All posts in Editing

28 Jun

The “Keep in Mind” List

In Drafting,Editing,Writing Process by MK England / June 28, 2017 / 0 Comments

I have a quick little something to share today that’s been helping me tons with both drafting new projects and revising THE DISASTERS:

The “Keep in Mind” List

The idea for this came out of two things. First was something I read on Maggie Stiefvater’s tumblr a long time ago that really struck a chord with me. “…when I wrote The Raven Boys, I had a sticky note affixed to my computer that read: Remember that the worst thing that can happen is that they can stop being friends.

In many ways, that is the guiding principle of the entire series, the most important thing for Maggie to remember as she wrote those books. It’s the thing to write toward, the thing that should be an undercurrent in every scene, a constant touchstone. I loved the idea of keeping something like that close at hand during my writing and revising sessions.

Second, I was going through my edit letter for THE DISASTERS and taking notes on things I wanted to change, and I noticed that there were a lot of subtle tweaks that would carry through the whole book, usually in the form of tiny character traits I needed to make sure were present throughout. I was worried that just leaving them on my revision outline under the “general changes” heading wouldn’t be enough to keep them at the forefront of my mind as I worked.

Hence… the Keep in Mind list. I put it up right next to my computer (okay, it’s currently paperclipped to a lampshade, but it WORKS) so it’s always in my field of vision while I’m working. Whenever I surface from the zone of revising, I look over at that list and check in—am I accomplishing what I set out to do? Are the characters coming through clearly? Have I let the stakes drive my characters’ emotional responses and actions?

A Keep in Mind list (for a totally made up project) might look something like this:

  • Jen is a terrible liar
  • Ana always wears blue (except when she doesn’t) because symbolism
  • Callie would be miserable without her creative outlet
  • John’s daddy issues are at the core of everything
  • Make Raj a bit softer throughout
  • If they don’t succeed, a volcano will explode and the whole world will die

If you decide to give the Keep in Mind list a try, let me know how it goes for you! Do you have any techniques to keep you focused on the important concepts while you write or revise? Let me know in the comments. Happy writing!

17 Aug

Pitch Wars Homework Assignments

In Editing,Pitch Wars by MK England / August 17, 2016 / 6 Comments

Last year when I was waiting for Pitch Wars mentee selections to be announced, I was chomping at the bit, wanting so badly to get started on a new round of edits. Sure, I did some half-hearted planning for NaNoWriMo to distract myself, but what I really wanted was to throw myself back into my PW manuscript and make it better.

crazy typing

One of the first things my awesome mentor, Sarah Glenn Marsh, did last year was give me homework assignments right after I was selected. They were designed to help me analyze my book so I’d be in a better position to hit the ground running with revisions. And you know what? There’s no reason you can’t start on those right now, before Pitch Wars really begins, before you know if you’ve been selected or not. These assignments are great for anyone with a finished MS in need of editing, whether you’re participating in Pitch Wars or not, whether you get in or not.

So, without further ado, here’s your homework. Get as much done as you can before 11:59pm on August 24th. 

  • Make each chapter title a heading in Word for easy navigation (more info here). Even if you use Scrivener (which I love), you’ll need a word doc to share with your mentor or critique partners.
  • Make a list of all chapters with chapter wordcounts. Variation isn’t a bad thing, but if you have some major outliers, those might be chapters to look at for pacing issues, bulking up, or breaking into two parts.
  • Make a character arc chart for all major characters: who are they at the start, who are they at the end, how they get there, what their role in the cast is, what they want, what progress they make toward their goals, etc.
  • Do a goals & stakes analysis for each chapter. Look at how each chapter progresses the characters toward their goal, and how the stakes come into play depending on their progress. If a chapter doesn’t address the goals and stakes, it likely needs to be cut. If you have trouble with this, summarize each chapter in only one sentence listing the most important things that happen, then think about how those tie in to your overall plot arc/goals/stakes. Don’t force it—if a chapter doesn’t fit, it might need to be significantly rewritten or cut.
  • Start on your revision outline. This will change a lot if someone takes you on as a mentee, depending on the feedback you get, but it’s good to start brainstorming fixes based on your own analysis while remaining open to mentor suggestions. Note overall changes to make throughout the manuscript as well as chapter-by-chapter notes.
  • Read my post on Critiques and Cultivating Self-Awareness. It’s important to understand your own reactions to receiving critiques and be prepared for the emotions that come with. Developing this self-awareness is one of the most critical things you can do as a writer.

Here is your starting ctrl+F list, a list of things for you to look for in your MS using the ‘find’ feature of your word processor. These are common crutch words and bad habit red flag words that apply to pretty much any manuscript. If Jamie and I decide to take you on as a mentee, we’ll also provide you with a customized one with any crutch words/phrases that are unique to you (for instance, I tend to overuse ‘a bit’ and ‘grin’).

  • That
  • Just
  • Filtering phrases (she saw, she heard, she smelled, etc.)
  • Thought phrases (she realized/understood/knew/wondered/remembered/thought)
  • Feeling words (sad/happy/angry/nervous/etc.)
  • Started/began
  • Really/very/extremely/absolutely + other empty modifiers
  • is/are/was/were (potential passive voice red flags)
  • Suddenly
  • Basically/practically/almost (I am so guilty of this)
  • ly (will help you catch adverbs)
  • If writing in past tense: this/now/here (words that imply present-ness)

When you’re using Ctrl+F to catch these filtering and thought phrases, don’t forget the sneaky constructions that slip under the Ctrl+F radar: I can see, I can hear, I suddenly realized, etc. For advice on fixing these errors, check out Pitch Wars class of 2015 alum Rebecca McLaughlin’s Show Don’t Tell series on her blog in which she reworks passages of her own writing.

Reading List (Choose One or More):

  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White OR Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Truss
  • A book in your genre you haven’t read before
  • A book on the craft of writing. Ask for recommendations if you need them!

Best of luck to everyone awaiting Pitch Wars decisions, and major props to anyone tackling a manuscript revisions right now! You got this. You are great. I believe in you.

…now, back to trying to pick a mentee. *sweats*

Report back with your thoughts and progress!

han salute

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27 Jul

Critiques and Cultivating Self-Awareness

In Editing,Pitch Wars,Writing Process by MK England / July 27, 2016 / 0 Comments

I’ve written about critiquing and revising several times before. There’s a reason for that—in the last two years, I’ve personally had to come to terms with how critiquing works, how it feels, what I should take from it, and what role it plays in an author’s career. I’ve also watched how those around me have learned to deal (or not deal) with critiques, from casual one-time crit acquaintances to long-term crit partners whom I adore and still work with. You really do go through the five stages of grief when learning to accept critiques, but successful writers eventually make it to the acceptance stage: critiques are helpful and healthy and the best way to ensure your story does what you want it to do.

But how do you get to that point? How do you eventually make it through the hurt and come to a place of understanding and acceptance? That, dear writer, is the million dollar question. And sure, there’s the usual answers of time, perseverance, blah, blah, blah, but what can you really, actually do?

so much pain

Long answer: For me, the answer is self-awareness. By this point, I know myself, and I know my reactions. I know that when I first get a large critique I will be very sad, and I need to give myself a few hours (or even days) to process that. I know that I’ll have a lot of emotional reactions to the feedback at first. How can I not? It’s like getting up on stage and being booed. It’s a mixture of shame and humiliation over making mistakes, anger over people “misinterpreting” things or just “not getting it”, and sadness for having poured so much of my soul into something and having it criticized. These are honest, real reactions, but they shouldn’t dominate the way you react to feedback, and they absolutely shouldn’t dominate how you revise. Because ultimately, that feedback is what’s going to make your book shine.

Short answer: Don’t bullshit yourself. Learn to spot when you’re bullshitting.

My common bullshitting reactions include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • But I like it this way
  • But I did it that way for a specific reason
  • But I worked so hard on that
  • But this scene is essential for Reasons
  • But does that little thing really matter?
  • But changing that will require huge changes in these twenty other places
  • I don’t get how they see it that way
  • NO. *growl*
  • This is terrible, I am terrible, there is no hope, I should give up

Other things to look for in your own reactions (mostly compiled from the #PitchWars class of 2015, thanks y’all):

  • A different crit partner didn’t have a problem with that scene, therefore I’m justified in not fixing it
  • I’m staying true to my art
  • They’re reading it wrong
  • Let me explain it and you’ll understand
  • That’s just the way I write
  • They just don’t get it

The answer to all of these is the same. It isn’t working for this reader. Their opinion is valid. Take a step back, take stock of what you’re feeling, and really think about what you’re hearing.

Next time you get feedback on a piece of work, try this:

  • Name the feeling you’re having. Anger. Shame. Embarrassment. Disappointment. Allow yourself to feel it. Don’t say or do anything to react to it, but specifically acknowledge it and let yourself feel it.
  • Let the feedback sit. A few hours, a few days, a few weeks, however long it takes for you to feel less emotional and be able to approach it more objectively.
  • What is it specifically about that one piece of feedback that bothers you? Is it the work required to fix it? Does it change something you’re particularly proud of? You can be proud of your writing and still acknowledge that it’s not right for the story.
  • What’s at the core of the feedback? Maybe you don’t agree with the specifics, but you can see that there’s something wrong. You don’t agree that the chapter should be cut, but you do agree there are pacing problems, etc.
  • Is it a grammar rule you’re having issues with? These are probably the easiest to let go of. Learn the rule, do better in the future. You might feel some embarrassment over having messed up, or defensiveness because you’ve always done it that way and you don’t think it sounds wrong, but when it comes down to it there’s no need to feel prideful over an established, industry-standard grammar rule. Follow the rule unless you have a really good stylistic reason for breaking it that others agree works.
  • Change your attitude going into the critique. When you first deliver your MS to your critique partner, say, “Do whatever you gotta do to make it awesome,” or, “Tear it up, I can take it!”. When it’s time to receive the critique, mentally prepare for it. Go into it calm, sit down with your crit partner, and say, “Okay, tell me how I can make this better.”
  • Set yourself up to receive the critique however you need. If you need to be alone to process, ask your CPs to send their critiques as edit letters or with track changes in Word or Google Docs. However, I’d really encourage you to try receiving your crits over the phone or in person. It reminds you that the person you’re talking to is a real human who cares about your MS, not a nameless enemy out to hurt you. It also lets them explain a bit about the suggestions they’re making, so you don’t see them in a vacuum.
  • Go into it expecting changes. I’ve talked about this before, but lots of people go into a critique wanting validation. That’s not the point. The point is to make the story better. You’re never done making changes until the book goes to print. A good crit partner will give you some cheerleading too, but that’s not what it’s about.

If, after you’ve done all this, you still feel that a piece of feedback isn’t correct, feel free to disregard it. No one critique partner is correct 100% of the time—not even a Pitch Wars mentor! But make sure you’re rejecting that feedback for the right reasons.

Learning to accept critiques is one of the hardest parts of being a writer, but it’s absolutely essential if you want to be a professional. Better to learn now than to try to learn when the critique is coming from an agent or editor!

For more on the subjects of critiques and revising, see my other two posts:
On Receiving Critiques
It’s Not Selling Out!: On Revising From Feedback

How do you react to critiques? Any strategies to share? Let me know in the comments.

04 May

It’s Not Selling Out: On revising from feedback

In Drafting,Editing,Writing Process by MK England / May 4, 2016 / 2 Comments

Typically when something makes me angry, I’m tempted to immediately fight back with an extremely pissed off torrent of logic that overwhelms my opponent. Just ask my partner. I know it’s not the best reaction, so I’ve worked hard to chill out a bit and take some time to process my reactions before word vomiting all over everything.

But when something is still actively angering me a month later, I think it’s worth talking about.

Upon hearing about all the revisions I’ve done based on critique partner and agent feedback, two separate people have made comments that really stuck in my brain. I attempted to play it cool at the time and tried to brush the comments off, knowing they weren’t intended to hurt me. Both people were writers who were going through that awful period when you’re getting critiqued for the first time and learning to deal with the pain and aching pride. But months later, I still haven’t forgotten those words.

One casually asked, in a somewhat condescending tone: “So, you’re writing for the masses, right? That’s your goal?”

The other made blatant comments about “selling out” and how revising based on feedback makes it “not my book anymore”.

take a deep breathOkay, look.

If you are writing only for yourself and have no particular interest in whether anyone actually reads or enjoys your work, then perfect. Don’t revise. Don’t get others’ opinions. That is completely fine and valid and wonderful. But if that’s your goal, then don’t submit your work to others for critique. And definitely don’t be surprised that when you ask for opinions, you get them.

If you are writing with the hope that people will eventually read and enjoy your book, though, you must seriously consider reader feedback.

Here’s the thing. For me, the biggest part of being critiqued is making sure readers are getting the experience from the book that I want them to have. When I get feedback that the pacing in my first chapter is dragging, I don’t change it to “appease the masses”; I change it because I’m not evoking the feeling in my readers that I was hoping to achieve. I’m changing it because I’m not fulfilling my vision for the book. If my goal is to deliver a fun, fast-paced space adventure and I get feedback that the pacing is off, you’re damn right I’m going to fix it. That’s not what I want for my story. At the end of the day, it’s my book, and I want it to be the best book it can be. Revising based on feedback doesn’t make it any less my book. If anything, it makes it even more my book, makes certain that I’m accurately conveying what I’m trying to accomplish through my story. And yes, you know what? I do want to appeal to as many readers as possible because, for me, the goal of writing is to share the story with other people. That means doing what I can to bring readers in while staying true to the soul of the story.

But M, what if the story I’ve written is exactly as I want it to be and I don’t want to make any changes based on reader feedback? That’s fine, but you have to live with the fact that some readers—possibly most readers—won’t connect with what you’ve written. They’ll stop after a few chapters and never make it to that beautiful scene at the climax of the book that you so want them to experience.

But if they only gave it a chance! You need to give your readers a chance, too. If you want to share your story with them, you need to meet them halfway, invite them into your world. I’m not talking about changing anything critical about your story or watering down your style, language, or complexity. I’m talking about paying attention to things like pacing, cutting self-indulgent scenes that don’t serve a purpose, and acknowledging reader reactions to your writing as valid. Sure, you can write whatever you want—but readers can also react however they want. Again, it all comes back to goals, but if your goal is to have readers magically understand your artistic vision… good luck.

Maybe you will be one of those hole-in-one authors that gets it right without outside feedback. There’s always a chance. But don’t rely on being the exception. Put in the work. Grow that thick skin. Care about your readers.

Deliver the story you want to tell.

09 Mar

On Receiving Critiques

In Drafting,Editing,Writing Groups,Writing Process by MK England / March 9, 2016 / 2 Comments

Getting critiqued is hard.

There’s really no way around it. When you first start getting hardcore critiqued, it hurts. It took me the better part of a year to grow thick enough skin to really get something useful out of my critiques, and I felt horrible the entire time. Part of it is the battle of what you tried to do vs. what you actually did. The following thoughts tend to creep in when being critiqued for the first few times:

  • But they just didn’t understand this part, even though it was obvious
  • Well, they completely missed the point here
  • I know they think this, but I really like this part as-is, so I’m going to leave it
  • It’s MY book anyway, so I’m going to do it my way

thanks input

Don’t shut out your critique partners!

Secretly, everyone who submits their work for critique for the first time wants one thing: VALIDATION. We want readers to come back with a few little comments here and there, maybe catch some typos, but overall want our work to be loved and understood. Above all else, we want to know that we do have talent, we can do this whole writing thing, and we aren’t wasting our time. We all want to be the exception, the one that really is talented enough to get by without revisions.

I get it. I’ve been there. I still wrestle with these feeling every time I submit something. But you have to let it go, because there is exactly one purpose to submitting your work for critique: getting better.

If you’re writing purely for your own enjoyment, you shouldn’t worry about having your work critiqued. Don’t even bother! So long as you’re happy with it, mission accomplished. If you want to share your work with readers, though, critiques are absolutely necessary.

There are two sides to any creative work: the work itself, and the audience’s view of the work. We all have things we hope to convey through our work, but if we’re conveying those things in a way that doesn’t come across to the reader, it doesn’t matter how in love we are with our own words; the meaning has been lost. Our work must stand on its own once it’s out in the world. We can’t be there to defend it or explain it to those who misunderstand. It is a product wholly separate from ourselves, no matter how much of our hearts we pour into it.

These days, when I present my work for critique, I have a very different attitude: Be ruthless. Overlooking mistakes doesn’t help the work become stronger. It doesn’t help me become a better writer. I want to know everything I’ve done wrong. Everything that’s unclear. Everything that makes the reader pause and question. I don’t want my feelings spared if it means the book is worse for it. That said: don’t be a dick. Self-explanatory, yes?

And of course, there’s a whole other essential skill set to master once you’ve become numbed to the pain: Sifting through the feedback, identifying the useful bits and, hardest of all, figuring out how to fix everything. Learning to spot the problems and learning to fix them are two separate skills. Fortunately, I think the key to both is the same: critique other people’s work. As you learn to see things in others’ work, you’ll start to see them in your own work. It’s a brilliant symbiotic relationship, and it really helps with internalizing that a story isn’t any less yours because you’ve incorporated feedback.

Critiquing others, more than anything else, helps writers understand that it’s not about following the rules of style because they’re rules, but because of the psychology of reading that backs up those rules. There are reasons you need to say things in the clearest way possible, reasons you should ensure your first chapter sets up certain elements of your story, and so many reasons you should show instead of tell.

As my brilliant agent Barbara Poelle once told me: you need crit partners who can kick your ass. I wholeheartedly believe this now, and not just because a good ass-kicking got me the greatest agent in the world. I can see how much better I’ve gotten, and it’s exciting. That’s my new form of validation: Being able to look back and see the improvement with my own two eyes. I’m a completely different writer than I was a year ago, and I have so many brutal crit partners to thank for it.

cheers

Also, seriously, grammar is not optional. But that’s a post for another day.

04 Dec

Thank Goodness It’s Over!: Reflections on NaNoWriMo 2015

In Drafting,Editing,Goals by MK England / December 4, 2015 / 0 Comments

What. A. Month.

#PitchWars agent round. Tons of querying. An R&R request. And, oh yeah… a little thing called NaNoWriMo.

madness

This was my first year as an Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month, and it was pretty great. Stressful, busy, but fun and rewarding. MLing took up a lot more of my time than I anticipated, so even though I was attending 2-3 write-ins per week, I still struggled to meet the daily word count. That honestly had less to do with my ML duties than with my story problems, though.

There’s a point at which I know a story is ready to be written. I do lots of outlining, worldbuilding, and character development before I even start, but I really know a story is ready when I’m about 5-10k words in and I find myself thinking about the characters constantly when I’m not writing. I play out conversations in my mind, imagine how they’re going to react to events that I know are coming, bounce them off each other and see how they relate. The mechanics of the story can all be totally solid, but if the characters aren’t talking to each other in my head, then the story isn’t going to happen, no matter how I try to force it.

That probably sounds kind of woo woo, but I’m serious. If that’s not there, the story falls apart. And this point was proved all over again this November.

I really, really wanted to write my next YA space opera during NaNoWriMo. I wanted it so bad, and I planned and outlined and figured out tech. But the characters were boring, especially compared to my beloved Rejects, who I’d so recently finished revising. They weren’t talking to me. I forced myself all the way to the 25k mark before finally throwing in the towel on that story. It’s not ready. I love the concept, and I’ll write it one day soon, but now’s not the time.

I thought part of the problem might have been that I’d so recently finished editing Space Academy Rejects and I was having trouble getting that voice out my head. The new space opera had next to nothing in common with Rejects, but I couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth. So, I did something a bit… maybe ill-advised?

sherlock bluuuh

I decided to go for a palette cleanser. I had an adult M/M romance I’d outlined over a year ago, and with 25k words still to write for NaNoWriMo, I figured—what the hell, right? May as well write something completely different to give my brain a reset, then try another YA space opera after the holidays. And it was fantastic! It’s great to stretch writing muscles I don’t use as often and study the conventions of another genre. I had so much fun with it. In fact, I had originally decided to ditch my NaNo project altogether after I got the R&R request, but then I was waiting on feedback anyway and going crazy thinking about it.

So, there I was: November 29th, sitting at just under 37k words. I. Lost. My. Mind. And I beasted out a win at 10pm on November 30th.

Tenzin-Woohoo

See the crazy things that can happen when your characters talk to you in your head?

So now, here I am, early December, armed with tons of new feedback on Space Academy Rejects and diving straight from NaNo into this R&R (with an unreasonably ambitious self-assigned deadline because, hey, I’m me). I’m ready for this. And hey, if you see someone wandering around with coffee in a drip bag, please send them my way.

In my free time (hahahaha!)  over the next few weeks, I’ll also be indulging in one of my favorite holiday traditions: LGBT holiday romances. There’s just nothing like a fire, hot cocoa, and first kisses for the chilly winter months. Got any recs for me? Let me know in the comments! 

10 Nov

#PitchWars Wrap-Up & Celebration

In Editing,Publishing,Writing Process by MK England / November 10, 2015 / 1 Comment

Okay. I think I’m finally ready to talk about #PitchWars, the novel contest that has been consuming my life for the past two months. Between the agent round of #PitchWars and the start of NaNoWriMo, my feelings lately have been a lot like this:

at-at_faceplant

But here’s the real talk: participating in #PitchWars has been THE single most valuable experience of my writing life.

— But MK, I heard that #PitchWars is two months of complete editing hell! How did you deal?

Not gonna lie. The going got rough for a while, but I’m the sick sort of person that thrives on that kind of thing. I love it. Give me an impossible deadline and I will pound the caffeine and go hard until I make it. Is it healthy? Mmm, maybe not, but it sure is satisfying. It’s the same sort of feeling I get from crossing things off a list. I love to work really hard and feel things falling before me like opponents on a battlefield. Look how much I’m getting accomplished! Like a BOSS. Personal validation, you are MINE!

roar

Here’s a look at my #PitchWars timeline:

  • September 1st: Selected to be a #PitchWars mentee by the fantastic Sarah Glenn Marsh! I blogged about it here.
  • September 2nd: Received edit letter from Sarah, along with homework. Created a revision outline based on Sarah’s feedback, mapped out character arcs more thoroughly, and discussed changes with crit partners. Also submitted answers for my joint interview with Sarah.
  • September 13th: Began revisions, with a rough goal of one chapter per day and a finish line of October 2nd. Some chapters took more than one day, others took less.
  • October 3rd: Sent revised manuscript out to critique partners and new beta readers. Breathed a huge sigh of relief. Immediately read books, played video games, and wrote fanfic to recover. Somewhere in here I submitted my 50-word pitch and excerpt that became my #PitchWars contest entry.
  • October 16th: Beta reader feedback deadline. Read over comments from six people and digested the feedback. Discussed all feedback with Sarah, made minor changes to fix how people were perceiving two characters, and fixed typos/consistency errors.
  • October 21st: Delivered final manuscript to Sarah for one last read through. Tweaked paragraph spacing, and DONE!

You may notice that I devoted nearly as much time to creating my revision outline and brainstorming solutions as I did to actually revising. That’s pretty typical for me. I have to know the solution to a problem before I can start trying to fix it. I’ll roll around and brainstorm and pace and go crazy asking ‘what if?’ questions until every plot hole is plugged and every character is ready for their final bow. After that, it’s only a matter of execution.

My revisions took about 2.5 weeks of going to work, coming home, grabbing a quick dinner, and sitting down to revise until about 11pm. I had to take a cheat day in the middle to give my brain a break, but I managed to finish on time and get the manuscript to give my beta readers two weeks with it. It was intense.

crazy typing

I have never been happier with this manuscript. I was already in love with it, but I worried that after working so hardcore I’d end up sick of it. Not the truth at all. I believe in it more than ever, love it more than ever. And I can’t thank the incomparable Sarah Glenn Marsh enough for guiding me through this experience. She’s been my greatest cheerleader, my window into the publishing world, and her incredible eye for character really made this manuscript shine. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor!

comforting

One of the best things to come of #PitchWars has been the community of mentees. The #PitchWars class of 2015 is full of amazingly talented folks with stories that need to be shared with the world, and the support and camaraderie in our group in unparallelled. It’s been fantastic celebrating everyone’s successes and rejections as a group. Thanks for being awesome, fellow mentees!

everyone in this bar

I am so incredibly grateful to Brenda Drake, Sarah, and everyone else involved in Pitch Wars behind the scenes. Y’all are effing rockstars. You’ve really built something great.

 

12 Sep

#PitchWars Edits Begin!

In Editing,Goals by MK England / September 12, 2015 / 1 Comment

I managed to break the back end of my site for a few days, so this post is long over due, but … I was selected as a 2015 #PitchWars mentee!

hermione cheer

The evening of the announcement went something like this:

And even a week later, it was still like this:

But now it’s really sunk in, and I’ve been hard at work. My lovely mentor, the super smart and talented Sarah Glenn Marsh, was so on top of things that I got my edit letter and #PitchWars homework the day after the announcement was made. I had some assigned reading, some character mapping to do, and a ginormous revision outline to make. At first I was like … revision outline? Wow, that’s new, I always just dive in and fix things start to finish according to the track changes/comments in word. Except then I looked back at my old notes. Yes, apparently I DO make revision outlines, they’re just scattered across six thousand post-it notes, notebooks, and google docs. Ha. Sarah’s way is vastly superior, and it got me really pumped to see how everything would eventually fit together.

I thought I would be afraid of my edit letter but actually … it’s all fine. In this case, there were no major plot or structure changes (thanks to my amazing crit partners, no doubt), nor were there many cut requests—just lots of opportunities to give the reader more. More emotion, more characterization, more interaction, more physical presence, more setting detail. Character is what really makes or breaks a book for me, so I’m thrilled to be making these kinds of changes. I’m pretty easy-going about making changes anyway, so long as they fit the overall direction of the book, but I was still very pleased with the notes I received. I would love to have those revisions done by the end of September. #goals

In the meantime, I’ve also been brainstorming, plotting, and character arc-ing a new book to be drafted during NaNoWriMo this year. My dearest crit partner Lisen and I were named Municipal Liaisons for the South Jersey Region of NaNoWriMo, along with our fellow South Jersey writer Krista Magrowski, so we’re looking forward to an intense November! I don’t want to say too much about the new book yet, but I’m bouncing in my chair at the thought of getting to write it. Humor, campy sci-fi, and bad ass ladies, oh my!

How do you feel about revisions? Do you struggle to accept the things your critique partners tell you, or do you take it and run? What’s the toughest part of the revision process for you? Let’s commiserate together in the comments.

27 May

Save Often and Loudly

In Editing,Personal,Writing Process by MK England / May 27, 2015 / 0 Comments

broken-laptop

Every writer’s worst nightmare is a dead computer.

Okay, maybe not every writer.
Every writer who writes on a computer.
Every writer who isn’t quite as diligent about backing up their work as they should be.
Every writer who has a slowly-declining laptop and knows the day is coming, but still doesn’t buy a new one because reasons.

Not gonna lie, y’all: I got lucky. When my laptop died last week, it had been about six weeks since I last backed up my writing. I could have lost six weeks’ worth of editing progress. Fortunately, I’m one of those people who builds her own computers and knows her way around the inside of the case. The problem didn’t affect the hard drive, so I removed it from the laptop, turned it into an external hard drive, hooked it up to the man creature’s computer, and held my breath.

Everything was there. Nothing at all was lost. I am one lucky writer.

I’ve since ordered a new laptop—a custom build from a website that specializes in gaming PCs, complete with gaudy LED backlighting on the keyboard and case that teenage MK would have drooled over and adult MK will be slightly embarrassed to be seen with. I’ve also been reconsidering my current backup method, which is basically to dump everything onto a flash drive once per week. Not ideal.

When I was an undergrad in college, my major was Digital Arts: Music, and our unofficial department motto was Save Often and Loudly. We would actually shout “save!” in the middle of the DA Lab every time we saved our work, which would prompt others to save as well. It instilled in me an almost manic need to save every few minutes, and save multiple versions along the way. I’d like to modify that now, though:

Save x3, Often and Loudly

Common wisdom these days is that you should back up your important documents in three different places. There are three primary ways to back up files:

  • External physical media: Flash drives, external hard drives, burned CD/DVDs, etc. If you use two external methods, keep them stored in different locations (home and work).
  • Cloud storage: Dropbox, Google Drive, one of the endless number of online automatic backup services.
  • Physical copies: Printed out on acid-free archival quality paper.

I’m willing to bet very few people go the physical copy route. I certainly don’t. It’s an option, though, and you may want to consider it for your most important documents. I plan to keep up with my flash drive backup, but I’ll also be adding two cloud-based backups to my routine. I already use Google Drive for working on things when I can’t be at my usual computer, so I’ll use that for backing up my writing-related documents on a weekly basis. To give myself total protection for my whole computer (not just my writing) I’ll likely add an online backup service. The benefit is that I won’t have to remember; services like these automatically back up your data on a schedule you designate. Something like that would have saved me in the event that my hard drive had not still been functional after my laptop’s death. I haven’t decided on a particular service yet, but several friends have given me recommendations.

So, the moral of the story is DON’T BE ME. Don’t put off developing a backup plan. Don’t be lazy about your backups; or, if you want to be lazy, sign up for an automated service. Back up your data in multiple ways.

Save x3, Often and Loudly

So, my dear creatures, are you smarter than me? Do you have a backup system you swear by? Tell me in the comments!


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08 May

A Place for Fandom, pt. 1

In Editing,Fanfiction,Personal by MK England / May 8, 2015 / 0 Comments

fanfiction-time-oFull disclosure: I have been a gigantic nerd for my entire life. My family introduced me to Star Wars at a very young age, and I immediately fell into reading all the extended universe novels, buying the toys, playing X-Wings on my bike, and otherwise revelling in my obsession. It wasn’t until my family got our first computer in 1998 that I discovered what it was to be a member of a fandom, though.

I adored the Sci-Fi channel (now SyFy for some terrible reason), and in 1999 I particularly loved a little show called Farscape. Looking back, the show had a lot wrong with it, but at the time it was my world. I lived on the Sci-fi bboards and joined a smaller fansite called the Friends and Defenders of Pilot, devoted to the show’s most awesome and underappreciated character. I also discovered fanfiction for the first time. My world changed.

I could talk for ages about how valuable and empowering I think fanfiction is for women, queer people, teenagers, young writers, and other marginalized people. I probably will, one day, because it’s a topic I’m incredibly passionate about. The media loves to paint fanfiction and fans in a particular light (a light heavily tinted with misogyny and privilege), but the reality is that most of the fanfic I read is of publishable quality, and most of the fans I interact with are smart, mature, kind people with brilliant things to say. Above all, fandom is a welcoming place where people can go to not be judged over their passion for fictional people and worlds or their taste in reading material. (Fandom has its exceptions to this, of course, but that’s for another discussion.)

So from that you can deduce that I’ve been reading fanfiction for over fifteen years. And I’m a writer. This is a website about my original writing. You’d probably guess that I’ve written a lot of fanfic over the years, right?

Wrong.

Somehow, writing and sharing fanfic has always seemed far more terrifying than sharing my original work. There’s existing material to draw from, and it’s possible to get it wrong. And in fandom, you’re in direct and constant contact with your readers and their feedback. And that feedback is IMMEDIATE. It’s either instant gratification or instant gutting, unless your work gets completely ignored, which is always a possibility. No wonder I preferred quietly plugging away at my novels and sharing them only with a few select critique partners.

But recently, I’ve been having trouble making appreciable progress on my final round of edits for Space Academy Rejects. It took a while for me to process the feedback I got from my crit partners, even though it’s really only resulting in minor changes. Anything character-related takes me a bit to mull over, so I can have time to spin out all the implications and get deep in their heads. I was getting really down on myself for a while about my progress (which was fine, but not up to my high standards) and could feel myself spiraling into a bad place. I needed something positive. I needed to write something I could feel good about. Fandom has always meant solace for me. Emotional, cathartic fiction and pure fannish excitement—my happy place.

So I wrote my first fanfic. And the experience has been wonderful.

I’ve made friends with other writers who review my fandom writing, I’ve gotten a flood of hits and kudos on the three short stories I’ve posted so far, and I’ve gotten lots of wonderful reader comments. The instant gratification is definitely addicting in a way I need to be wary of, but it’s done wonders for my mental state and confidence in my writing. It’s brought me back to a place where I feel I can work on my novel again without sliding into a negative headspace. I want to make sure I don’t become some kind of compliment leech who needs the praise of others to function as a writer, but it’s certainly a great thing for rallying the troops when morale is low. It’s such a fundamentally different experience from constantly participating in twitter contests, revising queries, managing this website, networking, researching agents, and so on. I enjoy that process, love it, actually, but it can be exhausting sometime.

As far as the writing itself goes, though? That experience isn’t so different. I feel like I have important stories to tell in both, and the process is identical. I put just as much brain and heart into both. There are differences, but I feel like I should climb down off my soapbox for the day and leave that discussion for next week.

Until then, creatures, answer me this: Have you ever read or written fanfiction? Are you curious to try it, but don’t know where to start? Need some fic recommendations? Let me know in the comments. I’m here for you.