Breadcrumbs (to Find Your Way)

I guess it wouldn’t be wrong to consider writer/illustrators as a horse of a different color. I don’t know if anyone out there has compiled statistics, but I bet they’d be interesting. They might even prove me wrong! Who knows! (The ‘who knows’ part is actually the point of this post.)

It would just be my bet, after six years of art school and fifteen years of internet blogging and fandom involvement, that people who write OR illustrate are more prevalent than people who write AND illustrate. That’s not to say that a lot of people don’t do both in one way or another. Storytelling begets storytelling. Creative people often have multiple outlets. I am really speaking of people who write and illustrate with equal professional emphasis on both. Comic artists absolutely included.

I mean, illustrators in the publishing world are probably less prevalent than writers. I know a lot of working illustrators. Only a handful want to venture into book publishing, and an even smaller group want a literary agent for this purpose. Then you have people who are comic artists who don’t really quite know if they should seek representation or go straight to publishers. And then there are people who want into book publishing but don’t know if they should seek an artist rep or a literary agent. Many don’t even know what literary agents are.

And there just aren’t as many places that break this down for the illustrator or author/illustrator. We join forums and watch for contests and Twitter pitches, but it isn’t quite the same. We have to dig a little harder to get everything we need, especially if we don’t have immediate connections to the industry.

I’m not saying that information doesn’t exist. It does or I wouldn’t know anything. Conferences and conference blogs and SCBWI help tremendously, but you have to know about any of these things to utilize the information. And conferences can be expensive. And going prepared is important.

So this leads me to my point: compared to the prevalence of author blogs disseminating publishing and process information, there are very few dedicated to the author/illustrator or illustrator on the same path. And the vast majority of these author blogs exist in the realm of kidlit, where the vast majority of publishing-intent illustrators probably fit. So, why not get more illustrators out there in the book blogging world? It seems natural that we would overlap.

And we are a small community. Connections and resources are everything.

I’m going to try helping, even as I’m slogging through my own journey to reach my goals. Hopefully I’ll have some relevant perspectives for people just like me or people starting out. In any case, I’ll be writing blog posts to avoid doing my actual edits.

(Not good advice.)

The Morass: Letting Go

As I venture into my second R&R, I have one less weapon in my depository. Which is good because this weapon injured no one but myself.

I was (well, I’ll always be, because creators always are) way, way, phenomenally way too close to my work. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids too close. It was virtually impossible to craft a tight narrative because all I could see were the bits and pieces that created the whole. A lot of these bits and pieces might make sense if you’re talking about a real person’s history, but even autobiographies have narrative. I was basically just planting one thing here, one thing there, developing a character without crafting the shape of that development into, I dunno, a story.

Because I was way too close. Way too attached. After years of living and breathing in this creative universe, where certain events had to happen because I ALREADY SAID SO BEFORE, I was completely handicapped. I mean, it’s not as though I didn’t realize this at the time I started outlining the novel (because I knew enough to create antagonistic forces that weren’t there before), but I was reeeallly reluctant to think much about it. I just didn’t want it to really be true, all the while knowing it was. If writing feels like checking off a list of things, then it’s not good writing. And it’s not fun to do.

The second R&R didn’t identify anything surprising. What it did was to put a finger on the specifics. And it woke me up, too. The other reason I was so ready to flip a switch in my head was because I had spent a year away from the damn thing, focusing on grad school, a new city, new friends. Removing myself from the immersion and escapism of the previous nine years was useful in ways I didn’t expect.

First of all, I am far more ready to shake things up. I am far more ready to take things out, move things around, obliterate and destroy. Not that I never tortured my darlings before, but the momentum of the story and certain events just had to be there, untouched. Well, NOT ANYMORE.

Besides the second R&R, I had extra eyes reading the manuscript last summer. It’s been difficult to get volunteers to finish the entire thing (though my mom had invaluable advice about the first couple of parts of the story), so Michael’s dedication was immense and really, really helpful. He left notes everywhere, and his storytelling skills are always on point, so he could see the big picture and lobbed questions at me about plot, character, and the direction everything was going, challenging me to rethink. Challenging me to turn my mind to structure and pacing. Oh, structure. Oh, pacing. How I neglected you.

There always comes a point of loathing when writing (or illustrating) something. When you’ve looked at it way too much. Spent way too much time with it. And it doesn’t mean that you’ve done the wrong thing or you’re creating something terrible. I can’t say I ever reached that point so much as I felt like I was trapped by years of of development and world-building that wasn’t done so with a novel in mind. Yes, I wrote novel-length things about different characters for many a NaNoWriMo and personal project, but as I said before, not once was this about publication. That was always later, later. Until it wasn’t later anymore and I had all of this Stuff that was better suited to round-robin pleasure writing and creating consistent visual imagery. (Hey, that’s a thing: all of this work was nothing but positive for my illustrations!)

So all of this brings me to where I am now. In December 2014, I began what I hope will be the biggest and best edits. I didn’t make it very far into the first quarter of the story, but it’s already moving easier. Then, when January came along, I put it all on hold again for the last semester of grad school. And then I got a chance to take my middle grade thesis project out into the world, but that’s another post for another day.

Poor Spectacular. I’ve got you on my mind, don’t you worry.

The Morass: The Last Five Years

Stage One: Write a Manuscript

2010 marks the official year I decided to begin writing THE SPECTACULAR. Before I could do that, I knew I needed an arsenal full of knowledge. You can’t do historical, even historical fantasy, without the tools to build the world. Seriously, nothing feeds you quite like research. So research I did.

I started writing the manuscript in earnest in August 2011. I was done with the first draft at the end of December. My plan was to take a break from it for a month, as is usually encouraged, but because of a really lucky connection, I had a chance to submit it to an agent almost immediately. After giving her a partial and examples of my illustration, she agreed to read the full.

Stage Two: Defy Reality

Now, I knew it wasn’t in the right shape (the word count being shockingly high, for one thing), but I spent January and part of February 2012 speeding through the whole behemoth, editing as I went. This wasn’t a structural edit; I mostly caught some typos and reworded some things. Then I sent it off. I can’t say I felt 100% about it, but a chance like that isn’t something to waste. I knew my luck in the query trenches was going to be rough. If I could avoid it, I would. Still, though, if you think your time querying is already bad and you haven’t started, maybe you’ve shot yourself in the foot.

So, anyway, I never heard back from this agent. I nudged. The connection I had to her nudged. But nothing happened.

Stage Three: Face Reality

The novel was too damn long. It still is, as of the time I am writing this entry, three years later. But at least it’s not over 200k.

I journeyed into my first real round of edits in August 2012. I hadn’t read the manuscript or looked at it since submitting to that long-ago agent in February. This time, things would be different. This time I was going to make the damn thing lose weight and tighten up. I discovered the Shrunken Manuscript method (which unfortunately is not a word count shrinking machine) and adapted it to my extremely long manuscript. The result was an excel spreadsheet for each part of the novel, with columns for things like weather and location consistency, as well as character tracking and word count. It was my way of looking at something too large to take in at one glance.

shrunkenmanuscript

 

According to my email records, I sent out a tiny round of queries in September. I didn’t try very hard and I sent out under five. My focus was on applying to grad school, so I shifted to illustration for a while. Until I got a full request in February 2013.

Stage Four: Diet

The full came back in May as a revise & resubmit. Still too long? WHY’D YOU ASK. I had been accept into grad school while the full was out, but I spent May and June 2013 chopping out words and paragraphs and chapters and smashing things together. I didn’t stop. I read the manuscript approximately a dozen times, until it became physically exhausting to train my poor eyes upon the first sentence. And I’m pretty sure I had the first page memorized.

Then I resubmitted and let it go. I had to move across the country and go back to school. THE SPECTACULAR simmered on the back burner, and I didn’t hear back on the full until I nudged in spring 2014, after the first year of school ended.

Stage Five: Take a Break

It was another R&R. The revision notes were exactly what I needed. I’d never spent so long away from the novel before, either. With these powers combined, I am… editing it again!

The Morass

This is actually a post about editing. It will all make sense later.

There are certain segments of the population for whom word count is not a caution but a challenge. I am one of those people.

90k is like a sneeze, man. The first time I tried NaNoWriMo, I finished in the first five days. The only year I didn’t win was when I just stopped. I used WriteOrDie to see if I could write a thousand words in fifteen minutes. The answer is yes. (Just don’t ask about the typos.)

But I’ve never written anything just to see how long I could make it; I just never thought about how long something should be. This is a problem when you are no longer thirteen and writing serial installments of X-Men movie fanfiction masquerading as a horror story and posting it on AOL’s excessively moderated Blackberry Creek.

Though I have written fiction for most of my life, the thought of mastering pacing was something that flew right over my head until embarrassingly late. Long after I’d won NaNoWriMo. Long after I’d won NaNoWriMo many more times. Long after I’d banged out project after project detailing all the maudlin backstories of all my maudlin characters. Long, long after I’d finished writing chaptered Harry Potter fanfiction.

Up until this point, my most carefully crafted fiction had an outline of events that progressed a character to a known endpoint, with known Significant Events carrying me along. This is how I could write and finish so much so quickly. And yeah, I attracted non-friend readers who (still) asked to read that stuff. But in terms of making something coherent, in terms of making something tight, in terms of ohhh querying agents (which, thank god, I knew I wasn’t ready to do)… Actually, it’s the fact that each project was not meant for publication that allowed me to appeal to my own interests and the interests of my friends and nothing else. And that set me back. Because my goal has always been to be published one day.

Which brings me to today. Not, like, literally just today, but, you know. To the present Last Five Years.

Pacing isn’t easy for most people and it’s even worse when you’ve done everything in your power to never, ever think about it. So this lack of focus collides with over a decade of world-building and what you get is a giant, five thousand layer cake with no written recipe for smaller portions. I have to do that part when I’ve never done that part.

And so I come to editing.

Actually, what I came to was reality. In 2010, I finally made the decision to knuckle down and write a novel I intended to take out into the world. The world beyond LiveJournal.

I forced myself to avoid writing until I’d researched enough (something I will probably talk about some other day), so during the year that this happened, I primarily lived in a bubble of circus history and didn’t do any How Best to Write a Thing so that It’s Good research. It was when I finally began writing and the word count began climbing that I first discovered the world of word count expectation.

Genre variations aside, your average word count for your average adult novel rarely hits 90k, especially for a debut author (and I am not even that). Here I am, a loyal fanatic of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix beyond all other Harry Potter Books, and you’re trying to tell me that 90k is enough. HA.

I took comfort in the sometimes-mentioned fact that adult fantasy gets a little more leeway. But leeway usually doesn’t mean 50k more.

In planning out the story, I was doing everything I did before. I strung together events I knew happened to my character, all towards an ending that was set in stone (as well as a future that was even more concrete.) The only thing is, that doesn’t work. That doesn’t make a novel. That makes an exhaustive character background story, but it doesn’t make an interesting read. I had to, and have to, learn how to write with this intention in mind.

Is it possible to be too close to a character? Too familiar with her world? Answer: YES. (This is pink to show the truth in it.) (I will probably talk about this some day, too.)

How can you structure something when you can’t make room for the foundation? How can you turn a series of scattered bits of development into a coherent story when you didn’t create those developments for the sake of a tight narrative in the first place?

There is no answer in this post because I in the midst of trying to figure this out.

The Morass is the seemingly bottomless, sweltering thing that is editing. Editing THE SPECTACULAR, anyway. I wouldn’t be putting myself through any of it if I didn’t think the beast secretly had a heart of gold. I am going to hope that this metaphor doesn’t turn into Artax.

Inconclusive

Here we go again, trying to use a lot of words in a row to update the internet about what I am doing, what I should be doing, and what I am probably not doing.

Will I post illustration or writing here? Undoubtedly, because I don’t do anything else with my life. But not the finished products. The finished products dwell on my tumblr and my website. Which you probably know, or else how did you get here? Arbitrarily googling Dvojack? Are you an angry relative who wanted to snag this domain first? Well, HA HA. I’ve foiled all fifty-seven of you.

I’ll at least try to do right by our good name.