Writing Rituals!

Thanks to MK England for tagging me in the writing rituals video! I didn’t answer any of the questions, but I did what inspired me! Which was to poke fun at my own rituals and how they can fail me sometimes. See, rituals are intended to get you into the proper headspace for getting work done, so you have to re-evaluate if it isn’t working for you!

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!

5 Resources: Blogs I Follow, Articles I Love

You have to take advice before you can give it. If you’re trying to share an experience, knowledge, or story, you have to be well-versed in that world.

This goes for a lot of things. Read books before writing them, learn calculus before tutoring your neighbor, bake that iffy cupcake recipe before suggesting it to your coworkers, especially if they’re going to bring it in next week and you’ll have to smile and take a big bite, wondering why it’s so gritty (and if there’s real sand in there, not just unincorporated heaps of sugar).

Yeah, that spiraled to specificity pretty quickly. Moral of the metaphor is this: Research is important, especially if you want to give advice. And I do want to share advice and experiences and stories. So here’s some of the blogs and articles that have given me advice that I can, in turn, give to you!

3 Stages of Editing — This is a pretty brief article that covers the three basic stages of editing. I’ve talked about editing a bunch of times, but this article is very concise. I agree wholeheartedly with the process (even if I do some of the steps out of order occasionally—I’m looking at you, copyediting stage).

Analyzing the First 250 Words of Bestsellers — We all know a first page/chapter has to be polished. It’s important for getting agents, editors, and readers to commit to your book (kinda like a first date). Nicollete promises to go through the first page of several bestsellers and analyze what makes them great. I have high hopes for her analyses, and I think it could spawn really productive conversations.

New Leaf Literary’s Tumblr — Stepping aside from the fact that I signed with Pete Knapp at New Leaf and I’m now one of their clients, I’ve been following New Leaf’s blog for a very long time. A year, at least? Probably more? Either way, this blog’s shining point is that the staff at New Leaf (most often Suzie Townsend) answer questions about querying, publishing, representation, and more! Their blog is where I learned about Pitch Wars, the wonderful contest that resulted in me getting an agent.

Pete J. Knapp’s blog — While I’m being biased, here’s my agent’s blog. I highly suggest you follow the blogs of agents you admire (particularly those who answer questions about the whole process, like Pete), as you’ll learn an incredible amount of vital information about the querying process and the business. It really is invaluable to understand where agents are coming from, what type of people they are, and how they operate.

Authors on Tumblr (Victoria Aveyard, Maggie Steifvater, John Green, etc.)— Tumblr is one of the biggest platforms on the internet for blogging and interfacing with others (along with Twitter). It’s cooperative, user-friendly, and has the almighty Ask feature. More and more authors are responding to Asks and engaging with their audience in wonderful ways. Fan art, interviews, hilarity, and community abounds! So, find your favorite authors on Tumblr (and Twitter!), if they are there, and see how they interact with their fan base. It’s invaluable to see author’s insights, the way they present themselves on their public forums, and how they interact with others.

Pitch Wars Statistics (The Authors, The Books, The EXPLOSIONS)

  • If you don’t know what Pitch Wars is, read this.
  • If you didn’t read the Guest Post I did on Brenda Drake’s blog, it covers the basic statistics of diversity, word count, age, sexuality, POV, and other fun stats about the Mentee books.
  • If you haven’t read Harry Potter yet, I can’t help you, except maybe to direct you to the nearest bookstore and/or sanitarium.

THIS PAGE (compared to the post on Brenda’s blog) talks about EVEN MORE STATISTICS! AHH! I can sense your excitement. It’s like lemons and pine needles. (Also makes a good tea.)

There are three sections of statistics in this beautiful blog post.

  1. The Authors
    • Here you’ll find gems like how many books we’ve written before Pitch Wars, and our EMOTIONAL STATES during the editing/revision process.
  2. The Books
    • Here you’ll get a big ball of book stats like  if there are EXPLOSIONS, and how long it took us to write our PW manuscripts.
  3. Super Fun Times
    • Here you’ll learn about taxes and 3rd derivatives and integrals…. JUST KIDDING. You’ll learn about which HOGWARTS HOUSE we got sorted into, what our favorite colors are, and how we rank Pitch Wars on a 1-10 Insanity Scale.

The Authors

books

emotions

startms

The Books

chaptersFIREPOVtense

diversity

Super Fun Times

color

insanity

Howarts

quotes

Show Don’t Tell #7

Show, don’t tell! Instead of just giving writing advice, let’s dig through some examples to learn by experience!


BEFORE

At seeing the small child raise her hand, she felt (1) her heart tighten with powerful emotions. (2)

“What is it?” she leaned forward,(3) wanting to ask but not actually speaking. (4)

The girl faltered and pulled her hand back down. (5)

With it, she (6) felt her heart crumble into tiny, breakable pieces.(7)

1. With most sensations and observations in a story, we don’t need the “she looked and saw” or the “she felt” parts. We can skip right to the what, and it’ll be implied/obvious that the character is experiencing these things.

2. What emotions? This is too vague to tell us anything. Also, we don’t have a sense of why this is important. Is the small child volunteering for tribute or trying to answer a math question?

3. Not a dialogue tag.

4. But the character IS speaking, and DID ask? It’s unclear whether the “she” who is leaning/wanting to ask is the narrator or the small child.

5. We can tighten this up. A lot of times, you see things like “back down” and “up to” or “forward closer”, which are both redundant and probably not even necessary.

6. Again, unclear which “she” we’re talking about. This is when proper names are useful.

7. This image doesn’t flow, and it’s cliche. And it doesn’t jive with the hand lowering (the “with it” part of the sentence implies that the movement of the girl’s hand mirrors a metaphoric movement of the narrator’s heart, but the two images aren’t consistent).

AFTER

When Lacey raised her hand, Ms. Benson’s heart tightened. All year, Lacey had only raised her eyes to the chalkboard with the faintest glimmers of recognition. Never once had she raised(1) her hand.(2)

“Yes?” Benson leaned forward. Go ahead, ask. Ask anything.(3)

The room shifted with the creak of metal chairs and wooden desks.(4) Lacey’s eyes dipped from the board down to the floor. Her fingers curled into a fist, her fist lowered to her desk, and she slumped deep into her squeaking chair.(5)

As Lacey’s hand lowered, Ms. Benson’s heart sank. Another day of silence. Another moment lost.(6)

1. The raising of her eyes is now linked to the raising of her hand. This ties together the physical expressions.

2. See how we get a better sense of the stakes? It’s important not to know just what is happening, but also why we should care.

3. Getting access to Benson’s thoughts aligns her as the narrating voice instead of the confusion we had earlier. Plus, it gives us the words she wants to say but doesn’t instead of telling us she isn’t saying something.

4. Gives us location and a sensory detail.

5. Since we know this moment is important, it’s vital to spend enough time there. No, it doesn’t take a lot of actual time to lower one’s hand, but we need to spend time writing/reading these moments to get a sense of their weight and utility.

6. This gives us Benson’s sense of disappointment without outright telling us in over-flowery language.


What do YOU think? Every opinion matters! How would you tweak/change the Before paragraph differently? What are your thoughts on what to add/take away to make it better? Any thoughts on the changes to the After paragraph?

Don’t Waste Words on Dead Characters

You know how you start a book or chapter, and it’s with some random-face Other Character that you know doesn’t figure prominently in the plot? You know that feeling you get? That “this character’s about to DIE” feeling? Yeah. That.

I’ve read books where we meet this character, and I really don’t like spending a lot of time with them. A couple pages, three or four at most. And that’s only if part of that is the Them Dying bit.

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Why do I feel like this?

As readers, we can sense their impending fate, so we don’t really want to spend a lot of time getting to know them, their habits, how often they feed their dog, or what they think of the suspicious mole on their arm.

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If you’re writing/revising, and you have a character that bites the dust early on, make sure you’re not wasting your (or the reader’s) time. I mean this in a loving way. Truly. When I know a throw-away character is going to die, I want to see it. I want to move past it and get back to the characters I care about. This feeling is good, because it means that I care and am invested in the story.

There’s no hard and fast rule about it. This is just opinion. But let’s get some math in the mix:

I can tolerate maybe 3 book-pages of a person that’s going to get the ax. Average words/page in print is about 250–300.

That’s about 750 words. This is a rough approximation.  My advice is to take a look at the scenes where your characters are fated for death. How much of the text is used in introducing them and their backstory? How much is dialogue (dialogue is easier and faster to read)? How much is on their death?

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The struggle: getting readers to care about the doomed character.

Well… I have some very personally-biased opinions on this. If you’re going to kill a throw-away character, chances are that your readers can tell. And I don’t want to get attached to a character you’re about to toss off a cliff. I want short and sweet and on with the main plot!

Essentially, don’t try to endear your dead/dying characters to readers. It either won’t work (and that’s a time/space waster), or the readers will feel cheated.

To help you make a decision on this, take a look at your overall manuscript length. Is it too long? Too short? Do you suffer, like me, from the JUST ONE MORE SCENE disorder? Cutting away at these types of scenes will help hone your manuscript down to its focus, which, hopefully, is your Main Character.

FrankenManuscript — Rewriting During Revisions (Pitch Wars #3)

Things I Struggle With and How I’m Fixing Them
(I’m outlining my revisions process during the September and October of Pitch Wars (which is what again?). It’s not just me! Other mentors are blogging, too.)


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Revising Feels Like Destruction and Mayhem.

(coughcough, I am shamelessly stealing the term “frankenmanuscript” from the inimitable Jessica Bloczynski.)

So. You’ve written something (a book, maybe), and you’re trying to make it into the shiniest, prettiest, efficient-ist, and best version of itself. Then WHAM. Plot holes abound, a new idea strikes, revisions explode, and New Words are a thing that is happening.

But how are we supposed to add first-draft-level-crap to this shiny creature? It’ll look like a FrankenManuscript!!! Bits and pieces that don’t flow? We can’t stand for such chaos! Take out one link in the chain, and it’ll all fall apart!

It’ll be tough. Adding new work to work that has been polished is difficult. It feels like we’re taking this beautiful thing, ripping in in half, and trying to incorporate something new.

Here’s the bad news: It’s going to feel slapdash. It’s going to feel broken and bumpy. It’s going to be like cutting a chain in half and then trying to tie it back together with string. It won’t feel strong anymore.


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What Doesn’t Kill It… makes it a chain?

Here’s the good news: It’ll all be okay. YES, it’s going to suck to add new and crappier words to older and more refined words. (There’s an analogy hiding somewhere about age and refinement and kids + old people, but I’m just going to ignore it.)

BUT. That’s what revision is for. You break the chain, tie it back together, and one you’re sure you have all the links you need to successfully get from Beginning to End, you can fix it. You go back, find the string, and put in some of that same elbow grease you used on the earlier drafts.

Go back and re-read it. Not just the section you added, but the sections around it. Make sure it flows. Make it stronger.

Given time, you can replace the string with iron, and your chain will be stronger than ever. You’ll look back and wonder how you ever thought the first version was good enough, because just look at that chain shine! Polished to a metallic gleam, and ready to carry the weight of your story.

(See, this is why I didn’t go with the old people + children analogy. This weird Chain Analogy somehow pulled everything together! [haha, chain pun inside an analogy inside brackets])


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Want more writing tips?

  • Check out the previous posts I’ve done on revision.
  • Or check out the Show Don’t Tell Learn By Example series.
  • If you have questions or suggestions, comment here or tweet it at the #pitchwars hashtag on Twitter!
  • Don’t want to scroll back up? Here’s the list of blogging mentees I mentioned earlier.