Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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June 21, 2017

5 Things The Family Roadtrip Taught Me About Editing

Many of my fellow writing parents tell me that the summer school break is a menace to their writing schedule. There's no denying that it's a challenge that takes juggling and creativity. I've already completed the first road trip of the summer, and here are the five benefits I've found (so far).

1. The importance of "location, location, location."

New places and new people add grist to our writing mill. The dysfunctional family at a rest stop..the wise waitress at the roadside cafe..the twitchy person at the front desk of your hotel. They are all new characters, and new things to describe when you are stuck.

On our last trip, there was an older man who had Middle Eastern music blaring out of his pocket at the breakfast buffet. Like all around the buffet. He was a total giver who walked to every corner of the room, so he could share with everybody.

I don't know about you, but I can't think before coffee. I especially can't think over drums and violins before coffee. I was bonkers within five minutes of the Music Man sitting next to us. I put my coffee in a to-go cup, went upstairs and got this dude out of my system and onto the page in a hilarious scene. He was so much fun to write, and I never would have run across him in my usual writing cocoon. 

I know most writers are cave dwellers who often don't leave their homes (or their pajamas) for days on end. *hitches up flannel pants* But a new environment brings a fresh view to your story. When I think a scene is boring, the easiest fix is a change of scenery. Go to a coffee shop, or the library, or the park.

2. It takes a village.

Don't be the only set of eyes reading your manuscript. Especially if you don't have a critique group, your summer road trip can be a godsend to your book. Read that baby out loud to your driver. If you're the driver, make your passenger read it to you. You'll clearly see what's missing when you hear your book read out loud.

3. Nothing replaces paper.

I don't know why this is, but the eyes see new things in print than they do on your screen. Every writer I know recommends a printed copy for final revisions.

I also use paper to be able to write in the car. Sometimes my eyes can see the plot better, and the view out of the window can add to the experience. Additionally, I can read those pages to my Dragon software so that the work makes it to the page for more revision. I freak out a little bit if I can't see forward progress, and then all the work gets stalled. God bless Dragon!

4. Take a nap.

Susan and Harry Squires did a fantastic post about Talking Back to Your Brain. They explain why it's important to ask yourself small manageable questions as part of your writing process.

The Squires recommend you not ask yourself large esoteric questions like: "Why am I stuck?" or "Why do I suck, and I can't finish this chapter and I'll never finish this book..." (You get the picture.) Instead, formulate a small specific question like: "I need to get my character from the beach to the mountains. Who should they travel with and why?" You get the picture.

Think small and be specific. 

It is completely true that if I'm thinking about an issue with my manuscript and I nod off for a nap, I'll wake up with - if not an answer - at least a potential solution to my issue.

There's cool brain stuff involved in this, so be sure to click the link and read that post!

5. An hour is golden.

As long as you don't get carsick, setting "time chunk" goals is a great way to use your passenger time on a road trip (or the school line, or your lunch break) for writing.

I don't know about you but, if I'm in a timed sprint I write faster. I don't know why. But it just seems like the act of setting a limit on it makes my brain stop lollygagging and bring out its "A" game. I talked about this group sprint concept quite a bit in my Holy-Moly-I-Won NaNoWriMo article a few months back.

Most of all, be flexible and creative. If you need the writing time, find ways to get it. We're writers...we know how to find creative solutions to problems. Or perhaps you'll give yourself permission to just take a break from writing altogether and enjoy your summer break. You're allowed to do that if you don't have a deadline! Really, I promise. You can take a writing break as long you put a specific date on the calendar to get back in the writing saddle.

Bonus Link: Here's a great article on self-editing: 10 Simple Ways to Edit Your Own Book by Blake Atwood at The Write Life.

What are your most valued tips and tricks when school breaks and vacations smash your writing schedule to smithereens? Do you love the summer break, or hate it? (Enquiring minds want to know!)

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or here at Writers In The Storm

46 comments on “5 Things The Family Roadtrip Taught Me About Editing”

  1. I love to write on vacation - the stimulation of new vistas spark my creativity. But edit? Hmmm, I don't think I have the focus to be able to do-- SQUIRREL!

  2. Such good advice -- and how many times is the one thing I've forgotten on a trip my notebook! But I usually have my phone and "a picture is worth a thousand words." Most of my recent trips have been for research (can you say cattle ranch, anyone--writing on horseback isn't going to happen), so I find I'm not doing much writing, but there are ideas, experiences, and sensations to make note of.

    1. Forgot -- totally on board with the print it and listen to it step. If you don't have anyone who loves you enough to read it to you, Word will do it. That's about where I am with the current WIP. I blogged about how to do it a while back. I also print my ms in a different font, and in columns to totally change the look and the eye scan. Amazing what else jumps out at you

      1. I keep hearing about Word's reader add-in. I have to check that out. Do you remember where you turn it on? Or is it just a menu choice in the newer versions?

        Also, WHAT A GREAT IDEA on the columns. That would totally make those errors stand out. Cherry Adair does her editing with a different font color for each character. She said that helps her see who isn't getting enough screen time and it jobs her brain to see her errors.

    2. No, you certainly aren't going to write in the saddle...lol. But, if you're like Laura on her bike, she brings her tape recorder and talks into it. She might be panting, or bouncing, but she's working. It lets you not lose the great ideas. Plus, your horse will like being talked to. (And I want to see photos of these horses! Where have you posted them?)

  3. Excellent. Thank you! My final edit step is to send the Word document to my Kindle. Reading it in that format makes things shout at me that I hadn't seen before. Road tripping would be the perfect place to read in that format.

    1. Absolutely, Kathy. I do all my beta reads for pals on my Kindle. It lets me see the errors more easily, and also the book percentages where the turning points happen.

  4. I have eliminated the "I can't start until..." Or I always stumble when I..." Instead, I use this phrase: "That's so unlike me." Removing the negative and putting a positive twist helps. Especially when my wife, SWAMBO tells me: "That's so unlike you!"
    This piece is solid gold! Thanks for taking the time to write it. Yeah, I finished my first NaNO in eleven days. SWAMBO (She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed) fed me intravenously.

    1. Thanks, Sam - I'm glad it spoke to you.

      But, ELEVEN days?! Wow, I get so impressed when I see people do that. Good for you. And SWAMBO is a hilarious acronym - you tell her I totall approve. 🙂

  5. Vacation? What is this beautiful thing you mention? I have a 4-yo and a 2-yo monster with way too much energy, vacations are not happening for some time. But a change of scenery might be exactly what my stalled scene needs... thanks!

    On a completely different note: you mention fellow writing parents. I have been looking for some kind of online gathering place for writing (or even blogging) mothers, but I haven't really found anything yet. I would love somewhere to share tips on stuff like creating writing time, plotting while doing the dishes... If this doesn't exist, maybe I should just set it up myself 😉

    1. C.M. - I feel your pain. Oh boy, do I feel your pain. We didn't go anywhere for the first several years either, except on road trips where we camped in places that allowed kids to roam free and tire themselves out.

      There are lots of Facebook groups and Google communities where writing parents can commisserate with one another. I found a ton of comfort in these two posts, especially the one by Janet Fitch (White Oleander) - it's so nice to know that other people "get it":



      1. Thank you so much! This has been the first school year where I actually got some time to write, so I'm going all out! Love this website, it always feels like a bunch of friends 🙂

        1. Awwww...that's the best compliment you could give us! It IS like hanging out with our pals over here. We get so much out of all the comments and the posts ourselves.

          Definitely find the routine that works for you. One of my secrets for those first short days of pre-school: DON'T GO HOME. If I went home, I'd do home stuff. But if I stayed out and went to a coffee place with my notebook or pad of paper, I'd write. However, if you still have your two year-old with you during the day, you might try moving the nap time to be during that pre-school time, or figuring out a favorite morning show. I got a ton of work done during Elmo back in the day. 🙂

          1. Haha, thanks! I actually live in France and school starts at 3 here, so come September (after 9 weeks of holiday, yikes!) I will really be cranking out that first novel 😉 It's that thought that's going to keep me going! In the meantime, enjoy your trip!

  6. Thanks for this. Perfect timing.

    I became a published writer because of road trips. About seven years ago, I ran out of books on my way up to a four day river trip. I picked up a bestseller from the drug store on our last stop before putting in on the river. It was awful. So repetitive "he was charming but irresponsible." Next paragraph, "he was irresponsible, but charming." Over and over and over again. I vowed that I could write a better book. And I went home and joined RWA that summer.

    I'm leaving on another 4 day river trip next week. I will have to leave my laptop at home. (Twitching just thinking about it.) But I will bring several notebooks. And I'm hoping to discover the middle of my WIP that I've been stuck on for months. I made a breakthrough yesterday while swimming with my teenager, so yeah, a change of scenery is crucial.

    1. That's fascinating, Kristina. And good for you, starting with RWA...that's a great place to start. There are always so many people like you to be found for learning, critiquing and friendship.

      I hope you get completely unstuck on your trip! Please do report back all the details. 🙂

  7. What's a vacation? No seriously... Okay, that may be my fault because I truly am a 'cave dweller, but I do think about doing a writing retreat in a fresh location. I keep thinking a cabin in the woods with lots of trees and solitude, but then of course I may not run into the fun characters you've run into...although I swear the middle eastern guy with the music who comes to sit at your table is at a restaurant near me.

    LOVE the post, I want a vacation right now, and I totally agree with your points. Especially the paper issue. I have to print everything.

    Thanks for a great post Jenny!

    1. You are most welcome, Tari! You and Hunky Hubby are overdue on a vacation! Even if all you do is go to a local beach or mountain village and stay in a hotel. It's very rejuvenating, for you and for your writing. While the Hubs hikes, you can write on your gorgeous balcony!

  8. The "music man." Ha ha! Except it obviously wasn't 76 Trombones! So true that traveling brings new ideas, and paper is always best for editing no doubt.

  9. Your posts always make me laugh! I agree about the importance of a new location. After a winter vacation to Florida, those memories - warm breezes, rustling palm trees, salt air, hot sun - stick with me for months. Also, Dragon software intrigues me. I've been reading about it, but your endorsement may have tipped the scale. Thanks for the wonderful post!

    1. Thanks, Kristi! Dragon is what I turn to when I'm antsy, or having trouble thinking through my fingers. It lets me drone on and the bad draft scares me so bad, I have to fix it. One thing: the program requires some "training," both for you and the software.

      And yes, read Laura's post that Fae gave you. It's great.

  10. You're asking a teacher about summer vacation? Really? Can you say "catch up" multiple times? On reading, writing, editing, cleaning, even playing. You know how I get "new" scenes with every vacation. How is that possible when I write science fiction and vacation here on Earth? I was walking at the beach this morning-to beat the heat later today-and snapped a couple of pictures to remind me of something I want to write.

    1. I love seeing how completely you use your summer. It's awesome. And I can see how much our teachers need the breaks from the kids - they are always rejuvenated when they come back.

      Does it comfort you that vacations into space are a thing these days? And that they are getting more possible for "real people" all the time?

  11. Usually on vacation I like to read which really feeds my creativity. In the car, I'll listen to audiobooks. Occasionally, I force my husband to help my plot my WIP. 🙂

    1. A great writing husband is a treasure, right? I have one, and he will always listen and give opinions. It's totally helpful. And vacation reading. Mmmmmmmm... God bless my Kindle!

    1. Yes, they are! But, as I've told several of the other authors here, seeing that others have done it gives me hope for balancing it myself. We can DO this thing!

  12. I'm at the other end of the parenting journey, with just one teen left at home and four out of the nest, but writing time in summer is still fractured. I love it, though, because I think you're right: it's not an entirely bad thing to be shaken out of your groove, to have to edit on the beach or in a different bed, for instance, because you get a whole different perspective. And it's a great time to catch up on reading all of the books your fellow authors are publishing. Thanks for a great post.

    1. Thanks for reading and tweeting, Holly! And you have done this parent/writing balance for a long time and aced it. Ladies like you show me that it can definitely be done. I find comfort in all the writing parent warriors who have come before me. 🙂

  13. Great suggestions and information. Changing fonts to edit--wow. Why have I never thought of that? And I didn't know about Narrator things. Super helpful, and thank you, Jenny.

    1. Isn't hive-mind the bomb, Jeanne? I learn so much from the comments section here at WITS. Cherry Adair was the first one to alert me to the bonus of changing fonts and colors. She is a genius. 🙂

  14. This is my debut reading of your blog. Lots of good ideas followed by a flock of comments from seasoned writers. How often can I expect to see you in my inbox?

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