Category Archives: Your Writing Career

Revisions, edits and proofing. The real work of writing.

Writing can be, and frequently is, easy. At least that first draft is. Sometimes a writer can fall into a creative “zone” and the words will just flow. And flow. And flow. I’ve seen many, many writers post on Facebook how they churned out 2,000, 3,000, even 4,000 words or more in a day.

I can do that. I do it when I really sit down and write.

But the question isn’t how many words you write in a day. The real question is how many words you’ve written in a day, you keep in the final version of the manuscript.

I tend to view writing as similar in concept to sculpting in clay. First you have to get the clay. That’s the first draft. You have to just keep churning out story elements, characters, plot points, settings, all the stuff that makes up a story. It all piles up into a sort of rough facsimile of the story you really want to tell. Eventually you complete the first draft, and can go grab a beer and congratulate yourself on your pile of clay.

But it’s not half done yet. Unless you are one of those truly rare writers who spew out nearly finished prose. Most of those writers have written and published lots of stories, and have learned how to get that first draft much closer to the final form.

The rest of us have to take that first draft and start turning it into something presentable. And that means taking the editor’s sculpting tools and carving off bits here and there, building up other bits, reshaping a limb or a nose… For many of us that is more of a challenge than the initial fountain of words that leaped up from our keyboards.

But sculpting usually takes several passes, each one more detailed, with more attention to perfecting the form and enhancing the presentation of our work. My approach is to take several editing passes through the, I hope, successively less rough drafts of the story. The first pass mostly focuses on big things. Do the character arcs work? Is the conflict compelling? Does the plot work, or are there gaping holes, or plot points leading to nowhere?

Only when I’ve addressed the story at that level will I do a grammar and spelling pass. Or two. It’s all too common for me to learn that in my first pass, I not only missed a few things, but I added some new errors in fixing the previous ones.

Then I do a pass focused entirely on converting passive to active voice, looking for occurrences of words like “seems” or “realized” or many other words I keep in a list that are all too easy to fall back on while writing, but leave the prose flaccid.

Then I do a pass focused on character dialog. Did I use the right vernacular for the different voices of the different characters? Did I accidentally give my New England bookkeeper the voice of a Louisiana shrimper? It happens more than you realize.

Then I do a pass focused on contractions. It always amazes me how many “can not” or “will not” uses I find in my writing. I know better, but I still find them. Lots of them. Trimming those syllables really tightens the text, especially dialog, where a “will not” comes across as pretentious or commanding.

Finally, when all of that is done, I move the still-rough draft to my iPad so I read it in a different format, and do my best to read it as if I had never encountered it before. I might do that three times before I’m satisfied it’s clean enough to pass my editorial expectations.

Then I send it to an editor.

Revising in the Wild West

As I have spent all of April deep inside the revisions for a novel I intend to publish early this summer, I have a lot of fresh thoughts on how to proceed once your first draft is complete. As with all writing advice, what works for me might not work for you.

I think I have the process by which I write a first draft pretty much locked down. I’ve written 9 projects in the past 24 months, and the process by which I got from word one to ‘the end’ has stayed fairly standard.

Once that first draft is done though, well my friends I’m afraid to say I’m still in the Wild West. On that day my newly completed story finds itself in a lawless land, where chaos is sheriff and revision misfires roll by like tumbleweeds.

Okay pardner, maybe it’s not *that* bad. But it was, for quite a while. It is only on my past 2 or 3 projects that a working process has started to show itself. Pull up a stool and have the bartender give us two shots of Ol’ Blinkin’ Cursor (my favorite drink) and I’ll spin you my tale.

(All right, I admit I’ve pushed the cowboy metaphors too hard here. I’ll hitch ‘em to the post for now.)

So for me, the key to revisions is knowing three things about myself as they relate to the first draft

  1. The things I do well
  2. The things I don’t do well
  3. The things I don’t do at all

I’ll go through what those mean to me, though of course they could mean something completely different for you.


I have a pre-revision process, which is to simply read the damn thing. Better yet, I have the damn thing read to me! using Word (although there are many other options) you can have the document read to you by your computer and you *will* catch little things that you’ll miss visually reading your book.

Seriously, I can’t recommend this method enough.For me, it is even better than reading your draft out loud.


One thing I try not to do in revisions is undo what was working the first time. I am fortunate to have an alpha reader for much of my work, and she often reads the chapters as I write them. Thus, I usually enter the second draft with a little outside feedback, which is something I recommend.

In my case, my dialogue is pretty good on the first run so I’m try not to change much of that. Character bits usually land decently on first draft as well. I want to make sure that I’m not adding words to parts that read clean and quick the first time. In general, I try to only add words to clear up confusion or add description. (As I’ll explain below). Anything I was pumped and excited after I wrote it I try very hard not to mess with.

The danger here to me is in sanding off the sharp edges and making things more dull and bland by adding things that didn’t need to be there.


Also known as – Action Scenes. Time to focus on the blocking and on making sure that I clearly described the setting and any relevant elements. Additionally, I need to fix over-wording and pacing issues that I often introduce to these scenes.


There’s two versions of this for me. The first is stuff that I know I tend to be sparse with on my first draft. This is usually description and emotional demeanor – reactions to events. When I’m writing my first drafts, I don’t like to slow down for anything. When my momentum is lost it can be hard for me to recover.

The second part of this is to fill in all the little <> marks I made in my draft, each of them denoting something to be filled in later. (If you are interested – I have a whole post on these right here)

So those are my primary methods of getting a workable second draft, which is usually the one I will pass along to my beta readers. The trick at the end of this process (which could be any number of drafts) is determining when you are done, but that’s a blog post for another day.

Good luck!

Couch Potato Time For Health and Profit

Finishing a novel is a HUGE achievement (and I’m not just talking about word count). It doesn’t matter if it’s your first or your fiftieth, it’s still a huge weight off your shoulders knowing that the first draft is done.  Well, at least it is until you remember that now you have to do revisions and edits.

In my experience, starting all that tough, nit-picky work so soon after finishing the draft isn’t good for you. If I dive back in so soon I get sick of my own work, and sometimes even resent it for depriving me of the time to watch the backlog of shows on my DVR or the cool new thing on Netflix. The last thing I want to happen, is for me to hate my own work for something so petty — especially after all the hard work I put into it. That’s why I treat myself to two things after the completion of the first draft. The first is a tangible treat that somehow ties in to something I love about that particular story. Sometimes it’s a piece of inexpensive jewelry, and sometimes it’s a piece of clothing or art. What’s the second thing?


That’s right. Nothing.

After finishing the first draft I give myself permission to not write or do any other work on that draft for one week. During that week I can veg on the couch and watch as many shows and movies as I want. I can also read as many books in my bedside stack as I want. The obvious reason for this is that I can’t resent my work for keeping me from watching the new season of Forged in Fire if I’ve already watched it. I can’t be tempted by the new lovely in my reading stack if I’ve already read it. Plus the growing backlog of episodes, and the growing stack of awesome books, become the carrots that are dangled before me while I’m working on that initial draft.

The less obvious reason is that it allows the creative side of my brain to rest and renew while the more studious side of my brain can pick apart the plots of the shows and books I’m partaking of. It’s hard, especially after taking one of Dave Wolverton’s writing courses, to turn my brain completely off when taking in a story. It doesn’t matter if the medium is visual, audio, or printed. I can’t stop myself from poking a metaphorical finger at other people’s plot holes, or admiring some great pacing and then reviewing that section over and over to figure out exactly how they did it. So my vacation suddenly becomes an educational experience that can improve my own writing. Yay!

Okay. I realize that it probably looks like a cheat to be studying someone else’s writing when I’m taking a break from writing. Well, it’s not. The break is from my own writing. Besides, heaven forbid I resent my vacation from writing for keeping me from doing the writerly things that I love. If the studious side of my writer brain is busy looking for tropes and Chekov’s arsenal, the rest of me can enjoy the break without conflict.

I also find that one week is the perfect length of time. I can make a noticeable dent in the backlog of stories to partake of, but it’s not so long a break that my readers start to wonder if I’ll ever truly finish my next book.

It can be a tricky balance to maintain — sacrificing for your work without hating the necessity of making sacrifices — but it can be maintained. For me this is one of the small ways I can maintain that balance while preventing burn out. In the spirit of Your Miles May Vary, a shorter or longer interval may work better for you. Instead of TV it may be gaming that you need the break for. I know authors who write short stories between drafting and editing as their break/treat. Whatever works best for you. Burn out and self-resentment are terrible things that have destroyed too many writing careers. It’s important to know what treat you respond best to and to use that to maintain a healthy balance that will keep you engaged and interested in the work now and in the years to come.

The Long and Short of a Series

Guest post by Lauryn Christopher


I am a fan of short fiction. Most of the books on my nightstand are short-story collections, and I enjoy dashing off a short story whenever I can. There are many reasons for this, but for now I’d like to talk about short stories that connect to the larger world of an author’s novels, from the perspectives of a reader, a writer, and a businessperson.

As a reader, a short story is a great way to test the waters and see if I like a new-to-me writer’s work without the commitment of reading a full novel – and when that short story is set in the same world as the author’s longer world, so much the better. It’s like going to the store when they’re handing out free samples, knowing that if you like the little taste, you’re more likely to purchase the full-sized product.

As a writer, of all the things I like about writing short stories (which includes challenging myself, and using short stories to help me practice particular writing skills), I think my favorite is the opportunity they give me to wander the side-streets of a larger work. In a short story, I can:


  • get to know a secondary character in greater depth
  • explore a story idea that doesn’t require the complexity of a novel
  • explore an idea or character to see if it’s a world I want to play in at greater length

As an example, my short story, With Friends Like These (at 9,500 words/~40 pages) was written as the result of an intensive writing workshop assignment. But as I got to know the main character, she let me know in no uncertain terms that she had many more stories for me to tell, and I quickly went on to write the novel Conflict of Interest. And thus my “Hit Lady for Hire” series was born.

As a businessperson, I routinely look at each short story in my inventory to see how I can best leverage it. That’s not to say that I don’t go all creative-artist during the writing process – I do, even when writing on demand for a particular market or to a specific theme – but when the story is complete, and the act of artistic creation is finished, I now have a new piece of inventory, and it’s time to put on the business hat.

It’s a simple truth that every additional piece of inventory we create provides readers with one more point of contact for finding our work. Because discoverability is such a critical part of a successful writing career, one way to think of your short stories is like the magic breadcrumbs that lead your readers to the rest of your work. Remember my “As a reader” comment at the beginning of this article – the more of those “samples” you have out there, the more opportunities you create for readers to find you.

Selling your short fiction in to the magazine and anthology markets is another way of leveraging your short stories. Be aware: There are a lot of unpaid markets out there for short fiction, and rates in short fiction markets are typically in the pennies-per-word range, so writing short stories probably isn’t your best plan if you’re looking to get rich quick. However, because short fiction markets only hold onto the rights for a very limited time, when those rights revert, you can then sell reprint rights, put the short story up as an ebook at low or no-cost as a loss-leader, offer it as an audiobook, etc., and continue earning from it. The more you learn about ways to license your intellectual property rights, the more you can put your short fiction inventory to work for you.

It’s often been said that the best publicity for your book is your next book. Well, you can also leverage your short stories as advertising for your related novels. Whenever you sell a short story into a magazine or anthology, in many ways, it’s as if they are paying you to put a multi-page advertisement in their publication and then sending your advertisement (in the form of your short story) to their subscribers – and unless you’re exceptionally well-known, it’s likely that they have a much more extensive mailing list than you do. That short story publication helps you:


  • build name-recognition among readers
  • keep your name visible between related novels
  • give your new readers an introduction to your work and world
  • build a collection you can eventually sell/self-publish to accompany your full-length novels
  • gives you a “backlist” you can draw from (your previously published short stories). This is a great source of bonus, series-related material you can give to readers when they sign up for your mailing list!


As an example, working around the demands of everyday life (read: the day job), means my readers have to wait a while for the next book in my “Hit Lady for Hire” series of suspense novels. But rather than keep fans of the first book twiddling their thumbs and risk having them forget about me, I released Backstage Pass (at 8,000 words/~35 pages) in a mystery collection, and not only connected with my own readers, but also with the readers of all of the other authors in the collection.

In summary, short stories connected to the worlds of your full-length novels can be great workhorses:


  • They keep existing readers happy
  • They introduce new readers to your series
  • They help you expand your fictional worlds
  • They provide an additional income-stream
  • They keep your readers happy (it bears repeating!)


If you enjoy reading short stories, there’s a wealth of material out there for you to enjoy. And if you enjoy writing short stories, there’s plenty of readers waiting to read them.


– Lauryn


Lauryn Christopher has written marketing and technical material for the computer industry for too many years to admit. In her spare time, she writes mysteries, often from the criminal’s point of view – they’re not always who (or what) you might expect! You can find information and links to more of her work, and sign up for her newsletter at