Line Edits, Creative Control, and Book Updates

Updates about my book, THE NAMELESS QUEEN, and a funny story about revision and creative control. I’m still in the middle of line edits as I post this, so the adventure continues!

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Tools, Programs, and Tips For Writing a Book

Writing a book is hard. Getting an agent and getting a book published is hard.

But let’s talk about some of the tools you can use to help you along your way. Using a single giant document might not be enough. Here is a brief list of tools—both physical and electronic—that I use when I write.

One thing I learned while drafting THE NAMELESS QUEEN was that “writing” is more than just writing. It was outlining and drawing, scribbling, and flow-charting. It was ranting to my sister and friends about stupid plot holes and fighting with the default formatting inside software. It’s exporting files and tracking metrics to promote productive work. It’s talking to myself when I’m alone in my car. “Writing a Book” is really “Creating a Self-Sustaining Guide to a Million Methods of Madness.” It’s “build a world with rules and people.” It’s “design a scene with emotional weight and tension.” It’s “understand other human minds.” It’s “communicate effectively.”

How does this network of intersecting Chaos Roads relate to tools? I learned through these activities that I need an area for chaotic thinking and an area for orderly thinking. And sometimes I need one of these arenas for EACH story or project I’m working on. Sometimes I need one of those arenas for every single aspect of the writing process. I know some people who are very ritualistic about the work they do. Same place, same time every day. Same schedule. Repetition fuels them.

Repetition is great for me, too, but only in small doses. Only in shifting patterns. A routine that adapts as your needs change.

So I’ll use the same program or tool over and over again, but I’m always on the look out for when those tools stop working. After time, I find that I get less done in a certain place or with a certain program. When that happens, I pick up and move on. I try something new. If my brain is in Chaotic Thinking mode, maybe I need to go for a walk and rant to myself. If my brain is in Orderly Thinking mode, maybe I need a structured environment with a table, chairs, harsh white lighting, and no internet.

To cope with these needs, here are the physical and electronic tools I’ve used during the drafting and revising stages of my first to-be-published book.

Physical Resources & Tools

Notebooks

I have quite a few of these. I get them for presents, I buy them for fun, and I have about 72 million. Each one is used for something different, and some of them I have specifically designated for certain projects or different types of work. Here’s a list of the ones I have and use right now. Also, full disclosure, I *name* them, too. I don’t even know why. But there you are. Let’s introduce them:

  • Chevryn — This is a black book that I keep in my backpack now. I used to keep it in my purse (before I got a cool new backpack), and before that it spent a few months on The Pile of Many Notebooks in my den. Chevryn is a scribble-it-down place. It is an area for Chaotic Thinking or disorganized thoughts.
  • Duval — This is a smaller black book that definitely fits in my backpack and probably my coat pocket, too. It’s the On The Go notebook. I don’t like not having a notebook/pen, so this is my tag-along friend. Random scenes or ideas get scribbled here.
  • IMG_8835Dodd — An aptly named dot-journal, this journal is for Organized Thoughts. Sometimes you need to scribble, and sometimes you need to organize. Book writing and revising can be messy or calculating (both, really), and this is the place I go for tracking my work and keeping my thoughts orderly.
  • Jerald — This is an older brown journal that I used specifically for hand-writing scenes of some older manuscripts I worked on. Staring at a blank page can be daunting. When I need to work in a new place on a project when I’m stuck, I sometimes like to hand-write it. When I trunked those projects, it felt right to move on. There is no law that says you must finish a journal once you start. Which is great, because I have literally never finished writing all the way through ANY journal EVER. Points for consistency, I suppose.

Binders

In 2014, when I was planning Book 1: The Nameless Queen. In ten days, I had a partially-fledged novel plan with things like character descriptions, flowcharts for plot, drawings of thematic arcs, and hastily-drawn sketches of mapped locations. (Fun fact: there is a LOT of content in that binder that is 100% no longer applicable to the story as it is today.)

IMG_6652Binder One (I’ve not given these fellows any quirky names or anything), contains All Things Book 1 related. When I was at work, I’d scribble scenes on sticky notes or notepads, and I’d bring them home, type them up, and in the binder they’d go. It was a way of bringing order to chaos. It was a way to collect what I didn’t want to lose track of. (Because for real, how many times have you thought about something perfect, but by the time you get home or get to that part of the book, you’ve forgotten your Grand Plan.) I found that hand-writing or getting thoughts down in the middle of the day was necessary. Yeah, I could try to separate my 9-5 job and my Creative Brain, but your brain doesn’t always let you decide these things. And my best experience tells me that if your Creative Brain is on, let it be on. Find a way to be productive, because inspiration does not strike on a schedule.

Binder Two is similar to Binder One, except I put a note in the cover that says “the sequel.” It has ideas and plans and characters, just like Binder One, but with all the grandness of being the second. It’s filled with mostly blank printer paper, because when you gotta flow-chart, you just gotta flow-chart.

Whiteboard

IMG_8863

I love whiteboards. If whiteboard walls weren’t terrible for maintenance (and not super great tbh), I would live in a cube of whiteboards. I would live in a mansion built of whiteboard cubes. In my Meditation House (which–not to get off track–is a meditative house I build in my brain when I’m trying to sleep), there is specifically a room that is covered with whiteboards. And in one corner of that whiteboard, there are all the digits of pi I’ve memorized. Hmm. Okay. That was probably more insight into my psyche than you wanted. Moving right along!

I use whiteboards for making physical maps so I can get my scene/plot progressions straight. I use them for everything I use journals or printer paper for, except whiteboards have a really fast turn-over. Whiteboards are great when you need to let ideas flow fast, draw-erase, draw-erase, draw some more. Take a picture if you want it to last forever, or transfer it into an Organized Thinking location like a notebook or binder.

Corkboard

I have a corkboard that I used primarily for mapping out the scene progression through the story. I needed a visual for wrapping my brain around the order of events and to flag things when they went wrong. So I used a bunch of sticky notes and notecards, wrote down important things, and moved them around on the corkboard as needed. I’d classify this as a Bringing to Order resource.

Print It Off!

IMG_6646Sometimes, you just need to dig in with your hands. Having something physical lets your brain comprehend the content in a different way. That’s why writing long-hand can offer some much-need refreshment to an otherwise electronic-heavy experience. For revisions, you can break out the highlighter and sticky-tabs. For me, the sticky-tabs are particularly helpful, because it makes it easier to flip back and forth between two sections and see how much physical space certain events take.

Hot tip: if you use different colored highlighters for different things or different types of tabs, be sure to include that information as a key (like a map legend) in the beginning!

Sticky Notes

IMG_6653

This may seem narcissistic, but I promise it isn’t. Probably. But you know how when you write a scene or a line, and it just works. It just clicks. It speaks to the themes of your story, and it rings true and good. Those moments—those lines and quotes from your book—write them down! Collect them, and post them on your wall! You can do this electronically or physically, but the important thing is to take pride when you do good work. If you find those moments and sentences that speak to the soul of your work, you need to hang on to those! Put them in a safe place where you can refer back to them. It will give you encouragement when you hit a wall. It will be a collection of milestones and accomplishments, touchstones and tokens that prove to you that you can do this. It says you are good. It says remember why you love this. I can’t tell you how many times I looked up to that wall of sticky-notes for inspiration from my past self. These things are important. So whether it’s sticky notes, a cork board, drawing directly on your wall—make sure to collect your own achievements. Be proud! Celebrate yourself!

Receipts and Other Scraps

Always. Carry. A. Pen.

This advice is a bit flexible if you always have your phone, but in my experience there isn’t much more exciting than a bolt of inspiration that strikes lightning into your bones.

When the final scene of THE NAMELESS QUEEN popped into my head, I was at someone else’s house and I did. not. have. a. freaking. pen. I scrambled about until I found a brick-colored crayon, and I scribbled out the ending on a piece of paper. The ending page of my book has hardly changed since I wrote it in crayon. Except that the first draft was written in a weird on-the-fly symbolic code.

But the advice stands! Always be ready for when your brain decides to throw you a curve ball. Whether that means scribbling on the back of receipts, the back of your hand, the back of a stranger’s hand, or that envelope on your table you’ve been meaning to recycle.

Hot tip: Be prepared for inspiration, but don’t wait for it.

Electronic

Visual Planning Programs

If you’re a visual person like me, sometimes you just need to SEE it. You need to prove to yourself it exists. Here are some of the computer software/programs I’ve used and what I’ve used them for.

InDesign

When I’m brainstorming, I need a place to bring together my ideas, half-written scenes, themes, and disparate thoughts. A lot of that first-draft idea content is on physical resources (binders, notebooks), but then comes the time to organize those thoughts. InDesign is an Adobe Creative program, and it’s most often used by graphic designers and technical writers to do page-based layouts, like magazines, textbooks, fliers, etc. I use it as part of my day job (tech writing), and when it came time to pull together pitches for new book ideas, this is how my brain made sense of the chaos.

magazine-snagAgent: Why don’t you pull together a query letter for each idea?

Editor: A couple paragraphs per idea should be good.

Me: Okay that sounds great and I totally hear you… but how about an 8-page magazine-style spread per idea?

Now, you don’t have to use InDesign. You can use Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, or any number of programs that allow you to move things around visually. My main use is having block-style chunks of text that I can move around. On the first pitch I made, I did blocks for the “pitch”, the first sentences of the story, the cast, the themes, lines of dialogue, and chunks of scenes that popped in my head.

Illustrator

covertest-01Illustrator is another Adobe program, and you can of course use any other image-designing or drawing program. Or paper, if you desire! I used Illustrator to create placeholder covers for my book (see image to the left). Or I hand-drew them. The important part for me was to create something that proved to me that this could be a real and proper book. Anytime I do NaNoWriMo, I end up with a cover of some kind—mostly hand-drawn, but sometimes computer-drawn. For me, it’s a powerful visualization that compels me to keep working. Before I had access to Illustrator, I used Pixlr, a free online program. You can also use GIMP, another free-source image editing program.

Word Processor Program

Microsoft Word

This is about as industry-standard as you can get for writing. If you send content back and forth to your agent, editor, beta, critique partner, or others, it is 90% likely to be in Microsoft Word. Track changes is the holy grail of collaborative work between writers, and I haven’t found a program that does it better than Word. The downside to word processing programs is that they aren’t good for EVERY part of the writing process. They’re very good for linear work and collaborative commenting. But they fall short in the arena of planning and chaotic thinking. That’s why I use so many other methods of planning and brainstorming and work. This program might be a crucial tool and a holy grail, but it’s not the end-all be-all. I use this program for revisions and communications, but I haven’t even always used it for drafting.

Scrivener

When I drafted THE NAMELESS QUEEN in 2014, it was with this program. I never successfully made it through the tutorial, but I did learn enough to get by. And get by, I did. This program gives you a daily word-count target tracker that you can reset everyday, so it provides a handy visual while you work. It also functions with a virtual corkboard of notecards, which can facilitate character planning or keeping records of details for you story. There’s a lot of bulk within this program, but I sadly switched to a different computer (mac from pc), so I lost my license, which is not transferrable between Operating Systems (OS). So, I don’t know if I’ll use this program for my next book, but we’ll see if i feel like shelling out the 30-some dollars to get a discounted license with my new mac. The good news about this software is that if you do NaNoWriMo, you can get a free temporary license during November (through January, I think), which should give you enough of a taste to see if you like it! Additionally, if you WIN NaNoWriMo, you get a coupon for a discounted license if you want to purchase it. Since I wrote TNQ based on 2014 Nano, that’s how they got me!

Notes on your phone

IMG_B175F3C56154-1I still haven’t finagled the best solution for taking notes on my phone. There’s a default notes application on my iPhone which talks to my mac, so transferring content between the two is pretty efficient. Also, that app also has a “handwriting” option where you can just DRAW in the notes. That’s pretty hand if you have a stylus or hate the autocorrect that thinks it knows better than you. There’s also Microsoft Word on my phone and a notecards app, and of course access through data/wifi to google drive and other online/cloud storage services.

Dictation (Recording Device/App)

Ah, here is one of my biggest secrets. I have a 20-minute commute to work everyday, most of it freeway driving. During that 20-minute drive, I will frequently dictate using my iPhone and my microphone-headphones. I. Love. It.

Don’t like hearing your own voice on recordings? Spoiler: no one does. I didn’t like it at first. But! It was just me listening to it, and that made it okay. (Saying nothing about my sporadic YouTube video presence.) I adjusted to it over time—like we do with all things over time. IMG_0500 2Here’s what I do: I start the basic recording app (I use the default Voice Memos app on my iPhone, which is especially good, since I can add a shortcut from my quick-menu to it). I start driving, and I just TALK to myself. Sometimes this involves me complaining about writer’s block or being stuck. Mostly, I just launch into a monologue or a conversation between characters, and I just talk my way through the scene. You have to be okay with the fact that it’s awkward and that most of it will suck. At the end of the day, I spend about 40-60 minutes typing up a 20 minute dictation, and it is SO productive. I write more this way than I do if I waste an hour staring at a blank page. I can’t recommend it highly enough! Though, do be safe and present while driving. I missed my exit a few times over the past year, and while it made for a fun story, it was also not so great to listen to myself struggle to not use copious swear words while I fumbled my way back to the freeway.

Graphs & Data

Data is a beautiful thing. *swoon* You can use it to track anything you want. I typically use Excel, unless I want an auto-generated histogram, in which case I use Google Sheets. As far as drafting is concerned, Nanowrimo typically provides you with a data input and graph log system. But that only gets you as far as the end of the month of November. I love creating graphs to help me track my work. It’s good for words per day when drafting, and then pages per day for revisions. Also, you can gather data about your own writing habits, such as hours per day, words typed per day, words removed, etc. in order to get a breakdown of your own writing habits.

pagesperday

You can use all kinds of data breakdowns to answer questions, such as: how many female vs. male characters are in the book? How many of those characters have names, or are in positions of power, or die? How many chapters do you have, and how much time does each take up? The example I’ve included is from an early draft of my book, THE NAMELESS QUEEN, and you can see that my time management skills are not *the best.* It did get better in later drafts. A bit better. But making this graph and others helped give me a high level perspective on the logistics of the story. I strongly encourage to any kind of data breakdown you think will help you gain a new perspective on your story.

What About You?

The biggest thing for me is trying new things when my current habits stop working. I admire those weird stories of authors and artists who have such a reliable and regular routine, that it works for them for years. For me, I’m still figuring it all out. I do what works until it doesn’t work anymore. And when something doesn’t work, you try something else!

So if you have any tools, tips, or tricks that you use, let me know! (My first draft of this post was initially 1k words longer, but WordPress screwed up and lost a bunch of my progress, so it’s possible I’ve forgotten some items.)

The Two Types of Revisions (and my experiences with them)

This is perhaps a much-too-long post about revisions, so here are some quick links to jump to the interesting sections:

my experiences with revisions in the past – my experiences now – Content vs. Execution – my recommendations

 So I recently said this thing:

“…revision is the hardest thing to practice because it’s at the end of the writing road, which is a very long road on its own.” (x)

Is that true? Is it really hard to practice revisions?

Practicing writing is pretty straightforward: write. Write some more. Write a lot. Write all the time. Write when you don’t want to write. Write when you’re inspired. Write until your fingers fall off in an extended metaphor gone terribly wrong.

Then, since you’re your own first editor, revise that last catastrophe of a metaphor so that you still have all of your fingers.

THIS IS THE POWER OF REVISION. You get to give people their digits back! (There’s even a joke somewhere in here about giving someone the finger, but let’s not and say we didn’t.)

The question is: How do you practice revisions? If you want to practice overhauling an entire plot thread and merging characters and doing massive line edits, you have to have written something first. That’s fair. It’s not as easy as writing new material and trying new writing formats.

OR IS IT.

A lot of us do basic revisions with everything we write. We read over something and frown at a bad image or a funky word choice. Then we fix it and move on. We do this to make our stories better, but it also makes our writing better. By that I mean our first draft writing process, not just the final product. But both, really.

Revisions are a natural part of writing in their smaller form. We do them in our efforts to make the story better. Sometimes, however, they can feel completely unnatural.

 

Revisions In General, back in ye olden days

School and Teaching and Learning

If you’re like me, you might have hated revision (you know, back in the day when your teacher/professor tells you to revise something, but you got an A on the first draft, so what’s left to change, really?). And even when there were issues, it wasn’t clear how to fix them.

I never had a good sense of what was wrong with the draft. I wasn’t taught how to fix something, just showed what (if anything) was blatantly wrong.

I had a teacher who used to say “As a part of this writing project, you must do a major revision, like get rid of a character or change the ending or alter the POV.”

The goal of the revision was to substantially change something in the story and to still make the story good. But she was having us make changes that fixed problems, and she hand’t pointed out any specific problems in my work. I didn’t how to determine if a change would help my story. Basically, it’s when you get an A on the draft and don’t understand how to get an A+.

  • The flaw, of course, was that the A was just saying: “Great first draft!” It wasn’t saying “Perfect first draft.”
  • And the revision instruction was saying: “Change something big.” It wasn’t saying: “Here are the macro-aspects of the story that need to be strengthened.”

There were flaws on both sides. Namely, my ego.

My teacher said, “This part of the project is difficult for students whose work is farther along and more complete. But it’s still important. It’s an important skill to develop.”

Even though she didn’t have any suggestions or guidance for what to do (and I didn’t score very well on the revisions part of the project), I still learned an important lesson about revision.

It is important to develop the ability to make big changes, to read your work critically even when no one else does.

 

How to Make it Fun (and what I suggest to you)

If my teacher really just wanted us to have a chance at practicing revisions, she perhaps could have explained the assignment differently. Consider this advice that would have worked for me:

Choose one key aspect of your story. Change it. Just for fun! Just to see how it changes the story! Just to see how you can improve the story!

This is how you practice revisions even when you don’t know how to fix a problem or when you don’t even know how to identify the problem.

Then it changes the stakes of the game. Instead of trying to identify and fix some unspecified issue, you’re toying with something in a fun way. Half the fun of creative writing is experimenting with something new. If you look at revision as “try something new” as opposed to “fix what you don’t know is wrong,” then it can make revisions easier to try.

Then, of course, it’s the question of did this change fix the issue. Beta readers and critique partners come in handy for that! A change won’t always fix a problem, and that’s almost always because we’ve either misidentified a change or miscommunicated the change. We either tried to change something and we didn’t change it in the right way, or we’re trying to fix the wrong thing.

The best part of this “try changing things for fun” is that it’s not homework, it’s a creative exercise. It makes revision seem less dull and more interactive! So practice! Practice revisions and see what types of changes you are capable of!

But there’s a larger issue we have to look at. Now that we can practice revisions and get a sense of how to propagate large changes through a story, how do we figure out what the issue is?

 

Revisions Now (ahhhhhhhhhhh)

If I hadn’t shouted it loud enough from my kitchen floor: I’m getting published! Two books! Book 1, THE NAMELESS QUEEN, out in Spring 2018! Yowza! That means I have an editor. And I just sent in my first round of revisions recently. Scary? Yes. Exciting? Absolutely. So how do I approach revisions now?

 

What Kind of Revision is it?

Step One: A person (beta, CP, editor, etc.) complains/critiques/notices about something in your story. An inconsistency or a confusion. A minor issue or a explosion-level event.

If a reader is unclear about something in the story, your gut response will be to get defensive and explain it. But don’t.

Step Two: DON’T explain the right answer. DON’T invent an answer on the spot. You want your story to speak for itself, and you want the reader to pick up on the fixes as opposed to you explaining what they should see. I know—I know—how hard it is to NOT explain the plot when someone is confused. But trust me. Don’t. Instead, revise the story and have them reread it.

Step Three: Figure out what type of revision it is. Is it a content issue or an execution issue? See if you can let the story give them their answers. Because in the end, the author can’t hover over the readers’ shoulders while they read, correcting misunderstandings.*

 

*When I say “authors can’t hover over readers shoulders while they read,” I’m talking in general about most authors. I can and 100% will be hovering like a semi-transparent phantom just. behind. you. while you read my books. So when you feel the shudder on your arms or your heart races, there’s no need to freak out and hide the book on your ceiling fan; you’re just reacting to my ectoplasmic presence. I am with you. It will be all right. Enjoy the book. You’re welcome.

Content vs. Execution

What’s the difference?

  • Content Issue: A story-level issue (like plot holes and structural inconsistencies).
  • Execution Issue: A writing-level issue (your idea didn’t come across clearly to the reader).

Content Revisions

Content problems are story-level issues. Plot holes, inconsistencies, thematic and structural integrity problems, etc. These are the big problems.

Content revisions require lots of effort: re-rooting the plot, re-threading the threads, moving big things around and really taking a look at macro-scale issues. Maybe your sidekick is unlikable. Maybe your editor/CP/beta suggests getting rid of them. Maybe your heart goes into double-heart-attack mode at the thought of slashing the character you love so much. This is a big content change.

Maybe the issue is on a story-level. Maybe the character is affecting pace and they are dragging the story into the mud. The solution could be to ax them. Take them from your story, remove any mention of them, figure out how to get your character into that duet singing competition all alone… and wait a second. How will your main character realize the villain’s plot if that second character isn’t present?

Content changes have a way of propagating through the story. Removing a big scene or an element of the plot might fix a lot, but it could break other things as well. So you have to  make sure you look at the change from the perspective of the entire book. Evaluate how that change might cause other problems, and then figure out how to fix those problems too.

Execution Revisions

For execution issues, the idea for the story is already in your head, but never quite made it clearly onto the page.

That character your CP wants you to ax? Maybe the story doesn’t need that character, true, or  maybe the issue is that one scene where your sidekick says something rude, and the reader just can’t forgive them. Strike that scene or tweak the tone, and it’s all rainbows and butterflies again. If someone comes you with a problem and your gut reaction is to tell them the solution, then the chances are that you have an execution issue. You had the right intention, but the message didn’t make it across to the reader.

So you have to find where in the text it wasn’t clear, and fix it. Tweak the phrasing, maybe restate something that was mentioned once 50 pages ago so that the reader can remember it, and take an extra step to make sure it makes sense.

Then go back to that person and see if they understand it now. (Can you tell that I’m nervous about sending my first round of edits to my editor? NERVOUS.)

So as long as you’re dealing with writing-level issues and not plot hole, story-level issues, you can probably fix these issues pretty easily. The risk, of course, is that the issue needs to be addressed on the macro scale.

 

Fear of Change

It reminds me of when I would tell my sister this idea I have for a story. She’ll look at me, eyebrow cocked, and say, “I don’t think that makes sense,” or “It doesn’t sound reasonable.”

My response to my sister is always: let me see if I can make it work.

It’s easy to shoot down someone’s idea, because it lives mostly in their head, and it’s difficult to try to explain it. Communication is key.

So you just have to try. You just have to see if you can fix the issue, make the story better, and, essentially, make it work.

 

Moving Forward

Don’t just change it. Make it better. This is your mantra.

The most important thing to do when making revisions is to keep this in mind:

You’re not just making a change, you’re making the story stronger. Focus on that.

When you’re getting rid of a character or changing the setting—whether it’s a content or execution revision—make sure you’re focusing on strengthening the story and not just making a lateral move. Every revision should enhance the story.

 

Before you start making changes, identify the underlying issue.

Oftentimes, when someone suggests a change, they are trying to give you a solution instead of identifying the issue.

  • “I don’t like Character X.”
  • “You should make these characters fall in love.”
  • “I don’t understand why this happens. Make this event happen.”

What are they really saying?

  • Character X needs stronger characterization, or the voice isn’t jiving, or the tone doesn’t match the actions…
  • The relationship between these characters feels unfulfilled, or they spend a lot of time together but their dynamic doesn’t evolve (or maybe they just don’t like stories that don’t have romantic sub-plots)
  • The cause-effect relationship between Plot Point A and Point B doesn’t flow, or the character decisions don’t seem to have a strong enough motive, or the pacing and tension are lagging here.

There’s no tried-true solution, but that’s where your job as a writer comes in. Interpret their suggestions and find a solution that works for you.

One way writers get trapped in revisions is that they keep changing something without fixing the underlying issues. So make sure that everything you’re changing is coupled with an aspect of the story that is being enhanced.

And always, always, always remember to make the story stronger.

If someone says the setting doesn’t feel right for the story, maybe you consider moving the setting from rural plains to a humid swamp? Maybe the impetus for this change is that your main character’s dad lives down there and she needs to visit. But make sure you’re weaving the setting through the plot (instead of tall cattails, you get the buzz of flies). Don’t just do a global find/replace on “plains” to “swamp.”

Ask yourself: How does this change benefit your character and the themes of your story?

And if the benefit isn’t apparent, then maybe the change isn’t fixing the problem.

I’m Getting Published!

I don’t have enough energy to squeal with the amount of delight currently contained within my VERY SOUL.

But guess what?

I’M GETTING PUBLISHED.

Can we take a moment to faint? Okay.

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This is me. I’m the Doctor. (I wish)

When you’ve regained consciousness, come back to me.

Come back to me and hear the story of the FOREVER SECRET PUBLISHING JOURNEY.

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I wrote a post about this months ago, but it didn’t contain nearly enough gifs or squealing. So I’m rewriting it on the fly.

b5bp3oygvn5ss

When I fly, it’s often via Ear Plane as well.

*attempts to reign in the gifs*

This story is filled with SECRETS AND SECRETIVITY started back in December. That’s when I got the lovely bombshell from my agent that about a day or so after going on submission, we had our first offer. Then we had plural offers. Then I was at auction.

!!!!!!!!!!

Those exclamation points are my emotions. As soon as we got that offer and then plural-offers, THE NAMELESS QUEEN was going to be published. It was just a question of where. Like a bomb you know is going to go off, if that analogy helps.

excmvifrtymg

Pete Knapp, my illustrious agent, did some negotiations, which I picture as a high stakes poker game in a New York warehouse where the dealer is an enthusiastic, well-contained auctioneer throwing down pages of my manuscript like playing cards. Pete exchanges poker chips with terms written on them in black sharpie, non-nicotine (probably cotton-candy scented) smoke clouds the air, and there’s a lot of small nods and winks.

[There does not exist a gif for this, but there should.]

In reality, it was a lot of back and forth emails and other business-up-front type of things. The party in the back was me screaming with excitement far away in Michigan.

We settled on the basic terms. I chatted with some editors on the phone. I made a decision.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And then….

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Well, then there was a lot of waiting. And secrecy.

Sometimes things move fast (like getting an agent, going on submission, and going to auction in a number of days), and some things move slowly. In my case, it was a question of contracts.

If you’ve never heard the term “boilerplate,” just know that when it’s being revised, it takes an infinitely looping eon for it to get finished. But that’s okay! Because book writing is both a fast and a slow industry. So while the contract was being worked on (I like to think the contract got a trip to the spa and got a Swedish massage or something, sipping a delightful drink), I started the SEQUEL.

Because YES! The deal is for TWO BOOKS!

THE NAMELESS QUEEN will have an as-of-yet Unnamed Sequel! (pun completely intended)

So while I was waiting for my edit letter and for any news on the contract, I made a decent 1/3 – 1/2-ish dent in the first draft of the sequel. And let me tell you, things get COOL. Familiar faces, familiar world, and a dash of the unexpected!

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And now I’m doings edits on THE NAMELESS QUEEN, and polishing it to a shiny rock. It’s mega-levels of excitement. And the deal has finally been announced!!!! YAYYYYY!

I’m still early on this road of books and authoring and authorial booking of booky authory things. But it’s a long road, and I’m going to enjoy the journey! Somewhere ahead, we’ll get to do final revisions, the cover release, the proper publication date announcements, and all sorts of exciting fabulousness!

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Have questions for me on any of this? Ask me!

The Lie of the 1-Step Process

Looking at any process from the outside is simple. I come at this from two perspectives: having explored a hefty portion of the “Writing a Book” process and having made my first real “Process Tree” for my job as a Technical Writer.

The process I’m making at work is how our team handles documents that we are rewriting and remodeling. Outsiders think the process goes like this, a one-step process:

Our team makes stuff more awesome.

And even I was fooled by its outward simplicity. I thought it went like this:

Draft > Layout/Design > Final Proof > Publication

It turns our the process vaguely (and pixelated) looks like this:

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As you can see, it’s way more complicated than it first seems. It goes more along the lines of:

First Draft > First Proof > Content Consult > Design/Layout > Final Proof > Interactive Test > Storage

So I figured, what other process in my life did I at one time think (oh-so-naively) was simple? Only to then discover, en medias res, that it was anything but?

Writing. A. Book.

I thought it was a one-step process. Like “update documents” was a one-step process, right? Write a book. Easy peasy. Well, easy until I was in the thick of things. Then, of course, it got more complicated. I figured, okay, it’s a FIVE step process:

Write book > Revise book > Get representation > Get published > Write more books

I thought it was straightforward. Let’s explore how wrong I was. Without getting too far into the weeds, let’s see what this process actually looks like.

Into the Weeds

This is what the process looked like after about an hour of process-mapping. And I only made it up to the “querying” stage before it all exploded.

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Here are the basic stages (probably): Drafting Zone (orange) > Revision Hell (blue) > Query Trenches (purple) > Agent Land > On Submission > Editor Land > Pre-Publication Stuff > Publication Destination > Post-Publication Road

And because I love a good terrible-rendition of my process, here’s a brief idea of what my person journey through these stages looked like for the first book I wrote/trunked. Note that this process took me a culminating of 4 years.trip1

 

And here’s the one that actually made it (purple), when I finally got my awesome literary agent. I spent a good deal of time in the Revisions, and you can see a bunch of other trunked or unfinished books along the way. You should always be spending more time in revisions than anywhere else, I think:trip7

I’m thinking maybe I’ll do a flowchart for each major stage (at least the first four, since those are the ones I have managed to get through) and post them separately. Thoughts?

Develop Your Voice

Voice. Finding your authorial voice is difficult and vital. It’s a big step on the “How to Be a Writer” journey.  Mostly, that journey looks like this:
1. Learn the rules.
2. Figure out which rules you want to break.
3. Make it work.

1. Learn the Rules

To write, you have to learn and master your language. The grammar, syntax, punctuation, formatting, etc. For the most part, we learn these rules organically as we grow up. If you want to write, treat language as your job.
Tip: Taking a foreign language class can allow you to re-learn those rules in a different context.

2. Break the Rules

Then you have to learn how to break those rules. Or at the very least know that those rules aren’t all of what makes up a good story. Some people will argue on this point. They’ll argue that perfect grammar/syntax is required for good writing. But good writing and good storytelling are not always the same thing. For example, professional language and legal language are the most “correct” ways to say something. They convey clarity and precision in terms. But they don’t make for easy reading, do they?
This means that even if you can put together a charming soliloquy with all the right formatting and vocabulary, you’re not going to find a big audience outside Shakespeare that will read it. Finding your own style is as much about developing your technical skills with a language as it is knowing how to find all the loopholes. For instance, if you’re writing dialogue, it has to feel real. It can’t be a pages-long soliloquy that comes off as stilted or jarring.
Of course, voice is something far beyond the technical aspect of writing. It’s only one piece of the puzzle, really. You also have to look at tension, pacing, character and plot arcs, balance of dialogue, scene vs. summary. These are things that you can learn in a classroom or on your own, depending on you and how you learn best. For me, it’s a combination of the two. The best advice is to read read read, and try to figure out how authors do it.
To develop your voice, you have to pay close attention to how you’re making the reader feel and how you’re communicating your story. It’s really only something you can learn by practice and observation. Best advice: do as many writing exercises as you can. Then, work with someone (such as a Critique Partner or a classmate) to learn what is and isn’t working.
Tip: For writing dialogue, go to a public place and listen to the conversations of those nearby. Each person speaks with their own voice, both literally and stylistically. Try to replicate those differences and stylistic flares in your own writing.

3. Make it Work

The biggest step is to go back and make sure the rules you break are working. Revision is the biggest part that writers need to address. People who don’t have experience with writing always think “I’ll write a book and get it published.” They don’t think of the middle steps involving revision, more revision, and more revision.
Revision is where we learn. It’s where we find our mistakes, where we find the stilted dialogue and authorial narration and melt, twist, and bend it into shape. This applies to more than just voice. It applies to all aspects of writing.  But voice is one of the trickier things a writer has to develop, but only because you oftentimes have to get out of your own way to figure it out. A lot of authors have a natural “voice” to their writing style—whatever makes a story feel like that author’s story. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t require a ton of work to make that voice shine and stand out and interplay with the story in a way that makes it feel whole and vibrant.
So. Best advice: practice practice practice, and read read read. And then write. And then revise.

Ask Authors Questions

A New Writer’s Resource

Ever wanted to know that you’re not alone as a writer? Ever wondered if other writers have weird rituals before they write? Where do writers find their Critique Partners?

Today marks the launch of the Ask Authors Tumblr blog, where over 100 writers participate in answering a big question each week. And they answer smaller questions submitted by visitors all the time!

Ask Authors Blog

What it Does & What it Has

The blog taps the resources, knowledge, and wisdom of the 125 writers who were contestants in the 2015 Pitch Wars contest. It also has a Resources Page (in development) that will host a slew of links that can take you to various resources that we’ve found helpful for querying and publishing advice.

There’s also a Twitter you can follow, just in case you’re not on Tumblr and you want to receive notice of when new questions go up and when fun things are happening!

How it Works

Every Monday, a new Question Post goes up, where the Authors Crew asks and answers a big question. Everything from the difference between Beta Readers and Critique Partners to our favorite terrible writing advice.

Any time in between, they’ll post responses to Asks that come in.

How Do You Ask?

Head over to our Anonymous Ask page, where you can inquire your heart’s desire! Book recommendations, tips for a pesky grammatical mistake you keep making, or the philosophy of the writing universe?

Feel free to ask anything!