Category Archives: Writing Craft

Vlog: On Scotland, How I Write, Whether or Not I Have a Time-Turner, and Other Inquiries

More than a year without a vlog? For shame.

But behold, the elusive V in her native habitat.

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“The first 100 pages were build up” or “The Fantasy Writer’s Dilemma”

So I’m sitting here, working on my 10th book—how did that happen?—and thinking about pacing. As someone who writes fantasy, I’m always faced with a dilemma, a push-pull problem: the need to introduce the world and its rules, without dragging down the plot. I like to think I do this—I certainly do my best—but the simple fact is that those first 100 pages can’t JUST be plot, not in fantasy.

They have to lay foundations.

They have to set up the rest of the book, so that it all makes sense and pays off and the clues add up and the twists work and the punches land and you’re left with a feeling of YES. Because here’s what I think: it’s worth it. Those opening pages, which lay that foundation—I’m not talking about info-dumping, that is nightmarish and just bad writing—and establish your world, they are worth it. They are the incline, pulling the weight like the beginning of a roller coaster so you can get the height needed to have all the heart-wrenching, stomach-dropping turns that come with the drop.

And it’s worth it.

I spent my first seven or eight books fretting about the fact that my first 100 pages are always pulling weight, always slower than the rest of my books, thinking I was failing somehow, thinking if I could just be better, there would be no incline, it would all be drop. I braced myself for all those comments at the 1/3 mark of “I hope this picks up” or “lots of build up so far” and all I could see was that pattern, but over time, I noticed another one.

People got to that hinge point, that drop, and started saying WHEEEEEE.

People got to the end of the ride, and they were exhilarated, happy, ready to go again.

The build-up was worth it.

And I’m really, really proud of that.

It’s taken me a lot of books to see that there’s no wrong way to write a book. That sometimes things that seem like failures are actually necessary parts of success. I’m still striving to get better, obviously, to crank readers up to the top faster, but I’ve decided, I’m okay with the incline. This is how I write.

So if you pick up one of my books, and find the first 100 pages a little slow, stick with me for the rest of the ride.

NaRev2ManMo

Hey hey, kids.

So tomorrow marks the first of November (what the actual f*ck?) and as many of you know, November is National Novel Writing Month.

Now, I’m not formally participating in that, in part because I “NaNo” roughly six months out of the year, and in part because I have two manuscripts to revise before the holidays, the first of them due at the end of this month (hence National Revise 2 Manuscripts Month, or NaRev2ManMo).

BUT.

I also have two projects I desperately want to start making concrete progress on.

AND.

I really like the accountability that comes with NaNo. It’s like a community version of the personal calendar.

For that reason–and because I think seeing an author’s real-time progress can make the act of writing books seem, well, less like a miracle and more like a day-by-day achievement–I am going to do a weekly update here on the blog measuring my own progress with my handy dandy calendar.

Photo on 2013-10-31 at 22.50

My own rules are simple (and simply daunting). I want to earn metallic silver/gold stars for revision AND/OR colorful hearts for new book words every single day this month. Ideally I would earn both, lending me an end-of-month total of a fully revised MG *and* 25-30k of a new book.

That is…ambitious.

But that’s what November is for. A month of focused energy. And honestly, the more work I get done before Thanksgiving, the more I can actually ENJOY my holiday. I had no less than THREE books due right after Christmas last year, and that was the literal version of Hell. I’d love to have a better grasp of my workload before the holidays descend.

SO.

*deep breath*

Like the blank page, the blank calendar is full of promise and potential.

Grab your stickers and your pens, your laptops and your ideas, and let’s do this.

Star stickers and calendars, oh my! (aka the BEST WRITING TRICK I KNOW)

Hey lovelies!

I’ve been getting asked quite often to explain the “calendar trick” I’m always talking about in regards to writing/accountability/keeping track of work, so here you go! An elusive VLOG.

Thoughts from the dreaded middle of a first draft.

I’m writing a book. (Aren’t you always? says the internet. Pretty much, I answer).

And in order to write a book, I have to, well, write a book.

Specifically, a first draft.

And every single time I find myself writing a first draft, I find myself blogging about how damn hard it is.

Not that I find revising any easier (I find each to have both glorious and hellish attributes).

I love the PIECES of a first draft. I love getting the IDEA. (Those first what-ifs are the most thrilling moments in my life.) I love building the world. Thinking up twists. Discovering characters. Stringing words together into sentences and then into scenes with flow and shape and life. The pieces.

And yet I am perpetually daunted, frustrated, paralyzed, by the act of writing a book.

I’ve discovered that it’s not the ENTIRE draft that scares me.

No, a special kind of hell occurs right around the midway point. Go back. Check the blog. I always post from the throes of the middle third. There’s a reason. Something happens in the middle third, and for me it’s not the obvious plot-slack (I outline, so don’t usually fall victim to the meandering middle and the nervous authorial musings of “Where are my characters going?”).

No, the middle is the fire swamp, the place where doubt and distraction come out to play.

By the time you hit the middle, you’ve come to know the world enough that it feels familiar, and author brains do not like familiar things. Our own familiarity with the work makes it less intriguing than the shiny new ideas poking at our synapses.

By the time you hit the middle, you (if you are me) are far enough into the book to know what to do, but not so far that it seems doable. You’ve written an impressive number of pages but you probably have just as many standing between you and the end and it’s like being on a long flight where you get through the first 4 hours and you realize you still have TWO MOVIES’ WORTH of flying time left.

By the time you hit the middle, you’ve written enough to know things are wrong, but you don’t yet know how to fix them. This. This right here. This is my hell. I revise and polish as I go, and I’ve now written enough books that I can tell when something needs fixing long before I’m capable of fixing it. In writing, things often need to be before they can be improved). Which brings me to this…

You have to KEEP GOING.

Now, I’m NOT one of those writers who believes in just throwing it all down on paper, who preaches the SFD–sh*tty first draft–and says, “Don’t worry about making it good, just make it.”

But I will say this: I think you should try to make it good from the start, but you have to acknowledge that you can’t make it BETTER until you’ve made it in the first place. Let me repeat:

MAKE –> MAKE BETTER.

So here I am, stranded in the dreaded middle of a first draft, constantly glancing back at what I’ve done and sneaking peeks at where I’m going (I need both to keep my spirits up), and reminding myself of everything I’ve said above. And who knows, maybe next time I find myself in the dreaded middle of a first draft, I’ll come back here, and take my own damn advice.

The transcript from the ARCHIVED chat.

Hello, lovelies!

We made it through release week! Now this doesn’t mean all the work is done and TA will just drift off on an infinite current, but right now it feels like something to be grateful for.

So before I say anything else, I just want to say thank you. To everyone who’s tweeted, bought, gifted, shared, whispered, or shouted, thanks. It doesn’t just make a dent. It makes a book. There’s a certain amount of fear (And a certain amount of letting go) that comes with hitting that first week on shelves mark. You have to trust, if not in an infinite current, at least in a one that lasts awhile, so every time someone reviews the book, or spreads the word in any way and adds to that current, it gives me hope.

ANYWAY. There I go feelings feels again. Let’s move on.

Yesterday, to celebrate the fact THE ARCHIVED was finally available in ALL formats (the digital one was delayed a week due to technical difficulty), Disney*Hyperion and I did a little Twitter chat, and I thought I would post some of the transcript here, for those who missed it and might be interested.

D*H: How does it feel to have ARCHIVED out in the world??

V: SURREAL. This book has been in the works for 4 yrs. Every time I see a pic of it w/ a reader or in the wild, my heart flutters.

V: Like, EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I get fluttery. And people have made release week SUCH a shiny thing, cheering with me.

Reader: What was your inspiration for the library?

V: A morgue. W/ those little nametags. I thought, wow, there would be a lot of bodies. And then I thought there would be a lot of MEMORIES in those bodies.

D*H: Mackenzie “Mac” Bishop is a complicated main character – broken, sad, courageous – tell us a little about how you created her?

V: I wanted an MC who was very strong but far from perfect. Mac’s no saint. She’s flawed, full of cracks. Not an ideal. She’s real.

V: She’s a product of this strange environment and trying to exist in a normal world and struggling to keep her selves separate.

Reader: How much of the book did you have plotted out before writing? How much uncovered as you began to write?

V: I’m a connect-the-dotser. I need to know 5-6 specific plot points, and discover the lines between.

Reader: How did you come up with the concept of people lying on shelves like books where you can flip through their histories?

V: It was strangely intuitive, the concept. I mean, this is what lives ARE. Stories. And to me, the scariest part…of death is the idea that we spend a life gathering knowledge/memories, and lose them. The Archive was my solution.

Reader: How much do you know before you start writing?

V: When I start planning, I have a setting. And conflict. When I start WRITING, I have the rest.

Reader: What are some of your favorite books that are in any way similar to The Archived?

V: I love Neil Gaiman. It’s no secret ;) I love the idea of strange worlds overlapping normal ones.

Reader: Why does Mac call her grandad Da? What was the influence?

V: In retrospect, the name Da was HIGHLY problematic bc some confused with Dad. But that was always his nickname. He didn’t FEEL like “granddad” or “Papa”.

Reader: Have you ever considered doing a novella featuring Da in his early days?

V: I have considered SEVERAL shorter pieces, including one for Da and one for Roland ;)

D*H: The #Archived is YA, right? But in some ways it’s not. Do you consider the tropes/conventions of the genre when you’re writing?

V: It is, but its themes aren’t classic YA. It asks strange/complicated/metaphysical Qs, ones that don’t always have a RIGHT answer.

V: I like gray worlds (not black and white, good and evil). This is a world that makes the reader think, and question.

V: I would say I’m aware of the tropes/conventions, but I don’t gravitate toward them. In fact, I tend to turn and go the other way.

V: EX. there are two boys in TA. Neither is a love interest. There’s a like interest, and a lust interest, but this isn’t a triangle.

V: And Mackenzie Bishop is not a hero. She’s not an ANTI-hero, either. She has light gray moments, and dark gray moments.

Reader: Do u make a point to write everyday or just when inspiration strikes?

V: I try to write every day (these days with deadlines I have to).

Reader: Did you know who the “villan” was at the beginning or did you discover it?

V: I always knew who the villain was.

Reader: How many books are planned for the #Archived series?

V: There are at least two books in the Archived series…but Let’s be real, kids. I want enough books that one day we can call it the “Collected Works of Mackenzie Bishop” ;)

Reader: Were the nods to Tennant (the converses, the hair) deliberate, or am I just a fangirl?

V: There are THREE nods to Doctor Who in THE ARCHIVED. Two of them–crack in wall, Roland–are intentional…one of them–the library–was accidental!

Reader: Is there a backstory for Roland? I feel like he had a lot of heartbreak in the past (much like Ten).

V: Yes, Roland has a backstory. You get glimpses throughout the series.

D*H: What’s your best advice for aspiring writers?

V: My BEST advice for writers is to BE BRAVE. Make sure your want always outweighs your fear.

V: This is an industry with A LOT of rejection. Dozens of doors to get through. If you want in, be brave enough to keep knocking.

Reader: Did you base any other characters (besides Roland) on people? Like Da or Mac? their relationship seemed so real.

V: Roland is the only one who is a direct nod to another FICTIONAL character (the Doctor).

V: I borrow personality traits from people–defense mechanisms, body language, quirks–but not whole people.

V: If I insert real people into my books, I start to feel an obligation to the fact, not the fiction.

D*H: Sum up THE ARCHIVED in ONE tweet!

V: Girl works for library where dead are shelved like books, returning those that wake/escape, until one fugitive changes everything.

Tagged

Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, and the power of two people MAKING SUCH GOOD ART.

If you’ve followed the blog for any duration, you already know that I’m a fan of Neil Gaiman.

I wrote a post last fall, called “To the planet from the speck,” which was in essence a fan letter, posted days before I had the chance to meet Gaiman in person at WFC, and snag a set of autographs and a hug.

These days, I wear a WWNGD bracelet…

…and the answer to that question–WHAT WOULD NEIL GAIMAN DO–used to be simply GO WRITE, but is now always MAKE GOOD ART.

The phrase comes a commencement address, in which Gaiman gave the following instruction to the 2012 graduating class at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia:

“Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong — and in life, and in love, and in business, and in friendship, and in health, and in all the other ways in which life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid, or evil, or it’s all been done before? Make good art.”

The whole speech is incredible, and if you haven’t watched it already, you should. You can find it HERE.

MAKE GOOD ART.

This is where Amanda Palmer comes in.

I’ve been aware of Palmer peripherally for the past few years–I remember going to a friend’s house and being taken with a book on her side table, “Who Killed Amanda Palmer?”–but it wasn’t until after her path crossed with Gaiman’s that my interest sharpened.

I began to pick at her work, to taste, and, as with good food, got hungrier with every bite. When her latest record, THEATRE IS EVIL, hit the digital stores this past week, I devoured it. I’d been devouring the sneak peeks and videos in the preceding weeks, and the more of Palmer I discover, the more I find to love. Her art–an experience, really, equal parts music and performance–gets into my bones.

It makes me want to CREATE, and that’s really the greatest thing an artist can do, in my opinion.

Spread the urge to MAKE.

That sensation is what first drew me to Gaiman’s writing. The way he wove words, shaped worlds, got under my skin, peeled away the paint and paper on the creative places I’d covered to focus on more academic things. Palmer’s music did the same thing–albeit in an entirely different way–and I found my fingers itching for a pen.

So here we have two people, and they’re both MAKING GOOD ART.

Neil Gaiman on his own is a colossal talent.

And as I am quickly discovering, Amanda Palmer is a force as well.

But what I find so magical, so exponentially wonderful, is their combination. Not in any specific art form, not in the way they infuse or inspire one another, no, but in the simple way that, for me, Amanda Palmer makes Neil Gaiman’s commencement command CONCRETE.

MAKE GOOD ART, commanded Gaiman.

And Amanda Palmer does exactly that.

She is the perfect embodiment of that command.

With every piece of her being, Palmer makes art.

And it is GOOD. It is PHENOMENAL, stunning in the way something is stunning when you as the viewer/listener/receiver can tell that the artist is putting themselves–every fiber, every flaw–into their work. In addition to talent, which Palmer has in droves, there is a level of artistic merit that comes from the sheer dedication to one’s art, both physical and emotional devotion. From belief in one’s self. Or at least from clarity. From finding a shape and taking it, and knowing that even though that shape can and will and must change, for this moment, this is the shape, and every fiber owns it. That is what Palmer does. She owns her shape. And it makes good art great.

Neil Gaiman’s speech on its own is brilliant. But pairing it with a force like Amanda Palmer gives the message both gravity and elevation. Seeing someone so perfectly EMBODY that message lifts my hopes as a creator, and helps me to believe–and on bad days, we all need that help, that clarity, that strength of shape–that good art is always worth it.

Nail Gaiman and Amanda Palmer are each, in their own right, inspiring. But seeing two such talented creators build on each other, amplify each other’s messages and become a kind of constructive creative force, it makes my fingers itch and my thoughts spin.

It makes me want to MAKE GOOD ART.

Stories are about RELATIONSHIPS. And not just the romantic kind.

Does it have kissing?

This book sounds so cool! Too bad it doesn’t seem like there’s romance.

Where’s the romance?

Is there a love interest?

Is there a love triangle?

I would totally read it, IF there were romance.
These are some of the things I’ve heard lately re: The Archived (and in truth, re: many YA books). The reason these questions are being asked, I can only assume, is because–GASP–the romantic elements of The Archived are not billed on the jacket copy on the back of the book. The jacket copy focuses on Mackenzie, and the supernatural, and the mystery, and her personal struggle.

Are there boys in the book? Yes. Are there romantic elements? Yes. Is there instalove? No. A love triangle? No. I don’t think so. Someone will say yes. ANYWAY.

The point is, the RELATIONSHIPS in this book are extraordinarily important. The relationships in ANY book are extraordinarily important. But relationships do not need to be romantic in order to be important, and to perpetuate the idea that a book is only as good as it’s romance is depressingly limiting.

Stories are about relationships, both those between characters, and those between characters and their world.

And of course, romantic relationships CAN BE IMPORTANT. They can be the most important, but even when they are, they are never the ONLY important relationship in a book. And I don’t think they should automatically be the ones we value most.

As a writer, I am fascinated by siblings. By family. By friendship. By unhealthy–even toxic–relationships. By the cog versus machine of a character at odds with their world.

THESE are the relationships in The Archived.

I will say for the record, I love a good romance. I really do. And I like my books, both those I read and those I write, to have romance in them. It’s safe to assume there will always be at least a measure of flirtation, of lust if not love.

BUT I think it’s a disservice to books to assume that because one doesn’t bill romance at the very top, or at all, it is somehow inherently lacking. Maybe it doesn’t HAVE a romantic thread, or maybe it’s a complicated one, or maybe revealing it would spoil an element of the story, or maybe it isn’t front-and-center because it’s not the driving force in the book. Whatever the reason, the fact remains, books are about relationships, and those relationships come in SO MANY FORMS.

Or at least, they should. Think about how many people/elements you interact with. Think about the number of things and people that matter to you. Chances are, your romantic partner, if you have one, isn’t the only one that means something.

As readers, I think we should seek out relationships of all forms in books.

As writers, I think we should push ourselves to value every relationship, both the bold and the subtle, and to make each one–romantic, platonic, familial, environmental–as rich and important as the others.

On fretting, neuroses, and the fact that so many things are out of your control.

My name is Victoria, and I am neurotic.

If you’ve followed this blog for more than five minutes, that probably feels less like a confession than a duh moment, but it’s true.

Neurotic. Control freak. Type A.

It’s funny–and by funny I mean distressing–because this is a VERY common trait in writers (we are, after all, constructors of our own worlds), and yet it’s probably the worst trait to have as an someone involved in publishing. The sheer number of things out of your control is enough to send even the least neurotic of us reaching for a paper bag or a bottle of wine.

I made a list of the PUBLISHING ONLY things (disqualifying things like the fact I’m moving in five days and don’t even have boxes) stressing me out right now. And by right now I mean TODAY. At this MOMENT. Of the things on the list, I think I ONE of them is in my control. A glimpse?

–Blurbs (scary, never become less so)

–Pre-orders (yeah, I watch them)

–Chain store placement (ughhhhhhhhhhhh)

–Next project deadline (it looms, IT LOOMS)

–Final cover treatment (will it be glossy? matte? both?)

–Buzz (the creation and maintenance of)

–Reception (*nail-biting*)

–Online exposure (*waves arms back and forth*)

–Giveaways and mailings (I’m behind, as always)

I love my job.

I say it almost every day online.

But really, I should say that I love the parts of my job that are in my control.

What’s in my control? THE WRITING OF STORIES.

The rest of my job, which is very much not in my control, but rather in the publisher’s control, and the industry’s control, and the readers’ control (yes, yours) and luck’s control, that part TERRIFIES me. That part keeps me up at night. And if I’m not very, very careful, that part can obstruct, interrupt, or damage my enjoyment of the part I can control.

I feel like I have to become increasingly vigilant about my mental state. I’ve started to shield my creative process, to guard it from the interfering–if not paralyzing–truths of the less creative side of the process of publishing. The conundrum lies in the fact that, because my OCCUPATION is currently listed as AUTHOR, I cannot shut the business side out. To survive, I have to be increasingly aware of the way it works, and the way I can best work within it.

So. How can someone both protect their creative selves from the business of publishing, while striving to be aware of the business of publishing? It’s a question I’m still trying to answer.

As a neurotic person, I cannot be fatalistic. I cannot simply write my book and hit send and hide in the corner of my cave and hope. Or, I suppose I COULD, but I won’t. I want to do everything in my control to help my books succeed. Because I want to keep writing books.

There has always been a strange urgency to my involvement in publishing. It probably comes from the fact I finished university, and went on sub the same week, and gave myself the summer. When my first book sold right around Labor Day, I decided to make it as an author for as long as I could.

That was three and a half years ago.

They’ve had many, many rocky moments, but I’m still going. Some days it feels futile, a race in which I’ve been given a lead, but my competitor is faster, and catching up, but the stubborn part of me is determined to keep my word, to make it work as long as I can. So that’s a factor, that want. That drive. The other reason I’m so involved in the publishing process, always digging my hands into the tangle of cables and cogs, trying to find what makes publishing tick, is because I love it. I LOVE being involved. I love promoting. I suspect it’s because when I AM promoting, I feel in control. I’m actively helping my books.

Bringing us right back to the neurotic/control freak thing.

But at the end of the day, there will always be more things out of my control than in them. And that, lovelies, is the hardest truth publishing has taught me.

As you can tell by that list of stressors–drawn from only one moment and one book–it’s a truth I struggle with every day. And of course, the Type A in me approaches the problem every day hoping to find a solution, a way to exist in publishing without feeling like my future is constantly being played for in a game where I am so often a spectator, not a player.

I don’t have a solution. Now and then, I find a way to transfer a stressor from the OUT OF MY CONTROL column to the IN MY CONTROL one, but that’s about it.

I know that, by nature of the process, as I continue down this road, more and more people are looking to me for inspiration, ideas, advice, answers. Many times I have something to offer, a trick, a tip, but there are times, like this, when I wish someone could tell ME the key.

The key to shutting the world out, off, tucking it away while writing, forgetting about its necessity, its weight, the role it plays in keeping you afloat, even while it drags you under.

That is a key I would keep.

Repeat after me. THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY TO WRITE A BOOK.

This seems to bear repeating, now and then, so here we go.

There is no right way to write a book.

No right speed, or technique, or form. Now, I’m not referring really to the shape the book takes in the end, since there are arguably some guidelines when it comes to writing a *publishable* book, in terms of structure/readability/writing, etc (all can be broken). I’m referring to the DRAFTING PROCESS. And in regards to that, I cannot stress enough…

THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY.

I’m on my fifth book (THE NEAR WITCH, THE BOOK THAT CAME AFTER AND IS NOT PUBLISHED, THE ARCHIVED, VICIOUS, and now THE ARCHIVED #2).

Every single one has been its own adventure.

Every single one has come with its own flow and its own form and its own pace.

There is no right way to write a book.

Two were written out of order.

Three were written in rigid linear order.

One had a synopsis.

Two had full outlines.

Two I discovered as I went.

One was a previous project taken down to studs.

Three poured out.

Two were/are murder.

One took two months.

One took four months.

One took six months.

One took two years.

One isn’t finished yet.

There is no right way to write a book.

With the one that took two years, I wrote and then rearranged the pieces for SEVEN TIMES. But in revisions, those pieces stayed put.

For the one that took two months, by the time we were done, NOTHING REMAINED from the original draft.

I don’t write SFDs (sh*tty first drafts). I polish as I go. That’s probably the ONLY constant for me, from book to book, but that is MY constant, not A constant. There is no standard when it comes to creative processes.

Just because someone writes quickly, doesn’t mean you need to. And similarly, just because someone takes years, doesn’t mean that’s right for you either. An outline is not a proven way to write a solid book. It’s only a proven way for some people. And freewriting doesn’t lead to madness, or doom, but it can lead to more work later.

Every person is different. And every BOOK is different. But the most important thing to remember isn’t some trick, some key, some proven method. It’s this.

THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY TO WRITE A BOOK.

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