Monday, October 20, 2014

What's in Your Toolbox?

With November quickly approaching, I've seen lots of posts on how to prep for NaNo this year.

I won't be participating, since I'm still editing my current WIP (I'm almost 260 pages in), but all the NaNo stuff got me thinking about being prepared for novel writing and editing, and what I keep in my writer's toolbox year-round. So here it is:
And it's just about this messy.
Writing: The Drafting Stage/Craft Honing

NaNoWriMo really put me in touch with my drafting process back in 2011. With a spreadsheet to keep track of word count, and a separate spreadsheet with character sketches and chapter synopses, I always felt confident at this stage.

For those of you pantsers out there (I'm sure there are many of us), I highly recommend Rock Your Plot by Cathy Yeardley--I often build my outline around the elements she includes, such as inciting event, plot points, pinch points, etc.

I'm also increasing my focus on character development--since I feel weakest there. Mostly, it's getting to what your protagonist wants (goal) and why they want it (motivation). Explore who your characters are, and how they've been shaped by their experiences. Sometimes characters won't tell you these things until halfway through the novel (or even after the novel is written). This happened to me in my current WIP, when I finally realized her main goal was to fill the holes within herself.

At all writing stages, published or not, growing in craft is something we can all do. For this reason, craft stuff probably constitutes the biggest part of my toolbox.


Rock Your Plot by Cathy Yeardley
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
The Art of Character by David Corbitt


Fiction University
Writer Unboxed

Editing: The Revising Stage/Perfectionism and Fear Mongering

I'd admit, this is still an uphill battle for me. I just printed out pages of a revised chapter that I plan to look at tomorrow with fresh eyes, but even before I do, I know it will need a lot of work.

A lesson I learned the hard way was not to worry about line edits too early. Sometimes the perfectionist in me refuses, but when I ask her if she's being helpful, and she says no, I tell her to take a hike. And then I allow myself to be satisfied with my product, even though it might be messy and unfinished.

Another big and hard lesson in this process was learning that the best editor = space from my novel. Which means trunking my first draft for months, maybe a year. When I finally do revisit content, here are some things I try to consider:

First stage: Are the characters compelling people that readers want to hang out with for hundreds of pages? Is the plot engaging? Is there a strong hook to reel readers in? Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass is helpful in this stage, because it includes all kinds of useful exercises to ramp up narrative.

Second stage: Is everything consistent? Are there story flaws?

*Insert many stages of editing and trunking, including drafts to beta readers*

Last stage: Is everything consistent? Do the sentences read awkwardly?

I'm still honing this part of my toolbox, so if anyone wants to include something in the comments section, I'm all ears.


Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass
GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon
Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and David King


Fiction University (Mentioned above, but covers all writing stages)
A Novel Edit

Publishing: The Final Stage/Sending Your Stuff into the Great Beyond 

I've had a tendency to focus too much on this stage, so I'm only designating a small part of my toolbox to it. Still, it's good to know some basics, such as who your audience is, what genre your book fits in (including what genres are actually out there) and what age group your book will fall under (such as the nuanced differences between Young Adult and Middle Grade, standard word counts, etc.). You can keep an ear to what's trending, but don't marry yourself to it. And don't just write to the market, because it's constantly changing.


Writer's Market by Robert Lee Brewer (a new one of these comes out every year)


Absolute Write Water Cooler
Janet Reid, Literary Agent
Fiction University (Mentioned above, but covers all stages of the process)

Okay, your turn! What's in your toolbox?


  1. Good resoursces! I also like Outlining your Novel by K. M. Weiland, and Blockbuster Plots by Alderson. And Absolute Write has been a lifesaver on many occasions.

  2. Ooh, K.M. Weiland is great. I follow her on Facebook. And I love Absolute Write!

  3. This is an excellent post. Great write tips.

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