One of the questions I’m frequently asked is along these lines:
“I’ve written a book… but how do I get it published?”
One of the questions I’m frequently asked is along these lines:
“I’ve written a book… but how do I get it published?”
To celebrate the launch of the upcoming “Read Like A Girl” campaign (#RLaG), I was asked to film a quick clip saying why I think it’s so important for girls to read. Here’s my answer. (And, just to add, I think it’s important for EVERYONE to read, not just girls!!)
Over the last year I’ve presented a number of writing workshops, and something I’m asked over and over again by budding authors is this: “How do I get what’s in my head out onto a page?” Continue reading
One of the most common questions I get asked is how I come up with the names for the books in The Medoran Chronicles… and also if those names have any specific meaning. When I was away at NatCon last week, I decided to film my answer! Check it out below!
I started my vlogging series today – Q&A With An Author – and my first video is now available for viewing!
In the vlog, I answer what my book plans are after The Medoran Chronicles, but (for some reason) I can’t get the YouTube video to link straight here this time. So if you have a spare four minutes and want to have a watch, you’ll have to click on this link:
I’ll upload the next video in a couple of days, with me answering a question about which characters I loved writing the most!
I had so much fun vlogging the other day that I’m thinking I’ll do a series of shorter videos in a kind of “Q&A” theme. Sort of like “Q&A With An Author” – the author being me!
SO… If you have any questions you think would be interesting for me to answer via vlog, then hit me up in the comments below! It could be anything regarding The Medoran Chronicles (Akarnae, Raelia, or the rest of the books in the series – but I won’t reveal spoilers!)… to other upcoming projects… to writing questions in general… to books I’m reading or have read or loved etc… Or really, ANY question that might be fun to answer!!
(Though, let’s avoid all mentions of orange juice, okay? I learned my lesson in my previous vlogging adventure! *Awkward laugh*)
Writing a book—or anything—is a funny thing, mostly because no two authors have the same technique. Sure, there are a number of processes we all cover in order for a novel to come together, but how we go about them is where it all can get interesting. But to narrow down an extremely lengthy topic, I’ll be discussing three different processes I believe all writers have to consider in order to get from the first page to the last. And those processes are planning, writing, and editing.
I’ll be honest here: I always tell people that I suck at plotting. And in my mind, this is true. I’m definitely a pantser (aka, someone who writes by the seat of their pants and has no idea what might come with each new sentence). But that said, even though I’m not the kind of writer who can sit down and plot out every single moment that will be happening in the book, I do have to have some idea of the direction I want the novel to go in. There is, at the very least, a vague plan.
Think of it like going for a car ride. I’m not talking about those trips where you know you’re heading to the beach or the shops or your grandmother’s house. I’m talking about the random, “I have no idea where I’m going but I’m just gonna go for a drive and see where I end up” drives. Has anyone ever done that? If so, and even if not, I’m hoping you’ll be able to see with this metaphor that, unless something unexpected and untoward happens, regardless of the fact that you have no idea where you’re going to go once you sit behind the wheel, you have a starting place and an ending place. You start at home (or wherever your car is parked), and you’ll end up back there once you’re done. Or, you’ll end up somewhere else, but along the way during your drive, you’ll figure out where that is because, ultimately, you can’t live in your car forever. You’ll need to eat and sleep and shower and, well, live outside of your vehicle.
So, my point is, you might decide to turn right out of your driveway or you might turn left, you might head to the mountains, to the river, to desert, to the snow, to your friend’s house, to the library, to nowhere at all… but whatever you do, you’ll experience it as you go, and when the time comes to find shelter, you’ll either head home or you’ll end your car ride somewhere else. But, again, you’ll always have a start point, and you’ll always finish with an end point.
This is how I write (most of the time). I’ll always have a starting point and I’ll always have an ending point. There will also generally be a few things I want to experience along the way—like how with Akarnae I knew I wanted there to be a kind of magic that wasn’t ‘normal’ magic (including a very special library!), I knew I wanted there to be kickass classes like Combat, I knew I wanted my antagonist to be charismatic and strangely likeable but also very clearly not good, and I knew—I absolutely knew—that the romantic elements of the story would be built up over time in the Harry Potter/Ginny Weasley kind of way, rather than any kind of insta-love that detracted (and distracted) from the overall adventure of the plot. These were all things I knew I wanted, but I had no idea how they were actually going to come about. To keep with the car metaphor, they were what I had to discover during my ‘drive’. I knew how Akarnae would open—a girl stepping through a doorway and becoming stranded in a fantasy world—and I knew vaguely what would take up most of her time—she would attend a school for teenagers with extraordinary gifts and face all kinds of challenges along the way—and I knew where it would all end (this I’m not sharing here, because, well, SPOILER ALERT!)… but the rest was a mystery to me until it unfolded at my fingertips.
BUT…. For me, planning isn’t just something that happens at the beginning of the novel writing stage. It continues throughout the entirety of writing the book. That’s likely because, as I just mentioned, I don’t really plot very much, and certainly not scene-by-scene. So if I suddenly find my protagonist in the middle of an Archery class, since I’m not exactly Katniss Everdeen or Robin Hood and I have no idea how to shoot an arrow let alone string a bow, that’s when I have to open up my internet browser and research, research, research.
For the record, this happens a lot. And again for the record, I’d definitely be one of those people who gets raised eyebrows and unending interrogations if the law enforcement were to suddenly demand to see my internet browsing history. Poisons, explosive devices, sword fighting? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Because Google is integral in helping to bring a novel to life and making something that is, essentially, a fantasy into something that comes across as reality.
World building and character development are also a huge part of the planning phase, but since, again, I’m a pantser, these two very much tend to come out for me in the second stage, the writing stage…
I love the writing stage of creating a novel. It’s where I get to submerge myself in fantasy worlds full of exciting characters for entire periods of time. Developing these characters and building these worlds is one of the most incredible aspects of being an author, I believe, and seeing them come together—and, especially, the end result—is nothing short of beautiful.
Over the last few months alone I’ve travelled all over Australia and presented multiple workshops and masterclasses specifically tasked with teaching about ‘World Building and Character Development’, so I’m deliberately not going to discuss either of those topics anymore in this ‘writing’ segment here. BUT I’m sure I’ll be giving more of these workshops/masterclasses in 2016, so if that’s something you’re interested in checking out, keep an eye on my events page to see where I’ll be headed and when.
I will say that a huge part of the writing process for me is very much discovering the voice of my protagonist—of my main character—because that voice will often set the theme of the novel. Alex, my protagonist in Akarnae, is kinda kickass, but she’s also extremely real. For anyone who has read book one, you’ll know that she’s thrown into a number of challenging situations and she doesn’t always come out so well on the other end. (…*cough* Like her first ever Combat class *cough*…) But the beauty of Alex is that no matter how many times she falls—literally and figuratively—she doesn’t give up.
I’m saying all this because, if I had gone with a shy, anxious, sweet, vulnerable girl, there is no way I could carry her through the events that my protagonist has and will continue to face over the course of five books.
I also have another book I’ve written where my main character is practically imprisoned by fear to the point that she can barely function—and that novel is very much about the development of that girl to the point that she can find an inner strength to… do what needs to be done. For this book, there is no way that an Alex-like (mentally and physically strong) character could play the lead. It just wouldn’t work for the story to make sense.
So characterisation is important, and the voice of the character in particular in order to drive the story to where it is going.
(I say all that with the caveat that it is also super important to show the development of characters over the course of time. Alex certainly doesn’t start out as kickass; indeed, I’ve written three of the books in her series so far and while she definitely has moments of kickassery, by the end of book three—with two books still to go—she’s still very much real, very much liable to make mistakes, very much an uncertain teenager at times, and very much needing help from those stronger, smarter and more experienced than her… And yet, she also isn’t the lost and confused girl who first stepped through that doorway into Medora. She’s learnt a lot—not the least of which is to fight for what is important to her.)
I’ve just realised this post is getting crazy-long, so I’m going to skip a whole heap of stuff in the ‘writing’ segment and jump to answer Jenna’s specific question (also part of this segment), since that was the main point of this post. She asked, “… how do you know how long to make each chapter, and how do you know when your chapter is finished?”
The short answer is, I don’t have any idea!
As for the long answer, it’s going to sound a little whimsical, but to be honest, I just kind of feel it. It’s like… Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end, right? There’s a story arc, following from the introduction right through to discovering the conflict and then leading to the climax before (sometimes) smoothing out at the ending. Well, I kind of feel as if each chapter has its own arc, of sorts. Something has to happen, otherwise it’s just wasted and needless words, and what does happen has to be leading onwards. Driving onwards. Like the car metaphor from earlier, you push down on the accelerator because you want to go somewhere, but you also know that if you don’t push enough, you won’t get there fast enough, but if you push too hard, you could end up missing something important along the journey. (Not to mention, have an accident or end up with a speeding ticket.)
All of that holds true for me for chapter length—and I guess like when you’re learning how to drive, it takes time and practice to figure out just how much pressure is needed to get the right level of acceleration.
It also doesn’t help that there aren’t exactly any rules for this sort of thing. As my own personal rule, I tend to keep my chapters between 3000-6000 words each (closer to 3000, which is approximately 10 double-spaced pages), but again, that differs from book to book. I do like to be consistent, so I won’t have like a 500 word chapter followed by a 5000 word chapter… but there are plenty of incredible authors who do exactly that, and they do it well. So, as I mentioned, there are no specific rules. Which is why I think I have to stick with my whimsical answer of just ‘feeling’ it. (I hope that helps, Jenna!).
There’s so much more that I could say about the ‘writing’ stage, but I’m going to jump onto the final process instead.
Really, the subtitle here says it all. Editing. The ‘E’ word. A lot of writers dread—and sometimes even hate—editing. I kind of love it. (And by ‘kind of’, there’s no ‘kind of’ about it—I just love it, full stop.)
Don’t get me wrong here—editing hurts. Especially when you get your manuscript back from an editor or proofreader and all you see are the red lines and notes freaking everywhere. But you have to push on past the stinging pain and the screaming internal monologue of, “SOOOO MUCH RED!!!!! I SUCK AT WRITING!!!!!! NO ONE IS EVER GOING TO LIKE THIS PIECE OF CRAP!!!!!! I’M NEVER WRITING ANOTHER BOOK AGAIN!!!!!!” (And, for the record, every writer has this internal monologue at some stage!!). Because once you push past all that, take a good, deep breath, and actually start making the suggested changes, you begin to realise just how much better off your manuscript is for the editing.
But ignoring the wonders of professional editing for a moment, it’s super important that before you ever get to that stage, you edit your own work—over and over again. A piece of advice I would give any writer, and particularly aspiring authors who are seeking agents or publishers, is to edit, edit, and edit as much as you need to, until you get to the place where you literally can’t make it any better without help. And don’t do this halfheartedly. Send your ms out to reader friends or teachers or find an online critique group or beta readers or whatever—because the more eyes you let see your work before you send it to an agent/publisher, the more feedback you’ll receive that will help you make improvements in your editing stages. But make sure you give it to honest readers, because if they’re not willing to give you a proper critique, then it’s just a waste of both their time and yours.
Okie dokie! There are a gazillion more things I could say on all three of these processes, from planning to writing to editing, but I think I’ve given enough for a broad overview of how I personally create novels. Or, at least the basics. As always, I’m happy to answer questions, so feel free to comment below or shoot me through an email (or hit me up on any other social media) if there’s anything specifically that you’d like to know regarding any of this. I am elbows deep in writing at the moment so please allow me a little grace time-wise with my responses, but I’ll always endeavour to reply as quickly as I can!
To end, I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas—I personally had a fantastic day with my family that included waaaaaay too much food, after which I passed out on the couch and, unable to move from the waking-food-coma I was in, watched a five hour unplanned marathon of Cake Wars (Christmas special). I should be totally ashamed to say I didn’t move an inch in those five hours, but has anyone ever seen that show before? I hadn’t even heard of it, yet I was completely mesmerised by how creative they all were!!! It was like I couldn’t stop watching—some kind of compulsion kept me glued to the couch and to the screen just so I could see what icing magic they came up with next! And in my defence, my mother watched all five hours with me, so at least I wasn’t being a weirdo on my own. (Love you, Mum!)
So I have a confession to make. I love reading the acknowledgements pages of novels. This probably started back when I realised I wanted to become a published author, and I quickly became fascinated by seeing who the other authors out there were thanking for helping their books get out to the world. There were always the common denominators – family, friends, agents, editors, publishers, etc. – and reading their gratitude always filled me with warm and fuzzies and the wishful longing of hope that one day it would be me writing out those lists to be inked into pages forevermore. And let me tell you, when that time came, it was as awesome as I’d imagined. (Yet also rather nerve-wracking, since it’s rather personal, in a weird way!)
But as I was saying, most acknowledgements follow a similar pattern, yet every once in a while I’ll find myself surprised. And this is exactly what happened to me the other day after a book was recommended to me by the amazing YA aficionado at Dymocks Sydney. When I was at the CBD store for an author event last month, I met with Emily and was honoured to take part in the inaugural “YA bookmeet” that she had organised. Since I live in a different state and can’t make it every month due to the obvious travel-related reasons, Emily offered to email me the recommendations that will be given at each meeting. The August catch up has recently come and gone, and I believe they discussed YA science fiction and dystopian novels (I’ve attached a copy of her recommendations at the bottom of this blog in case anyone is interested in those genres).
Where I’m going with all this is, one of the titles on the list made me have an “Umm???” moment – enough that I emailed Emily back and asked for more information. And that was because of Libba Bray’s ‘Going Bovine’. I mean, let’s start with the title and the brief description given below. A teen with Mad Cow Disease who has to save the world? Needless to say, my interest was piqued – if only because it sounded mildly ridiculous, to be quite frank. But after Emily replied to me with a glowing recommendation (“I was not expecting the YA rebirth of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy but that’s exactly what I got! It’s absolutely absurd and wild and it’s probably the title I would most highly recommend out of that selection…“), I decided to look into this strange-sounding book.
Long story short, I’m deep in writing mode at the moment and have only had a chance to read the first couple of chapters (and boy, was Emily correct in calling it “absolutely absurd and wild” – because that’s definitely what it is!) but it’s the acknowledgements that I want to talk about here.
… Because they are beyond hilarious.
You know how I said earlier that sometimes acknowledgements can surprise you? Well, Libba Bray provides the perfect example with Going Bovine. In fact, she goes on for a whole four pages, each of which is filled with humour. Exhibit A:
I’d like to thank the guy who once validated my parking ticket when I had no money, and the homeless lady who said my hair looked like a dandelion with pieces blown away. I’d like to thank the people who save the whales and the whales themselves, especially the whales stuck in middle management, because that is tough. I would like to thank the people in this world who are weirder than I am—all three of you, plus Crispin Glover. I’d like to thank people who read and think and people who have made me think and read and those who think while reading and read while thinking, but you shouldn’t read while driving because that’s a safety issue. If I possibly met you in some parallel universe, I would like to say welcome and thank you, too, and, you know, sorry about not calling—that time travel thing’s tricky with my rollover minutes—and also, is there a way to get that sticky stuff from the Higgs field off the bottom of your shoe? I’m asking.
I issue these copious thanks because I’m always afraid I’ll forget somebody. By the time the pages are in copyediting, and my brain feels like it’s gone a few rounds with Ali in his prime, I have a hard time remembering to pick up milk, let alone remembering the many wonderful people who helped midwife this book…
So, you know, thanks. To everybody. Everywhere. Well, maybe not the guy who vomited on my new shoes after the True Believers concert that time in Austin. I don’t want to thank him. But most people—thanks.
Still. In acknowledgements pages, they like you to get specific with your shout-outs. Otherwise, people stop inviting you to dinner. And I like dinner…
She goes on to mention some specific people, and those are still really quite amusing to read, especially things like:
The Tea Lounge on 7th Avenue, 2001-2008. RIP.
Pete Townshend. I don’t actually know Pete Townshend either, but I’ve just always wanted to be able to thank him in my acknowledgements pages.
The makers of Rock Band, because it’s cheaper and more fun than antianxiety meds.
So as you can see, these acknowledgements surprised me. They were so much fun to read! Plus, without even having opened to the first page of the actual novel (since the acknowledgements were printed at the front of the book, rather than the back), I already knew I was in for a fun, humorous adventure because the voice of the author came through loud and clear early on. And this turned out to be true, as seen when I did open up the first chapter, which begins with, “The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World. I’m sixteen now, so you can imagine that’s left me with quite a few days of major suckage.”
See? That’s a fun voice to listen to. I have no idea if it will last throughout the entire book – and if it does, whether it will get old, fast, but it was certainly enough to draw me in. Not to mention, enough for me to write a whole blog post about it!
So, yeah. Let me encourage you to read acknowledgements, as weird as it sounds – because you never know what surprises you might find. And I say that especially to all the aspiring authors out there. Because it truly is fascinating to see the amount of effort that goes into getting a novel out into the world and all the people who help make that happen.
All righty, I think it’s time for me to get back into my writing cave. Happy weekend, everyone!
Oh, and below are the YA recommendations from Emily/Dymocks. If you live in Sydney, their next YA Bookmeet is on September 5th in store (George Street) – all are welcome!
These inspiring quotes from other writers popped up on my Facebook feed the other day and they’re so encouraging that I wanted to share. Writers, be encouraged!
“Until you understand why you write, you’ll have a hard time figuring out who you are as a writer.” ~ JAMES GRIPPANDO
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” ~ STEPHEN KING
“Believe in your idea. Full stop.” ~ TED BOTHA
“The first 8 drafts are terrible.” ~ MALCOLM GLADWELL
“You have to simply love writing, and you have to remind yourself often that you love it.” ~ SUSAN ORLEAN
“Be true to yourself and to the culture you were born into. Tell your story as only you can tell it.” ~ WILLIAM ZINSSER
“Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped.” ~ LILLIAN HELLMAN
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” ~ STEPHEN KING
“You have to protect your writing time. You have to protect it to the death.” ~ WILLIAM GOLDMAN
(The original website for all the above citations can be found: here).