Critiquing, Revising, Writing

The Benefits of Weekly Chapter Swaps

First of all, there’s still time to enter my fifth blogiversary giveaway for a $25 Amazon gift card, so if you haven’t done so yet, check out my post here (ends at midnight 5/11)!

While I’ve been blogging for five years, I’ve been writing for many more years. The beauty of this journey is that I’m continually learning something new. My process with gathering feedback in the past has always been to carefully revise the full manuscript and then send it to critique partners and beta readers. I’ve never sent first drafts to anyone–probably because I’m too much of a perfectionist :).

However, when I participated in WriteOnCon this year, I was in a unique position timing-wise. I was finishing up a revision of the project I’d been querying and getting ready to revise the first draft of my new project. I met a writer in the forums whose writing appealed to me, and we started a conversation about swapping chapters weekly.

Now, I have to say that this has never appealed to me in the past because it is a sloooow process. And I’ve mentioned before that I am not a patient person, right? Added to that, I’d be sending off chapters when I hadn’t even revised the chapters that came after. This was a bit intimidating to me–the idea of sending off unfinished work. But here are some benefits I discovered from going through this process. I should mention that we didn’t stick with one chapter per week as that would have taken fooorever. My patience only extends so far :).

It prevented me from rushing the draft. I finished my regular pass of revisions through the draft about five weeks before I sent my last chapters, so I started checking the manuscript for repeated words. Normally I don’t do this until a later draft, but it’s mainly because I’m in such a hurry to get feedback. Since I was already getting feedback, I could take the time to do this really well. See my initial post on checking chapter by chapter for repeated words. I’m actually not finished with this (six weeks later!), so I may post more about it.

I received detailed feedback on each chapter/section. I have excellent critique partners and readers who often give me line edits and detailed chapter notes. However, it’s different when someone’s reading a short selection every week. Whereas in an overall manuscript a chapter that flows well might get skimmed, in this setup it still gets special attention and thought because it’s the only thing the reader has to critique for the week. The reader is looking for areas that could be even stronger.

It weeds out all the plot points that don’t make sense. Obviously this type of critique happens when someone does a full read-through, but it’s nice to have someone point out an issue in chapter two and you can fix it before she reads chapter six.

The reader knows your characters almost as well as you do. After so many weeks swapping chapters, I feel like we know each other’s characters really well–because we’ve been going through it so slowly and methodically. It’s different from when you read a manuscript within a couple of weeks and send it back. You’re revisiting them every week, so when they act out of character–as mine did–the reader notices.

Overall, this has been a great process, and I’m glad I went through it. My manuscript is much stronger for it. Have you done weekly chapter/section swaps before? What did you like/dislike about it?

Revising, Writing, Writing in Reverse

Writing in Reverse: The First Draft Read-Through

When I finished drafting this manuscript in November, I said I intended to let it sit until after Thanksgiving. That plan changed drastically when I received an R&R (revise and resubmit) on another manuscript the same day I wrote that post. I think it came about an hour later. Talk about timing! I don’t know what will happen with that project, but I do know the longer you let a draft sit, the better.

So, instead of a few weeks, this manuscript stewed for more than ten weeks. I finished re-reading it yesterday, and I’m very pleased with what I have to work with as a first draft. It’s by no means ready to send off to readers, but I expect it won’t take me long to get it there, and I’m giving credit to two things: writing in reverse and advance planning. Here are a few things I noticed in my first draft read-through.

The first chapter still needed work. I said before that I hoped writing in reverse would making writing my first chapter easier, and it did in many ways, but from the first words, I was still mentally polishing it up. I’m not sure it’s possible to nail a first chapter in a first draft, no matter how you approach it. I do think, however, that I started the story in the right place this time. Of course, that’s ultimately up to my readers to tell me :).

The pacing feels on target. As I was reading, I felt like the pacing moved along well. In the past, I had a tendency to start meandering around the middle (is that just me??). But writing in reverse, I was always looking at what had to happen right before that scene to get there, so there’s nothing extraneous. If anything, there are a couple of scenes that might be a bit abrupt and I need to add.

I will be killing many darlings. I mentioned in my 25,000 words from the end post that I’d decided to add a twist I hadn’t planned for in one of the early chapters. Reading through again, I know this twist is the right call for the story as it will greatly increase the tension throughout. However, when I got to the later part of the story where it wasn’t incorporated, there were so many great lines that I now won’t be able to use. So I guess that’s a downside to writing in reverse, since if you’re writing forward, a later twist might not affect what you’d written earlier. But it’s ok. If I managed to write such fun dialogue how it was originally, I’m sure I can switch it around to accommodate this change :).

Overall, my first draft read-through left me feeling very pleased with the results of writing in reverse. I will definitely be using this strategy to draft my next project as well. Now on to the revisions!

Writing, Writing in Reverse

Writing in Reverse: The Beginning

I’m finished drafting!

Cupcake

I treated myself to this cupcake after a draft a few years ago. I really wish I had it now …

Anyway, my draft came out at 55,716 words, which was not quite as low as I expected. I had set an initial target of 70,000 words, but as I stated earlier, I’m fine with a sparse draft. I know I’ll add when I revise as I tend to leave out important parts like setting descriptions.

If you missed my first two posts in this series, you can find them here:

I realize the way this panned out, I’m only writing this a week after my last post, but I still feel I have some worthwhile lessons to impart as I finished the draft.

I no longer feel the need to jump right into revisions. Last week I was riding on the high of a brilliant twist I’d decided to implement in the first plot point. And I do still believe it’s brilliant and will greatly improve the tension throughout the rest of the manuscript, but since I forced myself to move on, I no longer feel the burning urge to jump into the revisions immediately. So it turns out that was a short-lived fury.

If I hadn’t outlined so completely, I would have rushed to the first plot point much too soon. As I’ve been drafting, I’ve been reading a lot, and much of that reading has been on my Kindle. It’s so handy to have that little percentage marker in the bottom left-hand corner. And I’ve noticed something. I can actually pinpoint an inciting incident around twelve percent and a first plot point at twenty-five percent and a pinch point around thirty-three to thirty-seven percent and so on. And working backward has given me a unique perspective on this, being able to think about what is happening in each scene and then go to the scene immediately before and make sure what happens then provides the right framework. I can tell that if I hadn’t done it this way, I would have a first plot point around fifteen percent, and the problem would be that readers wouldn’t care enough about my character yet, or they wouldn’t be meeting the important secondary characters at the appropriate time. I am sure this method is going to benefit me in the long run.

I had to remind myself to insert backstory in the early chapters. By the time I got to the first couple of chapters, where the characters were being introduced, I had to remind myself to insert bits of description and backstory to ground the reader in the world. Because I’d been writing about these characters for six weeks already, I knew them so well that I definitely wasn’t putting too much in. But I was right about knowing the voice and mannerisms. That part is good. As to whether it means I nailed the first chapter more quickly? Well, that will be up to my CPs to determine.

I still spent more time on the first chapter than the others. I just wrote it today, but whereas I drafted the other chapters quickly and wasn’t as worried about the first lines, I carefully considered every word of this first chapter, even in draft form. But I do think it was easier writing the first chapter last. Because I not only knew how their stories played out but had already written the details of them, I had a much better sense of what needed to happen at the beginning–who the readers need to meet and what they need to know about my main character and how she’s been shaped by the people around her. I wasn’t feeling my way into her the way I have been in the past. Because I already did that in the last chapter :).

So what’s next? I’m going to let this manuscript sit until after Thanksgiving. I usually do a month, and depending on what else lands on my plate, I may still give it until mid-December, but I definitely need to let it settle. Either way, I’m definitely glad I decided to write in reverse. Drafting is always a struggle for me, and although I still had to sit and force myself to do it some days, I had better direction this time around.

How about you? Have any of you tried drafting in reverse? Did you like it or not?

Writing, Writing in Reverse

Writing in Reverse: 45,000 Words from the End

I’m actually getting pretty close to the beginning of this draft. (I apologize to those of you just starting NaNoWriMo, but I did start a month before you.) Here are a few more things I’ve learned since the check-in at 25,000 words.

No matter how much you plan, you’re as likely to come up with a new twist writing in reverse as you are writing forward. This actually just happened to me, and what I find interesting about it is that it will require the same amount of revision either way. The difference is that instead of the twist occurring to me later in the story and having to go back and plant seeds in the revision, it’s something that occurred to me to change early in the story and I now will have to deal with all the ripples throughout the rest of the story. But having already written what comes later, I can see how this early change will make the middle stronger.

When you make a change early on, it’s so much more tempting to fix everything that comes after in the draft. Usually when I’m drafting I just want to get to the end. Occasionally when I make a change I’ll be tempted to go back and fix something it affects earlier in the story, but it’s usually just a twinge. I’ve had a different mentality drafting in reverse. I’ve been going through and adding to the later scenes–still not revising the existing text–if something in an earlier scene calls for it. This twist I just added in the first plot point has me itching to go through the whole manuscript and revise–because everything that comes after is already there waiting. But if I do that I’ll never finish the draft, so I’m putting it in writing here so I will keep moving forward to the beginning.

I’m probably not going to be able to let this draft sit. Because of the above point, I have a feeling this first draft will turn into a draft 1.5 before I’m able to let it sit. But if the reason for that is an inconsistency I already know I wrote in that I can fix before I set it aside for a month, I can live with messing up my usual system. Then when I return to it after that month, it will be a stronger draft to attack.

I think that’s it for today. Probably my next post in this series will be Writing in Reverse: The Beginning!

Writing, Writing in Reverse

Writing in Reverse: 25,000 Words from The End

I started writing my new project at the beginning of October as planned, and I’m now 25,000 words in (or back?), so I figured it was time for an update on how this writing in reverse method is going. As I mentioned in my pre-drafting post, I prepared to write in reverse by creating a much more detailed outline than I’ve ever used in the past. I structured it using K.M. Weiland’s STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL. First I placed the three acts with the major plot points, then I layered in the scenes within those major plot points, working backward from the resolution and climax. Yes, that means I outlined in reverse as well. I found thinking backward very helpful from the standpoint of figuring out what needed to happen to get to the climax.

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far and some predictions as well.

There’s less pressure writing those first sentences. Well, obviously the end of the novel is important, but it doesn’t have to grab the reader the way the opening lines do. By starting with the end, I didn’t have to worry about what backstory should be loaded into the first words I wrote, how soon certain characters should be introduced, etc. Instead, I got to wrap everything up (because you all know I don’t like sad stories, right?). It was a much easier place to start.

It takes time to get in a groove with your character’s voice whether you start at the beginning or the end. I fill out character worksheets before I start writing. I’ve been doing that for the past few manuscripts, so it’s not new to this one. But even with that prep, it still takes a while to get into a groove with the character’s voice. I was feeling her out in the closing few chapters, but writing her is familiar now. By the time I get to the beginning, I’ll have the main character’s voice down so well that those opening pages should really flow. And when it comes time to revise, it will be much easier to fix any inconsistencies at the end.

I’ve already figured out my character’s issues. This point sort of goes along with the one above, but when I outlined the story and filled out my character sketch, I had a particular character arc in mind for her. As I wrote the end and started working backward, I realized there was another issue she had to work through. If I’d started at the beginning, I wouldn’t have laid the foundations for that flaw, and it would have been something I had to solve in revision.

The first draft is going to be short. I always write sparsely in a first draft, but thanks to my detailed outline, I see that I’m not going to be anywhere near the word count goal I set. Which is fine. I’d rather know that everything I’m putting in this draft is essential to moving the story forward–which is what my outline tells me–than be trying to figure out what scenes have to be cut later. And that’s what I’ve had to do with every manuscript in the past, I think partially because I didn’t outline enough, but also because I was working toward a word count goal and thought I needed to fill the space. Looking at my outline as I draft, with the major plot points in front of me, I’m not tempted to try and fill the MS with unnecessary scenes that won’t add to the forward momentum of the story.

I’m adding as I go, but it’s ok. Usually when I draft I don’t allow myself to go back and revise any chapters I’ve already written, but I’ve been more flexible with this one, and it’s entirely due to the reverse nature of the drafting. I find that I’ll write a new scene, and because of something that happens in that scene, I now need to add to the later scene. But because I’m writing in reverse, it’s not really an edit. It’s more that I left something out of the later scene because I hadn’t written the earlier one yet and didn’t realize the character needed to reflect on a particular incident or hash something out with another character. Because even with my outline, there’s still flexibility for little incidents to be added. I’m sticking to my guns about not changing any text that’s already there, but adding more totally works. Plus it helps with my sparse draft :).

I’m less likely to give away information too soon. I noticed this benefit within the first few days of writing. When you’re writing forward, you’re planting seeds for a later reveal. Writing backward, you get to just put it all out there right away, and it’s a lot easier not to talk about it the further back you go because you know you’ve already written it and the characters either don’t know or can’t talk about it yet. I love this! I already feel like things are being revealed at the right times to produce the most conflict, so as I keep working toward the beginning, I’ll be creating more tension as I find ways for my characters to stay in the dark. Plus, I’ll know exactly where to plant those seeds.

I still look ahead (or behind) when I begin writing for the day. I worked with a much looser outline in the past, but I would glance ahead to see what I was working toward before I started writing each day. Since I’m writing backward, I look at what I’ve planned for the scenes leading up to the ones I’m writing each day. That way I have an idea what the characters were doing immediately before the scene began–what their emotions should be, where they physically are, what they’re working toward. I thought this might be trickier working backward, but with the outline, I’ve found it only takes me a few minutes to get in the right mindset for a new scene.

So, with the manuscript close to halfway drafted (at least according to my outline–I said it was going to be short!), I’m pretty sold on writing in reverse. Now, I’ll be completely honest. I still don’t love drafting. I have to make myself sit at my desk and do it every day, and I stop when I reach 2,000 words, even if I’m on a roll. I do that because if I’m in a great place, it will be easier for me to start again the next day. I don’t think I will ever be a writer who loves drafting, but at least this method is helping me feel good about where this draft is headed.

Have you ever tried drafting in reverse? If so, how did it work for you?

Revising, Writing

An Update on The Manuscript That Wouldn’t Let Me Go

Nearly a year ago I wrote about the manuscript that wouldn’t let me go, and the post resonated with quite a few readers. This response didn’t surprise me as I knew it was a common phenomenon to love a particular story so much. Well, I have an update on that project. I finally finished redrafting it! (For those of you who are curious, it’s the MS currently listed as DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN under the Writing tab. However, I’ve changed the title and am working on an updated description to go with the updated manuscript.)

Anyway … I made it about halfway through revising the MS in January before it was time to return to my more current project, AS SEEN ON EVIE. Because no matter how much I loved this older project and wanted to fix it, the new one had to be my priority. I kept thinking throughout the year that I’d return to it, but with revising EVIE, reading for CPs, vacations …. well, I sort of lost my enthusiasm for it. But I finally reached that time when EVIE was ready to go out into the world and I needed to work on something else to keep myself from going crazy with the wait. Sure, I could have worked on something new, but I’d already started this project, so …

About a month ago, I read through that first half of the manuscript I’d already revised. Here was my first tweet about it:

How nice to read the first chapter and remember the seeds I planted in this rewrite. Maybe I am ready to tackle this!

And then, a few days later, there was this:

Love reading a revision I started months ago and discovering that it’s good. Think I really did figure out how to fix this MS!

Only thing is, I wish I’d already finished the whole revision instead of half because I still hate drafting :(.

Oh no! I reached the end of the revision. Now I have to remember where I was headed with this 9 months ago …

On the bright side, I am able to keep a good portion of the previous version of the MS, so I’m not writing from scratch.

So, I spent the past few weeks redrafting the rest of the manuscript. This may not seem like a very long time for a revision, but I really had spent the time planning it out before. I also discovered as I went through it that most of the major changes I’d implemented occurred in the first half of the manuscript, and what I had to do in the second half fell into place pretty naturally as I inserted from my earlier manuscript. I did still have to write a couple of new scenes, though–never my favorite part. I also had to make the tough decision to omit two scenes, one of which I’d definitely classify as a darling. However, as I mentioned in the previous post about returning to a manuscript you love after such a long hiatus, it doesn’t hurt nearly as much to cut scenes or characters when you have that much distance from them.

And now we come to the question of what I plan to do with this manuscript. Before, I said I was doing this just for me. I’m not so sure about that anymore. Obviously it’s back at draft one stage again (although a more polished first draft than usual), so it requires revision, but then we’ll see what my critique partners say. Perhaps I will want to send it back out into the world again once I polish it instead of keeping it to myself. We’ll see. It’s all a matter of whether I manage to shine it up to its true potential this time. After tackling this draft, I’m much more optimistic than when I started than it could reach perfection. (Anyone who’s read a version of DUET will understand that word choice 🙂 ).

Character, Revising, Writing

Revising One Character At A Time–Plus A Giveaway!

Revision time!!!

Yes, that does deserve multiple exclamation points because I love to revise. I let this manuscript sit the self-imposed month before even doing a read-through. What surprised me as I was reading was that the part of the manuscript I struggled with the most as I was drafting actually isn’t half-bad. However, there was a very messy plot point I needed to clear up, and I wasn’t sure how to approach it.

Normally my process is to make notes during the read-through (still did that) and then start plowing through revisions from the beginning. But this plot issue was too convoluted for my usual method. At first I started jumping around, making little fixes in various scenes. But then I realized the plot problem was rooted in a character issue–because in the first draft, the boy was really just a foil for the girl. You see, the whole reason I included his point of view initially was to reveal some important information in the opening chapters the girl didn’t know. He didn’t deserve to be an afterthought, a boy without his own story to tell. I knew it was a problem, but I couldn’t deal with it in the draft. At that stage, my goal was just to power through to the end.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 11.20.27 AMSo here I was, ready to revise but not sure how to bring him into the spotlight, until–ta da–light bulb moment. In the past when I had two POVs, I did a round of revisions where I focused on one character at a time to check voice, character arc, etc., but it was later in the process. For this manuscript, I realized it needed to happen in the very first round of revision. Essentially, now that I had a draft, I needed to revise each character’s scenes as separate novellas, if you will. Thanks to Scrivener, it’s super-easy to move scenes around. I grouped all of the boy’s scenes together, and after I’m finished revising both, I’ll put them back in the correct order. (Yes, this is a screenshot from my Scrivener file, but I don’t think it really gives much away …)

I just finished revising the boy’s last scene. It was a bit confusing at times since I was changing plot points in the boy’s scenes that I will later have to fix in the girl’s scenes, but I have a much better understanding of who he is, what he wants, what he’s willing to do to get it, and ultimately what he’s willing to sacrifice. Only about half of that was present in the draft. It’s likely I’ll do another round like this later, when I’m more concerned about voice than plot and character arc. In any case, I think it’s going to make this draft so much stronger than if I’d worked through the story linearly, alternating between the two characters.

Because I’m in such a good mood–and also because I haven’t made time to write any reviews the last few weeks–I thought I’d give away a couple of books from my Scholastic Warehouse Sale haul. In honor of the boy POV I’ve been revising, I’ll do a middle grade book told from a boy’s POV and a young adult book told in alternating boy/girl POVs. I really enjoyed both of these books but just didn’t get around to reviews. They are: THE HEARTBREAK MESSENGER by Alexander Vance and THE GEOGRAPHY OF YOU AND ME by Jennifer E. Smith. Oh, do you need to know what these are about before you enter? Here you go:

The Heartbreak Messenger by Alexander Vance

Quentin never asked to be the Heartbreak Messenger, it just kind of happened. The valuable communication service he offers is simple: he delivers break-up messages. For a small fee, he will deliver that message to your soon-to-be ex-girlfriend. If you order the deluxe package, he’ll even throw in some flowers and a box of chocolates. You know, to soften the blow…

At first, Quentin’s entrepreneurial brainchild is surprisingly successful. But as he interacts with clients, message recipients, and his long-time best friend, Abigail, it doesn’t take long for him to wonder if his own heart will remain intact. Quentin discovers that the game of love and the emotions that go with it are as complicated as they come–even for an almost innocent bystander.


The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. SmithLucy and Owen meet somewhere between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City apartment building, on an elevator rendered useless by a citywide blackout. After they’re rescued, they spend a single night together, wandering the darkened streets and marveling at the rare appearance of stars above Manhattan. But once the power is restored, so is reality. Lucy soon moves to Edinburgh with her parents, while Owen heads out west with his father.

Lucy and Owen’s relationship plays out across the globe as they stay in touch through postcards, occasional e-mails, and — finally — a reunion in the city where they first met.

Hmm … both of these make a nice Valentine’s Day tie-in as well :). To make it fun, you can choose to enter for one or both of these books. Just click on the Rafflecopter here, and it will ask you. When I go in to pick winners, if the first person it randomly chooses wants both, he/she will be the only winner. If the first person only wants one of the books, there will be a second winner for the other book. Sound good? Happy writing, everyone!