Getting out of my comfort zone

You know, nothing has taught me so much about me as a writer as signing that publishing contract.

I know, weird, eh?

I mean, I’m a writer pure and simple, so publishing shouldn’t really have an influence on me being one. Yet it does, I think in a good way.

See, when I signed the contract, I created an obligation towards my publishing house, which means that the book I promised  them has to be a priority for me in ways none of my other books are.

Which means that if they need that book to be revised during NaNo, that book has to be revised. No buts, ifs, or whys. And that’s where I’m learning now.

Before, I could say that I couldn’t combine drafting with editing, because it takes time for my mind to switch gears. True as it is, I couldn’t just say that in November. I had to get some drafting done because I’m trying to create a “production line” of sorts, and I don’t think I’ll get another chance to draft before February/March next year. December’s for editing Birds vs. Bastards. 

So that made complete sense until my editor let me know that I needed to get my book in by end November. With saying no and not drafting both not being options, I said yes and found a way to make it work.

Turns out that once you’re writing fit (as I am nowadays), switching gears really isn’t that hard. So I did those revisions in about two weeks and got right back to drafting, and I even won NaNo.

If I hadn’t had the book under contract, I would never even have tried to work like that. To me, thou shalt not edit and draft at the same time was one big rule to my writing method. Being under contract pushed me beyond my self-imposed comfort zone, into a place where I can be even more efficient as a writer.

Which is great really, since it makes my five year goal that much more achievable.

So today I  want to say: Don’t get stuck in a comfort zone. Find ways to push yourself gently, but firmly into places where you can grow as a writer. Even if it means writing something you’d never thought you’d write. Or changing up when or how you write. Sometimes those changes might be exactly what you need to get to the next level.

Have you pushed yourself as a writer lately? What did you do and how did it turn out?

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A to Z Challenge: Jumps

When you draft, do you also sort of ignore some tricky or unknown scenes, saying you’ll do them later?

Well, revisions are when you want to fill in the gaps that make the story jump forward faster than it should. You’re going to have to find all of them, including the ones that you didn’t leave on purpose.  

You know that fast read I mentioned for Flow? Well, this is also sort of a flow issue too. Missing scenes interrupt the flow, so they’re actually easier to feel than the other flow problems. So when you’re doing a fast read, make note of the missing scenes as you go.

But do NOT stop reading to insert the scenes, because you’ll just be interrupting yourself.

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Look Out for These:

1) Scenes you left open for some reason, meaning to get back to it later.

2) Areas in the story where it feels as if part of the story is missing.

3) Moments that are summarized in a scene, but that feel as if they should be expanded to do justice to the story.

How do you spot the gaps in your story?

A to Z Challenge: Introduction

One of my favorite things to work on in edits is introducing different characters. To me, those first moments of getting to know a character are so wonderful that I get a happy feeling just thinking about them. Still, looking at introductions is an important aspect to edits because…



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I can think of three reasons why introductions need to be looked at. First one would be that the character is important, but doesn’t make enough of a first impression. The reader’s not going to get involved with a character if he/she forgets the character within a few paragraphs of getting introduced. So let your character’s inner stars shine from the start. Or at least a little bit to entice the reader.

Then there’s the fact that a character wasn’t really defined when you wrote him/her at first. It’s perfectly natural, because it takes time to get to know a new character. Time that can only be taken by writing the story.

Also, in the process of writing a draft, you’ll very possibly find that the character veers off in another direction as the story goes. Because of that, the original introduction and who you discover the character to be, won’t coincide.

So when it’s time to look at your characters’ introductions: look for traits that you want the reader to know from the start. Does the introduction of every character show those traits in a way that imprints the character in the reader’s thoughts? If not, you’ll have to rewrite the scene to create the impression you wanted. 

There’s only one chance to create a first impression for a character. Make it count.

Look Out for These:

1) The character seeming like different people between the first and later parts of the story.

2) An introduction that isn’t memorable, despite the fact that the character is supposed to be.

3) Readers not engaging with an important character, or failing to remember that they’ve been introduced.

What do you do to get the introduction of your characters just right?

A to Z Challenge: Flow

Looks like I’m all about the subtle issues this year. Today’s issue of choice is flow.

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It isn’t something that you can see. You have to sense it. Which of course makes it nearly impossible for a writer to detect on his or her own.

Still, it can be done, if the writer takes at least a few weeks off to get a bit of distance from the story.

Once that’s done, the writer needs to do two things.

Firstly a fast read through of the story. Reading through your work in as close to a single sitting as possible will hopefully show you where there are lulls in the story that nearly grinds its progress to a halt. Or conversely, where things are happening on top of each other so fast that the reader won’t be able to catch up.

If the pace is too slow, either shorten the period before the next big event, or work something exciting into the lull. If it’s too fast, you might want to look into bridging scenes. These are slower scenes designed to give the characters and the readers a chance to rest before the next thing happens. It gives them all the opportunity to think of the events just past before the next one. If those scenes aren’t there, the story won’t have an impact on the readers, because they won’t have a chance to sink in.

The second thing that a writer needs to do is an out-loud reading of the manuscript. This is to catch the tiny things that hurt the flow. Words that repeat, sentences always of exact same length, or similar sentence structures repeating too close to each other. Same goes for paragraphs. Think I’m being nit-picky? Try this:

Inspecting the room, he walked in. People stopped talking and started staring. Pausing for a moment, he frowned. Why were they staring like that?

Doesn’t feel nice to read, does it?

Compare this:

He walked into the room, careful to look relaxed while he inspected its occupants. Silence fell as he made his way to the bar. Frowning, he ordered a drink and took a sip. Why were they staring?

Still not the best lines ever, but lots better than before. So when you read out loud and things feel weird, look for repetitions and change them up.

Flow issues take a bit of effort to spot but once you know about them, they’re among the most clear-cut issues to fix. Only one more thing: The fast read is best done during revisions while you’re making big changes to the story. The loud read works best right at the end when you only need to change wording and such.

Look Out for These:

1) Long periods of unending action or no action.

2) Something sounding or feeling off when reading. Few people can catch structure repetition, so if you can’t put a finger on what’s wrong, go looking for repetitions.

3) Crit partners or betas pointing out the above. LISTEN to them. Odds are they’ll catch flow issues much better than you will.

What do you do to catch flow issues while editing? Are you one of the lucky few with a natural feel for flow, or do you have to go looking for the problem?

A to Z Challenge: Development

When the time for revisions come, this one is pretty important to look at.
For a reader to enjoy the story, something has to change. Maybe it’s the plot changing the character’s world. Or maybe it’s the character that changes. Or even both.

But something has to change. Because if it doesn’t, and everything goes back to how it was before the start of the story, what would be the point? Why would a reader sit through the thousands of words in between?

So during revisions, you might want to see if your characters grew. Especially if  you’re more of a plot driven kind of writer. It’s something I find quite a lot, that the plot-driven stories have awesome development in the plot, but almost none in the character. In fact, they can potentially let characters go through the motions required by the plot and leave the characters relatively unchanged. (And in some action-books I’ve read, unscathed.)

On the other hand, character-driven writers tend to have excellent character development, but the plot development is a bit lacking. I actually think it’s easier for a character-driven writer to get both right, because a character can’t change if something didn’t happen to him or her. Still, the plot aspect to the story might feel murky or undefined. As if something happened, but the reader can’t be sure.

Both of these can be acceptable if it’s what you’re going for. If not, you might want to spend a revision round either defining what’s going on inside the character, or outside around the character.

More specific than that, I can’t really help you, since it depends on the story. But if you have development issues in your story, you can contact me and I’ll go through your work to see if you can improve on character or plot development. Otherwise, you should have a crit partner who’s able to help you out.

Look Out for These:

1) Plot feels like it’s going nowhere, even if it is in fact moving towards a point.

2) The plot is full of events, but the character seems to have learnt nothing, or didn’t change, or seems largely unaffected.

3) Plot development: Crit partners say that you have pacing issues, but deep down you know the pacing is fine.

Are you a character or plot-driven writer? Do you find yourself having to go back to make sure the development of plot and/or characters need to be better defined?

Officially, my goals for 2012

Since this is the last Friday of the year, I thought I’d handle the New Year’s admin now. If you want to see how I fared with the 2011 “guidelines”, you’re more than welcome to go check out my other blog, Taking Charge of My Life.

Without further ado, my goals for 2012:

Writing:

I want to finish Doorways before 30 June.

I will query Doorways on 1 July.

I want to finish the WiP2 rewrite by 30 September.

I want to finish the Don’t Look Back draft by 31 December.

I want to finish at least one draft of the musical libretto by 31 December.

I might want to look at Guardian again.

Reading:

I want to read more (crit partners’ manuscripts don’t count).

I want to read Shakespeare, Austen and Martin.

Life:

Auditions, auditions, auditions.

I want to master at least intermediate cooking.

I want to spend more time designing.

I want to brush up on my French and Mandarin (at least one of the two) and take another language.

I want to take classes in a musical instrument. Either piano or guitar.

I also want to get out more next year. Cabin fever never did suit me.

Since I achieved four goals in 2011, I want to achieve six in 2012.

So that’s me for the year. I hope you enjoyed my blog as much as I enjoyed all of yours.

Before I sign off, I just want to say cheers.

2011 was more than a little bumpy, but your support made it much easier to get through the year. Here’s to 2012. If it’s the last one, know I wouldn’t want to spend it without you. If it isn’t, thank goodness, because then I’ll see you for 2013.

See you on the other side. 😉

Letting go of a goal so that I can go after a dream

A few days ago, I craved solitude. It would fade a little as I spent time in front of the computer, but it would come back with a vengeance until I decided yesterday to just stay offline for a day. I did nothing except knitting and watching T.V. in complete solitude. Did that help?

Well, yes, because it didn’t make the craving go away. It made me realize that solitude wasn’t what I’m craving. What I was craving, was change.

As much as I enjoy revisions and singing and drama, if that (and work) is all I ever do, I’ll go stir crazy. Well… more so than usual.

Once I realized that this was where my mind was at (my mind has a way of hiding these things), I started wondering what I could do to change this situation. Because heaven knows, it’s stopping me from getting anything else done.

As it happens, I’m not the only one feeling this way – my friend Theresa felt the same. We chatted about it and I mentioned that I would love to start a Fashion Label.

The moment it did, the name for said label sparked in my head.

So now I know why my mind wouldn’t even look at my WiP.

But yeah… starting a label will take some serious ass time. More than I even want to go into it in this post. And if I’m going to make the commitment to this, I’m going to have to cut back on my revisions.

Which means that my 31 July goal is impossible. So rather than run around like a headless chicken, getting nothing done, I’m just going to extend the goal in such a way that neither my revisions nor my Label will get in the way of my degree…

Here’s to my new venture. May it be a smashing success.

Anyone else starting something new?