Drafting and Revising: Finding What Works

When it comes to switching from drafting to revising, lots of people have advice.

“Push through with your draft!”

“Resist the urge to revise!”

I try. I really do. And I can usually make it–most of the way.

But I’ve discovered recently that I do the same thing with each manuscript. The good thing is that my method fits something else people always say, “Do what works for you.”

My drafting/revising process looks like this:

  • Get idea.
  • Go, “Oooooh.”
  • Try to forget idea.
  • If idea won’t go away, start drafting. Just a chapter or two.
  • Put draft aside.
  • After at least a week, look at drafted pages. If  reaction is “meh,” set aside. If  reaction is “oooh,” outline.
  • Prepare 9-point-plot outline.
  • Get some feedback. Apply to outline and first pages.
  • Draft. Draft a lot. Go as far as possible.
  • Keep getting feedback. Collect, save, set aside. Keep drafting. Resist the temptation.
And then it explodes. Kerplooey! Splat! Gaaaaah!
  • Give in. For me, this is usually sometime before the climax. I’m questioning my outline. I’m thinking of the great feedback I received. I go back to the beginning and revise.
  • Once I make it through the revision and back to where I was with the draft, I’m energized. I have a plan. I know where I’m going. At this point–and only at this point–I can finish my draft.

This is what works for me. But I only figured it out by breaking the rules that work for others. Best of luck finding what method works best for you!

Great February Books

Even though I had a crazy-busy month and didn’t get to read as much as I wanted, I still had a hard time picking my favorite book out of the five (only five! so sad) that I read.

Going for a two-way tie, my faves were:

THE DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor. What I loved about this book was that I am not a paranormal fan and yet I found those aspects of the story exquisite. I bought this book because of the art student in Prague angle, and hadn’t actually realized how far this book would take me down the paranormal path, but the writing pulled me willingly along. What a gripping love story!

THE GIRL IN THE STEEL CORSET by Kady Cross. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book because I’d never read anything from Harlequin Teen, but I was pulled in from the very beginning and couldn’t put it down. What they say about teen romance being about the anticipation and buildup more than fulfillment is so true here. So well done! Plus all that steampunky stuff is pretty cool too. 🙂

Looking forward to more great reads in March!


The fabulous Jaye Robin Brown tagged me and some of the #wipmadness crew with a new set of questions in the latest question-asking tag game passing through the interwebs: http://jayerobinbrown.blogspot.com/2012/02/tag-youre-it.html

Her five evil questions aren’t actually all that evil:

1. What is the  best meal you’ve ever eaten – what, when, and where.

Not evil, but wow, this is a hard question for a foodie! I’ve had delicious meals here in Boston (most recently a five-course tasting menu at Upstairs on the Square in Harvard Square, drool), in Austria (bone marrow soup! Wienerschnitzel!), and Iceland (is it bad that we tried whale?), among other places. But hands down, some of the best foods I’ve ever tried were in Spain, and so here’s a photo of one of my favorite dishes we had last year, arroz a banda, a rice cooked in seafood broth and then served with the fish and of course aioli.

2. What is your earliest memory?

I was about three years old, and I’d wandered out into the tall weeds behind the house–well above my head–and before I knew it I was alone. I’d never been lost, and had never been completely alone. It both thrilled and terrified me, and I remember tingling with excitement. After reveling in my independence for a few minutes, I turned around and went home, feeling like I’d been forever changed.

3. If given your choice of a secret rendezvous with any fictional hottie – who would you choose?

Don’t laugh. But the love interest in my current WIP is about my favorite ever. I’d pick him over any fictional hottie right now.

4. What is your favorite joke?

OK, this question is a little evil. I guess I’m a fan of the oldie-but-goodie about the three strings who walk into a bar and end up with a frayed knot.

5. Pick three words to describe yourself (one is just too hard!)

Persistent, energetic, and open-minded

So! For the next part of the tagging, I have to hit up three other friends with five more questions. I’d love to hear answers from:

Kerri Maniscalco: http://kerrimaniscalco.com/

Elodie: http://commutinggirl.wordpress.com/

Ruth L. Steven: http://ruthlaurensteven.blogspot.com/

Without further ado, my questions:

1. Keeping with the foodie theme, what’s your signature dish? Something you make that blows people away and that you luuuuurve.

2. If you could be any fictional character, whose story would you want to live?

3.  If you won a magical trip to any destination and had to use the setting in your next novel, where would you go?

4. Your favorite five authors. Go!

5. What music are you listening to while working on your current WIP?

Great January Books

It’s been a wonderful reading month! It’s great to start of the year with a fresh stack of Christmas and birthday books, because it means I’ve got a bunch of new books I’ll probably be re-reading at some point in the future. I read a total of 8 books, including 1 adult book, 1 middle grade, and 6 YA.

I luuuuurved some of my Christmas gifts:

DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth (YA), which I loved as much as everyone on GoodReads, apparently. Can’t wait for the sequel!

THE PARIS WIFE by Paula A. McClain (Adult), which I got together with Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, totally throwing me into Paris in the 1920’s. Delicious.

And because I’m lucky enough to have my birthday on Twelfth Night, I also got:

FLUTTER by Erin Moulton (Middle Grade), which was as gorgeous and delicate as wild and adventurous. A beautiful story of sisterly love–made me wish I had a sister!

A MILLION STARS by Beth Revis (YA), which already has me fidgeting for Book Three in the series. Such an exciting read, and by that I mean the characters as much as the plot.

I’m already devouring my first book of February, and can’t wait to read more recommendations of others’ favorites in January. Happy reading!

Writing Retreat of Dreams!

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.
This Week’s Topic:
Describe your dream writing retreat. Where would you go? Who and what would you bring?
This topic is something I think about a LOT. Like many others, I squeeze writing into my daily life, and the idea of a writing retreat conjures up all kinds of images of productivity. Who wouldn’t want a a honeymoon with a WIP instead of a quickie?
Thus a dream retreat for me would really be anywhere that provided stretches of alone-time, plenty of tasty food and caffeinated beverages, and the opportunity for literary discussion, all in an inspiring setting.
The place that best fits the bill for me? Ronda, Spain:

Specifically, I’d choose the HOTEL REINA VICTORIA (http://www.hotelreinavictoria.es/es/hotel-ronda/main), a place that offered the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke the peace and inspiration he needed to write.

I’d bring my laptop of course, a stack of books, and a notebook and pencil for scribbling in the garden. I’d love to have a group of writerly friends along too, for those literary discussions after productive writing sessions. Anyone with me?

Fave Reads 2011

At a KidLit Meetup this week, I was raving about the latest book that kept me turning pages all night, and I just couldn’t shut up about it. The writing, the voice, the romance. I was literally fanning myself while telling people, “Oh. My. God! You have to read this book!”

My problem is that there are so many delicious books out there. I feel like I can never get to them all. By the time I’ve finished one, ten more books swoop into its place in my TBR list. I try to keep current and read lots of new books, but this particular book came out in 2010, and even though I’d also heard great things about it, I hadn’t gotten to it until now.

With that in mind, my list of faves for the year includes both new books from 2011 as well as ones I just hadn’t gotten to yet. The thing they have in common is that every book on this list made me rave like a lunatic, of the “Oh. My. God! You have to read this book!” ilk.

Hope you love them, or will love them, or have your own to rave about. Please share your faves below!

Young Adult

IMAGINARY GIRLS by Nova Ren Suma. The title and the cover immediately grabbed me, and as soon as I started this book, I had to know what happened. This book took me places I couldn’t have imagined, with an absolutely unique voice and a plot that stretched the boundaries of reality.

PLAIN KATE by Erin Bow. This also came out in 2010, and the combination of beautiful writing and fairy-tale setting grabbed my attention from the very beginning. A girl without a shadow? A talking cat? Yes, please.

STOLEN by Lucy Christopher. This gripping story also kept me up turning pages. Beyond the constant tension, the unique second-person telling added an amazing emotional element that I didn’t expect.

THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson. This is the one that kept me up all night this week. If you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, run to the bookstore! So good!

Middle Grade

NOWHERE GIRL by A. J. Paquette. A coming-of-age adventure set in Thailand–sign me up! This story is both beautifully-written and a page-turner to the very end.

PETER NIMBLE AND HIS FANTASTIC EYES by Jonathan Auxier. This book had me with its title, seriously. Then once I started reading, the incredible imagination of the author had me following along with my mouth dropped open half the time. Fans of Lemony Snicket will love this book.

LOVE, AUBREY by Suzanne LaFleur. This one came out in 2009, and is one of those books that seems to appear again and again on people’s lists of favorites, and I can see why. Above all, the authentic voice kept me reading long into the night.

*these are the newest books my four-year-old twins ask for again and again

WINK: THE NINJA WHO WANTED TO NAP by J. C. Phillipps. We also have another WINK book, and my girls love both of them–everything from the colorful artwork to the active antics of their favorite ninja.

EL FANDANGO DE LOLA by Anna Witte. (English version also available at Barefoot Books: LOLA’S FANDANGO) My girls could not love this book more–about a little Spanish girl like them who learns to dance flamenco.


First off, I’m not a “real” NaNoWriMo participant.

But … but … even though I’m not doing it for real, I love the idea of NaNo. The zest and spirit floating around on the interwebs as writers pile up the word count and advance their stories. The dedication with which they attack their manuscripts one day at a time. Every day. I just love it.

So I decided to do a Pseudo-NaNo this year. It feels a little like cheating, but I just couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to surge forward with so much company. My Pseudo-NaNo has two simple rules: 1K words minimum. Every Single Day.

Another thing I’m cheating on is that this is not a brand new manuscript. I had close to 20K and a detailed outline for this project when I started the month, which means that the 30K from November will put me very close to finishing the first draft.  Motivation, people! It’s all about sitting in the chair. Isn’t it? *blinks*

So cheers and good luck to all the real NaNo-ers! And same to any other Pseudo-NaNo-ers out there! Feel free to share any Pseudo experiences here. 🙂

Rutgers 2011

There is nothing like the Rutgers One-on-One.

This conference for children’s writers, held yearly in October, is the place to see and be seen. The one-on-one ratio means that attendees get to rub elbows with as many agents, editors,  and published authors (the mentors) as other (likewise awesome) mentees.

The invaluable face time gives you the chance for others to later connect your name to you-the-individual, and gives you the opportunity to do the same. Because (*whispers*) even big-name editors and agents are people too. No, really. You might not click with your “dream agent” in person. Another who seemed beyond your reach might be totally accessible and down-to-earth.  Plus, if you aren’t sure if someone might be interested in your genre, you can ask! Like, “I read in an interview that you don’t like fantasy, but are you a fan of magical realism?”

One of the best things about the conference is the way it’s organized to maximize a successful conference for everyone. If you’re really shy, you don’t have to worry about approaching a Big and Scary editor or agent. You get the chance to learn from them (and even talk if you can muster the courage) at least four separate times:

  1. Your One-on-One. You get 45 minutes (45!!) alone with your mentor, who is either an editor, agent, or author. That morning, the mentors receive your 3-page sample you subbed to get into the conference, and you can spend time walking through that, through your manuscript as a whole, or talking about other projects, your query letter, or whatever else seems the best use of the time. My mentor in 2008 when I attended for nonfiction was an author, and I had an editor this year for YA fiction, and both of them were absolutely amazing.
  2. Your Five-on-Five. You also get 45 minutes with you, your mentor, and 4 other mentor/mentee pairs. One of the mentors moderates, and you get to discuss whatever people want to know: market trends, what their pet peeves are etc. At my table, we had 3 agents, 1 editor, and 1 author (who spoke that morning as the One-on-One Success Story from a previous year) Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. It was great to hear how they agreed on so many things, such as:
      • The importance of not writing to trend–just write a good story.
      • The dystopian wave has crested, but some paranormals and dystopians are still in the works–they just have to have a very different angle (or combination of genres, like dystopian historical).
      • Submit your very best work.
  3. The panel discussion. Again, more great insights from a team of authors and publishing professionals.  Mentees could email questions in advance, and agent Marietta Zacker, who moderated the panel, did a great job hitting as many bases as possible with a selection of those questions.
  4. Lunch. Agents and editors remain at their tables from the Five-on-Five, and you can sit wherever you want. Here’s your chance to seek out others on your list you haven’t met!
  5. OK, I said 4, but the last opportunity you can use is the short breaks in between activities. You should never (never) try to approach someone in the bathroom line (NEVER), but if someone is alone at a table or edge of the room etc., they are fair game. This is the perfect chance to put your face to your name with someone you’ve queried, or just to say hello to someone you’ve had contact with, or admire from a distance. Don’t expect or try to initiate a long conversation, but if you have something short to say, this is a good time.

One last piece of the enormous pie of awesomeness that is Rutgers is the chance to network with other amazing writers. Because you have to send in a writing sample to get accepted, you can guarantee that the other mentees are as serious (and as good!) as you.  This conference is a great place to catch up with old friends and make new ones, and I simply cannot recommend it more!

Author Interview: Ammi-Joan Paquette

Please welcome author AMMI-JOAN PAQUETTE, whose debut novel NOWHERE GIRL comes out September 13th, 2011!

Hello, Joan! Most people in children’s literature circles already know you as a fantastic agent with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, so let’s just get that out of the way. You’re an agent! *applause*

But … you’re also an amazing writer, and today we are focusing on that. I am thrilled that NOWHERE GIRL is hitting the shelves this month, so let’s start there. This novel has been described by acclaimed author Mitali Perkins as “a lovely Cinderella tale” and by Publisher’s Weekly as a “memorable thriller about identity and belonging.”

Having read an early draft and other snippets, I couldn’t agree more. This novel has it all: beautiful writing, a unique setting, a character on a self-discovery quest facing a mounting set of obstacles. Everyone should run out and read it now! In the meantime, let’s tackle how you were able to pull all of those pieces together so well.

Q: Beautiful writing: There are some beautiful lines throughout NOWHERE GIRL, but I have a favorite line (a definite zinger!) from your manuscript back when I first read it—do you have a favorite line in the novel? Please share!

A: This is a tough one! I’m not sure that I can single out a specific line, but one of my favorite scenes comes early on in chapter 3, where Luchi thinks back to a time when she was very young and, in playing around among the prison bars, gets caught and trapped in them, unable to get loose. When this image fell into place for me, it seemed to do more than just describe an incident in Luchi’s past; it extended into a metaphor depicting her life as a whole. The larger-than-life feel of this image lingered with me long after its writing.

Q: Character: above all, NOWHERE GIRL is a very authentic story that rings very personal. Were you able to pull any experiences out of your own life to bring this authenticity to Luchi’s voice?

A: There wasn’t much in Luchi’s physical journey or life events that overlapped with mine, but I have definitely drawn from experience in her emotional progression. That feeling of sometimes not quite fitting in, of wanting to belong or being unsure exactly who you are while growing up—I think many people experience this to a certain extent, and with all my travel and assorted life paths, I’ve certainly had more than my fair share. If some of that early insecurity can translate into authenticity and a ring of truth for Luchi’s journey, then perhaps all of those years will have been well-spent after all!

Q: Plot: without any major spoilers, Luchi has to face a lot of obstacles from beginning to end of the novel. Did you, your agent, and/or editor make any major changes along the way?

A: The biggest changes that were made from the first draft was to go more in-depth with Luchi’s journey and the challenges she faces on her way. The basic plot and the story itself was pretty much unchanged from how I first envisioned it, but my editor encouraged me to build on the framework and flesh out certain areas to develop tension and to solidify the structure. The encounter with the pickup truck on the road to Sukhothai, for example, is one that I added in a later revision.

Q: Process: for all the other budding writers out there, could you provide a snapshot of the writing, revising, and editing process and how long it took for this manuscript?

A: Let’s see: I first thought of this story and wrote a very few opening paragraphs in the spring of 2005. After losing track of it for a few years, in 2008 I pulled the idea out again, dusted it off, and started getting serious with research and getting to know this character. The first draft was finished in late 2008; in late 2009 I received a detailed revision letter from Stacy Cantor at Walker, who loved the story but wanted me to do some further work on it before taking it to acquisitions. The final offer arrived in May 2010, and is being published in September 2011.

Q: Beyond NOWHERE GIRL, you also have several other books (picture books and another novel) in the works. Can you share a little bit about them?

A: My next book to be released will be THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO CHASING MERMAIDS, a companion book to THE TIPTOE GUDIE TO TRACKING FAIRIES (Tanglewood, 2009). This will be out in spring next year. I am also hard at work on a YA science fiction novel with Random House (title still being determined). This should be out in spring 2013, along with a picture book from Candlewick, GHOST IN THE HOUSE, in fall 2013.

Q: And finally the question everyone probably wants to know: how do you do it???? As a successful agent, wife, mom, critique partner, and writer, you manage to get everything done, and done well. Any strategies that are working for you that you could share?

A: This is a tough one to answer, but mostly I think a lot of it just comes from loving what I do. We all wear many different hats, and for every one thing you do there’s always something else that you end up not having time for. But I feel so lucky that I love my work, and I guess that gives me the incentive to squeeze little bits of it in anywhere I can. Which reminds me… I’d better get back to it!

Thank you so much, Joan, for giving us a window into your debut novel and life as a writer! So excited to see this in print!!

Historical Fiction: Equal Parts Historical and Fiction?

When I first started my current WIP—a YA historical novel—I was hoping to use the facts exactly as they were and just fill in the holes with my fantastic story. *coughs* I wrote about 20K words using this plan.

Unfortunately, I hit a wrinkle.

When I started writing my detailed outline, I realized that my story would be soooo much better if I could change some of the facts.

And yet I waffled.

Some things I wanted to change probably wouldn’t be a big deal in regards to remaining true to history. I wanted to change the age and date of death of a rather obscure individual who most people don’t know. I think I’d be OK there. But I also wanted to push the dates that a hugely famous poet wrote a likewise hugely famous series of poems to four years earlier. Ouch.

Could I get around it? Probably. But it might be weird for other cryptic reasons. So I’m still waffling.

How close to history do you keep your historical fiction? Any rules or guidelines that you always follow? Any examples where you decided to break the rules?