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NaNoWriMo week 4 – Editing during NaNo, my writing tools


First of all, I won NaNo and with that out of the way, let’s go on to more interesting stuff.

Before I started NaNo, I thought my main project would be the AtoZ Challenge entries. In fact this was what convinced me to try the challenge this year, since I thought my novelette wasn’t enough of a project to cover NaNo. Well, it was true, I wouldn’t have had enough of words with just the novelette, but as it turned out, I wrote zero entries for the AtoZ and instead I’ve practically finished the novelette. You never know what to expect, eh?

NaNoWriMo 2015 Winner banner

That wasn’t the only surprise. Another one was the way I went about revising (well, rewriting) the novelette.
Give in to the Feeling was the last short story I wrote before starting working to the trilogy and I wrote it the same way I’d always written short stories up to that point: on the fly. I would get the idea, I’d define the beginning, the end and the climax without ever taking any notes, then I would just write and see what happened. I’d revised the short story typically a couple of times, refining action and characters’ motives and that was it.
Working to a trilogy taught me all kinds of stuff, first thing being I could never work a trilogy the same way I worked short stories. So I learned to plan a lot more. I learned to use writers’ tools, because it takes years to work to a trilogy and you can’t rely on just memory. You also can’t rely on just intuition, but need to really think out characters’ relationships and reasons… not to mention that you have a number of characters and they all need their action and reason, all of which are related. In short, it’s a mess you can’t sort out just by thinking it out. At least, that doesn’t work for me.
As I like to say, you don’t think you need writers’ tools, until you need them. And as I wrote the trilogy I discovered I definitely needed writers’ tools. A lot of them.

Typewriter - writing tools I still thought I could manage a short story just fine, without too much fuss. Working on the fly as I used to.
Those were the last famous words of mine.

First, I reread the story which I hadn’t touched in five years. Second, I started pulling off my hair. Third, I thought there must be a more effective way to go about it, so I broke the story down to episode level and see what I didn’t’ like.
Two things stood out: It needed to be Susie’s story more than it did and Michael’s role needed to be clearer.
With this in mind I first rewrote the synopsis, episode by episode. It still didn’t clear out. That’s when I pulled out my writer’s tools.

One thing I knew: I needed to clarify the characters’ reasons first of all to myself. I started doing that by using Svenja NaNoWriMo Spreadsheet. Yes, granted, this is mainly for the word count, but there are a few more spreadsheets attached to it that deal with story plotpoints and character building. What I like about these spreadsheets is that you need to be very essential and therefore very specific. You are allowed only few words to describe anything, both about the characters and the story. I filled out the story structure spreadsheet and one spreadsheet for each character, and that gave me a first idea what I wanted to strengthen and even drop in the characters’ personality and reasons in the new draft.

That’s how I realised I needed to slightly change the plot in order to strengthen Susie’s position and to give a reason for Michael to even be in the story. That also meant Simon’s and Blood’s conflict needed to be stronger and clearer.
I started working to the plot with a template I found on Jami Gold‘s site, the Six Stages Plot Structure. This uses the classic narrative structure in a very essential way. You’re supposed to use it to outline the story, I actually used it to outline each character’s arc, so I ended up with four spreadsheet. Of course, Susie’s arc, being the backbone of the novelette, was the main structure of the story itself, while the other spreadsheets each outlined stories that started far before the events in Give in to the Feeling. This allowed me to get a wider idea of the situation and to explore character’s lives and reasons before the story started.
Laptop - Writing toolsOn Jami Gold’s site I also found the Save the Cat Boards Beat Sheet . This file works with the classic story structure too, but they go into more details about every single part of story. This allowed me to get deeper into the plot while also trying to mix the four different outlines I had into just one story breakdown. It wasn’t as easy as one might think, but having a structure to guide me was a great help.

Finally, I wrote a chapter-by-chapter outline, with each chapter divided into episodes (each episode with its own POV). I still didn’t follow it religiously when I wrote. I used all the episodes, but the order and some of the character’s reactions still morphed while writing.
I suppose I’ll always be a planning pantser.

So, there you have it. I think Give in to the Feeling is a better, stronger, more cohesive story than it used to be, and part of it depends on my new writing technique, which also included writers’ tool.

What about you? Have you ever used writer’s tools and templates? Were they useful to you? If not, why do you think they weren’t?

EDITING DURING NANOWRIMO - One thing NaNoWriMo is very good at is make us figuring out how to do things in the most effective way. Here's my take away about revising


  • Lillian Csernica
    Posted December 3, 2015 at 05:16

    Congratulations! I like outlines and notecards. I’m a visual learner, so I like to the timeline of my novel broken down into day by day chunks. This is very important in historical fiction because logistics are frequently a pain in the butt. I’m sure you know about this issue. How far can a horse travel in one day? Can the train get there on time? How do nautical miles differ from miles traveled by land? Endless amounts of detail you have to keep consistent.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 3, 2015 at 17:49

      My luck is that my trilogy happens in a very small place (Chicago Black Belt) but I have indeed spent days figuring out what happened on which day (the first novel only covers one month, September 1926).
      It was headache, but also so fun. And I worked on the actual calendar. I found that so cool! 🙂

  • Crispian Thurlborn
    Posted December 3, 2015 at 10:32

    Congratulations, Sarah, and good luck with the revising/editing. The danger is finding a balance. You don’t want to over-edit/revise to the point that your story loses some of the passion and rawness that came through when you first wrote it. For me, perfection is found in the imperfection. The hiss on vinyl compared to the polished emptiness of digital if you will.

    You already know how I feel about writers’ tools 😉 I steer clear of templates. I’m the sort of writer that has scraps of paper scattered across the room with notes scribbled in the smallest of spaces and large arrows indicating where the flow has travelled to another page, before jumping over to a different paper, tentatively known as “READ THIS – p.4a”.

    To some, it might seem chaotic and disorganised; especially to those that like to keep notecards, post-it notes, and templates. For me, it’s comfortable and part of my process. When an idea strikes during my story I don’t have time to look for a new template or card. I just need to write it down.

    I have tried note cards in the past, but the ‘clean and tidy’ approach just seemed too clinical and structured for me. I found my focus was more on the tools and protocols than it was on the actual story and the writing of it.

    Writing and writers vary. What works for one doesn’t for another.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 3, 2015 at 17:53

      Don’t worry, I don’t think I’ll revise a lot longer. I want to try and self-publish the story next Spring, so there isn’t much time to mess up 😉

      You know? I do the same too. I write a lot by hand. I take notes, sometimes I type them on the pc, sometimes I gather them in a notebook. But I also use templates a lot. I like doing both things and both work for me in differnet ways.

      But it’s true, every writer is different and different things will work for them. But that’s how it’s supposed to be 😉

  • Sara L.
    Posted December 3, 2015 at 14:39

    That’s fantastic, Sarah! Even though things turned out different than you had planned priority-wise, it sounds like you took advantage of your NaNo time well. A To Z will happen when it happens. 😉 What are your next plans for Give In To The Feeling?

    Hmmmm… The only writing tools I use consistently are Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s thesaurus collection. Their Positive Trait and Negative Trait thesauri have been really helpful with developing profiles for each of my characters, and therefore with getting to know those characters better. The Emotions Thesaurus is also good for helping me find other ways to describe someone’s reaction or feelings besides head-nodding, sighing, and other too-common gestures. I also created a spreadsheet that helps me keep track of TKC’s word count (overall, individual chapters, word cut, etc.). I don’t always recognize whether a chapter is too long until I open the spreadsheet and certain numbers “scream” at me. *lol*

    • Post Author
      Posted December 4, 2015 at 15:00

      I think I read about these thesaurus on your blog, Sara. I might have a look at them 🙂

      Next move for Give in to the Feeling is finish the revison (hope I’ll be there by the end of the weekend) and send it over to the editor.
      Working with a professional editor was one of the main reasons why I revised the story, and so I’m very excited to come to this next step. I’m also looking into getting a cover…

  • Sara C. Snider
    Posted December 4, 2015 at 07:19

    Congratulations on finishing! Yay! I’m impressed with your level of planning and organization. I don’t use many tools or templates. I write with Scrivener, which will probably come in handy for my third series-book that I think will take a bit of wrangling to get into shape. I might also apply some plotting templates to it as well in the rearranging stage that I’m fairly certain it will undergo. But for me, in terms of ideas of what to write, I can’t ever plan it. It just doesn’t work for me. At best, I might know a few plot points ahead of time, but not always. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, as I’m seeing with book three. But it is what it is, and, on the whole, seems to work for me.

    • Post Author
      Posted December 4, 2015 at 15:10

      Well, truth is, I plan a lot, but then it isn’t certain that I’ll go the same way than the plan 😉

      But I always prefer writing down the idea, whether in notes, synopsis or templates, because sometimes this is the best way to see whether that idea works or even if I like it. I prefer to write down an idea in some form of notes and see I don’t like it, or I’m not satisfied with it, and so having the possibility to rework it, rather than actually write the story and then realise I don’t like it or it doesn’t satisfy me. That’s the most important thing I leanred when I shift from writing short stories to writing novels.

  • Tiyana Marie
    Posted October 3, 2016 at 02:20

    Yay for winning NaNo! ^_^ That takes a lot of focus and dedication, I’m sure.

    It’s been a while since I was actually in the pure writing stage of working on a novel, haha. Like…years, actually. <_< But back when I was at that stage, I did try a few different planning methods. Storyboarding with index cards for each scene and then outlining, in particular. Both got different results, but in the end, I found they just weren't working for my particular project. (Mine has also turned out to be a trilogy-in-the-making. Problematic!)

    The one tool I've continued to use no matter what is a journal. I have journals and journals out the wazoo, and eventually, I switched from paper-and-pen to a word processor so I could do keyword searches and find/reference things faster.

    What I *did* learn from using those methods that didn't work for me, however, was that my strength as a writer is not in plotting but rather worldbuilding and characterization, I feel. You would think that planning more would help to offset this, in my case, but being so focused on story structure deprived me of exploring the aspects I was stronger in because I felt so bound by the story structure I'd arbitrarily decided upon that I felt afraid to go off on tangents to see where they'd lead. It felt too black-and-white to me; I wanted more complexity. So I ended up completely rewriting my current WIP from scratch after several different attempts at a viable first draft and just went with my gut, lol. I very much "discovered" what my story was about just by stumbling through failed drafts initially, to be honest, then going back and making sense of it all–a very, very long process that required waaaaaay more stamina than I was expecting to put into this project, haha.

    Very messy, initially, but I doubt I could have gotten the same results using a more structured method. My plot became a lot more complex this time around, and my characters have a lot of layers to them that were absent in previous drafts, so I'm happy about that.

    Oddly enough, for my second novel I already have a very clear picture of what the story will be about, unlike with the first. (I think part of this is coming from the fact that I was creating a new world from scratch, and I've been journaling potential scenes to use in subsequent novels while working on the first. So the second book is actually partially written already!) Figuring out the first novel helped pave the way for the second, naturally, and I think when I get to working on the second one I'll probably start off with a scene-by-scene outline since I have a pretty clear vision for that story this time around.

    Something tells me this second one will be *much* easier than the first one was…

    • Post Author
      Posted October 3, 2016 at 21:32

      Hey Tiyana, a lot of that sounds like me 😉
      Ghost Trilogy was my very first attempt at a complex project and I went into it knowing basically nothing. I mean, I was writing a trilogy… and I had never even written a novel!

      Messy? You bet it!
      But I learned a lot from this experience, and a part of it is that planning ‘after’ I’ve pantsed out the first draft is what seem to work best for me.

      I’ll blog about my new project during October. It’s a completely new project, but I can already see that the experience with Ghost Trilogy is making my work easier.
      As you said 😉
      Making mistakes is good. That’s how we learn, right?

      • Tiyana Marie
        Posted October 9, 2016 at 02:13

        Yeah. I just wish I’d learned mine faster, haha.

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