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Old work

I'm at least better than this guy.

I’ve been working on Scrivener For Dummies nearly non-stop since the end of February, but I finished edits last week, which means I can finally focus my efforts on my fiction again.

I have four completed manuscripts under my belt, but I have at least as many that I’ve started and not finished for one reason or another. My plan is to go back and look at those unfinished works with a fresh eye and figure out how to get the story moving again.

Last night I stayed up too late reading a manuscript I started almost two years ago. It was fun to read words that I didn’t even remember writing. Like doing a critique for a friend.

Best of all, I could see how much progress I’ve made since then. While my writing now isn’t perfect—whatever that means—my development is clear. I used to write super-short scenes of 300-400 words, which makes for a very choppy book. Now my scenes are usually at least 1000 words, and sometimes up to 3000.

The change is in the details of setting, internal dialog, and providing adequate page space for character actions and reactions.

I used to be horrible at grounding the reader at the beginning of a scene, so things like POV, location, and time were unclear. I’m now much more aware of the importance of the opening lines, especially when starting a new chapter.

(If you struggle with setting—or pacing, or body language—I highly recommend Mary Buckham’s classes. Any class you can take by Mary is well worth the money. She’s an amazing teacher of craft and I gladly open my wallet for her.)

The manuscript I went over last night also had a lot of procedural detail—my hero is a DEA agent—without anything to break it up. You could tell I’d done my research for this one. I’d like to think I’ve learned to be more subtle about that kind of thing, while still being accurate so the story rings true.

I learned one more thing from reading my old work. I’m not bad at this writing thing. Despite the technical problems, I got into the story, was pleasantly surprised by how I’d set up certain plot elements, and enjoyed the characters.

I needed the reminder that I’m a storyteller.

How about you? Read any of your old work lately? What did you think?

Image: By KaterBegemot (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Putting it all on the line

I've been stuck in revision mode for the past week or so, kind of stymied by how to go at my plot changes. I was brainstorming–my husband was nice enough to point out a gaping plot hole on the way back from the boys' swim meet at Auburn on Sunday–and trying to talk to my characters, but mostly feeling overwhelmed.

The main reason was that I needed a big picture view of the scenes so that I could decide which ones needed cut or modified, and where new scenes would fill in the holes.

Scrivener has a nice outliner, but I can't print it out in a format that I wanted, so today I sat down with 11×17 paper and colored markers and went to work on a timeline-style outline. It was amazing. Just the act of writing down each scene with a bullet list of key events sparked ideas for changes and plot issues that I hadn't yet resolved.

And sometimes, I just need to work on paper, especially when brainstorming or trying to see the whole picture.

The strong marker scent may have had something to do with it too. I asked my tweeps if “nontoxic” only applies to eating, but no one wanted to go there. 😉

I got through 12 of 16 chapters, and came up with several pages of notes too. The best part is that I'm excited about rewriting the story that only this morning had me dreading the keyboard.

Here's a small portion of the color-coded timeline I created. Blue for the hero's POV and pink for the heroine's. (The same colors I use in Scrivener.) Green and orange for a couple other characters who get a scene or two of their own. The ball-point pen is for my notes on changes.

Now that I look back at it, I wonder why I didn't do this sooner. I think each book is a learning experience because we don't just learn how to write better. We learn how to be better writers, more effective writers, and writers who understand the methods that work for us.

In the end, that may be even more important than mastering the craft of writing.
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Nashville or combust

I worked at a semiconductor manufacturing plant for about two years as a manufacturing engineer. For the first 18 months or so, we were in the process of installing new tools and bringing them online while simultaneously ramping up production. The executives liked to compare what we were doing to building an airplane while in flight (per this EDS ad below).

I'm not sure that's the most confidence-inspiring way to describe your process as a company, but I see parallels to it in my revision process. Plus, the video's just funny.

I've been working almost exclusively on Diego's story for the last few weeks, and ignoring Slow Burn altogether. My thought was that giving the book a rest before looking at it again would give me a fresh perspective and renewed energy. It did, but I was in danger of never getting into the global revisions.

More than the line edit stuff–which would be a waste of time for scenes I may change/delete anyway–I need to focus on the plot changes that I came up with after a helpful critique and a brainstorming session with my CP. I believe the book will be better off with my altered story line, but coming up with the energy to tackle it is sometimes difficult.

The task can seem daunting. Yes, I've rewritten the first five scenes of my current MS three times, but that was starting almost from scratch each time. With the old MS, I'm cutting, splicing, and patching all over the place. I think I may copy the Scrivener file and start in a new version so I don't have to worry about taking snapshots or making duplicates of every scene that might change.

I'm a bit overwhelmed, but excited to get the book into shape in time to pitch it at the RWA National conference in Nashville in July. My goal is to finish the revisions and another pass at basic edits before I move in June. Revising is cutting into my word count goals, but if I can be organized enough to divide my time between both stories, maybe it'll keep me from burning out.

Either that or I'll spontaneously combust.

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Size matters

I'm struggling with my storyline, thinking that it's not “big” enough. Are my villains' (yes, there are two) motivations and goals big and interesting enough? Do I have enough layers? Do I need to flesh out my secondary characters more?


In a lot of the romantic suspense books I read, the villain has a reason to go after the hero or heroine, but their larger purpose is something big like human trafficking, or stealing women's eggs to sell to infertile couples, or…okay, well one of my villains is a drug lord. Is that high concept enough?

I keep thinking that I'm struggling to reach 80K because the premise is not quite large enough. Or maybe I just need to do a full-pass edit from page one before I get frustrated. The thing is, I want to get my plot hammered down before I waste time on the full edit.

I have some ideas for changing things up without completely changing the story structure. I'm pondering them now, and trying to decide if I should give it a rest for a week or so.

I probably won't.

I'm also pondering dropping my first four scenes. A depressing loss of 2400 words, some of which would have to be added back in to fill in the backstory the reader will have missed.

Why cut them? Well, I was thinking about entering a contest that is only for the first 1000 words of the MS, and I realized that I don't like them that much. The prologue maybe (I know, big no-no), but not the rest. They seem necessary, but I still don't love them.

I'm hoping for some guidance in the form of my beloved CP who is very busy right now. She's also in the throes of revision, and her poor husband has a busted wheel.

No matter how many words the MS ends up with, it's the size of the story that matters. I only hope that, by the end, mine's big enough.

Almost the end

Yesterday, I wrote the last sentence of my current MS. Well, kind of. I finished the first draft (very rough). Yay!!

Okay, but now I have to add the scenes that I know are missing, fill in plot holes, plant seeds of emotion and conflict back in earlier chapters, and begin The Big Revision.

My plan is to work through Donald Maass' popular Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook in an effort to flesh out the story, the characters, the emotion, the conflict…well, you get the idea.

My biggest personal conflict is that I've decided which story I'm going to start next (not Diego's story after all, for those who've been following along), and my brain won't stop thinking of scenes and names, and dialogue.

I understand why some writers never finish a book. It's so much more fun to start them. In the beginning there are no constraints on the story, the characters aren't hampered by their past actions and backgrounds yet.

It's a wonderful feeling, but frustrating at a time when I have much more work to do on my current MS. So, I keep plugging away, with my notebook at my side to capture ideas for the next book, and hope my brain's still feeling creative when I'm finally ready to move on.

How do you handle it when your brain wants to jump ahead?

The End is just the beginning

Most non-writers believe that once you type “The End”, you're done. Hah! Far from it. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've revised Counting on You (a.k.a. COY) since I “finished” it.

The first couple of revisions were based on things I'd learned (through workshops, books on writing, and experience) since starting the book. When I let a few trusted people read it, I got feedback about plot issues and unanswered questions. Back to the keyboard.

Later, I found a critique partner, entered a couple of contests…more (very helpful) feedback. Back to the…well you get the idea.

As much as I love my story, and mostly agree with the feedback I've received, the writer in me has moved on. I'm about halfway through Floater. That's where my brain is focused, and where I want to spend my time.

On the other hand, I'm hoping to get a request for the complete manuscript of COY from an agent or editor one of these days. If I do, I won't have time to go back and fix it then.

Should I be lucky enough to get a publication contract for COY (hey, one can dream), the editor will surely require more revisions. Truly, to be a writer, is to be a re-writer.

If I want to be a published author, I have to figure out how to deal with this now. The more experience and feedback I get, the better I am at avoiding the amateur mistakes from the beginning, but even the best writers–yes, even Nora Roberts and Ken Follett–have to revise their work before it's ready for publication.

I guess it's just a fact of writing life.

The End…for now.

The Daily Squirrel: composure

Standing behind the curtain, she cursed her shaky hands, the adrenaline flooding her veins, and the sweat trickling down her back. She should be used to this by now, but it never changed. Once on stage, she'd be fine, but the minutes leading up to her speech were pure torture. Finally, the emcee called her name. She took a deep breath, stood up straight, and smiled. Cool composure settled over her like a veil, and she walked onto the stage with her head held high. If only her parents could see her now.