Fixing the First Page Feature #16

Photo credit: striatic on Flickr
November is nearly here! And I, for one, could not be more excited. Though I suppose that also means I really need to decide whether or not I'll be NaNoing this year, like, soon, but details, amirite? 

Ehem. Anyway. Let's start this month's fixing the first page critique, shall we?

As is the usual MO, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (I'm just one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Here we go. 


Genre: YA Fantasy

First 250:

"Never trust a man who smiles as he stabs you in the back. Then again, if a creepy, smiling dude approaches you with a knife, you should probably run. Just saying. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have a choice.

I’d given up my right to choose when I’d agreed to steal for him, to kill in his name.

So why did I trust him? 
Let’s just say it’s complicated. 
I pulled myself through the window, grimacing as the floorboards creaked menacingly. “Shut up, you.” I muttered. 
The room was dark and musty, smelling of mothballs and old paint. I wrinkled my nose and pushed through the heavy velvet curtains. Rich people’s houses were weird - you could practically smell the richness. As if it wasn’t obvious enough from the golden toilets and satin underwear.

I glanced around hopefully for anything worth stealing, but somehow, creepy family portraits and ugly old doilies didn’t cut it. I couldn’t picture myself lugging a golden toilet around, or selling satin underwear to some poor street merchant, so I heaved a sigh and headed towards the door. The gods of fate must’ve had something against me - or maybe they just liked watching me suffer. I glanced around glumly, remembering Cain’s instructions.

Get in. Get the papers. Get out.

He’d made it sound so easy. Jerk. 
In pitch blackness, I began rifling through drawers. 'C’mon-' 
I froze as cold steel pricked my throat, and a low voice ordered, 'Don’t move.' 
That’s when I knew I was screwed."

You know, reading this was funny for me because I'm actually working on a WIP with a somewhat similar-ish opening. Small world lol.

Anyway! I like the protagonist's attitude, and I think it definitely makes for an interesting opening. I like some of the details here, but I'm still having trouble picturing the setting (what room in the house is it, for example? What clues can you give us about the time/place?). Also, the first four paragraphs didn't really work for me—it's dangerous to start with exposition, and the first paragraph especially felt a little borderline corny to me. I think it'd be stronger if the first four paragraphs were cut and a short hook was added before the protagonist climbs in.

Now for the in-line notes:

"Never trust a man who smiles as he stabs you in the back. Then again, if a creepy, smiling dude approaches you with a knife, you should probably run. Just saying. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have a choice.

I’d given up my right to choose when I’d agreed to steal for him, to kill in his name.

So why did I trust him? 
Let’s just say it’s complicated. 
[Like I mentioned above, I'd like to see a hook added here and the above removed. It'd be great if you could give us a sense of the stakes right away—right now, I have no idea why the MC needs what they need, or what will happen if the MC doesn't get it. Why is your MC stealing? What's at stake for your MC, personally? Giving us a sense of this right away would make the rest much more compelling, because we know what your MC has to lose.] I pulled myself through the window, grimacing as the floorboards creaked menacingly. “Shut up, you.,” I muttered. Why is the MC speaking at all? If they're breaking in, wouldn't it be stupid to talk, even if quietly?
The room was dark and musty, smelling of mothballs and old paint What does old paint smell like? I know what new paint smells like, but usually when a room has been painted a while ago, the smell of the paint disappears. I wrinkled my nose and pushed through the heavy velvet curtains. Rich people’s houses were weird - you could practically smell the richness. I like this, BUT it directly conflicts with what you said the house smells like—mothballs and old paint. I'd imagine richness would smell new and luxurious, not like your grandmother's house. As if it wasn’t obvious enough from the golden toilets and satin underwear. Ha ha nice.

I glanced around hopefully for anything worth stealing, but somehow, creepy family portraits and ugly old doilies didn’t cut it. I couldn’t picture myself lugging a golden toilet around, or selling satin underwear This made me pause because I thought the line above wasn't literal. If it is literal, then did he break into a bathroom? How else would he know they actually have golden toilets? What room is he in? I'm having trouble conceptualizing where he is. to some poor street merchant, so I heaved a sigh and headed towards the door. The gods of fate must’ve had something against me - — I'm noticing this in a few places, so make sure you use em dashes rather than hyphens. The former are longer (see above). or maybe they just liked watching me suffer. I glanced around glumly, remembering Cain’s instructions.

Get in. Get the papers. What are these papers? Why are they so important? We need to know what your protagonist knows and why this is important to your protagonist, otherwise there's very little tension in this scene. Get out.

He’d made it sound so easy. Jerk. I like this. :D
In pitch blackness, I began rifling through drawers. Again, what room is he in? Are there other drawers? What kind of drawer is this—a filing cabinet? A dresser drawer? A kitchen cabinet? I know it's dark in the room, but if he can see enough to be able to pick out a sheet of paper (which, how can he? Does he have a flashlight?) then he must be able to see some of the rest of the room, too. 'C’mon-' 
I froze as cCold steel pricked my throat, and I froze. (It's better to put the reaction after something happens, a) so the reader is just as surprised as the protagonist and b) because logically, that's how your MC would process it—cold steel on their throat, then freezing.) and a low voice ordered, 'Don’t move.' 
That’s when I knew I was so screwed I considered cutting this line altogether, but I think it works better if you remove the filtering part. Otherwise I'd just delete the whole line because it's telling and we can already tell your protag is in trouble without your MC saying so."

I think this could potentially be a really hook-y opening, it just needs a little more working. If the stakes are added in from the start and we get more description throughout, I think this opening could be really great. You're almost there! Just keep expanding.

If I saw this in the slush as is, I would probably pass, but if the elements I mentioned above were fixed, I'd definitely be interested in continuing.

I hope this helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, Jay!

Would you like to be featured in a Fixing the First Page Feature? Keep an eye out for next month's giveaway!

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks setting the stakes from the start & sensory description in the 16th Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

On Word Crutches

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So over the weekend, while burying myself in revisions in a desperate attempt to try to finish revisions before NaNo (something that is still in progress), I came across the part of my edit notes that listed words I was overusing.

Forgetting, I suppose, that this is my least favorite part of the editing process, I plugged my MS in word cloud, wrote down the most commonly overused words, added the words from my edit notes to the list, and started searching.

And, well. This happened.

Word crutches, unfortunately, happen to everyone—and more so, I've found that when you get rid of one crutch, you tend to accidentally add another to your repertoire. (For example, my characters used to arch their eyebrows all the time—now, apparently, they think about breathing constantly.) I'm guessing this tends to happen because when you're first drafting, you're mostly focused on getting the words and story down without getting too caught up on which words your using, which means your brain will rely on many defaults. Which is okay. Because first drafts.

Going through your manuscript to cut down on the crutches should be one of the final things you check for, because if you end up having to add more to your MS, you'll probably add them back in, or vice versa, if you end up cutting something from your MS, you'll have wasted time removing a crutch from a passage that's getting trashed anyway.

Many times, I've found when systematically removing these overused words, that many of them are often redundant to begin with, i.e.: saying it's night then repeating that it's dark, or saying it's winter then repeating that it's cold (both of which maybe I found several times in this WIP...oops). And while going through and removing them unfortunately can be a little time-consuming, it is ultimately one of the easier parts of the process, even if I do find it excruciatingly boring.

But one way or the other, removing word crutches is part of the polishing process necessary in those couple final steps of manuscript editing. And removing them not only tightens your writing, but challenges you to push yourself in terms of not always relying on the first words that come to mind.

What are some of your writing crutches?

Twitter-sized bites:

Have a lot of overused words? @Ava_Jae talks tackling this step of WIP polishing. (Click to tweet
What are some of your writing crutches? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: To NaNo or Not to NaNo?

NaNoWriMo is upon us! And some of you may still be undecided about whether or not to participate—which is okay! If that's you, here are some things you may want to consider before deciding.

To NaNo, or not to NaNo? That is the question.


Have you NaNoed before? What was your experience like?

Twitter-sized bites:
Not sure whether or not you want to NaNo? @Ava_Jae vlogs about some things you may want to consider. (Click to tweet
Undecided about whether to NaNo? @Ava_Jae vlogs about her experience & some determining factors. #NaNoWriMo (Click to tweet)

Discussion: Will You NaNo This Year?

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So NaNoWriMo is THIS SUNDAY—*queue freakout*—and I am buried under revisions. At this point I have no idea whether or not I’ll be able to participate, which isn’t fun especially since I do actually have a half-plotted WIP idea, but revisions have to be my top priority right now (I will talk about this a little in tomorrow’s vlog).

Still! I'm hopeful that maybe, somehow, I’ll finish in time to plot out the WIP idea and try to jump in (and just in case I do—this is my NaNo profile). Not making any promises right now…but we’ll see.

I’m curious, though—who is participating this year? Who is still thinking about it? And remember, I have a NaNoWriMo round-up post with lots of NaNo secrets and tips for your perusal.

Short post is short because I have revisions to do. But let’s hear it: are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Why or why not?

Twitter-sized bite:
Will you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? Why or why not? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway Winner #16!

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Super quick off-schedule post today to announce the winner of the sixteenth fixing the first page feature giveaway! Woot! Here we go.


And the winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Jay! Expect an e-mail from me shortly.

Thank you to all you lovely entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway next month, so keep an eye out! :)

Let’s Talk About Crowley

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So it’s nearly Halloween, and as tends to happen every year I’ve come to realize I hadn’t really posted anything Halloween-y this month. But as Writability has had several Halloweens, I’ve already posted about writing fears (debunked), rounded up my excellent villains posts, and talked about scary books. Which has left me all month trying to answer to annual question of “what will I post about around Halloween?”

I was coming up empty until last night when, starting Season 10 of Supernatural, it occurred to me that what was become one of my favorite characters is most definitely a villain.

So let’s talk about Crowley.

For those of you who do not watch Supernatural (and if you don’t—why not?), here is a brief, mostly non-spoilery rundown: Crowley is introduced as a crossroads demon (a demon who makes deals with people, usually to give them something they really want in exchange for their soul ten years later), who gleefully maneuvers a homophobic man into kissing him (crossroads demons seal all of their deals with a kiss). From there, over the course of many seasons, he gradually moves up (or down?) the demon hierarchy until he becomes a very important person of evilness.

Crowley does some pretty despicable things throughout his time on the show, including kidnapping and torturing people—some of which are characters we like, double-crossing the protagonists several times over, and manipulating just about everyone all to serve his own interests. On paper, Crowley is not a character to gravitate towards.

But on the other hand, he also has some…shall we say endearing traits? For example, his nonchalant attitude, the way he nicknames Sam “Moose” and Dean “Squirrel” (I don’t know why, but I can’t hate it), his never-ending sarcasm and dry British humor, the way he’s always one step ahead (have I mentioned lately I love smart villains?) and let’s not forget that along the way, he does actually help the protagonists…who then go ahead and try to kill him anyway many times, because he’s a demon. And evil. So.

On top of that, Crowley also has one trait that really stuck out to me most: he never breaks his contracts. Does he create loopholes? Absolutely. But he keeps to his word down to the letter. I won’t go as far to say that he’s honorable, but there’s something to be said for a character that keeps to their word.

So basically, what I’m saying here is as evil of a character as Crowley is, he has depth. He’s not one-sided—something that really comes into play when spoilery things happen in Seasons 8 and 9 and, I’m assuming, 10. By now, at the beginning of Season 10, I can no longer deny that he’s grown on me as a character, and for reasons I won’t get into because spoilers, he’s even become sympathetic.

It will probably not surprise you to hear that I really enjoy writing (and reading, and watching) multi-dimensional, and when possible, sympathetic, villains. Because for me, at least, while I do occasionally enjoy villains who are indisputably one-sidedly evil, the ones that surprise me with other sides of their personalities and even force me to like them (because, curse them, sometimes they have moments that are so damn likable) are frequently the ones that stick with me long after they meet their demise.

Assuming they meet their demise at all, that is…

Do you enjoy multi-dimensional villains? Who are some of your favorites?

Twitter-sized bites:
How do you make villains likable? @Ava_Jae analyzes one of SPN's most popular villains, Crowley, to answer. (Click to tweet)  
Like layered villains? @Ava_Jae talks about her favorite SPN villain Crowley and explores what makes him likable. (Click to tweet)

My Publishing Path is My Own

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So social media being what it is, and the nature of my various social media stuff being what it is, and the general public’s knowledge of publishing being what it is, every once in a while I get questions about my publishing path. Why I chose a small press over self-publishing. How long it took me to get published. Why I didn’t self publish one of my many, many trunked manuscripts. Etc., etc.

Now, I obviously don’t have a problem with discussing my publishing path—I do it here all the time because I hope that my journey can encourage others and/or someone else can learn from my experiences. I like sharing that stuff with you guys.

That said, I think it’s occasionally important to reiterate that my timeline, my writing methods, the choices and strategies that work for me are just that—mine.

I wrote nine manuscripts before writing Beyond the Red and I didn’t self-publish any of them, even though I queried many of them—a decision I’m happy with today because it means I get to debut traditionally, which is the path I’d always dreamed about.

I’m publishing with a small press—a decision that has lead to my working with a really wonderful editor who is possibly one of the nicest people I know, and has meant that I’ve had a lot of input on the design of the book as a whole. Like, way more input and influence than I ever imagined, which means I am so happy with the result.

I outline, then fast-draft because it’s how I work best. I vlog, and blog, and tweet, and tumbl, and Instagram because even though it’s time-consuming, I enjoy it, and it’s allowed me to make really awesome connections and reach new people. I get up early in the morning and try to get as much work done as I can then because my energy levels deplete more quickly than they used to.

But my steps and my strategies aren’t foolproof. What works for me may not work for you; your path won’t look like mine.

My publishing path is my own, and maybe yours will have some similarities. Or maybe yours will look absolutely nothing like mine, and maybe some decisions I made wouldn’t be right for you. But that’s okay. Because there isn’t one golden path to getting published or one right way to write a book.

So listen to various publication stories. Take tips and strategies that work for you and skip over the rest. Try a new writing or plotting or brainstorming method, and if you don’t like it, know that it just wasn’t for you and that’s okay.

Because my path and my strategies and decisions are my own. And so are yours.

Twitter-sized bite: 
"There isn't one golden path to getting published or one right way to write a book." (Click to tweet)

Vlog: 2016 YA Debuts I'm Excited About

2016 is nearly here! And there are a LOT of awesome YA debuts releasing next year, so I'm talking about five I'm extra excited for. Are these on your TBR list?


What debut 2016 releases are on your TBR list?

Twitter-sized bites:
Looking for great 2016 YA releases to add to your TBR list? @Ava_Jae vlogs about 5 YA debuts she's excited about. (Click to tweet
What debut 2016 releases are on your TBR list? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

How to Survive Large-Scale Revisions

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So I’m back in heavy-duty revision mode and working on possibly the most intensive and drastic revisions I’ve done in…a while. Maybe ever. I’ve had to take my own advice about not being afraid to make big changes because this time around, the WIP needs it.

While in the midst of WIP surgery, I’ve been thinking about ways to try to make the process easier/less terrifying/more rewarding. And so far, at least, I’ve come up with a few steps that seem to be helping.

  • Make a plan. I say this all the time, but I’ve got to tell you, being organized while revising? So helpful. I’ve already written about revising in passes, so I won’t reiterate that whole thing, but it absolutely helps me to split up the work into rounds and tackle it one step at a time. That said, this time around some of my revision rounds have kind of merged together because tackling a character issue, for example, requires reworking plot stuff, but it has still helped to have some kind of structure and way of tracking my progress. Speaking of which…

  • Track your progress. People frequently ask me how I track my progress, and the answer is MyWriteClub! I’ve already blogged about the site’s awesomeness, but in short, I use MyWriteClub to keep track of my progress both as I draft and as I revise. And I can’t tell you how much it helps, because when you’re in the middle of a mountain of revisions, it can sometimes feel like you’re slogging through mud/not making progress/revisions will never end, but MyWriteClub helps you not only visually see how much work you’ve done, but it also tells you how much you have left, percentage wise. Which is so, so encouraging when you’re working.

  • Be kind to yourself. There have been several days where I’d planned to get work done, but after school/schoolwork/life stuff had very little time/energy left and I ended up not getting nearly as much revision work done as I wanted to. Reminding myself that not only is it okay to have a few slow days, but that it’s important not to overwork myself to avoid burnout in the middle of revisions has been important. My hour or two before bed watching Supernatural might sound like a waste of time, but I’ve found the free time is a necessary de-stresser at the end of the day.

Ultimately, large-scale revisions can be pretty scary and can easily become overwhelming, but I find if you break it up and do the above, the process can go much more smoothly. And in the end, when you have a shinier, more layered and ready-to-go WIP, it’ll all be worth it. :)

What tips do you have for getting through heavy-duty revisions?

Twitter-sized bite:
Not sure how to tackle intensive revisions for your MS? @Ava_Jae shares three quick tips to get through it. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature Giveaway #16!

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Incredibly, we are now officially halfway through October, and NaNoWriMo and November are almost here and I am sooooo not ready ha ha, oh boy.

Um. Anyway.

Happy news is it's time to get ready for the next Fixing the First Page giveaway! Woohoo!

For those who’ve missed it in the past, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a PUBLIC (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.


  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I'm most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you.

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the sixteenth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Friday, October 23 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

On Self-Insertion, Intersectionality, and Writing

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So I've noticed that frequently, when writing diverse books conversations come up and writers mention wanting to/thinking about/being afraid of/currently writing their own stories, the question of whether or not self-insertion is okay comes up. More times than not, writers are worried that putting too much of themselves or their stories into a book could backfire.

This fear, I think, comes from the frequently discouraged Mary Sue conversations that come up, in which writers basically use a wish-fulfillment version of themselves as the protagonist. But when it comes to writing marginalized characters, that's not really what "writing your own story" means.

I do get the anxiety, though—up until recently, I'd never really considered writing with more than one or two aspects of my identity; after all, wouldn't it be kind of self-centered to write a character so very much like myself?

I think, however, when I used to consider (and reject) the idea, I was thinking about it the wrong way. Because when you're writing a character with the same marginalizations or experiences as you, it's not about writing you exactly—down to your personality/looks/baby clone version of yourself. It's about writing a character that teen you—or maybe now you—could relate to. It's about writing a character that someone else who has some of the same experiences as you, who is looking for a mirror book and not finding it, could read and think this is it. This is me. You get it.

As of writing this post, I have never read a character who embodied every (or honestly, even more than one or two tops) aspect(s) of my identity. I've read characters who are anxious, characters who are Latinx, a character who deals with chronic pain (though her pain was very different from mine), and a tomboy character. I've read fractions of my identity spread out over loads of different stories, and each time was a little reflective mirror shard that I could dust off and say this part I understand.

But a whole mirror? Nope. And judging by conversations I've seen on Twitter, I'm not the only one.

To be fair, for a long time I didn’t bother looking for mirror characters either, because I’d convinced myself those bits of my identity were invisible, unimportant, and/or just me. But maybe if I’d come across more characters like myself, I would’ve embraced those other parts of my identity sooner. I guess I’ll never know.

But what I’m trying to say is this is one of the many reasons why intersectional characters are important. And this is one of the many reasons why sharing your story, whatever that story is, isn’t necessarily just for you and definitely isn’t self-centered—because while no one will have the exact same experiences you do, there are absolutely others out there who may share many of the same intersections. People who have settled with picking up tiny mirror shards without ever really hoping to see themselves completely. People who have decided those intersections don’t count, and don’t matter, and are probably just them anyway.

And that’s why I’ve decided sharing my story is important. And that’s why sharing your story is important. You’ll never know how many kids out there could read your story and see more of themselves in it than they’ve seen anywhere else if you don’t write it to begin with.

The online YA community has shown me that sharing my story is important. And if you don’t know it already, I hope you’ll come to see your story is important too. And only you can tell it.

Have you ever written a character with multiple parts of your identity? Or read a character with multiple parts of the author’s identity? 

Twitter-sized bites:

In terms of intersectionality, is writing your own story self-centered? @Ava_Jae says no, and this is why. (Click to tweet)  
"The online YA community has shown me that sharing my story is important." (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Authoring and Social Anxiety

Today I'm answering a question from a lovely reader/viewer: should you pursue publication if you're really shy or have social anxiety?


Does social anxiety, introversion or shyness make you nervous about a publication career? How do you think you'll handle it?

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae says if your dream is to be an author then don't let social anxiety stop you. What do you think? #vlog (Click to tweet)  
Nervous about the social interaction part of a publishing career? @Ava_Jae vlogs about authoring while dealing w/ social anxiety. (Click to tweet)

Having to Prioritize

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So, as expected, I guess, I’ve been really busy lately. Between school, revisions, more revisions, social media and life stuff, I’ve spent pretty much every day including the weekends from 5:30ish AM to at least 5PM doing something productive. And even then, at the end of the day, I still have plenty I didn’t get to.

So naturally, I’ve had to prioritize. And the first ball I tend to drop when I get this kind of crazy-busy is answering comments and e-mails.

I want to say that I still do read every comment—whether blog, vlog or otherwise—and e-mail that I get, but lately the only time I’ve had to squeeze in answering them tends to come on the weekends. Or the super early mornings. Which means I am so very behind and my inbox is pretty much bursting with comments and lovely e-mails and I don’t want you guys to stop! I love that stuff, but I do want to say that I know I’ve been slow answering and, well, I’m probably going to continue to be slow answering until things calm down a bit.

Because right now, the only way for me to get everything I need to done means prioritizing. And school, writing and my mental and emotional health has to come before answering non-urgent e-mails and blog/vlog comments. And I mean, I figure you guys would rather I met my editor and agent deadlines whilst not falling behind in school than answer blog comments speedy-quick anyway.

So I guess what I’m saying is please continue commenting even though it takes me a bit to answer—I do read them as they come in and you guys are so, so awesome. Thank you for continuing to contribute to the conversation here on Writability, and over on bookishpixie, and everywhere else. And please continue to feel free to use my contact page to e-mail me, because I do read them right away and though I can’t answer them quickly, they are appreciated.

Just know that silence on my part or being one/two/three weeks late answering that comment/e-mail/etc. isn’t because I don’t care or because I’m ignoring what you’re sending me. But sometimes things get pushed down on the priority list and in order for me to hopefully get books out to you guys, and hopefully graduate, and hopefully not completely crash mid-semester, my once-speedy response time is now not-so-speedy.

Thank you, to all of you, for making the community here and elsewhere so awesome. You guys have blown me away with your support and continuously insightful comments and I look forward to so much more.

Onward and upward. :)

Don’t have a question for you guys today, just virtual hugs and lots of gratitude. You all rock. <3

Ten Keys to Fast Drafting

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So we have approximately 22 days until NaNoWriMo! Which means, of course, that a lot of people are thinking about fast drafting because fast drafting is how you NaNo. So.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m a permanent fast-drafter. Regardless of the month or day of the year, when I work on a first draft, I blast through it as quickly as possible. It usually takes me roughly three to six weeks (then again, I tend to write lean first drafts), but I’ve been known to finish more quickly or slowly. Depends on the manuscript, but either way I have quite a bit of experience with first drafting. And so I’m sharing my personal fast-drafting rules.

Like any writing “rule” these of course are subject to change and can certainly be broken, skipped or ignored outright if they don’t work for you. The only real wrong way to fast draft is to, um, not fast draft.

So all of that said, here we go:

  1. Have a plan. While this doesn’t work for everyone, many fast-drafters swear by outlining if only because it cuts out the time spent wondering where the manuscript is going or accidentally writing yourself into a corner. Personally, knowing where I’m going next has helped me tremendously in terms of writing quickly because when I always know where the story is going it helps me to keep forward momentum. That being said…

  2. Be flexible. Sometimes my characters will completely ignore what I had planned for a scene and do something totally different. 10/10 times what I come up with while I’m writing is better than what I originally planned. Some of my biggest twists and greatest moments of characterization have come out of these spontaneous, unexpected detours, so in short, if you find your characters start taking you off the beaten path, don’t fight them. Your subconscious—and your characters—know what they’re doing.

  3. Write in spurts. My #1 not-so-secret secret to writing thousands of words in a day? It’s writing in thirty minute spurts. Again, this doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, but when I set a timer for thirty minutes and watch my word count go with either Write or Die, my Scrivener doc or—something I haven’t tried yet but can’t wait to experiment with soon: mywriteclub’s online word sprints—it really pushes me to get the words down quickly without thinking too hard about the quality of said words. Which is key because…

  4. Don’t worry if it sucks. Writing quickly doesn’t automatically equate to sucky writing, but it might. And seriously, that’s beyond okay. First drafts are allowed to suck. I usually think my first drafts are junk while I’m writing, and sometimes when I re-read parts I agree, but many times I realize it’s not quite as bad as I thought. So just get the words down and don’t worry about whether or not it’s any good until later. 

  5. Don’t look back. Part of not worrying about whether or not what you wrote is any good is making a pact not to go back and edit anything until after you’ve finished writing. I generally find it’s best not to re-read more than a couple paragraphs (to remember where I left off), and even then I often just do a brief skim, if that, before I dive in again. The temptation to edit, otherwise, is too strong. 

  6. Don’t censor. Even when I know it’s not true, I like to write my first drafts pretending that I am the only person who will ever read it ever. This means I don’t censor anything—language, sentences I think are stupid, dialogue that is definitely dumb, questionably acceptable content, etc. First drafts should be free and loose and fun—you can always cut whatever you think is necessary later on. 

  7. Leave blanks (if needed). That time that I finished NaNoWriMo stupidly quickly I used this method. I’ll be using it again, because sometimes the last thing you want is to stop in the heat of a scene to figure out what that rando’s name is going to be and totally mess up your momentum. 

  8. Have a daily/weekly goal. Keeping on task is pretty important when you’re fast drafting, and especially when you’re NaNoing. I like to build a buffer into my daily goal which then gives me room to take a break when I need to, or else I just write more than I need to early on when I tend to have the most enthusiasm and momentum. But at any rate, when you figure out good daily or weekly goal for yourself, do whatever you can to keep yourself on track. 

  9. Interact with other writers. Last time I did NaNoWriMo, interacting with other writers is a big part of the reason I blew my goal out of the water and finished really early. Events like NaNoWriMo are fantastic because there are so many excited, enthusiastic writers who are all embarking on the same goal, which means there are plenty of people to word sprint with and cheer each other on. And that alone, honestly, can be incredibly awesome for motivation.

    But even if you’re fast-drafting when it’s not NaNo season, talking to other writers online and finding people who are also writing can be really encouraging. 

  10. Celebrate milestones. What milestones you celebrate are up to you, but make sure you celebrate! 10,000 words is my first big milestone because that’s when I call a writing experiment an official WIP (anything I abandon before that I don’t consider an actual WIP). But with NaNo, every 10,000 words, or the 25,000 milestone, or whatever you decide is a milestone worth celebrating is one you should be proud of. Because celebrating the little steps along the way can give you the boost of happy energy you need to get to the next one. 

Have you ever fast-drafted? Will you be NaNoing this year? What tips do you have?

Twitter-sized bites:
Considering fast-drafting? @Ava_Jae shares ten tips for getting through a first draft quickly. (Click to tweet)  
Gearing up for NaNoWriMo? @Ava_Jae shares ten keys to fast drafting. (Click to tweet

On Maintaining Suspension of Disbelief

Photo credit: Elias Ruiz Monserrat on Flickr
I’ve been thinking about the books, TV shows and movies I love to consume. Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Grisha trilogy, The Half Bad trilogy, The Avengers, X-Men and so much more. And I’ve been thinking about how so many of them require massive suspension of disbelief, and how easy it would be to break that balance.

I mean, just in that list above we have demons, vampires, ghosts, dragons, magic, superpowers, aliens, and more. And yet, when I’m watching or reading, I rarely, if ever, question any of it.

Suspension of disbelief, is, in many cases, a contract established both by genre and the universe set up at the beginning of the story. When I turn on Supernatural I know to expect, well, the supernatural. When I start Half Lost next year, I know to expect magic and witches and really dark conflicts. When I pick up a fantasy, or dystopia, or sci-fi, or paranormal book, I have expectations for each set up before I even read the back cover copy.

But those expectations are really broad, and exactly what I should expect—and accept—depends very much on the world set up at the beginning of the story.

In the very first episode of Supernatural, we’re introduced to demons, unspecified magic, murder mysteries, ghosts, Hunters (who kill said demons and ghosts) and object possession. From the beginning we learn that Hunters track down all manner of supernatural creatures, and to the Winchesters, supernatural activities are an everyday “normal” occurrence. This then sets up for the rest of the seasons that continues to build on everything from obscure legends to biblical stories to mythologies from around the world. But because it’s set up from the beginning that these out there imaginings are, in fact, real and normal for the Winchesters to hunt down, viewers accept it without question.

In the very first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we’re introduced to the terms “Muggles,” “You-Know-Who,” and “Voldemort,” curiously behaving owls and cats, mysterious people in cloaks, a magic lighter that can take light from street lamps called a Put-Outer, a cat that transforms into a professor, a flying motorcycle and the lightning bolt scar. This sets the stage for magic umbrellas, wands, fantastical creatures and a school of magic—all of which builds to darker and more incredible events that again, readers have no reason to question.

So how do you set up your world in a way that readers won’t question?

  1. Follow genre conventions. As I said, readers kind of begin developing their expectations of the book depending on where it is placed in a bookstore. Granted, these expectations are pretty broad and have loads of room for variation and intricacies, but this is the basic level that you should be working off of. 

  2. Set up your foundational blocks at the beginning to gradually build off of throughout. This does not mean you have to set up everything in the first chapter—in fact, if you do, you’ll likely end up with an info dump which is not something you want. But what you do want to do is begin setting up the rules of the world of your book, whether that’s everyday supernatural occurrences or cats that turn into professors. 

  3. Don’t break your own rules. Once you’ve established your rules, you need to stick with them. Breaking your own rules is the #1 perpetrator of shattering that suspension of disbelief. Fantasy worlds make sense because they operate within a certain sect of rules; only wizards (not muggles) can perform magic; devil’s traps and salt circles can be used to trap a demon and keep a ghost out, respectively. If Uncle Vernon up and created a patronus or a low-level demon waltzed out of a devil’s trap without explanation, readers and viewers would not be happy about it. 

Has a book, movie, or TV show ever broken your suspension of disbelief? Why?

Twitter-sized bite:
How do you create and maintain a reader's suspension of disbelief? @Ava_Jae shares three straightforward steps. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: The Book Rules Tag

I've been tagged in The Book Rules Tag by Rebecca Kelsey Sampson! Which was perfect timing because I was sick last week while filming, so it made for a fun and non-taxing vlog. Yay!

Hope you guys enjoy. If you'd like to participate, please do so and link in the comments! :)

P.S.: I'm feeling better. Woot!


How would you answer some of the questions in the tag? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
.@Ava_Jae vlogs about her reading habits, book organization techniques and more in The Book Rules tag. (Click to tweet)

Discussion: What Weird Research Have You Done for Your WIPs?

Photo credit: catherinecronin on Flickr
So some fellow Sweet Sixteeners (2016 debuts part of one of the debut groups I’m a member of) are blogging about weird research they’ve done for their books, and that sounded like a fun topic I haven’t really covered here, so! Weird research.

For Beyond the Red, specifically, I did have a lot of scattered research to do here and there while I was writing, and while some of it is spoilery and thus I can’t really blog about it, much of it is not. Including:

  • Temperatures, wildlife, and flora of deserts around the world.
  • Variations of different languages, both written and spoken, fantasy and real. 
  • Variations of beliefs and rituals of major religions around the world. 
  • Different kinds of (primarily sparring) weapons. 
  • How certain nomadic people survive in the deserts. 
  • How to calculate population growth over the course of several generations. 
  • Tattoo styles.
  • Different styles of dance, especially…

And finally, most recently, I found my Linguistics class—particularly the bit about how language evolves—quite useful when revising the book last week.

Granted, most of those aren’t weird except maybe fire dancing, which is more epic than weird, but nevertheless those are some of the things I researched while writing Red. What research have you done for your books?

Twitter-sized bite:
What fun or strange research have you done for your WIPs? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Another NaNoWriMo Round-Up!

Photo credit: horrigans on Flickr
It’s October, and I, for one, could not be happier. September was a jerk to me, but October is looking much more promising. And! It’s now officially time for NaNoPrepMo and time for me to tell you guys all about the awesomeness that is NaNoWriMo and encourage you to participate if you’re on the fence about it.

As I said in last year’s NaNoWriMo Round-Up (of which this is a tweaked re-post), I’ve talked about NaNoWriMo a lot. But! Not all of you have been around for previous NaNoWriMo talks and even those of you who have haven’t seen me talk about NaNoWriMo in a while. So! NaNo round-up. Here we go.

For those who haven’t decided on whether or not they want to NaNo, I have a post for you. And if you don’t click, but you’re on the fence, I’ll say that I’ve participated twice and totally loved it. Granted, I'm a fast-drafter, and NaNoWriMo really works best for those open to fast-drafting (which is not everyone, and that's okay!), but it’s been super super effective for me in the past. 

As I said last year, I’ve written three manuscripts (or a good chunk of it at least) in NaNo-like settings (two November NaNoWriMos and one Camp NaNo), and the community, and excitement, and pretty graphs all are very much tempting me to join in this year, as I’m anticipating being done with revision stuff by then…hopefully. I’ll be spending this month preparing a potential NaNo WIP if it looks like I’ll have the writing space in my brain. Fingers crossed!

Because it’s October and NaNoPrepMo, you will very possibly find this post on Pre-NaNoWriMo Tips helpful! Because prepping for NaNo, I’ve found, makes the whole NaNoing experience much easier.

To contrast two very different NaNo experiences, the first time I NaNoed, I made NaNoWriMo super difficult for myself by abandoning my first NaNo project on day fourteen and scrapping 24,000 words to start something new. (Yes, really.) Then two years ago I went a little type-crazy and finished in nine days. Still not totally sure how that happened, but I’m glad it did because it’s one of the projects I’ll soon be done revising. :D

I’ve also shared ten foolproof secrets to winning NaNoWriMo (which are actually not the least bit foolproof and please don’t do those things, thanks).

Last year I didn’t NaNo, but I did record a six-vlog, week-by-week vlog series (including before and after) specifically for surviving NaNoWriMo. You might find it helpful to watch early.

And finally, here's a compilation of helpful NaNoWriMo links that I shared on the first day of NaNoWriMo two years ago but I’ll give to you early! Because you’re welcome.

If you have any helpful links for future NaNo-ers, share them below! And also, will you be participating in NaNoWriMo this year? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Thinking about doing NaNoWriMo this time around? @Ava_Jae shares helpful links for all of your NaNoing needs. (Click to tweet)
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