Tag Archives: writing goals

Revising at a Sloth’s Pace to Discover Joy in the Details

Laura Ayo

I’m no stranger to revision. During my years as a daily newspaper reporter, I edited and revised on deadline. Every day. Often, for multiple articles, each written in a matter of minutes, not hours, and certainly not days. Even as a freelance journalist, I regularly revise and edit articles, press releases, web content, blogs, social media posts and whatever else a client might send my way. But revising a middle grade historical fiction novel is nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. This past week, I’ve been really taking the words of poet and novelist Vikram Seth to heart:

“Revision has its own peculiar pleasures and its own peculiar frustrations. The ground rules are already established; the characters already exist. You don’t have to bring the characters to life, but you do have to make them more convincing.”

In the spirit of Seth’s words and to mark the start of the second week of Write by Midnight, I thought I would share some of the pleasures and frustrations I felt while striving to make my characters more convincing.

First, the frustrations.

Revision. Takes. For. Ever.

My Write by Midnight goal was to revise two chapters a week. And even though I wrote more than my planned 90 minutes on five days and met my time limit on the other two days, I only revised one chapter and barely made a dent in the second. Last night, as I prepared to write this progress report, I reflected on why, even with more dedicated writing time, I struggled to reach my goal. There are many answers, but I can sum them up by saying I want to write with historical accuracy and emotional authenticity in a way that middle grade readers want to keep turning the pages.

This. Takes. Time.

When I wrote the first draft, I didn’t worry about researching how people in the 18th century would have treated pneumonia. I made notes to go back during revision to discover what the hold of an 18th century sloop would look like and how the crew would repair storm damage to the ship at sea. I just wrote past those – and many other – period-specific details during the drafting stage.

But now I’m revising and I need those details. They’re vital for my readers to feel the fear, worry and helplessness that my protagonist experiences as she’s trying to care for her sick mother during a storm in the hold of an 18th century ship that is carrying them away from their homeland to an unknown destination. Finding those details takes time. Paring them down to the ones that evoke the emotions I want the reader to experience takes time. Making sure they’re the sights, sounds and smells an 8-year-old girl would notice takes time. Discovering the words she would use to describe her thoughts and feelings takes time. Making sure all of these details are age appropriate, readable and interesting takes time.

Revision is the stage of writing where writers need to invest the time.

Doing so leads to the pleasures Seth referenced. My research unearthed the details I needed to not only add layered depth to my characters, but also illustrate the themes I want to get across in my writing. The discovery process is thrilling, especially when it leads to writing you never thought yourself capable of. So, I’m not beating myself up for not writing two chapters by the end of the first week of Write by Midnight. The words I did get on the page are good ones. They say what I want them to say. My story is better because of the time I invested.

As I move onto the second week of our write-a-thon, I’ll keep letting the peculiar pleasures outweigh the peculiar frustrations. I’ll move forward with my revision process, slow and detailed as it may be, and wish you all the best in discovering what works best for you and the stories you strive to tell.

Using Write by Midnight to Finish Writing Our Books

Welcome to Write by Midnight 2021! With everything that’s happened this past year, it’s a good time to recenter and refocus on your writing. That’s what the WriteOwls plan to do this month. Each of us has a specific goal for the write-a-thon. You can read about them below. In the spirit of giving you time to concentrate on your own projects, we’ll be scaling back our posts throughout the month. But don’t worry. We’ll still surprise you from time to time with bits of inspiration or prompts to keep you going. Update us on your progress. In the mean time, get writing!

Laura Ayo

Laura’s 2021 Write by Midnight Goal: Revise 8 chapters of my manuscript.

I’ve learned over the years that if I don’t prioritize writing first thing in the morning, I just don’t do it, no matter how good my intentions may be. So, every morning, as soon as my kids are at school (or settled in their virtual learning environment, as has often been the case this year), I set aside an hour to write. It’s a daily habit I’ve been able to maintain consistently ever since the pandemic began. Most days, that one hour is the only dedicated writing time I get. But those 60 minutes add up to words that, for me in 2020, led to a completed first draft of a middle grade historical fiction novel. I’ve got my work cut out for me for Write by Midnight 2021, though. I’m a month into my SCBWI Midsouth mentorship with the talented and gracious Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, and I’m determined to finish revising and polishing this manuscript during the time I get to work with and learn from her. So, I’m challenging myself this month to stretch my writing time to 90 minutes each morning and two full hours each on Saturdays and Sundays. I typically revise a chapter a week, so my hope is that by increasing the amount of time I write each day, I’ll progress at a faster pace.

Megan Norris Jones

Megan’s 2021 Write by Midnight Goal: Complete an outline of my next manuscript.

I just sent the latest draft of my current manuscript out to a couple of beta readers, so it’s time to focus on what’s next for a bit until I get it back. I actually completed half of an outline for another middle grade novel last spring, but I got bogged down in the muddy middle. I had written it off, but when I was trying to decide which project to tackle for Write by Midnight, I reread what I’d written so far and fell in love with the characters and their story all over again. I also saw more clearly how to work through some of the plot snarls that had confounded me during my first go-round. Outlining can be tricky work, tweaking a plot point in one scene that means three more need to be updated—or realizing that an entire subplot has to go—but I’ve found that taking the time to really think through and plan my story makes a huge difference during the writing process and frees me up to be more creative. So, this year I am focusing my Write by Midnight energy on my outline, which should set me up for creative success throughout the year as I dig into writing my next book.

Stacey Kite

Stacey’s 2021 Write by Midnight Goals: Write 14 hours/week and write or revise 4 chapters.

I had three writing goals for 2021: finish my book, write for an hour and a half every day and limit myself to only reading/watching the news twice a week. That last goal went out the window on Jan. 6, when I spent the entire day, and the next few, bouncing between CNN, NPR and the Washington Post like a relapsed newsaholic on a binge. But I did still manage to average ten hours a week writing, so that was almost a win.

But now it’s February and time for Write by Midnight—time for me to focus on writing—not a Senate impeachment trial. My overall goal for the year has not changed. I will finish my book. To do that, I want to up my writing time to an average of 14 hours a week and plan to re-write/revise at least eight chapters of my book this month. It’s doable—if I don’t let myself get distracted!

2021: The Year We Finish Our Books

The WriteOwls have made a pact. 2021 is the year we will finish our books! After a chaotic 2020, we are ready for some positivity in all aspects of our lives, including our journeys to becoming published authors. So, below, we outline what we each hope to accomplish in the new year.

Laura’s Goals for 2021:

  • Finish revising my book
  • Write every day for at least an hour
  • Read at least one middle grade historical fiction novel a month
  • Query agents

I finished the first draft of my manuscript in April – one of the few good things to come out of a pandemic-inspired self-quarantine. While writing it, the story was still revealing itself to me and I left fill-in-the-blank, go-back-to-this-later holes throughout. In re-reading it over the summer, I realized there are more holes than I thought. But, armed with a better sense of who my characters are and a more focused storyline, I’ve been revising in my spare time. In mid-December, I learned I had been selected for a mentorship sponsored by my region’s chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The program runs from January through September, and the mentor I’m going to be working with is a writer I admire and respect. It was an honor to be selected, so one of my goals for 2021 is to make the most of the time I get to work with her. I’m making it a top priority to complete the revisions before the mentorship ends, so I plan to write for at least an hour every day before I do anything else. I also intend to read at least one middle grade historical fiction novel each month so I can learn from others in the same genre. Finally, before the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31, 2021, I intend to have started querying agents to represent me and my work. Get ready, 2021. Big things are about to happen.

Megan’s Goals for 2021:

  • Finish revision of current work-in-progress.
  • Submit revised manuscript to agents.
  • Get an agent.
  • Outline my next manuscript.

The pandemic really got in my head in 2020. There was a long stretch when I just scrolled through news stories about the coronavirus while listening to news podcasts about the coronavirus. Even when I came out of the doom spiral, I had a hard time focusing on fiction. I did read some books this year—but not many. Honestly, I should have already finished half of these 2021 goals in 2020. But, I did what I could, and there’s no point in kicking myself for a pretty common reaction to a global disaster. So now it’s 2021, numerous healthcare workers in my family have already been vaccinated, and I have a glimmer of hope for normal family interactions in the coming months. (I’ll keep my wild desire for plays, live concerts, and football games in check for a bit longer.) In the mean time, I’ve adapted to the world as it is and am committed to making it just a little bit better through writing. It’s not a cure for the pandemic, but it is my offering of hope for a better future.

Stacey’s goal for 2021:

2020 was stressful, chaotic and so was my writing. I didn’t make any real progress on reworking my novel—and it desperately needed re-working. In fact, I barely wrote anything for a long time. Things were just too crazy, and I couldn’t get my head in the right place. But in the last two months, things have started to move again. I wrote nearly every day in November and December, and though two days out of three I wound up deleting as much as I wrote, the third day was usually a good one. So my goal for this year is to simply finish my book! That’s it.

Write By Midnight Pep Talk 07-27-20

What is your ideal writing schedule and environment? What do you think would really help you get your writing done? Now look at the real world. What are some steps you could take to get your real world writing life closer to your ideal writing life? Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, think about what you can do.

Write by Midnight Pep Talk 9-30-19

Time is unreliable when it comes to being a writer. Often, we lose ourselves in the process only to discover when we look up that the minutes (or hours, hopefully) have flown by. Other times, we’re mortified by how little we’ve accomplished when the timer dings and our dedicated writing time has ended.

The same can be true when you’re working on a project for the long-haul. This month, we challenge you to look back at what you’ve written since Write by Midnight ended in February. Make a list of your accomplishments. Perhaps you’ve written through to the climax of your story. Or maybe you’ve written at least something every single day. Celebrate your achievements and keep the momentum going.

If this task reveals you haven’t been as productive as you had hoped when you first began this journey, don’t fret. Realizing that it’s been three months (or longer) since you last sat down to write can be motivating on its own. Let your lack of progress inspire you to put in the work to reach your goals. Start with realistic expectations and build from there. Then, check back in with us next month to let us know whether you’ve kept up the pace.