Can you believe it?? I never thought I would get here.
But somehow… it doesn’t feel as rewarding as I thought it would. I guess that’s because of all the work ahead…
Last week I wrote through the climax of Sky High and now I am done. Well, almost. I still need to write the dénouement. Since finishing the climax, I’ve been trying to find the motivation to continue, but all I could think of were the many, many things that I have to change. So I decided to call it quits here. I’ll write the dénouement when I’m done with the big structural changes.
So what now?
The things that come to my mind right now, when I think about the story, are all the issues and flaws. There are so many things that I want to revise. Most importantly: I clocked in at 64007 words. That’s 11000 words short of my (somewhat arbitrary) goal of 75000. It’s very short for a science-fiction novel, even if you consider it YA. And knowing myself… I fear that I rushed through the story and that I need to expand on some of the topics and scenes. If not all 🙂
Where do I start?
Brandon Sanderson has a video about revising a book on Write About Dragons, and I intend to follow his process. I find this scheme immensely helpful, because it breaks down the myriads of tasks into a very simple process to follow:
1.0 Straight through beginning to end, taking notes as he goes on changes of direction that will need to be fixed in…
2.0 Continuity edit, done immediately afterwards
3.0 Polish for tighter language, cut about 15%
Send out to alpha readers (writing group, editor, agent, wife)
[6-month gap, during which time he takes notes on things to change]
4.0 Incorporate alphas’ feedback and his own reflections
5.0 Second polish
[Send to betas, fans etc. – not the same people as alphas – plus editor]
6.0 Last fixes
7.0, 8.0: copy edit and proofreads (polishes)
I have v1.0 right now, but I will probably add in a v1.5 (expanding the story) before doing v2.0. This is the first time I will be editing a full book. It’s a daunting task, but I really look forward to it!
Do you have any tips on editing? Let me hear about it in the comments or via email!
I’m getting closer to finishing the first draft of my novel Sky High and I couldn’t help but notice that it’s almost time for NaNoWriMo again. For those of you who have not heard of NaNoWriMo before, here a brief definition, taken from their website:
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.
Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.
Sky High was my NaNoWriMo 2014 project and made me reach the 50000 words goal for the first time. It was a huge rush, but it also took a toll on my private life. With a 40 hours day job, a pregnant wife and Japanese classes on Saturday mornings, there was little time left for writing. However, to get to 50000 words in 30 days you need to average 1667 words a day – that’s almost two hours of daily writing time for me.
One of the cool and motivating things about NaNoWriMo is the stats that they provide. Take a look at my 2014 progress:
As you can see, I got off to a great start, but was struggling to keep up. Around the two-weeks mark I didn’t get to write for a couple of days, but still managed to be right on schedule. However, a week later, things got really out of control.
I still remember my worry about not hitting 50000 words. NaNoWriMo was a constant companion that month, always present in my head. My wife complained that I stressed myself out too much, but at the same time she was really supportive. Because of that stress, I have been saying that I would not participate in NaNoWriMo 2015 – and my wife happily approved of that decision.
But now the date is getting closer and ideas for new stories are popping up in my head. I feel the temptation: Yes, it was hard. Yes, I put myself under a lot of pressure. But man, I can’t begin to describe how incredible it felt to rush along the words, almost as fast as I could think of them, and discover my own novel.
I’ve said it before: When I read a good book, I eventually stop noticing the words and I just “see” the images they create in my mind. While writing Sky High, something similar happened a couple of times: I stopped noticing that I was typing and just observed how my story unfolded. The experience was quite like reading, but so much more intensive. I guess that, because it was my mind spinning up these images, my immersion was a lot stronger.
I want this rush, I want to ride this wave of creativity again…
But I also have to be realistic. I should not start a new project before at least finishing the first draft of Sky High. After winning NaNoWriMo in November last year, I needed a rest. And then there was Christmas. And then some other things happened in my life. In the end, I did not get back to working on Sky High until July-August this year.
It was hard to get into the project again. Really hard. It had become stale and I had to reread everything that I had written so far. I had already forgotten about important details and had lost the feeling for the story, which made it really hard to find the motivation to go on. (Although it made for an interesting and surprising read. “Oh, cool, I didn’t remember that,” or “What, really?” were just some of my reactions) But I remembered something that Brandon Sanderson said – I think it was in one of the Write About Dragons recordings: The main reason it took him so many years to get published was that he did not edit his books. Back then he would finish writing a story and then start a new project. I didn’t want to commit the same error, so I pushed through and built up some momentum again – although it is weaker now than it was during NaNoWriMo.
That’s why I don’t want to lose that momentum again, so finishing the first draft of Sky High is a prerequisite for participating. But I also do not want to repeat my error from 2013: I got to know about NaNoWriMo very late – maybe 5 days into the competition – and started writing without any idea of what it was going to be. I managed a promising start, but about 5000 words later I hit a wall. I reached the end of the few ideas that I had and wasn’t sure how to continue. So I stalled and the number of words I had to catch up kept adding up. The amount became staggering and eventually I lost all motivation, so I abandoned the project.
In my opinion, for a successful NaNoWriMo, you should start worldbuilding your novel in October already. Think about the setting. Create some history. Invent some conflicts. Build the fabric of your world. All these will work as fertilizers when you start writing in November and grow your characters and story. Every minute spent thinking and plotting in October will pay off tenfold.
So, I should get back to writing. And maybe, maybe, I’ll be able to be part of this great wonderful experience that is NaNoWriMo again.
What about you? I would love to hear your NaNoWriMo stories. What has your experience been like? Is it the first time to participate? Let me know in the comments, or drop me an email.
Elyse is a short story I wrote in September 2014. The idea stemmed from a friendly competition we had at work: The goal was to write a short story which contained a certain theme or item. For Elyse it was a hand fan. Initially we set a very ambitious deadline of two weeks, but we quickly realized that this was just impossible. It took me about four weeks to complete the first draft.
After running it through our online writing group at the Reading Excuses forum, and a lot of editing, I finally ended up with a story of about 11500 words. I was a bit concerned about the slow beginning, but I was very happy with how the story developed and with the reveals. I didn’t really know how to further improve the story, so I submitted it to Writers of the Future back at the end of June 2015.
It took them 51 days to respond. According to The Grinder, that’s way below the average acceptance response time, so I suspect that David Farland – the head judge who first reviews all stories before sending them to the other judges – discarded it pretty quickly. David has some very fine writing advice out there and he repeatedly preaches how you have to start a short story in the middle, jumping right into the action. I guess the slow beginning was the end of it.
I have to say that my experience with Writers of the Future and David has been very positive. Apparently the team behind the contest changed the way they notify writers of the results: Rather than waiting for all stories to be judged, results are now sent out as they become available. I asked Joni Labaqui – the friendly Contest Director who sends out the emails – whether there was any way to receive feedback regarding my rejection. I thought her very busy and didn’t really expect an answer, but she did reply. As I thought, they don’t have to time to provide critique for everything that is entered, but instead she provided two documents about how to “boost your prose” and how to improve openings of stories. Nice!
I had been following David on Twitter for a while already, and I’ve known him to be friendly and approachable, so I tried getting feedback from him directly as well. And sure enough, he replied after a couple of days. Unfortunately, he told me that he’d have to go through the stories again, to tell me the reason for the rejection, and was just too busy at that time. He seemed really sorry for not being able to help and pointed out that the competition was really strong this quarter. I really appreciated that he took the time to send me that message.
I’m not the type to give up easily, so I sat down and did what I should have done before: I cut about 2500 words from the story.
During the process I looked at what I had written and thought, “which scene would be a good opening”? There was one in particular which I had wanted to put at the start of the story last year already, but back then I could not do it, because it would have broken the continuity of events. So I just deleted everything that came before it, including the slow beginning.
The hardest part was deleting a scene that I liked a lot, and that I thought was important to the story. But now that it’s gone, I realize that it wasn’t really necessary. Guess I still have a lot to learn when it comes to “killing your darlings”. 🙂
I submitted the new version of Elyse just the other day. I’m confident that it’s a better story now. Fingers crossed!
Do you have any experience with Writers of the Future? What’s your experience been like? I’d love to hear from you by email or in the comments.
David Farland – Basically any of his books about writing. He’s running a newsletter with writing tips that you should subscribe to. David is also active on Twitter and very approachable.
Not on this list is NaNoWriMo, because it didn’t teach me anything about writing itself, but about myself. It showed me how productive I can be and what a rush writing can be. I recommend you give it a try. It’s a huge boost to motivation and helps you push through a very unique experience.
Are you missing anything on the list? Do you have a secret source of writing advice? I’d love to hear from you. Just post in the comments or drop me an email.
I guess it’s a good idea for my first post to introduce myself. This is taken from my bio page.
My name is Helge (pronounced hell-ge, ge like in get) and judging by my name you probably have already guessed that I’m not a native English speaker. Actually I’m German, but I am married to a Spanish woman and have been living in Madrid for seven years already.
My interest in writing sparked very early, when I was still in primary school. We would get little comic strips of four vignettes and had to write stories that matched the images. I was amazed by the possibilities and enjoyed the task immensely.
In my teens I had some ideas floating around in my head and I did a lot of world building for a story that I’ve never gotten around to bring to paper. I still remember fondly how I’d type on an old IBM notebook (which was more like a brick) after dark, when I was supposed to be sleeping already.
After finishing my A levels, writing didn’t play a big role in my life until recently. I was busy studying computer science, and then moving to Spain, and all that entails, but I’ve always had this notion of “one day I’ll write a book”.
Eventually I realized that “one day” will never come unless you sit down and put some work into it. So in 2013 I learned about NaNoWriMo and decided to participate. I actually managed to crank out about 6000 words on the first weekend but then failed miserably. I just didn’t have the discipline yet.
I tried again in 2014 and managed to write every single day. It was very exhausting, for I also had to work my day job, but it was also a revelation. Not only was I able to achieve the insane goal of 50000 words but also something incredible happened: When reading a book I usually reach a state where I’m not aware of the actual act of reading anymore, but just of the images created in my mind. Something similar happened while writing, only a lot more intensive. I was so immersed in my story, and in discovering what was happening next, that I forgot that I was typing. It felt like reading a book, but the experience was a lot more powerful.
So here I am now. I have a full time job at a big IT company, which is quite demanding, and I’m trying to find time to write whenever I can, to finally finish my book – the first step to becoming a professional writer.