Thursday, August 25, 2016

HOPE in the face of rejection

by Susan Gray Foster

Whether we’ve successfully published or we’ve just completed our first manuscript and are tentatively beginning to query, we’ve all been there: In that place where someone has rejected our writing and all the hours, effort, and pieces of our soul poured into it.

Rejection can mean that a manuscript isn’t quite ready yet, that there’s work to be done. Or it can mean that the right person just hasn’t seen it yet. Most of the time, unfortunately, there’s no way to know for sure which is the case.

Rejection hurts. It’s hard. We feel angry, sad, frustrated, jealous, foolish, bitter. Devastated.

But here is a truth about writing and about stories and the storytellers who milk their hearts to create them: They are full of hope.

Stories are created from the belief that human lives matter, that our stories matter, that there is meaning in life and we can help decipher and share it in some way, and that we can connect with others—even across hundreds or thousands of miles, or years.

That’s hope.
If you can remember a time in your life (maybe recent, maybe NOW, maybe long ago) when everything was hard, but a story sparked your imagination and made you believe that somewhere out there someone felt what you felt and understood, or that somewhere out there a better life was waiting to unfold for you, then you know what I’m talking about. Stories help us believe that even in the darkest times, the human spirit can triumph, that love can prevail. Stories give us hope.

If you’ve written something, it’s because you believe in that hope and you want to share it. Hold onto that.

Some of us need a moment, or several hours or days or weeks, to wallow, suffer, watch Pride and Prejudice or whatever Netflix show of choice, or to listen to a sad song on replay.

But then, whatever the next step is—whether it’s continuing along the path you’re on, or sending your manuscript to a new critique partner, revising again with some fresh feedback, finding a writers’ group, seeking out a professional editorial service, taking a class, studying a craft book or your favorite novel, setting a project aside for a bit, or writing something completely new—TAKE THAT STEP! Keep learning, growing, pushing, believing.

Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul –”

Give hope space to unfold its wings and take flight: Write.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


And that’s it!

2016 Pitch Wars picks have been announced! Woohoo!

Huge congratulations to the mentee/mentor matches. From all of us, we wish you luck and send writing power your way!

But for those of you who didn’t make it, this blog is for you. Actually, scrap that. This blog is for any writer out there, now and in the future, who has been knocked back, rejected, or just didn’t get the feedback they were hoping for.

Right now, you might not want to hear it, and that’s just cool. But, bookmark this page, because what follows is advice and wise words that you surely need to hear and absorb. Not one writer on this planet, and maybe others too, hasn’t been knocked back at some point in their career, and who are likely to be knocked back again in the future. We’re in this together. Remember that.

It's okay to feel disappointed, but don't stay there. You are still a writer, and your stories are still awesome. This is one step in a really long journey to get published. So eat ice-cream, drink wine, go for a run, binge watch Vikings (that might just be me!)... do whatever you need to do. Then wake up tomorrow and make a new plan to get your book into the world.
        Scarlett Cole

I know it doesn't feel that way, but not getting picked really isn't a rejection. We only get to pick one entry, and most of us loved more than that. Not getting picked for Pitch Wars doesn't define you, but how you react/respond could.

Also: PitchSlam starts 9/8, so send your entry for feedback on your query and pitch!’
        Laura Heffernan

‘Everyone has a story worth telling, but not every path to publication is the same. Not getting into one contest doesn't change the fact that you still have a story to tell, it just means that contest won't form part of your particular journey. But there are still numerous other ways to get there. So pause for a moment to regroup if you need to, eat some cake and/or low-fat pickles (or both), binge watch your favorite TV show, and then take the next step, whatever that might be. Because the only way to get there is to keep moving forward.’
        Wade Albert White

‘I didn't get into PitchWars, but I got "the call" the day after mentees were announced. Every journey is unique--don't let this one contest define you (especially because it's so highly subjective). Gather what feedback you can, solidify relationships with friends and CPs you've gained along the way, and most important of all--don't give up. (Also: kidlit writers should keep an eye on The Winged Pen for another opportunity to obtain feedback)’
        Jessica Vitalis

‘I didn't get into PitchWars my first year, but I didn't let that stop me. I revised my MS and went on to query it. By next year, I didn't think that MS was going anymore so I entered PW again — with a new MS. I got a couple requests frommentors that time around, but I had to pull my MS from consideration because I ended up getting an offer on the Contemporary YA I entered in PW the first time (ended up with two offers even!). Most journeys don't happen over night. Most take a while. As long as you stick with it, you'll get there. A lot of us mentors took multiple MSs to land an agent — and then multiple MSs on submission to land a book deal. Not getting into PW with your MS this year is NOT a reflection on your abilities or the quality of your book.’
        Kim Graff

‘When I didn't get into PW in '14. I felt horrible, that no one would ever love my MS. But a friend reminded me that this is just one tiny bump in the road. Take the time you need to mourn, but don't let one contest define your career. Don't let it define YOU. There are multiple ways to get your book out there. Reread your MS one more time, get some trusted CPs to help you with your query, and send your baby out into the world widely. The right agent or publisher will love it as much as you do.’
        Marty Mayberry

‘It hurts not to get in. We feel for you. Remember what you love about writing, what makes those hours pleasurable. Hold on to that joy. Nothing else matters - not getting an agent, not getting published. Just the delight you find along the way. Hang in there.
        Carrie Callaghan

‘We know how it feels to not be picked- for contests, for agent requests, for publishers. It's normal to be disappointed. But use what you have learned and keep writing. Keep fine-tuning your #PitchWars project, keep percolating new ideas, keep putting words down. Remember how subjective this industry is. If you keep writing, you are guaranteed to not fail, because you are doing what you love.
        Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

‘Not getting picked for PW doesn't reflect on you as a writer. It's that dreaded word you will continue to hear in this industry. Subjectivity. Take what you have learned in this experience and KEEP WRITING. Keep moving forward. I've been "rejected" for more contests than I can count on one hand. What did I do? I worked on my craft, reached out to other writers, and learned as much as I could. Don't give up, because your moment may be right around the corner!
        Monica Hoffman

 I wanted to cuddle so many entries. The concepts in my inbox were amazing. You are such a talented bunch. Some of my closest writing friends were people I met through Pitch Wars, and that’s been the biggest win of all. Stay in touch with the Pitch Wars community because the support lasts more than once a year.
        Sharon M. Johnston

‘There is success in having the courage to share your work. Finishing a book is an amazing accomplishment and one that you should be very proud of. Take these next months to polish your story and then get back out there. There are many paths to publishing. You just have to find yours!
        Amy Trueblood

‘I've judged a lot of contests over the past few years through Romance Writers and have read hundreds of queries from PItch Madness, Pitch Wars, and a few other blog contests. This was the best bunch of queries and entries I've seen yet. Be proud of where you are. So many writers have no idea where to start, or never finish even one draft. Each step you make in this journey matters.
        Stephanie Scott

‘PitchWars is just one contest, one option, among many. I didn't get in either time I entered, and landed my agent a month after the announcement last year. Because we can each only accept one mentee, we have to be super subjective. This means passing over excellent entries. If you don't get in, all it means is that this isn't your path. Take whatever time you need, but dust yourself off and keep going, because you will get there, but only if you keep fighting for it.
        Laura Brown

‘I pitched for PW twice, wasn't picked but made some amazing writer friends, wrote a new book, got an agent and deal and am now a mentor! PW is an amazing opportunity and contest but that is all it is--it isn't the only way in! This industry is full of rejection and you need a thick skin and to believe in your writing. Keep writing and keep going!
        Katie Webber Tsang

‘I wish I could squishy hug everyone who needs it! This is such a tough business because we put so much of ourselves into our work. And putting yourself out there like that takes such courage. Don't let a bump in the road send you into hiding. We need everyone in this industry! All of our beautiful differences and points of view make it a rich and wonderful world. So lean on each other. Lean on me. Keep trying, and keep putting yourself and your words out there. The community of writers I found through PW is the reason I'm still writing. Hold onto your people, and keep going.’
        Summer Spence

‘The most important thing to remember is not getting into Pitch Wars has ZERO bearing on whether you will be a published author one day! Don't let discouragement steal your joy of writing because this industry favors grit and persistence and you will get there if you make the choice to use every no as an alignment instead of a rejection.
        Destiny Cole

‘Right now, it’s okay to feel low. Cry if you want, eat carbs if you really have to, but don’t take too long about it because you have amazing stories inside you. Pull on the passion you have for the written word. Let your heart bleed, then pick up your pen or laptop, and get back at it. You’ve merely run into a rock, don’t allow it to become a wall. Success awaits, go find it.’
        E.L. Wicker

‘I didn't get into PitchWars the first time I tried. After I squeaked in the second time, it still took a year, and more revising, before I was offered rep. Being a writer is a lifestyle choice. Do what you do, and persist in it. We all get down--let there be no doubt, but try and recognize that it will pass. The only things you have some control over, really, are your books. That doesn't change regardless of which part of the journey you're on. You write. Do that some more.’
        Gabrielle K. Byrne

‘Be there for each other...listen, learn, read, write, cp and beta read, immerse yourself not only in your writing but in the writing community. It's the best around! It's not perfect, but strive to make it even better with your words, your wisdom, your heart. And know we're all here for you!
        Shari Schwarz

‘Subjectivity is truly a motherfucker. But it's one you cannot take personally. The tough part about business meeting passion, like writing or most other arts, is that it's harder to separate ourselves from our work because we put so damn much of ourselves into it. It can feel like YOU are being rejected when that's not the case at all. Contests, agents, editors, readers, this aspect of the business isn't going to go away and you need to know that you're a badass for not only completing a book but for putting yourself out there. For most submissions I received, I could see a spot on my bookshelves for them--but not a way to make them better. That's a good thing! Pitchwars was AN opportunity, not THE opportunity. Keep going. I want to see your books on my shelves.’
        Tamara Mataya

‘Agents and publishers aren't limited to one pick! I loved so many that I couldn't choose. There are a couple of mentors this year that I passed on in 2015. It didn't stop them and it won't stop you! Almost every successful author you know, did not get there via Pitch Wars. Keep writing, keep submitting and keep believing!
        Lisa Tyre

All the mentors started out without agents or publishing deals and had to climb each rung on the ladder. Every writer has their own ladder and some may be easier than others. Focus on writing the story that pleases you and don't worry about agents or deadlines or what rung you're standing on.’
        Michelle Hauck

So, you didn’t get picked, and that sucks. But, to tell you the truth, I identify more with you than my mentee. Because I am you. 

I entered Pitch Wars in 2013 with a now-trunked YA fantasy. I got a partial request (three chapters), and that was it. And, the request was from an Adult mentor. Did I neglect to mention I had no idea if I’d written a YA or Adult so I subbed to two mentors in each category? (BTW, this was before Brenda tracked such a thing. Now, that is strictly prohibited.)

Here’s also what I didn’t know in 2013: What CPs were. What betas were. What an appropriate word count was for my manuscript. That a YA with a female protagonist should include some kind of romantic element. That YA fantasy based in typical “medieval” type worlds with fairies and prophecies and dragons was a hard sell.

I queried that YA, revised, queried, revised, queried, revised. A few partial requests from agents. Nothing exciting. I had entered some other contests in 2013, and I entered a few more in 2014, and never got chosen for anything.

In the meantime, I started another book, an MG this time, about an idea I couldn’t get out of my head. See, the thing about all those unsuccessful contests is that I saw what was getting picked (need to have a hook, something that makes your manuscript completely original), I found resources on the craft of writing, and I saw what a successful query looked like. 

In other words, I got better. I entered Query Kombat in 2014 with that MG, and I made it to the agent round. Guess what happened there? Three requests. One agent I never heard from, one rejected my manuscript in 24 hours, and the other rejected within a week. Depressing? Not really. Because that contest is where I found my CPs and betas, and they read that MG, offered suggestions, and after revising I sent out my queries, which led to full requests, which led to my agent in November 2014.

Oh, and did I mention that I entered that MG in Pitch Wars 2014 and got no requests? Yep. Zero.

So, let’s circle back around. It’s the day after Pitch Wars 2016 announcements, and you didn’t get in. That sucks. But it doesn’t have to. Maybe you’re the me of 2013 and need to learn the craft and learn the market for your age category and then put that knowledge to work on a new manuscript. Or, maybe you’re the me of early 2014 who finds CPs, betas, and learns how to apply those revisions to your manuscript. Or, maybe you’re the me of late 2014, confident in her query, confident in her manuscript, doesn’t get any requests in Pitch Wars, but queries and finds her agent through that process.

This writing thing really is a journey. You learn along the way. I’m still learning as I go because it doesn’t end in a pot of gold when you get an agent. You have to write that new thing whether you sell your first thing or not. You have to keep getting better. You should want to keep getting better.

And that’s what you do here. You look at your manuscript, figure out where you are in the process, and do what you have to do to get to that next level. Pitch Wars 2016 is but one teensy way to get an agent, one stop on this journey. Take it for what it is, and keep going. We’re all on this journey with you.

Good luck!!’
        Kim Long

Know that whatever you feel right now is appropriate and right. If you weren't chosen as a mentee, and you feel down and awful because of it, let yourself feel that. If you feel compelled to jump into edits and are excited, let yourself feel that. If you want to set your MS on fire, let yourself feel that too (just umm, don't actually set your computer on fire). Feel the feels, and then come out the other side ready to focus and put the work in. Also, know that all of us in the PW community are here for you <3'
        Juliana Brandt

In 2014 I got zero requests. I got less than zero requests. I knew in 2 days that I wasn't getting in to Pitch Wars. One of the mentors who didn't select me?  Dan Koboldt, my co-mentor and critique partner. I'm represented by the best agent I could hope for. The only thing that matters is what you do next. 
        Michael Mammy

‘All the mentors chose their mentees for their individual teams, but there’s another team called Team Pitch Wars that lasts forever, and everyone makes it in!’
        Kate Foster

Monday, August 22, 2016

Your 8-Step Plan Before Diving into Edits

An agent has rejected you.

Your CPs and beta readers have given back mixed feedback and a bunch of edits.

Maybe you didn’t get chosen by a Pitch Wars mentor or into another writing contest.

Now what do you do with the manuscript?

Well, in my opinion, there are several essential steps that every author post-rejection or those hesitating outside the gates of revision hell should take before they even consider diving in. Of course, if you’re on some kind of deadline then some of these steps might need fast-forwarding, and, to be honest, the more developed your writing and techniques become, or with certain manuscripts, not all will need to be tackled. And, it just might be the time to find your manuscript a resting place upon that high, dusty shelf, but that's a blog for another day.

So, check out my (slightly tongue-in-cheek) eight step plan before diving into edits...

One: try calling the manuscript a name. Something nasty, evil, cutting. Attack that stupid, nasty, garbage bit of work. She’s let you down, for goodness sake. Ruined your only chance, your whole career. Call her Butt-Stink or Total Loser or WOS (Waste of Space) or F**ked-Up A**hole *C**t. Too much? OK, sorry. Let’s run with Vomit Pile for now.

Two: it’s perfectly OK to feel down in the dumps and overwhelmed. In fact, it’s completely normal and totally deserved. Every writer spits a little piece of soul into their Vomit Pile, and when she gets knocked back, skinned alive, and ripped to shreds, it’s a total punch in the gut. So, by all means:

1)      wallow in a little misery

2)      pour a small (MASSIVE) glass of cheap plonk – or  that Jamaican coconut rum 90% proof you brought back from holiday 10 years ago

3)     eat dessert-spoonfuls of sugar straight from the packet whilst those hot tears drip drip drip

4)      blame everyone else (because it’s totally someone else at fault)

5)      create a pillow and blanket fort and hunker down with the rum and sugar

6)      forget the housework and family (sorry, who?)

7)      scream into the mirror

8)      shrivel up in the tub

9)      tell yourself you should never write again and you were an utter fool to think you could ever be a writer

10)   have imaginary conversations, with whomever, in which you convince the world that you obviously write as well as Patrick Ness and this book should definitely go to auction where six-figure bids bounce around the room from all the big publishing houses

11)   Cope however you must, will, and can

Three: give yourself a sharp, stingy slap round the face because that’s where the depression has to end. No more misery, no more sugar, no more alcohol. A couple of days, maybe even a week or two is enough then take back control and end it. Pull on the boxing gloves and get back to work. You can and will become a brilliant writer if you’re prepared to scramble out this angry pit of despair. No famous author became famous for the giving up. No bestseller got to the top of the charts because revisions came to an abrupt end.

Four: take a week or two off from writing, or at least from prodding and poking Vomit Pile. Go to the bookstore (physical or virtual) or library and load up on books – preferably bestsellers or new releases in the same category and genre as Vomit Pile. AND READ THEM. Read, digest, analyse.

1)      Write down everything you know about the characters in the book to analyse the amount of work gone into characterisation

2)      Write or draw a picture of the world/town/house/room in which the character lives to analyse the amount of work gone into world-building

3)      Note down what and when you smell, hear and feel something, then study how the words evoked this

4)      Highlight when you are overwhelmed with emotion then note down exactly what you felt and what words, what moment set you off

It might be that you don’t have issues with some of these aspects in your own writing, but it doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon what you have or you should stop studying how other authors succeed in creating their magic.

Five: Write some other stuff. Blogs or magazine articles about anything – maybe rejection, short stories, plot outlines for new novels, character profiles. Absolutely anything and everything but not Vomit Pile.

Six: Crack on with some CPing or beta reading. This will always be one of the most awesome and effective ways to learn how to accept criticism because dishing out feedback and advice is a whole different ball game when you’ve been on the receiving end. Plus, it teaches you how to ‘see’ your manuscript, your sentences, and your structuring critically.

Seven: After all the reading, critiquing, and studying, and the all important time away from her, go to that toxic, green-glowing folder and whip out Vomit Pile. There she is. In all her hideous, rejected ugliness. Now, if you can, send her to your e-reader or print her in a different font than you're used to. Then read her. Uninterrupted. Aloud, if you like. No pauses for analysis, no time-out to ask questions, no note-taking or stunning and elaborate rainbow-effect highlighting. Just indulge that poor, neglected beast for a moment and treat her like the book she is.

Then, write critically and in detail about Vomit Pile. Really go for it. Cover all the elements of the manuscript as if you were writing a book review for Goodreads or Amazon. How did it make you feel? Was the writing smooth and the voice clear? Were there any areas you lost interest or where you skipped sections? Were the characters believable and well-defined, were their motivations obvious? Were the stakes high enough to create enough tension and an addictive read? It’s going to be hard because you know the background, but do your best.

Eight: And finally, it’s time to re-read the feedback you’ve received and get down to edits. And also the moment for you to refer immediately to the other sensational editing blogs on this website!

All in all, peeps, revisions can be tough and rejection a nightmare. So give yourself a break, have some fun and a little down time, and keep focused. Making your book shine was never going to be easy. But snatch back those reins and kick Vomit Pile’s butt. Show the world that you're not a quitter and you can make this book better.

Friday, August 12, 2016


by Kim Long

So I've revised, revised, and revised until I cannot revise anymore. Plot holes have been filled, my MC’s arc is complete, my word count is good, and everything is nice and shiny. FINALLY! So exciting to be done! 




Now comes the drudgery. And by drudgery, I mean the tedious task of final edits. There’s no quick way to do this. There’s no fun way to do this. But, alas, no matter how many times I try and talk myself out of it, i.e. "I'm sure it's fine," or "It can't be that bad!" it needs to be done. I want my CPs and betas to focus on the big things, not little things that can detract from the story.

And so, I turn to my checklist and get to work.

1.  Thesis Sentences. My MS is not a term paper or a legal brief, but it’s surprising how much I still catch myself writing thesis sentences. An example:

Kim wouldn’t give up yet. She looked under the couch, tossing cushions left and right. After finding nothing but loose change, she fell to her knees and crawled around the ottoman. Studying the carpet fibers, she . . .

You get the idea. “Kim wouldn’t give up yet” serves as the thesis sentence that is then supported by specific examples. Stop it. Stop it. Stop it! This sentence serves no purpose except to tell the reader what I’m about to specifically show them. I read every paragraph and delete most of these sentences.

Notice I say most. In some cases, sentences like this exist, but they are not thesis sentences. They’re used to quickly summarize info. “Slipping out the back door, Jim noticed the street was quiet. He entered his car and headed to the bar.” That’s fine because I’m not explaining anything more about the quiet street. I’m just relating Jim’s actions to move along the plot, specifically to get him into his car. Technically, not a thesis sentence. It can stay. (Though I’m not sure why I’d be writing about such boring info anyway.)

2. Interior monologue questions. I came across this point back in 2013 when I was working on my first manuscript. It was around Pitch Wars time, and a mentor, Rae Chang, posted something on twitter about how she was giving her mentees homework. First assignment? Deleting their MC’s interior monologue questions. I was like, What? She linked to this article. I read it and then went back to my manuscript. Holy Guacamole did I do this!

I started cutting and rephrasing, and I found that my writing became crisper, tighter, stronger (yes, like the six-million dollar man). It really forced me to make sure I had sufficiently related facts that supported whatever question I wanted the readers to be asking themselves at that moment. Do some questions deserve to stay? Of course. But I really look at each question and try and write so there is no need for the MC to ask that question.

3.  Was, There was/were. I always do a search for these words. It’s easy to fall back on them when describing a scene, but with a little rephrasing or tweaking, I find I can often display a more vivid picture. And it’s real simple to make the switch. 


There were bookcases lining the walls. An old, grandfather clock was in the corner. The safe was hidden behind the painting.

can be:

Bookcases lined the walls. A grandfather clock stood in the corner. Along the back wall, a painting concealed a safe.

Same thing with, “The room was dark.” I’ll change it to “The dark room” and continue from there. Or, “There was a knock at the door” will become, Knock. Using italics will denote it's a sound. Even, “A knock interrupted the conversation” or “Someone knocked,” or, “A knock sounded.” Any of these are possibilities depending on the context of the scene. More often than not, each will be stronger than the “There was a knock.” I find that words like "was" used in this matter remove the reader from the scene, even if just a little.

4. Felt, Knew, Thought. This is another thing I do in drafts (apparently) and have to go back and fix. Very rarely should my MC be using these words. It’s classic telling.


Clarissa felt scared. She had never been alone past ten o’clock. What if a robber came?

Not only does this use a question (blech, too easy), but it’s telling me how she feels. Yawn. If this is an important point (and it must be or it wouldn’t be here), I need to take the time to show Clarissa is scared.

Clarissa flicked on all the lights. As she passed the television, she paused, grabbed the remote, and powered it up. Eyeing the stereo system in the corner, she darted to it and turned on her I-pod. Music filtered through the house. She exhaled.


With a firm nod, she visited her parents’ office, kitchen, and bedrooms, turning on anything and everything that could demonstrate the house was occupied. As she made her way back to the living room, she grabbed her cell phone (just in case) and sunk into Dad’s favorite chair. Now it was like her family was home too.

Yes, this takes more words, but the readers get to sympathize with Clarissa more, feel her angst, her concern, rather than just being told that she’s scared.

And many times, I find I don’t even need to include such a long scene to convey the emotion. I can add a, “She cringed,” or “she rolled her eyes,” to convey what that character was feeling at the moment. The Emotion Thesaurus is a great resource for finding actions that correlate with specific emotions. Highly recommend!

5. Seemed and appeared. Somewhere down the road I read somewhere that “seemed” and “appeared” reduce tension and should be eliminated wherever possible. Say no to, “The door appeared to crack open.” Make that door crack open. No to, “He seemed to be getting closer.” It raises the tension if, “He was getting closer.” Again, there are exceptions, but this is something I search for and really look at to see if any appears or seems are necessary.

5. Replied, Asked, Questioned. We all look for ways to vary dialogue tags instead of “said.” I know that “said” should be used more often than not, but it’s nice to add some variety . . .  until I finish my draft and see that I have tons of “replied” “Interjected” and “added” and much fewer uses of said. So, I do a find and replace for these words, which leads to . . .

6. Prepositions and Pronouns. I’m better at these now. But I still find them. “Called out” can be “called.” “Sat down” can be “sat.”  “Stared up at the sky” can be “Stared at the sky.” "Passed by" can be "passed." Essentially, to make sure I don’t miss cutting an unnecessary preposition, I’ll do a search for the biggies: in, out, down, up.

For pronouns, for some reason I like saying this: “The three of them walked down the road.” Seriously? I can’t just say “They”? “Looked at herself in the mirror” is “Looked in the mirror.” Here too, I’ll do a search for her, herself, him, himself. The “three of them” thing I *think* I’m finally conditioned against so as not to do a search for “them,” but you never know.

7. Words I Love to Overuse. This list will be different for every writer. For me, my characters nod so much they’d nod their heads off if I let them. They sigh and shrug a lot too. “Just” is a big one, and even if it’s in dialogue, there’s no reason to have five “justs” on a page. Seriously, who would do that? Ahem. Anyhoo, smile is one for me. Glance. Oh my, do my characters like to glance. Look and stare too. One character in particular loved raising, arching, and cocking his eyebrow. Widening eyes? Check. Bulging eyes. Yep. Mutter, mumble, and murmured have become popular too.

This is all fine for drafts. The main thing is to get the words down and then revise, and when I do revise in second or third drafts, a lot of these do indeed fall by the wayside as I have developed tics for each character or know better how to weave in other, more relevant actions. But it’s always amazing how many of these I find in that final run-through. I really have to shake my head, which, by the way, my characters also enjoy doing when not slumping or sagging their shoulders.

Usually, while writing, I’ll notice that I’m using a word an awful lot. That’s when I start making a list so that when I’m finally, finally done, I can run those through a search and replace. It works with phrases too. This last manuscript had a kid “swinging his backpack” an awful lot while another kid kept, “surveying the scene.” Heh. I’d noticed both while writing, and then searched when I was done to reduce the number of those references.

8. Spellcheck. After all this tweaking, I will do another spell check on the entire document, just in case during these final edits I’ve screwed something up.

9. Title and Header. I’ve changed titles before and although I’ll fix the title page, I have forgotten to change the title in the header. So, I’m including this here to make myself remember to do it.

And that’s it! Now I can finally send this baby off to my wonderful CPs, betas, or agent! Overall, I’d say it probably takes me a good week to run through this checklist. It’s very tedious, especially when I get to the find and replace words portion, and I get tired/my eyes glaze over as I marvel at how many times I used the word “just” in a single manuscript. At that point, I’ll stop and go back to it a different day.

After I’ve done the above, I feel pretty comfortable having other people look at my manuscript. There’s going to be issues, sure, but, at the very least, the writing will be crisp so that my readers are able to focus on plot, character development, theme, etc. and not find the writing to be a distraction.

Hope reading about my edit checklist helps you with yours! If you have other things you, please share in the comments below!

Kim Long

Monday, August 8, 2016

F Words And Other Writing Mishaps

Few writing rules have ever resonated with me more than this one:

Chop the filter words!

I credit New York Times bestselling author Susan Dennard with opening my eyes to filter words, once upon a very long time ago. (FYI, for those who are unfamiliar with Susan, her amazing blog is like an online writer's manual, with tips on writing, revising, queries, synopses. It's crazy how much stuff she covers. ) Filter words are words (often verbs) that distance the reader from the character--in effect, they offer a world filtered through the character's eyes, rather than creating a direct picture for the reader to absorb himself/herself. Without these filter words, our language would be much more immediate and the reader would experience the actions/environment/emotions firsthand, as opposed to getting it second-hand from the character. Think of it this way: a friend tells you how spooky her experience at a haunted house was, OR that same friend walks you through the haunted house so that you can experience it along with her. Which example do you think would scare the pants off you?

Filter words include see, hear, think, touch, wonder, realize, watch, look, seem, feel .....and many, many more. The list is not exhaustive.

For example:

1. Using a filter word: She looked elated, clapping her hands together and squealing in glee.

    Without a filter word: She clapped her hands together and squealed in glee.

2. Using a filter word: The rain seemed to coat his skin until he glistened.

    Without the filter word: Rain coated his skin until he glistened.

3. Using a filter word: I heard thumps coming from the kitchen. I felt pure fright.

    Without the filter word: Thumps echoed in the kitchen. Pure fright washed over me.

As the third example above shows, without using filter words, you often have an opportunity to use more impactful verbs to convey the tone of the scene.

Unless the filter words are critical to the meaning of the sentence, ditch 'em. They more than likely don't add anything to your narrative, and actually wind up preventing your reader from fully connecting with the main character.

For a more in-depth read, click here for Susan Dennard's original post about filter words.

Happy writing!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Self-editing Checklist

As hundreds of hopefuls are gearing up for #PitchWars this week, there has been lots of editing talk on the feed. How much is too much? How do you know when to stop? What’s the best use of your time (hint: it’s not #PimpMyBio)? What should you focus on first?

This year, I created a catch-all post on my blog that has many different topics listed—everything from crafting a synopsis, to getting rid of crutch words, to a cheerleading post encouraging you to keep on keepin’ on. But the posts I want to focus on are some of the self-editing tips I’ve included, and add a few more to the list.

While it’s true that mentors are not looking for perfection in the manuscripts that come our way, why not give your manuscript a leg up if you can? Here’s the real truth: I’m going to have my mentee do this homework anyway. So if it’s already done? Bonus points for you! That means that on a MS that maybe has more structural issues—deep edits that may take long enough to complete to make me nervous—but already has all this detail work done, I wouldn’t be hesitant to take it on with the short two-month revision period. Not like I may if it needed deep work and needed an editing overhaul. Make sense? You doing the work ahead of time means we have more opportunity to get into the thick of things and focus on Big Issues.

There are so many subjective reasons for mentors (and agents and editors) to say no. Why give them an objective reason to do so?

So how do you do this? I have a handy checklist I go through every time I finish a manuscript. The good news is the more you write and edit using said checklist, the more of a habit you’ll build, and these edits will start to come out while you’re writing instead of after the fact.

Only my mentees have gotten this checklist, but I’m going to share with you all because I like you and because you stopped by and checked out my blog post. And because you’re all submitting to me anyway. Right?

Read aloud
This is a great place to listen for awkward phrasing, clunky word choices or sentence structure, or unrealistic/stiff dialogue.

Spell check
Seems like a no brainer, but you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t do this.

Check chapter headings for consistency
Not just in numbers (1-20+, not skipping any), but in naming (Chapter 1, Chapter One, One, etc).

Find and cut your filter words
I have been preaching on this since I jumped on the feed this year. Upload your MS into (you have to have Flash player installed, I believe, so if it’s not working, try that). Your biggest words are the ones you use the most. They’re probably back, just, then, really, quite, etc, and your MC names. Yes, even the names need to get slashed. You probably don’t need half of them.

Find and replace your distancing words
Doing this will give you stronger sentences which will in turn make your MS tighter. Felt, heard, saw, noticed, thought, realized, looked are all words that distance the reader from your MC. Find every sentence that has them and figure out a different, more powerful way to craft that sentence without it.

Adjective check
How many times do you classify your hero’s eyes with something pretty and poetic? His ocean eyes. His whiskey eyes. His rainforest eyes. How about your heroine’s hair? Her mahogany hair. Her long, flowy hair. You get my point. Mention it once, maybe twice, and then they’re just eyes/hair/skin/whatever. I know the descriptions are pretty. But they still need to go.

Adverb check
I’m putting this in here because some writers abuse this and use way too many. But I’m gonna let you in on a secret: I love them and I use them. That said, if you have fifteen on a page, you need to cull. Do a search for –ly and find them, then make sure you can’t replace it with a stronger verb.

Redundant actions
You don’t need to say she shrugged her shoulders or he nodded his head. She shrugged. He nodded.

Search and delete exclamation points
They’re overused and generally not even needed. Here’s a tip: Find and replace them all with a period. Then when you do a final read through, see what ones you need to add back in. There probably won’t be many.

Creepily moving body parts
His hands roamed over her body. Her eyes rolled. Anchor them to a person and reword for a stronger sentence.

There's your handy dandy self-editing checklist! Now that you have it, are you worried you don’t have enough time to get this done before the submission window closes? I don’t believe that, unless you’re a single parent working three jobs. (In which case, kudos to you. You’re amazing.) You have time. Use it to deliver the strongest MS you can.