Writerly Advice: When My Book-Baby Needed A Time-Out!

Welcome Readers!

One of my Twitter friends asked me a question today, and it kind of got me thinking.  She wanted to know if there was ever a point when you should just scrap a manuscript.

Hmmm.  Let me think about that for a moment.

The Big Question

Who among us has never felt the frustration of conceptualizing a manuscript, plotting, planning, and writing it to the point that we are absolutely certain it will CHANGE THE WORLD, only to discover that it just doesn’t work?

No doubt, many of us have.

My Reality

Case in point:  My 2013 NaNoWriMo project.  As a writer, I was in a phase where I wanted really complicated plot twists and character relationships, and on top of that, a few of the plotlines and characters would span the time/space continuum.  I am befuddled just thinking about that beast.

I got about a third of the way through writing it (from an outline, no less) and found that I couldn’t make it work out the way that I was sure it would when I plotted it months earlier.  That manuscript was taking on a life of its own, and as its “parent”, I just couldn’t keep up with it!  If there was ever a time for me to consider scrapping a manuscript, it was then.

But I didn’t.

Because…

I have mentioned this in other posts on this blog, but writing, as are all of the arts, is a living thing to me.  The process of writing is fluid and morphing, and the books we read become part of us, as we live and breathe, taking on a life of their own.  Instead of scrapping that beast of a manuscript, I trunked it; I gave it, and me, a Time-Out for a while.  That manuscript needed to think about was wrong with it.  I needed time away from it as well, to perhaps come up with a plan to better usher that particular Book-Baby into the world with a little more finesse.

Just an FYI, that Book Baby is still in Time Out.  It’s been months.  Neither of us has figured out what is wrong yet but someday we will.  I can’t give up on it.  It is a story which has a wonderful heart and deep feeling, but in its current state it’s just too unruly.  With a little thought and hard work, I feel like my Book-Baby will become a beautiful thing. Perhaps giving it a name will help (wink, wink!)

I don’t know how long it’s Time-Out will last.  It could be years.  And who knows.  Maybe it’s supposed to be more than one book, or maybe something in the universe was telling me that I am not ready to write that story…yet.  It is definitely a “something”, because I still get chills of excitement when I think about it.

So, My Answer To The Big Question:

I wouldn’t scrap a manuscript altogether. Like the unnamed Book-Baby in my example above, I would give it a Time-Out, long enough for the two of us to iron out our differences.

A Few Questions For You:

How do you deal with unruly manuscripts?  When they don’t work out as planned, how long before you set it aside? Have you ever scrapped a manuscript completely?

Share your response in the comment section!

Thanks for stopping by my Writer’s Block!

Writerly Advice: Using #Hashtags!

Hello Writerly Friends!  Thanks for stopping by.

Today on my blog, we’ll be discussing … Hashtags!  I make no claims to know all of the ins and outs of this phenomenon, but perhaps there is some information here that can help you on your writing journey.

Hashtag1

The #hashtag.  We have seen them everywhere, from Twitter to Facebook, to street-side advertising and television commercials.

I am an avid Twitter user.  I use hashtags to follow certain groups of writers or contests, or topics of general interest to me.  Sometimes my hashtag use is fleeting.  For example, when #pitmad was over, I stopped following that tag…until the next one!  My “seasonal” hashtag follows generally coincide with writing contests.  They have a short lifespan, but come back at certain times of the year.  Here are a few of the “seasonal” hashtags that I use:

#Pitmad

#adpit

#NaNoWriMo

#sunvssnow

Some hashtags, though, I use throughout the year.  I use them to ask questions of industry professionals, or to post things of interest for like-minded people.  Here is a short list of the tags I use often:

#amwriting

#writing

#askagent

#writingtip

#askeditor

I found a great blog post from Author Media listing a ton of writerly hashtags.  The list they post is very thorough, and gives a brief description of what some of them are for.  Certain hashtags are used on certain days of the week or times of the year.  That post is definitely worth checking out.

Another thing to realize is that hashtags are searchable.  This can benefit the writer in several ways.  I try to use a blend of common and more unique hashtags when putting my blog posts together because anytime someone searches one of the tags in Google or any other search engine, my post will come up in their search.  This is helpful to writers because it’s a great way to get exposure.  Authors can and should have a title hashtag for their books when they release.  It can be a powerful tool.

I am in no way an expert about tagging and social media, but I can see the potential for their use.

How do you use hashtags?  What are your favorites?  Feel free to share your information below!  Until then:

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Let’s Talk: Word Count!

Welcome to my Writer’s Block!

We are talking about word count today.  Whenever anyone asks me about books I have written or am working on, they inevitably ask me about how long it is. Truth is I know that they want to know how long it is, in pages.  Yet, I answer them in word count.

“Sixty-eight thousand words?  How many pages is that?” they ask.  And I know there is a formula for figuring it out in a general sense.  For the purposes of being able to answer those questions about page count, the following information is listed on fionaraven.com:

Using your current word count and the appropriate formula below, calculate the number of pages you can expect in your finished book:

Your word count divided by 390 = page count for a 5.5″ x 8.5″ book For example: 50,000 divided by 390 = 128.20 pages

Your word count divided by 475 = page count for a 6″ x 9″ book For example: 50,000 divided by 475 = 105.26 pages

In the examples above, use the 5.5” x 8.5” for fiction, and the 6” x 9” for non-fiction.

But Back To Word Count  🙂

Word count is how writers determine what kind of baby we have:  is it a short story, novella, epic novel?  We can generally tell by the word count.  There are several sources for a description of word count “requirements”, but it is also important to realize there is also some grey area there as well.  I tend to lean toward the more flexible word count designations.

Writer’s Digest has a very good post about it here, where they show optimal, acceptable, and unacceptable ranges for just about any fiction book and level.  I like this article, because of that “grey area” I spoke about earlier.  Nothing I do is ever black and white.  I have said this other places on my blog, but the arts, to me, are living things.  They evolve, grow and develop in differing ways.

Does word count really matter?  I think it does.  If you pitch a book to an editor at a press or to a literary agent, it really should fall into the word count range for the genre that it is.  The agents and editors know the market.  They know what readers specific genres expect as far as word count.  So, I think it does matter.

What happens if your novel falls short of the desired word count?  All is not lost.  While I believe in word count ranges, if a story is well told and it’s only a novella length piece, maybe that’s what it was meant to be.  And if your story explodes into the hundreds of thousands for word count?  Perhaps you have a series on your hands!

Is  word count something you should focus on from the beginning of a project?  Maybe, maybe not.  For example, I believe in a free-flow writing process.  I do like outlines (a LOT!), but when actually doing the writing of a first draft, I get the ideas down, and fill in gaps later.  I tend to be a very lean writer, generally speaking.  I don’t think I could ever write a novel of epic length.  It doesn’t suit my style.

But if it is November 1, and I am embarking on another trip through NaNoWriMo, word count is everything to me!  I want to win, so my goal is 50K or more words by the end of the month.

How do you feel about word count?  Do you follow any hard and fast rules, or are you an embracer of the grey area, like me?  Comment below!  I love to connect with my readers J

Writerly Advice: Get Happy! Finding The Courage to Celebrate Our Little Writing Victories

Thanks for stopping by today!  Today’s post stems from some very needed words of encouragement from a writerly friend of mine.  I had been so full of self-doubt that it took a lot of convincing that I had every right to be excited and happy about my work.  Because of that rather lengthy pep talk, see below:

Which brings me to the topic at hand.  Many of us are content to be holed away in our quiet spaces, receiving constant critique and criticism.  We thrive on it, because we know that is among all of the criticism that we find those gems; advice and ways to hone our craft, making it shine even brighter than before.

That’s what we all want.  We want our work to be as good as we can make it.

All artists live in a world where perfection is never achieved.  It cannot ever be attained, because there is always more to learn.  As a music educator, I view the study of music as an evolving, living thing.  It is the same with writing.  We learn from the masters.  We take what those who have come before us contributed to the craft, and somehow make it our own, leaving behind a legacy to be built upon by others.

But in pursuit of all this, and amid the constant critique and criticism, it can sometimes be hard for the writer to find the little victories to celebrate; our own little gems.  But between all of the edits and drafts of our work, we go through lots of little successes. A turn of phrase that somehow makes a page sparkle.  The use of a word that perfectly captures the moment in a character’s world.  The courage to remove a thousand words of unnecessary “stuff” from a chapter.  The courage to sit down and map out something new.  It feels so good!

I think it might be in my genes, but here is a trap I fall into:  self-doubt.  I can say that with time, I have grown enough as a writer that I can often push those nasty little feelings aside, but it isn’t easy.  Sometimes it takes my writer friends, who know exactly what I am going through, to encourage me to see past the doubt to the glimmer of victory in my work.  I try to do the same for them, whenever possible.  The writing life is hard, but also very fulfilling.  We cannot do it alone.

Today, I challenge you to have the courage to celebrate those little writing victories. Seek them out, if you have to!  You are allowed.  Here’s one: We are so in tune with the action of revision, that we don’t see revision as its own “hurrah”! Now that I think about it, writers have a ton of things we could celebrate every day.

How do you spot personal victories as a writer?  Please share your victories here in the comments.  Large or small, I want to hear about them!

My Writing Bucket List-Summer Edition

Welcome, friends!

My life has been dictated by the school calendar since birth, due to the fact that my mother was a teacher.  School, college and teaching career followed, again, on the school calendar.  I guess you could say I am used to it by now.

Much like some people use January 1 to make resolutions for themselves, I use the summers to prepare for the upcoming school year as well as amp up my writing.  Don’t get me wrong, I write all year long.  My normal pacing is something like this:

  • October:  Plot and outline something new
  • November:  Take part in NaNoWriMo
  • December-May:  Continue November manuscript, work on smaller writing projects
  • June-September:  Take part in summertime conferences, writing contests, and querying.

For me, this schedule works, due to the school calendar that I follow.  As I type this, I realize now is the time for me to make plans for my summer writing endeavors.  I have a few “bucket list” goals I’d like to meet:

  1. Write more short stories (I LOVE to write them!  I blog about them here)
  2. Finish editing on my November 2015 manuscript (This story cracks me up!)
  3. Take part in the Savvy Authors Summer Symposium (An annual thing for me.  Great stuff at this online conference!)
  4. Attend a writer’s conference (I’m not sure if this will work out, but hopefully it will!)

I have gotten a lot better at organizing my time over the last couple of years, so I am pretty sure that I will finish editing my November 2015 manuscript by Labor Day.  And the short Stories?  Well, I will embrace those little story ideas that seem to come to mind suddenly, and write them as time allows.  The last two items on my summer bucket list may or may not happen, due to things out of my control, but I plan on completing both of them.

We shall see how it all goes!

How about you?  Do you have a writing bucket list?  Writing plans for the summer?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Happy writing, everyone!

Spring Cleaning: A Chance To Take Stock In What We Have

Spring Cleaning is an annual ritual my family undertakes, literally, once a year. As much as I dislike the enormous chore of deep cleaning the house, it feels good to clear things out, take stock in what we have and what we might repurpose or pass on to someone else who may need it.

This past week, as part of this Spring Cleaning process, I took a look at all of my blog posts. Every single one of them! I discovered some real gems in there once I dusted off the cobwebs and reminded myself what had inspired each post.

I can honestly say I have grown quite a bit as a writer since I first began this blog. One of the nagging thoughts I had during the earliest posts was, “What gives me the right to post anything for other writers?” Another was, “What makes me think I can post anything that another writer may find valuable?”

I have gotten over those feelings of self-doubt over the years, thankfully!

My first posts were basically throw-aways, as I tried to navigate the way WordPress worked for blogging. But then I found something of a focus, and I began to reach out to other authors after reading their books. New relationships were formed as I would interview each one.

And I must say I adore doing interviews. My interview style has developed through the years into something that I take a lot of pride in. I have a lot of confidence in my questioning techniques now, which translates into some very interesting discussions!

Another thing I discovered is that some of my posts now fit into blog series and mini-series. My Writerly Advice topics continue to be great to write about, as well as my NaNo Mini-Series interviews. I can’t wait for next year’s NaNo Mini-Series!

…Which brings me to the biggest discovery during my Blog Spring Cleaning: Flashback Time Machine!

Flashback Time Machine is a series I started, then forgot about. In the series, I write about some literature classics, and come up with questions I would have liked to ask the author if they were still alive today. I enjoyed writing those posts a great deal.

Well, it’s time to resurrect the Flashback Time Machine! In the coming weeks, I will be working on the next installment of that series. I won’t divulge the book or author yet, although I already have the plan in place.

For now, thank you to all of my blog readers and followers! It means the world to me that we can connect in this way. Spring Cleaning can be awesome! Not only did I take stock of the written content on this blog from its earliest posts, but I also took stock in the many views, comments and followers that grew out of it.

If you have a topic for this blog that you would like me to cover, please leave a comment below!

Writerly Advice: The Benefits of Writing Short Stories

Several November’s ago, I embarked on a grand adventure.  I had an idea for an amazing story, and when I learned what NaNoWriMo was all about, I had to jump in with both feet.  Thirty days later, I had a complete (rough!) first draft of a novel.  Between the thrill of having the idea for the novel and the exhileration of completing it, I knew I had tapped into a part of me that I would never be able to let go of.

Since that time, I have learned a lot about myself and my writing. For one thing, the idea of writing a 50-80 K novel excites me with every glimmer of inspiration I get.

I have learned a lot about time management (even though, let’s face it, it’s tough to balance everything sometimes).  I am now a definite plotter when I can, or care to be, and I have mastered the art of productive pantsing.  Yes, I love the process of creating a full length novel.

But something affected me recently.  I was asked by a writer friend to do a beta read of one of his short stories for a competition.  I will freely admit that short stories have never been something that I would choose to read.  But something in the way that a diminutive word can convey a full story, beginning-middle-and end, enlightened something in me.

Around the same time as this enlightenment, a short story submission announcement showed up in my inbox.  So, I did the only thing I could.  I dusted off an old story idea which had been tucked away somewhere in my laptop, waiting for its day in the sun.  I looked at the strange words I had written about it, and then freaked out a little.

But with the help of a couple of my writer friends, who I consider “Short Story Enthusiasts”, I managed to transform a focus-less plot into a short story that I am proud of.

Working on this short story has taught me several things.

  1. I don’t need a multitude of chapters to tell a good, complete story.
  2. The small word count allotted for a short story makes me use much better words.  I have to be very picky!
  3. There is nothing to fear about pacing a short story plot.
  4. I don’t need to devote hundreds of words to backstory when I can use more effective word-choices to infer the same information.
  5. I have learned to be far less “tell-y”, because there simply isn’t time in a short story.

I still love writing novels.  I love how they are constructed, and I love how a novel paces out the plot over time, allowing me to live with the characters for a while.  But having worked on this short story, I have better perspective as a writer.  The techniques of using language in a concise, descriptive way can only help me as a novelist.

Readers, I am curious.  How many of you novelists have delved into the realm of the short story?  How does writing short stories impact your novel writing?

Writerly Advice: Making Time For Our Characters and Stories

The Spring season is finally arriving in Northern New York. It’s not just the temperature that tells me, either.  I can smell the thawing of earth in the air, and I can hear the birds in the trees, having returned from wherever it is that they travel to for the winter months.  The rushing water from the stream six acres behind my house, which has been frozen for months, echoes through the forest.

Along with all of these lovely Spring happenings, another sign of Spring has made it’s entrance:  A completely busy calendar.  And with that comes the inevitable guilt for my diminution of writing time.

Who’s with me?

Anyone else feel it, too?

I doubt I am alone here.  As writers, we are wired to see everyday occurrences as opportunities to create a story.  We make mental notes, and written ones, so that we do not forget the marvelous ideas that pop into our heads, just waiting to come alive in a story.

But now that my calendar is brimming, so incredibly full, that all of these wonderful ideas sometimes never make it to paper or my computer.  And that is nothing to speak of my previously written works in progress–when will I get to sit down with them for meaningful blocks of time again, to hang out with them in their world?

Their world.  That’s what I need, time in someone else’s world.

But seriously, who can do that at this point of the year?

I have decided to formulate an action plan to get through this busy time.  The first part of my plan comes from advice from other authors, which is to write a little every day, without fail.  In the past, especially during these busy times, I might go several days without writing or even thinking about my writing.  Historically, that hasn’t really worked so well, which brings me to the next part of my action plan.

The second part of my plan includes thinkingYes, that’s right.  I am committed to thinking about my works in progress daily.  I have this feeling that if I think about my characters in their world, it’ll be fresh in my mind when I am finally able to get to my laptop.

The third part of my action plan involves shedding the guilt.  We are writers.  We believe in our characters and stories.  We feel for them.  We nurture them until they are able to get out into the world.

Like children.

And when we can’t spend meaningful time with our children we feel guilty.  But as writers, we forget that those characters are forgiving, and will be patient as they wait for us to return to them.  It’s the thought that counts, right (part two of my action plan)?

Here’s hoping!

Do you have any writerly advice on this topic?  How do you get through the busy times when life gets in the way of writing?  please comment below!

Writerly Advice: Begin With The End In Mind

I originally posted this last summer, when I first got Scrivener and began plotting out my current work in progress.  Today, I find myself revisiting this post as I approach the completion of that very same work in progress.  Enjoy!

As a writer, I like to think of myself as a plotter with pantsing tendencies. I suppose, who isn’t? But I am not the sort of writer who can easily pants my way through writing a section if I don’t know where I’m headed.

Case in point, I spent the better part of a year working on my 2013 NaNo. I was in love with the idea. I had a set of cool characters, and an intriguing story idea that was truly “out there”. Problem was I couldn’t see the end. Not really. I was meandering through the character’s lives creating scenarios for them that didn’t seem to lead to any closure. Conflict was there, sure, but no closure. I still am in love with the story idea. My characters for that one are still close to me. But it just wasn’t happening. It saddened me that these characters were stuck in limbo and couldn’t get out. I have since set that story aside…for now.

Jump ahead a year. I had an idea for a novel floating round in my head, and this idea came to me in the form of scenes. The scenes were in no particular order, simply a couple of common characters, experiencing some funny little things as part of their lives. I loved their personalities, and thought it might be time to organize their story more structurally. Problem was, once again, I couldn’t tell where the character’s would be at the end. Then I remembered: “Begin With The End In Mind”—One of the Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, book, by Stephen R. Covey.

That idea, obviously, is great advice for anyone in almost any situation. I have used the it many times in my life, especially to set goals. As a writer, it’s also true, in a very literal sense. By knowing where the characters will start and finish their journey, it makes it a lot easier to connect those dots to make a believable story (even if it’s crazy fiction).

Back to the dilemma with my new story idea. As many of you know from Twitter, I recently purchased Scrivener. It’s not that I didn’t know about it for years, it’s just that I am a PC user, and for a while Scrivener as only available for Mac. I was happy to learn it was available for me to use at this time!

Anyhow, one of the features, “corkboard”, made it really super easy to not only create plot/scene cards for my for my story idea, but once created, each plot card could be manipulated and moved around easily. In no time, I had a complete plan for my characters, start to finish.

This doesn’t mean that things won’t change as I go along; I am a bit of a pantser after all. But knowing that the overall structure is there if I need it is a big help in avoiding potential writer’s block. When I actually sat down to begin writing, I could focus on certain scenes, either in order or not. The structure for the book is there, keeping my ideas together.

Whether you use Scrivener, or Word, or any other program, if you begin with the end in mind, it can be a powerful tool as a writer. You will be less likely to plot-wander, and in my case, more likely to finish.  And who knows.  I wonder if I go back and plot out my limbo-ed 2013 NaNo using Scrivener’s corkboard, if that story and those character’s might see the light of day.

What strategies do you use to plot out your story ideas? I’d love to hear from you!

And, if you are planning to do NaNoWriMo 2014 this year, chime in! I am working on a blog mini-series I’d love you to take part in.

Happy writing, everyone!