Great Readers Make Great Writers

I’m sure you’ve heard people say “oh well I think the best way to become a great writer, is to read books!” and I am wholeheartedly someone who believes this. I’ve seen agents on Twitter in query hashtags talking about their thoughts for queries, and often you read “Person who obviously has never read X-Genre is pitching a X-Genre book, PASS!” so I think it’s evident that this is good general advice.

Take this from me, as someone who was smacked in the face with the reality of the fact that it is really hard to write a genre or age that you’ve never read a book in. How are you supposed to know the formatting? The tropes? The maturity levels? I made the fun mistake of writing a book in the summer of 2015. While I was outlining and writing it, I didn’t know if it would be YA or Adult. I just…wrote it. By the time I finished, I realized it was too mature for a YA book (half of the protagonists are in their 40’s + some other stuff!) so that meant it was an Adult book. As a YA junkie I had read maybe like 4 or 5 Adult fantasy or sci-fi books in my lifetime. Upon realization of this, and rereading my manuscript, I realized how much it SHOWED. While characters may have been age appropriately characterized, the writing style and plots used were very YA inspired, so it really didn’t work together.

I don’t plan on giving up on this book, but I definitely need to read like 100 more Adult fantasy and sci-fi books before I’d feel comfortable tackling that again and creating a book that will actually work for the target audience.

Aside from the age of the audience reading, I feel like as a writer, reading any type of book is great. Read across genres as much as you can–even if you don’t like a genre, pick up a book in one that sounds intriguing and give it a try!–and just absorb everything! What did you like about it, what did you dislike? Read books you know you’ll love! Read books you think you’ll hate but end up loving! Read books you pluck off the shelf on a whim and end up disliking it! Because you know what? When you step back and look at the things that made you like or dislike a book, you’ll start to get a good picture of the ways you can write well and the things you want to avoid as a writer. It’s the kind of research and information that you can’t get from reading a blog essay. No one can do this for you, it’s all up to you and your beautiful writing brain and the books you read.

I feel as if writing goes hand in hand with reading. I’m typically not inspired to read unless I’m also actively writing, and vise versa. And I feel like every time I pick up a new book, I’m going to learn something new about what I want to incorporate into my personal writing. It’s invaluable experience and information that only you can figure out for yourself.

So, go forth my fellow writers, and read all that you can get your hands on! Libraries are great for doing this experiment, since you can grab books of ages and genres you’ve never read or think you’ll dislike, take them home and return them if they’re too bad for your tastes or keep them for a while and it’s all free! (Yes, I’m boosting libraries in my blog, sue me, but they’re amazing places and you don’t have to own a bazillion books to be a reader or a writer!)

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The Ills of Writing Advice

I have seen a little bit, here and there, around the Twittersphere about writing advice and how it’s not always the best thing. I have to agree. There is a big difference between learning and researching writing (as in college, or courses, or personal research for a particular project) and gaining writing advice. The biggest hurdle I think there is to get over is the fact that everyone writes differently. The phrase you hear so often, is actually true. Even if you’re a writer with writer friends, you all will write differently, you’ll all have different ways of writing, because everyone’s mind works differently.

As someone who finds it more disheartening to hear other writers talk about their process than it is helpful, I feel as if this is a good topic for me to talk a little bit about the minor stresses and negative thoughts that go through my brain whenever I think about writing in relation to other people writing. (A lot of this is because Twitter is a useful place to talk about writing; your process, your progress, all the missteps and epiphanies; I follow authors I adore on the site, but even hearing about their writing journeys sometimes has a negative effect on me.) This is separate from the idea that you’ll never be good enough, your ideas are never going to be chosen from a pitch, or that other writers are better off or worse off than you. This is about personal, internalized shit.

I write. I’ve done it ever since I could hold a pencil and form letters. (I was three-going-on-four.) I always had stories in my head, for as long as I can remember and even before then (my family was kind enough to remind me). And, like every writer, I have my own process. A process that, I’ve learned in the past two years, is very different from the “norm” of what I was seeing a majority of authors write about on Twitter and in their blogs. As these writers talked about first drafts where only 1% of lines would make it the next, about being in drafts six and seven, even into double digits, I got really stressed out.

Because I don’t write that many drafts.

I write one draft, and then a second. After that, I feel as if my novel is where it needs to be, save for some line edits.

Which, for nearly two years, I thought was wrong. So wrong, that I thought I wasn’t writing properly, and I would cry and try to force myself to rewrite things, which, in turn, made me hate and reject those stories even though I once loved them.

So I talked to my boyfriend about it. He’s read my stories in a rough first draft, to a more polished script. He knows me very well. Our minds are synced on that weird level where it’s on the verge of actually being creepy. And he explained some things to me: according to what I babble to him, I write multiple drafts of a novel….in my head. I have such a fully formed idea that by the time I type things out, I don’t need all of those drafts to make the story work. That was just his take, but it made me feel better and I thought about it and I feel like its very true.

It helped calm me down and I got back into writing. My latest WIP, I am editing and revising my first draft and I’ll be querying with my second draft. And I finally feel like that’s okay, that I’m still a writer, even though I’m not on my 18th draft.

I’m not trying to make any author feel bad about how many drafts they write; that is the complete opposite of this post. My point is, in short: that everyone writes differently so therefore, not being able to follow “writing advice” and “published authors progress” is OKAY. You’re you, I’m me. Our brains are wired differently. (And I’m sure I’m not the only one in the world who writes so few drafts, I just am more exposed to those people who do write a lot of them.) So just because someone writes “oh this book took 8 drafts” or “22 drafts”, that’s okay for them, and you shouldn’t hold yourself up to that same number of drafts if you feel like it is hurting your writing.

If an author says “oh you shouldn’t query with a second draft” well, that’s their advice to give, but god dammit, if you feel like your second draft is where you want it to be, go forth and query. (I may be talking to myself here, a little pep talk!)

The thing is this: no one has all the right answers about writing, because there are no right answers. Don’t try to force yourself to do things that are hurting your writing or your soul, and follow instead the things that make you happy and your story and characters thrive.

The world is big and someone will love your story. (Here’s to hoping someone likes mine this year!) You shouldn’t tailor your writing solely based on writing advice from other people. That just doesn’t make sense. Write for you, and let your own instincts guide you through. And, if you feel under qualified, do some research on your own. Read unbiased TEACHING essays about whatever is stumping you. You can learn a lot and integrate it into your writing. Keeping your writing true to yourself is the most important thing.

I wrote a book!

It has been a really long time since I posted anything on this blog, and I thought with the recent influx of people following, it was time to post something new. So let’s dive into my latest venture into the writing world.

In the month of April, I wrote a completed first draft of a new manuscript!

*confetti*

This is big for me. I haven’t started and completed a project since the summer of 2015. I was feeling pretty down about my writing abilities and the possibility of actually writing a book that could potentially be sent out to query. I had low confidence in myself as a writer and generally as a person within my own life. So I made a lot of drastic changes to myself and my life in the month of April so that I would be able to start and complete a project for the first time in almost three years. I’ll list some of things I did below because I feel like they were extremely useful for me to stay productive and enthusiastic about my writing.

  1. I cut down my social media. I deleted my Instagram (account and app). I deleted my Twitter app from my phone and blocked my personal account on my laptop (I kept up my bookish/professional Twitter, but I rarely posted on it except for a monthly hashtag challenge). I deleted the Snapchat app. (I already deleted my Facebook a year ago and it was the best decision of my life.) The only social media I kept, was my fandom Tumblr blog and my bookish Twitter.
  2. I had multiple places where I kept track of my word count progress. I used CampNaNoWriMo as my main place (something about their statistics page is an ultra productivity booster for me1), and I also kept track on Scrivener, as well as on myWriteClub.
  3. I posted limitedly about my WIP on my Twitter to hold myself accountable.
  4. I gave myself a goal of writing 4,000 words a day (I have a part time job, so I have a lot of free time on my hands that some people may not), but even so, I knew I only had to write about 2,000 words a day to stay on track with CampNaNoWriMo.
  5. I wrote in a place that wasn’t my house. I find it not impossible, but much more difficult to write while in my own comfort. I mostly went to Barnes & Noble and sat at their cafe. One, because there are a few Pokestops nearby, and two, because my computer won’t connect to their WiFi so I never had to worry about being distracted by the internet. I was basically forcing myself to focus on my writing and not getting sucked into the web.

Those are the main things that I went out of my way to do so that I would stay focused and it worked!

There were a few other things I did to trick my mental self into staying productive. I have a finicky mind, so sometimes I have to trick myself to boost my creativity. Some of these things included:

  • I started CampNaNoWriMo with 10,000 words already written (I wrote these words the weekend leading up to April 1st) and added them to my overall word count so I was always well above the estimated word count for whatever day I was on.
  • I wrote a WIP from a in depth summary that I had written four or five years ago, so I hadn’t been doing months of world building beforehand and just dove right into the writing process.
  • I kept changing my word count goal the closer I got to the end. I started at 90,000 words. I moved that down to 80,000 when I got about 90% done with my MS, and then, realizing that I was wrapping things up with the last two chapters, I brought it down to 75,000. In the end, I wrote a little over 77,000 words.

There are a lot of things wrong with my MS. I had lots of thoughts on this as I wrote it. I hashed it out with my boyfriend (who had no idea what was happening since I decided not to tell anyone much of anything about my story idea this time*) and more than halfway through I had an epiphany: I was going to completely change the plot line to cut down on cliches. I was super happy with my new idea, but I also continued writing my story in the original way. By the time I got to the emotional reveals near the end, I backtracked and decided I was going to keep the original plot line…but move the timeline up. Instead of starting on Day 1, I was going to start a month or two into the story. I felt that the first 20 or 30,000 words were a lot of exposition and a lot of main-character-meets-new-character-and-establishes-relationship which bogged down the pacing. I’m super happy with this new way to tackle this idea, and I plan on going this route when I start revising/rewriting.

*I say this because I tend to get super excited when I get a new story idea. I want to tell everyone close to me every detail of what’s going to happen in it. And, after talking this through with (again) my boyfriend, I realized that this hurts me more than it helps me. So, yes, I told the general, one or two line summary to a number of people, but all the details? I kept to myself. It made the writing more personal. The last MS I wrote in 2015 I also kept close to my heart, so I think that this is the best way I can write a story from start to finish.

So now I have a 77,000~ word manuscript, a purpose when it comes to what my rewrites are going to focus on, and I’m super excited. I don’t feel done with this MS yet. I know it’s imperfect, and for the first time in my writing career, I am actually super excited to do rewrites because I know where this story could go and how it can be better. I don’t think it’s perfect, so I have no problems digging in and changing a lot and deleting thousands and thousands of words just to make it a better story.

This is a big deal for me, as I know it is for a lot of people. Finishing a manuscript, even if it’s a shitty first draft, is a huge accomplishment. And now I’ll set it aside for about a month or so before I dive into it again.

I do hope that my process holds little tidbits of advice that are useful for everyone reading!

Series or stand-alones?

Time for a very short blog piece today.

Is writing a series or writing a stand-alone better?

It’s hard to say. Writing series I think is most people’s goal, especially in science fiction and fantasy genres. But I also know that a lot of people prefer to write single books. There are pros and cons to each.

Writing a series means that you can explore a world you create very deeply, mores than any single book could dive. You can have more time pass within the overall story arc as well. However, you risk the chance of becoming redundant and having a stale or uninspired plot during one of the books in the middle of the series. I’ve seen this happen a lot.

Writing a single book means that you can focus entirely on the plot involved between the first and last pages. You know exactly where it is going to end, and filling in the rest is a matter of picking and choosing what details to share and what details will forever just live in your notes on your computer or notebook. These stories are a little less stressful to write at times, as you have a contained plot, rather than having to always think ahead to how a situation in book 2 will impact something larger in book 4 for example. However, it also means that usually (but not always) once you finish the book, that closes the door on that world and those characters. Even if you fall deeply in love with them, you probably won’t be able to write them again; at least not in the same form.

The whole point of this post is to show that there is no answer to this. Series are amazing! Stand-alone books are amazing! Writers and their works, are amazing!

Advice: Naming characters is hard

Your characters are entirely made of your imagination. From their outward appearance, the slang they use, their emotional baggage, and of course, their names. Naming people is hard! Some people name their characters with a lot of thought behind it: the meaning of the name itself in correlation to the character and/or their journey, with specific detail to region/timelines and various other markers. Some people just pick names they like and slap them onto the character.

(I can happily say that I am the latter of the two.)

It doesn’t really matter how you come up with a name. It doesn’t matter if you come up with the name first or the after you’ve written half the book, and have an AH-HA! moment where you realize the perfect name for the character whose holder has been MC1 for your first thirty thousand words. Sometimes, you write a character with a hastily chosen name and decide that, ew it doesn’t fit at all. Either you keep the name and give them a nickname, or change it entirely to something that doesn’t make you wrinkle your nose and ask, “Who came up with this?” (The answer would be you, you came up with this, but hey, no one is perfect.)

I think, however, the hardest thing happens when you write an entire book with the perfect character name the entire way. You’ve marinated this idea and written it all down for months or years, and once you’ve finished, you decide you need to change things. Revisions sneak up on you like that. Perhaps you realize you need more diversity and change the ethnicity of a character to better suit the world they live in or their character arc. You have a name and character you love, but you have to change, say, their last name. That’s really hard. Or if you revise and realize that all of your characters have last names that sound too similar. We all know that naming most of your characters with similar names is a big no-no because it’s too easy for readers to get confused. (Imagine a drama sequence with characters named Sam, Sally, Sara, Sage, Sadi. Confusing right?)

I can also make an assumption (from no personal experience) that perhaps your agent or editor may make a note about a name for one reason or another, as to why you should think about changing it. By now, you have a manuscript as polished as you can manage on your own, and here are people in the industry giving you their knowledge. You want to take it to heart, to make the best book you could possibly make, but changing names is a big deal. There is no right or wrong way to name a character (unless, of course, it is a derogatory name, or if you use stereotypical names with negative connotations) but a name fully envelopes a character quite quickly in a writer’s heart.

I guess my best advice would be this: go with your gut and pick a good name. You could research a bunch of names first, or you could do a random name generator online and mash first and last names together that sound good. Name sure that the name is appropriate for the story you’re telling. It is, after all, your world, your characters, your choice. But also, be aware that sometimes you will have to tweak a name for some reason or another, and that’s okay too. It may be a little weird, and you may slip up while talking about your book to friends or future publishing aficionados by using the first name you gave them, but it happens. As long as you love the name, then that’s all that matters.

My Journey: The first novel

I have an interesting past. My family has often talked about how I should write down everything I’ve been through so I can write a memoir when I’m older, but mostly I just like telling people the random stuff that has happened to me throughout the years.

The least random of things is the fact that I was homeschooled from grades 2 to 12. (For non-Americans, and those unfamiliar with the American school system, that’s ages 8 to 18.) I had a very unique structure to learning, where my mom was my teacher, and I had a certain number of subjects that I needed to fill with courses. When I started showing a true desire to write, more than just random little stories with no substance, my mom decided to embrace that.

At twelve, I started writing my first novel. It was my English Literature class. It was structured as this: week 1, write an outline, week 2, write chapter one, week 3, write chapter two, etc. Each week had a full assignment and at the end of that week my mom would read it and we would go over it together. It worked surprisingly well. (I won’t share my idea because I plan on revisiting and rewriting it soon and trying to publish it.) There were four main characters, so I learned how to write different voices, and I spent a lot of time realizing how much I rely on patterns whilst writing.

Even though I had written the entire outline, I didn’t finish writing the book that school year. I got halfway through, having written about 60,000 words, and then my life went into an upheaval. I don’t think I wrote much of any original work between then and sixteen, but at sixteen (or nearly sixteen) I decided I needed to finish that first novel. It was just standing there, with the end unwritten. So I finished with about 101,000 words. My writing had changed so much that it wasn’t even the same story anymore, but I at least completed the idea. Then I set it aside.

I didn’t touch it for years. I had my grandmother, who has experience copy editing, read it. (Embarrassment ensued.) And then I decided to read it myself. I felt a complex mass of emotions attached to it. Obviously, the story, the characters…they’re my actual children. They’re the first characters I fully developed, the first world I created, they will always be precious to me. But I also realized that yes, while I have definitely gained a very distinct fiction writing voice and style, I lost a lot of my storytelling skills as I moved into my teen and adult years. Reading the first half of this book, it was as if I were writing about friends and people. There were so many tiny details of those first 12 chapters that I cannot seem to ever write into my newer work. Every characters had multiple hobbies, they were constantly involved in action, there was emotional impact and no overdramatic teenage love bogging down the story.

I can’t seem to write that way any more. It makes me really sad, and I have been trying to get myself back into the frame of mind where I could possibly write like that again, but match it with my more refined style. It is a difficult task, and most likely a large component as to why it is so hard for me to finish large, world building projects these days. I keep second guessing my ability to write characters who are people and not just words on a page.

Let’s take a lesson from this: don’t discredit your writing from when you were younger. You can learn a lot from rereading your first stabs at novels or poems or short stories or whatever it is that you write. You can physically see how much you have grown, and you can pinpoint things that you’ve lost along the way. As a writer, this is important, because writing is a consistently changing and evolving process and we are our own best teachers.

NaNoWriMo

We all know what NaNoWriMo is. If you don’t, it stands for “National Novel Writing Month”. I believe, years ago, it stood for “National November Writing Month”, but that could be misinformation. NaNo, for short, is an event hosted on a website where it challenges you to write 50,000 words a day for the month of November. (There are multiple smaller events through the year, but we’re focusing on November right now.) It’s a really great exercise, especially if you do well with a deadline and visual stimulation. The website is set up in such a way where you can view your statistics in a bar-graph. This means, instead of just numbers going up in your word document, you can see bars stagger upwards toward your goal!

I do very well with visual stimulation and a visual representation of my progress is a great way to keep me motivated. I wish there was NaNo every month for this very reason! I have yet to find a good simulator I can use on the months when NaNo isn’t actively occurring. That is, however, beside the point in this blog.

A lot of people don’t finish NaNo; I have a track record of never actually completing a NaNo month in the five or so years that I’ve participated. Most of this is attributed to the fact that it takes place in November, a time when I had midterms and finals going on at a massive scale. After I graduated two years ago, I went through a rough patch where I didn’t write for six months. My writing has been super spotty ever since then. Which is why I’m so keen on doing NaNo this year! I need to write another novel. It’s been too long since I wrote my last WIP (over two years), and I am having a hard time motivating myself farther into my writing career because of it.

No one writes a perfect novel in 50,000 words on a first draft. Hell, no one writes a perfect novel in 100,000 words on a first draft. That’s not really the point of NaNo: the point is to challenge yourself to reach a goal and to have support from friends and fellow writers to reach a goal. Many people far surpass the 50,000 word mark. Some barely get there. But the fact of the matter is that on December 1st, you will have written more words in November than you had on October 31st. It doesn’t matter if they are perfect, it just matters that you’re writing, that you’re creating and that you’re enjoying yourself.

If you would like to follow my progress on NaNo, my pen name is Negasonics. I encourage everyone to join NaNo, even if you don’t think you’ll make it to 50,000 words. It is called a challenge for a reason, and there is nothing wrong with a little challenge, a little support, and even a little stress to get yourself going.

So please, become my buddy on NaNoWriMo! Follow my twitter for updates and support! Grab some of your favorite cozy drink and foods, think of an idea that you’ve wanted to write for ages, or maybe think of something new and fresh, and just GO FOR IT! There is no right or wrong way to do NaNo, as long as you try.