Tag Archives: writing

The Ideal Writing Pace

19 Jun

Writing is a different experience for everyone. Just check out the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter and you will see authors hitting 50,000 words in two weeks…and in two years.

So how long should it take to write your book?

Stephen King claims to give up on a book if you can’t finish the first draft in three months. Others claim a book is rushed if it doesn’t demand years of your attention. But here’s the deal—

I used to run in Track & Field, and Track & Field taught me something important that I think the writing community could benefit from. (Stick with me for a second, okay?) I competed in races all year long. I thought I knew what the end-goal was in Track & Field… Whoever was fastest was the best. And the fastest girl on our team was a girl I’ll call Darla.

Darla was fast—like super fast—and since I was running long distance for the first time (when I was used to sprinting races), I tried to keep up with her. She was the fastest, after all, and I was able to run at her pace. (Not that I enjoyed it.) One time, while we were running a practice race (and I was majorly struggling), she turned to me and asked why I hadn’t found my own pace. My own pace. This concept blew my mind. I never considered how fast I “wanted” to run or what speed I was comfortable running. No way! I had only considered the start line, the finish line, and nothing in between…you know, because this was a literal race. But this was Track & Field. Your team isn’t judged for each little race, but rather all of your team’s races combined. It was about winning together as a team, not competing against one another, and above all, we were supposed to enjoy the run. (We were in seventh grade, after all, but twelve-year-old Shannon was just as competitive and way-too serious as modern me.)

That being said, I quit Track & Field the next year. Not because I wasn’t fast enough, but because I finally found my pace. And my pace was writing instead of running. Though, I admit running was still my exercise of choice growing up, I learned an important lesson from running that I’ve carried into my writing life.

Finding my own pace is key, not only for my health but also for my happiness.

If that means I write 50,000 words in two weeks, awesome. But it’s also awesome if it takes me two years.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with this. It took me two months to finish my first manuscript of 2017, including a significant amount of editing. Two months. And now I’m halfway through June without a second manuscript. That’s four months on one project. I’ve been working on it twice as long as my previous project, but I’m barely halfway through a first draft. (This is probably the opportune time to mention I’m slightly obsessive about numbers… and I’m a competitive person by nature, so I’ll turn anything into a competition, including competitions with myself. So, sigh…) I feel as if I’ve been writing sooooooo slowly. And I’m struggling with that confession.

As someone who is competitive, I understand how overwhelming seeing others’ word counts can feel. Sometimes, word counts can start to feel more important than feeling good about those words you wrote down. But I try to keep that Track & Field lesson in mind.

We’re in this together. Some of us will write 50,000 words in two weeks, some of us cringe at that idea, but we will all reach the “finish line” together. And the more we enjoy the middle, the better the “race” will feel. Though…I forgot to mention the most important fact about this post. Writing isn’t a race at all. This is a journey. There isn’t a set finish line. There isn’t even a solid start line. (I often can’t tell you when I first got an idea for a specific project, for instance.) But your happiness should matter. If it takes two months or two years, it shouldn’t matter. What matters is how much you enjoyed the writing process.

Find your writing pace, and enjoy your journey.

~SAT

Challenge Your Writing

12 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Granted, challenges come with…well, challenges.

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

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

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

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

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

You might discover something amazing.

~SAT

 

An Author with Poor Penmanship

29 May

Recently, I sent out letters and signed swag to some of my super fans who attended an online release day party for my books. And like so many times before that, I found myself dreading writing the letters. Why? It’s simple really.

I am an author with poor penmanship.

Now, please don’t tell me “I’m sure it isn’t horrible, you’re just being humble,” because, seriously, I struggle to read my own handwriting…and it’s never going to get better, no matter how much I practice or try.

My story is a little strange, but here it goes.

When I was eleven, I was at basketball practice before school when I tripped and fell. The growth plate in my left wrist fractured pretty severely, but, for those of you who don’t know, at that age, your growth plate is malleable. And it didn’t show physical signs of injury. (No bruising, blood, etc.) So when I went to the nurse’s office to explain the pain I was having, she wrote me off and said I was trying to avoid a math test I had later that day. (This still blows my mind, because I was a straight-A student, and I’ve always loved math.) Nevertheless, she sent me back to class and never called my father. Fast forward twelve hours later, and I’m in excruciating pain when I get home. At this point, the school told my father, and he is medically trained, so he took me to the hospital. Problem was, the damage was basically done. My left wrist is still damaged today…I’m also naturally left-handed. So, I had to learn to write with my right hand, and it’s atrocious. Yes, I can write with my left, but it hurts, so I basically type everything. Conclusion: My handwriting is UGLY.

But I can’t exactly explain that story to my fans in every letter. I’m always anxious when I write letters to fans, because I’m afraid of what they’ll think. Will they think a four-year-old wrote them a note? Will my poor handwriting ruin the excitement of the letter for them? I see all these beautiful letters authors send to their fans and my handwriting becomes an insecurity of mine.

Then I got to thinking…Why do I have to have an excuse for poor penmanship?

 My handwriting doesn’t change my ability to write a story. Other than struggling to read my own notes sometimes, I’ve never felt at a disadvantage for bad handwriting because that’s silly. But I’m still insecure about it. I see my chicken scratches in books I’m signing for fans and I cringe at my letters to others, and I worry that they’ll judge my handwriting, as if someone with bad handwriting can’t possibly be a writer.

I’m trying to get over this insecurity of mine, but here I am, still frowning when I mail out letters. Maybe one day I’ll be 100% confident in my chicken scratches. Or maybe I will continue to love typing more than handwriting.

You see, I find typing beautiful.

I’m a typist. My mother was also a typist. In fact, she was an associate for a lawyer, who had poor spelling, so she was constantly typing and re-typing his documents. He also smoked a mint pipe, and I remember this fondly. (Why? I will never know.) But when I was sick from school, I would sit in the lawyer’s office, sipping Sprite, and watch my mother type and type and type.

As a kid, I remember watching my mom type like someone would watch a pianist play the piano. Her speed was rhythmic. I found the entire process hypnotizing. And this is before I broke my hand or became a seasoned writer. All I wanted to do was learn how to type. And when I was in college, I would calm down after class by re-typing my notes.

I find it easy to lose myself in the keyboard. I’m at home when I’m using the keyboard. And, for me, the keyboard is my form of expression. The keyboard gives me a voice, and I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than that—even envy-inducing calligraphy.

It would be nice to write beautifully one day…but I think it would be even better if I found a way to let me insecurity go.

I always have my keyboard.

~SAT

My Hate-Love Relationship with Historical Fiction

8 May

I love historical fiction. In fact, I’m currently binge reading, watching, and writing it right now. But I have a beef with it. (Does anyone even say that anymore? No? Oh, well.) If you’re curious, I’m reading Stalking Jack the Ripper, watching Reign, and writing a book set in the ancient world. Very different time periods, but all can easily fall into my hate-love with the genre.

So what is my issue with the genre?

My biggest pet peeve with historical fiction is when I look up the factual story and the factual story is MORE—more fascinating, bizarre, fun, gory, symbolic, or anything MORE.

Let’s look at a few examples:

In the movie The Revenant with Leonardo Dicaprio, Hugh Glass fights his way back from the wilderness to enact bloody revenge on the two who left him to die. In real life? He actually tracked down the two men and ultimately forgave them, because it was better for society. (One was a solider and the other a young man with a family.) I actually LOVE the real version, because I think it teaches us more about survival and sympathy and societal sacrifice. But forgiveness doesn’t feed into the bloody climax many expect, does it? (On a side note, Hugh Glass could’ve been a pirate…but that also doesn’t make it into the movie either. Boo.) Here’s an article if you’re interested in more info: The Real Story of ‘The Revenant’ is Far Weirder (and Bloodier) Than the Movie.

In Reign, the show follows Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, as she marries the Dauphin of France. And it’s entertaining, don’t get me wrong. Lots of betrayal, murder, and sex. But the real-life version, if the show had been expanded to show more years, has MORE. Nearly everyone loses their head, country, or both. (It’s very Game of Thrones.) What I find strange, though, is not the focus but some of the blatant inaccuracies portrayed as fact. For instance, the show takes (weird?) liberties in taking shots at the blond hair Francis has when Mary herself was famous for blond-red hair, while Francis was the brunet. They even go as far as to say all Scots have dark hair. (Or bringing her mother into it, when they never saw one another after her childhood.) In real life, over time, there are three husbands. (Perfect for a trilogy, no?) That aside, I’ll absolutely acknowledge that brutal story is not the target audience or goal for the romantic TV show on the CW. Which brings me to my next point…

I don’t blame the authors or any creators behind this. Why? Because I get it. Truth is often stranger than fiction. If you wrote down some of the actual events that happened, readers or viewers would have a harder time believing that than the completely fictionalized version of an event. Not to mention that life doesn’t serve a linear, symbolic purpose…and with stories, that’s the whole point, especially when you bring genres and expectations for that genre into play. Not to mention the traditional narrative viewers and readers expect from certain historical periods. 

It was discovered, for instance, that slaves were not used to build the Great Pyramids. Skilled (and paid) craftsman were, which is why they could stage protests. (In fact, the first protests we now know of.) But our fictional worlds have yet to reflect this. (Oh, did I mention they were often paid with beer? I mean, come on.)

History—and what we understand of history—is constantly changing, and the genre should change along with it.

I want to see more Norse women out on Viking Voyages, as skilled seafarers. (Source) I want to see black cowboys (Source). I want to see skilled craftsmen building the pyramids (Source). I want to see the female sailors on the doomed Franklin expedition, especially since the entire crew was reported to be male (Source). I want to see an all-female battalion in the Russian Revolution (Source). I want MORE.

I get that it might be a little strange to see some of your favorite historical figures (and narratives) in a different light. But why not?

Why not challenge the traditional narrative, especially if it’s backed up by science and other types of studies? Why not write a version that’s based in factual evidence more than on speculation? On the opposite end, why not write a version that owns the fact that it’s not based in reality at all, like My Lady Jane (where royalty can shape-shift into animals)? Why not push those limits and expectations of what historical fiction can be? (On a side note, there’s actually a really funny/enlightening Oatmeal comic on why this is so difficult, and you can read it here.)

Historical fiction has limitless, constantly changing possibilities, and I cannot wait to see how it morphs in the future.

~SAT

Can Genres Die?

24 Apr

“Why are you writing a vampire/dystopian/princess novel? That won’t sell today! It’s been overdone. It’s dead.”

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably participated in a conversation similar to the one above. Trends have a lot to do with the publishing industry. If you’re lucky enough to have something written and ready to go as the trend is escalating, chances are you’ll have an easier time getting published than if you were pitching a genre that previously trended. Why? Because business has a lot to do with timing, and writing is a business. When a topic is hot, similar books will follow. And after the market is flooded with said genre, it’ll be harder to get that chance again. That is an inevitable fact.

But do genres die?

Some would say yes. Some would SCREAM yes. But I would disagree. Granted, will it be harder to get your book published if it follows an old trend, such as vampires or dystopia? Absolutely. But if your book is truly unique—if it stands out from what was previous done—your writing can rise to the top, whether or not the genre is “dead.”

Take RoseBlood by A.G. Howard for example. It was published this year, and it more or less had vampires in it. (I don’t want to mention specifics, because spoilers…but check it out.) Despite following a lot of tropes (new girl goes to a new school where paranormal, romantic interest waits…because fate), the book stood out, because it twisted those tropes into something new. Instead of blood-sucking nocturnal Draculas, readers met…well, again, you probably have to read it for yourself. But it was unique.

Not that I have anything against blood-sucking nocturnal Dracula vampires…I actually might miss them.

Genres work a lot like tropes. Some readers will pick them up solely because that’s what they love. They will read those stories over and over and over again, and they will never tire of them. For instance, I will always love a good dystopian book. But if you shove me in an arena with a braided archer who wants to take down the government…I mean, come on. There are a million ways a society could be dystopian and a million ways a government can fall. It’s blatant repetition that causes readers and publishers alike to flinch away and claim something is “dead.” But it’s not dead. It’s just…boring. And it’s boring, because it’s predictable.

If you’re a writer and wondering how you can surpass your “dead” genre, consider what is unique about your work and amplify the hell out of it. Whether that’s your voice, viewpoint, twists, or expertise, pinpoint why this story stands out. (And if you can’t, reevaluate your work.) This is why reading the genre you’re writing in is so important. By doing that, you will know what is overdone, and you will be able to avoid it (or, at least, make your version stand out). And never stop writing just because something is “dead.” If writers made decisions based on that, writers would never write anything, because—let’s be real—everything’s been done to an extent. Don’t let trends or rumors or “dead ends” stop you. Write what you want to write, trends be damned. Your voice will thrive, and your stories will thank you for it.

I’m not going to lie though. If you wrote a novel about a vampire princess surviving in a dystopian world, I would die to read it.

~SAT

Writers, It’s Okay To Log Out

27 Mar

Social media is a must for writers today. Connecting with readers through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms is easy and welcomed, but it can get overwhelming. With the myriad of ways we have of posting information—sometimes live—it’s easy to succumb to publishing pressures. Personally, I still struggle to figure out where my balance is in all the different types of social media platforms. Why? Because they are constantly changing and so is my schedule, but one thing remains the same. Making sure I’m interacting with readers and writers through social media is always near the top of my To-Do list.

There is also staying up-to-date in the publishing world. Whether you’re reading Writer’s Digest or Publishers Marketplace or one of the millions of amazing publishing blogs out there, there’s always something to read, to share, to consider.

But that doesn’t mean you should get lost in social media.

Extra tip: Pick only the social media platforms that you love. You don’t have to do everything.

One of my main pieces of advice to writers is to stop reading about writing and actually start writing. Not that reading about writing is bad. (I mean, I write about writing on this blog.) But if you’re reading more about writing than actually writing, then it might be time to log out. There’s only so much you will learn from studying writing. The best way to grow as a writer is to actually write for yourself. And I’m not an exception. Recently, I had to remove my social media from my phone. Mainly Facebook and Twitter. Why? Because I found myself spending more time reading my feeds than reading books. And quite frankly, it was starting to affect my writing. For example, I sometimes get so wrapped up in trends I forget about what I WANT to write—and honestly, what you want to write is generally the most important thing, because that passion will show in your voice.

Don’t get me wrong. I love these platforms. Twitter, in particular, is an important platform where writers get involved in publishing issues that need to be addressed. I also love joining Twitter events, because they are fun and fast and a great way to meet others who love reading and writing as much as you. But sometimes, I just need to read or watch TV or go for a jog or explore a bookstore without all the scrolling and pinging of notifications.

Setting boundaries and taking care of yourself is important, especially when you feel overwhelmed. In fact, I feel much better now that I’ve taken those apps off my phone. Admittedly, it probably won’t stay that way forever, but it is helping me stay focused on the recent conference I attended as well as my upcoming book releases in April and May. I’m sure I’ll put them back on my phone soon. But until then, I’m grabbing a coffee and sitting on my roof this morning. And I’m definitely logging out.

Don’t feel guilty for logging out. It’s okay to take a day off of marketing or tweeting or Facebooking or sharing photos of your cat on Instagram. (Though if you like that sort of thing, I often post photos of my three cats—Bogart, Boo Boo, and Kiki—via Instagram’s @AuthorSAT. If you post cats, feel free to tag me so I can see. I seriously love cats.)

You can log out, too.

~SAT

Reward Your Writing

13 Mar

Writing is hard. So is publishing. It’s easier than I want to admit to fall into a downward spiral of imposter syndrome. Or something worse. But there are ways to combat that spiral of doom. For me, that spiral consists of workaholic syndrome. I will write, write, write until I burn out, and sometimes, I’ll try to write even when I know I’m burnt out and need to rest. I mean, there’s always something to do, right? Whether it’s outlining, writing, editing, querying, or marketing, a writer ALWAYS has something on their To-Do list. It’s easy to lose yourself in that madness.

So what’s one thing you can do to prevent writer’s madness?

Reward yourself.

Reward yourself when you finish a novel or sign with an agent or get your first publishing deal. Get those new office supplies you’ve always wanted. Or take the day off to read.

Writing is often a lonely, thankless endeavor. After spending months writing a novel, it can hurt to hear questions like “When will it get published? Where’s your movie deal? Oh, you’re still doing that writing thing?” It can gnaw at you. Granted, I don’t expect anyone to thank me just for writing—don’t get me wrong—but it’s okay to thank yourself for continuing to follow your dreams.

So many people claim they will write a novel and never write a word. The fact that you are moving forward is worth something. You haven’t given up, and that’s awesome. By taking a moment to acknowledge that, you’re encouraging more positive feelings than negative ones. You won’t get so lost in the pressures of publishing or succumb to imposter syndrome. You will enjoy the writer’s journey.

My advice? Make goals, and when you reach them, take a moment to celebrate.

Every time I finish a novel, I buy myself a trinket—like a coffee mug or, more recently, a Funko Pop of Tuxedo Mask for my desk. Why? Because it’s part of my writing ritual. Every gift is under $10, but each item feels priceless. It represents time and effort and the passion I have to move forward. Those trinkets remind me of that on the hard days in between.

Maybe you’ll buy a coffee mug like I do—or maybe you’ll bake brownies on the weekend. Something. Anything. Even just a nap. Let yourself enjoy that goal you reached. And then, set a new one.

You’re worth it.

~SAT

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