Surviving Revising…

Ah, another round of revisions is coming to a close. Good news: I just have this feeling that I’ve made some super successful changes… yay! Sort of bad news: The whole thing has been quite a challenge. As I’m sure most of you can attest to, the revision process is full of musing, second-guessing, doubt, and tons of hard work. I feel like I’ve been staring at my computer for ten days straight, and thinking about this story nonstop.

Oh, how to deal? Well, there are a few things I  do to survive the madness of revisions. I’ve compiled my best tips and tricks to share with you today…

Sleep on it. Feedback, I mean. If you’re anything like me, the first reading of a revision letter is met with a certain degree of mental resistance. We want to believe our work is perfect as-is, but deep down we know it’s not. That’s we why ask for feedback in the first place, right? I find if I take a night or two (or a week–whatever works) to absorb and ponder revision notes, they feel a lot less personal and a lot more helpful. My mind starts to mentally work out the problems that need addressing, and suddenly I’m excited to dig in.

Set a completion goal date. If I don’t give myself a deadline to work toward, I’ll procrastinate for hours (or days!) before I ever get down to being truly productive. When I’m really struggling with motivation, I take goal-setting a step further and break my workload into days, like: Revise 30 pages on Monday, or Address supporting character (Chelsea) on Tuesday.

Draft a scene-by-scene To-Do List. I’m intrinsically organized and an enthusiastic list-maker, so seeing all the work I need to do in bullet points makes the revision process a lot less daunting. If I can trick myself into thinking it’ll be easy, that it’s totally manageable, then I’m able to dive in with a whole lot more confidence. Also, I make a point to highlight each scene on my list as I compete it. It’s so encouraging to watch each item on my list transition to bright yellow, one by one!

Tackle the big stuff first, but keep a running list of “little things” to go back to later. This works for me because it keeps me on task. I find as I’m revising overall story elements (theme, pacing, character arc, whatever), little things consistently pop up that also need altering. But it’s a serious waste of minutes and momentum to stop, back up, and take care of a tiny detail. Still, I don’t want to forget about these important bits, so I keep a separate list  at the bottom of my scene-by-scene To-Do List. It’s something of a reward to run through and change each one as the revision comes to a close.

Sign off. Like, from everything BUT your manuscript. I know, I know… it’s so hard NOT to check Twitter and email and Facebook. It’s no fun to cancel social engagements because you have to work. It’s annoying to see all your favorite TV shows backed up on your DVR. It sucks to watch a fine layer of dust accumulate on your coffee table (okay, that might just be me). But I have to let go of all those outside distractions in order to get into my revision mindset. The only real “breaks” I give myself are quality time with my daughter (obviously), exercise, reading (but just a little!), and the occasional blog post.

Enjoy that final read-through. When I’m “done” and it’s time to begin my last overall read-through, I try to ditch Revising Writer Katy and settle into Casual Reader Katy. This way, I’m able to catch problems I might not have noticed otherwise. Little things, like a slight voice inconsistency or an overuse of a character’s name. Also, it’s an incredibly pleasant and gratifying experience to read through all my hard work as an eventual book-buyer might.

When all else fails, have a treat. This healthy little faux brownie got me through this latest revision. I ate one nightly, and I didn’t gain even a pound!

1. Spray a microwave safe bowl with Pam.
2. Combine 2 egg whites, half of one mashed banana, and 1/4 pumpkin puree.
3. Add 2 T almond meal, 1 T Stevia, 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder (I love Hershey’s Special Dark!), and 1/4 t baking powder.
4. Mix all ingredients thoroughly.
5. (Optional) Add a sprinkling of bittersweet or dark chocolate chips. (I love the Ghirardelli brand). Combine.
6. Microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, depending on your machine and altitude.

This recipe yields one enormous faux brownie that can be enjoyed on its own, or topped with peanut butter, almond butter, whipped cream, or ice cream (depending on what kind of day you’re having :)).

So, how do you endure the challenges of revising? Any tips to share?

RTW: Early Bird? Night Owl?

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where the ladies at YA Highway post a weekly writing- or reading-related question for participants to respond to on their own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.

Today’s Topic: What time do you prefer to do your writing? Early Worm? Night Owl ? Any five seconds you can grab?

Um, can I go with All of the Above?

When my husband is deployed (often), I am essentially a single parent. My daughter does not take naps anymore (*sob*) and she participates in lots of activities (swimming, ballet, pre-school, etc…), activities I get to shuttle her to. On the rare days we’re home and not out and about, I really try to devote as much of my time to her as possible. Sure, I’ll pop in a movie occasionally and get a little bit of work done, but for the most part she dominates my day. (Good thing she’s so fun, right? :))

So, that means I get to do the bulk of my writing, revising, editing, critiquing, and blogging while my daughter is asleep. I wake up between 5:30 and 6:00 every morning (this happens naturally, in case you’re wondering… no alarm for me!) and work until my kiddo wakes up (usually around 7:30 or 8:00). Then I get back to work at bedtime and go until I can’t keep my eyes open. During the pre-school year, I also get a few hours during the week to work, which is such a treat.  (Too bad the Borders I like to go to is closing… Grr!)

So, I claim Early Bird AND Night Owl, and occasionally everything between.

When do you like to write?

Phoenix Discoveries…

I spent last week in Phoenix visiting my parents. My daughter came too (of course!) and had all kinds of fun being spoiled by her Nana and Poppy. We’re paying for the over-indulgences now, but it’s all good. The sun, the swimming, the ice cream, and the family time make it all worthwhile. Turns out I learned a few things over the course of my stay in the Valley of the Sun. Here’s what…

-My daughter looks great in orange. Also, she’s extra adorable when giggling.

-It is far too hot in Phoenix to run outdoors. At 6:30 in the morning it was 87 degrees. I tried once, then wised up. The next morning I hit the air-conditioned fitness center.

-Almond milk is yummier than regular milk. It also has fewer calories and more calcium. Who knew? (Thanks for introducing me, Mom!)

-Three novels and a nonfiction are too many books for five days. I did get through two though (Room and Bird by Bird). They were both excellent.

-CBS’s Big Brother is better when watched with people who are ready and willing to slam it. (Ugh… am I the only one who hates Rachel? Am I the only one who watches even though I’m super embarrassed about it?)

-A girl can never have too many swimsuits.

-Dairy Queen’s Peanut Buster Parfaits can be made at home with vanilla ice cream, good hot fudge, and Spanish peanuts.

Naartjie carries the cutest kids’ clothes ever. Why oh why can’t there be a store closer to me? (Actually, it’s probably best there’s not. :))

-Parents flying with preschoolers should not expect to get any legitimate work done. Instead, prepare yourself for loads of coloring.

-Editing is way more fun when the comments in the review field are funny/spot-on/complimentary/honest/thoughtful/helpful/sprinkled with smiley faces.

-I didn’t actually discover this while in Phoenix, but it’s worth repeating: My daughter is my very favorite person. She constantly makes me smile.

What have you discovered this summer?

Ahh… Summer

So, we’re most definitely in the throes of summer around here. Back in May I was kind of dreading this season, thinking it would drag on forever, what with the preschool break, my husband’s deployment, and the long daylight hours. In fact, so far it’s flown by, and I’ve been very busy.

There’s been lots of work–both revising (Where Poppies Bloom) and rewriting (Cross My Heart–you know you love my color-coding). I’m starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel in the revision department. The rewriting… not so much.

There’s also been lots of time spent with this little cutie pie. Holy cow does she keep me busy! (I’m currently staring at this picture and wondering when I started looking so OLD… Eek. Time to up the SPF, I think.)

My kiddo and I have spent lots of time exploring our lovely Puget Sound “beaches.” We’ve found crabs and broken seashells and pennies and bits of jelly fish. Sadly, there’s been no swimming.

Don’t worry though–when it gets too hot, we risk our lives on backyard toys like this.

In quieter times, I’m been prepping for a very Tangled 4th birthday bash. So far I’ve got the kingdom flags, hair flowers, invitations, and a costume fit for a Princess (there’s a tutu too!). If only I could wrap my head around food, activities, balloons and party favors.

I’m also trying to put a dent in this insanity. (Don’t judge. You know your To-Read pile is out of control.) It’s hard to make the piles shrink when I just keep buying books, but hey, I suppose as far as vices go, this one isn’t too terrible. Any recommendations on what I should read next?

There’s also been running, cleaning, library trips, play dates, baking (Death by Triple Chocolate Brownies–yum!), yard work, a local Peter Pan play, pedicures, and time with family… whew!

On Wednesday my kiddo and I are headed to Phoenix to visit my parents and bake ourselves to perfection at 110 degrees. Should be lots of fun! Unfortunately, my blogging will probably slow (or stop) during the next week, but I look forward to returning refreshed and rested. 🙂

How’s your summer shaping up? Any fun activities you want to tell me about?



First and most importantly, a HUGE congratulations to my adorably Australian, super supportive, and terrifically talented friend Amie Kaufman, who has recently signed with Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. Amie writes YA and MG, and if the snippets of her work I’ve read during blogfests and contests are any indication, she’s amazing! Amie also runs a fantastic blog that you should definitely be reading. Learn more about her signing HERE. Congrats, Amie… I’m so very happy for you!

In other news, Monday blogging is always sort of hard for me. I often find myself wondering, What to write, what to write, what to write? But while procrastinating online the other night (something at which I’ve become alarmingly adept), I came across a website full of quotes on writing. Some were inspirational, some were snarky, a few were pretentious, and some were humorous. Several are worth sharing…

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.  ~Anton Chekhov

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof shit detector.  This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.  ~Ernest Hemingway

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment.  ~Hart Crane

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.  One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.  ~George Orwell

A good style should show no signs of effort.  What is written should seem a happy accident.  ~W. Somerset Maugham

You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you.  And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.  ~Arthur Polotnik

Be obscure clearly.  ~E.B. White

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.  ~Hannah Arendt

I love writing.  I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.  ~James Michener

And my very favorite, from “Great Rules of Writing”:

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.
~William Safire

What are your favorites quotes on writing?

On Querying:

(I’m slowly making my return to blogging. My husband recently deployed and I have a bit more free time on my hands. Happy to be back!)

A few weeks ago I got an email from a fellow writer who’d read my Holy Crap: I Have an Agent! post. As well as offering congratulations, she asked for advice on querying. At first I was surprised and flattered, but not long after opening her email I started to get a feeling of… I don’t know. Unworthiness? I’m so not qualified to be doling out advice! When I told my husband this, he said, “Uh, why not? You’ve been querying off and on for the last year and now you’ve landed an agent. You’re totally qualified.”

Shouldn't everything in life be this cut and dry?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized he might be right. While I’m certainly not an expert on querying (is anyone?), I have had a fair amount of experience and I’ve gained some wisdom that’s probably worth sharing. 

Below are the top ten things I’ve learned regarding the query process. Of course, the following advice only applies once you have an edited, critiqued, revised, sparklingly clean, complete manuscript, as well as a compelling query letter…

1) You won’t know if you’re truly ready to query until you send out a few letters. Of course you shouldn’t  send out your first batch of query letters the same day you type The End at the bottom of your first draft.  It goes without saying that there should be much critiquing, editing and revising before you ever contact an agent about your manuscript. But, you can theoretically spend ages  seeking feedback and tinkering with your story. At some point, scary as it is, you have to be DONE. That isn’t to say you won’t want to revise again (and again) sometime down the line–especially after you start receiving replies on that first batch of query letters.

2) Put a blurb about your manuscript (and possibly a short excerpt) on your blog, and don’t forget your easy-to-find email address. Last fall I had an agent (one who is legit and respected, but isn’t open to unsolicited queries) happen upon my blog. She read the blurb and excerpt I’d posted about a previous WIP, and emailed me to request pages. Talk about surprising! While most agents probably don’t spend a lot of time trolling writer blogs, it does happen. Why not entice them any way possible?

3) Take advantage of helpful agent-focused blogs like Casey McCormick and Natalie Aguirre’s Literary Rambles, Krista V.’s Mother. Write. Repeat., and  Jay Eckert’s Sharpened Pen. These people have graciously put hours and hours of time into their agent lists, databases and interviews. They are amazing resources! I learned about new agents, agents’ tastes, current clients, sales, query pet peeves, and more from sites like these. Querying is incredibly time-consuming, and accurate information on agents and agencies is sometimes hard to find online. Don’t reinvent the wheel. It’s quicker (and easier) to cross-check information that’s already been compiled for you than it is to start from scratch.

4) Stay organized. Be on top of outgoing queries and incoming replies. Know which agents you’ve queried and when. Know the name of their agency. Know their usual response times, or if they’re of the no reply is a no school. And keep querying! I tried to have about eight queries out at all times. When I received a pass, I sent out a new query letter. Rejection is easier to take when you know you’ve got other options out there. On the flip side, when I received a request for pages I sent them immediately, PLUS a new query letter to a different agent.

5) Follow the blogs of agents who interest you well before it’s time to query them. More often than not, they post wish lists, favorite published books, and/or general hints about their tastes. This is a fantastic information to reference when personalizing query letters, and also a great way to gauge whether an agent might be interested in your concept.

6) Follow agents who interest you on Twitter. I reluctantly joined Twitter about a year ago (I did NOT need more social media to suck up my time!). Now, I’m so glad I did. Not only is Twitter is an excellent way to connect with other writers, but it’s taught me so much about querying and literary agents. Many agents tweet tons of helpful publishing information, plus hints on what they’re seeking in their slush. I also made a habit of following the clients of my top-choice agents. A lot can be revealed about client/agent relationships (or lack thereof) through social media interactions.

7) Participate in blogfests, contests and online conferences like WriteOn-Con, especially if they relate to query letters, pitches, voice, or opening lines/pages. Not only are blogfests, contest and many online conferences free, they are a great way to get feedback and connect with writers in the same stage of the journey as you. Plus, they keep your mind occupied while you obsessively refresh your email. Added bonus: Contest finalists often receive prizes like critiques and/or requests.

8 ) Keep an open mind about feedback from CPs/betas, blogfests/contests, and agent replies. Not all critiques are good critiques, but there’s room for improvement in any work. I tried to keep a flexible attitude about my pitch, query letter, and manuscript. When I received a critique, I truly considered it (sometimes for days) before deciding whether to make the suggested revisions. At the end of the day, this is your work. You don’t want to have eventual regrets about making changes you aren’t truly comfortable with.   

9) Make friends at all stages of the game. I’m the last of my CPs to snag an agent. At times, this sucked. They were all moving forward, finalizing agent-requested revisions, going out on submission, and making sales(!) while I was stuck in the query trenches. However, when I ended up with two offers of representation and needed to make a choice, I was so thankful to have friends with experience who could offer sound advice. That said, while having writing friends who’ve progressed farther than you on the path to publication is fantastic, it’s also great to know people who are flailing in the same stage as you. Commiseration is a powerful thing, and sometimes it’s nice to know you aren’t alone.   

10) Know there are no guarantees, but that everything happens for a reason. Personal story time: A few months ago I had a phone call with an agent. We had a nice little chat during which she told me she torn and wasn’t ready to offer representation, but offered some revision notes and asked me to resubmit. I was ecstatic. All I had to do was revise to her notes (which were good) and I’d have an agent. I poured my heart into that revision and was so pleased with how it turned out. I sent my manuscript back to her and spent the next week vibrating with excitement: I was positive I was going to get an offer! Imagine my disappointment when I received her reply and another comment about being “torn,” accompanied by an additional list of new issues she had with the story. She wanted me to revise and resubmit AGAIN. At that point, I had to make a decision. Would I revise indefinitely for an agent who didn’t seem to truly love my story, or would I consider her feedback and continue my search for an agent who “got” what I was writing? I decided to move on, and that turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made. Sure, I was discouraged at first, but I eventually realized that had I not completed the original revision for that first agent, my story wouldn’t be what it is today. I might not have received the offers of representation I eventually did.

There are no guarantees, but every query, every request for pages, every revision, every NO…

What about you? Do you have any fantastic querying advice to pass on?

Cutting Words…

I’ve been mentally MIA for the last eight days. Why? I’ve been up to my eyeballs in a fairly significant revision of my manuscript, Where Poppies Bloom. Without getting into all the details, someone recently advised that I cut back the length of my manuscript (originally around 86K), which would, obviously,  pick up the pace. Fifty-ish pages, she recommended. That’s somewhere around 11K words, incase you’re counting.

I’ll admit that it sounded impossible at first. I didn’t think Poppies was dragging. I didn’t think it was wordy or over-written. And my scenes! All the beautiful scenes I’d spent hours planning and writing and editing… some of them were going to have to go. Heartbreaking, I tell you! But, the more I considered it, the more I started to look at this revision opportunity as an interesting sort of challenge.  

So, I copied and pasted the entire 328 page story into a new document and went to work. I figured if I could cut at average of ten useless words per page, I’d be a third of the way to my goal even before chopping full scenes. In an effort to keep myself from becoming completely overwhelmed, I focused on that and dove in.

As I read (and cut), read (and cut), I became very, very critical. Unnecessary dialogue tags were first to go. Next, too-detailed descriptions, then over-expressed emotions. I deleted instances of telling when I’d already shown (I do that sometimes… apparently I worry about being thorough). Finally, I trimmed the beginnings and endings of character conversations in an effort to get to the meat of what was really being said.

When that was all said and done, I took a long, hard look at my scene outline. I figured out which scenes could be deleted entirely (honestly, there weren’t many), which scenes could be combined to streamline the story, and which scenes could become a quick paragraph of exposition. Then I went back to work.

When it was all said and done, I’d trimmed just over 11K words (49 pages) from Where Poppies Bloom. I’m currently three-quarters of the way into a final read through, just to make sure everything still flows, and I have to be honest: I’ve never loved this story as much as I do today. While it was in great shape before, it’s SO clean now. It moves quickly and the suspense is that much greater. I truly believe the revision I once thought was impossible might be the greatest thing to happen to this story, and I’m so glad I took on the challenge.

Care to share your most helpful hints for trimming word count?