The 25 Moments You’ll Have After Finishing Your Manuscript

Crown Royal Northern Harvest

I got your stiff drink right here, hur hur hur. 

1. The Afterglow. Wow. That was…wow. Hand me a cigarette, would you? And that bottle of whiskey.

2. The Replay. Did you see how I wrapped up that nagging plot thread at the end? And that climactic scene…that was amazing. I’m amazing.

3. The Exit. Well, this was fun, but it’s time send it to beta readers. Not that they’re going to find anything to comment on, right?

4. The Send Off. Enjoy, beta readers! You’re in for a treat.

5. The Next Thing. I should start a new project.

6. The Worry. It’s been 24 hours. Why haven’t the betas gotten back to me? Didn’t they stay up all night, red-eyed and weeping, unable to put my book down? What’s wrong with them?

7. The Reassurance. They’re probably just taking their time to enjoy it. Yeah. Yeah.

8. The Temptation. I should call them.

9. The Resistance. No. Be strong. You’re not that needy.

10. The Questioning. Are you?

11. The Distraction. Come on, man. Get it together. They’re a busy person. They’re probably not spending all their time reading your book. They have to…work, or sleep, or some shit. Just write this short story until they get back to you. That’ll keep you busy.

12. The Failure. I hate this short story.

13. The Dark Turn. I bet the betas hate my book.

14. The Darker Turn. I hate my book.

15. The Peek. It can’t be as bad as I remember. I’ll just read some of it over…

16. The Reveal. Huh. Didn’t remember that dropped subplot. Or that vanishing character. Or that name switch.

17. The Hope. Maybe they won’t notice.

18. The Truth. They’ll notice.

19. The Horror. Fuck me, another plot hole? And where did that guy come from? What happened to that guy’s head? How many problems are there in this thing? How did I not notice them before? Was I fucking blind?

20. The Scramble. Maybe…maybe the betas haven’t started yet. Yeah. Sure. They’re busy people. Maybe I can fix all this before they read it and email them another version. A better version. Yeah. That’ll work. Then they never need to know how I–

21. The Notification. Was that my email alert?

22. The Return. Shit.

23. The Resignation. Well, as long as they sent it back, I might as well see how bad it is. They must have hated it. It’s got so many problems. Maybe the comments they left will make it easier to give up writing and become a wandering kung-fu master.

24. The Comments. Wow…this…this isn’t as bad as I thought. I mean, yeah, there’s issues, but…they liked it. Mostly. Except for these bits…and I didn’t like those, either, so…

25. The Rewrite. I can fix all of this! Crank up the atomic turbines and brew the coffee! I’m going back in!

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Spin Me Round: Finding–And Losing–Your Writing Groove

Like a record, baby, right round.

A strange thing happened the other day while I was busy ruining a person’s life.*

I’d settled into the morning writing slot with barely a ripple, pausing only to answer the door—package delivery; guess who ordered more damn notebooks—and refill my coffee. As I cruised toward noon, word count goal long since vanished into the rearview mirror, I realized something:

I’d hit my groove.

There is a time in a manuscript’s creation where it suddenly gets easier. No more fighting the plot or the characters. They know what they have to do, and all you have to do is chronicle the steps they take to get there. Like the needle finding the mark on some quality vinyl, the groove awaits, and once there the words shall flow and so will the time. I’ve forgotten lunch once already this week, and only noticed when I ran out of the little mints I keep on my desk. I was hungry, but, damn, my breath was fresh. And there was a new chapter finished and the next one started, like magic.

Here’s one thing about the groove: it doesn’t happen by accident.

This groove occurred because I have been planting my ass in front of this laptop every morning without fail. I wrangled characters, agonized over decisions, and generally slogged my way through the muddy, thorn-filled early paths, forcing my way on with the brain equivalent of a machete and a grimace. I fought. I persevered. I was generally too bloody-minded and contrary to quit.

And now, as a result of all that, I know who the characters are. Therefore, I know what they would do when faced with a given situation. And what the other characters will do with the inevitable fallout of that character’s decision. The tune is all there; all I have to do is sing along.

This will not last. There will come a time when I will slip out of the groove with an angry-cat-scratch, when I’ll lose the feel, when it will all suddenly be hard. Again. I know this will happen, because it has happened before. Many times. As many times as I’ve had writing projects, as a matter of fact, because any time something takes longer than an hour to complete, it has the potential for grooves and therefore the potential for slipping out of them. So I know it will happen. Probably not today; today’s been good already. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe a month from now.

So I’m writing this blog post to remind myself of this groove, and how it was created. And to leave a plan for my future self: here. This is how you get back. This is where the good shit lies.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the groove beckons.

*An imaginary person. I rarely ruin real people’s lives, except possibly by accident.

New Year, New Manuscript: Kicking Ass in 2015

Does anyone know what happened last night?

*Emerges from a cocoon of chocolate boxes and gift wrap*

*Flails around for coffee*

*Finds coffee*

*Drinks all the coffee there is now and ever will be*

Right. That’s sorted.

So, back after the holiday break. Whether or not you celebrated anything at all, I hope you had a nice one. If you did not, then I hope it was because you were bereft without my presence and not anything serious. I got a mohawk while we were apart. Small children love it, and one of my favourite things this holiday season was when little boys and girls would tell me how much they liked it while their parents looked on in horror. I hope at least one of those children locked themselves in the bathroom with a set of clippers this Christmas and had a go at making their own mohawk. If not, maybe next year, Santa.

Now that the gifts, food, and bullshit family drama is being packed away for another year, its time to get back to business. You might be taking the year off, and that’s fine, but after a couple of weeks I’m ready to get back in the saddle. Those of you who are joining me, mount up. The rest of you, catch up to us later.

The thing about this time of year is that everyone and their dog and their dog’s dog is making resolutions. Which are so often broken that otherwise sensible people who want to change something are leery about the idea because, if they fail, it puts them in the same category as everyone whose gym membership is gathering dust by January 20th.

Which is bullshit. Not doing something because everyone is doing it is just as stupid as doing something because everyone is doing it. Either way, you’re letting someone else make your decisions.

Personally, I like resolutions. They might be a cliche, but I’m not above a cliche. It also feels like a good time of year to do things like this. The days have turned, ever so slightly, back toward light. And whatever darkness we carried into the ground-down stump of the year has been burned away on bonfires and fireworks, leaving just us, clean and ready to start again.

So. Resolution. I am going to finish this book before the end of the year.

Now that I’ve said it, I have to make it true, or else I’ll be a liar.

Coming back after a break, though, can be a rough road to ride. Easy to fall off. Easy to get discouraged. My best trick for coming back after a significant break—whether it was precipitated by holidays, illness, or just life getting in the goddamn way again—is to set the bar low. Make hitting that goal easier, but, and this is important, make damn sure you hit that goal every day. Then, when it gets too easy—like, you don’t even have to try—increase the goal.

What an easy goal looks like will be up to you. For me, it’s 500 words: the bare minimum I feel I can get done every day. For you, it might be 100. Or 67. Or 3,000. If you go past that number, great. Reward yourself somehow. Not with something that detracts from the original goal, though. For example, no extra days off if you go over. That’s like rewarding yourself for eating healthy by mainlining pixie sticks and caramel sauce: it is damaging to your overall goal. Instead, if you go over your writing goal, have a cookie. Watch a movie. Smash old cathode ray tubes. I have some posts about rewards that I’m working on for future days, so more on that later.

So, your turn: who’s making word-herding a part of their 2015 plan?

Things To Do When You Finish A Novel*

Writers do it old school.

1. Get Your Cake On. You finished a book. That’s a big deal. It might be a sucky book right now, but that doesn’t matter. We’ll talk about editing later, after the post-coital glow has faded. For now, celebrate.

I used to be really bad at this. I’d finish a manuscript and not tell anyone, and if they found out, pretend it was no big deal. I have no idea why I used to pull this crap, but it wasn’t helpful. Acting like it wasn’t worth celebrating made damn sure it wasn’t, and didn’t make me feel good about getting further than 99% of the wannabe writers out there. Which made it harder to do again. Don’t worry; eventually I pulled my head out of my ass and scored some Scotch to celebrate. However you do it—cake, dinner, wine, that thing with the chains and the feathers—mark the occasion. You can get back to the grind tomorrow.

2. Take A Break. At least from that story. Working on something else—particularly something small, like an essay or a short story—is a palette cleanser for your brain. Then you can come back to that first draft with fresh eyes and a clean brain, ready to fix the hell out of it.

Of course, sometimes you can’t take a break. Deadlines exist. In that case, feel free to skip this suggestion and do the first one twice. Twice the cake! Twice the scotch! Twice the chains and feathers!

3. Get Back In The Saddle. Sooner or later, that first draft you churned out is going to need editing. Wait until the idea doesn’t fill you with dread if you can. Then you can look at the inevitable mistakes, wrong turns, and general WTF-ness with more equanimity and less bowel-loosening horror. Relax. It’s not that big a deal. You can fix it. In fact, keep repeating that to yourself over and over again: I can fix this. It will help. If it doesn’t…well, there’s always the leftover Scotch from step one.

Who out there has a finished novel now that November is over? Who’s still working? Who has given up in a flurry of despair and soggy Kleenex? I’m firmly in Category Two**: still motoring along with my eyes on a January-February finish date, but I’m keeping Category Three open!

So: where you at?

*Note for those of you fresh off NaNoWriMo: finishing NaNo is not necessarily finishing a novel, unless your novel happens to be 50,000 words. If it is, cool. If it’s not, I’d advise continuing to work until such a time as you can definitively type The End and mean it. Stopping in the middle just because you hit 50,000 is a great way to accumulate a pile of unfinished manuscripts.

**At least two levels below my Kaiju Rating.

Fast Versus Slow: Picking A Writing Speed

Mm, writer brains.

The eternal debate: fast versus slow. Whether you’re talking about zombies, sex, or writing, everyone’s got an opinion.* Some love the heady, breakneck pace of an out-of-control zero draft, feeling the rush as they careen toward the finish line like a drunk chimp behind the wheel of a tank. Others prefer a slower, more considered pace, choosing words with exact care and placing them with all the deliberation and delicacy of a obsessive-compulsive Faberge egg maker.** So, which way is better? Which way will lead you to novel-finishing glory? Which way will gain you legions of minions fans and AN ARMY WHICH BLACKENS THE EARTH ON WHICH IT WALKS?

I don’t know.

Kind of anti-climactic. Much like the vast majority of arguments about sex.

The thing is, as I’ve said before, no one can tell you how to write. They can only tell you how they write. And even then, it tends to be a homogenized version, as if every day at precisely nine am they sit down with their cup of monkey brains and a freshly-sharpened femur to begin the daily process of scratching out exactly 1000 words. Or 5000, or 500, or 329. I do this, too—the glossing-over, not the femur thing—and it’s just because it’s easier to explain that way. Also, no one wants to listen to an endless daily recitation of how each writing session varies. Or, if they do, presumably they’re already on Twitter where writers like me bitch/snivel/cheer/hoot triumphantly as we live-tweet our days into the void.

There are benefits to writing fast and there are benefits to writing slow. Write fast and you’ll finish fast, but you’re probably going to spend more time editing because THERE IS NO TIME FOR EDITS IN THE THUNDERDOME. Write slow and you’ll probably get something more polished, but you run the risk of never finishing at all and falling prey to the most boring type of creative endeavour, Describing Reasons You Can’t Write.

Which works for you on which day will depend on the following:

-Writing style

-How much planning you did before you started writing

-How much you already know about your story

-How much editing you want to do

-How easily you get bored

-Lifestyle and available writing time

-Caffeine levels

-Blood type

-Star sign

-Number of episodes left of that show you’ve been binge-watching

-Presence of spouse, kids, roommates, a social life, and other things that can take away from writing

-What the hell you feel like doing at the moment when you sit down to write

Through this highly scientific list, you can tell that it all depends.

The only way to find out which one works for you is to try stuff, and note which methods work for you. Try writing an entire chapter in a day, or a single page in a weekend. See which result you like better.

And then be prepared for it to change at any moment, because writing is a bitch like that.

* I would in fact argue that the zombie arguers are more vehement than the sex arguers. Or maybe it’s just that the former can shout their opinions in a crowded restaurant without getting kicked out.

**Presumably, Fabrege.

Imaginary Enemies: Your Periodic* Reminder That Writer’s Block Isn’t Real

Writer’s block was in this picture, but Godzilla ate it.

We all have those days when the words just aren’t there. We don’t know where they went—Atlantic City? Barcelona? Rigel-7?—but they are goddamn well not here when we need them. We stare at that blank page and wait for something, anything, to cross your brain to write. Nothing does.

We tend to call this bullshitty empty brain feeling Writer’s Block, like that explains it. Like writers as a group have some kind of monopoly on this. Giving it a name makes it feel legitimate, somehow. It’s not my fault, I have writer’s block. For reals. I have a prescription and everything. It’s called whiskey.

If you seriously have a problem where you can’t physically think of new stuff, then you might want to make an appointment with a neurologist, because something’s crossed upstairs. But if, instead, you use writer’s block to refer to the lack of motivation and ball-busting that you need to carve words into a semi-legible order, then that’s a unicorn of an entirely different colour.

Because writer’s block isn’t real.

Fear, on the other hand, is.

And that’s what writer’s block really is. It’s not a lack of creativity, because most of us have no trouble finding the creativity to craft the perfect tweet or Instagram filter while we’re not writing. It’s just ordinary, garden-variety fear. Fear of sucking. Fear of failure. Fear of being found out for the fakes and posers that we are.** Fear that this story that we’ve put so much of ourselves into isn’t any good.

So we procrastinate, and waste time, and sigh mournfully about our epic case of writer’s block. Because that’s easier than actually doing something about it.

The time for this bullshit is over. Be honest: admit that you’re afraid. I am. Every day. Of screwing this up. Of never being good enough. But the only way past is through, so after I’ve admitted to these sad, soggy little fears, I ignore them. And get on with it. Sometimes the words I write on those days suck, but most of the time they’re…normal. It gets hard to distinguish, upon another reading, where I was feeling great and where I was feeling shitty. Because it doesn’t matter. Not really.

Fear only has the power you give it. So stop giving it everything. Stop thinking of it as a condition, a syndrome, a block. Admit what it really is, and recognize it for the self-involved bullshit that it is.

And then get yourself another cup of coffee, and get on with your day. Because those words aren’t going to write themselves.

*I was going to go with annual, but I couldn’t remember how long it’s been. I know I’ve written on this before, but my archives are Having A Moment and I can’t be arsed to figure out exactly when. So, periodic. Which is a fun word. Much better than annual. Anyway.

**I’m pretty sure that everyone feels like this sometimes. One of my teachers once said that she felt like a fraud when teaching, and that for the first ten years she thought someone would figure it out. No one ever did.

Kill The Queen: Fixing Plot Holes

This may be a bigger problem than I–hey, is that China?

I found a plot hole in my story the other day.

It’s okay. I fixed it.

But fixing it led to another plot hole.

And then another.

And another.

I’m starting to think there might be a breeding colony at work somewhere. I may need a flamethrower.

But that’s the thing with rewrites: all that shit that you said you’d fix later? Well, guess what, motherfucker: it’s later. And you can’t skate past it twice.

The problem, of course, is that sometimes you don’t realize something is wrong until after it happens. Oh, you might have an inkling. A tingling in your Spider Sense*. A feeling.

Later, the feeling is stronger. Something just doesn’t seem right. You can smell it. And, by going back, you find it: a plot hole.

It is tempting, especially if you’re a no-outline writer or pantser or whatever the hell people call themselves these days, to just let it slide for now again. To fix that later as well. But I caution against this. Why? Because it’s a slippery fucking slope.

When you’re zero drafting, you can get away with that shit because you legitimately don’t know what the hell’s going to happen. You’re a wanderer in the middle of your own story, as lost as a tourist in the Thai red-light district. So those incongruities and problems…they’re a problem for Future You.

But during the rewrite…you are Future You. And Future You doesn’t have the same excuse.

There’s a world of difference between ‘this might work, I just need to think of how and I can do that later’ and ‘this doesn’t work in any incarnation of the story but I can’t be arsed to fix it’. If you know something is wrong, you should fix it before it spreads its diseased tentacles of wrongness throughout the story. One bad thing leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to six more…and before you know it, the story has gone off in entirely the wrong direction.

So, when you find them, fix the plot holes. Smooth things out. Make it as seamless as possible so that you can then focus on other stuff: the voices, the pacing, the mood, the tension. And, of course, the other plot holes that your beta readers will inevitably find.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a breeding colony to find.

*If this is not someone’s nickname for their genitals, I am very disappointed in all of you.