On maturing as a writer.

Sunday morning I got notes on SHARDS back from one of my CPs. When it popped up in my inbox I looked a lot like this:

Except I didn’t look nearly as attractive as James Van Der Beek.

Basically, the gist of this particular set of notes is that my male characters are dreamy I just need to tweak some things and this thing should be ready.* Obviously, I’m still waiting on feedback from my other CPs, BUT STILL.

If you had told me that four years ago, I would have looked like this:

I promise I don’t spit take this much in real life.

I was barely 20 when I started the first draft of SHARDS. I didn’t even bother finishing it; I got about 35k words in before I realized I wasn’t feeling it and restarted it from scratch. I did complete that draft. It took me three years, but I finally sat myself down and forced myself to finish it.

One thing I noticed when I was reading through it last year was how much my writing changed over the course of the book. It…was not good. Word choice has never been a problem for me, but sentence structure? As I was reading, I could tell at what point in time I took my English classes because that gradually improved. I still love passive voice and dialogue tags pretty hard, but my sentences grew less convoluted – mostly because I finally figured out where I should be putting modifiers. (Side note: I didn’t even know what a modifier was until that post-bac quarter after I graduated. True story.)

But it’s not just the writing; it’s the story, too. There’s more depth to it. At first the whole story was just the reincarnation thing. Which was fine, I guess, but I realized things would fizzle out pretty fast unless I added some layers. So I added the politics. Then I added religious tension. Then I piled in some social and gender conflict, too.

I think that no matter what happens, I’ll always have a special bond with SHARDS. It isn’t the first novel I’ve completed, but it is the first one I’ve bothered to put in the work on, and it’s grown up along with me.

The past four years have been a lot of this:

But it’s been worth it, no matter what, because of all of the things I’ve learned.

*My male characters are really dreamy, though. Not that I’m biased.

Draft 3: It’s a wrap!

I finally finished my third draft of SHARDS! Huzzah!

It took way longer than I’d been planning, because I went on vacation, then there was that whole trying to find a job thing, and then there was that slump when I failed to find a job, and LIFE. Which isn’t to say that there’s really an excuse, because there will come a day at some point in the future where I won’t have the luxury of Not Writing for weeks and weeks, but whatever. It is what it is. (Let’s not talk about how I’d planned to have this done at the end of July, and it is now the end of October. Oops.)

My previous draft was 49k. This one was 54k. Which is still really, really short for a fantasy novel, but I sort of already started Draft 4 during WriteOnCon, and given all the things I’ve already added, this next draft will be…much longer than 54k. Draft 3 was a complete rewrite of Draft 2, to the point where I didn’t even look at Draft 2. Draft 4 is going to be a revision of Draft 3, where I add things and change things and delete things, but will still bear a resemblance to Draft 3. I’ve never actually revised a novel before (I’ve barely revised a history paper, let’s be honest), sooooo more on how that whole thing goes after it’s actually done. I’m not going to set a deadline for that yet because NaNo is a week away, and I’m going to be putting SHARDS aside for the month so I can focus on rewriting FIRE. But my best guess is I’ll have Draft 4 done around the end of January. For realsies, guys.

Road Trip Wednesday: WIP Love List

Currently Listening To: Kelly Clarkson – “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”
Currently Reading: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.

We’d love for you to participate! Just answer the prompt on your own blog and leave a link – or, if you prefer, you can include your answer in the comments.

This Week’s Topic is: Inspired by Stephanie Perkins’ post on Natalie Whipple’s blog, what is your novel’s “Love List”?

mischievous society girls
magic
secrets
that boy who is Off Limits
intrigue
dynastic conflict
pretty dresses
tea parties
everything in shades of gray rather than black and white
dusty libraries

What do you love about your novel?

In which I continue to Learn New Things

It is a well-documented fact that I am currently doing a rewrite of SHARDS.

This is new territory for me. Finishing the thing was new territory for me, too. The only thing I’ve ever finished previously was my 2007 NaNo (approximately half of which was comprised of ADD SCENE HERE); my computer is a veritable graveyard of partly-finished works.

SHARDS actually dates all the way back to 8th grade, when 14-year-old Stephanie decided that if J.R.R. Tolkien could craft an elaborate and realistic world (I was in my Lord of the Ringsphase back then), well, then SO COULD I.

14-year-old Stephanie wouldn’t recognize the story that I have here, nine years later. I think 14-year-old Stephanie’s mind would be blown by what this has turned into. And she sure would be laughing if she realized where I’d be heading with this.

I think the awesome thing about this whole writing thing is that there’s always something new to learn. Right now, it’s how to revise things. When I typed END OF BOOK ONEat the end of that Word document at the end of January, I had to sit and watch TV shows on Hulu to keep from getting overwhelmed at the thought of HOW MUCH WORK is still ahead of me.

But then again, you don’t solve problems by looking at EVERYTHING AT ONCE. So I broke it down into the pieces I really need to work on: plot, character development, setting, sentence structure and word choice. And so, I’m focusing on one thing at a time. This go-around, it’s plot.

Guys, I’m actually outlining this thing. What is this?

Last week was pretty crazy (read: I spent every moment I wasn’t asleep or at work reading Insurgent), so I didn’t get a whole lot done, but I’m looking forward to tackling this thing in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a taste of what I’ve got so far.

FIRST PAGE AHOY.

The thing I remember most about the day my life changed is the heat.It shimmered through the temple windows in waves, settling over my shoulders like a shawl. Not even a breeze stirred inside the cavernous marble chamber to loosen the strands of my brown hair plastered to my forehead.

I hissed as my mother jabbed me with her fan. “Pay attention!” she whispered.

All around me, the congregation – women and children, since the men went to a separate service in the evening – were lowering to the floor, settling on their knees. I followed suit so quickly, I almost fell over onto the old woman next to me, most likely drawing more attention to myself than I had by daydreaming.

And then, it was silent, not even the priestess’s droning voice rising above the heads of the congregation. What should I pray for today, I wondered?

I looked around through mostly-closed eyelids. As far as my eyes could see, heads were bowed, covered by lace scarves; hands were on knees; a few lips were moving silently, but most mouths were firmly shut.

My mother shifted next to me, almost as though she knew I were being disobedient. I swiftly squeezed my eyes shut and cast a thought upward to Stella, Lady of Light, Please, put an end to the monotony.

If only I’d known.

Progress:
3344 / 50000 words. 7% done!

On becoming a morning person.

I’ve been getting up every day at 5:30 for work, and something completely terrible is happening as a result: I’m turning into a morning person.

It’s Saturday morning. I think I actually woke up at 5 or 5:30, but I finally got out of bed at 6. And…I’m actually sort of okay with it. My apartment is so quiet right now, I don’t have to fight anyone else for the coffee or the bathroom. I have time to sit and leisurely enjoy my coffee and my book before I have to go to my weekend job. It’s actually pretty nice, not being in a hurry.

Theoretically I should also be able to get some writing done, now that I’m not falling asleep (seriously, I fell asleep last night while catching up on last week’s episodes of Colbert – how is that even possible?), and I probably will in a little bit after I’ve checked my email and checked out some more of your blogs. I’ve got a short story in progress that’s a sort of companion piece to SHARDS. You see, there’s this whole reincarnation plot that I keep forgetting to mention in all of my summaries everywhere, so this story is a little bit of the backstory to that, me trying to get inside one of the characters’ heads a little bit more since we only really get one side of the story in SHARDS. (Plus, it’s fun to write from different perspectives every once in awhile!)

Hopefully, I’ll be able to finish that today, and then I can return my focus back to my SHARDS revision! Which isn’t really progressing, with the whole being busy thing. I’m outlining the book right now so I can see the different threads and where they all are, where I have holes that I need to fill in, or where I might shift things, or cut things altogether. Thinking about this doesn’t actually make me want to cry anymore. It’s reading my writing in the early chapters that makes me want to cry. This story was written over the course of two years, and I like to think that my writing got better over time…but I guess I’ll have to see. Apparently I had a tendency to, ahem, misplace my modifiers. ALL THE MODIFIERS ALL OVER THE PLACE. Now that I’m teaching writing, this mostly just makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry.

I’m also toying with some ideas for more writing posts. We’re doing a short story unit in writing right now, so we’re talking about all sorts of things with the students – characterization, setting, conflict, plot, POV, verb tense…I might try to write up posts about some of these topics in the coming weeks.

Ooh, there’s another thing about mornings. I feel so much more productive now that I’ve got all that extra time before my day really gets going! Because if I wait until after my day is over to try to get anything done…it doesn’t work because I’m tired and my brain is fried. But right now, I’m still fresh! (And well-caffeinated. Can’t forget about that!)

Morning people, I’m sorry I hated on you for so long…but I still suggest waiting until I’ve had at least one cup of coffee before you try to talk my ear off.

Currently Listening To: David Guetta feat. Fergie & LMFAO – “Gettin’ Over You”

Currently Reading: Three Maids for a Crown by Ella March Chase

So…I finished my draft.

So…this happened:

(I think it should get bigger if you click on it. If it doesn’t, though, this is the last page of SHARDS OF MEMORY. Hooray!)

This is me right now:

…and then I remembered that now I get to revise the thing:

…but I’m going to go ignore that for the moment. Because right now, I mostly just feel like watching The Daily Show, or maybe taking a nap, which would probably be a terrible idea because I’m getting up at 5:30 tomorrow morning.

Currently Listening To: Ke$ha – “Take It Off”
Currently Reading: Splendor by Anna Godbersen

Process: what I’ve learned so far

I’ve started plenty of novels. I even finished one. And all of these Glorious Piles of Crap are now sitting in a folder on my computer, never to be opened again.

From all of these Glorious Piles of Crap, I’ve learned a little bit about my process, at least drafting-wise. The best strategy for me seems to be to just sit down and start writing, and just not look back. I’m an unabashed pantser.

I mean, I tried outlining a few of these Glorious Piles of Crap, but I just gave up halfway through because my strong sense of whimsy just felt too restricted. This sort of makes me laugh, because I pretty much spend all the waking hours I’m not writing outlining EVERYTHING. I mean, I wrote A LOT of papers, and I couldn’t have written a single one of them without a detailed outline, plotting out my argument, including evidence, how my assertions were connected to my thesis, etc., so I could make sure it all made sense.

For example, this is part of an outline for a paper I wrote about marriage in late medieval Florence:

And so on for several pages.

Thinking about it, writing a novel isn’t really much different, I thought. I mean, if you think about the argument in a history paper, that’s sort of like the plot, and all the pieces of evidence are like the scenes in a novel, each of them playing a specific part in advancing the argument (or plot). The outline is sort of necessary to make I can piece together the argument (plot), to make sure everything makes sense and that there aren’t gaping holes and whatever. So I tried to apply this mentality to my novels. But then when I tried to write my novels like this, it failed spectacularly. I eventually just gave up, and I actually started writing way faster when I just sat down to write, instead of feeling like I had to stick to an outline. (Which, again, is the complete opposite of how I write papers.) I think part of this is, aside fromt the fact that I’m obviously not analyzing historical passages in the context of an argument, I also have to take into account the fact that when I write, I’m more or less just going with the flow of my character interactions, and as much as I try, my characters are people and I can’t really control how they react to things.

So now that I’ve finallyfigured that out, I now get to figure out how I revise. Which sort of makes me want to cry when I think about it, because SHARDS OF MEMORY is a hot mess, and while thinking about how I revise my history papers will be a good place to start, the truth is that none of them have ever required quite as much revision as my newborn book will. But I have a feeling it’ll involve outlining what I have, so I can analyze all the relationships between all the scenes and what needs more fleshing out and what doesn’t make sense, because that’s just how my brain works.

Also, a lot of Ben & Jerry’s.

Teaser: Shards of Memory, #5

I’m sitting at 36k right now, just 14k short of my 50k goal. As I wrote on Twitter earlier, things are starting to get REAL, so I have a feeling that things are going to pretty much write themselves for this last bit. (Fingers crossed. I’ve probably just jinxed myself.)

I haven’t posted a teaser in awhile, so I’ve decided to post one. It’s completely unedited, so brace yourselves:

When I reached the library later that afternoon, he was already there. I found him in the history section, staring at the shelves of books that lined the back wall. His hands were locked behind his erect back, and he didn’t move at my approach; and yet, as soon as I drew closer he said, “How much do you know about our country’s history?”

“It depends on what part of our country’s history we’re talking about,” I replied. “Some of it interests me more than others.”

“How much of our early history do you know? Specifically, the part surrounding the fate of our country’s last Queen?”

“Queen Freya? I just finished reading her journal. It sort of just…ends. She disappeared, didn’t she?”

“Yes. Paving the way for the Calypsones to take the throne, almost four hundred years ago. And ever since, the throne has passed from father to son, or brother to brother, in an unbroken line. Until now, I suppose.”

“Why is there so much of an issue with Ethan inheriting?” I asked. “He’s the King’s brother’s son, right? According to the order of succession, that’s how it should go.”

“Because the supporters of Sir Edgar – my uncle chief among them – have reason to believe that Francis Calypsone – the Count’s father – wasn’t actually the son of Henry Calypsone – which means that Francis had no place in the succession, and therefore Ethan Calypsone doesn’t, either.”

My mouth literally opened and then shut again with no sound coming out.

“I haven’t heard that at all!” I said.

“Well, of course you wouldn’t,” Mr. Orion said. “Just look at who you’ve been surrounded by your whole life – everyone has an agenda, Milady, your father especially.”

“Don’t call me that,” I snapped.

“Don’t call you what?” Mr. Orion asked.

“Milady,” I replied. “My name is Calanthe.”

Mr. Orion shrugged. “Well fine, then, Calanthe. Don’t you think any of the rumors would’ve been shielded from your precious, virgin ears?”

I glared at him. I didn’t want to believe him – it seemed too ludicrous to be true – but he’d been honest with me so far – at least to my knowledge.

“What, exactly, do the rumors say?” I asked.

“His Majesty’s mother, Queen Isabella, took a lover sometime after he was born,” Mr. Orion said. “King Henry recognized the second son as his own, but there were whispers that he was actually a bastard child.”

I’d heard about Queen Isabella in finishing school, mostly as an example of how not to behave. But I’d never heard the rumors that Ethan’s father wasn’t actually King Henry’s son.

“But King Henry recognized him,” I protested. “Why would he recognize a child who wasn’t his?”

“Who knows?” Mr. Orion replied. “But Queen Isabella was also a mage, and would have been fully capable of casting spells on her husband. What if he didn’t recognize the boy of his own free will?”

“But – it’s against the law to use magic to influence someone’s will, especially in affairs of international significance,” I hissed.

Mr. Orion chuckled. “You’re not really that naïve, are you, Calanthe?”

He was right. Just because things were illegal didn’t mean people didn’t still do them.

“Why does Freya’s disappearance interest you?” I asked.

Mr. Orion – or Vantandal, I supposed, since we were on first name terms now – took a book from the shelf and took a seat on the floor. I stared down at him and he raised his eyebrows, as though waiting for me to join him. With a sigh, I plopped down on the ground.

“Right around the time she disappeared, she married a soldier – a clandestine marriage, obviously, since there was no way she’d gain the approval of the Council to do it properly. But still, it was legally binding. And the Council wasn’t pleased when they found out.”

I remembered my dream from last night, the scene in the garden…

“They had to hurry, because he was leaving for the war again,” I mused.

Vantandal looked tired. “I had that dream last night, too. Except, I don’t think it was a dream.”

“Of course it was,” I said, although I only half-believed the words. “What else could it possibly be?”

The whole bit with Ethan’s lineage was something I was unaware of until this point, which is probably unsurprising, given how much I hate outlining. That’s definitely something I’ll be developing more when I rip this sucker to pieces.

Okay…now, back to watching everything hit the fan in my WIP. Heh.

Currently Watching: NCIS
Currently Reading: XVI by Julia Karr

Things I Research: Evening Wear

Occasionally I research some pretty random things while writing my novel. I think it might be fun to highlight some of them every once in awhile.
I haven’t really done any extensive research into this yet (that will come when I eventually start revising), but I did look at some images of Victorian evening wear – specifically, the 1890s, since that is roughly the time period that Nilean women’s clothing is based on. There are several scenes in this draft in which evening wear is present, so I just wanted to get a quick idea of what it might look like. Some of the pictures I found:

I can’t wait to research it more! I don’t pay any attention to fashion nowadays, but fashion history fascinates me.

Progress Report: Shards of Memory

I hit 30k on Sunday night, which is about 60% of the way toward completion. So I took a moment to dance around my room a bit.

I think my roommate was probably relieved that I finished that scene I was working on because I’d been listening to the same song over and over and over again on repeat for the past two hours. And since she doesn’t quite share my taste in music, she was probably really sick of it.
The song I listened to through that entire last scene was “Dance Me To The End Of Love” by The Civil Wars, because it just seemed to fit so well with what I was writing and was therefore the only song I could possibly listen to that wouldn’t through off my groove.

I haven’t been able to write as much as I’d like lately, but I’ve been doing better so far this quarter blocking out time in my schedule to write. And when I do sit down to write, it’s coming easier. I think now that I’m past the halfway point – so more of this thing is done than not done – I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so I’m starting to feel really excited about finishing this draft.
Also, it totally helps that stuff is totally happening and things are really about to hit the fan soon. I might be a little sadistic. My poor characters.
Anyway, it’s after my bedtime now. So I’d probably better go sleep. After I finish my laundry. Which I sort of forgot about in the midst of awkwardly dancing around my room. Oops.

Currently Listening To: Bon Iver – “Holocene”