Category Archives: Editing

NanoWriMo Neophyte

Before getting into the meat of this post, I have three admissions to make.

  1. I have never participated in NanoWriMo.
  2. I won’t be participating in NanoWriMo this year.
  3. I may never participate in NanoWriMo.

Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t think NanoWriMo can be a very valuable activity. It’s just that my own circumstances never seem to align with NanoWriMo. For example, right now I am 65,000 words into a probably 90,000-word novel that I intend to submit for publication as soon as it’s done. By the time NanoWriMo kicks off, I hope to be pretty close to wrapping up that novel, and will be working on the other things that are required for a book to be publishable, including editing, drawing maps, getting cover art, etc.

By the time I get all that done, it might be Christmas. Hard to say. That mostly depends on how much editing is needed.

If I weren’t in the middle of writing a novel, NanoWriMo might make sense. But it is my current intention to be in the middle of writing a novel as long as I can put eyes to screen and fingers to keyboard.

Having said that, I do have some thoughts about NanoWriMo for those who do participate, from the perspective of moving a story forward.

The main advice I would have is to get an outline done before you start writing. The biggest thing that delays my writing is when I reach a point where I’m not entirely certain which direction the narrative needs to go. I’m not completely an outliner, I have a fair bit of “pantsing” in my writing, but having a map to follow generally makes it much easier to keep moving, and NanoWriMo is all about keeping moving.

To reach 50,000 words in a 30-day month, you need to average 1,667 words per day. That’s a manageable number of words to write, even if you have a full-time job and, say, a family or something. But it’s a lot more manageable if you aren’t having to figure out your next paragraph in the middle of your current paragraph.

The next bit of advice is good advice whether you are doing NanoWriMo or just writing in general, and that is to try not to worry that much about the quality of your writing while you’re hammering the story out. The most important part of writing is getting the basic story on paper so that you have something you can edit into something readable.

If you do manage to complete NanoWriMo and end up with 50,000 words, don’t let them just sit on your computer. Put a plan together to get that effort honed and polished into something you can submit to an editor. Get your work out there. Make all that effort worthwhile. Even if you don’t get it published, you will learn a lot from the experience, and every time you do, you’ll get a little closer to your goal.

Trashing Your Novel Might be the Only Way to Save It

PhoenixHappy New Year!

As we discuss new beginnings this month, I’m talking about those times when you must begin at the beginning – again – when to decide to throw away your novel and start over.

It’s a scary idea to consider for any writer, no matter how experienced. We slave over our work, sometimes for years, pouring our heart and soul into our new creation. It’s like our baby, a precious part of our identity.

So when do we kill it?

The answer to that question is kind of a sliding scale. As new authors, it can be a shock to realize that revisions are necessary, that we have to cut and chop and operate and rebuild our story, perhaps several times. At a minimum, some of those precious little nuggets we’ve worked into our story might have to get chopped as we refine and perfect the story. Other times, we have to cut and change more, making some fundamental shifts in our plot, characters, setting, etc.

And occasionally, we have to throw it all away and start over. In these cases, it’s usually because the story we thought we were telling was the wrong story. Or our skills as developing writers just wasn’t up to par with the story we were trying to tell, and there are such critical flaws in the story that it’s simply not going to work.

In those cases, to save the story, we must kill it. Like a phoenix, the story might only live to be amazing only through the ashes of its previous life.

I know what I’m talking about. I’m arguably the king of the phoenix. My first novel – the four-year, three-hundred-thousand-word monstrosity that I was convinced was going to take the world by storm – wasn’t. I cut my teeth as a writer on that story, and I still love it. A big, fat, epic fantasy that had some amazing elements, but was not a professional-level product. It simply was not going to work.

The day I realized that was a dark day. I faced a choice, as we always do when facing revisions of every kind. Either cling to my pride and embrace that parental impulse to protect this precious story I had worked so very hard for so very long to produce. It’s understandable, but that approach would have guaranteed the story never succeeded.

Or – kill the story and start over. That’s what I did. I threw it away (really should have held a solemn ceremony with a huge bonfire in the back yard). Then I started over. Page One.

I took the elements that had been good – some of the worldbuilding, some of the characters, etc. And I redesigned an entirely new story. It was a painful process, but it was also amazing and awesome because the resulting story was ten times better. I will likely release it this year.

You’d think after all of that, I’d know how to write a first draft that was mostly good and only needed minor revisions.

Nope. Not me.

Set in StoneMy second book – Set in Stone – book one of my popular YA fantasy series – suffered its own issues. I actually outlined this story to the Nth degree in the hopes of a near-perfect first draft. Problem was, I was outlining the wrong story. By the third draft, I realized there were fundamental flaws with it.

So I chopped about 80% of that novel and rewrote it again. The result was amazing. I added the humor, which is such a big part of the series. And I plunged deep into the unique magic system and added several new characters, which are some of the most popular characters in the series. If I had clung to the original draft, the story would have tanked and I would have wasted an entire world and years of effort.

So shredding that story and rebuilding it again was the only way to save it. Phoenix number Two a success.

Just about every other novel I’ve written has also required massive rewrites. Maybe you’re smarter than me or better skilled and your stories don’t require such overhauls. But don’t hold back. The story is what matters, and first drafts are sometimes a process of discovering what your story’s heart really is. Rewrites are when you get to polish the story and craft it to perfection to make that heart really shine.

This week, I’m enjoying a rare writing retreat where I’ll be diving into edits on my next Facetakers time travel thriller. I’m not expecting to need such in-depth rewrites, but as I get into the revision process, I’ll do what it takes to make the story shine.

The story deserves it. My fans deserve it. So I do the work.

I’m a storyteller. It’s what I do.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank Morin
No Stone UnturnedFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers sci-fi time travel thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Learning to Piece Together the Story Puzzle

I have found that there a few divides amongst writers more contentious than the arguments between discovery writers (pantsers) and outliners. I used to be firmly a member of the pantser camp. While I recognized that outlining had its benefits, I felt that planning with such excruciating detail would “ruin the fun” of creation. Plus, outlining was difficult and boring. The outline would only change as I got into the trenches and discovered something new and shiny, so what was the point? I had tried to outline a few times, I argued, and it hadn’t worked for me. It never would.

Fortunately, I had a few friends patient enough to take the time to convince me otherwise. Outlining isn’t a single, specific, regimented process, they argued, but rather a way of approaching a story deliberately. I would still create, discover the characters, the world, and the plot in the brainstorming section of the process. Then, the outline itself would be like writing an extremely condensed first draft. I would be able to edit it for major structural problems without the emotional baggage that came with hours and hours spent working on prose.

Once I had a coherent skeleton, I could write the first draft without worrying about writing my way into corners. My structural edits would already be done, and so I could focus my creative energies on producing powerful prose, vivid descriptions, and touching emotional moments. Not only would my first draft be better than what I had done before, it would also take less time to complete.

As for the “inefficiency” of prewriting, any time that I spent up front would be repaid twice over in the back end of the first draft. My manuscript would be leaner and free from most, if not all, structural problems. Additionally, outlines were guides, not shackles. Of course the outline would change as I wrote, but I would “discover deliberately” rather than wandering off into the weeds. I would be able to compare new ideas against a well thought out plot and be able to decide what was truly better for the story. Though it took a few years of conversations and cajoling, they eventually won me over.

Convinced, I decided that 2016 would be the year that I learned to outline. I struggled for a few months and grew disheartened. Outlining was proving to be as difficult, boring, and ineffective as I had feared it would be. I took my problems back to my writing group and we talked through numerous blocks. The issue, I eventually came to realize, was that I hadn’t learned the skills I would need to outline effectively. I knew how to work with character, with plot, with theme, and with milieu. I had all the pieces, but didn’t know how to put the puzzle together.

Again, I was lucky in that I wasn’t alone in my struggles. Of the three members in my group, two of us were discovery writers who were trying to make the transition. After some discussion, we decided to act as a group to resolve the problem. We enrolled in one of David Farland’s online classes, The Story Puzzle. Over the course of 16 weeks, the Story Doctor walked us through his process and theories, answered our questions via email and the biweekly conference calls, and provided valuable feedback on the writing assignments we submitted to him.

It was hard and frustrating at first, but eventually I found the joy that has always driven me to write. I was still discovering and creating, but by doing so deliberately I was finding more than I had expected. My story improved with each passing week and I began feeling the itch, the need to dive in and write prose. I resisted and kept working Dave’s process. By the end of the class, I had all the pieces that I needed and some good guidance on how to put them together into a functional outline. I was in no way ready to begin writing the first draft, but I knew how to get there.

Time passed as I continued to work on my outline. I built my world, wrote down scraps of description and dialog, and found ways to heighten my story and characters on every level. On the first day of each month, I surveyed my progress and decided if I was ready to start prose. Month after month, I judged that I was close, but not quite there. It wasn’t that I was stalling, like I had in the past when my project seemed intimidating. Rather, I had a task list that I needed to finish.

Then came the first day of another month. November first. NaNoWriMo had just begun. I looked over all of my prewriting and decided that, yes, I was ready. I dove into the prose and emerged thirty days later with my first ever NaNo victory. The story wasn’t done, in fact I had quite a ways yet to go. Rather, I had proved to myself that with a good outline to guide me, I could out-write my old pace by a fairly significant margin. Most importantly, I knew that I could do it again. And again. It was the sort of skill that I could develop into a career.

Kristin’s 2016 Year in Review

Although the urge is strong to write a piece a la David Foster Wallace and title it, “2016: Consider the Dumpster Fire,” I’ll resist.

But also I can’t resist and here’s a picture of a dumpster fire.

It's small, it's compact, it's perfect.
It’s small, it’s compact, it’s perfect.

Oh c’mon, Kristin, it wasn’t so bad. (Pause to picture me straining to find really good things about 2016.) If I’m doing my math right, which is rare, all of the good things were canceled out with two bad things. I’m not saying this to garner any pity. Quite the opposite. I’d be happy if you joined me in watching it all burn in the dumpster fire above. Ah, bonding over warm flames. 2017 is looking better already!

In 2016, I finished editing a book I completely rewrote, hoping the huge improvements could snag an agent. Instead, the manuscript was declined by seven agents. I decided perhaps it’s time to table that book for now and move on to other things. I wrote two short stories, one of which has been declined four times so far.

via GIPHY

You know, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but sometimes this writing thing is hard. And I have never felt that more deeply than this year. And I know what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to take a good 15 minutes to feel sorry for myself, then get right back on that horse, nose to the grindstone, ass in seat.

Part of me thinks that’s a fine approach. But the other part of me thinks that’s just more of the same.

If you’ve started on the same crazy choice of careers, you know the one thing there is no shortage of: writing advice. Everyone from your aunt Carol to Stephen King has something to tell you about how to do this thing. The right way, the wrong way. Write, write, write! Write when you have something to say. Write your first three books then throw them away. Don’t let any time go to waste, be deliberate. All of it’s well intentioned. All of it has at least some merit.

But the second part to the advice that they don’t tell you is: now reflect on who you are, and if that advice can be applied to how you are.

I wish I had a greater epiphany this year, but perhaps this is just one of those sleeper-epiphanies that I’ll be thankful for when I’m 80. I learned I have only a few truly great ideas, and I have hundreds of good ideas. And I just want to write the truly great ones.

That means advice I followed before does not apply. Like: write, write, write! Get those million words in! Any writing work counts!

Instead, it means: slow down. Fully develop the story. Allow myself to think on the idea for however long I need to. Don’t write a good book. Only write the great ones. No matter how long that may take.

That’s not everyone’s road. But that’s what 2016 taught me personally. I don’t want to get merely paid for doing what I love. I want to be damn proud of every word in every book. I want it to mean something. I want it to be more than entertainment.

But first, I just gotta get out of this dumpster fire.

See you all in 2017! It might be better! What did this dumpst… I mean 2016 teach you?