Writing Discussion

10 Years Later

I started this blog a decade ago and a handful of short stories published, many trunked novels, one agent come and gone, and two children later, here are a few things I’ve learned on the publishing journey since:

  • The most important thing is to know why you want to be a writer and what you want out of it.
  • Everyone is on a different timeline, but other writers are not your competition. Cheer for your friends that make it first and help the ones behind.
  • You can make true and lasting friendships.
  • Have friends outside of writing, because they’ll keep you sane.
  • Some people will leave you behind. Sometimes it’s just that they’re busy, but sometimes they were never really your friend and are out there chasing status. Don’t be like the latter.
  • You can often tell someone’s character by the company they keep.
  • Trends are usually over before you can write to them, so write what you want. You might have to wait to sell it, but nothing is ever truly dead for long. Timing is a matter of luck.
  • Many people have more than one agent in their careers, but don’t talk about it. Even if you do your due diligence, sometimes it doesn’t work out because you don’t know what you need until you’ve had one.
  • A typo in a query or your manuscript is not the kiss of death.
  • If you can’t condense your story into a quick pitch, it might be difficult to sell. Pitching is a skill you’ll need for your whole career, even after you’ve gotten an agent, so take the time to practice.
  • Most people get an agent cold querying, but there are other opportunities and unconventional paths. Make the most of what you can. Pitch wars, #pitmad, and #dvpit are all good.
  • Agents appear and disappear from the industry. So do editors.
  • Everyone knows everyone so don’t be an asshole. It’s a small industry.
  • Conventions are not always welcoming or safe spaces for marginalized people, but they can also be a way to meet new people and catch up with internet friends for real. They can often be expensive. It’s a mixed bag.
  • Rejection is inevitable and frequent. No matter how many you get, rejections still hurt, but you will learn better coping mechanisms.
  • Sometimes it’s good that you’re rejected. You will learn better, and look back in embarrassment. Some ideas don’t age well.
  • Leveling up in writing feels a lot like frustration.
  • There’s always more to learn and what you need to work on keeps changing.
  • Read current books in your genre. If you’re doing comp titles use books published within the last 5 years and not mega best sellers.
  • Read books outside your genre, so you don’t just sound like everyone else.
  • Beta reading and critiquing are skills that requires practice. Your goal should be to help the writer tell their story more clearly – not to tell them how to do it. Suggestions can be bouncing off points, but shouldn’t be solutions. The writer knows their story best.
  • Whatever social media you choose, pick what you enjoy and play to your strengths. You don’t have to do everything. Blogs are apparently dead (so write them only if you like them). Newsletters are apparently the thing now?
  • You don’t need to get involved in every Twitter beef, meme, or scandal. It’s actually better to wait a day or two to get the full picture before weighing in.
  • Social media etiquette evolves. Know that your power is situational, and ever shifting. Even if you think you’re nobody, you can still have impact.
  • Social media platforms come and go, so have a platform you control, even if it’s just a website with contact information.
  • Not everyone is genuine online, but others are exactly as they appear. Mostly, what you get is carefully curated parts of their lives rather than the whole, and some people are more careful with curation than others. People are allowed to set their boundaries of engagement.
  • Don’t put people on pedestals because no one is perfect and contradictions are part of the human condition.
  • This industry is not financially viable for most people.
  • Publishing is not a meritocracy.
  • The diverse books discourse continues to evolve. You need to try to understand the areas where you’re not as knowledgeable, follow people who talk about them, or read books, take workshops, or just listen. It’s impossible to know everything, and it’s not someone else’s job to educate you. If someone takes the time to point out your errors it’s an act of trust, not an insult.
  • If you are BIPOC you’re also more likely to be paid less, face identity policing, tokenization, microaggressions, harassment, and racist reviews (but that’s the same for a lot of industries). Find your people to help you through.
  • You can do your best, but you can never please everyone even when you’re writing from your own experience. There is no such thing as perfection and culture is not a monolith. What one person wants isn’t what everyone wants, so write your truths.
  • You will mess up, but it’s better to mess up than not try at all.
  • Learn how to apologize well.
  • The only way to break in: Don’t quit and keep challenging yourself to do better.

What would you add to this list?

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Writing Discussion

Tips for Revising a Novel

When I first started out writing novels, the hardest part was figuring out how to finish. I had to write a few novels just to get a feel for the shape of a novel in my head: a sense of how much story goes into one, and where I’m at during any phase in the story.

What I didn’t anticipate was how difficult learning how to edit would be. The first time I sat down to edit a novel, I had no idea what I was doing or even where to begin. There is a lot of information online on how to write, but not quite as much about how to edit.

Revising has taken longest learning curve. It’s hard work, but it’s also worth it. It helps you close the gap between the story you truly set out to write, and what is actually on the page.

Some revision tips to try out

If you aren’t a linear thinker, try working from big to small. Start with examining the structure of the plot, before attempting to look at the sentence level edits your story requires. Do your chapters make sense in their current order? Are you missing any scenes? Are your character motivations believable? Is your world building complete? All of this happens before… does this paragraph express the emotion I want? Does this sentence need to be in the book? Is this redundant? There’s no point in making it pretty if you’re just going to cut the scene, or change something major. Grammar fixes go last.

If you, like me, can’t keep an entire novel in your head at one time, you might find it easier to do multiple drafts. I try to only focus on one or two aspects of the story per draft. An aspect could be anything: getting the romantic beats right, fixing the character development, fixing the dialog, etc.

Keep organized, or get organized after you complete your first draft (it’s never too late)! I keep a reference guide for myself which includes character names, their physical description, personality quirks. Also world building info, such as what the currency is called, what countries are named, the political or religious structures of the world. If you set your manuscript aside for a while between edits, you’re likely going to forget some things, so this helps you jump back in faster.

Print out an undated calendar and write in when key scenes in your story happen. This is especially helpful if you are writing on a compressed timeline.

Make a scene by scene outline. I’d be lost without mine, seriously, I never remember where or when something happens (sense a theme?). This is how I do my outline, and I’ve provided a template you can download. Super handy if you want to find a scene quickly, for example, what chapter did that first kiss happen in?

When you no longer know what else needs fixing, or you know something is broken, but not how to fix it, it’s time to get an outside perspective. Cue critique partners, and beta readers. 

Dealing with feedback

First of all, take a deep breath. Remember, these are all suggestions, and hopefully come from people you trust, and whose opinions you respect.

If I have feedback from multiple people, I prefer waiting until all the feedback is in and reading it at once. This allows you to find common themes. If multiple people point out the same problem, it’s probably a problem that needs to be addressed rather than personal opinion.

After you read the feedback, and squelch down that anger that your story wasn’t perfect, let the feedback sit with you a few days. The major points that need addressing will probably needle you over that time. If a particular bit of feedback keeps bothering you, it’s probably something you need to fix.

Come up with your own summary of the problems your readers pointed out, this gets you back into your head, and parsing it in a way that you understand best.

Make a new revision plan. For example, if the notes show you you need to work on a character’s backstory, figure out where a new scenes or flashbacks could be inserted. If you have a scene by scene outline like mine, I just insert a new row into the excel spreadsheet with where these should go, and move around scene rows so that they fit a better order. Just like before it helps to go from biggest to smallest issues. There’s no avoiding another draft, sorry to say.

Remember, everything is just a suggestion. You know the story best. Stick to your gut. It is your story. You don’t have to do anything you don’t feel is right for your story.

And don’t forget to thank the people that have given their time to read your messy draft!

Other helpful resources:

If you have tips, or more methods to this madness, I’d love to hear them! Comment below.

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