The Fight for the Future Tour 2-22-2014

Yesterday (2/22) I attended The Fight for the Future Tour at Books of Wonder in New York City! It was my first book event of the year, and I’m so happy the weather was behaving itself for once, making it possible for me to go. We’ve been having snowstorms every other day it seems, but yesterday it was in the 50s, the sun was out, the snow was melting… What a great day!

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At the event, Alexandra Bracken, Dan Krokos, Amie Kaufman, and Meagan Spooner talked about their books, where their ideas came from, and how they were published. I especially enjoyed hearing about how Amie and Meagan co-wrote These Broken Stars despite living in completely different countries. Also, the amount of research each author did for their books to make them as accurate as possible was incredible.

They also talked about writing and revising, and how you shouldn’t spend all of your time trying to get the first draft perfect. Amie had a great quote about how you can’t edit a blank page, which I thought was incredibly true. You write and you revise and you revise and you revise. If you stress yourself out over not having a perfect first draft, you’ll never finish it.

There was a huge turnout, and I saw plenty of people with bags packed with books to be signed. I had a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to more events in the upcoming months!

Also, sorry for only one picture this time around. I actually had a column in front of me, obstructing my view. It was the only seat left when I got there (that’s how crowded it was!).


How I Edit

Well, hello there. I think it’s time I gave you guys a proper post, don’t you agree? I’m sorry for the silence, but silence means I’m working on things. Lots and lots of things that I think you will enjoy. Mainly, I wrote the sequel to The Sight Seer! Yep, from June 8th to August 12th, I was hard at work on the first draft. It took me longer to write than Seer did, and I had my moments of, “THIS IS SO BAD WHAT AM I DOING?!” but that always happens. To every writer. You just can’t let it get to you. In the end, I kept plugging along, and I’m pleased with the results.

So what happens after I finish a first draft? Revisions! Lots and lots of revisions! Every author is different, of course, but I thought I could share my process with all of you. The first thing I do after finishing a first draft is take a break! Writing takes its toll on me; I have trouble sleeping (I have lots of crazy, vivid dreams), and sometimes it’s difficult for me to form coherent sentences. My brain obviously needs some time off, so that’s exactly what I do. Watch some TV. Read a book or two. Relax. Don’t even think about the manuscript that’s sitting on my computer, ready to be revised. This time around, I had something else to work on, so I finished that first, and then started on my edits. For the first time ever, I loaded my first draft on my Kindle, and read it off of there. And what a difference it makes! I do not enjoy staring at a computer screen for hours on end, so when I edit, I can only do a few chapters at a time. Plus, you know, there’s tons of things to distract me (Twitter, email, Facebook etc.). My Kindle has no distractions, and the screen does not hurt my eyes at all, so I can easily edit a huge chunk at a time. And I think it’s easier for me to find typos (missing/incorrect words, especially). Because my computer is full of distractions, I end up writing any changes I want to make in a notebook. I’m probably doing double work here, because then, later, I have to open the document and find the spot I want to change, rather than change it the moment I see it, but like I said, DISTRACTIONS. This way, I’m avoiding them altogether. Searching the document for the changes isn’t that horrible, in all honestly. I’m going to continue using my notebook (I even took advantage of a great back-to-school sale and bought a new one!), because that method works the best for me.

So I do this for the entire manuscript. What’s next? Sending it off to my beta. She reads it, fixes any typos, and tells me what does and doesn’t work. After she finishes, we discuss what doesn’t work in detail, and I will rewrite whole scenes if I have to. I send her those newly written scenes, and we hammer them out until we both agree they finally work. In a perfect world, I would just send her the manuscript and she would read it and say, “Everything is great, no changes are necessary!” But of course that would never happen. Sometimes, I can’t get a scene the way I want it until I discuss it with her. I’m very thankful to her and all her helpful input!

After I receive all of her edits, I then go back to my manuscript and start making changes (I should mention that these are all saved on my computer as different files. The first draft is the raw, unedited version. The second draft is the one I make corrections to. The third draft is the one I make corrections to using her suggestions. I like looking at the different drafts; sometimes there will be something in the first draft that I deleted for the second one, but decided to put back in the third draft. You don’t want to lose this stuff forever, because you never know when you might need it again!). This doesn’t take as long, and doesn’t require my Kindle. However, once those changes are in place, I will reread it one more time (with my trusty notebook by my side)! It’s only after that do I start passing it on to other people.

It’s a long process, as you can see. I’ve been asked about the sequel, and I wish I had a date, but as of right now, I do not have one. The story needs to be edited and approved and all that fun stuff before I’m given a date. As soon as I know it, I’ll let you guys know. Until then, it’s back to work! And hopefully I’ll remember to post more often.


The Outline

Here’s a confession: I don’t enjoy outlining. I’m not one of those people who sits down and HAS to know what happens BEFORE writing the story. Oh no, I make things up on the fly. While writing my latest manuscript, I kept telling Amy, “Yeah, I’ll figure out the ending when I get there!” Which I eventually did, although it took me a couple of tries to get it right (not just the ending, I mean. The whole manuscript!). This is perfectly normal, and I highly doubt an outline would have helped me get the story to the place where I wanted it to be.

One time I spent a summer outlining a story I knew I was going to write for National Novel Writing Month. I was commuting to college and spent my time on the train writing out every single thing. By the time November rolled around and I sat down to write the actual story, I was bored out of my mind. I had basically written the thing already, now I was just adding in the details. I already knew the story, and had no desire to, in effect, write it again. Lesson learned, I never outlined like that again.

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When I’m writing, I keep notes in whatever notebook is closest to me at the moment. I do take notes on the computer as well, but there’s just something more satisfying about grabbing a notebook and curling up in bed to scribble down names, descriptions, and plot points. It feels more real to me. And it’s convenient. Maybe I’m trying to fall asleep, and I suddenly think up an important plot point. It’s much easier for me to grab my notebook than my computer. Again, this is just to take notes, or maybe quickly write out a scene or dialogue I just know I’ll forget the next morning when I wake up.

For potential sequels, however, I do try to outline the plot because I know I’m not going to go back to the story, the universe, the characters, for months, maybe years, and I don’t want to forget what I had planned. But again, it’s all very basic, because I WANT to give myself the chance to fill in the plotholes as I’m writing. I’m not sure how other people outline, but mine look a bit like this:

A and B go to the movies

  • A suddenly screams and says she saw a ghost(?)
  • B tells her she’s crazy, there’s no such thing as ghosts
  • A gets mad and storms out(?) or maybe she stays, and gets mad at B later(?)

That’s exactly how I do it. Characters are reduced to the first letter of their first name, and question marks for anything I’m not sure about. The question marks don’t bother me, because I know once I’m writing the story, I’ll figure it out. I just list the basics, no little details. And, of course, the outlines are NOT permanent. They’re just there as a guide, a reminder of what I want to happen. But the possibility of me changing things halfway through the story is more than likely.

I have outlined while in the middle of writing a story. With one manuscript, the beginning was far too long and plodding, so I ended up starting over again, deleting a huge chunk of it as I revised. To help keep myself focused, I outlined the middle and end, and followed those notes (again, my summaries for chapters were ONE sentence each. No excessive detail!) as I wrote. I’ve noticed, also, that when I’m creeping towards the end, I will outline what I want to happen as a way of encouraging myself, to show that the end is in sight and I just need to keep at it a little bit longer. I guess I don’t have a set method when it comes to outlining, besides knowing that I cannot plot out the entire thing in extreme detail and still be interested in actually writing it.

Do you outline? If so, is your method similar to mine, or do you have you own way of doing it?


Back It Up!

Here’s a silly question, but for those of you who write (or draw, paint etc on your computer), do you back your documents up consistently? I ask because in this day and age, when you can get a USB drive in just about every shape/color/animal possible, I still see people bemoaning the loss of their work when their computer dies. I can’t help but wonder, why aren’t you backing your stuff up?

I’ve always made sure I’ve had copies of my stuff somewhere, either on a CD or an external hard drive, but once I started writing things that I hoped to publish someday, and my laptop got older and slower, I invested in a simple 2GB USB drive. It sits on a shelf on my desk, directly over my laptop, and when I finish with a session of writing and/or editing, I immediately back up my stuff. Every single time. Multiple times a day, if I need to. In addition to that, every few months I’ll email myself copies of all of my manuscripts (completed drafts and works in progress). This is especially necessary during natural disasters (hey, we’ve had two hurricanes in two years over here!). Even if I were to lose my laptop AND USB drive, at least I would still have the manuscripts!

Do yourself a favor and back your work up as often as possible! You never know when your computer will turn on you, wiping away a day, week, or even MONTHS of hard work.


The Perfectionist Problem.

Being a bit of a perfectionist, it’s impossible for me to send my beta an incomplete manuscript. Oh no, I need to have the whole thing written, edited, revised, and edited again before I can send it to her. And even then, if it’s not quite where I want it to be, I get all nervous, knowing she’s reading something that’s not, well, perfect.

Which is so ridiculous.

Take my current manuscript. Novel Number Nine. I wrote the first draft and then went back and proceeded to rewrite a huge chunk of it. There are still a few parts that I’m not completely happy with, but after writing some chapters two, three times, I knew I needed a fresh pair of eyes to look at it. She’s currently reading through it for the first time, letting me know which parts don’t work. Those parts are usually the ones I had problems with, and after emailing one another back and forth, I’m able to finally turn the scenes into what I want them to be. The whole process is actually a lot of fun, too!

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write a chapter and pass it on to her just like that, without having the rest of the story written. Once a perfectionist, always a perfectionist. But at least I’m now able to pass along a flawed story without feeling (too) uneasy about it!


Distractions (the fun kind).

Progress report: I’ve managed to write every day since I started this new project on the 12th! This is very surprising, considering the distractions in my life:

I’m probably the last person alive to discover how amazing this series is! I’ve been wanting to watch it for awhile, but only just started a few short weeks ago. I’m in the middle of the third season, and hope to catch up soon. It’d be great if I could watch the new episodes as they air! But seriously, The Big Bang Theory is great. I’ve never laughed this hard over a TV show, ever.

I don’t play very many video games, but I’m a huge, huge fan of the Kingdom Hearts series. I own and played every game in the franchise, and right now I’m in the middle of their newest one, Dream Drop Distance for the 3DS (no spoilers, please!). What’s not to love about these games? Great music, a chance to interact with Disney characters and their worlds, and, of course, a compelling storyline. When I play these games, I end up devoting a few months of my life to them, trying to get every little thing so I can get the secret endings. Needless to say, this game is constantly calling to me, begging me to play it.

And, of course, books. I’m not happy if I’m not reading. I read as fast as I can, and still, my to-read list never shrinks! But I’m definitely not complaining!

So how does one compete against these distractions? My usual routine is: write first, fun stuff later. I’ll “reward” myself with some game time if I can pump out 1000 words in the manuscript. Things like that. I also find the writing itself fun, so it’s not like I’m forcing myself to get through work so I can go play. If there’s ever a time while writing where I do feel like it’s a chore, I take a step back. Churning out words just to make the word count go up does not equal good writing. If I’m not enjoying it, I probably won’t enjoy what I’ve written, either. Luckily this doesn’t happen too often. Maybe it’s all these distractions that help keep me happy!


The Beginning.

I started a new work today! As in a brand new story, set in a brand new world, with a brand new set of characters. It’s an idea I’ve been playing with for the past couple of weeks; I had an idea and I’ve been expanding on it whenever I can. Today I actually sat down with my trusty notebook, jotting down some notes. I’m not the type of person that has to outline every single little detail before I can write, but I like to write down the general direction I want the story to go. Of course, none of this is set in stone, and it’s fun to go back and look at my notes when I’ve finished the first draft to see the differences. I don’t even know how I want this story to end, but I’ll figure that out while I’m writing. That’s how my brain works!

The only reason why I didn’t start writing the moment I came up with the idea was because I didn’t have any names picked out. And as you know from this post, I can’t write unless my characters have names. I was hesitant about starting a brand new story (as when I write, the story consumes me like a black hole, taking over my life until I’ve finished it. Also, I forget how to speak properly. And I have crazy, bizarre dreams. I’m not exactly sane during the process!), so I refused to even think about names. But the story was calling to me today, so I spent some time browsing through sites and playing around with letters. Once I got my names (for the main characters only. Apologizes to the secondary characters, but I spend very little time on their names!), I was ready to start.

Like usual, I found it hard to tear myself away from the computer, and I wrote almost 2000 words. Already the story is surprising me, with the main character acting not quite as I intended her to. But that’s not a bad thing! And also like usual, even when I’m not sitting down and writing, I’m working on future scenes–see why I don’t have to worry about not having an ending just yet? It’ll come to me when my brain is ready. Usually this is when I’m trying to fall asleep at night (hmm, maybe that’s why I have strange dreams?).

I’m going to chart my progress this time around, recording how many words I write per day. It might only be interesting to me, but I can share it if anyone would like to see. Maybe on a weekly basis? While I have no deadline for this, I want to continue my tradition of writing everyday (unless I have a headache, in which I then go to bed extra early and try to write even more the next day!). Wish me luck! Anyone else working on a project right now? How’s that going?


The Not So Dreaded Synopsis.

When you’re querying, you will find that most agents request a synopsis along with a query. The synopsis, for those of you who don’t know, is a short summary of your book. In other words, you need to take your 74,000 word novel and summarize it in 500 words! Fun, right?

Impossible, I declared. I complained and cried, pouted and moaned, and finally sat my butt down and wrote. First attempt, 1400 words. Okay, that’s a bit too long. I cried some more, and then my lovely friend shared a great link in which the author summarized Star Wars in a few short, compact paragraphs. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen that movie enough times to know it backwards and forwards, but after reading the synopsis, something just clicked. My second attempt was in the 500 word range, and became the synopsis I used when querying agents. And I actually had fun while writing it! Who expected that? Certainly not me!

So what did I do? I focused on the facts by following the main storyline that starts at the beginning and takes us all the way through to the end. Anything that I considered a side story, or not important to the main storyline, I omitted. Sure, it’s still important, but when you’re trying to tell an agent your entire story in about 500 words, you really don’t need to write about a fight your main character had with her parents when it’s quickly resolved a few chapters later, no harm done. If the fight she had with her parents triggered something major to happen, then yes, you would include it. But all the little things that happen to your characters that you may have spent weeks writing? Don’t even mention them in your synopsis.

You also need to keep your sentences precise and to the point. Use as little words as possible, and don’t feel weird if you’re summarizing an entire chapter in one sentence. That’s actually really good! Each word is important, so make sure they all count!

The main reason I had fun while writing the synopsis was because I stuck as close to my narrator’s voice as possible. Yes, my book was written in the first person and yes, the synopsis must be written in the third person, but as I wrote it, I imagined that my narrator was telling the story. For example, how did she feel when this scene happened? Writing with your character in mind gives the synopsis a unique flair, making it much more interesting than the basic “and then this happened” ones.

Coming up with a working synopsis will take time, so don’t give up if your first few attempts are too long or too wordy. Keep trying (you might want to start from scratch each time, but that’s up to you), and eventually you will succeed! Good luck! For more tips, please see this great post!


What’s In A Name?

I don’t follow a strict set of rules when I name my characters, except that I absolutely must have their name decided before I write them. And once it’s decided, it can’t be changed. It’s weird, but after I’ve picked out the perfect name, something clicks in my brain, and there’s no going back. It’s their name, I can’t change it! (Although there was one time where I was forced to change a character’s name because it was too similar to another character’s name and I still to this day refer to her by her original name… what a disaster!)

Usually, I create the character first, deciding on their physical traits (hair and eye color, etc) before settling on a name. If I’m writing a fantasy story, it’s a little easier to pick a name as I can usually make it up. For contemporary novels, like THE SIGHT SEER, I searched baby name webpages for both common and uncommon names. There was one character in THE SIGHT SEER that gave me trouble, though. I scoured webpages, asked my family for suggestions, but his name just wasn’t coming to me! Each day of writing took me closer and closer to his first appearance, and I began to panic when finally, I figured out what I wanted to call him. I find the whole thing ironic because this character is a total pain in the butt; it figures he would make me crazy over something like this! A few months later, I was stuck yet again on a character that would appear in the proposed sequel. I had two names in mind, but couldn’t make a choice. One night, I had a dream about him and another character; the second character (whose name I already knew) called the first character by one of the names I had picked out. I woke up and thought, “Ah, so that’s his name!” I owe that second character a big thank you for making that difficult decision for me!

Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I’ll stumble across an amazing name and develop a character around it. It usually doesn’t work like this, but it’s great when it does. I also like to keep a notebook handy and write down a name that catches my eye so that in the future, when I’m stuck on a name, I can consult my list.  This is helpful for naming secondary characters–I’ll admit it, I spend a lot more time naming main characters than I do on the ones who only get a few lines here or there. That’s why my main characters will have amazing (well, I think they’re amazing!) names while the secondary characters end up with common names. I’m not going to waste a great name on just anyone!

For all the writers out there, how do you go about naming your characters?


The Dreaded Query.

My friend Amy recently wrote a fantastic post about querying, which you can read here. For anyone who plans on querying, this is a must-read!

It also saves me from writing my own post about querying. In all honestly, I was rather awful at it! I wrote about six or seven drafts, and ended up sending two different versions out. After the first version received zero requests, I wrote a more personal version and got my first (and only!) request for a full read. Luckily for me, that one request turned in to an offer, and I no longer had to worry about querying. I should probably mention that I only sent out twenty-six queries, so I’m not sure if the newer, better version would have received more requests for partial/full reads. Maybe, maybe not. All I know is, I did not enjoy writing queries!

But I did have fun with the synopsis, a topic I hope to address in an upcoming post!