Saturday, 19 December 2015

Looking Back on 2015, and 2016 Goals

So, after spending all afternoon working on an outline for my latest manuscript (yay!), I started thinking about my goals for 2015 - and what I'd love to achieve in 2016. In January, I promised myself that I would:


I didn't achieve this goal, but only because TMatCB is now HOUSE OF SMOULDERING TEARS. In brief, I picked TMatCB apart, kept my heroine and some of the other characters, threw them into a whole new world, and so HoST was born. In 2015, I learned how to accept when a manuscript isn't working. And, I gained the courage to burn said manuscript and forge a new one from the ashes, so to speak. I sound like my heroine! 

Sometimes, you have to let a manuscript go - or at least be daring enough to rewrite the thing. 

B) Find time to read more books

Yeah, I definitely made time to read more this year. I explored genres I wouldn't normally read, and branching out fuelled my creativity in unexpected ways.

C) Exercise more


D) Draft something new

I drafted HoST, half of another manuscript I'm shelving for now, and a few other random things. So yeah, I'm calling this a success!

E) Never forget why I'm doing this

This is a big one. I am a writer. It's what I love. I didn't forget that this year - not even once. 

So, goals for 2016:

A) Get an agent

I have literally no control over whether or not this happens, but publication is my dream and I'm determined to chase it this coming year. 

B) Draft two more books

I'm about to start a new manuscript - that's one draft. And, whatever happens with HoST, I'm working on the sequels. I adore the characters, the world...everything. At the very least, I'll rewrite HoST if need be. But, if HoST is simply not working, then I'll have something new to hopefully query later in the year. 

C) Never give up

Like I said, I have no control over what will happen with HoST, or anything else I write. But I will NOT give up on my dream. Achieving it is my only option - however long it takes! 

I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful 2016! 

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Choosing Between Ideas

I've been super busy recently, so I haven't had the chance to blog in a while. But now it's time to start on a new WIP (yay!), so I thought I'd explain how I choose between ideas.

Like all writers, I have lots of little plot bunnies bouncing around inside my head. At the moment, I have pitches jotted down for fifteen different YA fantasies. FIFTEEN. How do I decide which one to focus on first?

I try not to worry too much about market viability at this stage. I'm aware of trends and what else is out there, but now isn't the time for limiting my creativity. If an idea really speaks to me, I can always work on making it stand out before I start drafting.

I build everything around character. So, at this point, I look at those pitches and consider which characters appeal to me the most. Do I have a sense of who they are? Do I understand the challenges they face, and what burdens they carry? Can I visualise the main character and/or supporting characters, and maybe even the opening scene? Sometimes I'll come up with a cool concept, world or magic system first. But unless I can answer those questions, I can't get excited about the project and it always stalls.

Then, I get a notebook and start jotting things down to see if I can identify the heart of the story, or the story question. I know I'm on the right track when I understand how the story ends (and why it ends the way it does). At this point, I'll actually draft another pitch and possibly even the query. When I have the right character, the core conflict and stakes come pretty naturally to me, and I'm now VERY enthusiastic about the project. There's a good chance I'll dance at my desk. With all these feelings, I know this project is The One to work on.

Once I have a main character (and possibly even other characters) I consider how to make my project more original if marketability is an issue. Otherwise, I'll work on getting to know my characters better. I'm going to spend a lot of time with them, so I need to know their quirks and understand their personalities. I thought of an awesome concept recently, but I just couldn't visualise the MC and I didn't feel passionate about her journey. I stalled. But when I returned to my pitch list, another character and her dilemma called to me - and I can't wait to get started!

Everyone has a different process, and every project has its own unique challenges, but if you're struggling to pick an idea, I recommend starting from character. I wrote my Pitch Wars manuscript because I fell in love with the characters and their issues, so I'd say this process works pretty well! :)

This also applies if you're struggling to come up with an idea in the first place. Think of someone you'd love to write about, and what kind of challenges they face. You never know what you'll end up with!

I'll be talking about how I maintain passion for a story next year! :)

Friday, 30 October 2015

My Pitch Wars 2015 Experience

I haven't updated this blog for what feels like forever because I have been super busy writing and editing! In September I got into a contest called Pitch Wars, where writers get selected to work with agented/published authors in order to make their manuscripts shiny and ready for agents - yay! If you want to check out my informal bio for Pitch Wars and a little bit about my manuscript, you can find it here!

This post is about what I've learned over the last eight or so weeks - A LOT - and I'd like to offer some tips and advice to other writers based on everything I've gained from this amazing experience!

1. Always have a PLAN.

Eight weeks is not a lot of time to edit a manuscript, polish it up and write a compelling pitch, but tight deadlines are pretty common so it's vital to have a coping strategy. And by that I mean you need a plan outlining everything you need to do and how you plan on doing it. Breaking everything down this way not only makes everything less scary (trust me), but ensures you don't forget anything.

As soon as I got my first edit letter, I cracked open a new notebook. I jotted down all the key points and any solutions that popped into my head. At first glance, it wasn't difficult to rank everything in order of priority - starting with large-scale arc changes down to line edits. Luckily for me, my mentors are geniuses who touched on everything I secretly wanted to change but didn't know how, but without outlining the necessary changes I would have had no idea where to begin. I plotted out my plan of attack and set myself strict deadlines - I managed to turn in my big picture edits EARLY, even if I still had a bit of work left to do on a smaller scale.

On that note - deadlines are important and Pitch Wars is seriously good practice for understanding what deadlines will be like down the road if all goes well. So yeah, have a PLAN and you'll be okay!!

2. Editing is scary. But it's manageable. You will survive - I promise.

So I suppose I've made it sound like I wasn't all that daunted by revisions - not true! Truthfully, the thought of all the new scenes I had to write and relationships I had to develop made me eat a lot of candy and flail. But I didn't dwell on my feelings. To make a manuscript stand out, to make it publishable, sometimes big changes have to be made. Is it painful? Sure. Is it doable? Absolutely. Because after having a plan comes having the right ATTITUDE. If I'm ever lucky enough to work with an agent and editor, I'll no doubt be asked to make more changes. That's just how it is. But I am 10000% more in love with my stories and charactersthan before, so the flailing (and toothache!) was worth it.

You can handle any scale of revision - even if it feels insurmountable at first. Don't be afraid to do what's necessary for your book baby!

3. The writing community is incredible. Make the most of it!

I already knew this, but seriously, reach out to your fellow writers. Help each other. Offer encouragement (and virtual hugs when things get tough). Part of what makes Pitch Wars so awesome is the camaraderie between mentees and sharing this journey with other writers. You'll make new friends if you seek them out, and maybe even some critique partners for future manuscripts!

So, there you have it - the key things I can take from this contest, and hopefully writers reading this find something useful in my ramblings!

I cannot thank Brenda Drake enough for this incredible opportunity - you do so much for the writing community, Brenda, it's amazing! And to my mentors Kathryn Purdie, Shannon Parker and Janet Taylor - you guys have been so, so supportive and encouraging, and I can't thank you enough for believing in my story enough to help me make it shine! You all totally 'got' my story and characters, and I am so grateful for that.

Best of luck to everyone participating! I can't wait and I wish everyone ALL THE SUCCESS!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Joy of Beat Sheets

So right now I'm knee-deep in the Editing Cave of Doom, but I'm taking a break to blog about my favourite synopsis tool: the beat sheet.

What is a beat sheet, then? Basically, it's a way of mapping out the plot points that determine the direction of your story. Whether you like to outline meticulously or fly by the seat of your pants, there will come a time when you have to consider how solid your plot is, and if there are strong enough conflicts and challenges to propel your story forward from point A to end point B.

Without a compelling plot, your characters just kind of meander around doing pointless stuff with no clear goal. And just as bad, you might have a lot going on, but none of it gels together to create a solid, developing narrative. I am guilty of BOTH plotting fails, but that all changed when I discovered the beat sheet. At the same time, I changed my whole approach to synopsis writing.

Before I start writing a new novel, I now like to have a solid idea of the major turning points - the events that'll shift the direction of the novel in the most meaningful way. I like to know specifically how my character will be dragged into the action kicking and screaming, or how and why they choose to get involved. I consider how the gears shift again around the midpoint, then what major event launches my characters into the final act. I have a clear idea of how the novel will end, and how the characters have changed by this point - during this process, I also note how the characters themselves develop and grow.

These major events are the bare bones of a synopsis. If I make a note of them, I can later develop those one or two lines into a skeletal synopsis. If I go a step further and consider the smaller conflicts and decisions linking all those major parts together, I pretty much have a draft synopsis in front of me before I even start writing. It's not perfect, and I still have to redraft (and redraft some more), but I can test my story for major problems before getting too far into a draft. This solves serious headaches further down the line when you realise your chapter has no real goal, or something equally nightmarish.

So how do you create these things? You can simply write your turning points down on a sheet of paper. Or, you can find amazing style sheets (and lots more detail on beats themselves) here. Seriously, go look. I learned everything I know about beat sheets from Jami Gold's amazing writing guides! They might look intimidating, but they'll transform your writing.

Try it - it's sure helped me, so hopefully you take something useful away, too. In summary: thanks to beat sheets, it took me a HALF HOUR to draft a relatively competent synopsis instead of days like before. If synopsis writing gets you down, TRY THIS.

Finally - Susan Dennard's guide to writing a synopsis is also seriously useful, and explains the major events you need to include in a really clear, succinct manner, whether you're just new to story structure or more experienced. Find it right here.

Happy synopsis writing, fellow writers! :)

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Beyond Exploratory Drafts

So it has been a while since I last updated this blog, but I've been working hard on a first draft after finishing an 'exploratory draft'. I posted about such a thing here, and mentioned I would post an update once I got through it. And I can say that...

It was a great experience for me! I drafted about 65k, and discovered the bare bones of the story I really wanted to tell. Because it was just exploratory, meaning it was about uncovering the Right Story, I didn't feel under any pressure to make it read even like first draft quality (lol). And, I didn't feel like I had to revise the exploratory draft, either. I've kept a couple of turning points, but let a lot of the real drivel go and just rewrote the manuscript. It was such a freeing experience, and it's how I intend to write from now on.

I've actually decided to adopt characters from the 2014 NaNo manuscript I'm rewriting and make this their new story. The problems with the old manuscript aren't going anywhere (the story just isn't original enough, if I'm honest) but the characters and their internal arcs deserve to be explored in a more marketable manuscript. My MC, her love interest and primary antagonist fit PERFECTLY into this new world, and even secondary characters shine now. For the first time, I love each and every one of my characters!

If I've learned anything from this latest manuscript and my new way of approaching drafting, it's to never be afraid of making big changes and rewriting. See it as a freeing experience as opposed to more work, and you'll find the best way to tell whatever story you have inside of you.

Now all I have to do is whip this synopsis, query, pitch and manuscript into query-level shape ;)

My next post will be on beat sheets, and how they make writing a synopsis so much easier! :)

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Exploratory Drafts

So right now I'm in the middle of plotting a rewrite, and the endless brainstorming accompanying that process. To keep my creativity high/save me from going insane, I've also been writing a New Book. And for the first time ever, I called the first draft the Exploratory Draft.

It has been a very, very freeing experience.

For me, the point of this draft was to do what the title implies - explore the world, conflicts and characters with the goal of finding the right story hidden somewhere between the lines. I plotted a rough outline, sketched out a couple of beat sheets (I'll post another time on why these are great writing tools) and had both my pitch and skeletal query set out. But because it's fantasy, and the world is perhaps the most complex world I've built, I figured I'd need a bit of space to test whether or not my outline was heading in the right direction. It *sort* of was.

I called this draft quits around 65k in, at the start of the third act. The ending I'd planned no longer felt right, but through the draft itself I have found the Right Story. I can still use a lot of what happens in the first 100 pages, so I've printed them out to assemble into the new draft. The real first draft.

This was freeing for me because instead of feeling the pressure to complete the draft and wrestle it into submission like I normally do with first drafts, I am letting a lot of it go. I'm listening to my writer-y instincts, and following the characters to where they want and need to go (more on that another day). I'm free to pretty much re-imagine the whole concept and the importance of the secondary characters, and it's a GLORIOUS feeling. I'm not nearly as stressed as I normally am when I have to tackle the first round of revisions.

I have a revised outline/beat sheet/pitch, and this time the ending feels urgent and RIGHT. It has also opened up the possibility of a book 2, and perhaps a book 3. So from now on, I will call my first attempt at a new story the Exploratory Draft. Maybe it's psychological, maybe it's because it takes me a while to actually find the right story and this is how I roll, but it has worked well for me. Feel free to let things go and rewrite. EXPLORE your story. Your book is a little baby at this stage - let it grow into what it wants/needs to be.

I'll post an update as to how this goes in the end!

Monday, 9 March 2015

Writing Lulls

For the last couple of weeks, my writing has stalled. At the moment, I don't feel in a position to write so much as a sentence. I've been brainstorming potential solutions to a WIP plot problem, and coming up with nothing. I've also hit a brick wall with this new project I'm outlining - I can't for the life of me figure out a plot.


I might have figured out the reason why. It has something to do with a simple problem - forgetting why I write in the first place.

Recently I've been SO obsessed (and I mean seriously obsessed) with finding a fresh and original story to write. Something that's never been done that I might have a chance of selling. It's proving, right now at least, pretty much impossible. The reason - I'm trying too hard. Instead of focusing on making my characters as interesting and relatable as I can, I'm stressing out over plots, twists and hooks.

There's also another grim reality. Let's face it, plot structures, tropes and dare I say cliches exist because they work. The best writers put new and exciting faces on these things so we don't even notice they're operating (at least to my mind that's what they do, lol!). Whether it's new settings, twists, digging deep to mine possibilities of each and every trope we know and love...we shouldn't 'sense' the formula, but it's there. They also employ characters we can't help but love, or love to hate. Characters we haven't read about, who have a unique take on life. There are SO MANY books I love - but the plot details are hazy in my mind. It's the characters and their wants, needs and choices I remember.

So with that in mind I'm spending time reminding myself why these characters excite me. Why I'm compelled to explore their journeys. Even as I write this post I'm brainstorming a potential plot for them, all because I took a step back. And if it turns out too 'unoriginal' to query? I'll play with it until it's fresher. But from now on it's character first, plot second.

Here's to a successful writing week, everyone!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Reading Outside the Comfort Zone

So I'm still in the middle of my MS rewrite, and to save myself from going insane I decided to take a couple of days off to just READ. My TBR pile is getting out of control, so it was time to put a dent in it. Some of the books I've accumulated are totally outside what I'd normally read, but I'd heard great things about them. So I decided to give them a go.

I am SO GLAD I did. For context, I usually read YA fantasy and happy-ish contemporary when I feel like a break from magic/strange creatures/quests and the likes. This time I decided to delve into...darker books. One is a dystopian (I think - it's so BOLD I'm not entirely sure if this is the right category) and the other is pretty dark contemporary*. What did they teach me? That there are so many amazing books out there that I otherwise wouldn't have tried because they aren't 'my usual type of book'. They also taught me some writer-type things.

I have a couple of characters bouncing around in my head, and before reading these books I couldn't find their story. I've hammered out so many drafts, and scrapped each one in frustration. Why? These characters have a darker story to tell than I normally write, and I didn't appreciate that until now. The book won't be anything like the books I've just read, to be clear, but the point is I wouldn't have known what was missing without opening myself up to new reading experiences. How to explore themes and characters that don't have their HEA. How to capture deep, dark feelings and do them justice.

This doesn't mean I'll stop writing my usual style of fantasy by any means. It isn't always 'happy', but it isn't particularly dark. But now, I'm open to exploring new dimensions in my writing. All thanks to a simple little step outside my comfort zone.

If it isn't clear by now, lol, I HIGHLY recommend you read outside your normal spectrum. You'll learn so much in the process, and might find some unexpected gems to love.

*If you're curious, the books I'm referring to are ONLY EVER YOURS by Louise O'Neill, and FORBIDDEN by Tabitha Suzuma. They aren't easy reads by any means and they will NOT be for everyone, but they are amazing. Just saying.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Writing a Query and Synopsis Before Drafting

Let me start by saying that this is how I feel when I know it's time to write a query or synopsis:

BUT, as all writers know, they are a necessary evil. I've always attempted to draft a synopsis before tackling the first draft - it helps keep me focused on the major plot points, and I can identify any fatal structural problems before I begin. One time I also drafted my query before writing, but it was for a WIP I have for the moment lost interest in. However, I am totally in favour of attempting both a synopsis and query before drafting.

Right now, I'm in the middle of a rewrite. I originally *hoped* this latest manuscript wouldn't need it, but I can't deny my 'writery' instinct. It needs work. Substantial structural changes, in fact. It has the right heart, but it lacks...too many other things. So I decided I was going to get serious about keeping myself on track. I took the bold step of writing a synopsis of all the major plot points, which I'm filling in with other developments as I draft. I have a timeline, and also all of my major plot and character arcs written down. And as much as I hate writing them, I spent quite a bit of time drafting a query letter. It's by no means perfect - I am definitely not the best at queries - but it serves a really important purpose.

It's keeping me interested in what I'm writing. I actually love my new query. It'll no doubt get ripped apart and stitched back together when I start getting it critiqued, but all the elements that make me love this manuscript are in it. Rewriting is draining, and it would be easier to shelve this manuscript and turn my hand to any one of the other little plot bunnies harassing my brain. But I don't want to do that now.

So whenever I get stuck on a scene, or have a moment of weakness, I can look back at the query and think YES. This is why I want to tell this story, and I WILL tell it. I also have an - admittedly flaky - pitch crafted, which I can tweak and polish as I go. When this manuscript is ready to query, I already have the foundations for my submission package.

Give it a go - cramming a 60-100k manuscript into a little query and synopsis is far less daunting when your mind isn't cluttered by what you've drafted. Write down the core of your book, remind yourself of it constantly, and you won't forget it even when you're drowning in subplots and line edits ;)

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

2015 Goals

A (very) belated Happy New Year, everyone! Since this is my first post of 2015, it's only fitting that I should start with some goals for the year.

1) Query The Maid and the Crimson Blade

So I'm redrafting the query for this manuscript from scratch, and suffice to say it could well be THE END OF ME. Why is it so hard to write these things?! Crafting one of these babies is harder than writing the manuscript itself. It's safe to say I probably wasn't doing it right with my previous manuscript. However, I won't let this beast of a query beat me. I'll wrestle it into submission, and send it out into the world. And HOPEFULLY, someone will love my project. Hopefully.

2) Find time to read more books

Seriously, there are so many awesome books coming out this year that I don't even know how I'll fit them all in. I am most excited about Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, the fourth Throne of Glass book by Sarah J. Maas, and The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker. There are too many others to name, but I'll definitely be finding the time to read as many as I can. It's easy to get caught up in writing and forget to feed the muse.

3) Exercise more

I spend a lot of time huddled over my laptop, and I don't get up to stretch nearly enough. But since the start of the month, I've been making a conscious effort to do some kind of exercise every day. It's working out so far, but it IS only the 13th of January...

4) Draft something new

I brainstormed a new project the other day, and I'm keen to get started on it. But, I like to take the time to get a feel for characters before I start writing, so I'll chip away at an outline once I'm ready to query my current manuscript. I like to immerse myself in one project at a time, so the plot bunnies are going to have to sit tight for a while! And I drafted three manuscripts last year, two towards the end of the year, so I need time to recharge.

5) Never forget why I'm doing this

Editing a book into competitive shape is seriously tough. Writing a compelling query and synopsis is even harder. There's every chance that even when everything is as good as I can make it, no one will be interested in taking this project on. I won't lie, I'm...scared about querying this manuscript for some reason. I haven't felt like this before, so I've got no idea what it means. So, I'm trying to focus on how happy writing makes me, whether or not anyone offers representation.

And maybe, one day, someone will.

Here's to a happy and fulfilling 2015, everyone!