24 November 2013

NaNoWriMo draws to a close

It's November 24th, and if you've been doing NaNoWriMo, you're going to be doing either one of two things. On one hand, you might be feverishly typing like crazy to ensure you've got 40k words in order to hit your 50k mark on Saturday, or you might have already sailed past the 40k mark, and you're now cruising towards your goal with days to spare.

No matter which NaNo-er you are, let me congratulate you on getting this far. Whether you've written 10k words, or 50k words, that's still a huge chunk of writing to have committed to paper. True, 50k is now well below the threshold considered a 'novel', but hey, you've possibly just written more in one go than you've ever written before.

I'm sure Saturday still feels like a long way off, but what exactly should you do when you hit 50k?

1) Take a break.
You've earned it. Take a couple of days off writing, and do something totally unrelated. Go to the cinema, visit friends, take in a show - anything you want, just don't write. Racking up 50k words in 30 days can take a lot out of you, so you'll need to recharge your batteries if you're going to survive the onslaught that is Christmas. However, at some point, you'll also need to...

2) Finish your novel.
If it's 'finished' at 50k, then you need to decide if you want to keep it as a novella-length piece, or you want to extend it to 80k or more to hit the 'novel' mark. If you want to extend it, consider sub plots, or padding out those scenes that you probably rushed in order to meet the deadline. If you've finished NaNo at 50k but your book itself is still far from complete, then get the rest written. Take your time - the mad panic is over. But one way or the other, get it done.

3) Edit, edit, edit.
Your book is far from finished - it is a first draft, at best. Even if you've typed 'The End' it's still not ready for the public. Put it to one side for a few weeks, maybe even start something new. Put some distance between yourself and your words, so that when you go back to them, you can critically decide what you need to do with what you've produced. Edit it once, and then edit it again. Find a beta reader, or a critique partner - or better yet, find an editor. If you want to put your book out there, it will need to be perfect if it's going to make it in a crowded marketplace.

Now you've finished reading this, get back to your NaNo effort. Only 10k words to go...

27 September 2013

Collaborative Book Writing 101

by Kelly DeBie

Waves frantically to our readers...how have you all been?

It’s been quiet around here for the past few months. I blame summer.

Now that it’s officially fall, it seems that almost every writer I know has begun to hunker down and get serious about writing again.

One of the biggest projects I am working on currently is a collaborative book. The title of it is Sunshine After The Storm: A Survival Guide for the Grieving Mother, and it should be available as an ebook next month, in hard copy shortly thereafter. 

It is the brainchild of Alexa Bigwarfe, who is currently in Washington, DC advocating on behalf of the March of Dimes.

As the title suggests, it is a book targeted to an audience of women who have endured infertility, miscarriages, stillbirths and the loss of their children. Assembling the writers for the book was made possible only through years of connections online of women who were willing to tell bits and pieces of their stories in their blogs.

With each story shared, others would come out of the woodwork, leaving comments and even being brave enough to write about their own losses. Over time, more and more of us became connected to each other, so when the idea of the book came to be, it didn't take long to circle the wagons.

This specific subject matter was quite amenable to a group approach because each of the contributors had a different experience to share, and as a cumulative whole we have addressed a large spectrum of maternal grief issues. An individual writer would, hopefully, only have experienced one or a few of those losses, but not all of them. Bringing our stories together lends more credibility to the book as a whole because we are all speaking from experience, not speculation.

As with any kind of collaborative project, each contributor brought their own background and experience to the piece, in addition to their own style and approach. We've been fortunate thus far that we are all on the same page as far as content and structure go. We've worked together to pull quotes from our own experiences to open each chapter as well.

I don't honestly know how much of the heavy lifting Alexa has done with the book, as she has been the one responsible for all the details. She found the editor and has been the contact person for everything, all the way down to choosing the images for the cover. I suspect she has put far more work into this than she leads on, and for all her efforts, we are tremendously grateful.

With this particular project, there hasn't been a financial motivation to write the book. There never was, and from the beginning, we agreed that the majority of the proceeds would be put back into printing additional books to distribute to hospitals and clinics to help grieving mothers. As an individual writer, I may eventually see a small return on it, but this particular book wasn't written for that reason. It was written to help other women. In the event that a collaborative book is written purely for profit, you would have to make sure that all contributors are agreed on the distribution of income from it ahead of time after all overhead was covered.

Obviously, how you go about gathering writers for a collaborative book will depend on the subject matter. Given the right subject matter, a collaborative approach can be preferred to solo writing, and I believe this is one of those subjects. It certainly cuts down on the amount of material that each person needs to generate, but provides a legitimate publishing opportunity.

In addition to all that, you also have a larger circle of influence built in for marketing simply by virtue of the fact that different writers contributed to the piece, and each will share it with their friends and fans. This book has already drawn a significant amount of interest as a result of our varying reaches.

This book has been a true labor of love, built from years of pain, put together for a reason, and is one that I am proud to say that I am a part of.

30 August 2013

Editing: The Necessary Evil

“Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.” ― Patricia Fuller

Whether you're a pantser or a plotter, a short story pro or a novelist, it's an unfortunate truth that you will need to edit your work at some stage. You might be lucky and work with a publisher who will assign an editor to you, or you might be editing your own work for self-publication, but either way, it needs to be done. It goes without saying that you need to find a good editor, so check out their credentials, ask around, and look to see who else they've worked with. In the meantime, hopefully these five handy hints will help you on your way!

Getting your spouse or your mother to read your work is not editing.

In much the same way that a spouse or friend makes a less than helpful critique partner, unless they're qualified or have experience, then they also don't make good editors. They don't want to pull your work apart, because they've more than likely seen how much effort went into it, and they won't necessarily know either how to articulate the flaw if there's something wrong with it, or how to suggest that you fix it. Best way? Get an editor.

Self-editing is a good idea even if you already have an editor.

There are plenty of guides available for self-editing, and while I wouldn't recommend it's the only method of editing you use because you're too close to your own work, it's always a good idea to self-edit before you send it anywhere. If you've removed typos, massaged out the story kinks, cut back on the purple prose and omitted the repetition, then any editor you hire will thank you for it. It should also cut their workload, thus cutting down what you need to pay them to do.

Listen to your editor.

You are perfectly entitled to ignore any suggested changes, although if you do, question why it is that you disagree. Is it because you don't want to cut a passage that you're a bit in love with, or is it because the editor didn't really 'get' that character? If it's the former, then cut it and paste it into a separate document in case you need it later. After all, Stephen King always talks about the need to "kill your darlings". Writing should be there because it needs to be there, not just because you like it. However, if it's the latter, then if the editor didn't get the character, a reader might not either. Maybe you need to write more passages that fully explain the character.

Don't make changes immediately.

Read the changes that have been suggested, and think about them for a few days, but don't act on them immediately. You may be tempted by the knee jerk reaction of "That's not fair, I'm not changing that", or likewise you might change something that didn't need to be changed, if only you'd thought about it. Give it a few days for the suggestions to sink in, and come back to it when you're feeling a little more objective.

Don't take editing personally.

An editor is doing their job because they want your story to be the best story it can possibly be. They can't do that if they don't point out the weak points. Think of an editor like an interior designer - you've built the house, but they're coming in to make sure it's comfortable and welcoming, somewhere that a reader will want to spend a considerable amount of time. They aren't tearing your work apart, they're trying to improve it. So listen to your editor.

Happy editing!