Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Revising’ Category

Motivation to Revise

In 52: A Writer's Life, Editing, Revising, Writing on October 13, 2013 at 11:00 am

Normally I’m not a procrastinator until it comes to editing my own work.

But once I start editing, I want to get to the end of it, so that I can say I’m finished. To complete my self-assigned task, I put in the time just so I can be done.

My problem is that editing a novel isn’t a one-time affair. It requires several revisions from the overall structure down to the grammar.

That means nine months later I’m still editing my nearly 90,000-word novel, “The Fire Painter,” about a 30-something artist named Kate who loses everything in an apartment fire and tries to get back her lost things.

In my fourth edit, which I finished in early July, I revised directly on the computer screen, reading the manuscript from start to finish. I noticed where I got bored and asked way.

I tightened up description to speed up the pace. I slimmed down the dialogue, noticing where it got repetitive or boring or included conversational fillers. And I looked at the beginnings of each paragraph to look for variety, cutting any repetitions of “the,” “I” or other words.

I read through Kate’s sections first to keep her story whole, seeing that there was a plot gap when I assumed a mention in the secondary character’s section was enough. I also noticed that I started two scenes one after another with Kate looking in her wardrobe deciding what to wear.

Nice catch there, I have to admit, because a wardrobe malfunction isn’t good, on stage or in a book.

I then took two months off before my edit on hard copy, where I tried to be a picky reader. I looked for missing elements and things I liked and didn’t like. I looked for inconsistencies. And I evaluated the depth of my main characters, adding to their voices.

Editing on screen allowed me to immediately make changes as I edited, while the paper version doubled the workload – I had to type in all the changes after making them in pen.

But editing on paper makes mistakes more glaring – black against white instead of on a computer screen with the programming tags on the borders. For me, editing this way feels more natural, growing up in the paper-and-pen world of the 1980s.

Procrastinating in Writing

In 52: A Writer's Life, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on October 6, 2013 at 11:00 am

I used to consider myself a non-procrastinator, but maybe my self-view is a bit inaccurate.

In December 2012, I finished my literary novel “The Fire Painter” and set it aside for a month before my first revision. I figured I could finish the revisions by late spring, but now it is fall 2013, and I still have a couple more revisions to go.

To say that, for me, it takes a year to write and a year to revise isn’t entirely accurate either. Rather, I spent a year on my rough draft and another year – or close to it – avoiding the revision process.

I love my novel (I may be the only one who does so), but I really don’t want to read it again. I’ve read (and revised) it four times, more than any of my favorite novels, such as any of Jane Austen’s, Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” or “The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” by Jamie Ford.

My not wanting to encounter the same story a third, fourth and fifth time could be yet another excuse.

Revising is painful, tedious and not-writing (unless you’re rewriting a scene or the whole book). It’s a matter of editing, copy-editing, fact checking, checking for accuracies and consistencies, and evaluating all the elements of story, including plot, character and setting.

It’s making sure the voice is compelling, the story is amazing and the plot falls together perfectly.

And it’s trying to craft that next breakout novel that makes the bestseller list with an original story, a new twist on a trend or a character not yet seen in literature.

At this stage of the writing process, revising and editing is work that takes a lot of time, motivation and effort.

And the motivation is where I find a personal lack. I can think of other things to do (even organizing something that doesn’t need organizing), as well as reasons why now isn’t the time to edit.

My excuses include:

• I should wait some more time because, as they say, you need to set your book aside.
• I already know the story too well, so I won’t find anything to change.
• I wish someone else would tell me how to fix whatever is wrong.

Despite these excuses, I eventually will go through yet another revision, set my book aside for a long period and make more excuses before returning to it again.


Because I’m a writer, and part of writing is revising, whether I like it or not.

(See next week’s blog on how I faced this next revision.)

Revision Headache

In 52: A Writer's Life, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on June 9, 2013 at 11:00 am

I’ve avoided the dreaded revision process for long enough.

It’s time for me to return to “The Fire Painter,” an account of a 35-year-old artist named Kate who loses everything in an apartment fire and tries to paint her way back to new meanings.

I’ve been separated from my manuscript for two months, filling my life with enough other stuff to tell myself, I’m too busy to edit.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about my manuscript, especially because I keep meaning to crack down on the third revision.

During my mini-break, I’ve spent more time reading than writing. As I read, I analyzed what I liked about each book that I could apply to my own writing. I realized I need to ask myself:

• How do I make Kate’s voice more interesting and distinguishable, like that of Pat Peoples in “Silver Linings Playbook?” Pat is obsessive about getting his ex-wife Nicky back into his life, using the phrase “apart time” for their separation in an excessive, compulsive manner. His voice is witty, endearing and hard-hitting.

• How can I tighten the plot and dialogue, plus individual scenes, to increase the pace? I realized from feedback on my own writing that I’m giving too much detail about Kate’s every thought and action. Though I want to delve more into her thoughts, I also need to choose when, where and how to keep the story moving.

• How can I improve my descriptions by keeping the best phrases without slowing the pace? For instance, one of my writer’s groups said I need to cut the bolded words from this sentence phrase: “as if throwing bedroom clothes from fat cloud bellies.” This is just one example of where I need to tighten up the descriptions to get to the action.

Needless to say, this revision is focusing on pacing and tightening up anything that slows down the pace, unless I want the pace to be slow for a specific reason.

To put it another way, I need to be conscious of the why in pacing.

Rejection Queen

In 52: A Writer's Life, Rejection, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on April 21, 2013 at 11:00 am

Every time I get rejected from a short story, poetry or book contest or anything else having to do with writing, I have to pout.

I start with the thought that I’m a pro at rejection, a skill I learned as an elementary school student not able to fit in socially. I was the awkward geeky girl who stood outside the girl groups, barely fitting in.

My next thought, at least with my latest rejection from a writing contest, was that if I had actually won, I would have had to wonder if there was something wrong with the contest, because, as evidenced by past experiences, I don’t win.

At the same time, I believed I should have won (there weren’t very many entries), because I’ve been told that I’m a good writer and, likewise, believe that I’m a good writer. I write because of that belief and because I have to write.

But why if I’m “a good writer” am I still a collector of rejection slips?

My latest rejection slip I realize had merit because I submitted a book manuscript for “The Fire Painter” before I had finished the revision process. A couple days later, I received a critique form explaining the areas where to strengthen my manuscript, taking out some of the sting.

Following the pouting phase, I had to go through some ego bandaging. I had to get back up and try again at this writing thing.

Though I do wonder:

* Am I crazy spending my free time writing when I could be living?
* Am I crazy thinking I’m a great writer when I have evidence of rejection?
* Am I crazy for pursuing something that is like spinning in a circle of nowhereness when
I could be going forward on something else?

Whether I am or not, I’m writing again.

Hopefully next time, I’ll throw my arms out to welcome rejection as part of the process.

Deadline Wrecker

In 52: A Writer's Life, Editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on March 17, 2013 at 11:00 am

Pushing deadlines is something I’ve learned to avoid during my daytime job as a reporter, not wanting to annoy my editors.

My nighttime job moonlighting as a yet-to-be-published writer is quite a different matter.

I usually don’t have deadlines except for those that are self-imposed.

I had one Monday at midnight for the Top of the Mountain Award novel contest offered through Northern Colorado Writers, which honors a fiction and a non-fiction manuscript at the group’s annual writer’s conference.

I filed my five-page synopsis and the first 25 double-spaced pages for “The Fire Painter” at 12:00, which actually was Tuesday morning. My heart pounded as I tried to add the attachments and write up an email in three minutes.

When I hit “Send,” I barely made it in time.

Too late for a correction, I noticed a repetition in the last section of nearly the same phrase, not surprising because I wrote my synopsis up to nearly the last minute.

Though I wanted to enter the contest, I wasn’t quite ready for the synopsis stage.

A synopsis is a one-page, five-page or other number of pages summarizing the plot of a novel that includes the hook, the character and plot arcs, and a sense of the setting and other writing elements. It’s told in present tense, includes very little dialogue and gives away the ending.

Given that I’m methodical in my writing habits, I freaked out when I tried to write the synopsis while editing my novel. I couldn’t mentally process how to do things out of order.

I knew about the contest’s extended deadline for two weeks, during which time I painstakingly input the red marks from my marked-up second draft into my third draft. I spent 15 hours a week for two weeks doing the input, which I finished at about 3:30 p.m. on Monday (my Sunday).

I could have skipped most of the input because the contest submission required just 25 pages, not all 283 of them.

Because I didn’t, I ended up limiting my time to write and edit the synopsis. I worked on it for an hour, and then feeling quite tired from sitting too long in a chair, I did errands, ate dinner and got coffee. I then got back to work for a few more hours until, well midnight.

Though I hit “Send,” I’m not done. I’ve got two more drafts to go, then it’s the big sleep for the manuscript where I won’t look at it for a few months. Call it Cinderella meets Sleeping Beauty (or the midnight pumpkin meets girl needing a break).

The Revision Commitment, Take 2

In 52: A Writer's Life, Editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm on March 10, 2013 at 11:00 am

Revising a novel is like making a long-term commitment to someone you kind of love but maybe find a bit tiring.

In other words, revision is an obligation that, unless you’re a one-draft wonder, is part of the process of writing.

I am in midst of that obligation editing my nearly 90,000-word novel that was, at one time, 92,000-plus words. I didn’t just cut 2,000 words but cut much more, including partial scenes, repetitions and unnecessary descriptions. I also added words by fixing missing logistics of where or when, holes in the plot and character development, and word-heavy dialogues that didn’t make it clear who was speaking.

At 11:59 p.m. Sunday, I made the last red mark in my second revision of “The Fire Painter,” which is about a 30-something artist who loses everything in an apartment fire and searches to replace her lost things.

I like to think of myself as a quick editor, mainly because I want to get in and out and go on to more writing. It’s called diving in, using any and every free moment to heal my pain (pain is editing, healing is finishing editing).

My first revision, which I started Jan. 23 and took two weeks, was a read-through on the computer to fix any areas where the scenes seemed choppy or something didn’t make sense.

The second revision took three weeks and involved a printout and my red pen. In this revision:

• I deleted scenes that partially repeated other scenes.
• I removed facts or information I mentioned earlier in the draft.
• I checked for inconsistencies, such as switching eye or hair color, which I did do without the convenience of new contacts or hair dye.
• I reread the thoughts of two of my characters who tend toward self-pity to avoid making them too whiney.
• I made sure I referred to important objects in the story in a consistent basis, such as the doggie piggybank, instead of dog bank.
• I tightened the language by removing adjectives, details that didn’t push the story and any over-done descriptions.
• With my descriptions, I listened to how the language sounds, as well as to how each sentence builds on the previous sentence.
• I changed areas of dialogue that didn’t sound like how real people talk.
• I filled in words I accidentally left out and fixed any grammar errors I identified, plus added a few missing periods.
• I realized I named two minor characters Linda, so I left the more minor of the two nameless.

I also plan to remove my tics, which I will do with my “search and find” function. I noticed that I love the words “OK,” “nods” and “shrugs.” Picture me nodding and shrugging and saying, “OK, whatever.”

As for other revisions, I know there will be more but as to how many, that depends on how long it will take me to say this is the best I can make my work. And then I’ll be looking for a literary agent. Wish me luck and bon voyage as I travel yet again through my story.

Revision Obsession

In 52: A Writer's Life, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on February 17, 2013 at 11:00 am

I got so caught up in revising my novel that I skipped my weekly blog last week.

In other words, I fell off the blog wagon, particularly considering that I almost skipped this week, too, until I remembered my cyber-promise.

In 2013, I plan to write a blog a week about writing, revising and editing for 52:A Writer’s Life. Given my mess-up, my blog should be renamed 51, but that wouldn’t fit with the one-year plan.

I have 40 pages left to revise in my 287-page novel that used to be 298 pages. I cut and added, rearranged and rewrote, spending about 30 hours on the first draft. I plan to spend Monday (which is my Sunday) finishing the revision that is directly on the computer.

As I revise (my next draft will be marking up a printout version), I am trying to get to the core of my story. My novel, “The Fire Painter,” is about a 30-something artist who loses everything in an apartment fire and, as she searches for her lost things, finds what’s really important.

To bore down to that core:

• I cut unnecessary details that didn’t push the story forward, like descriptions of clothing when just one or two items was enough, such as Megan’s short skirt and scarf. I didn’t need her crop top mentioned, too, even though she likes to show off her model thin body.

• I cut partial scenes that were near repeats of other scenes (what was I thinking?). Patricia, a benefactress who donates art supplies to Kate after she lost hers, shows Kate the same photograph twice, when I meant for that to happen once. Ty, Kate’s love interest, asks her out on two similar dates; though that happens in real life, it doesn’t work in the story world.

• I added to the dialogue with physical actions and emotional responses when I was confused over who was speaking.

• I expanded scenes where there seemed to be a gap in logistics, action or response among characters.

• I tightened my descriptions, deleting unnecessary words and actions to simplify what I was expressing.

As I edited, I worked to smooth my story, removing any rough spots that are jarring to the ear or the mind. The story remains rough, because for me I require at least half a dozen revisions before I believe I’ve found the core. At that point, I put the story aside for six or more months, enabling a new perspective and more fine-tuning.

The Editing Plunge

In 52: A Writer's Life, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on February 2, 2013 at 11:00 am

It is official: I’ve taken the editing plunge.

I’m not saying that I don’t like editing; it’s just that there are other things I prefer, like writing. I like editing short stories, news articles and other things I’ve written, but revising an entire novel is a bit daunting.

Like right now, I had planned to revise my novel, a 90,000-word account of a 30-something artist who loses everything in an apartment fire called “The Fire Painter,” but I figured I could do some writing first by blogging about not wanting to edit.

So far, I’ve edited 30 pages of the 296 I’ve written (the lines are at 1 ½ spaces), spreading the work over three days. When I looked at page 31 just now, it felt as if there are a million pages left to work over for the second draft.

I started editing my novel on Wednesday, Jan. 23, though I had planned to begin on Jan. 1 with the New Year. I had excuses, of course.
So, on Jan. 23, i.e. 01-23, I was nervous facing a huge revision project that can’t be finished in a few hours or days. I was already sick of chapter 1, having edited it with my writer’s group and a couple of my friends, plus I practically have it memorized. I surprised myself by enjoying reading/editing/red marking it and finding lines I hadn’t remembered writing.

I initially asked, “Is my first paragraph the best it could be?” I read it over a half-dozen times, trying to fine-tune it so that it would hook the reader with intriguing use of language and an interesting character and situation. I changed the last sentence from being about coffee (my character and I are both addicted to caffeine) to wanting to paint life beyond the clothing racks – my character works in retail, while seeking the life of the artist.

By the end of two hours editing seven pages, I felt drained and could not face looking at chapter 2. I had made several line cuts, tightened up descriptions and found some inconsistencies and word echoes.

I edited the next four chapters (I tend to write short chapters) over the next two days, spending about an hour per 10 pages.

Originally, I intended the second draft to be a read through, but it’s becoming more of a line edit where I’m trying to fix errors at the sentence level. I think I will revise for overall structure during the third draft. So much for following my own editing guidelines.
But at least I’ve taken the plunge.

Revision Procrastination

In 52: A Writer's Life, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Processes on January 27, 2013 at 11:00 am

Normally, I’m not a procrastinator, except when it comes to the revision process.

I had planned to take one month off from my novel, which I finished in early December, and at that time, I wanted to keep on working. That month turned into five weeks and then six and I still have not begun to edit.

A writer friend told me that a first draft needs to sit for awhile to give the writer some distance and time to forget every line written. She recommended not looking at the draft for at least one month but preferably three, except I can’t wait that long with plans to attend a writer’s conference in late March.

So, I have a personal deadline, and yet I haven’t opened the document called Novel, nor printed it out. Instead, I’ve been packing my life with other things, like going to the movies, eating out, seeing friends and reading.

Luckily, reading is the best tool for that in-between time of writing and editing. That’s where writers can analyze how other writers approach storytelling, use the elements of writing and engage a distinctive voice.

Procrastinating editing has a few advantages:

• It’s a way to not actively think about the rough draft, letting some thoughts and processing happen at the subconscious level. Likewise, if writers know all the elements of writing and approaches to telling a story, they may make new connections by not doing everything by rote on a daily basis.
• Writers get a break from their own way of writing and may, from their reading, ponder how other writers use language, choose words and describe the story world.
• Errors are easier to catch with some distance. The idea is to read each word, instead of filling in what should be there, both at the sentence level and the level of character and scene development.
• Writers can be more of a reader, noting where they get bored or their minds wander. They can read the opening scene and, hopefully, be more honest about whether it’s the right place to begin the story, if there is too much backstory early on and if there’s reason to read on to the next chapter.

Finally, procrastinating allows writers to experience life without thinking that they should be writing. Both are necessary and should be kept in balance.

So … I will start editing on Monday, I promise!