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Posts Tagged ‘YA Novel Challenge’

You know that novel I’ve been talking about all year? The Academy of Forgetting, a riveting (I hope) YA psychological thriller set in the near future and full of awesomesauce?

Finished. Done. Kaput. Complete.

I’m having trouble believing it. But I am also very, very happy!

Celebratory pie! (Photo by Poppy Wright)

So what’s next, my non-writer friends ask me? Will we see your book on shelves soon? (Writer friends, bear with me here, as I’m sure you’ve received similar questions.)

The answer is NO. In fact, the book isn’t truly finished, as in it is not yet ready for publication. It is ready to be seen by agents, which means it is as good as I can make it. However, if an agent were to be interested, and if I were to sign with said agent, and then if said agent were to sell the book to a publisher, there would most likely be several more rounds of edits between the version on my computer right now and the version that would show up in bookstores.

This entire process can be remarkably time-consuming. And there are no guarantees at any particular step. The trick, I think, is to focus on what I can control, which is writing a novel that I can stand behind and be proud of.

So what’s next? I am updating my agent spreadsheet, I am working on short summaries for a potential book 2 and book 3 in the trilogy, and I am revising my query letter and synopsis. Then I will start sending queries to agents on the spreadsheet. And meanwhile, the fun will start:

A NEW NOVEL.

Which realistically means I will spend the month of December brainstorming and fleshing out various novel ideas. If I’m really, really lucky, I’ll also choose one of those ideas and outline it. If the brainstorming goes more slowly, though, I won’t be doing the outlining until January. If the brainstorming goes very slowly, I might squeeze a short story or two in there somewhere too. (And for those wondering, no, this new novel will not be book 2 to follow The Academy of Forgetting. I’ll only write that book if AoF sells. Or if I get an agent, and my agent believes that starting book 2 before selling could be strategic, and I agree with him/her. Or if I have another particularly compelling reason.)

I am very excited about this, and it also feels weird. It feels weird to get ready to let go of this novel project that I have focused so much of my life on for the past ten and a half months. It feels strange to contemplate starting something new, with characters I don’t know better than I know my real-life friends and no limits at all until I lay some down in the outline. Soon I’ll be having new entirely made-up adventures instead of the familiar old ones.

It’s also interesting to see how finishing this novel, my third, feels different from finishing the first two. When I finished my first novel, there was this sense of euphoria because until I crossed that finish line, I wasn’t completely one hundred percent positive I could actually write a novel. When I finished my second novel, there was a sense of relief that the first one wasn’t a fluke.

But with The Academy of Forgetting, I feel more of a quiet satisfaction that I was able to tell the story I wanted to tell and grow as a writer. I already knew I could write a novel. And I know I’ll be writing another novel in the not-too-distant future. This is my life now.

And that is a truly wonderful thing.

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“So how’s the revising going, Amy?” you might well ask.

Do not be alarmed if your question is greeted with me pulling contorted faces and making strange, growling noises. But never fear; my joy in being asked about what I spend most of my waking hours thinking about will outweigh my need to do an interpretative dance to express my varied ambivalence, sheer joy, and “what was I thinking?” reactions to my current revision process.

To catch you up: At the end of April, I went to Seattle. (Did I already tell you this? I can’t remember.) Bolstered by the excellent company of my comrades-in-arms for many adventures and meals in Seattle, I resisted the urge to play tourist 100% of my time and instead read through the rough draft of my novel The Academy of Forgetting. I took copious notes, rewrote sections, and tried to make sure it was more or less coherent. Then I sent it to my most trusted novel first reader for an opinion.

The magic of revision…oh, who am I kidding? I am totally using this as an excuse to use Trey Ratcliff’s awesome Walt Disney World photo on my blog.

A week later, Daniel sent me his critique, which ran almost 4,500 words long. This was obviously not going to be a small revision pass.

So for the last month, I’ve been thinking. I haven’t wanted to dive headlong into revisions because these changes are complex enough that there is a fair amount to be figured out ahead of time. Plus a few weeks were mostly lost to injury (but oh boy, did I have a lot of time to think) and then I went on vacation, and you know. Life. But I am about ready to start writing new words and begin the simultaneously delicate and destructive task of fixing this book. The prospect fills me with both excitement and dread.

Let me give you an example of one of the changes I’ve been thinking about. There’s a plot twist at the end of the book. It is, in my opinion, a fun plot twist, and one that I looked forward to revealing the entire time I was writing the first draft. Daniel suggested that the twist doesn’t work as it currently stands. It’s not foreshadowed amply enough, for one, but he also suggested the book might be stronger if I completely cut the twist.

So now I have to decide: keep the twist or cut the twist? At first I thought I’d cut it. But then I realized that if I cut it, I’d also be cutting a key bit of information about the narrator and the narrative, which would, in my opinion, take away a large bit of the narrative depth. So then I thought, well, what if I keep it and make these foreshadowing changes, etc.? And I thought about that possibility for a while, but something felt slightly off. And then I had an exciting idea for how I can cut the twist but retain the key insight into the narrative, and I was bouncing up and down in my chair. But then I realized this idea brings up a whole new problem in terms of the plot and how I can make it work…. And on it goes.

I love the revision process because it’s challenging and interesting and convoluted and requires thinking about many things at the same time. But while I think it’s one of the most exciting things ever, it looks like me sitting in a chair and staring into space, with perhaps the occasional spurt of typing or scribbling sentences in my notebook. The writing life is often glamorous in a completely invisible way.

So that’s what I’m doing: getting ready to start a new draft, trying to resist biting my fingernails at the thought that I might demolish something that I actually needed intact, or that I might keep something that turns out to be just an old eyesore. Either of these would be fine in an isolated case, of course, but they can add up so quickly into a manuscript that simply does not work. And I’d like to make this manuscript work, if I can.

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I am happy to report that a week ago today, I finished the rough draft of my latest novel, The Academy of Forgetting. It clocks in at a little less than 77,000 words, which is ideal for a YA novel with a speculative element, and gives me a little breathing room in both directions as far as final length is concerned.

Some of you may remember that I started this novel as part of Theodora Goss’s YA Novel Challenge last summer. I wrote the outline, banged my head against the beginning, and stopped after having written 10,000 words. In retrospect, I believe I wasn’t ready to write the book: my skills weren’t quite at the right level, my concept of the setting and main character weren’t clear enough in my own mind, and some of my ideas regarding the plotting of the beginning of the book needed to be rethought.

This photo makes me want to read my own book by candlelight. Or really just any book.

I started again this January. I threw out the 10,000 words. I kept most of the outline but made some key alterations. I began writing in first person past tense instead of first person present tense, and I conceived of a narrative structure that was very exciting to me. I had some different ideas about the tone I wanted to start with as well. With all these changes, the novel began to form itself in my mind in a new way. And three months later, I have a complete first draft. I am so relieved to have finished!

This novel is definitely the most complicated of the three I’ve completed to date. It’s a psychological thriller with a vastly unreliable narrator that plays around with memory, so it had to be quite twisty and involved by its nature. I really don’t think I could have written it pre-Taos Toolbox, which is a testament to the excellent teaching of Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress.

So what happens next? Revise, revise, revise. I’m going to do my own pass first, addressing all the notes I took while writing it, replacing brackets with actual decisions, and adding a soupcon of description along the way (I tend to go too light on description). At the same time I’ll be writing my own scene and chapter summaries for future reference. Then I’ll send it to my amazing friend Daniel, who is the ultimate plot whisperer. And I’ll revise it again. And then I’ll send it to more amazing writer friends. And I’ll revise it again. At some point I’ll write a query letter (which, if I do it well enough, will be somewhat similar to the copy on the back of a book) and a synopsis (which I really detest doing). The whole process will take several months.

But this week, I’m resting and enjoying the feeling of satisfaction that accompanies typing the words “The End.”

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My head is in the clouds. Actually, my head is in a fictional boarding school in a remote location in the Canadian Rockies.

In other words, I am obsessed by the novel I am currently writing. And when I’m not completely lost in my obsession, my mind invariably turns to the novel I want to write next.

This makes everyday interaction a bit…problematic. Because there’s a part of me that wants to spend all my time at Lincoln Academy because my god, the amount of tension and drama in the plot right now! I want to find out what happens next. (I mean, I kind of know what happens next, but it’s not the same as when the words are written. Words can be surprising.) There’s a part of me that never wants to leave my house. On days like today, when I don’t have to, I am suffused by a sense of well-being because I can just let my mind go on its haywire creative journey all day long. And I am deeply, deeply happy…even when in the depths of misery because the book will not cooperate, the book is not as good as it should be, the book is making my brain hurt because dealing with an unreliable narrator is even more mind-blowing for the writer than it is for the reader (or so I am learning).

Of course, I can’t spend every minute of every day writing. For that matter, I spend very little time actually writing, and much more time thinking about all things novel-related. But I can’t even do that all the time. However, I am finding it increasingly difficult to clear my mind enough to think or converse intelligently about other topics. I can do it, but it takes significantly more effort than usual. So when I wrote about how writers shouldn’t talk about writing on their blogs all the time, maybe I was being a touch naive. Because right now, what else could I possibly want to talk about?!?!

When I need a break from the novel, I do turn to Downton Abbey...

The blog is a particular problem because I choose the topics and the original post is just me talking about what I’m thinking about. In person I get along a bit better, because in general people are quite happy to take over most of the conversation, and I certainly have enough brain space to nod and smile at the correct intervals. I can even make vaguely relevant comments. The people who know me best can still strive for total engagement with strategic introduction of proven Amy-enticing topics: Disneyland, travel, theater, books besides my own, bridge, a sufficiently interesting intellectual topic (with extra points for neuroscience or social trends). Sometimes politics is shocking enough to dart pass my defenses, although this is invariably unpleasant.

But in the end, I am living breathing dreaming and otherwise immersed in my novel. So if I seem somewhat distracted here on the blog, or if you notice a certain, dare I say, sloppiness creeping into my thought processes, well, that is why.

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You may have noticed that I have not mentioned the YA Novel Challenge recently. This is not because I have not been doing it, but because it has been going poorly. And I find that talking too much about something that isn’t working well can be a bit on the depressing side. However, I said I’d blog about it, so here I am.

It is not my discipline that has been failing, although it is always more difficult to work on a project this recalcitrant. I am floundering around a lot with the present tense, which I knew going in would be challenging. The truly crippling problem, however, is that I don’t much care for my protagonist and narrator. I haven’t found her voice. I don’t understand who she is. I can’t feel the way she feels.

I decided to forge ahead to a certain point in the story to see if this problem improved. Surely, I told myself, I will grow to know her. Surely I will begin to hear her voice in my head. And then I can go back when I’ve reached the end and rewrite the first bit to match. No problem.

Only I haven’t found her. She’s still missing in her own story. And I’m far enough along by now that it has turned into a more serious issue.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with this novel. Something has to change. I have been tempted to put in on hold until (and if) I can figure out what that is. So I might do that, and work on some other projects instead. At three in the morning last week, after I’d gotten home from watching the last Harry Potter movie, I had an idea that might help things. It would necessitate starting over from the beginning, but there is at least a chance it could work. So I might try that. Or maybe I’ll come up with another solution to make the book work.

Dealing with this kind of brokenness is part of being a writer, I think. As a newer writer, I don’t always know how to fix it. And I don’t always want to talk about it because at a certain point I have to figure it out for myself. (That is my nice way of saying, please don’t deluge this post with advice.) I hope that working with the pieces gives me more insight into both why stories work and how they fail. None of my creative projects is a complete failure unless I have failed to learn from it.

So you might not hear anymore about the YA novel challenge. Or you might. I make no promises either way. But I’ll still be sitting here, learning to become a better writer. Of that, I am determined.

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Wow.

I have to say, I thought my backbone project idea was pretty nifty, but I had no idea what an outpouring of support I would receive from all of you wonderful people. I’ve already learned a great deal as well, even though I’m not even halfway done. Thank you all, with some extra special thanks to Ferrett for giving me the idea in the first place.

I’ve already visited some of the blog posts that others have written as part of this project, but Kimberly had the great idea of putting together a list of the links so that they’re easy for everyone to find. I thought about putting the list on the sidebar, but I never look at blog sidebars, so instead I’m going to put together a few posts linking to other Backbone Project participants.

Here’s how to get involved! First, go ahead and write a blog post. It can be a post about the project, it can be a non-wishy washy project post like the ones I’m trying to write, or it can be a response to someone else’s project post (preferably disagreeing in some way). Once you’ve published your Project Backbone post (or posts, feel free to do more than one like I am), email the link(s) to me at practicalfreespirt@gmail.com with “Project Backbone” in the subject line. I’ll be publishing a list with your links on the next two Wednesdays, bright and early (meaning, get those links to me by late afternoon Tuesday to be safe). And if you are a twitter person, you can also use the hashtag #backboneproject to label your blog post announcement.

And what is this about another challenge? Why, yes! Apparently it’s in the air. Theodora Goss is organizing a summer YA Novel Challenge, and I’ve decided to join in the fun. (Perhaps some of you will decide to do it as well!) Here are the rules, which are very flexible and meant to be changed:

1. The challenge will run June 1st to August 31st.
2. The goal of the challenge is to write or revise a YA novel, or part of a YA novel.
3. To meet that goal, set smaller goals for yourself: words per day, pages revised per week, etc.
4. If you would like, blog about your progress. Remember that failure is as important as success.
5. Anyone can join or leave the challenge at any time. It’s always OK to start or stop.

I’m going to be starting my next YA novel for this challenge. I don’t expect to finish by the end of August, as I have some travel planned this summer that will interfere with writing, but I’m hoping to get a good start and then some.

And I’m planning to try to blog about it as well. I’m not sure how that will work, to be honest. I hate word count posts, so I’m definitely not going to do that, and I’m not big on sharing excerpts from works-in-progress either. Maybe I’ll share things about my successes and failures. Maybe I’ll go off on a tangent and wax philosophical about related topics. Or maybe I’ll decide blogging about it is just plain boring (or stressful, or both) and stop. I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

Until then, have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

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