Wednesday, January 11, 2012

All Day Q&A

Doing this a few days early because something BIG is coming on Friday. Get excited.

So ask away! I will sit here patiently. Or not patiently. When have I ever done something patiently?


  1. Hi Natalie! I have a question.

    I'm currently attempting to re-write the first draft of my novel and was wondering what your process is for re-writing/editing? It seems rather daunting at the moment.

  2. Will you recommend my MS to your agent? Hahaha just kidding. Seriously though, how do publishers decide when to release a book? It still feels like forever until TRANSPARENT comes out.

  3. Reesha, do you mean a full rewrite? Because I have done that (as in re-starting from page one), and I address that ordeal here.

    It can be very overwhelming, but take your time and plan your attack. This isn't the time to just wing it. I'm not usually a planner, but when facing a full rewrite it's necessary.

  4. ilima, haha, you know I have NO clue how they decide! All I was told, when Harper was deciding between Winter and Summer for my novel, was that TRANSPARENT "felt like a Summer book."

    I have no idea what that means, but I've heard it more than once from my friends as well. I wish I had a better answer for you, but it doesn't seem like it's a solid process. I know people who sold after me that are debuting before me, and I know some who have longer waits as well. What gets slotted where is a mystery to me, but I trust that TRANSPARENT is, indeed, a Summer Book. Whatever that means:)

  5. Hi Natalie! What is your drafting process like? Do you outline? Do you write in order or skip around? How long does it usually take you to write a first draft?

  6. Amanda, drafting varies, but I mostly don't outline. I do write notes though, but they're usually only a few chapters ahead at most. If I outline a whole book (which I have), it usually doesn't get written. I just lose interest when I figure everything out.

    I always write linearly. I guess my brain just doesn't work out of order. There are scenes that I have in my head that I know happen later, but I save those, and it pushes me to get to them faster than writing them out in advance.

    As for time, it varies, but I'd say the average is about 3-4 months. My contemporary takes longer, it seems, since I tend to stop and have bigger gaps between writing. SIDEKICK took me a year, for example, but I had huge gaps where I didn't write. Overall it was probably more like 4 months, if I'd just kept writing it, heh.

    Honestly, my process has changed a lot in the last five years, and it changes a little for each book. Every first draft has new challenges I have to trouble shoot, but the most consistent advice I can give is to keep writing. Simple, I know. Repeated everywhere, but it's really the only advice that remains the same, everything else is up for grabs depending on the book.

  7. I was going to ask something about rewrites I see that you've already answered that. I went back and read that post and it is great. It's funny that I had just referred to my "edits" as a reconstruction of sorts. I do not outline or plan ahead too much. I've been really thinking that I should for revisions though. That post gave me some really good ideas as to how to tackle it. Thanks, Natalie!

  8. I know you've said every book varies and I get that but on average, how much longer do your edits/rewrites take vs drafting. Also, do you find it harder to edit based on your agent/editor's critiques than you do your own realizations?

  9. How did you find good beta readers? Is it important that your beta readers also write the same genre?

  10. Leigh, I actually find it easier to edit when I have other input, be it from my crit partners, agent, or editor. It's so hard to see your own work objectively, and it takes me much longer on my own to realize what others do almost instantly. I would be nowhere without the people who've read my work along the way.

    As for how long edits take—I do a lot of edits. For TRANSPARENT, as an example, I wrote the first draft in 2009. Well, I'm still editing the dang thing. I rewrote it entirely in 2010, and then edited that version for about four months before sending it to my agent. Did more edits. Now I'm doing even more for my editor.

    I can't say how long my books take to edit on average, but I guess I can say it takes on the minimum side six months. And that's bare minimum.

    For a single edit in the long chain of repeated edits, I average about 3-6 weeks on those, depending on where the book is at.

    I used to edit much faster, but then again I used to be a poorer writer. I've learned that even though I don't enjoy editing, I need it and it makes my work shine. So though I spend double the time in editing vs in writing, I now accept that's how it works.

  11. Robbin, you can find a lot more under my "Writing Advice/Reference" tab, but I found my crit partners online! It was about three years ago or so, maybe more (losing count), and we were all unpublished, unagented newbie writers.

    We didn't know anyone "famous." We didn't really know much about publishing. We were just average blogger who got to know each other, had common interests, and became friends. Now some of those women are my bestest friends ever, along with being amazing crit partners.

    Now? Most of my crit partners have agents. Many of them have sold or are published. It's amazing, really, considering that just a few years ago we could only dream of such things.

    All this to say—I'm not sure how you find good beta readers because I got really lucky. But I did participate online. And I didn't seek out "famous people," but instead people who were like me: unpublished, just starting the journey. We grew together, learned together, and that has made all the difference.

    As for genre, I wouldn't say your crit partners have to write the same one. It doesn't hurt, but having a varied reading pool isn't a bad thing either. What's most important is a sense of trust, and then after that would be a solid feeling that you two "get each other."

  12. How do you decide when to lay a MS aside? I have one I've been working on for over a year, I haven't even looked for agents yet, but feel exhausted with it.

    I have a second MS that is getting really positive feedback from my crit partners and betas. I'm trying to decide which one to focus on.

    What would you do? Both of them are complete--in a form. Of course they both need polishing and rewriting.

  13. Emily, that is a very personal decision, and I would ultimately say it was a "gut decision" for me every time.

    It's no secret that I have written 13 novels. Well, only one of those is getting published thus far. So I have had to put aside my fair share of work. I signed with an agent on novel #8, sold on #10, and the future of #12 and #13 is currently being determined.

    Do I regret writing all those others? Nope. Did I think every single one could be "The One"? Yup. Why I walked away from them wasn't really something I can fully articulate, except that I knew I'd gotten what I could from the book and there were others to write and pursue.

    I pursued publication for my 3rd book probably the longest, with almost 100 queries, while some novels (okay, MOST of them) I never queried at all and have barely gotten past first draft.

    I think in the end I would say—you'll know when it's time. And more than that, don't be afraid to move on. If you really are a writer, you have millions of stories to tell. You don't have to put all your hopes on a single one. There is always another on the horizon.

  14. Thanks for taking the time to respond to my question, Natalie!:)

  15. I like Emily's question.

    I really enjoyed your recent post about how you love how YA is a girl-centric world. It really made me stop and think about what I was (more truthfully, wasn't) reading while I was a preteen and a teen. I was into Babysitter's Club (Team Claudia), but once you're fourteen, fifteen, sixteen... it's hard to relate.

    Don't have a great and important question this time around, other than perhaps: did you read any books in school that you found a YA-ish connection to? Does that question even make any sense? For example, we read The Chrysalids in tenth grade, and from that day on, I was all about post-apocalyptic everything. It was a great book with young characters!

    Have a great day! Will hang out here a little longer to check out your other questions/answers. :D

  16. Kathryn, I did like some of the things I read in school! I remember reading The Giver in about 9th grade and loving it. The whole thing really stuck with me.

    I also really connected to Catherine, Called Birdy, which we read in 7th grade. It was an epistolic novel about a young girl in the medieval ages. I'd never really felt like I understood that time period until I read it from her pov.

    And I also remember really liking Witch Of Blackbird Pond. I can't remember much of the novel now, but I do remember thinking it was cool back when I read. Maybe 8th or 9th grade?

    My later high school reading didn't really sing to me the same way. I despised The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby. Jane Eyre was okay. I did enjoy reading some Shakespeare plays, like Macbeth and Othello.

    I think in the end it was a combination of not having huge YA selection AND not having a good librarian to point me in the right direction. Okay, or it was me who was too afraid to ask. I don't know. It seemed like it was very hard for me to find the right book. Now the selection seems endless!

  17. You've probably been asked this before, but I wanted to get in on the Q&A too, so bear with me? :)
    How were you able to decide/begin communications with an agent? Was it a "last step" deal, where your 1st manuscript was fully complete? Did you have contacts in the business which helped the reference project to an agency? Did you send multiple e-mails to differing agents until one answered "yes!"?

    I'm just curious of your process. It's helpful to know other's experiences to help gauge the likelihood of future attempts. Thank you Natalie! I appreciate your insight and am so proud of you keeping at your dreams until you achieved and continue to achieve them more. It's encouraging!

  18. Leigh, I queried! I read agent blogs. I knew absolutely no one in the business when I started this. Seriously. No one. I wrote and completed manuscripts, wrote a query, and did everything the very typical way.

    Honestly, now that I'm on this side I see how very little "references" do for you. At most, a "reference" can get you a faster read, but that's about it. My agent? I have no idea what she'll connect with and what she won't. Even if I like a book—she's the one who has to rep it, you know? She has to have the passion, and that it just as easily found in a straight slush pile query as it is in a reference.

    I have several friends who've been published for a few years now. Did those "connections" help me? No, they didn't. I know this because I would have been published awhile ago if my friends had anything to say about it. My talent, my work, my stories were the only things that got me to where I am. And that is pretty much true of every author out there.

    So while I know the traditional querying process is very difficult (I queried four separate projects, totaling almost 200 queries!), it does work. The rejections and practice, while depressing, did improve my writing. I learned and grew under that refining fire, though I'm very glad to be past it now.

    1. Thank you VERY much Natalie! I appreciate your insight and experience. This was encouraging and helpful! :)

  19. Hi Natalie, thanks for taking questions again. I'm an over asker of questions, so this is great for me.

    In the past you've encouraged people to slow down when it comes to publishing, particularly the getting an agent thing. I was wondering if any of that advice was based on your own experiences. Specifically, did your life take some sudden turns in the writing arena as soon as you signed with an agent? or did you not feel prepared for the process of submission (and trying to write while out on submission)? Do you sometimes wish you'd had more time behind the curtain without the 'agented writer' tag?

    And another question that ties in (sorry, totally the over asker here, I warned you), do you feel it's important to have more than one viable project when you first start to work with an agent, or is one little hopeful manuscript enough? (Just curious, I've got a pile of manuscripts in various stages).

    Thanks again.

  20. How do I decide between first person narrative, second person narrative, and third person narrative? Also what are some good writing exerzises????

  21. Rena, VERY interesting question! Yes, I do think people should slow down, but the reasons you mentioned are not why I say that.

    I say this because being obsessed about published seriously messed me up.

    There is such a thing as too much, and I went way past that line. It's hard to admit, but for the years 2009 and 2010, nothing mattered in my life but selling a book. My kids took a back seat. My husband and family. My church. Everything. My happiness literally hinged on what was happening (or not happening) in my career.

    It was...ugly. I was seriously depressed and in denial of that depression. I was not a fun person to be around, and I faked my way through a lot of things. I was living on auto-pilot, desperately wanting to sell. And sell NOW. I wanted it all NOW. I was so tired of waiting and watching my friends get all the stuff I wanted.

    It got to the point that in Fall 2010, I went on anxiety/depression meds. I was having daily panic attacks over writing. It was so painful and not fun at that point that I considered walking away for good. Everything was so messed up, and letting my writing goals get out of control was the reason.

    I had to scale back, on the blog, in my work, everything. The meds helped me get my head back on straight, and 2011 was a lot about learning how to pursue my dreams without tossing the rest of my life in the trash.

    So I say "take your time" out of worry for writers' mental health. While writing has been rewarding for me, when it was all I cared about I was absolutely miserable. Living my life with balance, putting my priorities in the right place, this had made me far happier than selling my book.

    So yeah, there's the honest truth. It had nothing to do with not being prepared. In fact, it probably had more to do with being over prepared.

  22. Wow, thank you for being honest. I'm sure there are plenty of people who find themselves in terrible places when their dreams are on the line (myself included).

  23. Lexi, that's a hard question! I usually go by what I hear in my head. Usually that's first person, but I am working on a novel that's third person right now. I don't think either is inherently right or wrong, but each one has its own rules and conventions to learn.

    As for exercises, I think the best is just plain practice! I don't have any I've ever used, but I do like to try out ideas even if they don't go anywhere. There's no harm in taking a day to just play around with words. I also think reading and absorbing stories in any form (manga, K dramas, movies, etc) is beneficial to writers. I enjoy learning from other kinds of stories.

  24. Besides Boys Over Flowers, what are some of your favorite K-dramas? And do you ever watch any J-dramas?

  25. cookie, I've mostly liked all the ones I've watched, but have really enjoyed Shining Inheritance, My Girl, Heartstrings, and Flower Boy Ramen Shop. They've all been fun and interesting and addicting.

    As for J-drama, sadly no. But I'd be happy to be pointed to some good ones! My knowledge is lacking. My desire is great:)

  26. I'll have to check those out! Also, Boys Over Flowers is amazing. I laughed. I cried. I laughed while crying.

    For K-dramas, I really liked Hana Kimi and Absolute Boyfriend.

  27. Great questions and answers so far! So how are you able to balance everything? How do you find time to do everything? Are you super organized? Having a baby, a husband, a full time job, and everything else I am desperate for more time to write and I just can't find it. (Also, time to exercise. :))

  28. Liz, balance is hard! I don't know if I balance so much as I prioritize. Before, I would ignore everything for writing, but lately I've taken a different approach. Basically, I put things in their right priority.

    Yes, someday that means I don't write.

    *Just took a 30 min break to discipline my children for destroying an entire pack of printer paper while I was trying to edit*

    And hi! Yeah, so I kinda suck at the balance and stuff. I really just do stuff when I can, and it's hard. Just like everyone else. I have no magic formulas, but I sure wish I did. The only thing I do is I keep trying. And eventually those moments of work add up to something.

  29. How did you get that little icon next to your name in the comments?

  30. Adam, what icon? Wait, just refreshed. What the heck IS that?


  31. I like it (I like being able to easily skim for a blog owner's comments), but if it appeared without your knowledge? Shoot...

  32. The font of my comments has changed, too. I some experiment or something?

    1. It could have something to do with Google/Blogger introducing threaded comments today?

  33. This probably isn't an easily-answered question, but how do you know when it's time to set aside a manuscript?

    I ask because I have been working on a novel for 2 years and I feel like I've never really enjoyed it. I finally decided to take some guilt-free time off and work on something else, and I feel so much BETTER with this new project. Is it because it's new, or is it time to say goodbye to that old book?

    Anyway, you don't need to answer my dilemma, but I am curious as to when you knew it was time to quit with some of your previous work.

  34. Do you have any advice on dealing with the jealousy that comes with pursuing publication? (Also: I accidentally sent this comment to some other blog post I was reading of yours. Ignore it. I'll try to delete it, but if not... ignore it.)

  35. Debbie, I think you answered your own question:) You have clearly put in a ton of time with the first, but sometimes you just have to move forward. I think the thing I most cherish now in the JOY of writing, and I try to hold on to it at all times. If you're happy writing, I think you're doing the right thing!

  36. Yeah, it feels like the right choice. Guess I needed to just talk (er, comment?) it out. Thanks Natalie!

  37. Jordyn, you know, it's honestly hard. And from what I've seen, it never really goes away. There's always more to want, always more that others have.

    So for me, it's been really important to look inward. I find I'm happiest when I focus on my own work and life and family. This means I've backed off from the internet quite a bit. It means I deliberately keep myself from the publishing news at times. Focusing on my real life, on my work, it helps me remember that no matter where I go my happiness comes from inside of me, not the outside stuff.

    I also try very hard to look at what I have, not what I don't have. There is a power in gratitude, and I always feel better when I stop and think of all I own and have the privilege of doing. Yeah, I live in an apt I rent. Yeah, I'm still not rich by any means. But I have what I need, and that's more than many people in the world can say. This is starting to sound kinda cheesy, but it really does help put it in perspective for me.

    And finally, I try to remember that there are hardships behind all those pretty looking stories. I was just reading about Gayle Forman's today on Nova Ren Suma's blog. I had NO IDEA she was a travel writer and that her first novel essentially failed. I can't even imagine how hard that was. Anyone looking now might forget she went through so much, since her books are amazing and successful. You really never know what authors go through to get there, but I'd be willing to bet no one's truly had it "easy."

    I hope this was coherent. Heh.

  38. Friday is the 13th! Are you planning on hooking up with a villain from a slasher movie and releasing a nightmare hip hop CD?