Tag Archives: revision

3 tips to master manuscript clutter

Collage by Vicky Lorencen

Collage by Vicky Lorencen

Learning  to live clutter-free is quite a “thing” these days. How-to books make it sound possible to sort, organize and donate our way to a serene and less stuff-y life.

Maybe we writer types can take a hint from this trend toward simplicity.

My little miniature eclairs, I don’t know if I ever mentioned that I was once a freelance newspaper reporter. I got the fun, fluffy assignments. Right from the start, my editor told me, “Write tight and bright.” I liked that. Tight was easy to understand–watch your word count. But bright? I took that to mean, make sure your writing is not only polished, but also free of, you guessed it, clutter.

Am I master of my clutter? Ha ha ha. Still, please consider these tips to produce manicured manuscripts.

  • Read your manuscript out loud–or better yet, let someone else read it to you. Oh, golly. I’ll warn you. This can be painful, but it will prove to be a productive process. If someone is reading to you, have a copy of your manuscript in hand. You can make notes and circle or edit the repetitive words or phrases you need to extract. (And be sure to offer to return the favor for your reader, or give them a treat, or both.)
  • Use the Find/Replace function in Word to sniff out clutter. We all have crutch words. Mine is “just.” Chances are you have a word “that” you lean on too often as
    Collage by Vicky Lorencen

    Collage by Vicky Lorencen

    well. Find those prosey parasites and pinch ’em.

  • Toss those metaphorical single socks, chipped china cups and empty pens. Systematically review your manuscript, focusing on one of these categories at a time:
    • Purge adverbs. They aren’t the devil (sorry Stephen King), but adverbs aren’t angels either.
    • Pluck passive voice. Again, not the devil, but would you say–The road was crossed by the chicken. Uh, no. Aim for active voice. And smooth elbows.
    • Clip clichés. You have stunning imagination muscles. Flex them. Don’t rely on stale, trite, predictable, yawn-worthy expressions when you can blaze your own trail. Oops. I mean, mow your own path, pave your own lane or carve your own groove.

Okay, my little Word Warriors, remember, you have a mouse trap where your heart should be. You’ve never heard the word mercy. You carry red pens, and you’re not afraid to use them. Now, get out there and clobber that clutter. And then, yes, you may have a cookie.

Out of clutter, find simplicity. ~ Albert Einstein

a fine use for bullets

I hate outlining

I hate outlining

“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.” Right you are E.L. Doctorow. I can’t argue with you.

Up until recently, I’ve been a writing pantser–someone who flies by the seat of her pants like a magic carpet. Weeeeeee!!! It was a fun, exhilarating, spontaneous, surprising, unfettered, chaotic, halting, sputtering, who-knows-how-the-heck-I-got-here way to write.

When I’ve considered a popular alternative, outlining, my skin literally crawled. No kidding. It wriggled clean off muh bones. (See why I can’t outline? I can’t even write without doubling back and making silly asides.) SO, anyway, outlining was not attractive to me. What a time and fun-sucker. Why not just jump in? I wanted to be surprised! At the same time, I liked the idea of pre-planning as a means of making steadier writing progress.

But as a card-carrying AntiOutlineist, I yearned for a way to enjoy the benefits of outlining without actual doing it. There were plenty of alternatives involving Post-it Notes, index cards or oversized sheets of paper, but I wanted something even simpler. It if could involve my adoration for list-making, that would be a bonus. That’s why I chose bullets. Round. Simple. Readily Accessible. Inexhaustible in supply.

Now, my little warm cinnamon crumb cake, you know I mean these kinds of bullets. . .

  • Yes,
  • I
  • knew
  • you
  • would.

When I recently approached an extensive novel revision, I chose bullets to help me compile the sequence of events and actions of my characters. I didn’t write long descriptions of each scene. I wrote just enough to ensure I’d have what I needed when I returned to my list later. As I compiled this list, naturally, I’d identify roadblocks. But then, I could easily scan back to see, and then change, the sequence of events to release that blockage. I was able to think through each character’s actions or responses and their natural consequences. I could think proactively about how to crank up the story’s tension or humor or tenderness.

And now, armed with my bullets (hardy har har), I’ve had an easier time approaching the revision process. Plus, I’ve felt energized and encouraged because the bullets serve as an assurance that it’s going to be okay. Keep going. You know you can work this out. You’ve already untangled your plot and mapped out a path for your characters. And I know they won’t fail to surprise me, so there’s still fun to be had.

E.L. Doctorow is right–we can’t just yack about writing, we need to actually do it. But, before you do, see how you like writing with a batch of bullets by your side. G’head. Give it a shot. (Ouch.)

I’m one of those writers who tends to be really good at making outlines and sticking to them. I’m very good at doing that, but I don’t like it. It sort of takes a lot of the fun out.  ~ Neil Gaiman

blog hop tour hops to frog on dime

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Blog Hop is a blog tour showcasing authors and their writing process. I was honored to be tagged by Kristin Lenz, writer of YA and New Adult novels, and all around super fly, groovy chick. (Thank you, Kristin for inviting me!) I tagged another YA writer extraordinaire, Ann Finkelstein, for the next leg of the Blog Hop. You can learn more about Ann at the close of this post.

So, here we go with the Q & A portion of our program.
I hope you are grading on a curve. (And remember, I was promised there would be NO math problems.)

What am I working on now?
I just finished my second contemporary middle grade novel, SHORT CHANGED, at the end of May. Thankfully, as I was wrapping up novel two, ideas for middle grade number three began to percolate. Did I mention Ray, the main character of this novel, is forcing me to learn to knit because he likes to knit? He takes his protagonist role very seriously. I don’t want to disappoint him.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
It has my voice. What would be the point of imitating anyone else? We already have a Jerry Spinelli and Sharon Creech. I like to blend humor with tenderness (tempered with enough references to boogers or puke to make it believable and boy-friendly).

Why do I write what I do?
Writing middle grade is a sweet spot for me–readers are still young enough to appreciate my dorky sense of humor, but sophisticated enough to handle more complex plot lines, language and themes. But I don’t have to write any “content.” (blushing) I know. I know. I’m such a ninny.

How does my writing process work?
First off, you should know, I never ever intended to write a novel, much less two, going on three. I remember showing my grandpa one of my published magazine stories. He said, “That’s good, Vick. Now, where’s your novel?” I told him flat-out, “I’m not a novelist. There’s no novel in me.” (See? Such a ninny I am.) It wasn’t until a friend asked me to collaborate on a novel with him that I ever thought to attempt such a crazy thing. I mean, novel writing was for, sheesh, I don’t know–novelists. But I reasoned that before I co-wrote a novel, maybe I’d better see if I’m capable of creating a one on my own. And so it began.

My first middle grade novel, SHRINK, germinated from a short scene based on a childhood memory. The story took on a life of its own as I began to ask why–why did the main character say that? Why does he feel this way? Why did he make that decision? To whom is he telling his story? And why? Because I was neon green at novel hatching, I pretty much let the characters run the show, which meant I had a lot of clean up to do on the back side. (Kids are not known for their logic or consistency you know.) I still love the characters in that first novel and even miss them when I see a real-world kid who looks like one of them. I must have done something right.

My second novel was inspired by a stupid idea. I thought it would be clever and ironic to write a novel with the title SHORT STORY. But that, I was wisely advised, would get way too confusing. So, I changed the title to SHORT CHANGED, but kept the basic story. I tried writing this novel on my own, like the first one, while trying to avoid the rookie pitfalls. But eventually, I opted to enroll in a novel-writing course through the Institute of Children’s Literature. The individualized instruction and the built-in deadlines helped me progress. I’d recommend taking an ICL class. If you want to know more, just let me know via my contact page and I’ll get right back to you.

My third novel is unfolding very differently. I want to plot and plan and outline before fully immersing myself in this novel. I am gathering articles and ideas too. And, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve got to take those knitting lessons. I’m also going to “interview” each of my characters in order to create character sketches. I treat characters like they are already fully-formed people. It’s my job to get to know them and create a world for them to live in and circumstances to respond to. (And how “simple” is that?)

Based on what I’ve experienced so far, I love the entire novel-writing process–the first niggling from a new idea, meeting my characters, creating that first draft, revising (ad nauseam), receiving critiques, revising again . . . I love it all. Except when I don’t.

(I hope I got the answers right.)

The next stop on the Blog Hop tour will be hosted by my talented friend and Sock Sister Ann Finkelstein. Ann writes young adult novels in Michigan. She enjoys biking, hiking, cross-country skiing and photographing the great outdoors. Read more about her. You can read Ann’s brilliant answers about her writing process on Friday, June 20. Don’t miss it!

Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives. ~ James Joyce

3 Rs to improve your writing–today


frog and quill
The term “best practice” has become a bit of a buzzword. I hear it a lot at the health system where I work as a writer and editor. As I understand it, a best practice is a method that consistently shows superior results. Best practices become the standard for the way we do our work.

I’d like to suggest three simple best writing practices to help you become a stronger writer today (yes, this very day!)

Try these best practices or the “3 Rs”:

Relax. (Yes, you read that right!) Guess I should be more specific. By relax, I mean, remember that the reason we write that first draft is so we’ll have something to re-write. Take some pressure off yourself. Download the thoughts from your head to your keyboard and then you can play with them. Before they can be perfect or precise, they simply need to be.

Reduce your word count by five percent. Words are powerful, but they don’t have to be precious. Choppity-chop the excess. (Let me pause right now to apologize. I’m sorry I didn’t warn you there would be math. But if I had, would you still be reading this? Here’s how to easily calculate 5%–let’s say you’ve written a fresh page of 246 words. Look at those first two numbers–24–that’s 10%. Now, what’s half of 24? That’s right, 12 (or 5%). See how easy? So, you’d need to delete 12 words. The calculation is the easy part. Taking out the excess words–that’s the tricky part.) When you manage to make your manuscript lean, your writing is tighter and brighter, not just lighter. Pardon the sappy rhymes, won’t you? And honestly, cutting words can be a fun challenge. Why, you won’t even miss the words once they’re

Read your work out loud. And I’m not just talking to picture book authors here. Whatever your genre, make it a practice to read your writing out loud. Yes, your family or office mates will think it’s weird at first, but they’ll get over it. When you “hear” your work, you not only catch grammatical glitches or overused adjectives, you can listen to the rhythm of your words. If you’ve never tried this before, try it today.

Maybe the “best” best writing practice is practicing. So, relax. Fill that page. Lop off five percent. Read it out loud. And try again tomorrow.

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. ~ W. Somerset Maugham