Once I do a first draft I, naturally, put the story away for a number of weeks to allow it to grow unfamiliar and, thus, fresh in my brain when I reread it. Then, I read it, taking notes on big picture problems. My last project, I ended up with sixty-five different notes and the list was about six pages long.

I’m preparing to go in this week and begin what I think of as deep revision. It’s a lot of editing, some rewriting, and a little adding whole new scenes. I’ll come out the other side with a new story on my hands; a deeper, more complete, richer story.

I wanted to give an example of what deep revision can do. I once wrote a post about the important elements of a sex scene. In it, I wrote:

Could you make the scene stronger by making them emotionally naked as opposed to physically naked?

If you go back to that previous post, you’ll see I included a first draft sex scene, but then ended up taking it out and replacing it with one that did just that (I’ll include a sample of it at the end; it’s from my book Infamous). Here’s why:

What I ended up replacing this scene with is one of connection, but the emotional sort. I finally realized that it’s too easy for my hero to make a sexual connection, but he never makes emotional connections. He pushed himself out of his comfort zone, he took a tiny step toward change. And she distinguished herself, in yet another way, as different from any other woman.

The reasons I made the change are described above, but it was also to increase the tension between these two characters, provide a richer understanding of their characters, and improve my story’s pacing.

Deep Revision can increase tension, characterization, and pacing--just for starters. Click To Tweet

For comparison purposes, I’m going to include a sample of that new scene below the signature. You can read it in its original form in the post about sex scenes. (It would make this post unnecessarily long to include both here.) I loved the new scene so much, it’s the main sample I used for marketing purposes. That is why deep revision is so important.

A sample from Infamous:

“Crap, now you’re going to be sweet? Now?” She tangled her fingers through the hair that covered her face and pushed it away. Next thing he knew, she’d wrapped her arms around his waist.

“Justine? Um… what are you doing?”

“I’m hugging you. Taking emotional comfort.”

“Like a leech.”

“Haven’t you ever hugged before?”

“I’ve never hugged anyone I wasn’t going to have sex with.”

“We’re not having sex.” She squeezed him tighter and rested her head on his shoulder. “Hug me back.”

Sawyer lifted his arms and wrapped them around her, his hands cupping her shoulders, pulling her closer. He dropped his head to rest on hers, and parts of him, so deep he couldn’t name them, pulled free and demanded his attention. Her hair smelled like fruit, the kind kids eat in the summer, juice dripping down their chins. “I’m fine with the hugging, but, just saying, I’m not responsible for any physical reaction hugging may induce.”

“Okay.” The word drifted out of her on a sigh.

He wasn’t equipped for this. There hadn’t been a lot of touching growing up, at least not the kind that didn’t end in a busted lip or a cracked rib. As an adult, there’d been lots of touching. But, not like this. The tighter he held her, the closer he wanted to be.

After a couple of minutes, he couldn’t take anymore. It seemed bigger than him, bigger and growing fast. He pulled back to look at her, hands still gripping her shoulders. “You look tired.”

“I haven’t slept since…” She tilted her head back, thinking. “I don’t remember. Couple of days.”

“So get some sleep.”

“I don’t know if I can.” She settled on the edge of the bed and looked down at her hands. “I have so many things running through my head right now.”

“I know what to do.” He slipped off the denim jacket he’d been wearing since some time last night. “Go find the least attractive thing you sleep in.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Why?”

“Because I said so. And because you need some sleep. You’ve got bags under your eyes big enough to hold your whole wardrobe.”

She lifted the lid of her luggage to pick through her clothes, grabbed something white she balled up in her hands, and dutifully went into the bathroom to change.

Sawyer looked at the closed door and then turned to the bed. He turned down the covers on one side and turned out the lights, except for the lamp beside the bed.

When she came out and flipped the bathroom light off behind her, Sawyer wanted to tell her to try again. Her choice was anything but unattractive. She’d slipped into a gown that settled halfway between her knees and…well, places he had no business concerning himself with. The gown flounced around her, touching her nowhere except under the arms and across her chest with a black ribbon gathering the material.

She lifted one foot and slid it behind the other. “Poppies.”

He dragged his gaze to her face. “What?”

“The flowers on the gown are poppies. They make you drowsy.” She slid her gaze to the side. “I found that amusing when I bought it.”

He held up his hands. “It’s fine. Get in the bed.”

“I don’t do pajamas. I have a thing against sleeping in pants. I like the way the sheets feel, cool and slippery, on my legs.” She looked past him to a corner of the room. “I talk a lot when I’m uncomfortable.”

“It’s fine.” He shifted toward the bed and then paused as her words sunk in. “Wait, you have panties on, though, right?”

“Of course.”

He tilted his head to glance at her with a frown, trying not to look at her bare legs. “Are they hot?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Right, no. Doesn’t matter. Lay down.” She stopped beside him at the foot of the bed and they stared at the down-turned blankets. “I want to make sure you get some sleep. You get under the covers, and I’ll lie on top so I don’t invade your not-pants-wearing space.”

“You’re volunteering to give me emotional comfort.”

“Shut up, Justine.”

She hopped into bed, twisting to pull the covers to the top of her shoulders, and lay on her side. He climbed on top of the blanket, scooted close. “Do people send you designer nightgowns, too?”

“Trying to sleep here.”

Her body moved in the rhythm of breath, slowed down, as her muscles softened and relaxed. He wanted to kiss her shoulder, to press his lips against it, to find out if it was as soft as it looked. And what was that scent? Her hair fanned across her pillow and it smelled like… watermelon? Strawberries? Apples?

She interrupted his fruity thoughts, her voice soft and blurry. “Thank you.”

“I’m an ass.”

“You’re okay right now, though.”

“I’m using you, right now, because I like how you smell. I’m an ass.”

She didn’t speak again, and he realized she was out. He should get up. Go to his own room. Get away from the bare legs, under the covers, and the shoulder, and the hair. Try to put whatever had awoken during that hug back to rest. In a minute, he’d get his jacket and go.

revisit toolsSeveral years ago, I was working on my second manuscript and I wrote about what tools I used to get the job done. (It was a terrible story that I never did finish, but that’s irrelevant. I did mine secondary characters from it and gave them their own story, so it was useful, at least.)

What did I use then?

Paper. Fancy journal, legal pad, graph paper, steno notebook–whatever makes you feel good.  We’re writers, and if you want to be a smart writer, you will write everything down somewhere.  Might as well make it a central place.  And believe me when I tell you, when that paper is full of your story, of your imagination, your muse at work… you’ll know why you write, if only for a moment.

I’m still a paper fanatic. And I still use a plain old spiral notebook. I write down character sketches, outlines, scene notes–you name it. It nearly always starts on paper before making its way onto the computer.

A binder, preferably one-and-a-half inch, sheet protectors, and a hole punch.

I don’t really use a binder anymore. I’m more likely to keep things in Evernote or, as I’m going to discuss later on, Scrivener.

An All-in-One Printer.  First of all, they’re just not that expensive anymore.

I definitely still use a printer. I print pages multiple times for edits. I just edit better on paper (no surprise there).

So what tool do I use the most now?

Scrivener. Although I still make use of paper, I keep my entire outline in Scrivener. I didn’t for the story I wrote before my current one. I kept them on index cards. Then I got sick and didn’t write for a month. And misplaced my cards. Scariest week of my life, thinking I was going to have to recreate that outline.

I also keep all my research in Scrivener, as you can just drop entire web pages in there and access them from the program.

Further, all those character sketches and pictures of what my characters look like? All in the research binder.

It’s basically my go-to for everything.

What do you use to keep your writing organized or to get more accomplished?

I’m fascinated by other people’s process, so please share in the comments!


What tools I use now to get the most bang for my writing buck. How about you? Click To Tweet

inkdivabirthdayIn honor of my blog turning eight, eight!, I am sharing my very first post this week.

ink diva? yes, i am.

I know, ink diva sounds a pit pretentious. But, I think we should all be divas, at least in our own minds. So monumentally great at whatever we’re passionate about, we reserve the right to, at least, think diva thoughts. So, I’m a diva. So are you. Take a moment to enjoy your fabulousness.

But, you’re now wondering, why ink? Maybe you’re not wondering that, but in my head, you are. And in my head, I get to be the boss. Sometimes. So, why ink? Who writes with pen and paper anymore when backspace is so much less messy than correction fluid?

I do. Not always. Sometimes, there’s nothing I enjoy more than a brightly lit screen and the clatter of keys. But sometimes, there’s something so real and organic about taking pen to paper. The potential of a blank sheet of paper is infinite. The weight of the pen, the pull as it glides across the paper. Being able to flip through twenty handwritten pages and see it and touch it and even smell it. The reality of it. It’s intoxicating.

And, honestly? I really love pens. I have probably a hundred pens. All different in their color, the intensity of the ink, the way my fingers grip them, the way they write. Even my handwriting is different, depending on the pen.

So, yeah, I’m an ink diva. And I am fabulous. Click To Tweet



The Importance of Pre-Writing

I tried looking at pictures. Incidentally, Apartment Therapy is an awesome site.  So I bought a graph paper pad and I just drew the dance studio/apartment in no time.  I then described the way the rooms looked.  I included whoever’s viewpoint popped into my head, because different people see different things.  This helps me in two ways: 1) I can visualize these important places and the events that took place there easier and 2) I’ve got ready made description when I write scenes in those places.

I was amazed at how much such simple pre-writing work actually ignited my imagination.


I still pre-write like it’s a lifeline to storytelling.  I call that creative time when you’re first planning a story, and the ideas are flowing like Niagara Falls, creative crack. It’s amazing and fun. And so much of writing isn’t all fun–it’s hard, hard work.

Using Pre-Writing as a Tool for WritingIn that post, I talked about planning out spaces to make our fictional places more real. Since then, an incredible tool has taken over the internet. You can look on the right and see it’s become a passion of mine: Pinterest. Obviously, I don’t just use it for writing.

But, with Pinterest, I can see my characters, interiors & exterior places, and even crucial items. And it’s “in the cloud,” accessible to me from any device, anywhere I can use the internet (which, let’s admit, in this age, is everywhere). In the novella I just finished writing, I used Pinterest for character placeholders, info about Vegas in the fifties (the setting), and clothing trends of the time. I deeply needed my research to make that story happen.

I’ve also noticed a trend: other writer’s are using it, too. I went to an online book release party, and all the authors shared their Pinterest story boards. Are readers interested in these? I was. I loved seeing the historical clothing, the shipwrecks, the cool clubs.


Pinterest has become the author's new best friend, letting us pile up valuable research. Click To Tweet


Structural Integrity, Baby

When I start a story, I figure out pretty quick what that first turning point is going to be and where the plot (and subplots) will have to get to for it to happen. I’m a pantsy plotter. That also sets me down the road of “What happens next?” Well, the whole world just turned on it’s side–for good or bad, or both–and people (characters) are going to be scrambling to figure out how this new world works, where they fit in it, and how the heck they get to their goal now.

Don’t think of it as outlining, which still makes me cringe, and doesn’t really allow for narrative structure, anyway.  It’s a road map.  It’s where you’re going, where you’ve been, and how you’re going to get there.


I am a die hard plotter and outliner. I plot the story. I plot the acts. I plot the scenes. I plot the beats in the scene. Not all at once. At first, I immerse myself in the story with pictures of the characters and settings, a soundtrack, and handwritten biographies. Then I write several thousand words. Then I stop. Then I get annoyed because it’s going somewhere I don’t even get and what is the stupid motivation here, anyway? Then I rip up what I have, plot the entire story, in acts. Then I start writing. Before I start each scene, I note the beats of the scene. What happens, what changes, where does it get all twisty?

I’m a control freak. But I write a better story for it.

“I’m a control freak. But I write a better story for it.” ~ Click to Tweet

Image courtesy of Kimberly Vohsen via stock.xchng

You know I posted about watching good TV to become a better writer? This isn’t like that.

I had this major day-job thing going on the last few months, and I’ve been relieving stress by watching television. Specifically, soapy drama. Private Practice, the new Dallas. Which led me and my incredibly awesome daughter who enjoys the same odd things I do to old Dallas.

We’re on Season 2. And it’s… wow. It’s so bad it’s good. Like how everyone used to love to hate J.R. Amiright?

There are these “Oh, no, he did NOT!” moments, and “Disco [dancing] is creepy…” moments, and “They’re playing dramatic music, so we’ll know something dramatic is happening.” moments. Then there are the moments where my daughter looks at me like… that was really wrong/offensive/racist/sexist.

And I don’t really know what to say. Except, yes. Things were really like that three decades ago. Yes, Miss Ellie did advise that violent man if he had issues with his wife cheating he should go home and take it out on her. Yes, the white woman Sue Ellen was going to buy a baby from did say that if her situation weren’t so bad, she wouldn’t have to live with people (in an apartment building) that “weren’t [her] kind.”  You know what she meant because they showed lots of people of different races lazing about outside and they played music that kind of reminded me of Sanford and Son (which my grandfather used to watch and we only had one TV and three channels back then, people). Yes, “forced seduction” was a thing, and, yes, she did just totally get overwhelmed by lust when he practically raped her and gave in at the last second.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m enjoying tripping through the 80’s with my kid. I’m enjoying the cheesefest of awesome. It’s my guilty pleasure. But, it’s also a slice of culture. And that’s interesting, too.



Bite me, synopsis.

So, I’m attempting to write my first synopsis. And it’s bringing back all these horrible memories of being paralyzed with fear–literally, can’t write a word, paralyzed–when I first started writing and I read all of these how-to books and web sites. Here’s what I’ve gathered, so far:

  1. It’s the opposite of show-not-tell.  Tell, tell, tell!  Okay, so do what I spent ages learning how not to do?)
  2. Tell your whole story, don’t leave unanswered questions.  But leave out the parts, like secondary characters and subplots, that aren’t important to the developing relationship.  (Well, if they’re not important, why are they in the book at all?)
  3. Focus on the developing relationship, not the external plot.  (Are they supposed to be that easily separable? )
  4. A page for every 10k words is acceptable, but an agent may only want 3…or 5… or anything that’s not what you’ve already done.  (So I have to condense it further?  Should I write the long one and then try to make it smaller or should I just do one for everyone?)
  5. Make sure your voice, the voice that should be strongly present in your story, is also in your synopsis.  (All that and I have to write it well?  And why is it harder to write naturally… because of the flipping rules, that’s why!)

I think you can see where I’m going here.  I can’t find anything good, solid, “Here’s how you do it,” or even an example of a book I’ve read.  That would be awesome.

And after this, I’m going to be crafting a query letter.  Which will be nifty since I have no writing credits to my name.  I did find this, which may help, I’ll let you know.  The Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters

Oh, and if I ever do figure out how to write a synopsis, I’ll share the wealth.

EDIT: This looks promising: Writing the Tight Synopsis. I’m going to try this, starting with the one page and building up. Will update on my progress.



I Wrote a Synopsis!

Yes.  You read that correctly.  After much nail-biting and teeth-gnashing online, I wrote a synopsis.  I’m tempted to use lame web animated fireworks.  That’s how proud/excited I am.

Want to know how I did it?  Fine.  I’ll tell you.  But, I suspect, it’s one of those things that you can read a dozen articles about, but eventually you just have to hunker down and write the damn thing.  Much like writing a book.

  1. I went through my book and summarized the turning points and points  of conflict.  This was 12 pages long.  A crazy length for a synopsis.  Some editors or agents will take ten.  Some will take five.  Most want 1-2 pages.  But don’t despair!
  2. I included my GMC in the first paragraph or two, when introducing my characters.  It’s the easiest way to explain who they are, what they want, and what’s in their way.
  3. I highlighted my turning point scenes.  If you’re not writing to turning points, here’s a clue.  Those I trimmed a bit, but mostly left intact.
  4. What was left, the ‘in-between’ I pared down, summarized, but with a goal of maintaining my voice throughout.
  5. Look for what must be included, look for what must be included that you can say with less words, and look for what is not absolutely essential.  Don’t include subplots, don’t include dialogue (more than a line, but I advise against it).

Things to remember: Write in present tense.  Include the ending–don’t ever leave a hook and suggest the editor/agent read your book to find out.  Practice–just like writing, it’s okay if it’s bad at first.  You can fix it.

Even Later


I wrote this post, which I’m not going to include, and made available my Word Template for writing a synopsis. Which may not work for you, unless, like me, you write with GMC and turning points strongly in mind.

The Synopsis Template | Always available on my Downloads page.

Update 09.03.2011: I updated the synopsis template.  Turns out, I know a little more than I did a few years ago. ;-)



G to the M to the freaking C

I bought GMC by Debra Dixon. It’s genius, I’d heard, and it’s true. It’s like having someone explain brain surgery in a book you can read in a day or two, and you finish and say, “Duh.”

Before I go on, I’d like to point out that used copies can go for more then $40 on Amazon. I love Amazon, nothing against Amazon, but you can purchase the book from the publisher for $19.95. Worth every dime, btw.

If you really want to know how useful it is, just google GMC and Dixon. You’ll find thousands of hits. That’s how widely accepted, adopted, and appreciated her work is.

The GMC one sentence checker (my name, I can’t remember THE name) works perfectly. Character wants GOAL because MOTIVATION, but CONFLICT. It really is that simple. I know–duh, right? It’s full of these nuggets, like an external goal can be experienced by the five senses. Well, that makes it easier. Now I know revenge isn’t an external goal. It’s internal, because internal goals are about emotion.

However, once you have your “Duh,” moment, this hits: “I am so screwed.” Or it does if you’ve written a word. I always knew I was a little vague on my goals. I think I even started out with goals, but… maybe I didn’t like what having those goals said about my characters, so I… got vague. Either way, I think I figured out why my first act was so slow… pointless?

But, I’m making my charts, and I think I can fix it. Maybe. Doesn’t matter, not for this–my point is buy the book!


Today, this book continues to be a game-changer for me.  I still break it out when I run into a brick wall.  And, maybe it’s just me, but that brick wall is often caused by my NOT finding my GMC ahead of time.  Now, I’m not entirely sure I could find it ahead of time.  I think I have to do a bit of writing before I know enough to do it.  But, all the same, I simply could not have and could not in the future complete a manuscript without the knowledge I gained from this book.

Over the past three years, I’ve written about this concept several times. And I will continue to do so, because it just made everything click into place. And those moments, they’re too rare and important not to cling to.

I’ve updated the link in the old post again (they just love moving that book on me).  FYI: Used and new copies of this book on Amazon are now going for nearly $60.  There’s a reason for that and it’s called perceived value.



Finis. Sort of.

I have finished the first rewrite on the first act of my fist novel. All those firsts, they just kind of sing disaster, don’t they?

And yet, oh my god. I felt the same rush I did finishing the thing. The first act, about 140 pages, needed a lot of work. It was mainly written back when I had little to no clue. At all. There was infodump! There were scenes with NO conflict! None. Just… here’s an event. And another. And another. They serve no purpose, but… there they are!

Most importantly, though, I was extremely intimidated by doing those rewrites. I just didn’t know if I could make it into anything better.

So, it’s still rough. It’s still a WIP. But it is no longer a piece of crap. It is a shiny, well-polished piece of crap.


Here’s what I have learned: I loved that story.  I will always love that story.  But it’s not going to be published. (Probably–one never truly gives up hope, right?)  What matters, though, is I learned an incredible amount of craft from writing that story.  I learned about rejection and writing better query letters by submitting that story.  I learned. I got better. And if that’s not the best argument in the world for those times when we feel so discouraged because we’re told, ‘Keep writing.  The first few novels won’t be publishable.  But keep learning,” then I don’t know what is.



10 Ways to Unblock Writer’s Block

I know, in a logical manner, that writer’s block isn’t a real, insurmountable thing. It’s a lot of possible twists, in your work and in your life, that manifests as, “I don’t want to.” Or sometimes, “I can’t. I really, really think maybe… I can’t!”

But what it comes down to is your imagination, or maybe your muse, telling you, “This isn’t working for me.”

Here’s what I do when uninspiration strikes:

1. Read through it. Read what you’ve already written. Read your notes. Make more notes. It won’t be long before your heroine will say, “You know I’d never do that, right?” Or something to that effect. Sometimes you get scared and you overplot or you try too hard to push the plot where it totally should go, but for the wrong reasons.

2. Change mediums. You’ve been typing on your laptop? Try pen and paper. Go sit at a desk. Sit at your kitchen table. I’ve read some writers devote their work areas to writing. It’s sort of along the same lines as insomniacs only using their bed for sleeping. It’s a great theory, and if that works for you, I envy you. But me? Sometimes I need to change things up. Try brightly colored note cards, white boards, spreadsheets. Anything that gives you a different way of looking at your WIP.

3. Daydream when you’re bored. If you’re a writer, you’re totally already doing this anyway. But, indulge it. Buy a voice recorder or microrecorder and dictate your ideas, the dialogue, whatever pops into your head. Carry a small notebook and pen and write everything down. This almost becomes addictive. And you’re working! You can’t have writer’s block if you spent thirty minutes in traffic and came up with a scene.

4. Freewrite. Sometimes, I still get hung up on that “everything should be perfect” idea. I should know better, but it’s hard, especially when you’re just learning, to forgive yourself bad writing. So give yourself permission to write anything at all about your characters, your story, your plot, your setting, bits of dialogue. And it’s okay if it’s misspelled, it’s okay if it’s bad. It’s just notes.

5. Go read a book. Someone else’s book. Read it, submerge yourself in it, enjoy it. But think about why you’re enjoying it (e.g. “The character’s are so real because they have so many personal details and quirks and life.” or “The dialogue is so snarky!” or even “I wish I lived in that town.”). Maybe you should write what you know, but you should definitely write what you love.

6. Work on something else. Once, during a particularly bad bout (did I mention I struggle with this a lot?), I wrote 40 pages, handwritten, front and back, of a loose synopsis for a completely different story. I don’t know if I’ll ever even use that one, because it’s a lot darker than I usually enjoy. But, I think that was because I needed a bit of an emotional purge. Sort of like rebooting my hard drive.

7. Along the same lines as reading a book, watch a movie or a season of a TV show you’ve heard great things about but haven’t had time to watch. TV may be an idiot box, but I don’t have delusions of grandeur. I take my entertainment in whatever form I can get it. And I don’t have a lot of time for television as a rule. But when I’m waiting for my characters to speak to me again, I squeeze in 22 episodes of, sometimes, great writing. And when I witness great writing, it makes me want to write. “I think I can, I think I can…”

8. Write a letter from your character. Maybe it’s to you. Maybe it’s to another character. Maybe it’s autobiographical. It doesn’t matter, really. Great, important things will come out. You’ll learn about your characters goals, their motivation, and you’ll learn their voice.

9. Write backstory. I know, it’s frustrating to even consider writing 35 pages that will never see the light of day. But, of course, backstory is important. It will see the light of day, hopefully when you masterfully weave it in a piece at a time. Those 35 pages may not see print, but they will make your story better. And when you’re not writing anyway, how can you complain about that?

10. Remember the story is inside of you. It’s your story, and only you can tell it. It’s all there, waiting to be pieced together. Have faith in yourself.


I still have to move to different mediums sometimes. It’s like being inside a box and just feeling the undeniable urge to stretch out until I can pop out and see what else is out there. Sometimes it’s a huge whiteboard or spreadsheets (seeing things as a whole helps me in outlining and editing). Nearly always, it’s my notebook and pen. Every story has a notebook. Pages and pages of notes because I just need to get it out in a not-perfect way, and the paper lets me do that. I still read and watch a lot of television series on my Tivo and Netflix. In fact, I recently blogged about how TV can make us better writers. I also read a lot of blogs now. Well, I skim. If it’s something I can use, I read it or send it to Instapaper to read in my down time. If not, I go on. That’s the great thing about the internet, there’s so freaking much useful info, all the time.