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Posts tagged ‘Lish McBride’

You Need To Love Your Characters, by Lish McBride

I’ve been having a problem recently with the book I’m working on. Let’s call it New Thing. In this New Thing, my main character has a boyfriend. We’ll call him C.J. My editor and agent have both lodged complaints about C.J. He’s flat an boring, and they can’t understand why my main character, Ava, would be with such a person. I agree with them but also point out that all of us at one time date someone like that. You know, that person you date that none of yours friends get why you are dating, and when you break up you also wonder what possessed you to spend time with someone like that? Yeah, it’s like that.

Usually, in those situations, you can argue back to your friends with something. Maybe you liked that he had impeccable table manners. Maybe she was a primo whistler or she tutored you in math. It could even be something embarrassing and shallow, like he was really good looking or she drove a nice car. Whatever. You had a reason for dating them, even if it was a terrible one.

There in lies my problem – my character doesn’t have much of a reason to date C.J. Sure, he’s attractive and he’s normal, which is something my character craves, but they think it’s not enough. Their argument is that she is too smart and even if he were crap, she’d have more justifications for dating him, even if they were flimsy. You know what? They’re right. As it stands, C.J. is pretty lame.

Usually I have no issue filling out my characters. I spend a lot of time on it and I love them and I want that to shine through. That’s the problem. I don’t love C.J. I don’t even like him very much. I kind of want to kick him in the shins, except I don’t care enough to be bothered. This is a problem. You have to love your characters. Even the awful ones: the bad guys, the thugs, the skeezy back-stabbers. There has to be something you enjoy about them, even if it’s how much you like seeing them get their comeuppance.

We all love a good bad guy. What’s Harry Potter without Voldemort? 101 Dalmatians without Cruella DeVille? Sure, Snow White is cool and all but, really, we’re more fascinated with the Evil Queen. We want to know what makes her tick. C.J. isn’t the bad guy. He’s just a normal guy… which is part of the problem. I find normal boring and confusing. I have almost no interest in it and can’t understand why anyone would find it desirable. Normal, to me, is the human equivalent of the color beige. It’s boring and bland, but, hey, it will go with anything.

C.J. will continue to be boring and flat until I find something in him to like. He’s necessary to the story and very necessary to my main character, so I need to make him work. He’s not my dream; he’s hers. Until I can find something worthwhile in him, I’m going to have to keep writing drafts. One crap, flat character can tank a whole book. The whole situation reminds me of a line from a song that I find rather depressing, personally, “If you can’t love the one you want, love the one you’re with.” It’s terrible life advice but good for fiction.

Homework: Look at characters you love (or love to hate). What do you like that they do? Why do you like them? Then take a character you’re having a hard time fleshing out and write out a list of things that you like about them or things that you like that they bring to the story. Sometimes writing a scene just about them helps, even if it won’t make it into the book. Those writing exercises usually show me something surprising in a character and I’ll find myself connecting or sympathizing with them on this new point. I discovered a lot of these moments with my character Douglas in Necromancing the Stone. He’s a big jerk but I truly do feel sorry for him.

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Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

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Hold Me Closer, NecromancerNecromancing the Stone     Raven SpeakRikers HighThe Empty KingdomShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)

Writing Teen Novels
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Worldbuilding When Writing A Novel, by Lish McBride

I can show you the world. For the people who have seen Aladdin, the song A Whole New World will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Ha!

Worldbuilding: it’s important. Though it is most evident in fantasy fiction, it’s just as important in contemporary realistic fiction. It’s just that in contemporary realistic fiction, you can lean on the general shared knowledge of readers. You don’t have to describe the bank that your character walks into with excruciating detail. It’s a bank. We’ve all been in banks. If your character walks into their favorite coffee shop, you better describe it. That coffee shop is part of your character’s world and you have to make it reflect what you want the reader to see. If your character is a straight-laced, prim, bookish type and her favorite hangout is a biker bar, it’s going to tell me a lot about their personality and the world they inhabit.

In fantasy fiction, people are really examining it because half the reason they’re tuning in is because they like the world the character inhabits, so you better spend time on it. Half the reason we all liked Harry Potter so much was because the world was clear. You knew what wizards and witches ate, drank, wore, where they shopped, their favorite sport and a lot of other cultural trappings. The readers loved Harry, sure, but they also liked imagining themselves in his surroundings (perhaps minus Voldemort).

Urban fantasy fiction is a hodgepodge of both and it has strange complications because you can’t quite make all of it up. Your character might have magical powers, but if he or she walks into a bank that bank better act like a bank. Which means you have to put in the imagination work, but you also have to do the leg work of researching your stuff.

For example, many years ago I was helping a student with her fantasy novel. At some point, her character had to go to the hospital. From the second her character entered the hospital until the time she left nothing happened like it actually would in a hospital. My dad is a doctor and my mom is a nurse. I grew up in hospitals and clinics, so every time she made a goof, it screamed at me. Readers have to be able to suspend belief when they’re reading, and if you’re writing urban fantasy and getting things wrong that they can identify (and really, most people have at some point entered a hospital) well then they’re not going to buy into your magic-y bits.

When I asked the student what was going on, she said she didn’t know how hospitals worked, so she just made it up. After I was done banging my head on my desk, I told her that’s exactly why you do research. I’m lucky. If I ever have a medical question, I can call my mom. Not everyone is going to have that kind of go-to resource. However, there’s this thing called “the internet” and these other things called “libraries”. Both are quite useful to writers. Don’t know how a hospital works? Go find a professional and ask them – nicely. Can’t find a professional locally? Reach out through friends, social media, etc. and find a professional. Ask them questions. Have them read your stuff and point out the things you’re getting wrong.

If that doesn’t work, go to the library. If you’re not good at tracking things down, ASK A LIBRARIAN. They are professionals at finding relevant books and data. They went to school for it. I know research can be time consuming, but it’s worth it. You can’t get everything right all the time, but you should try. However, don’t let it get in the way of you getting words down on the page. Some people hide behind research as a way to get out of doing any actual writing. If you need to get some pages down but haven’t caught up on your research yet, write a note to yourself in the text. Something like, “Insert hospital scene here” and then go back when you’ve done your homework.

Homework: Read an article, book or interview, or watch a documentary or podcast, or something like that in an area that you are curious about and that pertains to something you’re writing or want to write. Take notes. What can you use to deepen your story and world? What’s cool but won’t fit?

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Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

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Hold Me Closer, NecromancerNecromancing the Stone     No AlarmsSparkThe Traitor's Kiss

Writing Teen Novels
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Writing Believable Teen Characters, by Lish McBride

There are a series of questions that I get at events that always make me do that confused-puppy-head-tilt thing, and though they seem different at first, they are at their core the same question. They go something like this:

“How do you write a male teen character? You’re not a teenage boy!”

“How do you write from the point of view of a teenager when you are obviously full of old?”

“How do I create my own believable teen character when I spend all day eating pudding in a nursing home? Kids are so different these days with their iPads and their Beach Boy records…”

You get the idea. So put down your liniment, turn up your hearing aid and turn off your Victrola.

Here’s the thing – it’s not like we’re talking about strange creatures from the moon. Human experience is human experience. Teens – and I know this might come as a surprise – are people. I know. It’s crazy. They are people and they have emotions just like other people. Sure, things can feel more immediate and intense at that age, but they are, at their base, they same emotions that you have. Even someone like me who has the emotional spectrum of a dilapidated robot can manage it, so I’m sure you can too.

For teen authors: just because you are a teen, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get it right either. Sometimes it’s the hardest to write what’s closest to us. Or, if you are like me when I was a teen, you might not really understand what on Earth your peer group is up to. I certainly didn’t get it until I was older. You might be a little swifter on the uptake though.

Back to the earlier questions – no, the last time I checked, I was not a teenage boy. But I’m not a werewolf or a necromancer either and no one asks me how I can write about that without personal experience. Because I write fiction and I’m making it all up. I am imagining what it would be like to be a teen guy in those situations. If I am worried that my responses aren’t “male” enough” I ask a guy friend their opinion. But really, it is generally not necessary, because when I’m writing I don’t think, “What would a guy do?” I think, “What would Sam (my male main character) do? Because it’s not about Sam being a guy necessarily, it’s about him being Sam. He’s not going to bust through the door dressed in leather ready to fight a room full of bikers. He’s not going to do tequila shots and watch the football game on the big screen. He’s not going to become a lumberjack and grow a big, bushy beard. He’s not that kind of guy. Sam is more of the, “Let’s play D&D and go to the record shop,” kind of guy.

Teens are like any other character. Your teen character is going to talk differently, think differently and react differently than other teen characters. Because people are different. Gender isn’t black and white – it’s a spectrum of greys with black and white bookends. Maturity doesn’t necessarily come with age. I know some teens that are more mature and practical than grown up people that I meet. So attempting to write a believable teen is just as hard for a teen author as it is an adult author, because, honestly, you’re still trying to create a unique and complete human being out of nothing.

Though I have tried to block them out, I still remember my teen years. I can draw from that experience. They were, in fact, terrible. I find it very funny that I hated high school so much, and now I spend my time imagining people that are in high school. I would say it’s like a nightmare, but really, I love writing for teens.

Flesh out your teen character like you would any other character. What do they want? What are their dreams? What are they going to learn? What do they like to do with their free time?  Don’t ask yourself, “Would a teen do that?” Ask, “Would MY teen do that?” Treat them like they are real people and that will go a long way. (You should also do this with real live teens.)

Homework: Think about your favorite teens in fiction or in real life. What is surprising about them? What is important to them? What do they do/think/say that make them individuals? Then apply these thoughts to your teen character.

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Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Hold Me Closer, NecromancerNecromancing the Stone     Raven SpeakRikers HighDark Hunter (Villain.Net)VibesThe Dog in the Wood

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Overcoming Writer’s Block, by Lish McBride

I feel like a jerk saying I don’t believe in writer’s block. It might be a serious issue that you have to deal with. In saying that I don’t believe in it I might be making light of your experience. That being said, in my own realm of personal experience it’s not something that I believe in.

For me, there’s never been a time when I couldn’t write at all. There was a short time after the hurricane when I couldn’t write anything that was good, and there have been times when I have been stuck on certain projects, but neither kept me from actually writing.

When I have a problem writing, it’s usually due to an external cause. After the hurricane I was distracted. I was anxious, nervous, and staying in a small town in Mississippi where I didn’t know anyone and I was spending a lot of time alone with my toddler. There were a lot of things up in the air, and my attention was highly fragmented. So sitting down to write things that didn’t suck was extremely difficult. I did write things as I was still in school in a temporarily online fashion and I had stories due. They just weren’t my best work. These kinds of things happen. Life happens. At that time I wasn’t going to produce anything decent until I dealt with the cause of my anxiety, and that was going to take time.

When I get stuck in a story, it’s usually because I haven’t figured out what’s happening next. I got really frustrated writing Necromancing the Stone because it was coming along so slowly. At times I was lucky to get a few pages. I was under a lot of pressure and that was being compounded by my frustration at my slow pace.

A very wise friend told me to go and write something else for a few days. I argued saying that I had a deadline and I had to be responsible. She argued that obviously slogging away wasn’t working and I needed a break. She was right. I spent a few days working on something else and it worked. What I had needed was to feel a few days of actual movement – something where the pages were flying. It was a great pressure release and easy for me to understand in hindsight. I work best when I’m hopping about like that. If I had thought about it, I would have realized that was what I was doing during the first book. I had still been in school, so besides working on my novel I had to produce short stories, script pages, and work on the school journal, so I realized that I function much better in that kind of environment.

When you feel like you’re stuck, I wouldn’t focus on the stuck part. There’s nothing wrong with your ability to write. That doesn’t just go away. Have faith in that part of yourself. Instead, think about what might be causing your “blockage.” Are you stressed out? Do you need a few days of rest? When’s the last time you read something? You have to remember to feed your brain.

Try writing something else. Alternatively, try writing a different way. If you’re a laptop writer, swap to pencil or pen. Switch locations. Try some free writing or some exercises. Write a scene with your character in it that has nothing to do with the book. Background material is very helpful even if it doesn’t make it into the novel. Storyboard or outline – this generally doesn’t work for me, but it has for friends. Move your outline around. Change tenses or POVs. Play with your characters and your story. Talk it out with a friend. Every time I get stuck, I bounce things off some of my pals. Usually by the time I finish explaining what my problem is, I’ve figured it out.

Go do something else. Sometimes you have to go clear your head. Go on a walk and think about your problem. Or go on a walk and don’t think about it at all. Sometimes I will clean things because it is nice to do something and see an immediate result.

Write something crappy just to get yourself started. I feel like a lot of writer’s block is actually fear of the page. Blank pages are scary. So make them not blank. Get some words on that page! It doesn’t matter if they’re crap. That’s what editing is for. What’s important is just getting the story going. Sometimes imagining the whole project can be overwhelming. I often don’t think of the whole story when I’m writing. I write by scene. It’s more of a, “Okay, my character is here, and now I need him to get here” sort of thing than a, “I need to write 300 pages now!” sort of thing. Break it up into manageable pieces.

Homework: Think about something you’re stuck on. Try one of the above suggestions or read other author blogs to see what they suggest and try that. Trust me, most of us have broached this topic at least once in our blogs.

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Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Hold Me Closer, NecromancerNecromancing the Stone     The Empty KingdomShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)GenesisZen and Xander Undone The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Pacing A Novel, by Lish McBride

Pacing is often the bane of my existence. My beginnings are never fast enough, my middles are squishy and my ends need to be slowed down. I’m three novels in and this has become a comforting pattern. The great thing about pacing is that it can be fixed. The bad thing about pacing is you have to fix it, which means editing, which always makes me incredibly whiny.

So now that I’ve proved to you that I have issues with pacing, thus invalidating anything I say after this, I’m now going to give you a quick and dirty run down on how your novel should be paced. Just because I can’t seem to follow the rules it doesn’t mean I don’t know what they are.

Beginnings are important, so your first page has to be shiny and wonderful. When I pick up a book in a bookstore, that first page makes it or breaks it for me. You could have the best synopsis in the world, but if that first page is boring or sloppy I lose all hope for the rest of the book. Great books have snappy openings – I know how both Moby Dick by Herman Melville and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens begin and I haven’t even read those books. Yet. I used to have the opening to The Thief of Always by Clive barker memorized. Openings are important.

So how does one make their opening a winner? Well, I can give you a few pointers. First, you should immediately ground the reader. They need to know exactly what kind of world they are stepping into. What tone do you want to strike? Which senses do you wish to invoke? Which character do you want to start with?

The best way to get things going is to start in medias res, which is a fancy Latin way of saying “into the midst of things.” Basically, you want to jump right into the narrative or plot. Don’t bog the story down with twenty pages of immediate back-story. Don’t dilly-dally, friends. Jump right into that sucker. Look at the opening you’re working on. Do you start in the right place? Does the reader leap right into your story? If not, cut some things.

You should never be afraid to cut away the fat (just save and back up EVERYTHING). Things can always be added back in later if you change your mind, or that necessary snippet can be moved elsewhere. You have a whole novel. Stretch out a little bit and enjoy the space. My middles always need to be trimmed down. They wander and slow down, and it’s just no fun. I have to edit them to death. Part of that is because I always have a firm sense of where the story starts and ends but my middles are always a little hazy. That’s okay. I don’t mind cutting. The trick is to figure out what to cut. This is where beta readers or editors come in. They are great at pointing out which spots were slow and clunky. If you don’t have access to such people, read through it yourself and think, “Is this part really necessary here?” or “This page goes on too long – what can I cut? What can I condense?” Sometimes mapping/outlining the chapters help. As always, read it out loud to yourself. That’s the best way to catch mistakes.

Stories generally follow an arc. You know, the whole ‘beginning, middle, boiling point, resolution’ thing? Yes, that. Well, characters should have their own arcs, and if you’re doing a series, it usually has it’s own arc too. Keep that in mind.

Your endings need to live up to the promise you made at the beginning of the book. This means it needs to be just as strong. Your characters should be at the end of their arc and should be changed (if they aren’t, you need to make sure the reader is clear on why they haven’t changed). Conflict should be resolved – or if you’re leading up to another book, resolved enough to satisfy. It needs to be memorable. Like the beginning, you have to re-establish tone, senses and imagery. You need some sort of emotional bang. You might not get it on the first try but, again, that’s what editing is for.

Homework: What part of novel writing is tricky for you? Beginnings? Middles? Ends? Think back on your favorite novels and think about what worked in their beginnings, middles or ends. How can you apply those things to your own work?

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Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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Hold Me Closer, NecromancerNecromancing the Stone     TracksAcross the UniverseThe Raven QueenThe Final Four

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

The Good Thing About Bad Writing, by Lish McBride

As much as we hate to admit it, not every word we write is gold. Some of them wouldn’t even qualify as a precious metal. We all have off days and no matter where you are on the publishing spectrum, you’re still learning. One day you’ll write twenty pages of what you’re sure is the Best Thing Anyone Has Written, Ever, only to read it the next day and realize it’s total drivel.

Sometimes the “total drivel” response is just that little critic voice in your head. Ignore that voice. There are plenty of people on the planet ready to line up and tear apart what you’re doing. I see no reason why you should actively help them. Other times, though, it’s not the voice. Some pages just don’t live up to their potential and they have to be cut.

Don’t cry over this. Editing, cutting, slashing and burning are natural parts of the process. As a writer you are like a sculptor, cutting away at the blank marble until something wonderful emerges. But I want you to listen, my writer friends. The next thing I’m going to say is very important. Don’t throw everything away. Even bad writing has its purpose.

This is especially true for you young writers out there. You might never do anything with that heart-felt poem about your feelings. You might never do anything with that ‘zine you made with your friends, or the Harry Potter fan-fiction you just wrote. That’s okay. Keep them anyway, because you’re going to grow up and get old and maybe grow a moustache and learn how to play bridge. It’s a natural part of the cycle.

You’re going to forget some things about being young. Not everything. The big things stand out. Some of you, like me, will actively try to forget some of them. This is why keeping your writing is so important – it’s a snapshot of the teenage you. (I can’t take credit for this idea. I read it in Gail Cason Levine’s writing book and honestly it’s some of the best advice ever.)

There are other good reasons to keep snippets around. Sometimes you can salvage things. It’s like a mechanic having a yard of junker cars. Sure, the engine is shot, and it won’t move, but the carburetor is almost brand new. So you pull that sucker out and put it in something else. You can salvage your stories, too. Maybe you have a good line in there or a great character. Yank them and put them in something better. I have a history of stealing characters out of short stories and putting them into other works. My character Ashley is an example of this at work.

There are times, too, when you look back on a dud story and realize that you suddenly know how to make it work. One good overhaul and that sucker will shine like gold. I have a few duds in my pile that I have hopes for.

Lastly, they’re good benchmarks for you. I don’t like competing with other authors. I think it can create a toxic environment and honestly, it’s just not a good thing to do to yourself. I could go crazy trying to battle some of my writer heroes with words. Especially since some of them have had whole lifetimes to become awesome and I’m just getting going. I do, however, compete against myself. I don’t need to write a short story better than Mark Twain. I just need to write a short story better than the last one I wrote. There are days when I look at old stories that I’ve written and I think, “Okay, so I’m not great, but I’m better than that. My writing is so much clearer than it used to be. If I work hard, it will be even better tomorrow.”

It’s fun to watch yourself grow as a writer.

Homework: Dig something out of your pile. What element sticks out as a keeper? What can you do with it? If you don’t have a pile, start one.

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Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Hold Me Closer, NecromancerNecromancing the Stone     GlowCleopatra ConfessesHurricane SongDeadly Little SecretThe Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Writing The Kind Of Novel You Want To Write, by Lish McBride

About a year ago, I was teaching a workshop and one writer complained that she didn’t like her novel because it was dystopian and she didn’t really want to write that. She wasn’t writing it to chase a trend, it’s just that every time she sat down to write that’s what kept coming out. I understand the frustration.

I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret (and by secret, I mean not a secret at all). I didn’t set out to write YA urban fantasy (Horror? Comedy? I still don’t know how to classify my books.) When I was a wee little Lish, I wanted to write epic fantasy. You know, those really long series with cool maps and things – and swords, lots and lots of swords. I loved – and still love – epic fantasy. Every time I sit down to write, though, that’s not what comes out.

This can be kind of frustrating, but don’t fight it. Go with the flow. There’s a reason your brain needs to tell that story. Nothing may come of it. It might be a pet project forever, but sometimes you need to get things out of your system before you go onto other things.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the genre in which I’m writing just as much as epic fantasy and, just because that’s where I’m at now, that doesn’t mean I might not venture into a different genre sometime soon. Personally, I don’t think I’m ready to write epic fantasy yet. I don’t think I’m good enough. That statement is not a judgment on either fantasy or urban fantasy – I think as highly of one as I do of the other, it’s simply referring to the idea that I’m not sure how to tackle it yet.

Part of it, I think, is a planning issue. When you write urban fantasy, you can rely on things from the real world. Things like grocery stores, currency and the education system – those things already exist and that you can use. When you write epic fantasy, though, you have to decide/make up all those things. It becomes an integral part of the world building, and I don’t think I’m ready to cut my teeth on that just yet.

So when you’re sitting there stewing in your frustration, maybe you could think about why the genre, story, or character your brain chose to explore isn’t the same as the one your writing heart has picked to explore. Is there a reason why it’s picking this one first? Is that character the loudest in your head? Is the story the clearest? Maybe it’s the tone that’s beckoning to you? It could be that there’s something in the story that you need to process. Or, if you’re like me, it’s because you’re on deadline for something else and the siren call of the forbidden is just too strong. Whatever the reason, I suggest that you go with it. I see no reason why you should fight with yourself.

Homework: This is actually more of a trick than homework, and this is especially for those of you who are on deadlines, or who have limited writing time. I suggest you keep another project on the side. Work on what you NEED to work on (whether it’s your brain or a deadline pushing you) but take breaks to get a little work done on what you WANT to be working on. Personally I’m more productive if I have more than one fish in the fryer, so to speak.

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Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Hold Me Closer, NecromancerNecromancing the Stone     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)The Empty KingdomDark Hunter (Villain.Net)I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Making Time To Write Your Novel, by Lish McBride

I dislike the phrase “finding time to write”. It implies that this precious time can be just stumbled upon, like maybe one day you might move the couch and find a whole pile of it and think, “There you are, you clever rascals!” Now, I don’t know how busy you are, but I feel like playing hide-and-seek with writing time might not be the best way to go about things.

Most people I know are really busy. If you’re a teenaged writer, you probably have school, homework, sports, drama, choir, chores, a job, friends and so on to juggle. If you’re an adult writer, your list is just as long, though obviously with a few changes. Waiting to stumble upon time just isn’t going to happen and quite frankly I think it sets up a bad habit. If you wait for time to arrive and the muse to strike, you’re never going to finish your novel.

I know what you’re thinking. “But if I just get published, everything will get so much easier. I’ll have so much writing time that people will have to move it just to sit on my couch! I’m going to write a million novels!” (Apparently, I’m obsessed with couches today.) I get this thought process; I really do. I had the same ideas. I’d like to say I’ve never been more wrong but, really, I’m wrong about a lot of things.

When I was trying to write my first novel in graduate school, I kept thinking about how hard it was to juggle school, writing, work and family, and how much easier things would be if someone bought my novel. I had this amazing fantasy of what my writing day would be like. I’d wake up after a great night’s sleep. I’d have breakfast and drink my coffee and ease into the day. Then I’d head to my office where it was quiet and maybe there was a window for me to look out of while having my deep thoughts. (My deep thoughts mostly consist of things like, “What would a pygmy chupacabra look like? How much swearing is too much? Can I work an obscure 80’s reference into the plot?) I would drink tea and write in an oasis of books, notes and tiny post-its.

Man, wouldn’t that be nice? The thing is, I just seem to be getting busier. I have a full time job, as many writers do. Unless you’re independently wealthy or marry someone who is, you will probably have to have one as well. If you’re lucky, it’s not forever. Most of us aren’t lucky. I volunteer once a week at 826 Seattle. I have an eight-year-old, which means school lunches need to be packed, soccer games attended and a lot of driving time in between. That’s already a lot. Then I have writing time and editing time. Plus I do a lot of extra things like blog posts, interviews and manage my social media like Facebook and Twitter. I consider these sorts of things part of the job. I like reaching out through the internet and talking to readers, bloggers and librarians but it does take time. I answer emails – which takes longer than you might think – and talk on the phone a lot. Then there are bookstore, library and school events. Some of these things may not seem like much. It only takes 5-15 minutes to reply to an email, but what if I have thirty emails that I absolutely have to reply to today. It adds up and you end up nickel and diming yourself to death, so to speak.

I’m not even going to get in to my to-read pile.

I don’t have days off; not really. Now, I’m not trying to whine. I choose to volunteer and I can say no to some of these things, and I do. I can’t do everything. So I have to be very careful with my time and choices. I don’t have an office (I live in an apartment) and I certainly don’t get to ease into my day. I do, however, get coffee. So while the quiet office oasis is an ideal, a far-off wispy dream that I am working toward, it is not yet a reality.

What I’m saying, my writing friends, is that you have to take a hard look at your life and prioritize. What must stay? Work pays your bills and feeds your stomach but you have to feed your mind and soul too.  It’s hard to create and write when the tank is dry. You’re not going to stumble across a pile of free time. You have to make it happen.

When I was struggling over my novel/thesis, I was trying to figure out how other writers did it. I remember checking out Kelley Armstrong’s website because she is very prolific and I knew she had kids. She basically stated that you have to schedule time to write. Treat it like an appointment, something that has to happen, like going to the dentist. Give it importance. I still think that it was a wise thing to say.

Don’t fight yourself. Know what will help or hinder you. I often get distracted at home, so I go out. I have regular writing dates with friends. We hold each other accountable. If you can’t afford to do the coffee shop thing, find a free space like a library or a friend’s kitchen table. Sometimes my friend Brenda will organize a writing day where we’ll all bring food and hang out all day and work. It’s great.

I have wonderful family and friends who support and understand what I need to do. Whether that means my partner might take on extra house/kid duties or a friend might babysit so I can get an hour or two of editing done, every little bit helps. It’s hard to make time happen. I know it is. Even if you can only get thirty minutes a week, that time does add up. When you get it, attack it. Fill those few, precious minutes with as many words as you possibly can. In the end, it all comes down to you.

Homework: Think about the times you were successful in getting some writing done. What made those times a success? How can you replicate it? What gets in the way of your success? How can you weed out these things?

***

Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

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Hold Me Closer, NecromancerNecromancing the Stone     A Million Suns (Across the Universe)The Night She DisappearedAngel DustGlowThe Repossession

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Editing A Novel: The Necessary Evil, by Lish McBride

If you have ever read any interview I’ve done or any blog post I’ve written before, then I’m positive that you’ve heard me whine about editing.

I hate it.

I hate it so much that I want to stab things.

With spoons.

Then I want to rub salt into the wounds and deny them antibiotics when the wounds become infected.

Last time I complained on Twitter about editing my friend, and author, John Connolly (we’re friends, John, whether you like it or not) said, “What I admire most is your stoicism.” (Or something like that.) John’s little way of telling me to stop whining, because really I was being a big baby. Editing is part of my job and I need to suck it up.

But that’s what editing does – it reduces me to a tantrum-throwing child. Why does it do this, you ask? Is it because I disagree with my editor or think my novel is perfect? Absolutely not. I have been blessed with amazing editors. Not only have they been kind and gentle folk but they have also been really good at their job.

My current editor, Noa Wheeler, has always been great about reminding me that I can always argue with her, but the thing is I generally never want to. Sometimes I’ll come up with a different solution to a narrative problem that’s been voiced, but that’s about it. Every draft that my editor touches gets better. She’s good at her job and she’s amazing at seeing what I want to do. If she doesn’t immediately get what I’m going for, she asks me questions until she does. So no, I have no beef with my editor. I’m also lucky enough to have a hands on agent who does revisions with me as well.  (And I’m sure the idea of my producing a perfect and clean manuscript has him howling. He likes to point out all my typos and errors.)

And I most certainly pretty much never think my books are perfect. I work on them until none of us can look at them anymore and then we send them out into the world. Most writers would continue to fiddle with their books until the end of time if given the option, and publishers just can’t wait that long.

Editing is totally necessary. My books would be bad without it. So why do I hate it so much, then? I think it’s mostly because editing frustrates me. I don’t get the same sort of emotional exercise or whatever I get when I’m writing. For whatever reason, writing acts as a mood stabilizer for me. If I don’t write for a few weeks my family is basically shoving me back to my laptop. I become a huge, high-strung jerk. Believe me, it’s not pretty.

When I edit, that stabilizing effect doesn’t happen and it adds to my frustration of working on the same page over and over again and knowing that I’m not getting it quite right. I write another project while I’m editing, if I can, but that isn’t always an option.

There are some writers who love editing. They reserve the joy I have for first drafts for the editing process. They all seem like nice, well-adjusted people, so I feel like I shouldn’t tell them that they’re wrong, even if I think deep down that they are. When I tell them that editing, to me, feels like running in wet sand – a whole lot of energy expended and very little movement – they look at me funny. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

No matter what kind of writer you are, though, editing is always necessary. No one writes a perfect first draft. No one. So buck up, little camper, because you’re in for the long haul. I’ll give you a little example of how things work for me when writing and editing a novel:

  • Write draft.
  • Send to agent. He sends me edits. I rewrite draft. (Repeat process 3-5 times)
  • Cry. (Not really. Usually I just growl and complain, but most people cry, I think.)
  • Both of you throw up your hands and send it to your editor.
  • Editor calls you and you discuss the changes necessary and come up with a plan of action. (This stage is also generally repeated several times.)
  • Finally, you can move on to the next stage—hard copy of your book with notes from editor and copy editor. This stage is also repeated.
  • Manuscript is accepted for copyediting! Do a dance of happiness! Try not to think about the fact that you’ll have a few rounds of copyediting to do. Just dance instead.
  • Book has been formatted and looks great. Now copyedit it.  Again. And possibly, again.
  • Suppress urge to burn your novel.
  • The book is done! And if you’re like me, you’ll probably never want to read it again. You’ll just want to look at the shiny cover.

The stage where I edit with my agent might just be your own editing or editing with a group of beta readers. Also, my last book got kicked out of copyediting by marketing, which I didn’t know could happen, and so I had to repeat a few steps. All in all, I usually do 8-10 drafts of a novel. I’m a sloppy writer, though. You might take less. You might need more. It takes as many as it takes. I suggest getting one of those little stress balls. And maybe you should start jogging or something. You’re going to need it.

Homework: Look up your favorite authors and see what they have to say about editing. (Holly Black has a great blog post where she shows you a page diary of a book that she’s working on and it shows you how many times she deleted her work. It’s strangely comforting.) Many of them will talk about the drafting process and how hard it can be – and how necessary. Hearing other people’s stories can give you hope when facing your own editing woes. You’re not alone, friend. They might offer great tips as well. They might also tell you when you need to say no to an editor. I have a sweet deal with mine – we’re in sync, but that isn’t always the case. A poorly matched editor can do more damage than good on a manuscript, so keep that in mind. That being said, just because you don’t agree with an editing note it doesn’t mean it isn’t right. My agent likes to point this out to me all the time when I finally realize that he’s right about something. He’s nice about it, though.

***

Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

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Hold Me Closer, NecromancerNecromancing the Stone     Dark Hunter (Villain.Net)Across the UniverseBoys without NamesTracksShock Point

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The Novel Writing Process, by Lish McBride

People like to ask the question, “How do you write?” Because, well, the writing process is a big, fat, mysterious beast that likes to hide out in the shadows. It’s not something you can learn through observation. You can’t wrap yourself in camo, drench yourself in hormone-emitting doe urine, and sit in a hunting blind waiting to make your move. If you were staring at me right now, you would just see me making faces at my laptop while occasionally hitting a few keys. Then I would make another face. Then I’d hit the delete button.

If publishing a novel is a lot like having a baby – and in many ways I find that to be an apt analogy – then the rough draft process is a lot like dating, complete with awkwardness and the soul-crushing worry that you will do everything wrong and die alone.

Of course, you’ll decide to take the plunge anyway. How can you not? You’ll put on you’re best clothes, think of funny things to say, and get all excited – what will this book be like? Is it “the one?” Should you play a little hard to get? Then you ask your friends, the ones that really get around, for first date advice. Next thing you know, you’re out there and you’re taking the plunge. It’s everything you hoped. The conversation is sparkling and witty and the atmosphere is something out of a dream.

But then the next morning arrives and you wake up with doubts. You second-guess everything that you said. You over analyze everything said to you. Then you think that maybe the restaurant had rats and the food made you sick. So you decide to delete his number and go out with someone else.

This process of backwards and forwards continues for a while. And, just like dating, it sucks. Eventually, you will meet the book that you can really spend time with. It’s bumpy for sure, and you go back to those friends for more advice. Some might not approve of this new novel you’re seeing. They prefer their novels with different POVs or with a little more genre to them. And that’s okay. You know that this novel is the one for you and you’re going to spend the rest of your life with it.

The next thing you know, you’re in the delivery room holding a manuscript in your hands and wondering how you got there.

It’s a messy, weird, amazing process. Naturally, there are things you didn’t expect. There are a few tidbits your friends tried to explain to you that you really didn’t “get” until now, but that’s okay. You lose some sleep, you cry a little, and then you think maybe, just maybe, things will be okay.

And that’s when you start the whole process over again. Every time, it terrifies you. You worry that this time you’ll screw up. Or worse, the magic will fail you all together and you won’t be able to do it again. You worry that you are, in fact, a one-trick pony.

This is normal. This is also why some writers drink. (Which might not be your best option.)

And the worse part is that you’ll ask other writers for advice on how the whole thing is done and they all give you different answers. Or they just shrug because it’s kind of hard to explain.

Here’s the thing, friends – we’re not trying to be jerks by giving different answers. It’s just that different things work for different writers. Some write character arcs and story arcs for everything. They outline. They make character sketches and really get all the details down.

Others, like me, wing it. Though I have the ability to outline, it doesn’t work for me. For me, the process is one of discovery. It’s like being an archeologist. Sure, you have a few pieces of pottery and some scrolls. You know some of the story. But you’re not going to know all of it until you bust into that tomb and really look around. Then you steal some mummies. (That last part doesn’t really work for the analogy.)

I tried to outline once during the first draft of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. I spent a big chunk of time carefully mapping out several chapters…and then I completely ignored it. So here is what I do: I work scene by scene. I write toward that next step and try not to worry about the big picture. I listen to my characters. Often I’m writing and realize that my idea of where the plot is going is wrong. The characters tell me what they would do in the situation and it’s not what I had planned, but I listen to them and have faith that they know what they’re doing. I try to turn off my internal editor. Some pages will suck. Things won’t make sense, and there will be plot holes. Those things can be fixed in editing. Try not to worry about them. I have never once met an author who wrote a perfect novel in one draft.

If a certain process isn’t working for you, discard it and try something new. The same thing that works for one book might not work for the next. Be flexible. Listen to what other authors do. Try it their way. It might work. It might not. Basically, it’s trial and error until you find a groove that works for you.

Breathe. Have faith. (And never ask me for dating advice. I was terrible at it.)

Homework: Go to an author event, if possible. If not, read some of your favorite author blogs. I promise that some of them will write about their process. Write down some things that seem like they make sense to you and give them a go next time you’re stuck.

***

Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Hold Me Closer, NecromancerNecromancing the Stone     Saraswati's WayWinter TownAngel DustBlack and WhiteThe Raven Queen

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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