Archive for writing


Almost There!

I’m so very close to the end of this draft, fewer than 10,000 words to my target word count, and at the point where I more or less know what will happen. That means a couple of days of hunkering down and shutting out the world.

Fortunately, this is the phase where it usually starts to get a little easier because I have some enthusiasm and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m out of the slog of the middle and at the part where things really get exciting.

In this book, I’ve got a few events I’ve been looking forward to writing for a long time, so I hope the execution lives up to my imagination.

For added motivation, next week is music and art camp, so if I don’t finish this week, I’ll have to come home after a morning with small children and try to get the energy to write. If I do finish, I can give myself a low-key week to maybe do some brainstorming and research or work on publicity stuff rather than worrying about trying to get the words out.

I think I need a little time to remind myself that I started out doing this for fun. It’s easy to forget that when you’re in the middle of a book and struggling to keep going in spite of all the other shiny new ideas, or when you see royalty statements and realize how little money you’re making from all this work. Writing was the way I played. Now it’s the way I make a living, but there should still be that sense of play about it.


Making Smarter Villains

I was pretty down on myself about productivity (or lack thereof) yesterday, but I really was kind of stuck. I didn’t like the scene I was working on, and it affected the things that would happen next. As a result, I fell prey to all kinds of distractions.

But I made myself do another round of brainstorming later in the evening, and that was when I realized that none of what I was trying to write really made sense. It fell into the “who would even do that, and why?” category. Meanwhile, a totally new event popped up, and that sent things into a different direction that will be a lot more fun.

So maybe all my distraction yesterday was my brain getting me out of the way so it could think of new stuff. This new stuff is pretty much going to kill a bunch of stuff I’ve already written, so I’m further from the end than I thought, but it’s a lot better.

Funny, I just couldn’t come up with a reason why the bad guys would meet in public to do their nefarious scheming so they could be overheard, even if they were using magic to create a zone of privacy around themselves (that they didn’t know wouldn’t work on a magical immune). I had the good guys meeting privately and being sure not to talk in public, and then the bad guys sitting in a restaurant to scheme. Ugh. So all that has to go, and the heroes have to figure things out some other way.

Villains can be pretty dumb, but it’s a bad idea to build your plot around that. It’s so much more interesting if they’re smart, but with maybe a blind spot or two.


The Best Writing Advice

One good effect of getting rid of cable while also shifting my schedule to being more of an early bird is that I’ve been reading a lot more. And that has reminded me of just how important reading is to being a writer. If you want to write better, read more.

Read the classics in your genre, the works that established the tropes.

Read the recent award winners and bestsellers, so you’ll know what’s currently setting the standards. Read new releases from debut authors so you’ll know what’s been bought recently from authors without a track record. Read the books that are getting a lot of buzz. Seek out things no one is talking about and try to figure out why.

Read outside your genre, especially in genres that cross over with yours. If there’s going to be a love story in what you’re working on, read romance novels. If there’s an action/adventure element, read action/adventure books and thrillers.

Read biographies and memoirs and books about psychology to get a sense of how different kinds of people think and behave.

Read history to get a sense of the patterns of events, actions, and reactions. Also, more about how people think and behave.

Read books about subjects that may come up in the stories you’re writing, such as science, food, textiles, war, diplomacy, revolution, technology, etc.

Read books about writing. Read books about business, marketing, advertising. An author is essentially an entrepreneur, so you’ll need to know these things.

Really, just read. You’re putting words and sentences and ideas into your brain, and it will all be processed for fodder. If you don’t like to read, if all this sounds like too much work, then it will be hard for you to make it as a writer.

For me, one of the best things about being a writer is getting to count time I spend reading as “work.”

writing, My Books

Origins of A Fairy Tale

When talking about summer being my planning time, I realized that I forgot to tell the origin story of my Fairy Tale series. That poor series is my forgotten stepchild. It sells okay, but makes up for that with being in audio and being published in Japan. I just tend to think of it as less successful because it gets about zero buzz. I seldom see people gushing about it online the way I do my other series. And it’s really, really hard to write, for some reason. I never seem to know what one of those books is going to be about until I’ve written a draft — and that’s after doing a fairly detailed plot outline. Entire characters and storylines appear out of nowhere to mess things up. I do plan/hope to write more books in this series, but they’re lower on my priority list at the moment.

A Fairy Tale

I started planning this series in the summer of 2009, so it fits my summer planning/research pattern. I’d had a proposal for a new fantasy series making the rounds earlier in the year, and the rejections I got were along the lines of “we were hoping for something more like Enchanted, Inc.” I had this vague mental image of a woman walking a bulldog down a city street and disappearing into the mist, and I had a character who’d been living in my head since I was in college who had never been quite right for any story I’d written. I’d also done a lot of research into fairy folklore for another project that hadn’t gone anywhere. All those things came crashing together when I woke up in the middle of the night with what ended up becoming Sophie’s first scene in the book, and I realized this could be my “more like Enchanted, Inc.” project. It had some things in common — the small-town Southern girl heroine thrust into a magical world — but was different enough that it wasn’t like I was just writing the same thing over and over again.

I was a bit discouraged about my career at that time, and I decided to make that summer into a boot camp of sorts, devoting a lot of time to reading books on writing craft, working on my writing, and really digging deep into developing this story. Meanwhile, I was researching various aspects of it — reading memoirs of cops to get into the head of one of the characters, reading books about southern women, reading more stuff about fairies and the psychological underpinnings of fairy tales.

In late August, I took a trip to New York to research the settings, and when I got home, I started writing. It actually took me a few years to finish that book because first I got sidetracked by Rebel Mechanics, and then the Japanese publisher asked me for another Enchanted, Inc. book. Between projects, I’d go back to this book and try to rework the ending until I got it right. Alas, when it finally went on the market, the editors didn’t know what to make of it. I was told it was too “romancey,” which is funny because there isn’t actually any romance in it. Characters have feelings, but don’t act on them. I guess they thought that since there were two cases of women meeting men early in the book, it was going to be a romance. If they rejected it for being too romancey for fantasy, they obviously didn’t actually read the whole book. By that time, I’d started self-publishing the Enchanted, Inc. books, so I decided to publish it myself. I guess maybe the publishers were right that there wasn’t a market for those books, but I still love them, as challenging as they are to write.

Now that the situation has been established, I’ve been thinking of transitioning the series to be more of a paranormal cozy mystery series, where Michael gets cases he needs to bring Sophie in on. It would be less about big stuff going on in the fairy world and more about these characters functioning between two worlds as their relationships slowly develop. But I have a few other things I want to get written first.


Problem Scenes

Every book seems to have a problem scene, the one that stalls me out every time. I’ve been struggling with rewriting a scene all week, and it turns out that this was the scene where I put the book on hold previously. It took me three days this week to manage to rewrite it. Now I hope I can move forward.

It’s the big midpoint scene, so that’s part of the issue. And I didn’t get it right the first time, so I had to fix it, and I had to figure out how to fix it.

Of course, it’s just in time for a busy weekend, so whatever momentum I gained may be lost, since I won’t have time to write.

But next week I may be able to finish this draft. Hooray!


The End is Nigh

I think I’ve figured out the ending to this book, but it’s going to require going back through the whole thing to set it up properly. It seems that part of my problem that an event I was trying to squeeze in during the ending really belonged at the middle. Once that’s in the right place, everything flows much better.

And I didn’t have a good sense of the timeline. Putting the events onto a calendar really helped me see what was going on and figure out the timing and pacing. I should have been doing that all along. Someday, I’ll learn. You’d think I’d have all this figured out by now, but even if I got it all together, there would be something new to learn.

So, this week is my buckle down and get to the end of the book week. Hold all my calls and clear my calendar.

Then another project has jumped up and told me it needs to be dealt with. Silly demanding characters. But I guess it’s a good sign if my characters are real enough to me that they can demand attention.


Figuring out the End

Today will be a day of plotting because I hit the end of what I know for sure in the book I’m writing, and my rough outline for the rest of the book no longer applies. I think part of the problem is that the outline was so rough. The big, climactic scene was essentially “and then they do something to expose and stop the bad guys.” Now I’m heading toward that scene, when I have to set it up, and I need to get more specific, but the specifics I already have don’t work with the vague plan I had to set up the big scene.

So today I will be diving into specifics. There will probably be a lot of whining. Maybe some whimpering. I’m sure I’ll write out at least a couple of scene outlines that are essentially “they meet to make plans.”

I knew I was getting into trouble yesterday when half the scenes I was writing were the characters arguing about what to do next without coming to a conclusion — and then I realized this was because I didn’t know what they were going to do next. I suspect many of these scenes will be cut from the final draft. I call that “plotting on paper,” when the way I figure out what the characters will do is to have the characters discuss what they should do. Once I know what they’ll do, I don’t really need the discussion unless there’s something else going on in the scene.

I love the plotting phase at the beginning of a novel when I’m just starting to explore and discover what it’s about. I’m less fond of the plotting phase at the end of the book when I realize that all the stuff I did at the beginning was actually pretty vague and it didn’t flesh out along the way as much as I’d hoped it would.

So, off to figure out how this book should end …


The Not-Ready Project

The good thing about having so many projects competing for mental attention is that if I get stuck on one or just don’t want to deal with it, there’s always something else I could be working on. I finished one phase of one of the projects, then just couldn’t seem to focus on the next one up, so I turned to the one that’s more of a “play” project.

And learned in a rather vivid way that it’s not quite ready for prime time. I created scene cards for each scene I know about and realized that although I have a lot of stuff about this story in my head, almost all of it is backstory. The backstory may end up in the book, since it’s a complete story, in and of itself. I may do it in dramatized flashbacks, a la Lost or Once Upon a Time, and that’s the part where I’m not entirely sure how well it will work. But once I get to the present, I have no idea what will happen. My chronological outline comes to a dead stop at the beginning of the story.

I can still write the backstory bits, and the fun of using Scrivener for this is that I can always rearrange the pieces. Writing the backstory may give me ideas for the present. But this idea definitely requires more development. It will have to remain something I do for fun in my spare time until I’m ready to devote serious headspace to it.

This is an object lesson in dealing with the Shiny New Idea. When you’re in the hard part of a book, any new idea is going to sound really great compared to the thing you’re working on, but if you drop what you’re working on to play with the new idea, you may never finish the thing you’re working on, and you may find that the new idea is just as difficult as the thing you were working on. Then you’ll get another Shiny New Idea, and so on.

I recommend taking a break to write down everything you know about the Shiny New Idea. That way, you’ve captured it so you won’t forget the good stuff. You may get it out of your brain so you can focus. And you’ll see how developed it really is. Usually, you don’t have enough to really start writing an actual book. If you do find it more or less writing itself, then go for it, but that’s pretty rare.


Now, Where Was I?

Yesterday, I reread the part of the book I’d already written and I almost didn’t remember writing any of it. That was good, in a way, since I was able to read it like a reader without knowing where it was going, but it’s bad if I have to write the rest of it and I’m not sure where it’s going.

Fortunately, I have notes about my plans for the book, but when I read them, there was mention of a scene that I could visualize clearly but that wasn’t in the book. I was rather baffled because I could swear I wrote it. I was starting to think that maybe I’d just outlined it, and the outline was so vivid that I felt like I’d written it, but then I got the idea to check my backup drive. I wrote this book on a different computer, and although I was pretty sure I hadn’t written anything after the date of the last file I’d transferred to this computer, there was always a chance I’d written more. There was a little panic behind this because the computer I was writing on has died, but I was pretty good about backing up that hard drive.

And, sure enough, on the backup drive, there was a version a few days older than the one I’d read, and it did have the scene I remembered. Hooray! Thank goodness for backups. And this is why I tend to have overlapping computers, so nothing is really lost if one dies. I guess this means I’ll soon be in the market for a new laptop.

Today, I need to re-outline the book and figure out where I’m really going with it. It’s been a while, so I may have changed my mind.


On to the Next Project

I’m letting the project I’ve been working on rest for a week or so before I give it another pass, which means I’m switching gears to work on something else — a new Enchanted, Inc. book. I got about halfway through it in the fall before life got crazy and I got busy on another project, but I need to get back to it and finish it so it can go out into the world and make my fans happy.

Today I’ll be rereading what I’ve already written so I can remember what it was all about. That’s a little scary because it’s been months, and there’s always a chance that I’ll look at it and go “What was I thinking?” Or I guess I could like it.

After today, I’m planning to do a massive writing binge and make a game out of seeing how fast I can finish a draft. I’m trying to break some bad time-wasting habits I’ve developed, and I hope that if I can make new habits, I can increase my productivity. The idea is that if I spend the summer, when I’m hiding indoors from the heat, diligently writing, then I can enjoy the fall — still working, but making a little more free time.

So, now, back to a book I haven’t looked at in months. I barely remember what the main plot was about, so this should almost be like reading something someone else wrote.