Tag Archives: writing

Writing Method: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

2 Jan

With the New Year upon us—HALLELUJAH—I know many of you are gearing up to tackle your 2021 goals. Whether that’s to finally finish that WIP you’ve been working on or to start writing a novel for the first time, I thought I’d share a new writing method I’ve been using to crank out more words than I have in a long time. 

It’s what I call the Two Steps Forward, One Step Back Writing Method.

You might be able to guess what I do just by the title, but a little background first. 

I’m constantly trying to find ways to better my writing. I read craft books. I study writing tips. I play with new tenses, POVS, age categories, and genres. I love to challenge myself. But sometimes I can get caught up in all the writing advice and lose sight of my own knowledge, specifically my gut instinct. 

One example is my writing output. 

Three years ago, I used to revise while I was writing, but then a writer friend of mine talked about how they finished first drafts so much faster if they just kept going. I took a hard look at my own productivity and realized I could benefit from the same method. I’d work on the same section for weeks—only to completely cut it by the third or fourth draft. What a waste of time, right??? 

Wrong. 

Despite finishing my first draft so much faster when I ignored revisions on the first go-around, I got stuck pretty quickly. In fact, I printed it out, readied myself to revise it into a second draft, and completely froze. Despite keeping an organized list of revision notes while I was writing, I was immediately lost. I forgot what certain notes meant. Some notes canceled out other notes. I couldn’t find notes I swore I took down. I didn’t know where to begin or even if any of it made sense anymore.

Cue the panic. 

Once I put my Imposter Syndrome aside, I realized that I wasn’t so organized, after all. (And admittedly, that book is still not where I want it to be.) That said, I’m really glad I tried the no-revising method. It helped me face the fact that I would get too caught up in perfectionism in a first draft and, regardless of how I felt about not revising while writing, that part of me had to change. I didn’t want to fall back into the pits of perfectionism. I knew I had to find a balance.   

End of story: Not revising at all while drafting wasn’t working for me, but neither was revising whenever I felt like it.   

I needed to find my rhythm again—a new one that worked for me that embraced all I had learned from my recent experiences. 

So, on my next WIP, I tried an experiment, and I found a happy medium that became the Two Steps Forward, One Step Back Writing Method.  

Basically, I let myself write 2-4 chapters at a time. Then I stop and reevaluate what I created. Did all go according to plan? If it didn’t, why not? What did I learn? What was unexpected? How does that change where we’re going? 

If I spot something in that window that I realize I want to adjust, I allow myself to go back, but only if it’s in that 2-4-chapter window. Anything outside that window I jot down for my first major overhaul. 

What I’m left with is a piece I’m feeling more proud of and less notes for future me. It was a little less confusing for my beta readers. (Yes, I share my first drafts with betas, but that’s another story for another day.) 

I truly enjoyed creating it, and I think I’ll stick to this method for a while. 

Who knows? Maybe you’ll love it, too! Maybe you won’t. 

Either way, don’t lose sight of what works for you and your book. It might change from project to project, or youmight change from project to project. What’s important is that you’re learning and enjoying the process.  

You can always find that happy medium. 

~SAT 

P.S. I’m teaching Starting a Writing Project for The Story Center at MCPL on Wednesday, January 13 at 6:30 PM (CT). The event is virtual, completely free, and open to anyone in the world. I’d love to see you there! 

2020: The Strangest Writing Year (Hopefully?)

19 Dec

Every year I like to reflect and talk about expectations, goal-setting, writing life, changing trends, etc., and as strange as this past year has been, I still want to keep that tradition going. That said, looking back, January feels like it happened three years ago, not eleven months. In fact, right at the beginning of 2020, I taught my first writing course—Starting a Writing Project—and over 40 people attended. I was super proud. Still am! But seeing photos of everyone crowded into one room has me reeling now. 

That’s why I decided to name 2020 the strangest writing year. Not only because it was absolutely bonkers (and still is), but because current events have also shifted our way of thinking about other times. They’ve also affected us emotionally, physically, and spiritually, too. For me, spiritually has more to do with energy levels. You know, keeping your hopes up. Holding onto focus. Maintaining a level of discipline and using your energy to keep on keeping on. 

That was hard this year. But I’m choosing to focus on the positive.

When we went into lockdown in March, I thought Kansas City would be back to normal by June, August at the latest. Well… I’m still working from home, and I barely leave my home office. Sharing my workspace with my writing space has certainly taken a dent on my productivity, but going virtual hasn’t been all bad. In fact, my virtual world is pretty neat. I attended WriteOnCon, the Kansas City Writing Workshop, and YALLFest online. I also taught my first writing class online for Woodneath Writers. More regularly, I attended virtual write-ins with friends in California and Canada! I also continued to see my two local writers’ groups every month via ZOOM. 

my life pre-lockdown teaching to a crowded room vs. my life after lockdown at virtual write-ins

In my spare time, I also wrote an article for my local SCBWI scribbles newsletter, and later that year, I was the local author feature. Even more mind-blowing? I was chosen as a co-mentor in Pitch Wars with long-time CP and friend, Sandra Proudman. Only three years ago, I was submitting to Pitch Wars as a hopeful mentee, so being able to give back to that is so much fun. (Fun fact: Sandra and I actually met because of Pitch Wars.)  

At work, I was awarded Maggie Jackson Community Spirit Award for helping The Story Center at Mid-Continent Public Library go virtual. It’s the first time I’ve been awarded anything. It was a true honor. I’m so proud of everything my team and I were able to do for The Story Center and our customers during the lockdowns. In fact, I recently got to watch 21 of my students complete the Storytelling Certificate Program (which is currently free, virtual, and open to anyone in the world). What a way to celebrate all their hard work!

In personal news, I got engaged! My partner and I have been together for almost nine years now, so this is an exciting step for us. We’ve been house hunting, too, which is fun and new to us. I also became student debt free this year, which, if you remember my post from last year, I never thought I’d get to see that day. I am so relieved. And happy. (And absolutely still rooting for student loan forgiveness! It’s such a predatory system, and I hope others get forgiven soon.) 

In publishing news, I went out on sub with my agent, and I’m soon to go back out on sub in the new year. 

Over this past year, I sent my first-ever adult science fiction novel to my agent and started an adult fantasy novel. Since then, I’ve completed one major overhaul of my adult science fiction book and I’m currently working on revising it some more. I also revised a totally other book, too (which is what we’re going out on sub with)! In regard to my adult fantasy book, I’m currently 40,000 words in. I also played around with four new ideas and even received some feedback from an editor through SCBWI on my first middle grade verse novel!

That said, this environment definitely took a toll. I used to write about 10,000 words a week pretty consistently, and that did not happen for me this year. Between adjusting my day job and just life in general, my overall productivity was down, but I’m pretty happy with what I managed to cover this year. (Also a little sad I didn’t complete anything brand-new, but I did what I could.) 

I have no idea what 2021 will hold. Then again, I never know what the next year will bring. 

Maybe 2021 will be stranger. Maybe good-strange. Maybe not. 

All I can do is keep writing, keep trying, keep dreaming.

My only goal? To do the best that I can!

Here’s to 2021,

~SAT

If you’re interested, here’s my previous years:

Tips for Writing Spooky

31 Oct

Happy Halloween! 

I don’t know about you, but Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. In fact, one time my father snuck into my car while I was at school and filled it with Halloween balloons, chocolates, and a pumpkin-shaped candle burner. (I know. He’s the greatest. Though I admit, I didn’t know who did it at first…and that was unsettling. He kind of tricked me at the same time as giving me a treat! Ha!) I think about that Halloween all the time. There’s just something about the fall weather, the darkening days, the cider, the costumes. ::happy sigh:: Obviously, I’ve always loved the spooky, and that includes writing and reading it. In fact, I recently finished reading HORRID by Katrina Leno, and I absolutely loved it and recommend it 100%, but I thought I’d talk a little bit about writing spooky, too. 

First step is first: 

Ask yourself what scares you. 

The dark, the gremlins, the undistinguishable sounds at night—and what caused them. Just sit at your desk and brainstorm all the things that scare you, including everything that used to scare you. It doesn’t matter if you’re over it now. If you can remember that unsettling feeling you’d get in your gut, jot it down and be prepared to use it in your work.  

Now ask yourself what scares you but not other people.

This is an essential step. Why? Because it will help shape your world, your characters, and your story. It will also make it stand out from other spooky stories. I mean, everyone knows the dark scares a lot of people, but what about mascots? (Seriously, I’m very unsettled by mascots. Always have been, always will be.) If you can make your reader feel fear for something they hadn’t considered before, it will be all the more terrifying.

When I jot down “mascots,” I immediately think of a high school murder mystery, where my main character feels like they’re getting stalked at a football game but can’t see anyone following them. When the mascot comes up to her, she doesn’t think anything of it. But then later that night, someone says the costume was stolen. So who was in that costume? NO ONE KNOWS. Eek! (Even worse, if the person who was supposed to be wearing the costume is also found dead. Up those stakes, people!) 

Ask yourself why it scares you. 

Using my example above, when I ask myself why mascots scare me, it’s because I don’t know who is underneath the mask. I don’t know who is standing in front of me. It’s actually a pretty common fear if you think about it. In fact, most of your “uncommon” fears will have common enough reasons behind them, but tapping into that will help you as a writer shape your story and scare your reader. Ex/ The reason mascots aren’t a common fear is because we have an expectation for when they will appear: at games. But if someone unexpected is wearing the costume or you saw one randomly in an alleyway, you’d be a little unsettled, right? 

Taking something and putting it where it doesn’t belong can be spooky in itself. 

People are creatures of habit. We have expectations, rules, understandings. By breaking them, you will bother your reader. Ex. The dark is scary. It’s even scarier when it isn’t supposed to be dark outside and then it suddenly is.

Play around with all these elements and have fun. Once you’ve made decisions, consider your pacing and word choice. 

Personally, I tackle this on a second round of writing, but your pacing and word choice is going to make a HUGE difference when it comes to creating a creepy atmosphere. It can be a delicate balance and not always what you expect going in. For instance, sometimes describing something scary as beautiful could actually be unnerving (think, vampires), but other times, that sort of description could take away (or even confuse) your reader. 

I recommend going with your gut, but always get the opinion of a trusted beta reader. Don’t tell them your intentions going in. Just ask them how they felt as they read the scene. If they describe it as “lovely” when you were going for “unsettling” then you need to rework. 

Here’s to getting spooky! 

~SAT

Teachings from my Twitter Poll Story

17 Oct

It was noon, the sun was high, and I was standing on my back porch trying to get some fresh air during my lunch break when I heard strange music coming from the woods behind my house. Naturally, my imagination ran off with dreams of fairy parties and otherworldly adventures. It was a brief moment of respite in today’s ever-changing environment. 

Which is probably why I tweeted about it. 

(Okay, so I tweet about everything, but I digress.)

If you follow me on Twitter @AuthorSAT, then you’ve probably seen my Twitter poll story. If not, no worries! Here’s a link to the first part to catch you up. 

What is a Twitter poll story?

Basically, I write a little scene within Twitter’s 280-character limit that also sets up a question for readers to answer via poll. It’s reminiscent of the Choose Your Own Adventure stories that were really popular in the 90’s and early 2000’s. The biggest difference is that you don’t have to write the endings for the other choices; you only follow the path that the majority wanted to see. It reminds me a lot of RPG (role playing games) I’d play with my friends when I was young, or stories that we would take turns writing. (You email me Chapter One, I’ll then write Chapter Two, etc.)  

Writing those stories with friends used to bring me a lot of joy between classes in school, which is probably another reason I decided to run with this online. (A little bit of nostalgia goes a long way.) What I didn’t expect was to learn more about storytelling, reevaluate a current WIP, and have in-depth discussions with my writer friends—all topics I wanted to share with you all today.

There’s something to be said about being able to summarize your next plot point in 280 characters or less (and 2-4 choices in less than 25).

Every time I sat down to write the next scene, I really had to ask myself what could realistically happen next while also weighing its overall importance. If it was too easy to write, then the scene probably didn’t have enough risk. If it was too difficult, then I was probably getting ahead of myself. It definitely made me think about fluff. This goes for choices, too. 

Once I started expanding the story, I realized I wanted the votes to be as close to 50-50 as possible. Why? Well, mostly because it’s more exciting! The choices a character must make in a book should be difficult. Readers should be able to believe the character would make both choices, and those choices should make it so that they can’t go backwards and redo it. Basically, this is a great way to double check that your characters have agency. (They should be happening to the story; the story shouldn’t be happening to them. Though, it’s totally fine if a few scenes mix it up.) I only used two choices throughout this particular story, but I might try 3 or 4 next time!

In fact, I’m currently using this method to try and smooth out an outline for my new WIP.  

It’s been a lot of fun! And really insightful, too. 

My imagination can often get bigger than the story truly needs, and this has helped me make hard decisions about efficiency. It was also really fun! 

The most unexpected lesson? A story can benefit from playing into the readers’ desires. Not everything has to be shocking or a fresh, new twist. Sometimes, giving in to what the reader wants can be just what a story needs to feel alive again. In regards to poll stories in particular, involving readers can also be exciting. Along the way, I had a few readers comment with advice for the characters, and bringing them into the character’s thoughts made it feel like the readers were inside the story. (If only there was a way to do this with novels! If I ever get a series deal, I’m totally doing a giveaway for a character to be named after a reader. That’s a promise.)  

My Twitter poll story also caught the eye of some writer friends, and I was asked some questions that I thought would be fun to share:

  • How did you plan it? I didn’t! Not at all. I literally posted the first tweet from real life, and then just ran with it. I never wanted to get ahead of myself, because readers genuinely chose paths that I didn’t think they would follow (which was so fun to see)! 
  • What was the hardest part? Keeping my eyes off Twitter! Seriously, I was having so much fun, I just wanted to spend time on Twitter all day. 
  • Any tips for starting my own? Have fun. Make sure you can post around the same time every day, so that readers know when to check in for the next poll. I post on my lunch break M-F, and let each poll run one day. Let readers know when they should expect an update.

I hope you try this exercise with your WIP. If you create an online poll story, be sure to tag me @AuthorSAT! 

I’d love to follow your poll stories, too. (And vote!)

~SAT

Speaking of voting, the election is coming up! PLEASE VOTE.

How Virtual Write-Ins Help Me During COVID-19 Lockdown

2 May

It goes without saying that life is strange right now—and stressful. As someone who has moved every few years my entire life, I adapt to change pretty quickly, and yet these amount of sudden changes (and the constant drone of breaking news) has created an environment requiring constant reevaluation. 

I’m exhausted, y’all. And I’m sure many of you are, too. 

For me, Kansas City went on a stay a home order back in March. That’s when I began working from home, readjusting my schedule, and trying to figure out how in the hell I was going to continue with “normal” life, even though “normal” had been redefined. 

During the first week, I did okay. Dare I say, too okay. 

I got up at the same time, wrote during my “lunch break” like I would normally do at work, and went about life as if it were normal. But life isn’t normal. Working from home is different than working in an office, not that I haven’t experienced that before. I used to be a full-time freelance editor who worked from home. But that was when I was an independent contractor. This situation isn’t that. The main difference? Everyone else in my life is adjusting, too. We aren’t alone, but at the same time, we are having to help each other and cope with one another’s stress levels, which were all heightened simultaneously. 

Before I knew it, goals I was on top of at the start of this year slid off the radar. Between work and home life and the stress of the world, I had to put my writing on the backburner. This included not only working on my own projects but also “attending” my usual writing groups, even though we converted to the virtual world. I normally have time and energy to devote to others’ work, but I simply didn’t have much leftover energy at all, and it felt wrong to attend if I couldn’t offer the basics. That being said, I didn’t want to disconnect completely. Doing that can cause even more depression and anxiety. So, I reevaluated. 

If I didn’t have the time and energy to devote to my writers’ groups, what could I handle? What did I want? More importantly, what did I need?

I definitely wanted more time to write, especially after finding myself unable to write as much during my lunch breaks (or even on my weekends, due to a lack of energy). I also wanted to stay connected to my writing friends. Luckily for me, a few writer friends reached out to me, asking if I wanted to come to their virtual write-ins. No critiques, no editing, no expectations; just a bunch of writers writing about anything. If you can make it, great. If not, we’ll see you next time.

This is what I had been looking for. 

This is my setup! My desk is really short, so I stack my computer on top of three books to get eye-level during video conferences, then put it back down when I’m writing. ^_^

At a virtual-write in, it’s just you and a bunch of other writers sitting down at their computers to write. We’re not reading what the other is writing; we don’t even necessarily talk about what the other is doing. We just show up and write. It’s such a simple concept, and yet it feels so huge and wonderful right now. It helps me feel connected and focused, and knowing that I have one coming up helps me look forward to something on my calendar. It reminds me that even if I don’t get anything done on my lunch break, I have an hour set aside here and there to get something done, and I’ll have fun while doing it. 

This past month was my WORST writing month this year by far, but I think we can all be kinder to ourselves right now. One of the ways I’ve learned to be kinder to myself is by communicating my limitations to my friends and creating new spaces to explore my current energy levels, and I highly encourage you all to try the same thing. It may not be a write-in. It might be a brainstorming session or a critique group or a million other things. But write-ins have helped me tremendously.  

How to create a write-in:

  1. Send out a call – let others know that you’re trying to organize a virtual write-in via email or social media. If you have a time/date picked out, let everyone know. (Don’t forget the timezone!) 
  2. Use Zoom – send out the log-in information the day before via email (or try another platform, dependent on what everyone has access to). I recommend Zoom because it’s free for forty minutes, and that might be a good time limit to try something new. I’ve attended ones that are thirty minutes and ones that are two-ish hours. For me, 1-1 ½ hours works best, with a little extra time to chat. 
  3. Now write! – It can be easy to get lost in conversation (and some of that is a good thing)! But if you’re there to get words on paper and you find yourself getting distracted by convo, set timers to chat and timers to write. Having a host who is in charge of these aspects helps, too. 

I hope this stirs up new and fun ideas for your writing life! 

It sure has helped me. Whether or not they continue when the world opens back up, I don’t know—I hope so!—but I’ll never forget those that reached out and made me feel more connected in a lockdown than I could’ve ever imagined. 

What are ways you’ve tackled your writing during this time? 

~SAT

2020 Author Goals

4 Jan

2019 is over, and honestly it feels like a blur. 

I know this post is going to seem like a hard brag. I promise that isn’t my intention. I accomplished a lot this year, but I can’t say that I allowed much happiness into my life, especially toward the end of 2019. The beginning felt like a lot of highs: New job! An agent! Another birthday! The end felt like a lot of lows: My cat’s health problems. My health problems. Student loan problems. My depression. 

I’m still in a depression fog at the moment. I won’t lie. I had a really difficult time even stringing together this blog post. At the same time, though, that’s why I forced myself to write it. 

We need to take a moment to acknowledge all of our hard work. 

Today, I ask you to join me. 

Grab a pen and paper. Think of everything you did in 2019, and write it down. Leave nothing out. Include all the things, even the little things others might consider insignificant. With every bullet point you add, really think about all the help you received, the support, the encouragement, the opportunities, the sacrifices, the dedication, the passion. Have you thanked these people? Have you thanked yourself for trying? Have you allowed yourself the space to celebrate and be happy? 

In 2019:

  • I was promoted at the library to Story Center Program Manager. Now I’m surrounded by storytellers all day, and I absolutely love it! 
  • I guest spoke at numerous teen writing groups at various libraries, my local chapter of SCBWI, and at Writers United for Johnson County Library
  • I also had my first school visit, ever
  • I was chosen for a mentorship through Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America 
  • I got a literary agent! 
  • I also went out on sub with my agent. 

Capture

Photos show my writing retreat, finishing a WIP, releasing a book on Wattpad, my first school visit, and my new job, which included hosting a publishing panel at Johnson County Library and meeting Janet Evanovich!

But that’s not all! I released Took Me Yesterday (book 2 of the Tomo Trilogy) on Wattpad after readers kept asking for it for five years. I attended two conferences, went on a writing retreat, hosted #BeMyLi, was included in YASH twice, and attended my local critique group every month. (Not to mention exchanged pages with online beta reader friends all year long.) And I tracked my progress. 

I began 2019 with 26,996 words in a YA science fiction novel. I was also, 55,623 words into a revision of my historical fantasy. 

I end 2019 not only with a completed version of my YA science fiction novel, but a majorly revised and polished version, too. I’m on sub with a different science fiction novel, and I finished revising my historical fantasy as well. I even started a new project! And I’m brainstorming even more. 

In 2020, I already know that I’m teaching my first writing course. Only in a few days, too. (If you’re in Kansas City, join me for Getting Started on a Writing Project.) I’ll be teaching my first publishing course in April during Publishing Week at the Library. I also have plans to attend the Kansas City Writing Workshop and the LitUP Festival. And I’m sure there’s more to come: more firsts, more rejections, more congratulations, more plot twists, more tears, more laughter. 

I know this because I’ve written articles just like this one for the past four years:

And every year, I read each one in rescinding order. 

This year I didn’t know if I wanted to write this article. I didn’t think I could. But after reading my past posts, I remembered why these have become so important to me. I can look back. I can remember. I can put it all in perspective. 

Right now, my 2020 perspective is hopeful. Grateful. Humble. 

I promise to try my best to be my best self: as a librarian, an author, a cat lady, a friend. 

I promise to continue.

What do you promise? 

~SAT

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

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