Why I Keep Every Draft of My WIP

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Not too long ago, Katie Axelson wrote a fantastic post on The Write Practice on why you should never delete your writing. She makes a great point, and the following discussion online made me think about my editing and revision habits and how I handle sections cut from my WIPs.

It probably won't surprise you to hear that I never delete anything permanently, but I actually take it a step further: I save every draft of my WIPs. That's right, I hoard my writing.

In my pre-Scrivener days, I was a Microsoft Word fiend. After writing up the first draft of my WIP and deciding I was going to polish it to a final draft, I made a folder for my book. Inside the folder I placed everything that had to do with that WIP, from query letters to synopses to drafts that I labeled by number (Scrivener has made this much easier, but that’s another post altogether). For example, if my WIP was titled SECRET, I'd have files named SECRET, SECRET V2 (for Version 2), SECRET V3, etc. Before the start of every draft, I duplicated my most recent draft, give it a new number and start revising.

While some of you may consider the habit a little obsessive (and maybe it is), I quickly found that keeping my drafts separate allowed me to make sweeping changes without fear. I always knew that if I took something too far or deleted too much, I could always go back to my last draft (or however many drafts back I needed) and recover the original writing.

Now I'll admit that for a while, I never actually had need of going back to a previous draft. I had it as an option, of course, but it was an option that I found little need to exercise. That is, until my fifth manuscript.

My fifth WIP has gone through the most changes out of all of my manuscripts. While I currently have six specifically saved drafts, truth be told, there were probably more. The original draft was written in third person past with dual points of view. Then I switched it to first person past with a single point of view. Then first person present. Then two first person present POVs.

That last switch, from one POV back to two is the change where I was immediately glad that I hadn't deleted my previous drafts. While the new POV wasn't the same character that the old POV was written in, having the older draft allowed me to more easily figure out natural breaks for the second POV, and I was even able to take many of those older POV scenes and rewrite them to fit the new character.

I had never been so glad that I obsessively saved my writing.

The thing about permanently deleting anything is that you obviously can never get it back—and truth be told, you don't really know if you'll ever need to. Keeping old drafts really doesn't take up much space on a hard drive, and while I doubt you will ever regret saving old drafts, you may one day find yourself wishing you hadn't permanently deleted that old scene, or draft, or whatever it is that you threw into the abyss.

And if you never look at those old saved drafts? Well, no harm done. But at least you know they're there in case you ever need it.

Do you save old drafts, or are you a deleter? Share your experience in the comments below! 

How (Not) to Win a Twitter Pitch Fest

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Some of you lovely writers may have heard that there's going to be another Twitter pitch fest on Friday (3/29/13) under the hashtag #PitMad. Basically, if you're querying, or ready to start querying, you should most definitely participate (and here's why).

Naturally many of you are probably antsy about Friday’s Twitter fest, and so I thought it only appropriate to share ten easy steps to making every agent and editor who trolls the #PitMad feed instantly want to request your full manuscript. So without further ado:

How to Make Everyone Want Your Full Manuscript*

  1. Ignore the rules. Rules are for people who aren't creative enough to break out of the box. How will can you ever expect to stand out if you follow the rules? No, you need to make your own rules. For example...

  2. Send the agents your pitch directly by @ mentioning them even when they don't ask for it. This includes agents on Twitter who aren't even participating. Twitter pitch fests are all about being noticed, and what better way to get your pitch noticed then by sending it directly to your dream agent? After all, every agent LOVES Twitter queries—it’s a fact. 

  3. Spam the hashtag. When there are a lot of participants in an event like a Twitter pitch fest, you sometimes have to use a little elbow to really be seen. Posting your pitch any less than a dozen times an hour will doom you to being drowned out by the other participants, and we can't have that. 

  4. Bash the other writers. Save the agents the pain of looking at anyone else's work—all they need to see is your masterpiece. In fact, they should probably just stop reading altogether because nothing else will ever stand up to your work. 

  5. Retweet your pitch repeatedly. Writing your pitch twelve times an hour really isn't enough—retweet those pitches until you can retweet no more!

  6. Spread your pitch over ten tweets. Remember what I said about breaking the rules? While all those other silly writers are trying to fit their pitch into 140 characters, you can take advantage of all the characters you need to express the true awesomeness of your book. Take that, boring rule-followers! 

  7. Write your pitch in all caps. YOU WANT PEOPLE TO READ IT, DON'T YOU? 

  8. Pitch a book you haven't finished writing. Hell, pitch a book you haven't started writing. That way, when everyone is throwing publishing contracts at you, you'll be way ahead of the game. 

  9. Use a quote from your book instead of a pitch. You know what? Pitches are overrated. Quotes, on the other hand...

  10. Forget the pitch—just tell everyone how awesome your book is. That's all they really need to know, anyway. 

*Did I say "everyone"? I meant "no one." This is a sarcastic post, please don't do these things. It will not bring you success and joy, I promise.

Are you participating on Friday? If so, good luck! What so-called tips would you add to the list?

On Writing and Giving Up

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As a week of two major pitch contests came to a close over the weekend, it was inevitable that their respective Twitter feeds became a place of polar opposites. A record of ecstatic writers celebrating good news, and an echo of, well, everyone else.

But the truth of every contest is this—while there will always be a handful (or a couple handfuls, depending on the size of the contest) of winners, by and large, the majority of entrants will receive rejections. And many will write it off as just that—another rejection. Most will shrug it off and continue writing, and entering contests, and submitting to professionals with their eyes steadfast on the eventual goal of publication.

But unfortunately not everyone can handle the mounting rejections quite so well, and so every once in a while I see a writer throw their hands up and say, “That’s it. I’m done,” and it makes me sad.

It’s never an easy thing to see a dream die, regardless of whether or not the dream is yours or someone else’s. It’s never easy to see someone give up, to watch other writers buckle under the weight of rejection.

Because the truth is, writing is hard. But beyond that, the whole journey of the writer—from first draft of the first novel to final draft of their final (published or not) novel takes such a toll. Every book you write is exhausting, every rejection you receive—whether it’s a form letter or bad review hurts. We’re told not to take those things personally, but let’s face it—it feels personal. It’s not an easy thing to pour your heart and soul into a book, only to be told that it’s not good enough.

It sucks. Rejection sucks.

It makes me sad to see writers give up, because I understand why. It becomes exhausting to hear strangers and friends tell you to keep pushing on and keep writing when professionals keep slapping you with not good enough. The journey of the writer is an emotional rollercoaster—from hopeful maybe this is the one highs to crushing form rejection lows, and quite frankly, it can be really hard to handle.

The thing is, I can’t promise you that you’re going to be published one day—no one can. I can’t promise you that if you self-publish you’re going to sell enough copies to make those bestseller lists—I can’t even promise you that you’ll get decent reviews. What I can do is encourage, but even that isn’t enough sometimes, because the truth is, the decision to keep writing despite the disappointments has to be your own.

Everyone has the right to give up—and if you decide that the road of the writer isn’t for you, then that’s ok. It’s not for everyone, and deciding to take another path doesn’t make you a failure—it just means that the life of the writer wasn’t for you. And it’s ok.

But if you do give up, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Give up because you realize you don’t really enjoy writing. Give up because there are other things you would rather be doing, because you aren’t happy when you write, because you have other dreams that you’d rather be chasing.

But don’t give up because you think yourself a failure (you’re not). Don’t give up because you’ve received twenty, or fifty, or a hundred rejections (so has every other published writer out there). Don’t give up because of bad reviews (even J.K. Rowling has them), or because you don’t think anyone will ever love your writing (someone will), or because despite your best efforts, your writing just isn’t there yet (EVERY writer goes through this stage). Don’t give up because you think you’ll never be published (no one can see the future) or because you’re tired of hearing “not yet” (“not yet” doesn’t mean “you never will”).

Every writer deals with rejection, some more than others. Every writer feels inadequate or entirely discouraged at times. Every writer gets told “no” and feels like publication is a dream that will never come true.

I’m not here to tell you not to give up. Just don’t give up for the wrong reasons.

Revisions: Don’t Be Afraid to Make (Big) Changes

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The thought of revisions—real revisions—can often be intimidating. With the first draft completed, you have, in many ways, completed the hardest part—you’ve taken your imagination and turned it into a novel. But despite the hours spent on completing such a task, the work has really just begun.

With the exception of authors who write astoundingly clean first drafts (these are a minority), the heavy lifting really comes after the first draft has been written. This is the time when you look over your work and make difficult decisions. This is the time when you have to be brutally honest with yourself about what needs fixing, what can be salvaged and what must be stripped out. This is the time when characters are cut, subplots are emphasized (or removed altogether), scenes are added and cringe-worthy dialogue/chapters/paragraphs/sections get the axe.

And let’s be honest—sometimes it’s a little scary.

By the time you reach the revision stage, you’ve already spent a lot of time on your book. You’ve already laughed, and cried, and exhausted yourself in the process of writing a novel, and now you have to throw some of that work away. Now you have to write more, and make changes that sometimes mean altering huge sections of your WIP, and the thought of the sheer amount of work ahead can be more than a little nerve-wracking.

The thing that you have to remember when facing revisions is that it’s worth it. The extra work, the painful cuts and the extra weeks or months spent taking your work from first to finished draft is worth the work and heartache—and more than that, it can even be a little exciting. There’s something special about molding your original draft into something better, into a draft that really does your story justice. And yes, sometimes in order to reach that stage you have to make enormous changes, but your novel will be so much better for it.

So when the time comes for you to start those revisions, make a copy of your WIP (so you always have an original to go back to if needed) and start hacking. When you come out the other side with a shiny new draft in your hands, you’ll be glad you did.

Have you ever made huge changes to a WIP? How did you feel before and after the revisions?

Writing & Publishing: Does Age Matter?

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While re-watching Skyfall the other day, a short conversation between Bond and Q really stuck out to me. Upon seeing how young his new Quartermaster is, this discussion takes place (quoted from IMDB):
"James Bond: You must be joking.
Q: Why, because I’m not wearing a lab coat?
James Bond: Because you still have spots.
Q: My complexion is hardly relevant.
James Bond: Your competence is.
Q: Age is not a guarantee of efficiency.
James Bond: And youth is no guarantee of innovation."
I found this particularly interesting because the age argument is one that comes up again and again regarding various fields—and writing is no exception. We often hear of teenagers publishing their novels (Kat Zhang, Christopher Paolini, Kody Keplinger), which teen-aged unpublished writers often take as a call to action (if they can do it, so can I!) and unpublished writers beyond their teenage years are tempted to ask if they can get published, why can’t I?

The trouble with the age game is that it’s far too easy to compare. Age is one of the few variables that you can measure, which makes it especially tempting to play the age game, but I truly don’t believe that age is what’s important: experience is.

If you dig a little, you’ll often find that those young published writers were often writing seriously for years before they found publication—just like every other writer who reaches the status of “published.” Kat Zhang, for example, may have been published at 19, but she was writing with the goal of eventual publication since the age of 12

Then there are stories of debut authors like Lorna Page, who had her first book published at 93, becoming the oldest debut author on record in 2008. Or Helen Hoover Santmyer who was 87 when her most famous work, And Ladies of the Club, was published.

Age isn’t the important factor—not every teenage writer is going to get published in their teenage years because regardless of age, it takes some longer than others to reach a publishing-ready level. Some writers (albeit a minority) manage to get their first ever books published, but for most it takes years and more than a couple trunked manuscripts before they write the one.

It’s tempting to look at publishing as a race of sorts—to make goals like “get published by age x,” to look at young successful people and start to compare. But the problem with comparing is that nothing about publishing is a race and there are far too many factors out of your control to be able to compare fairly. The writers who debut with their first novel aren’t any better than those who debut with their eleventh book, nor are the 17 year-old authors any better than the 90 year-olds.

Age doesn’t matter. The writing matters, and by extension, experience matters.

So don’t get caught up in the numbers game—in fact, take all the time you need to make your book as good as you possibly can. You’ll be glad you did.

I don’t believe that age matters when it comes to writing, but now I want to hear from you: what do you think? Is age important? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Characters: Static or Dynamic?

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Some of you may remember learning about static and dynamic characters in high school (or equivalent) English class. For those who don’t remember or otherwise could use a quick refresher, let’s take a quick look at the dictionary.com definitions for static and dynamic characters:
Static character: a literary or dramatic character who undergoes little or no inner change; a character who does not grow or develop. Examples: President Snow, Voldemort, James Bond and Sherlock Holmes.
Dynamic character: a literary or dramatic character who undergoes an important inner change, as a change in personality or attitude. Examples: Beatrice “Tris” Prior, Frodo Baggins, Ebenezer Scrooge and Anakin Skywalker.
While it isn’t necessary for all of your characters to be dynamic, nor is it a requirement for your protagonist to be dynamic, it is important to consider while writing whether or not you want your characters to undergo a change, and if so, make sure that the change is relevant and clear. 

Sometimes a dynamic character's change manifests physically. An example of this is Divergent when, in Tris’ transformation from Beatrice to Tris, she cuts her hair and begins acting more like a member of the Dauntless faction. A number of superhero movies also use a physical change, such as when the hero dons a new uniform and attitude to boot. 

Other times the change is more subtle and gradual, such as Frodo’s metamorphosis from carefree, happy hobbit, to a scarred, somewhat distant individual. The change may be a choice, as was the case with Tris, or forced by circumstance as was Frodo’s case.

Now while it’s true that many protagonists fall in the “dynamic character” category, as I mentioned earlier, it's completely acceptable to have a static character as a protagonist as well. 

Static characters should not to be confused with flat or one-dimensional characters—as explained above, just because characters don’t change throughout the course of their story doesn't mean that they’re one-dimensional. Perfectly interesting characters can still be static characters, like Sherlock Holmes—he’s eccentric, completely ingenious and sometimes (oftentimes?) a jerk. He never changes and we love him all the more for it. Or at least I do.

There isn’t a right or wrong choice as far as static or dynamic characters go, and now I’m curious: taking a look at your latest WIP or book that you’ve read, were your favorite characters static or dynamic?

Reading: Do You Prefer E-Books or Print?

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I've started thinking lately about the difference between reading print books and e-books.

In the past I've said that the media doesn't matter—that the important part is the writing and that people are reading, and I still stand by that. What I'm talking about instead are the differences in the actual experience of reading—in the subtle shift from turning pages to swiping screens, in the difference between holding a few hundred pages of paper and holding a thin electronic device. And taking those differences into consideration, I ask you this: which do you prefer to read?

In a way I suppose I'm cheating because while I'm going to ask you for an answer, I don't really have a definitive this or that answer in return. However, there are aspects of each that I've found that I particularly enjoy, and that I'd be happy to share.

My favorite parts of reading print books:

  • Texture of the pages. This sounds silly to some people, but every once in a while I come across a book printed on paper with the most gorgeous texture. I'm talking about the sleek, strong pages of the hardcover Harry Potter novels. I'm talking about the ragged-edge, but smooth paper of the hardcover Artemis Fowl series. It's moments like those, when I open up a book and run my fingers across the page of truly remarkable paper that I really love reading print.

  • Book smell. I mean, who doesn't love the book smell? Some people love the smell of old books—for me it's the smell of newly printed paper that I can't get enough of. Regardless, the book smell brings back wonderful memories and I will always treasure it.

  • Adding books to the shelf. I've probably mentioned this before, but I love collecting books, and one of my all-time favorite moments of reading comes at the very end, after I've finished reading: adding the book to the shelf. There's just something uniquely satisfying about adding a book I've read to my lovely collection and stepping back to admire all of its beauty.

  • Looking at the pretty covers. The thing about e-readers is that unless you switch out the covers every time you start a new book, they always have the same nondescript cover. Not so with print books. I always keep a book I'm reading out in plain sight to remind me to get back to it, and there's a simple pleasure to being able to look at the actual book without having to turn on a screen and find it in your virtual library. 
That being said, there are still moments that I love about reading e-books as well.

My favorite parts of reading e-books:

  • Instant gratification. E-readers are magical (and dangerous) devices because all we have to do to get the next new book is press a button. Not thirty seconds later it is available for reading. Doesn't get much better than that. 

  • Easy reading (literally). I like to read in bed. Or on a sofa cuddled up with blankets. And sometimes I like to scrunch or curl up and when I try to read with a print book, the pages start to fight me a little—they get caught in the blankets, or they flap closed in the middle of a sentence, or the wind makes them flap manically while I'm trying to read, or they scrape against the cushion and rip while I'm trying to turn them (*queue horror music*). E-books aren't so finicky. I can read however and wherever I want to and the pages won't get caught or turn before I'm ready and they are impervious to ninja wind attacks. 

  • Travel friendly. I don't really need to go into the difference between carrying twenty print books and twenty e-books, do I? I didn't think so. 

  • Durable. Now I know what some of you are thinking—that print books can survive water and falls a lot better than e-readers can. And I'm not going to argue with that—it's very true. However, I'm one of those people that flips out when I accidentally bend the corner of my paperback book, or when a little water touches (and permanently wrinkles) the pages of my shiny new hardcover, or a scratch appears on the dust jacket of that book I just bought. The nice thing about e-readers is that you can throw them in your bag without having to worry about the cover bending by accident or the pages getting wrinkled. Just don't soak the thing in water or drop it from the Empire State Building. 

I truly believe that reading e-books and print both have their advantages, and I absolutely enjoy reading both, but now I'm curious: do you have a preference between e-books or print? What do you like about each? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

Discussion: Fascinating Characters

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I’ve always found that what interests me mosts about both reading and writing are the characters.

I like characters who are quirky, emotional, funny and real.

I like characters who are multi-dimensional, who have scars (emotional, mental and physical) and struggle with inner demons.

I like characters who are misunderstood, who make mistakes, who love others more than they love themselves, who are heroes in everyone eyes but their own.

I like the Sirius Blacks and Samwise Gamgees and Rs.

I like the Kenji Kishimotos and Finnick Odairs and Robin Goodfellows.

These characters are fascinating to me and I never tire of discovering new characters with new traits and secrets and hopes and dreams that hold me from their first introduction to their final words.

But enough about what I love—I want to hear form you. What characters fascinate you, and why?

Pitch Tip: Remember Your Stakes

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When discussing pitches, queries or back-cover copies, writers often see the word “stakes” thrown around. Oftentimes it’s a comment about the stakes not being high enough or clear enough, and truth be told, it’s easier than you’d think to fail to mention the stakes in a pitch.

Before I go into why that is, let’s take a quick look at dictionary.com's definition of stakes:
A little hard to read, unfortunately. It says: "at stake, in danger of being lost, as something that has been wagered; critically involved." 

My favorite part of this definition is “in danger of being lost” because it basically sums up the most important part of the definition.

When people say that we need to know the stakes in a pitch, they’re really saying we need to know what your protagonist has to lose. We need to know what will happen if your protagonist fails to reach his or her goal.

Why is this so important? The answer is simple: without established stakes, the readers have no reason to care if your protagonist fails or accomplishes his goal. The tension disappears, the conflict doesn’t matter because if your protagonist loses, oh well. Not like anything bad happens.

In other words: boring. Take any story and remove the stakes and the plot will fall apart. For example:

Without the fate of Middle Earth in Frodo’s hands, The Lord of the Rings would just be a really long trilogy about people trying to vacation in Mordor.

Without Prim’s life on the line, there’s no reason for Katniss to volunteer to take her place as tribute, because she’d be back in a couple weeks anyway. No biggie.

I suspect a large part of the reason writers sometimes forget to mention the stakes in their pitch is because they’re so close to their work. The writer knows what will happen if their protagonist fails and sometimes it seems obvious to them even in their stake-less pitch what that failure means--but to the outside reader who doesn’t know the story so well (or at all, for that matter), they need the stakes spelled out to them.

So next time you’re writing up or revising a query pitch (or any pitch, for that matter), take a good look at what you have and make sure you can identify the stakes from the words in front of you. It’s importance cannot be overstressed.

Can you identify the stakes from your latest pitch or back cover copy? 

Three Important Critique Tips

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While we’ve discussed the importance of being critiqued and critiquing others, and we’ve talked about how to be a fabulous critique partner (both seriously and sarcastically), it occurred to me that I haven’t really written in depth about the hardest part of critiquing: that is, reading your critique. 

Asking for a critique is a funny thing: we are, in essence, asking people to read our work with the intention of finding faults. Of pointing out every gaping plot hole and embarrassing word choice that you accidentally repeated six times on the same page. 

And let’s face it—as helpful as it is to have those mistakes pointed out to us, it can sometimes be hard to swallow. No one likes to have their mistakes circled and underlined in blaring red marker, even if it is an important part of developing our craft and improving our stories. 

I’m not promising that these three tips will make all your future critiques feel like butterflies and cotton candy, but if you keep these things in mind, it will (hopefully) make it a little easier. Starting with...

  1. Read it, then PUT IT AWAY. Seriously. I know I’ve mentioned this briefly before, but it’s worth repeating because it helps so much. When you first read a critique, most of us tend to start to feel things. Sometimes is horror, other times it’s embarrassment or anger and sometimes it’s straight-out despair.

    In order to edit in the right frame of mind (or even read your critique in the right frame of mind, for that matter), those emotions need to be put aside, and that can be difficult to do when you first get a critique. So put it aside, eat something delicious or watch your favorite TV show or read a book. Take your mind off the critique and those initial emotions, then come back to it later with the mindset of making your work better.

    It really can make all the difference.

  2. Don’t get defensive. This is a danger that we sometimes see in public critiques or reviews. And it’s understandable—your writing is very personal. It is, in essence, an extension of you, so when people point out the flaws or say it needs work, it can feel like a personal attack.

    The thing to remember is that it’s not a personal attack, and you did ask for this critique. But if you get defensive, there’s no way you’ll be able to switch into the right mindset and learn from the experience of being critiqued—which really is the whole point of this exercise.

    So when you feel the defensive monster raging inside you, tell it to shut up and keep reading.

  3. Not everyone is right. This is important, particularly in public critiques or when dealing with new critique partners and beta readers. The thing is, sometimes well-intentioned people will make bad suggestions, or sometimes people will completely misunderstand your work and make a suggestion that is contrary to your vision. The thing to remember is that not everything that everyone says is right, and in the end you know your work best. 

What tips do you have for receiving critiques? 

Social Media: Is it Worth the Time?

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When discussing time management and writing, I often joke about the hazards of the time-sucking internet, usually citing Twitter and tumblr as top offenders.

To anyone who has logged on to either of those sites (or onto just about any social media site, for that matter) it’s no secret that a so-called five minute break can quickly become a half hour excursion or even longer if your self-control fails you. If you’re not careful, social media can very easily suck up time that could be spent writing, or working on a plethora of other important things.

That being said, it’s not unreasonable to start to wonder if social media is worth the time. And to that I answer a very assured yes.

You see, while (most) social media is free of charge, it does come at the cost of our time. But the investment you put into your online presence absolutely does reap rewards, and I’ve broken them down into five categories.

Five Rewards from Social Media Investment: 

  1. Exposure. Whether you’re a writer or an artist, an editor or a musician, social media allows you to freely distribute your work to the masses. For some, that means blogs, for others it means being ridiculous witty (or kind) on Twitter. Point is that it allows you to get out there and show the world what you have to offer. 

  2. Inspiration. This is huge. While inspiration-searching is often what can lead to the time-suck of doom, social media brings inspiration to all types in many different formats—whether it’s links to incredible posts on Twitter, beautiful pictures on tumblr or Pinterest, or touching videos on Youtube, social media is an endless source of inspiration. 

  3. Connections. Relationships. People. I’ve written about the heart of social media before, and this right here is it. 

  4. Opportunities. You know those pitch contests I’ve been raving about as of late? I never would have heard about them without Twitter. And those Twitter pitch fests that have garnered more than a handful of agent requests for writers? Also would be impossible without social media. Opportunities are everywhere and social media makes them even easier to find.

  5. Growth. A combination of the above four elements leads to one thing: growth. Social media allows us to learn from each other, to learn from sharing our work and making mistakes and seeing how others succeed. It creates experiences we can learn from that we would not have had without it. 

What do you think? Is social media worth the time? Why or why not? 

Editing: How Do You Know When You’re Finished?

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It’s often said that writing is rewriting, and the importance of editing is well emphasized, but when it comes to talking about the end of the editing process and announcing a final  draft, writers tend to get a little vague. 

You see, the truth about final drafts is that they don’t really exist until someone decides that this draft that you’re holding is indeed the final one. Sometimes that “someone” is the writer, and sometimes it’s an editor, or an agent, or another publishing professional, but the point is that this is yet another subjective step. 

I’ve heard it said that the final draft of a book isn’t a real thing—there is a draft, then a published draft, but final one? Final in the sense that it will no longer be tweaked (besides the occasional fix of typos), perhaps. But the perfect draft doesn’t exist, which makes the pursuit of perfection an impossible task. 

For unpublished writers without an agent or editor to say this is the draft that will be published, it can be even more difficult to decide when a WIP has reached the final draft (or draft ready for submission, at least) stage. With no one to force them to stop editing, it’s not uncommon for writers to edit with no end in sight. 

So how can you tell when you’ve reached the final draft?

There are two major clues to look out for, namely: 

  • Your betas and CPs are happy. Have I mentioned lately how helpful betas and critique partners are? This is yet another reason why—when you start getting mostly positive feedback (i.e.: most betas agree that you don’t have any major gaping plot holes or huge character problems, etc.) you know you’re definitely close. 

  • You’re happy. By “happy” I don’t mean that you think it’s perfect, because chances are you’ll never think it’s perfect. But when you read your WIP, you’re no longer cringing at the writing. You look at your work and you don’t feel the need to tweak. Eventually you will reach a point when you feel there’s nothing more you can do to improve your novel, and that’s when you know you’ve reached the end. (For now). 

Remember that until publication, there really is no final draft, but there is a happy place where you’ve done enough editing, and that is all you really need. 

How do you know when you’ve reached the final draft stage? 

Writer's Guilt: Don't Let it Drown You

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One thing I learned rather quickly about creative individuals like the writer is that we have a collective tendency to be ridiculously hard on ourselves. We're often polite and forgiving of each other, being kind with mistakes and encouraging one another, but when it comes to our work, we're our own harshest critic.

For the writer, this often manifests in a form of writer's guilt.

Writers are really good at finding reasons to be disappointed with themselves: whether it's not writing enough that day or week, not writing well enough, not reading enough, or editing enough, or querying enough, or whatever it may be, we're really good at telling ourselves that we're not doing enough, and we're even better at stressing out over it, which in turn often makes us do even less. And so the hellish cycle goes on.

Now I'm not saying that writers shouldn't be disciplined, or that we should ignore missing deadlines or a need to improve. I'm not saying that we shouldn't look at our writing with a critical eye, or that taking stock of how we could be more productive is somehow a bad thing, and I'm not saying that it's unimportant to push ourselves to write and read and refine our craft.

What I am saying is that there's a healthy way to handle writer guilt without beating yourself over the head with it.

I've broken it down into three easy steps:

  1. Acknowledge. As they say, the first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging that you have one. Take a few minutes to accept whatever shortcoming that's making you feel uneasy. Then move on to step two.
  2. Reassess. You know you have a challenge to overcome—whether it's time management, actually writing, or editing, or reading, or whatever the issue is. Now is the time to decide what you're going to do about it. What change will you make to improve? Decide on a concrete goal, then...
  3. Make a change. Don't worry about what you didn't accomplish or how your shortcoming affected you or your writing. Don't worry about feeling guilty or not doing as much as another writer. You've figured out what you need to do to take steps towards improvement, now do it. Simple as that. 

The key to dealing with writer guilt is truly not to let it impede with your efforts to improve. Accept that it's there, then tell it to shut up and get to work.

Because believe it or not, drowning in guilt won't help you improve for a second.

Have you ever experienced writer guilt? What do you do to overcome it?
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