A new novel beckons: Curse of the blinking cursor

A new novel beckons: Curse of the blinking cursor

Every so often I encounter the blank page. More so when I’m about to embark on a new project. And every single time (and even though I now have 6 completed novels written) it affords me the same sense of excitement mixed with a dash of oh-my-god-how-am-I-going-to-finish-this! It’s just so much of blank emptiness that needs to be filled that’s so easy to make a writer doubtful.

I’m busy outlining Lost Soul, the second book in the DarkWorld series. It’s so much fun playing with characters and scenes, defining motivations and refining plot lines. But once it’s done, the next step is to open up that document and face the blinking cursor.

Breaking it Down
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s upwards of 90 thousand words, roughly 100 hours of writing time for me. that’s a huge job to face down. Breaking it down into manageable bits makes it feel less daunting, makes the task seem less insurmountable.

If I’m concentrating on one particular project I like to set a goal, maybe 5000 words per day. If I don’t hit that goal I readjust my numbers as I write but I keep track. I’m a spreadsheet nut so I love drawing up a list of days with my targets, actuals and running totals. Watching my progress keeps me in line, makes me want to hit my target and makes the ginormous job so much easier to complete.

The Mid-novel Slump
Some writers have this problem and although I called it the mid novel slump, we tend to experience this slump at different times for different projects. Some writers hit the one third mark and sit back frustrated because it suddenly feels like you’re running on empty. I usually reach this point at around 60K. The end is in sight and yet finishing seems like I’m climbing the steepest mountain.

At this point I am often tempted to begin my revisions, and sometimes this has worked. I’ve gone back, tightened the plot, fixed plot holes and motivations which may make the final 30k much easier to write.

Sometimes this is a bad idea, mainly because it’s a reason to keep fiddling and never finish the novel. This is an especially frustrating problem for new writers so I’d suggest newbies don’t take this route, just write to done and then revise.

If you don’t have a problem finishing, if you don’t fall into the cycle of fix fix fix without reaching the end, then going back to revise may be a good thing for both you and your novel. It gives me the opportunity to read what I’ve written, to remember the cool stuff I wrote, to refine those awesome story threads that I may have forgotten (believe me this happens pretty often) as I’ve been barrelling along meeting my daily wordcount goals without a backward glance.

For now I’m rounding up Dead Chaos (Valkyrie #3) and plotting Lost Soul (DarkWorld #2) and maybe I’ll throw in a revision for Seals of Hades (Irin #1). Let’s see how things go…

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The value of a good editor? Priceless!

When I first began to write it was all about getting the best sentence down on paper (laptop/PC). Because that’s where I thought that writing a book starts. And it does, depending on the type of writer that you are. I pantsed my first novel, sitting down to write with a mere scene in my head, re-reading what I wrote the day before and allowing my fingers to do the talking for each new scene. Some writers are plotters and plan out their novels scene by scene before they start writing, and this works brilliantly for many writers too.

Whatever our chosen method of writing that all important first draft, we always end up in the same place after we type THE END. Editing. Or more specifically, self-editing. This stage is the writer’s polish stage. It could take one or five or ten drafts for a writer to reach that stage where he knows he can do no more. That the manuscript is finally at the stage where it needs to move on to the next level in its gestation.

Hiring a good editor is of paramount importance especially for a newbie writer. Some experienced writers may choose to skip the editor stage, but this is after years of experience where they are able to say ‘Yes, I have this, I can do this without an editor’.

So what is the difference between your own revisions of your manuscript and the editing process with your editor? Incredibly, there’s a tonne of difference. Believe me, you won’t want to skip hiring a good editor because you may think you have it sussed.

This is where too many new writers make their biggest mistake. Whether it’s arrogance, ignorance or personal choice, some writers skip this stage. IMHO it’s a huge mistake. My first experience with a proper experienced editor taught me so much about writing, about how to think about the stages your novel follows, about conflict and character arcs. (Thank you Annetta!) It was a real eye-opening experience.

It made me realise that writing is a very insular experience. You’re sitting down with your creativity and producing something you made up all by yourself. There will be flaws. Lots of them. Stuff will be missing (it’s there in your head, you just haven’t made it accessible to the reader yet, that’s all). Sometimes you will find you’ve mixed things up. Scenes change, characters change, motivations change, and maybe you’ve not followed them through. Trust me, much of this you cannot see for yourself because you are too close to the story. You know everything, understand everything, characters, world, plot, mystery, history. You’re so close you can so easily miss something important.

And your editor’s job is to ensure you get the world in your head down on paper properly. Your editor is there to help you fill in the gaps, smooth out your story arc, ensure you are engaging the reader sufficiently. Of course, your editor is also there to help you make conscious decisions on prose and maybe you will even end up killing a few darlings, but in the end you will have a cleaner, tighter, more professional piece of work to give to your readers.

Note: your editor is not there to rewrite your work, or to write in scenes and chapters for you. Be very wary. Should your editor begin to do this, you are completely within your rights to stop and review the process and your contract because no professional editor should take it upon themselves to add text or to change characters or plot. Suggestions may be made for the betterment of your story, and its up to the author to decide how to use those suggestions to tighten up the story. It is crucial you find a professional editor that you can work well with.

Because, at the end of the day your readers matter the most. Don’t cheat them by publishing a half done novel. Take pride in your work, be professional in what you present to the world.

My advice? No matter what, hire a good editor. Going to release late? Doesn’t matter… Get that editor and you’ll be so happy you did.

Oh and it doesn’t end there. After you and your editor are done, get yourself a proofreader. Every book deserves a final once over by a pair of eagle eyes who will catch the things you missed. After all that fixing and polishing, the write and the editor are now too close to the manuscript. Small things will get lost in the mix, missing words, missing punctuation, wrong words used etc. your proofreader brings fresh eyes to your project, finding all those little errors that were missed along the way.

The best part of writing as a career is that we are all constantly learning about writing as a craft. So it makes perfect sense that part of our learning experience should come from the people we seek out to help us bring our work to as close to perfection as possible.

YA Indie Carnival: Fiction Pie

YA  writers and bloggers unite each week to share their thoughts, hopes and  dreams about what it’s like to go indie in today’s publishing world.  The future’s so bright, we built our own place to play.

This week we talk about recipes for plotting our stories.

I always thought I was a Pantser aka flying by the seat of the pants. It’s the romantic version of the creation of words. As opposed to the evil, organised, planned creation called Plotting.  But, as much as I claimed that wild horses would never drag me over to the dark side, I had to come to terms with it. Eventually.

The first pin to burst my bubble was the matter of a full request from an agent. With first draft in hand I had to begin the process of edits. Yup, some like ’em, some hate ’em. But editing, like sleep, is totally and unequivocably necessary. So I edited.

Problem was, my WIP had timelines and flashbacks. And I’d only done two things to get this novel moving :

1. Planned the whole novel in my head aka many, many daydreams.
2. Used Chris Vogler’s 12 Step Hero’s Journey in THE WRITER’S JOURNEY to do a rough outline, and used the 3 Act structure to plane the beginning, middle and end (yeah, I promised myself this was not plotting)

So when I started my edit, I realised I was all fired up with no idea where I needed to go. So I Googled. Yup. I did. The amazing thing was I found I was not alone in my quest to learn.

And further I found I had actually done a bit of serious planning along the way. You see, I like mind maps. I love to visualise things. And I’m a bit lazy to do the whole pen and paper thing. A while back I’d searched online for a neat mapping tool and found Freemind. It’s brilliant. Even has Export to Excel and Word options. Brilliant. So I mapped out my 3 Acts, then used the 12 Step Hero’s Journey to create a basic structure. And after a while, this is what I ended up with:

Yup. I was totally guilty of plotting. Glad I didn’t know it at the time. Using this ‘guide’ I wrote the book, one scene at a time. Even more amazing, this basic outline was enough to keep me moving so quickly that I finished writing this book in 24 days (not counting weekends as apparently my family owned my weekends and I couldn’t complain, not really).

But, despite this great and detailed amount of non-planning I still had problems editing. So I went back to Excel. Excel and I are friends. After winning NANOWRIMO 2010 I used and eventually bought Scrivener for Windows. Scrivener is amazing, and has the option to Export scene descriptions. So I dumped the final descriptions unto Excel and neatened the spreadsheet up, using it to track my progress, any scene changes, and the length of my scenes for pacing. And this is what I ended up with:

Yup, I pretty much tracked everything, and managed to complete the first full edit in a month. I especially liked the little graphs that measured the length of my scenes. This was awesome for pacing, to remind me to split the longer scenes, to revise in case my scenes were too long and tension filled, and to check if those little scenes were really needed to move the story along. Not to mention a bunch of other things … The best thing the spreadsheet did was to help me with my Timeline, as days, weeks and months merged to create a neat little novel.

And this became my process. You see, I found this publishing company who was keen on me, and as these things go, there are editors and copy editors poking around in those precious words I created. So it’s really good to have a plan under such circumstances. I realised I had created my own little recipe for the creation of a novel.

And as with most recipes it will most likely get tweaked, added too, slimmed down, and eventually perfected into the perfect plan.

And then, it will probably change… 🙂

Coming December 16! You let us know why you’ve been naughty or nice and enter to win books at each carni’s booth all week, from 12/16 to 12/23. On Dec. 23, find out what books you’ve won!

‘Tis the Season of the Squeee!

In preparation for December’s release of Guardians of the Cross, author T. R. Graves is sending out a coupon which will allow the most-recent edition Warriors of the Cross Click here to downloaded for FREE. Enter coupon LY87N good through 12/20/11. Guardians of the Cross will be released 12/24!

Callum & Harper by Fisher Amelie Releases December 24th! Join her blog tour NOW!

Friend of the Carnival Tiffany King’s Blog tour for book 3 in The Saving Angels series on NOW!

Check out the new trailer for The Midnight Guardian series by Bryna Butler!
Melissa Pearl, YA author of Golden Blood has just started a new blog called YAlicious. It’s a blog to celebrate YA fiction and aimed at teens and readers of YA. Swing on by and check it out!

Visit the rest of the Carnival entertainers for their special recipes, concoctions and creations:

1. Laura A. H. Elliott author of Winnemucca & 13 on Halloween, Book 1 in the Teen Halloween Series 2. Bryna Butler, author Midnight Guardian series
3. Heather Self 4. T. R. Graves, Author of The Warrior Series
5. Suzy Turner, author of The Raven Saga 6. Darby Karchut, author of GRIFFIN RISING
7. Lexus Luke 8. PJ Hoover, Author of SOLSTICE, Blogging at ROOTS IN MYTH
9. Cheri Schmidt, author of the Fateful Trilogy 10. Rachel Coles, author of Into The Ruins, geek mom blog
11. K. C. Blake, author of Vampires Rule and Crushed 12. Patti Larsen, The Hunted series and The Hayle Coven series
13. Courtney Cole, author of The Bloodstone Saga 14. Amy Maurer Jones, Author of The Soul Quest Trilogy
15. Dani Snell’s Refracted Light Reviews 16. Fisher Amelie, author of The Understorey
17. M. Leighton, Blood Like Poison Series, Madly, The Reaping 18. Abbi Glines, author of Breathe and The Vincent Boys
19. Kimberly Kinrade, Bits of You & Pieces of Me, Forbidden Mind 20. Madeline Smoot, Missing, Summer Shorts, and The Girls
21. Cidney Swanson, author of Rippler 22. Nicole Williams, author of Eternal Eden, Falling Eden
23. Gwenn Wright, author of Filter 24. TG Ayer, Author of Dead Radiance
25. Melissa Pearl, author of Golden Blood

What NANOWRIMO did for me as a Writer…

St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writin...
Image via Wikipedia

With the onset of National Novel Writing Month (or NANOWRIMO to the initiated), there has been much discussion over the pros and cons of NANOWRIMO. 2010 was my first experience with NANO, and I must admit I was sceptical. But I learned a few things along the way. Valuable additions to my writing toolbox.

How to write fast:
 NANO’s first lesson for me was how to write fast. I had thought I wrote pretty fast to begin with, churning out 2k per night after the day job, but NANO showed me it was possible to write up to 10K a day. Somewhere within me was a super fast word churner and NANO helped me find it.

How to control the inner editor:
 My biggest problem when writing is my ever-present inner editor. I hear her voice, nagging me about apostrophes, spelling errors and attributive locations. NANO showed me it’s entirely possible to ignore or turn her volume down. I learned to put the idea or scene onto paper as quickly as possible. Very soon I was able to get the scene down but also keep certain things in the back of my mind like remembering to use all the senses. The more I wrote the more I was able to include all the different layers of writing into my piece – except for spelling and grammar. Unfortunately these were the two very important things I had to forego to ensure I got the story out fast.

How to plan/plot:
 Before my first NANO I thought I was a pure pantser. What I figured out during my first foray into the wilderness of NANO, is you have to have a plan to reach your goal without driving yourself insane (IMHO). The general plot is essential. What is the theme or the novel? High Concept? Characters? Goals? Major Plot Points?
To be honest I barely knew what these words meant when I first walked the NANO trail. I’d started writing my first book SECOND SKIN in February of 2010, a novel which took me ten months to write, edit and complete. I was still new to the whole writer scene, learning, making friends, learning, writing… NANO showed my I could pen a story quickly, that I could reach a total of 61K in the space of 18 days.

The need to plan your time:
NANO taught me, very quickly, that planning your writing time is more than useful. It’s essential if you want to achieve an acceptable first draft. This year, although I am not participating I am still writing. November is literally my month from hell, but that said, I have written 20K so far, a quarter of the way to my goal of 80K. This time I am prepared for the exams, birthdays, overseas visitors, Christmas work functions and other celebratory outings that require my precious time. Thus, planning those little pockets of available time is essential, as once the plan exists, it is rather difficult to ignore. It helps to have a well-developed writing conscience.

The acceptance of the requirement of editing:
Come the end of NANO, and the reaching of that glowing milestone of 50, or 70 or 100K, every writer knows the end is only just the beginning. If you go into NANO 100% aware that whatever you come out of it with will require that necessary editing, then you go in with eyes open. Those edits, be they two ro three or five, are the polish and shine all writers want.

Camaraderie:
 The best thing about NANOWRIMO is the camaraderie. The friends we make and keep, the knowledge we are not writing alone. Writing itself is a lonely profession, and knowing all the participants are bound by the same goal is a very encouraging thing. Your feel writers are you motivators, you partners, your butt-kickers and your competitors.

NANOWRIMO has its supporters and its naysayers. I, for one, enjoyed the camaraderie of the whole exercise. The shared joy of the completion of it. The achievement of knowing I can meet the goals I set, that I can function well under pressure. That being said, I very much doubt I will participate in another NANOWRIMO, not until November ceases to be such a crazy family time for me.

And I shall continue to write, using the tools I have learned from my experiences with NANO, I shall continue to be prolific (fingers crossed), and I shall continue to write with passion and the ardent hope that readers everywhere will enjoy the character and worlds I create.

To all NANOWRIMO participants : GOOD LUCK & ROCK ON!!

First Draft’s & Second Draft’s

Qwerty_Antique_by_somadjinn, via DeviantArt

I heard someone say recently that a novelist’s First Draft is written for himself, while the Second Draft is written for the reader. I hadn’t thought about it before, especially with this particular light on it. But, it’s so very true.

When the Muse strikes and a writer sits with either pen and paper, typewriter or computer, the words that flow are not necessarily his or her best. Some of it might be, or perhaps, for those gifted writers, most of it might be perfect, but for most writers what comes out will still need tweaking.

It’s the raw words in this First Draft that comes straight from that secret well-spring of Story. It’s the voice of the character, and of the scene. It is the raw plot without investigation or analysis. It is Story in its purest form, straight from the mind to the paper, pulled along to the end by the force of the voices and the desire of the writer to complete the novel, to find out what happens in the end.

Block_by_senkomoon via DeviantArt

The Second Draft is often described, depending on one’s temperament and tenacity, as, the dreaded, the painful, and even sometimes as the unneccessary. It is the essential step which I personally belief is the buff and shine. Some writers may need more than this second draft, some may require up to four drafts before they deem their work ready for their readers. Some writers may describe this process as fun, and others may cringe and wail beneath the burden of such torture.

In this second run-through, the writer will answer questions. Does this scene make sense? Is this the way the character would really react? The thing to be aware of is a character will develop herself through the writing of the manuscript. By the end of the book, the writer will have learned so much about her inner conflicts, her issues, her dreams and her personality. With this knowledge he can decide if scenes and chapters follow the natural progression of this character.

More importantly, a writer will want to ensure that he is getting across the correct message. Have I said this clearly enough? Will the reader understand it? Or will she be annoyed because I’ve described too much?

It’s all about engendering a trust relationship with the reader. When I read I am placing my time in the hands of the writer, I don’t appreciate my time being wasted and neither will my readers. This is why that second edit is so incredibly important. It is the difference between writing for oneself and writing for a reader…