alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions

How to Survive an Octopus Attack


That Sinking Feeling

That Sinking Feeling

My novel-writing journey has taken an unexpected turn. Last month, I sent my completed novel draft to four beta-readers, including Barbara J. Webb, co-instructor at the CSSF Novel Writers Workshop I attended in June 2013.

Barbara and I had a Skype call a few weeks ago to talk about my manuscript. She praised me for “paying attention during the workshop,” agreed that yes, 88,000 words is too long, pointed out the many other things I had done wrong, and then she dropped the bombshell:

“My main recommendation is set this book down. Write a new book before you come back to this.”

But I was going to submit that baby to an agent!

But I was going to submit that baby to an agent!

My plan, my very existence, for the next few months was founded on the notion that I’d be whipping this thing into shape and sending it out to agents by autumn. But now she wants me to take (at least!) 3-4 months off and write a whole new novel first? And she was very clear: time off doing nothing wouldn’t count, and neither would spending that time writing short stories. It had to be a new novel, from scratch.

The first thing I did was panic. The second thing I did was check with my neighborhood writing confidant Ashley Pérez–was this Barbara woman out of her mind? But Ashley said no, she thought I should take her advice. Since she’s published two novels and contracted a third, I conceded she might know a thing or two about it.

Problem is, since I was planning on revising this story, I hadn’t been giving a lot of brain space to what I wanted to write next. And now I needed to start a new novel. Preferably tomorrow! (Well, okay, in a week or two.) What to do?

Enter prewriting. According to David Farland, “Prewriting is that time you spend imagining what you’re going to write.”

There are lots of ways to pre-write a novel, including some that don’t involve any writing at all.

Margo Lanagan's  Sea Hearts  scrapbook

Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts scrapbook

If you’re not feeling visual, there are other ways of pre-writing, such as freewriting and asking yourself questions about the nebulous story mass wobbling around in your brain case.  Holly Lisle has a really good list of intriguing questions here.

Now it’s time for me to put on my smock and get out the scissors and glue, because I’ve got a lot of imagining to do. Wish me luck!–And let me know if you have any tried-and-true prewriting techniques.

Author: Alisa Alering

I write stories. I read stories.

6 thoughts on “How to Survive an Octopus Attack

  1. This is such a timely post for me! I’ve been stagnating on an outline for a novel I want to start mid-April, and I think it’s because I don’t feel really connected to it at the moment. I’d forgotten all about using Pinterest as a sort of collage board!

    Good luck finding something awesome to catch your thoughts on. I’m sure whatever you end up writing it’ll be wonderful.

  2. As tough as it is, that’s really good advice. I wish someone had given it to me ten years ago! 😀 I’m also a big Pinterest fan for story images–I keep an inspiration board for each of my projects. Figuring out settings is a huge challenge for me, so Pinterest is quickly becoming my best friend in that regard as well! Good luck with the story development–I’m really curious to hear / read about what you decide to work on next!

    • Good to see you here, Intisar! Since I think I’m going to take that cruel ‘wait and write another book’ advice, I’m glad you’re throwing your (experienced) vote behind it too. It makes me feel more reassured about taking such a drastic step. Pinterest is a dangerous place to be, it has no stopping point! The only new novel-length project I have under any kind of development is a historical. Hello mutton sleeves, mutton chops, and Queen Victoria!

      Are you Pinterest inspiration boards public? I’d like a peek.

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