Week 3, twenty-five percent.
That’s how much of the book I’ve edited so far. Out of 13 chapters, 4 have been completely rewritten from scratch. Two have been cut. Most of the others have been altered in some way. It’s not as far as I wanted to be, not as much as some other mentees, but I’m pretty proud of what I’ve managed
The scariest part by far hasn’t been hitting delete on all the darlings. It’s been sending back the new words that fill that void.
The book I submitted to PW was the most polished in my life. It had been through multiple self-edits, a dozen readers at various stages, had a few agent looks. And suddenly I was being expected to write BRAND NEW first-draft quality words, and send them to my mentors soon? Without even taking time to go over them for weeks? When I’ve still used some variation of “look” four times in the same paragraph because what are words?
All my confidence, down the proverbial toilet, which is where it feels like a lot of these first draft words belong.
If you want some examples of the work put in so far:
The first two chapters rewritten from scratch to make them more dynamic, clearly establish the place of the two POV characters in the world when the story starts, and provide a more dramatic introduction to the worldbuilding.
Cutting an external ticking clock to focus instead on internal pressure on the MC and her own responsibility.
Aging up the MC, giving her more agency in the world and slightly more maturity in how she approaches things (she’s still quite sheltered, but has more opinions now.)
More emotional and sensory description (still working on this, it will be the main focus of the second round.)
The plan for this week is to get through at least chapter twenty so I can feel like I’m making serious progress (and also get all my kids playing in the same sandbox because that’s my favorite part.)
Craft Resource of the Week
Some of you know I was also in Author Mentor Match with a previous MS, and the founder, Alexa Donne, has one of the most informative and transparent authortube channels around! This is the place to get the publishing insider info most people never talk about.
One thing about writing- it’s free! Or can be. But when a recent twitter user posted about all the expenses he’s accumulated over the years of writing (including travel to conferences and pitch events), others chimed in with their own experiences and opinions on what you should have to pay to launch a writing career.
So I decided to sit down and take an honest look on what I’ve spent so far on this dream of publication, and whether or not I think the expense was worth it. Note I’ve been writing for 15 years, but this has all been in the last 5-6 as I got serious.
Online Writing Courses
I’ve taken two courses through Litreactor, “How to Write and Sell the Young Adult Novel,” with a literary agent and writer as the course runners (cost: $450), and one on outlining with the incomparable Delilah Dawson (cost: $350). I also recently took an Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy course through Inked Voices (cost $99).
The problem with these kinds of courses is so much is based around peer critique instead of the expert opinions, and especially with Litreactor, the attrition rate in the classes are high, and there was no one forcing people to participate (some people like throwing away money I guess?). I found I got much better critique from people I’ve found on twitter who write in similar genres and are similarly dedicated to their publishing path.
The value also depends on how involved the expert you’re paying for is willing to be. In the first course I took, I was very disappointed with the amount of interaction- the agent was barely on the forum, and the query and page critique at the end was cursory and in no way worth the huge amount of money the course cost. I did get a great friend and CP out of it, but thinking about how much money it was…I still cringe. At the time I had no CPs, no real understanding of the publishing industry, and just knew I liked YA and wanted to maybe try this thing I’d just heard about called PW (oh if past self could see me now). Google led me to the paid course, and I thought it would be a shortcut to telling me exactly what to do, thus worth it. Nope.
The outlining course was much better (and was the start of my PW book!), since Delilah was willing to check in daily, offer up lots of exercises and examples from her own writing, and was really insightful in her critiques. The problem, however, was that we were meant to be working in planning groups the whole time, and when half the group disappeared by the end and we were reshuffled into critique groups for stories we hadn’t looked at, things got awkward.
The Inked Voices course, however, had much more active participants, great feedback, and a chance for an agent phone call at the end, all for a very reasonable price.
Total spent: $900
Worth it? Only the Inked Voices class. But overall I think you’re better off booking something like 10 minutes with an agent, where you can get direct professional feedback and avoid the worst parts of group work.
I’ve bid on a couple of author/agent query critiques through charity auctions.
Total spent: $50
Worth it? Yes. The feedback has been confidence boosting, though mostly things I could have figured out on my own, and it’s nice to give to causes I would have donated to anyway!
Some of you know that my book has a secondary POV character who is trans, and the second I realized he was going to be a POV character I started saving money for sensitivity readers. Yes, plural. No one person should be expected to represent the entire spectrum of their identity (more on this in a later post specifically addressing what it’s like to use sensitivity readers and how to work with their feedback!).
Worth it? Yes, and a non-negotiable in my opinion if you’re dealing with something outside your own experience.
I like to work on paper, meaning printer, paper, and ink. Adding a little for my notebook and gel pen addiction.
Cost: Probably around $600 over the years.
Worth it? For me, yes, but if you can train yourself to enjoy working on a screen, do it. Your eyes and the Earth will thank you.
I love craft books. I own probably 7-8, and am always hungry for more (another future post: craft book reviews).
Cost: Maybe $120 in total?
Worth it: Yes. I’ve gotten way more out of studying craft books and analyzing books I love than any of those paid courses.
In conclusion: The best education for writing is reading, writing, and critique, all of which can be done for low or no cost just by making friends and keeping your eyes on your paper. Save your money for things you can’t do yourself (like checking rep- hire those SRs!) or for things that give you a lot of bang for your buck (direct consultations with enthusiastic experts, craft books).
This has been the shortest two weeks of my writing life. The mentees have a little over two months to get their books together, and for most of us, that means two rounds of edits in quick succession.
I’m currently aiming for around 50-70 pages per week, which gets me done with R1 just before Christmas, and my timeline is generous compared to a lot of the class of ’19! So far I’ve already done a bottom-up rewrite of chapters 1 and 2, revised 3 and 4, got stuck on 5 and 6 and hit a panic button, and am sorting it out with mentor help.
I’m slightly behind where I want to be, in part because of the panic, and in part because I had to make a revision outline.
You’d think that would be the MOST OBVIOUS THING, but I am the pantsing queen. I never know anything about my books except where they start, and when I’m revising I only have the vaguest notion of the story as a whole for an embarrassingly long time (think multiple drafts). I was kind of hoping to get through pitch wars without outlining at all.
No such luck.
So I set myself a challenge. I was going to write a fresh outline without looking at my book to see if I could remember all the important points, where cause-and-effect come into play, and changes I intended. After all, if I couldn’t connect the dots, how could a reader?
Even after 5 drafts (more on this in a later post!), after finishing I still found things I left out because it turned out they weren’t actually important, and places that needed to be bridged because I hadn’t properly established them. I highly recommend this technique for anyone unsure if their story works as a whole or who has never made an outline- see if the plot and character arcs have stuck with you enough that you can lay out the dominoes and knock them over from memory. Anything that you can’t remember probably won’t stick with the reader, either.
Craft Resource of the Week:
I tried to teach myself to love outlining with Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat Writes a Novel. It hasn’t entirely worked, but I understand story beats a lot better now, and the dissections of popular novels are gold!
We often talk about the writers/stories who influenced our books, we’re forced to in fact- comp titles are a real and painful thing.
But even in fantasy there is so much else that we take into the worlds we build. While I’m firmly into second world fantasy and thus you could say I don’t have anything to “research,” there’s still a lot of background that goes into how a world is constructed.
I’m going to use myself as an example. My Pitch Wars book is a second-world fantasy that takes place in a society run by a church with a complicated history and questionable magic. I’ve always been fascinated by religious ritual (I went from Lutheran to Episcopalian because I needed more church in my church) and majored in art history with particular focuses on cathedral architecture and Gustave Moreau’s tortured visionary paintings, so dark theology was a natural starting point for me when it came to world development.
My own interests weren’t enough for me to build a complex world that felt real, but using them as a starting point meant that the background reading was really fun!
Here are a few of my favorite resources:
The Gnostic Bible.
The theology of my pitchwars book was heavily influenced by gnostic writing and the concept of the Monad and Demiurge, which attempted to reconcile the fact that God is almighty and good with the fact that evil exists in the world. The Gnostic Bible is a wonderful collection of very readable translations of some of the most important texts that I literally read for fun.
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way” is a powerful theme.
The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris Medicine used to be really scary, y’all.
I spend a ton of time commuting on trains that are crowded to the point that you can’t hold a book, so podcasts are an important part of my process, and I cannot deny that My Favorite Murder probably had a hand in my wanting to write about a serial killer.
More directly, I listened to a lot of Stuff You Missed in History.
I also looked at city and cathedral layouts, and found out that at least one medieval cathedral had a bowling alley.
My cathedral does not have a bowling alley because I am pretty sure it would give Ilan a headache, but anyone else, there’s your world building note for the day.
If you’re looking to make your fantasy world real, you have to immerse yourself in what is real. Societies don’t spring up from nothing. They come from something, and they’re going somewhere, and paying attention to the texture of history and how you can use it will make your worlds infinitely richer. But if you start with an area you’re already interested in, it’s not going to feel like work at all.
On November 3rd, I was sitting in my favorite writing spot trying to puzzle out the next part of my Nano project when I found out I’d gotten into Pitch Wars..
Exactly one week to the hour later I was sitting in the same spot, finishing up my read through of the manuscript with my edit letter and a fresh notebook full of scene-level notes and worldbuilding ideas.
For a lot of mentees, the edit letter looms as a gigantic cloud on the horizon ready to darken the sunny excitement of being chosen. We’ve all heard the stories- mentees who had to cut beloved characters, rewrite entire acts, change from first to third or vice-versa, create subplots (or even a main plot!) from whole cloth.
As a writer with anxiety, it’s no wonder I spent the night after Pitch Wars staring at my ceiling coming up with every way my manuscript had gone wrong.
Luckily my mentors were already prepared with my edit letter, so I didn’t have to suffer long! And when I got it, it all made sense. Nothing in it was a big surprise, except the fact that I thought I could actually do all of it. Lots of notes about character agency, world building, adding depth and emotional beats, as well as encouragement for what was working in the book.
You’d think I’d be thrilled, but here’s my dirty little secret- this is the part that scares me most about writing. I love the wild freedom of pure creation- if I’d been told to cut half the book and come up with something fresh I would have launched myself into it with zeal. But having to sit with what I wrote, confront the uncomfortable and embarrassing truth that it still could still be better, and make the choices that will get it there? Thinking about what scenes need to accomplish and ways I can do it more effectively? Deep diving into character to show internal waves instead of settling for rippling surfaces?
That’s hard. That frightens me. That is where imposter syndrome kicks in and I’m pretty sure every decision I make is going to be wrong, and I’d rather go back and hide in the comfortable blanket of just being pretty good with no ambitions of greatness.
But I’m going to do it anyway.
Craft Resource of the Week:
One of the bigger changes in my MS is aging up my MC to make sure it reads as a fully adult novel. Melissa Caruso, author of The Tethered Mage and its sequels, has a ton of info on writing YA vs adult and other great topics that she tags as #WritingCraftMC (and her whole account is gold, go give her a follow).
I’m Kate, a fantasy author originally from the southern US, but now living in Tokyo and dealing with the shock of having gone from a town of 4000 to a city of 9 million.
I’ve been writing almost my whole life. In junior high and high school I was consumed by fanfiction (Sailor Moon, Gundam Wing, GetBackers…anyone remember GetBackers?), but when I got to college I found NaNoWriMo and realized hey, I could write something longer than an angst drabble (or at least pad out the angst drabbles with plot). I wrote bad novels, wrote a better novel, queried for the first time, bombed querying for the first time, graduated, and moved to Japan to teach English.
Then I didn’t write fiction seriously for several years. I started working for a now-defunct web magazine, and spent hours and hours writing, but none of it was my own. And I missed the creativity and joy of creating my own worlds.
So I went back to my NaNoWriMo roots. I finished an urban fantasy, I queried too soon, I bombed again. But this time, I found a guiding light- writer twitter. Writer twitter was not a thing when I first started writing. Advice and query tips had to be dug out of the dark places of the internet like tomb treasure, with equally iffy results, but writer twitter was turning on a light and realizing you’re already standing in the equivalent of an informational walmart. I started writing another book, an epic YA fantasy with dragons and magic and an unlikably ambitious heroine. I studied craft threads. I found readers. I got rejected by Pitch Wars, but had a mentor who read the full nudge me in a better direction. And then, in ‘17, I got into Author Mentor Match with that same book.
I got my first edit letter (big shoutout to lizparkerwrites on twitter). I found amazing cheerleaders and critique partners and best friends (R3!!) I polished and polished and polished, questioned every sentence on the page, polished more. I queried again with my head held high.
And bombed even worse than I had the first two times. There were tears. I couldn’t believe that this book, the best book I’d ever written, the book a mentor and all my new friends had believed in, had to be trunked.
I was humiliated. I felt like I’d blown a chance that should have gone to someone more deserving. But I realized the options were either keep writing or quit writing, and what, was I going to suddenly pick up a new hobby like going to the gym? Nah.
So I started another book. This time it was an adult fantasy full of all the things I love- religious pagentry, murder, moral ambiguity, intrigue, enough angst to power a fleet of drabbles, and a romance so slow burn it’s really just a hint of smoke in the air. Over about 16 months I wrote and edited and polished and rewrote. And I started querying again.
It was a cautious success. I got a few requests. But when replies to those requests started coming back as form rejections, I realized my book still wasn’t where it needed to be. I had to make myself capable of doing more.
I had said throughout the entire lead-up to Pitch Wars that I wasn’t entering. I was just going to cheer for my friends and go along for the ride. But then, after the sub window opened, I had a thought- I’m revising. I have a sub package that was good enough to get agent looks. Pitch Wars is all about revision. Why not try?
I then thought of about a million reasons not to try, but more level-headed friends convinced me to not throw away my shot. I submitted that night, and was lucky enough to get three requests for my manuscript. One pair even asked for more follow up information! But in the silence towards announcements, doubt started taking over again. I’d been through this before, in Pitch Wars ‘17, and my name wasn’t on that final list.
On November 3rd, while at a cafe trying to figure out where my nanovel was going, (pantser 4 life), my phone began to blow up.
I was in Pitch Wars. Hayley Stone and Erin Tidwell had selected me as their mentee!
I cried (again)! My twitter feed exploded with love for my book, a feeling I am keeping in a little bottle in my heart for the dark times. I talked to Hayley and Erin. They were amazing. I talked to the other mentors who read my full and were so encouraging. Also amazing! And hearing my fellow mentees talk about their books? SO AMAZING.
Then I got my edit letter (5 pages) and chapter notes (11 pages), and reality came crashing down and I maybe cried again (yes there is crying in Pitch Wars). For about 10 seconds. Because I am so excited for this next stage of my book’s journey.
I hope you’ll follow along.
Craft Resource of the Week:
If someone asks me for writing advice, before they even finish their question, I am likely to shout READ STORY GENIUS at them, because even if they don’t think it applies, it applies.