Round 3 Wednesday Check-in 5

More Wednesday Cheer!

As many of you involved in the ROW80 know, this has been an extra cray-cray couple of months for a few of us.  Even too much good change can be exhausting, and sadly not all news can be good.

That said, I’d like to make a Shout Out to ROWer Beth Camp for pitching in last week and posting things to the Facebook group when both Shan and I blarged a bit.  Thank you, Beth!  (And thanks also for linking to that article about writing memorable villains.)

And now for your linky…. have at it, folks.

Sponsor Post: Are You Ready?

(A gracious thank you to our sponsor Beth Camp for helping us welcome the new year:

Writers: “Ready for 2018?”

By Beth Camp

For writers, each year ends and begins with reflection, and that’s good. For sometimes we feel used up and are uncertain how to reconnect with our writing. Sometimes ideas for stories come so fast, we cannot get them down on paper.

Even if we are immersed in drafting or revision, or floundering a bit between projects, we may question our writing, want to change our writing process, or set new goals to improve our productivity.

Does it matter when we write?
Or how or what?
Do I pack my journal with my lunch,
a physical reminder to write?

You might feel, “I can only write in the morning, when my mind is clear.” But what if the only time in your cluttered day is late at night? What if work and family commitments leave no time for writing at all? How do we ‘schedule’ down time – not just at the end of the day when we are exhausted from all we have managed to accomplish.

  • One strategy is to find pleasure each day in small things. I remember laughing out loud when I read somewhere that even washing dishes can be a meditation. I learned this is true when my grandmother’s lovely Desert Rose dishes were gifted to me, the meandering flowers a reminder of my childhood.
  • We can set boundaries. Perhaps we say ‘yes’ too often. We know it takes courage in the moment to act with intention. Focus on priorities. With many possibilities before us, trust yourself to know, truly, what is best for you.
  • Take time to analyze, list, reflect, and choose. Follow up by asking ‘How am I doing?’ as we check in with A Round of Words in 80 Days.
  • Try out a ‘do it different’ day. Can you write at a coffee shop? Write by hand instead of on the computer? Write late at night instead of in the morning? Set aside one day a week for those projects that have languished all week? Read a writing craft magazine (like The Writer or Writer’s Digest) for professional development? Challenge yourself by scheduling something new each quarter — Join a new writer’s group? Support other writers by writing a review? Teach a workshop? Go on a writing retreat – formally with others or on your very own? Attend a writing conference?
  • Celebrate your successes. Every step takes you closer to reaching your ‘big picture’ writing goal. Recognize that sometimes nurturing yourself may mean taking a break from writing, letting those projects lie fallow. Or maybe, just maybe you want a new pair of winter boots.

And the morning begins
anew, each day, each season, another round,
even as we change.

How do we begin? Meditation? Morning thoughts? An intuitive scrawl that brings our stories to life? Sometimes we are inspired by writing prompts that take us in unexpected directions.

Or, we might pursue a programmed approach: Step 1: Draft the story concept. Step 2: Block that story into scenes. Step 3: Flesh out characters.

No matter what writing process we use, from inspiration, to drafting, to revision, at the end, we are surprised at what we’ve written. Whether we write by hand, draft on the computer, or dictate into our phones, we write. The story takes over; its meaning unfolds as we write.

What really do I need?
A notebook, a pen, my laptop.
Some place separate.
Perhaps a room of my own.

Some writers like to think about inspiration that comes from a muse, as if she were someone separate, a guest somewhat whimsical, who may or may not appear, and certainly who chooses not to appear on demand.

Or perhaps we write on schedule, the blank sheet (real or on screen), a dumping of words on paper, almost an invisible chain from the mind that seeks its own journey to a story unfolding.

Whether we write with a plan or without, we still build our story word by word, layer by layer. ending with often unexpected resolutions and insights about the human condition. That is our condition, regardless of setting. The story is what connects us to others, that creates a community of readers and writers.

Somewhere a door closes,
and another opens.
Each decade we live presents new challenges.

Does it matter how old we were when we began to write? Or how old we are now? The reality is that writing is a chimera, a dream world we create with words, a space and time that we build (and that only exists for us), until we share our words with others.

Perhaps just now, we have young children whose energetic needs pull at that time we have for writing until another week has passed, and we feel bereft at what we lose, even at the same moment, we cherish these little souls who begin their own journey. What gift do we give those who are close to us when we show them that we respect our inner lives? That a parent, aunt, or sister paints, or writes, or does just about anything with creativity, passion, and a snitch of abandon?

Some seasons are cold,
but even the moon rimmed with blue hints at change.

The end of a year invites us to consider: What can I celebrate this year? What would I like to write? What ideas draw me to write?

When I begin a story, something intrigues me. I have no idea, really, what length it will be. Flash or novel. It’s not so much that I think about finishing (though, trust me, I really want to tidy up and finish several floating projects), but a new story grows with each writing session, scene upon scene, some days slower than others. I write about relationships, conflict, setting, those pinch-pins of history that hold the story to a certain place and time, each element tightening that essential line of plot-conflict-resolution. Some stories, like some lives, end in tragedy as I attempt to work out why this character in this particular time and place acted in this way and what this means to us today.

Because I write historical fiction, if one part of the story isn’t working, I can switch to another part, fall back on research, or write more character studies. Alas, my writing style is recursive, circular, and there’s always revision. One thing, though, I’ve finally learned. I can squeeze in an occasional article or poem, but, unlike others, I cannot work on more than one major writing project at a time.

Now that I’m a septuagenarian, I can ask: How long did it take for me to say – without flinching – that I’m a writer? Somewhere between writing that second and third novel, I stopped hesitating when people asked me what I do. All those years of working, teaching, parenting, and yearning for my own writing life, of writing short stories and the occasional poem, and of reading and studying – and yes, living – prepared me for what I do now: I write, and I cannot imagine not writing.

Listen to your heart.
Listen to your mind.
Then write those unique words
that are yours alone.

Beth Camp travels with laptop and writes historical fiction and poetry. Her novel, Standing Stones, set in Scotland during the time of the Clearances, won an award at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association literary contest (2010). In Years of Stone, Book 2, Mac McDonnell is transported to Van Diemen’s Land in the 1840s (Australia). Rivers of Stone, Book 3, tells the story of Catriona McDonnell, as she crosses Canada disguised as a boy during the fur trade era. Her poetry and stories have appeared in Camroc Press Review, Fickle Muses, Celebrating Spokane Authors, and on her blog:




Do It Different Day’: Another Way to Build Your Writing Productivity and Just Maybe, Save Your Sanity! by Beth Camp

So you’re deep in revision, the phone is turned off, the to-do list is covered up, and you want to make progress with your story, but you keep thinking about what needs to be done next in the ‘real’ world.

Maybe you write early in the morning or late at night. You write in the middle, between, or before all those other commitments come screaming at you. The job. The kids. Volunteer work. Dare I say it? OTHER writing projects? As in that beta read that’s due this week, chapters waiting for the red pen for your critique group, and that flash fiction you want to submit. Whether you are self-published or not, we add marketing to the list. And social media. By the way, is your e-mail inbox full?

I can always tell when ‘real life’ becomes overwhelming. My office looks like Attila the Hun just paid a visit and took prisoners. And I stop writing.

My challenge this month was balancing writing with commitments to others. My e-mail ballooned to over 600 messages, many gems from writing gurus, and I couldn’t find time to write for 4 days. All too quickly, that fear that I would never write, not be able to finish this beautiful story I’m working on, began to grow. Adding to my doubt, several readers popped into my life to ask: “When are you going to finish the next book?” My daughter reassured me that I’m not a coke machine, producing consumables, but a three-year turnaround is a long time for readers to wait.

I read somewhere that decluttering is a way of life, not just an annual purge.

We start the day and end it with routine. Our stories have structure, and whether we recognize the warp and woof of each day, so too do we weave our own designs for living – the when, the how, and the what – with each small decision we make.

Remember that old ‘fight or flight’ syndrome from psychology class? We all run away at times to those people, activities, or treats that soothe us. Do you run away from conflict and challenge? Consider asking: What have I needed to do for so long and keep putting off? This follows the theory that what we dread falls to the bottom of the list and somehow remains invisible as it grows in our subconscious like a dark, dark alien, sucking energy as it drains away our focus and attention from ‘what matters most’.

Consider facing into your challenges. And if you make lists, now’s the time! Try a ‘Do it Different Day.’

  1. Set your writing aside.
  2. Look at your work space and grab that endless to-do list.
  3. Consider your commitments.
  4. Assess those tasks that interrupt your writing. What gets in the way? Why?
  5. Analyze what needs to be done, break larger jobs into smaller steps.
  6. Tackle the hardest task on your list.
  7. Spend some time organizing/cleaning up your work area.

Why not set that timer for 30 minutes? OK, 15 minutes. Try baby steps and – most important — notice your reaction AFTER those 30 minutes of focused organizing/cleaning are complete.

Know yourself. Know that the crazy disorder will reoccur, unplanned disasters will create havoc (and leave emotional ripples), deadlines will shift, and distractions will multiply. But you can make a ‘Do It Different Day’ a part of your life, kind of a scheduled way to bring order and creativity in balance with the rest of your ‘real’ life and your writing life.

Reality check: I’m back on track with my revision and meeting my minimum of one hour a day on revision. E-mails are comfortably under 100. No, I haven’t confronted that to-be-read pile, and I haven’t watered my long-suffering African violets, but I’m writing. My office welcomes me with materials organized by project. I won’t lose my place. I’m not sure when exactly my next “Do It Different Day” will occur, but this strategy works for me. I hope it helps YOU!


How American Idol and Mary Tod Changed the Way I Connect with my Audience by Beth Camp

American Idol’s fifteen year run ended in early April.


What a finale with superstar performances and lots of strobe lights. I’ve been a fan since the second year. Each week, American Idol hosted a singing competition with weekly feedback from the celebrity judges. I loved those judges, and I hated them. Each week behind the scenes, selected semi-finalists would move through a round of mentors, practice with musicians and coaches, to finally perform. America voted on who would move forward. Some performances were heart-breaking. Some inspirational.  But each week those who remained ‘upped their game’ and persevered.


Ryan Seacrest noted that what made American Idol different was involvement with the audience. America voted. America chose. This resonated with something ephemeral I’ve been thinking about as I weed through the dozens of writing-related articles and posts I receive each month. For we writers do study writing craft. If we’re self-publishers, we take on the whole range of skills needed to publish and market our books. We build our online platforms. Sometimes we pay for advertising. We tweet and blog and post on Instagram, never quite certain if we’re using our time wisely or productively.


So here’s what I gained:


Readers want to learn about you, the person behind the writer.


They’ve read your stories and books. They feel connected with you, and they’re curious about you, your writing, and your opinions. Maybe they’ve signed up for your newsletter. What can you offer that’s a little different than that constant refrain, “Buy my book!”? Whether you’re blogging or writing that newsletter you hope will build your reader base, start by thinking about your audience and then use questions to add depth to your social writing.


  1. Define Your Audience. Begin with a specific definition of who your audience is. The most useful suggestion I’ve found is to use a Google search with these words: define audience for <insert your genre>. If you don’t find enough information, use the words: survey of readers <insert your genre>.


I wasn’t expecting much from a Google search, but I was thrilled to find Mary Tod’s exhaustive survey of people who read historical fiction, highlighted on the Historical Novel Society’s website. Interestingly, when women read historical fiction, they are drawn to strong female characters. Men and women (who both tend to be a little older than average) want stories that have a strong sense of what life was like ‘back then,’ and men prefer more action and adventure.


Additionally, Mary Tod noted that most readers of historical fiction find new book recommendations on GoodReads, blogs and sites about historical fiction, small book review sites, and Amazon. Both LibraryThing and Shelfari also show up as important resources for readers.


Mary Tod’s analysis has changed how I think about my newsletter and my blogging.


  1. Ask questions as you write your blog and/or newsletter that lead you to add your own opinions or share the experiences that led you to write a particular story. Share . . . the rest of the story, the story behind the scenes.


  • Which aspects of characters resonate with your own life or the lives of your target audience? Why did you write about these particular characters? Or about this particular story?
  • How does the content of what you’re writing challenge or affirm your beliefs?
  • What particular stories did not make it into your project? Why or why not?
  • How does the theme of what you’re writing connect to your audience?
  • And, most importantly, what do you think about what you’re writing?


Just now, I’m participating in the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. Some of the over 1,800 participants commit to a theme before the challenge begins, and some even write their posts before April 1. This year, I using the A to Z Blogging to write about my research for Rivers of Stone, my current work-in-progress, now in the revision stage.


As I write my daily post and respond to reader comments, I’m noticing that readers connect what I’ve written to their own personal experience.  Readers are not returning necessarily to read summaries about my research, but to discover what I think about that research, what personal stories I tie into my research, and how this links to their own experiences.


American Idol offered an incredible promise and platform to new talent. Those singers who made the next cut brought hard work, discipline, and their creativity to a wide public. We writers may not have the same support system or the national platform, but this lesson remains:


For writers, it’s about the content of what we create and how we connect with readers. The more we understand who our particular readers are, how they find new books to read, and what appeals to them, the more insight we can gain into why our writing appeals to certain readers. This can help us to focus our marketing and to tighten that bond with our readers. May Round 2 bring you new strategies and new ways that encourage creativity in your writing!


For more about Mary K. Tod:

About the Blogging from A to Z Challenge

Book Lover



And the Big “M” – Mystery by Beth Camp

Note from Kait: Thank you, Beth for pulling a Twofer on inspiration this round!!!


Little Johnny was too excited to sit still. Today, Miss Jones was going to teach the class how to write.

“Now, children,” she began. “Don’t be intimidated. When you write your story, remember to include four key elements: Religion, romance, and royalty – and the big “M” – mystery!”

The children seated in tidy rows, bent their heads over their pens and papers, and began to write.

Within a very short minute, little Johnny’s hand shot into the air.

“Are you finished already, Johnny?” asked Mrs. Jones.

“Yes, Miss Jones.”

“Do you have all four of the elements – religion, romance, royalty, and the big “M” – mystery?”

“Yes, Miss Jones, I checked.”

“Very well, Johnny. You may read your story to the class.”

Little Johnny straightened up and read, “Holy Moses,” said the princess. “Pregnant again. I wonder who did it.”

I do love this story, for humor invites us to be entertained by the unexpected.

The reality for most writers, though, is far different than Johnny’s experience. Inspiration may result in many words on the page, or a sudden flash of insight about our characters, but most of us spend many hundreds of hours planning, plotting, drafting, and editing to hone our stories – in addition to that pure joy of writing that brings our stories and our characters to life.

Like the teacher in the story, we can number the elements of our craft that lead to good writing. The big mystery, though, remains exactly that question: What is good writing?

For how do we include those hidden themes or motifs that underlie a story, that leave us feeling satisfied or inspired by our hero? I’m not talking about those stories that seem to circle around death or pick at infidelity as if it were a scab, but those stories that leave us wanting more, that teach us something about being human, and that may provoke us to be better people – and perhaps remember the author.

I read somewhere that each author explores one theme that rings through every story he or she writes. Last night, we were sitting around with family we hadn’t seen in a very long time, and the question came up, “What is your favorite song?” Immediately I thought of the main aria from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. If I were to choose a song that personifies the theme that’s closest to my heart, I would choose this larger-than-life, soaring melody, sung at the moment of greatest loss and sacrifice. For we do struggle to survive, hopefully with grace and dignity. Do my stories revolve around this theme? As I write, I can only hope.

When little Johnny writes his next story, he may decide to move away from his teacher’s formula. He may well ask: What is my purpose in writing this story? What do I hope to achieve? What do I want the reader to take away from the experience of reading my stories? I’m not so sure we can control or number these mysterious elements of good storytelling. We can refine our writing. Hire outside editors. What is at the very essence of our stories, though, is ours alone.

May what you write inspire you!


Beth Camp

True Confessions by Beth Camp

I’ve Always Wanted To Be A Writer. And Always Denied It

I remember staring at my bookcase crammed with books when I was in my 20s, and crying in despair because I knew that I would never write a book of my own. After a decade of working odd jobs through school, I found a career as an international banker. In my late 30s, I fell in love truly and married a man with light feet, a big heart, and absolute belief in me. We traveled. Once we had our cherished child, I returned to school for my masters and taught English at a community college. I loved working with these students – their journeys as convoluted as mine; their clear visions inspired me. I wrote between my commitments to others and during summers. Poetry. Flash fiction. Some published. Some not. A novel that yet lives in a drawer.
Why was that first novel so important? Because it showed me that I could truly tell a story. Those characters also helped me confront and exorcise something very painful – my childhood as the daughter of an alcoholic.
And then somehow, when I wondered if I would ever retire, my husband and I went on sabbatical, a glorious six-month trip to as many countries. I returned to work to discover my department had saved several noxious projects because, as they put it, nodding their heads as we sat in a tiny boardroom, that I completed projects like these so well. In that moment, I knew it was time to retire. What would I do – used to 70 hour weeks as a routine? Perhaps I would write.

So I took a creative writing class. The teacher, a little intimidated by my presence in the class, stood up on that first day to say she accepted any kind of a story except those that ran with gore. I was dismayed, for I had hoped to work on my not-yet-completed novel, Mothers Don’t Die. Well, I thought, I might as well write about mermaids. And so I did. Over the course of the next ten weeks, ten stories emerged, teaching me anew that creativity is not limited by subject. After the class was over, one of those stories lost the mermaid and morphed into my first book, Standing Stones, and led to a two month research trip to Scotland.

I’m now immersed in that delightful process that sometimes seems unending for Book 3 in the current series: Write, research, write, edit, write, research, edit, and write again. Send out to beta readers, then write and edit and, finally, publish. My characters and their struggles in the middle of the 19thCentury are endlessly fascinating.
Why am I telling you this story? To say that dreams do not go away when you turn 40, or 50, or older.
Dreams shape who we are. And, we know we are writers – even when we cannot see quite how to achieve our dreams. I began writing seriously the year I turned 64. That was 8 years ago, and I haven’t stopped. Writing shapes each morning and anchors the rest of my life. Sometimes I wonder how long I will be able to write, if my muse will decide that SHE wants to retire. Or I worry that this story I’m working on will never be finished. But in the morning, the keyboard calls, and I write.
The lesson I hope to share with you? That we writers, albeit very, very different, need to pursue a commitment to our dreams in a very tangible way. Yep, butt in chair. We each will find our own path, writing journals, story boards, NaNoWriMo, or simply writing every day, or 5 days out of 7.
Participating in this wonderful online community of ROW80, offers us another way to support our writing through a process of setting and committing to very specific goals — and reporting our progress. We are accountable to ourselves and, in a rather unique way, to each other.
May 2016 be the year you write that project that emerges from your deepest heart.

From Writer’s Block to Writing Productivity with ROW80 by Beth Camp

We’ve all been in meetings or conversations – even with ourselves – when we need to solve a problem.
One classic problem-solving process is this:
  1. What’s wrong?
  2. Why does this happen?
  3. Who or what’s to blame?
  4. What can we do about it?

But sometimes, when we get to Stage 3, the effort to find a solution (even an internal one) stalls. Name-calling or guilt-faulting takes us to a giant egg-beater.

Some folks love Stage 3 because it’s deliciously analytical. Compare this stage to picking a sore scab. We just can’t leave it alone. You may think, hear, or make comments that sound like: But we’ve always done it this way. Bob can’t change. Mary said the real problem began when . . . Notice how we’ve stopped moving forward and started pointing fingers. This puts us all on the defensive, and we feel we can’t move forward until we resolve who or what is to blame. The result? Meetings waste time, and possible solutions disappear.

Translated to writing, this could sound like: I can’t change how I write. The real problem is I don’t have enough research. We all know what can happen when that inner editor sits on your shoulder for far too long. First one word is off, then another. Maybe the character needs more back story or maybe the plot has a hole deeper than Mount Everest upside down. Pretty soon, our writing loses its sizzle.  Maybe the entire project winds up in a drawer for a few weeks or a month. And sometimes we stop writing entirely.

One key strategy is simply to ask: What can I do next?

Be inspired by those productivity gurus who say: Take an impossible task and break it down into smaller, achievable steps. Doesn’t this sound like what we do with ROW80?

Many people have written about how to move past writer’s block. I believe that any suggestion that gets me writing again is useful. So, this last week, I went through my bookshelves and let go of about 10 books that talk about ways to improve writing productivity. You may have seen a few titles like these: Five Mistakes Writers Make or Pitfalls to Avoid on Your Journey to be a Good Writer. When I’ve dipped in these books for that motivational read, I’ve encountered helpful ideas, but first I have to sort out the lists of what I ‘should’ do, or what ‘doesn’t’ work. Sigh. I can generate negative thinking all by myself!

We writers generally work alone . . . except when we take our writing to small groups.  After you’ve left your writer’s group, ask this question: Does my writing and my growth as a writer feel supported by what happened in this meeting? If yes, you have a writing group that is golden. Trust the process you have developed with this group of writers.

But if you leave that writing group not feeling nurtured, ask why. Is it a person? Is it the process your group follows? What specifically could be changed to improve the work your small group does? Maybe folks need to clarify what they need from the group before the reading/critique begins. Maybe your group would benefit from talking about how to critique a work in progress or using a guided handout sheet. Maybe one (or more) of the group provides negative feedback. Fall back on pop psychology: You are either part of the problem (by allowing it to continue), or you are part of the solution (by taking action). Sometimes that action may mean finding a new group.

Your time, commitment, writing energy are precious. So, why not ask: What is stopping me from meeting my writing goals? à What specifically can I do to solve the problem? Affirm those resources, people, and situations that help you grow as a writer! And let go of the rest.

ROW80’s twice weekly commitment to setting specific, achievable goals and to report our progress is exactly the kind of resource that can help us strengthen our writing.

Sometimes it’s not so easy to honestly assess where we are as writers. Sometimes we worry about ‘going public’ with problems we’re facing. We all want to feel good about what we are doing. But we can learn from each other – as we continually refine our goal-setting and writing process.

Make it a good round!



Beth Camp

Photo of frog by Jeff Stemshorn, nature photographer, Tucson.
Photo of frog by Jeff Stemshorn, nature photographer, Tucson.

Taking Inspiration from the Beginning: How to Move Past a Stalled Draft by Beth Camp

Thank you, Beth, for pinch hitting this round!

Photo of Bay View, Lake Pond Oreille, Idaho (Camp 2015).


Back when I taught a class or two of literature, I read somewhere that a truly great writer sets the theme of the whole story in the very first paragraph. My students didn’t believe me. So we tried analyzing a few opening paragraphs. There to our surprise, the writers had laid out the theme, subtly, of course, but in a few phrases, the basic conflict, mood, and genre of the story was implied.

Since then, I’ve discovered setting this not-quite-hook applies to even my own ugliest of drafts.

So why am I thinking about theme, conflict, character arc, and that opening hook today? Because my current novel — 90,000 words on paper — languishes. The appropriate ending escapes me. So I’m deep in revision, as Adrienne Rich said so poignantly, “Re-vision-the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction . . . .”

Where did I go wrong? I used those 3×5 cards to front-end engineer the overall structure, wrote character studies for all main characters, had a blast writing the chapters, letting the words flow more or less in line with those plotting cards, and revised to my heart’s content so that each scene would sing true to the story.

But, somehow caught up in chronicling what happened next, I lost sight of my characters’ motivations, their hopes and dreams, their flaws.

The last chapters found my two main characters facing each other across an abyss of irreconcilable differences at a time (mid-19th Century), when friendly divorce was unheard of. I hoped for a happy resolution. Alas, not even a great heart would forgive a man for taking another wife and fathering children, all of whom yet lived. And I didn’t want to maim the male character as a cosmic excuse for seeking comfort, or kill him off to create a wound my female character would necessarily need to heal.

So setting aside the drama, I’ve begun re-vision. Surprisingly, my process has led right back to the beginning, that opening chapter, that opening scene, those first few words that paint the essential conflict between my two main characters. I offer my process here in the hopes you may find it useful.

Draft a theme and blurb – without looking at your stalled draft. Name the key characters and the key conflict that underpins the whole story.

Rewrite the synopsis of each chapter as it is – so the whole story as it unfolds is absolutely clear and on ‘paper’.

Read through the chapter synopsis once to get a sense of the ‘big picture.’ Underline main characters and key conflicts so you can see where they appear, what they’re doing (and maybe why). Think again about their relationships, inner motivations, and flaws. Note: I was surprised to “see” that the main conflicts between my main characters didn’t emerge right away at all. Yet all through the drafting stage, I had thought these conflicts were obvious.

Make notes (pencil, pen, or virtual CAPS on that word-processed page) for anything that’s missing or seems a bit off. Add a brief description of what needs to be in this section, this chapter, this scene.

Write a synopsis of each section. Analyze how all fits together to support that theme you drafted at the beginning. OK, revise the theme if it no longer fits the story (or plan to revise the story so it supports the theme).

Ruthlessly chop away any chapter or scene that doesn’t belong. Note: I’m a chicken at this stage. I have a separate file named “scenes not used” that’s organized by chapter. In reality, I’ve never used any scene once moved to this file, but it serves as a kind of safety net, reassuring me that my work is not lost.

Write those new scenes. Refine the opening once again. Edit, edit, edit!


Once you are satisfied the opening, the story overall, and the ending are all cohesive, and the writing at this stage is the best you can create, send the whole draft out to your beta readers and look forward to another revision or two or three. Then, celebrate the ending of this story with another beginning – your next book.

Following this process (steps 1-5) has taken me about three weeks. I’m feeling better about my characters, the story I want to tell, and how it all fits together. Would it have been easier to have planned the story ahead of time? I still wonder. Since I’m currently writing historical fiction, the facts of a particular time shape the story. Maybe next time, though, I’ll write more productively. Or, maybe this is just how I work, slowly, very slowly.

Maybe you’ve never experienced a draft that simply stalled – rather like the sun not rising in the east or the snow geese not returning at winter. But just maybe my comments will help you to move past plot holes with aplomb.  That’s my hope.

A final note: I do subscribe to a few of those inspiring writerly newsletters (see links below for a few of my favorites). This week, Roz Morris suggested that our characters – at the very beginning of the story – need to appear “off balance.” Her post “How to add jeopardy to your story BEFORE the main conflict starts” says that by beginning with a sense of unease or instability, readers connect more intensely with our characters and identify with their conflicts. Her article gave me another layer to add to writing about my characters and helped me understand that elusive deep point of view.

Meanwhile, we each tell our stories from the heart, revising and learning the craft of writing as we persevere. May your writing go well!

A few blogs to check out:


Beth Camp


How About a New Process for Revision by Beth Camp

The monster draft awaits. You’ve moved all of NaNoWriMo’s thousands of words into one file. Or you’re looking at that old manuscript, the one you’ve hidden in the bottom drawer, and you’re thinking, “It’s the New Year. I’m going to tackle this revision.” For some inexplicable reason, you’re reminded of Edgar Allen Poe’s, “Quoth the raven ‘Nevermore.’”

If you are a part of this wonderful online writing community, A Round of Words in 80 Days, by now we likely have “set goals by the round, assess progress, and report in weekly” tattooed on the inside of our foreheads.

But sometimes, we need to ask what’s not working. How might we improve the quality of our final draft? How productive is our revision process?

We could look at the large, unwieldy task of revising a novel and break it into manageable chunks.

  • Make a plan.
  • Set a deadline.
  • Get to work.
  • Evaluate progress and adjust goals and/or timeline as needed.
  • Repeat for three years – or until that draft goes back in the drawer.

Research says setting goals with a deadline works – most of the time. But I haven’t mastered how to revise without taking several years for the process. I’d like to improve my revision process so I can work on other stories, but I don’t have the process that works for me. I guess I’m not disciplined enough. Or maybe I don’t have the skills. Ooops! I just fell into the self-doubt hole.

I jumped on Google to see if I could find some more motivational articles on how to revise a novel. Lots of new ideas here. Here is the process I hope to use:

Proposed Round 1 Process for Revising:

  1. PRINT OUT the whole document, double-spaced or single-spaced. Your preference.
  2. READ THROUGH the whole story out loud. Put X where you falter. Doesn’t matter why. Don’t think overly much. Just read. Your goal? To bring the story to life, to understand, even unconsciously at this point, what the great theme is, how your characters’ journey develops, and what the resolution offers your readers. Allow 2-3 days.
  3. This time just read, slowing down to make notes throughout. Look at how the chapters fit together. Anything out of sequence? Any missing scenes? Characters act true to themselves? Story arc and character arc reasonably logical to the planned conclusion? Maybe work in pencil to avoid the red ink. Don’t worry about being tidy. Holly Lisle recommends using several different colors of pen or pencil and writing down notes in an Editing Notebook (both these tips work!). I’m guesstimating this level of reading will take most of Round 1.
  4. REREAD AGAIN. Dig down to the chapter level: Any missing scenes or extra scenes? Emotional tension appropriate for this chapter and at this point in the story? Sequence of events at the chapter level runs smoothly? More description needed of characters or setting to make the scene come alive? Ask how this chapter contributes to the larger story and the character arcs for your main characters. Resist the temptation to work at the word level, for that’s next. Make notes and move on!
  5. WORK AT THE WORD LEVEL, chapter by chapter. Does every single word add to the story? If not revise and delete. Tighten. Ask how each word connects to the larger story and the development of your key characters. Everything fits. Each word has a purpose. All that you write moves the story forward and connects to your deeper theme.
  6. LET GO and send this nearly final draft out to your beta reader/s. Hope your beta readers take a few weeks so you can celebrate your progress and take a break to work on your marketing plan!

As I’m writing this trial process up, I realize I’ve already skipped Step 1 (to read and take in the whole story) and slid straight to Steps 2 and 3 (revising at the chapter and word level). So much for trying something new! Even though I feel good about the minor edits I’ve made so far, the rest of this weekend (and the beginning of next), I’m going right back to work on Step 1: Reading the whole wip. No revising. No editing. Just marking that X.

A Note about Beta Readers and Editors. When your novel is at the final stage, you could consider working with a beta reader. Even after all the revision I can possibly think of, I still send my final drafts out to beta readers, those generous and talented writing partners I’ve met face-to-face or online whose writing I respect. But before you invite someone to be your beta reader, know the level at which that person writes and how timely their response to your work will be.

You may prefer hiring an editor to working with a beta reader. Several writers I know have complained their editors did not understand their story. Alarm bells go off for me. I dread turning over writing that’s not-quite-finished to someone I don’t know.

Cost may be another factor. Charges range from $40 to $100 per page, and more. As Elizabeth Lyon says: “On average, editing 100 pages plus a synopsis, and writing the evaluation, will involve 15-25 hours.” Cost will also vary depending on whether your editor undertakes developmental editing (think story line, plot holes, major restructuring) and/or copy editing (clarity, mechanics, punctuation, and grammar).

Your revision suggestions: What advice would you give to improve revision? Please share what works for you in the comments. And may your writing go well.


 A few helpful resources:
–Holly Lisle: “How to Revise a Novel

–James Duncan: “7 Tips for Revising a Novel”

Editorial Freelancers Association


Beth Camp

Writers Need Cats: By Beth Camp

by Penyulap at Wikimedia Commons

You may think that writers work in isolation, hunched over the keyboard, and requiring absolute quiet. But I recommend for the most consistent kick-in-the-pants, inspirational writing companion, you should adopt a cat.

Before Tiger went to kitty heaven, I had the means to closely observe the links between cats and writerly creativity.

  1. Cats know when we should stop working at the computer. Not only will they tread lightly over the keyboard and drape themselves gingerly upon it, but should that not be sufficient, they will leap upon your amassed rough draft and mark selected pages with muddy prints, ensuring you take appropriate breaks from intense writing sessions.
  2. Cats inspire thoughtful analysis. Who has observed a cat gazing into what we cannot see and not realized their attachment to issues far grander than a plot hole – and our own need to think of unique alternatives beyond the outline? Our creativity is enhanced when we explore different perspectives. Cats ensure our connection to the infinite.
  3. Cats model confidence. They move with distinction, poise, and know with certainty that their needs will be taken care of. They do not fear public speaking nor doubt their writing skills.
  4. Cats prompt a range of emotion useful for character development. What cat owner has not received tender gifts from the garden? My Aunt Tessie escaped upstairs in terror after attempting to pick up the ‘toy’ snake Tiger had been playing with in the living room. This gave me a powerful lesson in the physical and emotional reactions characters have to stress.
  5. Cats show us that important fictional and real relationships require love, compassion, and trust. I yet remember that fateful night when I awoke to find my cat nestled next to my tummy, ready to give birth. I learned inventiveness that night as well as respect for the unexpected, useful for plot twists and heightened tension.
  6. Cats nurture the pleasure principle by allowing us to pet them, rewarding us with a low-throated purr, encouraging us to pamper ourselves when we achieve our writing goals.
  7. Cats teach tenacity. When a cat hunts, sneaking forward slowly on unsuspecting prey, no matter the outcome or how many times the goal remains out of reach, a cat will persist. As should we in our story-telling skills and ruthless revision and editing.

And so, my writing friends of ROW80 fame, once a cat is added to your life, I believe your writing will improve, even if you already have a dog leaning on your knee for attention.

by Kopa at Wikimedia Cmmons


Beth Camp