What happens when you return to a manuscript after 3 months — in stats

Recently my writing efforts have shifted from a just-finished first draft to a manuscript that’s been on the back burner a while. You think a book looks different after one month in the drawer? Try THREE!

As I’m airing it out and preparing to delve deep into revisions, I thought it would be interesting to share what the initial refresher read-through looked like. What I did this time, rather than an actual revision, was really just mark up the manuscript with notes for potential changes and cut the obvious bloat. So what did it look like?

Ahem—DJ?

break it down!

Mission: refresh

Draft: 5th ish

Word count: from 89,444 to 87,742 (more deletions and condensing to come, but also new material)

Total Track Changes comments: 335

How many of those comments were “cut,” “rephrase,” “tighten,” “clean it up,” “improve,” “condense,” “shorten,” “rework,” or some variation thereof: 178

Second most common comment: “This may change.” (referring to story/character/consistency tweaks rather than line edits)

Pages of notes translated from Track Changes into a useful, coherent document telling me what needs to be changed (or is nominated for change) and how to (possibly) change it: 4 single-spaced

Some delightfully helpful comments to self:

  • improve. too much swearing, and why a daiquiri?
  • SPEED IT UP, YO.
  • more interesting! razzle dazzle!
  • something with less syllables.
  • insert word
  • improve, and maybe work in a laser pointer.
  • There is too much shaking of heads in this book.
  • Something else
  • Re-do a little to accommodate heart-fluttery feelings (“heart-fluttery”? Wow. This is WHY I REVISE)
  • Oh really?

Homemade Calendar – August

calendar - august 2014

Here’s August! I think it’s my favorite so far this year. It was also an incredible month!

September will see revisions of one book, continued planning for the next, and at least one art or blog project. I’m toying with the idea of posting a potential logline for feedback.

What are your goals for September?

When I learned that my manuscript made a reader I’ve never met or spoken to laugh and cry multiple times — in GIFs

First I was like:

image

Then I was like:

image

and:

image

and:

image

and:

image

I’d say “My work here is done,” but it isn’t. Cause revisions.

And that whole publication thing.

But still.

–Reposted from my tumblr.

Good Writing Advice: Start with the logline.

What is a logline? Well, if you’re an author, you may have had that classic moment where you tell someone you’re writing a book, they ask what it’s about, and then you ACTUALLY HAVE TO TELL THEM. A logline is that crisp, convenient, one-sentence-ish premise that falls effortlessly from your lips in answer, smoothly summing your story and sparing all parties embarrassment in a single breath. You know– that description you can give for like any book or movie ever, whether you liked or watched or even finished reading it or not. That you definitely don’t stumble over when describing your own work. Goodness, no.

Because chances are you are sensible: that at some point you’ve developed a brief oral pitch to use as a flotation device. Me? I know what it is to flounder. I floundered a lot with my first book. I still splash a bit, but I’m getting better with time and each subsequent novel.

One thing that really helped in defining my last book, both to myself and to others, was starting with the synopsis. Plotting roughly what was going to happen before I actually started writing not only gave me a road map for the novel ahead of me; it made it easier to talk about.

That’s why I can really get behind screenwriter Blake Snyder, who emphasizes the importance of starting with a good logline in his screenwriting book, Save the Cat!:

“If you don’t have the logline, maybe you should rethink your whole movie.”

The same should hold true for books. If you can’t answer what your story’s about (in Snyder’s words: “What is it?”) succinctly and compellingly, there’s a chance that you don’t really have one.  Or that it needs work. And why waste time writing something that doesn’t sing to you and to others? Without a north? A logline is your novel at its barest: the bones upon which the story rests. It only makes sense to build from the foundation up.

That said, I am curious to hear your thoughts, fellow writers! I know there are pantsers as well as plotters out there, and some people feel stifled by any planning prior to writing.

What is your approach? What do you find works best?

Read what you love.

“It was as if some people believed there was a divide between the books that you were permitted to enjoy and the books that were good for you, and I was expected to choose sides. We were all expected to choose sides. And I didn’t believe it, and I still don’t.

I was, and still am, on the side of books you love.”

—Neil Gaiman, in his Newbery Medal acceptance speech for The Graveyard Book

Word Counts vs. Balance

I recently mentioned that with my WIP (my shortest yet) I have had some difficulty hitting my previous daily word counts. While in top form (i.e., during Nanowrimo when I am pushing myself) I can write upwards of 1,700 words a day, with my current project I am rarely making it over 1,200, and usually call it good after 1,000. So lately I’ve been asking myself: What is this? Is there something wrong with me? Am I settling for less? Am I lowering the standard? Why aren’t I pushing myself to do more, and should I be?

The answer: Perhaps– but I also think word count isn’t everything, and that there is merit in dividing my time more evenly between Writing and Things That Are Not Writing, because the latter feeds the former.

To arrive at a more conclusive answer, let’s examine some of the other ways I’ve been spending  potential writing time during the first draft of this novel, and whether those ways add to or detract from the writing experience.

Non-writing ways I commonly spend potential writing time:

  1. Exercise. Physical health is hugely influential in mental and creative energy. Use of time: GOOD
  2. Social activities. Recreation is fun, different environments are stimulating, and the meeting of minds invites new ideas and innovation. Use of time: GOOD
  3. Netflix. Stories on the screen. It’s like visual reading? Use of time: SUSPICIOUS
  4. Reading. Writing is a language and a craft, and studying it is how you learn. Use of time: GOOD
  5. Tumblr. It’s, er, author social media. And I get to see what my favorite authors are doing! And book news! And agent advice! And clever GIF sets! GIFs = laughter = soul medicine OKAY OKAY OKAY, Use of time: MORTIFYING
  6. Art projects. The right brain wants its turn, too, and there is little more spiritually nourishing/creatively regenerative than music + colors/pens/magazine scraps to paper. Or, you know, Photoshop. Or, uh…learning to make GIF sets for Tumblr… Use of time: GENERALLY GOOD

In the end I feel it is a game of balance. If you push yourself too hard, you will burn out and close up and struggle to get any words on the page. Conversely, if you spend too much time on Netflix or in Tumblrland, you will never write anything.

CONCLUSION: I could probably be getting more writing done. Since timed sprints (particularly 45 minute ones) have been working for me lately, I am going to try to fit in at least one more of those each day. I think we should be mindful of our distractions, but at the same time not give so much of ourselves to our writing that it ends up being counterproductive. Balance is key.

Good Writing Advice: The 45 Minute Session

Yesterday I tried something different.

I wrote in blocks of 45 minutes at a time.

Let me back up a minute. I’m currently at work on a MG project. Ideas for this book had been steeping for months before I ever put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard); as a MG novel I intended to keep it under 60k; when I started writing I had an extensive 16 page outline to work from. Given all this and the fact that at peak form I have no problem writing 1,500+ words a day, I expected this book to practically fall out of me.

Ha.

I’m not sure what it is, but with this book I seem to be capping at about 1,000 words a day. Well, alright, I can think of a couple reasons: 1) I’m mid-query, so I am constantly (stupidly) checking my email a jillion times a day for replies and 2) I’ve recently discovered tumblr. Bad Julie! And sometimes life simply gets in the way.

Ultimately, however, I’ve been feeling sluggish. Like I needed to try something different. So the last week or so I’ve spent more time in a hardcover notebook, typing up what I’ve written at the end of the day. Effective? In some ways, yes.

But I’ll tell you what I like better.

Heather Sellers recently contributed a list to the 7 Things I’ve Learned So Far column in Writer’s Digest. In her seventh point she borrows Billy Joel’s term “in harness” to describe the butt-in-the-chair, door-closed, no distractions discipline with which a writer does her best writing. Take a moment to visualize what “in harness” might mean for you. No internet? No company? Music, TV, cell phone off or left in another room? Blinds down on a beautiful day? Think of it as making a space for you and your manuscript. An intimate, secluded table for two.

Now– how does one realistically commit oneself to such an intense focus without burning out or wrecking one’s eyes? Sellers answers: One writes in manageable segments. Segments of 45 minutes, to be exact (with 15 minute breaks in between if they are consecutive).

Of course, that’s what works for her. Others might find 30 minute or 2 hour sessions more productive. I’ve even heard of 25 minute pomodoros doing wonders. The magic here I think is in tricking your brain to believe “Hey, 45 minutes! That isn’t long at all! I can commit to my writing and absolutely nothing else for that long.” In my own experiment yesterday I found it much easier to shut myself in a room and disconnect from everything in 45 minute intervals. How’d it turn out? Well, in only four sessions (3 hours total) I managed over 1,000 words. Not lightning speed by any means, but certainly not shabby for the edits-as-she-goes type. It’s the same result for considerably less time than I feel it has taken me to achieve lately.

Do you write in short sessions? For how long? Let us know below! And I really recommend reading Heather Sellers’ entire writing advice list. They’re all great points that go way beyond the hackneyed show, don’t tell. Check ‘em out!