Guest Post: Megg Geri {10 Steps to Revising Your First Draft}

I am extremely honoured to be hosting this guest post from Megg. I have been a fan of hers for some time now and follow not just her blog but her advice and book club.

Megg Geri is the author of Write A Novel In 30 Days and also owns Megg & Co Editorial Boutique.

Today Megg is sharing her tips on what to do when you’ve finished the first draft of your novel.

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Wow! You’ve finished your first draft. How amazing? How scary? How much hard work did that take? You’re freaking fantastic, let me tell you that! There are so many people who never even get to this step, who never manage to finish the first draft. Yes, you can give yourself a high-five for this one. As awesome as you are your first draft sucks (I’m allowed to say this because my first drafts all suck too). 

What now? How do you get this first draft not to suck? I’m not talking grammar corrections and typos here, I’m talking about your actual story. How can you get this story to be one that people will actually want to read? You do revisions.  These 10 steps to revising your first draft are the steps that I follow too. They take time, patience, and a tough skin. But you’ve gotten this far, so you owe it to yourself to take it one step further.

10 Steps to revising your first draft

  1. Wait it out!
    The worst thing you can do is jump straight back into your novel. It’s all still too fresh. You need to give yourself time to forget and time to allow yourself to become distanced from all the hard work you have already put into your novel. I always suggest putting your first draft aside for a month. What? A whole freaking month? Yes, one whole month. Take that time to work on a new story outline or start writing another novel. Try a different form of writing like poetry, and short stories. And, give yourself time to read more (reading is always a good idea).
  2. Reread 
    Now, after a month of sweating it out, you pick up that novel and you start your reread. Try not to throw it out the window, burn it, or tear it into shreds. Pretend for a second that this is not your first draft, but rather your best friend’s first draft. Read it with open eyes and optimism for the story. Your first draft is going to suck and it’s allowed to suck! After you’ve done this, reread it again and this time make as many notes as possible. Note down any changes, plot holes, parts of the story that irritate you, pacing problems. inconsistencies, unanswered questions, and major mistakes that you need to look at fixing. Always remember that your first draft is you telling the story to yourself, this is a rough version.
  3. Identify Plot holes
    Now that you have identified your plot holes take the time to fix them. Don’t rush through this step. Some of these fixes will be quick and easy and others will be terribly tedious and feel somewhat like torture to fix.By not skipping this step you’ll find the process rewarding as you will see your story come together to form an even better second draft than you ever imagined
  4. Pacing
    Focus on consistent pacing as well as appropriately varied pacing throughout your novel. Do parts read too slow? Do other parts feel rushed? Allow yourself the time to fix any pacing problems you may have found by this point of your revisions. 
  5. Kill your Darlings
    This is always a tough task to manage. You’ve worked so hard on creating this first draft and you’ve worked so hard on your story elements (that you already love to bits) but if it doesn’t have a purpose in your story, if it doesn’t move the plot forward, or reveal something about your story you need to cut it!Harsh? Yes! You need to be if you want your novel to be the best it can be. Some Darlings, may be able to be reworked into the story, but most must be cut.
  6. Make small changes
    Those irritations you found in your second reread, the character’s name that was hard to pronoun or didn’t flow off the tongue, the shocking yellow car that was super unbelievable, the constant over explaining, now’s the time to make these small changes. Change a character’s name if it doesn’t fit. Make sure all your quotation marks are consistent (single or double, baby).
  7. Sketch out character arcs
    I always have a good idea of my character arcs before I start writing, but they change as I write and I don’t always go back to my notes and relook the arcs. This step can be skipped if you’ve written on a story structure but it’s always a good idea to revisit this step and double check your own work.
  8. Create character sketches
    This is another thing that I try to do before I even start writing my novels. My characters develop so much through my writing process that I always have to rework, add, and take away parts of their character sketches. After writing my first draft I also know my characters so much better and find it so much easier to complete my character sketches.As part of my book, Write A Novel In 30 Days, I offer a free character sketch which I use myself too. I also like to add photo’s of my characters, diary entries, bag contents and things that will personalise my character even more. 
  9. Work on your character’s goals and motivations
    Wow, by now you have made a lot of changes to your novel. Do all of your character’s original goals and motivations still remain true? Have your changes affected them? Give your characters new goals and motivations if needed and give yourself and your character the time to accept these new changes. 
  10. The hook
    Yay! You’re almost there. Now re-read your first few pages. Is your hook clear? Is there too much information or too little information for your readers? Sometimes, as the writer we already know the backstory and so everything makes sense to us but they might not make any sense to the reader who knows none of the backstory. Think about this when you’re looking for that hook. This can be a quick and simple step, or this step can take a lot of time, and this will differ from novel, to novel too. Go pick up your favourite books and read their hooks for some inspiration. See how other authors hook the reader. A hook should be on the first page, preferably in the first chapter, and if you can have the hook in your first sentence then that’s even better. 

I know this is a lot to take in and it’s a lot of work too (you may want to skip some of the steps or rush through them) but you’ve put in all this hard work already that you owe it to yourself to really focus on each step individually until you’re happy with the results. 

The way that I manage to keep my focus on one step at a time is to use different coloured highlighters during step two of the process (during my second reread when I’m making my notes). I choose a different coloured highlighter for each major focus needed (small changes, darlings, characters, pacing, and plot holes), this way I can focus purely on that colour when I need to. I also tick off parts that have been revised as the process can get really confusing and it’s easy to forget where you are in this revision process.

Most of all, be kind to yourself and to your writing. You might absolutely hate your writing and your story when you reread it but through an effective revision process, you can sculpt it into something better. Allow yourself the opportunity to do this. Don’t give up on your story.

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You can find Megg on Instagram and Twitter under the handle @megggeri and on Facebook TheMeggGeri and her blog Megg.Co.

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this post for us Megg.

Emma-Louise x

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Guest Post: Natali Simmonds

Hey you lovely lot. Today I have a Guest Post by the amazing N.J Simmonds who discusses the Top 5 YA Book Myths. Natali has not only author with a 5 star rated book but she has experience with writing and marketing in the bucket load.

TOP 5 YA BOOK MYTHS

YA fiction, otherwise known as Young Adult literature, gets a bad rap. If I got a pound for every time someone misunderstood what YA really is I’d be making a lot more money than I am now as a humble writer!

From Twitter comments to conversations in book stores and right through to my own reviewers, I am forever hearing comments such as –

‘I can’t believe I really enjoyed that book when I’m not even a teenager’

‘Oh I don’t want to read YA, it’s for kids’

‘YA writers aren’t proper writers because they don’t write for adults’

‘YA books are all about high school dramas and boring teen issues’

So what does YA actually mean?

‘Young Adult’ is simply a description of books with teen protagonists covering issues that concern young adults. Therefore you won’t find a book about a divorcee struggling with her failing business (unless that person is the main character’s mother) – but you will get a story packed with tension, page-turning intensity and some of the coolest protagonists ever created.

For those of you that are still unsure what YA is – here are my 5 top YA myths!

  1. YA is a genre

Whoa! Did you think it was? Most people do and it’s a topic that is argued a lot in the book world. But if Romance, Thriller, Fantasy and Crime are literary genres then YA can’t be. ‘YA’ in itself is not going to explain to you what kind of book you are going to read because YA lit also has sub-divisions. YA Fantasy, YA Thrillers and YA Contemporary are all very different; the only thing they have in common are character ages and themes. You wouldn’t say that books by Marian Keys are the same as books by Stephen King because the characters in them are in their 30’s and have families, would you? Well it’s the same with YA.

  1. YA is a recommended age limit


Whoa! Another myth busted. I’m not kidding…if you’re avoiding YA literature because you think you’re too old then you are missing out on some of the best books out there right now. Take ‘The Hate U Give’ (Angie Thomas), for instance. Why is the book YA? Because it’s written through the eyes of a 16 year old girl, yet its political themes inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement are far from childish. This book has won all the awards of 2017 and been enjoyed by all ages, genders, race and backgrounds – because a good book is a good book. The fact that the YA book’s main character is a twelve year old wizard, a torn black schoolgirl or a heroic dystopian teen is neither here nor there – and it shouldn’t put you off reading it.

  1. YA books are simply written

No. They are not. Middle Grade books (think Roald Dahl, David Walliams and Enid Blyton) will certainly have more cartoon-like colourful characters and a simpler linear plot because they are written for kids aged 10+ BUT YA is read from 12+ such as the Harry Potter series (J.K.Rowling) or in some cases 15+, such as my own novel ‘The Path Keeper’ (N.J.Simmonds). When you go from Middle Grade books to YA the writing style jumps dramatically to a much more adult level in terms of both vocabulary and theme.

If you compare the writing styles of YA authors you may be in for a shock – each one is just as unique as non-teen based literature. There is no dumbing down for teens in the book world. YA bestsellers such as I’ll Give You The Sun (Jandy Nelson) and ‘We Were Liars’ (E. Lockhart) are both written in a poetic and whimsical fashion compared to the more dramatic language and style used in fantasy books such as the Twilight (Stephenie Meyer) or Divergent (Veronica Roth) series. So when you pick up a YA novel, you may be surprised that the language, pace and structure is just as challenging and unique as any ‘grown-up’ novel out there.

  1. YA books are tame and have no sex or violence in them

Actually, they can do – especially fantasy novels. Fans of Sarah J Maas will be the first to tell you about chapter 54 in A Court of Mist and Fury (put it this way, I struggled not to blush on the bus while reading about Feyre and Rhysand and his impressive wingspan). When writing my own YA Fantasy Romance series The Path Keeper I never intended for it to be enjoyed by teens until my publisher at the time told me it would be marketed as YA. It has three pretty explicit sex scenes, plenty of swear words in two languages and a few gory scenes (and book two Son of Secrets, release date to be confirmed, is even darker). I was shocked that it wasn’t going to be edited – until I remembered what I got up to at 17. YA isn’t written for impressionable young kids, most readers are young adults, so they want to read about people just like them acting like real teenagers do. And the best bit? YA books are full of way more drama, intensity and excitement than the boring reality of adulthood – so they are the perfect escape for everyone.

  1. YA books are not as high-brow as the classics

Have you ever read To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)? How about Lord of the Flies (William Golding), Catcher in the Rye (J.D.Salinger) or The Outsiders (S.E.Hinton)? They are all YA books. So does that mean, because you are no longer a teenager, you should avoid them? Of course not!


YA literature has been around for decades, it’s nothing new. The only difference, in this age of marketing and social media, is that by differentiating books that will appeal to teens publishers and authors have a better chance of reaching their ideal audience.

By writing YA and covering the concerns that young adults encounter during the most tumultuous period of their lives, authors (myself included) hope to not only show their readers that they are not alone…but bring them together through the love of a good story.

So next time you read an article about the best YA books of the year or see the New York YA bestsellers list – don’t dismiss it. No matter how old you are now, we were all young adults once. By exploring YA literature, not only will you revisit the angst and excitement of your youth but you’ll also get to enjoy some of the best books out there right now!

 

N.J.Simmonds is the author of highly-acclaimed The Path Keeper series, a YA fantasy romance set in London. She is currently working on book three in the series as well as a number of contemporary YA novels. Learn more about her work at njsimmonds.com or follow her on Facebook,

Twitter and Instagram.

Photo by Jeremy Standley (jeremystandley.com)

Thank you so much to Natali for taking the time to write this post for us.

Emma-Louise x

Author & Editor Guest Post: S.D Mayes

Today I have another amazing Guest Post for you. Author S.D Mayes not only discusses her writing but offers some fantastic tips to others who want to write.

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S.D. Mayes – Journalist, Author and Editor

I always liken editing to cleaning the skirting boards. I don’t really want to do it, but afterwards I feel so much better. However, after doing many rewrites and edits – and that was around eighteen drafts of Letters to the Pianist, my historical suspense novel, I was ready to throw the blimmin’ laptop out of the window. Yep, this novel was probably one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my life. Timewise, I spent a year writing and nearly two years editing and rewriting, so getting it finally published at the end of September this year was a huge relief.

I’ve worked as a journalist for over twenty years and had already written a best-selling self-help book, Be Your Own Psychic, published by Hodder & Stoughton – one of the big five, so I thought writing a novel would be easy. How wrong I was. I had chosen a complex multi-layered plot with a parallel father and daughter story, simply because the story popped into my mind years back and I loved the premise of it – a Jewish man who loses his memory and marries into a family of Nazi sympathisers. I thought it was going to be hard work, but it just kept popping into my head, and one rainy Sunday afternoon I got started. I had two protagonists: teenage Ruth Goldberg, and her father Joseph Goldberg who was renamed Edward Chopard by his new aristocratic wife Connie.

A protagonist is the character your story revolves around. And I chose to write Ruth in the first person so her story was right up front and in your face. I then chose to write her father, Joseph and all the other characters in third person – both of which was clearly delineated by change of chapter. Many of the reviews I’ve received have said that they like getting the many third person point of views of different characters, but this book was a steep learning curve in many ways – and as I also beta read and edit other authors manuscripts as part of my other work, I’ve seen the many mistakes we can all make as new writers.

Show not Tell

I’m sure you have heard this phrase. It is essential for good writing, and most new writers don’t fully understand what this means. With ‘telling’ many paragraphs can end up being summarised instead of really engaging readers in the powerful elements of a story, so there is a huge lack of description throughout a book where the writer generalises far too much and expects the reader to join the dots as to what’s happening. As writers we need to be painting a story with pictures. A good parallel about the difference between show and tell is that with ‘telling’ the reader becomes an observer of your story. When you ‘show’ however, the reader really experiences your story, often becoming one of the characters in their minds. So that’s a huge difference in the experience of reading.

Here’s some examples with the authors consent on manuscripts I’ve edited.

Telling

‘My father died when I was young and my mother raised me. She was very pious, prayed constantly and took me to church every Sunday. The bitch didn’t allow me to read any book other than the Bible and she didn’t allow me to listen to music either. She was very strict. Every minor infraction would lead to a severe beating with a belt, rod, or cane.’

This paragraph gives a quick summary ‘telling’ us. There needs to be description and detail about how the relationship developed between mother and son. There is barely any description of Jack as a boy and no description of his mother’s character.

Showing

‘One afternoon I walked into our house after school. I was only seven, a small, thin waif of a boy because I didn’t get fed much, only rice and beans if I was lucky. My mother was scrubbing the kitchen floor on her hands and knees, pushing the bristles back and forth. It was a strange sight to behold as she barely did a scrap of housework. As usual, she stank of rum and her shirt was partly undone showing her huge breasts wobbling about.  I stood in the doorway staring.  ‘Mom’, I muttered, feeling ignored yet again. ‘Mom’, I’m starved. Can I have some bread?’  Finally, she looked up at me with bloodshot eyes, peering at me strangely. ‘Hungry, huh, well there’s no food for you, boy. Get upstairs and read that bible,’ she shouted. You have a darkness in you, I can see it oozing it out of every pore – the spirit of Beelzebub is in you, and you need to read that bible over and over to get it out. Do you hear me?’

With ‘showing’ the reader gets an immediate understanding of the dynamics of this boy’s childhood and relationship with his mother.

Another example of ‘telling’ from a sentence is this.

‘The food was retrieved from a counter where a team of cooks worked furiously to get enough food out for the encroaching students.  They ate well, the food was good. Few words passed as the food went down.’

So what’s wrong with this paragraph?

Firstly, the word ‘food’ was used four times in one paragraph. It’s important for a writer to vary their language. Repetition of the same words too close together reveal boring lazy language – and you want to keep your reader on their toes. But it’s also important to be descriptive to state what this food is. The author needs to make sure it sounds delicious. For example, a description of ‘showing’ with food would be this. ‘There before us, was a long table set out in front of the bay window with the most mouth-watering display of food: platters of buttery smoked haddock and crispy potato cakes, bagels oozing with cream cheese, a dish of boiled eggs, a sponge cake trickled with honey, and my favourite, big round sugary doughnuts all set out on lace doilies. I was drooling, picturing the sweet jam exploding into my mouth.

You get my drift? This kind of detail is what brings stories alive so the reader can see and taste the food.

POV

POV relates to the point of view of a character and many writers resort to head hopping which can confuse the reader. And this is very common. When you write from first person it’s obvious you are in your protagonists head, and that can be up front and powerful as the character tells their story. The problem with first person is that it is limited to that one perspective. So events can only unfold from that characters perception as they tell their story.  Many novelists such as Paula Hawkins author of ‘Girl on the Train’, and Gillian Flynn author of ‘Gone Girl’ use this first person POV for all their characters by putting the name at the top of the chapter, so they get another characters perspective. And in my view ‘first person’ is the easiest way to write.

Third person is far more complex when you go from one character to another, and this is something many authors struggle with where they resort to ‘head hopping’. There is a golden rule with POV. The rules in writing are that you cannot head hop from one character to another without first changing scene or chapter. For example, in this para the characters headhop from Jenny’s thoughts to David’s in two consecutive paras.

Get up, you two! Quickly!” Jenny yelled. The emphasis in her voice appeared to be sharp and impatient. Knowing that assisting the slumbering twins could get her in trouble, she quickly removed her head from underneath the ivy-covered entrance.

David was shocked that Jenny still had such pent up energy despite being up all night. Although he overslept, he felt like an extra hour would have helped him feel less groggy.

So this has gone from Jenny’s point of view to David’s in the same scene. Dialogue can of course go back and forth between characters, but you need to choose whose head you are going to be for that scene or chapter and stick to it, or create a new scene if you are changing POV to another character.

Adverbs: I often find new writers over complicate a sentence by using too many adverbs. I know I did initially. Strong, direct language is best. Adverbs are fine in moderation, but many manuscripts I’ve seen use very similar phrases within a few paragraphs, so there’s a lot of glaring eyes, saddened eyes, brooding eyes and bulging eyes. Writing is about being creative in how you write, not saying the same thing with a few different words.  Find different ways of physically showing how your characters express themselves. For example, instead of saying saddened eyes which is technically ‘telling’ – say ‘she hunched over, clenched her hands together, her eyes wet with tears.’  Leaving in adverbs can look amateurish and lazy as if you can’t be bothered, so describe things properly instead of generalising and be confident with leaner sentences that read in a cleaner, crisper way.

Cliché’s

It’s considered a big no no to mention too many clichés. Expressions of speech, are different if they allude to a certain way of speaking, but it’s important as a writer to find ways of saying the same thing in different ways and finding unique metaphors. Who can forget ‘Hills like White Elephants’, a short story by Ernest Hemingway. What a great description, and one that immediately evokes a visual picture.

What I did in Letters to the Pianist was if a cliché came to mind, I would try and put my unique spin on it, so instead of saying ‘trapped in a gilded cage’ which is a well known cliché, I used, my own – ‘Everything else came under his list of possessions and she was merely another, ‘trapped in a mink-lined dungeon.’

None of this came easy to me at first, and it takes consistent work to keep going through a manuscript and cleaning it up. And I don’t profess to be an expert on any of this, but I have learnt a lot through the years, and as tough as it might be, it definitely gets your creative mind ticking over, and that to me is what writing is all about.

Letters to the Pianist is out now in hardback, paperback and eBook

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Thank you for taking the time to speak to us Sherron. You can follow Sherron on Goodreads or via her Facebook Page.

Emma-Louise x