Friday, March 25, 2022

Karen S. Wiesner: Advance Your Career: Writing in Stages, Part 4

 Writer's Craft Article by Karen S. Wiesner

Advance Your Career:

Writing in Stages, Part 4 

Based on CPR for Dead or Lifeless Fiction {A Writer's Guide to Deep and Multifaceted Development and Progression of Characters, Plot, and Relationships} 

This is the final of four articles with techniques to advance your writing career. 

In the previous part of this article, we talked about the steps 4-7 in writing in stages. Let's continue. 

Stage 8: Setting aside 

This latter setting aside, though, is slightly different in that this is usually a good stage to get critique partners and beta readers involved. Everyone knows writers can get too close to their own work. It’s an occupational hazard. While you're hopefully feeling you’ve got a story beyond compare, it may need a little more work and you simply can’t see it (or vice versa--you think it's manure, but it's actually really good, and you're too close to be able to see that). That’s why it’s so important to turn your beloved opus over to a trusted spouse, friend, or, preferably, a critique partner (or three) for a critical read. The opinion of others is very important. You’re probably not ready to send that book out to a publisher or agent until you’ve had enough reader reactions to judge the strength of your accomplishment.

During this project downtime, you might be sick of your book and/or stinging from some of the glaring holes others saw that you somehow managed to miss. I highly recommend that you give yourself this shelf-time time to digest the comments made about your beloved baby. When you return for the final editing and polishing, perhaps for the last time before you submit it, you might even agree with your friend on several points…but you may also disagree. Ultimately, what you decide is best for your book is up to you. You'll hopefully feel confident enough to evaluate, unbiased, what needs to be done to shine it up.

In Steps 4 and 6 mentioned in Part 2 of this article is pertinent here as well.

Stage 9: Editing and polishing 

What most writers call revising is actually just editing and polishing. Writers get excited about their stories at nearly every stage, since they have a picture in their mind’s eye of what will emerge. The "editing" portion of this task is called copyediting in publishing circles and entails the correction and enhancement of grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation details. Editing and polishing are a lot like turning a rough gemstone into a finished one. You’re cutting the bad, replacing it with the good, and polishing up what remains until it shines. A writer unquestionably does also need to remove clutter to make a story understandable, to prevent a reader from tripping over clumsy prose, and to infuse a story with vivid, interesting narration that speaks succinctly to the reader, concurrently bringing the whole story to life. Editing and polishing add a very definite extra layer to your story. Without it, your story probably won’t read smoothly, nor will it shine. The process of editing and polishing can also involve any or all of the following: 

·         Ensuring a completeness of three-dimensionality in character, plot, and relationship

·         Rearranging sentences or paragraphs

·         Showing (more frequently) and telling (at times), where these are most needed

·         Tightening sentences and individual words (such as changing passive to active and dull to impacting; cleaning up repetitiveness)

·         Smoothing out roughness and making your writing more natural or interesting

·         Punching up tension and suspense

·         Ensuring variation in sentence construction and length

·         Diversifying and enriching words 

Editing and polishing should be almost as simple as reading through the manuscript and making minor adjustments that allow the words to flow like music to the ear. A solid outline followed by a rich first draft virtually ensures that. The difference between revising and editing and polishing is generally in the amount of work you'll do for each. 

Stage 10: Setting aside (optional) 

While I’ll get into the in-depth reasons for continuing past Stage 9 in Stage 11, the basic reason for this shelf time for the project is obvious. You just finished editing and polishing. You’d have to be insane to want to read the book again right after you finished going over it from start to finish. You’ll have gained no distance from it if you jump directly into Stage 11 at this point. So give yourself another few weeks or more, if your deadlines allow, before moving on to Stage 11. See Stages 4, 6, and 8 for more details.

One other thing I alluded to earlier is that writers don’t want to get burned out when it comes to any specific project. When writers say they’re burned out, they mean they’ve been working too much and not taking the time off to refresh themselves and keep their creative energy flowing. (This is completely different from writer’s block, which can stem from situations like a story not ready to be worked on, not enough brainstorming or inspiration, or sheer laziness usually attributed to a fickle muse.) This is especially true if you're working on one project, doing all these stages back-to-back, without taking a break from the project or from work in general. You bring back your own love for a project each time you set it aside and then come back to it fresh. Don't underestimate the importance of doing that. You and your stories will suffer for it eventually if you skip over the setting-aside stages.

There's another reason for avoiding burnout whenever you can. The soil in your brain is like the soil farmers sow crops in. It needs rest and rotation (writing in stages, for the author) in order to become fertile and nutrient rich again. When you work up your yearly goals, you're not only deciding what you’re going to be working on during that year, but you're also planning your breaks from writing. If taking weekends off doesn’t refresh you, take a week, weeks, or even a month off during the year. Read, watch movies, relax, and reenergize your creativity. (This doesn't mean you can't be brainstorming or researching for upcoming projects during this time.) By the time your vacation is up, you’ll be raring to go on your next writing project. Take your scheduled vacations when you’ve planned them, unless something wonderful happens (an editor contracts a series from you, you're asked to write a screenplay of your book…fill in the blank for your own idea of wonderful) in your career or life, and you can’t let the opportunity pass you by. As soon as that thing is finished, take the vacation you planned. Reward yourself by allowing your creative soil to become fertile again. 

Stage 11: The final read-through (optional)

Following Stage 9, some authors may be ready to get the book out where readers can buy and fall in love with it. A couple situations prompted me to add two steps to my original nine-stage process, though, that I think even savvy, confident authors might want to evaluate before letting the book be released. First, we live in a digital world. Everything is started, managed, and completed on the computer. But the very real and inescapable fact is that human eyes are fallible. They aren't capable of seeing everything on a computer (or something similar to this) screen and frequently what you see on the screen isn't necessary what's in the hard copy--spacing, formatting, and other issues may crop up from one medium to the other. We need the hardcopy to truly catch everything that demands our attention (like typos and "Track Changes" errors) in the final draft of a manuscript. Our eyes may only see some of these things on the printed version of the book. This is essential, and I guarantee if you're not getting this hardcopy (from your own printer of the final proof after edits, directly from your publisher, or from another means like the one I'll describe in a second), you're missing a (possibly) tremendous number of issues that readers are going to catch. Do yourself a favor: Get a hardcopy to do your final read-through from.

Second, the current state of the industry--exploding with indie publishers and authors--requires another stage in which to find the errors that seem to creep into our stories like lice. The fact is, there are very few legitimately professional editors and/or copyeditors working at publishing houses these days--especially at smaller publishers--and authors who are self-publishing their own works may even skip the professional-editor-input altogether. For that reason, it’s even more crucial to have a stage where the writer sees his book in this final form (and this is true even if the book is only released as an ebook without a paper companion), where he can catch (probably not all but most) typos. We'll talk more about the current and future state of the industry in the conclusion chapter.

As soon as I'm done with the editing and polishing, and the story is as clean as I think it can get "digitally", I'll put the book into a value-priced trade paperback format (what I call my print test paperback) and order a copy. When I'm ready for this final read-through, I like to put myself in the position of being the first reader for this book. As much as possible, I try to ignore the fact that I have a very personal affiliation with the book and I simply read it--in both a critical and savoring mind frame This isn’t easy, but I consider this my very last chance to make changes before my editor sees it; I want her to find the finished product almost perfect. I take my time reading, as well, sometimes lingering for weeks if the deadline I have to submit it to my editor is way out there, to evaluate how the story goes over in this unhurried mode.

When I get to this stage in the process, I usually find very few changes are required. The story is brimming with life, and there’s almost nothing left to stumble over or smooth out. Most important, though, in nearly every case I come out loving the story more than I ever have before. It exceeds the expectations I had for it when it was little more than a spark that incited me to write. Truthfully, I don't consider that conceit. I'd worry if I didn't have that reaction. If you don't love your own work, don't become immersed in the worlds, characters, conflicts, and relationships contained in your stories, how can you expect readers to?

Each of these stages is a layer of your story--nine to eleven strong layers that, for career authors, should be the first step in ensuring multidimensional writing that has strong CPR development. Each time you add something new during these stages, you're creating another vital layer that makes the whole story stronger, richer, with almost guaranteed strong, three-dimensional CPR elements.

All of my projects are done in these eleven stages. I love that I’m never doing the same thing in terms of outlining, writing, revising, or editing and polishing a project. I move from outlining one book, to revising a different one, to writing something else altogether, layering and building and developing each project into something wonderfully three-dimensional.

I also love that I rarely have to start from scratch on any project. While I do set the book aside multiple times, the rest of the steps are done once. I can't remember the last time I had to outline, write a draft, revise, and edit and polish more than once for each project. I’m always fresh, always enthusiastic, always eager to complete a book a little more at each stage, knowing my work will be solid, lifelike, and ready to send to editors when I'm at last ready to let go.

One other thing I want to point out is that I generally spend each year (though the year isn't necessarily January through December) working on five novels--in some years I also write at least five novellas--all in various stages in this process. To give you a point of reference, visit my WIP page at, which includes not only my accomplishments every year but also several past years' and the current year's works-in-progress. You'll see, broken down month by month, how I juggled each project through the various stages, to complete everything.  Note that my vacations aren't included on the monthly breakdown but, rest assured, I am taking long and short ones in between projects to prevent me from becoming overwhelmed and burned out on writing. I recommend studying my WIP page to see how I did this with individual projects. You can see the juggling act there of all my books over the course of a year or more, allowing every single project all the stages needed to get solid, three-dimensional stories with all the proper layering for CPR development every single time.

There's a quote by Orison Marden that says, "The waste of life occasioned by trying to do too many things at once is appalling." Obviously there's a lot I accomplish during the course of a year and all of that includes breaks and long vacations. People tend to assume I must work 24 hours a day based on my high level of production, but--if you've looked at my WIP page and read through all this--you know differently now, don't you? Writing in stages is more of a science than a phenomenon once you see how it works. I don't believe in trying to do too much. I've found a way to do all I can without becoming harried, overworked, or overwhelmed. Individual authors need to find ways to get maximum output without turning their creative soil into ash because they're so burned out.

An author who uses full-proof methods to create layered stories with strong CPR development and utilizes an outlines, allows for sufficient shelf time, and sets goals will never have to suffer from missed opportunities or deadlines let alone low-quality work. In fact, each book may get better than the last, and you may get far enough ahead that you can fit just-for-fun projects into your schedule or take longer breaks.

Finally, what I do and what you ultimately do will be completely different, and you want to find what works best for you. The point is to make progress. If you want to write quality stories for the long haul that are undeniably memorable to readers, there is no better way to get started.

Karen S. Wiesner is the author of CPR for Dead or Lifeless Fiction {A Writer's Guide to Deep and Multifaceted Development and Progression of Characters, Plot, and Relationships}

Volume 6 of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection 

Happy writing!

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 140 titles and 16 series. Visit her here:

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