The 10 Writing and Editing Stages of the Successful Novel

I know that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and all the cool kids are therefore writing about all the things they’re thankful for. I definitely have many, many things to thank the universe for this year: a lovely new home, a cat-and-puppy duo to bring daily smiles to my face, wonderful friends and family and a man I’m crazy about who hangs his hat in that very-same lovely new home. But this past weekend I taught a course on independent publishing for Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, and one of the questions that came up was on the process of editing a novel: how many edits are there, how many people are involved, when do you know the book is done? I’ve been thinking about the subject a bit since that time, and pulled up this post that I wrote a few years ago for my editing business. I’ve updated a bit, but the salient parts remain the same. What does it take to write and edit a novel? A lot, as it turns out… 

Image of coffee cup pens and notebooks.

When you’re in the midst of writing a novel, it can frequently seem like you’re never going to make your way out of the weeds. How long do you spend on editing? When do you start? When should beta readers come into the picture? Taking those questions into consideration, I’ve drawn up a blueprint below of ten writing stages from the moment you first begin scribbling your novel to that final successful flush when you either submit to agents/publishers or publish the book yourself. Hopefully, if you’re unclear about the process or just feel like you’re missing a step, this post will help you navigate this long and winding road.

(1)    Draft. Write like the wind. While there are no set rules in the writing craft, many writers hold that the most effective way to complete a novel is to blaze through the first draft and then go back and work through revisions once you have a more clear idea of what you’re trying to say. There may be times when you’re forced to go back and rework plot quirks or unexpected twists, but the goal right now is to get the bones of your novel down on paper.

(2)    Rest. Once the first draft is done, give yourself some time away from the book. Some people take two days; some take two years. During that time, don’t obsess. Don’t even think about it for a while—trust me, your subconscious will still be working through all the twists and tangles you were consciously agonizing over during the drafting process.

(3)    Solo Revision. Clean up your completed draft. Address any glaring plot holes. Let yourself sit with the novel for a while.

(4)    Beta Read. Once you’ve finished your solo revision and before bringing in an editor, it’s time for the beta reader – an objective reader who can look through the novel for any big plot holes or character issues. Let your betas know specifically what you’re looking for feedback on, whether it be pacing, plot, character development, dialogue, writing style, or all of the above.  For more on how to effectively utilize beta readers, you can check out this re-post I did a few months back here on Maine Crime Writers.

(5)    Beta Revision. Armed with the feedback from your betas, it’s time to tackle another rewrite. During this particular revision, don’t obsess about making things perfect. If you find yourself stumped about how to address an issue your betas raised, relax. Do the best you can, being sure to make note of the challenges you’re facing and any concerns you have. Then, once the beta revision is completed, it’s time to bring in your second wave of defense.

(6)    Content Edit. The content edit is precisely what it sounds like: an edit of the content of your novel, focused on big-picture issues like pacing, plot, character, and story flow. This is a more intensive edit than the beta read, but is often focused on the same concerns. You’ll ideally already have an editor waiting in the wings as you finish the beta revision, so they can get straight to work once you’re done. Send the completed manuscript to that editor along with any questions or concerns you have. Wait. Take a breath. Don’t harass your editor. For heaven’s sake, don’t start rewriting the novel on your own. Chill out or, better yet, start working on the next book!

(7)    Content Rewrite. When you get your manuscript back from the editor, it’s bound to come with a lot of red ink. Often with a content editor, the changes may require a comprehensive, structural rewrite. Don’t panic. A good editor should not only tell you what isn’t working in your book, but can help you come up with a plan to address the issues and make any necessary changes. If you find yourself stumped, talk to your editor and beta readers. This is why it’s important to purchase an editing package that includes consultations and revisions—it does you little good to have a comprehensive edit done and then be left hanging when it comes time to rewrite.

(8)    Copy Edit. The copy edit is a line-by-line edit of your novel as a whole, focusing on the language as a whole. A good copy editor will be looking at syntax, repetition, dialogue, sentence and paragraph structure, punctuation, spelling, and a slew of other writing-related concerns. This is the final polish that makes your novel shine. While the copy editor is hard at work, dive back into the next book secure in the knowledge that you’re rapidly approaching the end of the process.

(9)    Copy Edit Revisions. There’s typically a lot less red ink after a copy edit than with a content edit, and the rewrite consequently is a much less painful process. This is, however, part of the process that’s less subjective than the content edit. You can safely make the call on your own as to whether the good guy gets the girl at the end of the final act – regardless of what your editor might say… But please take your editor’s advice seriously when it comes to things like ellipses, em-dashes, and the proper use of the Queen’s English. You’ve paid them – presumably, quite well – for a reason, and they should know their stuff. If you have questions about any of the mark-up, be sure to ask. More often than not, editors will have an answer regarding the choices they’ve made.

(10)Proofread. The proofreader should be the last person to look at your novel. Some editors also offer proofreading services, while some do not. Either way, proofreaders are crucial to the process. Make sure that you bring the proofreader in after you’ve made your last revisions. Once you have the proofread novel back, you are officially ready to enter the next phase: Publishing or submitting to agents and/or publishers.

And that, my friends, is everything your typical novelist goes through from conception to publication — and that doesn’t even take into account the multitude of revisions and redrafts you’re likely to do on your own, in between betas and editors and proofreaders. Whoever said this writing business is easy was clearly fooling himself!

Jen Blood is the USA Today-bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mysteries, the Flint K-9 Search and Rescue Mysteries, and the recently released children’s book Maya Picks a Puppy. You can learn more about her work at http://www.jenblood.com. 

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My Life in Thanksgivings

Lea Wait, here, thinking about Thanksgiving.

As a young wife, at the first Thanksgiving she hosted, my mother somehow managed to roast a turkey that was rotten inside.  Some women would have laughed and declared the day a vegetarian Thanksgiving, but my mother relived the horror of that day every year, and always cooked “a few extras” on Thanksgiving in case “something went wrong” at the last minute. She was clearly relieved every year when she carved the turkey and all was well, but she gave me a permanent nervousness about the holiday.

Helping my mother remove a turkey from the oven

My father, his sister, and her son, at our home for Thanksgiving

When I was a child my mother and grandmother prepared a lavish Thanksgiving dinner, which always started with shrimp cocktail, included a small glass of wine (Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve were the only days wine was served in my home), and ended with a choice of several pies, and sometimes an English trifle. The food was delicious, but most years our only guests were an aged great-aunt and my father’s sister, husband and son, who sat silently for most of the occasion. My one set of living grandparents lived with us, so seeing them was an everyday occurrence. For me, the day was one to be survived.

But maybe my mother was right. Maybe that first disastrous Thanksgiving was a harbinger of holidays to come.

There was the year my mother convinced my father to carve the turkey. He carved himself instead. Result? Blood stains on the embroidered white linen tablecloth, a trip to the emergency room for stitches, and a cold dinner.

Another year my mother burned herself, and sat with a bandaged hand as my grandmother served. (My father having proven himself incompetent at that task.)

My grandmother’s stroke on another Thanksgiving ended that day in the hospital.

And on my personal “worst Thanksgiving ever” I had a bad case of the flu and my small Greenwich Village apartment didn’t have heat that cold holiday weekend. My husband (not my current husband), who’d had just gotten out of the hospital himself, and was on heavy medications, had no idea how to cope, and we had no food in our apartment. We’d planned to go to New Jersey to celebrate with my parents, but clearly couldn’t go. Instead, when my father announced after the holiday dinner that he was taking a bus to Massachusetts to spend the rest of the weekend with a friend, my mother packed up little dishes of what she’d cooked and sent them with my father to the Port Authority bus terminal in New York, where my husband met him. My husband and I ate the cold food under bed covers, for warmth. It might have been cold, but it was turkey and stuffing and vegetables. And I was very thankful for my mother.

Years later, my sisters took turns hosting Thanksgiving (I did Christmas) for a few years.

My mother and my nieces, Heather and Laura, celebrating their birthdays after Thanksgiving dinner

Since my sister Nancy’s two daughters and our mother all celebrated birthdays Thanksgiving week, she made three cakes to add to our celebration, which was fun.

And then for a few years my father (by then separated from my mother,) invited his girlfriend, my mother, and my sisters and I and our families to join him for an awkward Thanksgiving buffet dinner at the Upper Montclair Country Club.

I didn’t have to cook Thanksgiving dinner during those years, but, always counting pennies, I’d buy several turkeys when they were on sale for the holiday, and once or twice a month all winter I cooked a turkey dinner for my daughters and my mother. My father never understood why no one in my branch of his family ever ordered turkey at his country club Thanksgivings, but turkey was an

My oldest granddaughter, Tori, checking out Thanksgiving pies.

everyday meat to my girls.

When my children were older, and the country club Thanksgivings were over, one daughter was a cheerleader and one a flag carrier at their high school’s Thanksgiving football games, and one of my daughters worked that day. I’d cook a turkey and a couple of pies, and everyone would eat whenever they got home. One Thanksgiving was memorable because while I was cooking, about twenty wild turkeys decided to walk down the center of our street.  Flaunting their survival? I don’t know. But definitely blocking traffic.

My daughter Caroline, cheerleading in high school

The first Thanksgiving I lived in Maine full-time just my mother and I were together for Thanksgiving. She insisted that we just have a chicken — a turkey was too much food for two people. Which it might have been. But we didn’t have either. Our oven broke down in the middle of cooking dinner, and we ended up eating hot dogs that night.

Which all may explain why this Thanksgiving my husband and I plan to eat dinner at an Italian restaurant in Boothbay Harbor. I still buy turkeys on sale; we ate one just last week. So, I won’t be surprised if on Thursday we decide to order something other than turkey. And,  most of all, we’ll be thankful to be together.

Wherever you are, and whoever you share Thanksgiving with — I wish you a joyful day, with laughter and joy. And a fully cooked turkey.

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Thanksgiving Rules!

As I sit here peeling potatoes and yellow squash for my Thanksgiving Day meal, I can’t help but think about crime. It’s what I write about and love to read. Often, but not always, I like to give thanks after the holiday: thanks that my family didn’t kill each other over the turkey.8999C7E3-69D3-4958-80A3-B0BFF588E94F

Little do people know that many crimes occur on this day of thanks. That’s why there should be rules to prevent such senseless violence. First, outlaw all forms of political dialogu. Warn Uncle Ralph not to discuss the benefits of trickled down economics. Chastise Aunt Betty when she explains how the election was rigged. Doing this should go a long way toward fanning the flames of political discontent.

Alcohol. Sometimes one needs alcohol when dealing with certain family functions. But all booze should be stowed away on T-day. On the chance that someone does bring up politics, adding alcohol to the mix is a deadly combination. Yes, people will complain, but in the end you’ll be thankful you prohibited the Wild Turkey.7B8EE516-889A-46EE-947E-6285FCF00A5F

Absolutely no sharing any insider trading.

If you have Dallas Cowboy fans, tread lightly. People take their football seriously, especially Cowboy fans, and any gentle ribbing about their team losing may lead to homicidal impulses. No one cares about the Lions, because they stink, so feel free tease them generously. Enjoy the game, but be careful offending fans of other teams.4F161A36-CFF5-4D6B-AEFF-DA93992496E3

Thanksgiving Day invites the weirdest types of crimes. Take the ex-New York City police officer, Gilberto Valle. In RAW JUSTICE, by my talented friend, Brian Whitney, he tells hows Valle desired to cook and eat a woman for Thanksgiving dinner. How about poor Jimmy Mulligan who had his turkey and stuffing stolen while on his way to a T-Day celebration. The dispatcher thought it was a joke and dismissed it. When she found out that this crime really happened, she felt so bad that she had delivered an entire Thanksgiving dinner to his house. Or my favorite. A carjacker got the surprise of his life when his victim fought back with a frozen Butterball, sending him to the hospital

I hope everyone has a great thanksgiving. I give thanks for my family and all I’ve been blessed with in life. I thank my great fans for reading my books, and being blessed with the ability and drive to write my novels. Hopefully, I’ll be able to attract a whole new fan base in April with my new novel THE NEIGHBOR. Follow my rules for Thanksgiving and you’re sure to have a safe and wonderful holiday.

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Weekend Update: November 18-19, 2017

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by Joe Souza (Monday), Lea Wait (Tuesday), Jen Blood (Wednesday), Barb Ross (Thursday), and Susan Vaughan (Friday).

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

Saturday, November 18, from 7 am until 4 pm, Lea Wait will be at the Gifts for Giving Holiday show at Studio 53 in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. She’ll also be there Sunday, from 11am until 4 pm.

 

 

 

 

An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. Contact Kate Flora

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The ideal writing trip — quiet, long roads, Reese’s cups and the great state of Maine

West Quoddy Head in Lubec, as far east as you can get in the U.S.

The last week of October/first week of November, I took a writing vacation to Lubec. And to forestall the inevitable question, NO, I did NOT go to Campobello.

Well, first I went to Murder by the Book at the Jesup Library in Bar Harbor, which is always a fun event (check it out next year).

The entrance to Jesup Library, decorated for Murder by the Book. Or IS IT??

It’s always great to meet fans and to schmooze with other writers, and the people at the library are great. And so’s the food.

Mystery writer Steve Pickering reads during the Friday night special program at Murder by the Book. That’s the food in the middle there.

And, I figured heck, if I’m already partway up the state, might as well head even farther and get some writing done.

There are some writers who can fit their writing in with all the other noise of the day, but I’m not one of them. I do it because I have to — I don’t have the luxury of only writing my books for a living, or even living by myself right now. So when I needed that final push, going away to one of the farthest, quietest parts of the state was a great option.

The reading nook at my airbnb in Lubec.

I found the absolute best airbnb house that was perfect, and even had a little reading nook where I could satisfy my true crime reading obsession, which always takes over when I’m in the thick of working on a book — can’t read fiction at all.

The house is on Horror Hill Road. And I was there on Halloween. I am not making this up.

And the house was on Horror Hill Road! If I told you I greeted trick-or-treaters, though, I lied. I turned off all the downstairs lights, took my book and a nice big bag or Reese cups, and went upstairs to the back bedroom to ride it out. When I say I don’t want to talk to anyone when I’m really immersed in my writing, I mean it.

And by immersed and final push — that’s probably something that’s different with every author, too — I don’t mean “yay! the book’s done!” but something even bigger — I’m getting the whole story figured out. Since I don’t outline and don’t know everything that’s going to happen in my books until I start writing, it’s always a relief when the entire story comes together.

And I guess there was some kind of big storm or something down here in southern Maine? Ha ha, kidding! I read all about it in the paper. So I got an extra day out of the trip. Power out down there? No problem, I’ll stay up here.

Route 1 going to Van Buren, in Cyr Plantation. That’s the St. John River Valley and Canada off in the distance.

I took the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to — drive to the end of Route 1 in Fort Kent, then drop like a set of keys through the middle of the state on Route 11. Didn’t matter that it was raining, that was fine with me.

I spent the night in a nice little independently owned motel in Washburn, right outside of Presque Isle, and got some writing done. Also ate more Reese’s cups and read more true crime. Then I drove up Route 1 — after I took a little side trip to see the church in New Sweden where someone slipped poison into the coffee in 2003.

Gustavus Adloph Lutheran Church in New Sweden, where one person died and another 29 sickened when someone put arsenic in the coffee urn in 2003.

 

I saw a lot of really cool things. Like the church in Grand Isle that, according to the owner of the Aroostook Hospitality Inn (and who am I to argue?) that was once the seat of the Diocese of Maine. It’s now a museum. The Musee Culterel du Mont-Carmel.

This church in Grand Isle is now a museum. Pretty cool.

I also stopped in Madawaska and tried to take some photos, but it was raining too hard. So I had a coffee and doughnut at a Tim Horton’s. Then I went along to Fort Kent and the end of Route 1. Cool!

End of Route 1. Or the beginning. Depends on where you’re going, I guess. Bridge to Canada in the background.

Then I went south on Route 11. Equally cool, and great scenery despite the rain.

Sound like a long car trip? I guess it was. But that’s part of writing, too. Being by myself, with nothing but the music on my iPod, helped the book continue to jell. It definitely wasn’t wasted time.

The East Branch of the Penobscot in Medway was hopping. Took Route 11 from Fort Kent to Newport before I finally gave in and got on I-95.

But even if you’re not working on a book, I highly recommend getting out your Maine Atlas and Gazeteer — you know you have one and if not, go get one — and picking a spot you’ve never been in the state, and going.

The orange line is my trip. With the highlights marked, of course! Woodland up around and back to South Portland took about 12 hours, including stops in Caribou for breakfast, Patten for lunch, and a bunch of places to take photos.

 

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The Professor Who Changed My Life

Lea Wait, here, and remembering. As a high school student, I was one of the nerds. Shy, desperate to have friends, but unsure of how to do that, I was self-conscious about my appearance, my clothes, and my intelligence. I ended up being the editor of the high school’s newspaper, and the others on the staff (all boys and all nerds, like me) became my friends. We didn’t go to the prom, but we did win a Scholastic Press Association Award for publishing the best high school newspaper in New Jersey.

I looked forward to leaving New Jersey. I chose a women’s college – Chatham, a small academically strong school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But, arriving there, I was still shy, easily intimidated, self-conscious, and unsure of myself.

Dr. Jack Neeson

But academics weren’t a problem for me, and in the second semester of my freshman year my advisor suggested I take an advanced course, designed for juniors and seniors. I’d worked at a summer theatre in Maine for four summers, and thought a course in drama would be interesting. I was signed up for Philosophy of Drama, and it changed my life.

The professor, Dr. Jack Neeson, had two doctorates (one in theatre) and also taught acting and directing, courses I hadn’t taken. On the second or third day of our class I sat on the floor of the college’s green room with seven or eight women who were drama majors and who’d taken other courses from Dr. Neeson.

I don’t remember what the topic of the day’s discussion was when he turned to me, pointed, and said “Act ‘to overcome.’”

I froze. I had no idea what he meant. I sat, frozen, as he repeated his order, time after time. Within a few minutes I was in tears, frustrated, and still totally ignorant of what he was asking me to do.

Lea, in a college production of The Boyfriend

Finally, he turned to another girl in the class and said, “Help Lea.”

The girl got up, came over to me, and said quietly, “Stand up.”

I did.

Dr. Neeson nodded in approval.  “Good. You’ve overcome your fear.”

Relieved, I sat down again, still unsure of what I’d done, but glad I was no longer the center of attention.

Later I spoke with him, and eventually I took his courses in acting. He believed in dividing scenes into motivations. Every character wanted something in every scene. That overarching motivation might stay the same through an act, or even through an entire play, but there were secondary goals, too, which changed often. All of them were defined by action verbs.

In his acting classes I first learned to have the courage to get up in front of others and to act out the motivation I was assigned.

After a few weeks, Dr. Neeson pointed out something I’d never known about myself. “Lea, every feeling and goal can be acted out, or acted in. You always act in.” He was right. I realized I did that not only in class, but in life. If I was angry, I clenched my fists and jaw and tightened my body. Others yelled or threw things. If I was sad, I looked down, ignored others, and walked into a corner alone. Others cried or screamed.

Understanding the different dynamics of actions encouraged me to try different ways of expressing emotions, and become more comfortable with them.

After college I went on to take improvisational theatre classes in New York City, produced and was on-camera for a daily closed circuit corporate television show for two years, and spoke to large audiences in person and on national television as an advocate for adoption of older children. Today I speak about writing at schools, libraries, and conferences.

And I write characters who have goals and motivations.

Thanks to Dr. Neeson, who taught me “to overcome.”

And changed my life.

 

 

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Unbombing the F-Word

John Clark here: Some time ago, I think I shared a most vivid memory from a time when Kate and I discovered the shocking power of F-Bombs (keep in mind we’re talking late 1950s-early 1960s). There was an episode in the kitchen at Sennebec Hill Farm where one of us was absolutely outraged at Mom’s not allowing us to use that word. Mom was pretty sharp and tossed us the following challenge: “Use kitchen sink, or a variety thereof instead of the F-word for a week and we’ll discuss your being able to use it again.”

fbomb

(Paging Buck Henry, paging Buck Henry)

Kate and I had a grand time ‘getting away’ with our coded profanity. I can’t imagine how many times we’d look across the table and one of us would say, “go kitchen-sink your self,” or “Mrs. (fill in an evil teacher’s name) is a kitchen-sinking witch.” Of course, it was way too good to keep to ourselves, so we shared the code with kids at school and watched as perplexed teachers, staff and administrators scratched their heads while trying to figure out why kitchen sinks had become such a popular buzz word. By the time we were to revisit the original discussion, I think both of us realized that our mother was right and that we could come up with far more creative pseudo-epithets to confuse and insult the great unwashed. Looking back, it was one of many times Mom nudged us into better use of language.

Sadly, times have devolved. Profanity has become so common, you can’t go anywhere (well, maybe to a funeral) without someone trying to impress others with their four letter vocabulary skills. For example, I really like the guys at the Hartland dump, but if I had a buck for every F-bomb I hear in the hour or so I’m there, I could be eating top of the line steak several nights a week. Supermarkets, walking down the street, you name the place and the cluster bombers are nearby.

fbomb1

(Kiss my arsenal)

It’s time to fight back, dear friends. Sister Kate and I have played around with the concept of a new type of pulp fiction we call the ‘Bodice Repair’ genre. After all someone has to undo all the damage inflicted by those churlish men who defile innocent ladies on covers of dime (well $7.99) novels. In the interim while we figure out how to re-hook all those literary corsets, here’s another way to strike back.

Mom was dead right about the richness of the English language when it comes to sounding like you’re swearing up a storm. Below are some examples. A few have been around for ages, but Beth and I sat down one evening after supper and created more. I encourage anyone reading this to post their own creations. Who knows, they might well appear in a stunning literary work one day.

1-He’s been observed openly masticating in front of underage females.

2-He and his unsavory cohorts were observed flagrantly philatelating after dark with the shades up.

3-Your sister’s been engaging in thespian activity after school in the auditorium.

4-(one of Kate’s creations) Fudge You, you anthole.

5-He has a most disgusting bumbershoot fetish. In fact I saw him waving his over a young mother’s perambulator at the local park yesterday.

6-You’re nothing more than a bombastic squeak.

7-Unable to discern the difference between his olecranon process and his callipygian cleft.

8-His personal aura rivals Rumford on a very humid day.

9-She’s guilty of unrepentant dandling.

10-Completely incapable of proper piehole cleansing to the anguish of all well bred people who have the misfortune to encounter him.

fbomb2

(I liked things a lot better when Mom just washed my mouth out)

Your turn.

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