Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stuff I've Learned: Bite-Size Goals

Someone once compared writing a novel to eating an elephant.  You do it bite by bite.  Wise words indeed, and the focus of this week's Stuff I've Learned post:

Set Bite-Size Goals

If I sit down and say, "Today I will make this book awesome," I'll freeze and get zero done.  But if I sit down and say, "In the next hour, I'll work on making the descriptions of the setting in scene two of chapter three more vivid," I can do that.

And if I do it again and again and again, eventually the book's done.

One of things that I've learned is to estimate how big a bite is for me.  I'm not always right.  It's not an exact science.  But I have a better idea of it now than I did when I started, and it's a huge help.

Your bite size is a personal thing.  Not everyone can accomplish the same amount in a day or a single writing session.  Some writers aim for 1,000 words a day.  I know a few (very few) who can achieve 10,000.  And I know plenty who celebrate after 100 (especially if they're the right one hundred).

It also depends on where you are in the novel.  First drafts take a different amount of time than second drafts.  Second drafts can be faster or slower than fifth.  End of the book can be faster than the middle.  First sentences can be incredibly slow.

For me, knowing my bite size clears a big psychological hurdle.  It means I can bypass the whole this-elephant-is-too-big drama at the start of writing sessions and dive into the actual work.

Disclaimer: No elephants were harmed in the writing of any of my books.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Stuff I've Learned: Lie to Yourself

Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird talks about Radio Station KFKD, that voice in your head that whispers (or sometimes shouts) an endless stream of self-doubt.  In order to be a writer, you have to at least temporarily shut that radio station off.  You have to trust yourself.

Easier said than done.

Sometimes it feels like that station is playing on a radio that runs with zero electricity, has a broken volume dial, and is hidden up in the neighbor's tallest tree.  And the neighbor has vicious dogs.

Here's one technique that I use for shutting off KFKD:

Lie to Yourself

I promise myself that no one will ever see the story that I'm working on.  It's only a draft -- my secret draft -- and none of the words I write will be in the final version.  The plot won't be the same.  The characters won't be the same.  All these words are merely placeholders until the real words can come along.  But I have to get the placeholders there so that the real words have a place to go.

In other words, I lie to myself.

Oh, to a certain extent it's true.  I will revise.  A lot will change.  But some of it won't, and I know that.  But promising myself that the words are secret is sometimes enough to trick my brain into cooperating.  It makes it okay to make mistakes because no one will ever see the horror of the secret draft.  It makes the draft safe.

I know writers who take it further and tell themselves that they're writing a secret book just for themselves.  They won't ever show it to their agent, their editor, or even their pet guinea pig Marbles.  And a part of them knows the entire time that that's not true and they'll try to publish it, but they lie to themselves to fool the radio station, to make the draft safe, to give themselves permission to experiment and play.

In other words, the lie can set you free.

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Stuff I've Learned: Trust Yourself

One of my clearest childhood memories is of playing school with one of my babysitters.  I wrote a poem -- a beautiful poem, I thought, about summer and gardens and roses and... okay I don't actually remember what it was about but my memory says it was brilliant.  I painstakingly decorated the page with climbing roses and presented it to my babysitter.

She took it, read it, and used red pen to change the first letter of every line to a capital letter because, she said, every line in a poem has to start with a capital letter.  I was crushed.  And infuriated, since even then I knew she was TOTALLY WRONG.

Stuff I've Learned: Trust Yourself

You have to trust that you know what you're doing (even if you don't).  You have to believe in your vision, in your talent, in your skills, and in your own unique voice. 

Thanks to all the books you've read, you already have an innate grasp on dialogue, pacing, characters, and story.  Thanks to all the years you've lived, you've already developed your own worldview and preferences and opinions, even if you haven't consciously articulated them.  You are already a special snowflake.  Trust that.  Trust yourself.

Except when you're wrong.  But that's what revision is for.

One of the hardest things to do when you sit down to write is to take that leap of faith that it will all be okay.  Especially when there are people telling you that it won't be okay, you won't make it, you can't do it, you're not good enough, you're not smart enough or funny enough or whatever enough.  Especially when the person telling you all that crap is yourself.

But it will be okay.  You will figure out the ending and the main character's motivations and that funky little bit of pacing in the middle and the voice for that secondary character and what happens in that part of the outline where you wrote "something cool happens next."

Or maybe you won't and then you'll go on to write another story that's even better.  And that's okay too.  You can still trust that if you write enough and read enough and live enough, you will get better.

And you don't need to capitalize the lines in that poem.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Cover Art Reveal: CONJURED

Thanks so much to all of you who have been tuning in for my new craft-of-writing posts.  I'm having lots of fun with those and I promise there will be much more to come.  But today, I've got some book news to share!

Look, look, LOOK!!!  Cover art!!!!!

I am very, very excited to share with you the cover art for my next YA novel, CONJURED, coming from Bloomsbury / Walker on September 3, 2013:


The first glimpse at the cover art for your new book tends to be a very intense and exciting moment.  It certainly always has been for me.  Cover art is so visual and it makes the book feel so much more real.  Getting the first cover jpeg is a bit like seeing the first ultrasound picture of your new book-baby.  But without all that ultrasound goo.....

Perhaps I've said too much.....  Anyhoo, I really love this cover.  Just the right amount of creepy for a book that is definitely my creepiest to date.

From the jacket flap:

Eve has a new home, a new face, and a new name -- but no memories of her past. She's been told that she's in a witness protection program. That she escaped a dangerous magic-wielding serial killer who still hunts her. The only thing she knows for sure is that there is something horrifying in her memories the people hiding her want to access -- and there is nothing they won't say -- or do -- to her to get her to remember.

At night she dreams of a tattered carnival tent and buttons being sewn into her skin. But during the day, she shelves books at the local library, trying to not let anyone know that she can do things -- things like change the color of her eyes or walk through walls. When she does use her strange powers, she blacks out and is drawn into terrifying visions, returning to find that days or weeks have passed -- and she's lost all short-term memories. Eve must find out who and what she really is before the killer finds her -- but the truth may be more dangerous than anyone could have ever imagined.

And did you notice the awesome author blurb on the cover!!!  I'm thrilled and honored to share with you this lovely blurb from the magnificent Laini Taylor:

"A twisted circus of a book, completely freaky and delicious at the same time. It's a thriller, a fairy tale nightmare, and a romance all in one, unlike anything else and impossible to predict. I could not stop reading!" -- Laini Taylor, New York Times bestselling author of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone series

Woohoo!  I can't wait for September!!

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Your Writing Process

Welcome to my new blog series!  In these posts, I plan to share what I've learned about writing in hopes that it will be useful to anyone who shares this crazy writing dream.  I'm calling this series: "Stuff I've Learned."

I know, I know, it's not the most original name.  Kind of like naming your cat Fluffy... which I did.  Twice.  (In my defense, I was three years old when I named the first cat, and the second cat was named in the first one's honor.)

Anyway, to start things off...  If I had to pick the one most important thing I've learned in the last six years as a writer, it would be: label your leftover pizza with the date you ordered it so that you don't accidentally eat too-old pizza.

Second to that, though, is: learn your own writing process.

Stuff I've Learned: Learn Your Writing Process

Before I was published, I had no idea about one of the coolest perks of being a writer: meeting other writers.  At bookstore signings, conferences, conventions, festivals, library events... I've met a lot of authors, and I love, love, LOVE hearing about their writing processes.

Everyone's process is different.  Some write a little every day; some binge-write for a few weeks then lie fallow.  Some write in long stretches of time; some write in short bursts.  Some outline; some don't.  Some revise as they go along; some do lots of drafts.  Some write at home; some write in cafes.  Some write standing up.  Some write nude...  Okay, I haven't personally met anyone who writes nude but there are anecdotes.

Point is: what works for one person might not work for another.  You have to find what works best for you and disregard the rest.

Once you do, I promise that it gets easier.  Not easy.  But easier.  You can write faster and be more efficient because you know what works for you and what doesn't.  You can do the latter and avoid the former.

I consider myself living proof of this.  It took me two years each to write my first two novels, Into the Wild and Ice.  The next few novels took one year a piece.  Now I'm writing a novel every six months.

This change isn't due to having more time to write.  (In fact, the opposite is true.)  It's due to figuring out how I write a novel.  Not how Joe or Sue or Fred writes a novel, but how I personally write a novel.

In future posts, I'll talk about (amongst other things!) what specifically works for me.  And I'd love to hear about what works for you!

Labels: ,

Monday, April 08, 2013

All Dreamers Welcome, Again

In September 2006, I started this blog with a post called All Dreamers Welcome.  Welcome to my dream, I said.  Please come share it with me.

THIS is my dream.  (Imagine me waving my hands expansively at my desk, the manuscript next to me, the books behind me, the stone polar bear on my desk, the stacks of cryptic Post-Its, and the vampire Mickey Mouse.)  All of this.  Being a writer.  It's what I've wanted to do since I was ten years old.  Prior to that, I wanted to be Wonder Woman or a Unicorn Princess (either a human in charge of unicorns or an actual unicorn with a tiara).

When I wrote that first blog post, I wanted this blog to be a blog about the craft of writing.  After all, it's what I do every day.  It's what I think about, obsess over, even dream about (when I'm not dreaming about tiara-wearing unicorns, of course).  But I felt self-conscious about it.  After all, in 2006, my first book wasn't even out yet.  Who was I to give writing advice to anyone?

Now, in 2013, I am doing what I've always wanted to do.  I have six books out and am under contract for five more.  And I feel that I've learned a lot over the past seven years.  So I've decided that it's okay for me to talk about what I've learned.  After all, I know there are a lot of people out there who share my dream.  (The writing dream, I mean, not the unicorn princess dream.)

So I'd like to reintroduce this blog and re-welcome you to it.  I plan to start a few different new blog series, including Stuff I've Learned, the Writer's Toolbox, and Reading About Writing.  If you dream about being a writer (or a unicorn princess) or if you're just curious, I hope you'll join me.

As one of my favorite poets says:

“If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic-bean-buyer...
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!”

-- Shel Silverstein, "Introduction" from Where the Sidewalk Ends

More to come.....

Labels: , , , ,