3/25/17

Holding onto Your Story

Sorry for the delay in comment replies last week! I was on a trip that lasted till Wendesday and things were a lot busier than I anticipated so I wasn't able to get online and hang with you guys. Thank you for the love though! I really appreciate it *beams and hugs all of you and hands out coffees and hot chocolates*

Anyways.

A few weeks ago I talked about letting go of your story. About how, once its purpose is accomplished, we can become better writers by letting it go instead of keeping at it, editing and editing and writing and rewriting when really, the time has come to give it up and move on.

This week I thought I'd talk about the other side of the coin.



You've been working on a novel for a year. Maybe two. Or three. Let's say three.

So you've been working on a novel for three years. And you just don't know if it's worth it. Despite all your hard work, the plot is a wreck. Your characters are being stubborn and not doing what you want. The world building is cliche, the pacing all whacked up and you've just been so close to this story for so stinkin' long that you can't see it anymore and SOMEONE SEND HELP.

It's at this point when the infamous "writers block" sets in. Then one of two things will happen.

One, you'll put the book aside for a bit and read or brainstorm your way out of it.

Two, you'll put the book aside and you won't pick it up again.

Now, I've never fully abandoned a project I had taken on. I don't consider my first series "abandoned". Yes, I've let it go (and the whole Letting Go of your Story post was about that series) but in a way, I'm still holding onto it.

And I certainly have felt all the above feelings towards my WIP. *groans and slams forehead against keyboard* The plot has given me so. much. grief. I wrote the first draft in 2015 for nano, and even after that I still didn't know how the book was going to end. HOW DO YOU WRITE A BOOK AND STILL NOT KNOW HOW IT ENDS.

Well, I am a pro at that. Just ask me about it and I'll teach you all the ways.

There comes a point for everyone when you just want to give up. Some have it harder than others.

Is this story really worth it, after all? Is it worth all this time and pain and sweat and tears and creativity?

Is it worth holding onto?

The Thief's Conspiracy turned a year old in October. I took on the project in May-ish of 2015, though, and planned stuff out for five months before actually writing it. A good chunk of one of my journals holds the first bits of brainstorming I did for this, and then I've already completely filled one journal with notes on it.

Point is: I've spent a lot of time and a lot of work on this. But my progress is so slow. I've got The Dream Walkers sitting here, all sparkly and pretty in it's first draft glory, and I'm more happy and proud of that, a work that took me 30 days, than a draft I spent a whole year on.

HOW DOES THAT WORK? Goodness.

It's really tempting just to toss TC out the window and forget about it. Middle Grade likes me better apparently. I'm a failure with YA. Right?

Let's stop here and make a list. Because we need to sort some things out.


Point One /// you have to let go of it

Hear me out! This might sound like a contradiction, but it's not.

In order to truly stick to your story, to hold on to it and not give up on it, you have to let it go. You have to realize that its flaws and imperfections do not define you. Because if you let those mistakes determine what kind of a writer or person you are, it will crumble your confidence. You can't do that to yourself.

You have to let it go. Say, yes this is my story. But it is not me. I'm working through the problems because I believe it can be a great novel someday.

That's the first big step. If you don't let go of it, you're going to hate on yourself during edits. You're going to berate yourself, wondering why you can't be a better writer. Wondering what's wrong with you to have made this story such a mess, and how could you possibly have made such a mistake in thinking you could write this story?

You have to let that go. Every book comes with its problems. And likelihood is, the harder stories, the ones that take the most work, are going to be the greatest works you'll ever produce.


Point Two /// is it worth it?

You have to decide if the story is worth it. I'd love to tell you yes, your story is worth it. But sadly, that might not be the case. Some stories are good stepping stones. They teach us valuables things about writing, and about ourselves.

And they aren't meant to be more. They are just for you, and they don't need to go out into the world.

But only you can make that call.

Only you can look on the pages of your manuscript and decide if it's worth it. Only you can know. Only you can decide.


Point Three /// what do you feel?

Why are you considering letting go of your story? Of putting it down and never touching it again?

Is it because you think it will never be good enough? That it will never stand a chance? That the plot is just a wreck and can't be fixed, and the characters are all flat and it's just not worth it?

If you're feeling these kinds of thoughts, I BEG YOU. Hold onto it. Those thoughts are not good, and they're definitely not from God. If you're striving to write what He wants you to write, you won't put down a book because of feelings like that. Those are not from Him. Think about it. If God wants you to put a project down, how would He tell you to do so? He would not tell you you don't have what it takes. He would show you that your energy could be spent on a story that maybe carries a message you and the world need more than the last one.

Think about it and pray. And if you decide to stick with it, you'll have to take one more point:


Point Four /// you have to love it

Love is not a feeling. Love is a choice.

Let's use siblings as an example here.

We don't always like our siblings. That's just the truth of it. It's impossible to be filled with love and affection for your screaming little brother every second of every day. You have to make a choice. You have to choose to put aside your own grumpiness and dislike and care for and nurture the little toddler.

Just like you're not always going to like your siblings, you're not always going to like your book. It's tricky though, because sometimes you will like your book. And when you like your book and want to work with it, it's so easy to hold on and love and nurture and work on it.

And it's so easy to think something wrong has happened when you start dislike your story. If you base your devotion and dedications on how you feel, then it only makes sense for that devotion to fade as soon as the desire does.

If you've decided that it's worth it, you have to choose. Choose to hold onto your story. Choose to stick with it and love it.


Are you wrestling with whether to keep your story or not? How do you decide to stay with a project? 

<3

3/18/17

One Thing Writers have in Common with Their Books

WARNING: this might turn into one of those, "Hannah-blabs-about-her-past" posts, but hopefully it will lean towards the, "Hannah-draws-from-her-past-to-help-other-people." Imma aim for the latter, but I MAKE NO PROMISES.

This will also be mildly short since I am leaving on a trip and won't get back till Wednesday. I STILL LOVE YOU THOUGH.

Ehem. Anyway.

I am currently editing the first draft of last year's nano book, The Dream Walkers. I picked it up after I finished draft two of The Thief's Conspiracy last month. I had not touched DW since writing the 94k first draft in the 30 days of nano, so you can imagine I was a little nervous when I finally sat down and opened up the document.

After all, my only other nano novel was ... not good? XP I mean, it took me a whole stinkin' year to finish the second draft. Despite feeling good about DW, I was bracing myself for a mess.

But ... I didn't really get one.

I opened the document and started to read, and I was so surprised. I'm not saying it was perfect by any means. It still has its issues.

But it's not a completely hopeless wreck like Draft 1 of TC was. I scrapped pretty much all of that book's first draft. And it still needs so much work.

But DW ...

My point is: editing The Dream Walkers is already a completely different experience from editing The Thief's Conspiracy. I'm actually sending DW to a couple of betas, which I could not do for TC.

Which leads to the point of this post. Why I titled it what I did.

We all know the phrase, "Every writer is different."

But it's the same for books. "Every book is different."

I can see you staring at me like, "Um ... yeah?"

Perhaps I should rephrase.

Every process of writing a book is going to be different.



Each book is going to come with a new set of challenges and a new set of perks. Each story you create will present new problems you have not faced before, and new pluses that you didn't know you were capable of.

Each book you write is going to teach you something new about the writing process, and how you function best. How you create stories best.

Each book you write is going to change you, both as a writer and as a person. It will change how you see the world, and it will change how you see those around you.

Books are such magical things, both to read and to write. And edits can be soooo tough. I've been there. Draft 2 of TC was the most horrible, rebellious child I have ever dealt with. Even though I had a feeling DW was going to be nicer to me, I didn't believe it until I started. (I still don't trust it, actually. I'm waiting for the bomb to go off.) It's turning out to be my little precious baby that's just a doll of loveliness and manageability.

Polar opposite of TC.

But I still love them both.

Where am I going with this?

Writers are different. They have different and unique processes. Some techniques work for them. Some do not.

And the same goes for their stories.

Books are different. They often require different and unique processes. Some techniques that worked on other books won't work for them.

So don't get discouraged if the Snowflake Method you used to plot your last novel isn't working. Maybe this book needs something different! I sure planned this book differently. I realized the other day that I did one of my own big personal "no-no's" in the planning of the story, but that's actually what made the characters so strong.

Keep writing, and don't be afraid to try something new!

Have you ever had a method fail you when it previously worked wonders for you? Have you messed around with different ways to write/plan stories? What have you found? 

<3

3/11/17

How to Write a Pitch (for editors and for friends)

Summer is the season of writing conferences and workshops. It's around this time that writers attending one such thing begin to prepare, editing the manuscript they plan to take and pulling together fun things like synopses and blurbs.

One of the things you want to have is a pitch.



I used to hate pitches. But now, crazy as it sounds ... I actually really like them? Like, a lot? I KNOW. WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME, RIGHT? Summarizing your whole book in a sentence? That's supposed to be every writer's worst NIGHTMARE.

But. That statement ('summarizing your whole book in a sentence') ... well, it's rather misleading.

A pitch is a sentence long hook for your story. Not a summary. It's not like a synopsis, where you need to spill all the secrets and tell the story from beginning to end.

It's the main concept of the story. It's the root core. It's the huge plot thread that carries the book from beginning to end.

If you've written a book blurb, you've already got a good start. But if you haven't, no worries! You can read my guest post on Katie's blog (it was about a year ago that I did this, but remains one of my favorite posts I've written. I really like blurbs!) or you can just start from scratch.

See, with a blurb, you have a little more room to flesh out what your story is about. You can go into detail about the characters and backstory and the inciting incident, along with the rest of the plot.

Your pitch? It's so much easier than you might think.

It's basically your inciting incident, with a hint at the story goal.

So,

Inciting Incident + Story Goal = pitch

See? I did the maths. So easy.

But really. It's that simple!

Let's break this down, shall we?

Step 1: The Inciting Incident.

Some terminology first: the inciting incident is the big Thing that happens (usually in the first three chapters) that kicks the story off. It's what makes things interesting. It's what drags readers into the story and sends them on a journey.

I'm going to use The Dream Walkers for an example, since that's the book I'm taking to the Minneapolis Young Writers Workshop this summer and I need to get a pitch written! Plus, I just started edits so, why not? XP

The Inciting Incident in DW (The Dream Walkers) is: After a dare goes wrong in the land of dreams, Jake does not wake up when the morning comes.

This starts the story because it gives my cast a crossroads. Wait for the doctors to discover what's wrong with him ... or go to Dream World and try to find him.

What starts your story? Find the point and boil it down to a sentence. Then you have the first part of your pitch.


Step 2: The Story Goal

And this flows right after the Inciting Incident. It's kind of the "obvious answer" to the inciting incident. Especially obvious in my case.

The story goal in DW is: Jake's siblings must travel to Dream World to find him and bring him back to reality.

Now it's going to be hard to simmer the book down like this. But you need to focus on how the book starts off. Most of my pitch is resolved within, like, fifty pages. It's the latter part (bring him back to reality) that takes up the bulk of the story.


Step 3: Put them together

You're probably glowering at me and mumbling, "but Hannah. Now I have two sentences. How am I supposed to simmer it down to one??"

Don't worry. If you put my two sentences together as they are:

After a dare goes wrong in the land of dreams, Jake does not wake up when the morning comes. Jake's siblings must travel to Dream World to find him and bring him back to reality.

Kind of ... halting, isn't it? There's some stuff I can cut. I could probably get away with cutting the whole "Jake doesn't wake up part" and just hint at it in the later half of the pitch. Like this:

After a dare goes wrong in the land of dreams, Jake's siblings must travel to Dream World to find him and bring him back to reality.

And I miiiight even be able to cut the first "land of dreams". Let's see what that looks like.

After a dare goes wrong, Jake's siblings must travel deep into Dream World to find him and get back to reality.

In the case of this pitch, I was able to cut about half the inciting incident off. Now this is just a rough pitch which I'll want to run by some people, but it's a start.

It's a fairly straightforward process. I mean, only three steps, right!? I know it's tricky, but you can do it! I BELIEVE IN YOU.

Now for some practical advice ...

Write several of them. 

A pitch is only a sentence long. Once you get the basic elements down, write three or four. See which style you like, find the right wording, etc. It doesn't take long and will help you polish it up. I'm going to write several versions of my above example, since I'm not in love with it yet. Maybe I'll find some wording I like!


The Conversation Pitch

I'm not sure if the "conversation pitch" is a thing? I kind of made it up, but someone else has probably thought of it too. But since I've never heard it elsewhere, I've been calling it a conversation pitch. If you know what it's called, shout out in the comments!

Anyway.

Here's the thing.

A professional pitch has closure.

Which is really good for, you know, professionals. That's what you want.

But in the case of talking to friends about your story, well ...

I gave a friend my pitch one time, just as I had written it (because that was what I'd read to do somewhere). And it was so awkward. It was awkward trying to say it and it was awkward after saying it. Everything about it was just ... UGH.

I immediately wished I hadn't spoken it like I was reading it off a paper. It's not that it was a bad pitch, and I knew that a pitch was a really good way to explain what your book is about to friends. But the professional pitch just felt so awkward. What to do?

When I went to the workshop that summer, I was more prepared. I had an official pitch written for the editor who was going to critique my work. And though I didn't actually write a more casual one, I had the pitch swirling in my mind so that when someone asked me what my book was about, I was able to edit it a bit.

My official pitch was short and clear, but I let myself be a little more relaxed for in-conversation one. For your amusement, here's what our conversation went like.

Person: so what's your book about?

Me: it's about a slave girl whose little sister gets sold.

Person: oooooh.

Me: and then she's got to find a way to free her before the buyer comes back and takes her away.

Person: oh, that sounds interesting.

Me: thanks! There are tigers and princes and investigators and assassinations and circus stuff and ... yeah, it's been fun to write.

You get the idea.

What am I saying?

I'm not saying to lose your professionalism.

I'm saying make it into a conversation. Let the other person speak a bit too, exchange some thoughts, and talk about it! If you have a pitch, you've got a great way to talk about your story to people. You'll be much more confident, and you can make a conversation about your book. (How fun is that?) You just have to present it the right way.

Annnnd that was a long post. XP I hope this gave you some ideas. NOW EVERYONE GO AND WRITE A PITCH!

Have you written a pitch before? If not, write one now! Feel free to share your pitches below, if you're brave. It doesn't have to be perfectly polished! Mine sure wasn't. SO SHARE THEM WITH MEEEE. I want to know what you're writing about!

<3