The luxury of thinking

tunnel inside

I’m almost at the home stretch in my YA fantasy. On Saturday, I hit 70k even though I don’t usually write on weekends. But the 600 words I wrote Saturday were more excruciating than usual. I kind of always feel like I’m forcing out words, but I was forcing them even harder, knowing they weren’t good.

When I whined to my husband about this, he looked at me like I was crazy. “So take the day off,” he said. “I would if I didn’t have a deadline. There comes a point when you’re doing more harm than good.” I blinked at him a few times. I looked back at the computer screen. And I closed the document.

As many of you know, I don’t have a deadline. Because I don’t have a book deal. Or an agent, for that matter. The only person waiting to read this book when I’m finished is me. Because of that, it’s important to me that I keep to a writing schedule and get words on the page even when I don’t want to. Only I can push myself to write.

My husband, on the other hand, does have a writing contract (he’s a screenwriter). And he does have a deadline. So he can’t just take a day off whenever he wants. He doesn’t have the luxury of setting his work aside and letting it simmer in the back of his mind. He doesn’t have the luxury of thinking.

But I do. I can brainstorm and think through solutions to plot problems without worrying that I didn’t get any words on the page that day. It’s one of the few perks of being a non-professional writer. While I agonize daily over whether I’ll ever “make it” as an author, this is the upside: I have all the time I want to write a book. At my most optimistic, I look at this as a gift. (At my most pessimistic, I think, Yeah, loser, of course you have tons of time, because nobody will ever care about what you’re writing, and nobody will ever read it. But I keep the pessimist locked in a cage.)

So let’s be optimistic for a minute. I didn’t write this weekend, and I’ve only jotted down notes today. But I’ve got a much better idea of how the last 20-25k of this book will flow. I thought of a better way to do a few things. And I didn’t waste two days writing a bunch of words I’d just have to delete. I gave my brain a rest.

I’m still on track to finish by my self-imposed deadline of January 31st. Come on, self, let’s do this thing.

Best of 2014 – My favorite books and reading stats

A quick note first–I just passed 400 followers this week! I know that might not seem like many to some people, but it means a lot to me. So, thank you to my long-time followers (I started this blog over 3 years ago!), and thank you to my new followers for giving my blog a chance. I sincerely appreciate it.

Now, onto books! I know the year isn’t over yet, but I figured everyone will be posting “best books of 2014″ lists a few weeks from now, and you’ll get bored reading them. By posting this now, I avoid you guys being burned out. Keep in mind that not all of these were published in 2014, it’s just when I read them. So…

By the numbers

Total books read: 52

Total pages read (Goodreads estimate): 19,489

Most commonly read age category: YA (surprise, surprise)

2014 reading 2

Longest: A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin, 674 pages

Realistic: 16      Non-realistic/fantastical: 36

Rereads: 4

Top 5 favorite books

Breakdown: 2 realistic, 3 fantasy —- 1 MG, 1 adult (with a teenaged protag, so, kinda YA), 3 YA (I’m calling Golden Compass YA even though the protag is 12)

Biggest book hangover

I cried, you guys. Like, a lot. Teared up for daaaaays afterwards.

Favorite book covers

Best 2014 debut


Coolest twist


Funniest


Sequel I’m most excited for

To see all the books I read, click here.

Happy end-of-year reading, and may your 2015 be filled with a lot more awesome books!

The word-count turning point

During a first draft, every word written is a triumph. To write a book, I just need to keep adding one word at a time until I get to 90,000. 1+1+1+…you get the idea. One day it adds up to 90,000, I swear.

Each 10k is a new milestone. I inch closer to the end and feel like I may one day finish the book. But this feeling doesn’t last. There’s a turning point when adding more and more words starts to make me panicky. Is this book too long? Should this part have happened 10,000 words ago? Will I be able to keep the full draft under 100k?

I’ve officially reached the turning point. I got up to 58k in TSS. I looked at where I was. I thought about everything that still needs to happen.

Crap.

A lot still needs to happen. Like, too much to fit into 32k. So, I looked back at what I’d written and found a 10k section that just…sucked. It didn’t accomplish much for how long it was, it was boring, it slowed the plot. All bad. So I did something I don’t normally do, and I went back and revised that section. Typically, I wait until a full draft is done to do major revisions, but this part was a sticking point for me and was really distracting me.

It took only a week, and I’m happy to say that I’ve got that 10k plodding section down to a swift(er) 6k, and I feel like I’m back on track.

So the word-count turning point is when I stop of congratulating myself for each word written (“Go you! You’ve done it! +1 word. You win!”). Instead, I worry each word is a useless word that doesn’t further the story (“You’re getting toward the end, you fool! Choose your words more carefully! Do you really need that sentence? Do you want this thing to turn into a 115k monster?”).

But the turning point is also exciting and motivating. It means that I am no longer just trying to get my word count up to book length. It means that I really do have a book-sized idea. It means I’ll finish the damn thing one day. Instead of viewing that -4k as a setback, I can look at it as progress. And I no longer have to add add add with the hopes that I’ll one day reach The End.

I will reach The End of this book. One day. Promise.

The aged writer

On roughly a daily basis, I have a crisis about my age. You see, I feel quite over the hill. Far, far over the hill. I’ve got an aching back and sore wrists and I’ve never gotten a book published. I look at my whole long life and think, “Aubrey, you’ve accomplished nothing. Better throw in the towel.”

Thing is, I’m 26.

I know. IknowIknowIknow. Twenty-six is young! I graduated college only 4.5 years ago (note that my earlier comment about accomplishing nothing means that I don’t consider college an accomplishment. Figure that one out for me, would you?). I started writing seriously only 3 years ago. And yet…

I FEEL SO FREAKING OLD.

There seem to be a whole lot of really young YA writers these days. Maybe there always were and I just wasn’t following the industry then. But there’s nothing to make you feel old like reading about a 20 year old getting a three-book deal. I’m jealous not so much of the book deal, but of 20 year olds who have their shit together enough at 20 to know they even want to write a book. And then to do it. And do it well enough to sell it. It’s sorcery, I tell you.

I’ve accepted that I’ll never be the 20 year old with a book deal because A) I’m already 26 and B) At 20 I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. So, I’m 26, and I know what I want to be. Now what?

Now I set unreasonable and arbitrary goals of course. Come on, you do it too. “I want to accomplish X by age Y.” “I need to meet my future spouse by age Y if I want to have kids by age Z.” “If I start a grad program now, I’ll have my degree by age Y and maybe pay off my loans by age Z+18.” Life doesn’t last forever. It’s normal to try to plan what age you’ll meet certain goals by. I need to assume that I’ll have to meet all my goals by age 100 if I want to meet them ever (yes, I’m giving myself a generous 100-year life span. Don’t burst my bubble, please).

This is normal, but not necessarily helpful. In fact, it’s super unhelpful for me to feel like an “old writer” at 26. And to tell myself I’d better give up writing if I don’t have a book on shelves by 30. And to feel like a loser for not having made a name for myself.

It doesn’t even make sense. I know almost nobody in their 20s who’s happy with their job. We’re all working really hard so that maybe, possibly, one day, we’ll have the careers we want. I’m in good company.

Besides, what won’t I be able to do at 50 that I’m doing now? I’ll still eat cookie dough and read children’s books and play board games. I’ll still write books, and they’ll probably be 1,097,532x better than the ones I’m writing now, because EXPERIENCE. I might be published, but I’ll still have unmet goals and panic that I won’t meet them all before I die.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to go try to finish my 2014 reading challenge of 52 books. Because arbitrary goals, you know?

October writing progress

Whew. Another month of writing almost over. *Wipes brow* So how’d I do this month?

I didn’t write quite as many words as in September (about 16k as opposed to 24k), but I got a lot of act 2 planning done in the first half of October and am now well into act 2. I’ve reached the point where word count milestones have started blending together. At 10k and 20k, I get so excited to be over those hurdles. But today I reached 42k and have stopped patting myself on the back. I’m just trudging through the middle. I’ll save the back-patting for “The End.”

But there is something very exciting about getting this far: I’ve only ever surpassed 30k in the two books that I went on to finish. So, I can conclude that I will, indeed, finish TSS one day. And I might even be able to predict when that day is.

40k in two months means I’m about a 4-5 month first drafter for YA books (figuring on 80-95k because I write genre fiction). If this book winds up being around 90k like I expect, I’m looking at a completed first draft by the end of January. Yes please.

Self imposed deadlines are tough for me because…well, because I’m myself, and I can be quite forgiving when I’m curled up in a ball feeling bad about being behind. There are a couple of factors that might throw me off schedule–namely, the holidays and the fact that this book might creep up past 90k–but for now, I’m content with my loose deadline.

When I’m in the middle, it can feel so hard to see the end. For some reason that’s not the case right now. I don’t feel horribly overwhelmed. Maybe it’s because I’m not trying to look too far ahead on any given day, or maybe it’s because I’ve planned this book out so carefully (hint: it’s not the latter). Whatever the reason, I’m grateful.

How’d everyone else do writing-wise in October?

P.S. – I just read this YA thriller called Dangerous Girls that was awesome and twisty and I couldn’t put it down. Give it a read, if you’re so inclined…

This book must be the One

Beth Revis did a little inspirational video for 2011’s WriteOnCon in which she talked about the 10 books she wrote before Across the Universe, the first book in her best-selling trilogy. I saw this video about two years ago, and it really stuck with me. Give it a watch if you want:

The gist of the video is in this quote: “I treated every single book as if it were the one.”

She didn’t know when writing each of those 10 other books that they wouldn’t get published. I wonder, sometimes, if I’d want to see my publishing future. Would I want to know if I ever get published? Would I want to know how old I am when I do? Would I want to know how many books I had to write before the One that sold?

The answer: no freaking way. Because what if the answer is that I don’t get published for 10 years? What if the answer is that I don’t get published until my 15th book? If I knew that now, I might be so discouraged by all the work ahead of me that I’d give up. The only way to keep going as Beth Revis said: treat every book as if it could be the One.

I’m working on a YA fantasy (henceforth referred to as TSS) right now that I’m falling increasingly in love with every day. That is both exciting and terrifying. Exciting because it means I actually kindasorta look forward to writing, as difficult as it is at times. But terrifying because, after each chapter or page or sentence that I love, I wonder: Will anyone else ever read this?

I don’t know. I don’t know if TSS will be the One that sells, the One that flings me into real author-dom. In fact, I’m still not sure that THE FADING HOUR, the book that I’m querying, isn’t the One. There’s so much uncertainty. I hope it’s THE FADING HOUR and that TSS is my follow-up. If not that, then I hope TSS can be my debut. And if not that, then whatever I write after TSS.

For now, as I chug along toward the 90,000 or so words that it will take to make TSS a complete story, I will try to believe, with certainty, that it will be published one day. I will believe that an agent will love it, and then an editor. I will believe that it will get thousands of readers. I will give it the effort it deserves, telling myself every day that it is the One.

But even if it’s not, even if all those beliefs are wrong, I still have this: I love this book. I want to explore its world. I want to make it real.

one down, one up #1

This week, I decided to blog more often (which shouldn’t be difficult because I had only been blogging once a month. I know, I know, I’m a slacker). What better way to keep the posts going than to join up with a weekly blog linkup that my good friend ChrystinaNoel started? (Is it a weekly meme? Maybe? I don’t know what a meme is. That knowledge is beyond me. This might be a meme.)

Basically, with #1down1up, you tell the best and worst things that happened to you this week. Worst first, best for last. So, here goes:

one down

This didn’t happen to me personally, but I feel that it affects me. A women was almost mugged on my street the other night, in a neighborhood that I consider very safe. Someone drove by and tried to grab her bag, and I think she had to run along beside the car because the bag was on her shoulder. I heard her screaming from my apartment and was worried, so I went out. It’s very scary to realize that you can so easily become the victim of a crime. The good side of this? Ten+ other neighbors went out to check on her too. No bystander effect in this neighborhood, thank you very much.

one up

I felt optimistic about writing this week. Not quite sure why, but I’ll take it. When I feel this good about writing, I believe I’ll never be discouraged about it again. When I’m discouraged, I believe I’ll never feel good about it. Both beliefs are wrong. There are ups and downs. Some weeks, my one down will probably be writing-related. Right now I’m up, and I’m grateful for it.

YOUR book could be the next big thing

Last night, I was watching Catching Fire, and my husband wondered if The Hunger Games trilogy had sold as a trilogy or first as a standalone. I recently subscribed to the handy dandy Publishers Marketplace so that I could look up agents, but I can also look up authors there and see their deals. So I looked up Suzanne Collins, clicked back through a bunch of pages of foreign rights deals, and found this:

Hunger games PM

I promptly forgot all about the trilogy question and stared at this little snippet of information. Eight years ago, the world’s knowledge of The Hunger Games was just this tiny little blurb. And even that, very few people would have known about unless they followed the publishing industry. I had just graduated high school mere days before and wasn’t reading much for pleasure anymore. Suzanne Collins wasn’t even on my radar.

Jump forward to now, and EVERYONE has heard of The Hunger Games. YA readers, adult-novel readers, non-readers. It’s nothing short of a phenomenon. But Scholastic didn’t know it back in 2006. They bought the trilogy in a “significant deal,” which means $251,000-$499,000. While that is a lot of money and most authors don’t earn that much, it’s nothing compared to what Collins has earned by now. Which means Scholastic couldn’t predict how popular the books would be.

That’s because no one can predict such things. Through some combination of great writing and magic, a book or book series takes off and becomes the thing everyone wants to–has to–read. Do you think Suzanne Collins thought she’d be where she is now back in 2006? Granted, The Hunger Games wasn’t her debut (she already had a middle grade series out), but nobody expects such massive success. She was writing a book about kids killing each other. She probably worried nobody would pick it up at all, they’d be so turned off by the premise. But people did pick it up. A lot of them.

As hopeless as you might feel as an unpublished, unagented writer sometimes, you have to remember that no book is a guaranteed success, and may successes sneak up on the author. I know most authors will never see the kind of success Collins has seen, or even close to it. But some will. And how do you know it won’t be you? How do you know the long and winding unfinished manuscript on your hard drive isn’t destined to be the next big thing?

You don’t. And the only way you’ll find out is to keep writing.

Act Breaks

I posted a couple of weeks ago about how September was my most productive writing month ever (word count-wise). The words were flowing. My total word count leapt up by 1,200+ words almost every weekday. I was zipping through my WIP like it was nothing.

Fast forward two days from that blog post: Screeching. Halt.

I’d hit it again–the end-of-act-one slump. There’s just something about that act break between acts one and two that leaves me feeling like I’m lost in the woods without a map. Where did I come from? How did I get here? And where the hell was I going?

I needed a break myself.

This had happened to me two times before. For each of my first two books, I hit a similar wall around this point in the story, so I don’t know why it surprised me. And both times before, I beat myself up over it, wondering why I hadn’t outlined more extensively. Or why I couldn’t just push push push forward until the got my flow back. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Don’t wait for inspiration–write! Write even when you don’t feel like writing!

To some extent, I agree with that, because writing is excruciating 99% of the time. But this time, I decided to look at my between-acts break differently. Rather than sit at my computer and stare at the ever-blinking cursor as some kind of punishment for my lack of inspiration, I stepped away from Scrivener. I considered it a necessary pause in my writing. I let the fantasy world I’m writing squirm around somewhere at the back of my mind, spending no more than an hour a day “actively” brainstorming on paper. I just let the ideas be.

It worked. Twelve days of not writing later, I have a much better image in my head of the world, a bunch of names and terms for things that were just blanks before, and a new, better idea for the climax. Some might call those 12 days unproductive because my word count didn’t budge, but they were invaluable to me and to this story.

So maybe this is just my process. Maybe I’m not a “plotter” or a “pantser,” but something in between. I like to plot the first act in detail, then have some signposts along the way for the rest of the book. It works for me. It makes the process as un-agonizing as possible. And, most importantly: I kind of enjoy it.

Everyone knows women can’t bust ghosts

Today, I read a blog post about the Ghostbusters reboot that’s in the works. Have you heard of it yet? You might have. It’s making big news because the Ghostbusters are all going to be women. The writer of the blog post I read isn’t thrilled about that:

“And how do you even begin to explain an all-female Ghostubsters [sic] team in a script? Are they going to have a sign on the front door that says, “Female applicants only?” What would be the logic in eliminating males from becoming Ghostbusters? I suppose you can write it in that the three main characters are friends from graduate school, just like the original Ghostbusters, but this setup is already feeling a mite forced.”

Source: Scriptshadow

I have to say, the guy has a point. I mean, how in the world is Hollywood going to come up with a good script for this if all the Ghostbusters are women? Women can’t bust ghosts. What are they going to do–squirt breast milk at them? Twirl around bloody tampons and fling them at the ghosts like modern-day feminine maces? Flash a little cleavage and flip their hair to distract the ghosts, then catch them while they aren’t looking?

Absurd! Hollywood is taking us for fools. I mean, come on. We all know women can’t fight gho–

Oh. Wait. GHOSTS AREN’T REAL.

If your biggest problem with the Ghostbusters reboot is that the Ghostbusters are women, you need to take a step back. You’re willing to believe in ghosts and a group of people who are hired to fight them, but not that those people could possibly all be women. At least not without some explanation.

Suspend your disbelief. There are a lot of women in the world. Sometimes, we bust ghosts together. Get used to it.