Friday, November 29, 2013

Guest Post by Kristen Strassel: Standing on the Sidelines During NaNoWriMo

I didn’t Nano. But I still learned something standing on the sidelines.
Hi, everyone!  I’m Kristen and I’m stepping in for Andrea for a couple of posts.  This site offers such good, real, in the trenches advice and I hope you’ll all get something out of what I have to say! I’m currently writing my third book in a series, and I’m always amazed how no three books are ever alike. Even if I wrote all three of them.
Sometime around mid-October, I could feel the anticipation and anxiety level of my writing friends rise. It was time to hunker down and get ready for Nanowrimo.
I never had any intentions of participating. I was already ankle deep into my current manuscript. I was under the impression that all Nano projects had to be started from scratch, even though I did see a few authors use it to accelerate what they were working on. Plus, I know myself. As much as I fantasize about 50,000 words in a month, that’s what it is for me. A fantasy.  I edit a lot as I write, I need time to visualize my next scene. While I have a number I like to hit each time I sit down to write, I knew all those added up over the month of November would never equal 50,000.  
For me, I knew stressing over a number would make my writing suffer. But I decided to keep track of what I did for the month anyway, just to see how I stacked up.  I found out that numbers do matter. I still wanted to keep up with the Joneses. There were days I could have pushed off writing that I sat down and cranked out a couple thousand words.  So far this month, I’ve hit about 25,000. Having a monthly goal in addition to a daily goal for me did make a difference. 
So many people woke up in the middle of the night to write, worked tirelessly on their manuscripts on their days off, and made those words happen!  That’s amazing. But watching some of the extreme things writers did to get those words reminded me of a crash diet. Sure, they’ll get 50,000 words in November, but what’s going to happen in December? That’s a tough pace to keep up forever. Like dieting, everything in moderation works for me.  I know I can commit to 1500 to 2000 words a day, minimum. Life doesn’t let me write every day, but I have to write every day life lets me. 
During Nano, you are instructed to go forward and create words. Don’t look back. I saw one author won Nano while still calling a character “Name?” That gave me a panic attack!  Before I write a manuscript with new characters, I need to draw up a character profile. When I sit down each day to write, to get into the mood, I review my last session. These are things that work for me. I’m not willing to give them up and that’s okay. We’re all different. As long as each one of us eventually types “the end,” we’re all doing it right. 

I’m so impressed with everyone who’s hitting that 50,000 word mark.  Finishing anything you set out to do is a huge accomplishment.  Even if you don’t “win,” if you love your project and got anything out of National Novel Writing Month, you still “won” as far as I’m concerned. 

Want more of Kristen? You can check out her book, BECAUSE THE NIGHT, right over here and follow her on Twitter for extra awesome! 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How to Write the Best Query Ever in 3 Simple Steps

I think one of the most daunting things about writing a query letter is looking at your 60k (+) novel and going, how the hell am I supposed to describe this in one page or less? 

The overall goal of your query is to get the agent to read on. Therefore, your query needs to intrigue them--not bore or confuse them.

Although these are my own opinions, I really believe there are just three steps every person should follow to write the best query ever (or at least an attention-grabbing query).

1. Characters

Establishing your main characters in your query is vital--but don't misinterpret that as trying to stuff all your main characters into your query. Although President Snow is an important character in the Hunger Games, I doubt that he made it into Collins' query.

The characters that you choose to introduce in your query should relate back to the tension and conflict in your book, which I'll get to in a minute. So if you think a character is important but they aren't amping up the intrigue of your query or are cluttering up your clarity, you probably don't need them.

2. Specifics

This can be a little tough, but let me explain. If you're too vague with your query, you will probably bore the agent who is reading it (or at least not catch their interest). I'm going to link Nathan Bradsford's query post here because 1) it's filled with excellent examples and 2) he does a way better job of explaining this.

The takeaway: avoid being vague if you can. If you're worried that the specifics in your query are too confusing, have someone else read it over.

3. Main tension/conflict

This is the giant cherry on your query sundae, friends. You have to establish your conflict. This is what is going to captivate agents attention more than anything else--more than characters, more than your specifics.

A while back I read Megan Shepherd's query letter of her YA novel, THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER (which, by the way, is amazing. One of my favorite 2013 reads!) that was posted on YA Highway. If you're looking for an example of characters, specific, and conflict, this is it.

After reading her entire query letter here, allow me to break it down:

Character's mentioned: Juliet Moreau, her father, the doctor's handsome young assistant.

Specifics mentioned: London, 1893, working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, etc.

Conflict #1: "But when she learns her father is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations were true."

Conflict #2: " of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants."

Conflict #3: "As the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent
of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood."

Megan covers these 3 bases in her query. She states her main character and the characters that are important to the conflict. She gives specifics (Juliet "works as a maid" and "attends church on Sundays" versus stating something like, "Juliet is a normal girl") and she mentions 3 areas of conflict.

Most importantly, allow tons of people to look over your query. If they are intrigued, you're doing it right. But if they are confused, need clarification, or bored, there are things you probably can improve. 

Before you write your query, chart it out! I created a query letter help guide (as seen below) so you can list it out before you begin writing your letter. I'm hoping it makes this process easier since you'll have your main points of intrigue right in front of you. If you try it, let me know if it works for you :)

I'm hoping this finds you at the end of NaNoWriMo when you're busy revising and gearing up to write that query letter!

Also, I also found these query-related posts helpful:
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, friends! Happy writing.

Farrah Penn enjoys staying up way too late and making up for it in large quantities of coffee. On top of her love for reading books with memorable characters, she also enjoys internet memes, yoga, and her adorably bratty dog. When she’s not rushing to complete marketing projects at work, she’s writing and daydreaming about traveling the world. Farrah writes YA and is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary.

You can also find her on Twitter @:

Drop her an email @:
And visit her blog at:
Monday, November 25, 2013

Ira Glass on Writing: the Pep Talk Remix (feat. Revisions)

I'm in the heart of Revisions City and it's nuts. Half of this weekend I've wanted to chuck this draft, and the other half I've been like WAIT SUCH A GREAT IDEA

Welcome to writing, amirite?

So today I'm pep talking, because I need a little reminder that there is light at the end of the scene-shifting reviso-tunnel. Maybe you do, too. If so, pull up a chair and grab a chocolaty holiday beverage, because this is about to get real. *cracks knuckles, grabs mic and turntables*

I know most of us have probably seen this great thing Ira Glass said, but if you haven't, have a gander below:

This is probably my favorite thing that anyone has ever said about writing. What I also love about this quote is that is pretty much perfectly gets my feels on the revisions process. With a few word substitutions, we have --voila ici-- a revisions pep talk. *disco ball and strobe lights engage* 

For the first couple of drafts, it's just not that good. 
There are some people out there who are capable of producing clean first drafts. But for the life of me, I am not one of them. I'm tempted to believe that these people are unicorns because the drafting process to me is just so much ceremonial bloodletting that it's hard to believe that a whole draft could come out okay. I like unicorns and would love to someday metamorphose into one; I'm just not there right now.

Because right now, all I can see is the gap between where this draft is and where it needs to be, and it's daunting.

There's a reason why NaNoWriMo tells you not to be afraid of things sucking. Sometimes it's got to suck so that you can see where the piece as a whole is going. This happens in math a lot too-- something you have to play around with the whole problem and it gets really ugly before you get that golden idea, that strategy that lets you solve it.

So, don't sweat the sucky parts. You'll figure them out eventually.

We know our manuscript doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this.
 It happens to everyone. Even Ira Glass. The verve, the magical kaiju bone powder, the ambrosia, the essential lightning is gone, its switch is flicked off. We are the overly enthusiastic buffaloes-on-trampolines of the world, and it's just Not Happening.

A very wise CP of mine has said that each draft is ruled by a certain part of you. The first draft is the gut draft-- you want the emotional punch and swing, you set up the schematics for the roller coaster ride you plan to take your reader on. The second draft you write with your head. You make sure that things make sense, you correct your goofy spelling errors, and you solidify characters. The third draft you write with your heart. Here you marry the emotional gut-punch to the cerebral awesomeness that you added in during draft mach two.

Let draft uno do its thing. Fix the weirdo stuff in the brain draft, and then tie everything up with the heart draft. Just know that no one expects you to nail it 100% the first time through.

And if you're just starting on a first draft or you're still feeling this in revisions, you gotta know it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. 
Writing advice can be all over the place. Some people will tell you to do one thing, others tell you to do the opposite. Ultimately, it's about being familiar with whatever you're doing, feeling comfortable enough with your tools as a creator of stuff, and using them to their best advantage. And you get that level of comfort by working on a draft a whole lot. 

So, go do that. 

Maybe you want to write impressive fanfiction stories to work on character development without the weight of creating a world that works on your shoulders. Maybe you want to chill with some poetry and work on how words interlace. Maybe you want to map out your world. Whatever it's going to take for you to have a better handle on your work, go for it.

The more you do it, the better you get.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish a chapter, or every month you nail a revision, or whatever works for you. Hold yourself accountable and finish things.
It's not going to be pretty. In fact, it's probably going to get uglier before it gets better. But still, you've gotta keep moving.

You're a writer, and you write. You're not an okay-let's-go-oops-wait-giving-up-now-er. You write, so figure out how to work writing into your schedule. Maybe every day works for you and you love waking up early. Maybe it really really does not work for you, but you find that when you have five or six dedicated hours, you rock it. Whatever. Somehow, write.

It's only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap and your manuscript will be as good as that vision of it you have in your head. 
We humans are fallible. And that's okay. If I can make something better each time I pass through the manuscript, then awesome. It's better than it was before.

Sometimes it's going to get 75% better. Sometimes it'll be a measly 38% or even only 6% if it's an off day. Sometimes you're going to rock it and a scene is going to be 100% more awesome than it was. But hey, all these things are great. Why? Because in some way, large or small, your draft is getting better-- it's incrementally inching towards the place you want it to be. So don't knock yourself if it's slow going, even though it's wicked tempting, even if you only change like three words because you haven't figured out totally where your characters are going.

You made something better, even if it was small. Your draft is better for it, and closer to where it needs to be. Give yourself a pat on the back (and eat some chocolate, dude, because that is never not sage life advice).

It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take a while.

It feels like it is literally one of my CPs weekly duties to gchat me telling me it takes as long as it takes for this revision. (Related: if you're reading this, hi you are a saint.)

And you know what? As much as I give myself grief for being the slowest of the slow with respect to pulling this mega-zord of a manuscript together, I know when it's done it's going to be pretty cool. And I know that when your drafts are done, gentle readers, they too will kick much ass. Because, as Ira Glass says:

You've just gotta fight to fight your way through.

When Alex Yuschik isn't writing her next YA novel, she's working on someone else's as an intern at Entangled Publishing. She writes about lock picks, ghosts, the abandoned places in cities, and how not to strike bargains with stars. Between sneaking in time to game and rocking out to indie music, Alex spends the rest of her free time working towards her PhD in mathematics. You know, as one does.

You can find her on Twitter @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @: 
Friday, November 22, 2013

Five Steps to Get You Through NaNoWriMo During Thanksgiving

I know a lot of you are SO CLOSE to finishing your NaNoWriMo project, so I'm here to help you get through Thanksgiving while finishing NaNo.

Step 1: Wake up early, hideaway on your lunch breaks, and squeeze as much writing time in as you can these next few days. Bringing your journal to work, and scribbling down all the words you can, will definitely increase your word count as you work on it later that night.

I find that most of the words I write in my journal, even though it's a whole scene or more, I end up rewriting when I get to a computer. The amount of words I get from it, though, can be pretty awesome.

Step 2: Writing sprints like crazy.

We've already mentioned this, and pretty much every NaNo support site has, but it's seriously the biggest way to get things done quick. Even if no one's around on Twitter to participate, timing yourself and getting the sprints in will easily catch up on NaNo before Thanksgiving.

Step 3: Find your writerly-safe place.

If you follow me on Twitter than you know about my trip to Panera for the first time. This works, you guys! I always wondered why people went to coffee shops and such, but it's crazy how much work you can get done.

Getting yourself away from family, friends, and, more importantly, the TV will get you focused on writing in no time. I was still tweeting and whatnot, of course, but I got through nearly 200 pages of revisions just from sitting in Panera and focusing. Taking a little time away from everything will get you situated and ready to tackle ALL THE NANO.

Step 4: This step needs one word and one word only. Caffeine.

I can't even tell you how much work I get done while hopped up on caffeine. Coffee, tea, soda, younameit. This is going to be your best friend. Order that extra large beverage at Starbucks or Panera and get to gulping that ish down, because you're gonna need it. And if you don't drink caffeine . . .

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Nah, I'm just kidding. I just really wanted to say that. (OMG CATCHING FIRE RELEASES THIS WEEKEND. AAAAAAGH) Okay I'm back.

And the most important step is this:

Step 5: It's okay to sit back, relax, and not write on Thanksgiving. You've worked hard. Give yourself a little break and enjoy ALL THE FOOD.

The Secret Life wishes you all a HAPPY THANKSGIVING and a Happy Farewell to another NaNoWriMo.

We'll see you back in December! xo

Heather Marie is a YA writer who loves all things creepy. She enjoys writing horror/supernatural stories that make you question that feeling of someone watching over your shoulder. Heather spends most of her days reading and writing and plotting her next idea. When she's not in her writing cave, she enjoys watching creepy TV shows with her husband and picking apart plot holes in movies.

You can find her on Twitter @:
And visit her website @:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Gifts for Writers

Are you thinking about Christmas yet? "It's not even Thanksgiving, Leah!" you say? Well, too bad because I love Christmas!!!

And I wanted to do something fun for the blog today so here we go! Here are some awesome gifts for writers!

The Alphasmart

This is number one on my Christmas list. I've heard tons of great things from other writers like Lisa Burnstein and Karen Mahoney. Apparently, it's perfect for fast drafting. PLUS, all the ones I've looked at were only about $30-$40!


I'm pretty sure we've all had those days where we didn't get out of our pajamas until well after noon (or not at all). I don't know about you guys, but I'd totally rock these footie pajamas. I found these here:
There are over 3,500 results for writer pajamas.

Coffee/Chocolate/Snackies ANYTHING

We love our coffee/chocolate/snackies, amirite? I mean, I'd be delighted to just get a bag of Almond Joys under the tree.


Here's a search of "for writers" on Etsy. I can't really see anything that I wouldn't want!

Plot Twist Cards

These cards look really cool. We all need a little inspiration. Plus, these might help that writer beat that block.

And if all else fails buy that writer A BOOK! What's on your Xmas wishlist this year, writers?
Monday, November 18, 2013

How Writing a Novel is Sort of Like Running a 5k

This past week, I did two things: one, I finished editing my newest book and FINALLY managed to let go of the perfectionist death grip I had on it and send it to my agent; and two, I decided that I would start training for a 5k. If you knew me in real life, you’d know why this second part was funny (read: because I haven’t done any actual hardcore physical exercise in about…oh, five years). Aside from the occasional tennis match or hiking trip, my activity level has been pretty dismal as of late. This wasn’t always the case, though; I played soccer pretty much year round through high school. I also played basketball through middle school--but I was terrible at it, so I like to pretend that part never happened. Except it did, and so as a teen (which wasn’t that long ago, thank you very much), I was totally in shape.

But see, the thing about being in shape is…you have to keep working to stay in shape.

I know.

Mind. Blown.

But that’s not the point of this post, really. And as much as I love tangents and needlessly long blog posts, I’ll spare you and jump straight into the part that hopefully you guys can relate to, especially as some of you are trudging dutifully along through your NaNo projects. Obviously not everyone is going to have the same experience, and it may differ from book to book, but in basically all five first drafts I’ve written, this is how it goes:

The First Mile, aka the First Few Chapters of a New Book

I am so. Totally. Pumped. to run.

Headphones are in, blasting “Roar” by Katy Perry (don’t judge me), and as soon as I hit the “go” button on my running app, I rocket from the start line and sprint basically the whole first mile. 

No really, this is how I run
Similarly, the first few chapters of a new book? Awesome. So full of energy! Possibility! Fingers are flying across the keyboard and I don't even need Katy Perry because I'm about to rock this book so hard. I wrote the first three chapters in a week! At this rate, I'll be at 80k by the end of the month!

Haha. Right. Except then comes...

The Second Mile, aka the Why the Crap Did I Start This What Was I Thinking This Book/5k is Going to Kill Me And Just Ugggggggh part 

Now Katy is just getting on my nerves. 

Still running, but it's become a bit more like a trudge. My feet hurt. As do my calves. Is it normal for my breathing to sound like that? I don't think it's normal for my breathing to sound like that. What if I just laid down right here on the ground? Would someone come pick me up, I wonder? Maybe if I was really dramatic about it and caught their attention...

Also still writing at this point, but wondering too if it would really be so bad to just scrap the author dream and flip burgers for the rest of my life instead. I mean, I do love burgers. And french fries. And since I'm doing all this running, I can eat as much of that stuff as I want, right? Isn't that how that works? (side note: I really want a burger now).

I think middles are hardest for me because the novelty/excitement of beginning has worn off, but I'm still so far from the end that I can't really get excited about that, either. Every time I make it through the dreaded middle part of the book, I come out on the other side with no idea of how I managed it. It's usually a blur of just getting up every day and sitting down at the computer and making it happen. I'm counting every tenth of a mile (or every 5k words) as a victory at this point, and trying to celebrate those until I reach...

The Last Mile, aka the Holy Crap I'm Going to Finish This Book part

Okay Katy Perry, you can come back now. Because I can see the finish line! The pain in my feet and calves is gone now. That might be because the heat and exhaustion is causing delusions, but it's okay! I'm going to finish!

And whether I'm running or writing, I love this part. People around me probably don't (particularly when it comes to my writing) because this is the part where I become absolutely, completely, obsessed. There's really no other word for it; I'm in "finish-the-book slash race" mode, and nothing is going to stop me. Not rain or snow or sleet or eating or drinking or showering. (okay, maybe occasionally showering.)

And then, what feels like very suddenly, even though I've been building up to it for miles and tens of thousands of words, I'm done. And I'm all

But face-planting aside, it's a great feeling. So great that, despite the fact that my entire body hates me for it, I'm going to do it all over again tomorrow.

So what about you guys? Do you start out sprinting or trudging?  Do you love middles as much as I hate them? Any advice for enduring a 5k? (or writing a book, perhaps?). Share your thoughts in the comments!

And for those of you in the middle of the NaNo race (or just the writing a book in general race), I wish you endurance and happy thoughts of the finish line! You can do eeet.

Stefanie Gaither writes YA novels about killer clones and spaceships, with the occasional romp with dragons and magic-users thrown in for good measure. Said writing is generally fueled by an obscene amount of coffee and chocolate, as well as the occasional tennis and/or soccer break. She's represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary, and her debut novel, FALLS THE SHADOW, is forthcoming from Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

You can find her on Twitter @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @: 

Friday, November 15, 2013

How to Write When You Feel Like Death

Hey all,

If you've been hanging out on Twitter recently, you may have noticed that I am not there. This is a bit of a travesty, guys, because I love it there and I miss you all. But see, I'm two weeks max away from delivering my second baby, and I basically feel like death warmed over. All day. Everyday.

I'm also doing NaNoWriMo.

So there really is only so much energy allowance I have per day, and I know that I burn most of it up by 6pm. Therefore, between the hours of 6am and 6pm, I know I have to work, take care of my other slightly needy kid, and write for NaNo. Twitter is on the back-burner for now.

Which brings me to this list here that I compiled. Even though I haven't been actively tweeting, I have been stalking all of your feeds and watching you ratchet up your word counts through the insanity that is NaNo. I've also seen a few of you get the flu, start feeling run down, and just downright burnt out. That is so sad, and I feel you. My word count is abysmal at this moment. But if you're struggling with feeling awful and still have the drive to finish, I have a few tips I've picked up from my author friends and from my own experience (I was in a similar situation last year and still managed to finish!).

Let Go of Your Story: I know the point of NaNo is to complete a draft of something or other in 30 days. But I find that if I tell myself it has to be this draft, in this way, I close off all the creative floodgates when I need them most. And let's be honest, you need as much excitement and creative power as possible right now to carry you through the next fifteen days of this marathon. So feel free to give yourself some space. That plot bunny that's come up during the first half of this? Follow it down the hole. That short story you've been wanting to finish? Do it. Writing is writing, and writing is more fun when you're doing it passionately. So bring some life back into this race when you're not feeling at your best but you still want to reach the finish line.

Write or Die. Sometimes It Feels Like They Take That Literally: I love Write or Die for certain situations, like when I've planned out the next scene pretty meticulously and I know I can whip through it with a little help from Write or Die, and I feel like the words will still be decent ones. However, this is a code red situation, and you may not feel up to putting in anymore effort into planning for this story on top of actually writing it. So just turn that sucker on in kamikaze mode, and write. And don't care if they're shitty. I swear, don't. It's about survival right now, remember?

Small Chunks Are Key: Part of the reason my word count is awful is because I haven't tallied up all of my words scattered over my iPad, phone, and various notebooks yet. I write whenever I feel a tiny bout of energy bubbling up, and I write for literally five minutes (or until that energy evaporates. Sometimes it's three minutes). I don't usually operate like this, and it's kind of tough for me. I like to write in looooong stretches, because I can feel myself getting better as the time goes on. I run the same way. But when you're not feeling like your most awesome self, feel free to write for five minutes here, ten minutes there. It makes the task less daunting, plus you'll be surprised how much you actually get done throughout the day.

Rewards and Rest: I've written about rewards are rest on my personal blog before, but I'm just going to reiterate it here: you're not going to want to do this when you feel like crap if there isn't some kind of reward in it for you. I'm not talking about intrinsic rewards, the "Oh, but I feel so accomplished ones!" No. That may work when you're not stressed and sick, but that is not going to fly right now. I reward myself with Tums. How pathetic is that? But it works. My conversation with myself goes something like this: "I know you have terrible heartburn right now, but I need you to write in this notebook for five more minutes. I'll set a timer. When you're finished, you get some sweet, sweet relief in the form of Berry Smoothie Tums, mmk?" If you're not into the whole depriving your body of medicine and pee breaks tactic, try something else you want just as badly: a twenty minute nap, a fifteen minute browse on Pinterest, a latte, a cookie, whatever. I'm serious. Whatever works.

So there you have it! By the way, these tips don't just apply to NaNo. I also use these when I'm feeling under the weather or stressed any time of the year and there's a deadline I'm trying to meet. Anyway, I know you guys can do this! See you at the finish line!

Andrea Hannah is a YA writer represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider. Her debut novel, OF SCARS AND STARDUST, is coming from Flux in Fall 2014. She writes stories about criminals, crazy people, and creatures that may or may not exist. When she's not writing, Andrea teaches special education, runs, spends time with her family, and tries to figure out a way to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (still unsuccessful). Oh, and she tweets a bajillion times a day, mostly about inappropriate things.

You can find her on Twitter @:
Drop her an email @:
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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Super Helpful Flow Chart for Writers Who Like to Procrastinate

Flow charts are awesome. 

A post on Buzzfeed inspired me to create a flow chart for writers. But what would the topic be, I asked myself. And then it came to me. I can't be the only one who joins the procrastination club on occasion. There are times when the world of the interwebs or That One TV Show seem way more interesting than what I have to write.

So. I have created a flow chart for us. The next time you feel like procrastinating, you can be honest with yourself by asking these simple questions. 

Keep writing on, friends! ;) 

Farrah Penn enjoys staying up way too late and making up for it in large quantities of coffee. On top of her love for reading books with memorable characters, she also enjoys internet memes, yoga, and her adorably bratty dog. When she’s not rushing to complete marketing projects at work, she’s writing and daydreaming about traveling the world. Farrah writes YA and is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary.

You can also find her on Twitter @:
Drop her an email @:
And visit her blog at:
Monday, November 11, 2013

Revision Tools from Alex's Nano Rebellion

Hey guys! Hope writing's going well, especially if you're doing NaNoWriMo. :)

For my NaNo project this year, I'm trying something new. Instead of writing 50k words in a first draft, I'm cutting and rewriting 50k words in the manuscript I've been revising.

It's been challenging to get through the first week, but revising under time pressure has taught me a lot about my own editing process, so I'm sharing what I've learned thus far. Whether you're rebelling and revising with me, revising as you write, or looking for ideas for December's edits, hopefully there's something in here that can help you out.

When I use a feeling by name, I double-check that I'm not telling in that sentence. 
One of the really awkward things about revising is reading over all the stuff you thought was super hot, and then cringing when you spot all the telling you're doing. Naming emotions tends to get me into trouble. Unless you're doing an awesome take on feelings like Kelsey and personifying emotions *obligatory Fear fangirl moment* or inside a character's head, dialoguing, or something to that effect, then chances are these emo-nouns are telling where there needs to be showing.

And when you start looking for them, it's kind of intimidating. Because they're EVERYWHERE.

oh god not you again
Most of the adverbs that I cut are things like "angrily" or "quizzically" or "vehemently"-- all of which aren't that needed if I'm making my dialogue convey the rage, confusion, or urgency it should. Sometimes it's fine (my rule of thumb is that in dialogue anything goes), but I don't want things like "His fear was becoming suffocating." or "Love wasn't something he had time for." making it to the next draft. That's the telling that I want to get rid off.

Minor characters are where it's at.
One of my CPs and I regularly geek out over how awesome minor characters are. Why? These are people you added to your story to accomplish a certain function, but in true writerly sleight of hand you can't let the reader know that. So, you do the only thing you can do, which is to make them utterly amazing and hilarious.

While my main pair is busy with their own problems:

My minor characters are also busy:

"I'm sorry, are you having an emotional conflict? I can't hear you over the sound of how awesome I am."

What's great about minor characters is the amount of freedom you have. Maybe you just need one around as a benchmark for how much your protagonist has changed, but don't let that stop you from making them awesome. My favorite dude in this manuscript is my main character's father-- I love snarky, angry people, and this guy is such a guilty pleasure to write that whatever scene he comes into he pretty much steals the limelight (and all the olives out of the fridge). 

Taking another look at diversity.
The story I'm revising is a contemporary taking place in the present. I want to be sure that my manuscript accurately reflects the people you'd find if you went there-- whether it's the race demographic or LGBT characters. And yeah, I'm a white, straight girl trying to write characters that aren't those things. I'm really nervous about messing up. I'm completely prepared for someone to tell me that I'm doing everything wrong, and that I am exactly zero, none, no good.

my feels

But more than I'm anxiety-attacking about offending every person ever, I know I can write human beings. I can write angry people (see hilarious angry father a few paragraphs ago). I can write serious, pragmatic, but secretly goofy people, and I can also write happy people hiding a deep sadness. I can research my heart out. And maybe (probably) I won't get it exactly perfect, but I'd rather try than stop myself because I'm too afraid I'll fail.

Revisions are my time to tighten up character identities and push myself. If you're also writing diverse characters, needing/wanting ideas or help, and not yet checking out the cool stuff that Diversity in YA is doing, get on that! They are awesome. :)

Beat management-- aka, no one shakes their head that much in real life. 
I love my dialogue tags, but a lifetime of watching TV shows has made beats an integral part of my writing. I swear, most of the things that I am cutting out of this manuscript are "She nods." or "He blinks." Don't get me wrong, I love beats. But relying too much on the quick, two-word ones sometimes makes your poor characters end up like this:

"But you need to know it's me doing the speaking, so here you go."
I feel like I'm writing the reaction gifs of my characters sometimes, and sometimes that needs to get pared down or re-modded. I really like having my characters do things while they're talking, so I can use the beats to have them accomplishing different tasks-- like putting a straw into a juice carton or climbing up trapdoors-- instead of always nodding along or staring incredulously.

Research is fun. Also, addictive. Also, the internet is scary. 
I've never been to the city where my manuscript is set, but I have Google Maps'd that place and gotten an idea of the local layout. I've researched weather conditions, local landmarks, and cool places for the characters to explore. Have I gone on streetview along neighborhoods to get an idea of what it looks like to walk through it? Yeah. Have I picked out a real house I think would be totally perfect for my main character? Yes. 

Is it creepy and insane that we have the technology for me to do this?

Cut the superfluous stuff and get to the magical cookies. 
Susan Dennard has a great post on this-- pretty much, if you're not excited to write a scene, your readers aren't going to be excited to read it either. It's like you're constantly at war for being the most awesome thing on your reader's mind. 

Kill every darling. 
Slay them. If it sounds cute, it gets cut. I keep my cuts in a separate document (which is how I'm keeping track of my word count for NaNo), so it's not like any darlings are killed forever. But more often then not, when I read through things in my cuts doc I can see why they were too weak to stay in the draft. If it can't hold its own in the manuscript, if my liking it is the only reason it's in here, then it has no place in the final version. It's tough love, but it's making the story better. 

Any darlings left must be at least this fabulous.

And that's my report from revision land. How are your NaNoWriMo projects going, guys? Or if you're revising like me, share your favorite tricks for gettin' it done. :)

When Alex Yuschik isn't writing her next YA novel, she's working on someone else's as an intern at Entangled Publishing. She writes about lock picks, ghosts, the abandoned places in cities, and how not to strike bargains with stars. Between sneaking in time to game and rocking out to indie music, Alex spends the rest of her free time working towards her PhD in mathematics. You know, as one does.

You can find her on Twitter @:
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Friday, November 8, 2013

Author Interview: April Tucholke

I couldn't wait to interview one of my amazing friends and author of the beautifully creepy gothic horror: BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA. April Tucholke's novel has been one of the most sought after books since it was announced, and people who were lucky enough to read it before its release have praised this book insane amounts. Of course, it is now available for purchase and if you haven't got it yet, you need to rectify this, immediately! 

I absolutely loved everything about BETWEEN and seriously cannot wait for its sequel. Read on to learn more about April's brilliant mind.

What inspired you to write BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA?

I read this crazy article when I was living in Scotland: and it really inspired me. How did this rumor about the vampire spread so fast? Who started it? Did it all trace back to one brilliant little liar of a kid? 

Has the editing/writing process for BETWEEN THE SPARK AND THE BURN been any easier than book one? 

Definitely. Learning to draft and edit is an acquired skill like anything else. I’m better at it now. I’ve got the melody down. It’s still hard. Brutally hard. Especially drafting. But I’m slowly getting the hang of it. 

People sometimes tweak their writing process with every manuscript to find new ways that work for them. Has being published changed the way you plot/outline as you jump into book two? 

Not really. I still do pretty much the same thing. Spend days and days thinking about the plot. Discuss it at length with my husband. Read things and watch things and go places to get inspired. The write a 2 or 3 page outline…and begin. Generally about 2/3 of the way through I’ll take a step back and look at what I’ve got so far and then try to figure out how to make the ending a lot more cool than it was in the outline.

What do you do when you get stuck? Do you wait it out or do you have strategies for getting unstuck?

I don’t often get stuck. I just push myself through it. It’s like cooking. Some days you’re inspired, other days cooking feels loathsome and tedious and hateful. But either way you have to eat. And either way you want the food to be good. If I absolutely need to I’ll take a long walk or read some pages of a book I love and hope to get my spark back. It always returns.

The phrase “kill your darlings” comes up a lot during editing and revisions. What are the hardest scenes for you to cut or edit out but that you’re glad you did?

Hmm. I’m kind of a lean writer so I almost always need to add, not cut. Sometimes I have to tone down violence. And madness. I try to transform the scene, rather than cut it entirely though. 

What’s better: a kickass villain that you almost want to cheer for or hilarious minor characters? Tell us why!

Kickass villain. Always. Gothic horror plots thrive on passionate antagonists that both seduce and repel at the same time. Byronic heroes—what’s not to love? See: Wuthering Heights, Dracula, Dragonwyck, The Phantom of the Opera, Interview with a Vampire, Jamaica Inn…

Do you have any secret writing habits?

Just coffee. Coffee and a snuggly Bichon and maybe a quick weekend trip somewhere lively and cool to get my muse going. 

Bio below from Goodreads:

April Genevieve Tucholke is a full-time writer who digs classic movie, redheaded villains, bit kitchens, and discussing murder at the dinner table. She and her husband––a librarian, former rare-book dealer, and journalist––live in Oregon. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is her first novel. 

The Secret Life would like to thank April for taking the time to answer our questions. We are so looking forward to the sequel: BETWEEN THE SPARK AND THE BURN, and can't wait to see what other awesome book ideas she has in store for the future. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Secret of Being an Awkward Author

So, one of the things that happens once you've worked your butt off getting that novel ready for publication and it comes out and everything is awesome is author appearances! This past weekend I attended the Louisiana Book Festival at the state library down in Baton Rouge. And I wasn't just there to walk around and look at all the pretty books. I was invited to do a panel AND a signing!

The night before the festival was the super exclusive author party where I met some awesome authors like Claudia Gray, Ashley Elston, and Aimee Agresti.

This is one of those experiences that I daydreamed about before I was published. The whole rubbing elbows with NYT bestsellers and being asked to speak to crowds of people.

Ashley and me talking to a room full of people about writing.

Not to mention signing my very own book. Saying that very professional sentence: "Who do I make it out to?"

Now, in my daydreams I was always smooth, confident, and knowledgeable, but in real life? Yeah, not so much. At the author party, I felt so awkward and out of place among all these very hip and experienced people. It's really weird. Writing is such a solitary venture most of the time then once you're published you're expected to go out into the world of actual people *gasp* and be, ya know, normal. When really I'm all:

The cool thing was everyone there was so nice and supportive. I realized that these people I'd been afraid of were just like me. They are big-time authors, sure, but they're just people. People who geek out over the upcoming X-Men movie (Claudia and I had a super fun convo about that). People who are just as nervous as I am (Ashley and I fully admitted to each other that we were nervous as hell over that panel).

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is just relax. We're all regular people who love reading and writing. And that's a beautiful thing.