René Penn

Author wannabe. Blogger. Follow me.

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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.”

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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

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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.



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Should I, Can I, Try to Write the Great American Novel?

When I was in my early 20s, I started to tell people that I wanted to be a novelist. Many would respond with something like, “Oh, writing the Great American novel?” Yes, I’d say, naively. thumbnailI thought it would be awesome to have my name in conversation with the literary greats—Ernest Hemingway, Toni Morrison, etc.,…and me. Graduate students in literature across the country would analyze my works for their theses and dissertations. I could be Toni’s BFF. I thought that was what writers were supposed to do: aspire to literary greatness, work on penning the Great American Novel, and dream of having tea with Toni. But the more I wrote, the more my perspective started to change.

I started noticing that I was developing a voice, and that voice wasn’t “literary.” It wasn’t very sophisticated, nor polished, nor grand. The vocabulary used didn’t require a dictionary. The descriptions didn’t drip in eloquence for pages and pages. Of course there are many exceptions for Great American Novels that don’t adhere to those criteria, but it’s what I noticed for the majority of them. I started to panic. The differences between the work of the greats and my far-from-great work were vast. I couldn’t write the Great American Novel. Perhaps I should stop.

Even with that doubt, I couldn’t stop writing. Characters still formed in my mind. Conversations still flowed in waves. Writing was involuntary, a compulsion. Not writing meant that something was missing in my life—not writing meant sometimes I’d get a little cranky. The act of not writing wasn’t an option.

CHECK OUT: Writer’s Don’t Write to Get Published

I decided to accept my writing “limitations.” I would write just to write. I would take classes, try to get better and enjoy the craft. I would read more books that weren’t of the Great American Novel ilk. Many of them, I would enjoy, as flawed and imperfect as they were. (I’m flawed and imperfect, too, aren’t I?) Those novels were attainable. They inspired me. Those books made me want to keep writing. If I can fall in love with, and be motived by, a less-than-Great American novel, maybe someone will feel the same way about mine.

What about you? How do you feel about writing the Great American Novel?

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Why a Creative Outlet Can Make You a Better Writer

I started, stopped and recently re-started making jewelry. I started because I would see a necklace at a store, for instance, and analyze the ways that it could look different.  I thought that I had an eye for accessories, and decided to take a jewelry-making class in 2013, just for the heck of it. After making my first pair of earrings, I was hooked. IMAG0136

Perusing through the bead aisle of local craft stores became my new past-time. I received compliments and a few commission requests, on the jewelry that I made. But more important than that, I noticed that my writing got better. I discovered a new creative outlet that I didn’t even know existed within me. Here’s why I think jewelry-making or any other creative outlet—like painting, drawing, sculpting, gardening, cooking, sewing, photography or music—helps with writing.

  • It’s tangible

As writers, we live in our own heads. A lot. The scenes we conjure up are so clear to us, we can practically see them. But of course, we can’t actually see them. Our true reality is a flat, pen-to-paper or fingers-to-keyboard-to-screen experience, even though our writer imagination is rich with vibrant colors, descriptions and character personalities. Creating something tangible, visual and three-dimensional is a great way to pull oneself out of the imaginary world, awaken the physical senses and dive into something real.

  • It makes you a better creative communicator

When I create jewelry, my brain has a specific visual goal in mind. P1000567I have to figure out how to take that idea from concept to finished project—converting loose beads, wire and spacers into a necklace, for instance. Those skills translate to writing, as well—such as bringing characters together, developing plot lines and moving scenes around.

  • It provides a quick sense of accomplishment

Once the creation is done, I led out a sigh. It’s such a good feeling. I can create a necklace and have something to show for it within 30 – 60 minutes. Unlike a novel, it doesn’t take months and months, or even years, of work and waiting to get to the finish line. It satiates the short-term need to actually complete something creative and consider it done. With that fulfillment, I have more patience to continue my long-term writing projects.

  • It boosts your creative confidence

When I first wore jewelry that I made, it was exciting to receive compliments on my pieces. It increased my creative confidence. As writers, we have a story to tell, but we also want people to like it. But to my point above, when you’re spending months on a WIP, you don’t get input or feedback from a reader. It’s easy to let self-doubt creep in. A creative outlet that evokes immediate positive feedback may give you the boost you need to keep doubts at bay while writing.

  • There is a positive cerebral effect when it comes to working with your hands

I touch on this point, pardon the pun, in a separate article about why I’m writing my manuscript by hand. “Working with your hands can spur and engage your imagination, because it stimulates the part of your brain that’s associated with creativity.”

  • It works your creative muscles while giving your writing muscles a chance to rest

With exercise, your muscles need a break to develop properly and minimize injury. That’s why it’s suggested to work out different parts of your body on different days. I think the same goes with our creative muscles. Sometimes we need a rest from writing, but we still need that jolt we get from creating something. That’s when a creative outlet other than writing can be the perfect solution.

Even with all of these great reasons, I actually stopped making jewelry for a year or so. I was planning my wedding, and jewelry-making fell by the way-side. Now that I have more time during the day, I am going to make a concerted effort to make jewelry-making part of my routine.

What creative hobbies do you have? And have you noticed that they help with your writing process?


Yikes, I Just Signed Up for NANO

I just signed up for NANO. What have I done? *faints*


Many writers know why those seemingly harmless initials can cue thoughts of fainting, cold sweats, and uncontrollable facial twitching—and that’s the reaction for those of us who haven’t even participated in NANO before.

If the term NANO is new to you, it’s a tender little nickname for National Novel Writing Month. But there’s nothing tender about it. When you participate, you’re signing up to write 50,000 words of a novel, preferably a new one, between November 1 and November 30. That equals 1,667 words per day, for you MathWriterMeticians out there. On Friday, I wrote about 1,900 words, and my brain felt like cottage cheese afterwards. How can I sustain that kind of output for a month straight?

Luckily, there are no NANO police officers who will ticket us for not exactly adhering to the rules. I was assured that fact by a couple of regional liaisons for NANO, who lead a writer’s group that I attended. I also learned:

  • It’s okay if I continue working on my novel-in-progress during NANO. I just need to have a clean slate for my NANO word count starting November 1. Example scenario: My novel may already be at 50,000 words on Day 1 of NANO. If I get to 52,000 at the end of the day, I should log in that I’ve written 2,000 words for NANO. But no matter what, you can’t include the word count of anything written before November 1. Editing doesn’t count, either.
  • There are resources available through NANO, like online forums and write-ins. A write-in is basically a meet-up where folks get together to work on their NANO projects. Oh, and you’re allowed to talk while you’re there, too.
  • There are cute badges and certifications if you make the 50,000-word goal.
  • Even if you don’t hit 50,000 words, there’s a sense of accomplishment no matter what. The odds are high that you’ve written more by the end of November than you did in October or September, and so on.

So who else has signed up? What pointers do you have for me to survive the month of November?



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Who Are Your Author Peers?

I first learned about this concept–“author peers” or “peer authors”–about two years ago. It’s been a game-changer for me, and certainly an ongoing educational process. But this whole writing thing kinda is anyway, isn’t it?


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

First, let me explain what I mean by author peers. If you were published, author peers would be writers whose books are within the same category as yours. It’s the “these authors write books like what I’m writing” group.

Here are reasons why it’s good to identify your author peers, whether you’re a published author or not.

  • It solidifies what you like to read, and therefore what you may like to write

This is how I pinpointed my interested in writing regency-era historical romance. I also researched how these novels are set up to see how I can adopt similar tactics in my own work.

  • It helps with your query letter (or during a conversation with your aunt)

By mentioning who your author peers are in a query letter, you immediately clue in an agent to what your writing style is like. Using an author’s name to describe your style can ground a person a lot faster than a four-sentence description.

  • It helps you identify your target demographic

You can trim a lot of guess-work by simply researching the reader’s demographics of your peer authors. Is their audience male? Mostly Millennials? Do they chomp on short, fast-paced chapters or languish in long, verbose descriptive bits? If your author peers attract a specific type of reader who love a certain writing style, your work may likely achieve success in that genre by adopting similar concepts.

  • It provides inspiration

Once upon a time, your peer authors were unpublished, too, waiting for the chips to fall their way. Eventually, it happened; they got published. If they did it, why can’t we?


Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

  • It gets you thinking like a published author

I’m obviously not published yet, but it doesn’t mean I can’t think like it, right? I personally think there’s something healthy about visualizing one’s name in the scrolling section of reviews that reads, “If you love this author, you’ll also like <insert your name here>.”

What did I miss? Why else is it good to identify peer authors?