Each manuscript is its own beast

Yesterday, I printed out draft 5 of my book (TSS). Because of this, I was cleaning out the binder I use for this project so I could make room for the manuscript. I had a binder full of notes. For the first time in months, I flipped through pages upon pages of jottings on looseleaf paper, dating all the way back to before I started the first draft.

I can’t believe how far this book has come.

Seriously. Reading through my first set of revision notes, I was filled with both pride and horror. Pride, because I realized just how hard I’ve worked on TSS to get it to this point. Horror, because holy shit, my first two drafts sucked.

Sucked, you guys.

It isn’t even the same book anymore. That is to say, it’s actually the right book now. I like it. I really like it. It’s the book I set out to write 16 months ago. I think it’s good, and that’s damn near impossible for me to admit to myself.

This draft, this almost-polished draft, was a long time coming. The first words I typed in TSS were in July 2014. Then I started over in September 2014 because originally it was in third person and it was just all wrong. With each of my first two books, it took me a draft and a substantial revision to make them query ready. I expected this one to be the same. So it was a tough lesson I had to learn: each book is its own beast. Each book will take its own time. This one took 5 drafts:

Draft 1 = gag-worthy suckage
Draft 2 = a futile attempt to turn suckage into gold
Draft 3 = page-1 rewrite that finally started to resemble what I had in mind
Draft 4 = finally time to show it to CPs

I don’t know how many drafts my next book will take. I’m trying not to set any expectations whatsoever. Maybe I’ll get lucky and it’ll be good after two drafts and won’t take too long. Maybe it’ll take ten drafts. There’s no way to know. But it’s not time to start that yet. First I need to read through TSS (currently at 91k words, 310 printed pages) and polish it to a pretty shine.

Restlessness and writing

Lately, I’ve been having trouble focusing on anything. Basically since I finished draft 4 of TSS. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It’s some combination of severe anxiety (of the random, heart-pounding, stomach-lurching variety) and an inability to pay attention. This means I’ve started and given up on reading several books in the last week or so, and the ones I haven’t abandoned, I’m reading slooooowly. I don’t like reading slowly. If it takes me more than a week to read a book, I feel like a failure.

Yesterday, I did manage to start my draft-4 read-through of TSS in preparation of sending it to critique partners. I’m kinda sorta able to focus on that and have made decent progress in the last two days. Here’s the weird thing about my TSS-related anxiety: I actually like this draft of the book. I think it’s good. Do you know how hard it is for writers to say that about their own work? I’m sure I’ll reach the I-hate-this-it’s-the-worst-thing-ever-written stage again soon, but for now, I’m feeling a little tickle of pride. It’s rather pleasant.

But then, why the anxiety? Why does the prospect of querying in a few short months simultaneously excite me and make me want to upchuck? Why does finally being close to done with TSS, which I’ve been working on for 13 months, not fill me with relief? I suppose it’s because there’s a possibility of it getting universally rejected, and that is almost too much to bear. I’ve put too much into it. Rewritten it too many times. Changed too much. Become too attached. If nobody likes it, this one will be hard to bury.

So, what do I do in my distracted, unfocused stupor, you might ask? If not reading, then what? Well, I Peanutize myself and everyone I know.

I have a shirt that looks EXACTLY like this.

I have a shirt that looks EXACTLY like this.

And I look at Twitter, which does nothing to quell my anxiety.

And I look at Facebook, where I now follow too many politicians, so it does nothing to quell my anxiety.

And I look at blogs, where I learn about writing contests that I can’t enter because my book isn’t polished yet (which does nothing to quell my anxiety. Are you sensing a pattern?).

And I watch TV, but then I think about how many awesome shows just won at the Emmys and how I’ll never have time to watch them ALL.

And and and…it just becomes too much. I want to go live in the woods away from technology for a few days (except for indoor plumbing. I’ll take plumbing). I don’t quite know what will cure this bout of restlessness. Not entertainment (movies/TV/books are overwhelming), not writing (the closer I get to querying, the more my stomach lurches), not exercise (yuck). The only time I felt truly calm in the past week was when I was volunteering. Maybe I need to do more of that.

Any suggestions for how to calm down when you’re freaking out about writing?

My total rewrite of this book is done!

If you’ve been following my blog a while, you’ll know that in April, I realized my book (TSS) needed a new plot. This was not a pleasant realization. I had been working on TSS since September 2014 and was 3/4s through the second draft. Needless to say, I’d spent a lot of time and effort on it and had written a TON of words already. But I did the only thing a writer can do with a realization like that (after eating cookie dough and Nutella to quell the pain):

I buckled down and got to work…

…only to have major realization #2: the book needed to be dual perspective, not just single like it was for the first two drafts.

So not only did I have to drastically alter the plot, I had to drastically alter the voice (or at least half of it). Basically, I was writing a new book. For some odd reason, I deluded myself into believing it would only take a couple of months. Not so, my friends. Only today, more than 5 months after my initial epiphany, I finally finished the rewrite.

Now, this doesn’t mean what you might think it means. I am not on the verge of querying, unfortunately. There are still many steps to go before that. Like 1) Rereading the whole new version of this book to make sure it’s coherent, what with all the changes. 2) Send to a couple of CPs to tell me what works and what doesn’t. 3) Revise based on CP feedback. 4) Send to another CP or two to make sure newest version is coherent and polished and ready. And then, FINALLY, querying.

Besides actually becoming kinda sorta happy with this version of the book, taking the time to rewrite had another perk–the middle grade idea that has been developing in the back of my mind is so much cooler and so much stronger than it was 5 months ago. If I’d tried to write it then, it would’ve been a much worse version of this idea. By letting it sit and develop on its own, I think I’ve shortened the time it will take to write. Not only that, but the voice is developing on its own. Yesterday, a sentence popped into my head that just feels like how I want the book to feel. When it comes time to start the first draft, I’m going to be freaking ready.

The takeaway here: I’m so glad I undertook this massive rewrite despite all the time and effort and tears it took. So. Glad. If you’re daunted by a rewrite but still love the project, DO IT. It will be worth it one day, I promise.


Writer as choreographer: writing action scenes

I’m finally up to the climax of TSS. This is my 4th draft of the book, but I wouldn’t say I’m revising the climax–I’m writing it from scratch. Draft 1 was the only one I actually wrote all the way to The End, and the plot of that version was drastically different from the current version. Which means I’ve got daunting blank pages to fill.

The climax I’m working on is an action scene with a battle going on. My first book was rather action-y, and the most common compliment I got was that I wrote exciting action/escape scenes. As it turns out, I haaaaate writing action scenes. They’re my absolute least favorite parts of my books (to write, not necessarily to read). Every second is brutal. I write in like two sentence bursts, then procrastinate online because my mind just will not stay on action.

I feel like a choreographer when I’m working on these types of scenes–putting my characters in just the right position in relation to each other, making their movements quick and exciting but also physically possible, having them interact with the setting in a cool but also logical way. When I’m writing action, I try to think of my books as movies instead. I watch the scenes in my head to see if they look appropriately large-scale, to make sure they keep you on the edge of your seat. Sometimes, I’ll “watch” the scene in my head first and kind of revise it until it “looks” good, then I’ll try to describe what I see on the page.

Adding to the difficulty of writing this climax, my book is dual perspective. Meaning BOTH characters have to be doing exciting, relevant things. And I need to have short, quickly alternating chapters because the action is happening simultaneously. (This is another way in which imagining it as a movie helps me. In movie climaxes, there’s often a lot of simultaneous action, so it has to be edited in such a way that that comes across.) It makes me tired just thinking about all the pieces I have to juggle for this book to end well.

On the bright side, I kind of enjoy writing the resolution after the climax, so at least I have that to look forward to. And of course, those last two little words: “The End.” I’m more than ready to write those.

Writing through the doubt

THIS IS IT. This is finally the draft (#4, ahem) of TSS that I’ll get to show to my critique partners. Until now, this book hasn’t been fit to see the light of day. The first draft sucked, the second and third had no ending, but the fourth is looking pretty damn good. It’s not done yet, but it should be within a couple of weeks.

*screams* *throws confetti*

But you guys, it took SO much to get here. So much effort. So many words. So many tears. So many days that I told myself I should give up writing and never try again. In short: So. Much. Doubt.

There’s pretty much nothing about writing that’s easy, but for me, the hardest thing is combatting doubt. Doubt makes you think good writing is bad writing. It makes you think the publishing industry is too hard to break into. It makes you think that your idea isn’t marketable. It makes you think your idea is overdone. It tells you that you suck more than any writer who ever tried to write. Ever.

I honestly can’t tell you why I bothered to keep writing. There was no good reason to. A year working on the same book (after 5 months working on something I scrapped) made me wonder if I was just going to slog along forever without making any progress. I guess the only thing that kept me going was some crazy compulsion, because there’s certainly no logic to writing novels when you’re still an unpublished writer. Only passion can push you through the doubt, and even that isn’t always enough.

If I can offer any advice to writers struggling with doubt right now, it’s this:

-When you really hate your book and feel like it’s terrible, take a break. A day, a week, a month. However long it takes not to hate it anymore.
-Don’t be afraid to make massive changes during revisions if they’ll make the story better.
-Don’t (for the love of god, DON’T) read about deals on Publishers Weekly or Publishers Marketplace.
-Keep writing, because you’ll never love anything more.

2k words down today. Now I’m going to eat cookie dough.

Writing update–1 year of writing and this book STILL ISN’T DONE


covered bridge 2

I’ve been absent from the blog for a while for two good reasons and one bad reason. The bad reason came first–

Writer’s. Block.

Some writers don’t even believe this exists, but I’m going to disagree there. Some time in mid-July I just…stopped being able to write. Every sentence was uninspired junk. I didn’t know where I was going anymore. I was at the climax for the third draft of TSS and just noooooope. Not happening. So I did the hardest (and also smartest) possible thing. I closed the document and didn’t open it for a while.

A long while.

Like 5 weeks. (Published authors always say you need distance from your work. True story.)

And every day of those first 2-3 weeks, I felt terrible about myself. I felt like the laziest writer who ever lived, and therefore the least worthy of having a book published. I read a lot, figuring that would at least be accomplishing something, but that made me feel like I was just lounging. So some time passed, and I was starting to feel worse because of it. Weren’t ideas supposed to come to my subconscious while I wasn’t writing? Wasn’t I supposed to be having brilliant brain waves by now? God, I couldn’t even laze right.

But then…one day…a spark…

Out of nowhere, while I was reading something unrelated, I realized something that needed to change in TSS. I wrote it down. I had a few more ideas. I was starting to maybe, possibly, feel ready to write. Which brings me to reason #2 I haven’t blogged–I went home for a wedding and to visit family in New England (see covered bridge, above). But I think this is a very good reason not to be on the internet much, so no shame there.

And on to reason #3–my first full day back from traveling, I compiled my ideas for TSS, and I started to revise. Again (again). I didn’t have time to write blog posts, because I was actually writing my friggin’ book again. I’m now into what I’m calling draft 4, although drafts 2 & 3 never got endings, so I’m not sure how that works. Whatever. This draft shall be draft 4 because I deem it so.

Tomorrow marks a pretty significant (not necessarily in a good way) anniversary for TSS. I have always used September 1, 2014 as my start date when figuring out how long I’ve been working on this puppy. Which makes tomorrow one year since I started writing.


That’s a long time. A long long time. I thought I’d be querying in June. (Hahahahaha.) Then I thought I’d be querying in September. (Hahahaha. Ha.) Now I have a distant dream of January, but perhaps I’ll be laughing about that come the new year. I guess it doesn’t really matter anymore. I’ve come too far with this book to give up. One way or another, I will have a complete draft that I’m happy(ish) with. I’m too crazed to give up before then.

Push through the writer’s block, fellow writers. I’m right there with you.

Things I’ve learned while writing this book

Published authors and agents often say that no book is a “wasted” book even if it doesn’t get published. Every book teaches you something. Every book makes you a better writer. I truly believe this, though it is very easy to kick yourself when a book doesn’t get you an agent or doesn’t sell.

In the interest of reminding myself that every book adds some value to my career, here’s a list of things I’ve learned while writing (and rewriting) my WIP, TSS:

I can write a lot more words in a day than I thought I could
While writing my first book, I’d pat myself on the back for 500 words. With my second, it was 1,000. With the first draft of TSS, 1,200. During this rewrite, I’ve learned to crank out 1,500, 1,800, hell even 2,000+ words with only minimal pain. I’m not saying this is easy for me, because pretty much no part of writing is easy. But what I once considered damn near impossible is now not just doable, but expected. Today I went “light” and only wrote 1,200 words, and I feel guilty about it. I don’t feel exhausted by 1,200 anymore. It takes more than that to feel the fatigue now, though that might only be because I know this story so well. I might have a lower output once I start a new book. We’ll see.

How to write two first person POVs that sound different
I was so intimidated by the dual first person POV that I didn’t attempt it–didn’t even consider it–in my first two drafts of TSS even though it is better for the story. It was a rough start on this draft as I hadn’t yet found the male character’s voice, but the deeper into the book I got, the easier it was to fall into his voice and figure out how the characters sounded different. I’m sure there’s room for improvement, but I think I’ve got a good base to build upon.

Rewriting an entire book is not as painful as it sounds
When I had the soul-crushing epiphany back in early April that I needed to majorly overhaul my plot, I had a daunting task ahead of me. When I decided to add a POV, it became more daunting. Comically so, as my CP Julie Israel can attest to (she got many a delirious email from me). I wanted to laugh/cry/eat a jar of Nutella when I checked my word count in early May and saw 16,600. Down from 81,800. Hahahahaha. It still makes me laugh. But now my word count is 84,500 and climbing, and I see that all the extra effort was worth it. I haven’t finished this draft, so I haven’t read the new version through yet, but it feels better. The [mostly inaccessible] part of my brain that has a grasp on the whole story knows that THIS is the book I wanted to write all along. It just took some time to get here.

Good ideas are worth fighting for
This one’s closely related to that previous one. I’ve had the kernel of the idea that has become TSS for a long time. Over three years now. If I queried a crappy version of it just because I was desperate to be done, I’d have regretted it forever. So when I say good ideas are worth fighting for, I mean worth fighting myself for. Fighting the lazy part of me that wants to be done. Fighting the mopey part of me that tries to convince me no version will be good enough anyway. Fighting the jealous part of me that wants to write as fast as the speediest authors. For me, this was a story worth telling, and I’m going to tell it as well as I can, damnit.

Writing takes as long as it takes
Writing a polished book every 12  months is a nice idea. A nice idea that I need to crush with a vengeful hammer. Look, I started the [first] first draft of this thing last July before rethinking it in August and starting over in September. So yeah, I’ve been working on it a year. And I’ve been tempted to rush through it so I can call myself a book-a-year writer, but I’d rather be a good-book-every-18-months writer than a shitty-book-a-year writer. (Not that some authors don’t write awesome books in a year or less. I’m just not one of them.) I thought I’d be querying in June, then I thought September, and now I’m thinking it really doesn’t matter. I’ll query when it’s ready. It’ll be ready when it’s done. It’ll be done…someday.

Now I’m off to enjoy the weekend and not think about my book for 2.5 glorious days. Happy 4th of July, and happy writing!

When your writer brain goes numb

I am now well into this rewrite of TSS–nearing the home stretch, actually (just hit 72k today). And my




It’s always hard to judge the quality of your own writing, but I’ve reached the mind-numbing point where I just spew words onto the page and hope that when I read them over in a month, they won’t suck. I’m itching to finish this draft, but I’ve reached the point where I can’t do any more copying and pasting from an old draft, because the last 20-30k of this book will be entirely new. Bleh.

On the bright side, my book club had its annual BEA book grab this past weekend (one member of the group goes to BEA every year for work and brings back a ton of ARCs). I got these and can’t wait to read them–

2015 arcs(Side note: if you have an ARC of TRUTHWITCH by Susan Dennard, let me know and I will trade you one of these! I’m dying to read TRUTHWITCH.)

I said in an earlier post that I wasn’t setting myself deadlines anymore, but I would like to be done with this draft of TSS by mid-August when I’m going to visit family. I’m only admitting that deadline to myself because it seems entirely realistic since I have over 6 weeks to write 30k. I just won’t set myself a querying deadline. If you’d told me at the beginning of this year that I might not query TSS until 2016, I’d have pulled my hair out or done this:

But I’m trying to be zen about it and accept that the book will be ready when it’s ready and not before. All I can do is put effort into it and be patient. I suck at being patient.

(Another side note: I think all writers’ brains are ruled by Sadness and Fear from Inside Out. They just alternate running the little control panel in my mind while Joy, Disgust, and Anger play cards in the back. Also, go see Inside Out because it’s fantastic.)

When massive rewrites are worth it

It. Has. Happened.

I have finally (FINALLY!) hit my groove in TSS. I’ve hit it in a way I never did during the first or second drafts. After a solid 2 months feeling like writing=death, I’m finally having positive feelings about it again. Imagine that.

Besides drastically revamping the plot, there has been one change that is making a huge difference: adding the POV of the male hero. I didn’t even consider doing dual POVs during my first two drafts because this book is in first person. I can’t count how many reviews I’ve read of dual POV first person books where the reviewer complained they couldn’t tell the two POVs apart. Hell, I’ve made that complaint many times myself. So, out of fear, I avoided it. Too hard to do well. Too hard to query. Too easy for agents to reject.

And that was the problem. I was focused too much on how agents would view the book rather than on what was best for the story. The added POV has given this book the spark it was missing. I kept telling myself I was unenthusiastic about the other drafts because writers always hate their own books. But I was feeling far more apathy toward the book that I’d felt about either of my first two books. Something. Was. Missing.

I’ve found that something in a kidnapped prince, and I love him for it. Well, I love him for a lot of reasons, not least of all because he’s a bit less…pessimistic than my leading lady. It’s a joy to switch to his perspective half the time after writing only hers for 8 months. My lifeless little book has been given a jolt of energy.

(Side note: please remind me how optimistic I’m feeling right now when I decide next week that I should give up writing.)

I’ve still got a lot left to write to finish this draft (you know, like, 50k :-O), but it’s coming along faster than usual because 1) I can copy and paste large chunks from prior drafts and 2) I actually know most of the details. I started writing again on May 6th and have written/pasted almost 20k since then (about 4k pasted, 16k totally new words). I’m purposefully not setting deadlines for myself, but I certainly wouldn’t be sad to see this thing done sooner rather than later.

In other news, I decided to read more adult novels this year because I was feeling YA burnout. 7 of the 19 books I’ve read this year have been adult (that’s 37% WHAT MADNESS IS THIS?). The good news is, I’m over my YA burnout. The bad news is, I’ve been neglecting MG books and have only read one this whole year. I’m trying to fix that now, though, and just started Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos last night.

Here’s to hoping my writing enthusiasm doesn’t fizzle out any time soon.


Does fantasy writing take longer?

I’ve been working on a YA fantasy (TSS) since September 1, 2014. By “working on,” I mean that’s the day I started the draft that would wind up being a complete first draft. The origin of the idea goes back much longer–all the way to April 2012, in fact (holy crap. That’s over 3 years ago now). But then a month ago, I had a punch-in-the-gut epiphany that the plot of TSS needed to change. Almost completely. Oh, and also, it would be 1,000x better in dual 1st person POV rather than single 1st person. (This realization still makes me laugh in a delirious sort of way.)

I’ve been beating myself up about this for a month. Asking myself why, oh why, didn’t I get it “right” the first time? Why didn’t I think of these things in advance? Why didn’t the story land in my brain fully formed rather than as the amorphous, squishy blob that it was?


Deep breath.

No more punching self in the disorganized idea center of my brain.

I’ve been trying to gather myself the past few weeks, give myself a break. Asking if maybe, just maybe, this is normal. My first two books took me less time, but maybe that’s because they weren’t high fantasy. Is it possible that high fantasy just takes a really really freaking long time?

YES. It’s possible. Likely, in fact. High fantasy is also called secondary-world fantasy. Meaning, not our world. Meaning the author is playing god and creating an entire world.

As it turns out, playing god is a time-consuming endeavor. And it should be. How can I create a great fantasy world if I don’t take the time to think about all the details of the world? The religion, the magical elements, the landscape, the way people talk, the history of the world…the list of things to consider goes on and on. I see now why some fantasy authors write an entire encyclopedia of their world before they start writing.

I started jotting down revision notes today after over a week not thinking about the book at all, and it was glorious. Pure creation, each new idea better than the last. Writers talk about world building a lot. On the best brainstorming days, I feel like I world is being built in my head, almost against my will. Brick by brick, details are added. Brick by brick, it becomes real.

So now writer Aubrey is back. Ideally with a vengeance, but I’ll settle for with renewed enthusiasm. That’s really all it takes.