The Page a Day Writers Group

Posts Tagged ‘revisions

I’m fortunate to have two critique partners who pour over my work with a commitment to make me a better–and published–novelist. The three of us have been on this journey for a couple of years now and I know how valuable it is to have writers I trust comment on my work.

I often think of Randy Pausch’s words in “The Last Lecture” when he refers to a football coach who cared enough to keep on him to make him better. After a particularly tough practice an assistant coach told Pausch why criticism is a good thing. “When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.” My read-and-critique partners never give up on me. And I’ll never give up on them.

 “When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.”

When I spend time reading their pages, I want it to be of value to both of us. I’ve learned the more I critique, the better I get at it and the more my own writing improves. (Funny how practice always makes perfect, just like Mom said.)

There is a big difference between critiquing and providing a line-by-line edit. If I see glaring grammar, spelling or punctuation issues, I’ll comment, but GSP is not the focus of my critique.

I’m spending my energies determining if the story world works.

Is the tension in each scene enough to make me want to turn the page?

Does the pacing of the book feel right? Not too fast, not too slow?

Am I asking myself, what will happen next or are things dragging along?

Do I care about what’s happening to the characters? Am I invested in the outcome?

Are there enough visual images? Are there too many? (As far as I’m concerned that’s just as bad.) Do I want to skip sentences, paragraphs, entire pages?

What information you look for when you receive critiques from your critique partners? What information to you supply?

–Claire Yezbak Fadden

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There are lots of reasons to be part of a writers group. In addition to having colleagues who understand the joys and frustrations of a writer’s life, critique partners generously share valuable feedback.  No doubt, having professional writers willingly offer their expertise and seasoned guidance about any of my writing endeavors definitely improves my work.

One of the challenges with having multiple critique partners, though, is keeping track of the various versions of the chapters I’ve sent out and streamlining everyone’s comments during the editing process.

I stumbled upon Google docs. A free online program that stores a master copy of any document and allows you send a link to those you’d like to access it, keeping all the editing, comments and feedback on one document.

I’m wondering how other writers keep track of their work while it’s being critiqued. Have you tried Google docs or a similar program? Was it helpful? What didn’t work for you?

–Claire Yezbak Fadden

Last night I finished my first pass through the galleys (copy edited hard copy) of Tattoo. I hope to make 2-3 passes through the book before I return it to my publishers, and I’m very happy to be on track with my schedule. I have about 3 weeks left to do a deep read and make final changes.

I tried a new routine this go-round. A quick read, looking only at the editor’s and copy editor’s comments (typos, commas, grammar errors etc.) and okaying them. I approved nearly every change, except the ones that sounded foreign to my ears, where my distinctively wacky wording was normalized. I kept just two or three of those, and let the rest slide. It’s a test of my detachment to allow someone else to rearrange my words but I understand that continuity, standard English and clarity are required to push the dream from my head into the world and have it make sense.

A clean page without any marks on it feels like getting a gold star, and when I found an error that the copy editor missed (hard to do, because s/he is incredibly thorough), it was better than finding a baby in a king cake.

Changes which require research, more thought, or rewriting have tabbed pages. You can see I’ve got my work cut out for me!

Sadly, I have to replace a song with my own text, which means accessing my poetic brain and writing something to replace the lyrics to Severance, by Dead Can Dance. Apparently, it costs £200 to secure the rights from the record company, and I can’t justify the expense. Sorry my darlings, no new school clothes or filled cavities for you, I must have my song! I realized that when I watch that scene unfold, I’m hearing the music, getting this full-on surround sound 3-D experience that 99.9% of readers probably won’t have unless they know & love that song, too. So, that wish gets shelved for the day they make the movie…

The coming months are crammed with conventions/appearances and writing like a fiend to try to meet all the deadlines I’ve set myself. Better to be busy than idle, chewing off my nails pacing the floors as I wait for Things to Happen.

I came back from San Francisco with a head full of ideas, contacts, knowledge and a cold. Writers with Drinks was lots of fun, a full house and an attentive audience. What more could one want?

Kirsten at Writers with Drinks in SF

Now, off to attempt to resuscitate the pathetic plants in the yard, edit and edit some more, eat melty, slurpy NY Super Fudge Chunk and try not to indulge in to many episodes of Hotel Babylon on Netflix.

Happy weekend to you! KIK

WWD hostess Charlie Jane Anders

At long last! I received word last week that my novel Tattoo, the sequel to Ice Song, is going into production. What exactly does that mean? For those of you who aren’t familiar with the process, I’ll outline it here.

Once a manuscript has completed initial editorial processes (revisions made in response to the editorial letter and subsequent discussions/changes), and the editor has a book that you’re are both fairly satisfied with, the book moves into production.

A release date is set. Tattoo is slotted for release May 24, 2011. To give you an idea of my time frame, I began writing Tattoo in 2009, while subsequently promoting Ice Song and juggling home, family and a day job. I received my editorial letter in November 2009 and the revised final manuscript was turned in May 2010.

Delivery & Acceptance. This is a lump sum payment, one of two or three that you may receive as part of your earnings in addition to payments after the contract is signed and/or when the book is released and hits the shelves.

Line edits commence. My editor/s (I’ve actually had the good fortune to have two editors working with me on Tattoo) reread the manuscript (MS) and add their changes, suggestions and comments to the document (electronic or hard copy). Electronic versions use the Track Changes feature in Word. A Production Editor steps in to help shepherd the MS along from sheaf of papers, to ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy), to the final hardcover or paperback.

Copy editing begins. The copy editor goes over the revised version of the MS after you’ve incorporated your editor’s changes and submitted a new version. Here’s where you really have to be careful. The novel is moving along a sort of conveyor belt heading toward its final manifestation as a printed novel. The time for major revisions/rewrites is over. This is just housecleaning. Do you mean cast iron or cast-iron? Do you want a semicolon there or would you prefer to start a new sentence? The copy editor corrects your spelling and grammar according to the dictionary that the publishing house uses (maybe this varies, you can ask them what dict. they source from when you are looking up words yourself, to avoid later changes/questions). For example, one of the things that was changed in Ice Song, was my use of  ‘towards’ and ‘forwards’ which, I learned, is British English, not American. To standardize with Random House’s style guidelines, these were amended to ‘toward’ and ‘forward.’  The copy editor clarifies your meaning and fixes all the invisible little writing habits we have (for me, it’s excess commas. I usually stick one in there while I’m thinking about what comes next). The writer must be very clear here in approving the copy editor’s changes (“stet” which means “ok as is”), or crossing them out and writing in your preference. This step is a great help in uncovering stylistic and technical weaknesses. The MS with your changes goes back to the publisher by email or snail mail.

Cover Art. Somewhere in here, the editor, art director and marketing team will converge for a cover meeting. They’ll work from their own experience and ideas, along with yours, to create a compelling cover and back cover copy. (Click here to see a gallery of some of the artists, styles and images I like for the Tattoo cover).

Galleys arrive. This is a printed MS incorporating your last round of changes. It’s also the last chance you’ll have to make corrections. The publishers have drawn a line in the sand: “No more changes!” They know that we writers will twiddle our manuscripts into oblivion if they don’t tie our hands, confiscate our pens and march us away from our computers.

ARCs. Next to arrive is an Advanced Reader’s Copy. This is a bound book showcasing the book design (interior pages, fonts etc.) and possibly cover art and marketing plans. It is sent to reviewers several weeks/months before release so that reviewers can publish their ( hopefully) glowing reviews to coincide with your book’s sale date.

The Stork Arrives. The Fed Ex man makes his final delivery–the one you’ve been waiting for since you first committed your story to form and began writing your book. Oh glorious day! You’ll receive a copy of the finished book and it’s on to the next leg of your authorial journey.

I’m awaiting my D&A check (which has already been spent 100 times over, whee!) and will be talking about the cover soon. I’m also working on back cover copy and gearing up for final changes. I’ll keep you posted as we move along.

Onwards and ever upwards (or Onward and ever upward, as the copy editor would prefer),

Kirsten Imani Kasai

Last night I confessed my fear of the sophomore curse to my very lovely and wonderfully encouraging friend, Gayle. It’s a nagging little anxiety, about the size of dust bunny, that’s been blowing around in my brain for a while now.

OK, I get that that the sophomore curse/slump hinges on the precedent that your freshman effort was wildly successful. Still, the fear haunts nearly every artist. Can I do it again? Am I a one-hit wonder?

It typically applies to bands, sports rookies and sometimes movie sequels, but the follow up effort can carry with it potent ju-ju. Sure, we read “Cold Mountain” or “A Million Little Pieces” but can you name the books the authors wrote in the wake of their big, splashy debuts? Here’s Bee Season author Myla Goldberg talking about the sophomore slump.

Ice Song received some really wonderful praise, and some rather not-nice critiques, all par for the course, of course. But overall, I feel fairly happy with the outcome. I can only imagine that the next book, Tattoo, will do even better because it will incorporate all the lessons learned from my virgin foray into publishing.

Instead of riding the downward slope from a glorious pinnacle of success, I’m still making the trek upwards to the top, so the pressure is much less than it would be had my first book been a bestseller. Mostly I’m just trying not to think about it. All those outside voices simply obscure the ones that really matter, the voices of my characters, and the gentle guidance of my muse.

Kirsten Imani Kasai

“The cat sat on the mat is not a story.  The cat sat on the other cat’s mat is a story.”  It’s funny how adding or subtracting a few words can totally change a sentence as seen here in a quote by John Le Carré.  Just think what the same concept could do for a story.  A fellow writer friend introduced me to a concept developed to “add psychological power to your writing.”  Deep Editing, a new technique created by Margie Lawson, is designed to help writers produce their best work possible.   

Deep editing takes you deeper into determining what you need to do to strengthen a sentence, a scene, and even a chapter.  As we all know it takes not only a good story to produce an outstanding book, but also excellent writing.  Have you ever read a scene that was so gripping you couldn’t wait to see what happened next?  It’s two o’clock in the morning and you know you have to get up in a few hours, but you keep saying, “One more chapter.  Just one more chapter.”  Has this ever happened to you?  I go through this every time with my favorite author, Brenda Jackson.  Whenever I read one of her books, there’s no skimming through her stories.  Her descriptive writing and engaging dialog pulls me in with every word and keeps me turning the pages to the very end!  I remember studying the writing of one of her books and couldn’t help but wonder if she uses the deep editing technique with her stories.

I know for a fact deep editing can be very involved, but worth the effort.  I’ve tried one aspect of the technique with a few scenes from my first manuscript, and was amazed at how well the process worked.  Lawson suggests you pick a scene from your work in progress (WIP), then go through the whole scene and highlight the story elements in different colors.  For example:

  • Back story, narrative, and internalization  – Highlight in yellow
  • Emotions (Character’s feelings) – Highlight in pink
  • Setting / Description –Highlight in green
  • Senses (Sight, taste, smell, touch and intuition) –Highlight in red
  • Body language / Facial expressions – Highlight in orange
  • Action/ Character movements/ Gestures – Highlight in purple
  • Dialogue – Highlight in blue

If your scenes are rich and fulfilling, you should notice an array of colors on the page.  If you see one color is dominating the scene, you might want to go back and tweak it some, with the goal of making it more colorful.  If you notice you only have one or two lines of “green,” go back and pump up the setting or description in the scene.  The purpose is to pull your readers into the story, allowing them to not only visualize the scene, but to also feel it. 

Give it a try and let me know your thoughts.

Please note:  This is only a very small example of what’s involved in deep editing.  To learn more about Margie Lawson’s techniques visit her at http://www.margielawson.com

Sharon C. Cooper

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At my editor’s suggestion, I’ve bumped a scene from way back around chapter 20 to the very front of the book. She’s right, it is a stellar opening line and much more effectively sets the scope for the entire adventure in Tattoo. But that leaves me with scads of cutting, pasting, rewriting and reimagining to do. I’ve so far managed to condense about 5 chapters into two, heeding my keywords “short, sharp and brutal.”  I want to incite to leave readers feel strung out and remembering their own very awkward and heartwrenching breakups but plunging immediately into an emotional maelstrom doesn’t work in the opening position. More shuffling and sorting required.

On top of it all, I’m juggling two main storylines for one character. Because Soryk/ah is a Trader and spends time as both a woman and a man (neither of whom has much awareness of the other), each has her/his own life with its own complications and confusions. Getting confused? So am I.

I’ve gone round and round, looking at it from all angles to pinpoint the inciting incident for each of Soryk/ah’s genders. What specific event sets the story in motion? Do they have the same motivations, the same goals and desires? Do those feelings and ambitions counter or support the other gender? All of which leaves me feeling like I’m juggling a big ball of snakes.

Years of writing has taught me one vital lesson, and that’s the importance of brooding. Stewing, fermenting, bubbling, gestating. You get the idea. I see my creative mind as a deluxe stovetop with six flaring gas burners. Some of the pots and pans are filled with rich, creamy succulence, boiling and steaming, carmelizing and crackling away. Those are the stories I’m most excited about. There’s always a giant soup pot or two on the back burner, simmering over a low flame, it’s flavors and elements breaking down, interacting, creating new flavors and textures. When I feel stuck, I turn down the flame, pop a lid over the whole kit and caboodle and let it work itself out. This means working on other, less troublesome parts of the story, all the while, the soup pot bubbles.

Ultimately, I trust that my brain’s conduits to these characters’ lives will untangle themselves and by some mysterious alchemy, the mishmash of ingredients I’ve thrown together will be transformed into something so ultimately delicious, it leaves us all begging for another helping.

I think you may have to let this entry simmer in your own pot until my ramblings begin to make sense. I’ve been writing in between bubble-blowing breaks for the boy in the bath, who has informed me that he’s going to stay in the tub until midnight.

Anyway, here are two extrememly helpful links to discussion about the inciting incident and writing gotcha-grabber opening scenes/chapters.

http://www.floggingthequill.com/flogging_the_quill/2006/02/your_inciting_i.html

http://www.writersdigest.com/article/hooked-excerpt

Kirsten Imani Kasai


Who are we?

The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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