Revising your Novel: When and How

August 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

In “7 Steps to a Foolproof Revision,” Don Fry, writing in the September 2012 edition of Writer’s Digest posits “complete your draft, then revise” as step #1. His logic is that if you strive for perfection, you’ll probably never finish your book, or, at least it will take much longer because you’ll be spending so much time re-writing the same sentences over and over again. He recommends “draft the entire piece…and then revise the whole thing, start to finish.”

That approach may work well for a short story or non-fiction essay, book review or blog post, but I don’t think many writers will find it works for a novel. For one, most novelists don’t write from start to finish. There are always keys sections to any novel — the beginning and end of course, but there are also chapters or sections that constitute turning points or crises in the novel that many writers, myself included, draft early in the writing process.

Fry, however, is right in warning writers not to revise what you’ve already revised over and over again until you think it’s perfect. In my opinion, that’s a clear invitation to Mr. Writers Block to come into your study and push you aside.

Let me describe a process that seems to be working for me: Every novel idea I’ve ever had starts with a character or a scene, which may or may not be how the story starts. For The Expendable Man, it was the image of my protagonist, Nick Grocchi, lying on a hospital table in the operating room, about to undergo emergency experimental treatment for skin cancer. As I developed the story, this scene takes place fairly early in the book, but it’s not the opening chapter.

That scene, however, led to the construct of the entire novel. How did he end up there? What happened to him after that treatment? How did that treatment figure in the future he created for himself?

From that construct I created an outline and from that outline I began writing the novel.

At this point Fry’s admonition to write an entire first draft might have worked except again for the fact that the flow of the novel required me to write the ending and some other key chapters early in the process.

How much revision should you do when writing a novel?

If you can envision the entire novel and have a solid outline, then go for it.

If, however, like many writers, you haven’t answered all of the questions that will need to be answered, then some revising in the process of writing your first draft may be helpful.

Near the end of writing my second published novel, Making the Grade, I decided to change the setting from an imaginary city in Connecticut to Albany, New York where I had lived for 40 years. Instead of making the necessary changes after completing the first draft, I stopped what I was doing and revised that one aspect of the story. I felt that was necessary in order to order events properly. The delay in making those changes was not great and it probably saved time in the long run.

What I’m saying is that major revisions in the story line ought to be made as soon as you make the decision that the revision is needed.

There’s another revision process that I recommend as well. When I start work each day I re-read and revise what I’ve written the previous day. That gets me going into the story and the transition to adding new material usually goes smoothly. Those revisions focus on story line, but if I find an awkward sentence or an obvious grammatical mistake I’ll fix it then and there.

Finally, I try to never end my writing for the day at the end of a chapter. To me it’s harder to start writing a new chapter than to edit and continue writing one I’ve already started. Therefore, when I come to the end of a chapter, I always start the next chapter–even if it’s only a few paragraphs–to make starting the next day go smoother.

I’ll review some of Fry’s other tips in a future post.


Albany, NY/Making the Grade Quiz

July 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Making the Grade, my police procedural released earlier this year, takes place in Albany, NY. If you’ve read the book, you’ll want to take the quiz on my Facebook Page to see if know where 5 different events take place.

A Blog for Writers and Readers

May 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you haven’t already come across Morgen Bailey you should. Bailey writes a blog which provides a huge service to the writing community. Not only does she interview interesting writers which helps them advance their careers, but she also posts poetry, news about books, and her own stories on Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog.

Plus, if you’ve been thinking about blogging or aren’t happy with the way your blog looks, you might contact her for help in building your blog. Her rates are very reasonable.

Making the Grade — Now Available in All Formats

May 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

No matter how much care one takes as a writer to craft a good story with characters that people will care about and no matter how much help you have from editors, critique partners, friends and family, when a new book is launched, most writers–myself included–wait anxiously for readers’ responses.

I feel gratified and relieved therefore that the first person who read Making the Grade liked it. If one person liked it, I’m sure others will also.

Now I can concentrate on publicizing its availability.

To that end, if you are interested in obtaining a print or digital copy, please see the links on the Making the Grade page on my website–

Next I’ll be contacting bookstores that have carried The Expendable Man to see how many are interested in the new one.

Meanwhile, the best way to help me promote Making the Grade is first to rate and review it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and/or Goodreads; also, tell your friends and colleagues who like to read how they can get a copy.

It’s not to late to book your flight to Tucson

March 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you’re a writer or a reader and have nothing to do this weekend (and a few extra sheckles in your wallet), book a flight to Tucson and spend Saturday and Sunday at the Tucson Festival of Books. You won’t be sorry.

The only problem is there are so many fantastic workshops scheduled for the same time that it’s very difficult deciding which one to go to. Here’s a list of some of the authors who’ll be in Tucson this weekend: Louis Bayard, T.C. Boyle, Terry Brooks, Richard Russo, Pete Dexter, Dianne Gabaldon, Alice Hoffman, Elmore Leonard, Brad Meltzer, Dennis McKiernan and Larry McMurtry.

The TFB will attract over 100,000 people who will be entertained and educated by more than 450 authors, 350 exhibitors as well as food, entertainment and activities…and I’ll be there too all day Saturday and most of Sunday. You can find me in the West Authors’ Tent on Saturday from 2 to 4 PM. Stop by and say hello.

A Lesson for Writers

February 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

You may have read that HarperCollins has sold its teen writers website Inkpop to rival Figment. Why? HarperCollins exists to sell books to readers. Writers websites don’t generate sales.

Writers who lurk in discussion groups for the purpose of trying to sell their books can learn from HC’s decision. If you visit writers’ sites to work on your writing, fine. If you think you’re going to sell your book to other writers, think again.

The same thing is true of writers who think building up hundreds of Twitter followers from the writer community is a good thing. If your goal is to communicate about writing and marketing fine, but stop spamming us with attempts to sell your books. You need to spend your energy elsewhere.

Self-Publishing Revolution: Still in the Early Stages

February 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Where are we in the self-publishing revolution? Despite the exponential growth of self-published books over the past 2-3 years, I believe we’re still in the early stages of the revolution.

As evidence I cite the 2002 survey that reported that 80% of people surveyed say they have a book in them and the fact that out of a dozen people who attended a presentation I gave on self-publishing today half are working on books or thinking of doing so including one person who has self-published three novels and another person who has been traditionally published.

Given that the baby boomer age cohort has just begun to retire and the fact that they are THE most literate group of retirees in human history, don’t be surprised if the volume of self-published books continues to grow by leaps and bounds for another decade and don’t be surprised if the audience grows with them.

In the early stage of social revolutions driven by technology, early adopters jump on board long before the infrastructure to support them has been put in place. In terms of self-publishing we’ve seen in the past year parts of that infrastructure being built to try catch up with the demand. By infrastructure I mean options for self-publishing writers that replace what traditional publishers offer — including a variety of editorial and marketing services designed to aid the person who is thinking about writing a book all the way to serving the traditionally published author who is turning to self-publishing but needs and can afford highly sophisticated services they can purchase a la carte.

That infrastructure including workshops, critique sites, contests, etc., will help the second generation of self-publishers move from wishful thinking to putting fingers to keyboards.

What about the problems self-published authors encounter?

If you lurk in author discussion forms on Goodreads, linked-in, Kindle Direct, etc., you’ll read about how to generate reviews, how to find and build an audience, how to decide how long your book should be, how to write a good title, what makes a good cover, etc. I’ve benefitted from spending time in these discussion sites not only for what I’ve learned but also because I found an outstanding critique partner that way.

Discussions also point out where self-publishing still comes up short — including the problem of getting placed in bookstores, purchased by libraries, and being reviewed by the mainstream media. I expect all those problems will be solved as a result of continued growth in the volume and quality of self-publishing and when some innovator comes up with a solution that the rest of us wish we had been smart enough to see.

So keep your self-belts buckled. The revolution has just begun.

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