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!


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

The Evolution of My NaNoWriMo Novel – The Cogsmith’s Daughter

Recently a fellow blogger, coffeennotes, wrote a three-part series on her  “Writing Secrets,” in which she described her writing process. Today, I want to take a leaf out of her book and be a bit more transparent. I realized that I have never actually shared with you all anything concrete about the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo. In case you are new to my site (if so, hello!), I recently participated in and won NaNoWriMo 2014 and have walked away with plans to revise and independently publish my the resulting novel. In this post, I want to tell you all more about my novel and the inspirational process behind it.

Title: The Cogsmith’s Daughter

Genre: Dystopian steampunk with a strong romantic subplot

My visual inspiration for Aya Cogsmith.

Brief Synopsis: In the land of Desertera, three crimes are punishable by death: murder, treason, and adultery. When Aya Cogsmith’s father is sent to execution by King Archon for treason, she is thrown into poverty and forced to turn to prostitution for her livelihood. For ten years, Aya shares this life with her best friend, Dellwyn, until one day, Lord Varick, Marquess of the Stern, offers her a way out. Like Aya, Lord Varick has lost a loved one at the hands of the king, and he is ready for vengeance and a regime change. All Aya has to do is agree to trap the king in adultery, a fate King Archon has inflicted on many of his wives, and Lord Varick will help Aya reclaim her old life. However, when Aya enters palace politics, she learns that no one can be trusted–not even Willem, the gorgeous young nobleman whom she would much rather seduce.

To answer your questions: Yes, I know I’m terrible at synopses. No, this will not be my book blurb.

The Germ of an Idea: The tiniest germ of an idea for this novel came to me in university, while I was formatting Wiki pages for one of my English professor’s classes. The class was about The One Thousand and One Nights (aka The Arabian Nights). If you are unfamiliar with the story, the basic premise is that a Persian king believes all women are unfaithful, so he marries virgins and then kills them after bedding them. In the story, his newest queen tells him fantastical stories that end with a cliffhanger every night before bed to keep him from taking her virginity and then killing her the next morning.

This concept made me think: what if adultery were punishable by death in this world? And, what if the king used that to his advantage, either tricking or framing his wives into adultery so he could get a new wife whenever he were bored of one?

The Recording of the Idea: Once this idea hit me, I knew it was worthy of The Notebook. You know The Notebook: it’s that standard notebook that writers are told to carry at all times for when inspiration strikes. Luckily, as you can see from the image, I had mine handy and recorded away.

Spoiler Alert: This is not what happens at all.
Spoiler Alert: This is not what happens at all.

The Subconscious Plotting: I am a big believer in the subconscious as a realm of creativity. I feel like mine must have done a lot of the legwork for me, because even though I did not return to this idea until it was time to select a novel for NaNoWriMo 2014, I had dozens of scenes imagined the moment my eyes spotted my notes.

The Mood: Originally, I intended this story to be set in a desert landscape, much like The Arabian Nights. However, for some reason, when I described the story to my husband, he said “steampunk,” and it just clicked. My vision is nothing like the one he originally imagined, but I think my genre and setting create the perfect mood. Steampunk without steam. 

The Conscious Plotting: Once I decided on my genre and setting, I moved to conscious plotting of my basic scenes and even drew a map of my world — for fun and my own logistical reference. For a full overview of my plotting process, go here.

The First Draft: Again, I will discuss this in a later post, but obviously, after planning came drafting. My first draft ended up being 80,060 words, all written within the 30 days of November.

The page count, when formatted to mimic CreateSpace's parameters.
The page count, when formatted to mimic CreateSpace’s parameters.

The Expansion: Originally, I intended for The Cogsmith’s Daughter to be a stand-alone novel. However, the world demanded a series before I wrote a single word in my first draft. I have plans to make it a six book series. The first five books will each be from the perspective of a different character in the series, and the sixth book will be a combination of the five characters’ perspectives.

The Title: The title came about, because the entire book is about Aya and her journey. I couldn’t think of anything more fitting than to name it after her. Even though most authors say they change titles many times, I do not foresee mine changing at all. It just fits the genre and mood, and given that each book will be from a different perspective, it sets up a solid theme to continue.

The Next Steps: I plan to revise The Cogsmith’s Daughter in January-February 2015, after which I will open it up to beta readers and solicit professional editors. I hope to have it published and available for purchase by next November, NaNoWriMo 2015.

Thank you all for reading. I hope you enjoyed a better glimpse into the fruits of my NaNoWriMo labors!

What was the initial inspiration behind one of your favorite manuscripts? What is your NaNoWriMo 2014 novel about and what do you plan to do with it? Let me know!

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

NaNoWriMo 2014: Lessons Learned and Post-NaNo Plans

This will be my last NaNoWriMo post until next year’s event. However, before I put NaNoWriMo 2014 to bed, I think it deserves a bit of reflection.

When I consider where I started in October, I am amazed by the progress I made in my writing career – in only 30 days at that! If you want to read my pre-NaNo post, you can do so here. But, long story short, I began NaNoWriMo as someone who called herself a writer without a steady writing routine or finished manuscript, but with a lot of hope, determination, and a Bachelors of Arts in English. For me, NaNoWriMo was a chance to prove to myself that I studied the right subject in university, to justify my decision to postpone graduate school, and to show myself that I have the discipline and the guts to turn writing into a full-time career.

In case you have not been following my NaNoWriMo journey (and have a lot of free time on your hands), you can catch up here or simply read my final day recap here. Again, long story short, I won NaNoWriMo on Day 19 and finished my manuscript on Day 30.

Here are my totals:

Total Word Count: 80,060

Average Daily Word Count: 2,668

Total Hours Spent Writing: 56 hours

Average Daily Writing Time: 1.87 hours

Average Words per Hour: 1,430

While all these numbers are nice for reference, I know: we writers aren’t normally numbers people. So, here are my qualitative NaNoWriMo results, aka, my lessons learned.

  1. The only way to write a novel is to actually sit down and write it. Yes, this is entirely self-evident, but a lot of writers tend to do a lot more talking about writing than actual writing (myself included until November).
  1. When you stop worrying about every word being perfect, writing is easy. Okay, this may not be true for everyone, but I found that the moment I shut off my mental editor, the words flowed through my fingertips, and I produced a huge volume of work very quickly.
  1. Speaking of this, I learned that I am a prolific writer. I have never thought of myself as a fast writer, but given my averages, I feel like I can call myself one now.
  1. Writing is so much more fun with a community. Having that NaNoWriMo community on Twitter and WordPress was awesome! I loved cheering on my fellow writers and receiving support in return. While I know the enthusiasm will die down as writers crawl back into the woodwork, I hope that some writers stay out and social and keep the spirit alive!
  1. Writing a first draft is only the beginning. This is not something I learned during NaNoWriMo, but it is something I feel now that it is over. The first draft is step one. Then comes editing, revising, marketing, branding, publishing, etc. The fears of draft writing may be gone, but now they are replaced with a whole new box of nerves and excitement!

So now what? In a previous post, I offered suggestions for what do post-NaNoWriMo. You can probably already guess, but I fall into the final category: “I won NaNoWriMo, my manuscript is complete, and I want to seek publication.”

Currently, I am working on my plans to transition into writing as a career and start my own author business. Of course, this will be a slow project, and I will probably be working a day job for several more years.

I won’t go into much detail in this post, because there is simply too much to discuss! However, I will say that this is going to be the main focus of my blog from here on out. I will be sharing everything I learn about business, independent publishing, marketing, and of course writing. I will also still offer “Feedback Fridays,” but I will focus on reviewing books for writers related to craft and business. And, of course, I will share tidbits from my personal life as well.

If this sounds useful, entertaining, or interesting to you, I hope you keep coming back and reading my blog. I don’t want this to be a place just for me, but also for you all to learn, be entertained, and engage in discussions of all things writing. Thanks for reading and staying with me through the next steps of my writing career!

What are your post-NaNoWriMo plans? What do you want to know or need to learn about writing, publishing, and creating an author business? Share it all below!



Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

NaNoWriMo 2014 is Over: Now What?

It is official. National Novel Writing Month is now over. You did it, writers. Take a bow.

So what comes next? I like to call it “National Now What? Month.” As the frenzied writing of November slows down or ceases, writers are left with several more hours of free time, the impending obligations of the holiday season, and painfully empty fingers. The community-enforced mission of NaNoWriMo is over. There are no more status bars to track your progress, no more hyperactive Twitter hashtags, and no more overflowing NaNo forums. Now what?

I can’t tell you. Only you can decide on the next step in your writing journey. However, if you are having trouble making up your mind, allow me to offer a few suggestions. Scroll through this options guide to find the statements that best fit your NaNoWriMo experience and see if my ideas strike a cord with you.

NaNoWriMo participant 2014I did not win NaNoWriMo, but I loved the experience! If this is you, keep writing! As long as you enjoyed NaNoWriMo, there is no reason why you should not continue working on your manuscript and attempting to finish. Now, you can do it at your own pace, on your own terms. Or, if you feel like you need a break from your story, but not from writing, start working on your next idea. Either way — get to it!

I did not win NaNoWriMo, and I did not have fun. If you did not win NaNoWriMo and you were unhappy throughout the entire challenge, maybe writing is not for you. I would never steer someone away from writing simply because she finds it difficult or tedious, but if you flat-out did not enjoy regular writing, you might think about channeling your creative energy into a different medium. Try a different kind of writing, painting, playing music, dancing, etc.

I won NaNoWriMo, but my manuscript is not finished. Need I say it? Figure out your post-NaNo writing pace and finish that novel! However, if you are feeling overwhelmed by your story, you could always take a break and write a bit on your next idea. Luckily for all of us, there are no rules!

I won NaNoWriMo, and my manuscript is done! If your manuscript is finished, you have several options. A) Resume regular life. B) Resume regular life and prepare for NaNoWriMo 2015. C) Try out a different artistic medium. D) Write another novel. E) Edit and revise your novel. F) Seek publication. More on these last two below.

Winner-2014-Twitter-ProfileI won NaNoWriMo, my manuscript is complete, and I want to seek publication. Fantastic! If you want to make writing a career, this is the best place to be in after NaNoWriMo. However, if you don’t want to publish, that is fine, too! It’s your life. My best advice for this stage is to WAIT a while before seeking out publication options and consider these three steps.

Find beta readers and/or non-professional critique partners. Now that your novel is done, you need to create emotional distance and learn to look at it objectively. Beta readers, who are individuals in your target audience who read the book before it is published, can offer you feedback on the structure of your novel and how it will be received. Critique partners are a bit more formal, in that they will likely offer more in-depth analysis and criticism of your book. More on beta readers in a later post.

Edit yourself and hire a professional. It should go without saying that you personally need to edit/revise your novel at least once before you pursue publication. I would also suggest hiring a professional editor to go over your manuscript as well. This is especially important for those seeking independent publishing. There are three key types of editors that you will want to investigate if you do decide to publish: developmental editors, copy/line editors, and proofreaders. More on self-editing and hiring editors in later posts.

Decide which type of publishing you want to pursue. We are lucky enough to be writing in a time where there are several publishing options. You can go the traditional route, where you query an agent to help you sell your book to a publishing house. This can either be one of the “big five” publishers or a small or micro-press. You can go the independent route, where you set up your own author-enterpreneur business and publish your own books as if you were a publishing house. Or, you can vanity publish, where you simply put your books out to the world with little to no professional assistance. Click on the name of the publishing model to read more about it: traditional, vanity, independent.

As for me, I know my post-NaNoWriMo plan and why it is right for me. It will mark a huge shift in my life and at least a few ripples on this site and the rest of my online presence. I am very excited to take the next steps in my journey, and I am just as excited to share them with you all!

If you are interested in making a writing career of your own, or have just enjoyed my blog so far, I encouraged you to stick with me as I enter the next phase of my life. I promise it will be fun, informative, and keep alive that uplifting writing community that we had during NaNoWriMo!

What are your post-NaNoWriMo plans? Will you continue writing or are you going to take a break for a while? Let me know below!