Reading and Writing: Finding the Balance

Hey all! Today I have the amazing C.M. Keller on MFB. Not only is she one of this month’s amazing award sponsors, but she’s a kick-ass writer. I hope you all enjoy her tips on how to balance your reading and writing lives. Take it away, Connie.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time 
(or the tools) to write.” 
Stephen King 

All writers have heard that quote or one like it. And we all know it’s true. But balancing the two is like herding cats. You can try, but you end up getting scratched. 
I know I tried. I’d begin writing and I get so involved with the story that I’d forget to read and I’d write and write until my creativity dried up and blew away. Then, I’d read until my eyes bled. I tried thrillers, devouring them (which helped me learn to craft tight plots) until I couldn’t stand another gun shot. So I focused on the classics (where I saw the power of understatement, metaphor, etc.) until I was ready to strangle yet another indecisive heroine. 
The only good thing was that when I finished the reading cycle, my creativity was recharged until I drained it dry. The cycle was not a good thing. Maybe a little OCD as well, but we won’t go there. 
I had to find a better, a more sane way of balancing my writer/reader issues. A way that would sustain me as a reader and a writer. I tried lots of things. They all failed. 
I’d like to say that I analyzed the situation and came up with a solution. But I found it by accident—I sort of fell into it. And it wasn’t until I realized the writing-reading was working, that I even wondered what I was doing differently. 
It started years ago, when a health problem made me commit to running, which I hate with a passion. So I bribed myself to run a treadmill. While I ran I could read “fun” books, thrillers, mysteries, and YA, but I could only read them when I ran. 
Then this fall, I decided that I’d devote all before-bedtime-reading to a classic or literary/upmarket novel. To make it even more fun, I asked/begged a writer friend to read the “classics” too—so we can exchange emails about what we’ve read. “Hey, did you finish chapter four last night? Did you notice how the author changed the mood, foreshadowing the end of the chapter?” 
The one final change I made was that any other free time belonged to writing. Even if a novel was calling out, “Read me, read me!” 
How did it work out? I’m reading more than I have in years. And writing…I finished a first draft in three months. (I’ve never written a novel in less than six months before.) 
So if you find yourself alternating between bleeding eyes and shriveled creativity, you could try what I’ve done. Either that, or give the Muse a call. I’ve tried, but I’m pretty sure she’s blocked my number. 
Thanks so much for this lovely post, Connie. I’ve been struggling with maintaining a sane balance, and now you made it sound so easy. 🙂
So, lovely people, how do you strike a balance between reading and writing? Do you suck at it like me? 
Before you go! Remember to vote for awesome bloggers and to enter my Word Master Challenge
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Removing the Scaffolding

Hi all, Today I welcome C.M. Keller. She’s here to write about Removing the Scaffolding and to market her new book, Screwing Up Time.





Mark Montgomery is a slacker content with his life. He’s a senior at New Haven Prep, has a great friend, and after graduation he’ll get a brand new sports car from his parents, assuming he stays out of trouble. Then, she comes into his life—Miranda with her I-just-escaped-from-a-Renaissance-Fair clothing. Only, she hasn’t. She has come from Bodiam Castle in the Middle Ages and demands a secret ingredient and a book of recipes for traveling through the treacherous colors of time. Although Mark has never even heard of either before, he must find them, or Miranda will die. To save her, Mark must break into a psych hospital to visit his grandfather who once tried to kill him, pass through the colors of time, take on a medieval alchemist, prevent Miranda’s marriage to a two-timing baron, and keep it all hidden from his parents. The sports car is definitely in trouble.

Screwing Up Time is available on Kindle and Nook

Now, without further ado, here’s C.M. Keller on Removing the Scaffolding:



First of all, I’d like to thank Misha for allowing me to guest blog for her today. I hope to share some of what I’ve learned in my years of writing—just because I had to bang my head against the wall of writing ignorance doesn’t mean you have to.


Every writer knows that after we finish the first draft, we need to edit. We have to fill the landslide-sized plot holes, rid our manuscript of characters whose original purpose we’ve forgotten, and murder our darlings. But this post addresses the editing that comes after that. The editing that we sometimes avoid because it’s tedious and because the next novel is already seducing us. (Resist your lust for new plot lines a bit longer.)

These secondary edits are an opportunity to take your writing to the next level. I call this stage “removing the scaffolding.” Think of it this way, when art restorers finish repairing a frescoed ceiling, they have to take down the scaffolding. Otherwise, no one can see the fresco. Similarly, writers need to remove their scaffolding—the words and phrases that supported the first draft. For example, when I’m writing a first draft and can’t think of the perfect word/phrase, I substitute an adequate one. This isn’t bad. In fact, it’s a good thing because it keeps me from getting bogged down and I can get the story on paper while the passion and energy are hot. (If you struggle with this, I’d recommend Stephen King’s book On Writing.) But once the story’s on paper, those supports have to go.

Every writer has his/her own structural supports, but here are some that writers, myself included, often use. For example, to provide the “beats” the dialogue needs, I often have a character make a physical movement. However, by the end of the first draft I have so many shook his/her heads that the characters’ necks should’ve snapped and their skulls ought to be rolling on the ground. I also end up with more look/looked/looking than you’d believe possible. Not to mention the myriads of he/she ran a hand through his/her hair—they do this so often, you’d think every character must have a serious case of eczema or lice. 

If you’re nodding your head and thinking “I do that too,” don’t be discouraged. Remember those supports were important—they were the scaffolding that held the story together as you wrote it. But now, they must be removed. So how do you go about it? One way I’ve seen writers deal with word repetitions is to use synonyms. And “looked” becomes glanced, perused, spied, peeked, peeped, etc., etc. Do NOT do this. All it does is tell the reader that you have a really good thesaurus. The way to a beautiful novel is to replace the adequate beats and repetitions with texture. In other words, the beat must advance the plot or teach the reader more about the character. If not, it’s called a “cheap beat” and says “I’m An Amateur” in blinking neon lights. 

Good beats read like this:

            “You mean you’ve—” Martin swallowed and his necktie climbed his swollen gorge.  

From Beyond the Bedroom Wall by Larry Woiwode, National Book Award finalist. Here we know that not only is Martin surprised and upset, he’s so straight-laced that with a big swallow, his too-tight tie climbs his neck.

            “…He decided one day to join the black horses in the mountains. One night during a terrible storm he was struck by lightning. The lightning burned him all black. He was killed. That is the end of the story.”

            There was silence. Through my open windows came the murmurous sounds of the surf.
            “I don’t like that story,” I said finally.

From Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok. Here the silence and the sounds give us the melancholy mood and foreshadow the boy’s response.

(Emerson and Amelia are discussing how to preserve a painting.)

            “A solution is precisely what it is. A mixture of weak tapioca and water, brushed on the painting—”

             “You said brushing marred the paint.”

            “I brush it on with my finger.”

             I starred at him with reluctant admiration.

             “You are determined, I’ll say that for you.”

From Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, New York Times bestselling author. Here we see the repartee both spoken and unspoken between the characters—and we get the sense that they have a unique but happy relationship.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s hard to write like that. Yeah, it is. But you can do it. After all, if you’ve completed a novel, the hardest part is already behind you. Do it. You know you can.

For more information on “scaffold editing,” I highly recommend the book Don’t Sabotage Your Submission by Chris Roerden, a former independent book editor for authors published by St. Martin’s, Midnight Ink, Viking, Intrigue, Rodale, and others. 



Thanks so much for the great post, Connie! Good luck with your sales!

I know that I can sometimes overuse some of my beats. I really have to pay attention to them when I edit. Which beats do you overuse?