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NANOWRIMO jealousy

revision supplies, bright stationery and writer toys

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

I have a Twitter friend who is also revising her novel & we’ve been watching wistfully, noses pressed against the window, while others get to do The Fun Part, aka NANOWRIMO, aka just writing with abandon & making new things every day & getting to hit tangible word count goals, fingers flying & beams beaming and sentences running on, long and lovely like this one, because they don’t have to be well behaved & polished yet, la la just do it la.

Revision & editing, on the other hand, are slow and laborious chores, & neither of us have faith that what we’re working on is going to be worth it.

We’ve swapped some DMs to be mutually supportive, & today I’m taking my reply public, in case any others in Edit Land find it useful. And so I can get my daily dose of procrastination before I open Scrivener…

Yes, Twitter Friend, there is an argument for giving a misbehaving novel a cut-off point, by which time it must behave or be abandoned. But I have a Maggie Stiefvater quote pinned above my desk which says that the ones who make it are the ones who keep going:

…even if they know that this novel is not the one that will be good enough to get published, because they know that practice is the only way to get to the one that will be good enough to be published

I’ve kept going on this damn novel because I think the experience of finishing it, with all its knots & tangles, will teach me something valuable, even if no one ever reads it but me.

But, hey, I don’t know what you’re working on & it’s also true that Laini Taylor only wrote Daughter of Smoke and Bone when she gave up on the Sci Fi project she was supposed to be finishing instead. I don’t want stoicism to stop us writing our own DOSABs!

Yes, Twitter Friend, I do have editing/revising resources I use. They are Holly Lisle’s How To Revise Your Novel, the questionnaire in Donald Maass’s Breakout Novel Workbook, & the section on edits in Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k.

Holly’s course is massive & takes months, It’s also marvellous, but I suspect you don’t want to dwell that long on your project so check out the others if you haven’t yet – Rachel’s is fastest, Maass’s is medium.

A mix of these methods has left me with a Revision To Do list in Excel, full of promises that if I ‘just’ do those things (make X younger, foreshadow Y, make the flea market a cafe), this novel will be better.

I’ve spent too long trying to figure out which thing on the list to do next. Which one will be the cleverest, the most sensible, the one I with the smallest rubiks cube effect, where one scene is now perfect but it’s made a knock-on mess of all the other ones. Which action will make me happiest, fastest?

It’s become an excuse that freezes me. So I’m just going to pick one. Here it is:

Block out the moves & drama & consequences of the very last scene. What precise ways does the threat manifest, and how exactly is it defeated? Then I can foreshadow that in the previous scenes.

The other thing I’m going to do is *actually write* version 2 of the scene. I’ve been leaving a lot of notes for Future Me about what to do to improve things. But I haven’t been doing those things, just imagining how good/bad (depending on my self esteem weather-vane) the eventual scene will be when I do. Time to do more writing than planning, Rhian.

Has writing this post been procrastination? Kinda. Is it wonderful to get to start & finish & share something, even just an imperfect 500 word blog post? YUP!

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How to write a book: resources for the first time novelist

best writing craft books

When I tell people I write fiction, sometimes they say ‘Hey, I’d like to write, too!’

Then I geek out on recommending craft books, resources to change ‘I’d like to write!’ to ‘I write!’, and their eyes glaze over because hours have passed & my enthusiasm has turned scary.

This page is a restrained list of the resources I most often recommend.

It’s a list for first-time novelists. I love reading about craft & have a teetering sub-list of other, nerdier writing books I adore, but I’ve kept this batch broad, & applicable to any genre.

Note: this is what I needed when I was starting out. At that point I’d been practicing & going to writing classes enough to know I could write a few thousand decent words, but had no clue how to turn those into a novel.
You might be at a different stage. Or you might prefer a different book on the same subject (though I’m willing to bet it will be the same advice, just in a voice or style that’s more you).
If none of these appeal, ignore me. Just start writing, and keep reading other people’s fiction until you can figure out what they are doing to bewitch you.

Important: Don’t stop writing while you’re reading: keep your hand in with some kind of practice along the way. It’s easy to trick yourself into feeling productive because you’ve read about doing something, instead of actually doing it. Most of these books have exercises to follow: use them. It’s the best way to learn.

My top three desert-island, heavyweight champs of writing craft books:

The Breakout Novel Workbook, by Donald Maass. Skip the accompanying book & go straight to this workbook.  It’s full of exercises to make what happens in your novel matter.
Save The Cat, by Blake Snyder. For when you don’t know what’s supposed to happen next. This is classic on how to structure a story (though you could easily substitute Weiland, Bell or Hawker’s books on structure for it (see below), this is the one I read first, & I wish I’d found it sooner).
Spellbinding Sentences, by Barbara Baig, advanced reading & practical exercises on how to make clever, beautiful sentences.

Other strong contenders

Structure & outlining

Outlining your novel by KM Weiland. KM’s books are always friendly & sensible. Good for beginners on where to take your baby idea next.
Take Off Your Pants  by Libbie Hawker. This is the outlining book I refer to the most. before and during writing (despite always getting Blink 182 songs stuck in my head).
Super Structure by James Scott Bell.  Another simple explanation of story structure that gets you up & started, quickly.
(Psst, if you’re writing romance, supplement these with Gwen Hayes’ Romancing The Beat)

What the hell is a scene, anyway?

How to Write Page Turning Scenes, by Holly Lisle

Revision

How to Revise Your Novel by Holly Lisle. I have no other resources for revision because this mammoth online course covered everything. EVERYTHING. And taught me a huge amount about novel writing in general, not just revising.

Editing

Before You Hit Send Another online course, this one for gussying up that revised novel. Run a few times a year by a thorough & well-respected editor who answers questions personally in the forums. Take notes, as you only have access to course content while you’re enrolled.
The Emotional Thesaurus and The Fiction Thesaurus will help you to show not tell, & the actual thesaurus, Rogets, will give you a hand when you’re absolutely sure there’s no other word to describe your character than ‘nice’ or ‘good’.


For remembering writing is fun, & staying in touch with your creativity:

(‘step away from the beat sheet, ma am’)
Use A Writer’s Book of Days  and How to Be a Writer: Building Your Creative Skills Through Practice and Play for prompts & exercises that will get you playing around with words, & remembering why you thought writing a novel would be a good idea in the first place.

The Artist’s Way is what you need if your brain is playing up & talking crap about you & your creativity.

Last but not least, you’ll need:

All of your favourite books, and some you dislike.
Tear yourself away from the plot & characters & examine how they transport you, or turn you off: How much of the page is dialogue? How much is description? How is sensory detail used? How does the setting reveal detail about the characters? What is irritating about the books you don’t like? Why don’t they suck you in, or how do they let you down?


There. C’est tout. For now. Happy writing!

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Summer stories: fantasy and science fiction podcasts

girl on a hazy sunny day needs a fantasy or science fiction podcast to listen to

It’s never too hot to read.

But it *is* hellmouth hot here in the UK right now. What’s a slightly sweaty, story-starved girl to do?

Sure, you could lug a book to the park. Will there be room in your bag, though, once you’ve packed your your sun hat, water & Chocolate Salted Caramel Booja Booja ice-cream?

(My hardback of Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor is making sad-eyes at me right now. “Why won’t you read me? I’m so pretty! And you can bet I’m full of beautiful words!” Because you’re too big, my darling, and I am too lazy to carry you around when my slim kindle has lots of tiny books in it (plus I know you’ll slay me with your perfect sentences and some brand new flavour of heartache, damn you Taylor).)

Sure, you could take your kindle/ipad to the beach. Get ready to knock the screen up to full brightness, though, & watch out for seagulls who’ll think it’s a yummy snack to swoop on.

OR: just lie back on your picnic blanket, in your sunglasses and high SPF, & let someone tell you stories instead? Keep your hands free for making daisy-chains & holding elegant parasols.

Here are 3 podcasts** to listen to from your lawn, and a bonus playlist of songs I associate with being hot. I wish it was a cool relaxing beach-chill mix you could impress your smooth friends with while eating sophisticated gelato, sorry, but blasting noisy 90s alt guitar bands while dunking chips in mayonnaise is more authentically me.

Happy summering!

My three top fantasy and science fiction short story podcasts

  1. Lightspeed I’ve probably mentioned this one before, right? Four new fantasy or science fiction short stories every month. Always fabulously narrated. You can listen to all the stories from year one as an audiobook, too.
  2. Starship Sofa Short SF stories, genre chat & the finest example of a Geordie accent you’ll ever hear. Tony’s enthusiasm always cheers me up, and the stories are top notch.
  3. Far-fetched Fables A fantasy slanted sister show to Starship Sofa. Both shows are part of the District of Wonders stable, who have a patreon set up to fund paying their writers & narrators, aka paying people for the new worlds, characters and stories we love. Definitely something to support!

My noisy summery playlist

*I’m averaging at least two tubs a week right now. What? Vegan means good for you, right? 😉

** I use the free Overcast app to listen to podcasts, because it links to Twitter and tells you what your friends there are listening to. It’s got ‘smart speed’ and ‘voice boost’ settings which improve how shows sound, too. iphone/ipad only, though).

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Reading update: Spring into Contemporary YA

ya-fiction-contemporaryNearly halfway through the year – how’s your reading going?
Here’s my reading so far:

2017 Reading Challenge

2017 Reading Challenge
Rhian has
read 26 books toward
her goal of
50 books.
hide

UPDATE – ugh, there’s supposed to be a fancy grid of book covers here but I can’t get the coding to work. Apparently Goodreads doesn’t play nicely with WordPress. 🙁

So, instead I need you to imagine a pretty grid of book covers here, and head over to my Goodreads if you’d like to check the titles out. Visualise some graphic novels (one with a cute-but-sad robot on it), a couple of Fancy Literature covers (looking all serious), and a glut of YA Contemporary.

Yup, you read that right: Contemporary. I read a few books in a row that had NO magic in them: and I liked it! (They would have been even better with magic in, though. Just sayin’…)

My favourite? It’s hard to choose – The Sun is Also A Star was gorgeous, but the Holly Bourne books & Beautiful Broken Things were more relatable because they mirrored my own teen experiences with food, friendships & feminism. They are funny, & sensitive, & I wish I could have read them when I was still in school. Also, Holly’s Spinster Club idea is AWESOME, so, with stiff competion, Am I Normal Yet wins. Go forth & read it!

Right now I’m reading Lady Midnight (back to the magic & demons for me!). Not my favourite Cassie Clare so far, partly because I don’t need all the Shadowhunter background info-dumps, having read them all loads of times, but the more I read the more interesting it becomes.

Emma reminds me of a female Jace, and I love poor, tortured Mark. Will there be anyone I love as much as Tess, Clary, Will or Simon, though? Maybe not – but here’s hoping.

Which read has lit you up this year? Let me know & I’ll add it to my TBR list!

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