Sunday, 27 January 2013

On Completing a First Draft

This will be me for the next few weeks as I whip out my editorial lightsaber and set to work on my MS, hacking and slicing and hopefully not severing any vital limbs. Because of course I have an editorial lightsaber. (I do not have an editorial lightsaber.)

But that's right - this means that the first draft of my new MS is complete.

This MS has been so far out of my comfort zone that it's taken me a lot longer to complete this draft than any other manuscript to date. It's been...*counts fingers* about 6 months. In that time I've changed the POV, completely reworked my characters, fixed lots of significant plot details, and changed the title about 4 times (this happened early on because I hate not having an 'official' WIP title.) Next time, I'm going easier on myself. (Yeah, right.)

What a first draft looks like for me

  • Full of plot holes the size of moon craters. If a new plot thread occurs to me several chapters after the point where I should have introduced it, I won't necessarily go back and write that in when I'm trudging through a first draft - I'll make a handwritten note to 'go back to ch14 and add in the bit where Miss Schwarz says something creepy about Sky knowing where her missing son might be', and then continue writing as though that's already been added in. The joining and smoothing out of the new thread will happen in the next draft.
  • One hot mess of cliches. The reason things like the waking up intro or the awkward girl moves to new town plot device or the hot new boy walks into class scene have become cliche is because they have been proven to work. That intro puts you right into the MC's head. That plot device lets you throw in the conflict right away. That hot new boy scene lets you see him through the MC's eyes. BUT, they're cliches. I don't want my writing to be riddled with the same things other writers have used over and over and over again. So these will also be given some stern treatment during editing.
  • The black hole of adverbs, clunk, and other no-nos for slick writing. Some I'll catch when I'm editing, some my CPs will school me on, and some will inevitably make it through the editing gauntlet to be face-palmed over later.

Next comes the part most writers groan about: the dreaded revisions. But for me, editing is a relief. This MS is a complete thing now, no matter what I do to it, so there's a certain freedom in that. I'm allowed to step back, squint at it critically, and push it around like a mean Jedi.

Then I'll run back to it with bandages and lollipops and promise never to be mean again if it will just play nicely and be good.

So between now and my beta deadline in a couple of weeks, that's what I'll be doing. Wish me luck!

What do your first drafts look like? Got any wicked techniques that might help me with my editing? PLEASE TO SHARE.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Breaking up with a CP

"It's not you, it's me..."

I made a comment about this on a recent (and brilliant) post over at Dahlia's blog, and I've kind of been meaning to write some more about it ever since then. There's a lot of advice out there about how to find critique partners. There are some fantastic forums, including CP Seek, and Authoress Anon hosted a CP match-up not so long ago (info here).

These are extraordinarily helpful things.

But there's not so much written about what you should do if you have a CP who just. doesn't. help.

I've got an amazing bunch of CPs. They get me, my sense of humour, and tell me to STFU and work when I'm faffing around on twitter during Writing Time. And when they're critiquing my work, they know exactly what type of feedback I'm looking for, and spot the things I'd miss in my own editing. They are BRILLIANT that way. They enjoy my stories, too, which kind of helps.

But they don't stroke my hair and tell me everything I write is pretty and perfect. In fact, what they tell me sometimes stings like a mofo. This is what I need so that I can improve as a writer.

However, you don't always find this with every writer you swap critiques with. Sometimes, you don't gel. Maybe they pick at things that you actually know you're doing right. Maybe they hate the MC you love, and it's just because. Or maybe you've read their work and realised, actually, our styles are so different, I just don't see this working out.

Maybe this CP makes you feel like you just watched someone smack your child, and then expected you to thank them for it. (Yes, I have felt like that. No, I do not have children, so it's probably not a valid comparison.)

Then comes the awkward part: The Break-Up.

There are a couple of ways you can deal with this. My preference is the first one, because I'm not that big on confrontation.

  1. Avoidance. Politely swerve the next time you're due to exchange MSs. This is the chicken's way out, but is minutely less awkward than #2.
  2. The Dear John email. This really only works immediately after you've received their critique (by which I mean within a week, not minutes, or it'll look like knee-jerk peevishness). Leave it too long, and you look like a brooding psycho. So, time it right, and nicely explain why their critique wasn't working for you (less is more here - think "we're not on the same page with where I want to take my MS" rather than "your ideas SUCK") and be sure to thank them for taking the time to critique for you.
Both these avenues are pretty squirmy, but if you find yourself with a CP who leaves you feeling like you want to kick something - repeatedly - then you really need to cut the ties. But there is a way you can avoid getting into this situation in the first place.

Start small. 

Maybe you don't exchange MSs right away. Maybe you only exchange query letters or the first chapter, and make it clear beforehand that if either of you doesn't feel it's a good match, you (virtually) shake hands and walk away with no hard feelings. Much, much easier at this point than after you've laid out your darling before them and watched them tear it apart. 

Even if you're in the situation where you've been CPs for a long time, if either of you consistently feels like they've been beaten up after receiving a critique, after a little while you won't be friends any more. It's tough, but it happens. 

So isn't it better to be a supportive friend than a harsh critic?

Friday, 11 January 2013

5 Tips for Avoiding Query PTSD

While querying is massively exciting, it is equally (or more, depending on who you ask) stressful. Lots of writers leave the query trenches feeling wrung out, and to some extent, there's no avoiding that. But there are a few practical things you can do to make your time in the trenches a leeeetle less likely to scar.

#1 - First things first: before you send out a single query, get yourself a brand spanking new email account JUST for querying. The reason for this is that as soon as you hit send, you're going to become obsessed with checking this email account, and you don't want emails from your Aunt Stacey or the latest offers from your local supermarket making that Inbox (1) indicator give you unnecessary heart palpitations.

#2 - Got your email account set up and hooked up to your phone? Great. Now you can stop frantically hitting refresh on your laptop. BUT, make sure you give your query email account its own ringtone. Again, you don't want to start plotting Aunt Stacey's demise simply because her emails SOUND exactly like Amazing Agent X's emails. Also, probably best not to pick something freaky as your query email ringtone (a good friend had the Jaws theme tune as hers) because it's only going to add to your freak-outedness. You might want to avoid choosing one of your favourite songs, too - let's face it, you're going to end up associating it with abject terror.

#3 - Use a system like Query Tracker or your own spreadsheet-type thing to keep track of whom you query, when, and what their expected response time will be. Also make a note of whether 'no response means no' or when you are supposed to politely nudge if you haven't had a response to your query by a certain date. Bring order to chaos, my friend. Order to chaos.

#4 - Make friends/become CPs with writers in other time zones. The reason this is useful is that a) they can let you know if Amazing Agent X tweeted about reading a FABULOUS submission which sounded JUST LIKE YOURS while you were sleeping, and b) if you decide to enter query contests with submission windows at certain times when you're sleeping/working, they can often enter for you! (Yes, I'd advise checking the rules about this for individual contests, but I've seen this done a lot.) You might actually get a little more sleep this way. 

BTW, if you're looking for CPs, CP Seek is a great place to find them.

#5 - DON'T send out shotgun queries until/unless you've had positive responses from AGENTS. Your CPs and online critique forums are massively helpful in terms of getting your query and sample chapters ready, but if you send it out to 50 agents right away and THEN realise it's not quite there yet, you've pretty much blown your chances with 50 agents. 

I'd suggest sending out 5 or 6 at a time, waiting a couple of weeks, sending out a few more. This way, you'll stagger the response times, and by the time the first 6-week window is up (lots of agents give 6 weeks as a guideline for response times) you'll have some idea of whether the query is working or not. By 'working' I mean either getting a request (of course, and YAY!) or getting a positive rejection - where the agent might praise your writing, but offer the immortal words "it's just not for me". Then you can either send out more queries, or revise your query/MS if you need to. 

Happy querying!