by Francine Puckly
As much has been said and written about revision as developing a first draft. Most manuscripts go through several major transformations before reaching an acceptable format to be shared with external readers such as agents and editors. The second draft especially receives, or should receive, a complete and major overhaul, whether you’re writing a 500-word picture book or 100,000-word fantasy novel. And it is this drastic reconstruction process that I’d like to discuss.
If you have completed the first draft of your manuscript, congratulations! It takes a tremendous amount of dedication and conviction to climb over the numerous hills and descend into the subsequent valleys of story creation. It’s the mark of true accomplishment when you deliver an entire story from one single thought or tiny seed of an idea.
So you’ve finished. Now put the manuscript away. Let the words and phrases simmer in a desk drawer or in the recesses of your computer storage for two to six weeks without looking at it. Not even one little peek. Instead, celebrate! Go get that “carrot” you promised yourself when you were writing the first draft. Refill your creative well—go to the movies, see a musical, plunk out a tune on the piano. Work on a different project or play with new ideas. Clean the house. Do anything but read your manuscript.
Once you’ve allowed the manuscript to rest for the acceptable designated period, pull out your draft when you have a large block (or blocks) of time to devote to a reading session. Use your favorite pen. Take copious notes either on a paper copy of the manuscript itself or on a notepad next to your computer so that you can refer to these changes and suggestions as you work on the next draft. Read your manuscript with fresh eyes. Study it. What works? What moves, what slows, what questions have been left unanswered? Which characters are critical to the story, which characters add color, and which characters can be removed or combined? Comb over your words. Mull over the draft. Once you’ve gotten through the manuscript and have taken all the necessary notes, delete it.
Delete the whole draft?!
Making such a suggestion, especially as NaNoWriMo comes to a close and thousands of writers are chugging caffeine and working late hours in order to hit word count goals, is downright blasphemy. Yet drastic measures must be taken with the second draft in order provide the writer freedom on a blank page. This purging of the first draft prevents “tinkering”, a type of revision best saved for later drafts when the story has matured. Tinkering is not the revision method of choice when major parts of the story are still being honed, crafted, and invented. If we don’t separate ourselves from the first draft, we get locked into what is instead of what can be. The process I suggest takes the very best of what you, the writer, delivered in the first draft and mixes it with a new vision. Re-vision.
If you’re too nervous to completely release that first draft, print a paper copy before deleting. Or at the very minimum promise yourself you won’t open the electronic document unless absolutely necessary. Trust that your story is imprinted in your mind and on your heart. Releasing that first draft will blow open your writing, because the path has already been laid out in front of you. Now you have the opportunity to enrich the setting, hone in on which elements of the plot march your story forward, and develop depth of character that will make even the most reluctant reader keep turning the page.
So are you ready? Take heart and take a deep breath. Trust your story. But more importantly, trust yourself. And go after that second draft with the same gusto you did the first time around. You and the reader won’t be disappointed.
By Annie Cronin Romano
Some days are not writing days. Some days my “butt” is not “in chair” clicking away at my next masterpiece. This is a fact of life for me. As determined as I want to be, as focused as my writing goal may be, there are some days that the actual act of writing simply doesn’t happen. Why? Because life keeps coming at me. Sometimes it comes faster than I’d like. Kids get sick. Work gets busier. Appointments take longer than planned. Holidays approach and guests come to visit. And that writing time I promised myself can become tough to come by. But it does not have to be time lost.
Often, as I’m sitting in traffic, I’ll wonder about a plot point in my novel. Does it make sense? Should I cut that scene? What if I did X instead of Y? I’m plotting!
When I’m sitting in the waiting room at my son’s orthodontist appointment, I look around the room and try to imagine how the children are feeling. Nervous about getting braces? Excited because their braces are coming off? What if they weren’t kids at an orthodontist’s office? What if they were __________ at the _________ trying to do ___________? I fill in the blanks and write it down on the ever present notepad in my bag. I’m brainstorming!
These are examples of being productive even when I’m not actually writing. Although I may not get to sit and write every day, I strive to contribute something to my craft on a daily basis. Mentally working on my story’s plot, brainstorming an idea for a possible picture book, reading books in my writing genre, researching an agent on my phone while the soup warms on the stove for a sick kiddo. These are all ways to keep the creative juices flowing!
Do not get down on yourself if you aren’t able to write every day. Instead, if you can’t physically write, mentally write. Answer the “what ifs” in your storyline. Grab ideas from the hustle and bustle around you. Try to visualize stories from the everyday routine, then twist them inside out and upside down. And jot them down. Do this and you won’t lose the muse!
by Kelly Carey
If I could combine unlimited funds with my overactive imagination, I would build a Beauty & the Beast inspired library and twirl through the stacks in a yellow ball gown. While this fantasy will remain a dream, there is a website that has helped me capture a slice of my perfect library.
I have built my virtual dream library on Goodreads and you should too. Goodreads is a free website for book lovers and a wonderful tool for writers. Don’t be scared by Goodreads. Sign up is easy and free and you can explore as much or as little as you like. You don’t need to ring every bell and sound every whistle on the site. Why not just start by dreaming up your ultimate library?
Karen Price has a fantastic YouTube tutorial about Goodreads that will get you started: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZ5-DSEjryw . You’ll need to provide your email address, invent a password and then the site will prompt you to rate twenty books in a genre or genres of your choosing. That’s it.
Once you’re on Goodreads, use it to achieve your writing goals.
A universal nugget of advice on how to improve as a writer is read. Read everything in your genre and maybe even things near your genre. Goodreads is a fantastic place to track all the books you have read. Once you read a book, pop it on a shelf in your virtual Goodreads library. You can catalog the books to your own specifications. You don’t need to worry about Dewey and his decimal system. I’m a picture book writer, so my shelves include character driven picture books, rhyming picture books, issue based picture books and a shelf for my favorite picture books.
Need to keep track of comparable titles for your query letters? Searching for comp titles? Goodreads helps you do this as well. I use my shelves to track comparable titles. I can build a shelf with books similar to my newest manuscript. And I can scroll through my virtual library to find those titles.
When I’m chatting with writing friends, at a writing conference or reading writing blogs or newsletters and someone mentions a book I should read, I can put the book on my Want-to-Read shelf. This virtual shelf is much neater than random scraps of notes or scribbles on the side of a dry cleaning tag.
Even better, once I have rated or reviewed a book on Goodreads, I will get updates when that author has a new book coming out. Goodreads helps me stay in touch with my industry. Don’t feel you have to rate every book you read. You can place a book on a shelf without rating it. Your thoughts on that book can remain your little secret. But really, if you loved the book, rate it. Help out your fellow authors with a great rating and a good review. That’s bankable good karma!
Goodreads is a free website for book lovers. If you are an author, you are by definition a book lover. This site is for you and while it does have a spectacular feature to help published authors market their books, don’t wait until you have a book to market to get involved with Goodreads. This site is the place where you can build your virtual children’s literature library.
Set a goal this month to sign up for Goodreads. Then set goals to add books to your library every month. Before you know it, you will be a virtual Belle!
by Amanda Smith
Let’s face it: Sometimes it is hard to actually sit down and write. Even if it is what you really want to do. Even if you have blocked off time just for your writing. Even if writing is the thing that fills your cup.
Sitting down and actually WRITING can be pretty darn hard. There are just too many distractions. That is why giving an account is essential to my writing process. And progress. Here are a few practical suggestions for finding accountability partners:
A Writer’s Group:
Recently Annie wrote about the importance of integrating in the writers’ community (http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/the-importance-of-a-writing-community-conferencestwittercritique-groupsoh-my). More than support, our writers’ group offers me accountability. Here is how it works. Every month we say, “Last month I did _____” and then we offer praise and support (and always some awesome jokes) and then we say, “This coming month I plan to do _______.”
The sheer thought of having to look these three women in the eye and say, “This month I wrote nothing. Nada. Zilch. I was out chasing squirrels.” makes me quiver in my boots. Of course, if that were the case, they would be completely understanding and supportive, but I would feel like I didn't keep my end of the deal.
Your accountability partner does not have to be a fellow writer, though. On a particularly unproductive morning, a dear friend sent me a quick message. As I lamented my lack of productivity to her, she challenged me by saying: “I’m setting my timer for 20 minutes. You do the same and see how much you can get done and then we’ll check in with each other.”
I got to work like a squirrel in fall. Because I did not want to tell her in 20 minutes’ time that I am still browsing the internet. And then I got so involved in what I was doing, I didn't check in until an hour and a half later. Now, she wasn't writing. She spent her 20 minutes cleaning her kitchen counter and her dining room table. But knowing I had to check in with her got me writing. And it felt wonderfully productive.
Yip, the old timer can also be your accountability partner. You can do 20 minute miracles like Francine (http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/20-minute-miracles). I like the hour bucket principle. You write for 45 minutes and take a 15 minute break. Honestly, though, sometimes I ignore that timer after 45 minutes and work until I get to a natural break in my work. But the timer certainly helps me to START.
Writing challenges can also be wonderful accountability partners. And November most definitely is writing challenge month!
For the novel writers out there, the challenge is writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Even though I have not participated in this challenge, setting a word goal and tracking your words are great ways to provide motivation and accountability.
The premise is simple. You write down at least one picture book idea for each day of November. This is about as low key a writing challenge as you can get. You don’t have to develop those ideas, they don’t even have to be complete ideas. They just have to be. But this is one of my favorite challenges, because I find myself LOOKING for stories in everything. This challenge has taught me to think creatively, to always look and listen for stories (and to write those ideas DOWN before they disappear into the land of lost stories). It keeps me in “writing mode” every day. Few things feel better than having those 30+ ideas at the end of November! Hurry, you can still register for PiBoIdMo 2014!
12x12 flowed out of PiBoIdMo for those who wanted to develop their ideas. The concept is to write one picture book draft a month. The end of each month brings a check in and one can earn cute little badges on one’s profile for each draft. I covet those badges. I work for those badges. Those badges keep me accountable. I have 10 colorful draft badges under my name. That is 10 picture book drafts that I did not have in January!!! Because 12x12 kept me accountable. Sign up for 12x12 is in January.
Our critique group submits picture book manuscripts to one another once a month. We have a week to critique and return the stories. Knowing I have to submit something “share-able” to my critique partners each month keeps me writing and revising.
A rose by any other name…
Not so much, Shakespeare. I am a writer. That, right there. That is my biggest accountability partner. Because when I say those words, the inevitable follow up question is, “So, what do you write?” I want to have a timely answer to that question. Not what I wrote last month, or even last week, but what I am working on right now. Because I don’t say those words lightly.
Who keeps you accountable as you pursue writing? Tell us in the comments section if you have found some particularly motivating accountability partners.
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