E28 – Interview With Rachael Herron
In this episode, Miss Catherine M.H. and V.E. Griffith have a fantastic conversation with star author and podcaster, Rachael Herron, about her unique editing process.
The Seven Miracles of Beatrix Holland by Rachael Herron (forthcoming, 2025)
Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
Courses by Rachael Herron
90 Days to Done
90 Day Revision
Podcast by Rachael Herron
How Do You Write (available in any
Find Rachael at https://rachaelherron.com
Sign up for her newsletter at https://rachaelherron.com/write
The Revision Wizards are at https://www.revisionwizards.com
V.E. Griffith’s website: https://www.vegriffith.com
Miss Catherine M.H.’s website: https://www.scribes-pen.com
Transcript at: https://revisionwizards.com/?p=2352
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:00:00
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast, I’m Miss Catherine MH. And I’m joined by my fellow magic crafter and co host, Ve Griffith.
V.E. Griffith 00:00:08
This is episode 28, and this time we’re talking with the amazing Rachael Herron. Rachael is a memoir, thriller and romance author who’s both traditionally and self published. She also runs two coaching courses called 90 Days to Done and 90 Days Revision. And she was kind enough to join us all the way from New Zealand to talk about her editing process.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:00:29
And with that, let’s hear about Rachael’s magic.
V.E. Griffith 00:00:32
So if you would tell us your name and your pronouns.
Rachael Herron 00:00:36
I’m Rachael Herron. And I’m she her hers. Thank you for asking.
V.E. Griffith 00:00:39
All right, well, I’m we’re super excited to have you.
Rachael Herron 00:00:43
Yes, I’m so excited to be here with the Wizards. Yes. I don’t have a hat, but I have one in my heart.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:00:50
Everybody says that.
V.E. Griffith 00:00:54
Okay, so why don’t you give us a brief window into your first drafting process because I know it sort of directly flows into your editing situation.
Rachael Herron 00:01:02
My first drafting process is hell. I can’t stand it. A long time ago, I resolved to stop saying that because I felt like I was cursing myself or whining or whatever. But it’s just really hard for me, and I think it is because I am a type A control freak perfectionist. And I think that’s what kept me from writing for so long is I would have these great ideas in mind, and I would sit down and I would write a first draft, like page or two, and it would be such crap that I would get so frustrated and I would wander away and I’d stop writing, waiting to get good enough waiting to become a good enough writer that I could actually write good stuff on the first draft. And then it was Nanowrimo 2006. My first experience with Nanowrimo, I finally realized that I had to get out of my own way and just write crap. And it’s not ever comfortable, but I think that the more books I write, the more I get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I had a student yesterday ask me, Rachael, does it ever get easier? And I’m like, oh, no, I don’t think so. It doesn’t get easier. But what does get easier is the dealing with that discomfort, right? Like being able to sit down and go, oh, yeah, it sucks again today. That’s fine. And pretty soon I’m going to have another cup of tea, and that’ll be great. So, first drafts, I claw my way through. Every once in a while, I’m given a gift book. The book that I most recently wrote that will be coming out in 2025 is called The Seven Miracles of Beatrix Holland. And that was a gift book. I loved the first drafting. I loved the revision. It was fabulous. But usually I’m clawing my way through it, and usually I tell everyone that I can possibly talk to that they should get to the whole book. You should get through the whole book before you start revision. That is what I preach because I believe that. I truly believe that no one should revise as they go unless you are revising as you go and you are finishing good publishable books that you’re proud of. If you’re doing that, then that’s your process. But if you’re revising as you go and you’re not finishing books, that just means you’re with the 98% of the rest of us who can’t do that, and we have to write a crappy first draft and then revise it. And I always try to do that, and then I get to about 80% right after the dark moment, and I spent three or four weeks bashing my head against the wall trying to write to the end, and then I remember that that’s not my process, and I can never get there. There’s this Larry Brooks quote in Story Engineering that says something like, if you’ve created a big enough problem by the end of the book, you shouldn’t be able to fix it easily. I think he says something like, it should only be fixable after you take many long walks in the forest thinking about it. I remember that, and I allow myself to stop then, and that’s when I can begin revision after I hit that wall of absolutely. I have no idea what’s going to happen next.
V.E. Griffith 00:04:03
So once you get to 80% and you hit your wall and you’ve spent your month being miserable, where do you go from there?
Rachael Herron 00:04:12
I trot happily into revision, which is where I just am in love with being in revision, and that’s not normal for writers, and it takes a while to get there, I think. But for me, I always talk about what happened to me. I had the second book, Blues, where I accidentally wrote a good first book in that Nanowrimo. I kind of revised it, but I didn’t really know how to revise it. It got an agent, and it got a three book deal at Harper Collins, which was awesome. Yay. And then I revised lightly with the editor, and then the second book was due, and I wrote a second book, and I turned it into her, and she called me and she said, Rachael, I love your writing, I love your dialogue, I love your characters, and you have no plot. And I said, oh, no, that sounds serious. And she’s like, yeah, it kind of is. And I said, Can I fix it? And I remember very clearly, she said, I don’t know. It’ll be a lot of heavy lifting. And I didn’t know how to revise a book. I didn’t understand story structure. I went away to a hostel on the coast, and I Googled how to revise a book because I had a Master’s, and I had never been taught a master’s in creative writing. I’d never been taught how to revise so from that point, I’ve been developing this process of revision that really works for me, which is looking at the book really holistically 30,000 foot view. I use a sentence outline. I use a lot of post-its. I use different organization methods. But getting my hands dirty and knowing what or deciding what needs to come out and what needs to go in, that’s where I get really happy. And I believe that second draft is the hardest work we’ll ever do on a book, ever, probably. But I can turn a book that was an airplane into an octopus in revision. I could revise anything. I can’t first draft anything, but I can revise anything into anything else. And so that’s when I get really happy when I enter revision.
V.E. Griffith 00:06:11
Now, what sort of specific things do you look out for?
Rachael Herron 00:06:16
That’s a good question. I have a pretty rigid method of doing this sentence outline. I think a lot of people do this, but like kind of almost a bullet pointed list of what happens. And I track the word count, and then I do a bunch of math and I look at percentages and I see where certain turning points are. Landing is my inciting incident where I want it? Is the context shifting midpoint actually at the midpoint, or is it more like a 35% or 65%? And it’s not a midpoint, and I need to start shrinking one of the acts or expanding an act is my dark moment falling where I want it is my character arc changing in the ways that I want it to, succeeding and failing over and over again in the way I want it to in this draft. And usually it isn’t. But what I do in that spreadsheet is I leave myself a lot of room to kind of build what I call the map so that when I finally and the map is all the decisions I’m going to make is the decision what I’m going to do with this scene. I’m going to delete this scene. I’m going to add a scene here where the bomb explodes, and I’m going to condense these two scenes. So when I sit down to work on the draft, I look at the scene I’m on and I go, I have no idea how to fix this. And I go, oh, wait, past Rachel was smart and she wrote something in the map box. And that reminds me, oh, yeah, I was going to do that, and that’s going to make it better. So I make a huge number of decisions up here at the 30,000 foot level, and then on the daily work a day show up time, I show up and I do the thing that is on my sentence outline map that I have told myself I will do, and it gives me direction. Does that answer your question or did I just wobble around?
V.E. Griffith 00:07:55
No, that’s great. That’s excellent. Because revising is always a struggle for me, and I do it professional
V.E. Griffith 00:07:55
ly, so I ask people for money for it. And building the sentence outline is helpful. The reverse outline is always very helpful. But it’s but it’s it’s a challenge, too.
Rachael Herron 00:08:16
Yeah. And for me, it’s a challenge to remember that I’ve already made decisions because I’m I think my you know, my middle name is Reinventing the Wheel, and I just have to stop doing that. I have to remember that I have made decisions. And I’m not going to draft everything from scratch every single day that I sit down. Because our brains are built to think about things, and our brains are built to give us new answers every time we think about them, which I want to forestall sometimes I don’t need a new answer. I had a perfectly good one.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:08:43
See, I guess I would do the 100%, Cool, We’re sitting down, no outline, no nothing. And I’m just going to be like, I read the last sentence and I’m like, whatever happens, happens next. I prefer the drafting, which is really.
Rachael Herron 00:08:59
Which is so attractive to me. I just think that must be so much fun.
V.E. Griffith 00:09:06
But then she winds up with a 200,000 word overwritten piece.
Rachael Herron 00:09:13
Overwriters unite. Yeah. I feel that in my soul. I have a few books where it’s a 93,000 word book, but there’s 100,000 words in the trash that were never used. They’re not overlapped words. They’re just a whole different book. Problematic.
V.E. Griffith 00:09:32
Yeah. Cut the first 17 chapters. Yes. We had to have that conversation one time.
Rachael Herron 00:09:38
I just did that recently. I just did that on the Seven Miracles of Beatrix Holland. I wrote for, I think, probably about a month, and I forgot about this. This isn’t even counted in my time. I think I wrote about 40,000 words and then put it away for a month and then threw it all out. It just was absolutely wrong. And I started over, and I only remember that recently. I’m like, why? I was looking at the trash. I’m like, Why is there so many extra words? I’m like, oh, yeah, there was a whole different book. She was a different person. It was a different plot. But it’s still the same book. Yeah. Trash it.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:10:10
So does your editing process change between nonfiction and fiction? How does that work for you?
Rachael Herron 00:10:19
I really like this question because I don’t think I’d ever really thought about it. I think it is very different in that for nonfiction. So for nonfiction, true nonfiction, like, I’m writing about writing. I am a plotter. I do think about what I want to write and how I want to say it and where it’s going to go in the book and how that is structured. So I have the structure ahead of time. And the revision is much easier because then I’m only going in and revising scenes and paragraphs and sentences, but they can stay where they are. But when we’re talking about fiction or memoir, memoir is technically nonfiction, but doesn’t really fall in that how to nonfiction bucket. Fiction and memoir has story structure and therefore can be super problematic when it comes to revision. So for memoir and fiction, I do that thing that I tear the whole book apart and then put it back together trying to figure out the structure. And again, I would do better if I was a better plotter, but I am not.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:11:24
He likes the plot.
Rachael Herron 00:11:27
Yeah, but I don’t know if you like, on J. Thorne, we had a show called The Writers Well for a few years, many years, and he helped me through plotting a book once, and I plotted the whole thing, and I hated it so much. I wrote the book. I hated it. Readers like it, so, I mean, they can’t always tell when we hate a book. But I hated the process of having it all plotted out so much. I don’t think I could do it. It just killed my soul. But I also am wildly jealous of people like, you, V.E., that’s what I want to do, but it’s not good for me.
V.E. Griffith 00:12:03
Well, I will give you props for one other thing that Ms. Catherine cannot stand. You and I are both in the Scrivener club.
Rachael Herron 00:12:11
Oh, I love scrivener. However, I will say I use 4% of what Scrivener does, and I don’t know how to use the other 96%, and I can’t get a book out of Scrivener to save my life. It is so painful to move it to Word when you finally have to send it to your editor. But otherwise I do everything in scrivener. I keep my classes in Scrivener. I keep project gardening projects in Scrivener all day long. I love your face. No.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:12:36
I’m like Google Docs. Microsoft Word, OneNote. Those are, like, where I build all of my stuff.
Rachael Herron 00:12:45
Again, I’m impressed by that.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:12:49
He hates it because I’ll send him stuff, and he’s like, Why did you send it like this? And I’m like, that’s how I write it.
Rachael Herron 00:12:57
That’s how it works for you, and that’s what matters. Yeah.
V.E. Griffith 00:13:01
So you’ve talked about hiring editors in the past for your self published stuff. At what point are you ready to hire a developmental editor or a line editor? Or do you get that done in one package? Where does that come for you?
Rachael Herron 00:13:15
I know I’m ready to hire a developmental editor when I just can’t see anything else to fix in the book on a structural level, and I try to have the book as clean as I possibly can so it’s also on the sentence level and the word level. I try to get it at the point at which I know everything’s in the place where I want it, even though an editor will help me tear it apart and put it back together again. When I’m at the point where I’m literally putting in words and then staring at it for a while and then taking them out. I’m like, I’m done. I can’t wonder if I should put the word blue here or over there anymore. And that’s usually about I usually do three to four drafts, full drafts, plus a bunch of smaller revision passes, and then it will go to my editor. And when I’m self publishing, I always hire a developmental editor who does a lot of line editing in there. And then I’m kind of blessed in that my copy editor also does some line editing. And that’s one of those things I always like to tell everybody that you need to ask what you’re getting, because line editing, as you know, VE, is like one of those things. Like, where does it fit? Some developmental editors do it, some copy editors do it. Sometimes it stands on its own. So I always make sure where it’s coming from. But I like to get line editing from both sides, the big structural and also from the copy editor. And if you have a strong developmental editor and a strong copy editor, then it’s just magical. So good. Nice. So good. So necessary. Yeah. All right. That’s cool, though.
V.E. Griffith 00:14:51
What was the spark for your 90 days courses? And because we focus on revision here, on revision wizards, particularly 90 day revision.
Rachael Herron 00:14:59
Yeah, I think that the 90 day revision was almost the spark for 90 Days to Done. So those are master classes that I teach two to three times a year. And they’re what the tin says. It’s 90 days. I walk people through writing their first a lot of them, their first books, although I’ve had people in there who have written like 20 books, and they come into 90 Days to Done. But I really wanted to get people to the point where they had a book so that then I could teach them revision. Because, like I said, I could not find the class that I wanted to take. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I wanted someone to not just tell me generally how to revise a book, but to walk next to me during the despair of revising a book. Because I talk a lot about dips and surges. But when you’re in the dip of revising a book, I think that’s where most people like, if you are a rare bird and have finished a book, you are the rarer bird who actually goes in and revises it because it’s so hard. And there are just times during revision where you’re like, well, no, I was wrong. I’ve broken it completely. I will never be able to fix it. And it’s just easier to walk away. And most people do that, and two years later, they look at it again and they go, no, still can’t fix that book. I’ll write a different book, but I believe that any book is salvageable, any book is revisable. And so that’s kind of why I wanted to create those courses. And also, one of the motivations for creating it was that I was already coaching quite a bit, and J. Thorn was like, well, why don’t you just offer a class? I’m like, I don’t want to do that. He says, you should do it anyway. And so I did, and he was right. And I love teaching these courses. I absolutely love them. Yeah. Thanks, J.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:16:40
Awesome. Yeah. J does a lot of that for us, too.
Rachael Herron 00:16:43
He’s such a problem, that man. In the best way.
V.E. Griffith 00:16:47
Yeah. He’s pushing me to come up with some sort of a challenge.
Rachael Herron 00:16:51
V.E. Griffith 00:16:53
Or some kind of a business kind of thing where you wind up doing either one on one or group teaching.
Rachael Herron 00:17:00
You know, he’s such a he’s so entrepreneurial minded. I don’t think he can help it. You should do that. That’s great.
V.E. Griffith 00:17:15
All right. You have threatened at least to do a 90 days book.
Rachael Herron 00:17:21
V.E. Griffith 00:17:21
How is that coming? Or is it coming? Or is it?
Rachael Herron 00:17:25
It is coming, but it’s been on the back burner. I have the 90 Days to Done book. I think I have about 50,000 words written in it, and I just got attracted by all the other shiny stuff. I wrote a novel that’s currently waiting its turn in line to be revised. I wrote Seven Miracles. I wrote a memoir about recovery. I wrote another memoir about moving to New Zealand. I’m working on another kind of mindset book on writing. But I would like to get back to 90 Days to Done again so that then I can write 90 day revision, because that’s what I really want to write. That’s what I want to write. Why don’t I just write that?
V.E. Griffith 00:18:00
Yeah. I can guarantee you at least one preorder.
Rachael Herron 00:18:04
There we go. I think I would enjoy writing it, and yeah, maybe that’s going to help push me a little bit to do it, because I don’t have to write 90 Days to Done first. No.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:18:14
And you could do it in 90 days if that helps.
Rachael Herron 00:18:17
That’s true. I could. In fact, I should do it in one of my classes and then revise it in the next session. That’s a great idea, actually. I don’t know why I never thought of that.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:18:29
Because you need another pantser to help you pants it.
Rachael Herron 00:18:32
Yes. And it is really panting. Yeah. Although nonfiction is easier that way. Like I said, the buckets. You can create the buckets ahead of time and then fill them, whereas in the novel, I’m just like I don’t even know if there is a bucket. Could be a cauldron. It could be the burlap sack. I have no idea. Very Ursula le Guin, the carrier bag theory of fiction. That’s what we’re going for.
V.E. Griffith 00:18:57
There you go. Well, what’s next in your editing journey? Are you trying to learn more, or are you simply sticking with the process that, you know, works?
Rachael Herron 00:19:08
I love that. I stick with the process that works for me. But in teaching, it I tend to read. So I stick with the process. That works for me, for me. But I tend to read all the books that come out and I’m always trying to learn more about revision so that I can offer other people tools. And then every once in a while I’ll be like, that sounds like a fun tool. Maybe I’ll try it and then I’ll try it and I’m like, It’s great. I can’t think of one right now off the top of my head, but I really have this theory of a toolbox for writers, especially for revision. There is this one toolbox that is called revision, and all writers have it. And some people, they don’t have very many tools in the revision box yet. But once you get the tools in place, I believe that I will never know how to write a first draft. Like a first draft is always going to stymie me and come out of nowhere. But when I hit revision, the revision toolbox comes out. And I use the tools. Sometimes I use them in different order and sometimes I use the hammer more or the saw more, depending on what I’m working on. But it works for fiction, memoir, nonfiction. It works for essays, it works for articles. The only thing that doesn’t work for journal is for journaling, because journaling is the only thing I don’t revise. But the toolbox for revision is always so sturdy. So yes, I’m always trying to learn more tools, or maybe even a better analogy is to hone the tools that I have to sharpen them and keep them in good working order.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:20:33
So what would you say is your number one tip or tool in this case for revisions? If someone was starting out and you’re like, this is like the best, my.
Rachael Herron 00:20:42
Top advice, what would it be besides the sentence outline, which I think is invaluable for most people, the reverse outline, some people call it. My number one tool is postits, and it’s the little postit or whatever size you want. But I like the little ones because I write so much, so many of them, and I make a post it whenever I have an idea. Sometimes I am writing the first draft and I make an idea that I want to incorporate into the second draft. When I’m in revision, I make a postit and I stick it on a page. It can be small, it can be like her eye should be blue, not green. Or it can be kill off this main character and add a brand new one. And both of those ideas will fit on a small postit. And what that does is it removes it from me having to remember it. It also, rather than typing it into the document or typing it into another list on a computer somehow, somewhere, it keeps it tactile and I can look at them and move them around and sort them if I want here’s some character ideas. Here’s some of this. When I’m skimming my book before, as I’m getting ready to revise for the first time, I don’t write in the manuscript anywhere. I write 100 postits. And the thing about the postits that I do when I’m in revision is that I read them every single day. When I sit down to work, it only takes like five minutes. If I’ve got a hundred postits or whatever, I skim over all of the postits, even if I am nowhere near working on those postits yet. There’s a poster here for how I’m going to fix something in the 37th chapter. I’m on chapter two. But because I look at the postits every day, my brain is always thinking in the back of my mind about these problems. And therefore when I enter chapter three, I might see something or something might jump into my brain that I can seed that will help me when I get to chapter 37. Because I just looked at that posted, I’m not really thinking about it very clearly, but it’s there and I’m always touching and thinking about it. I just think that postits are magic. They should pay me to be their spokesperson and I would take the money because I love them so much.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:22:48
Yeah. If I do outlines, then they’re like probably throwing them away. I write them all on postits so I can move them all around. And then usually they get lost or tossed anyway because I’m not using it. It was that first idea and I was like and then I just go and write the book that I want.
Rachael Herron 00:23:09
But it got you moving. Yeah. And I just think that it use I mean, it really I don’t think that it does use a different part of our brains to have something tactile and physical to move. It’s not just our brains worrying, it’s our hands moving and yeah, it’s fantastic.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:23:25
So where are you keeping Post It notes? Because are you keeping them on a big board? Do you print out your stuff and then stick it all over?
Rachael Herron 00:23:33
I usually just stick them in my bullet journal that I’m using at the time or any other kind of journal. Or sometimes I’ve stuck them on eight and a half by eleven piece of paper on a clipboard, as long as I can be able to flip through all of them quickly. And then once I solve a problem on one of the postits, I usually save it somewhere, I remove it and I save it in a big box and someday I’ll have a bonfire or compost them or something. But yeah, I like thinking of every postit as a problem that I have solved. One of my students got herself one of those waitress spikes that you slap the receipt onto and she slams them on there. And I just think, that is so cool. I need to get one of those. That’s a cool image.
V.E. Griffith 00:24:18
I’m always afraid that I’ll slap my hand with one of those.
Rachael Herron 00:24:21
Yeah. Maybe that’s why I haven’t got one.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:24:22
Yeah, you do it well, and you get used to, like that’s the spot.
Rachael Herron 00:24:28
And I was a waitress. I remember. You do. Yes. But you do get used to where it is. Yeah.
V.E. Griffith 00:24:36
Okay, well, where can we find you? On the Internet.
Rachael Herron 00:24:39
I am at rachaelherron.com. I have a nice little free writers email newsletter that people can sign up for rachaelherron.com/write.
V.E. Griffith 00:24:52
I’ll compare with that.
Rachael Herron 00:24:54
V.E. Griffith 00:24:55
Rachael Herron 00:24:56
And if you do that, you get a little seven minute video on how to tell whether you’re writing the right book or not, which you are. But I talk about that. So, yeah, come join that. And Rachael is spelled R-A-C-H-A-E-L. Herron with two R’s. So come on by.
V.E. Griffith 00:25:12
Tell us about your awesome podcast.
Rachael Herron 00:25:14
Oh. It’s called How Do You Write? Yeah. And I’m about 350 episodes deep, and I love doing it. And I talk to people about their process of writing because I am obsessed with process, and I’m always looking for the silver bullet. It does not exist. But I will continue looking until the end of time, because something has got to make this easier. And truly, I have gotten so many tips and tricks from that podcast just listening to how writers do it. I love doing it. That’s? How do you write? All podcatchers. Thank you so much for having me, both of you. Well, thank you for coming.
V.E. Griffith 00:25:50
Really appreciate it. Thank you for your time.
Rachael Herron 00:25:52
V.E. Griffith 00:25:53
All right, have a good evening.
Rachael Herron 00:25:55
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:25:56
Stay Magical. Thank you so much for joining us for today’s episode. You can find every episode on your favorite podcast player and on YouTube. For transcripts, please visit our website at revisionwizards.com. They go live the same day as our episodes.
V.E. Griffith 00:26:13
If you’d like to reach out to us separately, you can find me at vegrifith.com, Miss Catherine at scribes-pen.com.
Miss Catherine M.H. 00:26:21