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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Wait! Don’t Kill That Darling! The REAL Skinny on Self-Editing from Samuel Park

Today we're getting a free editing class from college professor and critically acclaimed literary author, Samuel Park. So get out your WIP and try these ten steps. I think you'll find them enlightening. I did. And think of the money you'll save on editor's fees.

Obviously his method works. Here are a few samples of the kind of praise he’s getting from literary superstars:

 “This Burns My Heart is quietly stunning—a soft, fierce story that lingers in the mind. Samuel Park is a deft and elegant writer.” —Audrey Niffenegger, NYT bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife

“Writing prose with the beauty of poetry, Samuel Park traces a young woman's journey to hard-won maturity, alongside the meteoric rise of post-war Korea, in a novel which shines with eloquence and wisdom.”—David Henry Hwang, Tony-Award winning author of M. Butterfly

“Samuel Park's astonishing novel, This Burns My Heart, provides mesmerizing perspective into the life of a Korean wife and lover.”—Jenna Blum, NYT bestselling author of Those Who Save Us

From Good to Better: 10 Tips On Editing Your WIP
By Samuel Park

I’m a big believer in revision. In fact, I think that’s one of the biggest advantages that writers have over artists in other fields. Filmmakers can’t shoot film endlessly, but writers can edit a manuscript to perfection for years. I know writers whose first drafts are spotless and ready to be printed and bound, but I’m more of a reviser, and for me, the revision process is when the manuscript really comes together. Still, every writer dreads the moment when she gets a list of comments from a writer friend. Here are some things I keep in mind whenever I need to implement those changes. These are tried and true tips that I’ve used over the years that can take your WIP from good to better.

1.     Do Listen to the Smart People Around You

My personal philosophy is that as a writer, my responsibility is to write a book that a lot of people will want to read and enjoy and want to recommend to others. I feel like I’m in the business, plain and simple, of providing pleasure and joy. So if I’m not doing that to the friends offering feedback—who are, in fact, my first readers—that is a sure sign that the manuscript needs more work. They’re only the first in a long line of people I have to please: my agent, my editor, my publisher, my publicist, trade publication reviewers, book bloggers, newspaper reviewers, magazine writers, and finally, and most importantly, the readers! That is a long chain and a lot of people. So in order to get to the buying readers, I have to make each person in that chain love it—and I have to start with the friends giving feedback, and so I take their reactions very, very seriously.

2.     Ignore Bad Advice

This is the exception to the item above: If someone gives you feedback that doesn’t seem to be coming from a place of love, ignore it. Completely. Don’t even think about it for more than a second. As important as it is to implement and use feedback from readers providing constructive, helpful criticism, it is very important—for one’s soul, for one’s future as a writer—to ignore feedback that is not intended to help but to hurt. Be alert to it and do not let it interfere with the good work of improving your manuscript.

3.     Focus on Different Things During Each Pass

I recommend doing one whole pass based on a single aspect of the manuscript you want to improve. For instance, doing a revision based on making the main character stronger—and that’s all you do. Don’t worry about the other characters, the language, the plot. For that pass, just focus entirely on that one character—her development, her dialogue, the descriptions of her. I’ve gotten a lot of praise for writing from a female perspective in my book—people respond uniformly positively to the heroine Soo-Ja. This is partly due to the fact that I spent one long revision period focusing entirely on her. Later, you could do a revision focusing entirely on cuts, or a revision focusing primarily on descriptions.

4.     Trust the Reaction, Not the Prescription

Sometimes your early readers will point out a section that needs work, and then offer a solution. 9 times out of 10, they’re wrong about the solution. They’re right in their reaction, and they’re right in that that aspect of the manuscript may need doctoring. But what may need to be fixed may not even be in that chapter. It could be something that wasn’t addressed earlier on in the story. That section may actually be work fine, and may not need changes at all—what may need to be fixed is the pacing of the section right before it.

5.     If you Think It, It is So

If you think you may need to change something, but aren’t sure, it probably means that you do. The thought alone—the hunch alone—is enough. You may debate with yourself, Well, maybe it’s fine, maybe it’s working, I’m not sure if I should change that. Well, merely the fact that you’re thinking about it means that yes, you do need to change it. If the scene was working or was perfect as it was, the thought wouldn’t have occurred to you. When in doubt, work on it.

6.     Don’t Kill Your Darlings

This is a fascinating phenomenon that I’ve observed: while most of the time your early readers are 100% right about what’s not working on your manuscript, sometimes they want you to cut out exactly what’s best about it. I find that really fascinating, and I don’t know why it happens, but it does. Maybe the parts of the manuscript that are the most personal, original, and fresh, also happen to feel the most foreign, self-indulgent, and unnecessary. I’ve had this happen on a couple of different manuscripts, and fortunately I hung on to the passages, which turned out to be the ones that, post-publication, were the ones that people most liked and were most representative of the book. In one case, the passage that the reader wanted to cut out was the exact reason why I wrote the book in the first place!

7.     Ask “What If”

What if the heroine of the story at one point ran into another character she does not normally interact with? One of my favorite scenes in my novel, when the main character meets the man who is courting her sister-in-law, was not in the original draft. The scene ended right before his arrival. I thought, what if the scene continued? What would happen? What happened really surprised me—I didn’t even realize I needed that scene, and now I can’t imagine the book without it.

8.     Do More Research

If you’re unsure how to make edits on your manuscript, try doing more research. It will probably trigger new thoughts, and help you think of new layers to add to the story. In my mind, in order to create output, you need to provide a lot of input (new inspirations, more information). Personally, before each edit, I feel the need to replenish first by taking in more ideas, more inspiration—the same as when you’re writing the draft.

9.     Don’t (Always) Read Out Loud

I hear this all the time: read your writing out loud when you edit. Indeed, it helps catch redundancies, and makes the prose tighter. Reading out loud also helps you notice mistakes that look “invisible” in print. But ultimately, there’s a very mysterious alchemy that happens when you write something down, and then someone reads it on the page. Writing is not really that oral, otherwise novels would sound like blueprints for performance pieces. If you take out too much language—language that would not normally be spoken—you may take out the very ligaments and joints holding together your sentences. Just because it feels awkward saying it out loud, doesn’t mean it necessarily feels awkward reading it silently, in your head.

10 And When You Get Stuck…

Sometimes an editor or agent asks you to make some changes, and you find yourself unable to think of how to approach it. My suggestion, a trick I learned from a writer friend of mine, is to pick ten separate paragraphs and add two sentences to each. It is easy, doable, and effective.

Originally born in Sao Paulo, Brazil to Korean parents, Samuel Park moved to the United States at age fourteen. He went to high school in Southern California, in the South Bay Area, and then studied at Stanford University, where he graduated with B.A. (with honors) and M.A. degrees in English. He has a Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Southern California, and his scholarly writing has appeared in journals such as Black Camera, Theatre Journal, and Shakespeare Bulletin. He is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Columbia College Chicago.

Samuel Park’s novel THIS BURNS MY HEART, chosen as an Amazon Best Book of the Month, is now out. It has also been selected by booksellers as a Great Read Indie Next List Pick, and rights have recently been sold to Germany and Norway. Learn more on his website: www.samuelpark.com and follow him on twitter at @SamuelPark_


So what about you, fellow scriveners? Are any of these tips new to you? They were to me--especially the not killing your darlings part. And learning that it's good to listen when critiquers see a problem, but generally ignore their solution. Interesting about not reading aloud, too. 

Do you have any questions for Samuel? Or any personal tips to share for self editing? 

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Blogger Sarah Pearson said...

Number 9 was an interesting one. One of the first things we 'learn' is to read out work out loud, and I do agree with it. But it's an interesting point, how many of our readers will do that?

August 7, 2011 at 10:25 AM  
Anonymous Paul Dillon said...

Some great tips here. - Anne's blog is the best.

I've come across advice in my crit group to kill my darlings. DON'T DO IT. #6 sounds though it was written for me.

August 7, 2011 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

An invaluable post. Thank you Samuel!

Revision IS the name of the game IME. Going through my ms concentrating on one character or one aspect (dialogue, description, 1st lines & last lines of scenes) at a time makes a huge difference & is worth every minute you spend on it.

I am also on the Don't-Kill-Your- Darlings team. Every time I start a new book, I open a file called “To Be Used?” Whenever I wonder if a darling should be killed, I park him/her here. I don’t actually kill my darlings, just put him/her into a medically-induced coma. You never know when a darling is going to come in handy. (Although, truth be told, I very very rarely bring anything back out of To Be Used? Must be my hesitation is all the answer I need but I do love my darlings!)

I'll add one tip that has worked consistently for me: When I suffer, sweat & struggle, rewrite, rework & revise and just *can't* make a scene or even a paragraph work, I just cut the #^%#$! thing. Amazing how often it turns out the book just doesn't need it.

New for me is the "What If" question and will go right into my ms triage file.

Thanks again, Samuel, for an invaluable--and inspiring--post. Belongs in every writers toolbox.

August 7, 2011 at 10:46 AM  
Blogger Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I like the suggestion about trusting yourself when you think something might not work it probably doesn't.

August 7, 2011 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Lexi said...

I agree with a lot of these, but don't understand #10. Can you expand on it?

August 7, 2011 at 12:10 PM  
Anonymous mark williams international said...

Some very useful stuff there. Thanks to all.

Critique groups and beta readers can be invaluable, but invariably conflicting advice comes in. Learning who to trust and who to ignore is key (1 & 2).

Four is all the more important. Beta readers often identify weaknesses, but the remedy lies in the author's hands, not the beta-reader's.

As for reading out loud... I am always mystified by this. Unless you have someone experienced and competent in the fine art of reading aloud properly this seems to me a waste of time. An experienced reader who knows the script well is a unlikely resource at this stage. So the only person who can capture all the nuances and intonation you put into the script is you. Reading it out aloud yourself is no different from reading it quietly to yourself. You will hear what you intended to write, not what is written.

As for #10... The first question to ask is why the agent or editor wants the change. As often as not it will be to conform to some preconceived notion about what readers want to read and what is commercially viable. For them, not you.

As indie publishers are showing time and time again, that often does not match reality.

A good editor will put forward a strong argument that convinces you they are right, or they will bow to your right as author not to implement the change. If you have an editor/agent relation where the suggestions are "mandatory" then it's probably a good time to think about ending that relationship.

August 7, 2011 at 12:46 PM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm bookmarking this! He's right about the first one - I listened to what my readers wanted in the second book. And my critique partners are very smart - I usually adopt their suggestions.

August 7, 2011 at 1:32 PM  
Anonymous Phyllis Humphrey said...

I love the idea of revising one element at a time, but I, too, am confused about #10. More info please.

August 7, 2011 at 2:51 PM  
Blogger fOIS In The City said...

I enjoyed this post and thanks to Anne for having you as her guest, Samuel.

Reading out loud always makes me feel dorky, but I never flinch when I talk to myself in character. Crazy? Yes, but it works when I need the MC to find a solution to a relationship problem.

I have used the "one layer" at a time method and find it works well.

Thanks again :)

August 7, 2011 at 3:33 PM  
Blogger Ann Best said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

August 7, 2011 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger SamuelPark said...

Hi Anne! Thank you for hosting me! I love your blog and am delighted to be guesting. You asked me to stop by and answer to some of the comments, so here it goes:

@Ruth Harris--Thank you for your comments! I like your advice of "parking" passages; I do that as well, and sometimes am surprised when they fit really nicely somewhere else, or when I miss it terribly, and realize I was only temporarily against it!

@Lexi, @Phyllis Humphrey--This is something to do when you're told by someone (agent, editor) that you need to make some changes, but you freeze up and have zero idea how to implement them. You find ten different spots throughout the whole manuscript where you think, Oh, I could add two more sentences to that spot. And that's all. I don't need to do anything else. Just add two sentences. And then you move on to the next spot a few chapters later and add two sentences. It's a low pressure way of editing. To be totally honest with you, it's more about tricking the brain; two sentences are, after all, not very much. What happens is that you end up doing much more to that section after adding those two sentences. Somehow the sentences open up the scene for you and become a point of entry.

@Ann Best--thank so much for your comment! Your kind words mean a lot to me. Congrats on your own book.

@fOIS in the city--thank you!

@Alex J. Cavanaugh--thank you!

@mark williams international--you make some excellent points here!

@Susan Gourley/Kelley--thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

@Paul Dillon--It really *is* the best, isn't it? I read it all the time. Thanks for your comment; glad we agree.

@Sarah Pearson--thank you for your comment!

August 7, 2011 at 4:25 PM  
OpenID myhappyhappenings said...

I can't thank you enough for this post - it is incredibly helpful. I'm not quite at the editing point for my novel but these tips will definitely come in handy when the time comes. Thanks so much!

August 7, 2011 at 6:19 PM  
Blogger Yvonne Osborne said...

Samuel always gives good advice. Thanks for highlighting him. I particularly like and agree with no. 5, so true.

August 7, 2011 at 7:14 PM  
Blogger Yvonne Osborne said...

Samuel always gives good advice. Thanks for highlighting him. I particularly like and agree with no. 5, so true.

August 7, 2011 at 7:14 PM  
Blogger BECKY said...

Great post, Anne. I belong to a wonderful critique group that has helped me grow and learn. I listen to every comment and suggestion, say "thank you", but ultimately do what I want! :)

August 7, 2011 at 8:16 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Hillier said...

Wow, a lot of really great stuff here! I've always been one to read out loud during the last edit, but I'm a pretty lean writer anyway, so it's more that I'm listening for rhythm, if that makes any sense.

Fabulous post.

August 7, 2011 at 9:05 PM  
Blogger Creepy Query Girl said...

really fantastic tips- I use a lot of them myself already but he's done a great job explaining the why of it. Thanks Anne!

August 8, 2011 at 1:14 AM  
Blogger Theresa said...

Thanks for the great advice. It makes me wish I was at the editing stage now! But I still have some writing to do.

August 8, 2011 at 4:48 AM  
Blogger Susan Flett Swiderski said...

What wonderful advise. Thank you so much. It's good to know I've kinda been doing it "right": I've made a multitude of edits on my book, and each time, have concentrated on one particular area. Slow-going, to be sure, but using tunnel vision helps me be more thorough.

August 8, 2011 at 4:57 AM  
Blogger Spook said...

Fantastic tips, thank you so much! :)

August 8, 2011 at 6:47 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline Howett said...

Some nice veiw points!

August 8, 2011 at 7:38 AM  
Blogger Cathryn Leigh said...

Thankfully I think I have a good group of epopel I can send drafts too, but i"ve never considered just focusing on one element of the story before...

I am definately going to have to try that trick when I do my cohesion edit of my current trilogy/three parter. (Once I get the gosh darn ending nailed to the ground...)

As to killing my darlings *grin* I do as Ruth does, save the bits and snippets I take out. I even have a betrothal scene that ended up becoming the wedding scene... or well the inspiration for it.

Yes, this is all good stuff I shall have to keep in mind form my nnext editing round. *grin*

:} Cathryn Leigh

August 8, 2011 at 10:24 AM  
Blogger jamilajamison said...

This is an invaluable post! Thanks so much for sharing these tips and suggestions, Samuel -- I'll definitely be employing these as I embark on editing and revising my work.

August 8, 2011 at 10:33 AM  
Blogger Tina Laurel Lee said...

Thanks, Sam and Anne. I love how these tips put a twist on the sage advice the writer always gets. These appeal to my gut (like tip 4!). I must use them.

It has been really fun to see you around the blogosphere, S. Brilliant as always.

August 8, 2011 at 10:39 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks to all of you for your comments. Isn't Samuel brilliant? I don't know if I should reveal this, but he told me he had writer's block for one of the first times in his life when it came to writing this post. I think it's because he's in the middle of a book tour. Travel is hard on muses.

But he sure did a great job. This post is getting tons of RTs. It speaks to our honest writer-selves, I think. We're so used to being told to make our work conform to some "norm" that has more to do with fashion than the communication of emotions and ideas. These tips help us weed out the good criticism from the bad.

As far as #10, I've got to admit I was a little baffled, too. But I figured I should try it--and now I understand completely. Adding a couple of sentences makes you look at a scene in a whole new way. It's a way of tricking your mind into looking at things from a different perspective.

Mark Williams has a good point, though. Sometimes agents and editors insist on changes that seem pretty lame. And sometimes they are. I had a former editor who asked that I take out two chapters of Food of Love. My new editor loved the book but said he wanted to see more of x, y, and z--all the elements in the chapters I'd been instructed to take out.

August 8, 2011 at 11:30 AM  
Blogger Aisha said...

Fantastic advice- thanks so much!!!! I have been employing the method of focusing on one thing at a time during revisions and its really helped me not get overwhelmed.

August 8, 2011 at 11:45 AM  
Blogger SamuelPark said...

Hi Everyone! Anne asked me to come by and comment a couple of times, so pardon my intrusion! Here it goes...

@myhappyhappenings--I'm so glad you thought they were useful! Thank you so much for your comment.

@YvonneOsborne--Yvonne! I miss you! I just recently mentioned you in my blog a couple of weeks ago. Wonderful to see you here.

@Becky--I think that is very wise and very smart that you do that!

@Jennifer Hillier--thanks for leaving Anne a comment. Is your book out yet? I predict great things for it! Awesome to see you here! (Sorry, by the way, I mispelled your last name in my recent blog post, I just remembered you're Hillier, not Hiller.)

@Creepy Query Girl--hey, there! My fellow Twitterer! Thanks for leaving Anne a comment.

@Theresa--Good luck with the writing!

@Susan Fleet Swiderski--I'm with you on this one; I guess the one place where tunnel vision is a plus!

@Spook--thanks for leaving a comment!

@Jacqueline Howett--thanks for your comment!

@Cathryn Leigh--Good luck with your future revisions! Thanks for leaving a comment.

@jamilajamison--absolutely my pleasure! Glad I could be of help. Best of luck with your WIP!

@Tina Laurel Lee--thank you, Tina! I do miss hanging around the blogsphere too; I'm glad Meghan and Anne have given me a chance to make a guest appearance. They--unlike me--have not burned out on blogging after a year, and I admire them for that. Glad we're reconnecting, though! And glad we're twitter friends, too.

@Anne--I'm so glad you tried and it worked--I had some trouble explaining that one, I have to admit. It does work, though, I think partly because it feels very micro and non-committal. Thank you again for hosting me here; am having a blast.

@Aisha--thank you for leaving a comment. Glad you liked the suggestions!

August 8, 2011 at 12:43 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

I happen to be a firm believer in #6. Why on earth would anyone want to get rid of a darling?

August 8, 2011 at 4:29 PM  
Blogger Christina Farley said...

Great tips! I think that everytime I revise my novel, I think of new ways to make it better. At my rate, it'll never get pubbed. *Grin*

August 8, 2011 at 4:53 PM  
Blogger bob said...

Great post. Thanks for the info.

August 8, 2011 at 5:41 PM  
Blogger Donna OShaughnessy said...

Several of these tips are new. Might be because I am a new writer but I found them USEFUL and with specifics oh HOW to do each one, the tips became reasonable as well.

Plan to print these and paste over my laptop.

Many thanks

August 9, 2011 at 7:30 AM  
Blogger Linda Gray said...

Excellent list, Samuel, thank you! The one I'm taking most to heart right now is #3: Focus on Different Things During Each Pass of revision. It's speaking loudly and clearly to me, because I tend to get lost in the story each time I revise, and this could break that habit.

August 9, 2011 at 8:13 AM  
Blogger E. Arroyo said...

This is such an awesome list! Thanks!

August 9, 2011 at 8:24 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

It's so great so many of you are finding these useful. Elizabeth S. Craig posted this on Google+ and she's getting lots of positive comments there, too. #3 seems to be the one most people find helpful and new. And #6 helps us feel better. Also #9, especially for people who don't live alone, I suspect (why is Mommy reading that story out loud to nobody? She's been doing it for hours...) But personally, #10 is helping me the most.

August 9, 2011 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger Cathryn Leigh said...

Anne said: "Also #9, especially for people who don't live alone, I suspect (why is Mommy reading that story out loud to nobody? She's been doing it for hours...)"

Okay that made me laugh quietly to myself. My daughter love to have me read what ever I'm working on. Just the other day she told me that I should continue reading it aloud to myself, because she was going off to do other things... Keep in mind, it's a bit odd for me as my writing, particularly my current project, isn't exactly suitable for a 5 year old... Then again, she was probably the first person that I ever read the first draft to, we'll just forget she happened to be a newborn at the time. *grin*

:} Cathryn Leigh

August 9, 2011 at 10:42 AM  
Blogger Heather Kelly said...

I love these tips, especially since they aren't the the typical, run-of-the-mill editing tips. I'm glad you expounded on number 10 in the comments, Samuel--I was confused as well--and now that sounds like a great technique. Thanks for the thoughtful advice!

August 9, 2011 at 10:47 AM  
OpenID ninabadzin.com said...

Absolutely saving this for when I finish this draft!

August 9, 2011 at 6:57 PM  
OpenID ninabadzin.com said...

Absolutely saving this for when I finish this draft!

August 9, 2011 at 6:57 PM  
Anonymous Mari Passananti said...

Fantastic tips - thanks so much!

I found the suggestions to do more research when feeling stuck, and to focus on one aspect per edit particularly helpful. It's so easy to drift away to obsess about how my new book is selling, waste time on social media, etc., instead of re-writing my next novel. So thanks for the manageable homework.

And as to points 1 and 2, I imagine like anything else, it gets easier to distinguish helpful from hurtful with experience.

August 10, 2011 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger J.L. Campbell said...

I'm glad I came by and read this. I can certainly relate to number three. The edits to feel endless, but I believe that a whole novel is too important to lump everything together on one or two edits. You won't catch sensory details while looking for typos and grammatical errors. Might be doable for some, but definitely not for me.

Gonna print this out and have another read. Tweeting too.

August 10, 2011 at 3:33 PM  
Blogger Meghan Ward said...

Anne, this is a fabulous post from Samuel! Focusing on a different thing during each revision is something I've done with my current work in progress, and it's worked wonderfully.

His advice about trusting the reaction, not the prescription, is great, too, as well as his suggestions not to kill your darlings and "If you think so, it is so." All fanastic advice.

Don't "Always" Read Out Loud was new to me. I do find that my writing improves if I read it out loud, but I absolutely see his point that some writing may work better in the head than aloud.

As for number ten, I'm not sure I get this one. Add two sentences to each paragraph? What does that accomplish? I've found when I make it my goal to cut a piece in half it gets stronger, so adding more would likely only make it weaker. I think I'd have to see this one in action to believe it.

August 10, 2011 at 11:02 PM  
Blogger Meghan Ward said...

Anne, this is a fabulous post from Samuel! Focusing on a different thing during each revision is something I've done with my current work in progress, and it's worked wonderfully.

His advice about trusting the reaction, not the prescription, is great, too, as well as his suggestions not to kill your darlings and "If you think so, it is so." All fanastic advice.

Don't "Always" Read Out Loud was new to me. I do find that my writing improves if I read it out loud, but I absolutely see his point that some writing may work better in the head than aloud.

As for number ten, I'm not sure I get this one. Add two sentences to each paragraph? What does that accomplish? I've found when I make it my goal to cut a piece in half it gets stronger, so adding more would likely only make it weaker. I think I'd have to see this one in action to believe it.

August 10, 2011 at 11:03 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Cathryn-newborns make great audiences for rough drafts. So do dogs. Cats, not so much. They tend to leave in the middle because...there's a fly!

Heather and Meghan--Samuel does explain it further in the comment thread, which I appreciated, too. The point is tricking your brain into looking differently at a scene.


Mari--doing more research is good, but that can turn into a distraction, too. I had one friend who never got more than the first chapter done of a biography she was dying to write. Every paragraph, she'd go off and do more research. It's five years and counting now.

J.L. That seems to be the most helpful hint for most people. I think I kind of do it anyway, but I need to make sure I make multiple passes with separate purposes in my next round of edits.

August 11, 2011 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger Julie Musil said...

Holy cow, I'm so thankful for this post. Too often I think my work is "too personal" and that others will roll their eyes when reading it. But what I need to remember is that that might be what makes my work unique. Thank you SO much for this. I'm bookmarking this post so I can refer to it when I feel like I'm over editing.

August 11, 2011 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

This is from NYT bestselling author Terry Galanoy, which he kindly emailed after Blogger ate his original comment. (If you had trouble with Blogger today, you're not alone. I couldn't even get into my own blog. It kept telling me to log in when I already had.)

Mr. Galanoy has the refreshing opinion that we're being taught to over-revise. He's not a fan of the way agents, editors, and marketing departments often edit the originality out of novels (echoing Mark Williams' comment above.)

"I have been teaching creative writing for over 30 years at 4 major universities and have over two million words in print (maybe more) and my experience is that the second, third, fourth, etc. thought/revised ms. is trite, stale--and a hashed-over also-ran.

The fresh and original--after maybe a once-over for plot lapses and typos--are always the best I have read, judged, passed on to agents etc."

August 11, 2011 at 6:46 PM  
Blogger Donna Hole said...

This is some advice I can follow. It fits with a lot of my own thinking.

The "not killing your darlings" resonates; sometimes I remove certain pieces to see how that point of the novel reads without it, but I can usually use them elsewhere. Usually. And I'm so not a fan of reading aloud. Books were meant to be read - with the exception of producing audio book. Still, reading is the main point of a book.

I love the idea of revising only one concepte/aspect at a time. I think sometimes I get bogged down in the "bigger concepts" of the plot, and forget the minor details of character and setting that contribute to the overall smooth/successful read.

Best of all for me is the notion that your writer/blogger friends are an excellent source of feedback. They are readers, afterall. And I've experienced several times in my novels where they were right about the impact of the scene, but it really wasn't the one scene, it was the overall build-up or presentation.

Whenever I critique, I always remind the author that as the writer, they know best what feedback to use or disregard.

Thanks so much Anne for hosting Ruth. This was very helpful. Especially now for me, as I'm a little off my confidence.


August 11, 2011 at 8:49 PM  
OpenID myimaginaryblog said...

I love how these suggestions address preserving your unique voice, as well as being willing to truly work at the craft and make changes for the better. It's easy for writers to either honor individuality so much that they're too proud to improve their writing, or alternately to take so much outside advice that their writing becomes stale and generic.

I say all this as a reader rather than as a writer--but these tips did make me want to write a book. :)

August 12, 2011 at 10:18 AM  
OpenID myimaginaryblog said...

I think Terry Galanoy's comment is interesting--I can easily believe that first versions are often freshest and most natural-sounding, and that for many writers over-editing can kill off that freshness. But some writers are at their very best when they've slaved over every word and passage. I think it might just come down to a matter of taste: some prefer very spontaneous-sounding writing, others prefer a tightly crafted text. (Or we can even like both styles. Also, I think a master can tightly craft words to sound relaxed and natural, but it's probably a rare talent.)

August 12, 2011 at 10:24 AM  
Blogger Ellis Vidler said...

Samuel, this is excellent advice. I'm going to keep it and remind myself to think about these things. I really like the one about reading for one thing, like making the character stronger. That hit home. I have one I know needs work.
Many thanks to you and to Anne.

August 13, 2011 at 6:56 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Julie--That "too personal" thing was a problem with me, too. I was so afraid of it, my work got sounding too generic and formal. Didn't work in my favor.

Donna--That discouragement is so easy to fall into. Especially if you're getting unsolicited negative critiques. In the end, it's your book. And the more pushy somebody is about wanting to change it--the less valuable the advice. Controlling isn't the same as helping.

myimaginary--WELCOME! I love to see readers here who don't have a book--so rare! You're absolutely right that it's all about personality and level of skill. Some people can write brilliant stuff in their first draft and others labor over every word. Kurt Vonnegut, whose prose reads as so breezy and effortless, was known to agonize over a sentence for a week. So the reader can't always tell.

Ellis--Reading through to strengthen each character separately is one of the most useful thing I can do with a manuscript. I imagine I'm an actor playing that character and look for ways to punch up that character and make him/her more memorable.

August 13, 2011 at 1:09 PM  
Anonymous Sara Flower said...

Great article!!

August 13, 2011 at 2:32 PM  
Blogger Clarissa Draper said...

Brilliant post. Some really helpful advice. I have faced a lot of these issues myself and thought it was just me. I agree with the reading out aloud part. Sometimes what sounds wrong aloud is just right read in your head.

August 13, 2011 at 5:12 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sara and Clarissa--thanks!

And a great big thanks to Samuel Park for this incredibly valuable post. It's changed the way I do my editing. I think we've all learned a lot!

August 14, 2011 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Thanks for all this great advice!

September 28, 2011 at 3:42 PM  

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