Q/A: The Biggest Surprise About Writing A Novel [Also! Novel-versary Week!]

One Year Ago, Monday, I finished my rough draft.

(Or at least put down my pencil and stopped)

When you sit down to write a novel, the novel seems like the biggest thing ever. You have an idea, maybe even a plan on how it’s going to happen. But there’s over 100,000 words between you and it.

Everyone writes differently. I found word count was a good way to keep my progress going. Even if I didn’t feel like it, I would push through and get my words for the day done, knowing I could edit it later. Starting with 1,333 words per day for my kick-off month of NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month).

The goal for NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words. It’s a great start and there’s a supportive community of people all writing towards the same goal. (A standard YA (Young Adult) novel is 50,000-80,000 words. A standard fantasy novel is 80,000-120,000 words.) After taking December off, I lowered my goal to 10,000 words per month. 2,300 words a week is a much more sedate pace, and let me have a life outside of writing. A little reading, a bit of the gym, the ability to see my friends and family.

And I made it. I finished my novel after 10 months. 9, if you recognize that I took December off.

Yet, here it is, a year later and I’m STILL editing. It sometimes feel like I’ll never be done. Editing is harder to quantify, deciding when you are done is arbitrary. Like recognizing the obscene, you know it when you see it. Or, when you just can’t look at your novel any longer.

I’ve done a lot, I’ve taken a few months off to let beta readers review my work. I’ve tentatively started a sequel twice (although, as I’ve been changing the novel and the ending, the sequel is more of an idea that will need rework than a solid concept at this point.)

In my day job, I’m a programmer, we often start counting at 0. So, my drafts are labelled thus:

0 – Rough Draft (1 year and 1 day old)
1 – 1st Draft (I read through and made sure it was coherent.)
2 – 2nd Draft (I added revisions from my 1st round of beta readers, as appropriate. And rewrote the ending.)
3 – 3rd Draft (Major word count cuts, revisions from a new beta reader)

But, my newest beta reader only read the first third of the novel. So, once I finish this revision draft, I’ll be sending back out to willing beta readers, to see what they think of the edits. I imagine there will be a 4th round of edits from there.

And then?

Depends on how large the edits from that are. It will be either time for a copy-editor (sentence structure, punctuation, etc) or time to start submitting the novel to agents and publishers.

bloody keyboard gif

Am I done yet? Now? How about now?!

Advertisements

Q/A : Why Did You Write Demon Marked?

Q/A Wednesday: Where’d You Get Your Idea? Why Did You Write Demon Marked


For me, Demon Marked came to me in a dream. Literally.

Just a few key images that I wrote down when I woke up, years and years ago. I wondered about that world. I wondered how my girl got there. I started to write the story more than twice. It percolated for years.

Finally, I managed to commit to writing and finished the story.

What kept me going? Why did I write Demon Marked?

Simple.

I needed to know what happened.

Who was the man in her dream? How did she get to the cliffs? How would she rescue [REDACTED]?! If I didn’t write it, I would never know what happened.

I’m a plot driven reader and that’s why I write. I try to make sure I have a visual world for my readers, but my imagination is typically more conceptional, or tactile. Sometimes, my story ideas come from wondering “what if…”, sometimes they come from brief images I dream, but always, I write to find out how we get there from here.

Q/A: What’s a Query

Q/A Wednesday: What’s a Query?


While awaiting final feedback (and not trimming the rest of my novel), I’ve been fine-tuning my query.

There are many websites and resources that speak far more eloquently than I, but in short, a query letter is what you send to an agent or a publisher to entice them into representing or publishing your novel.

They say to keep it under a page.

Captain Picard furrows his brow and reaches towards you,

Captain Picard understands the struggle.

Step One: Always address it to a specific person.
Step Two: Launch into your basic novel facts (“word count”, genre, title) and your hook. Hone your hook to a sharp point. Make it intriguing and unique in all the world.
Step Three: Give a short synopsis paragraph or 3, similar to a book blurb, but giving away a bit more plot than that. This is hard. This is astronomically hard.
Step Four: Mention a little about yourself and name any writing accolades you may have.

Read up on the agent or editor you’re submitting to and tailor your query for them. Selecting an agent is another post, but don’t just create a form letter and blanket every agent. Feel free to write a sentence or two at the beginning of your query about what drew you to this agent/editor- did you meet/talk with them? Do you follow their blog? Do you enjoy the other authors they represent?

This is my first time writing a query letter.

Wait.

Let me amend that.

This is the first novel I’ve written a query letter for. This is about the 50th draft, but I’m posting it here as an example anyway. The benefit of reading this blog is you get to read as I share what I’ve learned as I go along. I’ll just have to wait and see if it works:

Dear Agent Name, [Specific name]

I would like you to consider representing my 120,000 word fantasy novel, DEMON MARKED. [Polite request. Word count. Genre. Title.] When Lilyan’s so-called demon marks are exposed, she’s forced into exile. Disguised as a pilgrim, Lilyan finds a new home and awakens her birthright, but the call of blood proves stronger than the safety of her new life. [hook/pitch]

Lilyan is pleased with her life as an apprentice church inker, but she hides a dangerous secret. Her so-called demon-marks are an automatic life sentence to her family for aiding-and-abetting (and worse for her). She knows she should run, but stalls, until her inadvertent exposure endangers her family. Accepting exile to keep them safe, she disguises herself as the pilgrim she wishes she were. Lilyan’s search for safety takes her to the very edge of the haunted Murienridge Bluffs… and beyond. [Brief Synopsis. About 3 paragraphs]


[More plot exposed here]


[Hints about the ending, but no details, to entice them!]

Lilyan has a sister to save, in the last place she ever expected to see.

Demon Marked is my first novel. [Yeah… I don’t have much here, yet.]

Thank you for your time. [Hmmm, maybe I should let them know to just ask if they want more. Oh, wait, That’s the point of a query, so that seems a bit redundant. Perhaps I’ll just keep it short and sweet.]

Sincerely,
Morgan Hazelwood

Q/A: Why Are You Cutting Words?

Q/A Wednesday:  Why are you cutting words?

When I finished my rough draft, my novel sat at a plump 131,500 words.

Online research suggests that fantasy novels, especially for unheard of authors, are expected to be 80,000-120,000 words. As I’m looking to get published, that means I should follow these guidelines.

Some of the extra 11,500 words were vignettes- not actually part of the novel and easily cut. As I did my first editing pass and then my second, I cleaned up phrasing, cutting extraneous text as reasonable. By the time I finished the re-write post-beta reader feedback, I was down to 121,500 words.

Last night, I read the first 50 pages again, in about 2 hours, trimming as I went. I’m at 120,900 words. I’m planning on doing the same to the rest of the novel, while waiting to hear what my alpha/beta readers think of the new ending. If I can cut 500 words from the first 50 pages, there should be no reason I can’t do that from every 50 pages. The novel was written with word-count goals. That means there’s a lot of loose text to tighten.

If I’m as ruthless with the rest of the book as I was with the first 50 pages, I should be sitting at 117,000-117,500 words in 2 weeks.

Wish me luck.

I don’t need to ramble.