The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘revising

This week, I’ve been deep in editing land for my novelette “Doll Seed” due to appear next month in FIYAH: Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction.

It’s always a revelation to receive editorial comments on a story. Especially a story that you’ve lived with for years, have honed substantially and have vetted through numerous writing groups.  Such was the case for “Doll Seed”.

In the past few years, I’ve felt lucky to have worked with fantastic editors. Great editors reveal new perspectives in your work, encourage clarity and support your authorial voice. In the case of Reenu-You and Nussia with Book Smugglers Press, I spent time revising a few scenes where my characters were under reacting.  With “Doll Seed”, I worked some on this issue, but more on clarifying how the magic works in the story and fine tuning the ending. I enjoyed editing “Doll Seed”. In revising these stories, all of which were written years ago, I see how much I’ve grown as a writer and storyteller.

One of the tools that has helped me become more proficient at self-editing has been my ‘weasel words’ list. A few years ago, I took a class on revision and the instructor introduced us to a list of words and/or phrases that weaken one’s writing. We can usually either delete the word or find a more active and vivid word to substitute. I believe she adapted this list from the one in James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self-Editing for Writers. I keep this list close when I revise. Doing a search for these words once yielded dramatic results. Last year, I was frantically trying to pare a story down to submit to an anthology and using this list I reduced the word count by over 500 words! That’s a lot of weasel words to round up!

Weasel Words to Watch Out For

A little
A lot
A bit
Tried to
Started to
Began to
Wanted to
Meant to
Intended to
Had to
Had been

I also overuse the words lively, inviting and flat in describing the expression of a character’s eyes.

Do you have a weasel words list? What are your pet phrases that you strike when revising?

One of the things I deeply enjoy about my blog is conducting author interviews. I love finding out how writers create magic on the page and what sustains them when working on long projects. My blog allows me to reach out to new and established writers after I hear them give a reading, or learn about them online, and ask for an interview. Every time an author agrees to an interview, I feel excited and inspired. My goal is to ask thought-provoking questions that get at the heart of their ideas about craft. I look forward to checking my email and seeing how they play with and sculpt answers to my questions. Interviewing and helping to promote writers is a passion and gratitude generating activity for me.

At the end of each interview, I typically ask an author: What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Below, I have collected some of the answers from writers I interviewed in 2017 that stayed with me.

Keep this list close at hand. The advice is refreshing and offers a great way to jump-start your new year of fresh writing in 2018!

*To see the full interview, click on the author’s name.


Jake Bible, Stone Cold Bastards

-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Never quit. Sit your ass down and do the work. Writing is work. The vast majority of people who are not writers think it is fun and being a writer must be a dream come true. It is fun and it is a dream come true, but the fun and the dream happen because you sit in your chair and work until you can’t work anymore. Then you do the same thing the next day. And the next. You never quit. You do the work and keep doing the work until you get to where you want to be.

Margaret Dardess, Brutal Silence

–What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

When you tell someone that you want to write, ignore the ones who respond, “How are you going to do that?”  A date in college said that to me once when I told him my dream was to write a novel. That was the end of him. There never seems to be a shortage of nay-sayers and wet blankets. Avoid them at all costs. If you want to write, write. As Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”

L.C. Fiore, The Last Great American Magic

-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

The one thing no one ever really taught me, which took me years to learn, is that revision is the most important aspect of the writing process. Revision is not just checking to make sure everything is spelled correctly, or that you’ve used proper grammar. Revision also entails wholly re-imagining the way your book or story is constructed. That means exploding chapters, moving chapters around, consolidating characters, and much more. I find that usually, after my “first draft” (although there again, who counts drafts in real life?), whatever I’m working on usually sustains one, if not two, macro revisions, where I tear the manuscript down to the studs and rebuild. Why does no one teach revision? Perhaps because the workshop setting is a very poor environment for learning what it actually takes to be a writer, because there simply isn’t enough time to allow for the deep kind of revision that excellence requires. But extensive, substantive revision separates would-be writers from the pros.

Dianna Gunn, Keeper of the Dawn

–What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Don’t take criticism of your stories personally, and ignore anyone that uses flaws in your fiction to attack you as a person. I know it doesn’t FEEL like our books are separate from us, but they are. We should treat them that way.

Heloise Jones, The Writer’s Block Myth: A Guide to Get Past Stuck & Experience Lasting Creative Freedom

-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Trust the process. Let go in the story you’re telling, and let go of the way you intend to tell it. Open to what might be there you hadn’t thought about before you go into edits. Think of your writing as a dance you’re doing, and you’re expanding the dance floor. You’ll be a stronger writer, and it will help you feel freer inside. This includes the process of editing, too. But that’s another conversation.

Tonya Liburd, A Question of Faith

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Keep writing; make it a habit and it’ll come even though you don’t feel “inspired”. Edit, edit and edit some more!

Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, editors, Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler

–What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Alexandra: Pay attention to the guidelines and communicate clearly with your editor!

Mimi: “Write a little bit every day, even if you’re not in the mood.” is a wonderfully effective tip that, unfortunately, I don’t follow. It has improved my writing exponentially in a very short time every time I’ve managed to do it for short periods, though, so maybe it’s worth passing on!


Affirmations-366Days#361: Revising a project is often like moving around pieces in a puzzle. I patiently figure out which parts make the right picture.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

Affirmations-366Days#125: Revision requires skill and strategy. I am patient when revising my work. I know the best is yet to come.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

Affirmations-366Days#69: I honor the revision process by keeping the right words and setting the rest free for another day.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

Affirmations-366Days#12: I listen to all writing advice, but only take to heart what really works for me.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

Today’s affirmation is inspired by a panel that I was on over the weekend. I attended illogiCon, a local science fiction convention and moderated a panel called ‘Everyone Says: Bad Writing Advice’. The panelists wanted to discuss the fact that not all writing advice out there is good, or for everyone, even if it’s repeated in many books and how-to articles. I was looking forward to moderating it and it was truly a lively panel. Panelists included authors Mur Lafferty, Fraser Sherman, Josh Leone, Ada Milenkovic Brown and publisher Lynn McNamee. In preparation for this panel, I also asked friends on Facebook and Twitter to talk with me about bad writing advice. Below are some highlights from these threads of conversation:


   You should start writing by making an outline.

–Many of us learned this rule in grade school. This rule tends not to work well for nonlinear thinkers and/or people who think of themselves as discovery writers, meaning writers who write their way into a story first without a strong sense of plot. Most panelists agreed, however, that at some point in a project (for a novel, say after 10,000 words), it can be helpful to step back and make an outline. One panelist also suggested doing a reverse outline where you work backwards through a completed story to see if there any gaps or plot holes. I really like this idea. I also advocate using mindmaps instead of outlines, either as part of pre-writing or when you get stuck.


   Write what you know.

–Beginning writers often hear this a lot. Most people balked at this concept as limiting. One of my Facebook friends said, “…writing what you know* is stifling and, for me at least, has led to lots of insecurity about whether or not I had the authority to tell stories that come ONLY from my imagination. That said, there is a lot to be said for research.”

There was a general consensus to write about what you love and/or are interested in. The passion for what you’re writing about will lead you to find out more on a topic.


  Always cut your work by 10% (or 20% or 30%).

–I have heard this point made often—always cut your work by 10% before sending it out. One panelist offered a really important observation about this rule. Absolute adherence to this rule can stifle a writer’s style. This panelist explained that for years they tried to follow this rule only to realize that it made the work less rich and complex.


  Always write in the same place and at the same time.

–We all agreed that creating a sense of rhythm through writing consistently helps writers. But, an uncritical adherence to this rule is highly impractical for most writers. As an astute observer on my Facebook thread commented: […This rule can] “lead to a lot of self-recriminations …energy better spent writing whenever the hell you can and choose to…this is not a clock punching endeavor. Regular writing yes. Factory clocks only if you love them.” Capture those ideas whenever and wherever you can.


  Revise until it is perfect.

–This particular rule didn’t come up on the panel, but I thought I’d offer it here. I find that many writers internalize this rule in ways that can be immobilizing. Before sending one’s work out for publication, it is important to make it as strong as possible. However, often emerging writers lose sight about what makes their work strong, and so they never think anything is good enough or revised sufficiently. I believe a work is ready to be released when you’ve made it as strong as you can, left it to sit for a period of a reasonable period of time (e.g. days, weeks or even a few months), can’t find any more structural flaws with it, and have received positive feedback from trusted readers. Release it! If it gets rejected, that’s OK. It’s part of the process.


All the panelists acknowledged this central point—don’t slavishly follow any writing rule if it doesn’t work for you! Your writing needs are unique. Definitely learn from other writers, but make your writing practice work for you.

What;s your experience with writing advice that just didn’t work for you? I’d love to know.


In late June, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop called ‘The First Draft is The Easy Part’ with author and coach Stuart Horwitz. I had already checked out his new book Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method and was planning on buying it as it looked like a unique approach to revising. When I arrived at the workshop, I was thrilled when I was handed a signed copy of his book that came as part of the registration packet. The workshop was packed and we were treated to a presentation that was informative, humorous and also included a live action short film. It wasn’t a typical workshop and Stuart’s book is not a typical one about writing. As a matter of fact, it’s not a craft book per se. It’s about structure and how to truly revise a manuscript instead of tinkering with it around its edges. I read the book in two days. His method has given me the courage to radically revise my first novel that I had put aside because of its ambitious nature (e.g. multiple person POVs, non-linear time sequences, over 200,000 words, etc.). His book offers a flexible method that enables a writer to uncover the flaws and strengths in their work as they revise. And, I’ve found that using his method, I’m actually having fun rethinking my sprawling novel.

Stuart Horwitz is the founder of Book Architecture, a firm of independent editors based in Providence and Boston. He has spent over fifteen years helping writers become published authors. His clients have reached the best-seller list in both fiction and non-fiction. Stuart brings a synthesis of academic theories of narrative structure and his hands-on experiences as an independent editor, book coach and ghostwriter to thinking about how to revise effectively.

Blueprint Your Bestseller was named one of 2013’s best books about writing by The Writer magazine. I thought I’d invite Stuart to the Practice of Creativity to discover more about his unique take on writing. I’m delighted to welcome Stuart Horwitz to this blog.




Why did you write Blueprint Your Bestseller? What’s in store for readers?

I was teaching a class called “Blueprint Your Book,” in which I was trying to show my students how to structure a book-length work. One of my students came up to me after class and asked me, “Where is the book that tells me how to do all this?” Naively, I said, “I’ll buy three from the bookstore and then whichever two you don’t want, I’ll just return.” Well, needless to say, there wasn’t one there.

As for the second part of this question I would venture to say, the book presents a sane way of looking at plot/structure — through a method, not a formula. There may in fact be a deep structure that exists in our psyche that influences how we receive narrative. But we don’t get there through formulas, through exploiting how we think that structure operates ahead of time like all those Hollywood beat sheets — you know, start the love interest in minute 20, have the main character contemplate death in minute 80… Instead we use a method to discover how your work may be resonating with that deep structure and how you are approaching it originally.

Or maybe you just wanted me to say “it’s about revision.” Ha! It’s both.

What is the ‘book architecture method’ and how did you discover it?

This wasn’t what I was going to be when I grew up. I wanted to be an angry young man novelist in Border’s “New Voices” program. Good thing that didn’t work out — for many reasons. I would be stuck in a person and Borders is closed.

The Book Architecture Method is a twenty-two step process for organizing and revising your manuscript. It has helped bestselling authors get from first draft to final draft.

I don’t know; this has always just been the person I am. I got a Father’s Day card from my 15 year-old that said, “Please don’t travel so much next year (from my book tour) — things are much more systematized when you’re here.” High praise!

Most writers find revising longer pieces frustrating, unsatisfying, and often tinker around the edges indefinitely without tackling the most demanding elements of the revision. As a coach how do you help writers stay motivated through the tougher aspects of revision?

True, all of that. I think people try to get out of doing the analysis part that is the heavenly consort of the creative part. We like to say around the office, “Intelligent planning is not the enemy of creative genius.” Well, we don’t really say it, but it is posted on the wall. Point being, if you actually spend some time between drafts in deep-ish analysis of what you have created, you can enjoy the heck out of the next draft as it returns you to the creative problem solving and immersion that many people think is more fun. But we have two halves of our brain for a reason.


– You manage to pack a lot into your day! You are a writer, entrepreneur, an active workshop leader and instructor.  How do these different activities feed into each other and you?

I’m pretty bad at relaxing. I like to have a lot of priorities, including my wife and kids, my community, a stab at personal health, etc. and to immerse myself in all of them when I am doing that particular thing. Life tends to spread out wonderfully when we only do this one thing at a time, like talking to Michele. That’s the one and only thing I am doing right now.

-What’s the next project you’re working on?

Book Two! HOW PLOT WORKS: How Book Architecture Can Build Your Strongest Story Ever. If Book One was about organization and revision, in Book Two I promise to reveal the secret to understanding great narrative. I promise that if I can do that I will be done writing books on writing.

What’s your best writing tip you’d like to share?

Writing is supposed to be a transformation of the self, first. That’s how you choose your subjects, your characters, your formats. That’s how you know how many drafts to engage in — if you are still transforming yourself, you keep going. If you are done getting what you needed personally from it, then you better clean it up in a hurry and get it out into the world, however that happens. That’s also the value of the work. People talk a lot of crap about why they write: they want to change the world; they want to make money, blah, blah. The primary reason is none of those. We want to see if we can do it, and we want to do something we can proud of. Then we have to let the work change us — surprise us and challenge us — that’s when it gets good. Otherwise we should just be doing crossword puzzles.


Stuart is an award-winning essayist and poet, who has taught writing at Grub Street of Boston and Brown University. He holds two masters degrees—one in Literary Aesthetics from NYU,—and one in East Asian Studies from Harvard with a concentration in Medieval Japanese Buddhism. He lives in Rhode Island. Visit his site to learn more.

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

View Full Profile →

Follow me on Twitter

Follow Us

No Instagram images were found.

Follow Us

Follow Us

Follow The Practice of Creativity on
%d bloggers like this: