Writers at play

Writers at play

I’m digging into my third book right now, and it’s every bit as intimidating as writing the first two was. I’m beginning to realize that there will always be uncertainty about a new project (whether it will come out on paper the way it is in your head, whether the voice will work, whether the characters will feel real or flat).

On the one hand, I now know that I’m capable of finishing books, so I don’t have that same fear of getting 10k in and then giving up. On the other hand, this book is middle grade, which is a younger age group that I’ve written for before. Plus, it has a wry, humorous voice, and let’s just say my first two books weren’t very funny.

As I read through a bit of what I’d written so far, I realized something: this book will be fun to write. If I can let go of my worries and insecurities and focus on the crux of the thing–the writing, the story, the characters–it will be more like play than work. Writing for a younger audience means it can be a little sillier, and it takes place in a creepy fantasy world and I can have fun with. And I freaking LOVE my narrator (can’t tell you about him because it would give away what the book is about, but he sure is a dry fellow).

Writing my first two books, I learned that I’m the type of writer who produces a somewhat messy first draft and then pulls things together in revisions. Knowing that, I can dive into this MG book without so much fear of perfection. I’ll just let it come out how it comes out, and at the end, I’ll fix it. Revisions are when my type-A personality can kick in, but for now, it’s all about playing.

Word count evolution

My second book (TFH) wound up being longer than my first book. This is partly because it’s fantasy and required plenty of world-building, partly because there are 2 protagonists, and partly because I learned that I sure do like describing stuff. There was a time during my first revision when the book was creeping toward 100k, and as many of my fellow unpublished writers know, it’s best to keep your debut under 100k (at least in YA).

So here’s how TFH looked word-count wise over the 3 drafts I did:

First draft–92k

Second draft–97k

Third draft–90k

The second draft was longer than the first because the first was missing a couple of chapters early on (I left very helpful notes for myself, like, “figure out what happens here and fill it in later.”) So I filled in those early chapters and revised the rest of the book and then nervously sent the whole thing off to a couple of CPs.

One of my CPs pointed out that the plot didn’t really get going until 50 pages in. Immediate reaction: gut-clenching humiliation and sadness (How could I be so stupid? How am I ever going to fix the pacing? My CP must think I’m an idiot). Twenty minutes later: Creative fields are subjective. I like these chapters, so they should all stay. Surely some agent will like them too. An hour later: Okay, my CP is totally right. Things could get going faster if I cut these chapters and reorganize these chapters…

My hour-later reaction was by far the most rational. That’s the one I acted on, managing to cut about 6k from the manuscript (I cut another 1k in edits, just simplifying sentences that were too wordy or deleting redundant passages). As it turns out, I cut both of the chapters that I added in my first revision. *sigh*

I am now very comfortable with the word count of TFH because I think it’s far enough below 100k that it won’t scare people off. Before getting CP feedback, I couldn’t imagine a way to get the word count down. Every word seemed so crucial to the story. But sometimes, all it takes is another set of eyes to point out where you can trim you book.

The intangible accomplishments of writers

Over the weekend, I was thinking a lot about accomplishments and how we define them. Generally, I think of accomplishments as something definitive–a raise at work, acceptance into college, a book deal, etc. Something that makes you say, “I didn’t have this thing I wanted, then I worked hard, then I got it.”

But those aren’t the only kind of accomplishments. Because by that measure, I haven’t accomplished anything in my writing besides finishing two books. No agent, no book deal, no best-seller lists…so no accomplishments, right? No. I’m not willing to believe that. I’ve accomplished a lot of intangible things in the past 2.5 years (since I started writing seriously), mostly in the form of one thing: knowledge.

It’s not like high school or college where my knowledge was tested, where it got assigned a letter or number that would tell me how much I knew. In that way it’s easier to ignore. But I’ve done a ton of research over the past few years on authors, writing, publishing, book promotions, and more. Plus, I learned about myself and my own writing habits. And I know things now that I didn’t know before, like:

  • How to write a query letter
  • Where and how to effectively research agents (check out my favorite resources here)
  • How many words I can comfortably write in a day (and how many words I can write if I push myself)
  • That authors have to promote their books and the publisher doesn’t do it all for them
  • Not all advances are for a lot of money (In fact, most aren’t)
  • What type of agent I want
  • That I want to write middle grade as well as YA
  • What an ARC is (Advance Reader Copy)
  • That I get bored if I try to write anything realistic
  • How to revise my writing

And that’s just what I thought of off the top of my head.

It’s so easy to get bogged down in sadness and self-defeating thoughts and longing for what you want, but you aren’t being fair to yourself. You’ve probably accomplished way more than you realize, a thousand intangible little things that are leading you toward your goals.

I’m not a professional author yet. I don’t have a book in bookstores. But if I keep writing and keep learning, I will make it happen.

Can writing drive you insane?

Because if it can, I think I’m headed down that road.

My book, TFH, is dominating my thoughts these days. I mean like every waking thought. I can’t focus on anything else (not that I can focus so well on the book either). Last night, I was editing around 8:30. The next time I looked up, it was 9:45. I don’t know how that happened. I’m still kind of freaked out. If I’d had to guess, I’d have said about half an hour passed, not an hour and fifteen minutes. I think I entered a time warp. A writer’s time warp.

The thing is, I’m thisclose to being able to query. And the closer I get, the more obsessed I get and the less I can do anything else. I’ve had strong anxiety for the past three weeks any time I think about or work on TFH (which means ALL THE TIME). The only relief I find is at the gym I just joined, because for that hour, I actually stop thinking about my book. Characters stop having conversations in my head. A list of agents’ names stops its otherwise continuous scrolling through my mind. It’s glorious.

Part of what’s driving me crazy is wondering if the book will be “finished” after this draft. As most writers will tell you, there’s no such thing as truly finished. So what I need to figure out is when it’s polished enough to send out. I think that will be after this read-through and round of tweaks, but maybe not. Problem is, I can’t see the problems anymore. I look at the book, and it’s just black on white.

Most of what I’m noticing with this read-through is overuse of some words (which I guess is good, since that’s really getting down to the nitty-gritty, meaning the bigger issues are fixed). Apparently, I really really reeeeeally like to describe eyes. I noticed that in my first book, too. Of course, eyes and seeing were relevant thematically to both books, so maybe that’s why, but still.

My go-to words are:

  • shivered
  • shuddered
  • chill
  • gulped
  • looked
  • peered
  • gazed
  • twining
  • twisting
  • squirming
  • pierced
  • dark

Interestingly, that list really tells you a lot about the tone of the book, so I guess at least those words are fitting. Still, I’ll need to change some before querying. I don’t want anything to trip up agents if I’m lucky enough to get requests.

Have any of you ever felt like your writing might be pushing you in the direction of insanity? How do you cope and get your mind off of it?

The second revision

Because of my awesome, superfast CPs, I’ve already started work on  my second revision of TFH. On the bright side, I this revision won’t be as major as the first one. On the not-so-bright side, I feel physically ill every time I think about the book.

No, really. Whenever I imagine the book being done and query-able, instead of excitement, I feel total panic. You know all those YA characters whose stomachs are tied in knots or twisting or tangling or writhing? That’s me right about now. Every 10 seconds or so, there’s a wave of stomach-clenching panic.

The thing is, I don’t know why. I was so excited to get to work on TFH again. It’s getting close to being something that I’d actually show to agents. I’ve been waiting for that for months. So why aren’t I filled with total joy?

Though not as drastic, the second revision is more intimidating than the first in some ways. I really feel like all of my choices have to be just right, or what’s the point? So I agonize over every little thing, changing things that don’t need to be changed only to put them back the way they were. I worry that the way I want the book to be isn’t the way agents will want it to be. I worry about sending my little book-baby off into cyberspace and having it come back to me with a black eye and its shoes stolen. I worry that nobody will quite get it, that it’s a little too weird.

I can’t remember if I felt this way when I queried my first book. I probably did, but maybe my mind has made itself forget as a form of self-protection. Maybe the problem is that tomorrow is the anniversary of me leaving my job to focus on writing. So if this book doesn’t get me somewhere professionally, I’ll wonder what the point of the past year was. As I get closer to querying, I get closer to knowing if the book will go anywhere, and I get closer to knowing if I failed.

Failure.

Maybe that’s the big bad monster under the bed that’s making my stomach flip over at regular intervals. I just don’t know how to make it go away.

Giveaway: signed hardcover of REBOOT by Amy Tintera

With just two short months until the sequel releases, I’ve decided it’s the perfect time to do a giveaway of Amy Tintera’s debut novel, REBOOT! It’s an autographed hardcover, too!

From Goodreads:

Five years ago, Wren Connolly was shot three times in the chest. After 178 minutes she came back as a Reboot: stronger, faster, able to heal, and less emotional. The longer Reboots are dead, the less human they are when they return. Wren 178 is the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. Now seventeen years old, she serves as a soldier for HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation).

Wren’s favorite part of the job is training new Reboots, but her latest newbie is the worst she’s ever seen. As a 22, Callum Reyes is practically human. His reflexes are too slow, he’s always asking questions, and his ever-present smile is freaking her out. Yet there’s something about him she can’t ignore. When Callum refuses to follow an order, Wren is given one last chance to get him in line—or she’ll have to eliminate him. Wren has never disobeyed before and knows if she does, she’ll be eliminated, too. But she has also never felt as alive as she does around Callum.

The perfect soldier is done taking orders.

How to enter (U.S. only, sorry!):

+1 Leave a comment on any post on this blog (be sure to mention in the comment that you want to enter)

+1 Tweet about the giveaway (and paste the Tweet link into a blog post comment)

*You can do both of those things once per day until the giveaway ends

*Be sure to leave you email address or Twitter handle in your comment(s) so I can contact you if you win

*Giveaway will be open until 11:59 pm (pacific time) on Monday, 3/17. I will randomly select 1 winner

Spread the word about the giveaway! The sequel to REBOOT (and the series conclusion), REBEL, comes out on May 13th!

This giveaway is now closed.

LA Times Festival of Books reading list for 2014

If you live in southern California and like books, I highly recommend you check out the annual LA Times Festival of Books, happening April 12-13, 2014. It’s a free book festival with all types of authors, from picture book to YA to adult to cook book. There really is something for everyone.

A couple of days ago, they announced this year’s authors who’ll be in attendance, and I nearly died from excitement. This will be my third year attending, and there might be more authors I love going than ever before. The problem is, I haven’t read books by some of the authors I want to hear speak, so I made a list for the next 5 weeks leading up to the FOB. I need to read:

Plus, I just started reading Breadcrumbs and need to finish that first. And, if possible, I’d like to read Fangirl because Rainbow Rowell will be there. Other authors I’m excited about: John Green, Lauren Oliver, and Huntley Fitzpatrick, but I’ve already read books by all of them so I don’t have preparatory reading.

I’d better get reading.

Why I’m glad my first book didn’t sell

I know that sounds crazy. How could any writer want her book not to sell? And in a lot of ways, I wish it had sold. But now that I’m many months removed and no longer devastated and have some perspective, I see the benefits of that book never hitting shelves.

It was my first book. There’s a lot of appeal to having your first book published because that would mean no “wasted” books, no trunk novels, no dusty manuscripts never to be read. But then, how many writers can say their first book is representative of their style and the types of books they want to write in the future? I know I can’t. That book was a light sci-fi thriller, packed with action, and my new book is a dark historical fantasy (though both are YA).

After I was finally done with that first book (and done with revisions), and considering all my ideas for future books, I realized none of them were at all like my first one. My focus had shifted to fantasy, more dark and atmospheric than non-stop action. If my first book had gotten published, I imagine there would’ve been pressure to write something else like it. If you build a readership with one type of book, you don’t necessarily want to pull the rug out from under your readers and say, “Actually, that’s not what my other writing looks like at all!”

So back in the fall, I took some time to reevaluate and think about how I wanted to be perceived as a writer, what type of books I wanted bearing my name. The answer: the type of book TFH was shaping up to be. I was on the right track, at least.

Another reason I’m glad my first book didn’t sell: it would have been lumped into the dystopian category. I don’t actually consider it dystopian (It didn’t have a post-apocalyptic feel or an entirely new social structure), but I can see how it would seem like that at a glance. It was a near future world and there was an evil company throwing innocent people in jail. I guess that’s enough to call it dystopian.

Anyway, had the book sold, it would probably be coming out in early- to mid-2015. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but many readers seem to be feeling dystopian fatigue right now. There’s the feeling of, been there, done that, I want to read something new. And I get that. I feel it myself and have stayed away from dystopian YA lately. It may not be fair, but a ton of great books are going under the radar because of it. Whether or not my book was good, it probably wouldn’t have sold too great next year. I couldn’t acknowledge that while it was on submission, but it’s pretty clear to me now, and I’m relieved not to have to compete in such a dystopian-saturated market.

And finally, I don’t know how proud I would’ve been to see my first book on shelves. Sure, I was proud I’d written a whole book and revised it into something decent, but I never loved it. I never felt like my heart and soul went into it. But with TFH, I have found love. I’ve found something that I want to put in front of people and say, “Look! I did this!” I’m proud of its originality, I’m proud of its more intricate plot, I’m proud of both protagonists, I’m proud of the tone. I desperately want it to exist in the world as a real, live book. If I had to choose the first book or TFH to break into publishing with, I’d choose TFH every time.

If you’re a writer facing rejection right now, it may seem unbelievable for me to say I appreciate my rejections, but it’s true. It hurts when something you created doesn’t reach the end goal of publication, but it could be for the best. Years down the line, when you have tons of other books on shelves, maybe you’ll be glad how it all worked out. I don’t know where my career will be in a decade, but I can only hope that my struggles now will be worth it, that every stumble will lead me and my writing somewhere better.