Fiction Blog, The Desertera Series, Writing Updates

My Editing Progress: The Cogsmith’s Daughter

I am currently halfway through editing the first draft of my first novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter. As many of you know, I wrote the novel in 30 days, during NaNoWriMo 2014. I took December off to rest and gain some emotional distance, and I began the editing process on the fifth of January.

Because there are about a gazillion definitions of “editing,” let me tell you exactly what I have been doing. Basically, I am reading the chapters one by one and looking for several areas to fix. At the highest level, I am tracking the pace of my novel and the plot structure. At the middle level, I am ensuring that my character descriptions, character personalities, setting descriptions, and world rules are consistent. At the lowest level, I am re-structuring confusing sentences, fixing poor word choice, and correcting any typos I happen to notice. For more details, you can see my full editing plan here.

Right now, I am going through the printed manuscript with red pen and physically writing in my notes. At the latest, I intend to be finished with this part the first week of February. The next step will be diving into the Scrivener document and re-writing/fixing everything on the computer. After that…well, let’s get through the self-editing for now.

So far, I have a lot of mixed feelings about the editing process. However, I am enjoying it and have already learned quite a bit about myself as a writer. To put it simply:

What I Like About Editing

  • It reminds me of being in my university creative writing classes.
  • It allows me to use skills from college.
  • It’s really fun to read my story and see it from “the outside.”
  • Knowing that I am actively improving my novel makes me very happy and excited.

What I Dislike About Editing

  • It can be tedious.
  • It’s not as fun as writing.
  • It forces me to acknowledge my shortcomings.
  • It takes away time from my other (more fun) creative activities.

What I Have Learned About Myself as a Writer (Pros)

  • I write very cleanly. I’ve only found a handful of glaring typos.
  • I am skilled at making sure that every scene progresses the plot and every chapter ends on a cliffhanger or important moment.
  • The dialogue I write is nearly always clever and frequently funny. At least, to me.
  • I will definitely have enough creativity, universe, and story left to write the next five books I intend for the series.

What I have Learned About Myself as a Writer (Cons)

  • When I write actions after dialogue, I have a bad habit of using the wrong punctuation and treating them like tag lines.
  • When I write descriptive paragraphs in the middle of a chapter, I have a tendency to use passive voice and do too much “telling.”
  • Related, I need to add in more scenes to show/explain the rules of the world I created. Having the characters discuss these are not powerful enough.
  • I cannot write a new first draft while I edit another manuscript. This is both due to time constraints and the fact that editing involves me too much in one world (and admittedly shakes my confidence from time to time). I’m hoping this will change as I gain experience as a writer and editor.

Undoubtedly, as I practice my writing and editing skills, I will learn even more of my individual writer truths. My biggest fear right now is that I will do my rewrite, feel incredibly confident, and then have a professional editor and beta readers rip apart everything I thought I did right. I know I won’t be able to catch everything, and of course I want an editor to push me and provide a strong critique (otherwise what am I paying for?), but I must admit, it’s a scary process.

However, for now, all I have to do is focus on the rest of my self-editing process. (If you can’t tell, I have a tendency to get too caught up in the next steps.) One chapter at a time, careful and steady. Only fourteen chapters to go!

The Desertera Series, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Updates

How I Am Editing My First Novel

This week marks the beginning of the editing process for the first draft of my first novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter. I have already explained my inspiration behind the novel, as well as how I plotted and wrote the first draft. In this post, I am going to share my strategy for approaching the editing. I will let you know how successful I find it in a future post.

Actual edits on my manuscript

Step One: Print the manuscript

I do my best planning by writing by hand in a physical journal. Likewise, I do my best editing with physical paper and a red pen. I know plenty of writers who are just fine editing in the same word processing document in which they wrote their manuscript. However, at least for this first novel, I want to edit in the form I am most familiar. For me, it is easier to edit when I can see all the pages in front of me and write on them freely.

Step Two: Do it one chapter at a time

To keep myself from becoming overwhelmed, I will be printing my manuscript one chapter at a time. Likewise, I will be editing it one chapter at a time. In each individual chapter, I will look for several elements: sentence structure, dialogue, plot advancement, character development, etc. Basically, without going into the nitty-gritty, I will make sure each chapter is well-constructed, important to the overall story, and entertaining to the reader.

Step Three: Look at sections together

To me, my novel has clear “phases” in the overall journey. Therefore, at the end of each phase, I will make sure that the information is consistent, the plot is advancing at the proper pace, and the characters are growing as they should. I am hoping that this thoroughness will help me ensure that the development of my story is solid and allow me to avoid the cost of a developmental editor.

Step Four: Review the entire manuscript

Once all the chapters have been printed and edited, I will lay out my manuscript and consider it as a whole. Does the story flow properly? Are all necessary questions answered? Are my details consistent?

desert plantStep Five: Research specific details

Because I wrote my novel during NaNoWriMo, I allowed myself to skip on research. For example, my novel takes place in a desert landscape. My characters mention specific foods that they eat; however, I honestly don’t know if it would be possible to grow these foods in a desert (or even in a greenhouse in the desert). Therefore, I will be taking the time to research and adjust details like these as necessary.

Step Six: Type up the changes

Once I have run my red pen out of ink and researched my “minor” details, I will make the changes in the Scrivener documents. By waiting to type out my changes until the end, I hope to keep myself from having to go back into the early chapters and revise a second or third time. Likewise, this allows me another full look through my manuscript and provides a good opportunity to do more thorough proofreading.

Step Seven: Seek outside help

If I stick with the above-mentioned process, I think I will have done about all I can do for the first go-round. At this point, I will hire a professional editor and send my manuscript out to a handful of beta readers. Hopefully, these individuals will catch what I have missed and help me whip my manuscript into a final, publishable shape.

The idea of editing my manuscript makes me really nervous. I am terrified that when I look at the words I’ve written, I will realize that my NaNoWriMo writing frenzy resulted in a ginormous pile of trash. However, I keep trying to reassure myself. In university, I always felt this way when I went to edit a first draft, and the process was never as arduous as I expected. Plus, as I’ve written before, IT’S OKAY if my first draft sucks. Heck, I hope my first draft sucks, or I am planning to waste the next few weeks of my life by editing it.

Regardless, the time has come. I have taken a month off from The Cogsmith’s Daughter, and now I must edit it. Hopefully it goes smoothly and I have enough time leftover to work on my second novel. Either way, wish me luck!

What are the steps in your editing process? Do you have any tips to make this journey go smoothly for me? I’d love any help you have to offer!

Unrelated, I hit the 250 total followers mark yesterday! Thank you all so much for your continued support and engagement! It means so much to me!

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

On Blank Journals and Self-Doubt

Forget what they say about diamonds and dogs: when it comes to writers, journals are man’s best friend.

Okay, okay, maybe dogs, too.

Like most writers, I love journals. (I’m talking inspiration journals, although, writers should consider the diary kind, too.) Whenever I get a new one, I admire the artistic cover, run my fingertip down the unbroken spine, flip through those beautiful, blank pages and let their virgin paper aroma fill my nostrils. If the journal has a ribbon as a placemarker, I fling it out of my way. Then, I move to the first page, pick up my pen, and…freeze.

blank journalHere it is before me: a gorgeous, unsoiled journal with over 100 blank pages waiting to receive my brilliance. Only, I can’t help but wonder, do I have any brilliance to give them? Who am I to dirty these clean manila pages with combinations of words that I deem “creative”? Are the words I write worth the death of a tree, worth a lifetime on paper?

Once the ink marks the page, it is there forever. Even if I use pencil, the ghost of the lead will stain the pages with half letters and smudges for life of the paper. There is no going back.

Okay, I’ll scale back the drama, but hopefully you get my point. And even more hopefully, you’ll tell me that I’m not alone in this. For whatever reason, writing in a blank journal is a million times more difficult for me than writing in a word processor. The few real-life writer friends I have echo these sentiments. They, too, recognize the confidence-shattering object that is the blank journal. But, surely, we cannot be the only few who feel this way.

So what is it about the blank journal that is so intimidating? Here are my theories:

1. Symbolism

As humans, we apply a great deal of symbolic meaning to objects. When faced with a new journal, a writer does not see it as merely a journal — it is a vessel of creativity, a primitive draft of a novel, a piece of posterity for grandchildren to discover and leaf through in 30 years. That’s a lot of pressure.

2. Self-Doubt

While I don’t necessarily agree with traditional writer “stereotypes,” I will concede that many (though not all) artists are inflicted with disproportionate amounts of self-doubt and self-criticism. Therefore, when faced with an empty journal, all the ugly heads of “writer’s block” rear. Seeing these blank pages give you a glimpse into your soul: you are not worthy of soiling them with your unexceptional thoughts.

3. Perfectionism

Once your writing utensil hits that virgin page, the mark can never be undone. Why ruin the journal — it’s so pretty! What if your handwriting is messy? What if you make a mistake and have to cross something out or create eraser smudge? Should this journal be all for its own project, or can you divide it into sections? What if you run out of genius and can never fill the entire journal?

new journal
The beautiful journal I got for Christmas, which inspired this post, and which I vow to use fearlessly!

This is not an exhaustive list. And the next one isn’t either. However, if these, or any other thoughts, haunt your new journal, try reminding yourself of these things:

1. It’s just paper.

Seriously, it’s just a bound set of paper pages. It’s not some sacred vessel. In fact, even with your words scrawled in it, it’s still just a journal. Calm down.

2. You can get another one.

If you “ruin” your pretty new journal with “uncreative” thoughts, you can always get a new one. There is no ration on paper at this time in human history.

3. No one else will read it.

Your journal may not be filled with brilliance, but that is okay! It is a place for inspiration, random thoughts, and plot bunnies. No one has to see it, and even if they do, no one will judge it as harshly as you will.

4. Stop de-valuing yourself.

Your words, your creative thoughts, are worth writing down. Trust me, even if you think they are rubbish, they’re not. Besides, as number one says, a journal is just paper. Without your human touch, it will be wasted paper. So put it to use.

5. Just have fun.

A journal is a writer’s playground. In our technological age, you will not publish anything that comes directly from the pages of your journal. At the very least, you must type them into a word processor, which will give you a chance to edit. With that in mind, just brainstorm and experiment and play. Save your genius for Scrivener.

Perhaps my writer friends and I are alone in this phenomenon. However, whenever I receive a new journal, I feel a deadly combination of excitement, nervousness, and insecurity. I know I need to take it less seriously, and perhaps an unofficial new year’s resolution of mine should become to allow journals to be a playground rather than a breeding ground for my self-doubt.

In fact, I am going to combat that this week by using a new journal to hold the story beats for my next manuscript. What about you?

How do you feel about writing in inspiration journals? Do blank journals intimidate you or bring out your creative best? Share your experiences and tips below!


The Desertera Series, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How I Wrote My Novel’s First Draft

Now that I have discussed the inspiration behind The Cogsmith’s Daughter as well as my plotting process, I want to share with you all my drafting process. I wish I could say that I have some magic secret to divulge. You see, back when I was “struggling” as a writer (read: not writing), I used to scour the internet for information on how to write a novel. Even though I knew better, I kept hoping that someone, somewhere would share the secret formula that would finally allow me to write a complete manuscript.

If you are like former-Kate and are looking for that secret, I’m sorry, I don’t have it. And frankly, it doesn’t exist. The only way that this first draft got written was through hard work, time management, and fear of embarrassment. While my process may not work for you and will definitely not give you that magic spark, I hope it will pass along a healthy dose of realism and optimism.

Step One: Find Your Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

downloadIf you are a writer, you likely know your intrinsic motivation. You love to craft stories, you love language, you love getting lost in your own world. Whatever it is, you should already know why you write for you. For many writers, this is enough. However, some of us (read: me) need a little extra push to get started. That is where the extrinsic motivation comes in.

For me, I had two extrinsic motivators to write The Cogsmith’s Daughter. First, I was participating in NaNoWriMo, which gives a pre-set word count goal and comes with a huge support network. Second, I told everyone that I was doing NaNoWriMo. By being so vocal, I triggered my inner sense of obligation, which has always been my best motivator in my academic life. If I feel obligated to do something, my goodness, I will do it.

Step Two: Sit Your Butt Down and Write

If there is a magic secret, this is it. During every single day of NaNoWriMo (except for Day 15, my “break” day), I sat down at the computer to write. Even when I was tired, even when I wanted to see family or friends, even when a good movie was on, even when I had a migraine the size of Russia — I sat down and wrote.

Step Three: Turn Off the Inner Editor

It is important to note that I also sat down alone. I left my inner editor at the door. I wish I could tell you exactly how to do this. It is a concept I struggled with for years. However, all I can say is that I had a major mental shift. Part of this is due to my recent mental change in the way I think about writing, but the other part consists of repeating mantras and just blocking out the editor.

If you struggle with shutting up your inner editor, try repeating something like this: It is OK if the first draft is bad. I can edit later. However, if I do not write the first draft, I will never have anything to edit. So, editor, shut up and let me make something for you to edit.

Step Four: Set Small Goals

baby stepsBecause I went into my draft with specific story beats in mind, I was able to write according to the beats. Therefore, each writing session was linked to a beat or scene that needed writing. This made my writing sessions seem manageable. After all, sitting down to write and saying to yourself, “Okay, I’m going to write a novel,” is a terrifying, paralyzing task. In contrast, sitting down to write and saying, “Okay, my character simply needs to go grocery shopping,” is much more achievable and way less overwhelming.

For the record, even though NaNoWriMo suggests tracking daily success by word count, I find that writing scene by scene is much more effective. It does not carry the same stress as quantifying a writing session does, and in all honesty, most scenes you write will exceed the daily NaNo word count of 1,667 words anyway. Win-win.

Step Five: If Busy, Steal Small Moments to Write

When I knew I would not be able to write in the evening, I wrote during my lunch break at work. When I was too busy at work to steal half an hour for writing, I sacrificed half an hour of TV time in the evening. If you ride public transportation during your commute, write during your commuting time. If you can get up an hour early in the morning, write then. Hell, one paragraph written hastily on your phone while you’re waiting in an elevator is better than nothing at all. (And for the quality police out there, you can edit that crappy paragraph later.)

Step Six: If Inspiration is Slow, Set the Mood

Some writers like to write to music, I am not one of these. I like silence. However, when I felt particularly unexcited about writing or could not get into the right mood, I would listen to a song to unwind from my day and set the tone for my writing session. Top picks for The Cogsmith’s Daughter were: Light ‘Em Up by Fall Out Boy, Kids by MGMT, Heaven Knows by The Pretty Reckless, Lonely Boy by The Black Keys, and The End by My Chemical Romance.

Don’t ask why. There is no method to this madness, only feeling.

Step Seven: Visualize the End Result

Knowing that you have a finished manuscript is pure elation. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. Think about what it will be like to have that novel finished. Imagine how you will celebrate, who you will tell first, all of those details. If that does not keep you going, I don’t know what will.

And that’s it. All I did was sit down at the computer every day, maybe listen to a song to frame my writing mood, and then I wrote. I wrote when I felt like a genius, when I felt like a joke, and when I felt just plain crazy. I wrote when I was tired, energized, happy, and sad. I wrote at home, at work, on the couch, at my desk, in a coffee house, and in a doctor’s office. I wrote quickly and slowly, mostly quickly. I wrote with passion and abandon, without a care and with every care.

I wrote for me. And I finished the first draft.

How do you write your first drafts? What tricks or tips would you add for new writers? Pass on your wisdom below!


The Desertera Series, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How I Plotted My Novel’s First Draft

I have already discussed the inspiration behind the first draft of my NaNoWriMo 2014 novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter. In this post, I want to share with you all the steps behind plotting out the first draft of my manuscript.

Obviously, there are as many ways to plot and plan as there are writers. What worked for me may not work for you. However, I want to share the process and hopefully hand over a few simple tips or tricks that you may find useful when it is time to plot your first (or next!) manuscript.

I’m fortunate in that, whenever I have a novel idea, I almost always know the ending before anything else. Therefore, even if the beginning is muddy, I at least know where my story will end up. For The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I knew the ending right away (although it did evolve some), and I knew the basic situation of my protagonist, Aya, and how to introduce her to my readers.

Once I knew my “A” and “Z,” along with the genre, mood, and message of my novel, I began my plotting.

Steampunk Critters. Made from clay and watch parts!!
Desertera object inspiration

Step One: Sensory and Visual Samples

In my writing, I strive to frequently reach each of the five senses through the images I use. Therefore, when planning my novel, having strong samples from which to draw is a must. As many writers do, I used Pinterest to gather visual inspiration for my characters, settings, and world accessories. This was especially important because steampunk is a new genre for me, and while I wanted to stay true to its style, I also wanted to put my own twist on it and give it a desert influence.

Step Two: Character Empathy

Once I can visualize my characters, it becomes easier for me to empathize with them. I try to think about each of their situations, motivations, goals, and hardships. How has the death of Aya’s father affected her life, her feelings about the royals and other nobility, her relationships with men? How does Dellwyn’s attitude toward poverty and prostitution differ from Aya’s, given that this is all she has ever known? I do not actually write this down (something I plan to change in future drafts), but I really try to put myself in my characters’ situations and account for how they influence their interactions with other characters and the world.

Step Three: World Building

In the past, world building has not been a big concern of mine. Most of my other works-in-progress are centered in the “real world,” albeit with supernatural or apocalyptic additions. However, for The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I created Desertera — a self-contained fantasy world with far-removed “real world” origins.

20141216_103213Because the setting of Desertera is so important to the novel, the first thing I did was draw a map. I had never done this before, but it proved to be invaluable for keeping my sense of direction and has no doubt saved me from countless continuity errors. I highly recommend it for authors creating their own worlds.

Next, because Desertera is its own world, I had to think about the facets of society that make up a people and their culture. (I knew my sociology degree would come in handy!) What is the religion of Desertera? What are their norms, values, and mores? How does their desert environment impact their steampunk culture? 

As if these types of concerns were not enough, I also had to adjust my writing around Desertera. The people do not refer to their deities as “Gods,” so I could never write anything like “For the love of God!” Likewise, certain objects and beings from the “real world” did not exist in Desertera, so my characters could not reference modes of transportation besides ships, eat beef, and/or take regular baths. These little “physics” details were the most difficult aspect of planning and drafting, but they were crucial to maintain the integrity of Desertera — and really fun to creatively problem solve!

Step Four: Story Beats

The actual plotting of my novel took the form of story beats. For those of you who do not know, story beats are the basic plot points that keep a novel moving toward its conclusion (much like the beat of a base drum in music). I am a strictly linear writer: I plan, write, and edit chronologically. Therefore, when I plotted The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I did so in order, from beginning to end.

I wrote my story beats out in list/bullet point form. I did this by hand, because I tend to think better when I brainstorm by hand, and I like to physically track the story and any changes. Some of my story beats were very specific (Lord Varick visits Aya at work), while others were vague (Aya somehow runs into Willem). However, I ensured that not a single one was wasted. Each beat had to advance the story toward its conclusion and provide entertainment for the reader.

That is my number one tip for plotting out your novel: make sure that every move your characters make and every scene you write advances the story toward its conclusion and is entertaining for your reader.

I hope you all enjoyed this brief insight into the planning process behind The Cogsmith’s Daughter. Like I said, these techniques may not work for everyone, but I hope they still inspire you to start thinking about your next writing project!

How do you plan your manuscripts — or do you plan at all? What is your best tips for the planners out there? Share them below!