Sunday, December 20, 2009


I just finished the second draft of my time travel YA (young adult) novel, which I'm tentatively calling Killing Kessler. I started the rough draft last May, and it took me three months to finish. Mind you, when I say rough, I mean rough. The characters go through the motions and say their lines, but with minimal props, settings, inner dialogue, or even much emotion.

Then I began the second draft. For me, the purpose of the second draft is to flesh the story out. This is when I add the sounds, smells, tastes, and textures. This is when the characters share their feelings, think about their situations, and really come to life. This step takes at least as much time and effort as the rough draft. I used to dread revision, but I've grown to love it. During this draft, I concentrate on who my characters are, what they're thinking and feeling, and the richness of the world around them.

The next step: I read the manuscript out loud. My family thinks I'm insane, but my ear catches all sorts of problems my eye has missed. In particular, I find words that repeat too often, action sequences that don't make sense, and awkward phrasing.

After the read-aloud, I ask a few trusted friends to read the manuscript. By now I'm so close to it, I don't notice things that will jump out at someone reading it cold. When I had a critique partner review a chapter of my previous novel, she noticed that I had a character clinging to her husband's dead body in the paragraph after his corpse had disappeared. This is just one example, but obviously the feedback from these readers is invaluable. If you're one of these people, you have my eternal gratitude.

After that, I repeat the previous two steps as many times as it takes to make the manuscript the best I feel I can make it. Then, and only then, is it ready for submission.

Lately, I've been thinking about my revision process. I once spoke with a successful author who said she doesn't use an outline, and she makes only minimal revisions. She thinks about the book for a long time before she begins writing, but once she does, it comes out in nearly final form. While I would love to write like that, I know my mind doesn't work that way. I have to get my thoughts on paper first, no matter how poorly expressed, before I can put on the polish. So now I'm wondering, what do the rest of you do? What is your revision process like? Do you enjoy revision, or it is a necessary (or unnecessary) evil?

I'll be taking a break over the holidays, so...until January, happy writing, and may your coffee pot never run dry.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Mind of Her Own

I just read a quote from a famous author about characters taking on lives of their own. He said it's "exciting" when a character does something surprising or unplanned, when she becomes her own person. Exciting? I suppose. Irritating? Definitely.

I'm finishing up my current Work-in-Progress. I'm so anxious to finish, I can barely sleep (not unusual for me, which you may have already guessed from the title of my blog.) I want to spend every available second on this book, getting it to the point where I can send it out to my faithful critiquers (you know who you are - thanks, guys!) and find out if it's the masterpiece I think it is, or if it, as my Wad-mate Amy puts it, "sucks rocks."

So, everything's going along just fine, I'm revising about a chapter a day and staying right on schedule, and then, boom! Tabitha, my main character, decides she doesn't like my version of events, and she's going to do things her own way.

But you can't, I say. I created you, and if I tell you it's time to send Griffin packing, then you'd better do it.

Not a chance, Tabby answers. I've spent a good twenty chapters falling for this guy, and I'm not ready to let him go just yet.

But you're in love with Murphy, I tell her, just the tiniest hint of whine in my voice.

Yes, she says (good, at least she agrees with that!) But maybe I'm in love with both of them.

Excuse me??? As the author, I really should have seen this coming. It took me over a month to carefully and painstakingly develop my outline down to the nitty gritty details. I thought I had it all figured out. But part of that outline was character development. I guess that's where Tabby got a mind of her own.

So, do I force Tabby to give Griffin the boot? I can't do that, not if I want readers to believe in my book. For all the blood, sweat, and tears I've put in, it's still Tabitha's story. And if I want her to be a living, breathing character, then I guess I'll have to go wherever she takes me. It may be messier this way, but I have to admit, it's also a lot more fun.

Until next Sunday, happy writing, and may your coffee pot never run dry.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Writing Buddies

This seems like a good time to talk about writing buddies. I've been blessed with an awesome group of writer friends that I met in July, 2008 at the Highlights Foundation Writer's Workshop at Chautauqua. We call ourselves the Wad. Don't ask me why, it's a name Rhonda came up with, I think. That should tell you something about Rhonda.

Anyway, there have been some big events for the Wad lately. In March, Amy won the Grand Prize in PM Moon Publisher's First Annual New Authors Writing Contest. Her book, The Invisible Sister, is scheduled for release in September 2010. You can check out her blog at

This week Tess announced the sale of her first book, With a Name Like Love, scheduled for fall, 2011. Congratulations, Tess - you must still be walking on air! You can check out Tess's blog at

And today is Sharon's birthday! You can hop over to Sharon's blog and wish her a happy birthday at While you're there, enter Sharon's Three Wishes contest for a chance to win a $10 Barnes & Noble gift card. But you'd better hurry, her contest ends Dec. 10.

I'd love to send you to Heidi's flickr page, but I have no idea how to link to flickr. Sorry, Heidi! And Rhonda, Kim, and Diana, you're just going to have to jump on the bandwagon and start your own blogs so I can link to you, too.

Writing is a solitary pursuit, involving long hours spent alone, unless you count the people in your head, of which we writers usually have an ample supply. Friends of the living, breathing variety are a welcome change. They offer advice, support, critiques, a shoulder to cry on, and a laugh when you need it most. Thanks girls, and congratulations on all your successes!

Your turn: Do you have a critique group or other group of friends that share a common interest?

Until next Sunday, happy writing, and may your coffee pot never run dry.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Holiday Memories

My son won a turkey at his middle school's Turkey Trot race this past week. He's not one to get overly excited about things, but he was pretty darn pleased that he'd won his own Thanksgiving turkey. I have no doubt that this accomplishment will stay with him for a long time to come. This is the stuff of which childhood memories are made.

When he arrived home after school, I listened eagerly to his rendition of the day's events: running in the pouring rain, breaking through the ribbon at the finish line, carrying his prize turkey home on the bus. As a writer, naturally my thoughts turned to how these events would play out in a Thanksgiving story.

Holiday stories have always been a favorite of mine, and for one simple reason: the setting is already there. The sights, sounds, smells, feels, and tastes are locked deep in the minds of the vast majority of readers. They already know the slimy feel of pumpkin guts, the heart-stopping boom of fireworks, the minty coolness of candy canes. With just a little nudge from the writer, the reader is transported into the rich world of his own memory. The story setting becomes that much more real, because it's formed from the reader's own experience.

Besides providing an idea for a future story, this event led me on a trip down memory lane and my own cherished holiday memories. I thought of the coconut-covered lamb cake that my grandmother baked each Easter, the excitement of finding a Secret Santa gift hidden under my pillow, and parading down the halls of my elementary school in a handmade Halloween costume. It reminded me of the importance of traditions, and that my children will carry with them the memory of our own family traditions for the rest of their lives.

Turkey Trot entrance fee: two canned goods. Turkey Trot prize turkey: $14. A treasured holiday memory: priceless.

Your turn: What is your favorite holiday memory?

Until next Sunday, happy writing, and may your coffee pot never run dry.