Oct 28, 2014

My revision questionnaire

I'm neck-deep in revisions right now and thought I'd share a strategy that's been really helpful over the years. It's a chapter-by-chapter questionnaire to help make sure I've gotten the big-picture stuff in addition to the line edits that are so much easier to spot. This can be tailored depending on how you write and the things you tend to miss/overdo, but here are the questions I ask myself (and actually write out the answers to) after I finish editing each chapter:
  1. What is the main character's goal for this particular scene? 
  2. What is the conflict (i.e., what stands in his/her way, and where is the tension/suspense, even if it's minor/internal)?
  3. What does the reader learn from this scene? Not what sort of moral lesson, just what new, useful information does this scene impart?
  4. Does this scene really need to be here? Could I take it out without having much impact on the overall book? This is a tough one because sometimes the answer is yes and then I have to decide whether to add to the scene or just cut it.
  5. What emotion/mood am I trying to evoke with this scene? How do I want readers to feel (with the understanding that I can't control their actual reaction)?
  6. Why will readers care about this scene and the characters in it?
  7. Where is the theme? 
Number 7 involves extra prep work because you need to know your book's theme ahead of time. I never know what my theme is until I finish the first draft, but a lot of people start with a theme first. It's also a very subjective thing -- that is, other people might get a totally different theme when they read your work. Basically, try to write out a one-sentence theme for your book and make sure it's present throughout, that you're deepening it as much as possible, or at least building up pieces of it that will create a whole. Here are a couple of links about finding your theme:

Finding Theme in Your Book: An Exercise in Searching for Repeating Patterns
25 Things Writers Should Know About Theme

Once I finish answering all these questions I usually have several more (really good) ideas for improving the chapter. It forces me to think about the chapter as a cohesive whole, rather than nitpicking the words to death (which is also important, but less so in second-draft stage).

So there's my process. Hope it's somewhat helpful. It's also an evolving list, so any suggestions for things to add are welcome!

Aug 20, 2014

The Mommy Police

I don't know if this Dear Mom on the iPhone blog caught me at the wrong time or what, but I'm really frustrated after reading it. If you don't feel like clicking, here's the opening:

I see you over there on the bench, messing on your iPhone.  It feels good to relax a little while your kids have fun in the sunshine, doesn’t it?  You are doing a great job with your kids, you work hard, you teach them manners, have them do their chores. 
But Momma, let me tell you what you don’t see right now….. 
Your little girl is spinning round and round, making her dress twirl.  She is such a little beauty queen already, the sun shining behind her hair.  She keeps glancing your way to see if you are watching her.
You aren’t.

I get it. We all need to spend less time on our phones and more time experiencing life. But ugh, can we all please just stop criticizing moms for five minutes? Having small children is an incredible, poignant, dazzling experience. It is also sometimes exhausting, frustrating, and grueling. Yes, there are beautiful moments of sun shining behind hair, but there are also tantrums, constant negotiations, endless dish washing and laundry folding and other general drudgery. Taking your kids to the playground is a great way for them to blow off steam and -- I think equally importantly -- give everybody some time on their own.

When I read articles like this, I feel like I'm being criticized for not giving my kids my undivided attention for every second of every day. Maybe this makes me a terrible mother, but I'd lose my mind if I tried to do that. I don't actually spend playground time on my phone, but I resent the fact that I'm not "allowed" to by the Mommy Police (notice how there's no Daddy Police, by the way?). And I'm counting the days until my kids are old enough for me to bring a book and read while they play.

So here I am justifying my choices and sort of stressing out that maybe I'm doing it wrong, that maybe this lady is right and I'm not trying hard enough. Every day I read a new parenting article (usually on Facebook) about something I'm probably doing wrong, and it makes me tired. I have two kids under five -- I'm already tired. I know I should stop reading these articles and trust my own instincts, but it's almost impossible to escape them.

But then I find articles like Dear Mom on the iPhone: You’re Doing Fine and I feel better.

I'd love to hear how others cope with the constant barrage of online parenting advice/criticism.

Aug 18, 2014

WriteOnCon is coming!

Did you know WriteOnCon is happening next week? I blogged about it last year and can't wait to dive in again this year.

I can't say enough good things about the online kidlit community. Between Absolute Write and Twitter, I've made so many friends and have been able to share work with amazingly talented people from all over the world. Writing often feels like a lonely pursuit, but knowing you can hop online at any time and find people working through the same exact challenges is immensely helpful. And for two days a year, WriteOnCon feels like the culmination of all of this. The energy, the kindness, the sense of camaraderie are just so inspiring.

Conference starts next week, but the forums are already live. Go check it out!

Feb 24, 2014

Shiny and new

This is basically how I feel every time I start a new writing project.

Jan 19, 2014

Some thoughts on editing services

Lately it seems like a lot of people are hanging out a shingle on their writing websites, advertising editorial services and manuscript critiques for a fee. As somebody who's worked professionally as an editor for 13 years (ugh, I'm getting old), this makes me a little nervous. I'm not saying that many of these people aren't qualified to provide this type of service, but I do think writers should tread carefully.

Some questions to consider:

1. In terms of big-picture critiques, is this something you couldn't get from a beta reader? There are a ton of writing sites out there (like Absolute Write, Book Country, etc.) where you can post work for critique, meet other writers, and interact. If you meet somebody whose work you admire, you can try striking up a friendship with them, offering to critique their work, and asking them to look at yours. If you get a couple of solid beta readers, you'll get good feedback from talented writers for free. Plus, swapping manuscripts is super beneficial, in that you'll learn a ton from reading and critiquing someone else's work.

2. In terms of line edits, what is the advantage of hiring a non-professional over a professional? Other than price, I guess, and I'm not even sure there's a huge difference there. You can post an ad for a proofreader/copyeditor on Writer.ly or Craigslist, compare candidates' pricing offers, and most importantly, select the person with the best credentials. There are a ton of freelance copyeditors and proofreaders out there who make their living doing this, who have years of experience and solid credentials.

Which brings me to the next point: Make sure you check somebody's credentials before forking over money to edit your precious manuscript. Check what kinds of work they've done in the past. Maybe they used to work in the editing field -- if so, awesome!

I can't stress this enough: writing a book and editing a book are two completely different skills. If you're going to pay somebody to edit your book, make sure they know how to edit. Ask for references, and if possible, get a trial or sample of their editing before you commit to a full manuscript review, to make sure you're comfortable with their style and level of feedback.

This is the part in the publishing process where you hold all the control. If you sell your book, it's out of your hands, but for now, make sure you do your homework and choose the right people to work with. Pick smart people with experience and enthusiasm and professionalism. Take your time. Don't sell yourself or your book short. You owe it to that manuscript you spent so much time writing!