Category: by oll guest

What NaNoWriMo Gave Me as an Author—and a Person

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The road from plotless to polished to published can be long and filled with potholes (and plot holes). But, as NaNo participants continue to prove, it can be traversed. Today, author Christa Avampato shares her story of how she turned an outline into a published book:

In the five years after I
survived an apartment building fire on the Upper West Side of
Manhattan, I sketched the outline of my novel, Emerson Page and Where the Light EntersThat fire was a turning point for me, as a person and as a
writer. It also plays a prominent role in Emerson’s story.

On November 1, 2014,
I set a goal to transform my outline into a 50,000-word first draft
in thirty days as part of NaNoWriMo. It seemed impossible, but I was
constantly encouraged by the supports that NaNoWriMo offers:
webinars, blog posts by authors I admired, writing prompts, social
messages, and special offers for books and tools.

My first draft was
terrible, but I’ve never been prouder of something so awful.

Over the next two
years, I completed a dozen more drafts of Emerson’s story. New
characters, plot lines, and settings emerged. Save for Emerson, the
story was almost unrecognizable two years later. I got
feedback from several close and brutally honest friends. I agonized
over every word. It is the toughest job I ever loved.

“If you are willing to do the hard work of recognizing your wounds, if you write your truth through programs like NaNoWriMo, even if your voice shakes and sputters […] there is so much light that awaits you. ”

Still, Emerson
continued her incessant tap, tap, tapping on my shoulder because it
was time to get her story published. I queried agents, and received
fourteen rejections—and those were just the ones who bothered to respond
at all! One of them, my dream agent, responded with the loveliest
rejection. Twelve were form letters. One particularly prickly agent
responded in less than five minutes with a one word email: No

I’m
not kidding. That actually happened.

I finally found a happy medium when I
began to explore independent publishers. Six months after querying my
first independent publisher, one of them accepted the book. 

When
you launch a book, you launch a brand and a business. I completed
several full edits in 2017 with the assistance of two editors. Then I
hired the artists and art directed the cover art myself. With my MBA
and business experience, I put together a marketing plan, and began
to work that plan every day.

On November 1, 2017,
I became a published author. Emerson left the safety of my care and
ventured out into the world wrapped in paperback and eBook formats on
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in independent bookstores across the
globe. It’s no coincidence that Emerson’s birthday was exactly
three years after I started writing the draft of her story during
NaNoWriMo 2014. 

And on her birthday, I began writing the draft of her
second book as part of NaNoWriMo 2017. That supportive tribe of
fearless writers with impossible goals was there for me again, just
as they were in 2014.

Emerson
and I stand before you as an unfailing reminder that if you are
willing to do the hard work of recognizing your wounds, if you write
your truth through programs like NaNoWriMo, even if your voice shakes
and sputters, if you will honor the cracks in you rather than trying
to spackle them shut, there is so much light that awaits you. 

That’s the greatest lesson that NaNoWriMo and Emerson taught me: that
light will flood your mind, heart, and hands in a way that you never
imagined possible. That light, however small, lives in you now. Your
only job is to fan it into a flame that the whole world can see
through the masterpiece that is your life and your writing. You
matter. Your story matters. It matters so damn much. 

I can’t wait to read
your book.


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Christa
Avampato is
an author, journalist, and business leader in New York City. She
began her career managing Broadway shows, and now works with
performing arts organizations and museums to help them use technology
to grow their audiences. She’s been
an invited speaker on the power of the imagination at
SXSW and Games
for Change.
Her writing has been featured in
The
Washington Post,
Royal Media Partners magazines, PBS.org, HuffPostMegyn
Kelly TODAY, and Cheddar. Dedicated
to helping young people find their own voices, she’s worked
with 826national.org, Sesame Workshop, New York Public
Library, University of Pennsylvania (her alma mater), and Cornell
Tech. Christa
earned her MBA at the Darden School at the University of Virginia.
Find her on 
Twitter
@christanyc
Instagram
@christarosenyc
,
and 
christaavampato.com. Her
young adult novel,
Emerson
Page and Where the Light Enters
,
is available online and in bookstores worldwide.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Jon Seidman on Flickr.

I Published My NaNo Novel: Ponder Before You Print!

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If your New Year’s resolution is to publish your NaNo novel, you’re in luck—because there are plenty of routes for traditional or self publishing. But don’t rush to get your novel on the shelves! Today, author and participant Rebecca Milton shares some tips to consider before you press “publish” on your masterpiece:

When it comes, that flutter of belief—the faint hope that you might, in fact, have written something good enough to publish—spreads like a wildfire. Once you think it, you cannot cast the thought away: it will eat at you, no matter how nervous you are, no matter how little you think of your writing. You have written something that is worthy; that thought is more precious than you will ever be able to explain.

It took me many years to get this feeling—and when it came, I couldn’t look away from it. Even as it warred with my own self-doubt, my lack of self-esteem for both my writing and myself, I embraced this precious thought and barely dared to speak of it. And it grew, and grew, and a year and a half later I gave it what it wanted: I published my novel.

I wrote Mundane Magic over two years of NaNoWriMo to close in on its final word count, but that was only the beginning. The journey to publishing was long, hard work, and it is the best thing I have ever done in my life. Along that road I learned a lot of things, and if I were to pick just one of them to tell you, it would be this: don’t rush into it.

The thing with self-publishing is that while not always simple, it’s exceptionally accessible. You can do it in a matter of moments: upload finished novel to Kindle Direct, hit publish, done. In a post-NaNoWriMo flurry of enthusiasm, it might be easy to do so, especially with all of the promotions floating around. Half an hour of your time and you can call yourself a published novelist!

“To my astonishment, the further I got along the road, the clearer it became that the actual ‘novel writing’ was only a small part of the process.”

But your book is priceless. That feeling you have, that belief, is precious. Your book is worth so much more than an impulsive upload of an unedited, unprepared, cover-made-in-Paint version. Take your time. Don’t fear losing your enthusiasm, because once you have that self-belief it will eat away at you until you sate it. It won’t abandon you.

To publish Mundane Magic, I spent months researching all of the self-publishing options; when I picked my method, it was an informed choice. There are so many options out there, there’s surely one that’s perfect for you and your book. Do your research and find it.

The next best thing I did for my novel was have it edited. My editor Louise took my novel and transformed it into something as close to perfect as it could be. Not only that, but from her edits I’ve learned what to stop myself doing in the future—so my next novel(s) will also benefit from her insight.

And to my astonishment, the further I got along the road, the clearer it became that the actual “novel writing” was only a small part of the process. All told, I spent far more time preparing the book for publication than I did writing it—even though I went through two years of NaNo and months of revisions. This was the most jarring lesson. You’d think writing would be the focus of writing!

But the thing to remember is that all of these things you will end up doing—research, editing, designing, typesetting, marketing—are all to support your writing. They all exist to do justice to the words that you slaved over for months or even years. Everything that you do is for the benefit of your novel.

It’s stressful. It’s hard. It’s a long road that requires you to become a dozen people all at once. And if you’ve got that spark of feeling, that precious belief and love—you should do it.


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Rebecca Milton is an author who grew up hiding in stories to escape the world – only to find she wanted to give them back. This year she self-published her debut novel Mundane Magic, a magical realism story about what it means to be special. She also has a blog where she publishes poetry, flash fiction and short stories as well as blogging about writing, self-publishing and mental health. She lives in the southeast United Kingdom with her fiancé and their several hundred books.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Tristan Schmurr on Flickr.

6 Tips for Turning Your NaNoWriMo Draft Into a Submission

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Now that November has ridden off into the sunset, you may be considering your submitting your NaNo novel for publication. Today, Samar Hammam, agent and Director of Rocking Chair Books Literary Agency, shares her thoughts on how to turn your novel draft into a page-turner ready for publication:

You might have heard the expression that writing is rewriting. Unfortunately, that means the main thing you need to do with your novel is a four-letter word: edit! However, the almighty Editing Process can be easier said than done. Here are some tips on how to prepare your novel for submission. 

1. Think like a reader.

If you’re among 99% of writers, things will still be all over the place: fragments of narratives that you dropped, characters who don’t need to be in there, or characters who have yet to appear. Just because it’s still rough doesn’t mean you’re not a writer—but what will help you at this stage is to think like a reader. 

Read your draft from beginning to end without touching anything. It should help give you the big picture of how the book is working. You’ll learn whether the voice is strong or whether it’s still a bit flat, if the characters are compelling, or if the plot is captivating. One writer told me they’d read through their whole book thirty times from beginning to end before handing it to their editor.

2. Do your homework.

Submitting your manuscript involves finding the agents and agencies you’d like to send your work to. Looking in the “Acknowledgments” section of books similar to the one you are writing usually kicks up a few names; magazines and online searches will kick up a few more. If you’re in the UK, the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook also has a good inventory.

3. Read the criteria.

Each agency has their submissions criteria on their websites. Although they might vary, you typically need to have your pitch in the body of the email, along with a manuscript and a synopsis. Keep in mind that some agencies require submissions through the mail instead of online. 

4. Make it personal.

It’s also a good idea to personalize your message, as it’s the first indication that you believe your work is good enough to be taken seriously. Usually, when a ‘Dear Agents’ blast-out comes through, it’s a sign that the manuscript will also lack personality.  

5. Give your book spark.

The pitch is just one or two paragraphs in the email to catch the reader’s attention. I like to think of it as “back-of-the-book” copy.  Usually, when you’re at a bookstore, you’ll flip the book over and will decide whether you want to buy into this story or not; your pitch should aim to achieve that same effect. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but enough to give it that spark.

6. Grab your reader… and don’t let go.

Ultimately, however, the manuscript is the most important thing. I’d recommend focusing on the opening. Before I joined the industry, I thought agents read substantial portions of submissions—why wouldn’t they? But now I know that they can’t—not even the lovable agents—but there’s simply not enough time in the day to get through every page of every submission, let alone do the agent-ing part of the job.

The key here is to try and grab the reader from the outset.  For me, the first thing I’m looking for is the voice. If this grabs me, I’m slightly more patient to see if the characters kick in, then I’ll keep going if the plot is going places. Of course, this is just my methodology, so one size does not fit all!

It’s a courageous thing to do to write a book, any book, and very exciting to complete NaNoWriMo. If you’re compelled to continue with it, I hope that this blog is helpful, and please come and find me when you’re ready to submit!


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Samar founded Rocking Chair Books Literary Agency in 2013 after seven years as a Director at Toby Eady Associates. She is a primary agent, but works with other agencies to represent their rights in translation. Clients include Warsan Shire, Mike Medaglia, Brian Turner, and Amita Murray, among others. She is excited to work across all adult genres from commercial to literary fiction, narrative non-fiction, graphic novels, and gift books. She lives in London with her fella and two kids. Favorites: sunny days. playlists. reading. road trips. hiking. fireworks. the kids. discovery. recovery. the end of recovery. this job. the next bold move.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Dvortygirl on Flickr.

How to Make Writing Friends (Even When You Don’t Know Anyone)

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Forming a writing community isn’t always easy, especially when you’re new in town. That’s what today’s guest poster, Municipal Liaison Kasey McElroy, overcame. Here’s her story of how making friends through NaNo helped her writing:

In 2016, I participated in NaNoWriMo, and it changed my entire view on the writing community. Prior to that year, I had been living with my mother and grandparents in the tiniest town you could possibly imagine, about an hour and a half from Houston. NaNoWriMo didn’t really exist where I came from—it was something I did, and something I talked to my friends online about. But it wasn’t a group I was “in”—I was in high school, where the writing community was virtually non-existent to outsiders.

During my first two years, I couldn’t really get into NaNoWriMo. I tried! I had been taking on this writing challenge for years! But with the changes in my own life, and the amount of other, “real adult” expectations I had, who had time for that? Not me, most certainly. I would get through the first two weeks of NaNo before, slowly and surely, falling off the bandwagon.

That all changed when I moved to San Antonio.

On November 1, 2016, I decided, You know what? I’ll go to that kickoff party. I want to get to know these people in this area. I wanted writing friends. After all, what was the worst that could happen—they wouldn’t like me?

Going to that kickoff party turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.

I found myself involved in an active writing community. I made friends, and we ended up meeting up throughout that year and into the next, spending time with each other and pursuing our creative goals together. It helped me learn a lot of things about my own writing—about how I wrote, and what methods of writing worked best for me.

“To me, the most important part of my NaNoWriMo experience was the ability to grow alongside a community of writers.“

For instance, I tried writing by hand instead of typing. It made me realize that, despite the fact that I can churn out the pages on a computer, writing by hand helps me slow down and organize my thoughts better. It helped me realize how I could develop my own writing, figuring out where my plot holes were and how I could fix them.

This year, I (accidentally—long story!) became a co-ML of the San Antonio Region, and I found myself helping develop our writing community. Our region came through strong—we formed some pretty good friendships, and they’ll continue to blossom throughout the year. Some of us have exchanged manuscripts for editing and peer review, and we even meet up on Saturday mornings to write together.

To me, the most important part of my NaNoWriMo experience was the ability to grow alongside a community of writers. They help keep me accountable for my creative process, which in turn helps me improve my writing. I’ve learned and grown and developed my own style over the last few years. I attribute much of that growth to my NaNoWriMo community, for which I will forever be thankful.

And now that I’m starting to think about editing my novel, I’m once again looking to this community to help me out. Honestly, when it comes to the editing process, I’m a little clueless! But I’m sure that, with the help of my friends, I’ll learn.


An ML for the Texas :: San Antonio Region, Kasey McElroy spends most of her free time screaming, probably. Or trying to remember what she was doing mere seconds ago. When she actually has her life together, Kasey spends a lot of her time writing—her goal this year being to get her novel actually edited, for once. When not writing, she also enjoys crocheting and making her planner look pretty, so that she can forget to use it later. One day, she will hopefully publish a book, but that hasn’t happened yet. In the meantime, you can find her on twitter as @NotAMouseh, but she forgets it exists a lot.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Pedro Szekely on Flickr.

Conquer Your Story Edit and Finish Your Novel

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Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Fictionary, a 2018 “Now What?” sponsor, is a breakthrough tool for editing fiction. Today, author and Fictionary co-founder Kristina Stanley shares her editing expertise, as well as the details of the Fictionary Finish Your Novel Contest:

Tell me a story!” your reader demands. “I want to feel happy, sad, frightened. Take me to a new world and make me care about what happens.

That’s a big ask of a writer. How do you go from the first draft of your novel to a story that works and captures readers? Think about some of the best novels you’ve read. What do you remember?

Like me, you probably recall a compelling character such as Jason Bourne, the intriguing plot of Gone Girl, or the fantastic settings depicted in Game of Thrones. Compelling characters, an intriguing plot, or a fantastic setting make me remember the story.

Successful writers tell a good story. Sounds simple, but telling a good story requires a great story edit.

Your First Draft

So you’ve finished the first draft of your novel. Congrats! Now what?

Maybe you’re worried your writing isn’t good enough to share. Maybe you fear rejection or criticism. Or maybe you just don’t know how to edit your manuscript. Where to start? What to change? How to make it better? Editing and revising your novel is hard work.

These are all thoughts that ran through my head a few years ago when I finished the first draft of my debut novel, Descent.

Create a Great Story Readers Love

A story edit is the first step in turning your first draft into a story readers love. This comes before copyediting or proofreading. You can do that after the structure of your story is sound.

Performing a story edit means analyzing your story from a high-level perspective and fixing the weak areas:

  • Characters—During a story edit, take a hard look at your characters. How often do they appear? What are their goals? What gets in the way of their goals?  Characters will drive the tension, and tension is what keeps a reader engaged in your story.
  • Plot—Make sure the story structure makes sense, the scenes are tense, there are no plot holes, and your key scenes appear in the best place along your story arc.
  • Settings—Finally, the story edit should examine your settings. How often do you use the same setting? Do your settings help with the tone of your scenes? Settings are key to keeping your reader engaged.

How Fictionary was Created

I became a published author and hit Amazon’s bestseller lists by editing and rewriting until I was satisfied I was telling a good story that was ready to share. Along the way, I took all the best writing advice I could find and created a scene-by-scene self-editing technique focused on characters, plot, and settings.

Then it hit me: perhaps other writers might benefit from this structured approach to editing their own work.

So I spent a year working with dozens of other writers and a few very clever programmers to create Fictionary, a breakthrough online tool for editing fiction.

Fictionary provides a new way for writers to visualize, evaluate, edit, and finish a novel. Say goodbye to those old sticky notes or index cards you’ve been using to make sense of your story.

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Common manuscript problems such as scenes with no purpose, confusing points of view, or empty stages are quickly highlighted. You can “see” these problems and fix them during your rewrite.

The Story Arc is an example report created automatically after you import your manuscript. No more trying to draw a story arc yourself.

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In today’s competitive publishing environment, you owe it to yourself to ensure your story works before share it with others.

To encourage you to finish your novel, we’re hosting a contest:

The Fictionary Finish Your Novel Contest

Grand Prize: One lifetime Fictionary subscription and a $1999 FriesenPress Publishing Path.

Additional Prizes: $200 annual Fictionary subscriptions for 3 lucky writers!

Check out the details and enter the contest.


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Kristina Stanley is the best-selling author of the Stone Mountain Mystery Series, the stand-alone mystery Look The Other Way, and The Author’s Guide to Selling Books To Non-Bookstores. Her publishers are Imajin Books and Luzifer-Verlag. Crime Writers of Canada nominated Descent for the Unhanged Arthur Award. The U.K. Crime Writers’ Association nominated Blaze for the Debut Dagger. She is a co-founder and the CEO of Fictionary.co, a company started to help writers become successful authors.

4 Things to Focus on in Your First Rewrite

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Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Reedsy, a 2018 “Now What?” sponsor, is a user-friendly site that helps authors find editors, designers and publicists. Today, Reedsy staff writer Martin Cavannagh shares his top tips on how to approach your first novel edits:

Everybody talks about how hard it is to finish a first draft—as if to suggest everything that comes after that is a joyride. But in reality, the work has only begun.

Many advice posts will offer a laundry list of novel revision tactics: Show, don’t tell! Hone your dialogue! Get rid of unnecessary adjectives! These are all valuable tips, but your first rewrite must focus on basic storytelling. In this post, we’ll look at four things you should address in your first revision.

1. Uncover any hidden motifs and themes.

All artists (novelists included) will have specific obsessions and interests that percolate under the surface of their consciousness. In a quick first draft, it’s inevitable that some of these interests will work their way into your work. One hallmark of a skilled novelist is the ability to identify these motifs and lean into them.

For example, you may realize that your protagonist is betrayed by a number of her allies—and from that, it can become apparent that the idea of trust and faith plays a big part in your novel.

Once you’re able to identify your theme—that is, the spine of your story—you may find it easier to rewrite scenes to reinforce this idea and bring cohesion to your novel.

2. Identify your protagonist’s arc.

At its core, a story isn’t just a series of events that take place in a world. Drill into any story and you’d find that it’s almost always about characters dealing with conflict and change. A character arc is the internal journey that undertaken as a result of the plot.

TV’s Breaking Bad is about a chemistry teacher who starts making drugs and fighting the law. But if you track Walter White’s character arc, it’s also about a man who sacrifices his principles in the pursuit of power—and the real underlying story is his evolution from mild-mannered teacher to drug kingpin.

So ask yourself: “What want does your character have at the start of your book? And, under pressure, what are they willing to do to get it?

As your story develops, you may find that the answer to that last question changes: that’s character development, and as long as that change is logical in some way, then you have the basis of a character arc.

3. Ask, “what does this scene achieve?”

Very often, rewriting involves a whole lot of cutting out.

Of course, this is your book, and you can go on as many story tangents as you please. But if your intention is for other people to read your book, you need to be conscious of their time and interest. To ensure that you maintain momentum in your novel, you need to ask yourself what scene achieves.

If you aim to create a tight, propulsive structure, each of your scenes must either advance your plot or reveal something about your characters. Of course, there are exceptions to this loose rule: you may have chapters that are designed to elaborate on the world of your book. In these cases, you could argue that you are giving some greater context for why your character is the way you are. But if there’s a wonderfully written chapter that does absolutely nothing for character or story, you can either rewrite it so that it does or remove it to preserve the pace of your novel.

4. Build to an ending that is surprising and inevitable.

Sticking the landing is always one of the hardest things to do. The good thing about writing novels is that, unlike gymnastics, you can take all the time in the world to figure out how best to nail your ending.

In Poetics, Aristotle talks about the nature of drama and how an audience will respond well to endings that take them by surprise. But that in order for them to be truly satisfied, every step leading to that ending must be logical. When your reader reaches the climax of your novel, they won’t be saying, “Wait! Where the heck did that come from?!”

Twist endings, of course, shouldn’t be the goal of every novel. But if your climax involves a big reveal, make sure that you seed little clues in the build—so that readers can look back and go, “Ah, now I see what that means.”

The basic story elements that you’ll focus on in a first rewrite will be the firm skeleton upon which you will lay the muscle and skin of dialogue and narration. Once your characters are fully realized, and your structure is tight, you’re off to the races and ready to dive into the nitty-gritty of crafting remarkable prose.

For more tips on writing novels, check out this free online course from author Ben Galley.


Martin Cavannagh is a staff writer at Reedsy, a curated marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers and marketers. Over 2,500 books have been produced with Reedsy since 2015.

The Magic of Finding a Play in Your Novel

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To many, NaNoWriMo is all about the novel—it’s in the name, after all! But as you’re editing the story you wrote in November, you might realize your novel isn’t a novel, but something totally different. Today, writer Aino Hyyryläinen shares her experience turning what she thought was a novel into a play:


I spent November 2013 writing Manna, my NaNoWriMo novel about a young woman who suffered from
seasonal depression during winter, until she discovered that her
father was Jack Frost. Manna could make snowflakes dance and bring
light into the gloomy Nordic November around her. I fell in love with
her story—and turned it into a play two years later.

I, too dream about publishing a novel one day, but I’ve found that the
majority of my stories turn out to be plays disguised as 50,000 words
of prose. And I think that’s magic.

What
is a play?

It may seem like an obvious question, but bear with me.

A
play is a drama that’s performed on stage. At least, that’s the
definition that feels most authentic to me. In terms of story, it’s
not always easy to recognize. Here’s what led me to believe that
Manna
wasn’t
a novel, but a play:

1. The
story felt most effective when told briefly.

What
I wanted to say with Manna
could
be summarised very briefly. The story wasn’t meant to become a
250-page novel. Instead, it became an hour and a half of performance.

2. The
novel didn’t edit very well.

I
spent day after day staring at my first draft, screaming “What was
I thinking?!” both internally and externally. The novel just
couldn’t be edited. Then I realized I was looking at it all wrong.

3. It
was mostly dialogue.

I
love listening to my characters. I listen to their intonation and
funny speech patterns—and that’s what I write down. Often
dialogue was enough in Manna.
Adding action tags or descriptive sentences seemed to take something
away instead of adding to the story.

In case any of these points (or others that I fail to mention) make you
stare into space, wondering if your novel is in fact not a novel, but a play—don’t
panic!
  Before you embark on a very different
rewriting process, here are some things I want you to remember.

  • Performance
    is publishing. 
    If
    you’ve set your eyes on a sweet book deal, it can be difficult to
    let go and allow your story to completely change shape. Now,
    performance is different from traditional publishing, but it’s just
    as beautiful—and still gets your story out into the world.
  • Plays
    are interpreted in the same way novels are
    .
    Some of those interpretations happen on stage, and others in the
    minds of the audience or reader.
  • Performance
    makes your story tangible
    .
    It brings the tiniest of details and wittiest of dialogues to life.
  • Performance
    reaches people, just as a book does.
    Your story isn’t lost and you’re not letting it down by turning
    it into a play. You’re letting it shine.
  • The
    stage is magic. 
    To
    the writer, performance is full of insecurities: What if the cast
    misunderstands? What if the world feels wrong? What if the characters
    don’t feel real? Not to scare you, but all those things could
    go
    wrong. They could also go so right you’ll never feel the same
    again.

When
Manna
was
in rehearsal, I cried so many tears of joy my face hurt. I could help
Jack Frost put on his coat and tie Manna’s shoelaces. I watched my
characters conjure snow out of thin air and hug each other. I saw
them and they saw me. When I asked them a question, they answered.

It was like magic didn’t exist before—then I witnessed it every day. I wish you will too.


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Aino
Hyyryläinen is a writer and translator from Finland. She mostly
writes plays, marketing content, and nonfiction. She owns a
cooperative business, Kulttuuriosuuskunta Obskura, with six other people. She’s always loved theatre and has actively
written, directed, and acted for eight years. Aino
firmly believes that creativity is an adventure and she’s always
ready to discuss queer life and art. She documents the sometimes
tiny, sometimes huge events in her life on Instagram at @ainotuulia.

Top photo licensed under Creative Commons from Hernán Piñera on Flickr.

Find Perspective on Your Novel with a Critique Community

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Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Scribophile, a NaNoWriMo 2017 sponsor, asked writer Shannon Burnette to share her experience with their extensive online writing workshop and writer’s community:

If you’re like me, you signed up for NaNoWriMo on a whim because a story had been building in your chest that you couldn’t quite shake. It burrowed itself deep inside your gut and refused to let go, demanding to be told. You dedicated precious time and effort in committing that story to words, be it on a screen or on paper, and whether or not you “won,” you left November with a more completed story than when you entered it.

If you’re like me, you looked up from your messy and complicated and beautiful first draft and thought: Wow, I did it. Immediately afterward came: Now what? I knew I was going to need readers and critique partners, but I had no idea where to begin looking for those connections. My story desperately needed more love and attention, which I could certainly give it, but deep down I knew I was already too close to my draft. I needed perspective. I needed other writers, both fledgling like myself and more experienced, to help me improve.

Enter Scribophile, stage right. I joined after winning Camp NaNoWriMo last summer. If you’ve been around the NaNoWriMo website before, you’ve probably noticed the name Scribophile floating around. For those of you that don’t know, Scribophile is an online writing workshop and writers community. It’s populated with folks from all stages in the writing journey, from those of us toiling away at our first novel all the way up to real, published authors.

“It really helps to be a part of a group where everyone is trying to help each other succeed.”

Scribophile is based on a karma system. When you critique other people’s works, you gain karma points. Once you have enough karma, you can post your own work for critique. The insights I’ve gained really cannot be overstated. Apparently, I really enjoy writing flowery, run-on sentences. While fun to compose, it turns out that they aren’t always so fun to read. Getting advice can be scary, but every person I’ve met through Scribophile has been kind and encouraging. It really helps to be a part of a group where everyone is trying to help each other succeed.

Although I am fairly new, I’ve already picked up a common theme: people join for the critiques, but they stick around for the community. There is so much collective knowledge available in the forums for writers of all levels. I find myself trolling the posts in the Publishing forum despite the fact that I am nowhere close to be thinking about publishing; however, it makes my dreams feel attainable when I can see that others have done it before me. Somehow, the whole process of writing becomes less isolating and intimidating. Plus, who wouldn’t want the chance to connect with like-minded folks from all over the globe?

Oh! And there are writing contests! Just saying. I have yet to win one, but that is definitely on my list of 2018 #goals.

If you have been sitting on the fence about whether or not to join, here is my advice: do it. I am the first to admit that I have no idea what I am doing when it comes to this whole writing thing, but I signed up for Scribophile on a whim (are you noticing a pattern here?) and wholeheartedly recommend you do the same. Sharing my work was (and continues to be) intimidating, but at the end of the day, we are storytellers––and stories are meant to be heard.

You owe it to yourself, and the tale that hums in your bones, to give Scribophile a shot.


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Shannon Burnette is a software project manager by day and an aspiring novelist by night. Follow her journey through her first novel at shannonburnette.com and at @scburnettewrites on Instagram.

Two Rules for Typing Through Your Problems

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We all know the feeling: you’re on a writing hot streak when, all of a sudden, you realize the scene has gone completely off the rails. Luckily, today’s guest, writer and Utah :: Elsewhere Municipal Liaison Jessica Guernsey has some editing advice for what to do when you find yourself lost in the middle of a sentence:

This
past November, I earned my fourteenth NaNoWriMo winner bar. Because of this
streak, I’m frequently asked for my advice on undertaking such a
monumental task—and what to do with your draft once you’ve completed it. I have some suggestions for those struggling through the writing or editing process, but just like any time someone gives words of wisdom, take from it
what will help you become a better writer. No one thing works for
everyone.

Rule #1: Do Not Delete

You earned those words! As you’re editing your draft, you may find whole scenes, sections, or even characters that just don’t fit in the story. Even if they aren’t working for this story
any longer, tuck them away in their own file. Others use note cards to “file away” untapped ideas for later. This way, instead of erasing half the work you wrote in November, you have a document full of ideas and inspiration if you get stuck on your next writing project. Besides, you can always delete the file later!

Rule #2: Talk It Over

The
second rule is something I learned around year ten, when I lost the
use of my dominant hand and wrist, which turned typing into a tedious
chore. That year, I used a speech-to-text app to get my word count
in. It wasn’t perfect, and would frequently mash words together—but I knew I could one-handedly peck them to perfection later. Despite the bugs, it allowed
for a freer flow of thoughts. I’m not entirely a pantser when it
comes to plot, but this was rather nice for one very important
reason: brainstorming.

Let
me explain. While using the app one day, I was in the middle of a
scene when what I planned for the moment just sort of fell apart.
Instead of stopping and maybe cutting out a whole section, like I’d
be tempted to do if I’d been typing, I just kept talking. I asked myself questions:

  • When
    did the scene start going off track?
  • What
    was it about this that didn’t work?
  • Where
    was this scene supposed to end up?
  • Why
    were things headed off into the wild blue yonder instead of down the
    path I intended?
  • Who
    would be the more interesting POV character here?
  • Would
    it be better if I changed the setting or the characters involved?

Talking
through these questions helped me look at the problem from a different angle and find a
better solution. In this instance, I came up with three ways to fix the scene; I then chose the best of the three and then carried on writing. Sometimes, I don’t need to go through the entire list
to find the solution.

Now,
when I’m typing furiously and things start to dissolve, I hit the
“enter” key a couple times to make some space. Then I start
typing up my analysis of what is wrong and how to make it work. I
think better when I write my thoughts down so I can review them,
organize with more clarity, or make a connection I might have missed
before.

I use this method for my writing even outside of November. I look
back to find the start of the problem and go through my questions.
Then I brainstorm different ways to fix the plot so I get to where I
need to be at the end of the scene or chapter or blog article. And I
never, ever delete.


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As an ML for the Utah :: Elsewhere Region, Jessica Guernsey
writes Urban Fantasy novels and short stories. Her work is published
in magazines and anthologies. She is a slush pile reader for
Shadow
Mountain and manuscript evaluator for Covenant Communications. She frequently attends writing conferences, so look for the extrovert
with purple hair! While
she spent her teenage angst in Texas, she currently lives on a
mountain in Utah with her husband, three kids, and a codependent mini
schnauzer. Connect with her on Twitter @JessGuernsey.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Adikos on Flickr.

How and Why to Find Critique Partners for Your Novel

You wrote a novel! Now what? This January and February, we’ll be helping you guide your novel through the revision and publishing process. Today, author Dan Koboldt shares his tips for finding or forming the best group to help you through your editing process:

It’s been a few months since the writing-insanity that is NaNoWriMo. With luck, you’ve already made a pass at that crazy 50,000-word beast you wrote back in November. Maybe two passes. 

If you’re wondering how to take your book to the next level, I have a fantastic suggestion: get feedback on it from someone else. Not your mom or your spouse, but from one of your writing peers. This may help uncover issues in your work that you haven’t considered. Plot holes, under-developed characters, and flawed world-building are just a few examples of things that authors don’t recognize because they’re so close to the work. External feedback can help.

How Critique Makes the Difference

When I landed an agent for my first novel, The Rogue Retrieval, I felt confident that a book deal was nearly within reach. I rode that wave of optimism as the manuscript went out to the first round of publishers. Then the rejections poured in, one after another. The last one was the crushing blow: the editor really liked the book, and was on the fence, but ultimately decided it needed too much editing. My agent suggested that I either hire a freelance editor or ask a few of my writing friends to give it a hard-nosed critique.

That was a dark time for me, but I swallowed my pride and asked three people to give it a tough critique. They found all kinds of ways for me to improve the tension, characterization, and dialogue. I worked very hard to revise it with this feedback in mind. The whole process took months, but ultimately resulted in a much stronger manuscript. We sent it out on a second round of submissions, and got the offer from HarperCollins about a month later.

Where To Get Critiques

Hopefully, that little story has illustrated the value of critique for improving a manuscript. But how do you go about getting external critiques? You can hire a freelance editor, of course, but that can be quite expensive. Instead, many authors find one or more people who are willing to swap manuscripts. The best place to start is your circle of friends in the writing community. If you don’t have writing friends, go out and make some pronto. Reach out to them and ask if anyone’s willing to swap critiques.

Ideally, you’ll find someone who writes in your manuscript’s age category and genre. They’ll understand the conventions, tropes, and reader expectations. However, there’s also some merit to having at least one critique partner who writes outside of your preferred categories. Their feedback can be very educational, and reading their work will broaden your horizons as both a reader and writer.

How Critique Partners Work

Once you find some willing participants, the rest is pretty straightforward. You send them your manuscript. They read it in full, and provide detailed feedback to you. This can be done in person, but most often happens by e-mail. At a minimum, the feedback should comprise at least a few pages of comments about the characters, world, and plot: what worked, and what didn’t work. Many critique partners will fix typos make other line edits on your manuscript as well. Cherish them if they do.

You might be wondering, why in the world would someone provide such a wonderful service? That brings us to the word “partner” in critique partner. You can provide the exact same service in return, for one of their manuscripts. It doesn’t need to be at the same time, though often that’s how CPs begin their relationship. You simply trade manuscripts back and forth as needed, and try to be fair with one another.

Your Turn: Offering Critique

When it’s your turn to do the critiquing, try to keep two things in mind. First, constructive criticism is best. In other words, it’s not a book review, and your feedback should be aimed at finding ways to make the manuscript stronger. Second, I highly recommend the ‘compliment sandwich’ approach: begin with praise about the manuscript’s strengths, offer your critique, and then end with more praise. It’s a fairly obvious trick, but also very effective. Try it.

There’s bound to be some trial and error in finding critique partners. Not everyone will turn out to be the right match for your work. But once you do find a critique partner who gets you, hang on tight. Their feedback may be what takes your writing to the next level.


Dan Koboldt is the author Gateways to Alissia, a fantasy trilogy about a Las Vegas magician who’s hired by a mysterious corporation to infiltrate a secret medieval world. The Rogue Retrieval, (January 2016), The Island Deception (April 2017), and The World Awakening (February 2018) are published by Harper Voyager. You can find Dan on Twitter (@DanKoboldt) and at his website, dankoboldt.com.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Comunidade dos Pequenos Profetas on Flickr.