Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Spending Too Much Time On The First Draft

Photo courtesy of Pixabay and Voltamax
I’m always on the lookout for ways to increase my writing speed. Based on what other writers tell me, I spend a lot more time on first drafts than everyone else. There are various reasons for this, but one of the biggies is that I revise as I write. Not full revisions, mind you, but if I know that a sentence or paragraph doesn’t make complete sense, I have to fix them before I can go on. Or if my descriptions sound like bullet lists, my muse refuses to cooperate until I go back and dress them up a little. Or if a logic flaw rears its head…. Well, you get the drill.

I know writers are supposed to speed through the first draft, but leaving behind a big pile of problems that need to be fixed later just seems like procrastination. Better if I fix some of the more glaring problems right then and there while the scene is still fresh in my mind. Now these aren’t my final revisions. Oh no, far from it. But they’re enough to allow me to move on with a clear conscience.

But here’s my problem. After spending all that time thinking about these first draft revisions, I’ve discovered that the resulting sentences and paragraphs kind of get locked down in my head. So when I return later during the editing phase, I often can’t visualize writing the words in any other way, even when I know there’s a problem. I can tweak a word here or there with no problem, but if a paragraph needs to be blown up and rewritten from scratch, it can take days for me to recognize this. The number of hours I’ve wasted staring at a paragraph that isn’t working before I realized a simple reordering of words would solve the problem is embarrassingly high.

So now I’m trying a new approach. From now on, whenever I feel the need to revise during the first draft, I’ll make sure to keep my added sentences short and full of telling prose. That way I’ll have no choice but to rewrite them from scratch.

Will my muse allow this? Only time will tell.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 159

Photo courtesy of José Manuel Botana (Pixabay)

Not much to report this week, writing or otherwise. As usual, I'm stuck on my latest chapter, but this time I can't complain too much since I hadn't spent much time thinking about the chapter beforehand. So tonight my plan is to sit down and work out the complete sequence of events, along with maps to show character movement. And I'm doing this all by hand instead of typing it out on the keyboard, because I think it'll put me into a more creative state of mind. 

I'll be interested to see how well the actual writing goes after this exercise. 

Do any of you find that writing by hand makes you more creative? 

Have a great weekend and enjoy the links! 


7 Tips for Writing a Book Blurb

Growing Your Audience by Growing a Mailing List

An Old World Concept Made New: How Patreon Works for WritersKit with “5 Fun Facts You Didn’t Know About Me”

Writing an Effective Book Description: 7 Ways to Turn Browsers Into Buyers

How to Start Your Own Publishing Company

9 Statistics Writers Should Know About Amazon

8 Ways to Troubleshoot a Scene–and 5 Ways Make It Fabulous

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Starting Your Story Too Late -- Plus It's Release Day For Abducted Life!

One rule of thumb for writers is to start your story at the last possible moment, right before the story takes off. Boring your reader with descriptions of scenery or having the main character doing regular everyday stuff (usually while thinking about how boring and/or terrible their life is) is a sure fire method for convincing the reader put down your book forever. What’s rarely mentioned, however, is that starting too late can be just as bad. 

The other day I was reading a story that suffered from this exact problem. The story began with the heroine willingly walking into what she knew was a trap. Now this can be a perfectly fine way to begin a story, but it turned out that in this case the author had jumped so far into the story that she had to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining everything that had happened prior to the scene in order for the scene to make any sense. 

Every single page had backstory. So much backstory that I kept checking the front cover to be sure I wasn't accidentally reading the second book in the series instead of the first. Besides being terribly confusing, all this explaining really killed the pacing. Needless to say, I didn’t get very far into the book before giving up. 

Why did the writer begin their story here? I don’t know. Perhaps she wanted to begin the story right before the big fight scene in order to capture the reader with action. The problem is, everything that led up to that scene—the mysterious message the main character received that morning telling her that someone would be killed if she didn’t come, the conversation where her paranormal friends told her that they would help her fight when she met up with the bad guys, the difficulties she had finding the designated rendezvous point as the clock was ticking down—were all exciting enough to have been the story’s starting point. There was no reason to begin the story right before the fight.  To be honest, I suspect the real problem was that the author wanted this scene to be a prologue, but if she’d stuck in all the necessary information as real time action instead of giving it to us via backstory, the prologue would have become much too long. 

Choosing your story’s starting point can be a tricky thing. You want to start the story close enough to the inciting incident that only a little backstory is needed to get us through the first chapter, but not so close you have bury us in backstory for the scene to make any sense.

One writer who does know when to start a story is fellow Michigander, Patricia Lynne.  And today she's celebrating the release of her new novel, Abducted Life.  So be sure to drop by her website and wish her congratulations.


Savannah Janowitz’s perfect life was destroyed the night she and her boyfriend vanished without a trace. When she reappears a year later––alone––she’s a shell of her former self. Robbed of her popularity and her boyfriend, she has no memory of what happened to her. Savannah struggles to move forward as strange, new abilities manifest.

Evan Sullivan never gave extra-terrestrials much thought until the night he and Savannah were abducted. While Savannah’s memory was wiped clean, he remembers every horrific detail. Constantly reminded of the experiments that made him less than human, Evan hides in the shadows and watches Savannah rebuild her life without him. But neither can let the other go.

When their paths cross, Savannah and Evan finally see a glimmer of their old lives return. As they face what happened to them, they soon discover they aren’t safe. There’s more to fear than what’s hiding in the stars.

Available for 99cents at Amazon.

About the Author

Patricia Josephine never set out to become a writer. In fact, she never considered it an option during high school and college. She was all about art. On a whim, she wrote down a story bouncing in her head. That was the start of it and she hasn't regretted a moment. She writes young adult under the name Patricia Lynne.

Patricia lives with her husband in Michigan, hopes one day to have what will resemble a small petting zoo, has a fondness for dying her hair the colors of the rainbow, and an obsession with Doctor Who.

You can find her lurking on Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, and Wattpad. Find the latest news at her website or sign up for her newsletter. A link to all her books can be found here.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 158

Those of you who stopped by here earlier this week may have noticed that not only was my regular Wednesday post live by Wednesday morning (shock upon shock!), it was actually posted on Tuesday morning. No, Armegeddon is not right around the corner. But it has occurred to me that having my main post on Wednesday followed up by the Seven Writing Links post two days later doesn't give many people the chance to see the Wednesday post. So I'm contemplating a change in my posting schedule. 

Perhaps I'll move my Wednesday posts to Tuesday and see how that works. I suppose I could always try for Mondays, but that would require writing a post over the weekend and I'm pretty sure that's not happening. I'm not even sure I can make Tuesdays on a regular basis. Heck, I barely make Wednesdays sometimes. Or maybe I should just move the writing links posts to Sunday. I don't know yet. 

Do you guys have any suggestions? 

Have a great weekend and enjoy the links! 


Tips for Writing Companion Novellas

8 Ways A Thriller differs from a Mystery

Dress Up Your Author Media Kit with “5 Fun Facts You Didn’t Know About Me”

Pirates Beware: How to Prepare and Use a DMCA Takedown Notice

From Indie Author To Small Press. Print Books, ISBNs, Branding And More

Author Blogs: 5 Bad Reasons for Authors to Blog and 5 Good Ones

7 Red Flags of Telling

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Understanding the Amazon Algorithms

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The other day I listened to a podcast interview of Chris Fox over at Sterling and Stone. Chris Fox is reputed to be an expert on how to sell books, and although I’ll never be as hardcore about marketing as he is, he did mention a few things I found interesting.

One of the topics he discussed involved the algorithms Amazon uses to decide which books to promote. Although we authors use a variety of techniques to promote our books, from what I understand, it’s really only when the Amazon algorithms take over and begin promoting our books that sales really take off. Most authors know this, so to get Amazon’s attention, they announce their book to everyone they know when it first comes out—friends, family, other writers they know, and of course any readers they have on their email list—and hope that the algorithms see all the initial sales and decide to promote the book.

According to Chris, however, that is the absolutely wrong thing to do.

The way the Amazon algorithms work (according to Chris) is that they not only keep track of who buys your book, but also what else those people also bought. And they use that information to target other potential buyers. So if you’re selling an urban fantasy and the people that buy your book are mostly big fans of urban fantasy, then those people will probably have purchased other urban fantasy books along with yours. The algorithms will quickly pick up on this and begin promoting your book to other fans of urban fantasy (the “Also Bought” list, for example).

Unfortunately, your friends and family, and possibly many of the writers you know, aren’t into urban fantasy. So when they buy your book, they may also be buying romance novels or DVDs or cat food, and the algorithms get confused. They can’t figure out your target audience, which means Amazon can’t promote your book correctly, which means your sales will tank, which means Amazon will stop promoting your book. According to Chris, it’s far better to have a smaller, more tightly focused email list (full of hardcore readers in your book’s genre), than it is to have a much larger, but less focused list.

Another way to keep Amazon promoting your book is by keeping your conversion rate high. Conversion rate is a measure of the number of people who actually buy your book once they land on your Amazon book page. If tons of people are stopping by your page, for example, because of some promotion you’re running, but very few people actually purchase your book, your conversion rate plummets and Amazon’s algorithms will eventually come to the conclusion that your book sucks and will stop promoting it. Basically, you only want people to stop by your book page if there’s a very good chance they’ll buy it.

One way of fixing this problem is by having your promotion send potential readers not to Amazon, but to your own landing page. This landing page would have your blurbs and the first couple of chapters, along with the Amazon link, of course. That way, if they click on the Amazon link, there’s a high probability they’ll actually buy the book, making your conversion rate much better and the algorithms happy. Of course, there’s always the concern that forcing the reader to click twice to get to the Amazon page might discourage some buyers, but that’s the risk you take.

Of course, writing a great book is still the best way to gain sales, but once that’s done, it pays to know what pleases Amazon and their algorithms. Because in the end, the Amazon promotional engine may well be the most powerful tool in your marketing toolkit.

Thoughts, anyone?


Friday, February 3, 2017

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 157

My cold is finally over; just in the nick of time. My submission to my critique group was due yesterday and I'm going to be working late tonight to get it ready. This is definitely one of those times I wished I were a faster writer! 

Have a great weekend and enjoy the links! 


A Touch of Romance

Top Time Savers for Social Media and Blogging

Do You Need to Be Lucky to Get Published?

Book Promotion: Do This, Not That

Unpacking the “Character- Driven” Story—How to Make Your Story Sizzle

Editing Tips: Top 3 Scene Issues

Creating Stunning Side Characters (and Why They Matter)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Insecure Writer and Slogging Through The First Draft

Today is February's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

What makes me an Insecure Writer this month?

The realization I’m an inherently slow writer and that there’s nothing I’ll ever be able to do about it. 

I’ve whined before about being a slow writer and have posted on the tricks I use to increase my writing pace, but thanks to last month’s SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) meeting, I now realize there’s something fundamentally different between myself and other writers. 

One of our guest speakers was Kristen Bartley Lenz, a writer who discussed how she wrote her debut novel, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go. One of the exercises her editor gave her for getting deeper into her characters’ minds was to free-write a scene for each character, a scene that never appears in the book. So after Kristen showed us the before and after versions of her first chapter, she read one of her free-writing scenes out loud, explaining how she’d used it to improve the chapter. 

All well and good—that is, until I heard the words. The free-write scene centered on the main character’s uncle, who was holding the main character in his arms in the hospital room right after her birth. It was a simple scene, full of introspection by the uncle; emotional, but not melodramatic; quiet, yet powerful. The kind of scene I’d love to be able to write. 

But then it hit me. Kristen had free-written this scene. No notes, no outline. She just imagined a scene and wrote down her thoughts as they came to her. She hadn’t edited any of the sentences. She hadn’t added words later. She hadn’t rearranged the order in which the sentences came out. And yet the words were already of publishable quality. Basically, she’d been able to write the whole scene as if it were happening in front of her, knowing exactly what to say and when to say it. 

I was absolutely dumbfounded. If I hadn’t already known her, I might have suspected she’d lied about it being a first draft. That maybe she’d read us a heavily revised version, not something that spilled out of her brain in perfect order. And that realization staggered me, because I know that no matter how hard I try, no matter what tricks I use, I'll never, ever, EVER be able to write like that. It’s just not in my writing DNA. 

I’ve read of authors who write 3 or 4 books a year and always wondered what their secret was. Turns out their words just jump right out of their brains in pretty darn good shape right from the beginning. I’m not saying these words couldn’t use some tightening here and there, but those are almost cosmetic changes compared to what my drafts require. I have to slog through my scenes over and over again, adding stuff I left out the first time, throwing out stuff that’s unnecessary, rearranging the order that stuff is mentioned. And that’s just to get the words in good enough shape so that my crit partners understand what’s going on. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for writers who have this ability. Heck, if words came that easily for me, I’d probably have taken up writing years ago. But the concept that someone can write a first draft in which less than 80% of it isn't thrown out or changed in subsequent revisions seems like fantasy to me.  Fortunately, I’m passionate enough about my stories that I know I’ll keep working on them until they’re done, no matter how much time it takes. 

But it can be damn frustrating sometimes. 

This month’s IWSG question is: 
How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader? 

Not much really. Sometimes I pay attention to how an author does certain things in order to improve my writing, but usually I read the story without thinking too much about it. Movies, however, are another story. I find myself searching for the various plot points during a movie, almost to the exclusion of the story itself. And if you read my previous post, you’ll know some of this habit has rubbed off onto my family members. I guess it’s one of the dangers of being a writer.