Last Minute Plotting: Because I’m a wimp & can’t pants.

Alright, so I thought I was going to have to pants this year’s NaNoWriMo. My MC had only given me bits and pieces of the story, so when the calendar kindly reminded me that I had less than a week before the challenge started, I began to freak out about the in-between scenes (the stuff between the major plot points).

Here’s the thing, I am a plotter through and through. I like having a plan/map to guide me through a draft because I have an awful habit of writing non-linearly, which is a fancy way of saying I like to jump around. Last year, I wrote all my fight scenes within a week (I had a lot of tension to work out I guess). And the idea of not having that freedom scared me into finishing my beat sheet for my NaNo project.

For information on the beat sheet, you can check out my post on outlines here. And if you’d like to see what fresh hell I’ve cooked up for myself for next month, you can check out my NaNo Q&A here.

I know plotting isn’t for everyone. Some writers can just start writing and come out the other side with a finished, coherent MS. I am not one of those people, so I’ll be taking my beat sheet and expanding it to a heftier outline between now and November 1st. I know, I’m working at the last minute, but characters don’t always like to reveal their secrets. Side-glances at MC

But regardless of my inability to pants a novel (pants: write a story by the seat of your pants without any outline or plan), I’ve learned how incredibly useful having a MS’s blueprint is post-drafting.

In the past year, I wrote what is now book 1 of a [slated] 5-book series, revised it, sent it to beta-readers, demolished it then rebuilt it. During that demolition/rebuilding stage, I was able to look at my previous outline and build over it with something that may [hopefully one day] be worth reading. Having that reference point kept me anchored during the process, so I didn’t go off into crazy, hair-pulling, head:desking la la land.

Basically, this…

giphy

So instead of driving myself to insanity later (basically the equivalent of running away from cannibals), I will be last-minute outlining between now and November 1st, like that habitual little plotter that I am.

What about you? Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

If you are doing NaNoWriMo, add me as a writing buddy here!

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!

It’s Okay To Not Be Perfect

I think it’s common for writers to feel the need to be perfect. Write the perfect word. Tell the perfect story. Create the perfect character.

But here’s the reality of it: no one is perfect.

Not even John Green, the biggest name in YA Contemporary at the moment, is perfect. He even pointed out a typo in his author’s notes for The Fault In Our Stars on his YouTube channel, Vlogbrothers. (If you haven’t read the book, do it! Also, check out John and Hank Green’s YouTube channel! It’s my weekly dose of humanity reminding me to be awesome! DFTBA, Nerdfighteria! – Please excuse the excessive exclamation points; all of them are necessary.)

If this particular video, 5 Worst Typos of History, John Green goes through some of the worst typography errors from the U.S. Constitution to a specific printing of the King James Bible. But he ends with asking for forgiveness for any other errors that might exist within the pages of TFIOS.

Though I’m not sure Mr. Green meant for this to be inspirational, I found it a little uplifting, especially when trudging through this rewrite. Writing a book is hard. Publishing a book is even harder. All we can really do is try to put out the best product we can. It’s okay if your prose isn’t as gorgeous as Laini Taylor’s. It’s okay if your world isn’t as sprawling as George R.R. Martin’s.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t edit your stuff. Far from it. No rough draft is going to be the best version of your story. So find beta readers and trusted critique partners to review your manuscript. You should always strive to be the best storyteller you can be, but don’t drive yourself crazy when your writing doesn’t match up to authors like Green and Taylor.

Happy Writing!

Laini Taylor’s books include the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. It’s one of those YA Fantasy series that takes a trope like Angels and Demons and flips it on its head for a unique and exciting adventure. Also, the writing is GORGEOUS.  

If you don’t know who George R.R. Martin is, you’ve been living under a rock. He’s the author of the epic Game of Thrones books. 

Overcoming the Fear of Rejection

This year, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to attend a couple writers’ workshops and pitch some wonderful people. A couple weeks ago, I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop and, wow, what an event. Along with a brilliant keynote from the incomparable Janet Reid (if you don’t know who she is, shame on you! Jk. Seriously though, check out her blog, jetreidliterary.blogspot.com), there were an array of different panels. In one room, you could listen to agents and editors talk about different parts of the industry. In another, you could learn how to strengthen your descriptions and characters. There were also numerous opportunities to discuss your WIP with agents and editors.

First up, I pitched Brooks Sherman of The Bent Agency. He was incredibly insightful and helpful in the whole five minutes I spent talking with him. I didn’t get through the first sentence of my pitch before he started in with questions. It was a bit intimidating, but afterward, it was clear he was only trying to be helpful (or at least that’s how I’m taking it). In the end, he said my WIP didn’t seem to fit his list, but followed up with other agents who it might suit better. He also gave me something to think about while I’m revising to improve my MS.

Overall, I’d call it a win. Sure, it stung a bit when he said it wasn’t for his list, especially because in that short conversation he helped me analyze an important part of my MS and helped me grow as a writer. Seriously awesome individual and anyone would be lucky to have him as their agent. It speaks to the success and overall awesomeness of his clients Becky Albertalli, Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, and Adam Silvera, More Happy Than Not.

Then I had my query critiqued by Annie Berger, an associate editor at Harper Collins. Talk about encouraging! Sitting down with Ms. Berger felt like sitting down with an old friend. She was so nice and welcoming, really took the pressure off. [Did mention I ramble when I’m nervous!] She had a lot of positive things to say about the query itself, but also gave me input into how to make it stronger. She was also kind enough to say the premise was strong enough to stand on its own without all the extra details I was giving. Also (and I will probably hang onto this for the rest of my existence) said that my main character was a badass. XD It made my day!

When we were done talking about the query, we got to talk about the MS itself. Was I querying? Did I have any agents in mind? I had to tell her that I was in the middle of a rewrite post-beta readers and she made the comment, “This is your debut. You want it to be the best it can be.” Though I’ve read this advice many times, hearing it from an editor was still super encouraging, especially in the trenches of a rewrite.

Moral of this story: Don’t be afraid to pitch you WIP. Go to these conferences and workshops, get input from professionals, hire an editor. The worst thing they can do is say “no,” but even that’s not that bad. Look at each rejection as an opportunity to grow and eventually, you’ll get where you need to be.

Happy Writing!

*Quick Note: From what I’ve read in interviews and have heard from agents, pitch sessions aren’t exactly the best means to acquire an agent. They want to see the writing, so be sure to work hard on your query and perfect that. And in the words of Janet Reid, “Pitching is the spawn of Satan”. 

Leveling Up: What happens when your writing improves mid-WIP

So most of us are in a continuous state of evolution and growth. From personal to political, we’re constantly changing. This is a good thing.

Except when you’re at the forefront of the latest draft of your WIP and you have no idea whether or not what you’re writing is going in the right direction. I want to pull my hair out. This is a thing.

I’ve been writing fiction most of my life, but that doesn’t mean it was good fiction. My first full-length novel ended up in the dark abyss of projects that will never EVER see the light of day. It was written in Middle School, very few things written that young are worth reading without MAJOR revisions, usually a total rewrite.

Over the years, I’ve gone through numerous growth spurts in my writing skill level. From Middle School to High School. High School to College. College to Military. Military to Private Sector. These were all gradual evolutions that I managed to pass through without grow pains. But this latest one, after my first experience with beta-readers, is KICKING MY ASS!

The notes that I received from the betas weren’t harsh enough to warrant a total rewrite, but that’s pretty much what’s taking place. Since writing the vomit draft of the current WIP, I’ve been trying to polish my skills in the narrative arena. I’m great with dialogue, I’m great with pacing, I’m pretty solid on the plotting front, but narrative – a well-crafted, well-rounded, says-everything-you-need-it-to-and-communicates-to-the-reader-what’s-in-your-head narrative – is my nemesis.

Luckily, I have a wonderfully talented and patient group of writer friends who are helping me smooth out some of the kinks. Safe to say I owe them all a giant gift basket when all this is said and done. But here’s what I’ve learned so far in my epic battle with a properly fleshed-out narrative:

1. Take your time. I know how excited you are for the next plot point or big character moment, but when you’re sitting there, revising your work, really sink into each moment. Doing this may create some needed world building or reveal a character gem you had either forgotten or hadn’t discovered yet.

2. Apply Kurt Vonnegut’s rules on writing to your work. Here’s a link. A friend of mine introduced me to these rules a few months ago, but it took a beta-read for them to sink in. If you followed the link, I want to single out rule No. 4, “Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.” Be meticulous in your placement of information. It’s painful when you first start doing this, but the new draft is totally worth the frustration.

3. Be merciless in your revision. I know we’ve all heard the phrase “kill your darlings,” but I feel the need to bring it up here. I don’t mean kill your characters, the phrase really goes quite deeper than that. Maybe everyone else knew this and I was the slow one, but here’s my two cents anyway. “Darlings” refers to everything in your manuscript, from characters and plots to sentences and word choice. It doesn’t matter if it is the best paragraph you’ve ever written in your entire life. If it doesn’t do anything to support the narrative, axe it.

I’m sure I’ll rant about the pains of writing narrative in future posts, but this is it for now. I’m off to go slave away on the WIP. 🙂

Happy Writing!