Overdue

In case you haven’t noticed, I can be shockingly bad at keeping a blog updated. I had a personal one years ago that I updated twice a week, but that was more about my life than writing. For this one, I’ve geared it towards writing, but then when I think of something writing-related to blog about, I decide I’d rather just use that time ACTUALLY writing and progressing my projects.

That being said, I’m working on being better. My last post was that I was doing Camp Nano, and so I might as well say that was a success. I achieved my goals and got a lot of *quality* revisions done! Then things kicked into gear with my trip to SD Comic Con (where I attended lots of industry panels, which were amazing), falling unwell after getting back, lots of changes at work, trying to juggle some beta commitments (and dropping a few balls there), then my two-week excavation in Croatia, then some weddings and social commitments that mean here we are on the cusp of November.

I’m planning some specific goals for November as people jump into NaNoWriMo, and may be able to open WoS up for a couple of alpha readers if anyone is keen on sneak peaks at SoMES’ sequel. I hope everyone is doing well, and happy Diwali for those celebrating (my visit to India coincided with the holiday and it is now something I remember each year).

Camp Nano Accountability. Week 1.

I set a goal of two hours a day, no more than 3 hours in one day (or sitting, really). So far, I’m at 17 hours so am surprisingly smashing my Nano goals.

As someone who always puts absurdly-high thresholds on themselves for success, it is a strange feeling. Is this what setting achievable goals feels like? Am I just an extremely awful person to myself most of the time by constantly setting myself up for failure with lofty expectations I could never hope to achieve? Who knows.

I always heard to shoot for the moon so you can land amongst the stars, but I guess constantly missing the moon can take its toll on someone’s mental health and wellbeing, so maybe the time has come to shoot for the stars for a little while.

Anyways, I’ve been using this Camp Nano to build some good writing habits. One issue I always faced was being able to use my lunch at work, because working between a home MacBook and a work Windows used to see me sending umpteen versions of my MS back and forth via email to myself, to the point I couldn’t remember which was the most up-to-date or whether I’d finished copying all the edits I wanted from the last work version.

This time, I’ve tried to keep it simple. I am doing edits for camp, so I’ve taken one scene or chapter that I want to work on, emailed it to myself, then opened it in a fresh word doc on the work computer. Over lunch, I turn on tracked changes and tinker around. When I’m ready to go home, I email that file back to myself and copy what I liked into the master on my home computer.

This had unintended consequences.

Knowing I wanted to focus on X scene in a given day made it a lot easier to focus. I spent my walk to work imagining how that scene might be enhanced in the context of my revision pass goals, and this has brought great results. Edits are slow. I’ve been working on one chapter this entire week (that means those 17 hours have been spent on a handful of scenes), but they’re GOOD edits.

I’m not sure I’ll complete this entire pass over Nano, given I’ve spent so much time on one chapter, but I’ll definitely meet my camp goal. And that’s enough for me.

Camp Nano

I’m still alive.

After a very long break, I’ve begun revising again. I’m about 1/3rd of the way through a revision pass, the first of potentially six targeted passes. Each one has to be slow, given I lose my edge and quality of work the more I try to do at once, and I also have to juggle a lot of non-work stuff and a full-time job in financial services. So I’ll probably finish sometime in the next decade or so. Hopefully.

Then I can stand back and see if I’ve improved or destroyed what I started with.

I’ll be editing the beta readers page to open back up for 2-3 fresh pairs of eyes, so get in touch if you might be interested. In the meantime, I’ve set myself a 60-hour goal for July’s Camp Nano to put towards these passes. Hopefully I’ll finish the first pass completely, and maybe be able to start the second. I want to average 1-2 hours a day, and no more than 3 in a day, to keep my focus and avoid getting sloppy.

If anyone else is doing Camp, let me know what you’re working on.

Hiatus and Feedback

In case you haven’t noticed (and I wasn’t expecting you to), I have taken a bit of a hiatus.

I’m not doing anything on social media and haven’t been working on my manuscripts. I hope this will pass, but I had a conversation today with an author that made me think on the writing process enough to share some thoughts.

The process really is different for everyone.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Of course it’s different. Obviously. Writers follow many different paths at every stage.’

Yes. It’s something we hear over and over again. But sometimes it’s more subtle than that. Sometimes those different processes come up in ways we don’t notice, especially when it comes to giving or receiving advice and feedback.

I’ll be honest, I sometimes struggle with feedback. It can take a week or two for something to click. And sometimes, more recently in particular, I dig in my heels and don’t want to make certain changes. That has always been part of my process. But I have also jumped on feedback, rushing to make changes because I knew how well the result would be.

Now don’t take this as resistance to feedback or change overall. I have been majorly revising for 2.5 years. I don’t have a social life anymore and I haven’t enjoyed a lot of old hobbies in years.

You’ll never meet the characters I already cut, or read the lines I loved but scrapped, or the chapters and scenes that I held onto for a while but eventually caved and rewrote. You’ll never know some of the embarrassingly-bad structural issues and pacing problems I faced for a few drafts. On the flip side, you won’t hear the well-intentioned advice that I ignored, even though, if I shared it, the book is now in a place where it would be clear why I did ignore it (where it wouldn’t have been clear at the time, because it was still too rough on-page). You won’t see the changes I made and then UNmade because they didn’t work.

So don’t take my comments as being work-shy or not committed, because I didn’t come all this way by sitting on my butt (figuratively– technically, I did because I don’t have a standing desk).

But sometimes there are things you don’t want to change. Things that could alter the core of what you are doing, or sacrifice parts of characters which you want the reader to see. This industry is subjective, but some things are more so than others.

Battling with feedback feels like it could be parenting. You’re wondering if you’re doing a good job. You read lots of books, you speak to your fellow parenting friends, you look online. You try to judge how best to teach, discipline, and show emotion and support while tailoring your approach to the personality, character, and needs of your offspring which are not necessarily the same as other people’s offspring. Some need stricter schedules and more firm boundaries, others flourish with a less hands-on approach. Using the wrong method can have unintended consequences. You’ll get advice everywhere, and sometimes people will push their advice with good intentions because they know it worked for their spawn.

But, like with writing, some stuff is more subjective than others. For example, there are different ways to teach a toddler based on their personality. But you definitely don’t want to feed them cleaning solution because it will 100% kill them. The former is variable, but the latter is fixed. One you can adjust, the other you can’t.

So how do you distinguish between the feedback to implement and the feedback that is safe to ignore? Or the process to use if you’re unsure? We hear about killing darlings all the time, but not about determining which ones to save. If you kill them all, do you still have a book? Which hill do you die on? When is it something that improves your story and when do you stand your ground?

If I find any answers, I’ll be sure to share.

SoMES is off for edits

No, I’m not dead. Yet.

It’s been busy at the day job for *checks calendar* four months[!?!], and I’ve been juggling a handful of beta reads while trying to finish revisions ahead of my edit slot on April 16.

Except, on Friday, I double-checked our email chain and realized my overtime-weary-brain misread the date. Edits would be READY by the 16th, but I was due to send the MS on the 8th.

So, while I thought I had 11 days to do some specific bits and pieces, I actually had 3 days. I also was extremely unwell with the flu.

*cue wacky music montage of me sitting in bed, delirious, and staring at a screen for 3 days*

I met Jami on a Facebook group last year and she helped me with my query in May 2018. I got good vibes while we were corresponding on the crux of my MS and how best to present this in query form. Between late-2016 and early-2018, I’d created so many versions of my query. Each came from a different angle in an attempt to focus on the things that are typically found in a query (characters, STAKES, plot, conflict) but none of them were the right angle.

Jami found the right angle.

And it fit so well, clearly and accurately demonstrating the real story at the heart of SoMES.

From this, I created the blurb that lives here on my website. It was such a successful blurb, attracting so many beta readers and full requests from industry professionals, that I knew Jami would be my go-to person for a full edit.

*cue pennies falling into the penny jar between May 2018 and today*

Today is the day and my MS is away!

I’d hoped to add another scene involving my antagonist. (Now, if you’re someone who has beta read SoMES, I can hear your screams of “WHY?!”)

It’s been a huge challenge depicting a real and present threat from an antagonist who is mostly absent or far away. But I have a specific scene I’d like to squeeze in somewhere in the middle, if there’s space. Since I didn’t have time, I’ll see what Jami says about the MS as it is first, and whether it’s necessary.

So time to sit back and wait.

Bracing for Betas (Part 1 of Beta Feedback)

You’ve written a book.

Yep, you either plowed through a single draft or painstakingly edited 18. Either way, in your eyes it’s ‘ready.’*

*Note: whether or not your book is ACTUALLY ready will vary considerably.*

So, you look for readers.

You post on facebook, twitter, writing groups, whatever. You call your pals and your family (Bad Idea #1!). Maybe you just hover and silently freak out because you’re too scared to actually give it to anyone yet (Bad Idea #2!).

Either way, you get up the nerve and put out the feelers.

Nothing happens. Well, this could be for a few reasons:

  • You didn’t give enough info. You need, at a minimum, to have your genre, age category, and word count. While it helps to know if your protagonist goes on an adventure, we need to know if that’s going to be a child scheming with their pals, a teen defying their parents to go fight a demon overlord, or a group of adults thrust into gory battle and steamy sex. I need to know if I’m committing to a 70k manuscript or a 150k one.
  • You’re asking for a beta when it may be clear you need a Critique Partner. The two are not the same.
  • Your blurb isn’t pulling its weight (ENTIRELY SEPARATE POST TO COME). A two sentence ‘Person encounters conflict and must do plot or world will end’ is not nearly as specific as, say, the blurb I made for SoMES.
  • Your blurb has too many cliches and not enough original content to balance them out (I maintain cliches are not bad, but you need to show what makes it different). Or your blurb is filled with rhetorical questions (Bad Idea #3!).
  • Your posts/tweets are annoying. Don’t worry, odds are this is not you cause it takes a REAL SPECIAL mix of arrogance and delusion to achieve this, but I’ve seen some condescending people out there acting like their work is a divine gift. Or they talk about all their editing experience and how well-written their book is while their posts are riddled with basic errors.
  • You emphasize snark in your characters or voice. *Note: this is a purely subjective pet peeve, so feel free to ignore*

Then– at last!– a comment/tweet/response appears.

Someone is ready to help. Time to send your manuscript (Bad Idea #4!)– No, a few chapters, as a tester to see whether they’re a good fit. In your heart, you hope they fall in love with it and come back with lots of praise. In your brain, you know it’s about to be ripped to shreds; the only thing you don’t know is how many and whether you’ll be enough to cobble them back together into a cohesive story.

Whatever comes next, you’ve taken a vital step. Be proud! Stay in contact with your beta(s) and try to get a small group of them so you have balanced feedback and can see patterns. And that way, if you end up with someone excessively critical or abusive as a beta, their feedback will stand out from the other (hopefully) better ones. Having one person slate your idea or concept feels a lot worse when you only have one beta. Having one person slate your idea or concept when you have six others that enjoy it makes that one dissenter a little easier to deal with.

The Writing Community and Anxiety

Dealing with social media is nerve-wracking. Written words don’t convey the wider mood or attitude of the speaker, especially to strangers. You read an email, post, or comment over a hundred times to see if a tweak here or there is needed. After you post, you read it a hundred times more. Half your online life is spent rereading something a hundred times. Sometimes, life happens to take you so far outside your carefully-crafted, social-media-engaging headspace that you rush in. Sometimes, you think you know someone well enough to set aside that carefully-crafted, social-media-engaging headspace– and rush in.

Then, you freak out.

I’d love to say this is where I give you answers on how to manage a vital element of writing- participating in the wider writer’s community- alongside mental health struggles like anxiety. I’d love to reassure you and give you hope of some secret method of success.

I’d love to, but I can’t.

Social media comes in a number of forms, each with varying degrees of privacy, security, and risk. You have open areas like Twitter, where posts are visible to everyone. The benefits? Everyone can see you, and engage with you, whether you know them or not. The cons? Everyone can see you, and engage with you, whether you know them or not.

Then there’s more private areas like Facebook (closed groups), or Discord or Slack. The benefits? A more intimate, carefully-selected group of people where engagement is very high. The cons? A more intimate, carefully-selected group of people where engagement is very high.

Why, yes, that IS a pattern forming.

Then, you have another option: nothing at all. Continue writing, don’t tell anyone, and hope for the best in Query Land.

When I completed draft 1 of SoMES, I took the latter option. I’d seen my fair share of toxic relationships (an understatement if I ever saw one), so I preferred to avoid engagement with others altogether. I wasn’t going to be anyone’s one-sided, long-term therapist, nor would I become a dear friend to someone only for them to later reveal they’d screwed with my life for their own entertainment.

No, I would work on my MS, query as many agents as it took to get one, and not have to deal with anyone else.

While I didn’t know it at the time, this was obviously foolish and self-destructive. I only saw the pros: not dealing with others and not leaving myself open to stressful situations. The cons I was unaware of (or willfully ignoring)?

Snail-paced progress on my craft.

If you’re reading from the sidelines, please listen: the writing community is invaluable. You will learn so much, and SO quickly, by receiving feedback, observing others, and reading their work. You will learn tips and advice. You will learn craft. You will be around people with the same goals and objectives, suffering the same struggles and setbacks. You will slowly, brick by brick, build the bridge between your little manuscript and the polished books on your shelf.

Therefore, participation is vital if you want to see progress. It is unavoidable.

Now, as I said above, I have no magic advice to put anyone at ease when they suffer from anxiety. I’m not going to be condescending when I know how it feels to have your brain battle itself over and over again.

What I will say is know your audience. Those cat photos and that recent bout of writer’s block? Chuck it on twitter. You’ll get a chorus of supportive people. Searching for betas or CPs? I’ve got a whole other post just for that (coming soon). Discussing advice, themes, specifics, characters?

That’s where the waters get murky. You may not want everything out in the open or everyone’s input. Bad advice can be more detrimental than no advice.

That awesome new line from a scene you just wrote? You’re proud, you want to share with SOMEONE, but maybe not everyone. Those more private outlets are better to test the waters and not have everyone reading (and judging). Build some confidence and places you feel safe sharing.

Eventually, you may make connections with people and feel you can discuss more. This is great, and you will find your tribe.

Just be aware: people may not know you as well as you think.

Just because you’ve interacted with someone for a while, don’t assume they will give you the benefit of the doubt or be understanding when you hit a bump in the road. Some will, but others won’t. And when they don’t, it feels awful and your mental health might spiral. It’s very, VERY hard to understand mental health struggles or recognize someone struggling with poor mental health. You do your best to manage it and others do their best to understand. It’s not anyone’s fault.

So if a group or community you’re in turns out not to be a good fit, you are allowed to leave. It may take a while, but you will find others. In the meantime, maybe keep reading those posts or comments a hundred times before posting. You know, just to be safe.