Category Archives: The Novel Project

Bittersweet Priorities

It was exactly a year ago I was making official appearances at events like Steamfest and gearing up for Comic Con – approaching now in three weeks. Instead of being at Steamfest this weekend with many of my writing friends, I was fulfilling commitments to family and friends. It’s tempting to look at a small snapshot – this time last year vs. this year – and be sad that I’m missing out.

In the past year, I had another story published, became highly involved in the League of Utah Writers, and continued writing. I was promoted at my day job, returned to college and now have two competitive dancing daughters instead of one. But I’m not at Steamfest and I’m not scheduled as a special guest at Comic Con.

It is tempting to wallow in all the fun that I’m missing. Fear that my absence at these events this year will look to the public like I was some kind of flash in the pan that has already faded away. All very human nature reactions.

I’d be lying if I didn’t have moments of these kinds of fears.

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However, I’m also a realist who is very good at pulling myself up by the boot strings (or putting on my big girl panties if you prefer that cliche over the other) whenever those moments creep up on me.

No, I was not a guest at Steamfest this weekend. No, I am not a scheduled guest at Comic Con this year.

BUT…

I AM almost done writing one kick ass novel – if I don’t say so myself. One that at least one acquisitions editor already wants to see when it’s finished. It isn’t my first novel, but it is the first I’m proud enough of to find an agent and a publisher for. This alone is epic.

I just successfully facilitated one of the premier events of the summer for the League of Utah Writers – an advanced workshop on querying that brought together professional agents and editors to give inside secrets to others like me ready to find homes for their work.

I am on the planning committee for the League of Utah Writers Fall Conference coming up next month. It will be a two-day conference unlike any the organization has put on before. Two full days of presentations from industry professionals with new and exciting content that no one has seen before in the Utah writing community.

My chapter of speculative fiction writers is still growing and folks who come to check us out seem to stick around. It’s a sign that we are offering all the things that I was looking for in a local community group several years ago, back when I was at the cusp of being published and needing to leave my solitary writer existence. This writer gig is a lonely life but it doesn’t have to be. I’m thrilled that, for some, our group is a beacon in the dark while on their own journey.

I’m going to attend Comic Con, helping represent both the League and our local chapter of the Horror Writers Association, but I have to pay my way in the door. So what. I’m also not obligated to dress up in cosplay which was never my thing to begin with.

My husband, who is not only supportive but exceedingly indulgent when it comes to all the time I take away from our family to make my dreams of being an author a reality, is also my voice of reason. Recently, while I was lamenting that I wasn’t going to be at all the events this year, he reminded me that I’ve been doing more important work that none of the rest of it would matter without: I’ve been writing. And I need to keep doing that more than I need to go to events.

The life of a writer is a mental exercise of self-motivation, full of more rejection than success. The drive to keep going when the odds are stacked as highly as they are against every one of us is enviable. If you have it, even a tiny inkling of it, it must be nurtured.

Instead of worrying or obsessing about all the differences that this weekend has over last year, I’m focusing on what my main goal is: novels with my name on the cover. As long as what I do every day, every week, puts me further down the path that leads there, then I’m doing the right things.

As bittersweet as it is, I know that not being at Steamfest or Comic Con doesn’t mean I’m not still doing the things that matter. Without having written books that people want to read, there’s no reason for me to be there anyway. So I’ll keep plugging along. My fear of missing out be damned!


Why Do I Write?

I am doing a free webinar series that until recently I thought was a light and fluffy thing. Often times I go into experiences with expectations that turn out to be nothing like what I really have in store. This was one of those times. What I thought I was getting was nuts and bolts instruction on how to write a novel. (Because I’ve written two already and somehow I don’t think I know everything yet? Enter the standard self-doubt plagued by all writers!) What I am getting instead is philosophy and emotionally based concepts about all the things that writers do to sabotage themselves without knowing it.

This week we were asked to answer the question: “Why do you write?”

I’ve never asked myself this question and neither has anyone else asked me. When you talk with other writers, we all just know that feeling deep down that we have stories that we must write and the drive that keeps us going is part of what unites us. We don’t need to define the why, certainly we don’t talk about it. But maybe we do…

The answer that bolted from my subconscious to my conscious mind was surprisingly well defined. As if I have always known the why even though I had yet to articulate it in words.

Why do I write? To lend voice to alternative perspectives and expose that there is ALWAYS another side to the story than the side that a person identifies with initially. If I can connect with a reader on a level where they either feel less alone in the world or they discover a different way to look at an issue, I’ve succeeded.

My latest project is a massive one. I’ve got so much doubt about whether I have the skills to really pull it off. If I can, it feels like a story that will be marketable and will appeal to a broad audience. Part of me that wallows in that doubt is desperately clinging to every excuse there is about not being ready and not knowing enough. That part of me is the one seeking answers in this webinar about how to write a novel instead of just writing it already. Time to pull myself up, banish the voices in my head full of doubt and get to it.


Writing Series: Major Revisions

This article was written for Operation Awesome and appears originally HERE.

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One of my favorite sayings when the horror of writing the first draft starts to settle in is this:

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It’s enough to keep me blazing through until the end, even when my inner fears whisper this is the worst thing ever written in the history of the world. Every writer knows those dark moments, smiling and nodding as they read this, for it is those shared fears during our darkest times which bind us all as comrades and brothers in arms.

The truth is, getting to “The End” is only the first step. It is then that the hardest work – that of revision and editing – begins. What if you realize you’ve taken a wrong turn along the way, despite your best efforts?

This happened to me with both my first and second novel-length projects. I decided to put away the first novel, chalk it up to the one I spent years learning with, and write something else. But once I was done with the second novel, I realized it, too, was lacking something.

I spent a few weeks thinking I wasn’t good enough to be an author. Wrote and published a few short stories instead, trying to forget about the project I’d finished but hadn’t.

Eventually I pulled myself together, reminded myself that I had already written two novels so clearly I am good enough, and decided to fix it. Which meant an entire re-write.

The antagonist had changed halfway through the first draft, leaving the ending mismatched from the beginning – curse those characters who take on a mind of their own. At a minimum, that needed to be fixed. I also decided to add a supernatural element to make the story more compelling. I’d set out to write mainstream fiction believing it would be easier to write (and sell) than paranormal but if you’re a genre writer like me, that isn’t always true.

With the help of my editor and writing group, I spent several months taking stock of what worked and what didn’t and came up with a plan to incorporate a supernatural subplot – the key to most of what was lacking. Along the way, some of the characters morphed, changed their motivations or got cut out completely, and some of the existing plot points had to bend to work with all the new changes. From there, I built a rough outline. One that looked very different than the original one which I’d already written.

I wrote sixty thousand words in that first draft and hoped not everything had to go. However, enough had changed that even the scenes I could still use had a different feel and a different flow in the re-write. I found it nearly impossible to salvage original writing while doing such a major overhaul. Instead of cutting and pasting, I opened the original document so I could reference it and I started from scratch.

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© Bethbee | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Every writer should know, and if you didn’t already let me be the first to break it to you so you’re prepared for it, that the editing process is often not only more difficult than writing the first draft, it is also the largest part of the overall project. Especially when you have an editor. When the editing process begins with a complete re-write, it is even harder.

For the record, I believe everyone should have an editor who can see their work from the viewpoint of the reader and identify things you, as the author, are too close to the work to see. So if you haven’t incorporated critique partners and editors into your revision process, you should reconsider. You may not always like what they have to say, but they are usually right.

Five months of writing later, I’m almost finished. Again.

No one said writing was easy. For those of us in the trenches, at times it can feel overwhelming. Just remember, each time you write a story – regardless of the length – you get better at it. The same is true of revision and editing.

Don’t lose hope. If you find yourself at “The End” and unsatisfied with the product, there are ways to rewrite and salvage it. Figure out the missing elements and have a plan before going in. Above all, never give up. Never stop writing.


Why you can’t "do" NaNoWriMo if you are revising – my latest epiphany

Remember when I said I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo this year? And then I decided I was a big fat liar since I was going to do it but bend the rules and not write something new? I’m here to tell you it wasn’t a good idea. When I’m drafting a brand new story, I can bust out a couple of thousand words a day and finish while still having a life – or whatever my life usually resembles. Revisions are not the same as vomiting a story from your subconscious with the motto running through your head of “Write First, Ask Questions Later”.

I’ve written consistently this month – six days a week with the exception of the two days I was too sick to stay awake that long. But I only have 20,000 words to show for it. So what the hell is happening?

Revisions are FAR different from first drafts. I delete more words than I write because I’m focused on quality rather than sheer quantity. I’m trying to write coherent scenes that tie together and take my characters from where they are to where I know they are headed. The place they must be headed if the story is to remain consistent. And entertaining. And marketable. And entertaining. You get the point. So while I’ve been consistent, I’m only averaging about eight hundred words a day.

I started out the week feeling dejected as I saw everyone I know near the finish line. I felt stressed that the goal of “winning” with 50,000 words was slipping further and further from my grasp as this week continues with more of the same productivity. But then I remembered that my personal goal this year is very different. I’m still on track for that goal which is the only thing that’s important.

I will “win” when I finish this revision by the end of December. Oh, and submit a short story to a writing contest. Because why not? I’ve had the idea knocking around in the back of my mind and recent events make it possible to do it without treading into murky “it can’t be published yet” waters. (First rule of publishing: release deadlines never stick!)

It is uncharted territory I’m exploring. The path to figuring out exactly how to write a novel was long and fraught with hardship. Now I’m on what I’ve declared as the path to getting published. I fear it will be just as difficult and just as fraught with obstacles. But damn it’s exciting to be here!


Halfway there check-in

What is it with November? Do I get sick every year coincidentally or is it a side-effect of NaNoWriMo? It is week three and I’m behind because week two – the dreaded week two – had me sick and unmotivated. Week one went splendidly and I was on track for the minimum recommended word count. Week two, I penned in the couple of hundred of words a day range instead of the thousands that I needed – if I wrote at all. Now I’m thousands of words behind.

I could wallow but the real goal is to revise this novel so I’m focusing on the fact that I’ve written seventeen thousand words toward that. I’m still plugging along and loving this revision process. I know exactly what the ending looks like, and exactly what I need to be writing toward from the beginning. I know what needs to be foreshadowed, and what motivates my characters. Most of them, anyway. About half of what I’ve written is brand new stuff because I added supernatural elements and changed the story in fundamental ways. It’s been fun, even if it’s been exhausting. I could definitely get used to this revision thing thanks to having a fabulous developmental editor I can employ as soon as the first draft is written.

See you on the flip side of November… win or lose I’m sure to be sleep deprived and highly caffeinated but loving every minute.


Embarking on Revisions – and why I’m a big fat liar

Game on for NaNoWriMo 2014! Wait, what? I know. Right now you think my addiction is showing and pray that I get some help after my confession just ten short days ago. But let me explain…

When I set out last year to write my second novel, I swore it would be the one that I figured out the fearful and overwhelming process of Revisions with. All of 2014 so far has been devoted to just that. What I didn’t know, is that after I employed the services of a developmental editor it would be necessary to re-write basically every scene. Every. Single. One. Oh, and add in more of course and layer in more elements that are still missing.

My editor is phenomenal. Sometimes I hate what she tells me but it is always spot on. Seriously, if you’re a writer and you haven’t found an editor you trust then you have a moral imperative to find one. After ten years of working together, I know I can trust her not to lead me astray. (She is for hire, if you’re in need.)

I got my edits back a couple of days ago, had a meeting with her (on our yoga mats, it was beautiful) and hashed out the big things that need to be tackled. I came away knowing that while I am not writing a new story this November I’ll be completely re-writing my current one. I may as well use the website tools to track my progress and milestones and keep me on track and motivated for the entire month. Does it make me any less of a NaNo’er that I am writing 50K works of a story I’ve already hashed out? It might, but I don’t care. I will donate to cover the costs of my usage and my conscience will rest easy about my little white lie.

Holy shit, I have 11 days to prepare! And lots of questions still unanswered. Better get brainstorming… If you need me I’ll be re-visioning. Otherwise known as re-writing. There’s still time to join me and all the other November novelists at www.nanowrimo.org


Why I’m NOT doing NaNoWriMo this year

It’s October. Weeks away from my historically statistical most productive writing month of the entire year. My email is hopping with updates from National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) getting me geared up and ready. My creative juices are already brewing and I’m on a roll with new material waiting to spew forth…I’m like an addict in need of intervention!

Hi, I’m Terra and I’m addicted to NaNoWriMo and writing first drafts.

It’s been a very fruitful year for me in the writing department. And my writing group already intervened months ago forcing a commitment from me to revise one of my first drafts between now and February. I told them I would be ready to pitch to agents and publishers by then to see if I can get someone to buy one and publish it. So, I won’t be using November to write a shiny new novel – a skill I’ve mastered after having done it so many times already. Instead, I’ll be revising. A piece of the craft I have yet to master as well as the first draft. Probably a better use of my time in the grand scheme of things.

After LTUE last year I committed to writing short stories to figure out how to revise on a much smaller scale. I did it – with a story I’m super proud of but which is on draft number seven – seven – in preparation for publication. (Yes, I might have some very exciting news coming soon!) If it takes seven drafts of a novel to get it ready, I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. Guess I better get to it! If you need me, I’ll be writing – I mean editing!


Obsessions, confessions and creativity

What a week I just had… or was it ten days? I sort of lost track. It started with this book release that I’ve been waiting for from this one author – you might have heard of him – Brandon Sanderson. Yeah, I just listened to a FORTY EIGHT HOUR audiobook in just under twelve days. With my life, that is crazy talk. And definitely explains why I have been MIA on my blog. Sorry! But, Words of Radiance is one of those books that reminds me why I love to read so much. Luckily it takes a while for him to write a tome of this magnitude so, while I swore I would never start or commit to another series that wasn’t completed after Robert Jordan died – DIED – before finishing my last fantasy obsession, I have a while between books so my life can get back to normal.

Here’s another confession – I might have been obsessing about reading because I was hiding from my novel. Creativity is such a bitch some times and this writing thing is HARD work. Sigh. I’m knee-deep in revisions on my novel from November and realized that I started the story halfway through. No biggie, I just need to go back and write the beginning. Problem is, my main character came to me after she’d gotten herself into a predicament and I hadn’t given much more than cursory thought about HOW she had gotten there. And every idea I came up with was totally cliche or worse, boring. I rationalized all week that I was “refilling the well” by reading instead of writing. That thinking about my story was the same as writing. After all, I was still thinking about my story. When I wasn’t immersed in the world Sanderson built instead of my own that is. Truth is, I barely wrote anything all week.

Sunday I woke up early to a quiet house. Should have gone for a run but instead I brewed a pot of coffee and proceeded to drink the WHOLE thing while sitting on the couch with my headphones plugged into the last hours of my book. Nobody’s perfect, right? When it was over, I had nowhere left to hide from my creative road bump I’d been grappling with all week. I dove into a project I’ve got going with my writer’s group (hiding again) and shouted out to Facebook for inspiration. At the end of the day, kids all tucked into bed and Hubby watching his latest installment of Walking Dead, I finally took my own advice and put my butt in the seat and just started writing. I knew it would probably suck. It was first draft territory after all. And, I was probably writing the equivalent of clearing my throat by faking it till I figured it all out. But it wasn’t going to write itself. Big girl panties… check.

An hour later, I had exhausted all my coffee reserves and had to force myself to stop. Yes, force. Because a few minutes into it, I found one tiny nugget of inspiration and realized I knew all along what had happened. I just had to get over myself and the irrationality about how I didn’t really know (your subconscious isn’t really you, right?) Hurdle cleared. Now on to the next one!

Someone this week reminded me that there is a huge difference between talking about writing and actually writing. My life is always an exercise in balance – on steroids most of the time. And while I’m good at juggling everything I’m not always so great at recognizing when I’m telling myself lies about what is really happening. Here’s to it getting easier to recognize next time and not wasting any more of my writing time unnecessarily.


Surprising Things I Learned

It’s the end of the first week with my new part-time job. What? You didn’t realize I have a new job? Yeah, it’s called being a writer. And it can be described no more eloquently than how I heard it from a very successful author: “butt in the chair, hands on the keyboard”. I know I should remember exactly which famous author from LTUE said it but truthfully I can’t remember if it was Larry Correia, Michaelbrent Collings or Johnny Worthen. (How’s that for name dropping, huh?) In fact, I think all three of them might have said it which is why I can’t remember exactly who it was.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. The work gets easier the more consistently I do it. And I’m more consistent when my writing time is scheduled in my calendar and everyone knows that’s what I’m doing in that time slot. It may be that I slid easily into this habit because it’s the same way I navigated writing in November when I did NaNoWriMo, but I also suspect that my logical and organized mind just needed it laid out like another commitment I had to fit into my crazy schedule.

2. Even if I only have a couple of hours on most weekdays and one day of the weekend to devote to writing, I still got FAR more accomplished than I thought I would this week. This was a pretty big surprise for me. In my corporate life, I usually need large chunks of time devoted to enormous projects to make real progress. When I don’t get that, it usually is more counterproductive to get going just to have to stop. Writing has proven far different. I can plug away in smaller time increments and still get lots of things done. This week could be an anomaly but I’m guessing it isn’t. Even my ‘Marathon Sunday’ of writing this week included time to get my house clean and my laundry done while taking advantage of my built in breaks. Since my family got my undivided time on Saturday and I wasn’t some recluse they didn’t see all day on Sunday, my guess is they may just think I’m messing around on Facebook like nothing is different. Won’t they be surprised when I have more than a Facebook feed to show for my efforts? Another bonus: I got more sleep this week than I usually do on top of doing more every day. How does that work, I wonder? I’m not complaining but I suspect not watching television has much to do with it. 

3. Revision isn’t as bad as editing when you look at it as part of the same process of writing. I always thought of the editing process as something separate from writing your first draft. Truth is, once you get the rough draft down, you just keep going and revising (or re-vision-ing as I like to think) until you can’t improve it anymore. Even then you will need another set or two of eyes to see what else there is you missed and then if it’s good enough to sell to a publisher you’ll have to do it all over with their editors. Now that I realize I can’t compartmentalize or avoid revision, it is a much more enjoyable process.

I’m currently working on several things. Which I also never trusted could be done when authors talked about writing one book and editing another. I’m brewing a new story in the back of my subconscious while I work on revisions of the novel I wrote last November. I finished reading through the first draft after I let it sit for a couple of months so I was reading with fresh eyes and a memory that had faded a bit. I found lots of plot points that needed to be fleshed out or tweaked for consistency and now I’m seeing the entire whole for places that can be improved. I find so much excitement working with a finished draft because the bare bones of the story are all there and now I’m just adding organs and connecting tissue to bring it more fully to life.

I love going back and seeing how things shift for me years down the road so I’m going to keep documenting what I think of as “My novel project” for my own hindsight as I explore what works for me and what doesn’t. Why have a blog if not for your own personal benefit, right? I’ll also keep regaling my faithful readers (all ten of you?) with the craziness of the rest of my life. Hopefully you’ll remain entertained and keep coming back. If I learned anything from attending LTUE it is that I’ve grown as a writer the last four years even if it was in miniscule steps I didn’t realize until I look back and compare then to now. If you need me, I’ll be reading, drinking excessive amounts of coffee, running around with my hair on fire to keep up with where me or my kids need to be, and writing into the wee hours of the night. My goal is to have my revisions done of my current novel by the end of the summer.


NaNoWriMo 2013 Recap

Is it me or is this getting easier?

I’ve done National Novel Writing Month six times now – not including the failed Camp NaNo attempt this past summer that never really got off the ground. This was my third year winning and the first time I not only finished the 50K word count but also finished the rough draft of the novel I had started. It was also the easiest attempt in my memory. I have a theory about why…

Is it because I had already completed a rough draft of my first novel and know how to get to “The End”?

Is it because I have used all these years to build a habit for daily writing – at least during November?

Is it because I planned ahead this time with character studies and a plot outline before November hit?

I think it has a lot to do with all three of these key elements.

This November was not the perfect month to pick to impose this crazy deadline on myself and life threw even more wrenches into the works. I was too tired on Halloween to stay up past midnight and write a couple thousand words to start off with a buffer like I always have before. Little Sister (who is now three) came down with a nasty flu at the end of week two and I had to hold her while she suffered with high fevers for a solid week. The only time I could write was while she was drugged and sleeping. Then one night of planned house guests a couple of days before Thanksgiving turned into three days and I could only write after everyone had gone to bed – much later than a normal night.

With all of that plus the craziness that always comes with my life anyway, I still managed to write every day except three over the course of the entire month. And I hit the daily word count goal an average of four days every week. I caught up little by little on the nights I wrote well and spent the weekends holed up with my laptop while my family tried to manage itself without me at the helm. Big Sister did her own laundry to help out a couple of times, and my amazingly supportive Hubby did dishes and grocery shopping all month and even cooked huge meals on the weekends when there was more time so we could eat reheated leftovers during the week. As a result, I only stayed up past midnight once the entire month – very unlike any of my previous winning attempts. And, I was DONE EARLY and enjoyed a celebratory date night on November 30th which was super strange. Usually I’m frantically clawing for word count to validate my novel with minutes to spare in the wee hours before the 30th comes to a close.

So how did I really do it?

  1. I spent all of October fleshing out characters and plot points so all I really had to do in November was write the story I’d already thought through. Of course I got halfway through and realized the plot was far too elaborate and my characters had gone and gotten us pretty far off course so I had to rethink the ending but that wasn’t as hard as I imagined.
  2. I invested in software especially designed for writers that made managing my plot a breeze. (If you haven’t checked out Scrivener, do yourself a favor and do. It is super affordable and once you start using it you are hooked.) This allowed me the flexibility to write those scenes I’d planned to happen in the order I was inspired to write them rather than how I planned to lay them out. Keeping the creativity juices flowing made the actual writing so much more effortless.
  3. My family and all my friends were on board and supportive of my efforts. This is huge and I can’t stress enough how important it is. Writing is like having a job and if you want people to take you seriously you have to treat it as such. My family knew that I had scheduled the time after the kids went to bed at 9:00 until midnight every night to devote to writing and then large chunks of each weekend as well. Friends supported me from afar and didn’t extend invitations they knew would tempt me from my writing.
  4. I didn’t deprive myself entirely of those things in life that keep me grounded and happy. All three of the days that I didn’t write were nights that I used wisely. One night I spent with Hubby; one was an impromptu night of laughter, tears and wine with a friend that went further in recharging my batteries than I might have imagined before I spontaneously threw caution to the wind on a whim; and I didn’t write on Thanksgiving. I still did yoga three to four days a week. And I still went to my monthly book club. I could do these things because they helped me stay focused on maintaining the daily word count when I was writing so I could slow and steady win the race.
  5. I wrote every day (with the noted exceptions above) whether I was inspired to do so when I sat down or not. This made it so I didn’t ever get so far behind that I had to do massive feats of will (or caffeine) to write enough to catch up. Remember the last time I won when I wrote something like 18K in the last five days? That was insane and I swore I would never do it again. Instead, I never got more than about 3K behind the 1667 words a day pace and was able to keep the goal easily within sight. It seems like the simplest and silliest writing advice anyone ever gives when they say “Just write” but that has boiled down to the key for me.

This year was noteworthy because all four of us in my amazing writer’s group finally did NaNoWriMo together. Most of us have attempted it at some point or another over the past six years but this was the first year that all four of us planned ahead and were poised to participate at the same time. It was amazing to have each other for support and everyone agreed – win or lose – that we learned something AND wrote more than we would have if we didn’t participate. Everything is better with friends to lighten the load and ease the pain, to share the excitement and the milestones, and to lament the frustrations that come with any worthwhile endeavor.

I’m taking the month of December off to celebrate the holidays and reconnect with my family. And come January I will again embark into uncharted territory when I begin the process of editing my rough draft from the messy, grammatically incorrect, tense-switching, inconsistent and full of plot holes state it currently is into something worthy of submitting to agents and publishers. It is sure to be a wild ride!