Tag Archives: publishing

Finishing My First Pantser Novel

7 Sep

I finished my first panster novel. For those of you who don’t know what a panster is in publishing, it basically means you write with no plan, no outline, nothing. You write by the seat of your pants. Hence, panster.

Typically, I’m an outliner. A pretty detailed one, I might add. There’s something comforting about knowing my characters and their world pretty well before I jump in headfirst. I mean, what happens if I get 30,000 words and freeze? Or decide I hate everything? That hasn’t happened to me in a while, but it happens, which is why I favor spending more time in the heads of my characters/ideas/world before I dedicate a ton of time to a project. But this project was different. This project I never intended to pursue.

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I’m on Instagram! @AuthorSAT

Let me take you back to fall of 2018. (Oh, yes, it’s been one year since I started writing this project.) I was at one of the lowest parts of my writing career. I really felt like giving up. So, while dramatically crying in the shower (because all genius breakthroughs happen in the shower), I told myself it was fine to quit. Fine to write whatever the hell I wanted. Fine to not write at all. By the time I exited, I had decided to write the most ridiculous idea I could think of, and well, this book was born.

Obviously, if you can tell from the backstory, this book was born from a very emotional place, which is one of the reasons I think pansting worked. All I wanted to do was get down my rage, confusion, heartache, frustration, love—damn the timelines. Forget making sense. This wasn’t about sense. It was about nonsense, which is how I felt. And I used those feelings all over ever page of that book.

81,000 words later, and I’ve realized a couple of things.

  1. I had a lot more feelings than I thought—and it was super therapeutic to take a dive deep into them, no holding back. Even the ugly ones. Even the ones I didn’t know I felt. One of the only reasons I feel like I could do this to the extent that I did was because I had written off the idea of pursuing publishing with it. It was just for me. And so I wasn’t writing to satisfy anyone but myself. And guess what? I want to take this mentality with me into all my future projects.
  2. Pansting is a tool. I think it gets a bad rep in the writing world because it seems to be a synonym for those that don’t plan—and publishing does require a lot of planning—but not planning can be a plan in itself. (Crazy, right?) I mean it, though. By not planning, I feel like I have more authentic characters. My plot might need more work than usual. My world building, too. But characters is typically what I struggle with in a first draft, and I didn’t have that issue this time around. I plan on using pansting—even in light instances—to explore characters more.
  3. You never know what you’ll end up pursuing. I sort of already knew this, but this was probably the biggest instance where I seriously never, ever thought I’d share this book, but it’s my next one I’m handing to my agent. Of course, I have a few things to get in line before then. Like, you know, revising. A lot.

I definitely have a lot of revising ahead of me. More than I want to think about at the moment. (I mean, who isn’t burnt out on a piece once they hit THE END? At least, it’s typical behavior from me, which is perfectly fine, because I believe every writer should take a break between revisions. You risk making the same mistakes if you don’t. But I digress.) One tip I suggest: Take notes as you’re writing. I think this is good practice anyway, but it is absolutely necessary when you’re pansting. I already have pages and pages of info I can sort to organize my revision with—and it helps that I already took a significant portion to my writers group. (Typically, I take more polished versions to this group, but again, this book was different. It felt right to take it in early.) Basically, follow your writer’s gut.

My next novel? I’ve already started writing it—and I outlined it. Though I’ll admit my outline is the basics right now, or what I like to call my road map: Where I begin, where I want to end, and a couple of places I want to stop at in between. I’m still world building and getting to know my characters, so I know my plans will inevitably change. I also know I’ll have to return to my panster novel to start editing. But talking about balancing numerous pieces at once is another blog post for another day. (Maybe next month? Stay tuned…)

In the end, I don’t regret pansting my last book. In fact, I think it’s one of the best pieces I’ve written. It’s a super wicked world, and I don’t think I could’ve planned such chaos if I had tried. Basically, pansting was right for that novel. It might be right for another novel in the future. It’s most likely not right for the one I currently want to tackle, but who knows? I might change my mind.

Be open to trying different methods of writing.

You might find out it was everything your work needed. 

~SAT

How I Revise My Novels

3 Aug

I talk a lot about writing, creating, marketing, editing, etc. But I haven’t specifically discussed the revision process. But isn’t revising and editing the same thing, you ask. No, not really. Though the lines can definitely blur, revising is a stage that comes before editing. Revising is knowing what to keep in your work, what to cut, and what to adjust; editing is making all of those changes pretty. You’ll do a ton of both during your writing journey, so I wanted to discuss how I revise my novels.

I have three main revision stages:

  1. Major Revision
  2. Beta Reader Revisions
  3. Final Revision

So let’s go through them one by one.

The Major Revision:

After the first draft, I start my “major revision,” which is basically a giant rewrite. I used to be a big believer in outlining, but the more experimental I got with my writing, the more I realized my outline was holding me back. I was always trying to force my characters to do what they needed to do, not what they wanted to do. Nowadays, I still rely on a basic outline, or what I refer to as my road map. (I know where I’m starting, where I’m ending, and a few pit stops in between, but I mostly let the book lead itself.) Granted, this method definitely creates a lot more revising in the end. In fact, there’s enough revising needed that I’ve also stopped going back and revising as I write. If I did that, I’d constantly be going backward. Instead, I jot down notes as I go and let it go until the end. (No point in making sense of it until I have all the puzzle pieces, right?) In my WIP, I have editing notes on almost every chapter; on top of that, I keep two documents: To-Do Editing and World Building Needs. These will anchor me when I’m finished and need to organize my thoughts. At the end, I look at all my notes, probably take even more notes, and revise. A lot.

Beta Reader Revisions:

I tend to send my work to beta readers after I’ve significantly revised. (More on that later.) Right now, I have 2 or 3 different groups of betas I work with. Typically, my in-person writing group here in KC gets my work first. (Enter revision.) After that, I send it to 1-2 trusted online friends. (Enter another revision.) Then—and I don’t always do this as much as I wish—I try to get the opinion of a non-writer. During these various stages, I might send the work back to the same beta numerous times. If that’s the case, I love to work in revision mode on Scrivener. (Or Track Changes in Word.) That way, it color codes what version I’m on, and they don’t have to re-read my whole manuscript.

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I’m actually not revising in this scene. I’m using revision mode to organize my thoughts. I love color-coding everything.

Instead they can read the color-coded parts and give me feedback on those. Though, to be honest, I typically use the revision mode during writing by myself too. (There’s also a handy screenshot button that lets you keep various versions of the same chapter in one place…but I’ll stop advertising for Scrivener now.) The key to working with beta readers is finding ones that are compatible with your work and your style. That doesn’t mean you connect with someone who praises everything you do; rather it means that you have an understanding of their goals and know how to approach each other in a positive, constructive way. If you don’t vibe with someone well, that’s okay. Move on. Find someone who works well with you. Two amazing writers can be in the same room; that doesn’t mean they’d make good beta readers for each other. (Or, as my father says, two great people can be in the same room; doesn’t mean they should be married.) And you want a marriage…er, a long-term partnership.

Final Revision:

Once I get most of my revisions done, I take a HUGE break. And I mean significant time away from the manuscript. This helps clear my mind. Without that, I’ll probably make the same mistakes I’ve been making in the past. You want to come at your project with fresh eyes. Once that happens, I focus on a basic read through, and I make no changes. Instead, I put sticky notes on places I want to make changes with later. (Yes, I tend to print out my manuscript. I know, I know, what a waste of paper. But this goes back to getting fresh eyes on everything. You’ll see things on paper that you can’t see on a computer screen.) Here’s a photo of my manuscript I worked on with my agent.

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If you didn’t catch on, I love office supplies. (Seriously, there’s nothing better than fresh pens and paper and Sticky Notes.) In case you’re curious what you’re looking at:

Blue = grammar

Orange = plot I know I need to fix

Pink = other things I want to consider

Green = current reading place

I actually go back and fix my grammar first. But that’s because I have so little to fix at this point. (I work on my grammar during the beta readers stage.) After that, I’ll tackle the orange and make an outline of each issue. Once I have a list of page numbers, I’ll fix each problem at a time. That way I know what the rhythm is like and I have my obvious problems out of the way by the time I move into pink. “Other things I want to consider” tend to be strange bits of info that caught me off guard during my initial read through. Something I wasn’t expecting but something that I might want to reconsider. The possibilities are truly endless, but this is another reason to come at your work with fresh eyes. You might realize you accidentally left something from version one of your book’s world building in the current script even though it no longer matters (or, worse, isn’t true anymore).

Now these stages aren’t necessarily taken so cleanly. My latest piece for instance? I started taking the very first draft to my writers’ group, no revisions beforehand. Why? It felt right to me, and sometimes (okay, all the time) you gotta go with your gut. In this case, I wanted to revise as I created. I think a part of the reason this happened was because I began this book for fun. I literally never thought I’d pursue it seriously, so I had no plan, no outline, no road map. It’s been really exciting, but also very challenging. Having beta readers help along the way was the right move. My point being, of course, is that just because you find a revising style that works for you doesn’t mean that you won’t adjust your own methods from project to project.

Be honest with yourself while revising. Find others who will also be honest with you. And revise as many times as your writing heart can take it (and then a few times more).

~SAT

P.S. I recently made the leap and decided to pay WordPress for the premium edition, so you shouldn’t have to see any more ads. I hope you enjoy the cleaner look! (The ads were really starting to bug me.) If you see an ad, take a screenshot and send it to shannonathompson@aol.com. Because they def should not be there.

P.S.S. I also decided to shut down my editing services. After six years of editing, I came to love so many of y’all’s work, and I will forever be a fan. (Shout out to C.E. Johnson, Steve Ramirez, Grant Goodman, Rich Leder, Kristin and Ryan King, and so many more.) I didn’t make this decision lightly. Between my new job at the library and my new goals with my writing career, though, I just couldn’t keep up with the quality and demand anymore. I know this is the right move for me (and for my authors), but my little editor’s heart is sad. I’m sending good vibes to all my authors out there. Thank you for trusting me with your words all of these years. ❤ It was an honor.

My Experience Querying & Getting an Agent

6 Jul

Recently, as many of you know, I signed with a literary agent. (See announcement.) It’s a time a lot of writers dream of, a time highlighted with celebratory GIF tweets screaming, I did it! I did it! And I’m READY. It’s a lot of fun, definitely exciting, and often followed up with a “How I Got My Agent” blog post/newsletter/tweet thread. I’m a blogger, have been since 2012, so naturally I came here, wondering how I could share my experience and if sharing would help any writers out there. Theoretically, I could tell you about my use of QueryShark, QueryTracker, WritersDigest Agent Alerts, MSWL, PitMad, PitchWars, IWSG, attending conferences, joining competitions, and more. But let’s be real, isn’t that what everyone says?

There are a million articles out there about how to find the perfect agent for your book and career—and I didn’t want this to be one of them. Instead, I wanted to simply talk about my experiences. The real. The feels. The almost give-ups. The getting back up. The life lessons. Granted, if I were being completely honest, I don’t have enough room on the Internet to share every little detail. (Though, my poor roommate has had to listen to such excruciating monologues for the past couples years, but I digress.) Maybe, though, if I share what I can recall in the most sufficient and honest way possible, some querying writers out there will find some strength or hope or just get a few laughs while they march through the query trenches. Overall, though, I want to be clear about one thing that I said last week: This is my journey, and every writer’s journey is different. In a way, I don’t believe in giving advice on querying any more than I do giving writing advice in general. It can be helpful, yes, but ultimately, every writer must figure out what works for them. This is what worked for me. 

If I went all the way back to my very first query letter, I would admit I started in 2008. Maybe earlier. I can’t even remember. But I remember sending out physical letters with a SASE inside for responses. The first agent to ever respond to me was Jodi Reamer. For those of you in publishing, you’ll know this is the agent behind Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. And yes, I still have that response tucked away in a super secret place. She, obviously, didn’t offer my 14-year-old self rep, but she did encourage me. And I continued writing and querying on-and-off for the next ten years. Granted, if I were being completely honest, I didn’t take querying seriously until 2016. That’s when I made the decision to query professionally. (Don’t judge me for all those terribly embarrassing queries before, I was in high school, and helpful publishing Twitter didn’t even exist. Lots of help didn’t exist.) Excuses aside, though, I still made a lot of mistakes.

downloadThe first book I queried seriously was a YA fantasy. See stats from QueryTracker on the right. If I were being completely honest, I’d admit this isn’t completely accurate. I only started using QueryTracker toward the end. So I probably have twenty more rejections and two more requests that aren’t logged. I learned a lot while querying this book. Mostly, how to write a query letter. I sent them out in batches, received feedback, and revised. But let’s talk about revisions for a sec. The main lesson I learned with this book? Don’t revise just because someone is giving you the time of day with an R&R. (See article here: Should You Revise and Resubmit?) I butchered this book (and that’s me being kind). It’s so ugly and sad and messed up that I haven’t looked at it in over a year. Maybe two. Who knows, I try to forget. Maybe one day, I’ll open it back up and give it another shot, but for now, I’m okay with it sitting in a dark corner on my hard drive. If anything, it was probably the most vital lesson I learned while querying. Why? Because everyone talks about how to get an agent’s attention, but rarely do we discuss when to walk away, especially when someone is being kind and believes in your work.

Getting an agent, ultimately, isn’t about getting just any agent, but an agent who sees your work for what you want it to be, and they also believe in that art. They believe in you. And you have to know who you are and what you want your art to be.

With my first YA fantasy, I was trying to desperately shape myself into what agents wanted me to be—rather than trying to find an agent who loved my work and wanted to help me succeed with it.

I learned that lesson, and it was hard, but I moved on.

I wish I could tell you that I wrote a bazillion books between that first book and the one that won my current agent, but my next book is the one that worked. Keep in mind, though, that I began writing it in October of 2016. It’s been three years of writing, revising, submitting, rejection, revising, submitting, more rejection, and revising/submitting again. In fact, I had one of the most crushing blows to my writer’s heart during that time. I’ve never come that close to quitting in my life. But I obviously didn’t. I kept writing, here and there, and querying when I could.

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My Instagram posts of finishing the first draft of my YA sci-fi. I started it in October of 2016, ending in February of 2017. Connect on Insta: @authorsat

With my YA fantasy tucked away in a forgotten drawer, and my heart set on finding love for my YA sci-fi, I learned even more lessons. I learned to reach out, make friends, connect with fellow writers for fun and not just because you think it’ll help you get somewhere. This mainly happened by joining writing contests. Either I met writers by reaching out to them or mentors who had read my work connected me with writers they felt I’d get along with. Honestly, the best thing that happened to me while querying my YA sci-fi was meeting my beta readers. If I hadn’t connected with them, I can’t honestly say I would’ve continued through the hard months to come. And there were a lot of hard months. Not just from querying either. A loved one past away. I got really, really sick. I had to move. I found a new job. I changed jobs again! And recently, I changed jobs once more.

Querying isn’t this singular phase writers go through once. It’s a constant. And most don’t enjoy it, which can make juggling submissions with life craziness all the more harder. I’m a big believer in not making things harder than they have to be, though I often make that mistake. (I’m only human, K?)

One thing I would have done different is NOT spend money, especially considering how little I made at the time. While querying Immersion, I read tons of magazines and articles that got it into my head that the key to finding success was attending (expensive) conferences, paying for advice, and entering exclusive doors that, of course, cost more money. I would spend any savings I had trying to “make” it, and I think that’s kind of cruel to be honest. It’s something I don’t like about publishing. Though many claim all is fair in the slush pile, there is a helluva lot of pressure to pay to play. And I went through a bad phase where I fell for that, hard. My breaking point? I spent $350 to attend a conference (taking a day off work to do so) and paid $100 per agent to pitch for ten minutes, which honestly ended up being about seven minutes a piece, if not less, since the slots before me would go above their time limit. I spent $600 total to try to connect, received three full requests, and had all three agents more or less cancel the full without reading. (One left the business, one was fired, and one transferred.) I felt really disrespected. Worse than disrespected. I felt taken advantage of by an industry I’d loved my whole life. It felt like a trap. A lie. A sham. And it broke my heart.

After that (and a huge break in which I had an existential crisis), I called it quits on spending money. If I wanted to go to a conference for me, fine. But I was no longer going to invest in pitching when I could jump into the slush pile for free. (Spoiler alert: I got my agent through the slush pile.) In fact, I got most of my full requests through the slush pile. One thing I am eternally grateful for is the amount of agents who gave me fantastic advice after reading my full manuscript. Over time, I realized it wasn’t just advice either. I was making connections, friendships, and finding hope. That $600 conference for instance? The agents might not have worked out, but you know what I did walk away with? An invite to a local writers’ critique group I’m still in today. I look forward to it every month.

Querying is hard. There is no guarantee. And even if you sign with someone, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get a book deal. Or get along. Or anything really. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. That doesn’t mean you can’t be sad or angry or excited or crushed or hopeful or anything. I say, ride those emotions all the way through. If you can, use them to create even more art. Me, for instance? I was starting to get so angry/depressed while querying that I began writing a rage-filled monster book for myself, and now I’m 60,000 words in, and I’m in love with it. It’s also the next book my agent wants me to focus on. (Though channeling that rage again might be hard when I’m feeling pretty dandy right about now.)

So what surprised me the most?

Honestly, a small bout of depression that happened after I signed with my agent. Not because she isn’t amazing or that I’m not excited about my future or anything like that, but because of one simple fact: I had defined myself as a writer in search of an agent for so long, now that I had one, I didn’t know how to define myself anymore. Not to mention the real-reality-feels that this goal automatically means there’s more challenge in front of me. I succeeded at something, but it’s only the next step, and this step almost killed my hope a number of times. Pair that with seeing some of my close followers talking about (or even to me) about how seeing success gets them down…and I’m just a mess of guilt. I’ve been there. I remember seeing others succeed and feeling left behind—which is why hearing others say that about me brought me down too. Made me feel like I was creating that pain for someone else’s journey. Granted, I know I’m not in charge of others’ feelings. But I doubt I’m alone in having moments like this, and yet I don’t see a lot of authors discussing it. Succeeding was great—and sometimes that means people will be happy for you. Other times, they’ll be mad, jealous, elated, confused, etc. at you. Most of the time, though, it’s not about you, but their own feelings, and that’s totally valid. But as someone who tries to help others succeed all the time, I have a hard time taking a step back and celebrating something for me. Yes, even a huge accomplishment I’ve been working toward for a long time. Definitely a personality flaw I hope to get rid of in the future (or at least get better at coping with). In that quest to cope healthier, I learned overall feelings of malaise after success is apparently normal, even though it still threw me a little bit.

It’s kind of amazing, though—if you think about it. How some of the most common emotions can throw you. Like meeting a goal. Or falling in love. Or having a baby. Or getting a new job. Most of these things happen to thousands of people a day—and yet it feels altering. Exhilarating. Poetry-inducing. Knee-buckling. Confusing as all hells. But that’s all I have to say about my emotions. (I clearly have a lot of them.)

In the end, I am beyond grateful my journey has brought me to this moment, and I am super energized now! I’m ready to finish my revisions and tackle my next project. (Which reminds me: I’m super glad I didn’t stop writing other books while querying, because now I have two other almost-complete works that I can dive right into if deadlines get tight.) So, if I recommend anything, I want to emphasize not to put all your hopes and dreams in one piece.

The formula that worked for me?

Have one book you’re outlining/daydreaming about, one you’re writing/editing, and one you’re querying.

In fact, I’m still living by this formula. I’m outlining my cyberpunk, writing my rage-filled YA sci-fi, and going on submission with the book that won my agent’s heart.

Wish me luck! (I’m already sending lucky vibes back to your goals too.)

~SAT

P.S. Hey, Kansas City friends. I will be a guest speaker at Writers United on Wednesday, July 10th at 6-8 PM at the Central Resource Library in Overland Park, KS. I can tell you more about The Story Center. See you then! More info

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Life Changes: Literary Agent + New Job!

8 Jun

Hey all! In case you missed it, I’ve had a crazy past month. (Hence why I missed a blog post last week. My bad.)

Not only did I attend the LitUP Festival, where I had the utmost joy of introducing Adib Khorram, author of DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY, L.L. McKinney, author of A BLADE SO BLACK, and Miranda Asebedo, author of THE DEEPEST ROOTS, but I also announced a new life change.

I am now represented by Katelyn Uplinger at D4EO Literary Agency!

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Here is me signing my contract. But of course my cats wanted to be involved.

I will write a blog post about my query trench experience soon, but here’s a quick rundown. I’ve been querying agents on and off since I was fourteen years old. (Almost fourteen years ago!) I can’t even tell you how many projects I’ve written, revised, and submitted in various formats. But I can tell you that prioritizing my querying life helped me the most. Making this decision wasn’t easy. It meant stepping back from blogging, social media time (that I had invested a lot of marketing/time/money in), and indie publishing. (I love indie publishing. Don’t get me wrong. But between my full-time day job, my part-time editing job, and life, I just did not have time to concentrate on publishing books while writing new ones for agents. At the end of the day, I knew I wanted an agent. It was the right next step for my little writer’s heart.) I even had to take a step back from writing time in order to make time to query.

According to my QueryTracker, I made this decision at the end of 2016. I started researching heavily, read blogs (QueryShark, Writers Digest, etc.), I entered query critique contests and other contests to meet writer friends, I attended conferences whenever I could afford to, I joined a local writers’ group as well as connected with online beta readers, and I kept writing. I never put all my hope in one book. (Even while I was querying the book that won my agent’s heart, I finished writing two other novels.) That being said, this is my journey, and every writer’s journey is different. In a way, I don’t believe in giving advice on querying any more than I do giving writing advice in general. It can be helpful, yes, but ultimately, every writer must figure out what works for them. This is what worked for me. And I’m totally thrilled to work with Katelyn Uplinger. I actually had the joy of speaking with three agents, but Katelyn really understood my project and my long-term career goals, so stay tuned!

I also accepted a new position at the Mid-Continent Public Library. I am now The Story Center Program Manager! For those of you unfamiliar with The Story Center, it’s an amazing home of storytelling, where storytellers and those who enjoy stories come together as a community. There are writing courses, author meet-and-greets, and so much more. Now I get to be a part of making that happen, and I cannot be more thrilled to start this new adventure.

Basically, my life has been super crazy good, but also super crazy busy.

So what are my next steps?

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Revisions!

I’m adjusting to my new job and taking on my first round of agent revisions. I’m currently working on IMMERSION! For those of you who have been following me for a while, you’ll remember that’s my botany-inspired videogame-esque sci-fi book about science and monsters! It’s my book baby, and I’ve worked on it for a very long time. In fact, according to my Instagram, I started writing it in October of 2016. It’s been three years of writing, revising, and querying various versions, and it’s incredibly exciting to get another chance to dive back in.

I promise I’ll try to keep up with everything else, including TAKE ME TOMORROW as well as one blog post a month, but please don’t be upset with me if I have to cut back on one or both for a little while. (I mean, I already missed it once. Eep.) I’ll definitely make an announcement if that is the case. Typically, those updates happen on my Twitter @AuthorSAT.

Whew! Okay, so that’s my crazy blog post this month.

To celebrate, I will be releasing a newsletter soon with an exclusive excerpt of Immersion, as well a giveaway for a signed copy of any of my books. (Open internationally!) Sign up here.

Now back to those revisions…

~SAT

How I Outline (And Write) My Novels

4 May

Foreword: This week has been crazy. Between attending the LitUp Festival today, trying to coordinate the cover for TOOK ME YESTERDAY (the sequel of TAKE ME TOMORROW) on Wattpad, and some other crazy exciting news, I almost (ALMOST) let this blog post get away from me. (Thank the writing gods for iCalendar reminders.) That being said, I didn’t have time to plan a topic, so I reached out to you all via my social media to see what you were curious about, and writer Hannah mentioned outlining. (Shout out to Hannah!) So, I thought I’d show you how I outline my books as best as I can. (Which, surprise, surprise, has turned into a HUGE post about how I chaotically write novels.) Enjoy…

Now it begins.

Typically, I start outlining the moment a character/scene/world comes to me. All books approach me a little differently, but I always start off lying to myself by acting like I can stay organized as all these chaotic ideas flood in. Inevitably, I end up opening a new Scrivener project and creating a document called “Chapter One” – like all my ideas will come to me in cute, organized chapters ready to be written. This results in the first few paragraphs being my opening scene…and the rest being a scrambled mess. After, though, is where the real outlining begins.

I suggest starting off a book idea with a couple of documents:

  1. Book Bible: Maybe you don’t need a book bible at this point, but I always start it right away. Even though everything inevitably changes, this gives me one place to organize focused ideas so that they don’t get intermingled with my scenes. I typically have three main ones in separate documents:
    1. Character Sheet is where I collect basics: personality, looks, and character motivation. Character motivation is the most important. Obviously. But you also might not know it at this point, and that’s okay. Try to guess anyway. Get a real feel for your character and/or what you want this book to be about. Without knowing motivation, it might be hard to know why/how your character makes decisions, which, in turn, will make it harder to outline how your scenes move. 
    2. Past Timeline is where I start to collect my lead-up to the beginning of the novel. How did your characters get here? Why are they here? When did certain events shape them into who they are today? Why, out of all times, is this novel starting now?
    3. The World Building sheet is where I start to collect world building ideas. Think of things that happen in the background but won’t be a focus of a scene. Most important thing to ask here: What makes your world unique from all the rest in your genre? Try to emphasize that from the beginning.

It might seem like a lot to start off with a Book Bible, but I have found it helps me keep my outline simple when I move into scenes and dialogue. If I have all my world building notes intermingled with dialogue, scenes can get lost and/or confusing. Granted, once I finally choose a path, I will start to mix these, but in the beginning, I try to keep everything very minimalist. That way, I can see more of the big picture in an easier format.

  1. Unorganized: This document is where I begin writing dialogue or scene ideas. Go ahead and word vomit. Put all your ideas, scenes, etc. here when you have no idea where it is going to go. That way, it’s all on one page, and you can start moving it around when you’re ready. In this stage, I don’t even try to be coherent. I want those ideas down so I don’t forget them. I can reorganize later. Hence, “unorganized.” Embrace the chaos.
  2. Organized, a.k.a. Plan A: Once I finish my “unorganized” sheet, this is where I’ll start to try organizing my thoughts. Ex. Maybe I know I want the book to start with a bank robbery and end with a bigger heist, so I know where those two go. I will also know some basics. Ex. The love interests can’t fall in love until they meet, right? So I can put “X and Y” meet somewhere near the beginning, and then I go from there. This will eventually evolve into Plan B, Plan C, Plan Infinity.

If you’re still with me, yay! I know that was a little confusing. But I like to start where I begin in order to show where I end up. I’m the sort of outliner that’s always building on outlines upon outlines upon outlines upon outlines. So let’s move onto when I’m in the writing stages.

When I begin writing my books, I write a sort-of screenplay version first. This means bare bones, no descriptions, no prose, just dialogue and a few notes about what is physically happening. Below is an example from my current WIP. This tiny paragraph will literally become an entire chapter. It might not make sense to you, but it does to me, and that’s what matters. Take notes the way you need to take them.

After I have a screenplay version down for a couple of chapters, I stop to write in the prose. I may have an idea of where I want to go, but I don’t like to get too ahead of myself, because I know how characters can be. They don’t always follow the plan. In my current WIP, for instance, I have a plan for the rest of the book, but I’ve only written a screenplay for the next three chapters. (I’m also in the climax, so things are getting hairy!) Now that I’m writing, though, my outline will change dramatically. I’ve also learned that I’m not the type of writer who should edit as I go. I may edit prose to get back into what I wrote before, but I have stopped trying to edit whole scenes if I realize it needs to change while I’m writing. Ex. In my current WIP, my beta readers pointed out that one of my side characters needed (and, yes, I forgot this in a first draft) purpose in their own life rather than just exist to serve my MC. Instead of rewriting every scene they appear in, I kept writing, let myself explore the side character’s plot more, and realized what they needed earlier on in order to make their final actions exciting and, well, purposeful. If I had gone back and tried to force it, I would’ve wasted my time. Instead, I just put a little note (okay, a huge note, along with my beta readers’ notes) back in their opening chapter. Here’s a live shot of my beta readers putting me in my place. (God, I love them.)

Once you begin writing, I suggest keeping new documents and folders to stay organized, especially the deeper you get into your work. (And this is why I love Scrivener. It helps me stay organized at all stages in the process.) Currently, here’s what my WIP looks like. (And I’ll discuss what each of these are.)

CURRENT WRITING NOTES: This folder gets created as I get closer to the end of my book. It’s when I know I need to start making hard decisions, and I’m approaching the revision stage of my work. This is what all my other folders will eventually be placed into as I work through edits.

Completed outline:This is an outline of all the chapters I’ve already written. I always keep this as I create, as it helps me look back if I need to.

Past timeline: Same document as explained above. How did your characters get to the beginning of your book? It will grow as you write.

Written: I should call this “Written, but unused.” This is typically sections of the book I cut out while editing while writing. (I know, I know, I said I didn’t do that above, but alas, I lied to myself.) Also, this might happen in the screenplay version moving into the prose version. But it’s parts I love too much to let go and might reevaluate as I move into revisions.

Ideas: Similar to above, except never used ideas that I will reevaluate moving into revisions.

To-Do Editing: This is where I put my notes for things I know I will edit. Ex. That section about Scram above.

World Building Final: This is where I solidify my world building.

MANUSCRIPT

Beta Read: This folder includes all the chapters that have been beta read, along with their notes.

Drafted: This folder includes all the chapters that are written but haven’t been beta read yet.

To-Write: Obviously, what I still need to write.

Current Decision: This is an outline of what I think is going to happen.

Issues: Problems I still have that I need to fix.

Pending Ideas: Ideas that I want to happen, but haven’t found a place yet.

Nixie/Mire climax notes: Obviously, a part of my climax I’m working on, but have yet to place.

Main Plot Holes: Bigger issues to think about as I come to the end of the book. At this point in my process, I’m being brutal on myself. It’s time to be.

Chapter 25: B: Notes: This is the chapter outline for 25.

Chapters 26: M: Notes: This is the chapter outline for 26.

Women of Fates: Also a huge scene I’m working out that I know happens after 25/26, but before the ending.

Ending M/B: The ending is actually already written, but I keep it here in case things change. M and B stand in for my main two characters, Bram and Mireille.

PUBLISH/EXTRAS: My favorite folder. The fun folder.

Songs: A list of songs I’ve used to write. Even better? Try to say what scene it was for. That way, when you go back to edit, you can get back into that headspace.

Query: Yes, I’m already working on my query letter/proposal.

Don’t forget your Pinterest board either!

As you can see, my method is a bit chaotic, but it makes sense to me, and that’s what matters. You need to find what works for you. But maybe there’s something in here you see that you’ve never tried before but might try now.  

How do you outline? If you have any questions about specific folders/documents, let me know. I’m happy to elaborate! 

~SAT

My Average Day as an Author

2 Feb

Despite tons of movies and books revolving around authors and publishers, the life of the average author is still pretty mysterious to most. Why?

  1. Hollywood never gets publishing right. Ever. This is the one fact agents, editors, publicists, and authors agree with.
  2. An author’s journey to publication is unique, VERY unique, and authors’ lives reflect that.

Being an author is hard work. And most authors—yes, even famous New York Times bestsellers—can’t afford to be full-time writers without someone else supplementing their income, health care, etc., and even then most of us have day jobs or a side hustle or both! I could go on and on about the different types of author lives I’ve seen out there, but I thought I’d share mine instead.

So what’s my average day as an author like?

Morning: Time to get up and go to work

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Also, my co-worker got me a desk blanket, so I stay warm all day.

Yes, I work a full-time day job. I currently work in marketing for the Mid-Continent Public Library. Basically, I study our demographics and choose programming that I think would best suit our community. I also change out displays, research tools we could utilize, and work on desk serving the community. (Librarians have to be super flexible. You go wherever demands are needed, and that changes any given minute.) It’s an 8-5 instead of 9-5 (because librarians don’t get paid for their lunch break at my location), so I actually spend a minimum of 45 hours a week at work. That being said, I love my job. It’s pretty fulfilling.

Lunch Break, a.k.a. Precious Writing Time

At my day job, we are required to take a one-hour lunch break (again, not paid). Which is fine with me. I spend about 15 minutes slamming whatever meal-prep nonsense I made the night before, and then I spend the rest of the 45 minutes writing whatever I can in my book. I actually just hit my first 10,000 words accomplished on my lunch break alone, which felt like a huge stepping stone for me. If the writing isn’t working that day, I spend my lunch break writing blog posts (like this one!) or updating my author website, scheduling social media posts, checking my e-mail, reading my beta partners’ latest, or editing work for my clients. Clients, you ask? Yes, I have another job on top of my library job. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

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Finishing Work

Sometimes at work, I get to process books, which basically means checking returned books and giving them the all-clear to go back out on the floor. My work is nice enough to allow us to listen to podcasts or music during these shifts. (They don’t happen every day, but I thought it important to mention since I get some work done during this as well.) Basically, if I’m lucky enough, I can listen to a writing podcast or a podcast focusing on my current research. It helps catch me up some weeks, not going to lie. Also, I’ve learned to love processing as a reader. I stumble across all kinds of books I never would have found on my own, and it’s broadened my reading spectrum like no other. I read more adult books than ever before, and it’s nice to have a reprieve from YA every now and then.

After Work to Bedtime

I drive home, generally listening to more research podcasts. If errands need to be run—groceries, gas, etc.—they’re typically done here. When I get home, it’s time to feed the cats, clean the dishes, make dinner, meal prep for the next day, exercise (or so I tell myself), and get to bed. Very rarely do I have the energy to write during this time frame, but I usually have the time to read. I catch up on my latest and head to bed, ready for another day.

So what about my weekends?

04cc48864d346eebfdf2a4d7e6747617On Saturdays, I spend the entire day working on my services. Between editing during my lunch breaks and editing all day Saturday, I spend about 15-20 hours per week editing. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I won’t lie, I considered shutting down my services when I started my full-time job, but I just couldn’t. I love editing too much, and I have a number of clients I love to work with over and over. (Shout out to Steven Ramirez, C.E. Johnson, Grant Goodman, J.N. Colon, Rich Leder, and more! Seriously, check out their books. They are all so talented.) At the end of the day, editing is still one of my passions, and I want to spend time working with authors on their novels. Not going to lie, though, while I’m editing, I spend time catching up on housework. (Those dishes and laundry won’t clean themselves.) And I drink a lot of coffee. Obviously

I take Sunday off. No emails. No editing. No writing. I even try to refrain from social media. It’s time to spend with family without distractions. And then, Monday starts the chaos all over again.

That’s my average author life.

I work one full-time job and one part-time job, but I try to fit my author life in with everything else.On average, I work 60 hours per week. I may not have the most writing time or personal time or TIME, but hey, I’m doing the best I can every day. Every novel was written one word at a time, just as this blog post was, and I’m about to put more down after this!

Fun fact: I’ve actually covered this three times in the past, because my life has changed that much. If you’re curious, this is what my life was like as a night-working full-time freelance editor and publicist in 2015, and here’s my post in 2013 that covered what my writing life was like as a full-time college senior working part-time at a publisher.

So what’s your average day as an author like?

~SAT

Is it Possible to Read Too Much as a Writer?

5 Jan

Last year, I read 167 books according to Goodreads. Granted, this is a mixture of everything under the publishing sun: adult fiction, YA, MG, graphic novels, and, yes, even picture books. My job at the library has definitely broadened my reading sphere, for which I’m super grateful. (I never knew picture books could be so extensive—and gorgeous! When I was a little, I feel like we had two options: Dr. Seuss and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. But that’s beside the point.)

I read a lot, and lately I’ve wondered if I read too much.

Is that even possible? (Especially for a writer.)

I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think this question has a simple answer, as it depends on the writer’s life: how much free time they have, their access to books, how reading affects them, their writing goals etc. If, for instance, you are on a serious deadline, you probably need to put writing ahead of reading in order to meet that. In contrast, if you’re a new writer, it’s recommended you spend more time reading in order to understand storytelling, the market’s needs, etc. As Stephen King famously said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that.”

But what happens when you spend all your time reading and not writing?

When I look back on 2018, I know I read a lot more than I wrote, which is fine. Between starting two new jobs and having to move, writing often felt like too much. But I could handle reading. It was my reprieve from everything else. Writing usually is as well, but almost every time I sat down to write, I felt way too weighed down by everything else. Now that I’m more adjusted to my new life, though, I feel a bit burnt out on reading—and yet, I’ve struggled to tune down my reading time to make more room for writing. Why? Maybe I got used to reading more and writing less, and now I have to readjust again. Who knows. One thing that’s helped me is taking my laptop to work and writing during my lunch break; then, when I come home, reading. It’s still a lot more reading time and less writing time, but I’m hoping the slow adjustment helps my writer’s brain turn back on.

It’s such an isolating feeling watching your fellow writers crank out chapter after chapter when you’re only reading them. But reading is definitely good for writers too. That being said, I have a goal of reading less this year. I spent so little time writing I feel like I need to re-fill that well in my life. So far, writing during my lunch breaks has helped me write more than when I was trying to sit down at home. Even if it’s only a couple hundred words a week, it’s enough. I can see my word count moving again, and I can feel myself getting into the motion of writing more. I’m being more critical about the books I take home, and putting down ones that I don’t want to finish (instead of forcing myself through them).

In the end, I don’t think I spent too much time reading this year, because of my circumstances. It was right for me at the time. But I definitely can see how reading can take over a writer’s life if they aren’t careful. (I mean, most of us started writing out of a love for reading, right?)

In the end, I think a writer can spend too much time reading. But they can also spend too much time writing, or querying, or editing, etc. It’s all about balance and figuring out what works for you.

So what do you think? Can a writer spend too much time reading?

~SAT

P.S. I’m blogging again. Thanks for your patience! To be honest, I have a very small goal of posting once a month (on the first Saturday), but I hope you enjoy them regardless!

P.P.S I’m also posting TAKE ME TOMORROW on Wattpad again, with the plan to follow up with the sequel. I plan on blogging about the decision, but you can read more about that on Wattpad by clicking here. A new chapter goes up every Saturday! I hope you’ll stop by and support me.

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