Today we welcome L Jagi Lamplighter, a writer of fantasy and children’s stories. When not writing, she reverts to her secret ID where she lives in fairytale happiness with her husband, writer John C. Wright, and their four delightful children Orville, Ping-Ping, the Cherubim, and Justinian the Elf King. Jagi’s latest release, The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is a YA fantasy series, described as “Harry Potter for girls with angsty romance”.
All About The Magic Or the Gosling of the Golden Creek Vs. The Unicorn Pooper-Scoopers
Beside the road leading to my street, there is a small pond. This pond is the favorite nesting place of a flock of Canadian geese who like to walk out in the street. The other day, I found myself sitting and waiting for the geese to depart, so I could drive home without running over them. As I watched the birds waddle by, I thought of people I knew who had expressed hatred for these creatures that stop traffic and leave goose droppings all over the sidewalk and golf courses. Their hatred added to my impatience.
After all, I wanted to get home. I had things to do, man! But then I remembered something. As a child, I had loved these birds. Why? Because at the gateway to the local county park was a river. Canadian geese used to nest on the river bank. If one was lucky, if one came at just the right time, one might catch a glimpse the tiny goslings paddling behind their august parents. These adorable creatures were the only baby wild animals visible to us as children. Seeing these little beige and yellow bundles of fluff lit our hearts. It was as wondrous as magic!
When had I lost the magic? Was it familiarity that had bred such contempt? I saw them all the time, now, so the magic had fled? This thought led me to the following question: If flocks of unicorns roamed my hometown, would the magic go away with them, too? Would I be sitting here wishing the herd of unicorns would just get off the road? And then it struck me. The difference between my current thought about unicorns and my childhood memory was like the difference between urban fantasy and stories of wonder. In a story of wonder, ordinary creatures, such as Canadian geese goslings, became objects of awe and magic. In an Urban Fantasy, people argue about who was responsible for scooping up the unicorn poop.
Before I go on, I should clarify: I am a big fan of urban fantasy. This insight is in no way meant to detract from the delight of reading about a tarnished pixy with tattered wings, a base-playing goblin, or an elf in a fedora asking questions and taking names. However, there are much better writers, here at Magical Words, than I for giving advice about writing good urban fantasy. So, I will concentrate on the subject of how to bring that childhood sense of wonder back to our stories.
If Urban Fantasy is about the magical in a mundane setting, Stories of Wonder are about mundane things in a magical setting. The first drags fairytales, folk lore, and mythology into our world, kicking and screaming. The second lifts us out of our ordinary daily life and into the extraordinary. So, how does one capture this magic when writing? How do we portray pixies up close without tarnishing their wings? How do we become familiar with unicorns and yet not grumble about how irksome it is that they have been eating our flowers? How do we turn the geeseholding up traffic back into creatures of enchantment? The key is to look around and imagine what the world would be like if it were alive…and it loved us. The marvelous world in stories of wonder is not always friendly. It can be grumpy, or angry, or tricky. It can be dangerous, sometimes terrible. But, underneath, there is a sense of something wonderful, something precious, something that makes you catch your breath from joy. If that is lacking, it is not a Story of Wonder.
So, how is it done? By looking around and imagining what the things we see would be like—if they just happened to fall into fairyland. The small stone pump house on the corner becomes a home for tiny folk who peek their little whiskered snouts around the edge of the door and peer at us with very large black eyes. Little doors into the crawl spaces of an attic become gates that transform those who pass through, so that they can fly, or turn invisible, or talk to fish. Misshapen tree trunks, with a horizontal section low to the ground, become riding trees that can pull up their roots and run though the forest during the mysterious cusp of twilight. Go ahead, try it. Pick a perfectly normal object in your environment and think about what it might be if you suddenly discovered it was a friendly visitor from the Court of Oberon. (Feel free to note your discoveries in the comments section.)
The next question one might ask is: Who does this well? Whose writing can we look to as an example? In my humble opinion, I believe the mistress of writing wonder is British author, Barbara Sleigh. (Who is that, you ask? If you missed her in your childhood, I am so very sorry! I will introduce you now, as I first met her.) Once, in the long ago dream time, I attended an old elementary school that had a marvelous library. This library was not as libraries are today—filled with new books all shiny with bright picture on their dustcovers, all published in the last twenty to thirty years. This library was filled with old books. I wouldn’t be surprised if a book bogie* had lived there as well. One day, while peering into the shadows of the dimly lit stacks, I found a slim volume I don’t think anyone else had ever checked out. It was Kingdom of Carbonel by Barbara Sleigh. It would be years before I met anyone else who had read this book. And more years before a friend traveling to England finally brought back the first book, Carbonel, for me. But these two slim volumes, in their own quiet way, remain among the most magical I have read. (I may not be the only author who has felt this way. These books were written in England in the 1950s. The villain is referred to as You-Know-Who, and there are characters with names like Tonks and Pettigrew. So it is possible that another author, far better known than I, once fell under their spell a well.) The fantasy in the books is low key. The children need to deal with mundane issues such as chores, being home in time for supper, and finding enough money to cross town by bus. Yet the magic, when it comes, seems all the more wondrous for its unexpectedness. There is a talking prince of cats, a flying rocking chair, and a cantankerous witch who is losing her powers. Yet, there is so much more. Only a step away from the roofs of mundane England is the Country of Cats, another land that the children glimpse but briefly. And when they need magic to speak with animals, they are given a prescription that causes the clerk to scratch his head and then climb up on a ladder to draw liquid from the large red bottle propped as a display in the window of the chemist’s shop. (There is even an amusing sub-plot for the poor clerk, who accidentally licks his finger after pouring out the liquid and believes himself to be going mad when he begins to understand the speech of worms and bugs.)
In this bestowing of magic to ordinary things—roofs, rocking chairs, and window display bottles—there is the curious wonder that comes from peeking into another world not meant for human kind, a world to which the children can only be temporary visitors—and yet when they leave, we know that they have been changed forever and will never again be quite as other people are, that they will always be something more.
And isn’t that, really, why we read? So we, the reader, can enter a magical kingdom that gives us a glimpse of something beyond the ordinary, beyond the world we know, in the hope that we, too, will emerge from the book changed, having been made better by the experience, so that we, too, will never again be quite as mundane as we were before? So that, while others sit in the road grumbling about being held up by “rats with wings”, we alone will behold the majesty of the graceful dancers of the sky, who once were the goslings of Golden Creek.
* — creature said to haunt libraries and help children find the perfect book.
Who is your favorite weaver of Stories of Wonder? What ordinary objects would you like to see woken to fairy life by the breath of enchantment?
John G. Hartness
For those of you in the U.S., today is the day we celebrate our forefathers coming across the Atlantic to star in D.B. Jackson’s novels and eat turkey. Or it’s the day where you try to get out of washing the dishes to watch football. Or maybe it’s the day that you still have to sit at the “kids’ table” even though you’re forty.
But anyway, for those of us in the US, this is Thanksgiving, a day when we take a minute to rest, look around at the carnage we just unleashed upon our diets, and give thanks for the stuff we have. So I’m going to take a minute and talk about things I’m thankful for this holiday season, and give you a couple of chances to make things thankful for other folks while you’re at it.
1) I’m thankful to be over bronchitis, which laid me low all of last week. I was sick as a dog, and it sucked, and while I still have a cough, which I expect to have for a while yet, I’m over the worst of it and feel much better.
2) I’m thankful to have new books coming out and new stuff under contract, so I’ll keep my nose to the grindstone. Big Bad 2 is still open for submissions, go to my site to check out all that info. Capes & Clockwork is a superhero steampunk anthology that will come out in the very first part of 2014 with one of my Bubba stories in it. And of course, it’s time to get cranking on Book 5 of The Black Knight Chronicles.
3) I’m thankful to have been asked to participate in Writers for Relief, Vol. 3, alongside such greats in our field as Kevin J. Anderson, Todd McAffrey, Ben Bova, Eugie Foster and others. All proceeds from the sale of the book will be divided between those affected by the Oklahoma tornados last summer and the massive typhoon that just struck the Phillipines.
4) I’m thankful for my readers, and my writing support network, both here on MW and in real life in Charlotte. You guys are awesome!
What are y’all thankful for this holiday season?
Diana Pharaoh Francis
I want to talk about endings. I just wrote a book. Most of it I wrote in six weeks. Then it took me just about a month to write the ending. Now I’ll admit, I had no idea what the ending was, and that time coincided with some time off I intended to take, and a family emergency I did not plan on. I finished the book two days ago. I was in the very last chapter and I finished that chapter, and then started the next very last chapter, and then I was within a paragraph or two of finished, then several pages later I was within a paragraph or two of finishing, and then a few pages later I was within a sentence or two of finishing, and then pages later . . . .
Well, you get the idea. I call this ending creep. It happens every single time I write a book. Stories, too. It drives me nuts.
So why do the ends of the stories become creepy? The main reason for me is that I’m looking to make sure that I’m hitting all the notes to make the ending satisfying. That means conflict and plot resolution, emotional climax, and a pithy closing. The worst part is that I’m working off a feeling–of whether I feel that it’s all there or not.
Okay, so here I am working on the end of this book. I’ve wrapped up the major action. I’ve not yet pointed to what’s happening next, but that’s coming. Well, I hope it is, but I haven’t quite figured out what will be happening next. I’ve gathered my major characters together for the aftermath. This is where the emotional stuff boils over and has to be dealt with, while at the same time, there has to be a resolution that points forward into the future (next book). So this story has to be resolved, and yet there are loose ends that have to make a reader want to read on to the next book. (This will be a duology). I know, at this point, that even though this is romantic, it’s not all going to be sunshine and roses. At the same time, I don’t want the two romantic leads to be stereotypically angry at each other. I want the troubles that interferes with the romance to be organic and not feel like it’s just something to break them apart. The truth is, up until this point I didn’t know if they would be apart or not. I had this image that said not, but frankly that never turned up in the book. So I was free to keep them together. But it was too easy. Too pat. I didn’t believe that they wouldn’t have to struggle more. So struggle they will. I think that the situation that pulls them apart and puts them on opposing sides is organic to the story and makes sense. So in the same moment there’s both a declaration of love and a separation.
So I’m writing the scene and I hammer out several important threads–the lovers and also how to handle some of the war stuff as I go forward. Since the two are deeply intertwined, that resolution felt a lot like the end of the book. Mostly. But it wasn’t. I didn’t have the emotional resolution that I wanted. Specifically, beyond the romance, I knew that I needed my heroine to make some active choices. She’s been growing into those choices throughout the book, but I needed her to make some decisions that were less reactive and more proactive. She needed to take a good hard look at what she wanted and decide to walk into the fire, fully aware.
I needed that ending because for me, while the romantic part was critical and while the action had a dramatic conclusion, the story is at its heart about this woman who has to confront herself and her past and her present and what she wants out her life. In the end, she comes to a choice of paths and and that choice is an interior conflict that’s been building the entire book. This is the central conflict of the book. So all the exterior stuff has largely resolved or pointed forward, but now this primary driving conflict needs its resolution.
It wasn’t enough to have her just make a decision and go from there. I also needed some panache. Something snarky/pithy that could leave the book on a powerful note. It’s like having the last word in an argument.
The end creeping, the time spent on that last chapter, both were a function of hitting all the right notes and of making all of those various endings strike together into a crescendo. I’m honestly pretty happy with it. There’s a lot of work going on and I’m hoping that it’s as satisfying to the reader as it is for me.
And now, to go clean it up and send it out.
Okay, I’ve saved the toughest one for last. Today I’m going to talk about one of the most insidious of enemies – jealousy.
You probably already know how damaging jealousy can be to a romantic relationship. Suspicion and unwarranted anger builds walls between people who care for each other, walls that prevent effective communication and take serious work to bring down. Jealousy can also crack your creativity into tiny shards of meanness that poke you every time you sit down to make your own magic. It happens to all of us. You read in Locus that someone from your writing group just signed another three-book deal, when you only got a one-book deal from the same publisher. You get a phone call from a writing friend who excitedly tells you that she’s been offered representation by an agent who’s previously turned you down. You want to feel thrilled and happy, but somewhere inside of you, there’s a voice whispering ugly things. So you think, “Let me go put words on the page. That’ll make me feel better.” Except that you can’t seem to settle your mind. You start second-guessing your word choices and your characters behave in bizarre ways that they never would have before, and pretty soon you find yourself obsessing over how on earth that book that you helped beta-read ever got sold to a publisher because you told your friend the villain wasn’t cruel enough but he wouldn’t change the way he wrote her, and now that book is out there in the world on bookstore shelves and why isn’t it happening to meeee….
Sounds a little crazy, right? It is. You leave your own creativity behind in favor of a neverending mental litany of how wrong the publisher was or how undeserving your friend is. Jealousy loves to pretend it’s righteous and important. “What do you care,” it says to you, “Obviously your friend only got published because the editor is a noodlehead who hasn’t figured out that zombies are totally last year.” Or “Of course that agent would like him. Have you seen how he flirts?” When that’s all you can think about, there’s no more room for your characters to live inside your head, and there goes your story. Jealousy refuses to accept that someone else has talent or has worked hard, and it takes away your own ability to work hard at the same time. Meanwhile, your friend is at home writing the next book, because your jealousy is not hurting her. All you’re doing is punishing yourself.
I can’t tell you how to not feel jealous. What I can tell you is that recognizing what’s happening to you is 90% of the battle. When I say “recognize”, I don’t mean “blame”. Blaming yourself for having jealous feelings isn’t going to help. You’ll just equate feeling bad with another’s success, and that’s even more self-abusive. The idea isn’t to switch the focus of your anger from one target to another. It’s to point it out, away, into the vastness of space where it won’t bother anyone at all. When those evil thoughts sneak in, feel them. Listen to them. Really listen. More than likely, what you’ll hear, under the disguise of how terrible and unworthy someone else’s work was, is how much you wish you were having that success, too. And now that you’ve reminded yourself of what you’re really hoping for, you turn that thought loose. Let it go, and concentrate your energy on making success happen for yourself.
How many of you remember the movie Prizzi’s Honor? It came out in the mid-1980s and starred Jack Nicholson as a mob hitman who allows his personal life to get in the way of his professional responsibilities. Throughout the movie, his character, Charley, is reminded by higher-ups in the syndicate that he shouldn’t take personally all the things they’re telling him to do, even though one of his assigned tasks is to murder his new bride. “It’s business, Charley,” they tell him. “It’s just business.”
Yes, there is a point to this.
My post last week, in which I discussed the sale of a new series to Baen books, prompted an interesting question from long-time Magical Words reader and commenter, Mark Wise. Mark, who has followed my career for quite some time and knows that every book I’ve published to this point has been with Tor, wrote, “I find it interesting you chose to go with Baen rather than Tor. Does that affect your relationship with Tor at all? Is there a publishing house loyalty expected of writers?” I answered his question at the time, but wanted to address the issues he raised in greater detail, because I think they are instructive for those who are still trying to break into traditional publishing.
Publishing is an odd business. Those of us who write for a living pour our emotions and experiences into our work, even when the pieces we’re writing are not even remotely autobiographical. We work closely with our editors (as well as our agents), and many of us come to be identified with a specific publisher, as I have been with Tor Books. It seems as though there should be a personal bond between writer and editor, and writer and publisher. And I suppose on some level there is. I have loved writing for Tor, and would like to continue that relationship. I hope that after the fourth Thieftaker book is published in 2015, Tor and I will sign a new contract for more Thieftaker novels, or perhaps for some other series. And, as I noted in last week’s post, Tor did make an offer on this new contemporary urban fantasy that I will be writing for Baen.
And this is where the relationship gets tricky. I think a case can be made that, since Tor gave me my start and has published all of my books, and since they have generally done a pretty good job of promoting me and building my career, I owed it to them to take their offer, even if it was not as good an offer as Baen’s. Those arguing the case would point out that, historically speaking, publishing has been a personal business (an oxymoron if ever there was one). Years ago (this could be an entry in Mindy’s wonderful “Then and Now” series) authors often stayed with a single publisher for their entire careers, just as baseball players often stayed with a single team.
Times have changed.
In the nearly 17 years since my first book was published I have seen the following: Mass firings of editors by publishing houses; trilogies and longer series cancelled in the middle of publication, so that the final book or books never see light of day; bestselling authors who are two or three books removed from that bestselling status denied new contracts and forced to take up pseudonyms in order to continue their careers; critically acclaimed authors — award-winners — denied contracts because their sales are not good enough; award-winning editors fired because the publishers wish to take the imprint in a new direction; beloved authors who once received six-figure and high five-figure advances now forced to accept fractions of those amounts in order to keep writing. I could go on, but you get the point. And let me be clear: As much as I find it disheartening to read about publishers taking steps like these, I also understand that, from their perspective, these are rational business decisions. They’re not being mean; they’re trying to maximize their profits.
The business landscape is not what it once was. Publishers used to be independent companies that prided themselves on being different from the companies that made toothpaste or cars or refrigerators. They could run on a smaller profit margin, and so take care of their authors. They could be patient with young writers; they could build careers.
Today, publishers are owned by huge multinational conglomerates, and those to whom publishers answer are concerned almost exclusively with the bottom line. If a writer doesn’t sell right off the bat, he or she can be replaced with a new writer. Yes, there are more options for authors — traditional publishing is no longer the only way to go. But there are also more authors than ever before, more books being published. It is harder than ever to get ourselves noticed. And so even with those other options, making a viable living as an author has never been more difficult.
My point is this: With all that I have seen, with all that I know about how publishing works today, I understand that Tor might very well drop me after the final (in current contractual terms) Thieftaker book comes out. Sales of the books have been good but not spectacular, and Tor might well decide that they can find another series to put in my slot that will earn them more money.
And I say this as someone who has a really good relationship with Tor. I have always hit my deadlines. I am friendly and respectful when I deal not only with my editors, but also with the art department, with my publicist and others in marketing, with the folks in the royalty department, etc. Earlier this year, my long-time editor at Tor left, and I needed to be reassigned to someone new. Word came to Lucienne and me that “David has a great reputation in-house. He’s known as someone who is savvy and professional. He’ll have no trouble finding someone new to take on his books.” And that proved to be the case. So as far as personal relationships with Tor go, mine is good. Better than good, really. (For more on this, please see the other post I have up today on a writer’s professional comportment.)
Despite this good relationship with Tor, in the long term, from a career perspective, it doesn’t mean a thing. If the Thieftaker numbers improve a bit, Tor will want me to write more books for them. If the numbers tank, they won’t. Period.
And so, when weighing my choices for the Weremyste Cycle (the series I’ll be writing for Baen) I took into account a lot of different issues. I wanted a decent advance, of course. But I also wanted a favorable accounting structure, good royalty rate schedules, generous sub-rights arrangements, and other contractual considerations. I wanted to feel that I could work with my editor (and I know that I could have worked equally well with the folks at both houses). And, I will admit, that I liked the idea of being with two different publishers. If the arrangement with one house doesn’t work out, I still have a relationship with another. I have long aspired to write for two different publishers simultaneously, and finally I can do that.
I remain fond of all the great people at Tor. I am grateful to Tom Doherty for giving me my start in the business, and I hope to write more books for Tor. But I am a businessman, and I made a business decision. Just as Tor will the next time they consider a book proposal from me. Sure, they might be a bit more willing to consider my proposal based upon the fact that I hit my deadlines and treat people respectfully, but even that is a business decision. And let’s be clear: If my sales are not good enough, or my book proposal is not compelling, they will not give me a contract simply because they like me. By the same logic, I cannot sign a contract that is less favorable to me simply because I’ve written my previous books for Tor. That’s not the way publishing works; not any more.
It’s business, Charley. It’s just business.
David B. Coe
Today’s Then and Now grows out of a question from last week, where someone wanted to know how I write quickly. My current writing strategy grows out of my old writing habits, so it’s perfect for a Then and Now.
When I started writing for professional publication, I worked a full-time job that required a minimum of 60 hours a week in an office and often expected 80 hours a week or more. I usually worked through weekends, at least all of one day and half of another, and I often left the office for a class or cultural event, only to return at 10:00 at night, for another few hours of fun. In some months, I *billed* up to 3000 hours of time (and that time didn’t include things like meal breaks, mandatory non-client activities, etc.) So, yeah, I had a lot of demands on my time.
During those years, I wrote five novels, three of which were ultimately published (The Glasswrights’ Apprentice, The Glasswrights’ Progress, and Season of Sacrifice). The unpublished novels were a romance and a mystery; neither is good enough to publish today.
I met my writing goals by being efficient with my time. I started by creating an outline for my novel. (I know, I know, outlines versus organic writing is a matter of religious debate. I’m an outliner. But if you’re not, then you can skip this step.) My “outlines” weren’t really. They were approximately one page long for every 100,000 words of text — a full novel would be a one-page outline. I wanted to have a vague idea of where my characters came from and where they were going. Then, I jumped, and started writing.
I wrote for an hour each morning before I started my work-day. At first, that hour was completed at the office, because I didn’t own a personal computer; I wrote and saved my work on floppy disks (which weren’t floppy, but…) Later, after I bought my first computer, I wrote at home. In either case, I knew I had precisely one hour to write. I didn’t spend time on warm-up exercises or on experiments outside of the novel I was working on. I didn’t answer the phone during that hour. I didn’t permit any distractions. (Admittedly, the distractions were substantially fewer; there was no Internet and little email to speak of.)
I also indulged in Writing Marathons, taking one week of vacation and writing for nine straight days (the week, including both weekends.) For Marathon, I’d stock up on easy-to-prepare or no-preparation-needed food, tea, and soft drinks, and I’d write. I’d shower when I began to disgust myself, and I’d walk around the block when my body started aching from sitting too long, but otherwise, I, um, wrote.
For regular writing or for Marathon, I’d finish each writing session by preparing for the next one. I’d leave myself short notes in my working file, about what came next — just the barest hint of an outline of the scene to follow.
I did virtually no editing while I was writing. Editing was a separate function, which I undertook after I’d completed a manuscript. Even then, I did very little editing, correcting grammar and typos before saying, “Done!”
At an intermediate stage in my career, I invested a lot more energy into editing. I would edit each chapter after I finished drafting it, reading through three or four or five times, until it had the polished feel I’d come to recognize as “done”. My production rate slowed substantially, as I was spending about four fifths of my time editing, and only one fifth writing new words.
I invest more heavily in my outlining. I now create a one-paragraph (approximately 150-word) outline for every chapter (between 2500 and 5000 words of text, depending on the type of novel, with romances being on the shorter end and fantasy on the longer end.) I structure my outline using strategies from screenwriting, to emphasize the middle of the plot (where I’m weakest as a writer.)
As a full-time writer, I spend Mondays, Wednesdays, and every other Friday writing. I begin my writing day around 10:00, after taking care of email and other Internet-pressing matters), and I end around 6:00, taking around an hour for lunch. On writing days, I try to avoid all promotional and marketing activities; I steer clear of social media, and I try to limit Internet breaks.)
In short, I write.
I keep my outline open, and I type words that flesh out the story defined in the outline. I try not to be overly critical of what I’ve written. (Years of experience have taught me that my writing is *much* better in reality than I think it is as I’m producing it. I just have to have faith in that experience.) I read back over paragraphs in the natural process of writing, and I tweak occasional words or phrases, but I focus exclusively on writing, not on editing. I save all editing for when I have completed the manuscript. If I make a major change or realize I need to add a scene or discover that my character is doing X instead of Y, I leave myself a note in BOLD ALL CAPS at the top of the relevant file. But I don’t go back. I write.
At the end of each day, when I’m pulled away from whatever I’m writing, I leave myself the same sort of notes I used to do, back in my one-hour crammed-in writing sessions. More often than not, I dash down lines of dialog, without any attribution, or I write a few directional notes in abbreviations that mean something only to me. Also, at the end of each day, I build a to-do list for the next day, including all the major tasks I intend to accomplish. (Even though that to-do list involves a lot of non-writing things, I include it here, because it’s one of my major tools — I *love* crossing things off my to-do list, and I’m likely to do tasks I hate, if I can cross them off when I’m done.)
I no longer do Writing Marathons, but I do occasionally go on writing retreats. Those retreats last from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, and I follow the same basic strategy as I do for my writing days. (Outline, write, repeat.)
On a normal work day, I draft around 5000 words. On a writing retreat day, I usually double that. (The hours are a bit longer, plus there’s an air of healthy competition. Also, I’ve left my family behind when I’m on retreat, and I feel that I have to be extra productive, to warrant that separation.)
So, for a short category romance novel? I can draft it in 10 working days. (That’s a month, with my current schedule.)
Then, I need to revise. I’ve found that my work is ***much*** better when I write without interruption for editing. I often need to correct homonyms (my fast-writing brain can’t distinguish between here and hear, and I wreak havoc with they’re, there, and their…) I usually need to tweak word echoes (using the same word in nearby sentences), and I always have to eliminate my crutch words (that, just, and though.) But the major reworkings for tone and flow almost never happen, if I’ve been fast-writing. (Slow writing is another story — if I’ve been interrupted or had outside obligations or whatever, I can have a much heavier editorial burden.)
My biggest challenge for fast-writing is discipline. I find it nearly impossible to start writing each morning — there are email accounts to check, and articles to read, and a million other distractions. Once I start writing, I long to stop — I have errands to run, chores to complete, food that calls from the kitchen. Every time I do stop, I lose a minimum of 15 minutes; it’s very hard for me to start writing again.
I try to increase my discipline by limiting the distractions. I make my lunch in the morning, before I start writing, so I can’t get distracted by a thousand food options. I close my email (or try to — this is a hard one for me). I completely forbid myself from playing some games (Tetris, Weboggle — I’m looking at you!) because I know I can’t stop. I treat myself like the addict I am, eliminating my triggers.
My second biggest challenge is incorporating exercise into my routine. I *try* to take a number of 10-minute walking breaks during the day. I’m not nearly as good at this as I’d like to be — I constantly feel that I’ll lose too much time if I take that break. Nevertheless, a short walk almost always gives me the inspiration I need to untangle a writing knot (motivation, plot points, etc.) It’s just hard for me to remember that while I work.
So: How do I write fast? I outline (still relatively minimally, compared to many). I set aside dedicated time to write. I limit distractions while I’m writing. I write. And I save editing (my greatly preferred writer function!) until after the writing is done.
Questions? Debates? Techniques that work best for you for writing fast?
Hey, all! I don’t know if you’ve been following along, but Amy Christine Parker and I have been vlogging for the YA Rebels every Tuesday for a few months now. Since it’s NaNoWriMo time, our most recent posts have been geared toward that. For example, you can check out our NaNoWriMo tips, our revision hints, and our wrong and right ways to find an agent. On the latter, I handled the wrong ways, all of which (and more) I’ve seen personally except the sliding of a manuscript under the door of a bathroom stall. I’d like to think this is an urban legend, but I know better.
Since I tackled some don’ts there, here are some important dos:
First, before you even consider sending your novel out, take some time away from it. Two weeks at the least. A month might be better. Go back to it with a fresh perspective and all of the sudden things that worked when you were so close you could still hear the way they sounded in your head will jump at you as hitting an off note. You’ll have highs — hey, I wrote that? I’m pretty good!— and lows —I suck. Nobody loves me, everybody hates me; think I’ll go eat worms. But in the end, the manuscript will be a lot better for the perspective you were able to gain. And, of course, the most important thing about the query process is that you first write a book that people will love.
Second, do your research—not just about who represents what you write, but about who’s open to submissions and the right way to go about submitting. Most agents make this very easy for you. We have websites. We have an “About Us” section there to help you make informed decisions. We have submission guidelines that tell you how to send material so that it’s not caught in our spam filters or ignored because it’s gone to the wrong address. The guidelines aren’t a test, except maybe in the sense that we need to know that you’re serious about your search and that you’re willing to do things right. The guidelines help us manage the hundreds of submissions we get per month per agent and ensure to the best of our abilities that none get lost along the way. I can’t tell you how many inquiries I get a month on Facebook, Twitter, through my author website, etc. asking whether I’m open to submissions and what I represent. I’m not going to do a writer’s research for him or her. If you can find me, you can find the guidelines that we’ve written up to answer these questions and more. What this tells me is that the author is lazy and probably not ready for prime time. You don’t want to ask someone to invest time in you before you’ve given them reason. It’s like expecting a job interview before you’ve even sent in your resume and cover letter. (Because the hunt for an agent or for publication should be treated just as professionally as a job search.)
Follow through. If you’re a new writer, you shouldn’t be querying before you have a complete manuscript, so when an agent or editor asks for your work, you should be ready to send your polished material.
Pay attention to their response times and don’t nag before that time is up. Once it is, give it at least a few days more. Then feel free to send a politely and professionally worded e-mail to nudge them along and to say how much you look forward to their response. (Note: I’d leave out words like “speedy” or “swift” before response, as the fastest answer is always “no.”)
Another very important thing that seems obvious but apparently isn’t: be available. Don’t give a response e-mail or send from an account that requires an approval process in order for you to receive a respondent’s message. Changes are, we won’t go through the hoops. Make it easy for us to answer and to reach you.
Remember, you want to hear “yes,” and ultimately, we want to say “yes.” It doesn’t mean that we will, of course, but know that every time we take appointments at conferences or open a new submission, we’re hoping to find something unique and wonderful. It’s what keeps us reading.