The Surprisingly Difficult Art of Revision

8496928034_388aaba692I’m writing to you from deep within the revision trenches. My contemporary YA novel is getting a major rewrite, to the point where only about 5-10% of the original material is making the cut in the new version.

I’ve switched tenses, combined characters, changed plot lines, and increased overall conflict and tension. I’m working hard to make my main character more flawed and relatable with believable and sympathetic challenges.

This revision has been so consuming that I haven’t allotted time for much else, including blogging. Now that I’m at the halfway point of the manuscript, I have to say that real, overhauling revision is an art. And it’s surprisingly hard.

So much emphasis is put on simply getting down the first draft that few writers are prepared for the realities of what it takes to finish a manuscript that will hook an agent or do well in the indie publishing realm. I certainly wasn’t. I’ve revised projects before, but never quite like this. I’ve never started over from scratch, keeping only the skeleton of an idea I’d already written a complete draft of and majorly revised several times.

At first, I was very resistant to the idea of rewriting the entire book. I’d grown so attached to the novel as it was, to its idiosyncrasies, charms, and even its shortcomings, that it was hard to imagine throwing it all away – the good and the bad – for the sake of telling a better overall story.

There was a certain excitement and optimism at first, especially with the brand new opening chapter. But once I got to the material I’d already written, it was so difficult not to want to take short cuts and simply copy and paste it the original over. Every time I tried, I could sense that it was almost always the weakest material in comparison to the new writing, and I ended up having to throw it away once again.

I hit a major slump a few chapters in, unsure if I even liked or cared about this novel anymore. It seemed like so much work on top of an already amazingly huge amount of work. I forced myself to keep trudging on, trying to believe that I was ultimately working toward a much stronger and more powerful novel.

While it’s easy to believe that great works of writing simply fall out of an author’s mind, the truth is rarely that simple. Most writers spend years on their work, writing and rewriting, receiving critique and revising. As much as I’d hoped I’d nail it on my first try, I’m no exception. It’s difficult, time-consuming work with no immediate rewards or encouragement. But I can already see how much stronger this new draft is compared to the original, and I hope to come out on the other side with a novel that is ready for an agent.

A big shout-out to the PitchWars competition for lighting a fire under me and offering me the encouragement and guidance I desperately needed to make this novel a worthwhile project. My unofficial mentors, Rachel Lynn Solomon and Wendy Spinale, have been so helpful and gracious. I wouldn’t be doing this without their help, or the support and feedback of my number one beta reader and boyfriend, Pj.


photo credit: “Today is the day to try out a typewriter” via photopin (license)

My #PitchWars Mentee Bio

Welcome #PitchWars mentors and fellow participants!

If you’re reading this, you’re either looking to know more about me, or you’re a regular reader of this blog and are currently experiencing some confusion.

For those in the latter category, here’s the deal: I’m participating in a Twitter contest called #PitchWars where I’ll be submitting my YA novel to a small list of potential mentors in the hopes that they’ll work with me on editing and presenting it to a group of literary agents. This is my bio for the competition, a chance for potential mentors to get to know me.

First, A Little About Me


My name is Alana. I’ve lived in Los Angeles since I was 13, but I originally grew up in a small town in Maryland. I primarily work from home as a freelance writer and editor. I’m also an intern at Folio Literary Management and a part-time after school instructor for Minecraft classes.


I have an awesome boyfriend named Pj. He’s an artist (and fellow Doctor Who fan).


Pj has a dog named Zoe (left), and I have a dog named Zephyr (right). I adopted Zephyr from a rescue five years ago. We also puppy sit a neighbor’s dog on a regular basis, so there are a lot of dogs in my life. I love all animals, but I have a soft spot for pups.

When I’m not working or writing, I’m usually reading or watching TV shows and movies on Netflix.

These days, most of my reading consists of YA contemporary fiction and memoirs. I also read a good amount of literary fiction. My favorite authors include Truman Capote, Francesca Lia Block, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Cheryl Strayed, A.S. King, Lidia Yuknavitch, Leila Sales, J.D. Salinger, and Jandy Nelson. You can check out my Goodreads for more on the books I’ve read.

Some of my favorite shows include Gilmore Girls, Freaks and GeeksDoctor Who, Sherlock, PsychDariaFriendsGame of Thrones, and Parks & Rec.

My all-time favorite movie is Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro. I love it so much that it inspired a solo trip to Japan in 2009 and a tattoo on my ankle. I also love Amelie, The Princess BrideGhost World, and anything with Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart.

If I’m not reading, writing, or watching something, I’m probably rocking out on my ukulele. I’ve been playing for three years, and I write and compose my own songs.

In addition to making music, I also listen to a lot of it. My favorite musicians are Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, Andrew McMahon, The Shins, The Rocket Summer, Joanna Newsom, K’s Choice, and Ben Gibbard.

Oh, and for a hot second, I was a meme called “Pelican Girl.” It was a thing on Reddit for a few days after my boyfriend posted a photo of me that looked like I was riding a pelican.



About My Writing Journey

I’ve been an aspiring author since the age of six, when my mom bought me my first journal. On the gold-lined pages, I recorded random thoughts about my friends and snippets of poems and songs that I created.

A couple years later, I began writing stories and making books. I showcase a couple of my lovely cardboard-covered childhood creations in this video:

I studied creative writing in college and wrote a couple of novels. I then received my MFA in Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles in December 2014. My final manuscript for the MFA program was a memoir about my experiences growing up with anxiety disorder and depression.

Mental illness is a subject I have much personal experience with and write a great deal about. I hope to fight stigma and spread awareness about mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety disorder, through my writing. I’m a contributor for The Huffington PostHelloGiggles, and RoleReboot, and I recently had an essay in the Los Angeles Times. Some highlighted publications are listed on my Writing page.

About My #PitchWars Manuscript

The manuscript I’m submitting is a YA contemporary novel about a girl who runs away from home and ends up homeless on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. She’s struggled with bouts of depression as well as substance abuse issues. Check out the novel’s Pinterest board for some of my visual inspirations.

I wrote the first draft of the novel back in college. I revisited it a couple years later, then revisited it again earlier this year. The story has stuck with me all these years, and with some major editing and rewriting, I’ve transformed the initial idea and rough draft into something larger and more coherent.

The character and her journey are both close to my heart, and with the right mentorship, I think I’ll be able to really make the manuscript shine. I’m very dedicated to my craft as well as the editing process.

No matter what happens, I’ve really enjoyed being part of the #PitchWars community and getting to know so many amazing writers and mentors. Thanks for reading my bio!

Check out more mentee bios on the blog hop.

What I Learned from Being a #PitchtoPublication Editor

7991795290_4c48627084_nI’ve been on the writer side of Twitter pitch contests for a while now. As an aspiring author, I follow and enter many of these contests with the same hope as everyone else: to land a literary agent. So I was excited to be offered a chance to participate on the other side of a contest called #PitchtoPublication.

For those who aren’t familiar with #PitchtoPublication, a group of about 25 freelance editors each received up to 100 query submissions from writers with completed manuscripts. We each narrowed all of those entries down to one author who we’d spend a month working with on his or her manuscript before it’s presented to a group of participating agents. So basically, the author receives a free manuscript edit and then gets the opportunity to showcase his or her work in front of interested agents. I was chosen to be one of the freelance editors.

When the submission window opened and the entries poured in, I read them immediately, eager to discover a compelling and engaging story. At first I felt powerful and wise, confident that the decision would be easy. But soon I was humbled by the talent I saw, and the fact that I’d ultimately have to reject almost everyone who was submitting work to me. I had been among the contest hopefuls in the past. In fact, I was a hopeful in this contest as well. I’d gotten permission to participate both as a submitting writer and an editor/mentor.

As I went through entries, I posted some of my responses on Twitter without using names or identifying details. I used a tag called #tenqueries that many agents and editors use when going through their queries. It was helpful for me to practice articulating why I was passing or giving a maybe to certain projects, and writers seemed to find the nuggets of advice within the tweets helpful as well.

It was incredibly difficult narrowing down 100 entries to 10. While about half of them were passed on fairly easily, either because the genre wasn’t one I specified interest in or the writing perhaps needed too much work to be agent-ready, most were solid. But I had to look for more than just solid writing. I wanted something special, something unique, and something that I found personally compelling. It came down to taste as much as talent. That’s how I was able to get my top 10 (although I couldn’t quite narrow it down, so I requested more pages from 11 authors).

When I received the first 50 pages and read the entry of the author I ultimately chose to work with, I knew she was the one. Although I’d had some concerns based on her query, the pages reassured me that the book would be amazing. Her story stuck in my mind despite some other amazing entries. It had the perfect balance of being unique, compelling, engaging, and diverse. There was also enough for me to help her with as an editor, but not so much that it couldn’t be agent-ready in a month. I especially appreciated the issues that the manuscript was addressing, ones that are very important and need more awareness in the world right now.

As a writer, my own work wasn’t selected for #PitchtoPublication. I got a few requests, but none were the perfect fit. For once, I was completely fine with being rejected because I’d seen firsthand how subjective and difficult the decision was. The numbers and odds weren’t in anyone’s favor, and even if my work hit most of the checkmarks, it came down to personal preference as well.

Being an editor for #PitchtoPublication also taught me that having a story that is unique and addresses a larger issue is what will draw an agent in. Having good writing and an interesting story isn’t enough. I got a lot of those submissions, and while many of them could potentially be represented and published, it might be hard for them to get noticed by a busy agent with a thousand other queries in his or her mailbox.

A manuscript needs to be compelling. It must be readable and relatable while also addressing something important that agents and readers will connect with. It doesn’t have to be a big issue, but it has to stand for something. That element was what sealed the deal on my decision, and I imagine many agents are looking for the same thing.

Thank you to everyone who participated in #PitchtoPublication, and a special thank you to Samantha Fountain for putting it all together!


(photo credit: Oh Winter, let’s get married via photopin (license))

The Key to Publishing Personal Essays

I’m officially back from my blog hiatus! Thanks so much to all of the guest bloggers who shared their illuminating stories and insights in my absence.

4444061098_6eeaa7dc1a_nHaving some time away has given me the opportunity to think more about my career as a writer. As you might have noticed, I’ve been on an essay publishing kick as of late. Until about a year ago, I didn’t have much to do with essays. I’d written a few here and there, but my primary focus was writing a book-length memoir.

I actually wasn’t sure I’d even be any good at essays. For so long, all of my work had been long-form, and I wasn’t convinced I could say something compelling in the span of a few pages. However, I knew it was important to start getting my work out there, to publish some of my thoughts and ideas in a shorter and more shareable format.

I started out with a few submissions to sites like HelloGiggles and RoleReboot. I was surprised when those sites began accepting my work, and slowly reached out to other publications. As of now, I’ve been published on a variety of sites, most recently having an article in the LA Times and becoming a contributing blogger for The Huffington Post.

Aside from writing effective essays, I’ve learned that there are actually two keys to publishing personal essays: RESEARCH and PERSISTENCE.

When I first ventured into essay publication, I wrote pieces up front and then browsed around to find publications and editors that might be a good fit. One of the best ways to find appropriate publications was seeing where my writer friends were getting their work published. I also paid attention to where the shared essays and articles I resonated with on Facebook were being published.

I’m now at the point, especially with publications that I’m already a contributor for, where I’ll just send a paragraph or two to pitch an idea and see if it’s worth writing. But I always keep an eye out for new publications to submit to, and sometimes I still write pieces up front because they’re topics or ideas that I’m passionate about and want to publish somewhere no matter what.

Having a strategy and tracking submissions makes the whole process move much more smoothly. And making sure that your work is the right fit for the publication you’re submitting to will save you a lot of time and heartache. Be aware of guidelines and their previous publications.

Now, let’s talk about persistence. One of the most common pieces of advice you’ll get as a writer is to be persistent. It’s so easy to feel discouraged after a string of rejections and non-responses. I’ve been tempted to stop trying many times, especially when a particular publication isn’t responding positively to my work (or responding at all, which was formerly the case with HuffPo).

But the bigger name publications didn’t just happen overnight. While the LA Times accepted the first submission I sent them, it took six submissions to The Huffington Post over the course of six months before one was finally approved.

Sometimes I told myself that I’m a bad writer or my work doesn’t deserve to be published. But the real problem was that I wasn’t sending the right piece to the right place at the right time. Instead of allowing myself to give up, I continued trying. I kept close track of each submission I sent, where I sent it, and when I sent it. If I didn’t hear back within a month, I sent it somewhere else. I tried different topics and different sections/editors until something finally clicked.

Above all, don’t let the waiting get to you, and don’t give up. Keep reading, keep writing, and keep submitting. Slowly but surely things will fall into place.

And, if you happen to be female, there’s a wonderful group called Women Who Submit that provides virtual and physical spaces for women to support one another while they submit their writing. I recently attended a meeting in Los Angeles and spent a lovely afternoon with a group of writers who all had the same goal as me: to get their work out in the world. We cheered for each other as we sent submissions and have continued supporting one another through email since the meeting, sending updates and virtual cheers. Be sure to check it out.


(photo credit: via photopin (license))

Nightmares in the Realm of Dreams

By Pj Kneisel

168402_499644469404_4804095_nThe gross, the disgusting, the horrific. Why would anyone care to dwell and create in these abject realms? The world we live in is obsessed with beauty and perfection. We struggle and strive to attain an almost transcendent impossibility, and that is what’s admired in artistic expression.

Yet for those who create art, the dirty side of things can be just as alluring and difficult to capture. As an artist who considers those murky waters his domain, I can attest to both their draw and their own kind of beauty.

To capture the perfect flabby back or hairy crotch (replete with scabies and pustules) is one that requires the artistic execution of finite details and an intricate understanding of the numerous bumps and uglies the human body can be plagued with. Illustrating a death scene, complete with the blood spattered and pooled, necessitates a comprehension of fluid dynamics and abstract patterning.

946214_10151439519479405_1978277136_nThese are just a few examples of the complexities hidden in the world of the abject. To be repulsed by a work of art is to be affected by it; the fact that someone could put ink to paper and elicit such strong emotions is nothing short of incredible. It’s more than seeing a curse word scrawled on a bathroom stall; it’s more than a man whipping out his dick on the bus; it’s a creative exercise and performance that expounds upon an area most people would shudder to even think about for more than a few seconds.

It inhabits that place in order to communicate something. There are serious problems in this world, in the hearts and minds of humanity, and in ourselves. We love to hush these away, or do the exact opposite and create a big to-do before forgetting about it all over again.

10940621_10152724460774405_822493310221433228_nLife is too short to dwell, but some of us must dwell. For we act as a mirror, a conscience of sorts, for society, culture, and ourselves. We need to see everything for what it is. Often people decry violent and sexual media for being vapid and dangerous, yet at the same time, millions consume it. Art is not creating the violence, nor promoting it; it is both reflecting it and creating something new with that reflection.

Art, in its purest sense, is much like the realm of dreams: and we occasionally have nightmares.

– – –

Pj Kneisel’s art work is about the contradictions between the macabre and the comic, and thus serves to exhibit the eternal dichotomy of both abhorrence and enjoyment of the human condition. He lives in Los Angeles and is a co-founder of Aorta VI and The Baby Suns art collectives. You can visit his website at and follow him on Twitter @hobbesdream.