Writer Wednesday: A Real Pencil (Not the Skirt)

Pencils (Photo credit: Mrs Magic)

I tried quite a few titles for this post, including “Rob’s Pencil” but you can see why that probably wasn’t a good choice. Or am I too attuned to undergrad forms of humor?

You may have read my writing process post on the blog last week which is part of a “hop”. In the blogosphere, this means bloggers link up when we are all writing about the same topic or theme.

My fellow wordsmith, Rob Chazz Chute, has given his take on writing. And as usual, it’s full of wit and sound advice. Check it out.

Have you tagged this summer to start your project? Stuck with a question about how to start (or keep going)? Ask away. We’ll try our best to answer!

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In the New Year, Old Projects Linger


edit on the go
edit on the go (Photo credit: fensterbme)

Editing and revising are two words habitually used as synonyms. Though they are related, they are not the same.

In the last year, as I’ve published fiction, non-fiction, even academic pieces, I’ve been guilty of blending these distinct stages. I assumed I could revise and edit as I went along. The system worked, more or less, until the last two projects sat languishing on my laptop. If like me, you want to take your writing to the next level, then you’ll want to understand the critical differences between these important stages of the writing process.

Writer Wordart
Writer Wordart (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

Over the next few weeks we’ll look at how to tell editing and revising apart as well as when you’ll know which your project needs. No matter how many books you’ve written (and I’ve written over ten), every writer serious about his/her craft has a plan to tackle these two stages. The more experience you have does not necessarily mean the process moves more quickly or easily as I discovered when the final two novels of my 9 book foray into epublishing stalled.


Editing is the final stage of polishing a manuscript. Most writers cannot and should not edit their own work. Would you want to pour the foundation of a building and install the windows as well? Usually a specialist is called in to do the wiring and other fine points of a building. The same applies to writing.


Revising, however, is something writers can do on our own, aided and improved  with the help of a team of helpers: early readers of the manuscript, other writers, and indeed, editors.  When revising you may notice the grammar error here or there as you re-read a part of the manuscript. But your real focus is the content. Are the characters believable? Do we need more details in the setting? What can make the plot more dramatic? How can you strengthen the narrative arc?


Revising allows you to go section by section – not always chronologically – and take the nitty gritty view of your story. You find out where you’re on firm footing and where your foundation is on shaky ground. Names, nationalities, motivations of characters can all change at this stage as the primary question you ask yourself is: does this serve my story?


Here’s an example of how I revised the opening of my current novel in progress THE OPPOSITE OF HATE, a historical novel set in the Southeast Asian country of Laos in 1969. This project has taken over a year to create the first draft and will need many months to revise before we head into the editing stage.


Notice the changes from the original and the revision which were written about a month apart. Point of view, character, setting, and even the novel’s title, all transformed the more I thought about the story.


Questions for you as you consider revising:


  1. Beginnings are important. Consider the beginning of your story. Does it start at a moment of drama? Is there another character who would be more compelling?
  2. Consider your setting: Does the reader receive the important details that will carry him/her further into the world you are setting?
  3. Consider your conflict: is it big enough to hook and maintain interest into the first chapter?

Based on your answers to any/all of the above, revise. Yes, go on, rewrite this small section. And share with us your results!


An enlargeable relief map of Laos
An enlargeable relief map of Laos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Original: October 2011


Chapter One


Nelee slid from the backseat of the car as the driver continued toward the garage she pulled off the sweater, the worst and most unflattering part of her school uniform. She then shook free her elbow length hair from the regulation braid, massaging the back of her neck. She marched up the concrete steps of the house, the most of any on their street, expecting to see her mother reading the latest ladies magazine in the formal living room, waiting for Nelee’s stories of another day spent at the Sisters of Mercy School for Girls.


Revised: November 2011


Chapter One


Vientiene 1969


Than climbed the steps to the two bedroom house his job afforded him; the small government cottage a mansion to his wife, a country girl from the Philippines. He was tired after hours of pouring over diagrams for a new aqueduct system planned for a Northern territory. As the only academically trained engineer in the office, he bore the brunt of the technical work as the others drank, sometimes coffee, as the day wore on something stronger, Than ran from one meeting with the westerners to another, trying to take advantage of their interest while it was hot. He came onto the porch. Next door, at his neighbor’s, most of the street was crowded around Uncle Ong, the best Lao folk story teller in the district. Some said all of the capital. Than scanned the crowd, hoping to find Rutchil amongst the women. Failing to see her rounded bulk, he nodded to John, the CIA agent most people thought was a grass smoking hippie, whose green eyes glimmered in the waning light.




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But NaNo! Life Ate My Mojo

November. The dregs otherwise known as National Novel writing month. Last year I took the opportunity to write a novel fictionalizing my experiences at the women’s college, Peace, the administration of which a few months prior announced it would admit men The book, Saving Peace, was shortlisted for the Kindle Book Review‘s literary fiction prize.

Over the summer I edited and released two books, rewrote a third, and wrote new chapters for a fourth. I was on a roll. All the while, NaNoWriMo loomed closer and closer. I tried to sweep my decks clear: I put the revision project on hold, cranked out another 10,000 words on the new project, and perfected a draft of my first short documentary film.

Into week two, one emotional crisis, several days of blank screens, and early bed times later, I’m several thousands of words behind. I have managed 6,000 words into this new project, the idea for which I had sometime last year. I booked November 2012 to write this story about a group of women who live in the same neighborhood yet are at odds with each other, despite the veneer of friendship. The twist? They’re all expats. Some of them have housemaids. One of them is pregnant, and no one knows who the father is.

The stuff of drama.

Hopefully tomorrow everything will calibrate itself and I will get back on the horse. Even if it doesn’t, I have an hour set aside to write with our local writers’ group, specifically as a NaNoWriMo write-in.

“You don’t even need to do this,” a good friend, a non-writer, said to me in the clear and encouraging voice of reason, trying to get the overachiever off the ledge.  “You’ve already done it once and finished it.”

She made sense. She was right. But she’s never felt the vortex of NaNoWriMo. How the crazy energy of people talking about it, particularly on Twitter, makes you want to roll up your sleeves and be where the rest of the nerdy kids are.

Here’s a taste of this year’s NaNoWriMo, working title, The Dohmestics. And maybe you see why a lot of sleep is not in my immediate future. Did I mention we are hosting Thanksgiving this year?



Chapter One

Edna tripped over a toy at the foot of the stairs. “Alice!” No one answered, not even Adam who could see her from where he was sitting at the kitchen table. Edna picked up the Barbie shoe, cursing her sister who had insisted in another extravagant Christmas to make up for the months when she was away from her niece.

“Have you seen Alice?”

Adam shook his head in the negative, eyes trained on the computer screen. From the way he was hunched over, she was certain he was playing another one of those games that gave her laptop a virus during his last trip home. On the floor in front of the television was more toy carnage: there were dolls in various state of dress and undress strewn around. More gifts.

“If you’re going to live so far away,” Chrissy loved to say, “then when you’re here, I get to do what I want.”

Edna plopped the plastic high heel on the entryway table and opened the front door. There were ten children in the road, boys on bikes, and nannies holding toddlers by the fingers as they took hesitant steps down the bricked street. No sign of either of her daughters.
“Alice,” she called from the front porch. There were several pieces of sidewalk chalk strewn around the front step. Edna picked these up, along with the discarded sandals Alice had left behind.

“She’s at the playground ma’am,” the neighbor’s nanny, Maria said. She was pushing a toddler, Hamad, in a pram, as he did his best to wail and squirm his way out.  A few steps later Maria stopped and took a deep breath.  Edna kept scanning the street. Anyone would need a few breaths with a screaming two year old boy. When she came back to Maria, the maid hadn’t moved. And Hamad was soothing himself with his thumb.

“Are you okay?”

Maria’s drawn face was her answer. Edna came down the two steps on the porch and led Maria by the arm to one of Alice’s play chairs. The wood was sturdy enough to hold an adult. Out of habit, she put the back of her hand on Maria’s forehead to feel if she had a temperature. No heat there.
Maria was tight lipped and her skin waxen. A few beads of sweat appeared on her upper lip though October brought the cooler temperatures.

“Would you like some water?”

Maria opened her mouth to answer but stood up suddenly, nearly clipping Edna under the chin. She ran to a nearby bush and began retching.  Despite the horrendous sounds, nothing was materializing.


Edna began approaching the maid, now on her knees, the teal pants of her uniform in the sand. Hamad had fallen asleep, worn himself out from crying.  The maid paused, took a few breaths and wiped her hand across her mouth and then her face. Edna bent down next to her.

“Should I call Noof?”

“No.” Maria’s quiet answer had a layer of desperation mirrored by the wrinkles on her forehead.  “Please ma’am. I will be alright.” She struggled to her feet, Edna bracing her with an arm, and back to the stroller.

“If I see Alice I will tell her to come home.”

“Thanks,” Edna said. She watched Maria’s retreating back, wondering what Noof was doing at that exact moment. She had a fairly good idea that her Qatari friend was not picking up her children’s playthings or other discards.  Or that she had any idea her ill maid was wheeling her toddler around with the risk of infection. Maria was one of the few people Edna trusted to babysit for Alice and Noof was willing to share her services when their family was traveling. The maid was normally so conscientious; the brief incident was very out of character.

Edna was torn between texting Noof, getting dinner ready and walking around the neighborhood to look for her daughter. The sun was setting, casting the adobe colored buildings in a haze.  The grumble of her stomach won. She turned back into the house, sandals in one hand and chalk in the other.


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