dreamer duoloy

Only So Many Hours

Lately, Billy Joel’s “Vienna” has been the song that gets me through. It all feels a little too true. Specifically the line “You got so much to do any only so many hours in the day.” Because there really is more to do than hours each day, and still, I try to accomplish what I can. This is probably why the latest round of edits on DREAM CATCHERS is taking much longer than anticipated. But it’s also that I want to do right by these characters and story before heading back into the query trenches.

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With the updated query letter and recent epiphanies, it feels like representation is on the horizon. After five years working on this novel, it feels like the perfect time to fix what’s broken, kill some darlings, and send a better version of this story than I previously knew existed within my mind.

To go about this round of edits, it took too many hours, endless patience, and a bit of preparation. And in doing so, I realized I could not do any of this without updating the Series Bible for the Dreamer Duology. There were still too many questions that needed answers, too many character motivations that needed to be fulfilled. Such is the life of a writer, even one stuck in the same world for too many years.

So how did I manage?

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With limited hours most days, I knew I would need to have tangible evidence of what required fixing. So began my read through in the printed proof version of the manuscript that I had bound by Createspace. There’s something about seeing words outside of a computer screen that suddenly brings about all the glaring errors that were previously missed. I took an orange highlighter to lines and sections I loved, yellow to ones that needed more work. And once I’d finished the entire book, had some new ideas, talked them through with my fabulous critique partner, I made a spreadsheet.

Maybe for some writers out there this seems a bit like overkill since the line edits were already in the manuscript. But since so many things had come up, I needed a better way to organize, to see trends in the edits, and to come up with solutions before actually diving back into the manuscript. The spreadsheet created on Google Sheets breaks the edits down by: Part, Chapter, Story Element, What to Change, How To, and Progress. As I move along through these edits, it’s nice to see how much I’ve completed.

Now you might recall me mentioning preparation and the term “Series Bible” earlier in this post. Before I started the act of editing, I set my spreadsheet aside, and started updating my research and notes in Scrivener. Being the same Type-A person I’ve always been, I could not imagine using anything other than Scrivener for my writing. While I use it for my poetry as well, it is absolutely necessary in the drafting and editing of a novel, especially since DREAM CATCHERS and future projects are not standalone works, but part of a larger series as a whole. The Dreamer Duology might only be two books, but there is too much I need to remember in crafting these worlds.

While the previous Series Bible was broken down by Characters, Places, and aptly named: Other, I have gotten even more specific in my updates. And while many might see this as an act of procrastination or even redundant, I knew I needed to have all the answers so as not to stumble my way through this new draft in the way I did when I first conceptualized the story in the MFA. Too much has changed between then and now. And I wouldn’t have the time to be aimless.

So how did I create this Series Bible?

For those unfamiliar with Scrivener, I think the endless possibilities and options for customization are what brings its true value to writers, especially because no one process is the same. I began with a right click to add a “New Folder.” If I were in the manuscript adding a new chapter, I would use the “New Text” option, but folders were much more useful here. I labeled the folder “Series Bible.” I clicked into the folder and added seven more: Characters, World, Outlines, Dreams, Playlist, Query, Editing. I color-coded them, and got to work adding my necessary notes.

1.) Characters

This section is broken out into BOOK ONE & BOOK TWO, but each of those folders contains: Character Motivations, Present Characters, and Past Characters. And then for each character, both past and present I have a folder with their name. Inside those folders (which can be customized with either text or a photo on the index card, though I’ve chosen a character photo) there are: Profile, Motivations, and Inspiration. The first two of those were created with the “New Text” option, but I made Inspiration as a folder to add photos for things relevant to my characters, much like the Pinterest board I’ve already created for this series.

2.) World

This section is separated into: Places, Technology, Traditions, Timelines, Glossary, etc. Since this section does contain many secrets and spoilers, I won’t break down what is held inside each of these folders, but do know, they also have sections for notes and Inspiration to keep the world as clear as possible for when I go back into the manuscript.

3.) Outlines

Also broken out into BOOK ONE & BOOK TWO, I’ve split this into a sections with a Beat Sheet and Full Outline, both of which are new additions to my writing process. I normally work off of my index cards in the Scrivener “Binder” to guide my plotting, but thought it would be interesting to do more detailed work with the finished book to use as comparison once the edits are completed.

4.) Dreams

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In a novel with the title DREAM CATCHERS, I’m sure this sections comes as no surprise. While Camryn’s dreams are woven throughout the narrative, it is much easier to look at their structure and pacing by having them all grouped together outside of the manuscript, which is why this folder was a necessary addition.

5.) Playlist

While this might be a new folder within the Series Bible, I have already created a playlist for each of my books and continue to keep them updated whenever I hear a song too perfect to forget. The difference between this and my Apple Music playlist, is that I’ve organized these by how they fall in the plot of the story and notated how they connect. In doing so, if I get stuck editing a scene, I can go and listen to that song once or twice or on an endless loop as I’ve done with Hozier’s “Talk.” This section, too, is broken out into BOOK ONE & BOOK TWO, and organizing the songs there gave me a few new ideas for the second book in this duology.

6.) Query

When I first started writing DREAM CATCHERS in Scrivener, there was no need for a query section. The goal back then was just to finish this book. But as the time approached to query, I knew I needed to stay organized. For any writer about to embark on the querying journey, I highly suggest researching agents first and foremost, and then find the best way to organize what you learn. Again, I’m sure many people would see this as overkill since I have used Query Tracker in the past and have a spreadsheet in place to track querying as well. But unlike both of those options, I’ve broken down each round of querying into a separate folder with my stats labeled on the index card (R&R, PR, FR, ER, CNR - all acronyms that will mean nothing to the non-querying writer). And within those Round 1-5 folders, I have another section for each agent as well as the query and synopsis sent at that time. For the agents, I have the date sent and the date of their response. Inside the folders, I have research and the communication sent back from the agents. Again, this might seem extreme, but I have found it a comfort in this often unsettling time within the query trenches.

6.) Editing

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Since I’m only editing BOOK ONE at this point, that is the only folder I am using within this section. However, I have uploaded my spreadsheet and have a separate section for any notes that have come up while editing.

So that is how I’ve created my Series Bible. I think the best part about having all of my research at my fingertips is that I am making use of every extra hour I have to work on completing these edits. Scrivener allows for everything to be kept in one place without having to open multiple word documents. Everything is always where I need it to be.

With everything organized and edits well under way, I am hoping to dive back into the query trenches by the end of this month. Until then, I’ll find the time to finish the work, even if it takes listening to “Vienna” on repeat to remember that there are really only so many hours in the day.

I’m going to make the most of mine, and I hope you’ll make the most of yours, too.

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Exploring the Exceptional

This week, I've once again started editing DREAM CATCHERS. I printed the in-text notes from my wonderful critique partner, formulated a revision plan, met with a beta reader, and organized everything into a new binder to make this arduous process that much easier. After almost four years, I keep thinking this book might be "finished," but now is not that time. And that's okay. 

If the years spent in the MFA with this novel taught me anything, it's that it takes time to develop the best of stories. And this one still needs a little more time to be the best it can possibly be before I begin my third round of querying. Though I have a few things now that I didn't have eight months ago when I entered into the query trenches. 

When I started querying, there was a sense of fear for the unknown, but now that I've been through the query letters, crafting the synopsis, researching agents, hitting send, and waiting, always the waiting, I know this process is manageable. And along the way, I received a Twitter pitch request, a partial manuscript request, and even a full manuscript request from a potential agent. I've submitted to 25 agents and so far all have passed, but I know there will be someone who will love this story. 

This knowing is even more clear after receiving all of the feedback from my amazing critique partner and my first beta reader. My CP has gone above and beyond in not only supporting me, but my vision for this book. So many of her suggestions have found their way into my revision plan. She also made me two more beautiful graphics to showcase my story and my words! 

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Both images now adorn the front and back cover of my editing binder as reminders that someday my world might exist in other readers' minds. It's a wonderful feeling to have after living with this world on my own. The first beta reader to finish reading the book in full has been someone who's traveled along my writing journey for eight years now. My National Honor Society advisor from high school is someone who continues to support my writing. She helped me figure out how to best pursue my passion for writing, she read my poetry sample before I submitted my application to the writing program at Buffalo State College, she read more poetry, my first book, my first poetry collection, and now, DREAM CATCHERS. 

On Monday, I met with her, and we immediately launched into the main plot and subplots of my book. We discussed dreams and scenes and characters. She gave me more feedback, which I've incorporated into my revision plan. But the most amazing and peculiar moments from this meeting happened when she stopped to read her favorite scenes from my book. This was the first time I'd ever heard someone read the words I'd written. And in her reading, I understood those paragraphs must've resonated with her enough to prompt such a thing, and it helped remind me why this book will be important to the world someday. She reminded me why this book is important. 

After the hard work was done we talked about life and literature, my writing, this blog, and this website. And she showed me a note I'd written on a guest check slip from the restaurant with my website address. And she told me it remained on her fridge with a magnet that reminded her of me because of the quote: 

"She was perfectly comfortable being exceptional." 

This was enough to make me realize the person I've become; the person she's watched grow from a bookish high school student to the writer I am today. Knowing she thinks me to be exceptional helped me remember what I've done in writing this book, in setting myself up for rejection after rejection, in not quitting, but continuing to persevere: I suppose I am exceptional. 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about finding my way back to believing again. Through meeting with this mentor and friend, through the friendship and support of my critique partner, and remembering my kingdom of those who've never stopped believing in me, I once again believe. That doesn't make the query trenches any less difficult, nor these edits any less extensive than I already knew they would need to be. This certainly doesn't make me any more exceptional than the dreamer I've always known I needed to be, but rather, reminds me I have everything I need to make this dream a reality. 

Into the Trenches

Leading up to this point in my writing career, I always knew I would submerge myself into the murky waters of traditional publishing. It's taken research and advice from my grad school mentors, and what's more, it's been coming to terms with the fact that this journey is far longer than many understand, for the waters of traditional publishing to become a bit more clear. And after all of this research, preparation, and waiting, I've finally thrown myself into the query trenches. 

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Last Monday, I submitted to the first agent, and yesterday, I submitted to ten more, including my #1 pick. This isn't to say I felt ready in the moment, because hitting send on those emails was one of the most terrifying experiences in my life as a writer. But I did it, because that is the next step. Going into this process, I know what usually happens now--rejection. 

I look back a year ago when I last wrote about rejection (which you can read HERE) but since then, I've become more accustomed to being rejected. From the beginning of this year, I set a goal of 50 rejections for 2017. At the end of last year, I had a total of 36, and now it's August, and I'm already at 44 rejections for this year, which means I will probably exceed my goal of 50. But that doesn't horrify me, because it means I am being aggressive about sending out my work, taking leaps, and putting myself out there to the publishing world. And no, it's not always easy, but that's okay. 

Now, less than 24 hours since sending out my queries, I keep rereading my first "rejection." I thought it would be more of a soul-crushing experience, and once I have a few more book rejections, that feeling might change. But right now, I have a personalized rejection, which for those outside the realm of writing and querying, is something to be proud of.

Most agents when passing on work will send a form rejection to expedite the process. But this agent personalized mine, offering words of encouragement about my dialogue and concept, which he found "really intriguing." He even offered me the opportunity to resubmit pending significant revisions.

At this point, I am confident in my first chapter, but am waiting to hear back from my lovely BETA readers to see if this is a recurring problem. Either way, whatever I choose, it is thrilling to think someone took the time to read and respond to my work. I'm sure this will be the only one I hear from for a bit since most agents say they take anywhere from 2-3 weeks to 4-8, sometimes even 12 weeks to respond. And they might send a form rejection after all that waiting, but it doesn't matter, because I believe in this book and this process and the future of my publishing career.

Staying positive through this really helps, I promise. But there have been a few other things, which have helped along the way:

1.) Support:

First and foremost, I must once again share my thanks for the ever-amazing army of supporters (who I wrote about HERE)Even from within the query trenches, they're still going above and beyond to support me and this book. They are reading my words, sharing their thoughts, and offering me their guiding light from near and far away. 

2.) Organization:

We now live in a time where resources such as Query Tracker exist! For any writers out there nearing the query process, I suggest you use this free service to help organize (and research) the many agents you will be sending your work to in the future. There is an option to add agents to your list while keeping updated on the query as the days pass. It shows when certain agents are closed to queries, and will even show the success and failure rate of other writers querying their work. 

3.) research:

I don't know what I would've done without Manuscript Wish List: both the website and the hashtag. Many of the agents I've submitted to have been ones I found using #MSWL on Twitter. Here agents will tweet about their must have books, and I found many tweets, which seemed to correlate with what I was writing. By using the website Manuscript Wish List, writers can either search certain agents or just go through the alphabetical directory to find specific information based on what agents may or may not be looking for, what genres they represent, and how to query them. It is a great resource, which can help writers personalize their queries to agents. 

For those non-writers who've been following along on my journey, I hope my time into the trenches has taught you just a snippet about the arduous process of traditional publishing, and I hope it helps you understand the magic and madness of being a writer. 

And for those of you struggling through writing your queries, I suggest using Writer's Digest Successful Queries series to help you write a letter that will stand out from the slush pile. But for any of this to happen, you need to finish that book. So finish it! Stop waiting to be ready, because as Lemony Snicket says:

"If we wait until we're ready, we'll be waiting for the rest of our lives."

To all you readers who are also writers, I believe in you. I believe you can do this, and I can't wait to read your books someday. And I can't wait for you to read mine! Until then...