How to Create a Novel Revision Plan: 5 Writing Tips

How to Create A Novel Revision PlanYou finished the first draft of your novel! (Yay!!) And it’s probably a hot mess. The good news is, it’s supposed to be–so you’re doing things right! As exciting as it is to finish a draft, I know first hand how overwhelming it can be to tackle revision. Here are some tips that have helped me create quality novel revision plan time and time again.

Pick an approach

Before you get started, I suggest picking an approach for your novel revision plan. The two I’m most familiar with are chapter-by-chapter or storyline-by-storyline. (If you know of more, let me know in the comments!) I recommend deciding this up front so you can plan and take notes accordingly.

Chapter-by-Chapter

The idea of this approach is that you’ll go through the book sequentially and address all of the problems in an individual chapter at one shot. So if you realize your character is acting odd, storyline A is weak, and an aspect of storyline B doesn’t make sense, you’ll fix all of these problems in each problematic chapter before moving on to the next one. This approach will probably work better for people who prefer to multitask.

Storyline-by-storyline

If you’re less of a multitasker (like me) you might want to give this approach a try. Instead of juggling multiple problems at once, focus on one problem at a time. In this case, if you notice your character is odd, storyline A is weak, and an aspect of storyline B doesn’t make sense, you first go through the book and fix your character in every scene where he/she is off. Then you do the same thing for Storyline A, then Storyline B. I personally prefer this method, but that’s because I know it works for me. If you’ve never tried either, give them both a shot at some point to see what works best for you.

Read your book

Now that you have your approach, take a step back and see what shape your story is in. It might be tempting to start revising based on how you felt when you were writing, but this is often a bad idea. Scenes that seemed good as you were writing may need some work for one reason or another, and scenes that seemed bad at the time may be surprisingly good when you read through. I would recommend giving yourself some time off before you dive in so you can see things with fresh eyes. Shoot for at least a week if you can.

Once you start, don’t make any changes as you read–especially early in the revision process. Your goal here is to simply see what you have to work with and to identify your novel’s problems. Document problems as you go on a blank piece of paper. If you’re going chapter-by-chapter, try writing down each chapter number than listing any problems. If you’re going storyline-by-storyline, have a page for each character/storyline, then document page numbers and issues on the appropriate page. Or figure out some hybrid that works for you (if you’re going with storylines, maybe document issues by chapter then sort them by storyline later). Again, these are just some suggestions. Only you will know what works for you. Don’t be afraid to adapt these ideas as you see fit.

Here’s a post on how to identify your novel’s problems. I suggest keeping these things in mind as you read, then mentally going through each area again once you finish and have a better idea of your complete book.

Consider freewriting

Once you know what your problems are, consider taking some time to work out your solutions in an informal way. This is how I start every brainstorming and revision planning session. I’ve got a whole post with tips and the benefits of freewriting, so I’ll leave it at that for now. 🙂

Address bigger problems first

Now it’s time to actually make your novel revision plan. No matter which approach you take, I highly recommend addressing the bigger problems first. The bigger problems require the most work and are easier to manage when more of your book is movable or expendable. If you take the time to fix the smaller problems first, you may end up having to trash some of your solutions to solve your larger and more detrimental problem. And then you’ll have to go back and re-solve a problem you’ve already given time to. In some ways, being a writer is like being a doctor. If a patient comes in with multiple issues, doctors will always treat the most life-threatening problem first because it’s essential to the patient’s survival. You should treat your book the same way.  And if you do, you might even find that your smaller problems solve themselves.

Before you start revising, sit down and plan what problem, specifically, you’re going to tackle first, and exactly how you want to solve it. Then move on to your next problem. you can apply this no matter if you’re going chapter-by-chapter or storyline by storyline.

Don’t try to fix it all in one round

I know I say this a lot, but it can’t be stressed enough. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a number of problems in your book, don’t try to fix them all at once. Use this list as a guide and take them one at a time. You can always make another novel revision plan. There’s no limit to the number of revisions you can do to a book. Make it as manageable as possible and do whatever you have to in order to keep moving forward.

I hope this helps you create your own novel revision plan!

Keep in mind, these are just tips and guidelines that have worked for me. Modifying writing advice to meet your own needs and workstyle is essential to developing a happy writing life, so don’t be afraid to experiment!

Now it’s your turn: How do you approach revision? Have you tried a novel revision plan before? What works well for you? What have you struggled with? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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3 Reasons Time Off From Writing Can Help Your Novel

The Importance of Taking Time off from writingI talk a lot on this blog about the importance of making time to write and protecting your writing time. But equally as important is taking the time to not write. Most writers I know fit writing into a busy life. Maybe you get up early to write before anyone in your house is awake, or maybe you stay up later than anyone to get your words in. Or maybe you write on your lunch break or on your commute.

It can be hard to “not write.” You set time aside to be productive, so not writing during that time seems like a waste. It’s also possible you’ve set a deadline for yourself and you think you can’t afford to get behind. But I’ve found that sometimes, taking time away from the page is exactly what I need to take my book to the next level.

No matter when you write or how frequently, giving yourself some time off can be just as important to your finished product as actually writing. Here are some ways not writing has helped me personally:

1) It’s refreshed my creativity

Have you ever heard the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty glass?” This has proven to be true for writing too. Taking time to experience the world or take in other forms of creativity have often helped me write better. I have, on more than one occasion, been feeling like my story was boring, unoriginal, or just “off” in some way. Instead of staring at the screen trying to fix it, I’ve gone for walks, called a friend, or fallen down a YouTube hole. I may not always have a solution when I sit back down to work, but often times, the problem doesn’t seem as big. Typically, this means a solution isn’t too far off.

Other times, taking time to take in another form of art has lead to a story idea of its own. The ideas for Crossing the Line came when I was watching The Avengers and not actively thinking about writing or creating. The idea for a fantasy series I’m working on came when I was browsing Pinterest for fun. You really never know when the world will present you with your next great idea. If you don’t spend time away from your writing, you might miss it.

2) It’s led me to a creative solution that had been escaping me

Writers have a habit of overthinking and getting in their own way. Planning time to not write and not think about my story has often allowed ideas and solutions to surface naturally. For example, I was two drafts into Enemy Exposure when I realized that most of my plot was not working. I struggled with this for a week or two, trying desperately to nail it down, but it just wasn’t coming together. My deadline was about eight months away, and though I had plenty of time before the book was due, I was now behind schedule.

My sister and I had plans to watch Orphan Black together (I’d seen it but she hadn’t). When the time came to watch the show, a part of me thought I couldn’t afford to take the time away. But I also knew I’d been thinking this problem to death and I didn’t want to cancel on my sister at the last minute. So kept my plans and put my work aside. As it turned out, Orphan Black held the key to all of my plot problems. If you’ve seen the show and read Enemy Exposure, you can probably see the influence. Many people have told me they think this book is better than the first, and it wouldn’t exist if I didn’t take time to not write.

3) It keeps burnout at bay

Some people can write every day, but I’ve found when I do, I get fried and unproductive in a little over a week. Six days is my max, then I take a day off. But even with this schedule, I still feel drained from time to time, and I know if I keep pushing myself through that feeling, it will lead to full-blown burnout. I’ve learned that I’m better off taking a day or two to watch tv, read, or spend time with friends/family than to force myself to write. I’d rather lose a day or two when I feel it coming than a week or two down the line.

Even if you’re someone who can and needs to write every day, it’s still a good idea to step away from your work from time to time. Even if writing energizes you, consider a few lighter days or a day here and there where you do a different form of creative work.

For more on this, check out the post: What to do When You’re too Drained to Write.

So, how do you find the extra time?

If you can cut something out of your schedule that isn’t writing, do it. But, given how busy most writers are, I realize that may be asking a bit much. Instead, sacrifice some writing time. I know, I know, this is the opposite of almost every piece of writing advice out there. But it doesn’t have to be a lot of time, and it doesn’t have to be often. Maybe it’s once a month, or once every other week–whatever you feel like you can do. It may seem like you’re “wasting writing time” but you’re not. As long as you spend that time in a way that refreshes you, you’re not wasting anything. Part of being a productive writer is taking care of your brain. Not writing is essential to that. If you need some things to do, I have a whole post on How to Declutter You’re Writing Brain.

I hope this gives you a good idea how time off from writing can help you and your book!

If you’re looking for more on this subject, Bustle has an article on the benefits of taking time off from work. I think a lot of this can apply to writers too!

Now it’s your turn: How often do you take time away from writing? What refreshes you when you do? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Write When Your Writing Process Fails You

How to Keep Writing when Your Writing Process Fails youThis post was inspired by my latest WIP, which I really struggled with a couple of months ago. I had characters I loved and an idea I was excited about, but I had a terrible time getting everything to come together. I have a pretty reliable writing process. (You can read more about my writing process here.) I know what I need to do in order to develop a story and be an effective writer. But when it came to this project, I found myself hitting roadblock after roadblock.

I have a pretty reliable writing process. I know what I need to do in order to develop a story and be an effective writer. But when it came to this project, I found myself hitting roadblock after roadblock.

I talk a lot on this blog about the importance of finding your writing process, but let’s be real. Sometimes a project is just difficult! Pushing forward when none of your usual tricks are working can feel like an impossible hurdle to overcome. So, what do you do if you’ve found your process failing you?

I can only speak from my own experience on this, but here are a few things that helped me push on, get a draft down, and find my story when my process let me down.

Work with what you have

If you have something to work with, do your very best to move forward. Try not to focus on what you don’t know. Instead, modify your process based around what you do know.

I typically have a pretty solid idea of what my story is going to be, and I outline the whole book before I start writing. But this time, I found I only had a solid idea of the first eight or nine chapters and then a fuzzy idea of what came after. I tried to get a clear picture of the rest of the book, but it just wouldn’t surface.

Instead of waiting for the rest of the book to come to me, I decided to outline the first eight chapters and start writing. When I got to the end of those eight chapters, I figured out the next eight, which I could see a little more clearly once I’d gotten the draft started. I was able to write the entire draft in eight chapter chunks. In the end, I had a very messy draft but a complete draft nonetheless, and I learned a lot about my story while I wrote it.

Trust your writerly instincts

Most of the time, our inner writer knows what we need to do more than the brain does. Personally, I have never been one to take a brainstorming walk. I tend to get too distracted by my surroundings, and I never end up actually thinking about my story. But when I was struggling to figure this book out, I felt compelled to take a walk and brainstorm. Additionally, I randomly got a song I hadn’t heard in months stuck in my head. I soon realized it was a song that captured the feel of my book and main character perfectly. I downloaded the song and went for a walk, listening to it on repeat.

My brain told me this walk was a waste of time, but I went anyway. In the end, the combination of the music and the walk were exactly what I needed. The music helped me focus my thoughts and I wound up with three revelations that proved to be essential in moving forward. I’ve continued these walks and they’re still generating ideas for me. In fact, walking might be a good idea for you if you’re struggling to write. Studies have shown that walking can actually help us think and improve creativity.

Try to understand how this story is different from previous stories

Maybe your process is finely honed and effective, or maybe you’re still finding what works for you. Either way, it’s important to keep in mind that every project has its own needs that must be honored. To accommodate those needs, you need to understand what makes your story different from the ones that came before.

This turned out to be a key for me. As much as the previous steps helped me to keep moving forward, understanding my story’s differences helped me go over the hump.

In this case, my idea came to me a little differently than it usually does. Traditionally, I start with a character, an environment, and a growth trajectory, but this time I started with a story concept–nothing else attached. It meant I needed to do more development work than I usually do, which I was prepared for. I did tons of work on the character aspect but I had inadvertently left my world underdeveloped. These development holes were my main issue. I couldn’t tell an effective story in a world I didn’t fully understand. Everything started to take better shape once I solidified these details.

Now that I understand the breakdown, I’ll know to check in on development issues next time a problem like this pops up.

I hope this helps you when you feel like your writing process is failing you.

Now it’s your turn: What do you do when your writing process fails you? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How to Draft Faster by Timing Your Writing: Writing Tips

Draft Better by Timing Your WritingStaying on task and motivated to write can be a struggle–especially when you’re in the thick of the drafting process. One thing that has been revolutionary for me when I draft is writing on the clock. It keeps me focused on production not quality, which is vital at this stage of a book.

I’ve seen a couple different versions of this method. The more popular one is to set a timer and commit to working non-stop until the timer goes off. You control how much time you set, but if you’re looking for a guideline, maybe start with 30 minutes. Here’s an online timer if you need one.

This approach may work for a lot of people–including you–but it wasn’t enough to keep me motivated. I needed to see some sign of success in order to keep going. I’m a goal-oriented person, so it isn’t enough for me to just have dedicated writing time. I need to be working for something. So instead of just writing with a timer, I add some word count goal-oriented checkpoints along the way. This helps me keep my draft moving.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Make a realistic estimate

First, I make sure I have enough time to meet my daily writing goal if I were to work virtually non-stop. If I don’t have enough time, I either adjust the goal or see if I can find more time later in the day. If you don’t know what’s realistic for you, you may have to set the timer and just write non-stop for half an hour to get a baseline.

This step is important! I honestly believe one of the keys to finishing any project–writing or otherwise–is to put yourself in positions where you won’t be discouraged. If you create goals that are too unrealistic for you to achieve in the time you have to work, it’s highly likely that you will get discouraged. Don’t do that to yourself. You are better off planning on taking more time to finish your book and actually finishing it, than getting overambitious, getting behind, and giving up.

Here are more tips for setting manageable goals, and why setting reasonable goals is important.

Adapt for your own writing window

Once I know how much I can accomplish in a half hour, I adapt that number to the window I have to fill. I typically write in two-to-three hour chunks. My half hour word count, when I work constantly, is about 600 words. My daily goal is typically around 2,500 words, so I know I need at least two hours to meet my goal. If I have less time, I need to consider cutting my goals back. If I have more time, I consider either cutting my time back or, if I have it in me, increasing my goal.

One thing I wouldn’t recommend is having way more time to write than you need to achieve your goals. This defeats the purpose of this approach. In my experience, it makes you more likely to take your time and maybe even wander off to the internet. The point is to stay focused, so don’t let yourself wander. Change your goals or writing window instead.

Create checkpoints within your window

I found that in order to keep my motivation up, the best thing I can do is to create checkpoints for myself throughout my window. You can create your checkpoints as frequently as you want, but I’ve found that the more frequent mine are, the more motivated and focused I am. So for me, I’m not just trying to write 600 words every half hour. I’m trying to write 100 words every five minutes.

Maybe you don’t need to break your goals down quite this much for your draft, but I find it helpful. It’s easier and less intimidating for me to think about writing 100 words every five minutes than 2,500 in two hours. It also keeps me from thinking I can spend five minutes scrolling the internet and “make it up later.” I can’t spend five minutes that way if I know I need to spend that time writing 100 words. Additionally, each time I meet a small goal it reminds me that I can do this and it fuels me to keep me going.

Learn your super-focused rate

You may not have this experience, but I found that once I learned to be regularly focused and on the clock, I could write even faster if I needed to. 600 words/half hour is my manageable goal. I know that if I work at a steady, but fairly calm rate, I can reach that goal without too much extra effort. It’s more about staying focused than anything else.

However, once I learned to stay focused, I found that if I’m really locked in and time is limited, I can write 900 words/half hour. I don’t like to do this often because I burn out, but learning to write on the clock has helped me see that I can write at this rate if I need to. It’s a nice card to have in my back pocket for days when time is tight.

Adapt as needed

Your days and life may be inconsistent at times. There may be aspects of this approach that just don’t work the way you need them to. When that happens, don’t be afraid to mix it up! See if you can nail down exactly what isn’t working and why, then modify to meet your needs. The ultimate goal is to get your closer to finishing your draft. Figuring out how you work best is a big part of making that happen! So definitely make a change if you need to.

I hope this helps you draft faster!

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever tried timing your writing? Does it help? What tricks help you get a draft down? Tell me about it in the comments. If you have any tips to share, you can leave them there as well!

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How to Use Character and Plot Together in Your Novel

How Plot and Character Can Work Together in Your NovelI’m sure it’s not news to you that character development and plot are two of the most important elements of your novel. The best stories are able to find a good balance between the two, but that doesn’t always come easy. For me, the biggest game changer came when I was introduced to this character-centric, three-act tension plot structure, which I adapted slightly to meet my own needs. You can visit the link for a full break down of this plot structure. For the sake of this post, here’s a visual:

This structure originally comes from Peder Hill, so if you’re interested in more of an explanation, hop on over to his site. Here’s how I use this plot structure to help with my main character and plot development at the same time.

Give your main character 1 developmental goal

Because this is a character-driven story structure, I always start with my main character’s development. But of course, character development can be a challenging balancing act in itself. If your character changes too much, it might come off a little unbelievable. If they don’t change enough then they can be frustrating or uninteresting. One thing that’s helped me believably grow my characters is to narrow the scope of their development. I tend to focus on one specific lesson they need to learn or one skill they need to develop. Once I know what my character’s developmental goal is, I use the plot structure and the points of crisis to create situations that back my characters into corners and gradually teach them what they need to learn.

Link those situations to major plot points

Once I have my character-based points of crisis in place, I tie each point to my plot. This gives each point of crisis an overall plot push and some level of character development, which balances the book. To maintain that balance outside of the crisis points, I tend to focus more on the plot leading up to each point, and the character response/fall out after each crisis point. I’ve found that this contributes to increasing the tension leading up to the event then gives the book a good emotional release/calm after. I then hand the story back over to the plot to start building up to the next point. That’s not to say that there isn’t some overlap of both elements before and after. It’s just a matter of which element is the priority.

This Method in Action

The first time I used this method was with Crossing the Line. My main character, Jocelyn, was kidnapped by a North Korean spy agency as a kid and raised to become one of them. The book picks up ten years after her kidnapping when Jocelyn is looking to escape from, and get revenge on, her captors. But in order to make that happen, she’ll need to work with the agency she spent her life fighting against.

I knew Jocelyn was raised in a traumatic environment. I also knew because of that it would be very difficult for her to trust people. So, I decided early on that trust was the big developmental lesson I wanted her to learn by the end of the book. To that end, I developed a series of events where she would first have no choice but to trust people until she ultimately made the choice to trust them on her own. Each of these events became a point of crisis that I paced throughout the book using the structure above.

From a plot standpoint, I was lucky. Since it’s a spy book, it made sense for each crisis to happen when my characters were on a mission. Each of those missions then, in some way, contributed to the overall plot. (Which was Jocelyn’s attempt to escape and get revenge on her kidnappers.)

How did I get here?

If you’ve read the post on this plot structure, you know this was designed to prioritize character. Earlier drafts of Crossing the Line were, in fact, much more character focused. Each mission was in place to serve the character. Because of that, the missions were more independent of one another. One of the first notes my editor gave me (before she even bought the book) was that the missions should be connected and the plot more centric. She was absolutely right. Thanks to this plot structure, it was a fairly easy fix. Her note also helped me realize the full potential of this structure and how each point of crisis can serve both character and plot to create a balanced and solid story.

I hope this gives you some idea how to use character and plot together!

Now it’s your turn: How do you approach character and plot? What works really well for you? What do you struggle with? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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The Best Way to Describe Characters: 6 Writing Tips

The Best Way to Describe charactersWriting any kind of description can be a fine line. If you share too much, you risk taking your reader out of your story. If you don’t share enough, you leave your reader confused. So, what about when it comes time to describe characters? Characters are important, and there’s a lot a writer can potentially describe. Selecting the most important details can be overwhelming. There is no true “right” way to describe a character–it’s all a matter of preference–but in my opinion, a lot of writers waste words describing the wrong details.

So, there may not be a “right” way to describe a character, but if you ask me, there is a “best” way to describe characters, which is what I’m going to talk about today.

For any kind of description, there’s a rule I like to follow; if readers don’t need to know, don’t tell them.

Here’s how I apply that rule when I describe characters:

What a reader does need to know:

Anything that defines the character personally or emotionally. These are the elements that readers will connect with. They’ll see these qualities in themselves, their friends, their family members, or the people they’ve encountered over time. These are the details that make your characters real.

These are also the character details that drive your story. Their personality and temperament tell you how they will react in the different situations you put them in. Which is why you want to give them most of your attention when you describe characters.

Here’s are three areas I focus on when I describe characters:

1) Their personality. This is the most important element to describe. This tells us who your character is and why readers should care. Are they kind? Are they loud? How do they react under pressure? Do they reassure others, or are they the ones who need to be reassured? Do they thank the waiter at a restaurant or talk down to them? This list could go on. If you’re looking for tips on developing your character, check out this post with three tips to create strong characters.

2) Their quirks. Do they pick at their fingernails? Or are they incapable of looking someone in the eye? Anything that makes your character unique or adds to their behavior should be described.

3)Their energy. Does the room fall silent when your character enters? Or does everyone else get tense simply because this person is present? To they instill confidence? The energy your character carries and how the dynamic of a room changes when they enter says A LOT about who your character is, how others see them, and the role they play. Take time to describe it.

What a reader doesn’t need to know:

A character’s physical appearance. Now sure, there should be some description here, but it should be minimal. In my opinion, a lot of writers have a habit of giving too much here.

There are a few reasons behind this school of thought. First, from a practical standpoint, you only have so many words you can cram into a book. You can use those words describing what a character looks like or you can capture their personality and behaviors. As we talked about, the latter tells readers a lot more about the character than the former, which is why I rarely waste my word count on appearance.

Additionally, as a reader, I don’t really care all that much about what a character looks like. It’s not like watching a movie. I don’t have to physically recognize a character when they walk on to the page. As a reader, I recognize the energy, dynamic, and personality they bring to a scene.

Also, I think one of the joys of writing books is that we do not work alone. Half of the story belongs to the writer, but the other half belongs to the reader and their imagination. I tell the reader what I need them to know in order for me to tell my half of the story effectively. Everything else I leave up to them. I believe that the less detail you give, the more of an opportunity readers have to see themselves in the characters. This allows the reader to take some ownership of the story, which I think makes it more fun for everyone.

Here are some guidelines I use for a character’s physical description:

1) I shoot for one defining physical characteristic for each character. Maybe it’s their hair, eye color, or something about their size. This gives the reader something to latch onto while still giving them plenty of room to imagine the character as they’d like.

2) Any important marks, scars, or physical feature that is in some way adds to my character’s story or personality. For example, in Crossing the Line, I mention my main character has a circular burn scar near her left ear. This scar acts as a vehicle to her past and plays a small role in the story. And going off the point above, I gave my character thick curly hair as her distinguishing feature because I knew I wanted her to use her hair to hide that scar.

3) How they move. Do they strut? Shuffle? Wander aimlessly? Do they have some kind of compulsive behavior? These features tell us a lot about their self-image and state of mind. If you’re looking for help describing body language and gestures, Bryn Donovan has a Master List you can check out!

Every other physical detail is the reader’s call.

I hope this helps when you describe your characters!

Now it’s your turn: What description do you focus on for your characters? As a reader, what do you care most about? Tell me about it in the comments. If you have any tips to share, you can leave them there as well!

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How to Identify Your Novel’s Problems: Revision Tips

Revision Tips: How to Identify Your Novel's ProblemsYou finished a draft of your novel! After you take some time to fully appreciate the fact that you reached the end–which you should definitely do–it’ll be time to dive into revision. But knowing where to start can be tricky. If you’re coming off the first draft, the whole story might feel like a hot mess. If you’re coming off the third, your book may be better but still not “there” yet.

So, how do you know where to begin? Like everything else in writing, I recommend breaking things down into as many steps as possible and taking things one step at a time.

Identify what stage your book’s at

The first thing to know about revision is that you don’t have to tackle everything at once. In fact, I would recommend you don’t even attempt to. If you do, the idea of everything you have to revise might get overwhelming very quickly, and it will be all too easy to give up. Instead, consider first breaking your revision down into two stages–early stage revision and late stage revision. I tend to revise at least two drafts with the “early stage” guidelines and two drafts with the “late stage” guidelines. At this point, we’re just looking at the problems. We’ll touch on addressing them later on.

Side note: These are guidelines that have helped me, but don’t be afraid to modify this to meet your own needs!

Early stage revision – First and Second Drafts

In the early stages, it’s more important to focus on the bigger developmental issues. These are the big elements that shape and carry your book. Don’t worry about the writing itself yet. At this stage, there’s a good chance you’ll have to rewrite a lot of what you’ve already written, so worrying about the language isn’t the best use of your time. Early stage revision is more focused on story and big-picture issues.

Check your characters

Take some time to assess your characters and their development. Are the coming across how you want them too? Do your main and secondary characters appear in the story with some level of consistency? Do all of them serve a purpose? If not, are there characters you can cut? Does each character have some kind of development? Do their actions and reactions line up with who they are and with their overall growth?

Check your plot/storylines

Next, consider your main plot and storylines. Does your overall plot have crisis points or rising actions that consistently build to the climax? Does the middle drag? Is your plot too front-loaded or back-loaded? Do you have storylines that get dropped halfway through the book? Are there storylines that are imbalanced or inconsistent? Are there storylines that are so small or confusing that your book might be better off without them? Is there something missing from your book that adding another storyline might explain? Do the events in each of your plotlines make logical sense? Does every scene play a role in your plot?

Check your setting/world

Now assess the world your characters are living in. Is there a good understanding of the “rules” of this world? Can readers find their way around? Is there a good grasp of the culture and problems? If there’s magic, are the rules clearly explained? If you changed history in our world, are the changes clear? If you created the world, is it fully developed? This section will probably be more important if your sci-fi or fantasy writers who developed your story’s world, but elements of this will probably apply to every writer on some level.

Late stage revision – Third and Fourth Drafts (and up)

Once you feel good about the bigger elements of your book, it’s time to take a closer look at the smaller ones. Late stage revision focuses on your book’s detail and language issues.

Check in with early stage issues

You probably made some big story changes in the earlier stages, so take a second to check back in with them and make sure everything still lines up and makes sense. If it doesn’t, I suggest fixing those elements and making sure you’re happy with the story itself before you move on.

Check believability

Now that the story is set, take a look at how believable the situations are. Do you rely on coincidence too much? Is there a reason for your characters to be acting as they are? Do things happen ‘just because you want them to’ too frequently? (This is something I’m super guilty of…)

Check your facts

If you set this story in the real world, make sure you double check all of the real world facts and situations you put your characters in. Is it possible for your characters to get from Point A to Point B in the time you say they do? If the locations your characters visit are real, do you have the details correct? If you’re writing about a culture or situation you haven’t experienced first hand, are you getting those details right?

If you set your story in a world you made up, are your details consistent? Are you following the rules you set for your world? Are you sticking with the ‘facts’ you established for yourself and your world?

It can be hard to get everything 100% correct and accurate, but you should do your very best to try.

Check your writing (aka editing)

Once you finish rewriting and making changes, and have all of the details in your story in place, you can finally worry about your word choice, grammar, and sentence structure. I highly recommend not worrying about this until the last step. This way, you won’t waste time polishing something you end up trashing or rewriting.

Implementing the changes

As you go through each section, make a list of the problems in your book, then go back through your story and tackle them one problem at a time. You might want to start with a free write or brainstorm before you start writing out the changes. I’m planning on doing a full post on how to make a revision plan, so keep an eye out for that if this is something you’re interested in hearing more about!

I hope this helps take the pressure off revision!

Keep in mind, that these are just some tips that I’ve found helpful. Play around with them. Don’t be afraid to change them up and make them your own! And if you’re wondering how to tell if your book is finished, check out this post!

Now it’s your turn: How do you approach revision? What works really well for you? What do you struggle with? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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Five Awesome Tips to Eliminate Digital Distractions

Eliminating Digital DistractionsAbout nine months ago, I started to notice how digital distractions throughout the course of my day had a negative impact on both my writing and my life. Every time I got a notification on my phone, it took me away from what I was doing, whether I was watching a movie, catching up with friends, or trying to write. Even if I knew I could wait until later to respond, my curiosity always got the better of me.

I also noticed myself checking social media apps habitually, scrolling with no purpose, and wasting a lot of time trying to keep up with what was happening online. Not only were these habits distracting to my writing, but they were also pulling my brain in too many directions. It left me feeling unfocused and mentally drained on a regular basis. It was affecting my writing, my mood, and my concentration. Maybe there some part of this you can relate to?

I decided these distractions had to go! Here’s what I did to get my digital distractions under control:

I turned off my notifications

First, I turned off every notification on my phone that isn’t a function of a cell phone. The only notifications I get now are for phone calls and text messages. Emails (with the exceptions of a handful of VIPs that push through) and social media notifications can wait until I’m choosing to check them. This has been one of the biggest game changers for me.

This played a massive role in eliminating my digital distractions. Even when I was getting email and social media notifications, I always tried to avoid answering on my phone if I could. It takes too long to type out and easy typos and auto correct make miscommunication far too likely. But I also had a hard time letting a notification sit unanswered. Once I see a message, I typically start formulating a response. And once I have a response in mind, I like to just write it and send it as soon as I can. So when I would get an email notification, it would somehow worm it’s way to the top of my priority list–even if I didn’t have time for it. Now, I don’t know there’s a message until I sit down at my computer and have the time to respond to what whatever is in my inbox.

I check my email less

Speaking of email, I also check it way less than I did in the past. I used to check in almost compulsively throughout the day. I was afraid someone might need something from me and I hated the idea of keeping them waiting. Now, when it comes to my work email, I’ve decided that once every 24 hours/5 days a week is enough. Anyone who would need me more urgently than that has my phone number. (Though like I said in the last point, there are a handful of VIPs that I do want to get back to ASAP, so I use my phone notifications for them.)

When I do check my email, I make it a point to only do so when I have time for anything that might require a response. I used to do “quick” email checks periodically throughout the day. But it was never quick if it turned out I needed to respond to something. This response would often eat up more time than I could afford at the moment. Now that I check-in less, I don’t lose time like this anymore.

I cut back on social media

There are many advantages to social media, but I think we can all agree, it has their disadvantages too. Social Media sites can be massive digital distractions. When you know there’s almost always something happening online, it can become hard to step away–whether it’s to get some work done or to give your full attention to the person/experience in front of you. This can make social media one of the biggest digital distractions. To help with this I only check in on social media once a day at a designated time. And to keep myself from accidentally landing on social media, I stay logged out of my accounts and only log in during my designated check-in times. (I have a whole post about Writing/Social Media Balance if you want to learn more.)

If other corners of the internet are a problem for you, you might want to think about apps like Self-Control or Cold Turkey. These apps will block those distracting websites for a set amount of time, which will make it easier to focus on getting your work done.

I keep my phone out of sight

Clearly, my phone was the biggest distraction for me.  I used to keep my phone next all the time–whether I was working, watching TV, or catching up with people. To cut back, I started making it a point to walk away from or put away my phone more often, including when I move around my house, go on walks, or hang out with my friends. When I first made this change, I found myself reaching for it compulsively. Now that I’m used to not having it around, I’ve realized that half the time when it is next to me, I forget it’s there unless I get a message.

I put my phone on silent when I’m working

This was another game changer for me. I thought not having my phone out or near me would be enough. As it turned out, even if my phone was away or out of sight, I could almost always hear it go off. This always took me out of my work. First, because the sound itself would jolt me back to my surrounds, and second, because my curiosity would often get the best of me and I would wonder who needed me and for what. Now, I don’t even know there’s a message until I’m finished work for the day.

If you’re concerned that you won’t be able to be reached in an emergency, check your phone’s do not disturb settings. You may be able to set your phone to ring if the same number calls twice within a certain time period. Then all you have to do is let close friends and family know to call you twice right away in an emergency. This way, you’re reachable when you have to be, but you’ll still be able to work in peace the rest of the time.

I hope these tips help you cut down on your own digital distractions!

All of these techniques have made it easier to be more focused on my life, which in turn has made me a more focused writer. If you give them a shot, I hope they do the same for you!

Now it’s your turn: Have you found notifications and social media distracting you from life? How do you manage your digital distractions? Tell me about it in the comments. If you have any tips to share, you can leave them there as well!

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Why Writers Should Embrace Imperfection in Writing

Why Writers Should Embrace ImperfectionLearning to write imperfectly is one of the biggest reasons why I am a happy writer. There’s something kind of magical that happens when you embrace the idea of imperfection. It’s why I get excited to work every day and why I never hate my work-in-progress, no matter what stage it’s in.

As writers, a part of us (maybe a large part) is programmed to strive for perfection. It’s inherent. We want our stories to be the best they can be and because of that, we are often all too aware of their flaws. And once we’re aware of those flaws, we have a compulsive need to fix them. I’ve found breaking free from this compulsion to be transformative.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be thorough and focused or that you shouldn’t polish your book to the best of your ability, but I am saying you shouldn’t obsess. And you shouldn’t make perfection a goal.

Accepting that your work will not be perfect is one of the best things you can do for yourself and for your book. It can be hard to do but it’s also worth it! Here are some reasons why you should embrace imperfection and some tips on how to make it happen.

Why writers should Embrace Imperfection

You can focus on what really matters

Once you accept and celebrate the fact that your work will not be perfect, it no longer has to be. That means you can put your time and attention on what really matters–telling yourself a story that makes you happy. Perfection really comes into play when you think about what agents/editors/readers/people will think about your work. And that’s something to consider after your book is written, but while you’re writing, it’s not about any of them. It’s about you and how writing it makes you feel. Write a story that excites you and makes you happy. Then keep improving it until it reads like a book you would love if you hadn’t written it. It may not be perfect, but it will still be excellent.

It frees your mind and your story

All of that brain power you’ve been using to perfect your story as you write is suddenly free. This means instead of obsessing over what you’ve already written, your mind has the space to generate new ideas and directions for your book. Sometimes those ideas will even help fix your books problems–without any of the stress or worry you’ve probably grown accustomed to.

It won’t hurt your story

At the time I’m writing this, I have two published books out in the world. There are definitely things I would change about them. I don’t think there’s a writer alive who can read their own work and not want to change it. And while I did my very best to be detail oriented and thorough during the editing process, I didn’t obsess. I made a decision, I double checked, and then I moved on. My books are not perfect. I haven’t read the published versions, but if nothing else, people have told me that there are typos. That version has been read by more friends, editors, proofreaders, and myself than I can count and it still isn’t perfect. And yet, I’ve gotten emails, and tweets, and Instagram messages from people all over the world who tell me how much they enjoyed reading my books.

So, what’s the takeaway? An imperfect story is still worth reading. And I don’t regret that I didn’t obsess, even knowing I missed things. I’ve obsessed in the past, so I know what it feels like. And I know how good it feels when I don’t. Perfection is not worth my sanity. And it turns out, plenty of people like my stories just fine, as imperfect as they are.

Tips to help embrace imperfection

Of course, the idea of embracing imperfection sounds great, but it can be a hard place to get to. So, here are a few tips to help you break free!

Set a goal and give yourself time limit

That goal could be a word count or page count, but it should definitely be quantifiable and something you could reasonably manage if you worked without stopping in a given time period. (Like 600 words in 30 minutes.) The only thing that matters is meeting your goal in the time you set. When your goal is to hit a number, not write well, you can’t afford to worry about imperfections–especially when you’re racing against the clock. I find this particularly helpful in the drafting and revision stages.

Free write or write exercises

Like I touched on earlier, perfectionism is less about you writing and more about the idea of other people reading your writing. So get used to writing pages that are just for you and that will never be read by anyone else. Ever. These pages can be free-writes of a book or project you’re working on, a response to a prompt, or a writing exercise. The point is to write without considering a reader–because there isn’t going to be one. Then once you learn what this feels like, carry that feeling and mindset into your project.

When you get stuck ask people you trust for help

I found that when I started asking my critique partners and trusted friends for help when I got stuck, it made it easier to write imperfectly. When I got used to the idea that I didn’t have to solve every problem on my own, as I was writing it, it became easier to write badly or imperfectly and know that I would fix it later. (Note: Don’t trust just anyone with this step. The people you talk to need to get what you’re trying to do and actually help you, not discourage you or add to your stress.)

That’s it for this one! I hope you have a good idea of why writers should embrace imperfection in their work!

If you’re still not convinced, check out this article on the BBC about the dangerous downsides of perfectionism. They make a pretty good argument. 🙂

Now it’s your turn: Have you struggled with perfectionism? If you have, how have you tried to manage it? If you haven’t, what’s your mindset? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How to Use Freewriting to Solve Your Writing Problems

How Freewriting can Solve Almost Any Writing ProblemI say “almost” any writing problem because nothing in writing is one hundred percent, but for me, freewriting is pretty close.

Freewriting is an essential part of my brainstorming, but it’s also become my fall back anytime my story isn’t working. I type my drafts and freewriting on paper. I think there’s something organic about this. It takes the screen away and puts me just a little closer to my work. Typically, I’ve found approaching my work differently can make me think about it differently, which can help stimulate creativity.

Beyond that, freewriting has become a good way to keep moving forward when I’m struggling. It lets me work on my story, without the expectations or challenge of making everything “fit.”

Here are some ways I use freewriting and how you might want to use it too:

To take a time out from drafting if my book feels like it’s headed in the wrong direction

I’m a big outliner. But no matter how much I plan and outline, I don’t really know what will work in my story until I write it. Sometimes, I find that I’m deep in my story and the direction I was taking my book in just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it doesn’t jive with a new story element I discovered while writing, or maybe the story that sounded good in theory doesn’t work so well in practice. Or maybe there are aspects that are just flat out boring. In those situations, I mentally back up to where the book last made sense and freewrite 5-10 different directions the story could go in–including the direction I was headed.

This helps me explore all of my options without committing to it in the draft.

To freewrite with a focus

Anytime a storyline or any aspect of my book is giving me a hard time or just seems to be lacking, I freewrite with a focus on that area. I make sure these thoughts are unstructured and stream-of-conscience. These types of freewrites help me to explore details and corners of an idea that hadn’t occurred to me before. There’s something about writing these thoughts down that forces solutions to the surface in a way that “just thinking about them” doesn’t.

In most cases, these freewrites often turn into a rough outline or guide for the problematic storyline.

To consider revision options and plans

When it comes time to prep for revision, I use freewriting to consider my options. If I find a problem in my story, I’ll brainstorm a handful of possible solutions. Then I’ll write about how my book would look if I take each of my possible solutions. This helps me to have a strong and developed idea of how each of the solutions will impact my story, along with insights into any new problems those solutions may create. I’ll do this for every problem, storyline, and character arc change to select the best possible option for my book.

To flesh out a character

There’s a lot about a character that your reader may never know. However, as the author, it’s important for me to have a strong understanding of who my characters are, what their life has been like, and what’s help shaped them. Freewriting about my characters and their history has been far more beneficial for me than any character questionnaire has ever been. (Though they definitely have their place too!) It allows me to follow my characters history naturally and really dig into important aspects of their lives in an organic way. This is also really helpful in exploring key character relationships and other defining moments.

To develop backstory

Like character, there is so much backstory that you need to know as a writer that will never make it into your novel. This includes world building, character history, historic events that happened in your world prior to the start of your book, and so much more! You could certainly keep a list of these events and elements, but freewriting allows you to bring those moments to life. They’ll become almost as real as your book and they’ll stick with you long after you’ve written them. They may reveal an aspect of your world or story if you hadn’t taken the time to write it all out.

To take a break

Sometimes, I just need to take a break from a problem story. In these situations, it usually doesn’t help to just watch TV or go for a walk. I need something to clear the problem out of my mind. In these instances, I’ll often freewrite something totally unrelated. Sometimes it’s a brainstorm for a new story, or sometimes it’s something related to a story I already have in progress.

Changing gears often gives me a mental break and sticking with freewriting keeps the new idea from feeling too serious. It’s also helpful because if I’m having a problem, it’s likely that I’ve been trying way too hard to get an idea to “fit” in my novel. Taking those kinds of limitations off my creativity almost never fail to recharge and refresh my mind. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve agonized over a problem, then solved in half an hour after a half day of freewriting a different project.

One last thought

Freewriting should not be hard! If you find that it is, it’s likely that you’re putting too much energy on getting it “right.” That’s not what freewriting is about. It’s about opening up your mind and letting the ideas flow as organically and as unfiltered as possible. I’ve found that this wakes up your subconscious and gives your brain permission to set free some outlandish and wonderful ideas. Freewriting is a great exercise in trusting yourself and trusting your story. If you need some help letting go and embracing that kind of imperfection, check out this post. And for more on the benefits of freewriting, check out this article from the Writing Cooperative

I hope this gives you a good idea how the many ways you can use freewriting to solve your writing problems!

Now it’s your turn: Have you found freewriting to be helpful? Do you have your own fallback when you’re struggling? Tell me about it in the comments. If you have any tips to share, you can leave them there as well!

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