Monday, September 26, 2016

The Road to NaNoWriMo 2016: Yes, I'm Outlining Now

Those of you who have read my interview on Jho Litonjua's blog may remember that I have mentioned writing with outlines. This is a departure from the way that I used to write, and it sounds like a betrayal whenever I mention what a big difference outlining has made in my writing.

You see, Save the Cake and Crushingly Close were both written without outlines, and no matter how much I tried to fit them into a neat semblance of a structure, I found that I just let the story go wherever it took me. And this system worked pretty well, for the most part, until I faced the editing stage for Crushingly Close and found myself unable to diagnose the problem areas that I needed to fix on top of the comments that I had already received from my beta readers. I wasn't satisfied with the story as a whole, so I ended up taking apart whole chunks of chapters and patching them together as best as I could. It wasn't until I managed to hand it over to my editor that I was able to fix the story.

The third manuscript--the one I finished two weeks ago--had an outline of sorts, but somewhere along the way (partly because of the academic and emotional stress that I was going through when I was first writing it) I lost my vision, and when it was time for me to complete it I didn't know where to pick up the pieces. So I turned to one of my writing manuals--Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris--and decided to pick apart the story down to the bare bones. From this book I picked up the suggestion of making a "structural survey" of scenes, character notes, and plot points which I have included in the story. Because I don't have enough space to lay down these details on index cards and Post-Its, however, I laid them out on an Excel spreadsheet, which gave me an idea of what went where and why. When I found that the spreadsheet system worked for me, it was easy for me to finish the draft.

Which made me think: look, I'm obviously going to be writing my fourth book in November, and I'm probably going to be an emotional mess depending on what happens to my comprehensive exams. Might as well have an outline ready, right?

I started out with the Contemporary Romance Novel Outline file that I tried (and failed) to use for Save the Cake, and this is what it looked like:

(Click to enlarge)

As you can see, this outline lays down the first part of a three-act structure, with questions about who the main characters are and where I place the kilig and conflict moments. But after my experience with the revisions for Crushingly Close, I realized that sticking to just three moments of romantic giddiness made my stories formulaic and stiff. I also realized that outlining my stories this way didn't leave enough room for me to write down the important subplots that I needed to write in. For this example, most of the focus was on the main character, Kim, and her relationship with her love interest Christian. But it doesn't adequately answer the question of how things got to be so tense between Kim and Christian. Yes, they knew each other in high school, and they're getting together for a reunion, but why are they getting together now, and who else is going to be involved? Not to mention that I'm the kind of writer who likes to introduce the other players off the bat before laying down their motivations further down the line. As it is, this was a nice starting point for who and where I want this story to go--but it's limiting, and it doesn't show me the big picture.

Enter Sheet 2 in the same document.

(Click to enlarge)

This is the spreadsheet version of Roz Morris' "cards game," where I jot down the tiny elements that I want in my story and arrange it into chapters. Don't let the spreadsheet format scare you; I find that writing down the details that I want into single cells helps me build the story scene by scene, chapter by chapter, until I have a skeleton of a story that I can consult once I start writing the manuscript in earnest come November. And I don't hold back on what I plug into that outline--there are plot twists, specific settings, and even bits and pieces of dialogue (not shown in this picture). The breakdown is scene-by-scene and chapter-by-chapter, but sometimes I find that there are times where I would have an insight and plug it into a cell that I can move around the spreadsheet. Then there are those scenes (especially the sexy and/or romantic ones, which usually spiral out of control anyway) which deserve their own chapters, so I cut and paste the rows. This is not to say that I'm going to write everything in order, but the outline gives me a picture of what it takes to go from beginning to end--and since I tend to write with the end in mind, I can use this outline to deal with chapters as I see fit, as opposed to waiting for the muse to strike whenever I try to write chronologically. Not to mention that this would come in handy when I finally set up the Scrivener file for the book so that I can organize the chapters into file folders right away.

The only other thing I can say about this outline is that it only gives a glimpse of characterization, which is a big challenge for me (more on that later). What it does map out, however, is character motivation, which helps the plot along by pitting characters against one another in every scene. Without establishing motivation, I'd be left with a plot that doesn't move smoothly or naturally, which would then affect everything else in the story--including pacing and dialogue.

So in conclusion, outlining is my way of saving myself precious time and effort in writing my books. I'm not saying it's for everyone--if you've succeeded in writing without an outline, that's great!--but if you're like me and you've found that pantsing gets you nowhere, why not try it out for yourself? At the very least, it can help you map things out for certain, and you can make it to "happily ever after" without the angst. And really, who doesn't want that?

Monday, September 19, 2016

MIBF and Beyond: Books, Books, and More Books

This is what my to-be-read pile looked like before this year's Manila International Book Fair:

Of these books, I've only finished How to Be Single; it was alright, but I don't think I'm cut out to read unromantic chick lit about neurotic single New Yorkers anymore. The Eliza Victoria was a recommendation that I've been meaning to purchase and read since forever, and so is Smaller and Smaller Circles. As for Stephanie Perkins, I've already purchased Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla and the Happily Ever After, so I'm already anticipating some marathon reading for those three books.

(I also bought It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover, but after a few chapters I couldn't take the intensity. That one, I'm giving to my mom to read first so I can come back to it when the time's right.)

Anyway, let's talk about the MIBF! Last year I was there as an author, so I didn't have time to browse the shelves and buy anything for myself. This year, I had some time to kill before the #AllTheFeels live reading in the afternoon, so I decided to go around.

The view from this year's Visprint/Meganon booth. Save The Cake was still on the shelves, but I didn't get to sign them. Sorry!

Unfortunately, my phone died right before #AllTheFeels started, so I wasn't able to take pictures of the readings (shout out to Migs, Grae, Gio, and Gab, and all the featured authors) so you would have to rely on the #romanceclass social media accounts for that. But trust me when I say that everyone was into the intense feels brought on by hearing our favorite books being brought to life by talented actors, and I think we made more than our fair share of sales after the event. Yay #romanceclass!

(And for those of you who missed it, there will be #FeelsFest on October 22 at Glorietta 5. Will keep you posted on the exact times, because you won't want to miss it!) 

Going back to the book shopping, I went to Fully Booked because I knew I could snag a copy of The Little Prince on their shelves--and sure enough, they still had it in stock, along with several different editions. (There's an anniversary edition, a pop-up edition, and oh my gosh just let me get my copy I haven't read it yet--you get the picture.) Anyway, books were 20% off during the fair, so it wasn't hard to get The Little Prince for a little over P200. Then I kept seeing books, books, and more books everywhere...and when it came for me to stand in line (which I did for almost an hour) I ended up grabbing more books as I passed by the shelves. Here's what I ended up with: 

Of these books, I already read The Little Prince and The One Thing, which I read in succession because I didn't expect The Little Prince to be so heavy. (But it's a lovely book! I'm glad that I read it, and I'm glad that you liked this book too.) So here's a run-through of why I bought the other books:

- The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. My sister has read this book, and she has recommended it to me. I read the first few chapters of this one at Cool Beans (my usual Maginhawa haunt) and I liked it, so I decided to take this home with me.

- The Hidden Staircase, by Carolyn Keene: I bought this for the same reason that I bought Smaller and Smaller Circles -- it's a way for me to keep in touch with the side of me that has always wanted to write mysteries. I just haven't decided on how I'm going to approach the genre (cozy mystery? romantic suspense? YA/NA/contemporary?) so I thought I'd give it a try anyway.

- Creativity, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (damn spell check). Flow was one of the books that was recommended by Austin Kleon in Steal Like an Artist, but I didn't find that one on the shelves. And since I've already read Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic several times, I thought I'd read a new take on the topic of creativity. Can't wait to sink my teeth into this one.

- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. My goal is to finish this book before the decade is over, since I have always failed to finish it whenever I borrowed this one from the Hawaii State Library. It's a toss-up between reading this and giving it to my mom for safekeeping, but more than likely I'll pick it up soon.

But wait, there's more!

- This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz. This is another departure from the norm for me, since this one's literary fiction. It wasn't just the title and cover that caught my eye; my curiosity was also piqued by someone writing an #ownvoices take on love and loss. I'm not expecting a happy ending with this book, but that hasn't stopped me from making this my next read.

- David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell. I've been a Gladwell fan since The Tipping Point, but I stopped after Outliers after everyone and their cousin started citing him from coming up with the "10,000 hours of practice" maxim. (It's not from him, apparently, but he has looked at the studies.) I did see What The Dog Saw, too, but I decided on this one instead because who doesn't like books about underdogs?

So that's my book haul for this year, so far. I think I might have met my quota because of the time and space constraints (ie. no shelves) but it doesn't look like this is the end of my new-found book addiction. And, hey, after all the studying I've been doing, it's good to feed the mind with something new. Until next year...or the next trip to the bookstore.

Monday, September 12, 2016

September Thoughts

I'm writing this at the tail end of a long weekend (Eid Mubarak!) so it feels right that I should write something about where I am, writing-wise.

The big news is that I did finish a manuscript over the weekend--something that I've been working on and off for more than a year, since I was doing it around the same time I was working on Crushingly Close. It's a rough draft right now, and I'm still ironing out details, but I'm looking at having it beta-read before the end of the year.

The only difference between this manuscript and the two books that I've already published? I'm submitting it to a publisher first.

You see, this was one of those books that I wrote under a writing class sponsored by a publishing house, and while I didn't meet the deadline for this particular class (mostly because of school), I wanted to make sure this one had a fair shot of getting published traditionally before I resume the process of self-publishing this. Does that mean I love this manuscript any more (or less) than any of the others? Not necessarily. I know that I'm taking a risk on this one by playing the waiting game for this story, but it's a risk that I'm willing to take.I know from experience that nothing is certain in publishing, which is why I've spent the rest of my writing time outlining new books.

The way I see it, I'm in a position right now where I can leverage my experience with the publishing industry here in the Philippines to take more chances by writing more stories and putting myself out there constantly. That doesn't mean that my risks are going to pan out--I already know that some of my books won't fit the market as I know it--but if I'm always working and putting myself out there, I can build a little career for myself, and people will get to know me as a writer worth reading.

Or maybe I'll just write whatever I want to entertain myself, and hope that I can share it with other people with the hope that they'll be entertained too. Because, really, what's the point of all this striving without having a little fun?

And that's what I'm going through with the outlining I'm doing for the new books. I'm having so much fun with them (mostly because they have nothing to do with my academics) that I feel like my writing mojo has come back. I want to write more books now, share more stories, make people smile. That doesn't mean the long-term things won't go away (e.g. editing, cover artists, publishing costs) but the fact that I'm playing around with plot bunnies on my downtime has given me a renewed enthusiasm for what I've been doing in the last three years. Plus, with NaNoWriMo around the corner, I'm excited to go back to my roots and remind myself why I've been writing in the first place.

I'm sure I'll think of more when I get there. But these are exciting times ahead, and I for one can't wait to see what's going to happen next.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Hold On, It Only Gets Better

Image created by Dia of The Perfictionist.
These last two months have been crazy.

Ever since I released my second book, I had been doing my own marketing and promotions, trying to get as many people as possible to read the book. So far so good--I've heard from the people who have read it and liked it, so it wasn't too bad.

Or so it seems.

Because deep inside, I had this thought that maybe my writing really sucked, because nobody was reading it and nobody was reviewing it and dear God why are people rating my book so low and why is everybody else who got started later than I am getting reviews for their books and SHIT I MUST REALLY SUCK AS A WRITER KILL ME NOW I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE WHY DO I EVEN BOTHER. 

Now, let me be honest with you: I was never in this for the money. (This is why I'm in school--my PhD is my meal ticket.) But the more I worried about reviews, the more I compared myself to other people, and I ended up getting more paranoid and upset. Two more books, I told myself. Two more books this year, and then you decide if you still want to do this. 

And this is on top of the stress that I've already been in since August. Paperwork. Exam reviews. Losing my laptop to a wayward glass of water (don't ask) and transferring four years' worth of work to a machine that, while shiny and new, can't compare to the years that I had spent slaving away on both Save the Cake and Crushingly Close on a computer that felt like a good friend. (A friend that had been begging to be euthanized in the last six months--if I went by the assessment of the techie friend who took her apart--but a good friend nonetheless.)

So that's where we are right now.

Which brings us to a story about my new computer.

You see, before I started using Scrivener, my novel-writing software of choice was yWriter. And since I was running Windows 10 on this laptop (which still needs a name) I decided to download yWriter 6 to see if I could salvage the stuff I wrote with that software. And it just so happens that the last thing I wrote on yWriter was Cada Veces, which seemed so ambitious and grand in the beginning but now reads like a very rough draft compared to my newer work.

So I read it. Parts of it, at least. I didn't cringe (on the contrary, I was surprised to recognize some elements that I had inserted into my other books without thinking about it) but I was surprised by how much I'd pinned my hopes onto this manuscript, how I was aiming for something that incorporated string theory and parallel universes and ended up writing a romance featuring the most annoying "nice guy" to walk this earth. (Mind you, I had just finished That Kind of Guy, and I was trying to redeem the guy that Mina wanted to kick in the nuts.) For the most part, it represented the worst of my writing habits back then, especially since I didn't write this with an outline or an ending in mind. The results were word vomit--readable word vomit, but still.

And that's when the words occurred to me: It only gets better. 

All I'd ever wanted was to write things from my heart. The stories I tell are quieter and more intimate than everything else in the market, and maybe that's what's holding me back. But I know how it feels to stop writing, and there's nothing that completes my soul quite like it. So I have to keep doing it, in any way that I can, and hold off on making drastic decisions until I can be clear on the path that I want to forge for myself.

I can't tell you what's going to happen to those two books that I'm working on right now, let alone what I'm going to write after they're finished. (Except for my dissertation--and even then, I'm not expecting much of anything from that other than a passing grade.) What I can say is that I don't see myself giving up any time soon, but it will take more than a little soul-searching to get past the initial sadness.

Because really, it only gets better. And even if I have to wait, at least I'll know that I'll have my answer soon enough.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Announcing: The Crushingly Close Blog Tour!

I am happy to announce the stops for the Crushingly Close Blog Tour, starting on July 25 and ending on July 31. Here are the stops for the tour: 

Monday, July 25: Excerpt - The Perfictionist
Monday, July 25: Excerpt - WiP [Work in Progress]
Thursday, July 28: Author Interview - The Cinderella Stories
Friday, July 29: Review - The Perfictionist
Friday, July 29: Review - Citizen Judie
Friday, July 29: Excerpt - For Readers  
Saturday, July 30: Review - Ample Proportions
Sunday, July 31: Cover Design Feature - The Kapre Dialogues 

Be sure to visit these blogs to find out more about Crushingly Close and read what people have to say about the book! 

Crushingly Close is still available on Amazon for $2.99. More retailers to follow. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Crushingly Close: Now Available for Preorder!

Crushingly Close is now available for pre-order on Amazon! Get it now for the special pre-order price of 99 cents before it goes up to $2.99 on release day.

Working out details with other retailers as we speak, but more than likely it will be on Smashwords on release day with distribution to other retailers TBA. News about distribution on Buqo will follow.

Happy one-clicking!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

COVER REVEAL: Crushingly Close

And it's (almost) here!

*cue "Hold On, We're Going Home" by Drake*

Look at that cover! It's so glorious!

The cover was designed by the lovely Gail Villanueva, who helped me out with the stock photos and typography to make sure that everything stood out in the final product. She's also a writer, so she understood how to hit the sweet spot for the NA/Contemporary vibe that we were going for here.

And in case you missed the reveal at Will Read For Feels, here's the blurb for the book:
At twenty-four years old, Agnes Escueta has risen from the ranks to become a producer for Sports Tonight. No one can touch her, it seems—not even crush-worthy anchorman Daniel Ferrer, who she gets to work with every single day. When a road trip to Indonesia throws Agnes and Daniel together, they find themselves working in close quarters. It doesn’t take long before Agnes finds herself being charmed by Daniel, and her defenses start to melt with his touch. With deadlines looming and a big game coming, Agnes must figure out how to let Daniel into her life without risking her professional reputation—and without breaking her own heart.
Buy links are forthcoming, but look for this story to hit your e-readers before the end of the month. In the meantime, why not get an early start by adding this to your Goodreads shelf now? It'll be a great read, I promise you.

See you soon!