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. 

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.

Why you’re not writing: Critical Introspection

So a lot has happened in the last month for me, some good, some meh. On top of starting a new job, moving to the land of bugs and sunburns, and preparing for the Midwest Writers Workshop next month, I’ve been struggling – and I mean STRUGGLING – to put words to paper with this rewrite.

I’ve tried not to discuss my WIP here on the blog, but for the sake of what I’m attempting to say in this post, you’re going to learn a bit about my current book’s protagonist, Kjersten (pronounced like Kiersten, know as KJ to family and close friends).

Throughout KJ’s journey, she goes through a lot of growth as a person. She learns that she can’t take responsibility for everyone or everything, accepts that people have to be allowed to make their own mistakes, as well as learns to let people see her gooey center and learns to trust/rely on them.

These lessons don’t exactly come in delicious packages of delight. It’s a difficult journey paved with mistakes and irrevocable loss.

As is life.

I realized last night that I’m avoiding the upcoming chapters of the rewrite because I’m avoiding putting KJ (and myself) through that journey of growth again.

You see I spent the vast majority of 2011 in Baghdad, Iraq, as a military photojournalist/graphic artist. Due to the nature of the MOS (military occupation specialty), I saw more of the country than many of my fellow service members. Along with that, I worked a lot closer to the flagpole than most 19-year-old female specialists should without a proper leadership buffer. Shit happened. It left scars. PTSD is a bitch.

Anyhoo, when Soldiers – specifically Guardsmen – return to the States, society expects you to just keep moving. Get a job. Find a place to live. Because these things are so god damn easy. You have no opportunity to address the fact that you just spent a year of your life in a war zone. The majority of the people around you can’t relate to what you went through and it fucks with your brain. It starts to feel like the deployment didn’t actually happen, like it was all a bad dream that has somehow rattled your psyche to the point where you have emotional/psychological scars and triggers that you can’t even begin to predict. Like I said before, PTSD is a bitch.

Over the last couple years, I’ve worked incredibly hard to overcome this feeling of a disjointed reality, but it’s a constant battle. I would never wish this kind of thing on anyone, let alone a character who I’ve spent so much time with getting to know and telling their story. So that’s why this rewrite is kicking my ass. Now that I know this, I can continue forward.

So here’s the thing [aka the purpose for this post], none of that growth would have happened without some serious introspection. I think it’s an important part of our growth as human beings to stop every once in a while and truly, critically introspect on our thoughts and actions. If we all did this, the world would probably be a more compassionate, understanding place.

Just some food for thought.

4 Tips in Killing Your Darlings

So last week, I talked about improving your narrative and touched on the idea of killing your darlings. Because this is what I’m currently [painfully] dealing with in my own rewrite, I thought I’d share a little of what’s been working for me.

Tip No. 1 – Identify Your Darlings

Killing your darlings is a little difficult when you don’t realize what they are. Please know I’m not trying to offend your genius, but sometimes your darlings sneak up on you. My most current darling came in the form of a two-sentence moment that had hung on to the MS since draft two.

Now into draft six, I’ve been dredging through Chapter 3 for a bit because I’ve been trying to keep this moment for whatever reason. In the words of YouTuber Grace Helbig, “I don’t know.” Once I realized that it was a darling, it was cut into the graveyard of manuscript outtakes.

Tip No. 2 – Have a Manuscript Outtakes Document

I did not come up with this idea, but it is a concept that I wish I had adopted earlier. The gorgeously talented J.L. Gribble, debut novel Steel Victory comes out this week – order a copy NOW, gave me the idea a few weeks ago during a critique session.

This does a couple of things: 1) You’re still hanging onto your darlings, so killing them from the MS is a little easier, 2) If you do ever have an opportunity to use them, they’re there at the ready, and 3) If by some chance you do get published and acquire a fan-base, you now have outtakes to share with them as easy promotional items.

Tip No. 3 – Follow Kurt Vonnegut’s Rules on Writing

Specifically (and I mentioned this last time) that each sentence should either develop character or advance plot. It took me a while to understand what this really meant because in my little baby writer brain, I looked at my MS and said “but it does develop character; it does advance plot.” In reality, I was focusing on the wrong things, making the beginning narrative slow and boring. It “technically” did what I needed it to – develop the relationships of my two main characters and set the stage for what’s up against them – but I was focusing so much on what made my characters who they were instead of who they are in the moment that the plot was stagnant. This is a hard concept to wrap your head around, but once it clicks, you’ll see the improvements in the writing.

See the full list of Vonnegut’s Rules here.

Tip No. 4 – Have a Trusted Writing Buddy

I think I’ve developed a strange dependency on my uber talented group of writer friends because I know without a doubt that my writing would not be improving without them. Going back to what I was saying before about my headache that is Chapter 3, that darling I didn’t realize was a darling – yeah, my friend and CP Chelsea was kind enough to tell me, “I think that’s going a little far.” Which of course hit a switch in my head, causing an immediate ::face:palm::. I had been struggling with the writing because I was trying to keep something that didn’t belong there. I was trying to save a darling.

Once I transferred said darling over to the graveyard, it opened the way for me to concentrate on the plot movement and figure out how to close out the chapter (which will hopefully happen tonight).

I hope these tips help you as much as they’ve helped me. What about you? Do you have any tips on killing the darlings in your WIP? Share them in the comments below.

Happy Writing!