How did I miss that?

I've had a bit of an aha moment in my writing lately. I love learning more about my craft and although there are some great books out there, most of the time I learn the most from others who are in the same boat as me.
Courtesy Eileen Sanda

I recently sent WIP1 through another round of beta readers. I kept getting comments about scenes that felt unfinished. This was a new one for me as none of my other betas mentioned this before. At first I wasn't really sure what to think. So I asked questions.

Turns out I had several spots where the reader wanted the scene to last a little longer. I have places where I stopped mid-scene. I thought I was being a judicious writer. If the plot movement was complete, I ended the scene and let the reader imagine what happened next. I assumed this was the smart way to keep my writing moving at a fast pace.

Apparently I was only succeeding in irritating my readers. When I explained my reasoning, I got some interesting advice. While the rest of the scene wasn't needed to move the plot forward, I was missing big opportunities to further develop my characters.

What? How in the world have I not noticed this before? It makes me wonder what else I've been missing.

I tend to write sparse first drafts. Probably because I'm so anxious to get the story down that I tend to leave out a lot of the non-plot stuff that makes a reader care about a story. I add it in during revision, but I think I've been stingy with my details.

Time to take another look and see if I have more missed opportunities to develop the story.

Ah, it hurts my eyes! The pain. The pain!

Holy mother of ugly first drafts!

This weekend I got back to work on WIP2. After going back and forth (and reading through all your wonderful comments) I finally decided to take a mixed approach on how to fix this story. I read through what I have so far and my God! Sure there are moments of brilliance...maybe two of them. The rest of it is crapola of the stinkiest nature.

Yeah, it's kinda like that Courtesy Ryan Dickey

I have parts of this story that read more like a scene summary than a novel. I have two characters whose names I am constantly confusing - Paul and Alan, they aren't even close to each other. The tense and POV change constantly. I'm missing huge chunks of story and the timeline is all over the place.

So here's the game plan. Even though the first draft isn't complete (I'm only 1/4 way there) I felt that what I had was too rough to continue building on it. Instead, I'm going back through and making notes for all the things I need to fix, add, research, etc. I'm not changing them yet, but so far I have several pages of notes and I'm only 10 pages in.

Once I've done that, I'll have a better sense of the story being more filled out. Hopefully, that will let me stop thinking about it and keep going. I really want to tell this story.

I have a feeling this novel is going to go through a ton of revisions. A few years ago, that would have driven me nuts. If I knew the first draft was so bad that it would take months of revisions and rewrites I would file it away and start something else.

I'm going to take it as a sign of progress that I'm looking forward to finishing the first draft so I can make it all shiny.

Path to Publication

We all know the road to publication is lined with torn pages and hot tears. Or was that lollipops and rainbows? Yeah, that's the thing. No one's path looks exactly the same.

Public Domain Image

But that didn't stop the amazing folks at YA Highway from mapping it out for us.

This map has everything from all the steps in a traditional book deal, indie publishing, book bloggers and a peninsula just for readers. Each section of the map opens a new page filled with dozens of helpful links.

This is an amazing resource for anyone just starting out in the world of writing and anyone interested in looking into areas they haven't previously explored.

X doesn't mark the spot on this map, because the whole thing is filled with treasures. If you haven't checked it out yet, set aside the next four hours and get ready to explore.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals

 Setting goals is an important way to help us achieve the big goals we have set for ourselves. If you have the ultimate goal of getting published, setting smaller goals along the way is crucial. You have to write a book, edit the book, look for agents, and write a query letter. And that's just the basics. Each of those goals has smaller goals within them to help us get to the end.
Courtesy Kfuot001

The question is, are you setting SMART goals. Smart goals are:
Time Sensitive

Let's look at an example. Here is a goal that is not smart: I want to work on my book.

But what does that look like? Are you going to write, research, outline, think about it? The first part of a smart goal is being specific. So now our goal is: I want to add more words to my book.

How much? The second part of our goal needs to be measurable. New goal: I want to add 20,000 more words to my book.

How are you going to do that? Are you going to write new scenes or go back and edit existing scenes? You goal needs to state the specific action you plan to take. Another thing to think about when it comes to the actionable part of your goal is making sure this is something you have control over. Getting an agent is certainly actionable, but you don't have control over it. You can write a great book, pick the right agents to query and craft a killer query letter. Those are things you can do to work toward getting an agent, but you can't make an agent sign you on as a client.  So now our goal is: I want to write 20,000 words in new scenes for my book.

Can you do that? I'm all for pushing yourself to do things outside the comfort zone. Maybe 20K words is realistic for you, but maybe you know you have a deadline coming up for two other projects and that huge commitment at your kids school and whatever else is going on. Your goal should be a stretch, but it needs to be realistic. If you only have 3 hours to commit to writing then 20K words probably isn't a good idea. New goal: I want to write 5K words in new scenes for my book.

When? The last part of our goal is setting a time frame for when this will be accomplished. You might want to set small daily goals, larger weekly goals, or even larger monthly goals. Maybe you want to set some in several different time frames. It doesn't matter how you do this as long as you set a time. Without this, your goal can stretch indefinitely.

Our final goal is : I will write 5K words in new scenes for my book this week.

There is no wiggle room here to make excuses about how some other action qualifies as accomplishing this goal. If you follow these steps, you can set smart goals that, if accomplished, can get you one step closer to achieving the goals that keep us all dreaming.

Friday Framework

One of the things I learned from FastDraft is that I perform best when I have specific goals or action items to accomplish. Writing 5k words every day was a concrete goal that I couldn't excuse with ambiguous wording. If my goal was just work on my WIP every day, that could be anything. I could write a few words, work on an outline, do a character sketch, find inspiring pictures on Pinterest...I think you see where this is going.

I'm going to try to expand on this new knowledge to set myself some concrete goals to accomplish each week. Each Friday I'll post my goals for the next week along with an update of how I did on the previous week's goals.

Next week's goals:
1. Write at least 15K words in WIP3
2. Read draft for WIP2 and make editing notes
3. Clean bathrooms and floors and change sheets on guest bed for in-law visit

And here's where you come in. I'd love for you to join me in setting goals. You can post them in the comments section or provide a link to your own blog where you've posted your goals.

So think about what you'd like to achieve next week (both in the world of writing and in your personal life). Tomorrow I'll post about how to write goals without wiggle room.

When a picture will cost more than 1000 words

There's a lot of talk around the water cooler lately and it isn't about the RWA conference. Lately, twitter is all a buzz about blog photos. I know, right?

At first, I dismissed the conversation because 1) I'm pretty small time, 2) I didn't really understand the issues and 3) I didn't want to invest the time to really understand it.

That all changed when I read Roni Loren's blog post about getting sued for a picture she used on her blog. Yeah, when money's on the table, I'm all ears. She is now forking over some of her hard earned moolah for the use of a picture she didn't really need to use.

Sound familiar? How many of us have found a cool picture on the internet and plugged it into a blog post without a second thought. I know my blog is full of them. We'll that's all a changin'.

I'm now starting the tedious task of going back through my posts to remove pictures I don't own the rights to and replace them with other pictures where they're available.

At first, I had no idea where to find other pictures. This blog is for fun and while I love it, I don't have the cash to purchase pictures. Good thing the internet is absolutely full of free pictures that people will allow you to use. Generally, this is done under a Creative Commons license.

Used with permission from

Here are two of my favorite sites so far:

But be warned, just because you find a picture on a Creative Commons site doesn't mean you can use it. Be sure to look at the creators page and confirm they are granting permission for the use you intend. Some owners specify you can't make changes, others will require you to link back, and some restrict to use for educational purposes only. It's up to you to determine if the permission fits your use.

To cover my bases, I am going to link back to the permission page for every picture I use. This serves two purposes. First, I'm covered if there are any questions about permissions and second, the owner of the image gets a little linky love. Always a nice thing.

I'm also going to try to find more of my own pictures. With a camera on almost all phones these days, most of us have no excuse to not snap a quick pick when inspiration strikes. At some point, when I have some time, I'd like to post my own photos with a CC license so I can share the love with other bloggers searching for ways to include images and protect themselves.

I realize how tempting it is to ignore this sort of thing. I ignored it myself. But Roni shows us that this can happen to any of us and it's our obligation to do the right thing.

Edit vs ReWrite

Someone found my blog yesterday googling the question: will I make a lot of changes to my first draft?

If this was you, I hope my blog didn't scare you. I make no secret about the countless hours of revisions that go into each round of edits I make. My first draft only resembles the current version in that it has some of the same characters and the central conflict is mostly the same.

Even the constitution had a rough first draft CC

The question did make me start wondering about a piece I'm working on right now. I only got about 1/3 of the way through the story before I ran out of steam. As much as I love the story, I'm not that excited to keep working on it because I know how really (REALLY) rough what I have so far is.

Is it worth it to keep going or should I stop and start over? Do I keep building on a story I recognize as fundamentally flawed or scrap it and pick up the story with a fresh perspective?

I'm loathe to dismiss what I've got so far, but even I can recognize it's not good.

Has this ever happened to you? Ever gotten part-way through a story only to realize it's not working? Did you shoulder through and finish so you could clean it all up nice and shiny in revision? Did you cut your losses and embrace the blank page?

Let me know, because apparently I'm not the only one with the questions.

The Many Layers of Editing

I came across this really great post on Popular Soda about the different types of editing out there. I thought it would be appropriate share since I've been on a critiquing kick lately.

The post gives clear examples of everything from concept edits to proofreading and the stuff that falls in between. It also talks about the benefit of starting with your big edits and ending with proofreading. This is such great advice. Just like Shrek and a humble onion, editing has lots of layers.

photo courtesy of Justin Smith

I wasted so much time on my first novel trying to edit each chapter to perfection before moving on to the next. I wish I had all the hours back I spent editing chapters that ended up getting slashed completely.

That being said, I have to do things a little out of order when I start a new editing project (hopefully I'll be doing this by later this week). Before I can focus on anything else, I have to run a spell check and get my formatting in place.

I know this is a complete waste of time, but it takes too much effort for me to ignore these things. I have a hard time concentrating on what's going on in the story when I know that the margins don't match on every page and red squiggly lines stare at me from every page.

It's worth the extra thirty minutes to run the spell check and do a format paint on the whole document. Once it's done, I can concentrate on all the other stuff that needs work.

So what about you? Do you have any quirks you work around when it comes to editing? A special food, hat, pen you need to do your best work? 

5 Tips for Critiquing

Last week I wrote a post about how to get the most from the lovely folks who agree to critique your work. What I left out of that post is that critiquing is a two-way street and you often get what you give. So what can you do to make sure you are providing quality critiques? Here's my top five things you can do to help your partner's work shine.
courtesy of Vidalia_11

 1. Find out where the piece is. Has it been edited only for grammar or is this the 6th version? Also, is there anything the author wants you to pay special attention to?

Line edits are great, but if your partners is still fleshing out major plot points, it's not what they need. A quick check to find out where a piece stands can help both of you.

2. Be specific! Don't just say "this is nice" or "this needs work". Say," this run-on sentence makes it hard to understand the point" or "this description makes me feel like I'm there". The more information you can give, the better.

3. Tact. Don't be afraid to give honest feedback, but be mindful of how you'd like to have this presented to you. It helps if you always share the critique as just your opinion. Also, no matter how weak a piece is, you should make it a priority to point out at least a few things you like about it.

4. Be cautious of offering alternative options for sentences or words. Some people will love to hear different ways to word things, but some will take this as you trying to rewrite the piece for them. It's best to avoid this until/unless you know how it will be seen by the author.

5. Critiquing is subjective, but remember the subject isn't what you're commenting on. Leprechauns might not be your favorite magical creature, but someone's fantasy novel featuring a band of magical leprechauns is not the place to discuss it. However, should a leprechaun show up in the middle of your partners very non-magical legal thriller, you might want to suggest they've gone a bit outside their genre :)

Just like writing, critiquing is a skill. The more you do it, the better you'll get.

True Story: I loved high school

Is it just me or is everyone else noticing a trend in contemporary YA? In all the books I've read lately, the MC hates high school. And not in the 'school sucks' kind of way. I'm talking total meltdown, my life is a toilet bowl full of poo kinda hate.

When a character does like high school, because she is pretty and part of the popular crowd, we learn she has dark secrets and is only happy on the outside.

Maybe I'm all alone here, but I loved high school. Yep, Loved It! And I wasn't the pretty, popular girl who got nominated to homecoming court every year. And despite not being prom queen, High School rocked.

Not quite the happiest place on earth, but it was close.

I dated, some, got involved in a ton of activities, played nice with everyone and had a core group of friends I could count on.

Now, to be fair, I experienced my share of teen tears. I was dumped...twice even. The really hot guy I crushed on for two year never did ask me out (Ryan McCann, if you're out me). I even lost a student government election my junior year. But those were isolated events that pale in comparison to the rest of those four years.

I couldn't wait to go to college. But not because I had to get the hell out of dodge. I imagined it would be just like High School without the adult supervision ( was).

I realize stories need conflict to live and no one wants to read about a girl who walks around happy all the time. But I'd love to see a character who at least starts out that way.

Because, believe it or not, some of us actually did like high school.

My story won't shut up

I did my absolute best. I wrote a story, let it sit for a month, spent several months pouring over every detail, handed it to my critique partners, edited some more, sent it to Betas and put it through two more rounds of revisions.

I called it done.

And now here I am, two months later, and my story won't stop talking to me.

My characters won't stop talking CC

I wrote the sequel to my story during FastDraft. I never imagined re-awakening my characters would create such havoc in my head. I'm supposed to start editing book two today, but I can't. After all, there's no point working out the finer points when there are changes going on in the first book.

This was my first time writing a sequel so I had no idea to expect this. Is this normal? Has anyone else ever had a story that won't stop clamoring for attention?

The ugly truth about fast draft

This is not the post where I reveal that Candace Havens is a faker mcgee who claims to write books in ridiculously short time frames, but actually has a dozen trained writer monkeys who type out her books for her.

But as a side note: if you have a good lead on where I could get me one of those trained writer monkeys just leave a comment in the box.

As far as I know, Candace really is the super maven we all know her to be. The true secret to her success  is a highly complicated, top secret astrophysics equation: Your butt + Chair = novel. (Don't tell her I spilled the beans)

So now that my first draft is done (an not nearly as craptastic as I thought it would be), I thought I'd share a bit of the darker side of FastDraft. Let's call them the unfortunate side effects that no one warned me about.

1. Your house looks like twenty fraternity guys lives there.
I am embarrassed by this picture, but sometimes the truth hurts. Doing dishes became a secondary function, way down on the list under writing, eating and sleeping. Immediately after taking this picture I had to stop everything and clean because looking at it made me feel dirty.

My kitchen during fast draft
2.You're family may feel a little neglected.
Have you seen my mommy?
Before anyone calls child protective services, I did not put my daughter in the closet. But when I looked up from my computer and realized she was no longer in front of me, I went looking for her. This is how I found her. Permanent damage will have to be assessed at a later date.

3. Wine calories
During the ten days I was drafting I went through two bottles of wine. I realize that doesn't sound like much to some, but I'm not much of a drinker. Two bottles in less than two weeks would normally mean time to make my reservation at the Betty Ford. My scale does not appreciate my indulgence.
Looks like there's at least one glass left in that bottle!

So there were some drawbacks to submersing myself in a manuscript, but the end product (a shiny new first draft) was well worth it!

Anyone else gone through a FastDraft? Any side effects you weren't expecting?

Getting the most from critique partners

Writing is a solitary experience. We sit in front of our computers and pour our heart and soul on to the pages. When we read the result of our labors we are probably stunned with our sheer genius and amazing ability to produce crap.

There's only one way to really know the difference and that's by letting other people read our work. Scary!
Waiting on comments can be a real nail-biter CC

Even if you have amazing critique partners who willingly read your work through countless revisions, you only get one chance to get their first reaction to your story. Here are a few tips that I've picked up to help me get the most out of the generous people who help to make me a better writer.

1. Don't submit a first draft
This one isn't agreed on universally, but for me, it's a standing rule for my work. I know that first draft is rough. I know I have spelling and grammar mistakes, missing words and poorly conjugated verbs. And those are just the grammar issues.

A CP is going to be distracted by all these things and that means they aren't paying attention to what you really want them to focus on, the writing. Take the time to fix the things you know are wrong or aren't working so your CPs can help you where you need it most.

2. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
If you are lucky enough to meet with your CPs in person, it's easy enough to ask about their comments. But don't let a long distance relationship get in the way of maximizing the relationship. Your partner wouldn't have mentioned it if it wasn't important so if you don't understand something, just ask.

3. Apply single comments across the novel.
On page 48 your CP circles a conversation and writes "add more body movement, facial expressions". Great, you jump right into page 48 and that dialogue is now rocking your face off. But don't stop there. Look at all your dialogue and see if it needs some movement as well.

Some CPs will not repeat themselves out of fear of sounding like a nag. And honestly, they shouldn't have to keep telling you the same thing. Chances are if you have an issue in one section, that same problem pops up at least a few other times in your work.

4. You don't have to agree with every change/comment.
Don't forget that this is still your book and critiques are subjective. There are a million ways to write a novel and everyone will do it slightly different. And isn't that a good thing? Read all the comments and be sure to thank your critiquers, but at the end of the day you have to do what's right for your work.

5. Don't ignore a comment.
I think this is the most important tip and if you take away nothing else, remember this one. Even if you don't agree with a comment, it still contains merit. You might get a critique telling you the MCs reaction to a situation feels out of character. You read it and ignore it because you know that's exactly how your MC would react.

And maybe you're right, but if your partner didn't sense that then you might be missing some key personality reveals earlier in the book. Just keep in mind that every comment was prompted by something a reader felt about your writing. If you chose not to make a change, make sure you understand why and not just because you don't want to.

Now it's your turn. What are your best tips for maximizing critique partnerships?

What I learned from...teaching freshmen Composition

Today is the first offering in my new guest post series. I've asked writers and writerly folks to share of the lessons they have learned through the years in the hopes that we can all learn with them.

Today's post comes from Melinda McGuire, a lovely lady who I've never met in person but hope to some day. Melinda is a southern fiction novelist and blogger. Having lived on both coasts, she settled down in her home state of Texas. She's a huge Faulkner fan, and currently she's compiling and editing an anthology, Rich Fabric, about the tradition, culture, and symbolism of quilting. The profits from Rich Fabric will be donated to the Twilight Wish Foundation, a non-profit foundation that grants wishes to senior citizens. Check out Melinda's blog to learn more about the anthology.

5 Things I Learned About Myself as a Writer from Teaching Freshmen Composition

1. It doesn’t matter where we are on the productivity scale - first essay or fifteenth book - some part of us fears the red pen.

2. When we fear failure, we shut down and get sucked into a negative, self-fulfilling prophecy. We pull out labels and excuses to cover ourselves, but ultimately, all roads lead to fear.

3. When someone finds something worthwhile in your writing and helps you bring that to the forefront, that changes the game, changes your mindset, changes your attitude.

4. There IS a difference between CONSTRUCTive criticism and DESTRUCTive criticism. Before you give feedback, know the difference. Then, be deliberate in your comments.

5. Write the first draft as a purging act. Get out the junk. Get all of it out on the paper, out on the computer screen. Then, sort through it. Find the good stuff. Build on that.

Great advice no matter where you are in your writing journey! To learn more about Melinda:
She'd love to connect with you on Twitter: @melindamcguire
You can also find her on Pinterest and Facebook.
Do you have words of wisdom to pass on to the masses? I'd love to have you as part of the series. Check out the call for posts here.

It's Party Time!

Today I have two really fun things to celebrate. The first is that I was gifted a new blog award by the lovely and talented Catherine Stine who spent the first part of her summer teaching writing classes in Greece. Lucky Girl!

I love the tag line because that's exactly how I've felt the past ten days. Which brings me to the next fun thing to celebrate...I finished!

Woohoo, happy dance time!

In ten days I've written just under 50,000 words. Grrrrrr, I'm like an invincible writing panda bear.

I tend to write sparse in my first drafts so it's a bit on the short side, but I'll fix all that when we start RevisionHell on Saturday. Until then, it's a few days of relaxation for this lady. And a mani/pedi because I deserve it.

So, back to the Booker. This award is for blogs who focus at least 50% of their posts on books (writing or reading). As a recipient I have to choose my five favorite books (only 5, are we sure about that rule) and then pass the love to another book loving, blog god/goddess.

So here are my five favorites in no particular order:

1984 by George Orwell
From the first line of a clock striking thirteen this book pulled me in to another world where I both hated and loved the protagonist. That was a first for me, and it made me think about characters in a completely new way. I've probably read this book at least a dozen times.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
I love this whole series but this one is my favorite, because I felt like we started to get more emotions from Harry and the others that had nothing to do with fighting magical beasts and passing exams. This is also when the books started to phase from MG to YA.

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
This is another book that completely transported me. As one of the first post apocalyptic books to focus on a nuclear fallout, it really set the stage for so many other great authors to run with the theme. Frank doesn't try to hide the darker side of humanity, but at the same time he shows us the greatness of people.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
It was a close call between this one and P&P. Really all of Austen's work is great. I spent much of my teens years dreaming of being as witty and clever as Austen's heroines.

Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
Please don't watch any of the horrible movies that have been made based on this book, because none of them even come close to doing it justice. Crichton is a master at weaving in complex technology without making me feel like a dolt and sucking me into his world where the worst things can and will happen.

This blog post is already super long, my brain is shot from FastDrafting and I just gave out blog awards a few days ago, so...I'm completely coping out and passing this award along to anyone who posts a comment below. But no cheating! If your blog is about home brewing, raising chickens or knitting; no award for you. Though I wish I had an award for you cause those are all cool things to blog about.

Writing with yWriter: Conclusions

A while back, I mentioned some new writing software I was planning to try out. It was a big jump for me because software is not really designed for the pantser. Wanting to give it a fair shake I decided to use it for my Nano book because I figured that would force me to use it more than any other time.

Now that I'm participating in FastDraft (and thank God I'm almost done) I switched back to Word. I was a little worried that the software would slow me down and with 5k words to scratch out every day, I would need every second.
I've got to weigh my options CC

So here's where I'm at. I really like a lot of the features in yWriter. I'm especially a big fan of the daily word chart that tells you how many words you added to the MS and the date you did. It creates a great historical record to view your writing habits. You can also put in your word count goal and an end date for it to tell you how many words you need to add every day to make your goal. This is nice, but became a very depressing feature toward the end of Nano.

I also think the schedule feature is nice. It let's you figure out when you are going to get certain tasks done such as a first draft or a second revision. I can see where this would be extremely helpful for anyone working on a deadline.

But this is where I started to feel a little boxed in by the software. In order to write a scene, you have to create it inside an existing chapter heading. This might not seem like a big deal to someone who plots out their chapter and scene breaks ahead of time, but for me this was really difficult. Theoretically you could just write everything under one scene and chapter, but that kind of defeats the purpose of the software.

In rebellion of all this organization I went off the deep end for FastDraft. Not only am I typing in a word document, I am not using any chapter breaks. I feel like such a rebel. If I don't have a transition to get from one scene to the next I just separate out the paragraphs with a pound sign and keep going.

I might hate this later when I start to edit, but in the midst of writing I love it. It is so nice to ignore the physical structure of the story and just write.

So here's my conclusion. If you are a plotter with scene lists and outlines and the whole shebang, you will probably really like yWriter. If the idea of sticking your story inside a box before you even get started makes you want to cry, it's probably not for you.

Once I'm done writing, I'm thinking about transferring the document over to the software to see if it makes editing any easier. As always, I'll let you know how it goes.

The Myth of Overnight Success

It seems like every other day I read a story about a new debut author whose book is the hottest thing to hit shelves since the bible. Or I see a blog post about the 20 year old writer who wrote a book during Nano, queried in February, got their agent in March and a three book deal before spring was over.

Stories like this are like a dual-edge sword. On the upside, they give me faith that new authors are still getting published all the time and success is still something I can work for. On the down side, it's these tales of 'instant success' that make me feel like my own writing journey is floundering.

Success a bit more my speed :( CC

It's easy to forget that for all of those success stories we almost never hear about the years (or decades) of writing that came before them. Announcements of agent signing don't come with statistics about the number of books the author previously queried or the trash bin of form rejections they lived through.

Today I want to remind myself, and everyone else on this roller coaster publishing ride, that even superstars had to work to get where they are and overnight success is the worst lie we tell ourselves.

JK Rowling started writing Harry Potter in 1990, didn't finish it until 1993 and it took another 4 years before Harry hit bookstores.

Amanda Hocking finished her first book at the age of 17 and had it rejected over 50 times. She made her millions at the age of 26, 9 years later.

John Grisham started writing his first book in 1984 and it took him three year to write it. It was published in 1989 after going through 28 rejections.

So next time you get another form rejection, before pounding your forehead onto the desk, remember you are in good company.

Fast Draft: Check Point.

I've known since I first mentioned participating in Fast Draft that I would write this post. And if I'm completely honest, I was terrified. Especially after my less than stellar performance at Camp Nanowrimo. After Candace posted her rules I went from terrified to near panic mode.

Candace Havens
Candace - striking fear into slow writers everywhere

So in case you missed it, I'm in Candace Haven's Fast Draft class this month and our assignment is to write 5000 words a day, every day, for two weeks.

Now that we're halfway done, it's a good time to let you know where I'm at.

I am pleased to inform you that I have hit my 5000 words every day this week. The support from the other class members is amazing and Twitter sprints have saved me from calling it quits a couple of times. Knowing that I have to post to the group how many words/pages I wrote every day also helps to keep me accountable. I would be mortified to post I had anything less than 5K.

As an extra bonus, I've written more than my quota almost every day so my grand total for the week is.....drum roll please....36,175 words! 

I've been really pleased with my progress and the surprises my characters are throwing at me that I didn't expect. I'm also really excited by how much I'm enjoying the process.

I'm not sure why, but Nano felt a bit like torture to me. I couldn't get the words to flow and nothing in my story was working. But somehow, with a tighter deadline and a higher word count goal, writing is fun again.

I can't wait to get through the rest of this story, and then it's on to Revision Hell. I have no idea what this entails other than fixing the drafts we're writing now. If you asked me last week how I felt about it, I would have said terrified. But now I'm looking forward to it.

To sex or not to sex; It's a heavy question

For those who write in an adult genre, especially Romance. Sex is a bit of a non-issue. Readers expect your characters to have sex early and often. But for those of us treading the murky waters of YA, this is a huge decision.

after the first kiss
What happens after the first kiss?
I think most of us will agree that there is a certain level of non-disclosure that happens if a sex scene makes it into a YA novel. It's a good rule to leave out the details and focus on the strong emotions surrounding the moment.

But before we get to that point, we have to figure out if our characters have sex in the first place.

I'm working on book two in my Watcher trilogy right now and I'm starting to ask myself these questions. In book one, my characters' relationship was new and they were still trying to figure out how to be together. But now, they are growing closer with every hurdle they overcome. And I'm now faced with a tough decision.

In terms of my character, I think she's ready (or as ready as any teenage girl can really be). So the question becomes is my story ready for it? Am I ready to add in another layer of complexity? And if they take this step now, am I writing myself into a hole for book three?

I'd like to get your take on this, especially from those of you who are as crazy as me and choose to write YA. How do you know it's the right time for your characters to make the leap?

Yeah for blog awards

Today has been a really hard day for me on the FastDraft front. My girls refused to nap at the same time and I had to do a few household chores before we ran out of clean underwear. That being said, I fully intend to finish my 5K, but I was struggling with a blog post.

Thanks to the fabulous Elizabeth Prats. I have something fun to blog about. Elizabeth has gifted me with two blog awards:

  So now I'll pass these along, but not before I share seven tidbits about myself. So in no particular order here are some awe inspiring facts about me.

1. I was a founding member of my high school's philosophy club. Yes, we met once a week and discussed the work of a well known philosophers.

2. I am the second of four girls, but at 4'10" I am the shortest.

3. My first major in college was Spanish and I can still speak              enough to get by in Mexico.

4. I have lived in five states: Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

5. I am a total sap. I cry during Disney movies, Hallmark commercials, and YouTube flash mob proposals.

6. My name was supposed to be Rachel because that's what my parents decided if I was born with dark hair. I was a total blonde but my dad told everyone my name was Sarah so they had to keep it. One of my younger sisters ended up with Rachel.

7. I was one of seven Sarahs in my sorority pledge class so I spent four years as Denny (my maiden name is Densford).

And now for seven deserving folks:

1. JL Spelbring for introducing us to some fabulous new and upcoming authors this summer.

2.  Adrianne Russell because she tells us the nitty gritty like it is and isn't afraid to cop to a guilty pleasure.

3. Tabitha Olson always provides great lists and writing quotes chock full of inspiration.

4. Eric Arvin who is an old friend of mine and is fearlessly living his dream.

5. Christi Snow reads and writes romance and is a wonderful CP.

6. Rachel Desilets for being the creative soul that she is.

7. Sara Biren because YA writers are the coolest.

So go check out all the cool kids. They deserve it!

Summer Reading

Despite my crazy full schedule, I've been making it a point to increase my reading time this summer. I've always been a big reader, but in the past few months, I've let other things fill my time.

This made me crazy sad. I missed my books. So in order to squeeze them in, I made myself a deal. As soon as I completed my daily writing goal, I'm allows to read. The earlier in the day I finish, the more time I have for reading. :)

reading a good book
I always wear period dresses when reading a good book

Do you have any idea how many great YA books are out there right now? Oh my goodness, I've been missing out!

So far I've read Pretty Amy, The Hunger Games,  All the Iron Fey books except Iron Knight (reading it now), Amanda Hocking's Trylle series, and the first two books in Veronica Roth's Divergent series (that's all that's out)

Next up on the list is The Book Thief.

Reading helps me in so many ways. It helps me to identify things I want to accomplish in my own writing, like  interesting characters or description woven into action. It also reminds me of what I'm working toward. I keep writing and pounding out words because someday I want to hold my own book in my hands.

So what are you reading this summer?

Pressure, pushing down on me

The last few days have been a whirlwind of activity at my house. Here's what's going on:

1. We signed a new lease today and I need to pack up everything in my house over the next week.
2. We finally got a contract on our house back in TN and pending the inspection can finally sell the thing. (yeah)
3. My computer went shrmpohoe and I spent many hours researching new ones (I'm typing on it now)
4. I'm still trying to keep up with posting a new blog every day
5. I've completed three days in a row of FastDraft with at least 5k words each day
6. Beta reading has picked back up again after a short break so I have lots of reading to do

to do list
The never ending to do list

It's a lot, but so far nothing has fallen off the deep end of a cliff. As much as I talk about craving a little peace and quiet, the truth is I work better under pressure.

I've always been that way. Some of my best term papers were written at 2am the night before they were do. At work, I always performed the best when tasked with a hot project complete with a tight turn around time.

Something about the tiny time frame kicks my brain into overdrive. I wish I knew how to harness that power when I'm not stacked against the clock. Until then, I'll just continue to overload my plate and keep moving.

Truth be told, I'm not sure if I could handle a slow day. :)

Character is what makes a series great

After much dragging of my feet, I finally read the Hunger Games trilogy. I know, I know. The thing is, I purposely avoided reading them because so many of my reader friends warned me that the second book fizzled and the third one just lost it. I didn't want to invest myself in characters that would disappoint me.

But obviously I relented. Partly because I saw the movie (it was meh) and wanted to read the book to see what I was missing. The first book was great! Loved it! Without delay, I launched into the second book and was so sad.

I finished the series, and as predicted, I closed the last book in disappointment. How could something that started so strong end so...hmmm.

The writer in me couldn't stop thinking about it. I had no idea what it was about books 2 and 3 that hit such a sour note, until I read Insurgent by Veronica Roth.

If you haven't read this book (or number one in the series, Divergent) stop what you are doing and go get them. Seriously, you don't even need to finish reading this. Just set the laptop down and get thee to a book store.

Her main characters Tris and Four are so believable. They are real people, who see the strengths in each other and the weaknesses in themselves. Their dystopian world is beyond any reality I know, but their actions and emotions are so true that it's all believable.
books that make me cry
Because I like books that make me cry!
When I prepped myself for Insurgent, I was prepared to be let down. It would be hard to keep up the intensity that Roth provides in Divergent. But, she delivered.

And in doing so, opened my eyes to what was missing in the Hunger Games series. Despite their world falling apart, Insurgent never takes its focus off our two main characters. Even though there is a ton going on and the plot is thick with intrigue, double crosses and complex cover-ups, we never lose how all of it is impacting Tris and Four. I never have to wonder how they are feeling, what their fears are, what their goals are. They are intricately tied to the plot.

In Catching Fire and Mocking Jay, the districts' fight for independence takes over the personal struggles of Katniss and the others. By the end of the series, I completely stopped caring what happened to her. When bad things happen (vagueness for those who haven't read it) I was not impacted emotionally. I didn't feel for her. Because the books stopped being about her and turned their focus to the war. A war, I didn't care about because Katniss doesn't care about it.

This was a huge lesson for me since I am writing the second book in my Watcher series for my Fast Draft class. It helps me remember that no matter how intense the plot of the book becomes, I need to stay focused on my characters and remember they are who my readers will care about.

What does a book sale look like to you?

 For those of us still peddling our wares out there in the world of un-agented writers, there is a lot of mystique in what happens next.

Honestly, I'm so focused on my writing and scoring the perfect agent that I don't give much though to the actual process of what happens after that.

crystal ball future
Don't I wish a crystal ball held the answers.

That's not to say I haven't dreamed about the results. In my world, I will find Top Agent who loves my book and provides (a few) smart, insightful edits that make it ah-mazing. She then sells said book in a hotly contested auction that grants me an advance so big I will be slightly embarrassed (as I dance to the bank).

When ah-mazing book comes out I will be on all the top talk shows where people like Ellen gush over my brilliance. When the movie premiers, Seventeen Magazine will run a huge spread including rave reviews and pictures of me looking stunning walking the red carpet.

Sigh. Sorry, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, the reality of a book deal, which clearly has nothing to do with the above scenario unless you are Stephenie Meyers or JK Rowling.

However, the fabulous folks over at YA Highway put together a two-part post on what selling a book really looks like. Spoiler Alert: It isn't anywhere near as glamorous as the scene described above. It is, however, more factually sound.

Check them out here Part 1 and here Part 2.

No matter where you are in your writing career, I think it's a good idea to have a realistic picture of what the process looks like. Cause if you're writing a book for the sole purpose of looking hot in a Seventeen article, this may not be the career path for you.

Fast Draft in the Fast Lane

Holy mother of the Holy child, what on God's green earth did I sign up?

Panic Button
I'm ignoring you, Panic Button!

Yep, that is almost the exact thought that ran through my head when I read Candace Haven's introduction post for the Fast Draft class that starts today.

According to Candace I will now engage in the act of writing 20 pages (or @5k words) every day for the next two weeks. I will not edit, I will not re-read, I will not sit and stare at the blank page for the first hour waiting on coffee, my muse, inspiration or a sharp slap across the face to kick in.

I'm also not allowed to complain, because that would be negative and only inhibit my ability to produce 20 pages a day. And did I mention Candace assures me I can do this in about 3 hours each day.

Do you hear that? Probably not, since its the maniacal laugh of a mentally unstable person bouncing around in my skull.

I will stay positive. I will not focus on the fact that I have only had 5k days a few times in my writing career and they all took longer than 3 hours. I will ignore the fact that we just found out yesterday that we are moving across town and I need to squeeze my writing time between packing everything in my house into boxes. I will tune all of that out.

I will focus on the end goal of producing a kick-ass (read sucky) first draft of my next manuscript in two weeks. And then I will sleep.

Contests, Contests everywhere

Before I jump into today's post I just wanted to fill you all in on why my posts are coming more often. I am participating in a blog challenge this month where I'm going to try to write a new post every day. Yes, I know I'm doing Fast Draft in July. Apparently I'm crazy (this isn't news to me). So anywho, expect new blog content daily for the rest of July, you lucky dogs.

Today's real post is all about contests. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like this summer is absolutely jam packed with agent contests. I've been seeing them everywhere. For your viewing pleasure here are five contests going on that offer critiques and chances to pitch agents. Maybe one of them will catch your eye. Good luck!

Contests Galore!

1. Writerly Rejects - Agent Pitch Contest
Dates: *Updated* Monday, July 9th, 9am to Midnight on Tuesday, July 10th
What do you win: Full Critique from Agent Claire Anderson-Wheeler
Details: You must follow the blog and send in a 3-5 sentence pitch. The top twenty will be sent to agent who will select the winner.

2. Lisa Burstein - Critique Contest
Dates: Now through July 20th
What do you win: Several possible prizes. A 3 chapter critique from Stacy Cantor Abrams, Susan Finesman, or Lisa Burstein. Also up for grabs is a $25 Amazon or BnN gift card.
Details: Rafflecopter entries for various actions (tweeting contest, following author, etc.) Bonus: If you win a critique and one of your entries was for purchasing Lisa's book, you get a bonus query critique.

3. Brenda Drake - Entangled Pitch Contest
Dates: Monday, July 16th, 10am est (open only for first 200 entries)
What do you win: Hopefully your pitch will snag the eye of one of the many Entangled editors. In addition, Editor Adrien-Luc Sanders will critique all 200 pitches that make it into the contest.
Details: Submit your 35 word pitch in the comments of the blog post on the official start date.

4. Ruth Lauren Steven - Agent Contest
Dates: July 9th, 6am - 3pm est
What do you win: Ten agents reviewing your work for possible requests.
Details: Send your query and first 500 words. The two hosts will select their top 15 submissions (each) and provide feedback to entrants. Revised entries will be posted and 10 agents (list here) will make requests.

5. YAtopia - New Adult Pitch Contest
Dates: July 10th (open only for first 100 entries)
What do you win: A possible request from Sara Megibow and/or Heather Howland
Details: This is open for novels that fit into the New Adult genre. Comment on the blog with all your details and a 35 word pitch.

There you have it. Five contests with lots of opportunities to get your work in front of the eyes of agents and editors. Good luck and be sure to let me know if you win!

SEO and why I don't get it

To be clear, I understand what SEO is (Search Engine Optimization for those of you who are where I was three months ago). What I don't understand is how it works.

In April I did Robert Lee Brewer's platform challenge. SEO was a topic and one of our tasks was to google ourselves. The results were a bit scary. My blog was nowhere to be seen and my first hit was a MySpace page I hadn't touched in years. I deactivated the MySpace account and tried to forget about those awful results.

I did really well until a fellow challenge participant Googled something and then was lovely enough to let me know that my blog showed up on the first page of results. Yeah! (And thanks, Monique)

So, I couldn't resist and had to do another Google search to see if my results improved.

The good news is that my blog now shows up on the first page of results. Number six.

The bad news is that my first hit is to an SAP community network site. What? To be fair, I am a member of this site. It is the forum location for a popular web-based analytic tool that I use in my marketing work. I created a login back in 2008 to post a question to the community. That was the one and only time I have logged on to this site.

Can someone please explain to me how the best search result for my name is a random site I am a member of, but have not posted to in almost 4 years? (banging head on desk)

And that's why I don't worry about SEO. Am I glad that my blog is doing better in the search engine? Sure. Am I going to worry about adding in tons of key words and phrases so my blog gets better results? Nope. Cause stuff like the SAP site are going to pop up and make me batty.

So what about you? Do you worry about SEO? Do keywords keep you up at night? Are you opening another browser window to Google yourself? Busted.


Happy Fourth, Y'all!

This will be a short blog today, because I'm hoping everyone has better things to do than sit around reading blogs on the 4th of July. With that in mind I have only two things to say:

1. Happy 4th!
No matter what side of the political coin you fall on both parties can agree that being an America rocks big time. No offense to the British, but today we celebrate kickin' tail and taking names. Today we remember the folks who came before us and stood up for themselves. So today, celebrate your independence and remember to stand up for who you are.

2. Take a break!
If you are reading this on the 4th, shame on you. I can promise I'm not writing it on the 4th (gotta love blog scheduler). So take some time today to unwind and relax. Take a day off from writing, editing, critiquing or staring at that blank page. Enjoy time with your family and friends so you can recharge your batteries and get back at it tomorrow. Writing may be your job, but everyone gets vacations.

Happy 4th of July!

What are you learning?

It occured to me while writing yesterday's post about what I learned from Nanowrimo, that this is the exact kind of post that I most enjoy reading. I love finding out what people learn from various life experiences. As a life-long learner I'm a firm believer that every day provides opportunities to learn something new.

So then I thought, I bet the wonderful, smart people who read this blog have learned all kinds of stuff from their experiences. And wouldn't it be great if they would share those things with me...I mean us.

Which brings us to today's blog. I'd like to offer up an opportunity to all of you to write a guest blog about things you've learned from your life experiences: "What I learned from ..."

The rules, if you can call them that, are pretty simple. The experience itself doesn't have to be writing related (got some wisdom from a recent trip to Walmart?), but what you learn from it does. Posts should be formatted with a basic summary of the experience along with a numbered list of what you learned. The number is up to you, but I would think ten would be a max and they would need to be brief.

If you are interested in writing a guest post as part of the new "What I learned from ..." series please contact me at SarahNegovetich (at) hotmail (dot) com with your idea.

What I learned from Camp Nanowrimo

Saturday was the last day for this year's June session of Camp Nanowrimo. While I can't call this successful in the traditional sense (I didn't hit 50K words) I learned so much about my writing that it's hard to consider it a failure.

So here is what I learned from trying to write 50K words in a month.

1. I can't write just anywhere.
Apparently there are people out there who can write in any location so long as they have pen and paper. I've read blog posts of folks who write on the subway, while walking on the treadmill and during their kids swim practice. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. I tried to utilize a crazy amount of time riding in the backseat of the family van to get a huge head start on my word count. It didn't work. All cramped up surrounded by luggage and bags of snacks, I was in a writing black hole.

While this was bad for my progress this month, it helps me to know that setting is really important for me when I'm writing. My most productive sessions come when I am camped out in my over-sized chair in the quiet family with the kids taking a nap. Getting two kids to sleep at the same time isn't going to last long and it won't happen every day. This means sneaking in sessions during other times. But it's good to know where the sweet spot is.

2. I will never be a pantster again.
For this novel I tried something new. I started out by writing a couple pages of everything I knew about the novel I wanted to write. This included everything from the characters and setting to major plot points and world building. It wasn't in any kind of format and it probably wouldn't make sense to anyone but me. From there, I used the Save the Cat beat sheet. Seriously life changing. Next I started a rough outline based on the beats from my sheet. I only outlined the first few just to get the ball rolling. This let me have a clear direction but didn't feel like I was fencing myself in.

Whenever I got close to finishing the current outline, I would stop writing and outline the next few scenes. That way I never started or ended a writing session without knowing what would come next. With the anxiety of not having something to write taken care of, I've been able to spend less time staring at a blank page.

I don't think I can ever be like my critique partner, Christi Snow (who by the way has a fabulous book that just came out this month). She has a massive binder for every book. Inside is a scene by scene outline that is completely fleshed out before she puts the first word down on paper. It's amazing. And it works for her since she used the Camp Nanowrimo to finish the second book in her series. My process is a little more willy nilly, but I think it's working.

3. Accountability is awesome
I already knew this one, but Camp really brought it home. Accountability is one of the reasons I write this blog. I tell all of you what I'm doing and then if I don't do it, I have to tell you. You'd think that wasn't a big deal since most of you I've never met in real life, but I hate it. Even when I was a kid, my parents being disappointed in me was the worst punishment imaginable.

I wrote my first full-length book in silence. I told no one what I was doing. Only The Professor knew, and he only had a vague idea of what writing a book meant (this hasn't really changed). It's no wonder it took me seventeen months to finish it. But now, I have people who know what I'm doing. People who will ask, "How's your book coming along?". Part of that makes me really uncomfortable. All those people to disappoint. But the other part of me knows this helps to keep me on track.

4. I can write fast
So my word count doesn't really explain this one, but it's true. One of the great things about the writing program I'm using (yWriter) is that it tracks how many words you write daily. This has been a great reference tool. I ended the month at 20109 words. which isn't bad for a normal month. But the most interesting part is that I wrote almost 15K of those in the last eight days. It's still not the most amazing number, but it's not bad either. It gives me a little hope that I can survive Candace Haven's Fast Draft class next month.

There are so many other things I learned this month, but this blog post is already getting a little long. So what about you? Did you participate in Camp Nanowrimo? What did you learn about yourself or your writing? As always, I'd love to hear from you.

And in case you're wondering, I finished Camp Nanowrimo at 20K words. Not too shabby.