Uncertain if you book is ready to be released into the wild? You want to publish your best book possible. It can be challenging to know if your manuscript has any weak areas, or if it's been properly edited.
If doesn't matter whether you intend to self-publish, or send your manuscript off to agents and publishers. Taking the time to work through these stages drastically improves your manuscript and your ability to realize your publishing goals.
While not every book goes through each of these steps (or needs to), each action adds value and refines the final book you will offer up to readers. While it's easy to make big changes in the development stage, these changes become more and more emotionally difficult later on. Here's a quick manuscript editing checklist to help guide you.
Stage one: Development
Stage two: Editing
Stage three: Final Review
Perhaps you love to write. Perhaps you dream about writing a memoir. Before you begin, the fear sets in. What will my mother think? Like two writerly super heroes, Anne Lamott and Dorothy Allison swoop in to set you right.
You gather courage, pull up your writing britches and sit at your desk. Memories scroll through your mind like flickering images on a screen. You think, this is ridiculous. Who cares about my story? I am neither famous or mighty. What makes me think my story is worth telling?
In a great cacophony of noise all around you shout Maya Angelou, Annie Dillard, Thomas Cirignano and Saul Bellows.
You can no longer resist. At last you think yes, I will do this. You stare down at the blank page, take a deep breath, wonder where the courage will come from. Here is Stephen King, at your side.
And so you pick up your pen and begin. The gods of writing cheer.
Bestselling memoirist Abigail Carter leads a workshop next month call "Start Writing Your Memoir." This is your sign.
I saw recently on ye olde Facebooke that one of my favored professors from Evergreen has a book in a Kickstarter campaign by Starcherone Books. While of course I hope you all hop over right now and donate your twenty-five smackers to get his book, it would be foolish of me to think you would do so without a compelling reason. So first, I’m going to give you all something Steven Hendricks gave me.
Steven gave me a great many things; such as clever techniques for book binding, a doodle I can deliver on a cocktail napkin that suddenly makes post-modernism easy to understand, and the understanding that my unearned privilege comes at the direct expense of another soul’s power.
However, the best thing he gave me is a writing game.
We played this little game at our writing group, an oddball mix of professors, staff and students. All of us ridiculously earnest and playful both. So enraptured with this game was I, that I continued to play it wherever I traveled after my college years. Whenever people gather in some intimate place, I pull pens from my bag, start tearing scraps of paper and ask my companions to indulge me.
I have played this game with countless friends and writing groups since. I played this game with Yakuza in a Juso bar. I played this game with every would-be suitor and certain lover. I’ve played with young students, my kids, with retirees, with drunken conference attendees.
Each time is different, each game contains delight and at least a fraction of wonder. Steve's gift to me, I now give to you.
1. Make sure every one has a pen and a scrap of paper.
2. Ask everyone to write a question, any question, that begins with What is…
This can be simple, such as What is this?, or complex, such as What is the reason the young man takes up his bag and sets to walking when his heart is broken?.
3. Make sure everyone knows to keep their question secret from their neighbor.
4. Ask everyone to turn over their paper so their question is hidden, then pass to the left (or right depending on your whim).
5. Without peeking at the question, ask everyone to write any statement that begins with It is…
Again, this may be simple or complex. It does not need to be connected to the prior question at all. The only rule is that it must begin with It is…
6. Once everyone has written their statements, they may flip over their papers and see the question.
7. Ask everyone to read the question they received and their answer out loud.
Before we read the results, I usually say something like this…
You just wrote a surrealist poem. When we write, we often already have some meaning or message in our mind. We search for the correct words or match our meaning and communicate our message. The game we just played, invented by the surrealist writers in Paris, reverses this process. We put down the words first, and get the meaning after. You, as the artist, have little control over the final product as you have no control over half your poem.
Most often, wonderful pairings arise in the little poems. Sometimes, the mix falls flat. If the questions are droll (what is your favorite color), then all the responsibility for compelling image falls to the answer.
I find that when we repeat this game multiple times, the pairings get better and better. Of course, alcohol helps the process as well.
So next time you meet with your writing group, or sit down for dinner with interesting people, tempt them into this game. If, like me, you find the results fascinating, you may scoop up the scraps of poetry after and keep them as mementoes.
Now that you have this game in your repertoire, it’s time for you to hop on over to Steven’s kickstarter. His book, Little is Left to Tell, will be published by Starcherone Books. The Kickstarter raises the much needed funds to enable the independent press to distribute and market the book effectively. Personally, I recommend backing at the $25 level or above so that you can receive a copy of the novel when it’s available. The book, like Steve, is certain to cause you to suffer a splendid case of wonder and perspective.
My plan was simple. I was going to become a photographer for National Geographic, travel the world, have great affairs. Finally, at 40-years-old, I would have a daughter with my most clever lover.
That didn't happen.
Instead, I married my high school sweetheart and had my daughter when I just 22. We moved back to a suburb outside of Olympia, Washington where I took a job as a secretary and grew increasingly depressed with my unremarkable trajectory with each inch of expanded belly.
Then my daughter was born. Instant alchemy.
Just a single week of holding her in my arms and the understanding that I am the most powerful force in her life sunk into my consciousness. All kinds of glorious revelations flowed forth.
What kind of life do I want for my daughter? I want her to live her dreams, to bravely pursue her passions and interests freely.
If I am the most powerful force in her life, and the best example she has of a life a woman can lead, I must live to my fullest capacity.
I started doing the things that I would want my daughter to do. I admitted my greatest dream. (To, gulp, be a writer!) I re-enrolled in a four-year college and majored in writing, career opportunities be damned. The very month I graduated, I moved my little family overseas to live in Japan. If travel was what I wanted, then no excuse should keep me from packing my bags and boarding the plane.
I don't expect her to do exactly as I have done. I expect her to do exactly as she wants to do.
When I was pregnant, pitifully employed and ghosting the same strip malls of my youth, despair oozed my from very being. How lucky that her arrival gave my life the driving meaning I required to kick-start my own adventure-filled life.
She's twelve now, and the most amazing person I've ever met. We're in Mexico where I spend my mornings completing the revisions of my novel, and our afternoons exploring together. When I think back to that simple plan I constructed when I was 16, I laugh. How little it was. How much bigger and better this life has become.
I'm currently on retreat to revise my novel draft. To help guide me, I've been reading Les Edgerton's book Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go. This book has illuminated many way I may make my novel opening much stronger. Here's where I need you help.
Below are two opening snippets. Please read them both and then let me know in the comments at the bottom of the page which one you find most compelling. I don't care for corrections at this point. The main function of the opening is to make the reader want to read more. Between these, which prompts you to want to keep going?
How many men do you need to sleep with to kill love? Basic tootsie-pop question with a twist. I could tell you about each one, but that would make this merely a story about sex. I don’t want the book of my life to sit on that shelf. Not enough traffic. Readings would be awkward.
I could easily make this a book about what the other writers call “the long dark wilderness of the soul.” Frankly, I never cared much for tragedies. Even the queens of my generation grow tired of brooding and dramatizing now and then.
This is simply a love story. A true story. My story.
For 25 years, the story of my life played out like a sitcom. I was the girl who fell in love at 16, married her sweetheart, earned a college degree and had a beautiful daughter—though not necessarily in that order. I built a successful life in a foreign country where I worked as an English teacher. Happy endings forever and ever.
Unfortunately, that plot was unsustainable. Every arc has an upward stroke, but also a twin descent.
Let me show you where it begins.
Let me show you where it begins.
Japan. Christmas Eve. Cold rain, but no snow. The apartment provided to me by the university where I teach has a wall of glass, sliding doors that lead out to a balcony and show me all of Osaka’s twinkling orange lights. Strings of tiny white bulbs wrap my scrawny fica tree. Brightly colored packages circle round the pot. My two-year-old daughter has finally succumbed to the inevitability of sleep and snoozes safe and warm in her pink Hello Kitty room. My husband has stepped out. Just for a minute. He’s probably halfway down the hill by now, hurrying to buy milk and Christmas cake topped with giant red strawberries before the grocery closes.
I’m sitting at my desk by the balcony, my face bathed in the deathly grey glow of my husband’s computer screen, scrolling through an accidentally discovered folder named 98taxclassifications filled with pictures of my best friend. Laughing. Smiling. Half-naked. Naked. In some her naturally blond hair is long and full of curls as it was years ago, in others her hair is chopped short and dyed red as it has been just last year after her divorce. In some photos, I see my husband’s feet, or a bare shoulder, or his shadow painting a swath of her skin a darker shade of pale. In a rare few, I see his face, pressed close next to hers, beaming up into a camera held at arm’s length.
I click, click, click through sub-folders with names like Christmas 99, Rainier Cabin or simply favs. The last set of photos seem to be dated the very month we left America for Japan.
My mouth gaps open and closed like a carp.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Thank you for your help!
I have come to Mexico on retreat, with the sincere intention of finalizing the edits on my novel. I am failing miserably.
An author friend of mine, Judith Gille, has allowed me use of her house in San Miguel de Allende for two weeks. I have brought my 12-year-old daughter with me, thinking I could combine our yearly trip together with a personal writing retreat. I take my daughter somewhere each year, just the two of us. This trip forms a cornerstone of our relationship. In my usual life, I lead a tech startup, consult on marketing projects for authors, run Kickstarter campaigns and organize multiple writing groups and organizations. I'm very busy. I spend days and evening on my computer and often rush off to meetings or events. It's hard to get my attention. I sequester myself with my daughter for an extended amount of time each year so that she knows that her sole company and the adventures we create together are of utmost importance to me.
So why did I think I could bring a novel - the greatest attention hog of all - along for our trip?
The extraordinary doings my daughter and I embark on are but one obstacle in my writing progress. In Mexico, they say you must “live in your body.” I read about this in books before I came, but didn't know what it meant until I had spent a few days in country.
The afternoon heat, the close proximity of private lives to public spaces, the altitude, the hill we must walk to get home, the constant cacophony of dogs and roosters and bells and singing and kids and cars, smells alternating savory and putrid -- all these things draw my consciousness into my flesh. My shoulders and chest throb with sunburn. My thighs ache from holding tight to my mustang on the steep canyon trail. My ankles complain at the fast disregard I have for foot placement on cobblestone streets. My eyes burn from sand and sun block and sweat.
When we retire to our cool house in the evening (the very same featured in this book), a deep fatigue washes over me. Think? Turn thoughts into words into sentences into plot lines? How is this possible? The grand event of our evening is drinking water on our rooftop veranda, watching the sun slice the city into vertical bands of pink and gold.
I read a collection of Mexican literature I found on Judith's bookshelf. All the stories presented tightly-drawn characters and memorable narratives, but not a single one conformed to classic story structure. Sure, things happened. They all had beginnings, some had middles, and few even offered endings. But these were mere illustrations of moments, events, characters. That all-important character change never occurred. Not in one. The authors would write right up to the moment of transition or change, and there the story would end. It’s as though all the authors collectively agreed, eh, that’s good enough. You get the idea. And then wandered off from their pages for a siesta, or to perhaps discover the source of the noise in the square.
My novel has been drafted. It's been through a deep edit. All that is left for me is to implement the structural improvements my wise editor Tammy suggested. Maybe I should have retreated somewhere cold, somewhere my body pulls in close and tight. A temperate zone where my thoughts must rally, must act act as commander to spur my timid flesh into action. In San Miguel, my body propels me. My thoughts follow two-steps behind.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow I will command my conscience. I will wake up in cool hours, plant myself on our rooftop veranda, and fix one more chapter. But then… I hear there is a must-see religion procession tomorrow morning featuring donkeys and twelve apostles just one block away from our house. And one of the gauchos from our trail ride gave us a tip on lovely hot spring a mere eleven dollar taxi ride away....
I need a character change of a personal sort if I am to make any progress.
Do you dream of a getaway where you can focus solely on your writing? Perhaps finish that novel that's been neglected over the competing time grabbers of work, family and day-to-day life? I feel you. Let's go. For real! Start planning your personal writing retreat today. Thoughtfully, I've started your research for you. I present three places to consider for your vocational vacation.
“Remain sitting at your table and listen.
You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become
quiet, and still, and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked.
It has no choice;
it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
In the Pacific Northwest, tucked into between towering evergreens and in a dense green forest, you'll find The Whidbey Island Writer's Refuge. This island just a little northwest of the emerald city boasts a plethora of writerly opportunities. Also home to Hedgebrook, NILA and the Whidbey Writer's Conference, you'll find yourself warmly welcomed as a fellow writer. At the refuge, you can hole away in a little cabin perfectly suited to writing. As they say on their site, there is no escaping yourself in a space this size, so you might as well sit down and write!
For those of you that require a little more stimulus to get your creative juices flowing, New Orleans offers just about all the stimulus you can handle. Stay at the Lanaux Mansion bed and breakfast at the edge of the French Quarter. If you need a little more inspiration, the Johnson Suite comes equipped with a literary library for your prose perusing. Although I strongly recommend getting out of the mansion and spending a few hours writing at a cafe table nestled on the cobblestones outside Pirate's Alley Cafe and Absinthe House.
If what you seek not stimulation, but quiet and calm and a place of peace. Then I give you Lamy Cottage in New Mexico. This private guest cottage offers an incredibly beautiful, ordered space. Desert rocks artfully decorate the grounds, while an interior of warm wood, parallel beams and neatly ordered books calm a frazzled soul. Turn on the overhead fan, power up your mac book and type away, free of distraction.
Now perhaps you're written three glorious chapters on your much deserved writer's retreat, and now it's time for a break. What do you do, read of course! And perhaps have a little sip of something. You'll need to bring along a copy of Book Lush to discover an author new to you, as well as a cocktail pairing suggestion. Of course, Book Lush will not exist if we don't fund hte project on Kickstarter. So please, hop over now and become a backer.
All my love to you, writers. If you know of another great writing retreat, please do leave the link in the comments. You'll help me plan my next trip!
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