IWSG Day: Writing Through Life (and doggy drama)

Writing Through Life (and doggy drama)

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThe first Wednesday of every month, the IWSG posts an optional question, encouraging members to read and comment on each other’s blogs.

October’s Question is:

How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

My answer is yes.

Major life events can affect how frequently I write, how coherent that writing is, and sometimes, even the content of my writing.

When I’m stressed, anxious to the point where I can’t even think about going to bed at a reasonable time, writing is the only thing that keeps me going. When my spouse goes to bed, I’ll sit up at the kitchen table with the cat at my feet, frantically writing until two or three in the morning. The sentence structure and punctuation might be more off than usual, but it is also when I can actually write emotion, show characters feeling things.

With Power Surge, the book that took a decade to finish, life events and revelations about my self shaped how I finished and revised the novel. In fact, one could say it was a major life event that lead me to finish it in the first place: I finished a different book. And I finished that book because it was the only way to get through a few months of very high anxiety.

Whether it was Power Surge, or one of my yet to be published manuscripts (Song of the Forest, Like Birds, or Earth Reclaimed), my novels, and my numerous short stories, have all helped me coped with anxiety, depression, or whatever my brain throws at me.

This summer in particular, writing helped me deal with a stressful neighborhood situation. The two people who live on either side of me both have dogs. One dog is female, yellow,  and about 45 pounds (the same size as my dog). Tavi, my pup, was still a baby when the yellow dog came to the neighborhood, and I swear she thinks she is his mother, at least she protects him like a mother dog would protect her puppies. To the other side of me is an 8lb ball of yapping energy.

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Tavi

This was not a good combination. One day, the little dog chased Tavi out of my yard and into her driveway. I thought Tavi had been tied to the trailer of the boat I was cleaning, but I had never actually clipped his 15-foot training leash to anything, so as he ran, that dragged behind him.

Tavi stopped and play bowed, possibly oblivious to little dog’s ruffled fur and bared teeth. Yellow dog charged out of her yard and down the driveway, grabbed little dog, and pullled her away from Tavi.

Little dog got hurt.

And for the next month, neighborhood tension grew as yellow dog’s and little dog’s owners passive aggressively argued over whose dog should be leashed and who was responsible for the vet bill.

Literally and figuratively, I was in the middle of it.

It was summer, so I wasn’t working. Yellow dog’s human, also a teacher, wasn’t working. Little dog’s owner, a national grid gas employee, was on strike and eventually, locked out.

I wrote.

In one month, I wrote a 20,000 novella and revised it three times. It wasn’t directly about what was happening in the neighborhood, but in one scene, a similar incident occurred. The main character was dealing with the same kind of mental health problems as me.

I haven’t looked at the story in a while, so I can’t confidently say whether or not it was good. But after proof reading the third draft, I remember thinking it was fantastic, and that it was the most emotional piece I had written since Power Surge.

 

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 Power Surge buy links:

  • Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/2RoANiQ
  • Amazon Paperback: https://amzn.to/2xWqpqp
  • Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/power-surge-sara-codair/1129616729
  • NineStar Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/power-surge/
  • Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/897512

What I’ve Learned About Pacing from Writing Five Novels.

Pacing is important with any work of fiction, whether it is a novel or short story.

If it’s too slow, readers might get bored and stop reading. If it’s too fast, they might get lost and stop reading. However, thinking too much about it when writing your first draft won’t really help. Work on the pacing when you start revising.

Finding the right pace for a story is part of the writing process. I go through several rewrites and revisions before I get it right.

Back when I was drafting my first two novels, I thought I had to more or less write out every second of the character’s life during the time frame of the novel. Thankfully, with both books, the whole plot took place over a few days. As it was, I ended up with a 130,000 word first draft of a young adult novel, and over 200,000 words for my adult novel.

When I had a friend read the YA novel, she got bored quickly while following the character through 30 or 40 pages of school. Stuff only happened on maybe five of those pages. She told me the descriptions of every hallway, desk, and teacher really weren’t relevant.

She was right. Irrelevant descriptions and conversations bogged the pacing down so much that she lost interested before anything happened.

It took over ten revisions to get the pacing (and other things) right.

First, I went through and cut out scenes that I wrote for me as I was getting to know the character. I cut descriptions of places that appeared once and never came back. I made sure all the description and imagery I kept added something to the overall mood and revealed something about the narrator even if it was very subtle.

However, the most important step was making sure each chapter had a hook at the beginning and end, as well as its own complete arc. I did one revision that just focused on this. As I read each chapter, I summarized it in a few sentences and explained what it contributed to the plot. This helped me see the picture and plan what I needed do to each chapter.

I ended up cutting entire chapters, removing characters from the story, and moving the climax so it happened sooner and just scrapping a whole sequence of unnecessary fights from the end of the book.

To test my work, I asked critique partners and beta readers to let me know when they got bored or bogged down.

Eventually, I got the novel down to about 71,000 words. Each chapter had an arc. There was enough description for the reader to picture the setting without slowing the action. That description set the mood and even helped readers get to know the character. All that meant that the readers stayed hooked. They didn’t get too bored or too lost.

The process of starting with too much happening to slowly, then cutting back and changing things worked well. That novel is under contract with NineStar Press and scheduled to come out in October.

However, it was slow, tedious process, and I’m an impatient person. Now, I seem to have the opposite problem.

My last two novels started as drafts I banged out in four to six weeks for NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo. They short and rushed, skipping over descriptions and the types of scenes I thought I’d just end up cutting.

Having to go back, add more details, and slow things down was the same amount of work, if not more work, than having to cut thousands of words from the manuscript, and during the process, I was not nearly as invested in the characters and world as I had been with my earlier works.

Currently, I’m submitting pieces novel-in-progress number five to a critique group. Even though I go through each chapter and fill in the gaps I see before sending it, I’m still getting feedback from readers saying it moves so fast they struggle to follow transitions, can’t fully picture things, and don’t know the characters enough to really care much about what happens to them.

In early drafts of books four and five, the overall plot and arcs are much clearer than they were in books one and two, but that doesn’t matter if the readers don’t care about the characters and get lost in the transitions between scenes.

Thinking I learned enough from my first books to know what scenes will get before I write them was a bad idea. All it accomplished was producing a book that moved so fast readers couldn’t get into instead of one with fully fleshed characters moving at a snails pace.

After drafting and revising five novels, I’ve learned that pacing isn’t something that I should think about while writing my first draft. It’s something that happens in revision when I have a concrete grasp on the characters, plot, setting, tone, and story. The pacing develops as I examine each chapter under a microscope and then look at how it fits in the big picture. Seeking feedback from critique partners and beta readers, and then listening to them when they say where they got lost or bored hones the work’s pace.

In order to have a well paced novel, writers need to be patient. They need to trust their process and not rush it.

 

 

Five Friendly Places that Pay for Fiction

Finding a place to publish a short story can be intimidating. Submitting a story  I’ve poured my soul into out to a literary magazine is scary enough without worrying about what happens to it once it lands in someone’s slush.

And there are so many places that publish fiction. I have to think about things like what kind of stories the market publishes, how much it pays, what their response time is and whether or not they take simultaneous submissions.

There are many markets I send short stories to over and over again only to be repeatedly rejected, but I’ve had great experiences publishing with the following five markets. I’ve had at least one story accepted by each, and sent a second after publication. They are listed alphabetically.

  1. B Cubed Press not only published the most profitable anthology I’ve ever had a short story in, but it is run by an enthusiastic editor who cares about his authors as much as he cares about the quality of their stories.
    • Responsive: All submissions get a receipt confirmation so the writer knows the story isn’t languishing in email limbo. All submissions get a response once a decision is made. Editors periodically post updates on the BCubed Press Facebook Group. Most questions are answered promptly.
    • Strong Community: There is a Facebook group populated with an engaged community of writers who support each other and share ideas.
    • Short  Story Pay: $.02 a word advance + royalties and an e-book
    • Read B Cubed”s latest anthology “More Alternative Truths”
  2. Broadswords and Blasters
    • Responsiveness: Confirms receipt of stories, responds to all when a decision is made, and is known to give personal responses when time allows.
    • Active on Twitter: Broadswords and Blasters engages with authors and readers on twitter. When open for submissions, they use twitter to be transparent about their selection process. However the two things that impress me most are how supportive they are of their authors, and how quickly they are growing
    • Short Story Pay: $15 per story + an electronic copy of the issue
    • Read an issue here
  3. Fantasia Divinity
    • Responsiveness: Generally, emails get an auto response that confirms the submission was received and provides information about response times. Once a decision is made, all stories get a response.
    • Active on Facebook: Fantasia Divinity has a very active Facebook page where they share status updates about where they are in the process of getting a book or issue ready, cover art, and releases. If they get behind on their responses, they generally will post about it so waiting authors know what is going on.
    • Short Story Pay varies per project. Original stories accepted to the magazine receive ½ of a cent per word. Stand-alone pieces are royalties only. Anthology pay varies between the magazine rate and printed contributor copies.
    • Read an issue here
  4. Nine Star Press
    • Responsiveness: An auto response confirms receipt of stories, and once they receive a response email once a decisions is made. Most of the rejections they sent me have been personalized.
    • Strong Community: The NineStar Press authors Facebook group is a fantastic place to meet other writers, find critique partners, get advice about marketing stories and discuss your craft. They are one of the most supportive and generally awesome writing community’s I’ve had the chance to be part of.
    • Pay: Royalties + e-books.Note: While NineStar does publish short story anthologies, novelettes, and novellas, they are primarily a boutique novel publisher.
    • Read my favorite NineStar Press Novel
  5. Owl Hollow Press
    • Responsiveness: All submissions get a response once a decision is made. Every rejection I received from them was personalized.
    • Very Social: Owl Hollow Press is active on a number of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They are the only publisher I’ve worked with who has ever mailed authors free swag to use as promotional material. The bookmarks were very popular at work.
    • Short Story Pay: $50 per story + 1 print copy. OHP does publish novels, but  I think the pay (royalty rate and/or advance) may very from contract to contract.
    • Read their latest anthology here

If you choose to submit anything to any of these markets, please do your own research too. I did my best to provide accurate information, but these markets can update their rates and policies at any time. Plus, I’m human, which means I make mistakes. The publishing world is scary; these are just a few of many places I’ve had positive experiences publishing short stories with.

Read their guidelines carefully, and make sure they publish the type of story you are sending them. If you are unsure if a market is right, reading some of their published material is a good way to learn more about their tastes. Whether you read their previously published works or not, just please please make sure you follow their submission guidelines. I can’t count the number of I’ve times I seen editors stress how important this is.

B Cubed Press, Broadswords and Blasters, Fantasia Divinity, Owl Hollow Press, and NineStar Press are not the only markets I repeatedly submit to, but something about my experience with each was memorable enough for me to send them more work after they published the first accepted piece. Some of those submissions were accepted, but others weren’t. Of course, I won’t let the rejections stop me from sending these editors more stories in the future. They can’t get rid of me that easily. 😉

 

Twitter Pitch Parties Are About More Than Just The Likes

When seeking an agent or publisher for a novel, I participate in every twitter pitch party I get the chance to. So far, no one “like” or “heart” has landed me an agent or a book deal, but I still participate. They help me figure out what agents like the kind of stories I write, and it also helps me network with like-minded writers.

Events like #DVpit, #pitmad, #pitdark, #kidpit, #IWSGPit, #pit2pub, and a few others that I may be forgetting offer writers a chance to connect with the right agents and editors. However, you don’t necessarily need your pitch to get liked for that to happen.

This year, I used #DVpit as a deadline to finish editing my latest novel. I got my manuscript and query in good shape, but didn’t have as much time as I would’ve liked to perfect my pitches. I tweeted them anyway, and tried not to refresh twitter every three seconds.

I didn’t get a single agent like, but that night, I still sent out my first volley of 11 queries, and within two weeks, two of them turned into partial requests.

The agents may not have liked my tweet, but I saw the kinds of tweets they did like. I searched the feed using hashtags that were in my pitches.

For example, I searched #DVpit #YA #F #LGBT. I made a list of agents requesting those projects. Then I did the same search without the #LGBT and added those agents to my list. If reviewed their guidelines, and if I wasn’t familiar with them from my first three attempts to get an agent, I looked them up on Absolute Write.

I ended up with a long list of agents, and picked ten who didn’t require a full synopsis (because I hated and still hate my synopsis). After getting two requests and about 5 rejections from that first batch, I sent out another. Some of them were agents from my #DVpit list, some were agents I’d queried in the past, and others came from a #MSWL search.

In total, I’ve gotten 3 requests (1 full, 2 partials) and 11 rejections. I’m still waiting for a response on 10 more queries.

Those odds are not bad considering I didn’t get any likes.

With my other three manuscripts, I received lots of likes for pitches, some that evolved into requests, but none of them turned into an offer. However, one of these did indirectly lead me to NineStar Press, the publisher who I signed with for Power Surge.

NineStar didn’t like any of my pitches for Power Surge, but they did like a pitch for a different book. I queried them, and ultimately got an R & R. I still haven’t revised that manuscript, but I did send NineStar a dark fantasy novelette called Half-Breads, which they published as part of their Halloween story, an urban Snow White retelling they accepted for Once Upon a Rainbow 2, and Power Surge, the novel that is nearest and dearest to my heart, and rejected by over 100 agents.

Had they not liked my #DVpit tweet for the other book, I might not have known they existed. And that would’ve been said, because some of the best book’s I’ve read this year were ARC’s I reviewed for them. Through NineStar, I’ve also connected with an amazing community of writers who have helped me boosted my confidence, hone my craft, and even feel more comfortable with my gender identity. Words can’t express how grateful I am to have found them.

In general, I’ve also built my twitter network though pitch contests. If someone’s pitch sounds really cool, I follow them. Sometimes, nothing comes of it. Other times, they and I engage with each other’s tweets, encouraging each other, offering advice, and boosting posts. Some even become beta readers or cp’s.

Getting agent likes are a big part of pitch contests, but they are not the whole story. If you have an eligible manuscript, pitch it on twitter, follow the feed, and think of it as a way to engage with a community. Think of these contests as opportunities to learn and network, and look at the potential for agent requests as a bonus. Celebrate when you get them, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t.

P.S. If you write dark fiction check out #pitdark, which is happening tomorrow. #PitMad is June 7th, so put that one on your calendar and polish your pitches.

 

Beta Readers & Remembering my Characters are NOT me.

Good beta readers and critique partners are essential for writers, not just because they make individual manuscripts stronger, but also because they can make writers aware of problematic patterns.

My beta readers often comment that my characters don’t react or show emotion to big things – like finding out demons exits, losing a loved one, seeing someone get shot, or having some slightly mundane but life changing news delivered.

Despite the validity of these comments, I often get very defensive about them. It’s not that my characters don’t feel or show emotion; they just don’t do it right away.

There is a reason I write them like that.

I almost never have instant reactions to things unless that reaction is rage or something completely irrational.

I may have immediately dissolved into screaming and swearing that one time there were cars on a hiking (I may have had a staring contest with the car)but when my grandmother died, and when I got offer a contract for my book, I just kind of stared and went through the motions before I truly reacted.

When big things happen, I don’t react to them right away. I go blank and stare until my brain figures out how it wants to react, considers how people expect me to react and finds a compromise between the two. Therefore, in my first drafts, my characters seldom react the way readers expect.

I need to stop mentally fighting readers about this.

My characters are not me.

Maybe if I am writing a character that has the same not completely diagnosed flavor of mental illness that I have, the readers would have to deal with it. However, if I am writing a neurotypical character and/or one that is mentally healthy, then they need to react like one of those people would.

Without beta readers, it would be almost impossible for me to see this. Even with them, it has taken me far to long to figure it out. Even being aware of it, I’m sure it will still happen in all my first drafts, but I am going to work harder to catch it early revisions so that my readers can focus on other things.

 

Book Deal = Happier than a Puppy Off- Leash

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A visual pitch I made for Power Surge during the last #kidpit. 

This blog post should’ve been up a few days ago, but with storms, a family member’s health issues, and the start of NaNoWriMo, I neglected to write it. However, if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then you probably already know the information I am going to announce.

I signed a contract with NineStar Press to publish my young adult, urban fantasy novel, Power Surge.

Power Surge was the first novel I began writing with any amount of seriousness, but it was the second one I finished. It’s been revised at least about a dozen times, and if you put the first and final draft side by side, I’m not sure the two would have a complete sentence in common.

I started querying Power Surge to agents on Oct. 31, 2016. A little over 100 of them rejected it. I made a ton of mistakes, got some requests, but they all turned into rejections one way or another. Later, I switched my efforts to publishers with a fresh query and freshly edited manuscript. I got more requests, and eventually, I received to offers. On Oct. 30 2017, I signed a contract with NineStar Press.

I have not figured out my exact stats yet, but I had 72 outright rejections, 45 agents or editors whose lack of a reply was equivalent to a rejection, and 3 instances where I withdrew my manuscript because the deadline I set to respond had passed. Of all my submissions, I only had 6 full requests and two partials if I am counting right. However, many publishers, including the one I signed with, have authors submit the whole manuscript up front.

I kept tract of everything in a table in Microsoft word and am now wishing I had just used power point. Eventually, I will organize my data better and get better numbers. I’m going to do this with my other manuscripts before the amount of submissions gets out of control.

If these numbers are right, that means I sent out 120 submissions with a 6.6% request rate for agents and publishers combined. That rate was much lower than the 10% I was told to aim for, but in the end, it didn’t matter. I received not one, but two offers of publication with no agent.

After researching both publishers, I decided to sign with NineStar. People said better things about them in the absolute write forums. They pay higher royalties. I’ve worked with them before on smaller projects. More importantly, I got the sense that the editor I am going to be working with really understood Power Surge and is the right person to help me make it shine.

I don’t have a release date yet, though I am assuming it will be close to a year before Power Surge is published. Even this early in the game, I am confident NineStar Press is the perfect home for Power Surge.

This is the first step on a long journey, and so far, it has taught me that without enough patience and persistence, anything is possible. Right now, I’m as happy as Tavi (my puppy) when he gets to run off leash.

Now, it’s time to get back to NaNoWriMo2017!

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Pronoun Problems

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Aesthetic of Earth Reclaimed

I’m in the midst of revising a novel (Earth Reclaimed) with a non-binary protagonist. Since this work blends high fantasy with solarpunk and has alternates points of view, I choose to write it in third person. However, several of my beta readers and critique partners have been having a hard time adjusting to me using “they/them” as a singular, gender neutral pronoun.

Readers have suggested I switch to first person, or use something like Xe or Ze. Not realizing it was own voices, one reader even questioned if it was necessary to write the character as non-binary. She meant well, but just because there is a non-binary character doesn’t mean the story has to be about being non-binary.

I knew I didn’t want to write this story in first person, and I couldn’t picture this character CIS, but I did briefly consider a different pronoun.

Before making any decisions, I wanted to see how other writers used neutral pronouns, so I read the first two books of the Ardulum series which used two variations of gender neutral pronouns for aliens who had a third gender. It worked great for those alien characters, but would not suit my protagonist or my writing style for two big reasons.

One:

Xe and Ze are not as neutral as they seem at first glance because they lose some of their neutrality when they become possessive. The writer has to make a choice: does Xe become Xer or Xis? In Ardulum, the author choose Zir as the possessive form of Xe, but when read out loud, it still sounds a lot like Xer or Her.

Some non-binary folks, including me, use gendered pronouns. I use she/her because it’s what I grew up using, and I get overwhelmed when I think about telling friends and family I prefer they/them. I don’t think I’ve ever even bothered announcing to most people that I’m non-binary or gender fluid because it’s a conversation that could turn awkward too quickly. Plus, I don’t like labels and boxes. No matter which one you stick on me, what matters is that I know who I am.

Even though Earth Reclaimed is an own voices story, the main character isn’t me. Serena lives in a future and region where gender is fluid and people are not boxed into identifying as men or women. They are also braver and bolder than I am. I wrote my first draft using she/her, and it just didn’t feel right. Serena needed a gender neutral pronoun, and at least to me, they is more neutral than the others.

Two:

Neutrality is not the only reason to choose they. Xe and Ze do not come to me as natural as they does. Growing up, if I didn’t know whether a person was male or female, I would automatically use they/them until I knew whether they were a she or a he.

Back then, I hadn’t heard of words like non-binary or gender fluid. Those terms may have existed, but they weren’t part of my vocabulary.  I was in my later twenties when I discovered those words and thought “that sounds just like me.”

Identifying with the label didn’t lead me to change the pronouns I use, but that doesn’t mean all the non-binary characters I write have to use the same pronouns, especially of the conditions that keep me using she/her don’t exist for them.

When I write a third person, own voices narrative with a non-binary character, I am going to use they/them as a pronoun. Will there confusion in the early drafts? Yes. However, with careful editing, I hope I will be able to write third person, gender neutral they/them without confusing my readers.

ISWSP October Question: #ownvoices?

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeOctober 4 question – Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

My answer:

Yes, but sometimes it is more intentional than others

While none of my characters are directly based off of my self, many of them share my non-binary gender identity. They struggle with similar mental health issues, like anxiety triggered by crowds or touch. Occasionally, they even like the same things as me, like Star Wars and vegetable gardens.

Of course, there are instances where I write characters that are opposite of me and have almost nothing in common. Sometimes I need to escape my world and truely become someone else while I am writing.

Yet more often than not, it’s hard to fully filter myself from my creations, and when the ones with bits and pieces of me sewn through are more authentic, why bother filtering?

Authenticity is important. Representation is important. My experience with mental health and gender may not quite be like someone else’s, but that is kind of the point, isn’t it?

People do read for entertainment, but they also read for education. Ideally, both happen at the same time. If my book can keep people entertained, make them feel things, keep them turning pages and teach them a little something at the same time, then it was success.

Bailing Boats and Books

Yesterday, as rain poured out of cumulonimbus, thunder rumbled, and lightening compensated for a lack of sunlight, I realized my bilge pump wasn’t working.

I spent the morning indoors, editing, tweeting, and exchanging feedback on #preDV tweets. When the rain let up and I went outside, there was about a foot of water in my old Boston Whaler.20170906_164649

Swamped boat + broken bilge pump +broken hand pump = bailing boat out with a bucket.

Bailing a boat with a bucket is tedious. You scoop the bucket, dump it out, and repeat.

After the first few dumps, the water level hadn’t changed. I was damp. The dog had slid off the dock while barking at ducks and was staring at me, all scruffy, wet and smelly. I couldn’t tell if he was going to jump on me or back in the lake. I wanted to chuck the bucket out to the water.

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I took a deep breath, tied the dog to his run in the yard, away from the dock and the lake, and then I went back to bailing.

Eventually, I did notice the water level going down. Before I knew it, there wasn’t enough water left to scoop with my bucket. The boat was as empty as it was going to get.

After the first few tries, I wanted to give up, but I kept going even though it was damp, cold and I was being eaten alive by bugs, and eventually, I achieved my goal.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to bail this boat out by hand, and I doubt it will be the last. Every time it happens, it makes me think of my barely existent writing career.

Whenever I start a new book, I feel like I am never going to finish it. I switch back and forth from being super excited to so overwhelmed I want to chuck my draft across the lake, but I don’t chuck the draft. I keep writing.

This cycle of excitement, frustration and despair repeats through each revision and edit, but I always keep going, and I always finish the damned the book.

The same goes for publishing the book. Right now, I’m in the despair phase. One novel has gotten about 110 agent rejections and a handful from small publishers too. However, whenever I seriously feel like scrapping it, I think of the boat.

No matter how much rain gets in it, and no matter how broken it is, I never let it sink. I bail it out, and make sure what is broken gets fixed, usually via unspoken trade offs with my dad (i.e. pet sitting in exchange for replacing my spark plugs). Afterwards, when I’m speeding across the lake feeling the wind blow what’s left of my hair, I know it was worth the hard work.

The same goes for my books. I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep revising. I’ll keep submitting.

I’m not one of the those fluke success stories who gets their first book agented and published right away, but I will get published, and eventually, I will get agented, and published by bigger houses that get can my books to more people.

I will never let my writing career sink.

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Problems with Word Count Quotas

While writing my first two books, I didn’t pay too much attention to my word count until after I finished the first draft. My first draft of Song of the Forest came close to 200,000 words and my first draft of Power Surge was around 130,000. When I revised, I went through a cycle of cutting and adding. By the time I got to my final drafts, they were 83,000 and 78,000 words.

My third book, Like Birds Under the City Sky, was different. It was national novel writing month (NaNoWriMo), so I had set a goal of writing 50,000 words in one month. I successfully added 50,000 words to a document that started the month off as a 4,000 word short story. As I revised, I cut and added a few thousand words, but the changes were not as drastic as they had been for my first two books.

Initially, I didn’t see this as a problem. It was my third book, and in between it and my other books, I had written dozens of short stories and flash fictions. I polished the book up, and sent it out to agents and a couple publishers. I got about 20 rejections, but one publisher suggested I give the book a complete overhaul and resubmit. Afraid to make that drastic of a change based on one editors opinion, I sought out feedback from another beta reader and heard the same thing.

When time came to start Community Magic, a novel I had been dreaming for nearly a year, I thought Camp NaNoWriMo would be the perfect way to get it done, but instead of motivating me, the word count quote actually made anxious, and made me feel guilty about not writing. This would have been okay if the guilt motivated me, and/or it was the only problem.

The guilt made me write less. I also noticed other issues.

I was overwriting. I sent chapters out to a critique partner, and she kept pointing out all kinds of things that were not necessary and were just filling space – things I may not have written had I not been rushing to meet my quota of words for the day.

The word count was a distraction. Instead of living the story as I was writing it, my eyes kept drifting down the little numbers at the bottom of my document telling me how many words I had written. I was not as immersed in the world as I should’ve been, and as a result, the plot was rambling, the characters were a little flat, and the world contained inconsistencies. I decided that book wasn’t mean to be NaNoWriMo’ed and switched to a different work in progress – Earth Reclaimed – the story I just ran a rather unsuccessful Publishizer campaign for.

I’m waiting until I have a complete draft to start seeking feedback, but I can feel myself doing some of the same things – almost mindless typing to my word count gets closer to the one my campaign said it should be when the word count. At this point, I should be focused on building the word and getting to know my characters. If my word count falls short, I can expand the draft in revision. If it to high, then I can have a party cutting words while I edited.

Word count goals are great, but when they start to detract from the quality of the writing, then I know I need to revisit how and when I use them.