Oh hey, I just finished revising a chapter, and my baby is stirring, so I have like 3 minutes. Literally. 3 minutes, tops. So here’s a post and run on what I’ve been up to.
- MY BOOK HAS A RELEASE DATE! *flaaaaaaaails* February 25, 2014! Mark your calendars. Or just add it on Goodreads. You know, whatever you want to do.
- I have a Facebook author page! If you like it, I’ll be your best friend. (I’m good at making friendship bracelets.)
- I’ve finished a first draft of Annum Guard, Book 2 (which I think has a title but which I can’t reveal yet). As you can probably guess based on my writing process, this draft is . . . not very good.
- I feel like I have no time to do anything. The era of I-don’t-really-feel-like-doing-this-today;let’s-see-what’s-on-Bravo has come to a close, and the era of you’re-getting-paid-to-do-this-so-stop-dicking-around has dawned, my friends. I’m coming up on a deadline to get a draft to my wonderful editor, and my free time has gotten whittled away to next to nothing, which, you know, is kind of a problem. So I hired a babysitter for the summer so I can work on making Book 2 something I would actually let other people read without cringing. This is the best money I’ve ever spent.
Let’s end on a good note.
- THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN has jacket copy! And is presently going through cover design. Crazycakes. I can’t wait until I get to share all of it with you. Soooooooon!
Enough about me. What are you working on now?
How many times have you heard the grumblings of a writer who lost several thousand words of a WIP because he failed to back it up? Or read an impassioned plea from another writer who nearly lost her entire book and wants to make sure you don’t suffer the same fate?
Like a bazillion, right?
Well, let me throw my hat into the fray. On Monday night, I was trying to get a blog post ready to go up on the One Four Kid Lit site and I was having a hell of a go. My computer kept freezing, then crashing, then freezing again. I restarted it, and it was the same deal over and over. I screamed several choice four-letter words, until my husband finally said he’d take it into the Apple store the next afternoon to see what was wrong with it. I thanked him because that was awesome.
On Tuesday morning, I emailed myself the latest version of THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN, PART DEUX, then packed up my computer and handed it to my husband.
“Do you have your book and stuff backed up?” he asked,
“Yep,” I said. After all, I’d just emailed it to myself, so I was set, right? [Spoiler alert: WRONG. WROOOOOOOOONG.]
I got a call from my husband at about 2. “Hey,” he said. “[Insert a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo here]. So they’re wiping your hard drive now.”
I’m not entirely sure what exactly I did in this moment, but if I was one of my characters, I would have blinked dramatically because my characters are forever doing that, so let’s just go with it.
I blinked. I blinked again.
“What exactly does wiping my hard drive mean?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer.
“It’s like starting again with a brand new computer,” he said.
And then I said “Ok” like eighteen times in a row. (That’s not an exaggeration). My husband immediately realized that me saying “Yes” to “Is your book and stuff backed up?” really only meant that my current book was backed up. And together we figured out the full enormity of the situation. Half a dozen half-finished novels, gone. Every picture I had stored on my computer, gone. An entire folder dedicated to a website design I’m contemplating, gone. Beta reader comments, friends’ novels, agency and publisher documents, gone gone gone.
(My husband feels AWFUL, by the way. And I really don’t blame him for what happened. It’s just a miscommunication. A massive, colossal, horrible misunderstanding.)
We had some luck with a data recovery program, but because my hard drive was completely reformatted, what we recovered is about 60,000 unmarked files that could be anything. It’s going to take me months to go through it all.
So please. PLEASE. Stop what you’re doing right now and go back up your computer. External hard drive, Time Machine, the mysterious cloud, whatever. Just do it.
I’ve gotten the “How the heck do you write an entire book anyway?” question a lot lately, so I figured I’d answer it here, too. And let me just preface this with the disclaimer that this is just my process. Everyone writes a book differently. There are people who can churn out near perfect first drafts in a month (I hate these people a little bit). There are people who take years to finish a single draft, and then take several more years revising (I’m looking at you, George R.R. Martin). I fall somewhere in the middle, and my process looks a lot like this.
Draft 0.5—The start and stop draft. This is when I get a shiny new idea and immediately jump in and start writing. I get anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 words in and realize I’ve written complete, nonsensical crap. So I throw it out and start again. I get 10,000 to 20,000 words in again and realize I’m not much better off. But somewhere in all of this writing and discarding, I start to figure out what story it is that I’m actually trying to tell. Draft 0.5 is all about chasing that A-HA moment, and the second I have it, I’m ready to start writing for real.
Average time this takes: Months. I can’t be more specific than that. Sometimes I’ve had to ruminate on projects for six or seven months before they click, and sometimes I can figure it all out in a single month. It’s a total crapshoot.
Draft 1—The plot draft. This draft is pretty much exactly what it sounds like—me trying to get the plot down on paper, to the sacrifice of everything else that makes a story. My characters are as one-dimensional as paper dolls. They make choices that don’t make any sort of rational sense. Their dialogue is stilted. There’s no set dressing to speak of. It’s almost as if the entire book takes place in front of a green screen with incredibly boring people who just met five minutes earlier.
Average time this takes: Two months.
Suffice it to say, my first drafts are horrible. I have a semi-irrational fear that I’ll die tragically young and people will find all these first drafts on my computer, and I will then be known as the worst writer on the planet and everyone will wonder how I ever got a book deal in the first place.
Draft 2—The character draft. This is the draft where things start to come together a little more. I have the plot down, so now it’s time to focus on the people who make the plot what it is—the characters. I try to bring them to life. I refine their personalities. I flesh out their backstories. I really get to know them. This always changes the plot just a little bit, but it’s usually for the better.
Average time this takes: One month.
It’s after I’ve finished this second draft that I would maybe perhaps consider letting someone else read it, if I was desperate for feedback. I’d still throw out a bazillion disclaimers to my critique partners not to judge me too harshly, but if push came to shove I’d be ok letting people read this one.
Draft 3—The sensory draft. This is the draft where the story really comes to life. I try to engage all five senses—sight, sound, smell, taste, touch—in every scene. This draft focuses on the setting. I try to make myself feel like I’m actually there with the characters, which in turn will (hopefully) make my readers feel the same. I tend to go overboard with my descriptions and then edit them back as need be.
Average time this takes: A few weeks.
After I’ve finished the third draft, I send it off to my critique partners and anxiously wait for their feedback.
Draft 4—The polishing draft. After I get the thumbs up or thumbs down from my critique partners, I go back through the book and focus on the specific points they brought up. Maybe one character’s motivation doesn’t make a lot of sense, or maybe a plot point is confusing. I try to work through all of the hiccups and make the book as perfect as I can.
I should also note that I am generally sick to death of the book by now.
Average time this takes: A few weeks.
And after that, I send the book off to my agent.
Draft 5—The polishing draft, part deux. This is the step where I do everything I did in step 4 all over again, but this time it’s with official agent feedback.
Average time this takes: A few weeks.
After that, my agent will go out on submission to publishers with the book. And then I wait. And wait and wait and wait some more. And while I’m waiting, I’ll get a shiny new idea and it’ll be back to Draft 0.5 for me, to start the whole game over again.
So basically it’s like the writing equivalent of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.
What about you? Is my process similar to yours, or do you do something completely different?
As writers, we have a lot of tools at our disposal. We’ve studied the basics, like how to ramp up our plots or how to make our characters multi-dimensional. And sometimes it’s easy to sit back and look at a story that, on paper, ticks all the right boxes. Layered plot with several inter-related subplots? Check. Rising tension in every scene? Check. Believably flawed characters? Check.
But sometimes we still have that nagging feeling that something isn’t right. Sometimes it’s easy to point your finger at the element that’s not working and figure out a way to fix it, but sometimes it goes deeper than that. Sometimes you just know, deep down, that the story itself is all wrong. Or, the opposite can be true. You get a gut feeling that the story you’re writing just works.
I’m certainly no stranger to gut reactions. I had one with FOUR STONES, the first book I ever wrote. I knew the first draft was pretty terrible, and while I was able to revise it to a point that was good enough to land me an agent, deep down I had a feeling it wasn’t ready to sell. And it wasn’t. And just like I had a gut feeling that I’d hit on a winner with THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN, I’ve been trying to ignore the gut feeling I’ve had all month that the sequel I’m writing is all wrong.
Well, gut, you win. I can’t ignore you any longer. The sequel I’m writing is all wrong. I originally envisioned THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN as a standalone, but as so often happens, I found myself wondering what befell my characters after the story ended. I threw together a loose sequel in my mind in case the book were to sell as a series one day, and when that happened, I figured I was all set. I sat down, typed up a detailed scene-by-scene outline and then went HUH. I’m not so sure about this. This idea that sounded pretty great in my head suddenly sounded … off. Really, really off. I chalked it up to self-doubt, ignored my gut and started writing the sequel for NaNo. Then this internal battle started.
Gut: This isn’t working.
Me: Shut up. I’m trying to get to 1,666 words today.
Gut: Who cares about word count if you’re taking everything that made the first story what it is and turning the volume down down rather than up?
Me: I said, shut up.
Gut: I don’t even know who these characters are anymore.
Me: SHUT UP. LA LA LA, I CAN’T HEAR YOU.
Gut: Oh, you hear me loud and clear. And you’ll admit it one day soon.
Over the weekend, I admitted it. I trashed the outline I was going from (as well as the 14,000 odd words I’ve already written), sat down with my husband (who henceforth shall be known as The Plot Whisperer), and figured out why the sequel wasn’t working and what I needed to do to fix it. I still only have about 75% of a new plot down in my head, but, you guys, I am SO MUCH HAPPIER now. It’s feeling right. So thank you, gut. I promise not to doubt you again.*
Moral of the story: Always trust your gut. It’s one of your biggest strengths as a writer.
*(You do realize I’m totally going to doubt you again because that’s just how I roll, right? But we’ll always be straight in the end. Promise.)
Progress (word count or a general status update): Yeah, I’m not winning NaNo. I added maybe 2,000 words the entire week? I hit a point in every first draft where it becomes painfully obvious the story isn’t working (seriously, every. single. first. draft.), and I hit that point a bit earlier than normal this time around. It’s a stakes problem this time. They’re not nearly where they need to be. THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN is a fast-paced time travel thriller where the stakes keep going up and up and up every chapter. The sequel so far? Kind of ho-hum, not much urgency to the whole thing. This is clearly a problem and one I need to work out before I dig myself too deep. So this might be my last NaNo update, or I might try to puzzle through a few more things on paper. We shall see.
Current Mood: Busy? Can that count as a mood?
Goals as of Today: Boil my pretty detailed outline to the bare bones and figure out what the stakes really are, then multiply them by a factor of 10.
Recent Favorite NaNo-WiP Line: Pass. The words I did manage to get out last week are all really spoiler-y for stuff that happens in the first book, so let’s skip this.
Non-NaNo News (because life DOES go on): With each passing day comes the realization that I’m going to have a baby in a few short weeks, as well as the realization that I am woefully unprepared for this event. I spent the entire three-day weekend pulling boxes from the attic, organizing, cleaning, all that fun stuff. And I’m still not done.
In My Downtime (ha!) I’m Reading: How to Teach Physics to Your Dog. There are a few technical details of the world I’m trying to introduce in this book that fall beyond my limited knowledge of classical physics, so I’m reading up in the hopes I can grasp quantum physics enough to fake it.
You should read this blog post: 25 Ways to Unstick a Stuck Story By: Chuck Wendig Because: Chuck is awesome. If you haven’t been reading the 25 Ways series on his blog, you’re missing out.
How’s NaNo treating you? Or just life in general?
Progress (word count or a general status update): 12,000-ish words
Current Mood: I’m still not 100% over this cold, but I’m back to a functioning level, so … happy? I guess?
Inspiration (a writing-related quote): ”The first draft is a skeleton….just bare bones. The rest of the story comes later with revising.” Judy Blume, speaking TRUTH.
Goals as of Today: Just keep writing. Even if I don’t get to 50,000 words, even if I have to throw out every word I’ve written, just keep going. It’s the only way I’m going to figure out what this story is really about.
Recent Favorite NaNo-WiP Line: I’ll see your line and raise you a scene snippet, mostly because, while I like this a lot, I’m pretty certain it’s going to be left on the cutting room floor when all is said in done. (Here, time-traveling secret agent Iris is waiting to be ushered into a meeting with the Vice President):
“Nonsense!” Joe turns to Colton. “Why don’t you run down to the Starbucks and get Iris one of those pumpkin coffee things all the girls are crazy about.”
I hold up my hand. “No, that’s—”
“Iris, you’re probably thinkin’ to yourself, ‘But, Joe, it’s the middle of the summer. They don’t have those pumpkin coffees until the fall!’ And you’d be right, except that there are a few perks to being the Vice President that aren’t available to the general public.” He winks at me.
Except that you aren’t the Vice President, you total, total tool.
Non-NaNo News (because life DOES go on): Hey, remember how my backyard is under major construction because we’re putting in a pool? Well, it should be done and filled with water next week. WOOT! Naturally, it’s now too cold to use it, but it’ll be nice to look at at least.
In My Downtime (ha!) I’m Reading: Dude. Nothing at the moment. But I just got a new book I’m really, really excited to start.
You should read this blog post: The Publishing Industry is Not Deserving of Special Protection By: Nathan Bransford Because: It’s the truth but rarely do people have the cojones to say it.
Gratuitous Photograph (because I love ‘em!): My little girl turned three this past weekend. THREE! Insanity. In many ways, it feels like she was just born yesterday. We did a gymnastics-themed party at a gym, and behold, I give you pictures of cupcakes! (They were delicious).
How’s NaNo treating you? Or just life in general?
Progress (word count or a general status update): 2,248
Current Mood: Sick as a dog and thoroughly exhausted (neither of which I realize are actually moods, but meh).
Inspiration (a writing-related quote): ““The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” Tom Clancy (I realize this quote is kind of a rip-off of something Mark Twain said a long time ago, but it’s something at the forefront of my mind this WIP—First and foremost, this book has to make sense!)
Goals as of Today: If I get 1,000 words today, I’ll be happy.
Recent Favorite NaNo-WiP Line: So I buy myself a hot dog for ten cents and park myself on a seat inside the bus depot. And then I take a bite and remember why I don’t eat hot dogs. They smell like sweat and taste only marginally better.
Non-NaNo News (because life DOES go on): I’m sick. So freaking sick, you guys. And I’m 7 1/2 months pregnant, so the only medicine that is safe to take doesn’t help at all. Add to this that my daughter was sick, then caught a case of croup, and I haven’t had more than 4 hours of sleep a night since last Saturday. It’s … not fun.
In My Downtime (ha!) I’m Reading: Ha, indeed. I’m reading nothing at the moment. I did finish THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray earlier this week, and holy freaking voice was it good. Definitely recommended.
You should read this blog post: Fail. I’ve barely read blog posts at all this week, and the ones I did read are all running together in my mind.
Gratuitous Photograph (because I love ‘em!): I did manage to accomplish this Tuesday night. This is what you wind up with when you let a nearly-three-year-old have input on your pumpkin carving design.
How’s your NaNo project going? Or, if you’re not NaNo’ing, how’s November treating you so far?