Revising a short story: the penultimate pass

Now that I have revised at the story level and the scene level, it is time to dig into those paragraphs, sentences and words. A fun and useful tool to use at this point is the word cloud. I put my text into Word It Out and created this:

The program has some great tools. After pasting the text into the text box, I clicked on Settings at the bottom right and added the character names at the end of the filter words. Then, once I created my word cloud, I clicked on Wordlist and can click on any of the words to see how many times I used them. I definitely want to look at the instances of “like” and “back” and explore why I used them so much.

After working on some of the issues that my word cloud revealed, I continued using the “Find” function. I found some lists of words to looks for in some of my old posts. Revision: Overused Words helped me find some problems with “very” and “really.” And Part Two The Worrying Wave of Weak Verbs: a cautionary tale of the murderous search for to be, to have, to do, to get, to go and to make got me on the right path to finding all my weak verbs. A search for “ly” also helped me strengthen my verbs by revealing the adverbs I used to modify them. My “ly” search also showed that I overused “only” which in most cases, I deleted.

This time, when I listened to the computer read my story, it was helpful. I noticed a couple typos, some words and phrases that were clunky, and a couple unnecessary sentences. It helped me fix the timing of the ending so it had the punch I wanted. And the most exciting part? I liked it.

I will print it out and read it aloud a few times, and then send it to a few beta-readers for feedback.

Revising at the Scene Level

Fixing It – photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

In my last post on revising a short story, I mentioned the many things a scene needs to do:

  • have a goal
  • have a conflict
  • have an action that leads to a new goal
  • character development
  • world building
  • reveal new information
  • provide sensory information
  • have a grabber or payoff

For my revision, I assigned each of these scene needs a letter, and starting with the final scene, worked backward through my story, evaluating each scene. Here’s an example:

Scene 14: Maria’s POV after feeding in the town [one of my MCs is a Mexican-American named Maria (not me 😉 )].

G – To leave town
C – a farmer tries to help her, grabs her wrist
A – She uses aspects of the chupacabra to get away
D – She feels / wields the chupacabra’s power, misses old life
W – describes the nearest town to the river
N – Maria can bring out the chupacabra for defense when scared
S – sounds: door slams, whistling; texture: grimy
P – She hurt the farmer to get away

This quick analysis of each scene did wonders. I completely deleted one scene and combined two others. I discovered areas that needed more description and sensory detail and a section of exposition that I was able to show in a scene. I had printed out a more detailed “Deconstructing a Scene” worksheet I created a couple years ago, but I didn’t use it because this system worked. I plan to use it as part of my revision process in the future.

After analyzing each scene, I typed in all my changes, saved the draft and let it rest.

But the Distractions – photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

I found joy in editing a different, shorter story while letting this one rest. In that story, the main issues were filter words. It really helped the piece to remove sensory filters: saw, heard, and felt. I also added specific details like “mahogany” instead of wood. By the time I finished revising the story, I enjoyed reading it aloud. The words felt good in my mouth.

Doin’ the Work – photograph by Maria L. Berg 2021

I brought the feeling of accomplishment and the specific issues I found in the shorter story to the next phase of revision: paragraphs, sentences, and word choice which I will talk about in my next post.

How is your revision is going? Have any tips or tricks?

Any questions?

Please share in the comments.

Revising a short story: Pacing and Structure

A couple years ago, my nephew became fascinated by my sewing machine. Emulating his grandfather (my father is always fixing something), he decided he needed to fix it. He would shove the little screw drivers into every opening. One time, while I was sewing, I found one of the extra feet inside the gears. So when my neighbor was giving away a sewing machine, I brought it home just for my nephew. For two years of visits, we have gotten out our sewing machines and I sew while he “fixes” his machine.

During his last visit, however, he decided his sewing machine was all fixed and he wanted to sew. I wasn’t sure what would happen after all that “fixing,” but I went ahead and showed him how to thread the machine and taught him about the bobbin. Then we attached the foot pedal and plugged it in. To my amazement, it worked. It even had perfect tension and an even stitch. Since he was too small to reach the pedal and hold the fabric at the same time on the table, he chose to work the pedal while I guided the fabric. At first, he pushed the pedal all the way down and the needle had one speed: fast. After we made a few straight lines, he said he wanted to sew a circle. I told him to accomplish that, we would have to sew more slowly. So we practiced sewing different speeds by carefully pressing the pedal to different depths. Watching him practice sewing more slowly made me think of the next pass in my short story revision, pacing.

I enjoyed this video from Reedsy with Editor Anna Bierhaus to get me thinking about pacing.

Pacing

Pacing is the movement and momentum in a story. In today’s world of short attention spans with billions of options for entertainment, you might think all stories, especially short stories should go, go, go! But like all good songs, a short story also needs changes in tempo and rests. Often the moments of silence are the most exciting moments in music. So how do I use those ideas in my short story?

  • First I need to explore my characters’ three main conflicts: Internal, External (story specific) and Societal.
  • Then I need to see where I can raise the stakes (my poor characters already have it so hard).
  • I need to make sure that each scene is working as hard as it can: Goal, Conflict, Action that leads to a new goal, Character development, World building, and Reveals new information.

From Cat Rambo’s class, I focused on a couple of questions I want to apply to my story:

Is there a payoff for the reader every few pages: a grabber in the prose?

Where am I moving too quickly? Are pieces missing? This is something I often find in my writing. I expect the reader to see what I see in my head. I need to look for places where I jump over things the reader needs for continuity, believably, and understanding.

Where am I moving too slowly? Where can I cut out unnecessary details and words? Are there whole sections that don’t add to the story being told?

I read some other posts on pacing and found How to Master Narrative Pacing: 7 Tips to Help Pace Your Writing from MasterClass helpful.

Sometimes the story needs to slow down, so the reader doesn’t burn out.

Applying these ideas to my story

Since my last post, I have typed a new draft of the story. The process was slow and difficult. My inner perfectionist was on high alert and nothing was good enough. Each sentence took forever. However, I think this draft has potential which is exciting.

My story starts in medias res (in the middle of the action). My character is stunned and confused. The longest sentence in my first paragraph has eight words. The second paragraph has longer sentences full of action, keeping the quick pace until he escapes. The story slows for two paragraphs while he takes in his new situation then the next action begins.

Mapping out the story like this was insightful, but wasn’t giving me the overall feel of the story. I had another idea.

Listening: Last month I saw a #ProTip on Twitter from Kelli Russell Agodon that inspired me to explore another revision tool: the computer’s “read aloud” functions. I learned how to use Microsoft’s Narrator and added the Read Text Extension for Open Office. I thought listening to the computer read my story would help me hear and feel the pacing of my story, so I gave it a listen.

That works great for typos! The computerized voice makes the errors completely apparent. For pacing, however, it did not work for me. Even when I changed the voice to the woman speaking at a more natural speed, it was stilted and didn’t flow which was part of what I was listening for. I’ll be using this tool later when I’m working on line edits.

Scenes: After the listening experiment didn’t work, I went through my story and marked the beginning and end of each scene. I highly recommend doing this right after you’ve typed up and read your second draft. What I found is my story has a natural progression of scene and sequel, action and response. I also found a pattern of exposition setting up a scene. These short paragraphs of exposition may need to be tightened up if essential to the flow of the story, or may not be needed at all and can be cut. The exciting part is how obvious they became when I broke the story into scenes.

Everything builds toward the climax: This story, in general, moves well. To improve the pacing, I want to build more toward the climax. To do that I need to introduce a couple of ideas earlier, brainstorm some ways to raise the stakes and increase the tension and pacing going into the climax of the story. As it is, I think the climax occurs too abruptly after a reflective scene.

Structure

Another thing to think about at the big picture level of revision is structure. What other ways could I tell this story? The short story is often the format authors use to experiment with story form. Before diving any further into editing your story, ask yourself, Is there a better, more interesting way to present this story?

Applying these ideas to my story

I spent some time with this question and came up with some interesting ideas:

  • I could switch back and forth between my two character’s POVs more often. This could make it feel like their stories are more intertwined from the very beginning.
  • I could write the whole story from only my first character’s POV. This would make my second character have to tell her story to him and could make it more emotional and put her spin on it.
  • I could tell the story non-linearly, starting with my main character coming to acceptance of his situation and then telling what got him there.
  • That idea led me to telling the story like a reality show. In this type of telling, I could bring in interviews with people who knew my characters: family, friends, co-workers, before they changed. I think this could make a fun sequel or additional story.

I think the structure I chose in the first draft is the best for the telling of this story, however I do like some of these other ideas and might try them as well as separate pieces.

Next Steps

After making these changes, I will have finished the story level or developmental revisions. Next, I will look at each scene and make sure that every one is necessary and doing as much as it can.

I look forward to hearing how your revisions are going and reading any editing and revision tips you would like to share in the comments.

Revising a short story: working through discouragement

Levi says, “Walk away. Don’t force it. Give it some time.”

Because I’m focusing on revision this year, I want to bring you along as I attempt to revise my work and improve my revision process. Hopefully, we can all improve together.

I found a call for submissions that I think one of my stories will fit perfectly, so I’m starting with it. For once, I have plenty of time; the deadline isn’t until May. This is one of my longer short stories and I worked on it for a long time. I have edited and submitted it in the past, but after rejections set it aside. Now, with this anthology call as a goal, I thought it would be a great piece to put through Cat Rambo’s revision class and use as an example for my own revision process.

  • First, I printed it out (double spaced, Times New Roman, double sided pages to not waste paper).
  • Then I read it aloud, trying not to stop for notes, but making some notes.
  • Then I stopped. I hated it. It wasn’t the great story I remembered. It wasn’t what I wanted it to be.
  • I came back and finished reading it aloud, but had to walk away.
  • I was disappointed and had no intention of figuring out how to fix it.
  • I searched the internet for what to do when you hate your story.

You Hate Your Writing? That’s a good sign from Jane Friedman at Writer Unboxed led me to Ira Glass on Storytelling

and Why You Don’t Need To Worry Hating Your Own Work by Robert Wood at Standout Books also talks about Ira Glass’s videos.

Why It’s Okay to Hate Your Writing by Sarah Gribble at The Write Practice

It helped to know that most writers go through this. And happily, I think I’m getting to the other side of the I hate everything phase. What was the magic fix? As usual, there wasn’t one. The answer was time and work. I kept going back to Cat Rambo’s class and trying to get myself to do each revision pass on my story. Finally something clicked, and since then things have kept clicking. Here’s what has worked so far:

My Short Story Revision

1.Major cuts: The first thing that had to change is I went into a flashback way too soon. Though the backstory in that flashback is important to the story, I plan to only use the most important parts and pepper them in later, so for now, I cut the flashback completely.

2. The Character and Dialogue focus: After cutting the flashback, it became clear that one of my two characters was less developed and it was the character I introduced first. To fix this, I journaled about his life before the story, his wants and needs and rather quickly got to know him and his story arc. Then I went through the story and found places where I could add character development.

My characters are opposites in every way, so I want each character to have a distinct voice. I journaled for a while about what would influence their style and word choice, exploring such things as education, socialization, family life, etc. I also decided that both of my characters needed new names, so I did a little research.

3. Setting focus: While exploring my character, I decided that he has a biology degree and works in a Garden center. He would have knowledge of the local flora that would impact the story. This made the specific setting more important. In the first draft, the setting could have been any river in any forest in North America, but after doing some research, I have now set my story in Northwestern California and have specific plants and trees for my characters to interact with.

At this point my draft is so marked up, I can’t read it. I’m going to sit down with all my notes and write a brand new draft from scratch. Hopefully my next read through won’t lead to me saying, “I hate this,” but something closer to, “this has potential.”

The Rabbit Hole of Revisions: guest post by Ferrell Hornsby

Alice and the white rabbit.

So, you’ve finished the first draft of your current work in progress. The hard work is done now, right? Not quite. Just because you’ve typed “The End” doesn’t mean your work is ready for the world to see. There are sure to be typos, missed punctuation, and (gasp) even plot holes that need to be found and fixed.

If that sounds daunting, it can be. Too many potential authors get stuck down the “rabbit hole of revisions” and never find their way out. It’s tempting to read our work and rewrite and revise. Then, we go back and read it again, rewriting and revising as we go. The cycle continues over and over. Somehow, we never feel our work is quite ready for anyone else to see. It’s not perfect. That’s the rabbit hole. Like Alice in Wonderland, we get lost in our own words, constantly finding that one last mistake, one misplaced word. Eventually, we may decide that it will never be perfect and thus does not deserve to enter the esteemed world of literature.

My advice: don’t go there. It’s a trap!

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t correct and improve our work. We definitely should. But we should have a plan (a map, so to speak) so we don’t get lost along the way.

Here’s the revision map I use. Perhaps it will help you as you devise a plan that works for you.

Alice at the center of a circle of characters: the queen of hearts is to her left and the white rabbit is at the bottom right.

Take a break

Let your story rest. Don’t jump right into revisions. Your original ideas are still too fresh and will cloud your objectivity as you look for problems that should be fixed. The amount of rest time will depend on you. Some authors need only a day or two. Others need a few weeks to let the original ideas fade a bit so they can look at it with fresh eyes. Experiment and see what works best for you.

Read as a Reader

When you’re ready, think about your target audience and read it as they would. You’re not looking for every mistake. In this round, you want to see if the story engages you. Does the plot flow? Do your characters develop through the story? Do they stay “in character” or do some of their actions and words feel out of place? If any of those things need fixing, rewrite as needed.

Let Your Baby Crawl

When you like what you’ve written, let a few people read it. Often, these are called beta readers. Family and friends may be your first go-to for this, but many times, they are like the Cheshire Cat. They will grin and tell you what they think you want to hear, sometimes in gibberish that doesn’t make any sense to your story. That’s great for the ego, but it isn’t as helpful as constructive feedback would be.

You don’t want overly critical beta readers, either. They may seem like the Red Queen. If it’s not written her way, it’s wrong.

The roses must be red. This is rubbish. Off with her head!”

I recommend finding a group of authors and/or readers in your genre who are not connected with you emotionally. There are many groups on Facebook and other online venues. You might find a local book club or author group, as well.

When considering anyone’s feedback, remember that they are only making suggestions, not issuing commands. Read them carefully, apply those that feel right, and let the rest go. Generally, if I have several people commenting on the same thing, I’m more likely to make changes than if there’s only one passing comment. When that’s finished, let it rest again.

Tackle the Typos

Do a proofread for correct punctuation, typos, etc. This time around, focus on the technical aspects of your writing. Do all your dialogues have matching quotation marks? Are there words that should be capitalized, or not? Are your teacups placed just so for your perpetual unbirthday tea party? (Hm. Maybe I carried that analogy a bit too far.) Time to let it rest again.

Alice at the Mad Hatter's tea party.

Turn It Upside Down

At this point, I recommend an inverse read. There are several ways to do this.

Change the colors (white type on black background, for example). The change in appearance can really draw your attention to the mistakes.

Read it backwards, the last paragraph first. That way you don’t get so caught up in the story that you overlook the errors.

Read it aloud, or have the computer read it to you. Hearing the words can bring weak word choices and other overlooked defects to your attention.

Personally, I like to combine two or all three of these methods. It’s amazing how many tiny mistakes would have slipped by if I didn’t stand on my head at this point. (Not physically, mind you.)

Let a Professional Take a Look

Now it’s time to send it to your editor.

What? Why do I need an editor if I’ve done all this revision work?”

Basically, for the same reason you use beta readers. More eyes on your work can bring flaws to light. I put a lot of stock in my editor’s suggestions, but at the end of the day, they are only suggestions. If they feel right, I incorporate them, if they don’t, I won’t.

Almost Finished

Many authors skip this step. I find it important for me to do a final read-through. I will generally do this one away from my computer. That keeps me from rewriting what doesn’t really need to be rewritten. I download the digital manuscript to my tablet and read with a paper and pencil by my side. If I find a really bad spot, I’ll jot it down, but this last time through is for my own peace of mind. When this is done, I’m confident that we’ve rooted out most of the errors.

Let your baby fly!

That’s it. Once I implemented this revision plan, I didn’t feel so overwhelmed with the amount of work still to be done on my first drafts. Step by step, I was able to rewrite, revise, improve, and prepare my books for the world.

This isn’t to say it’s the only way to revise your work. Each author must find their own path to publication. Keep in mind, I have yet to find a published work that has zero flaws, so don’t let that stop you from moving forward. If you have a plan, a map, you’re less likely to join so many others who never publish because they got lost down the rabbit hole of revisions.

Books by Ferrell Hornsby https://www.facebook.com/authorferrellhornsby

Cover of If We're Breathing, We're Serving by Ferrell Hornsby

If We’re Breathing, We’re Serving, Lifting the World series, Book 1

An inspirational story about a man’s journey through multiple sclerosis, and how he learns to serve others again. (Based on my husband’s real-life experiences.)

Ferrell Hornsby’s Amazon author page

Books by Emily Daniels (aka Ferrell Hornsby) https://www.facebook.com/EmilyDanielsBooks

Lucia’s Lament

Devlin’s Daughter

A Song for a Soldier

Emily Daniels’s Amazon author page

Books by Nana Ferrell (aka Ferrell Hornsby) https://www.facebook.com/hoppityfloppity

To Cry or Not to Cry

C is for Courage

She’s my Friend

Search for Claire’s Talent

Hoppity Floppity Easter

Hoppity Floppity Christmas

Nana Ferrell’s Amazon author page

Ferrell Hornsby has been writing stories and poetry since she could hold a pencil in her chubby little hand. Encouraged by her grandmother, she continued writing, even after receiving her first rejection letter at age twelve. Since then, she’s explored many genres, children’s literature, historical fiction, and most recently, inspirational fiction. Her own life experiences add a depth and emotional connection to her characters that is both rare and fulfilling.

Ferrell married her soul mate in 2011, and her life hasn’t been the same since! Together, they enjoy music, movies, eating out, and ice cream (the more chocolate, the better).

Revision Process: An interview with author Shelly Campbell

Cover for the book Under the Lesser Moon by Shelly Campbell

Last week I really enjoyed the TBRcon21 writing conference. The editing panel was fun and informative and the moderator even asked my question–Did you ever receive a piece of advice that made revision easier or more enjoyable for you?– near the end. If you missed the panel, you can watch it on Youtube.

After the panel, I asked one of the panelists, Shelly Campbell, if she would be interested in sharing more about her revision process here on Experience Writing and she so kindly agreed to answer some more questions I have about revision. So today, we are in for a treat!

My Interview with Shelly Campbell

After you finish your first draft and you are letting it rest, what are you up to? 

When I’m letting a manuscript rest—three weeks usually does the trick for me—I tend to take a total break from similar writing. Right now, I’m working on a fiction manuscript and, when I eventually reach the final pages of that first draft, I have a non-fiction project waiting in the wings. 

I also enjoy drawing and painting and find that I am usually inspired to create art when I’m taking a break from authoring. Visual art provides an almost instant gratification compared to the slow-burn fulfillment of novel writing, because I get the satisfaction of a finished project after a few hours, days or week, as opposed to the months or years of effort leading up to a completed book. There’s the added benefit that, if I’m really wound up in a draft I’ve just put down, I can always tackle character art, letting me revisit the story while still giving my brain time to switch gears into a more objective editing mode.

After (or during) your first read, how do you go back in? Do you summarize, outline, scene card? What are your tools?

I was very much a discovery writer when I wrote my first two novels, and I hadn’t done a lot of research into structure and form. While it was fun to just build a world with no restrictions and then play in it, it resulted in some long-winded, slack-paced manuscripts that needed significant developmental edits. I knew the books needed work, but in my inexperience, couldn’t pin down what they needed. 

My first reads for those books consisted of a lot of line-edit polishing, make-every-word-shine sort of thing. I didn’t know any better. But I would learn later that, without the bones of good structure and pacing, eloquent prose that doesn’t go anywhere won’t hold a reader’s interest! Much of those painstaking line edits were wasted when I trashed or changed large chunks of the manuscript later on.

With some resources under my belt, and having learned some of my own fallibility, I now have an editing bullet list that I run through on first reads. I’ve moved from pantsing to more of a three-act screenwriting structure, so the first thing I like to do is compare my manuscript with my initial outline. I chart out my chapters and their word counts and look at the big picture items first. Have I started the book too soon? Do I need to chop initial chapters and dive in closer to the inciting incident? Are all my major beats falling where they should? Is my midpoint a big enough pivot point—and is it actually occurring midway through the manuscript! 

When I’m comfortable that the draft is hanging properly on its structural skeleton, I dive into my first read with nothing on my mind other than, does this hold my attention? Anything that I’m tempted to skip over or skim needs work, because if it doesn’t hold my interest, it certainly can’t be expected to hold anyone else’s, right? After I’ve tweaked my tension, I read through again. My first drafts are skimpy on conveying internal emotion, need trimming when describing physical actions, and benefit greatly from tighter dialogue, so I’ll have a read through focusing on all of those things. Then I’ll go through my list of crutch words (words I overuse) and trim those out. After that, it is off to my beta readers to see what they think of the project! 

How do you approach your characters once you know them? Are they like friends that you talk to and hang out with, or is it more like sculpting, chipping the rock away for the fine details? Or something else?

Initially, it’s very much a chipping away process as I get to know the character. Often, by the time I’m ready to read through a first draft again, I can pick out things early on that I now know is out-of-character for this person, because I know them better. Many times, when I get stuck, I realize it’s because I’m trying to push my character in a direction they just wouldn’t take. Usually a re-examination of their goals, biases, fears and misbeliefs will point me in the right direction. So, yeah, my characters let me explore dead-end roads a lot, while patiently waiting for me to turn around and follow them onto the proper path.

What was the most challenging part of revising your novel? How did you come to a solution?

Honestly, my first novel was a mess. It was discovery writing. It wasn’t even one novel, it was two rambling manuscripts full of dead-end roads, but it had potential. My beta readers enjoyed it. Editors liked parts of it. I was fortunate enough to find a small publisher willing to take a chance on it with the caveat that I needed to do some significant developmental edits. I heartily agreed. My editor there, suggested a new outline for the combined manuscripts, and once I saw it summarized step-by-step, it didn’t seem so overwhelming to cut out a novel’s worth of words because I could see that the same story was still being told, just far more effectively and entertainingly than I had originally written it. I had a road map. And that’s when I realized, I really am a writer that needs a map! I need to outline or I end up exploring all those dead-end roads and lose my destination. 

When you get bogged down with the work, what do you do to get out?

I listen to my characters, or I revisit my outline. If my characters are responding in a believable manner, I have a look at my outline and see if I need to tweak tension. I normally get bogged down when I can’t pin down the intention of a scene. Is this supposed to further character growth? Provide a quiet moment to contrast with coming mayhem? Ratchet up tension by showing our reader something our main character doesn’t know? Ideally, each scene can multitask and, if I’m stuck, I often find I’m at a spot where this particular scene doesn’t need to be here at all, or what I’m trying to accomplish can be done by merging it into another scene. I’ll often enlist the help of my critique group because sometimes you just need a different lens on the problem to see the way out!

To what degree and at what point do you use beta readers or outside feedback during the revision process?

I rely heavily on beta readers because I’m lucky enough to have found a wonderful online group of writers and readers in my genre who offer great constructive advice. It’s hard finding good beta readers. You need someone who reads a lot in the genre you write in because they all do follow certain structures and rules that readers may not be able to list, but they certainly sense when you get them wrong! You need someone who is not your friend or family—in most instances they are just going to tell you your work is great because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. And you need beta readers who you just jive with. If you can’t take harsh criticism, a heavy-handed reader who only leaves you scathing comments is probably not a good fit for you. Unfortunately, this means a lot of trial and error finding the right beta readers for you, the ones who are able to help you lift up your work to a level you could not get it to on your own while still keeping your individual voice in there. I have been exceedingly lucky to find a crew of people who are honest in their comments and who each look at my work from a different angle, giving me the confidence to send my manuscripts out into the world.

I also want to point out that more beta readers is not necessarily better. Every person will have a different opinion and the more people who comment on your work, the more conflicting the advice will be. I use the rule that if multiple people comment on the same issue with the same feelings on it, it is likely something that needs to be fixed. If the correction would go against my character’s grain or cause my work to totally lose my voice, I tend to stand firm in my initial choices.

Where do you find your motivation to finish?

Initially, I didn’t! What eventually became Under the Lesser Moon rattled around in my brain and on my computer for decades. I wasn’t sure if I was good enough, but I had a story in my head that wanted out and, damn it, if I wasn’t going to finish it! So, I suppose, at first, what motivated me to finish—very slowly—was the fact that I’d put so much work into this one story and I felt I owed it to myself to at least finish it. 

Now, since the first book in the series is out, I’m motivated by deadlines (as well as readers who contact me to let me know how much they loved the first book and are looking forward to the second. Readers, have you any idea how very much that boosts a tired author?)

How do you know when you are finished?

I have to stop after I’ve addressed all my beta readers’ comments to the best of my abilities and have run through my own editing list. If I can write a good query letter that sparks interest when it is sent out, then I know I’m finished…for now.

Any other advice for writers new to or struggling with the revision process? 

What works for me may not work for you, but you do have this in you, revising. You learned how to write and revising is a skill you can learn too, one that you can hone with a bit of practice. Find a book on writing craft that resonates with you. Find a writers group. This is a lonely journey, but there are other people who are struggling just like you, and writers are some of the most helpful people I know! Don’t forget to feed your imagination. Often when you can’t write, you just need time to fill that creative well elsewhere. Read, garden. Do you! The well will fill. It always does 🙂


A headshot of Shelly Campbell.

At a young age, Shelly Campbell wanted to be an air show pilot or a pirate, possibly a dragon and definitely a writer and artist. She’s piloted a Cessna 172 through spins and stalls, and sailed up the east coast on a tall ship barque—mostly without projectile vomiting. In the end, Shelly found writing fantasy and drawing dragons to be so much easier on the stomach.

Shelly’s tales are speculative fiction, tending toward literary with dollops of oddity. She enjoys the challenge of exploring new techniques and subject matter, and strives to embed inspiring stories in her writing and art.

Her debut grim dark fantasy novel Under the Lesser Moon released with Mythos and Ink Publishing in November 2020.

https://www.mythosink.com/books/utlm/

She has a horror novel releasing with Silver Shamrock Publishing on April 2021.
You can find her here:

www.shellycampbellauthorandart.com 

https://twitter.com/ShellyCFineArt

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Quick Reminder: Editing panel coming up today #TBRcon21

This free writers conference has been wonderful so far. Great authors talking with each other about writing–What could be better? I’ve had Goodreads open the whole time and keep adding to my Want to Read list.

I hope you get a chance to watch live and ask questions, but if not, they have the sessions you miss available on Youtube.

There are also book give-aways.

Welcome to Experience Writing 2021

Where There Are Tiny Dinosaurs In Trees (2020) bokeh photograph by Maria L. Berg

Attempt at Focus

This year has one main writing focus and that is revision. I will be revising my novels one after the other. I will be revising my short stories and my poems. I will find ways to stay motivated during revision. I will explore revision tools, workbooks and worksheets and find what works and doesn’t work for my process along the way.

There will be events like National Poetry Month in April, OctPoWriMo (October Poetry Writing Month) in October and NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, but other than that, this site is about revision this year.

If you are an author or poet (or both) who would like to share your revision process, or tips and tricks let me know in the comments, or send an email. We can schedule a guest-post or an interview.

The Revision Experience Begins

Planner Pages

I thought I had given up on my planner pages, but then I wanted to start setting up my revision goals. I took a look at the revised pages I made for December 2019 and thought they would work nicely. After some quick revision, I offer what I’ll be using this month. If you are interested in looking back at my planner for writers project, it started back in February of 2019. Just click on the month in the archives (column to the right).

The file is set up to be used in OpenOffice. I decided to leave the deadlines blank this time, so you can focus on the deadlines that most interest you.

Here are the sites I usually look at when I’m researching deadlines:

I liked the prompts and the format of these planner pages. I also like the more achievable goal of three submissions a week. I look forward to your feedback on the pages and hope you find them useful.

To start my short story revisions, I chose twenty-one of my short stories and put them in one PDF without titles. My goal is to attempt to read through them on my tablet as if it is someone else’s collection and choose my ten favorites for revision.

I purchased Cat Rambo’s short story revision class and look forward to taking the ten stories I choose through her paces.

I’ll talk more about organization and preparation tomorrow. I wanted to get the planner pages out today, so you can start using them.

#WriterInMotion ~ Final Thoughts

WIM A Storys Journey Banner

I entered the Writer-In-Motion Challenge hoping to get some big break-through information from a professional editor. I wanted that sword that would cut down rejection and get me to YES!

Truth is, I got more than that. I got, “Wow, Maria, the voice in this is amazing!”

Voice. That magical, unteachable thing. That how do I get it, thing!

And then I got– Now take out a lot of it. You have to choose.

The fun part is, it made sense. It was not that hard to choose what to keep. I even asked my mom who never reads my blog and she and I agreed on the way to cut, but she still wanted the first one (blockade).

This story was huge. It could be a novel. I over-wrote, over-double-wrote, for the first time. I am usually concise in my writing, like the lyricist I am, but for some reason this image created a real idea on so many levels that I care about.

The original word-count cut wasn’t easy, but it was a great exercise and I think the final cuts I made, were personal experiments to see how people would react. I chopped in unnatural ways and my readers did not find them interesting or experimental. They were awkward. Something to think about for future awkward characters. I know how to make a reader uncomfortable.

Overall, I think I learned that having to prune so many words, I was able to get to what was necessary to the story.

Thank you again to my critique partners and editor for their time. And thank you Writer-in-Motion for the experience.

 

 

 

#WriterInMotion : The final draft

Writer in Motion Week Four

This week I received feedback from professional editor Jeni Chappelle of Jeni Chappelle Editorial. Jeni is the co-creator of this challenge as well as #RevPit on Twitter. I want to thank her for her time, encouragement and suggestions.

Here it is. The final draft!

The Bear’s Breeches Smell Slightly Sweet As They Rot

I had never seen a man’s face change so fast. He stepped through the door, blocking our view, still laughing with his son. Then he saw me.

You,” he said, then closed the door on Josette and me.

Who is it, Daddy?” the child said from inside.

That rude trespasser from the other day,” the man said.

Josette scowled up at me. “Rude trespasser?”

Not as confident as I had been when I called her office, I stammered, “I t-told you. I discovered them while collecting herbs for my shop.”

Mm-hm.” Josette could condescend without saying a word.

It’s true. I spotted those white flowers from the trail. Acanthis mollus, people call it bear’s breeches. And that’s green ash. You can make a tea from the leaves, also medicinal.”

And you cure with these medicines?”

Josette sounded mad at me. Something had changed since coffee in town.

My remedies help aches and pains, fatigue, swelling. Lots of things,” I said.

Well, now I have a job to do.” She balled her wide hand and hammered the fragile door.

What?” he yelled.

Josette’s voice changed: deeper, formal. “Mr. Palmberg? My name is Josette Luckman. From Child Protective Services. To evaluate this dwelling for the safety of your child. Could I please come in?”

Are you kidding me, lady? You sicced Social Services on me? You were trespassing. Of course I got mad. What the hell?” His voice was like a pulled rubber-band.

Mr. Palmberg, take a deep breath and open the door.”

My pulse thumped. She had brass, telling him to take a breath. I imagined him roaring out, axe raised, or poking a shotgun through a gap. I jumped an inch off the dirt when he undid the latch.

I followed Josette into the dark room, steadying myself with the wall, cool and clammy like entering a cave. Hearing scratching and clawing, I imagined a bear or a mountain lion den. A sudden square of light on the floor in front of me brought lines and shapes out of the darkness.

That’s Horace,” the man was saying. “He’s a sweet, old thing. Not much of a hunter or guard dog, but Ely adores him.”

Shutters now open, light blared through a hole in the wall. Josette looked at home on a carved settee with pumpernickel-and-coffee-striped upholstery. She already had a cup of tea.

Alyssum, are you okay?” she said. “You look faint. Come sit down.”

The man addressed me cautiously, “Alyssum? I’m Eugene. Green ash tea?”

“Yeah, Alyssum Grabner. Uh, tea. Thank you,” I said, sitting next to Josette. The settee shifted on its thin legs.

He handed me a toile china tea cup. I admired the indigo children fishing on the white background. I looked up. He watched me, sad eyes searching.

Did you hear that, Alyssum? Eugene’s been toiling here on his grandfather’s property since his bitter divorce,” said Josette as if revealing a truth I should have already known.

To Eugene she said, “Because this situation was brought to my attention, paperwork filed, you’re in the system. As long as Ely stays healthy and happy, enrolls in school, gets regular check-ups. . . I’ll provide the lists of expectations—”

Eugene tried to interject. “But–”

And we’ll be contacting your character references, living relatives . . . As long as you prove you can provide a stable home and—”

Josette, stop. No system. Ely and I are finally making this work.”

You think this works for Ely? No plumbing or electricity? How will he socialize with no children his own age? There will be hygiene expectations when school starts.”

I’ll home-school. He’ll learn from nature, have a more traditional upbringing.”

Josette’s face twisted like half of it was fighting the other half. “Traditional? You think shitting in the woods is his tradition?”

She jumped off the settee, startling the dog and me. The dog ran over to Eugene. I took my tea cup to the bucket-sink.

What could you mean? You go from suburbs to hut, and suddenly you are Native American? Or are you, Jesus help me, trying to relate to my traditions? Is that what you’re trying to say?”

I felt sick. I watched Josette’s chest heaving and the shock on that man’s face and thought, The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I felt as small as those children on my tea cup.

Josette, I made a mistake,” I said as calmly as I could. “I judged the situation by the paint on his house and the overgrowth. His son is healthy and happy. You said so yourself. Let’s go.”

Josette turned to me. “You know what it took me to get to where I am? I have too much to prove.”

She spun on Eugene. “Here’s a tradition. Weekly check-ins. Living up to standards. Your—”

Horace barked.

Stop it! Leave my daddy alone! You sound like Mommy.”

The boy in the doorway cast a shadow across Josette’s face.

Josette’s new voice was sweet with an undertone of rot like the bear’s breeches outside. “You must be Ely. I was talking to your daddy about how happy you are here.”

Ely stomped. “You’re a liar. Go away!” He ran back outside.

Josette whirled on Eugene. “Do you see what you are doing to that child?”

Eugene breathed and smiled. His warm voice resonated. “Yes. Beautiful. He grew up too fast. All I wanted for him was to finally get to be a kid. To play and feel loved and protected.”

He approached me, palms open.

I backed away.

Don’t be scared. I was frustrated and took it out on the first person who arrived. I want to forgive you. Actually, I want to thank you. Until you brought Josette, I couldn’t see my path. I kept stabbing the unrelenting dirt, battling the undergrowth as if I could tame nature, but I was rage-blind. So, thank you.”

Josette said, “We’re leaving.”

She pushed me out the door.

I stared after him. He emitted peace. I wish I had understood.

 

Fun news!

While I was writing this post I received an email informing me that Writer Shed Stories: Vol. 1 which includes my story “More Than He Could Chew” is now available in paperback.