Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Writing Wednesdays (Special NaNoWriMo Edition!): AMA Thread Highlights #3!

Round 3!

Today (since I'm still moving and I'm in the run up to the end of writing Heartstrikers #3 (SQUEEEE!)) we're going going back to take another look at the best (or, at least, the ones I like best) of my NaNoWriMo thread!

Highlights 1 and 2 are here for those interested, and if you have a question about writing, publishing, or books in general that you want to me to answer, come ask! I will answer you to the very best of my ability.

Allons-y!

Writing Wednesdays (Special NaNoWriMo Edition!): AMA Thread Highlights #3!


I'm going to start out with two interrelated questions about starting over. The first is from Midnightatmoon (who's asked some really great questions this year!)

I'm 25k into this sucker, and I might have just realized that everything about my story is wrong. Like, so off, it's not even funny. My core group of characters have rebuilt themselves, and now they're much tighter as a group, which is super important since this is a heist story. They feel like a living, breathing bunch of people instead of a barely hanging together on a string. My MC has decided that the POV needs to be switched from 3rd to 1st, and I re-discovered that one of my core aspect of the story I wanted to incorporate in the beginning fell to the wayside (I didn't know how to add it, but I do now if I change the location to give it the environment it needs to thrive). 
This feels both really exciting and a little aggravating. I wouldn't have known what's wrong with it if I didn't make it this far, but on the other hand I don't feel like it'd be a step forward for my story to continue on in my NaNo. Sure, I'd get to the end of an art theft story, but it doesn't mean much if it's supposed to be a casino robbery. But all that new stuff feels like a much more solid foundation of my story-house, and I haven't even really gotten into the conflict, or the antagonist in the new setting yet. And the whole point of NaNo is to write now, fix later. Writing or the sake of writing isn't always helpful, is it? 
So my question to you is, what are your thoughts on mid-draft rewrites?
My answer

I struggle with some level of this on just about every book I write (Fortune's Pawn being the notable exception), and from the looks of things above, you are on exactly the right path.

The first draft is what you write to teach yourself how to write the book. It's the place where you can try out all those amazing ideas and see which ones can actually hold up. No matter how great a novel looks at the planning stage, you never know which ideas will actually be good until you're in the novel. This is where the rubber hits the road in writing, and it's why the #1 advice for how to be a good writer is to just write. Because there is absolutely no way to find these things out unless you're in there discovering and fixing all the stuff you're talking about.


So if you feel this book needs to be rewritten (and moreover, you know how it needs to be rewritten), go for it! These mistakes are not a sign of failure, but of success. You're shaking out your story, doing what it needs to go from idea to real, finished, functional, good book. I know the idea of rewriting 25k is terrifying, but in the big picture, it's not much. A fourth of a novel. With any luck, you're going to write dozens of novels over your career. In that light, 25k spent figuring out how this book actually needed to be told is a cheap price to pay. I've thrown away 60k or more plenty of times, and I've never, ever regretted it. Every single time, I just knew in my gut that things were wrong and I needed to rewrite just like you're talking about, and every single time, it's been the right thing to do.

You are absolutely 100% right when you say writing for the sake of writing isn't helpful. More than right, because that kind of writing--when you're just pushing forward to meet an arbitrary wordcount goal with no joy or love--is how you burn out. That's how you learn to hate writing, and no word count, no deadline, nothing is worth that.


So don't be afraid. I know lots of writers frown on mid-draft do-overs, but my thinking has always been that you can't go forward if you're pointed in the wrong direction. You always want your writing to feel right, to be fun and exciting. You want to love your story with all your heart, and you can't do that everything's wrong and you know it. So trust your gut and fix that sucker! Embrace the excitement and start sprinting in the right direction, and you'll not only have a better time, you'll have a far better book.


I was confident in that answer, until I saw this followup question from Pephredo.

I'm interested in hearing about this too. The same thing happens to me far too often. In my case, it almost feels like a panic reaction. I start second guessing everything, the internal editor telling me there is something fundamentally wrong with the story, so I go back to "fix" it, usually scrapping huge sections of my manuscript. Last month, I took a draft from 77k down to 17k. (Mostly, because it was a three-protagonist story, and I decided I needed to simplify or the story would end up some 300k words long as I wasn't even a quarter through my outline. Two characters were carved out and set aside. I still want to write about them, but probably in the next book.) 
But I panicked again midway through this manuscript, this time going from 44k down to 19k, now finally back up to 40k again. Thing is, I think these changes make sense and help the story--but I thought the last time I "fixed" everything, it was a good change then too. Clearly I second-guessed that assumption. So is this normal or am I sabotaging myself in some way?
Oh rewriting, you double-edged sword! 

This question really got me thinking all over again on the subject. Here's the answer I came up with.

This is a slightly different situation from the one above.

As you'll see below, I'm a big big fan of going with your gut and starting over with a redraft when things are going totally wrong, but the flip side of this is that you can get stuck re-writing the same first half of a book forever if you're not careful. The key difference is scope. If you feel the book needs a huge fundamental change, and you know exactly what that change needs to be (because generally when these revelations happen, you KNOW), that's a perfect example of a time when a rewrite is a great idea.

On the other hand, if you're just panicking because you're in a hard bit, or if there's a wrong scene that's bugging you three chapters back and you're itching to go back and rewrite because you're not sure what your next scene is going to be, these are examples of times when it's better to stop, replot, and refocus on getting to the end. Fussy editing is one of the ways our brains deal with insecurity. We're not sure where we're going, so we go back and fuss with what we have because it needs to be done. This is a false sense of accomplishment because none of that editing matters if you don't actually finish the book.

So how do you tell what side of the fence you're on? Whether you're actually in need of a rewrite or whether you're just fussing? Personally, my measurement is enthusiasm. If I'm hating my book and I know it's broken, but I can look back and see exactly what I need to cut/fix/change to make it better and get back on track, THAT'S when I'll do the rewrite. On the other hand, if I'm feeling down but I don't know how to fix things and going back feels just as blah as going forward, THAT'S when I know the problem is one of enthusiasm and won't be solved by rewriting, but by refocusing on figuring out where I'm going and just getting to the end of the book. This isn't to say there's nothing I can fix by going back--all first drafts are riddled with errors--but in this situation, that's not what I need to focus on.

The end goal is always to get to the end of the book with a story you can work with. It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be fixable. In both of these, you want to aim for whatever method--rewriting or plunging ahead--gets you to that point the fastest and with the least pain.

In the end, you really can't go wrong with just trusting your gut. If you REALLY want to rewrite something, rewrite it. It's your book and your time, do what you want. Just make sure you're being honest with yourself about why you're doing it. Are you rewriting this scene because it needs to be fixed so you can move forward, or are you rewriting it because you don't know how to move forward? These are the questions only you can answer about your own work, and being honest with your answers is the fastest, best way to getting a novel you can be proud of.

As you can see, I have many thoughts on this subject! As well I should, considering how many times I change my mind in my books. It's a good thing I'm a fast writer, otherwise I'd take forever!


Finally, to round out the publishing side of the highlights, we have Turdleyurtle with a question I've never been asked before!

Is there a way in which you might decide to go back to Trad Publishing, but only say, for a specific book? When writing, is there ever a moment in which you think a particular story might do better in a TradPub setting - because you want hardcopies in bookstores, or to do touring, or whatever -- vs ideas you think would do much better as Indie? Looking at my stories and story ideas, I know there are things I would be fine with Indie publishing for money and enjoyment. But with other ideas, I can't help but think I'd really want that particular book to be in a bookstore.  
Additionally, is it difficult to do printed versions of Indie books? Do you feel it's better to stick mostly to indie-printing E-books, or a mixture? I have a Kindle app, but still prefer reading physical books since I find them easier to focus on (and sometimes annotate). I also have ADHD, and while I can read a story perfectly fine, I find I "get into it more" and give a story more time when it's printed. So part of me wonders if it's best to start e-book only publishing, but then later with some success, offer limited print runs of books? 
Guys, I love this question! This is exactly the sort of thing that tends to get stomped under in the Trad vs Indie debates that rage across the writerly parts of the internet. I know we talk a lot about self-pub here on the blog, but that's mostly because self-pub takes so much more work on our parts, and thus dominates our time and thinking. Also, we have more control, which leads to more experimentation and, thus, more blog posts. 

But this focus on indie can be misleading, because I am most definitely a hybrid author. Despite the obvious monetary benefits of self-publishing, Traditional Publishing still has a lot to offer authors, some of which I tried to elucidate in my stupidly long answer.

This is a really great question that I have actually NEVER BEEN ASKED BEFORE. o__o I have no idea how that happened, but kudos to you for bringing it up!!!

Though I (obviously) love and have had great success with self pub, I still think of myself as a hybrid author. I actually have a trad contract in the works for a book right now that I can't talk about yet (which sucks, because it's a perfect example), but I went that way exactly because of what you mention--this book needed to be in stores.

Speaking very broadly, the titles that do well as indies tend to be the titles that used to do well as mass market paperbacks--Romance, exciting SFF titles, mysteries, action adventure, thrillers, and everything in between. But while lots of indie books sell very well, there are many genres that still benefit from the trad system. Literary is the obvious example since lit readers want the legitimacy and curation that a publishing house provides. But even in Fantasy, if you're writing a serious, complex book that you feel could win a Hugo or a Nebula, then going trad could be a very good idea. The big houses (Tor, Ace, Orbit, any brand you see on spines in the bookstore) have the clout, connections, and resources to get your books into the hands of influential reviewers, or even the papers. This kind of attention is vital when you're trying to generate the critical buzz that's needed to win big awards, or make jaded readers take a chance on a difficult book.

That last point is not to be underestimated. Taking myself as an example, I read a lot of indie titles, but I generally stick to the genres/authors I know are going to entertain me. But when critics start going crazy over a title that's outside of my comfort zone, I will often stretch to give that book a try. Getting your book this kind of visibility is where trad publishers shine. This is especially true if your book doesn't fit neatly into the popular genres. An amazingly written book about werewolf shifters will sell no matter how it's published, but an amazingly written book about werewolf shifters that has the hero kill the heroine in a fit of rage in order to examine the underlying savagery that the entire werewolf genre is built on and, in turn, cast new light on what it means to be civilized--that's a book that would benefit greatly from having a big publisher's seal of approval. It's a big idea and a hard sell, and having a publisher standing in a position of authority saying "this book is amazing, you need to read it" can be the difference between a flop that quietly vanishes into the vast sea of Amazon and a bestseller that takes the genre to a new level.

Now, of course, all of this is just my opinion. There are many literary and genre smashing indie titles that have done just fine without publishers. But acting as a gate keeper that can be trusted to say "this book is good, you should read it" is one of the things trad publishers are best at. So if you have a book you feel would really benefit from some critical acclaim and awards, or if you just dream of seeing that sucker in a bookstore, then I would absolutely go back to Trad. It's true that indie is where the money is, but money isn't everything. There are many rewards to being a writer, some of which (like bookstore distribution) are incredibly hard to come by if you're not with a publisher.

Whether the income hit to pursue those rewards is worth it is up to you, but I highly recommend looking at the larger picture of where you want your career to be. We novelists are more than one book. Our careers can last for decades, and they move very slowly. That's a combination that requires strategic planning, which sometimes includes taking short term losses for long term gain. You might not make half as much money on a title when you go trad, but winning a giant industry award or getting a write up in the NYT can be a huge boost to your career as a whole, and that's not something any author who's in this for the long haul should dismiss.

Now, to quickly answer your second question, I've had moderate success with print versions of my indie books. Of course, since putting together the print version only took me a day, moderate success was just fine! I use Create Space, which makes it super easy to put out a nice looking, reasonably priced print edition that automatically links into my Amazon listing. Plus, since Create Space is owned by Amazon, they handle all the distribution, which means I don't have to mess with print runs or mailing stock or any of the other nonsense that has traditionally made indie published hard copies a pain in the butt.


Also, even though I don't actually sell that many print copies, I've found that having a print version actually helps to sell my ebook. I'm not sure if this is because the print price makes the ebook price look super cheap by comparison or if having a print edition just makes my indie book look more legit, but I'm stoked either way, especially since, again, making a print edition of an ebook is stupid easy. Plus, and this is just a vanity perk, I freaking love having lovely paperbacks to sign and give away to fans! Signing a Kindle or a bookplate just doesn't have the same impact as giving them a lovely, glossy book with my name scrawled across the title page. ^__^



I really can't say how awesome the questions have been so far this year. Thank you all so much for making such thoughtful queries! If you have a question you'd like me to answer (perhaps in excessive detail), please check out the main thread. I'll be there all November.

If you're new to me and my books, you can find info on all my novels at www.rachelaaron.net! If you like my writing advice, please follow me on the Social Media of your choice ( TwitterFacebookTumblrGoogle+) for writing  links and updates! I also (when it's not NaNoWriMo) post new craft related blogs every Wednesday and lots of publishing business stuff in between. You can find all my back posts on writing by clicking on the Writing tag below (or, you know, the link I just posted).

Thank you all for reading, and I hope you'll stick around and talk shop with me!

Rachel

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