Tag Archives: writing tips

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.

RevisionMode

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.

D7XBE1qXYAEf5-5

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.

download-1

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

65672545_2293782864044137_7358117201045356544_o

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!

D6nvSa1XsAE2Fq_

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?

61025722_2253976531316182_3849978065312546816_n

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

Writing with a Motivational Calendar

13 Apr

My life has changed quite a bit over the past year. Between moving and starting (two) new jobs, I’ve had to adjust my writing life and the way I think about my writing life. As many of you know, I currently work full time at the library and then work part time as a freelance editor. Suffice it to say, I don’t have a ton of time to pursue writing, but I try not to let that get me down (because I definitely don’t have extra time to feel down about it either, though it happens from time to time).

So what does a full-time working adult do to feel like they’re still pursuing their writing dreams?

Well, write, of course, but I also keep a motivational calendar.

What’s a motivational calendar?

Technically, it could be whatever you want. Mine, in fact, has changed over the years. A couple years ago, for instance, I liked to have a “future” motivational calendar. Meaning, I would write down goals for that week, and then get it done. Now my calendar is focused on the past. Every day, I take the time to record everything I did to pursue my writing goals. Mostly, I write down my current word count, how many queries I sent, how many writing-related jobs (such as a literary internship) I applied for, and other miscellaneous info. I also make sure to outline where I started on Day 1 and then I update that info on the last day. That way, I can see progress. Oh, and my favorite part, I highlight major accomplishments, like a full request from an agent. 

Here’s a snapshot of my January calendar.

55547102_4415243817908_279830541107200000_n

Since it’s small, here’s some facts. I started 2019 with my WIP “The Girl With The Thousand Faces” being 26,996 words in first draft/plotting. At the end, it was 31,533 with significant world building being finalized. My other WIP “The Pharaoh’s Daughter” started at 53,633 in its second draft. It ended with 81,938 words and completed. In that time, I also applied for four jobs and sent out five queries on my YA sci-fi “Immersion.” Most exciting of all? I received a full request from an agent for “Immersion” and won the Secret Agent contest with my historical “The Pharaoh’s Daughter,” which also resulted in a full request from an agent. (P.S. Both are still pending, so keep your fingers crossed for me.)

It might seem tedious or silly to keep track of all the ways you pursue your dreams, but to me, it keeps me motivated. It helps me remind myself how hard I am working – that I haven’t given up my writing dreams because X, Y, or Z in life – and that I will keep trying. Plus, it’s easy to forget all that you do on a day-by-day basis, and by having a physical representation of it, you won’t forget. You’ll know how hard you work (and also know it’s okay to take a break). You might notice, for instance, that I don’t write every day, or do anything some days. And that’s okay. 

One word at a time, one day at a time, right?

Oh, and one more note of importance.

My calendar is definitely cat-themed.

55564291_4415243497900_4289950379061280768_n

~SAT

 

Learning to Write from TV: The Umbrella Academy Edition

2 Mar

Writers are often told to read (and read a lot) in order to know how to write. And while I totally agree with that sentiment, I also think writers can learn from other forms of media. Yes, including TV shows. (Even TV shows adapted from a novel or comic book.) In fact, I think TV is often an easier reference for writers to discuss. Why? Because there are dozens of best-selling novels that come out every week, whereas there’s only a handful of TV shows that everyone seems to be talking about. Recently, for instance, the Netflix show The Umbrella Academy began to trend, and it seemed like everyone was chatting about it, including the publishing industry. Perhaps this is because it was adapted from a comic published by Dark Horse Comics. But what I want to concentrate on is how we can use popular TV to teach writers about trends, topics, and storytelling.

How can we use TV to discuss writing? By picking out the pros and cons, of course.

Here’s a few based on The Umbrella Academy.

umbrellanetflixcov

Also, major spoiler alerts begin here. I will discuss major events, including the ending, so if you don’t want this show spoiled, bookmark this article now and come back later. If you’re not planning on watching, I think this can still be a beneficial example of using TV to discuss writing. If you’ve already watched and don’t care about spoilers, awesome! But make sure to warn your followers of spoilers if you decide to share this piece.

Thanks for keeping entertainment fun!

Let’s start with a pro, since I like to concentrate on the positive:

Pro: Siblings with Personality

The Umbrella Academy follows seven children adopted by an eccentric billionaire after they were born in quite an unusual way. Six of these seven appear to have superpowers and are raised practicing these powers, with the seventh “ordinary” child being kept from lessons. That being said, the actual show takes place in their adult years. Rarely, do I see siblings depicted so realistically (especially in fantasy, especially in big families). Each sibling has their own personality, struggles, and place in the family. Even better? They treat each other differently based on their past selves, present relationship, and future desires. I really enjoyed watching the brothers and sisters bicker as much as joke, and lift each other up (while also pushing each other down). You know, complications. Too often we see a brother or sister appear in a minor supporting role with little to no depth or personal drive. And we definitely don’t see enough big families. I absolutely loved them and thought they were believable, round characters. (My only complaint on these particular siblings was the relationship between Allison and Luther. Non-biologically related siblings who have romantic tension isn’t necessarily my issue. My issue is that I found it uncomfortable, based on the fact that they were raised from birth together, as compared to similar tensions found in cases where they were not raised together, i.e. Avery and Atlas in The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee.) But that is a personal preference and a different discussion for another day.

Con: Female Tragedy for Male Depth

Far too often female characters suffer trauma, including death, in order to push male characters forward. Now, I’m not saying female characters cannot suffer, or die, but when the suffering of a female character (or any minority character) exists solely to push the male character into growth, then I’m not happy. This particularly happens with Diego, whose girlfriend Eudora dies for no other reason than to have Diego question his purpose, not once, but a number of times. When it isn’t Eudora pushing him, then it’s his mother, a robot, who he has to turn off at one point. A simple solution would’ve been emphasizing Diego’s desire to make his childhood suffering mean something by becoming a superhero (though this is only mentioned once, by – you guessed it – Eudora, right before she dies), while highlighting Eudora’s personality as someone who always had to follow the rules, who then dies when she finally agrees to break the rules (though this only happens, because – you guessed it again – Diego dared her to). Ultimately, these topics were barely touched in comparison to Diego’s rage over her death. This caused an uncomfortable situation where the male character could not grow without two female characters being hurt, or more specifically, killed. This also happens later in the show with Luther and Allison, as Luther consistently decides he exists in order to protect her by forcing his decisions on her. Not to mention Allison gets her throat slit once, which further takes her voice away. Now, granted, I will acknowledge that Allison’s powers exist in her ability to speak, so her losing her voice is far more symbolic than just Luther trying to oversee her decisions, but the combination of Luther’s lack of boundaries mixed with her silence bothered me. (Probably because the other brothers become complicit in it.) In contrast, the female characters are not driven by male pain. Allison is driven by her daughter, and Vanya is driven by her need to be accepted. The only instance where we see a female character driven by male pain is with Vanya, who reacts violently when her boyfriend “Peter” is hurt in a fake fight. Even then, though, the ultimate attention is averted from Peter and placed back on Vanya’s inability to control her powers. This sort of emphasis could’ve easily gone the other way with the male characters as well. Basically, it’s not about one gender causing another gender to react, but rather the emphasis at which it is focused on and what it means. We can do better.   

Pro: Humor Mixed in with the Serious

We do not have enough humor in fiction. That goes for flat-out humor books, as well as humor sprinkled throughout other genres. It’s one of the reasons I often find 600-page fantasy novels exhausting. (Which, by the way, is the main type of book I read.) I have found that the fantasy novels I love the most include moments of quiet, as well as humor (and from numerous characters and situations). The Umbrella Academy kills with their humor, especially with Klaus. I wish I could expand (because my negative sections feel longer than my positive), but this love is pretty straight-forward. I want more humor in everything.  

Con: Villains Suffering From Mental Health and Broken Homes

Listen, I get it, villains are supposed to be evil, and evil things can happen because of untreated mental illness. I’m not denying that. However, evil comes from non-mentally ill places as well, but modern entertainment is still leaning towards one more than the other, especially when it comes to female characters. I feel like it’s an overused trope, especially when clear lines aren’t drawn and discussed. The worst part for me in The Umbrella Academy is how unclear they made Vanya, especially when using her childhood flashbacks. It is never clarified if her powers are causing her to kill or if she, herself, has mental health issues and those issues were exacerbated by her powers, not to mention her father’s decision to cover her powers up without telling her even into adulthood. By not clarifying, especially when she begins to hallucinate (something that could be seen as schizophrenia), the art is setting up viewers to interpret mental health vs. evil, or even blending them, and I don’t like that message. We need to do better when it comes to depicting mental health. Take the time to clarify, even it means clarifying that no one truly knows. Without that, we will continue to get the same images, in this case, a young Ellen Paige discussing anxiety and nerves while shakily popping pills, then adding a montage of killing nannies as a child before she was on medication, (when no one else is depicted to be using medication or to have anxiety or anything), and that’s unacceptable. On a side note, I also hate that the male villain comes from a broken one-parent home. Is it just me, or is the only “positive” depiction of one-parent homes in popular entertainment Gilmore Girls? I’m probably biased, because I grew up in a one-parent home after my mother suddenly died. My dad raised me, and he is awesome. (I’m obvs. sick of seeing deadbeat dads, too.) Most of all, I’m really, really tired of watching motherless children become the epitome of evil, while orphans become heroes. Not that orphans can’t be heros, but why is it that losing two parents equals a superhero cape and adventure, and losing one means anger and doom? And where are the villains who come from “good” homes? And the heroes with two parents? And, and, and. We need more variety.   

giphy-2

Pro: Mashup of Tropes

The Umbrella Academy is a master of mashing up common tropes in unique ways. What do I mean by that? Well, as most writers know, nothing is new. With hundreds of years of literature behind us, everything has been done before. Writing isn’t about creating something no one has created before, because – spoiler alert – someone has created it. Instead, writing is about creating something new by using what we already have in unique ways. And The Umbrella Academy kills it, specifically with science fiction and fantasy tropes. To name a few, we have superheroes saving the world, a boy who sees dead people, a time-traveler, a monkey who has been experimented on until it’s more human than monkey, and a girl who thinks she doesn’t have powers (but, duh, she does), who is also the person who can’t control their powers. We’ve seen these characters and abilities depicted dozens of times. So how was this show unique? Let’s look at Klaus, the boy who sees dead people. Instead of trying to scare the viewer with Klaus’s powers (think Fifth Sense), The Umbrella Academy focuses on how Klaus himself is scared and how he has coped (or failed to cope) with his powers. Not to mention his dead brother Ben who follows him around to try to help him cope with his drug abuse. Learning to utilize tropes is an important aspect of writing in any genre, and I’d point any sci-fi/fantasy writer toward The Umbrella Academy for a lesson on that. In fact, I could probably write another ten pages on every trope the show used and how it spun it in a fun, entertaining way. But I’ve already rambled enough on here.

Netflix Hargreeves GIF by The Umbrella Academy - Find & Share on GIPHY

Con: Non-Ending Endings

There’s a big difference between a cliffhanger and a non-ending. Cliffhangers leave the reader or viewer wondering what will happen to the characters after the ending wraps up most (if not all the questions) posed at the beginning of the book or show. A cliffhanger is a hand popping up from a grave after the characters killed the villain, only for the villain to come back to life. A non-ending ending is when the villain and the hero are finally facing off and someone holds up a gun and shoots, but we never see where the bullet goes or who shot the gun or if it did anything at all. In my opinion, I felt like The Umbrella Academy has a non-ending ending. The entire time it’s focused on surviving this impending apocalypse, only for when it hits for them to disappear to some mysterious non-named time period in the past due to their time-traveling brother. It feels really cheap. Honestly, I think it could’ve been a cliffhanger if they had showed us exactly what time period they went to. Or even their childhood with the father standing before them, ready to train Vanya with them instead of ostracizing her. It would wrap everything up, but would still make us wonder if the solution would work. The fence between a cliffhanger and a non-ending ending is thin, but I feel like creators have begun to favor non-ending endings more than actual cliffhangers, and it drives me crazy. (And not in a good way.) I love cliffhangers. I’m happy to be enticed to the next season. But don’t make me feel like I wasted my time by telling me nothing by the end either.

In non-writing related notes: I loved the soundtrack and cinematography and the storyline in general. In fact, they played one of my favorite writing songs (“Run, Boy, Run” by Woodkid) and even made it the title of Episode 2. (If you haven’t watched the music videos for Woodkid’s entire album, do it now. It’s pure art.) I also loved the sets and directing style of nearly every scene. And not going to lie, I was super happy to see Hazel and the donut lady end up together. (I’ve never been so invested in a side characters before.) The show is super entertaining, and I’d highly recommend it to sci-fi/fantasy fans. I enjoyed myself a lot, and actually made the time to finish all 12 episodes (which is rare for me). I would definitely check out another season. And I felt like I was reminded of a lot of writing skills.

So do you think writers can learn from watching and discussing TV and movies?

If so, what shows do you think are good examples?

Tell me about them!

~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.

%d bloggers like this: