Prioritizing and setting goals (when you’re a writing overachiever)

Shhh…. baby’s napping, let’s see if I can finally pound out a blog post for the first time in like nine months.

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Crap. In the time it took to figure out WordPress doesn’t like Google Chrome for uploading GIFs, she woke up ūüėõ

No, but seriously, it’s been a crazy, stressful, life-changing year on pretty much every front, all positive, but stressful none-the-less.

Here goes….

Last July, I had the amazing opportunity to return to¬†Belfast, the setting for Hooligans in Shining Armour, for some¬†targeted setting and cultural research. And also to meet¬†my Belfast editor/linguistic consultant, who’s amazing by the way <3.

 

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(the gate in the peace wall between the Falls and the Shankill in Belfast.  It closes every night)

After this, I was able to finish revising Hooligans based on the first round of round one of developmental feedback from my amazing agent, Claire Anderson-Wheeler from Regal Hoffman & Associates. I sent it off to her about seven month pregnant then started back working for the fall (I work in the schools).

She got back to me with feedback in about 6 weeks–five and a half pages of further developmental edits.

I had my beautiful daughter, Norah, on October 21st, and returned to working full-time in the schools in January, while slowly, very slowly, started tackling re-writing my entire novel. Because, goals and conflict.

After looking at over a hundred houses, my husband and I finally found and purchased a new house! We moved in May, and we’re mostly (kind of) settled.

And now my family had the amazing opportunity to do some traveling to Iceland, the Republic of Ireland and (per husband request) Northern Ireland.

So where does that leave me?

Understanding the importance of priorities and setting realistic goals around writing. Which is especially hard when I’m an overachiever by nature. I want things to be perfect, and, especially with Hooligans, I want to be DONE. (I’ve been working on this one for nearly four years!) So I need to step back, be patient with myself, and think objectively.

I’m work in the schools, so I don’t (technically) return to work until the end of August, though obviously will have tons of prep work. That means I get to spend loads of time with Norah ūüôā And I’m hoping to re-dedicate myself to my secondary career as a writer. During the school year, blogging, engaging people on Twitter,¬†attending writer’s conferences, and critiquing all fell by the wayside.

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Because priorities. Because in my mythical free time while Norah’s sleeping, writing Hooligans was most important. But both are important pieces in continuing my career as a writer.

I’ve just finished the fourth round of revisions on Hooligans and it’s so close! I’m LOVING it now and am so thankful I have an agent that believes in my characters enough to push me this hard.

For me, naming my realistic goals helps them become real, breathing things. So here goes:

  1. Finish one final revision of Hooligans, then send to my amazing far-flung crit buddies.
  2. Based on CP feedback, revise and send the next chunk of Hooligans to my agent.
  3. Blog once a week in the hopes of rebuilding my social media presence, which has taken a serious hit. Write and schedule posts for during the school year as well, hopefully at least once a month.
  4. While my MS is with CPs, play around with some other novel ideas.

Now that it’s out there on the internet, I have to be patient with myself and do it, right?

Happy writing!

 

 

 

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Tackling structural or developmental edits: Free your mind

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Developmental edits can be daunting, particularly if you may need to take characters or plot in new directions. My agent is challenging me to think differently about both my characters and my plot. I need to get out of my head and think differently. When you’ve been working on an MS for months (or years now, in my case), it can be hard to think differently about those characters that have been living in your brain for so long. Taking plot in a new direction can be such a challenge, because the path has become so ingrained.

One of my personal challenges for this re-write has to do with the way I structured the story. Hooligans in Shining Armour is first person dual POV. One of the things I need to work on is ensuring each character has their own unique external story arc in addition to their growing relationship. Per agent advice, I’m going to treat them as independent stories as much as possible, then weave them together.

Here’s what’s working for me as I try to free my mind and blow up this manuscript with another re-write.

  1. Time, time, time. I sent the last version to my agent at the end of July. I got it back about two weeks ago, which gave my brain almost a two month break. Much needed. During that time, I didn’t think about those characters at all. I worked on another WIP with¬†radically different setting and characters. Now I’m refreshed and¬†eager to get back to the manuscript in question , to explore my beloved characters again, and to detach myself from plot as it is currently written.
  2. Read the feedback…multiple times. The first time I read pages of feedback, it overwhelms my brain. Impossible, it screams. Or it tries to argue. So I read it. Set it aside. Read it the next day. Perhaps take another day, then read again. In the interim, my brain my start working on things, saying “well you could do this” or “she has a point there.” Etc. But I need several days to process it, and I need to read it multiple times for all the pieces to come together. Then I highlight it, pull it apart, copy/paste to connect ideas.
first read through3.¬† Create a new playlist. I create playlists for each manuscript I write because it helps get my brain in gear to capture characters and emotion. I’ve been using the same one for Hooligans for the past two years, so to change my brain, I created a new one. Some of the same songs, yes, but I got rid of a bunch and added some new ones.
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4. Organize my life. And by that, I mean I created a binder with tabs for research, agent feedback, and–perhaps most importantly–separate tabs for each POV character so my brain thinks of them as separate, yet connected, stories.
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5.¬† Get out of¬† my space. My brain works differently when I’m not in my house distracted by chores, dogs, husband :P. I have a favorite coffee shop I like to escape to that allows my brain to free itself. Even on the drive over (while listening to my new playlist), my brain is working.
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6.¬† Free write.¬†I’m taking the¬†bits of feedback I need to process and just freewriting my thoughts on them.¬†Sometimes I start writing new scene or dialogue. It’s amazing what that unlocks in my subconscious.¬†The¬†direction my brain¬†goes often surprises me. Even on the drive over (while listening to my new playlist), my subconscious starts unlocking pieces and¬†finding new potential paths through.
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7. Go back and read the feedback again. This time I tear it apart, try to pick out major trends, lump ideas together, select what’s an easily actionable item versus what do I need to do more free writing on. The feedback looks and feels different now, and I pick up on things I missed the first times I read through it. Then more free writing. I start firing questions at my agent or critique partner to see what they think.
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These are a few of the steps I take to get my brain primed for the hard work of tackling intense structural or developmental edits. Then I’m ready to dig in and do the hard thinking. I’m so excited to delve in and explore these characters in new ways.

Writer friends, what first steps do you take to prime your brain for major structural or developmental edits? To prepare yourself for a huge re-write?

Tackling those overwhelming developmental edits

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(Me on top of Mount Oberon, Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria, Australia)

I’m about to embark on an epic writing quest. Yet again. I got the second round of developmental edits from my agent Claire. The first round was nine and a half pages single-spaced. After six months of re-writing the first 2/3s of the manuscript, working closely with a cultural consultant, and another trip to Belfast, I sent my agent my manuscript at the end of July. For those of you in the query trenches hoping to get an agent, waiting and waiting to hear anything, once you get an agent…you still do lots of waiting. When you eventually go on submission (agent sends your manuscript to editors at publishing houses), you do even more waiting.

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Because you’re not done with that novel most likely. It takes time and lots of support¬†to sculpt a masterpiece; your agent should be your much wiser, more experienced partner-in-crime. Time very well spent for me so far.

Anyway, last week, I got my second edit letter. It was¬†only five and a half pages this time…of more developmental edits.

Fainting-GIFAgents have different styles. This is important information in case you ever do get “the Call,” i.e. an agent wants to offer you representation. Some agents want to get your stuff out on submission as quickly as possible. Their philosophy may be, let‚Äôs test the waters and see if we get any bites, tweak as we go. At the same time, you only get one shot to submit to each editor. But there‚Äôs always the next book, right?

Some consider themselves ‚Äúeditorial,‚ÄĚ such as my agent, Claire. They want your novel to be polished and perfected before it lands on the desks of editors of major publishing houses. For me, this means I still have a lot of work to do. And while part of me just wants to get it out there and see what happens after the two years I’ve spent on it, I want it to be the best it possibly can be. I absolutely trust Claire to guide me there.

Anyway, whether it’s from an amazing critique partner or an agent, getting intense, mentally challenging feedback like this can feel a bit overwhelming, especially when you’ve been working on something for awhile. It’s easy to just dismiss it, but my agent has been right about everything so far. Some of it wasn’t a huge shock, because one of my CPs did mention it before. Eek. So I took a few days to let it simmer, and now I’m working on unpacking it.

I’ll be blowing up Hooligans in Shining Armour yet again: digging into character needs and goals, delving into character relationships, unpacking secondary characters’ motivations and feelings, re-plotting both main characters’ story arcs, writing new first chapters (I don’t know how many times I’ve THOUGHT I was done but here’s one time), cutting from the ending because the climax happens at about 75% and should be 90%. Basically re-writing the whole thing most likely.

But as I said in my last post:

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Wherever you are in the writing process, whether prepping for your first NaNoWriMo, in the query trenches, or working through line edits with an editor at a publishing house….

One foot in front of the other.

When it comes to becoming a successful writer…

Attitude is everything 2

So the picture featured in my little inspirational poster above was taken on the Routeburn Track on the South Island of New Zealand. My husband and I decided to try out for real backpacking through mountain passes for the first time while we were there. We embarked on a three day hike which started on a nice, warm sunny day through some mossy woods.

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And quickly turned into three days of straight rain and snow and cold. Thank GOD we packed for it.

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I may or may not have almost fallen off a narrow cliff path and plunged to my death. Our tent may or may not have almost been washed away during a torrential rainstorm that flooded the waterfalls and actually closed the trails just after we finished. I may have also had to climb up a spontaneous waterfall to get out.

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And this was not the worst part of the washed-out trail:

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But¬†we lived. And it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I learned I’m a bit braver and tougher than I thought. One foot in front of the other, that’s what I kept telling myself. I’d do the whole thing again in a heartbeat.

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Okay, so what does any of this have to do with writing? In my humble opinion a lot. Attitude, persistence, realistic expectations, and a lot of hard work, that’s what it takes to make it as a writer. A lot of near falls and unexpected twists and dead ends and bitter disappointments that push you to be stronger rather than give up. It is a long journey to be traditionally published.

Landing an agent is such an exciting thing for an author. Like feels miraculous. And kind of is, given the odds of even getting a request for more while drowning in the slush pile. When I was picked by Claire Anderson-Wheeler of Regal Hoffman, like, I can’t even….

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(What can I say, I’m a Packer fan and it’s game day)

Here’s that story (and a brief synopsis of the work it took to get me there). Preview: I sent my first query letter for a 200,000 monstrosity like 6 years ago…. I’ve come a long way.

Now for those of us who’ve been in the heart-wrenching, barren wasteland that is the query trenches…..

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Okay, that was melodramatic. Though that‚Äôs how it felt to me before I sprouted my armor and started looking at the whole thing like the business that it is. If I hadn‚Äôt repeatedly picked myself up and dusted myself off, wrote more books and developed my craft–kept putting one foot in front of the other–I would have given up after my first 20 rejections.

When I started working with Claire, it really hit me. I knew TONS about how to query, but nothing about what to expect after getting an agent. I’ve learned since then, but here’s a preview. My journey is just beginning, even after I finished my first round of feedback. I have a lot left to do, a lot of tough feedback to work through,¬†before Hooligans is even ready to go on submission to editors of publishing houses. And then there will be a lot more waiting and rejections.

I have my work cut out for me, but I know¬†Hooligans¬†will be the best it can be thanks to Claire’s wise guidance.

One foot in front of the other.

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Hey, writer friends, ever had this sweet, sweet moment…

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Backstory: Sent Hooligans to my agent a week ago. Yesterday officially switched back to a manuscript I’m working on collaboratively with a friend (tentatively called Rafa & Rose), which has been set to the side for five months.

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My brain woke me up at about 4:30 am this morning with ideas for something I’ve been playing around with since I was twelve. And by “playing around with,” I mean it’s one of the generally plotless 200,000+ word monstrosities that were my first attempts at writing a novel.

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No, I did not write¬†that much¬†at twelve, I swear. That came much later. Anyway, years and many, many, many writing lessons later… I got ideas for some new takes on the characters and actual plot last winter, then played around with writing a few scenes to see what happened. Last night I rented just a terrible horror movie that I had to stop watching because it was just…so…bad. Watched several episodes of Intervention to research the effects of meth addiction for Rafa & Rose. Then got a bit bored, so I opened up the scenes I’d written in like January.

4:30 a.m. Brainsplosion of ideas for plot. Like really good ideas, even a potential title. And now I’m torn. What do I work on? What I’ll probably do is work on both simultaneously. When it comes to writing, I tend to follow my brain, mostly because I don’t want to lose that passion. Unless I absolutely have to finish editing something to meet a deadline, of course.

Writer friends, what do you do when inspiration for a new WIP lightning-bolts you? Do you force yourself to finish the current WIP or follow your brain?