Why I write books in 30 days or less

When I started writing my “first official novel”, I had a full time job that took up most of my day. I spent more time daydreaming about this novel than I actually spent writing it, and when I did write it, it was for thirty minutes here and there before I went to bed. It took me nine months to complete that first draft and the inconsistencies were hilarious. My main character’s mom had three different names and eye colors seemingly changed quicker than the Horse of a Different Color.*

And those were the easy fixes.

Now that I have a few dozen manuscripts written, I go about things much differently. I write fast. I use an outline and I write at least 5000 words a day, always finishing the first draft within 30 days. You might think the manuscript would suffer in quality from being written quickly, but it’s actually quite the opposite.

Something magical happens when you spend 3-4 hours a day–every single day–in your fictional world. You never leave the story. Your mind stays with the characters in such a way that they seem to pause when you stop writing for the day, and when you come back to it the next day, you still remember what you were writing. You can put your fingers to the keyboard and the characters hit play in your imagination, and start living the story again.

You’re still in your setting, still in the mood, still feeling the tone of the story. Your character’s motivations and emotions are still churning in your mind and you can keep up the same vibe for each chapter.

Nuances stick with you that you would otherwise forget. That side character has a smudge of motor oil on his shirt, and you’ll remember to have someone comment on it it when he speaks next. Your MC is starting to get a headache and in the next chapter, you’ll be able to note that it’s only getting worse.  Little things in your story’s surroundings will come out naturally as you write because they’re still fresh. These things aren’t in your outline, but they give the story a pulse.

Writing fast means you never have to go back over what you’ve already written to reorient yourself with the story. When I used to write slowly, it would take me at least 45 minutes of reading back over my MS to remember what exactly was going on. Total waste of time. If you step away from your story for a week or so it’s even worse when you go back to it. You’ve forgotten everything, and it’ll show in your writing.

There is certainly no perfect writing formula for everyone, and I always encourage writers to do what works for them. But I also encourage you to try something new. So if you’re a slow writer, try writing fast. Don’t overthink it. Just do it.

 

*Do ya’ll know what that is, or am I dating myself?

2017 Writer Goals

It seems like just yesterday I was writing my goals blog post for 2016. I was lucky last year and managed to achieve all of them. 2016 was a great year for my writing and I hope to be as lucky this year, too! Of course, the thing about setting goals is that luck only plays a little into it. The rest is massively hard work.

I’m going into my third year of being a full time writer, and as always, my biggest goal is to stay self-employed as a writer. See below for how I hope to accomplish that.

Cheyanne’s 2017 Writer Goals

  • Get another traditional book deal. My agent and I currently have a book on submission, so hopefully this one will work out! If not, I’ve got plenty more manuscripts to share with my agent in hopes of landing another deal.
  • Co-write a YA novel. One of my best friends and I are currently planning a YA novel together.  I’m not going to share details just yet, but we’re both very excited about it and she is a fabulous author so I know half of this book is in capable hands. Now I just have to fulfill my part!
  • Write at least 2 additional YA manuscripts. That’s 3 books in a year,  which is low for me. But if I manage to reach goal number 1, I’ll be busy with edits and revisions, so I’m making time for that. If I don’t sell a book in 2017, I’ll up it to 3 or 4 more manuscripts. Also, there’s this whole other part of my life that I don’t talk about on here, and that takes up at least 2 weeks a month, so my writing time is limited this year. Still, I’m hopeful I can accomplish great things!
  • Blog twice a month. I’m tired of telling myself to “blog more.” So this year, I’m making it a goal. I’ve already gone through my Passion Planner and marked the places where I need to blog. Luckily, this post counts as my first one for January. If all goes well, you’ll see more of my ramblings in the coming year. Not sure if that’s good news for you, but it is for me.
  • Read at least 52 books.  If we’re not Goodreads friends, feel free to add me! This may sound like a reader goal but it’s actually a writer goal because I firmly believe that reading widely improves your abilities as a writer. I make an effort to read one book a week both because I adore reading and because it makes me a better writer. And because I have a TBR pile that could kill me if it accidentally fell over.

There we go! My goals for this year, typed out and posted publicly. I am really looking forward to this year, and I feel like I’ve really hit my stride as far as figuring out the best way to research, outline, and draft novels as a full time writer. Here’s to a wonderful year with many things to be grateful for.

What are  your goals for this year? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

How to Wait

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I once read an article that estimated that humans spend one third of their lives waiting. Waiting in line, waiting in traffic, waiting for service, etc. If you’re a writer, you wait longer than that. You wait in the query trenches, you wait in the submission trenches, you wait for your book to be published. You wait for ideas to come to you and you wait for plot holes to work themselves out.

So how do you get through the waiting without letting it drive you crazy? I’ve made a handy list.

How to Wait

  • Know before you go into the thing (writing, querying, submissions) that you’ll be waiting. Be prepared.
  • (Being prepared doesn’t help, btw. It’s just something people say to make you feel better.)
  • ALWAYS always be working on something else. When you’ve finished a book and are waiting for it to move along in the publishing process, start your new book. DON’T sit around waiting for that first book to get some traction. Get to work on your next project. This is not a drill. DO IT.
  • Stay busy. Clean the house. Wash your car. Organize your bookshelves. Busy minds can’t stress over waiting.
  • (Just kidding! Your mind totally can and will stress no matter what you’re doing!)
  • Take a hot shower. Daydream about your newest book.
  • Take a walk. Think weird things about the stuff your neighbors keep in their yards.
  • Read. ABR. Always be reading. This is my advice for every thing ever. Reading enriches your mind, fills your free time, and supports other authors. When in doubt, read.
  • Coffee break with a fellow writer. Meet up with writer friends and share horror stories over how long you’ve each been waiting. Drink lots of coffee. Laugh, talk about books, commiserate, have fun.
  • Go to bed early. You can’t constantly check your email when you’re sleeping.
  • Sleep in. You can’t constantly check your email when you’re sleeping.
  • Life your life. Don’t pass up opportunities to spend time with family and friends just because you’re waiting on book stuff. Go to the zoo, go see a movie. Have fun. You’re alive, so enjoy it. There will always be more time for waiting.
  • Write a blog post about waiting! I know from experience that it kills about fifteen minutes of time when you would otherwise be checking your email, hoping for book news.

 

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Inspiration Collages and Writing

Inspiration Collages and Writing

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Collage of inspiration photos for The Breakup Support Group

As the days are slowly passing until the release of my next book, The Breakup Support Group, I thought I’d share my inspiration collage for it. I used to make inspiration boards after I’d written a book, as a way for the reader to see some images that relate to the book as I imagined it in my head. When I was plotting The Breakup Support Group, I made an inspiration board before I started writing. It ended up being really fun to look back on the pictures while I worked on the story.

I decided to make a board for my current WIP and I saved it as my computer wallpaper. It’s a great way to help me stay motivated while working on the manuscript! I think I’m definitely hooked on inspiration collages.

If you’re a writer, do you use inspiration photos? Let me know in the comments!

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PS- The Breakup Support Group releases on 11/22/16! You can add it to Goodreads here. And make sure you’re signed up for my newsletter because I’ll be giving away paperbacks, gift cards, and a compass bracelet to celebrate release day!

How I outline a novel

Admittedly, I started out as a pantser, (one who writes by the seat of their pants, with no regards to outline or planning) but that was many years ago, and I am now firmly an outliner. Some authors argue that outlining a novel strips creativity away and leaves no room for making up some magic along the way. To that I say: writing a book is really freaking hard even if you’ve previously decided what happens in each chapter and trust me, there’s 70+ thousands of words for you to add some magic during the process.

Okay, let’s begin.

I follow the 7 Point Story Structure when I outline a book. I’m not going to explain that in detail here (since you can Google it and find really articulate definitions/examples). I also know that I want my books to be around 70k words, roughly. Since my chapters are anywhere from 1500 to 3000 words, that’s (roughly) 30 chapters for me. Yours may be different, and every book IS different, so the great thing about this template is you can change it up as needed.

When I first start brainstorming a book idea, I grab a stack of index cards (or sometimes Post-its) and write out every thing I think of. From scenes, to dialogue, to things I want to happen, to those juicy dramatic parts that I’ve been daydreaming about for days. I write down any and everything I see happening in the book. Then I put them in chronological order, adding or throwing out some as needed. It’s fine if you don’t have the whole book yet. You just needed to get out those awesome ideas in your head. Now set them aside and open up a Word document.

You’re going to type up your index cards into separate chapters, sometimes grouping a few together into one chapter, sometimes using one index card as a whole chapter. You probably won’t have every chapter or even every plot point decided at this point. Just skip. For example, if I know the story starts with A and then some stuff happens and then B happens, I’ll put the contents of A in chapter one, skip one or two chapters, then fill in B on the next one. Once you’ve transferred all your index card ideas, go back and read over it, adding more for each chapter. You’ll eventually get them all filled in. This usually takes me 2-3 days or sometimes FOREVER.

For starters, I pick 30 chapters and fill them in, adding or subtracting along the way as I figure out my story. Some of my favorite books have 80 or more chapters, and this can totally work for those, too, you just add more columns to the table. (Word’s table function makes this nice and pretty!) But I know myself and my book and this is a good guideline for how I’ll write it.

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BOOM! You’re done! All that’s left is hundreds of hours of creative writing agony as you bang out the ideas in your head, transforming them into a terrible first draft that will require months of editing to even slightly resemble a book!

WASN’T THAT EASY?

Ahem.

So, if you’re anything like me, you can’t remember all of your character’s details. That’s where the character sheet comes in handy. I fill out each character’s name, age, physical description, personality description, and special traits. I print these out and use them as I’m writing because I can guarantee I won’t remember anyone’s eye color, and probably not hair color, and definitely not their dog’s name because I have autoimmune problems and the brain fog is real. This character sheet will be your lifesaver.

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At the top of the whole document I write a summary (or a query when I was unagented) that isn’t perfect or even worthy to show anyone yet, but it’s a good reference to remind you what you wanted the story to be about when you first thought of it.

I print out each outline and put them in those clear plastic page protector things inside one of those plastic folders for reports, and then I carry them around with me when I write. After each chapter is written, I put a shiny star sticker over it and move on to the next one.

Since I write full time, my goal is 1 chapter a day, which means I usually finish a first draft in about a month. I prefer quick drafting, because as they say, you can’t edit nothing. I like to get that draft out there and ready for me to tear it to shreds in editing.

But that’s a post for another day.

If you’d like to try out my method of outlining, I’m including a download to a Word file of my template. Click here and it’s all yours: blank-outline-template

Happy novel writing!

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The magic of your first book

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[The first draft notes of my first ever novel.]

As I began working on a new WIP this weekend, I felt the crushing weight of all the stress and work this WIP drags along behind it. It’s a story idea I’ve had simmering in the back of my mind for about five years, and I never took the time to write it because it scares me. Why? Because it has the potential to be awesome. And I’ve just never felt good enough to write it.

(Case in point: A “good enough” writer wouldn’t use trite words like “good enough” to describe their inability to write an awesome story.)

This new WIP idea has twists and turns and intrigue and a secret society. It has back stabbing and plot twists and epic reveals and an antihero as an MC. I can feel this book’s potential in my bones. Yet every time I start to write it, I clam up and freak out and tell myself I simply can’t do it. That I’m not good enough. That it’ll never work out with someone like me manning the keyboard.

Today, during one of those freakouts, I started thinking about the very first book I ever wrote. It was 2008, I was 23 years old, and I was following the adage of Write What You Know.

Here’s what I knew:
being a teen
dirt bikes

So I quickly came up with an idea about a teen who starts working at a dirt bike track. I did a ton of my brainstorming while sitting on the bleachers at the local motocross races, and at night I’d go home and write it all down. I came up with a main character who was spunky and a little sheltered, and a love interest who was swoony and had talent with a bike. (He also had dreadlocks because it was 2008 and Jason Castro on American Idol was a big deal.)

I toyed with some writing websites, mostly Absolute Write, and read a few blogs of my favorite authors. But mostly, I went into this totally blind. I just hung out on the couch after work, laptop in my lap, and notebook filled with ideas next to me. I wrote. I never even paid attention to the word count because at the time, it didn’t seem like anything that mattered. I was so weirdly out of touch with writing a novel that I actually saved the first 15 chapters as separate Word files on my computer. By chapter 16, I realized that was stupid and combined them all into one document.

My characters became real living people in my head and I got excited to write their story. I wasn’t thinking about plot, or themes, or metaphors. I didn’t worry about the genre or the market or what books were trending. (HINT: It was vampires.) I didn’t worry about anything.

As I look back on the nine months it took me to write my very first book, I only have great memories. I was so blissfully unaware of the perils of publishing and the stress of submitting, and all I knew was how fun it was to create something from nothing.

Now, 8 years later, I’ve published 8 novels (written 3x as many more), signed 2 book deals with small publishers, signed with an agent, and now my next book is currently on submission. You’d think I have this whole writing thing down by now, right?

Actually, I kind of do. I have a system for outlining. I no longer have a day job because my job is writing. I have a writing schedule, and enough time to write 5000 words a day. My last 3 completed manuscripts were each outlined and then written in a month. I totally know what I’m doing! Right?

Ehhh……

No.

Sometimes when I’m all caught up in the stress of things, I stop and think back to those days of writing my first novel. It was so easy, and made me so happy. I was completely unaware of how much the writing sucked, or of all the writing rules I was breaking, or of how many rejections that first book would get before I caught on and realized I had a lot of learning to do. It was just a girl and her computer, unleashing the powers of her imagination. I can never get that feeling back, because you only get one chance to write your first book. (Of course, there’s still an emotional connection to writing ANY book, but there’s something special about that first one, I promise.)

Keep this in mind if you’re an aspiring writer. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the nitty gritty of what happens after the book is finished. Just enjoy the process.

Trust me, there’s plenty of time to stress later.

On Writing and Publishing

Recently, my writer/vlogger friend Avianne was asking me questions about writing & publishing, and since they were pretty great questions, I got her permission to use them for a blog post. Check out her lovely blog here: http://www.xoavianne.com and I’d like to thank her for letting me ramble on about myself, seeing as that’s one of my favorite things to do. 😉

Onto the questions!

What does a average day consist of for you? 

I’ve been a full time writer for 1 year and 6 months. (And yes, I’m counting! It was the greatest job transition of my life.) The absolute best part of being a full time author is getting to do all of my work in my pajamas. Between drinking coffee, doing house chores, packing the kid’s school lunch as well and driving her to and from school, and taking pictures of my dog, my average day has only about 3-4 hours of actual writing time in it.

I use a Passion Planner and spend every Sunday organizing my upcoming week. I plot out my novels and schedule how much I will write per day to get a draft done on time. Typically, I spend 2-5 days plotting and outlining a novel and then my writing goal is one chapter a day, which is around 2500-3500 words. If the chapter turns out shorter, I’ll write two. If, for some reason, it’s not a good day, I might not write at all. In the end, I always manage to meet my deadlines, which is about 30 days from start to finish per finished first draft. (I haven’t always written that fast, but over the years, and with going full time, it’s become a lot easier.)

How did City of Legends get published?

I originally published City of Legends myself. I didn’t seek traditional publication for it because I was unsure of the book’s genre and its ability to find success since teen superheroes weren’t a big thing back then. (They still kind of aren’t, even though superheroes in general are.) I plotted out the 3 book series, published 2 of them, and then got a magical email from my lovely editor at Alloy Entertainment.

It was magical because of several reasons. For one, Alloy’s manuscript submission website had been bookmarked on my computer for about 2 years. I can’t tell you how many times I stared at the screen, wanting to submit them my book, but was ultimately too chicken to do it. When I first talked to my editor, I’ll never forget what she said when I confessed that I’d always wanted to submit to them but feared rejection: “You should always submit. You never know when it’ll work out.”

The second magical thing about this email was that it came just a couple of weeks after I quit my job and moved to another town for my husband’s work. Getting that email was like a massive sign from the universe telling me that choosing to walk out on mechanical engineering and pursue my dream was worth it. And with all of the editing that came after I signed my contract, I know I wouldn’t have been able to maintain all of my deadlines if I still had a full time day job, so it really worked out well.

The third magical thing about the email was that it came in a time when I was really doubting myself as a writer. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure I’d finish the trilogy I’d set out to write when I first self-published City of Legends (back then it was called Powered). I was doubting every single thing about myself and my abilities, and I was this close to cancelling the entire thing. Alloy’s email changed it all. I finished the third book (wrote it in 27 days), we revamped the entire series, and it’s now better than I ever imagined it.

Can you explain the whole publishing/ agent thing? How does it work? How do you get an agent? Do you have to have an agent?

Gladly! Publishing is generally broken into 2 categories: self-publishing and traditional (or trade) publishing. I’d like to break it up into 3 and add small publishers to the list.

With Self-publishing, you simply do everything yourself. You can hire editors, cover artists, formatters, etc–trust me, there’s a ton of them just waiting to be hired–and then you can publish the book through Amazon, Nook, and the likes, all for free. I won’t go into the pros and cons of it because that would take too long, but the simple fact is that no matter what anyone says, self-publishing isn’t the same as trade publishing. Anyone can put anything out there and it doesn’t have to be good. Some people make a lot of money self-publishing, and others don’t make any.

Traditional publishing requires an author to have an excellent book and an agent. (More on agents in a sec.) Your agent will represent your book and pitch it to editors, who are the people who buy books for publishing houses/imprints. Once your book is bought, you receive an advance, which is a payment against royalties. So, if in your contract you earn $1 per book sold (just using fake numbers for example), and your advance is $10,000, you’ve been paid for the first 10,000 sales before the book is even out. Then, once it’s out, your first 10,000 sales will have to be sold to earn the advance, and then you’ll receive more payments on each book you sell above the amount to earn out your advance. If you never sell those 10,000 copies, you’ll never get paid anymore for that book.

With traditional publishing, all you have to do is write and edit. The publisher pays you for the book, and they pay for the editing, the cover art, the marketing, book printing, etc. It’s also more prestigious and easier to get noticed in bookstores when you have a book by a trade publisher. My ultimate goal as a writer is to see my book on bookshelves, and a trade publisher will get me there.

Small publishers are nearly identical to the big publishers, only with a few differences. The main difference is that most of them don’t require you to have an agent to submit your book to them. An author can submit directly to them and negotiate their own contract if they want to. Some small publishers pay advances, and some don’t. Some can get their books into bookstores, and some can’t. You most likely won’t have as much marketing power or visibility behind your book with a small publisher, but that’s not always a bad thing. Small publishers have a passion for books and work very hard for their authors, just like the big publishers do.

As for agents, no you don’t have to have one. I will say personally that I think having an agent is the BEST possible thing you can do for your career. Agents are your biggest advocates. They work exceptionally hard to make sure your book is a success.

You get an agent by researching them and finding agents who represent your genre and are looking for books similar to yours. Then you send them a query, which is typically done through email now, and it’s a 2-3 paragraph summary of your book that’s enticing and well-written and hooks them to read more. It can (and often does) take several submissions and several rejections before an author finds an agent. I recommend checking out Agent Query and Query Tracker before embarking on an agent search.

Since you’re a full time writer, how do you always generate plot ideas. It’s hard to come up with a really good story idea.

I wish I knew the answer to this question! I am constantly in this weird state of thinking I don’t have enough ideas, and yet having more ideas than I have time to write. I think the only solution is to write down all of your ideas, even if they aren’t good. Read a ton of books, and when you don’t like something in the book, think of a way you’d make it better. Watch movies, and movie trailers. Sometimes my best ideas come to me while watching a movie trailer when my mind will come up with a unique idea sparked from the movie’s plot line. Also, pay attention to your surroundings. Listen and watch. Nearly all of my best ideas came to me because I was observing other people in their element. Recently, my daughter said something and I misheard her. I thought she said something completely different, and the words I thought she said made an amazing idea pop in my head. It’s now my newest WIP. (Which I can’t share online because I’m being secretive about it, hehe.) Whatever you do, don’t sit down with a blank piece of paper and try to think of something. It won’t work! You have to free your mind and keep it open and the ideas will come to you.

As for Indie publishing, how did you personally go about marketing? I know you’re not incredibly spammy like most other indie authors so I’m curious.

Firstly, THANK YOU FOR SAYING THIS. As I mentioned in my Twitter Etiquette post a few posts back, I absolutely loathe authors who are spam robots. Shouting your book into the internet 50 times a day isn’t going to sell any copies. At most, you’ll just piss a lot of people off.

The thing is, authors who spend all their time promoting must not have any time for writing. I’d prefer to write. As for marketing, all of my closest author friends have heard me say this at least once: I suck at marketing. So I simply don’t do it.

Sure, I post about my books, or make a Pinterest inspiration board, or join group giveaways in efforts to make my book more visible to the public. But those are all just ways of me being me. It’s my way of being a genuine person who occasionally talks about my books because they’re important to me.

Marketing is a dirty word in my opinion. The internet is filled with snake-like people trying to sell you their courses on getting rich by marketing, keywords, SEO, paid advertisements, etc, etc, etc, and it just makes me want to scream. I get about 1 email a day from someone cold-emailing me trying to sell me their “get rich quick” book promotion services, and let me tell you: the only people getting rich off those scams are the people selling them to hopeful authors.

So to answer the question of how I go about marketing, the only answer I can really give is that I’m just myself. I make friends online and talk about books and let social media know when I have a new book out. Over time, I’ve developed relationships with bloggers and readers, and in my opinion, word of mouth from people who genuinely care about my books is the best form of marketing there is. I can only hope that my readership will grow over time and that each new release will have a better sales record than the one before it.

*So there we have it, writing and publishing advice from someone who’s been at this since 2008. I have 4 self published novels for teens, The City of Legends series published by Alloy Entertainment, and The Break Up Support Group will be published in November by Swoon Romance, a small publisher. I recently signed with a wonderful agent, and hope to have more books published in the future!