Now that NaNoWriMo is over . . .

So. NaNoWriMo is over. Maybe you got to 50,000 words. Maybe you didn’t. I did!

But even if you didn’t . .  . Take heart. Take stock of what you’ve written. Was it a novel you’ve had in mind for a long time? Or something you just started on a whim, with no idea where it would end up? Did you have notecards and plans and research done, or did you just say “hey, what happens if you take x and y and mix in this and that and . . .”

Either way, it’s good. You wrote.

But what now?

Apparently (and I didn’t realize this until I found this article – http://www.salon.com/2010/11/02/nanowrimo/), there’s a problem with NaNo novels being pushed onto unsuspecting agents and editors without any thought to the process whatsoever. To save you the trouble of reading the entire rant, here’s the salient point:

I am not the first person to point out that “writing a lot of crap” doesn’t sound like a particularly fruitful way to spend an entire month, even if it is November. And from rumblings in the Twitterverse, it’s clear that NaNoWriMo winners frequently ignore official advice about the importance of revision; editors and agents are already flinching in anticipation of the slapdash manuscripts they’ll shortly receive. “Submitting novels in Nov or Dec?” tweeted one, “Leave NaNoWriMo out of the cover letter … or make it clear that it was LAST year’s NaNo.” Another wrote, “Worst queries I ever received as an agent always started with ‘I’ve just finished writing my NaNoWriMo novel and …’”

I’d like to say that surprises me, but – given that I actually once read a message board post that said, ‘I just finished my 88,000 word novel two hours ago and uploaded it to Amazon as an e-book, and NO ONE has downloaded it! What do I do?” – I can’t. This could, in fact, be a pervasive problem.

So what do you do?

The last time I won – three years ago – I knew I wasn’t done with Nicky. Not by a long shot. I wasn’t sure exactly where it was heading, but I did know that Nicky and I stood at the edge of a big adventure together. I knew this would be bigger than any book I’d ever attempted before. Which is probably why I’m still feeling my way through it.

This year, I did a bit here and a bit there. I wrote on three different novels, in fact. None are done yet. But that’s not really what NaNoWriMo is about. It’s not about finishing a novel; it’s about starting that journey. (I think, anyway.)

So if you won NaNo, congratulations! But now, let’s think. What, exactly, have you written?

It’s time to be honest, unfortunately, and that’s hard for a lot of us. But as a writer, you have to be realistic about what you’ve written. I know, I know:  this is your baby. You just spent an entire month (more, hopefully!) writing it, crafting it, bringing it to life. You’re too close to it. Just like no parent wants to admit their child is a screaming, raging, bullying lunatic (and if you’re saying “but mine isn’t,” trust me, IT IS!!!) no author wants to admit their novel has problems.

You have to, though.

If you’re still writing, that’s great. That means you’re not satisfied with it yet. You’re not done. Keep going! Maybe NaNo just opened the floodgates for your characters and you’re only now feeling them come to life. That’s fantastic! Keep going!

But if you feel done . . . let’s evaluate.

  • How many words did you do? If you’re at less than 50,000 words, either keep writing or . . .
  • You need to decide: Is this a novel? A novella? A very long short story?
  • How do you know? Simple. Does it have a beginning, middle, and end? I’m guessing that yours may have only the beginning and the middle. The ending is probably not quite there yet. Keep working.
  • Characters: are they fully formed, or do they feel like cardboard cutouts you’re parading around on a stage? Do you know what they want? Do they know what they want? If not, keep writing. This goes for ALL your characters! Main characters, secondary characters, even – especially – your baddies.
  • Do the characters have believable goals, and do the goals remain consistent throughout? (Do their names remain consistent throughout? If you’ve been on a 30-day writing binge, you might accidentally have renamed someone at some point.)
  • Does the beginning jive with the end? In other words – do the characters achieve the goals they set out to achieve in Chapter 1? If not, keep writing. It’s really not surprising to find that your characters change from the start of your draft – what you thought you were going to write about isn’t what they want to talk about. That means they’re taking on a life of their own. And that’s a good thing! But it does mean some rewrites.
  • Are there plot holes? If so, fix them. Are there places where you just wrote “Stuff Happens” and forged ahead to a scene you really wanted to write? Nothing wrong with that – writers do it all the time – but you do eventually need to figure out what ‘stuff happens.’
  • Do all the characters have a reason to be there? If not, get rid of them.
  • Maybe most importantly of all:  are you scared to death to let your beta readers see it? If so, it’s definitely not yet ready to go out into the world!

While these are obviously big, overarching things – that’s where you need to start, because any one of these will cause a publisher or agent to toss your submission like yesterday’s cat litter. As harsh as that blog post I quoted above is, let’s face it:  it’s true. Agents and editors are looking for reasons to reject you out of hand. Your job is to force them to read your manuscript.

There are many published books that started as NaNo projects, but they all have one thing in common:  the authors took the time to craft them afterwards, to mold and shape them into a readable, marketable work.

Now, that’s your job, too.

 

Here’s a link to some novels that got their start as NaNao projects: http://mentalfloss.com/article/53481/14-published-novels-written-during-nanowrimo

And here’s a link to the NaNo Official List of published NaNo projects:  http://nanowrimo.org/published-wrimos

And, to give you some inspiration and make you feel better about that first draft, here’s a great blog post from NaNo published writer Alan Averill:  http://blog.nanowrimo.org/post/128034053636/i-spy-with-my-critical-eye-trusting-your-inner

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The Procrastinating Writer

If you’ve read any of my blog posts, you probably know one thing about me:

I like to procrastinate.

Well. Wait. That’s not really true. I don’t like to procrastinate; I need to procrastinate. Yes, there is a big difference.

One thing I know about my writing – or anything in my life – is this:  If it feels wrong, if it feels forced, there’s a reason for it. Something with a capital S is telling me wait a minute, hang back, let’s see where this is going, this isn’t quite right, we need to regroup . . . a bit like Bill Paxton’s character in Twister when he thinks the tornado is going to change tracks and if they keep going they’re going to be right in its path.

A lot of people procrastinate for the wrong reasons – they’re bored, or they don’t want to do the work. That’s NOT what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, until yesterday when I heard this fantastic TED talk by Adam Grant. Here’s the link:  http://www.ted.com/talks/adam_grant_the_surprising_habits_of_original_thinkers/transcript?language=en#t-300538

Grant is also the author of a book I almost bought yesterday, Originals:  How Nonconformists Move the World, and his belief is this:  procrastinators are more likely to be creative, and more likely to be world-movers, than non-procrastinators. Let me be clear:  this doesn’t apply to all procrastinators!!!!!! Some are just goof-offs and there’s nothing to be done there. But for some us – and yes, I’m including myself in this subset for one very good reason – procrastination serves a purpose.

It gives us space to think.

It gives us space to be creative.

Seriously. Walk with me for a minute. Let me explain.

We’ve all had writer’s block, yes? I don’t need to explain the mechanics of it to you – the numbing doubts, the overwhelming choices, the dread of putting fingers to keyboard and finding nothing there. Some will tell you it doesn’t even exist; some will tell you the only way to get through it is to keep writing, even if it’s nothing more than dribbles of cold pudding. Write, damn it! Write! Write! Write! Sort of like a prison guard telling prisoners to move these cement blocks over here and stack them and now take them and move them over there and don’t you dare stop! There’s no purpose to moving the cement blocks; it’s just something to keep the prisoners active. Writing, when you have writer’s block, can be the same way.

Here’s what I find, and this was the big revelation for me in Grant’s TED talk:  procrastinating gives you the chance to, as he puts it, “doubt the default.” You were 100% sure your novel was going in X direction. But then you get writer’s block. Why? Maybe your brain is doubting the default. Maybe this isn’t the best idea after all. Maybe it’s trite, overdone. Maybe it’s not what your characters would really do. Maybe, if you walk away for a bit, you’ll come up with something better. Here’s what Grant had to say about that:

Vuja de is when you look at something you’ve seen many times before and all of a sudden see it with fresh eyes. It’s a screenwriter who looks at a movie script that can’t get the green light for more than half a century. In every past version, the main character has been an evil queen. But Jennifer Lee starts to question whether that makes sense. She rewrites the first act, reinvents the villain as a tortured hero and ‘Frozen’ becomes the most successful animated movie ever. So there’s a simple message from this story. When you feel doubt, don’t let it go.”

Because here’s the thing:  your brain doesn’t stop thinking about your novel and your characters just because you’re not writing actively. It’s still processing. Somewhere, deep inside, little gears and gizmos are whirling away. Or alternatively, your characters are waiting for you to listen to them again. However you personally look at it. 🙂 Grant noticed this, too:  he said that one reason we like to-do lists is because once we cross something off the list, we can stop thinking about it. But those ideas we procrastinate on? We can’t cross those off the list. They’re just – there. So our brain works on them. We may not know what to do about them. We may not want to do anything about them. We may not know what direction to take next. It’s okay.

We’re procrastinating with a purpose.

Grant talked about this as well. He was writing the book I mentioned above, and had a chapter on procrastination. So:

I thought, “This is the perfect time to teach myself to procrastinate, while writing a chapter on procrastination.” So I metaprocrastinated, and like any self-respecting procrastinator, I woke up early the next morning and I made a to-do list with steps on how to procrastinate. And then I worked diligently toward my goal of not making progress toward my goal. I started writing the procrastination chapter, and one day — I was halfway through — I literally put it away in mid-sentence for months. It was agony. But when I came back to it, I had all sorts of new ideas.

So being a procrastinator can help generate new ideas and more creative angles and solutions to problems than forcing yourself to work through to the end.

Right now, I’m stuck again on Nicky. I had that great revelation a few weeks ago about how the rest of the novel should flow, and that opened me up to a wonderful, absolutely wonderful, run of writing. But now – I’m stuck again.

I’m not worried, though. I’ve been here before. I’ll be here again, with Nicky and with other books. I’m procrastinating, but I trust the process. (Meanwhile, these two new characters just showed up on my doorstep one night to ask if I’d write their story and of course I said yes, get in queue . . . but they’ve decided they’d rather try to jump ahead of everyone else.)

So that last bit is very important – I’m not not writing. I’m still generating ideas and jotting down scenes and listening to these two characters and their crazy romance and doing research. It’s just that I know if I push it on Nicky right now, I will get crap. I don’t want crap. I don’t want to waste time on crap. More importantly, it won’t be the right crap. It won’t be anything I can work with. I know that about myself and my habits by now. Heck, even if I walk away from writing completely for a while, I know I can come back to it and pick up where I left off.

Of course, you can’t procrastinate forever. And there’s a very fine line between creatively procrastinating and being lazy. One gives you space to generate creativity; the other generates nothing.

But if you’re stuck on your novel – give it a try.

 

Here’s some other links on the same topic:

 

Rethinking the Story Arc in Novels

Writers need to take inspiration wherever they find it. It might not be pretty, or conventional, but if it’s there and you don’t use it – then the moment will pass you by and you’ll probably come to regret it.

Such was the case this summer with my young adult novel.

I’ve been struggling with it for some time. I know the ending; I knew the ending from the first line, in fact, since it’s bookended. I knew the beginning and I had dozens of scenes drafted out, ready to go. What I kept stumbling over was that traditional story arc – rising action on top of rising action, your MC’s journey, his setbacks, his struggles to get to the next level – you get the gist.

Some might say that I didn’t know the story well enough, if that was my problem and there’s no doubt a grain of truth there. I knew my MC. I didn’t know his nemesis very well; his motives were murkier, more difficult to sort out. All I’ve ever gotten from this guy is stone-cold killer, and in that case, why not just take out my MC on page 80 and have done with it? What was holding him back?

But what puzzled me more was all those scenes I had. I thought I knew what order they went in, and yet, when I tried to fit them together into a coherent novel, they refused to fit snugly into place. Stupid puzzle pieces. Don’t they KNOW they’re supposed to go together? 🙂

So this spring, I thought – maybe this isn’t one novel. Maybe it’s really two novels.

And oddly enough, when I thought about it that way and started putting together what I thought was Book 1 – puzzles pieces began to slide into place.Scenes got deleted. Scenes got moved up. New scenes were written. It was smoother and flowed and it wasn’t quite perfect but it was better – and yet.

There wasn’t a story arc.

There was no forward momentum.

I pondered. I walked. I paced. I ate a lot of chocolate cake. I demanded to  know why my characters weren’t doing what I wanted them to do.

And Nicky, my MC, gave me a look from under his tweed driving cap and said “‘Cause you know it’s only one novel and don’t you go thinking you’re gonna change that ending, either, lady. You ain’t.”

So. I had a nice beginning and nowhere to go with it. In frustration, I jotted down every scene on a separate notecard and tacked them to the wall, where I could rearrange them at will. I’ve done that before, with a good deal of success. But not this time. Yes, I knew I could create a story arc, but the very idea felt artificial. It felt wrong. It almost felt like a violation of my characters. And Nicky was absolutely refusing to go along with it, anyway.

I refused to let it go. I had to figure out how this novel went together. I was trying to write, trying to force scenes into place, but it felt like I was stitching together a Frankenstein-esque monster – a mishmash of parts that didn’t quite fit. I spent days wrestling with it.

Then, finally – THANK YOU, UNIVERSE! – inspiration hit.

Maybe I was thinking about it wrong. Maybe instead of trying to make it fit into a story arc model *(which, I’ll admit, is a difficult concept for me to visualize even with flow charts and, well, visuals), I needed to think about a different model. One I know well.

Television series. Television seasons.

Oh, I know. I’m a traitor. Shoot me now. But wait.

It actually worked.

Really. It did. I thought about the first season in a television series – how there’s usually an overarching theme or goal or quest, how you’re getting to know the characters, how by the end of that season, that overarching goal should be reached. It often leaves you on a cliffhanger as well – and if it’s not picked up for Season 2, you write many bad letters to, let’s say, CBS – but not everything is focused 100% on that goal in every episode. It might be mentioned in some episodes, with no visible progress made. And some episodes are devoted to that goal completely.

Take, for example, Season 1 of Supernatural. From episode 1, you know Sam and Dean have some relationship problems, they need to find their dad, and they’re on a quest to hunt the demon that killed their mother and Sam’s girlfriend. That’s not the only thing they do during that season, of course – there are a lot of monsters to hunt out there. 🙂 But. By the end of Season 1, they’ve found their dead, shot the demon they were hunting, and begun to act as a team. We’ll ignore the cliffhanger.

Or Season 1 of my favorite cancelled show ever, Moonlight. From Episode 1, we know that Mick is a vampire living in L.A., he’s in love with a mortal named Beth, and all he wants is to be human again. Oh, and he’s a PI. During the season, he’s forced to reveal his true nature to Beth, and by the end of the season, they are sort of together – though Beth has doubts about how they can fit into each others’ worlds – and Mick is on the trail of something that might make him human again. (And then the bastards at CBS cancelled it.)

For some reason, this makes more sense to me than the traditional story arc idea. I know it’s basically the same thing, but the idea of ‘episodes’ instead of ‘chapters’ somehow made it easier to slot scenes into place. I went to my local coffee shop and three hours later not only had the entire timeline drafted into 20 ‘episodes’ but also had rearranged the entire manuscript, complete with notes about what needed to be added or changed when I got to that point. It wasn’t set in stone – I gave myself permission and room to rearrange as needed – but I had the basics.

Not to say it’s been perfect – I’m still fiddling with it, and just rearranged a pretty major scene yesterday – but the framework is there and I can live with that.

And from there, I can move forward – something I haven’t been able to do for months.

 

‘The Quiet Man’ and Secondary Characters Revisited

I’ve been struggling with my young adult novel, and whenever I find myself floundering, I turn to writing books to kick-start the brain, and look at things from a different perspective. This time, I picked up The Breakout Novelist:  How to Craft Novels That Stand Out and Sell by Donald Maass.

One thing I was struggling with was my secondary characters. I don’t know why exactly, but in my previous novels, my secondary characters have been great – they come onstage, they fulfill their roles, and sometimes they even take over scenes. They have voices, backgrounds, traits, goals and dreams. They both further and hinder my protagonists. Which is precisely what a good secondary character should do. But in my YA novel – not so much!

Maass emphasizes that your secondary characters need a purpose. Are they there to be sidekicks to your MC, like Ron and Hermione were for Harry Potter? Are they there to be your MC’s antagonists (like Draco Malfoy)? How do they further the plot, and what role do they play in that (Sirius Black, Dumbledore, Mad-Eye Moody)? If your secondary characters don’t do anything other than be a talking head (unless you’re talking about Bob the Skull from Harry Dresden), then there’s room for improvement.

the quiet manAs I mulled this over (and continue to mull this over), I was delighted to find one of my favorite movies on TV yesterday – John Ford’s The Quiet Man. Starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, it’s about an American boxer who goes back home to Ireland after a tragic incident in the ring, and falls in love with the sister of the town bully. I love this movie – it’s so well-written, so wry and funny. It’s got great tension and conflict. But what struck me as I watched it yesterday is how much the secondary characters play a role!

Sean Thornton (John Wayne) arrives in Ireland to find Michaleen O’Flynn waiting for him at the train station. He’ll be Sean’s sidekick, giving him sage advice, acting as his mediator, and educating him on the social conduct of Ireland (“‘Tis a bold, shameful man you are, Sean Thornton! And who taught you to be playing patty-fingers in the holy water?”) 🙂

Then there’s Will Danahur, the brother of Mary Kate, Sean’s love interest. A typical selfish bully, Danahur has one weakness:  he’s in love with the Widow Tillane. When Sean outbids Danahur on a cottage (owned by the Widow Tillane), he swears vengeance, and when Sean asks for Mary Kate’s hand in marriage, he denies the request.

Enter two more secondary characters, the Reverend Playfair and Father Lonergan. Together with Michaleen, they plot to get Danahur to change his mind by insinuating that if he got Mary Kate out of the house, the Widow Tillane might be willing to marry him. (“Two women in the house. And one of them a redhead.”) That’s not Sean’s doing! He knows nothing of it. These three take it upon themselves to change the fates of all involved. And it works – sort of. Danahur relents, only to screw things up at the wedding and then refuse to give Mary Kate her dowry. Without that, she can’t consider herself truly married.

Notice how little Sean does here? He’s the title character, but it’s this lovely cast that does the major work! Why? Because Sean’s afraid to fight. He killed a man in the ring – he didn’t mean to, but he refuses to risk it again. It’s not until he finally realizes his marriage – and his reputation – are in jeopardy that he stands up to Danahur and they have their major sprawling donnybrook (“Marquis of Queensbury Rules!”). Mary Kate, secure in the knowledge that her husband really does love her, simply saunters off, calling over her shoulder that she’ll “have the supper on when you get home.”

pointing+hand+vintage+image+graphicsfairy2THIS IS HOW YOUR SECONDARY CHARACTERS SHOULD BEHAVE. They need to give your protagonist something to react to. If it feels like your story is growing stagnant, don’t look to plot – look to your secondary characters.

 

  • What are they doing?
  • Do they all play a role?
  • If not – cut the ones that aren’t pulling their weight.
  • Is there a way to combine two of them? If so, do it.
  • Can you give them more conflict?
  • Is there a place where one of them might work against the protagonist? Maybe they’re corrupted by the antagonist, or threatened by them, or simply have different beliefs? Highlight that.
  • Is there a place where they can provide aid or information the protagonist needs?
  • And although they won’t have a story arc to match that of your MC – your secondary characters, particularly the most important ones, probably will change over the course of the novel. Make sure we see that. Make sure it’s believable and necessary. How does that change work for or against your protagonist?
  • And . . . remember. At least some of your secondary characters are support for your MC. As you think about how to make his life more difficult, how much support can you remove, and how? Some may die. Some may change their minds, abandon the MC.
  • What about the ones that are against your MC – how can you make them stronger, more of a force that works against your MC? They have story arcs, too!
  • How do they react to your MC’s actions? Just like in real life, there’s going to be backlash for something said or done. How can this add to the tension in your novel?

I know it’s emphasized over and over again that your MC drives the novel. But the secondary characters are the foundation on which your MC’s story is built. By ensuring they’re as strong and vibrant as you can, you’ll ensure that your MC’s journey is just as compelling.

Link to Barnes & Nobel, where you can buy Donald Maass’ book:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/writing-the-breakout-novel-donald-maass/1102359686?ean=9781582971827

Falling Back in Love . . . With Your Manuscript

I have an entire collection of books about writing. I usually go shopping when I’m having a specific issue with one of my works in progress and I don’t quite know how to fix it. Books often give me a new perspective on the problem – and the solution.

This week, I picked up Chapter After Chapter:  Discover the Dedication and Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Deams by Heather Sellers. Sellers wrote the textbook we used for the creative writing course I taught a year ago, so I knew she was a good author. But this book is MILES beyond that textbook!

Heather’s a writer herself, and she doesn’t mince words when it comes to the problems writers face. She writes a lot like I do, in fact, and I’m loving this book for its voice and style and perspective. So far, my favorite chapter is Chapter 7, in which she talks about the fact that when we’re working on a novel, we have to be surrounded by that novel all the time. We need to sleep and breathe it. If we’re at the dentist, we should be thinking about character motivation. If we’re waiting at a train crossing, we can be making voice notes (or real notes, if you prefer that) as to what to do next or solutions to a problem you’ve been having. Or, as she puts it:

“You must allow the book you’re writing to wrap itself around you and permeate every single part of your life. Your book should always be running in the background of your mind, even when you aren’t literally putting words on paper in your studio.”

She then compares the relationship you have with your book to a new relationship with another person. In the beginning, it’s great! You’re in luuuuv with each other. It’s fresh and exciting and you can’t wait to show them off to everyone. But then – maybe you move in together. And you notice that they leave the cap off the toothpaste, or they snore at night. Little things begin to annoy you. You begin to wonder if you can get past the annoyances and rekindle the romance. The book, she says, is the same thing. Those first days or weeks are amazing; you’re getting to know the characters, you’re excited about how easily the scenes are coming. But then . . . “You may feel shackled. You feel like you chose the wrong book. The book has flaws. The flaws annoy the heck out of you. The book gets gassy! It’s terrible – there are parts of the book that stink. You get sick of the book.”

This chapter resonated so much with me, I can’t even tell you.

Like most writers, I’ve had that rush of first love. When the words come SO easily, and the scenes flow, and the characters are talking to you and everything that comes out on paper is solid gold. This book is Going Places! And so are you!

THAT’S when the book has you in its grasp. Its hooks are in you. You think about it 24/7. When I’m in the car, I’m thinking about it. When I’m on my walk, I’m thinking about it. When I’m trying to sleep, I’m thinking about it. When I’m with other people – or teaching – or eating – I’m thinking about The Book. Yes. Been there. Done that. It’s a wonderful heady rush.

Then reality sets in. The scenes stop coming so easily. You have to do research. You miss a day or two of writing. For me, I may lose writing time when I have to grade papers or oversee graduate testing. And then . . . . you lose your connection to the characters. The era. The storyline.

I’m facing this problem right now. I set Nicky aside for far too long. He’s still there; I can hear him in my head sometimes. But I’ve had so many other issues to attend to, that his book hasn’t be in the forefront of my life, 24/7, for quite some time. I HATE THAT. I love my books and my characters and I need to be with them. Sometimes, I need to be with them more than I need to be with ‘real’ people.

So what do you do?

Sellers has a great exercise for this, which I’m going to be working on this weekend:  “Make a list of twenty assignments – things that trigger you to think about some aspect of your book. Then place each assignment on its own card and stick one card in your glove box, your day planner, desk drawer, lunch box, mirror.” If you’re just starting on the book, these might be fairly broad. If you’re into it and/or making revisions, they’ll be a lot more specific.

Mine (so far) are going to include things like:

  • Research “shell shock” in World War I soldiers. Symptoms? What can I use?
  • Think about how to finish out that scene where Nicky nearly gets into a wreck on the curve and H catches him there.
  • How does he find out that his dad was murdered? Need to sort that out. Overhear something? A mistake on H’s part? Is that something he can think about while he’s waiting out the revenuers that one night?
  • Order the Winfield Free Press from the KS State Historical Society on microfilm so I can read it, too.

Later, Sellers recommends another exercise:  “In one sitting, create 100 index cards of tasks for completing this project (your book). Tiny, micro-movements – truly ten-minute chunks. . . .” This is positioning, another thing I used to do, and need to do again for Nicky. In positioning, you ready yourself for the next day’s writing time by making sure all your ducks are in a row. Do you have the research you need ready and to hand? Do you have a scene (or two or three) that you’ve asked your subconscious to start working on, so you can sit down and write them? Positioning, Sellers says, is like a map forward. If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you expect to get there? Dumb luck, sure, but that can only take us so far. Even a pantser such as myself can do this one! I love this idea, because it gives me a set goal for the next day. Simply spend a few minutes, a few hours before you need to write, positioning yourself. Then, when your writing time comes, you hit the ground running. Since I love to-do lists, this last one is my cup of tea. 🙂

So hopefully some of these will help you jump-start that project that might be languishing on your hard drive.

(ETA:  I tried this today. I spent an amazing 2 hours at the coffee shop, and wrote 7 pages, single-spaced, plus edited a couple of other scenes. IT CAN WORK!!!) 🙂

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/chapter-after-chapter-heather-sellers/1015562851?ean=9781582976174 – a link to the book Chapter by Chapter.

http://heathersellers.com/site/index.html – Heather Sellers’ website.

Academics, Papers, and Citations, Oh My!

I am SO tired – I’ve spent the last three weeks working on edits to this anthology. And I just want to make a few observations. This will mean getting out the old soapbox.

soapbox1.) PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PUT YOUR PUNCTUATION INSIDE THE QUOTE MARKS! This goes for periods, commas, exclamation points, question marks, colons, semi-colons, and anything else you can think of. Why are adult professors at well-known universities not doing this???? Why???? Just. Do. It. Right.

2.) Please see #1, above.

3.) Cite your quotes properly. If you say so-and-so said it, make sure they really did say it. Please. Do not, in your sentence, say “X says “blah blah blah,” and then in your end note or footnote, attribute it to someone else, UNLESS it’s being quoted in that other source. Then, say “quoted in _.”

4.) There are TWO spaces after colons. Colons look like this:  semicolons, on the other hand, which look like this; only have 1 space after them. I am pretty sure this is true even on Adipose 9. If, you know, little smiling globs of animated fat use colons, that is.

5.) See # 1.

6.) If you’re going to submit a paper for publication, YOU NEED A WORKS CITED OR BIBLIOGRAPHY PAGE. Trust me. I don’t care what your discipline is. They will want that. It’s sort of important. You know, so others can go find your sources? Make sure you didn’t just, I don’t know, make them up?

7.) In MLA format, block quotes are double-spaced, and indented 1 inch. Just saying.

8.) See #1.

9.) If you are, let’s say, a professor at a university, and your name is on this paper, please have someone proofread the thing before you send it in. Just have someone over in the English department give it a go-over, in exchange for a $20 Starbucks card.

10.) There are three basic forms of paper citation and formatting: MLA, APA, and Turabian. Pick one. An amalgam of all three is not correct. Making up your own style is not correct. I know people can make up their own religions, but you CANNOT make up your own citation style!

11.) See #1.

Thank you. I feel better now. Carry on. 🙂

Those Dreaded Revisions, Part 2 (My Own Process)

Last week, I promised I’d show you my dirty little secret — my own revision process. (Why — what were YOU thinking?!)

First, let me get this out of the way:  there is no magic number as to how many times you need to revise your manuscript. There just isn’t. I’ve been working on one series for six years now. It took me forever to realize that the reason it wasn’t working was because a.) It needed to be in 1st person, not 3rd, and b.) That first long, slogging book was really two books disguised as one. Know how many revisions I went through with that first book? Twenty-eight. I actually had to go back and look at my saved documents because I’ve blocked that number from my mind.

But then I figured it out late last year, spent most of the spring and early summer dividing that one book into two and rewriting the new first book to the series. Know how many drafts I went through with that one? Twenty-one.

Now you’re probably asking:  what exactly constitutes a draft, to you?

To me, a new draft occurs when I have made so many changes that it cannot no longer be considered the same version. That threshold, however, is probably different for every person. It can be changes to sentences and paragraphs. major deletions, moving scenes and/or chapters, rewriting entire chapters. If all you did was go in and change “and” to “or” once or twice, that’s probably not a new draft. If you wrote an entire scene where Joe declares his love for Becky and she slaps him, so he goes out and shoots someone, and that didn’t happen in the previous version, that’s probably a new draft.

Why do I save so many drafts? you may be asking. Why not just save over the old version a million times? Doesn’t that save space on your hard drive? Well, yes, it does. But it also means that you cannot ever access the old version again. And let’s say you had a scene that you wrote, and after a few months you realize it just doesn’t fit with this particular book, so you delete it. Then you save that draft — and what have you done? You’ve deleted that scene permanently. What happens if you want that scene later, for a different book?! It’s gone! All gone! No turkey sandwiches! No gallons of turkey soup!

So that’s why I save so many versions. In different places. My laptop. My external hard drive. My email. My flash drive.

When I’m revising, I prefer a hard copy — although I am really liking my new method of saving my latest draft as an ePub document and loading it on my Nook. The only problem with that is you have to make the notes on a notepad (or utilize the handy-dandy Notes feature, which allows you to tap a word and then make a note that you can reference later). But the hard copy is great because I can take my colored pen and my Post-It Notes and go to town.

These are pages from a draft I revised earlier this year. This is what some of my pages look like:

page 1

Here, I’ve left myself notes about plot and character development. My first note is telling myself that the dates don’t match up, and that it’s too early for my MC to make any conclusions about whether one death had anything to do with another.

The second one is a reminder that although I know where this story is heading, my MC doesn’t quite yet, and I need to make that clear to the readers! She’s still jumping to conclusions — an easy thing for me to do, when I already know how the story is going to end (by this time, I did know, but I don’t always), and my MC needs to back off a bit and we need to let things develop.

Then, in the text itself, I am forever crossing out lines and rewriting them, and leaving myself notes about “this makes no sense!” Which is something you, as a writer, also need to watch out for:  you know your story better than anyone. Make sure you don’t assume too much! Always ask yourself:  if I was reading this for the first time, or if I didn’t know my own research, would any of this make sense? That’s where your beta readers come in. You need to rely on them to tell you when they get confused and where you haven’t given enough explanation. And you need to make sure they do tell you!

You’ll also see that I write in a purple pen. I will often do dark green, or red, but purple is fast becoming my favorite. I just don’t do black. Ever. It’s too easy to miss things when you go back to do the edits. page 3

Like I said, I’m very hard on myself. I’m a perfectionist, and I don’t like to make mistakes,and if something sucks, I am not shy about letting myself know it! 🙂 For instance, this note says “all of this needs rewritten.” Then I tell myself how I think it should really go. This is just a bare-bones outline, but when I come back to do the rewrites, I’ll have it.

In fact, there are four notes to rewrite this page. And you can see from all the chicken-scratches and purple ink, I wasn’t happy with this scene as written. (I just re-read this scene, in its new version, and I’m still not entirely happy with it, to be honest.) But I never, ever tell myself just to rewrite something, without giving myself a note as to why, or what I should do. That way, I always have that blueprint for later.

With this last one, there’s no major page 2Post-It Notes, but you do see two ink colors: purple and pink. The purple is my note; the pink is a simple “OK” in a circle, to let myself know that I made that change to my satisfaction.

With this particular dialogue exchange, I have three characters “on stage” — my MC, and the two ghosts she knows at her college, Emmett and Harry. They’re . . . you know . . . teenage boys . . . and they’ve been together so long that my MC cannot tell which is which. So when I wrote this exchange where I had no tag lines and no attributions, I got lost myself! 🙂 I needed to remind myself that at this particular point, only Harry was talking; I had to get Emmett in there somehow. Once I had rewritten that, I put the “OK” there to let myself know that this had been completed.

The revision process is different for everyone. As an OCD, sticky-note obsessed, purple-pen-loving writer, this is my method. And it works for me. It might work for you, too, which is why I wanted to share it. It’s a simple process. Brutal, but simple at heart. If you are willing — to quote Stephen King — to murder your darlings, this can work for you. So to recap what I do:

1.) Colored pens and sticky notes.

2.) A hard copy of my manuscript.

3.) A quiet time and place to work. This may be difficult, particularly if you live with cats, as I do. Find a coffeehouse nearby.

4.) Depending on how focused you can be, you may need to read through your manuscript several times. What you’re looking for is:  grammar, sentence and paragraph structure, character development, odd dialogue, adverbs (get rid of them!!!), plot development, lines that can be cut, and of course, those places where Things Aren’t Quite Right. A scene may need moved. A character may act oddly. You may have referenced something that you actually haven’t talked about yet.

5.) If you’re focused and practiced, you may be able to do everything in one go-through. If you’re not, you may want to make two or three passes. Maybe that first time, you’re looking solely at grammar and sentence structure. On your second, you can look at those “not quite right” things. Maybe you’ve already marked a few.

6.) The more familiar you are with your own work, the harder it is to edit. You just don’t see the trees for the forest — or in our case, the twigs. Which is another reason why you need good beta readers.

So I hope that helped a little. Next week, I may continue with some more examples of my own editing and revision process, and share some comments that my own betas have made (we’re to meet this coming Saturday!).