From Newbie to Published: 12 Tips — Guest: Tiffany Allee

by Jami Gold on July 24, 2012

in Writing Stuff

Picture of Tiffany Allee

While I’m at the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Annual Conference this week, I’ve invited two authors who have recently debuted to share their insights. Today, I’m excited to introduce Tiffany Allee.

Tiffany and I actually know each other in real life, as we belong to the same RWA chapter and I mooch rides to the meetings off her. She’s a fantastic person, and she’s here to share her story about how her writing process has evolved to plan, draft, and revise more efficiently. And I think that’s something we’re all interested in learning.

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The Evolution of a Writing Process

First of all, thank you so much for having me here, Jami! I’m a big fan of your blog and am so happy to get a chance to participate here.

*Warning: Yammering ahead.

Summer of 2010

At some point in July of 2010, I started writing. I had a vague idea that I wanted to someday be published, and I had a bit of writing experience by way of online accounting articles.

I started writing as a pantser with a very vague idea of a story in mind, but I discovered 20k words in to this first story that nothing had happened. My characters stared at each other a lot. They hadn’t started picking their noses yet, but I knew it was only a matter of time. And I had no idea where to go from there.

So I researched. I started my research on the Absolute Write boards (also known as the Best Place Ever for aspiring writers), and expanded out to read lots of craft books.

NANOWRIMO 2010

For those unfamiliar with NANOWRIMO, it’s an acronym for National Novel Writing Month. It occurs every November, and involves thousands of writers around the world vowing to do their very best to write a novel (or at least 50k words of a novel) during one month.

That’s a lot of words, especially for a new writer.

And for a writer who had struggled to finish or even find a story, it sounded pretty scary, but exhilarating. I went to a local meeting (only one, because I’m lazy like that). I was determined to write what I was already thinking of as my practice novel. In order to avoid a story going nowhere, I decided to outline.

I downloaded a program that was still in beta testing at that time, Scrivener for Windows (for Windows and Mac), which helped me keep everything organized. My first try at outlining was high level, and I’d only outline a few scenes ahead, and then key scenes through the story (scenes I’d eventually learn to label turning points).

My outline, while in a great state of flux throughout the process, helped keep me focused. And I was able to “win” NANOWRIMO by hitting 50k words that month. I used my win as an excuse to buy a Mac laptop, because winning NANOWRIMO gave me a 50% off coupon for Scrivener, and Scrivener for Mac looked awesome.

Learning to Outline

The book I wrote and “revised” for NANOWRIMO 2010 ended at around 80k words. While the concept for the story was fun, I realized by the end of writing it how much my writing grew during the process. And I came to the realization that revising this novel to the point of it being publishable was more trouble than it was worth (and at that point in time I had no idea how to go about revising it). So I never queried that story. But, I still love it for all that it taught me.

After proving to myself that I could finish a novel, I focused on learning smaller things. Craft. Structure. I started writing novellas. They were long enough to have a novel-like structure, but short enough to not be so intimidating to write and revise.

I tried different outlining methods. My end project was always a bit different than the original outline, but that’s the wonderful thing about outlines, they are much easier to adjust than books.

And I started learning to revise. I wasn’t sure how to approach revising and I tried several methods. Some involved printing everything out, but that didn’t really work well for me (plus I’m cheap, and that’s a lot of paper, yo). For a while, I just read through and polished on the screen because I didn’t know what else to do.

My writing at this point grew a lot because of fantabulous critiquing by a couple of wonderful people who took pity on the newbie. They still critique for me, and I for them. And I still rely on their opinions. They may, in fact, be the best people ever.

Mindful Structure

I was fortunate enough to sell a couple of novellas in 2011. Since I started working with my amazing editor, Kerry Vail, at Entangled, I have learned so much. And my planning and writing methods have changed exponentially.

I refined my outlining method, and I now start with something that looks lot like the evil synopsis. And my revision process has become streamlined too. I start with large changes (most of which I have noted as I write), then I polish.

So, to recap because I yammered a lot above, here is the gist of how my writing method has changed in the last two years.

My writing method when I started:

1. Write.
2. Poke the story with a stick.
3. Cross fingers.

My writing method now (I’ve included tips that help me in each stage):

1. Brainstorm high level story details (characters, plot, worldbuilding). (Most of this, I do in a notebook.)

Tip: For me, a week of planning can save me several weeks of revising.

2. Create the outline, starting with big turning points and moving down to chapters and scenes.

Tip: I’ve tried using Scrivener, Excel, and Word as a starting point with this, and have settled on Word. I start with a synopsis and break it out into an outline, then move it into Scrivener. Starting with a short synopsis and building it out helps me make sure the story as a whole is cohesive.

3. When pretty happy with the outline, I start writing!

Tip: Scrivener all the way, with some help from Write or Die, and Mac Freedom. Scrivener helps me stay organized and make sure POV is balanced. Write or Die and Mac Freedom keep me productive.

4. While I write the first draft, I adjust the outline as needed. Depending on the story I will either revise a bit as I write, or go headlong through the first draft without revising at all, only making notes as I go of things I will need to fix when I’m done.

Tip: be willing to adjust the outline, especially in the early stages.

5. As soon as the first draft is complete, I do all high-level revisions immediately. (Still in Scrivener.)

Tip: I keep a notebook handy while writing. Lots of things that need fixing or tweaking occur to me while writing. That way I have a to-do list for my revision handy right when I finish the book.

6. Read the story aloud to polish immediately after high-level revisions are done.

Tip: For this step, I compile my Scrivener project to a Word document, and everything from this point on I do in Word.

7. Let the story sit while awesometastic critique partners are reading it. (In a perfect world, when time permits.)

Tip: This is a bad step to skip except when you actually have to for deadlines. This step not only saves you and your editor valuable time later, if you have awesome betas, they make you look even smarter than you really are. :-)

8. After receiving and digesting CP feedback, I revise the story again, polishing as I go.

9. Let the story sit for a few days.

Tip: The time needed to gain distance from a story varies by story and by writer. Give it the time you think it needs.

10. Read the story on my Kindle, and note any remaining weirdness. Fix.

Tip: The Kindle (or any e-reader) is a wonderful place to see mistakes or awkward writing. Because I’m used to reading published books on it, I see my own fudges like they’re highlighted.

11. Send the story out into the world.

Tip: Drink wine. And start the next story so you’re slightly less inclined to obsess over this one.

12. Cross fingers.

Tip: Uncross for typing.

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Tiffany Allee currently lives in Phoenix, AZ, by way of Chicago and Denver, and is happily married to a secret romantic. She spends her days working in Corporate America while daydreaming about sexy heroes, ass-kicking heroines, and interesting ways to kill people (for her books, of course). Her nights are reserved for writing and bothering her husband and cats (according to them). Her passions include reading, chocolate, travel, wine, and family. She can be found at her website/blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Banshee Charmer: When she’s sent to a crime scene and finds her second dead woman in as many weeks, half-banshee detective Kiera “Mac” McLoughlin is convinced a serial killer is on the loose. Incubi are extinct, her boss insists. But what else can kill a woman in the throes of pleasure? When her partner is murdered after using witchcraft to locate the killer and Mac is thrown off the case, her frustration turns to desperation.

Certain the killer is an incubus, Mac works behind her department’s back to chase down slim, sometimes perilous leads. While the killer eludes her, she does discover handsome Aidan Byrne, an investigative counterpart from the enigmatic Otherworlder Enforcement Agency. Mac typically runs her investigations fast and hard, but with Aidan at her side, she’s running this one “hot” as well. But Aidan knows more than he’s letting on—something that could shatter their blazing romance and add Mac to the killer’s growing body count…

Banshee Charmer is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Succubus Lost, book two in the series, is also available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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Thanks for sharing your story, Tiffany! Like many writers, she used NANOWRIMO to push herself to finish a story. Even though she decided that story was more trouble than it was worth, revising-wise, she knew then that she could finish a story and that’s a big step for many of us.

I also want to point out what she said about how novellas (or short stories, like I’ve discussed before) can be a great way to get a handle on story structure while we’re learning how to revise. The great thing about writing is that there’s almost always another way to attack a problem. And I love the tip for her last step. *smile*

Has your writing process evolved? What pushed you to change (NANO, critique partners/beta readers, editors, etc.)? What aspect of your writing process is most inefficient—brainstorming, drafting, revising? In which area are you most efficient? Do you have any questions for Tiffany?

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10 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Angela Quarles July 24, 2012 at 5:45 am

Wow, your process sounds eerily familiar! I got as far as Ch 6 on Novel One and stalled. I read craft books before and after and just had this big huge fear blocking me. Then I heard about NaNo in 09 and like you it scared the pants off me to write so much. But I did it and ‘won’ — that novel has been trunked but I learned a lot. In ’10 I did it again, which is the one I’ve been revising and now querying. Since then I wrote a novelette and FastDrafted (50K in 2 wks) another and just sold my novelette. The ’10 novel I wrote in Word and I just now transferred it in the final stages to Scrivener, as I used it for the novelette and for the latest novel and loved it. Like you, with the latest novel I brainstormed for a month in a notebook and Word and then input it into Scrivener and started typing. I pantsed the novelette though :)

The reason I input the ’10 novel into Scrivener is that an awesome Beta (Jami) gave me some great feedback and I’m using the Keywords feature to track subplots and characters to make sure it’s as tight and cohesive as I can make it.

I also like to read my story on the Kindle to find mistakes :)

Thanks!

Reply

Jami Gold July 24, 2012 at 7:29 am

Hi Angela,

Wow, very cool. Your process and journey does sound similar to Tiffany’s. And you’ve got me this –> <– close to taking the Scrivener plunge. Between you and Tiffany, I'm really thinking I should get over my fear of messing with my process and just try it. :)

Thanks for the comment! :)

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Stephanie Scott July 24, 2012 at 9:52 am

Hi! I found this blog from the #MyWANA tag on twitter. I have a similiar writing timeline — I did NaNoWriMo in 2010 and also have shelved the project, although it taught me a lot. I use Scrivener and Word as well. I plan to do more outlining on my next project, but since I’m a “pantser” by nature I already have about 10k words in place for it. Still, I would like to save some of the stress of my current WIP by outlining plot points and attempting a synopsis framework first. Those are great suggestions.

I recently joined RWA, and although I won’t be at nationals, I am tentatively planning to go next year when it’s in Atlanta. For now, I’m sticking to chapter events :)

Reply

Jami Gold July 24, 2012 at 10:24 am

Hi Stephanie,

Yay for #MyWANA! :) I haven’t done a NaNo project yet, as I’m somehow always in editing mode when November rolls around, but I think it’s a great idea. People used to dismiss the stories that came from it, but more and more published books started that way, and it’s a similar concept to the popular Fast Drafting approach.

I’m also a Pantser by nature, but I’ve found that I like figuring out some of the high-level turning points in advance. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Tamara LeBlanc July 24, 2012 at 3:32 pm

This post can’t have come at a bette time. Since I finished and submitted my latest novel a few days ago I’m itching to start the second book in the series.
In previous novels (before this latest one) I always pansted them. I got an idea, me and my critique partners did some very basic plotting on it and then I’d start writing. I’d have lots of revisions…lots.
With this latest novel, for some reason, I decided to write a synopsis first (with the help of a plotting session with my CPs) Having that 8 page rundown helped immensely. There are part of it I had to adjust once I began writing, but all in all I followed that synopsis to a T.
I will never write without first typing out a synopsis or an outline again.
I got alot out of this post, Jami. Thanks for having Tiffany on today.
Hope you’re having (or will soon e having) a fantabulous time at nationals!!!
Best wishes,
Tamara

Reply

Jami Gold July 25, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Hi Tamara,

So glad you found this helpful! I tried writing out the synopsis for my latest WIP ahead of time, but I got too detailed with it, so I stopped partway and just started writing. :) I should try it again while being more strict about keeping it high-level. Thanks for adding your vote on how you made this process work!

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Tiffany Allee July 24, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Thank you for the comments, everyone! It’s great to hear how other writers’ processes have changed along the way.

Tamara–I’ve found the more experience I get with writing the synopsis first, the close I stick to it. I guess, like everything else, it’s all about practice. :)

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Jami Gold July 25, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Hi Tiffany,

Thanks for guest posting here and sharing your story! I’ve gotten a couple of tweets from people thanking for this post as well, so your experiences are resonating with people. :)

And as I just mentioned to Tamara, I think I need to try writing the synopsis in advance again, as I can only improve with practice. LOL! Thanks again!

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Julie Musil July 27, 2012 at 8:44 am

Love, love, love this post! It’s so fun to read about other writers and how they get ‘er done.

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Jami Gold July 30, 2012 at 10:43 am

Hi Julie,

I agree! It doesn’t matter how much I think I “know” that my method works for me, I still love hearing about others’ methods. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

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