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MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world’s expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .

SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .

LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .

BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .

SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I’m working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .

SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .

M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .

ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny’s debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .

STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield’s second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .

GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans’ fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .

JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .

JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff’s abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .

LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star. Read more. . .

ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .

ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” Read more. . .

In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

  • By Victoria Mixon

    You know how you work so hard to get that first draft down on the page? How you sacrifice comfort, companionship and casual entertainment, family time, work time, leisure time, exercise, sleep, nutrition, freedom from toxins, sobriety, eventually your very sanity—all for the sake of that novel?

    Then you suffer the hellfires of the damned in revision?

    Then you realize in a blinding flash of epiphany it’s a huge piece of crap and start the whole cycle over again? Because you want that badly for it to be good?

    And then you finally, finally, finally have a manuscript you’re proud of, a beautiful, heartfelt evocation of everything you needed to say in exactly the way you needed to say it, and you hire an editor, and send that baby off. . .and it comes back. . .all EDITED.

    What the hell?

    Such a thankless task it is. These are the things every writer—even you, even me—always, by necessity, overlooks:

    1. Chaos

      You outlined it. Swear to god, you did. And you did your blessed best to stick to that outline. But everyone knows characters have no respect for their maker, they go tripping off with their heads in the clouds, or in the sand, or under a rock, their fingers in their ears, singing, “la-la-la-la-la-la—I can’t HEAR you!” while you’re leaping up and down shrieking, “It’s a cliff! You idiots! You’re going to die a horrible death! Watch your stupid—! damn. Back to the drawingboard.”

      I don’t care how carefully you planned your story or how meticulously you adhered to your plan, there is stuff in there that makes no sense. You know why? Because you have a great imagination, that’s why. And there simply isn’t enough story in the world to sensibly organize absolutely everything you’re capable of thinking up.
    2. Lag

    3. Closely related to all-out chaos, these are slightly better-developed detours. Your characters come up with cool stuff to do that has nothing whatever to do with your story, but they’ve got you convinced it’s okay because, hey! they can get a whole lot done while they’re doing it. So you follow them dutifully, writing it all down, shaping it and molding it for climax and polishing the language, thinking, “Maybe there’ll be a spot for it.”

      But there’s not. Bummer about that. So you shoehorn it in—not because it works—but because you simply can’t bear to leave it out.

    4. Flab

    5. Oh, the words. Words, and words, and words, and words. It’s not your fault. It just comes out of you that way.

      Everybody uses more words than necessary, because it takes that many words to get the golden nuggets mined out of your subconscious and onto the page. Then you go back and bravely cut out 25% of them. But there’s another 25% that needs to come out, and you’re faced with a choice: this 25%? or that 25%? or some impossibly intricate, interwoven combination of the two? And what about the other 25%—is that all good, or are you missing something important that needs to be cut out of there, too?

      And your vision goes swimmy, your head starts lolling around on your neck, there’s a ringing in your ears, and the next thing you know you’re on the floor under your desk biting your knuckles and twitching convulsively.

      You just don’t know.

    6. Overkill

    7. The single most fundamental fact about the craft of fiction is the impassable abyss between what the writer sees on the page and what the reader sees. You see absolutely everything. Some of it you don’t even get around to writing down. And when you come back for revision, you automatically doubt every single instinct you had in the original writing about what the reader can tell is going on and what’s just a bunch of gibberish.

      So you help them out. You insert a lot of useful, enlightening paragraphs meant to focus their telescope for them as they peer, eternally short-sighted, across that abyss at the world you happen to know is far more vivid and brilliant and meaningful than they can ever discern from such a distance.

    8. Anticlimax

      And this one’s due to sheer, helpless, futile, blind hope. You know perfectly well that Climax doesn’t do it. But, oh, my ever-loving god, you have been through this entire manuscript so many times, so faithfully, so laboriously, so intently. There is no more blood in the stone.

      What are the chances that Climax works just exactly PERFECTLY, and you simply can’t see it for all the sweat and tears blurring your eyes?

      What the hell, you know?

    Remember: just because you overlooked this stuff, simply by putting yourself out there and being a writer, you still have 8 Wonderful Lessons to Learn From Screwing Up Your Manuscript.



    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories




10 Responses to “5 Things A Writer Always Overlooks”

  1. Oh what I wouldn’t give to get rid of 25% of my words…
    I actually removed them, revised it, and then they magically reappeared…

  2. What a great list! I’m writing my first novel and will do good to keep these five things in mind.

    (I’m here after seeing Elizabeth Craig’s link to this post via Twitter.)

  3. Yep, yep, yep, yep and yep. This is why so many of my revision stages involve stepping back to try to take control of all that chaos. If something’s going to stay in my novel, it’s got to earn its place there.

  4. Just got done cutting literaly 1/3 of my novel to get the word count down to expected lengths. I agonized, moaned, writhed, bled out my soul in sorrow. The beta readers have all come back with positive feedback, telling me how it moves better and my two main characters come across stronger now. Hmmm. Lesson learned. Not that I won’t agonize just as badly over the next one. Nice post.

  5. I do all of the above, *sigh* and then some. It’s amazing to see how much we read what we meant to say instead of what we actually put down on paper.

    I have two sets of proofreaders.

    One group reads each chapter just after I’ve edited it to help me with the Lag, Flab and Overkill, while the other group reads the finished product to point out Chaos and Anti-Climax.

    Even then my editor finds more.

  6. Simone Cooepr said on

    There don’t seem to be enough readers in the world ….

    Great post 🙂

  7. Simone Cooper said on

    … and some days you can’t type your own name correctly. *sigh*

  8. […] 5 Things a Writer Always Overlooks […]

  9. I like a character to fly, but I don’t write what comes down or put it in the novel unless it’s needed. Sometimes a character comes up with a twist I wouldn’t have thought of, but you have to balance letting your characters bloom with using your intelligence about what actually works in the story, otherwise, as you say, you end up with mush.

    As for cutting, sheesh, we all need to do it. I cut then added then cut, then my agent wanted another 19000 words cut. I did it without a problem partly because I hadn’t looked at the ms for 4 months.

  10. Very nice post – I agree with all your points, especially the lag. It’s so painful to leave out an interesting detour during the first draft, especially when it’s often the detours that have the most exciting supporting characters and setpieces. But, the harsh cuts have to be done…