February 27, 2010

How to Revise Your Novel (And Live Your Life)

Okay, so I think I have a revising system that works. It's not as fast as previous revisions, but this run-through is more intense and demands a lot more time and care.

First thing in the morning, my toddler wakes me up and I make her breakfast. While she's eating, I can eat a granola bar and get maybe three pages of revising done. Then we go through our morning play routine and she goes down for a nap right around lunchtime.

I get an hour of revising done as soon as she goes down. Usually 10 pages. Then I take a short break--mostly eating lunch, doing stuff on the computer, etc...

If she's still asleep at that point (not likely), I revise some more.

Sounds pretty efficient, until I realized that this only happens three times a week. The other days of the week are abnormal--I run, lift weights, do stuff with my husband, go grocery shopping, visit family, and probably some other random things I haven't thought of. Some of those days, Rebecca doesn't even have time to take a nap.

Any revising on abnormal days is a good day.

All in all, I try to get at least 50 pages a week edited. I say that's pretty good.

As far as technique goes, I'm using Holly Lisle's How to Revise Your Novel. (FANTASTIC method, by the way.)

But I also found a great post by author Keli Gwyn about how she revises a novel. It's pretty involved--sticky notes, poster board, a yardstick--but I like it.

February 25, 2010

How Not to Begin Your Novel

Many of us have heard this cardinal rule: don't use prologues. But we all know there are exceptions, right? When we want to start our story with a prologue, I think we tend to convince ourselves that we're one of the exceptions.

So how can you tell? Agent Kristin from Nelson Literary Agency posted Why Prologues Often Don't Work. Kristin doesn't pull punches and isn't afraid to tell you exactly what's wrong with your prologue. Odds are, you should cut it altogether. (I know, it's heartbreaking.)

Once the prologue is out of the way, you can get to your main story. But wait. There are some cardinal rules about regular beginnings, too. Kidlit tells you how to Fix Your Beginning by giving a list of things to avoid.

Beginnings need to be razor-sharp and brief. The Blood-Red Pencil gives details on this in Part 1 of their series on Big Edits.

Don't let these scare you out of starting a novel, though. Worst-case scenario: you use one of the forbidden beginnings and you'll need to edit it later. :)

February 23, 2010

Writing and Parenting: Baby Steps is Still Progress

Early Tuesday post this week. I need to share my morning with you. I'm not sure how many of you have kids, but I think the message applies to anyone with a busy or unpredictable schedule.

Lately, my toddler has been sleeping in a big girl bed. While this is fantastic and exercises her independence, she's become extra... well... independent. She wakes up early and demands that we join her. Normally, a 7:00 wake-up call would be something I could get used to, but my hubby hasn't been sleeping well lately and I'm still getting over pregnancy exhaustion.

Still, as long as my girl has a sippy cup of milk and a movie playing, she's pretty happy. So I pulled out my book to get some editing in. I got three pages done before she decided she wanted to "color" too. I gave her a blank sheet of paper and a pen, reminding her to only color on paper.

I didn't finish the page I was on before she started drawing on herself. Of course, I took the pen away. Now she has to sit right next to me while she watches her movie. No paper allowed. No pens. No books. For some reason the computer's okay though.

So, I'll count this morning as a small victory. I got something done (and found some stiff dialogue and some places that need more description and emotion). Good stuff. I'll finish the day's work when my little girl goes down for a nap.

The small stuff counts. It's still progress. If I waited until I had a huge chunk of time, I'd never get anything done. Big chunks of time are hardly ever planned anyway. I usually sit down for what I think will only be twenty minutes and am pleasantly surprised that I managed to write for an hour and a half before ... the baby wakes up, the husband gets home, the rain lets up, the dog needs a walk, or whatever.

Move forward as OFTEN as you can!

February 20, 2010

How to Revise and Edit the Crap Out of Your Novel, Even When You've Been Over it a Million Times

What a fantastic writing day! I finally got my butt in gear. I ordered a bound copy of Shadow Bound from CreateSpace (extra huge, for roomy margins) and dug out an accordion folder, some paper, and my How to Revise Your Novel worksheets.

By the way, if you're not taking How to Revise Your Novel, make sure you take it when the course is offered again. I'm only on the second part of Lesson 1 and I'm blown away by how much I didn't catch on my own. As I said before, I have read and edited Shadow Bound so many times, I think my eyes were getting carpal tunnel.

I spent an hour this morning gathering my materials and filling out the first HTRYN worksheet--basically, what I envisioned when I decided to write the book. What a motivating exercise! I got to re-experience all that excitement that drove me to write the book in the first place. I also got to look at all those cool little goodies my Muse threw out at me while I was writing it. You know, the fantastic twists and turns even YOU didn't see coming.

Later, (when my toddler FINALLY went down for a nap), I spent another hour and a half or so going through the next set of worksheets. There's one worksheet for each part of a developing novel. Sometimes I wrote what I loved about my book, sometimes I wrote what needed to be fixed.

I caught SO much stuff that needed to be cut, and a bunch of places where some good sensory detail would make the story come alive. I found a lot of boring inner dialogue. Folks, I found a TON of stuff that I missed on the last two major edits (and all those little ones in between).

I cannot tell you how much How to Revise Your Novel not only helped me revise and see things in a new light, but motivated me to buckle down and revise in the first place.

February 18, 2010

Re-Post: More Writing Tools

This is one of my must-read posts from last year. I've been thinking a lot about these clinics. They're invaluable. I can turn to them whenever I get stuck. They're reasonably priced, too. :)

May 2009

I found some other cool stuff to help with my writing. This is much more affordable. The same author/teacher that does the Think Sideways course that I've been raving about also does mini courses that focus on specific areas.

I've tried the Plot, Character, and Page-Turning Scenes ones and they're very good. They helped me to create deeper characters, taught me what every scene needs to have (in order to be interesting), and how to come up with ideas for a story I've already started (especially how to get a killer ending!) Anyway, for anyone who's interested, here are the links:

The Holly Shop (Where the magic happens :) Good for comparing prices, etc...)

Create A Plot Clinic

Create A Culture Clinic

Create A Language Clinic

Create A Character Clinic

How To Write Page-Turning Scenes (This one was my favorite, followed closely by the plot clinic.)

Clinic Writing Bundle (This has the Plot, Culture, Character, and Language Clinics wrapped into one for a discounted price, which is what I went with.)

How To Beat Writers Block

Also, see my post: Helpful Writing Software for a huge list of goodies (a lot of them free!).

February 16, 2010

Inspiration for Writers

Okay, I hope you have some time to spend on these, because they're fantastic articles. I'm still working down the list myself. Here are the 43 Most Inspiring Writing Posts of 2009.

February 13, 2010

New Fire

Something is changing. I think I wrote (a while back) about how I can't seem to be a writer and a runner at the same time. I don't know why, but if I'm good at one, I lose interest in the other. So I'm either going to be a fat writer or ... a non-writer. Both of those options suck.

But I recently took on a new project. I never thought I'd be doing non-fiction, but ... I am. I'm working on an e-Book that's part of an established series. I have no experience with this sort of thing, so I have no idea what to expect. But it's getting me interested in looking over some of my past work. I really need to get editing again. I don't feel like I can move on or start a new project until I have at least one of my two manuscripts revised (or re-revised).

Anywho, I'm putting Shadow Bound through the ringer. Holly Lisle's How to Revise Your Novel. Yup. It's going to take forever. Yup. I'm going to want to kill myself. But it's better than the alternative.


I'll take deliriously sick of a manuscript over non-writer any day.

February 9, 2010

Selling Your First Novel

What does it take to publish a YA or MG novel? Of course, it all depends on a number of factors. I will share with you what I learned in my Cognitive Psychology class. I studied under Anders Ericsson, the "expert on experts". He studies what it takes to be considered "expert" in various fields: sports, chess, and (you guessed it) writing.

For athletes, it takes 10-15 years of deliberate, helpful practice (you'll need a great coach) and you'll peak in your early 20s. After that, age works against you (typically). That's not to say that you should give up. Additional practice will help you fight against age and genetics plays a role as well.

For writers, well... we're luckier. It takes 10 years of deliberate practice. That's right. 10 years of writing GOOD fiction and GETTING BETTER. For 10 years! This involves getting good feedback, fixing your mistakes, growing as a writer and as a person, and gaining experience (both in writing and in the real world). I would argue that reading in your genre (especially reading as a writer) counts as practice. It's like a chess player studying the masters and memorizing helpful formations. The point is: it takes time and it's hard work.

Wait, I thought you said writers were lucky...

We are. Unlike every other discipline, writers don't peak in their twenties. We peak around 35 or 40. How cool is that?

If you want to see some interesting statistics, take a look at Selling Your First Children’s Novel: A Poll. If you're not familiar with the Tenners, they're a group of successful young adult and middle grade authors. This poll asks them about how they got their start. Some were fortunate and got offers right away. (I'll bet they were getting creative practice in other ways, though. Maybe by reading.) I'd like you to notice that none of them were under twenty when they got published. (And some were in their fifties.) You always hear about young first-time authors, but it's very rare.

So if you've been at it for several years, don't lose hope. Just like everything else, it takes hard work and patience.

February 6, 2010

If You Write for Younger Audiences...

Have I got a post (or two) for you!

I was wandering around, looking for goodies to share with my fellow-writers when I found a couple of posts specifically for YA/middle grade authors. I know these genres aren't the same, but I figured you probably write for one or the other if you're reading this blog. (Maybe not. Let me know.)

So first, a pretty funny and enlightning post on parent archetypes found in young adult (and I'd like to add: middle grade) books. It's amazing, but 99% of parents in YA books fall into one of these categories. Granted, there are a lot of categories, but still.... I thought it would be nice to know what the categories are, so you can use them at appropriate times (or deviate from them if you can).

And here is an invaluable resource: Market My Words interviews young adults about what they like, what they buy, and what they're sick of in Guest Post: Michelle Zink shares her Teen Data

And if you write for middle grade readers, Kristi Holl has compiled an article on knowing your audience and what exactly goes on in middle school kids' brains (and what's been done to death).

February 4, 2010

How to Fix Boring Villains

On Tuesday, I talked about how to give life to boring characters. But villains are a special breed. Yes, they need to have goals, strengths, weaknesses, and they need to be unique, but what else?

The Faces of Evil is a fantastic article from Murderati that discusses what people expect from a villain, and what your villain should be. He/she doesn't have to be a wiley, genius, mastermind. Your serial killer can be a regular person, just a little twisted. Your antagonist can simply be the politician that is running against your protagonist.

BUT Creating Villains People Love to Hate takes a little more than standing in the way of your protagonist. Make them credible, logical, and believable.

February 2, 2010

How to Fix Boring Characters

What makes a great character? In my first drafts, I always end up with a handful of characters that are boring and useless. I delete most of them, but sometimes I can give them CPR and make them plot-driving characters that make the book richer.
For starters, every good character has goals. Without a goal, a character gets pushed around. Without a clear goal, the character becomes flat and unsympathetic. Without a goal, your characters aren't really part of the story are they? There Are No Rules posted on characters, their goals, and how to use them to choose a protagonist (or make your current protagonist more central to your story).
Next, your characters need to be unique. Avoid stock characters like the good cop/bad cop; the perfect (wo)man hero(ine); the super-strict, no-personality teacher; or the wise old mentor. Change things up.
Give the mentor flaws (besides absent-minded or strict). Make him obsessed with kittens or chocolate or tiddlywinks. (Dumbledore liked lemon drops I think. It was a great detail that made him more likeable and believable.)
Make the cop nerdy. Here's a great guest post on Rachelle Gardner's blog about Avoiding On-the-Nose Writing.
Rachelle Gardner herself wrote about surprising your reader with your characters. We all have things about us that are surprising. Read this article and make sure to read the comments. Everyone posted something about themselves that was surprising--a trove of ideas!
Thursday's post is going to continue a bit with characters, but it will focus on villains!
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