End of Year Countdown: 5 Top Fives of 2013

Photo credit: life is good (pete) on Flickr
It’s the last post of the 2013! Which means it’s time to share Writability’s annual five top fives of the year. Yay! 

So here we are! A summary of 2013’s awesomeness in terms of writerly goodness. 

Top 5 Most Popular Posts (On Writability) 

As always, calculated with blogger’s page view counts, here are Writability’s top five most popular posts: 
  1. Why Write Blog Posts Consistently?
  2. Do You Listen to Music While Writing? 
  3. Writers: Start Acting Like Professionals
  4. Pirating Books: It’s Not a Harmless Download
  5. Tumblr for Writers

Top 5 Most Active Commenters 

As explained two years ago, I use Disqus’s handy widget on my sidebar to keep track of how many comments every commenter makes. The system isn’t perfect and only keeps track of accounts, so if you comment on multiple accounts, it thinks you’re more than one person, but at any rate, these five awesome readers are the most active commenters of the Writability community—thank you! 

Note: Those with asterisks were on the top five list last year, too. Double thank you! 
  1. Daniel Swensen*
  2. Robin Red
  3. RoweMatthew*
  4. Margaret E. Alexander*
  5. Jen Donohue

Top 5 Favorite Tumblr Blogs of the Year

I’ve really grown to love tumblr. And if you love tumblr too, or give tumblr a try this year, make sure you’re following these five wonderful tumblr blogs: 
  1. Jealous of Jetpacks (Beth Revis’s tumblr blog)
  2. YA Highway
  3. The Writing Café
  4. It’s a Writer Thing
  5. New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.’s tumblr blog

Top 5 Favorite Writing Blogs of the Year

If you’re here, I already know you like reading writing blogs, so I think you’ll like these too. Because these are my favorite writing blogs of the year: 
  1. Writers Helping Writers
  2. The Write Practice
  3. Chasingthecrazies (Amy Trueblood’s blog)
  4. Miss Snark’s First Victim
  5. YA Highway

Top 5 Favorite Favorite Twitter Accounts

Twitter is basically my favorite thing ever. And these Twitter accounts are awesome: 
  1. Brenda Drake

    Brenda is wonderful not only because she’s a genuinely nice person, but because she frequently runs contests and pitchfests for writers. If you want to keep up to date with contests for writers going on, definitely follow her. 

  2. Janice Hardy and Elizabeth S. Craig
    Janice and Elizabeth consistently share great posts for writers. Definitely recommended for a daily dose of insightful posts. 

  3. Pub(lishing) Crawl

    Another great Twitter for writers! They tweet and retweet posts, tweets and information for writers from all around the Twittersphere. 

  4. Professor Snape

    And this one has nothing to do with writers at all, but if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll love Snape’s joyful tweets. Like this one:
  5. Tahereh Mafi

    Simply because she’s hysterical, writes awesome books and is yet another genuinely super nice person. 
So those are my top fives of 2013—do you have any favorites of the year you'd like to share? 

Hope everyone has a wonderful New Year!

Twitter-sized bite:
Writer @Ava_Jae shares her top fives of 2013—what are some of your favorite writing resources of the year? (Click to tweet)

My Favorite Books of 2013

So the end of the year is nigh, which means it’s time for the 2013 countdowns to begin. I had the pleasure of reading so many good books this year, and of the ones published this year, these were (in no particular order) my favorite five:

Photo credit: Goodreads

I posted a review here for the second book of the Shatter Me trilogy, but to take a quote from that review, “Unravel Me will take your emotions, rip them up, stomp on them, set them on fire, then hand them back to you with a wink and a smile.”

Yeah. That basically sums it up.

Unravel Me is an incredible sequel that’ll have you racing through the pages. I loved it and I can’t wait for Ignite Me to be released early next year.

Photo credit: Goodreads

Again, I’ve already raved about how awesome this book is, but Siege and Storm is the second book to what is turning out to be one of my favorite YA fantasy series ever. Between the awesome Russian-inspired setting, some truly incredible characters including my favorite antagonist ever, a great magic system and an interesting plot, I can’t recommend this series more.

Photo credit: Goodreads

Unsurprisingly, this is another one I’ve already reviewed (I tend to do that to my favorites), but this an an unexpected favorite for me. I hadn’t heard all that much about Ink, and I think it deserves a lot more buzz because it’s a fantastic book with a beautiful setting and a truly unique magic system. Ink was a wonderful read and I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment.

Photo credit: Goodreads

So this one did get quite a bit of buzz, and it was well-deserved. I’d heard people raving about how exciting and unputdownable it was long before I finally picked up my copy, and they were right. Cassie is an interesting protagonist with a great voice, the pacing is breakneck awesomeness and the next book really needs to be published already.

Photo credit: Goodreads

Now for something totally different—or at least, different for me.

I don’t read a lot of contemporary romance—in fact, before Losing It, which I read before Faking It, the last contemporary novel I’d read was The Fault in Our Stars back in 2012. But you guys, I loved this book. Max has to be one of my favorite female leads and Cade is easily one of my favorite book boyfriends. Their story was hilarious and awkward and heartwarming and I couldn’t have loved it more.

What are some of your favorite books of the year?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae shares her favorite five books of 2013. Are any on your list? (Click to tweet)

'Twas the Night Before Christmas (For Writers)

A fun yearly (re-)post for Christmas, with apologies to Clement C. Moore, written by yours truly.

Photo credit: Joe Buckingham on Flickr

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the night
Not a writer was writing, not word was in sight.
Blank pages were scattered on desks and on floors,
In hopes that the manuscripts would leap from their drawers.

The radio was humming a song of good cheer,
Yet I, tortured writer, wished a muse would appear.
And I with my coffee and family asleep
Did stare at the page trying hard not to weep.

When out in the snow there came such a noise,
I fell from my chair, disregarding all poise.
I ran to the door, my heart in my throat,
And did throw it open, forgetting my coat.

And Christmas lights glowing on glittering snow
Seemed just for a moment to put on a show.
When to my astonishment—I’ll admit I did shout,
Came a sleigh from the sky led by reindeers on route.

A driver with eyes spilling over with laughter,
His face I did know I’d remember thereafter.
With a beard so white and his cheeks set aglow,
He waved and he smiled, “It’s me, don’t you know!”

I gaped for a moment and stuttered and said,
“This cannot be real—it’s all in my head!”
But Santa, he snickered and said with delight,
“I hear, my dear child, that you love to write.”

“It’s true,” I said, looking down at my feet,
“But a writer I’m not—I’ve admitted defeat.”
And Santa, he frowned—looked me straight in the eye,
And he said, “You’re a writer, don’t let your dream die.”

So I told him my troubles, how the words wouldn’t come,
And he said, “It’s a gift—it won’t always be fun.
It won’t always be easy or simple or kind,
But for writing, my girl, is what you were designed.”

And he lifted my chin with his finger and said,
“These troubles you’re having—they’re all in your head!
So go back inside and rest for the night,
But know that tomorrow, you’ll write at first light!”

He climbed back on his sleigh and took off in the air,
The reindeers—they trampled the stars with their flair.
So inside I went and turned off the TV,
And sat by the fire with a hot cup of tea.

Asleep, there I fell, and I dreamt of the page
And when I awoke—my mind a golden age!
I rushed to my computer and typed until dawn,
His words, I soon realized—they were right all along!

In hindsight I suppose, I shouldn’t have been surprised,
For that day it was Christmas, true and undisguised.
And that man that I saw, whether he was Santa or not,
He brought to my mind things that I had forgot.

A writer’s a writer every day of the week,
On good days, on bad days, on nights that seem bleak.
But I do what I can and what I can is to write,
As Santa reminded me to my delight.

So next time your writing refuses to flow,
Remember what Santa said to me and know,
You’re a writer tonight and always will be,

For writing is truly what makes you feel free.

Merry Christmas everyone! 

Twitter-sized bites: 
"‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the night/ Not a writer was writing, not word..." (Click to tweet 
Writer @Ava_Jae shares a special version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas for writers. Enjoy! (Click to tweet

Editing Tendencies: Do You Usually Cut or Add?

Photo credit: Ars Electronica on Flickr
When I finished the first draft of MS 10, it clocked in right around 61,000 words. By the time I began querying it several months later, I’d bulked it up to about 74,000 words. Now as I begin revisions again, I’ll be adding even more.

The last manuscript I’d queried before MS 10 had a first draft count somewhere around 40,000 words. In it’s current, most polished state, it’s now sitting pretty at about 86,000 words.

Here’s the thing that I find interesting—oftentimes when writers talk about revising, they mourn the loss of tens of thousands of cut words, and deleted scenes, and entire sections scrapped and rewritten. And while I’ve certainly done my fair share of cutting and rewriting, I find that most times, my biggest issue isn’t cutting—it’s adding.

As many of you who have read my blog before know, I’m a fast drafter. And while I definitely imagine there are fast drafters out there who have to do major cuts to their manuscripts, I find that my first drafts tend to come in really lean. I get the essentials of the story down—character basics, the main plot and any subplots, tiny bits of setting, etc. It isn’t until I start revising that I really get into the nuances of the story—the in-between stuff that takes my manuscript from scraps to a fully fleshed-out book.

Now, there are definitely exceptions—I have one MS that clocked in at around 90-someodd,000 words that needs major cutting and adding (mostly a lot of cutting so I can fit that stuff to add)—but by and large, I find that my revisions are mostly incorporated of layers upon layers of additions.

So that’s my process—now I want to hear from you. Writers, when you edit, do you tend to cut or add? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Do your first drafts tend to come in lean or prime for cutting? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet
Writers, do you tend to cut or add when editing? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet

Simple HTML Tips for Bloggers

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When I first started blogging, I was well aware that it would entail writing consistently every week. What I didn’t really consider, however, was just how useful my limited HTML knowledge would be.

You see, the large majority of blogging is getting the words to screen, but before you publish a post, you have to check the formatting, and depending on the blog host you use, the formatting might not always play nice. Which is when you have to dig into the code in order to avoid serious formatting frustration.

When formatting my posts, these are the most common HTML tags that I use:

NOTE: You’ll notice that most of the tags actually come in pairs—that’s because in HTML there are opening tags and closing tags. The opening tag indicates where a certain feature or style should begin (for example: italics begin HERE) and the closing tag indicates where the feature/style should end. Closing tags are always indicated with a backslash (/) before the abbreviated code within the brackets.

  • <body></body> : I don’t actually touch these tags, and for simple blogging, you won’t need to either. All you need to know is that the next within these tags is what makes up your post. 

  • <br /> : This is a paragraph break. I often have to insert these manually when doing bulleted or numbered lists so that there are spaces between the bullets or spaces within a bullet for a multiple paragraph bullet. These don’t need an opening and closing tag–just place <br /> wherever you’d like your paragraph break. 

  • <ol></ol> : This is an ordered list tag, to be used to create numbered lists. You place the opening tag at the very beginning of the list, and the closing tag at the end, with list item tags (<li></li>) to differentiate every point within the list. So, for example, a simple 1-4 numbered list in HTML would look like:


    NOTE: You don’t need to indent in order for the HTML to work—I just did that to make it a little easier to read.

  • <ul></ul> : This is an unordered list tag, to be used to created bulleted lists. You use this the exact same way as an ordered list tag, except you use “ul” instead of “ol.” You can easily convert an ordered list to an unordered list or vice versa by simply going into the code and changing a single letter in the opening and closing tags of the list. 

  • <i></i> : This indicates italics. You don’t usually need to type this manually because I’ve rarely had the italics button glitch out on me, but it’s useful to know so you can recognize it while looking at the HTML. To put a word or phrase in italics, you insert the word(s) between the opening and closing tags, like so:

              <i>I want this to be in italics.</i>

  • <b></b> : This indicates bold text. It’s used the exact same way as the italics tags. 

  • <u></u> : This indicates underlined text. It works just like bold and italics. 

  • <blockquote></blockquote> : I'll bet you can guess what these do (hint: I use them for my Twitter-sized bites and/or any quotes). Like italics, bold and underline, these are tags that I rarely have to adjust manually, but it's helpful to know what it does. 

  • <h1></h1> : These are heading tags. There are actually six different heading tags, varying from <h1> to <h6>. The <h1> tags are the largest and <h6> are the smallest. Like the last couple tags, the text between them is what is affected. 

  • <a href=“[website address]”> [link text] </a> : And this, my friends, is what an embedded link looks like in HTML. Allow me to break it down a little:

    The <a href=“[web address]”> is all part of the opening tag. Within the quotations, you place the web address you want the link to go to (without the brackets). So if you were awesome and linking to my blog, the opening tag would look like this:

              <a href=“www.avajae.blogspot.com”>

    Next is the link text. This is the visible text that people see and click on, so, for example, it might look like this:

              <a href=“www.avajae.blogspot.com”>Check out this awesome writing blog.

    Finally, you need the closing tag, or the link won’t work at all. This is the easiest part—you just add </a> at the end. So your full embedded link would look like this:

              <a href=“www.avajae.blogspot.com”>Check out this awesome writing blog.</a>

The nice part is these tags are all universal and can be used on any server that allows for HTML editing and in any browser.

I hope this helps your HTML-editing needs. If you have any questions, feel free to give me a shout below. :)

Have you edited HTML before? What tags do you most commonly use? 

Twitter-sized bites:
Are you a blogger struggling to understand HTML? @Ava_Jae shares some easy tips to demystify your blog's code. (Click to tweet
Do you struggle with your blog's HTML? Here are some simple tips to make editing HTML easy. (Click to tweet

5 Things All Writers Should Have

Photo credit: ejorpin on Flickr
So it’s the end of the year and people are shopping, and the gifts are piling up (or will be soon?), and there’s wrapping paper everywhere (or you’re dreaming/having nightmares of wrapping paper), and…

Well. I thought it a good time to talk about five seemingly random things (for lack of a better word) that all writers should have. Because why not?
  1. Bookshelves. E-bookshelves are totally acceptable in this category, but the point is, we writers love our books. And we should! Reading isn’t just for pleasure—it’s how we learn and keep up with what’s in the market, and as a nice bonus, we end up with some really nice libraries at the end of it. Assuming you collect them like I do.

    At any rate. Books are a writer’s best friend, and so are the shelves that hold them.

  2. Scrivener. To be fair, the perfect program that works for everyone doesn’t exist, but I do think that every writer should at least try Scrivener. There’s a free trial online and an abundance of tutorials and honestly, I was a die-hard Word-lover until I met Scrivener. Now I can’t imagine writing another novel without it. 

  3. Critique partners/beta readers. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again: critique partners and beta readers are worth their weight in gold. Hell, they’re worth their weight in diamonds. I’ve already written about why they’re so important here, but the short version is this: the most efficient way I know of improving your manuscript and your craft is to trade manuscripts with other writers of your level for critique. Don’t skip this step. Don’t. 

  4. Patience. Writers need a bucketload of patience—patience with others, patience with the process and patience with themselves. Publishing, especially traditional publishing, is a slow process. And before that, you need to give yourself plenty of time to develop your craft, and most of all remember time is on your side.

  5. A support system. Whether it’s family members, friends, or social media buddies, a support system is vital for writers. Writing itself tends to force us to spend time alone, and writers often deal with major ups and downs throughout the journey. Having a support system to cheer you on when you're feeling down and celebrate with you when you have good news is essential to an emotionally healthy and happy writer life. 
What else do you think is important for writers to have? 

Twitter-sized bites:
Writer @Ava_Jae lists 5 things all writers should have—do you agree? (Click to tweet)  
Do you have these 5 vital things for writers? Share your thoughts on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

How to Write Strong Supporting Characters

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I’ve mentioned this before, but some of my favorite characters ever aren’t the protagonists of their respective stories—they’re supporting characters. Sturmhond (Siege and Storm), Magnus Bane (The Mortal Instruments), Kenji Kishimoto (Shatter Me) and Sirius Black (Harry Potter) are easily among my top favorite characters, and none of them are protagonists.

We often discuss how to write strong, interesting characters with our minds on the protagonists, but supporting characters are just as important and should receive just as much attention as our protagonists do when being written and developed.

But what makes for a strong supporting character?

  • They have their own lives and backstories. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to go into every detail of that backstory in the narrative (in fact, with few exceptions, it’s probably best that you don’t). But knowing the lives of our characters, supporting characters included, helps us to create a more three-dimensional, fully-realized character. And speaking of which…

  • Their world doesn’t revolve around the protagonist. Your supporting characters have their own dreams, priorities and goals. Sometimes their goals may intersect with your protagonist’s goal, sometimes not, but they don’t live to serve your protagonist. When they’re offscreen, they’re still going about their lives, experiencing the world and moving towards some kind of goal—all things you’ll want to keep in mind when writing your supporting characters. 

  • They have their own motivations. And sometimes (though not always) those motivations may come at odds with your protagonist. Again, remember that even when your supporting characters are working directly with your protagonist towards the same goal, their motivations may not be the same as your main character—and that’s something you’ll want to consider and keep in mind. 

What else is important to remember when writing supporting characters?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Supporting characters need just as much development as protagonists, and here's why: (Click to tweet)  
What makes for a strong supporting character? Writer @Ava_Jae explains a few important characteristics. (Click to tweet)

What Makes a Book Good?

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As novelists, our goal is, ultimately, to write good books. Or even better, fantastic, stupendously awesome books. But what, specifically, makes a book good?

This, of course, is an enormously subjective post. What I consider good and what you readers may consider good will sometimes overlap and many times veer away from each other quite a bit, which is to be expected. 

But I do think there are universal elements that can apply to just about any book or genre that readers tend to look for. 
  1. An interesting voice. For me, this is the single most important element. If I don’t connect to the voice, then it doesn’t matter how good the story is—I’m not going to buy it. I’ve put down an extraordinarily popular book for this reason in the past.

    Why? Because the voice is what carries you through the story. It’s an ever-present element that permeates every page, every paragraph, every sentence, every word. If I don’t connect to the voice in the first few pages, I’m not going to connect on the fiftieth page, or two-hundredth page. 

  2. Memorable characters. As a character-driven writer, I tend to remember characters best. Whenever I come across a book with a character (whether protagonist or side character) so memorable that I add them to my hall of favorite characters, chances are likely that book will make my list of favorites as well.

    Memorable characters make the story come alive. They’re unique to every book and they take us on a journey that (hopefully) we won’t forget. They make us laugh and cry and gasp and wince—they make us feel and see the world in a new way. And ultimately, isn’t that what writing and reading is all about?

  3. A vivid setting. Settings should feel equally real, whether it’s a Contemporary Romance in Indiana, or a Fantasy in a made-up world. Vivid settings help to ground the story, and not only that, they can often accentuate elements of the story through contrast, symbolism or well-placed details. Unique, interesting settings are part of the reason I love fantasies so much, but a vivid setting is equally important in any other genre. 

  4. A gripping story. I think this is the element that is the most subjective—a gripping story to me may not be so gripping to someone else. Regardless of what elements play into what a gripping story means to you, the point is that you don’t want to put the book down. You’re invested in the characters, in the plot, in the world of the book, and if that means staying up until two in the morning to find out what happens, so be it.  
What elements do you think are essential to a good book? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae shares four elements that she believes are essential to a good book. Do you agree? (Click to tweet)  
What elements do you think are essential to a good book? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet

On Letting Your Characters Go

Photo credit: Chris Guillebeau on Flickr
So I’m a little weird.

In the past I’ve written about ways to get to know your characters, but over the course of several manuscripts, I’ve come to realize that my methods for getting to know my characters has changed over time.

You see, I’ve come to realize that while I’ve become a plotter as far as the events of a manuscript goes, when it comes to my characters, I tend to pants them. Or…rather…write them off the cuff, not take off their…ehem.


I usually have a general idea as to what the main characters will be like (usually the protagonist, love interest or significant other and the antagonist), and I usually have physical descriptions all set up, but I don’t really get to know them until I start writing. Why? Because I kept finding that just about every time I tried to force a character into a particular personality, it came out flat and…well, forced.

So instead of fighting my characters and trying to shove them into a particular personality box, I’ve been trying a new method of just letting them do their own thing. I start with a vague image of what they look like and what I think they might be like, then run with it. And so far at least? It’s been pretty fun to watch them develop, and on more than one occasion, they’ve surprised me.

Now, that doesn’t mean that they’re perfect after the first draft—far from it. I often have to take some time during revisions to really pull out elements of their personality and make them distinctive, interesting characters with their own backstory, and flaws, and a life of their own. For me, at least, the time to pull out character sheets and brainstorming methods comes after I’ve already drafted them and gotten to know them a bit—because now I have a solid starting point to build off of.

So that’s my current method—now I want to hear from you: how do you get to know your characters?

Twitter-sized bites: 
When do you meet your characters? Here's why a plotter stopped planning characters before drafting. (Click to tweet
Writers, how do you get to know your characters? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet

Discussion: Are Happily Ever Afters Required?

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As someone who doesn’t always write happily ever afters, I may be a bit biased in this discussion, but I do think it’s worth discussing nevertheless. 

Like most discussions hosted here at Writability, I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or wrong answer, though I suspect that genre expectations may play a pretty decent role with this topic. People reading horror, for example, have wildly different expectations than those who pick up romance novels. 

But if we’re speaking generally, I suppose the thing to consider is what people generally expect when they pick up a novel, and how acceptable (or advisable?) it is to defy those expectations. 

Usually, in genre fiction, people assume the hero will overcome the antagonist (or antagonistic situation) and live with the spoils of victory, whatever that means for the novel. But what if the hero doesn’t win? Or what if the hero wins, but the victory isn't how they imagined it, or has consequences they didn’t anticipate? 

Personally, I don’t think a happily ever after is a requirement. What is required is that all loose ends are tied up and the story arc comes to completion (more on that in this post)—but that doesn’t necessarily mean your protagonist has to gallop off into the sunset on a white horse. 

To me, bittersweet or even occasionally unhappy endings are a nod to reality. Because sometimes things don’t work out the way we planned or the good outcome we imagined turns out to be not so golden. 

On the other hand, I think it could depend on the reason people are reading: some read to escape reality, others to see echoes of reality or view their reality in a new way. For escapist readers, a not-so-happily-ever-after may be disappointing. 

In the end, you can’t make everyone happy, and as I said before, I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong answer. But it’s certainly something to think about. 

What do you think? Are happily ever afters a requirement?

NOTE: Let’s avoid spoilers, yes? If you know of a book, popular or not with an unhappy ending, feel free to refer to the book, but please avoid details and title mentions. :)

Twitter-sized bites: 
Do you think happily ever afters are a requirement? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae muses on the necessity of happily ever afters. What do you think? (Click to tweet

On Immediately Trunking Manuscripts

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Confession: I have not polished every manuscript I’ve written to a submission-ready gleam—or even tried to, for that matter.

Over the course of eight years I’ve written eleven manuscripts. Of those eleven, I brought five of them to what I at the time considered submission-ready. To be fair, one of them I only just finished a couple weeks ago and thus isn’t ready for editing, so if I remove that from my statistics, that brings me to an even 50% immediate-trunk rate. Or polish rate, if you’re half-glass full.

So now you may be wondering what happened to those five manuscripts I immediately trunked and/or thinking they were a waste of time, but I assure you they were not.

If you’re looking just at time spent, I usually take about an average of a month to month and a half to finish first drafting, so you could say that I “lost” a month with every WIP I immediately trunked. But I don’t consider it a loss, because I gained a whole lot, too.

My first insta-trunked MS, I learned just how much I enjoy making up new cultures and worlds.

My second insta-trunked MS, I learned how not to end a book, and how not to write an antagonist, and why certain clichés really don’t work. I also learned I can indeed write a book in a month. (Unsurprisingly, I don’t anticipate removing this one from the trunk ever. But I suppose you never know).

My third insta-trunked MS, I remembered certain character types that I adore—I remembered I love writing characters who are rejected by everyone, who live on the fringe of society, trying to be the best they can be while everyone around them refuses to see them for who they are. I also reminded myself that I really don’t want to write an antagonist like that. Oops.

My fourth insta-trunked MS, I learned I like writing about aliens and making up languages. I also learned that writing with an outline works really well for me.

My fifth and most recent insta-trunked MS, I learned to let my characters go and try not to strictly plan their romances. I learned writing with an outline doesn’t mean I have to stick exactly to plan, and I learned when my characters suffer real consequences for their actions, they’re so much more powerful than a slap on the wrist.

These lessons may seem a little all over the place, but in my two most recent manuscripts, I used many, if not all of these lessons to better my work.

As for why I put them away to begin with? The reasons varied, but generally it was because somewhere between the first read-through and deciding on edits, I came to realize I either wasn’t ready to start editing for one reason or another, or I didn’t love the story as much as I had while drafting. Which isn’t the end of the world, but in order for me to get through edits (and do them well), I need to believe in the story completely.

Now I’ve said this before, and I’ll probably say it again, but trunking a manuscript does not mean it’s forever condemned or it’ll never escape the trunk. All it means is that I need to put it away for the time being, and true, some of them will probably never escape the trunk, but I have hope for others that when the time is right, I’ll polish them up and they’ll be ready.

But until then, I’ll keep writing.

Have you ever immediately trunked a manuscript? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
"Trunking a manuscript does not mean it's forever condemned..." (Click to tweet
Have you ever trunked a MS? Here's why one writer put five WIPs in the drawer without querying them. (Click to tweet

How (Not) to Write a Fantastic Opening

Photo credit: Nomadic Lass on Flickr
Getting the opening right in your book is possibly one of the most important parts of writing your masterpiece. After all, without a gripping, life-changing opening, many readers won’t get to the real meat of your story.

So how do you ensure that you’ve written an epically amazing opening? Fear not, my lovely readers, for the formula to a brilliant opening is here.

How to Write the Most Incredible Opening in the History of Incredible Openings*:
  1. Dialogue in the void. Before a single line of description, before any characters are introduced, there must be super stupendously thrilling (or hysterical, or tragic, or snarky, or thought-provoking, or all of the above) dialogue. Forget dialogue tags and action beats—give us the good stuff and skip straight to voices before we know who anyone is, or who is speaking, or even where they are. 

  2. Start with an entirely irrelevant prologue. This is where your void dialogue should be—in the epic prologue with elves, and magic spells, and dragons, and that hovercraft bombing everything with super cinematic explosions, and an epically amazing ninja fight, and don’t forget the car chase with really expensive, flashy cars. Oh, you’re writing a YA Contemporary? Use the awesomesmash prologue anyway—it’ll only add to your book’s insane level of genius. 

  3. Moral of the story narration. This should be at the end of the irrelevant prologue. After all, no one is going to want to read your book if they don’t know what valuable life-lessons they’re going to learn. Honestly. 

  4. Beautiful description. If you don’t have pages upon pages of uninterrupted beautiful literary-styled description, you fail by default.    

  5. Introduce no less than fifteen characters…then kill them all off. You know, a la The Iliad. 

  6. Delve into every character’s detailed backstory. Before you kill them off, or as a eulogy afterwards, tell us every detail about their lives—from their favorite color to their very first memory, and that time their cat Colonel McMeowsers brought them that dead pigeon. This is the only way to make them feel real. 

  7. But don’t mention your protagonist until page ten. Or preferably later. You have a lot of ground to cover before you even begin to tell us who the story is about. 

  8. When you do get to your protagonist, start at the beginning of their average day. I mean, how he brushes his teeth (clockwise or counterclockwise circles? Up and down? SIDE TO SIDE?), and what kind of brush he uses to brush his hair, and what his favorite cereal is is totally fascinating stuff.

  9. Tell everything (and don’t show anything). Jimmy is angry when he hits his alarm clock. He doesn’t know why he’s angry. Maybe it’s because the bristles on his tooth brush are too hard, or maybe it’s because his mother left three days after his second birthday and that ridiculous chihuahua bit his pinky finger when he was four. He stares into the mirror while brushing in counterclockwise circles and stares into his gorgeous green eyes. Coincidentally, green happens to be his favorite color. He’s very attractive, but he doesn’t really think so. Some girls say his wavy dark locks framing his face make him look handsome, but they just remind him of his mother.

    Jimmy loves Cap’n Crunch cereal. 

  10. Author foreshadowing. Because who doesn’t love the disembodied voice telling us what’s going to happen? For example:

    But what Jimmy didn’t know was that this would be the best day of his life, and also the day he died. All because of that Cap’n Crunch. 
So there you have it! Now go forth and awesomize your opening.

*This is another sarcastic post! I beg you not to take these points seriously and please don’t use any of these suggestions. Please.

What so-called “tips” would you add to the list? 

Twitter-sized bites:
Do you have trouble writing openings? Here's a fun post from writer @Ava_Jae on ten ways (not) to open your book. (Click to tweet)
Getting your MS's opening right is very important, so writer @Ava_Jae shares 10 ways (not) to write a great opening. (Click to tweet

NaNoWriMo is Over...Now What?

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It’s December! Which means Christmas is coming and Thanksgiving is over and NaNoWriMo is complete! Now many of you have 50,000 new words or maybe even a new manuscript all nice and shiny on your computer. So what now?

What to Do:

  • Finish your manuscript. Assuming you haven’t already. 50,000 words isn’t always a full novel, depending on the genre and how lean your first drafts usually are. But if you didn’t finish, keep going! You’re nearly there. 

  • Celebrate! You deserve it! Writing 50,000 words in a month is nothing to scoff at—watch your favorite shows, read your favorite books, eat something delicious and enjoy some time with your family and friends. You’ve done something pretty fantastic, so enjoy it. 

  • Back up your files. No really. Go do it right now. I’ll wait. 

  • Make pre-edit notes. As many of you raced through that first draft, you may have some ideas already as to what will need to be adjusted or researched for and during the editing period. Write these down now, before you forget them. Because chances are, you will forget them. 

What NOT to Do:

  • Submit to agents or editors. A lot of agents and editors close to queries and unsolicited submissions in December both for the holidays and to avoid the NaNo rush. Do not under any circumstances be part of the NaNo rush. You’ve done something you should be proud of—you wrote a novel, or a large part of one at least. But what you have is a first draft, and first drafts need to be re-read, and revised, and ripped apart and edited to death before they’re refined enough to be submission-ready. And that takes time.

    Don’t sabotage your future efforts by submitting your manuscript prematurely. Take your time to get it right and you’ll be glad you did. 

  • Publish. Same as the above. Take the time to get it right before you upload your book.


  • Give your manuscript some space. I’ve already written about the importance of letting your manuscript cool between drafts, as well as how to read your writing objectively, so I’m not going to reiterate the whole thing here. But the short version is giving your manuscript some space allows you to develop distance from your words, which in turn makes editing much more effective. 

  • Edits and revisions are not optional. I basically went over this in the first bullet, but if you want to publish your work, whether traditionally or independently, editing is not optional. Ever. The only way to make your book as good as it can possibly be is to put it through extensive edits and trade with critique partners and revise revise revise. There aren’t any shortcuts in writing. 

So those are my post-NaNoWriMo tips—what would you add to the list?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Now that #NaNoWriMo is over, writer @Ava_Jae shares some post-madness tips. (Click to tweet)  
With #NaNoWriMo over, writer @Ava_Jae shares some dos and don'ts for your shiny new WIP. (Click to tweet

Discussion: Does the Protagonist Have to Be Likable?

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So today I’m asking a question I don’t actually know the answer to. But I think it’d be interesting to discuss.

I’ve often heard of people putting a book down (either literally or in a review) because they contain unlikable protagonists. Of course, what qualifies as likable is entirely subjective, but it’s made me wonder—do our protagonists have to be likable?

I don’t think this is necessarily a hard yes or no answer. I think protagonists should be likable to an extent—if they’re entirely unlikable not many people will want to put up with them—but the goal shouldn’t be to aim for perfection by any stretch (in fact, that’d probably only aggravate the situation).

While I don’t think it’s impossible to enjoy a book with an unlikeable protagonist (I personally didn’t find Tris from the Divergent series to be especially likable, nor Warner from Destroy Me…at the beginning, anyway), I suspect this may vary from reader to reader. I have a friend who stopped reading Hunger Games because she found Katniss unlikable, and I’ve seen others rate books poorly because they weren’t a fan of the protagonist.

So now I ask you: do you think it’s necessary for the protagonist to be likable? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Do you think it's necessary for the protagonist to be likable? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)  
"Protagonists should be likable to an extent...but the goal shouldn’t be to aim for perfection." (Click to tweet)

Operation Thanks

Photo credit: Flying Pig Party Productions on Flickr
As it’s Thanksgiving in the States tomorrow, I’m taking a minor detour from the usual writing-related posts to talk about some real-life applications.

You see, as many of you are aware, tomorrow is a bit of a strange Thanksgiving, because not only does it blend with Chanukah, but many large retail stores have decided to extend Black Friday and start the sales on Thursday. 

I’ve heard a lot of people calling for boycotts, and telling people not to go, and starting petitions against it, but that’s not what this post is about. Boycotts or petitions or not, the stores are still going to be open and employees are still going to be working on Thanksgiving. 

Instead of focusing on the negative, however, I’d like to try to do something positive. There are going to be a lot of tired employees who are missing Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, so why not go out and make their day a little better? 

If you plan to go out tomorrow or Friday for Black Friday sales, consider buying your cashier or another working employee a small gift. Maybe it’s a candy bar or a pack of gum, which may not sound like much, but as someone who has worked as a cashier during the holiday rush in the past, I can tell you little gestures go a long way. 

Let’s take some time this holiday season to show hard-working employees that you’re grateful for their work and you understand that they’d rather be home with their families. Let’s show them the true meaning of being thankful and spread some holiday spirit. 

Even if you don’t go, I encourage you to spread the word to others who might. I’m calling this Operation Thanks, and you can easily spread the word by reblogging this post on tumblr or sharing one of the tweets below with the #OpThanks hashtag. We can all do a little something to help make someone’s day better, and it starts with remembering to be thankful. 

Happy Thanksgiving and Chanukah to all who are celebrating! 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Going out on Black Friday? Consider giving back to employees working long holiday hours with #OpThanks. (Click to tweet)  
Shopping this Black Friday? Consider spreading some gratitude this Thanksgiving with #OpThanks. (Click to tweet)

On Writing Characters Who are Nothing Like You

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Fun fact: up until recently, I found it more difficult to write female POV characters than male POV characters. 

Now that’s not to say that I consistently wrote one with a greater degree of success than the other, but I often found the voice harder to nail with my female POV characters than I did with the guys. 

For the longest time I couldn’t really figure out why that was—as a heterosexual woman, it would make sense that I’d find it easiest to write from a female POV…right? 

Problem was, I often got bored with the voices of my female characters. They largely came out sounding the same, which I knew was a problem, and if I was being honest with myself, they really weren’t all that interesting. It wasn’t until I wrote a WIP with a female POV character who was absolutely nothing like me that I realized the problem—my previous female characters were too much like myself. 

Writing is an opportunity to take a journey through someone else’s eyes. It’s a chance to step out of yourself and experience someone else’s life. I love that about writing, and so it makes sense to me that I love to write characters that are very different from me. 

Granted, parts of myself do slip into my character’s personalities. Many of my MCs share my love for sarcasm and have analytical minds. Some of them have trouble with empathy, like me, and many of them are pretty strategically-minded.

I’ve often seen people online ask how to write characters different from themselves, and the biggest bit of advice I’ve seen is one that I couldn’t agree with more: think of them as people first. Beyond race, gender, religion or sexual orientation, our characters are people first. They have opinions, desires, fears and dreams like everyone else, they have tempers and motivations and pet peeves and loved ones. 

If you figure out who they are first, the rest falls into place. It’s just a matter of getting to know them well enough so that you can. 

Do you find it difficult or easy to write a character unlike yourself? Why? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
"Beyond race, gender, religion or sexual orientation, our characters are people first." (Click to tweet
Do you find it difficult or easy to write a character unlike yourself? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet

Discussion: Do You Write in Chronological Order?

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I’m a fairly organized writer. I usually plot a basic outline with plot points to guide me along the way before I write a single word, and I always write in chronological order. I tried writing out of order once and it ended in disaster (and an uncompleted manuscript), so it’s unlikely I’ll be trying that again anytime soon (but never say never, right?).

However, I am more than well aware that not everyone works remotely close to the same way I do.

There are writers who pants completely with absolutely no idea where the MS is going to take them when they sit down to write, and there are writers who plot every last detail then write completely out of order.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to go about it, which is why I like writing about process so much—it’s fascinating to me to see all the different ways writers operate.

I’ve often seen writers encourage each other to write the scenes that excite them first—I tend to do the opposite: I write the scenes as they come, and when I have a scene ahead that I’m dying to write, I use that motivation to get me through the scenes I’m less excited about. If I start to get bored at any moment, I make something happen—both to entertain myself and future readers who will likely be bored if I’m getting bored.

Being that I’m a fairly logical person, chronological order to me makes sense—my scenes build off each other and unplanned ideas I get in earlier scene often weave their way into future scenes.

However! That doesn’t mean my way is better. It’s just what works for me.

But enough about me, I want to hear from you guys—do you write in chronological order or do you skip around? Why? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Do you write in chronological order when first drafting? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)  
Do you write the most exciting scenes first when drafting? Share your process at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet

Write the Next Book

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I’ll always remember sitting with my first manuscript and a pile of rejections, wondering where to go from here. I didn’t want to give up on the book, and starting anything new felt just like that—giving up. 

I eventually tried to write a sequel, but got less than halfway through before I began to realize if I never sold the first book, book two would be dead on arrival. I wasn’t ready to trunk the manuscript, so I continued querying, but I also started a short story that evolved into my second manuscript. 

Eventually, I did trunk that manuscript. It wasn’t easy to finally put it aside and focus on something new because it felt like admitting defeat. But by putting it away and writing something new, I learned a very important lesson: the top priority for any writer should be to write the next book. 

Don’t get me wrong, social media is important and when you publish, so is marketing. Branding, reaching out to other writers, getting involved in the community, reading as many books as you can get your hands on—all of those things are important. But whether you’re unpublished, self-published or traditionally published, the best thing we can do to further our careers and improve our skills is to write the next book. 

For unpublished writers, the next book is a fresh opportunity to attract an agent or editor. 

For self-published writers, the next book is a new chance for readers to fall in love with your words. 

For traditionally published writers, the next book is another opportunity to sell and bring in some new readers. 

The next book is what builds our careers. It adds to our repertoire of skills and teaches us new things about the craft of writing and our own ability. It reminds us that writing is always the most important focus and teaches us to push through and be consistent. 

So take some time to connect with people on social media and promote your books and keep up to date on the industry. But above all, keep your top priority in mind: the next book. 

What do you think? Is writing the next book more important than social media and marketing?

Twitter-sized bites: 
"The best thing we can do to further our careers and improve our skills is to write the next book." (Click to tweet
Is is writing the next book more important than social media and marketing? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet

How to Find Blog Photos Using Flickr

Photo credit: Andy Woo on Flickr
So I received another question! And it's one that I've been meaning to answer, anyway.

As many bloggers are aware, including blog photos is a great way to add a little extra engagement to the page and make the post look more interesting visually. But with copyright laws and the possibility of lawsuits if photos are used incorrectly, it can sometimes be a little scary to start using photos.

The key is to find photos under a Creative Commons license, and I find all of mine through Flickr.

Flickr is a free site that you can log into with a Google, Facebook or Yahoo! account where photographers (amateur and otherwise) around the world upload and share their photos. And my favorite part about it is that you can search through copyright-free photos for free use in posts.

The steps are pretty simple:
  1. The search. Once you've logged into Flickr, you go up to the search bar in the top right corner and type in whatever key word you want to use to filter through photos. I usually choose something related to the post, so for instance, for this post, I searched "photos" "pictures" and "photography." 

  2. The Creative Commons filter. After you get your results, click “Advanced Search" to bring up the advanced search menu. From there, choose “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content” at the bottom and it “Search” again to filter your results with only pictures that are copyright-free. 

  3. Choose your photos. Generally, I open up any photo I find interesting in a new tab, then mark my favorites with the star-shaped favorite button. This allows me to save any photos I like for future use and to also remind myself a) not to reuse them and b) to go back later on and let the person know I've used their photo (which is optional, and I am majorly behind on). 

  4. Copy the URL. Once you've picked your photo and checked the Creative Commons settings to see the rules (which is done by clicking the hyperlinked “Some rights reserved”…usually it's to add attribution, which you should always do anyway, but it’s good practice to check), right click the photo and select the size you want. I usually choose “Medium 500.” It will then bring you to a new page with just the photo. Right click the picture again and choose “Copy Image URL." From there you can use that URL to upload the picture into your post.
So that’s it! Don’t forget to add attribution (I usually like to link back to the artist’s Flickr page) and you now have a photo for your blog post. Enjoy!

If you blog, where do you get your blog post photos? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Not sure where to find blog post photos? Blogger @Ava_Jae shares four easy steps to finding copyright-free photos. (Click to tweet)  
Don't break copyright law for a blog post photo—here are four steps to finding copyright-free images. (Click to tweet

Critique Etiquette: Should You Resubmit Revisions?

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So you’ve won a critique of your query letter, or first page, or first paragraph, or first fifty pages, etc. Or maybe you’ve come across a writer whose giving away critiques for free, or an event in which a bunch of writers give away critiques, or whatever the case may be. Point is, you’ve won a critique and you’re excited—and you should be! Critiques are exciting. And a little nerve-wracking. But worth being excited over. 

You send your critique off and you wait. Maybe the writer sends it back in an hour, maybe in a week, maybe longer, but regardless of how long it is, it feels like forever. Then the critique arrives in your inbox and you open it and…

Wow. That’s a lot of red. 

But you’re a writer! So you take the notes and you use it to rework your submission, but you’re not totally sure that it’s better. Or that those changes you made really worked. What if you made it worse? Oh God, what if you ruined it? What if?

At this point, you’re probably feeling pretty tempted to send it back to the writer who left you those helpful edit notes to take a second look at it. Just to make sure you didn’t go overboard. Or you didn’t miss the point of the notes. Mostly you just want to make sure you didn’t destroy your work. 

But while it is so tempting to resubmit that revision to the writer in question, and trust me, my lovely writers, I know how tempting it is, should you do it? Should you resubmit that revision? 

There are two possible scenarios with two very different answers. 

  • Scenario 1: The editor invited you to resubmit a revision x-number of times. This happens! It does, and when it does, it’s wonderful and I hope you thank that person profusely if you decide to take them up on their offer, because they’re not obligated to offer, but they did, and that’s really awesome of them. If this is your scenario, then send away! And be happy because the editor will reassure you that you aren’t losing your mind. 

  • Scenario 2: The editor did not mention anything about resubmitting a revision. This also happens. If this is your scenario, then do not resubmit, at least, not without asking first.

    The thing is, winning a critique is not an automatic invitation to submit your revisions afterwards. Many editors or critiquing writers consider freebies a one-off, and rightfully so—you’re getting their services and their time for free, and the thing with revisions is they can go on pretty much forever if you let them. They take a lot of time, and not everyone is able to give away that much time for free.

    You see, it’s not that one revision is a big deal—the issue is that when you ask an editor (or whoever is looking at your work) to look at your revisions without an invitation, you’re asking them to do so for anyone who asks, however many times they ask. Because once you say yes to one person, it’s much more difficult to say no to someone else, or even no to the same person when they want to send a third or fourth revision.

    By asking someone to take a second look at your work, when they hadn’t agreed or opened the door for you to do so, you’re putting them in an uncomfortable situation. On one hand, saying no isn’t fun, but saying yes makes it even more difficult to say no later. 

It’s a simple enough mistake, and I totally understand why some writers don’t realize that this is something than can make for a very uncomfortable situation for the person editing your work. Just remember: when in doubt, ask. But definitely don’t assume the answer is yes. 

Note: Just to be clear, I’m not writing this post to reprimand anyone. As I follow many editors on Twitter, I’ve seen this issue mentioned more than a couple times, so being that it’s not often discussed, I figured I’d write about it. 

Also, in paid or swapping situations, this is usually established right from the beginning. But if not, the safest thing to assume is if they didn’t invite a resubmission, you shouldn’t resubmit. Though if you’re not sure, it doesn’t hurt to ask. 

What critique etiquette tips do you have?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Is it ok to resubmit revisions after a critique? Here's why you may want to pause before you do. (Click to tweet)  
"Winning a critique is not an automatic invitation to submit your revisions afterwards." (Click to tweet

Speed & Quality: Not Mutually Exclusive

Photo credit: Steve Rhodes on Flickr
When writing about fast-drafting, I’ve often said it’s ok to write badly. I’ve said first drafts are ugly about 95% of the time, and it’s totally fine to write something that you tear apart later, and it’s normal (and completely acceptable) if your first draft sucks.

All of that is true.

But the bit I didn’t cover is just because you finish a draft quickly—even insanely quickly—doesn’t mean it’s going to suck. Just because you speed through a first draft like it’s your job doesn’t mean that what you’ve written is guaranteed to be total word vomit.

I say this, because I’ve heard of writers online getting crucified for finishing 50k in a couple days. I’ve seen some truly amazing people write 100,000 words or more in a week, and then feel discouraged because other writers accuse them of cheating or say that what they write must be total garbage and other rather unpleasant (and untrue) accusations.

Look, the thing about fast-drafting, or first drafting in general, is that your first draft is likely to be ugly. It’s likely that you’ll read it back and cringe in certain spots and it’s likely that when you read it back, you’ll destroy it with a red pen.

But are first drafts guaranteed to be horrible? Not at all. Even first drafts written a couple days can be relatively clean (relatively, because all drafts need work).

The truth is this: every writer is different. Some writers slam out a pretty cleanish draft in a few days and the rest of us envy their ability, but the thing is, it’s not impossible, and it’s not cheating.

Some writers take years to write a first draft, and the draft comes out ok. Or it comes out terrible. Or it comes out wonderful. All of these writers are equally awesome.

Some writers take a couple months to write a first draft, and the draft comes out average. Or it comes out horrible. Or it comes out clean. All of these writers are equally awesome.

Some writers take a few days to write a first draft, and the draft comes out meh. Or it comes out ugly. Or it comes out sparkling. All of these writers are equally awesome.

No two writers work the same way—hell, many writers don’t even work the same way with different manuscripts.

Fun fact: the fastest I’ve ever written a full first draft was in roughly three weeks (though this may change with this NaNo WIP, but I digress). When I read it back a month later, I’d expected it to be pretty rough—after all, I’d never finished a full manuscript in three weeks before (my previous record had been somewhere around a month), so it made sense that this WIP would be a little uglier than usual.

Except it wasn’t. To this day, that draft is the cleanest first draft I’ve ever written.

This NaNo draft, meanwhile? I’ll be the first to admit it’s going to get torn apart in edits and revisions. And that’s ok. Every MS is different.

My point is this: just because something is written quickly doesn’t mean it’s not written well. That’s not to say it’ll be perfect—nothing is perfect in the first draft stage—but writing quickly doesn’t automatically mean writing badly.

Speed and quality are not mutually exclusive. Every writer is different and it doesn’t matter whether it takes you two days or two years to finish a first draft, or if you need three rounds of revision to make it shine, or twenty before it’s presentable. Your process is yours and yours alone.

Own it. Keep writing. Ignore the haters. And know that you, writer, are amazing.

What is your first draft process like? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
"Just because something is written quickly doesn't mean it's not written well." (Click to tweet)  
Are all first drafts guaranteed to be horrible? Here's why one writer doesn't think so. (Click to tweet)  

How I Won NaNoWriMo in 9 Days

So this is my NaNoWriMo word count progress chart:

Or at least, that’s what it was on Saturday after I hit 50k.

So statistics! We like statistics. Here’s how my nine day breakdown went:
Day 1: 5,731 words written, 5,731 total.
Day 2: 7,724 words written, 13,455 total.
Day 3: 5,150 words written, 18,605 total.
Day 4: 5,145 words written, 23,620 total.
Day 5: 5,130 words written, 28,750 total.
Day 6: 5,056 words written, 33,806 total.
Day 7: 5,002 words written, 38,808 total.
Day 8: 6,251 words written, 45,059 total.
Day 9: 5,237 words written, 50,296 total. 
Daily average: 5,588 words.
Now, I wasn’t originally planning on writing 5k a day. My goal on November first when I started NaNoing was 2k a day, which is my normal writing goal when I first draft in any other month. I know from experience that I can maintain 2k a day pretty consistently, and it would bring me to 60k at the end of the month, which was fine by me.

But on day one I blew way past 2k and hit 5k with relative ease. I was hyped on NaNo and excitement and everyone was sprinting and I thought, why the hell not? and I kept writing way past my goal.

Day two I still said my goal was 2k. Then I started writing and got really excited again and Emmy Neal challenged me to be ambitious after I was tired and I thought, fine fine I’ll do it and I wrote until my brain collapsed at close to 8k.

Day three I hit 5k again and it occurred to me that I could probably keep doing this 5k a day thing and finish even faster than I thought. And my NaNo graph was telling me that at this pace I’d finish on November 9th or 10th and the competitive part of me didn’t want to see my daily average output drop so…I didn’t let it drop.

By day five I was no longer in denial. I knew my new goal was 5k a day, and more than that, I wanted to finish the entire book before the end of the month—or even better, before Thanksgiving because Black Friday is Get Assassin’s Creed 4 day and all bets are off after that. So.

That’s my current goal, and with 50k in the pot, I’m more than halfway there.

Being that this is the fastest I’ve ever sped through 50,000 words, there are a couple things I did (and didn’t do) to move the process along:

  • I turned my MS into mad libs. Well, not really—I just used a lot of placeholders. I’ve never used them before, but I’ve had some of you wonderful readers recommend them to me, and boy am I glad because they saved me a lot of getting stuck in mid-sentence upon realizing I don’t know a minor character’s name. Or the name of a town. Or an object. Or just about any world building or character-oriented detail that I’ve yet to work out. Instead of pausing to figure it out, I inserted a big fat (NAME) or (TOWN) or whatever other placeholder fit the particular situation. I have a lot of blanks. A lot. But it’s ok, because those are the sort of details I can work out in future drafts. 

  • I committed writing sins. I told instead of showed. And used filter phrases like nobody’s business. And summarized in places that would probably be better served without summary. And named emotions. And probably broke plenty of other writing rules I’m not thinking of at the moment. And as I continue writing the 30-some-odd-k left of this WIP, I’ll continue to do so.

    Why? Because this is a first draft, and the point of the first draft isn’t to get it perfect, it’s to get it done. 

  • I deviated from my outline. I tend to look at my outline as more of a guide than a strict rulebook. So far at least, everything’s gone mostly as planned, but characters have thrown major curveballs my way and scenes have turned out entirely different than the way I imagined them, which is totally a-ok with me. They usually turn out better than I expected, anyway. 

  • I made notes as I went along. Lots of them. Mostly to correct things, sometimes to remind me to fix something while I revise in the future, sometimes to brainstorm future potential possibilities. Most of these notes won’t really be looked at until I start my second draft in the future, but they’ll serve as good reminders for elements that need adjusting or expanding later on. 

  • I wrote in spurts. This doesn’t work for everyone, of course, but I’ve found that I write best in thirty-minute spurts. With Write or Die, I can usually pound out 1,000 words in that timeframe (and oftentimes if I hit the end of the timer and haven’t reached 1k, I’ll keep going until I do). Then I’ll take a break and browse Twitter, or eat, or stretch, and come back for another round. Rinse and repeat. 

  • If I still had the energy, I wrote beyond my goal. It helps to be ahead for those days in the future when the writing isn’t being so nice. Or you’ve had a long day and you’re tired. Or you can’t find the time. Or you just really want a day off.

    If you have the time and the energy to keep going beyond your goal, go for it. You’ll be glad you did later. 

  • I slacked off on my reading. At the end of the day, after writing 5,000 words and staring at the screen for hours, I didn’t often feel like looking at more words. I’ve already met my reading challenge of the year, and once I finish writing I’ll be right back to my normal pace, but my reading output definitely slowed down, because I often needed a break from letter combinations.

And that is, in a nutshell, how I managed it. Now to get back to writing.

Note: If you want to read a really impressive story, check out Taryn Albright who hit 50k in three days. Yeah. You read that correctly. I bow to her wordage mastery.

Are you doing NaNo? How are you progressing? And if not, are you writing/editing/otherwise? 

Twitter-sized bites:
One writer shares her process for completing #NaNoWriMo in 9 days with tips for fast-drafting. (Click to tweet
Why committing writing sins and deviating from your outline are a-ok while fast-drafting. (Click to tweet)
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