Review: Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love It

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love It
Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love It by Stuart Horwitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m not gonna lie, when Stuart Horwitz approached me with a request to participate in the editing of his newest book, I may have squealed with unadulterated glee like the little fan-girl I am. I have been through this book a few times now and each time I find a new nugget of wisdom that I want to diligently squirrel away to reference during future projects. I already reference Book Architecture all the time in my work as a freelance editor. Now I’ll be adding Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love It to my “essentials” shelf.

Stuart’s break down of the process of building your manuscript is empowering; it’s freeing. You’re not bound to creating an outline or to following a linear path when you’re writing anymore. The tools he shares in this book (series grid, theme target, punch list) can help you make sense of the writing you have already done and be intentional about where and how you build and layer the significant moments as you continue to craft your manuscript.

And, bonus, Stuart’s book, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts, shows you how to know when you’re done, how to give yourself permission to put down the pen on a project.

The storytelling element of this particular volume makes it different from other books I’ve read on writing, outlining, and crafting your manuscript. Stuart’s pith and wit made the subject matter all the more enjoyable.

I highly recommend this book (and his other titles) to anyone who wants to develop their writing process, who wants to look at their craft differently, and who wants to finish their manuscript while they still love it.

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Pocket full of (writer’s) kryptonite

writer's kryptonite
This post is part of the DIY MFA Street Team Question of the Week series

Last week we talked about playing to our writing strengths. Knowing your storytelling super power can help you identify the types of stories you like to write as as well, and give you an area of expertise to focus on.

But as Superman has been teaching us since 1938, any super power comes with its kryptonite. It’s a balance of power. Superhuman strength comes with superhuman weakness, otherwise we’d all be monsters.

What is your writing weakness?

So what’s your writing weakness? If you don’t already know what it is how do you find it? It’s hard to look at yourself under the harsh light of honesty and name something you’re not good at. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably really good at pretending that your weaknesses don’t exist. But that doesn’t make them go away.

Take a moment to consider your weaknesses, without being self-deprecating and naming a “weakness” that’s actually a strength (you know you do that, too… it’s practically a hallmark of being a writer). More than likely, your writer’s kryptonite is closely linked to your writing super power. Think about it. Superman’s weakness (kryptonite) came in the form of crystals from his home planet of … Krypton!

If I’m honest, my main writer’s kryptonite at the present time is finishing what I start. Simple as that. I’m sure there are craft-related weaknesses in my prose, dialogue, and story-building that I could work on (I mean, nobody’s perfect, right?). But I can’t get feedback on things like that if I don’t actually complete a project and turn it over so that others can read it in the first place.

Turn those writing weaknesses around

Best thing about knowing what your writing weaknesses are is that you can figure out how to combat those weaknesses. Superman, knowing that kryptonite leaves him vulnerable and weak, chooses to avoid it. There’s not much he can do to change his weakness. But you! Your writing weaknesses are totally beatable. How? Take a class, get some feedback, practice practice practice!

It’s also important to remember that your writer’s kryptonite will change. As you begin to identify and combat your writing weaknesses, new ones will crop up and need your attention. The awesome thing is that you’ll be strengthening your craft with each weakness you take on and overcome!

So let’s empty our pockets-full of kryptonite and get on with the business of becoming stronger writers telling the best stories we can.

(Hey! Did you know that Gabriela has a book coming out this summer? Check it out and order your copy here!)

Want to know more about how to up your writing game? Sign up for the Writing Refinery email newsletter. You’ll also receive a free Character Detail Sheet that can help you learn everything you need to know about the main character in your current WIP!

Why I write

Write what you loveI’ve been a reader since very young. At 3 years old, I memorized Peter Rabbit… literally knew which words went with which pages, even though I wasn’t associating words with meanings quite yet. I knew that story so well, backwards and forwards, what happened when… we have a recording of my 3-year-old voice “reading” the story to my aunt, and when I get to the end of it, I just start the whole story over again…

I think that being a reader, falling in love with books and stories, is part of how one becomes a writer. There’s something magic about the way that words unlock the world. They lift you out of your current experience and thrust you into another place and time, be that world fictional or utterly real. We are transported by the words on the page, made to think of something other than ourselves if only for a moment. And once you connect with that magic in such a personal way, who can resist the draw of being able to harness the power yourself?

I wrote my first book when I was in elementary school about dolphins, on construction paper and stapled together, complete with researched and organized chapters and oil pastels illustrations. (If I can find it, I’ll post pictures here.) After that I was hooked. I created stories in my head and in spiral notebooks, about horses and unicorns in elementary and middle school, and about angsty love and rejection when I was a little older. Nothing that was worth publishing, most of which I would never share with anyone, not even my most trusted companions. I stopped writing in college (got distracted), but I picked it up again a few short years later.

Now I write light YA fantasy, crafting strong female characters to speak directly to that angsty, rejected teenager I was all those years ago. I’m planning a self-publishing adventure this summer (follow my progress at http://www.elisabethkauffman.com) and the fulfillment of a promise I made to myself as a teenager to publish something that I wrote.

How we came to this land of writing matters for one very important reason. Your writer’s origin story is what you should fall back on when the going gets tough. If you’re serious about succeeding in this often frustrating and soul-crushing world of publishing, you’re going to have to remind yourself why you started in the first place.

For me, when I get scared of sharing my writing because I’m anticipating the painful process of internalizing feedback (growth HURTS, people, it’s why they call them “growing pains”) and getting better as a writer, I think of that teenage me, shiny-eyed, expressive, and innocent. She wanted these stories to be told because she wanted a story to relate to. When I suffer through the painful parts of this process, I do it for her.

Who do you do it for?

*Just FYI, the fab Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA is releasing a BOOK in June. Learn more about it here.

How Well Do You Know Your Main Character?

Two Elizabeths

There’s nothing worse than getting a manuscript back from beta readers, or losing stars on Amazon reviews, because your character did something that those readers didn’t believe they would do. How do you write your characters so they stay true to themselves?

Your characters are the most important piece of your story. So knowing them like they are your best friends is the best way to make sure that you tell their story in the most consistent and compelling way. How well do you know your main character?

The two Elizabeths* above are similar in many respects. Both women have the same name, are from similar time periods, and want to find love. But beyond that, these two women are as different as can be. If you don’t know which Elizabeth you’re writing a story for, you might find yourself in trouble.

Check your scenes and your characters’ actions. Will your reader say to herself, “That’s so Elizabeth Bennett,”? Or will she be confused as to why your character acted the way she did?

Sometimes, though, you can get so caught up in carrying out your story’s plot that you force your character to do something that is… out of character. So how can you make sure that your Elizabeth Swann stays true to her character throughout the story?

First, know as much as you can about your character, where she comes from, what motivates her, what she hates and what she loves. You can do this by the simple use of a character questionnaire. Character questionnaires push you to answer all the nitty gritty little questions about your character that make her who she is. When was she born? What is she afraid of? What is the one thing that she would never do in a million years, even if her life depended on it?

Knowing what your character loves, what she absolutely would or would not do, will help you when it comes to those problem moments in your manuscript. It will also help round out your character, making her seem more three-dimensional.

If you’re worried about how your character would act in a given situation in your manuscript and you want to test out her reactions first, you can try writing a “sandbox” scene. This scene won’t go in your manuscript (unless you REALLY like it), so you can feel free to push the boundaries on your character, make her as uncomfortable as possible and see how she responds. And don’t hold back. Don’t go easy on her or you won’t learn anything new.

Don’t forget, if your character absolutely refuses to conform to the scene as you intend it to be written, you’ll have an easier time changing the scene than you will trying to change what makes her who she is. Your story will become much more real and believable if you let her choose the direction she goes, rather than forcing her into patterns of behavior she wouldn’t normally choose for herself.

But you won’t know which direction your character would choose if you don’t know everything about her. So get started answering questions about her. Learn everything you can about her, about what she wants, about why she’s decided to take this adventure. What’s most important to her?

So how well do you know your main character? If the answer is “not very well,” download this questionnaire and get started learning more about her.

*P.S. I realize that both of the above women played the SAME Elizabeth as well, so I hope my example isn’t too confusing. And, if you would like to discuss the merits of the BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice versus the movie made with Keira Knightly, I’m here for you. But I will never betray Colin Firth. He is my Darcy now and forever.

Darcy

 

Why NaNoWriMo is a great cure for writer’s block

NaNoWriMo
National Novel Writing Month

It’s no secret. I’m a HUGE fan of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo). The event takes place in the month of November. Participants commit to writing a 50,000 new words of a novel in 30 days. In those 30 days, literary madness ensues, fast friendships are forged, barriers are broken, dreams are made realities.

As we get closer to November, more and more posts begin to pop up giving you advice on how to get the most out of your NaNo experience, how to plot or pants with the best of them. (Don’t know what I mean by plotting or pantsing? Click here.)

Some posts, however, argue that NaNo makes worse literature, that NaNo is bad for writing, that it’s a fad diet that won’t keep the pounds off when you get back to daily life.

To those people I say, get out of the way and let people create in whatever way they choose. It’s fine if NaNo doesn’t fit your process. If you need to create in a different way from NaNo, you go right ahead. You do you. But don’t rain on our parade!

Now I agree that 50,000 words does not a novel make, but who ever said that the draft you create during NaNo was supposed to be perfect and publishable? Sure there will be problems with sentence structure, plot holes galore, and overused adverbs in those “winning” NaNo manuscripts. That’s what revision is for!

NaNo provides inspiration and opportunity for all. People who have always wanted to try writing a novel find motivation, encouragement, moral support, and success through NaNo. You can’t edit what you haven’t written yet, right?

Why NaNo is a great cure for writer’s block

I think it’s easy for some people to get so hung up on choosing the right words or expressing their idea in the perfect way that they freeze and can’t write a thing. NaNo can fix that problem. If you have to write 1,667 words a day, you can’t freeze and worry about finding the right words, you just have to write. And spending 30 days regularly meeting a certain word count, whether or not your muse wants to come with you, can unlock your voice in a way that no Creative Writing course could ever do.

What better way to get past writer’s block? So you can’t think of what should happen next in your story, but you have 1,667 words to write that day? Grab a writing prompt, a weird little plot bunny that takes you in a completely different direction for the day. Even if you end up not using that day’s words in your final draft, you will have shown that writer’s block that you’re the boss of your writing.

NaNo is the perfect time to tell your internal editor to take a hike and make yourself sit down and write every day. The best part is, when you get to the end, you can decide whether the NaNo process does or does not work for you and adjust your writing habits accordingly. But if you’ve been telling yourself that there’s no way you could write every day, much less 1,667 words or more a day, NaNoWriMo is your chance to challenge yourself.

At the end of November you might decide to pursue the manuscript and keep working on it, or you might decide to shelve those words and never look at them again. But no words are wasted words! It takes a lot of bad writing to get to the good writing. So pour it all out onto the page and don’t worry. You can edit in December.

3 Ways to Trust Your Readers More

Captain ObviousOne main problem that beginning writers have when drafting their novels is making sure that they get their meaning across to their readers without beating them over the head with it.

It might seem like you can’t leave any room for ambiguity in that one scene– you know the one–because it’s important that your reader knows what’s going on so that they understand what happens later. But never fear! Readers are really good at picking up subtext and connecting the dots.

In fact, you’re more likely to lose your readers’ interest by spelling things out in too much detail because you’ll leave no room for their imagination. Here are three ways to trust your readers more and keep your writing from seeming coarse and redundant.

  1. Use fewer “creative” dialogue tags – It might seem like you’ve used the word “said” a thousand times in your manuscript. And you probably have. But do you know how many times your reader has noticed it? Zero. If you change it up, however, she’s guaranteed to start noticing and possibly getting irritated at having the dialogue explained to her, and that’s going to draw her out of the story. Unless it’s really important to know that a line is whispered or shouted and the context of the dialogue is not going to help the reader get there, you can stick with said and not worry about boring anyone in the slightest.
  2. Try not to spell everything out – Occasionally you might need to clarify what your characters mean, but more often than not you’re wasting words by stating the obvious. And your reader is going to notice. This includes “on-the-nose” dialogue. In real life, people rarely say what they actually mean. Your characters should be no different. Choose your details with care and have your characters keep some of what they mean to themselves.
  3. Resist the urge to reiterate – Repetition has its place in a novel, but there are limits to where you can use it without causing your reader to feel talked down to. You don’t need to remind the reader of major plot points every few pages, or tell her more than once that King Triton is Ariel’s father. She’s going to remember.

The writer-reader relationship takes cultivation, certainly, but remember you don’t have to do all the work. Stop stating the obvious and allow the subtext of your novel to shine through. Your reader will thank you for the opportunity to let her imagination run wild right along with yours.

Four Ways to Choose Your Novel’s Title

lady hitchhiker
Can you come up with a creative title for this story?

The first thing your readers come into contact with as they discover your book will be the title. While the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” may still hold, the same is not true of a title. A title gives the reader a tiny snapshot of what is to come within the pages of the book. A title should at the same time encapsulate the themes of the novel and intrigue the reader, drawing him in, making him want to know more.

If your title is too obscure, your potential readers may not be able to relate or understand what you’re trying to tell them your book is about. If you’re too explicit, though, you could end up turning readers off because they feel like there’s no mystery to be found between the pages.

With genre fiction, you have to make sure your potential reader knows what’s coming (Interview with a Vampire or The Rake and the Reformer). Genre readers like to know what they’re getting into, and people who don’t normally read genre need to know what they’re getting into.

Four Ways to Title Your Book

But whether you write genre fiction or not, a good title will capture the essence of your novel. So in order to give a good title to your work, you have to know what the essence of your novel is. Once you figure out the essence of your novel, what makes it tick, you can write your title to describe it. Here are four ways to choose your novel’s title.

  • The Main Character – such as Jane Eyre, Harry Potter [and the…], Carrie, and The Great Gatsby.
  • The Setting – such as The Chronicles of Narnia, Fablehaven, or Howard’s End.
  • A Line of Poetry – such as Of Mice and Men, Tam Lin, or This Raging Light.
  • The Major Theme – such as Pride and Prejudice, Wicked, or Great Expectations.

Your title will likely be what makes people pull your book off the shelf. Whatever you choose, make sure that the title is honest, descriptive, and memorable.

Writing Tips: 4 Questions to Ask When Writing Back Story in Your Novel

If you’re reading this blog post, you’re probably creative. You’re probably a writer with an overactive imagination. That’s great! You’re my favorite type of person. That deep and beautiful imagination is what drives you to do what you do, to write and create worlds for you and your readers to get lost in.

So what do you do when it comes time to share that world with others, when it’s time to tell the tale that’s been growing inside your fertile mind? People who have the widest imaginations have the hardest time getting to the heart of their story. What details do you include? How much history to you reveal? After all, you’ve worked so hard to cultivate your characters, who they are, how they and their world came to be. Surely your readers are interested in the details and the back story as much as you are.

And you’re right–up to a point. I love discovering the depth of detail and planning that an author has gone through to create the character that I am following and the world that character lives in. The problem arises when I get socked with that back story before I’m ready to appreciate it, before it matters to the story at hand.

If you throw too much detail at your reader too soon, they’re not going to know what to do with it. At the beginning of a story, your reader is busy figuring out how things work, who the characters are, what they want most, and what’s standing in the way. They’re not gonna want to know WHY things work that way… not yet… or the deep personal histories of the characters yet… they don’t know to who they’re supposed to care about yet!

You’ll have the same problem if you throw in too much detail at the end, too. Your reader will likely skim right over back story revealed too close to the ending, in order to get to the “important part” of the story.

So how do you  know what back story to include and where? Here are four questions you can ask when you feel the urge to type out your character’s family tree:

  1. Is this bit of back story relevant to what’s going on RIGHT NOW in the story? (follow-up question: Will your reader understand that it is relevant right now?)
  2. Does the back story you’re including move the story forward? 
  3. Does it reveal something important about character motivation?
  4. Will your reader be confused about what’s going on without this back story?
If the answers all of these questions are yes, include your back story! If any of these answers are no, you might want to reconsider revealing that back story now.
The last thing you want is for your reader to skim over any part of your tale. It’s better to reveal back story on a need-to-know basis rather than dumping it all on your reader when they’re not ready for it. The right bit of information presented at the right moment will hook your readers and then they won’t be able to get enough!