Sunday, October 30, 2011

What’s in your closet?

The Rockville 8 is proud to welcome Diane L. Kowalyshyn as guest blogger this week. Diane writes heart-hammering, tall-stake adventures—romantic suspense novels that run on high-voltage action, intrigue and intimacy. She is a daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend, and Seton Hill WPF MFA graduate, who in perpetuity, survives in Toronto, Canada. There’s only one skeleton left in her closet. Visit her at

Writers write.

We punch keyboards. We mutter or shout to ourselves or inanimate objects. With head-down diligence, we work to decipher and expand our fictitious worlds as they unfold.

If you’ve been writing for any length of time you have skeletons in your closet.

You know what I’m talking about. They’re the manuscripts you’ve locked away. You haven’t touched them in days, weeks, months, maybe even years. They gather dust because you’ve lost interest—maybe you couldn’t find them a home. They hang, untouched, because you can’t get rid of them. They’re an integral part of you. They mark your journey on this uphill climb and define you as a writer. They’re the carrion you’ve left behind.

Here’s the challenge. Don’t hide these bone-racks. Harvest them.

Time is on your side. Inactivity and separation have returned your objectivity. I guarantee your story is nothing like you remember. It’s much, much worse. But here’s the thing. There is no better way to affirm your growth as a writer than to revise a previous work. Everything you’ve learned is put to the test. My nemesis is grammar and I’ve found Claire Kehrwald Cook’s Line by Line to be a solid reference. She’s compiled great information on everything from modifiers, to conjunctions, to punctuation—she’s even attached a handy glossary of usage.

Shake those bones to make sure they still hold together. Revision tones flabby, drooping flesh into muscle. And muscle supports and fortifies the skeletal system. I use my own method to make sure the plot is solid. It’s called the Writer’s GPS—a tool I devised based on Deb Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict. Another good reference is James Scott Bell’s Revision & Self Editing. He breaks fiction down into a simple formula: CONCEPT + CHARACTERS x CONFLICT = NOVEL , and provides a process to sustain this formula. He calls it the LOCK system—lead (character), objective, confrontation, and knockout. If style books make you want to run and hide, or if you only have room for one revision book in your arsenal, I would recommend Renne Browne and Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. It’s the bible of all revision books. Seriously. I love it because not only does it show, it tells.

Add new flesh to those bones. There’s a reason you let them molder. If you were tired with the story concept then, no doubt you will be now, but not if you inject new life into the existing framework. Weave a fresh sub-plot throughout the story to get the creative juices flowing again. It will be the vascular connection that feeds the muscles and keeps those bones in motion. It will make the old concept new again.

Persevere. You’ll want to throw in the towel every single day and your muse won’t play fairly. She’ll interrupt you with various other more appealing story ideas and try to lead you astray. Don’t let her. Jot down those new ideas in a separate folder and get back to revising.

Why bother? Because you’ll get a return on all you put in. With your unfinished business fully fleshed out, you’ll be sitting pretty, ready to set off in search of that elusive Shangri-La—publication.


  1. Great words of wisdom, Diane! Thank you for visiting with us this week. Can you tell us a little about your process of rewriting? And how many skeletons have you resurrected? For those of us who might struggle with revisions, we'd love to know how you attack rewriting that manuscript under the bed. And, having read several of your re-animated manuscripts, I know you're a master at it. So share with us how you do it! ;0)

  2. I use my own system called The Writer's GPS--I have a seminar planned for the next national conference I attend. The Writer's GPS puts a fresh spin on Deb Dixon's ideas in her book on GMC. I attack the manuscript bit by bit, chapter by chapter or scene by scene, and make sure each section has character goal, provocation and struggle--GPS. It is a painstakingly slow process, but the results are well worth it.

    After finishing my thesis novel, I revised three other manuscripts hanging in my closet. There's one left, but I think I'll leave it for another day.

    The third book in my ghoul trilogy is clamoring to be written.

  3. Ah! Welcome to the R8, Diane!! We've got you right where we want you. (Insert Evil Laugh Here) I'm definitely guilty of scouring the closet for stuff to work on (as my critique groups can attest). Love all your advice for how to go about it.

    > I guarantee your story is nothing like
    > you remember. It’s much, much worse.

    So funny because it's soooo true . . . LOL.

  4. Every so often I pull out "Mac" from my files. He wakes up one morning in an alleyway then heads home for coffee. Why is he in the alley? What greets him when he arrives home? No. Idea. Not sure I could call that a skelleton. More like a sore tooth. One of these days!

    Great post, Diane. I hope to sit in on your GPS talk at Nationals one day!!

  5. I raided my desk's bottom drawer this summer with an eye to reworking a story or two this fall. What did I find? Oh, my. A skeleton for sure. One opening scene features twelve pages of nothin'. Twelve. Pages. Nothin' happens. Ugh!

    So I'm gonna be shakin' up that skeleton's bones! Thanks for the tips, Diane, and the encouragement. Most of all, thanks for hanging out with the R8! That can be a truly scary thing to do!

  6. It was an honor to be asked...and I love you guys!

  7. Diane-Thanks for visiting the R8! Your GPS system sounds fascinating. I can't wait to hear you give it at National. I always love to talk plotting and revising.