It’s novel writing time!

begin now

So it’s 1 Nov. The start of NaNoWriMo.

AM I REALLY DOING THIS?? What if this novel turns out to be the ultimate suckfest of all suckfests? The last novel took three rewrites, four rounds of edits, and a little more than a year to complete. Do I really want to go through this again??

There is nothing more daunting than a blank page with the cursor blinking expectantly at you. START WRITING. START WRITING NOW, it seems to say. And you quail in your bedroom slippers, because there are just so many paths your story can take. There are just so many ways this story can go wrong. So many ways it will drive you to tear out your hair and despair over its future.

But then you write with the end in sight. You think about the metaphorical pot of gold waiting for you at the end, and it is the only thing that keeps you going, even on days when you plod and trudge through the slush.

It’s an arduous journey, writing a novel. You hold it in your hands, and you single-handedly direct the course of the story, dictate your characters’ lives, determine how they will influence and transform each other. Everything that happens – every outcome – is ON YOU. Hey, no pressure.

But what even. We all know I will put myself through this anyway. Maybe not at a pace of 50K words a month, but that story WILL come out somehow, and it will take the time it needs. The first draft will inevitably suck, like first drafts always do, and maybe the second and third ones will too. But a story will be cracked out of those drafts, whether discarded or revised, and in the end it will all be worth the time and angst.

untold story inside you

So soldier on, NaNo-ers!

Clocked 30K for NaNo – and that’s okay

So we’re done with NaNoWriMo! One crazy month of uncensored writing, manic word churning, and getting lost in the labyrinth of the world you created.

creation
My word count stands at 30,300. But oh, who cares. I’m having too much fun right now to obsess over word count! With a structure I’ve never dared to try before but am experimenting with now because what the hell it’s NaNoWriMo and there’s no better time to write without fear or judgement.
Here is an excerpt from No Room in Neverland (it’s a flashback from one of Gemma and Cole’s imaginary adventures to Neverland when they were kids):

 

*

Captain Storm was one of those people who guarded their ship so zealously they barely ever made port. He believed that the sea was his one true home, and to be on land was as unnatural as the hooked metal arm of his nemesis, Captain Hook.
When he first caught sight of the two children, it was on the southern island of Almeta, where he had just gathered enough supplies for another voyage to the Silver Cape. He never stayed overnight on land, even in terrible storms that tore ships apart. But as his men loaded the ship with bags and bags of flour and potatoes, seasoned meat and produce, Captain Storm stepped off his ship.
His crew stared. But the captain’s attention was fixed on the pair of children. They shouldn’t look so out of place in Neverland, where Lost Children made their home. But the two weren’t inhabitants. No, they were just visitors. Port Almeta host vagrants and visitors alike, and these drifters were from the Otherworld.
They were hardy little things, the captain could tell right away even from afar, no more than a day older than eight years of age. Hand in hand, they approached Storm with a steely determination that was absent in the Lost Children around here.
“We would like to cross the Silver Sea with you,” were the girl’s first words to him. Storm could tell she was a lot more nervous than she sounded, mostly because she was plucking at a loose thread in her jeans. The boy nudged her, and she added, “Sir.”
“Captain,” the boy corrected, and the girl nodded.
The captain was being very un-captainlike so far. He cleared his throat and growled, “You want to cross the Silver Sea?”
The pair nodded, their dark eyes too grave for Almeta in daytime.
“Why?”
“We want to know what’s on the other shore.” Tourists, the captain thought irritably. There was no other way to the gilded Hinterlands but sea passage – flight was impossible because of the air sprites out for flesh. Many stubborn visitors have plunged into the watery depths of the tumultuous Silver Sea because of those greedy little bastards.
These children have no idea what they were in for.
“So hitch a ferry. I don’t take passengers,” Captain Storm said.
“You don’t understand. We’re on a mission,” the girl said with enough passion to make the captain’s brows slide up past the shadow cast by his hat. “To save Neverland.”
Storm narrowed his eyes. “Save it how?”
The children shared a brief look before the boy offered, “We know our way around. We’ve studied the maps and everything.”
“We’re not just visitors,” the girl added with an eye roll.
A procession of sailors traipsed by with more bags of ration, staring at their captain and the two children he was entertaining. In the time it took for his men to pass, Storm understood.
“You’re hunting the fool’s treasure, aren’t you? It’s a myth, kids. There is no treasure. Just an old cave and a treacherous jungle.”
“We won’t know for sure until we see it for ourselves.”
Yes, Otherworld children all right. Only they could be this stubborn.
“Neverland is not yours to save,” said Storm. There had been others who tried. Eventually, they gave up after failing too many times, moved on and left Neverland for good. The others ended up as Lost Children, drifting through the days for eternity.
“We don’t know until we try.” The girl possessed a sense of purposefulness and solemnity uncharacteristic of children her age. Not that Captain Storm would know, seeing how few children he came into actual contact with.
How then was he going to have two of them on his ship?
Yet, he looked at the pair of them standing before him now, and heard himself say, “Get on board, then. And try not to fall over. I won’t bother doubling back for either of you.”

*

There is so much to explore for Neverland! So many possibilities, and it reminds me of how fun writing can be if you don’t second-guess yourself or let yourself stop writing. It’s so easy to make excuses and get overly critical of your writing (and wonder if this is all worth the effort and heartache in the end), but this is exactly how stories end up discarded when all they need is a little more thought and an extra push.

 

20130114 Laini Taylor writing advice
And who cares if I’m having more fun writing the Neverland Chronicles than present day scenes. I’m just happy to go where the story takes me. Because like Chuck Wendig said, “a finished thing is imperfect – but fixable.”
NaNo-ers, any retrospective thoughts about the experience? Hope NaNoWriMo 2014 was just as fulfilling for you! :0)

The week of rejection letters

Three weeks into NaNoWriMo and my word count stands at … 28k. Yup, just as I expected. I’m not going to make it in time.

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As Chuck Wendig said,

It’s harder just not to create art than it is to actually sit down or stand there and commit. It’s easier to think about creating something, or to talk about creating something, than it is to actually will yourself to that act — a very difficult, transitional, sacrificial act. It’s easier to think about stories or dream stories or imagine your published stories than it is to actually carve them letter by letter across a piece of paper.

Thinking is easy; dreaming is easier. It’s the doing that feels like carving out your skin inch by inch, but it’s also what gives you the most satisfaction. Now, if I could just hold on to that thought…

Literary agents, however, have had a very productive week in terms of responding to emails. At this stage, any response is better than none. I’m not really a fan of the whole “We’ll reply only if we’re interested” policy more and more agencies are adopting these days.

This week, I’ve had three rejection letters. Nice ones, but crushing nonetheless. I don’t think I’ll ever be immune to the sting. It’s nothing personal, I know. It’s just … you feel like you were soooooo close, you know? They’d already requested the full manuscript for consideration. They liked it. It JUST. WASN’T. GOOD. ENOUGH.

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It’s enough to make a writer want to give up sometimes. If your best still isn’t good enough, does that mean you’re just not cut out for this after all?

At least most of the agents are really kind. I’ve had one who called me Joshua and some who responded with just one line: not for me but thanks.

 

 

Rejection Letter #1:

Dear Joyce,

Thank you so much for submitting Until Morning to Giant Squid Books. Your novel is a fresh take on romantic YA and I have not seen many like it! However, the switching perspectives and long dream sequences did not resonate with us, so I do not think we are the right fit. I am confident that you will find a home for your novel and I wish you the best of luck.

Warmly,
Rachel 

 

 

Rejection Letter #2: 


Dear Joyce,

Thanks again for sending me UNTIL MORNING, and for your patience as I read it. I’m a big fan of Haruki Murakami, and your use of magical realism really reminded me of his work. I loved the way the characters’ lives were interlaced, and how they meet inside Lexi’s dreams of Sam’s paintings. I thought the way you constructed their worlds was very fresh and interesting. I loved the twist of her being in a coma. Overall, I thought the concept of your book was very imaginative.

I felt like I had an immediate impression of each of their characters. Lexi seemed very free-spirited (in her dreams), while Sam has always had a lot of structure in his life and pressure from his father. I wanted to learn more about their characters, to see them develop and expand as I continued reading, and unfortunately, I didn’t see that as much as I would’ve liked. It was interesting to learn that Lexi is much less free-spirited in real life, because it helped give more nuance and depth to the version of Lexi that appears in the dreams. However, I still didn’t feel that I got to know either of their characters as deeply as I wanted to. I also felt that the way they appear to be complete opposites in the dreams, yet become close so immediately, felt a little too perfect and unrealistic. The similarities between them as well (both having a sick mother) felt a little too coincidental to be realistic.

As much as I admired the overall concept of your book, I’m afraid I didn’t connect to the characters in the way I’d hoped, so I have to pass. I wish you all the best in finding the right agent and getting this published.

Best wishes,
Annie B

 

 

Rejection Letter #3: 

Dear Joyce,

Thank you so much for submitting to the Collaborative. Unfortunately, while your concept is intriguing, we recently sold a project that involves a romance conducted via dreaming, and as a small company, we need to be very careful about taking on projects with too much overlap to titles already on our list. I’m sorry this wasn’t a match but I wish you the best of luck in finding the perfect home for your work!

All my best,
Annie S

 


Rejection Letter #4: 

Dear Joshua,


Many thanks for sending us Until Morning.
I am sorry I can’t offer to represent you at this time, but I wish you every success with your writing in the future.

Best wishes,
Gillie

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Can I go wallow now??

NaNo-ers, power on anyway! It’s a daunting task, seeing a novel through to the end without getting held back by rejection or self-doubt, and writing is a much less lonely business during NaNo. But nothing beats reaching the end, you know that.

Also, BIIIIG thanks to everyone who stopped by with an encouraging note or remark – you don’t know how much it means to a writer. *kisses you fervently*

Halfway into NaNoWriMo!

Writing advice from Kate Brauning:

Don’t get discouraged when you’re drafting if you’re not seeing magic happen. That magical touch and those insightful moments you see in great books aren’t magic at all. They’re the result of blood and sweat. First drafts are limp and flat and awkward—that’s normal. The depth and layers come as you revise. And revise. And revise.

Ugh, limp and flat and awkward first drafts. Too much experience with that. But it’s true that it gets better with each draft. You kind of figure out more stuff the more you write – the mood, the tone, the characters, their voices, their backgrounds – and all that helps you see the end more clearly.

So how is NaNoWriMo going for all my writerly friends?

Reading Siege and Storm, book #2 of the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, is making me ache to write Indigo Tides.

It is so insanely good, much better than the first in terms of prose and pacing. I mean, it’s got mythical monsters and fairy tales and an unorthodox (and callously funny) ship captain that is fast becoming my favourite character in the book. What’s not to love? Plus, I love how Leigh doesn’t go overboard with the sappiness between Mal and Alina – every scene, every exchange, every touch between them is significant and propels the story forward while leaving your emotions scattered everywhere.

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But that’s a review for another day. I will properly gush about it then. For now,

Off to Neverland! Have a good week, everyone :0)

It’s NaNoWriMo!

National Novel Writing Month entails copious cups of green tea, manic pounding of the keyboard, dreaming up scenes, talking to your characters, considering what they’d do in your shoes as you go about your life, and basically being taken over by this snarling, squalling, blossoming thing called the Work In Progress. Anything that helps churn out that 50K-word manuscript in a month.

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WIP is going relatively well so far, considering how it had bucked and stalled like a horse that needs to poop for the first couple of drafts before I decided to take a break from it (let it, um, poop, so to speak).

Page 198 was where it succeeded in boring the brains out of me, so now I’m giving it another try, this time with a structure I’ve never quite dared to attempt before. Narrative within a narrative. Flashbacks (always risky). Non-linear chronology. Something like what Karen Foxlee did with The Midnight Dress.

Once I decided on this structure, it’s like things finally clicked into place. This is what gets me fired up and excited to write the story! This is what’s missing in the first two attempts! This is what makes me dig deeper into my characters!

Okay. *cracks knuckles* *flexes fingers* Let’s do this.

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Just so we’re clear, I’m probably not going to finish 50K in one month. I’m not going to embrace that kind of insanity. But I’ll just try my best and log in the daily word count and see where this takes me.

For my fellow NaNo-ers, here’s some wisdom from best-selling author Chuck Wendig on the writing process:

“We wish the best for our stories. We want them to be great. We want them to win awards and climb to the top of the bestseller mountain and maybe they’ll change somebody’s life and earn us a giant sack of cash which will allow us to buy a jet-boat or an oil drum full of that very rare civet-poop coffee. Maybe a jet boat fueled by civet-shit coffee.”

Yup, that’s Chuck.

“… go forth and write.

Without pressure, without fear, without the expectation of doing anything but crossing the finish line.”

 

And some civet shit-free wisdom from Laini Taylor (please update your blog, Laini – I’m dying for some snippet of your life!):

“Imagine you’re standing at the edge of a jungle in, let’s say, Borneo (because I have a fascination with Borneo). You have a rough idea of how big this jungle is — you’ve flown over it in a helicopter and seen dense green treecover, and you know what’s on the other side. You know where you want to get to, and you have a very vague idea of what’s IN the jungle, but you have no map, and as of yet there is no trail. What you do have is a machete, a blank roll of paper, and a grease pencil.

There’s only one way to get to the other side of the jungle: take out your machete and start whacking. Carve your way forward and forward, sometimes sideways and sometimes back, until you get to the other side. That first time through, you’re going to come across ravines, swamps, viper nests, rivers, all sorts of things you didn’t expect and you’ll deal with them and get around them, over them, through them, in all manner of resourceful ways. And when you step out of the jungle on the far side, what you’ll have in your hand is a sprawling, wrinkled, sweat-stained mess of a map of the territory you’ve just discovered. It might not look very pretty, but it is a glorious thing, a document of discovery. You clutch it to you, and after you’ve rested and healed for a while, you go back to the far side of the jungle and. . . you start again.

This time, with your messy map in hand, you’ll know where to go and where not to go. Some of the things you discovered your first time in, you’ll want to avoid like the plague; others will be perfect, serendipitous things that make the journey richer than you could have imagined when you set out. You’ll know your jungle/story intimately, the good and the bad, from ground level. Outlines, I think, are kind of the equivalent of aerial photography — you get some idea, but you can’t really see what it’s like down below — not until you’re walking through it. And when you find things to be not exactly as they had seemed from the air, you have to adapt.

Be nimble.

The second time through, your passage will be much more elegant than the first, and it will also be less exciting. Nothing will ever be so miserable or so thrilling as that first bushwhack. . . that first exploratory draft. The misery and the thrill are intertwined — that’s exploration for you, taking the leeches and fevers with the discovery and getting to name islands and swamps after yourself! The second time, you’ll know what to expect. You’ll be refining your map. It will get more perfect and less exciting with each pass, and then one day you’ll be done. Done with that jungle and ready for a new one.”

Yes, this analogy is perfect.

Yes, Laini Taylor is perfect.

Yes, I wish I could write like her.

Speaking of whom, yay for more Laini goodness: her short story, which is collected in this anthology called My True Love Gave to Me, has just been released!

Image from GoodReads

Laini’s in good company too: Holly Black, Kelly Link, Stephanie Perkins, Myra McEntire, and more!

And you guys, the UK version has HOT PINK pages:

SO grabbing this from the bookstore.

May the writing gods be with you this NaNoWriMo! :0)

Thursday evening ramblings

1. What happens when a writer interviews herself? Take a look. If the interview sounds completely neurotic to you, welcome to the mind of a brilliant writer like Joyce Carol Oates.

2.

Also known as:

Now that I no longer have exams to contend with in November, I’m more than ready for NaNoWriMo. This will be the first time I’m taking part in it, even though I’ve completed a novel in a month before (LAMBS FOR DINNER) just to see if I could do it. 
I originally planned to write INDIGO TIDES for NaNo, but it’s just not coming along. I don’t see the theme of the story, can’t figure out my characters, and basically don’t understand why I want to write this story other than create pretty prose. But a novel is so much more than just pointless purple prose (sorry, couldn’t resist sticking an alliteration in there). I can’t write a story without believing in it, or feeling strongly enough about it. It has to be a story I am consumed by, whether I’m awake or asleep, where scenes pop into my mind as I brush my teeth or getting dressed, and where characters converse in my head while I’m swimming laps in the pool or on my way to work, where I think about what they would say to the things I encounter every day.
Damon Salvatore (from THE VAMPIRE DIARIES) says it best: 
Yes, a love like that would be nice. But for now, a story like that would do. 
(On a sidenote, hurray for Season 5 of TVD! Something to look forward to every week again, along with SUPERNATURAL and THE ORIGINALS.)
And with a bit of luck, I woke up yesterday with a pretty much completed novel in my head and a ready-made title to go with it: NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND. Yes, it’s the Peter Pan-inspired one I’ve been going on about for months. I have my characters, I have their motivations, dreams, fears and voices figured out, I have the climax for the three main acts planned, and the opening scene is just waiting for me to pound it out. Cause for the happy writer dance? I think so.

In case you need a reminder of the face that triggered my Peter Pan obsession, here it is:
 
(I admit, I might just be looking for a reason to post his pretty face here.)
3. YA writers, here’s an update on the new trends in the YA market.
I’m glad contemporary YA is making a comeback. It’s been a while since books like Sarah Dessen’s have taken up a good part of the shelves, and I’ve been searching for a simple coming of age story in which the protagonist goes through a significant transformation and growth that is gratifying to the reader, preferably with a generous dash of romance. Contemporary YA has always been and will always be my first love. I remember the book that started it all: KEEPING THE MOON by Sarah Dessen. It was the first Dessen book I read and I’ve been a fan of her ever since. Shortly after came Deb Caletti and her book, WILD ROSES, which inspired my first standalone novel that I completed in 2008 (after working on it since 2005), WHEN THE LILIES TURN ORANGE. There are certain books that change your life and influence you and your writing, and these two happen to be of the contemporary YA genre. Which is why this genre will always be my true love, despite how much fun I’m having with urban fantasy now.
But even though I agree that we need more contemporary YA now, I find it a bit of a stretch to say that the time of YA fantasy is coming to an end. While it’s true that the YA market is saturated with paranormal fiction of all things fanged, furry and/or winged, and that it’s understandable for literary agents to get weary of such stories and crave something simple and authentic and grounded in reality, something that can resonate with them and the readers, I believe that a well-crafted story, regardless of its genre, will always have a place on the bookshelf. 
Perhaps the disillusionment with the fantasy genre stems from the done-to-death formulae: forbidden love between angel and human, pact between wolf packs, average human girl is introduced to the mysterious dangerous world of handsome paranormal boy. But writers like Maggie Stiefvater have broken from the norm and created versions of this genre with their personal stamp on them. And writers like Laini Taylor have gone beyond the regular run-of-the-mill fantasy story and brought the genre to whole new levels of awesomeness, with mind-boggling plots and perfect prose and pacing and complete character arcs.
Really, all we need is just a good mix of contemporary and fantasy. Personally, when I get tired of writing contemporary, I dabble with some urban fantasy. And when I feel like I can’t take reading or writing another paranormal story, I go back to contemporary.
Maybe it’s all about shaking things up and attempting the things that you’ve never tried before and that scares you. I think I’m terrible at writing from third-person POV, which is why it’s the challenge I’m going to take on for INDIGO TIDES. For now, though, INDIGO is not the story I’m ready to tell. So I’m just sticking to my first love, what I know and love best, contemporary YA romance told from alternating first-person POVs.
Whatever genre we write in, as Joyce Carol Oates put it, “We write to create the books that we would like to read, that haven’t yet been written.” Fantasy or contemporary, we write whatever is true to us, whatever moves us; we write the story that we believe in. A friend of mine asked me a couple of days ago where I find the patience to complete a novel and all I could say in response was, “If there’s a story you strongly believe in that you want to share, you WILL find the patience for it no matter how much it torments you.”
And maybe we all have a story like that in us. And we might just discover that this NaNoWriMo. Happy writing!