Crikey, it’s been a long time! My novel is almost complete, my son is nine months old, and I’m starting a new job on Monday. This year has completely flown by! I wrote an article about making time to write with a new baby. Check it out here: www.scriptsandscribes.com/2014/04/writing-as-a-mother-making-time
I’ve figured the best way to get my manuscript beta-reader-ready (hey, that sounds like a commercial jingle) before I start back to work is to just fall back on the tried and true method of having a page quota per day for revisions. With 116 pages remaining and nineteen days to finish, that means (where’s that calculator button on this keyboard?) six pages a day for the next three weeks.
Doable, certainly. But there are going to be days where I’m tied up (doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, hair appointments, oil change appointments, getting those colored throw pillows for the nursery appointments, “crap we haven’t bought food in over two weeks” appointments.) So of course there will be days when it’s harder to meet the quota. And that’s assuming my little dude doesn’t decide to make an early appearance.
Balance, balance, balance….
So my writing took a major hit this winter when I found out I was pregnant. Like most women, I was plagued with morning sickness – or in my case, constant sickness. I never thought I’d be jealous of women who were nauseous every morning, but that was before I was nauseous every minute. The worst part was that my “morning” sickness was similar to motion sickness, in that doing anything that required careful concentration (such as, I don’t know, reading and writing) exacerbated it horribly. So I was basically forced into a two-and-a-half-month state of mental vegetation.
That stage finally ended, but then came the nagging issue of our living situation: a one-bedroom apartment with a baby on the way. Yeah, that wasn’t going to cut it. So we spent another month searching for, and finally finding (at the very end of the month, and not without due panic on my part) a really cool two-bedroom place.
Now, after the glory of moving and everything associated with it (really postal service? Three weeks, and still not one piece of forwarded mail?) it’s finally back to work. And my goal is to finish this dang manuscript before our little dude makes his debut. I’m on hiatus from work for the next five weeks, plus four more before my due date. I’ve got a lot of time now… but we’ll see how this turns out.
I’ve finally finished the latest revision of my manuscript, having sliced out 32,000 words. And while I know it’s a far better story than it was a few weeks ago, I really need to gain a fresh perspective. Now there are lots of different ways to do this. (Not including beta readers. I’m not yet ready to hand this off to anyone else.)
STEP AWAY FROM YOUR WORK
Have you ever read or edited something that you wrote so long ago you don’t even remember writing it? It’s the coolest feeling, because you get to read your writing exactly as an outsider would.
Now obviously I don’t recommend walking away from something for so long that you forget about it. But it does help to take a break for several days, or even several weeks. I know when I’m editing something over and over again, I begin to subconsciously anticipate what’s coming up: “Okay, Bobby is going to say such-and-such to Sally, and then Sally is going to smack Bobby in the head and say such-and-such back to him.” This mode of thinking dulls your reading senses, and hinders your ability to edit objectively.
PRINT THAT SUCKER OUT
I don’t know why, but for me writing feels different when I switch to reading it off of paper. The words somehow look different, and that causes them to sound different as well. Sometimes a particular word or sentence will leap out as sounding wonky, despite it never having done so from the computer screen.
GET OUT OF YOUR SEAT
Or at least move your seat into another room. I like to take my hard copy manuscript to Starbucks, because looking at strangers, a street, cars, dogs, etc. rather than the typical apartment setting I’m used to is a great way to gain new perspective. Simply being in new surroundings can help you view your writing in a new way.
When I began editing my historical young adult manuscript a few weeks ago, I was facing a document that was over 116,000 words. Now, the accepted length of YA novels these days is under 80,000 (although obviously some books exceed that, and there’s no hard-set rule.) So to at least be in the ballpark, I was faced with the daunting task of cutting nearly 40,000 words. In other words, a third of my manuscript.
Now I’m a firm believer in including everything in a first draft. If I think it maybe, might, possibly be a good idea to include it, I do – because you never know which of those little details might ultimately strengthen your story, or even take on a life of their own later.
So if it pops into my head, I use it. What’s the worst that can happen, besides ultimately having to cut a third of your manuscript? At least then you know that everything worthwhile is probably already in there, and it’s just a matter of organizing and trimming the fat.
SO WHAT TO CUT?
I originally thought that foregoing contractions was a good idea, despite its wreaking havoc on the word count, because it made the language sound more antiquated. But after further contemplation, I feel that contractions make the story read faster and more smoothly – and that, I believe, is paramount, especially when writing for a young audience. So I added back all the contractions, and slashed a couple thousand words in the process.
Now some people hate deleting what they’ve written, but I recommend learning to love it. Then, rather than feeling pained when that huge paragraph that took two hours to write disappears, it’ll feel like an equally-huge weight off your shoulders. Plus, the more you delete, the less you have to wade through during your next revision. Less is always more, shorter is (nearly) always better.
(Of course don’t ever permanently throw away large chunks of your writing; save them in a separate document.)
Ask yourself for every paragraph, every sentence: “What does this contribute to my story?” If the answer is “Nothing,” or even “I’m not sure,” lose it. It’s extra fat that will slow your pace and quite possibly bore your reader. And that’s not what you want after all of your hard work.