Writing, Apples, and the Alchemy of the Mind

Listen. Every authors hits a stage in their book where they question everything, where they doubt themselves, where they want to give up. It happens because you are comparing a working draft to finished manuscripts again. Which is a bit like asking why apples on the tree don’t taste like apple pie. There’s a relation to them, but apple pie does not grow on trees.
Finished manuscripts don’t have a final form until the cook in the reader’s head. You cannot produce apple pie with apples alone. You can’t produce the polished books like what you read elsewhere to a draft of anything you write.
Your drafts will always and only ever be apples.
Some of the stories are still seeds. Some are blossoms ready for the pollination (the work you put into writing the first rough draft), some of them are ripening in edits. Some of them are ready to harvest to go to the story-packing plant to be polished by beta readers and editors. Some of them are ready to get shipped to the store. But none of them become apple pie until someone buys the apple, takes it home, and does the work of reading the book. 
Don’t compare a still ripening apple to apple pie.
Don’t compare a manuscript in edits to a finished novel on the shelf.
They are not the same thing. And you’re hurting the end product by trying to rush the ripening process. Let it be. Let it grow. Let it develop naturally. Edit by edit. Line by line. This will get better and the book will get finished. Have some faith in yourself. First book for one hundred and first book, they all have a stage where you think they’re hopeless. They aren’t. They’re just growing. Be patient. 

Made It Monday: A Primary Color Wave

This weekend I tried a new-to-me project and did a 3 Color painting of a wave. It’s an interesting technique that relies on blending primary colors (red/yellow/blue) to create all the other colors needed. I enjoy painting because 1) I honestly suck at visual art like drawing and painting and want to improve so 2) I have to focus when painting and it becomes very meditative. Learning a new skill isn’t everyone’s cuppa tea, but I enjoy improving on something, and painting is a nice break from writing.

But, because I’m me and I like patterns, metaphors, and books I couldn’t help but let my mind wander over to how acrylic paintings  – which tend to be ugly up until the very last brush stroke – are so similar to book writing. Since NaNoWriMo is coming up in just a few short weeks I’m going to pull this all together in a quick mini-writing lesson. Because… why not?

If you’re interested in making this painting yourself check out the fabulous Cinnamon Cooney and her Art Sherpa youtube channel.

 

Phase 1: The Outline and Choosing your Colors
Before I could even paint my wave I had to pick which set of primary colors to use. There’s Primary Blue/Yellow/Magenta, or Magenta/Hansa Yellow/Pthalo Blue, or Cad Yellow/Cerulean Blue/Crimson… the different starting tones made different colors. You can see my test splotches in the top corners and the combinations further down.

Starting a story has a similar rhythm. First you need to decide what is going into the book. Are you writing a thriller or a romance? A Romantic thriller with a happy ending? A Thriller with romantic elements and a tragic end? Is your focus on one or two characters, or on the fates of thousands? Is the tone light or dark, somber or joyful, lively or a slow dirge into eternity? Knowing what you want helps you get the foundation of your story correct.

 

 

Phase 2: The Vague Outline of An Idea
The beginning. The end. Not middle visible? Ah, yes, that’s either this painting or anyone rough outline I’ve ever written. You should know where the book starts, and where you intend it to end, but the middle is always a murky mess when you begin. That’s fine. Draw in the ideas you know belong and figure out the rest as you go.

 

Phase 3: Color Blocking And The First Details
What do we have here? It’s a basic wave, you can see the shape of it now, and the middle has been filled with a purple blob that doesn’t really add much, but that’s okay. It’s there. This is the visual representation of a a rough draft. Everything is colored in. Technically, the wave has been painted. It’s not a blank canvas. You could probably sell this at a flea market for $5 and call it a day. It’s also painfully ugly and that ugliness makes too many people throw away their brushes (and their books) and give up in frustration. This looks nothing like the wave I envisioned! A rough draft doesn’t have the mental heft and weight of the book in my head! All is woe and sadness!

Okay, not really. This is a rough draft. The bones of a painting, or a story, are there. Now the fine details need to be added.

 

Phase 4: A Finished Work 
What changed? I added details. The foamy white crest splashing everywhere, reflections of light, more clouds, more color, more paint… And, again, this is a decent enough painting. It could be called done and hung on the wall. The equivalent of a book is one that has a couple rounds of edits and gets a nod. For most books, this is where they hit the query trenches or the publishing trenches. A lot of effort and time has been put into the project and the painter (me!) or the writer (you!) should feel justifiably proud of the effort.

 

Phase 5: The Polished Work
I’ll be 100% honest here… I could do more with this painting. I quit last night because I’d already gone over the 2 hours I’d set aside for painting and I needed to get some sleep. There are little details I’m not super happy with, things I’d still like to change, and I am seriously tempted to repaint this next week and do better

And, while I’m being honest, I can say I’ve felt that way about every book I’ve ever published. Most authors feel this way. There’s always something you think of at the last moment. There is an art to letting go, to knowing when any further effort and embellishment will only add noise, not improvement. It’s a hard skill to learn, and you only learn it if you are willing to take the risk of failing. If you can’t take that risk, can’t let yourself fall, then you’ll never find the point where you can fly.

Thank you for reading BODIES IN MOTION!

Dear Reader,

Thank you for coming along on the journey that is BODIES IN MOTION.

When I first came up with this story it was something much shorter, with much less depth and impact. It was a story about a missed opportunity, a war, and a second chance at love. I toyed with the idea of writing the war itself, and decided that the war never mattered. Wars happen all the time. Wars are universally painful. Wars are universally tragic. Even when a war wins something crucial – like freedom or safety – everyone who survives walks away scarred. What is unique is how those survivors live with the scars.

The common wisdom is that wars and collapses of society are exciting, but rebuilding is boring. I hope BODIES IN MOTION gave you a different perspective. Personally, I’ve seen enough war in my lifetime. I’ll probably live to see more war and more scars. But with every war will come the challenge to rebuild. With every scar we’re given a chance to rebuild ourselves, or let the wound seep, rot, and inevitably destroy us. I’d rather rebuild than rot.

BODIES IN MOTION became not just a larger novel, but also my first serial novel, and that was a fun adventure.

One of my dedicated fans in Australia wrote to tell me she was late to work because a chapter posted and she had to read before leaving home (Sorry!). People from all around the globe found BODIES IN MOTION. We chatted about who was guilty, who was falling in love, and speculated on who Rowena would find love with in LAWS OF ATTRACTION. Can I tell you a secret? Up until June Rowena was slotted for a very different story arc and One True Love. Up until early June, she was actually going to meet a new character in LAWS OF ATTRACTION.

One scene changed that.

The interaction was too good between Rowena and (SPOILER!) so I threw out everything I had for Book 2 and took LAWS OF ATTRACTION in a completely different direction. I have the first quarter of the book written and I think you’ll like it. But you’ll have to wait until 2018 to read.

For now, BODIES IN MOTION will stay up in all it’s drafty glory on the blog. Most of you already know how to get EVEN VILLAINS FALL IN LOVE for free (hint: sign up for my newsletter), but I think for other readers who stumble across here in the next year or so BODIES IN MOTION is a good place to start.

 

#SonOfAPitch – ♫ I’m all about that pitch! ♪

Turn up the music! The #SonOfAPitch Twitter Pitch Party is about to start and this here is tailgate central! We’re going to party, perfect our pitches, and get ready for the big game where you – my fabulous authors – will go live on the big Twitter screen to catch the attention of those fabulous agents who will really love your book! Throughout the day the Son Of A Pitch crew will be dropping by to give their advice and help you workshop your pitch, so make sure you come back a second time to get everything you can out of today’s workshop.

Ready? Set? Let’s go!!!!

Today we’re going to work on developing two pitches. The first is the standard Twitter Pitch, also called an Elevator Pitch or Logline. This is a 1-2 sentence description of your book that summarizes the main idea for a quick sale. It’s the pitch you use on social media, at cons, at book signings, and that librarians, agents, and editors will use to pitch the book to their audiences. An ideal pitch makes your story sound unique and exciting without being too long. If you’ve never written a good Twitter Pitch before I recommend going back to the last #SonOfAPitch Pitch Party Post and look through the comments. That’s a great way to get a feel of how these work.

The second pitch we’ll be working on is the High Concept Pitch. This is the pitch you use if your book has mass market appeal. It catches the imagination quickly, it’s easy to sell, and for really complex books it’s the easiest way to pitch them on Twitter. It’s the easiest pitch to write because the formula is literally “This Popular Thing + That Popular Thing in New Location”. Promise, once you learn how to do this you’ll use it all the time. It’s also a great brainstorming tool.

These two seem very, very similar. The only difference is that an Elevator Pitch is slightly longer, and doesn’t rely on any outside world building while a High Concept Pitch will rely heavily on the audience knowing other books or movies.

So, grab your notebooks and keyboards because it’s thinking time!

HOW TO WRITE A TWITTER PITCH
Definition: One or two sentences that summarize the book you’ve written.

What You Want To Include:
– Setting
– Description of the protagonist
– The problem to be solved
– Description of the antagonist
– Conflict preventing the problem from being solved
– The ultimate goal

What You Don’t Include:
– Proper nouns (names aren’t relevant)
– Irrelevant personal data (age, height, weight, ethnicity, gender, ect… unless one of these is the main trait of a character- ie 120yo scientist with a key to eternal life)
– Information about the author (unless you are writing nonfic with a platform)
– World building details

Let’s try writing a pitch for Harry Potter…
– Setting – England
– Description of the protagonist – A young boy living with his aunt and uncle
– The problem to be solved – Wants a birthday party and friends
– Description of the antagonist – But has an abusive aunt and uncle
– Conflict preventing the problem from being solved – Who haven’t told him
– The ultimate goal – He’s a really popular wizard!

Twitter Pitch: A young English boy who lives with his abusive aunt and uncle discovers he is a wizard with a destiny! (you can probably do better than this)

 

 

HOW TO WRITE A HIGH CONCEPT PITCH
Definition: A one sentence pitch that relies on known, popular works to help someone envision the piece being sold. -or- A one sentence pitch that makes it easy to picture the story.

Formula:
Popular Thing 1 + Popular Thing 2 + New Location

High Concept Pitch for Gallagher Girl’s 1: 
James Bond meets Harry Potter in an all-girls school for spies.
-or-
I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You <- The title works as a pitch, which is awesome. This example is borrowed from agent Rachel Gardner’s blog.

High Concept Pitch For THE PRINCESS BRIDE:
A pirate rescues a princess from the prince she doesn’t want to marry.
-or-
Cinderella meets Jack Sparrow in a world of giants and magicians.

The goal here is to sum the story up in as few words as you can manage. You can use a High Concept Pitch for a pitch party, but in my experience it’s most useful at places like book signings or cons where you can refer to other popular movies or works you know the audience loves.

 

Your turn! Write your pitches and put them in the comments below. The #SonOfAPitch authors will come by to help you revise and rewrite them throughout the day so you are ready to catch the perfect agent at the upcoming pitch party!

 

One final thing… If you’ve never been to a Twitter Pitch Party before I recommend reading this post on pitching etiquette. And please remember to say thank you to the fantastic authors who have worked so hard to help everyone participating in #SonOfAPitch. You can support them by saying thank you, sharing links to their books, buying their books, or leaving reviews. Thanks goes a long way in this industry. <3

Hello out there!

Dear Reader,

At this point you are probably wondering whether or not I survived the drive through Canada and, if I did, will I ever return to the blog and stop leaving auto-posted chapters here. Regular readers are probably expecting a return to nice things like blog posts on writing or news about my favorite books.

Consider this the post you’ve been waiting for! Huzzah!

The summer blog break is almost at an end!

My kids go back to school September 5th, which means I will resume a normal blogging schedule (3-4 posts per week) on September 6th. Coincidentally, that week should see BODIES IN MOTION wrapping up for the grand finale and I should be kicking off a new project by mid-September. I have several posts scheduled including a series on encouraging young writers, fast drafting (and probably a reprint of the NaNo Boot Camp), and how to write a first draft you can work with. This will be interspersed with pics from my explorations of the Pacific Northwest and random other things that will appear randomly. (Random is good).

If there’s anything specific you’d like to see in my return to regular blogging feel free to let me know in the comments, my email, on Twitter, or in my Tumblr Ask box. I’m super excited to get back into a regular routine and my office is almost done, so soon I’ll have some pics of my new work space for you. What are you getting excited about?