Entries in A Metaphor is like a simile (82)

Tuesday
Jan172012

Secret Revealed!

The cat is out of the bag. The beans are hereby spilled. The Amazing Secret Project can now be shared with you!

A long time ago, I blogged about the web series The Book of Jer3miah as a fan. Now I get to tell you about it as a participant! It's very exciting to me. 

The first season of Jer3miah will be released on DVD by Excel Entertainment in March. The novelization I have written follows in August. 

I know; it feels like a long time away to me, too. But it will be here before we know it. In the meantime, feel free to head over to Tinder Transmedia if you want to know more about this fun and suspenseful series. Watch the webisodes! Play the Alternate Reality Game (ARG)! It's immersive and intriguing and there's a whole lot more to it coming in the months ahead.

Oh, and here: read the New York Times review. It's awesome. My favorite line: "Hey, when celestial smackdowns are a plot possibility, things can get pretty hardcore. And that makes for good web drama."

And then, on February 11, should you happen to be in or near Orem, Utah--join Jeff Parkin, Jared Cardon, and me at UVU at noon as we discuss Jer3miah and transmedia storytelling as part of the famous Life, the Universe, and Everything symposium on speculative fiction. The bonus is that people like Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson, and Dave Farland will also be at LTUE--so come for the day if you can. I would love to see you there.

Monday
Jan092012

Clearly, he could see that she raised an eyebrow at him with gritted teeth and bravado.

Ah, how I love my beta readers. Truly, madly, and deeply. 

I composed the title of this post from words and phrases that a dear beta reader pointed out I had egregiously overused in my first draft of the Amazing Secret Project

(Also abused: "actually," "however," "he noticed that," and "seemed to.")

Now, remember: when I drafted the ASP, I was writing as fast as I could, not taking time to tinker with my prose at all. And I did give it a once-over before sending it to my betas--trying to avoid embarrassing spelling, grammatical, and usage errors as much as possible.

But then, apparently on that re-read, I got so sucked into my own story that I missed several prominent tics in which I had indulged while writing for my life. Oops.

This is where other eyes serve the writer so well.  They quickly and efficiently recognize problems that the writer, suffering from a certain kind of creative myopia, is too close to see. 

Writers--especially those planning to self-publish--would do well to choose several beta readers to read their manuscripts before said manuscripts see the light of day, where "light of day" is defined as being put in front of a potential agent, editor, or book purchaser.

Choose a reader who is picky about mechanics--spelling, grammar, and usage. Choose one who is far outside your target audience. Choose one who reads a ton within your genre. Choose another who reads widely, but not necessarily within your genre at all. Choose someone who is unfamiliar with the setting/culture of your story. You want varied points of view--and you want people who won't just say/write, "I loved it!" (That is your spouse's/best friend's/children's job.)

I chose five people--two men and three women--and asked them to read my manuscript and point out any obvious-to-them problems before I gave it another polish and sent it to my collaborators for their evaluation. All five gave me invaluable and timely responses, but the interesting thing to me was that, while no one's feedback contradicted anyone else's input, almost none of it overlapped, either. 

One reader pointed out a big failure on my part to characterize someone as sympathetic. Another pointed out that the story's climax lacked tension.  Another got confused between characters--and when it comes to confusion, my position is that the reader/customer is always right. The writer has the burden of writing scenes clearly enough so that the reader doesn't have to fall out of the story in order to puzzle something out.

Fortunately for me, all five had really nice things to say about the story, too. But here's the other great thing--I'm past the point where criticism (at least, fair and asked-for criticism) hurts me personally. Years ago, it would crush me to have someone point out that my writing was less than perfect. Nowadays, I welcome any way to improve my work. But, hey--the compliments were great to read--and a sign that I had done some things right.

I made a list of all of the story's problems as pointed out by the formidable betas, then spent several days rewriting sentences and paragraphs and scenes until I had crossed the last problem off the list. Then I sent the manuscript to my collaborators--who told me last night that so far, they love what I've done.

Thanks, betas. You made my book much, much better. I owe you, and you'll all be featured in the acknowledgments once the book is published in August. 

Friday
Dec092011

Amazing Secret Project

For the past six weeks, I have been writing something new. It's something I was hired by a publisher to write--something super fun that will be published in August 2012. It's a derivative work. Think something along the lines of this:

Except I will share authorship credit on the cover. (Trivia: sci fi veteran Alan Dean Foster actually ghostwrote the novelization pictured above.)

Let me state now for the skimmers that I am not writing a Star Wars novel. The photo above is just an example (and happens to be a book I treasured when I was ten years old).

But this project is very, very cool, I promise.

I am having the time of my life writing it and have learned a ton about both myself and writing as I've worked. 

First, since it's a derivative work, I have an incredibly detailed outline with which to work. What I have found is that this has not been the limitation you might think it to be. I actually have a ton of leeway within the outline for my own creative expression. Because the creators of the original work are gracious collaborators, they have been enthusiastic about the new things I have brought to enhance and enrich their story.

Precisely because the original outline is so structured, I have found a huge amount of freedom and energy for creativity. It reminds me of that analogy that Madeleine L'Engle makes in the beginning of A Wrinkle in Time about the strictures of sonnet writing. The form gives you freedom. This is something I have been learning over the past couple of years, but this project has really hammered the lesson home: I will never write without a solid outline again.

Second, this is a project with a very quick turnaround time. Someone unacquainted with how publishing with a major house works might think that since the publication date is sometime next August, that I would have tons of time to complete the writing.

Not so. The publisher needs the finished novel by February 1st in order to get it into the book production pipeline. That means that I need to have a polished draft to the original authors by January 1st so that they can review what I've written and we can make any changes necessary. That means that I need to have a very good draft ready for my few trusted beta readers by the day after Christmas. These brave and generous souls have agreed to read my manuscript very quickly and point out any flaws they find so that I can incorporate their feedback in those last, dark days of December. That means that I need to be DONE by Friday, December 23rd, due to the simple fact that my family needs me attentive and relaxed over Christmas weekend.

Writing a 70,000-word book in 8 weeks is something of a challenge. That is really, really fast. Oh, I know you have all heard about those intrepid souls who pump out 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo--and I respect that achievement. But these 70,000 words need to be a very polished, near-final draft--not the raw first draft that a NaNo participant finds herself with at the end of November.

But I have learned that I can do this. Amazing things have dropped into my way to help me, like this post by Rachel Aaron--which built beautifully on what I learned and described in this post. Granted, I'm not producing 10,000 words per day. With six kids--one still at home during the day--I don't have the 6-7 hours of time that Rachel has to do so. Someday.

But I have been far more productive than ever before.  Yesterday I set a new personal record, writing over 7,000 words. I also had time to feed and interact with my family, study scriptures, tidy the house, do laundry, go to breakfast with two fun friends, and read several chapters of a fun mystery novel. I have learned that I can write like a maniac and still have a life. A really great life, in point of fact.

Last, I've learned that I can keep a secret. When I was first asked to be a part of this project, I was so excited that I wanted to shout it to the heavens--or at least post about it on every form of social media known to man. NOT doing so these last six weeks has been difficult! But all shall be revealed very shortly. In fact, I apologize for this post. I know it is akin to my taunting you about how wonderful your Christmas presents are going to be. I know something cool, and you do not--yet. But you will. Stay tuned, faithful friends. Stay tuned.

Friday
Nov182011

Write or Die

So, a couple of months ago, after my initial excitement over my new work-in-progress (WIP) wore off, I suffered a crisis of extreme self-doubt. I have been down this road before. The landmarks are thus:

  • I will never be able do to this story justice.
  • I should just mail the idea to Audrey Niffenegger or Margaret Atwood or A.S. Byatt.
  • This concept is way cooler than my writing will ever be.
  • Why can't I write what I see in my head?
  • Why does everything I write seem boring/derivative/hackneyed/awful?
  • My writing sucks.
  • My life sucks.
  • I suck.

Yes, I know these ugly landmarks because I encounter them with every book. Each and every time, the pattern is the same.  I realize that I'm talking nonsense to myself, and I try to ignore it and muscle my way through this nasty form of Resistance (now that I know what its name is). And I eventually get there, as you have seen. It just takes me a while, and there is a fair amount of agony involved.

In Ann LaMott's Bird by Bird (which I sincerely hope you have all read), her strong and wise advice is to give yourself permission to write a Bad First Draft. ("Bad" is not the modifier she uses, by the way. :) )

Why bother to write a Bad First Draft? Because, she writes, bad first draft is infinitely easier to revise--and thus make good--than a nonexistent first draft. 

That makes sense to me. I have counseled other writers to do this. I have tried many times to take her advice myself, but secretly? I haven't ever gotten very far with it. Here's why. Up until recently, my daily (or not-so-daily) writing process went like this:

1) Conquer Resistance for the day.
2) Re-read what I wrote the day before, tinkering and tweaking slightly as I get into the rhythm of the narrative.
3) Write new words very slowly and carefully, considering each phrase and punctuation mark, ensuring that I don't use the same word too often, watching the frequency of my semi-colons, reading the sentences over to myself to make sure they flow properly--all the while completely enslaved to the stern taskmaster that is my Inner Perfectionist.  Fret that my writing isn't conveying what I want it to convey. Fume that I am not better at this after all these years. Doggedly keep at it. Sometimes find satisfaction in how something has turned out.
4) Quit for the day hours later, somewhat pleased, but mentally exhausted.

I have written three novels (and parts of several others) in this manner. Many successful writers do exactly this.

The upside is that my first drafts read pretty well. Many experienced professionals have characterized my first drafts as "clean" and "well-crafted." In my experience, that's not so common.

But there is significant downside. I find that Resistance takes this form: "You don't have four hours to write today, and you can't get much done in the one hour you DO have. You didn't get enough sleep last night to have the stamina to sit and create lovely (or even decent) prose for 60 or 120 or 240 minutes. You shouldn't even try." Sometimes I get past that Resistance and write, but many times, I do not.

When I started my current exercise routine, it was such a revelation. I had been resigned to the old workout schedule, had made it work. But as I found how well my body responded to an hour of yoga every morning at 5:00 a.m.--as I discovered how much day I had at my disposal when I accomplished exercise and scripture study and laundry very early each morning--I decided to re-think other parts of my life that were giving me fits. Like my writing process.

I prayed to know how I could become a better, more consistent, less Resistance-prone writer. And I got the answer to my prayer in two parts. The first was that I read this post by Seth Godin. (I love it when God answers my prayers through other people's blog posts.) The second was that I found this website.

That's right, Write or Die, authored by none other than the dorkily-named Dr. Wicked.  It's a simple computer program in which the writer a) enters the amount of time she would like to spend writing; b) enters her word count goal for that time period; and c) clicks the Start! button. There are three modes: Gentle, Normal, and Kamikaze--these modes govern how fast you have to write before you start getting warnings. And there are three consequence levels: Forgiving, Strict, and Kamikaze. With Kamikaze, apparently, if you stop typing for too long, your words start unwriting themselves. Yikes.

Write or die. Snort. How unspeakably cheesy, I thought. (And how had I never heard of it before, despite all my dabblings with NaNoWriMo? I now know that it is a staple for NaNo veterans.) 

But then I thought about what Anne LaMott had been trying to tell me for years: Bad First Draft. And I added in what Seth Godin had just told me: Write Poorly, Write A Lot. And it occurred to me that if I had to write very fast, as with Write or Die, I wouldn't have time to do anything OTHER than write a Bad First Draft.

So, back in the first week of October, I decided to try it. Talk about a revelation. Ka-BAM.

On my very best writing days in the past--one day per week on which I pay a babysitter a considerable amount of cash so that I can sit by myself for hours on end--I could maybe get in 3,000 words. But those days were rare, indeed. In my very best writing sessions with no babysitter--just a napping toddler--I could get in 1200 or so words.

Using Write or Die for the first time, I wrote 3,716 words in a FRACTION of the time I normally spend writing. It was a babysitting day, so I had tons of time left over to go to a restaurant and read while I ate lunch, and plenty more time to listen to our son Christian's first college radio show. I did all this while recovering from a concussion. But it gets better.

The next day was Friday. I wrote another 1,600 words or so. Saturday was the same. So were Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. 

And the day after that? A day I would normally be pouting and throwing up my hands in dramatic despair, since I spent my babysat hours taking Tess to a doctor's appointment in  Manhattan instead of writing?

That day I wrote 1200 words before 9am and another 976 after lunch when I got home. Over 2,000 words on a day when I was out of the house for hours on end.

In all my life, I have RARELY had a week in which I have written almost 14,000 words.

I have RARELY had a week in which I wrote every single day except for Sunday.

I have NEVER had such a stress-free experience writing. 

Oh, and if I need to research something, like a name of a new character or a medical procedure or a facet of 19th-century life? I don't stop and do the research right then. Oh, no. I type "***" to remind myself later that I need to look something up, and I KEEP A-GOING. 

As I drove to Manhattan that day with Tess, I was agog. It was 9:00 in the morning. I had already done an hour of yoga; prepared breakfast for my family; studied several chapters of Mosiah; done the breakfast dishes and two loads of laundry; showered, dressed, and done hair and makeup; and written 1200 words. And it was only 9am! And I wasn't even tired!

Do you even get my wonder at this? I had accomplished more in four hours than I have in many, many whole DAYS in the past. With this new routine, I have time to spend with my kids, time to fulfill my church callings, time to try new recipes and read and knit and visit with friends--ALL without the freaking Sword of Damocles that used to be my writing hanging over my head.

And my rates have steadily improved in the weeks since. Most days I write about 2,000 words. Yesterday--a babysitting day--I wrote over 5,000 words and still had time for a leisurely pedicure, lunch out, good reading time, and excellent hang-out sessions with my kids.

Now, I know the words I'm writing are not the quality that I am used to writing. But I am not allowing myself to go back and re-read them, either--I am going to keep that Inner Perfectionist firmly turned OFF until I finish this draft.

HOWEVER, I know that these words are not half bad--even though I'm typing as fast as I can and taking almost no thought as to what is coming out of me. I am feeling the rhythm of my story--partly because it is so fresh in my mind due to an almost total LACK of any interfering RESISTANCE. 

I do take a minute to look at my outline before I start writing, just to remind myself what I'm trying to achieve that day. But then I plunge in and GET IT DONE. IT'S SO EASY.

Can you join me in a hearty holler of exuberance and elation? LIFE IS AWESOME right now. I feel bionic. 

Sorry for all the capital letters. I'm just. So. Excited.

Will a piper have to be paid once I've finished this draft and I go back and re-read it with editing in mind? Possibly. I'll let you know when I get there. But I am trusting in Anne LaMott. I know I'm an excellent editor, and I will exercise faith that my Bad First Draft will be something with which I can work. I can do this!

Friday
Nov112011

Book Bomb Contest Results

You people amaze me. I feel honored to be associated with you. The online community has great power to do good, and yesterday you did a lot of good for Rob Wells. He posted last night on Facebook that he felt a little like George Bailey, and I can see why.

I checked Variant's Amazon ranking on Wednesday night before I posted my contest post. It was listed at #7,643--which is not bad for a debut national hardcover. Last night, when I went to bed--just a little over 24 hours later--Variant was at #56.

#56!!!!! That is more than a 10,000% increase! Rob Wells surged up the Teen sub-lists as well, ending up well into the Top Ten company of Suzanne Collins, Christopher Paolini, and Stephenie Meyer. Finally, Variant ended the night at #1 on Amazon's "Movers and Shakers" list.

Any book that breaks into Amazon's Top 100 gets noticed and has great potential to gain sales momentum, so your purchases have helped in more than one way. HUGE thanks to all of you for every hardcover purchased, every Kindle edition downloaded, every post and tweet and plurk. You made a difference.

Counting up the contest numbers this morning, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for your generosity. Some of you chose to email me your report, feeling shy about posting in public. That's fine; if you did that, I happily included your entries. Altogether, I counted almost 200 entries, which floors me. When I came up with the contest idea on Wednesday evening, I didn't know whether anyone would enter. I wondered whether the $50 I would put toward the grand prize would be better spent on just buying four more copies of the book.

Um, no. Participants in this contest bought a whopping 104 copies of Variant--and those are just the folks who reported to me. I know that your spreading the word generated many, many more sales. Thank you. I am near tears as I type this. Thank you.

Now, to announce the winners! I used the random number generator at RANDOM.org and came up with the following results:

The Grand Prize winner of a $50 Amazon Gift Certificate is Karen Merrell!

The Runner-up Prize winners of a signed copy of my cookbook Comfortably Yum are

Erin

and

Emily M, who contributes at Segullah!

Congratulations! And thanks again to all who entered. Winners, I will email you privately for your addresses.

Now that the Book Bomb is over, there is more you can do. Read the book and post your reviews of it on GoodReads, LibraryThing, and Amazon. Choose it to discuss in your book groups. Recommend it to your librarians and the English teachers at your middle and high schools as a great book for reluctant readers--especially boys. And above all, continue to pray that Rob finds complete and lasting relief from his Severe Panic Disorder soon, so that his life can get back to normal.

All yesterday, as I saw Rob's numbers rise, I thought about what Camilla Kimball said often, "Never suppress a generous impulse." Bless you all for taking her words to heart and living them.