Q&A Advice for Young Writers

Once long ago, I was a university career counselor, and so I absolutely love getting questions about careers and goals and what it takes to be a writer.

First off… if you write, you’re a writer. Full stop. There’s no need to tell people you’re an aspiring writer, or an unpublished writer. Just like if you’re an artist, it doesn’t matter if you sell your art or not to be one – you just are.

The best thing you can do right now for your writing is to read as much as possible, and read from every genre: fiction, non-fiction, romance, fantasy, science-fiction, horror, graphic novels, fanfiction. There’s something to learn from every one of those. If you only stick to one genre, then you’ll end up writing what everyone else writes. You can pick up ideas and writing techniques from everywhere!

If you want to be a published writer there are two ways to go about it: self-publishing and traditional publishing. I am not an expert on self-publishing and so I’ll mainly talk about traditional publishing here. (There are many resources online for self-publishing if you just do a search.)

Most traditionally published authors have a second job or career in addition to writing fiction. It might be hard to do two things at once, but it can be worth it: for the financial security, and also to have expertise beyond just writing – which will help your writing too!

If you’re looking for writing related careers to complement your fiction writing, there’s also copy writing, or technical writing (that’s what I do!). In general, being a good writer will help you in most careers you choose, and the career you choose doesn’t have to be related to writing at all. For example, a career in medicine could be super helpful if you’re also writing murder mysteries. (John Grisham was a lawyer for many years while writing novels.) It’s valuable to have a life beyond writing, because the more you experience the more you can write about.

Here’s a good link that talks about writing careers: The Business Behind Becoming an Author (Thanks Anna!). You can also check out my Links page for more traditional publishing resources.

My final bit of advice: follow the love. Have fun with what you write. It doesn’t matter what you write. The love of writing is what will tide you through this industry. It can be disheartening and difficult at times facing rejection, but if you love the writing and don’t give up it’s all worth it.


Q&A, Writing Discussion

Keeping Organized During Revisions

I’ve got a lot of friends in the revision trenches these days, and oh boy it isn’t easy keeping an entire novel in your head for months on end. My trick is that I don’t. How do I keep track? WELL FRIENDS, I use a spreadsheet. I know, I know, boring right? But it works! And colour coding… and and…

Anyway, here is a sample Edit Tracking Worksheet that I use for revisions. You might know the story 😉

There are likely as many ways to edit a manuscript as there are writers, but I’ve found this method helpful for me, especially when switching between projects. What chapter did the birthday cake disaster happen in? I can just look it up. The spreadsheet is really just a listing of what happens in each scene, what day it is, and who is there.

I create the editing tracker after the first draft is done, but you can absolutely write it as you go. For each draft, I create a sheet in the Excel file. I keep the records of my old drafts, in case I need to go back and find a scene I cut out of a previous iteration of the book. The first page is always the latest draft.

Column Breakdown:

  • Ch – The chapter
  • Sc – The scene
  • Scene summary – One line or two about what happens in the scene
  • POV – Point of view character. This is only important if you have multiple view points.
  • Notes – Things I have to go back and fix / add / pay attention to in the next draft. I write these notes as I go, and don’t fix previous scenes until I start the next draft (in case my ideas change). You might want to fix them as you write. You do you!
  • Other Characters – Who else shows up in the scene. It helps me keep track of who is introduced when, and so I don’t misplace anyone or that character I killed off reappears unexpectedly (because *cough* it happens).
  • Day – Helps keep track of time. This is especially helpful for plots that have a compressed timeline. I sometimes even note if it’s morning or evening.

Optional Columns:

I use these to diagnose plot problems, and I change these to be anything I’m worried about. You can add whatever questions you like!

  • Goal – Conflict – Resolution – New Goal – Helps me identify what a scene is lacking (a sense of purpose, why it’s happening, or tension).
  • Emotional Beat – Helps me keep track and so that there are a variety of emotions and that I don’t repeat myself.
  • Who made the choices? I sometimes have a problem with character agency. Too many chapters where the main characters are forced to act instead of choosing a course of action can signal a problem.
  • Type of Ending? This one I’m just experimenting with, because I have trouble ending my chapters in the right place. It been helping me figure out if my chapter endings make a reader want to read on. Endings can be either a Promise (Something’s going to happen later), a Twist (Something new just happened), or a Resolution (The villain promised in chapter 1 finally appears). Naturally, promises and twists build up tension, while resolutions allow a reader to take a breath, before you ramp it back up again. A variety is a good thing!

Colour Coding Fun

  • Highlighting new scenes. Any the new scenes added to a draft are highlighted in yellow, so that when I do the next draft I pay closer attention it, because it likely requires more editing than any older chapters which have gone through a couple rounds of edits already.
  • Edited scenes. If I’ve edited a chapter I’ll colour the chapter and scene boxes so that I know it’s done. This is particularly helpful if for some reason I’m not editing chapters in order.
  • Action vs Quiet Scenes. Sometimes I’ll colour code my scenes red for action or blue for quiet, so that I can see the overall pacing of the novel at a glance.

Extra Extra!

You can physically print out the outline and cut it apart row by row to rearrange things until the plot sequence is just right, and figure out where any new scenes might go the next draft. I find that at least for me, I like to see it all laid out at one time. I also use a lot of tape and it ends up looking like some giant magical scroll that might fall apart at any moment. YMMV.

MS Word tip: If you make your chapter and scene breaks headings in Word, and open the Navigation Pane, you can actually drag each section around in the pane if you need to switch things around. No need to copy and paste! The Navigation pane also makes finding Chapters and Scenes in your manuscript really easy if you’re referencing your spreadsheet.

Okay, any questions? How do you organize your revisions or multiple projects at once?