Revising, Young Adult

Chop Chop: A Revision Tale

Last month, I posted about how I had finished my longest draft ever, ending up at 90,983 words. Quite honestly, I had no idea how I had written that much.

Even before I started reading through the manuscript, I was sure it was too long. So I went into my initial editing round with the mindset of reducing the word count. That’s never been a particular focus for me–more often I’m trying add!–but I still employed a number of the same editing strategies I usually do to ensure the manuscript was as streamlined as possible.

Some of my strategies included:

  1. Checking for scenes where information was repeated.
  2. Deleting weakening phrases such as “I know,” “I think,” “It seems,” etc. Most of the time these just aren’t necessary.
  3. Reviewing all of the beats. Were the characters shrugging, laughing, or smiling too much? Were two characters doing the same thing? Or even, were the only beats actions? Because it’s important to mix it up with other sorts of beats as well, like internal thought. And if it’s clear who’s speaking, you might not need a beat at all.
  4. Eliminating/replacing commonly used words. I didn’t actually do word searches this time to eliminate repeated words. I’ve gotten to a point where my crutch words jump out at me. Plus, I’ve been doing line edits on my 2021 novel, and all of my editor’s notes were fresh in my mind.

By the time I sent the manuscript off to my critique partners, I had it down to 87,453, so I had cut about 3,500 words on my own. Not too bad!

When the comments returned from my critique partners, it was clear I still had work to do. In varying degrees, they all said the manuscript felt long. Some had specific suggestions on what to cut, while others weren’t sure. It’s easy when a comment says “This chapter feels long” or “This chapter feels unnecessary” to make a decision about it. I started with those and then tackled all the other feedback I received. I thought I was done revising when I went back and read through all the comments again and realized I needed to actually rearrange a key plot point in the manuscript. Once I did that, it allowed me to cut even more. Ta da!

When I finished revising from my CPs’ comments, I was at 80,260, so down more than 10,000 words! All that was left was my final reader: my husband.

I had moved A LOT of things around in this draft after my critique partners read the manuscript, so I was mostly concerned with whether the book still made sense. Fortunately, he said it did! But he also still pointed out two scenes that he thought dragged on longer than they should. So… more cutting!

I trimmed the last two scenes and sent the manuscript off to my agent. The final count was 79,932 words. When all was said and done, I cut 11,051 words. Whew! But I know it’s a much stronger manuscript. And, of course, I’m by no means finished revising. There will be much more to come! But I’m up for it.

What are some of your tips for trimming manuscripts?

 

Quick Tip, Writing

What Day Is it? In Your MS, Not Real Life

As soon as I titled this post, I realized how often I ask myself that question right now. The days definitely do blend together. It helps that May is a big birthday month for my family. We had two in the first week, and my daughter is now counting down the days to her 10th birthday (double digits!!), so that helps us keep track of what day it is. But it would be easy to let one day drift into another when each one seems the same.

That can also be true in a manuscript, and I’ve discovered a few different tricks to track the time, depending on what the manuscript needs. Because how many days have passed is more important in some manuscripts than others. So here are a few ways I make sure I don’t lose track while I’m writing.

Use A Real Calendar!

I always use an actual calendar as my starting point. If you’re writing historical, then you can look up the calendar for that specific year. If you’re writing contemporary and aren’t sure what year the book will publish, choose a year a couple into the future. Unless the year is important (like in my debut, as it jumps from one specific year to another), it’s unlikely it will even be mentioned, so the most important thing is that your days don’t repeat or skip. As much as we’d all love to have three Saturdays in a row… wait, that doesn’t work so much anymore, does it?

Even if you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, if your book still follows our calendar, it would be helpful to just pick a year and use it as a reference. You can use the calendar on your phone/laptop, or you can go to an online resource like www.timeanddate.com, which will show you a calendar for a whole year.

Make a Timeline!

I’ve done this at different points and to varying degrees with different manuscripts. I have one manuscript where the dates are very important, not only for the passage of time but because of what’s happening in the world on those dates. So for that manuscript, I have a separate ongoing timeline document that I update as I’m writing to ensure scenes are happening when they need to. One of my favorite Scrivener features is the ability to use split screen while writing. I have used this feature while brainstorming, to ensure my timeline matches up with all the scenes I’m planning, and also while drafting, to check that I’m still on track with where the characters need to be in time. It’s super helpful! (I was going to include a picture, but it would give away too much about this project 😉.)

Use a Date Calculator!

There might be a case where you need to know how many days have passed since a certain date. For example, your character is marking the days since an important event, like a birthday, death, or wedding. Or counting down to it, like my daughter 😀. There are sites where you can input dates and it will tell you how many days have passed. If you want to get really technical, the date-to-date calculator on Timeanddate.com will even give you the minutes and seconds.

Extra Scrivener tip: If I’m using these resources repeatedly in a manuscript, I import the web page into my Scrivener file under Research.

Those are just a few tools I use to make sure my characters don’t end up losing a week or going to school an extra day somewhere in the manuscript.

Do you have any other tips on managing time within your manuscripts?

Blogging, Giveaways, Middle Grade, Young Adult

My 8th Blogiversary! With An Indie Bookstore Giveaway!

Tomorrow marks eight years of blogging for me, but I’m just going to celebrate today since I’ll be busy with weekend activities then. (Yes, I do know which day it is 🤣.) I wasn’t quite as active with the blog during the second half of 2019 due to a lot of life happenings, but since we’ve all been at home, I’ve started posting more again.

When I first started this blog, I was writing middle grade, and it was my main focus. I’ve since switched to young adult, so I don’t read as much middle grade anymore. However, my kids are now MG readers, and with us all home together, I’ve been including them in the review process. It’s great to still have a middle grade presence here on the blog through my actual middle grade readers! I post most of my YA reviews on Instagram these days and then compile them here as summaries. The content on this blog has evolved with my writing and commitments, but I think that’s the nature of things.

My book release is getting much closer! So in the coming year, you can expect a lot more information about my winter 2021 release, YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED.

I enjoy commemorating this blogiversary every year and pulling together statistics. It’s fun looking back and seeing how visitors have interacted with the blog. Even if you don’t find it as interesting as I do, stick around to the end for this year’s giveaway!

On to my annual statistics.

Top 10 Posts Published in the Past Year

10. After the Book Deal: All the Doubts – I haven’t put very many writing updates on the blog in the past year, but I did include an honest post in October about the doubts I experienced when the book deal started to feel real.

9. MG Review: WINTERBORNE HOME FOR VENGEANCE AND VALOR by Ally Carter – While I just said that I don’t read a ton of middle grade anymore, there are some exceptions, and Ally Carter writing a middle grade is definitely an exception! St. Louis was the first stop on her tour for this book, so we got to see her before stay-at-home orders starting going into effect. Both my son and I loved the book.

8. YA Review: SCARS LIKE WINGS by Erin Stewart – My editor sent me an ARC of this book from BEA last year (let’s all be sad just a moment that it won’t be happening this year). I was a little hesitant to read SCARS LIKE WINGS because I tend to shy away from books I’m afraid could make me cry, but it was such a fantastic read.

7. MMGM Sixth Grader Review: MY LIFE AS A POTATO by Arianne Costner – Once stay-at-home orders began, I decided my sixth grader should take over middle grade reviews on my blog, and the next three entries on this list are proof people are reading his reviews!

6. MMGM Sixth Grader Review: THE CHANGELINGS by Christina Soontornvat

5. MMGM Sixth Grader Review: A WISH IN THE DARK by Christina Soontornvat

4. YA Interview & Giveaway: ACROSS A BROKEN SHORE by Amy Trueblood – Set in 1930s San Francisco, this sophomore book by one of my critique partners is a fantastic read about a young woman who longs to be a doctor but whose family expects her to become a nun.

3. Happy 7th Blogiversary to Me! With a mystery signed book giveaway! – Maybe people do like my statistics? Or probably just the giveaway 😉.

2. MMGM Interview & Giveaway: THE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN by Krista Van Dolzer – Krista Van Dolzer is actually part of the reason I started this blog. She was one of the mentors for The Writers Voice contest in 2012, which required entrants to post their sample on a blog. So thanks, Krista! We have since become friends and critique partners, and I adore this book about math camp.

1. MMGM Interview & Giveaway: MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM by Rajani LaRocca – This is another middle grade book I just had to read last year, combining Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with baking. It was one of my favorite reads in 2019, and if you haven’t read it yet, you should!

Top 10 Posts/Pages of All Time

When I first started this blog, I wrote a middle grade review every week, so it’s fitting that several of those posts have stood the test of time.

10. MMGM: THE UNWANTEDS: ISLAND OF SILENCE – The second book in a popular middle grade series.

9. MMGM: ONCE UPON THE END by James Riley – Here’s another MG author for whom I will always make an exception. His books are hilarious and awesome.

8. Subjectivity and Why You Should Get Multiple Opinions – I wrote this post in 2013, and it is continually in my top ten. It’s a great reminder that we all need feedback to make our work the best it can be!

7. Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth – A popular series. I’m still baffled by those movies 🤔.

6. MMGM: SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF – This book is the first in an eighteen-book middle grade mystery series. I’ve read several of them but haven’t quite gotten through them all. They’re really great!

5. About – Seeing that people are visiting this page makes me really glad I just updated it 😀.

4. Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener – This post is listed on a Scrivener site somewhere and so continues to receive many visits. I do love my Scrivener!

3. A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read – The post that started my page listing middle grade and young adult books agents represent (see No. 2).

2. MG/YA Agents & Their Books – When I was researching agents, I found it helpful to know what books they represented. I still maintain this page for writers who may benefit from that same information. 

1. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon – Four years ago this past January, my friend and former colleague Ashley passed away unexpectedly. I wrote this post as my own tribute to her, and I’m glad people continue to read about her here and honor her memory.

In previous years, I’ve included stats on searches as well, but WordPress doesn’t give as much information anymore, so it’s not very fun. Oh well.

Let’s move on to the giveaway! I’ve been supporting my local independent bookstore with regular orders over the past couple months, but I’d love to support others. So I will be giving away a $50 gift card to the independent bookstore of the winner’s choice. To enter, leave a comment below or click on the Rafflecopter link for additional entries. The giveaway will end at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, May 8.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

NOTE: This giveaway has ended.

Drafting, Writing

It Is Finished! My Longest Draft Ever

Hey, friends! So, it’s been a really long time since I’ve posted an update about my writing. I looked back through my posts and found one about revising YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED from October, and then there was one about how I tried pantsing a book last summer. (That sounds really strange if you aren’t a writer, but the writers DO know what I mean 😉.)

Anyway, that book I was writing last summer? I ended up setting it aside because I just couldn’t figure out what to do with it. I do intend to go back to it, but sometimes you just need some distance. What this means is that for the first time in quite a while, I went more than a year without finishing a draft. In fact, the last time I finished a first draft was May 2018, when I finished writing YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED. Of course, I have done a lot of revising on that in the meantime 😀.

Last September, while I was still trying to figure out that other project, I had an idea for a new one and jotted down a few thoughts. Over the next couple of months, I added more ideas for it, and in December, I decided to sit down and draft for real. For me, this means setting an end deadline in Scrivener that gives me daily word count goals. Generally, I set my deadline so that I’m writing about 1,800 words per day.

I know many people find it hard to create in an anxious or stressful environment. For me, the best way to cope with anxiety and stress is to have goals. As much as I hate drafting, it gives me focus, and I’ve needed that for the past several months. As I already shared here on the blog, in early December, my best friend suffered a massive brain bleed while on vacation. Her family has shared her story and updates on a GoFundMe page here. At the end of December, she was transported back to Missouri, and I was able to start visiting her at the hospital. I wrote a significant portion of this book sitting in her hospital room, sometimes brainstorming ideas with family members or talking aloud to her, even when she was sleeping. With COVID-19, I can’t visit her right now (she moved to a rehab hospital a few weeks ago), but she’s still on my mind constantly.

And then there’s COVID-19 itself. Everyone in my family has stayed healthy so far. My kids have been home from school since March 13, and my husband started working from home a week ago. It’s a change for all of us to be here together, but we’ve gotten into a pretty good routine. It’s definitely a blessing that my kids are old enough to manage most of their school on their own. But I’d be lying if I didn’t think initially about how having everyone here might affect my drafting momentum. I had decided at the beginning of March to step it up to 2,000 words per day, despite what Scrivener was telling me, and I was able to stick to that, even with everyone here, plus overseeing eLearning and general anxiety about what’s happening in the world.

So, here I am on April 1 with a finished draft. It’s my longest draft ever at 90,983 words. It’s also messy, as all first drafts are. I’m going to let it sit for a few days, and then I will get back to the part I love most–REVISING!

To celebrate, today we’re going to make cupcakes. Usually I treat myself to a gourmet cupcake as a reward for finishing a draft, but making them ourselves has the added bonus of a family activity 😍.

How are you all doing with your writing? Have you drafted anything new lately? How do you celebrate milestones?

Instagram, Writing, Young Adult, Your Life Has Been Delayed

Author Life Month on Instagram

Hi, friends!

Sorry I’ve been absent here on the blog. My best friend’s been in the hospital since early December, and I’ve been spending a lot of time with her. If you would like to read her story, her family is sharing it on this GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/chrissy-stricker.

But I did want to check in here as well since all of January passed without me posting anything at all. This February, I’m participating in #AuthorLifeMonth on Instagram, which is a great way to meet other authors and learn their stories. I’m going to include my first week of posts here, but I hope you’ll come check me out there as well!

Day 1: Me!

This is the shot I’m planning to use as my author photo, which I sort of snuck out there as my profile photo a while ago. My husband took it, and I just really love it. Looks like future days will have me talk more about what I write, but in general it’s YA with a twist of something more.


Day 2: My books!

My debut novel, YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED, is forthcoming from @bloomsburypublishing in winter 2021, and I couldn’t be more excited! It’s about 17-year-old Jenny Waters, who gets on a plane in 1995 in New York and lands in St. Louis in 2020. Everyone on the plane has stayed the same age, but everyone on the ground has aged 25 years. I love this book so much and can’t wait to share it with all of you!


Day 3: Writing Fuel!

Basically… caffeine. When I was younger and didn’t care about calories, I drank multiple cans of soda a day. I now limit myself to one can per day, which makes me sad because I really love my soda. However, I also love tea—especially Pure Leaf—and coffee. A couple of years ago my husband bought me a Keurig, and I didn’t think I’d be that into it, but it’s so perfect for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. Pictured are a few of my favorite flavors 😀.


Day 4: My Biggest Fan

In all honesty? My kids! But since I don’t post photos of them here (although my 9yo would love it if I would!) and my book isn’t out in the world yet to accrue reader fans, I’ll go with the fourth graders I presented to last week. They made me the nicest “compli-mats” full of notes about how they’re excited to read my book when it comes out. I mean, they’re just a tad below my target age, but they’ll be awfully close by the time the book hits shelves 😉.


Day 5: A Shelfie.

I really love my bookshelves. When we moved into this house, the basement had basically been party central. Like, the walls looked like an Applebees. Our painter said he’d never had to fill so many holes 🤣. And man, did it stink. So we had to overhaul it, and as part of that, we had these beautiful bookshelves built. I very quickly filled them up, and I’ve been trying to weed out some of my old books to allow room for my continuing book-buying habits. There’s still a little space…


Day 6: Inspiration.

I sort of hate the question, “What inspired you to write this book?” YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED is the seventh book I’ve written, and most of the time I can pinpoint what triggered the idea, but in this case, I don’t remember. I just know that one day I had this question:

  • What if a girl got on a plane and landed many years later?

And when it comes down to it, “What if…” is what really inspires anything I write. Sometimes it’s a movie I watch and I think, “That’s cool, but what if…” Or maybe I’m walking around at an event and see an interaction and think “What if…” I’ve written numerous stories based on questions that start right there. Some of my favorites have been:

  • What if twins were separated at birth by alien abduction?
  • What if a magical violin pulled you into the story of the music you were playing?
  • What if a girl is the star of the biggest reality show on the planet—and she doesn’t know?
  • What if a girl discovered her babysitter dead right after she texted her a death threat?

I am never short of “What if” questions.


Day 7: Swag/Stationary

As a pre-published author, I don’t have any swag yet, and I’ve never invested in fancy stationary. However, thanks to my kids’ schools requiring us to buy new notebooks every year that never get filled up, I have an endless supply of half to three-quarter empty spiral notebooks. So I use those for my to-do lists, writing notes to people, brainstorming, and anything else I want to keep note of at my desk.

When I do have swag, bookmarks are high on my list as many author friends have told me they’re the most beneficial. I’m not sure what else. I’d love ideas! If you’re a reader, what swag do you most love getting? If you’re a writer, what swag have you had the best feedback on?


Come see my entries for the rest of the month at https://www.instagram.com/michelleimason/!

After the Book Deal, Research, Revising, Writing, Your Life Has Been Delayed

After the Book Deal: All the Doubts!

Elizabeth, Me, Allison

Hey, friends, I promised I would give an update once I had gone through another round of edits, and I just finished on Friday. Boy, was I glad to send those edits in! But, first, let me just share that I got to do something very exciting earlier this month, which was to meet my editor, Allison Moore, in person. Here we are in the Bloomsbury offices, along with my agent, Elizabeth Bewley. I also had the privilege of meeting many other Bloomsbury team members, in marketing, publicity, design, and editing. I am so excited to be working with all of them!

On to the editing process! A lot of life had happened for me since I turned in my first round of edits (broken foot! starting a new book! kid stuff!), and so when I received the second round, I had to completely realign myself to YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED again. Even though I had been in a cycle of writing a book, querying, starting a new one for many years, this still felt different. In any case, my second round of edits was nowhere near as extensive as the first. My editor included some overall notes plus line edits. We set a deadline for me to turn them in three weeks later, and it seemed like no big deal. In one sense, it wasn’t. But here’s where the title of this post comes in: a huge wave of doubt and second-guessing myself hit as I was going through the notes.

Why now? Perhaps it’s because my editor said my book was in pretty good shape–not that I think this means I’ll be done after this round of edits–and that means everything is REAL. Before, even though I was super-excited, it still felt unreal. But people will actually be reading this book and have opinions about it at some point in the near future. Winter 2021 doesn’t feel nearly so far away in that context.

So, suddenly, I started re-checking every fact, even things my editor hadn’t flagged for me to double-check, out of my own self-doubt. If you aren’t aware, my book is about a girl from 1995 who travels to 2020, so while it isn’t set in the nineties, it’s still about a girl whose world view is the nineties. Even though I grew up in the nineties, I did not rely on memories alone. When I first wrote the book, I went through yearbooks, watched documentaries, did a ton of internet research, talked to people who were teens in the nineties, watched movies and read books from that time. And… I did that much of that all over again during this draft, just to confirm what I already had. I did end up making a few tweaks, but still.

So here’s a funny story about redoing my research: As you know if you’ve been following me, I use Scrivener. One of the features I love is that I can pull all of my research into the same file where I’m writing and just scroll down to it as a reference. Well, when I went to import some of this new research into Scrivener, I found that I’d already imported that same information the first time I researched.

Ah well. In the end, I came to the conclusion that when people ultimately read my book, there will probably be some adult readers who take issue with particular points regarding the nineties based on their own experience or think “Clueless” is an accurate representation of technology in 1995 (sooo not life anywhere but Hollywood and I bet not even there). Like anything else, my book is about how my character experienced technology and the world up to that point. And that’s always the trick when writing, right? That not everyone has the same experience.

What I do know is that with every round of edits my book gets better. Despite the doubts, I’m excited for it to be out in the world and love the team that is helping me get it there!

So, now that my second round of edits are off, I am diving back into my new project and gearing up for the craziness of that time between Halloween and the holidays.

Stay tuned for another update soon.

Character, Drafting, Writing

When a Plotter Attempts to Pants

It’s been a while since I posted a writing update here on the blog. That’s partially due to it being summer and my schedule changing drastically with my kids being off school and driving them to various camps, partially due to more freelance work, and partially due to drafting a new project. That’s where today’s post comes in.

A couple of months ago, I was looking through my idea list to see what I might want to write next. I keep a whole file of ideas, and usually when I’m ready to write something new, there’s one that jumps out at me. That’s certainly what happened this time as well, and I expected that I’d proceed along my normal system, plotting out the story in Scrivener so that when it came time to draft, I could set myself a deadline and whip out a draft I could then revise into shape. This drafting system  has worked for me for the past several manuscripts, and it serves me well as I HATE drafting.

Unfortunately, this manuscript just hasn’t cooperated. I’m not usually a write-by-hand sort of person, but for some reason, I pulled out a notebook and started writing down miscellaneous notes about the manuscript. I ended up with six pages of random notes that did not make up an overall plot but were a lot of interesting ideas. And I had no idea who I wanted the character to be. I brainstormed with my husband and kids, and they gave me some fun ideas. Then I signed up for One Stop for Writers and went through the character building tool to further figure out my main character’s motivations, fears, and obstacles. But when I sat down to try and plot the actual manuscript the way I always had, I just couldn’t see it. I was coming up blank.

I talked with my agent about what I was considering writing, and I wasn’t able to articulate the story well with her either. She said that it sounded intriguing, and her recommendation was to just start writing it and see how it went. As a plotter, I found this idea intimidating. Quite honestly, I’ve more often gone into drafting knowing my complete plot and learning my characters along the way instead of the other way around, but I decided to give it a shot.

I started drafting three weeks ago, and it’s been interesting drafting without all my scenes laid out. Even though I hadn’t plotted everything, there were certain points I knew internally my character was working toward, and so my scenes have been leading in those directions. But I’ve also surprised myself with a few subplots I didn’t originally have in my six pages of notes, and I think they’ll add depth to the story.

However, yesterday I tipped over 27,000 words, which is about one-third of the way toward my goal for the first draft, and I reached a point where I felt like I could no longer keep drafting without knowing where I was heading more specifically. So, while this experiment with pantsing has been interesting, I’m now going to regroup and see if I can develop a true plan for the rest of the manuscript based on what I’ve written so far.

Overall, I think it was good to just write for a while, but now I need to return to my outlining ways :).

Have you ever thrown out your drafting system and tried something new when starting a new project? How did it work out for you?