Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 1, 2012

One Hundred Pages

Maybe this has happened to you. You’re moving forward through the second half of your third-or-so revision of a novel, feeling pretty happy with your process, thinking you finally got the hang of plot. If you’re a writer, you can see where this story is going. If you’re empathetic, you may be stiffening your shoulders as I did listening to the first person in my writing group go through the requisite but always too short list of things I did right in the first 270 pages. I let out a breath as she calmly said that about 100 pages have to go. And I still need to find a plot.

My two other  friends nodded.  I nodded, too, trying to hide my gritted teeth. As I eventually packed up three copies of these 270 pages to go out into the cool spring night, I tried not to look like someone who’d been gently told she didn’t get something she’d been trying long and hard to get.  I can’t say I slept well. In the morning, I reminded myself that if all three in my writing group think something, they’re usually right. I planned to keep writing toward the end of the novel, taking the good advice of dear Dina to try writing my way back from the climax.

But by the following day, I started a slow, gentle tearing in, going through their good notes, looking at my manuscript, ripping out a sentence here, a paragraph and page there. I was buoyed by the “nices” in some margins. It’s not all bad! A little history can go far, and while I love the texture, it can distract from the line I mean to go through, propelling, well, at least nudging, a reader forward. I’ve made some holes where I’m finding ways to wrestle in and bring out more of my character’s heart, making sure each scene isn’t there just because it’s pretty, but is either a roadblock or slide to a forward movement. So while I’ve got out the scissors, and markers to show myself who appears where, and assess how much I need them, I’m using my pen, too. Adding to the impact of scenes.

I’ve got out the pink and sky blue index cards, and at some point I’ll actually use them, I promise. What does she want? What’s stopping her? I murmur, feeling cheered on by all the you-can-do-its from plot-challenged and history-loving friends posted after I moaned on Facebook. Thank you! I know that faith is in my writing group, too. Now it’s starting to return to me, as with every twist of my blade, every new word, I remember my love for my character. I want her story to be told. And with the new holes, new ideas come, too. My shoulders are almost back where they belong. I’m having some fun again.



  1. HUGS! Writing is hard! Revising is hard! Cutting is hard! But I have so much faith in you, your beautiful writing, your stories full of heart. Cheering you on!
    (For help with plot, have you tried SAVE THE CAT? i really love that book and it helped me tremendously for my current WIP.) xoxoxoxo

    • Aw, Deb, thanks for all the hugs, faith, and understanding. I did read your post about Save the Cat, and once wrote beside Kate Messner when she had that at her elbow. But realize proximity is enough, and I ordered it two days ago. Looking forward to reading and seeing if something wakes me up.

      • Let me know what you think. Cindy F and Eric L both recommended it to me, and I’ve been hearing good things from other authors who have used it, too! xoxo

  2. Chopping out 100 words sounds incredibly like a lot!! Glad you’re having some fun again, though!

    • It is a lot, and thankfully the number is not written in stone. I’m just giving everything a harder look and being a bit more carefree about the delete button. There is always the stored last draft in case I change my mind about something, which makes that easier. Thanks for the commiserating cringes!

  3. Oh, boy, I know this feeling. But I can tell you, when I take that leap as a critiquer, when I ask the writer for something that big, it’s because I know she can do it, because I’ve seen her do it before. I’m pretty sure they know that about you! Hang in there–and let yourself wallow in the parts you love, even as you do battle! Hugs!

    • Yes, there’s a lot of trust there in what they know about writing and what they know about me. I hope I didn’t sound like I discounted that in my fleeting pain. It keeps me going. Thanks for your faith, too!

  4. I’m going through the same journey with a picture book revision – 5 pages to your 270. Yesterday on Facebook, the Dalai Lama counseled patience. So I tried to lower my shoulders and follow his wisdom. I’ve been rewarded by small bits when I wake up in the morning or emerge from the shower – grateful for these dots of enlightenment. But still I feel impatient. So I go back to the Dalai Lama.

    • Tearing things apart big or small is tough, although sometimes when you can see some elegance emerge, there are happy moments. I hope you find those as well as deep patience and enlightenment which may just come in dots. Which we are grateful for, each and every dot. I find some impatience is useful in the tearing phase, too — it’s a back and forth motion.

      • I agree!

  5. Jeannine, you have an immense task – cutting 100 pages – OUCH! But fortunately you have a good writing group who you have trusted in the past. Hopefully, you can rely on their expertise again. Once the trauma of those words lessen, I am sure you will be successful. Good luck! I look forward to reading your book when it is published.

    All best, Donna

    • Donna, thanks for your faith and wisdom. It’s true, we go through the pain but I do trust those we who send me back because they are so smart, and patient, and this is what we do to each other, knowing we all have a commitment to getting these things as good as they possibly can be.

  6. Whoa, Jeannine! And I thought my group was tough. I’m curious about your group’s process. Do you send out your MS to all of them before you meet? And I’m wondering about “Save the Cat”…is it the title by Blake Snyder for screenwriting?

    • hi, Carol, my group is great, full of tough love, which is hard in the moment, but I’m already feeling the payoff. We’ve been meeting 20 years and always send the ms. to read first, which works best for me. Reading aloud can be good practice, but I’ve never been as good at off the page critique as on the page. And for novels, it helps to see the sweep. Yes, that’s the book. I’ve heard from people who’ve learned a lot. If it can teach me something about plot, I’ll be sure to let you know!

  7. Thanks, Jeannine. Please do. And just to be clear on your group’s critiquing process, do you wait until the MS is completed? Or do you share a grouping of completed chapters?

    • We pretty much go by our judgment about how much we want to submit, but we usually do a few chapters at a time, revising some as we go, then submit again when the novel is complete, and then maybe again after another revision. So, show both chapters in process, and something completed. We really get to know each other’s work!

  8. […] far as I’m concerned, the courage and strength we all need to have about and for our writing. One Hundred Pages Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  9. […] wasn’t so very long ago that I wrote a blog post called One Hundred Pages about my grouchiness when my writing group thought I might try to cut down part of my manuscript by […]

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