Posted in Writing

Why You Should Write Your First Draft Quickly

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In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,

“The first draft of a book — even a long one — should take no more than three months, the length of a season”

I’ve been writing novels for a long, long time — almost ten years now — and a lot has changed in my work since those early days. I’ve received two Masters degrees, one in English and one in Creative Writing. I’ve had some of my short stories published in literary magazines. I signed with an agent and now have a book on submission to editors. My writing has (God, I hope) gotten better over the years, and I feel like my newest manuscript I just finished in January might be my greatest one yet.

But one thing hasn’t changed about my writing at all since I wrote my first novel in 2010: I’ve never stopped writing my first drafts quickly. In nineteen novels over about a nine year period, the longest I’ve ever spent on a first draft was my MFA thesis novel in 2017. This particular novel, my most ambitious to date, took me ten weeks to write. Ten weeks for 110,000 words, my longest ever length of any of my books (my average first draft length is around 70,000 words). My MFA thesis novel was a project I’d been wanting to write for twelve years, it was my hardest novel to write by far, and the themes of that book were so dark and tragic that spending ten weeks in that world actually took a toll on my physical and mental health. When I finished that first draft in August of 2017, I felt like I could re-emerge into the world again, hang out with my friends, laugh. Two close family members passed away that summer too, making for what was three months of tremendous hardship I hope never to be repeated again.

However, at the end of the day, if I could go back to that summer, I still would have written the first draft of my MFA thesis as quickly as I did, trying to reach at least 2,000 words each time I sat down at the computer, because ultimately I’ve learned over the years that writing something that works means sticking with it every single day until you reach THE END. When you work on the first draft of a project, particularly a novel, only here and there, writing a few thousand words this day and a few thousand words a week later, and maybe 500 more words the following Saturday, and 300 words the following Wednesday, the world of your novel will never come to life for you. And when your novel, and your characters, remain stale on the page, they’re never going to come to life for the reader.

“But I don’t have the time to write every single day until I finish the first draft,” you might say. “I don’t have the time to write my first draft quickly.” When I use the word QUICKLY, I don’t necessarily mean I want you to pound out the first draft of a long novel in three weeks. I don’t necessarily mean you need to write, at all times, at least 2,000 words every day. If you can only find time to write 500 words a day, that’s totally fine. And if you have to take a day or a weekend off every week, that certainly works, too.

The thing is, however you can manage, the point of a first draft is to get the story down as best you can. A first draft doesn’t need to be perfect. It can be a total mess. If you sit there every day perfecting a single page of your manuscript, going over and over Chapter 1 to make sure every word of it rings true, you’re never going to finish your novel. You can’t be a perfection when it comes to the first draft. (You shouldn’t ever really be a perfectionist, because perfection in writing is basically impossible.) The purpose of a first draft is get the story down, and then you can truly begin the process of writing it, shaping it, finding what works and what doesn’t work. It’s a lot easier to get a novel right when there are words on the page than when there are no words on the page.

This is why I always recommend to other writers to finish their first drafts as quickly as possible. For some of you, this can mean a few weeks. I, for instance, look for any breaks in my yearly schedule where I might have time to write a new novel, and I will attack my latest project every single day I have the time to do so. I teach for most of the year, so, for example, my summers I usually have some time off, as well as a few weeks in the winter. For example, my recent winter vacation lasted four weeks, from the time I put in the final grades for the fall semester to starting up teaching again for the spring semester. Four weeks, for many of you, might seem way too short of a time to write an entire novel. There’s Christmas and New Year’s during that time for Pete’s sake, I know, I know.

But I had a glorious idea for a new story, one I’d been thinking about for more than a year, and the more I thought about it, the more passionate I became to write the story now, not later. In three days’ time, I wrote an outline and character bios, and thought to myself, yes, I can do this. I have to do this.

So on Saturday, December 15, 2018, I started writing the first draft of my new novel. Except for Christmas, I wrote every single day for the next four weeks. Every morning I sat down and wrote at least 2,000 words. Sometimes, when I was really rolling, I made it to 3,000 words. My craziest day ever I reached 3,800 words. And after 27 days of writing, I finished my new middle grade horror novel at about 60,000 words. On January 10, I had a completed new first draft of a novel. And a month earlier, on December 10, I not only hadn’t even started the novel yet, but I hadn’t even committed to writing it!

See what can change in a single month, especially if you put your mind to something? After nine years it continues to astonish me how much you can accomplish in writing in just a single month’s time. Now here it is in mid-February, I just completed the second draft of the new novel, and now my literary agent is taking a look at it. I’m sure there will be lots more drafts to come. (My book currently on submission to editors went through seventeen drafts over a three-year period!) But I couldn’t start really working on this story I’ve had in my heart for more than a year now if I hadn’t written that first draft quickly. If I hadn’t said, okay, one month, let’s focus totally on this, and make it the best it can be.

So when you think about writing a new project, realize you’re going to be in it for the long haul, that there will be lots of revisions in the months to come, but, if you can manage it, try to get that first draft down fast. Stephen King is right in that, whenever possible, the first draft of even a long novel should take you no more than three months. Don’t revise as you go along. Don’t overthink things. Sit down every day ready to create, and glorious things will happen, I guarantee it!

Posted in Writing

10 Things You Should Know Before Becoming a Novelist

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I have written nineteen novels in the last nine years. I’ve tried different genres, and books for different age markets. I’ve tried self-publishing, and I’ve tried going the traditional route. I’ve succeeded a little bit, and failed often. I have a literary agent now, and a book on submission. I’ve learned a lot these last few years, and I thought I’d share with you some pieces of advice…

1. The first drafts of novels are always hard, no matter how many books you’ve written.

As I said, I’ve written nineteen novels since 2010. The first draft of my first ever book was really hard, but when I finished it, I felt like I had climbed Mount Everest. The following year I managed to write four different novels. The year after that? I wrote three more. I’ve slowed down lately, but I’m still going strong. I wrote my MFA thesis novel in 2017. And I wrote my latest novel, a middle grade ghost story, between December 2018 and January 2019. I think my writing gets better with each new project I take on, but you know what stays the same? The difficulty. Even though I have lots more tricks up my sleeve today than I did in 2010, writing a first draft is always difficult. Don’t worry, though. What also remains the same is that it’s exhilarating each and every time, too.

2. Your first novel will probably not be the first of your novels that gets published.

I self-published my first few books, so actually, in my case, the first book I ever wrote was the first book I ever published. But looking back, I wouldn’t advise you to introduce yourself to the world with your very first novel. And if you go the traditional publishing route, you’re probably going to need two or three books, maybe more, before you get the attention of a literary agent or publisher. I’m one to know: it took me sixteen novels before a literary agent took a chance on me. That’s right, sixteen. And of those sixteen novels, I queried eight of them. Over seven years, I had some close calls on a few of my earlier projects, but it wasn’t until I wrote a middle grade adventure story that everything changed for me… in all the best ways.

3. Revision needs to go beyond two or three drafts done all by yourself.

One thing I learned the hard way, especially in my first few years of writing, was not taking enough time to revise. I’d say my first eight or nine manuscripts I worked really hard on the first draft, then sort of just drifted through the second and third drafts, changing sentences, adding a little description here and there, but not really looking critically at the project as a whole. Therefore, a lot of my early work suffered, especially when I moved into the querying process. After you finish the first draft of a novel, you really do want to just send it out, trust me, I know. You want to move past the revising part and get an agent, get a publishing deal, get paid your million bucks. But unfortunately, all that time you invested in writing the first draft becomes a total waste if you breeze through the revising part. Take your time. Get some beta readers to look at your work. Let the book rest for a month, then read through it again. Don’t rush!

4. You’re going to be met with a lot of rejection, so be prepared.

This is honestly the part I was least prepared for. I knew there would be rejection for my work. I knew my first book might not be the one that made my career blossom. But if I had known back in 2010 just how much rejection I would be faced with over this near-decade of writing, I’m not sure I would have ever written down a single sentence. I like to think I’ve been rejected far more often than the average writer. As I said before, I queried eight of my novels before signing with a literary agent. Of those eight novels, I probably queried 100–150 agents for every single one. Therefore, I probably have at least 1,000 to 1,200 rejections from agents, and that doesn’t take into account the hundreds of rejections I’ve had from literary magazines for my short fiction. Rejection is the name of the game. Some of you will be met with success rather quickly. For others, success might take awhile. You have to let rejection roll off your back. If rejection bothers you, you are going to be in for a world of hurt.

5. Don’t self publish your novel because you’re afraid of rejection. Do it for the right reasons.

I’ve heard of writers who send out ten query letters to literary agents, get rejected by all ten, and then quickly self-publish their novels. I’ve never understood this method of building a career. If you truly believe in your novel, and you want to go the traditional publishing route, then don’t give up at ten rejections. Re-work your query letter. Send your query letter to experienced authors for feedback. Try ten more literary agents. If you’re met with more rejections, re-work your query letter again. If you want to self-publish your novel, then great, but do it for the right reasons, and have a plan. Make sure your novel is edited and that you get a professional cover. Decide how you want to develop your career as a self-published author. I made so many mistakes self-publishing, starting with releasing novels of different genres. Do your research and find what’s the best route for you.

6. You might have to query more than one of your books before you sign with a literary agent.

The first novel you query might not get you a literary agent. You might send your query letter to every agent in the world with a beating heart and still be met with only rejection. Don’t sit and stew. Write the next thing. Write something different, something better. The easiest way to fail as a novelist is to write one book, send it out, get rejected, and then give up. That’s not how this works. You need to keep going, keep writing. I could have given up years ago. Think getting rejected across the board for one novel is hard? Try querying seven different novels over a six-year period and getting only rejected. Try finally getting about twenty full requests for that seventh novel, and still not having a literary agent give you a yes. Trust me, you have to believe in yourself and your work to make a career of this. You can’t hang your head in shame if one of your novels doesn’t work out. Keep going.

7. After you’ve signed with your literary agent, be prepared to do more drafts of your novel.

The day a literary agent offers to represent you will be one of the best days of your life. It certainly was for me. After seven years of trying, trying, trying, finally I got that incredible e-mail. I was in a state of euphoria for weeks. I thought I had made it, that my time had finally arrived. This was in April 2017, almost two years ago. Here’s the deal: signing with a literary agent doesn’t mean instant publication, instant fame. Signing with an agent is simply one step closer to the dream, a dream that still may be years and years from your reach. After I signed with my agent, I spent months revising my middle grade adventure novel, in one draft adding 10,000 new words, in another draft adding an entirely new character. I worked on a flashback scene for almost a year than I then ultimately cut. For me, signing with an agent is where the hard work truly came in as a writer, and you know what? All that work I put into that middle grade novel made a better writer than I ever thought I could be.

8. When your literary agent submits your novel to editors, you might be waiting awhile.

Here’s another sad reality: once your literary agent pitches your novel to editors at publishing houses, be prepared to wait. Unless you’re one of the lucky few whose novel gets lots of interest very quickly (and yes, that does happen!), it might take months to get a yes from an editor, or even a year or longer. It’s also quite possible that no editor takes on your manuscript, and then you and your agent will get to work on a second project. Again, you can’t take these rejections to heart. Even though your novel is now one yes away from making your publishing dreams come true, you can’t fixate on every rejection that comes in, on every week or month that passes without any word from a single editor. Definitely stay hopeful every day — I know I do — but don’t obsess to the point where you can’t focus on anything else.

9. It might take years and years, possibly a decade or longer, for your writing dreams to come true.

Again, if I have known at the beginning of 2010 that at the beginning of 2019 I will have written nineteen novels but had nothing traditionally published yet, not even an offer from an editor, I probably wouldn’t have gotten started. When I wrote my first book, I genuinely believed it would be published and that, by the end of 2010, if not 2011, I’d have a contract in hand. When I wrote my second book, I thought that would definitely get me an agent and a publisher. When I wrote my third, the same thing. It’s kind of been that way for nine years running now, and what I’ve come to learn is basically this…

10. Always, always, always be working on the next project.

Love the process. Love the writing. It’s all you can really do in the face of so much rejection. If you fall out of love with the writing part, it’s over. And I’ve often told myself, especially around 2015 and 2016, when I was starting to wonder if I would EVER find any success in my writing, that if I lost the love of writing and storytelling, then yes, it was time to stop. But that’s the beauty of writing, at least for me. The love of it has never slipped away from me. I just wrote my nineteenth novel over the holidays, and I had a blast every second writing those characters and that story. It was hard, like every novel is hard, but it was also great fun every step of the way. If you want to make it as a novelist, you have to always be working on the next project. Don’t obsess over the one you just wrote that’s now on submission, whether it be the querying process to a literary agent or the submission process to editors at publishing houses. You will drown, I’m telling you. Instead of sitting around and waiting, and worrying, get started on the next thing.

And then one day it will happen. Maybe not tomorrow, or next month, or next year even. But I’m telling you, if you keep it up, and you don’t ever give up, all your dreams as a novelist will come true!

Posted in Writing

Why You Should Write Every Single Day

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In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King writes,

“If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind — they begin to seem like characters instead of real people.”

Do you really need to write every day? The short answer is YES.

People often think I’m joking when I tell them I write every day. I get a lot of responses like, “yeah, okay, sure.” It sounds good, but it doesn’t seem realistic. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes things happen. But if you want to be a writer, yes, I implore you to try to write every single day.

Writing every day does not mean you have to write ten hours a day, or five, or two, or even one. Writing every day is different for everybody, depending on work schedules, depending on family obligations. Although I wouldn’t advise you to only write for, say, ten minutes a day, it’s still, in my mind, a better practice to write ten minutes seven days a week than to write for a few hours just one or two days a week.

Think of writing like exercise.

You should think of writing like exercises (or maybe not, if you never work out). For me, I try to exercise for 45 minutes to an hour five times a week, if not six. This is rarely a hard work-out. It can be a run with my dog, or the elliptical, or free weights, or, when I’m really lazy, a walk to the park and back. The key is to do some kind of exercise and movement almost every day.

It’s the same thing with writing. You want to constantly be practicing. And it doesn’t have to be new fiction. To be a writer, you don’t have to pen 2,000 words of fiction seven days a week. You can mix it up if you want. Write fiction for a few days, then devote two days to just writing in a journal. Try writing a poem. Hell, take a month and devote your time completely to writing a feature-length screenplay! It’s important to do two things as a writer: write every day, and try new things in your writing. You don’t want your work to get stale.

But do you ever get a break?

Occasionally, sure, you need a break. There were a few years where I wrote three to four hours every day during the week, and then I would take the weekend off. I wrote a few of my novels like that. I would work super hard for five days, then take two days off and not write a word, just do anything else, travel, relax, and then come back to the laptop Monday morning refreshed and ready to resume my latest project.

But actually, in looking back at those novels I wrote only five days a week instead of seven, there was something missing. And King gets it absolutely right: the characters do get stale if you’re not writing them every day. They begin to seem like characters, they’re not in the writer’s subconscious as much as they could be.

So no excuses: the first draft of a novel should be worked on every day until it’s completed!

So for the last two novels I’ve written, I worked on the first draft every day, pretty much, unless there was an emergency of some kind, or a holiday. My newest book, a middle grade ghost story, I took off one day — Christmas. But for every other day that month I worked often three to four hours each morning writing new pages. The characters never grew stale, the story was always alive, surprises awaited me every day I sat down at my desk.

I’m halfway through the second draft of the middle grade novel now, and I can sense the ambition and creativity and fun I had while writing that first draft. Because I didn’t write for a day or two, then take a week off and come back to it. The story was written fast, in twenty-six days, and coming to the blank page every morning made my latest project more alive than anything I’ve written in a long, long time.

So here’s my advice: when you’re writing the first draft of a novel, work on it every day. It can be a small chunk of your day, that’s fine. An hour instead of four hours. 500 words instead of 2,000. Whatever works for you. But as long as you’re living in the world of your story a little bit every single day, the characters will feel like real people, your story will come alive more and more.

Writing every day allows you to take new chances… and better yourself as a writer.

When you finish the first draft, then sure, take some time off. You’re actually supposed to let your manuscript rest for a few weeks so that you come to the second draft with fresh eyes. But does that mean you shouldn’t write anything for four weeks or more? Absolutely not. Try to find something to work on every week. Revise another novel you’ve written. Write a new short story, a poem, a screenplay, an essay, Medium articles, whatever. Take a risk. Do something outrageous. Something you’ve never attempted before.

And then once you begin the second draft of your newest work, make that the focus of your next few weeks. My schedule for my current second draft of my latest manuscript is as follows: re-read the chapter I revised yesterday, then revise a new chapter. This process on average takes me about two hours every day. Not a whole lot. Certainly less time than it took me to write 2,000 new words every day. Yes, even on Saturday and Sunday. Again, I believe in working on the book every morning so that the world and these characters never escape me, always stay fresh, and offer new potential ways to better the novel.

If you want to be serious about writing, you need to write every single day, no excuses. Trust me, you won’t regret it!

Posted in Writing

Why the Best Time of Day to Write is the Morning

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In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,

“Mornings belong to whatever is new — the current composition.”

Are you a morning person? I’m not!

I’ll be honest: I’m not a morning person. I actually find it really hard to function before 9am. For the most part I’ve been able to design my life where I haven’t had to do much every day before that time, but occasionally I have to leave the house early or have a job that starts at the first sign of daylight, and so I’m forced to make do. I find my brain starts kicking into gear, on average, between 9 and 10am, never before.

At the same time, I’m no longer much of a night person either, although I used to be. When I was in my twenties, I stayed up until 1 or 2am every night, easy. There’s something so magical, so calming, about the night. When everything quiets down, and there’s no urgency. The older I get, the more of a struggle it is for me to stay awake past midnight, but if I could stay awake later, I definitely would.

In fact, the first three novels I ever wrote I penned completely at night. In 2010 I worked a job from 9am to 7:30pm, and every day I would come home, make dinner, maybe watch a movie, then start writing. My ideal writing time that year and a little bit into 2011 too was between about 10:30pm and 12:30am. And I liked it that way. It gave me all day to think about the next scene to write, and the last thing I always did before I went to bed was write, write, write. It gave me a sense of accomplishment.

But writing every night can also burn you out fast.

But when I was no longer working that full-time job, I found no more reason to write late at night. And when I started getting tired more and more, my brain shutting off around 8 or 9pm, I gave up writing any fiction, ever, late in the day. I wrote my fourth novel Happy Birthday to Me Again in the morning, and that’s the way I’ve written every novel since. Now, at age thirty-four, I would rather do my writing between 7 and 9am than 7 and 9pm. I would rather get it done early, and then have the rest of my day to think about the writing to be done the next morning, when I’ll be refreshed, when I’ll be most on my game.

Stephen King says in his craft book On Writing that he writes new fiction in the morning. He talks about how he aims for 2,000 words, or about 10 fresh pages, and that the earlier he finishes his work the better. He talks about how he’s especially thrilled when he’s done before noon, and he’s out and about, happy with the work and still with lots of day left to go. He talks about how sometimes the work doesn’t come as easy and he’s forced to keep writing through lunchtime, or even after lunchtime, and that he will not stop until he gets a minimum of 2,000 words down on the page.

Mornings are ultimately the best times for writing.

I’m the same way. There is nothing more glorious than getting your 2,000 words down fast, early in the day. It’s been years now but I still remember a day when I wrote my 2,000 words in 45 minutes. 45 minutes, and I was done, and I was actually happy with the words I put down, too. That is key, by the way, to be happy with the work you’re doing. It’s not enough to quickly write 2,000 words of total crap, and it’s definitely in your better interest to spend a longer period of time, say 3 or 4 hours, or even more, to put down 2,000 words of quality.

Sometimes I start writing as early as 9am. Other days, for whatever reason, I don’t start until 11 or 11:30. On the occasional day when I didn’t plan well, I’m not writing until 2 or 3pm in the afternoon. And here’s the deal: I find, almost one-hundred-percent of the time, that the earlier in the day I start my writing, the better the work is. When I’ve been busy all day, and I begin late in the afternoon, the work isn’t as strong.

There truly is a thrill in finishing your writing early in the day and then having your afternoon, evening, and night to do other things. Maybe revise some of your work. Read a book. Watch a movie. Make a nice dinner. Relax. I’ve heard of authors who treat writing like a full-time job in that they actually write non-stop between 8am and 5pm, maybe taking a short break for lunch. I’ve never been able to do that, and I don’t think I ever will. I have, on average, three good hours of writing in me every day. Three hours of total concentration and creativity. After three hours, I begin to fade, and then the work suffers, so why bother continuing?

But CAN you write later?

You are of course welcome to write any time you want. Some of you might feel more confident writing at night, and if so, go for it. Some of you might also have work obligations that begin so early that the only way for you to get the words down is to sit at the desk later in the day. Some of you have kids, responsibilities, and it’s a fight just to find a thirty-minute window of time to write, let alone those perfect couple hours in the morning where all your creative juices are flowing. Trust me, I understand.

But if you do have a bit more freedom in your day, consider doing your writing earlier, not later. Try to make mornings the time for your current composition whenever possible.

You might find your writing improve considerably!

Posted in Books, Writing

Why LGBTQ Young Adult Fiction is Not a Genre

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Many often argue that young adult fiction is a genre, but even though a reader may find young adult books on a different shelf in a bookstore than the mystery section or the romance section, the work itself does not encompass a specific genre, the same way that middle grade and chapter books and picture books are not genres. The young adult label is generally thought of as an age range for readers, in this case, twelve or thirteen and up (although many readers read YA books at a much younger age, and of course adults read it, too). One wouldn’t consider an adult work of fiction to be a genre, the same way that a young adult novel shouldn’t be considered as one.

The other main reason I wouldn’t consider young adult fiction a genre is that young adult books can be a work of other actual genres — mystery, romance, horror, science fiction. If young adult was a genre, what would the science fiction element of a young adult novel be considered exactly? And just because something has LGBTQ characters and themes, does that make it a genre?

My answer is a definite no, even if I considered the wider net of all young adult fiction to be one. While bookstores are starting to (finally!) dedicate shelves specifically to LGBTQ YA fiction, considering these kinds of books a genre would necessitate the requirement for a straight-themed YA fiction genre. The same way that genres like mystery and romance can appear in young adult fiction, they can also appear in all kinds of LGBTQ fiction, adult and young adult, which makes me consider these kinds of novels more a designation of interest rather than an all-encompassing genre of one kind of book.

Despite my insistence that LGBTQ YA fiction is not be considered a genre, these works definitely have similar tropes and conventions. The first major element often found in these books is the emphasis on the family unit. While family is an important aspect to any young adult novel, it’s especially important to LGBTQ YA fiction because the main characters are often going through internal struggles that the parents play a major part in.

In Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, for example, one of the two protagonists Dante is unable to come out to his parents because for a long time he feels disconnected from them. Saenz writes,

“The thing is I love my dad. My mom too. And I keep wondering what they’re going to say when I tell them that someday I want to marry a boy” (227).

Sometimes the drama is so heightened that one of the teen characters has to fight back, as Cameron does to her Aunt Ruth in Emily Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post after she ships Cameron off to a gay conversion camp and then pretends like nothing is wrong when she comes back to visit. Cameron screams at her Aunt Ruth,

“‘You can’t ship me away to get fixed and then show me off as your dressed-up niece starring in the role of Maid of Honor!’” (343).

To exclude the family element in a gay YA novel robs the story of drama and truisms, and these three novels offer great examples of how to use the family element well.

Another convention of LGBTQ YA fiction is the isolation theme. In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Aristotle doesn’t discover he is gay until the final few pages, and instead most of the time fights away feelings he has for Dante. Saenz writes,

“Maybe moms and dads forgot about this one small fact: being on the verge of seventeen could be harsh and painful and confusing. Being on the verge of seventeen could really suck” (239).

Anyone being on the verge of seventeen knows life can be difficult in all sorts of ways, but it’s especially hard for many closeted gay teens to find a light in their world. This theme is also present in out-and-proud characters, as in Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys when Nelson says,

“‘I get bashed every day for being queer, and I haven’t even kissed a guy yet […] that’s pretty pathetic’” (89).

A third convention is the theme of a gay teen’s first kiss, which is often presented as a major plot point in each LGBTQ-themed YA novel. In David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, Levithan writes,

“I touch his lips, I breathe him in. I close my eyes, I open them. He is surprised, I can tell” (61).

Even John Donovan’s I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip, published in 1969 and universally considered the first gay young adult novel, features two characters kissing:

“I guess I kiss Altschuler and he kisses me. It isn’t like that dumb kiss I gave Mary Lou Gerrity in Massachusetts before I left. It just happens” (150).

The truth is that every young person’s first kiss is a monumental event, and it’s even more monumental for young LGBT individuals because the kiss means even more. When this particular book was published, homosexual practices were illegal in every state but Illinois, so the fact that he got any homosexual subtext through in this published work is quite astonishing. He features the two characters kiss, per the quote above, but he also kills the protagonist Davy’s dog in the final few pages and makes Davy think it was his kiss with his friend Altshuler that murdered the dog. Donovan writes,

“It’s my fault. Because of everything I did. It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for me. It is too my fault! All that messing around. Nothing would have happened to Fred if I hadn’t been messing around with Altshuler” (180).

The never allowing a gay teen to actually be happy in young adult fiction finally became a thing of the past with Rainbow Boys and especially Boy Meets Boy. Rainbow Boys is a serious novel, with attention paid to homophobia on behalf of Jason’s athlete friends and his closed-minded parents, but this was one of the first LGBT YA titles to have all three main gay characters find love with others by the end, and, more importantly, peace with their sexuality; at the end, Sanchez writes,

“Maybe [Jason] was in love with Kyle. Would that be such a bad thing?” (228).

Boy Meets Boy fights the conventions of LGBTQ YA fiction by featuring a world where everyone is accepting of gay teens. Unlike the other YA novels on my list, this book’s central drama is not whether the main character Paul will come out to his parents or if he’ll be ridiculed by bullies at school, but if he will be able to find true love. Levithan in a way treats this like any straight YA novel would read, without the isolation and family drama aspects. He writes,

“We hold hands as we walk through town. If anybody notices, nobody cares. I know we all like to think of the heart as the center of the body but at this moment, every conscious part of me is in the hand that he holds. It is through that hand, that feeling, that I experience everything else” (136).

This was the first novel to my knowledge to treat young gay love in this accepting way, and this thinking paved the way for more complex LGBTQ YA titles that went beyond only the coming-out and isolation themes.

Works Cited

Danforth, Emily. The Miseducation of Cameron Post. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2012. Print.

Donovan, John. I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip. New York: Dell Pub Co, 1969. Print.

Levithan, David. Boy Meets Boy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Print.

Saenz, Benjamin Alire. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012. Print.

Sanchez, Alex. Rainbow Boys. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Younger Readers, 2001. Print.

Posted in Writing

Why You Should Read Your Chapters Twice When You Revise

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In nearly ten years of writing novels, I’ve tried pretty much everything when it comes to revision.

Should You Print Out Your Work?

For my first few books, I actually printed out the first draft and spent weeks and weeks making handwritten notes on the pages. I still think there’s a noticeable difference between reading your words on the printed page and reading your words on the computer screen.

The problem with this method is that it takes forever to then transfer all the changes back to the computer screen, and after a few years, I (sadly) stopped doing this. I still like to occasionally print out a draft of my work and read it hardcopy, but for revision, I lately stick to the words on the screen.

How Long Should You Let Your Manuscript Rest?

Another revision method I try to enact whenever possible is to let six weeks or longer pass between drafts, whether it’s the second draft or the tenth draft. Stephen King recommends six weeks in his craft book, On Writing, and actually, the longer the better. When you go straight from one draft to the next, after awhile you begin to lose sight of larger problems, and you spend too much time fixing sentences and correcting typos. When you come back to a manuscript six weeks later or longer, bigger issues hit you much easier.

When you let a manuscript rest for a long, long time, you can really see in total clarity what’s working and what isn’t. I once wrote the first draft of a novel that I didn’t return to for 18 months, and when I finally began the second draft, it was like revising the work of another author — it had been so long that I couldn’t remember some of the characters and parts of the plot.

Of course sometimes letting a manuscript rest for a long time isn’t feasible, and here and there I’m forced to move on to the next draft pretty quickly. Whether it’s a weekend or a year between drafts, just remember to figure out your goals for the next draft. You don’t want to waste your time doing the same thing on the next revision that you did on the previous one.

How Many Revisions Should You Do?

I’m a big believer in doing one major revision, then sending the manuscript out to two or three people to get their feedback. This gives you another break from the story, and when you return for the third draft, you have new insight into what’s working and what isn’t in the story.

You can certainly send out your third draft instead, or maybe your fourth draft, or even your seventeenth draft, but eventually you do need to send it out, otherwise you might just be dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s and not really fixing elements of your novel that still need work.

Why You Should Read Your Chapters Twice in Each Revision

Something I started doing about three years ago I find especially helpful is reading through my chapters twice upon each revision. What I mean by that is this… revise a chapter one day, or two chapters, or three, however much you want to revise for that day. And then the next day, revise that same chapter again, while also moving on to a new chapter you haven’t looked over yet.

So, for example, I’m five chapters into revising my new middle grade horror novel. I started on Sunday with Chapter 1. On Monday, I re-read Chapter 1, then revised Chapter 2. On Tuesday, I re-read Chapter 2, then moved on to Chapter 3. And so on, and so on.

How Does This Process Help Exactly?

  1. It gives me two chances to make changes in each chapter, not just one. Instead of reading through a chapter once and then returning to it in, oh, two or three months, I read through it twice, which gives me peace of mind that I’ve done, at this moment in time, everything I wanted to do to that particular section of the story. It’s in a sense like doing two drafts in one.
  2. Reading through the chapter a second time helps you find any mistakes you might have made the day before. When you re-write a sentence, cut a paragraph, add a line of dialogue, things change. The pacing changes. The rhythm, even the tone, can change. The way the page looks is different. And in trying to strengthen the chapter the day before, you might have made new problems you didn’t realize, both big and small. Coming to the chapter again a day later is like a second chance, revealing what works from the previous day’s work and what might have seemed a good idea at the time but actually weakens the story considerably.
  3. It also helps remind me where the previous chapter left off, in terms of pacing, structure, tone, character goals, conflict, etc, when I continue on to the new chapter. A day can be a long time, and when you just start straight into the next chapter without re-reading the chapter from the day before, you might forget elements from the previous scene that now changes bits and pieces to come in the next scene.

In the End, Do What’s Right for You

Reading chapters twice in each revision essentially makes things easier for you, the writer. It allows you two chances instead of one to fix problems, both big and small, and it gives you more opportunities to improve your work.

So give it a try if you’ve never revised this way before! It’s certainly helped me the past few years, and I look forward to continuing this method in many more novels to come.

Posted in Writing

Why Talent Isn’t Enough to be a Successful Writer

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In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,

“When you find something at which you’re talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head”

So my fingers have never bled from writing, and my eyes have never fallen out of my head from it either, but I’ve definitely been writing long and hard enough for either of the two to happen, probably around the time I turn forty.

What does a writer need to be successful?

Here’s the thing: I’ve been writing my whole life. Elementary school, middle school, high school, college, graduate school. I’ve been writing fiction for nearly three decades now, and I’ve always felt I had a talent for it. Not everything I’ve written has been great, or even good. I just finished the first draft of my nineteenth novel earlier this month, and I think it’s solid, definitely one of my better manuscripts I’ve penned as of late. I’ve improved as a writer over the years for sure, since I wrote my first novel in early 2010, and a lot of that improvement has to do with my undying determination to be successful.

A lot goes into the career of a fiction writer. Years of hard work. An understanding of the publishing industry. Friends and teachers that give valuable feedback. An MFA program in creative writing (if you think it will help). Lots and lots of luck. And yes, talent.

Yes, some talent is necessary.

Talent is important if you want to be a writer, but sometimes it’s hard to diagnose if you yourself actually have any talent. I, for example, do think I’m talented at a few key things in writing. I’m talented at coming up with high-concept ideas that lend themselves to film and television adaptations. I’m talented at setting deadlines for myself and sticking to a schedule, whether I’m writing the first draft or revising later drafts. And I’m usually talented at recognizing what’s working in those subsequent drafts and what isn’t.

But would I consider myself a talented writer? I think I have some talent. Enough talent to continue, to keep trying. Because at the end of the day, talent itself will only get you so far. You can be the most talented writer in the universe, but if you don’t work hard at it, if you don’t plant your butt in the chair every day and spend a few hours writing a new scene, a new chapter, then where does that talent get you?

Is talent all you need?

I believe to be a writer talent is important, but it’s only part of the game. Writing and reading every single day will get you a long, long way, even if you only have a smidgen of talent. I’ve written nineteen novels, by God. Nineteen novels in nine years. I try to read a book a week, or at least every two weeks. Last year I graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing. I’ve written a dozen short stories since the beginning of graduate school, plus three feature-length screenplays. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint, whether you have a lot of talent or whether you only have a little talent.

If you do have loads of talent for writing, and you work hard, you will be at the top of the heap for sure. You should, as King says, write until your fingers bleed. Many people love to write, but only a few have any significant talent for it. If you do have it, congrats, and hopefully you take advantage of that blessing.

But what if you don’t think you’re talented?

If you don’t believe you have a ton of talent, don’t fret. Write and read every day, and you will get better. Don’t give up ever. I’ve been at this seriously almost every day for nine years and don’t have a traditionally published novel in the world yet. But I have an agent, I have more opportunities, I’m getting closer to the dream, and it’s not because of my talent, of which I may or may not have a lot of.

It’s because of years of hard work. And the determination to never give up.