Category Archives: Writing Process

Favorite Writing Books

Writing (Craft) Books:

The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write with Emotional Power, Develop Achingly Real Characters, Move Your Readers, and Create Riveting Moral Stakes, by Donald Maass

Story Pitch: The How To Guide For Using A Pitch To Create Your Story, by Scott King

You Must Write: Success Through Heinlein’s Rules, by Kevin McLaughlin (some craft, some business)

Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology, by Brandon Sanderson et al

GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction, by Debra Dixon

all the Emotional Thesaurus books, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

Writing Fiction for Dummies, by Randy Ingermanson

Behind the Book: Making The Death of Dulgath, by Michael J. Sullivan

Story Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction, by Larry Brooks

Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew, by Ursula K. LeGuin

No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript That Sells, by Alice Orr

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: 6 Steps to Writing and Publishing Your Bestseller!, by Phillip Athans

How to Write Killer Fiction, by Carolyn Wheat

Aliens and Alien Societies, by Stanley Schmidt

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, by K.M. Weiland

The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, by Noah Lukeman

Building Better Plots, by Robert Kernen

The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need To Know About Creating & Selling Your Work, by Writers Digest Books

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card

Wrede on Writing, by Patricia C. Wrede

The Fantasy Fiction Formula, by Deborah Chester

Characters and Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card

Breathe Life into Your Life Story: How to Write a Story People Will Want to Read, by Dawn Parrett Thurston

Plotting Your Novel Workbook: A Companion Book to Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, by Janice Hardy

Writing (Business) Books:

Successful Self-Publishing: How to self-publish and market your book in ebook and print, by Joanna Penn

Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should (Let’s Get Digital, #1), by David Gaughran

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. How to Publish a Book, by Guy Kawasaki

Become a Successful Indie Author: Work Toward Your Writing Dream, by Craig Martelle

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, by Sheree Bykofsky

Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts, by Joanna Penn

Author 2.0 Blueprint, by Joanna Penn

Pulp Speed for Professional Writers: Business for Breakfast, Volume 9, by Blaze Ward

The Secrets of Success, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (it’s a single chapter/booklet, but a lot to ponder)

Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, by Mark Coker

HOW I SOLD 80,000 BOOKS: Book Marketing for Authors, by Alinka Rutkowsky

Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook, by Helen Sedwick

Writing Process, Book 2 (Part 1)

I learned so much from writing my first book, that when I decided to write a second one, I figured I’d be smarter. For instance, I’d plan the beats first, and figure out POV assignments ahead of time, and make a REAL outline instead of a few lines for each chapter.

Well, some of that worked out, but now I look back and laugh at my innocent confidence. For the sake of the timeline you probably don’t care about, I started book two in September of 2015, and finished the first draft in November 2017. There were a lot of “not working on it” months in the middle, though. That’s one of the two things I remind myself when I feel like complaining that I should have gotten faster, not slower. (The other is that I was now consciously trying to incorporate a lot of writing techniques and elements that I hadn’t even thought about while drafting book one.)

I did plan the beats, all laid out in the handy chart I invented for edits of the first book. I thought I was doing so well. Then I got book two half-written (in random chunks) and had to redo half the organization. What had been the midpoint moved to the first quarter, and a whole new event landed in the middle. Granted, it was more exciting that way. You’re welcome. (Thanks, Kyle!)

I assigned every chapter a point of view, also on my handy-dandy chart. That changed a bit as I changed the beats, but I mostly got it right. That was a relief, since rewriting POV in book one was one of my many headaches, and I didn’t want to go through that again.

As for a REAL outline… now that I’m working on book three, I can see how pitiful my outline really was. But, hey, it was better than the one for book one! I’m learning. I hope. I keep thinking I’ve got it right and then discovering how inadequate I am. (That’s normal for humans, right?) We’ll see what my plotting looks like when I hit book four.

Anyway, I finished the first draft, with the new organization, for NaNoWriMo in November 2017. I knew it wasn’t actually “finished,” but I’d filled in the blank chapters and done everything I knew how to do by myself.

After some editing in December and January, I started submitting chapters to my new critique group. As we went along, it quickly became apparent that some of the missing bits were description, setting, and physical cues. Apparently, those aren’t naturally strong points for me. (Don’t worry, I edit them until they’re good.)

That seems like a good place to stop for now. Thanks for reading!

If you’re a writer, what’s your favorite part of the process? Readers, what do you wish your favorite author would do better, and what does he/she already do fabulously?

Writing Process, Book 1 (Part 4)

After the writing conference and my failed experiment with an editor, I typed up all my notes. In the process, I remembered a comment from one of the panelists that, somewhat derisively, suggested hiring an editing STUDENT if the author simply couldn’t hire a real editor for $30/hr+. It sounded like a good idea to me. I contacted an editing teacher at a local college and asked if he had any students who might be interested in a job with (lower) pay plus portfolio experience. I got an answer within a couple of weeks, and soon had an editor hired. (If anybody wants to hear about my experience negotiating the contract, let me know. No, it wasn’t scary or awful.)

She took a few weeks to read my book, then sent me some comments, some related to the ending and some not. Her first suggestion for the ending was also unworkable, but she seemed to have some misunderstandings, too. I took several deep breaths and wrote back, explaining what I had intended. Then I waited anxiously to see if I was stuck in another dead end.

Fortunately, her next email was a lot better. She was able to point out where I had gone wrong with what I intended and suggest how I could fix it.

In brief, I’d put stuff off-screen that should have been on, spent too little time on certain important things, and neglected a confrontation with the antagonist that would signal “climax” to the reader.

So I rewrote the ending *cough* times, and sent the most-changed chapter to a few old beta readers. They said it was SO MUCH better, but had a few minor suggestions that led to still more tweaks.

About then, I read a book that said many of the same things I had just learned. I probably still wouldn’t have found my exact solution anytime soon, so I don’t regret hiring my editor. The book did help me with some of the smaller tweaks as I rewrote, including upping the emotional impact. In case you want to read that writing book, I sorted through my list of 100 “read” writing books for you. You’re welcome.

Now I’m sending my book out to beta readers for hopefully the last time, to see if the ending holds up under new eyes…

In the meantime, I’m sending book 2 through my critique group and starting book 3.

My next “writing process” post will probably start covering book 2, unless something shocking comes out of my last beta reads on book 1.

Crossing my fingers…

Update: Apparently I still have a few issues. Deep breath. I can do this. I can, I can, I can.

Writing Process, Book 1 (Part 3)

As I made changes in my book, my critiquers and beta readers started to give better and better reviews. Not perfect, sure, but better. Even the people who started off telling me that I can’t do four POVs (points-of-view) came back at the end and said, “But I loved all your characters so much!”

I was feeling pretty good until people finished the book and complained about the ending being much too slow. At first, I thought it was just an isolated opinion until almost everybody started saying it. (And those that didn’t, also did not say they liked the ending.)

I asked for suggestions for fixing it, based on where they saw the problem. Almost all of them advised chopping off the last three chapters “because the story is obviously over by then (see climax HERE), and your wrap-up is taking too long.”

Well, that was not going to work. Contrary to popular opinion, the “climax” was only the crisis, the real climax wasn’t until the next-to-last chapter, and the story wasn’t over until the last chapter. Obviously, something was indeed wrong, but it wasn’t where the story ended. If I hacked off the last three chapters, the theme would be ruined, the main story question would remain unanswered, and the promise would be unfulfilled. Nope, can’t do that.

Back to story structure research.

Ah, there’s something. Sometimes an ending will fall flat because it hasn’t been supported and set up properly in the middle. Okay, let’s hypothesize that I identified the problem. Time to revise again. (I bet you predicted that.)

So I rewrote half the book in “minor” but very important ways, and tweaked the ending while I was at it. Then I ran it past betas again.  Nope, still broken.

I rewrote it several more times. Still broken.

It’s possible I considered screaming.

Deep breaths…

Around this time, I was going to a writing conference and was notified that there were editorial consulting slots available. That seemed like a great idea, so I signed up. I spent that day of the conference reminding myself to calm down because the consultation was a job interview and *I* was hiring. Talking to an editor shouldn’t be so nerve-racking, but if you ever find yourself in the same position, feeling the same way, remember that you’re not the only one.

I brought a simplified synopsis (minus subplots that didn’t affect the problematic ending) and a writing sample with me, and sat down to talk about my ending. The non-scary editor flipped through my papers and then talked to me. My hopes sank pretty quickly as I discovered that her suggestions were also unworkable. Some of them revealed that she didn’t even understand the story. Okay, yes, I know she hadn’t read the whole thing, but I did give her the synopsis, including a lot of detail on the ending.

She suggested I hire the editing company to actually read the book and make detailed edits. I looked up her prices, and let’s just say, that wasn’t an option. Besides, I wasn’t impressed with her off-the-cuff answers and wasn’t convinced her in-depth answers would be any better. Perhaps that’s unfair, but we all make decisions based on what information we have.

So I went home, torn between screaming and crying. I might have considered giving up, since obviously, I was no good at this writing thing.

And that seems like a nice, dramatic place to stop for now. 😉

Favorite and Least Fav of Writing

I got a question (thanks!) asking about my favorite and disliked parts of writing. That topic is a great idea for an actual post, so here it is.

Let’s start with what I don’t like.

I don’t like outlining. I do it. Sort of. More than I used to. I’m learning! I’ve always outlined, in my own opinion, but my “outlines” don’t look anything like those of actual Plotters. They look more like scribbled notes in a margin, a little bit for each chapter. Or maybe marking the plot beats. Some combination? I was so proud of myself for actually working out a sentence for every chapter when I got to book 3, with beats & POV all worked out beforehand.

I don’t like writer’s block. Who does? It stinks. Enough said!

I don’t like being wrong. Yeah, that exposes a much bigger topic than just writing. It’s also a little misleading. Let me explain. I don’t actually mind being wrong or making mistakes. (Good thing, since I make a LOT of mistakes.) I don’t mind being corrected, either (politely). I just don’t like finding out I’m wrong when I’ve worked really hard on something and think I’ve finally, finally got it right. Then I find out it’s still broken, and that’s sad. 🙁

You might be thinking I don’t like editing, especially after what I just said. You’d mostly be wrong, though. I don’t mind editing my own stuff, as long as I can figure out how to fix things. If I can’t figure out how to fix the problems, well, see my earlier rant. As for editing someone else’s stuff, it depends on how much frustration I have to wade through. If the grammar is so bad I have to struggle through the sentences, then I’ll probably start growling. The occasional typo or misuse, eh, whatever.

Now, what DO I like?

I like dialogue. It’s fun to think of what different people will say in different situations. I’ve been told I’m good at it. It might be, possibly, because I’ve always spent so much time writing conversations in my head. I used to rewrite real conversations, which I choose to think is imaginative rather than crazy. Now I write fictional ones, which is much easier to explain to people.

I like language. I like words in general. I like big words (although I try not to inflict them on people without cause). I like fun words. I like putting words together in interesting, enlightening, surprising, moving, and just plain fun ways. I like finding the right word to say exactly what I want to say. Even better, I like making my words the right ones to hijack your brain and make you think what I want you to think. 😀 Yes, writing is a subtle form of mind-control. Mwahahaha! Don’t worry–I have absolutely no desire to control your mind in real life.

I like finally figuring out how to fix the problems in my writing. The eureka moment for an amazing scene is so very sweet. I don’t even mind if somebody else gives me the bright idea and leaves the dirty work for me to do. When the scene is perfect (or close enough), it’s worth the struggle. (You should remind me of that the next time I complain about something being broken.)

I love my characters. They are just so much FUN. They are so different, but all delightful. Some are serious, some funny. I have easy-going ones and *cough* difficult ones. They play in my head in idle moments, and sometimes when I’m supposed to be paying attention to something else. Bad me. I love thinking up amazing scenes with them. I know what you’re thinking: I’m biased. You might be right. Then again, maybe you aren’t. You could read about my characters and find out. 😉

And after thinking about this for a long time, my very mostest (that should be a word, right?) favorite part of writing is creating something new. New world, new characters, new scenes, new story. And it’s ALL MINE! Mwahahahaha! But I’ll share with you, if you like. 🙂

Now, what are YOUR favorite/not parts of writing or reading?

Writing Process, Book 1 (Part 2)

Last time, I described how I started writing my first book, up until the point where I split the chapters for point-of-view (POV) and thought I had fixed that problem.

To make a long story somewhat shorter, it turns out there are at least two more levels of POV to consider. One is consistency. Three years later, I think my revisions might have caught all the times I accidentally slipped POV for a sentence or two. I hope. Sigh. It is harder than you think.

The final(?) level of POV is also called “character voice.” This is what makes it easy for the reader to identify when character A is speaking/thinking instead of character B, even without the author saying so. Of course, the author should still say so, but if one character speaks like a cowboy and thinks like a cowboy and moves like a cowboy, while another character speaks, thinks, and moves like a scientist, the story will be more realistic and authentic as well as easier to read. I’m still working on this level.

Okay, back to the story.

I now had 33 chapters of “POV-corrected” story. I’m ready to go, right? This is about the time that I heard about plot beats and story structure. I thought a story was structured however it was made, wasn’t it? And I had beats. Look, I could prove it.

So I took several different story structuring methods that mostly made sense to my warped brain and smooshed them together into my own little chart. Then I reverse-outlined every chapter of my book and marked every beat. I also marked whose POV was in each chapter.

Yep, that led to a round of revisions, too.

Then I learned about chapter goals for characters (I already knew about chapter goals for authors) and chapter twists/questions/cliffhangers/pageturners (whatever you want to call them). So I added those to my little reverse-outline chart, too.

That was a sad day. That was the point that it became very, very obvious why my story slowed down in the middle. I had four– FOUR!– chapters that had the same– boring!– chapter goal. Oh, sure, there was good stuff in the chapters. There was important stuff. There was funny stuff. There was… too much stuff without enough actually happening. Sadness.

It took me a week or three to go through those four chapters and slice them into little bits. This part stays, and all these parts go, and this part stays… It might have been around here that my “deleted scenes” file became my best friend. I told myself, “It’s okay to cut it because it’s going in the deleted scenes. If I end up needing it back, it’s a simple cut-and-paste.” In the process, the book dropped to thirty chapters.

Then, of course, I had to redo my reverse-outline.

I’d been taking my half-chapters to critique group all this time, and I’d gotten a few beta readers, too, but now seemed like a good time to get some more. So I did, which is a story all by itself, but I’ll spare you.

Early feedback complained about certain chapters having no conflict, no interest. “Boring!” So I took a deep breath and started revising. Again. Some of them ended up with (relatively) minor revisions, some with major facelifts and all-new scenes.

I was reading through a chapter myself and noticed that I actually said, “and over the next week they became friends.” Yes, just like that. Um… their friendship is actually a plot point for a character’s motivation. Did I really just brush over it like that? Face palm. Talk about unbelievable! What kind of author am I, anyway? (Don’t answer that.)

So I gutted the chapter and wrote an all-new middle where they actually had reasons to become friends. Just to make the rewrite more painful, this is a chapter I had ALREADY completely rewritten three times, in three different POVs, trying to get it right.

And on that painful note, I’ll end this segment. See you next time!

Writing Process, Book 1 (Part 1)

I’ve been thinking a lot about how my writing process has changed. If I record the development of my writing, maybe it will help someone else the way it helps me to read about other writers. Here we go!

I didn’t grow up convinced I was an author. Sure, I dabbled in stories and poetry, but they were either for school assignments or my own personal pleasure.

Then I had kids. Children change your life in so many ways. My middle child changed my writing life when she found some old paragraphs from a non-existent story and asked for the rest of it. I had to tell her that’s all there was.

That was purely unacceptable, so she quizzed me for at least an hour about my characters, world, and possible plot. When she thought I had enough for a story, she ordered me to write it. I protested I didn’t remember all my answers. She wrote them all down. Nope, no excuses.

So I “plotted” all six chapters of the short story I had in mind, and I started writing. From the beginning. One very slow paragraph at a time, starting in July 2013. Most of the time, I wrote strictly in order, following the simple notes I called a plot. On rare occasions, I’d skip around a bit to avoid difficult parts, then circle back to fill in the blanks.

At this point in my writing life, I had no intention of EVER going professional. In fact, I didn’t even tell my friends I was writing. This story was for my daughter, that’s all. Okay, fine, my husband and other children could read it, too.

As I wrote, I had to keep bumping plot notes from one chapter to the next as the middle of the story expanded. Pretty soon, I had eight chapters, and I wasn’t even finished. Then twelve, fifteen, twenty! It was now March of 2015, and I had myself a complete novel clocking in at 104,000 words.

Somewhere in the middle of 2014, I finally told a few select friends about my book. Then in late 2015, months after I finished, I decided that I ought to join a writer’s group and get some real critique. Just to make the book as good as possible for my daughter, you understand. I still wasn’t going pro.

So I found a group and shared my first half-chapter (word count limits), feeling like I was baring my soul. Sharing a creative baby is scary! It didn’t help that the guy who was critiqued right before me was told to kill his chapter and go back to the drawing board…

I shared anyway, shaking in my chair, and sure, I got LOTS of comments to fix things, but the readers also said they liked the story. I took their suggestions home and revised almost every day until the next meeting. Then I took in the next half-chapter, with similar results.

After several months, I started noticing trends in the comments. One frequent comment was “head-hopping.” It seemed I didn’t really understand point of view (POV). Oh. Okay. Hello, library, let’s do research. (I love the library.)

After a lot of reading and discussing and thinking, I decided I needed to split my chapters and stick firmly to only one POV per chapter, with the POV character named first.

One very long and tiring revision later (read “weeks”), I had thirty-three chapters that I thought were now single-POV. So now the big revision was over, and I could just work on the minor edits. Right?

I bet you experienced writers out there are now shaking your heads…

I’ll stop there and pick up next time.