Tag Archives: revising

Author-in-Training: Revising with the Pomodoro Technique

Hello all! Sorry it’s been so quiet here this week. We’re in the final stretch in the production of Red and Black, which is soooo exciting, but it’s also consumed much of my regular blogging time. But before we head into the weekend, I’d thought I’d make a quick post about a technique that has proven to be really helpful to me as I’ve been working on my revisions for Red and Black 2.

My mindset for writing, and revising are very different. When it comes to drafting a new project, I tend to work best in one to two hour blocks of writing time with no breaks. If I can stick to this, I can produce a 80,000-100,000 word novel over the course of a month or two. I also tend to feel a little burnt, and need to take a few weeks off. Revisions, on the other hand, come with their own set of challenges. For me, revising a book takes much longer than one to two months, so I don’t want to burn myself out too quickly. In addition, while revising I’m less likely to find myself “in the zone,” so it’s more difficult to focus. To help combat these challenges I’ve embraced a new technique for my revisions of Red and Black 2, and it’s proven to be really helpful. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique isn’t new to the world, it’s just new to me. In fact, it’s been around since the 1980s and is a blessedly simple way to help you focus on work. Here’s the basic breakdown. The Pomodoro Technique alternates periods of work (traditionally 25 minutes) with short breaks (five minutes). After four rounds of this, you’re allowed a longer break (or, if you’re like me, have run out of time and need to head off to the day job!). The work times are meant to be periods of intense focus (so no messing around on your phone!), while the breaks can consist of whatever you want, such as getting up and stretching, grabbing a drink of water, or even messing around on twitter.

The Pomodoro Technique is named after one of those old tomato style kitchen timers, but I use an app called Focus Keeper to assist me. The app is free, and there is a paid version if you want to upgrade. The app gives off a light ticking noise that I suspect would drive me nuts if I was trying to draft something, but for revisions, it’s oddly soothing. Once you enter a new round, it lets off a sharp dinging noise and the screen changes from the orange-red of a tomato to blue. The longer breaks have a gray colored screen and the sound of calming ocean waves to hopefully assist you in unwinding.

I’ve found the Pomodoro Technique and the Focus Keeper app to be a great way to keep my off of twitter and focused on my work. If you’re the type of person that struggles with revisions or focusing in general, I’d highly recommend trying this. It’s an old fashioned method, but sometimes, old things work quite well.

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Packing for Camp NaNoWriMo

Last April, I participated in my first Camp NaNoWriMo, the writing retreat-themed version of the famous NaNoWriMo that takes place each November. And while I still don’t know if the novella I crafted will ever amount to anything, I felt like it was a worthwhile experience, all around.

As a result, I will be doing it again.

Unlike NaNoWriMo, which is only once a year, Camp NaNoWriMo takes place in both April and July. Didn’t quite make it last time? Well now you have another chance! It’s also more flexible than regular NaNoWriMo, allowing you to set the goals that are right for you. Only want to write 20,000 words? Done. Want to measure your success in hours or pages instead of counting words? Go ahead! Camp NaNoWriMo is the perfect experiment for anyone that wants to knuckle down and tackle a writing project this July, and you don’t have to fit in a cookie cutter mold to do so.

As for me, I won’t be drafting anything new this time around. Instead, I’ll be working on revisions. As we speak, I am working my way through the sequel to Red and Black. Red and Black 2 has been through many hours of revisions over the past year or so. I’ve thrown out the second half completely, and then pretty much did the same for the final third during my next pass. And while it’s pretty common for me to have to re-write those final few chapters from scratch, this has been a little extreme. A lot of this has to do with the fact that this is a pretty emotional book, so nailing those character beats is even more vital than normal. It remains to be seen if I have to throw out an aggressive amount of words this time around (please, God, no!), but I know that the final third of the book still needs a lot of work.

To get in the swing of things, I’ve challenged myself to work on editing for 30 hours this month, or an hour a day. So far, I’m a little ahead of the game, but more or less on track. I’ve set the same goal for Camp NaNoWriMo, but find I may adjust that upwards depending on how motivated I’m feeling.

I would love to have the book ready for Beta readers by the end of July, but that’s soooo unrealistic. Red and Black will be published in August after all, and I want to make sure that I am properly prepared for that. So instead, the goal will be to get as far as I can and see where we end up on July 31st (which is also my birthday).

Will you be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this July? If so, will you be counting words, hours, or pages this time around? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

Author-in-Training- Alpha Readers v. Beta Readers v. Writing Groups

I’ve been working with a editor to bring Red and Black up to snuff for publication this summer. But before I even considered hiring a professional, I hit up my friends and colleagues for feedback. The reasons behind this were simple. For one thing, it was free. Secondly, I didn’t want my editor to spend her time fixing problems that I could have either done on my own, or with a little help from my friends.

If you’re looking to publish, I’d highly recommend seeking outside feedback first. The key is finding out which type of readers are right for you and your project. For Red and Black, I utilized three types of first readers: alpha readers, beta readers, and a writing group.

Alpha Readers
Alpha readers are the first people that you allow to see your book, as it’s being written. So as you might expect, for me, this took place waaay back during the early drafting of Red and Black. My reader, in this case, was my husband (thanks, Love!), and he didn’t do much “reading” at all, as I read the first several chapters aloud to him. Fortunately for him, it wasn’t rough draft quality. I had gone through each chapter and cleaned things up a bit, but it was certainly a long ways away from being done.

Because of the rough quality of my work during this phase, I wasn’t looking for an in depth critique. Instead, I was looking for a sympathetic ear to let me know whether or not things were working, and if there were any red flags. And sure, maybe that “sympathetic” part makes me thin skinned, but I was still in the process of writing the book, and therefore in a more vulnerable state than usual.

Other writers do alpha readers a little differently. Sci-fi/Fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal actually distributes her works in progress to readers, via patreon, which feels incredibly brave for me.

Regardless of how you do it, alpha readers are people who see your story during the early phases, and are good if you want to get a general idea on whether you missed the mark or not. Feedback received by alpha readers can be very helpful when planning out the rest of your book.

Beta Readers
Beta readers are people who read your finished manuscript, and provide more detailed feedback. By the time Red and Black got to my beta readers, it had already been through some serious editing and yours should too. Yes, your mileage may vary as far as how much work you want to put into the book before your beta readers see it, but let me tell you as someone who’s been on the other side of the fence. Reading through a draft that’s clearly had little to no editing is fucking tedious. Your beta readers are doing you a favor by reading your work, so at the very least, clean up the shit you already know how to take care of.

As for the level of feedback provided by Beta Readers, it’s going to depend the individual. Some of my Beta readers provide detailed suggestions in the text itself. Some of my Beta readers don’t write down any feedback at all, but read the entire book, and then patiently sit there while I pepper them with questions. Some Beta readers focus on things like spelling/grammar/style, while others are drawn towards larger issues such as character arcs, and the overall plot of the novel. If you are only looking for a certain type of feedback, do yourself a favor and communicate this in advance. After all, there’s no point in asking a colleague to check your grammar, if they almost flunked out of high school English.

Personally, I like getting a wide variety of feedback, so I chose to send out my books to as wide a range as beta readers as I can. If that sounds scary to you, then you might have a bigger problem then just finding a beta reader. After all, if you’re lucky, eventually your book will be devoured by a wide variety of people. Why not get practice now? If you’re still nervous about the idea, sending your work out to readers in phases, might prove to be helpful. Start with a couple people that you trust the most, and move on from there.

When it comes to choosing your beta readers, I’d recommend looking beyond other writers. Sure, having writers as beta readers is great, as they’re likely to give you more in depth responses, but seeking out people who tend to read books in, or close to, your genre, is also a good idea. After all, those are the people you’re going to want to be attracting as readers. Isn’t it a good idea to get their feedback? A lot of professional writers (Brandon Sanderson, for example) actually use some of their readers like this, which has always struck me as a great idea.

Writing Groups
Now, I know what you’re thinking. First alpha and beta readers, and now you expect me to join a whole group? What’s next, going outside!? Fear not my fellow introverts, joining a writing group doesn’t have to be intimidating, nor does it need to involve leaving the house.

While I was working on Red and Black, I was fortunate enough to be part of a writing group. Writing groups come with a great feeling of reciprocity and community. Beta and alpha readers, for all their benefits, can feel as little one sided, as their main task is helping your book get better. With writing groups, on the other hand, you’re not only having your work reviewed, but commenting on other people’s work, so everyone benefits.

All writing groups are different. Some are online, while others met in person. My group met every two or three months, and used googlehangouts. At each session, we’d discussed a section from two writers’ work. There were four people total, meaning you didn’t have to wait to long too have your work discussed. Red and Black, due to it’s length, ended up being discussed over the course of three different sessions.

The feedback I got from my Writing Group was invaluable.They sort of served as a step in between an alpha and beta reader, as they read a draft as it was going through in depth revisions. The comments they made greatly shaped the developing draft and I’m convinced that Red and Black would have been a very different book had I not had the benefit of their feedback.

Of course, I’ve also heard my fair share of horror stories when it comes to writing groups. Stories of people who weren’t critical as much as cruel, and writers that lacked the maturity to take honest feedback. So perhaps one good thing to check for before choosing a writing group is to make sure the other people aren’t dicks. Also, your writing group is more likely to be successful if all members have similar goals, or are writing in similar genres. In my writing group, for example, we were all writing speculative fiction. I wouldn’t have been comfortable critiquing a picture book, or a memoir.

So those are the three types of first readers I encountered while writing Red and Black. I know I’m getting repetitive here, but I highly recommend seeking out feedback from others, if you’re looking to have your work published. I’m a firm believer that as writers, sometimes we’re too close to a book to notice its flaws. Sometimes we even miss out on hidden strengths. Looking outside of ourselves can help us find these hidden facets in our writing. So don’t be shy! Share your work.

This post is part of the new Author-in-Training Project, where I document my path to publishing Red and Black, and the lessons I’ve learned on the way. Please click on the Author-in-Training tag for more posts.

Off to Camp NaNoWriMo!

A few days back, I impulsively signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo, which starts on April first.

Some of you might be scratching your heads right now. NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is very much a November mainstay-and given how the yearly event has grown in popularity over the years, I highly doubt that they’ll be changing that anytime soon. Camp NaNoWriMo, on the other hand, is a writing program put out by the same folks that have made NaNoWriMo such an important staple in my writing life. Just like NaNoWriMo, it’s all about people coming together to tackle a specific writing goal over the span of the month. But beyond that, it can be quite different.

You don’t have to write 50k
The overall goal of NaNoWriMo is well known at this point: write a novel (which the program designates as 50k) in the span of one month. This is a task that many people (like myself) see as a worthy goal to conquer and surpass. Others may find the idea of putting down that many words in such a short period of time to be an impossibility.

If you’re in either of those categories, then Camp NaNoWriMo could be great for you, because it’s so damn customizable. Sure, you could do the traditional NaNo thing and write 50k in 30 days, but you don’t have to. Don’t want to write a novel? Then why not a script, a short story, or a work of nonfiction? You can even do poetry. Does the idea of writing something new, when you still have to revise your last NaNo novel sound inconvenient? That’s fine too. You can set a revision goal instead. And your success doesn’t have to be measured by word count. You can decide you want to write for so many hours or minutes. What about a page count/line goal? All options.

While NaNoWriMo is all about everyone working towards the same goal, Camp NaNoWriMo is about everyone working towards their own specific writing goals, while supporting each other. And that’s kind of beautiful.

Going to Camp
Take a look at the Camp NaNoWriMo website and you’ll immediately notice a Summer Camp, or writing retreat theme. And to that I’d say, have you seen the giant ass pile of snow still on my lawn?

Of course, this isn’t exactly fair. Camp Nanowrimo is a world wide event, after all. And given that the events also runs in July, I’m willing to suspend some disbelief.

As part of this Summer Camp-theme, you can be sorted into Cabins, which appear to serve as a sort of support group. The cabins can have up to twenty people. You can either set up a cabin yourself, or select to be sorted automatically. If you chose the later, it’s up to you whether you want the sorting to be completely random, or if you want to be placed into a cabin with people writing in a similar genre, with a similar word count goal, or of a similar age. If Cabins don’t sound like you’re thing (and I don’t blame you, human interaction of any kind can be kind of terrifying), then you don’t have to do one.

My Camp NaNoWriMo
I have completed (and won!) NaNoWriMo a grand total of seven times now, but Camp NaNoWriMo is a totally new experience to me. And in this spirit of newness, I am chose to do something different and not write a novel because fuuuuck that right now. I’m too focused on getting Red and Black published, and all the bells and whistles that come along with diving into indie publishing. Instead, I will be writing a novelette (probably 10,000-12,000 words) that takes place in the Red and Black universe.

As for cabins, I’m not sure what I’m going to do there yet. I want to take part in one, but I’m not sure if I want to customize it in anyway, or go completely random.

So while I was thinking that over, I’d thought I’d mention it here. Are you consider doing Camp NaNoWriMo? It sounds like a great way to get some writing done. If so, I’d be happy to set up a cabin. Just leave a comment here or send me an email at nancyotoolemeserveir@gmail.com. And if you’re looking for a genre specific cabin mate, I will be writing a superhero story (although it reads a lot like urban fantasy).

As someone blessedly fond of habits and repetition, I don’t do much (okay, anything) on impulse, but this sounded like so much fun. A nice way to flex my creative muscles in a time when I’ve been so focused on revising and publishing. I, of course, will be blogging the results of my time at Camp for any of those who will be participating, or are considering singing up for July, but aren’t sure as of yet, so make sure to follow here for the results.

And to my fellow participants, I will see you at camp!

On New Years Resolutions, and Writing Goals

I’m a sucker for new years resolutions. I usually make too many, and don’t always stick to them as well as I should, but I’ve always liked the fresh new start that comes with a new year. The idea that bad habits can be left behind, and better ones can be forged. And sure, I get the argument that New Years Resolutions can be viewed as useless, especially when you look at people who sign up for gym memberships, but never show up, but I think there’s a lot of value in setting goals, and taking time to refocus. You’re going to fall off the horse every now and then, but if you continue to make time to think about what you want, and plan how that can be achieved, you’re in a helluva better place then you were if you never paused to make the resolutions in the first place.

For example, if I had never sat down and said, “I’m going to make writing a daily habit” I probably wouldn’t have written anything at all. And instead, I’ve written and revised three whole novels that have taught me a lot about writing (even though they will never be published). And now, I find myself working on new projects, and new ideas that I hope to make strides on in 2017.

So, without further ado, here are my writing projects and resolutions for 2017!

Project #1- Red and Black
Red and Black is a superhero novel (the first in a planned series) that I put MANY hours into over the past year and a half. I’ve brought the book from a broken, partial rough draft (the result of a very strange, often disappointing/frustrating NaNoWriMo in 2014) to a full manuscript, workshopped it with my wonderful writing group, brought it through multiple rounds of revisions, and have now sent it off to no less than a half dozens first readers (two of whom have already gotten back to me with encouraging comments and helpful suggestions!). This year, I hope to bring Red and Black through its final revisions and begin sending it out to agents during the spring. From that point, its future will bet out of my hands, so I try not to stress about it too much (of course, I don’t always succeed).

Project #2- Black and Blue
Black and Blue is the sequel to Red and Black. I wrote it during a very successful NaNoWriMo this past November (not only did I manage to “win” NaNoWriMo, but I also finished the damn book before the month was up!). Since the beginning of the New Year, I’ve been working on my first round of revisions. And I must admit… it’s going surprisingly well. Normally this part of the revising process is hugely painful. Like, “Dear God! I’ve managed to regress as a writer without realizing it! Time to throw in the towel! Abort! Abort!” Of course, the book has flaws- in abundance- but I’ve been able to figure out how to fix most of them. Thinking back on the rough draft, I have a pretty good idea where this smooth sailing will start to get choppy, but I’m going to enjoy the ride while it lasts. I hope to spend most of my writing time in 2017 revising Black and Blue, then workshopping it with my oh-so-helpful writing group.

And if you’re thinking “gee, Nancy, isn’t working on a sequel to a book before it’s technically done, like, a really bad idea?” The answer is… probably, but right now this is the project I’m the most excited about, so I’m just going to embrace that. My books go through a lot of changes in my revision process. Maybe I’ll just have to make a few more then planned as a result of Red and Black’s final revisions.

I plan on accomplishing these goals through daily writing. I try to go for at least an hour every day, and that’s been going well so far. Some days, time gets away from me and I just can’t get that full hour, but I can get in a half hour, and make up the lost time down the line. To prevent burning out, I will be working on my writing in chunks of about 30k. Once I reach the end of a chunk, I’ll take a little time off from writing (maybe a few days, maybe a full week. It depends on how I’m feeling, and my other responsibilities). I’ve become a big believer in taking planned breaks (with set end dates, rather than just skipping days here and there) from writing, In fact, I’m thinking about writing a blog entry on it.

As for other writing-related goals, I do hope to get back to updating this much neglected blog more often, as well as continuing to contribute regularly to Speculative Chic. As a result, I’m going to try to update here about once a week. At Speculative Chic, I have my big monthly entry, but I also contribute to group posts. It may be tricky to find a balance between my writing, SpecChic, and this blog, but I suspect I’ll be able to figure it out with some trial and error.

Does anyone else have any writing-related resolutions? Are you a fan of New Year’s Resolutions too, or consider them to be a waste of time?

My Current Projects- May 2014

I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, so I figured it was time to do one again. Here are my current writing projects.

Actively Working On
Hero of Darkwood (Second Draft)- After spending a month away for it, I began the second draft of Hero of Darkwood today. This is the third book in the Lady Darkwood trilogy, and my big project for the year. The process has been a series of highs and lows. It’s thrilling to see a the book improve with every round of revision but as I get more and more rejection letters in for Lady of Darkwood (book 1 in the Lya Darkwood trilogy), I’m beginning to doubt whether this particular novel will ever truly see the light of day. Still, I keep on telling myself that even if this series is never published, the experience I’ve gotten from it is invaluable. Also, I really like the book, so that has to count for something.

Lying in Wait
The Dragon Guard- This is a sci-fi(ish) short story that’s shaped up over the past month. It takes place in a world that I had originally planned a novel for, but kind of wanted to play around with before I committed myself to such a long writing project. Figuring out what world building elements to include in the short story, versus the novel was very tricky and resulted in several false starts. Fortunately, once I figured out what I wanted to do, the writing process was much smoother.  Right now, it’s in the hands of a couple of my first readers, and then I’ll figure out for sure if I want to do anything with it.

Submission Phase
The Lya Darkwood Trilogy- As mentioned above, Lady of Darkwood is currently seeking an agent or publisher. It’s the first book in a YA fantasy trilogy that takes part in a secondary world. The trilogy is very concerned with the idea of power: the idea of the strong versus the weak, and the proper use of said power once you happen to acquire it. Also, flashy magic and romance-y stuff, because that’s always fun.

The Lady of the Watchtower- A retelling of Beauty and the Beast where the main characters is both the Beauty and the Beast. Hopefully, this will find a home somewhere. The fact that it’s a longer (a novelette verses a short story) work makes things kind of tricky. I’m learning with this one that it’s not the best idea to write anything over 7,000 words (in face, under 5,000 seems ideal) if you’re looking to sell it.

Publication Phase
The Fox- This story, in which I attempt to mix a traditional fantasy setting with urban fantasy sensibilities, will be coming out in July’s issue of The Lorelei Signal. Very excited about this one!

Gretel- Clearly, I’m a sucker for retold fairy tales, as this is a modern day retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Very different in tone from The Fox, which is interesting because I wrote the pair of stories around the same time. This will be coming out in less than two weeks with Luna Station Quarterly.

So those are my projects. Anyone else working on anything interesting?

Update on April Writing + May Goals

In April, I had one goal. Finish the first draft of Hero of Darkwood. And I did it! It still needs work, but it’s a much stronger that my rough draft. That version had some really major things wrong with it. After that, I lost a bit of my focus. I did end up submitting Lady of Darkwood to a couple small presses, but I was a little scatter brained about writing until I stumbled across a new idea for a short story. It doesn’t really have a title yet (the document is called “Faces” but I’m not sticking with that one), but after several false starts, I finished a rough draft on May 1st. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing with this one yet. It started as a way to explore a world I’m debating writing a novel in, so it features things like massive unnecessary info dumps. But, I really like the characters, so if I can sharpen it up to a decent draft I might send it out to my first readers to see if it’s worth submitting places.

This brings me to my goals for May!

1. Finish Revising “Faces” and submit to first readers.
2. Revise “The Lady in the Watchtower” and submit to new short story market.

The “Lady in the Watchtower” is a novelette that I’ve been sending out different magazines. Rejection letter number two came back with some very useful tips for revision, so I think I’ll spend a little more time on that before I send it out again. Beyond that, I have some other short story ideas kicking around I might work on. I just want to keep Hero of Darkwood on hold until June. I need some space if I’m going to be able to create an effective second draft.