Category Archives: need advice

The fear of the blank page.

I had to go back to the drawing board and re-outline my novella Mists of the Crossworlds, because I have realized that there was more to the story than I first thought… like at least 10k words more. This novella is slowly turning into a novel.

But this post is not about yet another transformation this ever-changing story is putting me through. Now that I’m forced to continue this story, I am faced with of the banes of a writer’s existence – the fear of the blank page.

When I first started writing, I thought this was a disease plaguing only new writers, but a year and a half and several finished projects later, I still get paralyzed by the sight of a blank page. The first 200 words of so of each daily session are the hardest to write. Sometimes they feel like pulling teeth. I have a detailed outline. I know where my story is supposed to go. And usually, once I get going, I can put up to 1k words on paper in one session without problems, but those first 200… they are always hard.

Before I started panicking, I dived into the wast ocean of the Internet and discovered that I’m not alone in my plight! That was strangely reassuring, actually. I think all of us creative types (writers, artists, painters) have this moment of fear when we begin something new. We stare at this yet unmarred page (or canvas) and we get scared to waste it, to create something unworthy. We forget for a moment that this is just the first draft, that any mistakes we make now can be corrected later. And no matter how many books you wrote and sold, how much money or recognition we gained, this fear will always be there…

I think it’s important to recognize that and not let it paralyze you. So I decided to analyze what helps me get past this fear and write anyway.

Sometimes, just sitting down and putting pen to paper, no matter what mood you are in, helps, because after those first excruciating 200 words, the story finally starts flowing again.

But sometimes  summoning the enthusiasm to write isn’t as easy. I found that reading good books on writing helps me fall in love with the process all over again. I have two books that I always come back to whenever I am in need of a pep talk. I’m gonna post them here in the hope that they might help somebody else as well.

First of all, I need to mention this book, because without it I wouldn’t be writing today. On Writing by Stephen King gave me the courage necessary to start that very first story a couple years ago. It will probably never see the light of day again, but It nudged me into the right direction. It’s a wonderful view into the life of an author, and while it doesn’t have a lot of technical stuff about the whole writing process, it has a lot of motivational and heartwarming insights. I still come back to it whenever I am in need of inspiration.

Another wonderful book to have on your bedside table, or on your Kindle is Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt, Johnny B Truant and David Wright. It has a lot of nuts and bolts of how to write and publish books, but also funny stories and plenty of encouragement. I think this book is a must read even if you are not planning on self-publishing your stories. I find it extremely motivating.

Another wonderful motivator is going to other writers’ blogs and reading their stories or hopping on Twitter and talking to a few fellow writers about it. Writing a solitary process, yes, but it doesn’t mean we are alone in this struggle. We all have good and bad days. We all get paralyzed by the sight of a blank page from time to time. So reaching out and just talking about it with people who understand exactly what you are going through helps a lot.

So there you have it. My struggle with the blank page and my ways of coping with it. What about you? Do you get blocked by the fear to start something new? If so, how do you get past it? I want to hear from you!

A call for Beta Readers.

helpwanted

Those of you who follow my blog more or less regularly know that I have several projects in various stages of competition.

I’ve just finished the first draft of The Choices we Make, a 110k words novel, so I needed to relax and switch focus for a bit. This I have been editing and outlining smaller projects, like the short stories in my Eye of the Norns Cycle.

I have concentrated most of my efforts on my novella Mists of the Crosswords, and I have taken it as far as I can take it on my own. But before I start looking for a professional editor to go over it with a fine tooth comb and fix my wonky grammar and punctuation, I need a fresh set of eyes on the story. This is where you come in.

This is a call for a few brave souls dedicated beta readers. I am looking for someone who will take the time to go over my story and tell me what works and what doesn’t, whether I left a plot hole big enough to drive a truck through, or if the actions of my characters stopped making sense all of a sudden. In other words, anything that jumps at you from the page and that I just don’t see anymore because I went over this story so many times.

I would like to point out that accepting to beta read is a hard job and can’t be taken lightly. Yes, you get to read a brand new book before anybody else, but I expect you to put some effort into it and give me constructive feedback. And I will need that feedback before the deadline.

The Mists of the Crossworlds is a fantasy novella aimed mostly towards Young Adults. Here is the blurb:

Lori has the ability to shift into the crossworlds, the strange plane that connects different words together. She guides merchant caravans for the Guild who has absolute monopoly on crossworld travel. But one day, her best friend goes missing and the mists start calling her name. Lori is faced with a though choice:  will she hide from those voices in the safety of the Guild Tower, or will she dare step off the beaten path in order to save the person that matters to her the most?

  •  All beta readers will receive a .docx file and a Beta Reader’s questionnaire that should help them focus on the areas I need most feedback with.
  • Please write your comments and suggestions directly in the file using Track Changes.
  • I would need all feedback and questionnaires sent back to me by March 9th. The novella is only 22k words long, so I think two weeks should be plenty of time.

All beta readers who accept this task and provide constructive feedback will be mentioned in the  Acknowledgement section once the book is published. They will also receive a free short story as a thank you gift.

If you are interested in beta reading it for me, please either put your email address in the comments to this post, or email me directly at elorenalory@gmail.com.

This story is a chameleon.

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A few months ago I wrote about The Mists of the Crossworlds, a short story that decided to become a novelette after it went through the first round of beta readers. You can read my post about that here if you are interested. So I went back to the drawing board, did an intense brainstorming session (that might have involved some alcoholic beverages), and added another 6k words to the story.

Well, now it’s finally done and ready to be unleashed on the world, I thought as I wrote THE END for the second time. I ran the story through the meat grinder of the first edit, rewrote 90% of it again, and send it to my beta readers yet again.

Then I got the comments back from one of my beta readers, the awesome Derek Pietras, and I was in for a surprise.

“Great story,” he said. “But the ending feels rushed and it feels like you left a good chunk of the story out.”

My first reaction upon reading this was “Not again!” I was so sure that this time I had uncovered everything this story had to give, and I was frankly a bit tired of it. So I put both my draft and the critique away and decided to sleep on it.

Not over

When I came back the next day and got to thinking about the ending of The Mists, I had to agree with Derek – it really felt rushed and abrupt. It left the reader with more questions than answers, which could be rather frustrating.

So I went back to basics and considered the main theme of the story, which is the interaction between the mists of the crossworlds and the Guides who travel the paths. That’s when I saw that while I had brought the protagonist to some sort of resolution in the end, I never even touched the conclusion of that main theme. So my beta reader was absolutely right: this story is far from finished. By the looks of it, I will end up adding at least another 4-5k words before I’m finally done.

While I was thinking about the ending, I realized that there was a whole additional layer that I needed to add to this story. So I’m looking at yet another full rewrite.

I must admit that this realization was both a bit disappointing and rather exciting.

Disappointing because I was looking forward to make The Mists of the Crossworlds my first self-published work. I even had a cover picked out, and I had a list of trustworthy editors. And I had spent the last few weeks educating myself about all the intricacies and pitfalls of the self-publishing route. So yes, I was disappointed that this important milestone in my writing career has to be postponed yet again.

But I am truly excited because there is so much more to this story than I thought when I first started working on it back in March. I feel like an archeologist peeling layer upon layer of dirt to uncover more and more treasures. And this new layer is not something I had planned for when I wrote this draft, yet now that I look at it, the hints are already hidden within the text. How did that happen?

I heard other writers talk about how sometimes their stories or their characters would surprise them, but this is the first time (well, technically the second time with this particular story) that this happens to me. The feeling is absolutely amazing. This is a story that keeps on giving.

So I’m going back to the drawing board again, reworking my outline, and I’m eager and excited to jump back into the writing process. Hopefully, once I’m done with it this time, I will be able to give my readers a truly interesting and well-written story.

So tell me, my fellow writers, has something like that ever happened to you? Have you had a story that just kept evolving and changing its colors, like a chameleon?

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Sometimes it’s not quite done when you think it’s done.

onceuponatime

 

I had an interesting experience the other day that I thought I’d share with my fellow writers (and readers). I had finished my second short story and sent it off to my beta extraordinaire. The feedback I got caught me by surprise.

“Loved the story,” she said. “That’s a very good first chapter. Where is the rest?”

“There is nothing more. The story is finished,” I answered.

“But it’s not! I want to know what happens next. This episode is over, yes, but the story itself isn’t finished.”

I didn’t try to argue with my beta because experience taught me that most of the time she was right anyway. Instead I went back to my story and thought long and hard about it. At first, I couldn’t see how I could continue it – in my mind, the story was finished. But something kept nagging at me for the next two days. I was neck deep in the revision of my novel, but my mind kept coming back to that short story, over and over again.

And Friday I finally had that ah-ha moment. You know, that moment when the scene you had been struggling with all of a sudden comes out seamlessly, or when you manage to fill in a particularly baffling plot hole? Yup, that moment. To me it was the realization that my beta had been right – there was more to my story than I thought at first. And I knew exactly where that story still had to go, and where it would end, for good this time. Now I just have to find the time to sit down and write it. So what I thought would be a short story turned out to be a novella instead.

It’s the first time this happened to me, but it’s true that I am just an apprentice, as far as writing goes. So I am wondering, did something similar ever happen to you? And if yes, how often?

I want to hear your stories. How often did you think that your story was done when in reality it wasn’t?

Do you need to be married to your job to be good at it?

This post was born out of a brief exchange I had with a friend on Twitter. She had mentioned that in all the popular TV shows, the cops always hang around the office after hours (and sometimes late into the night), even after the case is done. Why don’t they go home? Don’t they have a life outside their work?

That conversation made me think. I also took a hard look at the shows I like on TV to see if I could confirm or deny that statement. Well, the verdict isn’t pretty – it seems like the TV wants us to think that you cannot be a good specialist (be it a detective, a CSI, an agent, etc.) unless you are literally married to your job.

 NCIS crew courtesy CBS NCIS crew courtesy CBS.

In NCIS, for example, Gibbs has been divorced three times and the relationships he had during the show never lead anywhere. He lives in a house that looks more like a cheap and ran down motel and spends most of his time in the basement working on a boat. Ducky was sharing his home with his mother until she passed away and now lives alone. As far as we know, he has never been married and is not in a relationship. Tony’s romantic life had been a train wreck after train wreck. All of them practically live at work.

CSI, another popular series, also shows us a group of workaholics with almost non-existent social lives or failing relationships. Nick, Greg, Julie and Morgan are all single. Sara’s relationship with Grissom ended a few seasons ago and Brass still has problems with his ex-wife and step-daughter. Heck, even the family man D.B Russell is starting to feel the strain in his personal life.

CSI courtesy CBS.
CSI courtesy CBS.

And there are plenty more shows like that. Heck, the latest example of this was shown in Rizzoli and Isles, when Jane chose her career over marriage to the man she loved, because it meant following him around.

My problem with that portrayal is that it slowly convinces the viewers that if you want to be good at your job, you need to prioritize it above everything else, personal life included. You need to be married to it, even obsessed with it.

Well, I have a beef to pick with that. First of all, obsession is never healthy. Also if you structure all your life around one single thing, once this thing taken from you, your life crumbles. Have you noticed that when those series show us a retired cop, he is usually either a heavy drinker, struggles with depression or bitter at the world? And how many characters took their own lives when they were declared unfit for duty for one reason or another?

I don’t agree that you have to sacrifice everything to be good at your job. I think that in order to be good at something, you need to be a healthy and balanced person. That means having more than one “obsession”, a hobby that you would enjoy doing during your free time, plenty of friends (and not only colleagues), and a good family life / personal relationship. That way, if disaster strikes and you fail at one aspect of your life, you still have all the others to fall back to and help you through. And your work won’t suffer too much, if you leave on time to enjoy a good dinner with your family. On the contrary, you might come to work happier the next day and ready to tackle oncoming challenges.

So that’s the characters whose stories I want to read and watch. I want well-rounded people. I want people who are not defined only by their job, who can balance profession and personal life, and be happy doing both. Those people are not boring. They have their own challenges to overcome. And there is so much more that can be done with characters like that as an author.

So what do you think? Do you think that being married to your job is unhealthy? Do you think that we, as authors need to create more in-depth characters who actually have a life to come home to? I would love to hear from you all.

On editing – did I really write this crap?

When I was in the middle of the first draft of my novel, I ready many blog posts about writing, first drafts, rewriting and editing. I read somewhere that first drafts sucked, and that you were lucky if you kept about 10% of it on the rewrite. I remember thinking this can’t be true! That would be absolutely horrible and heartbreaking to spend months putting one word after the other just to have most of them end up in the dust bin.

Well, once I finished my first draft and put it in a drawer to marinate until I come back to it in February, I decided to distract myself by writing a short story. It was set in a completely different world than my novel and it was fun to write… Then I decided that before I could dive into editing a 100k words manuscript, I should probably try and tackle a 4k words story first, just to see what it entrails.

I read my short story with a critical eye and realized that it had all kinds of inherent problems.

First of all I was so focused on putting the story down and fitting it in a short story format, that I didn’t give my main character a chance to say anything. Basically, it was like I gagged her, tied strings to her arms and legs, and marched her down the story like a brave little puppet. She did all those wonderful deeds and never got a moment to tell the reader why she did them or how she felt about them.

Then I noticed a second problem with my story. My heroine encounters an old dying werewolf and, after hearing the creature’s story, takes pity on it and puts its soul to rest. Well, the werewolf’s story frankly sucked. A woman scorned by a man who turns into a monster and destroys the entire village where the man lived? Including innocent women and children who had done her no harm? No way in hell my character would empathize with a monster like that! But the fact that she connected with the werewolf and understood her pain was important to the story. The conclusion was – the werewolf needed a better story.

 Editing my short story.Editing my short story.

So I sat down with my printed short story, lots of spare paper and a blue pen and went to town: changing, adding, crossing out and rewriting. In the end I think I kept maybe 5% of the original first draft, everything else had been drastically rewritten. I think the story is better now, but that still a lot of words that ended up deleted.

 

This also kind of scares me when I think about the 100k words 350 pages monster waiting for me in my desk drawer. If I have to rewrite my novel just as drastically, it will take me months to accomplish this.

Of Broken Things – first draft finished.

Last night, I crossed a very important milestone: I finished the first draft of the novel I had started in November 2013 for NaNoWriMo. For me, it is a huge accomplishment, because I have never actually finished anything before.

Sure, I have plenty of stories that I had started and abandoned after a couple chapters, when I got bogged down by plot inconsistencies, couldn’t see my characters clearly or had no clue where my story was going, or simply got bored and went off to write the next shiny new thing. But not this time. This time I stuck with it, through happy moments when words flew onto the page faster than I could write them down and moments when every single word seemed to cost an ounce of my own blood. I stuck with the story, with the characters and I brought it all to a satisfying conclusion.

The feeling is… exhilarating, electrifying and a bit scary. I have done it. I finished something. I proved to myself that I am a writer, that I can tell stories from beginning to the end. That’s the exhilarating part.

The scary part is that I am entering uncharted waters now. I have never finished a draft before, so I have no idea how to go about rewriting and editing it, and what steps to take to transform it into a book it deserves to be, a book that I wouldn’t be ashamed to send out into the world. It feels like standing at the entrance of a labyrinth with no map and knowing that you have to navigate through it to the other side. It’s kind of paralyzing.

So I need help and I need advice from everyone who has been in my shoes and had already tackled the editing hurdle. Where do I go now? How do I even begin?