Writing Update: Revision Plan of Attack

After a lovely, refreshing holiday break I was absolutely itching to get back to my Fox Story! I missed the characters and the world and as fun as it was to catch up on reading and thinking up some new ideas, I’m ready to dive back in and make my rough draft into an actual book.

The best part about a critique group is getting so many perspectives not just on drafting or books but on the craft and process. I polled my writing buddies for their revision processes and cobbled together some good advice for tackling my own project!

So this is my plan to carve Fox Story into the book I imagined so many months ago:

First, I always need to read through my rough draft, noting plot, world, character, pacing issues, and what needs more research. I draft quickly and don’t spend much time going over what I previously wrote, so more than anything I need the entire story fresh in my mind so that I don’t confuse what I *think* is in the manuscript with what I actually wrote.

From these notes, I make a list of action items to smooth out the plot and decide what scenes should be added, cut, or changed. I can’t focus on character until the events make sense to me, so I have to make sure my timeline and actions happen in the right order and aren’t confusing. “Making a list” sounds simple, but what this really means is that I will make a BUNCH of lists with things to do. For instance, “Add this character’s backstory” becomes “Create backstory, what are motivations, what is the timeline, what is the best way to reveal this information, does this change anything in my plot and if so how…” The second draft is basically pulling even more threads into the tapestry and then weaving them together properly.

I also want to wrap up any additional research needed! No sense in revising and then having to change things again based on something I could have looked into before (what immediately comes to mind as an example are my sword fighting scenes).

When the plot is smoothed out, I ensure character beats are placed correctly for maximum impact. Character and plot are always entwined, but if I know what needs to happen I can adjust these moments to best toy with and push my characters along their own path. This is the part where “make things worse” comes into play!

After all this, I will develop any other material needed (world, setting, character) and include all that. My draft is already about 10K longer than I anticipated so we’ll see how much it balloons!

Finally, I’ll polish it before I send it to my first round of critique partners for notes, which basically means make it as book-shaped and typo-free as possible.

Based on their notes, I’ll begin the cycle of revising and getting more notes until I feel like Fox Story is ready for the final and most agonizing step: querying!

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Ten Things About My Writing

Erin tagged me for this post and I thought it was really interesting, especially since we are coming up on that “year in review” season! I found myself reflecting on how much I’ve learned this year.

Here are my 10 things:

1) I have learned how to set goals

I’ve changed a lot about my process this year and the best one is how I decide what to do and when. For example, I wanted to draft my book in three months, and knew I needed to average about 1500 words most days. I broke that up into three 500 word sections and BOOM – this draft is happening right on time! Sometimes it’s challenging — I don’t give myself total softballs. But I’ve found I’m more productive and motivated when I can check off each day’s progress with satisfaction!

2) When I am stuck I grab a pen and paper or my marker board

I find it easiest to brainstorm or unstick my writing by hand–something about the absence of a threatening empty screen helps restore my creativity.

3) I require my specified soundtrack or playlist, or total silence

I can write to music or without it but I need the mood to be just right!

4) My brainstorming process has evolved

I used to think any idea could be The One or could work, but I’m better at discerning the components that make a good idea. Many things sound cool or look cool and might even be cool — but they aren’t always what I need for a particular project! (And they don’t always lead to a new project, either). I also realized I have a limitless supply of ideas–I don’t have to worry about using up my 10 good things. I can make more, anytime!

5) I have learned to steal time for writing whenever and wherever

My latest project has happened in the car, waiting in lines, at work, at home–I don’t need a special place or time to write and it has been so liberating!

6) My outlining process has evolved

I have always been an outliner (after a disastrous pantsed project) but this year I learned I never outlined enough. The first half would be full of details, fully imagined scenes, specific plot points, and the last half would be something like “and somehow we get to this point!” Of course, my draft would fall apart in act 3 and I would spend forever working on it, or be forced to abandon it entirely. This time I was careful to specify every act, scene, and arc, and I will never do it any other way! It’s far too helpful and has made drafting a breeze.

7) My favorite thing to write is dialogue–especially with dashes

“This is self-explanatory,” said Mary Sue.
“I don’t think–”
“It is.”

8) I have to include an animal

I’m incapable of writing a story that does not include some sort of furry companion for the main character. I tried this time and failed. Going forward, I’m just going to accept this!

9) I know when to start and I know when to stop

It took me several years but I finally know when I need to stop and plan before I word vomit into my document. I also know (I think!) when to stop working on the background stuff and just write the scene. It’s a weird gut instinct but I am not complaining!

10) The more I write the more valuable my CP’s have become!

My writing has improved tremendously from my critique partners’ input and experience, and I tapped into that even more with my current story. Having eyeballs on my outline (which was also more detailed than ever) saved me from a few pitfalls and made me more confident when I began drafting. Any story is a group effort in the publishing business, but I think it’s a group effort before you get that far, too. They’ve really taken me to the next level and I could not be more grateful!

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New Project

I’m starting my first draft of a new project! This is so incredibly exciting for me!

For a bit of background, this idea sprang into my head during a late night drive through Kansas this spring, and I wrote down a bunch of notes on my phone. Then I let it stew for a while, to make sure this was something I wanted to pursue. I couldn’t stop thinking about these characters and this world! So then I made a Pinterest board, and then I made a plan for research.

What kind of research? Internet articles, podcasts, blogs, and yes, so many books! Every source spiraled out to more sources and it was so interesting–like running my own college course.

So after months of preparation, I finally get to start the best part of all – writing! First drafts are my favorite because anything is possible, everything is new, and there’s a certain level of comfort knowing that you can go back and make it pretty later.

My plan is to have the first draft completed by the end of the year (or sooner!) so I have to work fast! This story feels like sinking into a forest. I’m not sure where it will take me or if I will be able to translate what I see in my head to the page, but I’m determined to find the trail I need to come out on the other side.

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Focused Fallow Period

rice-fields-204139_960_720Fallow: farmland plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility as part of a crop rotation or to avoid surplus production

“I think many of us fear idleness, as if not producing is evil, a poison. But in my opinion, what’s truly toxic to our work — the work of creating art, of finding and sharing beauty and truth and experience — is to push too far. To focus on output rather than input. To view rest as an enemy, rather than as another tool in our toolbox.” –Kristin Hoffman

A few weeks ago my lovely CP Katy shared this post about creativity; specifically, about how to keep it flourishing. Basically, nonstop creative output is impossible, and everyone needs a break to recharge. I’m sure we’ve all been there–where the blank document or blank notebook pages are staring at you and you feel there’s nothing left to give.  You’ve been on deadline (or missed a deadline) or it’s time for the next big idea and you feel like you are scraping nothing but dry earth from the bottom of a well. This post was such a good reminder that creativity comes from life! A healthy, balanced life. <–That thing Americans don’t do well

About a month ago I had the lucky opportunity to spend a few days with my CPs in Vegas for Leviosa Con, and we ended up discussing creative breaks. (Actually, my reward for meeting my Leviosa deadline was a planned break, thanks to that post!) As always when you get a group of writers together, it’s interesting to share different processes and observations. For instance, we noted that becoming a hermit—as comfortable and natural as it may seem to introverts—can stagnant your creativity. Ideas come from meeting people, going to events, being outdoors, seeing new things. If you are to “write what you know” – the most common way people seem to approach writing – you need to know more than the four walls of your house and the mannerisms of your pet!

This is different from reading or watching movies or TV or listening to music, although those things are all inspirational in their own ways. Those are all examples of another artist’s polished work and vision. That’s what they made from their own experiences. If you only consume other pieces of art, yours can become a copy of a copy and you can lose that spark of passion that gives other people the chance to connect with your story.

Personally, I love the idea of a focused fallow period. I have time for fun and spontaneous discovery, but I also have a list of things to read/see for researching my next project. It’s a way for me to absorb new information and ideas without feeling pressured.

Obviously, being a turtle of a human myself, it’s easy to say “Go live life!” but much harder for me to do. For me, making small talk with a retail checker is a big deal. Cancelled plans nearly always mean a sigh of relief and the immediate thought “I get to read/write tonight instead!”  But I’m officially in a fallow period now (I’m technically not drafting again until October) and while I’m basking in the glow of permission to blaze through my TBR and watchlist, part of this time is about going out to live some life. Which is terrifying, but that probably means it’s the right thing to do!

To all my fellow writers / hermits, I encourage you to get out there! Think of it as research. It seems scary at first, but every time I have done this I end up with buckets of ideas and better yet, stories and memories that happened outside of my home. Best of luck!

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Goals Met and Goals Set

In January I had some ideas for everything I wanted to accomplish this year. Now that the first half of the year is over, I thought it would be a good idea to do a check-in and see how I’m doing. Overall answer? Not too shabby!

What did I want to do?

I finished revising my novel, I did my read-through, I got some feedback from my CP’s, I made a query letter and pitch (with their help!) and I’m actually pitching my book to agents tomorrow. Pitching to agents in person wasn’t part of my original plan, but I’m very excited about it! Although I don’t have my compiled list of Dream Agents, the two I am pitching tomorrow would definitely be on there.

Depending on the feedback I get from Leviosa Con, I’ll decide later whether I want to keep querying this book, or shelve it in favor of a new project (or both!).

What will I do now?

It’s the plans I had for the second half of the year that are changing the most. I originally wanted to begin drafting the sequel to my current fantasy novel. Instead, I’ll be carefully working on a Shiny New Idea. I’m very excited about this (I actually have been daydreaming about it for almost two months now) and I want to do it right. So instead of drafting too early like I always do, and creating a mess for myself, I have a plan for doing so much prewriting work that this story can’t help but evolve the way I want it to. I am choosing to believe that and any evidence to the contrary is a problem for Future Me!

I do still want to finish revisions on my YA contemporary novel, but those will be on a looser deadline than my Shiny New Idea and querying my first book (if I choose to do that).

The reading restrictions I put in place a few months ago definitely helped me meet my first set of goals, but you can bet my reward for all this hard work is a book binge for the next month! I want to blaze through my TBR and start fresh in September!

Bring it!

Revisions: Clearer on 1, or clearer on 2?

In the last month I’ve ripped apart my first chapter several times and although it’s better, recent consensus (and looming deadlines) indicate I need to drop it and move on for now.

Am I still feeling positive about revisions? Yes, which is still a first for me! I’m moving through my changes much faster and trying new things without having as much anxiety about it, so although my first chapter needs a break, it doesn’t worry me the way it used to. For some reason I used to operate under this fear that if I changed something I couldn’t go back to it (um, computers make that super easy!) or I was somehow betraying my original intent by altering it. I’d get stuck on these thoughts and end up making the most minor substitutions (a word here, a semi colon there) and then growl about how revising was pointless, look, it’s not any better, I’m gonna write something Shiny and New that will obviously be Perfect on the first try.

Complete nonsense of course! I’m starting to get addicted to making the changes my book needs to make it better. It’s like spring cleaning – you throw everything open to the fresh air and get rid of the clutter and bring in something fresh and alive. Voila! The chapter is better!

That’s how I’ve felt most of the time. On the flip side, revising feels like going to an eye exam. You sit with pages and notes in front of you with different ideas for improvement and ask yourself “Is this clearer on 1? Or clearer on 2?” a few times, with no right answer. (Because seriously, the difference between those always seems so small to me!) Or THIS happens–you’ve been going through options one and two for a few pages, making some choices, everything is moving along and then BAM!

“Or what about 3?”

What the hell, I thought we were working between these two options, you can’t change the game now!

“Or 4? Here they are again, 3 or 4?”

NO-well, wait, maybe Option Four…dammit, I said there were only two options, do you know how this screws with everything down the line if there are FOUR options??? But Option Four does solve Character Arc Problem 2…ughhhh, fine, Option Four. Let’s revisit the previous ten pages with all four options in mind…

Too many options can give me anxiety. I outline, I make a plan, this plan is supposed to avoid Surprise Options this far into the process. That moment of “What about 3?” always used to make me tear my hair out. I wanted to make progress, I didn’t want to start over yet again–but now I’m finding that instead of freaking me out with Too Many Choices these moments get me excited! Because if that’s what you need, find it out now and put it in and then move on with something great!

This book has been in the works for years…partly because it’s been so hard to let go of things and make changes, so now that I’m finally ready to do that, I’m excited to see how it turns out. So back to the cave for another month!

And a special thanks goes to Erin for always responding with enthusiasm when I text her “Heyyyyyy…wanna read my first chapter again?” ❤

Revisions: World-building

Another month gone! Spring is on the way and I can hardly believe it! Of course, the arrival of March means I’m woefully behind on my revision goals already. Not for lack of incredible notes from my CP’s! Lack of time is the culprit: it’s busy season at work, and Kiwi is still a puppy, and we’re planning to move again (yes, again) because our commute is a horrendous 45 minutes each way.

In short, although I’ve done some brainstorming and planned a few key changes to improve my manuscript, I’ve had very little time to touch it. Instead, I thought this post could be about the world-building notes I received. I’ll leave the interpretations of Maggie Stiefvater’s beautiful tarot cards up to you this time. Let’s get started!

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Of course when you’re constructing your world (whether it’s a high school or a continent of kingdoms) you have a list of things to figure out. Social hierarchy, locations, perhaps also how government works, and magic, and the politics between nations and people. But when all of that’s done, it’s not over–now you need to fill in the cracks!

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There are two kinds of cracks that can tear your world apart:

You didn’t answer all the questions your readers will have!

This is simple to fix–you’ve read your own story multiple times. YOU know what you want to happen and how everything effects everything else. But maybe you forgot that when Suzie came inside she’d been out in the rain. Why isn’t her hair wet? And wouldn’t her mother say something about it since she was supposed to be studying in her room? You didn’t notice because it’s imperative for Suzie to fool her mother or the next pin in your plot collapses, but you need to find a more believable way for that to happen now.

You do have the answer but you didn’t put it in there!

Congratulations, you don’t have to go back to the drawing board! You just need to include the information you already worked so hard to cultivate. I am especially guilty of this once I’ve gone through a draft a few times. I’ve caught the cracks, but now that I answered them for myself, I forget to sprinkle the answers in for everyone else. YOU know the secret history of Suzie and her best friend’s ex-boyfriend, but the few references you made are confusing and don’t convey what you wanted. Just find a way to add and clarify the information readers need.

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With good notes from beta readers and critique partners, you’ll have no trouble discerning where your cracks are and how to fix them. I’ve found each of my critiques gave me something both similar and different (everyone agreed on the issues but had different ideas of how to fix them). It’s wonderfully inspiring and takes the sting out of revising for what may feel like the hundredth time!

Good luck!

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