Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Spit-polishing Your Manuscript!

Hi ... Julie here. It's my pleasure to welcome Deb Raney back to Seekerville to share more of those golden nuggets she's gleaned from a truly impressive career as an author.

Currently at work on her eighteenth novel, Deborah Raney has won the RITA Award, the HOLT Medallion, National Readers' Choice Award and Silver Angel from Excellence in Media. Deb's first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and won a Silver Angel, a bronze Omni Award and a Gold Special Jury Award at the WorldFest Houston International Film Festival. It is now available on video and on DVD in seven languages. Her newest books are the Clayburn Novels from Howard Books/Simon & Schuster, including Remember to Forget, a 2008 Christy Award finalist. Deb serves on the advisory board of American Christian Fiction Writers. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have four children and enjoy small-town life in Kansas.

Deb will be popping in throughout the day, so feel free to ask her any questions you have about the path to publication. Without further ado, I give you Deb Raney ...

When I teach at writers conferences, one of my favorite workshops to present is on rewriting. A few years ago, I turned in a first draft that was written in the midst of several out-of-town trips and moving to a new home. Unfortunately, I simply did not have time to do a proper rewrite of the book before my deadline hit. Granted, my method of writing—starting each day by rereading and editing what I wrote the day before—means I am automatically in second or third draft by the time I write “the end.” But with this manuscript, even those edits were “quick and dirty.”

One of the handouts from my rewriting workshop offered just the ticket to “spit polish” my manuscript before I turned it in. In this workshop, I highlight five quick fixes I’ve discovered—things that can all be done in a few short hours, but that make a real difference in the quality of the manuscript you turn in. My spit-and-polish job was a success and I didn’t have to do nearly as much rewrite as I expected. Here are the five quick fixes I employed:

1. Search and destroy speaker attributions. Replace with action beats where necessary to make it clear who the speaker is and to paint a more vivid visual image. Avoid most speaker attributions meant to replace “said” (such as retorted, exclaimed, asked, inquired, etc.) But don’t kill all attributions! It’s better to have too many, than for the reader to be confused about who’s speaking.

2. Search for pet words and phrases and “lazy” words. Every writer has personal pet phrases they overuse. I usually have a different set of overused phrases for each book. Discover what your particular pets are and do a manuscript search. Delete or use the thesaurus and alter a few for variety. Words like really, just, even, that, and superlatives, very, most, -est words, etc. often signify lazy writing. Search and delete or replace with fresher, more precise word choices.

3. Check first and last paragraphs. The first paragraph of each chapter should set the scene and establish the point-of-view character so the reader has an immediate frame of reference. The last paragraph of each chapter should be a “hook”—a story question or plot twist that will keep the reader turning pages.

4. Sprinkle in the six senses. Most manuscripts could benefit from a bit more sensory info to bring the scenes to life. Quickly scan the book, looking for places to judiciously add in a few more of the unique images, sounds, tastes, smells, and tactile feel of each scene. Don’t forget that “sixth sense”—perception, intuition, spiritual awareness, etc.

5. Allocate white space. Go over each page with an eye to the graphic, visual look of it. Plenty of “white space” makes a book more reader-friendly. Are there paragraphs or series of paragraphs that are too long, making for an intimidating “block” of type? If so, can you break the scene into shorter paragraphs or add a bit of dialogue to incorporate some white space on the page? (Often in a novel, a lack of dialogue for several pages means you are telling not showing—a good way to risk losing your reader. If this is the case, rewrite to put the telling parts “onstage.”)

I much prefer having time to go over my manuscript a dozen times with a fine-tooth comb before I turn in that “first” draft to my editor, but in a pinch, a spit-and-polish is just the ticket!


  1. Thanks Deb, this is great advice! Thanks for sharing. I'm off to spit and polish, but with a bit more time than you busy authors have.

  2. Hi Deb, You were one of the first Christian Authors I met at Mt Hermon. I was so impressed by your friendliness and your helpfulness, esp to a "newbie". Thanks so much for that.

    Your career is amazing and an inspiration to us. Thanks for that spit-polishing breakdown. I had to laugh at the "pet" words. I'm so glad to hear someone else does that. LOL It floors me how I get a word in my head and it pops up everywhere. Great advice.

    Oh, I see Ruthy isn't here yet with goodies. Please have a cup of coffee. I have some Chocolate Velvet, my fav or some Vanilla Nut wafting delicious aromas out there. And to go with that, some multigrain bagels with maple-walnut cream cheese.
    Ruthy will bring more goodies to go with that later.

    Thanks again Deb.

  3. Hey, thanks! Right on time!

    I've found I lean too much on sight and hearing for the senses. I never heard of them as six, though. Good point about insight, intuition and inspiration.

    Sandra, thanks for the coffee. Just what I needed.

  4. Welcome to Seekerville, Deb! (LOVE your books!) And thank you for the concise list of "polishing" ideas. It's so easy for us to let those things slip in there and not get them cleaned out, especially when racing toward a contest or publishing submission deadline.

  5. Great advice and so timely as I'm about to start editing my newly finished ms to get ready for this year's Golden Heart contest.

    Thanks for sharing & have a great day!


  6. Welcome to Seekerville, Deb! Thanks for the excellent post.

    With my debut novel released and another in the works, I'm discovering the ideal isn't always the real, especially when it comes to the quick turn around needed in publishing.

    Thanks for your five solid tips for spit-polishing our manuscripts before sending them to an editor or contest.

    And thanks for being one of the nicest authors I know!! Looking forward to seeing you at ACFW.


  7. Oh, this is a great post! Most helpful!!!

  8. Welcome, Deb! I have to agree with Janet--Deb is definitely among the nicest writers I know. I got to hear Deb's live talk on rewriting when she gave an all-day workshop in Tulsa last June. No matter how long I've been writing, there is something new to learn or new ideas to try!

  9. Deb, thanks so much for droppin' in again. Yay for us!

    And to celebrate (Sandra, loving the multi-grain bagels... Or maybe it's the maple-nut cream cheese. Yup. More likely!) I've arranged for a lunchtime repaste of turkey melts, sweet potato fries and fresh cole slaw.

    With pitchers of flavored sweet tea abounding.

    I'm not mentioning dessert for a bit. We'll concentrate on setting up for lunch first.

    And then maybe a workout session while we mull Deb's points.

    And THEN dessert.

    Followed by a rigorous walk. Man, this staying healthy thing is rough on the legs, LOL!


  10. Wonderful advice! I'm writing this down (or printing it out) too LOL!

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. I love the spit polish description of what you're doing, Deb! When I was little, I remembr my mom doing the lick her fingers and slick back my hair maneuver. I did it to my kids, too! LOL

    Thanks for the great list! I'm glad you're back with us in Seekerville!


  12. Sandra speaking of coffee reminded me...

    The pumpkin spice creamer is back!! I guess it's that time of year again. I had it all through the holidays last year and was devastated when it ran out in January or February. So be sure to look for it in your refigerator section!


  13. Ooh! Looks like I made it in time for the goodies this time! Last time Ruth passed out cookies and I didn't show up until a day later! : ( And um...YES! on that maple-walnut cream cheese...forget the bagel! ; )

    Oh, and has anybody tried the Italian Sweet Cream creamer (Coffee-Mate)? Oh. My. Goodness. It's my new favorite and they'd better NOT pull it off the shelves ever!

    Glad you've found the spit-polishing advice helpful. Oh, how I WISH I was at that point! Still almost 30,000 words to go on a manuscript that's due shortly after I get back from ACFW. Aaaccckkk!

    But can't wait to see those of you who're going!

  14. Hey Deb,

    Thanks AGAIN for filling in for me while I am on vacation -- what a godsend you are, my friend, AND what a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to writing!!

    Can't wait to give you a big hug at ACFW!!

    And, WITHOUT QUESTION, I agree with Sandra, Janet and Myra -- Deb Raney IS one of the nicest authors out there, not to mention people!! So glad I've gotten to know you, Deb.


  15. After serving 20 yrs in the military, I know how to spit and polish. LOL

    I never considered using the technique on my writing, though.

    Great idea. Thanks.

  16. Thanks for great list of quick fixes, Deb! I especially needed to be reminded of numbers 3 and 4!

    Can't wait for the conference!

  17. Yup, another great post! I'll be printing this off, too!

    Thanks so much!

  18. Well, you gals sure did a number on that luncheon buffet. Oh Mylanta!

    Anyway, here's a list of sweets to round out our day. Dinner's on your own tonight because I've got choir practice, but I know you'll show Deb a good time.

    And the gals are right. Deb is a gentle, open soul possessing a wonderful talent and inviting nature. Pretty savvy on her tip list, too, and wonderfully willing to share her time and talent.

    Anyway, in honor of that Italian Sweet Cream (which is a bakery term for specialty Italian cream cakes, little did I know that Coffeemate had sense enough to bottle such wondrous goodness!!), let's serve Italian cream cake, Cassata cake (tender cake filled with rich creamy custard, strawberries and almond glazed), a cannoli cake (a variation of cassata done with mouth-watering cake, filled with a good inch of ricotta cheese creamed cannoli filling, studded with Ghiradelli chocolate and frosted with fresh whipped cream, garnished with chocolate chips and crushed cannoli shells), Italian lemon ice and a rum cake impregnated with butter icing.

    I'm so hungry right now. Really. Literally.

    This is me with my tongue hanging out... :~

    Not a pretty picture!

    Gather 'round ladies and gents. I know a lot of you are polishing, practicing and probably planning each detail of your conference trip next week, but glad to have you stop in. Grab some food. Chat it up.


  19. Okay, Ruthy, no fair!! I am on vacation and eating everything that doesn't move already, so you talking sweets is NOT winning points with me. I won't look ANYTHING like my picture when I go to ACFW. Can see it now -- people passing up my book-signing table because they're wondering who that fat broad is sitting at Julie Lessman's table ...

  20. Welcome back! So kind of you to stop by. Thanks again for the great advice!

  21. Julie, it's always a pleasure to come to Seekerville. Great company, encouraging words and the food...ooh la la! : )

    Thanks again for having me and hope you have a wonderful time on our trip! See you next week!

  22. Great post Deb. This is such a good point about the white space.

    Sage advice...thank you!