Dealing with Manuscript Fright


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Writing a book is one of the most difficult things in the world. Having just finished a novel this week, I feel like it’s the most difficult thing.

Even now that I have an almost-complete draft, putting it away for a month remains a challenge. My mind won’t settle; it keeps insisting that I have one more change to make, a change that can’t wait until my hiatus ends.

To make matters worse, Serenade is a sequel. I have to check the first book, Dissonance, to make sure I don’t publish a sequel with contradictions. Because I’ve spent the last six months editing my work, I can’t even seem to get through my first novel without correcting each sentence, and it’s already published!

Over time, our writing styles change. I don’t hate my writing, though—it’s more complicated than that. Sometimes I come across lovely passages and surprise myself, thinking, “Did I write that?” Other times, I struggle with the impulse to rewrite and edit everything.

In theory, I could rewrite everything—it’s a benefit of being an indie author. That doesn’t make it the right choice, because no matter how many times I rewrite a novel, I will never be satisfied with my own work.

If you’re a writer, you probably won’t be, either. Most writers struggle to recognize our own talent, because we are always comparing ourselves to other authors. It’s a wall we can’t get past.

My voice will never be like Bestselling Author #1. My imagery will never be lyrical like that of Bestselling Author #2. I’d like to forget the feeling that they’re so much more talented than me, but my brain won’t allow it.

The only way to get better at my craft is to practice, ignoring those thoughts.

I keep writing, even though I never feel good enough. I keep writing, even though I can’t see my own progress. I keep writing, because I have stories to tell. I may not be poignant as Bestselling Author #3 now, but I’ll never improve if I give up.

Besides, those bestsellers I compare myself to struggle with this, as well. Most writers are haunted by the very same conflict. In the end, it’s our choice—will we let the ghosts silence us, or will we continue on the storyteller’s journey?

I’ve made my decision. It’s your turn.

Writing Update: The Spontaneous Novella


As I stated in this post, when I am immersed in a writing project my blog suffers. It’s been weeks since my last post; every day I had the intentions of writing a review, since I did quite a bit of reading despite the writing and edits, but there never seemed to be time.

Since my last post, I’ve made a surprising amount of progress with projects. Serenade went through heavy edits and will soon begin the second beta round. Not only that, though—in my free time after I finished the round of edits, I started a novella.

Perhaps I had the story in me for so long that all I needed was an outline to help gain momentum. A couple of weeks after I started the project, I finished with a 41k manuscript. It’s a first draft nobody can read yet, but it was refreshing to know I could start something new and make progress.

It’s related to Dissonance and Serenade—it’s a novella based on the character Meredith, whose backstory is powerful. It seemed fitting to give her a spotlight. I learned how different a character can look when seen through the eyes of another protagonist.

Every writer should try seeing their characters from new angles, discovering strengths and weaknesses. It’s not necessary to write a whole book, but you learn quite a bit by exploring a different perspective for a few paragraphs.

Later I will write a blog post about this. Today I just wanted to update the site so it isn’t so dead—I promise I was doing something productive! There are two manuscripts on the way now.

I hope you’ve had a good summer so far! What books have you enjoyed most over vacation?

Writing Update: On Short Novels


I’m taking another break from editing Serenade, and thought this an appropriate time for an update. I get so caught up in the editing process that I forget to tell people how I’m doing.

I’ve learned many things since editing began, but perhaps the biggest lesson is that my books tend to be short. It’s been a cause of frustration, since I’ve always thought books should be longer as the series progresses (looking at Harry Potter as an example.)

It means I fell into the comparison trap. If the Fallen Faery Tale series winds up being a collection of short, well-written books, I’ll be happy. Future readers will be happy, too!

I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about what to do for my word count to increase. Whenever I focus on my book length, the story quality decreases. Not only that, I stop enjoying  the storytelling process.

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What should I do? I’m going to let the story be. I can’t make a tale longer than it wants to be. It takes away from the magic of writing! Besides, some of the best books written are short.

I’ve created a rule I’m struggling to follow: I’ll only worry about writing the amount of words required to tell a good story. It is not my goal to write a long story, but a good one.

Don’t get me wrong—long books are wonderful, too. I just haven’t come up with a plot that could comfortably stretch into one. There are some plot bunnies whispering “it’ll be me!” but I’m refusing to look at them yet, as they would become distractions.

My goal right now is to release Serenade. I’ve been working hard, which is why my blog lost momentum in the last two weeks. It’s all for a good cause.

Until Serenade is ready, why not give Dissonance a try? Find it here!

Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes


Much has been said about Me Before You. While some people loved it, others disliked the premise enough to boycott the book. I tried reading with a neutral mind, but that didn’t save me from the heartbreaking conclusion.

It felt like a punch to the gut, even though the whole time I suspected how the story would end. This book was written to engage readers, making us feel like we know the characters, and that alone is art.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but friends have told me it’s just as powerful. Hopefully soon I can watch it, too.

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Me Before You follows a young woman named Louisa Clark. After losing her job at a cafe, she finds work caring for a paraplegic man named Will Traynor. He had an accident which left him unable to move from the neck down.

It’s the story of Louisa’s quest to show Will there’s reason for him to live. I thought it a very good story.

Articles have been written about this book. It continues to spark debate, proving books do matter, even fiction. They stir conversation for months, prompting us to examine life and discern right from wrong.

Philosophy aside, what did I like about this book?

  • It showed that love takes many forms. The affection between Will and Louisa was refreshingly honest. With physical interaction limited, they were forced to bond in deeper ways.
  • Louisa isn’t perfect, but her faults make her likeable. She isn’t the smartest sister in the family and doesn’t have much ambition—which makes it more powerful when she sets out to convince Will he has a purpose.
  • Jojo Moyes uses opposites to make the plot stronger. For example, Louisa’s life is dull because she chooses not to take risks; Will’s life is dull because he cannot take risks. Lou’s boyfriend Patrick is a professional runner, but shows little affection for her. Will can’t move, but in several scenes he demonstrates more love.

This book is one of the most powerful I’ve read, because of the mixed feelings it placed in my heart. It made me think and see life differently.

As for the controversy, I don’t understand it.

Storytellers don’t tell people how to live their lives. They find situations that deserve recognition, packing truth into paperback books. The truth can be interpreted in many different ways.

Often it’s difficult to accept, but that’s not the storyteller’s fault.

Me Before You was worth the read. It made me rethink many things I had taken for granted. I didn’t realize how deeply the book affected me until the day after I finished it, when I had a dream I was wheelchair-bound.

I promise you won’t forget this story, whether you like it or not.

Movie Review: Becoming Jane


Based on what’s known of Jane Austen’s life, Becoming Jane is a heartbreaking and beautiful film in which two passions clash.

Jane is introduced in the first scene as a dedicated storyteller. She’s deep in concentration, whispering words as she writes them. The most poignant word haunted me as I watched the film: propriety. That’s ironic, because in her day it was frowned upon for women to be writers—it was improper.

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She isn’t thinking about marriage, anyway. She cares only for her novels, determined to feel nothing romantic—

Until she meets a young lawyer named Tom Lefroy. Society doesn’t want them together. For a great deal of the film, even Jane isn’t sure she wants them together. Though it was powerful, Jane’s romance isn’t what made my own heart ache.

As a writer, I cringed at the prejudice Miss Austen endured. Jane seems most alive in the scenes where she’s writing in her room. Society scoffs at novels, and a woman who writes is at a disadvantage.

By the end of the story, I found myself reflecting on three things:

  • Storytellers have always been misunderstood. Not all writers are introverted like Jane or myself, but we do things society finds bizarre, even if it’s no longer disastrous for one’s reputation.
  • If written with skill, dialog is enough to take one’s breath away. Becoming Jane had phrases that made me pause the movie to write them down. Storytellers, can you immerse an audience with just a phrase? If not, practice like I’m planning to.
  • We are obsessed with happy love stories. There are so many that when a bitter one comes around, you remember how strong love can be.

In the movie, Miss Austen made an unselfish decision. It’s a powerful tribute to the author who captivated so many readers, shifting the focus from characters to their own author.

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Not all storytellers are the same, but this movie tells a hard truth: Most of us will feel alone or misunderstood at some point in life. We might not end up like Jane, but it’s a passion that demands our all.

Becoming Jane almost made me cry. The heartbreaking outcome of Jane’s only love makes it sink in how weak love makes us, and what we may have to give up for it.

I recommend this film, but make sure to bring your tissue paper.

Book Review: Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer


What if there was a character who wanted to escape the pages of his book? How far would he go to live among readers?

Between the Lines tells the story of Prince Oliver, who wants to do just that. He’s lived in a book for as long as he can remember, and doesn’t see magic in it anymore. He wants something new and exciting, because his life has been programmed to always follow the words of the book.

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Oliver has several reasons for his restlessness, including:

  • Boredom—he is tired of finding himself on Page 1 each time a Reader opens the book.
  • He does not care for the love interest, Seraphima, but has to pretend in scenes where they kiss.
  • It irritates him, seeing how content his friends have become. They don’t wonder about the outside world.

But he never actually thought it possible to leave the book. It seemed pointless to even try. Then a new Reader becomes hooked on Oliver’s story.

When Delilah finds the book in her school library, the story becomes a refuge from the complications in her life. Oliver falls for Delilah so deeply, he gets her to notice him! Then he begs for help escaping the book, and they start experimenting.

Is it possible to change a story once it’s put in ink? Can a character’s will be strong enough to outsmart the book?

This is a charming story because of the questions it makes you ask. How many times have you wished a character could hang out with you? How many times have you wanted to live among the pages with them?

Between the Lines captures the wonder of good story, the pull which keeps us turning pages.

It may be impossible for characters to leap off the page, but this story gives us a comforting thought: If they had the choice to join us, some would without thinking it twice. Some would fight to live with us, just as we long to be near them.

Between the Lines pulls us into a realm where ink isn’t a barrier. In this realm, there is hope that one day readers and characters could meet.

I recommend this book to fans of faery tales and romance—but really, it’s great for any reader who’s fallen in love with fictional characters. Oliver’s story will give you much to think about, and it will make you smile.

4 Reasons Why You Should Write Steampunk


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Before I get into my reasons for why you should try writing a story set in a steampunk world, I should probably explain what steampunk is. Honestly, there is no set definition for steampunk, but it tends to be a story set in a world reminiscent of the past but with anachronistically advanced technology, attitudes, fashion, or all of the above. Think of the movie Wild Wild West or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Many of these stories are set in an alternate version of the late-eighteen hundreds, but some are in a neo-Victorian future or something completely different that still hints at steampunk’s Victorian origins. The genre is open and growing and waiting for more authors to explore it.

Still unsure? Well, here are a few why you should write a steampunk story:

  1. Half of your world-building is already done. Even if your world is mostly from your imagination with monsters, mechanical spaceships, or robot servants in Downton Abbey, you still have the scaffolding of real history. With a little research, you can establish chunks of your world-building, such as manners and customs, social hierarchies, fashion, architecture. It doesn’t matter if you set your story in England or India, historians during the Victorian era wrote volumes and took photographs! You have tons of inspiration right at your fingertips.
  2. You can rewrite history. Since steampunk is an alternate history, you can change a historical event and completely rewrite history from that point on. Have you ever wondered what would have happened if women got the vote while Jane Austen was alive? Or what if Napoleon had succeeded in conquering and uniting Europe? Steampunk is a genre that is all about manipulating history and exploring the what-ifs. Have fun with it. See what can happen with just a little change.
  3. You can utilize historical figures. Are there any historical figures that you find absolutely bad-ass, twisted, or just plain interesting? If you set your steampunk story during the same time period as your favorite historical figure, they can make a cameo or they can be one of your stars. Think of Hamilton. History with a twist. What if Tesla had even more advanced technology or what if he and Edison got into an escalating battle that threatened the world? You could even go as far back as Cleopatra’s time. Could she have defeated Caesar if she discovered some cutting edge technology in the Library of Alexandria? Do your research, explore your imagination.
  4. You can create wild, new devices or machines. Let your imagination run wild. If you have an interest in science or engineering, steampunk is the perfect place to crack your knuckles and get writing about whatever strange device has been bopping around your brain. Your new tech can destroy planets, cure diseases, or just chug, pop, and belch steam. Steampunk often relies on the mixing of old and new technology to change history, so think about what Cleopatra could do with a laser or if the Vikings could have conquered the world with flying ships powered by steam.

Steampunk is one of the most open genres in literature, and with boundless possibilities, it’s yours to explore and make your own. Write a short story, write a novel, draw a futuristic cityscape, or even a play. Give it a try.


karaKara Jorgensen is an author of fiction and professional student from New Jersey who will probably die slumped over a Victorian novel. An anachronistic oddball from birth, she has always had an obsession with the Victorian era, especially the 1890s. Midway through a dissection in a college anatomy class, Kara realized her true passion was writing and decided to marry her love of literature and science through science fiction or, more specifically, steampunk. She has an MFA in Creative and Professional Writing and hopes to one day live off her writing. You can find her first book here.

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5 Acceptable Ways to Procrastinate Editing


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Experienced writers know their work isn’t through after the first draft. The opposite is true: Your first draft is the beginning of a long, tedious cycle. Quality work comes from months of writing, editing, and rewriting.

Most of a writer’s stress emerges in the editing phase. If done without pause, editing can make you sick. I’ve spent hours staring at sentences, trying make them perfect. Sometimes this is a sign you’re done editing—Briana Morgan discusses this in her article, When to Stop Editing. In my case, I rarely feel my work is good enough. When I reach the obsessive phase, I know I have to stop.

Not only are breaks healthy for authors, they improve writing quality. Stepping away from the manuscript lets us spot errors more clearly.

If you’re worried about losing your storytelling spark during this break, never fear. Writers find inspiration in everything we do; here are five guilt-free ways to pass time spent away from your manuscript.

 

GO OUTSIDE.

Many writers forget to go breathe fresh air (I’m one of them.)

A manuscript is so demanding! It eats our time, and we lose track of days…months…seasons…

Go outside to read in the backyard, or photograph flowers as they bloom. Take a walk and pay attention to people on the streets. If you meet someone walking a cute dog, ask if you can pet the dog—fluffy animals always make things better!

Gather life experiences to write in your next story.

 

READ A LOT.

For a writer, reading is crucial. Each time we read a published work, we open the door for improvement in the craft. If you’re mentally worn out from edits, reading is perhaps the most beneficial way to keep busy.

We learn to write well by exposing ourselves to good writing. Reading shows us:

  • Character traits, and how to write realistic protagonists.
  • Punctuation and grammar. You may have gotten good grades at school, but it never hurts to brush up on this by seeing it used first-hand.
  • Description. Let an experienced author sweep you away with words; learn their secrets to improve your prose.
  • Story structure. Pay attention to a book’s story arc, and try to identify the midpoint and climax. Writers need to know this.

She’s Novel offers insight on this in her article, How to Read Critically and Become a Better Author.

 

UPDATE YOUR BLOG.

As someone devoted to writing and blogging, I struggle to manage both projects once in the heavy editing mindset.

  • It affects my blog. When I get caught up editing, I forget to plan posts ahead of time, resulting in weeks of no updates.
  • It affects my writing. In the back of my mind, I know pageviews are probably going down; I know I’m ignoring my blogging schedule, which creates a whirlwind of guilt and conflict.

This is your chance to make up for the time you spent neglecting your blog.

 

CLEAN YOUR WORKSPACE.

Of the five options, this doesn’t sound like the most exciting way to kill time. Trust me, it’s necessary.

During the weeks spent immersed in edits, I bet you didn’t empty your wastepaper basket. A pile of books has accumulated on your desk, your carpet may need vacuuming, and shoes have ended up all over the place.

It’s ridiculous how fast a workspace can get messy. You might ask yourself, “How did that coffee cup end up here?” Or, “Where did that layer of dust come from?”

Tidying up will make you feel better about returning to edits.

 

TAKE LOTS OF NAPS.

Catch up on rest you’ve neglected while working.

Many people don’t realize the effort edits require; it can be physically draining. Don’t feel ashamed to sleep for a while. Just because you’re not actively working on something, doesn’t mean you’re not making progress.

Your body and mind need recharging in order to do a good job.

 

It’s tempting to open that manuscript and make one more, tiny change. Trust me, you’ll make more progress after letting it go for a while.

Two weeks may seem like a long time to not get editing done, but don’t worry. You will finish, and the resting period will help you produce quality work. Remember, time flies—before you know it, you’ll be at the computer editing that manuscript…again.

You may even find yourself wishing for another break. How’s that for irony?

Book Review: The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson


The Bookseller follows a woman named Kitty who lives in Denver, where she runs a bookstore with her best friend, Frieda. In 1962 it’s not usual for her to be unmarried at the age of thirty-eight, but she tells herself she’s content. Having gone through a failed courtship and several dates that led nowhere, she’s come to terms with life at home with her cat.

Things aren’t as stable as she’d like them to be. The bookstore is losing business as customers flock to big shopping centers in town. She and Frieda are struggling to pay the rent, contemplating the idea of moving to a location that’ll attract more business.

In the midst of this uncertainty, Kitty begins to have strange dreams. Each night when she drifts off, she finds herself in an alternate universe where everything is different.

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Kitty’s married with children in this universe. Her husband, Lars, is a man she spoke to once in the waking world, on the phone; they never met, but in the dream they are married. They have started a family; he built a lovely house for her and the children.

In this dream universe, Kitty is wealthy and has plenty of friends. She has a closet of elegant clothing, even a maid. The world she visits in her sleep is full of contradictions to her real life; it’s like the flip side of a coin.

As the dreams become more vivid, readers are left wondering which of the two universes is actually a dream? It becomes hard to decide. Cynthia Swanson has done a good job of taking two outcomes and making both of them plausible.

The Bookseller addresses the timeless question “What if?” We’ve all wondered how our lives could be different if we made that choice differently, or took the left road instead of the right. How would the universe change if we embraced a different hobby? How would it change the future, how would it change us?

This novel drew me in with its poignant writing and powerful scenes, making me question my own life. As the story progressed and fog cleared, I marveled at Swanson’s genius: She took a concept difficult to pull off, writing each reality with grace and elegance. Both of them have their pros and cons. Neither is complete.

But life is never truly complete. This truth doesn’t escape the pages of books. The Bookseller is wonderful because it makes us ponder our own choices, compelling us to ask “What if?” the way we did when we were children.

Life might look better in an alternate universe, but we’d find ourselves missing things we don’t notice now. The Bookseller helps us appreciate what we have, not envying others’ lives or wishing away our truths.

Like Kitty does in both realities, we’ll wake up and realize these little things are gone. But they only seemed little when we took them for granted, because they will leave great voids.

The Bookseller is a beautiful piece of literary fiction, one I can rate five stars without thinking twice. Give it a try and let it change your perspective on life.

Movie Review: Begin Again


Stories can lose their soul if edited too much. This is true regardless of the medium used—books, movies, music. It’s a struggle not to polish a piece so thoroughly that it loses its humanity, a truth told in the film Begin Again.

Dan used to be a successful music label executive, but he hasn’t adapted to changes in the industry. It’s not that he has nothing to choose from—demos are mailed to him every day. He just doesn’t want to pick up a bad record saturated in auto-tune.

The determination to live by his standards, not bowing to what’s popular, has gotten him in trouble. He hasn’t signed an artist in years. It’s having disastrous effects on his career, even changing the way his family sees him.

When the record company fires him, it kills what remained of his confidence. That night he finds himself at a bar, drinking away his misfortune. In this moment of crippling hopelessness, he overhears an acoustic performance that’ll change everything.

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Gretta (Keira Knightley!!) is a songwriter recovering from a difficult breakup. Prompted by a friend, she’s reluctantly gone onstage to play her latest creation. No one seems to be listening but Dan, who approaches her and asks if she would consider working with him.

He could get his job back. She could land a record deal. What really happens is healing: Dan and Gretta are both lost souls, but help each other back up.

The songs alone are interesting, because they’re recorded on the streets of New York where life can be heard—this includes traffic, people, angry pedestrians. It created a sensation of music roaming the sidewalks, filling people with life.

Though Gretta’s songs are powerful, I had to check online to make sure Keira Knightley was singing. It was just bizarre to see her behind a microphone. People have criticized her voice, but I thought it lovely, the lyrics human enough to draw me in.

Begin Again teaches that art shouldn’t look or sound the same. It reminds us not to give up on our passions. Human feelings will capture hearts, time and time again. And we should not compromise who we are if it leads to unhappy success.

If we’re passionate about something, we ought to be careful. Some paths promise happiness, but will only make us drag our feet.

This story celebrating honest art made me contemplate my motives. Do I write because I love it, or for the sake of an audience? Would I compromise my story’s soul for the sake of a larger number? Am I going to follow trends I don’t like, just to make a name for myself?

These are questions all storytellers should ask. It’s tempting to follow crowded paths to success, but remember—we might forget the sound of our own voices, trying to mimic others.