Literally, from the other side of the ocean. 🤣 I asked you on Twitter if you wanted a 2017 post about #amwriting tips or #amreading beauties, and your answer was a big BOTH, so here we go.
2017 has been a long year full of ups and downs, full of successes and learning. Note the word choice: Learning. Not failures. That’s a bad word, like those “filler words” I’ll talk about later. 😉 Many of you have had the goal to get an agent this year. Including yours only. Many of you will not set this goal as Accomplished. Including myself–again. But you know what? Most of you wrote a book!!!!! All of you persevered and found a way to move on and keep writing!!!!!!! And that’s what matters. To keep going, even if you’ve gotten your fair share of rejections. What I tell myself is to make the rejections work for me. All the “I didn’t connect with the voice” or “Your story just didn’t connect with me as much as I had hoped.” Have them mean something (other than the fact that said agent wasn’t your ONE.). Sure, it’s highly subjective but still… While you were writing or editing or revising your book, you learned something. It can be how you format a manuscript, or how you copy-paste your query letter in the body of an email without having it look like a jungle, or that adverbs are evil and “filler words” are a no-no.
YOU LEARNED SOMETHING.
BE PROUD OF THAT!!
The road of a writer is a long, bumpy ride, and we all need to learn to embrace our victories, no matter how small they may look.
As for #amwriting tips, I will share with you what I’ve learned. I’m no expert in writing, and I don’t want to preach. All I want is to share what I’ve learned, hoping it can help someone else. 😊
- Firstly and most importantly, don’t view tips as The Law. Yes, do consider them and listen to them but also learn from them. You don’t need to hunt them down like they are the key to your salvation like I did. Some tips can be contradictory, what are you going to do then?
- You think critically, is the answer. What is the best for you and your book? With what do you agree or disagree? You don’t need to listen to every tip there is. What you should do is study the craft of writing and querying, and learn from your mistakes. Grow, in other words. Take everything into careful and critical consideration. That’s my tip.
- “Filler words” are words that distance the reader from the MC(s) like “I heard/saw/realized” etc. They’re also words you don’t need in order to convey what you want to say like just, really, but, and, only, so, etc. They’re basically those short words you add because you feel like you need them but if you delete them and reread the sentence without them, you’ll shrug and say, “Okay, that’s fine, too.” Using them a lot is a sign of not having perfected your craft yet. At the same time, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them at all and erase them from existence. I’d say, Use them but very, very sporadically.
- Adverbs. Another no-no. Adverbs are the words that describe how something is happening. Instead of throwing an adverb and “tell it”, “show” how your character did whatever it is they did. Yes, it will blow up your word count, but it will also take you and your story to another level.
- “Show, don’t tell.” I’ve struggled a lot with this, mainly because I wasn’t aware I was doing it. It took me a few editing rounds to fully understand what this tip meant. Many will say this tip is absolute, that there’s no exemption. But there is. Sometimes, you need to “tell” something. “Showing” isn’t always the best way. Especially in fantasy where sometimes you just need to “tell” the world-building, for example. On the other hand, you should “show” how a character has changed due to an event in their life, and not “tell” their backstory. It’s a tough balance to achieve and an ongoing battle for many writers. Don’t despair. Take it scene by scene. Do you tell the reader that the character is sad, or do you show it by their movements/reactions/behavior?
- Dialog tags. My own personal hell. I’m the writer who writes a lot of dialogs because I’m the reader who seeks out the dialog in a book. I love the interaction between characters; that’s my favorite part. That leads to dialogs without tags; of course, I know who speaks every time but no one else does. Or, it leads to dialogs without movement; that’s the core of my hell. The interaction takes too much space in my head, and I forget everything else. So, the point is you need the “she/he/I said” but you also need action tags like “smirked, shrugged, stood, moved away” etc. But this is another tough balance. You can’t have “she/he said” all the time, just as you can’t have movement everywhere. You should spread them across your dialogs. First goal is to clarify who speaks when. Second goal is to make it as natural as possible with tags like “said” or action <- here comes the “show, don’t tell” part, too. People don’t smirk or laugh as much as our characters do. 🤣
- Fantasy and world-building. This is one of the hardest things to learn, and I’m still learning. How do you introduce world-building in your book without being over the top and at the same time explaining too little? What I’ve learned is that you should give enough for the reader to understand AND to be intrigued and want more. Now, what that enough is depends on the book, genre, and writer. Someone’s too much is not my too much, and vice versa. That’s why you need CPs and beta readers. To get an idea of what works and what doesn’t work. Also, speaking from personal experience, you don’t need to explain every single thing–given that it’s easy to understand from the context. Explain what is different, not everything.
- SETTING. Writers need to ground the reader to: WHEN and WHERE.
- Commas. One of the best things I’ve ever done is to study Chicago’s Manual of Style and learn how to use commas. It’s a skill you need. Trust me.
- VOICE. I know, I know. If you hear another “I didn’t connect to the voice” you’ll explode. It’s vague and subjective. But what you can do is have your MC’s voice speak from the page in a solid, consistent way. Get in tune with your MC in a deep, molecular level. Is this something they’d say? How would they say it? How would they act? Portray your MC like they and you are the same person. Example: I’m querying a contemporary fantasy novel that is Emily’s story, and I’m revising another fantasy that is Agnes’s story. I’m incredibly in tune with Emily; I can feel her under my skin. If you ask me at any given moment during the day what she’d say if x happened, I’ll give you a detailed answer. BECAUSE I KNOW HER. But with Agnes, I’m still exploring her. I’m still not sure if she’d react the way I’ve written she does. As long as you’re not sure, the MC’s voice still needs developing. It’s not a bad thing; developing a solid voice takes time. Keep reading and editing, and the voice will come to you.
- Kill your darlings aka Cut the scenes that don’t forward the plot or character development. This is one of the two most important things I’ve learned this year. You know, the scene where nothing happens but it’s so cute and funny? Yeah, kiss it goodbye.
- The second most important thing I’ve learned this year is how to handle feedback. Not all feedback is good or appropriate for your story. You don’t need to apply every single comment you receive. But you do need to know what works and what doesn’t, like I said earlier. I was so afraid to say, “This is book is ready to be queried,” because then I’D BE ENTERING THE QUERYING PHASE!! That is terrifying! So what did I do? I sent the first pages and the query letter to as many people as I could. What did I get, in return? Too much feedback I didn’t know what to do with. Some was contradicting, some didn’t agree with my vision and Emily’s story, some pointed to the wrong direction (even though I thought it was right at that moment), but some was so valuable that I want to thank those people every day for the rest of my life. Feedback is precious but it needs to (a) come from people who care about you and your writing career, (b) be precise, (c) find your weaknesses and help you grow, and (d) take your book to the next level while staying true to your vision.
Believing in yourself is the hardest thing you’ll ever learn to do in this business, in my opinion. How to introduce world-building and backstory and how to use commas can be studied, one way or another. Believing in yourself, pushing through the rejections and the freak-outs of “I’ll never get an agent” and “I’m not good enough. I’m deluding myself” can’t be taught or studied. You have no idea how many times my CP has pulled me from my pit of misery and has turned my “Will I ever find someone who will love my books?” into “We love your books. It is enough. And you will get a badass agent who sees you.” I wouldn’t have survived this journey without her, not only because she finds where my setting is non-existent and where my dialog is confusing as heck, but because she’s always there for me. And I’m for her. CPs are treasures you need to cherish and, sadly, they’re extremely hard to find. But once you do, you’ll have a friend for life.
As for the ultimate #amwriting tip of the year, I guess it’s to keep learning and keep writing. Read the tips agent/professionals and other writers share and get feedback from CPs/beta readers. But don’t lose yourselves in them. Believe in your story. It will show you the way and tell you what is right.
Now about the fun part. Back in January, I had pledged to a Reading Challenge, and I’m very proud of completing it!! YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Most of the books I read are YA fantasy, contemporary and high, but I did read my fair share of romance, too.
My favorite books that I read in 2017(but not necessarily published in 2017) aka the books that resonated with me and I keep rereading are:
- HOW TO HANG A WITCH and HAUNTING THE DEEP by Adriana Mather. Contemporary fantasy.
- A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING and A POISON DARK AND DROWNING by Jessica Cluess. Historical fantasy.
- WITCH HUNTER and KING SLAYER by Virginia Boecker. Historical fantasy.
- COLD BURN OF MAGIC, DARK HEART OF MAGIC, and BRIGHT BLAZE OF MAGIC by Jennifer Estep. Contemporary fantasy.
- THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood. Dystopia.
- ON WRITING by Stephen King. Non-fiction.
- THE POWER by Naomi Alderman. Dystopia. *I’m still reading this but I already love it and I can’t recommend it enough.*
A short comment on subjectivity here. I read NYT bestselling books that I just didn’t like, much less love. Books that many people raved about and I didn’t connect with. I never truly understood what subjectivity means in writing until this year when I read popular books that I didn’t like or love. Our “I don’t know, man. It was meh. It just wasn’t for me.” is what agents mean by “I didn’t connect to it like I had hoped.” It doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a good story or that it wasn’t well-written. It only means that it wasn’t for them.
If you’re having trouble with believing in your writing, believe in your characters and your story. Don’t give up.
Believe in your dream.
Keep writing. Keep reading. And for the love of what is holy, keep dreaming.