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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

Don’t be Afraid of Big Changes

Sometimes a new perspective can make all the difference. I’ve been editing my latest manuscript for the past year and a half, and in that time it has made great strides. It got accepted into the Author Mentor Match (AMM*), has been through one re-write, small picture edits, and I’ve even queried a few agents. I thought I was in the final stretch. However, the feedback I’ve gotten from more than one agent has been a biggie: they’re not connecting with the voice.

At first I wasn’t too concerned. One agent that isn’t connecting with the voice could be an objective criticism, as many things are. But when another person took the time to say THE EXACT SAME THING I knew there was something more I could be doing. It’s true the book is in good shape and well written, but something about it is not quite working.

I talked about it with my AMM mentor, and she gave me a simple piece of advice: try writing it in first person. So I rewrote the first page, and low and behold, the voice is there. I could feel it as I was writing, and she confirmed that the voice is strong and, in her words, popping. Some other people who saw the original draft also read the rewritten first chapter and agreed that first person draft was drawing them in more than third person draft.

This is good and “bad” news all at once. A new perspective, a first person perspective, will completely change this book. Likely for the better, but it’s not as simple as replacing “she said” with “I say.” The thought of re-writing this book is exhausting, but I also know it’s for the best. If rewriting the book will help the story then it’s clearly the way to go–even if it means more work for me!

Being a writer means not being afraid to make big changes. Listening to constructive feedback and trying new things is not always easy. We fall in love with our characters and scenes, so the thought of rewriting a book or slashing a chapter can be a painful thought. This does not mean you have to take every critique or comment to heart, of course. It’s your story, so ultimately you get to decide what you want to do. BUT, if you allow yourself to be open and try something new, it’s worth a try to see if it makes your story stand out.

 

*AMM: A program for un-agented MG and YA aspiring authors to work one-on-one long term with an agented author in their genre. Read more HERE

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Hurry Up & Wait: A Query Tale

As of the first week of September I have officially started querying my first YA novel! I’ve been working on it for about 2 years and it’s a project I’m very proud of. I’m hoping it will eventually make a life for itself beyond my laptop.

Now for the most agonizing part: querying.

For those of you who haven’t queried yet, it’s a lot of “hurry up and wait.” You spend months and years working on a book, then a query, then a synopsis, finally send it out, and then nothing. For days/weeks/months you wait to get a response from an agent. Some agents don’t even respond unless they’re interested, so then it’s a painfully slow wait to see if maybe they will be interested at that 30 day mark or if it’s the dreaded and annoying no-reponse-means-no. Even a form rejection letter is better than nothing, but still, sometimes you have to sit on your hands and watch your email box for weeks before you can do anything.

So why not just keep querying you ask? Well, it’s best to query in small batches. Yes, it sucks to wait, but it’s worth it. Depending on the feedback you get actually says a lot about your query letter.

If you get asked for more material, or even a very personalized rejection letter, you’re doing something right. The query’s job is to grab the attention of the agent, so if you’ve got them hooked enough to read more of your story then you know you’re on the right track. (Not everyone who asks for material ends up wanting to represent you though, but again, it’s a start!) A personalized rejection letter also means you got their attention, but that they don’t think it will fit their list. It’s the best kind of rejection, even if it hurts a little at first.

But let’s say you send out 6 query letters and get no responses or only form rejection letters. At this time I’d suggest overhauling the query letter. It’s annoying, but it’s necessary. Think of it like a back of the book summary, it needs to get people’s attention. Test your out on your family, co-workers, and critique partners. If you’re a member of Sub it Club or SCBWI, then you can have other writers give you help as well. Read successful query letters and hooks. The hook is that one sentence that grabs you from the get-go, and for me it’s the hardest thing about a query letter! Writing is hard, and writing query letters is no exception. Do your homework, don’t be afraid to scrap your initial idea, and find writers and people you trust to support you in the process.

Remember, writing is art. Some people are going to love it, some will be indifferent, and some will never read it in a million years. That’s life, and that’s the industry. Rejections are not necessarily a reflection on your writing, remember that! Don’t give up after a few rejections, all of us have them, and if you’re lucky to get a personalized letter, keep it and read it once and a while. They keep you going. Trust me.

Querying a “new” book is such a mixed bag. It’s exciting and terrifying. I tell people I’m querying and they act like I’m getting published tomorrow, when in reality it’s starting a long process of hard work, rejection, and small victories. I’ve already gotten one rejection letter that I’m happy to say was personalized and kind. It’s still a rejection, but there’s going to be many more where that came from, and all I can say is I’m crossing my fingers that this journey will be worth it in the long run.

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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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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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