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.

Habits and other muse-ings

First things first, I “won” NaNoWriMo again this year! Now as I mentioned in my last post, “winning” simply means writing 50,000 words in the month of November. The only trophy I “won” was of the virtual kind, along with a nicely chilled glass of white when I hit 50,001 words.

In case you’ve never tried to do it, 50k in a month is NOT EASY. Especially when your muse takes an unexpected vacation in the first week, or refuses to do what you’ve asked of her. Add in that thing called LIFE, and there were days where I wasn’t sure I was going to hit the goal.

But I did, and in the process, finished my next book.

(Insert a whoop of joy here and a dance that looked a little like this…)

The difference this time, though, is that I had a solid plot outlined and 40k written BEFORE November 1st. That helped. Not only with reaching my goal to get the book finished during NaNo, but also to create a story that was more second draft quality than first draft.

Because as we all know, first drafts SUCK. Usually when I read through my first draft this is my reaction:

This time, though, I plotted in a way I never have before. I used this handy dandy word processing (magical) writing tool called Scrivener, which has completely changed how I write. I worked with a few of my critique partners chapter by chapter, versus having them read the book after a first draft was done. And I wrote EVERY SINGLE DAY.

There’s a lot of controversy out there about the whole ‘write ever day’ habit. But after reading Stephen King’s On Writing, I knew it was a habit I wanted to get into. If you’re a writer and haven’t read On Writing, go do so. Now. Along with great tips, like read and write every single day, you get a glimpse into the trials SK went through in becoming the incredibly successful author he is today. It really changed how I view my writing process.

However, there are plenty of writers who disagree with the daily writing habit thing. But for me, it’s like working a muscle, and if I keep “active” daily my writing muscles don’t atrophy. Words flow more easily, my mind stays close to the plot and characters, and most of all, the BOOK GETS WRITTEN MORE QUICKLY (at least in my experience).

My first book, my “practice” book, took more than six years to write. (Note: I did NOT write every day, and at that time I didn’t even have a kid yet!) And let me tell you, it’s obvious in the story. For the last two books I wrote them mostly between the hours of 5am and 7 am, and managed to get a finished draft done within five months each time. I would never have done that without the daily habit of writing each morning. Along with (copious amounts of) coffee, it’s become a daily ritual I look forward to … most mornings, anyway. There were some, let me tell you, that looked a lot like this…

Regardless of whether you write every day or not, are a “pantser” (little to no plotting, write as you go) or a “plotter” (the exact opposite of a pantser), drink coffee or tea while you write, feel most inspired before the sun comes up or long after it has gone down, or take one month or six years to finish a book, you have a process. Which means you likely don’t need any advice, unless you’re looking for a change.

Really, the only advice I give when someone asks “HOW” to finish a book is this:

DO NOT STOP WRITING UNTIL IT’S DONE.

That’s really it, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

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)

 

THE CALL

This is a story best told in two parts. Actually, three, if you count writing the first book, which is now gathering dust on the shelf where many (most?) first novels go to die. I’m going to try and tell it succinctly, and with as few GIFs as possible.

So let’s start with Part 1: NOVEL WRITING 101

I wrote a book. The idea came to me one rainy afternoon at the cottage. I’d never written a book before, and wondered if I could finish it. I did, but it took almost six years. It had some really good moments, but it didn’t have enough of them. So after going through the process of learning how to query and get a book ready for agents, and getting a few nibbles, I shelved it. Hey, we all need a practice book.

Part 2: YOU DID WHAT?!

So I wrote another book. This time I set out to do all the things I didn’t with the first book. Namely, to write it in less than six months and up the stakes. And thanks to a dedicated 5 am writing schedule and NaNoWriMo, I wrote it in three months. Then I revised it for three months. I got help writing the dreaded query letter (from Lauren Spieller, who helped me make my query letter ah-mazing. She’s for hire, so check her out!) Then things got very, VERY exciting. There was a contest, requests, offers, and more revisions. If you want to know more about Part 2, I wrote about it in great detail so I won’t bore you with that here. But Part 2 left me feeling a little like this:

Part 3: A long haul to THE CALL

Once I turned down the offers, choosing to take my chances with more revisions, I spent another three and a half months revising the book. It was a long, challenging, and frustrating process, and one I could not have done without my amazing critique partners Rosey, Abby, Kristy, and Kate, all of whom gave me fantastic crit notes and were tough on me when I needed it. The book would truly not be where it is today without their excellent comments and speed reading abilities!

Finally, my critique partners signed off on the manuscript and I felt the story was in the best shape it could be. It was polished, ready to go. So on May 28th, I sent out my first query. At first I sent them out in batches of 10, to my list of agents I’d meticulously researched. When I got a rejection, I’d send out another query or two.

Now I don’t know if ALL THE AGENTS IN THE WORLD were on vacation in June, but my inbox was full of crickets. Silence. Nothing was happening. I spent most of my days hitting refresh on my email, willing something interesting to show up. I also watched this video a lot, because it makes me strangely happy (thanks, Summer, aka Fizzygrrl, for first introducing me to this weird and wonderful GIF):

 

I was bored. Worried. Hitting refresh way (WAY) too many times a day. Wondering if I’d made a mistake querying during the summer. Waiting for something, anything, to happen.

Finally, stuff started happening. I got a request. Then another one. Then partial requests were upgraded to fulls. Good sign. At the same time form rejections were coming in. But that’s okay. I was ready for them. I was happy to get them because it meant I could send out another couple of queries.

It’s often advised you send out small batches of queries, then wait for a response on all those before sending any more out. And that you query your top, “dream” agents first. I appreciate this advice, but like all advice, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt (please excuse the cliche — as a writer I know I’m supposed to loathe cliches but I can’t help it — like the trampolining elephant, cliches make me strangely happy). I’m going to write more about the querying process in another post, but here’s what worked for me: I didn’t have a “dream” agent; I don’t believe such a thing exists. I had a list of agents I would have loved to work with, and I was going to keep sending out queries until one of them said “yes.” If no one had said “yes”? I would have shelved book 2 and worked on book 3. That was my strategy.

Now while I was in what one critique partner refers to as the ‘query ditch’, I did have low moments. Times where I was sure none of this was going to work. I talked about shelving book 2. I filled my critique partners’ inboxes with depressing drivel. I lamented not having taken up a different “hobby” — like knitting, imagining I’d have stacks of blankets and scarves rather than forgotten pages of words. I still had a few fulls out with agents, but had started to accept I needed to let go of the book and the process and start the next story.

So I started writing my next book.

Then July 31st happened. It was a Wednesday, and I sent out a very important query. To an agent I’d been twitter stalking (c’mon we all do it), but one I wasn’t sure represented my genre. I had sent her a message via Twitter a few weeks earlier trying to find out if she was interested in women’s fiction, but never heard back. However, her name kept popping into my mind so I decided to just send her the query and see what happened.

So at 3:21 pm on Wednesday, July 31st, I sent her the query. Not long after I got a response. She’d love to read it. There is nothing quite like the feeling of getting a full request from an agent. You get all bubbly and excited, the anticipation of “maybe … just maybe this will be the one who pulls me out the ditch …”

Then next day I got a rejection on my full from a different agent. Rejections on fulls suck. There is no other way to put it. But for some reason I didn’t feel all that upset by this one. I chalked it up to experience and practice (nothing like getting good at getting rejections!), and moved on.

That night, I checked my email before going to bed. It was 10:44 pm. And there, in my inbox, was this from the agent I’d queried the day before:

Hi Karma,
Are you available for a chat tomorrow?

I stared at it a moment, calmly trying to figure out what it meant (yes, I realize it’s pretty obvious, but querying writers like to OVER ANALYZE EVERY WORD). I showed my husband. I started freaking out. What could it mean? I asked him. He looked at me like I was crazy. Obviously it means she wants to chat. (Obviously) But … why? I asked. Again, the look from him. But, but … I said. She’s only had the full manuscript for ONE DAY. What, is she some kind of speed-reading super agent?

Yes. That is exactly what she is.

We set up the call for the next morning and I spent the night like this:

Turns out she did in fact read the manuscript in one day. And she loved it. And when we chatted on Friday morning? She offered me representation. And when I got off the phone I DANCED A JIG. Honestly, I did. Because not only had I just had THE CALL, it was amazing, and she was so passionate about the story and what we could do with it that I just knew she was the one.

Now because I still had fulls out with other agents I needed to let them know I had an offer. As was standard, I gave them a deadline for the next week and then I waited. But this was a good kind of waiting. I had an offer I was thrilled about. Best. Feeling. Ever. Kermit flail kind of stuff.

 

Fast forward a week, deadline day, and things got crazy. I ended up with two other offers, and a big decision to make. I won’t bore you with the gory details of that day, but will say it involved a lot of stress. And stress eating. And stress. There may have also been a tad of wailing. And I considered cracking open the wine at 2pm. Did I mention the stress?

But ultimately I kept coming back to my conversation with agent #1. And I knew she was the best fit not just for the book, but also for me.

So because this post has grown out of control like fruit flies on ripened peaches (sorry!), I’ll end it with this: I am now represented by the amazing Carolyn Forde of Westwood Creative Artists, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Nothing like crossing a massive goal off your list. So thanks to Carolyn for pulling me out of the query ditch!

And because we all seem to love stats, here are mine:

Queries: 70

No response: 30

Rejections: 30

Requests: 10

Offers: 3!!! (from three amazing agents … feeling very grateful)

Finally, I have a few thank yous. First, to my husband, who has patiently listened to all the drivel, the story ideas, the plot points, the whining, the excitement, the annoying analysis, and told me over and over I’m talented and this will happen … I’ve got a good one in my corner. Also, I couldn’t have done this without the help of my amazing crit partners, Rosey, Kate, Abby, Kristy, Julie, and Kim. Or my early beta readers, Katja and Melissa (and my mom!). And of course, my morning #5amwritersclub crew, who kept me company and kept me motivated during those early morning writing sessions! And I wouldn’t have survived the madness of deadline day and multiple offers without a few others: Dahlia (if you’re querying, or have any questions about author stuff, you must check out her blog), Summer, Juliana, Lauren, and Rachel. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH.

And because I’m nerdy like this, here’s a pic of me signing the agreement. Of course, it’s sort of staged because when I actually signed the only one home was my five year old. Who is not bad with an iphone, but hasn’t mastered her photo skills yet. So I saved one copy and signed again later. Still, it’s important to capture the moment, don’t you think?

Blog hop time!

Even though I’m deep into NaNoWriMo (okay, not exactly ‘deep’ seeing as it’s only day 2…), I wanted to take a few minutes to respond to this blog hop. One of my lovely critique partners, Abby (*waving, Abby!*) tagged me, and because I try to do what she says (at least when it comes to my manuscript), here are my answers:

Where did you get the idea for your book?
The idea for my WIP (work in progress), tentatively titled ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’, came from a lunchtime chat I had with the lovely Jenn Reynolds, a magazine editor I work with. I actually ended up writing a story on the topic, but there was one particular question she put to me that made me ask … ‘What if?’ And it all flowed from there.

What’s the genre of your book?
Women’s Fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play the characters in your movie?
Hmmm. Haven’t thought about this before. But am thinking about it now…

My elevator pitch:
No real pitch yet, as I’m only partway through a first draft. But here’s the main gist of the story:

A young surgeon’s choice to return to her tiny hometown and take over her Dad’s medical practice after he dies is determined by the result of a pregnancy test…a pregnancy with a very surprising twist!

Obviously there’s a lot more to it, but I’m not far enough in yet to really describe the highlights. I will say I’m writing some nice romance elements into this one … and the teensiest bit of magical realism.

Will your book be represented by a publisher or self-published?
Dear Gawd, I hope it will (one day) be represented by a publisher!

How long did it take you to write the first draft?
I started writing it September 2. My goal is to have a first draft done, or nearly done, by the end of NaNoWriMo, so November 30th. Then the editing begins!

What other books compare in your genre?
I think if you crossed the movies Hope Floats with Doc Hollywood, and added in a dash of Practical Magic, you’d have something similar : )

Who or what inspired your book?
Well, Jenn definitely asked the right question that day!

What else about the book might pique the readers’ interest?
There’s a much bigger theme in this book about the idea of family – what constitutes a ‘family’ and how far one will go to create, and protect, that.

I’m not going to tag anyone right now, because I know many are toiling away at NaNo…or busy living life : )