SOLD!

I’ll be writing a post about the adventure known as “submission”, but wanted to update the blog with this little gem:

A huge “THANK YOU!” to my rockstar agent, Carolyn, for helping to make this happen, and I can’t wait to work with Michelle and the rest of the MIRA team!

(And in case you’re wondering how I’m feeling about the whole thing? Here you go …)

 

Just start at the very beginning, A very good place to start…


I have just started a new book. What we writers refer to as a “WIP” (Work in Progress). Now, when I say I’ve “started” it, what I mean is I have the idea. I have a few details about the plot scratched down. I have a vision for where it can go. And I’ve done some research because one of the characters is set in a time I’m unfamiliar with.

But as for how much I’ve written? About 200 words.

I need to write about NINETY THOUSAND MORE.

When I told (bragged) to my husband the other day that I got my first line nailed, he looked at me, raised an (ever supportive) eyebrow, and said, “You’ve written one line?” BUT IT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT LINE, I said. He smiled and nodded as I tried to explain why (this has always been true for me — even in journalism school, when we were on crazy tight deadlines, I couldn’t write a word of a story until I had that first line).

So I thought, why not share my process for how I go from the first word to the 90,000? If for no other reason, it allows me to procrastinate for another few hours on what I should actually be writing, which is … you got it … the book.

IT ALL STARTS WITH THE IDEA.

I have a folder on my laptop titled “Book ideas (that suck)” — and you guessed it, it’s full of book ideas that, well, blow chunks. At first I thought they might be good, even great, but after spending a little time thinking through plot and realizing just how wrong I was, off they go to the file. However, every now and then I have an idea that works when I take it through the first test. It has legs, and with some work, I can see how the story can go from good to great.

This is how I feel inside when I figure that out:

 

Okay, so I have the idea. I write a short blurb and vet it through my critique partners, my agent, and my husband (who is always my toughest critic, which is only one of the reasons I adore him so) — if everyone thinks it has merit, I give the story a (usually crappy but hey, it’s a start) title in Scrivener and figure out what I need to know to start writing.

And let me tell you, there’s A LOT to sort out before the writing begins.

WHO THE HELL IS THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Your characters need to feel like real people. And to do that, you need to build them one layer at a time. Things like giving them names, sorting out how they look, determining their quirks, who their best friends are, what they do for a living, where they grew up, when their birthdays are, where they live, how they live, what they like to eat, drink, do for fun, what makes them angry, what makes them cry, what they like to wear, what they do that pisses others off, what they were like in high school (if you’re writing adult), what people love about them, what people hate about them …


(This is how I feel when I start thinking about all these details … a little dizzy and most definitely overwhelmed…)

It’s time-consuming, creating the main players in your story and their world(s), but it’s important to do it so you don’t end up with cardboard characters no one wants to spend time with.

WHAT THE HECK HAPPENS IN THIS STORY?

Then comes plot. Ah, plot. You can have the best characters, the best setting, the best title, the best hook (more on that in a minute), but without a solid plot, you will be lost. There’s a lot of talk about pantsers vs plotters — pantsers write “by the seat of their pants” whereas plotters do the opposite, with every detail sorted out in advance of writing a single word — and I’ve done it both ways. But I’m most comfortable taking a hybrid approach — a “plantser” I call myself. I like to have a strong outline, with plot points clearly stated and characters worked out, but I give myself some flexibility as I write. Sometimes I’m in a scene that I’ve worked out point by point, and a character unexpectedly jumps out from behind a tree and beckons me to follow her. Which I ALWAYS DO, because this generally leads to an even better scene.

THE HOOK (A.K.A “THE THING THAT MAKES YOUR STORY DIFFERENT”).

The hook is the thing that when you share it, it makes someone sit up a little straighter, lean in, and with eyes wide say, “Wow … tell me more!” It’s critical in today’s book market, and until you have it (in my opinion) you’re not ready to start writing.

This is surely how I look when I figure out my hook …

It’s what makes a writer vibrate a little, the hook, because you spend so much of your story figuring out how to tease it and reveal it, and this is FUN. Now, this all depends on genre, of course, but for those of us who write commercial fiction in any genre, hook is a big deal.

CLOSE TWITTER, FACEBOOK, PINTEREST, EMAIL, RIDICULOUS “WHO ARE YOU?” QUIZZES, AND POTTERMORE (I’M IN GRYFFINDOR, IN CASE ANYONE CARES) … AND START WRITING.

First, comes the panic. The “even though I’ve done this X number of times before, I’m pretty sure I don’t know how to write a book” feeling. This is when I typically need my CPs and husband to CALM ME THE EFF DOWN (see gif below for how this stage generally looks), and remind me that yes, I can write a book. I’ve done it a few times already. So stop panicking (procrastinating) and get to it.

So once I’ve found some inner peace, have the idea, the outline, the plot points, the character details (including setting), and I’ve managed to find time to focus … I start writing.

This is how I EXPECT things to go at this stage:

 

This is how I KNOW it goes, based on experience:

But in the end, despite my greatest attempts at self-sabotage (via procrastination), I end up with this:

And there is no better feeling. Turning an idea into a stack of papers and thousands of words, that swirl together to tell a story? A story crafted out of the depths of your brain?

Awesome.

Time to get writing …

Up To Speed

I’ve been told I’m a fast writer.

But I’m not sure that’s exactly what I am.

(Have I mentioned book #1 took me SIX YEARS to write?)

True, I wrote two books this past year. The first one (really, my second book) took 5.5 months. The second one (really, my third book) took just under 4 months. Now I suppose some would view that as “fast”, although there are plenty of writers out there (on Twitter in particular) who boast about finishing a first draft in less time than it takes me to order something from Old Navy and have it delivered (so about two weeks, give or take). That’s FAST.

I don’t see myself as a fast writer, per se, just a structured and disciplined writer. Because I write for a living as well, the hours between 9 am and 3 pm (after my daughter goes to school, and before she gets back home) are reserved for work (read: paid) writing. I also go to bed around the time a toddler would, as my daughter fancies herself an early bird riser (often prior to 5am), and I just can’t be creative anymore as a night owl.

So most of the fiction I write happens between the hours of 5 am – 8 am. And amazingly enough, if you do that every day and stick to a daily word count, you can write a novel in a few months.

Now, with my very first book, which has gone to the proverbial shelf where practice books live (die), I wrote sporadically. In the early days of that book I didn’t even have a child yet, so I’m not really sure what my excuse was. I HAD NOTHING BUT FREE TIME (and work, but hey, I work now too!). Honestly, if I could go back … Regardless, that first book felt a lot like this:

There were weeks when I didn’t write a word, then some weekends where I’d write 5,000 of them. Either way, that book took forever and as a result, it was (in my opinion) missing the flow and pacing that comes from writing a book in the same mind frame. Life changed so much while I wrote that first book, and all those shifts could be seen through the pages. Hence, the shelf.

With my second book I set out to do things differently. I’d always been a pantser (writing without an outline), but thought maybe I’d create at least a loose outline for book #2. I also wrote a lot of it during my first NaNoWriMo attempt, and what do you know, I managed to finish it in under 6 months! But in many ways the writing of that book felt a lot like this:

I was a flurry of writing! It was ALL VERY EXCITING. The words FLOWED from my fingers. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote some more. I didn’t edit anything until I had a first draft complete. I just kept going, until it was done.

Whew.

The problem with that strategy, despite how quickly I produced that book, was that without a good outline and some pre-thought (the signs of a “plotter”), I ended up with some, um, “challenging” plot holes. Holes that took me another few months to fix. But fix them I did, and that was the book that landed me my awesome agent.

So when I sat down to start book #3, I thought long and hard about my process. I knew I enjoyed the challenge and structure of writing every day. I had read that little tidbit of advice in Stephen King’s ON WRITING (if you haven’t read this book, you must — it’s excellent, and changed how I see my process) — he’s a proponent of the “write every day / read every day” philosophy, and while it doesn’t appeal to all, it works for me. I also decided I was going to outline the book all the way, and I started using Scrivener — a (KICK ASS) tool for writers that allows you to plan scenes using digital cue cards, which can be moved around easily, plus a lot of other awesome bells and whistles.

Armed with a detailed outline, character descriptions, a plot that didn’t appear to have too many holes, and the handy-dandy Scrivener, I started writing. Every day. And during this past year’s NaNoWriMo, I focused on generating 2,000 words a day. Many days I was over that count. The outline was THE BEST THING I COULD HAVE DONE. Writing book #3 felt like this:

I was a writing NINJA!

The words flew from my fingers (and they made sense)!

The story unfolded exactly as I wanted, with a few surprises here and there to keep things interesting!

Three months later, I had a first draft. And it held together. It was the best first draft I’d ever created.

However, it wouldn’t have happened that quickly if I hadn’t committed to writing like it WAS MY JOB. Yes, I have a “job” — two, in fact, if you call being a stay at home mom a job as well (which you should, because it is). But I view writing fiction like a job, and I treat it like that. Which means I work at it every day — sick, tired, stuck, energized, busy … every day. Some days I had to pull those words from my weary fingers and brain. Other days it was easy. But regardless, I wrote every single day.

Truthfully, I only take time off writing when I’m between projects (like I am now). But I use that time to think a lot about writing. And to read as much as I can. Because it’s all connected; it all helps get a solid draft out when you’re ready to go.

So in the end, maybe I am a fast writer. But there’s no way I could be if I wasn’t disciplined about it.

HARD WORK + DETERMINATION, with a dash of goal setting mixed in.

That’s the “secret”, at least for me.

NaNoWriMo 2013

This will be my 3rd time attempting to “win” NaNoWriMo, which is short for “National Novel Writing Month” … a web-based contest of sorts that is all about writing a novel in a month: 50,000 words in November.

The first year (2011), I failed miserably — and quickly. I got about 5,000 words done on a book that went to the place where bad book ideas goes to die (my ‘Novel ideas that SUCK’ folder on my laptop — truly, I have this folder because, well, you never know when you’ll get a flash of brilliance that could change a suck-filled novel into a good one).

My first attempt at NaNo looked a lot like this (That’s me walking around my muse, trying desperately to get its attention…):

 

Last year I wrote The Doctor’s Daughter during NaNo — I cheated a bit, because I already had 20k done when I started the month (technically you’re only allowed an outline), but I won NaNo and finished the month with a completed first draft. That book went through A MILLION AND ONE revisions, but did land me my uber agent, Carolyn Forde. So I won NaNo in more ways than one last year.

This year I’m “cheating” again — I’m at almost 40k in my work in progress book, and am determined to have another completed first draft by midnight on November 30th. This is the synopsis for Book 2, my NaNo project:

After a devastating loss, a 26-year-old woman and her husband embark on a journey to fulfill three things from their life experiences wish list, hoping to find an escape from the grief and a way to forgive. Think EAT, PRAY, LOVE meets P.S., I LOVE YOU, with a twist you won’t see coming.

To hit the 50k goal for the month I need to write about 1700 words a day, every day. I’m averaging about 1200 right now, done mostly thanks to copious amounts of coffee and the #5amwritersclub crew I spend a lot of pre-dawn time with on Twitter. So I know I can do it — as long as I follow a very key NaNo rule: NO EDITING.

It’s freaking hard not to edit as you go. But what I’ve learned over this past year is that one, I need to write every day or I get rusty, and two, if I’m editing, I’m not getting new words down. Huh. Who knew? (Oh, just everyone who can do math … words slashed do not a first draft make) I think many writers get bogged down in the editing piece, which is critical no question, but not until you have your words on the page … I mean, we could all spend hours editing our first page alone (and probably should, once the book is finished). Of course, I appreciate everyone writes and creates differently. But that has been a good formula for me. Draft One = writing only. Even when I get crit partner feedback I simply file it into a folder to go back to when it’s time for Draft Two.

My husband actually sighed when I told him I was doing NaNo again this year. Because this is basically what he saw throughout November 2012 (with a few sobs thrown in here and there, when I got stuck):

 

So to anyone attempting to win NaNo this year, whether it’s your first time or your tenth, GOOD LUCK and may the words be with you!

(See you December 1st)

 

For the love of CPs

I heard a crazy rumour the other day that some authors, once they sign with an agent, drop their Critique Partners (who will from this point forward in this post be referred to as CPs).

This was pretty much my reaction:

 
(or, are they NUTS?)

 Let me back up for a moment.

Getting an agent to like your book enough to want to sign you is, well, awesome. Knowing you’re out of the query ditch and one step closer to publication? Amazing. I felt a little like this for at least a few weeks (I actually still feel a little like this, to be honest):

 

However, I can’t say for sure it would have happened without my CPs. They read every page I sent them. Then read each one again, after I made changes. They offered critical feedback, telling me what wasn’t working (and why, if they could articulate it specifically). They pushed me, and questioned decisions I made for the characters. They came up with some excellent ideas for how to improve the plot, or up the stakes, or to add depth to a character. They gave me virtual high fives and plenty of “squeeeeees” when I got requests. They commiserated when the rejections came in. They told me not to give up. And now that I’m agented, they continue to give me great advice, read my words, and help me make this next story shine.

Basically, they helped shape me into a better writer, and I’m beyond grateful for every minute they spent with my words. Because that was time they could have spent working on their own manuscripts. Sure, we swap pages and I offer them the same support. But good CPs, writers themselves, spend HOURS of their own precious time on your words because they want to help you succeed. Simple as that.

Why would I ever give that up?

A few important things to note — of course, I can only speak for myself, but I imagine there are plenty of authors/agents who would agree with the points below:

  1. Yes, I have an agent. No, I can’t expect her to become my one and only CP. She’s busy. She has (gasp) other clients. Lots of them. Her job is to sell the book I’ve already written. So while I can certainly bounce ideas off her and let her know I’m working hard on the next story, it’s critical to find an outlet for all those unpolished words I’m putting down each day.
  2. It’s tempting when you’re writing a new story to want feedback from your agent early on. You’re a team, right? Of course she wants to read the super-awesome 250 words I just wrote this morning (even though this is a first draft and those awesome words are likely to get cut in revision 35), and the next 100 I crank out before picking the kid up from her school bus. Um, nope. Don’t do it. Resist sending your agent the 25 emails you want to each day, and send them to your CPs instead. It makes for much healthier and productive relationships, all around.
  3. Reading others’ work, especially unpolished/unpublished manuscripts, gives you insight into different writing styles and techniques … and can help you with your own writing. If you read a CP’s early draft and realize she just hasn’t taken enough chances with a character, it’s an opportunity to look at your own story and check it for the same. It can be tricky to see our own flaws — we’re so close to the story, we may not realize the giant plot hole we’ve created until it’s too late (okay, okay, it’s never *too* late but going back to fix a plot hole after you’ve written “The End”? Not the most fun way to spend your time and creative energy). I trust my CPs to see what I can’t.

If you have good CPs in your corner, consider yourself lucky. If you don’t, but want to find one or more, there are a few places to go looking. Twitter pitch contests are a good place. That’s how I found a few of mine. There’s also CPSeek, an online community of writers ready and willing to work on getting the words polished.

If you’re a writer and author, and are serious about getting your work out there, you should WANT critical feedback. Because trust me, having a CP point out an embarrassing grammatical error or the fact you made your protagonist short, brown-haired, and an animal lover in chapter one, and then a tall, cat-hating redhead by chapter eleven is MUCH better than having an agent find the mistakes.

So thanks to my CPs, who were with me before THE CALL, and who have committed to me for the long haul.

Tackle hug for all of you!

 

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