Writing Update: Dealing with Praise and Nervousness

I’ve written two other blog posts over the past couple of weeks and deleted both of them. One came across as too depressing, and the other just didn’t work. Maybe I can get this one actually on the web.

Currently, I’m deep into editing my novel. After making a lengthy list of revision notes, I did one pass to correct/change all of those. Then I searched out all passive voice and killed it (well, most of it). I also did work on limiting adverbs and other boring stuff that you probably don’t care about.

After doing enough work to proclaim that I was on the second draft, I printed the entire thing out. I’ve been going through it, sentence-by-sentence, and making more edits. Looking at it on paper provides a different perspective than my computer screen. At the same time, I’ve made another list of revision notes to go through. 

Meanwhile, I got a lot of feedback from a beta reader. And I mean a LOT. Two hours and thirteen minutes worth. And 99% of it was good.

Now, if someone is willing to rave about your book for two hours and thirteen minutes, then maybe, just maybe you have something there. He told me I had to write the next book, even if I don’t get published, because he needs to know what happens next.

Yet I can’t help but feel wary of too much praise. I’ve been there before, only to see failure. I’m cautious that way. After all, I have another reader who has had the book longer and has only gotten through about 50 pages. Sure, it could be that he’s a slower reader. Or maybe it only appeals to a certain type of person, like the raving reader.

At any rate, I have a plan now, mostly. I need to finish my edit of the printed version, and make all the corrections I find there. Then I need to finish the new revisions list. By then, maybe the final beta reader will have more feedback for me.

Meanwhile, I need to start working on a query letter. This one’s hard, as the plot is harder to communicate, more involved than my previous book. 

If that weren’t enough, I’ve also outlined and plotted a short story set within the world of this book. Perhaps I’ll finish that at the same time, and use it for additional promotion.

I have a lot of work to do.

 

Funniest moment from the beta reader conversation: he’s comparing characters and talking about where they might end up, speculating… and I couldn’t help but say: “Are you… shipping my characters?”

(He was.)

Finding the Best Writing Advice Online

Advice.jpgAround a year and a half ago, when I decided to get back into writing, I looked for some advice online. Guess what? The internet is full of advice about writing. In just a couple of days, I had 20+ websites bookmarked and kept finding more. I haven’t spent a lot of time looking for advice on other topics, but the sheer quantity of writing advice online is almost unbelievable. It seems that everyone and their cousin’s neighbor has something to say on the topic.

However, like anything in life, I soon discovered that you need to be careful about writing advice. Some of it is not necessarily beneficial. This applies to any topic, of course, but I found it especially true with regard to writing. Sometimes, that cousin’s neighbor doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

I’m not going to dispense my own writing advice, though I’ve thought about it. I don’t feel qualified. I’m mostly writing about my own experiences. And from time to time, I may throw out my own opinions about something I’ve read. But that’s all it is: my opinions. I have no great wealth of knowledge to give out… yet. Maybe someday I will.

You see, that’s one of the key things I discovered about the writing advice online. Some of it is written by people who have no business giving out advice. I’ve seen websites filled to overflowing with advice, and yet the writer of this advice has never published a single book. Others have even larger sites with even more advice, yet they’ve only self-published a couple of titles on Amazon. Then there’s some that have only written books (sometimes self-published) that are ABOUT writing, but they’ve never written anything else. Perplexing. The ones that make me really roll my eyes are the sites that look like they were designed in 1992 and never updated since. I saw one that said something about “this month’s focus is…” and the topic hasn’t changed since I discovered it.

My point is that we should use discernment in choosing where we get advice. Some people are doing this just to make money off of gullible wannabe authors. Some are doing it because they think they know more than they actually do.

Let’s use a ridiculous example. I work on a Mac computer. If I start having problems with it, where should I go for advice? Should I ask my neighbor, who almost never touches a computer, from what I’ve seen? Should I ask my friend who hates Macs and insists that Windows is far superior? Should I ask another friend who used to use Macs back in the 1990s, but now swears by Linux? Or should I ask a genius at the Apple Store? The answer should be obvious. Why listen to advice from people who don’t know what they’re talking about?

That’s where I come down. When I seek out advice, I want the best advice. Some choices are obvious, like Writer’s Digest, which has been a standard for all things writing for close to a century. Then there are legitimate best-selling writers who are willing to give out advice and share their experiences. No one can question Brandon Sanderson’s success, for example. He regularly teams up with a couple of other authors to produce a short podcast on writing topics. It’s been going on several years and is full of great advice. I’m a big fan of David Farland’s writing tips (he’s also a best-selling author), and James Scott Bell, who is extremely prolific, has also written some helpful books on writing.

Since publishing is an industry, sometimes advice can come from non-authors; it can come from those involved in the business side of it. Agents are a good source of advice on how to get noticed. Query Shark, run by an agent who gleefully rips writer queries to shreds and then shows how they can be better. It makes me laugh, but has definitely improved my query game. John Adamus is an editor/writing coach who has been in the business for decades. Besides his blog, and his paid services, he dispenses free advice on Twitter daily. Jane Friedman is an editor that has over 20 years of experience in the publishing industry and a website chock-full of brilliant tips. And so on.

Writing is an art. Publishing is a business. Seeking out advice on both sides of the issue is a good idea. Just make sure you’re getting advice from people who have your best interests in mind.

It’s a Lengthy Process

tiredwriter.jpg

I said that in my last post, but I thought I’d elaborate a little more.

Since I finished the first draft of the book, here’s some of what I’ve been up to:

  • Adding in an important scene that I accidentally left out.
  • Adjusting the timeline of different events as they happen from different points of view.
  • Added a few comments to clarify certain side issues related to character development.
  • Searched for filler words – that means searching out every single use of words like “that” or “just” and deleting most of them.
  • Killing adverbs. Too often, in the hurry of writing, we tend to rely on words like “actually” or “really.” I needed to delete and/or rewrite a few hundred of those. That was probably the biggest job I’ve taken on so far.
  • Checked for consistent capitalization of certain world-specific terms.
  • Checked to see if I ever mentioned a certain supporting character’s appearance (I didn’t! Whoops!)

I haven’t even scratched the surface of the list of revisions that I know I need to make. That includes minutiae like determine the phases of the moon through the story’s progress and making sure any references to it make sense. Or enhancing descriptions of certain parts of the culture. Or adding in more foreshadowing for the events of the climax.

After I take care of ALL of those things, then I’ll start from the very beginning and re-read the entire thing, sentence-by-sentence, and revise everything. Yes, that’s a big deal.

I have two beta readers who are reading the rough draft, and I’m looking forward to their reactions. They’re very different from each other, so I expect different points of view, which is what I want to hear. Then I’ll make more changes based on their feedback.

Only after all of that will I seek out some more beta readers/critique partners to look over the revised draft.

Part of me hates this process. It’s an insane amount of work and a lot of it is downright mind-numbing. But another part of me loves it.

You see, I love this story and these characters. Therefore, I want it to be the best it can be. I want it to flow, to sweep the reader along, to make it into a real page-turner. Each and every sentence has to be just right. Each and every character’s words, raised eyebrows, gestures, frowns, has to be true to who they are. Each and every description has to be realistic and appropriate to the setting.

I tried to think of an analogy that would work here, but every one of them fell apart. I don’t think I have anything at all that works as a comparison for this editing/re-writing process. It’s an art form.

And it takes a while.

It… is done.

With a final three-word sentence a few minutes ago, I finished the first draft of my novel. Currently 137,093 words long (somewhere close to 500 pages), it’s an epic fantasy like I always dreamed I would write. Unlike all the experiments I attempted in my early life, this one is actually original, not attempting to copy anyone or anything.

It’s the story of a young man, cursed from birth for the sins of his father, faced with a legacy of magic and power that could free him from the curse… or kill him. And there are others who want him dead for other reasons. At the same time, a young woman, training to be her land’s greatest mage, discovers a secret that could unravel the very fabric of the world. (And that’s the first time I’ve tried to explain the book, so I know that needs work.)

Current working title: Until the Curses Are Lifted

It’s really my second novel. The first one, a YA fantasy written just over a year ago, was much shorter and less ambitious (almost half as long). I was unable to find an agent for it in its present form. I hope to return to it at some point and make it better.

For now, the real work begins on this novel. Revisions. In at least two chapters, I skipped over some extensive descriptions because I had a block and needed to get back into writing. I need to go back and fill those in. I also have two full pages of notes detailing revisions that I know need to be made. And that’s before I even go back and re-read it!

The most significant work is something I have to do before anyone else can look at it. This book has two point-of-view characters, protagonists, each in their own adventure that eventually connect. I wrote it scene-by-scene. Now I need to go back and re-arrange every scene to cut back-and-forth between them. Along the way, I’m sure I’ll see some other revisions that are needed.

I have one beta reader who needs to look at it next week. I’d like to get more revisions done before I hand it off to any others just yet.

How long will this take? Weeks or months, who knows?

And then begins the process of querying, pitching, and otherwise searching for a literary agent. It’s a lengthy process. This time, I think I’ll be entering it with more confidence than before.

For now, I think I’ll celebrate a little bit. It’s kind of a big deal.

Why Haven’t I Written Anything Lately?

This is the big question looming over me.

Since mid-January, I have written almost nothing on my novel. And I don’t really know why. Scrivener is always open on my computer. I have time. I know exactly what happens next. I’m at the climax, after all. But I’m not writing.

Part of it might come from doubts and fears, I’m sure. I’m realizing that I have a couple of problems in the story that need some serious revision. And that makes me worry that the whole thing is worthless. (It’s not.)

That leads to the second issue: revision work. I know that there will be literally months of revision work on this and it’s intimidating. Since NaNoWriMo, the web/Twitter world related to writing has been all about revisions and the more I read and think about it, the more intimidated I am. Part of me is worried about how much work I’ll have to do AFTER I finish my first draft.

So why is that stopping me?

I don’t know.

I have some kind of mental block here that I’m struggling to overcome. Today, I wrote a character’s full background story, so that’s something. And I wrote this blog post. But I haven’t written a word on the novel itself.

I know this needs to change. Maybe by posting this here, I’ll motivate and/or embarrass myself into finishing.

My 2017 Writing Accomplishments

As 2017 began, I was deep into revising and editing one book. As 2017 ends, I am nearing the end of writing another book. A lot happened this year.

Last year, I wrote a YA fantasy novel. In January, I was revising and getting feedback from beta readers. Once I was satisfied with it, I began the querying process. In late February, I began sending out queries to dozens of literary agents.

By mid-April, it was beginning to be obvious that I did not have an instant bestseller. I lost track of how many rejections I got. Suffice to say, if an agent responded at all, it was with a rejection. Dozens of them. After some negotiation and interplay with a couple of agents on Twitter and via email, I finally, finally got a rejection that actually told me something. Multiple reasons could be found, but the primary one was that the market was still a little flooded with that particular sub-genre. For now, the best thing to do was to set it aside until a more opportune time.

That led to the next book. I had envisioned the YA novel as the first in a series, and I have rough outlines of at least two more novels. But to work on those when the first one isn’t going anywhere would be somewhat pointless. Instead, I began looking for my next unrelated novel.

I have numerous story ideas piled up here and there. Some of them are sketched out in notebooks, some on documents on my computer. Which one would be best, however?

After careful consideration, I settled on a concept that I’ve had written down (and mostly forgotten) since 1991. A friend and I brainstormed it one crazy college night. Needless to say, it needed some work. I started serious world-building in May.

With the start of summer, I began writing the new novel. The writing was slow and difficult most of the time. Bit by bit, it took shape.

Then Hurricane Harvey came along and derailed everything in everyone’s life.

By mid-October, I had hit 50,000 words, and I really needed motivation. Fortunately, NaNoWriMo came along. As I’ve written previously here, I wrote 50,012 words in November.

Since then, holidays and other factors have slowed me down again. I was hoping to be done by Christmas. Or New Year’s Day. Neither of those are happening. As of right now, the novel currently stands at over 120,000 words.

How much is left? If you had asked me in September, I would have said, the novel will be around 110,000 words. If you had asked me a month ago, I would have said it will be 130,000 or so. Now? I’m not sure. I’m entering the climax of the story, but there’s a lot left to tell. I’m thinking closer to 140,000.

I can finish this in January. I know it. Will I finish it in that time frame? I’m not 100% sure, but I’m confident that it will be done within the next few weeks.

Then I start revising. Then beta readers. Then more revising. And probably more revising. And then… then we’ll see if this novel can generate more interest than the last one in the publishing industry.

Welcome, 2018. This year, things will be… different.

50,000 Words in 30 Days. It can be done.

Whew.

November is over, and with it, National Novel Writing Month. For the second year in a row, I took part and accomplished my goal. It wasn’t easy this time.

Last year, I was working on a YA fantasy novel that was very fast moving and action-packed. I could breeze through a lot of words extremely fast. I succeeded in getting 50,000 words done without too much difficulty, even though it was my first time.

This year, I’ve been working on a much more detailed, elaborate adult fantasy. It’s far more complex, both in world-building and plot. Even though I had much of it mapped out, it was still a lot harder this year to get words down. I actually started it many months ago, and the writing was going very slow.

But having a specific challenge, a target to aim at, makes a huge difference. Along with that comes accountability. By telling people what I was doing, here and on Twitter, I was holding myself to the challenge. If I didn’t make it, everyone would know.

At the halfway point, I didn’t think I was going to make 50,000. I consoled myself with the truth that I would still have accomplished a great deal, regardless of whether the final number matched that 50K or not.

And then things kind of took off. I should thank fellow writer Wayne Thomas Batson for his Facebook group and chat on “Blackened Keyboard Friday.” That really gave me the motivation to get a lot done on the day after Thanksgiving, and then push through to the end. I had to work really hard on the last two days of November, but it was worth it.

I finished November with 50,012 words written. Yay me!

The novel now stands at 110,762 words. Based on what’s left, I’m now expecting it to reach 135,000 or more. It’s hard to say. Here’s why:

This novel is really two stories in one. There are two main protagonists with separate stories that weave together eventually. For one of the protagonists, I am now well into the climax of the story. Her part probably has 10,000 more words, at most. For the other protagonist, I have longer to go. His story needs something else to tie in with the climax and I’m not 100% sure about it yet. Depending on how that works out, I could be done with his story in 20,000 words… or it might be a lot more. It’s very hard to determine right now.

So the story continues into December. I hope I can at least finish by Christmas, but I’m not even sure of that at this point.

These are the things I know:

  1. I will finish this novel.
  2. It’s turning out so much better than I thought it would be.
  3. I’ll be doing lots of editing in 2018.

Time to get back to it! A major supporting character is about to die, and it’s a scene I’ve had in my head for almost a year…