Sketching, the “saggy middle” and The Winged Pen

Paris metro station under construction with spikes covered with orange balls imbedded in the crumbly wall.
A “sketchy” metro station in Paris looks more like St. Stephen pierced with arrows. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

Today, I’m over at The Winged Pen’s Master Your Craft blog post series.

What–you ask–is Master Your Craft? Each Wednesday, the Winged Pen discusses prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING.

(Handy list of Master Your Craft topics so far.)

My post is about that devious stretch of story landscape known as “the saggy middle.” This morning, I realized I left something out: sketching.

Sketching is what you do when you’re feeling your way into a piece. This isn’t about the whole outline versus drafting controversy. As we all know, there’s more than one way to figure out a story. I always have to use ALL the ways.

Drafting, in my mind, is letting the imagination lead you through an experience.

Outlining, in my mind, is hovering above a story to see which way you’re headed before dropping back down into it.

A sketch tests a tricky part of your outline on another scale. . .if my hero said this, what would happen? Sketch it and find out. Test your thinking with your imagination.

A sketch hints at a possible sequence in your “messy draft”. . .make a list of scenes you’ve already written. Do they make a chain? Test your imagination with your thinking.

I’m sure this seems obvious to all you industrious writers, so what’s my point?

Alternating between outlining and sketching can get you there when everything seems hopelessly stuck. Libbie Hawker writes about “beats” to fill out a story outline. Rachel Aaron writes about the power of getting excited about a scene you are going to write.

Do you do something similar? Or something very different? Please share in the comments.

 Read the Winged Pen post on “saggy middles” here.

Close-up of unusual spikes capped with orange balls.
Getting a fix on your story. Image: Close-up of unusual spikes capped with orange balls. © Laurel Decher, 2017.


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Tame Your Revision Step-by-Step: 4 Steps to SORT-BY-SIZE

Infographic of 7 revision management tips battery icons

This post is part of a TAME YOUR REVISION series that started over at The Winged Pen. You can read the overview, find the links to all the posts, and download the infographic here.

As always, feel free to share your best revision strategies in the comments! I’d love to know how you manage.


  1. Read Rachel Aaron’s 2K to 10K: How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love. It costs 99 cents and is one of the most useful things I’ve read about how to work smarter. Here’s her post on editing.

Note: Rachel’s a writer–not a marketer–and creativity researchers have followed up on her work because it’s smart. I have no connection to her. I just like her work.

Don’t have 99 cents this month? Read her excellent blog post about drafting more efficiently here. The graphic below is from Vicky Teinaki and is based on Rachel’s book.Triangle of Time, Knowledge, and Enthusiasm, the keys to getting more and better writing done.

2. Make a list ranked by size of mess. The list is your friend. You can cross things off and the illusion of progress will be yours. 😉 Set yourself free from endless revision cycles. Figure out what you want to do and check it off as you do it.

3. Do the big stuff first. You know: start with the story structure problems, like the thrilling final conflict that isn’t. Or the main character whose motivations need work. Then go on to the ticking clock correction, season adjusting, and setting consistency stuff. Save the lyrical language and typos for last.

Scrivener’s status menus can help you stay on track. The FEEDBACK FOLDER post has screenshots.

4. Please excuse the mess. Revision is much more efficient this way, but you may have to practice overlooking the fallen plaster until the heavy lifting is done. Tracking your progress helps your inner child see that you WILL arrive.

Happy Revising!

Got some tips to make revision go more smoothly? Feel free to share!


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An Aha! Moment via Joanna Penn: Publishing vs. Marketing

Joanna Penn is so smiley and enthusiastic and knowledgeable that she always gets me inspired. This webinar was no different.

Got a sudden insight from Joanna Penn’s webinar on goals for the new year (2017):
Marketing is what you do to SELL a book.
Packaging, editing, and categorizing are what you do to PUBLISH a book.

This is almost guaranteed to be obvious to everyone else. Why was this such an eyeopener for me? Once I saw the difference, I could break down the process into smaller tasks.

A few years in the query trenches makes the difference between writing and publishing crystal clear. My idea of publishing was fuzzy: it included everything from literary agents and editors to book reviews and book signings.

Marketing decides who the likeliest readers are and sets out to win them over. When you pick out comp titles for your book, you are choosing an audience with particular tastes.

Publishing MAKES the packaging (including some baked-in marketing):

  • edits the story
  • chooses the right categories and keywords.
  • writes a book description that ticks all the right notes.
  • designs a book cover that appeals to readers and matches what your story delivers.
  • chooses formats (audio, e-book, print) and distributors that reach the story’s audience.
  • tinkers with packaging later on if the book doesn’t find its audience

Marketing USES the packaging to attract readers with:

  • book reviews
  • ads and promotions
  • blog tours
  • social media
  • sales and offers

Rachel Aaron has a fascinating, detailed post on which marketing techniques work.

So now that we’ve gotten the difference between Writing, Publishing, and Marketing straight, we can go back to writing the next book. 😉 Because that’s the strongest Marketing* technique of all.

*If you want your work to be clear cut, take up something heroic, like logging with drafthorses.


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Thrive During NaNoWriMo with the Magnificent Step Seven: “Give it one more try”

Passageway that turns right into a passage you can't yet see. Towering interior walls of a fortress in Koblenz block your view in all directions..
When you can’t quite see the way out of your story. Ehrenbreitstein fortress, Koblenz, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

This is the seventh (and final!) post in a short series on preparing for (and thriving during) National Novel Writing Month. The first post collects story ingredients here , the second finds the core of your story here , the third cuts the story up into manageable portion sizes here, the fourth clarifies the story soup here, the fifth looks ahead to life after NaNoWriMo, the sixth collects what you’ve learned about how you write best. Happy Writing!

This post is about the last push. Maybe you’re coming down the home stretch of your manuscript and you can taste that 50K.

If so, what are you doing here? 😉 Go write. See you later!

Or maybe you’re having one of those moments where the phrase “word count” makes you feel nauseous. If so, this post is for you.

Story 1: One of my first paid jobs was as a dishwasher in a chemistry research lab. The “dishes” already looked clean before I washed them, but I had to wash and rinse each tiny glass piece six times to make sure nothing would interfere with the experiments. One day, nothing went right. I might have broken a tiny flask. At any rate, I packed up to go home and stopped by my mom’s lab next door on my way out.

“Give it one more try,” she said.

Because, moms.

I was positive I couldn’t do another 15 minutes, but I went back and somehow found my dishwashing mojo. The rhythm of the work took hold. By the end of the day, things were better in dishwashing land. And hey, when you get paid by the hour, every little bit helps.

Story 2: Last night, story strands were all over the place–leaking out of notebooks and laptops and phones and index cards. The chapter-in-progress was overwhelming me.

I wrote in my notebook: “I have to stop thinking up cool ideas for this story. It’s bulging at the seams!!”

I wanted to pack it in and go to bed.

But the husband was chipping away at his lecture and, you know the drill:

“Give it one more try.”

I looked for the simplest thing I could do. A bulleted list of things a sidekick character was trying to convince my main character of. Then I shrugged and went to bed.

This morning, I found a whole new chapter buried in that list. You don’t have to be inspired to create. All you need is the rhythm of the work: Work it, let it rest, work it, let it rest. We’re back to the pie crust analogy.

A simple paradox: It doesn’t matter if you don’t get 50,000 words this year. It matters if you let the days go by without getting any words. Because writers don’t get paid by the hour, but if we don’t write words, nothing happens.

As Rachel Aaron writes in 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, Writing More of What You Love:

“[T]he single most efficient change you can make isn’t actually upping your daily word count, but eliminating the days where you are not writing. Also, you’ll be a lot happier. Personally, I’ve found there is no greater source of peace and contentment than that which comes from being happy with my stories.”

You’ve got until Wednesday for this year’s NaNoWriMo: So listen to mom’s advice and “Give it one more try.”

Happy writing!

Have you come up with ways to ease or entice yourself into the work? Share in the comments. I’d love to learn a few new tricks. 🙂


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