Let me know! I’m up tomorrow on Publishing Crawl and I’m stumped this month on what to cover.
I’m spending this long weekend working on the heavy lifting that has to go into getting book 3 in order. I have really fantastic, thoughtful notes from both Sarah and my editors that have me excited to dive back in and get the beast in shape. When I got my editorial letter today, I was actually pretty surprised to find that my first reaction wasn’t one of, “Man, I suck I suck I suuuuuuck,” which has been my response to literally every other editorial letter I’ve ever gotten. This time it was, “Woof. I have work to do. Tonight, I have to figure out x/y/z, tomorrow 1/2/3…”
See, all through high school and college I had what can only be described as a really punishing, fairly irrational sense of perfectionism when it came to myself. It didn’t manifest itself in me struggling every moment of every day to keep my hair just right, or to wear the right kind of clothes. It didn’t mean I looked over every paper and homework I produced with a fine tooth comb, either. Actually, the super irrational part of it was more that I would write something and turn it in without re-reading it, mostly because I was afraid that, upon re-reading, I’d find that it really sucked. (I MEAN, shouldn’t I have just wanted to FIX IT?) “Bad grades” for me was anything under an A- and despite receiving zero pressure from my parents to maintain a good GPA, I beat myself up over bad grades/tests/papers/not getting selected for this/etc.
So you can imagine I hated revising. Hated. HATED. Getting a 5-15 page letter pointing out everything that was wrong with the book I’d spent months writing? Not awesome. My immediate thought was always, “My editor must hate me because I turned in something that didn’t work from the get-go.” I thought that even though I WORKED as an editorial assistant for a year and a half and knew that wasn’t the case at all. All books need work. All books need work. I have never in my life heard of a book that had a perfect first draft. The only books I’d ever worked on that needed only light editing from the get-go were books already published in other countries that we were acquiring for distribution in the U.S. They had already been edited.
I really struggle—still—with the fear of disappointing people. Actually, the worst reviews for me aren’t the GIF-filled scathing reviews, but the ones that say, “I loved this author’s other book, but I was really disappointed by this one.” Laura, who is the fabulous Associate Editor who works with Editor Emily on the TDM series, pointed out to me once that I always include a list of everything I think is wrong with the draft I’m sending, or I’ll start off a conversation of the book that way. I think I’ve figured out I do this because 1) I’m afraid not fixing a problem well enough will somehow disappoint them when I really just need their additional brainpower to untangle something and 2) because I hope they’ll think I’m less of a hack if I alert them to the fact I recognize the problem exists.
My whole mental process re: revising used to be very exhausting, as you can see. It can be summed up as: I took everything too personally.
It’s taken me four books and literally dozens of drafts to understand exactly what Michael Crichton said. For me, the real “work” or “job” of being an author isn’t in the initial drafting, but in revising. It’s going back to the document again and again, even if you’re sick to death of reading the same book for the twentieth time. It involves ripping out whole sections of the book, patching things over with new words, moving this stitch here, instead of there, letting go of elements you love, and forcing yourself to reconceive what your story is and should be. In fact, there’s pretty much nothing gives me satisfaction than pulling off an awesome revision—not even turning in a great first draft. I am so much more forgiving with myself when it comes to drafting, and I over the past two years, I’ve managed to adjust the “I suck I suck I suuuuuuck” thinking into, “How lucky am I to have this great team who totally gets these books the way I do?” and “CHALLENGED ACCEPTED.”
and you guys deserve the best possible book I can give you. To that end, I’ll probably be pretty sparse on Twitter and Tumblr for the next few weeks, so apologies in advance for any slow response times!
Anonymous asked: Hi! I just have a quick question about fan edits, fan art and fanfiction and other things in that general kind of area, I've heard that some authors are advised against looking at it. Why is that? And are there different rules for each author/publisher or is there a set limit to what you can look at? Thank you! :)
I’ve never heard that about fan edits/fan art, but fan fiction is different because if an author reads a story—and the author of the fan fiction story knows it—if there are any coincidental similarities between the author’s next work and the fan fiction, they can be accused of plagiarism. For that same reason, a lot of authors will turn down reading others’ work when asked for feedback. With fan edits/art, they generally reflect/represent something in the story that the author has created.
Also, I don’t know how much an author would really enjoy reading stories about characters/a world they created coming from someone else, especially if it diverges sharply from the author’s intentions with the book(s).
Anonymous asked: Hi Alex, how did you keep track of all your ideas for TDM series? I'm a new writer and I keep struggling with keeping my ideas organized.
My editor would probably say that I don’t do a very good job of this, haha. I tend to keep notes organized in a Word document—little loose ends, key details (where camps are located, for example), etc. though the truth is most of it is all up here *taps forehead* The important aspects of the story, the ones I knew from the beginning needed to be touched on in books 2 and 3, I’ve been thinking about constantly, to the point they’re hard to forget. But… I do forget certain details, and I’m always surprised when I go back and reread bits of TDM and find little nuggets I’d totally forgotten about including.
I’m not sure exactly what you mean by ideas (plot? characters? worldbuilding?) but I would recommend at least starting a document or notebook and dividing it by subject: Character A, Character B, Worldbuilding, etc. It also helps to write out a full, long summary of the story or put the key plot elements into an outline. There’s a bit of playing around necessary here to figure out what works best for you!
I do every single one of these—this is great advice!
We need more Mary Sues. We need more unapologetically powerful female characters, on a wish-fulfilment level of awesome. We need them to be gods and superheroes and billionaire playboy philanthropists and science experiments gone wrong and normal kids bitten by spiders who now save the world. Why should female characters have to be realistic, while male characters have all the fun? Why shouldn’t a female hero appear alongside Iron Man and Thor, in a way where she can truly hold her own?
Anonymous asked: Hi there! I absolutely love your books & was wandering if you ever struggled with keeping with one idea? I love writing, but I seem to be unable to stick to writing one story if I get a new idea? I have two possible ideas for two completely different stories (one would probably end up being a long series of novels, the other a stand alone) and was wondering, as a newbie writer, which story would be best to start with? Thank you! :)
I think I’ve covered this before, but I can’t seem to find it under the writing tag (boo), which means I probably forgot to go back and add the tag in (side note: hugely annoying you can’t add the tags in while originally posting the answer, Tumblr).
Right now, I’m bouncing between three different ideas, waiting for a few valued opinions on what one makes the most sense to work on next. I base my decisions on what’s working in the market, what won’t be too much of a jump for me to work on after TDM, and what I feel the most excited about.
What you’re asking about is a little bit of a different beast—more like you get distracted by a new shiny idea that pops up while working on a current project? This happens to ALL writers. This happened to me at least five times while working on TDM series. Sometimes this means that
1) your original idea isn’t working or you’re bored with it (<— In which case, time to break up with it)
2) there’s something about your original idea that you love (like a character or scene) but the rest of it needs to bake for a little while longer (<- In this instance, take a temporary step back to thing things through OR try to lift the character or scene and insert it in the new project that you find more exciting)
3) you still love your original idea but-but-but the new shiny is just that shiny(!) and you can’t resist
The way I handle #3 is to open up a blank Word Doc and write down everything that comes to me about the story—quotes, characters, scenes, themes, etc. and then I save it into an ideas folder, and go back to the project I’m currently working on and finish it. The hardest thing about writing is generally finding the will to push through and see a project to the end—it takes discipline, and sometimes you have to remind yourself why you love the story and wanted to work on it in the first place.
You can start with a series or a standalone novel (I started with a standalone, but a ton of writers start with a series). The important thing that editors and agents look for is whether or not the first book in a series could, potentially standalone. If you go with the series idea, make sure that’s true of the ending of book one.
Anonymous asked: How do you find names for your characters? Like, what is your technique? My friend and I are trying to write a book and we can not find a single name that fits our characters.
Getting a shiny new idea:
Realizing just how difficult it will be to write aforementioned new idea:
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.
True story: this is something I still struggle with after years of doing battle with it in high school and college. It got so bad that, for a period of time, I wouldn’t even re-read my papers before turning them in because I was so afraid I’d see they weren’t perfect. Which, yes, is totally backwards.
gryffmick asked: Hi, Alex! My friend has met you from YALL fest (and to say I am super jealous since I am a really big fan of yours). I just had to say that. Now onto my question; I am currently trying to write a novel long story and fine myself not motivated. What are some tips to help someone get motivated to write (as in songs, quotes, type thing)?
Hmmm… well, this is sort of a difficult question to answer, if only because I generally don’t need a ton of outside motivation to write. It’s like a nagging feeling, you know? But I do use music to help me get my head into a certain mood and make playlists to help me sink back into the story (for instance, I was listening to book 3’s playlist and got really choked up when I hit a certain song—and listening to TDM’s and NF’s immediately takes me back to writing those stories).
A few things:
1. It’s always scary and hard to write at first—I don’t generally hit my stride (that is, feel comfortable and truly engaged) until about 75 pages into the story. By then, I’ve figured out the main character’s voice and personality and I can relax knowing that the hard part for me (beginnings) is over.
2. If you’re having trouble with the first 30 or so pages, it could mean that you’re not starting the story in the right place and you should revisit the beginning.
3. A lot of authors skip around when they write, but I don’t. I like the feeling that I’m building toward the emotional climax, and I figure too much stuff out along the way to just go back and add in little bridges between scenes. This way, I really look forward to getting to the juicy scenes—they feel like rewards for hitting certain milestones. The whole waving a carrot in front of myself thing.
4. I always remind myself, “You can’t fix a blank page” and “first drafts inevitably suck,” and that’s true for everyone.
5. I finally bought a print of it, but for a long time I kept a post-it with the phrase, “Don’t give up the ship” on it. History nerd time: this was the dying command of James Lawrence on the USS Chesapeake during the War of 1812, and was later used on a battle flag by his friend Commodore (Oliver Hazard) Perry (of "We have met the enemy and they are ours…" fame). The British ultimately captured the ship, but it was used as a rallying cry throughout the war. I find it very inspiring when I’m feeling down about my work and slogging through the middle of a story.
Anonymous asked: do you ever use the site nameberry? 'tis my favorite name site and thought why not share it!
Yes! Though my favorite name website is Behind the Name. That one has stolen hours of my life! They have most popular name lists by country and year, namesakes, potential nicknames, etc. It’s really interesting to read the comments on each name, too.