Last year (2015) 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.
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 revision, 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. This isn’t to say you should delete every single instance of these words, only that you need to look very closely at the usage and decide if it’s absolutely necessary. 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’).
- 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.)
- Really/very/extremely/absolutely + other empty modifiers
- is/are/was/were (potential passive voice red flags)
- 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 revision 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!