AutoCrit, C.S. Lakin, Critique groups, finding professional editor, Grammarly, Holly Lisle, One Pass Manuscript, Revision, self editing, Writing

Five Tools to Use After Writing "The End"


After 12 drafts of my first manuscript I believe I now have a few ideas on what to do after writing “The End,” on a first draft. No matter how capable you are as a writer and proofreader, your first draft is just that-a draft

Writers use several different ways to revise their writing: critique groups, beta readers, or scrutinizing each chapter with a lice comb. You can do that, ad nauseum, but I found that delving into your manuscript using a method such as Holly Lisle’s One Pass Manuscript revision process was the most helpful. 

Yes it can be a difficult task, but isn’t what you want to say worth it? If it’s not, then perhaps you should rethink why you’re writing the novel, short story or memoir that you initially thought was a good idea. 

Unfortunately, I did not realize the wisdom of using a revision process until after several months of long and laborious critique group sessions. Don’t get me wrong, the right critique group can be invaluable and I belong to an awesome group, but why waste their time, and yours, ‘critiquing’ a piece that isn’t ready. 

Now that your first revision is done, it’s time to make like a gold miner and  sift through the muck, dark water, and rocks. Run your sediment and dirt clods through the sluice by using these (or similar) writing tools:

1. Spell check- I use Grammarly to make any grammar corrections and list the use of passive phrases. This tool goes beyond the MS word auto check function. And it’s free.

2. Editing– How many times did you use words that weaken your writing by using “and,” “that,” adverbs “-ly‘s” or repeated a word six times on one page? (five too many). 

AutoCrit identifies these types of problems and can identify sentence variations, cliches and readability. Copy and paste 1,000 words of your revised draft through this software tool and you’ll be amazed at what comes up. 
Now that you’ve rinsed your nugget of gold through the water it’s time to fix your revision. Do this before you meet with your critique or writing group.
3. Critique Group-Take your first 5 pages or whatever is the limit for your group and ask your fellow writers for some specific information about your writing:
  • Have I introduced the main character in the first few lines?
  • Did I introduce some sort of a conflict, either internal or external? 
  • Have I begun the story in the middle of something that’s happened or about to happen? 
  • Have I given the reader a sense of the setting? year, locale
  • Is there a hint at the character’s need, desire, goal, fear, dream?
  • Is the dialogue (if any) concise, at cross purposes, and give a sense of the characters personality? 
  • Do you consider my first line a “hook?” Does it give an image that grabs the reader, makes them go to the next line, the next paragraph, the next page? 
4. Self-critique: That rock is beginning to look more recognizable. Yes, it may be gold. Use this checklist I found at C.S. Lakin’s “Critique My Manuscript. Read it, use it, revise your manuscript. You’re shining up your nugget.

5. Professional Editing: Your piece of gold may be at a dull shine, but you want to polish up this baby, fashion it into best it can be, see the true luster of your work, then hire an expert.
Yes, this tool is the most expensive in your toolbox. The decision to find and pay for a professional editor to review your work is highly personal. It can be scary. You have to decide if you will pay for another set of eyes to constructively criticize your manuscript. But wouldn’t you take your gold nugget to a reputable jeweler, have it appraised, help make it into something beautiful? 
If you answered “yes” to the question above, come back next week when I’ll take you through my experience in looking for a professional editor. 

Until then, put your butt in the chair and keep writing.

Books, France,, Renni Brown, self editing, Shelly Lowenkopf, Toni Lopopolo, writer routines, Writing, Writing Resources, writing tips

Tips for an Incredible Writing Weekend

It is the evening of my departure for my month long adventure to France. Some anticipatory butterflies are fluttering through my stomach. 

My bags and travel apps are packed. (And yes, I do need to recharge the battery). 

The kids have heard the Riot Act in a couple of different versions. Everything seems like a go, but I’m sure once I’m on the airplane I’ll remember one or two things that are sitting on my dresser at home and not in my suitcase. 

I know I’ll miss my family, my boyfriend, my dog Chip, (but not KiKi the cat- the feeling is mutual). What I didn’t expect was something that crossed my mind a few minutes ago. 

I’m really going to miss my writing ritual. 

The one where I roll out of bed, stretch, push the power button on my laptop,before I go into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee and return to my swivel chair with a big mug of steaming coffee, a dash of half and half, and my peanut butter toast. For two hours, sometimes more, I type, refill the coffee cup, and blow crumbs off my desk.

When my friend Amada and I arrive in Upper Normandy on the 1st of September we will have to  establish new writing routines. Luckily both of us are early morning writers and both of us like quiet. 

During this Labor Day weekend, I’m sure you will want to squeeze in some time to put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. With that thought I’d like to share some tips for your writing weekend. 

1-These 10 gems for first time novelists to think about are from former St. Martin’s Press editor Toni Lopopolo, Agent in her “Bare Knuckle Writing Workshops.” One of the most important tip is: 

Mistake # 9: Poor Self Editing Skills: FTNs haven’t learned to self edit by editing other writers’ fiction, or by reading the recommended books

Sure, you can pay for a professional edit (anywhere from $4 a page to a flat rate of $ 2000) or you can learn how to self edit, make your story stronger, and save the $$$ for a trip abroad or a new roof.

2-A terrific book, Self Editing for Fiction Writers (How to Edit Yourself into Print) by Renni Browne and Dave King (Editors at William Morrow and Writer’s Digest) is a must for a writer. I belong to a writing group, a writing club, and recently the Goodreads pick for our online writer’s group, Wordsmith Studio. This book has been a must read for all three groups. 

The topics which first time novelists find hard to grasp and usually lack in their stories are:

  •  three dimensional characters, 
  • maintaining point of view, 
  • interior monologue, and 
  • voice

This handy reference book delves into subjects such as showing and telling in a way as to engage the readers’ emotionsEach of the 12 Chapters has a checklist so that you can apply the concepts to your work. 

If you’re not at the self editing stage yet, here are some amazing questions and tips about story, from an instructor I’ve had the privilege to meet. 

3-Shelley Lowenkopf is an editor, writer, and Professor Emeritus at USC. In his Seven Things You Write A Story to Discover you are asked to consider the who, what, where, why and more of story. The question, “Why should we care?” is most important.

We tend to care about stories dramatizing experiences that squeeze characters in ways similar to the squeezes and pressures we have experienced.  We care if someone we identify with is vulnerable.” 

 If the reader doesn’t care, they will stop reading. End of story. 

4-For those of you who are in the throes of revision here’s a handy guide that explains editing marks-you know those scribbles all over your work in progress or manuscript.  

Author’s Success Platform

I’m going to skip tip # 5 for another day, another post, because this one is longer than I anticipated. IF you have a 5th tip let us know in the comment section. We really want to know.

Now, I must get back to the suitcase on the floor and cast out some unlucky clothes. 

And remember, before you start your Writer’s Weekend please:

 Au Revoir Mon Ami’s.

fiction, Renni Brown, self editing, Writing

Why Novels Go into the Dog Pile

In the past two months I’ve read seven books. Okay, read is not the correct word. “Attempted to read,” is more accurate. I tossed four books into the ‘no read’ zone after the third chapter. This was two chapters too late. 

Four of the seven books are self-published and on Amazon. Of these three are first time authors. Three are ‘traditional print’ books with one first time author. 

photo by N. Rigg

Three of the books no longer occupy virtual shelves on my Kindle Fire. Two of the printed ones has a home on the bottom shelf of the bookcase–for now. They are all in the dog pile. At least on the Kindle the virtual poop doesn’t smell or take up space. 

I hated to do it but I couldn’t read the novels anymore. It’s unfortunate that two of them are ARC’s* for book reviews. I pushed myself through two (one an ARC) because the stories had me fascinated. Only one book out of seven, Catherine Ryan Hyde’s When I Found You, made the list of well written reads and retains a place on the physical book shelf.  

The proliferation of useless words and overuse of adverbs (the -ly’s) slung four books into the dog pile. I felt bad dropping those books. I’d feel worse slugging through the novel until the end. What did these less than desirable novels have in common? 

by MAlvaradoFrazier-Click to enlarge

The novels came peppered and over salted with useless words. The ‘-ing’s’ at the beginning of sentences drove me crazy. The ‘As’s’ all over the place made me cross-eyed. One writer used “Suddenly” in every chapter. Several writers had passive sentences on every page. After a dose of these needless words my interest waned. They took me out of the story. I spent more time rewriting the sentences in my head. 

I’m guilty of every one of those words on the graphic. My first manuscript came back drenched in a red sea of edits, you’d thought I typed in red. It wasn’t about using correct grammar, it was about passive sentences, the overuse of adverbs, and the ‘as’ construction. 

It took one book (recommended by the person who did the edit) to set me straight on this subject: Self Editing for the Fiction Writer: How to Edit Yourself into Print. Renni Brown and Dave King’s book Self-Editing devotes a chapter titled Sophistication to illustrate: 

     One easy way to make your writing seem more sophisticated is to avoid two stylistic constructions that are common to hack writers, namely:
Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him
As she pulled off her gloves, she turned to face him.

     Both the “as” construction and the “-ing” construction as used above are grammatically correct  and express the action clearly and unambiguously.  But notice that both of these constructions take a bit of action (“She pulled off her gloves…”)  and tuck it away into a dependent clause (“Pulling off her gloves…”). 

This tends to place some of your actions at one remove from your reader, to make the actions seem incidental, unimportant.  And so if you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.  (stronger writing?  She pulled on her gloves and turned to face him.)

Another reason to avoid the “as” and “-ing” constructions is that they sometimes give rise to physical impossibilities.  

“Disappearing into my tent, I changed into fresh jeans.”  The -ing construction forces simultaneity on two actions that can’t be simultaneous. The doctor didn’t duck into the tent and pull on pants at the same time. Better, stronger is:

I disappeared into my tent, found my jeans, and pulled them on. (Stronger writing and possible).

Do avoid the hack’s favorite constructions unless you have a good reason for using them.  And do catch all these things when you edit, not when you are writing.
And remember: The participle construction (Walking, Pulling, disappearing,  ing, ing ing) to begin a sentence) has a particularly AMATEURISH flavor when placed at the beginning of a sentence.

Writing, like a beautiful looking meal, is inedible when over salted. Do you have any ‘reading’ pet peeves you’d like to share? I’d like to hear them because anything that helps us become better writers is a good thing.

*ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) 
Editors, First Twenty Pages, revisions, self editing

Freelance Editor Comments-Part II

I hope no one got the idea that I didn’t appreciate Freelance Editor’s comments on my first manuscript (see post below). They were right on. After I digested the information, I made like Edward Scissorhands and did a number on the first MS, working title “A Butterfly Heart.”

Then I took off for a fantastic three day weekend in blazing Palm Springs where I danced my butt off and have the sore feet and cramped calves to prove it. A couple of days ago I came back to reality and my dusty laptop.

There was a second e-mail from FE. Did I give him the first 20 pages to my second MS, “Strong Women Grow Here” ? My memory fails sometimes so I didn’t doubt it. I read the email closer and then I did this:

Hallelujah, he was supremely kind enough to read the first 20 pages of the second MS I submitted. I got it righto this time.

He was “…really quite impressed…the setting/situation–a women’s prison–is breathtakingly strong…You set up the characters quickly and forcefully. You stick to a very cinematic style-the camera is close to Juana, we see and feel and hear what she sees and feels…

The story really sets up and sustains a subtle but powerful ‘what’s going to happen?’ tension. We learn that Juana has been convicted of killing her husband, but it’s way too soon(the story seems to be saying) for us to see exactly what happened…

She’s a deep mystery and the facts are coming out at such a deliberate pace…I’m totally enthralled with this story…”

This is wonderful music to my ears, of course, and I’d like to say more, but can’t sound egotistical. It’s just that writers, especially non-published new ones, rarely hear more than one positive comment from a professional in the business.

FE did mention that I need to watch my run-on sentences and think more carefully about selecting the exact word that nails what I’m trying to describe. But I’m stoked, I’m going to keep revising the first MS until I get it right and then continue on with Juana’s story.

Until then I must return to revising, after I get an ice bag out of the freezer for my wrists.