While I'm not yet published, I read a lot and I have taken a ton of writing workshops and read writing books. I also taught writing for 15 years.

Once upon a time we wrote our stories in longhand or typed them, or did both. Some people still write their stories in longhand. I would if I could read my handwriting.

We read what we had written, then made changes and recopied the pages or retyped them. Some of us worked with sections until each suited us before going on. Others began at the beginning and read all the way through, making changes on the current draft, then typed the whole thing again.

Since the computer allows us to edit as we read, it can be tempting to expect to do the whole story in one draft. That means we might not like making big changes or we can cut and paste ourselves into a less than clear whole manuscript.

Proofing means looking for typos and errors in spelling or punctuation. You must do this or even get someone to read your work with a fresh pair of eyes.

Editing is a bigger process. Editing should make your book better, stronger and can use the suggestions below.

I suggest you write the story before you try to pack every scene with all the elements other writers say you need in your stories. Keep your pace and let your characters speak to you. Even if you plot and do character sketches, you can learn things from your characters as their story progresses. If you learn something so big it changes the beginning of the story, take a limited time to go back and make the changes you need, or make notes to yourself to go back and fix things after you finish the story. These suggestions here can be used to help you write yourself out of a slump or writer's block.

Once you have a completed draft, you can go back and build in layers.

If you know what you want your reader to get from each scene or chapter you can play with the words. Each time you infuse emotion, you seduce your reader into caring more. Add emotional words and strong verbs. Go back and look for things to clarify or sharpen.

As you read, look for places where you told the reader things she doesn't need to know at that point or at all.

Read scenes and see if they serve a purpose. Don't dump scenes until you finish the story and see what you need and what you don't. At the end of each scene have you given your reader a reason to keep reading the next scene? At the end of each chapter have you teased the reader into reading just the first page of the next chapter, then one more, then one more?

Texture includes adding the sensory details to make a story mean more to readers. We can't control our readers' frames of reference or likes and dislikes. We can't make every reader love our characters and stories. We can use things that mean something to us and make us feel. Look at each scene and see if a reader can see, smell, hear, and taste? Remember that we feel hot and cold, rough and smooth. Different fabrics have different textures. Foods have different textures and tastes and smells. Have you used these to evoke reactions in us as readers or in the characters? Do these mean something to the characters? Can you let your characters experience memories or react to what they touch, smell, hear, taste, etc.?

I find doing this in stages, scene by scene, helps.

Telling a good story is the most important part of writing novels, but doing it well helps. Write your story. Fill it with interesting characters. Refine it with the tools you have, using words that pack a wallop. Arrange them in an order that shows what you want me to see or feel or smell, or hear. Make me read nonstop and take me on a journey I don't want to end.

Comments or suggestions? Don't leave me alone here!


  1. Judy // August 28, 2009 at 8:53 AM  

    Mary, Excellent post! I can certainly see why you teach writing. You've covered it wonderfully. I'm finding that the layering is important and fun! I used to worry about getting it right the first time around. Now, I get the story down and then go back and do all the editing stuff. It's interesting to see how changing a word here and there, adding texture, etc. can pop a story! Thanks!

  2. Catherine Bybee // August 28, 2009 at 11:44 AM  

    Hey Mary,
    When I read the opening line to the blog my first answer was:

    LOL, sorry that's what I thought. I try and add my layers as I go. My revisions and edits are about catching grammar and repeated words. Yes, stronger verbs and removing passive voice come into play, but those layers happen often times in my first draft. Unless we're talking erotic... then I'll continue to add layers up until Galley!

  3. Mary Marvella // August 28, 2009 at 12:49 PM  

    Thanks, Judy. As a teacher I really had to stress the concept of drafts. Some people don't need them. Some people think they don't need them.

    While I think I'm good at the grammar and mechanics, I learn things as I write that help me on later drafts.

  4. Mary Marvella // August 28, 2009 at 12:53 PM  

    Afternoon, Catherine,

    So I got your attention with that line?

    A lot of writers stress over getting things right the first time through and then stall out when someone points out areas that need work or that don't work.

    I write what the characters tell me to write some days. I don't always know all the details and I don't like to wait until I do.

  5. Beth Trissel // August 28, 2009 at 2:22 PM  

    This is terrific! I wonder if we might repost this on my blog or at myspace? I get so many writing questions.

  6. Kelsey Card // August 28, 2009 at 4:04 PM  

    Great post, Mary. I have a similar philosophy to my writing and I couldn’t agree with you more. They call the first draft a “rough draft” for a reason. Just get those words on the page, you can always edit and you can always build on what you’ve got. One trick I use is to keep a list of words I commonly mistype that spellchecker wouldn’t pick up like bust vs burst or your vs you’re. I use the find feature and make sure I’ve got the word I want. It can be time consuming, but helps to eliminate some really embarrassing mistakes (like my favourite public school mistake: They got on their hoses and rode off into the sunset).

    Tales of magic, adventure, and romance

  7. Mary Marvella // August 28, 2009 at 4:54 PM  

    Beth, you may certainly repost this one or anything else I put here! I'm glad something I said spoke to you.

  8. Scarlet Pumpernickel // August 28, 2009 at 4:55 PM  

    Having worked with MM as my critique partner for the last two years I can attest to the fact that her system works really well. MM is an awesome critique partner. I just hope I'm able to offer her as much help as she does me!

  9. Mary Marvella // August 28, 2009 at 4:59 PM  

    Kelsey, your comments made me smile. "Spell-check" goes just so far, but I love it, anyway. "Grammar-check" isn't so helpful and sometimes it's a pain and soooooo wrong.

    People miss the "might be an error" part.

    Though I know grammar and spelling and such, I'm a crappy typist, so I still need to proof my work more than once!

    I actually love to teach grammar! Scary, isn't it.

  10. Mary Ricksen // August 28, 2009 at 5:23 PM  

    Great post MM, Imagine using the old push like hell on the key typewriters, we learned on in school. Someone told me they don't have typing classes anymore.
    Thanks for an interesting post!

  11. Mary Marvella // August 28, 2009 at 6:38 PM  

    Scarlet, you are a super critique partner! Thanks for the kind remarks!

  12. Mary Marvella // August 28, 2009 at 6:39 PM  

    Mary R, I was never good at typing. I'm only "passable fair" at computer!

    How's that for an old southern expression?