Wow, for the first time in a while, I actually waited more than two days to ramble about words here. I’ve got two things that I want to talk about today–where I’m at with the Saints word count/nano why, and something that’s been on my mind lately.
I’ll get the quick bit out of the way and talk about Saints first.
||Words before NaNoWriMo
||Words post NaNoWriMo
So, uh. Hi. I’ve written 40k this month. Last time I posted, I had just finished edits for chapter 5 of part one. Well, in the last nine days, I finished editing part one, adding a little over 2000 words to the first part, and then I wrote 37,657 words for part two. I’M SORRY, OKAY. I’m apologizing here because other writers tend to yell at me. My CPs call me crazy. A memory on my Facebook recently contained a theory from college that I was actually a vampire and wrote all night instead of sleeping. I mean, kind of?
I’m going to let you in on the secret. Not because I don’t want people to yell at me anymore for my word counts (go ahead, it’s fine, I know it’s ridiculous), but because the reality of why those word counts happen is something no one ever believes. I’m not a vampire, sadly. I also get around eight hours of sleep a night. And I know that sounds frustrating because how did I still manage 40k words in seventeen days with those truths? I’m really not trying to toot my own horn here because while I’m working on a new chapter, you’re probably getting drinks with a friend. Or hanging out with your significant other. Exploring the world. Going to different countries, and living your life to the fullest.
I don’t go out very often. Maybe once a month, I get lunch or dinner with my roommate. I spend Saturdays at my parents’ house, and I teach yoga for two hours on Tuesdays. But the rest of my free time? It’s spent at my apartment, either in front of my laptop or a book. Now, before you think that I’m living a sad existence, I promise you, I’m not. I really, really enjoy my life. I love spending time with my cats, words, and tea. A Friday night spent catching up on my favorite TV shows is heaven. My mom is always encouraging me to make new friends because most of mine live out-of-state, but I love the friends that I have. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I hike (though this year was horrible), I practice yoga in a studio and in my dining room, I’ve been to four concerts in the last four months, I get Mexican and sushi with Jen, I go up north to Maine to spend a weekend with Erin at least twice a year, I spend full days in Salem, and I love my life. But this is the difference. Most people go out and have fun, and that’s amazing. I applaud you. I just don’t find enjoyment in that most times.
This is why, though, that I can write 40k in two weeks. I also have a really amazing job that allows me some extra time after my work is done to write a bit here and there. Every writer’s external life is different. There have been a few people lately who express shock and awe at my posts about writing, or that say that they admire my commitment. You know what I admire? Those of you who have seen the world, that have gone to Greece and Iceland, who have found ways to live in your favorite cities in Maine, who are living like a nomad and just seeing everything. I admire you. I wish I had the means and the wanderlust to do what you do. (Really, it’s the means, I’ve got plenty of wanderlust.)
So, yeah. I wrote 40k in 17 days, and I had a blast doing it. But that’s because my life is different. My world is both smaller and larger. Smaller because I don’t experience as much, larger because my soul is scattered across hundreds of stories.
That was longer than I meant it to be, which is always the case, really. On a similar vein, kind of, Saints is going so well! Edits for the first part were awesome, and I’m really pleased with how everything came out. Part two is going really strong, and I’m about to enter a very exciting section. I always feel like authors start the end of their story about 100 pages before the actual end, and it’s always been so frustrating to me, but it looks like I’m doing that now. Frustrating because it’s usually 9PM, and I’ve started the 100-page ending on accident, and then I end up staying up until almost 11PM finishing the book. I love those 100-page endings because it’s just chaos and excitement and AH EMOTIONS for a big chunk of the book, which is everything I love writing about.
With Saints, though, I’m seeing that that is definitely going to be the case. They’re about to embark on a job of sorts that will take them out of the city, and when they get back, just all hell breaks loose. It’s a wild freaking ride as soon as they get back to Obera, and it ends with a massive cliffhanger.
Yo, that is for real my most used gif, and has been used a lot while writing this novel. Just evil cackling Mary all over the place.
And now onto my second thing! I was going to keep rambling about Saints, but it would start to involve the thing that’s been on my mind lately, so here we are.
Firstly, a very warm and overwhelmingly grateful thank you to my critique partners–Erin, Patrick, Jen, and Chelsea. You are the most amazing people in the world, and I don’t know what I would do without you. You put up with the most obnoxious behavior from me, answer the most random questions that oftentimes don’t come with context, and are always there when I need help. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
It’s been really enlightening taking on three new readers, and I’m finding that my writing is a lot stronger, and that I’m a lot more conscious as a writer because I know, now, that there are going to be at least one or two people at any given time reading something.
For years, Erin has been one of only two people reading my writing. She’s read everything–fanfiction, poetry, and novels. She’s sat through me pacing through her college dorm room, putting up sticky notes everywhere, and frequently flopping on the nearest surface in exasperation. Sometimes, I send her texts that just say, “What’s a gross color to paint a house?” or “KISSING VIBES STOP ME” or “This is all your fault.” I usually blame things on her. She’s a bad influence in the best way. Erin’s there when I need to figure out how soon is too soon for my kissing vibes to actually realize themselves. She’s there when I just want to repeatedly sigh about boys and their stupidness. She’s there for beginnings.
The most important thing about having critique partners is having a wide variety of them. Not only do all of my partners read different types of books, they write different kinds. They also all provide me with different kinds of critiques. This blog is not for the purpose of telling you what kind of partners you should have, but just taking a look at the kinds that I have and why they’re helpful.
I met Erin in college. Now, I don’t know this story firsthand, but apparently, I was writing Ronan, long-hand, during a photography (?) class. Erin was sitting next to me, I believe, and I didn’t know her at the time, but she’s since told me that she was so damn curious because a) fire engine red hair and b) I was writing what looked like a novel. It wasn’t until months later that my roommate introduced me to her, and just like that, we became sisters. I’m talking we were in each other’s dorm rooms as often as possible, we talk every single day, we shared the deepest, darkest, and silliest parts of our lives with each other, and I very seriously call her my muse. She is. There’s no doubt in my brain that most, if not all, of my words are directly caused my her. Some kind of cosmic magic happens when we’re together, and suddenly, I’m writing a new novel.
At the very beginning, when I’m just writing, writing, writing, Erin helps me keep on track. Steers me away from diving into relationships too soon, reminds me that the dragon is green, damn it, and not blue, and is generally the first one that sees anything. She encourages me to keep going, to explore more, to just write. This partner is definitely someone I think everyone should have, someone that doesn’t look at your grammar or word choices, but instead says, “Write more.” My favorite phrase of Erin’s is write me things. Find yourself a critique partner that tells you to write, write, write, that tells you not to look back, not to edit the chapter right after you write it, but instead keep going, keep writing, finish the first draft and then go back.
Some months ago this year, I posted something about one of my novels. Pen boys, maybe, or Alex? I’m not sure which. Patrick reached out to me about it, and I’m the worst so I honestly can’t remember what was said. It made me smile, though, and I responded. We used to write together waaaaay back in the day. We met in middle school, and were great friends in high school. Like I think most high school friendships do, once we went our separate ways in college, we just stopped talking. Fast forward to this year, and I thought, wait. Wait. The universe is telling me something.
In March, I was viciously and unexpectedly cut out of a friend’s life. Jack was the other of those only two that used to read everything I wrote. I’ve spoken before about how I felt like I was floundering, like I didn’t know how to write anymore.
Enter Patrick. Life took an unexpected turn, and the universe said, “Here you go.” It honestly wasn’t that long after everything with Jack that I said to Patrick, “Hey, would you be interested in reading one of my novels?” And just like that, I had a new old friend. Now, I’m definitely not saying that I traded one for the other because wow, I am so better off now. And not only did I find a new critique partner, I have a friend that I talk to every day, and an avid reader.
This is the other definite thing you need in a critique partner–a reader! If you’re a writer, you definitely need to be a reader, but having a partner who also reads a lot is excellent. Pat’s introduced me to so many incredible books in the last few months (thank you for VE Schwab, holy magic), and has, for the first time ever, flooded my Goodreads recommendations. It’s been just an absolute dream come true.
What kind of critique do I get from Pat, you ask? Everything. Legit everything, it’s just out of this world. His grammar edits are on point. Things I hadn’t even realized I was doing. Oh my gosh, the pronouns in Pen boys are an actual mess. They’re all boys, but I just don’t like using their names that often, apparently. It’s so confusing! I didn’t even remember what a dangling modifier was before his edits? There are comments on character development, hey look plot holes, sentence structure (including the one I always get: holy shit that was so long why), the I’m going to convince you to use fragmented sentences, aesthetic! Oh, the aesthetic help is something I never thought I needed, but it’s been amazing. Figuring out where/how to place paragraphs, where to break them, if and when I should utilize white space, maybe perhaps putting a POV at the top of the chapter, just all the things.
And, to top it all off, Patrick gets a lot of the same random texts that Erin does. (I sent the KISSING VIBES STOP ME to both of them.) Yesterday, I sent him a multiple choice question. We argue about name choices, he keeps me honest from stealing bits of plot, and just all the things. It’s amazing.
And then there’s Jen. She calls herself my “basic reader”. I met Jen at an 80s themed birthday party in our sophomore year of high school. I’ve shared the picture from that night enough times on Facebook that I’m definitely not putting it here. We used to pass notes in between classes. When we went away to college, we didn’t talk a ton, but we met up almost every summer, kept in touch. After college, when we were both in Massachusetts again, we started to really get back to each other. She was there in the first week after I got Lily and Grace. We nearly died seeing Panic! at the Disco together. We used to drive all the way to Medford just to go to this amazing all you can eat buffet sushi place, and then we moved there. Not kidding, we live within five minutes of the restaurant. We’ve been living together since February, and I’m not lying when I say that at least once a week, I’ve come home and just yelled, “I NEED HELP.” I used to do this to my roommate in college all the time, and good grief, it’s just such a relief to have someone that I can do this with again.
Jen has witnessed all sorts of book freak-outs. She was there during the entirety of Pen boys, she knows exactly what I mean when I say I’m having Alex vibes, and she is currently the only person reading Saints. Now, this is exciting for two reasons. One, the last book that Jen read was the second version of Ronan. RONAN. THE SECOND VERSION. That was in high school. Oh goodness, it’s so bad. This is 100% not Jen’s fault, either. I’ve withheld so many novels from her because they’re “not ready”. Well, guess what, Mary, neither is Saints, but whatever. Patrick and Chelsea are both reading Pen boys right now while Erin’s helping me flail about every single book, so when I kept talking about Saints and Jen asked if she could read it, well. How could I say no? It’s closer to being ready than a lot of my first drafts are. I’ve felt very aware and strong in my writing for this book. I feel like I have a really good handle on these characters and their story. I feel like the words I’m writing are the right ones, unlike with Pen boys where, even while writing, I knew I was going to have to cut a lot. So, I said yes. Have at it.
Last night, while we were doing our weekly old ladies sitting in bed reading together, I couldn’t concentrate at all on the book I was reading because she was laughing about Saints right next to me. And it’s pretty cool. Her assessment of herself as the “basic reader” is accurate, and it’s a really helpful perspective. She points out things that my writer friends just gloss over and says, “Uh, what?” She circles scenes, and says, “I want to understand this more.” She gives me realistic reader reactions to romantic and action parts. She doesn’t look at the grammar or the sentence structure or the the nitty gritties of the plot. She looks at my characters and how they interact with each other. She looks at the story as a whole and how it all ties together.
This is another kind of partner that I think is a good idea to have. Just someone who will read your book and give you honest reactions to it. There are plenty of partners out there who will help you with your grammar and ask you the important questions, but it’s going to help a lot to have someone reading your book who’s actually your target audience. Sure, a lot of readers out there are also writers, or gobble up books like it’s going out of style, but a majority of them are going to be people who read a book or two a month, who get sucked into one series a year, who pick up a book and don’t want to know what the symbolism behind something is. They just want to read a book.
A quick note here. Not all of your critique partners have to be your best friend. I know I’m kind of making it out to seem like your partners should be there for every single moment, and while it’s nice to have those, it’s also just a whole new level of wonderful to have someone who’s there specifically for the story, someone who isn’t mixed up in all the behind the scenes and is just focusing on the words and the characters and the novel itself.
My most recent critique partner, Chelsea, is an old friend from college. We were in a lot of writing and English classes together, and for our freshman (?) year, she lived around the corner from me. We’ve read various short stories and maybe even poems from each other, and I’ve been kind of stalkerishly following the progress of her new book on social media this year. She posted recently about how she had just finished the first draft of her book, and a little light bulb went off in my head. Patrick was in the middle of Pen boys, and Erin was helping me work out the second draft of Alex, and Saints wasn’t a thing yet. I wanted another look at Pen boys, though, someone who could look at the characters and the plot specifically, and not all the other stuff. I wanted someone who could tell me if it made sense. With Pen boys, I’ve got massive blinders on. I have no idea if it’s good or not. I think it’s good, but I’m so wildly and uncontrollably in love with it that I was having a hard time figuring out what needed to stay and what needed to go. So, I reached out. I told her that I’d seen her post, and was wondering if she wanted to exchange novels.
Chelsea’s comments are a freaking godsend. I’ve been trying to remember for this entire blog what those critique circles are called in college classes where everyone talks about your piece but you’re not allowed to respond, and I can’t for the life of me, but you know how most everyone gives a long comment at the end? Not verbally, but usually a few paragraphs written on the piece about the overall thoughts. I miss those so much. They were such a great way to look at someone’s reaction collectively, and a space to ask the questions that really changed the way you wrote something when you went back to work on it again.
Oh my gosh, Chelsea’s end comments. Almost every single chapter, I’ve just felt a whole new understanding about the story of my Pen boys wash over me. The questions she asks have opened up things that didn’t make sense before, and made me take a hard look at some of the scenes. The actual story is going to be so much better the second time around, not just because of the reworked sentences and unnecessary words cut, but because I’ll have a better grasp on the characters, what and why they’re doing something, how they move as a unit and individually, and the story they need to tell.
I know everyone feels this way, but I have the best critique partners. They all give me such varied edits in such different ways, and my novels are going to be beautiful because of each and every one of them. They’ve each made me look at my novels in a different way, and as I’m embarking on Saints, I feel solid. I’m ready. I can do this because I have an incredible community of writers and readers backing me.
This is twofold. One, holy magic, thank you. Thank you to the moon and back. Thank you more than all the stars. Two, if you’re a writer, you need a reader. You need multiple readers. Find two to three critique partners, and write that damn novel.