A love list for my novel

My friend and crit partner China recently sent me the visual love list she created for her WIP, and it got me thinking about what I would include on my own love list for Water Lily. What’s a love list, you ask?

In Stephanie Perkins‘ own words: “Whenever I begin a new project, I also begin a list called ‘What I Love About This Story.’ I start by writing down those first ideas that sparked the fires of my mind, and then I add more ideas to it as I discover them during my push through early drafts.” Read the full post here.

Fun, right? I just couldn’t resist writing my own — especially since I needed to fall in love with the WIP again after re-plotting the entire second half (see above.)

WATER LILY

  • paper puzzles and cryptic clues
  • the scent of licorice on fingertips
  • a scruffy boy with long hair and quick wit
  • moonflowers
  • poetry
  • longing for the past
  • the taste of the ocean on your hair
  • unlikely friendships
  • redemption
  • first kisses
  • shattered porcelain and polyester snow
  • bluebird feathers
  • whispered conversations
  • fading photographs
  • the smell of damp earth

I could go on and on, but then I wouldn’t actually be writing the book. So I’m off to revise!

Have you written a love list for your WIP? If so I’d love to read it. Link me!

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Have you seen this writer?

I’m alive! It’s been a while, I know. But I’m still here, breathing and writing.

<——– Here’s some photographic evidence. Yes, that’s me dressed as Tonks posing with a man in a Sirius Black costume at DragonCon.

I wish I could say that while I’ve been absent I’ve done something amazing like started my first term at Hogwarts or finished revising my novel, but those would be lies. However, I do finally have a solid first few chapters, which means I’ll be sending agents requested materials soon! *cue nausea*

The revision process is going well; however, I’m rewriting a lot more than I’d planned. But this experience has taught me the importance of doing a little plotting before starting the frenzied first draft. (More on that in another post)

Speaking of first drafts, I’m ridiculously excited for NaNoWriMo this year. I have a wonderfully shiny new idea rattling around in my brain. It’s all mental sunshine and brain glitter in my head right now, but while I’d like to bask in new WIP awesomeness, the cloud of revisions is still hovering over me… Must. Finish. Water Lily. First.

At least this new idea gives me something to be excited about — and something to distract me from constantly checking my email for rejections. But it’s not just the new idea that’s keeping me motivated — it’s also my amazing crit partners and beta readers. If it weren’t for them, I’d just be wandering the streets of Atlanta and feeding stray cats or watching k-dramas all day.

I’m blessed to have such talented writers to share my work with, but I consider myself even more lucky because I get to read their writing. I’m completely obsessed with their stories, and I get ridiculously excited whenever the next installment arrives in my inbox. There’s so much romance and mystery and intrigue. There’s an invisible girl, a cyborg, a time traveler, a demon with a conscience, an adorable boy with suspenders who I’m totally fiction-crushing on. My fellow writers keep me motivated, and their talent makes me strive to work harder.

So, Corey, China, Kayla, Liza, Nicole, Lina, Sara, Geoff, Melissa, Deb and Cally: Thank you, thank you for all your help with Water Lily, and thanks for sharing your writing with me as well!

Photo: codywellons.com

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Story structure over k-dramas

I don’t have much of a blog post for you today. Lately whenever I’m not at the office or revising the novel, my life pretty much consists of back-to-back episodes of “Boys Over Flowers.” I’m pretty sure this kdrama stuff is some sort of powerful drug.

If that’s the case, Corey Wright is my dealer, “Shut Up and Let’s Go” was my gateway drug, Lee Hyun Jae is that dream I have when I’ve OD’d, and now I’m a full-fledged addict — but more on that later.*

To make up for the fact that my brain is addled with cute boys and kimchi, I’m going to share Dan Wells‘ awesome video series on story structure. These videos taught me so much, and I hope you take something from them as well.

And don’t worry — while these videos are good, they’re not kdrama addictive, so you’ll be able to move on with writing (and the rest of your life) after watching them. But be warned: The intro music in these is a little painful. I suggest hitting the mute button until you see the talented Dan Wells.

*My kdrama dealer will be helping me out with a fun blog post on Thursday, so please come by and check it out!

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Revisions: Facing my fears…finally

I’m back! (No, not to the blog. It’s Tuesday. I’m supposed to be here.) I’m back to my YA manuscript! Like really back. As in I’m not just opening Scrivener and running spell check while stressing about how I should be halfway through revisions by now.

The co-authored project is ready to be shipped off to those who requested it and I’m almost caught up on all the awesome beta reads I’ve been sent, so there’s really no excuse not to work on my own book.

What’s ironic is that you’d think having agents ask for part of my manuscript would kick me into overdrive in an effort to whip the book into shape, but the opposite happened. Yes, I had the co-authored project and its full request and it took up a lot of my time, but I can’t help but feel like I also threw myself into that book as an excuse not to work on my own story. I can now admit that somewhere deep inside I was paralyzed with fear.

I knew changes had to made, but the task seemed so daunting that I was afraid to even begin it. So I didn’t. Logical move, right? Because the best way to finish editing a book, baking a cake, climbing a mountain or rewatching all three seasons of Veronica Mars is not to even begin, right? (Yes, instead of starting revisions, I rewatched all three seasons of Veronica Mars…yet again.)

Sometimes writing is challenging — there are plot/pacing/voice/you name it issues. Sometimes stress gets in the way or you run into some technical difficulties. Other times, you let yourself be ruled by fear. For me, this fear was twofold:

  1. Fear of the huge task ahead of me (I have to revise a massive novel that requires tons of structural changes and rewrites.)
  2. Fear of failure (What if I work so, so hard on these chapters and still get rejected?)

But you know what? Despite these fears of mine, I had to two choices: revise or not. And it never once occurred to me to not revise. Because I want to write and that’s going to involve hellish revisions and plenty of rejections. That’s just the way writing it is.

This weekend I came to my senses and got started — and got a kitten to help me, as you can see. Now I’m in the groove: shredding backstory, cutting adverbs and persuading my characters to stop repeating each others’ names all the time.

Not revising was never an option. Just as not writing has never been an option.

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The story of my first rejection

I almost didn’t write this post. Can you blame me? Who wants to share their failure with the Internet?

But as a writer who’s querying agents and trying to learn everything she can about the publishing world, I wish there were more posts about authors’ journeys to publication and what to expect when it comes to rejection. Even if it’s just to remind me that I’m not the only one getting rejected. So here’s my story.

Although I mostly write YA, a fellow writer friend and I decided to embark on a silly MG project that would secure our places in history as total nerdgirls. We pitched our book to an agent at a writer’s conference … and she loved the idea. She requested the full manuscript, she started talking to us about marketing and promotion, and she even said she thought it would be an easy sell.

We were insanely happy. Ridiculously happy. Once we were out of her eyesight, there was jumping and squealing. Very professional writing and squealing, of course — this was a writing conference after all.

So my co-author and I spent the next week revising and editing our little MG book and then sent it off to the agent. Exactly nine minutes later — yes, we timed it — she replied, saying it was “wonderful,” but it needed more.

More? We could do more! We do so much more!!

We brainstormed, researched the market, consulted a lawyer on copyright issues, wrote lists, brought in illustrator and designer friends, and we wrote, wrote, wrote. Three weeks later, we had a crazy little masterpiece. So we shipped our baby book off to the agent and a couple weeks later we heard back. She “loved” it. She said we were “very, very close” and that we’d get her final answer within a week.

There was more squealing. Virtual champagne was bought. The promise of dreams fulfilled followed us everywhere. It was all we could talk about. This was it. It was finally happening!

Fast forward a week and the email arrived. THE EMAIL ARRIVED!

And she said she had to pass.

Pass? But…but…but…we were “very, very close.” Weren’t we?

Just not close enough, I guess.

The market wasn’t right for it, she said. If we’d written the book a year ago, it would be an easy sell. Now? Not so much. She encouraged us to self-publish though, and she was confident that we could sell a few thousand copies. Still, it wasn’t what we wanted to hear.

So my co-author and I drowned our sorrows in food-court macaroni and cheese. (It was the middle of the workday and the champagne was virtual — it was the best we could do.)

So close… But so far.

Want to know what stings the most about getting a rejection from that agent? The fact that she’s so awesome. We would’ve loved to work with her! She was passionate about our book, she’s knowledgeable about the industry, she’s skilled at her job, and we just genuinely like her. I honestly think she tried her best to make this project work for her, but the timing was off. As much as it sucks, it just didn’t work out for us. This time.

So while we ate carbs around a small, sticky table at the Peachtree Center food court, we hatched a plan: We’d query some more agents. We’d submit directly to a small publisher that had worked with similar projects. And if it still failed, we would self-publish our book. It’s a good book. People should have the opportunity to read it.

So today we skipped the food court and sent out a few queries instead. Hitting “send” on those emails and opening myself up to further rejection was a terrifying thing, but it’s the next step on my path to publication. It had to be done.

While I wait to hear back from those agents, I’ll be revising my YA book and preparing to send it to the two agents who requested my partial manuscript at that same conference — including the agent who turned down the MG book. Honestly, it’s going to be even scarier to send this book that’s 100 percent my own creation out into the world. It’s strange how I simultaneously can’t wait for agents to read it while also hoping they never ever read it — all because I fear the sting of rejection.

Yes, rejection is scary, but it’s part of the process.

Somehow getting a rejection has made me feel like I’m that much closer to publication, so while it stings, it’s really not that bad.

Photo: Steve Snodgrass/flickr

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Fan fiction: I finally get it

I’ve never read or written fan fiction. It’s just not my thing. But I think I can finally understand the appeal of keeping characters alive in places other than in the pages of a book or your own imagination. Writing those stories and sharing those stories helps bring the characters to life again, and you get to experience your favorite characters’ adventures long after the final page.

With the popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” fan fiction has been thrust into the mainstream, and I’ve recently read numerous articles about the appeal of fan fiction and whether it stifles or inspires creativity with its parameters.

Now, to be honest, I’m baffled as to why you’d write fan fiction featuring literature’s most boring protagonist of all time. Although perhaps I’ll write my own fan fiction where Ana Steele Bella Swan puts down the Brit lit, buys herself a modern-day computer and Googles a few things like “feminism”, “how to be interesting” and “why do both book series feature a virgin having violent sex?”

Anyway, I’m not trying to turn this into a debate over whether “50 Shades” is or isn’t great literature or what implications its success has for the publishing world. I also don’t feel strongly about fan fiction one way or the other. If you want to write it or read it, rock on! At least you’re writing and reading. If you hate and think it’s just for dorks, well, you’re entitled to your opinion.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I never really got fan fiction until recently. I came across this Snape comic and it finally hit home for me. (It would be a Harry Potter thing, right?) I believe that this artwork says exactly what people love about fan fiction so much. Their favorite characters live on. They don’t die. They have other lives, dreams and opportunities for happiness. And if any tragic figure in literature deserves that, it’s Severus Snape.

Until recently, I’d always sort of assumed that 90 percent of fan fiction were stories that would disgust me or make me blush 50 shades of red, but surely it can’t be all that bad. This, to me, is fan fiction as art. And it’s beautiful.

Or maybe I’m just a fan fiction dork now too.

Hilariously awesome “50 Shades of Grey” reviews:

Photo: lily-fox.deviantart.com

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How I know what to write

I love this quote. I think it’s the true test for all great story ideas.

The only problem is there are endless books I want to read that haven’t been written yet. I really need to put my Story Idea Generator on pause so I can finish my current project!

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Why I think journalists make great fiction writers

I recently read a blog post that made my blood boil. I’d link to it, but I don’t want to be responsible for driving traffic to it — just as I wouldn’t want to be responsible for sending you to Mitt Romney’s website or a Scott Stapp fan page. (You’re welcome.) The post was titled something like “Why journalists don’t make good novelists,” and the author’s arguments were basically that journalists write in a news format and therefor lack creativity.

To some degree, the writer had a point — there is a bit of a “science” or format to news articles. After all, you don’t pick up The New York Times or visit CNN.com and read sentences like, “The councilman’s brow glistened with desperation and his voiced boomed like thunder through the room as he demanded action from the stoic faces that sat before him.” If a journalist were to include a sentence like that in an article, one of two things would happen: The copy desk would rewrite it, or the writer would be called to the editor’s office and likely wouldn’t have a job much longer.

However, you don’t pick up a novel and expect it to be written in inverted pyramid style. Such a novel would be over rather quickly as all the important information would be supplied in the first paragraph. For example, here’s how “The Hunger Games” would unfold on the front page of The Panem Gazette.

Katniss Everdeen, 16, and Peeta Mellark, 16, both of District 12, won the 74th annual Hunger Games in an unprecedented turn of events after the Gamemakers reversed their ruling and allowed a pair of tributes to win the games. Everdeen, known to fans as “the girl on fire,” won the hearts of Panem’s viewers after volunteering as tribute in place of her sister, Primose Everdeen, 12. Everdeen developed a relationship with Mellark while in the arena; however, an anonymous source reports that she has been romantically linked to Gale Hawthorn, 18, a District 12 coal miner.

Not the most fascinating read, is it?

But just because a journalist has mastered news writing doesn’t mean that same journalist can’t master other forms of writing. In fact, I’d venture to say that there are A LOT of advantages to being a journalist who also writes novels. Here are just a few:

  • You learn the importance of deadlines. You may stress about them, but you meet them — or you lose your job. So you learn to meet them.
  • You learn not to get too attached to that lovingly crafted sentence or be offended when someone tells you to “cut the crap from graf 3″ or completely rewrites your lead without consulting you. That’s the business. You grow a thick skin. You learn it’s not personal. Honestly, this has been the greatest advantage for me as a writer. I’ve had crit partners and beta readers who got defensive or burst into tears when someone critiqued their work. I dare you to do that in a newsroom.
  • Speaking of editing and critiquing, journalists and copy editors rule supreme when it comes to brevity and cutting unnecessary fluff. They say what needs to be said in as few words as possible. Plus, journalists are skilled at hooking a reader. The lead sentence needs to convey the necessary information, yes, but it also needs to grab a reader’s attention — in 30 words or fewer.
  • But most importantly, if you’re working as a journalist, you’re likely writing and/or editing at least 40 hours a week. After all, writing is your job. You’re not writing flowery prose or plotting the perfect scene, but you’re practicing your craft every single day — and getting paid for it.

As Daniel Levitin says in Outliers: The Story of Success, “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over 10 years… No one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. ” (Liza Kane wrote a great blog post on this last year.)

Guess how quickly we journalists amass those 10,000 hours.

And although I’ve yet to read any of Jennifer Weiner’s books, I was thrilled when I ran across this amazing post of hers that explains how to become a writer in 8 steps. I’ve included an excerpt from that post below.

I think that journalism is just about the perfect career for aspiring young writers. It’s not especially remunerative, nor, in spite of what you see on TV, is it particularly glamorous. But it’s great training. Like John McPhee said, you write every day, and you write on deadline, and you write to fit the space available, which means you don’t grow up into one of those writers who gets sentimental over her sentences or overly attached to her adverbial clauses.

And writer’s block? Heh. Try telling an underpaid, pissed-off assistant city editor that your story on the school board meeting isn’t done yet because your Muse hasn’t spoken, and you will quickly, perhaps painfully, come to the understanding that writer’s block is a luxury no working journalist can afford, which will help you avoid it when you’re a working novelist.

Journalism, particularly at the lowest levels, will knock the F. Scott Fitzgerald right out of you…which is something many recent college graduates — myself included — could use. It also means that when you finally write your novel, your New York City editors will adore you, because years of journalism will have taught you the fine art of being edited — of how an impartial reader can suggest changes, cuts, additions and amplifications that will make what you’ve written even stronger.

Plus, you will not whine about your deadlines — you’ll meet them. You will not be offended if someone suggests that your second chapter’s dragging and your title’s ill-conceived — you’ll fix them. This willingness to be edited, and ability to meet deadlines, will make you different, and easier to work with, than a great many novelists. Your editor will adore you.

Now, I don’t think journalists make the best novelists or make better creative writers than any other profession. My argument is this: Journalists don’t necessarily make bad fiction writers.

I think I speak for most journalists when I say that we love words and storytelling just as much as any other writer. After all, we are essentially just writers. Believe me when I say that we didn’t get into this career for the high pay. Or the angry emails from readers … or the Chilean ambassador.

Yep, I once got a two-page letter from the ambassador about an article I wrote. I wish all my readers’ criticisms arrived on nice paper with presidential seals. It makes me feel all classy and legit.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Sometimes stories sound a little crazy. That’s OK.

In his video series on story structure*, Dan Wells makes a comment about how all story ideas sound stupid and that’s OK. Oh, how true this is.

I was telling a friend about my YA manuscript today and getting all excited when I realized how completely insane my story must sound to a non-writer. In my mind, my book sounds something like this:

Mystery, murder, romance, suspense! Plot point, character arc, surprise ending! Game-changer! Best-seller! Screenplay! Movie! Pulitzer! OMG my novel just cured cancer! KITTENS! Kittens? What? (Yes, all my trains of thought have the same final destination: The Kitten Depot.)

Hearing me talk about writing is basically like watching literary word vomit spew from the lips of a girl who’s so overwhelmed by her own story that she literally can’t contain it and must jump up and down, clap or do some combination of the two just to get the excitement out of her system. Essentially, talking about my book turns me into a 2-year-old with ADHD, an extensive vocabulary and a sugar high.

But what do other people hear? Especially non-writers? Probably something more along the lines of this:

So my protagonist is searching for this clue and then… Oh, yeah rising seas! And then she finds out it was murder! And then this boy…OMG. And then he lies to her. And there’s this puzzle she has to solve. Conspiracy! But the dead guy left it behind. And then her dad — he’s been hiding it! Can you believe it? Plot twist! And then he shows up and they kiss! It’s a floating city! But then the bad guy is there…he’s that brother I mentioned. And they have to escape! But he’s in jail! And it turns out it was all a lie! But then she solves the murder! Get it? Do you get it?

Yep, my story sounds like nonsense. Excited nonsense, though.

Still, like Dan Wells said, all stories can sound stupid, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good stories. I’ve noticed the same thing when I’m recommending a book to a friend.

I’ll say, “You have to read this book. It’s about a girl who lives in a society where love is a disease and they’ve cured it and people are basically zombies, but then she meets this boy and she runs away to the woods. And this book seriously changed my life. Read it.

Or

“I just read this book that takes place in the future and when you come of age you have plastic surgery so you’ll be attractive, and then you just live with all the other sexy people and talk about how hot you are. But then this girl finds out that when you get your hotness surgery, they’re also operating on your brain so that you’ll be easy to control.”

These books sound a little crazy, right? But if you’ve read either of these books, you know they’re amazing stories. So I’m wondering…

Does your story sound kind of stupid when you gush about it to others? Or do you avoid talking about it for that very reason? <—- I used to be guilty of this. Of course, now I can’t shut up about my stories. It’s like the characters don’t have room to exist solely in my head or on the page anymore — they want out!

So why not let your stories and your characters out, too? From one writer to another, I promise they’re not as stupid as they sound.

*Yes, I plug this video series all the time on my blog. No, I’m not on Dan Wells’ payroll. The videos are just full of excellent info. Go watch them! Now!

Photo: skippyjon/flickr

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