Surprising Myself

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I just finished reading over the first draft of Featherfolk! When I began, I wasn’t sure if the manuscript had sat long enough for me to gain the distance and fresh eyes I need to revise.

As I read, I realized enough time had passed. I kept discovering small twists and turns I forgot I wrote. One bit the other day was so perfect and unexpected. It made me feel very clever indeed.

Thinking back, that particular twist was not part of my original outline. It came to me as I wrote, following naturally from the words and scenes I’d already typed.

I want to do that. Over and over. I want to surprise and delight myself.

Because if I can do that, I can surprise and delight others.

And that’s why I wanted to tell stories in the first place.

Happy Yarning!

Let it Go (Reprise)

squirrely plot with feather

Remember what I said at the beginning of the month, about going back to finish Gwen’s story?

Well, I decided it’s not the right time yet–for a number of reasons.

I’m going to rewrite Featherfolk instead. The plot is solid. I forsee mostly tweaking the cultures and magic systems, fixing character inconsistencies, and addressing pacing/POV issues, but we’ll see what else comes up as I re-read the whole draft.

I’ll give myself part of August to research and plan, then spend September and likely October rewriting. I definitely want to have the second draft finished before our baby arrives in November.

Here goes!

Happy yarning.

Let It Go

squirrely plot diagram

While Raven is stepping out on submission, I’ve decided to turn my efforts to his sequel, Gwenolwyn and the Crystal Vault. This was my NaNoWriMo project last November, and while I “won” NaNo by hitting 50,000 words, I have not finished the first draft of Gwen’s story.

In addition, I sort of went off the rails around 30,000 words and most of what followed will need to be scrapped.

So where to start?

I’m starting by stepping back and deciding what story I want to tell.

I’m brainstorming. I’m letting go of what the manuscript is and looking at what it could be. Once I figure that out, I’ll pick up roughly where I left off, but tell the story as it should have been. When I reach the end, I’ll go back and retell the beginning until I meet myself in the middle. (Hey, it worked for Raven.)

I’m not worrying about how much work it will take to incorporate some of the ideas I’ve come up with. After all, watering a live plant is much more productive than watering a dead one.

Gwen’s story is more complicated than Raven’s. It gets darker. It gets more dangerous. But I want to tell it.

I’ll keep you posted.

Happy Yarning!

P.S. Happy Independence Day! Our country is far from perfect, but it’s the only United States of America we’ve got.

The Agent Hunt Begins

It’s time for Raven to test his wings (pun so intended). With the help of friends and family, I believe I’ve polished the manuscript up as much as I can.

Compiling a list of agents to query, checking all their submission guidelines, scrolling queryshark to learn the dos and don’ts–it’s all starting to feel a lot like hunting for a job, which is one of the the most miserable things I’ve ever had to do.

It makes me want to retreat to a safer task, like sewing or knitting. Something where if I screw up nobody has to know, and I can always go back and fix it.

But that’s not going to get me published.

This last weekend I had the opportunity to help out with a conference for the teens in my congregation. The theme for the conference was Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

It seems I needed to hear that message as much as the kids did.

I can do hard things. I can face inevitable rejection.

Will Raven’s story get published? Maybe. Will I learn how to be a better and more professional author? Yes. Will my experiences help me get something else published someday? Definitely!

So I’m going to grit my teeth and send out those first queries–and try to keep things in perspective.

Happy Yarning!

Editing Has a Bedtime

Last night I hit it again. That wall where suddenly every comment on my work puts my hair on end, and I wonder how I ever thought anyone would want to read this manuscript. After scrolling with mounting ire through a few more comments, I look at the clock, and oh… that’s why.

I tend to get to that state by about 9 pm regardless of how much editing I’ve done during the day. (And yesterday I’d binge-edited eight chapters by that point.)

So I said “I’m done,” and tucked my manuscript in for the night. Even though I wanted to finish up the draft, it just wasn’t going to happen. I have learned that editing while tired is more likely to result in frustration and tears than improvements to the draft.

Hey, look, a metaphor!

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Millstones had patterns of radiating arcs cut into them so they would grind better. Periodically the patterns had to be re-cut because they would become worn down. This is one of the millstones I saw at the windmill by Sanssoucci Palace in Potsdam, Germany.

Don’t try to keep grinding away at your draft with a dull millstone. Rest when you need to.

Here’s to a new day, new energy, new insights, and new creativity.

Happy Yarning!

Editing Hack: My Husband is a Genius

This is what my work area looks like as I’m composing this post.

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See that thing over to the left? Yes, that collapsible music stand holding the marked-up manuscript.

This is how the conversation went this morning as I attampted to transfer edits into my Scrivener file from my marked hard copy:

“Arrrrgh. I can’t get this stupid folder to sit anywhere useful!”

“…Well, it’s too bad we don’t have any sort of metal stand for holding papers.”

“Oh…and too bad it isn’t totally sitting in the corner right here…” I grabbed it and set it up.

So if you ever need something to hold papers by your computer, just grab that collapsible music stand you hardly ever use for its actual purpose anymore.

This editing hack is brought to you by my amazing and creative husband. ^_^

Happy Yarning!

Which Project to Pursue?

 

Which manuscript copy

At the end of Camp NaNoWriMo, I had a conundrum. My Camp project was 50,000 words long, but several chapters shy of “The End.” Meanwhile, I had a mostly-finished fourth draft of another story to finish up, which I’d set aside for the month of April. And upon picking that up once more, I realized it was going to need more than a quick read-through to finalize the draft.

What to work on?

Raven’s story was begging to be finished so I could start querying agents and trying to get it published, yet if I were to put Lia’s story away, losing all my excitement and momentum, I knew I might not get back to it for a long, long time.

Working on both simultaneously also wasn’t looking good. I have to turn on super-editing-mode at this point with Raven, and getting the editor to shut up when I want to pump out a first draft was causing Lia’s story to stall out.

(Not to mention they take place in different universes, with different cultures and magic systems. Lia’s story alone contains three distinct magic systems and three different narrators.)

After whining about it to my writing buddy Whitney, I came to a decision. I’ll let Raven sit and stew a little longer. After all, it didn’t hurt him during April. I’m going to stop being lazy and sprint for the end of Lia’s story with NaNoWriMo-esque speed.

Happy Yarning! (<–my battle cry)

What creative conundrums have you faced and vanquished lately?

 

Writing Groups and Why They Rock My Socks

If you’re serious about writing, find yourself a writing group.

My favorite creative writing professor, Carol Lynch Williams, assigned the class to work in writing groups, and I am hooked.

As a part-time housewife/part-time writer, I’ve been able to meet the demands of two separate groups at once. Both groups are based several states away, and I participate via skype, thanks to modern technology and my friends’ willingness to deal with me as a talking head. ( 😀 Thanks, guys!) From any given 1000 words of my manuscript, the two groups often come up with different pointers. I have had so much fun, and I’ve gained a crazy amount of help from my wonderful groups.

From my experience, here are five good reasons to be in at least one writing group:

1) A group will keep you accountable. There will be someone you have to say “sorry” to when you don’t submit anything. If, like me, you don’t have deadlines from editors or publishers (yet), making a commitment to a group of friends can help keep you writing and revising.

2) A group can be a great regular ego boost. My sister taught me that you can’t be an artist unless you think you’re better than everyone else and you deserve attention. Strong confidence is important for being a writer as well. Having a group who can tell you what they like about your manuscript and what points of craft you’re good at is a blessing. (That pile of a heck-of-a-lot-of other points of craft I’m not a star at yet can be pretty intimidating.)

3) You get to critique more manuscripts. When you come across a hole in a friend’s work and help her come up with ways to fix it, you hone problem-solving skills that you can then apply to your own plot holes.

4) Inside jokes. (Collar bones O.o) Enough said.

5) You get regular feedback. No matter how awesome your story is in your head or how amazing you believe your manuscript is, your work is not done until every scene is clearly communicated in the text. While ego and confidence are important, it’s way better for your ego to take a blow than for your manuscript to sit unpolished and unread.

So find a writing group. Or start one. You already know writers among your friends and family. Pick two or three that are close to your level of talent and motivation (doesn’t matter what genres they write), and start swapping segments of your manuscripts. Once a week, once a month, however often you can.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here anyway.

Happy Yarning!

How Much Worldbuilding is Too Much Worldbuilding?

Can you build your fictional world too much? Not really, no.

The more you know about the culture, customs, geography, dialects, religion, mythology, technology, creatures, magic, and what-have-you of your world, the more you’ll be able to make that world three dimensional for your readers.

You can think of your world in three “dimensions”: Geography, Culture, and Conflict. Pretty much any facet of your world can be stuck under one of those.

Here’s a lovely graphic:

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It’s important to develop in all three of these dimensions as you build your world. Also, the dimensions need to be balanced. Drawing a really neat map isn’t much good if it makes no sense in the context of the culture you built; coming up with a language for your main character’s society doesn’t help much if it’s incongruous with conflicts and changes in the society’s history.

Consider how the three dimensions affect each other. For example:

  • How do waterways affect your main character’s society? (Geography -> Culture)
  • How do barrier-type landforms, resource-rich regions, or climate affect current and past conflicts? (Geography -> Conflict)
  • How do religious or cultural differences between groups affect borders? (Culture -> Geography)
  • Do different versions of history create conflict between groups? (Culture -> Conflict)
  • What battle-scars or ruins have been left on the face of your land? (Conflict -> Geography)
  • What group does your main character’s society ridicule or fear because of past interactions? (Conflict -> Culture)

While we all like a well-developed world, character is almost always what keeps readers reading. Whether you build a character within an existing world or you build a world around an existing character, consider how the geography, culture, and conflict affects him or her.

You can’t do “too much” worldbuilding, but you definitely can do too little writing. Nobody’s going to care about your world unless you tell a story (even J. R. R. Tolkien had to tell stories to get people to care about Middle Earth). If you find yourself worldbuilding as a way to procrastinate writing actual words, stop. You’ve got enough to go on. Finish your first draft, and then go back to building the world. Revise accordingly.

In addition, while it never hurts for you to know more about your world, don’t bombard your readers with facts and histories that aren’t critical to the plot of your story. Again, nobody cares how such-and-such overthrew such-and-such unless there’s a story with engaging characters. Maybe you can write more books in the same world to tell those stories, maybe your readers will never know, or maybe someone will publish your notes Silmarillion-style after you’re dead. Either way, resist the urge to explain.

Happy Worldbuilding!

The Ten Commandments of Taking Criticism

Ten commandments of taking criticism

Does this sight make you jump up and down with joy? It should, but it doesn’t, right?

As feedback from my lovely beta readers trickles in, I realize I’m not as good at taking criticism as I want to be. So I wrote up some rules for myself. Enjoy.

#1 Thou shalt not take any critique personally; receiving feedback is a sign that others do indeed think thee and thy manuscript are worth the effort.

#2 Thou shalt not get defensive (thy readers may actually know what they are talking about).

#3 Thou shalt break critiques into manageable chunks.

#4 Thou shalt consider EVERY SINGLE SUGGESTION.

#5 Thou shalt ask thy reader(s) for clarification.

#6 Thou shalt thank thy reader(s).

#7 Thou shalt revise.

#8 Thou shalt solicit more feedback.

#9 Thou shalt not give up even though thou art clearly a horrible, horrible writer who shall never accomplish anything with thy life.

#10 Thou shalt reward thy diligence with breaks and treats (within reason).

Now I’d better get off the internet and work on #3 and #7.