Category Archives: Revision

That does it! NaNoWriMo 2014 is a Wrap!

This year I cut it closer than any other year. Instead of finishing a few days early, with bursts of productivity throughout the month and gaps where I fell behind, I kept a fairly steady pace. Plodding along (Ha! As if I just described 1,667 words a day as plodding!), until I crossed the line a few short minutes ago.
That’s right I’ve done it! I won NaNoWriMo (and I got this nice little banner to prove it, because we all know miscellaneous images from the internet proves things! Oh, and the banner is a link.)
Now. That said, there are likely some of you that didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo, or perhaps some that did participate and didn’t cross the 50,000 word threshold. Well. You want to know the truth?
It doesn’t matter.
That’s right. I said it right here, and my word is law (on this blog anyway). 
NaNoWriMo isn’t really about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Ok, well it is. Sort of. But not really. Nay! The point of NaNoWriMo is to (follow along with me here) build good writing habits.
Whether those habits are: 
250 words a day, 7 days a week
500 words a day, 5 days a week
1,667 words a day, 7 days a week
or Eleventy-bajillion words a day, 3 days a week
What matters is consistency and habit, and learning deep down, that if you chip away at something a little each day you can do it.
Let’s look at what a novel is at face value, and for the sake of argument I’ll throw away my usual target of ~100,000 words and go with NaNo’s 50,000 words.
50,000 is still a BIG number. There are roughly 250 words per printed page in a paperback novel. That means there are roughly 200 pages in a 50,000 word book. It’s not a door stop, but we’re not talking about a flimsy pamphlet either.
Starting at 0 words, putting together 50,000 of them seems nigh impossible. But, 1,667 (the daily goal of NaNoWriMo)? That’s not TOO bad. I can write that in a few hours (or less if I have a really good outline and no interruptions).
After day 2? I’ve got a little over 3,000 words. After day 9? I’ve got 15,000 words. That’s a BIG number right there, in a little over a week.

I likely never would have finished Crow’s Blood (the idea for which came out of a NaNo novel) were it not for NaNoWriMo teaching me that chipping away at the big number with a pile of little numbers would actually get me there. I learned that I could write a full length novel.

Now, that’s not to say that this year’s story is done (not by a long shot), or that the 50,000 words I’ve written are any good. It’s a Zero-draft, chances are a lot of those words are due to be scrapped and replaced with better ones in the first revision pass (and I’ll do MANY revision passes). But I find it a LOT easier to revise something that exists on the page, and it’s good writing habits that get them there in the first place.

Even if you don’t cross that 50,000 word line to “win” NaNoWriMo, as long as you worked consistently toward the goal of writing your novel, and learned some of those good writing habits, you’re still a winner.

So for everyone who partook in this month of writing dangerously and developed those good writing habits along the way.

Here. Have a Wordasaurus! You earned it.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? How did you do?

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Filed under 50K, NaNoWriMo, Outline Writing, Revision, Word Count

A Matter of Queries and Representation

What a week and a half it’s been!

I apologize in advance for any meandering, poor spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors you may find in this post. I don’t sleep well on a normal day (what is a normal day anyway?). The past 10 days my abilities to ward off restful sleep have been exceptional. This is a superpower you do NOT want.

Before I get into my big news (and it’s big, let me tell you, it’s BIG), let me give you a bit of background.

I don’t query randomly. Every single agent that I’ve ever queried is someone that I genuinely think would be a great fit for both my writing and, more importantly, me. That’s of course all based on the limited information I can gather by Googling, reading interviews, stalking on Twitter, and chatting them up.

There are a LOT of fantastic agents out there, of all stripes (and spots, and paisley, and I suppose houndstooth…).

That said, everything has to click in both directions. I have enough rejections from those same agents citing “wonderful writing/world building/characters/other words describing stories” but they just didn’t “make the connection” (or some variant thereof) to wallpaper my office and some surrounding surfaces.

They came fast and fairly consistently at first. I’d query, and then receive a rejection the next day or week.

I went back and rewrote my base query letter (I tweaked it a little for every agent). Responses went from generic forms to personalized responses (not all of them, but some). I even had a few requests for partial submissions.

Following that path I continue to tweak and tinker my query, all the while continuing to get further input on CROW’S BLOOD from my awesome Alpha/Beta Readers (including my wonderful wife, who put up with so MANY drafts) and Critique Partners (Colten,
Rachel, and Clare) and worked to make it better.

I entered CROW’S BLOOD in contests. You know the best part about contests? The community and support that comes out of them. They’re a fixed point. Everyone entering is (in theory) at the same point of their writing process and/or career as you are. They know what you’re going through, they’re doing it too.

Renee Ahdieh chose to mentor me in Brenda Drake‘s Pitch Wars. With her helpful pokes and prods I polished CROW’S BLOOD even further. Trimming out a few scenes that were so necessary in my head (I’d done so much world building to support them!) that weren’t actually needed in the book. She’s also a master at spotting my Shatner Commas and teaching me to identify them as well (I’ve removed 3 from this paragraph alone).

Last week I got wind of an agent I really liked reading my full… MY FULL!!! Excitement warred with dread. What if he didn’t like it? What if I didn’t stick the landing? I wanted to scream (politely) “If you find anything drastic, I’ll fix it!”. But I didn’t. Because I am a professional! (stop laughing!)

I waited, and slept poorly, and waited.

Thursday was a normal day (there’s that “normal” word again). Things teetered on the edge of going oh-so-perfectly and/or blowing up spectacularly at my day job. I was packing up to go home when my phone sounded the “email in the writing mailbox” notification (it doesn’t say that, but it is distinctive).

It was an Offer of Representation! He wanted to have “The Call”.

I hyperventilated for the first (and hopefully last) time in my life. I had an offer! From an agent!!! I remember thinking “Ok I need to get my head on straight before I reply so I don’t come off as a complete idiot…” I barely remember the drive home.

After dinner (I have no idea what, or if, I ate) I painstakingly crafted my reply. It took me 35 minutes to write and edit that email.

“I’d love to chat.” (I’m paraphrasing, but that was about the level of awesome I was functioning at). We scheduled for the next morning.

The call was awesome. I acted like a complete noob while trying to be all professional and cool. The agent in question handled the situation like I was a sane and perfectly functioning adult.

He answered all of my questions and asked a few of his own (which I think/hope I answered).  I let him know I had some other Fulls out and needed a week to get those settled before I signed (because it’s the right thing to do), which he was completely cool with. We ended the call, and I sat there, stunned, for a good 30 minutes before reaching out to the other agents with my full.

Here we are, a week after that call. I’ve badgered several agents with questions and clarifications, and I’ve communicated and settled everything with each and every agent that had my full, a partial, or even a query. I won’t go into details on all of that here, they’re not the point.

Today, I’m proud/pleased/excited to say:

I am now represented by Leon Husock of the L. Perkins Agency!

P.S. Leon said to save some of my celebratory antics for when we sell CROW’S BLOOD.
To which I say:
Leon, this is nothing. When that happens, the world won’t know what hit it!

I’m going to sleep now.

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Filed under Agent, Alpha Readers, BookB, Critique, Ego, family, Feedback, Grammar/Spelling, Id, Motivation, Query, Research, Revision, Validation

The 777 Blog Hop

In what can only be described as cold-brewed wanton and impish revenge for calling him out in my ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Colten Hibbs has tagged me in the 777 Blog Hop.

Those who have been tagged have to open their current work-in-progress (WIP), and go to the 7th line of the 7th page and post the next 7 lines.

My current work in progress is a Sci-Fi Noir Detective story I’m affectionately giving the working title “Sci-Fi Noir Detective Story”. It’s on it’s Zero-Draft.

If you’re unfamiliar with that term Zero-Draft, it’s the very first, very rough draft that’s written at the beginning of any project. It’ll be full of holes, notes, dead ends, incomplete arcs, crappy repetitive language, eye-bleedingly-bad punctuation and prose, and worst of all… stilted dialog!

After spinning my wheels on some of the characterization and motivation (which will all change by the end of the Zero-Draft), I’m about ~6,500 words ( ~26 pages) into actual writing, and about 1/10th of the way through my outline.

I’m a sparse writer, beginning with a skeletal framework and layering description on top of it, so my manuscripts tend to remain relatively spare through several revisions. Luckily, the 7 lines that this Blog Hop highlights aren’t affected much.

Without further ado:

 The speaker, Kats wasn’t sure whether she was Cross or Cork, let out a long breath. “Out of the ordinary? That’s Incidental territory. Those bastards wouldn’t know ordinary if it landed on their dinner table. 

The Nature’s Path, or Incidentals as their detractors called them, were a decades old movement that denied the benefits of genetic enhancement and error correction. They’d swelled in numbers for the first twenty years or so, then levelled off at around four percent of the population. Very few Incidentals ever held jobs higher than bottom rung maintenance positions. 

Despite their relatively similar social status, Tankers like Kats were as far removed from the Nature’s Path as it was possible to be.

Anything in that passage is subject to change, in whole or in part. I may even remove it from my manuscript with fire and brimstone at any time of my choosing.

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Filed under Grammar/Spelling, Outline Writing, Revision, Voice, Word Count

The Circus Won’t Have Me (I Can’t Juggle).

Ahem! So it’s July. My last entry was in May. Glad to see I’m keeping on top of this blog thing!
The good news about the delay between posts is that I’ve been writing, and I’ve learned something.

There are writers out there who can write multiple stories at the same time, and there are those who can’t. At present I firmly reside in the realm of Nope! Can’t do it! I’ve tried and it’s been an ongoing disaster that I’ve only recently started to dig myself out of.

Now, when I say “write” I do mean exactly that. I have no trouble writing one story and revising or outlining another. But if I try to actually write two stories at once? Catastrophe! Disaster! Calamity! Cataclysm! Armageddon! You get the picture. We’re talking problems of the Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, and Steve Buscemi together on a rocket ship proportions.

I’ve been writing an Alt History/Fantasy since October of last year. I continued working on it, albeit at a slower pace, through Pitch Madness, without a hitch. I discussed where things started to get out of hand in April. Since that time I’ve actually been writing fairly consistently at least 300 words a day, 5 days a week. Not a great pace, but the habit is back, and that’s great.

I’ve had a few incredible story ideas sneak up on me, as they tend to, while I got my groove back. That’s great right? Awesome story ideas that just keep coming? What’s there to complain about? Well, Writer’s Block has never been a worry for me. I doubt I’ll ever have a shortage of ideas. I worry more about a shortage of time. If they keep coming I may never have enough time to write them all in the manner they deserve.

So, those incredible story ideas. Yeah. I couldn’t wait. I dug into one pretty heavily (a sci-fi, a genre I love and have wanted to sink my teeth into), and it consumed me. I wrote a barebones outline, then dug into a few test scenes and character spots. I really love the feel and scope of it. I was really rolling with it, at least until I hit the first plot hole in the outline.

I can handle that just fine normally by digging in and getting my hands dirty in the muck. But I had another story sitting around 40K words in that I could just jump over to and work on right? Lots of writers do it! It couldn’t be that hard… What’s the worst that could happen?

Well. I can tell you what the worst that could happen was: I’d lost the feel of the Alt History/Fantasy and couldn’t keep the headspace required for the sci-fi and a new cast of vastly different characters. I hit a hard wall and lost momentum on TWO stories.

 It was a long slow road to sort myself out. I went back to the beginning of the story and worked through what I’d written from the start. Performing a mini-revision on a third of a story isn’t something I ever wanted to do (especially considering the mental anguish dwelling on my early drafts causes me), but it was exactly what I needed.

So, for the time being I’m writing exclusively on the Alt History/Fantasy and only jotting outline notes on anything else.

I know writing multiple stories at once is certainly possible, and I might be able to do it someday. I’m nowhere near there yet.

Lesson learned.

– Alex

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Filed under Ego, Genre, Learning, Outline Writing, Revision, Voice

I Suck at Writing: A Confession

I suck at writing. I don’t mean my prose, or my descriptions, or my characterizations (though I’m sure to be lacking in a number of those areas).

I mean in my work ethic.

I haven’t written a single word of real writing in ~8 weeks.

There are all sorts of excuses I could line up, between my day-job workload, to travelling, to any number of things. None of them are truly valid to the writer in me. I’ve had all those things going on before and I soldiered through and got the words down.  Hell, some of my most productive times have been when my day-job was demanding 12-16 hours of my life per day.

So what have I done? Well, let’s see. I’ve read a BUNCH of books. I sort of caught up on some of the TV I’ve recorded. I’ve seen a few movies in theatres (and really enjoyed them). I’ve kicked some ass at The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD. And I’ve spent far too much money on Skylanders.

Writing related? I’ve cycled out a few more queries on CROW’S BLOOD. Tracked through and kept up with the blogs of all the writers I know and love. And I’ve re-worked the outline for my historical fantasy about six times.

Six times may seem like I’ve been keeping busy, but really I haven’t. Not busy enough anyway. I could be doing a lot more… you know… writing.

I’ve been doing some much-unneeded self-examination on what exactly my problem is. Turns out it’s pretty simple:

I suck at writing. This time I am talking about the prose, descriptions, and characterizations.

I worked on CROW’S BLOOD for a LONG time. I finished the first draft in November of 2011! Never mind that I completely threw that draft and story away and re-worked the entire novel from the ground up. That’s more than 2 years ago!!!

It’s been that long since I really dug in and worked on something new. The sense of accomplishment I felt at the end of every draft as the story and prose got tighter is gone, and the distance from that first clunky and painful draft is vast.

When I look at what I’ve written lately (and by lately I mean before I got into my writing funk), all I can see is the warts and garbage and things that make me want to set it on fire and walk away. It’s no wonder I’ve re-outlined the thing so many times. Outlines are safe. I can write a REALLY cool outline. Point form mind-maps don’t have to be pretty.

I’ve forgotten that it’s OK to suck, especially on your first draft. No one has everything worked out. No one has the perfect words for every sentence. No one really knows where the commas are supposed to go!

I suck at writing. But I desperately need to remember and keep reminding myself that it’s OK to suck. I’m going to keep doing it, updating my word-counts here on my blog so you can all keep score (and I can keep myself accountable).

I need to push on and get through the first draft. That first, clunky, broken, full of holes draft. I need to finish the story. I need to tie up all the loose ends. And I really need to achieve that awesome sense of finishing something.

You know why?

I’m really good at revision.

– Alex

P.S. Have any of you ever hit that wall? Let me know how you got past it in the comments.

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Filed under Outline Writing, Query, Real Life™, Revision, Validation, Word Count

The Shatner Comma

As anyone who’s ever read my writing pre-revision (or even after 3-4 passes of my own) can attest: I have a serious problem with Shatner Commas.

Let me explain first what a Shatner Comma is, and second, why I have such a problem with them.

Shatner Comma (n): Improperly placed commas that serve no grammatical purpose and thwart the rules of proper punctuation. They instruct the reader to take unnatural and illogical pauses, much in the way William Shatner so famously delivered his lines in Star Trek (TOS).

Why do I have such a problem with them? Because I was instructed (as were most people) to put commas where I would naturally pause in speech. That’s right, I pause frequently and illogically in my regular everyday speech.  In my case it isn’t something I do to create a sense of drama. As best I can tell the problem traces back to my childhood stutter.

To be clear, my stutter wasn’t as horrible as in The King’s Speech, and I wasn’t endlessly teased for it (though I was dreadfully self-conscious about it).

I reminisced about it recently with my grandmother and she recalled that even at the age of 7 I worked endlessly to eliminate it. I’d sit playing on her living room floor reciting and repeating any sentence or word that I’d stuttered on until I had it silky smooth, at least so far as the stutters were concerned.

In their place came the pauses. To give my brain time to work around the hitch I think I subconsciously inserted a pause. That pause lingers to this day.

I spent many a Saturday morning on that same floor at my grandmother’s watching re-runs of Star Trek:TOS, so maybe a bit of Shatner’s delayed speech and odd timing crept in as well. We’ll never know.

With the help of my Critique Partners and a LOT of hard work I’m edging towards eliminating reducing the Shatner Comma from my writing, but I can make no guarantees. As for the pause in my speech? It lingers to this day though I’m working to lessen it now that I’m fully aware of it. And it wasn’t a cure-all for my stutter, which can still be found in diminished capacity any time I get overly excited about something.

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Filed under Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Real Life™, Revision, TV/Movies

Don’t Ever Stop!

So… This little thing called PitchWars happened. It’s what triggered this particular post, but it’s not what this post is about so I’ll cover it very briefly.

It’s a contest where writers submit their first ~250 words and a Query to the four mentors of their choice and hope to get selected. In short (because I’m rubbish at being brief) I was selected by the Awefantabulous Renee Ahdieh.

Renee is exactly what I want and more importantly need in a mentor. Her feedback has helped me add layers of depth to CROW’S BLOOD that I knew were missing, I just couldn’t see where. I’ve learned some of my pet phrases, identified some comma issues I have, and so much more, and I’ve exterminated them with prejudice.

Anyway!

Seven weeks later, our part in PitchWars wrapped on January 22nd as it went to the Agent Round. The first 250 words were posted with a 35 word pitch (here in case you’re interested), in hopes of Agents commenting and making requests.

It’s those requests that bring me to the point of this post. I had 0 requests. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Let me tell you a bit about how this little writer’s ego works: I’m a brash, cocky, confident bastard. Except when I’m not, which is often. The key is that I try not to let that side show to the world at large too much. The only person who sees that side of me most often (my wife) does a great job of propping me up so I can continue being the confident bastard that I am.

I’d be lying if I said getting zero requests didn’t sting. It cut pretty deep. Those are my words! Right there, with that zero looking me in the eye, I could have quit. Packed it all in and reclaimed my TV and video games. I could have given up the dream and driven my wonderful wife insane.

I could have listened to the mean voice in the back of my head that kept whispering “Zero, that’s how many people give a damn about your words. That’s what they’re worth. That’s what your worth. Give it up. Go home. Loser!

I’ve heard that voice before. That’s the voice that comes around any time I put myself out there, whether I’m public speaking, writing, tweeting, or posting on my blog. I don’t like that voice. I made the decision long ago not to listen to that voice. That voice is an asshole. The things it says aren’t true and are designed to cut us where it hurts the most. That voice is borne of fear.

We all have that voice. The difference between those who go on and those who fold isn’t a matter of skill, or worth, or ego. It’s a matter of will.

So here’s what I have to say, not only to those who didn’t get requests in PitchWars, but to those who have ever queried, or submitted, or done anything that brought around that voice:

Don’t. Ever. Stop.

Do what you love, whether it’s writing, drawing, dancing, singing, building life-size models of X-Wings out of Lego, whatever it is, as long as you love it (and it doesn’t hurt anything).

As for PitchWars… Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! I’ve learned so much, and met so many wonderful, dedicated, and helpful people.

Until next time, I’m going to go write and revise, because that’s what I do, and I love doing it.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.” – The Bene Gesserit

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Filed under Agent, BookB, Character, Contest, Critique, deadlines, Editor, Ego, family, Feedback, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, MacBook Pro, Motivation, Pitch, Query, Revision, Twitter, Validation