How to Survive Your Toughest Draft

For the last couple of years, every time one of my writer pals would ask me what I was working on, the answer was the same breezy, “Oh, I’m still plugging away on that rockstar mom book I told you about ages ago.”

I’m pretty sure that more than a few of them wondered if I shouldn’t just give it up and move on to something else. Something that would actually get written. And if they didn’t, they were stronger, better writers than me because that was something I wondered every time I sat down with my laptop.

But I persisted, mostly out of sheer stubbornness, and I completed a very, very messy first draft in April of last year. In November, I finally had it shaped into something resembling a novel.

FINALLY!

I’m not sure why this draft took so much longer than anything else I’ve ever written. I could cite a busier-than-ever family life, or a robust year of paid freelance work. Maybe it was because most days, I can be best described as a “ball of anxiety with fingers.”

But I can tell you how I got through an interminable draft (and managed to avoid quitting writing entirely!).

I Was Selfish. My mantra this past year has been “eyes on your own paper.” I withdrew from social media, avoided contests, and spent a lot less time engaging with other writers. It was difficult, and I felt like a jerk, but I knew that my top priority needed to be getting my work done. I am thrilled for my friends who have been out in the world this past year, but I knew I would not be with them. Not right now. Right now, my entire focus had to be a bit selfish. Eyes on my own work.

But Not Too Selfish. Instead of focusing on what *I* wanted – to finish the draft, to write a great book, to get an agent, to get a publishing contract – I made a choice instead to focus on service. We’re writing books for people, specifically children and/or teens, to read. So while I wanted to tell the story of my heart, I kept in mind that, ultimately, that heart-story needed to be in service of the teenage reader. That guiding star helped me re-focus when my way wandered and kept me writing when it seemed I would never get done.

I lowered my expectations. For years, I wrote 1,000 words a day, five days a week. I had reasonable expectations of finishing a draft in a couple of months, of being able to query a book every year, of catching the attention of an agent in the near future. But this year, I realized that wasn’t going to be possible. I spent some time looking over those expectations in a bright light, and I realized that they weren’t doing me any good. I’m a goal-setter and a rule-follower, but that doesn’t matter much in the wider world. No one is lining up to give me a cookie because I did things in the right order, in the right way, at the right time. So I made 2017 the year of NO expectations, other than that I would keep my head down and keep writing.

I used a timer. In order to take some pressure off but still keep getting words down, I started writing for 15 timed minutes each day. That was it. When the timer went off, I stopped. If it was the middle of a sentence, so much the better! That way I had a starting point for the next day. There were days when I only logged 5-10 words on a tricky scene. But I counted those as writing sessions and just kept going.

I relinquished control. Years ago, a colleague of mine listened to me rant about how other people were failing to do their jobs and it was ruining what I was doing. She said, “Well, you can’t control the outcome. You can only control what you put in to it.” That rattled through my head this year. I can’t control what happens with this or any piece of writing. All I can do is control what I put into it. So that is all I worried about.

I reached out. A few times over the course of the year, I did reach out to other writers to share what was going on with me and to reconnect with their work. Getting out of my head was important, but even better was the chance to share in others’ creative processes, successes and challenges. I went out and saw art and live music, too, feeding my own creativity. Writing is so solitary that it’s nice to remember there are other artists out there traveling a similar path.

I looked for joy, not results. I won’t sugarcoat it: for months I was pretty sure I was going to quit writing entirely. Writing for me is a singular joy. Word counts and pursuing publication and developing platform are not joyful. Letting go of the results side of writing for goal-oriented me was painful for my ego, but it was manna for the creative part of my soul, the part that just wants to play with words and stories and doesn’t actually care if anyone reads them. That play without pressure was revitalizing in a way that I desperately needed this year.

Some might call what I experienced this past year Writer’s Block. But I don’t think that’s what it was, even after taking two years to draft a novel. After all, I wrote all the time, and the words flowed fine, when I could find the time to let them flow.

But something happened with this year, with this manuscript that tested me – and I was reminded again that writing fiction is not for the faint-hearted!

If you find yourself facing a similar time of slow production mixed with a bit of despair and a burning desire to quit the game entirely, I have some advice:

Take a deep breath.

Then: Head down, do the work however you can, don’t worry about the mess, keep your eyes on your own paper.

Find your joy.

 

RICHELLE MORGAN writes, works, plays and drinks too much coffee in Portland, Oregon, often in the company of her husband and their three spirited children. When not writing fiction for young adults and children, she pens fundraising letters and other marketing copy for progressive nonprofit organizations. Richelle keeps an occasional blog about nonprofit marketing and communication. She has also written feature articles for The Oregonian, and her short fiction has appeared in Voicecatcher. You can find her on Twitter.

New Goals + New Approach = New Opportunities

Photo by Nordwood Themes

The new year is here. What does that mean? Resolutions! We all make them and unfortunately about one third of us break them. I’m sad to say I am in that group. Let me give you some examples from my life.

Resolution 1: Cut out frivilous spending. Reality: This beautiful journal with the sun and stars cover will make me a better writer. I need it.

Resolution 2: Stop eating sugar. Reality: My friend, who was born to be a baker, made a platter of chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting and a sugar Wonder Woman symbol. I can’t say no. That would be rude.

As writers, we face enough rejection. Why add more opportunities for that? If you’re like me, not meeting goals brings out self-doubt and I was sure the answer to this problem was not to make resolutions. But we all need things to strive for. It’s how we push ourselves, how we grow, and how we become better people.

After looking at what I accomplished last year and accepting that not everything works as planned (post here) , I realized my problem wasn’t the act of making goals, it was the types of goals I made. So this year I’m putting a new spin on my resolutions.

 

NEW APPROACH

Photo by Estee Janssen

As 2017 was coming to an end and I started thinking about what I wanted to accomplish in the coming year, two phrases put me on a new track.

First, my taekwondo instructor reminded me that pushing yourself a little every day leads to a big change at the end of the year. Okay, she was talking about stretching, but I’m sure the concept can be used for many things.

Second, during an interview, race car driver Danica Patrick said she strives to achieve her goals every day but acknowledges life happens and sometimes she’ll miss a few.

I’m using these concepts to make my resolutions this year. Instead of making big, inflexible goals, I’m focusing on achieving great things through persistence and being consistent.

Let’s look at a few writing goals I have seen online.

1. Write a book. Writing a book is a wonderful goal and you would assume in twelve months, you could make that happen. But sometimes the book does not want to be written. Not now, or ever. Or other times, life gets in the way and your planned writing time disappears.

New approach. Write. Write. Write. If it ends in a book (first draft or more), fantastic! If it doesn’t, know you are still working your way to a completed manuscript by working on your craft. It may be the one you started or it may be a completely different one. Either way, you are making progress

2. Find an agent. AKA: sign with an agent. There are hundreds (thousands?) of agents in this business, so it seems likely that at least one will like your writing. But this business is incredibly subjective and that is out of your control. As are slow times in the industry, agents’ vacations, and competition in the slush pile.

New approach. Realize the intricacies of this business and alter your goal a bit. Go hot and heavy on researching agents. Five a day, ten, or twenty. Their likes and dislikes. Enter contests. Sign up for manuscript critiques. And query. A lot. Make your goal to send out 100 queries this year. If you don’t find an agent, know you succeeded in doing all you could.

3. Sell a book. This may be more difficult than finding an agent. Traditional publishing is very difficult, and while there are a lot of publishing houses and a lot of editors, those lists are smaller than the agent list. Which means more competition in addition to individual tastes regarding genres and writing styles.

New approach. If you are in the position to sell a book, consider alternatives. Smaller presses, significant revisions, or self-publishing. You can also look at publishing stories in magazines and anthologies.

Here are a few of the writing goals I have for this year.

  • Play around with short stories
  • Revise my current WIP
  • Research writing in different genres
  • Do 15 minute writing sessions as many days during the week as possible.
  • Read books in different genres

I would love to hear your ideas for 2018 goals and any tips you have to keeping those resolutions!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. Her middle grade science fiction novel is represented by Kathy Green of Kathryn Green Literary Agency. You can find Halli on Twitter.

 

 

What Did I Do in 2017?

The end of the year is close. When I changed the calendar from October to November, I felt as if I wasted the entire year. Of course I spent too much time on social media, binge-watched several TV shows, and stood for what seemed like hours in front of the coffee machine waiting for the cup to fill, but as far as writing, what exactly did I do this year?

Photo: Estee Janssens

I didn’t want to dwell on my procrastination, but I thought if I took a good look at what I did – or didn’t do – this year, maybe I would learn something about myself as a writer and as a person that could help when making my goals for next year.

I know it’s scary, but play along with me. (Don’t make me do this alone!) Take out a pen and paper and start your list. First, what did you do and second, what did you learn.

Here’s mine:

  1. The first five months of this year I revised my YA contemporary novel. Every time you revise and open yourself up to critiques, you develop your craft. With this particular novel, I learned about dialogue, specifically what’s boring or repetitive, and how to make dialogue fun.
  2. I spent several months this year forcing myself to write a novel that clearly didn’t want to be written. A friend suggested now wasn’t the time to write it, but how could that be? You have an idea, you write. If I’d looked at the novel objectively, as she did, I wouldn’t have spent so much time forcing it.
  3. I wrote three rough synopses and four rough outlines for new books. I don’t just write for The Winged Pen, I read and cherish the writing tips. This year I took those tips and changed the way I start manuscripts. This helped me see the complete idea and the direction it needed to go.
  4. I wrote sixteen posts for The Winged Pen. The key here is writing. Some write for their jobs, some do fifteen minute writing warmups. The fact is, the more we write, the better we get.
  5. I critiqued six manuscripts and short stories (including my first paid editing job!) Critiquing is one of the best ways to grow as a writer. When we read and critique others, we identify mistakes we make in our own writing. And personally, reading good work from others pushes me to become a better writer.
  6. I wrote and revised one short story. Just like reading different genres, experimenting with different writing styles, genres, and lengths can open up new strengths and passions.I had attempted to write several short stories in the past, but finishing one gave me a new level of confidence.
  7. I read novels, short stories, and craft articles. Reading is necessary for all writers because it helps you grow as you learn new tips and develop new ideas. Reading also supports other writers, and for me, it is therapy.

As this year ends and we set goals for 2018, forget the times of procrastination and focus on what you learned this year. The Winged Pen wrote many posts to help and entertain you on your journey. Below are a few of my favorites.

The Winged Pen took writers from the big idea to the final product in the novel writing Master Your Craft series.

Need help finding critique partners? Here are a few tips. Another Magic Formula and How to Give a Good Critique.

The Pennies are big readers. Check out a few of our favorite books. Shannon Hale’s Real Friends and Neal Shusterman’s Scythe.

Have trouble navigating social media? These posts can help. Creating Your Social Media Platform and Twitter 101 For Writers.

The Winged Pen looked at diversity this year. Writing Other with Sensitivity and Writing About Native Americans – A Diversity Conversation.

And don’t forget our monthly Four on 400  contest. Four critiques on your first 400 words.

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. Her middle grade science fiction novel is represented by Kathy Green of Kathryn Green Literary Agency. You can find Halli on Twitter.

 

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Six Mentors to Help You Plan Your Novel Series

Six Mentors to Help You Plan Your Novel Series Infographic

Six Mentors to Help You Plan Your Novel Series Infographic

If you’ve ever tried to figure out how long your manuscript will be or whether you have ‘enough’ for a series, this round-up of series-planning tools and tips is for you. It’s all about choice. Resist the urge to fall down the tool rabbit-hole. 🙂

As the Writing Excuses‘ team points out, the goal for books in a series is “the same but different.” You want to keep the things your readers love about your first book and amaze them with something they didn’t know they wanted.

Here’s a quick primer of choices to consider while you plan your series and the mentors to help you:

1. Is your story the right LENGTH for a series? This feels like a word count question. At the beginning of NaNoWriMo, 50,000 words looks like an infinite sea. But if you set up something too elaborate, you won’t get back to shore in time.

Your creative choices have consequences for your word count. You are in control of the length of your story.

Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike series, says each suspect in a mystery adds 5,000 words.

Mary Robinette Kowal’s manuscript length calculation tool factors in the number of characters, story locations, and the scope of the story according to the MICE quotient infographic here. M.I.C.E. stands for Milieu, Inquiry, Character, Event.

(# of characters + # of locations)*750 * (# of MICE quotient *1.5)= manuscript wordcount

Take-home: The more categories, characters, and locations you choose, the longer your story will be. The M.I.C.E quotient can help you make your story into an epic.

2. Is your PLOT epic? For this approach, you must know the Ending.

Writing Excuses‘ tips on creating a series from an existing Book 1:

  • Write the first book to give it that “standalone feel”.
  • Build an outline for the next books, a page or two for each. Summarize world-shattering events like a historian—in a line or two.
  • Revise first book to match plans made for the upcoming books.

Susan Kaye Quinn’s practical video on how to plot a series shows you why second book slump is so common and what you can do about it.

3. Is your STORY WORLD epic? For this approach, you must know the World and the Characters.

Rachel Aaron‘s blog series on series

4. Is your STORY CONCEPT epic? For this approach, you must have a high-concept pitch for at least the first book. Picture book examples are a quick way to illustrate this approach. You can use the M.I.C.E quotient mentioned above for this.

Or try Literary Agent Gemma Cooper’s deceptively simple tool:

  1. Create a high-concept pitch for first book.
  2. Use “What if” to get:

5. What series TYPE fits your story?

Writing Excuses’ hosts, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Taylor weigh in on series types here. (Season 12, Episode 45)

  • EpicOne, long, continuous story, chopped into books. (Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap series)
  • EpisodicThe continuing adventures of main character(s). Stand-alone tales can be read in any order. The characters change very little so the reader can be easily caught up. (The Boxcar Children)
  • Introduce a cast. This series has a different protagonist in each book. The books play in the same universe but don’t have to be connected. Jessica Day George introduces a family of dancing princesses in Princess of the Midnight Ball. Princess of Glass is the next princess’s story.

6. How will you make your new books “the same but different”?

Take inventory. Go back through the choices above and see what you chose for your first book. Brainstorm a list of “ingredients” you have for the next book(s).

  • Know the Ending? Try #2
  • Know the Characters? Try #3
  • Know the Concept? Try #4
  • Can’t figure out whose story it is? Try #5
  • Need to know if you’ve put in too much or too little? Try #1

Writing Excuses suggests aiming for a mix of good “old stuff” and good “new stuff that goes with the old stuff.”

Remember you have the power to make your story any length you like. The creative choices are yours.

One last tip: If you use Scrivener, you’ll like Darcy Pattison’s Series Tips: Characters, Timeline & Plot.

Note: This is my collection of other people’s insights. All brilliance belongs to them. Mistakes belong to me.

Happy plotting and writing and revising!

Do you have favorite tips to survive a series? Did you find anything new in this list that you want to try? Please share in the comments below.

photo of Laurel DecherLAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. You can find her on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany.

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MYC: Wrap-up

This week’s MYC post is going to be a bit different because instead of focusing on an aspect of writing a novel, this week, we’re focusing on YOU!

So, THANK YOU for following along on our series, which addressed everything from finding a big idea for your story, to honing in on voice, to charging through that first draft, to tightening your manuscript and getting feedback. (Whew!) We had a blast putting this series together, but knowing that you were reading and commenting and pointing us to new resources really made MYC hum.

If you missed any of our posts, you can easily search all of our MYC entries using the search tools to the right. We tried to keep things roughly in the order that you might use them while you’re writing a novel, so just keep scrolling through. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, let us know! We’d be happy to do some supplementary MYC posts down the road.

Questions about posts we’ve already written? Ask away in the comments. If you need a deeper dive, we’d love that, too!

And of course, MYC is not done because there is more to cover — now that you’ve come up with an idea, done your pre-writing, drafted and edited your novel and gotten feedback…what’s next?

After a short end-of-year break, MYC will be back in the New Year with posts on writing queries and (the dreaded!) synopses, along with advice about polishing your novel for agent submissions.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for MYC review posts, which will pop up on Wednesdays throughout the next couple of months.

Again, THANK YOU for checking in each Wednesday, for letting us know what you thought, and for sharing our MYC posts so widely. You ROCK!