Editing On Purpose

I’ve been editing my first novel again recently. This is not news.

 

What is news is the conversation my writers’ group has been having recently on how we incorporate feedback in our revision processes. Those who have responded use different methods I won’t get into here, but there’s a similarity at their core: these writers edit with intention.

 

Each critique in our group consists of a conversation that lasts forty-five minutes to an hour. Within forty-eight hours, each member strives to send written feedback—the notes composed before the conversation, for the most part—as well. This means that post-critique, a writer can have eight documents to compile and make sense of. It’s a gift to have this volume of consistent feedback, but using it can be a challenge. So how best to go about it?

 

One way is to organize the critiques by concern, that is, consider all the comments on dialogue together, then those on character X, then those on character X’s relationship with character Y, and so on. Then the writer can pass through the manuscript once per concern with focus and intention.

 

When I was editing my novel earlier today, I took this advice to heart. There were a couple things I knew I needed to fix, but then I ran out of steam. I started reading through the manuscript just looking for something, anything to fix. I didn’t know what I was looking for, nor did I have an idea of how I would remedy it. I started to get discouraged.

 

So I stepped back and returned to my critiquer’s notes. I identified something I agreed needed to change and went in and worked on that. Then, onto the next note. There will be a time later to read through the whole and see how all the pieces work together, and I’m sure there will be more to do then. Isn’t there always?

 

With this technique, I got a lot more done in a lot less time, plus I’m fired up to do it again. As with any goal, having a plan—even if it’s one you’ll deviate from—is worthwhile. And at the start of a new year, when everything seems fresh and possible, making the most of the moment is a great practice to get into.

 

 

Reason #355 Why Having a Writers’ Group Is Invaluable

On the heels of my novel revision, I’ve been thinking and thinking about a new project. I’ve had the idea for a few months, and have some notes here and there. Many of them conflict with one another, as I’m figuring out who’s who and

what’s going to happen. After finishing my first project, committing some of this more definitively to paper hadn’t made the to-do list, which was already so full of house, family, and work obligations.

 

This last week, though, it was finally my turn to submit to my writers’ group again. Not having feedback from my agent yet, I didn’t want to send in chapters from my revision. I considered digging up something I wrote five years ago for another writers’ group, or even starting something totally new, just for fun. But I knew the old piece was unfinished—I’d never incorporated the notes I got on it. And my brain wasn’t up to the task of creating something new out of thin air.

 

With limited time to submit my pages (I might have procrastinated just a little . . .), eventually it was time to sit down and pull my thoughts together.

 

And thank goodness I did. I don’t have many pages, but I wrote more than I expected in a short time and found that I’m really enjoying an idea I thought might have already gone stale.

 

A writers’ group is invaluable for so many reasons—encouragement, honest critique, networking, the opportunity to improve your editing skills, accountability. This week, mine gave me the kick I needed to start the next thing.

What Amanda Maciel Learned While Writing a Novel

The next installment of the publishing-professional-turned-novelist interview series is here!

The talented Amanda Maciel shares her experiences as an editor at Scholastic and author of two forthcoming (fabulous, compelling, super well-written) young adult novels.

Maciel Author Photo

Thanks for being here, today, Amanda.
 
To start, what kinds of books do you work on as a children’s book editor at Scholastic? Have your interests and what you’ve worked on changed over your time as an editor?
I got my start in publishing in nonfiction, but after about a year I switched to children’s books and never looked back. And for the last 12 years my list has actually been pretty consistent — commercial fiction for kids aged 8 years and up — though for many years I focused on teen fiction for girls. Since starting at Scholastic in the fall of 2007, I’ve worked more on middle-grade (8-12), and more of my books are boy-friendly now, like the action-packed historical fiction I SURVIVED series and the dragon-fantasy WINGS OF FIRE books. I’ve worked mostly on series or “lines” (the Candy Apple books from Scholastic were technically standalone novels, but they all had a similar look and tone; similarly, the teen “beach read” line I spearheaded at HarperChildrens had a few mini-arcs but were mostly standalone teen chick lit, if you will). And mostly my interests have stayed the same — strong narrative voice combined with a strong commercial hook, preferably with potential to serialize!
Your debut novel, TEASE, is due out from Balzer & Bray next summer. Congratulations! I’ve had the privilege of reading parts of it, and I’m so looking forward to reading it in full. Can you briefly tell us what it’s about?
Thank you! TEASE is the story Sara and her classmate, Emma, who has committed suicide. In the aftermath, Sara and several of her friends are accused of bullying Emma and brought up on criminal charges, holding them partially liable for Emma’s death. It’s a story inspired (unfortunately) by current events — and by my own need to try to sympathize with kids who are seen as bad or guilty in these cases.
I understand you wrote and shopped another manuscript before TEASE—less bullying, more zombies. Can you talk about what you took from writing that novel into working on TEASE?
Yes, the first novel I actually finished was called MADISON MEADOWS, HALL MONITOR, and it’s basically a long homage to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, except with zombies. I loved writing it and it was much more fun than TEASE (even with zombie peril, it was an essential comedic, lighthearted story), and it accomplished many goals: it showed me I could, in fact, write a whole novel; it convinced my agent, Holly Root, to take me on as a client; and it even captured the attention of Donna Bray, who couldn’t publish it but did take me to coffee and was wonderfully encouraging. Most of all, that manuscript taught me what every writer will tell you — you just have to sit down and do it. Letting it percolate in your head is great, but you also need to get yourself in front of the computer, early and often. I finished MADISON before my son was born, so the sit-down-and-write part was much easier (or at least, more easily scheduled into the day), but once I started TEASE I knew what needed to be done — and I knew I could do it, if I didn’t let myself get scared. Having already finished a novel made it (slightly) less scary to start another one.
 
You are signed up for a two-book deal, both standalones. How are you managing your time between writing one and editing the other? Or are you used to working on two of your own projects at once?
I have been working on both at once, actually — but the new one is getting very, very neglected right now! Luckily TEASE has been moving at some kind of physics-defying speed, and I’m already done with the copyedited pages. I still need to review the typeset pages (which I plan to read very carefully, as that will be my last review of the book before publication), but soon I won’t have any more excuses to ignore the next manuscript. Well, other than my toddler and my day job. And the rest of my life. 🙂
 
Have you always written young adult (YA) fiction? What draws you to that genre?
 Yes, so far it’s all been YA. And you know, there are a lot of reasons. One is that the teen years are so emotionally heightened — with everything happening for the first time, everything feeling so important and yet so hopeless, I think we all get stuck in high school to a certain extent. And I’ve always wanted to see or read stories about teen girls. When I was in elementary school the line between middle-grade and YA wasn’t as starkly defined, so I was reading Judy Blume and Christopher Pike alongside Beverly Cleary and C.S. Lewis. And it was so thrilling to have Clueless and Buffy come to theaters when I was in middle school! Of course as a teenager myself I wasn’t nearly as well-dressed or fabulous as those girls — even now I wish I could be as glam as the girls on Pretty Little Liars — but fortunately I didn’t have any terribly traumatizing experiences, either. But emotionally (and professionally) I am very drawn to childhood and early adulthood because it can be incredibly fraught — and yet, at the end of the day, you still have your whole life ahead of you. So there’s still always hope.
You joined a writers’ group while you were finishing TEASE. How did that play into the way you worked on the manuscript? (Disclaimer: I am a member of said writers’ group.)
Joining a writing group was something I knew I should be doing for a long, long time. When I got the chance to start meeting with you and the other women of PSCWW, I was nervous (no one had really critiqued my writing since college!), but it really made me feel like a legitimate novelist. And it’s been excellent practice in meeting a writer where they are — so much of an editor’s job is to position a book, which is very different from working on the quality of its writing. Of course I try to do that, too, but working on different genres and really digging into what will make a short piece better has strengthened those muscles I might’ve been underusing. Oh, and it was very reassuring to know that the weaknesses I saw in my own writing weren’t wrong — that might sound strange to say, but I was glad to hear that the parts of TEASE I thought needed work were the right parts! There were also surprises — passages that the group liked more than I did — so I was grateful to know to leave those alone (at least mostly!).
What surprised you, being on the other end of the acquisitions process?
That I am not able to emotionally distance myself from my own work! I thought I’d be a much cooler customer. And to a certain degree, I really do know what to not take personally — though we’ll see how far that gets me when I see a cover image for TEASE. (Authors always hate their covers!) Being at this stage of the publishing process is a little like being pregnant: you’ve seen other people have babies, and you know how it’s supposed to go or how you’re hoping it’ll go. But then you have your own baby, and all bets are off! Other surprises: Agents will send you the responses from editors. (Good agents, like mine, only send the nice ones.) And when you’re revising a manuscript, margin notes from your editor that say “Nice” or “I like this” are the most amazing, most encouraging words ever.
How has your work as an editor informed your writing?
I definitely edit as I write, though I don’t find that it really slows me down. Probably because I edit as I go in life, too — I run sentences through my head before I say them aloud; I mentally draft text messages before typing them. I think in dialogue, and I’m a very slow reader because I’m basically reading aloud in my head. But with writing and editing, I work my way through by intuition. I really don’t know any of the “rules,” so I just try to develop a story, or help another writer develop her story, by how true it feels.
 
Conversely, how has writing influenced how you approach your job as an editor?
I think I’m even more sympathetic with — and I was already very sympathetic to the writing process — and often more impressed by the writers I work with. It’s so hard to see my own writing clearly, though, that honestly the editorial side of my life feels much the same.

Anything else you’d like to share?
Thank you for having me! I would just add that collaboration is a huge and wonderful part of book writing and publishing, so try to embrace it. I truly think that I help my authors as an editor, and now I’ve seen firsthand how much editors, including everyone in our writing group, have helped my own work. Every writer should find readers she trusts and solicit their honest feedback. This can be scary — terrifying, even — but if you can get that feedback, and truly accept it, I guarantee your writing will benefit. There might be points you want to hold your ground on, and that’s fine. But try to trust the notes — try to work with them. They will make everything better. And along the way, if you’ve chosen your critics wisely, there will be lovely notes in the margin that say things like, “Nice” and “I like this,” and that will make you feel awesome for at least a week.
 
Where can readers find you online? (Website, twitter, goodreads, facebook, tumblr, etc.)
 My Facebook is all baby pictures and my Tumblr is bare (so far), but Twitter is a good, work related spot to find me: @AmandaMaciel12.
 
Thank you so much!

My pleasure! Thank you!!

Revision Revelation

This weekend, I sat down to get started on my last run through this revision. I reviewed my notes from my fabulous writers’ group. Having some distance from the last workshop, I had an idea of what I wanted to take and what to leave.

 

The notes suggested a couple of different directions for points in trouble. Some editorial notes mark trouble spots with the perfect solution. Having too many solutions offered for the same issue can be overwhelming. What if none of them seems quite right? Then I know there’s definitely an issue there, but the solution needs to be my own.

 

My brain felt a little scattered and I was afraid I’d forget some part of things as I got down to it. Instead of spending all my time in my manuscript, I opted to rewrite a lengthy jacket copy. Where’s the excitement? Where’s the obstacle? Where’s the tenacity in the character to overcome the odds?

 

It’s said that you can’t really teach something until you understand it thoroughly. I think the same goes for writing: you can’t write a believable character or an intriguing plotline until you know what’s behind it and where it’s going. Taking some time to focus on that, I hope, is going to make this a more efficient and fruitful pass than those before. It will be easier to tell where I left off and my edits will be more consistent.

 

Time will tell if I can prove this theory!

A Bit of Good Fortune

I’m in a creative holding pattern as I await my writing group’s notes tomorrow night. Part of me is really excited about working on the next thing, but I want to focus on getting this first manuscript out of my hands by Labor Day. Plus, where would I find the time? We are still settling into a new routine in our new home—new state!—so I’m giving myself some slack.

 

In the meantime, I just rediscovered a bit of wisdom (I think) from a fortune cookie I had not too long ago. Something to think about until next week, at least . . .

 

We write our own destiny. We become what we do.

 

What are you doing to become what you want to be?

Progress Report

After months of preparation, my family has moved. We’re unpacking more and more (almost) every day. Yesterday it seemed like we’d never be done, but today something about the rain here in New Jersey makes me think that we’ve got a fresh start. There’s still work to be done on the house, and lots of visitors and preparations for a family wedding at month’s end (it’s finally August, yay!). I don’t know that I’m getting my Saturday morning writing sessions back any time soon, but I’m thinking about jockeying for Sunday afternoons.

 

I sent two chapters, one from a newly worked beginning and one from the middle, to my writers’ group last night. Next week I’ll have their feedback and, I hope, a big push to finish this revision by Labor Day.

 

It feels good to have things start to wrap up, even if one of those “things” is summer. I’ve been in this stage—of flux on the home front and of revision on the writing front—long enough. Now it’s time to move forward!

Writers’ Group 101

I am convinced that if you want to get serious about writing, joining a writers’ group is the single most important thing you can do. It gives you deadlines, other people to hold you accountable to meeting said deadlines, free (at least in terms of money) editors, and material to improve your editing skills.

 

Getting involved with a group, as the professor of my undergraduate fiction workshop advised, is not something to take lightly. Having started my own group a few years ago (which disbanded once too many people moved away) and now being a sort of replacement member in an already established group, I feel qualified to offer some experience-based tips on getting off on the right foot.

 

1. The most important qualification for a prospective group member is how committed s/he is to the group. Our group comprises writers of adult fiction, young adult fiction, and nonfiction personal essays. Some of us have worked in publishing; most have not. One has an MFA; others have no formal training in writing. What we have in common is that we prioritize submitting our pieces on time and responding to others’ submissions at our meetings (or via email later, if we can’t attend the meeting). Though a group of all fiction writers or all young adult writers would be great, too, for us, the diversity in where we come from and what we write makes the group richer.

 

2. Meet often. We meet every two or three weeks. It might seem like a lot, but it keeps us in touch with each other and always moving forward. We have a large enough group that there’s enough time between submissions for each individual to make use of her notes before bringing something else—new or revised—to the group.

 

3. Consider your numbers. Our group is eight, which is as large as I’d want to see a group go. Because it’s hard to schedule with that many people (some prefer weekends, other prefer weeknights), we’ll often have one or two members missing. Even then, there are enough people to keep things moving, so there isn’t too too much pressure to make every single meeting no matter what. Though this may seem to contradict #1, we all have young kids, so this is reality right now. We’re all committed, but we also understand when family takes precedence.

 

On the other hand, I wouldn’t want fewer than five in a group. The discussion is so important to build off of each other and see more than we did in our own private read-throughs.

 

4. Stick to a format. Our group begins each discussion by going around the room and having each person say something they liked and something they think needs improvement in the piece. This balance keeps the criticism constructive, and usually helps us pinpoint which issues need to be delved into more deeply in our discussion.

 

 

In both of the groups I’ve been in, we’ve used a traditional format, in which the author of the piece does not speak until the conversation among the rest of the group has ended. Then the author has a chance to ask questions or explain things that were vague. It can be hard to keep your mouth shut sometimes, but the beauty of the group is that you hear what other people frankly think of your writing. Plus, sometimes it can be really funny to see where they think your piece is going—or really inspiring!

 

5. Watch the time. We’re all busy people, and as much as the group can be a nice escape from the rest of life, we all do have lives to get back to. Everyone in my group is a mother (we meet post-bedtime), so none of us can stay too late, as we have little ones, if not full-time jobs as well, to carry on with. Our meetings are generally one and a half to two hours. It’s good to have that expectation, and even better to stick to it.

 

What else might you advise for someone looking to start a new writers’ group or improve an existing one?