PD Martin's Blog

April 3, 2014

Chapter 1

Filed under: Writing — Tags: , , , , — PD Martin @ 2:19 pm

I’m about to start a new novel and I thought it might be interesting (especially for aspiring writers!) for me to blog about the process.  For a start, while I’ve titled this post ‘Chapter 1′ that’s not the first thing I’ve done.  I very rarely start a book by sitting down and writing the first chapter without some preparation. And this new novel is no exception.  I’m moving into a new genre (again!) and so my first step was to read some of the books selling in this space. What do I like about these novels? What do I LOVE about these novels? And what were the things I didn’t like so much?

Next I came up with about five ideas that would work as novels and wrote a paragraph or two about each one. Then it was decision time – I selected one idea to be the first in this new direction.

For this novel, my next step was to plot the novel out. While I don’t want to reveal the specific genre/style (yet) I will say that the most important element in the genre is to have a multitude of layers.  So, in this case it made sense to look at plot first. I decided to keep it simple. Rather than using a plot tool like Blake Snyder’s beat sheet, or even the three-act structure I simply wrote out each chapter/scene in bullet points. This is different to the plot tools and techniques I’ve used before, but somehow it seemed right. There are two viewpoint characters that I’m alternating between, so it was literally the person’s name, then a few bullet points on what happened and/or how they felt in that scene.

Next (and this is where I’m at now) is character development. I’ve started with my female viewpoint character and I’m on istock.com looking at images that look like the girl I’ve got in my head. I’ve set up a lightbox called ‘Jodi’ (yes, that’s my main character’s name) and I’m filling it with photos. Soon I’ll narrow it down to 3-10 photos that capture the character or her mood. Maybe it will be the hair of this woman, with the sense of carefree attitude in this pic, but with the ability to stare into your soul in her calmer moments. We all have different faces, so no ONE photo will be the one. My character is going to experience highs and lows in the novel, so I like to have visual reminders of how she looks happy, thoughtful, sad, etc. These pics come together with the image I already have of her to form MY Jodi. It’s visual, but it’s also more than that.

This is my current lightbox (still working on it though!). It gives a good idea of the visual element of my character development process.

New Picture (1)

Next stop: My character questionnaire!

And here’s a summary for the cheats/time-poor writers out there :)

1. Research genre.

2. Come up with several ideas in that space and select the one that’s calling to you the most. (Note: 1 & 2 are often/usually done in the opposite order to my example…the  idea comes first, then you research genre).

3. Use a plot technique that works for you to plot your novel (if you want to do it before you start writing).

4. Work on your characters – I recommend choosing photos that look like your projected image of him/her and also completing a character questionnaire to drill deep into the character’s personality and psyche.

I’ll let you know how I’m going on 1 May.

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December 9, 2013

NaNoWriMo round up

Filed under: Events/appearances, Writing — Tags: , , — PD Martin @ 1:51 pm

It’s official…NaNoWriMo is done for 2013. This was my second time attempting NaNoWriMo and I’m afraid that once again I fell short.

Instead of meeting the 50,000 word target (or my personal target of 30,000-40,000 words), this year I managed only 20,212  words.

I have excuses, of course. Who doesn’t? But the truth is there were two days I had put aside for intensive writing sessions (two full days, the only full days I get each week) and instead of putting my foot on the accelerator I went for the brake. I’m still not sure why. Yes, it’s a crazy busy time of year for me. My daughter’s birthday is on 6 December so there are always celebrations to organise. I also went to the Clare Writers’ Festival from 29 November – 1 December and was busy preparing for that in the last week of November. (The Festival was fantastic, by the way!)

Also, the writing didn’t seem to flow as easily for this book (book 2 in a YA series) as it did for the first and I even wondered if the fact that I actually did some plot planning BEFORE writing made things worse. Instead of writing free-form, I was writing the scene I had designated as the next scene in Scrivener. But surely plotting should help move my writing forward, not hinder it.

The bottom line is I hit the brakes for some reason. But the good news is I got 20,000 words done of my next novel and if I hadn’t been pushing myself with NaNoWriMo perhaps it would have been a much less productive month.

Not sure yet if I’ll sign up in 2014, but I’m determined that one of these days I will do NaNoWriMo and actually finish it. Perhaps not when I’ve got a 2yro at home though       :)

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November 1, 2013

NaNoWriMo – take 2

Filed under: Writing — Tags: , , , , — PD Martin @ 1:38 pm

This year I’m trying NaNoWriMo again. For those of you who don’t know, it stands for National Novel Writing Month and it’s basically a whole community of writers (both published and aspiring) getting together with the goal of writing 50,000 words in the month of November.

I tried it for the first time in 2011 and unfortunately only made it half-way. This year, I hope to get a bit closer to the 50,000 word target, however I am trying to fit it in around fairly limited chunks of writing time.

This year, I’m working on book 2 in a new YA series. I recently finished the first book and am doing the agent/publisher rounds but I thought in the meantime I’d spend November to get a chunk of book 2 written. It’s especially important for this series, because book 1 does end on a cliff hanger. Yes, there’s some resolution, but I know if I was reading it I’d want to pick up book 2 pretty much straight away because while the lead character just avert disaster in book 1, the novel ends with her ‘going into the lion’s den’ shall we say.

In the lead up, I’ve been doing a bit of planning. I tend to be more of a plot-as-you-go writer, but I thought in honour of NaNoWriMo (and because I had no idea where the plot would go!) I might actually do a basic structure before putting pen to paper. And I’m using a new-to-me theory…I’m trying the Blake Snyder beat sheet, which includes 15 ‘beats’ in a story. It’s made for screenplays, and some beats only last one page (e.g. the Opening Image) while other beats might last 25 pages (e.g. Fun and Games).

PulsarsScrivener

I’m also using Scrivener (which I use for all my writing now) and so I’ve written up scenes on index cards in Scrivener and I’ve customised the ‘Status’ section so it says which type of beat the scene (index card) is. This is what part of my structure looks like.

First time using this method and obviously first time using it with Scrivener so we’ll see how I go!

So, that’s my November. I did miss last month’s blog (naughty me) but I’ll check back in with a blog on 1 December to tell you all about my NaNoWriMo progress. Or you can see it in real-time at www.facebook.com/pdmartinauthor

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September 5, 2013

A celebratory month

Filed under: Getting published, Writing — Tags: , , , , — PD Martin @ 9:21 am

September is already a month of celebrations for me…and we’re only five days in! And maybe that’s why this blog is a little late, going up on 5 September instead of 1 September.

Anyway….

The first celebration was literally on the first of the month, when a large group of people gathered in the Yarra Valley to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday. It was a fabulous day and Dad had people from all different aspects of his life there.  We had a lot of speakers – yet everyone was so unique with wonderful insights that the day didn’t feel ‘heavy’ with speakers. In fact, it was fascinating. We had 14 people all up!

And 1 September was also Father’s Day, so we started the day with breakfast for my husband and presents from the kids.

everybreath01September is also another big celebration for me. As some of you know, in 2010 I started teaching at Writers Victoria. This month marks a huge milestone in my role as a writing teacher, with one of my students entering the ranks of  ‘published author’.   Congratulations to Ellie Marney on the release of her debut young adult (YA) novel, Every Breath – the novel she was working on in my 2010 class!

I have to say, it’s extremely rewarding to see one of my students’ manuscripts come to life not only on the page, but then on the bookshelf. The official launch is next week, but it is in bookstores now. Congratulations to Ellie, and I hope she’s the first of many of my students to break into this crazy world!

About Every Breath (from the back of the book)

What if Sherlock Holmes was the boy next door?

Rachel Watts is an unwilling new arrival to Melbourne from the country. James Mycroft is her neighbour, an intriguingly troubled seventeen-year-old genius with a passion for forensics. Despite her misgivings, Rachel finds herself unable to resist when Mycroft wants her help investigating a murder.

And when Watts and Mycroft follow a trail to the cold-blooded killer, they find themselves in the lion’s den – literally. A night at the zoo will never have quite the same meaning again…

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August 1, 2013

It’s all about the characters

Filed under: Writing — Tags: , , — PD Martin @ 7:15 pm

Even now, on my new once-a-month schedule, it seems that blogging comes around so quickly. But that’s more about last month’s blog on the fluidity of time and not today’s!

peopleonchessboardToday, I want to talk about characters. You see, I do think different types of books need different levels of characterisation. My Sophie books, as most people reading this know, are what I’d called forensic-based murder mysteries with a good dose of criminal psychology in the form of profiling. They are essentially whodunits and why-dunnit and these two questions are the driving force to keep the readers turning the page. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can ignore character and character development in thrillers or murder mysteries — in fact, readers will quickly put down a book if they don’t feel like they’re connecting to the main protagonist. Characters can never be cardboard cut-outs or two-dimensional. Every character, just like every person, has a story. However, I do think that the importance of characters and the relationships between characters is much more instrumental in novels that explore drama or family dynamics as their central theme and plot.

Last year I finished a book that I’d describe as a mainstream drama, not that dissimilar to Jodi Piccoult. And while I finished it last year, it has literally been sitting on my desktop gathering bytes (manuscripts don’t gather dust any more, do they?). Finally, late last year I paid for an assessment/developmental edit. Probably not such a common practice for a published author, but this book was so different to what I’d written before I felt the need to dig deeper and I felt like I needed professional and objective eyes.

But the process didn’t stop there…then I needed to let it stew for a bit. For a lot. I needed to get more objective myself and I needed to go back to the drawing board in terms of characterisation. It’s been an interesting process. Armed with David Corbett’s book, The Art of Character, I started again, as it were. I dug deeper into the characters, deeper into their psychological motivations.

With the new character work complete, I started edited. The editing process is taking me longer than I’d hoped (it always does!), but I’m up to chapter 5 and really happy with the changes in the first four chapters. I feel like I’m transforming this book, and making it so much better in the process.

Good writing is always about characters…but to me it’s about the balance of characters and plot. It’s about knowing when you need character development and when you need something to happen—and preferably you can bring both to the page simultaneously.

It will still be a couple of months before I have another draft to show for this latest spate of work, but already I’m looking forward to seeing the transformation on the remaining 25 chapters. I know I’ve still got a long way to go, but this story is worth the time and the effort.

Originally called Crossroads and Deadends, through my psychological delving I’ve come up with a new title — Adrift. I like it and I hope that one of these days it will make its way to readers.

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March 28, 2013

What’s in a prologue?

Filed under: Murderati blogs, Writing — Tags: , — PD Martin @ 4:00 pm

For some reason, I think every book I’ve written includes a prologue. It just seems like while I don’t want to cram clunky ‘back story’ into my books, there is some basic information that’s needed before readers start on chapter 1. Know what I mean?

Couple of examples…my first Sophie book, Body Count, includes a prologue of Sophie as a child, so it’s 30 years or so earlier. Yes, the main story is complete without this prologue, but it gives readers some important character information (namely that Sophie’s brother was abducted when she was a little girl).

Another example is from my current work in progress. This book, tentatively called The Pulsars, includes a prologue from 18 years earlier when a woman (who’s the mother of my main character) finds out she’s carrying a Pulsar fetus. Again, while the main, present-day story works without it, there is scene-setting in the prologue. Plus, the reader discovers that the scans are compulsory worldwide and that if the fetus is a Pulsar, the governments around the world have enacted the Pulsar Termination Act, which means all Pulsar fetus must be terminated. So I guess the story works without it, but the short, two-page prologue also does a lot. Yes, as the reader moves through the story they would discover that the main character is a Pulsar whose mother and father went on the run so they could keep their child. But I do like the way the prologue, as it is, launches the reader into this new world.   

As you can probably tell, I like prologues. Like writing them, like reading them. Funny thing is, after I’d written about three books I met someone who said they NEVER read prologues. That they figure it’s not necessary for the story. This shocked me. I consider a prologue to be part of the story, and as long as it’s pretty short and tight (and well-written, of course) I think they’re a great writing device. Many novice writers make the mistake of packing in back story in large chunks in the first chapter or two. A prologue (as long as it’s bare essentials!) can get rid of this more clunky ‘reveal’. It can set the scene, deliver character motivation or back story. Ideally, a prologue should also capture a reader’s attention. Make them want to read on–instantly.

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March 14, 2013

Tricky research – the near future

Filed under: Murderati blogs, Writing — PD Martin @ 3:58 pm

I’ve always loved the research that goes along with being an author, particularly a crime fiction author. I’ve posted here on some of my different research subjects, such as cults (part 1 & 2), handwriting, Kung Fu and Dim-Mak, real-life vampires and being a hitman (or woman).

I’ve also mentioned that I’m currently working in another new genre, writing a young adult (YA) novel. But this little YA novel has been giving me grief. Like, quite a lot of grief. But it’s not the writing process (which has actually been pretty easy), it’s the research. And what makes it hard, is that the book is a pre-apocalyptic novel set in the year 2030. So, it’s the near future. And I guess I’m pretty hopeless at speculating what the world will be like in 17 years’ time.

A little background…the book is set in the US and much of the action takes place in the environment of the Secret Service. In some ways, I figure the near future setting means perhaps I’ve got a bit of leeway. If I don’t get a specific Secret Service procedure right, maybe it’s just that things changed from how it’s done now to how it would be done in 17 years in the future. Right?  

But there are so many little facts and questions that are bugging me. Here are just a few:

  • Will a new power source have been discovered by then or are we still talking the current methods, including nuclear power?
  • Can my main character raise her SIG 9mm to take a shot? Surely guns will still be around and SIG SAUER will still make them. Or will they?
  • Will the US election system still be the same?  
  • Will the President still fly on ‘Air Force One’ and ‘Marine One’? And presumably planes and choppers will still be our primary method of fast transport. Won’t they?
  • Will countries have merged to make new countries or super powers?
  • What will the world look like in terms of water shortage and greenhouse gases? Surely 17 years wouldn’t have much effect…or will it?
  • Will people be reaching for their phones and tablets or something entirely different?
  • What will the internet look like in 17 years’ time?

It seems this particular area of my imagination is pretty pathetic! Problem is, when dealing with the near future I think you tread a fine line between what’s plausible and what’s short-sighted.

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March 12, 2013

Guest blogger – Lindy Cameron

Filed under: Murderati blogs, Writing — Tags: , , — PD Martin @ 3:55 pm

Today I’d like to welcome fellow Aussie author Lindy Cameron to my blog. I met Lindy through the fantastic Victorian chapter of Sisters in Crime. A great woman who’s moved from author to author/publisher I thought it would be interesting to hear her story. Why did she start her own publishing company?  Over to Lindy…

The Segue, by Lindy Cameron 

There are many things in the life of this author that try my patience. And the fact that I can actually do that, to myself, is somewhat ridiculous.

I am the Queen of Procrastination. And I say that like I am the only author who can say that, which is also ridiculous, because all writers mainline Avoidance like it’s a drug.

In fact, if you don’t find everything else to do but write, then you’re not really a writer.

Got a book deadline? Time to try out a new laksa recipe. Hmm, might have to wait until the zucchinis finish growing. Write another chapter while the stock is doing its thing – done. Oh look – the dog wants to go out; come back in; go out; eat the kitty litter. Finish chapter 10. Clean up the shredded six-pack of toilet paper. Start Chapter 11. Do a load of washing. Rewrite Chapter 11. Research just how that particular bullet will react with that metal after it’s gone through Bad Guy No 4.  Oh look – that Facebook meme about how to write is hilarious. No I really, really don’t want to change my power company, young man. Just because I answered the front door because, yes, I am AT home doesn’t mean I’m not working AT home. I’m a writer – damn it!

It is totally beyond me how I’ve managed to write five crime novels and co-write two true crime books, plus blah-blah-blah, in the last decade or so. And that always seems like a lot, until I realise I know some authors – like actually know them – who write one or two (egad!) crime novels a year.

And then I remember my biggest, weirdest and – as many people (including my partner and me) have suggested – craziest avoidance technique of all.

I started a publishing company.

I did this (in 2010) for a number of reasons. Mostly because I realised I had all the necessary skills to do something so utterly wackadoo – and in the middle of what everyone else was calling the GFC (whatever the hell that was).

I did it because I discovered there were two or 20 authors out there – apart from me – who were a little dissatisfied (understatement much?) with the Way of Big Publishers.

I also did it because I was lucky enough to snaffle some of those very same authors. Yes, I talked them into my fold, enticed them into my web, convinced them I wasn’t a complete loon, and welcomed them into my Clan.

I managed this, in some cases, because I wanted to publish certain books – by those established authors, I mean – that their existing Big Publisher didn’t want to touch because they might confuse the author’s existing readership.

[Ooh, can’t possibly ruin our crime writer’s rep by letting them go all paranormal, or write a historical novel, or something with a pirate in it!]

As an Independent Publisher, I also set about finding new Australian crime and thriller writers; publishing the back lists of existing thriller writers; republishing out-of-print crime and historical fiction; mentoring debut authors; and seeking out sf, f, duf, h, c, tc, and all the other fabulous letters that go with being a ‘capital G’ Genre publisher.

Crime and thrillers are my first love – they are what I write, after all; when I do write, I mean; you know, when I’m not publishing; really, you need to go out again? Get off the cat! What?…

But in the third year of my little company, Clan Destine Press, I’ve also discovered I needed to add r, rr & e (romance, rural romance & erotica) to the list. 

Why?

Because I can!

And there are also ‘trends’ which, as a publisher, one needs to be aware of.

One of the joys of being an Independent Publisher in the 21st Century is that we are not confined to paper.

Most of our books are paperbacks; but they are also eBooks.

And this year, more and more of our books will be eBooks first – to test the waters, to launch new careers, to get more voices out there sooner, to bring the world more fantasy, spec fic, science fiction, erotic adventures, historical fiction, and best of all: more crime and thrillers and thrilling crime and…

Now Chapter 12, where was I?

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February 28, 2013

Falling short

Filed under: Murderati blogs, Writing — Tags: — PD Martin @ 3:50 pm

Ever feel like you’re falling short? Not quite meeting your own expectations or the expectations of others? Last week, fellow Murderati David talked about his intensive promotional schedule at the moment and, like David, I too feel stretched— but in different ways and for different reasons.

Like most people, I have several ‘roles’ or parts that make up my whole. In my case, it’s mother, wife, author, breadwinner and at the moment I’m also on a bit of a health-kick/diet. Problem is, I feel like I’m falling short in pretty much all of these areas.

Mother
Four weekdays, I’m the primary caregiver of our 21-month-old son and our six-year-old daughter. And of course, weekends and mornings/nights it’s shared duty! I’m blessed with two amazing children and I love being a mum. Yet, there are things I’d like to change. I feel so disorganised in the motherhood stakes some times. Every morning, I allow myself just over an hour to get ready and out the door. Yet somehow, I still find myself frazzled and yelling to get my daughter moving. Maybe that’s normal, but it feels so chaotic and stressful and by school drop-off time I feel like I’ve run an emotional marathon. Which is ridiculous! It shouldn’t be that hard to get two kids out the door. I’m clearing doing something wrong…falling short. And I really somehow need to find more patience so I can be a better mum.

Wife
I’m an incredibly vague and forgetful person, which is not easy to live with. I’m one of those annoying people who asks a question and then can’t remember if the person answered me or not (let alone what the answer was). Yes, I’m busy and my mind is full, but is that an excuse?

Author
Well, the actual writing process is going amazingly! Even with only having 15 hours a week (eight hours on one day and then the other seven hours are scattered all over the place) I’ve managed to write the first draft of a YA novel (58,000 words) in less than four months. I’ve now moved into the editing stage and so far I’m pretty happy with the novel.

But the problem is, I’m not bringing in enough money from my writing pursuits and my ebooks, which brings me to the next point…

Breadwinner
While I’m not the primary breadwinner, we do rely on a fairly decent part-time salary from me to make ends meet. In the past two years, I’ve taken on teaching and freelance work and if I don’t manage to get an advance for this next YA book (and/or my ebook sales remain at their current level) the reality is I’ll need to spend my 15 hours a week on paid freelance work not on MY writing. And that sucks! I’ve probably got until July to make something happen.

My health kick/diet
I’m also currently on a no wheat, no sugar (including fruit) six-week plan. The goal is to see how my body responds to getting rid of these two things in my diet and lose 6kg (13 pounds). I’ve actually been going pretty well with this one. I’ve had a few lapses, but three weeks in I am 3kg lighter. Still, I know I won’t lose this week and I have broken it. So I guess I’ve fallen short on this one this week, too!

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February 14, 2013

The writing high

Filed under: Writing — Tags: — PD Martin @ 3:47 pm

My last blog was on my love-hate relationship with writing. However, I did mention that at the moment I’m in the love stage of writing. In fact, I’d say I’m on a writing high. Do you know what I mean?

For published authors it’s that feeling of: “This is the one. The breakthrough novel that will get me from being a mid-list author to a best seller.”

And for unpublished authors it’s more like: “This is the one. The novel that will get me an agent and/or publishing deal.”

Sound familiar?

I guess for me at the moment, it’s kind of both of those things. Having tried the ebook route last year, I’ve decided I’d like to go back to the traditional agent and publisher option, at least for some of my projects. And this one I’m working on at the moment is one that could probably be quite successful as an ebook (young adult, pre-apocalyptic) but I also hope it would catch the attention of an agent and then a publisher.

But I’m wary. Wary of that writing high. It’s the most amazing feeling. Kind of like you’re invincible. Like you’ve got this pooled energy of positive butterflies in your stomach whenever you write or think about your novel. You want to dance around, punch the air. You want to celebrate. But then the logical part of you knows that there’s nothing to actually celebrate yet. Sure, there’s the fact that you’ve written (or are writing) a novel that you believe in, that you’re enjoying writing and that you think will keep readers turning the page long after their scheduled bed time. And don’t get me wrong, that is something to celebrate…sort of.

You see, being a pragmatist, and having been around the block a few times, I know I have to temper that feeling a little. First off, it’s naïve and egotistical to think that a book you’ve written is a guaranteed, sure-fire best seller. Partly because writing is a roller coaster. One minute you love the words on the page and think it’s the best thing ever…the next you’re wondering how you could have thought that such a pile of drivel was actually any good. Know the feeling?

It’s also partly because I know this business is also about luck. Obviously you start with a quality manuscript, yes. But that manuscript needs to land on the right person’s desk at the right time. It needs to have the ‘right’ cover art, it needs to be promoted in some way and, somehow, word of mouth needs to start. This is still the big unknown. I’ve had people in my publishing houses with 20+ years of experience tell me they (meaning the person and publishers in general) still don’t know why one book takes off and another of equal or better ‘quality’ doesn’t. That kind of sucks. But it seems it’s the truth. And we’ve all been trying to crack social media for that word of mouth surge, but if I’m honest I’m still clueless about that, too. Well, not clueless but my efforts in the ebook sphere haven’t resulted in a top 10 or even top 100 book. Sure, I do the obvious — get people to review my books, put up stuff about it on Facebook and Twitter and email my website subscribers but I’m not sure how to take it to the next level.

Anyway, I’m off topic. Back to the high. I mentioned that sometimes that high is also naivety. As a writing teacher, I see that a lot and it’s a fine balance. Someone in your class says they’ve quit their day job to finish their book and then sell it. You want to inspire them, keep them positive, but I think it’s important to counter some of that naivety. They’re on the writing high…great. But it would be negligent of me to at least not mention what the average book deal is worth in $ and how many first-time manuscripts actually get published. Of course, I also mention the writers who have had amazing success with their first novels (JK Rowling comes to mind). Like I said, I want to inspire them, too.

So, I’m about 90% through my first draft of this YA book and I already know what I have to refine in the edit. But I’m still incredibly excited. I want to live that high. Embrace it. And I know I have a tendency to be a glass-is-half-empty person so I don’t want my rational mind to bring me down too much. But I must also remember I’ve been in this place before. Last year I finished my first mainstream drama that focused on motherhood while also touching on some much more difficult issues of fertility, sexual assault and abortion. I was sure I had a winner. And despite some very positive feedback from test readers my first round of about 15 agents all passed. I stopped sending it out and paid a very experienced editor for a structural edit. I’ve yet to action those edits because I’m too caught up in my current story. And I hope that when I fix the problems I can go out to my next tier of agents and have more success. But my point is, when I was writing that I was sure it was The One.

 And now I’m sure this one is The One. So, I’m excited, I’m loving the writing and I’m enjoying that writing high. It’s inspiring me, driving me forward. But I’m also scared. What if I’m wrong?

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