IN BRIEF: There are NO wasted words

 

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-3-09-33-pmI’ve deleted a lot of words.

I’ve left ENTIRE novels to rot on my hard drive.

I’ve re-written some of those “left to rot” novels without opening the original document.

I’ve cut chapters. Words. Characters. Places.

I’ve re-done entire endings. Sometimes more than once.

I’ve re-organized and spend all day deleting and adding and then deleting and then adding… All on my way to some kind of finished product that’s worth seeing the light of day.

You get the idea.

But every word written, every scene, every chapter, every character, every terrible novel that I deleted, re-worked, cut, or left to rot, got me something. Several somethings.

  1. Helped me be a better editor
  2. Gave me a more critical eye when it comes to my own work
  3. Helped me be unafraid to do a REAL revision instead of a patch revision (don’t shift your eyes, I think we’ve all done the “patch” revision instead of the real one – psst, they never work)
  4. Made me know that sometimes words, chapters, characters, threads, plots, should be left alone, and again, helped me be unafraid of starting over, of leaving things behind.

The thing is – as long as we’re writing, we’re moving forward. People don’t start running and then head to a marathon. Every word we write is training. Some of those words stay. Some go. Some ideas stay. Some go. But they ALLLLL help you further your writing goals. They all get you a step closer to a finished product.

So. Next time you’re faced with the awful realization that your fav character doesn’t need to be there, or that one funny scene doesn’t quite fit, or that your book just isn’t… Just isn’t going to sell without a complete re-imagination, I hope you remember that there are no wasted words, just lots of steps that get you to your finished novel.

Happy Editing,

Jo

 

 

When to Walk Away

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-5-34-45-pmIn the years since I started writing seriously, a couple things come up over and over and over:

The writer who is desperate to be published, but has been working on the same project for somewhere between 3-10 years… I want to tell most of these people that their first project will probably never see the light of day without a re-write.

The other thing I hear a lot is – My book is giving me fits! I’m having the worst time getting through it. When do I give up and walk away?

I have some of my own thoughts on these two situations, but I did ask for some help from a few author friends and here’s what they had to say:

REBECCA TALLEY: When I feel like vomiting if I have to read it one more time, I’m done.

CINDY WHITNEY: My first book- I came to a point where I knew I had to decide between putting it away of rewriting it. I’d had a professional edit on it, and finally understood it was not ready to be published. But I loved the characters too much to shelve them, so I rewrote the whole story (over 85K words), and I’m so glad I did (published it in January).

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JANET JOHNSON: The first book I wrote was perfect (of course). Except it wasn’t. And when I knew it needed something, but I didn’t know how to fix it, I walked away. Several years later I came back to it and wow it was terrible! But the characters jumped off the page. I wanted to spend time with them. So that’s when I ripped it apart and rewrote the whole thing. I signed an agent with that book, and it was published last April. I guess the point of what I’m saying is that you need to have a connection to it that compels you forward. Of course I hated the manuscript at times (many, many, many times), but I loved working with those characters, and it kept me going.

(Jo included this cover b/c it was one of my favs this year)

 

MICHELLE WILSON

1. You don’t care about you characters/story anymore

2. You care so much that it gets in the way of things that matter more (obsessive thinking, inability to think about other projects and responsibilities.)

Otherwise I think you stick with it.

Walking away, to me, means you shelf it, put it out of your brain for 6 months to a year or more.

If you care about it and are stuck, then I think you push through. Pushing through can look a lot of different ways. You can work on a different WIP for a few days and give your brain a rest, or take a weekend off, or talk through it with a friend- it’s still on your radar and on the list of things you’re working on now.

That being said, if your WIP is finished, then comes the question, how mush do you revise? How do you know when it’s perfect. And they answer there is, you don’t. Polished isn’t perfect. But that’s another blog post. Lol.

TAMMY THERIAULT – One of my ideas I loved. Then I told it to someone and they said it would mirror a book series already out there. Being too close to another’s idea is no bueno. Even though my idea was off in some regards, the idea was running to close to the other. I once wrote a YA. Completed the novel and shelved it for GOOD. It ruined me. Although it wasn’t a complicated story, I knew I could do better. My beta notes weren’t bad but I felt it wasn’t…me. I tried a different category and the flow was fluid. I wasn’t trying to sound like I could write a Shakespearean line anymore. I was just writing for the enjoyment of writing again. And my betas ended up loving it. It was about finding a voice that suited me. 

JOLENE’S THOUGHTS:

  1. If you have put a novel on one round of submitting to agents, re-worked, and then another round of agents, without an offer of representation. SHELVE IT. Now, you may pull that book out later, but if I were you? I’d wait years.
  2. If you know your idea is a fab high concept, and you’re having a hard time getting through that first draft? Just keep pausing, learning more craft ideas, and pushing through.
  3. When you know something isn’t quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it (sometimes even agents aren’t really sure), that’s when you need to set the MS aside.
  4. When you know you’re not quite good enough to do your story justice, set it aside. THIS IS OKAY. When you’ve honed your skills, you’ll be able to tell that story the way it should be told.
  5. I have shelved about 6 projects. I think I wasn’t quite good enough to tell those stories the way I want. Or those characters maybe have a different story to tell. Until I KNOW how to fix/tweak/change my story, they’ll sit and wait. And in 5 years, they’ll still be right where I left them (Yanno, b/c I’m good at backing up my stuff😉

If you have anything to add to this conversation, as always, I’d love to hear it.

Happy Writing!

Jo

Mad Drafting Skills: DON’T PANIC

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-2-40-05-pmSo, last time, we talked about FLYING through word count. But that doesn’t always happen, right? Sometime we hit a wall that needs to be broken through or climbed over.

DON’T PANIC.

I don’t know a single author who hasn’t been stumped at some point in time, on one or several projects…

 

Here are a few ideas to get you back on track:

  1. Outline what you have so far ( I use this a LOT), I rarely outline anything before I write.
  2. Maybe try a different type of outline – I have made SO many realizations while doing this. Look at each scene and think about – LEARN and PROPEL – that post is HERE.
  3. Go over your character sketches and maybe add to them. If I fall in love with my characters again, I regain the NEED to tell their story. I also generally get ideas for scenes I’d like to write.
  4. Give yourself permission to NOT WRITE EVERYDAY (yes, some would argue with me over this one).
  5. Go back to the things you’ve done to set the mood.
  6. Don’t be afraid to WRITE OUT OF ORDER. You might throw that scene away when you write up to it, but if it helps grease those brain wheels, YAY.
  7. Sometimes you have to write something BAD in the hopes that it leads to something GOOD.
  8. Sometimes you just need to remind yourself that you’ll probably hate your book a few times between the beginning of the process and the end and that the feeling is NORMAL.
  9. Try to think about your WIP every day, even if you’re not writing in it everyday. This is how authors finish a project.
  10. WRITE BY HAND. Man, has this helped me before. First off, my fingers and my keyboard can’t keep up with brain most of the time, so when I slow down, it’s super obvious. When I’m writing, everything is slower, and I’m generally more careful with my words. I edit these sections a lot less than the ones I type.

Here’s what happens to a lot of people who have a hard time finishing a project:

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The thing is – the new project is shinier and prettier and more perfecter than the one you’re having a hard time finishing, yes?

Another few ideas:

  1. If you’re not on a deadline, AND you’re someone who knows he/she can finish a book, go for it. Write while the muse is loud. The other MS will still be there when the muse quiets.
  2. If you have a hard time finishing projects, STOP. But on your adulting britches and just DO IT. (IF you’re serious about writing that is).
  3. If you’re on a deadline. STOP. STAHP!! Make goals in your current WIP, and once you hit those goals, THEN you get to work on the shiny new toy. You want a career as an author? Deadlines are part of it.

So. Hopefully some of this is helpful. Next post we’ll talk about when you push through a project, and when to walk away…

Happy Writing!

~ Jo

Wanna head to a website FULL of awesomeness? www.postcardsfromtheyaedge.com

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Mad Drafting Skills Part V: Killin’ It

screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-7-47-42-pmI think almost every writer has experienced that bit of euphoria that comes when your fingers can’t keep up with how fast the story is coming from your brain. IT JUST IS. This feeling reminds me a bit of that moment when acting on stage and you go from yourself to the character, and everything you’ve rehearsed, just HAPPENS.

But what I want you to remember here is that some authors write like this all the time, others “rehearse” so they can write this way.

These are things I use when I don’t just sit down and immediately blaze flaming trails over my keyboard, or, things I do beforehand to make sure that I can create flaming trails🙂

1. SET THE MOOD:

You need snacks? GET THEM. You need a specific pair of pants? GET THEM. You like quiet? MAKE IT HAPPEN. You like music? DO IT. Do not short-change yourself when it comes to your surroundings. I wrote HAS TO BE LOVE while wearing my husband’s Captain American Pajama pants. I wore them for the first two days of writing that novel, and when I woke up on the 3rd day and the words weren’t flowing, I put them on. BAM. Back in the groove.

When I was working on ALL THE FOREVER THINGS, I drank hot chocolate. Any time the words weren’t flowing, I’d get more hot chocolate. My jeans were a bit tight at the end of that month… And I just did copyedits on that one, and guess what? The second I opened the MS, I needed hot chocolate, but it put my head right back in that world.

2. KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GONNA WRITE:

I pre-write all the time. I don’t WRITE write, I just hit the CAPS LOCK key and jot down a few notes. I do this pretty often at the end of a writing session, or sometimes before I shut down my computer for the night. I very often write in several 40-60 minute bursts, and before I get up, I hit my CAPS LOCK and write a note or two.

If you don’t know what you’re going to write, NO WORRIES! Go back and read over a bit of what you’ve already written. Get yourself back in that headspace.

3. TURN OFF THE INTERNET!!!! OFF!!!!!!

If you really want to blaze through word count, you can’t stop to look things up. Make a note and move on. You don’t want to be interrupted by notifications. Now, I have to leave my phone available in case the kids’ schools call, but NOTHING ELSE GETS ANSWERED. When I slack off of this rule, my word count plummets.

4. THE TIMER METHOD

I’ll give you a link, but the basics are -> Set a timer. Ignore everything for about 40 minutes. IF at the end of that 40 minutes, you’re smokin’ keep writing. If, at the end of that 40 minutes, you’re like FINALLY IT IS OVER, then you can stop.

Walk around, do some menial task that requires no brain power (YES, even if you’re at Starbucks or Panera or something – get up and move or get up and at least stretch). While you’re moving your body, think about your book. Prepare. Then sit down and do it again.

For my full post on the timer method, GO HERE.

5. WRITING WON’T ALWAYS COME EASY

Writing won’t always come easy, and that’s okay. Sometimes just knowing that EVERYONE has an off day, makes our off days feel okay.

6. TAKE BREAKS

I will never subscribe to the idea that writers have to write every day. We don’t have to write every day. If you never finish projects, this might be a problem, otherwise, TAKE BREAKS, your brain needs the rest. That being said, if you’re in the middle of a project, spend time thinking about that project, even on days when you don’t have time to write.

And next will be – how to be in your story when you’re not writing… Some common sense, and hopefully a few new things to add to your writing toolbox🙂

Happy Writing!

Jo

 

 

Mad Drafting Skillz Part IV: PLOTTY PANTS

 

screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-7-21-28-pmIt might seem strange to some of you that I waited until I was done with PRE WRITING to talk about plotty things, but I know some authors who pause and plot halfway through their first draft. I often stick my whole first draft into some kind of plotty tool AFTER I write. So, plotty tools can be used AT ANY POINT IN THE PROCESS. For me that point changes over time and changes by project.

I say this because YOU HAVE TO TAKE WHAT YOU WANT, LEAVE WHAT YOU WANT, and DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.

We’re going to start with the plotty tool that is closest to being a pantser/organic writer and work toward the most plotter driven (and PLEASE add any others you’ve used and loved in the comments):

Snowflake:

This is a rather IN DEPTH look at the snowflake method, but worth a read if you’re curious. You basically start with a few BIG points (a triangle), and then continually, slowly, add more points between the big ones, creating a snowflake…

7 Point Plot:

This is simple and brilliant, and works for SO many books that I have a hard time putting into a full beat sheet. Simply it works like this – HOOK, PLOT POINT, PINCH POINT (forcing action), MIDPOINT, PINCH POINT, PLOT POINT, RESOLUTION.

A link to this HERE and another one from one of my fav writing podcasts WRITING EXCUSES, as well as a link to a few Youtube videos.

BEAT SHEET:

This came about because of a book called SAVE THE CAT, which is for screen-writing and written by Blake Snyder. If you google search BLAKE SNYDER BEAT SHEET, you’ll get more than you ever wanted. I’m not about to sort through the massive amount of posts on this.  YES, this method works for 98% of the good movies I’ve seen. NO, I don’t always feel like this works for my novels when I’m trying to plot before I write, and YES, I’m aware that probably says a lot more about my process than about Snyder’s beat sheet. Honestly, my big advice here is to sit with that beat sheet and watch a few movies. Do that until the natural rhythms of good story-telling start to become engrained.

 

CHAPTER BY CHAPTER:

This is that detailed outline that we’d normally only see in college classes or non-fiction. Where each chapter is titled, and then divided among scenes, and each scene is maybe divided and written out in bullet form as well.

Here’s a link to see photos of what I mean – LINK HERE – I know this works fab for some writers. They know all the details before they start and then can write FAST.

 

IN BRIEF:

Whatever works for you? DO IT.

If you’re not sure? TRY A FEW THINGS.

If what you’re doing isn’t working? TRY SOMETHING ELSE.

If you just want to write? YOU CAN BE LIKE ME AND OUTLINE AT THE END

For anyone curious about my “normal” process:

I have some idea of where the story is going, how it will wrap up, and my character arcs, then I write the story. Once I have a thin first draft, I write up an outline so I can see the beats of my story, then I move and rearrange if needed, and start to fill in since my first drafts are usually about 2/3 of my final word count.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about how to keep those fingers FLYING across the keyboard and getting in big word counts🙂

And please, I only shared things I’ve actually USED, so if you’ve used different plotty devices, feel free to share.

HAPPY WRITING!

Jo

 

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Mad Drafting Skillz Part III: Pre Writing – VISUALS (aka ALLLL the prettiessss)

screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-7-39-39-pmPretty much everything I talk about today is something you can include your family in, if you’re a writer who is always juggling your family time with your work time with your writing time.

 

I’m a visual learner. If we meet, I’ll ask you your name about 8 times before I learn it (or just keep asking your friends while whispering behind your back), UNLESS I can read your name. So, yeah… I’m visual. This part is super important for me.

So far in pre-writing we’ve talked about Characters and Research – today is putting those things together into PRETTY PICTURES😉

I sometimes make fake book covers and pay ZERO attention to what I’d actually do if I were making a real book cover. FYI – A Forever Thing is now called All The Forever Things, and I should have a real cover soon.

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or

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Sometimes I build a fake web page – inspiration boards that are only for me to see (well, and now you…)

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I do character sketches while using celeb/model/stock photos – again, I make these for ME – authors who use celebs to help sell their book? NO BUENO. You can be sued for that… (This book is still in early draft stage, so I’m feeling somewhat safe? here) And yes, please feel free to laugh at my descriptions – when I first started my novel I wanted it to be purposefully over-the-top. I have since changed my mind, so my character sketches will reflect that at some point.

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AND PLACES – sometimes having pics of the places your character will go can help you know what your character will notice and can paint a picture while keeping the story rolling:

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I have no idea where any of these pictures came from – I had my kids help me find them🙂 It’s a fun way to bring them in to parts of my writing process. And again, I always love it when I can move forward with writing while also hanging with my peeps.

I’ll talk about this later, but having these visuals is SO helpful when I’m writing and my progress slows.

Honestly, what we’re doing here is STEALING. You’re already building a lot of your story from scratch, when you can borrow something from real life, that’s a GOOD THING.

Seriously, tailor anything to you – I like to keep all my stuff on my iWeb program – some people need things printed out and on bulletin boards. Other people make big collages using magazines… Whatever works for you, do it.

Thanks, Jo

P.S. It is not my intention to use any of these pictures for anything other than to show other authors how to use pictures to their advantage for their own work at home. 

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Mad Drafting Skillz Part II: Pre-writing RESEARCH

You know that really annoying saying out there that says – WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW? And as creative people, we kind of HATE THAT? Because we write mythical creatures and experiences and things we’ll never actually KNOW? This is why research is so important.

I spend a lot of time thinking about a novel before I actually sit down to write – usually between a month to over a year. This isn’t ALWAYS the case because the book I wrote this July I thought of at the end of June. But USUALLY, an idea solidifies in my mind for quite a while before I tackle it. So, just know that there’s no perfect formula for anything. No one thing that works every time, but thinking about a book for several months gives me a lot of time to get some research in before I draft, which means my drafting goes much faster.

 

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I want to preface everything I say below with the idea that I have zero problems leaving unfinished details in my manuscript as I write. If I’m not positive that Chevy had a convertible Camaro in a certain year, I just say INSERT CAR HERE, and continue writing. But I do know that if an author doesn’t do a certain amount of research about a place in the world or a time period, or a culture, chances are very good that the author will end up with a plot point (or many) that don’t work with that time period/culture/place in the world, and the changes after draft one will be major re-workings or re-writes rather than regular edits and revisions.

EXAMPLE: About five or six years ago, I wrote a love story set in the WWII time period that takes place over several years from several points of view, and I LOOOOVED it. Since my granddad fought in the war as a young volunteer, I asked him to read it. After talking to him, I had to make an enormous fundamental shift in which person did which job – and as you know, someone’s job can (and in both cases did) define much of who a person is. Only just now have I been able to redefine those people in my head to get the story right. The point of this mini-Jo-history? DON’T MAKE MY MISTAKE AND BE PUT IN THE POSITION TO RE-WRITE YOUR NOVEL.

  1. I cannot imagine writing a story that takes no research, and so far, I’ve written a LOT of contemporary novels.
  2. Don’t assume that because someone else used a specific thing in their fiction, that they got it right. LOOK IT UP. (I see rampant mistakes about the criminal justice system, but that’s because I know the CJ system. My guess is that doctors would say the same thing, as would any professional).
  3. You may not know all the little things that are going to come up in your novel, THIS IS OK, you don’t have to research every detail. You have to research enough to know your subject, and to know what will and won’t work for the overall plot. We’re not talking about micro-revision here, we’re talking about drafting. Just learn enough that you’re not pausing to go to google because we all know what can happen when you leave your MS to check something online……….
  4. BONUS: If you have drafting days when you’re not really feeling it? You can look over the notes you’ve left in your MS and fill in those blanks with research.
  5. WHEN RESEARCHING SOMETHING TOTALLY NEW TO YOU – start with a children’s book. I’m not kidding. You’ll get a general overview of the subject, and then you’ll know how to ask questions about the bigger stuff, and know what specific parts of that topic you’d like to focus on or learn more about. I’ve done this with cancer, history, ghosts, oceanography, mechanics and architecture. Also, there are usually pictures😉
  6. Everyone has their own way of keeping notes on things – I keep mine in google drive and there are always LOTS of links. Find what works for YOU and use it to death.
  7. If you’re going to write someone in a wheelchair, PLEASE ACTUALLY TALK TO SOMEONE IN A WHEELCHAIR. If you’re writing someone with wings? Feel free to spend a lot of time imagining that person.

 

USE WHAT YOU LOVE to do the research for what YOU WANT TO WRITE.

EXAMPLE: I have a friend (Jennifer Moore) who is in to history and old ships and nearly all of her vacations take her to places she’ll use in her historical novels. She gets to research while also doing something she loves = WIN. (Yes, I realize we can’t all travel, but we do have a million travel sites that can still help).

Use WHAT YOU KNOW, to write what YOU DON’T KNOW.

EXAMPLE: My Alaska writing friend, AdriAnne Strickland, is a commercial fisherman. She used the idea of casting nets and “fishing” in a space opera (Shadow Run) that sold at auction and comes out this fall. She used something she knows (fishing) as part of something she doesn’t know (what it’s like to live on a spaceship, though, she does understand life on a boat).

I want you to honestly think about the things you’re passionate about, your feelings, the way you see the world… ALL of that will end up in your books. I’ll never write a book that includes a setting or a hobby that I have no interest in. Most people won’t. So, keeping all this in mind – happy pre-writing research!

Thanks, Jo

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