Archive for January, 2016

Revising on a Deadline

I apologize for the lack of posts this week, Squiders. My website (which, you might remember, went down at the beginning of October) has become quite the job between browbeating my host to fix it (like they promised in October), figuring out how to transfer it to a new host, and fixing everything else in between (I’m currently backing it up in case the transfer between hosts takes too long and the site gets eaten in the meantime. I should probably do a backup through wordpress also, argh.).

I have spent so much time fighting people on it that I feel like I’ve gotten nothing else done. Such a pain. The site is currently up, but the theme is broken and I am too tired to try and fix it at the moment.

So, let’s talk about revising. In an ideal world, your revision process probably looks something like this:

  1. Write novel
  2. Fix up major issues if you know of any
  3. Give novel to beta readers/shop through critique group
  4. Get comments from beta readers
  5. Do major revision
  6. Polish
  7. Have someone proofread/copyedit
  8. Do what you will with it (self-publish, submit, etc.)

Look how lovely and organized that looks. And it works well too, especially if you have all the time in the world to get your novel ready.

But then deadlines come in, like the one we had on our co-written novel. The good news is that the editor loves it. The bad news is that our editing/revision process looks something like this:

  1. Write half the novel
  2. Do preliminary edit on first half
  3. Write second half
  4. Flail about in a half-edit
  5. Submit it to publishing editor (step 8 above, for those paying attention)
  6. AT THE SAME TIME, give it to betas and co-writer’s critique group
  7. Hopefully get all comments back at about the same time (Sunday, in this case) (hopefully)
  8. Do major revision
  9. Send to proofreader/copyeditor
  10. Polish
  11. Publish

Also, that major revision has to happen in a month, which should be interesting. I’ve never done one with someone else before. I have done a major revision in a month before, but on a much more polished draft. I don’t supposed anyone else has tips for co-editing?

Anyway, that’s my life at the moment, Squiders. Website woes. Looming edit. How are you? What are you up to? Anyone know if there’s a way to split Amazon revenue on a single product automatically?

Revision vs Editing

To continue along in the writing process, Squiders, today will talk about revising and editing.

Now, you should always revise before you edit. Why? Well, first, let’s discuss what the difference is.

Revising has to do with content. When you revise something, you cut things, add things, move things around. You look at what you have versus what you wanted, and you change important things–character arcs, plot points, story structure.

Editing has to do with appearance. When you edit, you fix typoes, grammar, and punctuation. You make sure Bob has the same hair color on page 5 as he does on page 134. You make sure, if you decided to capitalize something, that you capitalize it throughout, and that you use the same type of dash throughout the whole thing.

You need to revise before you edit, because if your core is no good, who cares how pretty it is? I know this can be hard to do, though. It’s much easier to read through, fixing grammar and occasionally rewriting small points to clarify things. It feels productive. But if your pacing is off, no amount of editing will fix it, no matter how much effort you put into it.

Revising takes a lot of work. You have to look at your whole story and really understand it. You have to know your character motivations, your theme, your tone and style. You have to be able to look at the big picture, and you have to figure out where things have gone wrong and how to fix it.

And THEN you can edit. After all, why waste time on a line by line level if you’re going to end up cutting the whole scene, or rewriting a major portion of it?

What’s your editing/revising process like, Squiders? Do you have issues with one or the other?

Library Book Sale Finds: The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

I think I picked this one up because it sounded like it might be magical realism, though I’m not sure where I got that impression. It’s not; it instead falls into that category of family/personal drama.

As kind of an aside, I noted when I started reading the book that Eleanor Brown is a local author, and I happened to read in the newspaper a few days ago that she’s hosting some sort of writing class at my local library tomorrow. How random is that? Coincidences work in strange ways.

Title: The Weird Sisters
Author: Eleanor Brown
Genre: This one goes in my “general literature” category.
Publication Year: 2011

Pros: Interesting first-person plural viewpoint, doesn’t get trite or depressing like so many family/personal dramas
Cons: Doesn’t quite justify the interesting viewpoint

I actually enjoyed this quite a bit, so I was interested to note on Goodreads that it actually has a lot of one-star reviews. It just goes to show how arbitrary people’s reading preferences are. Maybe people like those sad, depressing dramas that I want to throw across the room. And I can’t tell you how pleased I was to read a book of this type without a dead baby anywhere to be found.

The book is about three adult sisters (in the late 20s-early 30s age range) who all find themselves returning back home because of their own issues, as well as their mother’s breast cancer. The narration is from a plural first person, which I haven’t seen before, from the perspective of the sisters. This kind of works because each of the sisters regards herself against the other two, but because the sisters don’t really function as a collective unit, sometime it feels a bit weird. (Har.)

The title comes from Shakespeare, and there are a lot of Shakespearean references throughout the book, though they don’t actually seem to have anything to directly do with the plot.

So I’d recommend this book for people who like their drama to not be of the soul-crushingly depressing kind. I found it an easy read, and it’s worth it to give it a try to see the interesting viewpoint, though I will warn that it’s hard to get used to.

Anyone else read this and have opinions? How’s your 2016 going in terms of reading? I’ve finished two novels (including a BFFN–big fat fantasy novel), am in the middle of three nonfic books (whoops), am still very slowly working through a SF anthology, and am reading Web of Air, which is the second book in the scifi!steampunk Fever Crumb series.

Pantsing vs. Plotting

Sometimes, Squiders, it’s good to go back to the basics. I would divide the writing process into the following steps:

  1. Outlining
  2. Writing
  3. Revising
  4. Editing
  5. Submission and/or Publication

Would you agree with that?

The first step of that is (arguably) outlining. It’s said that writers fall into two categories, plotters (people who plan a story before writing) and pantsers (people who write by the seat of their pants without an idea where the story is going).

I would argue that we all plot, at least a little bit. Even a pantser typically doesn’t go into a story without having an idea of length, main character, and premise. I mean, I’m sure people have, but I’m not sure they got very far.

Perhaps that’s a point for discussion another time. Does planning things out make it easier to finish a story? My experience says yes, but that’s only one bullet point.

So, I would argue that we all fall somewhere on a sliding scale between true pantser (no planning whatsoever) and true plotter (detailed, several thousand-word outlines, character sheets for all major and minor characters, world map, etc.).

People on the pantser side of the scale like to jump into a story with a minimum amount of planning and see where the story gets them. They can add in whatever cool new thing catches their attention because they don’t have to stick to an outline.

People on the plotter side, in general, have an idea where they’re going. This makes it easier to stick with a story and not get stuck. Plotting also helps you remember things, especially if you’re prone to forgetting your latest great plot epiphany or character motivation.

I think people kind of float back and forth along the scale throughout their careers. As for me, I started out close to true pantser, many years ago. My first novel, all I had going into it was a premise and a genre (murder mystery). It stands uncompleted at 29,000 words, and will probably never see the light of day again.

I’ve been drifting more toward plotter ever since. At first, I would pants the first half of a novel and then outline the rest so I could pick up the loose ends. My last few novels I’ve outlined the whole thing before I started using a fairly loose method that identifies key plot points (inciting incident, midpoint, climax, etc.).

Oh my landsquid, this makes it so much easier. It doesn’t kill your creative wiggle room, and taking stories in chunks, knowing where you need to be at a certain point and what you’re working toward overall, makes it easier to get there without wallowing in unproductive middles.

Of course, that’s just my experience. What about you, Squiders? Are you a pantser or a plotter? How have your methods changed throughout your career?

Why Do You Follow an Author?

Good news, Squiders! We got our novel off to the editor, so if all goes well, it should be out in the world around the beginning of the summer.

Woo! Onwards. One of my goals for the year is to get an email mailing list going. (I mean, I have one, but get it actually going going.) The Internet and marketing books/etc. tell me this is the best way to interact with readers, but I find myself at a bit of a loss, because I don’t follow a lot of authors myself, and so I don’t really know what entices people to follow authors. And I also don’t know what exactly you guys would get out of an email versus a post here at the blog. So I thought I’d do some polls, and if you have any insights about why you would subscribe to an author’s mailing list (or mine specifically), please let me know in the comments.

The survey is here. I’d really appreciate a moment of your time.

How are you doing, Squiders? Anything you’d like to see more (or less) of this year here at ye olde blog?

2015 Books in Review

If you’ve been with me for awhile, Squiders, you know I keep a list of every book I read in a year, along with genre, publication year, and a rating out of 5. Then, at the end of the year, I run stats to get a general view of what I read for the year. (I thought I started in 2010, but it turns out I started in 2009. Huh.)

I think this is the third year of me sharing here with you guys. Anyway, I’m always interested in the genre variations. For example, two years ago (2013) I read a ton of mysteries (19) and last year fantasy reigned supreme (16). 2011 I read mostly nonfiction (16) which–I must have been researching something. I wonder what. Death mythology, probably.

Anyway, I could go on about trends forever, but here are the stats for 2015.

Books Read in 2015: 52
Change from 2014: +2

Of those:
11 were Fantasy (includes all age ranges and subgenres)
9 were Science Fiction
8 were Nonfiction
5 were Mystery
3 were General Literature
3 were Ghost Story Collections
2 were Gothic
2 were Horror
2 were Mythology
2 were Romance
1 was an Anthology
1 was Historical Fiction
1 was Science Fantasy
1 was a Short Story Collection
1 was Steampunk

Huh. That’s a lot wider spread of genres than usual. Good for me, I guess!

New genre(s)*: ghost story collection, Gothic, horror, romance, anthology, science fantasy
Genres I read last year that I did not read this year: Christian literature, crime procedural

*This means I didn’t read them last year, not that I’ve never read them.

Genres that went up: science fiction, nonfiction, mythology
Genres that went down: fantasy, mystery, general literature, historical fiction

28 were my books
24 were library books
0 books were borrowed from friends/family

(Normally I borrow a few. I guess nobody wanted to pass anything on this year!)

47 were physical books
5 were ebooks

(I had been reading more ebooks every year–last year I read 12–but this year dropped to my second lowest ever. I blame The Mysteries of Udolpho, which I read on Kindle–and posted about here–and took me forever.)

Average rating: 3.45/5

Top Rated:
Collected Ghost Stories (4.5 – ghost stories)
Illuminae (4.1 – science fiction)
Blackout/All Clear (4 – science fiction – 2 books)
The Boys in the Boat (4 – nonfiction)
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (4 – mystery)
The Supernatural Enhancements (4 – horror)

I don’t normally note anything below a 4, but I also really enjoyed (and gave 3.9s) to The Queen of the Tearling and Throne of Glass. I actually gave out quite a few 3.9s this year.

Most recent publication year: 2015
Oldest publication year: 1794
Average publication year: 1991
Books older than 1900: 2
Books newer than (and including) 2012: 18

How did your 2015 go in reading, Squiders? Any truly excellent books you want to recommend (or any terrible ones I should avoid)?

5 Things I’ve Learned From Co-Writing a Novel

Well, Squiders, that novel I’ve been working on isn’t exactly done and off to the editor like I hoped, but it’s very close, and I’m kind of basking in the accomplishment of completion even though we’re not quite there yet. So, in celebration, here’s some things I’ve learned from co-writing a novel.

(It should probably said that I’ve co-written novels before, informal things mostly done for fun that might never get anywhere. This is a completely different animal.)

1. Co-writing is hard
At first glance, it seems like it should be easier. You only have to write half the words, right? Score! A full novel for half the work! But you have to make sure your half makes sense with your partner’s half (or however you’ve got it broken down), that you’ve got similar themes for the entire work, and that the whole thing feels cohesive, as opposed to two people writing two disparate stores.

2. Communication is essential
My partner (the wondrous Siri Paulson) and I talk all the time. We send each other lengthy emails discussing plot points, coordination, characterization, etc. We tweet each other quick notes (and to ask if the other is in the manuscript before we mess around too much). We have face-to-face meetings over Google Hangouts to hash out worldbuilding, discuss key scenes, and occasionally write important scenes together. We chat in IRC. We leave notes in document. We are everywhere. But if we weren’t, well, see point 1 about cohesiveness and whatnot. We were in the same time zone over Christmas and it was amazing.

3. You can’t futz worldbuilding
Because of the nature of the story Siri and I have put together, we essentially had to do worldbuilding for two very different places. She took the lead on one, I took the lead on the other, but we needed to understand both and also understand how the two fit together. I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes my worldbuilding can be a little underdeveloped on a first draft. You can’t do that here, though. Part of it also comes from the genre and type of story, however. My previous co-writing jaunts have been contemporary fiction with very few, if any, fantastical elements. This is high fantasy bordering on science fantasy. Before, questions like “Wait, how do the monsters maintain the pocket dimension?” have never come up.

4.Everyone writes differently
Before we started this, I would have guessed that Siri and I had near identical writing processes. We’ve been writer friends for almost a decade now, so we’ve had plenty of conversations about writing and we’ve watched each other go through numerous projects, long and short. We tend to have a similar style and write about similar topics. We even, a bit creepily, look quite a bit alike.

I have now learned, however, that our processes differ quite a bit. Siri writes detailed outlines and then goes back and fleshes the scenes out, leaving herself (and me) lots of notes as well as alternatives to the current scene. I write fully fleshed out scenes, taking care to try and get as close to a finished product as I can at first go by outlining before I start. She outlines chronologically but doesn’t flesh out in order necessarily. I prefer to go chronologically at all times.

I think this was a bit of a surprise on both of our counts. But we figured it out. I even wrote a few scenes out of order in the end.

5. Writing with someone else has a lot of perks
This is the first book of what will hopefully be a multi-author shared world. Siri and I inherited the first book because Erin and KD had other projects they were already working on. We took the shared world brainstorming and got to turn that into a story. And it’s been a lot of fun. Two heads are better than one, as they say. We got to bounce ideas off each other, and had a partner to give their opinion when a plot point on one side’s arc wasn’t working. We got to build off each other’s characters and worldbuilding. And I think we’ve been able to come up with something super awesome because of it.

Oh, and as a bonus:

Siri and I got the novel assignment at the very end of April and were supposed to have the story done by the end of the year. This has proven to be not nearly enough time due to the level of coordination necessary between the two of us. (Also, life events happened.) This is the first time we’ve tried something like this, and eight months seemed like a long time back then. Now we know better. And moving forward, I shall try to keep in mind that new types of projects should always be given more leeway on timing because it takes a while to figure out how things work. I think it took Siri and I a good 2-3 months to really get going–it took us a while to hash out characters, and then we each wrote a beginning, both of which were thrown out completely, though they really helped us establish what we were looking for and how we would work going forward. Another month or two would have been excellent. If you’re thinking about trying something similar, I’d recommend thinking about how long it would take you to do something on your own, and then add half that time again.

Woo! So close! And I’m excited to see what the editor thinks when she gets it.

How’s your 2016 going thus far, Squiders? Mine’s pretty awesome except I got pink eye from somewhere.