René Penn

Author wannabe. Blogger. Follow me.

Leave a comment

Relationship status with my second draft: It’s complicated.

my_tweetWhy does working on the second draft of my book remind me of a relationship? And I don’t mean that in a Beyonce-Single-Ladies-carefree-dating-kind-of way. I’m talking about the awkward stage. Where you’ve been dating someone for a while, and it’s starting to feel like “work.”

It wasn’t always this way. When we were in the first draft stage of our relationship, it was organic and stress-free. Things seemed to click. Sure, there were a few hiccups. But nothing that we couldn’t get over. The more time I spent with it, the more I liked it—especially because it made me laugh.

I’d lose track of time when I was writing it. There were late nights and early mornings. I daydreamed of what the cover would look like when it was published. I even made a mock-up of it in Microsoft Word. I know, I know I was gettin’ all carried away. Silly me. But what can I say? I was excited about it. Vested. Committed.

Now that we’ve passed the first draft phase, and we’re now into the second draft, things are more complicated. I’m really starting to notice the quirks. Like, I’m not sure if it’s as funny as I thought. We don’t spend as much time together as we used to, either. Sometimes, I’ll go a whole day without being in contact. And when I do spend time with it, I’m picking it apart, examining the flaws, trying to fix them, make it better.

I compare it to published books, and I wonder if it’ll measure up. Worse yet, my mind has started to wander. I think about other story ideas, and how much easier it would be to start from scratch, a blank page. That’s where the thrill is, when you’re still trying to figure it out, the plot’s turning points, the characters’ motivations. Discovery is exciting. After that, it starts to feel like…work.

I’m too far into this manuscript to give up now, though. As I rewrite the first few chapters, I’m realizing that the foundation is there. The dialogue still makes me laugh, and I find that I still enjoy reading it. Sure, some things are being fine-tuned, but that’s part of the process. I’m too far along to turn back now. I think I’ve got a good thing going, and I’m not going to give it up.

Leave a comment

Revising the First Draft—My Story

I read online about Revising the First Draft. Those online people make it seem really straight-forward. They must know what they’re talking about. They’ve got books published and writerly looking profile pics. I follow their advice.

I decide to print out my draft, rather than edit it on the computer. That’s going to be a lot of printing. I’ll need to buy ink. And a binder to put the document in. And blue and red pens for editing. Because literally every single pen I own happens to have black ink. I can’t use black ink for editing—every writer knows that!

I go to Target and get a binder, a new ink cartridge for the printer, as well as blue and red ink pens for editing. Supplies are ready…

Good thing I got that back-up ink cartridge. The print job got all streaky at around page 138. No biggie. I’ll reprint those 10 pages or so. The printing is done. It took forever. It’s a 292-page brick. A real door-stopper. Why didn’t I print double-sided? I’m a tree-killer. How am I going to get all of these pages in the binder? By using my old three-hole puncher that only allows me to punch like five pages or so at a time. That’s a lot of punching. The little, white whole-punches are flying everywhere. I can recycle them—that sort of makes up for all the pages I printed. I get a little light-headed from all of the hole-punching, but my triceps feel really toned.

The advice I read online says that I should be done reading the draft in one or two sittings. I’m on my fourth sitting, and I’m not done yet. I have this cozy chair that I love, and I curl up with my draft and my blue pen. I read and edit some, and then I get sleepy. I take a nap. I wake up and gnash teeth over the fact that I fell asleep. (Does this mean my novel is boring?) I read some more, and then gnash teeth over what I’ve written. I get sleepy again and give myself a pep-talk. “It’s only boring to you because you wrote it,” I tell myself. I make tea so I don’t fall asleep. I use self-torture device so that my eyes can’t close. Device proves to be effective.



I make edits on the pages, mostly line edits. I start a separate sheet and divide it into columns to help identify structural issues—columns titled, What Needs to be Further Developed, What’s Missing, and Plot Holes. As I read more of the draft, I realize that I need more columns. I notice lines that could seem like foreshadowing techniques when they’re not. It reminds me of the saying, “If you have a gun in your novel, you have to use it.” Well, I don’t have any guns in my book, or under my pillow. But I add a column called Smoking Guns and list all of the bad lines, because I’ll know what it means later.

I add another column, because I’m starting to notice terms that appear over and over and over in my draft. How many times can a character lean forward, blush, or be surprised? I have “purr” a lot, too, which is odd because I’m not even a cat-person. I recall an article that I read years ago about a book that shall remain nameless (Fifty Shades of Gray), which noted that variations of “bit her lip” were used dozens of times. I do a Find search in my document. Luckily, I’ve only used “bit her lip” twice. I label the column Overdone Descriptions, as opposed to Bit Her Lip.

The columns are getting longer, and my manuscript has blue ink on every page. I gnash more teeth, which are now down to nubs. I put in a mouth guard to save what’s left. My mother will be upset next time she sees my nub-teeth. She spent a lot of money on my teeth back in the day, on braces and such.

I think I scare my husband when he comes home from work. I’ve been in a bad state these last four days of revising my draft. Me with my eye-opening device and mouth guard, lips dribbling tea, and murmuring, “It’s only boring to you because you wrote it.” But he doesn’t ask questions. He just hugs me, and I hug him back with my blue-ink-stained fingertips. And we say, “It’ll be over soon.”

Leave a comment

This Year Is 20Gr18, When Great Things Happen

The holidays are over, and it’s “20Gr18.” Expectations are high, and I’m already excited about what’s in store.


I think that the year 2018 is going to be a year when great things will happen. I’ve noticed that years can be somewhat cyclical. One year can be more like a “prep” year, where I’m doing lots of preparing, working, researching, planning, saving, etc., to reach my goal. That happened when I bought my home and planned for my wedding. Both events took months of preparation before those great things actually happened.

Looking back on it, I think that 2017 was a “prep” year. I finally quit my job in the Fall to work on my novel full-time. That was a big leap, and it seemed like a great thing happening. But that step was actually still part of the preparation toward achieving my goal, which is to become a published author.

Since I left work, I’ve been able to turn the “prep” mode into overdrive. I finished my first draft by hand, and I just spent the last month typing it up. Now I’m revising the draft, which includes doing the “Big Read.” If you don’t know what that is, I encourage you to read more about it.

READ ARTICLE: How to Revise a First Draft by Scott Berkun

The point is that these steps are part of the prep that started in 2017. If I keep it going–and I’m too far along to turn back now–then the plan is to cross the finish line to become a published author this year.

“If all goes according to plan” can be the hardest part. It leaves room for dream-killers like X-factors, Murphy’s Law, and other persnickety phenomena. I don’t have control over that. I only have control over what I can do, and how, to prepare–that’s what I’m going to concentrate on.

Is 2018 your prep year or the year where great things happen? I’m claiming both. Who’s with me?


Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Leave a comment

Bird by Bird, Word by Word


The phrase “bird by bird” has been running through my mind a lot lately.

If you recall—or if you don’t, or if you’re unaware—the phrase came to be 50-something years ago while a boy was overwhelmed with the task of writing a report about birds. The boy was author Anne Lamott’s younger brother.

“We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

It’s funny how the brain recalls things. I haven’t read Bird by Bird in years. Yet, that short scene of father and son is so powerful, and its’ resonance has rippled throughout the writer community, that it’s no surprise that it came back to me—especially now.

I’m at that place, at the kitchen table, “immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.” But instead of “unopened books on birds” before me, I’ve got a file of my sh*tty first draft open. On my computer, I also have a growing list of edits to review when I proof the draft later, and a running list of things to research for historical accuracy. And there’s that deadline I gave myself, because I don’t want to meander around the pasture too long.

“Bird by bird.”

I have been saying it out loud to myself on those days where I feel sluggish, those days that I feel overwhelmed, the days that I feel less-than, the days where I go from, “Yes, my end goal is to find an agent and become a published author” to “perhaps I should just self-publish something just for my friends and family to read,” those days of self-doubt, of nitpicking, of not feeling good enough.

There’s something cathartic about the term “bird by bird,” when you give it all the power of its’ intention. It can become cathartic, hopeful, empowering, and even whimsical. And there’s more force behind it when the phrase is said aloud. You start to claim it and own it.

The last time I said “bird by bird,” I added on “word by word” to it. Yes, I’ll admit that I probably said it haphazardly at first, because of the rhythm. But when I thought about it a little more, I realized that there was depth to it. That little add-on reminds me how far I’ve come. To get to the place I’m at, to get to this sh*tty first draft, I had to write word by word.

If I keep doing what I’m doing, bird by bird, then I’ll get to the second draft, and so on and so forth…

I decided to revisit the book that made the phrase so famous. I pulled the copy from my bookshelf. The copyright date is 1994. I seem to remember buying it within a few years of publication. I had underlined some sentences, dog-eared some pages. This was around the time that I started to take this whole writing thing more seriously. I wanted to study the craft of it, understand it better, understand why I felt the way that I did about the process–immobilized, afraid, enthused, excited. The book helped with all of that, and then some.

Twenty years later, it’s still helping.


Photo by on Unsplash

1 Comment

Typing Up My Chicken Scratch #WriterProblems

The first draft of my fiction manuscript is done. Yes! But it’s handwritten, across four notebooks, totaling 378 pages. The next step of the process is typing everything up. Panic. And breathe.


Pretty-looking notebooks on the outside, writer-gobbledygook on the inside.

I had a feeling it was going to be rough, converting this draft from chicken scratch to a lustrous Times New Roman, Word document. I was right. It started off as a mental slug-fest—and sometimes a snooze-fest.

If you’re in the same situation as me, or you’re contemplating writing your first draft by hand, here are some options for typing up your handwritten manuscript.

Some of these companies charge by the page or provide a cost for the entire page count. A simple search for “manuscript typing service” on Google will provide results with prices ranges from $.80 per page to $7.60 for each 10 pages.

  • Get a virtual assistant

This service could be handy for a lot of tasks, including typing your handwritten manuscript. Virtual assistants are independent contractors who work exclusively online or remotely. There are even VAs who specialize in working with aspiring authors. This article gives great tips on how VAs can help. Prices can depend on your budget, from $10/hour and up.

  • Use a software dictation program

I was pleased to see that there is a dictation program already installed on my MacBook. You can access it easily through your Word document > click “Edit” > scroll down and click “Start Dictation…”

I tested a few paragraphs of my manuscript to see how it would work, and whether it would save me time.

Here’s the before and after:



It may be a little hard to tell, but there are formatting errors and issues with detecting my speech pattern. Also, I didn’t say some of the commands correctly, like “Tab key,” which are reflected in the outcome. By the time I cleaned everything up, it took 02:43 minutes. When I typed it myself, without the dictation tool, it took 01:52 minutes. That time included a little proofing along the way, too. Results may vary with a different dictation program, but I thought this was an interesting experiment to mention, nonetheless.

  • Get an intern

An ex-coworker-friend suggested this gem idea to me. Contacting an undergraduate creative writing program or placing an ad on a university website may get the help you need to type your handwritten manuscript. And it may be less expensive than going the virtual assistant route.

  • Make your kids do it 

If I had children, putting them to the task would be a good option. And if they’re not interested in helping, it could be a strategic parental tactic.

You: “Junior, it was your night to do the dishes, and you forgot. As punishment, you have to type 10 pages of my handwritten manuscript.”

Your kid: “Nooooo! Mom, you are so mean!”

Well, that’s what I would do. *Says the person without kids* (Related article: Being a Mom vs. Being a M.O.M. (Mother of Manuscripts))

  • Grin and bear it yourself

Typing your manuscript can be okay after all. It builds muscles in your fingers. Besides that, it gives you the chance to edit as you go. Along the way, you may even create a second draft in the process.

What steps did you take, or are you taking, to type your handwritten manuscript?



1 Comment

NaNoWriMo, “The End,” and Now What

I took a blog break. As I mentioned before, I signed up for National Novel Writing Month. By the second-half of November, I was having a difficult time meeting my weekly goal for that and for this blog. As NaNoWriMo had started to become an obsession—which seems like the only way you can slog through the challenge—I decided it was time to give myself a blog vacation. jeremy-bishop-347252.jpg

The break worked. I made it to the end of NaNoWriMo, finishing at 50,603 words. However, I didn’t get the “official” win. Here’s why. I had handwritten about 11,000 words of my manuscript. So on November 30, when NaNoWriMo asked to verify my word count for the official win, I didn’t have all 50,603 words typed and ready to copy and paste into their verification document.

The experience reminds me of real life. You don’t need anybody to tell you that you’re “officially” a winner. You know who you are, and what you’ve done.

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I got to “The End” of my manuscript.

One of the great things about NaNoWriMo was that I finally finished a manuscript, which I had started working on in the fall of 2015. I literally typed “The End,” as corny as it was. There was something cathartic about it, even knowing that those couple of words will not make it past my first round of revisions. I also did a happy dance, and had a glass of wine. Two very important parts of any celebration.

With NaNoWriMo, I also wrote half of the manuscript for the sequel. I created an outline, using the 15 Plot Spots, a.k.a. Plotting Magic, that I learned from Marni Freedman. The outline came to my mind one way, initially, but one of the characters pulled it into another direction. That surprised me a little, which made me even more excited about working on the draft. I made it halfway through the manuscript, right around the novel’s midpoint when NaNoWriMo finished.

So, now what?

When NaNoWriMo was over, I started my blog break. And I took some time to evaluate what I’ve done, and what I need to do. Here’s my “Now What” plan.

  • Dec. 4 – Start typing up handwritten first draft of Book 1
  • Dec. 31 – Finish typing in handwritten draft of Book 1
  • Jan. 1 – Print out typed draft and do The Big Read per blog post from Scott Berkun, and make edits on the pages
  • Jan. 7 – Make first round of revisions based on The Big Read, make copyedits
  • Jan. 15 – Send book to beta readers with questions for them to answer
  • Jan. 15 – Have first draft of Book 2 finished
  • Jan. 16 – Start historical research
  • Jan. 16 – Start collaborating list of literary agents
  • Feb. 10 – Receive feedback from beta readers
  • Feb. 11 – Start second round of revisions
  • Feb. 18 – Start copyediting
  • March 1 – Send to second round of beta readers?
  • March 21 – Send to professional editor
  • March 22 – Write query letter
  • April 21 – Make revisions based on editor’s feedback
  • May 1 – Start sending out query letters

The month of May seems like a long time from now, but I need these milestones to help keep me going. Wish me luck. Please.

How did NaNoWriMo go for you? What plans have you made, or tips do you have, based on your writing progress?

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

1 Comment

Being a Mom vs. Being a M.O.M. (Mother of Manuscripts)

There are a lot jokes out there that compare writing a book to having a baby or raising a child. I’d like to add to that fun metaphor, by introducing the term M.O.M.

I am a proud M.O.M., a Mother of Manuscripts. I have two. christin-hume-311288The older manuscript turned two in October. And the younger just came into the world on November 1—born early, thanks to National Novel Writing Month. Both of my manuscripts are fiction, which means they can be a little rambunctious with lots of personality.

Oh, the joys of M.O.M.’hood.

There is a Parents Magazine article that discusses the joys of being a (real) Mom. If you substitute the term “manuscript” for “kids/children,” the similarities are fitting, uncanny, and hilarious. I’ve placed some quotes from the article below for fodder’s sake.

“There are wonderful days when I feel my cup runneth over. There are days that I want to run away and question every decision I have ever made.”

About finding purpose in life: “…I am a better person for knowing my children and I am very honored to be their mother.”

“When my kids are happy, so am I.”

“I have learned to rise to any occasion and found myself lifted to new heights while stretching myself beyond any and all limits I once put upon myself.”

“With rarely a dull moment, I’ve experienced more adventure in mothering my sons than ever imaginable.”

“Life is great, but life is even better once you have been blessed to become a mom!”

Thanks to the (real) Moms out there who allowed me to indulge.