Posts Tagged ‘process’

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.


The Changes of the Process, Part 2

Along with the revision/editing post from Tuesday, I found a post about outlining from February of 2011. A little newer than the editing one, but still completely different from my current process.

Again, for those too lazy to go back and read the original post, I shall summarize: at the time, I made a list of characters with plot-specific characteristics, freewrote out my premise and the story that I had thus far, and then usually began writing. At some point I would use phase outlining (where you outline by writing out sentences or phrases in chronological order, usually in bullet point form), usually after I’d written some of the story.

One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve become more experienced and serious about my writing is that more organization has come into the writing process. There are still some situations where I will pants a story, but they’re increasingly rare. Short stories I always completely outline (admittedly, by phase outlining) before I start. There’s no room in a short for meandering about trying to figure out your direction.

But past!me didn’t do short stories, so that’s a moot point.

For novels, I’ve been experimenting lately by outlining by structure. For my space dinosaur adventure story that I wrote for Nano last year, I noted internal, external, and character-based arcs, and then found the “tentpoles” for all three plot lines (inciting incident, midpoint reversal, and climax). No phase outlining. I did write down my worldbuilding and characters before hand (mostly rank and position, as well as appearance). And it worked–by knowing where I needed to be at a certain point, the story naturally built toward the necessary goals.

I’m working on a co-authored story at the moment, and we’re working in a similar manner, though with more “acts.” (Five, I believe.) But I’ve also mixed my phase outlining back in. I identify where I need to be and how many words I have to get there, and then I make a list of everything that needs to happen between the current point in the story and the next turning point. And then I arrange those points in a chronological order, and tada! Phase outline.

I used to believe that outlining killed the sense of discovery one had when writing, and that identifying what needed to happen when would force you to ruin the flow of your story. And I always used to say that I wrote because I wanted to know how the story went. But I haven’t found any creativity drain by putting in some organization, and I’m much more pleased with my first drafts now than I was back then. In many cases, they just need tweaks instead of a major revision, which is awesome.

Believe in outlining, Squiders? What’s your process? Tried anything new lately that’s really been looking for you?

The Changes of the Process

So, for some reason that currently escapes me, I was re-reading the very start of this blog (from five years ago–yikes!) and one of my very first posts was about my editing process. (You can see that post here.) And it was interesting to see, because in the five years since, my process has almost completely changed.

To summarize my original post, at the time I wrote a first draft, sent it out to betas, and the created a bound Master copy, which I would put all the reader comments into. I would then go through the Master copy myself and makes notes, then do a chapter by chapter edit. Then the process would repeat itself until the story was done.

At the time I wrote that original post, I’d done two edits: one directly following this method (and judging by the pictures, the story I used for the post), a YA fantasy that I’ve not touched in years and probably needs close to a full rewrite at this point; and a complete rewrite of the first book in my high fantasy trilogy (that I am still working on).

It was a good starting method, but it doesn’t deal very well with the overall picture, which eventually became apparent over the years.

So! Five years later, what do I do now?

Well, the first steps are the same. I write a book. I send it out to beta readers. I create a Master copy. (The Master copy is great because it keeps all the comments, both mine and my betas’, in one place, nicely bound together so chapters in the middle can’t wander off.)

And the end steps are the same. I still do the chapter-by-chapter edit. I still get people to read it again (or for the first time).

What’s changed is what goes between the two halves. I’ve been using a modified version of Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel process. (I would link, but she’s in the process of switching websites.) I highly recommend the course if you’ve been having editing issues, or if you’re having to go through a ton of drafts to get a finished product. Basically, this process has you look at the aspects of your book–characters, conflicts, plot arcs, settings, etc.–making sure you know what your goals are and what needs to be done from a big picture point of view to get there.

Thus armed with this information, you’re more informed going into your edit, and it’s easier to make the changes necessary to get the story you want out of it.

I’ve found it works for me. It may not work for everybody. It doesn’t really deal with structure, so if you’re someone who edits or outlines using turning points, it may not work as well for you. I’ve started putting those in my writing outlines, so I haven’t run into issues with that as of yet.

What’s your editing process, Squiders? How has it changed over time?

In other news, I have a new short story available for free over at Turtleduck Press! Give it a look! It’s a creation myth with a bit of a twist. I’ll send out an email to my mailing list in a few days explaining its origin, if such things interest you.

The Tricky Art of Character Creation

Before I get started, Squiders, let me note that both and are currently down. Apparently some sort of malicious source code snuck in through one of my WordPress plugins and tried to send people to other websites, so my host is currently going through all the code for both sites to find the culprit. Unfortunately, this will be a lengthy process, and the sites will then need to be rebuilt from back-ups.

So I apologize if you went to either site while they were infected (though my host assures me they caught it quickly) or if you need/want information that is normally hosted there. You can find both my personal and editorial email addresses above (under “contact me” and “hire me!” respectively), and please feel free to send me an email if you need anything.

Now, onto characters.

I’ve recently taken over the Storycraft meetings of my local speculative fiction writing group (and hooray for having a genre-specific writing group), which means I’m in charge of coming up with discussion topics. But I find that group discussion is excellent, because not only does it allow you to hear other people’s processes, but it forces you to look at your own in more detail.

Last time we talked about characters. And going into the meeting, I would have told you that my characters come to me fully formed, with names and characteristics attached, and that they were one of the easiest parts of my story creation.

But there are nuances. Yes, I can’t write a story before I have a character, but while some characters show up fully formed at the beginning, others just appear as needed. In some cases, the characters spring directly from the world, or from the plot, and without having those aspects first, I can’t have characters. In other cases, characters show up with nothing attached to them, leaving me to scramble to try and find someplace for them to fit.

And, for me, names are essential. Sometimes, when I’m still in the character forming stage, I’ll troll about name websites, looking at meaning, waiting to have that flash on insight, to have the character show up. Sometimes I have to make a list and the character meanders in a little later.

But it does make it really hard to change names. It always changes personality for me.

How other people get their characters has always fascinated me. Everybody’s processes work so differently. Some people need to do complicated character interviews or map out character arcs before their characters can take shape. Some people can change names with no issues. (How? Argh!)

What is your character creation process? Does it change based on the circumstances or the type of story?

Waiting on Other People (It’s Not Your Fault)

Oh, Squiders. Don’t you wish that you could do everything in a vacuum and never have to rely on other people? Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I eat copious amounts of ice cream, which doesn’t really help anything, but is excellent at the time.

I have three different works out to beta readers at the moment. The first is my high fantasy trilogy. Yes, the one I sent out last April. I also have the first of my potential nonfic series out to a few people, and my YA paranormal novel to a few as well. I think the nonfic book has been out since mid-February, and the YA paranormal has only been out for a few weeks.

(For a definition of beta readers go here. For notes on dealing with beta readers, go here or here.)

The issue with having other people read your story is the doubt that creeps in as time goes on. This is especially evident when you have a reader who is so excited to read your book, so you send it to them, eagerly awaiting their comments, but then the deadline comes and goes, and there’s nothing. No word from your beta. In fact, they seem to be avoiding you. You start to become desperate. Have they started the book? Have they finished it and it was so terrible they can’t even bear to tell you?

That’s got to be the reason, right? Why would someone be so excited and then not answer your emails after? You’re a terrible writer, a hack, you should just give the whole thing up now, before you embarrass yourself and bring dishonor to both you and your cow.

This feeling can be compounded if this is one of your first stories.

Well, Squiders, luckily, in 95% of cases, it’s not you. It’s not your writing. It’s your beta.

Here is how things work from a beta’s point of view. They’ve agreed to read your story. This generally implies that there is some interest there. I do know a few people that will beta things out of a sense of obligation, but most people can’t be bothered about that. They get your story and…a big report becomes due. Their children all get the worst sort of stomach flu. They lose their job, or their significant other leaves them. They have to do more marketing on their own book than they thought. Their priorities need a huge redirect.

Basically, something comes up that makes it so they don’t start your beta, or they get pulled away in the middle of it. And it spirals from there. Your betas want to do a good job. They want to give you useful comments. So the excuses start to pile up. “Oh, I should work on so-and-so’s story, but it’s been so long since I’ve looked at it. I should really start over.” “I should wait until I can give this my full focus, so I can give so-and-so the feedback they deserve.” “As soon as this gets done, I can work on betaing that story.”

But things pile up. And then deadlines pass. And then you (the writer) come back along, and in a nice, friendly tone, ask how it’s coming along. And the beta feels terrible that they’re not done. And because of that guilt, they start to withdraw from you. And it spirals into a huge mess of guilt and avoidance and procrastination that just gets deeper and deeper.

It’s not you. It’s not your story.

If you’ve reached full avoidance stage with a beta, I hate to say it, but it’s time to cut them loose. At that point, it’s probable that it’s never going to get done. Just pat them gently on the shoulder, thank them for their work, and tell them it’s okay if they don’t do it. Sometimes removing the weight of expectation clears their mind enough that they will actually do it. More often you will never get anything out of them. Use what you got from other betas, find new ones if you need more specific feedback, and move on.

If a beta is late, but still responding and letting you know what their status is, then they’re okay. You just need to decide if there’s a point where you absolutely need their feedback by, and ask for what comments they have at that point if they’re not done.

You can’t control other people’s lives. And you can’t let other people control yours. Set boundaries and deadlines, and stick to them.

Got any beta reading tips, squiders, from a writer’s or a reader’s standpoint? Things that you’ve found work? Ways to draw out the turtling beta when it seems like hope is lost?

It’s Okay to Slow Down

It’s already been a very long week, and my brain is tired, so I was commissioning ideas from my various writing peoples, and the Word Ninja over at Full Coverage Writers suggested I write about why a quill and ink is better than pen and paper.

And then someone else, who goes by the name Kami (which I have new appreciation for, after being in Japan), said she misread that as “quails and inks” and had momentarily gotten very offended on behalf of the quails.

To which the Word Ninja replied that quails could write too, if they really wanted to.

But I did ask him why a quill and ink was better, because I couldn’t think of a single reason why it would be. Writing with a quill, or a brush, is extremely frustrating, in my opinion. The ink spreads unevenly. It gets all over everything (invariably your hands, and then everything you touch forever because the ink also does not come off). It can smear before it dries.

And he said that it forces you to slow down and think about what you’re doing.

You know what? He’s right. I mean, I don’t think you need to resort to a quill and ink, but even switching to handwriting is a much slower process.

(Also, it is really hard to find a decent quill. Just throwing that out there.)

It seems like so much of writing these days is output. How many words you can crank out in a month. How many books you can write a year. And everyone gets bogged down on this, and if their output is slower, people get depressed. Feel like they’re not a real writer because they can’t keep up.

But you know what? I’ve found that a lot of the most prolific people don’t ever truly finish anything. They’re great at writing, but they don’t edit. They look at what they’ve written, declare it a mess, and move on to the next thing.

There is something to having a little bit of a plan, to paying attention to what you’re doing and where you’re going and making sure that it makes some semblance of sense. Makes for less work later. And as many smart people over the years have said, there is always joy in the journey as well.

When we were in Japan, we had the opportunity to go to Saiho-ji, which is a temple on the outskirts of Kyoto. It’s known as the Moss Temple because it has what is probably the best moss garden in the world. To protect the moss, they closed it to the public. To get in to see the gardens, you have to mail a postcard at least a month in advance asking for entrance on a specific day. Then, assuming there’s room (as they only accept a certain number of people each day), when you arrive you need to copy some Buddhism sutras (using a brush and ink, so same concept) and participate in some Buddhism prayers with the monks. And THEN you can go see the garden.

My Japanese calligraphy and/or skill with using a brush are both terrible, apparently. It took me about an hour and a half to copy my sutras. My husband and I were literally the last people done.

But you know what? It was kind of fun. And we got the gardens to ourselves because everyone else had already left.

(And the gardens were totally worth the complication of admission.)

So don’t forget that it’s okay to take things slow, to enjoy the process and the journey. We write because we want to, because we need to. And it’s all right to do that in whatever way works best.

Writing Process Blog Hop

I like you people. Sometimes you make blogging really easy. (Which is sometimes necessary, because you occasionally have days where you’re crockpotting dinner and it’s been in there for two hours before you realize you never turned the crockpot on.)


Siri Paulson has tagged me in a writing blog hop that’s making the rounds. There’s four questions to be answered, and then you tag three other writers at the end of the post to answer the same questions. (Be the way, feel free to tag yourself if you’d like. I admit I’m somewhat terrible at knowing who reads my blog on a regular basis. It goes EVERYWHERE.)

Anyway, on to the show. Questions are about writing process and so forth.

1. What am I working on?

I’m writing the first draft of the third book of a high fantasy trilogy. I have been working on this trilogy for a full half my life which is, quite frankly, a little ridiculous. I hope to have the first book ready to go out in search of an agent/publisher by the end of the year, but I think that’s probably wishful thinking. After I finish the third book here, I want to do a round with betas (I’m hoping to get a few to do just the third book, and a few to do all three) and then I’ll need to do an entire edit on the first book. (Well, and the other two eventually. But probably not before the first book goes out.)

I’m also continuing the very slow work on my serial science fiction, which I have been working on for something insane, like three or four years. This is what happens when you write a scene a month. I think it’s somewhere between 40 and 50K, word count-wise. It will never be finished.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is an interesting question because I tend to write all over the place (mostly high and urban fantasy, but also occasionally science fiction, paranormal, and horror). I also think it’s a little too broad. I mean, I can tell you why a specific work is different from its contemporaries, but how my overall body of work differs? Yeah.

I mostly write in what is now being called the “New Adult” age range, which is aimed at people between the ages of 18 and 25 or so. There’s not a lot of “typical” NA books because the categorization is so new. So I don’t really have a lot to say here.

But to go back to the question at hand, if we take my fantasy trilogy, it’s different because while there are humans in this world, my main characters are not human. And my serial science fiction is what I’ve taken to calling “stealth” science fiction, because the science fiction elements, while foreshadowed throughout the entire story, don’t really become apparent until about halfway.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I write stories because I want to know what happens. And I write speculative fiction because, I’m sorry, I get enough real life most of the time, and I don’t need it in my entertainment as well. Also, if I want to have venomous wolves in my fantasy, nobody’s going to tell me no, dangit.

4. How does my writing process work?

I am a terrible person and change my process all the time. I feel like each story needs different types of preparation, and different amounts of it, so I’m kind of all over the place during the writing stage. Sometimes I outline from the beginning, sometimes I outline from the middle. Sometimes I do research. Sometimes I do worldbuilding.

Editing is a more standard process that requires a lot of left-brained work right at the beginning, where I look at character arcs, plot, setting, worldbuilding, etc., identify what’s wrong with each, what needs to be changed, and outline the heck out of the story.  And then I go back and essentially rewrite half the book, cuz that’s how I roll.


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