Archive for the ‘1’ Category

Learn to Love the Pain

In 1 on April 16, 2010 at 9:23 pm

When it inevitably comes time, at the beginning of spring, to get back in shape, I want to snap my fingers and have an exercise genie magically remake my body without me having to do a whole lot of work. But of course, I gripe and grouse and pull on my swimsuit, even when all those extra bits poke out over the edges, and the glare of my winter-whitened skin causes people to have accidents in the gym. The first week or two, I don’t notice much change. I feel better, but the jiggly parts still jiggle and I weigh roughly the same. And then, somewhere between weeks three and four, there comes a moment where I realize that change is taking place. Something is different! And the more I keep it up, the more true that is.

Believe it or not, I am about to make a point about writing.

As much as we would like to believe that one or two drafts (by which many of us mean ‘a little bit of tinkering’) is going to be enough to get that manuscript completed, the fact is, it often takes many drafts. It takes me a minimum of two drafts to get to know my characters and their plot, and then another two to make sure it’s clear, demonstrated, and compelling. Then there’s the sentence streamlining…and so on.

The best thing you can do if you hunger to publish, is to embrace the process of transformation. Learn to like how each draft feels different, better, more refined than the last. Learn to look forward to the next one, when you know it will get that much better. You’ll be wearing your short shorts soon!

I know there are writers out there so skilled they can write a book in one fell swoop. And maybe you’re one of them–yours is the Giselle of manuscripts, with a “bod” so tight and effortless it doesn’t need much. But if you’re like the average person, don’t buy into the belief that if you just take that one little pill, your book will be done in a fortnight.

Work it, people. Suffer a little for your art. Learn to love the pain. After awhile, it stops hurting. And then comes the endorphin rush. Trust me, it happens in writing, too.

Stumble and Bumble Your Way to Success

In 1 on February 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Join me for a talk to the California Writer’s Club Marin Branch in May:

Sunday, May 23, 2010 at Book Passage, Corte Madera:

 “The Wild and Wooly, Stumble and Bumble Your Way to Success Story. Or: How Anyone Can Publish By Saying Yes”

 In this new day of publishing, writers have to think even further outside the box on the road to publication–and get comfortable with the fact that the line to success may not be a straight one.  Jordan Rosenfeld uses her own experience “saying yes to unexpected opportunities” along the way of her career to illustrate how important it is to be creative, take opportunities and not limit yourself on the road to publication.

She’ll give examples of unusual avenues for publication ranging from radio to readings, magazine articles to book proposals.

Susan Henderson: Trust Your (re)Vision

In 1 on January 25, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I thought of a lot of different ways to “introduce” Susan Henderson here, but each time they came out sounding cheesy. You may know her for her powerful writing, published in multiple print and online sources, or from, her brainchild and baby. You may know her from when she edited at Night Train magazine or from one of the many ways she champions writers. 

Fortunately, Sue speaks very well for herself, and I think you’ll find this to be one of the most inspirational interviews yet. She reminds us that even though we must listen to the sharp and wise voices of criticism, we must also trust our own voice and vision as writers.

You have the distinction of being editor and writer both. So which is harder: walking a writer through a revision, or doing one yourself? 

What an editor does is, she says “Based on my vast experience as a reader, these are the things that–to my ear–stand out as needing improvement.” The easy edits to offer are simply pointing out your experience while reading—This is where I got confused. Who’s saying this? This is where I got impatient or bored. Now, the dangerous water for both the editor and the writer is in the suggestions. Sometimes, you have a great idea—I know, what if the story starts on page 8—wouldn’t that be an explosive beginning? Even things that seem easy—a suggestion to change “She was sleeping” to “She slept”—can begin to erode a writer’s voice once you start making these small changes page after page.

 What an editor has to be mindful of is that she is put in a very peculiar position for someone in the arts. If you were a painter, it would be unbelievable for someone to come in with his own paintbrush and begin to “correct” your painting. How about more yellow? I’m just going to fix the nose on this woman’s face and add a few clouds in the sky? The editor has to be careful not to fiddle with a person’s work to the point of missing the author’s unique heart, voice, or lens on the world. I mean, imagine asking Cormac McCarthy to be clearer and to shorten his sentences and so on until the final result was something that read more like James Patterson?

But you asked which is harder, and I think offering an opinion is infinitely easier than the work of receiving that opinion with an open mind and then running it through the hearts and voices of the characters to see if it fits. The writer must find that balance between making the story tighter, fiercer, and clearer while staying true to her own voice and that initial and urgent impulse to tell the story in the first place.

What’s your process for revising your own work without the input of others?

 I definitely edit in waves. One thing I do, once I have a complete draft, is track a single character from beginning to end. I make sure that character is vivid, that he has a clear story arc, a definable desire that’s always with him, no matter who or what he faces. I do this for every single character, no matter how small his role in the story. And I also do this for the setting, which I consider one more living creature in my story.

 Later, I’ll read for pacing. I try to put myself into the mind of someone who’s exhausted and doesn’t have time to read my book. This is my way of making sure each chapter really moves, that there’s something surprising or satisfying that happens, that there’s the promise that more will happen if they turn the page.

 The last big edit I do is I read the entire book out loud. This is how I catch anything that’s off about the rhythm. I was a poet long before I wrote short stories or novels, so the cadence is as important to me as the plot.

 Your debut novel is being published in 2010. Break the myth for readers that once you sell a book your work is done. Tell us what you can about your post-sale editorial process.

 The day my novel sold, I spoke on the phone with my new editor who wanted to let me know some of her ideas for revision. Most had to do with one section of the book that she felt was disjointed and episodic.

 Her other thought was that I consider adding a “frame story” to my book. My novel is narrated by an eight year old, and my editor felt there were things she wanted to know as a reader that this kid couldn’t tell her. So she threw out this idea: What if there was another story with its own plot that followed any characters I chose into the future? What are they doing now and what could they say or do that would satisfy some of the unanswered questions carried by the reader?

 The wonderful thing about my editor is that she gave her impressions (and I think they were right on), but she really stayed out of suggesting how I should fix them. The fun of edits is that unknown space where you have to get creative again. What’s a different way of getting from point A to point B? What would I like to say about this story that my narrator’s incapable of knowing or communicating? That’s the part I love—it’s going to bed with no ideas at all, and then, over the next week or two, beginning to see ways to make the book something much bigger, something that says much more than the original.

 After this revision, there were some nips and tucks, and we’re still without a title, but basically, once your book is taken by an agent, and then again when it’s bought by a publishing house, be prepared to go back in and do more work. Also, don’t expect praise at this stage. You will likely get warmer responses and more compliments in your rejection letters because, once the book sells, everyone is going to look hard for what’s wrong with it and want you to fix it in a way that makes it more marketable.

 What is the most difficult revision you ever had to do and why?

 The worst—the revision that caused me to lose 15 pounds and nearly give up writing altogether—was taking an editor’s instincts over my own and watching my entire book fall apart. I can’t even talk about it in specifics because the sheer agony of it is still right there. In the end, I made the choice to rebuild something that I’d destroyed, rather than throwing it away. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done, and I won’t let that happen again. I’ve always been someone who’s open to suggestions. What I’ve had to learn is to not to be so open—or should I say, so intimidated by people in positions of power—that I discount my own voice in the editing process.

 What aspect of revision do you embrace or even look forward to?

 I love looking at every sentence and trying to sharpen its meaning, to say it in fewer words, to infuse it with action, to take out the clutter, to find the rhythm as one sentence joins with another. I like to try to end every paragraph with an image or a mood or a surprise. That’s sheer joy for me, just playing with language.

 How do you know when you’re done revising?

You can only know when you’re done revising “for now.” Sometimes, you know because you’re exhausted. Sometimes because you’re euphoric. And sometimes because you hate the characters and think you’re the worst writer on the planet. When you’re done, for whatever reason, put the manuscript away. For a week, for two months. Later, when you go back to it, you’ll have a much better sense how close you are.

 What advice do you have for the aspiring writer about learning to love revision?

 My agent taught me this: think back to when you really loved writing—before it was about feedback/publication/rejection, before it felt like a chore, before you felt like a failure. Remember the joy in coming up with the exact color blue for a character’s eyes. Remember looking up at the clock and discovering a whole day had gone by while you were lost in the world of your story. Find that again.

 If it’s hard to remember when writing was something you loved, try this. Imagine stopping. Imagine not finishing that story or book you’ve been stuck on. Imagine losing your computer and all your unfinished manuscripts in a fire. If that sends you into an utter panic, then—hard as it may be to get it right—you simply must find a way to tell your story.


SUSAN HENDERSON’s debut novel, (TITLE COMING SOON), will be published by Harper Collins in September 2010. She is Curator of NPR’s newest literary venture, “DimeStories,” produced by Jay Allison (of “This I Believe”), and is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets award and grants from The Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation and The Lojo Foundation. Her work has—twice—been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Publications include Zoetrope, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, North Dakota Quarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, South Dakota Review, The MacGuffin, Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies (nominated for a Pushcart Prize, 2004), North Atlantic Review, The Green Hills Literary Lantern, Opium, Other Voices, Amazon Shorts (nominated for a Pushcart Prize, 2006), The World Trade Center Memorial, The Future Dictionary of America (McSweeney’s Books, 2004), The Best American Non-Required Reading (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), Not Quite What I Was Planning (HarperPerennial, 2008), and Online Writing: The Best of the First Ten Years (Snowvigate Press, 2009). She blogs at, and occasionally at Huffington Post and Brad Listi’s The Nervous Breakdown. Her husband is a costume designer, filmmaker, and tenured drama professor. They live in NY with their two boys.


Writers on Revision: Hope Edelman

In 1 on January 18, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Today Make a Scene launches its “Writers on Revisions” series, which will go on for several weeks. I admit that this is a self-serving project. I’m embarking on a novel revision, and rather than jumping off into that terrifying place alone, I wanted to bolster my process with words of advice from published authors and editors. But as an editor, I also know that writers can’t hear enough about revision. So, jump in, and share your revision stories!

Today I give you the wondrous Hope Edelman, author of The Possibility of Everything and Motherless Daughters.


How do you approach revision?  

 I typically edit as I go, perfecting each chapter as I write it, until I’ve done this about four or five times and the pages are ready to show to the women in my writing group. There are seven of us who’ve been together for several years, and I show them almost everything I write. Based on their comments, I revise again and then send the file to my editor. As I write subsequent chapters I’m always going back and tinkering with earlier ones as material moves around. So for this reason, chapters in the first half of a book probably get worked on eleven or twelve times total, which the last few chapters are revised maybe only seven or eight.

 What is the most difficult aspect of revision for you?

 Allowing myself to write a sloppy first draft.  I’m such a perfectionist, I always want to make a chapter as perfect as I can before moving on to the next one.

What aspect of revision do you embrace or even look forward to?

Watching a book or chapter unfold in the way it can only when it’s been worked on multiple times, over a long period of time. I often write under deadline but when I’m able to set aside pages and go back to them weeks or even months later, I can see them with a new set of eyes and new ideas, and the revisions I do then make the pages much stronger.

How many drafts does it take to reach a finished book?

I envy writers who can actually write a whole first draft, trash most of it, and create a second draft full of new material. Unfortunately, I get wedded to my early drafts and subsequent drafts don’t go through a major transformation. I think more in terms of revising chapters than revising a whole book. Ten revisions per chapter is probably my average. (See above)

I read an interview in which you opted to keep out a lot of information from your memoir The Possibility of Everything. How did you decide what to keep out–or more specifically, how do you shape your narrative arc of a book from the not-so-orderly mess of real life?

 Oh boy, those are big questions! I hope I can do them justice here. I’m not sure I can pinpoint exactly how I sense what to put in and what to leave out, other than the obvious answer that I leave out anything that my husband or children think is damaging or upsetting to them. Beyond that, I think about pacing, characterization, and striking the right balance between narration and reflection. I digress by nature, so I have to be careful not to get too far into passages of reflection, which often start losing the reader. In my most recent book, I could have put many more details and anecdotes into the back story of the first three chapters, but I was acutely aware that I had to get us out of California and on our way to Central America before the first third of the book was over. So I was only able to put in the most critical details of the four months before our departure, and every single one of them had to be there for a reason. Anything that felt superfluous, I cut.  

As for shaping a narrative arc out of the messy material of real life, I don’t really know how I do that. I think in terms of stories, and can often see them literally rising out of the stuff of real life and taking form even as the events unfold. This last book revealed itself to me that way not long after we returned to California, with a perfect beginning, middle and end. Other times I sense there’s a story but only discover its meaning and message once I’ve started writing.  Instead of just knowing the story line, I have to create it from the material of ordinary life.

Thinking in these terms , writing creative nonfiction is the perfect profession for a control freak, isn’t it? Because you get to impose a sense of order on the chaos of everyday life. And, if you’re lucky, you get to inspire or help some people in the process.

What advice do you have for the aspiring writer about revising one’s work?

Know that generating new material accounts for about 20 percent of a writer’s time, and revision account for about 80. When I was writing my last book, every time I met someone new who’d ask, “What do you do?” instead of saying “I’m a writer” I was tempted to say, “I’m a rewriter,” which felt far more accurate. But I suspect writers are the only ones who’d get that joke.


Hope Edelman is the author of five nonfiction books, including the bestsellers Motherless Daughters and Motherless Mothers. She lives in Topanga Canyon, California with her husband and their two daughters. You can read more about her at and more about The Possibility of Everything, Belize, and the characters in the book at

The Road MORE Traveled

In 1 on January 11, 2010 at 11:45 pm

On some level I’m always thinking about revision because a) I’m a writer, and at some point after the joyous font of writing pleasure, I know I’m in for it. b) I’m an editor and daily I offer suggestions to others on how to revise their work.

I’ve also had the good fortune to interview a lot of successful authors, from TC Boyle to Sara Gruen to Tess Gerritsen–a wide gamut. And not a single one has ever said, “I just churned out greatness and it went on to be published.”  (Okay Boyle may have said that somewhere 🙂

Sara Gruen, if I recall, printed each of her pages some dozens of times until she could only find 1 single thing she’d like to change, and then she’d move on.

I struggle to tell my clients, many of whom desperately want to be published, that a published novel often goes through DOZENS of drafts. It can be mind-boggling, aggravating and heartbreaking–but if you don’t learn to take some joy from the revision process, that road to publication is going to get even longer.

So in honor of embracing what I call “the road more traveled”–I’ll be featuring interviews with published authors about their revision process.

Before that, I’ll have a guest post by the talented Eros-Alegra Clarke.

Keep coming back!

And feel free to share your revision process.


Temporary Abandonment=Creative Flow

In 1 on January 9, 2010 at 3:41 am

For the first time in AGES I am not blogging because I’m too busy writing fiction 🙂 It feels so good. I proclaim for all to witness that I WILL finish a draft (a first draft) by March, if not sooner, and a second draft by June.

So, dear agent who hasn’t heard from me in ages, stay tuned. I will be bothering you before long.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for some guest posts!


Wild and Wooly Path to Success

In 1 on January 3, 2010 at 4:33 pm

In April I’ll be giving a talk to the California Writer’s Club. I’ve decided to title it “My Wild and Wooly, Stumble and Bumble My Way to Success Story. Or: How anyone can get published if you keep saying yes.”

My path to publication has never been a straight line. The only constant in my journey has been that I always loved to write, from the moment I learned how to read and string letters together and I sought every opportunity to do this, both private and public.

My parents who were not winning medals in that department for a long time, somehow managed to ply me with journals, typewriters and trips to bookstores that fed this spark in me to wild proportions. They always said, “Try.”

When I changed high schools my Sophomore year from one horrible high school (where my “caste level” was so low, and the popular kids treated us in it so badly it would have made a great John Hughes movie) to one where I found instant acceptance and life-long friends, it also came with an opportunity to be on the school paper, the Jolly Roger, Sir Francis Drake High School’s long-running school newspaper (since the 1950s, I believe).

Today, a good friend of mine, who was also on the paper with me, sent me this link: detailing a history of the Jolly Roger. I laughed and swooned proudly at this early sign of my intrepid (haha) journalism path:

“Not so surprisingly, the Jolly Roger did not cover any controversial issues in the beginning, but that would change over the next few decades. In the Febuary 28th, 1992 issue, the topic on the feature page was “Sex and Sexuality.” The most interesting articles were by Jordie Rosenfeld. To prepare for her stories, she went into the community to look at abortion and then wrote her stories based on her experiences.”

I went “undercover” at age 16 to Birthright (religious pro-life counseling agency) and Planned Parenthood, pretending to be pregnant. While I probably was a little biased toward the pro-choice side (I believe Birthright sent a letter suggesting this after my article was published), who knew then that someday I’d be doing this stuff in earnest? I was the only one in class brave enough to raise my hand when the assignments were being doled out (and bravery is not exactly my thing, either).

And that’s been my story all along. Everything I’ve done along the way has been an experiment, because it sounded good (my labor-of-love Literary radio show, Word by Word, or my literary salon, LiveWire), because I knew I’d meet other writers, and because I always figured it couldn’t hurt on my journey to being published.

That’s my advice for anyone in this New Year. Say yes more often to opportunities, even ones that may not pay at first, but offer some other reward. Take chances. See yourself in a new light (radio host, broadcast journalist, literary agent).

Sitting at your desk, waiting for success to come find you is the least likely method of achieving it. We don’t need Tony Robbins to jump up and down with his big white teeth to tell us this, right? Take it from a 16 year old girl who embarassed herself by pretending to be pregnant on her journey.

Warming up for the New Year

In 1 on December 31, 2009 at 9:01 pm

I’m sure a little online research could reveal to me why January is considered the start of a new year. It seems such an odd time of year to “begin” if you think about it, at least in North America where living things are dormant and slow. And yet, there is something motivating in these dark and cold months–if we can’t be out in the warmth of the world, why not dip into our own inner creative wells where it can be any season we want.

How will you boost your writing life this year? What will you do differently? Are you after any new goals? I hope to hear from you!

I hope you’ll come back in 2010 for new guest posts, more online classes and other creative ventures!

Happy New Year


Welcoming War: The Editor and the Wild Thing

In 1 on December 12, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Today’s guest poster, Alegra Clarke, is new mom to her third baby as of two days ago. A healthy, robust boy. In honor of that, we have her wonderful post:

I am a person who guards her peace. This isn’t to say I don’t love a good drama. I’m a guilty voyeur of other people’s train wrecks but given the opportunity to meddle, I will always try to find the path of resolution for those involved. Recently, I’ve realized that some ancient conflicts and well-nourished hatreds deserve to be respected; peace is not always the answer. It takes all kinds of chemistry to sustain a relationship and the stability of the physical world is often maintained by relationships involving opposition. So it is with my writer-mind.

 As a slow learner I require a great deal of repetition until a new pattern is established. For years, in the name of efficiency, I’ve tried to mend the polarity in my writer-mind. Like some sort of blinded match-maker, I’ve enticed the Editor and the Wild Thing to sit down with the same page and work together. It always ends in bloodshed – mine. After a particularly bloody battle, a friend made a suggestion using my name as an analogy of how I should approach my writing. I was born Eros-Alegra but after my mother realized that giving her daughter the name of one of the oldest Greek gods – one known for primal love, passion and creating order out of chaos – was a mighty weight to carry into the world, I began using Alegra as my calling card. I’m rarely called by Eros in my day-to-day life but it is a name that makes sense to those who know me best. My friend told me that when I write, I need to gag Alegra, the Editor, and make her sit in the corner and let Eros, the Wild Thing, out to play. When the Wild Thing is exhausted and ready for a nap, the Editor can have her turn. The Editor looks at the Wild Thing’s mess, rolls up her sleeves and smiles in delight.

They are control freaks at the opposite end of the spectrum; the Editor is obsessed with craft and the relationship between reader and writer being a happy one. The Editor needs symmetry in images, steady rhythm in language, and she can obsess for hours over making sure her needs are met. The Wild Thing just wants to be wild. She wants to rename the world around her. She delights in secret languages and jazz rifts. She is offended by the need for translation. If she says that ‘the toes of a statue murmured in the midnight air,’ she will think you are a blockhead for trying to point out that any toes, much less those of a statue, are incapable of ‘murmuring’.  The Editor and the Wild Thing will never reach a compromise, at least not sitting at the same table or even being trapped in the same room together.

 After much wasted effort, I have come to realize that the Editor and the Wild Thing have been happily conducting a love affair without my permission.  Their hatred of one another is a romance that doesn’t require my approval. After all, the Wild Thing requires order to contrast its wildness. And where would the Editor be without material to tame? I have surrendered to the war in my mind. In fact, I welcome it. Let the Editor gnash her terrible teeth and the Wild Thing roar her terrible roars. My world would be a bland place without them.


Eros-Alegra Clarke is currently writing her first novel under the mentorship of her agent. In the meantime, she has been slowly building publications including the story “Naming Shadows” in the literary journal Bitter Oleander. A wife, mother of three, and graduate student, Alegra regularly contributes to Maria Schneider’s website resource for writers:  and can be found blogging about life, writing, and everything in between at: http://alegra22.wordpress.comClarke

Writer’s Angels

In 1 on December 8, 2009 at 5:21 pm

In the life of every writer there are angels who sweeten the path; who say yes after a hundred no’s; who like your work; who champion what you do despite the fact that you don’t even know them in person. You are lucky to have one, blessed to have several.

When I first encountered Maria Schneider–former editor of Writer’s Digest, and creatrix of, a truly unique site for writers–I knew I’d met one of these angels. Pleased that I’d caught her eye on one query I decided to do what any kamikaze freelancer does–pepper her with further queries until my name was branded behind her eyelids at night 🙂

Not only did Maria continue to respond to my queries with assignments for the magazine, she gave me some of the goodies–I got to interview the likes of Chuck Pahlaniuk, Sara Gruen, and Tess Gerritsen, to name a few. These were interviews she could happily have done herself.  She proved to me over and over again that editors DO respect writers, that the relationship is mutually beneficial at least, and full of synergy at best. She unwittingly gave me the confidence to take a silly little book proposal I’d been sitting on and pitch it as a book (Make a Scene).

And in her new life “unleashed” she has continued to be my champion, as well as the champion of other writers with the incredible information she makes available on her website; through the interactive forums there, and more. She is one of the most generous people in the industry today, and so several of us who feel the same way about her wanted to make sure that everyone else knows too.

These other writers agree:

Laurel Wilcek:

Linda Wastila and John Towler:

If you’ve had a great experience with Maria–blog it! Then send me the link. We want to make sure she doesn’t stop smiling today.