Revising, Writing

A Revision Plan of Attack Using Collections in Scrivener

I intended to write a celebratory post when I finished drafting this latest work-in-progress, but I never got around to it. I’m now nearly through my self-imposed month of letting the manuscript sit, but I certainly haven’t been idle. Even without reading through the manuscript again, I already have a ton of notes jotted in my Scrivener file. I spent several days brainstorming a title for the manuscript, but it took a morning sitting in the airport, the airline sending me constant updates about our flight, to make a light bulb go off in my brain.

“Your Flight Has Been Delayed,” the email said over and over. And while that would be pretty on the nose for my novel, it needed a slight change.


I guess this title would make more sense if I told you what the manuscript is about, huh? Here’s my working query, which I’ve also added to my Writing tab.

When seventeen-year-old Jenny Waters boards Flight 237 on Aug. 2, 1995, in New York, she has two main goals. First, convince her parents to let her apply to the journalism program at Columbia University. Second, woman up and kiss her boyfriend of three months.

But when Jenny and the other passengers disembark in St. Louis, the airport manager informs them their plane disappeared—25 years ago. Like the universe hit pause on their plane while the rest of the world kept moving. In 2020, newspaper reporter isn’t exactly a top career choice, and as for her boyfriend, well, all his kisses belong to Jenny’s best friend. His wife. And they’re both in their forties.

As if trying to adjust to a new century isn’t hard enough, a conspiracy group called the Time Protection League sets out to prove Flight 237 is a big hoax. When Jenny’s not dealing with rumors she’s a clone, she’s fighting her attraction to Dylan, who introduces her to everything that’s good about her new present, like Harry Potter and late-night texting.

Too bad Dylan happens to be the son of Jenny’s former boyfriend and BFF. Yeah, that’s not awkward.

ONCE UPON A KISS meets Lost in YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED, a 75,000-word young adult contemporary novel with speculative elements.

Obviously the word count will change once I start revising, but it’s a start.

One of the Scrivener features I plan to use as I revise is to create Collections so I can analyze certain areas of the manuscript in smaller chunks. For those of you who aren’t as familiar with Scrivener, a Collection is a group of scenes/chapters that you tag to belong to a group–or Collection–and can then view separately. Any changes you make to the scenes while viewing in the Collection are updated in the main manuscript. It’s simply a way to view them differently. This screen shot shows how I used Collections to separate out the two viewpoints in my YA contemporary, AS SEEN ON EVIE. The Evie scenes are grouped together, and above there’s a separate collection for the Justin scenes.

For this manuscript, I only have one point of view, but there are several subplots I want to analyze for various reasons. I plan to create Collections so I can go through the plot points for each of those subplots and do several checks–character descriptions and dialogue, plot progression, consistency, and other details. Creating the Collections is pretty simple.

  1. Click on the scene you want to include in the Collection.
  2. Click on the little arrow next to the settings icon at the bottom of the Binder.
  3. Select Add to Collection, New Collection.
  4. Type in the name of the Collection.
  5. For any other scenes you want to include, right-click and the name of the Collection will pop up. You can then view all scenes in that Collection by clicking on its name in the Binder.


I anticipate separating out the love story, friend drama, conspiracy group, and interactions with other people who were on the plane with her will help ensure those plots all have their own mini plot arcs and then fit into the overarching story. I love that Scrivener makes this easy to do.

What tricks do you use to ensure your subplots hold their weight within the overall story?


It’s Drafting Time!

A few weeks ago I posted that I would start drafting my new project on Monday, Feb. 12, and I wanted to report that I have, indeed, started drafting. Anyone who’s been following my blog for a while knows this is my least favorite part of the writing process. I would much rather be revising words already on the page than staring at a blank one. However, I have plotted this project out in quite a bit of detail, so I expect to keep drafting at a steady pace.

I drafted my last manuscript, YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME, completely in reverse. I started with the first last chapter and worked backward. I really liked that process and thought I would do the same with this new project. However, as I was plotting I found myself jumping around, throwing in a scene here and a scene there. So far I am drafting from the beginning, but it’s possible I will jump around a bit. That’s the beauty of Scrivener. Since I already have my scenes/sequels all planned out, I can pop from one scene to another.

Everyone has a different drafting style and mine isn’t even the same every time, but for those of you who are interested, here’s my approach this time.

1. I outlined in Scrivener using K.M. Weiland’s STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL as a guide. She has a couple of posts on her website explaining how to do this, but she does much more extensive outlining than me. I basically make sure I’ve included all the major plot points, and then add the scenes in between. (There are more scenes under several of these flags that you can’t see.)

2. I follow Ms. Weiland’s scene/sequel structure. You may notice that of the scenes you can see, there is always an even number. That’s because there is a scene and then a sequel. I make a note card for each one.

These scenes and sequels have nothing to do with chapters. I don’t worry about chapters until I’m finished drafting. Sometimes they work great for chapter breaks. Other times I end up combining scenes/sequels into a single chapter and/or breaking up a scene into two chapters. It’s all about where the best break is to keep a reader intrigued.

3. After I finish deciding my major plot points and filling in all the scenes and sequels, I set my drafting goals. I do a modified fast-draft, meaning I set myself a deadline and draft a certain amount of words each day no matter what. In Scrivener, I select Project, then Show Project Targets. There are two sets of targets–the session target (each day) and the draft target (overall). I’ve set my draft target for April 12. Under Session Target, you can choose which days of the week you plan to write. In my case, I only write during the week while my kids are at school. Then I click OK and set my overall manuscript target. Each day, it automatically adjusts my session target depending on how many words I write.

4. I start drafting! As you can see above, I’ve drafted two days and went a little over today :). I’m not 100 percent tied to my outline. I have some empty scene/sequel note cards at the bottom of my Scrivener file in case I decide there’s something else that needs to happen. There’s also the possibility I’ll get into it and something I’ve planned no longer makes sense. But having this road map gives me direction. I feel so much more confident drafting with an outline than I did when I used to draft with no idea where I was going.

I’m excited to be working on something new. What’s your drafting strategy? Do you work with an outline or wing it?



Contests, PitchWars, Revising, Writing, Young Adult

Tackling a Major Revision, or How I’m Revising for Pitch Wars

In addition to promising to talk about my Pitch Wars mentors’ books (I’ll feature Kristin Smith’s books next week!), I said I’d share my revision process, so here goes.

A week after the Pitch Wars announcement, I received a thirteen-page edit letter from my mentors, as well as an invitation to view a Google Doc with line edits on the full manuscript I submitted for consideration. Neither of these documents were really as overwhelming as they might seem. I have two mentors, so the length of the edit letter had a lot to do with two writers making comments on it, I think. Both mentors wrote an introduction, followed by comments on chapters as they saw issues (some chapters didn’t have comments–yay!), and then there were character notes and miscellaneous thoughts at the end. As for the line edits, they’re super helpful as I’m revising because many of them point out places my mentors love and I should definitely keep, not just areas I need to fix.

So how have I approached this?

1. A huge sigh of relief. My mentors are amazing! I knew this manuscript wasn’t there yet. It’s why I entered Pitch Wars. Kristin and Beth’s recommendations for enhancing my manuscript and taking it to the next level were fantastic. We emailed back and forth on a couple of suggestions where I had reservations and brainstormed alternate solutions. But the thing was, I wouldn’t have come up with alternate solutions if they hadn’t pointed out they had an issue with the way things currently stood.

2. Create an outline listing how I proposed implementing the suggested changes in the manuscript. The nice thing here is that I already had all of the outline information in my Scrivener file. I set it up before I drafted the novel, so all I had to do was export my outline and update it according to the changes I planned to make.

In addition, I included extensive revision notes. For the few new chapters, the revision notes were pretty much a step-by-step guide through the chapter. This outline took me about four or five days to complete. Here’s an example from an early chapter, since I don’t want to give too much away :).

3. Send the outline to my mentors for approval. Even though my outline addressed all of my mentors’ suggestions, either incorporating them or explaining why I felt another solution worked better, sending in the outline had me biting my nails. Was I suggesting enough? Would I need to go back to the drawing board and come up with different solutions? But it turned out I had nothing to worry about. My super-supportive mentors loved my outline, and while they had a few tweaks and additional suggestions, they gave me the go-ahead to start revising.

4. Input the outline changes and revision notes into Scrivener. It may seem like extra work to output the outline and then put it back into Scrivener, but it took maybe an hour of cutting and pasting, and I like to have everything in my Scrivener file as I’m working. So as I’m revising, that same chapter you saw above looks like this in Scrivener. (When I’m tackling a revision on my own, I skip straight to this step and put all my revision notes into Scrivener, except with this particular manuscript I did go through this outline-with-revision-notes process on an earlier draft with two of my critique partners. That’s how I knew it was such an easy way to approach explaining what I planned to change.)

5. Start revising! Once I had my Scrivener file all ready to go, I started revising chapter by chapter. My system is:

a. Tackle chapter revision notes.

b. Incorporate line edits from my mentors.

c. Complete a repeated word search for the chapter. Yes, this slows down my revisions a bit. However, everyone who’s read this manuscript has commented on pacing as a strength, and I think one factor is that I weeded out repeated words chapter-by-chapter early in the revision process. Since I’ve done it before, I’m not doing it as detailed during this revision, particularly on the chapters that don’t have a ton of changes. But for the brand-new chapters (I’ve already written two), you bet! Because I still tend to use the same words over and over, and searching for those repeated words ensures each character sounds unique and that I’m using the best word in each instance. Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now, but you can refer to my post on why you might want to change a word, even if you only use it twice in a chapter.

So where am I now?

Making great progress and excited about how the changes I’ve already made are positively impacting the manuscript. This process is fantastic, and no matter how the agent round pans out, I’m confident YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME will be a much stronger manuscript. I’m so thankful for Kristin and Beth’s insight and support, as well as all of my CPs who got me here in the first place.

While I’m applying this process to Pitch Wars revisions, it could be used to tackle any major revision. As I mentioned above, I used it with my CPs when working through some issues on an earlier draft. Also, if you have a revise & resubmit with an agent or editor and they’re open to seeing what you plan to do with the revisions before you start on them, you could use this sort of system. It just depends on how much detail they want.

Now I’d better get back to revising!!

Before the Draft, Writing, Writing in Reverse

Before the Draft: A New Approach to Outlining in Scrivener

It’s no secret that drafting is my least favorite part of the writing process. In the past, I’ve been what you’d probably call a plantser. I did a fair amount of planning in advance, but I left a number of details open during the drafting process. I had enough filled in that I’ve never felt like I had writer’s block, but I would still start most drafting days with a feeling of dread. As I began brainstorming this new project, I decided to explore a new process, and I drew inspiration from two sources.


I’ve been following Ms. Weiland’s blog for years, and she’s written several posts on using Scrivener to outline and edit your novel. One particular post on flagging the major plot points in your Scrivener file caught my attention, so I ordered her book to explore it more in-depth. As I read through STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL, I felt reassured that my previous novels hit these major plot points, BUT I’m positive they didn’t on my first draft. I had to go through several revisions before I was hitting the inciting incident, first plot point, second plot point, etc., at all the right areas of the manuscript.

So what am I doing different with this manuscript? I set it up in Scrivener the way Ms. Weiland suggested. I laid out my major plot points first, and now I’m filling in the necessary scenes to reach each point. I’m confident that my first draft is going to be so much more solid from an overall pacing and structural standpoint than it’s ever been before. Here’s a shot of how it looks, minus the specific scenes of course :).


2. Writing in Reverse seminar by K.R. Conway at NESCBWI

When I read the description for K.R. Conway’s seminar, I was intrigued. How do you write in reverse? The main idea is to plot in reverse–to figure out the climax of your story and work backwards. This concept made a lot of sense to me, so I’ve been using it to plot out this story, and I’ve found it quite beneficial to start with where the characters end up and work backwards to the beginning. It’s helped me figure out how they reached the tipping point at the end and actually who they are as characters. (The reason you only see generic scenes in the screenshot above is because I’ve plotted out everything after that already.)

I intend to take this one step further and attempt drafting most of this in reverse. Like many writers, I believe the beginning is the hardest thing to write. I think by starting at the end, I’ll know my characters so well by the time I get to the opening of the story, I’ll be less tempted to info-dump and have a better sense of how to introduce them to readers. We’ll see. I’m excited to find out!

Now there’s something–me excited to draft. I shall be starting next Monday … at THE END :).



Blogging, Giveaways

Celebrating Three Years of Blogging! (and giving away books, of course)

I’ll pretty much take any excuse to celebrate, but this blog merits celebration for me anyway. I started it on May 2, 2012, to participate in The Writer’s Voice contest, and it’s been a fantastic outlet for me to talk about books I love and share my writing journey.

I’ve been storing up a few of my finds from the Scholastic Warehouse Sale to give away all at once, so there’ll be a giveaway at the end of this post. But first, I love statistics, so I’m going to take a look at what was most popular on the blog both in the past year and over the past three years, as well as the top searches that led people here.

Top 10 Posts/Pages in the Past Year

10. Why It’s So Hard to Get Your First Novel Published – One of my earliest posts and I completely understand why people are still landing on it.

9. About – It’s nice people want to read about me :).

8. MMGM: WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME Trailer Reveal, Interview and Giveaway! – Hey, Kimberley, check it out!

7. A BOY COULD #BLOGPITCH Logline and First 250 Words – Thanks for the signal boost, Authoress! (And in case you’re newer here, A BOY COULD is the old title for CATCH HIM BY DISGUISE.)

6. MMGM: SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF – Kids must be reading this in school because it was in the top ten last year, too.

5. What I’ve Learned in Three Years of Querying – These annual posts on my querying experiences are always popular.

4. Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth – Movie connection, anyone?

3. A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read – A post from 2013 that is still getting hits!

2. Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener – Someone linked to this post on a Scrivener site, so thanks!

1. MG/YA Agents & Their Books – BY FAR the most popular feature on my blog, and I do keep this page updated, so check it out!

Top 10 Posts/Pages of All Time

I’m betting a lot of these are the same since so many of my top posts in the past year weren’t from the past year. Let’s see, shall we?

10. My Thoughts on SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (Spoilers!) – Oh, I forgot this was so popular.

9. Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth

8. YA Review and Giveaway: PERFECT SCOUNDRELS by Ally CarterAnd everyone wanted to win this one.

7. MMGM: WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME Trailer Reveal, Interview and Giveaway!

6. Why It’s So Hard to Get Your First Novel Published

5. MMGM: THE UNWANTEDS: ISLAND OF SILENCE – And there must have been assignments on this book, too.


3. Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener

2. A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read

1. MG/YA Agents & Their Books

Top 5 Searches of the Past Year

Although there are 1,190 “Unknown search terms,” I lumped the rest into categories to see what searches most often direct people here. Even with those missing statistics, I bet these are representative of the whole.

5. Searches for me! Although I barely eked past searches for the Scholastic Warehouse Sale and questions about what happened to the huntsman’s wife in “Snow White and the Huntsman.” I don’t know, either, guys. That’s why you ended up at my blog–because I asked that question, too! Oh, and for the person who searched for “michelle human bean” … well, I’m not sure what you were trying to find there, but it made me giggle, so thanks.

4. Writing – Yay! I’m so glad people have found my blog through craft-related searches.

3. Querying – I grouped all querying-related questions into this category. My favorite was “is it really that hard to get published” (emphasis mine). I’m thinking they didn’t like the answer they found here …

2. Agents who represent middle grade/young adult books – This would be why that page listed above is No. 1 for the past year and of all time on my blog. When people search for agents I have listed or just for agents who rep MG/YA, it sends them here.

1. Books I’ve reviewed – This category wins by a long shot, probably thanks to school book reports. I spied a number of theme and character searches. I don’t think my reviews will do their homework for them, but I’m happy to be a resource.

It’s always helpful to see what’s working on the blog. I am curious to know if other bloggers see the same phenomenon, where older posts are getting more hits in a given year than new posts. I’m not worried about it as my statistics show more people are coming to the blog; it’s just fascinating.

Ok, on to the giveaway! I have four books from the Scholastic Warehouse Sale to pass on to one lucky winner. Here they are:

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan The Dirt Diary by Anna Staniszewski The Swift Boys and Me by Kody Keplinger

I was in a bit of a review slump when I read these, but I highly recommend all of them. To enter, click on this Rafflecopter link. North America only, please. Good luck and thanks for reading my blog!

Critiquing, Revising, Writing

How I Tackle Revisions: Synthesizing Feedback

Yesterday I received comments from the last of my second round readers (thanks, ladies!). I’m itching to jump right in and start revising, but I am forcing myself to take a few days to think through it all and figure out a plan of attack before I dig in. I’ve posted on patience before (here, here), so you all know that is AGONIZING for me, but I’ve assigned myself another task to keep me busy the rest of this week, so I will prevail!

I was sure I’d posted before on how I approach feedback, but the closest I found was a post on Solving the Revision Puzzle, which was more about how getting feedback from multiple CPs helped me figure out how to revise. It’s possible I may find whatever post I’m remembering later, or maybe I’m just thinking of posts I’ve seen from other writers since this is a popular topic :). Anyway, here are the questions I ask when I receive feedback. And let me preface this by saying that I’m talking about big-picture issues here, not the minor issues that you automatically fix.

Does this comment resonate with what I want the story to be?

This is the most important question, and it’s both the easiest and hardest to answer.

It’s easy to answer when I read a comment and automatically think, “Yes! How did I miss that?”

It’s also easy to answer when the suggestion would take my story in a direction I absolutely don’t want to go. To be honest, that rarely happens. More often, it’s something I have to really think about, and more questions arise:

  • Would making this change modify the story in a way that it won’t be what I want it to be?
  • How attached am I to this character/POV/setting/age/plot point/etc.? Do I need it?

For the purposes of this post I’m going to use my one of my earlier manuscripts, DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN, as an example. I had a reader who suggested I eliminate a character and gave some valid reasons for it. However, I thought the character was important to the forward momentum of the story and I couldn’t see another way to make it work. Besides, I liked that subplot, so the suggestion didn’t resonate with me. Was it the right call? It doesn’t matter, because I was so resistant to the suggestion, I couldn’t have made it work.

This isn’t the only time I’ve decided not to act on a comment after careful consideration. Sometimes that’s what’s best for my story. None of my CPs or readers will be offended if I don’t implement one of their suggestions. I know I wouldn’t be. Ultimately it won’t serve me well to turn it into something I don’t like or can’t own.

On the other hand, it does serve me well to consider comments that might stretch my comfort zone without going beyond parameters I can accept. So back to DUET: I had an agent who said they would take another look if I aged it up to young adult. That one gave me pause, because changing it to YA would not affect the central story I wanted to tell, and I wasn’t tied to it being middle grade. So that led to the next question:

Will this change make the story better?

Here’s my philosophy: if the suggestion doesn’t conflict with my vision and I don’t see any immediate problems that will arise as a result, I try it. The worst that can happen is I end up going back to the earlier version. (Scrivener makes this very easy to do!) In the case of DUET, I think aging it up was the right change, even though I didn’t find the right agent fit (the agent who requested the R&R stopped agenting).

So that’s my progression for deciding whether or not to make a change. But often when I know I need to make a change, the hardest question is:

How do I fix this?

Sometimes I know right away what I need to do. The comments alone are enough to make a light bulb go off in my head with the various scenes I need to attack to fix the issue. Other times I have to sit and think about it, maybe for hours or maybe for days (hopefully not for weeks!).

For example, with my current manuscript my first round readers were unanimous about a major change I needed to make. To be honest, it was one of those things I’d held onto that I had a feeling wasn’t going to work, so when they said it had to go, I already had a plan in mind. But with this second round, there were some comments from the early responders that I’ve been mulling over while I waited for the final reader, and I’ve needed that time to figure out how I want to approach them or even if I want to (going back to my first question).

What’s next?

Now that I have all of the comments, I can compare and see where they line up to help me decide what to do. And the nice thing is revision doesn’t have to be a solitary endeavor. If I have an idea and I’m not sure, I’ll go back to my readers and say, how about this? Would this resolve x? CPs and betas are generally happy to help brainstorm a solution or clarify a point. Sometimes they’ll even read again to see if my solution worked.

Once I’ve synthesized all the comments from this round of readers, I’ll do this all over again with another set until I think the manuscript’s ready to go out into the world. But that’s another post :).

How do you tackle feedback? Any other tips to add?

Other How I Tackle Revisions posts:

Revising, Writing

How I Tackle Revisions: Crutch Words

So I’ve written about crutch words before. On my last manuscript, weeding out crutch words was my final step before querying agents. I decided to address them much earlier in the process this time, while I was waiting for feedback from my first round of readers. I realize that I’ll be making significant changes to the manuscript, but I expect I’ll be much more aware of my word choices as I revise, so I don’t think it’s too early in the process.

Because I was in waiting mode instead of anxious to start querying, I went much more in-depth with this step than previously, and although it was a tedious process, I know the manuscript is stronger for it. As before, I started by creating a Wordle:A Boy Could Wordle 032514 copy

Next, I set my Scrivener window to show the full manuscript as a continuous document. Starting with the largest words that weren’t proper names, I searched for each word individually. I love the way Scrivener highlights them so I can just page down. It’s easier to see when the words occur in close proximity than, say, using the find function in Microsoft Word. Here are the words* I covered:

back, get, didn’t/don’t, something, like, know, just, could/couldn’t, away, way, one, time, really, go/going, want, was/were, would, right, need, think

These are the words I instinctively write in a first draft. Sometimes they’re the right words, but often there are stronger words that could take their place and convey the same meaning more powerfully. The tricky thing about crutch words is that you don’t want to strip them entirely or it can strangle your voice.

Because I was doing a word search instead of reading chronologically, I was forced to consider each word carefully in the context of who was saying/thinking it. Often a synonym would work in the context, but I still had to consider whether it was appropriate for the character. I asked myself questions like:

  • Is the antagonist more likely to say “I get it” or “I understand”?
  • Would the MC’s father say “I don’t think sorry is good enough” or use a more definitive statement such as “Sorry isn’t good enough”?
  • Would a teenager ever say “as though” in place of “like“?
  • Would this character say “going to” or “gonna”?
  • Is “want to” or “could” necessary before this verb?
  • Does it makes sense to contract “she would” to “she’d” or “would have” to “would’ve”?
  • Is there a negative verb I can use instead of modifying a positive verb with “don’t/didn’t“?
  • Can the sentence be reworded/rearranged to avoid the use of “was“?
  • Can I delete the word entirely without changing the meaning of the sentence or the voice?

By the end of the process, I felt confident each of my characters had a more unique voice, and I also cut 1,000 unnecessary words from the manuscript. Interestingly, as I got down to the smaller words, I sometimes found a word I’d swapped out earlier (i.e., “need” instead of “want”) and decided the original word really was the best choice. The nice thing about doing this earlier in the process is that I will be reading through the manuscript several more times, and I will be much more alert to these particular words and how they relate to the character involved.

How do you eliminate crutch words? Do you struggle with the same words I do?

Other posts in this series:

*You may notice I held off on words related to body parts–head, eyes, see, hand, etc. That’s because I plan to go through and analyze my beats separately. I recently purchased “The Emotion Thesaurus,” so I’m hoping that will help me clean those up.