Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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Happy November! That Means NaNoWriMo.

I usually approach National Novel Writing Month with a combination of excitement and dread. I’m never sure which is more appropriate but one thing is certain: it’s always exhilarating.

Writing whenever the mood strikes.

Me, hard at work. Photo via Visual hunt

Last year I worked on a novel right on the heels of Pitch Wars. To say I was burnt out is an understatement. Reworking a novel in a couple of months is no mean feat, much less preparing for the agent round, which always coincides with the start of NaNoWriMo. This isn’t a complaint, though. I learned¬†so much from Pitch Wars, particularly about my weaknesses as a writer. For one thing, I’m not much of an on-paper plotter. I know where a story is going in my brain, after a vague fashion, but putting it down in an organized fashion makes me want to tear out my hair. I had to do it for Pitch Wars, but now that I’m on my own I’m free to own my bad habits, as long as I recognize them.

We hear a lot about the two main types of writers (plotters vs. pantsers). At this point I’m a hybrid between the two. I know where a story starts, where it wants to end, and a few of the most important plot points in between. I’ve also written (and rewritten) enough romances to have a fairly decent feel for where I am in the story at any given moment.

I’m also a bit of a rebel, and like to break the rules. Not all of them, because romance novels need to have a certain reliable emotional¬†sequence in order to work. Just because standard wisdom says the characters shouldn’t have sex before the 50% mark doesn’t mean that works with all characters in all settings.

I’m proud to announce that today, on Day 1 of NaNoWriMo, I managed to get an intimate scene in there. To be fair, I wrote the first chapter of this book previously (don’t worry, I’m not cheating by including that chapter in my word count), so I have a small idea about my characters and their emotional makeup. Also to be fair, this is the third book set in a specific world. That also goes a long way toward making the words flow more easily–I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Most of the characters are new, which is fun. One is an old favorite who’s evolved so much over the course of the first two books that he’s a pleasure to write, even if he’s only really evolved in my brain. But that’s why we write! To get the stories out of our brains and onto the page.

I’ve also just begun querying my last book (not last year’s NaNo novel, that got scrapped but served as good groundwork for the one I’m shopping, which I wrote in a personal May-June version of NaNo, then edited to the ground). I see November as three things: writing every day (something I learned how to do from my very first NaNo experience), researching agents and sending query letters (something I got really good at after Pitch Wars), and getting into the groove with the website a bunch of us have been working on (All The Kissing – by romance writers, for romance writers). Ultimately, that means it’s shaping up to look like a normal month.

But I have my NaNoWriMo buddies to cheer on, and to cheer me on. It’s so much fun!

Tell me, how are all of you? What are you working on? How’s autumn treating you?

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Making the words sing

After my last post where I waxed poetic about some of the things I’d learned about writing, I went ahead and finished the novel I’ve been working on.

If you’re into stats…

– Started on February 13, 2017
– Daily word count goal was officially 2000 (but I like to push that)
– Finished the last scene on April 8, 2017
– I wrote measurable words 32 out of those 54 days (you can check my math, I think that’s 54 days)
– Ended up with my goal of 85,000 words, give or take a few depending on what tool I used to count them
– That makes an average of 2,656 words per day
– Highest one-day word count was 4,550
– Lowest one-day word count was 920

This is what it looks like for those like me who think graphs are awesome (not including the days I didn’t write):

But NOW!
I read the book all the way through on my tablet, made my notes, and now my favorite part: turning into something smooth, seductive, sweet, sexy, and satisfying. I already know what I need to do to turn this thing into the book I envisioned (although the characters always surprise me along the way).

And I ask myself: is this the sequel, or is my Pitch Wars book the prequel? I think this one’s even better, because I had all that experience during Pitch Wars and am now aware of some of my crutches and tendencies. That makes for a cleaner first draft, although it’s nowhere near ready to be shared.

But I know what I need to do, and I can’t wait to get started. A lot of people dread revision, but I love it to pieces. It’s where I can take the words and make them shine. And flow. And sing.


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Eight Things I’ve Learned About Writing a Novel

A year ago, I was about a month away from tackling yet another rewrite on my little rock & roll romance/women’s fic novel. I knew I needed to revise it heavily, but shit, I’d already rewritten it a bunch of times over the course of a year and a half. I knew I wanted to change it up one more time (hey, four is a good number), strip out all but one POV, and punch it up a bit romantically.

Then something happened that changed my writing life: I opened up a copy of Romance Writer’s Report and found an article by a category romance writer. She outlined a basic 55,000-word romance novel beat sheet. I read it, told myself “hey, I can do that with this book!” and got to work. I overshot the 55k by about 10,000 words but when I was done, I had an adorable and sweet little novel that actually flowed. It worked. The pacing was great.

I entered it into Pitch Wars in August.

To my great surprise, my novel made it into the contest. This was the same book that was rejected the year before…but really, it wasn’t the same story at all. It had some of the same characters, but it was wildly different from the previous year’s draft (which I found out belatedly had been under serious consideration but ultimately was rejected because it wasn’t ready).

Funny thing about rejection: it doesn’t sting as much when it turns into an acceptance. My mentor had seen the story the year before and one of the things that helped nudge her in my direction was the scope of the revision. She’d seen that I was able to take something that didn’t work and turn it into something that was a lot closer to working, and she also knew I was neither afraid of nor averse to rewriting. Score one for me!

It’s been a while since I was in the heat of Pitch Wars, but I want to talk a little bit about the things I learned going through the process.

1. Waiting can be excruciating (but patience is a virtue).

But we’re writers, a lot of us querying writers, so we already know this lesson. A sub-lesson is never make assumptions. Odds are the moment you’re convinced you’re going to be accepted/get into a contest/get a request for pages/get an offer of representation, the exact opposite will happen. Lesson learned: wipe that smug little smile off your face and go about your business, Gwynne. You’ll be much happier.

2. Being accepted comes with its own set of interesting circumstances.

Only so many people can ever get into a limited acceptance contest like Pitch Wars. I did. My critique partners didn’t. This effectively put a wedge between what I’d been working on with them and what I needed to work on for Pitch Wars. I only had a month and change to revise my novel, and that meant little to no time to read for anyone else, much less have time to make viable critiques. Could I have managed my time differently? Sure, but it actually worked out for the best.

The Pitch Wars Class of 2016 is a great group of people and we will always be members of this exclusive club together. I’ve made lots of new writing friends, found critique partners actually writing in my same genre, and have been able to share successes and failures with them all.

3. There are no guarantees.

Right after the agent showcase, a lot of people attracted a lot of agent attention. A lot of Pitch Wars people were signed right away. A lot of us haven’t found agents yet. What does this prove? Even getting into a prestigious contest like Pitch Wars doesn’t mean it’s a path to instant fame and fortune (unless you’re Tomi Adeyemi–beautiful outlier, you!). This goes back to what I consider Every Writer’s Words of Wisdom: no one path is like any other. Some people have the story everyone’s looking for. Other people have the story it’s going to take longer to place. That doesn’t mean one is fantastic and the other sucks. It just means the ones that got scooped up right away are the ones that got scooped up right away.

4. Get used to the sound of an ego deflating.

No manuscript is perfect. They all need work, revision, rewriting. Mine went from 65,000 to 91,000 words over the course of my insanely feverish September 2016. I was a little bit smug going in. Imagine the smile dropping from my face when my mentor (the fabulous Mary Ann Marlowe, whose debut novel Some Kind of Magic just came out in January–you should all read it if you haven’t) said “you have a pretty good story. But it’s not a romance.” But what do you mean, Mary Ann? There’s love! There’s conflict! There’s a Happily Ever After!

I’ve learned so much about the structure of a romance novel from this contest and I’m forever grateful. Like a lot of first-time romance authors, I had the cocky notion that the classic romance formula was, well, tired, and I could show the world how it could be redone in a better way. Wrong! The formula exists for a reason. That doesn’t mean it has to be adhered to rigidly, but the basic tenets of a romance have to be included, even if the author messes with the order or placement of those tenets. Romance readers have expectations, and if the author doesn’t satisfy the expectations, it’s not a romance novel. End of argument.

5. Writing query letters doesn’t get easier.

But we can learn to become more effective at writing them, and at writing a synopsis.

Just a few weeks ago I had to take my three-and-a-half page synopsis and distill it into one page. With a little merciless slashing-and-burning, I managed to do it.

6. No word is sacred.

Murder your darlings, they tell us like it’s so easy. You know what? It is easy, but it requires a moment’s distance from our writing and a healthy dollop of dispassion. Things will fall by the wayside. Sometimes they’ll be our favorite things, the ones we swore up and down were fundamental to the story, without which it couldn’t go on. Nope. None of that is sacred. As Mary Ann advised when I lamented losing a whole series of scenes, I could have a mock funeral for them and send them on their way. I did. Guess what? The story is much stronger without those favorite scenes bogging it down.

Ultimately, crafting a novel relies heavily on the art of letting go.

7. Never stop writing.
Write, write, and write. When you think you’re done, start something new. While you’re querying, keep writing. While you’re researching agents, keep writing. While you’re waiting with bated breath to see if any of the agents who’ve requested your story will respond–and if so, favorably–keep writing. The only way to become a better writer is by writing. That’s all there is to it.

8. But don’t be afraid to give yourself a break.

Sometimes, a vacation needs to be a vacation. I did something last month I’d never done before: went on vacation without my laptop. This was actually incredibly liberating. It allowed me to relax, enjoy myself, and refresh. When I got back I had so many writing ideas juggling to get out on the page that I started a writing spree and now I’m about to write the last scenes of my book. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t allowed myself some time off to recharge.

And that’s all she wrote.
Of course, there’s more. I could go on and on. Ultimately, no writer’s path to success is the mirror image of any other writer’s climb up that mountain. This is all just my experience, and one I’m so grateful to have had.

And now I’m off to write the final chapter for the sequel to my Pitch Wars novel. I know, I know, we’re not supposed to write sequels if we haven’t sold the first one yet. What can I say? It’s the story that wanted to be told, and even with everything I’ve learned, I still like to buck trends and test new waters. Happy writing, everyone!


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Do You Want To Know A Secret?

So, Gwynne Jackson, how’s that novel-writing going for you?

Thank you for asking. It’s actually going quite well. I’m nine days in and up to 23,000 words, for those who like metrics. This is the sequel to my Pitch Wars novel, but it’s also a standalone that doesn’t require knowledge of the first book. That was an intentional decision on my part. While I love duologies and trilogies, I also love when each book in a series can be read as a distinct entity.

Writing this book has been more fun than I expected. It’s been a pleasure, and it’s easier to write to my chosen romance formula than ever before. It’s a salve for my soul at a time I wasn’t so sure I’d be able to muster a lot of creativity.

I honestly don’t know how much blogging I’ll be doing. When I was employed as a technical writer, the most difficult thing was coming home from writing user manuals all day and switching over to a more creative writing brain. It’s much the same with blogging versus novel-writing. I’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, how are all of you? Let me know in comments if you get the chance.


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Recommend me a book?

Gentle readers,

I’m looking for book recommendations in the contemporary romance genre. I’ve read a few gems and more than a few clunkers. Specifically, I’m looking for books with a strong female lead who doesn’t turn stupid in the face of an attractive love interest. Here’s exactly how I described what I’m hoping to find to a friend earlier:

I’m looking for something contemporary that’s actually good and fairly realistic. I’m sick of the Cinderella trope and sick of the Evil Rich Famous Dude trope and really don’t want anything with a weak heart-fluttery-but-no-guts female lead. That shouldn’t be too hard to find, but it is! My favorite stories are ones where the paired characters are equally developed, equally strong, and equally flawed. Their circumstances don’t have to be equal, but their emotional capacity should be, and their dialog and personalities have to be believable.

It probably goes without saying that I prefer books that appear to have been professionally edited. Nothing makes me crankier than buying a book filled with grammatical and continuity errors.

So you know, my favorite romance novel I’ve read over the past few years is The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin. Despite not being contemporary, it had just enough intrigue to keep my interest and the world-building was wonderful. The protagonist was an entirely kick-ass courtesan’s assistant and the male lead wasn’t just three dimensional, he had a ton of layers. Jackpot!

Any recommendations? I’d appreciate them, and if you do recommend me something, please tell me why you liked it enough to spread the word. Thank you!