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Let It Go

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Okay, everyone. This is it. I’m proud to report that, true to my word, since my last post I have finished the second draft of my book. Not only that, but I’ve sent it off to FOUR people to read, and will soon give it to a fifth. Now I’m in the position where all I can really do is wait.

Now that I’m waiting and I happen to have some free time (a rarity, but I’m not complaining!), I’m wondering if I should think about picking up an old project. What do you all typically do during this time of waiting? I’m not sure how people feel about working on multiple projects at once. I worked for an agent once who told me that when I was reading through author biographies, I should see multiple unpublished projects as a red flag. Why would you be working on a second book when the first one hadn’t gone anywhere? Obviously you should be putting the time into the first book, to make it up to snuff for publication.

If I believed in that rule, it’s possible that I could never work on anything other than this one book, which maybe just won’t ever sell. Or maybe that’s pessimistic. I also see the point the agent was trying to make–maybe this isn’t a person who’s willing to work hard to get something right. I don’t think I fall into that category, though–I’m doing all of these revisions, am I not?–so maybe I’m in the clear there.

I’ve always been someone who multitasks, whether it’s with my writing or my work or . . . just anything, really. In middle school I used to carry around at least three books with me at all times, because I was reading them all simultaneously, depending on what I was in the mood for. By high school I got with it and knew how nerdy that made me look, so I kept the books in my locker instead of carrying them through the halls, but you see where I’m going with this. I remember in college there was a rule that we could only take one creative writing course at a time, and that was always confusing to me. Why can’t I take screenwriting and fiction writing at the same time? Why can’t I have multiple ideas for multiple stories and be working on all of it at once?

The funny thing about my book is that it really isn’t what I planned to finish first when I thought about the way I would start writing. I was actually pretty far into a different project, but I had to start a novel for my creative writing thesis at Barnard, and the young adult project I was working on wasn’t “serious” enough, so I picked up some characters I’d had kicking around in other writing assignments and started what is, now, my nearly finished book. It’s still young adult, but drastically more serious than the Meg Cabot-y, angsty teen novel I had been working on before (and which, honestly, I feel more excited about finishing).

If you’ve made a habit of reading my blog posts (bless you), you’ll know that making time to write is something that I’ve struggled with before. As a result, I’ve gotten in the habit of writing whenever I have thirty minutes or more of free time. Now that I’ve sent this book off to readers, I’m looking at my free time and feeling compelled to write, but not sure if I should be working on something else or waiting for this book to come back to me.

Like I said in my last post–I’m actually not that nervous about the comments from the readers. I’m excited to see their thoughts and to make the final changes before I take this thing to the next level, whatever that is.

So my question to all of you is this: What do you do while you’re waiting for beta readers to give you feedback? Do you prefer to work on multiple projects at a time, or to just focus on one until it is completely finished? And what’s “finished,” anyway?

P.S. The title of this blog post is a reference to my attitude about sending the book off to readers, and if anyone needs encouragement to make a move like that, I encourage you to watch this clip from Frozen. If she can build an ice castle in three minutes, you can submit your writing to readers!


Where Were We?

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This weekend I had time to write in what was (I am horrified to say) the first time in nearly two months. This is my own fault in a lot of ways–because I wasn’t making the time for it, and also because I’m someone who prefers to write when I have a long chunk of time to do it. If learning to write in fifteen-minute spurts is a transferable skill, I want to learn it.

Anyhow, I found myself spending a huge chunk of my time just trying to figure out where I had left off. I have trouble just jumping into a story–I need time to fall into it and get a sense for where I am, and in this case I needed to remind myself what had happened with my characters up until the point where I had last left them.

This is much more difficult than it was when I was just working on finishing the draft. Back then, I would just read the last few pages and then get to work adding what I wanted to happen next. Now that I’m revising, I need to figure out not only where the characters are going but whether I need that to be different than it was before. Does it make sense with changes I’ve made before this point? Does it continue the progression and the nuances I’m trying to add to the story with the revision?

Overall revision feels like a lot more work than writing the draft ever was. It’s still fun and engaging, but in its own totally different way. Instead of building something from scratch and seeing what I come up with, I’m working with something that already exists and trying to find ways to change it and make it better while still maintaining the structure that I built when I was writing. I’m definitely starting to get to that point where I feel like I’ve been looking at these pages so much that I can’t see them for what they are anymore, which means some more close friends are (finally) going to get the okay to read the next draft.

When all was said and done, I only got through about two new pages this weekend, but I also had the opportunity to remind myself what was happening in this other little world I had created. It was sort of comforting to know that they weren’t all moving along without me. That’s what’s sort of fun about writing fiction: when you come back to the characters you love, they’re always right where you left them.

How is it for you? Do you find it easier to write a first draft, or to revise? What strategies do you use to jump back into a story in an efficient way?


What’s It About?

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I once had a writing professor tell me that the worst thing you can ever ask a writer is actually the most obvious question: What’s your book about?

When she told me this I hadn’t started my novel yet. Now that I have, I totally understand what she was talking about. Whenever I tell someone, or someone hears, that I wrote a book, the first thing they want to know is “What is it about?” Every time they ask me I give them a prepared answer that I mastered two years ago when I first started working on the project, but this little speech doesn’t describe what I feel the book is really about, and what’s more, I don’t think people really want to know.

I could talk for hours about what my book is about – and I have, over the course of writing workshops and discussing with first readers.  I’m sure that all of you could talk about your books for just as long. Why, then, do I (and maybe you, as well) fear this question so much?

I think the source of the issue is the fact that I don’t feel like anyone other than a writer (or my dad. Hi dad!) would actually want me to launch into the discussion about the themes and the nuances I’m hoping are present in my book (or that should be there when I’m done with the revision process). Most people are asking what the book is about as a courtesy. While they ask “Oh! What is it about?” they’re really rolling their eyes internally and thinking “Yeah, right, she wrote a book.” For some reason people think that writing a book is an easy thing that bored people do to pass the time because they have no job or life or interests or something. I invite these people to spend a day in my life and then reassess.

I used to think that only people who are young like me get this eye rolling type of response, but through the conversations I’ve had with many of you I’ve realized that this is a universal issue. I don’t know why writing a book is associated by so many people with frivolity – I’ve never seen it that way, but I’m biased. I wish these people would look at series like Harry Potter or A Song of Ice and Fire (the Game of Thrones series). Do they think George R.R. Martin was just twiddling his thumbs sipping a hot chocolate, wondering to himself, Hmmm, what can I do with all of this time? I know! I’ll create an entire fictional universe with such a rich and detailed culture that it has its own complicated religious, political, and cultural issues, as well as complicated family rivalries dating back hundreds of years! Oh yeah, also zombies. Just, you know. Because.

Come on you guys. That stuff doesn’t happen on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I would love to rewind like twenty years to the younger George who is just starting to draft out the first book in the series. Maybe he encounters someone at a party. While he’s sipping his cider (in my head it is Fall and there is hot mulled cider), someone comes up to him and says “Hey! My girlfriend mentioned you’re writing a book. What’s it about?” I think we could all learn something from George’s response in that situation.

So my question to you all this week is this: How do you handle this question when it’s asked of you? Do you find yourself just regurgitating a pre-made response that sort of skims the surface of your plot? Or do you take a chance and try to really get into the meat of your story? Let me know in the comments below!


Separation Anxiety

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I’ve wanted to write about one of my personal weaknesses as a writer for a while now, and it just so happens that it’s particularly relevant this week for all of you who may watch and/or read Game of Thrones. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything for you, I hate spoilers. That being said, you might get a little nervous when you see what my post is about.

I hate killing my characters.

Now, nothing that I’ve written has been so intense that anyone needed to die, but my issue goes further than that – I don’t even like to hurt my characters, be it socially, emotionally, or mentally.

Still a little bitter.

When I think about the people I admire who have written really great stuff a few big names comes to mind who really don’t have the same problems I do: Joss Whedon, Suzanne Collins, J.K. Rowling … the list could go on. Joss Whedon will kill anyone, he doesn’t care (RIP, Fred). He’ll maim them, ruin their lives, destroy everything they believe in – nothing is safe in his universe. It’s about the progression and the arc of the story, and if someone has to be sacrificed for that, then out they go.

Collins and Rowling are similar, though not quite so extreme (they’re writing for a younger audience, after all), but the effect is the same: The stakes remain high because we as the readers don’t believe that the characters are inherently safe. If we thought that, there’d be nothing to read about, because we’d know that everything is going to work out. Did you know if Harry was going to live at the end of Deathly Hallows? I didn’t. It was the last book in the series. Technically he did die. But I digress.

These examples are different than my work because they’re all basically action driven and my story isn’t – that can be the topic of a future post – but the principles still apply. As writers, we need to make our readers worried about our characters. We need to make people feel like maybe things won’t work out, and that’s why they should keep reading – to see how and if these characters are going to get out of the mess we put them in.

Red. Freaking. Wedding.

I think there are two reasons I struggle to create this feeling. First, I get too attached to my characters. As writers,we get to make our own worlds. As a writer of fiction I get to make the rules, and what’s the point of fiction if not to change the rules? If I wanted reality I would watch the news. So when I’m writing I find myself just wanting everything to work out for these people, and so I forget to keep it interesting.

My second problem is that I think there’s a fine line we as writers of fiction walk when we start hurting characters. You have to be careful not to cause too much damage, because the reader could lose hope. And you have to be extra careful not to piss people off and make them feel like they’ve wasted their time. Not that I’m bitter, George R.R. Martin. But I did read 3000 pages. That’s all I’m saying.

I can’t seem to figure out how to walk the line of how much is too much without losing the reader, and instead I back off so far that it’s just not interesting anymore. How do we navigate this issue in our writing? When do you all, as writers, know how much is enough? Let me know in the comments below!