Writing with a Full-Time Job

I am a little bit of a productivity addict. I love to make lengthy checklists–at work and at home. It’s partly practical, to keep myself on task, to sort out some sort of priority system when there’s a mountain of stuff to do and I have no idea where to start, but I also really love to admire all the things crossed out, proof of what I’ve accomplished in my day.

To that end, I used to try to keep records of how many words I wrote a day. But as someone who squeezes in moments of inspiration and butt-in-chair time on the half-hour train commute, the narrow window of time between all the daily adulting requirements and bedtime, and on busy weekends, as someone who just cannot, for the life of her, accomplish 50,000 words no matter how hard she tries in November, it became a pretty depressing record. “Only five hundred words today!” I’d scold myself. “Pathetic. You need to do better! You need to prioritize your writing more if you love it as much as you say you do!”

It was a real bummer, to be honest. I felt so unproductive, so unaccomplished. It started to mess with my enthusiasm to sit down and write at all. I felt like a constant failure. And I started sacrificing other important things–going to the gym, cooking healthy meals, hanging out with friends–so I could stack up bigger and bigger word counts, in the hopes I would finally feel productive enough.

After a year or so of just feeling guilty all the time, I stepped back to reframe how I looked at my writing time. I started the one star = one hour system of record keeping. I finally accepted that I honestly have no control over how many words I eek out in a writing session and I needed to stop beating myself for something I couldn’t control. For my process, the only thing I have control over is how many hours I put my butt in the chair and write.

As a result, instead of constantly being disappointed in my progress, I now get to celebrate all the silver stars that stud my calendar, and be so incredibly proud of myself and my dedication.

It was great, until I started critically reviewing the calendar at the end of each month and seeing long empty stretches in-between writing stars. “What were you doing with your time last Tuesday!?” I’d scold. “How could you have just SKIPPED writing four days in a row the second week of the month?! Lazy. Unacceptable.” (We writers are so kind to ourselves, aren’t we?)

Logically, I knew it was ridiculous. I work a full-time job and adulting, as mentioned earlier, has a lot of requirements! Doctors appointments and grocery shopping. Pets and plants to keep alive and happy. Relationships with friends and family and loved ones that need attention. Sleep!

I stepped back to reframe again. Other little symbols got added in to illustrate how I was spending big chunks of my time. Hearts for a workout. Little arrows to indicate travel out of town. Quotation marks for local hangouts with friends. A little camping tent to illustrate overnight-guests. Little skulls and cross-bones for days I was down and out with a head cold. And those “blank” squares M-F? Not for nothing, but those days I still worked a full day at a job I love.

I had to remind myself of this–and maybe, somewhere out there in the Internet, you do too–but it’s okay that I’m not a full-time writer. I’m allowed to have a day-job career I love and dedicate a lot of my energy to which, some days, doesn’t leave any left for writing.

This is the full-picture of a person who works full time and writes on the side. Someone who finally has balance in her life. And at the end of the month, before I flip to a fresh page, I’m pretty darn proud.

Whatever you’re doing, whatever you’re accomplishing, however many hours you manage to dedicate to your stories, I’m pretty darn proud of you too.

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Drafting: False Starts and Knowing When It’s Working

For me, I know for sure whether a new manuscript is working around the 10,000 word mark. That also means sometimes I have to scrap hopeless false starts around 10,000 too.

I’m rewriting an old story–in fact, the manuscript that got me my agent–for the ~fifth (?) time. Every version before it has essentially been a variant on the wrong direction. Practice runs, if I’m being generous to myself.😂

I started in December with confidence. I had notes and an outline and I made it all the way to 10,000 words by January 2nd before it just tanked. I was sitting under the covers in a soft bed with my laptop nearly in tears because I knew it wasn’t working. 😭

I knew I had to toss all 10,000 words–which is not easy for me because drafting is like pulling teeth, especially in the distance from 4,000 to 10,000 words. That first “hump” is an obstacle that can take me weeks or sometimes even months to hammer out. It’s the pivot point (it’s also the inciting incident) that defines the direction of the rest of the story, so it has to be right!

But I suppose tossing 10,000 is better than tossing an entire draft and starting from scratch. I used to plow through to the bitter end, forcing 60,000-80,000 words even when it didn’t feel right, sure it was just the weird feeling of drafting and not a more serious red flag.

And that’s how I have two first drafts of two different stories on my hard drive that I shelved as soon as I reread them. Because they’re completely wrong, pivot point/incident to end. 🤷🏻‍♀️

It’s funny, because that first hump is only roughly a span of 6,000 words. At any other spot in the manuscript, if I have the writing flow going on, I can easily write 6,000 words over the course of one breezy weekend and a few low-intensity writing sessions.

So, going back to the drawing board in January, I read some craft books (the most helpful being STORY GENIUS by Lisa Cron, seriously, 💯💯 READ THIS if you need plot/structure help!), filled the well by reading an entire stack (and rereading a few favorite) middle grade books in search of inspiration/comps, and made a new outline. Honestly, it took nearly two months to work out an outline that I didn’t hate or tear apart with logic every time I reread it. And then I let it sit for a month to simmer. I reread it a couple weeks ago and…I still didn’t hate it. In fact, I sort of liked it, which seemed promising!

So I’ve started over again. Page one. And it’s been slowly growing, the word count ticking up steadily, but I was still wary. Was this a false positive? Was I going to have to toss this too and restart again?

[pulls out hair]

. . .

. . .

Happy to report that I made it past the 10,000 word mark this weekend and I’m still going! It feels right, past that hump, I know the direction is solid. Sure, it’s still a terrible “zero draft” as I like to call it, that I won’t ever share with another soul, but it’s the bones, the foundation of a only mildly less terrible first draft I can share with CPs someday.

I’m just going to relish this hard-earned moment for a bit, being in the post-10,000-word drafting sweet spot. Not only because it’s the green light to keep drafting using this outline, but because every session added to it feels like the best number! Today, I squeezed in 1,400 words on lunch break at a cute coffee shop in the city and now it’s a whopping 14,000 words! That’s, like, a real on-it’s-way-to-book-shaped size! Five-digit word count numbers feel good. 😎

How the Writing is Going

A thing that I’ve heard many writers say many times before is that every book you write teaches you something. I like that idea. It’s a concept that’s always appealed to me. For a long time, though, I was having trouble figuring out what, exactly, each of my failed manuscripts was trying to teach me. There was a lesson there, somewhere–there had to be!–but I just couldn’t find it.

Now that I can look back on a sequence of several shelved manuscripts, tucked away in the dark corners of various flash drives hidden in dark desk drawers, I’ve realized that they were mostly just teaching me the same thing: You’re not ready, not yet. I’d write this pile of words that had a few glimmers–some good writing, a few characters I became particularly fond of, a place definitely worth setting a story in–and I’d look at it once I had typed “The End” and just know with this heart-sinking feeling that this wasn’t it. It wasn’t a book, it wasn’t a story–just a few random events with the same cast of characters strung together in chronological order–and I wasn’t capable of making it into something book-shaped. I would think on it for months and wouldn’t be able to think of a single idea that would salvage this not-book-shaped thing I had worked on for months, maybe a year. I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t there yet. So I’d start again.

With each passing failed manuscript, it was getting harder and harder to admit that I still wasn’t ready, this still wasn’t the book that was worth showing to beta readers, would get me an agent, would make it on bookshelves. It was particularly hard for me to admit that fact with the last manuscript, the one I spent all of 2013 writing. My writing was definitely getting better. There were some fleshed out scenes I could see so vividly, certain snatches of dialogue (and let me tell you, dialogue for me is HARD!) that would catch me on a reread. It sounded, a little, like a book. And the characters were the most real human creations I had ever been able to make with my own words. I wanted this book to work. I needed it to work. So, for the first time ever, I went back into a manuscript and tried to revise it–not petty line edits and sentence restructuring, not just adding flowering words here and there–real revision, moving around events and adding things and changing motivations. I spent months trying to revise that could-maybe-be-book-shaped thing and I was frustrated to the point of tears. I wasn’t having fun. I wasn’t enjoying writing. I hadn’t enjoyed drafting the book–I’m just not the type of writer who enjoys drafting–but I had assumed all those years that I would really like revising, once I finally got to experience it. It was the polishing point of the process, where all the good ideas came together. It was the part I had loved the most about giant academic papers in college, taking that raw material I had dumped on the page and making every single word right, making them the right words in the right places in the right order. Shouldn’t some stage of the writing be fun, if I’m a writer?

But revising this manuscript was no more fun than drafting it had been. If anything, it was worse. The plot just wasn’t working and it felt like the characters were glaring out of their world at me. If you could just figure out this revising thing, if you could just do this thing right, you could do us justice, they seemed to be saying. It took me a while to realize that it wasn’t that I was broken–it wasn’t that I was completely incompetent at revising–it was that the story was broken. And it was also partly because I wasn’t the same person who had written that first draft. I still cared about the characters, but I didn’t care about the plot, about what the book was about, anymore. I wasn’t as excited about answering the questions I had been so eager to find answers to the year before. I had, for all intents and purposes, outgrown the story. So I shelved it.

It was hard, shelving that book. There are parts of it that I believe might be the best stuff I’ve ever written. And at that point, one year ago this month, I had been trying to write a book for a long time. I’m one of those people who wrote books in elementary school, middle school, high school, college. Has always dreamed of being a writer. I fell in love with children’s literature and never really left it. I’ve been devouring it, studying voice and trends and watching the young adult branch of publishing grow and boom. I’ve been reading about literary agents and publishers through my favorite author’s blogs for nearly ten years now–since I was a little public school baby writer–all with one goal in mind: sharing a quality book worth reading with readers. How wasn’t I there, yet? Why were other people, who had just randomly woken up one day last year and decided they wanted to write a young adult book get it done right on their first try? How was it possible that this most recent not-book-shaped thing was still telling me You’re not ready?

Every time I try out a new idea, type up the words “Chapter 1,” for the first time, I try something different. It’d always be young adult, but it’d be a different genre: young adult fantasy, young adult dystopian, young adult historical, trying to find the right fit. I’d try different tenses, pants vs. plot, and different formats, like a book told completely in journal entries. When I set down to write the new book of 2014, it was really different for me. Third person. Middle grade. Male protagonist. I had never done any of those things before.

The drafting, as always, was hard. I kind of hate drafting, I’ve realized. It’s painful for me. I want things to be good–I derive a lot of pride and joy from good sentences, good writing, great characters, from writing I enjoy reading after I’ve written it–and first drafts are just by nature mediocre at best, nothing to ever brag about. And somewhere in the middle of every story I always get completely lost, whether I have an outline or not, and the quality deteriorates even further from there as I write in circles, just throwing words at the page trying to see what sticks. Stuck somewhere in the middle of my story, for a lot of weeks this summer, I didn’t write at all.

I was feeling more confident about this book, though, towards the end of 2014. I felt like I had a better handle on all the things–story, characters, dialogue, scene structure, tension, and that ever-elusive creature “voice”–than I had ever had in the past. I would read over passages and knew that, at the very least, I was definitely becoming a better writer, I was definitely better than I had been a few years before and that was a relief. At least I was getting somewhere.

When I reread the full draft last month, the whispering was a little different than it’s been before. The whispering was, this could work. It doesn’t work yet. But it could.

As I said before, I dislike drafting. I certainly can’t make myself do it every day, as so many people claim “real” writers do. It’s too draining and if I force myself to do it every day, I end up tossing the words usually anyway, and I end up hating writing, avoiding it, even more than I already want to do during the dreaded drafting stage. During the 2013 manuscript, I finally understood that writing every day just wasn’t something I could do while also balancing everything else–exercise, friends, family, reading, full-time job. And I forgave myself for that.

So that’s why how I’ve been reacting to revising this book has surprised me so much.

I’m 22,000 words in now and I’m not slowing down. I put myself on an idealistic 5,000 words a week schedule…and I’m actually a little bit ahead, which I’m pleased about for now. But the way that I stay on schedule means I have to dedicate a decent chunk of hours to consistently revising every week. I originally gave myself the goal of three times a week, totally reasonable. The thing that’s really been surprising me, though, is that three times isn’t enough…not hours-wise, but emotionally. I WANT to revise this story every day, all the time. I’m driving somewhere and I’m thinking about tackling the next scene, diving back into my little fictional neighborhood. I’ve started carrying around a dozen or so pages in progress in my purse all the time (I print out the first draft and pretty much rewrite every sentence by hand and then revise even further when I type it up that night) and edit a half an hour here or there, in-between doctor’s appointments, on lunch breaks. There’s a momentum building with this story as I nail down each chapter that I’ve never experienced before. I feel like there’s a little train, like the miniature one that circles around Christmas villages, in my head, plugging away to the tune This could be it, this might be it, it’s finally sort of working, I think this is working.

This is what revising looks like. Lot's of words in the margins and arrows and cross outs.

This is what revising looks like. Lot’s of words in the margins and arrows and cross outs.

So that’s where I am, in case you were wondering. 22,000 words into a 65,000 revision/rewrite, with the plan to finish the second draft by April 1st (no joke) and get it out to some beta readers. Barring any really awful, unanticipatedly drastic feedback, I think that should take about two months. So…the plan is to seriously start querying in June, then I guess.

Fingers crossed this manuscript keeps liking me and I keep liking it and my beta readers like it after that…

Too Few Book Reviews: November/December

As I mentioned recently, and for a variety of reasons, I’ve become interested in starting a little blog series where at the end of every month I give a few little book reviews of any books I read that that are under reviewed. In this series I want to focus on books that, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten the media attention and book buzz other more popular books did, have less than 2,000 reviews on Goodreads as of my posting, and could use a little bit of love and attention. Also, I’m adding information for each title about how I discovered that book and/author. Mostly because I think this is interesting information, but also in case it helps any authors who have under reviewed books of their own and want to think of creative new ways of reaching new readers.

Treasure Hunters by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Book: Treasure Hunters by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 998

Date Published: September 2013

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

How I Discovered this Book: Earlier in the fall, I attended the Women Who Write conference in northern New Jersey. The guest speaker was Chris Grabenstein, author of Escape from Mr. Limoncello’s Library, and coauthor with James Patterson on several other children’s books, including I, Funny. I enjoyed Chris Grabenstein’s talks (one on avoiding writer’s block and the  other on plotting) a lot and wanted to see how he plotted his books. So I checked out everything available in my local library’s audiobook archives. First I, Funny, then I moved onto this one.

Thoughts: This is an everything but the kitchen sink sort of book–there are pirates, storms, kidnappings, treasure hunting, history, siblings–with lots of adventure and cooky situations. I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if I were actually a young kid, which is fine, that’s the intended audience! It read a lot like a sitcom TV episode–fast paced, full of typical comedic situations, entertaining, but just about as memorable; the plot and characters made a fleeting impression on me. I’d more highly recommend these co-author’s other book I, Funny, which has a strong and unique voice, and is one of the better middle grade books I’ve read in a while.

Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost! by Cornelia Funke

Book: Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost by Cornelia Funke

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 910

Date Published: July 2006

Publisher: Chicken House/Scholastic

How I Discovered this Book: Sifting through the local library audiobook archives again, I surprised myself by finding a book by Cornelia Funke–in fact, an entire series–that I had never read or even heard of before! Imagine my delight! From Inkheart to The Thief Lord, she was one of my absolute favorite author’s as a kid.

Thoughts: Cute, funny, young middle grade with messy ghosts and old ladies with lots of personality and all of Cornelia Funke’s classic imagination. As a kid, I wanted to live in the world as Cornelia Funke imagined it. It’s nice to know that, as an adult, that feeling hasn’t really changed. Her stories are still just as magical now for me as they were then.

Ghosthunters and the Gruesome Invisible Lightning Ghost! By Cornelia Funke

Book: Ghosthunters and the Gruesome Invincible Lightning Ghost! by Cornelia Funke

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 487

Date Published: October 2006

Publisher: Chicken House/Scholastic

How I Discovered this Book: See explanation above.

Thoughts: Book #2 in the series, just as cute and charming as the first.

August’s Too Few Book Reviews

As I mentioned recently, and for a variety of reasons, I’ve become interested in starting a little blog series where at the end of every month I give a few little book reviews of any books I read that that are under reviewed. In this series I want to focus on books that, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten the media attention and book buzz other more popular books did, have less than 2,000 reviews on Goodreads as of my posting, and could use a little bit of love and attention. Also, I’m adding information for each title about how I discovered that book and/author. Mostly because I think this is interesting information, but also in case it helps any authors who have under reviewed books of their own and want to think of creative new ways of reaching new readers.

Since the 48-hour reading challenge in June, I’ve read three books that qualify.

Book: The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 414

Date Published: April 22, 2014

Publisher: Candlewick

How I Discovered this Book: I discovered Annie’s blog when trolling WordPress for young adult writers blogs years ago, started following it, and have been looking forward to the release of her first novel ever since!

Thoughts: This was, no exaggeration, the best (and most realistic) contemporary YA book I’ve read in a long time. I feel like most contemporary YA falls into one of two categories: either the characters experience something Truly Terrible and Horrifying–like a drug addiction, a violent life-changing car accident, or cancer, etc.–or the conflict of the novel is developed out of a few high-school specific obstacles like “my boyfriend dumped me,” or “I’ve lost my best friend and I don’t know why.” These, of course, are all valid plotlines that appeal to many readers. But, personally, I don’t strongly relate to these experiences and don’t enjoy reading them as a general rule; as a result, I haven’t really enjoyed that subgenre of YA for a few years now. I didn’t realize what was MISSING in my life and what I WANTED DESPERATELY from a YA novel until I finished this book and was like, YES. THIS. YES. While main character Alex deals with some normal high school troubles–liking a boy, driver’s ed (which, by the way, isn’t discussed ENOUGH in YA, learning to drive is a huge momentous moment and stresser in the teenage years), etc.–the focus of the book is on her mom’s mental break down. She thinks she’s Amelia Earhart and nothing and nobody will convince her otherwise. Alex’s home life is in shambles as the family tries to struggle through this hardship. While a common complaint I have about YA is that the parents simply disappear from the story, the family is the front and center of this book. Which is so accurate to the actual teen experience! I don’t know about you, but the drama and events of high school were a minor portion of my life during those years. I spent most of my lifetime at home with my family, on weekends, after school, during the summer. What they did and what happened at home dominated my life and colored my experiences out of the home. Family problems just don’t dissipate when you walk out the front door–my freshman year, my dad had a massive heart attack and later was diagnosed with an aggressive form of skin cancer; my concerns about his health were constant worries for me. For personal reasons, I really appreciated and related to this book. It is beautifully written, the relationships complicated and artfully drawn. It’s gritty, honest, heartbreaking, true. An absolute must read.

Book: Summerfall: A Winterspell Novela by Claire Legrand

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 14

Date Published: August 26th, 2014

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

How I Discovered this Book: I won an ARC of Claire’s first book, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, through YA author Nova Ren Suma’s blog a few years ago as a giveaway. I loved the book and started following Claire’s blog, and kept informed of each new book release. Her first two books were middle grade fiction, which I love, but I was particularly excited for her first YA book, Winterspell, due out September 30th, and jumped on this prequel as soon as it published.

Thoughts: I loved the world–it’s the land of Cane, where fairies, humans, and mages all coexist…though not peacefully!–and the descriptions of the fairy culture were tantalizing. The clothing, dress, hairstyles, etc….loved it. However, it seems that this prequel was the origins story, sort of, of the main character in the forthcoming Winterspell. This prequel was therefore the story of how the main character’s parents met, fell in love, etc. Personally, I didn’t really like their love story, though, so I’m glad that Winterspell will have the world I like so much but a whole new set of characters for me to meet and enjoy their new adventures. Can’t wait for the full-length novel in less than a month!

 

 

 

Book: The Cabinet of Curiosities by Stefan Bachman, Katherine Catmull, Emma Trevayne, and Claire Legrand

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 78

Date Published: May 27th, 2014

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

How I Discovered this Book: By following Claire Legrand’s blog, I discovered that she had started a new blog with other writers (I had read co-creator Katherine Catmull’s Summer and Bird prior to this and LOVED the writing, so was extra excited about this collaboration effort) called The Cabinet of Curiosities where they weekly post creepy little short stories. This book developed out of that.

Thoughts: A collection of short stories for a middle grade audience, this collection appealed to me right away because I like short stories, but there are almost never collections of them focused on a YA audience, let alone a middle grade one. The book ended up being a fun collection of a huge variety of story ideas, full of an impressive amount of imagination, a variety of monsters, unpleasant magic, and horrible things, perfect for readers who like stories that don’t end happily ever after!

 

Ready, Set, Read! 48 Hour Book Challenge Starting Line

Ever since I read about the 48 Hour Book Challenge last year, when the lovely Annie Cardi participated, I have been eagerly anticipating the return of the annual event so I could finally participate myself. And it’s finally here! This very weekend! Starting this very day!

The idea? Set aside 48 hours dedicated to reading. Within those 48 hours, the goal is to read between 12-48 of them.

Despite having some exciting and time-consuming plans in the next forty-eight hours that require my nose to be very distinctly outside the pages of a book, I still wanted to commit to participating. One, because life has been so busy lately that I’ve been desperately craving a reading binge, and this official event gives me the perfect excuse to burrow with a stack of books I’ve been eyeing for months without any interruptions. Two, because I find that after reading a lot–really providing fuel for my brain–I suddenly feel the urge to write a TON of whatever WIP is on my desk. And who wouldn’t be interested in stimulating an inspired jump start on that current novel-in-progress?

I’ll admit that I’ve been so nerdy about this challenge, that I’ve actually surprised myself (have I surprised any of you? No, probably not). I’ve been planning it for a few weeks now, in a giddy, obsessed, can’t stop talking about it to everyone sort of way, the way I can only remember replicating when I was planning my sweet sixteen birthday party way back when (it was a tea party on the last day of summer, with antique tea cups I picked up at flea markets, and it was awesome).

Ultimately, I decided upon a theme for my reading material: Under-reviewed books. These are books that have less than 2,000 reviews (sometimes much much less) on Goodreads as of this post and could use a little extra love, attention, and buzz, which I’m only too happy to provide! I decided on this for a couple of reasons:

1. I never write book reviews on the blog, and writing a short review of each book I read is a requirement of the challenge. I don’t write reviews as a general rule mostly because I personally don’t like writing them (though I love reading other people’s! Keep those reviews coming, folks!) So if I was going to make an exception to the rule and post reviews, I really wanted to make them special, important, and valuable book reviews, to both readers and authors alike. In my opinion, we don’t need to publicize yet another general review of The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, at this point. At least, you don’t need mine for any particular reason.

2. I mentioned to my boyfriend a few weeks ago that there are so many books in the world and so little time, that I’ve recently installed a policy where I almost strictly read books that were personally (and highly) recommended to me by a friend who I trust with taste similar to my own or books that have been read by thousands of other readers, resulting in an extremely high rating on Goodreads. His response? “That’s kind of sad. Don’t you want to be a person who discovers amazing books nobody else has heard of yet?” I was instantly struck with such a deep sense of shame because YES I DO! I WANT to read AMAZING books whether other people have heard of them or not! Discovering a book and then recommending it to everyone I can think of is part of the great fun of reading; at least, it used to be for me. What happened to the good old days when I would pursue the library shelves for hours and pick out about ten random book that tickled my fancy, read them all, and then repeat the process two weeks later? Now, I go to the library with an edited list of titles decided upon way in advance and I don’t even glance at other lonely and chock-full-of-potential books on the shelf. This is wrong, and I want to change that.

One additional rule I set for myself for this challenge:

To be included in my list of options, I had to already own the book or, for a limited exception, a way of acquiring it for free. This is mostly because I spend too much money on books as it is and I don’t need to buy more. Especially because I currently have about one hundred books piled about my condo that I have not read yet and want to. This seemed like as good a point as any to start chipping through the pile, instead of adding to it. The only exception I made was for the audiobook–long car rides cannot be wasted on a weekend as important as this were every minute is critical potential reading time!–that I’m borrowing from my local library.

I know my list is improbably long and it would be physically impossible to read all of these books even if I didn’t sleep or shower for 48 hours, but I thought it was good to bring all of these books to the top of my to-read pile, to give them a little attention, and to give myself a wide selection to choose from each time  I finish a book, depending upon my mood. If you’re interested in what I curated for myself, I made a mini list on Goodreads called 48-hours Too Few Reviews.

If you’re interested in joining, there’s still time! Go join!

And on that note, I’m going to get busy reading…right now!

Becoming Friends with My Inner Editor

Even though I’m not supposed to, even though I don’t really have time, (considering my Byberry book is due to the publisher in two months) I’ve started writing a new book. I mentioned it briefly before, when I wrote the first chapter on vacation a few weeks ago. I mentioned that I think it’s good. Like, good. Because I’m superstitious, I won’t really say more about it besides that it’s middle grade and that the opening chapter is set on Halloween.

What’s exciting for me is that I’m writing this book differently. When I’ve written manuscripts in the past, my biggest problem has been rushing through it. I need to get this idea.the next idea.the next scene down on paper rightnow and it leads to a sort of listed story “Henry walked home. Then he turned around to look at the sunset one last time. Then he went to bed” that’s heavy on the “then’s” and scanty on the rhythm, prose, and descriptive details. My manuscripts in the past have been bare bones; it has the structure, it has the plot points. But there’s wind rushing through the hollow ribcage of my story. And the worst part is, it’s such an ugly pile of words that I really have no idea how to deal with it. I still haven’t looked at my 2011 NaNoWriMo book because it’s terrifying. I know I’m going to have to rewrite the entire thing, because what I have right now is worthless. Not only is the pace far too fast and the prose far from pretty, but because I rushed through, the plot doesn’t even make sense. It’s a mess and I don’t know how to go about revising it.

Because that obviously hasn’t worked for me in the past, I’m trying a different process. And even though everybody says you should lock up your inner editor while writing the first draft, I’m finding that it’s actually much better to have her keep me company. I’m not editing each sentence, paragraph, or chapter within an inch of its life before I move on (if I did that, I might never move forward and write the next chapter). But I am writing it like a sequence of short stories. I write a chapter. I fiddle with it, rewrite it, move things around. I don’t worry about perfection, but instead focus on the voice. I really want the voice to stay consistent because it helps guide me in the next chapter and it keeps me from writing scenes that so obviously do not belong in this book. It’s still a draft–it’s still going to need to be revised and edited at a later stage–but by letting my inner editor visit earlier in the process, it’s a strong draft. Each chapter can stand on its own, independently. It’s a good foundation for my next chapter.

It’s working for me. So far I have four strong chapters that do everything I want them to do. They move along the plot and are slowly developing the characters. As I read through them as a cohesive unit, I see things that later down the line will need to be changed. There are entire scenes that I think will probably get cut later down the line. But I’m not letting my inner editor have full reign. I value her opinion, her suggestions, but I’m not letting her get bossy and redo everything I’ve already done. She’ll have to wait until the whole book’s written before I let her do that.

But it’s a nice surprise to see that writing this book hasn’t been as hard or stressful as past manuscripts. It’s plodding along–I’m four chapters and 8,000-words in, which isn’t half bad considering I only wrote on vacation that one week and this past Labor Day weekend–and I’m happy to write new chapters as they occur to me and I’m happy to let it sit and work on something else so I don’t butcher it because of some ridiculous need to get it done as soon as possible. It’s also nice to learn that my inner editor isn’t as evil as various writing books and author lectures and blogs have led me to believe. I think I’ll keep her.

(Image source: The New York Public Library Archives. Flickr Commons.)