Second Book Stall-out

June 4, 2008 at 9:19 am | Posted in Bria, editing, Fast Draft, inspiration, writing | 3 Comments

Every once in awhile we all have an “ah-ha” moment. I’m always jealous of writers who seem to get at least one big thing from every book, every speaker, ever workshop. Often, I feel my head nodding in agreement without the actual big moment coming. Lots of little, ‘yup. I got that’s’ but not a lot of epiphanies.

So, here I am, stalled out on the second book, and looking for an epiphany. A big AH-HA to get me moving again, when ironically enough, a discussion starts on the diva board last evening about first book fear.

I didn’t have that. I had no idea about all the ‘rules’ I was supposed to be following until the story was on the page. It was poorly written, but had great a great story and characters I connected with.

It took 5 weeks to write.

It took almost a year to re-write and edit.

Book two is obviously a completely different story (literally and figuratively) – I couldn’t grasp a strong desire to start book two.

Until last weeks blog.

Looking at the first pages of the first draft of my first manuscript truly opened my eyes. It was horrible. It didn’t flow, had errors all over the place, the world rules were in consistent, my sentence structure was blah, etc.

Book one, my beloved book one, was horrible.

Suddenly my metaphorical eyes opened. I could write horrible.

You see, all this time I thought I needed to write book two to the standard I had attempted to edit book one to. That is not going to happen because that took ten months.

We all repeat it again and again, but it’s apparently my turn to mis-quote the words of La Nora. “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank one.”

And so, Fast Draft is alive and well again. I’m FDing book two as we speak. It has its own challenges.

I’m doing less writing straight through because of chapters moved from the end of book one to the middle of book two. I’m having to go ‘back in time’ in a way to when my characters were younger, less evolved than where those moved chapters left them. I’m fighting against shifting directions because I like some of those moved chapters so much.

But still, I’m writing. I’m getting my 20 pages a day down and moving toward an extremely bad fast draft.

Just like book one.

Hearing the truth – Writing is Re-Writing – and knowing the truth are two different things, but it’s an ah-ha moment I won’t forget when it’s time to write book four. Or book five. Or. . .you get the point.
So, set aside your doubts, insecurities, annoyances and Go Write.

A Year’s Worth of Learning

May 28, 2008 at 12:08 pm | Posted in Bria, dialogue, editing, format, self-editing, Tina Ferraro, writing | 9 Comments

Somewhere — under the bed, behind a bookshelf, on a flash drive at the back of a drawer — you have the first draft of your first manuscript. Go pull it out.

No. Seriously. Go Pull It Out.

OK — If you’ve been following the Purple Hearts, you know I only began writing (again since college) a little over a year ago. Every time I turn around I feel as if I’m learning something new. I’m currently taking Margie Lawson’s ‘Deep EDITing’ course. Run as fast as you can to go take that class! Self-Editing is vital to success.

So, in an effort to see what I’ve learned, I pulled the first 10 pages of my first draft of my first manuscript. Pull yours out and let’s see, shall we?

1. OPENING: Amazingly enough, I started in the correct place – go me! Not as impressive, I opened in the wrong POV. I started in the POV of a secondary character watching the MC as a boy. It makes sense in a lot of ways BUT, it creates an incorrect view of who the story will be following and will easily confuse the reader.
2. POV: Since we’re talking POV, let’s look at that. Two Word: Headhopping (yes, I know that’s 1 word, but it’s a shout out to our girl Tina Ferraro!) I got dizzy following it. I’ve since learned how to pick out scene POV, stay consistent, and transition to the next one.
3. FORMATING: You’re supposed to format these in a specific way? Font? Margins? Spacing? WOW! What looked easy to read a year ago now looks like a train wreck of ink on paper. If you’re looking to see how to set up proper formatting, we did a post on it HERE.

4. TELLING: Surprisingly enough, this wasn’t as horrible as I expected. The opposite was actually true in many places – showing where I should have been telling. Sometimes, you need to just place a one line tell in there to keep the pace, flow and cadence of your story moving. I’ve learned a lot about how to balance that.
5. VAGUE: Just because something is clear to me, doesn’t mean it’s clear on the page. I’ve gotten a lot better at spotting those, at being a reader separate from myself as a writer when looking at my stuff.
6. PUNCTUATION: It’s true. Bad punctuation does distract from the story – no matter how good it is. Dialogue punctuation seems to be a specific problem the more people’s stuff I CP. HERE is a post on how to properly punctuate dialogue.
7. SENTENCE STRUCTURE: Often when trying to get the story on the page, my first attempt looks like this:

Brennid VERB. . . . He VERB. . . .DISCRIPTIVE SENTENCE. . .He VERB. . .She VERB. . .They VERB. . .

How boring! I had to move things around, shake them up and often make passive statements active. A great way to see your structure is to find replace your main characters’ names and “he” and “she” so they’re a bright, bold color. How many kick off a sentence? 


8. PASSIVE: Speaking of passive sentences – Not only does making your sentences active make the reader more involved and the pace quicker but it also forces a hard look at sentence structure.

So, that’s my first year Big Learnings. How about you? What’s changed in your writing this year.

Let us know so we can learn it too!


Critique Partners and the CP Visit

April 16, 2008 at 8:56 am | Posted in Bria, editing, friendship, writing | Leave a comment
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Check out Jessica’s post below on her conference experience. I’d like to second everything she said.

After the conference, my is-adorable Critique Partner stuck around for a few days to pound through some pages. It’s the first time we’ve done this and we learned a lot about structuring our visits. Here’s the Top Ten List we came up with at 1am.

  1. You never need as much junk food as you think you do when you’re standing in the grocery story
  2. Sometimes, not having the Internet is a very good thing
  3. Sometimes, not having the Internet is an absolutely horrible thing
  4. Goals. Goals. Goals.
  5. Sleep is completely overrated
  6. Sleep is your friend, try to get more of it
  7. When having to do the dreaded synopsis, having your CP sitting across the table from you waiting to see it forces you to stop crying and write the darn thing
  8. If you aren’t agreeing on a critique point, often getting away from it can make you see what your CP is trying to tell you – She’s often right, that’s why she’s your CP
  9. Don’t tie your visits around another big event – the conference she came for was great, but we focused so much of our energy on it that we were too beat to get everything out of our visit we would have liked
  10. Critique Partners are a unique relationship. I have amazing women who crit my stuff online and also my week-by-week CP, Ann. If you’re not building these relationships, get out there and do it. They are invaluable. We both agree, we learn as much working on the other person’s stuff as we do our own.

Now, stop thinking about visits and meetings and conferences, and Go Write!

Words That Get In The Way

April 2, 2008 at 11:41 am | Posted in Bria, editing, writing | 3 Comments
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Being able to tell a great story is only part of succeeding as an author. It’s those pesky words and mechanics that get in the way. Here’s a quick run down of some of the most common word errors.

Don’t be that guy.

In to/Into AND Onto/On to – Into/Onto are prepositions, so they need an object.  For example: Into the house, Onto the table, Into the car. . .

Tina Blue has a great example of how to keep them straight. Just remember these two examples:

1. She turned her paper in to the teacher.
2. She turned her paper into the teacher. POOF – Her paper is now a teacher!

Its/It’s AND Who’s/Whose –  I struggled with this one when I was young. Which word gets the apostrophe? In both cases it’s the contraction – remember, the apostrophe replaces the missing letters. IT’S it’s.

Affect/Effect – Affect: To influence. Effect: A result. Check out Grammar Girl for great guidelines.

Farther/Further – Farther is a distance. Further is a greater degree.
She drove farther to get here than I did. This matter will take further investigation.

Who/That – Remember, a person is a “who” – Jessica, who is on the blog with me, writes great posts.

Often a mistake commonly made is writing how we speak. For example: could of, should of, would of. These should actually be could/would/should have.  “I should have checked my spelling before handing in my paper.”

A typical new writer mistake are homonyms, words that sound alike but are spelled different and have different meanings. When I’m writing on auto-pilot, my biggest homonym error is Thrown/Throne. My hero is not going to claim his ‘thrown’ – no matter how many times I type it.  Check out Alan Cooper’s “All About Homonyms” page – he has an amazing list!

So there are the basic mistakes I struggled with when I began writing. Let’s hear yores – I mean yours.


Critique Partners – Creating a Successful Relationship

January 30, 2008 at 1:02 pm | Posted in Bria, career, editing, friendship, relationships, writing | 5 Comments
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Finding a Critique Partner is hard enough, but making it work (just like any relationship) IS work. The Pre-CP labor is where your partnership will be made or destroyed — you just won’t know which immediately.

I’m lucky. I haven’t been drifting along too by myselfly (yes, I know it isn’t a word, but that’s what it feels like.) Besides my fellow Heartlettes here at the blog, I’m also blessed by several women who support, guide and direct me over at the RD board. I have wonderful people who are willing to read my stuff and give me honest feedback – painfully honest feed back – just like I’m looking for.  They catch things and ask questions and point out flaws and praise and give the love.

But until I met Ann, I didn’t have anyone to do that deep-intense daily walking thing with. For the last month we’ve done a chapter each per week. We email, edit, scan, send back and discuss on Thursday night.

It’s working out really well so far and I think I know why: Planning.

Planning came in two parts. The first part I’ll call The Covenant and the second could be considered The Job Description.

Before we got started we took some time to read sites about being in a Critique Group. Together we discussed what we were looking for, what we needed, how we best worked, what would be most hurtful, rules for discussing issues, how we’d consider bringing new people into our sessions, and emergency exit strategies.

Beyond these things, we discussed expectations. What did we expect to get out of and put into the relationship? What edits, thoughts, suggestions did we want? To be honest, we’re greedy girls, we wanted everything. And to make sure it all gets covered, we have an extensive list of summary questions to answer each week to ensure that all topics get broached sufficiently.

I’d like to share with you some of the sites we used to draw up both the Covenant and JD:

Ok, here are some sites I found around critiquing —- we can pick and choose what we like:;read=295

This isn’t the complete list, but it shows a well rounded search from in-depth to chatty “did you think about this” ideas.

I strongly believe your writing life should be run like a career and so, every CP relationship should start out this way, just like a job.

Just like every other aspect of your writing, do the work. Short cuts chop off the borders of your vision where some of the most beautiful details grasp the edges.

If you’re interested in what we came up with specifically or would like to tell us what’s worked (or hasn’t) with your CPing relationships, let us know!

Then, Go Write,


Self-Editing 201 with Professor Vonnegut

October 19, 2007 at 1:49 pm | Posted in editing, Meg, self-editing | 1 Comment

You’ve aced Self Editing 101 and eliminated all unnecessary words (adverbs, that, just, about, able, anyway, but, by, even, like, notice, of, realize, said, seems, so, some, still, then, very, etc.) and struggled through S-E 102 as you ‘actionized’ your passive voice. Now, it’s second year, folks, and time for an advanced lesson. Our guest professor is Kurt Vonnegut and his rules on writing short stories :

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages. — Kurt Vonnegut

Now, I’m in the midst of applying this to my current ms. I wiped out a whole character because he wasted time making my main character turn over (she’s in the Caribbean and needed help sunbathing- yes, didn’t advance the action or reveal character either). I need to double check what my characters want- money, love, safety, etc. and then make sure every obstacle keeps them from this desire. (Writing is one of the only places you can unleash that inner bitch and be intentionally cruel! I love it!) And I need to make sure I have someone sympathetic enough to have the reader turning pages even through the bad scenes I missed.

But the last one, the rule about telling all, I think I will break this one. I don’t want the reader to know certain aspects of the book. I hate reading books that I can see the ending. Why waste my time? Isn’t the goal to write a book that people will stay up all night to get to the last page? I even love romances when I’m not sure whom the heroine will pick or if there will be a happy ending. So this rule I’ll break.

And rule breaking, that’s a topic for another blog, but if you want to break the rules, go for it. According to Wikipedia, my new favorite website for all things,Vonnegut qualifies this list by adding that the greatest American short story writer, Flannery O’Connor, broke all these rules except the first, and that great writers tend to do that.


Self-Torture. . .I mean Editing

October 17, 2007 at 11:39 am | Posted in Bria, editing, self-editing, writing | 4 Comments

Completed Manuscript Draft – Check
Printed Copy – Check
Colorful pens, highlighters and page markers – Check
Empty Notebook – Check
Sanity – I’ll get back to you 

At this moment, countdowning until I open the proverbial drawer and pull my draft of the YA Fantasy out for its next run thru. It’s been written, it’s been reviewed — heck it’s even been requested and rejected once (deep sigh) but now it’s time for it to be polished and synopsisized (look, another new form of the word!) 

The frightening thing is, the longer it sits in the drawer, the more flaws I see. The more scenes (full scenes!) I see that need a complete re-write. The more underdeveloped some of my major themes feel. The less clear the motives appear. 

I’m also nervous because someone I respect has it, and I know there are complete parts that are going to get cut and re-written – – – not a doubt in my mind at least 30% of the MS is not going to appear as it is now. I feel like I’m wasting a resource her looking at it now. Not to mention the rough draft I got back yesterday from Kaige – let’s just say it was even rougher than I thought it was. 

So, Friday the self-torture, I mean editing, begins.  

While Critique Partners are important, S-E is vital for a couple of reasons. I think the two most important are it’s your baby and your voice. If you’re going to be an author, you should be growing your skills, getting better with each sweep of the keyboard at creating a flawless MS – one that is yours, not a group of people creating your idea. The other, Voice, seems just as important to me. If you’ve read this blog for awhile, it’s probably quickly became apparent that three of us post here – Jessica on Monday, me on Wednesday, and Meg on Friday — all of us write completely different genres and have very different voices. I love that about us. 

If you’re new at this, I strongly suggest you have a plan. If you don’t have a plan, get one. Why, because self-editing isn’t just about correcting where the comma is, it’s about making the story stronger — tighter, giving it better flow, continuity, word choice, total re-writes of bad scenes, throwing away scenes you love but don’t move the story forward. It’s about making it the best it can be, and not an inch less. 


First: I’ve asked myself what I hoped to accomplish in my story.  Wrote them down and color coded them.  Each time a inch toward a theme it gets a colored tab – Faela has a prophetic dream (whether she realizes/understands it or not) a blue sticky tab goes on the top of the page. Why? Her dreams are a key to one of my themes, when I saw I had been overlooking them for almost 100 pages, I knew theme reparation had to occur. 

Second: Continuity. I’m huge on continuity, and the more well written the book, the more I expected it. I want my first thing out there to be flawless in this regard. SO, every time I have a question about continuity (timeline, character description, object placement, past words said/echoed) a pink tab goes on the right-hand side of the page. I’m not going to pull myself out of the S-E zone to look it up now. 

Third: Is asking if each scene needed. On the read-thru before putting the MS away, I cut a complete chapter. It was one of my favorite scenes, but the MS is too long and this scene was about the secondary characters. It didn’t move the story forward. There was nothing that couldn’t have happened off the page. It got cut. I sighed deeply. 

Fourth: Checking my Characters. Are my characters clearly described? Do they act within their personalities? Does their eye color change? If they have a quirk, it should stay with them, not change without a reason, and be clear what it represents. Do the interpersonal relationships make sense and stay consistent? 

Then I really get down to work. 

Crutches – words, phrases, actions we overuse. I deleted 2 pages of ‘that’ and stopped everyone from nodding. Yes, people in real life nod a lot, but not on the page. 

Personally, one of the hardest corrections on my own MS is grammar. I’m not bad spotting it on other people’s works, but in my own — not so much. I get sucked into the story and the writing and the characters and the motivations and the themes and the. . . .you get the idea. And grammar slides lower and lower and lower.  On my final read-thru I’ll be doing a lovely reverse read. Starting with the last sentence of the last paragraph of the last page of the last chapter — yes, the very last — I’ll re-read the entire MS, backward. This helps you from getting sucked in and makes your mind read something that isn’t logical creates an open space to spot errors. 

Having a guide for your S-E journey is important as well. I have two:

Stephanie Bond (who, if you read our blog, you’ve seen me refer to numerous times) has a great guide to S-E at: 
If you have access to RWA conference tapes, buy a copy of Laurie Brown’s “Self-Editing for Success.” She walks you through the process step by tiny little step. 

I’d love to hear what your writing crutch is. Too many thats? Repetition (the two twins)? Lately I’ve been finding a lot of quites and  odds. That had to stop. So tell me, what do you need to polish? Then, Go Write

5 Minutes Until the Miracle

October 15, 2007 at 9:35 am | Posted in editing, Jessica, procrastination, self-editing, writer's block, writing | 3 Comments

Self-editing. That’s the topic for us Purple Hearts this week.

“For a writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, and, especially, cut, is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form: clear, economical, sharp.”

In one of those serendipitous moments, this week I started reading the book, Reading Like a Writer, by the aptly named Francine Prose . The prose above comes from page 2 of that book and has come in handy, not only to help shore up my week’s post but to also provide a much-needed refresher to my perspective on self-editing.

I have approached editing, revision, and rewriting as essential but abject pains in the writing process. But because I get so weighed down in the stress of this part of the process, I often lose sight of the point of the exercise – to make a rough draft better, or a good book great.

Which doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with how to do just that. I have been so frustrated with this process that I have started to question how much longer I want to do this. It’s a painful admission.

But then someone posts some words-for-witers-to-live-by to one of my writing loops and one entry in particular steals my attention: You are closest to making it when you are closest to quitting.

It’s like being a member of the mob for me – just when you try to get out, they do something to Suck. You. Back. In. Argh!

I was watching the Today Show one morning last week and a segment featured a family whose mother’s priceless heirlooms got lost on a trip to the hospital and dumped in the trash. To make a long story short, the family persuaded the trash company to dump the hospital’s compacted waste at a separate site at the landfill so they could search the enormous amount of trash. A compassionate custodian from the hospital joined in to help in the search for this needle-in-a-haystack.

Throughout the arduous process, the custodian encouraged the family by repeating his belief that you cannot quit five minutes before the miracle. After six hours of digging, the family was ready to admit that they were never going to find their mother’s lost jewelry. The custodian ripped open just one more bag . . . and located the heirlooms.

He refused to quit five minutes before the miracle.

Self-editing is the figurative enormous amount of trash I have to overcome. But if I refuse to quit five minutes before the miracle, then perhaps I, too, will be able to sort through the detritus and find the buried treasure in my manuscript.

And besides, Joey-Bag-of-Doughnuts can be very persuasive.

I hope your week is full of miracles and serendipitous moments!


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