NaNoWriMo 2017

Sometimes I win NaNo, and sometimes I fail.

This year is a bit different.

I have a book deal for two books (THE NAMELESS QUEEN and a sequel), and I’m in the middle of doing edits with my editor.

I haven’t heard back yet on the first round of edits, and I’m already about 79k words through the sequel.

 

Things standing in my way of being productive this NaNo:

  1. Job. Job. Job. I work as a technical editor (day job), and we’ve gone from 3 writers on staff to 1. Not for any nefarious reason, just that one intern went back to school already and the other took a contract position elsewhere. There will be a NEW full-time writer come January-ish, but then there’s a long process of training and such. Meanwhile, we’re currently doing 3 major projects and I’m the lonely writer. Sooo basically my life is going to be busy at work. Might be working long hours.
  2. Fragmented transcription. Some parts of my story, I dictated and then transcribed. Contrary to how I normally handle this, I didn’t necessarily smooth over all the scenes that I typed up, so there’s an occasional hard bracket section which denotes a gap in the story. Nothing is more fun than seeing this as you scroll through the document:
    • [] Something something clever line. [smooth over transition btwn these scenes. sorry about the fuss, Future Me.]
  3. Edits. If I hear back from my editor during this month (which is likely, because I sent the edits to her at the beginning of September), then that will take priority. Not much to do about this one except to treat edits with as much reverence and rush as they deserve. ❤

 

Things that will not stand in my way of being productive this NaNo:

  1. Job.
  2. Fragmented transcription.
  3. Edits.

Because even though these things take up my time and are important, they are just a part of a given day.

  1. Yes, my job is important, but as long as I leave work at work, I have a whole evening to myself. Back when I did the first draft of THE NAMELESS QUEEN, I was working 50-hour weeks. I basically had one or two hours of writing time per day. And let me tell you, when you only have 2 hours, you are a hell of a lot more productive than you’d be when you’re staring at a blank screen all day.
  2. Yes, fragmented scenes are tough to work around. I’m at a point of writing where I’m not sure which characters are present. Is it just 3? 4? Or is it as high as 8? *shrug* I’ll pick my favorites, and if a time comes where I realize I need some of the others, they will appear as if by magic. I’ll let Revision Rebecca deal with that issue, aka Future Me Who Has To Edit The First Draft.
  3. Yes, edits are the top priority. If they come in, I will drop the sequel like a hot potato so I can dive into the fire of revisions. But you know what? Edits on book 1 are just as important as writing book 2. So if I end up spending NaNo doing edits, that’s fine by me. Productivity isn’t prescriptive. You don’t have to accomplish exactly what you set out to do. You just have to accomplish something. So even if I “fail” NaNo like I did last year (I’m looking at you, Pitch Wars and Getting an Agent/Book Deal), that doesn’t mean I have failed.

 

Then again, the biggest test will be today, the first day. Typically Day One of NaNo is one of the most productive, so if I set a good tone with today, I’ll get a good sense of if I’m in a good spot to keep moving forward.

 

And hey! If anyone else out there is doing NaNo this year, let me know!! We can be buddies!

 

Have a question on any of this?

Ask me!*

*yes it can be anonymous!

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

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.

Show Don’t Tell #12

Show Don’t Tell! That means I’m going to provide a bad writing example and show you how to fix it! (Otherwise known as: an absurd amount of notes on an absurdly short paragraph.) This time, we’re going to be paying special attention to adverbs, verbs, and tone.


THE BEFORE PARAGRAPH

Briskly,(1) I ran through the marketplace, desperately(2) searching the half-destroyed tables and heaps of smoking rubbish,(3) frantically reaching for anything and anyone(4) that looked faintly(5) my little brother.(6)(7) A charred mannequin, the broken leg of a upturned table.(8) It was hard to see(9) because of(10) the smoke, and I spun around, still searching and searching for him.(11)(12)

1: Adverbs are okay to use, but use them sparingly. This one isn’t needed, and it’s just acting as a buffer between us and the verb that drives the sentence (run). [Sidenote: The benefit of adverbs is that you convey tone/mood with a single word. The detriment is that you’re leaving it to the reader’s familiarity and pre-exposure to that word to set the tone/mood. Basically, it lacks specificity. Sometimes, however, that’s what you want, especially in more condensed action scenes.]

2: Okay, adverb #2 in this sentence.

3: ADVERBBBBBB #3 (Yes, I’m keeping score. No, paragraph, you’re not winning.)

4: This is a small but I think an effective change. This sentence moves from anything (object) to anyone (person). But when you’re looking for a person, you’d look for people and then resort to objects. Or there’s an argument for the first option, because the number of objects outweighs the number of people. But also think of the list in the next sentence, where it progresses from mannequin (human-like) to table leg (not human).

5: ADVERB #4 IN ONE SENTENCE. This is not just overkill, it’s a massacre. One adverb is fine, two is pushing it, four is leaping into the annoying world of Annoying Things.

6: I like that it takes the whole sentence to figure out we’re looking for a little brother, but I think it would be more powerful to have this revelation come after we see the mannequin and broken table leg, because those are just-human enough to tell the reader we’re looking for a person. Let the imagery tell us the story, and then confirm it when we’re already on the edge of knowing.

7: This sentence. It’s too long. It has too many adverbs. Its length doesn’t match the choppy pace that the story is expressing.

8: First, I quite like these two list items. But. It needs a third. The rule of three: descriptions are often presented in threes, so adding a third detail here will really help. [Sidenote: We humans like threes, especially in lists. I don’t know why (wikipedia does), but groups of three are a good rule of thumb. One is an anomaly, two is a coincidence, three is a pattern. It takes three for the reader to get a good sense of something. And I say this will all the confidence of someone who didn’t read that wikipedia article yet.* I’m going to let my math brain take over on this one. With one point, you’re at a stationary point on a graph. With two, you’ve established a linear pattern, which can have a steep or slow growth rate. You’ve connected two items, but only by a thread. With three? With three you can imply a parabolic curve or a shape (triangle!) that now covers an area. This implies exponential change and a scope of area instead of just two points. With three details in a set, you get a dynamic sense of direction and space.]

9: “because of” is a red flag, because it almost always is coupled with over-explanation.

11: This would read a lot better if the end of this paragraph was focused on the not-finding instead of the searching. Or at the very least if the “for him” wasn’t there, because it’s 1.) unnecessary words and 2.) it specifies the “searching” with the goal when we haven’t found the goal. I think it’s better if we’re just left “searching and searching” and the sentence feels more open-ended.

12: Also, let’s take a look at the verbs we’re using in this paragraph: ran, searching, smoking, reaching, looked, see, spun, searching, searching. Most of these are flat neutral verbs, sensory filters (looking, searching) that are repetitive and don’t give us a variety. We’re getting movement and searching, but not a lot else.

*Having now read the wikipedia article, it talks about the prevalence of threes but doesn’t go into any reasoning or psychology. But I bet psychology knows something about it, so if you’re more successful at research (or perhaps you moonlight as a psychologist), let me know!


THE AFTER PARAGRAPH

I ran through the destroyed marketplace,(1) dodging sparking wires that swung from tilting concrete and scampering over crushed vending stalls.(2) Smoke choked(3) the air, stung my eyes, and I blinked against both as I stumbled(4) over chunks of concrete and torn metal. Every movement caught my eye: the broken leg of a table splintering,(5) the shiver of a charred mannequin(6) as the plastic melted and cracked,  the twitch of unfamiliar fingers(7) coated with ash and dust.(8) But none of them were my brother.(9) I tried to scream for him, but I still tasted blood in my throat.(10)(11)

1: Calling it the “destroyed” marketplace upfront gives us a sense of that background (something destroyed it).

2: There was a distinct lack of setting in the first paragraph. So I took some liberties and assumed by “marketplace”, it meant big store that collapsed. There is a potential for a misreading of “concrete and scampering.” Maybe that last action is too much for this sentence.

3: Smoke choked is a fun linguistic rhyme.

4: Scampering and stumbling are both more physically descriptive of the character’s movements. I’m not sure “scampering” feels quite right, but there is a nice progression from one to the other. Maybe scrambling? See, you have to try a few things until you find something that fits just right.

5: The following three parts of this sentence offer a progression from the anthropomorphic to the human. We start with the leg of a table, which is hinting at human)…

6: … and we progress to mannequin, which is pseudo-human…

7: … and we end with unfamiliar fingers, which is not the human we’re looking for. Notice also how all three items have a unique description and verb paired with it. We start with the broken leg of the table, which is an intentional misdirect for a human leg. Then the mannequin shivers, which is often a human action. And then we have the twitch of fingers under ash and dust, implying a not-so-happy end for the market-goers.

8: This rule of three is a bit bulky here, because it does end up being a long sentence. It’s a case-by-case analysis of whether the sentence is clunky or if it flows, and whether the progression makes logical sense.

9: Here’s where we get the kicker: the character is looking for their brother. Now, it’s up to you whether you want to reveal this detail first or last. If you reveal it last, the tension is based more on the destruction. If you reveal it first, then the reader knows in that 3-detail sentence who we’re looking for, and those details take on a more poignant, gruesome light. So it depends on whether you want the brother detail to be a reveal or if you want to start off with it and build tension after.

10: Blech. Blood in the throat is disgusting and visceral, but it is a stronger image. And it’s less common than the frequent “blood in my mouth” description. It speaks to a deeper injury, which mirrors the high level of destruction we see around the character. It might make more physical sense, though, if it said something more along the lines of “but dried blood still stuck in the back of my throat”. Because I don’t know that *tasting* blood makes it difficult to speak.

11: Let’s look at the verbs of the new paragraph: ran, dodging, swung, tilting, scampering, choked, stung, blinked, stumbled, caught, shiver, melted, cracked, splintering, twitch, coated, tried, scream, tasted. There’s a lot more, and they are used in different forms. There’s even some in there used as adjectives that I didn’t include (sparking, broken). And take careful note of the utter lack of adverbs! Make sure you’re using a variety of vocabulary and that the verb choice in particular pairs well with the level of tension and action in the story.


What do YOU think?

How would you tweak/change the Before paragraph differently? Do you prefer building up to a reveal or revealing a crucial detail first and letting it color the rest of the content?

Any thoughts on the changes to the After paragraph?

Check out the rest of the Show Don’t Tell series!