Tag Archives: Writing Journey

Writing Goals for 2019

It’s 2019! Woo hoo! A new year!

I like to set writing goals (rather than resolutions, which are WAY too all-or-nothing for my taste) for each new year, to give myself a direction to focus my energies. I know I won’t completely achieve every one of these to the fullest extent, but I’m going to try, and hopefully that trying will create some sort of net positive result.

So without further ado, here are my writing goals for 2019:

1) Build a better work/Life balance: Find a balance that lets me give my family and writing the full attention they deserve while still making enough room for my day job and household tasks…All while getting sufficient sleep and taking decent care of myself! HA HA HA JUST KIDDING THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT TIME TRAVEL. But I’ll do my best to move in that direction, anyway.

2) Try new things and keep growing as a writer: I always want to keep pushing my boundaries and exploring in new directions. One thing I’ll be working on in 2019 with my new book is building a compelling group dynamic for a set of characters who function as a team, something I haven’t done before. I am super excited to play with this new toy. Romantic tensions! In jokes! Bickering! Secrets! Broken yet loving relationships! Loyalty to death and beyond! I CAN’T WAIT.

3) Confront my demons: (Look, that sounded cooler than “Get better at the things I’m bad at.”) Let’s face it, no one’s perfect. I want to keep identifying and eliminating (or at least mitigating) my weaknesses. One big one I’d love to tackle this year is SCENE TRANSITIONS UGH I HATE THOSE THINGS. If I could learn to get into and out of a scene gracefully and effortlessly on the first try, I could get back SO MANY HOURS OF MY LIFE.

4) Put a dent in my to-read pile: I have this stack of AMAZING unread books sitting there taunting me like a full box of chocolates, and I want to nom my way through as much of it as possible! Which will be less than I’d like. BUT STILL! I must read as many books as I can… to make room for MORE BOOKS.

5) Finish Book One of my new trilogy and start Book Two! This one, at least, I should be able to manage (or else my editor is going to be really mad at me). Deadlines: ensuring productivity since…uh…whenever they invented deadlines. But seriously, I am SO EXCITED about this new series, and am having a blast with this first book. I can’t wait to share it with you!

That’s probably enough writing-related goals for one year. If I have too many, it’ll dilute my focus, which is like the opposite of the point.

Happy New Year! What goals have you got for 2019, if you do the goals thing? (It’s okay if you don’t. If they’re not useful for you, don’t do ‘em.)


Writing Year in Review

2018 was my first full year as a published author. A lot of extremely exciting things happened, and also a lot of flailing in panic. Because getting published after a lifetime of striving for this goal is a bit like yearning to be allowed in the deep end of the pool as a kid and then finally diving in and realizing WHOOPS I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO SWIM.

It was a hell of a year for me as a writer, even if you only look at the biggest highlights:

  • THE DEFIANT HEIR was published! And it got some really lovely reviews and pretty much everyone liked it even better than THE TETHERED MAGE, yay!
  • My swordfighting in ballgowns Twitter thread went viral, which was a bizarre experience with all kinds of unexpected long-reaching and delightful consequences!
  • THE TETHERED MAGE got shortlisted for the Gemmell Morningstar award! I’m STILL in shock!
  • I wrote THE UNBOUND EMPIRE, finishing my very first trilogy!
  • I sold a new trilogy to Orbit and started writing the first book!

I also unlocked a lot of little writer achievements that meant a ton to me personally. Fan emails, hearing I kept people up late at night, fan art (!!!), someone running a D&D campaign based partly on my books, a FAN TATTOO WITH MY BOOK IN IT, hearing my book comforted someone through hard times, a reader’s kids playing Falcon & Falconer, making readers cry, a Halloween costume partly inspired by TDH, people tweeting about their book hangovers after finishing one of my books…This sort of thing is what I always wanted. This is why I write: to bring a bit of story-joy into people’s lives. Every little reader interaction like that makes me squee and smile and tell my family “Someone liked my book!” like it was the first time. (THANK YOU, awesome readers!)

So it was a fantastic year for me as a writer! But it was also a tough year. My deadlines for THE UNBOUND EMPIRE were tight, and it was a real struggle to balance work and life, especially with parenting. I really need some way to wedge an extra 5-10 hours into every day—it would solve a lot of problems. So if you have a line on an available time turner, please, let me know.

Next year looks to be very nearly as exciting—I’ve got THE UNBOUND EMPIRE coming out in April, and will be working hard on the new trilogy. I honestly still can’t believe any of this is happening.

I hope your 2018 had some good stories in it, whether you read them, wrote them, or lived them, and that 2019 is even better!


IT’S HERE!!!

My debut novel is out in the world! HOLY CRAP!

It’s been a wild month. My debut moment has both been everything I hoped it would be and nothing like I thought it would be.

You have to understand that I’ve wanted to be a published author since I was in kindergarten. For a fair chunk of my adult life, whenever I’ve browsed the Science Fiction/Fantasy shelves, my eyes have lingered at that spot somewhere around Orson Scott Card and Gail Carriger where my books would go. Someday.

Well, hey! Someday was last Tuesday! HOW ABOUT THAT?!

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I took that picture right before getting my laughing 11-year-old to take a bunch of pictures of me pointing at the books which really didn’t come out well, because, well, laughing 11-year-old. (See what I mean?)

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And then I asked the nice lady at the info desk if she wanted me to sign them, all dorky and excited and shy as you could imagine, and she got all excited for me that it was my first time seeing my debut on the shelves and was very nice and got me Autographed Copy stickers and turned them face out and everything. It was lovely.

My friends asked me if I cried, but as I told them, I’m more of a squee-er than a crier. And there has been SO MUCH SQUEEING!

Not everything was what I expected. I spent a good chunk of October focused on trying to get my first round of edits done for THE DEFIANT HEIR (Book 2 of Swords & Fire) rather than on anticipating the release of THE TETHERED MAGE. People would say lovely things like “I loved THE TETHERED MAGE and I can’t wait for the sequel!” and I would inwardly be like “OH GOD I’M WORKING ON IT AS FAST AS I CAN.” But then I turned in edits, and was finally able to just revel in the moment!

I also would never have guessed how much work goes into publicity, even for a traditionally published author. The idea that I someday would have trouble keeping up with my laundry because I had to do a whole bunch of interviews seems farfetched even now that it’s actually happened. It’s been a ton of fun, and I’ve had a great time with every one of them, and hope to do more, but there were definitely some WHAT EVEN IS MY LIFE moments.

Another thing I didn’t anticipate was the wonderful, incredible feeling of seeing my Facebook timeline light up with my friends posting selfies with my book, or photos of it on bookshelves all around the country, or posting about how they’d already finished it the day after buying it. That’s been probably the most magical thing of all, and has really driven home that holy cow, my book is really out there, and people are reading it, and this isn’t a dream. And feeling the love from all my awesome friends and family, both at my release party and online, has been truly amazing.

Right after my release party I rolled straight into a boiler replacement, a broken dishwasher, a visit from my brother’s family, my husband’s birthday, Halloween, and a day job deadline, so it’s been a week that’s been more about HOLY SHIT HOW AM I GOING TO CLEAN THIS HOUSE and WHAT DO I GET THE NERD WHO HAS EVERYTHING AND ALSO IT HAS TO SHIP IN 2 DAYS and FINE SO YOU DON’T WANT TO BE LINK AFTER ALL OK I CAN MAKE YOU A PIRATE FROM STUFF IN MY CLOSET LET’S DO THIS than about my debut.

But those pics of my friends reading my book have been coming in all week, so I’m still in seventh heaven.

You did it, kindergarten-me. High five!


So Many Drafts

Hey there, writers in the trenches! Let’s have a little talk about tweedle beetles drafts. Specifically, numbers of drafts.

I know that when I started out writing novels, I had no idea how many drafts a book went through before it got published. Thinking back on it now, I get all Ming the Merciless and want to tell my past self, “Pathetic writer. Hurling your manuscript out into the void, without the slightest inkling of what is out there. If you had known anything about the true nature of publishing, anything at all, you would’ve hidden from it in terror.”

Uh, no, really, actually, it’s totally great and awesome. BUT! I sure as hell needed to revise more.

So, in case any of you are despairing about how many times you’ve overhauled your book, here is a bit of data for you on my debut novel:

THE TETHERED MAGE went through around 6-7 drafts before it was ready to go on sub to publishers. Once Orbit accepted it for publication, it went through several official rounds with my editor—a major structural edit, minor structural edits, little fine-tuning kind of edits, copyedits, etc. But I did a couple rounds for each of the structural passes before my editor saw them. So it came out in the end to around 13 drafts.

Now, some of those drafts were me getting 20K words in and then going “Ugh! Start over!” Other drafts were just polish passes, where I was buffing up the language to a high shine and not making any major changes. But one of them was me revising from YA to adult, historical fantasy to epic fantasy, AND adding 50K+ words (almost doubling the length of the book from first completed draft to final draft), so I feel like it all evens out.

I created the doc for the very first draft of THE TETHERED MAGE in early 2014. I took some time off from it in there to work on revising an earlier book, but finished the draft that went on sub to publishers around the beginning of 2016. It sold in June of 2016 (BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER), and I continued to revise it for several months; it finally comes out next month (WHEEEE!).

Mind you, that wasn’t the first book I wrote. The book that got me my agent went through about 10 drafts before it did (I started querying it way too soon, though, on like draft 5). And I wrote other books before that.

Every single page I wrote, every revision pass, made me a better writer. The me of 2 books ago couldn’t have written THE TETHERED MAGE. Heck, the me of draft one of THE TETHERED MAGE couldn’t have written draft 13. Revision is where I learned the most, and still where I do my best work.

I’m working on revisions for THE DEFIANT HEIR now (the sequel to THE TETHERED MAGE). I’m really excited about them! I feel like this draft is going to be a big step up from the last one, and it feels so good to see the shape pulling true, and the pieces falling into place. I used to hate revision, but now that practice has given me a better understanding of how to spot areas for improvement and fix them, it feels awesome to make my book sharper and shinier with every draft.

Writing on a deadline, with an editor, is very different than writing on my own, and I don’t have the luxury to allow myself draft after draft. But I’m nonetheless already on draft 5 by my own count (my editor saw draft 4 as my “first draft”), and the version I’m giving her next month will probably be draft 6.

So, my as-yet-unpublished writer friends, if you haven’t already done so, I urge you to embrace revision! The difference between my first drafts and my final drafts looks a lot like the difference between my writing 5 years ago and my writing now, and that’s not a coincidence. You never know how many times you’ll have to tear down and rebuild before you get it just right, but it’s well worth the effort. Every draft teaches you something, and takes you one step closer to the end of the publishing rainbow…

…Even if it’s NOT ACTUALLY A RAINBOW IT’S A WEIRD RAINBOW-COLORED NEBULA THING WITH AN OMINOUS FLOATING CITY IN IT AND YOUR ADVENTURES ARE ONLY BEGINNING.


Success Over 40 and Other Mythical Creatures

So, there was some talk recently about whether you’re washed up as a writer after a certain age and do you have to get published in your twenties and when should you give up and blah blah blah. I think a lot of people have said what needs to be said—which comes down to IT’S NOT OVER TIL IT’S OVER, BABY—but I also get that there are people out there who are despairing of ever finding the end of the publishing rainbow as the clock ticks on, so I wanted to share a bit of my personal story in case that might encourage anyone.

First of all, I am *GASP* over 40.

Okay, not a lot over 40. But turning 40 is a thing that happened in my past. (NOW YOU MAY LOOK AT MY PICTURE AND GO “WOW, MELISSA, I NEVER WOULD HAVE GUESSED.” WHY, THANK YOU. MOVING ON.)

Second of all, I have literally wanted to be a published writer since kindergarten. I know this because I remember we did an activity in kindergarten where we folded a piece of paper into like 6-8 squares and had to draw pictures of different things we might like to be when we grow up in each square. I put “Writer” in the first square and “Artist” in the second square, and then on reflection added “Princess” in the third square. And then I looked at the other squares like, dude, what more do you want from me? WHAT MORE IS THERE?!

I am sure my parents were thrilled to see I had selected such practical career choices. (In fact, I remember one of them—I’m not sure which—explaining to me that you couldn’t become a princess as a job, and that you had to be born the daughter of a king, and I remember thinking that was TOTAL BULLSHIT.)

I wrote picture books as a kid. I made my first real stab at a novel when I was maybe seven or eight, and got about 30 typewritten pages into it, which isn’t bad for a seven-year-old. It was about a princess who was a powerful mage AND had a magic sword AND rode a unicorn AND a dragon (though not at the same time, that would be weird), because WHO SAYS YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ALL?

In fourth grade, I wanted to publish a book of poems, and my dad got me Writer’s Market. I read that thing cover to cover (what was WRONG with me?) and submitted some stuff and was Terribly Serious about it all.

In my late teens/early twenties, I wrote a really (REALLY) bad novel about a teenage boy who was secretly a prince AND a dragon AND a mage AND a really good swordfighter, because WHO SAYS YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ALL? …So, yeah, that didn’t get me an agent. Thank goodness. But I tried. An agent even called me up and basically ranted at me on the phone about how I was wasting my potential. She ended the call by saying she had no doubt I’d be published someday. (Needless to say, she didn’t offer rep.)

It was very weird. In retrospect, I’m honored, and she was right on all counts.

I had to calm down and stop writing Mary Sue characters. I had to improve my craft, develop humility and empathy, and embrace revision. I had to grow up, both as a writer and as a human being. (Now, some people are already quite grown up as writers and human beings in their twenties. YAY! I salute those people. They’re amazing. That was not me.)

I got an agent when I was ready, as a writer. I got a publishing contract when I was ready. Before that, I still had more work to do. And that’s fine. I did the work. I learned the things. I wrote and wrote and wrote, I kept learning and getting better, and I didn’t give up.

And now, yay! I have a book coming out in October! MY LIFELONG DREAM IS FINALLY COMING TRUE!

It literally took, what, 35+ years?

And that’s fine. All that time, I was leveling up. Every shelved book earned me a ton of XP. Every word I wrote was a step toward this goal. Some people level up faster than me, and that’s great. But I made it! And you can, too.

The only way to be sure you never get there is to step off the path. Get back on that unicorn—or dragon—or BOTH AT THE SAME TIME, WHY NOT—and ride.


My 2016 Writing Life In Review, One Email Quote at a Time

2016 may have sucked for humanity, but it was pretty awesome for my writing career. As the year draws to a close, just for fun, here’s a look back on my 2016 writing life through email quotes!

I always am fascinated at anything writers, editors, or agents post about submission and publishing timeline stuff, because the timing in publishing always seems so shrouded in mystery. So for your entertainment, here’s one actual quote per month from a writing/publishing-related email I sent in 2016, tracking the evolution of THE TETHERED MAGE in its journey toward publication.

Actual email quotes are in blue, commentary in black. Enjoy!

January:

OK, here it is with the changes! I took all your advice. 🙂 All changes accepted, all comments deleted, ready to go.

EEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!

In January, I put the then-final touches on what was at the time a YA historical fantasy called A FALCONER OF VENICE and sent it off to my awesome agent, Naomi Davis. Uh, a lot has changed since then. Though Naomi is still awesome. (And still my agent.)

February:

Now I gotta get back to working on this WIP, but it’s hard to type with so many fingers crossed… 😉

In February, the book then known as FALCONER went out on sub to a small, select handful of editors. (Repeat after me, kids going on sub: “And now, we wait.”)

March:

It’s good to have news, even bad news—silence is unnerving! Thanks for sending along the feedback, too. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the remaining fulls & pitches.

In March, I got my first rejection for FALCONER. See, it really does happen to everyone!

April:

You know what’s really awesome when you’re a writer waiting for an email? Dozens of notification emails about someone updating a work thing.

This one is actually a tweet, because in April, I got no news of any kind on FALCONER and pretty much just sat there gnawing my fingernails and freaking out. And also working on my new WIP, which is a thing you should always do when on sub.

May:

Everyone I know seems to be in the same boat of publishing being just plain slow these days, so I’m not freaking out (honest), but I’ve basically managed to get myself superstitious that if I send you an email something will magically happen, so, uh, here’s the email. (Hangs head in embarrassment)

In May, as you can see, the waiting of being on sub got to me, and I snapped and sent my (wonderfully communicative, to be clear) agent an OH GOD I KNOW THERE’S STILL NO NEWS BUT THE SILENCE IS KILLING ME PLEASE SAY SOMETHING ANYTHING JUST SO I KNOW I’M NOT ALONE HERE IN THE DARK email, as you can see. I, uh, don’t necessarily recommend doing this. And she was being great about keeping me updated and everything. I just snapped. She was very nice about it.

Also, I lied. I was totally freaking out.

June:

(June was the month I got my book deal, so I give you several different email excerpts, because I can’t pick just one!)

I am certainly around this evening! And totally can make it until then without dying of suspense. 😉

This was about setting up a call with my agent when I knew she’d been talking to an editor who had my book.

I was lying. I actually died. But then I got The Call and it brought me back to life.

I’m still bouncing off the walls! My daughters think it’s hilarious. They have also reminded me that years ago I promised them if I ever got a book contract we’d go out for fondue, so that is definitely happening very soon. 🙂

We did. It was delicious.

Woo hoo!!!!! Still waiting to wake up from this amazing dream… 🙂 🙂 🙂

Six months later, STILL waiting. This is a hell of a long dream.

July:

“THEY’D BETTER USE THE OXFORD COMMA!”

In July, I signed my contract. This quote was my gut reaction to the section in my contract about following the house style guide. (Not sent to my editor, of course! Just joking with my agent. Well, mostly joking. I have strong feelings about the Oxford comma.)

August:

In other news, the revision is coming along great! I’ve got some good momentum going and am trucking along.

In August, I was busting my butt adding 50K words to my book and making it adult rather than YA, and original universe rather than alt history, among other structural revisions. “Trucking along” is want-to-seem-professional-ese for “OH GOD I’M WORKING SO HARD MY SOUL IS BLEEDING.”

September:

SO DELIRIOUSLY HAPPY to finally be able to tell everyone about this!!!!! YAY!!!!!!!!

In September, my book got its final title, THE TETHERED MAGE, and we announced it publicly. Oh, and I turned in that first huge round of revisions.

October:

Thank you so much for all the fantastic feedback! This is all incredibly useful. I’m excited to get going on the edits!

In October, my awesome editor, Lindsey Hall, got back to me alarmingly quickly with feedback on said enormous and soul-breaking round of edits, and I plunged straight into Round Two. NO REST FOR THE WRITER.

November:

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In November, they sent me an early look at a cover concept. The quote above is my reaction! I loved it and I still love it and it made everything seem like maybe it was all real. I also turned in my second round of edits.

December:

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That’s incredibly exciting! WOW!!!

In December, I learned that Orbit would publish my book in the UK as well as the US. I also got feedback on that second round of edits and am now working away on the third, which is nice and small and manageable, comparatively speaking.

You will notice a trend toward more and more exclamation points and capital letters as the year wears on. Clearly, by release day, I will be reduced to nothing but exclamation points, and all my emails and tweets will just be “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Gotta say, I look forward to it.


Write Like the Terminator

You want to get published? Here’s how: be like the Terminator.

The more time I spend immersed in the writing community, the clearer it becomes that a writer’s cardinal virtue is persistence. Many other talents, skills, and qualities will help you on your road, but it’s persistence that will get you there.

Anecdotally, it’s very common for the book that gets you an agent to not be your first novel. And it’s also quite common for the book that landed you your agent to not be the one that gets you published. Chances are strong you’ll have to write a bunch of books, each better than the last, before you write the book that lands you a deal. Even after publication, you are not immune to rejection, and there will likely be books you have to trunk and move on from.

This is why it’s so important not to let despair stop you from forging onward. Even if your beloved manuscripts fall by the wayside like cybernetic limbs blown off with an RPG launcher, you must stride inexorably onward—on fire if need be—your glowing eyes fixed relentlessly on your target. You load up your next ms like a fresh ammo clip, undaunted. You are an unstoppable force.

If you keep writing new books, keep improving your craft, keep learning and revising, keep submitting, you will prevail. It may take years or decades, but you’ll get there.

Because you are badass.

Now go write.