From Idea to Publication…My Journey.

writing process

We all watch movies and TV shows about authors who are trying to come up with the next great idea…or struggling with writer’s block. I always laugh to myself that the character had to be inspired by the show’s writers own troubles.

Recently, a reader asked me a bit more about my personal creative process when writing books.

I’ve been pushing myself this winter (while our zoo is closed) to get some content done so I can publish all year long. The process is still a bit too long for my liking (I have 5 full-length books and 1 novella already written, but stuck elsewhere in the process that nobody has seen yet.) I’ve focused on honing my process in 2019, so here is a glimpse at what I do.

(Zoo Photo is below to break up this super long article.)

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(Photo of Raven is just for fun. Isn’t she beautiful? It’s our female wolf at our family’s zoo/wildlife sanctuary. She’s un-releasable due to no fear of humans, but has big, beautiful enclosure.)

1. A book usually sparks off an idea. Sometimes it’s a character I really want to write about, other times it’s a concept. For instance: Blood & Holy Water was based of three characters (Fin, Ava, & Lily) and I needed to create a problem/struggle for them. Where Superhero Wives was based off a question: What’s it like to be a superhero’s spouse? and then the story unfolded.

2. I take a day or two to jot down book notes, creating more depth to the characters, understanding their flaws and desires, and coming up with their struggle that will become a book. I then twist all these items into a rough story outline. (Literally, my outline is about 8-10 sentences.)

3. I begin writing, aiming for 3000-5000 words per day (on days I don’t work at our family zoo and I’m not editing another project.) So, for one of my 30,000 word novellas, it takes me about 7 days of writing and twice that to get a first draft of a 60,000 word novel done. Not bad: Rough draft in 14 days! Sometimes, I get a bit of writer’s block, but the easiest way to fix this is to take a day to plot out the next part of the story. For me, a good brainstorming session always overcomes writer’s block.

4. But that’s the easy part! My firsts drafts are TERRIBLE and I’d never show them to anyone. My next step is to go back through the book, fix all the plot holes I left and make the writing sound like I’m semi-intelligent. This process takes me just as long as writing the first draft does.

5. When my first edits are done, I make another pass, quickly, just reading and adjusting what I missed (and fixing grammar/type-o’s) This is only a few days.

6. I send it off to beta readers for feedback. I bite my nails while I wait. This is the biggest time hold-up for me in getting a book released. It’s a struggle to find good beta readers that are reliable and efficient. I have a few I use, but I write more books than they can keep up with. I’m always looking for good beta readers, but I think I finally found some that show promise. Hopefully, I have this step figured out, so I’ll be able to get my books out faster.

7. I fix my story with beta reader feedback. Usually takes about a week and can be quite frustrating to figure out if the issues identified are truly issues or just the reader’s preference.

8. I send to my proofreader/editor. I have a fabulous fan who does this for me for free. (Thank you Janet!)

9. I send to my Advanced reader Team (and post on BookSprout) for reviews. I like to put the books up 3 weeks before publication.

10. I publish!

So… Here’s an example of the timeline for my upcoming book, Souls & Shadows (coming out next month.)

  • December: Wrote the book
  • January: Edited the book
  • Jan 15-Today: Book with my beta reader, waiting for feedback.
  • March 14-18th: Work on edits
  • March 18th: Send to my proofreader
  • April 1st: Send to my advanced reader team
  • April 22nd: Publish!

(Old photo of my family is just to break up this post as well.)

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(Photo of my husband, kids, and me during a color run a few years back. Don’t you love the Oscar shorts?)

I’m always interested in other authors processes, some of them skip the beta reader step, while others use multiple rounds of beta reading. Some write a really clean first draft and don’t need all the time invested in fixing it before sending it to anyone to read. Others, make a detailed, in depth outline that could almost be read as a stand alone book!

Oh, and then there is the other big component before I publish: Getting a cover!

Many, many designers are booked out a year or more. It’s a shame to hold up publication due to difficulty in getting artwork. I create many covers myself so I’m not at the mercy of a designer. (Plus it saves money. The cover is the most expensive part of my process–more than my beta readers/editors!)

So, are you a writer?

Tell me about your writing process.

Writing Tip: Filtering Filter Words

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As I’m working through the last edits for BLOOD & HOLY WATER, I am feverishly cutting out filter words. This is an alternating POV novel (3rd person) and my filter words are OUT OF CONTROL!

When I learned about these little attention detractors this past fall, it opened my eyes. Perhaps other (new-ish) writers don’t know about them either? Knowledge is half the battle, right? In this blog, I’m sharing a list of them, and my super-special trick to help remove them from my writing.

Definition of a filter word (per Pub(lishing) Crawl): “Filters are words or phrases you tack onto the start of a sentence that show the world as it is filtered through the main character’s eyes.”

Why eliminate them?

  • They make your writing less direct.
  • They separate the reader from the action and emotion.

Here’s my master list of filter words I try not to use when writing:

  • See / saw
  • Hear / heard
  • Think / thought
  • Touch / touched
  • Wonder / wondered
  • Seem / seemed
  • Decide / decided
  • Know / knew
  • Feel / felt
  • Look / looked
  • Notice / noticed
  • Realize / realized
  • Watch / watched
  • Sound
  • Can / could
  • To be able to
  • Note / noted
  • experience / experienced
  • remember / remembered

Here’s an example of some changes I recently made:

  • Before: He wondered where Ava had gone.
  • After: Where did Ava go?
  • Before: She felt the tingle of electricity flow up her arm.
  • After: Electricity flowed up her arm.
  • Before: He watched her dance in the rain.
  • After: She danced in the rain.

See how the changes make the reader closer to the action; almost a part of it.

Sometimes, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate a filter word, and I end up leaving them in.

So, as I become a more “experienced” writer, I’m more aware of these and write less and less of them into my story, but many times, I get captivated by my characters and end up writing a pile of filter words. When you have a novel-length manuscript, removing them can be a daunting task.

Here’s my super-special trick: I don’t worry abut them until the end—removal of filter words is on my final editing checklist. (Along with removal of my personal list of overused words including: really, very, that, just, then, totally, completely, back, finally, little, definitely, certainly, probably, start, begin, began, begun, rather, quite, somewhat, somehow, smile, said, breathe breath, inhale, exhale, shrug, nod, reach.)

This trick only works in Microsoft Word, but I’m sure other programs have something similar.

  • Open your document.
  • Select what color you’d like your filter words changed to using the “Text Highlight Color” button on the “Home” tab.
  • Still on the “Home” tab, click “Replace”
  • In the “Find what:” box, type your first filter word. For example: Hear
  • In the “Replace with:” box, type in the same exact word. For example: Hear
  • Click “More” then “Format” then “Highlight.”
  • Click “Replace All”
  • And there you go. Now when you do your final read through, the highlighted words will remind you they need attention. Cut them if possible.
  • When you’re all done, select your entire document and remove the highlighting.

Setting this up is a little time consuming, but worth it in the long run. Keep in mind, that you SHOULD NOT highlight words within words. Example: “Hear” will highlight all “Hear” including the “Hear” part of “Heard”, so you don’t have to go back and do “Heard”.

Wow. Now get back to editing. 🙂

As always, thanks for reading.

–Joy

Read more? Check out these sites:

What are your thoughts on filter words? How do you keep them out of your writing?

 

 

Is Your Book Done Yet? (Part 2)

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me that question… well, I’d have made more money that I’ve done self-publishing so far (Ha. Ha. But that’s a topic for another blog post). But, seriously, how long does it really take to write a book? Check out PART 1 or PART 3 of the three part series.

Comments from Part 1 of this blog post series asked about writing vs. editing time. As a new writer, I had no idea how long it took to polish a novel once it was written. What was really eye-opening to me is how quickly I can put words down on a page and call it a novel. The real magic happens with rewriting and edits. One of my favorite authors, Michael Crichton has said, “Books are not written–they’re rewritten.”

Here’s the real timeline breakdown of Love, Lies & Clones.

  • February/March–Wrote “Draft Zero” which was a 50,000 word ROUGH, ROUGH draft of the novel.
  • April–Camp NaNoWriMo Project–First round of edits/revisions to try to have it grow from 50K to 80K.
  • May/June–Two rounds of beta readers and edits.
  • July–Put this novel away. Wrote Blood & Holy Water for Camp NaNoWriMo.
  • August/September–Another round of beta readers.
  • October–Editor/Prep for Kindle Scout
  • November–Kindle Scout Campaign. I read through the novel one more time, and still caught issues! (And I attempted to win NaNoWriMo with another novel.)
  • December–Published! Horary!

How about other self-published authors? 

Today’s Spotlight: Mystery / Thriller / Crime Authors

Note: You can CLICK any book cover below to learn more. You may find your next novel to read!

QUESTION: How long did it take you to write your most recent book(s)?

The Olympus KillerThe Church MurdersDeath of a BrideLuke Christodoulou: I give myself a year for each book. I finish earlier than that though, giving plenty of time for the book to go to my editor and for my proofreaders to provide feedback.

A Jar of Thursday

The Secret Notebook of Sherlock Holmes A House of MirrorsLiz Hedgecock: I write the first draft quite quickly, but I’m pretty thorough in the edit. I wrote the draft of A House Of Mirrors in 6 weeks, then put it away for 6 months, and took a month to edit it.

The SplitWarriors

Carey Lewis: It takes me about a month, and that includes research and two rounds of edits on the manuscript. Then I’ll put it away for a couple of weeks and give it another couple of edits with fresh eyes.

The Adoption

Greg Merritt: About 8 months.

How much of your time is devoted to writing opposed to editing/rewriting?

Please post in the comments.

www.ProWritingAid.com — A Fantastic Resource

As I’ve been working more and more with beta readers, I’ve been referring some authors to the website http://www.prowritingaid.com for some editing / writing style help.

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On this site, you can paste up to 3000 words of your writing for free and it will give you a detailed analysis.  I urge you to try it out.

I’ve been using this site for a while though, and had forgotten how overwhelming it can be.

When I first discovered http://www.prowritingaid.com I felt I needed to fix EVERY suggestion it made.  This was impossible and I didn’t always agree with all of them.  PLUS it took me HOURS to fix a few thousand words.

Now, I pick out the sections that are the most helpful to my writing.

I made a quick tip sheet for one writer I’m working with, and I thought I’d share it her for anyone else who feels overwhelmed by the site.  Your style may be different and this tips sheet may need to be tailored to you.

Here is an example of what the report looks like:

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ProWritingAid Tips

Here is each section and what I use/don’t use. I hope this helps make it less overwhelming. I definitely don’t follow everything they say. I skip more than I change.  I also tend to run a section through the program with each revision, so more and more get fixed as I keep going with the writing process.

Also, once you change a lot of these things, you will pick up on them in your writing and avoid them. This makes future writing projects easier to edit and your writing cleaner overall.

Tips:

  • Overused Word Check: I only worry about the words marked in red, and then I only change it if they are easy fixes or the amount they list to remove is about half of more. (i.e. if it says, “remove 5 out of 9 occurrences” I focus on this word.)
  • Writing Style Check: This is a great section. I don’t do everything suggested, maybe just half of it – and only if I agree and it makes sense.
  • Sentence length Check: I skim it for the really long sentences, but sometimes still end up leaving them.
  • Clichés and Redundancy Check: I don’t care about clichés, I tend to like them in my writing (I know, that’s wrong.), but I do look for redundancies.
  • Grammar Check: I go through all of them, but skip a lot of the suggestions. Again, only if I agree and feel it will make my writing stronger.
  • Sticky Sentence Check: This is a really neat idea, but I completely skip it. The amount of work it would take me to rewrite everything into more meaningful sentences is beyond my writing skill level/desire.
  • Plagiarism Check: Skip
  • Repeated Phrase Check: I fix repeated 4+ word phrases. I think these get repetitive to the reader. I skim and fix the easy 2 or 3 word repeated phrases – or ones with high counts that there is an easy alternative.
  • Dialogue Tag Check: I skip, but I don’t tend to use a lot of dialogue tags.
  • Repeat Check: This is tedious, but I do find value in skimming through it. If there is a unique word that is repeated, I change one of them. I still end up missing repeats though that beta readers point out.
  • Paragraph Length Check: I just look at the items in red.
  • Corporate Wording Check: Skip
  • Dictation Check: Skip
  • Vague and Abstract Words Check: Again, this is long and I probably should focus on it to make my writing pop, but the time I’d need to devote to this, I skip it.
  • Eloquence Check: Skip.
  • Transition Check: Skip.
  • NLP Check: Skip.
  • Complex Word Check: Skip (but I don’t write with a large vocabulary.)
  • Pacing Check: I glance at the blue bar. If there is a lot of white, I take a look at my writing style. There is probably a lot of tell and not show or I need to break up paragraphs some, or throw in some more dialog.
  • Homonym Check: Skip
  • House Style Check: Skip
  • Consistency Check: I skim through this as I tend to make consistency issues with UK vs US spellings and inconsistent capitalization/hyphenation.
  • Alliteration Check: Skip
  • Pronoun Check: I skip, but I probably shouldn’t – but again, this would be a lot of work to fix.
  • Thesaurus Check: Skip
  • Combo Check: You may be able to pick your favorite ‘checks’ from above and make a custom report, but I haven’t played with this.

What preliminary editing tools do you use?

 

Read (& Critique) to Write Better

Early in my journey to learn how to write fiction, I filled my stories with the huge no-no’s such as…

  • Telling versus Showing
  • Stiff Dialogue
  • Too Many Adverbs
  • Passive Sentences
  • Lack of Description

I’d have people read my stories and point these things out. I’d fix the one instance, but I didn’t understand what they meant and how to fix it in my entire story and was blind to identifying them in my writing.

Then I began to critique other’s writer’s stories and it was like darkness lifted and felt my writing improved. (Though, I still struggle.)

I’ve read many stories still in their rough draft.

There is nothing like reading pages and pages of adverbs to realize how they slow down the story’s pacing and make the sentences feel clumsy.

Or having the story told to you instead of the author showing you what’s happening, making my mind wander and have lack of investment in the characters.

And then when you find a FANTASTIC example and tell the author exactly what they did right.

In education, this is called the teach-back method.

I’ve always heard that writers need to also be readers. This is true, but I argue, writers should be readers and give critiques. Reading both STRONG writing examples and still trying to point out the issues (that may not even be there) and reading writing that has struggles equally will help polish your talent.

In my opinion, all writers need to be readers and help others grow their skills. Not only will this improve your skills, but will also help the entire writing community.

Happy writing!

What are your thoughts?

–Joy

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Who Would Read My Writing? (Part 2)

Last week, I posted: Who Would Read My Writing? (Part 1). As Part 2 of this post, I’m sharing my experiences in utilizing a few online resources for obtaining beta readers of my work. Most of my experience has been with short stories and I am just recently branching out to obtaining beta readers for a novel length work.

Of note, if you plan on traditionally publish a short story or novel, you need to be careful not to post your work in open domain – such as on blogs, Wattpad, or online forums. (I learned that the hard way with some short stories.) The below options only allow registered users to read your work, which protects it so the traditional publishers don’t freak out.

I’m using the terms critique and beta read interchangeably here.  There are differences between the two:  (Critique partner is a fellow writer and a beta reader can be a reader or a writer.  A critique is more thorough where a beta read is supposed to be a readers perspective on the story.)

WWW.CRITTERS.ORG

I’ve been using this free critique forum for a while now with good success. For short stories, I get a ton of critiques (my last story received over 20 critiques.) This is great… BUT there are two major problems I have:

  1. It’s REALLY hard to sift through these for the comments that matter. I’m guilty of taking everything written in these critiques and changing my story to make the critiquer happy. What happens then, I fear, is my story loses its meaning. I start with a 700 word piece of flash fiction and when I’m done it’s over 2000 words. (And sadly, this has happened to me THREE times this year already!).
  2. My biggest issue: when I make a stupid grammatical error and it is pointed out over and over again. I wish I could go back and revise it before others read it, but with this site, you can’t. (I believe you can do this with Scribophile)

So with Critters, you need to do about one critique per week, and in exchange, you get to put your work in the queue. It usually take about 3-4 weeks for your writing to make it to the top of the queue for review. Then, the members have a week to provide feedback before your writing leave the queue. Of note, Critters has multiple forums for many different genre’s – my experience has only been with the Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror forum. The other ones don’t have as many members.

Now for novels, Critters says you can post sections through the usual queue (as described above), or they will do a request for dedicated readers (beta readers).  I tried this ten years ago by posting my first novel (which by the way, was TERRIBLE and is in a drawer. I’m still working up the courage to revise it into something readable.) I didn’t obtain any beta readers this way (they probably read my first chapter and ran the other way). I’ve beta read one author’s work and he says he normally obtains about 4 readers of his novels through Critters.

WWW.SCRIBOPHILE.COM

Then, I recently discovered Scribophile. I just started dabbling in it and LOVE IT so far. You earn credits by doing critiques and once you have 5 credits, you can post a 3000 word or so piece of writing. You can post a short story or chapters of your novel. I like this because you don’t have to wait for your work to enter the queue and you don’t have to commit to a critique a week – you can just do as many critiques as you need to “pay” for your piece. The hidden gem with Scribiophile though, is a novel swap group I joined. You team up a few times per year and swap novels around (no critique credits needed). It appears you end up with 4 critique of your novels (in exchange for doing 4 critiques of others work.) If you can’t wait for the novel swap, you can request dedicated readers through this group as well.

Now that I have a novel that is nearly complete, I’m in need of beta readers. So what will I do?

First, I’d like one person to read it to point out the obvious plot holes and other issues before I hand it over to others.  I’d hate to have the same problem pointed out over and over again. I was lucky and found someone on the Goodreads Beta Reader Group

GOODREADS BETA READER GROUP

There are four options on this site.

  1. Ask for a beta reader: Post a quick summary of your work and wait for someone to reply. I’ve been stalking this site for a few weeks now and it appears to be hit or miss if you have any takers. There are a lot of people offering paid services, but there are definitely some legitimate volunteer beta readers as well. (I want to publically thank them right now for doing this. WOW! There are so many good people in this world!)
  2. Find someone to swap your novel with: Pretty self-explanatory.
  3. Pay someone to read your writing: There are plenty of ads for those that will read and provide you with detailed feedback for a fee. Some are real cheap… $20-30. Some are more expensive… $125. BUT still much less than an editor – but you’ll probably still need one of those someday.
  4. Answer a post for someone wanting to beta read for free. I just did this yesterday and hopefully it all works out.

I imagine there are plenty of other fantastic options out there. (Hey, I wrote almost 1000 words on just 3 of them!)

So, how do you all get feedback on your writing?

I’d love to hear.

–Joy

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Guess What? Revising & Editing are Different!

April’s Camp NaNoWriMo is wrapping up and my project for the month was to edit my novel.

Edit… Simple right? I thought all I had to do was read through it a few times and fix my mistakes so it would be ready for beta readers.  (That’s how I edit a short story.  Why would a novel be any different?)

Boy was I mistaken! Holy crap!

FIRST OFF: I thought revising and editing were mostly the same thing.

WRONG!

  • Revising focuses on how your story reads, filling in plot holes, making characters act appropriately, ensuring the story makes sense, consistency, and flow.
  • Editing focuses on the mechanics of the language.

PLUS – each step in the process has been getting progressively harder… I can’t imagine the challenges I’ll have just trying to get someone to actually read the novel when I’m done!

A TIP I learned – Do NOT edit the document before revising it! All the time you spend editing will be thrown away when/if you discard the scene or rework it. Trust me. I did this.

It takes me twice as long to revise a scene as it did to write it! What’s the saying? Writing is rewriting? I COMPLETELY get this now. I wrote “draft zero” in 45 days. I’m now 30 days into my revisions and anticipate another 30 days at least before I’ll have any kind of draft I’d show someone. For someone who just likes to get stuff done, this is a little frustrating. I focus on completing one scene at a time and this helps me feel like I accomplished something.  How can writing a novel take a full year or two?  I now understand.

Oh! AND the emotions I feel while revising the novel make it difficult at times to continue… (Like not shoving everything into a drawer while staring at a haphazardly strung together “sentence” or my heart sinking at the stiff dialogue.) Luckily, with the downs, come a balance of ups. Like THIS POLL that encouraged me people would keep reading past my first page. (Again thank you to everyone who read it and responded.) These ups, along with just determination to finish what I started, keep me going.

TOOLS that have helped me:

  1. WRITING BLOCKBUSTER PLOTS: A Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering Plot, Structure, & Scene by Martha Alderson. (Amazon link here) I stopped in the middle of the month to read this book after finding some gaping caverns in my plot. This will forever change the way I plot a book. I was doing a lot of the techniques in the book naturally, but having an understanding of them gave me a new perspective. The most eye opening part was how important strategic and deliberate pacing is to keep your reader engaged. Looking at your scenes as to who’s actually in charge (protagonist vs antagonist) helps with this pacing.
  2. IT WAS THE BEST OF SENTENCES, IT WAS THE WORST OF SENTENCES by June Casagrande. (Amazon link here) I’ve been out of school for 20+ years and felt I needed a refresher on sentence structure. I’m not done with this book yet, but already have learned a tremendous amount. I lack skills in sentence structure and other rules of grammar. I’m learning that no matter how hard I try, I’ll still need an editor. I’m cheap and struggle with spending the money. What is the statistic? The average self-published book sells less than 10 copies or something like that?

PLUS – with all of this, I DIDN’T WIN CAMP NANOWRIMO! I set a goal to expand my novel during the revision process from 50K to 80K by adding details and emotions. I’ll meet this goal, but it will take much longer than expected. Deleting things is part of the rewrite. I’m finishing up April at 66-67K, which did not meet my Camp NaNoWriMo goals. BUT I’M OKAY WITH THAT! I’m getting a better novel out of the ordeal and I’ve learned so much about the writing process.  (An additional win – I worked on the novel every day in April.)

So, with all these things and the time and effort into writing, why do I do it? What keeps me going? Because my characters want their story told? Because I enjoy writing? Those are all true, but the real reason… The major driver?

Because I hope one person reads and ENJOYS my book. 

Really, that’s it.

Thanks for reading.

–Joy