I’m Back! And “Doing The Hard Thing” Discussion.

Hello world.  Have you missed me?  It’s been two weeks, but I’m back.  The real reason I haven’t been posting is because I haven’t really been writing or editing much.

To be honest, I had hit a bit of a roadblock.  One story needs last minute edits, the second needs fairly large re-writes, and the third needs to be written.  I was at a place where I didn’t have the motivation to jump into any project.  I just wanted to sit at home and read and watch TV.

But never fear!  I’m back.  I’ve jumped back in.  I’ve written a brand-spanking-new opening scene for my first novel (it involves sneaking out of a second-story window), and I’m psyched to get the other edits finished this week.  I’m back, and I’m here to stay.

Because I’m not a dreamer.  I’m a WRITER.

Dreamers write a little for fun, but when the going gets tough, they switch to another story, try something different, or simply give up.  But Writers – Writers – push through, keep trying, and write til their fingertips are sore.  Writers will do the hard thing now because that’s what we do.

I think this whole concept is summed up pretty well in a recent VlogBrothers video:

 

So this blog post is a promise that I will keep doing the hard thing now because I want Future Me to be a published author.  And maybe this post will also be an encouragement for any of you out there who have been waiting around for the opportune moment before you get back into writing.  Don’t wait, don’t dream.  Write.

That Evil and Illustrious First Chapter

It’s no secret that I want to begin querying soon.  But there’s just one more thing (well, five more things, but mainly one) that I need to work on.

That evil, infamous, obscure being; that illustrious yet arcane thing called Chapter One. The thing that hangs elusively dangled above the Unpublished Author’s head like freedom above a teenager.

Bad analogy.

My apologies.

better sorry.gif

But the fact remains that a lot of us find Chapter 1 hard to write.  Or rather, hard to get right.  Chapter 1 of The Sound of Color has had probably 12 or so revisions and two complete re-writes.  And I’m still not 100% sure this is the version I’ll end up using.

I think it’s because there’s so much resting on Chapter 1.  It’s the handshake, the first interaction.  It’s where you either catch the reader in your net or you let him swim away.  (I’m full of strange analogies today.)  Almost like a delicate recipe where there needs to be just the right ratio of action to backstory, dialogue to narrative, characters to scenery, etc etc.  And if you add just a tiny bit too much of one thing, it will catch on fire in the oven and burn your whole house – er, story – to the ground.

I’m not here to tell you how to write chapter one.

(Although here are some good links if you’re too lazy to Google this info:)

http://annerallen.com/2013/06/10-things-your-opening-chapter-should.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1y_E6sTYfA

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/05/29/25-things-to-know-about-writing-the-first-chapter/

Right, I’m not here to tell you how to write chapter 1.  I’m here for comradery.  I’m here to let you know that I too struggle with perfecting chapter one.  And that’s okay.

That’s why I love blogs about writing.  I love to see other people struggling with the same things I am.  One blogger I follow, John Berkowitz (fabulous author and quality blogger) said this recently about first chapters:

Writing the first chapter of a novel is hard. But it is hard over a long period of time; you will work on your first chapter longer than you will work on any other part of your novel. And you will be working on it until the moment it goes to press.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  And then he goes on to talk about how hard Chapter 1 of Book 2 is, and let me tell you, folks – I’m glad I’m only on Book 1.

It Seems My Antagonist Isn’t Good Enough

Sorry for a bit of a hiatus on the blog posts.  It’s still winter break for some, and for those of us on the East Coast, there’s been a lot of snow and a lot of snow days.  My time has been spent shoveling, reading, and shoveling some more.

But something of great magnitude happened this past week besides the unnatural amount of snow:

One of my great Beta Readers for The Sound of Color finally got back with me.  Overall, she gave me very high praise (which felt amazing).  But maybe even better, she gave me some really good insight into what the story lacked.

And what needed the most work?

My antagonist(s).  Both my Main Antag and my Sidekick Antag are characters that we THINK are good but turn out to be evil.  (*cue the menacing laughter*)

But this Beta Reader suggested that I needed to work on them a little more.  You see, I’d never really stopped to think about why my antag(s) wanted what they did.  Sure, power always looks good.  But why?  Why them?  Why would they do what they do?  And just as important, how did they get people to follow them?

In other words, my antagonists read as plot devices instead of characters.  They were an evil force instead of a warped individual.  The result was a fatal flaw in my story.

all my antagonists.jpg

In most of my favorite stories, the villain is someone with a distinct personality, a concrete set of goals, a thought-out plan, and – most importantly – strong motivation.

Part of the issue is that I never took the time to really get to know my antagonist.  I’d never given much thought to his motivation, his personality, his goals.  He pretty much showed up to cause some trouble and then disappeared again.  He wasn’t someone I know very well.

Voldemort, Loki, Darth Vader, Moriarty, the Joker, Saint Dane, President Snow – they are all people that I could describe to you better than I could describe my OWN antagonist.

So here’s to getting to know my Antag.  (I can’t say his name cause it’s a spoiler.)  To adding some scenes that show us his motivation.  To giving him more personality, more life.  To making him the hero of his own story.

If you struggle equally with writing a quality Bad Guy, let me know!  An antagonist always seems like an afterthought to me.  Or, if you’ve developed some tricks and tips to making your antag fabulous, I’d love to hear that too.

eye of sauron jif.gif

 

The Great Printout

This was quite the momentous weekend for me.

On Saturday, I sat down at the computer in our kitchen, opened my MS, and edited.  Got some coffee and edited some more.  Refilled my coffee and edited some more.

For about two and a half hours.

All the way

To the end

Of the story.

Which means that I’m done.  Done with the big plot-edits.  Done with the trying to figure out where my plot was going.  Done with the first round of edits!

And ready for the next step.

On Sunday, I went to Kinkos with my MS on a flashdrive.

Twenty dollars, ten minutes, and one smiling employee later, I walked out with 135 pages of my soul printed out and hidden inside a little brown box.

I’m so excited that I’ve been able to get my MS this far.  So grateful to God for allowing me to have this amazing experience, to meet so many amazing people, to fall so deeply in love with a hobby.

I mean, look.  Just over two years ago, I had this:  Handwritten Six hand-written pages, the very poor start to a story that I didn’t know the ending to.  I never dreamed the journey it would take me on.  I never dreamed that I’d pour two and a half years into turning them into this:

CollageA hundred and thirty-five polished, proof-read, exciting pages that make up a complete book.

Now, I did have a purpose behind those twenty dollars I spent.  My plan is to go through my MS and mark it up with pen, paying closer attention to pacing, paragraph style, transitions, and even sentence structure.  But first, I’m taking a week off.  I’m letting my brain rest for a week and letting my mom read it.  Then I’ll spend the next two weeks reading through and giving it the second round of edits.  And then, on October 31st, I will share it with some of my friends via dropbox.  I will let my brother and father read it.  I will send it to my aunt.  And then I will write my NaNoNovel in November while my MS is out being read by my friends.

I think it’s crucial to print out one’s work at some point in the process.  Our minds see things differently on paper than they do on the screen.  Plus, it allows me to read it more as a reader than as a writer.  That’s what I’m going for.

I know I still have a lot of work ahead of me – especially if I pursue getting it published – but this is just a really cool milestone.

To see one’s work in print for the first time.  It’s a cool feeling.

Words & The End

Towards Beta Readers? Eventually.

A couple weeks ago, I was telling a friend about my story for the first time.  Her response: “When can I read it?!”

Which got me thinking.

When can she read it?

I also have a writer friend who just sent me his MS.  I then promised to send him mine when it was ready.

Plus there’s family, other friends, etc, who are all sitting around just WAITING to read my book!  (That’s how I imagine them at least.)

And then there was the critique last week that basically said “Stop posting on CC and go get this published.”

But wait.  The most important thing has occurred: I was reading/ reviewing chapter 1 last week, and I got hit by this feeling.  It was the feeling of a voice whispering this is really good.  Like really, really good.

So, friends and family, the answer is Eventually.  You can read it Eventually.

I don’t know what ‘eventually’ means, but it sounds like a very, very long time.

^ One of my favorite quotes from Thomas and the Magic Railroad.

Yes, Thomas, Eventually will probably be a very long time away.

I still have to finish re-writing this blessed story, and then edit the re-writes, and then fix my story arc, and then change my characters up, and then add a scene here, and….

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

i think i can

Critiquing the Pros? Oh yeah.

This week, I gave a critique on CC for the first time in close to a month.  It was the greatest moment of my day.

This author handled themselves with confidence and grace, balancing action and emotion, suspense and humor (lots of humor), and overall clean, crisp writing.  Sure, there were a few errors – typos, minor craft problems – but overall, this story was a pure joy to read.

As I concluded my critique, I made a point of saying, “I’ve critiqued close to 50 stories here on CC – and yours is one of the best I’ve seen.”

Of course, then I was curious.  How many critiques had I actually given since I started on CC?  I went back and counted.  One, two, three… forty-nine, fifty, fifty-one… sixty-nine, seventy.  I’ve given seventy critiques.  Wowzer.  Perhaps that’s why I’m now suffering from CSCS.  What’s that, you ask?

Critiqing the Pros

Well, check out this Poll that was on CC recently.  I found it fascinating because it addresses a phenomenon I’d discovered a few months ago.

I’m calling it Can’t Stop Crit-ing Syndrome. That’s CSCS for short.  If you are actively writing, editing, or critiquing, you are in danger of getting this.  Unfortunately, there is no known cure, but there are things you can do to address the symptoms.  First, let’s look at what some of the symptoms are:

* Flinching when you catch a typo in a published book

* Groaning when a published author breaks a “rule” for no reason (ie, when they info-dump, use passive voice, or forget a comma)

* Automatically correcting your friends’ and family’s grammar, despite the fact that your own grammar isn’t always perfect

* Not being able to read articles in the Washington Post Magazine anymore without wanting to yell at the author, because OH MY GOSH, DONT YOU KNOW WHAT A RUN-ON SENTENCE IS?

* Looking at a sign in a store that says “Get You’re Flowers Here” and asking to speak to the manager

While there is no official cure for CSCS, there are some suggestions for those suffering from it.  These include:

* Zoning out when around people who frequently misuse grammar

* Focusing on what magazine writers did well, not what they messed up on

* Not forcing yourself to labor through books with so many issues that you get yourself worked up

* Telling yourself that not everyone can be as good at English as you

Despite these negative symptoms that can sometimes inhibit your reading (and living) enjoyment, it can be helpful to look at the few positives that come with CSCS:

* Editing your own work is easier – I mean harder – I mean you catch more of your own mistakes

* If you suffer from long-term CSCS, you may even get to the point where you make less mistakes in your rough-drafts, because the thought of seeing those mistakes in your own writing is enough to make you poke your eyes out

* You become a better critique-er for other peoples’ stories – at least I hope

Do you, too, suffer from CSCS?  Leave me a comment and let me know I’m not the only one.

Plot Thoughts

This post is actually NOT about Camp Nanowrimo.  (Well, not directly.)  Surprise!

When I started writing, I was a die-hard pantser.

Writing was like reading a book: I never knew what the characters were going to do, or say, or be.  If one of them died halfway through, great!  If they felt like meandering through a forest for eight pages, great!  There were no restrictions to where my imagination would take me.  And when I had that bizarre inspiration in the middle of the night, it would fit perfectly into the thing I called a plot.

Sure, I had some idea where the story was going (eventually), but it was allowed to take detours or scenic routes.

No more.

no more

I’m doing re-writes.  And I’m finally wrestling this monster called Plot under control.  It’s going down, kicking and screaming (and biting, too).  But it’s going down.

I know where my story starts now.  I know what the turning point is.  I’ve created conflict in the beginning (that was previously nonexistent).  I know about the conflict in the middle and the climax and the resolution.

Okay, so it still doesn’t fit into the magical Seven Points of Plotstuff (aka the Dan Wells Story Structure, as referenced today on one of my favorite blogs, Am I Doing This Right?)  or the Circus Tent for Instant Plotting (as referenced here on another of my favorite blogs, Crackin’ the WIP).

Actually, now that I look at the Dan Wells Thingy, maybe the Inciting Incident would be when Star meets Irsong and Emmella… and Plot Point 1 would be when she gets the Item… and then Pinch 1 when they find out he’s evil and they flee… and then… Plot Point 2… then…

Hey!  My plot actually matches that pretty well!  *Applauds myself*

The point to all this?  I really enjoyed being a pantser.  It gave me incredible freedom.  But going back and re-writing while knowing where I’m going is pretty cool too.  I loved the feeling I got while writing yesterday.  It was pure Oh-my-gosh-I-love-the-plot-and-this-conflict-is-beautiful-and-my-story-is-amazing-and-I-could-publish-this-someday.

Will I pants my next novel?  No idea.  Will I at least attempt an outline for it?  Probably.  Will I always be a pantser at heart?  I’m 99% sure the answer is yes.

Toothbrush Rewrites

You’ve heard me rave about Critique Circle.  I was on the website today and this caught my eye:

Toothbrush Editing

That sums up my life right now.  My novel is written — finished.  And now it looms before me like a filthy basement floor.  That the cats have puked on and the dog has tracked mud on (at least I hope it’s mud) and is that a dead spider?  Here sits this inexperienced author feeling like she’s armed with nothing but a toothbrush.  Kinda like this:armed with a screwdriverI mean, come on!  Some bleach would be nice!  Or at least a pair of latex gloves?

What?  OH!  That’s right!  CAMP NANOWRIMO is just around the corner!!!  YAY!!!

tom smiling gifSo today I compiled my Camp NaNo Survival Kit.

Laptop (with Scrivener)

Itunes (with all the LOTR music)

Notebook with a mess of notes about my story (maybe I should straighten out those notes)

The Emotion Thesarus

Slippers

Fuzzy Tardis blanket

Coffee

A stash of apples (to gnaw on when I hit plot holes)

A (bigger) stash of chocolate (to devour when I can’t get out of plot holes)

Favorite gel pens and a bunch of colored pencils… cause, hey, sometimes you need to put ideas down on actual paper

This April, armed with my determination, my inexperience, and a toothbrush/screwdriver, I will finally begin thorough re-writes.  Basement floor, here we come.

ahhhhhh!

Scrivener: download complete

scrivener logoYesterday I took the leap of faith and downloaded the free trial of Scrivener.  I’ve gotten to the point where I’m doing serious edits on my MS and I figured it was time to check this program out and see if it could help!  I was pleasantly surprised with all of the cool features and gadgets it has.

For those of you who don’t know, Scrivener is “a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents.” After fooling around with it a fair amount today, I decided I’d list some pros and cons (thus far) of Scrivener.

PRO: It is just as cool as the website makes it out to be — maybe even cooler.

CON: I can never remember how to spell / pronounce it.  Scri – ven – er.  Scree – vhon – noir.  S-C-R-I-V… oh whatever.

PRO: I love how it is organized.  Within your MS folder, you have separate folders for each chapter, and within each chapter folder, you have a text file thingy for each scene.  What does that mean?  It is really easy to move a scene from one chapter to another — just drag & drop, and BAM!  Moved to another chapter.

CON: If you’re importing an already-written MS (like I was), it might take you a few minutes to figure out how get your scenes and chapters organized.  Luckily, there is an “import and split” feature that will break up your scenes for you automatically.  All I had to do then was add in the folders for the chapters.

Scriv Scene Break

PRO: Once you’ve done that, it allows you to edit all your scenes & chapters together.  When editing the text, it will give you a single dotted line for a scene break (see pic at left) and a double dotted line for a chapter break.

CON: I got nothing for this one!

Cork Board - Labled Note Cards

 

PRO: There is an amazing “corkboard” feature that allows you to play around with virtual index cards.  Each “scene” file you create automatically has an index card that is linked to it.  Say you are looking at a chapter’s corkboard.  If you move around the index cards in that chapter, Scrivener will reorder your MS’s scenes to match what you did with your index cards.  Not happy?  Just drag the index cards back.  Or re-order your scenes with the navigator (“binder”) on the left.  Basically, re-ordering your scenes is just a drag-and-drop away.

And look! You can label your index cards “first draft”, “revised draft”, “done”, and the like.  You can also take notes on the index cards that won’t appear in your MS.

Scriv Glitch

CON: Scrivener does occasionally glitch on my mildly old computer when I try to view my enormously large document and ask it to do something complicated, such as zoom in.

PRO: There are a lot of awesome things you can do, like editing while in split-screen or full-screen mode.

Full Screen Mode
Full Screen Mode
Split Screen -- corkboard on the left, document editing on the right.
Split Screen — corkboard on the left, document editing on the right.

CON: If you’re like me, you might spend a few hours playing with all the features, instead of doing something more important, like, say, homework or actually working on your MS.

PRO: You can download a free 30 day trial from the website!  http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php  — AND that’s 30 days of actual USE.  If you use it twice a week, you can have it for fifteen weeks.

CON: After that, it does actually cost money.  It’s not super expensive though — just $40.

PRO: In the course of an afternoon, I have this thing up and running, with my MS all organized and ready to be edited in a fun, easy-to-navigate environment.

Note: There are a TON more features that I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of — name generator, built-in dictionary, outlining program, formatting, research management, and so much more.  Their website does a pretty good job of advertising for themselves, so check that out if you want the details of everything Scrivener can do.

So.  Who all out there uses Scrivener?  What are your favorite features?  Drop me a comment and let me know!

Thoughts While Editing — aka, DID I REALLY WRITE THAT?

Woah.  Did I really write that?

The most common thing I think while reading through my story.  And it can go one of two ways.

Option #1: Woah, Did I really write that?  That’s terrible!  I must kill it!

Or, Option #2:  WOAH!  Did I really write that?  That’s incredible!  I had no idea I was that good!

There is very little in between.

My “editing” process has begun with a general read-through of my MS, and I’m taking notes on it as I go, highlighting things that need work, adding notes such as KILL THIS! or Deepen POV or What? She would never do that.  I’m nearly done, and my MS has gained a lot of color and a lot of notes flying everywhere.  And I’ve done a lot of thinking the two thoughts above.

You see, when I started out, I really. Could. Not. Write.

And as I wrote more (and had it critted) I got better!  And now I can see how awful my MS is in a lot of places, especially at the beginning of the story.  The first six chapters or so were brutal to read.  And then in about chapter 7, I thought for the first time, woah.  Did I actually write that?  ‘Cause that’s not half bad.  Actually, that’s pretty good.  And then — AND THEN!!!!  About two chapters later, I nearly made myself cry.  (In a good way!  A character died and I wrote it really well.)  And it was amazing.  My whole brain went this is why I’m a writer!  (Not because I enjoy crying… but I love the feeling when you’ve written something well enough that it merits that reaction from anyone — even myself!)

The scenes like that give me the courage and perseverance to slog through the scenes where I think Option #1… and hopefully after a few re-writes, I can think option #2 for every scene in my book.