One Year Anniversary

I’ve had this blog for officially a year now, and while I haven’t always been the best at updating it like I wanted, I have learned quite a bit about writing and myself since I first started it. Some are lessons I want to share with others so they can learn my own mistakes and experiences.

  1. Don’t Force Topics

My original plan was to have a topic a month on the blog and write a few articles. It worked for a while too, until this year. Between life throwing me curveballs, and not having as much free time as I once did, I stopped posting for a while. Which is fine, because I was starting to force myself to write certain topics rather than let them come naturally.

There are plenty of other booktubers and bloggers out there who post content a few times a week which is great for them. I’ve come to realize I do not have the time to support such a schedule. If I did, I’d be posting material that’s already been done better elsewhere, or that I have no experience on as I’m barely into my writing journey.

If you’re going to start posting your own content, or already do, keep this in mind. Don’t post content about navigating the publishing industry when you haven’t even written your first query. Same goes for posting content that’s been done before a hundred times—unless you have a new and interesting take on it. Otherwise you run the risk of burning yourself out, or alienating the audience you’re trying to reach.

2. It’s Okay to Shelve a Project

I’ve done this before, but they were usually projects that were only partially completed that I lost the plot on, or desire to finish. This year was the first time I shelved a project that was completed, had been edited several times, and I was planning on querying. After a few beta reads I realized that there problems that needed to be fixed, and thought I had the perfect solution—one that required a lot of rewriting.

It worked for a bit, but then I hit a wall. I kept re-editing the same chapters over and over, and wasn’t making much progress. A lot of days I’d stare blankly at the document if I even bothered to open it.

By that point, it was June and Camp NaNoWriMo in July was around the corner. I realized I needed a new project and a fresh start. It took me a while (see below), but I finally have one that I’m excited about. Looking back, after all the edits on my last WIP, my excitement had sizzled out, contributing to my lack of interest in finishing it. If I don’t have that spark, it’s usually hard for me to continue with a WIP. Sometimes shelving a project, is really what is best for you and your writing.

3. The Second Chapter is the Hardest

Over the years, I’ve had plenty of ideas. I have an entire CD somewhere full of them from my high school days. Most never made it past the first chapter. Those that did, never made past it the second. All for the same reason—I just didn’t have the spark or excitement to continue with them.

When I started trying to find my next WIP I had the same issue. My last WIP was YA Fantasy. For something different, I tried YA Contemporary, then a fairy-tale retelling, an Adult Contemporary, back to YA Fantasy… and then settled on a different YA Fantasy. But one that was set in the same world (most of the background/world building was done) in a different time period than before, and switched from third person narration to first person.

I still have the files and outline for the other projects saved in case I ever wish to return to them, but I never made it to the second chapter for any of them. Like high school, they were great idea, but I just didn’t have that spark or connection. There were plenty of times I thought I did, usually when the idea first popped into my head and as I figured out the plot. But after a while it’d leave me, and I was back where I started.

That’s not saying you can’t fizzle out after the second chapter, but usually if I can make it to the second chapter, then I’m good for a while. It’s not that the second chapter is hard to write, but simply reaching the second chapter and going beyond is the hard part. I’ve known plenty of people with great ideas, but they never make it past the first page or on to chapter two. My personal experience has taught me that if I can get that far, then I truly have a new WIP.

4. Embrace Other Parts of Your Life When You Fail

I saw this or a quote similar to it a couple months ago, and it’s true. When I was having issues with my editing and feedback from beta reads, my writing came to a sudden halt. I flirted with a few different story ideas, but as previously stated, never got very far with them which only added to my funk.

So, I decided to focus on something else for a bit while searching my next story: engineering. I’m currently in the process of studying for my Professional Engineering Exam in October which I need in order to be licensed. If things go well, I might share some tips, but for now I’m not going to count my chickens before they hatch.

Switching my attention to engineer helped distract me from my writing slump, and gave me some renewed energy. When I hit a wall with studying (statics) I’d take a break and write.

Going back forth between the two—along with a few other of my hobbies— was just what I needed, and eventually I did find a new WIP (though I am still studying). Sometimes taking a step back from something that’s frustrating and trying something else, is what you need. It can get your creative juices flowing, renew your energy, and boost your confidence.

5. You Don’t Have to be Alone

When people think of writers, the picture that usually comes to mind is of a loner, huddled in the dark over a brightly lit computer screen, typing furiously away. And for the longest time I was one of them. I might share my work with a friend or two, but I never reached out to other writers or tried learning how to improve my writing.

But I wish I did. Over the past year, I’ve become more active on Twitter, tried applying for mentorship programs, met other writers, and joined a few different writing groups. Not only have I learned more about the writing/publishing process, but I realized I’m not the only aspiring writer out there trying to balance a life, full time job, and get published.

Now, such a realization can be daunting. After all, if you’re not the only unicorn in existence, how special are you? But it can all be a relief. I can connect with other writers sharing the ups and downs, see successes, and get feedback on my writing which will ultimately helps me in the long run. If I hadn’t encountered the wonderful writing community that exists, I know I wouldn’t have been able to move forward with a new WIP. I’d either be running in circles with my last one, or have given up on writing completely.

So, if you’re looking to publish a book, or just interested in joining the community, don’t be timid and shy. Reach out. Connect with people. Yes, it’s not perfect and there are people you should avoid, but overall the community is great, open and welcoming, especially to those who are new. Don’t be like me thinking you have to be alone on your writing journey.

That’s it for now, hopefully next year I’ll have even more to share.

Lessons Learned From RevPit

First, if you’re wondering what the hell a RevPit is, go check out the official website. Go. Now.

If you’re still reading, you either know what RevPit is (go you!), have returned from reading the website (also go you!) or have no idea but decided to continue on (still go you!).

Earlier this month I took the plunge and submitted to RevPit. While I didn’t get any requests from editors, I’m glad I entered. I learned a lot from the process which I hope to share with others who might feel down due to rejection, or future RevPit hopefuls still unsure about entering.

Read the Rules

This might sound obvious, but read the rules. Seriously. Go to the website and read what’s required, in what format, and click on the provided examples.

In the days leading up to and during the submission window, I saw many hopefuls repeating the same questions on Twitter. Questions they would know the answers to if they just spent some time on the actual website. Even during their #10queries, editors were pointing out writers who clearly didn’t read the rules.

It’s one thing if you spot contrary information (which did happen) or if you’re confused and need something clarified. But if you can’t even bother to read how your query and submission should be properly formatted, the editor will wonder what else you haven’t been bothered to do. Don’t let the reason you’re not picked be something as simple as not taking five minutes and reading the rules.

Whether you’re submitting to RevPit or querying an agent, ALWAYS check what format and specifications they want before you click send.

Be Social

As an introvert, this is something I struggle with. I much prefer to be a silent observer in the back watching everybody else interact. I’m so afraid I’ll either say/do the wrong thing or can’t compare to everybody else, I find it easier to not interact at all. I’ve been trying to break this habit, especially when it comes to the awesome RevPit community on Twitter. It can be intimidating watching other writers continually post teasers for their manuscripts, which sound much better than mine.

But it can also be rewarding to chime in from time to time, which I’ve started doing. It was hard at first, but I’ve met some incredible people and learned I don’t have to be alone in my writing journey. The community is so friendly– not just other writers, but the editors as well– and you’re missing out if you don’t join in. Even if it’s just the occasional tweet and liking somebody else’s tweet.

It’s also important to socialize with other hopefuls because…

Your Query and Manuscript Can Always be Improved

Before you submit to RevPit, have somebody else review it, especially if very few people have. If you’re a new writer, the chances are slim you’re that one in a million rare unicorn who can write the perfect query and first five pages. Even if you have had others give comments, it doesn’t hurt to get more.

So how do you do that? By being social. Whether it’s joining a group of RevPit hopefuls and critiquing each other’s subs (which I did, and was extremely helpful!), or taking advantage of the free query critiques and positivity passes that are offered.

By joining a group you’ll also get the chance to critique others, which can be helpful in its own way. Seeing what they did well, or giving you ideas of what to address in your own sub. Sometimes the best way to learn is by looking at other examples– be they good or bad.

However, just remember…

You Need to Step Away

Because I have two MC’s with two timelines set fifty years apart, I struggled with my query. I went from having too much information, to reducing things and therefore making it too vague, then to where it is now. It’s a lot better than when I first started, largely thanks to my writing group and other generous Twitter offers.

While I will always see something else to add or change every time I read my query or pages, there came a point where I had to stop and let it be. Every writer needs to know when to step back from their keyboard. Otherwise we’d never stop editing and would never get anything published.

So how do you know when it’s time? When the suggestions are getting fewer, and you’ve had several people from different backgrounds look at it. While having other hopeful writers look at your work is a good start, you should also have more experienced writers and editors who might catch things those novice writers could miss. Once you’ve had those comments, call it quits for the time being. You can always go back once RevPit is over.

If you do take advantage of the generous offers from others, always…

Be Thankful

Whether it’s towards people in your writing group, the generous critique offers on Twitter, or the editors you’re applying to, be polite and gracious. Remember, nobody owes you anything.

Those people who offer up free query critiques? Those writers in your writing group? The editors who say they’ll give all their subs some basic feedback? They are not required to do those things, but choose to. So be grateful. Make sure to thank them, let them know you appreciate them taking time out of their lives to help you improve your writing. Don’t get angry if you disagree with their points. Don’t pester them endlessly for more advice beyond what they’ve offered. Once they’ve done their part, say thank you and let them go on their way.

Now, I haven’t seen any ungrateful behavior, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I’m sure there are editors and even other writers have stories of seeing such behavior in action, potentially turning them off from helping others. You don’t want to be the one who ruins another writer’s experience. So be thankful and respectful.

The Early Bird Does Get the Worm

RevPit has two days open for submissions. You can apply anytime during that time period, but I recommend doing it ASAP. This year many editors capped at 100 submissions within the first day. By the second, there were a lot of writers scrambling to find alternates for their alternates, considering anyone open to their genre. I applied as soon as it possible, and while the website did crash, within minutes RevPit tweeted the link to the application form. I got the editors I wanted before they capped.

I realize it’s hard for some. Whether they’re doing last minute edits, just discovered RevPit, or have scheduling conflicts, they might not be able to submit as soon as possible. If that’s the case, then do as much preparation beforehand.

Read the rules to ensure you have everything you need in the correct format. Prepare the answers to your questions– remember, there are questions– ahead of time, and within the allowed characters. Edit them until you’re happy, so you can copy and paste your answers when you do submit. Go through all the editors and pay attention to their Twitter question and answer sessions. Make a list in descending order of your top choices, and make sure you have something written for why you picked them, even for your alternates. Nobody wants to hear they were picked because they were the last choice. Go beyond the required two editors and one alternate, choosing a few more as backups, just in case they’re needed.

By being prepared you limit the time needed to complete your submission, meaning you can move on to…

The Roller-Coaster of Emotions

Be forewarned, RevPit will screw with your emotions. First it’s the hype and expectations. Should I do this? Is my manuscript ready? There’s so many editors! Which do I chose? Oh look, that editor is begging for my manuscript! You participate in the community, the question and answer sessions, getting more and more pumped, inching your way closer to the top and then BAM! You’ve reached the top when it’s finally time to submit.

And then you plummet. Not just plummet, but have ups and downs, fast turns, near misses, and loops on a roller-coaster you can’t wait to exit.

Waiting for word, scouring every #10queries tweet by your editor. Oh my god, is that tweet about my submission? They hate it, I’m horrible, I can’t compare to the others, why’d I ever submit?! No, it’s not mine, can’t be mine, mine has to be the one they loved! Wait, the query didn’t even have the bio or only had one paragraph and it still made their shortlist? I didn’t make those mistakes, and was passed! I deserve better! They just tweeted they sent out requests, but my mailbox is still empty. I’m sure it got lost. They’ll request more. Maybe it’s in spam. Maybe there’s something wrong with my internet. Did I screw up my e-mail address? Maybe I’m a failure and shouldn’t have submitted at all…

When you’re on a high, you’re on a high. But you can plummet so quickly with self-doubt, and have a hard time getting out of it. I’ve seen many writers battle Impostor Syndrome– when you think you’re nothing more than an impostor and can never compete with real writers– and have experienced it myself.

The RevPit roller-coaster of emotions is normal. There will be highs, and there will be lows. Remember you are not the only one riding it, and it will end. Eventually. One possible way to combat it, is…

Don’t Read Your Editor’s #10Queries

Once editors get their subs, they’ll start doing #10queries where they review queries and pages of their subs in sets of ten. Not all do it, some only do a few, and there are some real overachievers who will do their maximum amount of 100 submissions.

It can be tempting to read their tweets, but can easily lead to the roller-coaster of emotions or Imposter Syndrome mentioned above. However, their tweets can also be helpful by pointing out what queries should and shouldn’t do, or what they’re looking for in pages. Remember, sometimes the best way to learn is through examples, and #10queries is a great way to do so.

Which is why you should only read the tweets of the editors you didn’t submit too. That way you can learn, but also not stress out over wondering what tweet does and doesn’t apply to your submission. I really wish I would have known this beforehand, for it would have saved me a lot of unneeded stress and worry, but learn from my mistake.

You should also keep in mind…

The Editors are Human

When you have no professional writing experience or credentials, it can be easy to put anyone with said experience– such as the editors– on a high pedestal. They have made it. They know the industry. They’re all-knowing powerful writing gods who get in GIF wars and have deemed one novice’s manuscript worthy of their attention and expertise.

They’re also human beings with families and lives. They only have one week to first slog through 160,000 words (100 submissions * approx. 1600 words for query and first five pages), and then make requests based off those 160,000 words. Depending on genre and audience they then have an additional 250,000 words (5 requests *50,000 words) to 1,000,000 words (10 requests *100,000 words) to get through. All while balancing their families, personal life, actual job, and important things like sleeping, eating, and basic hygiene.

That’s an insane amount of words and pages to get through in just a week. I know from personal experience, my comprehension and retention are different when I speed read vs. take my time. The same goes for them. They’re not just reading for pleasure, they’re reading while scanning for half a dozen things– voice, character, plot, whether they can offer the manuscript anything in under five weeks, etc. Reading is a subjective experience anyway, but adding in a time crunch? Even more so.

The editors aren’t perfect, and their opinion is just their opinion based on a very short amount of time reading your submission. If they pass or give feedback you disagree with, remember that is their right and just their opinion. It doesn’t mean that your manuscript is terrible, just that they’re not the right editor for you at that moment.

Also…

Failure is an Option

Assuming your editor caps at 100 submissions, you only have a 1% chance of being picked by that editor. 1%. It’s minuscule. Not as small as winning the lotto odds (though it does feel like it), but still small odds.

And that’s okay. I got zero requests from RevPit and I’m not bothered by it. Why? Because I already won in other ways. When I was first considering RevPit, my query was a mess, my total word count was over 118,000 words, and don’t even get my started on my synopsis. By being active, I met other RevPit hopefuls. I improved my query, got my word count to under 105,000 words, made some hopefully lifelong writing friends, and a potential critique partner. I came into RevPit with the ultimate goal of improving my manuscript, which I did– just not in the way I initially hoped.

Rejection can hurt whether it’s the first time or the hundredth. Life is full of rejection and failures, not just writing. But rejection can make you stronger. Without rejection, you’ll never be thankful for success. Being handed everything without trying or working for it, isn’t as satisfying as knowing how far you’ve come, and that you’ve earned that success.

Failure can also be a great learning experience. You’ve failed, but what have you learned? What can you do to improve yourself and your writing? What will you do differently next time? There’s a saying the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Don’t do that. Learn from your failure, and do something different, for the next time might be the time you succeed.

Editors can pass on a manuscript for any number of reasons, not necessarily because it was bad. It may have been there wasn’t enough time to address the issues with a manuscript, or there were hardly any issues to address. Maybe it was too close to another project the editor’s working on, or they just weren’t clicking with it. Maybe they just liked another submission better, or a combination of the above.

There can only be one winner and one finalist for each editor. That means there are also 97 other rejected hopefuls like you. Reach out. Make friends. Comfort one another. If you do, you might just find you don’t mind failing so much either.

However….

Not Every Book Should be Published

I know a lot of writers and editors are constantly offering words of encouragement about how every book is awesome and deserves to be published.

They’re lies. They’re nice, comforting words, but still lies. My current manuscript is not my first complete manuscript. I have a few others, but I’ll never publish them, assuming anybody would want to publish them.

The thing about being a writer is that you’re writing should always be evolving, improving for the better. I know my writing has improved over the years– I can see it in the difference between my current manuscript and previous works. I can see it in those previous works compared to what I wrote in high school. Every new project I learn something new, and try to incorporate it for my next one.

The same should be happening for your writing. You should always be learning and improving. There’s a lot of published authors who don’t get published until their third, fourth, fifth, manuscript. It took them a while, but they’re writing finally improved to the point where their manuscript was good enough to be published in the current market.

The trick is to recognize when your manuscript should be published. At the time I wrote my first ones, I was convinced they were the best thing ever, and would revolutionize the industry. Now I know better. They were good for the time, but I can do better, and have done better.

I still have doubts on my current one, but I’m going to keep moving forward, because…

There is No Right Path to Publishing

It can be easy to get so wrapped up in RevPit you forget being picked by an editor does not equate to a publishing deal. There are those who were rejected, but get published while winners and finalists are still waiting. There are plenty of writers who never do RevPit or writing contests, but get agents and publishing contracts anyway.

There are many paths to publishing. Some are straight and narrow highways. Others are curvy, long and windy one lane wide roads, full of pot holes, speed bumps, traffic jams, and work zones. But what all those paths have in common is that they only lead to publishing if you’re willing to travel down them.

It’s okay to be hesitant about submitting to RevPit. It’s okay to wallow in rejection. It’s okay to doubt whether or not you’ll ever be published. But you have to be willing to move on. Learn from your mistakes. Join writing groups and make new writing friends. Keep entering contests and improving your writing. Take some of the lessons I’ve learned and applied them to your own writing journey.

Because it is a journey, and most likely a long journey. But it’s one you don’t have to travel alone, and will lead to publishing– as long as you keep trying.

That’s all for now and thanks for reading. Are you a RevPit hopeful? Still riding that RevPit roller-coaster? Have something you’ve learned? Let me know in a comment below.

— Kay S. Beckett

How to Reduce Your Word Count

I recently posted on lessons I learned while editing. I mentioned my biggest lessons revolved around reducing my word count, but it deserved a separate post, so here it is. But first, some background.

When I first started getting back into writing through fanfiction, I averaged around 1,000 – 2,000 words per chapter. My first attempt at NANOWRIMO I limped to 50,000 words, resorting to writing an Author’s Note to finish my word count. As I progressed with my writing, my chapters started to grow in length, to 5,000 and even 10,000 words. I didn’t think much of it. Some of my favorites fics can range from 20,000 – 40,000 words per update, and I eagerly devour every word. So as my own word counts began to balloon, I wasn’t too concerned.

Then I started to seriously consider publishing my current WIP. After doing some research I learned the average maximum word count for fantasy from new authors was 120,000 words. I wasn’t very far into editing my first draft, but quickly realized I had a problem. The chapters I had edited were ranging from 7,000 – 10,000 words a piece. At roughly thirty chapters, it could easily turn into 150,000 – 300,000 words by the time I was done. Therefore, some drastic changes were needed. Even after those drastic changes, my WIP was still over 10,000 words too long. But, after some hard work, I eventually got it to 118,400 words.Below are what I did for those drastic changes, and the smaller ones to get my word count to it’s current form.

Narrow Your Focus

This was one of the first things I did. I realized they story may have revolved around six characters, but there were really just two main characters, who each had their own two side characters. It was hard, but I cut quite a bit of length simply skipping over the side character’s point of views, and summing up their important developments in a few sentences. It sounds short and simple to do, but ended up leading to my next tip below.

Rebuild Your Foundation

This was the second thing I did. My first draft was organized into two parts– Part I taking place in one time period, with Part II in another. My initial concept was to open with the big final battle and then go backwards, showing what led up to it.

It was a fun concept, but wasn’t working. The pacing in Part II was just too slow. Besides narrowing my focus on two characters, I restructured the entire novel. Instead of going backwards, I went forward with the chapters. Instead of beginning in one time period only to end in another, I alternated the two periods every other chapter.

I can’t say for sure how many words I reduced due to this method, but I did reduce the number of chapters by around seven, and by combining it with narrowing my focus, I can say it improved my story for the better.

Trim the Fat

It wasn’t until I was editing did I realize how many unnecessary words and phrases I insert into my writing. The most common culprits are ‘had’, ‘that’, ‘so’, and ‘once again’.

For example, take the following example sentence:

So, she then suddenly realized that he had been lying to her the entire time that she knew him.

By removing the excess words it could read:

She suddenly realized he’d been lying to her the entire time she knew him.

By trimming the excess words, I went from nineteen words to fourteen words. Five words may not seem like a lot, but by multiplying those five words by at least ten instances per chapter over twenty-five chapters, that’s over a thousand words which can be deleted easily.

This can also work by rephrasing sentences, or simplifying run-on sentences. It may not solve all of your word count issues, but it’s a good start, and usually is a better reading experience for the reader. The last thing you want is to have readers quit because they can’t stand your complicated sentence structure.

Remember to KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid

This phrased popped up a lot in college and my day job, but also applies to writing.

It can be as simple as saying in a few dozen words what you were saying in a few hundred. Established authors might be able to get away with pages of prose and backstory on scale with Tolkien, but new ones not so much. If you’re like me and like to write pages on backstory and details, you’re going to have cut some out. Just keep enough to set the mood or explain what the reader needs to know for the plot, but otherwise keep it simple.

This also applies with the number of chapters or scenes you might have. Instead of having Character A go to Point X with Character B to discover something then back to Point Y, before returning to Point X, try to reduce the plot. Ask yourself, does it really need to be this complicated? Or can you get the same plot developments with a fewer number of scenes?

By remembering to keep things simple, I reduced my number of scenes and sentences, and further reduced my length.

Make Every Scene and Word Count

If you’re really attached to a scene or chapter, make it count. Show some character development that can’t be shown elsewhere, reveal an important plot detail, include foreshadowing, set up a future event. Ask yourself, why the scene or sentence is important and what it adds to the story? Can it be removed without the story losing anything important?

If you can’t come up with an answer to the first question, or the answer is no to the second, them delete it. As painful as it might be, if it’s not further serving your story or plot, then it should be removed.

It Can be a Painful Process…

Deleting parts of your story can be painful. Whether it’s the countless hours of backstory and world-building that’s now reduced to a single sentence, your favorite line of dialogue or character now gone, deleting parts of your story can suck.

If you’ve exhausted all other avenues and are still a few thousand words too high, you might have to resort to axing your favorite parts. When it comes to doing that, copy the parts into a different document so they’re not completely gone. You can always reread them later. Then remember, if your ultimate goal is to get published and the only way to do that is by reducing your word count, the pain will be worth it in the end.

…But It Can Also be Gratifying

One of my best days of editing was reducing a chapter which was close to 11,000 words originally, to under 5,000. The sections I deleted were unnecessary, wordy, and could have been added elsewhere. Being able to cut the chapter in half was a great feeling.

When I saw my final word count of 118,400, 1,600 words under 120,000 I felt ecstatic. All of my hard work paid off and made the countless worth it. My current draft has come a long way from its origins, and I’m proud of its current state.

That’s it for now. Let me know if you have your own tips to reduce length, or if any of these helped you out.

— Kay S. Beckett

What I’ve Learned From Editing

After spending all of my free time for the past two months, I’ve finally finished editing and revising my novel. During that time I’ve learned a lot, and wanted to share it. My biggest lesson resolves around reducing word count, but that’s a topic for a later day.

Characters Can Still Change and Surprise You

I thought I knew everything about my characters and their relationships to one another. I was wrong.

While editing one of the first chapters I’d written, I realized Character A was doing or saying things which were no longer in line with Character A’s personality. Character A didn’t do a 180 degree turn, but had evolved as a character over the rest of the novel to the point they wasn’t the same. I had another character who I discovered had asthma due to all the wheezing they did while running. Initially, I thought it had more to due with the character not being in as good of shape as the others, but nope, undiagnosed asthma.

My other surprise came with some of the relationships. In the first draft Character B was still angry with Character C when Character C showed back up after hurting Character B. By the third draft it was clear while Character B was still hurt by Character C’s actions, Character B had also forgiven Character C and was happy to see them.

Later on, Character D reunites with Character E. In the first draft, Character D was happy. Again, while writing the chapters leading up to the reunion I realized that wasn’t the case. They were more hesitant, afraid Character E didn’t feel the same as Character D.

As annoying as it was to discover these things and then having to go back and re-edit other parts to keep them consistent with the changes, it was also fun to learning new things about characters I thought I knew so well.

Don’t Take Plot Outcomes For Granted

If you’re having issues with needing more words, or another sub-plot, this tip might help. Basically, just because you know the plot is going to lead somewhere– Character A has to be at Place X, or makes friends with Character B– that doesn’t mean you have to make things easy for them. Sure the entire plot might hinge at it, but make the characters fight to achieve it.

Consider Harry Potter. J. K. Rowling knew Harry would be getting to Hogwarts, but she didn’t make it easy for him. Rather than jumping straight to, “Yer a wizard, Harry” she spent several chapters on the Dursleys doing everything possible to keep him from going to Hogwarts. It was a mini-adventure and mystery before the actual one kicked in.

Also consider how he became friends with Hermione. Again, rather than skipping to them being friends automatically upon meeting on the train, Harry and Ron are put off by her behavior. It’s not until the troll incident do the three bond and become friends.

By making your characters struggle for what’s a foregone conclusion, you can add suspense and excitement to your story. The readers might know the result, but they’re also eager to read the next page to know how it happens. The results can have more meaning too. What makes a stronger friendship, bonding with strangers on a train, or bonding over a life and death experience?

Keep a Realistic Schedule

I’m a procrastinator, I’ve known that for years. During my first attempt at editing, before the story went through some major changes, I was averaging a chapter every few weeks. With no rush or deadline, I was free to take my time.

For this go around, I gave myself till the end of February. I could get through a chapter every two days, allowing me enough time to get through all the chapters at least once, and then go back through a second time.

By sticking to this schedule I was actually able to succeed, where as in the past I failed. Of course, a large was making sure the schedule was realistic. Don’t go overboard and push yourself too hard, otherwise you might burn out quickly and stop.

Take a Break

I spent a lot of my free time editing. I also took breaks. Sometimes there were more pressing things Real Life demanded I do now. There was no getting out of them.

I also set aside an hour each day to put down my laptop and focus on my SO, who’s been understanding when I spend the majority of the evening editing. That hour was a great distraction from editing, and time for just the two of us.

Sometimes breaks where needed when I hit a writing block. I might have encountered a plot-hole needing fixing, or reached a part where I needed to write new material, but wasn’t sure where to start. Taking a break and doing something else gave me a chance to clear my mind and think rather than staring at a digital screen blankly for an hour. Whatever issue I was having, was usually resolved after taking a break for a few hours or a day.

Prioritize and Plan

I may be a procrastinator, but I’m also a planner. I’ve learned over the years I cannot write without a plan, otherwise I won’t get very far. The same goes for editing. I made a plan to spend two days going over each chapter– fixing errors that stuck out, deleting unneeded sentences or words, or in some cases, writing new scenes I had skipped over from my other drafts. Those took the most time.

Then, knowing I still needed to reduce my word count, I went back through and further deleted extra scenes or sentences, as much as it pained me. I wanted to get my story under 120,000 words, and budgeted 4,800 words for each chapter. Some were under and others were over the limit, but having an average word count for each chapter was a huge help.

Finally I tackled double-checking all of the details such as the location and time period for each chapter. My story takes place over a fifty year period, and several countries. By double-checking those finer details I could assure all my names and places were the same, and I didn’t end up with an instance where a character was doing something they shouldn’t have been old enough to do. This also was when I finished addressing all those place-holder names I inserted during NANOWRIMO when I couldn’t think of what to put, but needed to move on.

Timelines and Family Trees are Your Friend

I mentioned above needing a timeline due to the large time period my story covers, but I’m so grateful I did. I’ll spend another post discussing what programs I used, but having an official timeline came in handy on a number of occasions.

So did having a family tree. Because I’m writing a fantasy, there are multiple kingdoms with royal families that are somehow all related to another. By making a family tree, I was able to keep track of who married into what family when, and their names. I have a lot of side characters who are maybe mentioned once. A family tree allowed me to keep track of everybody including great-uncle Joe who was married to great-aunt Diana from the neighboring kingdom, who’s also related to the evil wizard.

Your Eyes and Microsoft Word Can be Wrong

As part of the editing and revising process I was doing line edits, catching spelling and grammar mistakes. No matter how many times I went over a chapter, I always missed things. Things that weren’t caught until I ran spellcheck in Scrivener, or Microsoft Word upon compiling it in a Word document. I must have read my first chapter twenty times, but still missed little things.

However, Scrivener and Microsoft Word can be wrong. Scrivener would red flag items Word didn’t, or would’t have an issue with things Word did. Word also said a lot of things were incorrect when they weren’t. There was one instance where I wrote ‘and the two stop’. Word kept insisting I needed a hyphen between ‘two’ and ‘stop’, not realizing I meant two people stopped, but was writing it in the present tense.

So while you shouldn’t always trust your eyes will catch every mistake, don’t blindly click accept changes on every little thing Word finds. Make sure you’re reading carefully and if the change is truly warranted. And all of this is before I had somebody else look over it, who will no doubt catch even more issues.

That’s it for this post. My next one will all be about reducing my word count. Feel free to let me know if you’ve had the same learning experiences or different ones in a comment.

— Kay S. Beckett

What to do When an Author Breaks Your Heart

It’s February, which means it’s the month of love. Rather than write about how to write love and romance in books, or my favorite couples, I’ve decided to take a different approach for love this month– what to do when an author breaks your heart.

I don’t necessarily mean the author kills off your favorite character or concludes a love triangle the wrong way, sending you for the nearest box of Kleenex. I’m referring to when the author writes something so outrageous, so unbelievable, that as a reader your suspicion of disbelief is shattered. It’s perfectly normal to feel devastated, betrayed, or angry at the author for writing the plot in such a way it’s pushed you over the edge. Up to that point the author had been perfect, the god of their fictional universal. Then, in one paragraph, they fell from the pedestal you placed them on, and you realized that they were mortal after all.

In short, you realized authors can make mistakes too, and as a reader you’ve been pushed to your breaking point with no idea what to do next. Should you suck it up and finish the book? Rant on Twitter or Facebook? Decide to light it on fire and roast s’mores over the remains?

The first thing you probably should do is take a deep breath. Put the book down. Go do something else. Reread a favorite book you know won’t upset you. Binge-watch your favorite show. Go hang out with your friends or family. Do something to distract you from the merry-go-round of emotions you’re feeling. Then, once you’ve calmed down, you can pursue some of the options below.

Commiserate With Fellow Readers

The internet can be a wonderful place, and the odds are you aren’t the only one who has taken issue with the book. If the series is popular, it might have fan websites or forums where you can find a relevant conversation or start one. You should take care though if the book was just released. Readers might have more issue with you freely posting spoilers than the spoilers themselves, so keep that in mind before posting on social media sites or fan sites.

Write a Better Ending

I’ve seen this done a few times, and have been tempted to do it myself. Basically you’re so dissatisfied with the book, you write an alternative ending, or at the very least, imagine a new one. One of my friends insists Sirius Black is living on an island in the Caribbean to this day. If you’re lucky, there already might be a fanfic or two out there waiting to be read by you, and saving you from doing all the work. It could be a crack parody, or a serious attempt that actually is better than the source, but you won’t know until you search for it. And if there is nothing, then do it yourself– just keep in mind labeling spoilers.

Rant to a Loved One

I’ve done this a lot with books, television shows, and movies when I don’t feel like coming up with a new ending. The key is to have a sympathetic friend or family member who’s willing to listen as you rant non-stop on the stupidity you just experienced and how it can have been done better. They might feel your pain and share your passion for the source material, or they might just be passionate for you, and nod continually at your words. Either way, sometimes a rant is all you need to feel better. Just be sure to thank them for listening when you’re done, and offer to do the same for them someday.

Stop Reading Works by the Author

This one might be a tad bit drastic, but sometimes it’s for the best. Don’t buy or read another book from the author ever again. Save yourself time, energy, and money that might result in another ranting/screaming session. Or if you are curious about the next book in the series, poke around the internet and read reviews before giving it a try. If so, check it out of the library first so you won’t be spending money on another disappointment.

I’ve done this once in my life. There was a book series in high school I was into, but the fourth book got weird. Really weird, as in the series took a drastic change in a different direction, and retconned a lot of the previous books. It was so horrible I barely finished it, and swore off the series completely. In later years I discovered that I was not the only fan of the books to feel that way, and that the series only went downhill after that book. I also learned the author was known for having ghost writers, which might explain the shift in tone and blatant disregard for established canon. I haven’t picked up another book by the author since then and I’m the better for it.

Give the Author Another Chance

Similar to above, but this time you give the author another chance. You let their long, excellent track record speak for itself. After all, the odds are the more books an author has published, the more likely there are to be duds. So what if you don’t finish their current book, that doesn’t mean it’ll stop you from picking up their next one.

There’s one instance that sticks out in my mind where I did this. It was the last part of the last book in a trilogy, and things went downhill fast. One character made a choice that seemed extremely Out of Character (OOC) for them. There was some foreshadowing sprinkled throughout the book, but not enough that made the character’s actions make sense, and seemed to go against their beliefs.

I also didn’t buy the love triangle that suddenly began and ended in the book. The previous two books had shipped the protagonist with another character, only to introduce another love interest in the last book. I had no issues with the character, and would have been able to ship it had the character been introduced earlier in the series. But after two books of investing in another ship that sunk before it could leave the harbor, I wasn’t feeling it. When I finished the book I was angry and disappointed, and left going, what did I just read? Did that really just happen? Did the author have some last minute breakthrough and wasn’t able to go back and correct past drafts?

Just because I was angry and disappointed, didn’t mean I stopped reading other books by the author. I’ve enjoyed the books they’ve released since then, I just won’t be rereading that series anytime soon, if ever.

Remember to Relax, it’s Just a Book

People caring deeply about fictional characters isn’t new. What is new is how people connect to fellow fans. People can now share their opinion– be it for better or worse– with complete strangers halfway across the globe in seconds. Because of that instant connection, it can be easy to get caught up in the emotions and feelings that our favorite works incite in us.

That’s why it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, it’s fiction. A character might be OOC, the love triangle might be meh, your favorite sci-fi series may have taken a hard turn into a different genre, but it’s just. A. Book. You’re allowed to be upset and angry, but don’t waste time and energy letting it consume you.

Easier said than done, I know. Sometimes it can be very hard to step away, and stop being emotionally invested in a fictional world, but sometimes you have to. Whether it’s when your beloved series comes to an end, or you realize that even authors have flaws and can make mistakes.

That’s it for this month. Hopefully you’ve never experienced a broken heart caused by a book’s sudden turn for the worst, but if you have, then here are a few helpful tips to get over it. Next month will be things I learned from editing.

— Kay S. Beckett