Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Stop thinking and start doing

Back in my Youth, before I had written any novels, I spent a lot of time brainstorming and taking notes. I was working on a complicated novel idea at the time and I needed to invent a whole world from scratch, which happens when you're writing science fiction. So I came up with a bunch of ideas and wrote a bunch of notes.

Pages and pages and pages and pages of notes.

Like, hundreds of pages of handwritten notes. And I have small handwriting.

I would now like to take this opportunity to yell something at my younger self.

*Clears throat*


At the time I was writing all those notes, I thought I was being productive! I thought I needed to brainstorm to get all of my ideas out there. I thought people like J.R.R. Tolkien had imagined every blade of grass in Middle Earth before he started writing, and by god I was going to brainstorm down to the precise shade of green on every blade of grass in my world.

And yes, sure, it helps to get some of the broad contours of your world and plot in place before you start. But there comes a point when you're just sitting on the fence and being idle and you're not getting into the action.

Brainstorming is the easy part. Getting into the nitty gritty of writing a novel is where things get tricky.

Here's what I didn't appreciate: It's way more helpful to just get going and trust that you will figure things out as you go along.

When I actually got down to writing the novel I was brainstorming, how many of those notes that I had spent hours and hours writing did I end up using?

Yeah, pretty much none of them.

That's because the ideas couldn't withstand the pressure cooker of a novel. They were abstractions, they weren't particularly useful. Once I tried putting the plot together and getting the characters in motion, a lot of the ideas no longer made sense.

All that time I had spent brainstorming was largely wasted. I would have finished my novel so much faster if I had just tried to get going writing instead of feeling like I had to have everything figured out first.

If you're in a similar place where you think you're being productive but you're really just idly brainstorming, I'd urge you to think less and write more.

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! More info here. And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art:  Der vor seiner Staffelei nachdenklich sinnende junge Maler by Napoléon-François Ghesquière

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How to know if you have a good editor

The art of editing is a bit of an ephemeral skill, and apart from an editor's credentials it can be difficult to know how seriously to take their notes. Sure, if the person works at Random Penguin Harlequin Harper House and has edited every famous Jonathan under the sun, you may wish to give their notes some extra care.

But good editors come in all shapes and sizes, even outside of the publishing industry, and chances are you're going to be squinting at a critique partner's or spouse's notes and wondering whether to trust them.

Ultimately it's up to you and your gut to decide which suggestions to take or not take, but here are a few ways to know if you have a good editor:

A good editor will not tell you how they would write the book

Bottom line, a good editor knows it is not their book. It is your book and it is their job as an editor to be somewhat egoless and try as best as they can to help you write your book and achieve your vision.

When you get notes or critiques from a good editor, they should be consistent with what you set out to do as a writer. If they're wildly divergent from what you're trying to do, either they don't get your book or they may not be a good editor and are trying to impose their own ideas on you.

A good editor will not tell you precisely how to fix a plot hole

Good editors tend to focus more on spotting problems than prescribing solutions. Sure, they may have some ideas about how to get a character from Point A to Point B in a cleaner fashion, but these ideas should be offered up more to illustrate potential directions than as concrete "take them or leave them" suggestions.

Chances are the author will come up with the best possible solution to address key problems, because no one else knows the world of the novel and the characters better than they do.

A good editor will not tell you they love everything

This is exactly what you want to hear and is not helpful at all.

A good editor will not tell you they hate everything

This also is not helpful.

A good editor will focus their suggestions at the right level

Some books need a ton of work. If this is the case, the advice should be synthesized at a very high level -- plot structure, characters, voice.

Some books are in good shape but need refinement. In this case, the advice should be more focused on chapter structure, plot holes, tightening.

Some books are nearly ready and need fine tuning. In this case, the advice should be more along the lines of line edits, dialogue, prose.

When an editor thinks entire plot arcs need to change, it's not particularly helpful to also provide minor line edits on chapters that could be removed entirely, except to illustrate broader points.

A good editor may frustrate you, but will also give you "ah ha!" moments

When an editor makes me mad, it usually means they're right but my brain is resisting the change. A good editor will absolutely frustrate you at times. That's totally normal.

But a good editor will also leave you smacking your head with things you can't believe you didn't see and get you jazzed up to make your book better.

At the end of the day, you are the actual editor, and you have to decide which course to take with your book. But a good editor will feel like a great teammate and coach along the way, even if they frustrate the heck out of you.

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! More info here. And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: The Village Carpenter by Tony Offermans

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

9th Annual Blog Bracket Challenge!

It's mid-March, it's sleeting in New York, and you know what that means. Well, I don't know what the sleet means. But it's our 9th blog bracket challenge!!

Who is the greatest literary bracket prognosticator of them all?

Probably not me, if history is any indicator.

As always, the winner of the Blog Bracket challenge will win a query critique or other agreed-upon prize.

Will you be the best picker of them all?

Here's how to enter (please limit to one entry per person):

1. Go to the front page of the ESPN tournament challenge:

2. Make your picks.

3. If you have an ESPN username and password from last year you can log in when you submit your picks, and you can also just click to rejoin the Bransford Blog Challenge. Otherwise you may need to create a new user ID and password. But don't worry, it's not onerous and you can decline to receive updates in case you're spam conscious.

4. Hover over the link that says "My Groups" and then click "Create or Join a Group"

5. Search for "Bransford Blog Challenge." Enter the password, which is "rhetorical" and then click Join Group.

Then you're all set! You can make changes to your bracket by clicking on it until it locks on Thursday (and yes, there are play-in games before then, but the bracket still doesn't lock until Thursday).

Good luck!!

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