8 common areas to focus on when editing my WIP + a Printable

I’ve just completed the full read-through of my 80,000+ word draft. I decided NOT to edit as I read, but rather took hand written, chapter by chapter notes. A number of themes arose as I read back through each of my chapter notes. I thought it best to summarise these in bullet points so that I could print them out and keep them somewhere prominent when I do my editing.

At the moment, that somewhere prominent is on the ‘stickies’ app on my Mac – this way my notes can always travel with me. But I also like to have a print out to pin to my desk for easy reference.

Instead of focusing on the details unique to my WIP, I thought it would be more useful to others to make these generic, and to put them in a fun printable for anyone else who might struggle with these same areas!

These are the things I most often skim over, or perhaps don’t pay enough attention to when I’m head down and writing fast:

  1. SHOW don’t tell!
  2. Similes need to be appropriate to the text.
  3. Needs more inner monologue / emotions.
  4. Read dialogue aloud – does it sound authentic?
  5. The actions don’t suit the characters. They’re too generic or they all feel like the same person.
  6. The word choices aren’t appropriate to time / genre / character.
  7. Misnomers in the timelines and small details are inaccurate or inconsistent.
  8. Too many repetitive words.

Do any of these sounds familiar to you? If so, feel free to print out this poster and hang it somewhere easily visible (preferably your writing desk and not the back of the toilet door.)

Would it be useful if I showed you an excerpt of my WIP where these problems exist for me? Please let me know in the comments below.

printable tips for reviewing your manuscript

Click here to download the printable.

 

Managing the dreaded inbox

I recently started a newsletter mailing list (if you’d like to be on it – click here). It’s taken me a long time and a lot of toing and froing in my mind to come to this decision, but ultimately, it’s a worthwhile thing to have, especially once my book makes headway. I’ve committed to only creating a quarterly newsletter at this stage, because I don’t have the time for anything more frequent. The exception being if anything juicy or exciting comes up with my writing that I have to share immediately.

The reason I was so reluctant to start a mailing list was because I get So. Many. Emails. Between my day job, my writing and my personal account (which I’ve had since basically gmail was invented), the sheer volume of communication I receive is overwhelming. And I just didn’t want to contribute to someone else’s overwhelming inbox.

Why should you care about how full other people’s inboxes are? I hear you ask… Well, for one thing, my go-to way of dealing with too many emails is simply to delete them. Most of the time I don’t even open them. If the preview lines I can see on my phone don’t grab me, or if it’s from an account I don’t remember signing up to, or if I just don’t have time, I’ll delete it. This system is pretty flawed, because I know I’m actually missing out on a lot of great content. Which had me thinking, there must be a better way!

At my day job, I have a rule for managing my inbox. I call it The Scroll Bar rule. My aim by the end of every day is to ensure that I have only enough emails that there is no need for a scroll bar. If you work with Outlook, you’ll understand what I mean; once you get more than a certain number of emails hit your inbox, a scroll bar will appear so it can just keep adding more emails. On my laptop, the maximum amount of emails is about 10 before it expands to a scroll bar, more if I’m projecting to a bigger monitor. Those emails kept in the inbox are the ones that I still have to deal with or reply to, for some reason or another. Anything and everything else is either deleted, archived or filed into one of my many sub-folders. Now, I work with people who keep ALL of their emails in the central inbox and don’t have any sub-folders, and frankly, I think these people are monsters. Folders are my sanity system.

This system works well for me and I get a bit of satisfaction out of reducing my inbox to just the bare minimum. Even if it means that by tomorrow it will all be undone. At least I’m reading the emails and dealing with them, rather than deleting en-mass like I do with my other accounts.

So, I’ve decided to apply some of these inbox management systems to my other accounts.

Step 1: Clean up what’s already there.

Before I can implement The Scroll Bar rule. I really need to wade through the trash and work out what I actually want to be receiving, and what is pure rubbish that I should just unsubscribe from. This is a mammoth task, and one that I don’t have the time, nor the patience to tackle in one sitting. Instead, I’ve told myself that each time I open my emails I must look at every new email and make a snap decision: in or out?

If you’re in, I read the email and then delete/file it. If you’re out I find the tiny unsubscribe link and follow the bouncing ball. Do the hard yards now so that future you will thank past you for it.

Step 2: Work out where the problem is and fix it.

Before I can progress, I need to know how I have so many damn email subscriptions in the first place? Cutting the thing off at the knees will help ensure I don’t get into this mess again.

I’m sure many of you, like me, have signed up to some mailing list or another because you were going to go in the running to win a washing machine or there would be a free giveaway associated with your loyal following. I’m done with all that. I don’t want promises of stuff I don’t need. If I like your content, I’ll come back to your site. I’ll add you to my blog reading list or I’ll subscribe to an RSS feed (is that still a thing?). Just like my wardrobe doesn’t need any more shoes. My inbox doesn’t need any more eBook guides. Note to self: Don’t sign up to any more mailing lists unless you really REALLY want to.

Of course, this doesn’t account for all those sneaky companies that on-sell your contact details to other companies. But this is an easy one to deal with: If you don’t remember signing up, unsubscribe and delete immediately. Don’t even get caught up in the headlines and empty promises. It’s time to be brutal.

Step 3: Manage what does come in more efficiently.

Finally, I need to organise the stuff I’m keeping so that I can access it again later. Did you know that gmail has a setting that will delete emails in your central inbox after a certain amount of time? I’ve been caught out with this before and lost some important stuff, so if you’re using your inbox as a safety net, best to check if there are any underlying rules.

To get around this, I’ve created sub-folders in my gmail accounts too. If I want to keep anything that lands in one of those accounts, they have to be archived in the right folder. This means not only having no scroll bar, but having no opened and read emails in the inbox at all. If I read it, I must deal with it immediately.

And that’s it. Just rinse and repeat for the rest of your life.

The Writer’s Room: Jodie How

Writing can often be a solo journey. Though family and friends are ‘supportive’ of our desire to write, it’s really only other writers that can truly understand what it means to be a writer. Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to join a physical writer’s group. But I’ve been so fortunate to meet an array of wonderful writers online.

Because I feel so grateful to have had the access and opportunity to engage with such wonderful, like minded people, I thought it would be nice to invite some of them over to the blog to share a bit about themselves. I’m calling this series, ‘The Writer’s Room’.

I hope this virtual Writer’s Room helps other emerging writers like myself find new people to engage with online, (and maybe even in person!), learn some tips and tricks, or just feel more confident about their own approaches when hearing from other people who are also navigating the world of writing.

I’m so very pleased to welcome my first guest and very good friend, Jodie How.

Jodie lives in the South West of Western Australia with her husband, five-year-old son, cat and dog. She is an avid consumer of a large range of stories, from very old classics, biographies and romance through to modern psychological thrillers and horror fiction (including everything in between).

Jodie has been writing part-time for five years and has recently been print published in the anthology, Twisted Tales 2016. She writes both short and long fiction, poetry and online articles. You can find her at Twitter and motionandmusings.com

 

  1. First of all, can you talk us through your writing process a little bit? 

I’m an ‘emotional writer’ so my writing process isn’t especially ‘clean cut’ and my stories are often heavy.

I rarely start with a well-considered structure but I’m not a complete ‘pantser’ either. I always start writing a story with a definite character in mind (including their name), a very general idea of plot and theme and one or two prominent, defined emotions that will underpin the story.

Once I’ve finished the first draft, I edit and rewrite profusely. In between redrafts, I request feedback and gather critiques from various people.

Generally, my work explores one or two central emotions over a big idea or dilemma. My writing is, above all else, character focused.

 

  1. Why do you write and what do you hope to get out of it?

I write for many reasons. One reason is that I just cannot not write. I get very grumpy and hard to live with when I haven’t written. In fact, I don’t function well at all. Writing is a positive creative outlet for me.

I write because creating a truly wonderful story feels almost impossible for me to achieve. The sheer challenge of reaching storytelling excellence through writing excites and motivates me.

And I write because I’m a curious soul, a deep thinker and a deep feeler who must explore both the world and the human psyche – endlessly.

I’m passionate about stories and their important role in our lives. I’m awed by how rich combinations of language can convey such depth of meaning. I’m fascinated by written communication and how it can string human hearts together.

I want my stories to touch the hearts of readers and help provide some level of emotional healing. I long for my work to provoke depth of thought.

It would be a dream come true to be print published more that half a dozen times.

If history is anything to go by, I’m expecting that writing will open all sort of doors for me and I’m so excited about discovering these opportunities.

I hope that writing will take me around the world. I’m itching to immerse myself in other cultures, make far-reaching connections and just be a blessed partaker of this diverse life in all its beauty, both close and far from home.

If my writing ever leads to collaborative projects with other writers or artists from other industries, I will consider myself died and gone to heaven!

 

  1. Who or what are some of your biggest influencers?

As for all writers, favourite authors are a big influence on my desire to write. (I have too many literary idols to list!)

The ambitious part of my personality is a huge influencer on my productivity because I just have to feel like I’m moving forward. Even if the goal is tiny and it takes me a long time to achieve it (which it always does) – I still must achieve. I’m just wired to win, I guess – even though I don’t always win.

I don’t want this to sound overly spiritual and abstract but destiny is huge for me. It’s something I believe in and am very aware of. Knowing that writing is a big part of what I’m meant to do with my life keeps me focused. It makes me get up from falls time and time again. (I’m always falling, getting up, dusting myself off and putting the boxing gloves back on, ready to fight again.)

Past successes and past failures influence me too. I try my best to use them as leverage to push me forward.

 

  1. What sort of training / study have you undertaken as part of your writing journey? And have you found it useful?

I’m a ‘Jill of all trades’ so I don’t have any special writing qualifications, to date. I only committed seriously to writing five years ago, so I did a lot of other things in life before finding my real passion, which is writing.

I’ve done countless workshops, a few short courses and one weekend writers retreat. All of these have given me something new to apply to my writing, which has ultimately propelled me forward. Even listening to author interviews at writers festivals have been hugely educational and encouraging.

 

  1. Do you have any advice for other emerging writers?

Aha! The real question here is, ‘what’s the word count limit’? I’ll try to keep it short.

Recognise and capitalise on every single opportunity that comes your way. Grab each one in a full body hug and see it through.

Keep comparison in your closet. She’s a useless bitch.

Pay attention to, and effectively use, your gut instinct – not only for your writing but also for your writing journey.

Work hard and never, ever give up. Redraft your work until your eyes bleed, and then redraft it again.

Stick with your characters – don’t abandon them just because you can’t nail their story.

Be brave. Put your work out there. Now. Don’t wait until next year. Start submitting your writing today. Professional feedback is invaluable.

 

 

On Being a Masterclasser: Conflict

In Masterclass, Fiona stressed the importance of conflict.

As a consumer, I know how important it is to be immersed in the conflict immediately. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s picked up a book from the shelf of my local book store, opened it to the first page and read the first paragraph or so. I’m also probably not the only person to have placed the book back on the shelf in search for something else more grabbing.

However, it wasn’t until this was pointed out to me that I realised just how important those first lines are. But not just the first line of the book, the first line of each chapter, even the first line of each paragraph.

Going back over my manuscript after Masterclass, it was evident just how boring my writing came across. I was trying to tell the story, rather than show it and it was taking me far too long to get to the conflict. I felt like I was reading a letter to a new pen pal that was trying to fit in all the information of a past, and did nothing to move us into the present.

Looking at my writing with fresh eyes, it has been easy to change tactics. I simply deleted the first paragraph or so and this brought the story straight into the thick of things.

Here’s an example of the same opening paragraphs of chapter two of my current WIP.

Before:

Emily had been working as a cashier at a supermarket in Rundle Mall for a couple of years, and her best friend had secured a retail job nearby. They had decided to head overseas for a gap year between school and university.

Two weeks before they were due to fly out, and three hours into her six hour shift, Emily felt her pocket vibrate with a new text message.

“That’ll be eighty six dollars and ninety five cents.” Emily said to her customer.

The woman, middle aged and determined not to smile at Emily or give her any eye contact, pulled a card from her purse and waved it in the air.

After:

“That’ll be eighty six dollars and ninety five cents.” Emily said in a voice so sweet she could have been dribbling honey.

Her customer, a middle aged woman, seemed determined not to smile at Emily or give her any eye contact at all. She tapped at her phone during the entire transaction, barely grunting as Emily attempted to make small-talk. The woman pulled a card from her purse and waved it in the air.

The background information I was conveying upfront; that the character worked at a supermarket, that she was saving for an overseas trip and she was in her late teens, can all be determined through the actions of the scene, rather than by point blank information dumping.

Though a supermarket transaction can hardly be considered a wild adventure or conflicting situation, it’s an experience that shows a lot about the character. It also puts the reader straight into the scene, instead of mulling around the outskirts.

By considering action over information, conflict over description, it’s much easier to set a scene and allow the character to be felt.

At Masterclass, we did a short exercise to really hone in on the opening scenes of a story. We had ten minutes to write an opening that dove straight into conflict. This exercise really helped me to put the theory of story telling, and of showing not telling, into practice.

Click here to read my opening for that exercise.

 

Writing Exercises

I love a good writing exercise. In fact, one of the main reasons I enjoyed studying towards my Masters of Creative Writing was because of the exercises and homework. There’s something about expanding the boundaries of your normal practice that really helps to explore and stretch your skills as a writer. As well as that, playing with words can be fun.

Of course, you don’t need to be a formal student to enjoy writing exercises. If you have better discipline than I do, you could plan and participate in your own practice and achieve much the same enjoyment and development. I suspect being a part of a writers group would support this kind of approach as well.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a writers group, but I do have a wonderful network of friends and writing peers online, who encourage me to expand myself further every day. (Hi Twitter pals *waves*).

Nonetheless, I’m making a commitment to do more writing exercises, whether by joining an online challenge like over at my friend Jodi’s site, picking up on a prompt on Twitter, or opening one of my many writing books and resources and selecting a challenge. The key, like anything, is to do a little bit, a lot of the time. “Little and often”, as one of my friends put it recently.

Yep, thats exactly it.

I’d love to know what writing tools and exercises other writers out there use. How often do you do them? Do you find them helpful? Where do they come from?

Let me know in the comments.

Happy writing, friends. X

On Being a Masterclasser: Character

One of the main things Fiona focused on during masterclass was character. In commercial fiction, character is key, character is plot. Most readers of commercial fiction want to be immersed in the story, they want to feel that they are embodying your character, or walking alongside them. This is why getting character right is vital to the success of your novel.

I’ll admit, my main protagonist came to me almost fully formed. I invested a lot of thinking time into her. But this came at a high cost to all the other characters. Even my protagonist’s daughter, who is the other main character, wasn’t well thought out.

While you don’t need to know a lot about every single character that features in your novel, if you want the main ones to be successful, it helps to give them each a profile; some things that differentiate them from others, like quirky turns of phrase that highlight their background, a unique look, an intriguing habit or tick.

I have quite a few characters, but only four that will hold court for the majority of the book. Before I started the final draft of my manuscript, I created a profile for each of these characters. I use Scrivener and fortunately there’s a built in character profile template with the software. The template includes:

  • Name of Character
  • Role in story
  • Occupation
  • Physical description (Fiona suggests sticking to just 2 or 3 and letting the reader fill in the blanks)
  • Personality
  • Habits/mannerisms
  • Background
  • Internal conflicts
  • External conflicts

I used bullet points so as not to get bogged down in details that would either be irrelevant, or hard to remember as I work my way through the story.

I also did a google image search using keywords like ‘middle aged brunette’ and chose one that resembled the character I had in mind. By including a photo I now have a reference point for any time that I want to layer a scene with exposition about the character, that will always be consistent.

On being a Masterclasser: Overview

That’s what we’re known as, masterclassers. That is, the some 200 or so people who have taken the plunge and signed up for Fiona McIntosh’s five day intensive writing course. I know lots of my fellow writing peers are keen to hear how the course went, and I’m itching to share everything I’ve learnt. But not only would it be impossible for me to impart the wisdom of a seasoned pro like Fiona in the same enthralling way that she does, but it also wouldn’t be fair. She’s been in the biz for 17 years, and this is a big part of her job, her livelihood. I’m not about to take something like that away from her, or any writer.

However, over the next few posts I will share some of the highlights of the masterclass and some of the work I created whilst there.

Fiona’s masterclass is completely targeted at commercial genre fiction. So if you’re someone who writes non-fiction or literary fiction, well you may want to stop reading now. (But, please don’t!). Lots of her advice would transcend other areas of writing, but the course itself is really homing in on the commercial stuff. That is the stuff that is mass marketed and mass produced.

For me, this was a real eye-opener in terms of comparing to my previous Masters study and this. I won’t go into it, but if you are someone who wants to be traditionally published in commercial fiction, maybe don’t bother with the Masters like I did. Do some courses at your local writers centre, or take a look at this Masterclass. It really is all you need to get going.

Another great resource if you can’t afford the investment of a course like this is to pick up a writers resource like Fiona’s How To Write Your Blockbuster, or even Stephen King’s On Writing.

Some top tips for getting serious about writing:

  • Set up a writing space with good lighting.
  • Use a proper office chair with good support for your posture – kitchen chairs just won’t cut it. (I’ll admit, I’m guilty of laying in bed with my laptop, this is a BIG no no).
  • Use the best equipment you can afford and upgrade regularly. I use a Mac and Scrivener, but you don’t have to fork out a lot for decent equipment. Microsoft Word is actually the format publishers will want the manuscript in anyway.
  • Back up regularly. I am terribly guilty of not doing this. But I do have an external hard drive and I’m going to try and remember to use it. It would be devastating to lose your work.
  • Here’s the big one: Make time to write every day that you have committed to writing. Note how I didn’t say to make time to write every day period. That’s because, as Fiona says, you need a break. Writing every day can lead to burn out, just like writing loads and loads of words over 2 or 3 days can equally lead to burn out. You want to be getting into a good writing habit, and you want to sustain it. Writing in big chunks more infrequently won’t work in the long run.
  • On the days you’re not writing, let it go. Don’t think about your WIP. Don’t rewrite it in your mind. Don’t plot and plan what you’re going to write until you’re actually sitting in your chair during your dedicated writing time. Give your brain a break and enjoy your time off.
  • Exercise regularly. If you’re sitting at a computer for long periods, most days, it’s important to get out and enjoy the sunshine, get some fresh air and stretch out your muscles and bones.
  • Give up television. I know, this one hurts (some of us more than others). You don’t really need to give up TV completely, but do consider where your time is going and how enriching those hours in front of the TV really are. If you’re watching great quality drama, beautiful movies and intriguing series, by all means, set aside time for them – especially if they are relevant to your writing (era, scenery, character, etc). But do reconsider the trash. Stay away from the reality rubbish that really doesn’t serve you. It’s all contrived anyway.
  • Surround yourself with support. Whether it be a writing group, a book club or just a few friends that can cheer you on and bounce ideas around with you, support is crucial.
  • Get to know your local librarian and book seller. These people are in the know and can be your greatest allies when it comes to selling your books. They’re also great resources for research, and as potential beta readers. Librarians and book sellers generally love books, so it’s safe to say they’d be happy to help a local writer in their endeavours to get published.
  • Know your genre and read it. A lot.
  • Understand the tropes of your genre.
  • Find publishers that specialise in your genre.
  • Don’t let writing define or overwhelm you. It’s OK to be passionate about your writing, but it’s not all there is.
  • Don’t use the truth. Even if you’re writing fiction based on fact. Commercial fiction exists to entertain, so don’t be afraid to dramatise and embellish your story.
  • Relationships are key in commercial fiction. It is human nature to be drawn to interesting and dynamic people, to their conflicts and their emotions.

Over the next few posts I’ll focus a bit on the various elements of writing. Including character, description, generating ideas and publishing.

 

 

My top 6 motivators for writing

Recently I tweeted that the television series, Jane the Virgin, was a good motivator for me as a writer. For those of you who’ve not seen the show, Jane, the protagonist, is an aspiring author. Whenever she sits down to write on screen or she gets a ‘big break’ as part of her storyline, I get a jolt of inspiration and pull out my laptop.

It got me thinking about all the ways in which I try to motivate myself to keep writing, especially with my current manuscript. I started it back in 2014. I wrote the first draft super quickly, because once I got started the words just came flushing out like water from a burst pipe.

And then I started the editing/rewriting process…

Back then, I had a lot more free time and I felt like I could take this time to pause and reflect because I had no deadlines and I wanted to make sure I put more care into the next drafts than I did with the first. The first draft became more of an outline as I began to refine and expand upon the story, the characters, the setting.

Three years on and it’s beginning to feel like I’ll never get it to the point I want it. But I’ve committed and I do have half of a quite polished manuscript. I’ve given myself a deadline and committed to no more drafts until this one is finalised and sent out to Beta readers.

My life looks awfully different than it did three years ago. Mainly because I became a mother and my days have become far fuller than ever before. So, how do I motivate myself to write in those precious hours between wrangling a baby, ‘keeping house’ and keeping my sanity (i.e. seeing friends/reading/general down time)?

Here’s my list:

  1. Podcasts. I prefer to listen to podcasts than to music when I go walking and I have a few favourites. Creative people are the best at encouraging creativity, and so whenever I listen to one of these gems, I always feel encouraged to get some writing done.
  2. Social Media. Twitter is my go-to for connecting with other writers. Whether I’m asking a question, just wanting to chat or looking for someone to kick me into gear, I find this the best place to be. I feel like part of a community on Twitter, and people who know how to do Twitter right are the best people to ‘follow’. These are the people that engage with you like you’re an actual human, who are funny and kind and authentic. Posting your word count is always motivating, and lots of the people I follow often post motivational quotes and tidbits about their writing. Instagram is great too, but I feel it’s less about having a community and more about admiring pretty pictures (and prose).
  3. Reading in the genre I wish to write. I like to read all kinds of books; fiction and non-fiction alike. I’m in a book club for the very reason of broadening my scope of authors and genres. But when it comes to encouraging me to write, I have to read something that makes me strive to write in that way. That is commercial women’s fiction or general fiction for me.
  4. Doing a course. I’m enrolled in a Masters of Creative Writing, though I’ve decided to defer this year.  I found my first year of study completely thrilling. I learnt so much and my writing really developed. This was in large part due to all the feedback I received from my peers when we had to workshop our writing. Though I love formal learning, I don’t necessarily think it’s the only way – often it’s not even the best way – to hone your craft. There are loads of great short courses and one-day workshops that focus on specific elements of writing. Your local Writer’s Centre will likely have a full years schedule of events and workshops, while the Australian Writing Centre offers lots of online courses at reasonable prices.
  5. Sharing my work. Though I’m not part of a Writers Group, I have made some wonderful writer/reader friends both online and off, who are generally always happy to read my work and give me feedback. Each person brings a different viewpoint and expertise. Not all of them are writers. I appreciate having people read things from an audience perspective as well as from a technical, writerly side.
  6. Procrastinating. Wait, what? How does procrastinating help motivate you, I hear you ask. I find it really hard to write at home if there are distractions, like dirty dishes, mounds of laundry or a filthy floor. If I have to be at home to write, which is most often the case, I need to ensure there’s nothing else I feel like I should be doing. So before I sit down to write, I very often do a sweep of the house; cleaning, tidying, throwing on a load of laundry, just to set myself at ease. Once that’s done, there’s no excuses and I find I am far more productive in the hour or so of writing time I have left.

I’d love to know, what keeps you motivated to write?