Jen’s Editing Tips – Slow…Down

Most of us have big dreams of walking into a bookstore and seeing our beautiful, gorgeous, wonderful novel on a shelf. Or, better yet, seeing a complete stranger reading it in public…But, there’s something about this big dream we all need to understand.

Jen's Editing TipsIt.

Takes.

Forrrrrrever.

To.

Achieve.

Yes, I know most of you understand this. In fact, I’m sure many of you have experienced it. Writing a novel takes months, if not years. And getting it published can take even longer.

However, with the rise of self-publishing, as well as society’s increasing need for instant gratification, I fear some writers are losing patience with the process. Or, perhaps, some writers simply don’t understand it. That’s why today I’d like to share a simple, yet vital tip with you:

Slow.

Down!

I know that hurts to hear, but if you want to produce a strong, entertaining, and thoroughly developed story, then you need to stop rushing to the finish line. You need to sloooow down and remind yourself quality isn’t free. It costs time.

A.

Lot.

Of.

Time.

The more you rush through the process, the more issues you’ll face: Shallow plots. Flat characters. Contradictions. Cliches. Stiff dialogue. Redundancies…The list goes on and on. I’ve seen these issues in projects I’ve edited, and I’ve seen them in published books I’ve read. When a writer sprints through the process, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

So, to help you from making this major faux pas, I’d like to offer a general approach to writing a novel. Is this the only approach out there? No, of course not. But it’s definitely a tried and true method that ensures a story receives the proper amount of attention it deserves before it gets sent out into the world.

Step 1: Write First Draft 

This is my personal take on first drafts: They are 100% private and nobody should read them except you. Think of it like this: You’re the lone survivor of the apocalypse and you’re really bored, so you decide to strip down to your birthday suit and go dancing in the streets. Hey, why not? Nobody’s around to see or judge you.

If you approach your first draft with this mentality, I promise you won’t feel like there’s an invisible audience watching and judging you. You can charge into the unknown and write fearlessly.

Step 2: Take a Break…Or Not

Some writers will say you have to take a break after you finish your first draft. I say it’s up to you. If you’re burned out and exhausted, then yes, give yourself a much deserved hiatus from your story. A week, two weeks, a month…Then get back to work.

However, if you’re in a groove and can’t fathom stopping, then don’t. Take advantage of your creative high and leap into your second draft.

Step 3: The Real Work Begins

Draft one can be tough, but it’s nothing compared to what happens next:

Draft two.

I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s time to stop dancing and put your clothes back on. An unexpected group of survivors have arrived at the end of the street and they’re glancing your way. No, they’re not ready to walk over and introduce themselves yet, but they’re thinking about it.

So, you better boogie on home, roll up your sleeves, and start shaping your first draft into something presentable for other people’s eyes.

Step 4: Take a Break!

Perhaps you didn’t feel the need to take a break after you finished your first draft, but now you need to. You can’t  approach your third draft until you’ve put some distance between yourself and your beloved story.

If you’re really wild and crazy, you might consider sending your second draft to your first reader(s). I like to send mine to my mom. She’s trustworthy, honest, and objective. She’s also aware this is an early draft and I’m only looking for big picture-type feedback.

Or, if you’re doubting your story at this stage, you might consider sending the first chapter to an editor to critique. They can give you a knee-jerk reaction to your plot and characters, and help you decide if it’s worth pursuing. Many editors, including myself, offer such a service for a very affordable price (usually in the $25 range).

Of course, if you’re not ready for anyone to read your manuscript yet, that’s totally fine. Tuck it away and ignore it for a couple of weeks.

Step 5: Question Time

As you begin working on your third draft, ask yourself tough questions like:

“Has this story been told before?”

“Am I starting the story too early? Too late?”

“Are my characters interesting and likable? Or are they yawn-worthy, annoying caricatures audiences will reject after a couple of chapters?”

“Do I have too much backstory, especially in the early chapters? Am I prone to info dumps?”

By this stage, you better be showered and dressed, and your house better be clean, because the other survivors of the apocalypse have arrived at your front door. And they’re prepared to bombard you with questions. So, be as objective as possible. Hunt for all the flaws, loopholes, and cliches in your manuscript. Show no mercy!

Step 6: Beta Readers

By now, you’ve worked through at least three drafts and you’ve hunted down the majority of your story’s problems. Now it’s time to hand it over to your beta readers.

Yes, you need beta readers. Sure, you may include friends and family members (I always send mine to at least a few), but you must include other writers, book nerds, or, if need be, editors. Send it to people who have the ability to be objective, honest, and helpful.

While your betas are reading your manuscript, take another break. Do not keep writing. Clear your head so when feedback starts rolling in, you’re able to absorb it without getting defensive or upset. Because, yes, your betas will find problems. And, yes, it will hurt. And, yes, you’ll survive (you made it through the apocalypse, remember?).

Step 7: Critique the Critiques

Once all of your betas have returned their feedback, it’s time to evaluate it and find out what the general consensus is.

If it’s positive, great! Do a happy dance (ahem, fully clothed), and then sit down and critique your betas’ notes. Take the time to absorb each one and determine which are useful and which are dismissive…Yes, you heard me. You don’t need to use all of the feedback you receive. Please, don’t use all of it. If you do, you’ll have an odd smorgasbord of opinions that’ll hinder your story, rather than help it.

If the overall feedback from your betas is on the negative side, then it’s time to make some tough decisions. I’ve been here, so trust me when I say, you’ll be okay. It’s better to find out now if your story isn’t working than hear it six months down the road from agents or others in the business. If you find yourself in this position, you need to consider:

  1. Doing a complete overhaul of the manuscript. This basically means ripping it up and going back to step one…I’ve personally done this more times than I can count.
  2. Shelving it and working on a new project. As unthinkable as this might seem, it can be the best decision to make. Setting aside a story gives you the space, time, and clarity you need to re-approach it in the future.
  3. Hiring an editor. If you’re not ready to start over or shelve your manuscript, then you might want to hire an editor…But, fair warning, development/content editors are a hefty investment.

Step 8: Revise and Refine

Now that your betas have given you the thumbs up, it’s time to sit down and revise–again. Take all the feedback you’ve received to seal your plot holes, adjust your sentence structures, deepen your characters, etc. Fix any and all problems and strive to make your manuscript the best it can be.

Once you’ve finished, you might want to send it back to your beta readers (either the same group as before or new ones). Find out if your updated version fixed things. If it didn’t, revise–again.

Step 9: Time to be Ruthless

This is when you look out your front window and see hundreds of survivors lining up and down the same road you once danced naked in. They’ve come to meet you…and judge you.

So, guess what? You better take the time to judge every sentence, every paragraph, and every aspect of your book before they do. Stop thinking of it as your precious baby and start thinking of it as a polished product. Be brutal. Be unapologetic. Cut what needs to be cut. Tighten what needs to be tightened. Analyze every character, every piece of dialogue, every chapter break, every twist and turn…EVERYTHING!

If you feel like you need to, hire a copy editor to help you polish things up (ex: sentence structures, grammar, word usage, pacing, etc.).

Once you’ve finished this draft, you should feel confident enough to open your front door and launch copies at those judgmental survivors intruding upon your turf.

Step 10: Release It 

Yep, you’ve made it! You’ve done everything you can to prepare your manuscript for the world. Whether that’s sending it to agents or getting it self-published, you should feel proud of yourself and proud of the story you’ve worked so hard on!

Now, I’m sure some of you went through those steps and thought, “No way. I’m not doing all of that.” That’s fine. Perhaps you have a different tried and true method? Like I said, mine isn’t the only one out there.

But, I know–I know–there are writers who are simply impatient and don’t want to bother with these time-consuming, yet vital steps. They want to jump from step one, to step four, to step ten in the blink of an eye.

You can’t expect to produce a quality story if you’re not taking the time to write it. It’s as simple as that.

At the very least, before you deem your manuscript worthy of being read by the entire world, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. “How many drafts have I written?”…If it’s less than three, STOP! You’re not ready.
  2. “Have my beta readers given their stamp of approval?”…If you don’t know what a beta reader is, STOP! You’re not ready. Or, if you replied, “My best friend read it and he/she loved it!”, STOP! You’re not ready.
  3. “Have I been as ruthless and objective with my final draft as possible?” If you shied away from that statement, STOP! You’re not ready.

Bottom line:

Slow.

Down!

Don’t forget, my editing website is up and running. If you’re looking for someone to help with your story, check out Jen’s Edits and Critiques.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 454 other followers

Photo credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

Jen’s Top 10 NaNoWriMo Tips

Up until a few days ago, I hadn’t planned on participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I had planned on spending the month revising the latest draft of my current WIP. Unfortunately, my current WIP came to a grinding halt last week when I realized I’d made a fatal error:

I’d chosen the wrong narrator.

So, guess what? I have to rip up the majority of my first draft and start over.

*cue tears*

Okay, okay. Things aren’t that bad. Thanks to my methods of madness, I’ve already written a significant chunk of my new narrator’s backstory. Still, it’s going to be a lot of work. I need something–anything–to motivate me and push me to finish this new draft as quickly as possible.

After some hemming and hawing, I realized there’s no better motivator than NaNo. So, I’m signing up!

To prepare myself, and to help the rest of you who’ve accepted the daunting task of writing 50K words in one month, I’d like to share my top ten tips for surviving (er, “winning?”) NaNoWriMo.

Jen’s Top 10 NaNoWriMo Tips

1. Decide Why You’re Participating

“I dunno, I signed up just because.”

No, no, no! Don’t say this when people ask you why you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Give a valid, reliable, motivating reason to participate:

“I’ve been slacking lately and need a kick in the butt.”

“I have a great idea for a novel.”

“People say NaNo’s impossible. I’m gonna prove them wrong!”

Whatever your personal motive, make sure you have one. Don’t sign up for NaNoWriMo “just because.” If you do, you’ll likely fail. You’ll inevitably hit a rough patch and think, “Ugh, why am I even doing this? Forget it. I’m done.”

2. Just Write! 

NaNoWriMo is a great way to start or finish the first draft of a novel, or to completely rewrite an old one. It’s not a great way to revise or edit a novel. And it’s definitely not a great way to write a masterpiece that’s ready to be published on December 1st. Nope, sorry!

So, stop stressing about making things perfect, resist the temptation to edit or revise along the way, and don’t get upset about a watered down plot or 2D characters.

Just write.

Close your eyes, open your mind, and tap, tap, tap your fingers against your keyboard. And, remember, this is a rough draft. You won’t be showing it off to many (if any) people. So, let the words flow and don’t stop to question them. If you do, you’ll never make it to 50K by November 30th.

3. Don’t Skip Days

The first time I participated in NaNo, I missed the first three days because I was in a writing contest. And after that, I missed a few more days because, well, I missed them. Life happened. I didn’t feel like writing. I was tired. I had better things to do. Etc., etc.

Bad idea.

Missing one day is okay. Not good, but not horrible. But after one day, the word count deficit starts to pile up–fast! Within one week of my first NaNo, I was behind schedule by 10,000 words, and the only way I was going to catch back up was to increase my daily word count–ack!

Do yourself a favor and spit out those words every day, even if you don’t feel like it.

4. Be Proactive

Don’t live on the edge if you don’t have to. Give yourself a word count cushion.

After I climbed out of the deep, dark word count hole I’d fallen into, I decided to take the bull by the horns and get ahead of schedule. On days I had extra time, energy, and motivation, I blasted past my daily goal and kept writing. Why not? Who knew how I’d feel the next day, or if my life would blow up and I wouldn’t be able to sit down and write?

Because of this “get ahead” strategy, I was able to finish almost a week early.

5. Find an Idea You Love

When you hit those “ugh” moments, or you’re just flat out tired, it’ll be your passion and excitement for a story that gets you through. So, make sure choose one you love. Find a plot you want to explore and a cast of characters you want to know better. They should have the power to enthrall and entice you, and keep you motivated on a daily basis.

I promise, if you feel “meh” about your story before you start it, you’ll feel “meh” about it the whole time. And, sooner or later, you’ll throw in the towel.

6. Evolve With Your Idea

There is a very good chance the story you set out to write won’t be the story you end up writing. This is especially true for those of us who are “pantsters” rather than “plotters.” We assume we’re going to take a left at the fork, but end up taking a right instead. That’s okay.

Remember: Just write!

Don’t add constraints or limit yourself because the story “was supposed to go this way.” Go with the flow and see where things take you. After all, this isn’t a final draft. It’s an exploration of the story you will–hopefully–continue pursuing long after the November 30th deadline.

7. Embrace a Love-Hate Relationship

Even if you’re infatuated with your story, you’ll probably become infuriated with it at some point. You’ll have moments when you question your concept, or realize you despise a certain character, or fear you chose the wrong path back in chapter five.

It’s okay! First drafts aren’t meant to be perfect or 100% lovable. They’re ugly, troublesome, and, more often than not, a total nightmare.

So, accept the inevitable love-hate relationship you’ll have with your story, remind yourself you’ll be able to revise those despicable spots in the future, and keep chugging along.

8. Lean On Other Writers for Support

I often tell people, “Writers have their own language.” And, it’s true. We do. We naturally understand each other and are able to relate to each other’s woes. So, why not befriend a few? Trust me, you’ll need their cheers, pep talks, and internet hugs to survive the NaNoWriMo roller coaster.

If you aren’t sure where to find potential writing pals, here are a few suggestions:

  1. NaNoWriMo’s website. It allows you to network and make solid connections. If you’d like to add me as a buddy, my username is jenspenden.
  2. Twitter. I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve met there and have created genuine, supportive friendships with. Be sure to check out hashtags like #NaNoWriMo, #NaNoWriMo2015, #NaNoPrep. And, of course, feel free to follow me (@jenspenden). I’ll happily follow you in return!
  3. Writing Blogs. Follow them, read them, and leave genuine comments on posts. If you do, you’ll naturally connect with other writers.
  4. Writing Contests. This one might sound strange, but some of my best writing friends have come from participating in writing contests, especially those that allow you to interact with other competitors (namely, NYC Midnight).

Whatever your method, I highly recommend you befriend other writers. Life becomes so much better once you do.

9. Have Fun! 

I mean it. Enjoy the experience. Yes, NaNo is stressful, insane, and a lot–a lot–of work. But nobody is forcing you to do it (well, I hope not). So, why not have fun with it?

Whenever I hit a low point during NaNo, I like to sit back in my chair and laugh at the absurdity of writing 50K words in one month. Who does that? Seriously? Or, I like to take a deep breath and embrace my accomplishments. I figure every word I write deserves a round of applause, even if it wasn’t the best word in the world.

10. Worst Case Scenario

The worst thing that can happen? You don’t reach the 50K goal by November 30th.

Big deal.

Okay, maybe it is a big deal and you want to focus on that goal to keep you motivated. Great! However, in my opinion, the point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to barf out 50,000 words for the sake of barfing out 50,000 words. It’s to help writers focus and kick start a steady writing routine that carries them past the November 30th deadline.

So, if you’re approaching the deadline, and you’re nowhere near the 50K word finish line, who cares? Keep going. Keep writing! The only true failure in NaNoWriMo is giving up completely.

Well, there you go! I hope you found at least one of my tips for NaNoWriMo useful. I’ll definitely be repeating them to myself when November 1st hits.

Good luck, everyone!

And remember: Just write!

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 454 other followers

Photo Credits: giphy

25 Steps To Being A Traditionally Published Author

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! Although I’m still months away from sending out query letters for my YA manuscript, I like to read and learn all I can about the publishing industry. I want to be as prepared as possible for when the next step in this arduous journey begins.

Today’s gem, courtesy of literary agent, Sara Megibow, is a goldmine of advice about the publishing process: 25 Steps To Being A Traditionally Published Author. In this article, author, Delilah S. Dawson, shares her experiences in a funny, honest, and inspiring way. I strongly urge all writers to check it out. Even if you’re contemplating self-publishing, you’re sure to take something away from this awesome article.

writers-clock

6. OH MY GOD YOU FINISHED A BOOK! FIRE THE CUPCAKE CANNONS!

Congratulations!!! And BOOMCAKE!!! And you should definitely go out to celebrate with shrimp tacos and margaritas. Hell, I used to go celebrate every time I passed the 100 page mark. Finishing your first book is a major victory, and you shouldn’t let the fact that there are 19 more steps terrify you. Even if you put your book baby in a drawer and throw the dresser into the Grand Canyon, you will still spend the rest of your life knowing that you are capable of writing a book, and that is A Big Deal.

So celebrate. Look at your book. Stroke the screen. Tell Twitter. And then, like a hot steak in a cast iron skillet, let your book rest for a while by itself, preferably with a slab of butter melting on top. Because getting some distance from your work is an important part of this process.

To read the entire article, click here!

And for more useful advice, follow Sarah Megibow and Delilah S. Dawson on Twitter!

Photo credit: http://bakermarketingservices.com/2012/04/can-i-reuse-other-peoples-blogs-on-my-own/

My First Draft of My First Story Ever

So, I have a friend right now who’s working on her first manuscript ever. It’s a story she’s been wanting to write for a long time, but just hasn’t. After some gentle–or not so gentle–encouragement on my part, she finally decided to bite the bullet and participate in Camp NaNoWriMo this month.

As my friend has been working her little booty off, I’ve been reliving the early days of my own writing career; back when I too was a closeted writer. Back when I worked in secret because I was too scared, too embarrassed, too overwhelmed to admit to anyone I wanted to be a published author someday. Back when I had no idea what I was getting myself into, or how tough my road ahead was going to be.

Or so I thought.

Last week, while talking to my friend about her first draft of her first story ever, I decided to run upstairs and dig out mine. Purely out of curiosity. Just to see how far I’ve come in the 6-ish years since I wrote it. Just to laugh at how oblivious I used to be to the grim realities of becoming a published author.

This was what I found:

10442564_253303068195582_1205584036698614734_nI almost cried when I saw what I’d taped to the cover.

10484484_253302801528942_4987265418950671251_nAn empty Dove’s chocolate wrapper with the quote: “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently”.

It appears I wasn’t so naive or oblivious as I thought. Even back then, I knew the road to getting published was going to be a bumpy one, filled with pothole after pothole of failure. And, geeze, I’m glad I prepared myself. Because, yes, my journey HAS been bumpy, and it HAS been filled with failures. But, it’s also been building towards success. With each failure, I’ve begun anew, more determined than ever. With each “no” and rejection letter and harsh criticism, I’ve picked myself back up, brushed off the sting, and started over.

So, to all you newer, closeted writers out there, remember this: “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently”.

AKA, Never give up!

Be ready to pick yourself back up, brush off the sting, and start over. If this is your passion, your dream, then be prepared to fight for it.

The First 250 Words of Your Manuscript

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! As many of you know, I’ve been in serious revision mode the past few weeks with the second draft of my YA manuscript. And as many of you know, those revisions have been on the slower side because I’ve been so focused on the first chapters of my story. They are so vital for so many reasons: capturing a reader’s attention, building a solid foundation, introducing characters, etc.

stock-footage-typing-chapter-to-writing-of-the-book-on-typewriter-video-clip-with-audio-a-sequence-ofTo help me along, I’ve been reading a wide assortment of articles from agents, publishers, and other industry professionals. I want to know what’s expected, what’s cliche, what’s annoying, what’s exciting, and so on. Today’s gem, courtesy of @KathyLLogan, is a perfect example of advice we should all read and learn from.

The First 250 Words of Your Manuscript

Openings are vital to getting someone to read your book, especially agents. A reader might give you some time since they paid for the book (I usually read three chapters to hook me if it starts slow, but if you haven’t grabbed me by then, it goes back on the shelf no matter how much I may love that author’s past works), but an agent has hundreds of other books on their desk that might grab from page one. Their job is to find books they can sell. Your job is to give them a book they can sell, and that means a great opening that hooks readers right away.

To read the entire article, click here!

And for more useful advice, follow Katherine L. Logan on Twitter!

Friday Funny with Revisions and a Side of Snail

Hey, guess what everyone? It’s finally Friday. Hit it, George!

Sorry, I couldn’t resist myself. I used to hear this song on the radio every Friday morning while getting ready for school. Years and years later, I still sing it to myself on Fridays 😛

Well, overall, it’s been a calm and productive week. I even managed to squeeze in a little fun. Yesterday I played hooky from work to spend the day at the Denver Zoo with my family and a couple of friends visiting from out of town. It was such a nice break from the daily grind.

IMG_2146On the manuscript front, things have been both frustrating hopeful. Last Saturday, I began revising my first draft. Almost a week later, I’ve only edited two chapters. Two! Yeah, talk about sloooow going.

No, my snail-like pace isn’t because I’m being lazy or unmotivated or distracted. It’s because I’m no longer writing a story. I’m building one. As I revise, I’m constantly asking myself, “Why is this happening?” and “Who are these characters?” and “How can I make this more interesting–more relevant?” It’s no longer about pouring ingredients into a bowl. It’s about baking a cake. That means this draft is going to take time. And these first chapters will take a lot of time. They’re the ones that will set the tone and lay the foundation for the rest of the story.

So, with that in mind, I decided mid-week to send the first two revised chapters to my harshest and best critic: my mom. More than anything, I wanted to know what she thought about my two main characters. Are they likable? Are they worth developing? Or are they annoying, cliche, and/or blahhh? I figured, why dive headfirst into the story if the characters carrying the weight of it aren’t engaging? They need to be yum!, not ho-hum.

 Thankfully, after chewing my nails all day, my mom called and told me she genuinely enjoyed my MCs and would like to know more about them. Woo-hoo! Unfortunately, she had issues with a couple of other things, and she asked me some questions about the plot I had a hard time answering. But, it’s okay. That’s what second drafts are all about–finding the problems and fixing them. And, hey, better to fix them earlier than later, right?

So, in honor of my up and down week with my revisions, and my many “yippee!” and “icky” moments, here is today’s Friday Funny. Enjoy!

BpNbgubCYAEKIfY

How about you? How was your week?

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

In case you missed my posts from earlier this week, here you go: 

Music Monday – Downtown – Petula Clark

Book of the Month: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

How to Write the Perfect First Page

Friday Funny with an Honorable Mention and a First Draft

Happy Friday, everyone! I’m feeling rather wonderful today. It’s been a great week, especially on the writing front.

friday-checklistFirst off, I received the final results for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Okay, so I didn’t win, but I did receive an Honorable Mention for “Into Paradise.” That means I placed in the top 15 of the 1,000 writers who originally entered! Which boils down to placing in the top 1.5%. Wooot!

More than achieving this seemingly impossible feat, I’m proud of the three stories I wrote for this competition (“Chasing Monsters,” “Over the Edge,” “Into Paradise”). Not only did I work extra hard to make each one entertaining, unique, and meaningful, but I forced myself to step outside my comfort zone and take on topics that were scary, disturbing, and/or heartbreaking. I truly learned so much about myself as a writer. More importantly, I learned that if a story demands to be told, then I need to check my insecurities and fears at the door and tell them. I shouldn’t hold back. I need to take the plunge and just go for it!

Yeeee-ha!

Another great piece of news this week: I finished the first draft of my YA manuscript!

KIDDING!!!

Okay, let me clarify: I basically finished my first draft. I didn’t fully write out the last five-ish chapters. It just didn’t make sense. You see, I took a path in earlier chapters that eventually backed me into a corner, and the only way to fix it would be to start over and find where things went wrong. So, that’s what I decided to do. I jotted down some in-depth notes about how I saw the book ending, saved my document, and closed it. Then I opened a new one for draft two.

6a00d83451607369e2017d42f8b7f5970cI began working on draft 2 yesterday and…ugh. Guys, there’s A LOT of things to fix. A lot, a lot. But, it’s okay. I’m eager to roll up my sleeves and get to work. And now that life has finally calmed down, and the NYC Midnight Challenge hoopla is over, I can dedicate all of my energy to my revisions.

So, in honor of my honed focus, as well as the many, many, many writing days I have in front of me, here is today’s Friday Funny:

10374510_850320518311743_1136249276918190834_nHow was your week? I’d love to hear!

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

Music Monday – Know Your Enemy – American Idiot

On Writing Secondary Characters