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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

From Pantser to Plotter

I’ve learned a couple new terms about what kind of writer a person can be: pantser and plotter. It’s pretty self-explanatory. A pantser “flies by the seat of their pants” and just starts writing without necessarily knowing what’s going to happen next. A plotter plots out the book ahead of time before writing.

There’s a lot of grey area between plotter and pantser, and one method is not inherently better than the other. I tend to be a pantser when I write. Sometimes I pants my way to the finish line, and other times I figure out where the book is going and plot the remainder of the book. For the majority of my books, I usually have at least two of these elements in mind before I start writing: a beginning, a premise, and a main character. Recently I was revisiting an old MG fantasy book I started, and I hated all of it but the main character. I rewrote the book leaving nothing the same except for her, and it’s a much better story! Pantsing my way through writing a novel has worked well for me, but with this new project I’m tinkering with, I’m changing that.

A month ago or more, I had a small idea, and five ways I wanted to start a book. I had my main character, but there were so many angles I wanted to use to give this book a funny/sassy/clever punch in that first paragraph I couldn’t figure out where to start or what tone I wanted to use. So I wrote down all my beginnings, and then put it away for a while to let my subconscious work it out.What ended up happening was that I formed the plot of the book before officially starting to write.

This is a rare treat for me! For the first time that I can recall, I have the whole book plotted and organized before I start writing. It’s both strange and satisfying. I’ve got the order of my big plot points, good one-liners, and some dialog worked out, and it all fits within the outline I created for myself. (So far that is, new plot elements have a way of showing up whether I want them to or not.)

The ironic downside for me in plotting is that I want to keep fussing with the outline instead of just writing the darn story. I like the detail oriented work, and it’s fun coming up with short bits of dialog or a subplot that keeps the story moving. Actually sitting down and writing the book now feels like a chore! I think it’s partly because the mystery is gone. I know what’s going to happen to my characters instead of writing and thinking of things on the fly. It’s nice to have an outline so I don’t have to worry, but for me it’s taking away a bit of the magic where my characters direct me instead of the other way around.

I’m sure once I suck it up and start writing the magic will return. It’s nice having a new way to think through a book, and I’m hoping with a real-live outline, my first draft will be at least a little more coherent than usual!

Pantsers, Plotters, and everyone in between: how do you get yourself from start to finish?

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Make the Writing Process FUN!

Let’s face it, there are few easy things about writing. You have to write the thing. Then edit the thing. Then edit some more. Then get the courage to share the thing. Then edit more and more…and after a while, the thing is “done!”

Then there’s the whole to-publish-or-not-to-publish decision, contests submissions, query letters, magazine submissions…

No, let’s not dwell on the publishing bits right now. Today, I want to make you want to love writing again! Writing a book takes TIME and PATIENCE. Even if we have these things it doesn’t make the process easier. Let’s take a step back. I want to list at least one fun thing about a few parts of the writing process. So, if you’re stuck on draft 1 or draft 258, maybe this will help you see it in a new light.

  1. FIRST DRAFT: Ok, we all know the struggle–the ominous blank page—but you know what? That page isn’t holding you back! You can literally put ANYTHING on that page. You can explore character development, setting, experiment with plot twists, anything you want. The first draft is there for your ideas, your spur-of-the-moment thoughts, and you can test the waters. Your first draft is all you, and it’s okay to ignore grammar and write a few terrible chapters. Get your ideas out of your head and let your conscious and subconscious flow onto the page with no restrictions. Once it’s done, you can brag that you finished it, and toy with your friends and family who are FORBIDDEN to read it. Bask in the glow of your finished product for a while, then begin editing once it’s had time to sit on the back-burner.
  2. SECOND/THIRD DRAFT: Now you’ve got this glorious WIP (work in progress) written, but it’s a mess. Ugh, now you have to sort through it…or…now you can improve it! You wrote it. The bones are in place, the ideas are there, and now you get to sort out the puzzle. I love editing since I don’t have to come up with a beginning, middle, and end. Sure, some of it is out of order, but it’s all more-or-less there. You get to read your ideas again, remember how fun it was to come up with them, and then weed out the bits that were less inspiring and build off the good stuff. Now your WIP feels like it’s going somewhere. Huzzah! But, you’ve done most of what you can do on your own, and it’s time to get new eyes.
  3. GETTING BETA READERS/CRITIQUE PARTNERS: This takes a lot of courage. Your precious baby WIP is ready to start walking and be out on its own. It seems scary, but that’s one of the reasons why you wrote it, right? We all write for ourselves, but most of us also want people to read it eventually! This is a stepping stone to getting the WIP into the world. Remember, the people you ask to critique your WIP know that it needs a little help before it can truly be on its own, but also they can encourage you and find places that are working. It’s a great way to find out what people want more of and what they want less of. You can return to your book with fresh eyes and make it an even better version of itself. How cool is that?
  4. POST-CRITIQUE DRAFTS: Now you’ve gotten all these opinions and you’re second guessing everything you’ve done in your WIP. However, these opinions are just that, opinions. You will get suggestions that may not feel like the right way to take your WIP and that’s fine. The beauty of this industry is that it’s all subjective. There isn’t one right answer. Yes, you should take suggestions from others, but if you get conflicting opinions about a chapter/scene/character, go with the perspective that makes the most sense to you. It’s still your work! You get to decide how to improve your awesome WIP. Also, if you get a number of people telling you the same thing, that’s the easiest edit in the world! If a number of people agree that XYZ should actually be YZX, then boom, your WIP is instantly better! Good critique partners want to help you, and once you see it through their eyes, hopefully you will agree and feel even more confident about your WIP.

The rest of the writing and editing process follows a similar pattern of fixing and getting more opinions. I often look for more and more eyes on my book and edit along the way. I can’t count which draft I’m on for most of my books. If you’re stuck on a WIP, try to let some things go if you can. If it’s a first draft, write down crap ideas and fix it later. (I call it productive procrastination: you’re still writing, even if you know it will be deleted.) If you’re stuck on an old draft, put it away for a while and start something new. We all need a break from our own tedious thoughts. It’s okay to put something in a drawer and move on for a while. When you come back to it fresh, you will either find those errors you couldn’t see before, or you can realize it’s actually in good shape.

Try to find the joy in the process, even if it feels like too much sometimes. Remember: all writers feel the same way you do. None of us find this easy, we’ve all been rejected, and we’ve all been given brutally honest feedback from trusted critique partners. Write on, write on, and keep the joy close.

 

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Writing and Editing is Better with a Deadline

I’ve always been a planner. Since I was a little kid I’ve planned ahead and finished assignments with plenty of time before it’s actually due. Procrastination was a rare occurrence.

That all changed when I started writing novels.

I’ve learned that I am not the best at getting things done without the pressure of a deadline looming over me. My novels have no end date when they need to be completed, and instead of it giving me freedom, it is breeding procrastination. Even when I have the basic plot of a book figured out, I still have days when it’s a struggle to sit down, focus, and write it.

I figured this out when working with my critique group. We meet up every other week and critique about 10 pages of each others’ works. When the email goes out with the week’s submissions, I am instantly opening them and have them read and critiqued that day so it’s ready for later in the week.

Having a deadline and a real-live person waiting for feedback is a great motivator to get me going. I don’t have that for most of my novels unless there’s a critique partner waiting for me to send them my writing, but even then, they’re only going to read it once. I can prep and get it polished up for them, but it’s not like they’re going to ask to see the revisions based on their suggestions later. I would love that, for someone to tell me what to fix so they can see it again, but alas, that’s not the reality.

I’m still trying to find the best way to motivate myself to write on a regular basis. I have a lot written, but my progress varies week to week. I have yet to find the perfect time of day or to-do list or something that keeps me on track. It’s hard to be a self-starter when I’ve spent so much time in school with teachers giving exact assignments and deadlines. Even though I don’t miss school, I do miss having other people holding me accountable so I finish things in a timely manner.

How do you stay motivated and keep your writing goals?

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No Such Thing as an Original Plot

I’ve come to realize that most of my stories have been written before. In fact, ALL of our stories have been written before. Ever heard of Christopher Booker’s theory of the Seven Basic Plots? Here they are:

1.Overcoming the Monster

2.Rags to Riches

3.The Quest

4.Voyage and Return

5.Rebirth

6.Comedy

7.Tragedy

Every story ever written–book, screen play, theatre play, etc–fits into one of these categories. I primarily write MG fantasy, so my basic plots are in the 1, 3, and 4 categories. I can’t say my dragon rider story with a female lead is the most unique thing in the world. There are hundreds of great dragon books out there, and female leads in fantasy are getting more and more prevalent.

That does not mean you should not write what you want to write. Yes, dragon books are everywhere, but they are fun to write and to read! If you like what you’re writing, there are readers for you. People want fresh takes on their favorite genres across the board. What’s challenging is finding that fresh twist. It could be a character that stands out, challenging drama, or a combination of things that keeps your book from being a direct comparison to a published work. It’s not easy. It’s especially frustrating when you think you’ve come up with an idea and someone else recognizes it. Whoops.

What to do? Read a lot. A lot. Read your genre and research what is already out there. What books are popular now, and which ones have stood the test of time? Find out what’s working and learn from it to improve your own writing. It won’t work to steal the same character/plot twist, but it could inspire you to find that edge your work needs to succeed.

What basic plots do you find yourself writing? Who are your favorite authors that inspire you to write?

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Why Critique Groups/Partners Matter

Don’t you love it when something finally clicks?

I struggle writing book openings. Most of my novels don’t get “good” until around chapter 6–and that’s a hard sell when you want an agent to read it! However, the more I tinker with the beginning, the more I hate it and it turns into a vicious spiral leading to me wanting to abandon the book. Not a good place to be. So I re-submitted the opening to my critique group.

My group had already read the whole thing, which turned out to be extremely helpful. These people had read both books one and two in the trilogy. Now that we revisited the beginning, they could get into how well/poorly I introduced the characters, and pinpoint why it the beginning dragged on. Basically, I wasn’t foreshadowing enough from the get go. We got into a big discussion about where to hint at information and where I over-explained, leaving no mystery for the reader.

I had my lightbulb, ah-ha, whatever-you-wanna-call-it moment during this discussion. There’s a conversation between the MC and her father about why he doesn’t want her to learn how to ride dragons. His reactions to her frustration and determination were bland and vague. One of my critique partners suggested he hint that if she doesn’t make it as a dragon rider, she will never come back home. This is revealed MUCH later in the books, but bringing it up here I think was a great idea. It hints at the danger of the school while still leaving room for the big WHY when the MC discovers it for herself. I got so excited I actually wanted to start working on this novel again!

It’s easy to get discouraged as a writer looking at your own work. You love it, you hate it, you kinda like it, you love it, then you hate it again. It’s a crippling cycle. I cannot stress how important it is to find people to help you critique your work. I am very fortunate to have found my group on Meetups.com. Talking it through in person (for me) helps get the juices flowing. There are online resources for critiques too if there are no in-person groups in your area.

Finding the right group is a process. You want to find people who are honest, yet not always negative. It helps to have people who can speak candidly, even if it’s hard to hear sometimes, but you don’t need to take every piece of advice. What I find most helpful is when more than one person mentions the same thing–that’s a sign something needs to be changed. Critique groups and partners also help with those “lightbulb” moments because they see things we cannot see for ourselves. If you’re feeling frustrated and discouraged, I hope you reach out and find people to help read your work. Critiquing other people also helps you learn how to edit and can even give you ideas for your own work.

Places I found critique groups/partners:

SCBWI.org: Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. For picture books through YA only.

Meetups.com: Great for a little bit of everything. Try out one or two in your area, and the people there may know of other groups as well.

Friends and Family: Yes, they will be BIASED, but they can be very helpful beta readers for general places in your book that work/don’t work.

You can always do a Google search too to find more specific groups for your genre. Remember: you don’t have to pay to get a good critique. What’s most important is to do your research about the group first to ensure they are in the same boat as you. Hiring a professional editor is another ball game. Swap with other writers first before looking for professional help.

If you have a critique group you trust, please share where you found it!

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Keep Those Midnight Ideas

Yesterday I was hanging out in a cafe, waiting for my car to finish at the mechanic, when I found myself bored with my current projects. Well, not bored so much as not willing/able to work on them. I finished draft #3 of the YA book which is now being read, another is with a critique partner, and the other 2 are “marinating” for a while. As much as I’ve gotten the editing bug (as I wrote about earlier this week) there wasn’t inspiration. Somehow I managed to not give into temptation and scroll through Facebook. Instead, I went through two folders on my desktop: Started Novels, and Ideas.

Have you ever had that idea that sounds amazing either just before you fall asleep or just before you wake up?I keep pen and paper/post-its on my headboard for just these occasions. Sometimes these ideas/dreams are the most revolutionary thoughts ever to come into existence…that is, until you’ve had coffee in the morning and actually read what you wrote.

I’m telling you right now: Keep them.

Those weird, incoherent thoughts that popped into your mind, write it down, start a Word/Google/Scrivener document and jot down more random thoughts. Save it in a folder for a rainy day and come back to it when looking for inspiration. A year after the fact, it may not be as stupid as you once thought.

I often find myself mulling over ideas for weeks before starting a project. If I’m smart, I write my initial thoughts down and then let my brain ruminate on them for a while. My YA book has been in the back of my mind since high school. I was thinking of a short story idea at the time, then when I came back to it, I realized it had the potential for a novel-length work.

Anyway, yesterday I went through my ideas folder and found some cool stuff. One was a project I totally forgot about, even though I wrote about 15 pages. I have no clue where I was going with it, and my Plot Points doc I had apparently decided to stop working. However, another project (one I actually remember starting) turned out to be a little better than I remembered. I saw a movie the other day and my mind went back to this little nothing of a book beginning and I got to thinking. My original plan when I started this book about a year ago was kind of unoriginal and cute. I went through the 3 chapters I wrote and have decided to take it in a different direction and see what happens. I may get stuck after another 3 chapters and let it sit for a year. Awesome, who cares. I’m writing, creating, thinking, and practicing my craft. Don’t give up on your half-awake brain too soon! You never know where you’ll find inspiration in a period of writer’s block.

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NaNoEdMo

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is almost upon us. For those of you unfamiliar with NaNo, the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days during the month of November. Impossible? I guess not.

Personally I haven’t ever done a NaNoWriMo challenge. Maybe someday if I have an idea percolating that’s ready to come out, but I’m one of those people who writes better with a strong idea than out of habit. I want to be one of those writers who can sit and crank out 3,000 words a day without batting an eye, but alas, not yet.

Each November I try to challenge myself to some writing goal, and this year, I am creating my own National Novel Editing Month! I currently have 4 projects that are between second-draft stage and ready-to-query stage. All of these books need different kinds of attention, whether it’s editing, polishing, adding critique comments, or writing a query/synopsis.

My distraction level is at an all-time high on the weekends, so my goal for November is to edit something everyday and not just when it’s convenient. This will be a challenge since I’m pretty burnt out on the weekends, and then some weekends get crazy with extra work, volunteer events, and family obligations. I’m hoping to stick to my guns and get this done so I can be one step closer to one of those writers who can sit and write all morning despite the temptations of Netflix and the internet!

Anyone doing the traditional NaNoWriMo this November? Anyone else creating their own version to fit their writing goals? I’d love to hear about it!

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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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