This week turned out to be a wonderfully productive week. I wrote 4,429 words in a new story, Bewitched by the Dragon, and wrote a 4,678-word short story, Upon the Witching Hour, a retelling of Cinderella (but with a twist). I also wrote and posted my first Insecure Writers Support Group post, and am finding IWSG to be a supportive community.
I paused a couple chapters into Bewitched by the Dragon, though, because something felt off. I felt like I was going in the wrong direction, and sometimes a couple days of distance and careful thought shows me where I went wrong, and I actually end up further ahead than I would’ve if I’d just charged through. It’s a big lesson I’ve learned on this path.
I realized that the problem was that the story itself is intended to be novella length, and for that to work the hero and heroine need to meet up in chapter one. As it was written, it took them several chapters to even meet—that’s several chapters where there’s no sexual tension, no romance developing. Plot-wise, that just doesn’t work.
Tonight the answer came to me. They need to meet up by the end of chapter one, and I figured out how to do that. There are still a ton of unanswered questions swirling around this story, involving character arcs and backstory and a host of other normal, first-draft issues. And I’m still torn between first and third person POV, as I mentioned in a previous post. But now that I’ve solved this first riddle, I can work on solving the others. Back to the page!
The next couple weeks I have two manuscript critiques to do, so those will be my main focus. I’d like to at least get the first three chapters of Bewitched by the Dragon rewritten, though. Later this month I can move forward with that. I still have to get to the next draft of Fates Entangled as well, but that probably won’t happen until June at the earliest.
What about you? Do you ever need to take a day or two away from a project for some brainstorming?
As writers, we think a lot about point of view. Sometimes our genre dictates what POV we use, although even within a genre we can use our own creativity. Yasmine Galenorn writes paranormal romance that’s first person, unusual for the romance genre where third person is often used. YA often calls for first person, although third is also frequently employed.
I’m thinking about it this week for two reasons: one, I just started a new project, and two, I’m doing a read-through of a friend’s manuscript. Both have me thinking about genre expectations when it comes to POV. I started writing my story in first-person, present tense, rarely used in romance, and while I love writing in that POV and tense (I love the immediacy of it), I also realized when I added in the hero’s perspective that it got a little confusing. I might write the first chapter in both third and first and then seek out an opinion on which one works better. Ultimately, it’s about making sure readers don’t feel confused or jarred by point of view shifts, and jumping from POV to POV in a first-person story can be difficult.
We shall see what happens. Have you ever faced this dilemma? How did you decide?
A brief check-in:
This week I wrote 3,356 words in a new story (title pending). It’s paranormal romance—and there’s a dragon. Last week I finished the fifth draft of Spellfire’s Kiss and sent it off to beta readers, and I put the finishing touches on a short story and submitted it to a magazine. I’m also in the process of doing a read-through of a friend’s manuscript, so I’m trying to work my way through that story and give lots of feedback.
I’m currently reading Mugs and Monasteries by Cait O’Sullivan. It’s a short read, although a little confusing at times. I think it’s meant to be a little disorienting, but there were times where I felt like I’d missed something, only to realize that was just part of how the story was unfolding. Still, it’s a delightful journey into Ireland, and the characters drink lots of tea, so I can’t complain!
No major projects on the home front, just the usual tidying and baking and trying new recipes.
What have you been up to this week? I’d love to hear from you!
While studying creative writing in undergraduate and grad school, I participated in countless writing workshops. I’ve been a member of critique groups and read countless writing books. But there’s one thing I’ve only recently come to realize: Sometimes people’s writing advice is bad.
Well, let me clarify. It’s not necessarily bad advice. It’s just bad advice for you.
I’m not talking about craft. “Don’t head-hop” is a good rule to follow, and you break it at your own peril. Three-act structure seems to be ingrained in reader’s minds, and we often subconsciously know when it isn’t followed. A book that starts too slowly and leads readers to put it down, for example, might have a first act that’s too long. No, the basic rules of writing hold, and everything I learned in undergraduate and grad school taught me and reinforced those rules.
But then I emerged, M.F.A. in hand, into the wide world of writing, and all of a sudden, I didn’t have my professors to guide me. So I turned to writing books and that experience, by and large, has been a productive one, a continuation of my education as a writer.
But some of those books have poisoned the well for me, and there’s a simple reason. Sometimes people think that what works for one writer will work for another, and they present their process as an absolute, a formula anyone can follow that leads to success.
And I’ve attempted those methods, those processes, and failed, and slammed into the brick wall we call writer’s block.
That’s when my husband, a non-writer (an IT guy, if you must know), suggested that I take a break from writing books. “They’re causing you to stop writing. You already know how to write. You just need to do it.”
Yeah, he was probably right.
When I first started on my writing journey, I was (and still am) super-curious about other writers’ processes. One writer writes 500 words a day, religiously. Another feels 1,000 words is the sweet spot, and still another says 2,000 words is the minimum quota for professional writers. One writer proofreads but never revises. Another says she writes ten drafts. Still another writes the first draft, puts it in a drawer, and starts over.
And what I’ve learned is that my own process is a constantly evolving creature, changing as I grow as a writer and matching no one else’s. I know the rules of writing. I can urge and cajole a story into three-act structure. I can see when a character arc isn’t working or isn’t strong enough. I can see when a story starts to drag. And I can understand the feedback beta readers give me. “The opening is too slow.” “He doesn’t have much of a character arc.” “There’s too much backstory.” “Up the romance factor.” I know how to fix a story to fix the problems their keen eyes have noticed.
I know how to write. But when I read books about process and try to stuff my writing routine into someone else’s process, well, ugh. Things just grind to a halt.
So from now on, I will follow the process that works for me. Two of my stories, a novella and a novel, have won awards. I’ve published two novelettes and written a number of manuscripts. I can do this—because, well, I’ve done it before.
I just need to close the freaking door, shut everyone else out, and work with all the knowledge that’s in my own mind, the feedback from trusted beta readers and CPs, and listen to the stories whispering in my ear.
For me, that’s all I need at the moment. And in the future, I will be wary of trying to stuff my round-peg process into the square-hole I found on someone else’s blog, or in an author interview, or in a craft book. There are rules to the craft of writing. But ultimately, when it comes to process, we need to learn our own. Creativity comes to all of us in different shapes and forms. We need to follow our intuition and go our own way.
After all, if we want our stories to be fresh and unique, we must be ourselves, whomever we may be.
Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. Missed a couple days, but progress is being made. I started revising a novelette and expanding it to novella length. Previously titled White Wolf, Red Cloak, I’ve retitled it Fates Entangled, upped the paranormal/magical factor by adding in a touch of witchcraft, and am expanding it to about 20K from the original 15K. And I’m upping the heat factor as well.
Reconnect with my spiritual practice. Reading The Art of Bliss by Tess Whitehurst.
Start a regular yoga practice. Nope.
At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Decorated for Yule/Christmas. Baked chocolate-banana bread. Stocked up on some more scrapbooking supplies. Bought a frame so we can have a large print of one of our wedding portraits made and hang it in our bedroom.
A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life, is now on Facebook. Join us!
Ever-curious about fellow writers’ creative processes, I’d love to hear yours. Have you ever gotten advice on process that’s led you astray? What is your process like?
For the time being, I have given up pantsing. It’s only been successful for me with a handful of short stories (around the 5K mark). With longer books, I end up with first drafts that either go unfinished and languish in a drawer somewhere, or first drafts that are a pile of mush, plot-wise, and require massive rewrites.
Earlier this year, as I worked on Goblins and Grimoires, I was thrilled with my word counts. But I had no plan, and the result was a manuscript that needs a complete rewrite. I think the mess that was that novella was a tipping point. I didn’t realize it, but I needed a different way.
If I’m being completely honest, I’m still trying to find my way out of a writing dry spell. But I do know that I don’t want to write unusable first drafts. They don’t have to be perfect, but they have to at least make sense.
So I’ve gone back to studying story structure, especially Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. Armed with a couple of beat sheets—one based on Brooks’ thoughts on structure, another for romance writers and based on Blake Snyder’s work—I’m trying to move forward with a new story. (Note: Both beat sheets were created by the talented Jami Gold and are available at her website.)
I think part of it is that structure doesn’t come naturally to me. I come from a background in poetry, and poetic structure isn’t plot structure. I also have a background in magazine writing, and that’s more of a get-everything-on-the-page-and-cut-and-paste deal. But fiction? Fiction is its own beast, and I have to find a way to grapple with structure that doesn’t lead to massive page-one rewrites.
I’m starting small. A few years ago, I started a holiday-themed short story, Under the Mistletoe’s Spell. I only managed to write an opening scene, and figured the story was just for dabbling. But a few days ago I had a brainstorm—lightning and everything. What if the story wasn’t a contemporary paranormal, but a historical fantasy setting? Add in a Regency-inspired fantasy world and two characters with high stakes, and that could be one smoking holiday fantasy romance. And since the holiday season is upon us, what better time to pen a Yule-inspired tale?
Tonight I plan to gather my beat sheets and the rough synopsis I’ve written and start hammering away, working the story into a structure that hits all the right plot points at all the right moments. This is an experiment. If it works, this method will definitely help, especially with longer stories. And since this is a shorter work, it should be a good place to experiment with story structure.
I’d like to dedicate the next few weeks to finishing a first draft of this story. I keep hopping from story to story, idea to idea, with nothing really sticking. And that’s not really usual for me. Usually I settle in and finish a draft (even if it’s awful—and some have been awful. Not all, of course, but some).
So this is an experiment. Let’s see if it works. If it does, it could go a long way to helping me plot my stories before I begin them.
Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. Saturday: Read a chapter in Finding Water by Julia Cameron and did corresponding exercises. Sunday: Brief brainstorming session with hubby. Monday: Wrote 921 words in Under the Mistletoe’s Spell, along with a rough synopsis. Tuesday: Created two beat sheets for Under the Mistletoe’s Spell.
Reconnect with my spiritual practice. I wrote a couple of brief Pagan songs, so progress on this front. And I’m starting to realize that much of my poetry has a strong spiritual basis, so any poetry I write is very much connected to this goal.
Start a regular yoga practice. No progress to report.
At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Nothing yet.
What about you? How do you handle story structure? Does it come naturally, or is it an area you’ve grappled with? Any hints, tips, or tricks?
It’s no secret that I have a lot of WIPs. So many that at times it makes my head spin. Sometimes I’ll write a few pages of a story and realize that it’s not going anywhere, and I’m okay with setting those stories aside indefinitely. But I have a number of projects begging for revision, or stories with a lot of potential that I’m determined to finish.
That’s where the almighty list comes in. I’ve created a list with four categories: stories that are finished (only one in that column so far, soon to be two), stories to be revised, stories with uncompleted first drafts, and stories that may or may not be completed.
My goal, then, is to go from one category to another. So first, I’ll revise a story from the “stories to be revised” list, and then finish an uncompleted tale. And, of course, along the way new stories will pop up, and I’ll try to make room for those, too.
A midweek ROW80 check-in…
Writing: Honestly, there’s not much to report so far. I finished a read-through of The Faerie Key. I don’t want to make major changes to it at this stage, but there’s one scene that needs a little bit of work before it’s ready. I’ve uploaded a number of my WIPs to my Kindle for read-throughs. I’m not sure I’ll finish everything I set out to do this week, but hopefully I can at least finish a draft of Autumn Ember.
Reading: I’m currently reading Harvest Hunting by Yasmine Galenorn. She writes these wonderful, fast-paced stories featuring kick-butt heroines, and I’m enjoying the story so far.
If you’re a writer, this battle rages in your psyche on a regular basis. The creative, who makes these huge intuitive leaps and brings stories into this world from out of the ether. The creative, who makes something out of nothing, splashes of ink on a once blank page, seeming to spin straw into gold.
And then there’s the critic, that nagging voice who says nothing is ever good enough.
Sometimes it feels like the writing process is an ongoing battle between the creative voice that knows without knowing how it knows and the critic, who knows that something is wrong.
The hardest part is that sometimes the critic is right. Sometimes the story isn’t working, and the critic speaks up.
But if the critic’s voice becomes too strong, the creative wants to quit, pack up and walk away from the story.
This week was exactly that sort of battle for me. I just finished edits on two stories, and decided before I dug into another revision I would pen a short story, something small and fresh to break up the revision process. I found a character, Silver, working in her garden as a storm approached. The first night I wrote a couple thousand words, just getting to know my characters and their dilemma.
After I finished writing that night, the critic started tearing the story apart. But the creative? She loved those characters, and she wouldn’t quit. She wanted to finish that story.
The critic spent the next twenty-four hours debating how to fix the story. All she knew was that the current depiction of the antagonist didn’t work, wasn’t fresh enough.
She came up with no solutions.
So I sat down at the page and told the creative voice to take over. Write something, anything.
And you know what? The critic shut up, and the creative worked her magic, and by the end of the night I was staring at a 6,000-word short story titled Silver’s Stray. Was it perfect? No. But it was a completed first draft.
I don’t pretend to have the answers. All I know is that sometimes we need to tell the critic to shut up and allow the creative free rein. Because the creative voice is a creature of intuition and imagination, and she knows answers the critic can’t even dream of.
Lastly, an ROW80 check-in:
Writing: Edited The Faerie Key and sent it to my proofreader. Finished a second draft of White Wolf, Red Cloak. It’s ready to send to the editor as soon as she’s available. Wrote 6,017 words in Silver’s Stray, a short story. First draft finished!
Reading: Read Twilight Guardians by Maggie Shayne and continued reading Garden Witch’s Herbal by Ellen Dugan.
A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.
How was your week? How do you balance your creative and critical sides?
Yeah, that’s how I’ve been feeling these past few weeks. I am super-excited to be launching an indie career over the next few months. I’ve been writing professionally since 2008, and my first two works of fiction will go live on September 6.
That means lots of research. Over the years I’ve read my fair share of books on writing craft and the writing biz, but for some reason I’m starting to feel overwhelmed by all the information I’m trying to process. Maybe because I feel like I finally have to make choices with that info. Information such as…
You can’t write a cohesive first draft if you don’t know at least the basics of your plot.
You can write bird by bird, scene by scene, one word at a time.
All first drafts are crap. Revision is your lifeline.
Revision is for suckers.
All good books have a three-act structure.
Three-act structure is an artificially imposed construct. Feel free to ignore it.
KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited are going to make you a fortune.
Run as far and as fast as you can from KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited.
If you write quickly you can make a living writing short fiction.
No one makes money writing short fiction.
If you’re going indie, you need your own imprint.
Starting a publishing imprint for your self-published books makes it look like you’re trying to trick readers into thinking you’re not self-published.
You’re doomed if you don’t…
You’re doom if you do…
Head. Exploding. Too. Much. Information.
You seen what I mean, right? So here are a few things I’ve learned so far:
One: Most of what I learn as an indie author will be trial and error.
You can’t necessarily replicate someone else’s results. So much of what I’ll learn won’t be from reading someone else’s blog post but from my own experience.
Two: If someone gives you a hard and fast rule regarding process, it might not work for you.
Just because outlining has worked for another author for twenty years, that doesn’t mean you’ll get there by outlining. And just because another author has written by the seat of his/her pants for twenty years, that doesn’t mean you can. Process is highly individual, so do what works for you.
Yes, all that information is still giving me a headache. And I will probably spend the next few years sorting out what works from what doesn’t work. Or the next few decades. (Seriously, I hope not.)
Lastly, a brief ROW80 check-in…
Writing: Did one last read-through of The Faerie Key and sent it to the proofreader. Starting a second draft of White Wolf, Red Cloak, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. My goal is to finish that draft this week and get that story to the editor soon, and then start revisions on Spellfire’s Kiss.
Reading: Finished reading Twilight Guardians. Loved the world. As always, Maggie Shayne’s writing was excellent. Love her books. Currently reading Garden Witch’s Herbal by Ellen Dugan, which is packed full of flower, plant, and tree lore and magical correspondences.
A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.
What about you? How do you handle conflicting writing advice? What are some of the contradictory pieces of advice you’ve received over the years, and how have you sorted them out?
It started as a niggling feeling in the back of my mind, like an earthworm tunneling through the soil: You don’t know how to fix this story. And then it grew, like a python squeezing me, making it hard to breathe: You cannot write a novel. It’s too big, too many moving parts.
Sigh. It’s not the first time story panic has crept up on me. And it probably won’t be the last. So, while I shift my focus to a few short stories for the time being, I’m spending my spare time thinking about my soon-to-be novel Goblins and Grimoires. I mentioned in my last post that the story has some structural issues. So before I dig back into it and add about 20,000 words and do some major rewrites, I’m taking some time to read a few novels, examine how they handle each of the four parts of story structure (setup, response, attack, resolution), and consider what’s missing from my story and how I can fix it.
So yes, the panic is there. But I’ve been writing for years now, and I’ve learned how to handle it. I know I cannot let it stop me. I just breathe through it and keep moving. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned:
1.) As Nora Roberts said, I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank one.
Though my story needs a lot—a lot—of work, draft 1.1 is done. Draft 1.2 will expand on that first draft, fill in the blanks, let it breathe, add layers. But if I hadn’t finished draft 1.1, there would be nothing to add layers to. So it’s important just to get something on the page, and then shape it.
2.) I can shift gears.
Sometimes a big project like a novel can be overwhelming. Sometimes it’s good to pen a short piece in between drafts of a larger project. This can be a piece of flash fiction, a short story, even a poem. Just something quick to give our brains the time to focus on something else. It allows us to return to that larger project with a sense of satisfaction that we’ve finished something else, and we can also come back to our novel with a fresh eye. In short, shorter works can be rejuvenating.
3.) I can fill the well.
Take a long walk in nature. Write in my journal. Meditate or do some yoga or tai chi. Read a good book. If you have a hobby such as knitting or painting, you can indulge yourself in some colorful yarn or a set of watercolors and create something. Even baking some cookies can help. I’m a practicing Pagan, so working magic can be a creative exercise for me. Monday night, in the midst of reading through my story, I took the time to honor both Litha (the summer solstice) and the Strawberry Moon and work some midsummer magic, listen to some Celtic music, and reflect on my connection to the goddess and nature. Anything that fills the well and gives us the space to breathe, to rejoice, and to simply be human can alleviate story panic and rejuvenate our creative self.
4.) I can reflect on what works in the story.
If panic is overtaking you, take a few minutes and jot down a few things that are working in the story. For example, in Goblins and Grimoires, I feel like the romantic arc is stronger in this work than it has been in some of my other stories. And both the hero and heroine have strong, cohesive character arcs. Just realizing that took some of the stress away. So stop beating yourself up for everything that isn’t working and focus on what you’ve done right. Trust me. It helps.
ROW80 Round 2 Wrap-Up
I entered this round fairly late, so there’s not a whole lot to report. Here’s what I accomplished:
I’m about halfway through a third draft of my short story The Faerie Key.
I finished a first draft of Goblins and Grimoires. It’s currently about 29K and I’m planning to expand it to somewhere between 45K and 48K—but that’s a goal for next round.
I finished a first draft of a short story, Spirits of Embers.
I managed to read four books on the craft/business of writing: How to Make a Living with Your Writing by Joanna Penn, How to Write Fiction Sales Copy by Dean Wesley Smith, How I Sold 80,000 Books: Book Marketing for Authors by Alinka Rutkowska, and Story Engineering by Larry Brooks.
In between rounds I’ll be reading a lot, working on a couple short stories, and doing some plotting and planning for draft 1.2 of Goblins and Grimoires.
I’ve been grappling with story structure as of late. Larry Brooks’s discussion of structure in Story Engineering opened my eyes to the fact that I need to pay more attention to this aspect of my writing—and made me realize that I either need to do some story planning or wrestle my stories into structure in later drafts. He breaks story into four parts, each about 25 percent of the manuscript:
Part One: Setup
Part Two: Response
Part Three: Attack
Part Four: Resolution
Case in point: The first draft of Goblins and Grimoires is done! It’s about 20,000 words too short, though, according to my estimates, based on Larry Brooks’s structure. Part One should be the first 20 to 25 percent of the story. Right now, it’s at 42 percent. Ouch. Some massive expansion of that story is in order, because I feel like most of what takes place in the first part is necessary. Part Two is woefully short and needs a lot of expansion. Over the next few weeks I plan to work on editing and expanding that story.
The thing is, I now have a blueprint. As a result, I’m not so much feeling overwhelmed as I am relieved. I don’t just know that my draft isn’t working; I know why. And that’s a huge help.
So, this week’s progress…
Writing: Wrote a total of 11,885 words—10,771 in Goblins and Grimoires; 807 in “Silver Waters,” a retelling of “The Frog Prince”; and 307 in “The Keeper’s Tale,” a short story.
Reading: Finished reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Continued reading Once Upon a Curse, a short story collection, and started reading Twilight Guardians by Maggie Shayne.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’ve started writing at night. I used to write in the afternoon, and I was managing somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 words a day. Not bad. But I wanted to aim higher.
Since I’m naturally a night person, and since I can’t fall asleep until 3 a.m. anyway, I decided to make better use of my time and try writing during those hours. Instead of, you know, binge-watching Murder, She Wrote.
So for the past couple weeks, after hubby goes to bed (he’s a morning person and a nine-to-five guy), I pull out my laptop, settle in, and get to work.
My daily word count has increased from 1,500 to 2,500. And this week I’ve been pushing 3,000 words a day. I’ve only written two days this week so far, and my word count for those two days is higher than some of my previous weekly word counts.
This is still a new experiment, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results. And, an added benefit, I’m feeling more confident (because I’m getting more words on the page) and less anxious (because those thoughts that kept me up at night are swept aside by the writing process).
Lastly, an ROW80 check-in…
Writing: Wrote 5,570 words in Goblins and Grimoires and 807 words in a new story, tentatively titled Silver Waters, a retelling of The Frog Prince. Total words so far this week: 6,377.
Reading: Finished reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Loved it. It completely changed the way I think about my work. I wish I’d read it years ago. If you’re a fiction writer, I recommend it. During my fiction reading time, I’m still making my way through two short-story anthologies, Once Upon a Curse and The Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance 2. I’m also reading a novel, Twilight Guardians by Maggie Shayne, because I needed a longer work for some variety.