Research to compliment your story, not to be your story

So if you missed the news, I finished another first draft. Woo hoo! This one was a bit different than my previous projects because it was based on actual mythology and history. Research was necessary. Tons and tons of research. As far as this subject goes (and I don’t want to give away too much on what that specific subject is because I’m shady like that) I think I may now be considered a bit of a scholar.

When I realized I was getting close to the end, however, there was a problem. There was so much more stuff I’d learned about that hadn’t gotten into the story yet. It was really cool information, but it just hadn’t found it’s place yet.

So maybe there’s a sequel in the future, but most likely that will still leave libraries worth of information that still has no home in my novels. I will have to accept that, no matter how cool  it might be.

There is a balance when it comes to research and too often writers ignore it. I certainly have. Regardless of the subject, you’re going to have to do some research but when the novel aims to inform, sometimes we are so anxious to do that we bury our story in information.

Research should be revealed in your story just like any other information, as it is relevant to the plot. If you are writing a book about a 15th century English peasant in the village Scarborough, you might learn all about the reign of Henry VII but it is unlikely that the contentious relationship between Elizabeth of York and Margaret Beaufort is going to come up in any way except as an info dump.

However,  day to day information like dress, local politics, plagues, hardships, food and occupations of a 15th century peasant will be woven into every part of your story.

Woven, not dumped.

Mary sewed a shift. Shifts were a standard item of clothing for peasants. They were typically worn beneath tunics and made of either wool or linen. Peasant women spent a great deal of their time spinning, weaving and sewing the clothing for their families. They would secure their tunics with broaches where they could hang useful items like keys.

or

Mary sewed the last stitch in the hem of the rough wool shift and flexed her aching fingers. She was getting better at the work and Tom would be pleased with the new garment.

One of these examples gives a lot more information about 15th century peasant dress and life. The other states the information as it is relevant to the story. In short bursts it might be easy to overlook, but imagine an entire story that keeps stopping to lecture the reader.

Don’t lecture your reader.

Patroness: DONE! I’m seeing a trend here

A little over a year ago, I posted This update on April 10th.

A year before that, on May 9th, I posted this.

Today I’m excited to announce my newest novel, Patroness, is complete in it’s first draft.

I have been pounding away at various works in progress since January, but when I returned to Patroness in April it took off. It had a strong start last year, after I finished Summer’s Circle, but life stepped in and put an abrupt halt to my creativity. Funny how that happens.

So now I am seeing a trend in the cycles of my writing. Spring time is writing time. I want to write, I am inspired to write, I am motivated to write and I do write. Even with great shows calling me on Netflix I find the time almost every night. Even when I come up against a roadblock in the work, I find ways to power through it.

If I had this kind of momentum all year I would be up to my neck in first drafts.

Which is probably why it is not the case.

I might power through a first draft, but editing is still a difficult process for me. I have a hard time discerning when I am truly done. I need alot of feedback.

I am currently back to editing The Silent Apocalypse and I haven’t even started hard edits on Summer’s Circle.

I used to get frustrated trying to force my way through a novel that didn’t want to be written. Many writers would caution against “waiting for inspiration to strike”. But, in my life, I am coming to find that there are seasons for different aspects of my work. They may change, but if I stay connected to what is calling me, I will be able to take advantage of when I am best suited for each task.

But let me tell you this, Creation season is awesome.

Second Blogiversary!

Hard to believe it’s been two years since I finally decided I was going to do this. Looking back, I am amazed at what I’ve been able to accomplish in two years, even as I have so much I’m still striving toward.

Pursuing writing is a challenging path and there have been plenty of times over the years that I have set it to the side to focus on more pressing aspects of life, but the truth is, aside from forming my family and raising my children, it is the most rewarding thing I’ve pursued.

I’m a day or two from completing the first draft of my newest novel, Patroness, a historical fantasy retelling, and I have to admit, I am so freaking excited about it. I started it last year before a health crisis took over my life and my creativity completely sputtered out. After a few false starts on other works in progress in 2017, I came back to Patroness and found it was waiting for me with a clear idea where it wanted to go.

Writing has never been without challenges though and while I don’t like to dwell on hardship, it is a good idea to look back on hurtles you’ve overcome.

So, in honor of completing my second year as a blogger, Here are the top ten challenges I’ve faced as a writer.

  1. Taking criticism. Going from “You just don’t get my work!” to “That’s helpful and something I haven’t considered before” is a big shift, but it’s had a massive impact on the quality of my work.
  2. Re-learning grammar. Don’t get me wrong, I know my grammar, but there are techniques I’ve adopted that haven’t been the norm and stylistic choices I’ve made that just don’t quite work. Correcting these in old work and changing the way I’ve done things for my entire writing life is difficult, but finally making progress.
  3. Getting to the end. Oh all my works in progress, languishing with no end in sight. I used to spend so much time tweaking and perfecting drafts as I wrote, adding and subtracting complexities that I never got to the end of the story. Now I power through and do not go back to revise unless it’s to delete what I just wrote to go in a different direction.
  4. Clearing out the telling. Granted I’m still working on this, but when I look back on my old work, I can see the progress that has been made. I used to tell everything and anything that was shown was so subtle that it was practically useless.
  5. Doing the editing work. Note to past Lindsey, you cannot half ass editing. You have to do the rewrites. You have to do the line edits. You have to print the whole damned thing out and slash it to bits with a red pen. Then you need to keep refining as feedback comes in.
  6. Making time to write. Unlike some writers, no matter how I schedule it, it’s not always easy for me to churn out X amount of words each day, year round. But when I am on a project, I need to give myself the time to work on it. When I used to work full time, I barely wrote. When I was home, I wanted to spend time with my husband, go out with my friends, veg in front of the TV. Now I set the time aside. As soon as the kids go to bed, I start to work. I write until i run out of steam and then I turn on the TV to binge watch whatever show is calling me, or pick up a book. Write first.
  7. Making space to write. Another thing that used to stop me? It was too damned hard to write without a quiet place to shut myself in, and in my home, there is no quiet place until everyone is in bed. My current office is the living room couch, with a sofa desk and while my husband watches TV, I put in headphones to drown out the news. Before I had this set up, the writing was sporadic and based on circumstance instead of necessity.
  8. Making writing a PRIORITY! Oh, hello mom guilt, wife guilt, homemaker guilt. I see you are all well, but I would like to introduce you to my friend, you did not write guilt. She’s new, but she’s a lot louder than you all now. She reminds me that dishes can be washed later, it’s okay to let my husband give the kids their baths, and I’d rather be tired tomorrow morning than miss out on this inspiration that is flowing through me tonight. No job should take precedence over family, but just like you might stay up late studying for an exam in law school, you may need to sacrifice a few hours of sleep to get those words down on that page.
  9. Every writer works different. I have a friend who can complete a first draft, have it edited himself a few weeks later and then has it sold or self published within a month. I think he might be superman. I do not work this way. I used to think I should, but should doesn’t do anyone any good. It’s okay to work the way you work. As long as you’re working.
  10. Having confidence in my work, even when it still needs work. This was the hardest thing for me to overcome. When I presented my writing to someone I wanted it to be flawless, but even if I perfect it for myself, it will never be flawless to everyone. To own being a writer is to own that you are working on your writing. Every new thing I write is better than the last, and not a single thing I’ve written is perfect. It’s okay because it all is awesome and I love it.

Share your thoughts! What are some challenges you have overcome as a writer?

Don’t try to write a perfect first draft

After I realized that what I first put on the page was not necessary my best writing (imagine my horror!) I concluded that I would save myself a lot of work and effort if I edited as I wrote.

And so it took me more than five years to write a first draft.

And it still sucked.

The end.

No, but in all seriousness, there is nothing wrong with skimming over your work and doing a little clean up here and there, adding something to clear up the part you are currently writing, adjusting the spelling of the name or including the character trait that revealed itself later. Especially if you are stuck in the scene you are writing.

Just don’t, don’t don’t think this will save you any work in the long run.

I am a person who takes great pride in working smarter and not harder and in many aspects of my life this has served me very well. As a designer I set up a template program that allowed me to drop the print designs into a layout that removed the element of human error while at the same time leaving the original art untouched for future work and cut set up time in half. (it’s okay if you didn’t understand that).

As a writer, however, I have yet to find the easy way around editing the entire manuscript, multiple times.

Ironically, avoiding edits until your first draft is done ends up being your time saver in the long run and there are several reasons for that.

  1. If you are riding on the writing train (writing non-stop) getting off to “fix things” even minor things, means you are getting off the train. Don’t get off the train! You may not be able to get back on!
  2. No matter how much you have plotted, outlined, and prepared, your story is going to take some unexpected twists. Characters will reveal something surprising, people will die, people will live, the ending could turn out very different than you expected. Wasting time on edits before you know how your story ends is wasteful.
  3. Most important. YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO EDIT THE HELL OUT OF THIS DRAFT ANYWAY! No matter how clean you have gotten your writing, no matter how much you have “fixed” you are in for the long haul with edits, IF YOU EVER FINISH THE BOOK.

I know! I know it’s hard to leave that glaring mistake right there in the open! I mean, it is so so so bad! But it is your first draft and no one is every going to see it but you.

There is a solution though, and one I recommend you take. Instead of editing while you write, keep a notebook or file with all the problems you see arising in your story. Plot holes, character changes, misinformation, ect. Make notes of the things you will need to fix WHEN you edit and then get back to writing.

I wrote a story where a girl referred to her prep school by a different name every time it was mentioned. At one point I found myself scrolling through the 237 pages I had already written trying to find every instance. (Geez,don’t I ever learn!?). I think i managed to fix one and waste an hour. Later, when I was reading the completed manuscript, being aware of this problem allowed me to mark and change every instance of this problem when it came up in the reading. Time saver for sure.

The most polished partial manuscript is completely useless.

The messiest finished manuscript has unlimited potential.

There is no one way to write a book

A lot of writers have a lot of advice. And most of it is good. But not all of it is relevant every time.

I completed a first draft in record time last year using an outline and it was glorious. Not only was it completed fast, and without any serious plot holes, but clean up and editing have been minimal. I suggest everyone try this sometime.

Unless it’s not working for you.

Like it isn’t working for me, this time around.

When I wrote “The Silent Apocalypse” I didn’t have a good working outline until I was nearly done the book. It took a while to write, but it revealed itself to me as I went along, instead of adhering to a pre-determined plot.

When I wrote “Summer’s Circle” the whole plot laid itself out in front of me at the very begining, with the exception of a few details and the exact specifics of the ending. I didn’t put effort into plotting it, it was more like the completed story was handed to me and I shoved it into an outline so that I wouldn’t lose it before I got to write it.

I thought this method would work with one of my latest projects, a dark urban horror. The outline came along pretty well, but as soon as I started writing it, it veered completely off course and got stuck in a corner. I shifted some things around, blew a few things up and it ran right back into that corner again.

The novel wants to go it’s own way and, at present time, I can seem to figure out what that way is.

You will find thousands of articles, books, quotes, on how to finish your novel. All of these things have worked for authors at some point. Maybe they work for certain authors all the time. But even Stephen King ends up putting manuscripts away that he can’t seem to finish.

Don’t tie yourself to one method. Don’t insist there is only one way. If you are struggling to complete a novel, read all the advice you can find and try everything. If it still doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to shift your focus to another project.

Sometimes a novel needs a little time to cook before its ready to move forward. Sometimes your brain just isn’t ready for where the book has to go. Sometimes you need to try something new.

Writing is an art. Don’t try to be a scientist about it.

Stuck plot? Drop a bomb

Apparently I’m not alone in running out of steam in the middle of a manuscript. I have been trying to force my way through a sticky patch somewhere in the middle for the last couple weeks and coming up with nothing, so I was reading a few articles last night that commiserated with my plight. The middle is hard, even when you know where you’re going, things can veer off course, putter out, or just get plain boring.

Then I was reminded of something I read in Stephen King’s book “On Writing” about when he got stuck writing the stand. He just couldn’t seem to propel the plot forward and so he just took walks, thinking about what to do until the idea struck him. He needed to blow everything up.

He did so literally, putting a bomb in the closet and taking out everyone’s favorite character, Nick. I read “The Stand” when I was fifteen and I still remember that devastating loss.

The bomb jarred the stuck gears back into their roll in many ways. It shocked the reader, brought their attention and investment back into focus. It propelled the plot, forcing both the story and the characters out of the comfort zone. And it set up the end of the story.

So last night, as my character Raff had nothing on his schedule besides breakfast with his buddy, Popcorn, I blew up the bell tower. And the proceeding landslide pushed my story into breakneck pace where revelations began springing up as the ending moved a whole lot closer.

Now obviously, not every story should use an actual bomb. It might liven things up if the restaurant blows up in the middle of your rom com, but it also change it from a rom com to a drama.

But there are different types of bombs to be dropped.

  • A Truth bomb – A revelation comes to light that changes everything.
  • A life bomb – a car accident, losing a job, a fight, a break up.
  • A death bomb – an unexpected death of a major character.
  • A nature bomb – any kind of natural disaster that shakes everything up.

One of the best thing about dropping a bomb is that, since you don’t see if coming, neither will your reader. In the most authentic way you reach out and smack them across the face and say “Hey! Are you paying attention?”

And even if their attention had started to stray, they sure are now.

Have you ever employed this technique? Have you found it effective? Share your thoughts!

Plot comes first

Writers are explorers. Explorers of the mind, explorers of the world, the universe, the alternate universes. Chasers of What ifs and How could this be. And it is really pretty excellent. But sometimes we get so lost in our explorations on paper, that we forget we are there to tell a story.

Have you ever had a conversation with a friend who wanted to tell you something that happened, but kept getting distracted with details? It went something like this:

Oh, I need to tell you about Saturday night! I was out with Kim, you remember Kim, right? She’s the one who went sky diving? Yeah, i know sky diving scares the hell out of me. She went with John and Laura. They asked me to go, but i was like, no way. But I might go bungee jumping if they ever do that again. You want to come with me? Oh cool. My brother went last year and he loved it. He went while he was on that business trip in Maui. Yeah, Seriously. Why doesn’t my job send me on business trips to Maui? I only ever get to go to Scanton. Although, they were talking about the conference in Vegas next year, so fingers crossed.

Oh, yeah, so anyway, Saturday…

I admit, I am guilty of this. In a back and forth exchange, I have so many trails to follow, I tend to run down all of them.

But reading my meander toward a point is not so easy when my path is all over the place.

And the same goes for writing.

Early on in my work, I loved to explore subplots, quirky backstories for secondary characters, set the scene with interesting facts that I’d dug up.

My manuscripts would take forever to finish and when they were done, they were drawn out, confusing and sorta dull.

No one cared about the quirky backstories, though I loathed to cut them. People fell asleep at my extensively researched description of the history of the Jersey boardwalk.

I remember one, first chapter scene, where I described how every character there made their taco, thinking this was a brilliant little detail that showed something important about them.

But it wasn’t a little detail. Describing how four characters make their tacos took two paragraphs.

Two paragraphs too much, as it turns out, because no one actually cares about characters they just met and how they like their tacos. They want to know why they should care about them, if they should care about them (since three of the characters never made it past the second chapter, the answer was not really) and what the hell they are doing.

The plot. That is what a reader cares about first. How you share they plot makes all the difference, but a story that is more details than plot is a story that people will not stick with.

Imagine the conversation about Saturday night was actually a story entitled “Saturday Night”. If the first two chapters were filled with details about Kim and sky diving and business trips to Maui and Scranton, would you keep reading? What the hell happened Saturday night? And what do any of these people or these details have to do with it?

Now instead, imagine it went something like this.

Saturday night the narrator and Kim went into the city with plans to walk along Broadway and grab a meal. The first place they went to had a long line and then the kitchen caught on fire. Narrator was so freaked out that she wanted to go home but as they tried to catch a cab they found a new restaurant that looked interesting and went inside, surprised that they were seated immediately during the dinner rush. While they discussed Kim’s latest sky diving experience, which the narrator had opted out of joining, Bruce Willis was seated at the table beside them. They asked for a picture with him and he got irritated.

They apologized and bought him a drink. He laughed and they got to talking to him and he offered them his tickets to Hamilton, that night.

On the way to the show Kim fell in a puddle, and her outfit was covered in mud. They almost called it quits but a stranger gives her a towel and Kim sorta cleans herself off decided to just go with it.

They went to the show and during intermission they met the actor playing the lead. He thought Kim’s muddy outfit was so funny invited them backstage after the show where they me the cast, drank IPAs with the crew and the narrator, who’s been unhappy at her job for a long time, met a set designer who asked her to interview for a new position.

More interesting that going on and on about the random events in other peoples lives?

Details are important. Details flesh out the story. But the story is the point of it all. If you find that you have wandered off the path too many times or in too many different directions in your manuscript, try nailing down the driving action in short sentences.

Kim and Narrator go to Broadway.

Fire at restaurant compels them to find new restaurant

Meet Bruce Willis

Get Hamilton tickets

Kim falls in mud.

Kind stranger gives her a towel

Meet the lead of show

Invited back stage

Narrator offered interview for dream job

Each event leads to the next, which leads to the resolution. The rest is just filler.

Thoughts? Ideas? Primal Scream? (this is what my freshman English Prof used to say at the end of every class. There’s a random detail for you)

As far as I can go on my own

I like to learn by mistakes.

That’s a total lie. I hate making mistakes, suffering set backs, not getting things right the first time (or the 18th), but I seem to learn best by failing and I have come to embrace that. I have failed my entire writing career. I am a much better writer for it, and much more willing to take chances.

Now I have reached the impasse with my novel. There is something I am not seeing, something my beta readers haven’t brought up, something my writing groups haven’t noted and it needs to be fixed.

And I can’t do it by myself this time.

I know I could go through it and clean it up a bit more. Tighten it a little more. Cut a few more erroneous lines. But I could do this until the end of time and never touch on what is making my book something that the industry does not want.

So I’ve been shopping for editors. It’s time to let a profession do their job on my baby. And as nervous as I am, I am so freaking excited too. An editor feels like a luxury, an upgrade for my novel.

I never assumed I could do this all on my own, but I certainly tried really hard to. Now that I’ve reached the end of that point I have the choice to shelve the book, self or small publish it as is, or ask for help making it as great as I think it can be.

I will be writing more about the editors I will be working with in the future, after I lock them down. I’ve gotten a sample edit from them already and I got chills reading it.

Wish me luck!

Fail like a M*F* boss

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I finally heard back from an agent who had my manuscript. Rejected. The bottle of Moet and Chandon must wait for another day to be popped.

But the truth is, I am kinda relieved. Not because I didn’t want her as an agent I would have loved to have worked with her, but because I have been SO STAGNANT the last two months waiting. All my queries and samples have been rejected or timed out except for this one and now I can call this round a failure.

Yes. This has been a glorious failure.

And that is totally freaking okay.

You see, I love this manuscript. LOVE IT. And I have worked my ass off on it. But something about it just isn’t quite right yet. So I failed at getting an agent this time around.

So?

So now I can move on. I can shred it up and cry if I want. Or I can wave my fist and curse the heavens. But what I think I’ll do instead is plot my next move with this manuscript that I love.

When I say fail like a boss I don’t mean some middle management A-hole who shifts blame onto the people who report to him and makes excuses about lack of resources. I mean the CEO who is ceaselessly looking for ways to improve quality and efficiency, cut costs and raise morale. The boss who is allowed to fail because in her failures she reveals the holes in the ship before it starts to sink.

It’s a funny double standard we have that we constantly roll our eyes and tell dreamers to be practical, not to quit their day job, to let go of their pipe dreams, but then applaud those who succeed by refusing to do just that. And the truth is that the majority of those who do succeed in a big way have ignored that kind of advice for years, after every defeat and every failure.

So I am not wiping my tears with my manuscript. I am looking for where it is losing water and getting my welding torch ready to patch that bitch up stronger than ever.

Failure is inevitable. If you don’t want what you are failing at than by all means, give up. If you do want it, Really want it, than it is worth every single defeat to reach that victory.

And that is worth cracking open a bottle of Verdi at least.

Withholding too much: Opinions Wanted!

I am starting to think  about maybe getting around to considering the second round of edits on my newest manuscript. So far the crits in my writing groups have been pretty good, most readers says they are intrigued and would read on from the first few chapters but one thing has been driving each and every one of them a little crazy.

Too much information is withheld.

A while back I wrote a post about how much I loved backstory and tended to overshare.

It seems I have swung to the completely other side of the spectrum and I’m leaving my readers guess about just about everything in the first chapters.

The problem is, I kinda love it.

When a story is full of mysteries, foreshadowing, allusions to a deeper story I get drawn in really quick and start making up my own theories. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is when some of those theories turn out to be correct, especially if they author is vague and remains in the POV of the character (side note, when it’s obvious and the character can’t figure this crap out for themselves its actually infuriating instead).

That doesn’t mean I am not willing to concede. I believe that writing is for the writer, editing is for the reader.

So the the first four chapters of “Summer’s Circle” only offer questions. And there are alot of them.

-What’s the dynamic between Danica and Summer? Why is Summer telling her the story?

-Is Joviah actually magic or a con artist? And why is Summer still talking to him?

-Did Chris actually humiliate Summer in front of her peers?

-Is Summer crazy?

-Is Summer a heartless bitch or is there something we don’t know about her past with her family?

-Why the hell does this phrase keep showing up?

-What is up with Summer deciding one thing and then immediately doing something else?

If I promise you it all will be revealed some very quickly and some of it drawn out in a slow dawning realization that makes you feel as trapped and horrified as the the MC does as she comes to understand the truth, would you be okay with all these questions at the beginning?

Or, like my crit readers have suggested (having access only to the first five chapters) should I clear up a few things early on? Do you like to make theories and see how they unfold? Do you like to be surprised? Or is too much uncertainty in your reading frustrating or anxiety inducing?

Your feedback is most welcomed!!