My Layered Writing Technique

We all have our own version of writing and editing. I tend to write and edit in layers, simply termed the layering technique. My work schedule forces me to limit my writing and editing time to nights and weekends and/or holidays. I have to be intentional with my time. For this reason, I trained myself to write in layers and lists.

I write a skeleton draft, layer up, then make lists of what else I need to do, change, and edit. In many ways, I will pants my skeleton and plot my flesh. Basically, I know WHAT I want to write and the premise of the story, but in order to build it up with depth and twists and details, I will need to better organize the structure.

christa-dodoo-485704-unsplash
Photo by Christa Dodoo on Unsplash

Here’s my step-by-step method:

Step 1: When I draft, I write a skeleton draft, just to get the entire story out of my head. Sometimes I know the beginning and the end, but not the middle. And at all times, I’m drafting with chunky holes. I try not to linger around these holes for too long because it will bog me down in my drafting. Instead, my drafts will have bolded reminders such as:

  • DIALOGUE – CHARACTERS TALK ABOUT SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT
  • SETTING – DESCRIBE WHATS AROUND
  • ACTION – SOMEONE DIES HERE
  • FAILURE – CHARACTER DOES SOMETHING TO MESS UP
  • HOOK – FIGURE OUT A BETTER CHAPTER HOOK
  • GROWTH – CHARACTER CHANGES SOMEHOW
  • SENSES – DESCRIBE ONE OR MORE OF 5 SENSES
  • MORE – NEED MORE HERE DUNNO WHAT

I try to be nice, but sometimes I scold myself in my own edits and comments. It’s okay, I usually forgive myself later when I get the writing the way I want it.

Step 2: I create a spreadsheet outline per chapter and organize major scenes on notecards. This is my version of plotting. I have combined the story structure with the character growth arc along with the chapter by chapter plot points. I am a big picture sort of person and need to see everything in one place. You can download a template of my spreadsheet and maybe you will find it helpful in your writing process. Manuscript Chapter Outline Template.

Here are some helpful resources for the character’s journey and the plot structure:

Hero’s Journey

Writers Helping Writers Printable Writing Tools

Step 3: Next, I will do another drafting pass to fill in the holes and expand the setting, the atmosphere, the characters, etc. My goal is to get rid of those bolded holes I listed in Step 1.

Step 4: Send to a Critique Partner and take a break. I spend this time away from the story. Maybe I jot down notes here and there, but mostly, I want another set of eyes in the early stages to help me with the direction of my story.

Step 5: Once I hear back from my CP, there’s more revisions, structuring, and eliminating crutch/filter words. Here’s a list of typical Crutch Words.

Step 6: I send out my story to a first round of beta readers and repeat Step 5, then repeat Step 6, before moving on to the querying stage.

Honestly, I never feel like my manuscript is done and I can always improve my story, edit more, and change things. You have to be open to change.

Good luck with your writing and editing endeavors!

Quick note: I write in Google Docs and have not tried Scrivener.

MOTHER WRITERS: 9 bookish things you can do with your kids

Readers become better writers. Your kids deserve this same opportunity. I try to read to my 4-year-old every night while my almost middle-schooler reads for at least 30 minutes every day. However, there is a plethora of bookish activities you can do with your kids.

  1. Read to your kids as often as possible.
  2. Take your kids to the library with you. Get them a library card. I even suggest asking a librarian to give you a ‘tour’ of the library and learning about all the tools available.
  3. Bring your kids with you to other author book signing events. Got a favorite author coming to town? Bring your kids with you for the experience and to witness your excitement too.
  4. Do writing research (road trips) with your kids. Need to visit a historical site or sip coffee at every coffee shop in the city? Take your notebook and ask your kid(s) to do the same. Have them take notes from their perspective. You never know if you can weave it in.
  5. Encourage your kids to write a story of their own. Read it to the family. Short stories are excellent practice when you’re in between novels or books. Give your kid a writing prompt and see where their imagination goes. Maybe even co-author a story.
  6. Ask you kids questions about the books they’re reading. You can ask ‘What’s that book about?’ but also consider deeper questions. You know, the kind that an agent, editor, or family member may ask you about your book. Then reverse it. Have your kids interview you!
  7. Encourage your kids to buy books as gifts for their friends and siblings. I shouldn’t have to say anything more.
  8. Reorganize your bookshelf by color. Everyone else is doing it!
  9. Donate books to the library or the free library box in the neighborhood.
One of our actual book shelves!

What are some other bookish activities you can do with your kids?

MOTHER WRITERS: Morning Larks vs. Night Owls

Finding the TIME to write is an under appreciated treasure for parents. A treasure that is typically unplanned and unscheduled. When we unbury ourselves from the mom life and have our own time, we hope and pray that words come to us.

So when is the best time to write? Morning or night? For most moms, it will be whenever we can squeeze it in. However, it really just depends on your body clock. Everyone is different.

Personally, I’ve discovered that I write better after the sun sets AND when the kids (and husband) are asleep. This leaves less risk for interruptions. I transform myself into a night owl in order to find this time to write and revise.

Some nights are better than others. (side note: find yourself other writer night owls to join you in a writing sprint to boost yourself). Someone gave me a piece of advice: nap when your kids nap. I’ll say it again. Nap when your kids nap. Yeah, I know you want to get caught up on household chores, but day napping fueled my energy for writing late at night.

Night owls and morning larks have different brain structures. In a study, researchers at the University of Barcelona, Spain, compared “morning people,” those early birds who like to get up at dawn, and “evening people,” night owls who prefer to stay up late and sleep in. They found that people’s genes play a role in determining their circadian rhythm — the inner clock that regulates sleep and other physiological processes. They also found that it relates something called “social jet lag,” a term used to describe the lack of synchronization which can occur between a person’s biological clock and the society around them. Basically, we develop a behavior pattern to adapt to our social schedules.

With my career background in media and journalism, I never had a regular schedule and my body clock adapted. All those late nights working at the radio station or the newspaper meeting deadlines contributed to my current state of writing. Now with kids, I do get exhausted earlier, so there are times, I need to just go to bed and start fresh the next day.

Don’t wear yourself out. As I mentioned in other posts, take care of yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

Story Structure: Utilizing the Hero’s Journey

A little over year ago I queried my second manuscript for the first time. After receiving rejection after rejection after rejection, I decided to reevaluate my submission package and my story itself. It got to a point where I questioned my writing, especially wondering if it was time to shelve this manuscript.

I realized I needed to go deeper in my feedback and the desire for answers drove me to hire a freelance editor for the first time. The editor did a phenomenal critique of my submission package and a full read of my manuscript. I received encouraging yet constructive notes. She pointed out that my major problem was the flow of the story. All the pieces were there, but in the wrong order! 

I spent the next ten months gutting and overhauling my manuscript. Out of her recommendation, I utilized the Hero’s Journey format. Not only did it greatly improve my story, but it boosted my characters’ motives, tension, and goals.

THE HERO’S JOURNEY is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell. The 12 stages are listed below and you can find details for each on the website here.

  1. The Ordinary World
  2. The Call to Adventure
  3. The Refusal of the Call
  4. Meeting with the Mentor
  5. Crossing the Threshold
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies
  7. Approach
  8. The Ordeal
  9. The Reward
  10. The Road Back
  11. The Resurrection
  12. Return with the Elixir

Through this process, I also learned that I wrote my story as a pantser, which means I didn’t plan anything. However, during this process, I developed a simple spreadsheet to help me track my Hero’s Journey. I have it available for your download and use here:

Chapter Plot Outline – Hero’s Journey

After having overhauled this manuscript in 2017, I pitched live for the first time that fall, sent in several requested pages, and participated in Twitter pitches. I still believe in this story and hope one day the stars will align for my publishing journey.

Also, quick shout out and thank you to Lyla Lawless and her incredible editing!

MOTHER WRITER: Kill the Superstition, Save the Writer

By Justine Manzano

“I can’t write unless I have a cigarette, am sitting in a particular room in my house, on a particular chair, writing on a yellow legal pad with a red marker pen.”

The above sentence sounds, to me, like a funeral march, and it has nothing to do with the cancer stick. It is the death of that person’s writing career.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that there are some people for whom these conditions are easy to obtain reliably, but very few of us modern day writers live on a planet where they would be able to work in these conditions for more than ten minutes at a time.

I live in New York City and manage a very busy life. I work a 9-5 and have an eight-year-old boy with ADHD. I’m a wife and a person that my friends and family rely on. And, on top of all of that, I have what is ostensibly a second job. I am a writer.

I have plenty of help. For instance, if my husband wasn’t as helpful with our son or if I had a less forgiving job, the balance of my world would probably cave in. I also have an understanding support system of writers, free spirits, geeks, and athletes who rally behind my endeavors and help where they can and for that, I am eternally grateful. But even with that help, I wouldn’t be able to get more than a page written a day (if even), if I had to write in specific conditions.

I write in the morning before my son wakes up because I wake up at 5 AM. I write on the train to and from work. I write in stolen moments of very slow work days. I write on my lunch break. I write when my son goes to sleep for the night. I write in waiting rooms of doctor’s appointments and in parks when I’ve arrived somewhere early. But more importantly, I write on my laptop, my tablet, my phone, my work computer, my notebook, my desk pad. I write with music playing, in silence, and on weekends with a eight-year-old screaming “Everything is Awesome” (curse you, Lego Movie!) in my ear for the 250th time. I write with or without a cup of coffee.

Wherever. Whenever. With Whatever.

The idea that the muse will only be summoned in the proper conditions is a lie. It is the hallmark of a person who wants to feel like a writer more than they want to be a writer.

That sounds judgmental. It’s not. It’s the product of conditioning. We all grew up with the image of the starving, tortured artist chasing their muse, and the image is perpetuated by the best of us: experts in their field who tell us to find a spot, find a ritual, and write. I just read a writing book by a certain acclaimed author who claimed she could only write in specific conditions and I beg to differ. It’s not because I think little of her, but because I think MORE of her.

Rituals and superstitions are not the key to creativity. Focus is the key to creativity.

The stories are there. If they didn’t already exist in your mind, how would you be able to draw from them once you settled on THAT chair, in THAT room?  You just need to be able to zero in on them and block out the rest of the world for a moment. You don’t need a place or an object to do that. You just need you.

I challenge you to break the rituals. Start small and start subverting them. If you normally work in silence, start working with low music playing and work your way to loud music. Then, the TV in the background. Train noises. Dogs barking. Your child singing. Break the ritual.

Create a new ritual that you can do anywhere. Taking 5 deep breaths or something else that is portable. Something that comes with you anywhere, under any conditions.

It’s a challenge. It’s a risk. But if it pays off, it will make you a far more prolific writer.  So…are you game?

 

Justine Manzano is a fiction writer. You can find her online at:

Would you like to be a guest contributor this blog? Send me an email! jacy@jacysellers.com