EGO is not for editing

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I’ve seen a lot of authors struggle for years to get their books out into the world, and something that many of them have in common, is the unwillingness to accept critiques. There are a million reasons under the sun to keep something in your story the way you want to keep it, but when dealing with critique partners or editors? Check the ego. Listen. Give each comment some serious thought – the comment could be a sign of a completely different issue with your book. And you’re not going to move your writing forward by arguing.

SO, FIRST:

A look at receiving critiques from reading partners and editors.

I’d like to start off by saying that only in very rare cases should your crit group do anything more than give you general story notes. I no longer ask my readers to do anything but get big picture stuff. If I want line notes, I need to pay for that stuff, or work out a trade with a pro.

  1. Keep emotions OUT of feedback and your acceptance of feedback. Even though, when you’re getting started, a critique or suggestion on a character or a situation in your novel, feels like a critique on your brain, it is NOT. Remove yourself from your story.
  2. Nod and smile. When someone says – “I don’t get why your character did X.” You make a note of that. You can tell your reader why, but don’t argue. They have an opinion. You may disagree, but keep note of your disagreement and move on. I’ve talked people through all sorts of critiques, covers, novels, short stories, blog posts… And the worst is when they ask for my opinion and then argue when I give it to them. That means they’re not going to take my suggestion (WHICH IS FINE), but it also means that the crit was pointless for both of us. A waste of my time and theirs.
  3. Ask questions. And remember, the more specific you are, the better feedback you’ll get. When I disagree with something a reader says, instead of arguing my point, I ask questions AROUND that, which gives me insight into their thoughts.
  4. Don’t send out your writing if all you want is for people to tell you how awesome you are. You’re wasting their time if you’re not willing to really listen to their critique. If you do need that ego-stroke, be up front 😉 And obviously, when you’ve hired an editor, expect your project to bleed with notes.
  5. Sometimes seemingly big problems can be solved with simple things, and some seemingly simple things require big fixes. Keep that in mind as you ponder the notes and comments.
  6. If you’re confused about things your reader has told you, ask for a phone chat–sometimes talking things out make you understand better WHERE their notes come from. If you’re confused by a note from your editor, ASK. If you come back with a retort or an argument, you’re not going to make your project better, you’re just going to create an argument.
  7. The longer I write, the bigger believer I am in this – if you don’t have one lightbulb moment after another while reading your critique notes, don’t jump back in to your MS. You won’t be able to really see what needs to be done. You will do a patch job of a revision, and that’s not good enough.
  8. WAIT FOR IT (all of you who started singing, I love you). Wait for inspiration (if you can). Wait for the changes to feel good. Wait for every decision from every character to feel natural to the story that you want to tell.
  9. ALWAYS TELL YOUR READERS AND EDITORS THANK YOU!!! I don’t care if you don’t use one thing they suggest. Their time is worth your thanks.

 

So, there you have it. Check the ego when revising. Don’t argue. Ponder. Consider. Move forward.

HAPPY REVISING!!

~ Jo

Spreading Writerly Wings

2016 was  a year of experimentation for me, writing and publishing wise. (yes, this post is a bit of a ME post…)

  1. I’ve branched into new areas of publishing by interning for a literary agency I have massive amounts of respect for. Yes, I’m doing this specifically to become a lit agent, but I’m taking my time, which is very unlike me.
  2. I finished my first MG novel.
  3. I wrote my first horror novel.
  4. I turned a historical I wrote 5 years ago into a romantic suspense, something I’d have NEVER taken the time to do if I hadn’t forced myself to keep these characters on my computer.
  5. I read books of ALLLL genres. Non-fic. Fiction. Historical. Magical. MG, Picture, YA, Adult…
  6. I said YES when asked to co-chair the Storymakers Conference.
  7. I’ve talked multiple authors through their WIPs.
  8. I’ve followed book sales closer than I ever have.

Even some of the simple things were harder than I imagined. Taking what I know about writing and shifting those things into different genres felt a bit like learning to ride a bike all over again – some things were there, and some things made me feel like a bumbling idiot. It’s ok. I’ve always believed that we should do at least one thing a year that makes us feel like a kid again – and not in the good way 😉

In a conversation about drafting, Kim Vanderhorst came up with this little gem:

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I’ve learned a few things:

I can do hard things. I mean, I already knew this, but I don’t think we can be reminded enough.

Not everything (writing related) translates between genres, but SO much does.

I can write bigger things than I imagined. DON’T BE SCARED OF THAT PROJECT YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO WRITE.

The importance of reading across genres. I knew this before, but now I KNOWWWW this.

Character is still key for me in finding motivation to finish something, and the more I talk to writerly friends, the more I see that everyone has that KEY thing to help them finish projects. Find yours.

I love, LOVE, LOVE talking authors through publication problems, careers, contract issues, and doing my best to work plotmajik – even more than I thought I would. (WHY is this so much easier to do for someone else?)

Whether or not I find homes for my new projects/genres doesn’t matter. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe in wasted words. I’ve learned SO much about myself. I’ve gained new levels of writerly confidence, and felt new levels of hopelessness, wondering if I’ll ever be as good as I want to be.

The most important thing I’ve learned? Keep pushing, keep learning, keep moving forward.

Anyone else try something new last year?

~ Jo

P.S. Is it weird that I’m kinda excited for 2020 just because I think it’ll be fun to write and type?

 

Questions: THE BIG PICTURE

I don’t care if you use these before you start to write, or if you’re like me, and you puke out a first draft before you know what your book is about, but here are a few BIG PICTURE QUESTIONS to help your WIP. Or a project you’re just beginning. Or something you’ve been thinking about writing for a while. Or if you’ve been trying to sell your novel, and an agent or publisher hasn’t picked it up…

  1. What are books that are similar (ish) to mine, and what made them great?
  2. Does my book have some/any of those traits? Or my version of those traits?
  3. What are the traits of characters I’ve read and loved, and which of those traits do I want my MC to have?
  4. What do I love about my character? What do I not love so much?
  5. How do I want readers to feel at the end of my book?
  6. Am I being too nice to my characters?
  7. Am I being too mean?
  8. Is there a “theme” or a level of understanding, or a concept that I’d love for readers to pull from my book?
  9. Now that I have a rough draft AND/OR a loose outline, does my novel start in the right place?
  10. Does it really?
  11. Am I playing on my MC’s worst fears?
  12. Have I taken a trope or an idea or a situation and made it TOO familiar?
  13. Am I using stereotypes (too much)?
  14. Would my MC choose something different at the end of the novel than at the beginning? HOW DID THE EVENTS OF THE BOOK CHANGE THEM?
  15. Does my general idea have good flow? (I actually find Snyder’s Beat Sheet not as helpful as snowflake method. FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. (BEAT SHEET and SNOWFLAKE – if you’re curious)
  16. Can I summarize my book in one simple sentence? (if you’re having a hard time, try a favorite book or movie, and then go back to your project. If you still can’t… might need to tighten that idea)

Wanna add something? PLEASE PLEASE DO!!

And now for one of my fav-ever writing quotes:

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Now. Go forth and WRITE!

~ Jo

Crash and BURN

There’s a lot to learn from crashing and burning.

A lot.

2016 was the year of stretching my writerly wings. That means I fell down. A lot. And with the snail pace of publishing, I won’t know if I have a “success” for a while, but being able to put something NEW on submission? That feels pretty great too.

For whoever is interested, here’s what I played with: MG contemporary – soooo many – MG w/ a twist of magic – MG urban fantasy – YA horror – more than one – YA thriller/horror – more than one – YA psychological thriller – Adult historical romance – several – Adult historical romance w/ a supernatural twist – Adult historical w/ a mystery – Adult contemporary romance

I totally failed with a few of my “wing-stretching” projects – even though I completed them. I crashed and burned with others by chapter 4. And even more after 1 or 2 chapters. Some started as an idea, and once I began fleshing out that idea, I dropped them. They died before I got started.

THIS IS OKAY. All of this is okay.

So  much of the learning process of writing is trial and error. There will be something from each of those that I can take to another project – a character, a scene, an idea, a setting…

There was not one wasted word in there.

Ok.

Lie.

There were wasted words that don’t belong, like JUST (holy crap when will I stop this?) but really. NO WASTED WORDS. I’ve blogged about that HERE.

The thing is, even if all I did was go back to writing YA contemporary (and there’s exactly NOTHING wrong with that), I’d still have learned more about putting difficult stories together, and more about putting characters together and more about WRITING than I did before. And I had FUN. And now, I know I can write new things.

Win. Win. Win. Win.

So, there you go. Challenge yourself. Even if your MS ends up being nastier than a pile of bear scat (and it’s nasty stuff), you’ll have learned something new.

~ Jo

P.S. And now I’m gonna share the full cover of the urban fantasy I wrote w/ the awesome Allison Martin of Quirks and Commas, and Makeready Designs:

You can find our generations-long love story on Amazon, HERE.

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Do NOT Apologize for Your Genre

OK. I’m going to keep this simple, because I like simple.

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-3-32-04-pm1. There are people who love reading in every genre. Don’t do them the disrespect of looking down on a genre – even your own.

2. Publishing is HARD. Having novels come out into the world is HARD. The part that should be fun is the writing part. You’re not going to have fun if you’re forcing yourself to write outside of a genre you enjoy.

3. NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR SOMETHING YOU LOVE. That’s like, apologizing for a piece of yourself that you LIKE. WUT? Yeah. Makes no sense.

4. I feel like I sometimes talk to authors who are self-conscious about their genre because they think there’s a stereotype surrounding people who write that genre. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could break a stereotype of authors in a particular genre? OWN IT.

Instead of saying, “I just write…” Say, “I write X, and I LOVE it.”

And that’s all I have to say about that.

~ Jo

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Three Ways to Help Published Friends

A stack of books on a white background.

A stack of books on a white background.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I know I’ve done a post similar to this before, but needs change, the market changes… I change…

OK. Seriously. The super simple list:

  1. Leave a review. Tell your reader friends what a big deal it is for an author to have reviews on book seller sites like Amazon. Books without reviews don’t get noticed. You don’t have to write anything fancy–a sentence or two works just fine.
  2. When you see your friend’s book out in the wild – bookstore, library, bus… Take a pic! Post it! If we didn’t want our writing to be seen, we wouldn’t be publishing our stories 🙂
  3. Request that your local library carry the book. For most libraries, this is super simple and can probably be done online if you have an account with your library.

How simple, right? But all of these things are a really big deal – I don’t care if the author is putting out their first book, their thirtieth book, if they make money, or hardly make any. These are pretty universal little things that we can all do to be killer literary citizens 🙂

Happy Reading!

~ Jo

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There are NO wasted words

 

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-3-09-33-pmI’ve deleted a lot of words.

I’ve left ENTIRE novels to rot on my hard drive.

I’ve re-written some of those “left to rot” novels without opening the original document.

I’ve cut chapters. Words. Characters. Places.

I’ve re-done entire endings. Sometimes more than once.

I’ve re-organized and spend all day deleting and adding and then deleting and then adding… All on my way to some kind of finished product that’s worth seeing the light of day.

You get the idea.

But every word written, every scene, every chapter, every character, every terrible novel that I deleted, re-worked, cut, or left to rot, got me something. Several somethings.

  1. Helped me be a better editor
  2. Gave me a more critical eye when it comes to my own work
  3. Helped me be unafraid to do a REAL revision instead of a patch revision (don’t shift your eyes, I think we’ve all done the “patch” revision instead of the real one – psst, they never work)
  4. Made me know that sometimes words, chapters, characters, threads, plots, should be left alone, and again, helped me be unafraid of starting over, of leaving things behind.

The thing is – as long as we’re writing, we’re moving forward. People don’t start running and then head to a marathon. Every word we write is training. Some of those words stay. Some go. Some ideas stay. Some go. But they ALLLLL help you further your writing goals. They all get you a step closer to a finished product.

So. Next time you’re faced with the awful realization that your fav character doesn’t need to be there, or that one funny scene doesn’t quite fit, or that your book just isn’t… Just isn’t going to sell without a complete re-imagination, I hope you remember that there are no wasted words, just lots of steps that get you to your finished novel.

Happy Editing,

Jo