Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Working on My Puzzle, er, Manuscript

"Easy-to-read is hard to write."  — Pam Zollman

By Stacy S. Jensen

As a kid, I worked on jigsaw puzzles. Today, I'm back at work. No pieces this time — a jumble of words.
My quest to add submissions into my writing process has resulted in feedback and rewrites.

The revisions click on some days. I hear angels sing.

On other days, I feel like all the puzzle pieces are black. I have no idea where to begin. I hear my toddler say, "Now, that's a problem."

Before critique groups, I rewrote my manuscripts completely. It's an easier technique with a 500 or less word picture book manuscript. Third person point-of-view changed to first person. My main character morphed from a boy to a girl. Secondary characters vanished.

Now with an assortment of critique groups — in person, online, and a local Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) critique group — I add a new layer to the process. I pick a version to submit and absorb the feedback.

I've decided to allow myself to be irritated by some suggestions.

"They can't kill my darlings! That's my job!" Oops said that out loud.

Of course, I've found that acknowledging how the feedback annoys me actually helps me. I think about it (well, steam about it sometimes). I question the validity. I rewrite the scene with the suggestion.

I've found that it works sometimes and sometimes it doesn't.

At the end of the day, it's my story. For me to pitch it, to be passionate about it, and to continue revision after revision, it has to stay my story.

After attending the Big Sur in the Rockies last spring, I am bolder about how I utilize critique time. I may ask for specific attention to an area of the story or a format issue like an illustration note.

Even though critiques fire me up to revise, I often will wait a week before opening up the story again. I do research like check out books brought up during the critiques as possible comparable titles. Then, I return to the critique notes. I make changes. I ignore suggestions. I write new scenes. I replace words. 

The perfect word is important in any genre, but in a short picture book it can be difficult to find.

Then, I decide whether the story is ready to return to the outside world. Oh, and whether I need to rewrite the query letter or not.

As I go through revisions, I do focus on whether I really love the story or not. At one conference, an agent mentioned she must love a story, because it takes two to three years for it to reach bookstore shelves. The same can be said about a story I write. You must love a story to keep revising it over and over again until it's right.

What's your favorite way to revise a story, scene, or novel?

About the Author: Stacy S.Jensen worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for two decades. Today, she writes picture books and revises a memoir manuscript. She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and toddler.


  1. I really have no favorite way to revise. I do know, though, that I've gotten to a point (mostly) where I know which critique suggestions are good and which are completely off base, so it's been easier to make use of the feedback I get (like you, I have three crit grps). :)

  2. I start with the flow and other's comments in editing. Then I go back and see if the writing is what the chapter should be about (I am on the 3rd rewrite), and double/triple check the structure and meaning. I plan to do another once over to make sure it's got some funny twists a la Sedaris or Burroughs... I have a similar sense of humor but it's hard to come out when I write about serious stuff like illness or tripping (my last blog post :)

    I love that you can rewrite and change voice in a shorter children's picture book. That and the puzzle (love the toddler's quote) kind of thinking makes it sound really fun, for some reason. I think I enjoy variety.... One more thing about the writing process -I have also gotten to the point where I discern the "fit" of each word -do I REALLY mean that word? I resonate with this article!

  3. I don't know that I have a favorite way to revise. I tend to start at the beginning each time and work my way through, checking words and ideas, tweaking here, polishing there, using the whole thing for kindling... whatever seems best :)

    1. Some of my work ends up as kindling (well, digital kindling) too.

  4. I like your comment about really loving a story to keep revising it over and over again -- seems to be my life. I just returned from a conference and received some really good advice from an author/editor, but like you read it and waited before I started revising. I think I finally broke through a place in the story I struggled with.

    Love your new blog! Will check out the other site too!

    1. Thanks Patricia. Waiting does help. Sounds like conference was good. I'm off to one tomorrow.

  5. Stacy, thanks for sharing your process. :-)

  6. Oh the blank puzzle pieces. I understand that. Some days revising works and others it doesn't, I try to keep moving forward--in some fashion!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.