I cannot believe that I’ve never done a blog post about writer’s block. I mean, that’s writer-blogger 101, isn’t it? Everyone’s done a post on writer’s block!
But I couldn’t find one in my archives, and it’s a pretty timely topic during NaNoWriMo, so . . . all right then. Let’s do this!
First, a caveat:
There are lots of brilliant resources out there that get to the heart of real writer’s block. How it’s a psychological issue. Why it’s a problem that faces many creative-types. Why it often stems from emotional conflicts, such as perfectionism, depression, outside pressure, and on and on.
If writer’s block is something that plagues you often or has had its claws in you for an extended period of time, it might be related to a larger issue, and I definitely recommend doing more research into it and finding solutions that deal with the heart of the problem.
For me, personally—this is not something I’ve ever suffered from. Generally when I’m struggling, I know it’s temporary. Maybe I’m tired, or I’m distracted, or my WIP is giving me trouble, or I’m just not feeling the love that day. And I’ve found that, generally, when someone says they have “writer’s block,” it tends to be these shallower sort of problems they’re referring to.
Which is what I’m talking about in this post: Simple solutions and strategies for getting yourself writing again. Not the real writer’s block, which I will leave to the experts and those writers who have experience with it.
Thou Shalt Not Say “I Have Writer’s Block”
First things first. Banish the words from your vocabulary!
Real writer’s block, to me, is the inability to write. Period. And really, how many of us are ever incapable of writing? If I asked you to write a single sentence on your current WIP, could you do it? Yes? Well okay, then. No writer’s block here!
I’m not meaning to be flippant, but think about it. When you say “I have writer’s block” (Translation: “I’m not capable of writing!”) then you are giving yourself an easy excuse to not write. The result: You don’t write. Then you feel like a loser for not writing, which makes you even more convinced of your writer’s block, and so on. It’s a downward spiral.
And why would you give writer’s block that power over you?
Say: I’m tired. Say: I’m having trouble focusing today. Say: I don’t know what happens in this next chapter.
And then say: But I know that’s normal, and I have strategies for dealing with it.
My Favorite Strategies for Getting Un-Stuck
Strategy #1: Make Tiny Goals
For me, I find that getting started is the most difficult part of writing on a consistent basis. Every single day we are faced with distractions. Laundry, emails, television, etc. And if you never sit down and start writing, it’s really easy for an entire day to pass you by with no forward progress on the WIP.
And then another day goes by.
And then another.
When it seems impossible to sit down and get any writing done, I often motivate myself with itty bitty, teeny tiny goals.
Example: I am going to write a sentence.
That doesn’t sound so tough, does it?
And really, how long does it take to write a sentence? (Even if you factor in turning on your computer, opening your WIP, and scrolling to the bottom of the document, it’s still generally going to take less than a minute to accomplish this goal.)
Sentence—done! There. You’ve accomplished something. You’ve made progress on your WIP, and . . . I’m willing to bet that sentence is going to turn into a second sentence. And then another. And then maybe even another. Because getting started was the hardest part.
One sentence. You can do it.
Strategy #2: Word Sprints
I love word sprints. They are another great way to force yourself to sit down and get started without overthinking it. It isn’t about word counts. It’s about a set amount of time spent with your fingers on the keyboard, and you can do a word sprint in as little as five or ten minutes—perfect for when you just can’t seem to carve out any time in your busy life.
How it works is simple: You sit down and open up your WIP. You set a timer. (I like to do increments of 25 or 30 minutes, but really, this is up to you. Don’t make it too long, though, or it defeats the purpose.) Then you keep your fingers on your keyboard (or pen on paper) until the timer dings.
There is a racing-against-the-clock sensation that forces you to silence the inner editor and focus and write. You just might be surprised how much you can get done in short, focused writing bursts like this.
Strategy #3: Brainstorming on Paper
Now, the two above strategies work for me 90% of the time, because they give me the little push I need to get started.
Sometimes, though, getting started isn’t the problem. Sometimes I’m gung-ho and willing to write, but the book itself is being problematic. Maybe I’ve written myself into a corner. Or I’ve gone so far off my original outline that I have no idea what happens next. Or the characters have thrown a wrench into my master plan and now I’m floundering for what to do with them.
This is usually my queue to break out a pen and a notebook and start brainstorming. Studies have shown that we access a different part of our brain when we’re writing on paper versus on a computer, and I find that something almost always jogs loose once I switch it up.
What do I write? Well, that depends on what the problem is.
A lot of times, for me, my brainstorming will start with a rant. (Why is this book being so difficult?????) Then maybe I’ll start breaking down the problems, as I see them. (Jack was supposed to go to school so he and Jill could run against each other for school body president, but the stupid boy decided to skip school instead and is off gallivanting at the arcade—what a slacker! He’ll never win the vote this way!) Then, as my rant starts to run out of steam, I usually start throwing “What If” questions into the mix. (But what if Jack was able to win the vote anyway, even if he’s not there? What if his friend starts a rumor that he’s not at school because his grandma is dying, and he wins with a sympathy vote? Oh, and then Jill would be livid when she finds out the truth! And maybe Jack didn’t want to be president at all, and that’s why he skipped in the first place, and he’ll be so annoyed when he gets back to school and realizes he won!)
You get the point. I’ll keep going until I find a solution that I get excited about. (Note: sometimes that solution involves going back and changing things earlier in the draft, but hey, that’s what revisions are for.)
Strategy #4: Take a Break (to be used with caution)
And then, some days, you just need to take a break. Some days our brains are being pulled in a million different directions and writing just isn’t a priority. Some days we’ve hit a creative wall and our brains feel like mush. Some days we’re in the middle of reading a great book and we just won’t be able to concentrate on our own work until we finish reading it.
I believe it’s healthy to take breaks. Go for a walk. Take a nice relaxing bath, or a nap. Occasionally, you may need to take off a day and just read or watch TV or spend time with your loved ones. Seriously. It’s allowed.
The key word, of course, is occasionally. This is not an excuse to procrastinate for weeks and weeks (because Marissa Meyer said it was okay!) –but take the time you need to recharge and re-motivate yourself.
Then get back to work, slacker!
(I hope you’re all having a great, inspiring National Novel Writing Month! Feel free to share your techniques for defeating “writer’s block” in the comments.)
One more year! ONE MORE YEAR!
We are officially 365 days away from the epic conclusion of the Lunar Chronicles hitting bookshelves and e-readers and finally being in your hands!
That’s right. #WinterISComing.
I know, I know, a whole year is still FOREVER away, but we’ve survived this long, and I think if we band together, we can make it. (As I embark on what is hopefully my final round of revisions, I will be doing my best to ensure that the book is worth the painfully long wait!)
In the meantime, we do have FAIREST to look forward to, which will be released in just under three months, on January 27. EEP. I’m so excited to show you another side of Queen Levana and also hint at the beginnings of some of our favorite Lunar Chronicles heroes and heroines . . . now in chibi-form. (Ha!)
My publisher is building up to some really awesome, exciting things to be released on December 1—hereafter known as #CyborgMonday.
Sneak teasers from Fairest AND Winter? Tour city announcements? Videos? A Q&A chat with yours truly? A super special awesome secret thing that I can’t talk about but that I’m really, really psyched for?
All of that and more! So mark your calendars and get ready to tweet, tumble, and share, because some of the goodies will require your help to unlock. (!!!)
In the meantime, we just announced a brand-new fanart contest! And get this: The Grand Prize Winner will be flown out to my hometown of Tacoma, WA, to join me for the FAIREST Launch Party on January 27! Ah, I love it so much. The launch parties are always a ton of fun, and you’ll of course be going home with signed books and other fun swag—including some goodies that may only be available at the launch party.
Your Mission: Create a portrait of Queen Levana by answering the question: What do you think Queen Levana looks like?
See the full details here: http://www.thelunarchronicles.net/contest/
(I’m sorry to my international readers, but because this contest is being hosted by my US publisher, it is open to US and Canada citizens only.)
And my final announcement of the day—CRESS has made it into the Semi-Finals round of the 2014 GoodReads Choice Awards! Vote for your favorite reads of the year here:
Thank you, readers and Lunartics. I’m looking forward to an action-packed 2015!
Welcome to Day Three of National Novel Writing Month 2014! By the end of today, participants should be at around 5,000 words. (With only 1,784 words from the weekend, I have some catching up to do…)
If you find yourself with a little reading time this month, and are hoping for some NaNoWriMo motivation, I’m pleased to announce that the revised and expanded edition of NO PLOT? NO PROBLEM! by NaNoWriMo’s founder Chris Baty is now available at major book retailers (check your local indie!).
I read this book when I did my first NaNo way back in 2006, and it was so inspiring—and hilarious. Chris Baty breaks NaNo down on a week-by-week basis, tackling the most common challenges we month-long novelists face, all with humor and understanding. The book also includes plenty of useful advice and writing tips for any writing journey, not just the 30-day ones.
Plus, this expanded feature includes some really cool new additions. My personal favorite is… writing pep-talks from successful NaNoWriMo novelists!
Like, um… me.
Other all-star pep-talkers include Gayle Brandeis, Rachael Herron, Elizabeth Haynes, Lani Diane Rich, Erin Morgenstern, Julia Crouch, and Sara Gruen. And of course, lots of pep from Chris Baty himself!
I’m so excited about being included in NP?NP! that I bought not one but two copies, and that second copy… is now part of a giveaway!
Enter here for your chance to win the Revised and Expanded edition of NO PLOT? NO PROBLEM! plus a signed (paperback UK) copy of CRESS. And whatever other Lunar Chronicles goodies I have lying around…
All you have to do is leave a comment on THIS blog post, either quoting your favorite line from your current NaNo novel, or, if you aren’t noveling this year, leave some encouragement for those of us who are.
(If you’re not comfortable sharing a line from your novel, you’re allowed to just leave some cheerleading words, too.)
We are just two days away from the start of National Novel Writing Month, where all around the world people will attempt to write a 50,000 word novel (or the first draft of one) in a mere 30 days.
I’ve spent the last three weeks scrambling to make myself sort-of, kind-of, semi-prepared for it, and . . . I have failed. I am the Queen of Unprepared this year. (At least, it feels that way to me, though I’m sure there are people who will claim they better qualify for this title.)
I will be participating, though. Because I really, really love NaNo and it would make me sad to sit it out.
My November Plan
I won’t be doing any crazy masochistic word-count challenges this year (sorry to anyone who was looking forward to that!), mostly because my NaNo Project is only one of four writing projects I’ll be working on simultaneously this month: 1. Winter revisions, 2. Historical Anthology revisions, 3. Outlining the Secret Project, 4. NaNo!
I’ll be more-or-less aiming for the standard 50,000 words . . . or whatever it takes to wrap up a first draft, which tends to be closer to 70,000 words for me, but . . . we’ll see. I’m trying not to over-think it just yet.
And what will I be first-drafting . . . ?
My first superhero book!!!
Introducing The Gatlon Trilogy
Important Note: EVERYTHING in this description is subject to change, including the title!
Working Title: The Gatlon School for Vigilantes (Book One)
Pitch: A series about Superheroes, Supervillains, and the Gray Areas in Between
There are two rival schools in Gatlon City: the respected and exclusive Morris Academy that has turned many an evolved youth into celebrity superheroes, and the Gatlon School for the Gifted, which has a slightly less impressive reputation. Students of Gatlon tend to be relegated to minions, placeholders, or—at best—sidekicks.
Clara has no interest in being a hero, but she does need answers. Her invisible, mischievous pet Thunderbird, Tondra, is dying, and she refuses to let him go without a fight. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot more happening in Gatlon than just a sickly mythical bird. Crime is on the rise, the police have gone complacent, and a new team of vigilantes are causing more problems than they’re fixing. When Clara and her peers find themselves swept up in the chaos and no longer able to tell the good guys from the bad, no one is sure which side of hero vs. villain they’ll fall on.
How (Un)Prepared am I?
Well, I have a very, very, very rough outline that I was working on during this last Fierce Reads tour. And about half of my characters have something along the lines of character profiles.
Oh, and I’ve started a Pinterest board—woot! Mostly it’s just inspiration photos right now… and an excuse to pin pictures of Sendhil Ramamurthy. *dreamy sigh*
You can see it here: http://www.pinterest.com/marissameyer22/the-gatlon-trilogy (Again, keep in mind that I’m still getting to know my world and characters and everything might change.)
And . . . that’s about it right now. This is not my usual MO, as you might recall from my Writing Process series, but I didn’t want to miss out on NaNo, and who knows? Maybe it will be good for me to go off-roading a bit this year. It’s been a while since I wrote something without a very structured outline guiding the way.
You can make me a NaNo Buddy and follow my progress here: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/aliblade22
Good luck, everyone, and happy writing!
What does a day in the life of a full-time author look like? For this author, every day tends to look a little different…
6:00: Craaaaaaawl out of bed. Coffee coffee coffee.
6:30: I spend some time reading through my favorite blogs, scrolling through Pinterest, and geeking out over the BBC miniseries North & South on Twitter. (A friend rec’d it over the weekend and I was up way too late watching it. OH THE DRAMA, THE ROMANCE, THE GOWNS!)
Make the bed. Brush my teeth. Etc.
8:15: Head to the gym for a yoga class.
9:30: Grab a fruit smoothie and head back home.
10:00: I write a long, detailed email to my editor all about the new Secret Project we’re working on. (Secret Projects, you guys! I love them. I’m SO EXCITED about this one and I think you guys will be too. *GIDDY*)
11:15: I write a blog post: From Idea to Finished, Step 4: Simmering Periods.
12:15: Post is up, time for lunch. Grilled cheese sandwiches for the win.
1:00: I’m behind on emails (kind of the story of my life), so I set a timer for an hour and try to whip through as many as I can.
2:00: Woohoo, I managed to get my inbox… er, slightly more under control. I celebrate by… starting a load of laundry, and updating the event listings on my web site’s calendar!
2:40: With a few minutes to kill, I open up Scrivener and start going over my notes for Heartless. I finished the third draft last Thursday (yay!) and I’m already itching to get back into it and knock out Draft #4 (double yay!). However, since my blog post this morning was all about taking breaks in between drafts, I decide to make small edits for now and research things that need researching. I’ll probably start real revisions again on Wednesday.
3:00: I sign in for a 20-minute Skype visit with Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia. *waves from the west coast* This is the first Skype visit I’ve had in months, so I’m relieved that it goes so smoothly!
(FYI, I’ll be opening for Skype visits again soon. If you would like to host a 20-minute Q&A session with your library, class, or book club, check out the details on my connect page.)
3:30: Change the laundry. Walk down to get the mail. Get back to making edits in Heartless.
6:30: After making about 2/3 of the smaller changes I wanted to make throughout the book, it’s time to go curl up on the couch with a good book. I’m really enjoying The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn, a memoir about cooking from scratch and trusting your taste buds that has so far been super inspiring! (Though I might be biased, given that I love pretty much anything that has to do with food…)
And that’s been one more Day in the Life.
I fell slightly behind my 100-books-in-2014 goal during this last quarter, BUT we’re still looking good! Plus there’s a lot of travel happening this month so I’m hoping I’ll be able to make it up.
Many of the books that stick out in my memory from this past quarter are the BIG, FABULOUS, BEAUTIFUL BOOKS that you guys have probably already read. (And if you haven’t… what are you waiting for? One more recommendation?) I absolutely loved Days of Blood and Starlight and the series conclusion Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor (and was soooooo glad that I decided to wait until the last one was out before reading book #2. That’s what we call good life decisions). Plus Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins was the perfect romantic escape and well worth the long wait!
That said, one book from this quarter that left a surprisingly big impact on me…. wasn’t a fiction book!
So this month I’m highlighting The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn.
After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, writer Kathleen Flinn returned with no idea what to do next, until one day at a supermarket she watched a woman loading her cart with ultraprocessed foods. Flinn’s “chefternal” instinct kicked in: she persuaded the stranger to reload with fresh foods, offering her simple recipes for healthy, easy meals.
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School includes practical, healthy tips that boost readers’ culinary self-confidence, and strategies to get the most from their grocery dollar, and simple recipes that get readers cooking.
Why I loved it:
I LOVE to cook, and I particularly love to EAT, and yet I still find myself intimidated to deviate too much from a recipe or trust my own tastebuds when something isn’t working. Reading this book gave me new confidence in the kitchen and a brand new enthusiasm to try new things (baking my own artisan bread! whipping things together without a recipe! one of these days I might even buy an entire chicken and see what happens!) Plus, it’s full of fascinating information about how our society perceives food, cooking, and convenience, and the health issues that come from taking in so many pre-packaged foods like we do. It was FASCINATING and I’m sure my family has gotten sick of me talking about it, haha.
Anyway, super inspiring for anyone who loves to cook… OR anyone who needs a little added inspiration in the kitchen.
And my complete list from the year so far:
1. Plus One, by Elizabeth Fama
2. The Connected Child, by Karyn Purvis, David Cross, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine
3. Fool, by Christopher Moore
4. Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
5. Winterspell, by Claire Legrand
6. Star Cursed, by Jessica Spotswood
7. Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
8. Splintered, by A.G. Howard
9. Revolutions for Fun and Profit, by Ryan Shattuck
10. Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi
11. Through the Ever Night, by Veronica Rossi
12. Into the Still Blue, by Veronica Rossi
13. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
14. My Life as an Experiment, by A.J. Jacobs
15. Passionate Persuasion, by Rosemary Clement-Moore
16. Also Known As, by Robin Benway
17. Writing and Illustrating the Graphic Novel, by Daniel Cooney
18. Baby’s in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles, by Arne Bellstorf (graphic novel)
19. Zahra’s Paradise, by Amir & Khalil (graphic novel)
20. Dorothy Must Die, by Danielle Paige
21. A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness
22. Firebug, by Lish McBride
23. The Splendor Falls, by Rosemary Clement-Moore
24. Devine Intervention, by Martha Brockenbrough
25. The Wicked and the Just, by J. Anderson Coats
26. Symbols of Love, by Denny Lee and Josh Stoneman
27. Bubbly on Your Budget, by Marjorie Hillis
28. Choker, by Elizabeth Woods
29. The Raft, by S.A. Bodeen
30. Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale, by Joss Whedon (graphic novel)
31. The Winner’s Curse, by Marie Rutkoski
32. Vicious, by Victoria Schwab
33. Looking Glass Wars, by Frank Beddor
34. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Leslye Walton
35. Of Neptune, by Anna Banks
36. Hatter, by Daniel Coleman (first publication; to be re-released Fall 2014)
37. Ashen Winter, by Mike Mullin
38. Shards & Ashes, edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong
39. Dark and Stormy Knights, edited by P.N. Elrod
40. I Heart You, You Haunt Me, by Lisa Schroeder
41. Bad Boys of the Black Hills, and Some Wild Women, Too, by Barbara Fifer
42. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle, adapted by Hope Larson (graphic novel)
43. Haunted Deadwood: A True Wild West Ghost Town, by Mark Shadley and Josh Wennes
44. The Taste of Lightning, by Tamara Felsinger (beta-read)
45. Storm Siren, by Mary Weber
46. Enthralled, edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong
47. Boxers, by Gene Luen Yang (graphic novel)
48. Saints, by Gene Luen Yang (graphic novel)
49. Threats of Sky and Sea, by Jennifer Ellision
50. Ruin and Rising, by Leigh Bardugo
51. The Serpent of Venice, by Christopher Moore
52. I am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai
53. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
54. In Real Life, by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang (graphic novel)
55. Days of Blood and Starlight, by Laini Taylor
56. Dreams of Gods and Monsters, by Laini Taylor
57. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
58. Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta
59. Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
60. The Avery Shaw Experiment, by Kelly Oram
61. The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner
62. Isla and the Happily Ever After, by Stephanie Perkins
63. Sister’s Fate, by Jessica Spotswood
64. The Murder Complex, by Lindsay Cummings
65. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
66. Elusion, by Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam
67. The Truth About Alice, by Jennifer Mathieu
68. Unforgotten, by Jessica Brody
69. The Caress of the Wind, by Tamara Felsinger (beta-read)
70. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, by Kathleen Flinn
71. Lailah, by Nikki Kelly
72. Altered, by Gennifer Albin
(Quick reminder: I’ll be on the Fierce Reads tour that kicks off this Wednesday! See the tour dates and locations here: https://www.facebook.com/FierceReads/events)
I’m thrilled that so many of you found this series of blog posts to be helpful and inspiring!
I’ve updated the links on the introductory post, so you can now read the series from the beginning here:
And now… Q&A!
Aimee asks: Do you start creating Pinterest inspiration boards and writing playlists during this phase or after you have a clear idea of the plot?
Yes, I start compiling inspiration photos and music from day one! Usually I’ll start a Pinterest board but keep it “private” until it’s substantial enough to be shared with readers. I also start seriously finding inspiration photos during the outline stage, as I find they really help me to start connecting with the characters and seeing them as real people. Same with music—whenever I hear a song that puts me in the mood of a story, I take note of it and when I have a handful, I’ll put them together in a playlist.
Alexa Lee asks: How long did it take you to research/brainstorm? Did you stop searching when you felt like it’s time?
For me, this varies by project. Sometimes I might be brainstorming and researching a story for years before I feel like I have enough inspiration to move forward with outlining. Other times the story will fill up my head really fast and I might only have a couple of months. It’s also dependent on my publication schedule and deadlines—I might have to “rush” the brainstorming stage so I can get on to outlining and drafting to make sure I have plenty of time for revisions later. I don’t like to rush the brainstorming part, because good brainstorming and research will save time later, but sometimes it can’t be helped.
Lucy (from GoodReads) asks: How do you come up with names?
I love babynamesworld.com, and I also have a Baby Names app on my phone that I’ve been using lately. You can search for words that have a certain meaning (many characters in the Lunar Chronicles have “moon-themed” names), or come from a specific country or culture, or start with a specific letter… you can get really detailed. Then I just start skimming through the names until I find one that clicks!
Sometimes I’ll also skim through my Twitter followers or Facebook friends and pick something that jumps out at me.
Natalie (from GoodReads) asks: Is it necessary to outline? Some authors said they don’t even bother and just plunge right in.
Nope! Though I can’t imagine writing without an outline, every writer will have a different process, and I know plenty of talented authors who don’t outline at all. I think it’s good to try different things and figure out what works best for you.
Aimee asks: At what point do you consider yourself to “know your characters”? When you’ve figured out what their motivations, backstories, and character arcs are? When their voice comes to life? Or something abstract like when they “come alive” on the page? And how many drafts does it usually take to get there?
For me, it’s the abstract answer—when they come alive. I feel like I know my characters when I can hear them in my head, speaking in their own voice, their own vocabulary, their own inflections. When they start making choices that I didn’t foresee or saying things that I didn’t expect. As far as when that happens, it varies by character. Cinder and Iko both came to me really easily, as early as the first or second drafts of the book. Other characters, like Kai, Scarlet, and Jacin, I didn’t feel like I had a strong grasp on until the fourth or fifth drafts of the book.
I also find that, no matter how well I feel like I know a character, they all still have a tendency to surprise me.
Rachel asks: My outlines are very specific, they contain fragments of dialogue, and things that will go directly into the first draft, written exactly the way they were in the outline. Should I make it more vague?
I think that’s fantastic, and I would never tell someone to change their process if it’s working for them! Everyone has their own process, so if your super detailed outlines are working for you, then go forth and godspeed!
Emily asks: How long have you been doing Nano? Also, what is the highest number of words you have done in Nano?
I’m starting to lose count, but I think this year will be my… 6th time doing NaNo? The most words I wrote was during NaNo 2008, when I drafted Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress back-to-back. That year I clocked in at 150,011 words. Most of my Nano wordcounts have been closer to the 70,000-word range.
Nikki asks: I was wondering, how do you break up your chapters? Is it scene by scene? Do they each feel a little bit like their own short stories? Also, do you write in chapters in the first draft and save them individually or is it one loooooong document?
I write in one long document, so that I can keep track of my mounting word count. (It can be super motivating when you start hitting the Big numbers – 10K, 25K, etc.)
As far as whether or not I’ll break it into chapters during the first draft varies by what feels right. A lot of times I’ll just insert a page break or a series of asterisks to denote the change to a new scene, and then divide them into chapters when I transfer the manuscript from Microsoft Word into Scrivener, or I might start off numbering chapters, but then at some point realize that things are going to be moving around, so then I’ll just put “Chapter 000” and fill in the numbers later. My chapters are always moving around, so I’ve found it doesn’t matter too much whether or not I number them at the beginning.
Most chapters will be a single scene, but not always. I try to keep my chapters somewhere between 1,800 and 3,000 words, for consistency and a fast reading pace, so sometimes a long scene might have to be broken up into multiple chapters, or two short scenes might be grouped together into one chapter. It varies.
Adele asks: What exactly is Scrivener?
Scrivener is a writing software program. Learn all about it here: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php
Eddie asks: Do you have to buy to use Scrivener? Is it better than Word Document?
Yes, Scrivener is a program that you purchase (right now it looks like it costs $40.00), although you can get a free trial. I like the flexibility it offers as compared to Microsoft Word, however, I did write Cinder and Scarlet in Word and it worked just fine. You don’t need a fancy program (for hundreds of years people wrote with parchment and ink quills!), but a program like Scrivener can be really helpful for organization.
Commenter Anid also recommended yWriter, which is free. I don’t have any experience with yWriter myself, but that might be a great, budget-friendly option!
Aimee asks: Would you recommend working on the preliminary stages–taking notes of changes to make, etc.–for multiple projects at once? Or would it be better to completely tackle one 2nd draft at a time?
It’s totally up to you! I usually have multiple projects in my head at once, so while I might be focusing most of my efforts on one project, I might be starting to brainstorm or outline another project while researching a third, and sometimes you just get an idea for something else and need to jot it down.
So for example, right now I’m focusing most of my efforts on Heartless—I’m currently working on revision draft #4 and planning to send it to my beta readers this month. However, I’m simultaneously outlining my Heroes series, researching my new Secret Project, and preparing to complete the final revisions of Winter. Yesterday I received brand new ideas for all four of these projects, because they’re all kind of jumbled up in my head at once, but that doesn’t happen every day.
On the other hand, I know writers who like to write one thing at a time before moving on to the next thing. We’re all a little different.
Christine asks: I had a question regarding how you get the colors for subplots to show up on the side of your synopsis cards in the cardboard view. I can only get one color, which corresponds to the label in the Inspector panel. Can you give a quick explanation of how/where you added the keywords and where to find the preference to have their colors show up on the side of the index cards?
At the bottom of the inspector panel, click the Key symbol to open the Keywords window. Then click the plus sign next to “Keywords.” Type the name of the character you want to follow, or some useful keyword to correspond to the subplot. (Important: you must spell it exactly the same in every instance, otherwise the program will think you’re creating a new keyword!)
To change the color, click the wheel/washer looking symbol above the Keywords window and select “Show Project Keywords.” You can then double-click on the color box of any keyword to change it.
To add more colors/characters/subplots to that card, hit the plus sign again.
Once you’ve added the keywords to each chapter, go back to your corkboard view. On the menus at the top, select View > Corkboard Options > Show Keyword Colors.
Another cool trick is that you can create a new “Collection” (see the binder listings on the left) of chapters that contain only specific keywords.
Let’s say I wanted an at-a-glance view of the romantic arc between Wolf and Scarlet. I could click on the key icon at the top of Scrivener and select the keywords “Wolf” and “Scarlet,” then hit Search. Now the search results on the left show me all of the chapters that have both Wolf and Scarlet in them. Highlight all of those chapters > right-click > Add to Collection > New Collection.
Now I have all of the Wolf/Scarlet centric chapters gathered into one place where I can specifically focus on how their subplot is progressing.
I certainly don’t do this for every subplot (or even every book!), but for super complex stories like those in Cress and Winter, it was really helpful to have these options.
Katherine asks: How do you keep organized with all of these different tools [Word, Scrivener]? Will you have your outline open in Word and Scrivener next to it?
Pretty much. You can outline in Scrivener, but for some reason I still prefer to outline and do my first draft in Word. (I don’t really know why… comfort? Habit?) So I’ll create my outline in Word, then I usually print it out so I can cross chapters off while I write. I do my first draft in a new, clean document to keep it separate from the original outline.
Once my first draft is finished and I’m ready to start revising, I input the manuscript into Scrivener and divide the draft into chapters or scenes. (See the Second Draft blog post for a more detailed breakdown of that process.) From that point through my final revisions, I’m working entirely in Scrivener, and then I compile the finished manuscript back into Word for my final tweaking rounds.
Of course, you may find that you prefer to work only in Word or only in Scrivener, or to alter your process in a different way. There’s no right or wrong way to do it!
Whitney asks: At what point in the TLC did you start sending out queries to agents? I’m writing a three book series now, have the first draft of book one written and am working on second edits. I also want to start writing the second book during NaNoWriMo….but I don’t know when is the best time to start querying. When I feel the first book is done? When I have all three written?
Well, what I did is a little unusual, given that I drafted the first three books back-to-back. So when I started querying the series, I was already on the second round of revisions with Scarlet, plus I had a first draft written of Cress and an outline for Winter.
The common advice is to focus on the first book—revise, revise, revise!—then query it before you get too caught up in the rest of the series, given that you can’t be certain whether or not that first book will sell or if your publisher will even want a series from you. I think that’s good advice, but I also knew that for the Lunar Chronicles to work, I was going to have to hint at and foreshadow a lot of things in the coming books. So it was important for me to have a clear idea of where the series was heading before I queried it, and it was really important to me to sell it as a four-book series.
It had the potential to backfire. I could have spent years and years working on these books only to have them never sell, which is why they generally say not to do this. But it worked out for me, so…. yeah.
I don’t know if that’s a helpful answer. I suppose a more useful answer would be: Query the first book when it’s as good as you can possibly make it. If you can make it phenomenal without delving into the rest of the series, then that’s probably your safest bet. But if you need to see a bigger picture to perfect that first book, then do what you need to do to get that big picture.
Alice asks: How many drafts into Cinder did you wait before trying to get publishers to look at it?
I had completed approximately six revision rounds plus three editing and polishing rounds, just as described in this series of blog posts. Again, it’s very possible I could have been wasting my time going the extra mile to “perfect” the book before approaching agents and publishers, but in the end I think this is also what contributed to the series selling so quickly. Also, after Cinder sold, my editor had very, very few revision notes for me, so all that time spent on the book before looking for a publisher paid off in the long run.
Emily asks: How many words usually make up a standard page?
It depends on the font, font size, and margins, but most YA books have about 250 words per page. I think mine are closer to 225 words per page.
Emilia asks: What is the font used in the Lunar Chronicles?
The cover font is Aeronaut and the interior text is in Cicero.
Juno asks: I am so excited that Winter is black! As an African-American, it feels great to see a black character who gets to take center stage. I was wondering if the cover would illustrate that at all (i.e. an ebony hand holding an apple, etc.?) Two other questions: one, when did you and what made you conceive Winter as black? And two I was wondering if you could tell any little thing about your next series, anything at all? I’ll even take knowing what a character ate for breakfast!
Thank you, I hope you’ll love her!
I haven’t yet seen any cover compositions, so I don’t know what the designer is planning, but I think it’s a safe bet that it will include a red apple. If we do see any of Winter on the cover, I trust my publisher to do her justice.
As far as conceiving her as black, it was one of those things that just sort of happened. In my early, early planning stages of the series, I’d expected her to be your typical Snow White – skin as white as snow, hair as black as ebony, lips as red as blood. But then one day I was reading a diet & nutrition blog and stumbled onto a picture of this beautiful African-American model with thick, curly hair biting into a red apple, and I instantly thought—OH, that’s my princess!
So that’s how it happened. Not very scientific, lol!
The next series is still in so much flux that I don’t have much to tell, but I hope to make my inspiration board on Pinterest public by the end of this month, and start introducing everyone to some of the characters. I am planning on writing the first book during November. Eep! New stories are so exciting!
Ruchika asks: What if you want illustrations in your book? When does that come in?
That is a really excellent question, and I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer for it, given that none of my books have had illustrations before! I know that some books are sold to the publisher with the illustrator already attached, such as Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy, and I believe that he and the illustrator worked on the text and illustrations simultaneously. In other instances, I would imagine the text gets sent to a freelance illustrator around the same time as the copyeditor, for them to begin drafting images… but I’m honestly not sure what’s “normal.”
If any readers have inside info on this part of the process, please let us know in the comments.
Thanks to everyone for your questions. I sincerely hope that my answers were helpful!
Good luck to you all with your writing projects, and for everyone who’s doing NaNoWriMo this year… happy writing!!
The book is in the hands of the publisher and for once, you can take a breather! Hooray!
Depending on the publication schedule, this breather might be for a couple of weeks or it could potentially be months. I always feel like it takes forever to get my copyedits, but then, I also usually turn things in ahead of deadline. *knocks on wood*
First, the manuscript is sent off to a copyeditor. The copyeditor’s job is to check for grammar, spelling, proper sentence structure, consistency, and the like. Copyeditors are worth their weight in gold, because no matter how good you are at grammar and no matter how many times you’ve been over your book, your eyes will skip over even the most basic of errors. It’s human nature that we see what we think is there, not what is actually there. Plus, copyeditors know all sorts of things about tenses and participles that make most of our eyes go crosswise.
Will they catch everything? Probably not. They’re still human, after all. But they do find a lot of things that keep us from looking like idiots, and we’re all sorts of grateful.
The Magical Stet
All that said, sometimes there is a conflict between “correct grammar” and “the writer’s voice.” It’s the copyeditor’s job to make sure things are “correct,” but it’s within the author’s rights to stet any changes they don’t like. (Stet means: Ignore this edit, leave it as it is.) Sometimes we writers like to make up words or do weird things for stylistic purposes, and it’s okay to ask that something be left alone if it feels right for the story. In the end, these are your words on the page.
You can also continue to make changes at this stage as well, though your publisher will appreciate if you don’t decide to rewrite the whole thing.
After we’ve reviewed the copyedits, the manuscript goes to the typesetter. (This was my job before I became a full-time writer!)
The typesetter enters all of the corrections that the author and the copyeditor marked (hopefully without introducing any new errors, but again, we’re only human).
The typesetter also inputs the manuscript into the design file.
“Design file?” you ask.
So, at some point, the designer has created a design for the interior of the book. They choose the fonts and decide how big the type will be and how big the margins will be and if each chapter will start with a fancy drop-cap or lead-in or whatever. The typesetter takes the manuscript from the Word file and puts it into the design file and styles everything according to the designer’s instructions.
And when it gets printed out… voila! It’s starting to look like a real book.
Page proofs are the printed pages that show the book in its typeset form. They’re sent to the proofreader, who will compare these pages to the copyeditor’s marks and make sure all those edits were entered correctly. The proofreader is also checking for any errors that cropped up during typesetting, such as awkward word breaks at the end of a line, or weird characters that appeared when you changed the font. (Computers are weird and sometimes weird things happen.)
The page proofs also get sent to the author, and we squeal and dance around because LOOK HOW PRETTY IT IS and OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE I WROTE ALL THESE WORDS.
This is the part of the process when I think: Okay. I have been over this book a gajillion times. My editor has been over it. My beta readers have been over it. The copyeditor has been over it. The proofreader is clearly going to do an amazing job going over it. I am done! There is no earthly reason that I should have to read this blasted thing one more time!
Don’t listen to that voice.
Read it one more time.
The very experience of reading the book in a new font with pretty chapter headers will have you seeing the words on the page differently. You will catch mistakes. You will pick up on a bunch of awkward wording that you never noticed before.
While this is not the time to start rewriting entire chapters (which can cost the publisher a lot of money and make people annoyed with you), this is also not the time to get lazy. This is in many ways your last chance to make sure you’re putting forward your best work.
One more read-through. You can do it.
(On a side note… I’ve received the Fairest page proofs!! So that’s what I’ll be doing as soon as I finish this blog post. Reading it, one. more. time.)
Sales, Marketing, Design, Publicity, Production… all the non-writing-process related stuff
Unless you’re self-publishing and overseeing all of this yourself, there will be a lot of things happening behind the scenes that you’re only vaguely aware of, until you get an exciting email or your publicist requests some extra content from you or someone on Twitter tells you that your book is available for pre-order and you’re like, oh, hey, that’s cool.
In the months leading up to the book release, you get to see cover art for the first time. Advanced reader copies go out to reviewers and you freak out because OMG PEOPLE ARE READING IT. You write posts for blog tours and respond to interviews. You try to ramp up your own social media engagement without being totally obnoxious. You plan a launch party. You design and order swag. You run giveaway contests on your blog. You are a bundle of enthusiasm and excitement and panic and stress.
But mostly you kind of wish that everyone would leave you alone because you’re also on deadline for the next book, which is always somehow due at the same time that this book is releasing. You amaze yourself at how much you can get done when you really put your mind to it. You enjoy every moment of the book launch, while simultaneously dreaming about the quiet times when you’ll be back to just writing, revising, and daydreaming.
BAM—you wrote a book!
One day, you receive a box in the mail. You open it up and see the most beautiful thing in the world.
A real book, with your name on the cover.
You dance around for a while, post pictures on Facebook, maybe put some more champagne in the fridge. Then you get back to work.
Write a book, publish a book. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Next week I’ll comment on some of the great questions that have come up during this series. If you have questions that I haven’t addressed yet, now is the time to ask them.