My truths regarding writing a novel

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I’ve always been a good thinker. And by thinker, I mean I’m good at reflection. I’m introspective. Always have been. Give me an hour and a quiet room and I can sort out all of my problems—or at least understand them. So, call me what you will, but as I sat down to write this blog post, I couldn’t help but reflect on my past year as a writer. Blame it on Thanksgiving, but I’ve made some big revelations this year, stumbled onto some major truths, and I’m thankful for them, as challenging as they have been.

Truth: Writing a novel is hard. Really, really hard. I always knew this, of course. I’ve heard it a thousand times. But this year, the words became true. Writing a novel, especially your first novel, is isolating. It’s masochistic. It’s vulnerable. And it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. Maybe you’re not like me; maybe your story rushed from your mind and fingertips like an avalanche. I hope this true. But maybe you are like me. And just maybe, translating your story, your characters, and your world onto a keyboard takes more physical energy and comes with more self-doubt than you ever dreamed it would.

Yesterday evening, I grabbed coffee with a friend, and I spent a majority of the conversation rambling on about how difficult writing has been for me. She poised her lips and asked, “Then why do it?” It’s a fair question. Without hesitation I responded, “I have to.” She misunderstood and asked if it was because I needed to finish what I started, out of a sense of duty. I shook my head. “No, I have to write it. I have to write this story. It’s in me. And I have to write it.”

Because here’s another truth: The thought of abandoning my story makes me feel physically ill. My stomach clenches like I’m going through turbulence. As much as writing makes me want to cry, or pull my hair out, or simply give up because the colossal effort of writing a complex, compelling, and inspiriting story makes Atlas’s task of holding up the world look like recess, I love it. I love writing. I love my story. I laugh at the stupid things my characters say, I smile just thinking about their happy endings even though I haven’t written them yet, and I dance when a left-field epiphany gets them out of a metaphorical pit. I’m creating something I find beautiful, something made of equal parts love and hate.

And it’s not just this novel. I’ve got others buried in this brain, other characters that don’t even have names yet, but I know they have a story to tell. And I must be the one to tell it.

So here’s my final truth, my final reflection, my final confession: I have no idea what I’m doing. Yet I know I can’t let that stop me. I must forge through this night and then the next one, blindly, but forward nonetheless. A writer I admire once used this metaphor: Writing a novel is like building a skyscraper. First there’s an idea, then blueprints, a foundation, a skeletal structure, floor upon floor, walls and ceilings, electricity and plumbing and doorways and windows, then paint, carpet, chandeliers, and pictures hung in wooden frames. And the effort to build this marvel takes months or years, it takes cranes and saws and all other manor of tools and supplies I don’t and can’t comprehend. It doesn’t suddenly just exist, ready and beaming in the morning light. It grows. Ugly at times, but it grows. And I have to believe that, eventually, it will stand on its own. A creation. A story. Whole. True. And mine.

5 Ways to Stay Sane During NaNoWriMo

image via nanowrimo.org

It’s everywhere. NaNoWriMo has begun. Something about this month makes me both excited and terrified. Excited, because I could write  anything; someone I know could write anything! Terrified, because it’s yet another commitment, another possibility to fail.

But  NaNoWriMo is meant to be a time of inspiration and opportunity! Instead, it’s sometimes the beginning of that slippery slope into slight insanity.  So, whether you decide to participate or not, here are just a few ways to stay sane this November.


1. Do an hours assessment
Whether you’re participating in NaNoWriMo or not, it’s still so helpful to know where your hours are going. It’s simple. Add up the hours you spend on work, other commitments and daily activities, then see what’s left.  If you’re participating and you’re left with just a few hours before bed, you may want to consider waking up an hour earlier to write or dropping a commitment for a month. If you’re not participating, now is the perfect time to see what time-slots in your week you can set aside to write anyway.

2. Eat, sleep and do other things
It’s so vital to have a life beyond work and writing. How is writing informed by culture if you are not interacting socially? How is your mind sharp if your brain is parched for real, non-drive-through food? Sleep is a huge one. If you find yourself writing best during those wee-morning hours, then find another time to catch up on the zzz’s, preferably in the same week that the hours were lost. Let’s be real, as writers, we’re weird enough. We don’t need to be walking around hangry, sleep-deprived and socially-inept.

3. Use the resources
NaNoWriMo has tons of resources out there for their participants. Don’t be the closet writer. Sign-up, join the conversations and listen to the writer ‘pep talks’. You’re basically running a marathon, one word at a time, and who does something that crazy alone?! Look to those next to you for support. Let yourself feel the mystic awesomeness of doing something BIG alongside of fellow writers from around the world.

4. Stay focused
November is a crazy month as it is. Holiday shopping, Thanksgiving get-togethers and prep for the colder months to come. But if you decide to do NaNoWriMo, you’re going to have to force yourself to stay focused. Again, you still need to be human (eat, sleep, see people from time to time) but you can’t let other commitments and worries clog up your brain. Keep your eyes on the prize.

5. Don’t self-critique
Honestly, there is just not time for this nonsense. In all reality, unless you’ve been bitten by the creative bug or dreamed an entire novel one night, it will probably take you the majority of the month to simply write the thing. So keep your fingers to the keyboard and save the self-critique for December. You’ll most certainly need to re-visit what you wrote, but your goal this month is simple: write a novel!

image credit via nanowrimo.org

Stop and Save

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Warning: This post is silly.

Earlier this month, I had the immense honor of attending the first ever NerdCon: Stories—a two day writing conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota featuring some of my favorite, young adult writers.

There were panels, there were signings, there were famous authors reading their adolescent and angst-filled stories and poems, and there were drag races. Yes, drag races where our beloved John Green caught fire! If you don’t believe me, see my tweet (pictured) or Google because it happened.

And, while I was watching John Green’s car burn (twice), I thought, It’s a good thing he saves his work*. Let me rewind the day’s events.

Earlier that afternoon, I sat in on the “Nerdfighter Q&A” panel featuring John Green, his brother, Hank Green, and the hilarious and intelligent Maureen Johnson as their moderator. Between laughs and John locking Hank out of his own iPhone, brother-style, an audience member asked how Hank’s book was coming along, and he replied (and I paraphrase), “It’s going well. That is, if I can get the book off my broken laptop.”

“Wait,” Paraphrased-Maureen-and-John said, aghast, “you didn’t back up your book?”

That’s right, folks. Hank Green—the Internet mogul, video blogger, curator of NerdCon, brother of very famous writer, general man of mystery—didn’t save his work.

To be fair to Mr. Green, he was writing using writing software; however, he didn’t back up said software.

Luckily for Hank and the world, it looks like he’ll be able to retrieve the book from the incapable laptop with the help of geniuses. Yet, I think there is a lesson here, and that lesson is simple: Save your work.

Personally, I thought this was a very obvious thing that everyone knew in 2015, but if a man who shares DNA with John Green forgot to do it, perhaps there are others out there making the same mistake.

So, how do you save your work? No, I’m not going to talk you through how to save a file (Step one: click the floppy disk; Step two: if you don’t know what a floppy disk is, Google). Instead, I’m going to link to a slew of programs and tools for writers to help you write and save your work. And then I’m going to remind you to back up your files, so consider yourself reminded.

I would provide a lesson on these tools, but that would make me a total hypocrite, as I don’t use them. I’m super old fashioned; I still use Microsoft Word and save the docs to my email. But before you judge, know this: THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT JOHN GREEN DOES (he said so in the panel), and any comparison to John Green is just fine with me.

So, happy writing, friends. But more importantly, happy saving.

 

*Actual thoughts were: 1) He can’t die! He’s got too much writing left in him! 2) WAIT, DOES HE KNOW HE’S ON FIRE?! 3) Some curse words I can’t say on this blog because wholesomeness.

5 Tips for a Great Relationship with Your Freelance Editor

reaching outSo you’ve decided to work with a freelance editor on your book. Congratulations on taking the leap! If all goes well, you’ll wind up with not only a stronger manuscript and cleaner writing but also with a long-term partner for your current and future projects.

How do you make sure all goes well? Even if you’ve checked the editor’s experience, abilities, and compatibility for your project, how can you take that relationship from good to great? While relationships are two-sided and will also require some effort on the editor’s part, there are several constructive things you can do as you interact with your editor.

  1. Understand the terms ahead of time.

Misunderstandings are a huge strain on the writer-editor relationship, so do your part to make sure they don’t happen. Read the editor’s website and contract carefully before entering into an agreement. If they say something is required, it’s required. If they don’t say they’ll do specific tasks for you, like ghostwriting or formatting, that means they probably don’t do those parts of the process.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions ahead of time to make sure you’re on the same page. Your editor will be happy to clarify their policies, and you’ll get the chance to ask for your specific needs to be met and make sure they’re possible and expected.

  1. If you need more work done, pay more.

At the beginning of the editing job, you and your editor will agree on a specific price for a specific amount of work, whether that’s an hourly or flat rate. If, after the editor completes the work, you decide you need a little more advice or edits of updated portions of the book, don’t ask them to work pro bono on those extra hours. Some editors will allow for multiple rounds of revision or coaching, but remember point #1: you need to make sure it’s in the terms of your agreement ahead of time.

A good editor loves their job and wants to give you the best possible value on the work you’re paying them to do. Don’t stress them out by forcing them to choose between having to tell you “no” and losing work time that they could have put on the clock elsewhere.

  1. Trust your editor’s advice.

Ideally, you took the time to check out your editor’s credentials before you hired them. Do they have proper training and knowledge to help develop your book? Do they understand grammar, punctuation, and the specifics of a style manual well enough to give you a quality copyedit? Did you talk with them about your project and get a sample edit done to make sure they can deliver what they said they’ll deliver? If so, trust that they know what they’re doing.

One of the more frustrating things that happens to an editor is that an author hires them to improve their book and then doesn’t let them actually improve it. If your editor says the organization of your chapters isn’t clear, don’t tell them it’s “good enough” just because you don’t want to change it. Ask questions. Learn. Understand what they see, and then decide how to make use of it. In the same way, if you know they understand their style manual, don’t flip out at their corrections of your comma usage or parallelism. If something sounds strange, ask—a good editor will be able to point you to the rules they’re following.

You hired this editor because you believe they’re an expert; trust them to truly be that expert.

  1. Don’t make demands.

You retain all rights to your book; your editor retains all rights to their own time and processes. You’re coming to them as a client, not as an employer, so what you’re paying for is a service, not the right to be their boss. If there is a certain way you would like things done, it’s important to—you guessed it—mention it ahead of time! Good freelance editors are a friendly, helpful bunch on the whole, so there’s a fair chance they can work it in.

If they tell you “no” because something you’re hoping for goes against their policies or procedures, don’t conclude that they’re being unreasonable. They’re just doing what’s best for their business and clients as a whole, and a client who tells them how to do what they do isn’t going to help anything—or get any results. If it’s vital to you to find an editor who will chat via phone or edit using a specific program, don’t get upset at the ones who don’t—they’re not doing anything wrong. Simply look for one who does.

  1. Share your vision.

Why does your editor do what they do? If you’re not sure, ask them—they’ll likely be excited to share their passion. What you’ll discover in most good freelancers is a love for story and language and a commitment to come alongside authors to make their work the best it can be.

We want to partner with you! As you begin a job with an editor, whether they’re coaching you on your story or copyediting your late draft, share your vision. Tell your editor why you’re writing what you’re writing, what excites you about it, and how you picture the end result. Your love for and your commitment to your project will be contagious, and once your editor catches that vision and excitement, your book will have gained a partner for life.

It’s a relationship.

The way a writer and their editor interact is a relationship, and like all relationships, a strong one takes time and effort. When you put the time into sharing your vision, respecting your editor’s time and knowledge, and double-checking expectations ahead of time, that effort won’t go unnoticed.

As a freelance editor, if I see you acting that way as a writer, I’m going to return your respect and commitment to this partnership. I will answer your questions, get excited about your book, cut no corners in the advice and corrections I give you, and do my best to make the process smooth and convenient for you.

Your book is your baby, and a good editor is going to come alongside you to help it grow into a strong, healthy manuscript. To build up the writer-editor relationship from good to great, encourage an environment of trust and respect by implementing the five tips above. Your editor, if they’re worth anything at all, will reciprocate with their own time and attention. There will be much less stress in the process, and both you and your editor will be happier and healthier for it.

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