable once I do the read through. I keep trying to remind myself that it's all part of the learning process, that I will write other things. Still, I hope you stick with your WIP through the edits :) Good luck! (And thanks also to Go Teen Writers for being the definition of awesome)

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    2. Anna, I'm so glad the timing worked out! Congratulations on finishing your book! While the first round of edits CAN feel rather daunting, it's a great sign that you're excited to get back to it. And there are lots of good editing resources on GTW that can help coach you through it!

      Laurapoet, I like that! I think I might make that our new tagline :) Congratulations on chugging your way through your first full-length manuscript - that's hard work! Most writers have a soft spot for their first full-length book, even if it never sees the light of day. Stick with it!

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    3. Laurapoet, thank you! My character's become like a best friend; I think I have her figured out, then I learn something else about her. That keeps it interesting to me. Plus, I know it'll all be good experience for me, no matter where the story ends up. Good luck with your story!

      Stephanie, thanks for the encouragement! I've been browsing GTW posts and bookmarking them, so I'll be ready for editing!

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  10. Perfect timing! My six weeks of waiting just ended a week ago. I've read through my manuscript and made lists of what I'd like to change--namely, the entire plot. At least, the plot of the middle section. So right now, I'm writing a really detailed synopsis of what I *hope* the second draft will be. Thanks for the post! Now it's time for me to go into the GTW archive and read up on revisions and editing...

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    1. Wow, Jessica! Congratulations! If you can't find what you're looking for, let us know.

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  11. Awesome post! Really helpful!

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    1. I agree. I've been waiting for this one...

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  12. Whenever I sit down to "edit" I always end up doing a re-write instead and making the manuscript twice as long (which isn't bad because the first draft is usually never enough to consider a book).

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