The Author-Editor Relationship

A little while ago I tweeted a bit about working with an editor and taking and using constructive criticism to make your book better. The initial tweet in my thread gained quite a bit of traction, and even as I was tweeting I knew this was a topic deserving of its own blog post, where I could lay out my thoughts in greater detail. Well, here is that blog post!

As a sort of disclaimer, I want to make it clear that what I’ll be talking about here is working with an editor at a publishing house who has acquired your novel. I do not personally have experience in working with freelance editors, etc., so I can’t speak to what that process is like specifically, nor do I know how the editing process goes for nonfiction. But I think the general spirit of what I’m saying here can apply to working with anyone providing edits/constructive criticism, be it your agent, your editor, a freelance editor, etc.

The absolute key thing to know about the author-editor relationship is that it is, it should be, a partnership. I think that often this isn’t something that is generally understood by aspiring authors and even debut authors when their book is first acquired. Which isn’t surprising; if you’ve never had a book published and never worked with a professional editor before, you wouldn’t know! But, again, that relationship is meant to be a partnership. An editor is not there to rewrite your book; to demand that you remove certain scenes or plot points or characters; to tell you how to change your book. No, what you and your editor should have is a collaborative relationship, an ongoing conversation on how to make your book better. They are helping you make your book better. Isn’t that what we all want?

I’ve heard, many times, aspiring authors react with dread and even anger to the idea of an editor “changing” their book. I cannot stress enough that this is the wrong attitude to have. A little tough love here: your book is not perfect. (Okay, technically no book is perfect, published or not, but you get my point). Your book can absolutely be made better. Especially in their earlier stages, books can ALWAYS be made better. And here’s the thing: there is only so much the person writing the book can do to improve it. I have seen this time and time again in my own work, and in feedback I get from critique partners, agents, and of course, my editor. When you’ve been working on something for so long, you lack an objective view; you’re so entrenched in the plot and characters and the world that you can’t see it as clearly as an outside reader would. This where your outside eyes (critique partner, agent, editor) come in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten feedback/notes on one of my manuscripts with a suggestion that will so greatly improve the book that I slap my forehead and say, “Why didn’t I think of that??” These things oftentimes seem so obvious once someone points them out. But that’s the key: once someone points them out. My books have been improved so much by the ideas and feedback of others that I would never in a million years have thought of or seen myself. Because I’m too close to the work, I can no longer see it as clearly as it needs to be seen to be improved.

So, personally, I look forward to getting my edit letters. I look forward to hearing what thoughts my editor has on how to improve my books. It’s exciting to me, to know that there are ways and ways to improve the book that I haven’t thought of. I mean that sincerely.

Now, certainly, the editorial process can be scary and anxiety-inducing the first time you go through it, as a debut author. That’s normal! You’ve never done this before, and no amount of blog posts/articles/interviews with authors can prepare you for all the feelings you’ll go through when it’s YOUR BOOK going through edits. But! We can certainly talk about what that process looks like. Of course, every editor is different, but the standard process – based on my experience and that of the other traditionally published authors I know – looks something like this:

1. Once your book is acquired/turned in, your editor will go through to do his/her first edit. This results in them sending you, the author, what’s called an edit letter. The length of these can vary widely based on a lot of factors, but basically in it the editor gives you his/her thoughts on the book overall: what’s working well, what isn’t, what needs to be addressed in the next draft. They will then give you thoughts on specific scenes/plot points/character arcs/etc., as well as specific suggestions on how to fix what they feel isn’t working well, or what they feel needs to fleshed out/cut down/given more detail. These suggestions are meant to guide you as you revise. Maybe some of them work for you and you do exactly what the editor suggested; maybe some don’t, but they prompt you to think of a different way to address that same issue.

What an edit letter is NOT is a list of things your editor is DEMANDING that you change about the book. It is about areas that they want you to address, and as I said, they usually give suggestions on how you can do that, but how you address those things is entirely up to you. Again, we’ve acknowledged that your book is not perfect; you know there are ways it can be made better. And remember, editors are publishing professionals; this is their job, to make books better. They know what makes a book successful, both in connecting with readers and commercially. If you are publishing traditionally, the market is always going to be a consideration. That’s just the reality. So it’s very possible that your editor’s notes and suggestions may be geared towards making sure your book adheres more closely to certain expectations of a genre.

2. Once you get this edit letter, your best bet is to read through it a few times and sit with it for at least a few days. There may well be suggestions in it you don’t like, or you may disagree with your editor as to where the problem areas are. Trust me, take some time to digest their feedback. I have absolutely gotten certain suggestions that made me say “No way!” Yet after thinking about it for a bit, I’ve realized that they are exactly right, and that character can in fact have a much reduced role, or the book can do without this chapter entirely, or what have you.

You may also, after sitting with the edit letter for a few days, want to hop on the phone with your editor and talk things through. You can go over how you plan to address the problem areas/rough spots in your manuscript, get your editor’s take on how you’re thinking of putting his/her feedback into play, and brainstorm together if you’re feeling stuck. It can be super helpful to just bounce ideas off of each other. Remember, your editor loves and is excited about this book too; that’s why they bought it! And editors are generally very happy to jump on a call to talk things through at any point in the editing process – again, this is their job. That’s what they’re there for. Especially if you ever feel that you are your editor are not seeing eye to eye on something, a phone call will be the best way to work through that. Perhaps they did not initially understand why you made a certain choice, and if you can explain it they may then rethink their original feedback; this might then be a point in the story that can be made clearer but not necessarily majorly reworked.

3. You’ll usually be given a deadline to have your revised manuscript back to your editor, and so once you’ve turned in this first edit, things vary depending on the book and how strenuous a revision was needed. Your editor will read it over again and see how you addressed the identified problem areas. They may come back with more suggestions for another round of revisions, which doesn’t necessarily mean that you did anything wrong or that the book is “bad”. Some books are more difficult to get right than others; some have lots going on and lots of layers and so it’s easier to address different areas one at a time. Again, this process will vary based on the editor, the author, and the book. So, you may go back for another round of revisions. I know for myself, when making my edits to The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, there were some scenes that I reworked per my editor’s notes, but I wasn’t sure how well I had pulled it off. Your editor will review and let you know, and you can go back and rework again if you want. But once that’s done…

4. Once all bigger picture things with the manuscript have been addressed, it’s time for line edits. This is when your editor goes through the manuscript thoroughly and, using some kind of tracked changes, will indicate where things on the sentence level should be cut, added, and reworded. This, for me, is usually when my word count comes down. There are often lots of things on the sentence level that can be cut; extraneous words and even whole sentences that just aren’t necessary. For example, “I walked up and knocked upon the door” can simply become “I knocked on the door.” That’s a very general example; a lot of this will depend on your writing style and your editor’s editing style. But you get the idea. This is also where your editor will catch things like word repetition, someone standing in one sentence that’s sitting the next with no mention of them moving, phrases you use 500 times in the manuscript, and the list goes on.

Again, as with the edit letter, just because your editor indicates a change doesn’t mean you HAVE to make it. This is why you go over these edits very carefully and thoroughly. There have been times where my editor indicated I should cut a line or even a word that I really liked, and so I just left it. That is totally fine. These are suggestions; you are not obligated to take every single one (though if you’re like me and use the phrase “in truth” practically every time a character speaks, yeah, you’re gonna want to get rid of some of those). But it bears repeating that editors know what they’re doing, and line edits are meant to make the book, overall, much cleaner (and sometimes shorter, which, if length is an issue, will be something you and your editor have talked about). And, again, if there’s anything going on in line edits that you’re really unsure or perplexed about, hop on the phone with your editor and talk it through.

And, of course, at any point in this process you can still be tweaking and reworking things that you’ve thought of that you’d like to change. It’s always a good idea to give your editor a heads up when making any major changes if you haven’t previously discussed them, though. Remember, you want to both be on the same page.

5. You’ll probably have multiple rounds of line edits – I usually have one big one, then a second and maybe a third just to clean up any last little things – and after that, the book goes to copyedits. Copyedits are not done by your editor; this is done by a member of the publisher’s copyediting team in house. You will need to review these edits as well, but what is being addressed here is grammar, typos, any word repetition that remains, consistency, etc. I actually had my copyeditor for Most Beautiful point out some words and phrases that weren’t in use yet in that time period – for instance, at one point Simonetta had used the phrase “in one fell swoop”, and the copyeditor pointed out that that phrase originated in a Shakespeare play, which obviously hadn’t been written yet in 1472 (or whatever year that exact scene took place, I forget, haha). I would never have imagined that – and the vast majority of readers would never have noticed either – but it was still a cool thing to know and be able to fix. Copyeditors are truly publishing’s unsung heroes, ya’ll.

This, as I said, is generally how the process goes. Your editor loves your book – they have to, to have acquired and read it all the many times they will read it through the process above – and wants it to be the best it can be. As I mentioned several times, this is all stuff you and your editor can talk about and hash out. It’s not a list of demands with which you must comply for your book to be published. You DO have to work with your editor in good faith and consider their suggestions, and your editor DOES have to think about what you are trying to achieve with the story, and not steer it in a direction you did not mean for it to go. Miscommunications and misunderstandings can arise, certainly. But, as in any collaborative partnership, you talk and work through those together.

For myself, as I am drafting and revising on my own before turning in the book to my editor, I’ll lean on her in the sense that: maybe I know a scene needs something but I’m just not sure what –  that’s something she can take a look at for me. In book 4, which I just turned in, I left notes for my editor aaaaallll throughout the manuscript for specific things I want her take on. I know she’ll address all those and find other areas for improvement that I hadn’t even thought about. And I seriously can’t wait to see what those are.

I’m sure there are horror stories of editors who have tried to rewrite an author’s book or been completely inflexible about changes, but I have certainly not experienced that personally, nor have any authors I know. That is definitely not the norm. The author-editor relationship is one that is mutually beneficial and should be creatively exciting for both parties. You are working on this book TOGETHER. Your editor wants your book to be the best it can be, and so do you. You’re a team. You’re on the same side. Your editor is your partner, not your adversary. It’s okay to ask questions, to be a little nervous. But ultimately, other than your agent, your editor is your book’s best and strongest advocate and biggest fan.

 

Advertisements

The Art of Revisions

Since I’m currently working on revisions to my upcoming fourth book, I thought I would make my return to blogging by talking about revisions and sharing some (hopefully!) helpful tips. I’ve been known to say that revising is my favorite part of the process – though I also love drafting something new, there’s something especially exciting about getting in there and polishing the words you’ve already written to make them shine, about adding new scenes that you couldn’t have dreamed up the first time around, about tightening and fleshing out plot threads, about beefing up your character arcs and characterization and really making the characters real, flesh-and-blood people. And since I know I can get in there and revise until the cows come home, it lets me loosen up a bit while drafting and helps me shut off my inner editor. Once you get it down, you can always fix it later, but you can’t fix a blank page!

I used to be way more intense about revisions than I am now. My agent loves this story: when I was revising The Violinist of Venice, I typed out each draft manually. The entire thing. As in, I printed out the first draft, put it in a binder, and had it next to me on the desk, and retyped every single word for the second draft. Then I did the same thing again for the third. Retyping it all each time forced me to really consider each and every word and whether it was necessary, and whether it was the best word choice.

Needless to say, this method took forever (especially since the earlier drafts of Violinist were WAY longer than the final draft), and as such, I don’t revise that way anymore. What with now having deadlines to meet, I don’t have that much time to take on a round of revisions. I’m glad I did it, since as an exercise it most definitely made me a better writer and honed my skills, but it’s just not practical at this point in my writing career, nor perhaps as necessary given the experience I’ve gained since then. That’s not to say I wouldn’t ever retype portions of a manuscript again if I was feeling very stuck, so I DO recommend this method on the whole (if you have the time, that is).

My current process, then, looks like this: I start a new Word document for the new draft, then I’ll copy and paste a chapter or two at a time from the original draft into the new document; I read through it, and make whatever changes/deletions are necessary. New chapters/scenes/what have you are just written directly into the new document. The research never ends, of course; I’m always looking up or confirming things as I go. That’s happening a ton with book 4, as most of the plot is centered around actual historical events. I mapped those out (in terms of dates, who was involved, etc.) for the most part when I made the outline for the book, but with changes being made and new information added, I’m doing a lot of double checking, or looking up things I didn’t initially realize I needed to know.

When I’m drafting, there are things I know I’ll have to flesh out more or perhaps tighten in revisions, but part of tuning out my inner editor is pushing all that to the side and just getting the draft done. So as I draft I often make notes of those points for myself, so that when it comes time for revisions I remember any problem areas. The notes also help when I send the draft to my agent and critique partners – I usually provide them with a list of specific things I’d like feedback on, such as whether a plot point is working, whether a characters actions are believable and make sense, if a certain plot thread needs to be fleshed out more, whether I accomplished a specific thing, etc. The list goes on. It helps me push certain concerns aside when I’m drafting to know that I can run it past some fresh eyes later on. Sometimes the things I think are concerns actually are working way better on the page than I thought; sometimes I’m spot on about what’s working and what’s not. And sometimes my critique partners find issues I wasn’t even aware of! That’s why they’re great to have. You can never see your own work completely objectively, so those fresh, outside eyes are key.

With that said, though, I do have to let my drafts site for at least a month before I can start to revise. The distance gives me some measure of objectivity that I can’t have when I’m up to my elbows in it all the time. If I can let it sit longer, that’s even better (and usually I do, to give my agent/critique partners time to read). I always make sure to build that time into the process when working out deadlines with my publisher. Indeed, when drafting OR revising, part of the reason I never work every day is that I find it really helpful to just take a couple days off here and there as I go, to get my mindset at least a bit more fresh when I come back to it.

With book 4, I spent most of my energy in the outline and first draft getting all of the historical events worked out and in place. One of my narrators is a real historical figure, and one is not, so I had to make sure I knew where the former was and what he was doing at any given time (and if I wanted to deviate from the historical record, to figure out what he was doing instead and why/if the change was really necessary) and then fit the latter narrator into those actual events. It was a lot to juggle, so one of my big focuses for this revision is to flesh out the characterization of the fictional narrator, as she fell a bit by the wayside at times in the first draft. So far this is going really well, and she is coming much more to life then she did in the first draft. She’s becoming more complicated and nuanced, and I love her even more now!

I’m also making a big addition of a new plot point, based on a series of actual historical events that occurred that I left out of the first draft. These particular events were actually a pretty big deal historically speaking, but my problem when working on the first draft was that they occurred around the same time as something else that happened, and which I made the emotional climax of the novel. So from a craft/narrative perspective, I couldn’t have both of those things happen at the same time. After the first draft was done, I knew I really needed to figure out how to add the one in, and eventually I figured it out – I’m going to shift the new event to occur sooner than it actually did, before that big emotional climax. This is one of the ways that historical fiction authors can take creative license – these things did occur, but I’m just having them happen at a slightly different point in time. Then I’ll note that change in my author’s note – that best friend of historical novelists – and explain what I changed and why. After all, I’m writing fiction, not a nonfiction, factual account.

I’m also excited for this new plot point because I’ve found what I think will be a great way to insert my fictional heroine into the events, thus fleshing out her story even more. This means, of course, I’ve got more research to do (I’m pretty well-versed in the historical events and context of what I’m adding, but to write about it well I’ll need to do a quick deep dive) but luckily there is lots of information and lots has been written about these particular events and the people involved.

A question I’ve gotten quite a bit – whether when speaking to book clubs or from aspiring/beginning authors – is how do you know when a book is done? When your revisions are done? When it’s ready to submit? How I answer this question for myself is a bit different now than it was when I was working on Violinist and had to decide when to query. Now, when I’ve done a good, solid revision, I’ll send it to my editor, and she and I will continue to revise and make changes together. I don’t ever send my editor a first draft – only my agent and critique partners see those – but something that’s been revised once but is still in need of more polishing. That’s her job, after all – to be yet another set of fresh eyes and find all the things that both I and my critique partners missed, and bring her own unique perspective to it (and believe me, she is GOOD AT IT). I’m leaving lots of notes for her in the manuscript, for questions I have and things I know I want to talk with her about. Book 4 is my most ambitious undertaking yet, and I love challenging myself, but that means this one may need more help than my previous books.

With all that said, though, the question I always ask myself towards the end of the process – and what I asked myself before I decided I was ready to query Violinist is this: Am I actually improving the book, or am I just changing things to change them?

Look, you can revise and make changes forever. It could literally be an endless process if you let it. You’ll never stop coming up with ideas for things to add or change, and every time you read through your work you’ll find something to tweak. Case in point – a few months ago I thought up a really nice description for one of Adriana’s dresses in Violinist, then remembered, oh yeah, that book has been published for over two years now. Your brain always keeps working on those ideas and characters – especially if they’ve been a part of your life for a long time, as that book is for me. Had I thought of that description when I was still working on that book, sure, I would have added it in. Would it have made the book any better as a whole? No. It was just some imagery that I liked. It wouldn’t have changed how readers responded to the book or how well it sells. There’s a really great saying – I can’t remember with whom it originated – that books are never done, they’re only due. I think that sums up revising quite well.

So you see where I’m going with this? You can hang on to a manuscript forever and keep making little tweaks, but at a certain point I think that you stop actually improving the book and are just making it different. And when you hit that point – when you’re just making changes but not necessarily making the book better – that, I think, is when it’s time to stop, lest you get caught in a never ending cycle of revisions. That’s when it’s time to query, or to send it to your agent, or submit it to your editor. That’s when you’re done.

It can be scary to pronounce a book “done” and let it go like that, but remember – until you send those first pass pages back to your publisher, you can still make changes. If you sign with an agent, they’ll have feedback; if the book sells, your editor will have feedback. The book can still be made better, but I think you reach a certain point where you can’t make it any better by yourself. At least, that’s been my experience.

So I am plugging away at the revisions for book 4, and you know what? The first draft wasn’t as bad as I thought it was (it usually isn’t) and, even though this revision was a little rough for a bit, I feel like I’ve hit my stride and I am really, truly improving the book. I’m getting excited thinking about how this one, too, will go out into the world, and about introducing readers to these characters. I’m excited to send it to my editor. This book has been a long journey, and there’s still a lot to do, but I’ve reached that point where, finally, it all seems doable. Where I can see how I can make this book everything I dreamed it would be. And that’s a really great feeling.

Audiobook news!

I’m thrilled to announce that The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel is also going to be available on audio! It will be released at the same time as the print book. This will be the first of my books to have an audio version, and as I’m an audiobook fan myself, this is super exciting for me!

I’ll share more information (on narrator, etc.) as I have it!

THE SPELLBOOK OF KATRINA VAN TASSEL – Cover Reveal!

I’m SO excited to finally reveal the cover of my third novel, The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel, out October 2nd, 2018 from St. Martin’s Press. Also below is the synopsis of the novel, to give you a better idea of what exactly the book is about! My publisher really worked with me to make sure the cover had the exact vibe that I wanted, and I so appreciate the work everyone at St. Martin’s put in on this. The result is a cover that I am absolutely thrilled with.

Without further ado, here it is!

I absolutely love the creepy, spooky vibe here, with the blue and the tree branches and the misty forest and the blood-red letters. I also love the figure of Katrina at the bottom, how her posture looks both hesitant and determined. She – and her journey throughout the novel – are captured perfectly in that image. I also love the way this is heavy on the text, as it reminds me of covers or title pages that I’ve seen from Washington Irving’s time.

I hope you all love this cover as much as I do!

Synopsis:

When Ichabod Crane arrives in the spooky little village of Sleepy Hollow as the new schoolmaster, Katrina Van Tassel is instantly drawn to him. Through their shared love of books and music, they form a friendship that quickly develops into romance. Ichabod knows that as an itinerant schoolteacher of little social standing, he has nothing to offer the wealthy Katrina – unlike her childhood friend-turned-enemy, Brom Van Brunt, who is the suitor Katrina’s father favors.

But when romance gives way to passion, Ichabod and Katrina embark on a secret love affair, sneaking away into the woods after dark to be together – all while praying they do not catch sight of Sleepy Hollow’s legendary Headless Horseman. That is, until All Hallows’s Eve, when Ichabod suddenly disappears, leaving Katrina alone and in a perilous position.

Enlisting the help of her friend – and rumored witch – Charlotte Jansen, Katrina seeks the truth of Ichabod Crane’s disappearance, investigating the forest around Sleepy Hollow using unconventional – often magical – means. What they find forces Katrina to question everything she once knew, and to wonder if the Headless Horseman is perhaps more than just a story after all. In Alyssa Palombo’s The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel nothing is as it seems, and love is a thing even death won’t erase.

 

Pre-order The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel now at:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

 

Announcing My Third Novel: The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel!

I am BEYOND excited and thrilled to finally be sharing with the world the news of my third novel, The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel. It’s a retelling of Washington Irving’s classic short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, but told from Katrina’s point of view. In addition to being a retelling, it’s also something of a sequel – it continues on past the point where the original short story ended.

 

This is, as the saying goes, a book of my heart, and for many reasons. The first is that I love all things creepy and spooky; Halloween is by far my favorite holiday, and I’ve always been interested in ghosts and the paranormal and so on. This novel has allowed me to play with those things, as well as with elements of magic and witchcraft, and what was defined as witchcraft in that time and place (as you’ve maybe already guessed by the title!). I’ve been obsessed with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in particular since I was a kid; I used to watch the cartoon version all the time, and to this day Tim Burton’s movie version, Sleepy Hollow, is one of my all-time favorite films (with my all-time favorite film score). I also love the Sleepy Hollow TV show on Fox, and thus far my editor and I have mostly communicated about this book in GIFs of Tom Mison as Ichabod Crane 🙂

This book is just SO ME in its spookiness that when I first told my mom I was writing it, she just looked at me and asked, “How was this not your first book?”

There are lots of other reasons this book is very close to my heart, though. Like my first two books, it has a strong female friendship, though in Spellbook that friendship, between Katrina and a character I’ve invented named Charlotte Jansen, really takes center stage. I have such wonderful, close, supportive female friends in my life who really inspired me to try to render the full truth of that relationship on the page, and show how our friendships can really anchor and support women through our most difficult times. I’ve seen this play out in my own life so much that I knew it was something I wanted to explore more deeply in my writing.

In addition, Katrina is also the first character I’ve written who is a writer herself. Through much of the book, she tells stories; she tells the local ghost stories and legends of Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson River Valley, and eventually she starts writing them down. This, plus the fact that this novel is based on one of America’s most famous short stories, really makes this a story about stories.

And that’s another thing: this will be my first published novel set in the United States, in my own country. I learned so much about the history of my country that I never knew while researching this book, and while I’m certainly not done writing about Europe and Italy in particular, it was a wonderful and meaningful change of pace for me to write an American story. It won’t be the last!

Music also plays a part in this book (though not so heavily as it did in Violinist), and Katrina is also my first heroine who has a dog! As a dog lover myself, I just couldn’t resist giving her a handsome, ferocious, but sweet canine companion. And for my fellow dog lovers, please note: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING BAD happens to the dog over the course of the book, I promise!!

You can check out my Pinterest inspiration board for the novel here.

I love this book so much and it is so meaningful to me in so many ways that I’m thrilled to be able to share it with the world at last! I can’t wait until it is on shelves for others to read, but in the meantime stay tuned for more updates on the book – such as the official release date, synopsis, and cover – as I have them. I am so excited for you all to meet my Katrina!

In Which a Pantser Makes and Writes from an Outline

As I mentioned a few posts back, my current work-in-progress is my most ambitious undertaking yet (and if you read my most recent post then you know that I’m actually almost done!). In order to get started with it, I was forced to make an outline, which is something I had never done before (I had never outlined an entire book, at least). For someone who usually falls into the “pantser” category of writers, this was a new challenge in and of itself.

I found the actual writing of the outline itself to be somewhat tedious – necessary though I knew it was, I just wanted to be writing the actual story and digging into the characters and relationships and dialogue. It didn’t help that the outline took much longer to finish than I’d anticipated (though given what the overall length of the book will end up as, that shouldn’t have surprised me). But then once it was done, I was ready to get writing, and embark on this strange new journey of writing from an outline.

I wondered whether writing from an outline would help me to draft faster. I’m told I write pretty quickly, but I would always like to be faster (well, as fast as is reasonable without writing a draft that is a complete and utter mess). This has most definitely been the case; I’m at about 104,000 words right now in something that I started back in March (though, full disclosure: I did have the prologue and a few chapters already written, since I originally started playing with this idea some years ago, so I probably had around 5000ish words to start). That is the fastest I have ever written a draft of this length to this point in my writing career, and I can only conclude that it is because of the outline.

Because, of course, making an outline has removed that element of pantsing wherein I sit down in front of my computer and say “Okay, what next?”. No need to try to figure it out as I sit down to write; I can just refer to the outline. It has prevented me from getting really stuck or hung up on plot elements, since I’d already mapped all that out in advance.

That’s not to say, of course, that I haven’t had difficulties and roadblocks in writing this draft. Oh, have I ever. It’s just that those difficulties have been more along the lines of character arc and development and the subtleties of the characters’ relationships with one another – which run the gamut from loving to tricky to downright dysfunctional. Getting those sorts of things right, of course, is no easy task in writing any novel, whether you’ve got an outline or not. On the flip side, though, one of my two POV characters was being a bit more elusive, and what I found as I wrote the outline is that some of her motivations and the way she thinks became clearer to me. She’s been a bit of a tough nut to crack overall, and only recently do I feel like I finally have all the keys to her as a character. And that is something else that often comes with the drafting process.

And certainly not all of the spontaneity of my pantser’s soul has been eliminated. There were a few events that I originally included in the outline that I decided to cut, both to keep the length of the book manageable and also for the overall flow/arc of the story. Then there have also been events and scenes that I added in that were not in the outline, or scenes that ended up becoming bigger and more fleshed out than I had originally anticipated while outlining. Parts of the story and characters are still revealing themselves to me as I write, which is one of the things I love about pantsing. I like to be surprised (at least a little bit) when I’m writing, and that has still happened in this book.

Along those lines, another of my concerns was that, since I already knew everything that was going to happen and had already sketched it out, would I get bored with the actual writing of the book? The answer, thankfully, has been a resounding no. Quite the contrary, actually: since mapping everything out in brief I’ve been itching to get at many of the scenes and really dig into them. I was very glad to find that!

So, overall, much as it may pain me to admit it, writing from an outline has actually been a really good experience, and I think it has helped me draft this book more successfully in many ways. Do I see myself making an outline again in the future if I don’t absolutely have to (as I did with this book)? Hmmmm…maybe, maybe not. I don’t know that I could make myself sit down and write a whole outline again if the story did not absolutely require it, as in this case. I do still like discovering and unearthing the story as I go along. So while I wouldn’t say I’ve been converted from pantser to plotter altogether, writing from an outline has been a much better experience than I thought it would be.

 

The Howling

I have that buzz in my veins. That excited, almost anxious fizzing in my blood that comes when I am closing in on the end of a draft. The howling of words that are scratching and clawing and trying to get out and onto the page. It makes it hard to focus on other things (like work, conversations with actual people, etc.) because everything in me just wants to be writing and writing and writing until I’ve finished. I start to resent anything and everything that takes me away from writing.

It’s a good feeling. A frustrating, exciting, energizing feeling. A good one.

I’m forgetful. I leave things behind. I walk into rooms and can’t remember what I went into them for. I can’t always hear the daily thoughts I need to function over the howling of the words in my ear. It’s a miracle I show up anywhere on time, given that while my body might be here, now, in the present, my head is in Rome circa the late 1490s.

Once the draft is finished, once I get all the words out of me and onto the page, the howling will quiet. It will fade away for a time as I finish my research and start to make revision notes and get feedback from my agent and critique partners. Then it will start up again: the sound of the words, now they are on the page, clamoring to be polished, to be gilded, to be made to sing where before they only howled.

All of us writers must hear this, the calling of the words to be put down and placed in a certain order and made to shine. That must be why we write, in answer to this siren song. The urge to tell a story, even when it’s not perfect, because it’s bubbled up within us to the point where we can’t not tell it anymore. And then the clamor continues, urging us to, now that we’ve told the story, to tell it well. Because if we don’t, then haven’t we wasted our chance to tell this story? Because if we don’t, who will?

As I write this, I’m about 96,000 words into my current work-in-progress. If I had to make an estimate, I would say that this one will end up at around 120,000 at this point. (It will probably get longer in revision). That’s still a bit of a ways to go, but I’ve got that downhill momentum going. I’m in the last third, and I’ve started rolling.

It doesn’t feel like this book has gone as fast as it has. It’s been a difficult one for many reasons. And while the buzzing, the fizzing, the howling is always the same, it always happens for me at this point in every first draft of everything, this time I think it does feel a little different, because of the challenges I’ve faced. The ones I am still facing. Because of the desire to just be able to say that “It’s done”, so I can go about fixing it. So that I can begin to imagine what it may finally look like. So that I can begin to imagine what it would be like to achieve what I meant to with this book.

I can’t quite imagine it yet. But soon. Because beneath the howling is a whisper that maybe I can do what I set out to do after all. The first draft is only the first step, but perhaps the biggest one. And so the howls and whispers alike prod me on.