Revision Tips and Tricks – Guest Post from Sara Grant

Head shot of author, Sara GrantI’d love you to believe that this is my writing process:

  1. A fully formed idea for my next novel springs to mind while I’m sipping champagne on my private jet.
  2. I type the manuscript in a rush. The story unfolds perfectly from my brain to the page.
  3. I immediately send it to my agent. She reads it and forwards it on to my publisher and they all agree – every word and punctuation mark is pitch perfect.

I WISH.

Every writer has some sort of revision process. If an author suggests otherwise, he/she is either a liar or unpublished.  Revision is the key to making a good story great. But revising is much more than reading your manuscript from start to finish.

I used to hate revising my stories. I was hooked on the thrill of capturing the idea on the page. Once I’d told the story to myself, I didn’t really know how to improve what wasn’t working. Over the course of many years, I have devised a system to dissect my story. I start with the big picture and consider plot, subplots, pacing and characters. Once I’m happy with the overall story then I review and edit my work chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene and ultimately I scrutinise every line and word.

To share my complete revision process would be more of a book than a blog. I love talking about revision and have given revision workshops. (I now offer them as part of www.bookboundretreat.com) Here are a few key tips:

  • Review the big picture first. Don’t waste time line editing when you may end up cutting an entire scene or chapter. If you’ve polished a section of your prose until it sparkles, you will be less likely to cut it when you realise it’s not serving your story.
  • Know what’s at the heart of your story. Write down a sentence or two that explains why you are writing this particular story – not the plot or theme but why this story is important to you and why you are the only person who can tell it. You may need to change plot, characters, setting, etc…but know what’s at the heart of your story and remain true to it throughout the revision process.
  • Make an inventory of your story. Create a chart and in a sentence or two write down the action (what happens) and also the importance of each chapter – why is this chapter necessary? If you removed it, would the story suffer? Look at the pace of your story. Is every chapter moving your plot and subplots forward? If you are writing a funny story, put an asterisk by funny moments. If it’s a romance, where are the romantic scenes? If the story is a mystery or action-adventure, highlight where the twists and the surprises are in your story.
  • Read the first and then the final chapter of your novel. Your first chapter promises a journey. Am I captivated? Does the final chapter deliver on the first chapter’s promise? I think the first and last chapters should have a resonance.

And two micro-revision tips:

  • Circle the verbs. Now read only the circled words. Do you have a sense of the action? Are your verbs working hard enough? Are there verbs you over use? Watch out for passive voice – there was, it is, etc. It drains the energy from your story.
  • Proofread your story once from beginning to end then proof read your chapters out of order. Often I’m fatigued by the time I’m reading the final chapters so the next time I proofread, I start with the final chapter. Sometimes I read my paragraphs on a page out of order to look for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.

The most difficult thing about revision is knowing when to stop. I revise until I can think of no other way to improve my manuscript. Then I send it to my agent – and she always finds a few more opportunities for improvement. Then the process starts again. Sometimes it can feel unending, but I’ve already invested hundreds of hours in my story; what’s twenty or forty or even a hundred more?

Good luck with your revisions!

About Sara Grant

Book coversSara writes and edits fiction for children and teens. Dark Parties, her first young adult novel, won the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Crystal Kite Award for Europe. Her next teen novel – Half Lives – is a story told in two voices from a pre- and post-apocalyptic time.

Book covers of Sara Grant young readersShe also writes a funny magical series for young readers, titled Magic Trix. As a freelance editor of series fiction, she has worked on twelve different series and edited nearly 100 books. She has given writing workshops in the US, UK and Europe as well as guest lectured at the University of Winchester. She co-founded Undiscovered Voices – which has launched the writing careers of 26 authors, who now have written more than 120 children’s books. (www.undiscoveredvoices.com) Sara was born and raised in Washington, Indiana. She graduated from Indiana University with degrees in journalism and psychology, and earned a master’s degree in creative and life writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She lives in London.

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Litmus Launch and why Writers are like Hummingbirds

Book Cover
As well as promoting our book, the Litmus launch is a celebration of the end of the taught component of our MAs in Creative & Critical Writing and Writing for Children at the University of Winchester. It is the end of a very intense creative experience. A time for goodbyes and good lucks and thank yous. Of course, there will be graduation but that won’t be until next October, or even 2017 for some part-time students, so the 12 May will be our last communal hurrah.

I’m really looking forward to reading Litmus 2015; it promises to be an eclectic mix from a talented group of writers. People have worked really hard on this project; promoting, editing, organising and galvanising.

The hummingbird cover is beautiful and appropriate. Hummingbirds are relentless, tireless and always seeking nectar. We’ve learnt on our final module, in order to be successful, to find agents or to self-publish, writers have to be tireless and resilient. And of course, we are always hunting for ideas; our own creative nectar.

As well as students and their significant others; tutors, expert speakers, guest bloggers and agents will be attending. Many of us will read excerpts, which is not at all terrifying  with an audience like that! There will be refreshments and merriment, and I’ve heard there may even be cake.

So, 10 days to go and we will be going with a bang!

Kath Whiting
MA Creative & Critical Writing

If you are an agent, editor, blogger or journalist who somehow slipped off our invitation list and would like to come to Winchester for cake, readings, and your own copy of Litmus 2015, please let us know.  You can comment below, tweet your interest on @litmus2015 or email k.howard.13@unimail.winchester.ac.uk.

Writing and Breathing – Guest Post from Robin Mukherjee

Robin MukherjeeThe sweetness of adversity is noticeable, sometimes, only in retrospect. I was in my early twenties, a law career abandoned, my prospects vague, employment meagre and resources negligible. Old associates from university were landing gainful positions in legal practices, finance companies, even seats in parliament. I was taking time out to think, working in an old people’s home because I felt I’d never actually done anything useful; in those days I liked to see things in primary colours.

As a younger child I had suffered terrible asthma. This meant long nights contemplating the meaning of existence and the elusive nature of breath. In those dark, insomniac interludes I discovered writing, not as an activity, but as a way of being. In imagination I could jump and laugh and play while the other form, the physical lump, hunched over the desk inert and incapable. I never went anywhere without my inhaler. And, after a while, I never went anywhere without a pen and paper. The asthma passed, thankfully. The urge to write has not.

So that’s the impulse, carved into my soul as hungry as the need to breathe. What amuses me, looking back, is that I never quite made the equation between writing and earning. I wrote and wrote; all kinds of things, scraps, notes, short stories, poetry, the beginnings of novels, one of which I rewrote as a television script. One day my brother came to visit. I was out, but my girlfriend (now wife) was in. They dug up that script and sent it to the BBC. A few weeks later I was astonished to get a letter. Why the hell would the BBC be writing to me? They said they weren’t sure about the script, but were interested in the passion behind it. I went to see them, was assigned a mentor (who remains a great friend), received guidance, was encouraged to write for theatre, was mercilessly criticised and generously praised. Eventually one of my stage plays led to a radio commission, to an agent, to my first television gig.

I have been busy ever since. I am busy now. I even teach a little, while writing, and am constantly amazed to see that same passion, purpose and crazy leap of faith reflected back at me from a roomful of young faces. The routes into professional writing are clearer these days, with myriad courses across the country at every level of education, but faith, passion and craziness are still the price of admission. The most accomplished writer remains threaded to his younger self: the long nights, urgent needs, quiet thoughts and private dreams that shape the mind and heart.

That I wrote for love over reward might seem quaintly noble but it was merely realistic at the time. Perhaps you can’t tell a story you haven’t lived, nor understand your story until you’ve told it. Still, I do exhort my students not to be shy about getting their work out there (lights under bushels and all that). And I wonder sometimes – not without a little chill – what would have happened if I’d been in, that day, when my brother called.

The Art of ScreenplaysRobin Mukherjee has written extensively for television, radio, film and theatre. His most recent television feature was nominated for a BAFTA. His film ‘Lore’ won numerous international awards and was Australia’s official entry to the oscars. He has recently been appointed as a lecturer in scriptwriting at Bath Spa University and is currently completing the MA Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester. Present projects include a feature film adaptation of Paul Scott’s Booker Prize winning novel ‘Staying On’, and contributions to Series 2 of ‘Hetty Feather’ for CBBC.

Robin’s book, The Art of Screenplays: A Writers Guide was published last year. This is a working handbook for writers with stories to tell. Addressing the key issues of creativity and craft, its aim is to connect with our natural understanding of story, to demystify the screenwriter’s art, and to enable fresh, original and authentic writing.

Website: robinmukherjee.com 

Guano Toupee – Guest Post from Mark Rutter

Mark RutterSometime back in the early 1990s I started a poem based on an off-hand remark. I was walking through London with my old friend Mike Harris when, between pubs, we passed a statue of Churchill, the head of which was covered in bird shit. ‘I like the guano toupee’, I said, or something like that, and Mike laughed, prompting me to note it down on a beer-mat as he went to the bar to buy a round. Years later, Mike told me that the statue had been electrified to stop the birds from landing on it and taking a shit on the eminent prime minister’s head.

I sent the poem to the Hawai’i Review along with five other haiku, and they wrote back saying they’d like to publish it, but only if I gave it a title. So I came up with ‘Tory Wig’, which I thought of as nothing more than a silly pun.

Recently while I was looking for a visual poem of mine online I noticed something unusual at the bottom of the screen: ‘mark rutter caustic poem hawaii’. I clicked on it and, to my surprise, found this very poem quoted on page 117 of a book about the history of the Pacific: Reimagining the American Pacific, by Rob Wilson:

The 1993 “sovereignty issue” of Hawai’i Review commemorating – and by diverse        voices and genres, contesting – the disposal of queen Lili’uoka-lani by the         missionary-sugar oligarchy in 1893, ends with Mark Rutter’s caustic poem “Tory          Wig”.

 Queen who? Wilson goes on to explain that the poem is ‘a haiku to the Euro-American will to possession across a native-emptied Pacific, for purposes of monumentality’, and then quotes it in full:

Tory Wig

Churchill statue:
the firm, determined chin,
the guano toupee.

 ‘The guano toupee’, explains Wilson, ‘may be a souvenir of the American presence as it took possession of the Pacific,’ and then outlines the poem’s reference to an act of Congress:

In 1856, Congress enacted the so-called Guano Law that empowered the U.S.      president to take over bird-shit-rich islands in the Northern Pacific and absorb them as “appertaining to the United States” with its interests in fertilizers and high explosives during the Civil War. One of these guano-rich islands was Johnson-Atoll, called       Kalama Islands by Hawai’ians, which is being used as a nuclear weapons incineration site by the USA, dumping ground for a kind of cold war bird shit.

By now I was amazed at the historical and cultural reach of my ‘caustic poem’, the sheer density of historical reference I’d managed to pack into it without having the faintest idea I’d done it.

Yet Rob Wilson has enormously extended the meaning of the poem by his misinterpretation – if that is what it is – and in an odd way, it seems to fit. I like the idea that, without intending to, I had satirised a whole era of the western imperialist project, referring in the process to the Guano Law, a law so ludicrously named it could itself be part of a satire. And it makes me wonder if writers are like mediums, channelling meanings they are unaware of, out of the ether of language.

Basho in AcadiaPoet Dr Mark Rutter teaches on the MA Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester. His poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including Other Poetry, Magma, Interpreter’s House and London Magazine. He has had two collections published in the US, where he lived from 1990-2002: The Farmhouse Voices (Puckerbrush), and water fir rook hand (Tatlin).

He has recently published Basho in Acadia (Flarestack Poets). Rooted in naturalism, these poems share an imagistic power and present a complex vision of the wild landscape of the Maine coast along with the creatures that inhabit it. A verbal-visual work, Homage to Andrei Tarkovksy, is due from Tatlin Books (Maine) this year.

What’s So Special About 12 May?

save-the-date-calendar-may-12-2012If you checked Wikipedia to find your answer you might say that it is the 132nd day of the year (except in a leap year when it becomes the 133rd day) or Edward Lear’s birthday.  You might tell me that it is International Nurses’ Day or, raising a lace hankie to your eye, inform me that it is the date on which Perry Como died.  If Wikipedia is to be believed, you would be correct on every point.

There is a small group of people in Hampshire who would not need to go to the internet to check the significance of 12 May.  It is emblazoned across our minds in a fiery, fifty foot high font.  We are students on the MA Writing for Children and MA Creative & Critical Writing courses at the University of Winchester and 12 May is the day we launch Litmus 2015, an anthology of our writing, into the world.

The last few months have seen us writing, revising, critiquing, re-writing, editing, tweeting, blogging and planning for this day.  That is, when we’ve not been writing, revising, critiquing, re-writing and editing academic and creative pieces for various assignments.  We take our writing seriously.  We are proud of our work and we want to share it with some very important people – readers.

We have invited a host of people to come and join us for our launch party.  Invitations have been emailed to agents and editors, bloggers and journalists and we are excited (and a little daunted) that many of them have agreed to come along.  We hope that some of the very generous people who have come to speak to us, or written guest blog posts will also join our celebration.  Because that is what it is going to be – a celebration of our writing, imagination and enthusiasm.  I know it’s going to be a celebration because there will be drinks and cake and a couple of short speeches.

If you are an agent, editor, blogger or journalist who somehow slipped off our invitation list and would like to come to Winchester for cake, readings, and your own copy of Litmus 2015, please let us know.  You can comment below, tweet your interest on @litmus2015 or email k.howard.13@unimail.winchester.ac.uk.

 

The Hardest Part – Guest Post from Marni Bates

Marni BatesMy road to publication is rather unusual. I was hired to write my autobiography my freshman year of college and by my nineteenth birthday it was on the New York Public Library’s Stuff for the Teen Age 2010 list. I wrote a YA book over the summer, pitched to literary agents, and had representation before I returned to school. That book sold in a three book deal to KensingtonTeen, which was expanded into a five book deal. It sounds like it all came together so easily for me, which is accurate in some ways and incredibly misleading in others.

The hardest part of the publishing process isn’t finding a literary agent. It isn’t getting an offer from a publishing house. It isn’t desperately trying to promote your work without selling your soul.

The hardest part attacks you at 2am when you wonder what the hell you are doing. When you tell yourself that you’re crazy. Who will really give a shit about what you have to say? Who the hell do you think you are? What makes you such a sparkly little unicorn?

When you have an inbox full of rejections and you feel like crap and anything seems better than handing over your heart for other people to examine, critique and reject.

That is the hardest part.

This job demands faith, not in some nebulous benevolent force in the universe, but in yourself. In your vision. In your story. It requires you to ignore the pile of we liked it, we just didn’t love it rejections and confront the blank page once again. To say, maybe not this book, but some book. Maybe not this story, but the next one. 

To write through the numbness and the pain, to ignore the spectre of smug faces who insist that they always knew it was a pipe dream. That you should have become an accountant instead. That you don’t have what it takes.

That’s when you need to text a friend. Take a walk. Drink some coffee. Look at a piece of art. Listen to a song that belongs on your No Shits Are Given playlist.

That’s when you remind yourself of the Wayne Gretzky quote, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and get back in the fight. You send out your query letter to another agent. You write another sentence. You edit another page.

You take another shot.

Awkwardly Ever AfterMarni Bates began her writing career at the age of 19 with her autobiography, Marni, for HCI’s Louder Than Words series. Marni was also selected for the New York Public Library Stuff for the Teen Age 2010 List. Her debut fiction novel, Awkward, has been translated into French, Portuguese, Spanish and Hungarian and has also been optioned by Disney Channel as a made-for-TV movie. She has four other novels with KensingtonTeen; Decked with Holly, Invisible, Notable, and Awkwardly Ever After. For more information, please visit www.marnibates.com or the Marni Bates Author Facebook page. You can also follow @MarniBates on Twitter for the latest news.​

Roma Tearne: 2015 Winchester Reading Series

Roma TearneWe were delighted to welcome Roma Tearne to the Winchester Reading Series at the University of Winchester, on 24 March. Roma is a Sri Lankan born novelist, artist and filmmaker who left the island in the 1960s at the start of the civil war and now lives in Oxford.

This huge personality gripped our attention from the moment she began to speak. She quickly built up a relationship with us, as she does so cleverly in her novels, sharing her ideas and explaining how she weaves her stories around them. She kept us enthralled for over an hour as she drew us into her life as a writer.

I managed to read Mosquito, her debut novel, before the evening. This remarkable book captures the tragedy and violence of civil war and its terrible effect on the characters who experience it. But it is not only a story about war; it deals with love and loss as the relationship between the protagonists is torn apart. There are no speculative assumptions about characters in this book. These are felt experiences. I found the sharing of them profoundly moving. However, it is through the poetry of her writing that the strong sense of Sri Lanka is best portrayed. Her pen and her artist’s brush combine, as she recreates its vibrant colours and rhythms, to allow our senses to feast on them.

Roma has her feet firmly planted on the ground. Although she delighted us with her anecdotes about presenting her work around the world and getting published, she emphasised the difficulties too. Refusing to be dictated to and pigeonholed by publishers, she has had to fight her way to preserve her identity and become the writer she wants to be. She made it very plain to us that success is not easy in this profession and we must be prepared to fight very hard for it.

The Last PierI would like to recommend Roma’s latest novel, The Last Pier, to be launched in April. It is set against the Second World War. I am thoroughly enjoying it.

Ann Radley