Need to Change My Writing Process

Given the time it’s taking to revise my manuscripts, it’s pretty obvious my process kind of sucks. I know some writers approach their first draft as the “junk draft” so they aren’t pressured to produce a masterpiece right away, but I’ve given myself entirely too much freedom to suck.

With my first novel, some drafts actually made its way to several agent desks, but it didn’t get much further than that. A handful of agents bothered to read the MS before they realized the hooks of my first paragraphs weren’t replicated in the following chapters. According to most of my test readers, the interesting bits are in the latter half. Though it’s a fairly obvious inference, superior plotting would probably have made the thing more consistently interesting (hence my current desire to revise the whole thing).

The more I write and revise, the more I believe I should go full Plotter and stop being an unholy Plotter-Pantser hybrid. That’s to say, my novels could benefit from having the major plot points laid out from the get-go.

Anyway, I’ve been somewhat busy—with my non-writing career(s), traveling up the eastern seaboard, and spending quality time with the people in my life—but I won’t pretend I haven’t been lazy in revising my novels (e.g., I’m writing this post instead of working on the MSS). I need more discipline, and I need a new process.

Any suggestions?

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Don’t Worry (or Rejoice) Just Yet, I’m Still Here

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I’ve been distracted for a while, and I’ve been busy with non-writing work for the last two weeks. Though I haven’t been writing and posting as much as I’d like, I’m definitely not throwing in the towel yet.

Novel #1: Still working on polishing the first novel. After the last revision (which, as I may have stated elsewhere, was the final major revision until I get an agent or professional editor), I sent the manuscript out to beta readers: two re-readers and five new folks; all writers. Waiting to get feedback from at least half of them before I apply some changes and make a final Hail Mary pass for traditional publishing; if no one has the hands to catch the damn ball (perfect spiral and all), I’ll finally invest in going indie by hiring an editor.

Short Stories and Breadth of Style: Starting in June, I’ve been trying my hand at short stories and have churned out a bunch of crap and several pieces which I think are pretty darn decent. For some of these, I deviated from the PG-13-esque style of writing I use in Novel #1 in favor of something darker. This came about from a mix of influences, including but not limited to: On the Road which I’m rereading for the first time since college, bits of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and the unfiltered language of the television show Californication (Hank Moody’s writing seems a bit on the purple side, so I’m trying not to pick up too much of that).

Other Novels: I should update the “My Novels” page. The so-called Urban Fantasy novel I was outlining has changed drastically, and the original intended title no longer makes sense. I’m about 6,000 words into the first draft (i.e., “zero draft” or “junk draft”) and I’m hoping this novel will be more of an obvious high concept work than Novel #1. The superhero project is on the back burner; and I’ve gotten several thousand words into a contemporary (non-genre) novel. Notably, none of these projects are YA (whereas Novel #1 is).

1st Anniversary Post: Top Posts and the State of the Novel

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I set up camp on Wordpress a year ago to connect with other readers and writers, and establish some internet presence while I tried to get my novel published. As far as publishing goes, I totally failed, but I’ll get to that later. First, some fun blogging anniversary stuff—

The Best of A.D. Martin Posts:

Sex definitely sells—well, according to my post statistics, anyway.

Without looking too closely at all the facts, the posts which garnered the most clicks over the life of my blog—by quite a large margin—has been:

1. Two Seasons of Arrow, Seven Women for Oliver Queen; and

2. Cool-ish Actors, Annoying Characters

Pointlessly Shirtless Men of Arrow: Slade Wilson, Oliver Queen, John Diggle, and Roy Harper

Yeah, people click on these guys.

For the post about Arrow, the post seemed to have built considerable SEO which helped it to show up in Google results somewhat prominently (as I write this, if you search for “Oliver Queen” and “Women,” the post will be in the first page or two). I also noticed that not long after I made the post, someone awesome linked to it on the IMDb discussion board for the show. Thanks, anonymous person!

Aimee Teegarden

I should probably watch Teegarden’s newer stuff.

The SEO of the Arrow post aside, there is one thing these two posts have in common: attractive people. By coincidence (not by design; I wish I were that clever), the images displayed on my “Top Post & Pages” are of shirtless vigilantes and Aimee Teegarden, for the Arrow and “Cool-ish Actors” posts, respectively. I think it’s fairly safe to say that most people find Oliver Queen, Mr. Diggle and Ms. Teegarden pleasant to look upon and this seems to have played a part in giving these posts a higher view-count than my other posts.

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From Pantser to Plotter

I’m betraying the Pantser camp. Pantsers are dirty and smelly, and they throw baby carrots at people for no reason. Jokes aside—after nearly two years of editing my novel and outlining new projects, I’ve come to prefer meticulous planning over off-the-cuff writing.

For those who don’t know, a Pantser is one who writes “by the seat of [his or her] pants” without planning ahead, whereas a Plotter is one who outlines the novel’s story and narration to a significant extent before writing the first chapter.

Writing as a Pantser just created more work for Future Me.

pantser story arc

Readers might get stuck in the crotch and never get to the other pant leg.

Three years ago, I started a manuscript with minimal planning. I had some ideas for the world and setting, created psychological profiles and backgrounds for a few main characters, and then I let those characters lead themselves through 80,000 words of meandering hi-jinks. My first draft, more appropriately referred to as a “junk draft” or “draft zero,” suffered from significant structural problems which has required a lot of editing.

Lack of planning leads to excessively lopsided story arcs.

In a misguided attempt to write a commercial YA with a literary feel, I wrote my first chapters as slice-of-life vignettes with the intent of creating a sense of normalcy before crazy junk happened (note: there’s nothing with a commercial-literary hybrid, I just didn’t do it right). I let my characters do whatever they wanted, and they did a whole lot of nothing for too many chapters (albeit with some fun banter). This problem extended into much of the “rising action” portion of the MS which, essentially, rose too slowly.

Characters, like children and actors, need some direction.

To be clear, even as a Pantser, I often had conclusions in mind as soon as I opened up a new plot line. The problem was I’d have two or three conclusions and take too long to decide on one of them.

Outlining reins in the characters and helps build a proper arc.

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So much sexier.

Knowing a majority of the plot points, both major and minor, it’s easier to adjust the pace of individual scenes so they properly contribute to the pace of the overall novel. So, the rising action has only minor dips from the resolutions of subplots rather than momentum-breaking pitfalls which results in an anti-climactic ending.

“Double rainbow . . . what does this mean?” Well, it should mean something.

Ideally, everything described in a novel should tie into the overall plot, character development or world building—preferably all three. The more you know of the whole story, the better you’ll be able to emphasize the importance of the individual pieces by linking them together. A lot of these connections can be established and elaborated during the revision process, but it saves so much time if you plan things out a bit earlier as opposed to retroactively squeezing things in.

So, for my future novels . . .

Having more writing experience, I can probably be a much better Pantser if I choose to write without outlining. However, I’m definitely going to try to be a Plotter for my next project or two.

Writing and Rewriting That First Chapter

The first chapter might be the most important chapter in a novel.

Whether you’re trying to entice an agent or publisher for traditional publishing, or trying to keep readers who’ve picked up your self-published masterpiece, the first chapter needs to be a great hook.

There are plenty of articles out there which detail some elements of a good opening chapter (like this one from Writers’ Digest which describes several agent-repelling mistakes, and this list of tips by Chuck Wendig).

So, rather than try to provide comprehensive advice here, I’m focusing on three major issues I’ve encountered while writing my own first chapter(s): (1) knowing where to start the narration; (2) being able to set aside perfectionism so you can finish the rest of the manuscript; and (3) having the humility to make major changes.

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Lessons While Editing My Novel

With so many writing conventions and diverging schools of thought, it’s impossible for a single human being to learn it all (except for Yeezus, of course). However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the effort to keep improving our craft. Giving up is for poets and the French (bonus tip: don’t make fun of poets or the French on your blog).

So, in the spirit of not giving up, here’s another list of writing-related lessons I’ve conjured up while drinking an ill-advised mix of Mountain Dew and Stella Artois (mostly lessons that were re-learned and reinforced):

1. Unnecessary scene changes to your readers is as tea to Phoebe Buffay (Hint: “Tea gives Phoebe the trots.”).

Maybe you actually want your book to make people rush to the toilet, but for those of you who don’t, you should carefully assess the number of settings you push your characters through in a single chapter.

Essentially, you have to consider whether a change in setting is necessary. Do you absolutely need the change in ambiance? Are you trying to jump through different settings to expose the reader to the different places you created during your manic world-building episode? Can you get the same plot advances, character development, and evoke the same emotions by having everything occur in the same place? If you answered yes to that last question, make it occur in the same place. Otherwise, you’ll waste time and word counts shuffling your characters between locations.

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Help Mah! Looking for Beta Readers for MS #1

Beta Readers Wanted - A.D. MartinUpdate 2/26: Not currently looking for any more beta readers at this time. Feel free to keep in touch, though. I’ll inevitably need more beta readers in the future.

Hello Dorks and Non-dorks (you know who you are),

I’m looking for more beta readers to give me feedback on my novel, Remnant of Us, and help me make draft fourteen as awesome as possible before I send out one last set of query letters. Yeah, I’m finally publicly revealing the title to my manuscript which I’ve had for months, and also releasing a little blurb about it over on my My Novels page (feel free to send me politely worded emails with feedback on the blurb).

Preferably, beta readers are those who: already enjoy the genre; can give me substantial feedback about the plot, pacing, and feasibility in my novel; and has enough free time or reads fast enough to get back to me within two weeks or less (but, I’m flexible on the time).

If you’re interested in beta reading Remnant of Us, let me know by email through admartinwriting[at]gmail.com (replacing the [at] with @), or my twitter account @AD_Martin_ (in which case, you’d have to provide an email for me to correspond with). If you can, please provide a little background information about yourself and the kinds of books, TV shows, or films you enjoy, and how quickly you think you can read a 76,000 word manuscript.

Thanks, A.D. Martin

Just earlier today, I noticed a writer whose blog I follow ask for beta reader volunteers from her blogging/Twitter network and it seemed like a great idea. So, here were are.