Posts Tagged ‘writing articles’

How You Re-Write 3: Method over Madness

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

The philosophy I share with all students and editing/coaching clients? Anyone–ANYONE–can deconstruct and rewrite a manuscript. Anyone can learn to rework a story one element and scene and character at a time. Last week I shared some of my basic techniques for  understanding the key characters in your completed story draft (at a high level). Click here and here for those posts, to catch up or refresh or try to niggle a bit more out of each one.

This week and next, we’re diving into the actual method of deconstructing. My method. The title of this series is HOW YOU RE-WRITE, and the overall blog category is HOW YOU WRITE. So, disclaimer time: this works for me and many of my clients and students, but the only way you’ll know if it works for you is IF YOU WORK ON REWRITING SOMETHING OF YOUR OWN. Eh-hem… Sorry, it’s a nit for me.

writing is rewriting

What’s the deal, you ask?

Just as a refresher: re-writing is hard; looking at what’s not working with your characters and plot points and themes and secondary everything can be a nerve-wracking, soul-sucking, insecurity-making exercise; and a lot of people listen but never try many of the basic, not-so-hard-to implement exercises I recommend. Which is too bad, because learning to rewrite (and we’re all ALWAYS learning, with every new project) is your job. It’s not an option. And I can’t tell you the number of clients who fade away or students whose enthusiasm wavers after a course ends or followers contact me years later to say they still haven’t finished that book they were working on back when, but they’ve started 5 new ones since…and not finished them, either.

Which is unfortunate, sad and avoidable. Just do the work (or in this case the re-work). Do it. We all have to. All of our pretty babies are drafted in the shadows of “ugly.”

writing pen

It’s madness to think yours won’t, and inexcusable as an artist to let your creative drive for approval (especially your own) block you from learning and applying the craft that will better enable you to bring your unique voice and vision and stories to readers who are languishing these days, in a sea of often poorly-written, poorly constructed, badly delivered free or so-close-to-free-it-doesn’t-matter digital content.

Rant almost over. Except to say this: make what you create matter as viscerally and beautifully and impactfully (not a word, but you get the gist) as it can, by understanding it, honing it, and ruthlessly re-working it to the best of your ability. (more…)

How You Re-Write 2: Actually, it’s Beginning-END-Middle…

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

Re-Writing Lesson 2: Taking a closer look at my recommended method for using the B-M-E Chart!

Or, if it helps you more easily remember today’s discussion… My Beginning-End-Middle Chart.

BME Table

First, be sure if you haven’t to brush up on Rewriting Lesson 1, where I begin discussing my methods and philosophy for deconstructing and re-writing manuscript drafts.

Then grab all those notes you’ve made from your own Work-in-Progress, because you did your homework and have been looking at your current draft, right? Right?! And maybe you had a bit of a struggle encapsulating what’s happening with your characters at these key story turning points (Inciting Incident, Midpoint, and Black Moment). If so, welcome to the club. These aren’t high concepts most of us have nailed down when we first begin to draft.

So, let’s take another stab at it. Even if you’re happy so far with what you’ve learned about your story from using the chart, indulge me and lean into Lesson 2 and your draft with a fresh set of eyes.

The B-M-E Chart Process

Some quick definitions as we begin. Just summaries, for the sake of this exercises and post.

  • Inciting Incident: the first key turning point in a manuscript, when something happens that has never happened before, propelling the protagonist and antagonist together into the external flow of the story.
  • Midpoint: the center-most turning point in the manuscript, the tent post “propping up” the external and internal arcs of the story;the “ah-ha” moment when the protagonist realizes the “true” goal/conflict of her/his journey and pivots (through a shift in motivation) toward pursuing the objective that will drive her choices and actions for the second half of the novel.
  • Black Moment: the pinnacle moment where all that is at stake for the protagonist is revealed and all hope is lost if the the protagonist hasn’t learned enough throughout the story’s arc and/or isn’t ready to make the no-going-back, life-changing choice being asked of her.

Step 1: Can you isolate these turning points in your draft?

Not theoretically, not as you think back about what you meant to do with your story. Actually, physically, can you turn to these places in your printout (PLEASE, when you’re deconstructing a drafted work-in-progress, print it out and work with a hard copy. I swear, developmental/content editing is so much more effective at the analytical stage if you work with hard copy rather than scrolling through a digital copy)?


I have a method I’ll describe in a later re-write lesson for isolating specific scenes while deconstructing a novel, and how to learn the most you can from that exercise. But for now do the best you can and put your finger on when these three critical events happen to your protagonist. Not what you planned to do, or what you meant to do, but what you physically wrote as you drafted. (more…)

How You Re-Write 1: Revise with the B-M-E Chart

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Re-writing is your friend. No, seriously. Re-writing is your BEST creative friend of all… Revisions, if you will. But when I teach and keynote and author coach and content edit, I make a clear distinction between line and copy editing and proof reading and the creative work of developmental editing, also known as re-writing.

And since for most of us mere mortals, our first full draft of a project rarely tumbles out of our brains fully realized, just dying to be written, part of our job–arguable the most important part of your job–is re-crafting that draft until it’s its best self. And that ain’t easy. In fact, resistance to re-working and re-writing and re-imagining the whole that’s sprouted from that kernel of an idea that drew you to write a story is the Number One reason a lot of authors never publish traditionally, and why a great deal of independently-published novels will never find a home in a reader’s heart.

Rewriting isn’t an easy friend. It’s overwhelming work, and creative fatigue and doubt and frustration can win the ensuing battle if you let them. But you’re a professional writer. Say it with me, “I’M A PROFESSIONAL WRITER.”

And your job is to take control of your creative process every step of the way. And for the purposes of this How You Write post, your job is to rewrite your draft for however long it takes for the story and characters and journeys you’ve created to connect with the reader on every level possible. You’re the boss, not the draft. You’re ready to work through the exhausting process of diving back in over and over. Really, you are ;o)

The way to do that?


No, the process isn’t simple. But you job is, so to speak. All you have to do is break your draft down into simple parts, so you can effectively execute the work left to be done in manageable chunks.


When you’re drafting with a plan (and you have a plan, right?) or rewriting with plan (because you revamp your plan for your story before you rewrite, right?), you give yourself a chance to conquer the overwhelming, sinking feeling that you can’t succeed at something as complex as creating a novel. You allow yourself to focus on one piece of the story at a time, until the whole manuscript finally begins to take shape. But what is your re-writing plan???

I’ll get more specific about my re-writing approach in my twice-weekly July How You Write blog updates. But for now, accept for the sake of argument that writing is a process (while creativity and voice and the compulsion to share story with the world through the written word is a gift, bless you heart…). And as part of that process, re-writing can be learned and executed and mastered by anyone determined get better at her/his craft.

To help simplify things today as we dip our toe into re-writing…

I encourage every new student and client to do what I do with a freshly drafted first pass at a story–focus on the beginning, middle, and end of your characters’ journeys, as you deconstruct what you’ve achieved with your novel. Before you rewrite the first word, you first have to understand (to “conquer”) what you’ve already written.

First up! I teach students and clients to pinpoint the emotional focus of a character at the inciting incident of a story,  at the midpoint, and at the black moment.

beginning middle end

Make a chart (easily done in Word or Excel or freehand on a notepad). A simple one, with a row for your protagonist, your antagonist and perhaps one significant secondary character. Three columns: Beginning, Middle, End.

BME Table

Then read through those three key turning points in your story draft (inciting incident, midpoint and black moment) and see if you can define the state of each character’s internal journey. Jot down only a sentence or two for each turning point and each character. You should be able to summarize very specifically how a character is growing or wanting to change at each critical juncture. Once you’re done, take a look…

Is each character’s emotional state dynamic and arcing throughout the story? (more…)

Where do you buy your books? A statistical rant.

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Where do you buy your books?

I’ve heard in author discussion recently that the publishing press and the traditional publishers they front for want us to still buy that 70% of all books sold are still sold in bricks and mortar stores.

If they’re talking about only print books, and maybe hard cover books or best-selling authors (and I mean the ones who sell millions of copies of each release), then, yeah, I’ll buy that. And if you’re one of those authors who can score a decent hard cover print run or for whom it doesn’t matter where you sign your next contract you’ll sell because you’re already branded, then New York must seem quite flattering and attractive for you.

old books

If you’re mid-list author or a newbie, or even some of the best-selling authors I know (who’ve for years been hitting lists left and right and USED to score tasty hard cover print runs but not so much anymore), you aren’t buying the above statistic any more than I am. Because you live in the real world where digital is the new mid-list, mass market platform and traditional publishers have no clue how to make digital publishing work except for the branded, and for the branded the money’s still in physical stores.

In the real world, at least in commercial fiction,we want to see our books in stores, but we know that 70% of our sales won’t happen there. At least we hope not, because print distribution more than sucks, it’s becoming non-existent.

I write for Amazon. Montlake. They’ve made me more money in a year (my first novel with them launched the end of Oct., ‘12) than my primary traditional publisher has in my entire career (and that would be over 8 years of being “successful” on their lists). Montlake finds readers who love my work (reviews prove that), buy almost exclusively digital (95% of my sales) and come back for more (proof that my new team understands their marketing business and doesn’t care that we’ve been blacklisted from most physical stores). They’ve sold more of each title so far (including the one that’s currently been out for just a couple of months) than my traditional publisher could through their “successful” print distribution when I walked away.

Do I wish that my Mimosa Lane books were in print bookstores?

I do. Print readers would love them, too, and I trust my publisher to make that connection for me when they can.

Do I regret that I’m making TEN TIMES the royalty rate on my digital sales at Amazon Montalke than I have at any of my traditional publishing houses?

I do not.

Do I believe the publishing press that doesn’t want digital publishing to be the end of the print publishing model as we know it (notice I don’t say the end of print publishing, just that the way it’s always been done is going to have to change) includes my and my peer’s digital sales in their calculation of “book sales” to come up with their 70% statistic?

Don’t make me laugh.

How You Write: Somewhat adjacent to “I Give Up!”

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Read another segment of my new non-fiction writing project, “How You Write,” HERE.

writing red pen

For those who want more for now, until I pull all the past posts into the new book, check out my blog writing craft series.

Look for more fun, inspirational and other crazy stuff on the blog soon!

Missing everyone bunches!


How You Write: My Non-Fiction Novel Project

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Followed my How We Write blog series? How YOU write is the novel project I’ve been waiting to launch forever.

Join me over on Wattpad…

writing pen

Or wait for the posts to crop up here on the blog.

I’m SUPER excited.

Hope you are, too.

And, yes, I’m back ;o) It’s been a crazy few months of finishing yet another book, burning out, revising regardless, promoting a new release, and getting my feet back under me. But I’m back.

I’ve missed you all!

How We Write: Day 5, One Step, One Leap at a time…

Friday, June 7th, 2013

When you have to go back to the beginning, do your step outline. Steps and leaps are what we’re talking about today. When you’re rewriting and you can’t see where you’re going, it’s time to retrace your steps. Every step. Every leap. What have you had your characters doing? Why are they doing it. What’s in their way (conflict), stopping them from getting what they want (goal), and how does that change their goal or the reason they keep fighting (motivation)? In EVERY scene. In EVERY story turning point.


That’s what I’ve been doing for two days. We’re going to forget Day 3 and 4 like they never happened–because they didn’t for me, from a work standpoint. That’s how my life’s going these days. I can’t move forward, in the midst of chaos. But that doesn’t mean I stop working on my story. It means I find different ways to look at what I have so far–and this week, I’ve worked on another rewriting/manuscript deconstruction technique I’ve learned…step  outlining  what I’ve already written, to discover where my story AND character arcs need to be refined and deepened. Not just one or two scenes. Every scene. From the beginning. Until you realize what’s blocking the escalating conflict and flow of your characters and plot.

Yep. That’s a lot of work. (more…)

How We Write: Day 2 of Rewriting Is my B**ch. Simple, right?

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Yeah, I said it. Because part of what I teach is that at this point of the process–the rewriting of a full draft that rarely wants to be rewritten–your job isn’t easy. Either the overwhelming work to be done is going to win, or you’re going to win because you’re a professional writer. And the only way for you to win, is to take control and show the rewrites or the new draft or whatever stage you’re in, that you’re the boss.

The way to do that?


No, the process isn’t simple. You have to keep it simple.


When you’re drafting with a plan (and you have a plan, right?) or rewriting with plan (because you revamp your plan for your story before you rewrite, right?), you stop the overwhelming, sinking feeling that you can’t succeed at something as complex as creating a novel–by focusing on one piece of the story at a time, until the whole manuscript finally begins to take shape.

I encourage students to do what I do…focus on the beginning, middle, and end of your characters’ journeys, as you plot or deconstruct or draft write a novel. I also teach students to pinpoint the emotional focus of a character at the inciting incident of a story, then at the black moment, and only then at the middle of the book. If you can define for yourself or me or a critique partner what your character’s internal journey will be at these three story points , you’ll never be writing or rewriting into a void.

An example?

My protagonist/heroine in my Mimosa Lane WIP (Book 3 of my Seasons of the Heart series) grew up in a dysfunctional family. That could have made her angry at the world and rebellious (as it does our hero, but that’s another blog post). Instead, while she’s wary of ever making family work for her, it’s made her a champion of other families and of the kids she teaches and cares for in her job (she’s an amazing assistant elementary school principal, whom you get to know in Seasons of the Heart Book 2, Three Days on Mimosa Lane). Sound interesting? I hope so.

But that’s only the beginning. It’s nowhere close to a full story arc. Not yet. And if I’m going to rewrite my muddled and wandering draft into the best story it can be, I need to understand my protagonist’s emotional/internal journey as I weave her in and out of the external story points I’ve already created–I need to motivate her carefully and throw the right conflict at her for the right reasons (using my hero and key secondary characters), so that she’ll change and grow and achieve a goal by the end of the book that she/we wouldn’t have thought possible at the beginning–claiming the happy family she’s always wanted, even if that family can never be the perfect thing she dreamed of as a little girl.

The simple part
(that’s taken me a long time to arrive at, longer than most other stories I’ve written, because of the complexity of the characters and community I’m writing about)

Heroine at the story Inciting Incident: She’s surround herself with love and family (other peoples’), focusing on her job and helping the ideal community she’s grateful to be a part of. Her success at her job helps other families and the children she’s responsible for thrive, and that makes her happy, or so she’s convinced herself.


How We Write: The Ugly, Sleep-deprived Truth…

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

For the next 12 days, I’m writing ugly–revising ugly, mostly–and I’m blog posting every day about it. I taught a NC retreat weekend a few weeks ago and am teaching again this weekend coming up on what it means to draft and revise as a professional fiction writer. Students tend not to believe that it’s as hard for the pros as it is for them. I tend to believe and teach that it’s harder.

I say I work 15-20 hr days at this point in the process.


Because of personal issues, I’m so far behind with this deadline (and am working on an extension my publisher graciously gave me) that it’s going to be more like 20 hrs a day. No. Really. I have close to 100k words of meandering draft, with no end in sight, even though I know what I want the ending to be. Only the beginning and middle of this thing won’t take form enough for me to be able to finish it. So it’s back to the drawing/design board. I’m deconstructing again and revamping character/plot/story AGAIN, the way I teach other writers to.

And I’ll be recording daily here, for  anyone who’s in the same place or is interested in following a long for the hell of it. In the end, this is a job, as much as I love to create and spend time with my characters. I have a series and a book to do my very best to bring to life and finish. I have a publisher, editor and agent counting on me to fulfill my obligation, no matter the chaos going on in my personal life. I have a plan for my career that I don’t intend to let fizzle away because of some bumps in the road.

There will always be bumps in the road. I have the great pleasure and luck of doing what I love for a living–most of the time I love it, anyway. Sometimes this is simply my job–and my kid needs to go to college, so I do my job.

So for 12 days I’m working my ass off to turn this thing over to my editor on June 15th. You can do anything for 12 days, right?

Join me, won’t you?

For those who follow my process as I teach it, here’s the new plan (character-driven, of course), from the analysis I spent most of yesterday pulling together. Today, I’m ripping at the old draft, cutting and tuning things up and moving scenes/plot points as needed. Likely, that’ll be all I do this week–ALL on hard copy, because that’s how I see story best at this stage. It’s most of us see it best, not that I’m insisting you try it this way, unless you’re one of my students, and then, yeah, I’ll insist!

Story Themes (weave in from beginning, through the middle, to the end): (more…)

How We Write: What does your wall look like?

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Every book just flows from my fingers, like a movie playing itself from my imagination into the most beautiful of prose… And THEN, I wake up.

Such is the charmed life of a working fiction writer.

I’m a month away from my next manuscript deadline–the fourth in a year, and each night when I sleep (not that I sleep much), I dream of the book magically being done and the pressure being off and me and my husband and son being on a beach somewhere whiling away simple hours free of the fear that I won’t EVER puzzle this story out.

But that dream doesn’t last long, unfortunately, before a darker one takes over.

I’ve hit a wall, you see, as I do with every story.

hitting the wall woman

I teach others how to do this stuff, so you’d think I’d know better how to handle this place in the process that we all come to. Yet the despair is always here waiting for me. The wall is my darkest creative point–when I must push through doubt and confusion and make story and character make sense NOW, because there’s no more time for them to figure themselves out on their own.

And in my dreams, when they stop being fanciful and take a nightmarish turn toward reality, this is what my wall often looks like.

hitting the wall windows and doors

It has doors and windows, I realize once I calm down. There are openings in the wall I fear blocks my story, doors and windows that I can see through, create through, believe through. THAT’S my job. It’s yours, too, when you write.

I’ve been at this long enough to understand and organize my process. (more…)