Margaret Dilloway, American Housewife

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Writing process

Writing Wednesdays: Process: Final Edits

I got edits back for my new book last Tuesday morning. On Monday, my editor told me they were coming and made this suggestion, among others: “I think just a small notice about Gal’s own solitude/her solitary ways even when surrounded by ‘company’ could give us an emotional boost. Does that make sense?” Nope, it did not. I didn’t know if she meant a whole scene or a few lines, but when I got the edits, I was thinking about her comment as I went through.

And suddenly, I understood what she meant. It only took a few lines in maybe three or four scenes.

This is the enormous benefit of having an editor: they see things you can’t, and what they say can plant seeds for bigger ideas. This is also the case for critique groups and good beta readers, too. It’s really hard to see everything you need to, by yourself.

I spoke with my editor last Wednesday and chatted about how much her one tiny comment had helped clarify what I needed to do.

And then she said, “So, when do you think you’ll get back to work on it?”

I said, “Actually, I’m going to e-mail it to you as soon as we get off the phone.”

There really had not been much work to do. I did it all on Tuesday, over the course of the day, and spent Wednesday morning checking it over. I did have to rework one scene a bit, but that was it. And I made Cadillac re-read all the big changes to make sure they made sense. After all, I have been known to accidentally change a character’s eye color or make them grow a beard in five minutes.

See all the comments of “good,” “nice,” and the stars? She said at first she’d planned to email me the edits, but wanted me to have the manuscript so I could see all the stars she’d given me. Yay! I felt like I was getting an A.

Now it’s officially accepted, and the manuscript has been sent to production. Then I’ll have to look at proofs and do copy edits in a few months. I don’t have the official release date, but it will most likely be in May 2012 or thereabouts.

Time to start the next project!


Writing Wednesday: Breaking the Rules

At last, I have opened my curtains and emerged, blinking, in the daylight.  I work in my bedroom at a desk next to a large sliding glass door, and if the curtains are open, all I see is glare.  Bright light!  Bright light!  (I’m also like a Gremlin in that I cannot eat after midnight).  Anyway, my point is, I am done with the next book, and have sent the requested edits to my editor.  There may be  one more round, but it shouldn’t be substantial (knock on wood).

Oh, also, the book’s title will be, QUEEN OF SHOW instead of ROSE OF GALILEE.  Queen of Show refers to the big prize at a rose show.  The best of the best, which my character the amateur rose breeder is trying to attain.

I love how it turned out.  This is a rare thing for me to say, to not be filled with a stomach-clenching mix of relief and insecurity.  But when I re-read it, I actually enjoyed it, as if I hadn’t written it.  Generally when I re-read something I wrote, I cringe and hide my face as I mark it up.

This book’s whole process was a complete departure for me in every way, so I thought I’d do a little post-mortem to analyze what happened.

For instance, writing the first full draft took maybe 6 weeks.   Not too surprising, except that this draft didn’t need many changes.  Just a lot of cutting, and some clarification.

How in the name of all that is good and holy did I do that?  Housewife took YEARS to write.  Years!  Of course, I didn’t know what I was doing then, either. And yes, I did write a novel while in Hawaii (about the ghosts and the cupcakes) that is currently in my drawer, so I did get some extra practice (I still love that novel, but the timing isn’t right for it yet). But that novel took several drafts and about five months of work, too.

So now I’m trying to figure out how I managed to write so quickly.  What am I doing differently?

I guess the real answer is the entire process was longer than six weeks.  Let me talk about how I wrote the novel.

Summer, 2010: I consider writing a novel about an amateur rose breeder. I begin research about roses and find a rose breeder to talk to.  I read a lot of articles.

October, 2010: I write the outline for my editor.

October 2010: We move from Hawaii back to San Diego. I only write the opening, because my computer breaks, and I have no desk, and I’m frankly too traumatized to do much of anything.

Instead, I talk a lot with my sister-in-law, who’s had 3 kidney transplants and who inspired the main character, Gal.  Serendipitously, she has moved back to San Diego at the same time we did, so it feels like this book is MEANT TO BE.

January:  I show my editor the first 70 pages. I’ve written maybe 100, and those feel like agony.  She tells me I have too much exposition, and I need to spread out the info better.

January-late Feb: I write the rest of the book.

This time, it’s not painful.  The story has gelled on some level of my brain, and it just wants to come out.  This time, it really is like giving birth.

I write every day until the kids get home, only taking breaks when I have physical pain. I even write on the weekends, because otherwise I lose my rhythm.  Also, I must admit, my sense of urgency stems not just from creative inspiration, but from the fact I would someday like to earn a good living at this.  A product must be produced.

Feb- March: I re-read the novel, make notes, and make changes. To my surprise, it’s pretty solid.

Early March: I send it to my editor.

Her suggestions are more for clarification, not structure (new for me).

It turned out to be 427 pages.  Per my editor’s guidelines, I trimmed about 30.

In summation, I made three major changes to my writing routine:

  • I ignored a lot of the outline.  It didn’t feel right.  The outline was more of a guideline,  and it kept me on the right track, but the details changed a lot.
  • I spent quite a bit of time NOT working on it, but thinking and daydreaming about it before I began.  I believe this allowed me to work out quite a few kinks in my head before I ever tried to write anything.
  • While I wrote, I circled back BEFORE I finished the first draft to make some changes to the beginning, so the ending will make more sense. This is in contrast to some popular advice, which is to write the whole draft without stopping, beginning to end.

Will I write like this every time? I don’t know.  Maybe it will be different for each book.  Maybe I have discovered the thing that works for me.  We shall see.

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