On Scrivener…

Because I am the luckiest girl ever, I got a new computer for my birthday last week (thank you so much, amazing husband!). I got my last laptop just before my now-kindergartner learned to walk so I was due for an update, and I’ve been wanting a Mac for ages. My PC has served me well, facilitating the drafting of several manuscripts, hundreds of blogposts, and thousands of emails, but let’s face it… Macs are awesome.

The very first thing I did after getting my lovely new computer up and running was download Scrivener‘s thirty-day trial. I’ve heard so many amazing things about this little writing program, and I couldn’t wait to try it.

Try it I did… I’ve been plugging away at Scrivener’s tutorial for a few days and I’ve learned so much. While Scrivener is at first overwhelming and has been a challenge for this Microsoft Word girl to get used to, I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. I’m about to start a rewrite (or, as my agent so awesomely calls it: a “violent revision”) and Scrivener’s organizational tools have already aided  me in sorting through which already-written scenes are worth keeping, which will need to be rewritten, and what gaps will need to be filled in. Awesome, right?!

Screen Shot 2013-02-24 at 12.26.39 PM

I’m 99% sure that when my thirty-day trial expires I’ll be purchasing Scrivener. We’ve become fast friends, and I’m already having trouble imagining my writing life without it. Oh, and if, like me, you’re new to Scrivener, I recommend checking out Erin Bowman’s tutorials on the program: this one on outlining, and this one on character worksheets and the freeform cork board. I watched them both, and they were incredibly helpful.

Tell me: Have you tried Scrivener? What program do you prefer for outlining/drafting/revising? 

2012 in Review…

Last year I posted a 2011 Year in Review. Not only was it fun to share the highs and lows of my year with you all, it was also fun to look back on all that had happened over the previous twelve months.

So, of course I had to take some time to reflect on 2012. While I wasn’t successful in ALL of my goals, I did meet many. I had tons of fun with my family, I grew as a writer and reader, and I made some fantastic new friends along the way.  It’s been a busy year, full of changes, hard work, and lots of fun…


I blogged about goals, and decided on RESOLVE as my all-encompassing word for 2012. I also mused about the struggles of rewriting.

 I survived a winter storm that threatened my sanity.

A Million Suns (Across the Universe, #2) The Fault in Our Stars
I started the year off reading and reviewing a couple of awesome books: A Million Suns by Beth Revis and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

At the end of the month, my girlie and I welcomed my husband home from  Afghanistan (yay!).

The DisenchantmentsI raved about another favorite of 2012, The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour.


I blogged about my preference for character-driven YA, and shared my Two-Minute Tension Test.

I celebrated Valentine’s Day with BOTH of my loves!

I turned thirty-one. No comment.

021I attended my husband’s Welcome Home Ball and had a *little* too much fun. 🙂


Pandemonium (Delirium, #2)I read and reviewed another 2012 favorite: Lauren Oliver’s Pandemonium.

I worked on a substantial revision of Where Poppies Bloom and resubmitted it to the agent I was working with at the time. (In case you’re wondering, I eventually came to the very difficult realization that Poppies isn’t going to sell the way it’s currently written. As of now, the story is “retired” and waiting for a rewrite that will hopefully come in 2013… Tough stuff.)

I had the pleasure of spending a long weekend in Vancouver BC with my husband. Such a fun, beautiful city!

Saw The Hunger Games. Awesome!

I blogged about my on-again-off-again struggles with procrastination (and why it’s not always a bad thing).


successfully completed the A-Z  Blogging Challenge, which was so fun! Thank you again to all of the hosts and organizers!

I Rocked the Drop!

I met a few of my favorite authors (Gayle Forman, Nina LaCour, and Stephanie Perkins) during the Seattle stop of the YA or Bust Tour.

I was invited to become an Operative over at YA Confidential. Love my fantastic new blogging buddies!


I participated in Blog Me MAYbe, brainchild of writer/blogger/all-around-awesome-person Sara McClung.

blogged about The Page Sixty-Nine Test, a writer’s trick I learned from clever author Gayle Forman.

We moved from Washington to central California, and made a big ol’ road trip out of the ordeal.

After we settled in to our new house, I shared a little bit about how I plot stories and write first drafts.

My husband and I celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary!

Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky, #1)I read and recommended Veronica Rossi’s stunning debut, Under the Never Sky.

shared my miracle cures for writer’s block, and started tackling a major rewrite of my YA contemporary manuscript, Cross My Heart.


Amelia Anne is Dead and GoneOh, look! Another outstanding 2012 book: Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfeld.

Around this time, I scored a few amazing new critique partners. I can’t even put into words how grateful I am for Temre, Taryn, and Alison!

My cutie pie got her very first library card, and had quite the Marilyn moment.


I posted about “gap books” and committed to reading a few of mine (including The Book Thief), and brought the “One Space or Two” debate to my blog.

I read and gushed about Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue, my VERY FAVORITE book of 2012!

I completed my Cross My Heart rewrite! 

My girlie and I made the loooong trip to Phoenix to visit my parents, my brother, and my cutie pie nephew.

My husband and I saw Brad Paisley and The Band Perry… Incredible!


I helped my sweet girl celebrate her fifth birthday

and watched as she headed off to kindergarten. Very bittersweet!


I tackled a frustrating revision of Cross My Heart, one that came with some bad-but-unrelated writing news. I threw myself a pity party, but that pain in the ass revision eventually made Cross My Heart what it is today.

This Is Not a TestI posted about yet another phenomenal 2012 release: This is Not a Test by the infinitely brilliant Courtney Summers.

Took a trip to Washington to visit family and see Tim McGraw(!).

I posted about taking a break and why it’s important, jumped on the “Currently…” bandwagon, blogged about how running parallels revising, and shared my take on Banned Books Week.


I visited an apple orchard with my girlie, and blogged about method writing (which, for me, involves A LOT of baking and running).

I talked about Cross My Heart, my “Next Big Thing,” and scored some awesomely encouraging comments in the process!

I wrote six words of advice for Teen Katy, which Erin L. Schneider combined with the advice of many other YA bloggers/writers into this amazing video.

The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1)The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. Perfectly creepy-weird. I couldn’t help but sing its praises!

I indulged my girlie and “dressed up” for Halloween. Little Miss Merida just LOVES this holiday!


I took a risk and signed up for National Novel Writing Month for the first time. The WiP I worked on is an upper YA contemporary romance. What else? 😉

I ran (and finished!) the Big Sur Half Marathon, meeting a goal I’d set for myself ages ago. I was exhausted at the end, yet so proud!

I blogged about all the things I’m thankful for

Saving June…and raved about another amazing book, Hannah Harrington’s Saving June (not released in 2012, but one of the best books I read this year).

In slightly less positive news, I parted ways with my former agent and began querying new agents. I didn’t blog about the ordeal until later, but this experience put a bit of a damper on an otherwise extraordinary month.

I WON National Novel Writing Month! (No matter that I haven’t touched the manuscript since November — I still love it! And, I plan on finishing the first draft and making in CP-worthy during the month of January.)


I accepted super-agent Victoria Marini’s offer of representation. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with Victoria, and I look forward to seeing what the New Year brings in the way of manuscript submissions!

I got to go to Disneyland! Seriously. The happiest place on Earth.

I read and recommended yet another amazing 2012 book: Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNarama. Love, love, love!

I celebrated my husband’s birthday WITH him for once. It was a fantastic day full of The Hobbit, Buffalo Wild Wings, and homemade birthday cake.

I co-hosted the Class of 2012: YA Superlatives Blogfest with  Jessica LoveTracey Neithercott, and Alison Miller. Such a great turn-out this year. My To-Read list grew about a mile!

And last but not least, I celebrated the holidays with my husband and this sweet girl, and took some time to reflect on the passing year.


Tell Me: How was your 2012? What are your hopes for 2013?

The Class of 2012: YA Superlatives Blogfest – Elements of Fiction

Before I get on with my Elements of Fiction choices for the YA Superlatives Blogfest, I’d love to refer you to Kristin Lynn Thetford‘s blog. First and foremost, she just signed with a fantastic agent… Go congratulate her! Second, she recently interviewed me about my writing, my experiences with querying, and my eventual signing with super agent Victoria Marini of GSLA. The interview is HERE if you want to check it out. (You totally should!)

The Class of 2012: YA Superlative Blogfest (hosted by Jessica LoveTracey NeithercottAlison Miller, and me) runs Monday, December 17th through Thursday, December 20th. All of the awesome people who are participating in the blogfest (YOU, I hope!) will highlight favorite books published 2012 using a variety of super fun superlative categories. The Class of 2012: YA Superlative Blogfest is about promoting extraordinary young adult books, so if you haven’t already, draft a post, hop down to the end of this post, and sign up to participate. We can’t wait to see your favorite reads of 2012!

The 2012 YA novels I’ve read, listed in no particular order: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, A Million Suns, The Fault in Our Stars, The Disenchantments, Something Strange and Deadly, Pandemonium, Wanderlove, Under the Never Sky, Ten, This is Not a Test, Happy Families, Insurgent, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone, Monstrous Beauty, Bitterblue, Time Between Us, My Life Next Door, Breathe, Pushing the Limits, Skylark, The Raven Boys, Live Through This, Bittersweet, Flawed, Ditched, Starters, Reached, Lovely, Dark and Deep, Meant to Be, and Days of Blood and Starlight…

And here’s how I chose to award today’s categories:

Elements of Fiction

Most Envy-Inducing Plot (Plot I wish I’d thought of myself…)

Time Between UsUsing time travel to tell a story of intense, lasting love has been done before, but I especially love the way Tamara Ireland Stone uses Bennett’s  special “talent” to challenge Anna and everything she thinks she knows.

Most Formidable World (Setting I would NOT want to visit…)

Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky, #1)From Smarteyes and Realms to Aether storms and savages and potentially dangerous air, Veronica Rossi has created a detailed and dynamic world where almost nobody can be trusted.

Wanderlust-Inducing (Setting I’d happily travel to…)

WanderloveAah, beaches and hiking and fun in the sun — this book’s title is spot-on. I’d love to backpack with Bria and Rowan.

Loveliest Prose

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #2)Or… perhaps Fate laid out your life for you like a dress on a bed, and you could either wear it or go naked. ~ Gorgeous imagery on every. Single. Page.

Best First Line

Amelia Anne is Dead and GoneThe night before Amelia Anne Richardson bled her life away on a parched dirt road outside of town, I bled out my dignity in the back of a pickup truck under a star-pricked sky. ~ The whole book is written this beautifully.

Most Dynamic Main Character

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, #3)I absolutely adore Bitterblue. She’s so many things: utterly endearing, open and charmingly honest, naive and occasionally brusque, determined and loyal. Over the course of the novel, she faces what should be soul-crushing opposition, but she never, ever folds.

Most Jaw-Dropping Ending

The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1)Ronan’s confession about Chainsaw’s origins… *shivers* Next book, please!

Best Performance in a Supporting Role

This is Not a TestGrace, Trace, Cary, Harrison, and especially Rhys from This is Not a Test. I loved the Breakfast Club-esque dynamic between main character Sloane and her colorful and carefully fleshed-out supporting cast.

Best Use of Theme

Lovely, Dark and DeepWren’s struggles with unimaginable guilt and grief could have been preachy and cliche, but Amy McNamara handles her protagonist’s troubles with subtle grace, which makes themes of forgiveness and acceptance shine.

MAY I tell you something about (my) writing (process)?

I’ve read some recent posts by a few Blog Me MAYbe-ers about their processes for plotting and first-drafting. I love learning about how other writers do what they do, and I find the differences in our individual methods so fascinating. I thought I’d share a bit about how I go about getting words on the page.

I’m a plotter, both in writing and in life. I like to have a plan for everything: day-to-day activities, traveling, tackling the grocery store, and, most definitely writing.  That’s not to say I’m completely rigid. I CAN be flexible. Things change – of course they do – but anytime there’s a change, especially where my WiP is concerned, I prefer to make a note of it on my outline. :)

oh hello

Here’s my basic process for plotting and first-drafting:

1) Once I’ve stewed over an idea for a good, long while (like, months) I write a one sentence pitch. This forces me to boil that often vague idea down to its true essence. Later, I use this initial pitch to write a three-line pitch, then a full query-type blurb to eventually pass on to my agent.

2) Next I make a list of any scenes I already have in my head, which is pretty much an enormous brainstorming session. This often takes awhile, and I add to the list as inspiration strikes and new scenes take shape.

3) I tackle a beat sheet, plugging scenes into appropriate places, and coming up with new ones to fill in the gaps. The beat sheet I use is a melding of the one in Blake Snyder’s Save the Catthe phases in The Hero’s Journey, and the layout detailed by Susan Dennard in this fantastic Pub(lishing) Crawl post titled How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis. My personal beat sheet has evolved to look something like this:

Ordinary World 

Inciting Incident – What event/decision/change prompts the main character to take initial action? 

Meeting with Mentor 

Plot Point 1 – What action does the MC take that changes the book’s direction?

Conflicts & Character Encounters – MC meets new people, experiences a new life, meets the antagonist. 

Midpoint – Another no-going-back turning point for the MC.

Rosy Glow – What happens that makes the MC think all’s well?

Plot Point 2 – Winning seems imminent, but the antagonist somehow defeats the MC and ends up more powerful.

Crisis/Black Moment – MC must fight through her emotions to find strength for the final battle. 

Lightbulb Moment

Climax – Final blowout between MC and the antagonist.


4) Once I have a complete beat sheet, I make an outline, scene by scene and color-coded according to plot lines and character interactions, one I follow pretty closely once I begin to write. Detailed as my scene outline is, it isn’t set in stone. I add and delete as I go, because once I start writing, the story comes to life and certain aspects inevitably become more or less important.

5) I begin the first draft. I usually write scenes in order, but if one gets me stuck, I just type in a quick place holder (AWESOME CONVERSATION ABOUT KISSING HERE) and move along. In the past, it’s taken me anywhere from one month to three months to complete a first draft. I like to write at least 2K a day when I’m drafting. I’ve found that if I don’t, I lose my momentum. I think we all know how difficult that is to reclaim!

So, that’s pretty much how I do it… It goes without saying that once that first draft is complete, it undergoes major revisions. Like, years worth, sometimes, for me anyway. Occasionally I wish my process could be less formulaic. It seems much more romantic to sit down with an idea and just start writing, but in the past that’s only earned me 133K words of crap. Plotting works for me, so for now I’m sticking with it!

What are your thoughts on plotting and first drafts?

Talk to me about…

…character-driven YA vs. plot-driven YA.

Just so we’re all on the same page, a character-driven novel is one that moves forward because of the protagonist, antagonist, and the decisions they make (most often romances or literary fiction–think Saving Francesca or The Sky is Everywhere). Conversely, a plot-driven story is propelled forward by circumstances, usually beyond the control of the protagonist (often historicals and fantasies–think The Hunger Games or Across the Universe). Although all novels have character growth and some semblance of story structure, most can be categorized as either character-driven or plot-driven.

While I read widely and enjoy books of all types, my tastes lean toward character-driven novels. I can appreciate a twisty, action-packed plot, but more often than not, my favorite books are those that are character-driven. I read to get lost in a new world and to get into the heads of fascinating people. I like to watch relationships develop and see characters grow and change and (hopefully) improve. After reading the final page of a novel, I most often find myself pondering the character arc before any other element of the story.

(Incidentally, the same can be said for my writing. I think about people first, story second. This, I suppose, is both a strength and a weakness. :))

Yes, thank you!

So… tell me:

  1. Do you prefer character-driven or plot driven stories? Why?
  2. What are your favorite character-driven novels? (Because I totally need MORE books to add to my TBR list!)

Class of 2011: YA Superlatives Blogfest DAY THREE

Today is Day Three of the The Class of 2011: YA Superlatives Blogfest, a fun and interactive way to highlight and share your favorite YA novels, covers, characters, and story elements, hosted by Jessica LoveTracey NeithercottAlison Miller, and me. The Class of 2011: YA Superlatives Blogfest spans four days, beginning December 26th and culminating this Friday, December 30th.

Hopefully you’ve been participating throughout the week, but if not, that’s okay! Just draft today’s post (you can find the topics listed below or on the original post) and then scroll to the bottom of THIS post and add your link to the link list.

I’ve had a blast dropping by the participants’ blogs so far, and I look forward to stopping by your blog to read about your Class of 2011 selections!

And speaking of selections, here are mine for Day Three:

Elements of Fiction

Again, my books published in 2011 Reading List:

Crossed, The Future of Us, Hushed, Want to Go Private?, The Scorpio Races, The Pledge, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Chain Reaction, Forgotten, Notes From the Blender, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, Ripple, Hourglass, A Need So Beautiful, Chime, The Day Before, Forever, Moonglass, Beauty Queens, Boyfriends With Girlfriends, Forbidden, Wither, Divergent, Invincible Summer, Trapped, Where She Went, We’ll Always Have Summer, Cryer’s Cross, Across the Universe, Desires of the Dead, Lola and the Boy Next Door, Imaginary Girls, and The Liar Society

And my favorites in the way of Fictional Elements:

Most Envy-Inducing Plot (Or, the plot you wish you’d thought of yourself.) – Easy. The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. The idea of using Facebook as a way to “travel” to the future is brilliant. There’s also the addition of the numerous nineties mentions that brought nostalgia to a whole new level.

Most Wonderful World-Building – I have to go with Laini Taylor’s The Daughter of Smoke and Bone. There are so many worlds in this story: Prague, Marrakesh,  the backwoods of Idaho, and the world beyond the portal doors. While submerged in Smoke and Bone, it was as if I was a willing and active member of all these worlds. I’ve even added Prague on my Must-Visit list! Honorable Mention: The Scorpio Races because by the end of the story, I felt Thisby.

Most Formidable World (Or, the setting I most definitely would NOT want to travel to) – While Lauren DeStefano wrote about Wither‘s world beautifully, there’s no way I’d ever want to visit it. Plural marraige and a painful awareness of the (early!) age at which I’ll die? No thank you!

Most Wanderlust-Inducing (Or, the setting I’d happily travel to) – Jenny Han’s We’ll Always Have Summer. I’ve been romanced by its quaint little beach town setting, Cousins, since I read The Summer I Turned Pretty, the first book in this series. Honorable Mentions: Moonglass by Jessi Kirby and Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz — Can you tell I love the beach?

Loveliest Prose – This was a very difficult choice, but I have to go with The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater because it was so incredibly emotive, yet never overdone. I imagine dual narration is quite a challenge to pull off, but Scorpio‘s Sean and Puck were unique and vibrant, as was their world. Honorable Mention: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Every sentence = Enviable.

Best First Line – Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone: “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.” Says it all.

Most Dynamic Main Character – Briony Larkin from Franny Billingley’s Chime. Oh, how I adore this girl! She’s so feisty and loyal and clever and intense. Her inner monologue was a joy to read, sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious. I want to know her! Honorable Mentions: Sean Kendrick from The Scorpio Races, Tris from Divergent, and Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone. All were SO memorable.

Most Jaw-Dropping Finale – The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin because really… did ANYONE see THAT coming?! The last few pages of Mara sealed the deal: I simply must read its follow-up. Honorable Mention: Cryer’s Cross. Yowza. That ending blew me away!

Best Performance in a Supporting Role – Ruby, from Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma. This girl was so colorful, so full of life, such a force to be reckoned with, I loved her and hated her with equal intensity. Entirely fleshed out and incredibly well written.

Best Use of Theme – I’m choosing two here, because they both did what’s nearly impossible: Taught an important lesson in an entertaining way. I’m not going to give those lesson away, of course. If you haven’t read these books, I recommend them both! First, The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder:

And second, A Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young:

There you have it… My selections for Elements of Fiction. What do you think?

And if you’re participating in the Class of 2011: YA Superlative Blogfest, please click on the image below to drop your link:

And don’t forget to check out what some of the Bookanistas are up to today…

Shannon Messenger shouts about twelve 2012 releases she can’t wait for–and a pre-order giveaway!

Megan Miranda marvels at UNDER THE NEVER SKY

Corinne Jackson gushes over THE MATCHMAKER AND THE GHOST

Stasia Ward Kehoe gets psyched for 2012

On making it yours…

You may have seen my tweets about the local writing seminar I attended on Saturday (Sumner, Washington’s Write in the Valley, in case you’re wondering). It was a fun event; small and intimate, with a diverse panel. There were traditionally published authors (Kimberly Derting! Love her books!) and self-published authors, authors of fiction and nonfiction, and a Book Doctor who shared all kinds of useful information.

The audience was full of writers, both starting out and experienced, and some fantastic questions and conversations came up. One topic that seemed to dominate much of the discussion, though, was that of plagiarism. People seemed very afraid of copying another writer’s work (unintentionally, I presume) and getting called out on it down the road. They used gentler words to discuss plagiarism (“borrowing” and “honoring”), but the gist was pretty much the same: How can a writer ensure that their work is original when there’s so much published material already out there? 

To be perfectly honest, I’ve never worried about this. There are hundreds of ghost stories on the market, thousands of books set in old houses, innumerable protagonists dealing with the loss of a loved one, countless teens sent to live with relatives, zillions of girls forced to choose between two boys. Yet, I know my story, Where Poppies Bloom, is unique. It’s told from my perspective, with my life experiences to back it up. My characters are original, the setting is my own creation, and my inimitable author voice carries the story. I did the creative work to draft, revise, edit Poppies, and I’m certain that no one else has written (or will write) a story quite like it. Nobody can tell Callie’s story the way I can.

People have been writing stories since they dwelled in caves. To think that you’ve come up with an idea that’s never been done is a little presumptuous and a lot arrogant. My mom and I were just talking about this the other day: She mentioned that every piece of women’s or literary fiction she’s picked up lately has been about a middle-aged, middle-class woman with a cheating husband who has to rebuild her life from scratch. Gosh, I feel like I’ve read that book one or two (or one-hundred) times.

I mean, really… How many fictional YA girls are there out there who have an exceptional ability and are fated to save the world? How many dangerous paranormal boys have we seen fall in love with a Mary Sue? Was Stephenie Meyer the first author to write about vampires? Of course not. Before her was Anne Rice, and before her was Bram Stoker, and before him was John William Polidori. I’m willing to bet every subsequent author drew inspiration from those who came before them. But did they commit an act of plagiarism? No way. They each gave the old vampire tale a spin of their own. Edward Cullen sparkles in the sun… didn’t you hear?

That said, there are only so many basic plots. I’ve found arguments for the idea that there is only one (ONE!) plot with millions of variations. I’ve also seen research that claims there are three (The Basic Patterns of Plot by William Foster-Harris), seven (The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker), twenty (20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald Tobias), and thirty-six (Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti).

We can subscribe to whatever idea of maximum number of basic plots we want. What’s important is that we embrace that fact that, when boiled way down, there are only so many original ideas. Every story, at its very core, can be sorted into one of these: man vs. nature, man vs. man, man vs. the environment, man vs. machines/technology, man vs. the supernatural, man vs. self, or man vs. god/religion. It’s what we DO with the fundamental “plot” we choose that makes our stories innovative and imaginative and  memorable and ours.

Tell me… What, in your opinion, makes a story unique? 

I’m Rewriting!

So, I had an epic blog post planned for today, one in which I was going to discuss my on-going rewrite of a book that was “done” a year ago. Then my daughter fell on her face (literally) while we were walking our dogs last night and I ended up spending two hours at the ER, then another at Denny’s because she wanted late night pancakes, sausage, and ice cream. Who am I to deny?


Anywho… I actually AM starting a rewrite. And good news–it’s getting easier. Know why? Because I’ve finally figured out the trick to a successful rewrite. Ready for it?

You must first be willing to let go of what the story used to be.

All my past struggles with rewriting stem down to one crucial mistake: I wasn’t rewriting. I was shifting, revising, tweaking, patching, replacing–anything and everything I could do to add new material while still hanging on to the essence of what the story was. And it wasn’t working.

So, I’ve let go of the original story. In fact, I’m treating it as if it’s not even mine. I’m viewing it as subjectively as possible. Those words I spent all last summer slaving over? They’re simply raw material I’ve stumbled upon and hope to improve. Sure, I’ll pick up the few scenes that happen to work and fit them back in, and I’ll flesh out characters who are worthy, and maybe steal back some of the dialogue that’s particularly witty, but other than that, I’m REWRITING. Completely. And that’s good, because I’ve spent months mulling over ways to make this story what it needs to be, and I think I’ve finally got a handle on it. This is exciting!

Because I’ve been incredibly overwhelmed by this undertaking, and because I’m an incredibly visual person, I’ve started with a crude, simplistic plot map:

See? Very simple.

That’s poster board and Sharpie, and those star Post-It notes are the major plot points. I’ve got smaller, color-coded ones that I plan to start working on tonight, Post-Its that will stand in for subplots, character notes and setting descriptors. Hopefully my little chart will serve as a jumping off point and make this rewrite more manageable and–God willing–more fun.

Have you ever attempted a major rewrite? Any tips or tricks to share?

For the Birds…

I recently read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (mentioned it in last week’s Reading Wrap-Up). If you’ve yet to read it, I highly recommend picking it up. Bird by Bird is an excellent craft book–not too technical, not too preachy, full of concise,  snappy chapters, and at times laugh-out-loud funny.

As I was perusing Bird by Bird, I got the urge to reread bits of my very first manuscript. As I’ve said before, Novel One is tragically low concept epic teen romance that has lots of sweet little scenes I’ll always love. It also has a forced “plot,” loads of over-writing, and characters that are conveniently clueless. In other words, Novel One is completely unsellable.

Now, I’m sure Novel One’s flaws are run of the mill for first (and second and third) efforts. I made mistakes lots of new writers make, learned as I went, and improved with time. I read tons of YA and piles of craft books, and picked up tips and inspiration and lessons along the way. And, it just so happens that a few of my favorite lessons from Bird by Bird  apply directly to Novel One. I’ll share them as they apply to my own writing and maybe save you some trouble. 🙂

1: BE FLEXIBLE – While writing Novel One, I had a very specific direction for the story. And I took it there, even though at times it felt forced and unnatural.  I also had exact, detailed scenes in mind, scenes I eventually wedged in, whether they fit the overall story arc or not. All this pushing and coercing and throwing around of my writerly weight resulted in a story that reads like this: Say what?!

I failed my characters. I neglected to listen to them. I didn’t let them guide the plot. Instead, I molded them, made them do certain things and act certain ways just for the sake of the storyline (which, honestly, wasn’t even all that strong). What I should have done was let the plot grow and expand and change as I got to know my characters.

2: DO NOT BE AFRAID – The earliest drafts of Novel One are so very vanilla. I followed all the rules. I didn’t let my characters swear. I barely let them kiss. They all drove nice cars and lived in tidy houses in a lovely town. They spoke politely and made good choices. Sure, a few bad things happened to them, but through no fault of their own. These people–their lives–were flawless. The reason for all this vanilla? I was afraid of what people (my parents, my husband, my friends) would think if I really went there.

Over time, I’ve developed courage and an anything-goes attitude. What difference does it make if one of my characters drops an F-bomb? Who cares if she wears a skanky top or drinks a beer once in a while? So what if she thinks about school and friends and family and boys and–gasp!–sex? If she’s in character and the story is moving forward, she can do no wrong. But I never went to any of those places in Novel One because I was too focused on my mental naysayers, watching them shake their heads and wag their fingers, listening to them preach about what’s appropriate. And now the story’s a snoozefest.

3: GET IN THE ZONE – Novel One is choppy and lacking in voice. This is partly to blame on my previous lack of flexibility (and experience), but my failure to get in the zone and stay there is also responsible. By “the zone” I mean that delightfully elusive place where you’re focused and typing and barely thinking. Suddenly you glance at the clock and three hours have passed. You’ve written 5K words without ever looking up from your computer screen.

For me, the zone is a silent room, a comfy chair, and a burning candle. I have critique partners who find their zone while listening to loud music through headphones. Others like to work at a certain table in a specific coffee shop with an iced Chai beside them. I need to be in my the zone in order to listen to the voices in my head. I need to listen to the voices in my head in order to find MY voice. (Is this all making me sound slightly crazy? I’m not alone, right?)

I didn’t know about the zone while writing Novel One. I wrote whenever and wherever, and it always took me ages to find a groove–if I did at all. Now I try hard to give myself the best writing conditions possible because only when I get into the zone does my best writing emerges.

I’d love to hear about your first manuscript. What beginner mistakes did you make? What craft books have you found most helpful?

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?