From great turmoil comes great writing. 2018 is going to be living proof of that. Some legendary YA is about to enter the world this year, and I’ve been dying to celebrate the YA book babies of some of the people I’ve connected with at one point or another during my writing journey. So here it goes. 2018’s WHO TO READ LIST by a very biased reviewer with acutely impeccable taste in YA literature. That’s me.
I remember thinking that when I got an agent magic would take over my world. Words would roll out of my fingers like ocean waves. Revisions would feel like a casual stroll rather than a marathon. People would line up at my door to read my beautiful, beautiful words.
Let me be clear. It HAS been magical. And words DO come. And on occasion, people do like to read the tales I spin. But mostly… mostly, writing now is like writing then.
Hard. Beautiful. Gut-wrenching. Satisfying. Revealing.
It’s still hard writing, post-agent. But sometimes for different reasons. I never had writers block before getting an agent. Never. Hate me if you will, but usually I had a hundred stories lined up in my head, waiting for a little attention. There is a mind switch that happens when you start writing for another reason. Revisions start to take priority, and you don’t let your mind wander as often, because you know it’s only a matter of time before you have to revisit that last story either for an R&R or to polish it up for submission. Sometimes the creative whiplash that occurs from jumping from world to world too often is just too much, so you just don’t write between stints of waiting on feedback on revisions. I’m not saying this is a good thing. I’m just saying it happens.
It’s still beautiful. Though I don’t get to create freely as often anymore, those moments when the story is taking shape and the characters are speaking… well, you know how it feels. It’s the first gaze into your newborn’s eyes. It’s a dive off the top of a roller coaster. It’s a plunge into icy water. It’s exhilarating and just plain beautiful. Thank goodness, that still happens.
You still have to wait, post-agent. And waiting can be so hard. Waiting while you know someone is reading your work. Waiting while you wonder if you sent your very best, if you could have sweat a little harder, bled a little more to make it better. Waiting, hoping, praying for good news. Yes, even after getting an agent, writing is still gut-wrenching.
There’s nothing, before or after getting an agent, that is more deeply gratifying than typing those two final words: The. End. It doesn’t matter how many times you do it, it just satisfies this deep, deep part of you that no one else but another writer understands. For me, editing can be almost as satisfying. It feels like clay taking shape under my fingers. The features come into view, start looking back at me with these life-like eyes, and I stare back at them and go, “Holy something… I made that!”
Writing has always been revealing for me, but something about this stage of writing has caused the process to reveal more of my inner self than I could have imagined. Over the past year, writing has been so intensely introspective, a reflection of my values, my brokenness and my strength. I’ve dug deeper and looked harder than ever before. It’s been surprising. And it’s forced growth.
So yes, things have changed in the past year, and no, they haven’t. Writing is the same and it’s oh, so different. It’s still all the things I love and hate. And I wouldn’t change that for the world.
A friend of mine recently tweeted a GIF of a roller coaster, comparing it to the publishing experience. It was sort of perfect.
The experience is full of ups and downs, for sure. The best way to understand the full scope of this is to become a part of a writing community and listen as other writers share their hearts and emotions. I’ve done a lot of things for a living. I’ve cleaned houses, worked as a pharmacy tech, ran a daycare, worked in a hospital, taught in schools, worked in retail, taught painting classes. None of these fields of work affected me emotionally like writing does. Your words are your heart and soul. Your guts. Your very being. So the process of writing, or publishing can be both deeply gratifying and equally as distressing.
As artists, we are our own worst critiques and biggest fans. Teetering between these two roles is one of the most exhausting experiences I’ve had in my adult life. One minute, I’m like, “Daaaaaang, who wrote this? It’s gooooood.” And the next, I’m embarrassed for having sent it out into the world. But as I share my journey with others, I’ve found this is the norm for writers. And this isn’t the only internal battle we face. There are other elements in the roller coaster as well: the steep inclines and dips and upside down turns of publishing itself.
Publishing is all about waiting. And, waiting, I’ve found, is like that slow drag up to the peak of the coaster. For some of us, this portion of the journey is longer than others. And the longer it is, the more anticipation and anxiety that builds. Then there’s the matter of hitting the peak. There’s a number of ways we might react. We might take the go-dead-to-the-world, wake-me-up-when-it’s-over approach, or scream and freak out on the way down. Some of us actually enjoy the dive. While others are already thinking about the next peak before we even get to the valley. We’re asking ourselves, can I really do this again? And what happens after that? Another peak? Another valley? Can I live like this my whole life? Why did I ever get on this ride?
The fact is, deep down, we really DO love the ride. We wouldn’t be satisfied with another life. If you’ve ever gone a long period of time without the elements of the roller coaster, you know, it’s pretty boring. There’s no reason to obsessively check your email. No news coming in. Nothing to create or promote. It’s true, this life isn’t for everyone. But for the roller coaster lovers, the rush is all a part of the journey.
A Shuffle in the Schedule
For our first session tonight, we’ll be speaking to William Vaughn, author of two series in different genres. William has been gracious enough to speak to us on his success as a self published author with two series in different genres as well as technical writing.
William Vaughn is a writer and has been for nearly forty years. More than a dozen of his technical books could be found in bookstores all over the world—but most of you haven’t read them unless you’re a student of data architectures. After retiring from programs and databases, he turned his creative talents to coming of age stories and time travel. His latest books include his three-book YA series The Seldith Chronicles, and his three-book NA series The Timkers. Yes, as with his first technical books, these are all independently published. Leveraging his eye for graphics design, he creates his own covers and internal layouts. As you might have guessed, he’s also a graphics artist, photographer and world traveler. He spends his days writing, when he can, mentoring when he can and travelling, dabbling with computers and watching film noir.
To see more about upcoming events for The Write Nice Writers Group CLICK HERE!
I’ve spent nights racking my brain for an original idea, knowing that it’s in there, deep, trapped like a dust bunny between synapsis.
And then it comes to me: that never-been-done-before original idea. And, with vigor, I share it with my husband or my bestest writing buddies, and they’re like, “Oh, cool. So, like the Hunger Games then? ” After a few defensive rounds of, you’re not getting it, and let me explain it one more time, I realize they’re right. It’s the same story, with different characters.
A wise man once said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Yeah, that Solomon guy was the bomb. A lot of experts agree with old Solomon. They theorize that there are really only a handful of plots out there. The idea that we keep telling the same stories with new twists and different characters has been around for a while. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s human nature to want to read familiar stories. We like stories we can identify with. This doesn’t mean the story is filled with things we’ve experienced ourselves or events that remind us of someone else’s experiences. It just means that some element of the story is relatable, or is something we can connect with on some sort of empathetic level. Generally, we can find something to connect with in even the most far-fetched stories. We love to read things that make us go, “Me too!”
In my previous post, A FORMULA FOR A BEST SELLER?, I reference Vulture.com, a site that breaks basic plots into categories like impostors or forbidden love and then explains the plot devices within the story line. Using the works of William Wallace Cook’s Plotto, Christopher Booker’s The Basic Seven Plots, and Ronald B. Tobias’s 20 Master Plots, the claim is made that there are really only around eighty fictional plots out there. Other experts in literature claim there are as few as twenty. I suppose it depends on how broad or narrow a lens you’re viewing the plot from. I mean, something like the idea of survival could probably be identified in most stories. It’s interesting, however, to look through the list and see where the stories you’ve created fit.
Regardless of whether you think there are infinite plots or a handful of recycled ones, one thing can be certain. Themes do resurface, because humanity goes through cycles. It’s important to understand this as an author. Understanding plots can make us better, more effective writers and might even enable us to create stories that profoundly impact hearts.
Now, that’s a thought.
Remember when you used to do random scavenger hunts for your coworkers? And remember when you used to have people over for movie nights and you used to make all these fun little finger foods. Oh! Oh! And remember how you decorated the break room to look like a tiki lounge that one time.
You used to be so awesome.
No one has actually said these things about me. I don’t think. But I’ve been thinking them lately. Like recently: I teach science at a tiny school district in the heart of the country. Once a quarter, each of the middle school teachers is responsible for decorating a bulletin board. This is what I came up with this quarter.
It’s cute, and clever, I’ll admit. But it doesn’t really meet the mark when I’m capable of this:
As I stood in the hallway, cradling my chin in my hand to ponder my sub-par bulletin board, I started to wonder. When did I stop being awesome? But this still small voice inside me started to speak, and in the hallway left in the eerie quietness that all public institutions bear when empty, I listened. And here’s what I heard: I’m still awesome. My awesomeness has just shifted. And it will continue to shift. There was a time when I was a rockin’ momma. I did crafts with my kids DAILY! We went to petting zoos and camping and carnivals and the zoo and museums. We had picnics and went to the park all the time. I don’t do that stuff with my kids any more. And in the process of beating myself up over it, I realized I don’t do that stuff any more because my kids are teenagers, and they don’t LIKE that stuff any more. So I have to evolve and shift my awesomeness elsewhere. Think of it as the awesomeness Cupid Shuffle.
There are seasons in our lives. Lysa Terkeurst embodies this concept so well with this quote: “Like a tree, a woman can’t carry the weight of two seasons simultaneously. In the violent struggle of trying, she’ll miss every bit of joy each season promises to bring.” -The Best Yes. We can’t bear the weight of the leaves of spring and the snow of winter simultaneously. Knowing this is freedom. Freedom from the self-imposed and sometimes others-imposed expectations for us to keep doing all the awesome things we’ve always done while taking on more awesomeness.
As I stood in that quiet hallway, I realized this: I am still awesome. While I haven’t recently hosted a literature festival for 500 students, or won a float contest in a parade, or redecorated the entire house again, I have a book on submission. I’m teaching some awesome kids and we’re doing the coolest projects. And I’m playing in a rocking worship band twice a week. That’s enough for right now.
I hope you can take joy in looking back on the seasons you’ve had the pleasure of taking part in, and you can bring yourself to let go of your leaves when it’s time to enter another season. Know this: You are awesome. You always have been, and you always will be.
I’m #blessed. No for real. Thanks to the lovely Natalie C. Parker, author of BEHOLD THE BONES, I’ve been connected with some lovely FAN-STINKIN-NOMENAL (it’s a word now) authors who are in the same stage of agented writing as myself.
Novels by the wonderful Natalie C. Parker
This group of girls bonded almost instantly. We now refer to ourselves as the YAAMY Bears — it’s a yam thang — and find ourselves posting yam memes and GIFs at random. But best of all, we are sharing our journeys. This stage of writing can be awkward and lonely because you’re not sharing the same path with authors seeking representation anymore, but you’re not a published author either. Natalie has given us a tribe, shoulders to cry on, people to celebrate with, and I think I can speak for everyone in the group when I say…
All that being said, I found myself typing out this long message to the girls on one of our many forums at 2:30 in the morning. It’s been on my mind since then, so I thought I’d see what you thought. Is there a formula for a best seller?
I went to MidWest Writers this summer and attended a wonderful session on how to edit a best seller, and here’s what I took away from it:
The conference speaker talked about plot beats which, at the time, I knew nothing about. So, for those of you who were like me, beats are like the rhythm of a song. It’s steady, then it crescendos then it resolves. There is a common rhythm or set of beats found in nearly all the bestseller and blockbuster movies and the formula goes like this:
1. Slice of Life – This is where you start. You give the reader a sense of who the MC is, where they are from and what is meaningful to them. This can happen in the first few words. It can also occur over the course of a few pages. Giving your MC little obstacles to overcome (even big ones, though you don’t generally want to jump in with too much heart pounding action until the reader knows why they should care about the character) helps the reader to get a feel for how they react to things. Do they fume at traffic jams or are they chill? Do they cuss when they stub their toe? That kind of thing.
2. Inciting Incident – What is the thing that starts the sweater to unraveling (Oh Geez! Weezer’s sweater song is in my head now!) But IDENTIFY IT. Call it by name, for your own benefit. This helped me so much just to know what this was, because then I knew where it should fit in my MS.
3. Act 2 – Decision Time: This is when your MC has to make a decision about that Inciting Incident. Are they going to run away from home, get a divorce, find a new job? BUT in most best sellers, the FIRST response to that decision is no. No, I’m not going to do what I should, or what’s hard, or what makes sense. This helps build tension and sets pace! Then give it time and resolve it so your MC can be on his or her merry way with the plot.
4. Establish Flaws – This is where we see that the MC maybe doesn’t have it all together and isn’t quite as perfect as we all thought she was. You don’t have to give everything away, but maybe we start seeing some weaknesses or some unlikable things here. This way we’ve given the reader a chance to fall in love with the MC before we show her butt. Sort of like in dating and marriage. LOL This is also a great place to trickle in clues if you are dealing with an unreliable character.
5. Fun and Games – This is where I struggle, because I write such dark stuff. I don’t know how this bubbly preacher’s kid turned Edgar Allan Poe but whatevs. (P.S. if you write humor PLEASE do a post on that!) Anywho, fun and games doesn’t have to be bubbly or even funny, but this is where your romance typically happens. Your MC discovers they are in love. Or, if there is no romance, some of the lighter things in the novel are happening here. This is all for build and pace. Your chugging up the hill of that roller coaster, about to give your readers that my-stomach-just-fell-into-my-shoes feeling.
6. Mid-Point – This is the middle of your story. I know, deep, right? Things are starting to pull together and come to a head.
7. Bad Guys Close In – This is where your MC is getting backed into a corner by some situation or protagonist. They’re feeling a little hopeless here.
8. All is Lost – Giving your MC a situation they can’t possibly get out of is a pretty big theme in best sellers. There’s no way this can end up good for anyone as far as the reader can tell.
9. Dark Night of Soul – Things are moving quickly now. Your character recognizes that without sacrificing, there is no way out of this situation. Or maybe they don’t recognize it, but the reader does. This takes on all forms. In Jerry MaGuire, his career is on the line, in Twilight (forgive me) it’s Edward or Jacob, or Renesmee, or herself or Edward. Your MC can linger here for a moment to help solidify for the reader the stakes that are at risk. Remember this takes on so many different forms. Your story may be man against nature, or man against community. It still fits.
10. Climax — This is where the volcano explodes. The battle scene, the escape, the divorce, the throw down. The ugly.
11. Closing Image – Here’s your resolution, and my favorite: Bookends. This is where you take a theme that you started the book with, and you end with it. You give your reader a sense of closure with a profound idea, a loose end or a phrase used earlier and trickled throughout the book. In Jerry MaGuire it was a phrase: You complete me. In Twilight it was the theme that Edward could never read Bella’s thoughts and then she allowed him to.
For Pacing: The speaker suggested asking a beta reader to put a note in every place they got pulled away from reading to do something else by anything other than an earthquake or medical emergency. Those are probably your places where the book lulls. She suggested giving the character a minor conflict in those areas that doesn’t muddle up the plot or add too many new elements to the theme. It can be something she is already dealing with that happens to raise it’s ugly head again.
Also another REALLY interesting resource is the Plot Library. Apparently, there are only like a few plots out there since the beginning of time and every story can fit into one of these plot lines. I thought it was fun to look through them and see which one my book and my favorite books fit into!
Is there really a formula for a best seller? Who knows. Most will agree that, like any art form, there’s no right or wrong way to write a book. But, that being said, even as an artist, I need to know how shading works. I need to know that if I’m trying to paint realism, if that’s my goal, then if the sun is on the right side of an object, the shadows will only be on the left side. This is a guide. It helped me organize my writing and identify the pieces that WERE ALREADY THERE! I don’t necessarily use this until I’m in the editing process. I don’t hold to this formula while I’m writing. I use it to sort it out afterwards. Maybe organized writing is the key to a best seller, maybe it’s something else entirely, but identifying these spots in my writing helps ME better understand it. I hope you can get something out of this too.