Season 2, Episode 17: Do Bad Weeks Make For Bad Writing?

In this episode of Mom Writes

I will update the show notes when Mel gets a chance to write them! (LOL!) But in the meantime, I wanted to let listeners know that we are hosting a webinar all about the One Page Book Summary tomorrow (Tuesday, August 13th) at 7 pm Eastern time. So if you miss Jennie’s voice on the podcast, here ‘s a chance to listen to her do a live coaching session where she goes over a (few?) writers’ book summaries.

What is a One-Page Book Summary? And why is it important? Well, its’ a tool that Jennie created to help you see at a glance the heart and soul of your book. Defining your book on just one page can be enormously comforting when you are deep into writing, revising, moving things around, or just trying to make things work in the first place. One glance at this One-Page Book Summary can bring you back to your story's basics and your purpose for writing it.

So register here and join us! Also, if you can’t make it, I’m pretty sure you should register anyway because you can always watch the replay!

But back to Mom Writes, this episode is all about my (Abby’s) rewritten first chapter. After hitting my Two-Tier Outline (now the Inside Outline) pretty hard and sorting out what I was pretty sure is actually TWO books, I turned my attention back to my draft. The goal was to work in some more magic and the literary world characters into my story from the get-go.

This rewriting of Chapter One also coincided with a pretty crappy Thanksgiving vacation. It was full of stressful situations. So how did I deal with crazy + a writing deadline?

Tune in to see how I did it this week’s episode of Mom Writes!

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!

Season 2, Episode 16: Secondary Character Development

This week on MomWrites…

Melanie spends some time in a sensory deprivation tank (in someone’s house?!), gets an A+ from Kemlo this week for character development and creepiness, and gets her questions answered about ancillary characters (to ax, or not to ax?).

Mel decides to turn her random security guard character into someone useful – a human, empathetic foil for all these flat affect characters, deciding that she needs to either ax him completely or find an arc and resolution for his character. The important thing is that his actions or departure effect’s Mel’s protagonist, somehow.

In other chapters, Kemlo’s having trouble reading one of the other characters, who’s supposed to be a later romantic interest but Mel’s having trouble translating the relationship between this person and the main character and advises Mel to keep building the character and the relationship.

“Is this one of those situations where you’re not going to get it right the first time, but every time you go over it you put one more little piece in, one more little piece in…you don’t try to get it all in right out of the gate?” – Abby Mathews

Yes, Abby, that’s exactly right. Each time you ask yourself why – why’s the character behaving this way? What are they motivated by? — you’re going to get another layer, another level of nuance in your writing.

According to Lisa Cron in Story Genius, every character believes they’re the protagonist in their own story, and we should write accordingly if we want our characters to behave in a way that is consistent for them, for their story, and the story they’re telling themselves. We don’t just want reaction – we want action – real-life people, for instance, don’t merely react. We act! We make decisions based on what we want, what we’re trying to avoid, what we’re ultimately after in life.

Melanie and Kemlo go over some dialogue in-detail to determine if there’s a need for subtext (there is!) and if there are things she can add or subtract to make the conversations more clear. Even if you don’t want to spell out what another character’s true motivations are if you’re writing in the first person, you can lay clues to help your protagonist—and your reader!—figure it out along the way.

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!

Season 2, Episode 15: Layers of Emotion

Trigger warning: we talk about suicide in this episode, as it pertains to one of Mel’s characters.

This week Mel had to do some Kemlo-ordered homework – reading the Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maas, Understanding Show Don’t Tell by Janice Hardy, and The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. She has trouble connecting emotion to her writing and needs to do more work on Chapter 5 before moving on.

“When writing body sensations, you yourself have to be in touch with your own body. A lot of times we ignore our body sensations because we’re focusing on other things.” – Melanie

Kemlo says that it’s hard to layer emotion because it needs to be pervasive – it needs to be on every page, all the time. We as readers don’t cease to be human, and sometimes it takes as little as one or two lines of tweaking to add that nuance.

Sometimes, just adding a character’s thoughts is enough to get the emotion across—and not just “I feel afraid” – what are they afraid of? What do they think is going to happen, or what do they want/not want to happen? There’s more power behind it if it’s character-specific.

“One of the things I find fascinating when I read, say, the book A Man Called Ove – when you read it, there are places I’ve cried in that book. He’s just doing it in a really nuanced, really subtle way. Sometimes it’s the whole Gestalt of what you’re getting across. What makes it so hard is trying to get it on every page.” – Kemlo Aki

Mel points out that she and Abby (who has a graduate degree in) could walk into an art museum and while Mel could say “Hey, what a nice painting” Abby would see so much more because she’s got more experience with the subject. The same goes for writing – until you write a book, it’s hard to have a sincere appreciation of all that goes into the process. An experienced writer can look at a book and see all the different threads the author spent likely hundreds of hours weaving through their story, the subtle details that take seconds to read but add so much to the final product.

Even mid-revision, Mel and Abby are reminded again that practice might not ever make perfect (what writer is happy with their book when the send it off to their publisher?), but it makes it better.

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!

Season 2, Episode 14: #ioutlinesohard

On this episode of Mom Writes… Abby goes above and beyond in a Sudafed-induced writing frenzy, turning in ALL the pages and a brand-new inside-outside (formerly two-tier) outline. With this new, revised version, Abby feels she’s got a real handle on her story.

If we refer back to Ep 71 of the podcast, Abby thought she’d convinced Jennie that her original outline was meant for multiple books. Now, with this recent version, Abby assumes it’s back one book again, but Kemlo says, “Wait! There’s a lot more here.” There’s a whole bunch of material to explore, and there’s just not room for it all in one manuscript. It’s great news, but how do we break this up into multiple books?

Once Abby has her new outline done and worked out how her protagonist’s journey can come full circle for this book, she thinks there’s actually four story ideas to explore. For book two, Abby’s got to figure out which of Bernadette’s problems to tackle next.

The key, according to Kemlo, is solving these problems with the story, not the plot. When you solve problems with plot, you end up with something predictable and generic and rarely applicable to the characters in your book. Why are your plot elements problems for your particular characters? How and why are these challenges going to make them change?

At the end of each book, Bernadette (and potentially secondary characters as well) has to come away with a new understanding of the problem she faced at the beginning of the story; she has to be changed in some meaningful way for the book to have impact on Abby’s readership.

Ralph S. Mouse is a beloved character in Abby’s draft and the first clue to her reader that something is amiss in Bernadette’s world. Abby decides to bring in this magical aspect from the very first page with her new introduction of Ralph. Not only will Abby’s plan for Ralph and Bernadette move the story forward in what Bernadette learns about herself and friendship, but it brings the “book world” and the “normal world” in contact with each other from the beginning – a way to pick up the pacing of what Abby fears were a slow first few chapters.

Next, Abby’s going to write forward with the new knowledge of how and when she’s ending her book and continue to revise her draft with this new information in mind.

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!

Season 2, Episode 13: Looking at the Inside Outline Upside Down

In this episode

This week Abby looks at her Inside Outline (aka the Two-Tier Outline) from a different perspective. She looks at it upside down. Or maybe it's inside out? ;-)

But first...

Abby, the 3rd grade Room Mom, missed the class Halloween party (which, in her defense, was NOT scheduled on Halloween but an entire week before…). She received a text from the teacher while we were recording, asking where she was! And since the big party activity was Abby teaching the kids how to draw a haunted house on scratchboards, the teacher moved the date of the party on the fly!

Can we say #momfail?

Then to compound that, Abby realized she didn’t read her edits before she hit the record button!

Can we say #writerfail?

Kemlo breaks the news that she wants Abby to work on her outline one more time. It’s not a surprise, seeing as Abby really doesn’t have things together this week, on or off the page!

She’s struggling with chapter endings and beginnings, and her Two-Tier outline reflects that. (a.k.a the Inside Outline, for those of you who are keeping up with our rebranding efforts.) The outline makes it really obvious that she’s going to struggle with that when it comes time to write. Abby is changing up the structure of her story in the second draft, and the outline shows the arc of change in each scene, but it also shows the lack of arc for each chapter. So Kemlo is trying to help her fix that before she struggles with it later.

They talk about chapter length and story flow, and Kemlo points out it’s not the overall flow that’s not working, but what’s off is where Abby puts the breaks.

The ladies also talk Abby into putting a giant TK on the quotes at the beginning of her chapters, because it’s a mental roadblock in Abby’s writing.

Kemlo breaks down the flow within a chapter, and Abby brings up Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid method of analyzing a chapter. (By the way, she uses the word “shortcut” when she really means the word “shorthand.”) Abby’s description of the positive to double positive, etc… that Story Grid lays out really throws Kemlo, and they spend some time dissecting it.

All this brings Abby to the conclusion that she wants to work her Two-Tier Outline (a.k.a. the Inside Outline) differently… She wants to break her outline apart and look at the flow on both the scene and emotional levels independently. That way she can see that there is a logic to the emotional change and that one emotional-plot-point truly leads to the next. And the same on the actual plot level. This thing that happens would actually lead to the next thing. And if there’s a hitch in either of those two trajectories, then that’s where she needs to go back and do some work.

Tune in next episode to see how it worked out for her!

And if you're interested in coming to Maine in September for a writer's retreat focusing on the Inside Outline (where you can work with Jennie and Kemlo, as well as meet up with Melanie and Abby), you can find more info here:

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!

Season 2, Episode 12: Layers

For anyone interested in joining Melanie, Abby, Kemlo, and Jennie (as well as the #AmWriting hosts) at a retreat in September, you can find that info here!

In this episode:

This week, Melanie is in a panic because she's been asked to do some public speaking. But beyond the actual Oh, S@#! feeling that public speaking induces, we talk about how it plays into the whole work/life mom/writer balance. Being asked to speak at a bookstore about writing is a fabulous way to put yourself out there as a writer. But the question is, would you bring your kids?

This naturally turns the conversation towards how our children perceive what we're doing. Writing a book is a long, arduous process with nothing at the end of a long writing stint to hold up in your hands and say, "Look what I made!" The final product comes way, waaaaaay later. So, how do we help our kids understand what we're doing?

We also talk about how and where we work. Melanie and Kemlo, being introverts, hole themselves up in private spaces. Abby, the lone extravert in this conversation, prefers to work in the midst of everything. She even bought a keyboard that connects to her phone by Bluetooth so she can work in the car, at the kids' acting/dance lessons, all the places.

So how productive were Abby and Mel this week?

Mel isn't happy with the chapter she wrote this week. She couldn't quite put her finger on why, and Kemlo points out that her MC was very wishy-washy, changing her mind a lot but never moving the story forward. Kemlo points out that we change our minds all the time in real life, so your characters can do the same, as long as we (the readers) see that decision making, see the shifts and understand why the characters are changing their minds.

Mel laughs because she says she might have written it, but she doesn't understand why her MC is doing what she's doing, either! Kemlo points out that what Mel has done is just put down the first layer: the action. Now she can go back and put down the second layer: the emotion.

Melanie fleshes out some of her upcoming writing talk with us. She realizes she can't just stand up there and say:

So, yeah. Writing… It's hard. *sits down

We talk about all the hours that writers put into their books, and Kemlo says she thinks the only difference between a great writer and an ok writer is the number of hours they put into their work! Writers work so hard to make it look effortless to their readers. And we, as writers, sometimes forget that when we read!

Kemlo says, "It just occurred to me that when you go to see a play, I don't think anyone sees a play and assumes the actors just walked on the stage and started acting because they were supremely talented and could just do it. But when people read a book, they do tend to think that. 'Oh, well, this is an incredibly talented writer. And I'm not that talented, so I can never write a book.' And so, I think the only thing that separates people from right really great books for people who don't is the number of hours they put into it."

And Melanie agrees, "I think writing is a skill like anything else, and it can be taught, and it can be learned, and it's just the amount of time that you're willing to put into it."

Lastly, Mel wrote a scene that confused Kemlo. A character grabs the MC. What was his intent? Kemlo thought the intention was rape, but Mel didn't intend it that way. Oops. It goes back to what they were talking about earlier in this episode. Mel didn't put the internal thought on the page. She left room for interpretation, and Kemlo interpreted it in a way Melanie didn't intend. Mel goes through her thought process as she was writing this scene, and she and Kemlo look at how she can fix it to make the scene to accurately reflect the emotion she wanted for the scene.

Mel also admits that she is trying to go back and layer in some of the romantic subplot that wasn't fully fleshed out in her previous draft. And she thinks that was in the back of her head as she wrote this, and while Melanie didn't intend for the scene to come off as sexual, she thinks she accidentally made it so while she was looking for ways to introduce it elsewhere in the book.

Mel reminds herself, "The writing of a book is layered, and nobody gets it right the first time."

Here’s the book our friend Monica Gokey Bequette was promoting at the bookstore talk:

You Do You (I Just Want to Pee Alone Series Book 6)
By Jen Mann, Kim Bongiorno, Galit Breen, Deva Dalporto, Whitney Dineen, Harper Kincaid, Sherry Stanfa-Stanley, E.R. Catalano, Sarah Cottrell, Janel Mills

Here are some shots from the bookstore talk!

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!

Season 2, Episode 11: Chapters and Details

In this episode:

What makes a good chapter beginning and ending? Abby feels constrained by the linear passage of time in her story. But first thing in the morning doesn't necessarily make a good chapter beginning and going to bed doesn't necessarily make a good chapter ending. So the question is, what does?

Kemlo suggests that at the beginning of a chapter, you want the reader to anticipate what your protagonist is anticipating. You want to give the readers something to root for.

But you also need to give the readers a little memory jog. Say your reader set your book down at the end of chapter 7 yesterday. Today she picks up at Chapter 8. You have to give her the teensiest bit of context, so she goes, "Yeah! That's where we are."

Kemlo and Abby pick these ideas apart for a little while, as well as the concept of each chapter showing a change, and at the end, you have the result of the change. Or the decision that's made because of the change.

Abby continues to look for ways that she can incorporate the Book World and its magic into the ordinary world of her protagonists' middle school. But here's the catch. While the Book World is an open secret to her readers, what if they haven't read that particular book? Does not getting a reference confuse her readers or stop them cold?

This is important for any writer with "expert knowledge" to consider. How do you feed your reader enough knowledge that it moves them forward without jerking them out of the story?

As an example, Abby brings up Howl's Moving Castle. It's a book she references in her novel. Abby thought she had brilliantly incorporated a Howl reference into the story, it took Kemlo right out of the reading.

Abby wants to include other references to books that aren't necessarily easily recognizable (like the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland or Willie Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). What about Mr. Pignati from The Pigman? Or the Wizard Howl from Howl's Moving Castle?

Kemlo says you should always refer back to story. What does your protagonist need to know to move the story forward? More specifically, what does she need to know NOW? And if it doesn't have a place, then maybe you don't need it. (No matter how awesome it might be to have green slime ooze down the staircase because a wizard is upstairs throwing a tantrum!)

Abby uses this information to drive some of her other decisions about which characters and events to include as she weaves her Book World magic into the real world.

We also want to make sure to include a link to Author Accelerator Maine writing retreat that we are holding in September. If you want more information on joining Abby, Melanie, Jennie, and Kemlo (as well as the brilliant ladies from the #AmWriting podcast) for a retreat, you can find it here:

If you’re interested in Howl’s Moving Castle, you can find it here! If you read it, let Abby know what you think about the book. She was PRO Howl, while the entire rest of her book club was ANTI Howl! (Her children are also pro Howl, for the record!) BTW, there’s a movie, if you want to cheat!

Howl's Moving Castle
By Diana Wynne Jones

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!

Season 2, Episode 10: Show Don't Mel

In this episode:

Mel writes an action chapter (!) and wants to know – how do you add in emotion and meaning without slowing down the pace?

According to Kemlo, the key is in the little clues. It doesn’t have to be a long-winded thing, sometimes a word or two, a thought, even nonverbal cues can let us into the heads of our characters when there’s not time or space enough for more. We need to see how things are affecting our characters – if we don’t, does it mean anything to them? Does it mean anything to us?

This is Mel’s third or fourth pass on this chapter (totes normal, you guys! Sadly!) and there’s still room to weave these things in, to layer emotion and meaning so that every word is really serving the story. You want the reader to feel a seamless experience – don’t leave them wondering what’s going on in your protagonist’s head and heart, don’t make them feel like they’re the cameraman trying to take it all in – you want your readers to feel as if they are the protagonist in those moments, feeling those feelings, wanting those same things your characters do.

We return to the concept of show don’t tell – listeners, is anyone else still struggling with this? Like, forever and ever, amen? It’s essentially this: You don’t just feel afraid; you feel your heart pounding, sweat pricking your palms, your vision tunnels, and you want very specific, particular things in that exact moment, because you’re a whole person – just like your characters need to be. If you can show these things without using an emotion word (fear, afraid, dread, you get it) then you’ve done it.

In regards to emotion in the first draft: “I’ll often tell people, go ahead and write ‘she was afraid’ or whatever, use the big box terms and just use it as a placeholder so that you know what you need to capture there so you don’t get stuck on it and slow down, because I think the finessing you’re doing now, the nuance, the subtlety, that takes time.” – Kemlo Aki

Abby and Mel recall their conversation with author Rachel Solomon in the first season, when Rachel told them about her “ad libs” first draft – in order to save time and keep the momentum of the drafting process, she’ll sometimes just leave big blank spaces where emotions, reactions, character development should be – and after getting the basic plot framework down she goes back and fills in the rest. It’s a good strategy if your find yourself getting bogged down in getting it all right during the first draft (which isn’t possible, and that’s okay!).


Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!

Season 2, Episode 9: Abby’s First Chapter Feedback

In this episode

Abby brainstorms more of her book’s great literary character cameos – should Babar the elephant make an appearance? She says it’s going to be challenging to balance these great cameos with the story, but it’s one of the most fun parts of world building. 

Last week, Abby wanted to rewrite some of her initial chapters in third person (as opposed to first person) in order to compare and contrast them and really decide which perspective best suited her story.  Abby landed on 3rd person, and you can take a look at her first chapter at the end of the show notes.

Because Abby’s a former teacher, and this is a MG book after all, there’s some teaching in this book too. The goal of the character cameos and how these characters influence the story is designed to get kids excited about books, about literature, about these characters that they might want to go pick up a book about after they’re through with this one.

Abby and Kemlo discuss skipping ahead in time – which strategies work, and which fall flat? Kemlo recommends skipping long summations—you’re going to lose the interest of the reader unless things are very brief and to the point. A few cues to get the point across usually will suffice. 

The important thing when imparting information to the reader, and in an effort to avoid the dreaded info-dump, is showing your reader why this information matters. How’s the character using it to inform their decisions? Make some connections to the info and use it to move the story forward. 

 Finally, we talk about Abby’s protagonist’s motivations both as a middle schooler and the daughter of an (unbenknowst to her) book character. What’s driving her decisions as a middle schooler? Acceptance, of course, in the midst of dealing with the weird dynamics of having your father head up a magical library, but who hasn’t been embarrassed by their weird parents, right? Who hasn’t wanted to fit in in middle school, who lamented their own awkwardness, who struggled to make friends? These are the kind of concepts that are going to connect readers with Abby’s story.

Here’s the first paragraph of Abby’s Chapter 1— with feedback— as promised in the intro.

Chapter One

TK QUOTE *filming of new reality tv show to start, starring royals as commoners Pudding on Heirs, a new show starring Bookland royalty in common jobs. (1)


Bernadette Thorpe’s whole life has always felt like a party to which she didn’t get invited. The first day of middle school was no exception. She walked through the hall on the first day of school and realized that something happened over the summer that changed everyone. (2)

Everyone except her. (3)

She (4) got the sideways eye from a group of girls. (5) Every one of them had hot pink hair. The only pink thing Bernadette had was her lunchbox.

One of the girls looked down at the pastel plastic box in Bernadette’s hands. She elbowed another girl and nodded at it. They both started to laugh in the same high-pitched cackle. Bernadette’s cheeks flushed hot pink like the girls’ hair, (6) and she thought, note to self: (7) I guess it’s ok to have pink hair, but not pink lunchboxes. 

She hid her lunch behind her back as she passed the group of laughing girls.

Kemlo’s Feedback:

 (1) LOL, this name is hilarious! Love it!

(2) Reads a bit choppy. To smooth this out a little, what if you were to break it into two lines: "She walked through the hall on the first day of school and realized something had happened over the summer. Everyone had changed." Then the next line would echo this thought in a nice way, too!

(3) I really want to know if this is an entirely new school for Bernadette, with a different group of kids from the previous year, because otherwise it seems like she'd know at least a few of the people there. Actually . . . she MUST know some of them because otherwise she wouldn't be able to tell that "everyone had changed." 

(4) Right before this, I'd like to get a glimpse of Bernadette's "game plan" so she won't seem quite so passive. Give her some agency. For example, assuming she and Claire have already had their falling out (they have, right?), and Bernadette knows they both have to go to this school (right?), is she nervous about running into Claire? Maybe looking around so she can try to avoid her? (I would be.) Or she could be trying to fulfill a promise to herself that she'll make a new friend this year, so she's looking around for someone who might fill that role. That could be when she spots the pinkheads and asks herself if they'd fit the bill (nope). Then I can see her deciding to postpone her make-a-friend goal and making a beeline for her first class so she can get there as quickly as possible. But by that point you will have already shown what's at stake for her: she wants to be accepted, to have a friend.

What feels slightly "off" to me is having B enter the school without any thought about what she's expecting to do or find there.

(5) For example, instead of a generic "group of girls," what if these were girls Bernadette had known prior to this? She might remember something about them that would make the sudden change to pink hair especially baffling to her. And if they're just strangers, she might have less incentive to care about them, more reason to look around for someone else, maybe someone she knows, for reassurance that not everyone has changed. Just a thought.

(6) Says that the girls' hair was flushing pink (rather than dyed). I think what you mean is "...cheeks flushed a shade of pink as bright as the girls' hair" or something like that?

(7) Redundant—don't need both . . . or either, actually. Suggest just showing the thought: I guess it's OK to have pink hair...

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!

Season 2, Episode 8: Season 2, Episode 8: Secondary Characters, Google Maps, and Revision Logistics

In this episode:

  • Mel works on her secondary characters.

  • Mel felt pretty good about this submission in other respects, and that made it easier for her to focus on beefing up the characters. They called it “putting the dressing on the salad!”

  • Mel has a pile of post-its, notes Mel’s mom leaves for her as she reads Mel’s draft!

  • Mel focuses on the details. She and Kemlo discuss incorporating actual locations into your work and how Mel uses Google Maps to research!

  • “There's nothing worse than reading a book where someone is characterizing a place or a person or whatever that you actually know and getting it all wrong.”

  • Kemlo asks Mel how she is going about putting her revisions on the page. They take a few minutes to talk about Mel’s self proclaimed “jacked-up” process! It involves a list of things to look for in each chapter.

  • We also talk about how sometimes using dictation to write is the equivalent of trying to decode a text-to-speech message from Siri!

  • This is the episode where we find out Abby and Mel are approaching revision very differently. Mel is working with the words on the page, and Abby opens a blank document and works from memory.

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!

Season 2, Episode 7: 1st Person vs 3rd Person

We will update the show notes later on when we get all caught up. (Hey, that’s life, right?!)

But in the meantime, here’s what you can expect from this episode of Mom Writes:

  • Kemlo helps Mel fix a small info dump.

  • 1st person vs 3rd person? What kinds of stories are best suited for 1st person? For 3rd person?

  • Abby talks through the pros and cons of 1st & 3rd person as it relates to her novel.

  • Abby wants to open each of her chapters with a quote. Is she just making more work for herself? What’s the story-specific purpose of these quotes? Does she need them?

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!

Season 2, Episode 6: Here's Kemlo!

In this episode:

Welcome to Mom Writes! Today we’re introducing our new cohost and book coach, Kemlo Aki, who will be guiding us through the revision process. Kemlo’s a mom too, though her kids are grown. She’s been a book coach with Author Accelerator since 2014. Kemlo’s worked with over 80 writers, she came in on the ground floor, working directly with Jennie Nash and Lisa Cron of Story Genius. She also helped create some of the content in the coaching certification program. We’re super lucky to have her on Mom Writes!

The revision process is time to step back, take off your writer’s hats, and put on your editing hat as you look more analytically at the work you’ve done. Abby and Mel have both completed the manuscript audit, which Kemlo has reviewed, and they spend time discussing her feedback.

Mel mentions that revision can seem overwhelming at times because you’ve often got 15 different things you’re tracking in your chapter and it’s important to find a way of fixing these things that works for you. Often, and this is what Jennie has recommended in the past, is working on it piecemeal – pick one thing (a green item, yellow item or red item – for more information on this see previous episodes that cover the manuscript audit in Season 2) and do that thing, or 3 green things, or whatever you have time for. Indeed, one of the best things about revision if you’re a drafter that needs a LOT of time (like 2+ hours per drafting session) is that revision is something you can work on for 5 minutes here and there. We discuss various ways we’re planning on tackling the revisions in our manuscript, either chronologically or issue-by-issue, or both.

The great thing about Kemlo working on the manuscripts is that it’s always nice to have a pair of fresh, experienced eyes on your work. Both Abby and Mel had the curse of knowledge –and even Jennie to some extent, having been there since the very beginning of the podcast—and Kemlo was able to point out big holes and flaws that nobody had noticed until now. Even little idiosyncrasies like Mel’s tendency to use fuzzy pronouns got some attention, and she got (thankfully!) called out on them.

Fuzzy pronouns – (“it”, usually, or “them”, “they”, etc.) are problematic because your writer’s mind is automatically filling in the blank. You’re taking a chance on the reader here, as they can’t necessarily fill in the blank like you (the author) can. Taking time to clarify these things can mean the difference between a clear concept and one that pulls your reader out of the story.

Part of revision is dealing with constructive criticism. We’ve all been there, and sometimes you have to take a moment between receiving comments and deciding how to move forward on them, reminding yourself that there’s nothing wrong with not knowing something. No great writer skipped the rookie stage. Mel, Abby and Kemlo talk about what it’s like moving from that sensitive writer stage to the stage where you are delighted by feedback, even feedback that isn’t entirely rosy, because you have somewhere new to go with your work, something new to try.

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!

Season 2, Episode 5: The (Not-So) One-Hour Manuscript Review

Both Melanie and I struggled to keep the One-Hour Manuscript Review to, ahem, one hour.

In this episode:

  • Jennie teaches us how to look at our finished drafts not as a writer would (looking at pretty sentences, etc..) but as an agent or editor would if they pulled it off the slush pile.

  • The One-Hour Manuscript review is a series of timed readings of specific parts of your book, after which you answer big questions.

  • It’s looking at the story and character motivations, the force of opposition.

  • Mel talks about her Four-Hou— I mean, One-Hour Manuscript Review and the red flags it brought up in her first draft.

  • We go back to Mel’s genre choices, and how you can let those choices drive your decisions. By choosing one genre (medical thriller?) it doesn’t mean you have to squeeze out all the romance. But the main genre has to be the trunk of the tree, and the other “sub-genres” can be the branches.

  • Jennie tells Mel there weren’t any holes in her analysis. Instead, her analysis showed us where the holes were in her novel.

  • If in revision you only brush up on the prose, the holes will still be there. Right now is the time to uncover the holes and fix them. Fixing the prose comes later.

  • At the end, we talk a little about feedback from beta readers. Mel sent her story to a friend to read (not me!) and Jennie helps walk her through how to process that beta reader’s feedback.

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!

Season 2, Episode 4: Hold On To Your Vision

On this episode of MomWrites… Jennie’s got big news about her kid (adulting!) and feelings are had, Abby’s kids take the initiative in cleaning and bust the vacuum, and we actually do talk some writing – Mel’s revision documents! Oh, and did I mention this was all recorded on Facebook Live? Yeah….

The goal here in revision is this: you want your book good enough to go out, but not so good that you can’t change it. It needs to be good enough to be accepted by an agent and publisher, but malleable enough to change via feedback—this is what happens with most books anyway; there are things about it the agent or publisher is going to want to change to make it more sellable. Sometimes, as with Kelly Barnhill and The Girl Who Drank the Moon, she was asked to rewrite it a third time into a totally different story! And that obviously worked, but it doesn’t always have to be that way.

Your goal as a writer is to always hold on to your vision of what you want this to be, and not to bend it into something else – it needs to end up more of what it already is. There always needs to be some sort of balance between knowing this and taking in advice about your story.
— Jennie Nash

Every writer wants to be read—it’s all about how you want to get your story to the readers. If you traditionally publish, your book is going to go through many hands before it sees the shelf. If you self-publish you retain a lot of that control, but there’s a lot more work on your end. It’s important you ask yourself what you envision your work to be, how do you get it closer to the vision you have in your head? Any advice that takes you away from that is something you may want to think twice about. But consider taking the advice that helps you get there.

Mel’s goal for this revision is to add some layers, depth, and clarity that weren’t there the first time. Jennie points out that competitive titles help an agent and publisher decide where your book is going to sit on the shelf—now is Mel’s book sci-fi, speculative fiction, medical thriller? She’s shying away from the dystopian fiction genre because although her book takes place in the near future, society isn’t undergoing or has undergone that breakdown that makes dystopia unique.

The book summary is the high-level review that asks the big questions – where’s this book going to live? Who’s going to read it? It’s time to narrow those things down, and narrow down the point of your book, your character, how your character changes over the course of the story—really distill that information so if you had this info on the back of a book jacket, someone could pick it up in the bookstore and know what they’re getting.

One important thing to get right about the force of opposition is that it has to be directly related to what the character is trying to learn. You’re trying to make a point about the big things in life, and you want the force of opposition to be continuously pushing your character in this new direction all the time. It can grow, deepen and change, but this is what we’re talking about when we say we want a revision to make the book more of what it is, what you intended it to be.



Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!

Season 2, Episode 3: Revision Specifics, The One-Hour Manuscript Review

In this episode:

Now that we’ve talked about revision in the abstract, it’s time to get down to specifics. How do you go about doing it? What does it look like?

Jennie has a series of exercises she recommends that will help you get started with revision.

The One-Hour Manuscript Review: This is looking at how an agent or editor would view your work; it’s something they do dozens of times a day, every day. They have to work quickly, and frankly, it doesn’t matter if something remarkable happens between page 73 and 93 – they have to want to get past the first chapter. If they don’t want to keep reading, a potential reader won’t, either.

You read your first chapter very quickly and scan chapters 2 and 3. You’re looking at the beginnings and ends of chapters carefully to see how they tie together and how they drive the story forward. Then you jump to the middle and read for about another ten minutes. Finally, you read the penultimate chapter, the one right before the end—that’s 5 minutes or so. Then you read the last chapter the way you read the first one and take about 25 minutes to assess what you saw. You’re asking the big questions, like does it have a narrative drive? Does it start in the right place? Does it feel like a story, like it ends in the right place? Is there a force of opposition and do we get all the characters motivations, desires, all the questions we want from a reader?

“If there really is something fantastic happening on page 37, there’s going to be clues on page one; there’s going to be clues at the very end. It’s not like someone does an incredibly bad job on their first chapter and rises to the occasion in the middle of the book.” – Jennie Nash

In this exercise, you're not a writer. You're a reader. You're a skimmer. You're like, what would I think if I pick this up? It's just like if you're in a bookstore and you pick up a book, you read the jacket copy, and you go to the first chapter and you know, you skim it like a potential buyer.

Yet another use for the two-tier outline comes again in revision – after you’ve analyzed your manuscript, you can either use it to guide you through the changes you need to make, to steer your manuscript in the right direction—or, if you need to, you can redo your two-tier outline to reflect needed changes during revision. The two-tier outline is like a magnifying glass on what’s working and what’s not, both in the small scale of scenes and the larger scale of the entire manuscript.

The manuscript audit is the third tool that Jennie recommends. During a manuscript audit, you move through your novel, chapter by chapter, marking green, yellow, and red-light issues. Green-light issues are no big deal – takes a minute or two to fix. Yellow light issues might take longer. Red light issues may take several hours and are the big, big red flags that will stop a reader in their tracks and make them question if this is the book they want to be reading, or not. Do NOT fix during the audit – your job during this point in revision is to find what needs to be fixed. Jennie recommends printing out a paper copy of your manuscript and using highlighters and post-it notes for this exercise. When you’re finished, you take it a little bit at a time—fifteen minutes for a few green light issues here, an afternoon to fix a few red-light issues, etc.

If you’re hungry for more information about the Stoplight Method of revision that Jennie discusses here, watch the replay of our Mom Writes Season Two Kickoff event where Jennie did a webinar all about it! You can watch the replay here!

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.
Just check the "Mom Writes Podcast" box below!