Hard writer truth time:
First drafts suck.
Almost everything stinks the first time you do it. That’s because it’s THE FIRST time you do it. But, we tend to expect to have our writing be perfect somehow.
Guitarists don’t expect to be Mark Knopffler the moment they pick up a guitar. Singers don’t expect to be Norah Jones the first time they sing. Sculptors don’t expect to be Michelangelo.
Here’s the Thing:
Being good takes practice.
And even if you’ve written 100 novels already? There is a high likelihood that your first draft of your next novel? It’s going to suck.
But it’s not the end of the world. The end of the world is when you give up.
So, how do you make your sucky first draft better?
Think about it.
WRITER TIP OF THE POD
You want to make that first draft a better second draft? Think of these three things to start off right.
- Think about what your character wants more than anything in the world. Make sure you have that in your story.
- Think about what your character would never do – not ever. Revise your story so that this becomes a high moment of tension, of possibility.
- Add tension to every page. EVERY PAGE!
DOG TIP FOR LIFE!
Sometimes, it’s hard to catch the ball in your mouth, especially the first time. Try again anyways. Once you do it right, you get the ball… in your mouth! Score!
The best kind of work is the kind that makes you messy (even if you’re a Virgo) inside and out.
And for a lot of writers, especially writers for kids, our job isn’t just about making story; it’s about making a difference somehow in at least one kid’s life. That is a messy business because in order to make a difference, you have to dig deep, to go through a lot of dirt and mud and rock to get to what it is that matters to you and to your story and to your reader and/or life partners.
When I go to schools, I always tell the kids that one of the important steps to becoming the best writers you can be is to live the biggest life you can live. To not risk life or jail time, but to have adventures, to do things that you would never expect yourself doing.
YOUR LIFE IS YOUR STORY. MAKE IT A BIG ONE.
Big stories have conflict, and none of us are really into conflict in our lives, but it’s the conflict that allows our stories to have meaning and resonance.
Big stories have awkward moments and worries. Our characters and our selves feel overwhelmed. We feel like we can’t make it sometimes. That’s part of what makes surviving such a sweet triumph.
Being a writer is about more than craft. It’s about the story of how to be a writer, your story. It’s part of the bigger story of your life.
EVERY LESSON ABOUT WRITING CRAFT IS ACTUALLY A LESSON ABOUT LIFE.
Talking about paying attention to detail in your scene? It’s the same as paying attention to the details in your real life.
Talking about traits of your character and how to make them heroes (or not)? It’s the same as talking about the traits that make you the you that you so beautifully are.
Talking about resolution to your story is the same as talking about resolution to your relationships, to your current conflict, to your own life and death.
I know, right? Mind blown.
In every story we write there needs to be some logic and there needs to be some spirit or resonance.
What makes the logic of the story?
That comes from plot, pacing, character, and theme. You start your story with a vision and then the other elements are honed and refined to express that vision.
The logic is the structure of the story, how it all works together. It’s how your plot isn’t just action, but a movement forward towards an end point – and how that movement forward makes sense and works together with the character, the theme, the pacing.
Events that happen must make the character react and act.
AND RESONANCE? WHAT’S RESONANCE?
It’s the story’s value. It’s the universal nature of the story. It’s what makes the reader’s heart and mind go, “A-ha!”
It’s what makes you remember the story. We’ve all met people, read books, watched movies or shows or heard songs and forgotten them, but the ones that resonate? Those are the ones we remember.
Think Hamilton. Hamilton resonates across so many demographics partially because it’s the story about immigration and triumph and death, about idealism and it’s then set to something that feels more new in musical theater – the style of music, which is juxtaposed to the historical setting. It resonates.
Think about the Nas song War (Birth of a Nation). This song connects Nat Turner to the protests of today and about fighting to make a better U.S. It resonates.
It’s about theme and heart. It’s about authenticity and humanity. That’s what resonates.
SO HOW DO YOU MAKE YOUR STORY RESONATE?
Think about what your story is really about on the deepest level.
HOW DO YOU MAKE YOUR LIFE RESONATE?
Same thing. Think about what your life is really about on the deepest level.
Dog Tip for Life
Get dirty as much as you can. Dirt means you’re living. Dirt is real. Dirt is life.
Writing Tip of the Pod – When you’re writing, don’t be afraid to have messy, uncomfortable things happen to your characters. A story with no conflict is not a story.
Random Bonus Picture from Random Thought Time
This is Bob. Or maybe Yuri? He is in our house. Shaun mentions him in the podcast. Bob/Yuri frightens me even though he has no arms.
Writing News – Carrie’s
Book Expo America
Carrie will be signing copies of The Spy Who Played Baseball at Book Expo America on June 1 at 11:30 a.m.
THE CLASS AT THE WRITING BARN
The awesome 6-month-long Writing Barn class that they’ve let me be in charge of!? It’s happening again in July. Write! Submit! Support!is a pretty awesome class. It’s a bit like a mini MFA but way more supportive and way less money.
PRAISE FOR CARRIE JONES AND WRITE. SUBMIT. SUPPORT:
“Carrie has the fantastic gift as a mentor to give you honest feedback on what needs work in your manuscript without making you question your ability as a writer. She goes through the strengths and weaknesses of your submissions with thought, care and encouragement.”
“Carrie’s feedback is specific, insightful and extremely helpful. She is truly invested in helping each of us move forward to make our manuscripts the best they can be.”
“Carrie just happens to be one of those rare cases of extreme talent and excellent coaching.”
People are saying super nice things about me, which is so kind of them because helping people on their writing journeys and their craft and supporting them? That’s pretty boss, honestly.
FLYING AND ENHANCED – THE YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION SERIES
Cross Buffy with Men in Black and you get… you get a friends-powered action adventure based in the real world, but with a science fiction twist. More about it is here. But these are fun, fast books that are about identity, being a hero, and saying to heck with being defined by other people’s expectations.
This quick, lighthearted romp is a perfect choice for readers who like their romance served with a side of alien butt-kicking action–School Library Journal
Back in 2009, I had just finished the revision of CAPTIVATE (sequel to NEED), and after I happy danced, I pretty much passed out.
The revision of that book was the hardest revision I ever had to do, basically because during that revision I had to work my brain really hard and I was still pretty new to writing novels.
DURING THAT REVISION:
1. I cut about 40,000 words in two-revision passes.
2. I added about 20,000 more words.
3. I lost all word retrieval skills.
4. I called everyone I saw BABY because that was the only word I could retrieve.
5. I lost one friend who didn’t like that I called him BABY and failed to call him back 8,0000 times.
6. I gained three more friends who were into the whole BABY thing.
7. I wondered why I was a writer 74 times (a day).
My whole life went on hold I made lists like this:
Tomorrow I will have to:
1. Call my father who thinks I don’t love him anymore and doesn’t understand that I can’t talk to him in the middle of work when he always talks for at least an hour and it totally ruins my ability to think.
2. Email my mother who is much more understanding.
3. Do push-ups.
4. Pass out again.
5. Reply to blog comments.
Yes, that’s how bad it was. I put ‘pass out’ on my list of things to do.
Revision can be tough especially when there’s a whole lot of pressure on you. To be the best writer and person you can be, you have to take care of yourself, not just your book.
So here are some tips on how to stay healthy while revising
Get Some Sleep
I know! I know! Writers are supposed to write until they are slumped over their desk and drooling on their keyboard, but this is not actually healthy!
Your brain becomes less efficient the more it needs sleep. So no all-nighters, writing friends.
Have Healthy Snacks, Not Sugary Ones.
Sugar makes you fluctuate between big highs and lows. Nobody wants that.
Stand Up A Lot
Sitting at the desk forever isn’t good for you. Stand up and work whenever you can or at least take breaks from the sitting.
This is right there with not sitting at your desk all the time, but I made it two separate points. If you take the time to work out before you do your actual writing work, it helps keep you focused and awake.
Dehydrated writers are writers who faint. Fainting is romantic in books, but in real life it leads to concussions. Concussions lead to missed deadlines. Nobody wants that.
Do Good Wednesday
Be a kindness ambassador. I know! I know! It sounds corny, but I’m so super serious. Leave a note, a present, anonymously somewhere in your town or school for someone specific or anyone at all.
Need a specific idea on how to do this? There used to be a blog called Secret Agent L (I think) where the person in charge of the blog went around their town doing this sort of thing. It was cool.
Random Marketing and Book Things Since I am an Author and Need To Make Money.
I KNOW! I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO ADMIT IT.
My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy was all official on March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can order it!
Kirkus Review says: A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.
This podcast is weird, quirky, and totally authentic. I mean, you can tell we are goofy people just trying to share some writing tips and life tips and we are not sitting in the NPR studio. I mean look at us. We’re total dorks.
And finally, I made a little video for my TIME STOPPERS books.
Time Stoppers’s third book comes out this summer. It’s been called a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but with heart. It takes place in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. I need to think of awesome ways to promote it because this little book series is the book series of my own middle grade heart. Plus, I wrote it for the Emster. Plus, it is fun.
Before I get to the blog post, I have a question. Should my Wednesday theme be Wednesday Writing Wisdom or Do Good Wednesday? Can it be both? Are there rules about this sort of thing in the blogging world? Please help.
Actually, that was more than one question. Sorry!
We now return to our regularly scheduled blog post.
Hello, this is Grover, Carrie’s adorable, furry blue monster of a cheerleader and I have an important message today:
CARRIE IS IN REVISION HELL!
Yes, it is true, and I, the adorable furry blue muppet monster have given up trying to tell her that she can make this manuscript anything good at all. In fact, I, Grover, think I may have to terminate my existence as Cawwie’s cheerleader.
Unfortunately, I am not the sort of monster who gives up easily when I have a mission.
Still, I was miserable! I was desolate! 74,815 words of exposition, of bad dialog of shaky plots, of Cawwie spending hours wondering why there is the word dialog is not spelled dialogUE.
“C’mon, Cawwie, do a Hemingway. It’ll make you revise better.”
Cawwie did not sway.
It did not work.
“PUT THE REVISION DOWN, CAWWIE,” I said in a nice, but demanding Muppet way (I was channeling Oscar). “Just step away from the revision and put it down.”
And do you know what she did? She did NOT put the revision down. No! She put me, cuddly, lovable Grover, back in the tea pot! Bad Cawwie! Bad. Luckily, the big, white furry monster that woofs and eats bacon saved me.
Really. I, Grover, your furry, lovable adorable blue monster am begging you:
TAKE A BREAK! You’ll revise better later, I, Grover, promise you. And monsters keep their promises.
Do Good Wednesday!
I’m pretty heavily involved in Rotary International right now. I mostly go around training club presidents and district leaders and club members about public image and Rotary International, which is basically just about telling Rotary’s story. Yesterday, I got to visit a ridiculously awesome club in Camden, Maine. They fed me. They listened to me babble and they gave me a pen!
They also said I was charismatic about four times. So, obviously doing good is good for the ego. 🙂 Full disclosure: People usually just say that I’m exuberant or quirky. Charismatic was a big step up.
However, even though I do this for Rotary all the time and think that the good that Rotarians do in the world and their local community is amazing, I also want to highlight (occasionally) other ways to do good.
So, here’s another way. If you are a kid, parent or teacher, KIDS THAT DO GOOD, is a great resource that will connect you with ways that you can volunteer and make this world better.
There is one space left in my Write! Submit! Support! for Novelists online class at the Writing Barn. It starts Sunday. It’s a six-month class and the other students are so amazing. The Writing Barn is amazing. You’re amazing too, so come join us if you can! Here’s the link.