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Thoughts on the past year

Hi everyone, as it’s that time of year when many people take a moment of reflection on the past year and think about the future, I thought I’d take a moment to do the same.

Last year was a mix of good and bad. On the personal side, I had a long bout of depression and autistic burnout, had frequent meltdowns and shutdowns, and suffered from intense imposter syndrome regarding my work. But I also learnt a lot about my neurology, began implementing coping strategies to reduce meltdowns and shutdowns (like using ear defenders, sunglasses and fidget toys to help with sensory overload and not doing too many tasks in one day) and celebrated a year and a half with my partner and, in November, actually moved in with him.

I also realised that I’ve achieved an awful lot with my writing, too:

  • I did my first edit of my YA sci-fi, Unsung.
  • I put together my short story collection, When The Bard Came Visiting, which comes out this February.
  • I re-edited my Half-Wizard Thordric trilogy to catch all the continuity errors that had slipped through.
  • I wrote a middle grade fantasy involving time travel.
  • I edited two poetry collections and submitted them to my publisher.
  • I did my first author visit at a school.
  • I did another edit on Unsung, and prepared a query and synopsis for submission to literary agents.
  • I put together a poetry pamphlet and a children’s poetry collection for submission to an independent press.
  • I wrote (and illustrated) a bespoke story that the client had won at a local school fair.

Writing it all down in a list like this gives it a lot of substance that I can’t ignore, because it wasn’t until I started writing this post that it fully hit me how much work I completed. When I think about how unmotivated I felt for most of the year, it’s incredible that I managed to do so much. I suppose it does make sense though, because no matter how hard writing can be, it’s the one thing I’ve always known I’ve wanted to do, and is the way in which I express myself best. I know a lot of the poetry I wrote released a lot of frustration and helped me to accept who I am, and writing fiction let me live an adventure I’d otherwise never know.

For this year, I haven’t made any strict resolutions. I simply intend to keep the same goals I always have: to keep writing, appreciate the small things and (this one is slightly newer) ask for help when I need it. I’m sure there will be times when I get distracted, overwhelmed and stubborn, but as long as it’s not too often, I know that’s all okay.

So, here’s to a new year full of self-care, appreciation for those who support us, and determination for whatever it is that we wish to achieve.

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In case the New Year brings that dastardly task of editing your novel: Kathryn’s Guide to Editing Fiction

Knowing what to do after you’ve *finally* finished the first draft of your manuscript and have mopped up all the blood, sweat and tears that went into it can be a bit of a mystery if you’re new to the game. You know editing comes into it, and you may have heard about beta readers, but what comes first, and more importantly, how do you go get started?

To help with the cacophony of questions littering your head, I’ve made a general guide to help you get going. This is very much based off my own experience, and is not an exhaustive list:

  1. After you’ve written that last word on your manuscript, put the whole thing away somewhere and leave it for a good amount of time (I personally leave it for about three months, but others leave it for longer) and get on with other things. Start a new project; finish any others lurking around; if you’re thinking about publication, research which avenue might be best for you and what that entails; basically, anything to keep your mind stimulated but doesn’t involve that first draft. This is to make sure that when you do eventually go back to it, you can view it with fresh eyes – meaning that plot holes, weak characters or lack of world building will jump out at you and therefore be easier to fix.

 

  1. Don’t focus on spelling or wording on this initial edit. Look at the big picture instead. Are there any holes in your plot? Do your characters feel flat or serve no purpose? Does the story start in the right place, or are the first few chapters unnecessary? What scenes work, and what don’t? If you’re finding it hard to tell if certain points of the story are unnecessary, try removing them and see if it affects the overall plot. If the plot still flows, then those scenes (however beautifully written they are/despite how much you personally love them) have to go. Nothing ruins a good book more that scenes that jar the pacing by adding nothing.

 

  1. Once you’ve fixed the big issues with your manuscript, you can either put it away again, or continue on to the next stage. Again, I personally leave it for a bit because I know I get far too close to my work.

 

  1. Now it’s time to really focus on your characters and world building. Your characters need to feel like real people – give goals and dreams, flaws and bad habits, and don’t hole them up into stereotypes. If they’re from very different backgrounds/circumstances to you, make sure you do your research – not only to make them realistic, but to avoid being insensitive to readers. (If you’re worried about your representation of people from different walks of life to you, you can always hire a sensitivity reader at a later stage.) When working on world building, think about the social structure of each place, use all five senses to describe things and make sure you don’t fall into the pit of info dumping. Also, in dialogues scenes, look out for ‘white room syndrome’, when no description about where or when the scene takes place is included.

 

  1. Next, we get in to the more technical aspects of writing. Tense, point of view and grammar. (If you feel your manuscript is shaping up nicely, you can start looking at spelling, over-use of words and continuity, but I would leave that until last.) It doesn’t matter what point of view you use, or what tense, as long as you keep them consistent throughout the manuscript – unless you have a very good reason not to, like an intentional stylistic change to illustrate a certain point. If you struggle with grammar, there are a lot of helpful books and forums, as well as YouTube guides. (I have a book on grammar that’s actually written for kids, but the language and examples are so clear that it’s the one I go to most.)

 

  1. The stages of editing can get a bit murky here – some writers have to repeat steps until they’re happy and end up with a good number of drafts, others breeze right through and end up with relatively few. However, whether you’ve done a lot of back and forth on your work or not, this part is important. Read your work aloud. I’ll say it again: READ YOUR WORK ALOUD. From start to finish, until you’re sick of the sound of your own voice. This is so you can clearly see problems with sentence structure, missing words, typos, continuity, repetitive description and all that jazz (as readers we’re always pleased to spot others’ mistakes, but are far less pleased as writers if someone kindly points them out in our own work).

 

  1. Finally, when you are happy with your manuscript and can’t find anything else to work on, it’s time to send your work to beta readers. These can be other writers, friends, family or simply people you know love to read. What is important to note, however, is that it’s far more helpful to send your work to readers who readily consume books in that genre than ones who have never read/rarely read within your genre, as the feedback you receive will be more relevant. When you do receive feedback, look for trends in what people are saying. If eight people say a scene isn’t working, then it’s probably wise to take another look and see if it truly does need revising. If one beta reader hates a character but the others love them/make no comment, then perhaps that’s just their personal taste. Consider all feedback, but remember that it is still your work, so you have the final decision on what to change.

 

So there you have it. Where you take your work from there is completely up to you. Whether you opt for traditional publishing, self-publishing or somewhere in-between (be absolutely sure you don’t head down the path of vanity publishing – an old but good rule on how to tell a vanity publisher from a real one is that money should always flow to the author, not away) make sure you do your research.

Poetry

Onward we go

Green, the smell of pine

as we tread needles into the ground

on our stroll about the forest on the edge of the year.

The new can be seen from over the way,

only the trickle of an old river

keeping it separate now.

Yet in a few hours,

the trickle will stop,

and the seedlings of trees will shoot up into saplings

in a whoosh of  breath, colour

and cheer.

We will step together, hand in hand,

onto the fresh forest floor

ready to take in its delights and terrors

as one.

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End of year thoughts

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, because I have many long term goals that I’m simply going to keep working towards, so I thought I’d take a look back at the good things that have happened in 2017 instead.

I started out this year determined to be published before I was 27 (my actual words to everyone were ‘by the end of my 26th year’. Perhaps it sounded more achievable if I spoke about it like a prophecy). I had two ways to achieve this: find a literary agent and get a publishing contract VERY soon after, or approach a smaller publisher directly. Because I was impatient, and running out of time – this was a goal I’d set myself some years ago – I did both. For my older manuscripts, I sent them to small publishers, and for my newer ones, I sent them out to literary agents. While I had some interest from agents, none have taken it further so far, but as I recently finished editing one of my latest manuscripts, I can still query with that one. I did, however, have an offer from a small publisher for my middle-grade book, Unofficial Detective, with interest in its sequels, and that was published in late August. As my 27th birthday was in September, I just about achieved my goal of getting published before I reached that age. And I’m quite proud of that, even though it’s only the beginning!

I also really wanted to start a blog this year, and keep it up by posting regularly. Initially, I was going to write posts purely on writing and about my journey to publication – so detailing the query trenches, my work methods and habits – but the process of querying takes so long that it can be months before hearing back, meaning my posts on that subject would be few and downright boring. I decided to share some of my short stories and old, highly questionable poetry to fill space. Yet I soon ran out. So I had to write something new, and that’s when I discovered my love for writing poetry, which if you’ve been following this blog for a while, is probably what you see most of. As I tend to post everyday, I consider this particular goal fully achieved.

Starting a YouTube channel wasn’t something I’d planned to do from the beginning of the year, but in an attempt to increase my author platform, and because I love watching Booktube videos, I thought I’d try it out. What surprised me is how much I like doing it. It’s just nice to talk about books and express my enthusiasm. I don’t really get to do that otherwise (though my husband has recently got heavily into reading, so now we rave to each other about different books. Yay!).

On a non-book related topic, my husband and I moved and now have our own flat. It’s fantastic to finally have a space for just the two of us (four if you count our feathered family members). And it’s so peaceful. Considering we’d been living with my parents since getting hitched in 2013, this was a long time coming and very much overdue. My mood has increased dramatically, and I feel good about the future.

Which brings me to my final note of saying that over the last few days, my book has been doing rather well, reaching some of the highest rankings on Amazon that it’s had so far. Also, book two has been accepted by my publisher and the manuscript has been proofed, and I’ve been asked for ideas on what I want to feature on the cover. Which means that the book itself should be released early next year, hopefully around February or March, if all goes well.

So next year, I’m going to keep writing, keep blogging and keep striving to find a literary agent so I can get published by ‘the big guys’. More work, but work that I want to do, and I honestly wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.

Kat out.