Sunday, January 28, 2018

Writing is Rewriting is Rewriting is Rewriting

2018 Goal Update:
Books read this year: 9
Chapters left to revise: 5

At this point, I should get "revision is taking longer than I expected" printed on a t-shirt. Life gets in the way--both for me and for my critique partner. The job that pays my bills takes up big chunks of my time and leaves me drained. I still manage to work on revisions five or six days out of seven, but the amount that I'm able to get done is a session is less than I want it to be. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. My CP has the final two chapters. More of the manuscript has been through revision than hasn't. A couple of the chapters coming up are going to require fewer major structural changes.

But it's still a slog.


Memory is a weird thing. I've written and revised projects before--novellas, novels, shorts, even my graduate thesis. I've done this before. But the process feels so new.

When it comes to my work, I remember the beginnings. The first sit-downs with an idea are tucked into my brain like photographs in a scrapbook. I remember the pitches. I remember the proofs, my last look at the piece before it's finalized. I remember the whirlwind of releases.

Revisions, though, exist as a huge black void in my memory. Which might be why this process has felt like a fresh new hell.

If I'm being fair, I've never done revisions as extensive as the ones I'm doing now. EVIN got accepted with very few changes (in hindsight, I should have held onto it longer and done more work, but the whole process was very new at the time and I was sort of flying blind). I don't typically do revisions on shorter pieces, so "Red Snow" and "Smoke" were both published looking more or less the same as they did in first draft. "Lady or the Dagger" required only some changes in blocking.

CANUS, though, is a beast. It's more complicated than previous work I've done. There are more moving pieces, more points of view, more threads to tie together. It's more ambitious. Every part of it has stretched my abilities. So it makes sense that fixing it--taking the ideas and the moments and the lines and smoothing them into an actual book--would be more complicated.

Revision notes for chapters 16 and 17--zoomed out because spoilers

I'm getting close, I think. The first sixteen chapters are stronger than they were, and I've hope that the last five can be whipped into shape. But I have lately been thinking about the days when I thought writing was easy: come up with a cool idea and throw it on a page. Boom, done. I know now that it's not that simple; that I only thought it was because I didn't really know what I was doing.

Do I wish it was easier? Yeah, sometimes. It'd be nice to be done with the revisions, to have a gleaming manuscript to send out on query. Still, I think the struggle, the process, the work has been and continues to be worthwhile. It'll make this manuscript better. It'll make starting the next all the sweeter.

In the meantime, I have to put away the cookie dough and get off the floor. This book's not gonna fix itself.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Spark

Late stages of a work in progress are usually when I start putting the pieces together for the next thing I'm going to work on. Having something new to work on helps keep the panic at bay when I'm waiting to hear back about a piece that's with a reader or being queried.

One of people's favorite questions to ask writers is a question that I hate answering. If I mention starting something new or if someone finds out that I write, they always ask the same thing: where do your ideas come from?

My first issue with this question is the suggestion that the ideas exist fully-formed somewhere outside the writer, and we stroll in with a shopping bag and toss in the ones we want to keep. As though ideas pop into our heads instant and fully-formed like some kind of reverse Athena. Those instant moments of total inspiration are not impossible, but they're more part of the fictionalized image of writers than a typical fact of the work.

The second problem with this question is that there's not one answer. And I don't mean that there's not one answer for every writer (thought there isn't). I mean that I don't have one answer for me.

Every project is different. Evin started with staring at a poster of a panther for a few minutes too long. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" was the result of a marathon of noir movies and a personal challenge. With "Red Snow, PI," I had a prompt to start with.

As I wind down CANUS (Project 2016--or the first third of it, anyway), I've been on the lookout for new ideas. I've got a couple of loose novel outlines in the trunk, and while I really like both, neither has me fired up the way I want and I've got two short pieces I need to work on that I'm not sure where start with.

Looking for ideas is a little like waiting for water to boil. If you keep your eyes on the pot, it may not take longer to get going, but it'll definitely feel a lot longer. I've been trying to let things come in their own time, but the waiting makes me nervous.

I went into my last writing group meeting with nothing. I'm not at a place with CANUS where getting a couple thousand words critiqued by the group is going to help the project. I haven't started anything new since the secret project back in November, and I don't have more than a character name and a vague setting for the LIBRARIUM story. I figured the best that I could hope for was that I'd have something helpful to give the group members who had actually produced something.

Critique didn't take up as much of the meeting as it typically does, so we ended by doing a writing exercise.

The exercise was simple enough--you got a photo and twenty minutes to write something about it. I've done these kinds of exercises before. Usually, I get a few paragraphs of something not so great. And I didn't churn out great prose this time, either.

But I did find a spark. The photo I got, the couple of pages I wrote, stuck in my brain. The "what ifs" started spinning in my brain--a slow burn of a story taking shape. Nothing sudden. Nothing spiraling like the start of Evin. No specific character sketches like with Project 2016. But the spark. The first part of a fire like I haven't felt since starting Project 2016.

I made a few notes when I got home-- a high-concept pitch and a vague summary.

It doesn't help with the short projects, but it is exciting to know what comes next after CANUS.

By the end of 2018, I hope to have an alpha draft of my next project: BRUSHSTROKES.

I don't know how to explain where the ideas come from, how something goes from a nebulous question in the back of the brain to something you have to put on the page. I guess in the end it doesn't really matter, as the spark finds you and you don't let it go.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Resource Roundup

The second week of 2018 has been more productive than the first, at least. I'm working on my fifth read of the year. I've made a little progress on revisions (though not nearly as much as I'd wanted to by now). I made it to the first writing group meeting of the year. I finally have an idea for the LIBRARIUM story.

I also got hit with a new idea, which means that FETCH might get put on the back burner. Again.

Anyway, one of the things I wanted to do was make a list of all of the resources I've made use of in 2017. I thought about doing this in the last weeks of last year, but other things came up.

By which I mean I got distracted watching a truly staggering amount of Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super (Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to have Funimation subscriptions and '90s anime nostalgia).

I'm focused again now, so I figure it's time to share that list.

This year, I dug around on twitter and on the internet trying to find ways to improve my writing and tips on how to connect with others in the industry. I've cut up the list into categories: hashtags, websites, and podcasts.

HASHTAGS
  • #MSWL--the official Manuscript Wishlist hashtag. This is a great place to get an idea of what agents are looking for, and to see if there's someone out there who's looking for a project like yours
  • #pubtip--a hashtag where folks in the publishing industry share tips, advice, and insight into how the publishing industry works.
  • #querytip-- similar to #pubtip, this hashtag tracks advice specific to the querying stage of the process
  • #writetip--writers, agents, editors, and the like share advice on various aspects of writing--from structure, revision, and writer tool boxes to advice on dealing with imposter syndrome and the trials and tribulations of being published
  • Various Twitter pitch parties-- there are several opportunities each year to pitch your project on twitter in the hopes of connecting with someone looking for the type of work you do. These hashtags are used on the day of the contest to direct agents and editors to pitches, but on non-contest days, you can sometimes find writing and pitching advice, critique partners, and a supportive community. A few of these hashtags are #PitMad, #DVPit (for diverse, Own Voices authors), #PitchSlam, #SFFPit and #PBPit. You can always do a quick Google search to find more or follow agents on twitter.
 WEBSITES
  • The Manuscript Academy--This has been one of my most-used resources this year. Created by an author and an agent, The Manuscript Academy offers classes, critique sessions, and a database of agents and editors for writers to dig through. Whatever issue you're having with your work and whatever experience level you're at, there's something of use here. I've personally gotten query critiques, a first-page critique, a first ten pages critique, and a first fifty pages critique. The "faculty" are agents and editors with bios you can review before booking sessions. The feedback I've received through these sessions has be incredibly valuable. As much as I've complained about the reworks required for Project 2016, it's a much better MS than it was before.
  • Writer's Digest--Maybe an obvious inclusion on this list, but Writer's Digest consistently shows up with useful tidbits, announcements, and contests. Here, you can find articles on the writing and publishing process, tips on how to deal with issues in your writing, announcements for new agents, information about writing conferences, and various short fiction contests. 
  • The Plot Line Hotline--Where most of the resources listed here are curated by others, the Plot Line Hotline gives writers the opportunity to ask specific questions. Six writers run the website, fielding questions on aspects of the writing process--though they don't take questions on publishing.
  • Wendy Heard's Critique Partner MatchUp--Finding feedback is one of the most important parts of revision. Speaking for myself, I frequently can't see the forest for the trees when it comes to judging my own work. I'm not great at finding the things that someone fresh to the story can see. But it is so hard to find someone willing to do a thorough read of 80,000 plus words. This site lets you put your name in to be matched with another author of similar experience and genre. You and your partner can serve as fresh eyes for each other's work. The next round of matches are being made this month, so this is a great time to get in on this.
  • Writers Helping Writers (Bookshelf Muse)-- This blog is where the Emotion Thesaurus originated. Here, you can find articles on the craft of writing from plotting to revision and special entries on how to use unexpected aspects of the story to make your work more immersive and specific. 
  • Query Tracker--A great resource for querying writers. This site has an easy-to-search database to help you find agents that represent your genre and to keep up with who is open to queries. Basic access is free (and all that I've used, personally), but premium access allows you to keep track of your responses, to view agent data, and track response time. Basic users can view comments and contact information on listed agents. 
PODCASTS
  • Writing Excuses--A long-running weekly podcast hosted by a number of published writers. The episodes are short (fifteen minutes, per their tagline), which is great if you're busy. Though the hosts sometimes delve into the publishing industry and process, the main focus of this podcast is craft. Each season has a different theme. This year, the theme is character. Their (lengthy) backlog of episodes is available on their website.
  • PubCrawl Podcast--Publishing Crawl is a blog chock-full of writers resources. The PubCrawl Podcast is a specific offshoot of this blog, hosted by an author and an agent. Episode topics range from the mechanics of the publishing industry (they have a whole series on contracts) to aspects of craft and frequently include recommendations for other resources. And books. 
  • The Manuscript Academy--Connected to the website mentioned before, the Manuscript Academy podcast is hosted by the website's creators. The episodes range from query critiques, first page reactions, agent Q & As, and information about the publishing industry. 
And that's my list! Hopefully, some of these resources can help you on your writing journey. What are some of your favorite writing resources? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Resolutions

The new year is a full week old, and, if I'm being honest, it hasn't been as productive as I would have liked. The mania of the end of the semester and the holidays has past, and it took all of my motivation and energy with it. In the last few days, I've worked slowly back into some semblance of a schedule and made (glacial) progress.

There are still 51 weeks left in 2018--enough time to get some serious work done.

I'm a in a lot of ways. I like to have a solid idea of what I need to do and the time in which I have to do it. Even when I don't manage to do all of the things that I plan (which is more often than I'd like), have a list, a goal, makes me more productive. So, for my first post of 2018, I thought I'd nail down my plan--my 2018 Writing Resolutions.

This year, I want to

  • Finish revisions on CANUS
  • Start querying CANUS
  • Write the first draft of FETCH
  • Get FETCH to first-round readers
  • Write and revise a short story for LIBRARIUM
  • Attend at least one author event as a vendor
  • Attend at least one writing conference
  • Read at least fifty books
  • Continue regularly attending writing group meetings
  • Enter at least one writing competition
  • Continue to blog on a (somewhat) regular basis
There are other things I want, too--to land an agent, to sell books, to get a contract for Canus. But with this list, I wanted to focus on the things that are under my control. At the end of the day, I can't make an agent sign me. I can't make a publisher want to take the risk on my work. I can polish my work and make it as clean and professional as I can. I can sit down and do the writing to get a first draft on the page. I can put myself out there at events and take whatever opportunities there are to improve my craft and meet and work with experts.

Last year was a weird one for me as far as writing goes. I wrote a few short pieces, but most of my writing in 2017 was revision. It's going to be strange to drafting again. First drafts are strange beasts no matter the circumstances, but I haven't written a first draft of a novel since 2016. Starting a new project is going to be a learning experience--but it always is.

Letting go of CANUS is going to be strange, too. This manuscript has been my main focus for nearly two years, and the characters have been with me for more than ten. I'll come back to that world and it's characters, but after this round of revisions, I'm going to have to take some time and step away from the project. I love this novel, but it's time to work on other things.

I don't know what my 2018 will hold, and I don't know how successful I'll be, but it's nice to have an actionable plan. Here's hoping the focus on doing what I can will yield results.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Reflection

This year has been a strange one for writing. In 2017, my workload at my three day jobs was heavier than it has ever been-- teaching six courses across three campuses is no joke. Some health issues that had been pretty well in hand flared up worse than they ever have. And the general social-political climate has been a dumpster fire. I laid plans for what I wanted to accomplish this year, but most of them have had to be set aside or reworked, for better or worse.

But, even amid the chaos, 2017 has been a productive year. My single shot "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" finally hit digital shelves. My Mata Hari short story got picked up for an anthology, and final proofs are in. I sold a 20k word novella to a publisher, and it should be out sometime in 2018. MY writing group published our short story anthology. Most of these things weren't part of the plan, but I'm chalking them up as successes anyway.

If I really sit and think about it, I probably made at least as much progress this year as last year. I got words on the page and honed my revision skills. I (mostly) kept writing a habit--not writing every day, but writing more days than not, which is in the end the best I can ask for considering my schedule. I finished the things I started.  I met my deadlines, if only just. But 2017's progress looks very different from 2016's.

Last year was all about getting a novel first draft to completion. The words that I put down in 2016 were all aimed at getting a solid draft one of Project 2016 pinned down. This year has lacked that single-minded focus, at least until the last couple of months. I suppose 2017 was an exploration in shorter fiction. Most of this year's output was on the shorter end. I completed three projects this year: the 20K novella, the 12K Mata Hari story, and the 5K story for the writing group anthology--this compared to the 85K of words initially written for Project 2016 last year.

It exercises a different part of my brain to write shorter fiction. I'm able to be a little more experimental. Even though I still like going in with a plan, I usually don't have solid outlines for shorter work. I take my pitch and pin down a few specific plot points or set pieces from there and pants my way through. More often than not, I end up having to go in a direction that I didn't anticipate (usually because I forgot to include some aspect from the pitch until way late). This practice in rolling with the punches has been helpful in the Project 2016 revision process--but more on that later.

This year also marks the first time I've written characters that I didn't create--outside of fanfiction, that is. It's an interesting challenge to mold how you approach a character to the expectations of someone else. I'm not sure I always did it successfully, but writing with a set of restraints has made me more aware of how well I'm sticking to the established code for a character.

I wrote some new work this year, but if I really had to say what the biggest writing challenge for 2017 has been, I'd say it was revision. Project 2016 has seen a pretty serious overhaul this year, starting in October after a first-ten-pages review through Manuscript Academy (I cannot recommend this site enough--I've gotten so much valuable insight through using it). This led to a restructuring of chapter 1, which led me to seek out a critique partner. Author Wendy Heard manages a great service for writers seeking a critique partner: someone with a similar level of experience who writes in similar categories who will look through your entire manuscript to help you figure out what aspects need fixing. You just fill out the google form in the link above, and she and her partners find a match for you. I found a great CP through this (shout out to Colleen!) who's helped me make Project 2016 a stronger piece.

I'm not new to revising. This isn't even close to the first round of revisions that Project 2016 has been through. But where I've struggled in the past is the depth of revisions. I'm really good at making cosmetic changes--adding a new coat of paint, essentially. Most of the time, though, the revisions that I really need to make are more structural--not just sprucing up the surface, but changing something in the foundation. That roll-with-the-punches skill I talked about developing with short fiction has been essential here. There have been sections that have had to undergo blank-page rewrites: I've had to scrap whole scenes, sometimes whole chapters, and write them again from scratch. It's the hardest work I've ever done, and I'm not always happy about doing it, but there's no arguing with the results.

I've also figured out my process for dealing with critique. It's a weird thing--I know my work isn't perfect. I even know that it has serious flaws in some places. But I don't like someone pointing the flaws out, even though that's the whole point of having a critique partner. I've gotten really upset about some of the revisions that have been suggested. I've griped and moaned and complained. And then I've soldiered on.

What usually happens is that I take an initial look at the comments. I get mad and huffy. I complain. But I don't cross any of the comments out. I leave them and come back, usually after a day or two. Then I'm able to take a step back and ask some questions. Did I bump against this because I don't want to do all the work it would require? Did my CP miss a small item earlier in the chapter/story and how much of that is quick reading or gaps between seeing chapters and how much of it is a hint that I didn't drop well enough? Does this comment indicate that I didn't describe what was going on with a character well enough? Does this suggestion go against the planned thread of the story, and does that suggest that I didn't set up something well enough earlier?

More often than not, I end up making the suggested changes, at least in part. One of my most common conclusions is something like, "Yeah, okay, this is a problem, but that's not the solution I want to go with." It's been a lot of work. A LOT of work, and I'm just over halfway done. But the work's been worth it. When I sent in my first 50 pages for an agent critique, the comments were overwhelmingly positive. Even if they did lead to (another) rewrite of chapter 1.

I feel like I've done so much work this year, but it also seems like I've had less to show for it. In 2016, my first novel was published, and it was a big deal. I've seen two projects through to publication in 2017, and I'm relatively proud of both--I'd argue that both are better written than my first novel, at least. But I've watched some of my fellow writers outpace me, publish two or three books in the time it's taken me to get to a point where I'm ready to move forward with this one. It's not a race, I know, and my work will ultimately benefit from the time I've taken with it. Still, 2017 has left me feeling a little stuck in the mud.

The year's almost over, and there's still work to be done. I hope to be query-ready in early 2018. Once Project 2016 is querying, I'm ready to start something new. I'd like to finish an alpha draft of my next book in 2018, and I know I'll have a few shorter pieces that'll need writing. Maybe next year I'll be able to find a better balance. Either way, the writing's not done. It never will be.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Favorite Reads from 2017

There are still a few weeks left in it, but I can safely say that 2017 has been a hell of a year. One positive thing that's come out of what's otherwise been pretty much a dumpster fire of a year is that I spent more time reading.

I've loved reading since I learned how, but it's been tough to make it a priority in recent years, between college, graduate school, work, and my own writing. But I've found that if I consider it part of my writing work--you can't write well unless you read, and you can't know the business of publishing unless you keep up with it--I put more effort toward it.

I set a conservative reading goal this year: 30 books from January 1 to December 31. I'm sitting at about 47 right now, and I'll likely make it to 50 before the year's out. That's still about half of where I'd like to be, but it's a start.

Around this time last year, I posted a list of my five favorite reads from 2016. I wanted to do the same this year, especially since I'd read so much more. This is that list.

I don't have very many rules for inclusion, but I do want to give some insight into how I built this particular list.

Books on this list don't have to have been published in 2017 (though many of the books I read this year were--following literary agents on Twitter definitely helps me keep up with new releases); I just have to have read them in 2017. I limit my list to one book per author, which came in handy this year, since I discovered a new favorite author and read a couple whole series this year. This list is for single books and not series, so, for series that I want to have represented, I pick one to represent the entire series.

I don't have a quota for what I read, but I do try to read across age groups and genres. I also make an effort to read underrepresented voices. This doesn't mean that I avoid books by white guys, but I try to make sure that they don't make up all of my reading list. This year, I came pretty close to gender parity. My specific goal for this year was to read more books by women of color, and I think I did that pretty well.

So, all that in mind, here's my list of favorite reads from 2017, in no particular order. And, as always, buy links are provided.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

 This is maybe an obvious choice, but there was no way this book wasn't going to be on my list. Angie Thomas's debut novel spent the better part of this year sitting at the top of the NYT Best Seller list. The Hate U Give follows Starr Carter a teenage girl who has to navigate the world of the mostly-white private school she attends and the mostly black urban neighborhood she where she lives. Her worlds collide when her childhood friend, Kahlil is the victim of a police shooting. Thomas creates characters that the reader becomes immediately attached to, and she gives a face and a point of connection to a larger social problem. Apart from being an emotional and entertaining read,  The Hate U Give provides an opportunity to build empathy. I started putting this book in other people's hands as soon as I finished reading it. I can't recommend this book enough.

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

The Last Colony is actually the third book in John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, all of which (except for the sixth and final book which I haven't been able to get my hands on) I read this year. Humans have built colonies in space, but they're not the only species vying for territory. Where the first two installments of this series are more concerned with battles in space, The Last Colony focuses on the struggle of keeping a colony afloat amid galactic conflict and under the thumb of a manipulative governing body. I recommend the entire series (or, you know, the five I've read), but this was my favorite of them.

 Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

I'm way behind the curve on this one. Bad Feminist came out in 2014, and Gay has published several books and stories since this one. I also read a collection of her short stories this year (Difficult Women), but this essay collection hit me hard. Gay writes about feminism from an intersectional perspective, discussing the ways that class, race, appearance, and sexuality all complicate the experience of womanhood and feminism. She writes about mass media and issues of representation, about the treacherous world women have to navigate, and about the internal struggles of feminist movements. Gay's style is forthright and personal, and she doesn't flinch away from difficult topics. Definitely a worthwhile read.

Want by Cindy Pon

This was another of the new releases I picked up this year after hearing about it from lit agents. Want is set in a near-future Taipei, where air pollution has hit levels that make it dangerous to go outside without a special climate controlled suit. But those suits aren't free, so the rich buy them up while the poor suffer and die from illnesses related to the pollution levels. Jason Zhou and his friends have a plan to change the status quo, but it involves Zhou going undercover as one of the wealthy elites he despises. Want hits a lot of my buttons: a hero that's willing to take questionable actions to achieve their goals (but who's also not immune to the emotional consequences of those actions); shady corporate actions; the relationship between quality and length of life and access to resources (can't get away from the sociology, I guess). Want is powerful and atmospheric, with elements of scifi and some pretty neat heists.

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

So, in a discussion with an agent at a conference, I mentioned that I wanted to write across age groups, to which the agent said, "Like Victoria Schwab?"

I said, "Yes, exactly!" And then decided that I should, you know, maybe read some of her stuff.

As of right now, I've read eight and a half (I'm not quite through The Near Witch) of her works since October, and I've loved each one. But her Monsters of Verity duology were my favorites. This Savage Song is the first in that duology. The story follows Kate Harker and August Flynn, a human and a monster who are on opposite sides of conflict in the city of Verity. Kate's the daughter of a crime boss who uses his influence to protect anyone who can pay from the monsters that roam the city. August is a powerful monster who's been raised by the man trying to make the city safe for everyone. Schwab's prose is beautiful, and this pair of books checks so many of my favorite-thing boxes. This Savage Song is the only book that I read twice this year. I loved this series so much; I think I'm gonna get a t-shirt made that just says "Talk to me about Monsters of Verity."

And that's my 2017 list. It's more YA-heavy than last years, but I don't think that's a bad thing.

What were some of your favorite reads this year? Let me know in the comments.


 

 


 

 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Light at the End

November turned out to be productive, but not as productive as I wanted. The novella is finished--or at least the first draft has been turned in to the publisher. The Downtown Writers anthology is out (you can get it here; proceeds go to the library). Revisions on Project 2016 are moving along, though it's slower going than I'd like. I plan to have revisions finished by the end of the year so that I can start querying again in January.

And also get started on my next manuscript. As much as I love Project 2016, I am ready for a change of pace.

This means I have quite a bit of work ahead of me. We're talking roughly three weeks to complete revisions on thirteen chapters, some of which have to be rewritten from scratch. Which means that I won't be able to devote the time to write the type of lengthy process posts that are the main content for this blog.

I'm not going completely silent, though. I'll take the weekends of Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve off, but there will be new posts the next two weeks.

It's December, which means the time is right for some year-end wrap-ups. Next week, I'll write about my five favorite reads of 2017. I had the chance to do a lot more reading this year than last and read things by authors I'd never read before, so I'm looking forward to delving into what books stole my heart this year and why.

After that, I'll have a post about my year in writing. There were some pretty big moments for me this year. Hopefully, I'll be able to announce some upcoming work. Even outside of publication, this was a big year for me as a writer. I did some good work, took some new chances, and became part of a larger writing community in ways I really hadn't been brave enough to before. I'll be looking back over what successes I had and trying to pin down the areas where I still need improvement.

For now, though, I have to get back to the grind. After all, the year's not over yet, and there's still so much to do.