THE GIVER for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This was always a favorite read-aloud in my middle grade classroom.450a319f8da0884ee0da7110.L With the movie’s release last Friday, I had to pull it off the shelf and visit Jonas and his dystopian world once more. I wanted to remind myself of each plot point to eventually see what modifications the movie made, which was on the drawing boards for 15 plus years. Fans of the book have already voiced their displeasure at the increase in Jonas’s age from 12 to 16. I’m sure the producers wanted to reach a wider audience base. Also, with the relatively short nature of MG books, additional material was written to make it a full blown movie. Today’s review is all about this Newbery classic, but here are two links where the author,  Lois Lowry, talks about the movie: BOSTON GLOBE ARTICLE  &  NEW YORK TIMES INTERVIEW

PUBLICATION DATE:1993   WORD COUNT: 43,617   READING LEVEL: 5.7

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):

The Giver, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner, has become one of the most influential novels of our time. The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community. Lois Lowry has written three companion novels to The Giver, including Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son.

FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT THE GIVER by Lois Lowry

  1. Jonas. If the world had a few more like him just maybe there would be more kindness, less wars, and a thoughtful appreciation for what we have.
  2. This is one of those stories that will touch you in different ways at different stages of your life.
  3. One of the best  things you can do is a writer is to surprise your readers. Lois Lowry does that numerous times making this a page turning experience. It’s hard to put down. Early on you can probably guess the decision Jonas will make. It’s the mark of a superb writer that we get there in such unexpected ways.
  4. Rich discussions can take place with this tale. Was the ending what you expected? Could our present culture benefit from any of the characteristics of this dystopian society? What is the most valuable gift in life? How important is individualism?
  5. The ending can be interpreted in two different ways: Pessimism or Optimism. No matter which you choose as a reader there will still be a sense that the characters reached a stage of happiness they had never known before. I know we get more of an answer in book three, THE MESSENGER, but for now  my vote is for an optimistic future for the main characters.

FAVORITE LINES:

For the first time, he heard something that he knew to be music. He heard people singing.

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Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

MMGM2

Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Ten Endeavors That Helped Me Become and Stay a Writer

iStock_000021022342MediumFriends I haven’t seen for a while will often ask me about my writing – their eyes showing disbelieve that I continue down this path that to them seems to have no reward. Never ending rewrites, no writing paychecks in the mailbox, and finding time are the reasons behind their thinking. It’s hard to fully explain in the moment. I write because of many events both in the present and past.

WRITING OTHER THINGS: You can’t always be writing and rewriting stories. I find other types of writing help fuel the energy to jump back into the world of creating a novel. One outlet is this blog, which just had its second birthday.

WRITING EXPERIENCE PART 2: I wrote a software column for an educational journal back in the days when you actually bought disks and loaded them on your computer. It went on for five years and ended after I had nothing else to write about. I learned about deadlines and editing from this experience.

PERSEVERANCE: I disliked high school, but couldn’t get enough of college. Go figure. I was sorry to see it end, so I kept going for a Masters and finally a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. Many people act surprised when finding that out. I don’t look the part I guess. The old joke is Ph.D. stands for Piled high & Deep. Not so in my case. Higher Ed is where my revising skills were refined in the writing of a dissertation. I was on my 23rd rewrite in the 18th month when the powers to be told me I was getting closer.

CLARITY: I’ve taught university classes in 23 states. Being adept at communicating the spoken word helps me make sure it comes through in my writing.

EXPERIENCE WITH MY TARGET GROUP: I taught middle grades kids (mostly 11-13 years old) for 20 years at three different schools before being pulled into staff development.

EXPERIENCE WITH MY TARGET GROUP PART 2: I was Colorado’s Big Brother of the year in 2008. The first two boys I mentored will graduate from college this year. A third is a sophomore in high school.

EXPERIENCE WITH MY TARGET GROUP PART 3: I’m always working with 2-4 children who are struggling readers. Most start with me in 4th or 5th grade and continue through middle school. They’re often the first ones to hear a story I’ve written.

STORY TELLER: I use to tell my students stories that would cause them to think and learn. Many of the original ideas have made it into my story writing today.

WRITING TIPS: I collect and use them. The best writing tip I ever got was “Write your story to get it down on paper, revise it to make it great. Those revisions will take longer than writing the original story.”

PURPOSE:  I write for the same reason I’ve done everything else in my life. It’s advice a wise person gave me long ago: Find something you love to do and then get a job doing it.

What helped you become and stay a writer?

Categories: Writing | Tags: , | 5 Comments

THE SHORT SELLER for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I’m sure many of us did something as a kid that later looked glaringly stupid.88948560-e363-481e-b32b-25c724081799 I believe mine was writing neighborhood gossip  on wood fences throughout our community with my best friend – a girl who led me down the dark path to trouble. We used thick pieces of chalk to pen our messages until getting caught red handed. One hour of terror took a week to clean up. Lindy Sachs in THE SHORT SELLER makes an even worse blunder and one that is very costly.

It’s a compelling ride all the way showing just how hard it is to dig yourself out of a hole. Friendships and family relationships are threatened and it’s very believable.

PUBLICATION DATE:2013   WORD COUNT: 45,478  READING LEVEL: 5.0

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  A twelve-year-old takes on the stock market in this money-minded middle grade novel that Publishers Weekly calls “a smart pick.”

It all starts when seventh grader Lindy Sachs is granted one hundred dollars and access to her father’s online trading account as a way to alleviate her boredom while she’s home sick from school.

Lindy learns something immediately—she is very, very good at e-trading. Her one hundred dollars soon becomes two hundred dollars. Then four hundred. And more. With trading talent and access to her parents’ savings, the opportunity to make some real dough is too tempting to pass up. In fact, given how well Lindy’s stocks are doing, it would be a disservice to not invest it all…Right?

FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT THE SHORT SELLER by Elissa Brent Weissman

  1. Lindy doesn’t like math, but begins to understand and see its worth using the stock market as the practical example.
  2. Two parent family! I know this is an usual thing to like, but I have read so many books this year with one parent, no parent, or guardian in the home, it was refreshing to see this dynamic.
  3. Kids may not gravitate toward this title. They would need some urging but once in they’d enjoy the story. I used to sponsor a local competition called the Stock Market Game. I’d get 4 or 5 interested students at first but by week’s end the numbers had quadrupled.  They were reading, debating, making decisions, doing math. All of that before regular classes began. The same happens with THE SHORT SELLER. The excitement of the stock market is evident as it consumes Lindy’s time. Young readers will learn a lot about investing in a fun way.
  4. The relationship Lindy has with her older sister. It’s up and down the whole way. Very realistic portrayal.
  5. Anytime a book can win over young readers who may not be excited about math, its well worth the investment.

FAVORITE LINES:

Lindy looked at Cassie through her tears. She didn’t know about the rest of it, but at least Steph was wrong about one thing. She did have a friend.

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Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

MMGM2

Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Feeling Secure as a Writer

Writing is a funny business. I spend hours creating a scene only to change the words the next day. Entire chapters are cut, new ones added, and still I strive to make it perfect. Three out of four people will comment how they loved a certain part and the fourth will have a concern. Their one comment rolls around until it makes sense (or perhaps never does). I go back to rewrite once more. A sense of security comes and goes.

Yes, I’m revising my current story. It’s gone well, though it consumes every spare moment. I’ve sent out this second draft to a few readers and despite their positive comments I keep wondering – have I nailed it? Is there ever a perfect story? Probably not, as I’ve heard established authors say they’d like to change a scene even after their novel is published.

As I go through each day with work and other pursuits, my  story is always in the background. Listening to conversations and observing human reactions becomes a reminder of pages that could use a boost. I return to the story and change a few lines or paragraphs and I’m satisfied again. Then I ask for feedback and wait.

That time is filled with writing  this blog, reading, and completing non-writing tasks that need my attention. One of those this summer has been organizing my out of control pile of photo files. They are everywhere. In a cloud, on my phone and computer, and a box full of printed photos. I’m cataloging each one, tagged as either family, friends, travel, me, miscellaneous, and signs. Yes, I take pictures of words that capture my attention. Don’t know why. I’ve got dozens of these and since this post has been about security as a writer, here are two that you might want to post outside your front door to provide extra security at your home. Those solicitors may think twice before ringing your doorbell…

100_2233                               lion

 

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

EVERYBODY BUGS OUT for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I don’t normally search out books swarming with complicated sixth grade girls, but I had research to do. I wasn’t sure if I was nailing the tween female voice in some of my recent drafts. Two females and one male from my critique group had no 9781599905266problem with what I had written, but I still needed some examples. I had read quite a few novels with a female protagonist set in another time period and found this contemporary title staring back at me on the library shelf. Written from the POV of Annabelle, it looked like I had found my source, written by the talented Leslie Margolis.

This was actually the third book in the ‘Annabelle’ series (preceded by BOYS ARE DOGS and GIRLS ACTING CADDY. And followed by last year’s ONE TOUGH CHICK) and turned out to be a quick read. Frankly, I was exhausted with pages of dialog about who is wearing what and who likes who. Getting beyond the wardrobe choices, it centered around the first dance on Valentine’s weekend and the quest to get a date. The emotional ups and downs of this group of friends had me running around the block for a break several times (and I may have blacked out once or twice when the girls were shopping).

In the end I realized 4th-6th grade girls would love this story. It’s very realistic as to what occurs in many middle schools. It’s just too bad these kids have to grow up so fast. Our world has a way of causing that. Anyhow, it’s fun story for the target audience. As for me, I’m recovering with an old Michael Crichton adult novel.

PUBLICATION DATE:2011   WORD COUNT: 40,675  READING LEVEL: 4.2

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Annabelle has tamed the wild boys and catty girls of middle school. Now it’s time for her first school dance! A couple of Annabelle’s friends already have dates and she would like one, too. Better yet, she finally has a crush on someone-Oliver. The problem? Claire also likes him, and she’s called dibs. To complicate things further, Annabelle has to work super closely with her secret crush on their science fair project! And it looks like one of their competitors is up to something shady. . . . If Annabelle says something, will Oliver respect her for it or think she’s a snitch? And will she ever understand what these junior-high boys are really thinking?

FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT EVERYBODY BUGS OUT by Leslie Margolis

  1. The story revolves around a science fair. It was fun to read how Annabelle and her two partners came up with their idea. I learned a few things about bugs, too.
  2. Oliver is the center of attention for Annabelle and her friend. He’s a charming kid who shines in the way he avoids the drama swirling around him. He’s the crush and doesn’t know it.
  3. There was never a mention of racial differences other than Oliver came form Jamaica. It was refreshing that these kids treated everyone with respect no matter what color you happened to be.
  4. Young readers will enjoy the fact parents and teachers took a back seat to the dialog and action. You are in the middle of Annabelle’s middle school world that shows only brief glimpses of adults.
  5. The cover is cute with the lady bugs in the shape of a heart with the fresh faced main characters underneath. The paperback version had several different versions with one leaving the kids out altogether.

FAVORITE LINES:

…He’s also annoying and loud and sometimes a little smelly. Today, for example, he reeked of stale sweat. Last week it was ketchup.

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Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

MMGM2

Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s…

My very own copy of THE BIG BOOK OF SUPERHEROES. Thanks to a contest on My Brain on Books (from none other than 9781423633976Joanne Fritz. Check out her blog), I already felt like a Superhero after my copy arrived direct from Bart King, the masterful author. The book is hefty. It must weigh, hold on a sec, I’ll be right back… yes, 2 pounds!

I jumped in right away and flipped through the pages. The first thing I came across was a 23 question quiz to take after reading the book. AHA. Maybe I already was a true superhero and didn’t know it. I took the quiz as a pretest and scored a 3, or a 4 with my lame answer on #8. Either way – not gifted. I was rather happy with my failure since the chapters titles were intriguing. Ones like SuperVillains and other Ethically Challenged People! Or how about, Superhero Training!

But wait, would it be too late for me to become a Superhero? I’m on my third career and frankly I don’t look like the Superhero type. Then again, Clark Kent and Peter Parker hadn’t looked the part either. Should I pass this along to my favorite 11-year-old as a gift to ensure his successful future? He would get his chance soon enough. I had to find out if I was hopelessly past getting my Superhero wings, cape, or, actually I’m not sure what you get.

As I read the chapters (not in order, and it didn’t seem to matter), there were more fun quizzes, loads of facts about superheroes I had never heard of, and unique trivia. I loved the activities –  things you could make or do as directions are given to carry them out. Let’s just say my next party is going to have a few surprises. Also, every conceivable angle was covered as to how to actually become a superhero. Most in hilarious fashion. With the excellent cartoon style pictures along with the text, the ride is well worth anyone’s time, whether you have a sidekick or not.

After completing my journey, I retook the quiz and I’m proud to say scored a perfect 23. At least on paper I earned my full-fledged superhero degree, or at least it felt that way. Now the hard work begins. I need a name (ALWAYS IN THE MIDDLE MAN seemed a bit lame, but I’m working on it), a costume (my summer attire blends in with everyone else), and of course a mission. Regardless, I know I’ll be ready to save humankind thanks to Bart King and THE BIG BOOK OF SUPERHEROES. Holy Batman, this book is great!

 

 

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THE SPY CATCHERS OF MAPLE HILL for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I chose this title for two reasons: First, I loved the intriguing cover full of mystery. And second, it was written in close 3rd person POV. I had 51+08Moe-rL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_been working on my current manuscript in the same POV and found reading in the same format was helpful in my own writing. After I read the first page and learned the name of the female protagonist, Hazel Kaplansky, I settled in for what I hoped would be a fun summertime mystery. It didn’t take long to realize (let’s say the third page) that this was going to be a light mystery with a heavy dose of historical fiction.

The year is 1953. The Cold War and fear of communism is in full swing. Hazel is petrified her family is going to be dragged away by Russian spies in her small town of Maple Hill, Vermont. With her love of Nancy Drew books she sets out to build the evidence against a man who works for her parents. I never was fully behind this MC and frankly got a little tired of her whiny pursuit. What was interesting to me was learning about a time period I’d last heard about while sitting in my high school American History class. Okay, to be honest, my eyes were probably bouncing from the clock on the wall to the beautiful day outside to the more beautiful Russian exchange student who kept winking at me. Senator Joseph McCarthy and communist plots didn’t have a chance. I wish I’d had this book back then to enlighten me more than my droll lecturing teacher ever could.

I’m not sure if this story will be a big hit with the middle grade crowd. I’d think history loving individuals who have a connection to this time period themselves or with a relative would appreciate it more. I enjoyed it enough to feature it on today’s MMGM.

PUBLICATION DATE:2014   PAGE COUNT: 305 pages

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Hazel Kaplansky is a firm believer in the pursuit of knowledge and truth—and she also happens to love a good mystery. When suspicions swirl that a Russian spy has infiltrated her small town of Maple Hill, Vermont, amidst the fervor of Cold War era McCarthyism, Hazel knows it’s up to her to find a suspect… starting with Mr. Jones, the quietly suspicious grave digger. Plus she’s found a perfect sleuthing partner in Samuel Butler, the new boy in school with a few secrets of his own. But as Hazel and Samuel piece together clues from the past and present, the truth is suddenly not what they expected, and what they find reveals more about themselves and the people of their cozy little town than they could ever have imagined.

FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT THE SPY CATCHERS OF MAPLE HILL by Megan Fraser Blakemore

  1. Hazel’s friend, Samuel, is more of a mystery than the one Hazel is after. I found him to be like a few kids I’ve crossed paths with, looking for meaning in their past and trying to find just one friend. He perhaps had more change to his character than Hazel.
  2. The story shows how gossip and rumors are a hurtful thing in schools and communities. It’s usually started by a one or two people and effects so many more. It was rampant in this era even without social media.
  3. The secondary adult characters were charming in their own way and willing to help Hazel understand.
  4. Female bullying was alive and well 60 years ago. You cringe every time Mary Anne Wood steps into a scene because you know she’s going to leave a mess in her wake.
  5. The author’s notes at the conclusion of the story provided more detail about McCarthy and his undoing. Very interesting and I would urge future readers to read those few pages first before anything else.

FAVORITE LINES:

Hazel jumped in: “So what he’s saying is that ducking down under our desks isn’t going to do us any good if the Russians decide to drop a bomb on Maple Hill. The whole school would be blown over and then the radiation would come and burn our skin to a crisp and all our hair will fall out and we’ll be walking around here like skeletons, if we can even walk at all.”

Ellen Abbott began to cry.

“Hazel, that is quite enough,” Mrs. Sinclair told her.

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Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

MMGM2

Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

ODDS AND ENDS

A few left over pieces from the past week…

  1. Do you know a woman veteran of our armed forces? If you do, The Women’s Memorial would like to know about them for a memorial they are working on in Washington D.C. They estimate only 10% of the total women who have served are on the Women’s Memorial rolls. More information can be found at www.womensmemorial.org. My connection came from a family friend who recently passed away at the ripe age of 104. She had served in the Pacific during WWII.
  2. Great tips on those first pages come from Janice Hardy on her guest post this week. Take a look here. Spot on advice.
  3. Writer’s Digest is running a free contest with agent Peter Knapp as the judge. If you have a middle grade story and would like to enter you have until July 30th. Details can be found by clicking on the logo.

DearLuckyAgent2

Next Monday I’ll post my review for THE SPY CATCHERS OF MAPLE HILL. Have a super rest of the week and weekend!

 

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NICKEL BAY NICK for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This recent novel by Dean Pitchford is a joy to read. Jacket+Nickel+Bay+NickThe secrets and mystery surrounding Nickel Bay Nick unfold in brief spurts. By the end you feel like the journey was worth every minute. There is hope if you give people second chances. The story is told from the eyes of 11-year-old Sam who hasn’t much to like about his life so far. Heart transplant at age 4, divorced parents, and living in constant arguments with his dad all add to his displeasure and unruly attitude. Then he meets Mr. Wells, a neighbor next store and through the 12 days following Christmas his life and outlook are transformed.

Don’t wait for the holidays. Go out and enjoy this story now.

PUBLICATION DATE:2013   WORD COUNT: 56,167  READING LEVEL: 4.9

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Eleven-year-old Sam Brattle is already having the worst Christmas ever – his dad’s bakery is going bankrupt and his mom is spending the holidays with her new family. To make things worse, Nickel Bay Nick, the anonymous Good Samaritan who leaves hundred-dollar bills around Nickel Bay at Christmastime, is a no-show, so this year the rest of the town is as miserable as Sam. When he stumbles upon the secret identity of this mysterious do-gooder, Sam is stunned to learn that he might now be his town’s only hope. But before he can rescue Nickel Bay, Sam has to learn the skills of a spy and unravel some even darker secrets that will change his life forever.

FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT NICKEL BAY NICK by Dean Pitchford

  1. Just how do you give away one hundred dollar bills to unsuspecting recipients? The answers are surprising and you’ll find out how much joy a good deed brings.
  2. There are so many mysterious and fun plot threads. The biggest one unveiled in the final pages got me the most. It’s one of those moments where your eyes can’t move fast enough through the words to read what happens.
  3. Sam has a humorous voice. It’s also an emotional one as we witness the changes his character goes through. He’s more like a disgruntled teen with his friends being two 8th graders. Neither are the best role models.
  4. The way Sam connects to his mother even though he never talks with her.
  5. The book would be a perfect read-a-loud. It also would make for an interesting movie. (The author by the way wrote the screenplay for Footloose). I know boys would love this tale and probably many girls, too. In fact, NICKEL BAY NICK might convert a few YA and adult title readers into the MG world. It’s a hard one not to love no matter what age you are.

FAVORITE LINES:

I’m miserable and forgotten in the most miserable and forgotten place on earth.

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Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

MMGM2

Do you have a middle grade manuscript waiting to be seen? Try out this New FREE contest for writers of middle grade fiction. It’s the 16th “Dear Lucky Agent” judged by agent Peter Knapp of Park Literary Group. You have through July 30th to submit. All the details can be found by clicking on the logo:DearLuckyAgent2

Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Revision 101

photoIn a few weeks I’ll start tackling the first round of revisions for my newest manuscript. I’ve had a rather scattered approach to this task in the past. Sure, I’d followed the many blog posts on the subject, read many fine books with the answers, and taught countless number of students the reasons they needed to rewrite their three pages stories. How hard could this be? Plenty as it turned out. My process was like links on a web page where one thing led to another and soon I’d end up with a lot of pieces and no full parts.

A solid plan was needed that works the way I work and now I have one. I’ve formulated a game plan so that I can feel like progress is being made. Here are the steps that will make my manuscript shine:

  1. Print out each chapter. 18 for my present story. I’ll paper clip each and work with one or as many as two chapters per day. This minimal goal will help me keep on track.
  2. Read through the first chapter for pacing and being sure there is a beginning, middle and end. Answer these questions:
    1. Was their conflict or tension?
    2. Would a reader be surprised in any way?
    3. Was there a strong voice in the MC’s words?
    4. How many of the five senses did I include?

If I’m not satisfied with the answers, I’ll do some tweaking to make it right.

  1. Word choice
    1. Overused words. If I see a word more than a few times I’ll go back to the digital version to see how often it lights up the screen in a particular chapter. Too much of a good thing usually isn’t.
    2. Cut out unneeded words. For me, it’s usually ones like That, Then, Almost, Very, Up, Down, Around, Only, and Just. Often the words around them get the point across.
    3. Show versus Tell. The most common advice for writers. The ‘Telling” areas are easy to eliminate if you are discovering and experiencing the action through the character. I always think about experiencing something like music or a baseball broadcast on the radio compared to being behind home plate or the front row of a concert. It’s a different experience. I want my writing to make the reader feel like they are there with me, rather than me telling them what’s going on from a distance. They need to experience it like I do.
    4. Is each sentence written in the strongest way possible? Does it need more voice? Are there more descriptive words?
  2. Grammar and punctuation. Microsoft word does help, but having someone look it over can catch errors automated grammar programs my miss. I also use the free online Pro Writing Aid  that checks grammar and other  aspects of your writing.
  3. Repeat #2-4 for each chapter.
  4. Read the entire manuscript out loud. Another variation is to record the reading and play it back or have someone else read it while I listen. Great way to see if you’ve nailed the voice and whether there are any rough spots in sentence structure. I’ll highlight areas that need attention and fix them afterwards. If possible, this step is best done in one day .
  5. Let the pages sit again for at least a week. This will allow me to get disconnected and let the results settle in my mind.
  6. Re-read the entire manuscript. Any gaps in plot? Pacing?
  7. Get it critiqued. My normal critique group members are rather overwhelmed this summer so I may seek out some individuals I’ve traded with in the past.
  8. Revise again based on their recommendations.

My original approach would often take up to a year to complete. If all goes as planned my new plan should take about 8-10 weeks unless major issues are discovered. Once the pages look great I’ll consider whether to use a professional editor. They are helpful in big picture types of editing. I’ve used a few in the past and its been beneficial.

I’m hoping this more focused approach to rewriting will pay off with an almost perfect manuscript… If it works I’ll be ready to submit this Fall.

Categories: Editing, Writing | Tags: | 4 Comments

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