My Editing Process Starts in My Writing Process

26 Jun

The other day I asked you all what topic you would most like me to cover, and editing rose to the top, so…I decided to post a month-long series on this topic—mainly because my editing process is as complicated as my writing process, and I want to get as in-depth as possible. So you can expect two more posts after this one.

I want to start off by saying that my editing process varies per project, just like my writing does, but I will try to cover various types to hopefully give you all some ideas. But editing is a lot like writing. We all have different paths, and you have to find what works for you.

Today, I’m concentrating on how my editing process starts during my writing process.

That’s right.

I’m already editing—or at least prepping my editing—while writing the first draft.

Why? Because writing and editing go hand in hand, and if you keep them in mind as you go, it will save you time and energy and pain in the long run.

1. Try to Finish First, Edit Later

You might have an outline, you might not. That’s okay! Either way, try to finish as much of your first draft as possible before you begin editing. Why? Because you will learn unexpected aspects about your story as you write, and those little surprises—as awesome as they are—can change a lot about your novel as a whole. It’s better to know as much as possible before you start changing things. That way, you won’t get lost in various drafts or ideas or shifts in plans. Just jot down a note and move on. That being said, I used to be one of those writers who would immediately go back and edit previous chapters if a huge twist surprised me (and changed the first few chapters). Honestly, I still do this to some extent, but I’ve tried to hold myself back from doing it too much. Why? Because that issue might change again and again and again. Why waste time rewriting sections when you might have to rewrite them again after that? Recently, for instance, one of my characters began as a five-year-old but then morphed to an eight-year-old later on in the story. Instead of going back and rewriting everything now, I jotted down a note, because, let’s be real, his age could change again. This brings me to my notes…

If you really want to get fancy, create checklists. Checklists might include scenes, world building, character facts, etc. Check them off when they’re mentioned. Take a note of where, too.

2. Take Notes – and I mean a lot of notes

Before you ever start your novel, even if you’re a panster, take notes on what you know, and continue to take notes as you learn more. This is one of the reasons I love Scrivener. I can update individual chapter notes, settings, and character profiles while I write. Here is a basic list of editing notes I keep while writing the first draft:

  • Overall Editing Notes: This can be large-scale edits or simple facts, like my character’s age changing. This is also where I include notes that I feel like I will forget. In my latest manuscript, for instance, my top editing note is “Make sure Meri doesn’t call herself a princess.” Why? Because her language doesn’t have a word for it, but English obviously does, so I keep slipping on that description. These are notes that tend to affect the story as a whole.
  • World Building Notes: Right now, I’m working on my first historical novel, but I find historical novels need just as much note taking as my science fiction and fantasy. Your world building doesn’t necessarily need to make sense in your first draft, but jot down what you figure out as you go. That way, you can adjust these rules and details after you finish your first draft, and you have a clear list to work off of. This will help you make sure that it makes sense.
  • Chapter Notes: As I write, I might realize that Chapter Two needs to be Chapter Ten, so I will go to that chapter and write down notes regarding that decision. This will help me restructure my outline later on. Chapter Notes might also includes notes for that particular chapter. For example, on Chapter Three in my WIP I put a note at the top to mention the goddess of war and disease, because I realized later on that Chapter Three was the perfect opportunity to explain this aspect of the world building, but I didn’t know that at the time of writing Chapter Three and I currently don’t have time to find the exact placement right now. I will find it later on or decide to move it again as I continue to write. Having that note, either way, will remind me that it is both missing from the story and could be placed there.
  • Character Notes: As I learn about my characters, I write down facts, especially ones that surprise me. This can be anything, including what clothes they’re wearing or how they’ve grown emotionally over their lifespan. I write down almost everything, including obvious notes (like hair and eye color) and specific notes (like they broke their arm when they were three).

I know this might seem like a lot of notes, but you never know how long it will take you to write a book…and you might be close to it now, but you will forget things. Having a reference guide to your story will help you transition into editing faster and more efficiently. You can also use it for sequels! You will love having that reference guide, and it will save you a lot of searching time later.

3. Once You Complete Your First Draft

Organize all of your notes. This means writing down the current outline you have and what outline you’re planning for your second draft. I tend to start with my Overall Editing Notes and then go through my Chapter Notes, then my Character Notes, and make a plan. At this point, I probably have a solid idea of where I want to go and what I need to change, but put some distance between your first draft and the editing stage. You’d be amazed at how much clearer your issues will become when you let the project go for a week or two (or a month or two). Go draft up a different project while you wait, but don’t jump into editing immediately. Breathe. Celebrate that first draft. You deserve it.

Now you’re ready to continue!

Next Monday, I’ll cover what editing my first draft is like, along with some tips to help you during your writing journey.

~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

Challenge Your Writing

12 Jun

Challenging your writing is important, but what does that mean?

It means trying something new—attempting a project outside your box of comfort—or switching everything up entirely. Challenging yourself can be a big or small adventure. You can try a new genre in a short story rather than a novel, for instance. But pushing yourself to try a new genre, tone, perspective, etc. can only benefit you. As an example…

I mainly write YA SFF, and I have done so for ten years now, but recently, I set out to write a historical novel. Not only that, but it is my first serious project written in third person. Why? Because I’m challenging my writing…and myself.

Challenge: Try a new utensil. If you normally type your books, try a pencil. See if that changes your perspective.

You see, I’m comfortable with first-person science fiction and fantasy. Almost too comfortable. I find myself flying through drafts and ideas—and I love that, don’t get me wrong—but I can’t help but feel like I’m missing something more. A hurdle. A bit of fear. A semblance of discovery. By challenging myself, I can learn more. I might even fall in love with a new style, genre, or voice. The possibilities are endless.

It’s easy to write with your strengths, but what about overcoming your writing weaknesses?

I struggle with romance, for instance. Though I love first-person, I find it a bit narcissistic, so concentrating on feelings on top of the I, we, me, etc. has always been uncomfortable for me. So, I thought, What about third person? I had no idea if third person would help me overcome this hurdle or not, but hey, I set out to try…and sure enough, I learned a lot about myself and about writing those more emotional scenes. In fact, I look forward to learning even more about my writing through this challenge, and I look forward to future challenges I set out to overcome.

Granted, challenges come with…well, challenges.

Normally, I would be 60,000 words into this first draft, but I’m currently sitting at 42,000…and it’s a messy 42,000. (A really messy 42,000.) But I’m also in love with the mess.

I have never been so unsure of my writing in my life, but I still believe in the manuscript. I still believe in the challenge. And even if I never finish this book, I already succeeded at reaching my original goal: Learning something new.

Constantly challenging myself helps me learn more about my writing and about myself. So I challenge you to set a challenge for yourself today.

Try a new genre. Write from a new type of character’s perspective. Attempt a different perspective entirely.

Just go on an adventure. Make mistakes. Overcome obstacles. Try again.

You might discover something amazing.

~SAT

 

First or Third Person? Present or Past Tense? How Do You Decide?

5 Jun

So you’re writing a book…but your book requires some decisions. Your narrative needs structure. And there are a million options to choose from. So how do you decide a perspective and a tense? What is the best combination for your book?

Let me start out by saying that making the choice to write in first/third person or past/present tense is different for every writer (and often every book). This decision might also differ from what an author prefers to read. For that reason, I wanted to look at this discussion from two different perspectives—as a reader and as a writer—and how I decide, so that you might be able to see how you can make that decision for yourself. Of course, there are a lot more options and specifications than I’m going to get into today. Consider this the basics.

First or Third Person

As a reader…

I love both first and third person. I honestly can’t say if I favor one over the other. As long as the novel is written well, I love the story, though I probably prefer third person for multiPOV stories, only because nailing numerous (and immediately recognizable) voices in first person is basically impossible. (Which I’ll explain below.)

As a writer….

I tend to write in first person. In fact, all of my currently published novels are in first person, though they are also in multiPOV first person…which I just called “basically impossible” above. (Because it is!) Both of my published series are written this way, but none of my recent, unpublished projects are, because UGH. First-person, multiPOV is hard! Nailing a unique voice for each character while staying in the moment is a constant battle. Right now, I’m writing my first third-person book, and I’ll be honest, I think I’m in love. Why? I have an unpopular opinion about first vs. third person. Strangely, I think third person is more intimate than first. Most would argue me, and I totally get it. The average first-person book truly gets into someone’s mind and feelings. But I feel so NARCISTIC in first person (with all the I, me, we, etc.) Because of that, I tend to avoid discussing feelings on top of a first-person point of view. But in third person. Boy, in third person, I feel like I can let those emotions fly. 

Present or Past Tense

As a reader…

I HATE present tense. LOATHE it even. I know. I know. That’s been the favored tense in YA since The Hunger Games. But it drives me nuts. While many have described past tense as sounding like someone telling a story (as if it had already happened), I actually find present tense to feel this way. “I jump over the fire and land on my feet!” sounds like something your uncle shouts around a campfire while telling his college-glory stories. I just don’t like the way it sounds. Present tense makes me feel like I’m being talked at rather than coaxed along. Past tense, however, helps me disappear into the story. That being said, some of my favorite books are in present tense. Don’t get me wrong. I’d never put a book down solely because of present tense, but it will make it a little bit harder for me to enjoy at first.

As a writer….

I write in past tense. In fact, I’ve never written in present, nor do I have the desire to. (But never say never, right?)

So how do I decide what to write in?

Honestly, I don’t.

When I set out to write a book, the POV and tense happen pretty naturally. Granted, there are some exceptions. For instance, I wanted to have Noah and Sophia tell my now-unpublished book, Take Me Tomorrow, but Noah—well, to be frank—is on drugs, and he doesn’t make a lot of sense (or he makes too much sense). So, he was cut out. It turned out to be Sophia’s story anyway. And though I tend to write in first person, my current project is in third person. (It’s actually my first serious project in third person.) Why is this one in third person? I have no clue! It just sort of happened that way. But I’m glad it did. The tone suits it perfectly.

Keep in mind…

First/third person and past/present tense are not the only options out there, and, quite frankly, these are just shells of your options. In third person, for instance, you have to choose between limited third or omniscient third (all-knowing). Then again, who says you have to decide? Some books combine different types of structures to write a book. RoseBlood by Anita Howard had third-person past for her male protagonist, while her female protagonist was written in present first. That way, you could immediately understand where you were and who we were reading about without stumbling. Your book’s options are unlimited.

So how should you decide?

Listen to your gut. Even if you write an entire series in first person and then realize it needs to be in third, I say go for it! Everyone’s writing journey is different, and though there are always trends to consider, nailing your voice is more important than trying to hit constantly-moving goalposts. There are pros and cons and limitations in both perspectives, but I tend to choose perspective/tense based on what the characters tell me to do. It happens overtime. I might not even know until I’m knee-deep in outlines. It might change, too. And that’s okay! Change happens at every process. Write how the book demands to be written. Try first, attempt third, experiment with both, and you’ll eventually find that natural point where you can’t turn back, because the words are endless. But that’s just my perspective. 😉

~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

I DNF a Book

22 May

I DNF a book. For those of you who don’t know what “DNF” means, it means I did not finish reading a novel. Not a big deal, right? Wrong.

For me, I rarely put a book down after I pick it up. Why? Because I feel like if I decided to read it, I need to finish it. Aside from needing to know how something ends, there is a societal pressure to finish everything you start, no matter what.

When I find myself dreading my current read, I always end up telling myself that the book will get better, that the plot will take off, that I’ll finally connect with everything and toughing it out will be worth it—and while that does happen, it happens far less than the book never working for me at all. Yet I still try to finish every book I start.

Why?

I think it has a lot to do with my personality. In fact, this “never give up!” mentality has affected me in other ways. When I was younger, for instance, I played tennis for three years without ever really liking it. I finally quit when my first book was published and I needed to dedicate more time to writing (not to mention a part-time job I took at a local sports bar). But I still feel HORRIBLE for quitting, even though, if I were being completely honest, I was awful at it. Eventually though, I had to come to the conclusion that my time was better suited elsewhere, that tennis was fun, sure, but it just wasn’t for me, and denying that was keeping that space on the team away from someone who truly wanted to be there.

Now I’m trying to be better about applying that life lesson to reading.

Just because you don’t finish reading doesn’t mean the novel is bad. It just means it’s not for you right now. It might resonate with you in three years, but it might not, and that’s okay. So why hold onto that library book that’s making you miserable when someone else could be checking it out and enjoying it? Why force yourself through a read when it’s depleting your joy for reading? Why not find a book you actually enjoy?

Of course, there’s a time and a place to force yourself through a read. (School, for example.) And I will always give a book a fair shot. According to Goodreads, I read 47% of the book I DNF. And, honestly, it wasn’t bad. In fact, it was a fresh idea in a unique world, and it had interesting characters…but I just couldn’t. Why? I’m not entirely sure. In fact, I might never know why, just like I don’t know why tennis wasn’t my passion instead of writing, but at least I realized it wasn’t for me. (And I can always give it another shot in the future.) Until then though, I’m glad I returned it to the library so that someone else could check it out and enjoy it.

So here I am, not finishing a book this week, and setting a goal to be better about being honest with myself about books in the future.

DNF bad reader, DNF = honest reader.

And I’m ready to be more honest with myself, so that I can spend more time on books I thoroughly enjoy.

~SAT

The YA Protagonist’s Age: You’re 17? Me too!

15 May

The young adult genre is normally defined by coming-of-age stories, where the protagonists are often between the ages of 14 and 18. That being said, if you are publishing a YA story right now, chances are your protagonist is 17 years old.

So why are most YA protagonists 17?

Short Answer: The protagonist is old enough to be on the cusp of adulthood but young enough to still be considered a young adult.

Long Answer: Adding to the short answer above, 17 years old is also highly regarded because the target audience reading YA right now is not necessarily teenagers. In fact, most studies indicate that the main audience buying YA is 18-27. (Many teenagers are more focused on fan fiction online—another topic for another day.) But focusing on the older aspects of teenage years is currently more sellable than the younger teenage years of 14-16.

Basically, 17 years old seems to be the sweet spot in YA right now, especially for crossover YA, but I would love to see more variety.

In fact, I find it incredibly uncomfortable how much we are focusing on the age of 17. It’s almost as if every teenager on the planet will have a revelation in that year of their life…and that’s highly unrealistic.

Teenagers do not go through the same issues at the same time. Not everyone falls in love for the first time at 17. Heck, I’m pretty sure half my class was “dating” in middle school, and, yes, that “dating” included some pretty adult things. In fact, let’s talk about that.

Sex is being introduced to YA on a more often, regular basis. (And that’s another debate.) But I think this addition is one of the main factors behind the focus on aging up protagonists. The average reader might feel okay reading about a 17-year-old, who is practically “free” of childhood, but a 14-year-old might cause different reactions. But people face different issues at all ages. Let’s take historical fiction as an example. The average age of a Civil War soldier might have been 26, but boys as young as 12 served as drummers. You’re now talking middle grade fiction, let alone young adult. I think it’s especially okay to give younger protagonists bigger roles in YA historical, but 17-year-olds still take the center stage, and while I understand the marketing aspect, I wish we could get over it.

I went against the grain when I featured a 14-year-old protagonist in my latest YA series, because I think variety is important.

In fact, I’m going to stick my neck out and say one of the reasons young readers (actual teenagers) are reading less YA and focusing on Harry Styles fanfiction on Wattpad is because of how much YA is currently being marketed for older audiences. Ally Carter, author of the Embassy Row series, recently talked on Twitter about how “sweet” young adult fiction is all but missing from the main market. Darker, older, edgier materials are hot, and while that’s awesome for readers like me who enjoy those books, many teens are feeling left out of their own genre…and that’s not okay.

When I was young, I grew up with Cammie in the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter. Her character aged over a few years, and I loved it. The series starts off quick and short and sweet, and as Cammie grows, the content gets darker, more mature, and complicated. In fact, there were a lot of series like that when I was younger, and I LIVED for them. (Hello, Harry Potter.) When I’m at book signings and teenagers tell me how they struggle to “relate” to YA anymore, I feel for them. I truly do.

Teenagers deserve younger and older protagonists—all going through a variety of topics and struggles. They deserve to feel welcome in their own age bracket.

I lost my mom at 11. I moved for my seventh time when I was 12. I had a stepfamily when I was 13. I started high school and my first long relationship at 14. I got in my first car wreck at 15. Heck, I got my license at 15, because, Kansas. (Farmer’s permits—driving by yourself to work and school—were pretty common.) I started my first job at 16. I published my first book at 16! I graduated high school at 17. I turned 18 one month before I moved out and went to college. And sex? I was 19. All of these topics are seen in YA…but they’re mainly assigned to 17-year-olds. Why?

Not everyone has their first “coming-of-age/independent” moment at the same time.

So why are all of our protagonists the same age?

~SAT

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