Moving Forward – CoronaLife Day 152

So last week was a bad week. I felt so completely stuck in so many areas of my life, I was quite down about it. This week has been better because I had a plan and I actually followed it!

I have been avoiding returning to my YA sci-fi Veritas. I did a major rework of it last year, and managed to make it worse instead of better. So back to the drawing board, but I have been struggling with the lack of energy and motivation that comes with anxiety and prolonged stress.

I have sporadically reworked the opening chapters since January, ending up with about 14,500 words done. But then I ground to a halt, because I wasn’t quite sure where to go next. So I returned to the notes given to me by my trusty developmental editor Kathryn Craft, looking for clues as to how to move forward.

Kathryn did not let me down! She suggested I use Lisa Cron’s Story Genius book and Jennie Nash’s Inside Outline to zero in on motivation and connecting all the emotional/psychological beats that would make the story compelling. I was already familiar with Story Genius, having read it and used it for another story, and knew I would find it useful for this one. After I looked at the Inside Outline, I knew I couldn’t use it at this point. I am not an outliner, and just looking at it made the enthusiasm drain right out of me. But it will definitely be a tool I will use after I complete the new draft I am working on.

I didn’t want to set myself up for failure. So I decided to set a goal of doing one step in an exercise from Story Genius a day. If I wanted to do more, fine. But one was the goal. And I have been doing that. Walking through Story Genius, I am getting a handle on the inner conflict that drives my protagonist and the misbelief that must be resolved by the end of the story. I am getting more excited as I see thing more clearly. I finally feel like I am making progress.

Granted, it’s not actual writing yet. But I think once I get all this straight in my head, the manuscript words will come more easily. And even though I haven’t added words to my manuscript with these exercises, I have written 1,500 words of exercises. Which is something.

So I am finally moving forward with my writing, and it feels good.

What have you done lately to get yourself moving forward?

Celebrating Your Milestones

Writing a novel is a slog. It’s a marathon. It takes a great deal of perseverance and guts. It can feel like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without looking at the picture.

Because it’s such an arduous process, it’s a smart move to celebrate different milestones along the way. What you celebrate and how you celebrate, will be unique to you, and that’s fine, because it’s about motivating you to get to The End.

So, I finished Veritas a while ago. And I sent it around to agents. And got one who was interested, but wanted some edits done. After some soul searching, a lot of ice cream, and a chat with my friend Kathryn Craft, I saw a way forward with the edits that I could get behind.

My first step was reworking the main character’s POV. I chipped away at it and finally finished. But I still had 2 POVs to go, and I seemed unable to find the time I needed to dive into them.

The stars aligned this month. My daughter went to sleepaway camp and I was able to take off from my usual blogging duties thanks to fellow Author Chronicler J. Thomas Ross. So I threw myself into my work.

And I did it! All three POVs are finished. The breakdown went like this:
Jinx: original 30,200 words, new 38,700
Ace: original 39,900, new 30,400
Kit: original 9,700, new 4,100

It also dropped the total words from original 79,900 to now 73,300. That seems a touch short for YA scifi, but it’s very probable I will be adding things in as I go through the next few passes, so hopefully I will be closer to the golden 80,000 number by the time I am finished

As I mentioned above, I’m not finished with the rewrite. I need to go through it at least two more times for continuity and tone and see if I need to add in anything else to make the new version smooth.

While there is still more to do, I feel like the heavy lifting is done. So I am celebrating!

What are you celebrating today?

New Year, New Goals

Everyone posts New Year’s resolutions. I don’t so much do resolutions as goals. And I would like to try and make them realistic goals, so I don’t frustrate myself. The uber-healthy diet and sculpted beach-body? Not gonna happen. I’m going to try something more amenable to my couch-potato self.

I have talked about being in the midst of a great burnout. No creativity at all. 2018 was horrific, writing-wise. I totaled 89,672 words—and 73,218 of them were blog or other non-fiction writing words. Compare that to 2017, when my total words were 405,116, with 326,542 of those being fiction, and you can see how badly I fell off the workhorse.

So what am I aiming for this year? I have no specific word count in mind, but I do have two goals I want to reach:

  1. Finish revising Veritas.
  2. Re-release The Witch of Zal with new cover and illustrations.

Both are doable. I intend to do them.

Over this holiday, I have been trying to sleep more, to get out of the spiral of exhaustion and anxiety that I’ve been in for months. I think it is helping. I have an interest in getting back to revising Veritas, which I have been avoiding for quite some time. There’s a new angle I want to lay into the existing framework that intrigues me–and scares me, as I am not certain I can pull it off. But I want to try, which is  huge step forward.

So that’s my master plan for 2019. Not Earth-shattering, for sure. But within my reach. The burnout took a long time to set in fully, it make take some time to climb my way out of it. But I pledge to be kind to myself, to try and focus on taking better care of myself, and hopefully get back on that writing workhorse again.

What goals have you set for yourself this year?

Veritas Synopsis

I have finished sending out my 50 queries for The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone. Now, I am starting on the list for Veritas. First, however, I need to assemble the materials usually required for submission. I have a query letter and a polished manuscript, but I need the final piece–the synopsis.

The synopsis can be a chore. Squeezing 80,000 words down to one page is never easy. Doing it without losing the voice, emotion, and energy of the novel often seems impossible. For many authors, writing the synopsis is a hair-pulling endeavor.

The book I am writing a synopsis forI liked the synopsis I did for Pharaoh’s Stone, so I decided to use the same process to create the Veritas synopsis. Since this novel has three POV characters, there is pretty much no chance of fitting the entire story on one page unless I pick a single character’s story to tell. Luckily, even though all the characters arc, Jinx’s story is the central line. So hers is the story the synopsis will tell.

First, I write a sentence or two about each chapter. Then I work on making each of those as emotional and active as possible. Doing this helps avoid the “and then”, “and then”, “and then” feel of many synopses. After that, I weave those summaries together into a seamless description of the story.

If I am lucky, this polished version will be about 3 double-spaced pages, the length of a typical “long” synopsis. If not, I tweak it until it fits. Next, I single-space what I have, because a 1-page synopsis needs to be single-spaced. This version will be about 1.5 pages long, but pulling out only half a page is not terribly daunting.

A final read-through, plus another set of eyes to find mistakes, and the synopsis will be ready. Then the querying can begin!

What is your synopsis-writing process like?

Slimming Down the Ending

I have been revising my YA Sci-Fi Veritas, guided by developmental edits from fabulous editor Kathryn Craft. I chopped the first 4 chapters down to 2, then cruised through the next 70 or so chapters.

Then I got to the end, which is too long. I knew it was too long when I sent it in, but I didn’t want to believe it. After all, tightening my work is hard and everything I wrote is so perfect and necessary, right? I blame editing fatigue.

So now I’m at the end, and I need to cut about 40 pages from the 64 that currently exist. Kathryn suggested many cuts, but I cannot cut everything she suggested, because I need some of it to set up future books. So how am I going to do this?

1) I’m going to highlight all the information I need to retain and number each.

2) I’ll put each number and a short reminder of what it is into an Excel sheet so I can see all of the pieces at once.

3) I will then see what information can be woven into existing scenes that I will be keeping and what information might be combined into new scenes.

4) As I put that information into the story,  I will mark it in the spreadsheet so I don’t accidentally leave anything out.

5) When I have done all that, I will whisper an invocation to the goddess of writing and chocolate and hope the page count is okay.

6) If it’s not, then I will go back and try again until I get it right.

That’s my plan for yanking 40 pages out of my denouement. I will report back once I have completed the process.

Do you have a specific process when you need drastic cuts to your manuscript?

 

 

 

 

Taking a Break before Revision

We’ve all heard this advice: put your manuscript in a drawer for at least a month before you revise/edit it. Generally, I do this as a matter of course (and because life often gets in the way). But lately I have been lamenting an unscheduled break in my revision plans.

My sci-fi YA Vertias is inching toward being finished. I wanted one more major sweep for voice and plot tightening, and then I think it will be ready for professional editing eyes to look at it. So, I printed it out—all 100,000 words of it—punched some holes and stuck it in a three-ring binder (2 three-ring binders, actually). Ready to go!

My manuscript before my editing breakNot so fast! I did a few chapters of it, and then for some reason (or many reasons), it languished. From September 30, 2016 to March 8, 2017, it sat on my table waiting for me to return. That’s 160 days. 5.3 months.

Way too long.

My frustration built and built as the binders gathered dust on my end table, and they accused me of slacking every time I glanced in their direction. Finally, I got back to it.

Since March 8, I have made good progress. I finished polishing the shortest of the 3 POV lines in my novel and started the second.

For all that the length of the break frustrated me, there have been some good things out of it. Not only do I see mistakes more readily and clearly (the rationale for taking a break in the first place), but I can see what I did WELL with greater clarity. In a pleasant surprise, my writing is better than I remembered it.

Also, I hear the three POV characters voices more clearly in my head. I see where a sentence doesn’t fit the voice and needs to be tweaked. I have a better handle on their worldviews and can use the voice to crystallize that. In another surprise, the three voices are more differentiated than expected, allaying my fears of them all sounding like me.

So while I hadn’t planned on such a long break, it had some up sides to it. How long do you usually wait before coming back to revise a manuscript?

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Editing Multiple Projects at Once: When It Rains…

It pours. Or in my case, when it snows, it blizzards. We are getting some snow this weekend, and predictions range from 5 inches to several feet. So we will see if this will turn into Snowmaggedon 2016, or be a big bust!

I like to tackle creative projects one at a time (with the exception of when I am burnt out on one story and jump to another for relief). With much less writing time, I prefer to be able to keep the creative part of my brain in one world, one story—it makes my writing time more efficient, since my mind has chewed over the story while I’ve been running around doing life-y stuff.

However, I don’t always have the luxury of focusing on one story at a time, and this is one of those times. I am in the middle of a major revision of a YA manuscript, and my middle grade adventure manuscript has come back to me from my co-authors. So now I have two manuscripts to work on—in very different genres, very different voices.

Veritas-Cover-Art-231x300Pharaoh-Curse-640x1024My YA, Veritas, is a science fiction narrated from three different points of view. My MG, The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone, is an adventure story set in 1922 Philadelphia, narrated by a 12-year-old boy. How can I keep them straight, creatively speaking?

One thing to my benefit is the stage of the writing process for each of them. Curse is in a final proofread/copyedit before I send it out to readers. Veritas is in what I call 3rd draft stage, where I am still working on story, character, and depth. Because the stories are not in the same stage of development, I can switch gears between them a little more easily—copyediting does not call for the same creative muscle as deep revision.

The other thing I do to keep them apart in my mind is that I never work on one directly after the other. In my new work day schedule, I have writing time reserved in the morning (9-11 am), and again after my daughter goes to bed at night (9-11pm). By doing one in the morning and one in the evening, I leave enough time in between to “surface” from one world before diving into the other.

This seems to be doing the trick, although I wonder if it would be the same if I was in, say, drafting mode for both stories.

When you’re working on multiple projects at a time, how do you keep from having them bleed into one another?

Stay warm, people, and if you are in the path of the snowstorm, stay safe!

 

 

Focus Forward

As 2015 draws to a close, I have a lot to be thankful for. My family is healthy and happy. I am comfortable in my life. And my first novel, THE WITCH OF ZAL, debuted from Evil Jester Press!

NEW RELEASE!

Now 2016 looms large ahead, and my focus is turning to the future. What do I want to accomplish in 2016? I decided to keep it simple and focus only on things I could control, because to do otherwise is an invitation to stress and frustration.

So what are these goals?

  1. Create and implement a new marketing plan for THE WITCH OF ZAL.
  1. Finish revising and polishing at least 2 of my works-in-progress.
    • THE CURSE OF THE PHARAOH’S STONE is close to finished—one more go over and sending it out for proofreading. So I should easily reach this goal.Pharaoh-Curse-640x1024
    • VERITAS. This WIP is in a monster revision right now, and I feel that I have been procrastinating because of the magnitude of the task. Once I begin, I will be able to chip away, and there is no reason I can see that I should not finish this by the end of 2016.Veritas-Cover-Art-791x1024
    • THE ORACLE OF DELPHI, KANSAS has been complete for a year or more, and has made the rounds of some agents. The feedback I received showed that I have some work to do on this book, but I have not yet looked to see how large a task fixing the issues would be. It is possible that this, too, can be done by the end of 2016, but I consider this a stretch goal.Oracle-Cover-Art-791x1024
  1. When one of the manuscripts above is ready, I will send it out to agents. With luck, I will find one that connects with my work.

And that’s it!

Three things.

I can do that.

What are you looking forward to in 2016?

 

The Editing Puzzle

My smartph Move it! Free - Block puzzle- screenshot thumbnail one has a game on it called Move It! by AI Factory. The game is a spatial relations game, where you have pieces of various shapes on a board, and you have to move them around until you can guide a red square into the upper right hand corner. The game is fun, frustrating, and highly addictive.

Move It! is a lot like editing—at least the stage of editing where I am now. IVeritas-Cover-Art-231x300 have a WIP that I just finished putting through my critique group. I have reams of helpful suggestions that I cannot wait to get moving on—but there is so much work to be done, I find myself faced with a plethora of pieces scattered on a board of unknown dimensions.

Move It! specifies a target number—the least moves required to clear the board. Alas, my editing does not come with a target number.

My editing notes include checking for conflict in each scene, making sure Scene A leads logically to Scene B, noting my character goals for each scene. I need to follow character arcs, plot arcs, goal arcs. I have 3 POV characters, so I plan to separate their scenes out and listen to voice, check for character consistency, and make sure they are three-dimensional.

I also want to check continuity, symbolism, and rhythm. My ending needs some help, and the entire book needs a language overhaul because it sounds too middle grade and it’s YA. And of course there’s the nitty gritty of grammar, punctuation, and formatting.

Even with the target number, your game can run away with you. I had one game with a target of 72 moves and ended up with 265. I’m hoping to avoid that problem while editing, but you never know because when you change one story piece that changes them all.

At this moment, I am looking at the board, wondering how I can move those manuscript pieces in the most efficient way to get my book to the final position. I’m a bit overwhelmed and unsure where to start.

How you begin in Move It! sets you up for success or failure. A false start will get you to 265*. A good start narrows your available moves until only the successful path is left open to you.

Let’s hope I choose the right starting move with my manuscript.

How do you organize a huge editing project like this?

*My current score on that target 72 game is 76.

The Rusty Merry-Go-Round: Switching between projects

Last weekend I met my friend and fellow writer Nancy Keim Comley for a “writer’s play date.” We both needed a break from “summer mommy brain” and a chance to get reacquainted with our writing. We had fun, and it felt good to immerse myself in my fiction for a few hours.

A mere six years ago, it wouldn’t have been unusual to find me working on multiple novels at one time—and having the time to immerse myself in all of them. After my daughter came, however, I have been much more single-minded. I’ve worked on one story at a time because if I didn’t nothing would ever get finished.

DSCN1713So when I started up the novel merry-go-round again this week, I found my skills a bit rusty. My current full-throttle work-in-progress is a YA science fiction called Veritas—and talking to Nancy showed me just how much work I have yet to do on it. (Daunting. So I will pretend I don’t know how high the mountain is and just keep climbing.)

However, I also have my debut novel, The Witch of Zal, coming out soon. While I am not actively writing for that, the marketing requires me to delve back into my story world—or at least remember what the heck I wrote. So that story is floating around in my head, popping up at odd moments to say hello.

Also, I’ve been collaborating on a middle grade historical action-adventure novel, The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone, and the latest 10 chapters have just landed back in my lap. I’m reading them as if I’ve never seen them before—good for editing, bad for getting back into that novel’s headspace.

To make things even more interesting, I’ve got a YA contemporary fantasy, The Oracle of Delphi, Kansas, that needs to be looked at again before I send it back out for another round of queries. So that’s on a back burner of my brain, too.

Earlier in my life, juggling all these would not have been a problem. In fact, I relished having multiple projects going at once because it eliminated writer’s block and boredom. Whenever I got stuck or burned out on a particular story, I could jump to another one and give my subconscious a chance to chew on the problem. It always worked for me.

This time around, I’m finding it hard to switch from project to project. Part of it is lack of practice, of course—writing skills are like any other skills, you have to use them to keep them sharp. My brain is also not as sharp as it was, largely due to perpetual under-sleeping. And I’m six years older—maybe my brain is more reluctant to leave the groove it’s in and move to something different.

I think the biggest problem is my fragmented time. I have spoken before about how my fragmented writing time has negatively impacted my writing, and I think it plays a large role here. I don’t have concentrated hours of time a day to write. This has made it harder for me to slip into the world of my story. Now mix in more than one fictional world. Synaptic chaos.

The only way I have found to combat the fragmentation is to always have my current work-in-progress running in the back of my mind. Simmering, as I like to call it. You can think of it as having the movie of my story playing in the background on my mental TV all the time. So when I have time to get back to it, I waste less time getting my mind back into the story.

There’s no way I can keep 5 stories simmering at usable levels. My brain would explode. I may have to assign specific days to specific stories, so I can have my brain set to the correct channel all day. That’s my plan, at any rate. We’ll see what happens!

If you have merry-go-round projects, how do you keep your headspace straight? Have you ever had trouble jumping from one world to the next?

 

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