Tag Archives: word count

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

 

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

Discovering My Characters’ Secrets

13 Feb

Every human being has secrets. Why we hide the truth (or lies) from others and sometimes ourselves is often the most interesting part behind a good secret, but understanding what makes up a secret can help an author write a character in a more genuine way.

So what should we know about our characters’ secrets?

  1. The secret itself: Sounds simple, but it’s not always clear. Sometimes, a protagonist might not even know what his or her own secrets are. Sometimes, a secret hardly seems like a secret at all. Think about the lengths a character goes through to keep it a secret. Is it difficult to hide or hiding in plain sight? What about this secret makes your character feel human?
  2. Who it is a secret from?: Not all secrets are hidden from everyone a character holds dear. Sometimes, they even hide secrets from themselves or from the one person you’d think they’d tell it to first. Sometimes, they aren’t even hiding it at all, but no one is listening.
  3. Why is it a secret?: What are the potential consequences of telling said secret? Consider who they are hiding it from again and why they are hiding it from that specific person. Are the consequences even “real”, or is your character overreacting, unsure, or simply too used to keeping it to themselves? There is a million reasons humans keep secrets: to protect loved ones, to shelter themselves, to build friendships. “Why” can be silly, fun, maddening, or wonderful. It doesn’t always have to be sad or scary.

By understanding these three aspects, an author can shape the scene to expose a character in a meaningful way. We can foreshadow reveals or build up relationships between others. We can even surprise ourselves.

You can also learn a character's secret from another character!

You can also learn a character’s secret from another character!

Listen. I’m a plotter. I have been my entire life. But even then, there comes a time in the writing process where characters turn every plot point on its head and tell us to go another direction.

Considering we’re talking about secrets, it might seem strange for me to tell writers to trust their characters, but trust is everything. Learn to listen to that little voice inside your head (or all your characters’ voices) when it tells you where to go, what not to do, and how to say it. Why? Because they know everything, and often, you don’t. Even though writers create a novel, most writers will tell you they are not in charge. The characters are. By letting go of control, you can let your characters reveal themselves naturally and over time. Yes, even if that means you’ll be rewriting a lot more or editing for what feels like forever. If it’s the right secret, it will be worth it.

Recently, I came to a scene where my protagonist explained part of her past, but by her own admission, she was absent from a scene she should’ve been in. When I stepped back and asked her where she was, she smiled back. A sly smile. One that told me it was a secret. For now. I sighed, but resigned myself to her personality.

If she’s not ready to tell me, she’s not ready to tell me.

I’ve been writing long enough to know when to trust my character’s silence, even when I loathe it, even when it promises longer hours of editing in the months ahead.

Discovering the right secret is worth rewriting. Figuring them out is even better.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs When NaNoWriMo is Over

28 Nov

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a lot of fun for many writers, and it can be that stepping stone that forces you to sit down and finish that draft you’ve been trying to complete for years. Whether you hit that 50,000-word milestone or not, I want to congratulate you, because—guess what??—you sat down, you got to work, and you wrote something that mattered to you.

That is worth celebrating.

But many writers might be asking themselves what to do now. Edit? Query? Write more?

The answer will be different for everyone, but here are my three universal tips for NaNoWriMo writers. (And, again, congratulations! You. Are. Awesome. Never stop writing.)

1. Do Not—and I repeat—DO NOT immediately start querying

NaNoWriMo’s goal is to get 50,000 words down. And while 50,000 words is certainly an accomplishment, it’s definitely a first draft. Querying now will only hurt you. In fact, working on a query letter at this point might not even be necessary—because a lot changes from a first draft to the final product—but that’s different for everyone. Sometimes, I like to write query letters before I write a book, just to make sure I understand my concepts and direction. This, of course, never becomes my final query or synopsis, but it helps to have a first draft of everything all at once. That way, I can see how my story changes and shapes over time.

So what are you supposed to do with a first draft?

Extra Tip: Make a plan. Set more deadlines, like NaNoWriMo. Maybe December can be drafting a query letter, synopsis, and pitch month.

Extra Tip: Make a plan. Set more deadlines, like NaNoWriMo. Maybe December can be drafting a query letter, synopsis, and pitch month. 

2. EDIT

Well, first, I normally tell writers to walk away for a little bit. Three weeks might seem like a long time, but it’ll distance you from your work…and your blind love might clear up. This is when you can see your plot holes, flat characters, and other flaws that definitely need fixing. Take word count for example. NaNoWriMo only requires a 50,000-word document, and while this is ideal for MG books, 50,000 words isn’t a great word count for an adult novel or even a YA fantasy. While 50,000 is an AMAZING accomplishment (please do not get me wrong), you’re more than likely going to receive automatic rejections because your word count is off. I know. I know. Word count isn’t everything. In fact, I think pacing matters more. But what’s the brutal truth for debuts? When your word count is off, it tells agents and publishers that you don’t know your genre or market (even if you do). Figure out your ideal word count here—and try to get it there. Don’t bank your entire career on being an exception to the rule.

3. Work on that query, synopsis, and pitch

Your novel isn’t the only piece of work needing attention. Now that you have a complete and edited draft, writing that dreaded query comes into play…and more often than not, query letters and pitches take just as long as editing does. Thankfully, there are plenty of helpful places to learn about this process, like QueryShark and the Query Critique Calendar (where you can get one-on-one help during competitions).

In the end, NaNoWriMo is a fantastic starting point, and you should be proud of your work and accomplishments. But it’s only one part of this wonderful journey. Take your time. Publishing is never a race. And make friends along the way.

Writing should be fun, after all. Try to enjoy all that comes along with it, including everything after THE END.

~SAT

#MondayBlogs Dear Writers, 2017 Can Be Your Year!

21 Nov

This year, I had three writing goals.

1. I wanted to sign one of my books during a Barnes & Noble event.

2. I wanted to attend a book convention as an author (booth and all!)

3. I wanted—and this one I thought I’d never reach—to receive a full request from a literary agent.

I’m proud to say I reached all of these goals and more. In fact, I’m going to break my experiences down and explain, but trust me, there’s a reason for this article beyond just me and my goals, so stick with me for a bit.

First, Goal 1. Barnes & Noble! I hosted not one, not two, not three, but FOUR Barnes & Noble signings, including a Valentine’s Day Romance Author Event in Wichita, Kansas and BFest in Kansas City, Missouri and Overland Park, Kansas. There was nothing like signing in a Barnes & Noble my late mother took me to as a kid, where she used to tell me I could write a book one day. It was priceless.

How was this accomplished? To be honest, no one in my hometown ever returned my phone calls. Not once. I was terrified of calling Barnes & Noble after quite a few disinterested phone calls and e-mails and in-person meetings. Then, CTP author Tamara Grantham invited me to her local B&N during the VDay Event in Wichita, Kansas. This is a five-hour drive for me…and I work a night shift. But you know what? I jumped at the opportunity to attend. And that one event opened up all the other stores to me. Now, I have a great relationship with one right down the street from my new house. (And I write in there all the time.)

Barnes & Noble Events

Barnes & Noble Events

In regards to Goal 2, I attended not one, but TWO conventions as an author. The first one being Penned Con in St. Louis, where I shared a booth with the wonderful Natasha Hanova. The second convention was Wizard World Comic Con in Tulsa, Oklahoma…where I also had the AMAZING opportunity to be a panelist on Villains vs. Villains. On top of that, I have plans in the works to attend more next year. This was an opportunity I never planned nor saw coming, but I’m eternally grateful for it. I had a blast! (And now I’m the owner of a Pusheen plushie and a Sailor Moon blanket…and a cat T-shirt…and fudge…) I also attended a writer’s conference—The MWG annual conference—and I went to YALLFest in South Carolina as a reader.

How was this accomplished? Anyone who has ever attended a conference knows it takes planning. In fact, most conferences ask you to buy your booth a year in advance, which I did with Penned Con in St. Louis back in 2015 when I attended as a reader to see if I liked it or not. The person sharing my booth changed three times, but it all worked out in the end, and I had a blast! Out of the blue, I was invited to Wizard World Comic Con through Genese Davis, who knew…Tamara Grantham. (Tamara is the best, can’t you tell?) I never expected to be a speaker, and here I was, driving five hours to speak about what makes characters evil. Spoiler alert. Worth it. But more than half of these events weren’t planned, so keep your mind open!

Conventions and Conferences

Conventions and Conferences

So now, we come down to the agents. The reason I said I never thought a full would happen is because I haven’t traditionally queried since 2007…and a lot has changed since then. I set out to challenge myself by joining competitions and making connections. Much to my surprise (and shock), I received my first full almost right away—in the first week of February—and I’ve had the utmost joy of working with a few agents ever since on numerous fulls and even a few revise and resubmits.

How was this accomplished? I joined every online competition/opportunity I could to reach out to the writing community. Honestly, even if you’re not looking for an agent, these competitions are the bomb. (Does anyone say that anymore? No? Oh, well.) I love them, and I plan on joining more of them if I can in the future. That being said, most of my fulls (and even my revise and resubmits) came from the slush pile. Yes. The slush pile. Writing those query letters, getting feedback from writing friends, and sending off every e-mail one by one until someone gave me more feedback or took a bite actually works. I wish I could say more…but alas, this situation is pending. 😉 Don’t fear the slush.

On a side note, I also managed to complete two manuscripts and publish two YA novels with Clean Teen Publishing! …And I work a full-time day job. (Not going to lie, I’m totally exhausted. But it’s been a great year!)

Manuscripts and Books!

Manuscripts and Books!

Why am I sharing this with you?

Because creating and meeting goals as a writer is HARD…and often unpredictable. When I wrote down my three goals for 2016 on a little green Sticky Note that I kept on the back of my desk (it looks pretty torn up and ugly now), I never thought I would reach most of them (and more) within the first two months. I could attribute it all to luck (which of course comes into play), and I could definitely cite connections (thank you again, Tamara and Natasha and Genese and and and!), but I have to be kind to myself, too.

I jumped at every opportunity I could, even if that meant I would be up for 48 hours straight and driving for 5…and spend some extra money that, logically, I shouldn’t have. (But definitely don’t regret.) Right now, I work three jobs, including being an author, and I’m more exhausted than not. But I know following my dream is worth it. Somewhere in my gut I am always filled with excitement and hope and energy…and every now and then, all of this work leads me somewhere unpredictable and wonderful.

So what’s my tip?

Beyond basic goal setting advice, I am going to stick my neck out there and say something crazy.

For every “realistic” goal you set, set a crazy “unrealistic” one, too.

Why? Because maybe “unrealistic” isn’t so unrealistic once you get started, but setting it will force you to get started. Setting goals causes you to miracle jump over that hurdle you thought you couldn’t even climb on your best days. For me, I honestly believed most of the goals I set for 2016 were unreachable…or at least would take a very, very long time. Why? Because I had tried to accomplish them before and failed. 2016, for me, was the year of reaching failed goals. 2016, for me, became the year “unrealistic” became a reality.

2017 can be yours.

~SAT

 

#WritingTips No, Reading Is Not An Option.

17 Feb

As an author and full-time editor, I’m coming across more and more writers who don’t read their own genre, or—even worse—don’t read at all. There are generally two types of these writers.

1. Writers who claim to read but obviously don’t (and I’ll get to how it is obvious later).

2. Writers who haven’t read anything since they left high school twenty years ago.

Spoiler Alert: Neither of these options is okay.

Writers, please, oh please, you must read—and you must read often, especially in your own genre. As the famous Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” I adamantly agree with him.

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Reading is the foundation of writing. Much like how crawling helps a child learn how to walk, then run, and so on, reading helps a writer learn how to form sentences, structure a plot, and introduce something new and interesting to the market. That last one is a big deal (and I think the most overlooked one). This is also the main way agents/publishers/readers figure out you’re lying if you claim to read but you don’t. Recently, I was reading an article from an agent who was talking about his number one pet peeve in query letters. There is a huge trend in writers saying, “My work is better than anything X genre has ever produced.” This signaled to him that A. You don’t read X genre, and B. You don’t respect your own genre, fellow co-workers, or your readers. So why are you writing in this genre? He’s not the only one with this opinion either. Another article by Writer’s Digest pokes fun of this trend: 10 Ways to Never Get Published.

Constantly reading allows you to familiarize yourself with the genre and to see how the genre grows. As an example, I’ve seen MAJOR changes in young adult since I was fourteen. (And they are awesome changes!) But if I had stopped reading YA when I started seriously writing it, I wouldn’t know what readers are looking for. I wouldn’t know what has been done already. I wouldn’t know the appropriate language, word count, or topics/themes for that audience. I, basically, wouldn’t know anything. I wouldn’t have those “tools” Stephen King talked about in regards to writing.

So pick up a book. Pick up five. Try a new one, try an old one, try one you never thought you’d read, research the latest releases, talk to authors in your genre, study Writer’s Digest and Publishers Marketplace, and stay up-to-date on publishing conversations like #MSWL. Even if you’re not trying to get an agent or publisher, publishing feeds are great (and easy) places to read about current trends and market needs.

You’re not losing writing time by reading. In fact, you’re enhancing your writing by reading.

So go pick up that book you’ve been dying to read and fall back in love with reading all over again. After all, reading is the reason you started writing in the first place. Reading is why every writer started writing. Reading is why every writer can write.

~SAT

Have you checked out this amazing gift basket Clean Teen Publishing is giving away this month? It has over $130 worth of goodies including a Kindle Fire, several print novels, sweets, swag, and more! Enter to win here.

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If you would like a signed copy of any book in The Timely Death Trilogy, e-mail me at shannonathompson.com. Barnes & Noble in Wichita has a few copies left, and they will ship you one.

Minutes Before Sunset: book 1: FREE 

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Seconds Before Sunrise: book 2:

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Death Before Daylight: book 3:

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This THURSDAY, I will host #AuthorinaCoffeeShop Episode 7 on Twitter at 7 PM (CDT) via @AuthorSAT. I normally host it on Friday, but a few of you have expressed Thursday as a better day, so I will probably test out the next four episodes (7-10) on Thursday to see which days are best. I hope to see you there!

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