Monday, October 28, 2013

How to Kill Off Your Characters (Without Pissing Off Your Readers)

As writers we want to illicit strong emotions in our readers -- if readers are upset because a character died, that's one thing. If, however, they are upset at the author because of how the death was handled, that's a problem. You want to give your readers a satisfying ending. And when it comes to tragedy in a novel, there is a right and a wrong way to go about doing it.

Offing a character in your book can contribute to a few things, but keep in mind that you don't need to kill off any main characters to have a great novel. Why you might want to consider offing a main character (NOTE: By main character, I don't necessarily mean your protagonist, though it could be him/her):

1. DEATH ADDS REALISM AND SUSPENSE: This depends somewhat on the genre, and no matter what genre, don't kill off main characters just for the sake of it. However, it is true that if you're writing say, an epic fantasy novel, it might start to feel somewhat unrealistic if no one ever dies in a massive war. It might start to feel predictable. "OH RLY?! Your party of eight heroes go up against five hundred soldiers and none of them die?!" Readers have no reason to fear for the characters when they get into sticky situations if they don't really believe anything will ever happen to any of them. But again, don't do it just to add suspense -- that will backfire on you.

2. IT ELICITS EMOTION: The death of a main character takes your novel up a few notches on the emotional scale. When used correctly, it can have a powerful and profound effect on your reader, and can serve to underline and emphasize your themes. Don't use death willy-nilly when you can use it to serve a purpose, to have an impact. Don't have that character die by a random boulder falling from the sky when you could have him killed as direct result of (insert your major story theme here)!

3. IT CAN IMPACT THE DEVELOPMENT OF OTHER CHARACTERS: The death of a character who is important to your protagonist can make them harder, stronger, or even weaker. It can have a huge impact on character development and it can greatly increase the stakes. This relates somewhat to hurting your protagonist. Perhaps their journey is one in which seeing the death of a loved one finally jars them out of apathy, or hardens them, giving them the strength to (insert your climax here).

4. SOMETIMES, IT'S THE ONLY CHOICE: There are times when the only choice a writer has is to off a character. Sometimes, saving them would be too miraculous, and their survival would seem too convenient, too contrived. Of course, keep in mind that as a writer you have the ability to go back and change the course of events to avoid this. Make sure it's really what you want.

Unfortunately, death in books is not always handled well.

Two books come to mind to me immediately that I read a few years back. In both of them, a main character died. In both of them, that character was in a romantic relationship with the protagonist. In both of them the offed character died saving the protagonist. Now keep in mind that I am a sucker for romance and for happy endings. And yet, after I finished one of those two, I felt a bit pissed off and dissatisfied, while with the other, I was sad, but what happened felt right and I was okay with it.

So what was the difference between those two books? What's the secret to killing off a character the right way, leaving your reader satisfied, albeit sad?

IT HAS TO FEEL NECESSARY. When you kill off a character, make sure that there is no reasonable way that character could have avoided death. Make certain the reader won't say afterwards: "WHAT?! Why didn't s/he just....?!" That was what I thought after reading the book that annoyed me. There was a somewhat tricky but also rather obvious way for the dead MC to have been saved, and the whole time I was expecting it, but then it didn't happen. And I was all, "UMMMMMMMMMM!" And then I got annoyed and didn't want to read anymore books in the series. If you kill off a character, check all other avenues. Make sure there was no easy way out.

IT HAS TO BE TRUE TO THE CHARACTER. You know how horror movies always have really stupid characters? That do really stupid things? That even do really weird things that no one would really do in that situation? It's like in that weird giant crocodile/alligator horror movie where the croc is in the water and the people are staying in shallow water to avoid it, and this one guy in the group is being the biggest coward of them all, whining and complaining and talking about how they're all gonna die and he's afraid of the water and just wants to stay on the boat and and and...  then he sees a surfboard and he's all, "Oh, sweet! A surfboard in open, giant crocodile-infested waters! See you in paradise, SUCKAS!" And he jumps on the board in the open water and surfs straight into the croc's mouth and is eaten. Maybe it was a shark. Whatever. The point is that when your character does something ridiculous, especially something inconsistent and not true to character, that gets them killed, your readers will feel cheated. Or laugh hysterically. As I did when I saw that scene.

IT HAS TO HAVE A PURPOSE. Don't kill off a character for no reason. Don't do it just to make your novel seem "darker." Tie the death into the plot, into the theme. If you can make the death bittersweet, that's even better. Make the reader feel that the death was not only necessary, but that it accomplished something. The MC did not die for no reason. THEY DID NOT DIE IN VAIN!

DISCLAIMER: This advice pertains to a style of novel that I personally most enjoy. You might disagree. There are books that even I like in which MCs die left and right (although the caveat is that as a reader I find myself feeling somewhat detached from the other MCs, because I expect a horrible death). I personally like happy, or at least bittersweet endings. I dislike tragedies. Some people like them, though. So take my advice with a grain of salt and use your own best judgment as to what is best for your novel.

Are your MCs safe in your hands, or do some of them die within the course of the story?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

How to Rewrite

So. I just finally finished the second draft of my book. And I learned a lot about the process of rewriting. The main thing I learned? The thing that I can't believe no one told me?

Rewriting is just writing. 

Yes. That's the secret. Well, at least it's my secret.

I always had this idea of rewriting, that you take a chapter you've already written, and you write it over again. The same things happen, you just change the way it's written. It's supposed to be better, somehow. And that misconception is exactly why I was afraid to rewrite. Now of course I can't speak for other authors, but for me, this was a mistake. It was just editing, and it was extremely boring and soul-sucking and it really didn't make my book any better. (NOTE: Editing this way IS something that needs to be done at some point, but I would advise holding off on this type of thorough line edit/rewriting until you've fixed all the plot issues).

I think the term "rewrite" is misleading. Because when you tackle that first draft, you don't want to be in editing mode just yet. You want to still be in that creative mode that is writing. Here's how you really rewrite (in my opinion):

  1. FIGURE OUT WHAT ISN'T WORKING. DO SMALL EDITS/ADDITIONS ALONG THE WAY. I prefer to work from the beginning to end. You don't have to. I started with chapter one, working in new ideas I had to existing scenes that already WORKED. I also marked everything that was utter CRAP. This is where you have to show no mercy, even if it hurts. Even when it's scary. You probably already know where your story is sagging, chapters you wrote just to get from point A to point B and have no other purpose. Scenes you're terrified to delete because you can't figure out how else to get to the next scene. Plot holes. Lame, boring scenes where nothing is happening, etc. Hone in on these sections. Identify them. If you have a nagging feeling about a section, it probably means it needs to go. Make the decision that you will accept no scene that is anything less than awesome in your book. NONE!
  2. DESTROY AFOREMENTIONED SCENES/CHAPTERS/ENTIRE CHUNKS OF YOUR BOOK. Okay, you don't have to destroy them, exactly. A good idea that I use is to create a "Deleted Scenes" folder with everything you've removed. It gives you peace of mind. Even if you'll more than likely never look at them again. It's a good idea to read over them before you remove them and copy any sections you still like (such as bits of dialogue you still want to include, or some piece of the scene you want to rework into the new scene) and paste them somewhere.
  3. "REWRITE." EXCEPT NOT REALLY. WRITE SOMETHING NEW IN THE ABYSS YOU'VE CREATED. This is the part I did not understand before. I always got annoyed when I read about other writers talking about the "magic" in rewriting. What magic?! There was no magic! Until I discovered that magic myself. It's the same magic that's in the original writing process. Because you aren't rewriting something you've already written; you're creating something entirely new in its place. Me? I completely changed the climax of my book and "re"wrote completely about 15 chapters. Aside from a few bits of dialogue that I reworked in, nothing is the same in those sections. Keep in mind that this is not your entire book (you know, unless you determined that all of it needed to go). You can do smaller edits on scenes that work but just need things added/removed/tightening/whatever. They don't, in my opinion, need to be rewritten. But you SHOULD write entirely new scenes to fill in the scenes you identified in step one as being useless.
  4. LET IT STEW IF YOU NEED TO. I don't know about you, but I can't come up with super awesome ideas just like that. Sometimes you will be itching to just get it done, but nothing will come to mind. Take your time. Don't fill in those holes with anything that doesn't send a chill of awesome feelings down your spine. Wait. Take a walk. Take a shower. Take a few days. Talk to someone about the issues. It will come to you eventually.
  5. USE A BLANK PAGE IF IT HELPS. I keep my novel on Scrivener. It's awesomely helpful. But when I was rewriting, I found that seeing what was already written on the page just bogged me down. It held back my creativity. I needed a blank page. So when I was rewriting entire chapters/scenes, I would often open up a blank word document to write and then copy/paste when I was finished. Do this if it helps you.
  6. ADMIRE YOUR NEW CREATION. Trust me, when you're finished, you will be ashamed that you ever called that first draft a book. It will be SO MUCH BETTER. It's hard. It's tough to fill in plot holes and remove boring chapters, refusing to accept anything less than the best, no matter how long it takes to come up with something that actually works. It's frustrating, and at times you will be afraid you just can't fix it. But it will come to you eventually. And it will be roughly five million gazillion billion trillion times better than it was.
  7. CONTINUE TO DRAFT THREE AND ONWARD. I'm not here yet, but my plan is this: One more round of edits, this time making sure the whole book is consistent with the plot changes I made, strengthening characters' voice, and tightening. Thankfully, this should be much less time-consuming than finishing draft two. When I have a third draft, I plan to send the book to test readers. When I get it back from them, I will do another sweep of edits/rewriting if necessary. After that, I will do a line edit, and then start querying. (gasp!) At least that's my plan as of now. I'll let you know how it goes.
Still having trouble rewriting/editing? You can find more editing tips here. They might help. Or they might be totally useless. Whatever.

What is your editing process? Did this post help you?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Common Mistakes of Amateurs Like Me #4: Being Afraid To Hurt Your Characters

I've actually personally never had this problem, though I've heard of many other aspiring authors struggling with it. Does that make me a sadistic sociopath? I sure hope not.

You ever heard that saying? "You gotta be cruel to be kind." I'm not sure how much it applies to normal life, but it certainly applies to writing a book.

You see, I believe in tough love. I do love all my characters, but that's why I want them to be the best they can be. I'm like a parent who lets her teenage son spend the night in jail after being arrested for drinking underage (don't worry, I don't actually have any children). I know that my characters need to be hurt in order to become stronger.

Here's why you have to hurt your characters:

1. IF YOU DON'T, YOU'LL HAVE AN INCREDIBLY BORING STORY. I think this one is self-explanatory. If nothing bad ever happens to your protagonist, or if, alternatively, bad things happen, but s/he escapes easily without a scratch, you don't really have a book at all. It will be boring.

2. IT'S NECESSARY FOR CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. Yeah, sorry. You really have to do it. If your characters never get knocked down, if they never get hurt, they'll never have room to grow. When you hurt your characters, it makes them stronger. It prepares them to stand up against (add generic antagonist/bad thing here) in the climax of your book. That's the whole reason you are throwing these obstacles and challenges at your characters. Not so they can just show off how awesome they are, but so that through mishaps, mistakes and near-failures, they become the person they need to be by the end of the book to overcome the major conflict. It's supposed to be a struggle that forces change and growth.

3. IT MAKES US LOVE THEM. Why do we love the heroes in all our favorite stories? Because they swatted away the bad guy with ease, at no risk or injury to themselves? Yeah, no. We love them because they have the courage to stand up for what's right no matter what the personal cost. They risk everything, they get hurt. They suffer. But they do it anyway. It's overcoming the difficulties that is most endearing, most telling of a hero. That is why we love them. (Also, note that when characters seem invincible, they tend to be cocky, and that usually comes across to the reader as extremely annoying.)

4. IT'S REALISTIC. Real people get hurt (mentally and physically). Real people face difficulties in their lives. We can identify with the protagonist when s/he faces challenges, gets hurt and makes mistakes. It makes us root for him/her all the more.

5. IT'S DRAMATIC. Oh, the hero never, ever gets hurt or even almost loses? ::GIANT YAWN:: Great. How predictable is that? You lose all sense of drama and tension in every scene if we already know the hero will never be hurt.

So if you have trouble hurting your characters, start thinking of yourself as the overbearing mother that smothers her children with so much love that they fall out of the nest and die instead of spreading their wings. That's right. Your characters are going to turn into 40-year-old virgins who still live at home in your basement and can't hold down a job, leeching off of you long into your retirement. You don't really want to do that to them, do you?

If you're still having trouble, it might be because you created a character that is too perfect to begin with (also leading to reader annoyance). If that's the case, you might want to check out my previous post about character flaws and why you need them.

Anyone out there have this problem? How do you deal with it?

Monday, June 10, 2013

When In Doubt, Add Conflict

This is my new mantra. When in doubt, add conflict (and/or tension - I excluded it from the title because it's not as catchy or witty-sounding). (Almost) always. Whenever your writing feels boring/like something's missing/tedious/whatever, add conflict/tension. More specifically, add new layers and different types of conflict/tension, especially subtle types. Often the reason a big fight scene comes across as boring is because the physical fight is the only source of conflict and tension, and you've forgotten the emotional struggle, tension between characters and a sense of urgency that will make the fight more interesting.

Unless you have five million things going on already. That would be an exception to the rule. I've only ever seen that once when doing critiques for others. It was pretty crazy.


About conflict:

EXTERNAL CONFLICT. Something is actually happening to your protagonist. Often it's physical. Often it's an epic battle. For instance, Kain the Giant Dog is jumped by the cat. If you overuse epic battles, your novel will become monotonous and your battles will become boring. So make use of some other types of conflict.

INTERNAL CONFLICT. This goes on inside your character's head. For example, your protagonist, Kain the Giant Dog, is terrified of puddles (true story - my dog thinks they are endless pits of doom and that I can walk on water, which is actually pretty flattering). But he must cross the Puddle of Doom in order to reach the evil vacuum cleaner and destroy it once and for all. He struggles with his own fear, fighting for the courage to do what he must. This could also be more complex: Kain the Giant Dog has to struggle to make a difficult moral choice between taking a nap now and taking a nap later. More on internal conflict here.

More specifically, on TENSION and CONFLICT (NOTE: These are just a few ideas out of many, many options):

AFOREMENTIONED PHYSICAL BATTLE. Is Kain facing the cat again? The inanimate trashcan that appeared on the road last night that has been watching him? Don't have your characters getting into skirmishes left and right, or it will get old fast. Make them different. Make them test different attributes: strength, agility, even intelligence. Don't let them all be solved the same way (like with brute force).

MYSTERY. There's a mystery to be solved, with foreshadowing left and right. That strange knocking noise Kain keeps hearing every time he turns around. Is it an enemy? A ghost? An omen of things to come? Whatever your mystery is, make it seem dangerous, and urgent. (It's Kain's tail, by the way. Mystery solved.)

SUSPICION. Your characters don't quite trust each other. The human suspects the cat has been planning to kill them all. The dog thinks the human plans to abandon him forevermore every time the human pets the cat. The cat is hiding her loathing for them both until she can figure out the source of her food and take it. Then she'll murder them both.

SOCIETAL PRESSURE. Society wants your protagonist to be something s/he isn't. This kind of peer pressure/self-consciousness can often be felt throughout a novel.

SELF DOUBT. Your protagonist is filled with doubt about his or her own abilities. For instance, Kain the Giant Dog is often afraid that he is too big to fit through doorways. Even when he has two feet of clearance on either side, he still thinks he's going to get stuck. So he will just start forward and then back up and then take a step forward, and then go back again, and so on and so forth until the end of time (or until he's rescued).

SH**TY LUCK. Your protagonist just can't catch a break. Everything just seems to go wrong, and it's not caused by your antagonist or anyone else, it's just bad luck and a bad circumstance. Sometimes life just sucks. If you're the protagonist in a novel with a sadistic writer, your life probably sucks a bit more.

FORESHADOWING. Something is coming. You can feel it in the wind. There are little hints of it everywhere. You can't quite put your finger on what, exactly, but it's putting everyone on edge.

THE TICKING TIME BOMB. If your characters seem to be meandering around, taking their sweet time, start a bomb ticking away. In other words, add urgency. Don't let them relax.

THE HAUNTING PAST. Something happened in your character's past and it's haunting him/her now. When Kain was a puppy, he made his way gingerly onto a rain-slicked dock on a lake... and the lake, being malicious and evil and all, swept up and engulfed him. He was promptly rescued, but the memory has haunted him ever since. Every reminder of water and swimming... it's like he can't escape his past.

I KNOW SOMETHING YOU DON'T KNOW. The audience knows that something is about to befall the protagonist, but the protagonist has no idea. For instance, perhaps through POV-hopping your readers are aware that the protagonist's best friend is about to betray her, but she doesn't suspect a thing. Then the readers can only watch in horror as the protagonist walks right into a trap...

ROMANTIC/SEXUAL TENSION. You know you want to add it, don't lie to me. If you are a hopeless romantic like me, you'll be tempted to have your characters fall in love instantly. Sadly, once the "happily ever after" comes, the tension and conflict die. Don't let them be happy together. Save it for a reward at the end.

CONTEMPT. This is another that relates to relationships, but it applies to more than romantic relationships. The cat hates the dog. Instant tension, especially if they are forced to work together or pretend to get along.

KEEPING YOUR READERS ON THEIR TOES. A certain sailor-like author I know about does this very well. Surprise your readers with plot twists and things they thought could never happen. They won't be able to put the book down, wondering what will happen next.

MORAL CONFLICT. This is an internal conflict, where the protagonist must make a difficult moral choice.

SECRETS. Trying to keep a secret from your comrades (or even your enemies) can be a taxing affair. And often frightening when you come close to being caught. Give your character a secret or two that s/he must hide to preserve his/her own life.

There you have it. Keep in mind that these are just a few ideas to get the ball rolling. A good novel is complex, but not convoluted. Sometimes it's hard to find the right balance. And a good rule of thumb is this: Never, EVER create a character that is conflicted ONLY externally. That is the best way to create a boring, one-dimensional character. And yes, I mean your supporting characters and villains, too. EVERYONE should be conflicted. And make sure EVERY scene has tension and/or conflict. Even if it's just foreshadowing, a sense of urgency, or a character's self-doubt. You want the tension to rise and fall throughout the novel, but at the same time it should always be steadily increasing, building up into the climax. The moment you let your characters rest with nothing to do or everything going their way, that's when you lose your reader.

What types of tension and conflict are you using to keep your scenes gripping?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Get Inspired (Why You Can't Come Up With Ideas)

This seems to be an issue for a lot of people. They love to write, but they just can't seem to come up with any ideas of what to write about. Well. I say that's BS. That's right. BULL SHIZNIT (yeah, this is my stupid way of not cussing on this blog). This is why I think you might be having trouble:

1. YOU'RE TERRIFIED OF COPYING OTHERS. "Oh, I can't come up with anything original. All of my ideas have been done before. I'm just a copycat." I understand that fear, really I do. But here's the thing: ideas, for the most part, are not usually that original. It's how they are executed that matters. Do you think J.K. Rowling was the first person ever to write about a boy wizard? Or that E.L. James was the first person to come up with a romance between an awkward young woman and a violent, rich man (haha, this question was not serious)? Perhaps you think that The Hunger Games was an entirely new concept (anyone ever heard of Battle Royale?). (I probably shouldn't have mentioned the first and last in the same paragraph as the middle one, but whatever, deal with it.) No, these ideas were not entirely new. However, the details, the characters, the settings, the exact plot - those were new and original. And those are what make a story. I'm not saying you should plagiarize. I'm saying you should stop worrying about coming up with something no one has ever heard of (though it's great if you do), and have confidence that even if your idea seems similar on the surface, your telling of it will set it apart. Just, you know, don't give your wizard a lightning bolt scar on his cheek and name him Hairy (see what I did there?).

2. YOU LACK CONFIDENCE. "Oh, all my ideas suck. I can't come up with anything good." Maybe you dismiss all your ideas the moment they pop into your head. Maybe you dismiss them only after writing a bit and finding you don't get anywhere. Well, I'm sorry, but... Suck it up. We're all worried our ideas aren't good enough. That they're boring, unoriginal, juvenile. But the difference is that that doesn't stop a real writer from writing. They suck it up and write it, anyway. Then they send it to agents and give it a chance. Remember that you are your own worst critic. Others may see something in your ideas that you do not .You will never know until you try.

3. YOU'RE STOPPING TOO EARLY (OR NOT STARTING AT ALL). This ties in with the last one, and I was guilty of it before I wrote my current WIP. With this one, you think that if you can't come up with a great concept, ten awesome subplots, the coolest supporting characters and fifty mind-blowing plot twists straight off the bat, that obviously you just can't come up with any ideas. But that's not it. More likely, you're just more of a pantser, like me. I usually start writing with a basic concept, knowing maybe just the beginning and the end. And then guess what? All those plot twists, subplots, side characters? They come to me as I'm writing. And I never would have come up with such great ideas if I had tried to outline a plot beforehand. All those writers who can plan and outline an entire, amazing story before sitting down and writing it? Well, clearly they are godly beings. Most of us are not. We are, sadly, mere mortals. Stop whining and start writing (that should be my new slogan).

4. YOU'RE TRYING TO WRITE FOR SOMEONE ELSE. Maybe you are trying to follow the trends and write what's "popular." Well stop it. Writing while uninspired makes for uninspired writing. If you are not writing for yourself and writing what you enjoy, it should come as no surprise that you can't think of any great ideas for the next torrid vampire/werewolf romance. If you happen to love what is hot right now, then the rest of us will cry bloody tears as we watch you bathe in glory and success. But if it's not what you love, then stop trying to force it. Write what you love and the ideas will start to flow.

5. YOU'RE IGNORING YOUR PASSION. Maybe you're not digging deep and writing your soul onto the page. Maybe you just haven't figured out what you're passionate about. Or, more likely, you just haven't figured out how to mix what makes you passionate with what you're writing. This was my problem, too. I was just writing stories with no meaning or message. And I never finished them. Instead, think about social and other issues or controversies that you are passionate about. What matters to you? What message do you want to convey in your novel? Figure out how you can translate that into a story that is entertaining, too (and hopefully not too preachy). Write about something that matters to you and I think you'll find great ideas (and great motivation to actually finish).

6. YOU JUST DON'T KNOW WHERE TO LOOK FOR INSPIRATION. I think a lot of people don't realize they can get inspiration from books, games and movies without it being "copying." When you get inspiration from a book or movie, it's often something you expected to happen, but didn't, or something minor in the story that you might want to explore more or in a completely different way. Maybe what you saw/read caused an entirely new idea to appear in your mind through some magical force of your brain. Whatever. The point is, it works. Other sources of inspiration? World history, your own life, a friend's life, news stories, etc. Even if you write fantasy like me, you can still translate real world news stories, for example, into a fantasy setting. I know a lot of people say they get their ideas from dreams. Well, that's great if you do. Personally my dreams are way to f'd up to get anything worth writing about.

So. Still think you can't come up with any good ideas?

How do you get inspired?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

No More Mr. Nice Guy (How to Edit/Rewrite)

Many months ago I finished my first completed first draft ever. And I thought I was awesome. For a few days. Then I realized that now I had an even more challenging task ahead of me . . . I had to rewrite. Oh crap.

That was four months ago. Four months ago. And until the day before yesterday, I made what I will estimate as absolutely no progress whatsoever, despite actively wanting to and trying to make myself sit down and start editing. I thought I had rewriter's block (yeah, I just made that term up -  I know). But that wasn't it. And it took me until just recently to identify (and destroy) the problem.

Part of completing a first draft is allowing yourself to write horribly, and telling yourself that, well, you'll fix it later. The problem with editing is that now it is later, and you have a very daunting task ahead of you. My main issues were these:

  1. Lack of a plan: I didn't have a plan, and my notes to myself were so disorganized that I had no idea where to start.
  2. Lack of self-confidence: In the first draft I had given myself permission to suck. But my edits were supposed to make it better. And then the thought hit me - what if I just can't write better than that?
  3. Procrastination: I had become too stuck in my mode of "jot a few notes down and come back to it later" editing. Every time I tried to fix something, I'd type out a few possibilities and want to move on, instead of actually sitting down and fixing it.
  4. Fear: I was too afraid to make any decisions or cut anything that wasn't working.
  5. Denial:  Honestly? I didn't want to have to rewrite. It's not that I thought it was amazing as it was, it's just that I only wanted to see smaller changes that were easy to fix. I was terrified of realizing that I might have to rewrite the whole thing.

So how do you solve these problems?

GET. ORGANIZED. I was faced with about a million randomly placed, scrawled notes everywhere. It was a mess. I repeated the same things, I had multiple lists of issues plus notes randomly placed mid-text, and the task of sorting through it was just overwhelming. So what did I do? I. Got. Organized. I compiled everything into one list and then ordered it based on what happens first. It didn't take as long and the final list was not nearly as overwhelming as I had expected. It's funny how a mess seems so much bigger before it's organized.

SUCK IT UP. I know you're scared that your writing will suck, that maybe the first draft is simply the best you can do. So am I. Too bad. We have to suck it up and get over it. Remember that everything you do is practice, and it's making you better. Stop worrying so much about getting your book published, and start (re)writing for yourself again. The only person who has to like it is you. If it happens to get published, become madly successful and make you filthy rich, that's just a bonus.

GET YOUR BUTT INTO GEAR. Stop procrastinating. Procrastinating on editing works when you are writing your first draft. You shouldn't get bogged down on the details or making everything perfect. But now you are rewriting, and that means it's time to start making some real decisions and doing some real work. Pull yourself out of the mindset of "I'll do it later." Do it now. If it helps, divide up your list of edits into smaller pieces and set yourself realistic goals.

JUMP OFF THE CLIFF. No, not literally. Jump off the metaphorical cliff. Take a leap of faith. You have to just pick something and go with it. You have to be willing to cut things that are making your novel sag, no matter how hard you worked on them and no matter how afraid you are. Save your novel under a new name before every sweep of edits. That way, if you make a mistake, you can go back and change it.

BE RUTHLESS. You have to get the attitude of a predator. Your task is to mercilessly cut, chop and whip that novel into shape. You have to be ruthless. You're not being nice anymore. You're a stone cold killer (of words - please don't kill anyone). You know what I did? I entitled my document "NOMERCY!!!" before I started editing. Do that. It helps.

I'm nine chapters into editing after just two days thanks to this realization (and remember, that's after four months of nothing). You can do it. I believe in you.

Do you have any tips on editing?

UPDATE: After finally finishing my second draft, I have decided to grace you with more questionable tips on rewriting here

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The "Everything I Write Sucks" Syndrome

You know what I'm talking about. That feeling you get when you read over a few sentences you've just written and your heart begins to sink as you realize that it absolutely, completely SUCKS. Yeah. I know that feeling. It's something most of us go through on a regular basis. Some days you feel like you're on top of the world and you're a writing genius, but then the next day you are horrified to discover that you can't seem to write a single sentence correctly.

I've been feeling like that lately. I've been writing since I was a kid. I've had this burning need to write stories, coming up with ideas all the time and fervently jotting them down, believing somehow that if I have this URGE to write, I MUST have some kind of ability. Right? But when I get my "Everything I Write Sucks" Syndrome, I begin to wonder if that's not the case. Maybe someone up there just thought it would be funny to give me the desire to write but absolutely no talent.

Since my writing abilities are only matched by my awesome drawing skills, I've illustrated my thoughts for you. This is how I think it went down:

I was given this horrible drive to write, but no writing skills. I get these great, wonderful ideas for stories. The setting is amazing, the plot is intricate, the characters feel real...

...and then I try to actually write it down:


That's my life.

At least it feels like it right now. The good thing is that we all go through this. You're not alone, and neither am I. The other good thing is that I'm not sure I believe in talent. Talent, very often, is just hard work. You get better at writing by writing. It take practice. Dedication. Hard work. So even if your writing does suck right now, take solace in the knowledge that it can be improved.

Remember too that we are our own worst critic. Your writing probably doesn't suck as badly as you think it does. Keep going. Do your best and then send it out to agents/publishers/what have you. The worst that could happen is it won't be accepted, and that just means you need more practice.

Anyone else out there feeling like this?