Writer’s Life: The Pen Cup Crisis

A typical Saturday morning of an author. Any writer knows the struggle of the pen cup.

You know how it goes. One pen, two pens, 90-thousand pens—half of which don’t work. All of it resulting in a tetris-jenga mess.

THE NAMELESS QUEEN, my debut novel, is out in Spring 2018!! AHHH! (Mark it as to-read on GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28173303-the-nameless-queen)

Find me on the Social Medias:

Twitter: twitter.com/mcrebecky
SnapChat: mcrebecky
Blog: makawalli.wordpress.com
Tumblr: mcrebecky.tumblr.com

Two-Book Deal: A Tale of Multitasking

If I didn’t freak out enough (I probably did), then I’ll restate it here:

I’m getting published! And not just any old published—I got a 2-book deal! That means that my super-savvy literary agent, Pete Knapp, finagled our way to getting a book deal that includes not only THE NAMELESS QUEEN, but an as-of-yet-unnamed sequel!

This leads to fun things like contracts that say stuff like “THE NAMELESS QUEEN + UNTITLED SEQUEL” and “Nameless Queen + Book.” It’s all kinds of fantastic math that boils down to the simple conclusion:

Starting in 2018, I will be a published author. And within another year-ish, I’ll have TWO books published.

*delicately refrains and fails from squealing with joy*

Let’s talk multi-tasking. Two books is no small feat, and most books are published about a year apart. So let’s take a look at the general timeline.

Let’s say my final manuscript is due this December, 2016. (It is.) Then it’s about 1 whole year until it’s published and out on a shelf somewhere. (Yep. Spring-ish 2018.) So, that means Untitled Sequel Book is being published in 2019 Spring-ish. So my final manuscript for NQ2 will likely be due in 2017 December.

But hold on, says the mathy part of your brain. How long did it take for me to do the first draft of NQ1?

It took me about 3 months to do the first draft, and then another 4-5 months to do revisions on my own, then 2 months of revisions with my mentor as a part of Pitch Wars, and another week of revisions with my agent, and—so far—another 3-5 months to do revisions with my editor.

That’s about a year and a half of work. And now I’m supposed to have a book coming out a year from the first one? Yikes! But don’t freak out so much, math brain. Let’s talk multi-tasking.

While I was waiting for my edit letter for a good solid few months, I had time to start Book 2. I got about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way through it during that time. Right now I’m working on edits for Book 1, and when I send my edits to my editor for review (in August), I’ll have some more time to jump back into Book 2. Then, when I’ve submitted my final-final version by December, I can dive in full-strength.

So by the time I’m on the 1-year-to-finish-Book-2 clock, I will already be at least 1/2 way through drafting. Yes, this means I’ll be working on Book 2 (and will likely finish it) before Book 1 even comes out.

Not to mention that I’ll get to work directly with  my agent and editor on revisions, so it’ll be a much more streamlined process. AND! The world and characters are already set up, so doing a sequel isn’t as much upfront work as starting a whole new book! It’s still going to be a lot of work on a tighter schedule, but I’m ready for it.

I have a solid foundation to build from, a good support system backing me, and a clear path ahead.

Basically, COME AT ME, 2017. I GOTCHU.

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.

wubfxcmcbfp1u

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.

xt77xki3jaqduyee6a

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….

vazogmecz4f4s

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!

g2lh60zcvugl6

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!

10yaeth94fy8um

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:

pixlmap.png

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.

bkprcs2

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?

Friendly Interrogation

Stuck in a plot? Feeling like your story could use some spice? Want to avoid cliches and plot holes?

Find your friendly neighborhood interrogator!

Seek out that special someone who likes to ask too many questions, and sit them down for some tea and cake and questioning. Ideally, pick someone who isn’t familiar with your story. And all the questions you find answers to, make sure they are reflected in your story!

The Plan? Explain the premise of your book or the basics of the plot.

The Goal? Have them ask questions. It’ll look something like this:

You: Hey, I’m going to explain my book/story/thing. Can you just ask any and all questions you have? The hope is to find anywhere I haven’t thought things through and build on things from there.

Friendly Interrogator (Fi): Sure. As long as there’s coffee involved.

You: There’s no coffee. Only tea.

Fi, narrowing eyes: Very well. Continue.

You: So my story is about this girl who lives on an island called Persill. The island is one of many in a place called the Endless Archipelago, where there are only islands, no continents. Persill island is home to the rare Evergreen trees, so-called because they never wilt or die. There are spruce trees, oaks, firs, maples… and they are all magical and always green. The leaves from one can heal scars, and pine needles from one tree can be brewed into a healing tea.

Fi: Like this?  *holds up cup of bitter tea that is decidedly not coffee*

You: You’re not going to let this go, are you?

Fi: *deadpan stare*

THIRTEEN MINUTES LATER

You settle back into your seat, several dollars poorer.

Fi, clutching cup of steaming coffeePlease, continue. Don’t get so distracted.

You: So. Trees. Always green. Some heal sickness, some heal wounds, and some are used to fertilize and ensure bountiful crops.

Fi: What kind of crops?

You: I don’t know. Probably regular crops? Like carrots and tomatoes?

Fi: I don’t think you grow those at the same time of year. You should probably research that.

You, taking notes: Research… crops… time of year…. got it. Now, all the archipelago islands are controlled by one government, and the king wants—

Fi, over steaming coffee: How does one government control that many separate lands? And why is it always a monarchy? Why not an emperor or a dictator or a Supreme-o Leader Numero Uno?

You: Well, I guess the king—

Fi raises an eyebrow.

You:—or the supreme-o Leader… would have to have smaller local governments in place. But anyway, he—

Fi: And why is it a him? Why can’t the leader of the whole world be a woman?

You: I guess I didn’t really think about that. I just sort of made him a king. Or supreme-o leader. I guess I could think about that some more.

Fi takes a slow deliberate sip of coffee.

You: So there’s this girl on the island. She’s hired as a climber with other kids because they’re nimble enough to climb to the tops of the really-really-really tall trees to harvest leaves and seeds and such. But Supreme-O Uno is demanding more and more of the Evergreen yields, and leaving little to none for the native islanders.

Fi: Why does the island need magic tree-stuff at all? Why does the genderless Supreme-o want it?

You: Okay, well, the island needs the Evergreen yields to make their crops grow, and the crops won’t grow without it. That makes sense, right? And Supreme-o needs the Evergreen because all the other islands are suffering without it.

Fi: I guess that’s cool. The Supreme-o isn’t being a selfish jerk. They just want their kingdom to succeed and survive. But why can’t they just transplant some trees to the other island? So EVERYONE can have bountiful crops.

You, ponderous: Probably… because… because the trees can’t be harvested or damaged, or else they stop yielding leaves and fruit and stuff. And Supreme-o’s ships are on their way to collect the harvest, but they’re falling behind. So Ria volunteers to join the dangerous group of climbers to help sustain her family and be prepared for the ships to come.

Fi, stirring coffee idly: What kind of ships? What era are we in? Is the internet a thing yet? How about steam engines or gasoline or nukes? I guess they wouldn’t have trains if they’re on islands.

You: Er… I hadn’t really decided what era we’re in. Something with ships. Which is… like… every era. But probably no Internet? But a loose industrial-era would work, I guess. Except instead of trains and coal and stuff, they’re focused on ships and aircraft.

Fi: You mentioned a main character? What’s so special about being a climber? Is it just a monkey race to get the harvest in time?

You: So Ria has to collect her quota for the harvest, and she ends up trespassing on the forbidden property of the island’s oldest family who refuse to let the island harvest from their trees.

Fi: How come? If they’re behind on quota, there’s a local government, AND the other islands are depending on it, then why would this family say no? And why wouldn’t the government MAKE them hand it over? I mean, have you even seen what Higher Power Folks do for natural resources?

You: It’s complicated. The family claims that they are the ones who grew the first Evergreen plants generations ago, and so technically ALL of the Evergreens belong to them. They struck a deal a long time ago to let the islanders harvest the trees, but only the ones outside their land.

Fi: But why does Parsnip Island let that restriction stay in place if things are so dire?

You, slightly frustrated: It’s Persill, not Parsnip, sassypants. And there’s got to be a reason. Maybe Ria doesn’t know why, and everyone else is too afraid to find out? Something dangerous or secretive?

Fi: You should probably figure that out. So what happens when she trespasses?

You: She gets startled when she sees something she can’t explain: a strange boy high in the trees. Instead of dark veins along his arms, they are green, like the veins of a leaf—green like the Evergreen trees.

Fi: Why does she not know who he is?

You: On a small island, just like a small town, everyone knows or recognizes each other.But the family who owns the Evergreen trees are reclusive. There are rumors, but no one has really seen them in a long time.

Fi, slurping noisily from almost-empty coffee cup: Speaking of islands. What’s this Endless Archipelago? Certainly it ends somewhere, right? What does that mean?

You: It’s a cool name.

Fi’s eyes narrow.

You, excited now: Okay… maybe it’s actually endless? Like a flat world that goes on forever. Or maybe you enter the fog at the edge of the map and appear at a different random edge? Or maybe you never come back. Maybe sending someone in a small boat into the fog is a penalty for crimes, like if you steal evergreen yield. And maybe that happened to someone Ria knew, or someone in her family. And maybe she faces the same fate if she fails to meet her quota or for trespassing?

Fi, smiling: There you go. Full of ideas now. You’re welcome. Hope you took notes. And we need more coffee.

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.