It’s September now and that means a lot of things for a lot of people. For some, it’s back to school time. Others begin the seasonal worship of the pumpkin spice latte (I prefer chai, myself). Me? I celebrate my write-a-versary.
I haven’t tried to pinpoint it perfectly, but sometime in September of 2018 I decided to try my hand at writing a book. (You can read more about that fateful decision here.) The wheel of the year has turned again, so I find this to be a nice time to reflect on past accomplishments and look forward to what the future brings.
So what did I do this year?
I wrote two books.
Yes, two whole complete manuscripts, complete with synopses (synopsises? Words are weird), query letters, and all the rigamarole that goes along with trying to sell a book to get published. Each of my manuscripts hovers around 100,000 words (a little longer than The Hobbit, but not much, for reference). The first is a young adult fantasy novel and the second is a new adult fairy tale retelling. This month I’m heading into the query trenches once again to seek representation and try to sell them both.
I wrote a short story.
I think I possibly learned more writing this short story than writing either of my novels. There’s something about a 2500 word cap in which to develop a world and a concept that encourages brevity and succinct language choices. The confines of the contest (word cap, genre, a person, and an item to be included are all randomly generated) challenged me to stretch my creativity and to flex a little outside my comfort zone. And while I didn’t advance to the next rounds of writing, the judges gave me glowing feedback which encouraged me to develop this short story into an outline for a future novel.
And I think I would enter *this* contest again, as I had so much fun doing it!
So over the course of the year, between two manuscripts, a short story, this blog (which, note to self, needs more content) and countless hours of editing, I put my written word count for the year up over 300,000. If any of those words are good… well that remains to be seen. But my mom likes my books (hi mom!)
Aside from writing, though, what else did this newbie writer do in a year?
I learned about writer Twitter.
This could probably be an entire blog post in and of itself, but Twitter has been an invaluable growth tool for me as a new writer. I now follow some of my favorite authors, as well as a handful of agents I’m interested in querying and editors. Which is a great segue to…
I entered Twitter contests.
I managed to somehow distill my novels into a tweet for some Twitter pitch parties (more upcoming in September, and I can’t wait!). I threw my hat in the ring for #RevPit, and managed to snag a request from an editor that I really admire, Jeni Chapelle. And again, while I didn’t advance, I learned so much through my communications with Jeni, and received such nice feedback, that I was really encouraged to keep going with writing. She also made a really great book suggestion for me, which interestingly is a wonderful segue to…
I read some craft books.
Jeni suggested I read The Emotional Craft of Fiction (Donald Maas), which was filled with great tips for really ramping up the ‘feels’ in my writing.
My wonderfully supportive husband got me a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. I expected it to be ‘just a craft book’ but it was honestly such an emotional and immersive read.
I picked up Lisa Crohn’s Wired For Story and Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story, both of which were delightful craft guides that delivered the crucial material without ever seeming dry.
Reading these craft books helped me to internalize and expand upon some of the things that felt natural to me as a writer and to do them with more purpose and intent.
And on the regular, I refer to both the 2019 Writer’s Market and the Emotion Thesaurus (I can’t say I’ve read either of these cover to cover, but I have probably at least touched every single page in them).
I went to the Writer’s Guild of Alberta conference.
On a whim, last minute. Which isn’t something I’m great at; I’m a big planner. But a new writer friend (thanks Twitter, hi Ariana!) asked if I was going, and I couldn’t turn down the chance. The sessions were amazing, and I met some truly cool people in my own little community who are doing writerly things. Unfortunately, I could only stay for the first day of the conference because…
I flew to Vancouver to see Maggie Stiefvater speak.
If you get a chance to attend a craft seminar by an author you respect, I can’t recommend this enough. To listen to someone talk about something they’re passionate about and good at, and for them to share their process with you, it’s invaluable. I’ve had this idea for a novel floating in my brain since I started (which, I know, hasn’t been that long, but stay with me a minute for the sake of the point) and I couldn’t figure out how to proceed. The idea for this novel was barely that; it was more of a mood, or what I wanted the book to feel like. But how do you go from a mood to a novel?
You attend a Maggie Stiefvater seminar.
Because that’s how she starts. She basically gave me a road map to write the big weird book that’s been living in my subconscious!
And she’s funny and adorable and small. I was so proud of myself for keeping cool, until the very last second when I said something silly and my face took flight and we laughed. (I love this picture.)
I took photos for my author website.
I am so lucky to have this wonderful friend called Randy who takes pictures for me and makes me look like a million bucks. This website/blog was much sadder and more boring without his immense photo expertise.
If you have friends who do photos, I can’t recommend this exercise enough. It was super fun, and it made me feel very professional and important. (Maybe that’s just the Leo in me talking).
And last, but so far from least I should have mentioned it first, I read.
For the first time in years, I read voraciously, thirstily, hungrily. I didn’t even realize how much I’d missed reading until I started to do it again! And I could feel, like a sixth sense, the imbibing of words filling my creative well. That sounds over-the-top but I’m being quite serious; on days I couldn’t find it in me to write, I would read, and by the end of a book, I would be ready to smash out two thousand words again.
WHEW. I had a busy year, for someone who just started writing!
When I take out my metaphorical rear-view mirror and have a look at the year behind me, I also like to take out my crystal ball and try to pierce the future fog and have a glance ahead at what’s to come. What are my plans for September 2019 to September 2020?
Take a master class (or maybe two). I’m really interested in the Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood online master classes! If you’ve taken either and have some feedback I’d love to hear from you.
Read 2-3 more craft books. I’m also taking suggestions for any of those I shouldn’t miss.
Query query Pitch Wars query #PitMad query query. I have two complete manuscripts, and I’ve got to get them out there! I did some querying with my first but my second is a baby still and hasn’t made it into the world. I’m sharpening up my query letter and honing my synopses and those agents won’t know what hit them. Look out literary world!
A writer’s retreat? I just discovered that my guild offers retreats and I’m very tempted!
And when all else fails…
I’ll write another book.
I have several near-formed ideas floating at the surface of my brain, and I even wrote the first chapter of my next book and I liked it so much I got scared and had to close the document and let myself feel things.
You may not be able to buy my books on the shelf… yet. But I promise, it’s just a matter of time.