A Look Back at 2013

This has been just an incredible year, and I’ve had so many amazing firsts that it’s hard to figure out where to begin. So I’ll just take the lazy way out and make a list.

2013 Firsts:

  • Attended Medieval Times.
  • Our Florida vacation got rained out (can you believe that was a first?)
  • Was a bridesmaid.
  • My little sister got married, and even though it was a small turnout, we bridesmaids made it our goal to bring fun to the dance floor whenever possible.
  • They’re both expecting now, so I’ll soon be an aunt.
  • Went out of the country.
  • Went on a cruise.
  • Visited the Bahamas.

On top of all that, I still worked my butt off to keep on top of my writing. Even though I don’t have any new publications to show for it, I think I’ve really grown as a writer since last year even. My older sister and I started doing weekly visits to Starbucks this year to force ourselves to work on our writing, and it’s been very successful. Sometimes for her it is the only time she gets to write at all, and when you have a pile of 100+ papers to grade, that can make a big difference.

I also took part in several NaNo (NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNoWriMo) events this year which really helped to boost my annual word count. One thing that’s kind of become a tradition for me is to go back and examine all the writing projects I’ve worked on. It helps me put into perspective what I have done and where I need to go. Let’s make another list, shall we?

2013 Writing in Review

  • Madam Cloom’s Garden
    YA Fantasy novel.
    Camp Nano – April 2013.
    Needs some major plot revisions. I’ve got some ideas on how the antagonist should be threaded into Shaleigh’s world and I’ve thought more about his relationship to Teagan, Shaleigh’s confidante. Need to take a better look at the start of this piece to make sure it makes sense.¬†Beginnings are always the tough part, aren’t they? I need to make sure Shaleigh stays consistent and that her change is gradual throughout the piece. Also I’ve mentally retconned the ending for this and I plan on taking it into a very different direction. I blame reading The Hobbit and The Magician’s Nephew this year for giving me such devious plans.
    Total Word Count: 57,501
  • Painful Memories
    YGO Fanfiction
    Camp Nano – July 2013
    I honestly had to do a double-take when I saw how much I had written on this piece. I had thought it was closer to 80k, but apparently I was off just a bit. I haven’t read over this piece since I put the pen down, and I already feel bad for my beta reader who will be tackling this raw, unrevised version. Of course, we’ll be trading pieces, so we will both be struggling through it.
    Total Word Count: 92,281
  • Ghosts of Pikes Peak – Edit
    Supernatural Action
    Nanowrimo – November 2013
    I was a nano rebel this year and put in 50 hours of editing work instead of writing another new novel from scratch. I literally just finished editing this piece last week, and I’m pretty pleased with how it’s turned out. I’m putting it on the shelf for a month or so, then I’ll do a final read through before handing it off to my beta reader to look over. After that I plan to start sending it around.
    Total Added Word Count: 26,857
  • Untitled Werewolf Short Story
    Dystopian Steampunk Horror
    I’m hesitant to call this a short story because when I read over it recently, it felt far too rushed to be squeezed into that format. I really felt like I could slow it down and drag out the details far more for a rather intense novel. The main thing holding me back from jumping into this kind of rewriting is that I already have some other finished pieces on the table, plus the tone requires a certain bleak mindset. It is a dystopia after all. Yet another novel that wants to be written. It appears I’m making a collection
    Total Word Count: 11,915
  • Untitled Thief Novel
    Fantasy Action
    I’ve had this idea stewing in the back of my mind for quite a while, since April I believe, and I think it’ll be the next writing I take on. I need to sit down and flesh out the details of course and get a better handle on the characters, but the concept makes me excited just thinking about it. I think I’ll prioritize this over the Werewolf story above just because it’s been waiting so very patiently in the corner and I don’t want it to get bored and walk off.

Overall Word Count for 2013:

Manuscript Action Plans for 2014

  • Finish up Ghosts of Pikes Peak and start querying.
  • Do some major edits on Madam Cloom’s Garden. Get it ready to query.
  • Write the Untitled Thief Novel.
  • Rewrite the Untitled Werewolf story.
  • Light edits and post my YGO fanfic.

What does your writing to-do list look like? How many manuscripts do you have sitting on the table waiting for you to tackle? Please tell me I’m not alone in having multiple pieces I’m juggling at one time.

Reflecting on Editing

I don’t usually reflect on my writing process much. I’m a big believer that if you put too much thought into something, especially creative work, then you can over-think it. Lately though I’ve thought more about my writing style and how it’s changed over the years. I guess if you plan to improve any skill, it’s important to keep track of your progress and see how it’s evolved. Maybe it’s just because it’s the end of the year, maybe it’s because I nearly have a manuscript finished, or maybe I just get more retrospective around the holidays. Either way, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on how my writing style has improved over the last year or so.

Since I started really taking my writing seriously a few years back, I’m realizing that I never quite knew how to edit properly. I knew what I had used on research papers, when putting together short stories, and writing posts online; but novels are a very different animal. You have to keep a high-level perspective while you’re going through so you can maintain themes and personalities over a longer span. On the first few passes, I realize now that I was too close to it still (despite how many months I waited) to properly edit Pikes Peak.

This time around I’m adding much more. I’m rewording scenes, fixing awkward sentences, adding in character development, and describing the environment in far more detail than I had previously. For some reason on my first few passes through I didn’t realize how bare-bones the piece was. I was simply too focused on grammar and spelling; I was too distracted by the small parts to notice how much work I really had left to do. For the first time this piece is feeling really complete, and I’m really enjoying this edit more than the others.

So what changed? I don’t know if I have a satisfactory answer. I’ve been reading books differently, I know that much. Instead of just getting caught up in the world, I take the time to notice the sentence structure, the choice of perspective, and the way a scene is described. That was kind of the first step. Then I started finding a bunch of useful posts online about professional writers’ editing tactics (check out a few of my recent posts for some examples, like Revision Roadmap and Subplottin’). Around the beginning of this year I also bit the bullet and posted a few sections to the critique group on Scribophile. It showed me some major flaws in my writing method that I hadn’t even considered before, some bad habits I picked up over the years, and really just some fresh perspective on it. They weren’t problems I couldn’t fix overnight, but slowly I’ve used that feedback to help my writing style. I’m more conscious of repetition, word choice, pronouns (always my bane), and carefully crafting action scenes.

I look back on my work from last year or even two years ago and I’m noticing a huge difference. I pick out grammar problems pretty quick and I can also give you a piece’s strengths and weaknesses. You have to actively try to improve your writing and that takes time, but I guess that’s the case for any discipline. I feel like I’m getting closer to my writing goals though and that is a wonderful feeling.

The next step? Learning to cut out the weaknesses in any piece (despite how much I love it the way it is) and pump up its strengths. I suppose that’s where the ‘kill your darlings’ advice comes in, and although I wouldn’t consider them my darlings exactly, I’m still guilty of spoiling them. I’ll make excuses for why I don’t cut a subplot out or why I don’t rework a particular plot I like despite it making a story more convoluted. Writing isn’t just about putting words down on paper, it’s also about what you don’t put down. It’s a lesson I’m still grappling with.