I’m coming down to the last few edits on my Work In Progress before I’ll declare this ecopunk fantasy romance manuscript about life after trauma good to go. If you’ve been following my journey, you’ll know that I embarked upon a beta-reading journey, including a second pass that I just finished up, which really pushed my skills and this story to the next level.
Some of these final edits are aggravatingly more complicated than they look at first glance. “Give more personal details in the introductory scene” is fairly straightforward, but “clarify momentum after [particular plot point]” became a weird brain-bend where I had to subtly alter several scenes. It got easy to lose track of what I’d changed and when (though was a pleasant surprise later when I’d remember to change a section and realize I’d already done it and wow doesn’t it look nice).
When I get lost in the details, I tend to fall back on one particular method to get my head clear and let creativity run free. This is something I call “sandboxing.” I can’t remember when I first heard the term, but the gist is this:
Sandboxing: opening up a completely new document (or Scrivener page) and experimenting with the scene/chapter/what-have-you without worrying about the consequences of what you’re changing, because, well, you’re just playing around and it’s not the actual manuscript. You’re just “playing in the sand” to see what happens.
Because sometimes that intimidating blank page is actually a help.
For example, I recently took a scene in a library between my main character and another primary character, and tried to see if I could highlight some worldbuilding information while playing up the flirt. By the end I was pretty proud of myself for weaving it all together.
… only to realize a day later that I’d already meshed this worldbuilding information in another scene, and in a better way that empowers my main character and lowered the word-count a bit by replacing a superfluous scene.
Whoops. Redundant work, there.
So now it’s back to the drawing board for that library scene. The great thing is, I discovered a new way for the characters to interact that choreographs tension, which I’m going to hopefully still use no matter what details actually end up in the scene. This is a weird turning-point moment that I feel could really be more if I can just do it right, so trying to keep an open mind about where it goes.
I think this will be the last structural edit, after which I’ll do a final pass for line edits and see if I can lower my overall word count. As much as I want to go straight to querying, I should—sigh—at least do one copyediting pass. Especially considering my wordcount is still in the upper 120s and I sometimes have a passive-voice problem.
As I mentioned in my last blog post, I could literally spend the rest of my life editing this book and never get it out in the world, so I’m doing my best to stay out of the “art is never finished” trap. Sandboxing is a method that unfortunately can last for as long or as little time as you want it to, so I’m thinking of giving myself deadlines so I don’t get lost in the woods of my mind again.
Tomorrow will be the 1st of March. So let’s say I have a week to figure out this “library scene.” (Maybe that seems overkill, but I am trying to be kind to myself while working full time and remodeling a house. Time is scarce and I am le tired.)
Then, the final three weeks of March to get through copyedits?
Here’s to starting up querying by April 1st, 2022, friends!
Let me know about your journey and where you’re at! I’m also really curious how long it’s taken others to get through the copyedit stage.
You know that feeling when you’ve quoted a phrase for years, but then something happens that gives you a much deeper understanding of it?
If you’ve kept up with me here or on Instagram, you may have seen me talk about my adventure with beta-reading over the last year or so (holy crap it’s been that long how did that happen). If not, to catch you up in a sentence, I made structural changes to my current WIP due to the initial round of beta-reading feedback, and wanted another set of eyeballs to make sure I hadn’t completely missed the mark. (If you want to read about my experiment, can read about it here.)
That second-round feedback has returned over the past couple months, and I’m starting the final round of revisions before querying.
How do I know this will be the final round?
The manuscript is far from perfect, it’s true. It’s been an incredible learning process to re-envision this story, and to embark on a thorough beta-reading journey to help me see my blind spots for this story. I honestly think I’m a better storyteller than I was even a few months ago. But the reality is, I’m never going to please everyone. No matter what I do, there will be readers who dislike parts of my story (or the whole thing).
But instead of torturing myself trying to please everyone, or falling into a continuous loop of I’m better now let’s try one more time, or throwing up my hands in defeat, I found a whole new meaning in this quote:
Thus my initial question. Because it hit me, that barring a few clarification points I’m fixing, feedback is telling me that most of what I want to show in this story is coming through.
Yes, a few years from now, I’ll probably know how to do it better. Yes, there’s always another reader, another perspective, another opinion to help me see the story in a new light.
But what’s the point if the story is never going to actually be in the world?
People are enjoying my story. They’re wanting more.
And THAT is the whole point.
So, my manuscript is ready for the next step. Or maybe more accurately, I’m ready for the next step. I’m happy with what my story is saying, I’m content with its flaws, and it’s time to “abandon” this phase for the next.
But it made me wonder if others have experienced this: knowing that a “flaw” exists in their story and keeping it anyway. I’m sure someone with better skills will disagree with me, but I even think that addressing my manuscripts “flaws” might end up fundamentally changing parts of the story in a way I would hate.
So, in case anyone is interested and just for fun, I thought I’d share what I’m intentionally leaving in my manuscript and why. There are about three main things.
The beginning is slow to build.
Weeeell. That’s because I’m telling a really big story. The ironic thing is I initially started this manuscript with the deliberate challenge of never telling the reader anything until they absolutely needed it. As my betas can probably attest, I seriously hang on to the mystery for a while. But there is still a lot of set up for this story.
That’s not to say I’m spending paragraphs upon paragraphs of exposition. More that the character has to make things happen in a situation where she has very little control, with a lot of different factors, and it takes a minute to get that momentum going.
This problem actually came up after the first round of beta-reading, and I have thoroughly changed or taken out as much as I possibly can without taking out subplots entirely. If I end up going the traditional publishing route, I will probably have to fight about keeping some of those subplots in there, but I have all of them for a reason. I will challenge them to find a subplot that can be removed without fundamentally changing the story. (Caveat: yes, I will be doing one more pass to see what else I can condense or change.)
This leads to number 2.
There are a lot of threads to this story.
This and the above go hand in hand. I have a lot of elements in this story. Surviving trauma. Dealing with heavy-handed, even abusive parents. Negotiating friendship as you drift apart. Found family, and acceptance. Carving your own path in the world. Finding unintended consequences when you do.
I think the trick here is to weave these all together in an engaging way. Because, the point is, as long as you keep the reader reading. I think I… mostly succeed, and I’m working on tightening this up and pulling these together in this last revision.
Again, a shoutout to all my beta-readers who are forcing me (they’re not forcing; you know what I mean) to push myself and rethink what I can.
My main character is both childish and mature
I know that’s a complaint in the YA community, that the teenagers act like adults. (My book isn’t YA, to be clear, though there’s a lot of coming-of-age elements.) My MC is like 20. She’s going to make reckless decisions where we as readers can see the consequences coming a mile away. She’s also the product of trauma, which can regress someone at times. But, hand in hand with that, there’s a maturity that comes from being forced to grow up quickly. She’s also very self aware and book-smart.
So. All of this is to say I’ve made things really hard on myself and have given her a childlike sense of curiosity and wonder that’s constantly at odds with a weary cynicism. At this point, whenever someone says they can’t quite get a sense of her age, my response is “yes.”
I can hear the rebuttals already. Yes, the reader has to be grounded or they’ll get confused and won’t enjoy the story. I’m tweaking a couple things here and there to hopefully get this across better. And it’s true I’ve probably invested a little too much of myself in this character to see her clearly.
But I’m okay with that. 😉
Because my manuscript will never be “finished.” I’ve done all I can with the skillset and perspective I have now. So, I’m going to abandon it to the world, and come what may, good and bad.
So. Your thoughts? Tell me I’m not alone in intentionally keeping these “flaws”!
Caveat: I’m a huge proponent of each writer using or discarding writing advice as fits THEM, and only THEM, so the following info doesn’t work for you, please delete from brain.
That being said, I want to share my process on how I recently took a 160k word manuscript to 126k without killing myself or the heart of the story. I’m a character writer. I love immersing myself into places and relationships, and playing out heart stories within epic worlds and situations. That can lead to a lot of extra words that aren’t always the most plot-relevant. It can slow down the story a lot. So, if you’re like me, and struggle with some massive word counts, I hope this will help you find some tools of your own.
True to my own colors, this post is pretty long, so buckle up, folks. I’ve added a bunch of gifs to make it more fun.
Background: I’ve probably talked this to death by now, but in 2018 the press originally set to publish my Obsidian Divide series and I amicably split. After that, I decided to completely rewrite the manuscript by myself, because I’d developed a lot as a writer in the three years since the manuscript originally went under contract. I ripped things out and rewrote them A LOT, and at the end of it, discovered my word count shot through the roof to 160,000 words. Haaaaaaa.
I’d like to try to go the traditional route of publishing with this novel, and I knew 160k words is high enough that agents might dismiss it outright without even reading it. As I initially thought the manuscript would be Young Adult in category, I knew I needed to get the word count down to around 100,000. So, taking out 50-60k words. Without killing my story in the process.
If you follow me on Instagram you might have already seen some of how I tackled the huge-workcount issue. I’ve posted about it in Stories about it if you’d prefer to see it in that form. But I discuss it more in depth below.
To get a top-down view of what I had to work with, I wrote an outline of all chapters and scenes of the manuscript, with a sentence or two describing each.
I also exported the manuscript into Word (I had been working in Scrivner) to get a page count. Then I divided the words I need to cut (working with a goal of 100k, that was 50-60k) by the total number of pages (543) to get how many words per needed to be cut per page. This ended up being 93-110 words per page (60/543=110ish, 50/543=93ish). Cutting 93-110 word per page sounds a lot less intimidating than cutting 50-60k words (which is an entire Middle Grade book, just FYI).
Seeing the manuscript via a top-down outline, I could highlight which scenes were not directly integral to the plot. Or, said in another way, which ones didn’t really build on the last scene or lead into the next. This was pretty enlightening. Then I knew what I could cut.
Now understanding I needed to cut 93-110 words per page, I could use it as a goal as I focused more minutely on cleaning up sentences. Tackling passive-voice problems builds up to a surprising amount of words.
HOW IT EVOLVED
Cutting is always difficult one way or another. The per-page cuts were more straightforward, though tedious. Did that sentence absolutely need to be there or was there a shorter way to say it? How many times did I really need to use “was” in a sentence, good lord? Did the inner monologue have to be that long? How do I make this description shorter, snappier? (The positive note to that is, I learned to take a much closer look at my sentence structure, a lesson that I can already tell is filtered into my drafting skills.)
Cutting entire scenes or sections was difficult in a scarier way. I didn’t want to do it. I couldn’t see the story without it, or loved the scene, even though my outline told me it wasn’t necessary.
So, I started out by simply experimenting with removing it. To see how the story looked and how it felt. (I don’t ever totally delete anything, and just cut and put all my cut scenes into a designated folder.)
In the end, I think I ended up keeping all of the cuts. Because. When I got used to seeing how it looked, and I got over the “nOOOOOooo my baby,” it became clear why I loved those scenes. Maybe it was simply what the scene represented. Maybe it was just this one particular vivid image. Maybe I just liked the portrayal of a specific thing.
Once I understood that, I could creatively address how to keep the smaller piece I loved by fitting into scenes the story actually needed. In some instances it was as simple as merging a couple paragraphs to a crucial scene so I could still have that particular conversation/description/etc that I wanted to keep, but without needing all the words setting up for that particular moment.
I originally had this scene where my main character proves her usefulness, and it’s a shift from “new character is naive in a new world” to “oh actually maybe she’s kinda badass??” It’s wasn’t necessarily important to the plot, but it was important for character development. I realized after some brain bending that I could fit the MC “helping” into a different plot-and-worldbuliding relevant scene. The initial scene didn’t need to be it’s whole thing. Doing this helped pick up the pace of the story in the middle.
In another scene that actually was important for plot reasons, I figured out how to reimagine it completely. I needed blackmail for one of my villains to use against the MC (so this one thing could happen, which lead to the other thing). Instead of creating that blackmail literally on page, I realized I could pull something from backstory (a flip of the show don’t tell rule). Even better, this backstory-blackmail ended up fleshing out a secondary character’s motivations and intentions that I’d been struggling with. It was one of those sublime everything-sliding-into-place moments. But I would have never realized it without pushing myself to streamline, cut word-count, and really focus on what the plot needed.
Some scenes I did end up just cutting. Most of those ended up being character pieces that weren’t attached to anything else, or filler scenes of conversations or worldbuilding explanations that weren’t, ultimately, that important. The one I remember the most was a funny and poignant scene conversation between two characters talking about life and trauma. While I was very sad to remove it in the moment, with distance I see the story works better without it (AND, silver lining, now I have an entry for my “deleted scenes” folder that I can share with someday-fans of the story who are just as thirsty for these character interactions as I am).
Something else interesting happened as I learned to how to mercilessly cut for Story. I grew impatient with every scene that didn’t inspire me or stand out. Once I decided the impatience wasn’t just because I had to read the thing for the 1000th time, I started “sandboxing.”
Sandboxing is taking a scene and starting from scratch. I think this worked for two reasons. One, there’s that trick about rewriting a scene without looking at the old one, and the parts you remember are the parts that are important. But some of it was being able to reimagine how the scene could go without being stuck in the initial rewrite. Actually, I wrote about utilizing something like this before.
This process ended up being tricky, because sometimes the revised scenes ended up longer than the original scene. There was definitely some up and down with the word-count during that. But I was able to deepen what I really wanted in the story, which led to more ideas about what else could be changed.
And wow, I’ve been carrying on for a while here, so let me bring this thing to a close.
A few months into this process I realized that my manuscript could fit as Adult in category, and maybe actually should be Adult considering where I want to take the book and series. Which is very convenient, as Adult sci-fi and fantasy can be closer to 120k words, instead of 100k. Also convenient I decided this as I hit 125k and wondered how on earth I’d be cutting it any lower.
After some up and down word counts again, I’m at 126k words right now. I would like to get to 120k, but I decided I needed some outside help. I fell back in love with my story through rewriting so much of it, which is awesome, but also complicates keeping a clear perspective.
Thus, my beta-reading adventures have begun. If you’re curious, I’ve talked about some beta-reading culture problems here and how I attempted to address that here.
I hope this was helpful to y’all out there, or that it sparked some ideas on how to handle your own #wordcountproblems. I’m curious — have you had to cut a major amount of words from your manuscript before, and how did you do it?
We’ll be back, folks, in a month or two with the results of my second round of beta-reading! And then. Hopefully. Like actually querying.
I hope everyone is being kind to yourselves and taking time to feed your creative soul, whether that’s a nap, binge-reading, or taking a break. Talk soon!
So as I delve into my first actually serious attempt at utilizing beta-reading, I wanted to talk about a particular problem I’ve noticed in the writing community. Maybe saying it’s a ‘problem’ is too inflammatory. But bear with me for a second.
Beta reading is someone’s amazing dedication of time to look over another’s writing and give feedback. Writers tend to be a my-art-is-my-child bunch, so this is an important step in fixing any issues that the writer may have not seen being so close to their story. From everything from sharing with close friends to swapping read-for-read with strangers on the internet, beta reading is a fairly well ingrained idea in writing culture.
But it really bugs me when someone sends out their manuscript to be beta-read, and the response just crushes their soul.
Caveat: I’m well aware that some amount of negative reaction is normal when receiving criticism, especially when we’re talking my-story-is-my-baby writers. (*cough* me *cough*)
Especially when one writer is reading another writer’s work, it’s very easy to tell someone what to change and how. But I think it was Neil Gaiman who said: “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.”
Art is subjective. It’s intrinsic and instinctive, and easily warped by influence. And I’m starting to wonder if the role of the beta reader is actually that well understood.
So here’s my premise:
A beta-readers job is not to tell somehow how to write something. Their job is to highlight their reactions to the author in an as unfiltered way as possible. Armed with that data, the writer can then figure out how to solve it, if they want to solve it, in their way. “I got bored here” or “this is fascinating!” or “this is the place I took my first break from reading” is actionable information that tells the author how the story pacing is going. Maybe there’s too much info-dumping. Maybe some scenes need to be moved to later. Maybe one person thought one thing and another thought the opposite, so the issue can be relegated to “you can’t please everyone.” The point is, it’s all up to the author and no one else.
(Of course this is all different if a writer asks for advice on how to change something. But that’s straying into the role of a critique partner, which is different.)
Maybe this is just me finally getting with the program of the rest of the world, who already knows about these pitfalls and what to do about it, but it felt like a significant realization to me. And I think it also explains why I’ve always half-assed the beta-reading stage before. I’m a soft marshmallow soul and I think it would be too easy to be tied into knots and warp my own creative spirit with the wrong influence.
The second part of my premise: I think this problem is partially on the writer. Handing over a manuscript with a “tell me what you think!” is going to cause a variety of responses. Readers may not even know what to say. Particularly if the reader isn’t used to that particular genre or style. While a lot can be gotten out of that, I think it’s really easy to fall into a pit of unhelpful or even harmful feedback.
It’s up to the writer knowing and asking for what they need.
Which brings this whole conversation to now (and about me again, sorry). After finishing up the revision process I talked about last time, I decided to buckle up and do this beta-reading thing for real. In an organized and structured fashion. Which means actually knowing what I need and guiding the eyeballs on my words to give me actionable feedback. So, I built a strategy with everything I’ve just talked about in mind.
Once feedback comes back, I’ll be writing another post on, you know, if this actually works or if I’m just being self-important. But the basics of my strategy are… actually pretty simple and obvious now that I think about it.
I comprised a bunch of questions based off recommendations and research.
I made a list of about a dozen trusted people.
I sent the manuscript and questions with an outline of what I’m looking for to said people.
The set up was actually the fun part, which I’ll go into detail next time. Mostly I just used Google Sheets and Google Forms… with some personalization. But I’m strangely proud of myself for the whole thing. It’s probably silly. But we’ll see what happens when it all comes together!
For now I wait. Until then, what are your thoughts? How about your experiences with beta-reading — either reading or sending a manuscript to be read?
So I started something new, this past NaNoWriMo (yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m like 5 months late, I know). What with working full time, the train not always having a seat during my commute, and being too exhausted after work to actually do anything creative, I’ve been frustrated with my writing progress. Recently, I started implementing a new writing tool that’s shifted my writing process. And it’s been interesting.
If you remember, I mentioned the newest twist in my writing career. Since then I’ve been determinedly working to rewrite and revise my manuscript, though it’s taking longer than I expected (who’s surprised?). The revision so far has been equal parts awesome and terrifying, as I wrote in my last post.
Last November, I decided that I should use the energy that NaNoWriMo inspires to get a chunk of these revisions done, as I knew a decent portion of the manuscript needed to be totally rewritten (new words = word count for NaNo). That being said, I also knew I’d need to implement a new writing process to make any progress, what with the above mentioned full-time job and general exhaustion.
So I started writing on my phone with Google Docs. On the train, in the bathroom at work, even sometimes at work if it was slow. I didn’t think I’d ever be someone who wrote on Google Docs, let alone my phone. I have a problem with not being able to see my whole manuscript at once, or bounce between sections if I need to, and the narrow-view of Google Docs (especially on a phone) sounded stifling.
I’d previously tried it out a few months earlier on a different project I was playing with, and had quite a bit of success with it. It was so nice to be able to write on the train when I didn’t have a seat, in the checkout line at the grocery store, or waiting in the car to pick up a friend.
But this other story I started from scratch, just let the fingers fly when inspiration struck. The manuscript I’m rewriting is 115k words and a complicated mess of plot-lines, emotions, and motivations. I needed to be able to jump between scenes and move around sections with ease in order to rip it apart and put it back together again.
But I wanted to try it. So I started implementing a bit-by-bit process. Instead of uploading the whole thing and slashing through it, I uploaded sections at a time that I knew I’d have to rewrite. I’d tear the scene apart, keep a few segments I felt were good, and rewrite the rest, using the skills I’ve gained in the past three-odd years. Then, at the end of the day, I’d paste whatever I’d finished back into the main document to save (and for word count purposes; which got tricky as I had to separate previously-written from now-written, but that’s another subject).
Churning out rewritten scenes was also helpful because writing transitions to merge scenes or fill in a hole of information is often a nice, concise section to get done when time is limited. It set up the time where I ‘sat down to write’ (on weekends or the rare evening where I wasn’t exhausted) very nicely into smaller pieces. Plus, there’s a satisfaction to getting a hole filled that isn’t found as much when writing linearly.
And honestly… that worked out really well for slamming out sections. For NaNoWriMo and getting a big chunk of the manuscript rewritten, it was perfect.
Then about two months ago I found myself in a sticky situation. I am ripping apart this manuscript, taking it in a new direction that (I hope) is both different and more true to the original story. But especially in the midst of NaNoWriMo, where I would skip brand-new sections where I didn’t quite know what I was doing yet, I left critical scenes unwritten. Reaching the culmination of those scenes farther along down (as I left big holes where things scenes were, to focus on rewriting scenes and slamming out word counts), I was patting around in the dark without the proper detail that those previous scenes would provide.
So I turned my attention back to those scenes I skipped before in my effort to keep up momentum. I needed to write sections that are whole new scenes intricately connected to the events around them. And this has made it much harder to utilize Google Docs as a tool.
I kept freaking out that that sections were going to ‘feel’ different, written in isolation from each other. Or the logic/thought processes won’t flow. Or. Or. Or.
I definitely flashed back to previous writing habits, where I had to see everything all at once or I can’t write anything ahhhh. When in actuality, I just needed to chill and get the damn thing on the page, and worry about smoothing it all together later. (In fact I’m pretty sure Delilah Dawson wrote a thread on Twitter about this, something about her #TenThings on first drafts.)
So for the past couple months I’ve been stealing snippets of time during lunch break or in the evenings to get things done, where I can see the whole document (I’ve been using Scrivener, if you’re interested). The process has been very slow, but it has been steady. It’s gotten me to a place where I’ve been able to focus big picture and figure more out about how the littler pieces fit into the whole.
Now the manuscript resembles swiss cheese. But, it’s pretty easy to tell what needs to be done to get it done. So it’s back to Google Docs again.
I think the trick is (at least for me) is organization. If I know the main thrust of what I’m writing, and how it fits into the chapter/arc/whatever, it really works. The method that seems to be working for me best is to copy+paste the whole chapter along with the ‘hole’ or section I need to work on. Then I have the lead up, which starts me writing, and where it needs to end, which helps me aim.
This works less well for me in a crux scene, where I have to weave several things into each other. If I can’t jump around to make sure I’m covering everything I need to and have all the details right, I feel metaphorically blind.
Yet in other cases, I think it’s been beneficial to write in the narrow-view of one-section-at-a-time. With only one scene to write on, it makes me focus. Despite my wanting to see-the-whole-story-all-the-time, that can end up fracturing my attention and making me spin in circles. With only one thing to focus on, I’ve got to push through. (I think this could also be used with something like Word or whatever you like, but at least for Scrivener, it’s too easy for me to bounce between sections and start spinning, as I mentioned.)
So after all of that, I wanted to try to condense my whole experience into something actually helpful. Here are some bullet points I think we can glean from all of this:
Organization is key
Don’t worry about the whole; focus on pieces at a time
Don’t stifle yourself to one tool if it’s not working; switch when needed
At the end of the day, like ANY writing advice, this is going to be helpful to some and not to others. It all depends on your writing process and how your creativity works. My hope is to give some ideas on how to use tools to your advantage, but this is entirely dependent on you!
And on that note… I’m going to go finish a fancy ballroom scene where my MC is wheedling an internship out of a hospital CEO so she can sleuth to where she thinks there are victims of her sister’s killer…
I’m pretty sure it’s a solid fact of humanity that we’re not very good with change. Sure, there are the exceptions. But from changes at work to changes in our own selves and relationships — especially if we’re not expecting it — change tends to make us all react in bizarre and unhelpful ways.
Writers are particularly finicky. Hell, we can broaden that statement to artists in general. A lot of us have particular elements or situations we need in order to write (like needing silence or white noise or a cup of tea handy or a particular kind of music playing). Changing or not getting a particular element can throw a writer off, terribly.
But what happens when the routine itself… changes? What happens when the tried and true methods no longer work?
I used to be able to write in almost any scenario; music always helped, and I liked to shift positions and sit weirdly all the time. But the only consistent element in my writing routine was that I worked best during late morning and late evening. I could write other times, but it was only when those particular times hit that I really got on a roll.
I’m sure you can guess my next statement.
My writing routine is changing. Heck, it’s changed. In the evenings I’m usually too exhausted to form coherent sentences, and during the late morning I’m at work, so that doesn’t work. But even before I started working full time I was noticing a shift.
I’m not sure how to pinpoint the causes. Working full time is an obvious one for part of this (equaling lack of time and exhaustion), but even going to college full time and working, I made writing happen in the snippets and furious late night sessions.
What is it about now that’s messing up everything?
Maybe this is combined with plain ol’ growing older. I’m almost 26. My brain is officially shedding any functions I don’t use often, my body is setting into a shape with a much lower metabolism, no one is really interested in my hopes and dreams so much as where I’m working and what I’m doing with my life. I have responsibilities. I can’t skip work because I don’t feel well or because I’m feeling particularly inspired by a story. I’m managing to handle my migraines and my health. I’m working on saving enough for my own place.
I’m no longer a driven, mature kid – I’m an adult and the behavior is expected of me.
It’s not exactly the thing the sparks the imagination. Between everything – pressure and responsibilities and mental issues – it’s so very easy to fall into a rut of… nothing. Daily actions repeated for necessity but no desire.
Why is being an adult so busy?
In my last Behind the Scenes in Publishing post, I touched upon how my approach to writing is shifting because of the business side of being an author has been taking up a lot of brain space lately. I think that has a part to play in my whole writing routine being messed up, too.
Struggling or being unable to write seems to be a common complaint among my fellow debute-ers. Between marketing and exposing your heart to the world with a book baby and exciti-waiting for this book thing to happen… can we really be surprised that energy level and creativity might be a little shaky?
The other day I realized I haven’t finish writing for almost three years. Besides the commission from my publisher of writing Pridem (the prequel to my Obsidian Divide series that will now be my debut), which was different because it’s short and I already knew the story. I haven’t finished anything since I signed my publishing contract, in fact, which I talk about more in depth in the above blog post I mentioned.
I’ve written quite a bit, and almost finished a few projects… almost. That scares me. I’d been consistently writing at least one book a year before that. Between focusing on learning all this marketing and working full time and various other stressors (starting with mental health and ending with plain ol’ ridiculous life situations), it feels like my writing escape is starting to become… just another stress.
A stress I highly enjoy, mind you. But the BUSINESS part of being an author has taken over my head, and it’s leaving me terrified I’ll never write a book again because I’ve always written from a place of hidden-in-my-own-world. That doesn’t really exist anymore. Maybe it can be at an idea’s inception. But at some point I have to think about selling the thing so I can keep writing. Writing isn’t just escape and satisfaction when my brain is on fire. Writing is now… creativity making a world people can escape to and maybe learn from that holds a piece of my soul.
Which means, really, that my way of approaching writing has shifted. So maybe it’s no wonder that my routine is up in the air.
I did have a bit of an epiphany the other day. And it’s a silly, simple thing, that we often hear as writing advice but I didn’t really understand until this moment.
I’ve got to figure out how to get back to writing for myself. That’s how I wrote all of my other stories. Maybe some people can, but I can’t seem to write without the passion for it. It just falls flat, boring. It also feels like pulling myself through molasses to get anything on the page.
And yeah, that ‘business’ side of writing is constantly in my head. But, as I read in an article that I now can’t find, that’s what editing is for.
I’ve got to banish thinking about genre and craft and market and character arc and just write. And then when the whole damn messy thing is out on pages, I can turn it into something that I can actually use as Professional Author.
It’s bizarre, this uneasy marriage between creativity and business. I’ve always heard of it but never realized how crippling it can be to learn how to balance it.
Anyway, I’ve somehow wandered off my original subject, writing habits — but the vomit of words above seems to have a lot to do with it. The point is, I’ve somehow got to get back to my well of creativity, and I think fostering new writing habits is key. My old writing habits have to change, for obvious practical adult-life reasons, and because I think it can nurture my creativity.
I guess my point of all of this is, maybe don’t be afraid of writing habits changing. As humans, we’re creatures of adaptation and change, our lives by very definition cannot stay the same. Maybe our writing — the content, the style, and the way we go about it — is meant to change, perhaps with each era of our lives. Be willing to try new ways of doing something.
Now… off to build new habits, inspire creativity, and make something great.
So this will be a funny post. But since my brain likes to draw parallels between seemingly unrelated things, we’re going to go with it.
The other day I was playing with Solstice Kitty, otherwise known as Solara, the adopted furry-white monstrosity that I ended up taking on in a sort of rescue situation. She’s pretty amazing but also a terror that likes to wake people up at 2 in the morning demanding attention, but I digress.
We’ve been getting new toys for her (as we both work full time at the moment and she ends up bored and alone a lot of the day), and we found one that has really seemed to stick. It’s basically just a furry thing attached to a string attached to a stick that I hold and flick around/race across the room with.
My coming-home-from-work routine has become: get home, throw off annoying clothes and put on comfy ones, start a fire, starting playing with cat. Keep playing with cat, in between bouts of writing and making dinner and whatever else.
A few days in to this new routine, I was struck by an odd comparison: writing fiction is like using a toy to play with a cat.
And here’s why.
Writing professionally is a partnership. It’s an interaction between writer and reader.
So you dangle something in front of them. The reader (or the cat) has to be interested in whatever it looks like, first off. But if they are interested… that’s when the fun begins.
You can use this cat toy (book), and do the same movement, over and over. You can flick it around in the same pattern, the same way. But at some point you’re going to lose kitty-cat interest.
Are you going to move it or what?
So you have to change it up. Move in circles, and then diagonal, and then figure-eights, whatever. Toss the toy in their lap, and then tease it away. Stand still for a second — and then jerk it away.
Maybe even run across the room. Make them chase you. Make them work for it. But if you do that all the time (constant, face-paced, always work), kitty cat loses interest because they can’t keep up, or no longer want to because it’s the same (and becomes boring). You might need to slow down at parts.
Stop running away. I have it. IT’S MINE.
At the same time, letting them have the toy [answers] all the time just becomes… meh. Why bother? You’ll need to keep the toy [answers] away from said kitty (reader). At the same time, if that’s all you do, it’s frustrating and they’ll probably walk away.
It’s a balance, this kitty-playing and writing thing. Let them chew on it a bit. Maybe stop moving all together. Let them think they’ve won. Before racing away again!
Nom nom nom nom nom
Obstacles are also a great way to spice things up. In fact, it’s highly recommended to use the actual environment of the book to create said obstacles. As for your feline friend, making them jump over couches, boxes, and chairs, or dive under couches, can be fantastically fun. It’s very exciting that way, you know.
BUT, this is where the comparison falls apart a little. While you’re writing, you don’t actually directly have a reader to play with as the words flow (Well, I suppose you could…) It’s a solitary activity really.
So maybe the better comparison is more along the lines of programming a robot to go through a set of actions with a cat toy. And then watching as the cat plays to see if they continue to be entertained.
And then continually revising the programming. Because there are always a few moments that could be better…
Last one I swear
Okay, so, I realize there are a lot of reasons why this parallel doesn’t actually work, starting with things like writing style (well, which could be the type of toy…), character development, and world building (though that could be the physical obstacles in the room…), but this is all just for fun anyway.
I hope you enjoyed my silly analogy session. Feel free to comment with your thoughts below!
I would like to note that I wrote this post while Solstice Kitty herself stared at me and attempted to intervene in all matters requiring fingers to be away from playing with her.
I read an interesting article the other day about how writers view our careers. Now I can’t find the article, which is annoying, but the author of the article spoke about our skewed vision of what our lives look like with successful career.
She wrote that we live with this whimsical idea ‘a real writer’s life’: living in a small apartment overlooking a city scape with mountains of books along the walls. We head to coffee shops to write, our days and nights are spent laboring over words and concepts, and we never keep a regular sleep schedule.
Or maybe we live in a cabin in the woods, or on land — either which way, some sort of solitary space where we stare out of the window for hours and as the world moves slowly past.
Recognize that visual?
She brought up an interesting point: this writing-life ‘ideal’ is straight from the era of writers who we consider classics (addendum from me: classical white male writers, anyway). The most prominent of these writers lived these kinds of lifestyles that pop up often when someone thinks of Author Life. But — and this is a big but — she mentions that these authors did so by living in countries that were post-revolution, post-war, or post some other crisis, where living expenses were cheap and aesthetics were set to ‘elegant grunge.’
She continued her point by saying that this kind of lifestyle and way of living no longer really exists. Nowadays, most writers have day jobs: some other means of support as writing isn’t, or isn’t yet, enough.
Writing is not a terribly profitable career. It’s not necessarily steady or high-paying, and it takes an enormous amount of energy and creative blood. We do it anyway, for a variety of reasons including the inability to stop writing really. But in order to live in a capitalist society without personal patrons to sponsor the arts and the like, it takes years for us to be able to survive on just writing (if ever at all). And often, there’s a partner involved.
(Well, actually, that could be said for most careers — it’s very difficult to realistically live in a single-income household, so maybe that’s a moot point.)
So her point was that the ideal of Author Life needs to shift, that we need to incorporate and give room for reality that includes working another job, always or until writing becomes profitable.
Even before reading this article I’d been noticing something, but it clicked into place especially after I read the piece. It seems that a large percentage of the women writers I know and love tend to be stay at home moms. (Which is a job, mind you.)
The point is, they have financial support from their partners, work a job raising the next generation, and it (often but not always) allows the flexibility of sneaking in writing time around managing the household.
Now I’m not saying this is what people need to do. And I’m probably overestimating what percentage of writers are stay-at-home parents. I’m just saying that there’s often a kind of flexibility in that path that more readily allows for a writing career.
That is not to say that there aren’t other ways or that writers don’t juggle two careers. It’s pretty common for successful writers to have two careers, or be a writer after a different career. Hell, I know a lot of writers who love both of their careers. So maybe this article is aimed a little more towards those who really only get satisfaction from writing.
Me, for example: I find little real satisfaction in my ‘career’ outside of writing. But I think that has more to do with being in the wrong field than anything else. I actually want to do something other than writing, even while I know writing will be with me till the end.
At the same time, when I’m working full time it’s so difficult to make any sort of writing happen. But again, I find that most often with jobs that are draining, uninspiring, and frustrating. So I’m wondering if the nuance being teased out here is less about “other job or no other job” and more about what kind of job. How much is flexibility key in helping make a writing career possible?
And there’s another factor that adds into this. I’ve heard often, and have recognized in myself, that if all you do is write, you often run out of creative energy. So to another point, how important is it that writers do have other careers or big influences in their lives to feed creativity/prevent creative exhaustion?
I know, it’s not necessarily what any full-time-writer-hopeful wants to hear. You have to expend more energy, take time away from writing, to actually write? The more I think about this, the most intrigued I am by the history behind this Ideal Author Lifestyle that resonates through a lot of writers.
Why do we have this image of the reclusive, kept-to-theirself writer as the hallmark standard? Don’t we, as writers, write to pinpoint some aspect of the human condition, or seek or entertain through some window of the human soul? Why do we think that being cut off from society is the way to do this?
Don’t get me wrong, I get it. I’m definitely an introvert, as most of those plagued by the writing bug tends towards. And I know, the introverted and introspective tend to think deeper and harder about things in general, so it’s not like we have to be plugged into society at all times in order to observe and try to understand.
We writers need to be in the world, for financial reasons or at least creative ones. That isn’t to say that we don’t need introvert times, as writing is intrinsically a very solitary endeavor. But we still need to have some part in it.
Isn’t it interesting, that a lot of those who write about the human condition kinda often don’t really want to engage in it? Or we do, but in a way that we can retreat from when we need.
Anyway. Where I’m trying to go with this meandering stream of thoughts is that maybe the above-mentioned article right, that our image of what Ideal Author Lifestyle looks like needs to be challenged. There were quite a few Author Life whimsy depictions in the article that resonated with me (though many that didn’t as well); I hadn’t realized how much of that idea I’d internalized from a bygone era.
It seems that maybe this misleading ‘ideal’ may be to blame for some of the frustration that a lot of writers seem to feel about how their lives look now. There are so many paths to making a successful writing career, and so many ways it can look.
So what is it that we really need to be looking for out of our professional lives?
What do you think? Do you have notions of what a writer’s life looks like that you want to strive for? What’s your Ideal Author Life?
Well, if you haven’t already seen, my project for this National Novel Writing Month was actually a manuscript I’d worked on last year, but now from a different perspective. I go into greater detail about the whys and whats in my previous NaNo post, but the short of it is, the manuscript needed a dual POV to make it work.
I’m glad I forced myself to churn out that creativity. As per usual, the pressure of NaNo helped me get my head in the game and just drive through it. I found myself absolutely loving the second POV, and found further points in the plot that could be expanded or re-framed.
A few differences from other years: the ‘dislike’ of this manuscript popped up sooner and actually continued until the end. Usually I get over it the last week. I think it’s because I’ve been working on this story for a while, and it’s a complex concept dealing with a lot of issues — from environmental themes to colonialism to white saviorism… all with very complicated people (because I can’t seem to write simple people). In all the complexity it’s easy to mess up.
There’s so much potential in this story, but that doesn’t matter if I don’t have the skills and ability to get there. Sooo at the end of the day, I think all my problems came from artistic doubt.
That being said, I still ‘won’ the thing:
So I shouldn’t complain too much.
Whether or not the words are good is the next problem. But I think only a clear head and some serious beta readers are going to help me solve that. It would also help if the damn manuscript was finished — I haven’t written a solid chunk of the ending, basically because I have no idea how to get from point A to Z with any sort of clarity. Every time I try I end up down another rabbit hole!
I think that there are elements that need to come together in the ending that I haven’t teased out enough in the beginning and middle, so it feels awkward and weird. That being said the manuscript is sitting at 134k words so I’m not sure how much longer I can make this this… But, I can also cut later.
Anyway, back to NaNoWriMo.
As I mentioned before, my last work assignment ended in November, so I ended up suddenly having a lot of free time on my hands this month. So if anyone out there reading this is frustrated because you didn’t ‘finish’ — A) don’t compare yourself to me, I was probably doing a lot less than you, and B) hey now, whatever you wrote is WORTH it. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart. NaNo is just a tool to get more words. 50k is pretty arbitrary when you think about it.
I managed to keep good habits, both writing wise and personally getting things done. I’m not sure I really *learned* anything more about myself as a writer, unlike in past years, which is a little disheartening. But it might click later what doesn’t seem obvious now.
But that’s all boring. The point is: more words! Whooo! I’m leaving the manuscript alone throughout December because I need a clear head, but I’m going to really commit to this thing next year. I need it done, so that I can see it whole and then revise for real. I’ve been planning and writing and fiddling with this manuscript for like two years. It’s starting to fester in my brain.
Anyway, that’s the conclusion of what I have here. It was a weird NaNoWriMo for me, guys!
How was yours? Any new insights into yourself or your manuscript?
Okay, so we all know what Young Adult (or YA) is. Novels written for a teenage audience. And we know what “Adult” books are. Books written for an adult audience.
If you don’t know what “New Adult” is, that’s okay, because it’s kind of a new phenomenon and doesn’t have an aisle at the library yet. Simply put, New Adult, or NA, are novels geared towards that aggravating in between stage in life, where you’re technically an adult but are lost in the big, wide world and are pretty sure you’re still a kid somehow.
Those can be pretty broad terms. An age-group can encompass a vast variety of experiences and lessons — and each of these can be different depending on the person. We all learn and grow at different rates, and everybody probably has different ideas of what should happen (or what’s appropriate) for a particular age group anyway.
For simplicities sake, we’ll go with this explanation I’ve heard and appeals to me: YA is about finding yourself, NA is about finding how you fit into the world.
Now, obviously, that’s simplistic. There are adult books that are stories about finding yourself or finding your place in the world. Honestly, I think “finding yourself” happens at any age and all throughout your life, but there does seem to be a particular foundational self-finding as a teen. Or self-solidifying. Or something. But anyway, NA is college-aged focused, tends to be more mature and have darker content.
Because certain things are more acceptable in NA… and the fact that not a lot of people know about NA, so those who do tend to dominate simply by design… and if we’re looking at numbers a lot of writers tend to write some element of romance… a lot of the writers spearheading the NA as an age-group write romance.
NA is able to delve into the area of sex and sexuality that is frowned upon in YA, which means that what people love about YA gets to be mixed with another very popular element: sex. Descriptions and “exploration” of sex is allowed in NA where it’s not in YA. A win-win for a lot of people.
However, this is also leading to a source of frustration.
Please note: THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH ROMANCE. I love romance. I read quite a bit of romance. I’m a romantic person, I eat it up, especially when I want a happily ever after where everyone is okay in the end and the idea of reading anything about reality makes me want to goat-bolt into the nearest bed.
(I’m going to make goat-bolting a thing. It’s really fast. Trust me.)
Buuuuuuut. The frustration stems from the overwhelmed amount of romance that is dominating New Adult. NA seems to be, practically, just “YA with sex” instead of “college-aged life struggles of finding where you fit in with life.” (Which includes sex of course but you get what I’m saying.) NA has a huge capacity to explore A LOT, but many people of the NA age group or who enjoy the NA age group get frustrated by the seemingly never ending stories about sexual awakening.
Sometimes you want something non-romance. Not only because of the lovely asexual folks out there, who don’t want every book they read in their age group to be smut, but because diversity is a wonderful thing that leads to greatness. Also, choices, because that’s a thing, asexual or otherwise. Romance is great, but when you’re inundated with it you can become sick of it.
The truth is, I get really excited about New Adult stories. I’m a new adult. I feel like I’m in this adult world helplessly swimming in tar looking at everything like WTF AM I DOING. (Current world affairs don’t help.) Finding oneself is amazing and wonderful, but putting those pieces of yourself out in the world and finding how where best they fit keeps me up late wondering. This is where magic happens. This is where “oneself” starts changing the world. This is where “oneself” goes from meaning something just to you to finding the you that means something to other people. It’s terrifying, exhilarating, incredible. Sometimes it’s heartbreak and destruction. Sometimes it’s belonging and joy.
Anyway, the point is: NA is an age-group, not a genre, which means it’s capacity for story is GIGANTIC. I sometimes forget in my own little world where I write what I want, that reality doesn’t always reflect what I think it is or what I think it should be. So, it was really only recently that I realized, yeah, NA is pretty romance-heavy.
But I think there’s an evolution.Since it’s a new age-group, it takes a little bit before it’s fully fleshed out. Romance brought attention to NA: it’s becoming popular and noticed. Agents and publishers acknowledge it, the indie-publishing scene is all over it. Which means that now, as people realize it’s a thing, there will be people writing into it that have other stories to tell.
It’s funny, I wrote NA stories before it was even an age-group. I just wrote what I wanted to see in the world, I wasn’t really worried about it fitting in a bracket. Maybe that’s why I have confidence that NA will move on from “YA with sex” — because if I’m writing it, someone else had to be too. If readers and writers are frustrated about NA seeming limited to one genre, they’ll start writing something different.
NA will evolve. It will become more diverse. Many of us are working on making it so. And hey, if you’re one of those, I’d love to hear from you! Let’s be writing buddies.
Comments? Questions? What’s your experience with New Adult — are you writing it?