What I’ve Learned Writing a Series

War Unicorn was published last fall with Books We Love. I loved (and hated) my characters enough to keep thinking about them, wanting to send them on more adventures. Hence: a series began.

I have two of five planned books in the series written, awaiting final editing and approval and release dates. I find the remaining three books harder and more complicated to write because of the additional people and places, but I must persevere.

What I’ve learned in writing a series:

1)      Characters – Keep the main characters consistent throughout; obviously, there will be additional characters thrown in the mix with each book, but keep your protagonist and main antagonist forefront;

2)      Plot – Not only does each individual story have its own arch with a satisfying endings, the entire series need to have an over-arching plot thread which makes sense; maps of the world, outlines of plots, family and other relationships trees also help here;

3)      Space your release dates (and therefore, finish writing each story) to keep your readers interested and not too far apart in time so they don’t forget who is who and what they want;

4)      Writing a series is a major commitment; if you begin one, don’t give up; set clear goals (if your editor doesn’t do it for you), and push through to see them accomplished.

5)      Keep on writing, and good luck to you.

Blabber File – Raw Writing

From mid-November into the first week of January is the hardest time for me to find time to write. (Exception: visiting family or vacations) Why, oh, why does NaNoWriMo fall in this time? But any time is a good time for fellow writers to give each other a push, even busy times.

Yesterday our company left. Today I’m doing a ton of laundry and also setting up Christmas decorations. YET, this morning, I found time to do some precious raw writing – that is, rough draft blabbering –  on my WIP story. It felt incredibly good! Maybe that’s one of the reasons I write. When I’m thinking about the story, or typing madly away on it, knowing that about 3/4 of the stuff I think or write will be deleted, I get so excited about the story and the characters.

I actually look forward in January to looking over this (unfinished) WIP and chopping away pages and pages. Mind you, I don’t feel those deleted words were a waste of effort. Sometimes going off-track frees my brain to be thinking outside my box (story outline), and often very strange and wonderful things happen.

So I hope you are blabbering away, doing your raw writing, knowing that soon the bad will be tossed and the good, kept.

Keep on writing.

Why I Drag During NaNoWriMo – The Sloppy Copy Stage

It’s always about now – midway through November – when I tend to drag during NaNoWriMo, trying to get in my 1,167 words written each day on my project. Of course, there is the natural panic that about ten of my November days are packed with non-writing stuff. So right off, 50K in 20 days seems impossible.

Over the years of doing this, I’ve learned to make my story outline ahead of time, as well as resist the temptation to write on it at the moment (pre-NaNoWriMo). I’ve also learned to “bank my words.” In other words, I write more than the expected, steady 1,167 words each day. That way I won’t feel so badly on non-writing days. But now I’m in that awkward teen-age test out everything stage: the sloppy copy stage.

Years ago, I’d heard that phrase connected with rough drafts. I told my second graders that I didn’t expect that this sloppy copy would be their best-final copy, that there would be scratching out of words, different sized letters, squished words in the margins, etc. What I got back from even my best students were…works of art. They’d intentionally scratched out and smudged words, and made some letters small including some within the same word huge. Totally unreadable. They’d done as I’d asked, but not as I’d expected. (Bad teacher!)

Now I find myself in the actual sloppy copy stage of my NaNoWriMo project, and I feel like those second graders – intentionally creating sloppy work: writing in this character’s head, going off into a scene which will happen at least a year or two from the end of this book, rambling out on the keyboard about where I think the story is or should be going.

I am so off-outline at this point. It’s going to take me months into next year just to figure out all the paragraphs and chapters to shuffle around, or to simply delete. BUT AT LEAST I’m getting some words down, sloppy-sloppy-sloppy as they may be.

So all of you participating in NaNoWriMo, keep going! Don’t worry about your sloppy copy. Not until next year.

 

Whole Book Revisions

I have a book which is half done-ish at 50K. That is, I’ve completed the rough draft of one of the character’s POV, with lots of hours of revisions and rewrites already done to it, which also means the word count fluctuates as I add or delete. I was going to start in on the other character’s POV. I mean, I already have done that with 18K down, but decided to hold off until NaNoWriMo in November to completely rewrite it and add a bunch of twists and complications. It is so hard to wait when all I want to do is write. In the meantime, until November 1st, I am doing a whole book revision on the first guy’s story.

Some of my writer friends love revisions as the best part of the writing process. Perhaps that’s because the story line is done, the characters already developed, etc. Revision means delving into both the big picture and the micro (even down to a single word use) picture. To me, that’s like wading knee-deep in mud. That said, I really, really like my completed revised drafts. I just whine pitifully all the way there. And these are just my own personal revisions, not an agent’s or editor’s input.

I’ve got Darcy Pattison’s shrunken manuscript workbook next to my tiny-print manuscript and go back and forth and back and forth between them. I’ve done the “simple” tasks of marking strong chapters, boxing off scenes, etc., and can’t help but also do some micro editing. Sorry, Darcy. I know. I know. Big picture first. And so much think-time! They never teach you that in writing classes/books. There’s so-so much think-time to writing a book.

After I do this particular whole book revision, I’ll then print it off again and mark any major, medium, or detailed changes still needing attention. And then print it off again for another look-though.

You would think I would be content doing whole book revisions. I mean, it is writing, after all, isn’t it? Well, in fact, no, it isn’t. Revisions are a part of the writing process, the part to make your story stronger, to plug up those plot holes, to make your characters more loveable…or more hateable. Whether I particularly like this bit of writing or not, it sure will fill my time for the next five weeks. And then–hurray!–I can start in on a new story which has been teasing me ceaselessly to pay attention to it, which is actually the other side-of-the-coin story.

(All right, Sandy, quit writing all these fresh words and thoughts and get back to work already! Revisions-ho!)

Tight Writing

 Literature Blogs

I must gather my thoughts (and notes) from this past weekend’s SCBWI-MI writers conference. Lots of great stuff to allow to soak in. I’ll pass on my notes soon. In the meantime… We all hear about how important it is to have tight writing. Here is an excellent example:

A university creative writing class was asked to write a concise essay containing these four elements:
1) religion
2) royalty
3) sex
4) mystery

The prize-winning essay read:
“My God,” said the Queen. “I’m pregnant. I wonder who did it?”

Pre-writing, Raw Writing, Revisions

 Literature Blogs

I’m working on a new story, started a couple months ago. It takes up a lot of my thought time. I’m rather anti-social right now, even when it comes to posting on my writing blog. It’s as though all these other things in life are merely interfering with what I am passionate about, and what I can’t stop thinking about. I’ve done pre-writing, outlining, know where the story is going. I’ve done some raw writing — love doing this rambling, care-free part of writing. And, because I have been submitting chapters to my critique group, I have also had to work on revisions. Sometimes I find that all three of these writing stages (pre-writing, raw writing, and revisions) go on interchangeably, like a wild writing dance. I just hang on to my partner (the story line); sometimes I lead, and sometimes the manuscript leads.

So now I’m at about 35,000 words, with some chapters merely book-marked with a paragraph telling what goes on there. If I were a more disciplined writer, or a writer without a critique group to hold me accountable each month, I think I’d write out the entire story in one shot. But then, perhaps I’m not that disciplined writer. So I pre-write, raw-write, then revise and re-write until the story is finished. Dry to talk about, but exciting to do. Off to write.

August Writing Challenge Followup

 Literature Blogs

YIKES-A-ROONIE! I just realized today that earlier this month, I put out an August Writer’s Challenge of writing 10,000 Raw (first draft) words by September first. How you doing? Surprisingly, I may make that goal. I know I have nearly 10,000 words started on a new YA (young adult) fantasy, but I’m not sure if I’m going to leave in certain bits to make it into a MG (middle grade) story or not, yet. I THINK I wrote nearly all those words this month, but I may have started in July, too. I’ve been a tad bit scatter-brained this summer.

Has this summer been crazy for other people as well? Family, travels, cleaning oil off of turtles… well, maybe everyone hasn’t been doing that last one, but I’d encourage you to help if you can… heat, humidity. There are lots of summer distractions for writers.

So… how have you done on the August writing challenge?

No more excuses. There are still six days left in the month. Get writing, already!

Writing Sensory Images

 Literature Blogs

Today may prove to be a record-breaking heat day for this area. I’ve closed all the windows to keep in the early morning coolness, but haven’t yet turned on the air. It just seems too early in the year to do so. Besides, I find a bit of perspiration and being uncomfortable helpful to me as a writer.

Once, I was writing a chapter about kids traveling through a desert. The more I typed, the hotter and more thirsty I became. There I was, typing on the computer, while sweat dripped off of me. I kept thinking, “Wow! I must be one terrific writer to imagine things so vividly that I’m physically getting hotter and hotter.” I’d been typing for a few hours, closed up in the den, when I finally got up to take a break and get a drink of water. It was only then that I realized it was 100 degrees outside, and I hadn’t turned on the air conditioner.

Did I turn on the air conditioner at that moment, you ask? No, I did not. I finished the chapter first, taking note of all my hotness and putting it into words.

March Writing Submission Goal

 Literature Blogs

Today I revisited my March Writing Goals to realize I hadn’t submitted anything for this month yet. Actually, since I’ve been in revision mode, I’ve only subbed 3 ms over the past year. So today I dug out my old flash drive and opened 3 PB stories I knew I had ready to go. I intended merely to print them out and zip those babies out… as in,  getting them in the postal or emaild today. Then I read them, each of them. Did you hear my forehead ka-thunk onto my keyboard? First in embarrassment at such poor writing, then in realization that I had hours to go before any one of them would be submission-ready. I know they are good story ideas, but anyone can come up with good story ideas. The good news in this stinky process is that my writing craft must be improving — right? — if I am able to recognize need of improvement all by my lonesome. Although, there are some days when I wish I had an editor like Hemingway did, and only have to write about 2/3 of any story.

For now, I think I’ll focus on a couple of my other writing goals for this month — like my write three raw/new chapters by the end of the month (got one done), or like my thinking up 10 things I’m thankful for each of 10 days without repeating anything. Then there is my Personal April Challenge to tackle the whole-novel critiques from my critique group and rewrite that little baby, too. Maybe I’ll have things ready by May to get back out there into the slush piles.

Now, wouldn’t you agree that the writing life is never dull?