Mar 30, 2012

why the second book is harder than the first

First of all, I must clarify that the "second book" in this subject heading does not refer to LUMINANCE HOUR 2, but to SouthernGothicNovel, which has given me much angst and cause for whining.

You would think that, like most learned skills (such as driving, riding a bike, reading...), writing books would get easier the more you do it. Like so:

Book 1 = daunted, confused, whiplashed, emotionally unstable author.
Book 2 = less daunted, a bit confused but mostly knows what they're doing author.
Book 3 = this is easy, peasy and better than German chocolate cake author!

This graph makes sense. Unfortunately, it does not reflect reality.

Reality looks more like this (for ALL THE BOOKS):

This is me, being tossed back and forth by writerly PMSage, thinking doom and generally black thoughts as to the future of this manuscript. And behind, in the distance, are my characters. Laughing. The one on the right is not fat. She's in a hoop skirt. (It's true).

The second manuscript sometimes feels like an ultimately evil practical joke. Secondary characters come across flat. Subplots get lost. Backstories become a load instead of the treasure trove of character depth I imagined they would be. I stare at my manuscript and wonder why, why it isn't working. And then I start wondering. Maybe my first book was a fluke. Maybe I really can't write and I somehow managed to deceive both my agent and my editor and the entire publishing company into thinking that I could.

However, discussions with many other debut writers in the Lucky 13s has helped me realize that these feelings of struggle, doom and suckage aren't signs of a poseur. They're normal. Every writer (or almost every writer) goes through this same process of struggling with book 2. And 3. And 4. And 5. Etc.

One super observant Lucky 13 brought up a very, very excellent point. One of the reasons writers get so frustrated with manuscript number 2 is because they expect a very unrealistic perfection. For months and months we've been working with highly polished manuscripts, giving them their final shine before they head off into the wide world. We've worked with these shiny projects for so long that we forget what they used to look like, the gnarled, warty first drafts they once were! So when we transition from flawless final draft to decrepit first/second/third draft, we start to lose heart. We forget that it will get better.

I think, because of this, the second book is actually harder than the first, because as writers we feel like we have to "live up" to these incredibly unrealistic expectations of producing a perfect first draft that's as good, if not better than our debut novel. And that, my friends, will never, ever happen.

So yeah, I'm working on giving myself grace with this manuscript. I can already see how it has such potential to shine. I just have to be patient and coax that out!

Mar 23, 2012

friday reads: i'll be there

So, I usually don't read contemporary fiction. I'm usually drawn to fantastical fiction/paranormal (hence what I write). But I just finished this book.

Source: via Ryan on Pinterest

I discovered it via the recommendation of my critique partner, Kate Armstrong, who picked it up when she came to visit for YALLfest. It was the cover that first grabbed her (and who could blame her, it's gorgeous!!) and the story within proved to be just as lovely.

So at her behest I went down to Blue Bicycle Books and picked up a copy. Pretty cover and all.

You guys. This book almost made me cry. Which is saying something. It was so, so good. Holly Sloan's style is very informative and concise, but she manages to make the reader form intense emotional attachment to her characters. I could hardly put it down (I blame a few hours of insomnia on wondering what exactly was going to happen to these beloved characters!).

So there you have it. Read I'll Be There. It's beautiful, poignant and will stick with you.

Mar 22, 2012

fending off the SNIS (shiny new idea syndrome)

As I have written many a time before, perseverance is the key to becoming a published writer. This rule also continues to apply after you have "made it" and gotten a publishing contract.

Right now I'm bushwhacking my way through the second draft of my SouthernGothicNovel. Yes. Bushwhacking. With proverbial machete and all. I'm hacking away scenes. Splintering them beyond repair (at least, right now it seems that way). Bushwhack revising is depressing and discouraging. Bushwhack revising sometimes makes me want to cry. (True confession).

And it is exactly times like this, that the SNIS starts tracking me. Ready to pounce and take me away at a moments notice.

SNIS. Shiny New Idea Syndrome.

So I'm standing, staring at this absolute mess of my novel in progress, thinking of all the laborious sweat filled agonizing hours it will take to make it reparable. And a shiny new idea sidles up to me.

Me: Oh, hello.

SNI: Look! I'm so neat! And new! And exciting! I have an amazing plot and flawless characters and awesome settings! Write me! Write me!

Me: You do look nice.

SNI: No one will know if you write a page or two. Come on. Leave this work for later, explore my worlds!

Oh, readers. This is so temping. The siren song of the shiny new idea.

There is a problem though.

You see, I have a queue of WIPs. The second round of edits of LUMINANCE HOUR, the revising of SouthernGothicNovel, the completion of CutthroatNovel, and the second book of LUMINANCE HOUR which has yet to be born. Adding one more would be insanity.

So, I did what any self-respecting author might do. I wrote the first two pages of SNI and a synopsis. I'm really excited about it. It's a good idea. A good one. But, I took those 2 pages and synopsis, saved them into a file, and buried them, deep deep deep into my computer.

It could take years before I make it to SNI (which I suppose then will be a SOI, shiny old idea). But at least it will be there. Waiting.

For now I have to keep bushwhacking.

Mar 20, 2012

the hard things

You know that moment where you realize you have to rewrite the entire book to make it any good? Yeah, I kind of had one of those epiphanies this week. And it stinks. Okay, well, maybe not rewriting the entire book. But a good 1/2 of it at least.

For some reason I always think that the next book will be easier than the last. Because, you know, practice makes perfect. This is a law that doesn't really apply to the crafting of a novel. Why? Because every story is different. You can't just pop it out the same way you constructed your first novel (I mean, I suppose you could, but then you'd have the same book. And who wants to read the same book twice?). You have to find the story organically and sometimes that takes a few chapters. Or drafts. Or hundreds and hundreds of pages. (Ack!)

Sometimes it's like sewing and finding out you did a seam wrong. You could leave it, but it would be noticeable. It would mess up the entire final product. And you can't just fix a tiny part of it. You have to tear the whole thing out and start over. But when you're done tearing and resewing, you have something good. Something whole.

This has been a pep-talk from your's truly, for your's truly.

Mar 19, 2012

monday musings

It's been a while since I posted a Monday musings. Here's a poem that I discovered while reading Cassandra Clare's City of Glass. It's by T. E. Lawrence (ie. Lawrence of Arabia) and was written in honor of an "S.A." (whose identity remains anonymous).

I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
and wrote my will across the sky in stars
To gain you Freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,
that your eyes might be shining for me
when I came.

Mar 15, 2012

who we are

This blog entry may be a-- er-- rawer one that most. Probably because I've had the opportunity to do a bit of introspection this week.

One of the biggest temptations for me, as a writer, is to put my identity into my writing. It's so easy to step back, look at everything I've written and created, and tell myself that those works are me. That my success as a person, as a human being, is directly linked to my writing.

This is bad.

It's not bad to take pride in your work. I'm not saying that. But it is a problem to let your work (and the success or non-success of that) define who you are. Because when this happens, you are putting yourself in danger. Nothing on this earth is certain. This includes the publishing world. It's pretty much a guarantee that not everything is going to go your way. You could get awful reviews, a not-so-great cover or not sell enough copies to meet your advance. Hopefully none of these things will happen, but there's no guarantee.

The world is a very subjective place. And if you put your self-worth in something so vulnerable, then you will inevitably receive some very bad blows to your ego (and then have terrible emotional whiplash as a result and binge on chocolate and bad TV).

Yes, I am a writer, but that's not all I am.

I am a Christ-follower, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a teacher, a friend, a traveler and so many more things. And this wider scope will only serve to make my work that much better.

What about you guys? Do you sometimes have trouble separating yourself from the success (or lack thereof) of your writing?

Mar 13, 2012

two things on a tuesday

1. As per Laini Taylor's writing advice I have started keeping a notebook and jotting down random ideas/things that have come to inspire me throughout the day. It's funny, because I don't think I really realized how many of these things I've let pass on through without record. It's tiny things. Details and quirks in everyday life that I'd forget 2 seconds after taking note of them. So far, in the past two days, I've written fragments of poems, Bible verses and taken notes about the state of my neighbor's apartment.

2. Keeping in line with these observations, I've noticed that there's a house in Charleston that is just, well, weird. At night it is completely dark except for bright purple Christmas lights that are strung over the ENTIRE TWO STORY HOUSE. There are also orange light-bulbs in the porch lamps. Add this to the weird fragments of bones and painted stones all over the porch and you have yourself a pretty creepy place. There's also a brightly painted donkey perched on the back roof.

And you think I'm lying? 57 Chapel Street. Click the link and look it up.

At least now I know the explanation behind this offbeat display. But that really doesn't make the house any less creepy. Maybe one night I'll try to get a picture of it (if the painted donkey doesn't come alive and try to eat me).

Mar 9, 2012

latest musical obsessions

I realize I've been lax in posting my most recent musical infatuations with you guys. So here goes:

Nick Drake's "Three Hours" is such an awesome song. So sombre and almost like a ballad. Exactly the kind of song you need to listen to to get your angst on. (Or to write heart-breaking scenes set in the Civil War South, which is my current duty.)

"Rocks and Water" by Deb Talan. Also a really good song for my current Southern Gothic WIP. It has that folksy slant I need without getting too overwhelming country-like. (No offense, lovers of country music!)

This song is drastically different than the other two. A dancey, electronic bit. Perfect for jogging to! (And writing club scenes, but sadly, there are none of those in SouthernGothicNovel).

What about you guys? Heard any good music lately?

Mar 7, 2012

writer's block

As you might have read below, yesterday was a very frustrating writerly writing day. Why? Because I had writer's block.

Which incidentally makes me feel like an angry wet cat.

Writer's block is so frustrating simply because it's something that I really cannot control. It's not like I wake up one day and decide Today would be a great day to get writer's block. It just happens. There's a point where I cannot go on with a scene or if I can it just feels wrong. I've learned (especially over the past few months with revisions for LUMINANCE HOUR) that my intuitions are usually right when it comes to what will work and what won't.

But yesterday, I couldn't figure out for the life of me why the scene felt so wrong. I spent about half an hour just staring at my computer screen with an agonized stare. Scribbling nonsensical things in my notebook.

In case you're wondering about the robot reference, it's in connection with Laini Taylor's writing blog.

Anyway. I ended up setting everything aside and picking up a book (Jessica Spotswood's Born Wicked if you were wondering). Usually reading helps clear my head. But when I put the book down I was still feeling... stuck.

So I decided to talk about it. This is just one of the many reasons why critique partners are SO NECESSARY! They help you remember that you don't suck as a writer and that your slump is only a temporary natural thing. And sometimes they can even help you figure out what's wrong and how to fix it!

In my case, I was trying to cram too much into such a short span of pages. I realized what I needed to do to get me out of my rut and make my manuscript better for it. Of course, doing said thing means "killing my darlings" (ie. deleting or filing away some scenes that I LOVE because the writing is SO PRETTY) (<--as you can see I'm being so humble here.). And this subject belongs to another post entirely. I'll let you know how it goes.

So, in summation, to get over writer's block one must:

A) Curse and write about robots in sloppy handwriting.
B) Stare at computer screen for a lengthy amount of time.
C) Read a book.
D) Talk it out with you therapist (er, critique partner...)
E) All of the above.

I will let you decide.

Mar 6, 2012

Mar 5, 2012


I posted on the Lucky 13s blog today on how I come up with my character names. It's a process. Go check it out!!

Mar 4, 2012

what i did this weekend...

This weekend I finally did it.

I got my nose pierced.

I've wanted a tiny nose stud for a long time. Since my senior year of high school really. But I've never really found myself in a position to be able to get one until now (due to life circumstances). There was always some excuse.

But I'm fortunate enough to be at a place in my life where I can get away with having one. (Yay!)

Mar 2, 2012

why you shouldn't worry about idea thieves

A few days ago, Elana Johnson blogged about idea envy, or what happens when creative-mind/author types go lusting after each other's story concepts. It happens all the time, sometimes more often than we choose to admit.

But I'm not going to talk about the jealousy aspect of this issue to much as its possible ramifications. Before I found my agent and publisher, I was very careful about guarding my ideas. They were like Cadbury chocolate (Mine!!! All Mine!!!), precious and protected.

The answer is yes. If I could, I would eat all of these Cadbury Crunchie bars.

I was so cautious about this, that I actually avoided sharing my query on public forums, which ended up being to my detriment because it needed critiquing!! And then I read a post that made me realize why this wasn't necessary.

See, I was afraid of people stealing my novel. Not my ideas. A single idea can become many, many different things. No one can write the exact same way you do. Rarely, very rarely, is any idea truly unique. In fact, Ecclesiates 1:9 says so: What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

That's right folks. You heard it here. Nothing new. Under the entire sun.

So, if we follow this logic, there are no new ideas. Just the same ideas under different veils.

No one else can write your book. Not the way you're going to write it. If I decided to write a book about a boy attending a wizarding school, it would be decidedly different than Harry Potter. Same with a vampire love story. What I wrote would not be Twilight. For better or worse, it would be a creation of its own.

So don't worry so much about people stealing your ideas. And don't worry about people having "better" ideas than you. It's the execution of the story and the writing that truly matters. And that's something only you can carry out! Your voice, your style, your perspective... all of it is unique. No one can steal them, no matter how hard they try.

PS. I feel like it would be a fascinating experiment to give 10 authors a book synopsis and tell each of them to write it, then see how much they vary in the end. (My guess is much!)

Mar 1, 2012

the best fruit in the world

So I was browsing the wonderful aisles of Wally-world yesterday when this caught my eye:

What is so special about green tea, you ask? Look closer and you shall see.

It's not just green tea, my friends. It's green tea with dragonfruit.

I was introduced to dragonfruit at the tender age of 20, when I went over to Cambodia for six weeks to live in the slums and teach English to the precious children who lived there. Southeast Asia has so many delicious fruits that I'd never seen before: lychees, mangosteens, oranges with green peels. But it was dragonfruit that stole my heart. Who couldn't love a fruit that looks like this:

Hot pink! With dragon scales!! The insides sometimes look like a white kiwi (there are other versions which are very pink). I was addicted to it during the trip. And when I returned home to the states I was very disappointed to realize that they don't import them here. The only way I could sate my desire for dragonfruit was by buying Vitamin Water's Power-C flavor (the bright pink one.)

Three years later, when I traveled to Thailand with my husband, I introduced him to the joys of dragonfruit:

Needless to say, this tea makes me happy. Thank you, Lipton, for sating my cravings.