Friday, January 24, 2014

Shiny New Projects

How many books have you written? (and by written, I mean finished.)
I’ve written three. And one thing keeps surprising me. How hard it is to start the next thing.
When you’re waiting for some  form of rejection/acceptance - be it from an agent or publisher or some other interested party, the best advice (which I follow) is to get busy and work. Work is the only thing that will ever get you closer to whatever your goal is (unless your goal is to give up. in that case, don’t do anything, you’re good.)

But getting back on the horse is HARD. and even though I blogged about the last time I did this here, I was still a little blindsided by how hard it is.

Finding your next WIP. 
What will you work on? There’s no shortage of ideas in your head, your mind is a beehive and the honey is flowing, but which idea is really worth it? And how do you know? While my book was with beta readers in December, I started to outline (see here for more about my religious conversion from Pantser to Plotter) a story I’ve had in my head for a long time. I’ve been thinking and talking about this book for years. I even have a pretty solid idea of what happens. Plus, it involves stand up comedy, a mermaid and a girl who may or may not be hallucinating. Even to me it sounds like it’s right up my alley. My outline made it on to my whiteboard and I got books out of the library and started researching and talking to my husband.

Maybe that’s where it all went horribly wrong for the book I call JOKE. I told my husband I had three stories in my head and didn’t know which one to go with. One was called JOKE, the other was called VOX and the third was literally only a title. Guess which one he thought had the most promise? Yeah, the title.

I basically thought he was insane. and anyway, it’s not like he reads a lot of YA/Children’s books. Mostly he’s reading Stephen King, TITUS GROAN and Dennis Wheatley. I went back to work on JOKE. And I couldn’t get it off the ground. I mean, the sucker just didn’t have any lift. I knew the story arc; I had figured out a lot of plot logistics. I probably spent about two weeks with JOKE before I realized it was a dead parrot.

When something feels like a heavy lift - even if all the elements seem to be there for a great story - I believe there’s a reason for the drag. It’s not that the idea sucks, necessarily, or that I can’t write it. I think it means that this isn’t the time for THIS idea and I’m not ready to write it NOW. I trust those instincts. So, if something feels lifeless to you as a writer before you have written it, it will in all likelihood feel that way to your readers.

Loving your next WIP.
You settle on your next project. You do your research. You start to plot out your story arc (or you do what I did and take Ramona Defelice Long’s excellent online course on story arc - but warning, she will kick your story’s ass.) Or maybe you are a degenerate pantser (KIDDING!) and just plunge in with full heart, bright eyes. Great. But as you get deeper into the first draft, still in Act 1 but maybe two, three chapters in, you realize you are not singing the Ava Marias. You are not going, "Damn, I’m good." You are going yuck and god that’s so boring and MAKES NO SENSE. You know what happened there? You forgot to zip up your inner editor. It’s natural, especially after coming out of the revision period you spent (months in my case) shining up your last WIP. You’re still in edit mode and you must get out of that mode. It’s hard to do. It’s more than just saying to yourself “Self, now stop that editing nonsense and let the free flow of ideas come forth.” It’s not that easy. I have to constantly remind myself that the reason these words on this WIP are not as lovely and shiny as the words on my last WIP is not because this one is sub par, but because I spent SIX MONTHS with the other pretty. This one I’ve spent a week and a half on. Give the relationship some time, won’t you? Before you break up? It won’t feel comfortable and zingy - it can’t yet. You’re back in the basement building with Legos - foundation up. Give yourself time.

Don't Bring Your last MC to this book (unless your writing the next book in a series.)
Because I’ve written a couple of books before I am keenly aware (and concerned about) having my main characters sound like each other. It's so easy, after getting into the mind of your last MC, to just stay there, change the skin of the character (now she's a he and instead of a teenager, he's ten!) but unintentionally be writing the SAME CHARACTER. Ask yourself the questions about who your MC is before you start writing. Be aware if the new character and the old character are too similar. I find that doing a deep character write up of the MC before I start writing helps me get the voice of THAT character started, and helps me leave the voice of the LAST main character behind.

Clean the palate, start at zero. Your new WIP is a new world. Be ready.

How do you start a new project?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Five Beta Readers You Meet in Heaven

My revised opus is sitting in my agent's inbox. We shall see what happens.

But I want to tell you my revelatory experience with beta readers. There are TYPES. If you are lucky and have cultivated your writerly Team of Rivals well, you will be surrounded by very different beta readers that give you very different feedback.

Different is good. If everyone is agreeing with each other (and worse, you) this is bad. Is it possible that your work is so perfect, so completely without flaw that there is only consensus in your little garden? No. I really don't think so. Even if you disagree with most of your feedback, just being open to those different opinions will challenge you, make you think deeper. This can only make the work better. Which is the point, right?

Let me introduce you to my wonderful beta readers.

Maribel, my outsider beta, is my friend from high school. I love her dearly and trust her. But she's also smart, loves to read widely and has specialist knowledge that I needed to consult for this book (specifically, she's Cuban.) She's an outsider because she's NOT a writer. That means she's solely a reader; she doesn't toggle between reading like a reader and reading like a writer/editor. She gets immersed in the story and can truthfully tell me if I've accomplished the trick of transporting her to another world. Having said all that, she caught a plot hole that NONE of my other, more experienced Betas caught.

Jenny Herrera is a very talented writer who doesn't write in my genre (well, she's thinking about it - J! come over to the YA dark side!) This is important because she questions genre tropes that it sometimes becomes too easy to fall into. The love triangle, the frenemy, the distant parents. She probes these tropes with a sharp stick, making sure they aren't just made of cardboard but of fleshed out characters. She also has a wicked 'spidey' sense that ferrets out when things are too...convenient.

Kerri Maniscalco is a wonderful writer who has a fluid, expansive style. She's so good at feelings and interiority that you feel like her characters are sitting next to you, telling you their secrets. This is not my writing style, however. K's feedback is often about putting in more, showing more. She's excellent at spotting places where I *thought* I conveyed a message, but it's not on the page.

Renee Ahdieh kicks ass. Her writing is glorious - sharp and spare as a knife. There's never a sag in the action, the pacing is meticulous. This isn't my writing style either - but with R's feedback, I'm able to pare down repetitiveness and make my writing sleeker. Between Kerri and Renee, I'm able to find a balance that suits my style perfectly.

You need a team of rivals, but you also need an ally. In my case this is my husband and my mom. My mom because the world in my book is one she understands (her own mother and grandmother were curanderas - healers in their native Uruguay.) And because she was able to remind me that, whatever happens with this book, just writing it was an accomplishment. And she said it made her laugh, which made me so happy. My husband was the last to read my book and the last to comment. He knows how important this book has become to me, how much of my heart and hopes are tied up in it. And he's the first to say, "Good job, honey. What's next?" Because he knows that this book, even though I poured myself into it until I wondered if there was anything else left, is only one book on a continuum. There's more to write. ONWARD.

I am so grateful to my betas for letting me tap into their prodigious talents and wit.

Who's on your team of rivals?

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