Holy moley, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. Hi! I hope everyone reading this had some wonderful holidays!

It’s December 31st! The end of the year! And I wanted to take this moment to look back at what I accomplished this year. So let’s get to it!

I read a lot of awesome books!

I read 31 books this year. And while most of it was the usual fare–YA fantasy and a smattering of non-fiction–I also read a toooooooooon of MG!

But that doesn’t matter, because almost all of the books I 5-starred on Goodreads were non-fiction or adult fantasy. And so, for the second year in a row, almost all of my favorite books were not in the genre I’m trying to write. Delightful!

The books I enjoyed the most were:

  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, a book on elfin/goblin politics that has maybe 5 pages of action and is still completely riveting.
  • Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, although I’m still conflicted about it. Every single line spoken by a dragon is pure shining gold, but the ending frustrates me to this very day.
  • How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman, which is just a lovely non-fiction book, and…
  • A New History of Shinto by John Breen and Mark Teeuwen, which is also super aweome!

I wrote a fair amount!

My original plan was to just dump numbers here. I have them! I seriously do! I can tell you with extreme accuracy how many words I wrote, and how many of those words went to novels, short stories, outlines, and query letters.

But… let’s not. I wrote the first draft of a 60K MG fantasy novel and four short stories. I sold two shorts. I placed in one contest.

And most of that was written after July. I had a pretty weird year, honestly. I spent the first 6 months just fumbling around–struggling to write a novel, puttering through short stories, and being furious at myself all the while. Sure, I pulled out of it. The last half of the year was extremely productive. But none of it was really good for me.

We’ll get to that in a second.

I finished querying a novel!

Okay, so. I kept saying that I was going to post my querying stats. I haven’t. I was imagining a nice, long post about querying where I explained what went well, what didn’t, what freaked me out, and how I worked through it.

I never wrote that post! And now it seems unlikely that I will.

So let’s get that out of the way. I queried a YA fantasy to 92 agents. I got 5 full requests and 1 partial. No one made any offers, unfortunately. I’m done querying that novel–and I have other plans for it, which I hope I can talk about soon! But for now, I can just say that it was a good experience, I learned a lot, but it’s obviously not where I wanted to be.

It’s one of the things I’m most unsure about this year. I feel like I’ve got a bad case of the almosts. I almost had what it took to get an agent to take me on. Almost. Not quite. But almost.

Almost’s not a great place. It kind of drives me nuts. But I also feel like a huge hypocrite in saying so. I know that the me from 5 years ago would punch me in the gut for complaining about getting full manuscript requests, even if they didn’t go anywhere.

So there’s my New Year’s resolution: To write more and agonize less.

So, like I said before, this year was weird. It started out bad. It ended up good. But none of that, I think, is how I’d like to write in the future. And that’s because I spent an awful lot of this year being angry with my writing. Here’s how my train of thought would go:

Writers write.

If you want to make a career as a fiction writer–after accepting that this is extremely unlikely to happen in the first place–you need to write a lot of stories. You have to produce constantly.

The more novels and short stories you complete, the more chances you have at publishing them.

If you are not producing complete novels regularly, you will not be working toward this dream.

OK. So that’s the stupid little reel playing in the back of my skull. It’s reasonable, right? It’s realistic! It’s entirely true. If someone wanted to make a career as a writer, they would have to write a lot of books, regularly and often. Heck, they’d probably want to do a lot more than I manage, which is roughly a novel a year.

But I beat myself over the head with with logic constantly. I wrote a short story a month earlier this year, and it wasn’t enough. 4 stories in 4 months? You can write a short story in a couple of days! It wasn’t enough.

I was writing a novel. When it puttered out in February, I was crushed. I had wasted 6 months on that thing, and I didn’t end up with a completed first draft. I needed to start another. Immediately. I needed to plan and outline and write, because it was February and if I didn’t hurry I wouldn’t finish anything by the end of the year, and then I would be a total failure.

But it turns out that screaming WRITE MORE! PRODUCE MORE! FASTER! at yourself every damn day doesn’t actually make you write better.

I did eventually sit down and write a novel. In fact, almost 60% of the words I wrote this year happened between July and November. But it was a heroic effort. It was repentance! I had struggled so much the first half of the year that I felt like I had to write 10,000 words a week to make up for it. (Though, to be fair, I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t like I was hatewriting the poor thing. I did really enjoy it.)

But the point is that none of this is good for the long haul.

I need to stop… Haranguing myself so much, I guess. And it’s hard, because I’m seeing some success. Some of my novels are getting interest, some of my stories have been sold. Those are all good things. But I have some fervent need to up the ante and do MORE BETTER FASTER.

So yes. That’s my goal. That’s my resolution: I really just don’t need to turn writing into a boom or bust cycle where I’m either frustrated about not writing enough or writing more than I can reasonably maintain.

Because, regardless of all the stress, I got a lot done. I sold more stuff. I wrote more stuff. I learned a ton. And I can continue to do more, and see more success, without making myself feel panicked about not doing enough.

So! That’s the plan. We’ll see how it goes. Here’s to 2016 being an even better year!

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Screenshot of the cover of 'Rock Your Plot: A Simple System for Plotting Your Novel.'

Hotlinked from Goodreads.

I recently finished Rock Your Plot by Cathy Yardley, and my very short review is on Gooodreads. But, like always, I’m going to leave the review on Goodreads and ramble about what it meeeeeeans to me here.

This has not, so far, been a very good year for writing. I’ll write about that later, I’m sure. But one of the symptoms of this not good year is that the stories I’m working on have issues that should have been hashed out in my outlines. And for some reason or another, my outlines aren’t working.

This is an incredibly obnoxious problem, because it’s new. I have a very well established system for outlining, and it’s never steered me wrong. I wrote 6 manuscripts this way, so what the heck is going wrong?

Short answer: I don’t know. But it’s dumb.

So in comes Rock Your Plot. This is a pretty simple book. It’s short. It’s basic. And it covers a bunch of stuff that you probably already know about (well, assuming that you enjoy outlining.) At its core, it combines the philosophy of Goal/Motivation/Conflict with a very standard story structuring system, and uses this to create a scene-by-scene outline.

And this appeals to me. I don’t know if it works yet–I’m only starting my outline now–but it got me to write half of a new outline (and quickly!) so it seems to be working so far. I like it because it’s close what I normally do, while being different enough to make me think about why I’m doing what I’m doing.

I’ve written a lot about my system. I like to start with a word count (usually ~70-80K for Young Adult fantasy), guestimate my average chapter length (which I know is 3,500-4,000), and calculate my approximate number of chapters (usually 20). These are beautiful, round numbers. I never write according to this formula–being flexible is the whole reason it works–but it makes it easy to write the first outline. And that’s all I needed to get my thoughts on paper before I tried my first draft.

Rock Your Plot is extremely similar, except she breaks the story into scenes instead of chapters. (And really, this is a pretty common–and sensible, given that a “chapter” can be an incredibly subjective thing.) Then it uses the Goal/Motivation/Conflict system for every scene and every major character, so you can test that every scene is moving the story forward and maintaining tension.

So it’s what I used to do, but more methodical. Mostly, it’s just making me think.

And… so far, so good. I’m not done with my new outline, so I don’t know how it’ll turn out, but the concept behind Rock Your Plot is eminently sensible. And if you’re a detailed person who loves outlining, it may appeal to you, too.

Mostly, it just got me outlining something again. And that’s exactly what I needed to do right now.

I read this ages ago, but hey. Let’s talk about YA tropes, through the lens of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Screenshot of the cover of the novel.

Hotlinked from Goodreads.

My complete review is on Goodreads. Like always, I’m not going to duplicate the review here. Instead, I’m going to wax philosophical. Bear with me.

So, I read Miss Peregrine’s a while ago, and I really liked it. This was honestly a surprise, because I’ve really been struggling to find YA novels I like. But if you check out its reviews on Goodreads, you’ll see that they’re very… divisive. So what drew me in?

Well, that gets to the core of what I’ve been struggling with. I like action. I like adventures. I also like well-developed characters and character drama. I like romance, but I like it as a subplot. Basically, I like “Fantasy with romance subplots,” not “Romance with fantasy elements.”

But romance is super duper in right now. Daughter of Smoke and Bone? Shadow and Bone? Graceling? These are all strong fantasies, but their main plotlines are about romance. Everything else is secondary.

And that’s fine, it’s just not my favorite thing in the world. Unfortunately, this seems to be an extremely popular trend, and I’m having a hard time finding more straight-up adventure fiction.

And that’s why I loved Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The characterization is not as deep as I’d like, either for the heroes or the villains, but it’s a strongly-paced, high-tension adventure. It was mildly creepy, consistently tense, and mysterious. I didn’t like the romance in Miss Peregrine’s either (I actually found it uncomfortable), but it didn’t make up the majority of the novel. It was a subplot.

Would I have liked it as much if I hadn’t read so many YA fantasy-romances lately? Who knows? But it had something I desperately wanted in YA fantasies right now: A lower smoochy-smooch-to-adventure ratio.

Cover of the novel 'The Luck Uglies.'

Hotlinked from Goodreads.

My full review is on Goodreads!

This is the sort of thing that makes me want to read more Middle Grade.

I love YA, I write YA, I read YA, but goodness! How often have I written book reviews that said, “Well, it was fun, but I wish they would keep the romance from overpowering the story so we can just have an adventure?”

And oh, this was an adventure. The Luck Uglies is a charming and atmospheric MG fantasy. And that’s where it shines–despite being based on some common fantasy premises (like capricious, ignorant medieval lords and rouges with hearts of gold), the world is delightful, the atmosphere is great, and the characters are universally charming.

And, yes, it was a welcome break from all the YA I’ve been reading, as–in true MG fashion–there’s no romance at all. It’s all about the heroine discovering the truth about her family. Otherwise, it’s all childhood friends and wild adventure.

There were a few rough bits, sure. Those are in my Goodreads review. But it was still one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year.

Cover of the Twitter for Writers novel.

Hotlinked from Goodreads.

My full review’s on Goodreads!

I’ve had a Twitter account for a couple years, and it never made any sense to me. Saying that makes me sound like I’m a zillion years old (and, well, maybe I am), but really, I’m a nerd. I’ve been online since the early 90s and I’ve gotten hip-deep in every stupid trend. But Twitter was a mystery to me–it was obviously not a good way to keep track of people or what they were saying. Everything everyone says goes by too quickly and is buried too fast. So what’s the point?

I ignored my Twitter feed for years. I used it to passively stalk agents. That’s it.

But then I picked up Twitter for Writers. It’s an exceptionally thorough overview of everything a writer might do on Twitter. It starts out with the painfully easy things–setting up an account, tweeting, and following people–but then dives into deeper concepts, like Twitter parties and automated tools. Best of all, it’s for writers, so it talks about things writers need to know, like how to promote your work without shoving it down your readers’ throats.

It also introduced me to some of the truly obnoxious things people do with automation. Did you know some folks use automated tools to force you to confirm that you’re human? Or to remove people who unfriend them? Or to create and send out tweets? Thanks to this book, I didn’t have to figure it out for myself–and I immediately started avoiding people who did these things.

This book is a little cutesy at times. It’s also extremely simple. (Though hey, Twitter isn’t exactly brain surgery.) The book is divided up into simple and advanced tips, but there’s no reason to read them selectively. They’re all easy.

If you know anything at all about Twitter, this might not be particularly useful. But for someone like me, it was great. I’m tech savvy, I just never cared about Twitter. But I get it now. I do. And thank goodness, because Pitch Wars (and now WriteOnCon) are both extremely Twitter dependent. This book was the kick in the butt I needed to get in there and start using Twitter properly.

Cover of the novel, 'Daughter of Smoke and Bone.'

Hotlinked from Goodreads.

The more I think about this novel the more conflicted I become. My full review is on Goodreads.

YA readers have been raving about Daughter of Shadow and Bone and its sequels, so I wanted to see what the fuss was about. And I’m conflicted. Still.

Here’s the problem: I don’t really like romance. I do like adventure stories! I like friends and conflict and angst and love as much as anyone, but I don’t like romance as a genre. This is an extremely fine line, and probably not one I can accurately describe, but I like action where people fall in love on the way. I do not like stories where the story is people in love.

So, I was not fated to adore Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which is a fantasy/romance. Roughly one third of the novel is backstory, and it’s all cuddly-wuddly I’ll give up the world for you, I’ll do anything for you, you are the perfect one for meeeeeeee romance. Of the two-thirds that are left, roughly half of that is a slightly different flavor of the same romance. The rest is really good, really beautiful fantasy.

And so I’m conflicted. When I first read the novel I was so struck by the beauty of the writing that I was willing to forgive it anything. But I was undecided on the romance after I read it, and time has only made it worse. Do I want to read more? It’s certainly pretty. There was an amazing cliffhanger. But if I’m on the fence about the romance, I’m probably not going to change my mind later.

But ohhhh goodness the author writes beautifully.

Cover of Bill Bryson's One Summer: America, 1927.

Hotlinked from Goodreads.

I love Bill Bryson’s books. I always leave feeling like someone could’ve removed 100 pages, but I love them anyway. He’s amusing, and I love amusing history books. One Summer: America, 1927 is exactly that. My review on Goodreads is here.

The novel (roughly) follows the summer of 1927. It covers all the big events–Lindbergh’s flight, Babe Ruth and the Yankees of 1927, the trial of Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray, the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, the development of the Model A Ford, and more. And the best part about is how Bryson humanizes everyone. These are people–strange, bizarre, quirky, flawed people–and you get to know them all.

And it brings the 20s to life. You see the movie palaces, the shift of power toward America, and the dawn of modern technology, right next to eugenics and rampant racism. And even though it’s 90 years away, it’s striking what parallels you can find to modern America–at the very least, we’ve apparently been covering sensational murder trials at the expense of actually important news for at least a century. That’s kind of… uh. I don’t know if I want that to be a cultural tradition, actually.

But it’s great. And long. I finished in about 4 days, and that was still too much. I love Bryson’s writing, but… no. I really should not have done that. I was exhausted by the end. But I’d still whole-heartedly recommend it.