I just sent Atlanta & the Lion and Other Tales and The Rebel’s Touch to a trusted friend from my 8th grade after school writing club who continued to write and got her masters in the creative writing industry. Let me tell you, I am nervous. Caitlin O’Sullivan has always been a better writer than me, and I haven’t had anyone look at my work in two years while I’ve been busy setting up my apartment, transitioning to a new job, and diving into the swing dancing world.
Kind of terrified about her critique, even though I know I need it as a kick in the pants to get writing again. I’d like to release the short story and poetry anthology sooner rather than later as I have the whole thing compiled, it just needs severe editing. Which I’m sure she will rip it apart with the best intentions. This is the scary thing about beta readers… they’re looking at your work before you’re ready to show it to someone else, say, an editor you’re going to pay. The beta reader is usually a reciprocal relationship, so I fully expect Caitlin to ask me to look at her work at some point, and I’ll do so gladly.
Which reminds me… I remember Caitlin saying a while back she was interested in breaking into the editing gig, and considering I trust her opinion completely… for those of you who are looking to try out a new editor, send Caitlin a line asking about her rates. She’s working on a historical fiction, and I know she wrote science fiction in high school, so her range is pretty broad.
Looking forward to seeing what she has to say, though I’m cringing at the thought at the same time!
Sometimes, we need a break.
After I graduated with my masters in 2010, I was dead-set on having my second book published within the year, which I did.
It took me seven years to write Haunting Miss Trentwood (because I was a full-time student and a part-time writer). I put my hand and head to marketing, and did so for a year… so much time spent interacting on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc, meant I wasn’t reading or writing anymore. Just talking about things that I had read and written before Haunting Miss Trentwood was published.
It was draining. Exhausting. It made me despise writing, the thinking and doing of it.
I have felt so guilty lately for not wanting to touch The Rebel’s Touch. I keep printing drafts hoping I will feel that old familiar rush that motivated me to put the Red Pen of Doom to paper. Nothing doing. Instead, I find myself staring out the window, wishing my head didn’t hurt. Or hoping a certain someone calls so we can hang out. Or looking up new recipes because I don’t want to be sitting, I want to be moving around and making something new. Or throwing my dance shoes into my bag because I have a performance or a lesson to teach or a party to enjoy.
Fact is, I have a very particular sort of Writer’s Block: life.
I never had a life before. It’s amazing! In high school, college, and even graduate school, my schedule consisted of…
- Homework, and then,
- Because I wasn’t allowed to hang out with anyone after dark (in high school anyway which set my pattern for undergrad and grad school), I would read or write or paint or sew.
I love those years, they made me prepared and capable to handle the little fixes around the house.
But the truth of the matter is I have no idea how to balance a full life and my writing.
The first three months of 2012, I tormented myself by thinking I wasn’t being true to my craft. I didn’t want to admit that my “craft,” as it were, was switching. I’m a swing, lindy hop, and balboa dancer. I won’t have this “young” almost-27-year-old body forever. This is my opportunity to make the best of my youth and dance while I can. Writing… well, I hope with all my soul that I will always have my mind available to write one more story.
I’ve also begun exploring religion, something that has always been a part of my life, but never explicitly. I just have so much I’m trying to figure out right now… My psyche is in flux, making it difficult to write about characters whose lives are also in flux. Without knowing myself and what I want to write about, it is almost impossible for me to give my characters minds and thoughts and worries of their own.
Do you have any suggestions for me, to help me balance life and writing?
Anyway, that is my explanation for my radio silence.
All the best,
The last couple of weeks I’ve talked about how I brandish the Red Pen of Doom for editing. I needed the edits so I could determine which characters were necessary to the plot, whether I needed to change motivations, and if I needed to tweak the hints I’ve dropped about character pasts.
Eventually I will have to type the edits into the manuscript but in the meantime, I’ve locked them away for safekeeping so I can focus on writing new content rather than obsessively tweaking existing content. To keep me on track with the new content, I wrote the characters’ Big Goals on a whiteboard.
What are Big Goals?
If I could tattoo the Big Goals on my arm I would. Just looking at them inspire me to write. Big Goals are the primary motivation behind the character doing anything in the book. Let’s look at our h/h from The Rebel’s Hero, for instance.
Tempest wants to be free, but when she is kidnapped, she gets confused and thinks her Big Goal is to get home. Daniel wants to help runaway slaves, but when he meets Tempest he gets confused into thinking he wants to get rid of her. However, neither of these are his Big Goal. Daniel’s Big Goal is to figure out what happened to him; why he lost all of his memories from before age fourteen.
In Haunting Miss Trentwood, Mary’s Big Goal is to live her life quietly and in peace, but when her father begins to haunt her, her Big Goal switches to figuring out why he’s haunting her and what she can do about it. Hartwell’s Big Goal is to protect his family, and along the way in Haunting Miss Trentwood, his Big Goal is clouded by his growing attraction and affection for Mary.
So you see, determining the Big Goals brings characters together. The way they go about accomplishing these goals is where the spats, clashes, passion, and drama occur. It’s inspiring to me, and makes writing fun.
Also, imagery like the one in this post inspires me to write. If The Rebel’s Hero wasn’t already a play on Sleeping Beauty, I’d totally make it more Steampunk. After all, my masters thesis used Steampunk artisans as a case study. This fantastic piece is called On Steampunk Wings, by Gwendolyn Basala on DeviantArt. She’s got some excellent stuff there.
Procrastinate by browsing her work! Gotta love reenacters. I have half a mind to bug her about dressing the part and what a woman could get away with not wearing, since Tempest isn’t such a fan of crinolines (hoop skirts) or her stays (corset).
This week I’d like to talk about what I look for when I pull out the Red Pen of Doom on my shitty first draft. But first, a sketch of Tempest Granville, the main character of The Rebel’s Hero, that I drew during a boring meeting at work…
She has wild hair because she is a tomboy. She is frowning because her dad wants to marry her to someone she doesn’t like. And then there’s the whole kidnapping escapade. That definitely brought a frown to her face.
Wielding the Red Pen of Doom
When I pull out the Red Pen of Doom, especially in the early chapters when I haven’t written the remainder of the book, I look for three main things:
- Is the heroine’s goal clear?
- Is the hero’s goal clear?
- Does the combination of their goals make for an interesting and intelligible story?
Notice I’m not too concerned about characterization or setting yet. That comes with the draft that is between the Shitty First Draft and the Reader Worthy First Draft. I like to call that draft, the one that is interesting and intelligible but lacking the meaty descriptions and emotions, Shitty First Draft B.
I use the Red Pen of Doom to remind me that I must be brutal to the Shitty First Draft. This is no time to hold onto my darlings. They aren’t my darlings yet, I haven’t lived with them long enough. This is my best opportunity to make goals of characters crystal clear. I consolidate unnecessary characters and plot lines, simplifying them so I can explore backstories and emotions fully in later drafts.
I ask the three questions I listed above on every page. If I don’t have an answer in seconds, then goodbye you lovely paragraph that was a study of beauteous grammar, but you are dead weight and you must go.
I tend to do this sort of editing when I’ve had a good day. I’m more objective when I’m in a neutral/good mood rather than when I’ve had a crappy day and want to punch everyone’s face in for even thinking of looking at me.
Writing. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.
P.S. If you’re here because of the Back to Books Giveaway Hop, welcome! This is a simple giveaway. Subscribe to my newsletter below to get half-off my book Haunting Miss Trentwood. You should receive your discount code upon confirmation of your subscription.
Thanks for stopping by!
If your English teacher was worth anything in high school, then they should have told you that you must write a “shitty first draft.” I’ve talked about shitty first drafts before, but a friend complained to me recently that they didn’t like that advice.
Why? Because their college professor ripped apart their first draft, saying it wasn’t good enough. It traumatized my friend.
I stared at him a moment, not sure he was serious. Of course, he was. I said, “But darling, you never show your actual first draft to anyone. There’s a writer’s first draft, and then there’s what I like to call a Reader-Worthy-First-Draft.”
The writer’s shitty first draft is, more often than not, a really shitty draft. It is the definition of shitty. The characters are cardboard, the plot is dramatic and full of holes, the grammar is awful. That is the point. That draft is for the writer to get ideas to the page with as little judgment as possible. A Reader-Worthy-First-Draft is when you’ve gone back through so that the draft makes sense.
I am at that point for the first eleven chapters for The Rebel’s Hero. I had to go back through it twice. I wanted to share the result, in all its gory beauty.
I use a Red Pen of Doom because it means serious business. Now you know I’m alive and working on making my shitty drafts Reader Worthy. Look forward to my next blog post where I’ll detail some of the things I look for when the Red Pen of Doom makes an appearance.
And so I write my second check-in for Round of Words in 80 Days. I know this is supposed to be the writing exercise that remembers you have a life, but goodness, it’s still tough because I expect so much of myself.
Love or Lack Thereof goals
- Weeks 1+2: Edit short stories 3, 4, and 5
Over the weekend I completed the edits for another short story for Love or Lack Thereof, the anthology of poems and short stories I will be releasing in February. I’ve determined the book will be in two sections: Sweet and Savory. I determined the order of the stories that are ready for professional editing, etc.
I am starting to kind of freak out because I want the anthology in my editor’s hand by this weekend. I’m participating in a startup weekend event beginning Friday evening which lasts until Sunday afternoon. Which means writing this upcoming weekend is out. Argh! It’s frustrating how my professional life conflicts with my writing life. I have to change my goals for this week yet again.
Fingers crossed I don’t stress myself out trying to get this anthology to Cindy (my editor). She’s already booked for late January and all of February. Gah!
Catching the Rose goals
- Week 2: Finalize updated blurb, tightened outline
I have completed the blurb, I’m fairly pleased with it. However, I think I’ll have to drop the other goal of writing 750+ words a day until I complete work on Love or Lack Thereof. No outline work will be done until LOLT is done. The new blurb is available below for your enjoyment, however.
CATCHING THE ROSE
Accustomed to getting her way as a privileged southern belle, Veronica Vernon is outraged when her step-father arranges a marriage to her childhood bully. Desperate for a way out, Veronica runs north in search of her childhood love, Jonathan, to convince him to marry her instead.
Intrigued by similarities between her memory of Jonathan and the description of her friend’s cousin, Veronica ventures into Yankee territory only to find Brad Williams is nothing like Jonathan. But that won’t stop Veronica from trying to convince her step-father otherwise!
Refusing to let others run her life for her, Veronica embarks on a headstrong quest to find her Prince Charming before war takes him from her forever.
Belinda Kroll crafts a tale of lost love and determination during the exciting first year of the American Civil War.
Check out how the other Round of Words in 80 Days writers are doing this week.
It’s time for the first check in for Round of Words in 80 Days. I have two projects for this first week:
Catching the Rose goals
- Week 1: Finalize new blurb
Well, I’m making progress on the new blurb for Catching the Rose. I’ve written and rewritten it four times so far and I’m still not pleased with it. That’s ok though, because I have until Saturday to wrap it up, which I think I’ll be able to do. This has been more difficult than I expected. I haven’t touched this story since I published it seven years ago. As I was in high school when I published it, I never went through the motions of making marketing materials like a tag line or back cover blurb.
At its core, Catching the Rose began with the question, “What happens when a southern belle’s childhood Prince Charming grows up to be a Yankee?” What makes the story fun is that the “Prince Charming” character has no idea he is anyone’s prince charming in the first place, and is fairly resistant to the idea.
The existing tag line is…
It was her responsibility to marry as her family wished, but she never lost hope of finding her childhood love.
That is still true. I want to shift my thinking for the rewrite, though, so I’ve made a tag line just for me…
A southern belle embarks on a headstrong quest to find her lost Prince Charming before war takes him from her forever.
I like this because it has more action, and reveals Veronica to be the assertive young spitfire we all know and love.
The biggest issue with writing back cover blurbs is how to reveal enough—but not too much!—of the plot to intrigue readers. It took me a week to write the back cover blurb for Haunting Miss Trentwood, and we’re only at Wednesday, so I’m fairly confident I’ll have a blurb I like by Saturday for Catching the Rose.
I need to focus on setting the scene and adding intrigue at the end so readers think, “Ooh. Wonder what that means?” So difficult.
Love or Lack Thereof goals
- Weeks 1+2: Write 750 words a day
I am not writing 750 words a day on the short story anthology because of other things going on in life. I already have first drafts for each of the short stories I want to include in the anthology. So it was perhaps kind of silly to say I want to write 750 words when in actuality, it’s more like I need to be editing the stories. Haha! Week One and I’m already changing my goals.
- Weeks 1+2: Edit the four new short stories
I don’t know what I was thinking about the 750 words a day since I’m not making new content, I’m cleaning old-ish content.
Check out how the other participants are doing! Since I’m a sponsor, I’ll be checking in on the participants whose submission number ends in a 7 (7, 17, 27, etc).
Joe Konrath says the best part about self-publishing is if something isn’t working, you can always redo it. As much as we like to think a book that has been released to audiences is a finished product, we authors know better than that.
I wrote Catching the Rose (CTR) when I was in high school. Seven years later, I released my second book Haunting Miss Trentwood (HMT) with awesome reviews. CTR has made some sales since its re-release in July, but nothing compared to HMT.
This information, coupled with the fact that Wulfshado took a look at it and had so many suggested changes within the first couple of pages has convinced me.
I must rewrite CTR if I want it to get the attention I think it deserves.
Perfect timing, because I’m a sponsor for the Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80), led by Kait Nolan. Below are my goals for the first round of eighty days, which should keep me busy as I’m working on two projects.
Round of Words in 80 Days Goals
Catching the Rose goals
- Week 1: Finalize new blurb
- Week 2: Finalize updated, tightened outline
- Weeks 3+: Write 750 words a day
Love or Lack Thereof goals
- Weeks 1+2: Write 750 words a day;
- Week 3: Send clean draft of anthology to my editor, Cindy
- Week 4+5: Review edits, prepare for publication
- Week 6: Release for publication, just in time for Valentine’s Day
The thing with ROW80 is that if I accomplish all my goals, or find that my goals are too much for whatever reason, I can change them. I think this is a manageable effort, though. I’m excited to make CTR more into the Civil War-based fairy tale I had imagined originally. And I’ve never released an anthology before, so I’m interested to see how that goes, too.
Seems like 2011 is going to start with me as a busy little bee. All the best,
I hope your holiday season is going well! Those of you who entered the giveaway from last week, you should have received an email with the discount codes. Have you had a chance to listen to my half hour interview on Page Readers? It was a blast, and I’m so glad Nanci had me on the show.
This week, I want to talk about Charlie Courtland’s great idea to take a tour of the subgenres that are popping into historical fiction. The goal of the “tour” is to read six subgenres of historical fiction. Charlie has suggested…
- Historical Mystery
- Historical Horror
- Historical Romance
- Historical Young Adult
- Historical Plantation
- Historical Thriller
- Historical GLBT
- Historical Fantasy
- Historical Western
- Historical Paranormal
- Historical True Crime
Given that I am part of the group of authors who are playing with the historical fiction norms, I love this idea. I’ve written in the historical romance and historical gothic-thriller genres. I have no idea what my next genre is going to be, except that it will be historical. This will be a lot of fun!
So with the above genres in mind, what books do you think I should read? I think I’m going to start with Maids of Misfortune. I want to read books by authors I’ve never read before and in genres I’m not familiar with, which means I can’t read Lauren Willig (romance), Philippa Gregory (romance), Amanda Quick (paranormal), Deanna Raybourn (mystery/plantation), Mary Jo Putney (fantasy).
I’m not happy with the sales for Catching the Rose, so I’m having an editor look at it to see where I can improve the story. I wrote it over seven years ago, meaning I don’t know what to do with it without outside help. I’m looking forward to the results from the editor, especially because the editor, Wulfshado, needs help with finances. This is a good way for both of us to get what we need.
I’m hoping to get the new content out for Catching the Rose in the next couple of months. I’m also working on the short story anthology Love or Lack Thereof; my awesome editor Cindy Sherwood has agreed to help me with that so I can get it out in time for Valentine’s Day.
I’m looking forward to hearing reviews from the giveaway. They are two very different writing styles, but I hope people enjoy them.
Hi all, sorry for missing last week. It was a rough week all around; this semester, graduate school is kicking my patookie. In fact, I’ll probably have to go on a hiatus for a while.
In class, we’ve been talking about details: relevant vs irrelevant, and how they can alter the power of your story. I tend to rely on details. I over-write during my first draft and then filter out what isn’t needed in later drafts. As long as the details are important both to the character and the plot, they stay in… otherwise, it just has to “feel right.” There’s no other way for me to explain it.
Other students in my class feel it’s a bit arbitrary, how they decide whether ideas are relevant or not. How do you determine that your details are relevant?