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28 Jun

The “Keep in Mind” List

In Drafting,Editing,Writing Process by MK England / June 28, 2017 / 0 Comments

I have a quick little something to share today that’s been helping me tons with both drafting new projects and revising THE DISASTERS:

The “Keep in Mind” List

The idea for this came out of two things. First was something I read on Maggie Stiefvater’s tumblr a long time ago that really struck a chord with me. “…when I wrote The Raven Boys, I had a sticky note affixed to my computer that read: Remember that the worst thing that can happen is that they can stop being friends.

In many ways, that is the guiding principle of the entire series, the most important thing for Maggie to remember as she wrote those books. It’s the thing to write toward, the thing that should be an undercurrent in every scene, a constant touchstone. I loved the idea of keeping something like that close at hand during my writing and revising sessions.

Second, I was going through my edit letter for THE DISASTERS and taking notes on things I wanted to change, and I noticed that there were a lot of subtle tweaks that would carry through the whole book, usually in the form of tiny character traits I needed to make sure were present throughout. I was worried that just leaving them on my revision outline under the “general changes” heading wouldn’t be enough to keep them at the forefront of my mind as I worked.

Hence… the Keep in Mind list. I put it up right next to my computer (okay, it’s currently paperclipped to a lampshade, but it WORKS) so it’s always in my field of vision while I’m working. Whenever I surface from the zone of revising, I look over at that list and check in—am I accomplishing what I set out to do? Are the characters coming through clearly? Have I let the stakes drive my characters’ emotional responses and actions?

A Keep in Mind list (for a totally made up project) might look something like this:

  • Jen is a terrible liar
  • Ana always wears blue (except when she doesn’t) because symbolism
  • Callie would be miserable without her creative outlet
  • John’s daddy issues are at the core of everything
  • Make Raj a bit softer throughout
  • If they don’t succeed, a volcano will explode and the whole world will die

If you decide to give the Keep in Mind list a try, let me know how it goes for you! Do you have any techniques to keep you focused on the important concepts while you write or revise? Let me know in the comments. Happy writing!

16 Jun

The Problem With “Good” Media

In Gaming,Personal,Publishing,Reading by MK England / June 16, 2017 / 0 Comments

Hi folks. I’ve gotta rant for a minute so I can get this out of my brain and focus on drafting today.


I actively put my money toward things I want to support. Books by authors of color, movies directed by women, video games with queer characters, and so on. And yet, when I dare say that I want to see a movie or buy a book because I want to financially support it, I often get this line: “I don’t care about any of that. I just want a good story.”

There’s a problem with this thinking.

It seems fine on the surface, right? Why shouldn’t we just support GOOD media, no matter who makes it? At the end of the day, we all want a good story. Of course we do.

The problem is that it assumes all creators are on equal footing from the start. It assumes all good stories receive the funding, industry support, advertising, and so on that they need to succeed, that good stories don’t get buried in flooded markets and go unnoticed because of who made them or who’s in them. It requires us to live in a society where there’s no racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia, etc. influencing the decisions made by industry gatekeepers: producers, casting directors, professional reviewers, literary agents, editors, and ultimately the audience.

An author of color submits a book to a white agent, then gets a rejection letter that says they just couldn’t connect to the story. Sometimes it’s the fault of the story. We’ve all gotten that rejection before. But sometimes it’s that the white agent couldn’t connect to an experience outside their own, thus silencing that voice. A reviewer can’t connect to a movie completely dominated by women, with minimal male characters. Sometimes the story is weak. Sometimes it’s that a male reviewer can’t connect with being in the position women find themselves in every day. (Note, though, that many folks have no problem connecting to elves, wizards, trolls, and animated lions. A Black character in present-day America, though? Suddenly that’s difficult.)


This is not news to any marginalized person who works in a creative field. It’s not (or shouldn’t be, at this point) news to anyone in the YA and children’s publishing world, where the last four years have seen a huge push for better representation, and representation by #ownvoices authors (people with lived experience of whatever they’re representing). And some change can and should come from within, as is slowly happening in publishing. The structure of power within these media industries needs to shift.

Audiences need to change too, though. We vote with our dollars. That’s what we can do to change the industry from the outside.

So yes, if I have a limited pool of cash to spend, I’m going to spend it in a way that gives support to marginalized creators. Because their stories are good, and because they deserve the support that the industry denies them. That might mean I don’t see the latest awesome, critically-acclaimed movie written, directed, and starred in by straight cisgender white dudes. And I feel fine about that. They don’t need my support. I’ll see it on Netflix.

But you’re damn right that I’ve seen Wonder Woman twice, that I pre-ordered The Hate U Give and The Gauntlet, that I played Gone Home and Dragon Age: Inquisition. With the dollars I spend, I tell the industry, “Hey, this thing you did here? I like it, and I’m willing to pay money for it. Please give me some more.”

After all, broader perspectives and more diverse creative teams lead to new ideas and—dare I say it?—good media.

So, if you want good stories, consider being more deliberate with where you place your limited funds. Yes, this may help me in some ways and hurt me in others. If you buy my books because I’m gay*, genderqueer, or mentally ill, awesome. If you don’t buy my books because I’m white and you want to buy something by an author of color instead, also awesome. Either way, you’re shaping the future. High five, you.

And in the meantime, we can dream of a world where everyone’s works are on equal footing in the battle for the title of Good Story.

20 Mar

Why I Write YA

In Publishing,Questions Answered,Reading by MK England / March 20, 2017 / 0 Comments

Someone on my fandom tumblr just asked me why I write YA and what the primary characteristics are. I, of course, LOVE to nerd out about this very topic and yet have NEVER put into words what I love about YA. So, here:

gif-belle-books

First, let’s define YA fiction as best we can. Terminology: YA is not a genre, it’s an age category. Genres are things like romance, mystery, sci-fi. Age categories are things like middle grade, young adult, easy reader, adult. So, any given book will have both a genre and an age category. Next, misconceptions: YA is not only for teenagers. YA is not dumbed down, shallow, or lacking complexity. You cannot make any assumptions about quality, and very few assumptions about content, based on the fact that a book is shelved as YA.

So, what is it? Most YA books feature a protagonist aged 14-15 for lower YA or 16-19 for upper YA. The book is written in a teen’s voice and through their point of view, which is influenced by where they’re at developmentally. This authentic teen voice is critical: Not all books with teen protagonists are YA books. YA fiction is published for and marketed to ages 12-18, but is very widely read by adults as well. There are a few limitations on content. YA fiction can absolutely tackle tough topics like rape, drugs, sex, lots of swearing, violence, etc. The only real limit is that torture and rape can’t be gratuitous (nor should they be in adult fiction, but that happens all the time, ugh), and there can’t be any really explicit on-page sex.

So, why do I write YA?

The simple answer is: I write YA because it’s what I love to read. Any writer needs to read extensively in their chosen age category and genre, so it really helps if you actually love it. My other job is being a YA librarian, which means both my careers are heavily teen-centric and YA fiction-centric. They jive.

But you’re looking for something deeper than that, and there’s plenty. WHY do I like to read and write YA? Oh, so many reasons. In no particular order:

1) There’s no shame. Read romance, read sci fi, read literary, read horror—the culture of judgment just doesn’t exist in the YA world to the same degree it does in the adult world. Oh, it’s definitely still there, especially among awards committees, but the perceived gap between a YA literary novel and a YA romance novel feels far less than that between a National Book Award winner and a bodice-ripping adult romance. NOT, let me clarify, because the YA literary novel is not of equally significant quality and value to the National Book Award-winning adult book, but because the YA world has much more of a read-and-let-read mentality.

2) Teenagers are at the greatest point of change in life, and that makes for fascinating characters to explore. Throw someone who is growing and changing and forming their identity into challenging circumstances and watch the magic happen. Many adults are quite set in their ways. Teens are more likely to be adaptable, fierce, open-minded.

3) Teens are (in general) less bogged down by “life stuff”. They haven’t had 30, 40, 50, 60 years of friends and family dying, failed relationships, lost jobs, destroyed homes, and all the other bad shit we accumulate in life. There’s a freshness that I find appealing in a character, and I enjoy being able to mold a character as I see fit without having to work around the giant elephant of their history and baggage. (That said, there are absolutely teens who have had extremely rough lives, and there are YA novels that tackle that, too.)

4) I think teen voices are vastly undervalued in our society (at least, in American society, can’t speak to elsewhere). I respect and value teens and by writing them I get to put a little power back into their hands.

5) The YA world is where the charge is being let for large-scale change in the publishing world. Check out the We Need Diverse Books movement, originated by YA authors. YA authors are making real change in the publishing world, working for authentic, sensitive, and equal representation of marginalized groups in fiction. While the rest of the world cries about lack of diversity in the media, YA authors are Getting Shit Done.

6) That energy permeates the entire YA fiction world. It’s an electric place to be.

7) LGBTQ+ content doesn’t preclude a book from being a major financial success in the YA world. LGBTQ+ rep is becoming increasingly common and welcome. YA agents are actively seeking it. YA editors are more and more open to it. It’s beautiful.

8) It’s fun and I love it.

I’m juggling three adult projects right now because I contractually can’t sell a third YA novel until late next year anyway and I’m having a great time with them. I’m not saying YA is BETTER than adult. But, I am saying the COMMUNITY around YA fiction is better, and that it’s a different experience that I really enjoy. I’m also unabashedly trying to convince all of you that YA is legitimate and is not in any way less than adult fiction, because every loser who writes an inflammatory column in the New York Times about YA lakjsdhflkashd okay this is a whole other thing that makes me really angry so I’ll stop now YA IS GREAT OKAY BYE.

mic drop

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16 Dec

Charitable Giving for the Holidays

In Personal by MK England / December 16, 2016 / 0 Comments

Hey, folks, long time no post! 2016 has been kicking me in the face repeatedly for the past few months, and I’m hard at work on revisions for THE DISASTERS.

kiiick

The holidays make demands on our time as well, including the increasingly difficult task of buying gifts for friends and family. This year, partially inspired by the outcome of the US election, I’ve decided to almost exclusively give charitable donations as gifts. Donations are a fantastic gift for anyone with a cause close to their heart, or anyone who is hard to buy for/already has everything. I’m the youngest person in my family at age 30, so most of my family members have no need for the kinds of gifts I can afford. They also make great gifts for business associates or people who get tons of random STUFF every year (i.e. your agent or editor!).

Around the holidays, people invariably start throwing around baseless claims about this charity or that. “This charity’s CEO is a volunteer, they don’t get paid!” or “This charity spends 100% of donations on programs, no administrative costs!”. Both of these statements are almost always false, and as a librarian dedicated to information literacy, the spread of misinformation really bugs me A LOT. If you choose to open your heart and wallet this holiday season, I beg you to thoroughly research the organizations you choose to give to. What do their financials look like (if you can even find them)? What work do they REALLY do? What is the ideology behind their work? Study their website. Check Charity Navigator if they’re a large enough organization. Read, evaluate, confirm with additional sources where possible.

The best charitable gifts will speak to the heart of the person for whom the donation will be made. Are they a veteran or active duty military? Do they love animals? Are they concerned with the refugee crisis? Are they involved in a tech field? Here are a few that are close to my heart that are getting my money this year, both from me and in the name of my friends and family. Do you have any favorites? Add them in the comments below!

The Brain and Behavior Research Center, providing grants to scientists researching mental illness. They really DO put 100% of donations toward grants because their operating costs are completely covered by two family foundations. (bbrfoundation.org)

We Need Diverse Books, providing grants to interns of color breaking into the publishing industry and authors of color developing their careers. (weneeddiversebooks.org)

Islamic Relief USA, providing humanitarian aid, disaster relief, and orphan care throughout the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, and the USA. Your donation is highly customizable in that you can choose a specific country or project to donate to, or donate to a general fund. (irusa.org)

First Book, providing free books to low-income children. I’ve worked in a library where we distributed First Books to the community and we were grateful for their contributions. (firstbook.org)

The It Gets Better Project and The Trevor Project, providing resources and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth. Both are very social media savvy and reach teens where they’re at. I’ve witnessed the good these two organizations do first hand. (thetrevorproject.org , itgetsbetter.org)

Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code, providing summer computer science immersion programs and working to close the gender gap in tech fields. BGC especially is a young organization working to grow and expand their efforts. (girlswhocode.com, blackgirlscode.com)

The Malala Fund, working toward a world where every girl gets 12 years of safe, quality education. (malala.org)

Happy holidays to you all, and may 2017 be significantly less terrible!

(Also, basically don’t talk to me for the next 6 weeks if you don’t want to hear about BBC Sherlock. You’ve been warned.)

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31 Oct

NaNoWriMo Tips & Tricks

In Drafting,Goals,NaNoWriMo,Writing Process by MK England / October 31, 2016 / 0 Comments

The hour is nigh! It’s October 31st, which means NaNoWriMo is less than 24 hours away. Here are my favorite last-minute tips and tricks for Wrimos and speed-drafters alike:

Aim for halfway. Seriously, that 50k can feel like A LOT, but the first 25k is the uphill climb and after that you’re coasting downhill toward the finish line. Forget about 50k—commit to hitting 25,000 words in the first two weeks. It will be painful, it will suck at times, and you will hate your writing occasionally, but if you can hit 25k, you will have pushed through the worst of it!

Write your first page BEFORE November 1st. You can’t count any words written before November 1st toward your 50k goal, but getting the intimidating blank page staring contest over before the read deal starts can be a huge confidence booster! Turn some of that nervous energy you’re feeling into an opening scene. Just make a note of your wordcount before you start writing on November 1st so you can subtract it from your overall total.

Use placeholders to keep momentum up. You should avoid stopping to research things as much as possible. Don’t know what to call that city? @CITY. Can’t come up with a name for that character? @DUDE1. Can’t remember how many bones are in the human body? @RESEARCH LATER. Can’t get over how bad a sentence sounds? @DO BETTER. Literally anything that will cause you to break your flow as you write, just throw a placeholder there and keep writing. Once you’re done with your first draft, you can use the ctrl+F (or cmd+F on a mac) feature to find every single instance of that placeholder in your doc. I always use the @ symbol, since I rarely write fiction that has lots of e-mail addresses in it, but you can use any character that doesn’t show up in your story.

Stay in the story between writing sessions. Carry a notebook around and always have those characters cooking in the back of your head while you do other things. When you sit down to write, you’ll be ready to go!

Reward yourself. Set mini goals along the way, and give yourself mini rewards! A cookie every 10k words? An hour of video games each week you make your goal? Whatever motivates you!

Let your draft be rough. Real writing is rewriting. You’ll make it pretty and readable and entertaining later when you revise your novel. For now? Its only job is to exist. Make it exist.

Do you have any tips or tricks that help you survive NaNoWriMo? Post ’em below! Best of luck to all the wrimos out there. We will be victorious!

24 Oct

NaNoWriMo Prep – Even for Pantsers!

In Drafting,NaNoWriMo,Writing Process by MK England / October 24, 2016 / 0 Comments
(Originally posted in my region’s forum on nanowrimo.org)

NaNoWriMo is less than a month away! Do you have any idea what you’re going to write yet? If not, that’s fine! I’ve got some suggestions to help get you going. Even if you like to totally fly by the seat of your pants when you write, you can really benefit from having at least some vague points in your head before you start.

You don’t have to go all dystopian-YA-novel and declare your faction. It’s not plotters vs. pantsers to the death. It’s not “start without a single idea” vs. “20 pages of meticulous notes”. There’s tons of middle ground between those options, and you can find a balance that will work for you and keep you motivated and inspired throughout November!

If you do nothing else, it can really help to elevate your NaNo plan from a vague idea to a premise. Larry Brooks talks about this in his book Story Physics, and in this Writer’s Digest Article. Here’s an example using The Hunger Games:

  • [Idea]  I want to write a dystopian novel about reality TV
  • [Concept]  (add conflict and tension) I want to write about an annual televised event where poor kids are pitted against other poor kids for sport
  • [Premise]  (add character and themes) A girl named Katniss volunteers for The Hunger Games to save her sister from participating and has to fight to the death against other kids—including a boy from her own district who has always shown her kindness.

Look for that hint of conflict inherent in your basic idea and start questioning it. Want to go a bit more in-depth into the plot than just the basic idea? Larry Brooks also has a book called Story Engineering, and just about every story in the western world* ends up falling into this structure, whether by instinct or by planning.

What’s great and useful about this style of outline is the focus on when characters learn new pieces of information, which makes you think through what bits of info the characters need to learn over the course of the story to achieve their goal, which in turn gives you points to write toward. What does Harry Potter need to know to defeat Voldemort? What does Luke Skywalker need to know to embrace the Force and blow up the Death Star?

The very boiled-down version of the structure is:

  • Part One: The Setup (the orphan) — Introduce your characters, have the inciting incident, foreshadow things that will be important later, introduce your antagonist in some small way. At the end of part one, at approximately the 25% mark of your story, include Plot Point One: The clear statement of the quest/goal/major obstacle, our first full view of the antagonist, and the statement of the stakes. What do you characters stand to lose? Make sure we know why it matters to the characters.
  • Part Two: The Response (the wanderer) — Your characters have their very human reactions to the quest. Run, hide, seek information, get help, find an advisor. At about the 50% mark, you’ll have the Midpoint, where the character learns something new that changes the context of the quest. The game has changed, and it shifts the character from reactive mode to proactive mode. Time to DO STUFF.
  • Part Three: The Attack (the warrior) — Your characters attack the problem/obstacle/antagonist head on. They can’t totally succeed yet, because we’re not at the end of the book yet, but they can make progress. At about the 75% mark, you’ll have Plot Point Two: The final piece of information the characters need to conquer the obstacle/defeat the villain/begin the final chase. It’s ON.
  • Part Four: The Resolution (the martyr) — No new information can be introduced after this point. It’s time to defeat the obstacle/villain, resolve the conflict, let the stakes come into play in a big way, and make the character sacrifice something to achieve the goal. Make it happen, cap’n.

Come up with as much of this as you can ahead of time! If that’s just the big four basic sections (Setup, Response, Attack, Resolution), then great! That still gives you some good direction. If you can, add in those plot points. If you want to go even more in depth than that and plan out chapters, go for it. The level of detail is up to you.

Or, maybe you want to approach things from a character standpoint, rather than plot. Consider: How will your character change over time? What kind of person are they at the start, and how will they be different at the end? Why does the conflict matter to them? What do they personally have to lose?

No matter where you start (plot, character, idea, or even worldbuilding), look for that source of conflict and change. No conflict, no story!

And if you want to do a bit more in-depth prep, don’t forget that NaNoWriMo puts out some excellent workbooks through the Young Writer’s Program. The high school one is great for adults, too!

Do you have any NaNo prep strategies to share with your fellow wrimos? Post ‘em below!

Happy writing,
M.K.

* – except literary fiction which, by its very nature, is about experimenting and subverting expectations.

19 Oct

Three Kinds of Writer’s Block

In Drafting,NaNoWriMo,Writing Process by MK England / October 19, 2016 / 0 Comments

…and how to beat them

It’s NaNoWriMo season, which means everyone has speed-writing on the brain.

john typing

(That’s not how you do it, John.)

Writer’s block is oft spoken of in groaning complaints and hushed whispers like it’s a thing that sneaks up on writers to ruin their flow and steal away their creativity. In reality, though, I don’t think “Writers Block” is really any one thing. In my own writing experience, I’ve found I’m affected by at least three distinct types of writer’s block:

Totally Lost Block: This block usually comes from a lack of prep work. Not sure what comes next in your story? Even if you’re a pantser (you write by the seat of your pants), it’s time to stop and brainstorm. List your core elements: Main characters, central plot conflict, stakes (what the character has to lose if they fail). What’s the end goal for the central conflict, the problem to be solved, or the farthest point forward where you know what happens? Make a list of 10 potential ways to get there, then pick the most interesting one. What information do your characters need to get to that point? Brainstorm interesting ways for them to get that information. Keep breaking it down until you have several points to write toward. You don’t have to obey those points if you come up with something better along the way, but it helps to have a light at the end of the tunnel. Or, is there a point later in the story where you DO know what happens? Write that first, and go back to connect the dots later.

Depression Block: Not in a good place mental health-wise? That can have a big impact on your writing. If this is the case for you, take some time for self-care. Give yourself permission to do something you love to recharge your creative batteries and mental energy. Once you’re in a better place, set reasonable but challenging goals, manage your expectations for yourself, and re-dedicate yourself to your writing. If you haven’t already sought help for depression, definitely do! Taking that first step can be a huge load off your mind in and of itself.

Motivation Block: This is the most common type of writer’s block. You’re not actually blocked, writing is just HARD and it takes a lot of time and effort and it can be a struggle to get motivated. Even seasoned writers get this kind of block sometimes. Sit down at your computer or open your notebook and commit to writing one sentence. You can manage that, right? Once you’re over that hurdle, it’s surprisingly easy to keep going. You’re already there, so why not make it a whole paragraph? How about a page? And there’s no rule that says you have to write all your daily words in one sitting. Write a little in the morning, a little at lunch, and a little in the evening if you need to. Or, binge it all in one sitting and enjoy your free time afterward. Also consider small rituals that tell your brain it’s writing time: Light a candle, get dressed like you’re going to work, put on comfy PJs, whatever works for you. You can do this! Just remember BICHOK: Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. Make it happen.

Have you experienced any other kind of writer’s block? Any advice for overcoming? Tell me in the comments!

15 Oct

NaNo Printables – 2016 Edition

In Drafting,NaNoWriMo,Prompts by MK England / October 15, 2016 / 1 Comment

I’m serving as a Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month again this year, whoooo! Last year I made some printable NaNoBingo and Frequent Writer Cards that wrimos got stamped or stickered at events they attended, and they were a big hit in the South Jersey region, so I’m hoping they’ll be similarly received in Charlottesville. This year, I’ve included an alternate version of the NaNoBingo card for use in schools and libraries. Differences are minor, but they exclude any mention of donating to the NaNoWriMo organization, distance travel for write-ins, and making characters kiss. Please feel free to print these out and use them at your own events, though I’d prefer it if you could leave the credit line in.

NaNoBingo Card – standard version
NaNoBingo Card – classroom and library version
Frequent Writer Card

The FWC currently has six spaces, which could be filled if a wrimo went to one write-in per week, plus the kickoff and TGIO parties. Regions with particularly ambitious wrimos may wish to edit to add more spots by circling the smaller stars in fun colored markers.

For prizes, I’m using my library’s button maker to make 1.5″ pinback buttons again, though this year they’ll be Virginia-themed instead of South Jersey. Check your local library to see if they have a makerspace or equipment check out—you may be able to do the same!

Happy novel planning, wrimos! November is almost here…

Moriarty(1)

 

14 Oct

Book Deal Announcement

In News,Publishing by MK England / October 14, 2016 / 0 Comments

So, funny story. The public announcement for my book deal went up two weeks ago. I celebrated on twitter, I finally told facebook, I announced to my coworkers, and so on. Aaaaaand I forgot announce it on this website.

Uh.

LET’S FIX THAT.

book-deal
Those who have been around for a while might notice the new title. It’s true—Space Academy Rejects is now THE DISASTERS, and I love love love this new title! I also love the way my rockstar agent, Barbara Poelle, pitched this book. She makes it sound so awesome, so now my job is to make it live up to her pitch while revising with my new editor, Abby Ranger. I’m thrilled to be working with Abby and HarperCollins to bring these space nerds to you, and I hope you love these characters as much as I do.

For those interested in the mechanics of all this, I’ll be posting about my own path to publication soon.

Follow me on twitter @Geektasticlib for updates!

17 Aug

Pitch Wars Homework Assignments

In Editing,Pitch Wars by MK England / August 17, 2016 / 6 Comments

Last year when I was waiting for Pitch Wars mentee selections to be announced, I was chomping at the bit, wanting so badly to get started on a new round of edits. Sure, I did some half-hearted planning for NaNoWriMo to distract myself, but what I really wanted was to throw myself back into my PW manuscript and make it better.

crazy typing

One of the first things my awesome mentor, Sarah Glenn Marsh, did last year was give me homework assignments right after I was selected. They were designed to help me analyze my book so I’d be in a better position to hit the ground running with revisions. And you know what? There’s no reason you can’t start on those right now, before Pitch Wars really begins, before you know if you’ve been selected or not. These assignments are great for anyone with a finished MS in need of editing, whether you’re participating in Pitch Wars or not, whether you get in or not.

So, without further ado, here’s your homework. Get as much done as you can before 11:59pm on August 24th. 

  • Make each chapter title a heading in Word for easy navigation (more info here). Even if you use Scrivener (which I love), you’ll need a word doc to share with your mentor or critique partners.
  • Make a list of all chapters with chapter wordcounts. Variation isn’t a bad thing, but if you have some major outliers, those might be chapters to look at for pacing issues, bulking up, or breaking into two parts.
  • Make a character arc chart for all major characters: who are they at the start, who are they at the end, how they get there, what their role in the cast is, what they want, what progress they make toward their goals, etc.
  • Do a goals & stakes analysis for each chapter. Look at how each chapter progresses the characters toward their goal, and how the stakes come into play depending on their progress. If a chapter doesn’t address the goals and stakes, it likely needs to be cut. If you have trouble with this, summarize each chapter in only one sentence listing the most important things that happen, then think about how those tie in to your overall plot arc/goals/stakes. Don’t force it—if a chapter doesn’t fit, it might need to be significantly rewritten or cut.
  • Start on your revision outline. This will change a lot if someone takes you on as a mentee, depending on the feedback you get, but it’s good to start brainstorming fixes based on your own analysis while remaining open to mentor suggestions. Note overall changes to make throughout the manuscript as well as chapter-by-chapter notes.
  • Read my post on Critiques and Cultivating Self-Awareness. It’s important to understand your own reactions to receiving critiques and be prepared for the emotions that come with. Developing this self-awareness is one of the most critical things you can do as a writer.

Here is your starting ctrl+F list, a list of things for you to look for in your MS using the ‘find’ feature of your word processor. These are common crutch words and bad habit red flag words that apply to pretty much any manuscript. If Jamie and I decide to take you on as a mentee, we’ll also provide you with a customized one with any crutch words/phrases that are unique to you (for instance, I tend to overuse ‘a bit’ and ‘grin’).

  • That
  • Just
  • Filtering phrases (she saw, she heard, she smelled, etc.)
  • Thought phrases (she realized/understood/knew/wondered/remembered/thought)
  • Feeling words (sad/happy/angry/nervous/etc.)
  • Started/began
  • Really/very/extremely/absolutely + other empty modifiers
  • is/are/was/were (potential passive voice red flags)
  • Suddenly
  • Basically/practically/almost (I am so guilty of this)
  • ly (will help you catch adverbs)
  • If writing in past tense: this/now/here (words that imply present-ness)

When you’re using Ctrl+F to catch these filtering and thought phrases, don’t forget the sneaky constructions that slip under the Ctrl+F radar: I can see, I can hear, I suddenly realized, etc. For advice on fixing these errors, check out Pitch Wars class of 2015 alum Rebecca McLaughlin’s Show Don’t Tell series on her blog in which she reworks passages of her own writing.

Reading List (Choose One or More):

  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White OR Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Truss
  • A book in your genre you haven’t read before
  • A book on the craft of writing. Ask for recommendations if you need them!

Best of luck to everyone awaiting Pitch Wars decisions, and major props to anyone tackling a manuscript revisions right now! You got this. You are great. I believe in you.

…now, back to trying to pick a mentee. *sweats*

Report back with your thoughts and progress!

han salute

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