A story worth telling

Writers block

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my WIP needs a MAJOR overhaul. The main thrust of the plot is the same (namely, two characters on a quest together to find a particular object) but the broader context of that plot is changing completely. The end result will basically be a different book, which got me wondering: how do you know how much work (time/energy/thought) to put into an idea? When is it time to scrap that idea and move on? When is it worth persevering through the seemingly impossible?

I haven’t doubted for a second that TSS is worth rewriting to incorporate this new plot. Yes, I’ve done 7 months worth of work already, but the thing is, I still haven’t told the story I wanted to tell. It would be one thing if I thought the book didn’t work and had no ideas for how to fix it. But I do have ideas. And I have these two characters, and this concept for the world, and this setting, and I really want to do all of that justice. Even though there’s a lot left to do now, I feel compelled to do it, because I think this is a story worth telling.

But how do I know this is a story worth telling? Well, quite simply–because I urgently want to tell it. I didn’t say it was a story that people would want to read (though of course I hope it is). Readers can only read something after a writer has written it. For now, all I can do is tell the best story possible.

It’s worth it to me because I feel creatively unfulfilled right now. For as long as this book lingers inside of me, untold in its correct form, I won’t feel quite right. Sure, I’m desperate to start querying again and to advance my career past the lonely, un-agented, unpublished stage, but I can’t do that with the wrong version of this book. It’s not the story I want on shelves. It’s not the story I needed to tell. And the right story, the creatively fulfilling story, will always be worth telling.

 

The 5 stages of realizing your book needs a new plot

  1. Denial. No no no, surely I’m overreacting. There NO WAY I spent 7 months working on a book with the WRONG PLOT. That’s absurd. I’m just panicking for no reason. What do you think I am, some kind of pantser?
  2. Anger. What the hell? What was the point of all those hours staring at Scrivener? What was the point of all those pages of brainstorming? I’M GOING TO BURN THIS BOOK. Writing is an evil beast.
  3. Bargaining. Okay, okay, what if I change this one thing over here instead of rewriting huge chunks? Couldn’t that possibly fix the whole book? Maybe? Please?
  4. Depression. What’s the point of writing when getting published is so damn hard anyway? I may as well pack up my pen/binder/Scrivener and give up writing altogether. It would be easier that way.
  5. Acceptance. Hmm. Maybe this new idea for the book isn’t so bad. In fact, maybe this new idea could be GREAT. *jots down a bunch of notes* In fact, YES, this is going to be epic. This is just what the book needs. It will take some time, but I can do this.

I was standing in my kitchen yesterday after a few hours of revising TSS, and I had a very unwanted epiphany: the villain I’ve written doesn’t belong in this book.

*cue hysterical laughter*

Ever since I finished the first draft in January, I’ve known something was off. I never quite felt the excitement about this book. I never had a This book is The One that will get me places moment. I chalked it up to having written two previous books and being something of a veteran at finishing first drafts. But there was a nagging feeling of doubt at the back of my mind that was completely separate from my usual I’m-never-getting-published doubt.

Jump to last week. I sent my query for TSS to one of my critique partners for notes. She had lots of useful things to say, among them, Gee, that last line of the query feels a little out of the blue. I think you need to introduce that earlier. The last line referred to the villain. And I realized, of course! She’s right! I need to set this up earlier in the query. That soon turned in to, Of course! She’s right! I need to set this up earlier in the book.

So I kept looking for earlier and earlier places to move the villain’s introduction. 30% through the book. 25%. 20%. Hmm. I wasn’t feeling any of those. Shortly after that, said epiphany hit me.

*cue some hysterical crying as well*

Yesterday, I went through the five stages of grief for the plot of my book in very quick succession. By the time I started taking notes on the new idea last night, I was overwhelmed, but also feeling kind of good. This might be just the jolt my book needs to feel alive. I think I’ve found the spark that was missing. And it’s not a total overhaul of the book. Just major. Major is less bad than total.

Realistically, this probably tacks 3 months of work on to this book, which means it pushes querying another 3 months. *shudders* I’ll try not to think about that. It’s one thing to set deadlines to keep yourself working hard. It’s another thing to rush a book that’s not ready yet. I’m going to let the idea simmer for a while, make sure it really would help as much as I think it would, and then make this book awesome, all the while reciting, You can do this! *shakes pom poms*

Have you ever written an entire draft of a book only to realize it needs a major plot change? What did you do?

My query stats

I’ve debated writing this post for a while. I mentioned querying a book last year in multiple posts, and I don’t have an agent right now, so you can all probably guess how that went. But I like to be honest, and I like to show people what the reality is for an un-agented, unpublished writer. So I’m going to share my query stats. Just don’t laugh at me.

Okay, fine. It didn’t go that bad. Not laughably bad. But it didn’t go well enough that I have an agent, so I’m kind of embarrassed. A little embarrassment now and then is good for the soul, right? Besides, my experience isn’t atypical. Most authors you read and admire probably got dozens, if not hundreds, of rejections before they got published.

Last year, I queried a YA historical fantasy. Here’s how things went:

Numbers and dates–

Total queries sent: 85

First query sent: March 31, 2014

Last query sent: January 5, 2015

My results at the query stage–

Rejections: 44 (52%)

Requests: 15 (17.5%) [11 fulls, 4 partials]

No response: 26 (30.5%)

Slowest response: 4.5 months

 My results at the submission stage–

Rejections: 13 (87%)

No response: 2 (13%)

Slowest response: 7 months

In contrast, for my first book, I sent about 48 queries, got 12 requests, and then got 2 offers of rep. I can’t account for this. My second book was better and more original, yet I had a lower request rate and got no offers. It just goes to show that every query experience will be different, even for the same writer. There’s no point in comparing your experience querying one book to your experience querying another, let alone comparing your experience to another writer’s. Just write your heart out and hope for the best.

Good luck to anyone querying! I’ll be in the trenches with you soon!

P.S. – I used QueryTracker to keep track of all my queries. It’s fantastic. You should try it.

A break from reading YA

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably realized that I’m a YA nut. I’ve written 3 YA books. 65% of the books I read last year were YA (and it took a concerted effort for that number not to be 90%). I’m a swooning fangirl when it comes to YA authors (Laini Taylor! Lauren Oliver! Patrick Ness! Maggie Stiefvater!). I love it.

But right now, I’m feeling a little YA fatigue. I think it’s mostly because I’m 7 months into writing/revising a first-person YA fantasy. I’m feeling burned out as a reader and a writer, and I’ve decided to read some adult novels for a little while (except for the YA fantasies I need to read for possible comp titles).

So the other day, I went into my Goodreads list to the books I’d shelved as adult so I could pick something up from the library. There were only 14 books on the list, several of which aren’t out yet and several of which are huge bestsellers that have long holds at the library. The thing is, I have a snobbery against adult literature just like many people have a snobbery against YA literature. I think of it as long and slow-paced and all about generations of family dynamics. *gag* But I did a little digging (what were my Goodreads friends reading? What did Goodreads recommend? What did Amazon recommend?) and now have a sizable list that I don’t think will have those undesirable characteristics:

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
The Bell Jar by Silvia Plath
Lady Chatterly’s Lover by DH Lawrence
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
Inherit Midnight by Kate Kae Myers
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
In the Blood by Lisa Unger
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
Wicked by Gregory Maguire
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Vanishing by Wendy Webb
Lexicon by Max Barry
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Uninvited by Cat Winters (not out yet)
The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen (not out yet)
A Darker Shade of Magic #2 by VE Schwab (not out yet)

And I’m currently reading Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, which is a delightful book that’s making me laugh out loud. Just what I need right now.

As for the fatigue of writing YA, that probably has more to do with fatigue writing this particular book. I’m always getting sick of a book by the middle of the first revision, and it doesn’t help that I was stuck on one section this whole week. Despite writing 2 new versions of it, I didn’t get anywhere because I deleted both versions. But after a brainstorming session with my husband, I might finally be able to keep writing today. *crosses fingers*

Got any non-YA reading recommendations for me?

YA fantasies I need to read

I’m halfway through my first revision of TSS and am finally starting to let myself think about querying. I still have a couple of months of work to do (finishing the first revision, sending to CPs, revising based on their notes), but I’ve started working on my query letter. One element that a lot of agents like to see in a query letter is comp titles–books they can compare your book to. Something in the vein of, My book will appeal to fans of X book by X author and Y book by Y author. So now I’ve got a list of recent and upcoming YA fantasies to read before I query in case they’d make good comp titles. So far, I’ve got:

The Young Elites by Marie Lu
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
-An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to finish this god-forsaken chapter that I’m entirely rewriting for the second time.

How long have you wanted to be a writer?

Notebook #6

I remember, vaguely, that I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid. I kept a journal from about age 9 through high school, but I didn’t do much in the way of fiction writing. Today, I was flipping through an old journal and found this from July 29, 2000 (when I was 12):

Ever since the fourth Harry Potter book came out, I’ve wanted to write a great series and be known for it. The problem is, it’s got to be something different and exciting. I’ve had ideas but none of them work. Any suggestions? Well, if anything comes to mind, let me know. And also, don’t tell anyone how much I want to be a writer.

I can’t even explain how much reading that warmed my heart. I love that I was inspired by Harry Potter back then and still am today. That’s the sign of a powerful book. And I really get a kick out of the fact that I talked to my journal like it was a person. I asked it for suggestions. (If only it had given some.)

But my favorite thing about this is that I was keeping my dream of being a writer a secret. It was something I only told my journal (how appropriate that I could only express my desire to write in writing). Back then, the possibility of writing a full-length novel seemed impossible. It wasn’t until nearly 12 years later that I finally finished one. But it’s not a secret anymore. Everyone who knows me knows I’m a writer. Everyone who reads this blog knows. It’s one of the first things I tell someone when getting to know them.

I wish I could go back 14 years and tell that 12 year old that one day, she’d write a book. In fact, she’d write 3, with more to come. And I also wish that my 14-years future self could come and tell present me if I’d be published. I wish she could tell me that it’ll all work out, writing-wise.

But now, for the moment, I feel validated. I feel justified in pursuing this seemingly impossible dream. After all, I’ve wanted it all along.

2015 writing goals

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After a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I’m feeling renewed writing energy. It’s incredible to think that a kernel of an idea that JK Rowling jotted on a napkin one day turned into an amusement park. I’m not aspiring to be an author at that level (I don’t think that’s something you can even aspire to), but it gave me hope that someday, somewhere, someone will find my books meaningful.

I know I’m way past New Year’s’ resolution time, so I’ll just call these my 2015 writing goals instead…

  1. Revise my YA high fantasy (codename TSS) over and over until it’s great
  2. Query TSS
  3. Write and revise my first middle grade novel
  4. Write a first draft of a feature-length screenplay

Yeah, #4 surprised me too. But it was inevitable. My husband’s a screenwriter and always told me the day would come when I’d want to write a screenplay. Well, the day is here. I have a couple of ideas that might be good for this–ideas that I realized weren’t great for YA or MG and didn’t know what to do with. I’m completely daunted by the prospect of writing a screenplay since it’s such a different format than I’m used to, but I will embrace the suckage of my first one. You can’t write a good book or script or poem or story until you’ve written a bad one, in my opinion.

Anyone else branching out into new types of writing this year?

The hard truth about writing

On an almost daily basis, I ask myself, Why do you write?

There are a lot of possible answers to this question. Some are more valid than others. For example, some bad answers would be: For the money; to get famous; so I can work in my pajamas all day; so I can go on book tours around the world. Because the fact is, aside from the pajamas one, the others are highly unlikely. If any of those things are fueling your writing, you’ll likely burn out fast and give up.

But there’s an even worse answer to the question, an answer that pops into my thoughts on the bad days, uninvited, unannounced: I don’t know.

On the days I’m feeling the most doubt, that’s the only answer I have. I don’t know why I’m doing this. It’s a waste of time. I’m delusional. I’m aimless. I should stop right now and get a real job.

Today is not one of those days. I’m not feeling the best about writing today, but I’m not feeling terrible about it either. This is probably an average day, feelings-wise. It is on this type of day that I can ask myself, Why do you write? and get the most honest answer.

Because I want to tell stories.

That’s it. Nothing else. Not because I expect anyone to like those stories. Not because I expect to get rich telling them. Not because I want to see my name on a book (though I do desperately want that). I write because there are stories in my head. Some of them will fade, will never quite develop all the way, and I’ll never write them down. But others won’t. Some stories stay, and there’s something unbearable about the thought of never bringing them to completion. Because while they’re in my head, they’re fragments, underdeveloped, murky. It’s only by writing them down that I can see the full story.

Another question I ask myself: Would you still write even if you knew you’d never get published? This is hard to answer honestly. Some days I think I absolutely would. Some days I think I’d have to be a masochist to keep writing without the possibility of publication. But again, the real answer is probably something in between. Yes, I’d write, but I’d probably never revise. I’d write first drafts and then let them languish, unpolished, unread, not-quite-loved-enough. And that’s okay. As long as my answer isn’t a resounding no, I think I’m still on the right track.

The hard truth is that wanting to tell stories is not enough to create success. Neither is hard work, necessarily. There’s a bit of talent, a bit of luck, a bit of a right-story-at-the-right-time element. As yet, I haven’t written the right story at the right time. But maybe this time. Maybe this book.

Until all that magic comes together at the right moment, all I can do is try. All I can do is tell stories and hope they might mean something to someone besides me one day.

Timeline of my novel’s first draft

Because I’m always curious about other writers’ methods and time spent writing, I thought I’d share the timeline for the first draft I just finished. This is not meant to be advice or something that other writers should compare themselves to, I’m just posting it for anyone who finds it interesting. And also so you’ll know that people who write a first draft in two weeks are superhuman or mutants or aliens or something.

Fall 2009 – I learn about a particular condition in a neuroscience class and think, Hmm, it’d be cool to write a book with a character who has that

April 2012 – Lightbulb moment! That tiny idea from 2009 should be set in a fantasy world

June-July 2012 – Start very bad version of idea. Interrupt it a few thousand words in to revise my first book THANK GOD, or I’d have wasted a lot of time writing a half-baked idea

May 2014 – I’m finally ready for this idea to be my next book. It’s been at the back of my mind for years now, and it’s come together enough that I can outline a bit and start

mid-July 2014 – Start writing the book in third person

September 1, 2014 – Re-start the book in first person, scrapping almost everything I already wrote

January 6, 2015 – Finish first draft of 81,800 words

I can tell you that I definitely DID NOT write every day from 9/1-1/6. I counted, and it was more like 65 active writing days (plus a few days revising a section that sucked). That’s an average of 1,258 words per day (makes sense, because my daily goal was 1,200. Sometimes it wound up being 2,000, sometimes it was 700. Just depended on the day).

Now this is the part I find interesting: how long do I say it took me to write the first draft? Is it just over 4 months, because that was my active writing time once I switched to first person? Six months, because I should include the third person start? Over 5 years, because of when I got the kernel of the idea? I don’t know. But I do know that I’m glad I gave the idea time to gestate in my brain, or it would have been a very different–and not very good–novel.

Sticker sheetOne thing I’m happy about is that this book took me less time to write than my first two. I’m becoming more disciplined for sure. The daily word count goal doesn’t work for some people, but it does for me. I put stickers on my calendar for each 600 words written (I got the idea from Victoria Schwab) and that helps me feel like I accomplished something at the end of a writing day. For my last book, my goal was 1,000 words per day, and I decided to challenge myself for this one and go for 1,200. I don’t want to say that became easy to hit because writing is never easy, but it at least became habit. Toward the end, it wasn’t uncommon for me to hit 1,800. If you’d told me that when I was writing my first book, I’d have laughed and hid under my desk.

So, how long does it take you to write a novel? Do you set word count goals or wait for inspiration to strike? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

THE BOOK IS DONE

This morning, I finished writing my third book. It’s done. Done, done, done!

Well. Done-ish. Because it’s a first draft and it needs a crapload of revisions. But still. I completed the first step: get words on paper. (81,808 to be exact.)

I’m excited, but not as excited as I should be. I feel weird, guys. I just read the post I wrote the day I finished my first book back in April 2012. I was so giddy. So in awe that I’d actually done it. I’d wanted to write a novel for as long as I could remember, but novels seemed so impossibly long. How does anyone ever finish? I wondered. And then I did. And it was magic.

Fast forward to December 2013. I finished my second book, The Fading Hour. In my celebratory blog post for that one, I managed to keep my cool. I felt accomplished, but I wasn’t a newbie anymore. I’d done it before. I was relieved to know I could do it more than once, and I was certainly excited, but I knew all the work that was still to come in revisions.

This time…I don’t know. There’s excitement, yes, but I also feel a bit beaten down by the whole process of writing and querying. I’m no longer a giddy optimist, but a weathered realist. I wrote a book. I’ll revise the book. I’ll query the book. We’ll see what happens from there.

That’s not to say I don’t love it. This book is something I’d been wanting to write for years but wasn’t ready yet. In 2014, the story finally came together in a way I knew I could write, write decently well, and probably have some success querying. I love the world, love the concept, am falling in love with the characters. My lack of enthusiasm has nothing to do with the book itself.

Writing each book has been a different experience. It makes sense that finishing each is different as well. For now, I’ll put revisions out of my mind and let the book settle. I’ll try to let the optimist take over again, the one that daydreams about seeing this book, my book, on shelves one day. Because what are writers if we’re not dreamers?