Monday, September 29, 2014

Recapturing the Magic

Lately, whenever I devote time to brainstorming or drafting on my newest project, I've found that my progress is slower than it was on previous books. It's not that I'm any less excited about my new idea, so I started wondering what's changed since I wrote my other three books.

Of course, the answer is: a lot. I signed with my lovely agent, I've revised two of my three manuscripts (so far!) under her expert guidance, and I've even been lucky enough to do some revisions with an editor. I've re-thought and re-written my books so they're stronger, hoping to give them that un-put-downable quality. I've learned things about pacing, structure, and making my writing flow better. I've critiqued books for fellow authors, which in turn has taught me a lot of things to apply to my own work. All of these experiences have enriched me as an author, helping me become more in tune with my writing voice, more knowledgeable on how to self-edit, more aware of what makes a YA book stand out in the current market.

So why am I slowing down now, when I have a new idea for a book I'm passionate about (just like I was with my others), and more experience to guide me?

As I'm sure you know, critique & revision requires the critical thinking part of your brain, and once that's turned on, it's hard to switch off! With all the writing/editing experience I've gained, I'm now more critical of everything I read, and find it harder to finish a for-fun book in my down time.

The positive side of this is that when I find a book that I can't put down to save my life, I know it's great storytelling! And there's another positive, too. I've realized my new, slower approach to writing is because there's so much I've learned that I can now apply up-front to come away with a stronger first draft. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's awesome! It means my project will be that much closer to ready for others' eyes when I type 'The End', although of course, there's always room to improve and there are always revisions to be made. I doubt I'll ever stop learning amazing new things as a writer, with every book I read or critique, every article on craft I read while having my morning coffee.

But there's another reason why my recent progress has been slower than I'd like, and it's one that I can remedy: when I let that critical part of my brain take over in the drafting and idea stage, I lost sight of the magic of writing. Of the spark that comes with crafting a killer opening line, creating snappy banter between favorite characters, of letting ideas flow right from my mind down to my fingertips and onto the keyboard.

So I went back to my other books. I read favorite scenes, moments that made me smile, and darker ones that were painful but well worth the effort to write. It helped me shut off that critical side and remember what I enjoy about this whole process. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is, while you learn and grow with each finished project, while you'll always be able to go back to your completed books and find new things to critique about them, don't lose sight of the magic in your words. Celebrate the heart-wrenching scene you wrote, or the time a beta reader told you how relatable your MC is! Finding and remembering the things you love about your writing will (I hope!) help you stay enthusiastic about beginning a new project.

It's certainly daunting, starting to craft a new story when there are so many things you've learned and want to keep in mind, but if you're like me, you have a handful of books on your hard drive promising that this new idea will, in time, turn into something you're proud of.

And just think of all the fun you'll have along the way, exploring a new world and meeting new characters!


And now, for fun, here are a few snippets from my previous books that I always enjoy re-reading!


First is a song from THE GOBLINS' PRICE. This is when the MC, musician and sometimes sword-for-hire Sirith, is entertaining the King's daughter at a birthday festival.

"She hadn’t planned to play this particular song, but goblins had been lingering in the back of her mind ever since she’d heard soldiers muttering about them in the prison. With the faces of the onlookers cast in shadow and the wind howling past the castle walls, the cautionary tale sung by northern mothers to their children seemed fitting.

The melody began with short, sweet notes and built into something that reminded Sirith of a cobweb, fragile as a whisper and full of tangled layers. It was a challenging song at best, but her hands performed with practiced ease:

“Feast in the orchard but beware
The peach as gold as maidens’ hair
The apple red as poisoned lips
The berries from a foreign ship.
For once you taste the goblins’ gift
The change will come upon you swift.
You’ll feel the call deep in your bones
To march into their frozen home.
Your skin will turn to ash or stone
You’re doomed to walk the earth alone.
So taste the orchard’s sweet delights
But e’er remember the goblins’ plight.”

***

Also from GOBLINS, here's a scene where Sirith and Princess Kaylinara are combing the countryside for a trace of the missing Prince Ramsey. Sirith's been hired by Kaylinara to find the Prince, and much to her annoyance, the younger girl has tagged along.

"Sirith woke to birdsong and the gentle lowing of a cow. She unfolded her stiff limbs, wondering why sleeping on the ground always hurt no matter how many times she did it.

Yawning, she rolled over and shut her eyes again, not yet burdened with the sense of urgency that fully waking would bring. The sun’s warmth and the cow’s soft calls were beginning to lull her back to sleep when she smelled it: Hot, fresh manure.

She sat up with a jolt and gazed around the field where she and Kaylinara had spent the night. The culprit was standing beside the Princess, its black and white tail swishing as it examined the load it had dropped by Kaylinara’s head.

The Princess slumbered on, and Sirith didn’t bother trying to stifle her laughter. It was past time for Kaylinara to wake up. The sun was already peeking above the trees. Pushing herself up, Sirith searched for breakfast in the four bags Abbi had packed them and trusted the noise would wake Kaylinara. It didn’t.

At least there’s one advantage to traveling with a spoiled princess, Sirith thought as she pulled out a biscuit. She wouldn’t have to worry about her next meal.

When she poked Kaylinara’s shoulder and the girl didn’t even stir, cold prickled across Sirith’s arms and neck. Perhaps the Princess wasn’t sleeping after all. She watched closely for the rise and fall of Kaylinara’s chest to be sure she hadn’t died in the night.

Relieved that the Princess was indeed breathing, Sirith grabbed another biscuit and hurled it at her.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Kaylinara gasped. The biscuit bounced off her stomach and landed in the grass.

Sirith shrugged. “You missed breakfast. I thought you might be hungry.” Pretending she couldn’t see Kaylinara’s scowl, she motioned to the waiting horses. “Come on. You can eat your biscuit while we ride. You promised not to slow me down, remember?”

Kaylinara blinked sleep from her eyes and ran her fingers through her hair.

“We need to hurry,” Sirith added. Maybe she hadn’t been clear enough the first time.

“You’re right.” Kaylinara smiled apologetically, reaching for the nearest pack. “Just let me find some jam for my biscuit.”

Sirith snatched the pack up before the other girl reached it. “This is an adventure. And in case you didn’t know, Princess, there’s no time for jam on adventures.”

***

Last, from FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP, here's a short scene where the main character, Bridey, reflects on having seen the body of a strange girl wash up on the beach near her home.

"At night, I lay awake long after Grayse and Liss fell asleep on either side of me. Their warmth made me drowsy, but my eyes wouldn’t stay shut. I shifted until I could see the moonbeams streaming through the latched window.

A knot formed deep in my stomach as my thoughts returned to the drowned girl. Remembering the sight of her drenched, pale figure made my skin damp with cold sweat.

How did she end up in the water? Had her boat capsized in the midst of a storm? Had someone pushed her in? Or had she—like Grandad—taken to the water with a look of pure ecstasy on her face, summoned by some invisible force?

The sea did funny things to people. It played tricks on the mind, and its vastness hid things…Bodies. Secrets. The deadly bulk of icebergs.  A month ago, people on both sides of the Atlantic mourned the one-year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Someone had called the giant ship ‘unsinkable,’ and the sea proved them wrong. Maybe the ocean didn’t like being challenged. Maybe that’s why it took the Titanic and most of its passengers to a place no living person could follow.

I turned away from the moonlight and closed my eyes. Even with the window shut and Liss’s familiar breathing in my ear, I imagined I could hear someone wailing away on their fiddle, playing a faint and mournful tune for all those who had lost their lives to the sea. And with the melody came the unmistakable sound of water slapping against the rocks far below us, slowly eroding the foundation of Port Coire and everything I loved."


Thanks for reading! Let me know in the comments how you shut off your inner critic while drafting a new project!