Friday, June 17, 2011

The Non-Writing Part of Writing

By Susan

I used to brag that I could write anywhere. On lunch hours, I would scribble in a small black notebook, as I sat parked in my car under a tree at a park near my office. I could find a diner and write for an hour without noticing the time at all (like I did in this photo, to the left). Sometimes, I would take my laptop to my nearby coffee shop, and I could peck away at the keys, oblivious to the hustle around me. Usually, I’m typing fast in my favorite chair, children playing around me and my husband cooking dinner in the kitchen as I hurry to complete the next scene before somebody hollers “Mom!”

Yet lately, I’ve wanted (no, maybe needed) more perfect conditions. I’ve sequestered myself to my bedroom and locked the door, hoping no one (i.e. children) will notice that I’m hiding with my manuscript. I’ve waited until the house was empty to even open my working document, sure that nothing will get done unless I have Complete. Total. Silence. I make excuses for why I can’t work, for why nothing is getting done. And nothing is getting done-- at least on this manuscript-- that’s for sure.

What’s changed? It’s not me. It’s the nature of my project, and my project has changed. I am now no longer writing when I crack open the antiquated laptop that has housed my baby for the past few years. I’ve actually finished it, all 100,871 words-- at least the writing part of it. The thing that has changed? I’m now an editor- no longer a writer. And I’ve realized that as much as I know nothing about writing, I know even less about where to place a comma, how to spell, or when to edit out a scene or add a new one. An editor? I am not.

I’m out of my league, once again.

And stuck.

Last night, I went back to one thing I do know: management. I decided to tackle my editing as I did my writing, as I do my work, and my life. I make lists, prioritize them, shuffle them, and give myself deadlines. I set short-term and long-term goals and I rank the elements of the project by size and scope.

I won’t bore you with the list. It ranges from everything from scenes to add, to words to cut, to character development and consistancy of voice. But for me, it’s pure gold. I’ve found a starting place on my new phase of writing this novel- the non-writing part.

What about you? How do you make it through the post-writing let down and through the editing phase? Please share. I'll take any advice I can get!


  1. Susan, sometimes when I can't get going on revisions, I pick something small, like adding details to bring out setting in one section, or working on one scene. Once I get going, that sometimes helps me get into working on a bigger chunk. Even if it doesn't, at least I've done something and can cross it off my list.

  2. The best advice, Susan, is to go to the nearest book store beside you and pick the latest magazine "Writer's Digest" and read their essays pages 20-40 about revisions ect.

    Personally, I find editing much easier than writing. You just read what you wrote and cut and add words and sentences. Literary agents might ask you to cut your novel (if you are a first time author) to 90K words. So think more about cutting scenes and words, not about adding.
    And finally, go over your page 1 to make it superb. If it's not exciting, many literary agents will stop reading. Make it fast moving with some action. Then you can slow down.
    Good luck in your second stage (the first was writing) and the third stage of queries and get published is the most difficult of all. Bet=s wishes.

  3. I MUCH prefer editing to composing, which could explain why I edit AS I compose.

    90K? God, I hope not, Giora. 100K will be difficult, but do-able on mine. That's the number I've heard most often, but it may be different in Canada.

  4. Hi Kim. I only submit to American literary agents now because there are so many of them, and I read recently that literary agents don't like novels from first time authors over 100K. Most prefer 80-90K as the ideal length, but naturally you can go above and below this range. Ultimately, the agents care only about the strength of your query and the first page and then the first 5 pages. Literary agents will not reject your query if you have 120K for example. If they like your book, they might suggest at last stage to trim some pages. But the difficult part is to make them like your query and the first pages. It's amazing how many queries the good agents get .. like 100 queries a day and they only accept like 2-3 per day. Best wishes in stage 3.

  5. Anonymous18 June, 2011

    Kim, go to the blog of "BookEnd, LLC," and on the right side click on a must read post "Words Count" and see what they recommend for your genre. Giora

  6. I follow that blog, too, Giora. :-) Historical fiction was not mentioned by name in the post. Jessica said Women's/Literary fiction would be 80-100K, though IF it is literary it could stretch out to 125K. There's a certain amount of world building in historical fiction and my book is somewhat literary, so I don't think anyone will quibble so long as I can round to 105K, though I will sure try for under that. My finished manuscript will be VERY tight, so I'm not worried about being told there is too much fluff.


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