Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: how to finish a novel

editing, self-editing for writers, dangers of editing, danger of editing too early, how to finish a novel, Kristen Lamb, Writing Tips, how to edit a novel, types of editing, editing tips, writing tips

Editing is essential for crafting a superlative story. We clip away the excess, delete the superfluous and prune away the detritus to reveal the art. Yet, editing is something we’re wise to handle with care.

While lack of ANY editing is a major problem today, editing too much, too soon is just as big of a problem. Perhaps an even a bigger one.

For clarity, not all ‘editing’ is the same.

Today, we aren’t discussing proofreading and line-edit. Correcting punctuation, spelling, and grammar is perfectly fine. Moving some commas around is unlikely to endanger story integrity. We’re addressing the perils of premature content edit/developmental edit.

If we think about this for a moment, what I’m saying should make sense. If a work is only partially finished, there’s no way we can truly know what to cut and what to keep. We don’t yet have enough content/context necessary for clarity.

Editing too early is detrimental in a variety of ways.

Early Editing Uproots Subconscious Seeds

editing, self-editing for writers, dangers of editing, danger of editing too early, how to finish a novel, Kristen Lamb, Writing Tips, how to edit a novel, types of editing, editing tips, writing tips

Our subconscious mind is an amazing machine. Stephen King referred to the subconscious as ‘the boys in the basement.’ The prudent author allows those ‘boys in the basement’ to do their thing.

The best way to help? Stop interfering. The subconscious mind can see the big picture in ways our conscious mind cannot.

Unlike our conscious mind, the subconscious is always working. Busy, busy, busy. It’s fitting all the pieces together in ways we’d have a tough time consciously doing.

King has his analogy, and I have mine. I think in terms of planting and cultivating a garden.

We have a story idea (overall image of the ‘garden’ we want). Then we might write out a log-line, major plot points or detailed outline (a plan). Overall, we’re at least generally aware of the story we want to create.

As we write, our subconscious mind is planting seeds that, when viewed in a microcosm of one or three chapters, will frequently seem to make no sense. The idea needs time to put down roots and grow large enough for the conscious mind to accurately discern whether it’s something to keep or something to cull.

editing, self-editing for writers, dangers of editing, danger of editing too early, how to finish a novel, Kristen Lamb, Writing Tips, how to edit a novel, types of editing, editing tips, writing tips

Also a garden generally is not a singular plant. A garden is comprised of many plants of various types, colors, heights, widths, etc. Until our garden reaches a point where we can get a view of the creation as a whole we’re wasting time. Pruning, moving, replacing is wasted time and energy because we’re working blind.

Maybe that hyacinth needs to be moved because it’s too tall OR maybe we need to chill out and wait for the peonies planted nearby to come in.

Once all we’ve planted grows and blooms, THEN we have a way better idea of what plant needs to be moved, which should be filled in more (add in more coleus), and what’s a WEED that needs to GO.

Story as a Garden

editing, self-editing for writers, dangers of editing, danger of editing too early, how to finish a novel, Kristen Lamb, Writing Tips, how to edit a novel, types of editing, editing tips, writing tips

I love to garden. In the fall, I decided to start over after a blight ravaged everything I’d cultivated for six years. I removed all the plants, and prepped for spring. After widening the stones (since I wanted a larger garden) I filled the area with at least a couple thousand pounds of clean soil topped with mulch.

Since I had yet to plant anything intentionally, anything that popped up over fall and winter clearly was a weed.

GONE!

This all changed once I began planting. I had an idea of what I wanted: a beautiful garden bursting with blooms known to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Once I had the idea, I planted the bulbs and spread the seeds. Yet, if I ever hope to have my dream garden, it’s critical for me to resist the impulse to pull anything green and sprouting because it ‘might’ be a weed.

Until whatever seedling poking through the mulch grows to a certain point, I have no way to discern flower from weed.

Same with story. We don’t realize that a possibly mind-blowing idea is trying to germinate and take root in the fertile soil of our overall idea.

By editing too early, we can possibly uproot some mind-blowing twist or turn. We might remove the wrong character or delete a scene that should have stayed.

Y’all might find this hard to believe, but it actually is possible to edit all the life/magic out of a story.

Early Editing Feeds Fear

editing, self-editing for writers, dangers of editing, danger of editing too early, how to finish a novel, Kristen Lamb, Writing Tips, how to edit a novel, types of editing, editing tips, writing tips

All writers experience fear. Many of us suffer from Imposter Syndrome. We’re prone to believe unless we are a New York Times best-selling author we are a fraud. If we don’t have twenty books under our belt or an HBO mini-series based off our stories, we aren’t real authors.

The problem is that we’ll never have ANY of this if we consistently fail to finish. Perfect is the enemy of the finished. No half-finished novel has ever become a runaway success.

A story doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’ to be a hit. In fact, plenty of decent and even some outright dreadful novels have skyrocketed to the top of the charts.

Stories (like all art) are subjective. It’s impossible to craft a story everyone will love. There are way more than fifty shades of reader preferences.

Fear can paralyze productivity and halt professional growth. You know what? Maybe our novel is awful, but that isn’t necessarily because we lack talent.

We might simply be NEW. How many of you can pick up an unfamiliar instrument and are immediately ready to play on stage for money?

Storytelling is an artisan skill that takes years of training and practice. We get better by doing, by failing, then understanding what went wrong where and why. Then, armed with this new insight we write another story, and a better story.

Poisonous Perfection

editing, self-editing for writers, dangers of editing, danger of editing too early, how to finish a novel, Kristen Lamb, Writing Tips, how to edit a novel, types of editing, editing tips, writing tips

Editing is a common coping mechanism used to allay anxiety. Maybe we fear we really aren’t any good. We really are talentless hacks. Our book is terrible. Why are we even doing this? A brain-damaged hamster has more talent. On and on.

Thing is, perhaps all of this is true. We won’t know until we submit a finished product for peer review (and even then nothing is set in stone).

Yet, if we keep editing and reworking, this buys us time. We want to know if our writing is any good, but also can’t bear to think it might be truly awful. So long as we remain in literary limbo, we can hold onto our illusions.

My book is as good as (insert mega author), even better! I just have to tweak a few scenes before querying…

I want all of you who’ve even started writing a novel to embrace what a HUGE step that is. The world is brimming with people who spout nonsense like, ‘Yeah I always wanted to write a book, except I never could find the time.’

In their minds the ONLY reason they aren’t the next George R.R. Martin is a lack of time-management skills. We all know this is bunk. And yet? We have to be really careful we aren’t doing the same thing.

Getting past the hard part—starting—is a fantastic step. Now finish. Pros don’t find time, we make time.

Early Editing KILLS Momentum

editing, self-editing for writers, dangers of editing, danger of editing too early, how to finish a novel, Kristen Lamb, Writing Tips, how to edit a novel, types of editing, editing tips, writing tips

If we continue to go back changing things chapter by chapter, changing, changing, changing, either due to critique group feedback or our own self-edit, what happens is that we KILL our forward momentum with a big ol’ red-penning, back-spacing machete.

We can prune or progress.

Do that long enough, and it becomes hard not to be discouraged and ultimately give up. If you have been reworking the first act of your book for months, it can very easily end up in the drawer with all the other unfinished works.

Beginnings are not something I recommend spending too much time ‘perfecting.’ The big reason is that very often beginnings will change. Once we write the entire story and actually possess the BIG PICTURE, only then can we judge the merit of any opening.

We may have started too soon, too late, with the wrong hook, etc. Yet, if we spend weeks or months futzing with the opening, we get far too attached.

This means it’s all the harder to let it go because it’s a Little Darling. I’ve seen writers crater excellent plots because they refused to part with the opening they love. They would rather retrofit the rest of the novel than cut or change the beginning.

Great, now we have a super pretty opening…but the rest of the story is ‘meh’ because it’s all been redneck engineered to serve the first chapter(s) instead of the overall story.

An Editing Process I Recommend

editing, self-editing for writers, dangers of editing, danger of editing too early, how to finish a novel, Kristen Lamb, Writing Tips, how to edit a novel, types of editing, editing tips, writing tips

There is no ‘right’ way when it comes to process. All I can do is possibly share one to try. If you have a way that works? Fabulous. But, if you have a hard-drive bursting with unfinished stories, maybe try something new.

When I write a book (fiction or non-fiction) I leave any kind of content edit for after I’ve finished the entire first draft. FYI: Any time I ignore my own advice and don’t do this? It’s a disaster.

Now, is it okay to reread what we’ve written the previous day (session) in order to get grounded? Absolutely! It’s also perfectly fine to correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors.

But, if the correction has anything to do with the STORY (narrative, dialogue, setting, etc.), instead of deleting and/or ‘fixing,’ try this. Make notes of what places you believe at the time should be fixed, deleted, changed or even expounded.

NO changing or deleting. Period. Feel free to highlight and…

Make Notes then Move ON

editing, self-editing for writers, dangers of editing, danger of editing too early, how to finish a novel, Kristen Lamb, Writing Tips, how to edit a novel, types of editing, editing tips, writing tips

My advice is—instead of changing/correcting, etc.—to make a note that you believe something should be taken out/added/changed at a later time, but leave it be. I also recommend making notes in color. Red, purple, blue.

This technique is valuable in other ways. For instance, it helps maintain momentum when we hit places in the WIP where we need to fact check or research. I’ve been coauthoring a Western and am new to writing historical.

Trust me, it’s easy to lose a whole day on the Internet researching. Instead of stopping, I might write the scene with the people and in another color, make a note, ‘Research first class trains in 1870s.’

This allows me to keep writing instead of wandering off and making myself an expert in 19th century American rail travel.

Another way this method helps is if you’re writing and find yourself STUCK. If you have a log-line and a solid plot idea that’s fantastic. Yet, there will be times when we can’t seem to fit the pieces together…so skip ahead.

When I hit a wall, I might write ‘AND THEN ROMI DOES SOMETHING COOL AND FINDS A CLUE’ and pick up at the next logical place. In the meantime, my subconscious will be working on my problem even while I sleep.

Often the ‘answers’ my subconscious comes up with are WAY better than anything I could have planned. This also makes for some psychedelic dreams 😉 .

This approach also keeps me from fixating and giving my brain vapor lock trying to figure it out. The longer we pause and stay in one place the harder it will be to finish. I am not judging. Literally one finger pointed at y’all and three at me.

In the End

Don’t look back, or you’ll turn into a pillar or unfinished novels 😛 . Once you’ve made it through the first draft…THEN go make the core changes to your story if/as needed.

You may be surprised.

Something you believed HAD to be changed six weeks previously might actually have morphed into the coolest part of your story. Or maybe it was perfectly fine and can be left alone. When you go back to those notes, odds are you’ll feel differently about what needs changing and even why and HOW it needs changing 😉 .

What Are Your Thoughts?

Are you addicted to over-editing? Do you keep reworking and reworking and seem to always get stuck? Are you a perfectionist too? Afraid of failure? Or maybe afraid of success? Me? Yes to all of the above. I am a work in progress, too.

Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve….

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my ON DEMAND Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.

And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get both Plot Boss and Art of Character in the Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND). Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN! 

Also, REMEMBER my Bullies and Baddies: Understanding the Antagonist is THIS WEEK and this class will help you plot faster and tighter than ever. Join me March 29th (7-9 EST). Recordings are always included FREE if you can’t make it and also for you to be able to review.

I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of March, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

On Monday, I took a shot at “experts” and challenged us all to remember to have some FUN even though “fun” often makes us feel like slackers. Yet, let’s be clear. There is mistakenly “feeling” like a slacker and actually being one (FYI: I have gold medals in both). Thus, today one might be tempted to think I am contradicting what we talked about last time.

Wait, we actually DO need experts AND now she’s gonna start championing PAIN?

Yeah well, I’m a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. Whatever. Roll with it.

The thing is, whether we are a hobbyist (which is COMPLETELY wonderful and rock on!) or we want to GO PRO, it really doesn’t matter.

Lamb’s Rule of Writing #1: Not sucking way more fun than totally sucking.

Yes writing is and should be FUN (but it will also have pain, doubt and ups and downs much like that “Fun Run” we did to raise money for cancer research).

Experts DO come in handy even regarding non-writing “fun” activities (which are NOT slacking, FYI). Just because we’re doing something for joy and relaxation doesn’t mean we don’t want to create results we can be proud of after investing time, money and hard work. #Duh

Yet, we are talking about writing today, thus I feel it’s safe to say high school and college gave us zero training on how to write commercially successful novels.

If we want to make money selling books? Writing is a craft and a business involving producing a product for sale to consumers (code for “readers”), so experts a HUGE help. All I am going to say about that (for now).

Cool thing about any level of writing is we have freedom to choose our pain. 

I’m a huge fan of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) namely because it is fabulous for all types of writers (those who want to have fun and those who seek to go pro), and we will discuss three BIG reasons why in a moment.

Most people who follow this blog do, however, dream of one day going pro and a) NOT sucking and b) selling truckloads of books. Thing is, this transition does NOT happen overnight #AskMeHowIKnow.

In fact, I strongly encourage authors of all levels to check out an older post for some good old-fashioned perspective: The Three “Acts” of a Writer’s Journey From Newbie to Master. 

It is OKAY to need help. A caveat…slackers (which we can ALL be) must be choosy about our team when going after any goal.

Our Friends & Mentors Matter More the Higher We Want to Climb

If our goal is to climb Mt. Everest (and being a NYTBSA is essentially Everest & making good money full-time writing is K-2), who do you want by your side?

Hard@$$ Hank

This is the dude who’s summited Everest so many times even Instagram is rolling its eyes at him.

Hard@$$ Hank knows his stuff. He maybe even lost a couple fingertips to frost bite, tells the story how he once contemplated eating his best friend to survive a sudden blizzard (then found spare protein bars and murder/cannibalism averted due to proper prep).

The guy who insists you train hard for at least a year and who warns you over and over that if you $#@! up an inch…you will DIE (and he won’t hesitate to snack on you if you die from being stupid).

Hard@$$ Hank who beats into you that it is a LONG freaking way to the top. Dangerous with pitfalls, and ice sheers and avalanches. That the summit is way farther than it looks and harder than you could ever imagine but worth every single second.

OR…

Loving Lulu

Loving Lulu does love you and has been your greatest cheerleader since fourth grade. She meets you for a pumpkin spice latte and tells you–in her most informative voice–that most of those “mountain climbing expert people” sell tons of needless gear simply to make money.

And in Nepal, since there are no Starbucks or other meaningful jobs, the locals make cash working as slurpees for uninformed mountain climbing tourists.

(Even though you’re sure she meant to say sherpas, Lulu does have a good point and who wants to be conned?)

Lulu is your BFF and TOTES knows you rock. She has done cross-fit with you. She proclaims if you can run that hundred flights on the StairMaster? Everest *flips hair* No problemo.

And she looked it up on her iPhone. Everest? Not even that high. Only 29,029 feet which is less than 5.5 miles high. The Turkey Trot y’all did last year was ten miles, so what’s all the fuss with a mountain? Wear a coat! JEEZ!

Hank makes us feel overwhelmed and a tad terrified #Hater. Lulu? She’s your real champion #BFFUnicorn.

Thing is, both Hard@$$ Hank and Loving Lulu are highly valuable but for vastly different reasons. One is a mentor-ally, the other a friend-ally.

Easy to mistake the two 😉 .

Lulu’s “mountaineer training” leads to a cold and lonely death where our body is never recovered, unless one counts future archeologists. Why the hell did she pack so much lip gloss to climb a mountain? Did it have to do with her god? A sacrifice? Perhaps to ward off evil spirits?

Hank as cheerleader leads to heavy drinking and needless therapy.

But reverse the two? And POW! POWER TEAM!

Trust me when I say I would’ve quit long ago if I’d only enlisted cheerleaders. The slacker in me loved that they loved me even though I never finished anything I started. They believed in my genius.

To overcome my inner slacker, I HAD to get brave enough to make friends with mentors and teachers who terrified me, who pushed me to change in the ways that would matter most in the end.

But I ALSO needed Lulu there to bring me wine and encourage me when Hank made me cry.

Lamb’s Rule of Writing #2: We ALL start somewhere. NYTBS mega-authors are not hatched in a lab…yet. Amazon is working on it though.

But since, Amazon is not yet able to grow genius authors in petri dishes we still have our shot. Yet, I am here to take your sparkly little dreams…and yell at them. As your self-appointed Hard@$$ Hannah, I want to give you three fantastic reasons to do NaNoWriMo, since it is AMAZING for training out the slacker in all of us.

NaNo Teaches Endurance 

I remember years ago thinking, “Wow, if I could just write a thousand words a day, that would be AMAZING.” When I looked at professional authors, it was like watching an ultra-marathon runner—all the while knowing I couldn’t run a flight of stairs without requiring oxygen and possibly a defibrillator to restart my heart.

I struggled to get words on a page, and Lord help me if I saw something shiny.

Actual Image of Newbie Kristen

Of course, after years of practiced discipline, I generally have a thousand words written by breakfast. When I fast-draft (which I do for all my books), my average is abnormally high. But that took YEARS to train to write that clean and that FAST.

NaNo is our Hard@$$ Hank. He’s there to challenge us to write 50,000 words in 30 days which is teaching us 1) self-discipline 2) to pace ourselves and 3) we actually can do more than we believed we could. It’s tough when you aren’t used to this rigorous pace. Especially when most of us are like this…

NaNo Trains in Mental Fitness

Being successful at writing is a lot about mastering our mind and focusing our will despite what is going on around us. NaNo (Hank) drives us into a zone we’d probably never step a toe into if left on our own.

When part of Nano, we’re surrounded by a gazillion other writers all with the same goal. HELLOOO? Peer pressure?

NaNo trains us to get in the zone no matter what.

Too many noobs (me included) needed visits from the muse, perfect silence and the right pen just to get started. We allowed emotions and feelings to guide us and that’s why $#!& never GOT DONE.

To finish a novel, even a crappy but finished one, our mind is the first thing we need to train.

Writing is an extraordinarily intense activity, physically, mentally and emotionally. Sure, the professionals make it look easy and that’s why the world thinks we spend all day drinking wine and talking to butterflies. Hint: We don’t.

Seriously it IS THE BEST job in the world. But no unicorn hug, ya dig?

Lamb’s Rule of Writing #3: Life doesn’t stop because we decided to write a book.

I’ve met NYTBSAs who were also working full-time jobs as lawyers, vets, doctors, business owners. Maybe, if they wrote full-time they were tasked with taking care of small children, seriously ill family members, elderly parents…all while meeting deadlines.

Yes, even some “mega-authors” who we all assume have it made. They don’t.

Being a best-selling author doesn’t give us immunity from LIFE. Pros just have learned through practice (and places like NaNo) that we do have the ability to press on in spite of circumstance (just have to train it).

Because that is what PROS do. Yes, professional authors are human. We should take time to grieve, rest, have some fun, and chillax. Yet, we also appreciate life will dole out plenty of sucker punches. The difference is pros get back up and back to work and hobbyists use the sucker punch as a good reason to proclaim they actually preferred origami all along.

NaNo Hammers Out Perfectionism

NaNo isn’t about perfect, it is about finished. Writers who make a good living write at least a book a year and often more. Writers who spend all their time polishing their chapters are the ones who never finish, or they take five, seven or even ten years to finish a novel.

Lamb’s Rule of Writing #4: The world doesn’t reward perfect, it rewards FINISHED.

No half-finished-but-perfect novels have EVER become a runaway sensation with movie deals…but some finished and highly “imperfect” ones have, so all the more reason for:

#50ShadesofGetYourButtInCHAIR.

Also, “perfect novel” is a complete myth and chasing the PN has the same success rate as chasing Big Foot. Neither is ever likely to be found (or, if found, believed to be real).

So there. You are free to go write finished but imperfect novels. We all struggle with slacking. It’s something we take on day by day, step by step and page by page and likely always will.

What are your thoughts? Are you afraid of mentors who will push you? Maybe gotten a tad too comfy with cheerleaders? Maybe made friend-allies mentors and can’t figure out where you got lost?

Hey, I’ve been guilty! Do you struggle with perfectionism? Can’t bring yourself to “write crap” so get stuck in edit mode for ten years? Have you overcome your perfectionism? Tell us HOW! I’m still working on that one, too.

I LOVE HEARING FROM YOU! And I am NOT above BRIBERY!

What do you WIN? For the month of OCTOBER, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

COOL WEEKLY DEAL!!! The “Write Stuff”–20 Pages for $40. A deep edit/analysis by MOI!

To also prove social media is and should be super fun and that while you might need solid training, you DO NOT need a team of professionals paid to “manage your brand”:

I have two upcoming classes Social Media FREEDOM–Harnessing Passion & Creativity to Cultivate Fans & Harnessing Our Writing POWER–The Blog

I highly recommend you sign up for one of our upcoming classes listed below, especially to properly prep for Nano.

Fail to plan, plan to fail 😉 .

****Note, those who subscribe by email, the visual gallery doesn’t show, so please click through and sign up! We look forward to seeing you and serving you in class! Helping you be the best you can so your work can stand apart 😀 .

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Kristen's New Author Pic
Kristen’s New Author Pic

It’s my FAVORITE time of the year. I SO LOVE HALLOWEEN. It is the best of all the holidays because it is the only holiday where hanging out with family and cleaning my house are optional. There’s also candy and costumes.

This year I am going as Maleficent. Still working on my costume, and since I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off, I actually had a spare Alice in Wonderland costume.

#ThingsOnlyWritersAndPornStarsSay

So of course I had to put THAT to use. And, you are welcome!

Yes, I filmed myself as Alice in Wonderland in the only room in the house with lighting that didn’t make me look like Alice in Wonder-When-Botox-Will-Go-On-Sale Land. But, hey, we are all here to have FUN!

Anyway, whether we Nano or not, I want to offer you a lesson about writing a novel. Probably the BEST lesson. Editing is necessary and awesome. In fact, there are a lot of books published that could have used it…a LOT of it. But, like Botox, it can be overdone and ruin something that could have been beautiful.

Editing can and WILL kill your WIP. It WILL tank progress and, if you allow it, it WILL derail you and keep you from finishing Nano. In fact, I think perfecting and editing kill more novels than “writer’s block” ever did. We futz and fuss and fret the magic right out of the work until it dies a lonely death in a forgotten digital file on a forgotten laptop.

But how can we NOT edit? How can ignoring editing make our work better? Kristen, are you mad? What’s next? Cats and dogs living together? 

It can. Trust me. Better yet. I’m an editor, so I will show and not tell.

I dig parables, so I have a good one for you.

I love to garden, but I am terrible at reading instructions, which means I am not going to read a How To book or gardening blogs, because I already have enough to read and this would steal time from my great joy…digging in the dirt. This means that, over the years, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error.

Code for : Killing Stuff

Almost seven years ago, we bought our first home. We got a sweet deal on it, but it needed work. The yard was little more than mowed field. I couldn’t wait to get in and pretty it up. I slaved for hours in triple-digit Texas heat digging holes and clearing land for gardens. I’d always loved oleander and when I found them on sale at the local nursery, I was ecstatic.

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 10.01.58 AM

Normally, oleander this size were about $150 but I got each for less than $20. I planted one on each corner of the house and dreamed of how beautiful they’d be when they matured.

Then we had the most freakish, freezing winter in Texas history. I’d never even seen snow before and suddenly we were buried in eight inches of it.

The Canadians can all stop laughing now. You guys have things like PLOWS, SNOW SHOVELS, SNOW TIRES…and COATS.

Anyway, the oleanders that seemed to be doing okay during the mild fall were obliterated. When early spring came, I cleaned up all the dead stuff and dug out all the oleanders and threw them away. All except one because I ran out of energy.

Much to my horror, guess what sprouted once it got warmer?

I….LIVE….AGAIN!
I….LIVE….AGAIN!

My last remaining oleander. *sniffles*

To this day, I can’t look at that oleander without grieving the other four. I feel so foolish. What if I’d just been patient? What if I hadn’t been so quick to judge what was “dead”?

This is what premature editing can do to our story. When we start hacking away and digging stuff out too soon, we have no idea what treasures we might be tossing in the garbage.

Never underestimate what your subconscious is capable of doing. Our subconscious mind is planting seeds along the way that can eventually sprout into ideas better than we imagined. Editing too soon can ruin that magic and toss it in a Hefty bag, just like my poor oleanders.

Tips to Avoid Premature Editing

Fast Draft (Kinda Like Nano on Steroids)

Candace Havens teaches a method called Fast Draft and I use it to this day. You write the entire novel in a matter of two weeks. No stopping, no looking back. No editing. This is my preferred method, because I am notorious for editing stuff to death.

In the mystery I just sent off to an agent, I forbade content editing. There were times I thought what I was writing was ridiculous. SHEER MADNESS. But, as I got closer to the end, I realized my subconscious was far smarter than I was. I ended up with a richer, deeper story that I never would have been able to consciously plot. Because I didn’t uproot those seeds of inspiration, I was finally able to watch them bloom into something far more remarkable.

The killer I’d “plotted” was actually a red herring. My subconscious actually had come up with a twist even I didn’t consciously see. Had I gone back and “fixed” things? I would have edited out the best twist in my book.

Thus I challenge those of you who might have a tough time finishing. Give permission to simply WRITE. Your subconscious might have a miracle in store for you.

Limited Edit

Allow yourself to correct typos, punctuation and grammar ONLY. Anything else that you believe needs to be changed, make a note of it in a different color. Then keep moving forward.

I know this isn’t for everyone. Every time I talk about this topic, I get a half a dozen comments from people who just can’t bear to not edit. Of course, many of them don’t have finished books, either.

In the end, these are tips. You have to find what works for you. But I would at least give these methods a try. You can always slay the superfluous adverbs later ;).

Make Notes

If you are tempted to edit, instead, just make a note of it in a different color and keep going. For instance, maybe your protagonist didn’t have a sister when you started the book, then suddenly she does. You are tempted to edit this new character out. Instead of doing that, just make a note of it and riff with it. Your muse could be doing you a solid.

Writers often whine that they wish the muse would visit, but then when she does, they undo all her magic with edits. Let her help!

Remember that Nanowrimo is NOT about 50,000 perfect words so it is okay if there is a false trail in there. But if there IS, then you at least have some breadcrumbs to get you back on track and you haven’t wasted precious time polishing something that didn’t work OR unraveling something seriously cool your muse was gifting to you when you were refilling your vodka coffee ;).

Again, if you LOVE editing and you have finished 20 novels and bathe regularly in $50 bills, keep doing it. I am ALL about writers finding what works for them. There IS no One-Size-Fits-All.

But, if you’ve had a hard time finishing or you do get stuck, it doesn’t hurt to give this a try. I argued with pros who told me to stop editing my stuff for YEARS and I was stubborn as a goat (note the pic of me with the horns above—this is before I put ON my Maleficent costume 😉 ). In all honesty, I really wish I hadn’t been such a stubborn pain in the @$$.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever gotten overzealous and edited the heart out of a story and later regretted it? What tactics do you use to keep from editing too soon? Does editing early not bother you?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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Image via Lauriesanders60 WANACommons

Last month I participated in NaNoWriMo even though it’s the holidays and, as many of you know, I am battling the last vestiges of Shingles which makes me tired, like down to the BONES tired. But, lest I go crazy, I had to write, because that’s what writers do. We aren’t happy unless we are writing something. 

I figured in the beginning I likely wouldn’t make the 50,000 word mark not only because of feeling puny, but I also have other writing that doesn’t count toward NaNo.

Yet, the interesting thing is, being tired can have benefits. If we wait until that celestial alignment when the kids aren’t sick, our pants fit, there isn’t a heap of laundry, the garage is clean, the junk mail sorted, and we feel energized? We won’t get a lot of writing done, so here is some food for thought next time you believe you’re too tired to write.

Embrace Being Tired

Okay, first I want to take a moment to acknowledge that we do need rest. We need breaks and days off. Shingles had taught me I am seriously HUMAN. It’s actually humbled me to be better at resting because I love what I do and this makes it easy to overdo.

I’m going to be writing a new NF in 2015, so I needed to REST my left brain and let RIGHT BRAIN have some time to play (ergo NaNo).

Your Body Will Lie to You

Beyond sickness and disasters, our bodies tend to be a bit lazy, and they like to lie. They tell us we need a day or two or twenty off, and the longer we’re away from the work, the easier it is to let things slip, to see a new shiny and start a newer, more exciting project. In this business, time is our enemy. Always remember this.

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Image via JulaiLimjl Flikr Creative Commons

It Will Never Be a “Perfect” Time

We want to wait until we’re rested, the kids are out of the house, until we have total quiet, a new computer, the list goes on. To do this job at a professional level, we have to learn to write no matter what. This is a profession, not a playpen. People often groan that NaNoWriMo is in November and there is all this shopping and cleaning and cooking.

Okay, well, I used to work in sales and they still expected my tail to be on the road selling industrial paper from Mexico to Missouri until that scrawny four days off for vaca. If I was sick? I knew when I came back, I had to bust tail to catch up. Family emergency? Okay, tend it, but then back to get your $#!& done.

Coffee was for closers.

Writing (for those who want to make a living at this) should apply the same rules as other professions. Granted, it’s a LOT harder because no boss is going to write us up or chew us out if we don’t write…and most of our family and friends secretly believe all we do is play with our imaginary friends and we don’t have a “real” job. We need A LOT more self-discipline than other jobs.

I write every day but Sunday with a preschooler whacking me 47 times with a NERF sword before breakfast, all the while Paw Patrol is blazing in the background. I’ve learned to un-see the dirty dishes, the laundry that needs folding, and the Christmas tree that was attacked by my cats in the middle of the night and needs triage.

Distractions=Death

The Spawn
The Spawn

Time is the Enemy

When writing anything (but especially fiction) taking time off can kill momentum. We need to go back, reread, familiarize ourselves with the story and characters (since we’ve slept since that last bit we wrote). This can lead to editing the beginning to death and stalls forward progress. We get bogged down in the first part of the book.

Take too much time? Likely, you’ll have to start all over.

I did. Yes, even NF authors are vulnerable to time. Back in 2011 I scored a premium NYC agent and over a year and a half later? The project was going nowhere. When I finally decided to self-publish my most current social media book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, I spent more effort trying to retrofit work I’d done for my agent back in 2011 than I want to admit. Finally, I just scrapped the whole thing and started over. 150 pages of wasted work all because I didn’t keep writing.

My mistake. Won’t happen again.

Sometimes Being Tired Produces Better Writing

I know a lot of you work day jobs, are full-time caregivers, and you’re squeezing in writing when you can. GO YOU! You’re superheroes, and always remember that. Keep pressing.

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Yet, one mistake we make is we don’t tackle the novel when we’re tired. We believe our work will be better if we’ve rested.

This isn’t necessarily true.

Candy runs a workshop she calls Fast Draft. In Fast Draft, you write your novel in two weeks. It is one of the toughest challenges I’ve ever done, but it works. No editing, no going back, just keep going forward. By Day Three, I promise you’ll feel like you’ve been tossed in a bag of hammers and shaken.

BUT…

One of the biggest enemies of great fiction is Conscious Mind. Our internal editor lives there and won’t let us move forward until we get rid of “was clusters” or add more detail to that “jungle scene.” Conscious Mind will have you “being responsible” and browsing the Internet looking at South American plants instead of writing.

Conscious Mind is the Bigger Sibling Who Constantly Calls Little Sister (Subconscious Mind) Stupid and Tells Her to Shut Up

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Image via Life Mental health Flikr Creative Commons

Subconscious Mind is the primal mind. It sees things we don’t, makes connections Conscious Mind, also known as “The Thinking Brain”, misses. Thinking Brain is a bit of a Bossy Pants and likes to shove Subconscious Mind around, give it wedgies and promise that it can jump off the roof with an umbrella and float down.

Hey, Penguin does it all the time.

The best way to get your Subconscious Mind to help you is to wear the bigger, bossier sibling out. This allows the Little Guy an opportunity to help you make magic without the bigger sibling butting in.

Conscious Mind is the Inner Editor, the Inner Critic, the Nit-Picker, whereas the Subconscious Mind (the Limbic and “primitive” brain) is the one who sees value in finger painting and advantages of glitter.

Subconscious Mind will thrust you deeper into the story. Subconscious Mind is like a toddler who jumps head-first off the couch. No fear. There will be greater emotion and the writing often is more visceral. Subconscious Mind plants Seeds of Awesomeness that you will see flower into something more amazing that you believed you were capable of.

But that won’t happen unless Conscious Mind is exhausted and too tired to argue and bully it’s littler sibling.

So if you’re struggling with the WIP, you might just be a little “too rested.” This isn’t to say we don’t take care of ourselves, but total immersion and pressing on even when we’re worn out and would trade everything we own for a nap does have major advantages.

It’s also why I didn’t kill myself to make the 50,000 words for NaNo, but am still plugging. If I take too much time away from the novel, I KNOW I can cause myself more grief than I care to deal with.

Have you ever done a fast draft? Did it help? Do you write even when you’re tired? What has that shown you? What are your thoughts? Questions? War stories?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.
Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month—November) is just around the corner. Many new writers take this as an opportunity to test if they can do this professional writing thing “fer realz.” Some of us dust off an old story and see if we can toss it in the crucible of peer pressure and FINALLY finish. This is a good plan…most of the time.

We have to be careful. Never giving up might keep us from ever succeeding.

Want to know the secret to success? Quitting. Yes, you read correctly. And, if you’re a creative professional, it is in your interest to learn to get really good at quitting. Maybe you’ve felt like a loser or a failure, that your dream to make a living with your art was a fool’s errand.

Ignore that junk and understand…

Winners Quit All the Time

I posit this thought; if we ever hope to achieve anything remarkable, we must learn to quit. In fact, I’ll take this another step. I venture to say that most aspiring writers will not succeed simply because they aren’t skilled at quitting.

Ooooohhhh.

Learning Discernment

One problem many artists have is we lack discernment. It’s easy to get trapped in all-or-nothing thinking. If we defy family in pursuit of our art and something stops working properly, out of pride often we will persist even when the very thing we are attempting is the largest reason we will fail.

We keep reworking that first novel over and over. We keep querying the first novel and won’t move on until we get an agent. We keep writing in the same genre even though it might not be the best fit for our voice. We keep marketing the first self-published book and don’t move forward and keep writing more books and better books.

If you are tangled in a book that isn’t working, never ends, keeps getting rejected, ask for help. Sometimes the story (plot) is there only we can’t see it. We’re too vested and emotionally blinded.

This is why I do consulting. Yes, it’s $160 for three hours, but I’ve yet to meet a book I couldn’t wrangle and make behave. A skilled outside perspective is priceless and will save time and money (and good content editors are NOT cheap). People like me can help you quit the book that isn’t working and start writing the book you originally had in mind.

(***If you need help, e-mail me at kristen at wana intl dot com)

Learning to Quit is the Surest Insurance Against Failure

I like to say, “Persistence looks a lot like stupid.” The act of never giving up is noble, but never giving up on the wrong things is a formula to fail. We have to learn to detect the difference between quitting a tactic and quitting a dream.

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons
Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

If I am trying to climb Mt. Everest, but I am repeatedly failing at climbing the one side, which is a sheer rock face with no way to get a footing, then it is suicide to keep trying the same thing. If, however, I regroup, hike back to the bottom and take another way up the mountain, I am a quitter…but I am NOT a failure.

In fact, in order to “win” I must “quit.”

Learn to Quit from the Best

Most of us are lousy at knowing how and when to quit. This is one of the reasons it is a good idea to surround ourselves with successful people, because successful people are expert quitters. When I started out, I had all the wrong mentors. I had writer pals who quit writing when it was boring or who quit querying after a handful of rejections. They quit attending critique because they got their feelings hurt when people didn’t rave their book was the best thing since kitten calendars.

All this wrong kind of quitting is easy to fall into. Excuses are free, but they cost us everything.

My Life Changed When I Changed the Quitters in My Company

It all started with the DFW Writer’s Workshop. I attended and met people living the life I wanted to have…the life of a professional writer. They were the same as me, and yet very different. When I attended my first conference, I found myself being pushed to yet a higher level.

I met and stalked Candy Havens. Candy is an excellent quitter. She wrote her first bad book and didn’t spend the next six years trying to resurrect it. She sought training and experts and moved forward. She quit outside hobbies and friends that took away from her goal of becoming a professional author.

Theresa Ragan was rejected by traditional publishers for over twenty years. She finally self-published and has now sold hundreds of thousands of books. NY tried to offer her a contract and she turned them down. 

I turned in a hundred page proposal for Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World in the summer of 2011 to a premiere agent, a DREAM agent. But, after NY ignoring it for over two years? I thanked my agent for his efforts and published it myself. We need to always be moving forward, and sometimes pressing on requires letting go. We can’t grab hold of the new if we are hanging on to the old.

If something isn’t working QUIT. Move on! If we have to defend and justify what we are doing there’s something wrong.

Everything is Our Enemy

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It’s hard to know when to quit. I’m a loyal person. I’m loyal to a fault and I struggle every day with this lesson. But I’ve recently come to a conclusion. People who reach their dreams don’t get there by doing EVERYTHING. Everything is dead weight. Everything will keep us from focusing. Everything gets us distracted.

Everything is the enemy.

Sometimes we need to let go of inefficiencies or false trails, and if we don’t let go, then failure is just a matter of time.

Artists Actually Need More Quitting

Quit your day job. Today. This moment. Now, by quitting, I don’t mean you should throw your laptop in a waste can and take a bat to that copy machine that’s eaten every presentation you’ve tried to photocopy since the day you were hired….though that might be fun.

No, I mean mentally QUIT, then hire yourself to the dream. Screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. It takes guts to be a writer. It takes guts to be any kind of creative professional. Hire yourself to the job you dream about. TODAY.

No aspiring writers, only pre-published writers. If you want to be a professional author, you must quit to win. The day job is no longer the ends, but rather the means. The day job is just venture capital funding the successful art-making business…YOU.

You are a pre-published author…who happens to also be a stay-at-home-mom, a computer programmer, a salesperson, a whatever.

Learn to Quit Being “Everything”

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Again, Everything is the enemy. Friends and family will want you to keep being the maid and the taxi and the babysitter and the buddy who can spend all day shoe-shopping. Many of us will try to keep being Everything to everyone and we’ll just try to “fit in” writing, but that is the lie that will kill the dream. We can’t be Everything!

A new quote I have etched in my brain is, I can be respected or popular. I can’t be both.

We must learn when to quit and to be firm in quitting. Others have the right to be disappointed, but they’ll get over it. And, if they really love us they will get over it quickly and be happy for our resolve to reach our dreams. If they don’t? They’re dead weight and it’s better to cull them out of our life sooner than later.

Yes, this is hard stuff. Reaching our dreams is simple, but it will never be easy ;).

So what are some of your quitting stories? Did it work? Were you better off? Tell us your quit to win story! Do you need help sticking to your guns? Hey, your family doesn’t get you, but we do! Do you have a problem and you don’t know if you should stick or quit? Put it in the comments section and let us play armchair psychiatrist!

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook