In an attempt to spend very few dollars and therefore pay off remaining debts sooner (and buy a house sooner), brittanyslair.com will soon be no more. Brittanythibodeaux.com will be around for some time yet, but all content is moving over to brittanyslair.wordpress.com. I’m in the process of “fixing” what’s been moved over there now, but there’s a bit of work to do on that end. See you at the new haunt!
I haven’t written as many words as I’d like, but I’m still alive!
For just over a week, I’ve been suffering from some nasty upper respiratory crap that required my taking a whole round of meds (which I’m still on), not least of which are an inhaler and an antibiotic also used to treat both anthrax and plague (no shit).
So where does that leave writing? Well, prior to this nastiness, I had been doing great! But the past ten days has been a slippery slope of almost nada. In fact, today is the first day I’ve logged any words (though none yet have been novel- or project-related) since the 18th. Ugh.
Since I’m using this fancy new Google Sheets tracker for all my words (novel- and project-related inclusive, along with blog, reviews, beta reading, etc.), I’m now going to be able to provide weekly and monthly stats for you all. See below for my running weekly totals.
Weekly Words Written
6/26/16 – 7/2/16: 4,426
7/3/16 – 7/9/16: 2,984
7/10/16 – 7/16/16: 8,326
7/17/16 – 7/23/16: 1,616
July Words Written
14,889 (as of today)
So it hasn’t been the greatest month due to the illness, but I’m ready to make August much better than July. I’m also hoping to get another 3k words between today and tomorrow, just so I don’t end July on a flat note. All in all, I’m still proud of my progress. I could easily have doubled my word count, I think.
Something I’ve begun doing on my Goal Tracker (a spreadsheet I use to track all my goals; it isn’t just for writing) is giving myself a sliding weekly goal of 3k words written. I get a certain number of reward points for the minimum 3k, but I also increase the reward points if I write 4.5k, 6k, 7.5, etc. This has given me the tiniest little extra push in making every day count word-wise.
If you’re interested in tracking your word counts but don’t have a nifty spreadsheet, check out Hillary DePiano’s website. This is the sheet I’ve been using for the month, and I adore it.
You may have noticed that I’ve been unusually quiet on the blog-front and Twitterverse this month. While it started off as procrastination, I’ve actually harnessed this hiatus (and lack of responsibility) to focus my efforts elsewhere.
At the end of May, I was a busy lady. I had several blog posts ready to go, I had an author interview ready, and I made a business trip to the San Francisco area. Especially on the trip, I worked my ass off. I loved being busy, but I was beyond exhausted a few days into June.
Since then, I’ve been taking a mid-year review of my priorities, goals, and progress.
The busy-ness from the past few months has had a negative impact on my health. I’ve gained about fifteen pounds in the past several months after I lost focus on my health goals.
I stopped prioritizing my writing and editing and creating mini goals (one of my favorite motivators) and stopped seeing the strides I’d previously made.
I’ve made the financial goals I set out, but only just; where I should have had plenty of spare room to pay off additional debts, I instead splurged, didn’t do as much meal planning, and was generally lazy on the financial front.
I’ve felt down about the lack of progress I’ve made on all my goals, and I realized that I’m in a rut. I have to re-align my goals to match my highest priorities (after analyzing what those are) and move further in that direction.
Then my sister sent me a link to this article: “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year.” It reminded me of how much happier I am when I’m actually getting words down on paper. I realized that I really want to start collecting rejections sooner rather than later, and that I have to start today to write like I used to.
Taming the Hiatus
So I’m going to continue this hiatus from the blog and Twitter for July. During this hiatus, I’m going to focus on
- My health
- My writing (focused: first novel edits, new short stories, existing short story edits)
- My finances
For my health, I’m focusing on my activity time (20+ minutes per day), using the gym at work during lunch or the apartment gym in evenings/on weekends. I’ll walk more, like I used to back before the holidays. And I’ll try to use my bike more. I’m going to set mini goals for myself in my goal tracker and reward myself with points so I can stay on track.
For my writing, I’m bringing back mini goals and daily word count trackers. This time, I’m borrowing a tracker from Hillary Depiano I found which keeps track of progress through multiple projects and includes a way to track editing, blogs, and so forth. It looks amazing and really scratches that data itch of mine.
I also created a plan to test via Pacemaker. This looks like a nifty tool, but I don’t know if it’ll provide all the data I want. For the time, I plan to use Hillary’s Google Sheets tracker daily, and plug data into Pacemaker weekly or biweekly.
As for financial goals, I’m going to go back to menu planning and being more cautious about bringing lunches to work and sticking to the meal plan.
I will still receive notifications from the blog and Twitter, and I will look at them. I probably won’t respond in a very timely manner, though, so please don’t be offended if I’m not keeping up with you.
Write and write often, my friends.
After attending Jay Asher’s suspense workshop (No Bookmarks Allowed) at the Houston Writers Guild Conference, I became inspired. It was a major “ah ha” moment for me. I decided to re-outline my novel to create more suspense. If you’re worried that your manuscript isn’t the page-turner you want it to be, feel free to copy my methods.
In typical Brittany fashion, I created a spreadsheet to create my suspense outline. I listed each scene with the following columns:
- Chapter number
- Scene Name
- Point of View
- Additional characters present
- Plot: Here I include any important plot information that occurs in this scene.
- Stage: This is an optional one that I don’t always use. It’s meant to denote which point of the manuscript the scene belongs to by using Freytag’s Pyramid (Exposition, Inciting Incident, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Resolution, Denouement).
- Conflict: This is where I list new questions (suspense injections) that the reader should be asking by the end of the scene.
- Resolution: This is where I list the answers to previously asked questions which are answered in the current scene.
For the conflicts and resolutions, I gave each new question a number. When it was answered in a later scene, I used
strikethrough for that particular question, so I knew it wasn’t an unanswered question at a glance.
First, I used the sheet to list the way my novel was currently laid out, then I used that template to create a new version. In the new version, I made sure there were new questions (suspense) by the end of each scene, which was amazing.
Some scenes ended up being split in half because the question and answer were both provided. Some scenes got removed because they didn’t really move the plot forward. And some scenes got combined into one because, while they moved the plot forward, they didn’t really add any suspense to the novel.
After re-designing each scene, I reviewed the entire list of scenes with someone who had never read my entire novel: Peretroopah (the husband). As I read through each scene’s major plot points, he offered his fresh perspective on what seemed realistic or not, areas that didn’t make sense to him, scenes that didn’t have enough suspense, and a thousand other helpful things.
Using this road map, I’m now rewriting each of my scenes so they each have more suspense. After each chapter is complete, I send it along to my sister, Peretroopah, and some writer friends (who attended the conference and workshop as well) for feedback.
Thus far, the feedback has been really exciting. I feel like I’m getting closer and closer to the next major step: querying.
2016 Goals Progress
Today I want to focus on my 2016 goals progress, since it’s been a little while since I’ve given an update.
Finish the first edit of my first manuscript– I completed this on January 3. Finish the second edit of my first manuscript– I completed this in early March. Have five beta readers give feedback on my first manuscript– I completed this, but am now recruiting a second round of betas to go through my rewritten manuscript. Edit my first manuscript… as many times as it takes– In progress. This is not a “SMART” goal; it isn’t measurable, and is redundant with some of my other goals. I’m therefore taking it out of my goal list.
- Submit my manuscript to <10> agents
… as many as it takes– I have not completed this, as I’m waiting until I finish my rewrites and implementing beta feedback. Finish outlining my second manuscript– This is complete! I decided not to go too in-depth with my outlining, but I have a good basis that will allow some freedom of “pantsing”.
- Write my second manuscript – This is started, but is still on hiatus until I finish rewrites and round 2 beta feedback implementation.
- Begin editing my second manuscript – This will be a long way down the road. I might even have to move it to 2017 if I don’t finish the edits for my first manuscript in time.
Volunteer as a beta reader– I am now a beta reader for three other writers. Join a critique group or writers group– This was completed. I joined a critique group in Houston; however, due to scheduling conflicts with work, I’m going to have to put this on the back burner for awhile. Attend a writers conference– I did this in late April/early May, and I even pitched to an agent.
My 2016 goals progress is looking pretty decent. I still need to make some waves with my second novel, but I have to wait at least until I complete the three betas I’m currently working on. I think I might end up pushing a lot of the writing to November so I can participate in NaNo for the first time. Even the NaNo goal (50k words) will only put me at about half of my manuscript, but I think it would be a lot of fun.
2016 Houston Writers Guild Conference… Plus a Bit More
At the end of April, I attended the 2016 Houston Writers Guild Conference. Not only did this mark my first-ever attendance to a writers conference, but it also marked my first-ever pitch to the amazing literary agent, Amy Boggs. I was fortunate that two friends were also in attendance, and we were able to split up the workshops to make sure someone attended all the sessions we were interested in. I met several other writers and had a great time.
2016 Houston Writers Guild Conference Guests
There were some amazing guests at the conference, all of whom were exceedingly friendly and kind.
NYT-bestselling author Jay Asher, author of “Thirteen Reasons Why” started the weekend. He gave us an inspiring workshop on Friday, giving a thorough explanation of how and why it’s critical to insert suspense into your novel. His two-hour workshop created a great deal of suspense about his first novel, so I knew I had to read it. My friend picked up a copy for each of us, and Jay signed them both (plus the copy I got for my sister) the next day. Jay was a joy to listen to, and I was really enamored by how friendly and down-to-earth he was.
And yes, I did read the book. I fell asleep late Saturday night, knowing full well that I needed to be up Sunday morning for the last day of the conference. I finished it Sunday night. It’s amazing to see how Jay uses the suspense tips that he provided in his workshop. Needless to say, the book was a page turner.
I was fortunate enough to get through my pitch with agent Amy Boggs without vomiting. This is largely thanks to my friend, who had me do some breathing exercises beforehand. I didn’t even shake! And while the pitch wasn’t perfect, I was thrilled that Amy asked for the first twenty pages of my manuscript.
Saturday the keynote was given by another NYT-bestselling author: Jamie Ford. Jamie is a hilarious speaker; one of my favorite parts of his talk was his “Real Tweets.” Jamie’s first novel, “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” has become required reading for some high schools, including where Jamie lives. One (or more) of his four daughters finds joy in locating Tweets about his book, which she then prints out and shares with him. If you’re wondering what types of Tweets these are, let’s just say they aren’t the friendliest. I think one of them was along the lines of “More like ‘Hotel on the Corner of This Book Sucks'” or something like that.
While I have yet to read it myself, I’m excited to start today or tomorrow. Jamie was an amazing guest speaker, and a delight to talk to. While signing my book (which made me give my sappiest “d’awww” face), Jamie inquired about my writing progress and was really encouraging about the results of my pitch. He also recommended fantasy author Brian McClelland to me, who I will soon be checking out.
(Jamie’s note above his signature: “For Brittany – Next time you can sign your book for me!”)
Sunday at the Houston Writers Guild Conference consisted of a high-speed workshop provided by the beautiful and brilliant Pamela Fagan Hutchins. Pamela gave a thorough look into indie publishing and how to be successful in publishing and marketing. Though there were many concepts I was already familiar with, Pamela brought a wealth of new information to the table. And while I intend to continue pursuing traditional publishing for my current novel (and the ensuing series), that doesn’t mean I won’t pursue indie in the future.
Though romance is not my standard genre (I’m only reading my second Brianna West romance novel now), I picked up three of Pamela’s: “Heaven to Betsy” (which you can pick up for free), “Earth to Emily,” and “Hell to Pay.”
So What Am I Doing?
You might be saying to yourself, “Cool, Brittany pitched and was asked for twenty pages. Surely she’s sent them out already!”
Well, you’d be wrong.
I’m not squandering this precious chance. I learned a lot from the Houston Writers Guild Conference, and I intend to use as much of it as I can to increase my odds of finding an agent. So, for at least the rest of May, I’ll be working to make my manuscript as shiny as possible. I want to use Jay Asher’s advice and inject suspense in places where it’s lacking. Then maybe I can take Jamie Ford up on his kind note.
As I improve my manuscript, I’m also taking some Coursera classes to refresh my grammar and punctuation and improve my ability as a writer. There are several of these free courses offered, so I suggest you take a look. If that isn’t really your thing, I’ll be posting some helpful grammar refreshers. I’ve already posted the twelve different verb tenses, so go have a look if you haven’t cracked open a grammar book in awhile.
This year I decided to volunteer at CyPhaCon, a con begun a handful of years ago by a few guys I knew in Lake Charles.
I had an amazing time filling a Security role for the convention, and dragging Peretroopah around to the vendors, panels, and cosplayers throughout the convention.
I had three Bawls energy drinks (YUM), and we spent entirely too much money on books, artwork, and various other goodies. I’m so depressed that we can’t even hang the art we got; some of it has dragons!
We met the very cool S. Usher Evans and picked up her book, Empath.
One of my favorite parts was the Q&A with the marvelous Tony Amendola, who plays (among a ridiculously long list of other roles) Marco/Gepetto in “Once Upon a Time.”
The cosplay was amazing, as always. One of my favorites was an amazing youngster who came in as Pyramid Hello Kitty – a fantastic mixture of horror and cuteness!
She competed in the cosplay contest, and I believe she even placed. Her walk was great; she had the slow, lurching movements that one would expect. Loved it!
Now, some of you may not know this, but I am a huge ewok fan. Peretroopah often refers to Wicket as my cousin and asks me where I’ve left my leather headdress. Sometimes he even agrees to do something I’ve asked of him by responding “Yub yub, commandress.”
So it should be no surprise when I tell you that I was beyond excited about the two Wickets I found.
The first was an adorable little girl with the bare essentials. She dutifully posed for me, and I couldn’t believe how sweet her smile was.
The second was much more realistic. That’s to be expected for those hanging out at the 501st booth.
Speaking of the 501st… They were amazing! Peretroopah and I were understandably impressed with their equipment and setup, so we sat in on one of their panels.
I didn’t realize they were so hardcore! I expected to hear that membership required an expensive annual fee, plus the cost of the gear.
The gear itself is the price of membership. But you can’t just show up in your Darth Vader onesie thinking you can join. The 501st (and the Rebel Legion, its sister group) are strict when it comes to approving costumes; they even list the required pieces, designs, and so forth for each costume on the website.
So while it’s free to join, putting together the costume in a manner that meets their standards can be quite costly. The lowest price we heard for some of the simpler Imperial officer costumes was in the neighborhood of about $300-$400. Something like Darth Vader can be in the neighborhood of about ten times that.
We won’t be rushing to spend all of our dollars on this just yet – especially not before buying a house – but Peretroopah and I do plan to work on putting some costumes together, thanks to the 501st’s enthusiasm.
A CyPhaCon Story
A True Story
Once there was a little girl named Rey.
Rey went to the CyPhaCon Jedi training class with the other kids. She ran in circles, attacking the others with her
pool noodle light saber.
Suddenly, Rey spotted Kylo Ren walking through the CyPhaCon grounds with his
Rey ran to the training class exit, pulled the glass door as hard as she could, and only just managed to get her face through the door. “HAHAHA!” she shouted. “I turned to the Dark Side, Kylo!”
She wrenched the door open far enough to squirm through it, then ran to Kylo.
Me and a few other nerds Onlookers watched in amazement, then horror, as the two spoke. After a few moments, their light sabers slowly rose, and we knew we should get the heck out of there before something terrible happened.
As you know, my husband and I recently went to Calgary, Alberta. I thought I’d finally take the time to share some of our experiences in Calgary with you all.
What began as a work trip soon turned into an (accidental) anniversary expedition. @Peretroopah had never flown or left the country prior to this, so it was an entirely new experience for him.
For those that don’t know, Calgary is like the Texas of Canada. They’re all about rodeo and oil up there (generalizations are fun, mmkay?).
We were able to see the tallest building in Calgary from our hotel bathroom.
Aside from spending entirely too much money thanks to the CAD to USD conversion rate, @Peretroopah and I spend every moment we could (e.g. I wasn’t in the office) exploring.
As I previously posted, we met author Adam Dreece and chatted with him over coffee.
Wednesday evening was packed with excitement. We had our pre-anniversary dinner at the Sky360 lounge, which sits one floor below the observation deck of the Calgary Tower. The restaurant rotates once per hour, so diners can see Calgary below from every angle.
The restaurant was kind enough to give us a special message for our anniversary. Note: if, on the evening before your anniversary, a server asks if it’s a special occasion, don’t reply “Nah, just work.” Poor @peretroopah. Luckily I remembered without his reminding me.
Up on the observation deck, @Peretroopah had no problem standing over Calgary. That is, he had no trouble if he didn’t look down.
Just as with last year, I had to ease myself over with the railing. Once there, I did fine.
Though we were dismayed to find the downtown mall closed early, we were excited to find that Indigo was still open. I immediately searched out Adam’s books, and was so pleased to find them, I bought the first two. Sure, I have a digital copy of the first one. But I needed it in paperback to match the amazing short he signed for me.
Anniversary Day: We rented a car and made the trek to Banff. I’ll save you from the loads of pictures @Peretroopah made me take (despite my protests that “I just took these on the same route last year!”), as this is already a bit long-winded.
Unfortunately for us, the gondolas were still closed for the season. We did a little shopping (and a lot of walking) before the snow started falling.
With the nice lookout closed, we found the next best lookout.
Three Editing Tools You Need
Some people hate the editing phase. And yeah, it can be a real pain in the ass at times. Words seem to blur together, and sentence structures are long-abandoned memories after a few hours in. I don’t find editing to be quite that objectionable but I do like to use a few tools to help me in the first editing steps. The following are my favorite line editing tools, editing tools you need. Note that they won’t help much with character development, consistency, or other plot issues.
editMinion is a great, free tool for stylistic suggestions to your writing. Simply copy and paste your text into the text field. Be careful not to paste too much, though, or the script will crash and you’ll have to reload. I prefer to paste one scene at a time when using editMinion. Click “Edit!” and bam! Your text is pasted with tags beneath the text field.
Common mistakes such as adverbs, weak words, dialogue replacements, and clichés are highlighted with a recurring color so you can easily spot your weaknesses at a glance. Frequently used words are listed with their count. Plus, the average sentence length and longest sentence length are displayed with a graph showing the sentence lengths as a visual aid. This gives a quick insight into whether you have good rhythm in your passages.
For a down-and-dirty grammar check, Grammarly is your woman. The tool can be used in a few different ways, including browser, application, and extension versions. The browser and application versions allow you to paste passages, similar to editMinion, or to upload an entire document via the upload tool. The extension version, such the Chrome extension, gives dynamic grammar feedback in text fields. This may not be especially helpful for your novel, but it is nice when writing a blog, socializing in forums and social media, and so forth.
Two primary types of feedback are given: critical and advanced. The critical issues are provided at no cost and include common grammar mistakes such as miswritten words, omitted or extra commas, and possibly confused words.
You can pay a subscription fee (standardly $30/month) for the advanced feedback, which includes suggestions such as word choice, word order, wordiness, complex and compound sentence punctuation, and passive voice use. Though this seems well worth the value, I haven’t yet taken the plunge on the subscription. I’m contemplating doing so in the next month or three. If so, I’ll provide a report to you all and let you know if it’s a good value.
3. Oral Edit
It might sound silly at first, but there’s nothing like reading your manuscript aloud. There are different approaches to this, depending on the type of reader and listener you are. Some folks prefer to read aloud themselves, but some tend to read past the words with their eyes, not actually listening to the sound of the words. In this case, it may be helpful to use a reader such as
In this case, it may be helpful to use a free reader such as NaturalReader to hear the words without reading along. You’ll have to get accustomed to the rhythm of the reader’s cadence to get the full effect, though, as the speech is a little more halting than a human reader might be.
Another option is to record yourself reading the manuscript aloud. This is a lot more time-consuming than the other methods.
I’d love to hear your favorite editing methods. Leave me a comment and let me know how you go about editing.
Greetings, readers. More than enough has happened in the 23 days since I left you. I’m beyond exhausted, and disappointed in my lack of writing/editing of late. I’m too tired even for self-loathing though, so we’ll move forward.
I attended the Pre-Conference Writing Workshop held by the Houston Writers Guild just over a week ago. There was a good turnout, and two guest speakers. Due to a little scheduling snaffoo, I got to meet several of the other folks before-hand as a first-ever encounter with the guild I’d just joined. I was really pleased to do so, because I met a few lovely people. I also learned of a critique group located not far from me – one that actually works for my schedule. It’s amazing. I can’t wait to show my writing to others, though it kind of terrifies me that I can’t hide behind a monitor to read their feedback. But I’m almost more concerned about giving quality feedback on their writing. There’s a curved line between giving someone good, hard critiquing, and bashing their writing into smithereens.
Prior to the workshop I wrote a little flash fiction piece based on a dream I’d had some weeks ago. It’s actually my intent to turn this into a short story (or perhaps even a humorous superhero-esque novel), but I first wanted to try it out in flash fiction. I read countless flash fiction pieces on a litany of websites prior to writing my piece, and was surprised to find my piece turn quite dark. I submitted the piece to a few publications two weeks ago. Thus far I’ve received two responses: my first rejections! I know it’s quite odd, but I’m thrilled with myself for having the guts to submit anything at all.
Last week Peretroopah and I headed to Calgary for a work trip of mine. Peretroopah was able to get some rest in during my work hours, and it’s a good thing. Every moment I wasn’t working or sleeping, we had plans.
Tuesday evening in Calgary Peretroopah and I met Adam Dreece, author of The Yellow Hoods series. Even the husband was entertained as we discussed the steps of publishing in the indie vs. traditional methods. Hearing of Adam’s successes was amazing and inspiring. It’s clear to me that, no matter the method you pursue, your return is directly affected by the amount of work you put into it. You can’t simply write something, release it into the world, and expect it to be “discovered” and take off. You have to work at it, nurture it. And I think most folks would agree that no matter what your publishing method is, if you expect your book to sell, you have to be heavily involved in the marketing. That’s one part that excites me – especially if it involves going to conventions and conferences to sell. The speaking part – well, I have a little practice due to my office job, but I certainly have room for improvement.
My pitch is coming up soon – just one month left. I’m nervous as can be, but excited too. I’ve got one month to polish things as brightly as I can manage. Both speakers at the workshop I attended suggested attending the 2016 Texas Library Association Conference, so I’m going to see if I can swing that with my work schedule as well.
But here’s what you really wanted to know: My ear still won’t fully pop. I’ve been on the ground for more than 2.5 days, and still my left ear isn’t cooperating.
2016 Writing Goals Status:
Finish the first edit of my first manuscript– I completed this on January 3. Finish the second edit of my first manuscript– I completed this in early March.
- Have five beta readers give feedback on my first manuscript – I’ve received one full beta reader’s feedback, and partials on a few others. Still waiting on the rest.
Edit my first manuscript… as many times as it takes– In progress. This is not a “SMART” goal; it isn’t measurable, and is redundant with some of my other goals. I’m therefore taking it out of my goal list.
- Submit my manuscript to <10> agents
… as many as it takes– Again, this is not a “SMART” goal. I’m changing it to “Submit my manuscript to 10 agents” for the time being. Finish outlining my second manuscript– This is complete! I decided not to go too in-depth with my outlining, but I have a good basis that will allow some freedom of “pantsing”.
- Write my second manuscript – This is started, but is currently on hiatus. I felt overwhelmed with all my goals along with the move, and fell into a bit of a depression. I’ve since picked myself back up, and am focusing on my first novel’s second edit before I get back to writing the first draft of the second novel.
- Begin editing my second manuscript – This will be a long way down the road, but I still plan to get to this in 2016.
Volunteer as a beta reader– I have begun beta reading for another fantasy reader, in a beta trade. She’s currently looking at my manuscript, and I’ve been going through hers! Join a critique group or writers group– This is halfway done. I’ve found the group and agreed to join, but won’t be able to attend my first session until the end of April, due to Cyphacon.
- Attend a writers conference – The conference I really want to attend is in April, here in Houston. I am going!