vb – (often foll by: on) to chatter or babble pointlessly or at unnecessary length
n – pointless chat; chatter
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I recently went through something I like to think of as an “author-life-crisis” this past year. Now that I’m recovered from my momentary lapse into madness and can look back objectively, I’ve come to realize a few things.
I spent the past ten years studying the writing craft, all in pursuit of better-faster-smarter. When I started, I wrote off the cuff. I didn’t outline. In fact, I was that English student who wrote outlines after finishing a paper. I hated outlines with a passion. “Why staunch the creative flow?” I argued.
That’s all fine and dandy when you aren’t just writing short stories or fanfiction. It’s the reason the first incarnation of Silver Hollow was such a jumbled mess. A fun mess, oh, yes indeed. Still, riddled with way too many plot bunnies.
I won’t ever forget the results after my editor sent me her first rounds of red. I’m convinced there was more red than white on the page. Besides all the rules of grammar, I was determined to ignore in favor of “free writing” there was a shocking lack of structure.
I spent the following three or so years attempting to fix this by studying outlines. I read books like K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel and Susan Dennard’s many glorious articles for writers. I learned most from my editors, fellow authors and past mistakes. I took copious notes on what I’d been doing wrong with hopes of transformation. It was a painful process.
Eventually, I found a happy middle ground. I don’t think I’ll ever reach the point of notecards, highlighters and bulletin boards. Unfortunately, I don’t have the patience for it. Instead, I keep three separate, related folders in my Onedrive Notebook.
First, I write out details on every character, place, and language. This is full of things like arcs and motivations and history and occasional nonsense.
Secondly, I always keep a “consistency” master list. This is basically a list of random tidbits and facts mentioned in the story so I don’t go back and give Jo-Bob green eyes later on after I clearly said he is a blue-eyed ginger.
Thirdly, and most importantly (you can tell because I used an extra adverb), I keep a chapter/part general outline. I say general because I don’t write every single detail of a scene, it’s a summary with all the important happenings, revelations and secret foreshadowing to bring back later. Not gonna lie, I still write these often after composing a scene. So how does this help?
Remember earlier, when I mentioned how it’s a whole other story when you’re going from a 40-page to a 350-page manuscript? What happened to me so often in the early days is I would write about something, then realize it didn’t make sense two hundred pages later. Or worse, I’d forget about it until I came to the sequel. Not saying this is a bad thing. Plenty of authors do this on purpose. That’s just the problem, though. I was doing it because of damage control, not on purpose. How embarrassing…
I’m happy to say, the hard work paid off. I learned from my mistakes and keep a ridiculous amount of notes on every book I work on. (Seriously, you would not believe how much side content I have on Wylder Tales and Silver Hollow.) This has the benefit of helping me keep my facts straight and takes a major load off my editor’s shoulders (or at least gives them less work). Also, I only chase plot bunnies I mean to chase 😉
Back around to the title and subject of this post. This past year I went through an author life crisis. I liken this to a mid-life crisis, writer style. Instead of giving up a fine job to go sow wild oats before it’s too late, I lost my mind over writing too much. I woke up one day, after a long series of awful days dreading the endless deadlines and my lack of motivation and realized the worst possible thing.
I didn’t know why I was doing this anymore.
Why was I so stressed about writing when it’s the thing I love most right after snuggles with my little boy? I somehow managed to publish Bound Beauty this January, still managed to do blog tours in December. After this I pulled back to really look at everything I was and had been doing. I figured out the biggest reasons were I had too many reasons.
We all have our own pace. No matter what the books and helpful blogs and “they” say, you shouldn’t try to take on more than you can handle. Not to say you shouldn’t challenge yourself. Absolutely reach for higher goals. But if you aren’t careful, if you make my mistake, you’ll look at yourself one day and not recognize the person in the proverbial mirror. I didn’t see the starry-eyed writer anymore, but the jaded author-entrepreneur who struggled to balance actual storytelling with advertising, marketing, research, etc. And this is just for writing, not talking about my day job or my Mommy job.
Sometimes we need to take a step back from trying to reach perfection and let ourselves be.
For me, the solution wasn’t to completely quit writing like I first toyed with this year. Instead, I’ve written little things here and there. Updated my neglected fanfiction and slowly began to brainstorm Blackbriar Cove. I wrote a lot in my journal with an honest-to-God ink pen about little things. Who it was going to be about, where they’d go and such. Then, one day, I started to “outline,” as I would have in the past. Only what sprung from that was full scenes instead of a synopsis. Before I knew it, I was writing chapters again.
To keep things groovy, I’ve just been free writing, just like early-twenties Jenn used to do. And it’s been great, awesome in fact. It’s kind of like that wish you sometimes have, “if I could go back in time with the knowledge I have today…” I free write to my heart’s content, but older me is somehow hyper-aware of things like flow and structure. I still make plenty of little notes here and there, but I’m letting my story grow like a garden, as G.R.R. Martin describes it.
I won’t ever tell you how to write, or how to make things work for you. That’s a journey you have to take yourself. What I can tell you is how liberating it’s been since I let myself be. My advice, even if you are more plotter than pantser, is to let yourself take breaks when you can. Write some nonsense poetry, some fanfics or a short story related to your main manuscript. Write with pen and paper for a chance to really absorb it. You might be surprised how much better you feel after. Oh, and for the love of Pete, don’t try to write as quickly as you can. Whether you mete out 5K or 500 words, take pride in what you’re accomplishing. You are planting a flower, not an entire garden in one day. It’ll take time and maybe even a few tears, but you’ll get there eventually. One day at a time.
So, I’ve got a pretty sweet event coming up this summer! Since I’ve been hard at work on Blackbriar Cove, I also wanted to share the gorgeous cover Najla Qamber Designs created in a big way. If you’re a fellow bookish blogger and want to join in on the fun, you can sign up over here:
In other news, I’ve also been working with Qamber Designs & Media on an Angel Blue: Season One edition. Not only are they designing an amazing interior for all three episodes, but also a brand new cover for ebook and paperback. Stay tuned for that and more about the sequel, Devil Red! Meanwhile, happy reading and writing #fantasyavengers 🙂
“What is Literary Fiction” – A “beginner’s guide” by NY Book Editors
Cheat Sheets for Writing Body Langauge– by Amanda Patterson with Writers Write
Author Branding for Beginners– by Sadye Scott-Haincheck for Fussy Librarian