ROW80 Check-In 2 – Starting a Novel from Scratch by Toni Kerr

Hello gentle reader,

if you’re here to enter my Dreaming of Books Giveaway, click on the image below:

dreaming hop

And if you’re here for my ROW80 Check-In, keep reading!

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So my goal for this round is simply to Write or edit every day.

I have to admit, I was a bit all over the place, this week. Here in southern England we have had a lot of snow, which means this has affected my personal and professional life (cancelled trips & the like). In terms of writing-related activities, I sent out a new batch of queries, beta-read a friend’s manuscript, started working on a new Secret WIP, read one book and handled an inbox full of old emails. So, that was my week.

Now let’s move on to an inspiring story to keep us motivated for the week to come. This week I’m sharing YA author Toni Kerr’s advice on starting a novel from scratch. I read this post on the Operation Awesome blog and I strongly suggest you check this blog out if you haven’t already.

Toni Kerr

“A blank slate can be just as overwhelming as a landscape of laundry and clutter on every surface. But instead of shielding my eyes and pretending it’s not there, I’ll explore the empty space with baby steps!
 
Why am I suddenly faced with a blank slate? Because I’ve invested 100% into one series—one set of characters with a fascinating set of circumstances that I absolutely love. I can’t stand walking away from that, but right now, while I wait for the editor’s letter, I have nothing to edit, nothing to revise, and nothing waiting in a file somewhere.  
 
I’ve accepted the fact (to some degree anyway) that I need to start something new, even if what I write never sees the light of day. I need to because I’ll go insane if I don’t (and certain writing friends would smack me upside the head).
 
But planning a novel from nothing is a new concept for me. My first novel ran without boundaries or guidelines. Not that I’m complaining about that, but I’m sure some pre-planning will save me countless hours and many many rounds of editing.  
 
And so, as with anything that seems overly daunting, I’ve broken my task into itsy-bitsy baby steps to help me get started. I haven’t written that first line yet, but now I know my genre. I have five strong characters and know exactly what makes them tick, how they relate with each other, and I know where they need to start and finish emotionally. I sort of know my theme, but I’m leaving wiggle room for change  as the story reveals itself.   
 
I’m sure there are as many ways to start a novel as there are writers, but from what I know now, that I didn’t know then… here’s what I’ve done to break it down.
 
Baby Step #1
Research Genres—to refresh your memory on definitions and basic word count expectations. It’ll save you from having a novel that doesn’t fit in a defined category, and from having to cut 40k because it’s way beyond a healthy range.
 
Baby Step #2
Theme—this might come later, but think about it now. There are many blogs and writing sites listing popular themes—some fit certain genres better than others, and they do spark a few ideas. Having a theme will keep the story on track.
 
Baby Step #3
Basic Plot—Sadly, most novels can be boiled down to these: overcoming the monster (be it society, some sort of evil, or another person); rags to riches; the quest; voyage and return; comedy; tragedy; rebirth. Even romance falls into these topics…
Baby Step #4
Brainstorm for Ideas! I didn’t love Nathan Bransford’s query formula when I was trying to write my query, but I was amazed by how simple the plot should be (according to his formula). I swore that for my next novel, I’d write the query blurb first, just to keep my plot THAT simple (I’ll of course let it grow from there). So here’s his formula:
 
[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist’s quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist’s goal].
 
Keep playing until one or two actually sound workable. Next, we need characters for whatever the great idea is.
Baby Step #5
Character’s Photo ID – I love sifting through Google images for characters. If I know the sex and age of my character, I usually start by searching hairstyles. For example: teen girl hairstyles. A search like this generates nice headshots, which I find most useful when I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for—a spark in the eye, maybe some attitude. I save images for every character as I find them, even though I might find something better later. If nothing jumps, I’ll alter the search. Such as ‘Emo girl hairstyles’, or, if I have more information, such as wanting red hair, I might try ‘Irish girl’.  
 
Baby Step #6
Give the characters a life – Start a new .doc for all your characters. I like to keep them all in ONE document, separated by section breaks. That way, when you need a very specific detail that you swear you wrote somewhere, you won’t have to search through multiple files to find it. (Been there!) Insert each character’s image and fill in the personals. Age.. goals.. interests… biggest regret.. and what’s keeping from reaching their biggest goal? The information will depend on the genre/age of the character. There are character sheets and interview forms available all over the place (gotta love Google!). I usually combine what works for me. I also like to add a few paragraphs about how each character relates to all the other (main) characters. Interesting facts come out of these relationships, whether they are used in the story or not. For example, if character #1 and #3 were a hot item long before #1 and #2 start dating, it might explain why there is such a bitter tension between them. What if they belong together? I’ll bet that would make an interesting thread…    
 
Speaking of threads….
 
Baby Step #7
Outline! My first novel was not outlined. I had no idea where the characters were taking me, but I went along like a good little typist and didn’t get in the way. Maybe that’s why it took me so long to get it streamlined? This time, I’m trying Martha Alderson’s plotting system, and so far, I think it’ll work great. My scenes are not fully formed yet, but I know where I want to start, the point of no return (end of the beginning), and the final climax. I’ll let the characters work out the rest. The good news is, I should be able to keep them heading in the right direction.”
How do you go about starting a brand new manuscript? I’d love to read your tip sin the comments below!
And don’t forget this is a blog hop: visit the other ROWers here.

On world building and how to avoid the “info-dump”

Hello gentle reader,

It’s Friday, let’s talk about writing and Fantasy, shall we?

Before I started querying my novel The Last Queen, I researched agents and the reasons why they reject A LOT of High/Epic Fantasy manuscripts. Most of the time, their verdict is: too much info-dump in the first pages. It means that instead of artfully weaving the secondary world into the story, the writer buries the reader under a heap of information. Agents and readers? They don’t like it, especially if your novel is intended for young adults.

series-of-unfortunate-events-2

We are bored.

So today, I’d like to help you avoid painful rejections or reviews by sharing a few tips on world building and how to eliminate the dreaded “info-dump” in 3 steps…

Step 1: Recognizing the “info-dump”

Let’s say you’ve been told your novel is “plagued by info-dump”. It’s not nice to hear, but we’re here to learn and make our stories better, aren’t we? So how do you recognize the signs of “info-dumping”? You ask yourself the following questions:

–          Does your Epic Fantasy novel include long descriptive passages where absolutely nothing happens and whose sole purpose is, well, to describe stuff?

–          Do your characters have conversations about things they already know? Is the sole purpose of these conversations to give information to the reader?

–          Do you explain your world to the reader instead of showing it to him?

If you’ve answered yes to one or more of these questions, then you’re guilty of info-dumping. But fear not, gentle reader! You can FIX THAT.

series-of-unfortunate-events

I don’t see how this situation can be fixed.

Step 2: Fixing the “info-dump” problem

The key here is to avoid the aforementioned issues by making your world building integral to the plot and having it emerge as the story unfolds. Your readers need to be slowly immersed into the world you created, not banged on the head with it. How do you do that?

–          You focus on the plot and the action. Instead of spending a chapter describing the Big Castle, you have your Hero escape from said castle and, as he is being chased by the Bad Guys, you include a few details that give the reader an idea of the setting, through the MC’s eyes.

–          As a result, you can’t describe everything. Because you only include the few details that your hero sees as he runs through the corridors of the castle, you can’t tell the reader about all the castle’s turrets and secret passageways. And it’s fine! Because even with only the few details you give him, your reader will be able to imagine the rest. Trust him.

But as you delete all the info-dump and replace it with a few chosen details, how do you know what to focus on?

Series-of-Unfortunate-Events-3

I’m listening.

Step 3: Focusing on the details that matter

So you’re building your secondary world by showing it as the story unfolds, awesome! But what to focus on? You focus on the details that matter for the specific scene/action you’re writing. And there’s so much to choose from, it’s easy to find something that will be a nice touch of world building in your scene without appearing to be world building to the reader. Here is what you can mention in passing and that will help you build your world:

–          Natural elements: flora and fauna, rocks and animals, bugs and creatures…

–          Political elements

–          Cultural elements: religion, mythology, language

–          Historical and geographical elements

–          And if all else fails, as we say in England, mention the weather.

Hoping this helps, feel free to leave me your comments and questions below! (This blog post was sponsored by A Series of Unfortunate Events. Or not.)

And if you want to find out more about this topic, here are a few useful links:

Juliet Marillier talks about creating Fantasy Worlds…

World Building: In the Beginning… by Raewyn Hewitt

How to Dump Info without Info-dumping– Writing Lessons from Inception by Shallee McArthur

World-Building 201: How to eliminate the info-dump by Hayley E Lavik

ROW80 Check-In 8: 5 Writing Tips from Laini Taylor

Hello gentle reader,

It is already time for another ROW80 check-in! My goals for this fourth round are as follows: Write or edit every day

This week I was waiting to hear from my beta readers on The Last Queen after my latest round of edits, so in the meantime I did something which has nothing to do with my Darklands trilogy. I dug up an unfinished first draft and added some 5000 words to it, and it was a lot of fun. I also worked on my query and researched agents. Finally I worked on a Super Secret and Super Exciting Project (code name TADA): you’ll find out all about it on 1st December!

Now, on to an inspiring story to keep us going this coming week. Today I’m sharing Laini Taylor’s writing tips. The following article was published on the Publishers Weekly website on 16 November 2012. In case you’ve missed it, here it is:

Laini Taylor‘s Days of Blood & Starlight (the follow-up to Daughter of Smoke & Bone) is filled with dazzling writing, not to mention fantasy, suspense, and a page-turning story. Take notes, because Taylor’s sharing her 5 writing tips.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a small child, but I was thirty-five before I finished my first novel, because I have issues with perfectionism. It took me a long time to learn to finish what I start, and I’ve developed a lot of tools and tricks for keeping myself moving forward through a story when a big slice of my brain wants nothing so much as to stop and rewrite everything I’ve already written. It can be exhausting, but the upside is that I love to revise. The main thing I’ve learned is that we all have to learn to work with—and appreciate—the brain we’ve been given, and not waste time wishing things were easier.

1. Know what you love. Try imagining the book that would light your heart and mind on fire if you came across it in a bookstore—the one that would quicken your pulse and keep you up all night reading. What would it be? Details, details: when, where, what, who? Think it up, imagine it fully, then bring it forth. That’s the book you should be writing.

2. Never sit staring at a blank page or screen. If you find yourself stuck, write. Write about the scene you’re trying to write. Writing about is easier than writing, and chances are, it will give you your way in. You could try listing ten things that might happen next, or do a timed freewrite—fast, non-precious forward momentum; you don’t even have to read it afterward, but it might give you ideas. Try anything and everything. Never fall still, and don’t be lazy.

3. Eliminate distractions. Eliminate Internet access. Find/create a place and time where you won’t be bothered. Noise-canceling headphones are great. Hotel-writing-sprees are even better if you can make that happen every once and a while: total dedicated writing time. During my second draft pass on my last book I made 20,000 words happen in a week, which is practically supernatural for me, and it would never have been possible without three nights in a hotel in my own city. It’s an incredible splurge, and a huge liberation, and you might just deserve it!

4. Get your characters talking. Dialogue is the place that books are most alive and forge the most direct connection with readers. It is also where we as writers discover our characters and allow them to become real. Get them talking. Don’t be precious. Write dialogues. Cultivate the attitude that every word you write need not end up in the book. Some things are just exercises, part of the process of discovery. Be willing to do more work than will show. The end result is all that matters. Be huge and generous and fearless.

5. Be an unstoppable force. Write with an imaginary machete strapped to your thigh. This is not wishy-washy, polite, drinking-tea-with-your-pinkie-sticking-out stuff. It’s who you want to be, your most powerful self. Write your books. Finish them, then make them better. Find the way. No one will make this dream come true for you but you.”

How are other ROWers doing? Here is the Linky to support each other!

ROW80 Check-In 5 : Claire Legrand on How To Come To Terms With Your Writing

Hello gentle reader,

And it is time for another ROW80 check-in! My goals for this fourth round are as follows:

Write or edit every day DONE

Editing – Finish my current round of editing for The Last Queen, get my manuscript critiqued and beat-read, then edit some more.

DONE: This week again I have been editing every day.

Writing – Write a short story, and continue writing the first draft of The Cursed King

I didn’t do any writing this week since I was focused on editing The Last Queen.

So this was another good writing week for me and I’m still happy with my goals. This week I also posted on my blog two posts you might enjoy: my Halloween reads recommendations and a discussion on the popularity of YA High Fantasy novels.

Now, on to an inspiring story to keep us going this coming week. Today I’m sharing YA author Claire Legrand’s tips for writers. Claire’s debut novel THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS came out in August 2012.

“When I first started writing, I spent a lot of time online researching what writers should and should not do. There are many rules floating around out there dictating what supposedly makes for a good writing process and a bad writing process, a good writer and a bad writer, a book that will sell and a book that won’t.

Some I have encountered are:

  • You must write every day.
  • You should NOT write every day.
  • You should write [insert number of choice] words per day.
  • You should make a writing schedule and stick to it, absolutely no excuses.
  • You should be writing [insert number of choice] books per year if you ever hope to make a living in this business.
  • You must write at this pace.
  • No, this pace.
  • No way, THIS pace. Slackers.
  • You should write at least one million words before even thinking of querying an agent with a manuscript; before then, you’re not ready.
  • You should create an account for THIS social media service, and THIS one, and THIS one too, and post THIS many times a week.
  • You should blog regularly, on a set schedule, and stick to it. If you blog irregularly, you’re a bad blogger/writer/human being.
  • You should use Scrivener.
  • No, you shouldn’t.
  • You MUST outline, in detail.
  • You MUST outline, but only the main plot points.
  • Eh, you don’t need to outline.
  • You should plan your book around this method of story structure.
  • No, this one.
  • No, those suck, THIS one.
  • You should query one agent at a time.
  • You should query five agents at a time.
  • You should query ten agents at a time.
  • Your book should be between [number] and [number] words long, and anything else won’t fly.
  • You must use critique partners.
  • Your first drafts should look like this.
  • You should only have to do [insert number] rounds of revisions; anything more, and something’s wrong with you/your book/your soul.

Frankly, these shoulds and shouldn’ts start contradicting each other pretty quickly, and it can make a fledgling writer feel pretty lost. Heck, I’m all fancy and published now (and I say that tongue-in-cheek because there’s not much that’s fancy about it, and also, I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing), and reading these kinds of statements STILL makes me feel pretty lost. They also, if I focus too hard on them, make me feel like I’m doing everything wrong when I can look at what I’m producing and rationally know that I’m not.

Rules can be a good thing. As Victoria Wright might say, rules help the world run just so.

But writing is not always a quantifiable activity. Much of it is instinct, luck, and plain old dogged persistence, whether that’s rigidly scheduled in a spreadsheet or just crammed into whatever spare thirty minutes you can find as your day allows it. And much of what works and what doesn’t for one person’s writing doesn’t translate to the next person. Therefore, I would say that many of the so-called universal writing rules we might see in blog posts, online articles, and tweets are really just what the author has found to work for herself, or for her friends, or for the majority of people within her peer group.

But that doesn’t mean it has to–or will–work for you (or for your book).

Such a statement seems elementary enough (everyone’s different! we’re all unique snowflakes!), but I still have a hard time accepting it. I’m a person very influenced by others, for good or for ill. This means some of my most productive writing days are when I’m “sprinting” online in the company of friends; this also means that other’s successes, failures, methods, and “musts” all have a way of affecting me deeply. I start to think I’m not doing enough or that I’m not doing it right, and then I lose confidence, and then I sit there staring at a blank Word document while scarfing down a box of Cheezits.

The thing is, I don’t do half the things on that list up there above.

I don’t use Scrivener; I have a notebook in which I scribble random thoughts. The rest is done in plain old Microsoft Word, with a lot of world-building and character notes jotted down in Notepad.

I don’t use critique partners. There is one good writer friend whom I trust to look at my unpolished work, but beyond that, no one looks at my books before my editor except for me and my agent.

I outline in detail, but I don’t have a set writing schedule every day, nor do I log my word counts or have micro-goals of any kind. I tried doing that, but it didn’t work for me because if I didn’t meet a goal for the day (or the week) I felt like a failure, and my work suffered for it. Instead, I shoot for big goals (finishing the book by this date) and as long as I meet that big goal, what happens until then doesn’t matter.

I write long what I call “zero drafts” (that is, the first ever draft of the book, before I make preliminary cuts, before I send to abovementioned good writer friend, before I send to agent). And when I say long, I mean long. And even beyond that, once a book has gone through revisions, it’s still on the longer side. I’m just plain wordy (as you can tell by reading this post and really my blog in general). (…)

What does this say about me and my writing?

Absolutely nothing. Except that I write long and then cut back during revisions. It does not reflect on the quality of my writing, the effectiveness of my methods, or how I measure up against the writing and methods of others.

Likewise, my method of outlining, my writing schedules, the fact that I only have one beta reader, etc. etc., means nothing except that this system is what works for me and my books. End of story.

You hear that, brain??

So I’m going to tell you this, in hopes that myself, through writing it, will soak in the reminder (and because I know there are others out there who, like me, doubt and compare and wonder if they’re nuts or stupid or somehow wrong for writing like they do):

The way you write is not necessarily how others write.

Your books are not going to be as [insert adjective of choice] as others’ are.

Your writing will be just that: how you write.

Your books will be just that: your books (and no one else’s.)

Know this, accept this. The sooner you do, the sooner you will come to terms with your writing. And the sooner you do that, the sooner you can get to writing that next book (and the next one, and the next . . . ), no matter how long/short/bracketed/messy/outlined/pantsed/critiqued/Scrivenered/Worded/slowly written/quickly written/ it ends up being.”

How are you other ROWers doing? Here is the Linky to support each other!

ROW80 Check-In 4 : Jay Kristoff’s Query tips

Hello gentle reader,

And it is time for another ROW80 check-in! My goals for this fourth round are as follows:

Write or edit every day DONE!

Editing – Finish my current round of editing for The Last Queen, get my manuscript critiqued and beat-read, then edit some more.

DONE: I heard back from my CPs and beta readers at the beginning of the week and I have been editing all week.

Writing – Write a short story, and continue writing the first draft of The Cursed King

I didn’t do any writing per se this week since I was focused on editing The Last Queen.

So this was again a good writing week for me and I’m still happy with my goals. However I was so focused on my editing that I neglected my inbox and blog comments. I apologise if you’re waiting to hear back from me, I’ll get to this today. I didn’t have the time for any reading either. The only thing I did manage to do this week beside editing was keeping my blog alive with a Halloween book giveaway (you can enter here to win THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman if you wish). Also my blog received the Liebster Award!

Now, on to an inspiring story to keep us going this coming week. Today I’m sharing SF/F author Jay Kristoff’s 13 Steps to Getting an Agent. Jay’s first trilogy, THE LOTUS WAR, was purchased in a three-way auction by US publishing houses in 2011. The first installment, STORMDANCER, is out now. It is “a dystopian Japanese-inspired Steampunk Fantasy”. I have found the following tips on the Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing blog.

“The agent search. You pick up your manuscript, nurtured from a tiny seed, and send it out into the world. It’s perfect. You love it. Surely, everyone else will too.

And then you watch agents curbstomp it, or worse, ignore it, months on end, until you look at this thing you once loved and question whether it has any redeeming features at all.

That pretty much sums up what it was like for me. Brief periods of giddy excitement. Disappointment. Intense self-doubt. Feigned apathy. Resentment. Months on end. Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to representation. And nothing anybody says makes it easier. You can have your betas say your MS is the next Harry Potter, you can repeat the absolute, perfect truth “It only takes one yes” until your voice fails, but ultimately, you’re still getting rejected. And rejection is a fun as funerals.

The thing that made it easier for me was mechanizing the process. Routine and ritual. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert. But I share my thirteen steps here, in the hope it might help somebody else out on that long hard road.

Step 1 – Write a book. Make it the best you can possibly make it. This is kinda the easy part, and I’m not kidding when I say that. By no means is it easy. But it’s easier than what comes after.

Step 2 – Finish the book. Really finish it. Don’t just finish your third edit and say “done!”. Scour the pages until they bleed. No truer words were ever spoken to me than this – “Your first chapter better be stonkingly awesome. Because that’s all most agents are ever gonna read.”

Step 3 – Stop finishing the book. You’re just ruining it now. There comes a time when you need to say “Enough, this thing is ready to go out”. Some people spend years polishing, and never get around to actually querying. That’s fear. Fear is the mindkiller. Say it with me and Muad’dib and send that puppy out to slaughter.

Step 4 – Do your homework – Go to Querytracker. Go to Agentquery. Subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace. Visit agent websites, read interviews. Learn everything you can about them. Check outPreditors and Editors. Pay no money to an agent upfront, EVER. Do not let your desire to get published blind you to the realities. Do not let your hard work go to waste at the hands of a hustler. Do not be a sucker.

Do. Your. Homework.

Note – there’s a fine line between research and stalking. If you find yourself rifling through an agent’s trash or standing outside their apartment in the rain, you’re doing it wrong.

Step 5 – Prioritize your list. Who’s your dream agent? Do you put them top of list or midlist? Do you acknowledge your query is going to suck at first (because it will), or do you think it’s as awesome as it’s ever going to be (it isn’t) and blow your shots at your dream agents by using them as guinea pigs?

Step 6 – Forge a prescription for some quality painkillers, then write your query letter. There are entire websites devoted to this (writing the query, not forging a prescription). I won’t elaborate on it, but there are faaaaaaaabulous resources online, darling, and you should take advantage.

You can find my query on my blog if you’re interested. The version you’ll be reading was my third iteration. The first one blew more goat than wow I don’t even want to finish that thought…

Step 7 – Read the submission guidelines. This can’t be stressed enough. The brownie points I’m racking up by mentioning this fact will be enough to get me repped in my next seventeen lives.

Every agent is different. Some like you to send your query solo (which is why your letter needs to sing like Amanda Palmer). Some like a synopsis. Some like a sample. Some like watching episodes of House wearing only an old “Spice Girls” T-shirt and bunny slippers, but you don’t know that because you’re not standing outside her apartment in the rain, are you?

Are you?

Step 8 – Send it. Cross your fingers. Pray to whatever flavor of Flying Spaghetti Monster you prefer. Sacrifice a cat to the blood god. Seriously, cats are vermin, the less we have of them, the better.

I had around 15 queries in the air at any given moment. As soon as a rejection came in, I’d send out another. Some folks will tell you this is too many queries to run at the one time. Some will say it’s not enough. There are no absolutes here. You are stepping beyond the rim.

Step 9 – Wait.

Then wait some more.

You can choose to spend your waiting time however you wish. Writing your next book is a good way to go. Whatever you do, it had best be something you enjoy, because you’re going to doing a lot of it.

STORMDANCER is a rulebreaker –it really only took three months for me to land an agent on it, which is nothing. To put it in perspective, I waited three months for replies on some queries for my first ms. I spent five months waiting to hear back on a full (which incidentally, was a rejection).

So writing your next book while you wait? Probably a good idea.

Step 10 – Wait.

I realize I said this already, but it’s worth mentioning twice.

Step 11 – Learn from your rejections. My wife used to say to me “Stephanie Meyer got rejected nine times before Twilight got bought. J.K Rowling got canned a dozen times too”. I will say this now – those ladies had it easy. I took twenty two kicks to the baby maker on STORMDANCER. I took seventy on my previous MS. I had it easy. I know writers who got rejected over three hundred times before they got repped. Three. Hundred.

Most of your rejections will be forms. An automated, boiler-plate “thanks but no thanks”. If you’re lucky enough to receive feedback from an agent with your rejection, treat this like a nugget of gold. It’s a true rarity, and that agent is taking time out of an unimaginably busy schedule to offer it. Say “thank you” and be on your way.

When you get rejected, don’t ask why. You’ll be sorely tempted to. But sadly, it’s not the agent’s job to tell you what’s wrong with your ms. It’s your job to be telepathic. Yay!

Step 12 – Revise.

My query letter got better as I went along (hence you should consider the order in which you query your “dream picks” very seriously). If you’re getting lots of rejections, something is wrong. Of course, trying to fix it when you’re getting nothing but boiler-plate is difficult unless you have mutant powers. It’s maddening, but this is the status-quo.

Step 13 – Believe

I’ll depart from my wise-cracking, tall dark and scary routine long enough to give a little group hug now. Everyone needs a hug once in a while, especially querying writers. Here it is:

The only belief that matters in this equation is your own. It’s nice to have the support of betas or trusted friends, but it’s not necessary (the only person who had any idea that I was writing a book until I got repped was my wife). The only person who needs to believe you can do this is you. Everything else is window dressing. If you’re meant to be doing this, you can, and you will.

Believe in yourself. Keep the faith. At the end of the day, it’s all any of us have.”

How are you other ROWers doing? Here is the Linky to support each other!

ROW80 Check-In 3: Bree Despain’s Writing Tips

 

Hello gentle reader,

And it is time for a third ROW80 check-in! My goals for this fourth round are as follows:

Write or edit every day

Editing – Finish my current round of editing for The Last Queen, get my manuscript critiqued and beat-read, then edit some more.

I haven’t done any editing this week since I’m waiting to hear back from my CPs and beta readers.

Writing – Write a short story, and continue writing the first draft of The Cursed King

DONE : I worked on The Cursed King but progress was slow this week, although I did write every day except for Wednesday.

So this was again a good writing week for me and I don’t feel that I need to adjust my goals. This week I also managed to read one book and I kept my blog alive by taking part in The Next Big Thing blog hop: feel free to have a look if you want to know more about my WIP.

Now, on to an inspiring story to keep us going this coming week. Today I’m quoting bestselling YA author Bree Despain. I found the following on her website. Bree is an American author who has a degree in creative writing. She started writing full-time after being involved in a car accident and she has written three novels in her DARK DIVINE series.

Writing Tips

  1. Be a sponge. The more knowledge you can soak up, the better your writing will become. Take writing classes, attend writing conferences, and read as much as you can. There are plenty of online resources for writing classes, but if you can, take an in-person class at a local university or writing conference. There is something very energizing about sitting in a room with a bunch of other writers. And you will probably learn more from in-class debates, and critiquing other writer’s stuff, than you will from reading a computer screen filled with writing tips . . . hey, wait a second . . .hehe. Keep reading anyway 😀
  2. Don’t forget to write. Okay, that sounds silly . . . but really, it happens. Sometimes we get so absorbed in the task of learning about our craft, that we don’t actually ever sit down and do the writing. Or sometimes, we experience “information overload” and we get so overwhelmed we just need to unplug from the world in order to start writing. Remember—no amount of reading, class taking, networking, or schmoozing, etc. is going to get you anywhere if you don’t actually write. Write every day if you can. Carry a notebook to capture ideas when they strike you. I actually wrote the prologue for The Dark Divine on the back of a program during church.
  3. Join a critique group. Like I said, there is something magical about being in a room with other writers. And a critique group is a fun, inexpensive way to get feedback, advice, and brainstorming help. Plus, some of my favorite people in the world are my writing chicas.
  4. Let your writing sit for a bit. Like a good piece of cheese, let your writing “age” for a while before you send it out. Stick your manuscript in a drawer for a couple of weeks and then come back to it with fresh eyes. Let your critique group read it over and offer feedback. Sometimes, you may even need to put something away for a long time before you can really see the kinks that need to be worked out. After sending out the original version of The Dark Divine (unsuccessfully) to a few agents back in 2006, I realized that the manuscript needed a major overhaul—but I didn’t know how to do it. I ended up putting that book in a drawer (figuratively speaking) for over a year. I moved on to other projects, and then one day, the answers to my problems with The Dark Divine just started to work themselves out in my mind. I pulled the manuscript out again and spent the next year overhauling it, let it sit for a month, and then sent it out to agents again . . . and a few weeks later I landed the fabulous Agent Ted!
  5. Don’t be unwilling to revise. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: GREAT BOOKS AREN’T WRITTEN—THEY’RE REVISED! Revising is just part of writing, and a major part at that. Hardly anything you write will be golden the first time you put it down on paper. You will tweak and revise on your own, with your critique group, in writing classes, at writing conferences, then take your stuff home and revise, revise, and revise it again. And then you’ll send it out to agents, and more likely than not, you’ll end up tweaking and revising your book even more based on the rejections you get. Then you’ll send it out again, and when you land an agent—guess what? He/she’s going to make you revise it some more before it goes out on submissions. And then when you sell your novel . . . well, that’s when the REAL revising starts. And then when you think you can’t possibly revise that darn freaking manuscript one more time . . . they’ll send it to copy editing where you’ll find out that apparently the language you’ve been speaking all your life isn’t actually English . . .Okay, okay, you get my point? Sorry to say it, but you won’t make it anywhere in the publishing biz if you aren’t willing to revise your writing.
  6. Don’t do all of the revisions people suggest to you. I know, I know, I’m such a hypocrite. I just went on telling you that you MUST revise your book, and now I’m saying not to? Okay, before you kick me in the pants, let me explain. You will get a lot of advice on your book, and a lot of critique suggestions—a lot of them will be good suggestions, some . . . well . . . not so much. Or some suggestions might work well for someone else’s story, but don’t jive with your vision for your book. You will even run into a few people who will pretty much want to write your book for you. But remember, you are the author. This is your baby. Take every revision suggestion with a grain of salt. At first, some revision suggestions seem impossible, or highly improbable, or just plain not right for your story. I always sit on revision notes for a few days (sometimes a few weeks) before I implement them. With a little time and perspective, you will be able to sift out the good suggestions from the bad. And sometimes, an impossible suggestion will suddenly click in your head and it will make a huge difference in the quality of your book. But, if after a little time, a revision suggestion still seems off to you—well then, it probably is. Go with your gut, and do what’s right for your story. But always consider WHY a certain suggestion was made. Did a critiquer want you to change Z into X, but that doesn’t sit well with you? Well, then maybe the reason for Z happening is just not clear enough to your reader. Or perhaps after evaluating the suggestion you will realize that Z actually needs to be changed into Y rather than X. I often find that many revisions are a matter of making things clearer. Does that make any sense?
  7. Accept the fact that becoming an author takes time—and a lot of it. Yes, there are those fluke cases where someone writes a book and then has a multi-million-dollar debut book deal six months later. But for the other 99.9% of us, it takes several years to become an author. Ask just about any published author (including Sara Zarr and Laurie Halse Anderson) and they’ll tell you that it takes about 10 years to make a name for yourself in this biz. And most of us are better off because of the time it took to strengthen our writing. I thank my lucky stars that my first novel never sold. I’m extremely grateful that the original version of The Dark Divine was rejected by every agent I sent it to. Your writing may not be ready for publication right now, but if you keep working, and learning, and reading, and writing, it WILL get there someday. Good Luck!
  8. Remember that authors are real people too! I loved telling stories and writing when I was kid. But I seriously thought that authors were this special breed of people, and someone ordinary like me could never become one. I wish I would have figured out a long time ago that anyone—with enough drive and hard work—can become an author. Even a mild mannered citizen like myself :D.

How are you other ROWers doing? Here is the Linky to support each other!

ROW80 Check-In 2 : Meg Cabot’s writing tips

Hello gentle reader,

It is already time for a second ROW80 check-in. My goals for this fourth round are as follows:

Write or edit every day

Editing – Finish my current round of editing for The Last Queen, get my manuscript critiqued and beat-read, then edit some more.

DONE: I finished another round of editing and sent The Last Queen to CPs and beta readers. I’m waiting to hear back from them.

Writing – Write a short story, and continue writing the first draft of The Cursed King

DONE : I worked on The Cursed King and added about 2000 words to my first draft.

So this was another good writing week for me: I did write or edit every day. Tuesday and Friday were once again tough (because I get home from work late on those days), but I still stuck to the routine. A big thank you to Lauren Garafalo, Julie Jordan Scott and Juliana Haygert for their support during our Twitter sprints!

This week I also managed to read two books again and I kept my blog alive with a post on word counts. Check it out if you want to discuss the relevance of limited word counts for writers. I also worked on my query letter and my synopsis. A big thank you to Craig Schmidt for his help.

Now, on to an inspiring story to keep us going this coming week. Today I’m quoting bestselling YA author Meg Cabot. I found the following on her website.

“It took me three years of sending out query letters every day to get an agent, and a year for her to find me a publisher. When my first book got published I was 30. I sent out several hundred of these letters before a single person ever asked to see the book I was trying to sell.

Some people say if you get anyone to look at your book at all, you are lucky. I believe that luck is 95% preparation and 5% opportunity. So basically…you have to make your own luck.

My advice to young writers is:

Write the kinds of stories you like to read. If you don’t love what you’re writing, no one else will, either.

Don’t tell people you want to be a writer. Everyone will try to talk you out of choosing a job with so little security, so it is better just to keep it to yourself, and prove them all wrong later.

You are not a hundred dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you … or your story. Do not take rejection personally.

If you are blocked on a story, there is probably something wrong with it. Take a few days off and put the story on a back burner for a while. Eventually, it will come to you.

Read-and write-all the time. Never stop sending out your stuff. Don’t wait for a response after sending a story out…start a new story right away, and then send that one out! If you are constantly writing and sending stuff out (don’t forget to live your life, too, while you are doing this) eventually someone will bite!

It is nearly impossible to get published these days without an agent. The guide I used to get mine was called the Jeff Herman Guide to Agents, Editors, and Publishers. It was well worth the money I spent on it, since it lists every agent in the business and what he or she is looking for. It also tells you how to write a query letter, what to expect from your publisher, and all sorts of good stuff…a must buy for any aspiring author!

And above all, become a good listener. In order to write believable dialogue, you need to listen to the conversations of the people around you—then try to imitate them! So my advice is always to try to keeping quiet, listen only, and let other people to do the talking for a change. You’ll be surprised how much this will improve your writing skills (and how many people will think you’re a really sage person, when all you’re basically doing is spying on them).

Good luck, and keep writing! If I can do it, so can you!”

 How are you other ROWers doing? Here is the Linky to support each other!

Word count : is your Fantasy novel too long ?

Hello gentle reader,

It’s Thursday! Let’s talk about writing, shall we?

As you may know, I am currently revising my WIP The Last Queen, and I have been struggling with a high word count. I wrote the first draft of this YA Epic Fantasy novel without really thinking of its length (I just wrote the story I wanted), and now I have to cut down some words if I don’t want to make agents cringe when they read my query letter.

This week I have also helped the lovely Mara Valderran with her own query letter. She is currently querying her Epic Fantasy novel HEIRS OF WAR with a word count at 137k. And here is what she says about her word count: “My word count is really high for a new author. You know this, I know this, and I’ve done my damndest to cut it (I shaved 12k off in the past two weeks! Yay!). Is it a roadblock for me? Sure. But it’s one I am painfully aware of.”

So it seems that I’m far from being the only Epic Fantasy writer struggling with a high word count.

As writers, our first reaction is often to say: but there are lots of Fantasy novels out there with huge word counts and they still sell! And some are even first novels! (see Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, at about 240k words)

Yes, people do buy books with high word counts. I’m one of those readers who are not afraid to read a super long book. However, these books are either AMAZING like The Historian, or they are, well, too long. G.R.R. Martin can publish A Storm of Swords at 424k words because he is an established and bestselling author, but I still think this novel was way too long and should have been edited down. The same goes for The Passage by Justin Cronin: 300k words and half the book could have been cut out without hurting the story.

So if you write Fantasy and you’re trying to get agented or published, nothing stops you from querying a 150k + words manuscript.

YA Epic Fantasy author Sarah J. Maas did just that with her 240k-word novel Throne of Glass back in 2008 (read the story here). And guess what? She got rejected. She did eventually get an agent with her manuscript at 145k words. And guess what? She got rejected by editors. Throne of Glass was finally published in August 2012, with a final word count of… a little over 100K words.

The moral of this story? Listen to the advice of professionals. Whatever the genre of your novel, research the word count expected by agents and editors. And follow their guidelines, even if it costs you. Editing your Masterpiece is part of the writing process. So is getting rid of unnessary plot points and extra words. Do it. It might save you time, and the pain of being rejected.

Freelance editor Cassandra Marshall gives these guidelines for Fantasy books word counts:

YA fantasy:  70-90k words

Adult Fantasy – 80,000-120,000 words (most averaging 100k-115k but editors would prefer to see them below 100k)

YA epic/high/traditional/historical fantasy = 90k to 120k

Finally, if you’re curious about the word count of popular Epic Fantasy novels, you can check them out here.

So what do you think? Are you struggling with a high word count? Do you think agents and editors should be more flexible debut authors and their word counts? As a reader, do you enjoy reading long books? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section!

ROW80 Check-In 1: Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing

Hello gentle reader,

It is time for my first ROW80 check-in! My goals for this fourth round are as follows:

Write or edit every day

Editing – Finish my current round of editing for The Last Queen, get my manuscript critiqued and beat-read, then edit some more.

Writing – Write a short story, and continue writing the first draft of The Cursed King

I’m happy to report that I’ve had a great writing week, since I did manage to write or edit every day! Some days (Tuesday and Friday) were tough because I got home from work very late, but I still stuck to the routine. I also managed to read two books for my upcoming Halloween post and I kept my blog alive with an interview with YA author Meagan Spooner. Check it out if you want to know how she got published.

If you’re new to this blog, know that I always add an inspiring story to my ROW80 check-ins. This week, I’m sharing Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing that I found on the Guardian website. Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors and his writing advice is worth a read.

Image by Kimberly Butler

  1. Write
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

How are you other ROWers doing? Here is the Linky to support each other!

A Writer in the Spotlight – Meagan Spooner

This week again I was lucky enough to have a YA author give me an exclusive interview! The idea behind the “Writer in the Spotlight” feature is that published (and bestselling) authors are the best source of advice for us, would-be-published writers. Today’s interview is with debut author Meagan Spooner. Her Dystopian novel, Skylark, is out now. Her science fiction novel, These Broken Stars (co-authored with Amie Kaufman), will be out in 2013.

Author : Meagan Spooner

Genre : Young Adult, Dystopian & Fantasy

Location: Northern Virginia

Contact: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Books : Skylark (2012), These Broken Stars (2013)

Bio: Meagan Spooner grew up reading and writing every spare moment of the day, while dreaming about life as an archaeologist, a marine biologist, an astronaut. She graduated from Hamilton College in New York with a degree in playwriting, and has spent several years since then living in Australia. She’s traveled with her family all over the world to places like Egypt, South Africa, the Arctic, Greece, Antarctica, and the Galapagos, and there’s a bit of every trip in every story she writes.She currently lives and writes in Northern Virginia, but the siren call of travel is hard to resist, and there’s no telling how long she’ll stay there. In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads.

My interview (01/10/2012):

On writing:

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

Yes. As long as I can remember, anyway. I was very young when I first decided I wanted to be an author–about four years old or so. I had one of those little-kid epiphanies where I suddenly realized that real people wrote the books I liked to read, and that blew my mind. You know how it is when you’re small, you never really think about where things come from. Well, when I realized that books were made by actual people, I decided that’s what I wanted to do some day. I’ve always had other aspirations along the way as well, but writing has been the only one I constantly aspired to.

When and where do you write?

Whenever I can/need to, and wherever I happen to be. I know that’s a boring answer, because people love to hear about the routine, but the truth is that once you start juggling deadlines for multiple books and series at every stage of the process, you can’t really afford to be precious about your routine. Ideally I like to write at my desk when I’m alone in my apartment, and that tends to be where I get the bulk of my work done. But I write on my netbook when I’m traveling, and I write by hand occasionally when I’ve got something flowing and no computer nearby. (This happens most often when I’m driving somewhere, and I end up having to pull over to the side of the road and write on napkins and receipts. Seriously.)

What do you say to people who want to be writers? How difficult is it to get published?

That’s kind of a tough question to answer because there are so many factors–it’s not just a level of difficulty on a scale from 1 to 10 that’s the same for everyone. Do you read a lot? Have you been writing for a long time? Do you pay attention to what other authors do and try to utilize those tools in your own writing? Are you talented? Do you work hard? Are you driven and dedicated? If the answer to most of those things is “yes,” then you’ve got a pretty good chance of being published. Yes, there’s luck involved–hitting the right agent/publisher with the right story at the right time–but most of it is hard work and being willing to improve yourself. You have to walk this incredibly fine line between being arrogant enough to keep thinking you can do it even when you get shot down over and over again, while also being humble enough to accept and incorporate criticism, and grow your craft.

 

On “Skylark”:

To write this book, where did you get your inspiration from? Were you aware of the coming dystopian trend in YA literature when you wrote it?

I wasn’t aware, no. I’d read THE HUNGER GAMES but wasn’t really paying attention to the YA market when I got the idea (which you can read more about here), because I wasn’t particularly driven to get published at that time. It was only after I had the idea for SKYLARK that I knew it was The Book, and I started keeping an eye on what was going on out there. The truth is, even then I had no particular view on the dystopian craze, because to me, SKYLARK isn’t really dystopian literature. There are elements that it shares with many dystopian stories, so it often gets called dystopian (even by me when I’m describing it simply) and shelved that way. But structurally it’s the Hero’s Journey, through and through–it’s fantasy, not science fiction.

Why did you choose to write for Young Adults?

Joss Whedon, one of my writing idols, often gets asked why he writes strong female characters. His response is “Because you’re still asking me that question.” Why write for young adults? Why NOT write for young adults? Why would anybody not want to write for young adults? For one thing, you won’t find a more riveted and dedicated audience anywhere. No one reads like kids and teenagers read, with such investment and heart.

But to me, being a teenager is all about having real choices for the first time in your life, and having to make those choices without necessarily knowing where they’ll lead you. And choice is what all good stories are really about, deep down. The choices protagonists make, and where those choices take them.

What are you working on now?

Everything. Okay, that’s not a helpful response, but that’s pretty much what it feels like. I’m revising book two of the SKYLARK trilogy, planning book three, doing copy edits on THESE BROKEN STARS, and writing the first draft of the second book in that series. And yes, all at the same time. If I had extra time, or if suddenly all my contracted work just vanished, I’d be working on a Beauty and the Beast retelling that I began way back when I first sent out query letters for SKYLARK. It was going to be my next project, in case SKYLARK (then called THE IRON WOOD) didn’t land me an agent. Two years later and I haven’t gotten to finish it yet! Someday. 😉

 

Reading advice:

Which authors inspire you now? Which YA books would recommend?

For dystopian fiction, I’d recommend THE GIVER by Lois Lowry. For science fiction, I’d recommend ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card. For fantasy, I’d point you toward THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S. Beagle, or if you want a more recent book, GRACELING (and its companion novels) by Kristin Cashore.

As far as authors go, Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, Patricia C. Wrede, and Diana Wynne Jones have always been huge inspirations for me. I go back to them constantly whenever I lose sight of what I’m doing, or why I’m working so hard to do it.

Thanks, Meagan, for an awesome interview!

SKYLARK is available from Amazon here.