The Best Writing Advice Anyone’s Ever Given Me

So I got this idea from the Confessions Of A Writer Tag I did last week. The tag was created by my dear friend and fellow blogger, Nicolette Elzie, where you answer 20 questions about your writing and reading habits/preferences.

One of the questions was “What was the best writing advice you’ve ever received?”

My answer: Write the story you want to read.

I’ve mentioned this tidbit a few times in previous posts, but I want to expand on it because it affects more than one aspect of the writing game…

Here’s the long and hard truth of it: your novel, the thing you’ve been slaving over, may very well not get traditionally published. It sucks and that’s awful, but if you started writing for the monetary benefit or the “prestige,” this may not be a good venture for you to jump into.

AND even if you do get traditionally published, rest assured you will still spend more time with your manuscript than anyone else on this globe. So you might as well enjoy it.

Reason No. 1 – Fads are fickle beasts
So this first one applies more to YA than most audiences because the age group itself is in a constant state of flux. It’s that brilliant time in one’s life where you get to decide what kind of person you’re going to be, along with finding out what appeals to you on both superficial and deep-rooted levels. Granted, I wasn’t following the industry prior to Twilight (was in high school at the time), but since then, there are clear cut “fads” that have run through the YA SFF genre.

In a nutshell: Vampires >> Angels & Demons >> Dystopian

Of course there were sprinkles of mermaids and zombies in there, but the above ripped through the industry in a way that left some agents and editors “done” with the topic. But the important note here is that it commonly (there are outliers based on cultural prevalence) takes a minimum of two years to get from acquisition to bookshelves in traditional publishing. Basically, the books being acquired now [will be] published late 2017(ish).

So by the time you realize a “Fad” and decide to write to fit what’s “popular,” odds are you’ve already missed the boat.

Reason No. 2 – You’re going to be rereading the MS again and again and again.
I’ve said it before: your first draft is not you final draft. You’ll be rewriting and revising that thing a few times before you’re even ready to query, let alone go on submission, so don’t write a story you hate. Create a story and a world that you want to get lost in for hours. Create characters you want to spend days/weeks/months/years getting to know. That passion will shine through in the work and those who read it will pick up on it. 🙂

Reason No. 3 – You can’t please everyone.
Whether we like it or not, everyone has their biases. Because I write YA F, I’ve dealt with my fair share of up-turned noses by people in and outside the writing community. LitFic people scoff at genre. Adult genre scoff at the audience. Civilians (non-writers in this context) ask “oh, like Harry Potter and Twilight?”

hulk smash

^^How I feel when confronted with these situations…

Point is, prior to submission, the only person you need to worry about pleasing is yourself. Any advice/criticism you receive should be filtered through your wants for the story. No one knows the story better than you. No one knows the world better than you. No one knows the characters better than you.

No one can write your story but YOU.

So write the story you want to read and enjoy the project you’re working on.

Happy Writing!

It’s okay to rewrite your novel.

When we sit down to write our first manuscript, we’re caught up in the excitement of a new story and the rush of seeing it exist outside ourselves. But we all know that first draft is not the best version of your story, which is why we revise.

Sometimes, that first draft is just a rough outline.

I figured this out the hard way… by means of beta readers. (For which, I’m eternally grateful!) I started my current WIP during NaNoWriMo 2014, had a completed draft by the end of January, then went through seven rounds of revisions before sending it to my beta readers April 1st.

I thought I had a decent manuscript. I’d cut a lot of words, added a lot of words, fleshed out scenes and rewrote the second half of Act 2.

Safe to say, I was still a LONG way from having a query-able manuscript. You can read the post on my experience with my beta readers, here.

In order to make the changes to the novel, I had to deconstruct it. I took my outline of the beta draft and began reconfiguring the chapters/scenes to fit the new structure. There were some scenes that remained, some that were altered, and some that were deleted all together. But there were a lot of new scenes to add as well.

At first, I was pulling my hair out with the revision, focusing solely on the quality of the words instead of getting the new story down. Mind you, I don’t [totally] regret that bit because the writing did improve, so I’m ready to tackle the MAJOR REVISION waiting for me at the end of this draft.

I think a lot of us get lost in everything wrong with our writing that we lose sight of our excitement for the story we’re telling. It’s okay that this happens, but you can’t let it determine your writing journey. So if the first version of your MS isn’t what you want it to be, deconstruct it and dive back in to Rough Draft Mode. Then you can revise the new version until it glistens and shines.

Happy Writing!

3 Tips For Rounding Out Side Characters

Back in May, I received notes from my beta-readers on my current MS. There was a lot of positive feedback, but there were some definite places where I could improve. Specifically, rounding out my non-POV characters. In my head, I knew each character’s ups and downs, favorite ice cream, back stories, etc. But the actual writing didn’t reflect that depth.

There were a few things contributing to that issue: 1. The 1st Person POV, 2. My writerly brain focusing solely on the MC’s experiences while writing, and finally, 3. The very thin narrative.

I’m a big fan of fast-paced novels. It’s my reading preference, so in my baby-writer way, I wrote a slim narrative that wasn’t fair to my side characters.

Which brings me to Tip No. 1…
Don’t be afraid to write from side characters’ POV’s.

This tip goes for all POV styles, but where the actual words go differs. If you write 3rd Person, you might actually be able to use those words depending on how it applies to your plot. But if you write 1st Person (which I do), this will just be an exercise to become more acquainted with your characters.

So here’s the exercise: Take any scene from your WIP and rewrite it from a secondary character’s POV. This is particularly useful for scenes where you introduce a new character or moments of high-emotion (e.g. inciting incidents, romantic scenes, plot-turning points, etc.).

Tip No. 2…
It’s okay if the MC doesn’t control everything.

I realize this is rather a ::face:palm:: kind of tip because “Obviously the MC doesn’t control everything.” But let me explain. Sometimes when you’re writing [specifically 1st Person], you get so absorbed in what the MC is experiencing or what his/her character arc is that you develop blinders against other ideas. This was definitely an issue for me during the pre-beta drafts of my WIP, and it restricted me.

Exercise No. 2: Take a plot point from your MS that is on the verge of being trope-y. What characters are involved? Choose the most important character of that scene [apart from your MC] and let them take the reigns on when/where/how that scene takes place.

Side Note for the above exercise: I did this with my own MS and the scene ended up containing more world/character/plot development than it would have in its original form.

Tip No. 3…
Remember Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an opposite or equal reaction.

And suddenly this turned into a science blog. Sorry, writers! 😉

Seriously though, while you’re writing, remember that there are things happening off-stage as well. Every time your MC does/says something, it affects another character. Remember what Kurt Vonnegut said about how each sentence should either advance plot or reveal character? That applies here. So if your MC offends someone on page 50, that someone should come back around to cause an issue later.

Exercise No. 3: Pick a scene with dialogue where the MC makes a decision that affects the person he/she is talking to. Write the fallout of that scene from the perspective of the other person. How does it affect them? How will it affect their relationship with the MC going forward? These words don’t have to end up in the finished MS, but you should integrate what you’ve discovered in how the two characters interact.

What about ya’ll? What tips do you use to flesh out your secondary characters?

Happy writing!

Why You Need To Write For You

Well I have hit that point in the revision process where my MS and I are at a standstill, just staring at each other, waiting on the other to make a move.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my characters and their stories, but making sure the writing is doing them all justice is – in one word – REALLYEFFINGDIFFICULT.

As a reader, the writing can either make or break a story for me, depending on the issue. Unimaginative writing can turn a brilliant character into a flat one or a character’s emotional climax into a plot point, neither creates a story that will stick around with you years after you’ve read it. I know the stories that I’ve hung onto over the years and if one of my stories can do that for someone else, I will feel like I’ve succeeded.

But here’s the reality of it all, even if I am never published, if I never receive representation, I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing. Sure, it would be fantastic if all this hard work and dedication paid off, but at the end of the day, I’m writing for me. I have done enough research on the industry to know that the odds of getting a 5-book deal (because that’s the length of the series I’m working on is – sorry possible future agent [if I’m lucky]) is EXTREMELY unlikely.

Does that mean I’m going to give up? NOOOOOOPE!

Writing fiction makes me happy. Getting to tell the stories of the 6 heroines in my series make me happy. Getting to play with all my favorite elements of the shows/books/movies I grew up on and love makes me happy.

Sure, the process is daunting and frustrating and sometimes disheartening. But I love what I do and if you love the story you’re writing, so should you!

Happy Writing, Everybody!

*On a separate note, me being a realist hardly means that I am not going to query. Once this new version of the MS is done, you better believe I’m going to start querying and submitting. ha ha. I’m just super aware of the challenges ahead. Here’s to hoping the characters/plots/world speak for themselves! 

Break It Down: Revising Your Manuscript Line-by-Line

Recently a friend of mine introduced me to Jennie Nash’s “How To Edit a Complete Manuscript” and it was revealing in a lot of ways. One thing that really stood out to me was an anecdote comparing editing a novel to learning a new sheet of music. Granted, this may have hit home more with me as a musician than it would a non-musician, but it illustrated the point extremely well.

You see, when you sit down to learn a new piece, you start with the rhythm and intonation (making sure the notes are the correct pitches) and once you’ve got those down, then you start to add in the musicality, what makes your audience “feel” the piece.

I had a friend, a phenomenal violinist, who would practice a new piece bar by bar. She broke down each line individually, making sure she’d mastered it before moving on. As writers, we must do this sentence by sentence.

After reading Ms. Nash’s guide, I went back and read through my first chapter aloud, keeping the above in mind. When there were hitches in the flow or a sentiment wasn’t quite right, I stopped, rewrote the sentence/paragraph, then started reading again from the top of the scene.

Many darlings were killed, I now hate the sound of my own voice, and I’m pretty sure my neighbors think I’m crazy. BUT the writing is better. And when the writing is better, the reader experience is better.

You’re not going to be the next [Insert NYT Bestselling Author of your choice here] by simply throwing words on a page. It takes time and patience and an acute attention to detail to illustrate the story in your mind effectively to a reader. So take a deep breath, grab your editor’s cap and spend some quality time with your story.

Happy Writing!

You can find Ms. Nash’s guide, “How to Edit a Complete Manuscript,” here, and for more of Ms. Nash’s incredible insight, visit her blog.