A Peek Behind the Scenes …

If there’s one thing I love about twitter, it’s how engaged the writing community is … and Dahlia Adler, uber-supportive blogger, editor, and author of the just released BEHIND THE SCENES (a contemp young adult novel, published by Spencer Hill Contemporary), is no exception. While I was querying, and going through offer decisions, and dealing with submission woes and highs, she was there to respond whenever I sent a message that usually started with something like, “So, now what do I do?”

So as part of helping her celebrate her book’s birthday this week, I’m participating in a blog hop where we each go “behind the scenes” about some aspect of our life … but first, here’s the blurb for Dahlia’s book, and where you can purchase your own copy:

High school senior Ally Duncan’s best friend may be the Vanessa Park – star of TV’s hottest new teen drama – but Ally’s not interested in following in her BFF’s Hollywood footsteps. In fact, the only thing Ally’s ever really wanted is to go to Columbia and study abroad in Paris. But when her father’s mounting medical bills threaten to stop her dream in its tracks, Ally nabs a position as Van’s on-set assistant to get the cash she needs.

Spending the extra time with Van turns out to be fun, and getting to know her sexy co-star Liam is an added bonus. But when the actors’ publicist arranges for Van and Liam to “date” for the tabloids just after he and Ally share their first kiss, Ally will have to decide exactly what role she’s capable of playing in their world of make believe. If she can’t play by Hollywood’s rules, she may lose her best friend, her dream future, and her first shot at love.

 Goodreads | Amazon | B & N | The Book Depository | Indiebound

As for a behind the scenes of my life, I had a few ideas — but then decided to skip the confessions of true love for alien-themed, angst-filled teen dramas, cheesy medical thriller novels, and hiding vegetables in everything I cook or bake — and will offer a brief glimpse into (my) life as a freelance journalist and writer.

I am not one of those writers who always wanted to be a writer, even if I have been writing since I was a child (haven’t we all, to some degree?). In journalism school I laughed when it was assumed by most that after graduation I’d set myself up at a newspaper as a reporter. I wanted to do television, and for a brief time really wanted to be a war correspondent. But then life took an interesting turn, as it often does, and though that’s a story for another day, I am now a writer. Specifically, I freelance — which essentially means I never get a regular paycheque, but I get to write about all kinds of cool things.

Most of my work is for magazines — though I do have some corporate clients — and generally speaking every story I write is a story I’ve pitched to an editor. Sure, some writers probably get assigned stories more often than I do … but essentially if you’re a freelance writer, you are your own rainmaker. So I spend a lot of my non-writing time — when I’m at my daughter’s swimming or gymnastics lessons, when I’m out for a run, or doing laundry, making dinner, walking the dog, etc. etc. — thinking up story ideas.

It’s been a fantastically fun career so far. It’s nowhere near lucrative, or even “pay all the bills” kind of stuff, but I’ve won a coveted award for a story that meant a lot to me, have written about everything from luxury resorts in Jamaica (now that was a press trip I wish I could do again!), to self-leveling concrete, to the state of frozen embryos in Canada, to going sugar-free for a month (an experiment my poor family was dragged into with me), to raising altruistic kids, to advocating for your own health, to onesie-style pjs for grownups, to how to make the perfect pie crust.

Every day is different, and I love what I do — especially because it offers flexibility to be home with our young daughter. Most days you’ll find me at my kitchen table or at the local coffee shop, on my MacBook Air that has been so well loved the keys have worn off, and drinking far too much coffee (though the secret is to switch to decaf after noon).

And being a freelancer has helped me so much with my novel writing. For one, I am very tuned into and disciplined about deadlines. Whether from a magazine editor, my agent, my book editor, or self-imposed, I treat all deadlines as non-negotiable. I get up every day at 5am (or at least most days) and write. I ALWAYS file pieces at least a day ahead of schedule. And I can honestly say I’ve never (ever) missed a deadline. There have been times when I’m panicked and stressed because life has thrown a curve ball and I have to move heaven and earth to get to my computer. Like that one time when my daughter had the stomach flu, and I was holding a bucket for her in one hand and typing with the other (at 3 am), trying to make sure I didn’t miss my deadline …

But that’s life, as they say. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Write. Rewrite. Repeat.

“Books aren’t written — they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” – Michael Crichton

(Nailed it, Michael.)

When I started writing my first novel (three books ago) my goal was to just get the first draft finished. Would I try to publish it? people asked. I used to shrug and say I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. Writing the first draft of that first book was hard. It took a long time. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t understand tension, pacing, character development, not to start my first chapter with my protagonist waking up (yes, I made that faux pas), how to show versus tell … I had a lot to learn. Fast forward a bunch of years and a bunch of drafts, and I get it. The first draft? Simple. You just keep laying down the words. Get the story out. Give yourself a deadline and stick to it. The words add up — and before you know it, you have a completed draft. Of course, simple doesn’t mean easy, but had I known just how many revisions a book takes to make it sparkle, well…it’s probably good I was so naive.

I’m doing revisions now for my editor — which thrills me to no end. You won’t hear me complain about going through my ENTIRE book for the 15th (20th?) time. It’s a process, and I’m giddy with excitement to have this opportunity.

This book, THE MEMORY OF US, will be published July 2015. Though I’ve revised the manuscript before (for my critique partners / for my agent / for submission), I’m now doing it on deadline … and I’ve been paid … and I have another book as part of my contract to write after this one is done. The game has changed, and so has my revision process. I have no idea if this is how I’ll approach revisions on my next book, but for now, this works:

  • TAKE A DEEP BREATH (or a few)

Despite my excitement to dive in, editorial letter and marked up manuscript at the ready, the above does a great job at showcasing how I was feeling about this round of revisions (MUST.NOT.EFF.THEM.UP.). So the first thing I did was read my editor’s letter again, go through her notes in the manuscript, and go for a run. That cleared my head and got me ready to jump in.

  • GATHER YOUR SHIT & GET EXCITED

This is the time to pull out the red pen, your post it notes / index cards / spreadsheets / notebooks, a hard copy of your book (I edit on both hard copy and digital files), and any sustenance you need (COFFEE), and get to work. Give yourself a pep talk (YOU CAN DO THIS, or die trying…), and get psyched. It’s likely going to be weeks (or months) before you hand your revisions in to your editor, so you need to find ways to keep your energy AND excitement levels up.


(Me, after my morning coffee…coffees.)

  • RUSH SERVICE IS FOR POSTAL DELIVERIES (step also known as, Calm the F**K down)

It’s oh-so tempting to race through the book. Not just on your first revision, but on all subsequent ones. Whether it’s because you’re dying to get it into your crit partners’ hands, or out for a contest, or to your agent, or to waiting editors, rushing is never a good strategy.

There’s a reason you set deadlines, or your editor sets them for you: everyone wants the best version of what you’ve got, and that takes time. When I revise, especially if I’m working on a new scene, I write it all down without stopping first. I do not edit as I go, or wordsmith, or get all up in my online thesaurus. I just write. Then I go back, a day later, and read it as critically as I can — again, without revising. I take notes with my trusty red pen on my post its or in my notebook, and only then do I go back and make changes. It’s amazing how differently I see a scene with a little distance between us.

  • STICK TO A SCHEDULE

For me, this falls into the ‘do what you say you’re going to do’ category. As a freelance writer, one of the most important ways to ensure I’ll be hired again is to NEVER MISS A DEADLINE. And I see my book deadlines the same — at a minimum, I will get the manuscript in two days early. Ideally, it will be even earlier than that. I treat revisions (and first draft writing, for the record) like a job, and even if I’m not feeling the creative vibe I force myself to sit down and write … because the discipline is as important as anything else, in my opinion. I set my alarm for 5 or 5:30 am, depending on the day and what I need to get done, pour my coffee, and dive in. Yes, there are mornings where I’d like to do this to my alarm:

But generally speaking, as long as I have coffee and my Twitter #5amwritersclub crew, I’ve trained myself to be able to write well in the morning. It’s a habit, like any other.

I should add that there have been plenty of moments through this process — which is not yet over, of course, so I expect I’ll have a few more — where I’m certain I can’t write, I’ve screwed up a scene or character, I’ll never figure out how to add in the plot twist I need to, or I’ve revised myself into a tight little corner I’m not sure how to get out of. But then I take a deep breath, go for a run, get out my notes, have another cup of coffee, and SLOW IT ALL DOWN, and generally, I’m back on my game.

What’s your revision process, or trick? I’d love to hear about it!