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December 2016

How do you know when it’s time to enlist a second reader?

Can you believe we’re already halfway through December? I feel as if Novel in November – remember that epic journey we did last month? – is already yonks away in the distant past. Thoughts of Christmas and this busy season have set my dear little novel on a back burner this month, and I must say, I really miss it!

But of course I should be spending regular revising it as it’s our revision month! But boy is it difficult to stick to task when there’s no ticking clock & world-wide community keeping you accountable… am I right? Oh the blessing/curse of deadlines!

If you’re finding yourself in a similar slump – wanting to get that manuscript pressed & polished for the new year but failing to find the drive, then maybe… just maybe it’s time to enlist a Second Reader. Dun dun dun…

Now don’t flip out just yet! I did say maybe. And it might not be that time. For instance, if you know your novel is in bits & pieces that won’t stand a chance of being understood coherently, then work out the big issues before handing it over. OR, as Bri recommended in her revision post last week, if you feel you’re just too fragile at this particular moment to weather criticism & the inevitable of others not loving your book as much as you’d hoped, then maybe it’s not the time. Yet. 

But let me encourage you to dare to share. Here’s when it might just be a good idea:
  • Your story is more or less in place chronologically, but you’ve lost objectivity & need a 2nd pair of eyes to tell you if it all makes sense? It’s time to share! Amazingly, thanks to pre-planning, I don’t need to do any huge plot revision… I don’t think. I just need to know that what made sense in my head actually comes across on the page to the reader.
  • Your story has a target readership that’s not you? Test it out! My own novel is aimed at 9-12 year olds (mostly girls). I happen to be blessed with five nieces & several friends around that age bracket who are excellent readers. So I’m sending off a copy to them all on 16 December. See what I’ve done there? I’ve got a deadline to get my engine revving up again! I mean, who wants to break a promise to a bunch of eager 9-12 year old girl??!!
  • Your story contains specialist topics or lingo? Get in an expert! The main character of my story is an equestrian. I am not. Sure, I did a bit of research to get the basic terminology down. I even visited the Royal Horse Guard at St James’ Palace so I could experience period stable culture. But I’m still no expert. I want the horse language in my novel to be believable to my equestrian readers but still accessible to those less versed. So, I’ve asked my literary equestrian friend to be a second reader! Bingo! Don’t have a friend who’s an expert? Consider emailing a teaching assistant or grad student at a local college, for instance. They like showing off what they know;-)

It can be truly earth shattering to hand out something so personal and so precarious as a DRAFT of your novel. But overcoming the fear of criticism is essential to becoming a writer. We write for our own sakes, sure. But story is a craft meant to be shared with others.

So dare to share! Here a couple more tips to help you take the plunge:
  • Choose your second readers carefully! Don’t only give your novel to your mum or your spouse (though by all means share with them if they can be objective!). But preferably go with folks who know the genre you’re writing, or who understand the craft of writing themselves. They will have a critical eye, but hopefully a gentle approach as well!
  • Ask specific questions. I recommend putting together a review questionnaire for your second readers. Especially if they are young readers, ie. my nieces & young friends. They may have great feedback, yet if you only ask them “So, how did you like the book?” They’ll likely not know where to begin and just tell you, “Yea, it was good.” Not so helpful. So ask specifics! What did you like about this character? How would you describe the villain? Were you surprised when you discovered who the murderer was? … You get the drift.
  • Brace yourself, and consider comments carefully. Novels are subjective pieces of art. They won’t resonate with every reader equally, but that doesn’t comment on their objective value (or yours as the writer!). Take every comment into consideration, but don’t be too hasty to make changes. You as the author must still love what you’ve written at the end of the day. And if you love it, chances are, there’s a readership out there who will really love it too.

 

So how’s editing going for you? Have you dared to share? Share your experience with us & the Brewhaha community in the comments below!

Happy Editing!!!

Rough Draft to First Draft

For today, I’m going to talk about turning a rough draft into a first draft. As I write my rough drafts, I use comments to keep track of things not working, or I need to change, or research, or think through. Then, as soon as I am done with my rough draft, I pull out my notebook and write down any random thoughts in my head. My rough drafts are out of order and inconsistent and a mess.

I do NOT work on character development, chapter endings and beginnings, point of view, etc during this first edit. What I am aiming for is a usable draft, one that makes a least a little sense and has at least a little order to it. Focusing on the big picture.

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To turn my rough draft into a first draft, I simply go through the comments I made while writing the first draft and do whatever I needed to do. Sounds simple, right? NOT!

I mean, some of it is. For example:

  • Mention the year
  • Have the top down in the convertible
  • Fix spelling and grammar errors

Some are easy, but a little more time consuming:

  • Delete this character. Unnecessary
  • Rewrite this scene so she isn’t so shy
  • Research house fires and smoke inhalation

And some are scary to think about:

  • Change the timing of the first half of the book from taking place over a week to three weeks
  • Think through an explanation that drives the climax; doesn’t make sense
  • Fill in all the obvious plot holes

So, not exactly a small step, but it is a starting point. Look at your draft and start with the obvious problems, the ones you identified as you wrote it. You did note those down, right? Don’t assume you will remember! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that…and then forgotten I was even supposed to remember something! Make a list if you have to and mark things off as you complete them. I delete the comments as I fix the problems.

So how are all of you doing? We are a third of the way through December (ahhhhh!!), the new year is approaching. Now is the time to buckle down so we can all start 2017 with a decent first draft. Wouldn’t that be awesome, to have a good first draft that didn’t even exist before November??

Happy revising!

Book Review: Eliza Rose (by Lucy Worsley)

Eliza Rose is the up-close and personal account of young Elizabeth Camperdowne, a girl growing up among the nobility in Tudor England. From her youngest days, Eliza is taught to put her duty to her household name and family above all else. As her story opens on her twelfth birthday, she is already prepared to become betrothed to a stranger for the sake of making a good family alliance.

But when her father’s marriage plans for Eliza go sour, she is sent instead to a finishing school for girls destined to go to King Henry VIII’s Royal Court. When Eliza is finally selected to become a maid of honour at Court along with her confident, worldly-wise cousin Katherine Howard, she is ecstatic! But life at Court proves more of a battlefield than a ball for the two cousins, and Eliza must determine who her true friends are and where her real duties lie.

I found myself spell-bound by this story from page one.  Thanks to the first-person narrative and to Lucy Worsley’s in-depth knowledge of the time period and Hampton Court (where a large part of the story takes place), the book reads more like a genuine memoir than a fictional story. And for the history enthusiast, there is so much to glean from this book about Tudor day England and life at Court. But even for readers with less inclination towards history, Eliza Rose is the sort of honest, believable character that modern girls can easily relate to and it is impossible not to become fully tangled up in her plight.

A word of warning: I had expected this book to be aimed at Middle Grade readers, probably due to the picture of a young girl on the cover. In fact, the material is better suited to teen readers. The dark and even violent nature of life at Court in those days and the duties young girls were expected to perform may be disturbing to younger readers. But for those slightly more mature bookworms, I highly recommend Eliza Rose and hope Lucy Worsley intends to write many more historically-inspired books like it!

Genre: Young Adult historical fiction

Tea: Earl Grey Latte

Beginning the Revision Process

If you’ve ever finished a rough draft, you’ve probably felt the rush of victory, the pride of knowing you did it. Maybe even printed it out and stared in awe at the stack of pages that came from your imagination.

And right after those amazing feelings fade, there comes the panic of what now. The horror that anyone may see the awful thing you created. The sheer overwhelming weight of all you still have to do to turn it into a polished manuscript.

That is where I am at right now, and maybe you are too. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying.

For the next couple weeks, Mez and I are going to discuss our thoughts on revising. Basically, our processes of revising our cringe worthy rough drafts into something we can (hopefully) submit for publication.

First things first. Save your rough draft. In several places. Then do ‘Save As’ and save the document as a ‘First Draft.’ I suggest doing this for every draft, with clear names of the story and draft. Sometimes you find you’ve made a change that shouldn’t have been made and you need to go back to a former draft (this is mostly in later drafts, but you can never save too much!)

Revising can seem overwhelming, especially if your rough draft is very rough. Don’t panic! I’ve found the best thing to do is to take it one step at a time, starting with the big picture and then getting down to the nitty-gritty. Revising takes a long time; I know it sounds cliché, but it really is a journey. But hey, good news, you don’t have to get it right the first time!

I recommend a book by James Scott Bell, Revision and Self-Editing. It’s a very easy to read and understand book but gets very in-depth. There are exercises and examples to help you get the handle on different aspects of writing along with an awesome checklist to go through. I pull it out every time I finish a first draft.

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Here are some things to keep in mind as you begin the revision process:

  • Save your drafts. Oh, did I mention this already? SAVE SAVE SAVE!
  • If you can, take a bit of a break. It helps to step away for a while. But not too long!
  • Unless you have a very trusted friend (yay Mez!), or a whole lot of self-confidence, or a very good rough draft, don’t show your rough draft to anyone. You’re just inviting criticism, probably a lot of it you already know. Wait until you have a polished draft. And a suit of armor.
  • Make lists and notes. Don’t assume you will remember to change Jeremy’s name to Dennis. Write it down.
  • Do small, easy changes first, the ones that don’t take a lot of time or affect a lot.
  • Yet don’t be nitpicky at first. You don’t want to perfectly polish page after page only to realize you are going to delete all those pages because they no longer fit.
  • Don’t get discouraged! It can all be fixed.

Here are some articles:

Review Your Plot

A Look at Revision

Mez and Bri’s Quick Guide to Peer Editing

Next time, I’ll discuss how I turn a rough draft into a first draft (yes, for me, there is a difference.) I was going to do it this time but, well, it was too long. Heads up, I love revising! I apologize in advance.

Night everyone! My Cadbury Mini Eggs arrive tomorrow, so if I disappear, you can find me eating the entire bag in one sitting with a giant cup of homemade chai, hiding under a warm fuzzy blanket with a book. Heaven.

Bri’s Thoughts on Her First NaNoWriMo

Happy December everyone! 22 days til Christmas and 28 days til the New Year…2016 has flown by!

But before we focus on what’s left of the year, let’s talk about the past month. It was rough, there was mental exhaustion, and a lot of words were written. But when the dust settled at the stroke of midnight on November 30th, Mez and I both had been declared winners of NaNoWriMo!!

In other words…WE EACH WROTE OVER 50,000 WORDS IN A MONTH!!

I’m still a bit in awe. Don’t get me wrong, neither of us wrote 1,667 words every day. Both of us stayed true to our procrastinating natures and wrote most of it last minute.

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On November 28th, I had 26,000 words. I wrote the other 24k in the last two days. I turned in my 50,018 words at 10:00 on the 30th. It may have been last minute, but I did it and I’m still incredibly surprised that I did.

Here are some things I learned during my first NaNoWriMo.

How Fast I Can Really Write

I have a confession. I have a very bad habit of watching a movie or tv show while I write. Always something I’ve seen before, but still playing in the background. I knew I could write faster without the distraction, but I didn’t realize how much faster. When I really had to buckle down to finish on time, I found I could write literally twice as many words when I focused only on writing. So I’m going to work on breaking this horrid habit! (As I watch a movie as I write this 🙂

To Do More Research

This is funny because one of Mez’s was not to research so much! But I found myself having to summarize a few scenes because I didn’t have the knowledge I needed. Normally, I would have just stopped and done the research, but I was in a bit of a time crunch. So I made do with what I had, but I have lots of comments saying ‘research this.’

To Turn Off Spell Check, Grammar Check, and the Word Count

I think I’m going to do this for every first draft from now on. It really did help. I had no idea how much I’ve been trained that when I see the red or green scriggly lines, I MUST go back and fix it. So while I am now a little afraid to turn the checks back on, I could write faster and be more focused on what I was writing than on that word I misspelled three words ago. As far as the word count goes, I kept focusing on it too much. It was much better to turn it off and be pleasantly surprised after my writing session. Otherwise, the word count seemed to rise very slowly and discouraged me.

To Set A Timer

This was perhaps the hardest thing to force myself to do. I set a timer, 2-3 hours and did not let myself get up from my desk for that time. I didn’t check my phone or move off the focus view of my document. The only reason I let myself get up was if my dog decided she had to go out (an interruption I was usually grateful for). Considering I want to be a published writer, this was ridiculously hard to do, but something I’m going to do from now on.

To Have People Holding Me Accountable

The only way I got the 50k done was through the fact I had told all of you I was going to do it, Mez’s encouragement (and the fact she finished first…I’m slightly competitive and determined to also finish since she did 🙂 and my friend, Peach, holding a sign saying ‘You have a novel to write’ (or something to that effect) when I really wanted to watch Criminal Minds and yet at six hours to write 5,000 words. The guilt trip worked and I wrote. Thanks, everyone!

And the one thing I learned that I wish I hadn’t…

I Can Write 12,000 Words in a Day

Why is this a bad thing? Because I can just see myself next year. “Oh, I wrote 12,000 words a day. I won’t have to start writing until the last week and will still finish on time. No rush!” This is just how my mind works. By next November, I will have forgotten how hard it was, how tiring, how stressful, and will only remember I did it. I really hope I can fight against my procrastination habit next year.

I hope all of you had a productive November, whether you won NaNoWriMo or not, whether you even participated or not. Any words written, pages revised, or agents queried is progress, so don’t be discouraged if you didn’t get as much done was you planned. And if you did, hey, give yourself a treat!

I bought myself a bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs.

I love them.

So much.

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That was my November! Next is to revise the mess I’m trying to pass off as a first draft, and I also hope to complete the first draft of Fey (you know, the novel I was supposed to have finished a second draft of before I went to see Mez in England back in September).

What are you goals for the end of the year? What do you want to accomplish in these last days of 2016? Whatever it is, good luck to you! And don’t be a procrastinator. It isn’t worth it. Trust me.

Mez’s Top 5 Takeaways from Novel in November

It’s December 2nd, and I’m trying to sort out what to do with my life now Novel in November is officially over. I’ve concluded it’s worth taking a couple of days before the holiday rush and the editing process to reflect on what I’ve learned through this amazing, rewarding & rather gruelling experience.

And here’s what I’ve pondered up: It’s a pretty wonderful thing being a writer, because nothing you do is ever a waste of time. You might feel that the draft you’ve just produced is going nowhere & you’d like to scrap the whole lot, & therefore that the process of writing a novel in a month has been a waste.

BUT, my personal opinion & experience is that the process of writing is what polishing you into the Writer of better books. So even if this project you’ve just finished is not what you hoped it would be, YOU are growing, and you are that much closer to the book that you want to write each and every time you sit down to attempt it.

There really is so much to be said for trying & failing, and trying again. You can read blogs & books all day long about how to write a novel, Dos & Don’ts and all of that, but ultimately it’s all head knowledge until you try the thing for yourself. That’s what makes all those little tips and craft come to life & suddenly become applicable.

In my case, this was my second attempt at a full novel, and the second one was SO much easier because of what I’d learned from doing the first (which was, btw, a complete mess & I almost gave up on the whole dream because I felt there was no hope for me!). But only now do I see just how much I gleaned from that experience. A LOT.

So if you, like me, are wondering what to do with yourself now it’s December, let me encourage you to STOP, give yourself a breather & take stock of what you’ve learned from this Novel in November experience… SO THAT you can do it better next time!

BECAUSE THERE WILL BE A NEXT TIME!!!!!!!

***Now for my TOP 5 “Things I Learned from Novel in November 2016″***

1. Practice makes… better… & faster

No perfection here, but I have been amazed by how much I’ve upped my rate of writing! There’s nothing like a ticking clock to force you to crank the words out! It reminded me frighteningly of running sprints over the summer – every time you push yourself, you get a little stronger & just a little faster. Same with word sprints!

2. Don’t over-research!

Hard lesson to learn, because I LOVE research! I could do it all day. Problem is, I can do it all day in the name of prepping for my novel when actually not an nth of the fascinating notes I’ve taken will actually make it into the novel.

This was perhaps my biggest mistake with my last novel. I had gazillions of notebooks full of researched, thought out notes… but not much plot. In the end, I was overwhelmed & worse, my story was overwhelmed with trying to fit in ALL THAT STUFF! So take it from one who’s learned the hard way: plot first, then research what you need for the story. When you’ve finished your ms, you can reward yourself with day at the library or on Google researching to your heart’s content!

3. Planning really does work wonders!

Previously, I was on the fence about plotting over pantsing… after this Novel in November, I’m a BIG believer in plotting, using one of the many methods out there (see Bri’s blogpost on that!) Having Jeff Gerke’s book there as as guide was a tremendous help for someone like me who doesn’t know where to begin nor where to end the pre-planning (bc, see above, I tend to overdo it!). I still got lots of surprises with my plot along the way, but there was never that sickening moment when I discovered an enormous hole in my plot 2/3s of the way through… Save yourselves!!!

4. Got an idea? Write it down immediately!

With 1 month to finish 50,ooo words, you’ve got to write whether you’re feeling inspired, or feeling like a brick. No choice. BUT, should that magic feeling of inspiration come (& it’ll probs come whilst your driving or showering) don’t let it get away! And don’t count on yourself to remember that great plot twist or killer bit of punchy dialogue. Get it down on some piece of something ASAP!

5. Getting the 1st draft down quickly pays off 

Once again, before coming to this whole NaNoWriMo business, I was a bit of a skeptic. What, I thought, is the point of gushing out words for a month if they’re going to be rushed & rubbish & require the whole rest of the year to re-write?

But now I’ve done it, I am a true believer in getting your story idea down quickly. Why? Firstly, in the past I’ve over-labored my 1st draft, it’s taken a whole year, & in the end of that year, I never wanted to touch the thing again. With 30 days to do it, I kept my momentum, & my mind didn’t have time to get into tangles or explore all my options. I  just had to go with my gut… & my gut wasn’t so off!

Secondly, too much time on my hands gives my inner critic (negative little thing she is) time to rear her prim, nosy, despairing little head. BUT with only 30 days to work with, I simply did not have the time to entertain her. And when I do unleash her for the edit, she will be a much humbled critic who will NOT despair because I will remind her of this little piece of documentation proving that I am a growing novelist:

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Tomorrow Bri will share her own reflections – can’t wait to hear them! And I’m so proud of her for finishing on time, against all odds & juggling 2 jobs & dozens of dairy goats! She’s my heroine! 

And stay tuned after that as we dive into December’s topics: Revision! and festive, wintery reads… 🙂 and, hopefully, you’ll be seeing our Sept. Story Chasers in London Vlog here in the coming days! 

How’s about you? How did you find the Novel in November (or NaNo) experience?

What did you take away from it for future writing projects? 

The Mystery of the King’s Ransom (by Helen Moss)

Another summer on Castle Key Island means another mystery for Emily Wild and her friends, brothers Jack and Scott, to solve. This time, a school boy goes missing from camp and a suspicious group of mafia-like foreign agents come to stay at the Lighthouse for a supposed “fishing trip”. Nothing is quite as it seems, including the missing boy’s identity. With her keen detective skills, her friends’ help and her loyal dog Drift by her side, Emily & Co. find themselves in the thick of a royal ransom. The stakes are high, and so is the likelihood of real and serious danger.

This 11th book in Helen Moss’s Adventure Island series delivers all the goods avid readers of her books hope for. Like a modern day Famous Five, the Adventure Island books make great holiday reads for those looking for something light and a bit corny, but with a twist of mystery to keep you on the edge or your seat. There is never a dull moment for the Castle Key crew of characters.

Genre: Middle Grade adventure

Tea: Coconut

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