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Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard — What would you write?

Progress!

Last week I condensed my novel manuscript into one document and found that it is 63k, at 222 pages! I’m editing through a few chapters to get the plot up to speed with a few necessary updates, and then I’ll work on finishing it up. Though I love my novel, editing it is going to be horrible. Those 200+ pages will be nearer to 300 when I’m done, and it is going to take many, many drafts for it to be publishable. Page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence. You get the idea.

If you’re interested, here’s my take on the editing process: The 4 Draft Breakdown

What is your process like? How do you tackle editing?

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A work in progress quickly becomes feral….As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, ‘Simba!’

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Rereading my novel…

…reminds me that I actually like my writing! I just need to finish it off, chop it up, and throw it in the wok. All of the ingredients are there; all of the spices are right. But the prose is raw, which means that many drafts are in my future.

Any projects coming along? How have you harnessed encouragement or learned from disappointments?

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Link

Here’s my latest article for StoryForge! (Connect with them on Facebook for updates on articles, inspiration, and their fantastic webcomic.)

Over the past year and a half, I have written articles for a group of interior decor magazines and picked up other gigs along the way. And I love it, partially because am paid to write, and partially because I learn so much in the process!

What has your freelance experience been like?

How Freelancing will Improve you Writing Career

Yoon’s Shelf: Books on Writing

I would highly recommend any of these books to aspiring writers. Out of them all, O’Connor’s editors get the prize for the most interesting title, and King wins for being the one who influenced me most. 

What books have inspired you?

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Recently I’ve been following my own advice on how to research for your novel with textbooks, interviews, and documentaries. All of you NaNoWriMo lovelies should probably check it out, since you’re scurrying to prep all of your material! Right now, I’m reading The Odyssey for the first time since freshman year of high school and (no surprise) it’s a lot better than I remembered.

What are you researching? How’s it coming?

Editing: The 4 Draft Breakdown

How often have you tackled a manuscript draft, only to meet with overwhelming discouragement? No matter how long you spend on that scene, you can’t seem to fix everything. The dialogue won’t pop, and the descriptions still don’t jump off the page. However much you tweak, something always needs fixing. Recently, my perspective on the editing process changed incredibly. The person who changed it is Reyna Grande from a UCLA Writers Faire panel.

Grande’s advice is simple and practical. When approaching a 2nd or 3rd draft, focus on one element. Just one. Don’t try to edit everything at once. First, look at the big picture to check that everything makes sense. Once the essentials are in place, then you can get to the fine tuning. Each of these 4 elements often deserve a draft of their own:

  1. Consistency. Your main character’s blue shirt can’t inexplicably turn plaid by the end of the scene. And where exactly is 12th street? How did it jump locations so quickly? Personally, I find it horribly easy to mix up these details, so my first editing spree will be to double check for consistency.
  2. Character growth. Fine tune your character’s gradual changes. At what point does he or she show maturity? Courage? Loyalty? It shouldn’t just appear with the snap of your fingers. Weave it into the fabric of your story so that the change feels natural and satisfying.
  3. Dialogue. If you had a hard time pinning down your characters’ voices on your first draft, listen closely this time around. How do they talk? Any slang or jargon that they should use? Get to know them on a conversational level.
  4. Descriptions. Once you have the plot and character essentials taken care of, start delving into the background. The atmospheric sights, smells, and sounds. Give texture to your world. Imagery draws your readers in, giving them more ways to connect emotively with the story.

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[Above: My edits from 2008. I put so much work into this page, and it doesn’t even exist in my story anymore! Ah, silly younger Sarah. Was that really just five years ago?]

I’m sure that you’ll need more than 4 drafts, but these are enough to get you started. After each draft, you’re closer to your goal of a perfectly sculpted manuscript without adding the stress of scene-by-scene perfectionism. Any other elements that you think deserve a draft of their own? What does your editing process look like?

First Lines

I love looking at the first sentences of books, just to see how the author catches the reader’s attention and makes them curious to read more.

While thinking about that this morning, I considered my own first sentence. I’ve never posted any of my personal writing on this blog, because I’d rather have it go public when it’s published. But once sentence couldn’t hurt, right?

The kitchen tile sent shivers through Anadora’s socks.

I suppose it’ll have to do 😉 Want to share your first line? Or even a favorite first line from an already published text?