When to Stop Revising Your Novel

Author’s  Note: This is a revised post.

 

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What is the key to literary excellence? Revision, of course. However, the time comes when we must tell ourselves to stop. We can get so hooked on revision that we never submit our manuscripts to agents and publishers. I know, because I’ve had this problem. Like most writers, I love playing with words.

How do we know when to stop revising ? Here are a few tips.

1. When we’re tired of looking at/reading our manuscript after multiple revisions. This isn’t always a sign that we’re finished, but it might be. Put the work aside for a day or two, then return to it and look for any major problems we may have missed. See any? If so, we’re not done yet.

2. When all the major problems with our work have been corrected, such as openings, endings, scenes, characterization, plot, etc., our revision has reached its end.

3. When we’re just finding minor issues, such as punctuation errors and typos, after the major editing has finished. These minor errors must all be corrected, of course.

4. After we’ve let someone whose judgement we trust read our manuscript, who gives us honest feedback and advice for improving  our work. Be sure whoever gives the advice is qualified to give it, though. Don’t approach just any person for it.

5. When we’re confident that we’ve done our best work.

 

 

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WARNING! WARNING! OVER-REVISION.

When we over-revise, our writing suffers. This is why it’s important to know when to stop. What once was a good story will become a bad one because we’ve either cut it too much, or added too much to it.

Suppose, after we see our work in print, we still find problems with it? One thing I’ve learned from hard experience is this: these things happen. We aren’t perfect, editors aren’t perfect, proofreaders aren’t perfect. Sometimes the simplest things, such as misplaced punctuation or typos, are easy to miss. If we’ve done a good job, though, and have a good editor and/or proofreader, there shouldn’t be too many of these.

Write, revise. Write, revise. Write, revise. Then submit.

 

Port Hudson, Last Rebel Bastion on the Mississippi

The Defence of Port Hudson, Louisiana

Squire, Tales of a Mascot, due out in September by Ashland Park Books, tells the story of a canine mascot during the siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana, a tiny village on the banks of the Mississippi River. Though Port Hudson no longer exists, it was an important Confederate bastion during America’s Civil War. Cut off by sea and land, the Rebels held out against a vastly superior Union army for 48 days, the longest genuine siege of that war. It was also the last Confederate bastion on that river to fall to Union forces, surrendering just a few days after Vicksburg fell. map_porthudson842x1052

Dr. Johnson’s Advice

 

Doctor Samuel Johnson ?1772 by Sir Joshua Reynolds 1723-1792Here’s a quick tip from one of eighteenth century England’s greatest writers, Samuel Johnson. A poet, essayist, literary critic, and editor, he compiled and organized  A Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755. This dictionary was used for 150 years before the Oxford English Dictionary’s publication. He said: “The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.

When the World Turns Against You

 

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While David, his men and their families fled King Saul, they escaped to the Philistine city of Gath for protection. Here he and his men joined forces with Gath’s King Achish. After establishing a base at Ziklag, David raided such peoples as the Amalekites, the Geshurites, and the Girzites. Then, in order to gain Achish’s confidence, he told the king that he’d raided Judah.

One day, during a march from Aphek against King Saul, none of the Philistine commanders, except Achish, trusted him.  Soon they forced him to leave their army.

Three days later, David and his men arrived in Ziklag. Horror and anger shot through their veins. The Amalekites had burned it and kidnapped everyone in it, including two of David’s wives and the wives and children of his men.

Consequently, his men turned against him. To quote one of my favorite Old Testament passages: And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God (1 Samuel 30:6, KJV).

Not only did David feel alone, he was distressed and alone. His men who’d been with him throughout his ordeals now wanted to kill him. Have you ever been in a place where all your friends suddenly turn on you, or where it feels like the whole world has turned against you? I know I have. Loneliness, and the feeling of it, is no fun.

Unfortunately, in this “me-centered” society we’re living in., encouragers are rare these days. That’s why I like this verse. David shows us what to do when no one’s around to give us comfort and encouragement during difficult times. He encouraged himself in the Lord.

Next time you feel isolated and alone, try it. Encouraging yourself in the Lord works, and that’s a guarantee.

NOTE: This article is based on 1 Samuel 27, and 29-30.

 

Historical Fiction Research: Newspapers

Scan_20170116 (2)These photos were taken by my father, Dr. John M. Cunningham

Many years ago, while four friends and I traveled to Tennessee during a Labor Day break from college, my car struck a huge concrete culvert head-on at sixty miles per hour. My engine erupted into flames like what we often see in the movies, and we were nearly killed.

Upon my father’s arrival at the hospital where we were recovering, he handed me a local newspaper that “told what happened.” I put this in quotes because the reporter got most everything wrong. The major thing he got wrong? He said we were sideswiped by a truck. Though in pain, I chuckled. Ours was a single-car accident due to careless driving. A passing truck driver was the one who rescued us. I learned then not to believe everything I read in a newspaper. Journalists are people; they do make factual errors.

I carry this knowledge into my historical research. Like today’s newspapers, old newspapers’ facts are sometimes either outright wrong or twisted, and they’re also biased just like our modern newspapers. Though studying old newspapers can be helpful, my motto is this: “Researcher, beware.”

What value, then, do we find by using newspapers as a source? Since my specialty is the nineteenth century, let me share some useful things we can glean from them and incorporate into our historical fiction. I’ll be using as my source The Daily Ranchero, a newspaper once published in Brownsville, Texas. I’ll be using various issues of this paper, all from the year 1865, after the Civil War ended.

1. We can learn the prices of goods sold at the time. On one of The Daily Ranchero’s broadsheets, we find a list of items that would be sold at auction along with their prices. Here’s a sample: star candles ($18-$20), quinine ($1.50 per ounce), rip saws ($1.35), etc. The list is way too long to reproduce in its entirety.

2. Weather reports for a particular day are often found in these newspapers. This helps keep our scene’s weather accurate if we’re writing about a specific day in history.

3. Advertisements in these old papers are great! Not only do they tell us which businesses were around in the era we’ve chosen, they often give street names and specific addresses. We can learn the names of restaurants, hotels, and stagecoach lines, such as Arnold & Wheeler’s, in The Daily Ranchero.

4. What kind of medicine did they use in 1865? A drug store advertisement gives us an idea. The Brownsville Drug Store advertised the arrival of new stock: citrate of magnesia, seltzer aperient, etc. It added, “Prices very much reduced in accordance with times and market.”

5. What about standard news articles? We can and should also use them, of course. However, as I mentioned earlier, “Researcher, beware.” Study these articles with a critical eye, watching out for bias and errors of fact and similar things. Always double-check these articles with other sources before using the information in our work.

Well, I hope this has given my readers a few ideas on how to use newspapers in historical research. Till next week, friends, keep on writing!

Let’s Have a Conversation

 

Placeholder ImageHas anyone ever told you that  you write like you talk? That’s a great thing to hear if they did. Indeed, it’s a compliment, because good writing carries with it a conversational, natural-sounding style, whereas poor writing is stilted and sounds forced. Stilted writing bores readers, whereas conversational writing pleases them, thus encouraging them to keep reading.

What is stilted writing?

1. Stilted writing sounds formal. It uses formal words instead of the everyday words most people use.

2. Stilted writing doesn’t use contractions.

   a. Stilted sentence: “I am sorry I was late.”

   b. More natural sentence: “I’m sorry I was late.”

3. Read your prose aloud. Better yet, read it into a voice recorder, then play back what you’ve read. Does it sound like natural conversation? If so, great! If not, more work needs to be done.

As writers, then, let’s aim for a conversational style. It should sound like we’re talking to readers from an easy chair, telling them a story. To achieve this requires lots of work and lots of practice. Here are a few tips that’ll help.

1. Use contractions. Why? Because people use contractions in their everyday speech.

2. Vary sentence lengths but be concise. Good writing makes every word count toward the reader’s understanding of a sentence no matter what the sentence’s length. If a word or phrase doesn’t contribute toward understanding a sentence’s meaning, if it’s just hanging out there serving no purpose, get rid of it.

3. Vary our sentence structures. Since sentence structure is beyond the scope of this post, I recommend finding and studying a good grammar book that discusses it.

Till next time, friends, keep on writing!

Being Professional


Blog Writer
With today’s technology, it’s become easier for wannabe writers to see their work published. Indeed, thousands of books are out there clamoring for readers’ attention. The ease with which publication has become, though, presents its own issues for self-published authors.

We must understand that professional writing requires more of us than just sitting down at our laptops, whipping out a manuscript, and then self-publishing it. It goes well beyond that first draft, second draft, even third draft. It takes long hours of hard work and revision till we see polished prose.

Just as we can’t repair a car if we don’t understand how its engine works, so we can’t engage in effective revision if we don’t understand what makes good writing work. Effective writing entails numerous elements, too many to discuss in one blog. Each element requires constant practice. For serious authors, writing is a daily discipline. Professional writers don’t wait for the inspiration bug to hit them. Professional writers…write! 

Do we want our self-published books to stand out among all the other indie books on the market? Do we want to be taken seriously as authors? Do we want to sell our books? If so, we must approach our craft the same way all serious writers approach it— through disciplined study, practice, and writing every day.

In future posts I’ll discuss different writing techniques and other literary issues that will help us all write more professionally. For most folks, writing at this level doesn’t happen overnight. It didn’t with me. Only after working at my craft for six years did I begin selling my manuscripts on a consistent basis.

Let me encourage you, then—work hard, study the craft, and write every day.

 

 

Till next time, I’ll see y’all at the Cove.