I actually don’t know the answer to this. But I do know that ideas come to me when I’m writing. I can stare at a wall all day. I can try to think up a new idea. Nothing. I can’t force the ideas out of hiding that way. But start writing and here they come, like birds flocking to a newly-filled bird feeder.
Sometimes it’s when I’m actually at the keyboard. Sometimes it’s when I’m doing something else–walking the dogs, weeding the yard, driving. Just before I fall asleep is a big one. But ideas will generally only come to me during those times if I’m actively writing at some point during the day.
There isn’t necessarily a pattern to what ideas come to me, either. Most often, it’s something about the story I’m actually working on, but sometimes it’s an idea for another story that I’ve already written or an idea for a totally new story.
I think there’s a slightly higher occurrence of ideas–especially new ideas–when I’m doing original writing, as in a first draft or significant new writing in a second draft. Something about the creative juices flowing, I suppose. But revisions seem to trigger ideas, too.
Last night, before I fell asleep, I had three ideas–all at once. Two were for BLOOD WILL TELL, which I’m currently revising. Little details that can make the story more powerful. The other was a plot development for MAGE STORM. I think I’m almost ready to start on the rewrite of the first 50 pages or so of MAGE STORM. At least the ideas I need are starting to flow. More will come, probably when I actually start to work on it.
I guess the moral of this story is: Don’t stop writing and keep a notebook handy.
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I’ve always considered myself to be a fairly persistent–even downright stubborn–person. I just found out I’m a piker.
Friday night, I listened to this interview with Elana Johnson. She racked up 188 rejections for her (now published) novel. But you only need one agent to love it and find the editor who will love it, too. Elana Johnson sent 189 queries and sold her novel.
Of course, to be fair, she was also getting a better percentage of requests for full or partial manuscripts than I have. That’s at least partly due to writing a much better query letter. Something I still have to work on–and I plan to work on it with the help of her free e-book, FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL (available on her website).
But it’s also clear to me that I just have not been sending out enough queries. So far, I’ve averaged around thirty to thirty-five queries on my novels. Not nearly enough.
Okay, so part of that is because I stop querying the previous book when the next is ready to go out. That’s something I may have to rethink, especially as I finish up revisions on BLOOD WILL TELL. I mean, with a few exceptions, BWT and MAGE STORM won’t even be going to the same agents. They’re not the same kind of books or aimed at similar audiences. BWT is an adult urban fantasy/paranormal romance (I think I’m going to query it as a paranormal romance, this go round.) and MS is a middle grade fantasy.
But that’s still only part of it. If I query a novel for an average of one year, I ought to be able to send out at least three queries a week. The problem is the periods in which I don’t send out queries, because I’m going to revise the query letter or the synopsis or, like now, because I’m contemplating a revision to the work itself. Then I don’t send out any queries for a month or more. Not good.
The biggest problem, though, is researching agents. This is where the real procrastination creeps in.
New resolution (mid-year, if you like): Send out way more queries than I have been.
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To tie this in with my last post, I’ve noticed something similar about my few short stories, too. I don’t write very many short stories–just not the length that seems to work best for me. The few that I have written and decided I liked, I’ve sent out to various publications, but with no luck so far.
But, just like the novels, I’ve discovered that when I look at a short story six months or a year later, I can see things to make it better, often with help from some very good critiques. So far, this process has also resulted in making them longer–running up into the novelette range (roughly 7500 to 15000 words). The problem with that is that there are a lot fewer markets for novelette-length short fiction. And these stories had already been to most of those places (at least the ones I’d be willing to sell them to).
Unlike novels, it’s really hard to give short stories a second chance. With novels, you can change the title and write a new query letter. After a year or so of reading literally hundreds of queries a week, there’s a very good chance an agent won’t even notice. But you submit the whole short story to a market. Many of the publications specifically say that they don’t want to see rewrites of stories they’ve already rejected unless they request them. So, what to do?
Well, one option is to e-publish them. And that’s still on the table. But there’s no rush.
Another possibility is to think outside the box. What other publications might be interested? Well, while they are fantasies, most of my stories seem to have a strong romantic undercurrent. So, why not give that a try?
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I’ve begun to notice a trend. It’s the sort of pattern that takes a while to see because the data points are so far apart. Bear with me for a little history, please.
- Just over two years ago, in May of 2009, I sucked in a deep breath and started to send out queries for TSC (we’ll just let it go by its initials for now. This is the one I’m probably going to pull apart and start rewriting next month.) I was disappointed at the time, but thank goodness no one showed any interest in it. It really wasn’t good enough, I just didn’t know enough at the time to realize that.
- Meanwhile, of course, I kept writing, and in January 2010 I tabled TSC and started querying BLOOD WILL TELL. BWT got two requests for partial, but never got farther than that.
- And I kept writing. In 2010, along with work on a couple of other novels that are going nowhere for the moment, I wrote MAGE STORM.
- At the beginning of this year, with MAGE STORM ready to start querying, I re-read BWT and decided I could make it better. I got some new readers on it, got some ideas, and I’m about half-way through a major revision. After that, I’ll have to make some hard choices on just what to do with it. I like the story and I have ideas for two sequels. I’m just not sure a werewolf story, even a slightly quirky werewolf story, has much chance in traditional publishing right now.
- So, in January 2011, I started querying MAGE STORM. So far, I’ve had one request for partial and one request for the full manuscript. Neither, unfortunately, went any farther than that, but the response to the full included some comments that have me thinking about a couple of revisions that might make it better.
Okay, I see two trends in that, actually. One is encouraging–I’m getting better responses from one novel to the next. That’s good. I’m improving.
The other is a little less obvious. When I’ve let a story sit for a longer time–six months or so–I’m finding things that could be improved. This is probably due to a combination of factors. One, hopefully, is my growth as a writer. The other may be that it just takes that long for me to be able to really take a clear look at what I’ve written.
So, I’m going to try something new this time around. SEVEN STARS is complete (through second draft) much earlier in the year than either BLOOD WILL TELL or MAGE STORM. I’ll have the opportunity to let it rest for five or six months before I start to query it. It’ll be interesting to see what I find in around January or February of next year.
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I’m cooking right along on the second draft of SEVEN STARS. In fact, I’m about twice as far right now as the goal I set myself for this week (Friday-Thursday. I update my goals once a week on Fridays on Hatrack River Writer’s Workshop and once a month on Farland’s Writers Groups.) That’s good in a lot of ways.
What I call second drafts usually take two or three passes because I’m looking for different things.
- On the first pass I’m usually fixing or adding things I knew I left out on the first draft. Sometimes, that’s because I had trouble with a particular scene so I just told it, made a note to fix it, and moved on. The first draft is just about getting the story down, not about getting all the fine details perfect. Sometimes, it’s something else that I noted in the first draft–a large chunk of dialog that would need to be broken up with some beats and some internal thoughts. And sometimes it’s something that I discovered was more important than I expected later in the first draft and so I knew I needed to do a bit of foreshadowing earlier. This pass can take some time, because there’s often a lot of new writing in it.
- Sometimes, the second pass is aimed at the side characters, especially the antagonist. My first draft tends to be very protagonist-centric. There’s a little, but not too much of that in this story since the antagonists tend to be less tangible. So, this time, that pass got rolled in with the next.
- The next pass is more detailed, but still might go faster. I’m looking for places where I need more internal thoughts or more description. I’m also smoothing out places that might feel a little rough to me. New material gets added here, too (I’m about to write a new scene when I get back to work, now.), but less than in the first pass.
After all of that, hopefully, the story is as good as I can make it until I get some feedback on what works–and what doesn’t–from my alpha readers. That’s scheduled for next month.
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I’ve already confessed that I’m a discovery writer in an earlier blog post. But I don’t tackle a novel completely off the cuff. I might do a short story that way–take a concept and see where it goes. But not a novel. There’s just too much more room to run off into the weeds. Still, I have to give myself room to discover and explore because my best ideas seem to come to me while I’m actually writing. Something about keeping the juices flowing, I think.
I don’t do a classic outline, but I have tried to make what I call a proto-synopsis. But what do I put in this document? Well, more or less, the high points of the story:
- The main conflict. (I always insist on knowing this, since it’s what makes the story hold together as a unit, but it may not actually be written in that proto-synopsis.)
- The inciting incident. That’s obvious, of course. How can I start the story if I don’t have at least an idea where it starts?
- The first try/fail cycle. What’s my protagonists first, and horribly insufficient, attempt to solve his problem or achieve his goals?
- The second try/fail cycle. (This is one I’m sometimes still a little fuzzy on, even when I start writing.)
- The climax. I pretty much always know how the conflict will be resolved when I start. It may even be one of the first scenes I jot down.
- I don’t actually worry about the denouement at this stage. That’s one I pretty much always allow myself to discover out of the characters and what they’ve been through. I’ve been surprised by it a time or two, but that just makes it more fun to get there and find out.
Right now, I’m in the process of re-thinking this just a little. Using a proto-synopsis I think is not actually helping me as much as I hoped in writing a final synopsis. In particular, in hitting the parts of the story, I may not be giving enough emphasis to that central conflict. Something I need to consider carefully.
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After a bit of an interruption for MAGE STORM, following Agents Day, I worked finished working through the rough draft of SEVEN STARS. Then I took a little break to get caught up on some critique-driven revisions on BLOOD WILL TELL and DREAMER’S ROSE and worked on a couple of short stories. That gave me a little space.
Now, I’m about to plunge back into SEVEN STARS and barely come up for air for the next three weeks or so. The plan is to have it ready for readers in July. Looking through my notes, that shouldn’t be too hard. I don’t have all that many notes this time around.
There are a few things I want to add or develop further and one thing I want to tone down a bit. I may end up adding a chapter or two.
The manuscript is still a tad short at only 65,000 words. On the other hand, I’d rather be in that position than have to cut 10% to 20%. (Been there. Done that. Not much fun.)
The only things I foresee interrupting the flow on SEVEN STARS this time would be possibly a little more work on this quarters Writers of the Future entry and maybe a little pre-writing work on my next projects.
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