CURRENTLY: The Feast or Fallow Edition

If all goes as planned, I’ll do a CURRENTLY post every other Tuesday—I heard of this through fellow 2017 debut author Katy Upperman, and you can find the origins of the idea here.

 

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LOVING

There’s been a lot to love since my last post, but one thing that’s had me glowing for over a week is that I received my first official Goodreads review for THE SANDCASTLE EMPIRE, thanks to Anna Priemaza, a lovely and talented writer who’s also a member of the 2017 debut group. Check out the review here if you want to see the thing that made me cry ALL THE HAPPY TEARS, and then hop over to Anna’s page to put her debut (IF YOU CAN’T FLY, HarperTeen, Fall 2017) on your to-read list, too!

READING

I’ve devoted more time than usual to reading over the past few weeks, and have been lucky enough to read some *excellent* stuff. Three of the four books I devoured were fellow 2017 debuts, and YOU GUYS. If this small sampling is any indication of what next year’s shelves will look like, it’s going to be an incredible year!

51F328DBdqL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Kristen Orlando’s YOU DON’T KNOW MY NAME (Macmillan, January 2017) built to a sizzling intensity that had me biting my nails and turning pages so, so fast (and even inspired me to do some terribly executed push-ups—suffice it to say I was *quite* impressed with main character Reagan’s endurance/strength/skills).

Anna Priemaza’s IF YOU CAN’T FLY was the friendship book I never knew I needed—there’s so much quirk and awesomeness packed into it, with tons of heart and characters I missed long after the book was over.

Lastly, Lana Popović’s WICKED LIKE A WILDFIRE (Katherine Tegen, Summer 2017) was full of stunning imagery and language—so many gorgeous visuals, a setting that popped off the page, food I could almost smell and taste—and a story that wholly captivated my attention from the very first line, until I had no more pages left to turn.

The fourth book I read—and the only one with a cover I can share, at this point—was Claire Legrand‘s SOME KIND OF HAPPINESS, which hit shelves a week ago. This book resonated with me on so many levels, and was so skillfully executed. I highly recommend you drop whatever you’re doing, head to your nearest bookstore, and spend the rest of the day devouring this one.

WATCHING

The live-action Beauty and the Beast trailer (starring Emma Watson!!)—need I say more?

LISTENING TO

The sound of my treadmill (as I use it). LOOK AT ME CRUSHING MY GOALS, YOU GUYS.

THINKING ABOUT

Last night, I came across this excellent post by (the very wise) Kristan Hoffman, about how necessary it is to build in seasons of rest instead of falling into the trap of I have free time, therefore I’d better USE IT WISELY and PRODUCE ALL THE THINGS, OR ELSE. This exact topic had already been on my mind for some time—I’m in the middle of a rest-and-refresh sort of season right now, and have been going back and forth about how hard to push myself to produce while between official deadlines for things. I found this post incredibly refreshing, an excellent reminder that it’s okay (and even necessary!) to build breaks into my schedule in order to replenish my mind and my body. Thanks so much for the perspective, Kristan!


ANTICIPATING

I get to see Claire (as in Legrand, as in the aforementioned book you really should already be at the bookstore shopping for)(or just click here) again this weekend, and I’m so excited! If you’re in the North Texas area this Saturday, Claire is doing an event at the Barnes & Noble in Highland Village—see this tweet for time/location details!

WISHING

This week, I’m wishing I didn’t have to wait forever for the next season of Jane the Virgin. (THIS MOST RECENT SEASON FINALE, YOU GUYSSSS—EEP.) Yesterday, I kept thinking, “Oh, yay, it’s Monday! A new Jane!” aaaaand then realizing, oh, wait, no. SADNESS.

MAKING ME HAPPY

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Earlier this month, a bunch of the 2017 debut group authors (myself included!) did a ten-day-long Instagram challenge. I had a blast putting together all my photos—a handful are devoted to THE SANDCASTLE EMPIRE (like the one included here), a couple are writing advice related, and several more are devoted to other YA debuts. You can find all of this over at my Instagram, @authorkaylaolson, and if you’re interested in seeing the rest of the Swanky Seventeens’ posts, check out the hashtag #swanky17photochallenge.

Okay, that’s it for today! If you’ve also done a CURRENTLY post, tweet it to me @olsonkayla *or* leave a link in the comments so I can check it out!

The seeds, the water, the sun.

Over the weekend, a good friend asked if I might be willing to share a little about how I use journaling in my writing process to turn idea-seeds into plots. No matter where I am on a project—whether I’m just starting out, or coming back to a first draft after some time off, or stuck on a certain sequence, or trying to figure out problems in revision—putting pen to paper has become a fairly reliable way of digging myself out.

First things first: I’m not the sort of person who can dream up new ideas while on the treadmill, or while driving—there’s just something about the physical act of writing out my thoughts that puts me in a focused mindset. Whenever I start writing out my thoughts on a character, or plot element, or world-building detail, it’s amazing how new details and connections start appearing on the page.

So…how do those connections happen? Aside from “magically,” I’m not sure there’s an easy answer. I think it really is like planting seeds: you water them by journaling, and then hope the sun does its thing to make them grow. I can only tell you how I do the water.

1: In order to plant seeds, you must first…have seeds.

What are you trying to figure out? Maybe it’s the earliest spark of an idea, or a character, or a world. Maybe you’re three-quarters of the way through your draft, trying to figure out which threads to weave into an ending, which ones to leave loose. Maybe you’re six drafts in, stuck on that one revision idea that makes SO MUCH SENSE but is causing your eye to twitch. Wherever you are in the process, figure out what you’re trying to figure out. Make a list. These are your seeds.

2: Take them one by one.

Devote (at least) an entire work session to this: even though the journaling won’t directly contribute to your word count, the time spent on it will help you write a higher quantity of quality words whenever you next sit down with the project. It’s worth it. When I journal, I write things out by hand, rather than typing them, because it feels more immersive to me. I start with the first seed, focus on it for as long as it takes for an idea to spark (more on that in the next point), then move to the next item on the list. Repeat until your hand falls off, or until done with the list.

3: As long as it takes.

So what do I actually write? Usually, I start off just by stating the facts: what I already know about the character/situation/etc. If I’m trying to sort out a problem, I’ll write out the facts about what the problem is—what’s happening currently, what’s getting in the way of it working like it should. And then, I dig. I explore. I write about the character’s family, about how she feels about her family, how she feels about whatever else is happening in her world. Or maybe it’s more broad than that: I’m creating a future world, and I want it to feel like this, so what sorts of new developments might they have? How are those developments both a blessing and a curse to the people who use them? How does the world look because of those things? The longer you dig, the more information you’ll turn over. Eventually, something will just start to glow at you, and you’ll be like THIS. THIS IS THE THING. As you move down your list of idea seeds, more of those things start to pop up, and you’ll start to see connections between them. I journal for as long as it takes to see THE THING for any given item, then move on to the next.

4: Don’t stop there.

If you’re anything like me, when you’ve worked through your list and had numerous breakthrough moments, it’ll be tempting to think, “Oh, yes, I now have a great grasp on my project!” And certainly, you’ll be holding more of it in your head than before. But how do you turn that into something? How do you actually make those connections happen on the page?

For me, the key thing is this (especially before diving in to a revision): make a concrete plan. Make a new list of your breakthroughs, then journal about those, with the goal of figuring out some concrete ways to work them in. If you’re revising, that might look like making notes to yourself that say change this reaction in Chapter Fourteen or insert worldbuilding details in Chapter Four, since that’s where this issue is first introduced, then follow up later—things like that, as specific as possible. I make two bullet-point lists: one is a ‘global’ list, things I need to watch out for throughout the entirety of the project; the other is a ‘local’ list, anything specific to a particular scene or sequence.

If you’re just beginning to figure out your plot, structure is your best friend. There are lots of resources out there on structure—this and this, for example. Shape your breakthrough ideas until you see a way to tie internal/character arcs to external/plot ones. Give your characters tough choices, ones that pit ethics and convictions against each other, if possible. You don’t have to know every single turn of the story (personally, I work best when allowing for surprises along the way), but it helps to have at least a few checkpoints to work toward. Journal things out until you can feel the shape of your story starting to solidify.

5: Don’t drown your seeds.

Journaling is only helpful until it isn’t: don’t get so caught up in it that you never end up actually writing the book. Too much water will drown your seeds, right? Take a day, two, a couple of weeks, if that’s what you need—but always with a goal in mind, always looking for a breakthrough you can latch on to so you can get back to working on the actual book. Sometimes you just have to start writing and discover things along the way. You can always go back to the journaling, later, if you get stuck.

I’d love to hear how *you* work through plotting/revision issues—feel free to leave comments here, or tweet to me at @olsonkayla. Happy writing, everyone!

 

CURRENTLY: The Baby Kangaroo Edition

If all goes as planned, I’ll do a CURRENTLY post every other Tuesday—I heard of this through fellow 2017 debut author Katy Upperman, and you can find the origins of the idea here.

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LOVING

April has been an incredibly eventful month. Last week, I attended both TLA’s annual conference and the North Texas Teen Book Festival—hello, exhaustion! Of all the things I expected to find at TLA (books, authors, more books, more authors), I did not expect to encounter the world’s most adorable baby kangaroo. Why was there a baby kangaroo at TLA? No one really knows. Did that stop us from collectively freaking out over him? Definitely not.

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Benjamin Button: the softest, sleepiest, sweetest kangaroo on the planet. (Not that I have any other kangaroo experiences for comparison…)

READING

Between TLA and NTTBF and endless hours on the road, I didn’t have many opportunities to sit and read. I’ve been stealing reading breaks wherever possible, though, because I’m reading WICKED LIKE A WILDFIRE by Lana Popović (formerly titled HIBISCUS DAUGHTER) and hoooooooooooly gorgeous writing, you guys. Every time I dive in, I’m transported instantly to the world she’s created—I can see it, smell it, taste it, and it is wonderful. I’m kind of just lingering in it as long as I can because I don’t want it to end. So! Yeeeeeah. More on this after I’ve officially finished it, but suffice it to say I think you should head directly to Goodreads and prioritize this book for your Summer 2017 reading lists.

WATCHING

Panels, panels, panels—and the over 8,000 teens who were *super* excited about their favorite authors. The North Texas Teen Book Festival was overflowing with talent, and I had a great time listening to them share wisdom/insight/random fun tidbits about their books and writing processes. Pro tip: if you’re ever at a book festival where Sarah Enni is moderating, you can bet her panels will always be full of rich conversation! (No pressure, Sarah! ❤)(Check out Sarah’s podcast here, btw.)

LISTENING TO

41199682-fa08-4cca-9691-bfdd5163c812_12731_CUSTOMHAMILTON! It had been a while since I’d listened to the entire soundtrack from start to finish, but I devoured it in a single sitting while driving home from TLA. So good! So sad! So brilliant! So extremely fun to sing! What’s your favorite track, if you’re into Hamilton? My favorites change every day…I love to sing the first four, along with “Guns and Ships” and “Yorktown”…and “Wait for It” is such an emotional powerhouse…you guys, they’re all just SO GREAT!

THINKING ABOUT

This week, I’m thinking about how wonderful the writing community is. I love how warm and welcoming other writers are, even if we’ve never met before, simply because we share common ground: we love to create, we put in hours and days and months and years of work, we write because we love the process but also because we want to connect with readers and share our stories. To the writers I connected with last week—the ones I had drinks with, the ones I shared a room with, the ones who I bonded with over the aforementioned baby kangaroo, and everyone I got to chat with in passing—thank you for being so warm and wonderful. I’m also excited because I got to meet a fellow member of the 2017 debut group, along with some lovely members of Team Root:

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Fellow 2017 debut author Caroline Leech (WAIT FOR ME, HarperTeen, January 2017) and I got to spend time with my friend Hannah K. West, whose beautiful book KINGDOM OF ASH AND BRIARS comes out September 15, 2016!

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Kirsten Squires, S.J. Kincaid, and I all share a literary agent (Holly Root)—Kirsten and I are so excited to read S.J.’s book, THE DIABOLIC (Simon & Schuster / November 1, 2016)!


ANTICIPATING

In just a few short weeks, Alison Cherry is coming to visit me in Texas, and *basically* we are going to have an amazing time. You’ll find me bouncing in anticipation until then! (This is also because we’re planning a whirlwind trip to Austin, where I will eat ALL THE BREAKFAST TACOS!)

 

WISHING

This week, I’m wishing I could plug in and recharge as easily as my laptop does. After a week of late nights, early mornings, thousands of steps, and endless, monotonous highways has me feeling more than a little worn out. It was a really great week, and very much worth the exhaustion, but I’ll definitely approach busy weeks more thoughtfully in the future.

MAKING ME HAPPY

Ever since last fall, when I moved Austin, an awful stretch of I-35 has separated me from some wonderful writer friends—this week, though, one of those friends is visiting me! AND she brought me a giant package of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups. (I’ve also been separated from those by said awful stretch of I-35, so this was a particularly timely and delightful surprise!) Thank you for coming to visit, China DeSpain!! ❤

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China! And chocolate! In my kitchen! *insert happy Kayla here*

Okay, that’s it for today! If you’ve also done a CURRENTLY post, tweet it to me @olsonkayla *or* leave a link in the comments so I can check it out!

CURRENTLY: The Practice Makes Awesome Edition

If all goes as planned, I’ll do a CURRENTLY post every other Tuesday—I heard of this through fellow 2017 debut author Katy Upperman, and you can find the origins of the idea here.

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LOVING

I’ve always been a huge fan of productivity systems / making goals / cuteness, so when I discovered the world of bullet journaling—which, essentially, combines all of the above—I quickly fell in love. Just look! You can customize the layout however you want to, make to-do lists galore! I’m…definitely a fan.

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READING

Since my last post, I basically devoured Lindsay Ribar’s ROCKS FALL EVERYONE DIES (Kathy Dawson Books/ June 7, 2016)—it was so compelling, and I absolutely could not put it down. Goodreads describes it as a paranormal suspense novel about a boy who can reach inside people and steal their innermost things—fears, memories, scars, even love—and his family’s secret ritual that for centuries has kept the cliff above their small town from collapsing. If this sounds awesome to you (because it obviously should), you can read more about it and/or preorder here51vX-MacqDL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

WATCHING

If you love the Hamilton soundtrack as much as I do, and if you love watching other people doing really cool things, check out these Hamilton-inspired videos: Batlexander Manilton, which is exactly as amazing as it sounds, and this a cappella group’s let’s-do-the-entire-show-in-seven-minutes video (the amazing talent here more than makes up for the poor lighting / oodles of awkward eye contact / questionable shirt choices).

LISTENING TO

dinosaursThis week, I’m listening to the advice carried on the tiny arms of my dinosaur planters: PRACTICE MAKES AWESOME and EXPLORE. DREAM. DISCOVER.

THINKING ABOUT

I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month, which means I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my shiny new project! Can’t say too much about it here just yet, but suffice it to say I’m having a really good time getting into the story and the characters.


ANTICIPATING

Next week is huge for book events in Texas—I’m still majorly anticipating TLA and NTTBF. The writing community in Texas is incredible, so it’ll be fun to reconnect with old friends. I’m also excited about meeting S.J. Kincaid, a Twitter friend/fellow member of Team Root. (Have you heard of her new book The Diabolic? The cover is insanely gorgeous, and the book itself sounds like something I need in my life, like, yesterday. Terminator meets House of Cards?? YES.)(I mean, really: read this article and just try not to get extremely excited. I dare you.)

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WISHING

I did my very first Sandcastle Empire-related interview last week, and it was so much fun—alas, though, the question about what would you take to a desert island has me majorly wishing for Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups. This is an ‘alas’ because I don’t live close enough to be addicted to them anymore. Sigh. Please go out and devour entire containers of them *for* me, since I can’t? And while you’re eating them (and smiling)(blissfully), check out the interview here!

MAKING ME HAPPY

The past couple of weeks have been even more productive than usual thanks to fellow 2017 debut group friend Kristen Orlando—we’ve been keeping each other accountable, texting updates about our writing goals/progress. It’s been so much fun getting to know her better, not to mention so seriously HELPFUL. You’re wonderful, Kristen! (Now get back to work if you haven’t finished Chapter Four…)

Okay, that’s it for today! If you’ve also done a CURRENTLY post, tweet it to me @olsonkayla *or* leave a link in the comments so I can check it out!

CURRENTLY: THE WILD GIFT / SCRIPTNOTES EDITION

If all goes as planned, I’ll do a CURRENTLY post every other Tuesday—I heard of this through fellow 2017 debut author Katy Upperman, and you can find the origins of the idea here.

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LOVING

French press sweater

(Yes, indeed I *do* occasionally knit sweaters for my French press.)

When I moved from Austin last October, I feared I’d never find anything as good as the Wild Gift coffee beans sold at Thunderbird. Fortunately, I had nothing to worry about—Denton has some incredible coffee shops here that are just spilling over with atmosphere and some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. I’m really loving Bookish Coffee these days, fresh from the French press. I’m sorry to say they don’t sell it online, but you *can* order your own bag of Wild Gift coffee! (Things tend to be pretty seasonal over there, as far as the selection goes, but look out for their Firecracker, Troublemaker, or Ethiopian beans!)

 

READING

I’ve been working on several writing projects lately, so pretty much all of my reading time has been spent on those. I’m hoping to do some just-for-fun reading again soon, though, starting with ROCKS FALL, EVERYONE DIES (Lindsay Ribar) and KINGDOM OF ASH AND BRIARS (Hannah K. West)—these books are staring at me from my iPad, begging to be read, and I am soooo excited to dive in!

WATCHING

I could go on and on about how much I love Jane the Virgin and The Mindy Project, but in short—I waited way too long to start watching these, and I’m *SO* glad I finally did! I’m all caught up with Jane right now (ugh, the waiting between new episodes!), but at least I still have a couple more seasons of Mindy to marathon.

LISTENING TO

scriptnotesScriptnotes podcasts! When I’m driving, when I’m on the treadmill, when I’m doing dishes—I’ve gotten completely addicted to these. I started listening to screenwriting podcasts late last August, when I found out a film agent* wanted to start sending my project out. (*Shout-out to Mary Pender-Coplan, who is amazing! See also: Leonardo DiCaprio + Paramount, which she put in motion.) Screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin offer insight into a wide variety of topics—even though I write books, not screenplays, I’ve learned so much from them. No matter the topic, they consistently offer up their thoughts and opinions in a way that’s refreshing and broadens my perspective. The only downside: it’s so motivating I’ve jumped off the treadmill early, to go write, more times than I care to admit.

THINKING ABOUT

I’ve been brainstorming a couple of new projects, so my mind is full of ALL THE POSSIBILITY. Though I love all parts of the writing process for different reasons, this phase is particularly fun—discovering characters for the first time, seeing the bones of plot and structure start to take shape. Next up: drafting!

ANTICIPATING

I’m super excited about April, and the two bookish events where I’ll get to reconnect with writer friends: TXLA in Houston, and the North Texas Teen Book Festival in Irving. Let me know if you’ll be at either one of those events—I’d love to say hi, whether we’re old friends or just meeting or somewhere in between.

WISHING

I recently joined the 2017 debut author group, and you guys, there are SO MANY amazing-sounding books coming out next year. I wish I could read them all right now! I hesitate to even start listing out books I’m excited for—there are so many, seriously—but I’m hearing excellent things about Stephanie Garber’s CARAVAL, and am also majorly anticipating Lana Popovic’s HIBISCUS DAUGHTER duology (we share the lovely Taylor Haggerty as an agent). Here are a couple of Goodreads lists where you can check out allll the books and vote for the ones you’re most excited to read: YA 2017 Debuts + 2017 Debut YA/MG Novels. My book, THE SANDCASTLE EMPIRE, has landed on both lists—if you haven’t already, and you’re so inclined, feel free to vote and/or add it to your to-read list.

MAKING ME HAPPY

Cet0q21W8AA_ODg.jpg-largeAlison Cherry’s THE CLASSY CROOKS CLUB hits shelves today! If we’re friends on Twitter, you’ve already seen me tweeting my love for this book, BUT SERIOUSLY. When I first read it, the tentative title was Heist Grannies, and really, do you need to know any more than that? I have so much admiration for Alison’s deft skill at weaving subtle plot threads together, always with tons of humor and heart. ❤

Okay, that’s it for today! If you’ve also done a CURRENTLY post, tweet it to me @olsonkayla *or* leave a link in the comments so I can check it out!

Stop to Smell the Coffee

Earlier this week, I wrote a bit about all the projects bouncing around in my head, and the system I’ve developed to help me work through them efficiently. There’s always more to be done on any given project, and I’m excited and motivated to make progress—sounds great, right? And it is!

But.

If I’m not careful, my days—weeks—months—have the potential to turn into an efficiency machine. I could look up, one day, only to find that time has just completely evaporated.

I’ve been making plans lately. A conference in April, a friend coming to visit in May, a family reunion in June, writer retreats in June and August and October. 2016 feels full already, and it’s, what—end-of-March right now? Not to mention that my book, THE SANDCASTLE EMPIRE, will hit shelves in the summer of 2017, and I’ve joined a group full of other authors who’ll debut in 2017, and we’re signing up on spreadsheets to read each other’s books…

It feels like I could easily be so efficient I end up missing the next year and a half. Which seems…not ideal.

So, what to do about this? Simply ‘doing less’ doesn’t feel like the best solution, because I take so much joy in the actual creation of these projects. And it’s definitely not possible to stop time from going so fast—I do wonder, though, if it’s possible to stop it from feeling like it’s going so fast.

Here’s what I’m trying: mindfulness.

Smelling the coffee as I put the grounds in the French press, as I pour water over it. Tasting the arrabbiata sauce—or the honey and ginger and cayenne in my oatmeal—or my go-to snack of chocolate chips/spoonful of almond butter—instead of just inhaling my food. Looking out the window to see the leaves coming in on the branches of our trees. Going on walks and looking at the sky, or the landscaping in our neighbors’ yards, instead of the sidewalk.

Things like that.

I think it’s possible to be completely efficient and functional, yet effectively turn into some sort of sleepwalker. I don’t want to sleepwalk. I want to be awake. So here’s to paying attention, to making a conscious decision to notice things as they’re happening, to taking joy in all the little pieces that add up to a day in the life.

 

 

Projects at a Glance

HELLO!

It’s been a while since my last post—I’ve had a lot of exciting things going on, to say the least. (Book news!) (Film news!) On top of that, I was in the revision cave for quite some time. Now that I’m out of said cave, at least for a little while, I’m faced with a new question: which project should I focus on next?

I don’t know about you guys, but when I’m revising, Shiny New Ideas start popping up out of the woodwork like crazy. I’m a single-focus kind of girl—I like to finish one thing before diving into another—but when it comes to Shiny New Ideas, I allow myself to cheat juuuust a little. I open a fresh Scrivener file and write the first page, trying my best to nail down the voice. That way it’s easier to dive in later, when I actually have time to focus on it.

I’ve accumulated quite a few of these idea sparks. Add in the couple of projects in need of another revision pass, and I’ve got my work cut out for me for the next…long stretch of time.

With so many projects I’m excited to tackle, I needed an efficient way to stay on top of them. Not sure why I never thought of this until this week, but I’ve come up with a super-easy, super-organized system: yet another fresh Scrivener project! Instead of chapter files filled with words, this time I’m basically using the files as a to-do list, one file per project.

Here’s a screenshot of my system:

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And here’s the system itself, broken down:

  • Create one file per project, using your project title as the heading. (I’ve used acronyms for the sake of this blog post.) Put them all in a folder—if you look in the left column, you’ll see I’ve oh-so-creatively titled my folder PROJECTS. To see the bulletin board view as it appears in the screenshot, click on the folder, then select the bulletin board option (as opposed to simple document viewing or outline mode).
  • Write status notes on the index card: what’s been accomplished so far, any next steps you’re planning to take.
  • Customize your labels: I’ve labeled mine current focus (purplish blue), frontburner (pink), complete: awaiting next steps (green), partially complete: awaiting next steps (light blue), backburner (gray).
  • Assign labels to each project, and if you want to, change your settings so the color shows up on the card itself.
  • Put them in order of priority by dragging them around the bulletin board. When you finish something, change the color to green/light blue—then change one of your pinks to purplish blue—and reposition the project accordingly.
  • How I prioritize depends on a number of factors: how much time I have before going back to the revision cave (projects under contract always trump whatever else I have going on, but there are built-in breaks after you turn in a draft), what kind of work is needed for each project, etc. If I only have a week or two, I’ll move brainstorm and write synopsis sorts of things to the frontburner. If I have a month or longer, I’ll focus on drafting or revising. If I don’t know how much time I’ll have, I do the quicker things first and then move on to the more involved ones.

That’s it! Not complicated, really. If you keep up with the system, it should be easy to stay on top of your projects—the far more difficult task, for me, is choosing between ideas I love when there’s no clear reason to prioritize one over the other (the reason I have three projects marked pink right now!).

Happy writing/revising/geeking out over color-coded organizational systems!

 

The only way out is through.

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about being a writer, and how it so often boils down to perseverance in the face of all you can’t control.

How, when you start out, you’re just trying to get a hundred words written. Then a thousand. Then thousands, and if you’re really committed, you finish a draft. And then what? You read it, analyze it, figure out how to tear it apart, figure out which pieces you want to piece back together again.

You revise. You send to critique partners, and they poke innumerable holes in your work. You patch the holes, hope it stays intact. You repeat this over and over, until it either falls completely apart or turns into something watertight (sometimes both, if you’re really determined not to quit). Eventually, you finish. You celebrate.

And then you forget.

It’s suddenly not enough to have finished, not enough to love this thing you worked so hard to create. You want other people to love it. You want an agent. You want an editor. You want readers to pick it up off of bookstore shelves, you want them to wish for six Goodreads stars instead of five, you want and want and want. It’s an endless string of want, if you let it get out of control, and it can tangle and strangle if you give too much weight to the validation that comes from other people saying YES.

It’s not bad to crave those things. It’s just not always helpful. 

Because all of that—every bit of it that isn’t write the book you love, write the book you’re PROUD of—is something that’s out of your control.

I made a goal, a long time ago, and it’s this: be grateful for every single step along the way. Be grateful for the people who read, even if they only say thank you, but no in return. Learning how to write through thank you, but no is a tough, but INCREDIBLY valuable, skill to acquire. Be proud of finishing, proud of finishing something you love, proud of all the time and energy and effort and patience and early mornings and late nights. Proud of tunneling through mountains with plastic spoons, essentially. Proud of conquering the only way out is through.

Do your very best with all that’s within your control.

Love the process. Love the people you meet along the way.

Be patient. Be grateful. Persevere.

On Scrivener: Cheat Sheet

Series map: DRAFTING ➳ GETTING ORGANIZED ➳ RESEARCH/PLANNING TOOLS ➳ REVISING ➳ CHEAT SHEET

Here are some of my favorite features + how to find them. Note: I am only familiar with the Mac version of Scrivener—I’ve heard there are some differences between the Mac and PC versions. If you’re working with the PC version, you might have to do a bit of digging to figure out the PC equivalent of these Mac shortcuts. Also, this is by no means an extensive list of Scrivener’s features! These are just the ones I use most often.

Split-screen. Click the little rectangle in the upper right corner of your document screen. You can split vertically or horizontally using: View > Layout > Split Horizontally/Split Vertically.

 The inspector column. Click the blue circle with an i in it to reveal the inspector column. The column includes a synopsis index card, a ‘general’ section where you can assign labels/statuses and other specific information, and a third section where you can choose to view project notes, document notes, keywords, snapshots, or comments/footnotes you’ve assigned. (Toggle easily between project and document notes by using Command-6 on a Mac.)

➳ Customizable labels. In the general section of the inspector column, you can customize your labels by clicking into the drop-down list and selecting edit. Double-click on the colored rectangles to choose your own color (and in the color selector, there’s a color wheel if you don’t like any of the pre-selected options). You can also customize the “Status” section, but there are no colors involved.

➳ How to color-code your binder folders/documents. After you’ve customized your labels, you’ll want to use them, of course. Right-click on any folder or document in your binder column, and you should see “Label” in your list of choices. Select it, then assign a label to it. You could also simply use the drop-down menu in the general section of the inspector. If your colors aren’t showing up in the column—or on your index card—go to View > Use Label Color In > [select all that apply]

➳ Composition mode. Click on the black icon with arrows that point diagonally—or simply go to View > Enter Composition Mode—and your document will take the spotlight, with side margins blacked out. Once in composition mode, you can make the black margins as dark or light as you want using “Background Fade” in the lower right corner. Check out the other options at the bottom of the screen, too: you can change your paper width, zoom in/out, pull up a keyword window, or pull up your document/project notes. To get out of composition mode, hit escape.

➳ Full-screen. If you have a ton of information to look at, full-screen is incredibly helpful. Click View > Enter Full Screen, and your workspace will expand. To get back out of it, use View > Exit Full Screen.

➳ Project notes/document notes. Found at the bottom of the inspector column, the project notes/document notes sections are incredibly versatile and useful. Track scene/chapter-specific notes in the document section—changes you need to make, ideas you want to write about, etc.—and big-picture notes in the project section. Toggle between these (on Mac) using Command-6.

➳ Snapshots. Snapshots are one method of saving an exact version of a scene—so useful if you’re not quite ready to commit to the changes you’re about to make. All of your snapshot options can be found under Documents > Snapshots > [choose the option that best suits your needs].

➳ Keywords. You can track pretty much anything with keywords: character appearances, issues you need to revise, etc. In the Keywords section of the inspector (found at the bottom of the inspector column—click the key icon), click the + to assign one or more keywords to a document. Later, you can pull up a list of all keywords you’ve added by going to Project > Show Project Keywords. Select which keyword you’re focusing on, click search in the bottom right, and Scrivener will pull up all scenes that have been tagged with that keyword. (To get out of the column it pulls up, so you can see your main binder list again, click the x in the bottom right of that search column.)

➳ Icons. Yet another way to label information at a glance, assign icons like stars/thought-bubbles/idea light-bulbs to the files in your binder column by right-clicking the document > Change Icon > choose.

➳ Outline mode. Found under View > Outline. Select the documents you want to appear in your outline. To customize what information you see, click the ≫ in the far right corner of the gray bar just above the outline, then check everything you need.

➳ Project targets. Set wordcount goals, and track them, using Projects > Show Project Targets. Once that window is up, click “Options” to specify which days you plan to work. You can also give yourself a deadline here. Stats automatically calculate, and you can choose when you want it to start fresh. Click “Edit” to modify your total goal number.

For the other posts in this series, check out the ‘series map’ links, above. For more information about downloading the Scrivener software itself, go here. This is not a sponsored series of posts—I simply love the product and hope to help others get as much out of it as I have.

On Scrivener: Revising

Series map: DRAFTING ➳ GETTING ORGANIZED ➳ RESEARCH/PLANNING TOOLS ➳ REVISING ➳ CHEAT SHEET

I said this before, in one of the other posts, but—for me—Scrivener shines brightest whenever I’m in full-fledged revision mode. I’ve used this method for two years now, and it’s been essential in helping me work my way through a draft in a manner that’s both thorough and efficient.

Streamlining feedback. In this post, I mentioned that I keep all feedback (my own notes + any I’ve received from critique partners/agents) in a single folder. Before I change a single word in my manuscript, I go through all my feedback documents and streamline them into a single bullet-pointed list of to-do items. I copy/paste each comment; then, in parentheses, I make note of the commenter’s initials and the corresponding chapter number. I order the comments chronologically. This might seem like a total time-suck, but it is MAGIC. This is what I like to call productive procrastination—going through the comments like this, one-by-one, gives my mind a better grasp on the landscape of the entire manuscript, the issues I need to address, and my plan of attack.

➳ Time + journal. This part of my process doesn’t use Scrivener, but it’s SO important, I couldn’t leave it out. While compiling all feedback into a list, recurring issues start to surface. Some are easy fixes, some are tricky. For the tricky ones, I take out a notebook and pen, and journal out thoughts about each issue on paper—the goal here is to make overwhelming changes feel more manageable, and to come up with concrete ideas on how to address the issue in the manuscript. It’s important (for my process, anyway) that I have these concrete ideas, my plan of attack, before making any changes to the actual manuscript.

➳ List management. I read a blog post by Veronica Roth once that touched on her method of revising, which uses “Global” and “Local” revision documents. Basically, after she compiles all feedback, she splits them into two documents: one for things that can be easily pinpointed/changed in a specific location (the “Local” document) and one for changes that will affect the manuscript as a whole (“Global” document). I’ve adopted this method, and it’s been incredibly effective! In addition to the notes in my original bullet-pointed list, I also include the solutions/concrete plan-of-attack ideas I came up with while journaling, spreading them throughout my lists according to their corresponding chapter numbers.

➳ Sections. I find it much easier to hold an entire manuscript in my head if I break it up into parts. I usually work in five sections, dividing them where it feels logical. For me, these breaks usually fall at the end of a big sequence, or at the midpoint, or just before a big shift in setting—really, you can divide them anywhere that makes sense to you. It’s basically just something I do to make the project feel less huge as I’m working my way through it. I make folders for each section in the Binder, and group all my chapter files into their appropriate folders. I also print my manuscript (two pages per sheet of paper) and divide it into the same sections. Lastly, I break my bullet-pointed to-do lists up by section, too. The goal: knock out one section at a time until there are no more sections left to knock out.

Split-screen*. I always keep my current scene open on the left side, and my to-do list open on the right. I consult the ‘global’ list briefly before starting—this helps me keep in mind the changes that aren’t so easy to cross off a list (have this character dig for more information throughout, work on the relationship dynamic between these other two characters, work on the pacing in Section II, etc.). The ‘local’ list is the one I keep open most of the time.

One chapter at a time. Making changes on any given chapter entails the following, for me:

Consult ‘global’ list so I can keep my eye out for places to work in those changes.

Consult ‘local’ list for the specific things that need consideration—typos, confusing wording, issues of logic, anything else that’s been pointed out. Even if you’re not sure you agree with the feedback, this is the time to consider it.

Read the chapter on paper, with purple/orange/pink pen in hand. I make changes on paper first, for the entire chapter.

➳ Make changes in Scrivener based on my on-paper changes. There are two reasons I make changes on paper first. One: it’s good to get the feel for the entire chapter before changing things—I sometimes make a change and find, four paragraphs later, something that renders my tweaks problematic. This way, I can scratch things out over and over on paper, rewrite—then I’ll be confident the file is clean when I go to put the changes in on Scrivener. The other reason: it’s an opportunity to double-edit the work, adjusting with tiny tweaks as I type in the changes.

➳ Check things off—this is super satisfying for me. After I’ve input all the changes in my Scrivener file, I draw a huge check mark through my on-paper page. Then, I go through and color-code…um…everything.

➳ Color-coding*. Every chapter/folder starts out red (my color for ‘to-do’), and every item on my bullet-pointed list starts out black. When I’ve tackled all the comments for any given chapter, I turn the list’s comments gray and then change the chapter file to green (good-to-go) or orange (re-read this) or pink (this still needs tiny tweaks, but I’m not sure how to fix them, and I’m saving them for later). Once all the chapters in a section folder are green, I turn the entire file green and consider it done. I work, systematically, through all of my comments on all my lists, until I’m confident I’ve addressed everything as thoroughly as possible.

➳ Follow-up list. Sometimes, after much consideration, I’m still uncertain about whether or not to take action on a to-do list item. Or, I’ve stared at the chapter for an hour, made changes, and I’m too tired/familiar to be able to tell if the changes are actually working. In both cases, time away + fresh eyes = a world of difference. I make follow-up notes in a new list, then make sure to go back and tackle them before I call a draft good-to-go.

There are lots of other useful ways to use Scrivener—snapshots* and keywords* come to mind—but these are the bones of my process. I sprinkle in the other features as needed, but ultimately, it’s amazing how much of my revision process can be boiled down to lists, split-screen, and color-coding.

And, of course, there are as many methods for revisions as there are writers—this is just what works well for me, and I thought it’d be worth sharing in case anyone out there is similarly wired. I’d love, too, to hear how others make Scrivener work for their processes, so feel free to leave a comment if you’ve found a method you LOVE!

Happy writing and revising, all!

For the other posts in this series, check out the ‘series map’ links, above. For more information about downloading the Scrivener software itself, go here. This is not a sponsored series of posts—I simply love the product and hope to help others get as much out of it as I have.

*More information on this term in the CHEAT SHEET post

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