The Story I Want

Quick question, if you could read a book about anything, what would you read about? What is your perfect story? Okay I guess not such a quick question, because I am about to dedicate a whole blog post to it.

This year I decided to write the story I wanted to write. Not the one I felt obligated to write because of how long it had been in a notebook, or the one I thought would actually sell. I tried, and writing those stories felt like pulling strings right out of my heart. It was draining, to say the least. So after my last Nano, I took a break from writing, and used that break to decide what I wanted to work on next.

What did I like to write? What did I like to read?

Melancholy stories. Stories where the land itself seems to be a character. Fantastic worlds that may or may not make sense. Simple stories, where the fluff of the story has been peeled back to find, in all its beauty, a bare story underneath. Emotion, real emotion inside of real characters.

My style was and is slowly moving away from Tolkienesque (for which we can thank our lucky stars for, the world doesn’t need another Tolkien copy) to something I still can’t quite put my finger on, but I know I am on my way to finding it (I hope anyway). Stories that don’t have to do with entire worlds (or that have to have an agonizing amount of world building), or saving the universe, but with people. People caught up in events and then what they do about it. I love the ordinary characters who find themselves in the adventure much more than I like ‘Chosen Ones’. I like characters with flaws and who agonize over decisions, but who do the right thing anyway. I like the complicated characters.

Since I like to read stories with those characteristics, why not write those kind of stories? I can at least try, even though those authors are waaaay above my skill level.

During my writing break, my mind constantly went back to two stories in particular. They sat, like so many others, simmering away in my notebooks. There are literally about 20 stories ideas that could grab my attention in my notebooks, yet I only thought about two. In fact, one of the few bits of writing I did in those two months was to write a scene in one of those stories. Obviously, those had captured my attention.

Those stories were the ones I wanted to write.

Without giving too much away, I wanted to share a bit of the two stories I will be working on for the forseeable future. I am really loving the idea of the aesthetic of a novels, so let’s try that! Please forgive the titles, these stories are barely begun so I have no idea what to call them.

Story One: A Love Letter to My Hometown.

Dragons // Sunshine on my face // Fire // Traveler // Smoke and ashes // Burned trees // Wind whipping my hair into my eyes // Breathless // Gold // Desert soil // The veins in a leaf // Steampunk // Bravery // Wild // Strange world // Mountains // Sunrise

Story Two: Letters to a Sister

Duels // Knights // Old Libraries // Wrinkled Letters // Pressed Flowers // Herbs // Spilled Ink // Feather Pen // Monsters // A Sword on the Ground // Tears on a Pillow // Quiet Courage // Dusk // Steel // Gray // Hope // Palaces

Okay, now I really want to know, what would be your perfect book to read? What would it be about?

Shaina Merrick

And it Ended.

I did it. Good golly I actually won Nano. And I completed my novel. In case anyone was wondering.

GUYS I FINISHED MY NOVEL!!!!

Ya know, just the one I have been working on for the last 5 to 7 years. (it took a while before I learned the fine art of dating things) I did it. I wrote the end. Can I sleep now?

Tired The Big Bang Theory GIF

Is it done? Oh yes. Is it terrible? Absolutely. Does it need to edited within an inch of its life? Oh yeah! The thing is a 100,000+ word mess of meanderings and rabbit trails and IhavenoideawhatIamdoing-ness.

I did not stick to the plot. I tried, really I tried. But I failed. Is anybody surprised? Not me anyway. And I am not going to sit and here and say that the novel is any stronger for my inability to stay on plot. Because I have no idea if I helped or hindered my story with all the meandering. At this point I can’t see the forest for the trees people.

On to some stats!

Most Words a Day During Nano: 5,267

Least Words a Day During Nano: 51 (it was a bad day)

Finished Nano at: 50,065

Words in Completed Novel: 129,852 (0.o)

What even guys. I finished a 100,000+ novel in a year. To celebrate I will be sleeping or watching my favorite tv show.

There was a badge on Nano this year that you got if you updated your word count every day. So, you know, if you write every day. I really like getting badges. Just give me a gold sticker and I’ll be happy. Motivated by a shiny little badge, I wrote every single day, even if it was only 51 words. (often at 10:00 at night but we don’t need to talk about that…)

I have never actually written for 30 days straight in a row before. I usually get tired after about five and then take a break for a while. This year exercised some writing muscles! Also, I know I can do it now. It is possible for me to write every day and still be semi sort of sane. It is good to know what you can and can not do, or in other words where your limits are.

I wrote 5,000 words in one day! Wow! Did I mention I am a slow writer (only like every other post). That has never happened before in the history of me. But I did it! I wrote 5k words! During the last week I wrote 3,300 words a day because I was soooo behind. Do not be like me and leave the bulk of your story till the last two weeks of Nano. So much stress… But hey, I made it!

Last Monday I almost quit. I knew I was seriously behind and I wasn’t sure if I could make the time to get caught back up and win. Let alone finish my novel. Then I realized if I didn’t finish it now, there was a high chance I never would. I was not as excited about my story as I used to be, and I am about to start college, which means I get to say goodbye to free time. This was the time to write, I could either buck up and do it, or choose to put it aside. I chose to finish it. I whipped out my handy dandy calculator and figured out how many words I needed to write a day to win. And then I did it.

Thus proving to myself that I did not need inspiration or the perfect words. I just had to sit down and write. The words aren’t pretty, in fact most of the lines are probably garbage. That is what editing is for. I can’t edit something that isn’t there.

All in all, it was a good Nano. I won, I finished my novel, and I proved to myself what exactly I can do when a deadline is approaching with all of its death and glory.

If you will excuse me, I am going to go rest on my laurels now.

Shaina Merrick

Why is this so Hard?

Hey hey hey! I am coming to you from the depths of Nano, so brace yourselves for an odd brain tangle post.

As you know, this year my goal is to finish my novel. I am doing my best to finish up what I started so long ago. As I am writing it though, I am realizing why this particular book has been so hard for me to finish.

I got the idea for Sunlight on the Peaks when I was in high school. So five hundred years ago. At first, all I had were a few scenes. All to do with a girl who had been hurt by a magician. The magic system in the book is one of the first things that I figured out.

Since then, I have written the first part of the book at least four times. At least. I think I wrote the first half twice for Nanowrimo. The poor book has been plotted within an inch of its life. I did everything I was supposed to when it came to world building and plotting and characterization, and still the book gave me, gives me, fits.

Unlike some of my other novels that just flowed from my pen. They were easy to write, this one is not.

Why? Why is it so hard to write?

Well. First off, I came up with the idea when I was still young and overly ambitious. This book has a lot of high fantasy vibes, and sounds similar to lots of other books out there. A prince who needs to take back his kingdom? Who hasn’t done that? At the time I was reading lots of high fantasy and this just came out of all of that.

It has a rather large cast, and a humongous plot. There are a bunch of side plots that keep slipping out of my grasp. (I hate writing romance…) At the time, I was convinced I could do it. After all, everyone else did in the fantasy genre. Big casts and complicated plots are the staples of fantasy. Right?

And now? I don’t tend to write in high fantasy any more. I am more fascinated with worlds similar to ours, but with something a bit off about it. Or non-magical fantasy, I enjoy writing that too. I am not fantastic at juggling large casts of characters, so I tend to keep it small, and nowadays I have one POV. No matter what.

So in writing this novel, I am writing completely outside of what I am comfortable with and almost above my skill level. (or completely above, I really don’t know)

I guess you could say I am a rambling introspective writer. I am all about going through the characters thoughts with them. The world is filtered through their eyes and experiences to get to the reader. I like thinking through things as I write, and often I am writing to make sense of the world around me.

Sunlight on the Peaks is not that kind of book. If I paused to discuss things, I would never get anywhere. I have given myself a little room to breath and think, otherwise I would go bonkers. But still, it isn’t like the last book I finished, where the whole thing was deeply inside the characters head and the whole thing was very introspective.

In the years between that first scene for Sunlight on the Peaks and now, I grew as a writer. I found out what I like to write, and what makes me want to tear my hair out. I like writing a little slower paced novels with small casts and simpler plots. (simple does not mean predictable folks.)

I think at first I was trying to write like everybody else, and I almost stopped writing because of it. I couldn’t think or write like the other authors I looked up to. I tried so hard, and ended up discarding story after story and writing myself into a deep hole of the comparison game.

Finally, I decided to write what I wanted to write, and I wouldn’t care about what anyone else thought about it.

Sunlight on the Peaks is a story very dear to my heart, but it is a hold over from the time where I thought I needed to write a certain way. When I write The End, I will be closing the door on that chapter of my life. And then I will be free to keep on trying new things.

Shaina Merrick

Inspiration

First, have any of you seen/noticed the changes around here? Yes, there is a new header, yes, some of the font is blue. I did do that on purpose. Whether it looks good or not remains to be seen I suppose. I also updated the Scribblings page and About Me page (that is a not so subtle hint for you to go look at them).

By the way, if you know how to link your instagram page to your blog, I would love to know. I have worked on it for hours, and followed all the directions, and it still isn’t working! So you will just have to take my word for it that I have instagram.

You know what question I dread the most when I talk about my writing? It is not when I am going to finish my novel, though I dislike that one too. It is not why I am writing.

Where do you get your story ideas?

Cue lots of blinking.

I’m sorry, what now?

I am pretty sure I know I get asked. Some authors have these beautiful stories about why they started writing a particular novel, and where they drew their inspiration from. I love hearing those stories, I hate telling them.

Because mine go something like this.

“Well, I was thinking about something random and then got this phrase in my head. This phrase had a, well, a feeling behind it. I felt what was going on, but it was all a little fuzzy. And then I sat down, picked up a pen, and sort of… Figured it out.”

Real inspiring.

I heard once, or read once, that writers are collage artists. We take bits of ideas and thoughts from everywhere and paste them into our story. Cue me nodding with wide eyes and wondering how the person knew what was going on in my head.

My ideas don’t come from one thing, they come from everywhere. Something someone says, a movie I watched, they swirl around in my brain until it turns into a smoothie. Sometimes a good smoothie, sometimes a nasty orange and green one. (looking at you weird story idea)

Often, I don’t know where I got the idea from. I just know that it appeared one day in my head. And never fully formed. I have never figured out a story from start to finish all at once. Usually, I get the beginning, and then have to start writing to figure out the end.

I wish I was one of those writers who can see the plot laid out before them before they even write one word. I have to go diligently searching for it with pen and ink.

The other reason why I don’t particularly like that question (though I will admit to asking it, sorry) is because I have so many story ideas. I am not kidding. I have notebooks full of nothing by story ideas. None of them are finished, some of them have characters, some of them have a plot, but none of them have everything. They all sit there, whispering bits of their story to me every time I look at them. Do I sound crazy? Probably. Being crazy is an occupational hazard in my line of work.

So where do I get my inspiration from? The long answer is listed above, but the short answer is I have no idea.

Shaina Merrick

Academic Writing vs. Fiction Writing.

Here recently I decided to take a series of college level online classes. Because why not. One of those ended up being English Composition I. Otherwise known as the ‘can I tear my hair out right now’ class.

I spend much of my time in the realm of words. I have a blog, I have an instagram page, I write stories, I journal. Between all of those things one would think that I would know how to write, or at least how to get my thoughts organized.

Yeah right.

Turns out that academic writing, or the infamous essay, is completely different from fictional writing (go figure). It is also different from my usual off the cuff blogging.

For one thing, there is no POV in academic writing. All of it is impersonal and if you ever say ‘you’ in the essay, you are doomed. It is considered unprofessional. In all honesty it is unprofessional, but is professionalism what I am going for in my blog posts? Only sometimes. Anyway, the point is there is no point of view. There are no characters, no plot, no tension to speak of. Unless of course it is an argumentative essay, and then the writer is bringing allll the tension to the table. *cacklesmadly*

I may or may not be writing about an extremely controversial topic for my essay. This is going to be fun.

Also, academic writing is so very, very, structured. Eheh. Yes, in fiction writing there is some structure. A plot is structure, and grammar, and punctuation. But here is the thing, I can break all of those rules in fiction, any time I want. And if I do it well enough, no one is going to care, or perhaps even notice. (looking at you Alexander Dumas)

In academic writing on the other hand, everyone is going to notice. Grammar or convention rules must be followed at all costs. Essays have a specific structure, so do paragraphs, so do sentences. There is enough structure in one 800 word essay to satisfy any outlining soul.

Can I die now? Rebellious writer over here, I find out what the rules are so I can break them.

However, in getting a crash course on paragraphs and essays (I promise did learn all of it in high school, I just promptly forgot it), was like learning to walk again. As I fussed over the way my paragraphs were lined up, it made sense why they were the way they were. There is something in my little brain that loves the organization inherent to academic writing. There is not much writers block, because you already know how things are supposed to be written, and laid out. I had an outline, and I followed it. It made certain things much, much easier.

I have a feeling what I am learning about academic writing will bleed into fiction writing as well. After all, those rules have been around for so long because they work. There is something aesthetically pleasing in having a well laid out essay. And when the paragraph works, there is not so much brain bending to be able to understand what the person is saying. Or trying to say.

So yes, academic writing is completely foreign to fiction writing. All the impersonal structure does not align itself well with good story writing. But writing it does help me to align my thoughts in an organized fashion, one that makes sense to other people besides myself.

Shaina Merrick

Pitching, the hardest thing you will ever do.

I am attending the Virtual Realm Makers conference this year. Cue the confetti!! It is really exciting and it will be so awesome to attend all those classes and one of my favorite authors is speaking and… Oh yeah, I signed up for a pitch. *internal scream*

So I have never done one before. Ever. I barely even knew what a pitch was before this. I mean, it is just talking about your book to someone else, right? Not!

Have you ever written a resume? The ones where you are trying to convince the hiring manager that you are the perfect one for the job. Well, a pitch is, in its basic form, the same thing. You are trying to convince the editor or agent that your book is worth publishing. And the pitch is only the beginning. To complete you pitch, it is also a good idea to come up with a one sheet, a synopsis, one, or two, author bio’s (depending on who you ask), and to top it all off, a book proposal. I hate book proposals.

This is not something that was taught, or even mentioned, when I was learning about writing. None of the classes I ever went to discussed the book proposal. That is either because I didn’t go to the right ones, or because no one taught how to write the most important piece of writing you will ever do after your manuscript.

So now to give you a leg up, we are talking about writing a book proposal.

Step One: Like your Book

Are you excited about your book? I hope so, because you are trying to impart that enthusiasm to someone else. A someone who has the power to get your book into the hands of readers. If you aren’t excited about your book, they won’t be either.

Step Two: What is the plot?

This is one of the more important bits of your book proposals, you need to tell that agent/editor the entire plot. The synopsis. Sometime they will ask you for the short synopsis, which is generally what your pitch will be, and for an entire synopsis covering everything from the inciting incident to the conclusion. This is NOT the time to be saying, “But wait, spoilers!” You are spoiling the entire book for them. On purpose. The editor needs to know if you can stick the landing. Can you write a good beginning, middle, and ending? That is what your synopsis will tell them. So make sure all the important plot points are in the synopsis. Give them all of the tid bits that make your story interesting and unique.

Step Three: The author bio

I really struggle with this one. I can talk about my book all day long, but myself? Not so much. In its condensed form it is what would be on the back of a book. A short introduction of you. This is not the time to be cute and funny. Author bio’s are serious matters. The first impression the editor will have of you is that bio. So make sure it shines!

The long form includes your writing experience, any awards you may have won, any previous publishing experience, and why you wrote the book. That latter one may be included in a different spot so check the guidelines for each editor or agent you pitch to.

That is why I struggle with it so much. I don’t have much in the way of experience, and no awards to speak of. But that doesn’t mean I skip it all together or make a joke about it. Like I said earlier, this bio is serious, and so I treat it like I would any other resume. I say the bit I can, mostly about my blog, and that is all. If you are in the same boat as me, I give you the same advice. Do what you can, but don’t make up stuff. Also, it looks a little tacky if you talk about a writing award you got as a ten year old if you are an adult, so keep your experience relevant and fairly recent.

Step Four: Log Line

A log line is the very, very condensed version of your synopsis. A sentence is all it is. Two sentences at the very most. Think of it as the marketing line of your book. The one that goes first in the blurb on the back. This is the phrase that tells people what your story is about, and at the same time makes them want to read more. Sounds hard? You bet! One site I visited recommended writing 15 to 20 of them right off before even deciding which one was the best. No, I didn’t write that many, but I wrote quite a few! After I finally decided which one I wanted, I then refined it to make it as perfect as possible. This one is important, so do the work to make it good!

Step Five: Marketing

This is the part of the show where you tell the editors how you will help to market your book. The market is super saturated with books, if you couldn’t already tell, and the ‘build it and they will come’ mantra no longer works for books. Unfortunately. And while we may despise it, the hard truth is that the publishing companies will not do all the work to market our books. We have to take some of that into our own hands.

You will need to tell the editor what kind of platform you have, and how many followers you have. I did not say the exact number because 1) it is embarrassing and 2) it is changing all the time. So I just said it was small but growing.

It is also a really good idea to tell the editor what kind of contacts you have that you could exploit to get your book out there. (mwahaha…) I have lots of contacts inside the homeschool community, so I mentioned that. You can mention authors you know (as in know personally), business contacts you have, and things like that.

Do not. Do not! Give them your ideas on how to market your book. There are sites that recommend this, and I might be proven wrong, but other sites have said that that is what the marketing team is for. They probably have way better ideas than you have (unless you are amazing at marketing, and if you are, why are you trying to get published?). You are there to show them your platform. Not tell them how to do their job.

Step Six: Details

If your head isn’t already spinning, I commend you. Mine was when I researched all this! But I am not finished yet. Oh no. There is still more you must add in your book proposal!

These are all smaller details that you could have as one lines, or a small paragraph. Things like how many words and how many chapters are your book. Who you book is intended for. Is it middle grade, young adult, or adult? It is important to be specific, but not too small, because the editors are looking for how to market this book as they are reading it. If your intended audience is middle class extraterrestrial immigrants, it will be harder to market than a book for kids in elementary school.

You should also include other books that your book is similar too. Are you writing a book about talking animals? Consider citing Wind in the Willows as a similar book. However, avoid the urge to compare your book with classics, or best sellers. You don’t have the next Lord of the Rings. And when you say that it just sounds proud and pretentious.

When you are writing a book proposal, those are the main things you need to include in every single one. However, do your research. Different editors and agents want different things. One might want a full book proposal, another might want only a synopsis and a one sheet. A one sheet is a book proposal that has been cropped to one page. Don’t send editors pages and pages of things they don’t want! That is the fastest way to end up in the recycling bin.

Also, do not send your full manuscript. Send whatever chapters they want, and that is all. No one has time to sit and read a full manuscript they aren’t sure about. I’m sorry, I wish it wasn’t so, but it is.

As a quick reminder, a pitch is the quick synopsis of your book that is generally not beyond the first act. It is generally spoken directly to the agent or editor. It’s purpose is to pique interest and to promote excitement!

A synopsis is the full overview of a book. Try not to go over one page. It’s purpose is to prove that you can write an interesting plot from start to finish, and to help the editor understand your story.

A one sheet is a short book proposal. It’s purpose is to convince the editor to take your book.

A book proposal is to convince the editor or agent that you are serious about getting this book out there. It is a professional piece of writing that helps you to get your book signed by an agent or editor.

To all those who are jumping into the realm of pitching, good luck!

Shaina Merrick

The Precarious Balance of the Writing Life

Writing. A career path only for those who wish to feel guilty every moment of their life. Every moment of every day becomes a choice between writing, and not writing. If you aren’t writing, you feel guilty because you should be writing. If you are writing, you feel guilty because there is a whole family outside of your novel who could be talked with. Or an email to be sent, or another hobby to be practiced. But if you don’t write at this moment you won’t at all, and you worked an eight hour shift today dang it!

Yup. It kinda sucks.

On the one hand, we know that if we don’t write we will never get better. On the other hand, if we commit to writing for so many hours every day, won’t we become kinda, well, like a hermit? The stereotypical author who spends all of their days writing, and only ventures out into real life when their groceries run low. If they haven’t decided to get all their groceries shipped to them already.

And that was all before the internet. Now, we have Facebook, Instagram, blogs, and countless other ways to be ‘doing the job of writing’, without actually writing. Now there is one more thing to juggle, one more thing to feel guilty over.

And here I almost forgot the infamous day job that every writer slaves away at, all the while hoping to someday break free and only write. Never mind the fact that their day job is the one place they never feel guilty at. They have to be there, and that is that.

The thing is, I am not about to give you some momentous advice about how to balance it all and still keep yourself sane. This is something I am not good at. In fact, you could say I am tremendously, awfully bad at it. Even when I have a schedule.

But sometimes those who are so terrible at it that any step is a step in the right direction, have more to say than those who have done it perfectly their entire lives.

Like this momentous realization that was probably obvious to the rest of you.

Multitasking doesn’t work.

Ever.

I can’t write an interesting scene and write a blog post at the same time, or color and try to teach myself grammar. The best I can do is listen to very, very tame music and write a blog post. But even then I have to pause the music if I really want to concentrate. I realize that some of you are wizards of multitasking. I ain’t. So I keep the tabs low and the projects one at a time lest I overwhelm myself and get nothing done.

The other thing I realized after a long time of trying and failing is that I can’t get everything done in one day. It isn’t possible. Unless of course I decided not to sleep, or eat, or talk with anyone. But that isn’t a good idea (though don’t think I haven’t considered it.).

I have tried to do everything in one day. And at the end of the day I either had a finished to do list and no energy whatsoever to read or be nice, or I had a half completed to do list and loads of guilt to go along with it.

Well. I don’t like feeling guilty, and I also like being able to read. So I stopped trying to do it all. Most of the time.

It’s called a weekly schedule, and I am still trying to figure it out. Turns out they don’t write themselves, and writing down the things you did after you did them doesn’t work. Also, it doesn’t really count if you never look at it during the week.

I still have a long ways to go before I can properly consider myself good at scheduling my days.

Till then, I will muddle through and do my best to have my blog posts done on time.

Shaina Merrick

Since we are one the topic, got any advice for the scheduling writing? Things that worked for you? I’m telling ya, I need all the help I can get!