The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘revision

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#300: I constantly revise my limited notions of what’s possible of me as a writer.

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

Affirmations-366Days#166: Every writer goes through multiple drafts. I don’t have to start out perfect, I just have to start.

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

Affirmations-366Days#162: It’s better to say “it can be fixed” than “it’s bad”. I affirm that my writing project grows stronger with each revision.

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#88: I revise with ease. Thoughtful revision is the quickest way to get closer to my reader.

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.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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