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Authors Can Change Their Mind

14 Aug

I’m a blogger, but I’m also an author. I love to write about writing, and I love to help fellow writers. Why? Because I didn’t have a lot of help back in 2007 when I was first published. There wasn’t as much information online or writers groups at the tips of your…keyboard. I mean, you’re talking about a time without Facebook or Twitter. So, I struggled a lot. I made a lot of mistakes…and I still make mistakes.

You see, blogging as an author can come with some controversy.

Times change. Ideas change. People change. And my opinions have shifted a lot over time.

And we have so many ideas to change!

For instance, I wrote a piece about sex in YA five years ago. I was adamantly against it, mainly because I think young people are already under too much pressure. To be honest, I still think there shouldn’t be overly graphic scenes of sex in YA, but that’s just my opinion. And, quite frankly, I have a beef with my opinion. (Yes, I have arguments with myself.) I mean, I have violent scenes in my books. Why not sex? Granted, don’t get me wrong, I’m still not there. I prefer to keep sex out of my young adult books. But that’s just me. I wouldn’t stop other YA authors from exploring these topics, even though—five years ago—I was strongly against it. (And this is just one topic out of dozens I’ve changed opinions about over time.)

Basically, I wouldn’t judge an author on their past articles or opinions too harshly.

We are people. We grow, and we change, and so does our work.

Let us learn over time, and we can all learn together.

~SAT

P.S. If you ever stumble across one of my old articles and have questions, don’t hesitate to ask! I always strive to answer comments, no matter how old the article is. Thank you for reading!

Editing (Rewriting) the First Draft

3 Jul

This month, I’m covering my editing process, so if you haven’t checked out the first part— My Editing Process Starts in My Writing Process—check it out. Today, I’m continuing the writing journey by explaining what happens after I finish writing a first draft.

1. Review Your Notes & Plans

Hopefully, you took a break between finishing your first draft and this step. Why? Because you’ve been really close to this manuscript for a while now, and you need to clear your mind in order to see issues you couldn’t see before. Think of writing a book like creating a painting. You were painting one bit, inch by inch, but now you need to step back to take a look at the whole picture. Once you step back—and reevaluate—make sure your notes are in order, so you can create a clear plan for moving forward. (Caveat: It’s okay if you don’t have a clear plan yet; you can rewrite your draft as much as you need to.)

2. Start with Sweeping Changes

I always start with my biggest changes. Is Chapter Three now Chapter Fourteen? I move it and make sure everything else is in chronological order. That way, as I move through the manuscript, I can take new notes on what is revealed and in what way. After that, I move through each chapter, along with those chapter notes, and tighten everything, including my prose. I’ll keep grammar in mind, but the focus here isn’t to nitpick every little thing but rather solidify my story. This is also where I’ll make big decisions—decisions that, I hope, will be final. Maybe I’ve been on the fence about that one side character being five or eight. This is where I’ll choose. That doesn’t mean it won’t change again, but I’ll try to stick with a decision throughout the final manuscript to see how it flows. If it doesn’t, I’ll try again. If I cut out whole scenes, I put them in an “Unused” folder, in case I decide to add them back later.

Much like you’d create a writing plan, create an editing plan and a deadline goal.

3. Address Weaknesses—Big & Small

Maybe you’re cringing at your kissing scenes. (Like I do, every time.) Or maybe you use the same word way too often. (We all have a crutch list, whether we know it or not.) Personally, I keep a small list of elements I know that I will have to look out for, no matter what. Example? I have a note to take my time on romantic scenes, because I often brush over them during first drafts. I go back and make sure to give each scene added attention to detail. I also keep a vocabulary sheet. This helps me track words I overuse and also reminds me of words I typically forget but are perfect words for certain situations. In some cases, I keep whole vocabulary sheets for sections of books, because the demanded vocabulary might not come as naturally at first. (I even keep notes on gestures, descriptions, etc., because it’s easy to fall back on the same notion over and over again.) Examples?

Crutch words to avoid: though, worse, curious, all the while, eyed

Gestures/Description Example:

  • Brow Action: pinched brow, lifted brow, raise one brow, a frown etched between her eyes, regarded her with a crease between his eyebrows, her brow narrowed, wiped his brow
  • Brow description: sparse, plucked, trim, thick, bushy, caterpillar.

Words about Light/Bright:

  • Prismatic: of, relating to, or having the form of a prism or prisms
  • Effulgent: shining brightly; radiant.
  • Phosphorescent: light emitted by a substance without combustion or perceptible heat
  • Scintillation: a flash or sparkle of light.
  • Refraction: the fact or phenomenon of light, radio waves, etc., being deflected in passing obliquely through the interface between one medium and another or through a medium of varying density.
  • Luster: a gentle sheen or soft glow, especially that of a partly reflective surface:
  • Lambent: (of light or fire) glowing, gleaming, or flickering with a soft radiance: lambent torchlight

Words relating to the ocean: Aquatic, briny, breeze, barrier reef, bays, beach, birds, body of water, breaking, breakwater, buoy, climate, coastline, crustacean, coral, current, depth, dock, diving, froth, tides, waves, sand.

This method isn’t for everyone, but I love having lists of words that I can reference for fun—and helpful—reminders. It both challenges me and aids me when I have that word on the tip of my tongue but can’t remember it.

Once I finish polishing up my drafts into something I absolutely love, I know I’m ready for a “final” edit. However, there’s one more step. When I get that polished draft in my hands, I send it to a few trusted beta readers. Why? Because what’s the point in perfecting the grammar if my beta readers point out half of it needs to be rewritten? Granted, this is going to differ for everyone. Some beta readers, for instance, are going to want grammar to be as perfect as possible before they read, because they are also looking for grammatical errors, but I tend to have different types of beta readers: ones who help me with the basic story and ones who will read later and help me polish the technical stuff (and ones who do both). The key is to communicate with your beta readers about what you’re looking for and when they want to participate in your writing process.

So send off the manuscript to your beta readers, get some feedback, write/edit some more, and soon, you’ll be on your way to the next and final step: the final draft.

Next week, I’ll cover editing your “final” draft.

Stay tuned,

~SAT

The Ideal Writing Pace

19 Jun

Writing is a different experience for everyone. Just check out the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter and you will see authors hitting 50,000 words in two weeks…and in two years.

So how long should it take to write your book?

Stephen King claims to give up on a book if you can’t finish the first draft in three months. Others claim a book is rushed if it doesn’t demand years of your attention. But here’s the deal—

I used to run in Track & Field, and Track & Field taught me something important that I think the writing community could benefit from. (Stick with me for a second, okay?) I competed in races all year long. I thought I knew what the end-goal was in Track & Field… Whoever was fastest was the best. And the fastest girl on our team was a girl I’ll call Darla.

Darla was fast—like super fast—and since I was running long distance for the first time (when I was used to sprinting races), I tried to keep up with her. She was the fastest, after all, and I was able to run at her pace. (Not that I enjoyed it.) One time, while we were running a practice race (and I was majorly struggling), she turned to me and asked why I hadn’t found my own pace. My own pace. This concept blew my mind. I never considered how fast I “wanted” to run or what speed I was comfortable running. No way! I had only considered the start line, the finish line, and nothing in between…you know, because this was a literal race. But this was Track & Field. Your team isn’t judged for each little race, but rather all of your team’s races combined. It was about winning together as a team, not competing against one another, and above all, we were supposed to enjoy the run. (We were in seventh grade, after all, but twelve-year-old Shannon was just as competitive and way-too serious as modern me.)

That being said, I quit Track & Field the next year. Not because I wasn’t fast enough, but because I finally found my pace. And my pace was writing instead of running. Though, I admit running was still my exercise of choice growing up, I learned an important lesson from running that I’ve carried into my writing life.

Finding my own pace is key, not only for my health but also for my happiness.

If that means I write 50,000 words in two weeks, awesome. But it’s also awesome if it takes me two years.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with this. It took me two months to finish my first manuscript of 2017, including a significant amount of editing. Two months. And now I’m halfway through June without a second manuscript. That’s four months on one project. I’ve been working on it twice as long as my previous project, but I’m barely halfway through a first draft. (This is probably the opportune time to mention I’m slightly obsessive about numbers… and I’m a competitive person by nature, so I’ll turn anything into a competition, including competitions with myself. So, sigh…) I feel as if I’ve been writing sooooooo slowly. And I’m struggling with that confession.

As someone who is competitive, I understand how overwhelming seeing others’ word counts can feel. Sometimes, word counts can start to feel more important than feeling good about those words you wrote down. But I try to keep that Track & Field lesson in mind.

We’re in this together. Some of us will write 50,000 words in two weeks, some of us cringe at that idea, but we will all reach the “finish line” together. And the more we enjoy the middle, the better the “race” will feel. Though…I forgot to mention the most important fact about this post. Writing isn’t a race at all. This is a journey. There isn’t a set finish line. There isn’t even a solid start line. (I often can’t tell you when I first got an idea for a specific project, for instance.) But your happiness should matter. If it takes two months or two years, it shouldn’t matter. What matters is how much you enjoyed the writing process.

Find your writing pace, and enjoy your journey.

~SAT

An Author with Poor Penmanship

29 May

Recently, I sent out letters and signed swag to some of my super fans who attended an online release day party for my books. And like so many times before that, I found myself dreading writing the letters. Why? It’s simple really.

I am an author with poor penmanship.

Now, please don’t tell me “I’m sure it isn’t horrible, you’re just being humble,” because, seriously, I struggle to read my own handwriting…and it’s never going to get better, no matter how much I practice or try.

My story is a little strange, but here it goes.

When I was eleven, I was at basketball practice before school when I tripped and fell. The growth plate in my left wrist fractured pretty severely, but, for those of you who don’t know, at that age, your growth plate is malleable. And it didn’t show physical signs of injury. (No bruising, blood, etc.) So when I went to the nurse’s office to explain the pain I was having, she wrote me off and said I was trying to avoid a math test I had later that day. (This still blows my mind, because I was a straight-A student, and I’ve always loved math.) Nevertheless, she sent me back to class and never called my father. Fast forward twelve hours later, and I’m in excruciating pain when I get home. At this point, the school told my father, and he is medically trained, so he took me to the hospital. Problem was, the damage was basically done. My left wrist is still damaged today…I’m also naturally left-handed. So, I had to learn to write with my right hand, and it’s atrocious. Yes, I can write with my left, but it hurts, so I basically type everything. Conclusion: My handwriting is UGLY.

But I can’t exactly explain that story to my fans in every letter. I’m always anxious when I write letters to fans, because I’m afraid of what they’ll think. Will they think a four-year-old wrote them a note? Will my poor handwriting ruin the excitement of the letter for them? I see all these beautiful letters authors send to their fans and my handwriting becomes an insecurity of mine.

Then I got to thinking…Why do I have to have an excuse for poor penmanship?

 My handwriting doesn’t change my ability to write a story. Other than struggling to read my own notes sometimes, I’ve never felt at a disadvantage for bad handwriting because that’s silly. But I’m still insecure about it. I see my chicken scratches in books I’m signing for fans and I cringe at my letters to others, and I worry that they’ll judge my handwriting, as if someone with bad handwriting can’t possibly be a writer.

I’m trying to get over this insecurity of mine, but here I am, still frowning when I mail out letters. Maybe one day I’ll be 100% confident in my chicken scratches. Or maybe I will continue to love typing more than handwriting.

You see, I find typing beautiful.

I’m a typist. My mother was also a typist. In fact, she was an associate for a lawyer, who had poor spelling, so she was constantly typing and re-typing his documents. He also smoked a mint pipe, and I remember this fondly. (Why? I will never know.) But when I was sick from school, I would sit in the lawyer’s office, sipping Sprite, and watch my mother type and type and type.

As a kid, I remember watching my mom type like someone would watch a pianist play the piano. Her speed was rhythmic. I found the entire process hypnotizing. And this is before I broke my hand or became a seasoned writer. All I wanted to do was learn how to type. And when I was in college, I would calm down after class by re-typing my notes.

I find it easy to lose myself in the keyboard. I’m at home when I’m using the keyboard. And, for me, the keyboard is my form of expression. The keyboard gives me a voice, and I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than that—even envy-inducing calligraphy.

It would be nice to write beautifully one day…but I think it would be even better if I found a way to let me insecurity go.

I always have my keyboard.

~SAT

Character Motivations vs Morals

3 Apr

Not going to lie, I recently binge-watched The 100 through Netflix. For those of you who don’t know, The 100 is a TV show based off a young adult series with the same name. The first season follows a group of 100 kids dropped off on earth after a nuclear disaster destroyed the planet 97 years prior. It’s currently airing season 4. (I’m only on season 3.) Granted, I’m not normally a TV person. In fact, I usually have to be extremely ill to watch a bunch of TV, but I made an exception for The 100. Why? Because I fell in love during episode one. What do I love about The 100? The character motivations. They are 100% believable, even when the plot gets crazy, and I feel like that’s pretty rare.

There’s no spoilers in this article for The 100. Don’t worry. But definitely check out a few episodes to see what I mean.

Character motivations are so important, but often dwindled down to right vs. wrong. But motivation can (and should) be more than that. As an example from The 100, Bellamy just wants to save his sister, no matter what it requires (right or wrong) and whether she wants it or not. In fact, he often does horrible things in order to achieve his goal. Therefore, he is driven by his motivation to save his sister, not his morals to be a good person. On top of that, though he believes saving his sister is his responsibility, he doesn’t lie to himself and think he is morally perfect because of it. He doesn’t have a “hero complex.” An older brother complex, sure. But not a heroic one. He is driven by motivation, not morals.

Why do I bring up morals? Because morals is sometimes the opposite of motivation in fiction. Though they can be synonymous, it’s easy to let a character slide one way or the other. Personally, I always prefer believable motivations to morally-driven characters. Why? Because completely morally-driven characters can be hard to relate to. I mean, let’s be real. Sometimes, that self-righteous hero trope gets a little…boring.

I would much rather watch a show or read a book where the characters’ motivations are believable, morals be damned. Let’s take villains, for instance. The most popular writing tip today is that every bad guy believes they are the good guy, and while I love that tip, I disagree. Not all bad guys think they’re good guys. Granted, I like a bad guy who thinks he’s good. I often prefer them that way. But it’s also fun to follow a character who knows they are selfish, who has reasons for their selfishness, and owns it.

Of course, it’s always best to have both worlds, right? Motivations and morals (and sometimes one fueling the other) can be fun and exciting and terrifying and interesting. But I would like to see more books with strong, sometimes twisted motivations that overcome morally-driven characters.

What about you? Do you prefer characters with motivations or morals or a mixture of both?

Discuss away! Just don’t be the evil one and post spoilers about The 100 in the comments below. (Or at least put a warning at the top of your post.)

Thank you,

~SAT

P.S. Bad Bloods: July Thunder releases next Monday! I also received my first review from Babbling Books! “Another fantastic addition to the Bad Bloods series and a marvelous start to a new duology. Wonderful writing, captivating characters and a story that will reel you in until the last page, these Bad Bloods may have a tendency of breaking the rules, but their stories are way too good not to read!”

AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooksKoboSmashwordsGoodreads

 

Writers, It’s Okay To Log Out

27 Mar

Social media is a must for writers today. Connecting with readers through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms is easy and welcomed, but it can get overwhelming. With the myriad of ways we have of posting information—sometimes live—it’s easy to succumb to publishing pressures. Personally, I still struggle to figure out where my balance is in all the different types of social media platforms. Why? Because they are constantly changing and so is my schedule, but one thing remains the same. Making sure I’m interacting with readers and writers through social media is always near the top of my To-Do list.

There is also staying up-to-date in the publishing world. Whether you’re reading Writer’s Digest or Publishers Marketplace or one of the millions of amazing publishing blogs out there, there’s always something to read, to share, to consider.

But that doesn’t mean you should get lost in social media.

Extra tip: Pick only the social media platforms that you love. You don’t have to do everything.

One of my main pieces of advice to writers is to stop reading about writing and actually start writing. Not that reading about writing is bad. (I mean, I write about writing on this blog.) But if you’re reading more about writing than actually writing, then it might be time to log out. There’s only so much you will learn from studying writing. The best way to grow as a writer is to actually write for yourself. And I’m not an exception. Recently, I had to remove my social media from my phone. Mainly Facebook and Twitter. Why? Because I found myself spending more time reading my feeds than reading books. And quite frankly, it was starting to affect my writing. For example, I sometimes get so wrapped up in trends I forget about what I WANT to write—and honestly, what you want to write is generally the most important thing, because that passion will show in your voice.

Don’t get me wrong. I love these platforms. Twitter, in particular, is an important platform where writers get involved in publishing issues that need to be addressed. I also love joining Twitter events, because they are fun and fast and a great way to meet others who love reading and writing as much as you. But sometimes, I just need to read or watch TV or go for a jog or explore a bookstore without all the scrolling and pinging of notifications.

Setting boundaries and taking care of yourself is important, especially when you feel overwhelmed. In fact, I feel much better now that I’ve taken those apps off my phone. Admittedly, it probably won’t stay that way forever, but it is helping me stay focused on the recent conference I attended as well as my upcoming book releases in April and May. I’m sure I’ll put them back on my phone soon. But until then, I’m grabbing a coffee and sitting on my roof this morning. And I’m definitely logging out.

Don’t feel guilty for logging out. It’s okay to take a day off of marketing or tweeting or Facebooking or sharing photos of your cat on Instagram. (Though if you like that sort of thing, I often post photos of my three cats—Bogart, Boo Boo, and Kiki—via Instagram’s @AuthorSAT. If you post cats, feel free to tag me so I can see. I seriously love cats.)

You can log out, too.

~SAT

Writers, Stop Comparing Yourselves

20 Feb

Recently, I finished my first manuscript of 2017. It was also my first pantsing novel…and a novel that I’m truly excited about. So excited, in fact, that I think it fueled me to write more than usual and share more information about a WIP than I normally do. If you follow my social media, you might have seen my adventure as I shared my growing word count over the last two months. It was a fast first draft. And wonderful, too! But when I shared that I finished, I received a few messages: How do you write so fast? Should I be able to reach that word count every day? Is it even a good draft? How many drafts do you write? What do you recommend I do?

All reasonable questions. Don’t get me wrong. I’m more than happy to answer them, too, but at its core, the answer is simple: My writing methods will not be your writing methods, and your writing methods won’t be mine. You have to find what works for you.

I never share word counts or inspiration boards or sneak peeks, because I want you to compare yourself to me. I share those things, because they are fun—and writing can be lonely and hard work. You see “The End” on my Instagram, while I see two months without weekends and wayyyy too much caffeine in my blood (and maybe one mental breakdown in between Chapter Sixteen and Chapter Twenty-Eight).

Taking a small breather to have fun on Instagram with fellow writers and readers is often the only breather I get all day. And I love seeing other writers share those milestones, because we’re in this together. We love the same thing: words. And it’s a delight to share them. (Especially after said mental breakdown between Chapter Sixteen and Chapter Twenty-Eight.)

That being said, I understand that social media sharing can bum other writers out. It can make a writer feel like they’re not doing enough, accomplishing enough, or sharing enough. The comparison bug hits writers a lot. And trust me, it isn’t worth it. You’ll only end up in a pity-party hosted by your worst inner critic.

I mean, does this even look fun?

I mean, does this even look fun?

Kick that critic out of your writing office right meow. Why? Because no writing journey is the same. No story is the same. No writer is either.

The key is figuring out what works for you, and then moving forward every day to the best of your ability.

That’s it.

Keep writing, keep reading, and keep trying. It will work—though I will admit that it will be difficult. You will absolutely struggle and get rejections and feel like giving up. We all have felt bad/sad/hopeless at some point in our writing journey. (And more than once.) That fact sometimes helps more than anything.

Comparison, in practice, isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes seeing a writer friend of mine hit a huge goal pushes me to sit back down to achieve my own goals. Often, when I’m feeling down, I research my favorite authors and read about their writing journey to see how they struggled and achieved and kept on keeping on. That could be considered comparison, but at its core, it isn’t comparison. It’s inspiration. By reading about others’ journeys, I’m reminded that we all have our own future ahead of us. I am who I am and I’m trying to get to where I want to be, and there are millions of authors who did the same before me. It’s inspiration. And hope. And fun.

But comparison is a precarious edge—one that anyone can slip over easily at any moment.

Always remind yourself that you are you, and this is your journey.

So next time you see someone hit a word count or get a publishing deal or finish a first draft, and you feel that sting of jealously/resentment/exhaustion, take a step back and relax. (And kick that inner critic out.)

You don’t need to write 1,000 words every day. You don’t need to go to a million conferences or garner a movie deal before the age of 32.

You just gotta be you.

Keep writing, and keep achieving goals your way, and trust me, you’ll get there.

You’re already on the way.

~SAT

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