Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fairly Instant Gratification Q&A

It's about time for a question day, no? Here's the deal—you ask a question in comments, I reply as quickly as I can, which is usually pretty fast. I'm all about instant gratification here. We writers wait for enough stuff!

You may ask whatever you want all day, and I will do my best to concoct a semi-logical answer.

Annnnd....GO!

41 comments:

  1. How's it feel to have the best agent ever with the best ever agent-mates? ;)

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  2. What is your favorite word, and do you use it often in your writing?

    Quitting My Day Job

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  3. When you look back at all the manuscripts you've written, how do you see your progression, or improvement as a writer? Like, how do you know you're getting better?

    Thanks! :)

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  4. Scott, I'm pretty sure you know EXACTLY what it feels like. I mean, I AM the best ever agent-mate:P Who else makes everyone virtual cookies while eating real ones herself?

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  5. At what point do you let your crit partners see your work?

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  6. Erin, hmmm, that's pretty tough. I like a lot of words. The first that comes to mind is "lenticular," but I don't use it often. I write a lot of 1st person YA, and it's not exactly within that vocabulary as often as it should be.

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  7. How long after the Shiny New Idea starts percolating do you tell your agent about it to see if she loves it? Would you work on something else if she didn't?

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  8. Kathryn, good question! I haven't looked back at my older books in a while, but there was one month when I read like 6 of them in succession. That was educational.

    Except now I'd consider all those books not very good. Go figure.

    What I'm mostly seeing at this point is that I can write up a cleaner first draft—prose-, character-, and plot-wise. NOT perfect, but cleaner.

    The things that have helped me improve the most are:

    1. Learning how to refine my prose. Early on I didn't think it mattered much—that's what editors are for! Nope, it's a writer's tool, and you need to know how to use it.

    2. Learning story structure. When I started, I didn't think much about how a story should progress. I just wrote whatever would get me to the next part. That, well, made for a lot of cutting and uneven plot progression. I know how to develop a story now, how tension should be built, etc.

    3. Learning how to dig into characters and make them pop. My characters, I think, have always been a stronger point, but there's always room for growth. An authentic character is KEY to getting readers behind your book.

    I have no idea if I answered the question, but yeah, that's what I've seen growth-wise in my writing.

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  9. Great answer! Thanks, Natalie! :)

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  10. Becky, I have 1 alpha reader—Kiersten. Sometimes Kasie joins in if I'm feeling especially doubtful. They read as I go along and reassure me that I'm doing okay.

    After that, I don't hand it off to betas until I finish a "1st Edit." That consists of me letting it sit for a month or more, deciding what needs to be developed or changed, and then going in to improve the book. I clean up as much as I can, and then it's off to a couple readers.

    When they get back, I do another edit and send it to DIFFERENT betas, usually two more. I do it in small chunks for a few reasons:

    1. Too much feedback can cloud my judgment.

    2. I like to have fresh readers, who can usually confirm if I fixed problems from the las draft (meaning they don't bring up the same issues.)

    3. Two people usually get back faster than ten.

    I go through that beta process about three times before my agent gets it, and then the process starts anew!

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  11. Josin, I actually haven't spoken with Anna about the "New Shinies." I guess I just don't see the point until it's finished. Maybe some writers don't want to write a book that their agent doesn't like, but I've come to a point where I know I have to write what I want to. It's totally personal—I tend to crumble under the pressure if I'm worrying about if it will or will not be accepted.

    I'm okay with writing a book that may never hit the shelves. Uh...I have like TEN books that'll never see shelves. There's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes I just need practice. I need to play around. If it turns into something I want to share with my agent, then I do.

    I mean, I have shared an early partial of a project I really like. The book is "done," but still in very early edits. I *did* want her approval before I went through that big long editing process.

    So I guess the short answer to that would be: I share it a little after I finish a first draft.

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  12. How has your "alpha/beta" readers formula evolved over time? I was thinking about how your writing change, I wonder if you did something different with your crit partners when you first started out, to now.

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  13. It's always interesting to hear others' writing preferences. I think I'd have to know the future agent would look forward to shopping something before I put all that work into it.

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  14. We all behave out of character from time to time. If indeed “Character is plot [and] plot is character,” as Fitzgerald proposed, what if you found that one of your characters really ought to make the “wrong” decision, would you go with it and see where it lead or would you play safe and keep to the plan?

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  15. Wild Child, when I first started with a crit group, I sent it out to a BUNCH of people because I thought, "Hey, the more opinions the better!"

    Uh, no, not really.

    I had around 10 different readers—many I didn't know well—and extremely different opinions. It was very hard to figure out who was wrong and who was right. I wasn't sure which direction I should take. I wasn't even sure I should revise, since everyone had a different idea of what I should do.

    After that, I figured out there were too many cooks in the kitchen. I narrowed my betas down, but I STILL sent it to all of them. Which is when I realized that meant I wouldn't have any fresh opinions on the revision! That, and I felt really bad asking my betas to read it AGAIN. It's a lot of work!

    So THEN I decided I needed to do phases. Two betas at a time worked for me. Usually that is enough for me to figure out where the big problems are. And then I don't have to make them reread, so I save them time as well.

    Basically, it was a lot of experimentation before I found what worked for me.

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  16. Jim, I think it's important to be flexible when writing that first draft. Sometimes I have plans that sound PERFECT in outline, but when I get to that point it's the stupidest thing ever!

    When that happens, I don't stick to my plan. I do follow my characters when I need to. Usually, it turns out MUCH better than what I planned.

    I think that happens because writing a character is a lot like getting to know a person. At first, I *think* they will do this, but once I get to know them more I realize they'll do THAT. Maybe that means changes up front, or modification of the ending, but that's what revision is for. That's why it's completely unavoidable.

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  17. Would you ever consider posting a manuscript on your web site, the way John Scalzi did? You've decided your old stories weren't very good, but what if you'd reread them and thought they were brilliant? (Or if not brilliant, at least what you'd intended...)

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  18. My son keeps telling me he wants to be a "band-aide ninja" with a "band-aide ninja sword." Since I know nothing about ninjas (except that you are one), can you please tell me how I can turn a six year old into the rockinist band-aide ninja in the universe? Yeah, thanks.

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  19. Have you ever attended the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference? If so, what did you think? Are you attending any writers conferences this year?

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  20. Tintagel, I'm not sure! I've never really thought about posting a WHOLE MS on my blog. I've done a chapter at most, I think, and that was a while ago.

    I'm no John Scalzi, but it does seem like there a few people who would like to read my work in full. The only book I would feel comfortable charing, since it's really clean, would be the ninja book. But, well, I'm not sure if I'm allowed! Having an agent, I'd have to discuss any matters of sharing my work, especially is such a big way.

    All that said, I wouldn't have a problem with it. I'd like to share my stories—it's part of the reason I want to be published. Again, I'm just not sure about logistics.

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  21. Candice, this is very simple. He is associating the traditional ninja wraps with band-aids. And Japanese swords also have a band-aid-like wrap on the hilt. So there you go, he's just describing a normal ninja in a very adorable way:)

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  22. Natalie, You have solved my motherly dilemma quite handily and proved your awesome ninja skills once again! I knew you wouldn't let me down. :)

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  23. Liz, (sorry I had to pick up Dino Boy from preschool so I am slow) I have not been to that particular conference, but I've heard wonderful things about it! I don't get the chance to attend many conferences, since they can be expensive and I don't exactly have the cash.

    I AM going to the Life, The Universe, And Everything (LTUE) conference at BYU next week, though! It's a SF/F-centered event, and it's FREE. I can SO do free! And for a free conference it's pretty freaking awesome. Last year Brandon Sanderson was the keynote, and this year it's none other than James Dashner, who is hilarious and awesome.

    If you can get to LTUE, I highly recommend it. And say hi to me if you do!

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  24. Hey Natalie - I'm not sure if this has been asked before. Do you have any pets?

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  25. Lisa, no pets! My landlord doesn't allow them, but even if they were I don't think we'd have them. I have a hard enough time taking care of my kids.

    I did have two cats growing up, though. Calvin & Hobbes:) They were orange tabby cats and brothers. Loved them.

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  26. Do you believe people like us can make it as writers before we crash and burn into financial ruin?

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  27. Anon, um, I'm kind of realistic on this one. I'm a firm believer in "Don't quit your day job." It takes a long time and a lot of luck to get to a point where you can support yourself writing. Heck, I'm five years in without a penny, but I'm also blessed to have a husband with a job. If I was on my own I'd be working for sure.

    That said, I do believe people can make it if they try hard enough and long enough. Not all of us can be bestsellers or award winners, but I truly believe that writing is a skill. Anyone can learn to do it with practice. I think we will all find our niches in time.

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  28. How many books did you write before you thought you had one worth querying?

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  29. Heidi, lol, I queried my very first book ever written. Sadly, I was really naive and thought every book I wrote was query worthy. Yeah...I like learning the hard way.

    Just so you know, turns out book #8 was the one that got me an agent.

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  30. Looking at those first books, are there any you still find compelling enough that you might consider going back to rewrite them, now that you're a more experienced writer?

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  31. Tintagel, there are definitely ideas that I love and sometimes think about going back to, but I'm not sure if I will. I have rewritten a book, and it is HARD. It's an emotional and mental roller coaster.

    I wouldn't reject the idea entirely, but it would probably be a fairly slim chance, what with all the NEW ideas I constantly get.

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  32. Speaking of all those great ideas you have, do you ever have a hard time focusing on your current project with fifty Shiny New Ideas bashing around in your head? How do you keep your SNIs in line? When you put them aside and come back to them later, do you feel like they've lost some of their Shiny?

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  33. Rena, the New Shinies don't deter me as much as they used to, actually. I think because I know very well how much work it takes to turn an idea into a book. Sure, it's cute and pretty now, but if I start working on it, then it will inevitably turn into a giant monster of word vomit.

    So most of the time I am content to let the shinies stay shiny, and the only way to do that is to let them be. If I get really antsy about one, I type up a few pages or write some notes.

    And the thing is, I always like my ideas. Ideas don't lose their potential. It's the execution of an idea that can sometimes ruin it. So when I go back to an idea I'm always excited by it still...just not the work it will take to make it something readable:)

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  34. I love the beginning of "Transparent." Is that the book that's out on sub right now?

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  35. Salima, it is not out on sub yet. I am still working on some finishing touches. But hopefully sometime in the near-ish future!

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  36. Just a simple one. How are you? Your last blog post I read was the one on not finding a publisher yet. Hope you're feeling better?

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  37. Myne, I'm doing good! Just working away, preparing a new MS for sub. Looking forward to many meet-ups with me writer buddies in the coming weeks. And my kids b-days are fast approaching as well. It's a party around here.

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  39. Where did you get this idea? (It's great, by the way.)

    ;-)

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  40. I'm a teen writer. I really enjoy writing novels, but it seems like since they take so long, my writing style and skill level has changed a lot from the beginning to the end. I always hear about writers who spend five years on their manuscript. How do you maintain a constant style throughout the book, even when your writing skills change?

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  41. What do you think about self publishing? My friend is suggesting I try it but I'm not really sure I want to go that way. Is doing it that way better than the old method of trying to get magazines to buy your stories?

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