Category Archives: on writing

Staying Motivated After Finishing a Draft

Monday I finished a major rewrite of my latest YA novel–yay! This rewrite was primarily switching the POV from third-person past tense to first-person present tense. I’m no stranger to rewrites, but I have to say, changing the POV was probably the most frustrating and tedious rewrite I have done so far. Line editing is not my strong suit or something I look forward to, so once I got this whole MS in first-person I felt like throwing a party!

However, the book is not done. Nope. Not even close.

The POV is changed, but so are other elements in the book. While I’ve been editing this book off and on for over a year, I’ve decided to treat this new POV version like a rough draft. I have a “new” character voice to strengthen, character relationships that are changing, and plot elements to eliminate. I’ve spent SO much time with this book I need a break from before tackling the next step.

So…now what?

I have several novel projects that all need attention, but since there are only 24 hours in every day, I need to decide what to focus on. Do I work on the half-finished project or research for the new idea I came up with last week? Should I keep editing and work on that first draft I never went back to? The possibilities are endless, but my well of motivation is starting to run dry. Writing takes a lot of concentration and is a very isolating past time. There are stretches of time when I’m a font of ideas and write like the wind, but between those times I battle a lull of mental energy and the encroaching feeling that nothing is progressing fast enough no matter how hard I’m working.

Today’s goal is to see if I can find a project that interests me enough to close the internet and keep writing a little until it’s time to return to my YA novel. My goal is to keep working on something, even if I’m taking more breaks than usual. I don’t want to lose my writing routine, but I also understand that taking breaks is necessary if the work becomes frustrating and unproductive. I’m hoping to keep doing a little every day to keep my creative juices flowing. Maybe enjoying different worlds and characters for a while will help keep me excited to write.

How do you stay motivated after finishing a major rewrite, draft, or other milestone in your work?

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Filed under Editing, ideas, inspiration, on writing, rewrite, rough draft, struggling, to do, Uncategorized, work in progress, writing, writing novels, writing styles

Patience with Editing Part 2

A much delayed post, so apologies for that, but here we are!

A month ago I decided to return to one of my middle grade (MG) manuscripts (MS) to give it a read through after letting it sit untouched for three months. As I mentioned before, I often can’t help myself when it comes to fixing things right away. The proper exercise is to read the book in one-two sittings to take in the MS as a whole and not edit anything. Well…I modified that to help my compulsive need to tinker with everything. Here’s how it went.

First of all, I couldn’t get through the book in one sitting. I work long hours and so I didn’t have the focus or energy to read it all in one day. Reading it all the way through is exhausting, but it’s also the best way to see the book as a whole. In the future, I’d like to accomplish this, but at least I finished my MS in three days, so that’s a win for me!

Second, I gave myself permission to fix grammar issues and odd sentence structure as needed. This also makes sense since I’m usually bad at catching spelling errors (#SpellCheckIsMyBFF) so if I saw one it’s taken care of! I also limited myself to fixing occasional sentence structure so I could get the need to edit out of my system without making too many changes. As I said, this exercise is for the Big Picture. There are months of small picture edits ahead of me!

Third, and most helpful, I made notes in the margins. This was very helpful since there were chapters and paragraphs I thought would work better in a different section, but I didn’t want to take time away from reading the book as a whole to fix these issues. (On the flip side, some edits I made a note of to change, I realized a paragraph later that my original writing made more sense. I should trust my past-writer self, even if I think my present-writer self is more competent.) Now I have a blueprint of what order I want the events in, AND other comments of what to add/delete to keep the story moving. I highly recommend doing this if you’re waiting to come back to an old MS.

All in all, I considered my editing venture a success. I’m sure my method isn’t perfect, but for me it’s a step in the right direction. The writing process is long and tedious, and I’m always looking for ways to fine-tune my process to make it more efficient. The next time I let a MS sit and come back to it, I’m planning to continue applying what I used in my MG MS and hope to continue to develop a great editing rhythm that works for my writing style.

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Filed under Editing, ideas, inspiration, on writing, rough draft, Uncategorized, work in progress, writing, writing novels, writing styles

Patience with Editing

I’ve mentioned the book On Writing on this blog a couple of times. I do believe it is one of the best books about the craft of writing and that all writers should read it once. One thing King talks about in this book is what to do after a first draft. Once the first draft is done, he suggests putting it “in a drawer” and leaving it alone for about 3 months. The next step is then to read the whole book in one sitting WITHOUT editing it.

Both of these steps take time and patience, and while leaving a book alone and then reading it straight through seem like easy tasks, I’m finding it much more difficult than I thought.

When I finish a first draft I’m usually very excited. It’s gratifying to have a completed project, and my new projects always feel like the “best” manuscript I’ve done so far. (While the more I write the more I improve my writing, but let’s be honest, not every book we write is pure gold right away.) Since I am a Pantser (When I write I don’t necessarily know where the story is going or how it will end) when I finish a MS I have a better sense of the plot arc. Many of my chapters tend to be me getting into some insignificant details that were fun to write, but I know most of these chapters will not survive beyond draft one. Through my ramblings I find ways to bring small details full circle, and the plot becomes clearer and more structured the deeper I go into the story. Therefore, when I finish a first draft, I want to go back right away and clean up the beginning. Although this impulse makes sense, it is still a wise idea to put the MS away for a few months. At most I’ll write a couple notes to myself on the bottom of the MS so I don’t forget what to look for later on.

The reason for leaving the MS alone is so when I come back to it I can see it all with fresh eyes. The day I finish a MS I’m too blinded with the joy of completing it that it’s harder to see where the errors are. After a few months, the book is still familiar enough that I remember the story, but those errors jump out more easily. It’s a good practice to let it sit, and while you wait you can always work on that new idea that’s been forming in the back of your mind!

I’ve gotten better at leaving my MS alone for a while, but my main struggle is with reading the book all the way through without editing right away. I don’t have the patience for this. When I see something I want to fix or something I want to add, I edit right away. I’ve literally added a sentence, and then a paragraph later I see the EXACT SAME SENTENCE my past-self wrote. Since I fixate on little errors, I don’t always catch the big-picture issues I would be more likely to see if I read the book straight through.

I’m going to start reading my middle grade fantasy project I’m coming back to. My theory is that writing this post will motivate me to stick to the plan, and maybe write another blog post about what actually happened when I’m done! I’ve officially waited three months without looking at my MS, and now I’m going to do my best to just read it. However, since I’m not (nor will I ever be) as discipled as Stephen King, I am making a compromise: I won’t do any line edits, but I will make notes in bold as I read so I remember what I can edit after I read the whole book. This way I won’t stress myself out thinking I’ll forget my editing plan. Hopefully this compromise will work, but I have a hunch I will cheat and do “just a little” bit of editing as I go…

What are your tried and true editing methods?

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Filed under Editing, inspiration, on writing, struggling, Uncategorized, work in progress, writing, writing novels

Fear of Critique

I was raised as an only child, and that combined with being the youngest grandchild in the family makes me sometimes want attention! Because of this I’m usually too eager to share my works in progress (WIP) with others. I enjoy being critiqued because a lot of the time there are large sections that people enjoy, and it makes me happy to hear that. (What writer doesn’t get all warm and fuzzy when someone likes their writing?) I’ve gotten better at being “selfish” with my WIP and waiting until I’m totally in love with the project before I open it up to my family or my critique group. However, for the first time in a long time, I’m nervous about critique.

I’m proud of this YA project, but for once I’m hesitant to get critique. I want this book to do well, and while I’m excited about my concept, I am battling with a lingering fear of rejection. I’ve been trying to get one of my MG books published and I’ve taken a break because of the rejections. Now that I have another WIP I think can succeed, I’m nervous others won’t feel the same way.

What if the drama feels forced?

What if my characters are not believable?

What if people like the concept but hate the writing?

What if…AHH!

Writing, like all art, takes courage. It’s risky letting others read your work, regardless if it’s family or a stranger I met on SCBWI. Family may be kind, but the people I let read my WIP are honest despite their bias. I can take critique, all of my novels have gone through MASSIVE overhauls because of the advice given by different people. The books always turn out better than they started. There will always be people who don’t like the book and that’s okay, but if everyone I show the book to sees that it’s not working then what do I do? For once, I’m having a hard time (as Stephen King so eloquently wrote) “murdering my darlings.”

In a few weeks I will have to let the outside world in. The MS has gone through 3 drafts, is likely as complete as I can make it on my own, and needs some other eyes on it. For now I’m still tinkering in case I catch a big problem before someone else does. I’m sharing this MS at the end of the month with my aunt who is also a writer, reader, and artist herself. I look forward to her critique, reminding myself that all my MSs are better after others read them…although a big part of me still wants to hold my darling close!

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Filed under anxiety, Editing, on writing, Rejection, second guessing, struggling, Uncategorized, writing

Focusing on Editin–SQUIRREL!

So I’ve let my most recently finished draft sit, untouched, for 8 weeks. I know King said to let it sit for 3 months, but I feel it’s been enough time to kind of “forget” the MS and come back to it fresh. However, I’m having a lot of trouble with the next step.

King’s ideal theory is to sit and read the whole MS in one sitting and make no corrections, unless they are minute grammar ones. I am finding this impossible. Once I focus, I feel I do get a lot done. However, I cannot just sit and read this MS. Yesterday I spent a couple hours reading AND editing about 1/3 of the MS. In the moment, it feels good to make these corrections and additions, especially since this MS is on the short side, even for YA. Yet it is frustrating when I cannot let go of old habits and try a new technique.

I understand why King says to just read the darn thing and not touch it. I’ve never read the MS as a whole. I’ve worked at it as we all do, in writing or editing small chapters at a time.  While I am spending time with the whole project, it’s difficult for me to sit back and read it like an actual book and not a work in progress. I may be able to do this once it’s closer to a final draft, yet even then I know I will keep fussing and touching it up.

I know a part of this “issue” is habit. I’m used to having a limit time frame to write, (30-90 minutes during nap time when nannying) and I’m also used to reading and editing other people’s works in my critique group. The majority of my experience is fixing and writing in short spurts, and I my lack of attention span is painfully clear. Even on days, like today, when I am not at work I’m having trouble focusing on the project at hand.

All people are different and have methods of writing and editing that work. I’m not saying this method is horrible and awful and shouldn’t be done, I just think I need practice and help with improving my focus for times like these when I do have a whole day to focus on a MS. Procrastination is real, and the internet is NOT helpful. (I’m even writing this blog when I should be reading my MS.)

For those of you both old and new to writing, what are some techniques you use to battle against procrastination and improve your focus to the craft? I know many of us struggle with this, so advice and techniques that work are always welcome ideas to consider!

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(Don’t?) Write What you Know

“Write what you know” is my least favorite sentence in regards to writing. I write books about kids learning how to ride dragons. Do I know how to ride dragons? Do you? (Does anyone really?) If I only write what I know, 90% of my books would not exist.

For me, even when writing realistic fiction, I like to stray away from my own life. While I have many interests, I’m not really an exciting person. I’m cautious, I hate frequent travel/road trips, and I do watch a fair amount of Netflix while taking pictures of cats. For me, what I write makes me a more interesting person. I take on new characters and personalities to explore the world (real and fantasy) from the comfort of my own dining table. While I’m sure I could find something in my life worth writing about, I prefer topics far from what I know.

I can see why some people like “write what you know.” It’s familiar and safe, and it can be a good place to start. However, if you only stick to what you know it can limit your creative potential. I am writing a YA novel with a higher level of grief and loss than I’ve ever experienced. It’s a risk since I’ve never been in the situation I threw my main character into, but I’d rather write this book than about my high school experience playing clarinet in the school musical while studying for AP exams. (Oooh, over achieving in high school…fascinating…)

Instead of “write what you know” think “write what inspires you.” I promise, if you’re interested in a subject, someone else is too. Your friends may be interested in other genres, but there are more people in the world who do have similar interests. I met a person who wanted to write a super commercial romance novel in order to sell it and make money. This person did not read much romance or really like the genre, they just wanted something to make it big. There are a ton of red flags here. If you don’t love the idea or genre, it’s not going to be good. While there are no guarantees of anyone being the next Stephen King, Nora Roberts, or JK Rowling, it’s still important to love your own writing! If you are inspired to write a flash fiction piece, short story, poem, novel, etc. then do it. The more excited and passionate you are about the project the better it will be.

I’m a classical musician so I’ve been to many recitals and concerts. I’ve heard many amazing talented performances that are super technical, but the lack of musicality makes it harder for me to enjoy the performance. Writing is the same way. If you’re writing something because you can, not because you’re passionate about it, it’s clear in the writing. If “writing what you know” inspires you, then go for it. If you’re inspired to write something but afraid to write something because you don’t “know” it, write it anyway. Stretch yourself and see what you’re capable of.

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Filed under artist, ideas, inspiration, on writing, Uncategorized, writing

Rough Draft? DONE!

Finished another first draft of a new MS! I’m really excited about this one. I think the overall idea is strong and I like my characters. Of course, there are chapters I wrote thinking “This sucks,” but hey, it’s a first draft.

It’s become a habit of mine to read Stephen King’s On Writing once every couple of years or so. I finished it again a couple weeks ago and there were many things I had forgotten. While I do not agree with EVERYTHING in that book, there are many core ideas that have stuck with me. Regardless of where you are in your writing journey (just started, seven MS in Word, successful and published) I suggest reading this book.

When it comes to first drafts, there are a few things King suggests that I’ve heard other places and that I, through experience, have found to be true. Here’s a basic breakdown of how I handle first-drafts:

  1. Don’t. Edit.
    1. If you’re about to go back and check for spelling from the day before, stop. Just, stop. The most important thing right now is the story and your ideas. Get them out on paper before they fly away! It happens, they will run away if you don’t pay enough attention, like a toddler or an off-leash dog. Get those ideas on paper. You can spell check, edit, rearrange, etc. once the draft is done.
  2. Be Selfish
    1. Don’t share your book with anyone until after you have finished 2 drafts. It doesn’t need to be Publisher-Ready, but when a book is raw and unfinished, so are your ideas. As writers, no matter what we tell ourselves, we do want people to read our stuff and like it. Don’t let someone else’s ideas get in your head before your book is done! There is plenty of time for critique once the drafts are finished and all YOUR ideas are fleshed out.
  3. Murder Your Darlings
    1. (King’s words, can you tell?) Once the rough draft is done, let it sit for several weeks and don’t look at it. I know it hurts, but let it simmer. Come back when you’ve forgotten some of it. It makes it easier to trim the fat.
    2. The delete key is both satisfying and painful, but it’s incredibly important. Less than 1% of any writers’ first drafts are ready to be published. They need to be cut, re-formed, cut, smashed, molded, and written again. It’s a long process, and it’s an important one. Even if you really like that one chapter no one else does, if it really holds no value to the story, that delete key is your new bestie.

In my opinion, no matter how many drafts a book goes through, it is never done. Would I change some things in my published work The Healing Pool. Yes. Yes. YES. I don’t think I will ever feel finished with any of my books. There will always be something you will want to tinker with and change, but when those changes become smaller and smaller, it is time to get that work out into the world.

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