Do you repeat yourself, waffle on, or over-use pet words and phrases? Do your favorite authors?
This week I’ve been cleaning up my WIP, which is due to my editor tomorrow (yikes). I’ve spent way more time than I would have liked down in the weeds, examining individual words.
I know some writers use editing software like AutoCrit to iron out their tics and foibles. I’m tempted to try it some time. For now, my chosen method is to teach myself better writing habits by working systematically through a checklist of problem categories and likely offenders.
Based on this week’s findings, I have work to do.
Photo by Bethany, E-Verse Radio
I’ve been doing revisions on my WIP, and it’s been going pretty well. I’ve been pleased with my changes, and pleased that I can detect at least some of the book’s flaws and fix them. Almost done! She said, for about the fifteenth time in the last two months.
Fresh from a chapter revise and thinking about a couple of workshops I went to at RWA nationals, I was casting about for a topic for today when I stumbled across this post on Writer Unboxed. I thought it was huge fun.
The poster, Ray Rhamey, has a regular feature on this blog called “Flog a Pro,” in which he posts the opening page of a best-selling novel and asks you, the blog reader, if you’d pay to read the first chapter. He’s got the math all worked out: if the book costs $15 and there’s 50 chapters, then each chapter costs 30 cents. Would you pay 30 cents to read the chapter?
Why do writers write? It’s a question non-writers often ask us, a topic we sometimes approach with fellow scribes over a drinks at the bar during conferences, and one we sometimes ask ourselves – accompanied by gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair – when we’re having a dark night of the soul. (Writers suspect we have more dark nights of the soul than non-writers; non-writers suspect writers are just being dramatic when having what normal people call bad days.)
Bad things sometimes happen during those dark nights of the soul. Creativity runs dry. The writing stalls. Imposter syndrome sets in. Or maybe it’s always there, and this is just its chance to step out of the shadows and taunt us. The story dies on the vine. We question ‘why write’, as well as ‘why not quit’. Yeah, drama.
But it’s always darkest before the dawn, the sun also rises, there’s got to be a morning after, etc., etc., insert favorite cliche here. (That’s another writerly thing. Don’t worry, it’s just a placeholder we’ll fix in the rewrite.) When the words start flowing and the story gains new life after a few days or weeks or months of tough slogging, it’s nothing less than euphoric. There’s nothing like a day of story breakthroughs to make a writer say ‘I can’t quit you’ to writing all over again.
I had one of these wonderful days recently, but it only came after weeks and weeks of false starts and what felt like hour after hour of wasted time. Continue reading
This word cloud was built from the text of this post.
Last week my critique group talked about “empty” words—the words we don’t need and don’t notice we use too often. My go-to favorite unnecessary word is “just,” a word I discovered that I’d used 368 times in a 127-page (so far) manuscript. By the time I finished searching and replacing it with a blank space, I’d cut 250 words from my text. Other favorite empty words we found: really, actually, and well.
The problem with finding empty and overused words is that unless you know your favorites and keep a diligent eye out for them, you don’t really (see what I mean?) notice them as you type. They’re in there before you realize it, and they’re invisible to you when you reread your work.
A fun way to discover what words you’re using a lot is to build a word cloud, which shows you at a glance which words you’re using most in your text. Scrivener has a built-in feature for this purpose, but if you’re not a Scrivener user, there are other ways to do it.
Several free programs will build word clouds for you. Continue reading
Sometimes basic is best. Getting back to basics. Basic black. Basic humanity.
And so it is with writing. Every now and then, often in one of the revision stages of a story, it’s time to get back to the basics – the point, the goal, and the conflict of a story. That means it’s time to reach into the writer’s basic toolbox and pull out some old favorites to identify festering plot holes, shore up weak conflicts, and fix leaky sinks. Okay, maybe not that last one.
This lesson presented itself to me when I recently found my Harrow’s Finest Five book 1 revision slowly circling the drain (what is it with me and sinks today?). I was dissatisfied with the story stakes. As I read the manuscript, they didn’t seem to be escalating, further complicating heroine Emme’s life, and leading her to an inevitable clash with consequences of her own making.
An author has options at such times. Crying. Chocolate. Booze. Cyring into chocolate and booze. But I’ve heard it can actually be more empowering to use TOOLS. Powerful, writerly tools. In this case, I opted for the tools and pulled the conflict box out of my toolbox to see why my revision had gotten stuck and my story felt flat. Continue reading
Why, you might ask, have I taped a scene to my wall? To keep my brain guessing.
Once upon a time, a very nice girl found herself working in a really stressful industry. Okay, you caught me: I’m talking about me. I haven’t qualified as a ‘girl’ for decades. And very nice…well, that depends upon the day and the situation. But I did work in a really stressful industry (US government proposal management, in case you’re desperately curious). Over the years, I developed some mad skills that I brought to bear on high-pressure, deadline-driven, writing-intensive problems.
A few months ago, I left that industry and promptly forgot (or more likely purged) much hard-earned wisdom about writing and revision. And while I’d always believed honing my fiction writing and storytelling skills only improved my performance on those (non-fiction) projects, I didn’t think much about what lessons from my day job could teach me about writing fiction.
For what feels like eons but has only been several weeks, Continue reading
Al and Roey Stickles dancing at the trailer park: Sarasota, Florida 1946. Photo courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida. www.flickr.com/photos/floridamemory/7157828142/
I’ve started writing a scene that I think will be pivotal in my book. It’s a scene in which my hero and heroine have sex, but the sex will propel them into a new stage of their relationship. My critique partners have emphasized that it’s important that I show why my heroine has been unwilling to move forward quickly with the romance—she won’t move in with the hero—even though she must make a decision soon about whether to return to her old job across the country. If she goes, the relationship dies.
So to write this sex scene with as much sensitivity and weight as it needs, I wrote a scene that sets it up—my heroine tells the hero about her mother, and in so doing, reveals her feelings about family, home, and security. I wrote this scene from the hero’s POV, because I wanted readers to see his reactions to her story, and I wanted him to ask the questions I thought readers would be likely to ask if they’d been in the room with her. I spent some serious time on the scene, and it’s not bad. I’d give it maybe a B-.